Lee family Oxley saga a ‘petty dispute’

From ‘Singapore will not be dragged down by Lee family’s ‘petty disputes’, says Goh Chok Tong’, 17 June 2017, Today

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Friday (June 16) weighed in on the Lee family spat over 38 Oxley Road, by urging Singaporeans to “not be dragged down by a family’s petty disputes”.

Writing on Facebook, Mr Goh noted that Singapore has “prevailed through crises and adversity”. “We are a hardy people, built our family and nation from humble beginnings,” he wrote.

Mr Goh succeeded founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1990 and handed over the baton to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2004. He added: “What is happening in public between Lee Kuan Yew’s children is not us and should not be allowed to define who we are. We are bigger than our troubles, stronger than our differences. Whatever damage Singapore may suffer, willfully inflicted or otherwise, I know Singaporeans will not lay meek… We will always look forward, to fight real battles and create a better future for ourselves and our children.”

Yes, most Singaporeans we know have humble beginnings – relative to the Lees, that is. We don’t have an army of lawyers to draft our public statements. We can’t afford to have a sister-in-law or cousin to draft a high-profile will for a dying strongman father. Our kids can grow up to do their own thing without getting dragged through the mud by our aunties and uncles with claims that Dad has political ambitions for them. The only holiday we know is the one where you can chill in peace without someone Facebook posting viral shit about you at 3 am in the morning.

To most of us, a petty family dispute is when second brother forgets to message that he’s eating dinner, Mom overcooks and Dad complains why the fish was steamed instead of being deep fried, while youngest sister threatens to walk out of the house because second brother gets to iPad while she doesn’t. To our overlords, it involves National Heritage, personal integrity on a much grander scale, sung to the tune to $24 million dollars. And in the case of a a certain Lee couple, being forced to leave the country in fear of ‘state organs’. It also gives Chinese microbloggers a chance to laugh at us.

Yes, it’s an ugly state of affairs which may or may not have an impact on our everyday lives. Government will remain Government, as darkly Orwellian as the PM’s estranged brother believes it to be. Lee Wei Ling will continue to bitch about her brother being a ‘dishonourable’ son. Eventually, whether or not a certain Demolition clause is enacted, the Oxley house and all the lawyers behind it will go to dust, just as the Lees along with all of us, this land, this country, would fade into nothing, leaving a mere insignificant blip in this vast cosmic eternity that is bigger than any of us, including LKY, could ever imagine.





PAP is a cruise ship with a definite destination

From ‘Aljunied GRC voters can ‘have cake and eat it’:ESM Goh’, 6 Sep 15, article in CNA

While on a walkabout with the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Aljunied GRC team, ESM Goh said his sense of the ground in Aljunied, which was won by the Workers’ Party in the 2011 General Election (GE), is that “many people are caught in a dilemma”. 

“They tell us quite openly that they want to support the PAP, but at the same time they are afraid. Vote for PAP, and Workers’ Party will be out. And therefore there will be no more opposition party, led by Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim, in Parliament,” he noted.

The NCMP scheme ensures that there will always be a minimum number of opposition Members in Parliament. Citing the scheme, ESM Goh said voters and WP can, in fact, “have their cake and eat it”.

…The former Prime Minister also likened the dilemma Aljunied voters face as between a cruise ship with a destination and one without. “If you go with the PAP, you are actually embarking on a cruise ship with a definite destination. You know the destination, you know the journey, the path taken by the cruise ship. You know the captain, the crew members, you know the quality,” ESM Goh said.

“The other choice you’re given is take my cruise ship, I’m going to nowhere. You know there are cruise ships that go on a journey to nowhere. These are gambling ships, very exciting. You take my ship, you can gamble but go no where, just go round and round and so on. The point I’m making is there’s a choice for yourself.”

The phrase ‘having our cake and eat it’ has been used in the GE context to refer to Singaporeans wanting the PAP to lead the country, but at the same desire alternative voices in Parliament. In 1991, WP candiate Jufrie Mahmood used the same idiom to urge Singaporeans to vote for the WP (WP targets floaters and predicts a close fight, 31 Aug 1991, ST). Since 2011, Aljunied residents have indeed been enjoying cake, despite LKY’s insistence that they would repent for the indulgence. Come a week’s time and we’ll see if 4 years of cumulative indigestion would lead to voters puking all WP MPs out of their Parliament seats. Or, if voters are not swayed by the AHPETC salvos, Aljunied continues to eat the same cake. And then some.

