Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Elect Them

The Government just announced a $13B budget that has most workers salivating. But of all the comments made about this budget, I like the one from Mr Chiam See Tong, the Member of Parliament for Potong Pasir. He called this a "Fantastic Election Year Budget". Spoken like a true politician!

Unlike many opposition politicians in Singapore, who cannot say anything good about the government, Mr Chiam gives credit where credit is due. But in so doing, he manages to put forth the opposition view, and that is this is pork-barrel politics at play. Mr Chiam does not dismiss out of hand that this is indeed a people's budget. It is obviously very good for the man in the street. Come on, what can beat being given cash, and legally at that? So we go off with a clear conscience that this is not a bribery. Of course some will read this as a sort of 'bribery' in an Election year. Well, you can't please everybody, not even after forking out S$3.2 billion giveaways. I venture to speculate, though, that this largesse will have little impact, if at all, on the additional votes that the PAP can pull in some time this year. The ROI just won't do justice to the amount of money spent.

But then again, some would say that the money is the people's in the first place, so no big deal when it is given back to them. And since its theirs, they'd probably make a bee-line for the Casinos to gamble it all away, and then wait for next year to come. Just make sure that the chicken that lays the golden egg is not inadvertently, and prematurely, slaughtered.

To those who still say that the budget could have been better for the man in the street, I say, get real. Opposition for the sake of opposition is way past its used-by date. They should take a leaf out of Mr Chiam's approach. He has credibility and integrity.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

We have grown

I think that we, as Singaporeans, have gotten so used to hanging on to every word that our MM Lee Kuan Yew says that every time he does say something disagreeable, Singaporeans go into a fit - as if he is God who has just pronounced an infallible truth. The most recent example is  where he was quoted as saying that Malay Muslims are "distinct and separate". This had the Malay community up in arms with all manner of accusations, both by the Malays and opportunistic people, flying left and right that LKY is a racist. There has even been the observation that the government is complicit in his remarks for if it were anybody else, you can be sure that the ISD will be knocking on his door. Well, the ISD stayed home, so people observed.

What is my take on this whole affair? I have lived my life largely under Singapore's firstt PM - MM Lee Kuan Yew. I have lived through the years when Communism was still the greatest threat on earth, with US and the former USSR training their most lethal missiles at each other, and inventing and building new 'strategic' ones all the time for the same purpose. So the threat of being over-run by the China-supported CPM, or at least the perception, was very real for Singaporeans. But more than that, there has always been tension between the majority Malays rulers of (the former) Malaya and those who believed in multi-racialism in Singapore. I say political because on the ground, the Malays couldn't be nicer and agreeable people. But the years of experience naturally brings a certain concern, if not fear, about how society is developing. So I can understand where MM is coming from.

I had another chance to speak to this Malay acquaintance who taught religious classes in the Mosque. He let on that his children, who are all schooled in Madrasah's, didn't manage to do well enough to take the PSLE. Nevertheless, he had hopes that one day, they would be good enough to proceed to Al-Azhar University in Egypt to pursue the ultimate Islamic education in order to provide leadership to the Muslim community in Singapore.

Among the many reasons he may have in putting his children through this unconventional Islamic education route was that he felt that children needed a moral compass. If left to themselves, he feared that they would stray. This had been a particularly Malay youth problem though they do not have a monopoly on this concern.

I thought this was enlightening. In the highly competitive society that Singapore is today, religion can be an anchor to ensure that people do not go astray. Thus far the Christians, and increasingly the Buddhists, have youth programmes in religion to provide this moral compass. Enlightened Muslims are doing though largely confined in the Mosques and their religious schools. It would be best if they could bring this out of these institutions into the wider community, if only to let others know about their moral principles beyond just the ritual fasting and food abstinences, and more so about their view on life and society in order to remove perceptions of extremism and exclusivity that MM has spoken of. The ball really is on the Malay-Muslim community, not to prove anything, but to demonstrate their involvement and integration into the wider community within the context of Islam.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Whose Singapore?

I have reflected again on what I wrote in my last post, about Singapore Malays begin less easy to get along with nowadays, compared to 30 more more years ago during my younger days. I must say, in all justice, that I know many Malays who are as friendly and 'mild' (i.e. not militant) as those that I called my best friends in the days of my youth. Now, I even know a person who teaches religious lessons at a Mosque. In my conversations with him, I have found him to be anything but extreme. Instead, he goes for 'secular' courses to upgrade himself, thinks of a whole bunch of options, not quite decided yet, of where to head towards - career-wise. Obviously he is not quite the same as those Malays I have known a long time ago, where striking out on a high performance career was the last thing on their minds. As a religious teacher, he was anything but militant in his outlook nor extreme in his views. And there is one other I know who is so full of life and fun and enthusiasm for life. Being around her can be infectious, and she doesn't spout militancy or separateness. In fact, I have seen recent photos of her in China sans the Tudung - a form of the hijab worn among Malay women. I don't think she is being a hypocrite - just being pragmatic.

I do not want to generalize. There is ample evidence to show that some Malays have become 'apart' but there are others who still are very much my fellow citizen, if not a friend who lives next door. And they can even be nicer than your own kind in some respects. So in this sense, Singapore's race policy has succeeded. While a bad apple may spoil the whole basket of them, there remains a certain resilience in the "regardless of race, language or religion" ethos that has characterized Singapore for well over 40 years.

If this were not so, Singaporeans will be making a bee-line for the exit.

In a sense, this is not Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore, it is S Rajaratnam's Singapore.