Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Govt refutes Catherine Lim's claims over public trust

Catherine Lim keeps 'bemoaning collapse of trust' despite PAP record
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 14 Jun 2014

THE Government has refuted author Catherine Lim's claim in an open letter to the Prime Minister that Singaporeans no longer trust it.

The level of trust remains high, it said, as it has done much to improve people's lives, including addressing problems of income inequality, slowing social mobility and the middle-income squeeze in a "sustainable and responsible" way.

An international trust barometer has also found that a considerably higher proportion of Singaporeans trust their government than do people in the United States, Britain or Hong Kong.

The Government's response came in a letter from Singapore's Consul-General in Hong Kong Jacky Foo to the South China Morning Post after it reported on Ms Lim's open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In the letter posted on her blog last Saturday, Ms Lim said the people of Singapore "no longer trust their government, and the government no longer cares about regaining their trust".

It was shared widely on social media, and some news outlets picked up the story.

Mr Foo pointed out that this was not the first time Ms Lim had made such assertions about the relationship between Singapore's Government and people.

In his letter, published in the Hong Kong newspaper yesterday, he said that in 1994 too, she had "spied a great affective divide" after what she saw as the People's Action Party's poor performance in the 1991 General Election.

The PAP had won that election with 61 per cent of the vote. Ms Lim had written about the "affective divide" in a commentary published in this newspaper.

Mr Foo said that since 1994, the PAP had "taken Singapore through a number of serious crises relatively unscathed". These include the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the outbreak of Sars in 2003 and the 2008 global financial crisis.

It also won four further general elections by "healthy margins". "But still Ms Lim continues to regularly bemoan a collapse of trust and respect for the Government," he said.

He cited the Edelman Trust Barometer in which 75 per cent of respondents in Singapore said they trust the Government. That was compared with 37 per cent in the United States, 42 per cent in the United Kingdom and 45 per cent in Hong Kong.

In her open letter last weekend, Ms Lim said the present breakdown of trust was more serious than what she had described in 1994, and had "reached crisis proportions".

As evidence, she cited recent "high-visibility, high-risk" forms of protest, such as the vandalism at a Toa Payoh Housing Board block which had anti-PAP graffiti sprayed on a wall near the rooftop.

In addition, she said, the Government's use of the defamation suit is also seen by Singaporeans as "the very cause of the erosion of trust", even if it is a "legitimate instrument... to seek justice and redress".

Mr Lee recently commenced legal action against blogger Roy Ngerng, who alleged in a May 15 blog post that the Prime Minister had misappropriated Central Provident Fund monies.

Mr Lee sued after an earlier letter of demand to get Mr Ngerng to remove the post, apologise and pay damages was not complied with fully. During negotiations between both sides, Mr Ngerng re-asserted his claim in other blog posts and videos online.

In an apparent reference to that incident, Ms Lim warned in her letter that "in the highly charged atmosphere of the new Singapore", using the defamation suit would "surely damage the PAP cause further".

The lack of trust, she said, had led people to disregard all the good that the Government had done since the 2011 General Election.

Ms Lim lamented this state of affairs, saying: "I have to say that I am somewhat dismayed by the pure vitriol of your more extreme online critics who gleefully twist everything that you say and do to serve their cynicism."

Responding, Mr Foo said emphatically that Ms Lim was wrong to suggest the defamation suit against Mr Ngerng would "further erode trust".

"On the contrary, Mr Lee acted because the Government prizes integrity as the ultimate source of the trust it enjoys," he said.

He explained that if a leader just stood by when accused of criminally misappropriating money from the state pension system, he would "engender mistrust in his honesty and leadership". He added that a person who wanted to make such accusations should have basis for them and not be "gratuitously lying".

In countries where lies and false accusations dominate public discourse, he noted, people have a low opinion of politicians and little trust in their government.

Mr Foo also pointed out that while not all is perfect in Singapore, the Government had done much to improve people's lives.

For example, he said, the Government had openly acknowledged the problems of income inequality, slowing social mobility and the middle-income squeeze that other developed societies are also experiencing due to globalisation.

