YOUR VIEW: Let's not criticise for sake of it

Singapore police stand guard outside a luxury hotel in June 2011. The former head of the Singapore police's drug enforcement unit has been charged with corruption for soliciting sexual favours in exchange for help with contracts, court documents showed

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I couldn’t agree more with Sharon Heng on “Singapore mustn’t become an angry and bitter society”. We have much to be thankful for and should not take this for granted. We must be grateful that our streets are safe and we enjoy the freedom that this gives us.
So when I read Prof. Kishore Mahbubani’s piece in The Straits Times (13 April) titled “Singapore’s biggest blessing: Safety”, it resonated with me. Public institutions like the Singapore Police Force which play an important role in sustaining our way of life should be preserved and supported. In a small country like ours, safety is a key attraction for investors, businesses or tourists, and we cannot take it for granted. I also feel that our law enforcement agencies, by and large, do their job very well, and that public trust in them is very high.
Therefore, I was perturbed when I read Ms Jeraldine Phneah’s response to Prof. Mahbubani’s piece “Trust in Public Institutions Differs from Blind Faith”. Ms Phneah asserts that there are “many valid reasons why we doubt public institutions” and cites the recent Shane Todd incident and the questioning of Singaporean filmmaker Lynn Lee, as examples of why people distrust the Singapore Police Force. She says that although our public sector is made up of “academically inclined people”, they can be prone to error and failure, as illustrated by the Ng Boon Gay case.
My view is that it is important to find out all the facts and not jump to conclusions or generalise based on a few incidents.
The coroner’s inquiry will shed light on the Shane Todd case and I think we should wait for the full facts to emerge before casting aspersions on the efficacy of our police force. In the case of Lynn Lee, she was a witness in an on-going investigation, and so had to be questioned. Any police force worth their salt would have done the same. But to completely discredit the work of the entire police force based on just these two cases, whatever their outcome, is over reacting.
As for Mr Ng Boon Gay, I feel that it is precisely because we have effective law enforcement agencies that such cases were swiftly investigated and those accused of wrong-doing were brought to justice. I agree that it is disconcerting to suddenly hear several cases of senior public servants being charged with wrong-doing but they are in the minority. In fact, according to CPIB, out of 135 people charged for corruption in 2011, only 6 were from government agencies and statutory boards. We have so few corrupt officials compared to other countries precisely because we do not hesitate to prosecute the minority who are corrupt.
Ms Phneah also cited Hong Kong and Switzerland as good examples of countries with “strong activist culture with frequent peaceful protests” which were still doing well in terms of “social harmony and economic progress”. While we can definitely learn from the experiences of other countries, I think it is important not to take a romanticised view of their state of affairs.
Hong Kong has its own issues and is not exactly a beacon for social harmony.

Poverty is a real issue with the Hong Kong Council of Social Services saying that nearly 1.2 million people or about 15% of its population were living in poverty in the first half of 2012. Many of the poorest in Hong Kong struggle to find housing and resort to living in tiny cage-like homes. What kind of social harmony is this?
Economically, some would argue that because every issue gets overly politicised in Hong Kong, a lot of time and energy is wasted to the detriment of the economy and quality of life. This might explain Hong Kong starting to fall behind globally in terms of economic competitiveness and quality of life.
While I agree that greater civic activism is good for Singapore, it must also be grounded in facts. Singaporeans should not criticise for the sake of doing so, but instead undertake efforts that will improve our lives.
By all means, keep a close watch on our public agencies, provide feedback when they can do better but also give them credit where it is due.

Marvin Kwan Kam Fye, 34
Assistant MIS Manager

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