Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The PAP and the Internet: An uncomfortable co-existence.

I came across the post below on the Facebook page started by PAP enthusiasts.
Credit: YP
I do not agree with the writer overall and would like to address the points that he has brought up.

"When has it become an entitlement for bloggers to demand a dialogue with the PM..."

True, it smacks of egotism for a blogger to expect that the PM would actually meet up with him to discuss national issues. Who is Roy Ngerng anyway? I don't even know what his educational credentials are or what organisation he works for. What right does he have to profess that he is, in his own words, "sacrificing" himself to speak up for Singaporeans? In that sense, I agree with the writer, YP, that Roy probably has an inflated ego.

On the other hand, the writer might want to think about whether Roy Ngerng is the only person in Singapore asking those questions about the CPF. Since I cannot share unjustified allegations, I ask those of you who are interested to type the pertinent keywords into the search engines. You will see the painfully obvious fact that Roy Ngerng's questions are also the questions on the minds of many anonymous Singaporeans on the Internet.

If Roy Ngerng isn't the only one, and other Singaporeans are also asking similar questions, is it really all right for our Prime Minister and his government to ignore them? That's for him to judge. After all, his own political legacy is at stake. And perhaps that of his father's as well.

"... just because they have a computer and can rant online..."

Come on, the Internet is nothing new. I learnt to go on the net back in the 1990s. Today, we are living in one of the most wired nations in the world. A high percentage of Singaporeans have tablets, laptops, iPads and smartphones. They can access information nearly everywhere they go in Singapore. I expect a better argument than the usual laments about the dangers of the computer.

The Internet is here to stay, both for good and for bad. People in varying jobs - be they doctors, teachers or sales staff - have for many years had to contend with more questions from their patients, students and customers, because of the increased sharing of knowledge. Due to all the readily available information on the Internet, the gap between the knowledge held by someone who is viewed as an authority and that of someone who is a layman has been reduced.

Certainly, there's a lot of specific knowledge that cannot be accessed by the layman, but we can no longer expect the layman to completely trust in the authority, without raising some questions of his own.

So, why should politicians in Singapore expect to be unaffected by the information revolution? Why should they not be questioned when we find information that contradicts what they are telling us?

Furthermore, there is a tendency for the PAP supporters to portray the government's online critics as whiners who are not credible. This begs the question of who the people using the Internet are. Are they the baby boomers? Are they lowly educated individuals? Drug addicts? Gamblers? Alcoholics? I'm afraid that the whiners alluded to below, who will "probably spend [their CPF] on essentials like heroin and beer" will be too busy indulging in their vices to comment online.

Credit: Fabrications about the PAP
More likely than not, Internet users, particularly those who comment extensively online, are white-collared workers with tertiary education. I don't know what credentials Roy Ngerng has, but based on this report, 43 percent of Singaporean males above age 25 and 36.5 percent of Singaporean females above age 25 are graduates of tertiary institutions. It has also been reported recently that our universities are climbing up the international rankings, which means that their graduates should be well-trained and skilled individuals.

So, what makes the opinion of a local university graduate who supports the CPF more credible than the opinion of another local university graduate who doesn't entirely support the CPF?

If both are laymen, there should not be a disparity in perceptions of their credibility. But there persists in Singapore the belief that the people who support the PAP government's policies are more credible than the people who criticise them, regardless of the fact that the government's critics today may be highly qualified individuals. If we do not value the views of these highly educated Singaporeans, then why educate them?

"... just because you keep harping on a pet issue that has been recycled many times in different variations by our cab drivers"

When reading the posts shared on Fabrications about the PAP, you don't have to wait long for the condescending attitude to surface. The writer seems to be implying that cab drivers make mindless chatter, and their opinions on topics such as the CPF are not to be taken seriously. Well, Cai Mingjie has a phD and was a former employee of A*STAR. I take cabs almost every day and I have also met drivers who used to be businessmen, drivers who are extremely well-travelled, a former student leader from the Chinese High who was involved in the student protests in the 1950s, and even one well-spoken driver who used to work, in fact, at the Prime Minister's Office. While it is true that most cab drivers are not authorities on the CPF, if the CPF is a financial product, they are the end-users. At the very least, they have the right to give their feedback on the product. It is thus unfortunate that the author chose to make a dismissive reference to the opinions of cab drivers.

