Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mr President Writes Back, Critics Silenced



When I last wrote about Singapore's sixth President Sellapan Ramanathan, a more senior member of our legal fraternity sent me an angry response chiding me for being grossly unfair to an aged member of our country, whose driving motivation had been to do nothing other than give the best he could for his country. 

I dismissed his response and I said it was for the President to one day tell young Singaporeans like me what he had done for our country. I now wish I had held my tongue then.

Since leaving the Istana, Nathan, at 91, has been indefatigable. He would put many younger Singaporeans like me to shame simply by his sheer energy. 

He is fighting back to ensure that Singaporean 'ingrates' like me will not forget the great contributions he has made to Singapore with a series of publications. 

Given the chiding I received, I made it a point to read two of these publications recently. 

The first is a publication that goes to the bookshops this week: S R Nathan in Conversation. 

When I picked it up to read the night I bought it, I wondered what could he say that I didn't already know about him or Singapore. 

I started with his views of the divide we see in contemporary Malaysia today and he painted vivid a picture of how the well-intended roots of United Malays National Organisation, which should have evolved into a United MALAYANS National Organisation, has put Malaysia on a polarised path.

Of course, one could perhaps argue that he is looking at Malaysia from the tainted lens of battle-hardened Singaporean who toiled restlessly to bring Singapore from a colony to sovereign state, driven by a motivation to be all that a less divisive Malaysia should have been.

Ironically, Nathan makes clear his agenda at the start of the book: "My concern is not political debate, but simply the future growth, prosperity and wellbeing of Singapore and its people." 

In the pursuit of his agenda, he weaves together a series of stories from different stages of his life in shaping contemporary Singapore. He shares his stories with a diplomatic candour clearly burnished through his sensitive sojourns. 

Indeed, the strength of his story-telling made it such a difficult book to put down that I finished it in one sitting.

From time to time, he also refers to his autobiography, An Unexpected Journey: Path to the President, to fill in the gaps in his stories. This makes the reason for reading his autobiography even more compelling, which became the second book I read about Nathan. 

Reading both books you realize how invaluable Nathan's expansive contributions have been to Singapore. 

Here was a man with a ringside view of change in independent Singapore, who was happy to assert his influence whenever called upon to do so in sheer defence of such developments; something he felt was necessary to feed millions of mouths in Singapore. 

Hence, his involvement in reforming both the printing press and the diplomatic corps to enable each of these institutions to stay relevant to a government that became increasingly sensitive to negative criticism and bourgeois idiosyncracies. 

The relevance of his books can be  best summarised in Nathan's own words, "History never repeats itself exactly, but a close study of it can alert us to dangers. Experience of the past can prepare us for contingencies." 

Through his publications, Nathan has effectively silenced those who criticised his quiet ways of getting a job done. 

My President Nathan, thank you for doing the best you could.

Happiness,
Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Singaporeans like me desire from our future MPs

NOTE SENT TO THE HONOURABLE MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR TANJONG PAGAR GRC, CHAN CHUN SING, ON 18 JANUARY 2015

My Minister Chan, 

I write to you in my capacity as an ordinary voter of your constituency. 

About two years ago, I moved to take up residence in the area you have been tasked by your political party to care for, having lived for over a decade in an area where the Honourable Tharman Shanmugaratnam was elected to care for.

I write to express my disturbance at your recent comments concerning a politician of a different party. I believe the contents of your comments reflect the kind of politics that constituents like me do not wish you to pursue. I am sure you mean well for our country but you risk turning off voters like me with every less than helpful comment you make on personalities that may not necessarily matter to your constituents. 

As we celebrate 50 years of independent statehood, leaders like you tasked to take us into our next 50 years can certainly be more gracious and, at any opportunity you can, forgiving of the shortcomings of our fellow citizens, especially those that may hold and express divergent viewpoints.

Rather than dedicating your time to such less than savoury purposes, I would like you to convince me on the basis of your constructive work and the strength of your arguments on issues of the day affecting our country. 

Indeed, I came from a constituency where my sitting Member of Parliament impressed my neighbours and me with a great, undivided sense of purpose and attention. Even though appointed at the highest levels of the Executive and holding positions valuable to our little red dot on international bodies, he often used his constituency for important announcements and other key national initiatives. His single-minded focus has always been on the issues that matter to Singaporeans and not personalities. From all that I know of him, he has never indulged in the kind of politics that pains me to see you pursue.

