Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

Archive for August 2010

Malaysia’s Bumiputera Policy and Singapore’s Meritocracy: Time to move on?

The public sale of Malaysian newspapers is banned in Singapore. Likewise, the Malaysian government does not extend the same privilege to the Singapore media. So when the main Singaporean English daily, The Straits Times carries two commentary pieces written by Malaysians in Chinese and proceeds to translate and publish them one day after another – coincidentally, one day before Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers his National Day Rally – there is usually more to it than meets the eye.

On 27 Aug 2010, the Straits Times published a commentary written by Lu Pin Qiang (‘Singapore’s path to success worth studying’) that first appeared in the Malaysian Chinese daily, Sin Chew Jit Poh, where the writer praised Singapore while criticizing the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP) and the lack of meritocracy across the causeway.

One day later, on 28 Aug 2010, the same paper published a commentary written by Xue Shu Qin (‘Singapore through the eyes of a Malaysian here’) that first appeared in the widely read Singapore Chinese daily, Lianhe Zaobao. In the article, the writer generally pursued the same themes Lu Pin Qiang raised a day earlier, disparaging Malaysia and Malaysians (“Malaysians do not care whether Malaysia is good or bad; they care only about themselves and their community”), with the usual disclaimers (“I am not blowing Singapore’s trumpet”) that come at the end of similar pieces published in the Singaporean mainstream media.

The Malaysian road to nation-building after separation from Singapore in 1965 is often employed by the mainstream media, PAP politicians and PAP grassroots activists to amplify the apparent success(es) of Singapore in comparison to Malaysia. Specifically, the Malaysian affirmative action program that favours their local Malay community, euphemistically referred to as the bumiputera policy, is usually identified as the reason behind everything that is wrong about Malaysia today.

Introduced in 1970 in the aftermath of 1969 racial riots, many of the Malay political elite – specifically, Malay leaders in the largest Malay political party in Malaysia, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) – concluded that the absence of an affirmative action program for the majority Malays would only serve to widen the economic gap between the Malays (then comprising about 55% of the population) and non-Malays (Chinese – circa 35%, Indians – circa 7%).

Of all the local communities, the Chinese community controlled the greatest share of the Malaysian economy following Malaysian independence in 1957. After all, one needs money to grow money, and considering the economic status quo of the 1960s, Malay leaders opined that their community would only fall further behind if some form of intervention was not taken to correct the economic mismatch.

Lee Kuan Yew’s dictum of “a Malaysian Malaysia” in the heydays of merger from 1963-65 with equality for all races as its mantelpiece – while theoretically enlightened and apparently equitable – did not adequately take into account the reality of a large majority of Malaysian Malays who were unlikely to benefit from the wonders of meritocracy given their starting position of abject poverty and low or non-existent levels of education. The latter fact is one the Singapore media almost never analyses or considers in any serious detail: The acute economic backwardness of the Malaysian Malay community in the 1960s, and its abjectly minor representation of 2.4% in the Malaysian economy.

The bumiputera policy in Malaysia was technically to have come to an end in 1990. However, its utility in keeping the Malay elite in UMNO in power and its ability to secure the Malay vote rendered it too important a political tool to be dispensed with. In more recent times, UMNO popularised the notion that the NEP has not succeeded in its initial objectives of uplifting the Malays, with figures touted to prove that the Malays still held less than 30% equity in corporate Malaysia, the original NEP target percentage. This substantively unbending stance on the bumiputera policy has driven a dagger straight into the heart of Malaysian society.

What UMNO shrewdly hides from the Malay community, is that its vision of uplifting the Malays is tied to support for UMNO. For a Malaysian Malay to succeed in modern times, it is not enough to be a bumiputera. He or she has to be an UMNO-putra as well. As things stand today, the economic performance of the Malay community in Malaysia is lop-sided. Many remain relatively poor, while the UMNO-putras are exceedingly rich.

Fortunately for Malaysia, discerning Malays have seen through UMNO’s ruse, and responded through the ballot box. In 2008, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition lost its 2/3 majority in parliament. To a large extent, the electorate’s stance was a response to UMNO’s strategy of politically hijacking the bumiputera policy and a rejection of the endemic corruption that continues to ensue from it.

In Malaysia’s public sector today, non-Malay representation is acutely low. In about forty years, the Malaysian Chinese community’s demographic percentage has dwindled from 35% to around 25% today, mainly due to emigration and a lower Total Fertility Rate as compared to other Malaysians. In addition, Malaysia’s economic prospects are stymied partly because of the hemorrhage of Malaysian minorities to other countries. In the private sector however, the Malaysian Chinese are still doing reasonably well, with many Chinese businessmen able to negotiate the bumiputera policy with political savvy and an intimate understanding of the political economy that underwrites UMNO’s existence.

For working class non-Malays however, the only handouts they can expect from the government are tied to political support for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. The absence of political support from them simply translates into less or no governmental assistance for any community that does not back the incumbent political leadership.

In this regard, Barisan Nasional’s position is not too different from the Singapore People’s Action Party’s (PAP) attitude in denying government grants for the opposition-held constituencies of Hougang and Potong Pasir. In effect, the political incumbents in both countries, the Barisan Nasional in Malaysia and the PAP in Singapore, penalises citizens who exercise their democratic rights to elect political candidates who are not from the ruling party.

Today, Pakatan Rakyat, the multi-racial Malaysian opposition alliance clamours for a more equitable society. Critically, it seeks to extend the bumiputera policy not just to needy Malays, but to needy Malaysians across all races. Ideologically, the Pakatan Rakyat rightfully contend that the lenses of racial politics that have coloured Malaysian politics must be removed, a fact discerning Malaysians, and ironically, those who benefit from the UMNO gravy train, also acknowledge.

Without doubt, the political dynamic in Malaysia from the time of merger and separation in the 1960s to the reality today, is manifestly more nuanced than the mainstream media in Singapore would like to reveal. In its original form, the bumiputera policy was not about denying Chinese and Indians jobs and opportunities in Malaysia, as is perceived by many Singaporeans today. Its goal was to level up the Malays to increase their share of corporate equity and education levels while increasing the size of the Malaysian economic pie. In itself, this was not a bad thing.

But as the policy took root, it was ruthlessly employed as a political tool to entrench the political elite in the Barisan Nasional. In this endeavour, the Barisan Nasional’s constituent non-Malay parties, chiefly the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) were equally complicit. Race politics while distasteful to working class Chinese and Indians, created a political economy that benefited their respective political elite too, not just UMNO.

Paradoxically, the debilitating effect of the bumiputera policy in Malaysia benefited Singapore through the years. Many Malaysian Chinese and more than a few Malaysian Indians have set roots in Singapore contributing to our economy at the expense of Malaysia’s. Of these, more a large number (statistics unavailable) gave up Malaysian citizenship in favour of Singapore citizenship.

However, a not insignificant minority (statistics unavailable) have chosen to retain their Malaysian citizenship while taking up Singapore Permanent Resident (PR) status. The latter choice is not surprising. It allows these Malaysian PRs the opportunity of returning to Malaysia should the political status quo change. In Singapore, Malaysian PRs can purchase HDB flats. Some even hold superscale-appointments in the Singapore Civil Service even though they are not citizens. Quite separately, bumiputera policy or not, at current prices, retiring in Malaysia is financially a lot less burdensome than retiring in Singapore. And the dislocative effects of the bumiputera policy aside, Malaysians of all races and religions generally get along relatively well with each other, a state of affairs not too different from inter-communal relations in Singapore.

In light of Singapore’s voracious appetite for immigrants, Malaysia represents an ideal talent pool. Malaysian Chinese and Indians integrate seamlessly into our body politic by virtue of the almost identical cultural norms in both countries. Compared to new Chinese citizens from China, a Malaysian Chinese is a preferred immigrant for the same reason indicated above. It is perhaps with this policy objective that we see the contributions of Lu Pin Qiang and Xue Shu Qin finding their way into the op-ed sections of the Straits Times, views that are symptomatic of some of the real frustrations of non-Malay Malaysians today.

Lu contended that Singapore’s meritocracy is one “where people can attain their goals based on merit and not connections, nepotism or corruption, regardless of their backgrounds”. In addition, she stated that Singapore hosted a “level playing field for all, with nobody given special attention or discriminated against by national policies”. The reality on the ground is a tad more nuanced than Lu observed.

