Congratulations to the SDP for a successful pre-election rally!

The next GE is a critical one. Singaporeans are being asked to vote in a new leadership team, the so-called 4G team.

But they have not proven themselves as true leaders. They have merely risen up the ranks of the civil service and the military as obedient servants, not the creative and innovative minds that Singapore needs now to become strong and prosperous.

PM Lee will still be lurking around, directing them from behind. It reminds us of the earlier leadership transition from Lee Kuan Yew to Goh Chok Tong. But at least Lee Kuan Yew was a strong and undisputed leader. Can we say the same of Lee Hsien Loong? Do we still want more of the same mediocre leadership of the last fifteen years from Lee Hsien Loong?

I am glad the SDP is starting early to point the way forward for Singaporeans.

Watch my congratulatory video message here.

Back to Raffles @ Bras Basah


I was pleasantly surprised that what I wrote 48 years ago as a 17-year-old student, has been reproduced in a book to commemorate Singapore’s bicentennial. The article was on RI’s move from its original home in Bras Basah Road to a new site in Grange Road, a key milestone in the history of the school (page 55 reproduced below).

It was extracted from a special commemorative issue of the Rafflesian Times of which I was the managing editor. My entire team worked very hard to produce what turned out to be Singapore’s first-ever student newspaper in full colour, a feat achieved without any funding support or subsidy from the school. In fact, we made a small profit.

We were lucky. We made cold calls on companies and shops around RI, soliciting advertisements. To our surprise, the manager of a popular TV brand Sharp who had no connection with RI whatsoever, took up a full-page advertisement in full colour. Without this advertisement, we would not been able to produce a special issue in colour as it was expensive to do so. With financing settled, we went on to deliver a “colourful” historical first for the school. It was an immense source of pride for all of us. Years later, it earned its rightful place in the RI Museum.

The 45-year story behind “Gratitude is not servitude”

Many Singaporeans may recall the one-liner “Gratitude is not servitude” that I started using during the 2011 General Election. To this day, I get reminded of it from time to time by supporters and detractors alike. Many wanted to know how I came up with this succinct and pointed retort to PAP’s constant reminder to voters to vote PAP out of gratitude for raising Singapore’s economic well being.

A retort to the gratitude blackmail

The idea came about in the weeks before I announced my decision in April to contest the 2011 May GE as opposition candidate. I knew I would be attacked for being “ungrateful” to the government who had given me a university scholarship and a well paid job in the civil service after graduation. But I was determined to tell Singaporeans that gratitude did not mean blind loyalty and that while we could be thankful to the government, it did not mean we could not criticize them for any wrongdoing. The challenge was to tell it in a way Singaporeans could remember and recite it easily.

Corinthians epiphany

I got my epiphany in church one day when 1 Corinthians 13:4–8a) was read, setting out what love is and what love is not ….” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” In particular, I liked how two contrasting ideas were put together in one short sentence. I turned to my wife, ”Pat, I have found the statement we are looking for to change Singaporeans’ mindset that they can recite as easily as our favourite Corinthians verse.” She smiled approvingly.

Mindset change

That mindset change in me took place 37 years earlier in 1974 when I was a student in Oxford. I was walking on High Street just outside my college one day when someone called my name from across the road. I turned right and instantly recognized the face of the young lady behind the voice. I waved and walked towards her. She stopped her bicycle and as I reached her, she suggested “Coffee?”. “Love to. Where?” “St Hilda’s.” She climbed down from her bike and with both hands on the front handle, she gently pushed her bike along as we both walked towards her college.

As we sat down in her room, enjoying her freshly brewed coffee, I said to her, “Charis, I want to tell you how grateful I am to you for what you have done for me the other day. Is there anything that I can do for you in return?” She cut me off immediately:”No, not at all. I did what I did because I liked to and wanted to do it for you. And I expect nothing in return.”

I did not expect that 45 years later, I would again engage in a similar lively conversation over coffee with the same straight-talking and passionate English girl from Dorset but this time in a London cafe on my recent visit to the city. We last met nearly 40 years ago in Hong Kong where she was working for the Hotel Peninsula group. We lost contact after that until I found her on Facebook early this year.

