Saturday 25 December 2021

Mental Health: Misperceptions, stereotypes can negatively affect people who have mental illness

On Wednesday, the Committee of Privileges heard the expert testimony of Dr Christopher Cheok, a psychiatrist, on whether former Workers' Party MP Raeesah Khan's psychological faculties were impaired when she made her statements in Parliament (Raeesah didn't have any mental disorder that would lead her to lie: IMH expert, Dec 23).

While he assessed her to be of sound mind, many misperceptions and stereotypes were put forth to him over the session.

As co-founder of the Total Wellness Initiative Singapore, and a mental health researcher, I feel it would be pertinent to expand upon some of the issues that surfaced.

First, dissociation is not a mental illness. It is a symptom that may be an indicator of a mental illness.

In the case of Ms Khan, Dr Cheok said she did not have post-traumatic stress disorder and did not suffer from dissociation between Aug 3 and Dec 3.

The more significant issue here was the multiple attempts to associate dissociation with lying and false memory creation, or characterise it as something which could be turned off and on at will.

These suggestions do a genuine disservice to individuals who experience dissociation and who may suffer from its effects.

It further stigmatises and casts unfair aspersions on them as individuals.

Second, symptoms of a mental illness do not equate to having a mental illness. To preface this statement, it should not matter if you have a mental illness, but symptoms alone are not sufficient for a diagnosis of one.

When psychological or psychiatric assessments are conducted, function is often a critical variable considered in deriving a specific diagnostic outcome. Dr Cheok put it best when he said "many people living in our urban society would undergo different stressors from work, family life and society in general, but just because you have certain stress and emotional symptoms doesn't mean you have a psychiatric disorder".

Lastly, high-profile cases such as this - in which the entire nation and perhaps even people outside of Singapore are watching - tend to influence the existing narrative regarding mental health and illness disproportionately.

I hope that people who write about such issues, talk about them or even consider using them in such situations, will do so responsibly.

We should be careful of colouring other people who experience mental health conditions in a particular light for the sake of furthering our agendas.

People consuming related media should also be critical and make their own decisions only after they have gone through the source.

Mental illnesses do not discriminate or stigmatise, and neither should we.

Jonathan Kuek Han Loong

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Singapore's first badminton World Champion: Loh Kean Yew wins BWF 2021 World Championships on 19 December 2021

Singapore's Loh Kean Yew is badminton world champion
By David Lee, The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2021

History took 43 hectic minutes, two games and 78 points.

At the end of it, unseeded national shuttler Loh Kean Yew stunned the badminton world by becoming the first Singaporean to win the World Championships.

On Sunday (Dec 19), the Singaporean world No. 22 upset India's world No. 14 Srikanth Kidambi 21-15, 22-20 in the final in Huelva, Spain.

On the final point, when a push to the back court landed in, Loh sank to his knees but ascended into sporting legend.

In a single, inspired week, he has crafted one of the greatest moments in this nation's sporting folklore.

And few would know he did it on one good ankle.

The 24-year-old rolled his right ankle while trying to save a shuttle in Friday’s quarter-final win over India’s Prannoy H. S. and had to use a wheelchair after beating Denmark’s Anders Antonsen in the semi-final on Saturday.

He told The Straits Times: “I thought I was finished because it hurt like hell, and I couldn’t walk. But I told myself to push through the pain and go all out in the final, and coped with ice and some treatment, and it paid off.

“I’m super, super happy. This feels like a dream, and now it’s a dream come true. I grew up watching Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei playing such big finals and now I’m here as the world champion. It’s unbelievable.

“I’m honoured to deliver this first gold for Singapore. I know many Singaporeans have been staying up to follow my progress, and I want to thank everyone for their support and for being a huge motivation.

"I feel I have improved over the past few months, but I still have a long way to go to be where I want to be, and I will continue to work hard to be even better as I chase my dream of winning an Olympic medal for Singapore."

Since the competition's inception in 1977, only four countries - China, Indonesia, Denmark and Japan - have won gold in the men's singles, and now, Singapore has one of its own.

In the final, Loh displayed courage and composure despite his injury.

