Vincent Wijeysingha: I will not be threatened

Vincent Wijeysingha

Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I grew up in an atmosphere where to be ignorant of suffering around you was to live only half a life.

Singapore today is ignorant of what is happening around itself. We have stopped questioning what is wrong and why it is so. We no longer turn to our neighbours and discuss how we can, together, do something about it.

We live in our own small universes, no doubt encouraged by the PAP, because to keep us apart is to prevent us from being effective together – effective against what is harming our community.

For the 40 years of my life, I have tried never to forget the suffering that exists. When I returned to Singapore last year after several years abroad, I was keen to participate in the community, to ensure that the Singapore that I loved would never disappear. Because make no mistake, a society based on money, on how much we can buy, is a society that is build on sand. I don’t want Singapore to crumble.

I am a social worker, trained in England where I worked for some time and where I completed a doctorate in Singaporean social policies. I feel truly Singaporean because I have an ancestry so varied and mixed that I cannot look to any one country and say, that is where I came from. I come from Singapore.

For three years before I returned home, I ran a social work consultancy in London, where I was involved in team development, policy drafting, and management support.

After I returned to Singapore, I did some social service consultancy in Burma and then at the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. In June 2010, I was appointed the inaugural Executive Director of Transient Workers Count Too, an NGO that engages in advocacy, research and direct services to improve the conditions of low-waged migrant workers in Singapore.

During the course of the last year, I thought very deeply about how I could contribute to my country. Although my employment covers a wide area of social service which I find very interesting and fulfilling, I knew that I could not ignore what I saw around me, that I had to do more.

As Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran Bishop who was assassinated by state agents, said, “One must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives.”

It was after reading two books that I came to the conclusion that what I must do is become involved in the political arena, to work for the benefit of the people of Singapore, the disadvantaged, those who have no voice.

The first book was Teo Soh Lung’s Beyond the Blue Gate, which recounts her experience of being imprisoned under the ISA and against whom no evidence has even been adduced. She was held for more than two years and she was tortured.

I have since had the opportunity of meeting Soh Lung; she is a woman of great courage and inspiration. I told myself that no government should ever have the right to do what they did to her.

Later, I read Alan Shadrake’s book on the death penalty and I was appalled at how he was dealt with. As Thomas Paine said, “It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.”

I knew at that moment I could no longer remain a private citizen, could no longer take for granted that someone else would do the hard work of healing our nation, preparing it for the future – and not me. Again, I quote Thomas Paine who said, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

The very morning after I completed Shadrake’s book, I applied to join the Singapore Democratic Party. During my PhD research, I had read all of Dr Chee Soon Juan’s books. I found that of all the parties, including the PAP, the SDP programme is the most coherent, the most forward thinking and humane. It puts people at the centre of its beliefs.

No one, no matter what the level of their economic contribution is written off by the SDP. And as I delved further into its activities and got to know its people, I found that it was prepared to stand up for its beliefs, even if that meant attracting the attention of the security apparatus, even if it meant going to jail.

Contrast this with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who threatened that the army should have to come in if there were a ‘freak’ election result. Well, I say no. The day when a politician threatens his electors with the army is the day when that politician has outlived himself. The army is our army, yours and mine, and I will not be threatened by anyone that my own army will be used against me.

Having joined the party, I know that the values of my comrades are not words. The people who are attracted to the SDP, who are prepared to put their beliefs to the test, the current membership and leadership of the party, are men and women who have placed democracy and human rights, sustainable development and coherent policies at the centre of their very lives.

In short, they live their values. Instinctively, I have felt at home here. It is a party I am proud to belong to. It is a party I feel humbled to join. It is a party that, I am utterly convinced, presents the best alternative to the worn-out, the cynicism and the bullying that has passed for policy on the part of the PAP.

It is the party of the future. It is my party and I will serve the people of Singapore from within it. Proudly, humbly, and with dedication.