Stop Denying Our Public Sector’s Culture of Learned Helplessness

Rice
Can We Please Stop Denying Our Public Sector’s Culture of Learned Helplessness?
Grace Yeoh
27 March 2018

In May 2017, I left the public service after two years of being a public servant.

It may have been a brief stint, but it was long enough for me to get comfortably acquainted with both the copious amount of red tape and the consequences of fighting it.

Besides mere inconvenience, this bureaucratic nightmare often hindered creativity and innovation. It also enabled those of higher status to wield their authority by turning down ideas from ‘lower-ranking’ staff.

This, in turn, exposed me to the pervasive fear of speaking up that exists within the public service.

Till this year, I’d thought perhaps I was overthinking the situation and that the fear I witnessed was inconsequential or perhaps even misunderstood.

Then in February this year, as part of his Budget speech, MP Louis Ng shared that he’d spoken to fellow public servants and learnt that they were generally afraid to speak up for fear of getting into trouble, thus essentially turning themselves into ‘Yes’ men. He then urged Parliament and senior management in the public service to ensure public servants do not fear speaking up against status quo.

In response, Minister Ong Ye Kung, who leads the public service innovation efforts, said that these generalisations tar the entire service with the same brush.

Despite Minister Ong reiterating that public servants can speak up without fear of getting into trouble, many netizens saw the irony in him ‘calling out’ and ‘chiding’ Mr Ng for his feedback.

Over email, I express my gratitude for Mr Ng’s courage to speak up for public servants, even if it may affect his political career.

Mr Ng shares, “My father always taught me to speak up, to question, and to always focus on solutions. When I entered politics, I said that I’m here to listen with my heart and ears and to speak up from my heart.”

He also believes the fear of speaking up is “mythical”.

“As a civil society activist for the past 17 years, I have actively spoken up and have never gotten into trouble. I became an MP! Some activists have, however, gotten into trouble, and I think this has created a culture of fear of speaking up.”

Nonetheless, he is adamant that constructive criticism is the way forward, and that speaking up should be encouraged and supported.

When I was a public servant, I created a group dedicated to memes and jokes about being a public servant on the public sector’s private Facebook Workspace. The group took off—finally there was an avenue for public servants to ‘complain’ about their jobs with humour.

While Mr Ng and Minister Ong’s views are well-intentioned, not everyone is able tap on their courage so easily, especially when they already internalise the exact opposite behaviour and convince themselves to ‘go with the flow’ for everyone’s sake.

To empathise with the public servants Mr Ng spoke with, we must first realise that humans generally experience two main types of fear.

First, there is the overt fear of specific consequences. This fear doesn’t bother disguising itself. It exists to keep one in check, because crossing the line will likely manifest in dire, tangible repercussions such as a reprimand, being passed over for a promotion, or getting into someone’s bad books.

Then there’s the constant, albeit unwitting, fear that we learn to keep at the back of our minds. In our heads, we grossly exaggerate the perceived consequences should we ‘cause trouble’, even though nothing imagined has remotely happened. Possibly the most obvious (if not the only) outcome of this strand of fear is excessive self-censorship.

But fear in itself is neither the be-all and end-all, nor does it exist in silos.

As a result of both the aforementioned variations of fear, learned helplessness starts to breed. We get used to being treated a certain way, even if we don’t like it.

Learned helplessness also stems from selfishness. We don’t want to bring unnecessary trouble to ourselves, so we resign ourselves to an unhappy situation, unaware that this selfishness also harms us in the long run.

In any case, public servants are already accustomed to taking top-down directives from senior management. Using this existing culture to enforce positive change would be making the best of a worrying situation.

This group on the public sector’s Facebook Workspace was my way of speaking up and showing that there is nothing to be afraid of. I never got into trouble. In fact, I was invited to talk about innovation in the public service as part of Public Service Week, an outcome that was equal parts absurd and hilarious.

Because of the hierarchical structure that learned helplessness needs to thrive, I get the sense that nowhere is this behaviour more prevalent in Singapore than within the public sector, an industry that ironically requires one to be selfless.

