The biggest sign midway through the recent election campaign that the People’s Action Party knew it was in trouble was when none other than the prime minister himself said “sorry” twice at a rally held in the financial district on 3 May 2011.
But if you look carefully at what he said, the errors he admitted were errors of execution or implementation. Nowhere did he concede that any of his government’s policies were wrong or had caused suffering. His promise to “do better the next time” was one of smoother implementation of the same policies, not of changing course.
Furthermore, the specific examples he apologised for were accidents or acts of God that were poorly responded to, such as the escape of Mas Selamat Kastari or the flooding of Orchard Road. The big issues — widening income gap, immigration and preference schemes for foreigners, public housing pricing policy that contains an inherent bias towards escalating prices — he hardly touched on in any substantive way.
I suggest you read the Straits Times article (at left) again and see for yourself.
It was also noticeable that as far as I know, no cabinet minister echoed PM Lee Hsien Loong’s words in the days following. Most of them kept their heads down. As I have told several reporters who asked me for an opinion, I do not know whether
(a) this was an election tactic or genuine on the prime minister’s part, nor
(b) the promise “not to lord it over people” will not be forgotten once the election passed, nor
(c) other ministers will block him from carrying out any meaningful reform, even if Lee was personally sincere about it.
To mean anything, these words have to be backed by action. I think the following ten-point plan should be the minimum proof of sincerity:
The First Manifesto
1. Drop the following ministers from the new cabinet to be formed: Vivian Balakrishnan, Wong Kan Seng, Mah Bow Tan, Lee Kuan Yew.
2. Halve ministerial salaries immediately.
3. Publish the full accounts for the Youth Olympic Games.
4. Henceforth publish the transactional prices at which the Housing and Development Board pays the Singapore Land Authority for land.
5. Henceforth peg selling prices of new public housing as follows:
(a) smaller flats pegged to the mean of the 3nd decile of houshold income;
(b) mid-sized flats pegged to the mean of the 4th and 5th decile of houshold income;
(c) larger flats pegged to the mean of the 6th decile of household income.
6. Complete all urban rail projects on time and initiate construction of two more metro rail lines by the end of the next parliamentary term.
7. Promise to achieve a reduction of the Gini coefficient of household income of Singapore citizen households to 40 by the end of the next parliamentary term, with a longer-term Gini target of something in the mid-30’s. The Gini coefficient of household income is a measure of the income gap between the rich and the poor and a reduction of the Gini coefficient means the shrinking of this income gap; effectively it means lifting people out of poverty and addressing the problems of an escalating cost of living. There are multiple ways of doing this; the exact tools can be left to the government to decide so long as the target is achieved.
8. No increase in the total population (citizens + permanent residents + foreigners) by more than 0.5 percent per annum.
9. Abolish group representation constituencies and create a new, independent Elections Commission with rules as to how to draw up electoral boundaries that are compact and topographically sensible and with voter population in any constituency not to vary by more than 10 percent from the mean of all constituencies.
10. Repeal the Internal Security Act.
The above are what I think will be needed to mollify widespread frustration, and banish scepticism that the apology is just an election gimmick. But do not mistake the ten points for what will satisfy me. These alone will not be enough to win me over. I will want another ten more:
The Second Manifesto
11. Introduce proportional representation for at least one-third of the seats in Parliament.
12. Require all members of parliament to work as such (and as heads of respective town councils) fulltime, except if they take up political appointments in government.
13. Lower the candidature qualification requirements for the presidency.
14. Publish accounts of our sovereign wealth funds.
15. Detach all magistrates, judges and judicial officers from the Executive branch; locate them in a separate Judicial branch overseen by an independent commission responsible to its charter and the President; the commission to have the power to appoint judges. All Supreme Court judges should have fixed tenure to retirement age and no judge shall have renewable terms or term extensions as is presently the case.
16. Set up a comprehensive healthcare safety net
17. Abolish the death penalty
18. Abolish the Societies Act
19. Abolish all censorship, leaving only a rating system in place; abolish collateral controls (e.g. venue licensing, good-behaviour bonds) that make certain rating classifications censorship in all but name; and last but certainly not least,
20. Repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, and inscribe into the constitution guarantees for non-discrimination on grounds of gender and sexual orientation, in accordance with United Nations human rights standards.