What if PR criticised, instead of praised, Singapore?

May 2, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Singa Crew, Guest Writer

I remember an editor with the Straits Times once complained that reading some internet postings made her blood boil. Good. So she will understand how I felt when I read a New Paper article written by Ms Elysa Chen and published on 28 Apr 09 (below).

Ms Chen’s article is the second write-up on the Facebook group “Singapore Sucks“. As a member of the group and occasional contributor, I feel compelled to refute the usual mudslinging against those who refuse to succumb to PAP propaganda.

Leading this latest skirmish against free speech in Singapore is Mr Anthony Fulwood, a 30-year-old teacher from the UK who has lived here for 5 years.

Mr Fulwood, who likened online commentaries on the lack of freedom in Singapore to attacks on his home, felt the need to “stand up and defend” his home and the PAP regime.

Citing the people’s right to choose in elections and our Speakers’ Corner, Mr Fulwood felt that there was enough political freedom in Singapore.

I hate to contradict Mr Fulwood, with all of his 5-year experience here in Singapore. However, I would like to respectfully point out to Mr Fulwood that as a citizen who has lived here for several decades, I never had the chance to vote in any of the General Elections. Mr Fulwood is an Englishman, so perhaps he has heard of the term ‘gerrymandering’?

Mr Fulwood went on to criticise those Singaporeans who do not want to go to the park (Speakers’ Corner), but instead complain in pubs and Facebook groups.

May I remind Mr Fulwood that the right to free speech is an inalienable right; one that should not be restricted within a mere patch of greenery? How dare he, someone who has only lived here for 5 years, think he has the right to tell us citizens of Singapore where we can or cannot exercise our right to free speech! Besides, what with the PAP’s long-standing tradition of using financially runious defamation lawsuits against their critics, is it any wonder that many Singaporeans choose the safety of anonymity?

When he referred to “complainers” as “teenagers” and “immature”, Mr Fulwood betrayed his ignorance of the local socio-political scene. Some of the loudest “complainers” against the PAP regime are Dr Chee Soon Juan and the late J B Jeyaretnam. Would Mr Fulwood call them “immature teenagers”?

Go to your MP instead of complaining

As for Mr Fulwood’s advice to resolve issues through the MPs (most of them are from the PAP), I can only balk in disbelief.

Ms Jaslyn Go, a local activist and mother of two, points out to Mr Fulwood that like him, she used to naively think issues may be resolved via MPs. She changed her mind after eight emails to her MP and two to her Tanjong Pagar GRC which includes MM Lee Kuan Yew. No one replied to her emails or was willing to address her concerns.

Of course, Jaslyn only has her 36 years of experience as a Singaporean to speak from unlike Mr Fulwood’s five years as a PR.

Mr Seelan Palay, a local artist and activist, does not think PAP MPs are connected to the people according to his blog entry PAP MP in ivory tower, can’t see the ground. Despite staying only two blocks away from the office of a Residents’ Committee for seven years, he only saw his MP for the first time when she came around to hand out promotional items of caps and t-shirts.

Seelan lambasted the gifts as useless and thoughtless in this time of severe recession. And I agree with him that such gifts do nothing to help households who cannot even get three square meals a day.

As a supporter of free speech, I defend Mr Fulwood’s right to say what he wants, but I hope next time he will think twice before he passes judgment on us “lesser mortals”, in the words of PAP MP Mr Charles Chong, who have been living here all our lives.

It is instructive that Ms Elysa Chen would highlight the praises of foreigners while condemning the criticisms of Singaporeans over our own country especially when it is to support the autocratic system here. It is a sad sign of political immaturity.

Mr Fulwood might be interested to know that if his letter were critical of the PAP system, he would not be around in this country for long. How’s that for political freedom, Mr Fulwood?

After inserting glowing praises from two other expatriates working here, Elysa concluded her article with a question about the reasons behind the creation of “Singapore Sucks”.

She obviously missed the disclaimer displayed prominently on the front page of our group: “This group exists to critique the policies of Singapore’s government, especially the PAP, and to spread awareness of the plight of Singaporeans. It does not intend to attack the citizens of Singapore, and any aspects of the group that could be construed as threatening, such as the group picture, are strictly tongue-in-cheek.”