Meritocracy, like the Malaysian Malaysia of the 1960s is a wonderful theoretical ideal. In actuality, it represents a destination that must continually be strived for, with the other eye set firmly on the pitfalls of meritocracy. Singapore’s meritocracy, is far from perfect. In fact, in light of the growing gap between the rich and poor today, one would not be remiss suggesting that its utility as a national ideology to inspire Singaporeans is coming under increasing strain (A point made by Kenneth Paul Tan in the highly readable Management of Success – Singapore Revisited edited by Terence Chong [ISEAS: 2010]).

British Labour Party MP Michael Young, the man who invented the term meritocracy more than 50 years ago, warned against the dangers of a society singularly organised around merit in a book titled The Rise Of The Meritocracy, 1870-2033: An Essay On Education And Equality. Young had posited the development of a stratified polity defined by intelligence and educational selection, both of which determined social status and standing. The cream that emerged from the selection process would go on to take up the top appointments in society, and ostensibly secure top salaries.

In time however, Young predicted that what appeared to be a fair and equitable system would morph into something ugly, inflexible and downright discriminatory, with the meritocratic system revealing itself to be an age-old manifestation of the mankind’s millenarian struggle against the politics of class.

Young’s book foresaw in 2033, a Britain governed by an elite of 5% of the total population who look down on their rest of society as inferior in intelligence and education. Without access to good schools and opportunity, the less well-off members of society perform poorly in school and even worse when compared to the elite. They remain ensconced in the poverty trap and are socially immobile. Naturally, 95% of the nation regard the elites with contempt, and it only becomes a question of time before the entire society collapses into oblivion.

Young’s fictional premonition is not too far removed from the minds of some Singaporeans. The elite Administrative Service is already seeing ( the children and family members of some serving PAP politicians, career Administrative Service officers and top-managers in government-linked companies joining its ranks, portending the prospect of a cabal of individuals that mutually reinforce the political (PAP) and administrative leadership – perhaps even giving birth to an elite within an elite.

A separate canard to Lu’s simplistic assessment of Singapore’s meritocracy is the reality that the profile of many of government scholars entering public service does not wholly dovetail with her notion of a “level playing field for all, with nobody given special attention or discriminated against by national policies.” That said, it would be a stretch to argue that pro-active discrimination is endemic in Singapore. However, it would not be in the realm of fiction to contend that a passive, subterranean or negative form of discrimination does reveal its dark side on the Singapore canvas.

Separately, one publically available statistic in Singapore starkly portrays the growing inequality and sociological limits of meritocracy. In 2008, it was revealed that only 47% of Public Service Commission scholarship holders lived in public housing, i.e. HDB flats, where in excess of 80% of all Singaporeans reside.

Even more damaging for the long term development of Singapore, the meritocratic system has resulted in young scholarship aspirants giving textbook answers to the Public Service Commission (PSC), in tune with the political culture and the ethos that shapes the pro-PAP mainstream media policy in Singapore. In an open letter to schools, parts of which were published in the Straits Times on 25 Jul 2009, PSC Chairman Eddie Teo described how some PSC scholarship candidates,

“….would give ‘politically correct’ answers and appear to be pro-Government, thinking that would impress the interview panel….He said ‘quite a few’ candidates grew uncomfortable when asked if they would act against someone in authority. One candidate, for instance, was asked what he would do if he found his superior was corrupt. He refused to answer, ’saying he disliked dealing with such a case’.”

The most apparent qualititative shortcoming of meritocracy in the context of nation-building can be observed by the relatively poorer socio-economic position of the Malay community in Singapore. While a handful have done well, Malays are grossly under-represented at the highest echelons of the military and in the civil service. This writer is not aware of the numbers of Malays or Indians selected for the Singapore Administrative Service after their undergraduate studies. If one could hazard a guess, it would probably only reinforce the point vis-à-vis under-representation. While the relative absence of minority races at the highest levels of the executive can be explained away on the grounds of academic performance when compared against the majority Chinese, it would not be misplaced to argue that such optical disparities harm the national fabric and cast aspersions on the qualitative meaning of meritocracy in Singapore.

While no one is expecting special treatment for the Malays (or any other Singaporean) like in Malaysia, some of the questions on every fair-minded and loyal Singaporean’s lips ought to be: “How do we break the poverty cycle not just some of our Malays find themselves in, but our Chinese, Indian and Eurasian compatriots as well, and in doing so, strengthen our national fabric or the Singapore Spirit? And how can Singapore’s meritocracy become qualitatively meritocratic in line with our multi-racial and multi-religious national values?” Since the PAP’s Cabinet Ministers are the richest state-paid politicians in the world, many Singaporeans feel the answers to such questions ought to be on top of their minds, especially in view of their multi-million dollar salaries.

The questions above are not posed with an altruistic purpose in mind, complete with airy-fairy notions of a comfortable and easy life for all Singaporeans so as to create a utopic level playing field. Often, PAP MPs and grassroots leaders mind-numbingly respond to campaigns for greater support for our low-income workers with dire warnings of the welfare state. On the contrary, the question posed above goes to the heart of what it means to be a Singaporean. It must be dealt with for the sake of Singapore and Singaporeans, to say nothing of the type of society we want to become. And it needs to be addressed with the same enthusiasm displayed by PAP MPs when they wax lyrical about the amount of revenue the Integrated Resorts bring into state coffers.

In the final analysis, a move away from juxtapositions with countries that hardly make for reasonable comparison with Singapore today is in order. The Malaysian experience with the bumiputera policy does not add any real value in addressing the inequalities that are have reared their ugly head within the PAP-managed Singapore system –  inequalities which are likely to become more acute in future. In fact, comparisons with Malaysia will begin to look more like a convenient distraction for meritocracy’s shortcomings in Singapore, if the PAP does not change tack and address them with single-minded vigour. Specifically, it makes more sense for the PAP to give meaning to meritocracy in the context of a multi-racial Singapore, rather than repeatedly compare it with the lowest common denominator of the bumiputera policy in Malaysia, the results of which have long been obvious to Singaporeans. Such a tactic only serves to limit, dilute and ultimately sabotage any exercise that seeks to inject equity into Singapore’s model of meritocracy.

At his National Day Rally on 29 Aug 2010, PM Lee stated that the first generation of PAP leaders including Dr Goh and the multi-racial team comprising MM Lee, Rajaratnam, Othman Wok, Lim Kim San, Hon Sui Sen, E W Barker, Toh Chin Chye and others, had a vision to build a multi-racial Singa­pore. Although they succeeded in building a multi-racial Singapore, PM Lee observed that the work of building a multi-racial and multi-religious nation “will never be complete”. Considering PM Lee was holding audience of a National Day rally attended by parliamentarians, judges, civil servants, grassroot activists and students amongst others, he might have been better served to explain how the PAP of today plan to continue improving the multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore of his political predecessors.

For a start, PM Lee could instruct his former Cabinet colleague and PAP member, DPM Tony Tan, the current Chairman of the government-controlled Singapore Press Holdings to re-evaluate how the mainstream media is employed to crystallise perceptions of race through Singapore’s substantively monopolistic media environment. It does not take a genius to note that repetitive comparisons by the mainstream media of Singapore’s meritocracy against Malaysia’s bumiputera policy can possibility harm inter-communal harmony in Singapore. In some cases it can engender an insidious and unstated disdain for the Malays in both Singapore and Malaysia, a terrible outcome that does nothing to inoculate Singaporeans against the prospect of racial and religious disharmony. Whatever the Malaysian social dynamic, the PAP should work singularly towards building a Singapore where the public discourse is not marked by the visceral reality of race, but a qualitative and substantive meritocracy Singaporeans of all races can be proud of.



Newspaper Articles referred to in the opening paragraphs.

Aug 27, 2010

Singapore’s path to success worth studying

Lu Pin Qiang

I BELIEVE many people would agree if one said Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was one of the most successful politicians in recent times. I believe, too, that no one would object if one said his methods of governance were worth studying.

Speaking at a dinner held recently to mark the Republic’s National Day, he said: ‘If one day, our communities become divisive and hostile towards one another; if they are not united and the bonds of national cohesion are weakened, the country will go downhill.’

MM Lee attributed Singapore’s ‘improbable success’ to four factors.

First, having leaders of integrity who have the trust of the people to build a strong foundation for nation-building.

Second, having a meritocracy, where people can attain their goals based on merit and not connections, nepotism or corruption, regardless of their backgrounds.