This deep-seated learned helplessness becomes clearer when I speak with several public servants. All of them request to remain anonymous, a fact that they all also coincidentally point out supports the fear of speaking up and its perceived consequences.

For a start, pulling rank seems to be a common occurrence in the public sector.

The first public servant I speak to, who only wants to be known as HC, manages her organisation’s website and content updates. She once raised her concerns with the way a project was handled by a senior staff.

She says, “Even though I had experience in the subject, he insisted he knew what he was doing. He raised his voice at me in front of everyone, and cornered me into answering whether I was going to do the work. I merely disagreed with the direction and tried to explain my reasons for disagreeing. Almost immediately, he shot back rudely and said they would get someone else to do the work instead.”

From HC’s perspective, many of her colleagues would rather “leave the decision making to those [of a higher] pay grade”, since dissent would “hamper their own plans to move up the chain”.

Similarly, Melvin, who is currently serving his scholarship bond, has experienced instances where both him and his colleagues don’t dare to oppose bad ideas raised by someone senior.

For the most part, he is satisfied with his job. Nonetheless, his contentment doesn’t blind him to the flaws of his organisation.

“There were numerous times when working-level staff, like me, thought an idea wouldn’t take off, because there was potential for bad PR, it was ambitiously out of touch with 21st century sensibilities, or it was simply obsolete. Often the ideas are raised by someone senior, such as the Executive Director or his equivalent, so no one dares to refute them at meetings. These bad ideas are minuted and taken as confirmed,” he says.

Even though this doesn’t happen all the time, when terrible ideas are executed, the departments play ‘hot-potato’ to get rid of the project later on.

The convenience of pulling rank also creates other equally harmful workplace behaviours, such as the paranoid need to cover one’s ass.

“A colleague I know would save screenshots of informal Whatsapp chats to prove that a certain idea was suggested by someone else in the organisation, so that he could dissociate himself with it in the event that it wasn’t successful. Fortunately, he never needed to use the screenshots,” says Melvin.

While this particular anecdote might be extreme, it reveals a fundamental distrust of one’s colleagues, which can be ultimately unproductive.

Unfortunately, this distrust is not unique to Melvin’s organisation.

As a true creative, I hated anything that forced me to deal with GeBiz paperwork. Luckily I was blessed with bosses who understood and supported my dark sense of humour—as long as I still completed the paperwork.

One public servant, Kevin, who is from the education industry, tells me that at a recent meeting, one of his colleagues explicitly admitted she never dares to speak up, for fear of offending senior management by saying something wrong.

This fear runs so deep that this particular colleague doesn’t trust their boss’s word, even if the boss specifically asks for honest and candid feedback in order to “co-create solutions”.

“Our boss said it was sad if our small team wasn’t able to be honest with each other. In the end, she spoke up first about her shortcomings. I could tell she was gratified when more people started speaking up after that,” he says.

Two of his other colleagues, Frank and Rachel, brought up the issue of workload, despite being afraid their thoughts would be misconstrued as “complaining” or “attacking other teams”.

On one hand, Frank could tell that voicing his opinions created a sense of openness within the room, and helped him see that he was able to trust his colleagues and boss with his feedback.

However, Rachel realised there are greater issues that her boss might not even be able to help with. For example, she laments the lack of resources and manpower as the root of the frustration with her workload, which isn’t something she knows will be solved anytime soon.

She adds, “We also fear speaking up because we know our bosses fear criticism.”

Rachel also readily admits to her own “learned helplessness”, even before I suggest the concept.

In a state of learned helplessness, many of us adopt a defeatist mentality. We don’t just convince ourselves that the ‘every man for himself’ mentality inherent in most Singaporeans is what it is; we also convince ourselves that we should embrace it. Eventually, we stop pushing back altogether.

At the same time, amending internal policies can go a long way to facilitating broader and deeper change, no matter how tiny the initial start. When public servants witness their feedback being taken seriously, there can only be less uncertainty about speaking up in the future.

