38 Oxley Road might seem to be a debate on what the late Lee Kuan Yew wanted to do with his house, or what he did not want to do, the case of abuse of power in the role of organs of state or even the question of “kakinangs” in key appointments such as that of the attorney general’s role and the that of the deputy attorney general.

I have been reflecting of what I’ve seen in the debates over the past 2 weeks
in the arguments from all sides of the aisle and I think the crux of the
question lies not only in those brought up above (no defamation suits please,
I’m merely collating all aspects of the debate thus far), both online and in
parliament but also in the question that has not been brought up thus far in
the course of this saga – what it shows about the state of our society.

I am writing with concern because of what I see coming from those on PM
Lee’s/the government’s camp. When the issue broke out, the ministers, on top
of their network of platforms on social media such as Fabrications About the
PAP (FAP), The Observer and Singapore Matters came out in lockstep to rally
around the PM and launch personal attacks on the Lee siblings without the
appearance of considering the merits of the case of the siblings. The rank
and file supporters dutifully shared these posts, and showed up on sites such
as All Singapore Stuff and the WP’s Facebook page to repeat the “talking

I am not writing this as a criticism of them. Some are my good friends, well
meaning people whom I love dearly. But nonetheless, this is a cause for
concern. Some of the points in the arguments simply do not make sense and
fail the integrity smell test. Take Indranee Rajah’s recusal argument to
start with. It is like Man United playing Liverpool with Steven Gerrard or
Wayne Rooney refereeing the match, or Djokovic’s brother acting as umpire in
the Rolland Garros or Wimbledon final with Djokovic playing. I don’t think
football or tennis fan would accept such an arrangement even though the
argument is put forth that it is their duty to “officiate objectively”. Well,
one can argue that the AG’s appointment is different from refereeing a match
but can one safely say that one can recuse himself/herself from a case
completely when one already has a form of vested interest in it upon taking
up the appointment? And why was it only made this year just when tensions are
simmering as it happened during Lee Kuan Yew’s death anniversary last year
(especially so where there are many other lawyers not aligned with the PAP or
in close association with PM Lee with similar experience and credentials to
Lucien Wong or Hri Kumar Nair). Yet, Indranee Rajah could defend Lucien
Wong’s appointment with a straight face. Similarly, Janil Puthucheary also
argued with a straight face that parliament is the best place to resolve the
matter when the whole process left more questions than answers and
parliament, unlike the US Congress has no power to investigate the executive,
subpoena witnesses and evidence as well as the power to cut off funds to the
government agencies in question. ESM Goh defended PM Lee and attacked (to the
point of besmirching) the Lee siblings and the WP without due attention to
their cases. Heng Swee Keat and DPM Tharman got involved although their
purview weren’t the ones in question. And their supporters dutifully shared
their attacks or reports and op-eds that tried to paint a benevolent image of
them whilst ignoring the red flags even PAP backbenchers raised about the
case or the questionable nature and implications of the arguments raised by
the cabinet.

Why I am concerned is this. Since GE 2015, this has been the cycle that I
have seen repeating itself. When the AHPETC case first broke out, these same
people came out in lockstep whilst ignoring other aspects of the case (such
as the strange position of the government not to prosecute AHPETC town
councillors or pass legislation that would allow them to do so) to attack the
WP and accuse them of dishonesty, corruption and lacking integrity and accuse
Opposition supporters of wanting the destruction and ruin of Singapore. When
Tan Cheng Bock filed a lawsuit concerning the counting of the first elected
presidency, these same people turned their verbal knives on him. Card
carrying PAP members of the PAP such as Rio Hoe who had the temerity to
question the government’s talking points in the 38 Oxley Road saga he even
received death threats.

And the rot starts with the culture. That is my biggest concern. Children are
thought when growing up to defer to the immediate authority figure above
them, to the point of treating them as deities who hold the key to leading
the perfect life, be it the parent or the teacher and this was often enforced
with harsh, punitive and arbitrary punishments. In school, I spent my growing
years with the unwritten rule that the parent or the teacher is always right.
The PAP was often portrayed as the near divine entity that Singapore could
not do without. Even in secondary school where there was greater laxity in
questioning certain aspects there were still red lines I knew I should never
probe. The teacher, at the end of the day, was always right.

That is what we are seeing today in the major debates of the day, from AHPETC
to GE 2015 to 38 Oxley Road. At the end of the day despite the results of GE
2011 Singapore is still a highly conservative society where the authority
figure is always right and should be deferred to or at the very least the
imperfect but still the most perfect option that I should be falling behind.
I may be an opposition supporter and voter but even still there are many
occasions I find it tough to bring myself to ask hard questions about certain
stances by Opposition leaders although my gut tells me there is indeed
something to question. And there are even some questions about PM Lee which I
feel my conscience telling me not to bring myself to bring myself to ask
although my gut tells me that there is a merit to the question. And after
many rounds of reflection I finally realised the pervasiveness of this
culture and mentality throughout society. It is not a question of if it
exist. Rather it is a question of how and where it manifests itself.

I am heartened that in the course of this saga so far some of my friends on
Facebook who are otherwise staunch PAP supporters acknowledge that there is
merit to what the Lee siblings are bringing up. But at the end of the day,
will this saga show that this pervasive culture still has a strong grip on
our society, or otherwise?

If it shows otherwise, it is a good development. Ultimately the strongest,
longest living and prosperous societies have also been the messiest, like the

On the other hand, if this culture still has a strong grip on society,
history shows that societies that are built on strict and steep hierarchies
are often brittle, fragile and least open to change and innovation. China
experienced short bursts of growth but long periods of political instability
and developmental backwardness. It is often argued that China’s backwardness
was due to the Opium War and communism. But this ignores the fact that by
1700, even before the West made its inroads, China was in technology and
development far behind the West. The same went for Tsarist Russia, the
Ottoman Empire and Joseon Korea. They became obsolete and when they fell they
crashed and burned.

Societies built on strict hierarchical lines also foster a culture of
dishonour. Those beneath the food chain would seek extreme measures for the
purpose of reprisals in response of living under the iron boot. Those close
to the top would use vicious and extreme measures to put down “the other” by
virtue of their association as a form of justification for their actions,
After all, their association with the top gives them every right to do so
since they are already on the “right side of history” by virtue of their
association. Such a society would be brittle, divided and broken in the long
run. And such a society would give room for selfish and greedy opportunists
to rise to the very top for their own ends. Because these people will always
be able to win over followers by putting themselves in the
divine/quasi-divine position and get them to do their dirty work and cover up
for them by virtue of the divine/quasi divine position they put themselves in
or tap on someone else’s aura to do so. Think Zhao Gao under Qin Er Shi (Qin
Shihuang’s successor) or the eunuchs close to Ah Dou (Liu Chan, Liu Bei’s
successor) or Rasputin to Tsar Nicholas II’s family.

To end of I would like to quote from Ngiam Tong Dow:

“In the end, that was how Sparta crumbled. Yet, Athens, a city of
philosophers known for its different schools of thought, survived. What does
this tell us about out-of-bounds markers? So SM Lee has to think very hard
what legacy he wants to leave for Singapore and the type of society he wants
to leave behind. Is it to be a Sparta, a well-organised martial society, but
in the end, very brittle; or an untidy Athens which survived because of its
diversity of thinking?”

The final question at the end of this saga should be, where do we want to
head as a society?

Thank you.

N Chen
A.S.S. Contributor

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