Third, having a level playing field for all, with nobody given special attention or discriminated against by national policies.

Fourth, using English, the most common language in the world, as the working language of Singapore. This has enabled the country to avoid marginalising minority races and to become the commercial, industrial, financial and communications hub it is today.

These remarks from MM Lee should absolutely be studied and reflected upon by all countries.

No doubt, the conditions in Malaysia are different from those in Singapore. But just think: Malaysia has plenty of natural resources and wide tracts of land, yet why is it no match for ‘tiny’ Singapore? Whether it is the economy, international fame or the credibility of its government, Malaysia is always far behind Singapore and trying to catch up.

How did it turn out this way? Singapore carried out nation-building. So did Malaysia. Singapore has joined the league of First World countries; Malaysia is still a Third World country. At bottom, there is only one answer to the question. That is, the two countries chose different paths right from the start.

The path Malaysia chose was not based on any of the aforementioned four factors which MM Lee cited for Singapore’s success. Given the political scandals and corruption controversies that have occurred in Malaysia over the years, can the country really have an upright and trustworthy leadership?

Does it have meritocracy? Under the New Economic Policy (NEP), are Malaysians living in an environment where policies favour some and discriminate against others? Has Malaysia avoided marginalising minority races?

After we have answered the above questions, Malaysians should be able to reflect on why they are what they are today. Do Malaysians continue to pin their hopes on the NEP or the National Economic Model? Are they going to stick to the same path?

It is time to change course!

This commentary first appeared in the Sin Chew Jit Poh, a Malaysian newspaper, on Sunday.


Aug 28, 2010

S’pore through the eyes of a Malaysian here

Xue Shu Qin

BEFORE even realising it, I had worked in Singapore for more than half a year. From the time I was young, I have had inexplicable feelings about Singapore – chiefly, I think, because my mother is Singaporean.

Singapore is a prosperous nation. Managing its separation from Malaysia in 1965 must have been a highly challenging task for the new nation. Fortunately for the Republic, it was brave enough to leave Malaysia, otherwise it would not have achieved its prosperity today.

During my mother’s time in Singapore, people had to rear pigs and chickens to survive. But today, Singapore is a modern nation.

This is a case where the grass is always greener on the other side. Singapore, in the eyes of us foreigners, is an advanced nation. Perhaps many would be only too glad to become its permanent residents or citizens, but I see that many Singaporeans are unhappy with their country.

Some think it is not good enough, others think it is lousy, and yet others cannot wait to emigrate from Singapore.

This is common in life. One is never satisfied with what one has, thinking that one’s neighbour has a better deal. Singapore, which is far beyond the reach of us foreigners, is nothing but a small state to some Singaporeans.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s hope that ‘the Singapore tomorrow will be better than what it is today’ reveals his expectations for the Republic. In contrast, my country Malaysia is mired in mud, rejecting help from others.

Perhaps it does not wish to leave the mud. Malaysians do not care whether Malaysia is good or bad; they care only about themselves and their community.

Having been in Singapore for a while, I miss home. But when I compare my country with the city-state, I am really disappointed with my country.

We have potential but we are not motivated. We seem to be complacent about the current state of affairs and do not move with the times.

Everyone says Singapore is a clean nation but what I find most remarkable is Singaporeans’ self-discipline. There are some black sheep among them, of course, but the efficiency of cleaners is also a vital factor in the Republic’s famed cleanliness. Everyone here exercises discipline and does not litter, while those in charge of cleanliness are efficient and perform to the best of their ability.

Everyone says Singapore is a nation with good public order but what I am struck with the most are the well-fed and well-dressed people. Who will think of robbery when his pockets are full?

Salaries here are high, but so is spending power. The prices of goods are affordable. When people are self-reliant and lead fulfilling lives, who will want to make a reckless move?

Everyone says Singapore is a tourist destination but what I notice is the Singapore Government’s untiring efforts to promote tourism. It does so because tourism promotes spending, enhances the nation’s reputation and brings about many other benefits.

I am not blowing Singapore’s trumpet. I only hope that my motherland will take a look at Singapore. Singaporeans achieved independence later than us, thus losing out at the starting line. But why is it that they have caught up?

In life, one has to always improve and update himself. Always remember that you have to keep up with the times – and not the other way round.

This commentary first appeared in Lianhe Zaobao on Aug 24.

Written by singapore 2025

31/08/2010 at 11:07 am

The PAP and the Malay Singaporean: Between Rhetoric, Reality and Meritocracy

The Malay translation of this article follows the English version.

There appears to be a slight shift at how the People’s Action Party (PAP) is handling public communication involving the influx of foreigners into Singapore. In his National Day 2010 speech released to the mainstream media on 8 Aug 2010, PM Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged “Singaporeans’ concern” about the government’s hitherto open-door policy towards foreigners. He went on to state:

“We will control the inflow, to ensure that it is not too fast, and not too large. We will only bring in people who can contribute to Singapore, and work harder to integrate them into our society. And we will make clear that citizens come first. After all, we are doing this for the sake of Singaporeans.”

While this belated acknowledgment about the opinion and feedback of Singaporeans over the foreigner policy is welcome, the Prime Minister has not gone far enough in communicating to Singaporeans the medium to long-term social impact of the foreign talent (FT) policy, and what measures will be taken to address these impending changes. For some communities in Singapore, the fundamental realities of the FT policy may be more tectonic than the Prime Minister intimated. For the Malay community in particular, the changes may be acutely profound.

The Total Fertility Rate problem and the Malay Community

It is well known that both the Indian and Chinese communities in Singapore are not reproducing at the level required to replace themselves (the population replacement level is statistically set at 2.1, i.e. each couple on average must have at least two children). According to government statistics, the total fertility rate for the Chinese community in Singapore correct as of 2009 stood at 1.08, while the Indian community fared little better at 1.14.

According to Department of Statistics data, the TFR for the Malay community stood at 2.54 in 2000, falling rapidly to 2.07 in 2005 (i.e. technically below the population replacement figure) and continuing its downward slide in 2007 to 1.94, with 2008 recording a TFR of 1.91 and finally with 2009 revealing a TFR of 1.82.

According to a government document released in June 2010 titled “Population in Brief 2010” collectively produced by five government agencies (National Population Secretariat, Singapore Department of Statistics, Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Ministry of Home Affairs and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) compared to all the races in Singapore, the TFR for the Malay community “showed the most significant decline over the past decade”.

One of the fundamental prongs of the PAP’s FT policy has been to rely on Chinese and Indian immigrants to make up for the abjectly low birth rates of local Chinese and Indian citizens. A separate prong of that very policy calls for additional Chinese and Indian immigrants, so as to increase Singapore’s population size.

On hindsight, opening the floodgates to Chinese and Indian immigrants only when the TFR problem affecting local Chinese and Indians reached a critical point, did not represent good policy-making by the PAP. In fact, the unhappiness among local Indian and Chinese communities over the sudden introduction of large numbers of Indian and Chinese immigrants respectively at the expense of national, social and intra-community unity was raised in the PAP-dominated parliament (82 out of 84 seats) well before PM Lee’s 2010 National Day commitment to “control the inflow”.

With the Malay community’s TFR rate dipping below population replacement levels from 2005 and continuing on a steady downward trajectory, the PAP would do well to immediately initiate a process of inducting Malay immigrants into Singapore so as to “top up” the Malay population to population replacement levels, rather than to wait till the problem reaches critical levels, a mistake the PAP government committed with the Indian and Chinese communities. Such a move to introduce a much more socially manageable number of Malay immigrants will pre-empt and greatly reduce the potential prospect of any social friction that might be felt between resident Singapore Malays and potential Malay immigrants.

With a second prong of the PAP FT policy seeking to encourage greater immigration into Singapore to increase the population size of the country, the critical question for the Malay community pertains to the number of Malay immigrants that have been granted citizenship on this account. In the interests of inter-racial and intra-communal harmony in Singapore, the relevance of this question cannot be understated.

From the demographic percentages, the numbers for the Malay community have dropped from the traditional 15% mark to around or perhaps even less than 13% today (the latest figures were not stated in the aforementioned “Population in Brief 2010” document). This is not surprising, given the steadily falling TFR rate for the Malay community from a high of 2.69 in 1990. Malay community leaders ought to make enquiries into the sweeping effects of the PAP’s FT policy before the problem of falling numbers creates feelings of insecurity and irreversibly damages Singapore’s social fabric because of the Malay community’s demographic haemorrhage.