He was 9-3 down in the opening frame but roared back. At 12-12, he flung himself to the ground to retrieve a smash and bounced right up for the kill.

From that moment, he never looked back.

The second game followed a similar vein, and Kidambi was up 18-16, but the underdog was relentless in his quest to become world champion, and did so after winning his third match point.

In the other finals, China's world No. 3 pair of Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan beat fourth-ranked South Koreans Lee So-hee and Shin Seung-chan 21-16, 21-17 to add to their 2017 women's doubles world title.

Elsewhere, there were new world champions as Japan's world No. 3 Akane Yamaguchi beat Chinese Taipei's top-ranked Tai Tzu-ying 21-14, 21-11 in the women's singles final.

In the men's doubles final, Japan's world No. 4 Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi beat China's 24th-ranked He Jiting and Tan Qiang 21-12, 21-18. And in the mixed doubles final, Thailand's world No. 1 Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai beat Japan's world No. 4 Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino 21-13, 21-14.

But for Singapore badminton, it has been more than a decade since it has made ripples of some magnitude on the international stage.

Loh's breakthrough will easily rank among Singapore's greatest sporting feats, which include swimmer Joseph Schooling's 100m butterfly gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016, as well as Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu, Sun Beibei, Li Jiawei and Yu Mengyu's "Miracle in Moscow", when they upset mighty China to win the World Team Table Tennis Championships in 2010.

Fu Mingtian claimed the last of the nation's three SEA Games golds when she won the women's singles in 2011, while Li Li remains its only Commonwealth Games champion after winning the women's singles in 2002.

Further back, the late Wong Peng Soon won the last of his four All England titles in 1955.

Singapore President Halimah Yacob led the plaudits as she congratulated Loh in a Facebook post, and wrote: “Thank you for flying the Singapore flag high, by dint of sheer hard work and perseverance. We are all proud of you.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong added: “Well done, Kean Yew! You do Singapore proud. Looking forward to your next success!”

Carving his place among badminton’s elite, Loh has beaten six out of the world’s top 10 players in the past three months.

Thursday 16 December 2021

A History of the People's Action Party, 1985-2021: New book traces key developments of PAP in government

PAP at turning point again, party must continue working with Singaporeans to take country forward: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 14 Dec 2021

The People's Action Party is once again at a turning point as it navigates an ongoing leadership transition and a new generation of voters, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Drawing parallels between now and 1985 when the party was passing the baton to its second-generation leaders, PM Lee said there are many questions about the future, including how the PAP and its fourth-generation team will deal with new challenges, and whether they have what it takes to bring Singapore forward.

In a speech on Tuesday (Dec 14) at the launch of a book that chronicles the PAP's history since 1985 held at the National University of Singapore, he said the next 35 years will be quite different from the last.

"It must always work closely with Singaporeans to take the country forward."

The book, titled A History Of The People's Action Party: 1985-2021, recounts the party's activities and events during that period. It was written by Dr Shashi Jayakumar, a senior fellow and head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and published by NUS Press.

PM Lee noted that the PAP is now in the midst of a leadership transition from the 3G to the 4G team, just like in 1985 when its second generation of leaders was taking over from the pioneer generation.

At the time, only founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, Mr S. Rajaratnam and Mr E.W. Barker remained in the new Cabinet.

The PAP's vote share fell sharply by 12.9 percentage points to 64.8 per cent in the 1984 General Election, which also heralded a generational change in the electorate, said PM Lee. For the first time since independence, the PAP received less than 70 per cent of the overall votes.

At the post-election conference, Mr Lee Kuan Yew had said the older generation of voters who stuck with the PAP through Singapore's earlier years were beginning to fade away, and were replaced with a younger generation that was better educated and more demanding of their leaders.

"It seemed like the PAP was losing its political dominance," said PM Lee on Tuesday. "It was a moment for introspection, perhaps even concern. What did the future hold for the party, and for Singapore?"

Today, PM Lee is the only one of the 1984 batch of PAP MPs still in politics, and the pioneer generation of voters who began to leave the scene in 1985 are mostly gone.