Outdated HR policies may just enable the current culture, especially in comparison to more enlightened practices in the private sector. At present, because obedience is rewarded, people move up by not rocking the boat.

33-year-old Daniel says, “Sometimes, in fact, it’s counter-intuitive to work very hard. The annual opportunity for promotion means that you have to wait another year if you miss it. Hence, many opt for a slow and steady approach, instead of a revolutionary one. The latter approach in the private sector, however, can get you promoted twice a year or two years in a row.”

Daniel adds that certain HR practices, which “aren’t very transparent in the first place”, result in ambiguity about how individual performance is assessed, as well as how one’s potential is derived and evaluated. This contributes to a culture of uncertainty and fear.

Granted, it’s necessary to implore individual bosses to embrace and implement change within their own teams. Yet, to address overarching policy that affects an entire organisation would truly be living up to the effectiveness and efficiency that our public sector is recognised for.

Several times, I got into trouble with Admin and Finance for forgetting to send an approval email or two, before I’d gone ahead with my purchase. I can’t say I ever learned from my mistake. I still continued to do things without asking for permission.

That said, if the public sector doesn’t want to risk losing some of its more bold and capable employees, then radical change needs to happen soon.

At this point, I recall how Melvin, the aforementioned scholar, recounts his frustration (with the system and with himself) whenever he fails to speak up.

“It usually feels like a mixture of losing my individuality combined with a hopeless resignation to the incurable malady of a conservative bureaucracy. Due to the herd mentality of not confronting anyone or going against a boss’s opinion, doing what is most effective or most conducive for growth will almost certainly offend others.”

According to Melvin, after he was vocal against a particular policy in manpower planning, “they bore a grudge and would bring it up to senior management as a black mark against me”.

The only silver lining is that his candid opinion may have helped future colleagues, since the implemented changes had positive outcomes.

Unlike Melvin, however, former teacher Laura’s insistence on speaking up hasn’t been as successful. The 28-year-old used to work for the Ministry of Education.

“My colleagues and I were victims of two upskirt incidents, where students took videos and photos of us. Back then, my principal discouraged us from reporting it to the police and told us to give the students a chance. I don’t know whether it was shame on our part or reluctance to ‘disobey’ the principal, but the students got away with light punishment,” she says.

Laura was also bothered by the seemingly better performance bonuses and promotion for her male colleagues, as well as the injustice of covering for colleagues whenever they took MC during crunch periods or to travel overseas.

Even though she regularly brought up these issues, she was told that they would be dealt with “during appraisal” and that she should be “more understanding”. In the end, nothing got done.

Then Laura adds something that I believe most of us wish we had the guts to say: “I think the only time I felt like I was appreciated was when I threatened to leave [after my bond].”

I know Laura doesn’t say this lightly. For one, the public sector is an incredible paymaster. After living with an iron rice bowl and being able to afford certain luxuries in life, almost anything else feels like a step down.

In addition, no matter her struggles with her school’s management, she remained passionate about teaching and loved her students.

While the option to extricate herself from the situation may seem like the easy or ‘cowardly’ choice, Laura realises she did what she could, but that the public service is far too entrenched in its own culture of fear and learned helplessness. It isn’t an issue that will be solved overnight, let alone within a few years.

Like me, despite her stubbornness to enact swift and bold change, she also didn’t hold enough authority to make it happen.

And so, she did what I did when I realised my love for public service was quickly being eclipsed by a growing fear of speaking up, and an inevitable, creeping sense of learned helplessness in the face of unyielding rigidity.

She quit.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

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Stop Denying Our Public Sector’s Culture of Learned Helplessness

PAP’s History of Backstabbing

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, returning candidate for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC at GE2015, boldly said in the PAP rally at Commonwealth on 7 September 2015: “I have just one message to send to the SDP: in the PAP, we do not have the tradition of backstabbing our mentors.” This prompted The Online Citizen to produce the following video.

Vivian Balakrishnan kept talking about how Lee Kuan Yew is the PAP. Well, if so, backstabbing mentors and comrades is the PAP way. Here we see how the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew made his entire career out of backstabbing his mentors and comrades.

