CLASH OF WORDS BETWEEN SDP CHIEF CHEE SOON JUAN AND SINGAPORE DIPLOMAT

On 27 November 2014, Secretary-General of Singapore Democratic Party, Dr Chee Soon Juan wrote an opinion piece in American press The Wall Street Journal:
 
"Singapore has made great economic strides over the 50 years since independence. With a GDP per capita of $55,000, the island state is, by this measure at least, the most prosperous country in the world. Yet rather than being proud of their country’s achievement, measures of social harmony and happiness indicate that Singaporeans are far from pleased with the status quo.
 
Looking behind the numbers, it seems that Singapore’s economic success has wrought havoc on less measurable, but no less important, aspects of life: Freedom, compassion and equality. It is the degradation of these values that has contributed significantly to Singaporeans’ disenchantment with the current system.
 
Even before the Reagan-Thatcher era of neoliberal economics, Singapore adopted a market-driven approach in which even value systems and social life were commodified. When the government wanted fewer births in the 1970s, it paid women to undergo tubal ligation. When it changed its mind and wanted more births, it gave tax incentives to couples to have more babies. When it wanted the children to demonstrate strong character, it rewarded their desirable traits with cash.
 
Monetizing things that we shouldn’t—especially under circumstances where societal values are involved—leads to harmful outcomes. It causes citizens to abrogate moral responsibility and devolve decision-making to market norms set by the elite few.
 
We need to fundamentally rethink how we pursue wealth and, more importantly, to what end. We need to ask that all-important question that Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel so trenchantly posed: What price do we pay when we cede our values to market mechanisms?
 
Unfortunately, without democracy Singaporeans cannot have a national debate on the future direction of our country. Talk about political freedom and the rights of the people is eclipsed by government threats that democracy undermines GDP growth.
 
And yet Singapore is in danger of being left behind. A survey of countries around the world reveals a distinct shift towards more democratic forms of governance. Many such political transitions have yielded greater, not less, prosperity. Adaptation to change is necessary for societies to keep themselves relevant in the global community. Singapore is no exception.
 
The island republic needs an alternative vision, one that will confidently usher Singapore into the next phase of development: Privately owned small and medium-sized enterprises, instead of state-owned conglomerates, need to be the prime drivers of growth; the wage structure should ensure that the working poor don’t see their real incomes shrink even as the number of billionaires rise; the elderly should not have to work menial jobs just to feed themselves; the media must be free from state control; and, most importantly, the political system needs to change to allow truly free and fair elections, where the political freedoms of Singaporeans are respected.
 
Singapore is at a crossroads. How the country moves forward will depend on the choices that the people and their leaders make today. The incentives that those in power build into the system will determine whether the country progresses or stagnates. To that end, the ability of Singaporeans to question authority and to build a capacity for collective reasoning and debate is essential.
 
It is shameful that we live in a state where market values guided by an authoritarian system trump moral ones guided by a democratic process. The danger is that we become blinded by the things we want and ignore the things we really need. Ultimately a nation’s success is not measured by the size of its GDP but by the number of minds it unfetters, the number of young lives it gives hope to and the number of poor it empowers. It is this kind of wealth, the kind that really matters, that Singapore must accumulate.
 
Now more than ever, we need a genuine conversation about Singapore’s future. Indeed, we need a bold new vision for the country. "
 
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Consulate-General of Singapore to Hong Kong Mr Jacky Foo responded on 3 December 2014 in The Wall Street Journal. Mr Foo responded because The Wall Street Journal Asia bureau that is in-charge of Asian news is based in Hong Kong: 
 
"In his op-ed last week (“A New Vision for Singapore,” Nov. 28), Chee Soon Juan rehashes old arguments without a sense of reality.
 
He takes issue with income inequality in Singapore. Indeed it has increased, as it has in many other countries. But in Singapore, the low-income have access to high-quality education, health care and public housing, like other citizens. Families earning just 1,000 Singapore dollars ($800) a month can afford to own a two-room apartment. Indeed, 80% of households in the bottom income quintile own their homes, with an average of more than S$200,000 net housing equity. Their wages have also grown by 10% (in real terms) in the past decade, unlike the stagnation often seen elsewhere. There is no parallel in other countries. Our model is not perfect, but it is dishonest of Mr. Chee to claim that it has failed, or that we have done nothing.
 
Mr. Chee criticizes government-linked companies. His charges are absurd. GLCs include highly successful, internationally renowned companies, such as Keppel, SembCorp and Singapore Airlines . They provide good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans, but they make up just 10% of the economy. Privately owned small and medium-sized enterprises employ seven in 10 Singaporeans and enjoy the bulk of government support.
 
But Mr. Chee is not interested in facts. He is out to make a political case and trim his sails to the wind. When he writes in The Wall Street Journal, he attacks GLCs, but when he writes for the Huffington Post, he attacks free-trade agreements, in particular the U.S.-Singapore FTA.
 
Mr. Chee claims Singapore lacks a democracy. The reality is that elections in Singapore are free and fair. Every time Mr. Chee and his party have contested, Singaporeans have rejected them. He might do better to take the interest of Singaporeans to heart, rather than pander to the editorial tastes of the Western media.
 
Jacky Foo
Consulate-General of Singapore
Hong Kong "
 
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Dr Chee is glad to engage in this battle and he clearly reads alternative media:
 

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