The PAP Malay-Security-Dilemma

The second tectonic effect of the FT policy on the Malay community finds its roots a more primordial, pre-independence political worldview – one that has operated below the surface, with little active PAP intervention at invoking a more vocal stance against seeing the world through its eyes – Race.

Three separate anecdotes will frame this section. First, from independence, relations between Singapore and Malaysia often turned on the lot of the Malay and Chinese minorities in each country respectively. Traditional historians often cast the racial riots of 1964 in Singapore as the straw that broke the camel’s back resulting in Singapore, through Goh Keng Swee, requesting to leave the Malaysian Federation.

A second bone of contention was Singapore’s water dilemma, with Singapore having to rely on pre-independence colonial treaties signed with the southern-most Malaysian state of Johor to secure its fresh water supply.

Thirdly, in the 1990s, the Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew questioned the wisdom of having a Singaporean Malay commander put in charge of a machine-gun unit in Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) – A somewhat catch-all metaphor positing why Malays had to be excluded from certain military appointments, and perhaps a convenient explanation at the abject and optically apparent lack of Malays holding top appointments in the SAF and in the meritocracy-based civil service.

Forty-five years after Singapore’s independence, it is argued that the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore has taken a fundamental turn with the Badawi and Najib administrations. A Hong Kong-Shenzhen modelled hinterland relationship has been mooted between Singapore and Johor (Malaysia) through Iskandar Malaysia, in addition to talk of passport-less travel and a possible SMRT line extending to Johor from Singapore. Corporate interests, with some linked to government entities on both sides of the causeway have already committed to making a slew of investments in Johor. In addition, from March 2010 this year, the PAP government has allowed Singaporeans to use their Medisave savings for treatment in selected Malaysian hospitals not just in Johor, but in the farther state of Malacca as well, a move that is perhaps the most concrete reflection of a new phase of not just cordiality, but inter-connectedness in Singapore-Malaysia relations.

Singapore’s reliance on raw water from Johor, often seen by military strategists worldwide as the harbinger of any military hostility between the two nations, is also steadily decreasing. Singapore has already announced it will allow the 2011 Water Agreement with Malaysia to lapse, a move made possible by Singapore’s diversification strategy via NeWater, desalination and an increased rainwater catchment area.

The age-old PAP Malay-security-dilemma of a Singaporean Malay soldier with family ties in Malaysia who may hesitate to shoot a fellow Malay in Malaysia in times of war, has always sat uneasily with this writer. Although specious, it does not address the prospect of the same dilemma should a Singaporean Chinese with family ties in Malaysia have a Malaysian Chinese in his gunsights, ditto the same quandary for an Indian soldier.

Regardless, any talk of conflict between the two neighbours sounds increasingly remote today largely thanks to the efforts of the business community on both sides of the causeway from the beginning of this decade in particular. With significant Singaporean investments in Malaysia, and with the soon to be operational joint development company, M-S Pte Ltd – incorporated to develop Malaysian railway land in Singapore, both countries have so much economic capital and resources at stake that it makes historical sense to recast the traditional bilateral narrative and question the military narrative underlying Singapore-Malaysia relations. Any such exercise ought to have far-reaching, albeit positive implications for the Malay community in Singapore. The image of the loyalty-divided, machine-gun totting Malay Singaporean is increasingly losing its relevance precisely because of the ever-increasing amounts of economic capital being invested by Singaporeans in Malaysia and Malaysians in Singapore.

The aforementioned point notwithstanding, the FT policy has ironically put the issue of the PAP Malay-security-dilemma on the front foot. On the grounds of nation-building and national unity, no reality can be more unfair or emotionally jarring than that of a new immigrant of non-Malay heritage, superseding a Singaporean Malay citizen on grounds of “security” in regard to military or civil service appointments. One of the more positive effects of the FT policy in the mind of this writer is that it has forced all Singaporeans to appreciate the nation-building contradiction inherent in the preceding point. In this age of immigration in Singapore, the race-loyalty dialectic makes even less sense, especially since the cornerstone of any immigration policy must be loyalty to the country, not loyalty to race.

All said, if the PAP casts the question of the impact of the FT policy on the Malay community as a can that can be kicked further down the road for the next generation to resolve, this writer is convinced that the problem will become exponentially more problematic to address, at the expense of our multi-racial compact.

The PAP’s Meritocracy and the Malay Community

Finally, the ideological bulwark to the Singapore success story – meritocracy – is supposedly the ultimate barometer of equality in Singapore. While no one doubts the theoretical principles that underlie meritocracy, its impact in the practical realm for the Malay community has been decidedly mixed at best and only benefitting a minority of Malays at worst, notwithstanding former Singapore Minister for Malay-Muslim affairs, Sidek Saniff’s resolve in a feature in the Straits Times on 4 Jun 2010 (“Taking the tough road pays off”) that:

“Meritocracy has hastened the sense of confidence and equal treatment of Singaporean Malays, who feel they are not being stigmatised and can compete on a level playing field.”

While the aspirational objectives of meritocracy for the average Malay (or indeed a Singaporean of any race) in Singapore were put across rather lucidly by the ex-Minister, the educational performance of the Malay community viz. the other communities and the ground reality leaves a chasm that cannot be solely adequately explained or addressed by a PAP commitment to meritocracy.

In concert with the 25th anniversary of Mendaki (the Malay self-help community organisation that focuses on education in particular), PM Lee asked for a comprehensive report to trace how far the Malay community had come since the formation of Mendaki in 1982. Taken alone, the report shows good progress made by the Malay community, a feat that speaks well of all the Malay community representatives, regardless of political affiliation, who sought to improve the lot of the Malay community from 1982.  However, as revealed in the report, the progress of the Malay community remained statistically poorer when contrasted against the progress of the Chinese and Indian communities along the same range of indicators, and in some cases, acutely so.

EX-Semangat Bersatu 2010: Joint Exercise between Singapore and Malaysian Armed Forces

Separately, in a question put to the Minister of Education in parliament early this year, Mr Zaqy Mohamed, PAP MP for Hong Kah asked “what more can be done to help Malay students progress at the same rate, if not better, compared to their peers from other race groups?” The Minister’s answer was rather standard-form and broad-brushed, without policy specifics.

“Schools will do their part in helping weaker students improve. But MOE also works in partnership with community groups such as Mendaki, parents support groups and other VWOs to provide extra support for these students. Parents and families, of all races, can support students by ensuring that they attend school regularly, motivating them to work hard, and adopting good habits like reading widely. Community and self-help groups can also help families deal with problem issues related to finances, jobs and relationships, in order to create a more supportive home environment.”

In fairness to the government, the community-self help solution helped improve the status quo of the Malay community in some ways. But any message of meritocracy and equal competition automatically puts Malays in an inferior position largely because of their relatively lower income and lack of access to opportunity, the latter being a function of the former. Quite simply, in any context, meritocracy does not mean every body begins the race at the starting line. Many of our Malay brothers and sisters have other socio-economic battles to fight before they even get in the race, and even when they do, many face an incline right from the get-go.

In a thoughtful commentary written by Lendra Putera Nurezki, “Academic dilemma of the Malay Community Revisited” for the Singapore-based Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), the latter observed that “little progress” had been made in regard to the academic performance of Malay students over the last 10 years. He suggested that the problem of education and the Muslim community ought to be elevated to the “national level” so as to “spur a consolidated effort…and generate productive solutions”.

It is clear that fresh ideas are required to assist the Malay community – ideas that do not diminish their self-respect or which suggest that Malays require a crutch to succeed in Singapore.

One possible solution in the education realm posits the creation of a national endeavour that seeks to buttress the goals of meritocracy against rising inequalities in Singapore. This solution portends the creation of an independent government-funded body that operates alongside self-help groups but which transcends race. Depending on its focus, such a body can look at issues in regard to poverty, education etc. from a national perspective, and separately, source its funding (up to10%, or a similar GDP percentage the state spends of education) from the profits accrued from successful divestments made by Temasek Holdings and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation. In the case of education for example, it can offer classes or specialized education programs at little-cost only to students who constantly do poorly in schools, complete with specially-trained teachers to assist such students who very often come from poorer backgrounds. And because it would be a non-race based national program, over-representation of Malays or any other race for example would be purely coincidental, particularly since the objective of that very program would be a more egalitarian and inclusive society.

