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.


Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Workers' Party MP Raeesah Khan admits to lying in Parliament about allegation that police mishandled rape case

WP MP Raeesah Khan referred to committee after admitting she lied to Parliament about sexual assault case
Raeesah Khan should not have shared account with untruths in Parliament: Pritam Singh
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 2 Nov 2021

Workers' Party (WP) MP Raeesah Khan will have to appear before the Committee of Privileges, after she admitted to lying in Parliament about details of a sexual assault case that she alleged was mishandled by the police.

On Monday (Nov 1), she apologised in Parliament to the Singapore Police Force and retracted an anecdote she had shared of the alleged incident.

In explaining why she had made up details of that case, Ms Raeesah, 27, said she lacked the courage to admit that she was part of a support group for women, where the story was shared, as she herself had been a victim of sexual assault at the age of 18.


Leader of the House Indranee Rajah said Ms Raeesah (Sengkang GRC) had lied to Parliament on three occasions, after clarifying details of the matter with the WP MP when she finished her statement.

She raised an official complaint against Ms Raeesah for breaching her parliamentary privilege, and asked for the matter to be referred to the Committee of Privileges, which looks into any complaint alleging breaches of parliamentary privilege. Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin agreed to do so.


Ms Raeesah had told the House during a debate on empowering women on Aug 3 that she had accompanied a 25-year-old rape victim to a police station to make a police report three years ago, and the police officer who interviewed the victim had allegedly made inappropriate comments about her dressing and the fact that she was drinking.

On Monday (Nov 1), she admitted that she had not accompanied the victim to the police station. Instead, she said the victim had shared the account in a support group for women, which Ms Raeesah herself was a part of, and that she did not have the victim's consent to share the story in Parliament.

"I did not share that I was a part of the group, as I did not have the courage to publicly admit that I was part of it. I attended the support group because I myself am a survivor of sexual assault," she said.


Ms Raeesah said she was sexually assaulted as an 18-year-old while studying abroad. The experience continues to traumatise her to this day, she added.

"Unlike the survivor whose anecdote I shared in this House, I did not have the courage to report my own assault. Yet, as a survivor, I wanted so deeply to speak up and also share the account I had heard when speaking on the motion, without revealing my own private experience.

"I should not have shared the survivor's anecdote without her consent, nor should I have said that I accompanied her to the police station when I had not. It was wrong of me to do so."

Ms Raeesah also apologised to the survivor whose story she had shared, Parliament, her Sengkang constituents and residents, the WP, and her family.


Ms Indranee noted that Ms Raeesah had confirmed that did not have any details of the police case and was thus unable to substantiate her allegation when she made her statement in August.

Her actions had resulted in “a cloud hanging over the police” and caused them to devote time and resources to investigate the alleged incident. It also does a “great disservice” to the survivors of sexual assault and rape victims, Ms Indranee added.


In a statement posted on Facebook, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh said Ms Raeesah should not have shared in the House an account that contained untruths.

The WP secretary-general noted that the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act gives an MP significant freedom of speech, to the extent that what is said in Parliament cannot be impeached or questioned outside Parliament.

However, this freedom of speech does not extend to communicating untruthful accounts, even if an MP’s motives are not malicious,” Mr Singh said. “(Ms Raeesah) shared with me that she wanted to set the record straight in Parliament. This was the correct thing to do.”


Ms Indranee said she was raising the complaint to the Committee of Privileges with great reluctance as she had sympathy for Ms Raeesah’s personal circumstances.

“But as Leader of the House, I also have a responsibility and that is to ensure that in this Chamber, all MPs discharge their duties faithfully, accountably and responsibly. Any breaches of privilege have to be dealt with,” she said.

The eight-member Committee of Privileges is chaired by the Speaker of Parliament. Its other members are Ms Indranee, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, National Development Minister Desmond Lee, Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and WP MP Dennis Tan (Hougang).


Ms Indranee said she and Mr Shanmugam would recuse themselves as she had made the complaint, while his ministry was involved.

Under the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act, Parliament can take action against MPs found to have breached their parliamentary privileges. The punishments include a jail term not extending beyond the current session of Parliament; a fine of up to $50,000; suspension; a reprimand from the Speaker; or any combination of the above.


MPs can also have their privileges and immunities suspended, which means they can be liable to civil proceedings for anything they said in Parliament.