Singa Crew is the pen name of an Internet activist. He contributed this piece for the website.

“Go to your MP instead of complaining”
Elysa Chen
The New Paper
28 Apr 2009

Mr Anthony Fulwood (left), an English teacher from the UK, is an active participant in grassroots work. (Photo: TNP)

Mr Anthony Fulwood (left), an English teacher from the UK, is an active participant in grassroots work. (Photo: TNP)

While some of his countrymen are eagerly joining in the bashing of Singapore on the Facebook group ‘Singapore Sucks’, an English teacher from the UK who has been living here for the past five years is leaping to Singapore’s defence.

This unlikely knight in shining armour is Singapore permanent resident Anthony Fulwood, 30.

Mr Fulwood, who lives in an executive HDB flat in Bukit Panjang, is so proud of Singapore, he even dubbed himself an ‘ambassador’ to promote ‘life in Singapore’.

That is why when he heard that a group had formed on the social networking site to criticise his adopted homeland on things like the lack of freedom and the ungraciousness of its people, he felt that he should speak up.

‘It hurts me when I hear people attacking my home like that. When your home is being attacked, the first thing you do is to stand up and defend your home,’ said Mr Fulwood, who is active in grassroots work in Bukit Panjang.

‘I don’t want a gold star, and no one’s going to give me a gold star either, but I just want people to know the truth about life here,’ he said.

Mr Fulwood, who has lived in India, Africa and the Middle East, added: ‘People always say that the grass is greener overseas. My challenge to them is: Go overseas and see what it’s like in another country.

‘I am sure that 100 per cent will come back and say that Singapore’s better.’

Mr Fulwood listed government policies such as the baby bonus scheme, his HDB home, the community spirit and safety as some of the reasons why he loves Singapore.

He also felt that there was enough political freedom here as people have the right to choose in elections and they have the Speakers’ Corner to voice their opinions.

‘Yet, people don’t want to go to the park. They want to complain in pubs and Facebook groups. These teenagers that complain about things they know nothing about are immature,’ said Mr Fulwood.

‘They should approach their Member of Parliament, and try to solve the problem. But these people want an audience. That’s why they go to Facebook to complain,’ he added.

American expatriate Bill Hedman, 52, the managing director of an investment firm said: ‘Singapore’s great. I have had no problem in the last seven years my wife and I have been here.

Everything works

‘Everything is clean, there are good restaurants and everything works. The business climate here is also very good. The Government is very pro-business.’

Addressing one of the main grouses of the Facebook group, the lack of freedom here, Mr Hedman felt that ‘Singapore is still a young country, but political and artistic freedom will eventually come’.

The only downside to living here, he said, is the ‘hot and humid weather’, but that did not bother him much either as he is from Florida, he added, chuckling.

Agreeing, Mr Lin Menuhin, 45, a British expatriate who has been working here for the past three years, said: ‘Singapore is a regional hub that’s efficient and comfortable, and provides a safe environment to work in.

‘As someone who is here for work, to be honest, there is nothing negative I can find about the system.’

Singaporeans have also rallied online to rebuke the comments made by foreigners.

Some observers have noted the irony that Singaporean netizens are defending their country against accusations that they themselves have often made online.

Explaining why Singaporeans are reacting so defensively even though they may agree with the foreign critics, Dr Tan Ern Ser, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology in the National University of Singapore, said it was because Singaporeans wanted to ‘reserve the right to criticise ourselves’.

And even though the Facebook group has garnered at least 400 supporters, Dr Sulfikar Amir, from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences in Nanyang Technological University, said: ‘They may not necessarily represent the opinion of the majority of people here, which is why so many others have hit back at the people who have set up and joined this Singapore Sucks group.’

When The New Paper asked the creator of the Facebook group, who gave his name as Mr Wils Cheng, why he created the group, he said in an e-mail reply: ‘I did expect some negative reaction but I never thought that the group would be covered by sites like Stomp, Asiaone, The New Paper and Singapore Enquirer.’

It is not known if he is a Singaporean.

Adding that he was ’surprised’ to see how his group could have ’stirred up such a big fuss’, Mr Cheng said: ‘I don’t see Japan Times covering the group ‘Japan Sucks’ or the French AFP writing about the group ‘France Sucks’.’