"Nothing wrong with the questions raised, or regurgitated."

There are three reasons why the same questions are regurgitated or asked repeatedly. First, the person who asked was not listening carefully to the answer. Second, the person could not understand the explanation given. Third, there was no explanation given, so he had to ask again. According to this blog post, the last reason seems to apply for our questions on the CPF.

"I am not sure which I detest more. The yesteryears when opposing voices were indeed silenced quickly, or now where those with an inflated [sense of self-importance] are allowed to play the victim card.... I know I have more respect for the former."

So, now he says he respects only the opposition politicians who were clapped in jail and sued to bankruptcy for speaking up? That's hypocritical, isn't it? If he had any respect for those opposition politicians and what they stood for, he wouldn't be writing a short paragraph on his Facebook to deny someone else of his right to speak up as a citizen. If he respected the opposition politicians of yesteryears, he would similarly guard the right of anyone else to speak up today against policies that he or she disagrees with. He would not be supporting the PM's evident intention to seek financial compensation from a blogger, when the latter has already apologised for the uncalled for allegations.

Of course, it is Prime Minister Lee's right to do what he wishes, as he does indeed have a case against Roy Ngerng, but what I would hope to see is for him to take a softer approach. To lead Singapore in an information age, he has to appreciate that information on the Internet is often contradictory and that is precisely why it is so amazing. People are free to express their thoughts, whether they are inspirational or banal, everyone with Internet access has a space for himself or herself to express their differing views. Just as he has detractors, the PM also has many supporters online. He has to trust that ultimately, Singaporeans are capable of discerning right from wrong. If Roy Ngerng is an egomaniac who makes unsubstantiated assertions, the PM has to trust that Singaporeans can tell that for themselves.

Finally, the PM doesn't need every single person in Singapore to speak well of him. He only needs to ensure that more than 50 percent do, every five years. That's more than easily achievable for a leader who is well-regarded by the majority of the people in Singapore as well as by his peers in other countries.

Update: Apparently the PM's lawyer has rejected Roy Ngerng's offer of SGD5,000 in damages, calling it "derisory". An opportunity to be a gentleman has passed. It's back to knuckle-duster politics.

Further updates: Roy Ngerng has managed to raise SGD70,000 within four days, despite the fact that people from the "Sue Him" and "Arrest Him" camps have erroneously branded his crowd-funding effort as "illegal" and have criticised his lawyer for not offering to absorb all the costs of the lawsuit. The substantial amount collected within such a short period of time suggests that the government's management of the CPF issue has well and truly pissed off a whole lot of people in Singapore. The number of transactions in Roy's fund-raising account may be just slightly more than 1,000, but former presidential candidate Dr Tan Cheng Bock's Facebook post on the CPF received 4,733 likes.

So is the CPF really a non-issue? You tell me.

Just because Roy is not Mr Popular doesn't mean that the CPF is okay.

The people who donated to him most likely do not view their donations as a support for libel of the PM, but as a statement against the revised CPF rules which were implemented by the government without consultation with the stakeholders - Singaporeans and PRs who are members of the CPF.

Although reports indicate that the PM has already gotten his lawyer to begin preparing for the lawsuit, I still hope that the PM can recognise the support for Roy for what it is. It's not support for slandering a high office holder - it will be sad if we were to develop cynicism and mistrust towards our political leaders. Instead, the donations are signals that the government has been doing it wrong where the CPF is concerned. If the government can right the wrong and provide more autonomy to CPF members, I believe the majority in Singapore will continue to rally behind the PM.

Apart from the increased retirement age and Minimum Sums required, little has changed since this article appeared in 2004. While it is good to anticipate problems before they occur, without any concrete, national, statistical evidence to prove that releasing the people's CPF savings was a bad idea, discerning CPF members are not going to buy the argument that they are going to squander their retirement funds accumulated from decades of their own hard work.

To expect that the people in Singapore will believe them without any evidence tells of the PAP's false confidence in its popularity among the people. It is worth repeating that 40 percent of the 2 million voters in this country picked an alternative political party in 2011 (that's about 800,000 voters who opted for the opposition).

My message to the government is similar to its message to Roy Ngerng. If you say that CPF members will misuse their CPF savings, please prove it.

Credit: Mr C

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