Confessions of a Prime Minister

By now, most Singaporean netizens who are concerned about their country are likely to have heard that Kuan Yew’s son, the Prime Minister of Singapore, has made a confession that the government had lacked foresight. While his detractors tend to lambast him and his party based on the admission, it can only be considered a confession as much as his utterance of a ‘sorry’ two years ago could be considered apology.

In 2011, he made a pre-General Election confession. Two years later, he is still at it, post-election. The pre-election, post-election timings are like fine patterns in an intricate work of art, giving the entire charade such an artistic feel that you almost want to forgive him:

[I]f we didn’t quite get it right, I’m sorry, but we will try and do better the next time. (Kuan Yew’s son, pre-General Election, 2011)

So we lacked that 20/20 foresight. Next time, we will try to do better. (Kuan Yew’s son, post-Punggol East by-election, 2013)

Next time. Do better. Try. More contrived than contrite, his words exude more indifference than assurance. The PAP has become a pathetic echo of itself at its prime, holding us captive like a monstrous team of Norma Desmonds in their delusional bid at preserving a glory long faded, tragic yet deserving no pity.

With the irony that comes immediately after the confessional moment with the release of the population white paper which presents a utopian scenario where Singaporeans are compressed like gases in a pressurized can, one cannot help but marvel at how Singapore appears to be the work of an ingenious artist with a wicked—even cruel—sense of humor.

The confession, though, is no confession. In fact, instead of being an explicit display of remorse, it is an implicit self-exoneration coupled with an insinuation that the accusers, and not the accused, are the guilty ones. Clearly, it would be unreasonable for us to blame anyone for not being able to predict the future with complete accuracy (with 20/20 foresight, in other words); so the PAP is really not blamable, and it is unreasonable of  the people to expect the PAP to be clairvoyant.

If there is a difference between the 2011 and the 2013 statements, it is the lack of the semblance of something like an apology this time round, suggesting perhaps a hardened attitude. Nevertheless, the mainstream media spin it as an admission of fallibility—as if the PAP has finally realized what they had done wrong. Channel NewsAsia came up with the headline, “PM Lee admits govt lacked 20/20 foresight”, which makes it seem as though the government is now able to see where it has gone wrong. It is unfortunate that even the PAP’s detractors, in acknowledging and emphasizing the lack of foresight, are paying more attention to what appears to be said than what is really being said. To unwittingly seem to expect the government to have 20/20 foresight is also to be susceptible to the accusation of having unreasonable expectations.

While what the prime minister is saying could have been a good retreat-as-defense strategy had it been executed with more finesse, the 20/20 reference betrays him from the outset by making him appear excessively defensive. A more astute politician might have said that he could have done with better foresight, but Kuan Yew’s son wants to emphasize that the only way the PAP could have avoided screwing things up was to have an impossible amount of foresight. In doing so, he also unintentionally reminds us precisely of the fact that not much foresight was needed to ensure that Singapore’s infrastructure is adequate for its population. Khaw Boon Wan, in the typical way the PAP politicians try to engage what they probably see as the unintelligent masses by using analogies of the mundane, makes this apparent. The Straits Times reports:

The Ministry of National Development . . . released its Land Use plan, which details how the planners will find enough land for the 6.9 million population and the 700,000 extra homes they will need.

Mr Khaw likened this effort to throwing a wedding banquet. When one invites 1,000 guests, one must cater for all 1,000, he said, even if they have not RSVPed and perhaps only 600 or 700 ultimately turn up.

Thanks to the PAP’s eagerness to pacify Singaporeans, who are getting increasingly frustrated with the ever-expanding population, by assuring them that the infrastructure will be sufficient, it has become clear to the people that ensuring that there is enough land, housing, and amenities is, far from requiring exceptional foresight, actually a matter of common sense. In defending himself and his party, the prime minister has indirectly admitted to either lacking common sense or to having bulldozed his way through the population increase with iniquitous disregard for the people’s quality of life.

In both the non-apology of 2011 and the vapid self-defense of 2013, Kuan Yew’s son is perhaps right in holding one particular assumption about Singaporeans: Singaporeans, by and large, are not motivated by a strong desire for democracy when they vote—even when they end up voting for the opposition; many are likely to vote for the PAP if it gives the impression that it will take care of their livelihood. They are often unwilling to rock the boat lest they fall into the water, however illogical such thinking is. The apology of 2011 was aimed precisely at giving this group of voters, even those who were skeptical of how sincere the apology was, the hope that the PAP would start to solve the problems it has caused. Hope and conservative voting behavior help the PAP’s triumph. The same hope could have been generated by the admission of 2013. The message is simple: “We already know what went wrong, and we will fix it.” The PAP has always banked on a general lack of political maturity to actually want a more democratic system.

