Monday, February 11, 2013


More on the White Paper on Population. The PM said, quite rightly, that the conversation will continue outside of Parliament on the issues raised. Whether the Paper is right or not, we will know possibly in 2020 or 2030. Many of us may not be around when that happens. But the PAP did insert a caveat as the debate over the numbers were debated. That 6.9 million suddenly became a guide and not a target and the Paper, amongst other things, was amended accordingly But more damaging to its credibility was the original claim, albeit in a footnote, that nurses belong to that class of workers considered "low skilled" (page 40, footnote 12). This also was amended, but not when the politicians and their officials pointed it out, but when the nursing profession raised the issue. The government may called this a (regrettable) mistake, but it is a disturbing mistake nonetheless. You just have to wonder about the authors of this paper, which took one whole year to develop and write, whether in their minds they view our Florence Nightingales as low skilled workers. There is such as thing known as a Freudian slip and this is perhaps a significant mental one. Maybe the reason is because, today, many of them - the nurses, are from mainland China and not a few are Filipinos, which unfortunately, have been associated in Singapore more with household maids. There has been a dwindling number of locals who are willing to take on the profession, which is not to say that the profession is any less noble and essential.

But that's how our officials see people - low skill, high skill, low class, high class, moneyed class, foreigner, moneyed foreigners, maid-master/madam-servants, temporary foreign workers (whose job is to provide for locals - build its houses. feed them, ensure that they continue to lead a comfortable life, etc.) And alas, national policies are an outgrowth of these prejudices and biases, are they not? It is no wonder that the government appears to have created a chasm between itself and the people. This stratification reminds one of the labourers who are beholden to the rich gentry, the landowners, and the capitalists for their livelihood in a bygone era - a point that Mr Iswaran, and probably Dr Balakhrishnan, seem to have been at pains to point out in Parliament last week. Nothing really ever changes, does it? The thesis, anti-thesis which must then give way to a new synthesis. Has the PAP become the unfeeling thesis of the day that is crying out for an anti-thesis? Hopefully, we are more enlightened by virtue of the fact that we have received so much education. But above all, we need to stay humble, As some wise people have said, it doesn't matter how good the policy is, how visionary, how well-meaning nor how enlightened it is.

The important thing is that it be communicated well such that people will want to fall over each other to get in line (ok so I exaggerate) to give it their self-serving support, but support nevertheless. In this the sitting government has failed miserably, and at great political costs.

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