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Opposition leader Chee Soon Juan has vowed that the fight to seek truth, freedom and justice in Singapore will continue and urged fellow Singaporeans to join him in the struggle.
The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general was making the pledge to a packed audience at the City University of Hong Kong on Thursday (14 March) when he addressed them on the topic The Singapore System: Myth or Model?
Debunking the PAP government’s myth that authoritarianism is a prerequisite for material development, Dr Chee Soon Juan told the seminar that the 1997/98 regional economic crisis and the present deep economic recession Singapore is now in have amply demolished the claim that ‘many governments are actually looking to Singapore as a model for their countries’ development’.
The ‘model’ for others to adopt is just a ‘fairy tale’, Dr Chee stressed.
The university’s Southeast Asia Research Centre organized the public seminar, attended by 150 participants who were mainly academics, journalists, student activists and politicians.
Dr Chee said: “In spite of this, however, the PAP insists that the best way forward is to continue the practice of the government not only targeting industries for the economy but also for it to conduct the business itself. And so from anything from shipbuilding to supermarkets, car-rentals to child-care centres, the government runs the domestic sector of the economy through huge business conglomerates.
“But in a system that sacrifices ‘democratic madness’ for the disciplined mind, transparency and accountability have become mere words that the government uses to appease and seduce foreign investors,” Dr Chee noted.
Dr Chee then went on to list several government-owned companies that are ‘largely shielded from public scrutiny’ that had suffered huge losses.
He said: “In the mid-1990s, Singapore Technologies, a state-owned company headed by Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter-in-law, acquired an ailing American computer company called Micropolis. Within a year, the firm hemorrhaged about US$350 million and closed.”
Staggering financial losses by DBSBank, Sembawang Corporation, SingTel, the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Singapore Airlines also came up for mention by Dr Chee during the talk.
Dr Chee continued: “Then there is the debacle in Suzhou, China where the Singapore government had set aside US$20 billion to build an ambitious baby Singapore in the form of the Suzhou Industrial Park. The plan was to showcase business done the Singapore way.
“A few years down the road, as competition from an already existing neighbouring industrial park increased, a flustered Lee Kuan Yew accused the Suzhou authorities for ‘municipal shenanigans’ and took his complaint all the way to the top. When his complaint to Jiang Zemin changed nothing, the Singapore side pulled out. The official statement is that, after 5 years, Singapore had spent only US$80 million,” Dr Chee told his highly surprised audience.
Dr Chee went on: ” The problem with the Singapore’s political economy are exacerbated by the fact that the system is as transparent as lead. The GIC, which handles the investments of the foreign reserves comprising of public pension savings and budget surpluses, accounts to absolutely no one.”
The opposition leader also noted that ‘on the surface’ the economic system had brought wealth to Singapore.
Dr Chee stressed: “According to a few experts, however, Singapore’s economy has been built more on perspiration than inspiration. While this mode may have been beneficial in the beginning, the economy has come to a point where making more sweat doesn’t necessarily translate into making more money.”
Dr Chee also told his Hong Kong audience that the Singapore worker in the plant, the driver in the bus, the teller behind the counter continue to absorb the brunt of the economic malaise.
“In the Global Competitiveness Report 1999, Singapore workers were one of the worst paid in the world. The country’s Department of Statistics has admitted that whilst Singapore drew in First World GDP per capita income, the wages of workers were at Third World level,” Dr Chee observed.
Dr Chee said: “All this in a country run by a bunch of ministers who lavish themselves with million-dollar salaries. The prime minister of Singapore is paid five times more than the president of the United States. In 2000, Goh Chok Tong’s annual salary was more than US$1 million.
“Such wealth disparity in a system that adopts a laissez-faire practice is deplorable enough. But for a society like Singapore’s where every facet of life is intricately managed, such a state of affairs is unpardonable,” Dr Chee emphasized.
Dr Chee then went on to pose the question: So why do Singaporeans continue to support the PAP election in and election out?
The SDP leader said: “The simple reason is after years of tight political control where the government can detain citizens and in particular its political opponents without trial, and has done so in numerous cases, people live in a climate of fear.
“Singapore may have the look and feel of openness, but I have heard time and again, that the Chinese in China have greater liberty in discussing politics than the Singaporean in Singapore,” Dr Chee observed.
He continued: “Couple this with a media that is put on a tight-leash, I would be surprised if Singaporeans did not ‘support’ the PAP to the extent that they seemingly do. I say ‘seemingly’ because despite the intimidation, the people have tended to creak towards supporting the Opposition so much so that the PAP has had to amend the constitution and electoral system time and again, to ensure continued support,” Dr Chee reminded his Hong Kong audience.
The secretary general of SDP said: “And when all else fails, the PAP can always take its opponents to court in defamation suits and clean us out of millions of dollars in costly litigation.”
Dr Chee also referred to those Singaporeans in the audience attending the public seminar at the City University of Hong Kong.
He said: “I wish to take a few minutes to address my fellow Singaporeans present this evening, especially those who see and know the necessity of instituting political reform in Singapore, I hope you have heard, and not only listened, to what I just said.”
“I realize that there is much to lose if you joined in the struggle. But I would also like to tell you that there is much more to gain if you followed your convictions and if you pledge yourselves to seeking truth, freedom and justice.”
“I leave on Saturday to go back to Singapore. I pledge to you that I will continue the fight for as long as it is humanly possible. I hope that whilst you are here you will also come with me,” Dr Chee concluded to thunderous applause