The last week of January 2013, however, could well mark a significant turning point. With the release of the white paper on population, Singaporeans were left in a state of helplessness for a few days as the state-controlled media churned out visions of the future and ministers repeatedly assured Singaporeans that their lives would continue to be good (as if there were any goodness left to continue). It is this sense of helplessness, especially just days after a by-election where the opposition emerged victorious, that pushes Singaporeans to start drawing the connections between democracy and agency, between neglected democracy and the bread-and-butter issues with which there is a constant preoccupation. Perhaps—just perhaps—a strong opposition presence, which Singapore sorely lacks, could help Singapore avoid the 6.9-million nightmare.

Of course, the PAP has been relatively quick to change its tack. Now, Minister Khaw and the son of Kuan Yew are saying that the 6.9-million population is simply a worst case scenario. We may find yet another confession here. For years, the influx of foreigners has been marketed as a compensation for low fertility rates. Yet, if this were true, how could the influx of foreigners ever lead to a worst case scenario? Imagine a Singapore where the fertility rate has always been what the government now claims to be the ideal. Would the problems resulting from population growth still exist? If so, then high fertility rates would be the culprit with which we do not have to concern ourselves. We can only conclude, therefore, that the influx of foreigners has not been calibrated to compensate for low fertility rates, but to drive economic growth that can be seen in official digits but not experienced by the average Singaporean. It has been and will continue to be excessive.

Nevertheless, we may just be surprised for a while—things may actually improve. Even as the population grows, the infrastructure is having a race with the population. There may be a point when the infrastructure overtakes the population, allowing the people to experience some respite and feel the temptation vote for the PAP again. Kuan Yew’s son has been reported as saying that there will be improvements within three to five years. Some respite as early as 2016, the election year? Things may improve, but only until the population overtakes and wins the race. There is only so much space in Singapore, and so much that can be reclaimed, but there is an endless supply of foreigners to increase the population till apocalypse strikes. The same old trap of thinking that things are finally improving works as long as Singaporeans keep walking into it.

Eventually, we will relive the same miseries. Immigration policies will continue to be liberal. Singaporeans will continue to experience overcrowding, crushing wages, and unhappiness which we will always be made shameful of articulating. The less privileged foreigners will continue to be lowly paid, easily replaceable pawns of economic growth as Singapore maintains its zero tolerance for strikes, high tolerance of exploitation. The PAP will continue to promise to do better next time. There’s always a next time for the PAP. Unless we collectively and decisively put a stop to it.

31 Responses

  1. You have not been blogging in a very long while, LOL, missed your blogging.

    I shared a lot of the points you brought up. When the minister for national development tells you ‘it’s a worst case scenario’, he is really speaking for his ministry? Did he mean: I cross my fingers, but if my colleagues screw up again, I will be ready? It’s pathetic coming from a man who is paid million of dollars a year.

    I genuinely hope the opposition will capture at least a third of the seats come next election.

    • Hehe, I’ve been trolling on facebook.

      I hope the pappies would become extinct before Singaporeans become too endangered.

      • I am now catching up on your posts on Facebook. We have missed so much, perhaps you can provide a link to those older posts.
        I think LHL’s “worst case scenarios” is read wrongly by you guys…the best case is 10 millions and he has to lower the numbers to 6.9 is actually not what he has wanted!

  2. Reblogged this on Jentrified Citizen and commented:
    Jentrified- Agree with Molly it is time for us all to take collective action to say a loud and clear No to the huge influx of foreigners and to bad policies that are hurting Singaporeans.

