Are Singaporeans hostages of the PAP?
by Daniel Yap
Do you suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome? That’s what retired army Colonel and SingFirst chairman Dr Ang Yong Guan would have you believe, among other things, in a forum held by the Singaporeans First (SingFirst) Central Executive Committee this past weekend, on June 13.
The Stockholm Syndrome describes a psychological tendency for hostages to identify and bond with their captors. In this case, Dr Ang doesn’t mean this literally, of course, but he is using it to describe Singaporeans whom he says have been “brainwashed” into supporting those who “oppressed” them – the PAP, who else – partly out of fear and partly in response to “carrots” such as the Pioneer Generation Package, among others.
The 4-hour forum, Can Singapore Succeed without PAP?, held at Hotel Royal at Novena, was attended by about 50 members of the public and aimed at discussing the Singapore Civil Service. SingFirst’s Central Executive Committee members, which included Tan Jee Say (Secretary-General), David Foo (Treasurer) and Tan Peng Ann (Vice-Chairman), said that they expected the Singapore Civil Service to continue functioning “without fear or favour” should the government change hands.
There might be a “little” disruption, as was the case with the handover of town councils to the Workers’ Party, but the politicians said that it would be quickly ironed out.
The fact remains that the Workers’ Party town council is still short of S$14 million in grants which had never been tied to any management standards preconditions in the past. In addition, 15 of Singapore’s current 19 cabinet ministers were civil servants. Even Public Service Commission Chairman Eddie Teo voiced concerns about the lines between politicians and civil service becoming blurred.
SingFirst also highlighted the late Lee Kuan Yew’s infamous threat to send in the army to prevent a freak election result from getting out of hand, but pooh-poohed it as more fearmongering. Nevertheless, the PAP’s parliamentary dominance means that it can change the constitution easily and embed all sorts of minefields into the law.
Threat or no threat, it was clear that the SingFirst leaders had strong views on the subject. SingFirst Secretary-General Tan Jee Say, himself a former civil servant, said that any political party that would dare sabotage the civil service to spite an incoming government should not deserve the vote of the people in the first place.
When asked about its plans to forestall any sabotage, SingFirst said that it did not have any specific plan and did not need one because it “trusted civil servants to do what is right” and that it “respected the professional integrity of the civil service”.
Moreover, Mr Tan added that any such action would be considered criminal and would be punishable by law. He also mentioned the possible use of the ISA against persons who would sabotage the civil service, although he later dismissed the use of the ISA as “a joke”. SingFirst had spoken critically against the use of the ISA by past prime ministers.
Mr Tan also took the opportunity to recap SingFirst’s Nordic-inspired plan to add S$14 billion a year to government spending on free education, child allowances, old age pensions, transport subsidies and more. This is supposed to be funded by the government’s net investment returns – money from investments made by GIC, Temasek and MAS.
When asked for details on the budgeted amounts and how realistic they were, Mr Tan could only say that those details would be explained at their next event in August.
With so many of the details up in the air, and however accurate or inaccurate their assumptions may be, SingFirst appears to be in a fairly good position to make such arguments about the behaviour of the civil service. At least eight out its 12 Central Executive Committee members as well as all five of its office holders were civil servants at some point in their careers, including SingFirst Vice-Chairman Mr Tan Peng Ann, who is also a retired army Colonel.
The two Colonels and ex-senior civil servant Mr Tan Jee Say said they hoped to break this climate of fear, and concluded their forum by urging more generals to step forward in future, once they had shown that it was perfectly safe to oppose the PAP politically.