Open letter from JBJ to PM


I decided to wait until you got over the intoxication of your appointment as Prime Minister and the media ovation following your National Day speech before I wrote to you.

In your speech you tried to make yourself out as a harbinger of change in contrast from your father and Mr Goh Chok Tong. But what is the change that you hold out for our people?

In your marathon speech you have not shown that you understand how changes are brought about in a society and who are the vehicles of change. Change must come from and must be made by the people. You do not seem to understand that the changes must come from the people and not imposed on them from above. If our people are to bring about the changes, then it must be made very clear to you that they must be freed from any fear that any action by them to bring about change will be met with incarceration, loss of civil rights, financial or material loss to them.

In your speech you do not show that you understand this. What steps will you take to remove this fear from the minds of our citizens? The biggest fear is that one may be arrested at 2 a.m. in the morning, blindfolded and taken to a detention centre and denied all access to the courts. What is your plan to remove this fear? Please do not tell us that this fear exists only in my mind or other political activists out to make trouble. This fear will exist as long as this power of detention without trial exists. That must be plain to anyone.

No number of assurances by your ministers that this power will not be abused is good enough unless at the same time you put in place checks to prevent any abuse of that power. What plans have you got in mind to prevent an abuse of this power? David Marshall, after he took over from the British, introduced a check on the exercise of this power but the moment your father took over from him, that check was abolished.

What steps have you in mind to permit our citizens to elect their representatives to Parliament without any fear or compulsion? That is the only way the electorate can bring about any change.

Elections in Singapore are neither free nor fair. What steps have you got in mind to bring about a more transparent free and fair elections and that elections cease to be a government show?

What steps have you got in mind to ensure that the Rule of Law is strictly applied from the President down to the lowest member of society?

The Rule of Law is the bedrock of citizens to sleep soundly knowing that they will not be punished in any way if they have not committed any act punishable in a court of law.

Your speech is completely silent on all these – the essentials for any change in society.

Nor have you said any said anything in your speech, going by what has been reported, what change you propose in the lives of:

1. the thousands of Singaporeans who are dependent on welfare agencies for their daily sustenance;

2. our citizens who are struggling to provide for themselves and their families the basic amenities of life;

3. Singaporeans and particularly the elderly who find the cost of medical care very prohibitive and resort to suicide;

4. Singaporeans who are too old to work and have no income to maintain themselves;

5. our workers who have been reduced to the position of serfs in the Middle Ages without any rights and dependent entirely on the employers’ goodwill. These classes form the majority in our society and you have nothing to say to them.

6. Have you any plans to end the great disparity in income in our society with ministers earning a million dollars or more every year while there are still numbers in our society earning less than $7,000 a year? Have you any plans to bring down the cost of living to our citizens earning less than $18,000 a year?

Unless you tell us what you intend to do about these problems that I have addressed, I am afraid your speech will go down as pure rhetoric, mere sound and fury signifying nothing.

Even the cosmetic changes that you announced were further refined a few days later to remove the hope of any real change. Freedom of speech cannot be confined within walls. It must be free like the wind to blow where it will.

I do not know whether you will reply to this letter but I can assure you many Singaporeans will be waiting to hear your response.

J B Jeyaretnam
Open Singapore Centre
7 Sept 2004