  3. […] By now, most Singaporean netizens who are concerned about their country are likely to have heard that Kuan Yew’s son, the Prime Minister of Singapore, has made a confession that the government had …Next time. Do better. Try. More contrived than contrite, his words exude more indifference than assurance. The PAP has become a pathetic echo of itself at its prime, holding us captive like a monstrous team of Norma Desmonds in their delusional bid at preserving a glory long faded, tragic yet deserving no pity.The confession, though, is no confession. In fact, instead of being an explicit display of remorse, it is an implicit self-exoneration coupled with an insinuation that the accusers, and not the accused, are the guilty ones. Clearly, it would be unreasonable for us to blame anyone for not being able to predict the future with complete accuracy (with 20/20 foresight, in other words); so the PAP is really not blamable, and it is unreasonable of the people to expect the PAP to be clairvoyant.If there is a difference between the 2011 and the 2013 statements, it is the lack of the semblance of something like an apology this time round, suggesting perhaps a hardened attitude. Nevertheless, the mainstream media spin it as an admission of fallibility—as if the PAP has finally realized what they had done wrong. Channel NewsAsia came up with the headline, “PM Lee admits govt lacked 20/20 foresight”, which makes it seem as though the government is now able to see where it has gone wrong. It is unfortunate that even the PAP’s detractors, in acknowledging and emphasizing the lack of foresight, are paying more attention to what appears to be said than what is really being said. To unwittingly seem to expect the government to have 20/20 foresight is also to be susceptible to the accusation of having unreasonable expectations.While what the prime minister is saying could have been a good retreat-as-defense strategy had it been executed with more finesse, the 20/20 reference betrays him from the outset by making him appear excessively defensive. A more astute politician might have said that he could have done with better foresight, but Kuan Yew’s son wants to emphasize that the only way the PAP could have avoided screwing things up was to have an impossible amount of foresight. In doing so, he also unintentionally reminds us precisely of the fact that not much foresight was needed to ensure that Singapore’s infrastructure is adequate for its population. Khaw Boon Wan, in the typical way the PAP politicians try to engage what they probably see as the unintelligent masses by using analogies of the mundane, makes this apparent. The Straits Times reports:The Ministry of National Development . . . released its Land Use plan, which details how the planners will find enough land for the 6.9 million population and the 700,000 extra homes they will need.Mr Khaw likened this effort to throwing a wedding banquet. When one invites 1,000 guests, one must cater for all 1,000, he said, even if they have not RSVPed and perhaps only 600 or 700 ultimately turn up.Thanks to the PAP’s eagerness to pacify Singaporeans, who are getting increasingly frustrated with the ever-expanding population, by assuring them that the infrastructure will be sufficient, it has become clear to the people that ensuring that there is enough land, housing, and amenities is, far from requiring exceptional foresight, actually a matter of common sense. In defending himself and his party, the prime minister has indirectly admitted to either lacking common sense or to having bulldozed his way through the population increase with iniquitous disregard for the people’s quality of life.  […]

  4. […] By now, most Singaporean netizens who are concerned about their country are likely to have heard that Kuan Yew’s son, the Prime Minister of Singapore, has made a confession that the government had …  […]

  5. Thank you Molly for articulating my similar thoughts when I read about Lee’s admission of lack of foresight. That the government fail to see the irony of his admission taken together with the almost dogmatic intent on the7 million target, I reached a similar conclusion: they are either clueless or they don’t have the people’s interests as they push through their policies.

    And you took it further by sharing with readers the potential scenario of the PAP and the people reliving their lies and their miseries respectively. In this spirit of this article (which is more serious than (the usual) satirical), I salute your intellectual honesty and courage to keep writing for the good of the people, your community and country. May we see a sustainable and good future determined by the collective wisdom and/or luck (I would take the latter anytime) of the people.

    patriot

  6. The PAP has come up with its new “WIPE PAPER” alongside heaps of shit from its 6.9 million population rationale.After wiping it,they will wipe their eyes as the PM apologises.

  7. Hmmm .. Confessions is a new synonym for lies? It’s not as if they didn’t know any better :-) although that seems to be the new tack they are trying out .. but that somehow doesn’t quite match up with the type of premium pays they command ..

    • Lies can reveal the truth too when one too many is told.

      • True! Hopefully those who have preferred the lies do not continue to do so. Sometimes people just refuse to face the truth ..

      • No, not lies; just partial truth (not the whole truth).

        Examples:

        TCH: our policies are for the benefits for Singaporeans (truth)

        The whole truth: the 0.01% of Singaporean elites who are beneficiaries of plutocracy, nomenklatura and amakudari.

        TCH: As a citizen in 2030, you will have good quality jobs and opportunities, have access to services to support your family needs, and enjoy a high quality living environment.

        The whole truth: That citizen in 2030 is currently a citizen in China, India, US, UK or Timbuktu. They will become citizen by 2030, or way before 2030.

        TCH: The Singaporean core will be 55% by 2030.