John Laycock

In 1950, LKY returned to Singapore from the UK and Laycock gave LKY a job at his law firm where he was a senior partner. Laycock not only take LKY as his personal pupil but paid him $500 a month, which at that time was five times the median salary. He then also gave LKY’s wife a job there. In 1951, Laycock asked LKY to be his election agent for the General Elections and LKY agreed. Laycock later allowed LKY to take on cases for the trade union ― the cases which would make LKY’s name. He let LKY use his admin staff for political activities. Laycock also made LKY a partner in his firm.

In return, LKY did not support Laycock in the 1955 elections, but started his own political party (PAP) and in his campaign speeches he openly attacked the European establishment and criticized them heavily. A few months later, Laycock asked LKY to leave his company.

Devan Nair

Devan Nair was one of the founding members of the PAP but LKY saw him as a threat. In the 1955 elections, LKY sabotaged Nair’s campaign. Nair was supposed to get his help for ferrying his supporters to the polls but LKY’s wife denied the use of those cars to Nair, causing Nair to lose Farrer Park by a tiny margin. In his autobiography, LKY wrote: “Devan Nair lost and I was greatly relieved.” All this when Nair was a fellow party member and comrade to him.

Despite everything, Nair stood by LKY through thick and thin, turning back on his old comrades to stand by LKY. He was a true friend to LKY. In 1985, Nair was forced to resign from the Presidency under unclear circumstances. LKY could have left it at that. He could’ve let Nair go off quietly into the sunset. But LKY alleged that Nair was an alcoholic, a womanizer, a wife-beater, that he was mentally-impaired, using information that could only have come from Nair’s personal private medical records. LKY put all this on a white paper in Parliament in 1988.

Nair later wrote an open letter to LKY, angrily attacking this: “Disgusting concoction of misinterpreted truths, half truths, and untruths. Not to speak of gaping omissions.” He said: “I have been a victim of a total smear. A furious attempt at utter demolition.”

Lim Chin Siong

Lim Chin Siong was Assemblyman for Bukit Timah and one of the three PAP members of the Legislative Assembly. LKY also saw Lim Chin Siong as his rival in PAP. In 1956, the Lim Yew Hock government accused Lim Chin Siong of saying “beat the police” in a speech that preceded a riot. LKY was sitting on that stage behind Lim Chin Siong at that speech. He knew that Lim Chin Siong had specifically told the crowd NOT to beat the police. But in the Assembly, when Minister Chew Swee Kee announced that Lim Chin Siong had been detained without trial for saying “beat the police”, LKY neither corrected Chew nor condemned the arrest.

Other fellow PAP members

Before the 1959 Elections, LKY had promised to release all political detainees from prison if PAP won the elections. But a month before the elections, LKY met the British colonial governor William Good. To Good’s atonishment, LKY told him that his intention was to release only six of the detainees. He had no obligation to the rest of his party members who were in prison because they were his rivals within the party. He had no intention of releasing any others.

Tunku Abdul Rahman

From 1961 to 1963, LKY was working with Tunku Abdul Rahman to create Malaysia. But Tunku kept complaining to the British that LKY kept trying to stab him in the back. As it became clear that LKY was manipulating the merger to save his own political career by destroying his political opponents in Singapore, Tunku got angrier and angrier. At one point, Tunku was “highly offended by LKY’s deceit”. He derided LKY as spineless. He declared, “I can never trust that man again.” He also described LKY as a thoroughly untrustworthy man.

Goh Keng Swee

Goh Keng Swee was LKY’s Economics tutor in Raffles College and after 1959 was his Finance Minister. In November 1962, LKY was about to arrest all his important political opponents and detain them without trial. But LKY was worried that this would make him really unpopular. So LKY actually suggested to the British that before the arrests, he would resign as Prime Minister, leaving Goh Keng Swee who would succeed him as Prime Minister to take the blame for the arrest, thus allowing himself to escape blame and return later as PAP’s and Singapore’s saviour.

