Ms Saw Phaik Hwa made her decision to resign as SMRT CEO on 7 December 2011 but the public only came to know about it one month later on 6 January 2012.
Central Narcotics Bureau Director Ng Boon Gay was arrested in December last year and Singapore Civil Defence Force chief Peter Lim on 4 January this year for unspecified wrongdoing. But the news was kept from the public for until now.
The news were not run-of-the-mill stories; they involved incompetence and wrongdoing that ran at the highest reaches of the PAP establishment.
In Ms Saw’s case, she had, under intense pressure from the public to resign, signaled her willingness to step down immediately after the disastrous breakdown of train services in November last year. How is it then that when she finally decided to do so, the news managed to evade the media for an entire month?
Similarly, Messrs Ng’s and Lim’s arrests managed to avoid media detection for more than a month. One was the chief of a police outfit that deals with the underworld of drugs and the other charged with responsibility of saving lives during emergencies and disasters.
Yet, the Prime Minister’s Office managed to shield the news from the public for such a long time. Or was it a case where the Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorps were briefed about the developments but were instructed not to publish the stories until a later and more convenient time.
Either way, Singaporeans were done a terrible disservice. In this day and age, it is important that society is kept informed of goings-on as soon as they happen. Transparency is the key word. Hoarding information by the state is a dangerous game to play and could lead to serious consequences for the country.
But why was the news withheld? One big, highly charged issue that took front and centre of the political stage during this period was the ministerial pay. The PAP was already having a difficult persuading Singaporeans of its reasons for paying ministers the high salaries.
The botched handling of the train breakdowns made it impossible for the Government to portray itself as competent and efficient. Ms Saw’s resignation, if announced before the release of Gerard Ee’s Committee to Review Ministerial Salaries, would have reinforced the public’s view that the ministers do not deserve their huge salaries. Hence, the announcement of her resignation news on 6 January – one week after the release of the salary report.
Worse, announcement of the investigations of Mr Ng and Mr Lim when it first happened would have punched a big hole in the PAP’s rationale that paying high salaries would prevent public servants from engaging in corrupt practices.
The PAP Ministers and MPs would have had a torrid time trying to defend their position during the recent Parliamentary sitting over ministerial salaries. Hence, the breaking of the news over the investigations only after the house debate.
Whether the media are incompetent for missing out on news of such magnitude or whether they were intimidated into withholding its publication is anyone’s guess. The SDP’s emphasis on the importance of human rights, which include the right to a free press, is precisely because a state-controlled media will end up neither competent nor intrepid.
The PAP knows that its position on ministerial salaries is untenable. It has just become more so. The delayed announcement of the Ms Saw’s, Mr Ng’s and Mr Lim’s news is perhaps a telling sign of the party’s nervousness on the issue.
Such a tactic together with the abject state of the media does not bode well for the future of this country.