        The whole truth: Those 55% so-called Singaporeans include the new citizens, instant citizens and GIP citizens. The actual true blue born-and-bred-in-Singapore core will be less than half (if we are not already there).

        • Totally agreed with last comment. True blue natives will be only a third! Pls go to Hong Lim Park on 16/2/13 @4pm to show your disgust to this policy.

  8. PAP is rushing th population hite through Parliament a ime hen WP is preoccupied with town council work. This is the most importnt affecting every S’porean, but PAP is giving MPs less thn one week to study the white paper and raise question in Parliament.

    Like NSP said, we should tak time to debate this, not rush this this through. If PAP i really on the side of S’poreans, it should fucking listening!

  9. I meant “population white paper”

  10. […] By now, most Singaporean netizens who are concerned about their country are likely to have heard that Kuan Yew’s son, the Prime Minister of Singapore, has made a confession that the government had lacked foresight. While his detractors tend to lambast him and his party based on the admission, it can only be considered a confession as much as his utterance of a ‘sorry’ two years ago could be considered apology.In 2011, he made a pre-General Election confession. Two years later, he is still at it, post-election. The pre-election, post-election timings are like fine patterns in an intricate work of art, giving the entire charade such an artistic feel that you almost want to forgive him:[I]f we didn’t quite get it right, I’m sorry, but we will try and do better the next time. (Kuan Yew’s son, pre-General Election, 2011)So we lacked that 20/20 foresight. Next time, we will try to do better. (Kuan Yew’s son, post-Punggol East by-election, 2013)Next time. Do better. Try. More contrived than contrite, his words exude more indifference than assurance.Singaporeans, by and large, are not motivated by a strong desire for democracy when they vote—even when they end up voting for the opposition; many are likely to vote for the PAP if it gives the impression that it will take care of their livelihood. They are often unwilling to rock the boat lest they fall into the water, however illogical such thinking is. The apology of 2011 was aimed precisely at giving this group of voters, even those who were skeptical of how sincere the apology was, the hope that the PAP would start to solve the problems it has caused. Hope and conservative voting behavior help the PAP’s triumph. The same hope could have been generated by the admission of 2013. The message is simple: “We already know what went wrong, and we will fix it.” The PAP has always banked on a general lack of political maturity to actually want a more democratic system.With the release of the white paper on population, Singaporeans were left in a state of helplessness for a few days as the state-controlled media churned out visions of the future and ministers repeatedly assured Singaporeans that their lives would continue to be good (as if there were any goodness left to continue). It is this sense of helplessness, especially just days after a by-election where the opposition emerged victorious, that pushes Singaporeans to start drawing the connections between democracy and agency, between neglected democracy and the bread-and-butter issues with which there is a constant preoccupation. Perhaps—just perhaps—a strong opposition presence, which Singapore sorely lacks, could help Singapore avoid the 6.9-million nightmare.Of course, the PAP has been relatively quick to change its tack. Now, Minister Khaw and the son of Kuan Yew are saying that the 6.9-million population is simply a worst case scenario. We may find yet another confession here. For years, the influx of foreigners has been marketed as a compensation for low fertility rates. Yet, if this were true, how could the influx of foreigners ever lead to a worst case scenario? There may be a point when the infrastructure overtakes the population, allowing the people to experience some respite and feel the temptation vote for the PAP again. Kuan Yew’s son has been reported as saying that there will be improvements within three to five years. Some respite as early as 2016, the election year? Things may improve, but only until the population overtakes and wins the race. There is only so much space in Singapore, and so much that can be reclaimed, but there is an endless supply of foreigners to increase the population till apocalypse strikes. The same old trap of thinking that things are finally improving works as long as Singaporeans keep walking into it.Eventually, we will relive the same miseries. Immigration policies will continue to be liberal. Singaporeans will continue to experience overcrowding, crushing wages, and unhappiness which we will always be made shameful of articulating. The less privileged foreigners will continue to be lowly paid, easily replaceable pawns of economic growth as Singapore maintains its zero tolerance for strikes, high tolerance of exploitation. The PAP will continue to promise to do better next time. There’s always a next time for the PAP. Unless we collectively and decisively put a stop to it.  […]

  11. The worst case scenarios are when we have these policy makers now, and long after they have bulldozed their way with population increases. A total population of 6.9m is not the worst case scenario as claimed.