I told Charis how her strong view on gratitude changed my mindset so profoundly that I had expressed it in an election slogan years later. She was thrilled. “I still hold the same view to this day. But gosh, did I say all those things at age 19?” Yes we were both around 19 then and were already discussing the big issues confronting humanity and society. Isn’t this what going to university is all about, to search for answers to the big questions in life?

The Confucian reciprocity

Her view on gratitude had initially struck me like a bolt from the blue. I told her how difficult it was for me to accept it. “That’s not how I was brought up to believe in and not how we Chinese look at it,” I had protested. “To us, gratitude means returning kindness with kindness, a favour for a favour, like how Confucius taught us, and gratitude is eternal, passing from generation to generation.” Charis understood what I was talking about. As a scholar of Chinese studies at Oxford herself, she knew all about the Confucian notion of reciprocity in gratitude. But she thought differently. “I know this thing about “报恩””bao en”(gratitude). But to me in a different culture, showing me gratitude is to do the same act of kindness to others even though it does not come back to benefit me. That’s how we view gratitude.”

Beware gratitude can enslave

It is an enlightened view. It frees us from being held to ransom by those who use gratitude to blackmail us. In the Singapore political context, many Singaporeans voted PAP out of gratitude for taking their families out of poverty. There are three things wrong with this attitude.

First, the old PAP leaders who took us out of poverty had already passed away and current leaders are just sitting on old goodwill and paying themselves million dollar salaries, way above what the old generation leaders were paid and without anything to show that they are any better.

Second, Singapore is not the only country that has made huge economic strides and moved from Third World to First in the last 50-60 years; so many countries have done so too like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and many other cities in China, Norway, Sweden and Finland. And the leaders in these countries are paid very modest salaries unlike the million dollars demanded by PAP ministers.

Third, voting is about the future and not about the past. Gratitude is for the past not the future. Have current leaders done anything in the recent past that gives us confidence that they will do us good in the future? Have they done anything exceptional for us to deserve their exceptionally high salaries paid for by us through our tax-payers’ money? No, they have not. The only thing exceptional they have done is for themselves, by creating a super welfare state for PAP and their cronies. That’s why The Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked Singapore Number 4 in the world in its Global Cronyism Index, after Ukraine, Malaysia and Russia. What an exceptional achievement for PAP’s exceptionalism!

Fellow Singaporeans, do not allow PAP to use past gratitude to blackmail us into voting them again and condemning ourselves to a future of servitude. Gratitude is not servitude.

P/s Charis has lived and worked in Hong Kong and mainland China and has written several books on China. She also worked as a BBC analyst for several years.

The Goodness of a Welfare State

Tim invited us to a nice sushi lunch at his office overlooking the Bank of England. Tim is a highly successful hedge fund manager in London. He is my favourite example of the goodness of the welfare state. He grew up in a working class family and would not have made it to University much less to Oxford if not for the generous welfare state and free education then.

Tim was not alone in my class of ten who did so. While two were from wealthy families, most were moderately middle class and humble working class to whom an Oxford education would be out of reach if not for state aid. They have gone on to become banker, lawyer, partners of Big Four accounting firms, insurance broker, academic etc. This is the better outcome of the welfare state that the PAP does not tell Singaporeans. Instead PAP inevitably highlights the abuses and how state welfare makes people feel entitled and become lazy. Sure there are abuses in any system but doesn’t PAP abuse the system and entitle themselves to million dollar salaries?

From Russia with Love

Attended the Moscow conference last week (24-27 Oct) with Melvyn Chiu from SingFirst and friends from other parties. I had good discussions with politicians from the other Asian countries particularly those from Malaysia. They were adjusting to the new Government in KL especially the MPs from UMNO and PAS. The PAS MPs were happy that they now have an additional state to govern. We chatted about their development plans for the states of Kelatan and Terengganu.

We visited the World War 2 Museum which paid tribute to the sacrifices of 27 million Russians who lost their lives in the war to win peace for humanity. We toured the Red Square and posed for photo-taking beside the magnificent St Basil’s Cathedral.

We had a pleasant experience of the Metro, the underground mass transit railway which is famed for its very deep tunnels and beautiful murals of sculptures and paintings.

We enjoyed the warm hospitality of our Russian hosts on a dinner cruise on Moscow River when they entertained us with a terrific show of Russian talent in music, song and dance, acrobatic and sword play.

