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Those of you old enough will remember the Shared Values that was launched with much fanfare in the early 1990s. Mr Lee Hsien Loong, then a junior minister, headed a committee that was tasked to come up with a set of beliefs that would form the basis of a national ideology. Sort of like the usual PAP propaganda but on steroids.
The objective was to create a society full of harmony and togetherness so that Singaporeans will love their country (or is it the party?) more than themselves. The five Values are:
- Nation before community and society above self.
- Family as the basic unit of society.
- Community support and respect for the individual.
- Consensus, not conflict.
- Racial and religious harmony.
Fast forward 20 years and let’s take a look at whether the PAP has achieved the goals. For this let’s turn to a survey conducted by a think-tank called The Equality Trust. The group measured the income inequality index (Gini coefficient) of various countries against a series of social indicators, one of which one was the trust factor. This variable asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement ‘Most people can be trusted.’
As you can see, of the 23 countries surveyed Singaporeans came in near the bottom, only the Portuguese fared worse.
An overwhelming majority of 80 percent of Singaporeans indicated that most people cannot be trusted. Compare this to 70 percent of Swedes, Danes and Norwegians who indicated that they can trust most of their fellow countrymen.
Another point to note in the study is that the trust or the “quality of social relations” deteriorates as inequality rises. It is common knowledge that among these economies, Singapore stands out as the most unequal. The researchers note that
Evidence on inequality in relation to trust, community life and violence all tell the same story. Inequality divides people by increasing the social distances between us and widening differences in living standards and lifestyles. By increasing residential segregation of rich and poor, it also increases physical distances.
In other words the lack of trust among Singaporeans is brought about by the PAP which has through its policies caused the income divide in Singapore to grow. In retrospect, the Shared Values are nothing more than sweet-sounding words without meaning. What the Government said (or wanted to believe) had absolutely no relation to what it did:
While it exhorted “society before self” its ministers exhibit the classic me-first sysndrome with their insistence on their exhorbitant salaries.
While it promoted “nation before community”, it brings into this country massive numbers of foreigners that diluted the Singaporean identity.
While it advised “community support and respect for the individual” it leaves the poor and the elderly to fend for themselves while focusing their care on the wealthy.
These measures have created the huge inequality that we see today in Singapore. This has, in turn, bred a society that is low on trust and cohesiveness.
It brings to mind another tragic piece of propanda which is the idea of Total Defence where citizens are told to “to strengthen our resilience as a nation” and “build strong bonds” wth each other. How on earth do Singaporeans do this when they have little trust in each other?
This is bad news for our country. If Singaporeans find it difficult to trust and maintain quality social relations with one another, how are we going to withstand a crisis when one hits? What good is all this wealth when we cannot enjoy the thing that matters most – trust in our fellow human beings? Is our society built on a house of cards?
These are serious questions that we must ask ourselves. Singapore must move away from the PAP model because the ruling party appals to the basest instincts in us: greed, selfishness and ruthlessness. These are qualities that bring out the worst in human beings. In a crisis situation, such traits bring added trouble that will tear our society apart.
The SDP, in contrast, advocates a very different vision for Singapore, one where we excel and progress through our compassion for one another, where trust in society is restored by building a more equal society.