Dear PM

Aug 24, 2015 01.02AM |

Dear PM,

This is the usual annual letter I write to you after each National Day rally speech. I think this is the best rally speech you’ve ever delivered. Serious. It wasn’t just a rally speech, it was a rallying cry. What a super job you did telling the Singapore story and the principles which underpinned our development. I am refraining from saying “success” because like your late father, I also think this country will be better than ever.

I have not always thought that way. I used to see a place that has become alien to me, with alien inhabitants speaking in unfamiliar tongues. But the past two weeks have opened my eyes to the diversity that is Singapore. I have the impending general elections to thank for this because recent reporting has taken me to areas I have never been to before or have forgotten about.

I was in the Kallang Bahru/Geylang Bahru area, watching families by the river. I was driven to Sembawang through what looked like Johor to me. I went to this drowsy place known as MacPherson where I bumped into so many seniors in motorized wheelchairs that I think dedicated pathways should be built for them. Then I was in the “new” Punggol, which I have always associated with pig farms although I knew they were long gone. I think the blocks of flats are built too close together but, hey, it’s a nice cheery place.

You’re right. I don’t get out much. And perhaps, that is the trouble with some of us who move in smaller social circles and mingle with the like-minded. We build our own ivory towers from which to throw stones. Or we see only a small part, like the watering holes of Dempsey and the places we wish we could frequent but can’t afford to. The diversity that is Singapore is worth celebrating; the little communities that have been built up in the heartland where the salt of the earth live. I see them too in the images which flashed on the screen, a people of many hues waving the Singapore flag.

Anyone can see that you still feel the loss of your father keenly. But there was a certain newish manner you adopted tonight that reminded me so much of him. It was about that old much forgotten phrase about building a “rugged society” and about having “steel” in us. I thought it was Mr Lee Kuan Yew speaking. I think many people will say you are milking (pardon the word) your father’s passing to gain sympathy points or votes for the election. That you were playing on people’s emotions by having Kit Chan on stage to sing Home and reading out the letter about his last outing with friends.

I would disagree. Mr Lee did more that was right than wrong, and I can see that over the past 10 years, we’ve come a long way from being that controlled society that he moulded. Would that you continue on that path!

What was most refreshing about your speech was your emphasis on the place of this little red dot in the world. As you said, you went more local than global in your past NDR speeches, so much so that you had to role play being a real estate agent and a financial adviser! (Please remain prime ministerial and leave that sort of work to your ministers and MPs.) It is right that people should hear from you about living in this “dangerous” area where the Malaysians have problems which might spill over and the Indonesians still seem to think that we’re just a smudge on the map which somehow benefited at their expense.

You told the Indonesian journalists that you were used to the usual questions needling Singapore – but Sir, we aren’t. We might be an open economy and globally connected, but most are probably less well-read than you think. As we obsess over property and complain about cost of living, we seldom think about how we’ve managed to protect ourselves regionally and internationally. That is probably the best argument you can make about having strong leaders who can face the world, although whether people think that is more important than having someone who can make sure that their common corridors are swept daily would make an interesting research paper.

Yup, domestic issues are still important. All politics is local.

Dawson housing estate. Credit: PM Lee
Dawson housing estate. Credit: PM Lee

You can bet that the changes to housing policy will be one of the first things that people will talk about. We’re property obsessed. I don’t think you need to worry about giving grants to families who don’t qualify for housing, especially those with children. We have a soft spot for children and believe firmly in not just giving them a fresh start, but a really good one.

SG50 Jubilee Gift Red Sling, Credit: MCI
SG50 Jubilee Gift Red Sling, Credit: MCI

Your Baby Bonus enhancement might be sniffed at, because giving money for procreation activities just isn’t on, even if it does solve some practical problems on the financial front. As for backdating the goodies for Jubilee babies to Jan 1 this year, isn’t this setting some kind of precedent? So dads whose babies are already five months old will be able to claim that extra week of paternity leave that you just announced?

If you’re calling the election soon or whenever “soon” is to you, I wish you the best. No one can say that the past 10 years under your leadership hasn’t led to prosperity or a sense of pride in being Singaporean. (Okay, some will, no matter what you do. Then there is the “too little, too late” argument. In fact, I am expecting to be mauled by elements in the social media for this letter.)

I probably won’t live to see SG100, but I’m hoping that we will still be as joyous at SG60 even if we do get pushed around or behave like a frog in the well or the economy isn’t at 3G speed. Anyway, you – or someone – will make sure of that right?


This is the wrap-up piece for our National Day Rally coverage. Read our four-part series on what happened at the National Day Rally earlier today.
Part 1: 生活费 – Cost of living.
Part 2: A home to call our own.
Part 3: Where are you, baby?
Part 4: Space EduCity 2020


Featured image by Shawn Danker. Shared copyright.

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