I did not wish to make any comments on this issue initially.
Many friends have made their views known to me. A foreign service government scholar even invited me to participate in a “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” event this Sunday, which I accepted after some hesitation.
It heartened me that many of my non-Indian friends were the ones taking the lead in reacting to this issue, and that it underscores the efforts of the government in creating a united society irrespective of our inherent differences is paying off.
At least one of my friends has written extensively about this issue; both his views and the reply from the government have been made available here.
However, I felt I had to say some thing now that the Minister for Law has put the weight of his office behind this issue.
At the outset, I was surprised that it took the minister more than a week to respond to this issue, which he himself conceded had a xenophobic element, after some 40,000 people have begun preparations to eat curry.
An issue as sensitive as this would never have been allowed to fester for more than a week under the watch of his predecessor and mentor, Professor Shunmugam Jayakumar.
We know the minister has been busy dealing with issues raised by the looming presidential election but, surely, this was a matter that deserved greater priority, given that the minister himself acknowledged emotions were running high in certain forums.
We now also know that the report in the newspaper was riddled with inaccuracies.
If this incident happened more than five years ago, what has happened since? Has the mediation worked? Do the families now have a more constructive relationship with each other?
If the minister was going to take more than a week to respond to this issue, he could have come more prepared to provide a comprehensive account of the matter.
Unfortunately, the journalists present at the press conference failed to ask these tough questions of the minister. Then again, the government has always maintained the Singapore press is not an investigative one; it is not supposed to ask such questions. The pliant nature of its work leaves it with little choice to take at face value what is offered by the government. Later, if the information comes out wrong, it is the national duty of the press to shoulder it squarely.
Nevertheless, how did this report end up getting fed to the newspaper in the first place? The government is known to maintain a tight lid over information that reaches the press. We are told the mediator provided the information. Was the mediator not sufficiently prepared or briefed before the information was shared with the press?
The minister further gave some understanding of the mediation process. If his account is to be relied on, the mediator is absolved of all responsibility.
The reality, if you have ever been involved in a mediation, is that the mediator plays an important role in nudging parties to reach an amicable solution. Often, the process involves the mediator speaking separately to the parties before bringing them together. The mediator will then encourage parties to consider the dispute from different perspectives in an effort to get them to consider solutions that can work.
It is true, as the minister suggests, the solution is neither imposed, recommended nor enforced by the mediator. But the mediator is a key facilitator of the dispute and it is quite likely that, in the absence of a mediator, the parties would have failed to reach such a solution.
Given these circumstances, the agency of the ministry has to shoulder some, if not most, of the blame. My friend has sought an apology from the law ministry for this incident. I am not hopeful he will get one.
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