Reaction

Shortly after Balakrishnan’s speech about PAP not having a history of backstabbing, an image of him with the quote was posted on his Facebook page. But a few hours later, it was gone. Also, the video of that particular Balakrishnan’s speech rally had been deleted from the PAP’s Youtube channel. Clearly he recognizes that he has made a mistake. He once said in Parliament: “Always be honest and upfront with your people. All of us will make mistakes. When a mistake is made, just come clean and say so. But don’t cover up.”

The video can be downloaded from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXcJL7f0Mw8

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #sgpolitics #GE2015 #LeeKuanYew #VivianBalakrishnan

PAP’s History of Backstabbing

Why Chan Chun Sing Poked Chee Soon Juan

Thread of Events:
• No Free Trade Without Freedom
• Free The Singapore Media

Summary: SDP’s Secretary-General Dr. Chee Soon Juan had published in The Huffington Post two opinion pieces, “Without Freedom There Is No Free Trade” and “Free The Singapore Media And Let The People Go“, on November 13 and December 11 last year, respectively, that were critical of the Singapore Government. In his letter to The Huffington Post, Minister for Social and Family Development Mr. Chan Chun Sing of the PAP took issue with the publication for giving Dr. Chee “considerable but undeserved attention and space“.

The following Mothership posting supposes the reasons why Minister Chan Chun Sing poked at Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

Mothership
5 reasons why Minister Chan Chun Sing decided to poke Chee Soon Juan via Huffington Post
Martino Tan
16 January 2015

To many, Mr. Chan’s reaction might appear unprecedented as he came off strongly to skewer Dr. Chee and going on the offensive. After all, Mr. Chan did not appear to have any beef with Dr. Chee publicly on previous occasions. However, if we looked beyond the theatrics, we can examine how this might just be the most calculated move in Mr. Chan’s political career thus far. Here are five reasons why Mr. Chan may have decided to have a go at Dr. Chee:

1. Mr. Chan is the Minister at Tanjong Pagar GRC, a seat likely to be contested by Dr. Chee.

At the launch of the SDP’s General Election campaign on January 10, Dr. Chee said that the party could contest at Tanjong Pagar GRC. He had earlier shared that SDP had begun ground work in Tanjong Pagar since 2011.

Although Tanjong Pagar GRC is widely known as Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s stronghold, Mr. Chan is the only cabinet Minister in the GRC. Therefore, it was left to him to fire the first salvo.

2. Mr. Chan is troll baiting Dr. Chee, so that Dr. Chee can commit himself at Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Tanjong Pagar GRC was the only GRC that experienced a walkover in GE2011. This means that Tanjong Pagar will be up for grabs among the opposition parties.

Between the stronger WP and the weaker SDP, it is a no-brainer that Mr. Chan wants to get Dr. Chee to commit to contesting in Tanjong Pagar GRC. If WP wishes to contest there, SDP’s involvement will split the opposition votes. And it is much safer for the PAP to go toe-to-toe with SDP than WP.

3. Mr. Chan wants to remind Singaporeans about Dr. Chee’s past. 

Over the past few years, Dr. Chee has done a good job in rehabilitating his image as the elder statesman of opposition politics. He sounded reasonable when he urged bloggers Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui to apologise after they were accused by many to have heckled the special needs children at Hong Lim park.

At the risk of looking and sounding rather petty, Mr. Chan chose to remind Singaporeans about Dr. Chee’s past. Perhaps Mr. Chan was concerned that Dr. Chee’s track record would not be closely examined during the GE campaign, since the focus would be on WP.

In the letter, Mr. Chan reminded Singaporeans about Dr. Chee’s dismal electoral records, his ungentlemanly conduct in ousting gentleman Mr. Chiam See Tong, his dismissal from the National University of Singapore, and him being sued for defamation by both PAP and the opposition.

4. Criticising Dr. Chee is a rite of passage for PAP politicians.

In 1992, then PM Goh Chok Tong proved his personal popularity as a Prime Minister by thrashing Dr. Chee in Mr. Goh’s only by-election and Dr. Chee’s maiden election. Mr. Goh garnered 72.9% of the votes, while Dr. Chee received 24.5% of the votes.