About 60 per cent of today's voters were born after independence, he said. Growing up in a stable Singapore, they experienced steady progress and benefited from the nation's collective efforts to develop its economy as well as its identity.

"Their aspirations, hopes and expectations are different from the young voters in the 1984 General Election," he said.

PM Lee said that while the PAP won a strong mandate in last year's general election, the party's vote share fell by 8.6 percentage points to 61.2 per cent and it lost two group representation constituencies to the opposition for the first time.

He expressed hope that the new book will provide a sense of history and perspective to the PAP's journey over the past decades, and help its readers appreciate how Singapore has achieved what it has.

While Singaporeans who have lived through the past decades may not consider the country's stability, progress and success astonishing, PM Lee said all this was hardly predicted - much less foreordained.

"It did not happen by itself, nor has it happened in very many other countries. And yet it happened in Singapore," he added. "How did Singapore manage to achieve this? The PAP is an important part of the explanation."

This is why the party's history from 1985 to 2021 is a story well worth telling and understanding, he said.

"I hope this book will… most importantly, inspire the next generation - party activists, party leaders and Singaporeans alike - to be equally committed, resourceful and resolute in pursuing a brighter future for Singapore."

Wednesday 15 December 2021

CDC Vouchers Scheme: 1.3 million Singaporean households to receive $100 CDC vouchers; vouchers valid till 31 December 2022

$100 worth of CDC vouchers for each Singaporean household available for collection online from 13 December 2021
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 14 Dec 2021

All Singaporean households can now collect $100 worth of vouchers that they can spend at about 10,000 participating hawker stalls and heartland merchants.

The community development council (CDC) vouchers, worth $130 million in total and given out to 1.3 million households, are available for collection digitally from Monday (Dec 13) and can be used till Dec 31, 2022.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who launched the latest tranche of the voucher scheme on Monday, said in a Facebook post later in the day that over 200,000 households had claimed the vouchers.

One Singaporean per household can claim the vouchers through an online link that requires the use of Singpass. He will then receive a link at his registered mobile number.

This link can then be shared via messaging apps with household members, who can then use the vouchers that come in denominations of $2, $5 and $10.

A unique decal will be used to identify participating merchants, with more expected to come on board.

Those who are unable to claim or use the vouchers digitally, such as if they do not have a smartphone, can approach community clubs or centres for assistance, such as to print hard copy vouchers.

To spend the voucher digitally, the resident has to click on the CDC vouchers link, select the amount to be used and show the QR code to a participating merchant, who will then scan it using the RedeemSG Merchant App.

Those using hard copy vouchers have to show the merchant the QR code on the voucher, which the merchant will then scan.

No change will be given, so residents have to select the suitable denominations of vouchers and top up the extra, or forfeit the remaining value.

The vouchers are not allowed to be resold, and each resident's address is stated on the voucher link to deter reselling.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had announced this third update to the scheme at Budget 2021 as part of a $900 million Household Support Package.

The CDC voucher scheme was launched last June to help up to 400,000 lower-income families, with a second tranche for them announced in January this year.

PM Lee said at the launch held at Jurong Spring Community Club that the vouchers are to express the Government’s appreciation for everyone’s solidarity amid the pandemic.

They should also help to defray some daily expenses such as food and essential household items and services, as well as support local heartland shops and hawkers that have been hit hard during the pandemic, he said.

He noted that the fight against Covid-19 has been a long and winding journey and the country's response to it has had to adapt accordingly when the virus "surprised us multiple times".

He said: "It's been challenging for everyone, especially for our residents and for our heartland businesses, to keep up with the new policies and changing situations.

The voucher scheme has gone digital so that they are easier to use, said PM Lee, who is also chairman of the People's Association, which CDCs come under.

Merchants can better track transactions and receive payment faster with less hassle, while residents have the convenience and flexibility of digital vouchers, he added.

Saturday 11 December 2021

Skills Demand for the Future Economy report 2021: SkillsFuture report pinpoints skills Singaporeans urgently need in the next 3 years

By Ng Wei Kai, The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2021

The skills most urgently needed by Singaporeans have been identified in a new report by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG).