ESM Goh’s cake comment reminds me of those ominous words erroneously attributed to Marie Antoinette. When told that the people were starving and had no bread to eat, she supposedly replied: ‘Let them eat cake!’, a phrase that alluded to the class separation between France’s aristocracy and the common people. It’s no coincidence that PM Lee not too long ago spoke of this ‘natural aristocracy’. Well, most Singaporeans can afford more than their daily bread, or even cake, of course. At least we don’t have to eat our own words. And we all know what happened to Marie Antoinette’s head after that. It rolled.

Since the watershed victory in 2011, it would be an insult to the Opposition to settle for NCMP positions in the catastrophic event that the PAP swallows all 89 seats this year (i.e they eating the whole damn cake, sugar frosting, candles and all). The scheme was a token creation of the late LKY in 1984 to help the younger generation appreciate ‘constitutional Opposition’.  Having gained considerable ground since then, no ‘self-respecting’ WP candidate especially the likes of Low Thia Khiang or Sylvia Lim would re-enter Parliament through the ‘back door’ if they could help it. It’s like having a chocolate lava cake one election, and being presented with a combat ration sponge cake the next.

ESM Goh’s analogy of the Goverment being a luxurious cruise ship also seems at odds with what PM Lee had to say regarding Singapore being compared to the same vessel. He said:

Once you think you are in a cruise ship and you are on a holiday and everything must go swimmingly well and will be attended to for you, I think you are in trouble.

No, it definitely doesn’t feel like the Royal Caribbean to the average Singaporean. Some of the houses we live in are even smaller than those cabin suites on board.  I’m also not sure what this ‘definite destination’ that ESM Goh painted for us is (Switzerland?) Whatever happened to choppy waters, stormy weathers and such? Didn’t we learn anything from killjoys like SARS, or the haze? Isn’t the Singaporean journey together as one united people, through ups and downs, more important than the final destination?

In fact, the casino ship seems a more appropriate analogy if you consider our dependence on the 2 IRs. Except that they’re more accommodating to foreigners than our own people, who’re probably stuck in the cargo hold peeling potatoes while the elite dance in banquet halls and have artisan cocktail parties with the captain. We need people to peep out of the porthole, to survey the ocean every now and then to look out for impending icebergs. We’d rather be a cruise to nowhere than the Titanic.

For a man who spoke only ONCE in Parliament these few years, he’s rabidly vocal this week alone. When asked about that one speech on the Population White Paper, ESM Goh admitted that it was a one-off, but at least was ‘impactful’.  You can still read the 2013 speech online and in essence he’s saying ‘I support the White Paper’, and something about pushing boulders up a mountain (Sisyphus much?). No one will remember it, quote abstracts from it, or say ‘GCT WAS RIGHT!’ should the 6.9 million target indeed turn out to be a lucky number. It doesn’t, however, beat his immortal speeches about our ‘Swiss standard of living’ or ‘stayers and quitters’ in terms of impact. Talk about Ownself praise ownself.

We’ve had a taste of cake, now here, have some humble pie, sir.

Workers’ party a bunch of arrogant nomads

From ‘Opposition parties come and go like nomads: ESM Goh’, 27 Aug 2015, article in CNA


“Opposition parties come and go like nomads. Nomads will not have an interest in the people’s welfare. A new tribe is coming – do they really have interest in Marine Parade’s welfare?

“Having spent forty years there, the residents know me. I will leave it to them to decide whether I’ve done a good job or not.

“The opposition will be there just throwing all kinds of distractions.

“You know the fable of the rooster that crows when the sunrises? The rooster goes around claiming that it’s the crow causing the sun to rise. So that’s what they’re doing.”


“Strength is relative. They (WP) are stronger than NSP (National Solidarity Party) – there’s no doubt about it – but there is a certain arrogance about them.

“With that arrogance will they be able to replace me and my team? Let them try. “Are we worried that WP is coming to MP? Look at the way they run their Town Council’s finances and look at the way we run (ours).

“You decide – who do you want to manage your town council?”