“Shared Prosperity” should happen in Singapore too!

“The (Malaysian) prime minister said development will now mean “shared prosperity” between all citizens from an increase in purchasing power, and the elimination of a wide income gap between classes and ethnicities.”

Yes, “shared prosperity” should happen in Singapore too :

– increase purchasing power by abolishing the 7% GST, cheaper new public flats, cheaper healthcare, waiver of fees for schools, ITE, polytechnics, colleges, universities, 90% grant for childcare, monthly allowance of $300 for children and elderly, etc
– eliminate wide income gap through wage reform, with minimum wage and substantial reduction in salaries of ministers, top civil servants and top management of GLCs.

Can we do it? Yes, we can. How? Vote out the PAP!

I wrote this post after reading this article from The Malay Mail.

Is being “asset rich, cash poor” something to be proud of?

Clearly angry with the unflaterringly low Oxfam ranking, PAP minister bragged about “achievements” in public housing and healthcare. But this comes at great expense.

Singaporeans pay dearly for the probably the most expensive public housing in the world, and for two-thirds of total health spending while government pays only one-third, hence leaving precious little for other things in life and for retirement. Is being “asset rich, cash poor” something to be proud of? Remember we cannot “eat” our assets.

I wrote this post after reading this Straits Times article.

SHAMEFUL – “Singapore ranked in bottom 10 out of 157 countries for efforts to reduce inequality”

SHAMEFUL – “Singapore ranked in bottom 10 out of 157 countries for efforts to reduce inequality”

Oxfam : “governments often tell us they are committed to fighting poverty and inequality — this index shows whether their actions live up to their promises.”

The 4G PAP leaders have repeatedly talked about inequality as a core issue to be tackled, but they have not come out with any plans or solutions. We in SingFirst had already proposed several solutions 3 years ago in the 2015 GE such as free education up to university, monthly allowance of $300 per child up to 12 years, 90% subsidy on childcare centre fees, heavily subsidised healthcare, subsidised public transport, monthly allowance of $300 for the elderly, unemployment insurance etc.These will boost our public social spending from the current low level of 39% to a level comparable to, if not higher than, South Korea and Thailand’s 50%.

Details of SingFirst’s proposals are here.

JBJ’s sacrifices will not be in vain.

It’s so heartwarming to read Kenneth’s tribute to his late father on the 10th anniversary of his death.

I still remember distinctly the night of JBJ’s Anson by-election victory in 1981. I was then a young officer in the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

The crowd went wild in rejoicing his victory as he proclaimed “the dawn of a new era”. Indeed it was, being the first victory of an opposition candidate since 1966. It ushered in more opposition victories subsequently but the momentum broke in the late 1990s and the 2000s.

Despair not. If the lessons of history teach us anything, it is that victory ultimately belongs to the right side of history. Many of us have been inspired by JBJ and are continuing his fight for social justice and democracy. Victory will surely come one day and JBJ’s sacrifices will not be in vain.

Thank you Sir Maurice for the privilege of being your student.

Was back in Oxford on Thursday attending the Thanksgiving Service of my favourite politics tutor Sir Maurice Shock who passed away at age 92. The flag of University College was flown at half-mast in his honour.

Many colleagues, past students and friends were surprised to hear grandson Gabriel Samuels letting on a very well-kept secret, that the genteel English gentleman tutor was once in the intelligence service spying on the Russians in Germany just after the war, and was also a social assistant of PM Sir Winston Churchill.

Met my other politics tutor Dr Leslie Mitchell and fellow college mates at the time, Howard Sereda (now with home care regulator), Michael Soole, High Court judge who gave me a “tutorial” on laws of defamation when he was a Queen’s Counsel several years ago, Chris Pelling, Regius Professor Of Greek with whom I chatted on whether USA and China will fall into the Thucydides’ trap, the wars of competition between democratic, innovative Athens and oligarchic, conservative Sparta that ended in the defeat of Athens, but people today remember the Athenian ideals much more than Sparta, and Mervyn Frost, a Rhodes Scholar from South Africa who is now Professor of War Studies at King’s College London.

Thank you Sir Maurice for the privilege of being your student. I have and will always remember you fondly. May God bless you with eternal rest.

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