EX-Semangat Bersatu 2007: Joint Exercise between Singapore and Malaysian Armed Forces

In a M.A. thesis submitted to Department of Malay Studies at the National University of Singapore in 2006, one Hafsah binte Mohammad Kassim, contended that tuition classes alone did not represent the elixir that will solve the problem of the relatively poorer performance of Malay students in school. Significantly, she also raised the issue of “educationalism” within the Malay community, and posited that it was time for Malay/Muslim leaders “to look beyond education in formulating reforms amongst the Malay/Muslim community”. In addition, Hafsah queried the unexplored correlation between improved performance in school and improved occupational prospects for Malays contending that it was “naïve to believe that all problems and challenges facing the community would inexplicably vanish with the panacea of education.” Any national effort along the lines prescribed in the preceding paragraph would do well to consider Hafsah’s caveat and look to propose holistic, not piece-meal policy solutions.

Hafsah’s contention represents agood place to end this article that sought to define the principal issues that ought to be at the top of the minds of the Malay community in Singapore today. The long-standing question of Malay loyalty and commitment to Singapore has often found substance in the PAP Malay-security-dilemma as highlighted earlier by this writer. However, in a recent poll done carried out by the Institute of Policy Studies of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, many Singaporeans I spoke to were surprised to note that Malays topped all the ethnic groups (Chinese, Malays, Indians, Others) in their “Willingness to Sacrifice” for Singapore. With the impact of FT policy and the increasingly less contentious relationship with Malaysia upon us, Singapore’s Malays find themselves at a critical junction – one that ought to be seized upon by the government of day to better integrate the Malay community within the Singapore social compact. The product of any such policy will compensate for the increasing inequalities prevalent in Singapore society, strengthen the function of meritocracy as national ideology and give real meaning to a more inclusive Singapore.

Pritam would like to request Malay Singaporeans in particular to give him feedback and/or criticism on this topic. Please pass this article on to your Malay friends and relatives too for the same purpose. Pritam’s email address is singhpritam [at] Thank you and Selamat Ramadhan.

Useful Links and Resources

1.  Population in Brief 2010 –

2. Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at MENDAKI’s 25th Anniversary Dinner and Awards Presentation, Orchid Country Club, Sunday 2 Sep 2007 –

3. Progress of the Malay Community since 1980 – at:

4. Hafsah binte Mohammad Kassim, M.A.Thesis, Singapore Malays’ attitude towards education: A look at the impediments to educational development – Available at Scholarbank@NUS-

5. Parliamentary Question by Zaqy Mohamed on educational progress of the Malays –

6. Institute of Policy Studies: LKY School of Public Policy Survey (NUS) Survey – Citizens and the Nation: National Orientations of Singaporeans Survey (NOS4) –



PAP dan Melayu Singapura: Antara Retorik, Kenyataan dan Meritokrasi

Pritam Singh

Boleh didapati sedikit peralihan dalam cara Parti Tindakan Rakyat (PAP) mengendalikan komunikasi awam yang melibatkan kemasukan warga asing ke Singapura. Dalam amanat Hari Kebangsaan 2010 beliau yang diedarkan kepada media massa pada 8 Ogos 2010, PM Lee Hsien Loong mengakui “kebimbangan rakyat Singapura” mengenai dasar pemerintah yang meluangkan pintu terbuka terhadap warga asing. Beliau lantas menyatakan:

“Kita akan mengawal kemasukan warga asing, untuk memastikan bahawa ia tidak terlalu pesat dan tidak terlalu ramai. Kita akan membenarkan masuk hanya mereka yang dapat memberi sumbangan kepada Singapura, dan kita akan berusaha dengan lebih gigih untuk menyatupadukan para pendatang ini dengan masyarakat kita.  Dan kita akan memberi isyarat yang jelas bahawa warga Singapura tetap didahulukan.  Lagipun, kita lakukan ini semua untuk rakyat Singapura.” (official translation from

Walaupun pengakuan beliau mengenai pendapat dan maklum balas daripada rakyat Singapura atas dasar warga asing ini amat dialu-alukan, Perdana Menteri tidak cukup menjelaskan kepada rakyat Singapura tentang kesan sosial dasar bakat asing (FT) ini buat jangka masa sedang hingga panjang, dan juga tindakan apa yang akan diambil untuk mengatasi perubahan-perubahan yang akan timbul. Bagi sesetengah masyarakat di Singapura, realiti asas dari dasar FT ini mungkin lebih berupa “tektonik” dari apa yang Perdana Menteri telah menyarankan. Bagi masyarakat Melayu khususnya, perubahan-perubahan ini kemungkinan benar-benar lebih mendalam.

Masalah kadar kesuburan menyeluruh (TFR) dan masyarakat Melayu

Memang sudah diketahui merata-rata bahawa kadar kelahiran masyarakat India dan Cina di Singapura lebih rendah daripada kadar yang diperlukan untuk menggantikan generasi sebelumnya (kadar penggantian penduduk telah ditetapkan pada 2.1, iaitu, setiap pasangan harus mempunyai sekurang-kurangnya dua anak). Menurut statistik pemerintah, kadar kesuburan meyeluruh (TFR) bagi masyarakat Cina di Singapura pada tahun 2009 adalah 1.08, sedangkan bagi masyarakat India lebih baik sedikit pada kadar 1.14.

Menurut data dari Jabatan Statistik, TFR bagi masyarakat Melayu adalah 2.54 pada tahun 2000, menjunam kepada 2.07 pada tahun 2005 (iaitu di bawah kadar penggantian) dan terus jatuh ke bawah kepada 1.94 pada tahun 2007, dan mencatatkan TFR 1.91 pada 2008 dan akhir sekali TFR 1.82 pada tahun 2009.

Menurut dokumen pemerintah yang dikeluarkan pada Jun 2010 bertajuk “Population in Brief  2010” yang dikeluarkan secara kolektif oleh lima agensi pemerintah (Sekretariat Penduduk Kebangsaan, Jabatan Statistik Singapura, Kementerian Pembangunan Masyarakat, Belia dan Sukan, Kementerian Ehwal Dalam Negeri dan Penguasa Imigresen dan Pusat Pemeriksaan) dibandingkan dengan semua bangsa di Singapura, TFR bagi masyarakat Melayu “menunjukkan penurunan yang paling ketara semasa dekad lalu”.

Salah satu pendekatan asas dasar bakat asing (FT) PAP ialah untuk bergantung kepada pendatang Cina dan India untuk mencukupkan kadar kelahiran yang begitu rendah masyarakat Cina dan India tempatan. Satu lagi tindak-tanduk dasar tersebut menyeru supaya lebih ramai pendatang Cina dan India bagi menambahkan saiz penduduk Singapura.

Mengimbas kembali, membuka pintu untuk pendatang Cina dan India hanya apabila masalah TFR Cina dan India tempatan menjadi runcing, tidak menunjukkan kebijaksanaan dasar PAP. Dalam pada itu, ketidakbahagiaan di antara masyarakat India dan Cina tempatan terhadap kedatangan secara tiba-tiba ramainya pendatang India dan Cina tanpa mengira impak sebenar kesatuan nasional, sosial dan masyarakat sendiri, telah pun diketengahkan di parlimen yang didominasikan oleh PAP (82 daripada 84 kerusi ) jauh sebelum amanat hari kebangsaan 2010 PM Lee yang telah memberikan jaminan untuk “mengawal kemasukan” warga asing.

Dengan kadar TFR masyarakat Melayu di bawah tahap penggantian penduduk semenjak tahun 2005 dan terus merosot, adalah baik jika PAP dapat memulakan dengan secepat mungkin proses membawa masuk pendatang Melayu ke Singapura semoga dapat menambahkan pendududuk Melayu ke paras penggantian penduduk, daripada menunggu sehingga masalah tersebut menjadi genting, satu kesilapan pemerintah PAP terhadap masyarakat India dan Cina. Tindakan sebegini untuk memperkenalkan jumlah pendatang Melayu yang dapat dikendalikan akan dapat mengurangkan masalah yang mungkin timbul di antara penduduk Melayu Singapura dan pendatang Melayu.

Dengan pendekatan kedua dasar FT PAP untuk menggalakkan lebih banyak imigrasi ke Singapura demi menambahkan saiz penduduk negara, soalan genting bagi masyarakat Melayu berkaitan dengan jumlah pendatang Melayu yang telah diberikan status warga negara Singapura. Demi kepentingan harmoni antara kaum dan dalam masyarakat sendiri, persoalan ini tidak harus diremehtemehkan.

