Let us be fair to Dr Chee

August 16, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Teo Wei Min, Kelvin
Sg Review
6 August 2003

I refer to a recent article circulated by The New Paper titled, “I’m not embarrassed. I’m quite thick-skinned” (http://newpaper.asia1.com.sg/top/story/0,4136,32106,00.html?).

The article revolved around an unprecedented event organized by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). The youth conference for democracy, whereby a cast of international delegates and youths amassed, was featured in the article. It was a plucky seventeen year old brimming with exuberance, Ms. Chua Ruo Mei, who took center stage, as she was thrust into the limelight.

I am not much older than Ms. Chua herself. Her display of bravado in expressing her views during the conference was indeed laudable. However, on hindsight, upon examining the contents of the issues Ms. Chua brought up during the conference, I regret to say, they are hardly constructive bearing in mind the purpose of the conference. Perhaps she should be forgiven, as this is her baptism of fire, as she immersed herself into the realm of Singapore politics.

Judging from one of the points she had brought up, it’s obvious that they toe on the official line. Our media had a field day covering in what was perceived to be Dr. Chee Soon Juan’s faux pas during the 2001 General Elections.

Thus, what Ms. Chua has accomplished was only to take Dr Chee to task on his actions during the last elections when he brought up the issue of the 17 billion dollars loan to the Indonesian government, an issue reflected in our media several times even way before the youth conference was held.

If Ms. Chua has been following politics locally and even overseas, she would have noticed that the art of politicking per se, is one that is filled with nuances. Politicians adopt different styles of approach in their game. From the confrontational approach illustrated by the ruckus and fracas within the fray of Taiwanese politics to the soft-spoken and dignified demeanor of our current prime minister, or even the style of intellectual discourses that epitomizes the exiled Mr. Francis Seow, the ways with which a politician conducts himself are many.

Perhaps, Dr. Chee might have belonged to the category of politicians who adopt a more confrontational approach, who knows? Granted that his approach during the last elections had antagonized some of his rivals and as a result he was chastised and had to face impending legal action, we have to realize that it’s much more easier to perceive another person’s errors and overlook his redeeming factors.

Maybe in the throes of his passion exacerbated by the atmosphere during the pre-election hustings, he committed the perceived error. Sometimes, in our passionate moments, our actions are not in sync with our heads. Hence, Dr Chee has received a fair share of punishments for his perceived errors, but he has also received a fair share of kudos for his achievements. Dr Chee’s efforts did not go unnoticed when he received the “Defender of democracy” award by a US-based organization of world parliamentarians and was recently awarded the Human Rights Watch grant by the US-based group.

If not for Dr Chee’s lobbying efforts in facilitating this first of a kind youth conference for democracy in Singapore, would Ms. Chua have the opportunity to rap Dr Chee over his actions during the latter event at Carlton Hotel?

Yes, Dr Chee has committed his fair share of perceived mistakes, but I sincerely hope that Ms. Chua had considered his redeeming side, before airing her criticisms during the conference. After all it is only natural to err. Didn’t one of our leaders who managed the SARS crisis admitted that he had made an honest mistake when there was a series of infections at the Institute of Mental health cluster by a strain of Influenza virus fortunately? After that episode, our leaders took more vigilant measures and there was an improvement in the situation.

Ms. Chua also highlighted another point and I quote, “I thought politicians would at least be levelheaded enough to find out their facts clearly before saying something in public”. To a large extent, I notice a glaring similarity between the recent misadventure involving the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) economists who published their findings that three out of four jobs went to foreigners, and the episode involving Dr Chee that Ms. Chua was referring to. According to the NTU economists, they based their findings on the available data on the Ministry of Manpower website.

However, it was later found that the economists had only based their analysis on part of the full picture. The rest of the data were deemed classified. Perhaps, the Ministry of Manpower had its reasons for not releasing the full extent of the data, placing them into its classified records. However, the end result is that without the full picture in mind, the economists had to hazard a guess.

The same goes for the episode involving Dr Chee. It was mentioned that he gleaned the information from press reports overseas. He might not have access to the relevant information under the relevant ministries, hence he, like the economists, had to base his conclusion on currently available information. Perhaps, a day will come when a process resulting in the full transparency of information without conflicting the interests of the various ministries will materialize. Only then, not only academics, but
also politicians will be able to derive their facts clearly before announcing their findings in public.

Another point that Ms. Chua has raised, which was in sync with official lines, was that Singapore was not ready for total freedom with lessons from our past serving as a grim reminder. Our leaders are no strangers to this stance of hers, and have enacted the Internal Security Act and put in place restrictions limiting freedom but at the same time, suppressing any rogue elements that might upset our social fabric. Hence, embracing total freedom comes with responsibility and civic-mindedness.

For a schooling youth like Ms. Chua, I believe it would have been more constructive for her to discuss, for example, the possibilities of establishing democratic clubs and societies in schools. This would have been very much in line with the agendas of the youth conference.

The purpose of democratic clubs and societies is to impart to our young the ideas of a democratic society and raise their awareness of Singapore politics. By partaking in the activities organized by these clubs and societies, our young will be imbued with the responsibility and civic-mindedness required of them when they embrace greater freedom in a democracy. The clubs and societies should maintain intimate links with democratic organizations based locally and abroad.

In this way, our young will be in touch with the current affairs at home and abroad. Hence, if we start nurturing our young now, by the time they take over the helm in steering our nation, perhaps, our society may be mature and civil enough to embrace greater democracy and enjoy the joie de vivre a liberal society affords.

As Ms. Chua has asserted that she has exercised her right to speak, I too have exercised my right to praise her courage, but at the same time, provide a critical analysis of the points she raised. Nonetheless, the youth conference has unearthed a raw diamond in her. I hope as time passes, she will be like a polished gemstone, shining like a beacon of light for our young to follow!