I am sure many Singaporeans will agree that he is the kind of leader we would like to see in Singapore for the next 50 years and I hope, as a fellow member of his party, you will find it worthwhile to perhaps follow his example.

At this point, I will only say that my experience has been contrastingly different as a resident of your constituency. 

Purely to illustrate my point, some of my neighbours tell me that they have not met you since the last general elections, where you were elected through a walkover. While I am appreciative of the national contribution you are making as a sitting Minister, I hope you will come meet your constituents more regularly. 

I am not sure if you will seek to be re-elected from my constituency but I am sure you will agree that there is much more to be done in the area that comes under your care and from which your party is likely to seek a re-election.

Thank you in advance for your kind consideration.

Happiness,
Dharmendra Yadav

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Venerable Venereal Straits Times

I haven't wrote in a while. But today's headlines on the by-elections in Hougang in the venerable The Straits Times (Singapore) was sufficiently venereal to motivate me to awake from my slumber. 

Compared to another friend, who almost got a stroke reading the same news, my reaction is perhaps muted.

At least three websites, whose writers have, to some extent, informed insights into the workings of the Singapore Press Holdings, have addressed the coverage of The Straits Times. If you would like to understand my reasons for taking issue with The Straits Times, you can read this link, this link and this link.

What I want to write about is why I think this is happening and why it may be the return of an old normal that readers of The Straits Times should get used to.

If the general elections coverage of The Straits Times was the beginning of a new dawn for a newspaper under a valiant editor wanting to remain relevant to a readership disenfranchised with its less than objective coverage, the Hougang by-elections coverage of The Straits Times is the rehashing of an old story by an editor fearless in driving a blunt wedge through its readership, even if it means polarising a populace frustrated by a ruling party showing signs of complacency.

In February this year, The Straits Times replaced its former editor with the honourable Warren Fernandez. Warren believes he is a true son of independent Singapore. He has a written a tome about the founding father of the People's Action Party. He has gained immensely from the meritocratic system espoused by the PAP. He has waxed lyrical about the PAP's success in managing Singapore in columns aplenty, which I once followed as a young student. Read his book, if you would like a flavour of these insights.

It is therefore not surprising for someone like Warren to think that to be loyal to Singapore is to be loyal to the PAP in pushing the agenda of the PAP. I accept he owes a great deal to the PAP system for what he is today. After all, at least until he was invited back to The Straits Times, he may well have been working in a multi-national oil conglomerate bringing home twice his current annual salary in bonuses alone.

As such, I admire his deep-seated desire, willingness and ability to want to give back to our motherland.But there is a fine line between blind faith and good faith. The coverage today of The Straits Times was a display of the former.

In my view, there was something more important that was clearly more newsworthy and deserved the front page coverage. This, the solidarity of Singaporeans from all walks of life in that pelting rain in a cause they believed in.

I once said his book "represents Warren Fernandez's version of Singapore. If, as a reader, you do not like it, ignore it. Alternatively, you can choose to be engaged and offer your own version in return."

Likewise, The Straits Times is fast becoming Warren Fernandez's version of Singapore. Ignore it or embrace it.

Thinking about whether this is the kind of your newspaper you want to subscribe to in Singapore is allowed.


Happiness,
Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Singapore Parliament replies on its accessibility

This was a response I got from the Clerk of Parliament in relation to certain queries I made about parliamentary proceedings in Singapore.

Since then, I note MediaCorp now makes parliamentary recordings available to its viewers much quicker than before. I am not sure why should only MediaCorp be given the complete video footages. I wonder if any other media has applied to Parliament for such recordings, and how Parliament has responded to such request.

Happiness,
Dharmendra Yadav

REPLY FROM PARLIAMENT RECEIVED ON 31 OCTOBER 2011

The press has full access to parliamentary proceedings and speeches made in the House. For TV and online news coverage, MediaCorp also has the complete video footages of each sitting. As the extent of press coverage of speeches made by Members is entirely a media decision, Parliament does not interfere with the coverage nor impose any restrictions.

We currently publish the Singapore Parliament Reports containing the verbatim speeches of Members on LawNet, and on our website within a week after the end of proceedings.

