Last week the South China Morning Post published my Open Letter to the PM, and subsequently, a response from the Consul-General of Singapore in Hong Kong, Mr Jacky Foo. The Straits Times reported on Mr Foo’s letter on 14 June, and published my reply to this report on the Forum page on 16 June. My reply is reproduced below.
Reply to Straits Times Report 14 June
14 June 2014
The Editor, Straits Times
With reference to the report in the Straits Times, 14 June (‘Govt refutes author’s claims over public trust‘) I wish to make the following comments.
I share Mr Foo’s admiring acknowledgment of the many achievements of the PAP government, especially their skilful handling of global-size problems such as the financial crises of 1997 and 2008 and the SARS epidemic.
But I disagree with Mr Foo’s argument that since the government has achieved so much, since it has won every election and finally, since it meets the Edelman Trust Barometer benchmark, it surely has the people’s trust.
This depiction of the Singapore political situation fails to take into account its evolving dynamics, and omits unflattering facts such as the shocking General Election of 2011. Even though the PAP won, they must have been forced to admit that the people’s trust had been seriously eroded, as shown by the startling post-election effusion of apologies from the Prime Minister and his colleagues, and their promise to ‘listen more’, ‘communicate better’, use the ‘light footprint’.
Three years after GE 2011, the trust has not been regained. The best proof lies, not in the graffiti, the mass demonstrations or the raucous social media, but in the most unlikely place—within the PAP camp itself. Here there are voices urging the leaders to connect better with the ground, reflecting awareness that the problem has become serious enough to warrant attention at the highest levels.
Hence I would like to point out that the mistrust is very real, even if it only involves a minority. Its impact can be seen in the Roy Ngerng defamation case. Although, as Mr Foo has rightly pointed out, the Prime Minister has every right to sue, to protect his reputation, the alarming truth is that an angry crowd will choose emotionalism over rationality, and insist that the defamation suit is one more instance of PAP bullying.
Mr Foo commented on my long history as a complainer. I have been writing political commentaries for 20 years now. Their central theme is the need for a robust, trusting relationship between the government and the people, which, I strongly believe, is the only guarantee for a small country to survive in an increasingly perilous world.