This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.
The Singapore Democrats today visited students at the Law Faculty and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, both housed on the former Singapore University campus at Bukit Timah Road.
As with their counterparts at the Singapore Management University and the Nanyang Technological University, the law students readily took the flyers and were seen poring through them.
Also like those at the other universities, some of them wanted their pictures taken with Dr Chee Soon Juan. A couple of them even asked for autographs. Several stopped to chat.
One of the first to do so was a European student who spoke with a German accent. “Apart from the lack of freedom of speech in Singapore, what do you think about the economy?” he enquired.
Dr Chee talked about the hollowing out of society where a majority of Singaporeans have indicated that they want to emigrate if given the chance and many are packing up. In 2007 alone 14,000 Singaporeans left the country. “That’s a real problem for the economy,” Dr Chee pointed out.
“Yes,” the student replied, “many of us come here just to study and work. This is not a place to live in. It’s like an organisation, not a country.”
Shortly thereafter, as if to enact what our German student was saying, a female security guard came up and ordered: “You cannot distribute flyers here! Please stop now! You have to ask the management for permission first.”
“I would be very happy to do that,” Dr Chee replied and, like a student being led to the headmaster’s office, ambled along behind the officer.
“Oh, by the way, how did you know that we were here?” he asked.
“We have CCTV cameras everywhere,” our lady officer harrumphed. (Maybe she should whisper that to Mr Wong Kan Seng.)
Inside the Management’s Office, a gentleman by the name of Edmund greeted Dr Chee.
“Hi, I’m Chee Soon Juan from the Singapore Democratic Party. And you are…”
“I understand that there is a problem,” Dr Chee said.
“Yes, you need to write in if you want to do anything here,” Edmund replied.
“I’d be happy to do that. Is there a form that I can fill in?”
Edmund disappeared for a second and came out not with the form but a colleague who also would only give her first name and not her designation.
“There is no form,” Audrey informed, “just email us.”
“Is there at least some guideline that tells me about the procedure, how early should I write in advance, how long does it take you to make the decision and who makes the decision? It helps when things are a little more transparent,” Dr Chee said.
“No, there isn’t,” Audrey intoned.
“Wait, let me get this straight, you say that I need to seek your permission to come to campus to distribute flyers but you don’t have any procedural guidelines to help me along?” Dr Chee pressed.
Then came the real answer: “This is the first time anyone has done this. No one from a political party has come here before like this.”
What? But isn’t this the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy where emblazoned on its website is the motto: Inspiring Leaders, Improving Lives, Transforming Asia?
Inspire leaders? Transform Asia? And no political party people have come in to distribute flyers before? In fact was there ever any political party person invited to speak there? (Of course, if anyone is ever short of inspiration and transformation the CCTV cameras are always there to help.)
Come to think of it, the place did feel more like a museum than a university. Yes, of course, the buildings were magisterially renovated, the lawn looked like every blade of grass had a shampoo, trim, and blow-dry, and the floor looked so clean you could eat off it.
But something was missing: student life. Wasn’t this the place where years ago Mr Tan Wah Piow and fellow students stood proudly in the quadrangle, chastising the Government and PAP MP, Mr Phey Yew Kok, over the plight of retrenched workers?
Of course, the lawn on which Mr Tan stood then was a little less manicured. So, together with the student unions, the grass was cut. Mr Tan was jailed for a year before he fled for England where he now resides and practices law.
So there’s no life now, only buildings, very nice buildings.
But one would be wrong to say that the place was totally devoid of any robust intellectual discourse. Mr Philip Jeyaretnam, son of Mr J B Jeyaretnam, was giving a talk on Singapore’s legal system in one of the seminar rooms.
During the customary Q&A session, someone from the floor asked the speaker that given all that his father had gone through, what were his views of the judiciary?
“Our judiciary is independent,” Mr Jeyaretnam (Philip) deadpanned.
Back to Audrey for a moment. She told Dr Chee that he should write to a Ms Ovidia Lim of Corporate Relations at the National University of Singapore, Kent Ridge, for permission to distribute flyers.
Corporate what? We just want to talk to students, for goodness sakes, not tender for some casino project!
“Just email her, please,” Audrey said. Oh well, you can’t argue with what you don’t understand, can you? So here goes…
28 August 2008
Ms Ovidia Lim
Dear Ms Lim,
My colleagues and I visited the Law Faculty and the LKYSPP yesterday to distribute flyers to students. We were told that we had to write to you to ask for permission, hence this email.
We feel that our nation’s students should be allowed to receive alternative information regarding the nation’s politics. Our intent is to raise political awareness and the level of student discourse on national issues on campus.
We would like to visit again next week. Thank you.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party