He added: "It has done much to overcome them, and is doing more in a sustainable and responsible, not populist, way. That is why trust in government in Singapore remains high."






Your report, "Writer Catherine Lim's open letter to Singaporean PM fuels social media debate" (June 9), quotes the writer saying "Singaporeans no longer trust their leaders".

Ms Lim first asserted this two decades ago in 1994. The ruling party had won the 1991 General Election with 61 per cent of the vote. Ms Lim thought that was a poor performance and spied "a great affective divide" in Singapore between the Government and the people.

Since then, the ruling party has taken Singapore through a number of serious crises relatively unscathed - the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, and the 2008 global financial crisis. In addition, it has won four further general elections by healthy margins. But still Ms Lim continues to regularly bemoan a collapse of trust and respect for the Government.

There are international benchmarks of trust in government. For example, the Edelman Trust Barometer found only 37 per cent of respondents in the United States trusted their government. The UK scores 42 per cent, and Hong Kong 45 per cent. Singapore scored a respectable 75 per cent.

Of course, not all is perfect in Singapore. Like other developed societies, our middle class too feels the squeeze from globalisation. The Government has openly acknowledged the problems of income inequality and slowing social mobility. It has done much to overcome them, and is doing more in a sustainable and responsible, not populist, way. That is why trust in government in Singapore remains high.

Ms Lim is also wrong to claim that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's defamation suit against a blogger will further erode trust. On the contrary, Mr Lee acted because the Government prizes integrity as the ultimate source of the

trust it enjoys. A leader who does nothing when he is accused of criminally misappropriating monies from the state pension system must engender mistrust in his honesty and leadership. The person making the accusations should have basis for the accusations, and should not be gratuitously lying.

It is no coincidence that in countries where lies and false accusations are the stock in trade of public debate, people have a low opinion of all politicians, and a very low trust in their governments.

Jacky Foo, Consul-General of Singapore in Hong Kong





Government has achieved much, but trust remains an issue

WITH reference to last Saturday's report ("Govt refutes author's claims over public trust"), I wish to make the following comments.

I share Singapore Consul-General in Hong Kong Jacky Foo's admiring acknowledgment of the many achievements of the People's Action Party (PAP) Government, especially its skilful handling of global-size problems such as the financial crises of 1997 and 2008 and the Sars epidemic.

But I disagree with Mr Foo's argument that since the Government has achieved so much, since it has won every election and finally, since it meets the Edelman Trust Barometer benchmark, it surely has the people's trust.

This depiction of the Singapore political situation fails to take into account its evolving dynamics and omits unflattering facts such as the shocking General Election of 2011. Even though the PAP won, it must have been forced to admit that the people's trust had been seriously eroded as shown by the startling post-election effusion of apologies from the Prime Minister and his colleagues, and its promise to "listen more", "communicate better" and use the "light footprint".

Three years after GE2011, the trust has not been regained. The best proof lies not in the graffiti, the mass demonstrations or the raucous social media, but in the most unlikely place - within the PAP camp itself. Here, there are voices urging the leaders to connect better with the ground, reflecting awareness that the problem has become serious enough to warrant attention at the highest levels.

Hence, I would like to point out that the mistrust is very real, even if it involves only a minority. Its impact can be seen in the Roy Ngerng defamation case. Although, as Mr Foo has rightly pointed out, the Prime Minister has every right to sue, to protect his reputation, the alarming truth is that an angry crowd will choose emotionalism over rationality, and insist that the defamation suit is one more instance of PAP bullying.

Mr Foo commented on my long history as a complainer. I have been writing political commentaries for 20 years now. Their central theme is the need for a robust, trusting relationship between the Government and the people, which, I strongly believe, is the only guarantee for a small country to survive in an increasingly perilous world.

Catherine Lim
ST Forum, 16 Jun 2014





Political commentators, get real

WHO can Singaporeans trust if not the present Government that has 60.1 per cent of the vote from the 2011 General Election ("Govt refutes author's claims over public trust"; June 14)?

