18 August 2009

Minilee NDRS decoded: 2009 edition!

By now, it should be apparent that every Prime Minister has a different style of doing the NDRS and their major policy speeches: Lee Kuan Yew relished the details, seeking to win hearts and minds through logic and superior reasoning; Goh Chok Tong is fond of putting the issues on the table as questions and dilemmas - leading to observations and comments that these questions either present false dilemmas or are attempts in leading the question to very controlled and guided ends; Lee Hsien Loong is noted for painting in very broad brush strokes, leaving his ministers to fill in the details weeks and months after the NDRS.

In all instances, basic comprehension of the NDRS and subsequent analysis can only come about when one understands this rule instead of throwing a hissy fit and denouncing the speech as "strangely empty" or worse.

Here then is Minilee's NDRS decoded!

The economy

1. The economy is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels of health - Minilee did not use the word "boom" to describe the eventual recovery from this economic crisis. What the PAP promises, it delivers - and Minilee has not promised a boom, merely a recovery.

2. In fact for the short term, Minilee's economic team cannot foresee exactly what will happen beyond Q3 of this year. The situation is so murky that they'll only review just before the end of this year to figure out their plan for next year.

In other words: We have no green shoots. We are in a transitional period.

3. Singapore will be building 2 "National Continuing Education and Training Campuses" in Paya Lebar and Jurong.

In other words: The shrinking of Singapore's white collar jobs and subsequently its middle class will continue, no thanks to the economic crisis. Perhaps Minilee's team expect a permanent and protracted change in the type of jobs available in the emergent post-crisis economy. We cannot otherwise justify 2 *permanent* institutions for retraining otherwise.

In other words:

Structural employment of the former white collar class to continue.

Current crisis expected to affect Singapore as a financial hub - most white collar jobs lost here are in this sector, many other currently existing white collar jobs
are dependent on the financial sector.

Look forward to continued downsizing of the middle class, structural unemployment necessitating a trip to one of the two retraining centres, and a future of structural underemployment.

Religious and racial harmony

Yugoslavia was a model of religious and racial harmony. But when their economy went bad - as with other pieces of Eden in the world and in history - the racial and religious harmony evaporated, no thanks to the diminished authority of the state (imagine if all Singapore's government could offer you was retraining in a blue-collar job, or suggest you sue your kids for maintenance to pay your medical bills?).

With trust in the government plummeting and no solutions forthcoming, it is no wonder that Yugoslavians sought their answers in religion, or that unscrupulous and power-hungry actors sought to stoke racial and religious tensions and present themselves as leaders.

We suggest that Minilee's team, having seen the economic growth forecast for Singapore in the next 10 to 30 years, are worried that conditions are beginning to look ripe for radical leaders to radicalise susceptible segments of Singapore society. It is this economic base that will empower and embolden a culture war.

Looking to the future

Spending half an hour on a now-and-then photo slideshow?

In other words: It may be difficult to tell if Singapore has improved between the last 5 years and now, especially for the poor; but it's really easy to tell the difference between the last 50 years and now.

Of all the forecast improvements in Minilee's "future segment" of his slideshow, which ones hint at an improvement for the lot of the bottom 1/3 of Singapore's population?

11 August 2009

RDS: The remaining issues

Religious Diversity in Singapore is a collection of research papers originally presented in a series of workshops between 2004 and 2006 by the Institute of Policy Studies.

1. When is the line crossed? Cross-reading with recent comments on religious harmony
No restraining orders have been issued under the MRHA since it came into effect.

However, the Government came close to invoking it on a number of occasions to stop religious leaders from mixing politics with religion and putting down other faiths, Mr Wong Kan Seng, the Home Affairs Minister at the time, said in 2001.

The religious leaders stopped their activities after they were summoned and warned by the police and Internal Security Department officers, he said.

Had they persisted, the law would have been used against them.
- "Religious harmony: 20 years of keeping the peace", in The Straits Times, 24 July 2009.

Some argue that because no restraining order has been issued under the MRHA, it has been only a showpiece. Others say it worked mainly as a deterrent. What is your response?

Showpiece? Well, when I spoke in Parliament during the third reading of the Bill on Nov 9, 1990, I did foresee 'the best case scenario is that no occasion arises where we need to invoke this Bill'. I also said then that we will exhaust all other remedies, like advising, counselling, etc. So the best scenario has happened: We have not had to issue a restraining order under the Act.

That does not mean that we have no problems but rather that we have been quick to defuse the problems through active management, mediation and, where necessary, admonition, sometimes working with religious leaders.

So non-invoking of the MRHA does not mean that it is a white elephant or showpiece. It is part of our suite of tools to maintain law and order and communal harmony.
- "Jaya: Don't take harmony for granted", in The Straits Times, 24 July 2009

The Minister may make a restraining order against any priest, monk, pastor, imam, elder, office-bearer or any other person who is in a position of authority in any religious group or institution or any member thereof for the purposes specified in subsection (2) where the Minister is satisfied that that person has committed or is attempting to commit any of the following acts:
(d) exciting disaffection against the President or the Government while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief.
- Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, Chapter 167A, Part III (8)

Singapore has to be a "fun" city attractive to its own and open to the world, so they argue, albeit with moderation but evolution as time and tide of society norms change. In order to be globally attractive and competitive, society has to loosen up and be in tune and in line with the progressives, the so call (sic) "mature", so they say. In the midst of all these, for God's faithful people, Paul's sentinel call should be voiced and heard clearly once again: "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God, without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life..." (Phil 2.14-16; also 2 Time 4.1-4). But don't get Paul wrong! He is challenging us to build up extra robust capacity over the childish level of debate and controversy, and it could not be more timely and urgent.
- John Chew, "Shaping of Maturity", Disocesan Digest, September 2003.

