What the Alfian Sa’at incident teaches us

June 13, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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The incident over the termination of Mr Alfian Sa’at’s teaching position has created a stir in the Internet community.

This has pushed the local press to give the matter coverage which, in turn, will put pressure on the authorities to respond.

The issue revolves around the sudden and badly explained dismissal of Mr Alfian Sa’at, a playwright, as a relief teacher.

The fact that the writer has been a critic of the Government has fueled speculation that the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) action had been less than sincere.

The Ministry’s response to the writer did not help matters. Its usual bureaucratic mumbo jumbo only stoked his indignation, not to mention a fair number of Internet users and bloggers. (Click here to read the communication between Mr Alfian Sa’at and MOE.)

The case serves an outstanding example that citizens are never powerless. Mr Alfian Sa’at was a lone individual who felt short-changed by what the Education Ministry did to him. He took the initiative to fight back and, in doing so, generated much attention on the Government’s stance.

In what way it responds, or whether it responds at all, now that the subject has crept into the press is not what is important. What must be noted is that a citizen has managed to prod the establishment into reacting and that, in Singapore, is no mean feat.

In open societies, it is called holding the government accountable.

Singaporeans should be encouraged by this incident and the attention Mr Alfian Sa’at has managed to generate. The playwright will admit that when he first wrote the MOE, he could not be certain that the matter would generate public interest. But it did.

It is important to remember that if citizens do not persevere and continue to press the government for accountability, in order words, if we allow apathy and a fatalistic attitude to get the better of us we will never get what we are looking for.

The sad truth is that if we don’t care, no one else will. The upside is that we are fortunate to live in the age of the Internet.

If we don’t harness the power of cyberspace and use it as a tool for people power, we would do ourselves and our loved ones a great disservice. We don’t have any excuse not to be informed and, more crucially, stay interested in issues that concern us all.

So fight back, Singaporeans. Remember, the government exists to serve the people, not lord over us. Let us stop being fearful of those who should rightly account to us, the rightful owners of the Republic of Singapore.

To this end, the Alfian Sa’at episode serves as a potent reminder of the power of the people and the power of the Internet