Dr. Chee was Mr. Matthias Yao’s whipping boy in the 1997 General Election. After Mr. Yao defeated Dr. Chee by 12,546 votes (65.1%) to 6,713 (34.9%) in the GE, Mr. Yao was promoted from Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of State.

Therefore, it appears that any PAP stalwart who wants to prove his calibre must go through the rite of passage of hammering Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

5. As one of the fourth generation PAP leaders, Mr. Chan has to lead by example. 

In the 2013 PAP convention, Mr. Chan said that the PAP must continuously and strenuously defend the common space for people to speak up, because if it does not, then others will occupy the space and make them irrelevant.

“We must not concede the space – physical or cyber. We will have to learn from the 1960 generation of PAP pioneers – to fight to get our message across at every corner – every street corner, every cyberspace corner, be it in the mass media or social media. We will have to do battle everywhere as necessary.”

Since Huffington Post is a space that is dominated by Dr. Chee, Mr. Chan felt the need to reclaim the space from Dr. Chee.

Read all the comments to the full article at http://mothership.sg/2015/01/5-reasons-why-minister-chan-chun-sing-decided-to-poke-chee-soon-juan-via-huffington-post/

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #LeeKuanYew #LeeHsienLoong #CheeSoonJuan

Why Chan Chun Sing Poked Chee Soon Juan

Chee Soon Juan’s Reply to Chan Chun Sing

The following is posted on Dr. Chee Soon Juan’s Facebook Page.

Chee Soon Juan replies to Chan Chun Sing
15 January 2015

Mr Chan Chun Sing is certainly an accomplished man in Singapore. He has risen quickly through the ranks of the army and appointed a minister. I commend him on his remarkable achievement, there is much to be admired.

I have, unfortunately or otherwise, chosen a different path. It is, admittedly, not a conventional path and, certainly, not one that leads to power, privilege and a high salary. In this respect Mr Chan is right, I have not succeeded.

I have instead undertaken to speak up for the people of Singapore in what was, to put it mildly, a very difficult political terrain.

Nevertheless, I am proud of my achievements, as I am sure Mr Chan is of his. But I do want to sound him a note of caution: When we attain our goals in life, we should not look down and criticise others who have yet to achieve theirs.

Even if I have failed in Mr Chan’s eyes, he must resist the urge to denigrate. Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said: “You never fail until you stop trying”? I have not stopped trying and I don’t think I will.

I do, however, find Mr Chan’s comments troubling on two fronts:

The first is the PAP’s out-dated practice of stigmatising failure. This is unfortunate. I want to tell my fellow Singaporeans, especially students, that we must not be afraid to fail. It is from our failures that we learn and become better persons and go on to achieve great things.

The second has to do with PAP’s habit of engaging in the politics of name-calling and personal destruction. It is disappointing that the younger generation of ministers like Mr Chan has not set a new direction for the conduct of politics in Singapore instead on relying on that of a bygone era.

How does calling me a failure help to solve the problems that Singaporeans face? The more the PAP engages in mud-slinging and ignore the grave problems that confront our nation, the more dire will be the lot of our people.

For the sake of Singaporeans, let us go beyond such an un-constructive form of politics which Singaporeans detest and graduate to a more mature level of contestation of ideas which the people deserve.

To this end, I repeat my invitation to Mr Chan and his PAP colleagues to debate me and my SDP colleagues on issues such as CPF, healthcare, housing population, education, etc that Singaporeans care about.

Chee Soon Juan

Read the comments to the Facebook posting at https://www.facebook.com/cheesoonjuan/posts/10153681044773849:0

Let us reflect upon this thread of exchanges so that we can make a just and informed decision when we cast our ballot.