The inaugural Skills Demand For The Future Economy Report was launched by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Wednesday (Dec 8). It pinpoints the top 20 clusters of skills in the digital, green and care sectors most needed in the next one to three years.

Mr Chan launched the report at the Skills Demand For The Future Economy Forum, where he gave an opening speech.

He said the report does not cover the entire economy, but spotlights jobs and skill trends in the three sectors, calling them "key growth areas" for the country.

Globally, there is a huge demand for digital skills, and the Singapore Green Plan and demographic changes will see the local sustainability and care industries expand rapidly in the next few years, he said.

He said: "Today, more than 450 job roles across 17 sectors require green skills in their job tasks... With an ageing population, the demand for local workers in the care economy will continue to grow rapidly.

"We are not here just to figure out which are the growth sectors but, more importantly, we want to help our people plan and figure out which are the skill sets required across the different sectors and across the different job scopes."

The skills highlighted are those that are required by the most number of jobs in the sectors, he added.

The report shows the 20 most important clusters of skills in the three sectors, which it calls "priority skills".

In the digital sector, the top three are technology application, data analysis and market research.

In the green sector, they are green process design, carbon footprint management and environmental management system.

In the care sector, they are conduct and ethics, stakeholder management and inclusive practices.

The report goes on to break down the sectors into sub-sections and highlights the priority skills in these.

For example, for the digital sector, the report shows the priority skills for both tech-heavy and tech-lite jobs, as well as those for digital jobs and skills in financial and retail services.

It also features personal stories from people who have changed careers or sectors, as well as insights from chief executives Wong Kim Yin of Sembcorp Industries and Chin Wei Jia of HMI Group, other business leaders and educators.

Educators The Straits Times spoke to said Singaporeans should focus not only on gaining sector-specific skills, but also the general skills the report highlights.

Friday 3 December 2021

Raeesah Khan lying in Parliament: Workers' Party attempts at cover-up backfires spectacularly

Workers' Party leaders, Pritam Singh, Sylvia Lim and Faisal Manap told Raeesah Khan to Stick to the LIE she had told Parliament: Committee of Privileges

Raeesah Khan insists Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh had told her to keep up her lie and 'Take it to the GRAVE'
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 3 Dec 2021

Three senior Workers' Party (WP) MPs had told their party colleague Raeesah Khan to stick to the lie she had told in Parliament on Aug 3, the Committee of Privileges heard this week.

Ms Khan and two other party members said she was told by WP chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, WP chairman Sylvia Lim and WP vice-chairman Faisal Manap at an Aug 8 meeting that there was no need for her to clarify herself or for the truth to be told.

Following that meeting, she texted her secretarial assistant and a WP volunteer: “I just met Pritam, Sylvia and Faisal... they’ve agreed that the best thing to do is to take the information to the grave.”

These were among a number of revelations contained in a special report that the committee presented to Parliament on Friday (Dec 3), and which was published on Parliament’s website, alongside footage of the committee’s hearings over the past two days.

Ms Khan and her former assistant Loh Pei Ying gave evidence to the committee on Thursday and Friday, while the volunteer, Mr Yudhishthra Nathan, did so on Friday. Ms Khan’s former legislative assistant Lim Hang Ling testified on Thursday.

Ms Khan, who resigned from the party and as an MP for Sengkang GRC on Tuesday, told the committee chaired by Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin that the WP leaders had told her to keep to the lie.

"My interpretation (of the meeting with WP leaders on Oct 3) was that that there would be no consequences for me to continue the narrative that I had begun in (Parliament) in August," she said in the recorded footage.

The committee said in its report: "If Ms Khan and the WP could get away with it, there was no need to clarify the lie. If the matter was brought up again, there would also be no need for her to clarify and there was no need for the truth to be told."

The report comes a day after Mr Singh told a press conference that the party leaders had decided to give Ms Khan time to deal with the matter, as she had also told them she had been a sexual assault victim herself, and had not told her family about it.

In her Aug 3 speech, Ms Khan said she had accompanied a 25-year-old rape victim to a police station to make a report, and that the officer who interviewed the victim had made inappropriate comments about the victim's dressing and the fact that she had been drinking. But Ms Khan never accompanied the victim to a police station.