Dari segi peratusan demografi, rangka bagi masyarakat Melayu telah jatuh dari angka tradisi 15% kepada sekitar 13% dewasa ini atau mungkin lebih rendah (angka terbaru tidak dinyatakan di dalam  dokumen “Population in Brief 2010” yang telah dibicarakan di atas). Hal ini tidak menghairankan kerana kadar TFR masyarakat Melayu telah merosot secara berterusan dari 2.69 pada tahun 1990. Pemimpin-pemimpin masyarakat Melayu perlu bertanya tentang kesan menyeluruh dasar FT PAP sebelum masalah kemerosotan rangka  ini melahirkan perasaan tidak aman dan terus merosakan fabrik sosial Singapura kerana kerosotan demografik masyarakat Melayu.

Dilema Sekuriti Melayu PAP

Pengaruh tektonik kedua dasar FT terhadap masyarakat Melayu boleh didapati dalam pandangan sebelum kemerdekaan – di mana ia beroperasi tanpa disedari dengan tidak banyak campur-tangan pihak PAP – melihat dunia melalui kaca-mata kaum.

Tiga anekdot berasingan akan membingkai bahagian ini. Pertama, semenjak kemerdekaan, hubungan antara Singapura dan Malaysia sering menyalakan nasib kaum minoriti Melayu dan Cina dalam negara masing-masing. Ahli sejarah tradisional seringkali memperlihatkan rusuhan kaum tahun 1964 di Singapura sebagai perkara terakhir yang mendorong Singapura, melalui Goh Keng Swee, untuk meminta meninggalkan Persekutuan Malaysia.

Perbalahan kedua adalah dilema air Singapura, di mana Singapura harus bergantung kepada perjanjian-perjanjian penjajah yang ditandatangani sebelum kemerdekaan dengan negeri Johor untuk menambat bekalan air segarnya.

Ketiga, pada tahun 1990-an, Menteri Pembimbing Lee Kuan Yew mempersoalkan kebijaksanaan meletakkan seorang komander Melayu Singapura sebagai ketua unit mesingan Angkatan Bersenjata Singapura (SAF) – suatu metafora yang boleh digunakan untuk menganjurkan mengapa semua orang Melayu harus dikecualikan daripada jawatan tentera tertentu, dan mungkin juga penjelasan mudah kenapa tampak kurangnya Melayu memegang jawatan dalam SAF dan dalam perkhidmatan awam yang berteraskan meritokrasi.

Empat puluh lima tahun selepas kemerdekaan Singapura, boleh dikatakan bahawa hubungan antara Malaysia dan Singapura telah berpusing secara asasi di bawah pemerintahan Badawi dan Najib. Hubungan induk Hong Kong-Shenzhen sebagai model antara Singapura dan Johor (Malaysia) melalui Iskandar Malaysia telah diperdebatkan, di samping perbicaraan tentang perjalanan tanpa pasport dan juga meluaskan trak SMRT dari Singapura ke Johor. Minat pihak korporat, dengan sebeberapa yang berkaitan dengan agensi pemerintah di dua-dua belah koswe telah pun berazam untuk meletakkan pelaburan di Johor. Selain itu, dari Mac tahun ini, pemerintah PAP telah membenarkan rakyat Singapura untuk menggunakan simpanan Medisave mereka untuk rawatan di rumah sakit Malaysia bukan sahaja di Johor tetapi juga di Melaka, satu langkah yang mungkin merupakan bayangan paling konkrit menandakan sebuah fasa baru bukan hanya keramahan, tapi hubungan saling bersambung antara Singapura dan Malaysia.

Pergantungan Singapura terhadap air baku dari Johor, sering dilihat oleh strategi ketenteraan di seluruh dunia sebagai salah satu sebab permusuhan ketenteraan antara mana-mana dua negara, juga terus berkurangan. Singapura telah mengumumkan bahawa ia tidak akan membaharui Perjanjian Air 2011 dengan Malaysia, langkah yang boleh jadi dek strategi pelbagaian Singapura melalui NEWater, desalinasi dan lebih banyak daerah untuk menangkap air hujan.

Dilema sekuriti PAP yang berpenjangan di mana seorang askar Melayu Singapura dengan ikatan keluarga di Malaysia mungkin akan berasa ragu-ragu untuk menembak sesama Melayu di Malaysia pada masa perang, adalah satu andaian yang kurang meyenangkan penulis ini. Walau tampak betul, andaian tersebut tidak mengetengahkan kemungkinan dilema yang sama boleh dihadapi seorang Cina Singapura dengan ikatan keluarga di Malaysia bertentangan seorang Cina Malaysia, begitu juga permasalahan bagi askar India Singapura.

Apapun, perbincangan tentang konflik antara kedua-dua negara jiran itu semakin jauh dewasa ini dek usaha masyarakat perniagaan di kedua-dua belah koswe terutama sekali semenjak dari awal dekad ini. Dengan pelaburan Singapura di Malaysia yang signifikan, dan dengan beroperasinya syarikat pembangunan bersama, MS Pte Ltd – yang ditubuhkan untuk membangunkan tanah kereta api Malaysia di Singapura, kedua-dua negara mempunyai begitu banyak modal ekonomi dan sumber daya berkaitan di mana tidak lagi masuk akal untuk kembali melihat hubungan Singapura dan Malaysia dalam naratif tradisi dan juga mempersoalkan naratif ketenteraan antara kedua-dua negara itu. Mana-mana langkah seperti itu harus mendapati impak jangka jauh meskipun positif bagi masyarakat Melayu di Singapura. Imej Melayu Singapura yang berpegang mesingan tapi kesetiannya berbelah-bagi semakin tidak relevan terutama sekali kerana bertambahnya modal ekonomi yang dilabuhkan oleh rakyat Singapura di Malaysia dan oleh rakyat Malaysia di Singapura. Sebalik nota di atas, dasar FT telah secara ironis menempatkan isu dilema keselamatan PAP terhadap Melayu ke depan.

Demi pembangunan bangsa dan kesatuan masyarakat, tiada realiti yang lebih tidakadil daripada seorang pendatang baru dari warisan bukan-Melayu, menggantikan seorang warga Melayu Singapura atas dasar “keselamatan” dalam hal jawatan samada dalam perkhidmatan tentera atau perkhidmatan awam. Salah satu kesan yang lebih positif dari dasar FT dalam fikiran penulis ini adalah memaksa semua rakyat Singapura untuk menghargai percanggahan dalam pembangunan negara seperti ditulis di atas. Dalam masa imigrasi di Singapura kini, dialektik bangsa dan kesetiaan lagi kurang masuk akal, terutamanya kerana landasan dari setiap dasar imigrasi adalah terhadap negara bukan terhadap kaum.

Sebalik semua yang telah dikata, jika PAP menunda sehingga generasi akan datang persoalan impak dari dasar FT terhadap masyarakat Melayu, penulis ini yakin bahawa masalah tersebut akan menjadi lebih susah untuk diselesaikan, sambil mengorbankan kompak antara kaum.

Meritokrasi PAP dan Masyarakat Melayu

Akhir sekali, kubu ideologi bagi cerita sukses Singapura – meritokrasi – dianggapkan sebagai barometer utama kesetaraan di Singapura. Walaupun tidak ada yang meragukan prinsip-prinsip teori di mana meritokrasi diteraskan, kesannya dalam dunia praktikal bagi masyarakat Melayu adalah bercampur dengan kemungkinan yang ia menguntungkan segelintir minoriti Melayu, tidak mengira apa yang dikatakan oleh bekas Menteri Hal Ehwal Melayu/Islam Singapura Sidek Saniff  yang dilaporkan di Straits Times pada 4 Jun 2010 (“Mengambil jalan yang sukar berbaloi”):

“Meritokrasi telah mempercepatkan rasa keyakinan diri dan perlakuan tidak beza-beza terhadap rakyat Melayu Singapura, yang merasa mereka tidak dicela dan boleh bersaing di peringkat yang sama.”

Walaupun bekas menteri itu telah mengetengahkan dengan jelas tujuan aspirasi meritokrasi bagi orang Melayu (atau memang warga Singapura dari kaum apapun) di Singapura, prestasi pendidikan masyarakat Melayu berbanding masyarakat lain dan juga realiti sebenarnya meninggalkan sebuah jurang yang tidak dapat dijelaskan secara memadai atau diketengahkan oleh komitmen PAP buat meritokrasi.