There’s a fine line between being arrogant and being confident, and you would expect one to swing to another in politics when showboating is necessary to get people to listen. When ESM Goh says WP are being ‘arrogant’ when they decided to send a team to challenge the MParader himself, he really means ‘You have the ‘cheek’ to challenge my 40 year old legacy.’ He also said that the PAP Government was ‘its own check’, without the need for Opposition ‘distractions’. This isn’t cock-sure confidence or boasting, it’s plain delusional. It’s like a drunkard saying he’s ‘not drunk’. This lecture on arrogance coming from someone who previously mocked the NSP as a ‘No Substance Party‘ during the last election. Someone who’s, obviously, no ‘spring chicken’ anymore.

If the WP were roaming nomads without a home to call their own, such talk makes the MParader himself sound more like an old man of the mountain, living in his ivory tower watching his subjects collect and transport cardboard for entertainment. With such lofty self-assurance, surely there’s no need for the Audit-General, the President, or even the need for public feedback because the PAP has been doing so well ‘checking themselves’, anal warts and all. Where’s the check when ex-MP Phey Yew Kok disappeared for almost 40 years after being charged for corruption? Did it wander off somewhere like a nomad?

If there’s anyone accused of arrogance it’s usually the ruling party itself, even ever since its inception. In 1959, Minister of Culture S Rajaratnam launched a scathing insult at the Opposition, calling them ‘comic opera parties‘, and that they belong to the ‘ice age’ of Singapore politics. Not a very ‘cultured’ remark, perhaps. Goh Keng Swee was also guilty of it, haranguing the English press for smearing the PAP.  LKY was also labelled as the ‘master of arrogance’.  You could say arrogance was built into the party’s DNA, at a time when hard knocks called for a hard head, that such blatant display of cockiness was, well, earned.

Nonetheless LKY and his ‘Old Guard’ were still well regarded by old folk in the 80’s and up till today, who yearned for the founding members’ never-say-die attitude instead of that displayed by their ‘arrogant’ younger successors. This generation includes types who make fun of another politician’s hearing disability, (Lim Wee Kiak on Low Thia Khiang), those who compensate for their not doing NS by invoking superhero nobility  (I spent the last 10 years saving kids’ lives – Janil Puthucheary) and those who brag about how politics is really a calling and how bad their pay cut was (Grace Fu – When I made the decision…).

Even PAP MPs themselves are aware of their own bloated sense of self-worth. In 2006, Indranee Rajah urged the PAP to ‘overhaul its arrogant image’. To be fair, the PAP by and large has softened since the 2011 GE, perhaps now fully aware that the people will not stand for strong-arm tactics and a holier-than-thou attitude much longer. Retired generals act like your everyman on the street, swapping their rugged camouflage kits for the squeaky clean all-whites. Lawyers dabble in Singlish and eat hawker food. Doctors like ‘nomadic’ candidate Koh Poh Khoon pick up leaf litter from drains. Baey Yam Keng and Tin Peiling handle sanitary pads and soiled diapers. They literally had their hands and feet on the ground. This could herald the new era of PAP MPs who you could actually relate to, while the old elitist breed stomp grudgingly into their twilight years, refusing to give up their knuckle-dusters and continue to bang on the Opposition, seething behind their wobbly dentures till their dying breath.

It’s interesting how ESM Goh mentioned the analogy of a poultry here, because while one kampong chicken claims credit for the sun rising, another prized specimen struts around thinking it owns the coop, unaware of the farmer sharpening his cleaver. Or in this case, a sturdy hammer.

PAP’s succession planning in their DNA

From ‘Succession planning ‘part of Government’s DNA’, 1 March 2015, article by Lim Yan Liang, Sunday Times

Succession planning has long been a part of the Government’s DNA, and the next team of leaders who will helm the country is taking shape, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.

A key tenet of governance here has always been to ensure that good people will be in charge, he said after attending a Chinese New Year lunch with grassroots leaders from Geylang Serai constituency.

“Mr Lee Kuan Yew has always emphasised political succession, and when I took over, likewise, I planned for succession,” he said. “Prime Minister Lee is also working very hard to plan for succession.”

His comments to reporters came as the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (Perc) said in its risk rating update last Thursday that health issues affecting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew have put political succession in the spotlight.

