Rights of people not for PAP to give-Reply to Straits Times

Ms Chua Lee Hoong claims that she cannot understand why I criticised the PAP Government’s idea of a free speech venue (“Speakers’ corner a test of whether people will listen,” ST, 22 Mar 2000).

Singaporeans must never forget that our rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association is not for the PAP to give. They belong to us as much as our bodies and our minds belong to us. Take them away and we become lesser, or even non, humans.

The proposed speakers’ corner is not a right that we have claimed, but a concession that the PAP, with whatever motives, has condescended to us. It is like someone coming over to your house and taking over it, as well as every possession that you have in it. Years later he decides to return to you your television set. Should you be thankful and continue to timidly hope that some more of your belongings will be given back?

Singaporeans must be reminded also that what the Government feels that it can give, it assuredly also knows that it can take away. Take the case of our presidential elections. Years ago when the PAP decided to let the people elect their president who was to be vested with executive powers, many thought that the Government was opening up and that Singaporeans were finally getting more political space. Mr Goh Chok Tong underscored this point when he said, “In introducing this Bill, the Government is in fact clipping its own wings. Once the Constitutional amendment is effected, this Government will have some of its powers checked.” Then in the recent presidential non-election, Mr Lee Kuan Yew bluntly refuted the Prime Minister saying, “No, if you’ve to clip your wings, then you are in trouble, you cannot govern…I cannot remember what he [Goh] said but I would not have used that phrase because the executive powers of the Government should not be clipped.” Soon thereafter, Mr S. R. Nathan became President without an election.

The reason for the PAP granting the free speech venue is also disturbing. PM Goh said that he feels it is now okay to allow a speakers’ corner because the economy has now recovered. Does this mean that everytime the economy gets diarrhea, our right to free speech is the first to get flushed down the toilet? How can a right be given and taken away based on such caprice? In fact it is when the economy turns bad that this Government becomes even less transparent and less accountable in a bid to to protect its own interests and power. The right to speak freely and openly at such times thus becomes even more compelling and consequential. Note the cutting of Singaporeans’ wages during the economic crisis while the PAP Government accumulated billions of dollars in surpluses and continued to pay its Ministers millions of dollars in salaries. And this does not include the tens of thousands who lost their jobs and are still unemployed and underemployed. Political rights, lest we forget, equal economic rights.

With laws such as the Internal Securtiy Act, Public Entertainment Act, Societies Act in place, a speakers’ corner is nothing but a gaily decorated window. The reality inside the shop has not changed one iota.

Chee Soon Juan

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