  12. A farmer, a surgeon n a politician argued whise profession is the oldest. Farmer said: “Adam is a farmer. So farming must be the oldest.” Then the surgeon said:”No no, mine is the oldest as God took a rib from Adam to create Eve.” Finally, the politician said:”You are all wronng. We are the oldest. ‘cos on the beginning there is chaos. And we polticians are expert in creating chaos!”

  13. […] Harian: ALL MPs should work harder – Singapore 2B: What WP must do next – Molitics: Confessions of a Prime Minister – News Clips: Parties fight to be ‘on your side’ – NewNation: Amazing photo […]

  14. Despite Singaporeans hope that the country will be free from social ills caused by casino, the government (ONE is only bad) goes ahead with worst case of TWO at a go!

    Despite Singaporeans hope that the citizens will be first priority in mind, the government (FIVE are only bad) will continue with worst case of SEVEN millions in the next 18 years!!

    Guess the next worst case – the government will eventually venture into the most destructive nuclear energy in foreseeable years to come!!? …

  15. Molly,
    That’s a good one! Insightful points.

  16. DEBATES over the consequences of population growth have been vigorous, contentious and emotional (“Projected population rise raises concerns”; last Thursday).

    My response is emotional and I make no excuses for it. I am concerned about the quality of life and the cost of living for ordinary citizens like myself.

    Back in 1991, when the population was 3.1 million, the planning parameter was four million and this figure was projected to be reached by 2010.

    In 2000, when the population was four million, the figure of 5.5 million was used in the Concept Plan review as an estimate for the total population over the next 40 to 50 years.

    Then National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said worries that foreigners would swamp Singapore were baseless because the 5.5 million figure was not a target but an estimate for long-term planning purposes.

    It will take a much shorter time than 40 years to reach the projected 5.5 million figure – the population last year stood at 5.3 million.

    The latest White Paper projects a population of 6.9 million by 2030.

    National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has stressed that the projection is not a forecast or a target, but a “worst-case scenario”.

    Being part of the ageing population, I worry if I will still be able to live in my small HDB flat that I bought as a retirement home some 15 years ago.

    A few years ago, my friend, who is my age and suffering from Alzheimer’s, was relocated from the HDB flat she had been living in for almost 20 years.

    The older flat was taken over by the HDB for redevelopment. She is not the only one to suffer the consequences of dislocation at her age.

    I understand that 90 per cent of our population has been relocated and displaced since independence. I am grateful that my estate has not suffered the same fate as my friend’s.

    But Singaporeans have lived in a permanent state of upheaval, both physical and emotional, since independence.

    So I am not comforted by the Prime Minister’s assurance that he is “confident that Singapore will continue to offer a good quality living environment, and be one of the most liveable cities in the world” (“Plan to grow space for rising population”; last Friday).

    What exactly does he mean by a “good quality living environment”?

    Constance Singam (Ms)

    I thought this letter from Ms Singam was very good

  17. PAP always said how talented and visionary are those that being chosen by them. But any normal person, that being given same authoriity, with the back up of well established system and experienced civil servant, could have done no worse than them.
    A good general in armforces doesnt mean he will be a good political leader or minister.
    Also, I always curious, if those chosen are saint (as PAP said), why none of them come forward to say, ”it is honour to serve my country,
    and half a million a year is more than enough for me and my family, so, i will donate half to society”.
    Their action tells how noble they are.

  18. Your commentary depresses me because I know that try as I might I will never be able to write as well as you. Another brilliant piece Moll. Thanks . . .

  19. End of the day, sinkies must wake up frm the sleep or pretend to sleep en masse ….

    More good ppl need to walk the talk and fight for the next ….

    Ideas cannot be destroyed but muscle have power …..

    Go Molly go …..

  20. Will history repeat itself? George Santayana certainly thought so.

    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Rivers_of_Blood

    This paragraph could be describing Singapore instead of the UK:

    /// … For reasons which they could not comprehend, and in pursuance of a decision by default, on which they were never consulted, they found themselves made strangers in their own country.

    They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated; at work they found that employers hesitated to apply to the immigrant worker the standards of discipline and competence required of the native-born worker; they began to hear, as time went by, more and more voices which told them that they were now the unwanted. They now learn that a one way privilege is to be established by act of parliament; a law which cannot, and is not intended to, operate to protect them or redress their grievances is to be enacted to give the stranger, the disgruntled and the agent-provocateur the power to pillory them for their private actions. ///

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