…”It is hard for many Singaporeans even to imagine an island without a member of the Lee family at either the helm or being groomed for it, but that is another reality Singapore will have to face,” it  (Perc) added.

When one uses the analogy of ‘DNA’ like ESM Goh has you are implying that people, or organisations, are innately predisposed to a certain behaviour or characteristic. For example, ‘kiasuism’ is in our DNA, but without the right external trigger (PSLE) I wouldn’t be lining up to register for primary school at 3 in the morning. You don’t say ‘queuing’ is in our DNA. What he really means is that the PAP is ‘well prepared’ when the top man is suddenly removed due to unforseen circumstances, that ‘succession planning’ is really more a company ‘philosophy’ than a trait. In other words, ‘foresight’ is in your DNA, while succession planning is the natural outcome of it. Alas, according to PM Lee, there’s still room for improvement in that department.

It’s interesting how ESM Goh uses ‘DNA’ in this scenario, given that there are actual bloodlines running within the PAP, other than the world famous father-son link. Desmond Choo’s uncle is ex MP Choo Wee Khiang. Grace Fu and her dad James Fu is another example. Chua Mui Hoong once commented that the PAP should ‘change their DNA’ of ‘wonky leaders’ (policy wonks, she clarifies). Which makes me wonder if she passed her secondary school Science because you can’t ‘change your DNA’ unless you expose yourself to nuclear radiation. Law Minister Shanmugam says ‘looking after people‘ is in the PAP’s DNA. Again, confusion over what one actually does (look after people) vs what predisposes one to do (compassion). I’m not sure if the PAP has much to brag about either. What they do need is a refresher in biochemistry before using catchy buzzwords willy-nilly.

‘Succession planning’ is a whole business process by itself, but what it boils down to is who gets to rise, why he deserves it and who decides that he’s the chosen one. In the case of GCT himself, he was selected not by the people, nor the MPs, but an ‘inner circle’ of ‘cabinet ministers’. Back in 1985 he addressed murmurs that he was merely paving the way for LKY’s son by saying: ‘If Singapore will be better led by someone else, if I’m just to warm the seat, then so be it.’ A year later, everyone already knew what was in store for the younger Lee, when Goh was reported to have said that it was ‘unlikely’ that BG Lee would take the top job ‘immediately after LKY’s retirement’. Which makes ‘succession planning’ more of a formality of transparency. Up to now, we have been led by a successions of PMs fondly referred to by some as ‘The Father, the Son, and the Holy Goh’. God knows who’ll be the next in line. It’s easy for the ESM to glorify succession planning, but we may have a genuine problem on our hands if an heir apparent isn’t identified NOW.

As for our current PM, he intends to leave the decision of his successor to the ‘younger ministers and their generation‘. While we Singaporeans sit by, watch and place our bets. ‘Risk-taking’ through gambling is also in our DNA after all. So what would Singapore be like without a member of this ‘Lee dynasty’ at the helm then? There are those who believe that we’re not ready for a world without LKY. Perc seems to think the end of the Lee era would be unthinkable. PM Lee himself has mentioned that he does not envision his kids doing politics, so it’s very possible that the bloodline stops here. It’s up to us Singaporeans then to make sure the beating heart of the country doesn’t, whoever the baton is passed to. As LKY himself eloquently, and rather accurately, put it in his memoir ‘Lee Kuan Yew: The Critical Years 1971-1978 Vol 2:

…There is one fundamental quality we (Singaporeans) have, which nothing can change, and that is the verve, the vitality, the drive in our people. Call it what you will – the DNA – the double helix – whatever you like to call it, it is in us.

ESM Goh on Singapore becoming a Garbage City

From ‘S’pore may end up as a ‘garbage city”, 29 Jan 2015, article in Today

The Republic may end up as a “garbage city”, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong today (Jan 29) following reports of how a part of the Gardens by the Bay was covered with rubbish following a music festival.

His remarks come a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a picture on his Facebook page, which showed rubbish strewn on the ground following the 2015 Laneway Festival at the Meadow at Gardens by the Bay. About 13,000 people attended the Saturday event..

…In a Facebook post, Mr Goh wrote: “Our reputation as one of the world’s cleanest cities is going down the rubbish chute. It looks like a case of ‘monkeys see, monkeys do’.” He noted that Tokyo has no rubbish even though the Japanese capital has no rubbish bins in public places.

