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“Civil disobedience,” Dr Chee Soon Juan told the audience, “if carried out astutely and in a disciplined manner, works.” He was speaking at the launch of his new book A Nation Cheated held on Sunday night at the Hort Park. The occasion was also the Singapore Democrats’ annual dinner marking the 28th anniversary of the party.
Below is Dr Chee Soon Juan’s speech launching his new book A Nation Cheated at the SDP’s Annual Dinner on 31 Aug 08:
When I was in jail in 2006, I re-read the book Comet In Our Sky, a compilation of essays written by friends and associates of the late Lim Chin Siong. I will assume most of you here know Lim Chin Siong and will not endeavour to go into detail how he was seen by the majority of Singaporeans as the natural leader of our then fledgling republic in the 1950s and 60s, other than to say that his charisma and compassionate style of leadership won the hearts and minds of many.
The book includes a chapter written by Professor of Southeast Asian Studies, Tim Harper, from Cambridge University. Professor Harper documented his research after poring through bundles of de-classified papers, memos, letters, etc. written by Britsh colonial officials during the turbulent period leading up to Singapore’s independence.
The picture that emerged was one not quite the story that I heard and read growing up. In a nutshell, the Professor’s account was that the people of Singapore wanted Lim Chin Siong as their leader but the British would not allow it and wanted Lee Kuan Yew instead.
So we have two versions of what happened: one written written by a disinterested, third-party academic and based on verifiable de-classifed papers, and the other by Lee Kuan Yew who still has vested personal interests in telling these events. I do not think I would be far wrong if I say that the majority of people would look to the former for a more accurate and objective account of that part of history.
This is what I tried to do in the first part of A Nation Cheated, that is, summarise Professor Harper’s research finding’s.
But my nerves are rubbed raw when I keep hearing Lee Kuan Yew, who came to power backed by the colonialists, rant about how the West should not foist its system on an Asian people, meaning us. Somehow the democratic practices that allowed Lee Kuan Yew to become prime minister suddenly become Western and not suited for us Singaporeans.
Today the propaganda continues unabated, that Singaporeans are not interest in human rights and democracy. I will come to this subject in a moment and show you how this lie has now been exposed.
For now, let me dwell a little on the notion that things have worked worked wonderfully for Singaporeans.
Whether it is our CPF or healthcare costs or wages or our financial reserves, I have presented evidence in the book to show how things are not quite what they seem. I have tried to stay away from polemics especially in part two of the book and concentrated on putting together the data from alternative sources to make my case. I will leave it to you the reader to decide for yourself whether I have done my job or not.
To illustrate what I really set out to say in this book, I want to relate a story. It is about a man whom I met when I went for my jog one morning. He is in his mid-seventies and works for the town council as a cleaner. He starts work at 7 am and knocks off at about one or two in the afternoon depending on how much work there is that day. He works six days a week. His salary? $400 a month.
When he was a young man in his 20s, he was told that if he just stayed disciplined, didn’t support independent unions, didn’t clamour for his rights and trusted the PAP to govern in his best interest, he would be better off. He did that, or at least he wasn’t given a choice.
Today, he is told that he must not think of retiring. In fact he is told that he needs to work for less pay. He is told that part of his savings is in Merill Lynch and in about 15 to 20 years, he should be able to start seeing returns on the investment, that is if the bank doesn’t go belly up first.
Doesn’t the word “cheated” come to mind?
This old man’s story is not an aberration. Statistics tell us that our poorest segment of society continue to see their wages shrink. Fifty percent of the people haven’t seen their incomes grow over the past ten years.
But then our ministers increased the salaries in 2007 by a heart-stopping 85 percent. The president is paid $4 million a year, for what no one quite knows. The Senior Minister and Minister Mentor are also paid close to that amount, again for what no one quite understands. The Prime Minister is paid $3.8 million which works out to be about $10,000 a day.
They tell you that they must be amply rewarded for building such a fine country. Really? Let’s see what Singaporeans think:
Despite having gone through national education at school, 37 percent of Singaporean youths say they are not patriotic. More than 50 percent want to emigrate overseas if given a chance. (Channel News Asia, 17 January 2007)
Another survey of older Singaporeans showed that two-thirds said they have considered retiring in another country. (Straits Times, 20 August 2008)
A few weeks ago, the Government confirmed that an average of 1,000 Singaporeans had given up their citizenship annually over the last three years. (Asia Times, 21 August 2008)
Have you thought of this number before, ladies and gentlemen? These are astounding figures. I cannot think of another country where after 50 years of uninterrupted rule, we produce a nation where its people profess no love for it and can’t wait to get out?
Tell me, hand on heart, that you still think that the PAP has governed in the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans. Tell me that we have not been cheated.
Read Part II: Now is the time to press ahead