I’d like to believe that so long as one is not yet six-feet under, change, or for some, redemption remains possible. Particularly so for Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s only listed Prospect Magazine ‘Thinker’. With his impressive public service record and having rubbed shoulders with headline-makers, now pushing 66 in a week he must have his ‘Gee, is this it or is there more to my legacy?’ moments.
His lavish praises aside, in all 9 ideas, there is nary a critical word about what the current PAP government has done wrong. Does Kishore’s complete absence of any disquiet over his bosses’ mistakes (housing, transport, healthcare, foreigners etc) imply that he thinks this government is as close to perfecto as we can ask for? Is that possible?
Or perhaps with his idea #9 (ending at #10 soon?), is Kishore dipping his toes into something more consequential than just pompous ideas? Consequential as in telling it like it is to his political masters, albeit cryptically? Nonetheless, his ‘Big Ideas’ continue to be even BIGGER on self-censoring and analytical dishonesty.
Yes, Criticize…But Cryptically
Reading Kishore’s “To future-proof the country, build a wise citizenry”, (http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/invitation/story/future-proof-the-country-build-wise-citizenry-20141011), Ngiam TongDow’s penetrating observation comes to mind; that no matter how much someone wants to tell his boss off, he “will hesitate when he thinks of his million-dollar salary. Even if he wants to do it, his wife will stop him.”
But Mr Thinker-cum-Author might have just found a way to practise (one hopes) his newfound religion of telling his bosses off without losing his million$ job, or his wife. After 10 months, he appears to reach for the ‘cryptic’ pen to perform that task.
Kishore observes, “If the powerful American Constitution and its systems of checks and balances have failed to prevent dysfunctional governance in the US, we in Singapore should take heed and look for even stronger ways and means of preventing dysfunctional governance.” True, Kishore goes on to highlight a ‘populist’ government as dysfunctional. But consider his ‘solution’, ‘the best way to disarm a seductive politician is to show data and arguments that will demonstrate the folly of marching down the populist path.’
Is Kishore gingerly hinting that PAP’s PGP & other related programmes are obviously populist, vote-buying exercises since verifiable criticisms and feedback show that their implementation and gamut of benefits appear more ‘wayang’ than truly ‘sayang’ voters? His discerning readers can surely see through how ground realities contradict PAP’s dismal ‘data and arguments’.
Next, curiously Kishore chooses the recent Swiss minimum wage (CHF4000/S$5340) referendum when the knife-edge, more widely-reported Scottish independence vote would illustrate his point even better; that ‘the top-down approaches that worked well in the early years of Singapore’s governance will not work when dealing with a well-educated population.’ Pro-independence leaders exaggerated the ‘populist’ benefits of independence for all Scots if freed from under London’s colossal economic and financial shadow.
Whereas the Swiss e.g. with its jaw-dropping S$5340 minimum wage figure serves to open up wounds still festering from Goh Chok Tong’s unfulfilled promise of ‘Swiss living standard’. Also, fresh in voters’ minds is how torturous the fight was just to get the unSwiss-S$1000/month for many PAP’s strongest blue-collar supporters.
So, a cryptic message here for Loong and gang?
Read further how Kishore strings his words, ‘…vote themselves a pay raise…They actually voted against giving themselves an increase in minimum wage.’ Again, words that effectively remind Singaporeans how their PAP had ‘actually voted themselves pay raises’ – not once, not twice but more times in their PAP-controlled parliaments that they themselves can remember.
Another cryptic message between the lines?
Then, Back to Self-Censorship & Lack of Honesty
Kishore’s Idea #9 overt goal is ‘to suggest one major stabilizer we can build in Singapore to handle political shocks’.
The stabilizer he proposes to ‘future-proof Singapore (is) by creating a treasure trove of well-researched and well-reasoned policy papers on all the major challenges that Singapore will be facing in the next 50 years’. Here is where Kishore suffers from censorship sores. To reach for the future, one must get the past right first.
Hello, Mr Thinker, why omit the need for our past to be told by other than the victors? Are the victors’ narrative less ‘self-serving’ as that of the vanquished? As dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, toeing only the self-serving interest ways of his school’s namesake is a great disservice to Singaporeans whose tax money goes into his salary and school’s operations.
Nothing cryptic here, just simple self-censorship.
Finally, the earlier assertion that Kishore boldly makes, ‘the best way to disarm a seductive politician is to show data and arguments that will demonstrate the folly of marching down the populist path.’
Here, he displays the same lack of honesty in analysis as noted in https://2econdsight.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/the-art-of-compromise-kishore-compromises-himself/. Kishore proposes that the ‘data and arguments’ needed in countering a wayward government be ‘done by government agencies…(and)…by non-government organisations’.
My Big question is, ‘Why does Kishore think that citizens, already schooled by ‘an education system that is the envy of other countries in the world’, cannot perform their own research and discovery of the ‘data and arguments’? Why, O why, does he not speak up for our right to accurate, adequate (where data is security sensitive) and apt data when sought?
What has this government got to hide, is hiding from citizens with their non-answers and no accountability? How does Singapore’s only world-recognized Thinker’s complete silence on citizens’ access to data jive with his ‘rising concern…that Singapore’s future will be challenging’? Can Kishore really ‘think’?
It’s impossible that he is ignorant on this need. So, he’s plainly dishonest in his analysis.
Some will not agree with my nascent view that Kishore is not change-proof. An ex-President Scholar and author of many books, Kishore’s salary and his Mrs may just be in the way of his plain-speaking. Hence, a cryptic approach.
Notice he omits highlighting ‘civic leadership’ as a ‘stabilizer’ in the same breath as he does ‘civil service and the judiciary’. That’s a tacit admission that he and his snug gang of ‘civic leaders’ are not up to their role helping to steer Singapore. Additionally, the text, ‘The writer has been hailed by British current affairs magazine Prospect as one of this year’s top 50 world thinkers’ that we highlighted as needlessly self-aggrandizing, is no more. Now, it’s just a plainer ‘writer is Dean of LKY School of Public Policy etc’. So, change is possible after all?Free
Let’s keep plugging at it until real and permanent change dawns on our civic leaders. We need all hands on deck to achieve the Change we Must, to end PAP’s dominance…for a more equitable Singapore.
2cents blogs @2econdsight.wordpress.com