“The Japanese take their snack wrappers, empty bottles and ponchos home to dispose. That is why Tokyo is a fine city without ‘fine’ signs. That is why it is a clean city with no foreign workers.”

Mr Goh added: “Without foreign workers, Singapore is likely to become a ‘garbage city’. Cleanliness is a character thing. It shows who you really are. “

While our PM Lee was calm in his criticism of the ‘Landway Landfill’, using the more nuanced ‘cleaned city’ to describe our dependence on an army of labourers and shameless sense of entitlement (some Laneway goers interviewed in a ST article assumed that cleaning services were included in the festival ticket), our former PM has no qualms about trash-talking and putting our disgusting habits in the spotlight. Interestingly, he has summoned the analogy of ‘monkey see monkey do’ to describe the contagious mimicry of littering. And what do monkeys eat?

Here’s a clue, courtesy of Mrs Goh Chok Tong herself in reference to a certain NKF chairman’s salary, in full uncensored glory.

For a person who runs a million-dollar charitable organisation, $600,000 is peanuts as it has a few hundred millions in reserves.’

As they say, if you pay peanuts, you get..well – you know.

But back to Garbage by the Bay. The Laneway fallout isn’t new. We have been called ‘Garbage City‘ since 1983. Anyone who has stayed back after the NDP festivities to witness the mess left behind would hang their head in shame at the average 15 TONNES of rubbish per show. We can forgive Laneway hipsters, whose fashion accessories actually aspire towards ‘litter-chic’. We may even put the blame what one would expect to be a large non-Singaporean crowd among the audience. But to desecrate a parade ground after the nation’s birthday and singing along with Kit Chan to ‘Home Truly’ is just unforgivable. It makes a MONKEY out of National Day. It’s like blowing out Singapore’s birthday candles on a giant stadium sized cake, and then pooping all over it before we leave.

Even the phrase ‘cleaned city’ is recycled. Vivian Balakrishnan used it in 2012. Liak Teng Lit says that being called a ‘clean city‘ is a JOKE. But nobody’s laughing. It’s easy to rubbish our selling point to the world as a spick and span little red dot. Changing the mindset of the typical litterbug, however, takes more than a cute frog mascot, a public campaign with Ah Boys to Men singing in it, some ugly bright yellow CWO outfit to show the world you’re an incorrigible, lazy excuse of a human being, or slapping a outrageous fine on someone caught tossing cigarette butts out of his HDB window. A picture of the Laneway aftermath ought to speak a thousand words, yet no one seems to be listening.

So fine. We’re a bunch of spoilt ungracious louts with poor ‘character’. But what’s also annoying, though, is the tiresome comparisons to ‘spotless’ Japan every time some venue transforms into a junkyard after celebrations. ESM Goh says ‘Tokyo has NO rubbish’, which, from personal experience in my travels there, is a cliche and an exaggeration, though it still is generally cleaner than the little red rat-infested dump that we’re living in now. You don’t need a major event to show our true colours. I’ve seen people dumping an old TOILET BOWL in my void deck. Old folks still spit without repercussion. Drains are clogged after void deck events. Trays are not cleared. Don’t get me started on our toilets.

Sadly, the Japanese’s culture of shared responsibility and concept of ‘homeland’ has yet to sink in, and we’re struggling to work through the hypocrisy of celebrating recycling and Earth Hour on one hand, but on the other brushing parking coupon tabs to the ground when no one is looking. Our children are taught phonics before they are trained to throw their crap into dustbins.

We’re still haunted by the proverbial fishball stick. Unless something is done to address the psyche of the littering Singaporean who expects to be picked up after, we’ll get poked by the same issue again and again, relying on some reporting app launched by the MSO to complain about things lying around when it’s faster for us to pick it up and throw it away. While we look to the Land of the Rising Sun for inspiration in vain, this sunny island in the sea is fast becoming the ‘Land of the Rising SLUM’.

Baey Yam Keng is a selfie crush

From ‘MP Baey Yam Keng: I am surprised and flattered by the interest in my selfies’, article by Yunita Ong, 15 Aug 2013, ST

As a politician, Mr Baey Yam Keng is no stranger to public scrutiny. But the MP for Tampines GRC wasn’t quite prepared for the sudden buzz surrounding the “selfies” – or self-taken photos of his face – which he posted on his Instagram account.

