PM says sorry over mistakes, pledges to do betterThis is rare. Humility from the PAP, and coming straight from the Prime Minister himself. This apology does score some points with me. If I were living in his constituency (Ang Mo Kio), I might now feel somewhat inclined to vote for Lee Hsien Loong.
By Yen Feng
PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday apologised for the mistakes under his watch in the last five years and pledged to make adjustments to the system and do better.
He cited the escape of detained terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari and the massive Orchard Road floods as two slip-ups, and also acknowledged that the Government could have moved faster to address shortfalls in housing and public transport.
Speaking at a People's Action Party lunchtime rally at Boat Quay next to UOB Plaza, PM Lee said he was sorry and he and his team were doing their best to fix the problems. He said the Government did not predict the sharp demand for flats after the recession in mid-2009. If they had, they would have ramped up the Housing Board building programmes faster, and saved many Singaporeans angst.
They would also have moved more aggressively to expand MRT networks to deal with growing population and traffic congestion.
'When these problems vex you or disturb you or upset your lives, please bear with us. We're trying our best on your behalf. And if we didn't quite get it right, I am sorry but we will try and do better the next time," he said.
For this apology, we also have to thank the opposition parties and the large number of supporters who showed up at their rallies. Ask yourself - why is PM Lee's apology coming now? Because it's election season. The Opposition is speaking up loudly, raising important issues and making many strong, valid arguments. The PAP has few easy rebuttals, and in the end, PM Lee feels somewhat compelled to concede that his party has made some big mistakes.
This shows the value of having a strong Opposition - it keeps the ruling party on its toes. The Opposition acts as a check and balance, constantly reminding the PAP about the people that they are supposed to serve. However, once the elections are over, there won't be any more rallies and all the usual restrictions on civil society will kick in.
The Opposition won't be allowed to speak here, they won't be allowed to speak there, they won't be allowed to write this; they won't be allowed to do that - yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda. (Click on the individual yadda's, if you want to see specific examples and illustrations of what I mean).
That is why Singapore needs to get a decent number of Opposition members into Parliament. This would institutionalise their alternative voices in national policy-making. They would get to speak up, and more often than just once in five years. If we had had more than two Opposition voices in Parliament five years ago, Singapore might well have averted its housing crisis and healthcare problems today.
That's because the Opposition would have started making significant noise in Parliament at a much earlier stage, forcing the PAP to pay attention and start tackling the problem sooner. The PAP calls this "gridlock". The correct term should be "feedback".
Anyway, although the fact that PM Lee made an apology is nice, I also found the apology somewhat troubling. Not because of anything he said, but because of what he did not say. PM Lee admitted that his government had made mistakes with public housing and public transport, but he said nothing about the root cause. And the root cause - as you already know - is the overwhelming influx of foreigners into this country.
My own views on the foreign worker issue are well-known, for I have written on this topic many times before. At the individual level, there should be no hostility against the foreigners in our midst - for they have come here just wanting, like the rest of us, to build better lives for themselves. On the other hand, the sheer size of their influx into Singapore has given rise to a wide range of social issues.
Public housing and public transport are just two of these social issues. Two very big issues, yes, but certainly not the only ones. PM Lee has apologised for mistakes in these two areas, but he has made no reference to the other issues. And very significantly, PM Lee has not acknowledged the root cause of all these issues - which is the massive influx of foreigners.