We regularly review the feasibility of other avenues to make parliamentary proceedings more accessible to the public and will take your feedback, including their cost considerations, into our review. While video streaming of speeches is certainly something that is on the radar, the cost issues are not small and extend into tens of thousands a month for such a service.

We value your suggestions and wish to thank you for your interest in our parliamentary proceedings.

Ms Ng Sheau Jiuan
Clerk of Parliament

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Friday, January 06, 2012

Ministerial Salary Review in Singapore

INTERVIEW WITH THE STRAITS TIMES (SINGAPORE) ON 5 JANUARY 2012

I was asked what I thought about the benchmark of pegging ministerial salaries to the top 1000 earners in Singapore. Some of these remarks were published in The Straits Times on 6 January 2012.

Remarks

It is really a “no-choice” benchmark.

The Prime Minister had to deliver on a promise made in the heat of the general election: an announcement to cut political salaries. His announcement caught many by surprise, including those within his own party.

The Committee reviewing ministerial salaries was limited by its terms of reference. This was due in part to what the Prime Minister would be able to push through within his own political party.

Look at how the whole announcement on the review of ministerial salaries was carefully managed. The Prime Minister went to his own party MPs to prepare them before the committee responsible for the review was able to make public its recommendations.

The Prime Minister would have faced a lot of trouble selling the changes within his own party if the cuts had been deeper. It could have thrown the party into chaos, with possibly some ministers resigning.

As it is, we are already seeing warning signs within the party ranks. Consider what Grace Fu said recently and Lim Wee Kiak said last year.

*****

Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State: "When I made the decision to join politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor. Loss of privacy, public scrutiny on myself and my family and loss of personal time were. The disruption to my career was also an important consideration. I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. So it is with this recent pay cut. If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one considering political office."

Lim Wee Kiak, Member of Parliament: "If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discuss policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister's ideas and proposals. Hence, a reasonable payout will help to maintain a bit of dignity."

*****

It’s really the kind of people the PAP has attracted. When the party asked all these people to join politics, they said that we are going to pay you a competitive salary, come and contribute. Now you’re turning the story around and telling them, it’s public service so you have to take a discount. Any benchmark that would have been too far away from this principle of paying a competitive salary would have been unpalatable.

If you want another benchmark, it is not going to happen with the PAP at this juncture.

Maybe, if the PAP starts attracting a different talent pool - those driven by public service rather than money - we could see further cuts in future, or even a different benchmark. But it is not going to happen now.

Plus, the PAP Government is not going to adopt any other benchmark now because that is what the opposition parties are advocating. And the PAP has never been known as a party that looks to the opposition for solutions.

If you are unhappy with the changes and want another benchmark adopted, you will need to vote in a different government because, like it or not, it is not going to happen with the PAP.

Happiness,
Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Racist remarks indefensible

NOTE SENT TO MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR JURONG GRC

On his own Facebook page, your comrade and the honourable Member of Parliament, Seng Han Thong has reportedly said: “The staff are not trained for this emergency preparedness, they know how to prevent terrorist but even this one, they are not prepared so they follow a very strict kind of SOP, so they have to be flexible, and especially to deal with different kind of emergency whether it is terrorist attack or internal, system flaw. They are not ready. I notice that the PR mention that, some of the staff, because they are Malay, they are Indian, they can’t converse in English good, well enough, so that also deters them, from but I think we accept broken English.” (emphasis mine)

I am reminded of the time when another comrade of your political party, the dishonoured Choo Wee Kiang, abused the privileges of his august office to make similar remarks in Parliament.

Your party leaders at that time were happy to be indulgent and to condone such insensitivity, which strikes at the fabric of what it means to be Singaporean. Choo remained in office, and went on to be a criminal.

Seng has suggested that his comments “were mis-interpreted”. I am not sure how. Whatever way you construe it, his remarks are downright racist.

I still take the MRT. The lack of communication skills is an observation that cannot be limited to particular races within the workforce.

Seng is a highly-ranked member of the labour movement. I am concerned that his remarks will have an adverse effect on the inclusive work policies of a listed company like SMRT.

Seng should resign from his position in Parliament and the labour movement, notwithstanding his constructive contributions to date. These should be no places for harbouring a racist.

I hope, as my Member of Parliament, you will stand up and make this request, rather than follow the example of your predecessors to tolerate such insensitive leaders.

Happiness,
Dharmendra Yadav


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