Mr Baey, who turns 43 on Aug 31, was crowned “selfie crush” by a pop-culture website called Popspoken on Aug 5. It collated what it called the MP’s “hottest 10 selfies”.

“I was quite surprised and a bit flattered that someone took enough notice of my selfies,” he told The Straits Times. “I appreciate it as I thought it’s quite a positive article.”

…While some are not supportive of him taking selfies, most have given him the thumbs up. One Instagram user praised him for “engaging Singaporeans through online interaction”.

In 2007, Baey ‘Yum’ Keng’s photo was mistakenly used in a Malaysian Chinese newspaper article, where he was depicted as a 50 year old woman’s ‘serial womaniser’ husband. With his range of selfies online, he may be easy pickings for people photojacking his shots for dating portfolios, or end up in advertisement banners for sites with names like Hot Asian Studs or Moustache Madness. As for ‘engaging Singaporeans’,  posing with Iron Man is fine, but acting cute with a Coach box will earn you mortal enemies and a Facebook petition to kick you out of Parliament. Just ask Tin Pei Ling. What is it, then, that makes it alright, sexy, some may even say respectable, for a male politician to take a playful selfie, but when an attractive female counterpart does it, it seems, well, ‘unprofessional’?

BYK isn’t the only male politician with smouldering filmstar looks. Those who have been labelled ‘auntie-killers’ include boyish Desmond Choo and Chen Show Mao with his ‘scholarly good looks’. One man who has been literally compared to a filmstar is our Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, whom some housewives think resemble Richard Gere. These are probably the same women who think Khaw Boon Wan looks like Al Pacino. One such auntie-killer lived up to his reputation as a ‘ladies’ man’, being the first PAP MP to be publicly shamed for adultery and lost his job over it. His name? Michael Palmer.

Which male politician do people most want to see naked? One gay forum posed such a tantaslising question. According to poll results, Ng ‘Richard Gere’ Eng Hen got 0.77% of votes. Steve Chia, who did in fact take erotic naked pictures of himself, scored 2.47%. Baey was a distant second (21%) to winner Teo Ser Luck (60%), whereas no one in their right mind would want to see Yaacob Ibrahim expose himself (3 votes).

Blogger Hansel 25 has more eclectic tastes in his male politicians. BYK only makes it to a measly no.8 on his Top 10 list, with the likes of Tan Chuan Jin, Teo Ser Luck and even Vivian Balakrishnan higher in hotness ranking. It’s also a well known fact that height correlates with attractiveness, and the tallest PM we’ve ever had was once called ‘My HANDSOME prime minister’ by a resident. (My handsome Prime Minister!4 Jan 1997, ST). Standing at 6″2, he’s none other than our current Emeritus Senior Minister, Goh Chok Tong. Seems like it’s OK to be ‘wooden’ but still a heartland heartthrob as long as you’re taller than 180cm.

There are the unsung, underrated hunks as well. Forum commentators laud NMPs Nicholas Fang and Lawrence Lien, while others swoon over Christopher De Souza and Lim Wee Kiak, guys who don’t need an Instagram account to show off their unconventional good looks through vainpot pictures. But what’s truly remarkable is how one of our top leaders made it to the top 20 hottest heads of state. This ‘yandao’ man-god is currently number 14 on the list, and officially hotter than THIS man below:

Vladimir Putin. The piranha at the end of his fishing line was out of the picture

Our hot world leader doesn’t hunt deer or wrestle with bears while swilling vodka in one hand, but he looks absolutely fabulous in a pink shirt. He’s so smokin’ hot he doesn’t need a selfie to prove it. In fact, during a National Day Rally he REVERSED the selfie. How cool is that? Take a bow, Lee Hsien Loong.

Our PM, 14th hottest head of state in the world

ESM Goh Chok Tong warning against elitism

From ‘S’pore needs to guard against elitism: ESM Goh’, 27 July 2013, article by Sharon See, CNA

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said there is a need to guard against elitism because it threatens to divide the inclusive society Singapore is seeking to build. Speaking at his alma mater Raffles Institution’s (RI) Homecoming event on Saturday, Mr Goh said top schools, including RI, must play a key role in ensuring elitism and a sense of entitlement do not creep into the minds of their students.