Berkait dengan ulang tahun ke 25 Mendaki (badan bantu-diri Melayu yang berfokus pada pendidikan khususnya), PM Lee meminta laporan menyeluruh untuk menjejak seberapa jauh masyarakat Melayu telah maju sejak pembentukan Mendaki pada tahun 1982. Laporan itu, pada amnya, menunjukkan kemajuan yang baik oleh masyarakat Melayu, suatu prestasi yang berbicara baik tentang semua wakil masyarakat Melayu, tidak kira dari sekutu politik apapun, yang berusaha untuk memperbaiki nasib masyarakat Melayu dari 1982. Namun, sebagaimana terungkap dalam laporan itu, kemajuan masyarakat Melayu tetap lemah berbanding kemajuan masyarakat Cina dan India sepanjang pelbagai penunjuk yang sama, dan dalam beberapa kes, benar-benar begitu.

Secara berasingan, dalam satu soalan yang diajukan kepada Menteri Pendidikan di parlimen awal tahun ini, Encik Zaqy Mohamed, PAP MP untuk Hong Kah bertanya “apa lagi yang boleh dilakukan untuk membantu pelajar-pelajar Melayu maju pada tahap yang sama, jika tidak lebih baik, berbanding dengan rakan-rakan mereka dari kaum lain? ” Jawapan menteri berupa satu jawapan yang berbentuk standard tanpa adanya dasar yang khusus.

“Sekolah-sekolah akan melakukan bahagian mereka bagi membantu pelajar-pelajar lemah untuk memperbaiki diri. Tapi MOE juga bekerja bersama dengan kumpulan-kumpulan masyarakat seperti Mendaki, kumpulan sokongan ibubapa dan kumpulan-kumpulan VWO lain untuk memberikan sokongan tambahan untuk para pelajar. Ibubapa dan keluarga, dari semua bangsa, boleh menyokong pelajar dengan memastikan bahawa mereka menghadiri sekolah secara tetap, memberi semangat kepada mereka untuk bekerja keras, dan mengamalkan tabiat-tabiat baik seperti membaca. Masyarakat dan badan-badan bantu diri juga boleh membantu keluarga-keluarga mengatasi masalah-masalah yang berkaitan dengan kewangan, pekerjaan dan perhubungan, dalam rangka mencipta persekitaran rumah yang lebing memberi sokongan. “

Untuk bersikap adil terhadap pemerintah, penyelesaian bantu-diri komuniti telah membantu memperbaikkan status quo masyarakat Melayu dalam beberapa cara. Tapi apa saja mesej meritokrasi dan persaingan yang saksama secara automatik akan meletakkan Melayu di dalam posisi lebih rendah terutama kerana pendapatan mereka lebih rendah secara relatif dan kurangnya akses kepada peluang, yang merupakan fungsi dari posisi mereka di dalam masyarakat yang lebih rendah. Secara ringkas, dalam konteks apapun, meritokrasi tidak bererti setiap seorang itu bermula perlumbaan di garis mula. Banyak di antara saudara-saudari Melayu kita harus berhadapan dengan perjuangan sosio-ekonomi yang lain sebelum mereka dapat masuk ke dalam perlumbaan itu, dan bila mereka berada dalam perlumbaan itu, terus menghadapi lerengan dari permulaan sekali.

Dalam sebuah komentar yang ditulis Lendra Putera Nurezki, “Academic dilema of the Malay Community Revisited”, untuk Pusat Penyelidikan Islam dan Hal Melayu (RIMA), telah ditunjukkan “kemajuan kecil” yang telah didapati dalam hal prestasi akademik pelajar Melayu selama 10 tahun terakhir. Beliau menyarankan bahawa masalah pendidikan dan masyarakat Muslim harus diangkat ke “tahap nasional” supaya “memacu usaha bersepadu … dan menghasilkan penyelesaian produktif”.

Sudah jelas bahawa idea-idea baru diperlukan untuk membantu masyarakat Melayu – idea yang tidak akan mengurangkan rasa hormat diri mereka atau yang menunjukkan bahawa Melayu memerlukan tongkat penopang untuk berjaya di Singapura.

Satu penyelesaian dalam dunia pendidikan mengajukan penubuhan suatu usaha peringkat nasional yang bertujuan untuk menyokong tujuan meritokrasi disebalik ketidaksetaraan yang meningkat di Singapura. Penyelesaian tersebut berpegang kepada pembentukan sebuah badan bebas yang dibiayai pemerintah yang beroperasi bersama-sama badan-badan bantu-diri tetapi tidak tertakluk kepada kaum. Bergantung kepada fokusnya, badan seperti itu boleh melihat isu-isu dalam hal kemiskinan, pendidikan dan lain-lain lagi dari perspektif nasional, dan secara berasingan, mendapat biayaaan (sebanyak 10 peratus atau sebanyak mana yang pemerintah mengagihkan dari GDP untuk pendidikan) dari labah diperolehi oleh divestasi yang berjaya dibuat oleh Temasek Holdings dan Government of Singapore Investment Corporation. Dalam hal pendidikan misalnya, ia boleh menawarkan kelas-kelas atau program-program pendidikan khusus pada kos-rendah hanya untuk pelajar-pelajar yang terus lemah di sekolah, lengkap dengan guru-guru yang terlatih khusus untuk membantu pelajar seperti yang itu yang sering kali berasal dari latar belakang yang miskin. Dan oleh kerana program nasional itu tidak berasaskan kaum, terdapatnya lebih ramai bangsa Melayu atau bangsa lain misalnya adalah secara kebetulan, terutama sekali kerana tujuan program tersebut adalah untuk melahirkan sebuah masyarakat yang lebih egalitarian dan inklusif.

Dalam sebuah tesis MA yang diserahkan kepada Jabatan Pengajian Melayu di Universiti Kebangsaan Singapura pada tahun 2006, Hafsah Binte Mohammad Kassim, berpendapat bahawa kelas-kelas tuisyen sahaja tidak merupakan ubat mujarab yang akan menyelesaikan masalah prestasi pelajar-pelajar Melayu di sekolah. Secara signifikan, beliau menimbulkan isu “educationalism” dalam masyarakat Melayu, dan menganjurkan bahawa sudah waktunya untuk pemimpin-pemimpin Melayu/Islam “untuk melihat luar dari bidang pelajaran bagi merumuskan pembaharuan di kalangan komuniti Melayu/Islam”. Tambahan pula, Hafsah menanyakan korelasi yang belum diterokai antara peningkatan prestasi di sekolah dan peningkatan prospek pekerjaan orang Melayu sambil berpendapat bahawa ia adalah “naif untuk percaya bahawa semua masalah dan cabaran yang dihadapi komuniti itu akan terus hilang dengan melalui ubat mujarab pendidikan.” Setiap usaha nasional yang digariskan di perenggan-perenggan di atas harus mempertimbangkan amaran Hafsah dan cuba mencari penyelesaian yang holistik dan bukan sekeping demi sekeping.

Pandangan Hafsah merupakan tempat baik bagi menamatkan artikel ini yang telah cuba untuk menentukan isu-isu utama yang seharusnya berada di dalam pemikiran masyarakat Melayu di Singapura hari ini. Soalan lama mengenai kesetiaan dan komitmen orang Melayu terhadap Singapura telah sering kali didapati di dalam dilema security PAP dan Melayu seperti yang sudah diserlahkan oleh penulis ini. Namun demikian, hasil dari tinjauan pendapat yang dilakukan baru-baru ini oleh Institute of Policy Studies dari Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, ramai di antara rakyat Singapura berasa terkejut untuk mendapati bahawa orang Melayu mengatasi semua kumpulan etnik (Cina, Melayu, India, Lain-lain) dalam “Kesediaan mereka untuk berkorban” untuk Singapura. Dengan kesan dasar FT dan hubungan semakin baik antara Malaysia dan Singapura, orang Melayu Singapura mendapati diri mereka berada di persimpangan kritikal – yang seharusnya dimanfaatkan oleh pemerintah hari untuk lebih mengintegrasikan masyarakat Melayu dalam kompak sosial Singapura. Hasil dari apapun dasar seperti itu akan mengganti rugi peningkatan ketidaksetaraan dalam masyarakat Singapura, menguatkan fungsi meritokrasi sebagai sebuah ideologi kebangsaan dan memberi makna sebenar kepada sebuah Singapura yang lebih inklusif.