Do we have an alternative to this Government? Probably not given the fractured opposition and the risks of a brand-new government.

Will our country get any worse? Definitely not. In all fairness, things are improving, and change is being implemented for the good of the people and the country.

Political commentators should get real when assessing Singapore's political landscape.

First, there is no need to be apologetic because there is no such thing as a 100 per cent mandate in a democracy.

Second, there is no urgent need to appease and regain the trust of the minority that is dead set against the Government.

Third, it is absurd to surmise that vandalism in Toa Payoh and the Prime Minister's move to seek redress from a blogger indicate an erosion of the people's trust in the Government.

Eroded trust from a finicky, fickle electorate is part and parcel of the democratic process. Leaders can be popular today and unpopular tomorrow.

But a single-digit drop in support could hardly be interpreted as a rising tide against the ruling party.

Having an opposition voice is healthy.

I am a proud Singaporean and if this is the government of the day, so be it. I trust its decisions.

Isn't this what a democratic nation is all about?

Douglas Chua
ST Forum, 21 Jun 2014





Most Singaporeans offer thoughtful feedback

IN DRAMATIC terms, Ms Catherine Lim announced that "we are in the midst of a crisis where the people no longer trust their government" and "the Government no longer cares".

After being challenged, Ms Lim now admits the mistrust may involve only "a minority" ("Government has achieved much, but trust remains an issue"; Monday).

It appears that Ms Lim cannot be trusted to be consistent in her own statements. Perhaps she should have started with a more positive view of Singaporeans.

Contrary to her characterisation, Singaporeans do not as a rule behave like angry children.

In my interactions with residents, I have found thoughtful feedback to be the norm. Indeed, my colleagues and I strive to engage our voters precisely so we can incorporate their considered, decent and reasonable views into policymaking.

Maintaining trust between Government and the people is a never-ending process.

For half a century now, this Government has chosen the path that leads to better outcomes in the long term, often despite temporary pain.

In the short run, this may draw on the goodwill between the Government and the people. But as our policies work, both trust and goodwill are rebuilt and strengthened.

No government in the world can only do things that all voters approve of and never encounter any problems or cause any pain.

Even Prime Minister Narenda Modi of India, freshly elected with a massive mandate, has said: "I am well aware my steps may dent the immense love the country has given me.

"But when my countrymen realise these steps will result in getting financial health back, I will regain that love." ("Modi's big plans and bigger challenges"; Monday.)

Maintaining trust also requires us to protect the integrity of the system.

We must defend ourselves robustly against sweeping attacks on our nation, our government, our people or our leaders.

We may not convince the few who hold on to their views despite overwhelming, objective evidence.

But the majority of Singaporeans do not want our nation's reputation tarnished and do not deserve to have their views warped by jaundiced commentators on the sidelines.

Janil Puthucheary (Dr)
Member of Parliament
Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC
ST Forum, 19 Jun 2014





Catherine Lim writes about trust in open letter to PM Lee
Singapolitics, 7 Jun 2014

Author Catherine Lim has written an open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, this time focusing on the issue of trust between the people and the Government.

Ms Lim, who frequently blogs about politics, has previously written two commentaries addressed to the Government, published twenty years ago, about what she percevied as Singaporeans' lack of affection for the ruling People's Action Party, and the Government's two "conflicting" styles of governance. She received a rebuttal from then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong over one of the commentaries.

In her latest letter, published on her blog on Saturday, she asserted that Singapore is "in the midst of a crisis where the people no longer trust their government".

In explaining the causes for the "crisis", she drew links to recent episodes, such as PM Lee's defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng, who had alleged in a blog post that the Prime Minister was "misappropriating" CPF funds.

While acknowledging that the Government had "made great efforts to improve the lot of the people" after the 2011 General Election, she said that the "new, better educated, globally-exposed, Internet population demand much more".

In her letter, Ms Lim suggested three ways for the Government to build trust with the people.

After her letter was put up online, it was shared widely on social media. It also garnered more than 100 comments, with some thanking her for speaking up, and others wondering if she had exaggerated the views of a minority.



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