…Mr Goh said: “When society’s brightest and most able think that they made good because they are inherently superior and entitled to their success; when they do not credit their good fortune also to birth and circumstance; when economic inequality gives rise to social immobility and a growing social distance between the winners of meritocracy and the masses; and when the winners seek to cement their membership of a social class that is distinct from, exclusive, and not representative of Singapore society – that is elitism.”

Mr Goh said the solution is not to replace meritocracy, However, the practice of meritocracy must not worsen the divide between the successful and the rest of the society.

In 1977, the same Goh Chok Tong was not afraid to use the ‘E-word’. He called for the need to PROMOTE intellectual Elitism because we needed the ‘best brains’ to raise the standard of living and enrich our existence in what would otherwise be a mediocre, ‘second-rate’ country. Today, he seems to be against ANY kind of elitism whatsoever, maybe upon realising that elitism is elitism however you frame it, like rape is rape.

Fears of breeding this cancer that is elitism were also raised by Inderjit Singh in 2004, in response to the primary school streaming system which typecast students according to their abilities (EM1, EM2 and EM3). In 2006, the country raged against the daughter of an MP, Wee Shu Min, for telling a fellow blogger to ‘get out of her elite uncaring face’. MP Sin Boon Ann responded to the incident by commenting on the social divide that splits the HDB dwellers vs private property owners, the gifted vs the normal streams, the rich vs poor, the ones who Instagram expensive caviar vs those who post humble pics of wanton mee.

Snobbery and a sense of entitlement and superiority exist however you try to get everyone on an even footing, which is what meritocracy aims to do. The cure for elitism is compassion and humility, not meritocracy. In fact, some have even blamed meritocracy for breeding elitism in the first place, not least ST political editor Chua Mui Hoong, because those who worked hard to achieve their success feel that they deserved it, compared to those who didn’t strive as much. I’m rich because I worked like a slave and earned it, you’re lazy and have yourself to blame for struggling in between jobs. And since I’m rewarded for my efforts, I can afford to ensure that my kids get the best schools and tuition so that they can succeed in this meritocratic society like I have. So get out of my elitist face!

Yet, there’s something intrinsically, undeniably human about thinking you’re better than someone else. It’s how everyone is supposed to think when they’re going for a job interview, competing in a race, or pursuing the girl/guy of their dreams. Elitism is a side effect of the very human drive of excellence, so comparing it to a disease is like saying money is the root of all evil and rejecting a pay raise because it’s immoral and unfair. Our founders themselves built the nation subscribing to precisely such elitist thinking. In 1965, LKY proposed a ‘school for elite’ just for kids who had ‘special mental endowment’, a factory for future leaders. This would eventually lead to the likes of the GEP and PSLE that we know of today, where we use the term ‘meritocracy’ to muddle what’s essentially a sieve that selects, and rewards, the academically inclined, the gifted, the wealthy, the connected. Even the way one enrols children into primary schools smacks of elitism, whereby those who have the time, the clan or church associations, the alumni connections, the money to buy houses closer to schools are given priority over others.

In the book ‘Singapore’s Success:Engineering Economic Growth’, the authors argue that PAP leaders are elitist, who ‘admire the power of the intellect, and believe that only the best and the brightest are capable of leading well’. Given that the elitist strategy based on merit makes the best sense for a country like ours, one wonders if it hadn’t been for elites picking and choosing their own kind, would our dear ESM be where he is now? And yet here he is telling us not to follow in the PAP’s footsteps, practically biting the hand that feeds him.

Meritocracy doesn’t care about those who excel in areas other than academics. IN 1971, LKY applauded the top men who have risen up the ranks due to their hard work, own merit and high performance, and that if all 300 of the cream of the crop were to crash in one jumbo jet, then Singapore would disintegrate. Meritocracy is the reason why you’re in EM3 and your neighbour is a EM1 kid, or why only top PSLE scorers make it into branded schools. Meritocracy is responsible for those bootleg exam papers you see sold at a flea market or pasar malam. If meritocracy doesn’t breed elitism despite creating social strata that seem to favour the proliferation of an elite mindset, surely it’s responsible for our kiasuism. I’m not sure which of the two is worse.