She later admitted that the victim had shared the account in a support group for women, which Ms Khan herself was in, and said she did not have the victim's consent to share the story.

In her evidence to the committee, Ms Khan also disputed statements made by Mr Singh at his press conference on Thursday (Dec 2), where, among other things, he told reporters that he had directed Ms Khan to take responsibility and admit to her lie in Parliament, and that she had contradicted this order.

No one from WP advised her to tell the truth, Ms Khan told the committee. There was also no order for her to clarify the matter.

When the committee put to her on Thursday that Mr Singh said he had ordered her to clarify the matter in Parliament in October, Ms Khan replied: "I'm hearing this for the first time."

She said that on Oct 3, a day before the Oct 4 Parliament sitting, Mr Singh had visited her at her home and said that if she kept to her narrative on the untruths which she had said on Aug 3, there would be no judgment by him.

"Ms Khan understood... that Mr Pritam Singh was advising her to continue to lie, should the matter come up the next day during the parliamentary session.

"Mr Pritam Singh did not ask Ms Khan to clarify and state the truth in Parliament," said the committee.

"To the contrary, Ms Khan was advised that she can continue to lie."

On Oct 4, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had asked Ms Khan to provide more details about the alleged incident, saying the police had since checked their records and found no cases that fit her description.

In reply, Ms Khan maintained that her account was true but repeatedly declined to reveal any further details – including the police station they went to – citing confidentiality. She added that she had not been successful in contacting the victim.

On the same day, Ms Khan met Mr Singh and Ms Lim at the Leader of the Opposition’s office in Parliament, where the three discussed the matter.

“Neither Mr Pritam Singh nor Ms Sylvia Lim asked Ms Khan why she had lied again earlier, in answering questions asked by the Minister for Home Affairs,” said the report. “Nor did they suggest that Ms Khan clarify the truth in Parliament.”

Ms Khan was also directed by Mr Singh and Ms Lim to ignore requests by the police for information, after the authorities sent her an e-mail on Oct 7 asking her to assist with investigations into the case she had raised.

The two WP leaders told Ms Khan that the police could not compel her to speak to them.

When asked whether she was concerned that she was ignoring a legitimate request from the police, Ms Khan told the committee that she was, but that she had been unsure about what to do.

"I was concerned, but I was not sure what to do. When I asked for advice, that was the advice that was given to me (by Mr Singh and Ms Lim)," said Ms Khan.

On Oct 12, Ms Khan attended a meeting called by Mr Singh. At the meeting, which Ms Lim also attended, the three discussed the matter and came to the view that the matter would not be dropped and was not going away. As such, Ms Khan should come clean and tell the truth.

“At this meeting, Ms Khan asked if disciplinary action will be taken against her and the answer given to her was no,” said the report.

Ms Khan then made a statement in Parliament on Nov 1, clarifying that she had lied on Aug 3 and on Oct 4.

In her evidence to the committee, Ms Khan said she was “shocked and surprised” to learn that the WP had formed a disciplinary panel the next day to look into her lies to Parliament.

She went before this disciplinary panel on Nov 8 and on Nov 29.

Ms Khan told the Committee of Privileges that she would have come clean to Parliament in October and assisted police in their inquiries and told them the truth if the WP leadership had told her to do so.

“She had done neither because they had told Ms Khan that there would be no judgment if she did not clarify the truth in Parliament,” said the report.

She took that to mean that she should continue to lie.”

The committee also asked Ms Khan about Mr Singh’s statement at the WP press conference that she would be expelled from the party if she did not resign of her own accord.

Ms Khan said this was not said to her. The WP leaders had suggested she resign for her well-being and because she had lost the support of her fellow Sengkang GRC MPs, she added.

Aide, volunteer say Workers' Party leaders were not upfront about being told Raeesah Khan lied in Parliament
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Dec 2021

Unlike what the Workers' Party leaders have claimed, former Sengkang GRC MP Raeesah Khan was not the sole actor in allowing her lie in Parliament to go uncorrected, two party members told a Parliament committee looking into the matter.