Pritam Singh adalah pengasas OpinionAsia ( <> ). Sekarang ini, beliau adalah calon Juris Doctor di Universiti Pengurusan Singapura (SMU) dan seorang ahli Parti Pekerja. Artikel ini hasil dari pandangan beliau sendiri.

Written by singapore 2025

15/08/2010 at 6:21 am

Singapore’s Mandatory Death Penalty Regime: 31 Malaysian MPs and 11 Senators put their names to petition

1. As some of you may know, I have a personal interest in the mandatory death penalty regime, having written about it before, a link I probably shared with a small number of you.

Something even the Young PAP had a view about it seems!

2. I have been a little surprised this past week reading about the unusually forceful cries for clemency from Malaysia for a convicted Malaysian drug trafficker, Yong Vui Kong (aged 19 when he committed the offence of smuggling 47-odd grams of a Class A drug into Singapore). According to a citizen website, a total of 31 Malaysian MPs and 11 Senators have put their names to a petition seeking a reprieve for Vui Kong.

3. In my living memory, I cannot recall a more strident and co-ordinated campaign from the people sector in Malaysia seeking clemency for a Malaysian convict in Singapore. Even Anifah Aman, the Malaysian Foreign Minister has chipped in, no doubt because of the growing groundswell of public opinion in Malaysia.

4. But curiously, albeit unexpectedly, there is no real coverage of this issue in the government-managed Straits Times newspaper in Singapore. In fact, what appears to be developing is a clever campaign from the mainstream media in Singapore to disinform the public of the larger issues surrounding the mandatory death penalty, through omission and selective reportage. Some would argue this has always been a strategy of mainstream media, but I think the wiser among you would be better placed to confirm this.

5. Now let me be clear about it, there is enough anecdotal information to suggest that many Singaporeans are not against the death penalty, especially in regard to heinous crimes and even drug-smuggling. Considering that countries such as China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand not to mention the US retain the death penalty, it is virtually impossible to make a strong argument that can support doing away with the death penalty in this neck of the woods, especially considering the narrow scope of public discourse in a one-party dominated state such as Singapore.

6. The unique problem in the Singapore case (and Malaysia and Indonesia. I know India does not have a mandatory death penalty regime. I understand China does not as well, although someone mentioned to me that it applies if more than 50g of heroin is involved. In Singapore it is 15g. Would appreciate some clarification here on China and whether there is a mandatory death penalty regime for drugs) is that Singapore’s parliament, many years ago, passed the Misuse of Drugs (MDA) Act which invokes the mandatory death penalty. As I have stated elsewhere, in mandatory death sentence cases, mitigation is irrelevant and the judicial process concludes upon a finding of guilt. I disagree with this simply because it gives a judge no power to deviate from the MDA, even if there are extenuating circumstances relevant to an accused. Even if there are potentially reasonable grounds – low IQ, unique circumstances etc. to justify a sentence other than a death sentence, the judge is powerless to rule outside the ambit of the law. The process of imposing the mandatory death penalty is largely administrative, not judicial as popularly thought of.

7. The other problem with the mandatory death sentence regime is that it puts too much discretion in the hands of the Public Prosecutor (PP), the PAP state’s lawyer. While the PP must have discretion in general, because of the way the mandatory death sentence regime works, he/she effectively becomes the all powerful arbiter, as he/she holds has all the evidence and police investigation reports in hand. Ever so often, cases come to court where the accused has allegedly trafficked 14.99g of heroin. This boggles the mind. Needless to say, the PP has determined, often through the ubiquitous “laboratory test” that the pure heroin content had come up to 14.99 grams. What a lucky accused! Thank you PP! Who needs the separation of powers schema between the Executive and Judiciary anymore? The Chief Justice might as well appoint the Fairy-God mother to the bench!

8. Alex Au, one of Singapore’s finest bloggers has written about this in the context of Alan Shadrake’s book with superb cogency.

9. In light of the societal barometer, what ought to be called for is a move away from the mandatory death penalty regime. A similar case to Yong Vui Kong may well come up in a no-mandatory death penalty jurisdiction, and a judge may well sentence the accused to death, if the circumstances dictate so. The fear has been, and Lee Kuan Yew has verbalised this, is that judges will not dare to hang anyone if there were no mandatory death penalty regime. I am not going to get into this argument. I would think if that is the case, then a judge is mentally not fit to sit on the bench, and the Chief Justice made a rather poor choice (by the way, no one really knows about the procedure whereby High Court judges are selected in Singapore).

10. Now what the mainstream media (by extension PAP government) strategy appears to be is to suggest that people speaking out against the mandatory death penalty regime are actually speaking out against the death penalty regime. It is critical that civil society draw a distinction upon these two separate issues, because the government will lump them together, and if goes to a referendum (which it will not), I am very sure the pro-death penalty camp will come out tops because across race and religion, Asians, given our social attitudes and mores, are comfortable with murderers and drug traffickers being (not mules I would argue, masterminds) sent to the gallows. In the interests of justice and due process, it is vital that our eyes be firmly fixed on the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty regime in Singapore. That is the real Rubicon to cross in the immediate term. Why? Because of the case of Vignes Mourthi as covered by Alan Shadrake in his book, Once a Jolly Hangman, a case that weighs very heavily in my mind.

Excerpted from Alex Au’s aforementioned hyperlinked article:

“Chapter 18 recounts how Vignes Mourthi, a Malaysian who commuted to Singapore for work, was found guilty of trafficking 27.65 grams of heroin in 2002. Vignes claimed at his trial that he did not know he had heroin on him; he thought that what he had been given to hand over to a contact was a pack of precious incense stones used in Hindu worship, a claim of innocence he maintained throughout.

The prosecution’s case and the verdict rested mainly on a handwritten note by the arresting officer recording the alleged conversation that took place between the officer Rajkumar and Vignes just before the arrest on 20 September 2001. Rajkumar was posing as the buyer and in his undated note said that Vignes’ replies during the short conversation indicated the latter knew that what he had handed over were drugs. There was no corroboration of the account contained in this handwritten note, nor even any indication it was not written up far later, yet it was what the judge relied on to convict Vignes.

Vignes was hanged on 26 September 2003.

The day after Rajkumar arrested Vignes, a woman accused Rajkumar of raping and sodomising her. Two days later, on 23 September 2001, Rajkumar himself was arrested on these complaints. He was apparently not suspended from duty and continued to be part of the prosecution’s case against Vignes.

Eventually, the woman withdrew her accusations, but by then, police investigations had begun of Rajkumar and fellow officer Balbir Singh for offering large amounts of money to the woman to persuade her to do so. The men were later found guilty of corruption and sentenced to fifteen and six months’ imprisonment respectively. Page 161:

But it was not until Vignes Mourthi was hanged that Rajkumar’s trial began. When Rajkumar, whose contested testimony had sent Vignes Mourthi to the gallows, was sentenced, Judge Sia Aik Kor described his actions as ‘so obviously corrupt by the ordinary and objective standard that he must know his conduct is corrupt’. The judge also cited a precedent which found actions to be ‘akin to an attempt to subvert the course of justice’. So if he could subvert the course of justice to save himself from a long prison term, was he also capable of inventing those damning words that confirmed, in the eyes of trial judges, that Vignes Mourthi knew what he was doing?

First of all, isn’t it interesting that a case of rape, sodomy and corruption from an arrest of 23 September 2001 languishes for years while a capital case arising from an arrest of 20 September 2001 is finished and done with more quickly?

Shadrake pointed out that the police and very likely the Attorney-General’s Chambers knew even as Vignes was on trial, that their chief prosecution witness Rajkumar was himself under investigation for corruption and subverting justice. Surely this must be pertinent to Vignes’ case? Would knowledge of this not have been grounds for impeaching Rajkumar’s credibility and for reasonable doubt in Vignes’ case?

Shadrake asks why there was silence throughout; why Rajkumar’s trial didn’t commence until Vignes had been hanged.

I would ask: Was the silence judged necessary to avoid an embarrassing collapse of the case against Vignes? Was it felt that it was more important not to have it collapse, more important to protect the idea of the death penalty from disrepute, the image of police and prosecutorial infallibility, than the question of true justice to a man?”


Written by singapore 2025

07/08/2010 at 6:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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