Engage youths rather than lecture them

July 5, 2011
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

Offer ideas instead of attacking the government, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing told a group of young Singaporeans who attended a PAP organised youth forum.

The Minister was speaking at a two-hour dialogue organised by the People’s Action Party’s youth wing, where he dealt with questions ranging from liberalising the rules on civil society to more transparency in managing the national reserves.

In the usual PAP manner, Mr Chan wagged a finger at his listeners, lecturing them to come up with solutions instead of just criticising the Government. He asked the audience whether their ideas could move the country forward, rather than just “throw stones, cast doubt and tear down institutions.”

It is unfortunate that the Minister characterises well-meaning calls for liberalisation of the political system as one of tearing down the country. The PAP often paints extreme scenarios whenever people express the desire for democratic freedoms. In this way, it avoids answering the question while at the same time caricaturises people who want a more open system in a negative light.

For example, calls for a free media is met by the response that such an environment will lead to an uncontrolled press that will serve to confuse the electorate and lead the country to ruin.

When one asks why there cannot be freedom of expression, it says that free speech will lead to extremists preying on the unwary and “create pandemonium”, in the words of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in the streets. 

When citizens want greater transparency in the way our reserves are handled, the Government tells us that revealing the information will lead to an attack by investors on our currency and bring our economy to its knees.

In all these responses the intent is clear: Paint a calamitous scenario of the consequences of a free society as this will frighten the people while at the same time show the PAP to be this responsible, even heroic, government taking care of a people who don’t know what’s good for them.

Once frightened into submission, the people are like putty in the PAP’s hands, fearful of speaking up and resistant to democratic change.

Also whenever queried about its authoritarian style, the PAP responds by going on the offensive and making the claim that its critics and the opposition do not offer solutions, only criticisms.

Apart from the fact that such a response is non sequitur often distracting people from the original question, it is also, of course, untrue. Netizens very often come up with excellent alternatives to the problems that we face as a result of the PAP’s policies.

In addition, the Singapore Democrats have been coming up with alternative proposals for a good part of our history, with many of our ideas even co-opted by the Government. Minimum wage, the use of an alternative index instead of the GDP to measure economic progress, the hiring of Singaporeans first, etc are concrete and workable alternatives that we have put forth more recently. They are laid out in our alternative economic programme It’s About You.

We also drew up our Shadow Budget to reflect national spending priorities for programmes that we consider important in making our economy more competitive and our society more compassionate. 

Apart from economic issues we also came up with alternative solutions to various areas in our manifesto including reducing the enlistment period for active National Servicemen, reforming our educational system to foster creativity in our students, and making our environment greener.

But instead of addressing these ideas the PAP chooses to ignore them, and with the help from the media, pretend that they don’t exist. Then they keep repeating the untruth that its critics and opponents don’t offer solutions but instead seek only to tear down institutions.  

Such a tactic is slowly losing traction because the Internet is able to show that Singaporeans and the SDP continue to propose workable and perfectly reasonable ideas to take our country forward into the future. In fact,  it is becoming increasingly clear that the PAP’s intransigence about forsaking its authoritarian ways is impeding Singapore’s progress.  

It is disheartening that younger Ministers like Mr Chan Chun Sing have not brought in any new thinking into the Government but is instead continuing the old ways of talking down to the people.

On the other hand it is encouraging to note that Singaporeans, like those attending Mr Chan’s dialogue, are increasingly concerned about the lack of civil liberties in this country. They know that without these liberties, we cannot safeguard anything in this country- including our reserves.