Saturday, April 30, 2011

The General Elections - die die also must say

These are interesting times. As some have already pointed out, this elections will prove to be a watershed one. A milestone. Whatever the outcome and no matter how much MM Lee wants to downplay it, I believe the consequences will be immense and the results will significantly shape the Singapore of tomorrow.

I am not a political commentator and generally have stayed away from directly commenting on political issues. Maybe indirectly shoot some arrows, but generally I have been quite content to just grumble from the sidelines. I am generally not a political person. Afterall am I not a happy-happy beneficiary of the stable gahment that has allowed me to be educated and trained to be able to provide for my family as a medical professional? I am comfortably ensconced in Singapore society. What is there to really complain about? When I am overseas, who do you think I root for, and defend when others criticize developments in Singapore?

So the recent outpouring of apparent wrath against the ruling party in this 2011 elections seems a bit of a mystery to me. Has not the gahment of Singapore, achieved wonders in bringing a resourceless Singapore into developed nation status? We are the envy of many around the world. The little red dot is only little on the map; we punch way above our weight in the world. By any measure, we have a fantastic gahment here in Singapore.

Yet people are unhappy. Why? Minister George Yeo, MP for Aljunied accused the opposition for imposing an emotional burden on the voters, yet paradoxically, here lies the true emotional burden - that the electorate must struggle between supporting an otherwise effective gahment, and the feeling of heaviness and dissatisfaction, that somehow things are not as good as the official statistics tell us.

People feel marginalized and neglected. It is not that Singaporeans are xenophobic or hate foreigners, even though the tone of comments expressed during hustings may suggest it. No, Singaporeans are not xenophobic. It is merely the feeling that their own gahment appears to value foreigners more than its own citizenry. This is probably not true, but the perception is very pervasive. This is where I believe, the gahment has failed. It has failed in managing public perceptions and expectations with respect to immigration, foreign labour and economic growth. It is fantastic that our economy and GDP continue to chug along at a healthy rate, but the perception on the ground is that the benefits appear to accrue mostly to the elites and the wealthy in Singapore. The gahment's reach out to the poor, the weak and the marginalized is often grudging and calculative. Paltry sums considering the size of our budget surpluses and national reserves. Can we do more? Of course we can..... and please don't tell me this is tantamount to raiding our national reserves. MM Lee's comments about the elderly working till 85 was supremely insensitive although I don't think he intended it. Choosing to work till you are 85, is really not the same as being compelled to work to survive until 85.

Being in power, unchallenged power, for such a long period of our history has bred a level of complacency so that leaders do not feel that the public needs to understand or seriously discuss issues. The most expedient way of going where you want to go is unfortunately via a top-down dictatorial approach. This approach has been over-used. Has there been enough planning and discussions?.... Not much apparently.

In the biomedical area, this lack of planning and discussions have wreaked real havoc in the system. Take for example, the hospital clusters. We have over a period of 20 years gone through various levels of clustering, and declustering, and now re-clustering. Each Minister that comes along pushes a hobby-horse position. Hardly evidence of long term planning. Medical manpower planning? Hardly any, apparently - because we have flipped-flopped from too many doctors, to the present situation of being desperately short of doctors. Suddenly we require 3 medical schools..... of 3 different educational systems? This is planning? Almost overnight, the US residency programme was foisted upon all and sundry. If there had been any long term planning, it was far from evident. Medical education is now in a mess. We have an undergraduate and a postgraduate system existing side by side. We have flirted with problem-based learning, then discarded it. We have integrated and disintegrated the curriculum. And we have the really bizarre situation where our medical students are not expected to have studied biology. Duh? And we are expected to believe there is someone somewhere who is responsible for planning all this?

No one discusses this publicly because everything is driven from the top. Very heavily driven.

Foreign talent is critically important for us to push towards excellence. But without appropriate signals that policy makers are concerned about protecting the interests of our home grown and local medical/biomedical professionals, one cannot avoid feeling that the economic pie is not really for local consumption. The mass of biomedical and life science graduates and postgraduates we produce annually find it hard to find jobs in the sectors they have trained for, despite the very rapid expansion of the biomedical sector.