In fact, the leaders had asked her to "take the information to the grave", and by not being transparent about their own role, they have been highly unfair to the erstwhile MP, Ms Loh Pei Ying and Mr Yudhishthra Nathan added.

Ms Loh, who was Ms Khan's secretarial assistant, and Mr Yudhishthra, a WP member assisting Ms Khan, were testifying before Parliament's Committee of Privileges.

The committee on Friday (Dec 3) night released a special report on its investigation into Ms Khan's conduct, including video testimonies of Ms Khan, Ms Loh and Mr Nathan recorded over two days of hearings on Thursday and Friday.

Ms Loh has been a party member for 10 years and was WP chief Pritam Singh's secretarial assistant. Mr Nathan has been a volunteer since 2013, became a member in 2016 and had been in the council of the WP youth wing.

They corroborated Ms Khan's testimony to the committee that WP leaders had asked her not to confess about having lied. Both knew by Aug 7 that what Ms Khan said in Parliament on Aug 3 was not truthful after she confessed to them.

Ms Loh said she was assuaged that the party's leaders knew that Ms Khan had lied in Parliament. However, she soon realised they wanted Ms Khan to batten down and keep to her untruthful story, instead of coming clean to the House, she said.

When Ms Khan again repeated her lie in Parliament on Oct 4, Ms Loh said she was shocked and was scared for her. It turned out that Mr Singh had met Ms Khan a day earlier to talk about it, and indicated that he would leave it to her to decide if she wanted to tell the truth in Parliament. He also told Ms Khan that he would not judge her. This was related to Ms Loh and Mr Nathan by Mr Singh, during a meeting on Oct 12.

Asked about the matter by the committee, Ms Loh said she was disappointed with what Mr Singh had said to Ms Khan. Mr Nathan said he felt Mr Singh had been rather indecisive.

When the party set up a disciplinary panel to look into Ms Khan's conduct on Nov 2, both Ms Loh and Mr Nathan were shocked, given the role the leadership had played.

Ms Loh said she felt the panel composition - Mr Singh, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Faisal Manap - was self-serving, as they were the very people who had advised Ms Khan on what to do and played a part in allowing the matter to drag on.

Mr Nathan felt any inquiry should have been done earlier, since the panel's members already knew of Ms Khan's lies since Aug 8.

He added the panel had contributed to an uninformed, biased and jaundiced view of the incident, because it had invited WP members and volunteers to give their views on the incident without revealing that Ms Khan had acted with the guidance of the senior WP leaders now making up the panel.

Eventually, Ms Loh and Mr Nathan met the panel on Nov 25, and told the three WP leaders they should give the public a full account of what had happened. They said not disclosing the full events would be highly unfair to Ms Khan.

Ms Loh told the Parliament Committee what Mr Singh had said on Thursday was not completely true.

"Ms Khan's mistake and the extent of her mistake is lying in Parliament on three occasions. But beyond that she is not a sole actor in how things transpired, and when she could, when she felt the need to come clean, she had informed leadership of the matter," she said.

"In case anyone thinks I am coming in with an agenda, I just want to clarify that I've been a member of WP for 10 years and I've given the cause a reasonable amount of my personal time and my youth."

Tearing up, she added: "I'm very aware of the ramifications of what I've shared... it pains me greatly. But to me, beyond anything else, it's important to be truthful to my country. I'm genuinely very afraid of what will happen after."

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Lawrence Wong at IPS-RSIS Conference on Identity 2021: Gender, political ideology have emerged as tribal markers driving identity politics globally

Lawrence Wong outlines five strategies to prevent tribalism, identity politics taking root in Singapore
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2021

Gender and political ideology are among the identity markers, apart from race and religion, that are driving identity politics in societies around the world today, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Nov 23).

The age-old conflict between national and tribal identities remains one of the most potent driving forces of violence within and between nations, he added.

He said some think that ethnically homogeneous countries are less susceptible to tribal conflicts but "tribe" is not just a matter of ethnicity.

"I have noticed that other aspects of identity have surfaced in our conversations - around gender, sex, or various causes that people feel strongly about," he said.

