Sunday, 29 January 2012

Singapore’s 5.2 million ignorant residents

Foul play makes the news. Arrests make headlines. Arrests of senior civil servants should not only make headlines but generate heated debate amongst civil society. Especially when the civil servants are peripheral to the country's security establishment.
Thus, it disturbing that news about the arrests of the Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau and the Commissioner of the Civil Defence Force, allegedly for corruption, was withheld from Singaporeans for several weeks. According to the Singapore authorities the narcotics chief was arrested on December 19, 2011 while the civil defence chief was arrested on January 4, 2012.
Singaporeans only heard of the arrests when a Chinese language paper broke the news on January 24, 2012.Until the January 24th news report, the authorities made no mention of the matter.
Clearly, the arrests dent the government's image, particularly at a time of heightened public scrutiny of various other government policies. Nonetheless, the government's handling of the incident raises several questions. 

Why the delay in revealing such significant news? Certainly, the delay could not be related to the recent parliamentary debate about the linkage between corruption and high pay for public officials? Or could the delay be part of an effort by the authorities to somehow make the news more palatable to the general public when it was finally revealed?
Additionally, the episode makes one wonder whether there is more 'government related' information which has been kept from 'ordinary' Singaporeans? If news about the arrests of the chiefs of two of the Republic's premier government agencies can be successfully concealed for weeks then conceivably there is more news where that came from; facts and figures which may in some way damage the reputation of Singapore's political elite.
Moreover, who within the government decides what news is worthy of Singaporeans' interest and what news is 'unimportant' and may be held back?
Arguably, the government's failure to voluntarily disclose the news about the arrests of senior civil servants betrays a general lack of trust of the electorate. It indicates a 'We, your leaders, know best what is good for you.' We are more qualified to make decisions on your behalf. Singaporeans: be happy, quiet and trust us.
Undoubtedly, Singapore's success as an independent nation is due to visionary leadership. However, without the support of the general population Singapore's Third World to First World journey will not have been possible. If the government wishes to retain the support of the voting public then it will be well advised to adopt a more transparent posture. One would have thought that the ruling party's near misses in the recent General and Presidential Elections underscored that point loud and clear.

Surely, Singapore's government did not invest massively in its population's education only to keep them ignorant of the news.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at


  1. Hi Imran,

    I finally found time to sit and read most of your posts and congrats on such a well written blog! It had been too long since I catch up with the local and world events but your blog posts helps me to keep in touch in what is happening and I must say I am astounded by the past year events!

    Do keep writing and know that I am stalking your blog. Hope you start your book soon, you have a nice writing style which flows and that makes it easy to read and digest.


  2. Hi Imran,

    Very well said. The title says it all. In Lee Kuan Yew's days, Singapore is an authoritarian state. In those days, Singaporeans really didn't know what is best for them. But, they put a lot of faith in LKW and worked hard under his leadership. Eventually, everything turned out all right. In fact, it turned out great!

    Singaporeans are more educated nowadays but the way government operates hasn't changed much. They still think Singaporeans are ignorant and don't know what is best for them despite all the education they received from Singapore or oversea institutes.

    In my opinion, Singapore government does not trust their own people to make the right choice for themselves. Their concern is there is a lot to lose if Singaporeans make the wrong choice. But, there is more to lose if Singapore continues to make choices that are not supported by their own people. It is time to wake up, Singapore government!

  3. Hi Jessie,

    I am happy you made the time to visit my blog - I know how difficult it is to make time from a vacation schedule.

    Thank you for your kind words of encouragement on my writing style. I hope you will continue to visit my blog in the future.

    Enjoy the rest of your stay in Singapore.

    Kind regards,


  4. Hi Lee,

    I am glad you enjoyed the article.

    As you point out, LKY and his colleagues did a wonderful job in developing Singapore into a vibrant and dynamic city-state. However, Singapore's is ready for the next stage in its development journey - one that requires an inclusive and more transparent leadership style. Surely, there is a lot to lose if Singapore makes the wrong choices from here onwards. However, it is difficult to build on Singapore's historical achievements without a more equitable and trusting relationship between 'ruler' and 'ruled.'

    Like the city itself, today's Singaporean is exponentially different from yesterday's Singaporean. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic that Singapore will see better days in the years ahead, especially as new talent bubbles to the surface.

    Enjoy the rest of your week and, as always, thanks for taking the time to visit my blog.

    Kind regards,