The claim here is essentially that this generation has become "crooked and perverse" because the government initiated a "childish level of debate and controversy" in favour of the "progressives" but has excluded the views of the religious communities because of formal secularism. This jeremiad - one of several that were preached from pulpits and published in the press - can have the effect of summoning a level of conservativism that goes beyond what is normally held by well-meaning and "right-thinking" individuals...
- Kenneth Paul Tan, in "Relgious reasons in a secular public sphere", RDS.

2. Recross: When is the line crossed?

Compare the following:

I. Anglican Bishop (Saint Andrew's Cathdral) John Chew's statement on the government creating a crooked and perverse generation above

II. "It's not a crusade against the people but there’s a line that God has drawn for us, and we don’t want our nation crossing that line." - Derek Hong, Anglican Pastor, COOS

III. "How then should Christians, as faithful watchmen and committed citizens living in secular democracies, respond to a political agenda driven by a godless philosophy which has harmful social and spiritual consequences?"

"She examines how the spirit of the anti-Christ, the spirit of lawlessness, manifests in the philosophy, morality and politics that shape our laws, systems and mindsets." - The blurb to Thio Li Ann's new book, Mind the Gap

What similarities do these 3 sets of speeches and speech acts have in common? What are their common rhetorical and philosophical ground, if any? Why was only one of these speakers/actors be called to apologise and retract their statement?

3. The rise of religiosity

What does the increasing rise of religiosity mean for Singapore? Various RDS authors recite 'increasing religiosity' as a fact to be dealt with. Only one RDS author has cited an actual survey that wasn't a population census that showed "rising religiosity" in Singapore - and a Straits Times survey at that.

If Singapore's leadership had decided to incorporate various religious groups in selective consultative policy-making, the question needs to be asked:

Where in the survey of rising religiosity that the political leadership and RDS authors love to quote, does it say that increasingly religious Singaporeans want their religions and religious leaders to play a role in policy-making?

Where is the survey that shows Singaporeans expect and find this desirable?

Where is the survey that shows Singaporeans, increasingly religious, want public policy to be brought in line with their religions' or religious leaders' interpretation of a good society?


05 August 2009

MOE principal to present at Christian lobby seminar

I draw your attention to the forthcoming GCF-RZIM Seminar on "Called To Engage - Being Salt and Light in the Public Square", scheduled on 8 and 10 August 2009 on the National Day weekend. Note that in the list of speakers is a Mrs Belinda Charles, who may be identified as the principal of Saint Andrew's Secondary School, a government-aided institution of learning under the purview of the Ministry of Education.

The purpose of this seminar, as described in its publicity, appears to provide a theological justification for faith-based discussion in the public of controversial social and political issues; identify a list of social and political issues to be targeted by Christian activists; and to compel Christians to engage in such behaviour in the public sphere as a religious obligation. Its goal, as stated in the PR materials, is so that "those in the positions of power will hear and respond favourably", i.e. to exert influence to align public policy with what this group considers as Christianity-approved ideals. In other words, this is a seminar conducted by the Christian lobby to provide the justification for its existence, its lobbying tactics, and its lobbying targets.

I note the recent statements on the need for religious harmony by SM Goh Chok Tong, SM Jayakumar, and Mr Wong Kan Seng. In particular, SM Goh's statement that religious sentiments should be kept private and the secular nature of our state and policy-making be respected. In light of this, I would like to seek the Ministry's clarification on the role of Mrs Belinda Charles in this controversial seminar, whose topic and timing is a direct challenge to our leaders' stance on religious harmony and the secular state.

I wonder whether the Ministry is aware of this seminar.

I wonder whether the Ministry approved Mrs Belinda Charles's participation and presentation at this religious seminar. I wonder whether the Ministry vetted the contents of Mrs Belinda Charles's presentation.

Does the stand of Mrs Belinda Charles at this conference represent the Ministry's official stand on religion and public policy?

I look forward to the Ministry's clarification on this matter. Concerned members of the public - and inquiring minds - want to know!

Inquiring minds: Ovidia Yu: "The list of speakers includes the principal of St Andrews Secondary School, a premier government-aided institution. Is this with MOE approval?"

Addendum: (7 Aug) As Ovidia Yu notes, Ravi Zacharias and his RZIM organisation is dedicated to training people around the world to "present Christianity as the only reasonable option by which people should live". I am shocked and surprised that such a religious activist was even allowed into Singapore by our Immigration Department for the purpose of preaching and teaching other people his exclusionary, exclusivist vision of religion - which clearly is inimical to Singapore's pluralistic, multireligious and secular society. I am shocked and surprised that such an organisation - dedicated to promoting an exclusionary, exclusivist view of religion - would be co-hosting any seminar in Singapore - and that the permit for this seminar was approved by the relevant authorities. I wonder whether the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Immigration Department would comment on why Ravi Zacharias was allowed here in Singapore, for this expressed purpose during our National Day weekend, and why this event was allowed to proceed. (9 Aug) We note that VCF-NUS has pulled out its notice of the GCF-RZIM seminar. The link now shows up blank. Also, the event has also been scrubbed from its events archive. If you wish to read the original text of the seminar notice, refer to Ovidia Yu's post, or look here or see here