BY NICOLE SEAH
Along with many other Singaporeans, I oppose the White Paper.
I oppose the White Paper as a young Singaporean, who has no intention of giving up my citizenship or moving on to greener pastures because I want to stay and fix what is wrong with our country, so that we can be proud to pass on a better, more sustainable Singapore to future generations.
A Singapore that people can feel secure enough to call home, and feel confident to raise their children in.
Where the past, present and future can complement each other, rather than being a burden to economic progress.
A society that lives in harmony, rather than tense and overcrowded conditions.
Not the Singapore Inc. that has been aggressively forced down our throats the past few years – a Singapore which is in danger of becoming a transient state where people from all over, come, make their fortunes, and leave. A Singapore that has become a playground for the rich and the people who can afford it. A Singapore where the middle class is increasingly drowned out because they do not have the social clout or sufficient representatives in parliament to voice their concerns.
The paragraph above espouses rhetoric, a word that has become a filthy taboo that PAP MPs are attacking the opposition MPs for. Well, unless you’re talking about one of their own citing personal anecdotes like rich foreigners buying three properties, or trees that cannot grow properly if they are constantly uprooted. It’s okay when a PAP MP spouts rhetoric. It is ill-prepared of an opposition MP to do so. It is fluffy of them to do so.
This mudslinging in parliament, primarily over how the Worker’s Party has failed to provide a strong alternative, and the inherent smugness of the PAP is worrying.
Uneven playing field
Of course, it is easy for the PAP to slam the opposition on the quality of proposals that have been presented, whether these opposition parties have a presence in parliament or not. Apart from the length of time that the PAP has had in developing this paper, they also have an entire machinery of civil servants at their disposal churning out data which, apart from the topline information available on Singstats, is not available to the public.
With a Freedom of Information Act that is sorely lacking in this country, and with this comparative advantage that only elected officials in white have more access to such information than any other party, it is natural that they should have more facts at their fingertips to debunk any alternative proposal that the opposition puts up.
Is this fair?
No. It puts any opposition party elected into parliament in a tough spot. It’s akin to allowing competitors in only if they have a significant handicap. This attitude is selfish and counter-productive for policymaking in Singapore because it does not allow alternative proposals to be developed to the best of their ability, and for diverse proposals to flourish, which could help raise points or insights that may not have been earlier considered.
The question here is: Have sufficient diverse viewpoints been considered in the making of this White Paper? There may have been several focus groups conducted locally in constituencies, but is this sample size already skewed as their feedback may be more aligned with the ruling party? Have the views of the 39.9% who voted for the opposition in the last General Elections been considered too?
Overconfidence in predicting future
The PAP has presented a White Paper that looks too perfect to be true. It’s comprehensive, with clear graphs and data to show exactly what the consequences will be if we do not adhere to their policy recommendations, and a nicely predicted, positive outcome if the White Paper were to be implemented in full.
This over-confidence and certainty in prescribing future outcomes should not be comforting to people. Responsible leaders need to acknowledge that the world that we live in is a tumultuous one, and past data or historical events are not indicative of future trends.
For years the PAP has been telling us to do X, and it will result in Y. It all sounds very simple and linear, but we now know that they have been less than perfect in predicting outcomes. It’s nobody’s fault – after all, the world is changing at a speed that is impossible for us to predict trends as clearly as before. So, there is no need to act like we have all the answers. Even the PAP does not have all the answers, and they should not pretend to do so. Money can buy data, but it cannot predict the future.
What policymakers and leaders do need to establish, however, are the values by which they govern this country. The values we use to lead this country will cascade down into the mindsets of policymakers, and it will influence the way that they make decisions.
Just to be clear – Heart, Home, and Hope are not values. They should be the desired outcome of values.
The values of the White Paper currently appear to be – Money. GDP Growth. Corporations. Even the carrots dangled in front of us to start families are all centred around money and tangible rewards.
But is this the kind of Singapore we want? Have we really looked hard enough at cultivating an optimal balance between heartware and hardware? Or are we still fixated on an economic model that allows the rich to get richer while the poor get poorer?
Instead of continuing to paint a false picture of a comfort zone that we can take refuge in with the implementation of this White Paper, perhaps it is time for the state to stop mollycoddling its voters with the false promise of successful policies that can only happen with minimal confrontation of differences in ideas and opinions, because it allows the government to move ahead and make decisions that are right for its people.
The absence of soft culture
Singapore now needs time to grow into its own. Early on in the days of independence we’ve been whisked out of birthing pains out of necessity and quickly built into a first world nation in a short span of time. We are thankful to the old guard of the PAP for setting up this stage for us to flourish.
However, we will never truly mature as a society and as a country if we are not allowed the breathing space to grow. To grow our culture, to grow the things that matter, rather than to be caught up in a race of GDP growth numbers. The policies over the past decades have created an erosion of our social roots, widespread resentment, and a loss of who we are as Singaporeans. We have been taught to prioritise money-making practicality over what it means to have a solid culture. That is why we will find it difficult to have truly flourishing soft culture unless we can look beyond quantifying every scheme into a commercially viable one.
Soft culture sounds like a lofty proposition, but the truth is that developed economies around the world now are now being judged on their soft power influences and how they export their culture to the rest of the world. Soft culture also plays a part in determining how attractive a country is to the rest of the world. This is one area that we need to start focusing on in order to build a sustainable economy that goes beyond pure numbers and low-wage foreign labour.
Reality check: What if a prescriptive government is actually more detrimental than beneficial for its people? So apart from constantly doling out more monetary rewards and physical incentives to encourage a growth in TFR and sustain the population, perhaps it is also time for the government to take a step back and allow Singaporeans to find themselves and grow into their own. We need the space to organically build ourselves a strong Singaporean core before we should even talk about bringing more people in without diluting our identity and sense of belonging.
Speak up and be heard
The White Paper was developed with well-meaning intentions, but with deep-seated assumptions and a lack of openness to alternative ideas, it is difficult for many Singaporeans to endorse this White Paper as a reflection of the future that they want to see for this country. For many, the prospect of building a country primarily to serve economic needs and turn into a transient place for other seeking to use Singapore as a stepping stone is indeed a bitter pill to swallow.
To be clear, we are not by nature fear mongers, or doomsayers. We are all concerned because we’ve seen the destructive effects of similar policies over the past years, and with more of the same, the country is headed in a direction that understandably makes many of us uncomfortable, not just for ourselves, but for our children and the generations ahead of us.
The motion for the White Paper has already been passed in parliament, but I hope that we will not stop here and accept this silently. This is an opportune time to make our voices heard, and we can do so either by pushing for a National Referendum to demonstrate a representative view of what Singaporeans want for our future. We can and should also continue writing our thoughts on social platforms to make our opinions and ideals heard by as many of us as possible.
This is the time for us to stand up and make a difference for the beliefs that we hold dear to us. I hope we will not stand by the sidelines any longer.
Nicole Seah is a member of an opposition party in Singapore and was the youngest female candidate in the 2011 General Elections. She runs a community service project in the constituency of Marine Parade GRC, providing a support platform for children from lower income or dysfunctional family backgrounds. Nicole has also spoken at several conferences locally and internationally on issues pertaining to Singapore politics, social and youth issues in Asia and social media.