The minister was speaking at a round-table session on new tribalism and identity politics, and noted that he and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had earlier this year spoken at length on the topic of racial harmony in Singapore.

The conference is organised by the Institute of Policy Studies and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, with Mr Wong as keynote speaker.

In his speech, he noted that tribalism runs deep in all human societies, and has become more prominent today with a focus on the individual.

Mr Wong acknowledged that there has been a greater emphasis on the culture of self over the last few decades, which has brought about progress in many areas.

This evolution differs from the past, where societies everywhere were generally more cohesive and people were more connected and active in their respective communities.

"In Singapore, we call this the 'kampung spirit'," said Mr Wong.

However, when the sense of self is inflated at the expense of community, the connections between people are weakened, he said. "This leads to loneliness and isolation. And when people feel lonely and alienated, they fall back on defences that are perhaps primeval in our species - they revert to tribes."

The Internet has also made it easier for new tribes to form and organise themselves, but the echo chamber of social media often means that the tribes end up self-selecting information to support and reinforce their own views, he added.

Said Mr Wong: "Tribalism may feel like community. But the two are not the same. Community is about inclusive connections, and it's based on mutual affection. Tribalism is inherently exclusionary, and it's based on mutual hate: 'us' versus 'them', 'friend' vs 'foe'."

Mr Wong listed several examples of recent conflicts around the world that have arisen from identity politics.

These include the culture wars in the West that cut across issues, from abortion rights and voting rights to woke culture and vaccination or mask-wearing.

Mono-ethnic societies have also seen conflicts related to identity politics.

Poland, which is ethnically homogeneous with Poles comprising more than 95 per cent of the population, has seen an intensifying stand-off in recent years between supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and conservatives who oppose them. Some parts of the country have declared themselves "LGBT-free zones" amid strong resistance from liberals.

The United States, despite its long-cherished melting pot ethos, is seeing greater political polarisation based on ideology and identity.

For example, a growing proportion of Republicans and Democrats view the opposite party in starkly negative terms. Even life-saving public health measures such as mask-wearing and vaccination have become markers of political identities, noted Mr Wong.

He noted that when such tribal identity takes root, it is difficult to achieve any compromise without it seeming like dishonour.

He said: "Every grievance threatens one's self-worth, and every setback a challenge to one's sense of self. So we get a downward spiral: Individualism and self-interest cause tribes to form, each tribe closes ranks upon itself, and politics becomes defined as all-out war among tribes."

Thursday 18 November 2021

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum 2021

Singapore easing COVID-19 measures step by step to avoid U-turns, human cost: PM Lee
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 18 Nov 2021

Singapore has had to change course along its journey in tackling Covid-19, and is trying to persuade its people that it is necessary to accept a few thousand cases a day, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Nov 17).

And while it will try its best, there will be casualties, mainly old people who will not make it. "It is just the way life is and it is the way influenza and pneumonia and other diseases carry off old folks by the thousands every year. We accept that and we have to manage this going forward without letting it go out of control," he added.

PM Lee was speaking to Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait at a gala dinner at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore on Day 1 of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.

PM Lee noted that Singapore was trying to reach an end point without paying the high price many other societies have, which got infected before they got vaccinated.

This was also why it was easing up on restrictions "step by step" even as it moved to living with the virus, "without having had to make unsettling U-turns".

Asked if the 61,000 people who are 60 and above who are not yet vaccinated - and hence more vulnerable to the virus - are preventing Singapore opening up further, PM Lee pointed out that they have more than 61,000 relatives and friends and dear ones. "If you just write them off, I do not think you can make those utilitarian calculations. It is a human cost. Just look at what has happened in Britain or in Italy or in America," he said.

"The terrible trauma that society goes through - you have people who are sick, whom you cannot treat, who die waiting for oxygen or waiting for a bed - I would much rather not have to do that."

In changing course, easing restrictions and reopening borders, he noted that trust is critical.

"It is not my logic which persuades people, but they watch you, they listen to you. They either have confidence in you and faith in you or they decide: Well, he sounds good, but I am not following him."