Whatever the results of the elections, there is no doubt they will be important. I don't think the PAP will lose the right to govern. But I think it is vital for the ruling elite to recalibrate its way of doing things... to relearn how to communicate with the people it seeks to lead. If they truly believe they are servants of the people, they must make this evident. And stop being just rulers.


Anonymous said...

The ruling party has lost its way after years of resting comfortably on its laurels. What it needs is to be humble enough to recognise that it needs a competent co-driver/co-pilot to steer it back on course and keep it alert/awake throughout the journey.

Anonymous said...

regarding the state of the Singapore medical sector.

my recent visit to the A&E ward of the TTSH gave me much to ponder.

I stayed overnight for observation. I noticed many foreign doctors. In fact, next to me was a Filipino chap and his doctor was a Filipino too. The doctor talked mainly in Tagalog to the chap and his wife. My subsequent followup visits at TTSH was with an Indian doctor ( from India ). I beggar to ask what happened to the Singaporean doctors ????!!!!

gigamole said...

There really needs to be some evidence that they will actively consult and be embracive of alternative viewpoints, for all critical decisions and not just make a show of discussions when their mind is already made up. Like all the pseudo townhall meetings we have all around the place.

They have come out to apologize and promise to make things better, but personally I am not so convinced. The cynical me thinks they will just come up with more innovative ways to appear inclusive and consultative, and still ram their policies through. It is hard to consider other viewpoints when your default position is that there is a monopoly on smartness and wiseness.

We shall see, lah.....

Like I said, the outcome of the elections will be impactful, one way or the other.

gigamole said...

Yeah, this is just a manifestation of the extreme shortage of nursing and doctoring manpower we have. A little bit boh pian lah....

The question is really the need to expand the health sector so rapidly, and what this expansion is for. To my mind, the expansion is to a significant extent, to power the external medical enterprise, i.e. to service foreigners rather than locals.

Anonymous said...

Neither am I convinced. All the crying and apologising are just gimmicks to gain sympathy votes to ward off impending million $ job loses on 8 May. The track record has been pseudo-consultations/wayang when decisions have already been made, which I am not convinced this will change with no new blood in decision making process. That's why the ruling party is still arguing that NCMPs are just as good as elected MPs when we know it's certainly not.
What we need is representations from alternative views which will force them to listen. Not likely to happen in the short term, but certainly possible with each succeeding election when we have good strong opposition candidates.

superwoman said...

True that some of the oppositions may not have substance but they're doing a good job to people by making this kind of noise during the campaign. Its only during election time that u got chance to let the policy-makers hear of issues affecting u and the chance to whack the ministers/MPs like never before (thro' the net). I have written feedback to the authorities on some issues/policies which I thot didn't make sense. The reply I got was a cut-n-paste clause from the website where what I wanted was a personalised explanation of the rationale behind it at least. Tell my MP? Thro' out the 5 yrs, I only get to see him in banners in my estate annoucing the guest-of-honour of an event which means he's there only to 'touch-n-go'. I still don't see his shadow around during this election time.

cheesepie said...

I admire your courage and agree with your stance.

I agree that there needs to be a more balanced view on issues (with the semblance of a democracy) instead of making policies at their whims and fancies.

Not all parties can be pleased, but a thorough process of thinking through the consequences of the policy needs to be adpoted.

The other issue is the cost of "happiness" of its citizens in the pursuit of economic development.

I don't see the point of being rich and unhappy, as opposed to being not-so-rich but having a fulfilling family and social life.

gigamole said...

I remain unconvinced there can be real change unless the people themselves are changed. Real compassion and empathy comes from the heart. I fear the PAP selection process has focused too strongly on capabilities rather than heart.

We want people of true compassion and heart, and not heartless people who make a pretense of being compassionate.

I hope this election will turn things around for both the PAP and the alternative parties.

Majulah Singapura!