Singlish-slinging minister praised for calling outbreak panic buyers ‘idiots’

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing was being praised for his plainspoken tough talk after he apparently said “disgraceful” Singaporean panic buyers were behaving like “idiots” and threw shade at Hong Kong’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

His comments, made in a roughly 20-minute clip that has been spreading online this week, has gotten the attention of Singaporeans who seemed to enjoy his Singlish-steeped straight-talk and agreed with what he said. The clip was recorded in a closed-door meeting with business leaders.

“Just a small group behaving like idiots like that will kill all of us, it will kill our current price negotiation strategy, it will kill our future business strategy … I was very upset on Saturday because it has long-term implications on our international standing. Every country can behave like idiots, Singaporeans must not behave like idiots,” the voice that sounds like Chan says in the ostensibly leaked clip.

Chan has not denied making the comments and wrote online Monday after it began spreading that he had given a “frank” assessment of what had transpired to members of the Singapore Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry. He said the meeting was held days after the disease outbreak threat level was raised, triggering widespread alarm.

He is heard in the clip saying it was “disgraceful” to see photos and videos of Singaporeans scrambling to buy supplies such as rice and toilet paper, which he said could lead suppliers to raise prices.

“Actually it’s not kiasu, actually never think,” he said, using a popular Hokkien word for selfish. “Never think. First of all, what is there to run? Of all things rice, rice since 1970 ah, we’ve been stockpiling.” He also attributed Singapore’s unusual behavior to Hong Kong, where similar scenes had unfolded just days prior.

“You know why this is so bad? Hong Kong behave badly. OK lah, their problem lah. Correct? But Hong Kong behave badly, and even if they behave like idiots, somebody will do business with them because they are part of China.

“If we behave badly, people think that our society is like that one, we lose our brain one and cannot be steady one, will anybody want to do business with us after this or not? Already people try to raise the price already. Then we all behave like idiots like that, the foreign supplier will all [again] raise their price,” he said, using a Malay term.

The clip, which had been shared to multiple Facebook pages as of Wednesday morning, also saw the minister explaining Singapore’s decision to limit the use of face masks in order to reserve supply for medical workers and service staff.

He said that if every Singaporean were to use a face mask, like in Hong Kong, it would create a severe shortage of supply and “broken down” Singapore’s hospital system.

“What is happening to Hong Kong now? What did South China Morning Post just report about Hong Kong? They are down to less than one month supply of masks for their medical people. Which means that when the medical people don’t even get the mask, you think they dare to go and take care of the sick people?

“If we have done what we have done like Hong Kong, without thinking … if [Prime Minister], myself, Lawrence Wong, Gan Kim Yong go to press conference, everybody wear a mask, today, everybody panic, I can guarantee you today, our hospital system would have broken down,” the audio recording was heard saying, naming Singapore’s National Development and Health ministers respectively.

Singaporeans mostly seemed to enjoy Chan’s coffee shop talk. Some were surprised to hear the minister show an ah beng side, a term for stereotypically crass Chinese men.

“Talk behind closed door not steady enough. Coming [General Election] talk like this and I will [clap] for you and say you really steady beng,” a Facebook user wrote.

“After listening to the whole record, I agree totally with what Mr Chan have shared. I don’t think he is Beng. What he did was, to convey as such so the necessary message can be brought across,” Facebook user SC Lee said.

“His direct, no nonsense and matter-of-factly speaking the true sentiments of every educated Singaporean. Thumbs up CCS!!” Marina Nasser said.


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This article, Singlish-slinging minister praised for calling outbreak panic buyers ‘idiots’, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!