Turning to the issue of political succession, Mr Micklethwait said PM Lee had put two of his potential successors onto the Covid-19 task force to see how they do. Referring to Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, he asked: "It looks a little like Squid Game. Do you have any idea how are they performing? Are you thinking of eliminating them or continuing?"

Squid Game is a popular Netflix drama where contestants compete in games for a tempting prize, but are eliminated or killed along the way. PM Lee said his approach is not to write off any participants.

"I do not have spare. I am not looking for a winner. I am trying to build a team, and the team needs many different skills and many different people to carry a very heavy responsibility of taking Singapore into the next generation, beyond me and my age group of leaders.

"Each makes a contribution. I put them there not as a beauty contest, but because I think they can make a contribution and it is a very important job which needs to be done. If I do not put the best people available on the Covid-19 team, what am I doing with them?"

Mr Micklethwait also asked about plans for a wealth tax, and the Prime Minister said this was an element in a comprehensive revenue system.

"You tax consumption, you tax income, you tax sins, and you should tax wealth, whether in the form of property, ideally wealth in other forms," he said.

He added that Singapore will study this but it needs to find a system of taxation which is progressive and which people will accept as fair.

"Everybody needs to pay some. But if you are able to pay more, well, you should bear a larger burden of the tax. And if you are less well-off, you should enjoy a greater amount of the Government's support schemes and benefits."

But he noted that unlike income inequality, it is more difficult to measure inequality of wealth, which can today be kept in non-fungible tokens or Bitcoin.

"It is not as easy to manage, but it is something which we do want to be worried about because we would like to make sure that each generation starts from as equal a starting point as possible," he said.

Tuesday 9 November 2021

COVID-19 Patients who are Unvaccinated by Choice must Pay their own Medical Bills from 8 December 2021

COVID-19 patients who choose not to be vaccinated have to foot own medical bills
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2021

People who are unvaccinated by choice and come down with Covid-19 will have to foot their own medical bills from Dec 8, in a move that Health Minister Ong Ye Kung described as an "important signal" to those who are still holding off on getting their jabs.

Speaking on Monday (Nov 8) during a press conference held by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, which he co-chairs, Mr Ong said hospitals would much prefer not having to bill these patients. He urged everyone to get vaccinated if they are eligible.

The change comes as those who are unvaccinated make up the majority of patients who require intensive inpatient care and disproportionately contribute to the strain on Singapore's healthcare resources.

The Government currently foots the full Covid-19 medical bills of all Singaporeans, permanent residents (PRs) and long-term pass holders, other than for those who tested positive or had onset of Covid-19 symptoms within 14 days of arrival in Singapore after overseas travel.

The new billing measure applies only to those who choose not to be vaccinated despite being medically eligible, and who are admitted to hospitals and Covid-19 treatment facilities on or after Dec 8.

Mr Ong said: "Billing will still be based on our current subsidy framework, subject to MediSave use and MediShield Life claims, so it will still be highly supported and highly subsidised."

Those who are ineligible for vaccination, such as children under 12 years old, and those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will continue to have their bills fully covered by the Government, the task force said.

It noted that the Government's current measure to fully cover Covid-19 medical bills for Singaporeans, PRs and long-term pass holders, apart from those who travelled recently, was to avoid financial concerns adding to public uncertainty when Covid-19 was an emergent and unfamiliar disease.

This approach for Covid-19 bills will continue for the majority of the population here who are vaccinated until the coronavirus situation is more stable, added the task force.

Meanwhile, individuals who are partially vaccinated will not be charged for Covid-19 bills until Dec 31, to allow them time to complete their full regimen of jabs. After this deadline, they will have to foot their own medical bills if they catch Covid-19.

This means that from Jan 1, only Singaporeans, PRs or long-term pass holders who are fully vaccinated and have not recently travelled will have their Covid-19 medical bills fully paid for by the Government.

The task force said that Covid-19 patients who choose not to be vaccinated may still tap regular healthcare financing arrangements to pay for their bills where applicable.

Singapore citizens and PRs may access regular government subsidies and MediShield Life or Integrated Shield plans, while long-term pass holders may tap their usual financing such as private insurance.