#Sg #Singapore #CheeSoonJuan

Chee Soon Juan’s Reply to Chan Chun Sing

Free The Singapore Media

The Wall Street Journal dated Nov. 28-30 published an article titled “A New Vision For Singapore” by Opposition politician Dr. Chee Soon Juan. Read the article here: https://politicalher.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/a-new-vision-for-singapore/. After a series of reactions in Singapore, Dr. Chee writes the following article in The Huffington Post (HuffPo), a US online news aggregator and blog offering original content. HuffPo won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and was ranked The Most Popular Political Site by eBizMBA Rank.

The Huffington Post
Free the Singapore Media and Let the People Go
Chee Soon Juan
11 December 2014

My op-ed in the Wall Street Journal “A New Vision for Singapore,” or rather what happened following its publication, is an example of what has to change in Singapore.

I had first offered the piece to the main daily newspaper, the Straits Times. It was not accepted for publication. This is not surprising as in the nearly a quarter-of-a-century of my involvement in opposition politics in Singapore, I have not had any opinion piece published in the Singapore press even though I have contributed articles in many international newspapers in the past.

My piece in the Wall Street Journal elicited a predictably heavy-handed response from the government. The Straits Times and other pro-government news sites ran identical reports titled Singapore responds to ‘dishonest’ commentary by Chee Soon Juan in WSJ. My piece was nowhere in sight.

The ‘dishonest’ label is one assiduously cultivated by the riling People’s Action Party (PAP); it is the favored tactic of the ruling party to character assassinate its opponents.

In this instance, the charge is already an improvement compared to earlier criticisms. In a courtroom hearing in 2008, Mr Lee Kuan Yew testified — after consulting his doctors — that I was a “near-psychopath.” A Straits Times columnist even penned an editorial confirming the diagnosis after looking up a medical website. Mr. Lee’s successor, Mr. Goh Chok Tong, declared that my integrity was suspect, vowing that the government “would try and annihilate” me. The third and current prime minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, said in 2006 that I was a liar and added for good measure that “he’s a cheat, he’s deceitful, he’s confrontational, it’s a destructive form of politics.”

The condemnations were not just in word. I was sued for defamation by the three prime ministers and made bankrupt (for which I recently managed to annul after paying off a reduced amount of the damages), imprisoned and fined on more than a dozen occasions, and banned from running for office for nearly 15 years.

I am not the only one so targeted by the government. Many before me have suffered greater abject fate, some imprisoned without trial for decades, all branded societal menace by the state media.

If all this sounds archaic, that’s because it is. PAP is clinging to a past that has long since finished.

When the party came to power in 1959, it, with considerable help from the country’s British overlords, locked up its political opponents, including journalists whom it deemed unhelpful to its agenda.

Through the decades, the party’s grip on the media tightened, resulting in the present situation where every Singaporean TV channel, every radio station and every newspaper is owned and run by the state. The World Press Freedom Index 2014 ranks Singapore 150th out of 180 countries. Even Myanmar does better at 145th.

The control of the media and the heavily financed propaganda has held Singaporeans in utter thrall, enabling the PAP to rule uninterrupted for more than half-a-century. Even today, albeit with less of a swagger due to push-back from the online community, the party continues to dictate to Singaporeans what they should read, watch and hear.

The state-controlled media shield the ruling class from being responsive to the needs and aspirations of the common people. They have put reason and intellectualism to sleep and, as a result, stymied development.

Such kind of politics cannot continue, not if Singapore is going to graduate into the next phase of development. The ruling party must stop attempting to conquer people and, instead, move to contest policies. It must end the political solipsism from which the PAP arrogates unto itself sole ideological legitimacy and turn to a contemporary pluralism where differences in opinion are debated, indeed celebrated.

If the country is going to survive the next phase of technological advancement in an increasingly competitive global environment, politics in Singapore must evolve in tandem. Starting with the media.

Singaporeans have a lot to offer to the world. We built this island-nation to what it is today and we can build an even better country for tomorrow. The only thing that is holding us back is the anachronistic political system and the received opinion among the public that democracy threatens progress.

To this end, Singapore must free the media. The government must let the people go.

Read the comments to the full article on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chee-soon-juan/free-the-singapore-media-_b_6306736.html

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #CheeSoonJuan #LeeKuanYew

Free The Singapore Media