• Wed
  • Aug 27, 2014
  • Updated: 6:32pm

Singaporeans ‘no longer trust their government’: Writer Catherine Lim criticises PM in open letter

Singaporeans no longer trust their leaders, says writer Catherine Lim in open missive to Lee Hsien Loong that fuels social media debate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 3:54am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 3:04pm

An open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, written by one of Asia's most iconic personalities in the field of literature, is spreading fast on social media, with many leaving comments on her blog thanking her for speaking up while others are sceptical.

Dr Catherine Lim is a well-known and prominent writer in the region, having published numerous novels and collections of poetry and short stories as well as political commentaries.

Her books have been used in government schools for literature studies. The award-winning Singaporean writer was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government and received an honorary doctorate of literature from Murdoch University in Australia.

Singaporeans see the defamation suit ... as the very cause of the erosion of trust
Catherine Lim

In her open letter, she claimed that Singaporeans "no longer trust their government and the government no longer cares about regaining their trust".

Lim, who is in her early 70s, said there were clear signs of a trust issue. She cited the recent case of graffiti at a public housing block that was targeted at the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) as well as the rising number of protests and the increased online criticism, among other examples.

The Malaysian-born author said the government had put in a lot of effort to improve the lives of citizens but warned that the better-educated internet generation demanded more.

She heavily criticised Lee's recent defamation suit against Roy Ngerng, a young blogger who allegedly accused the prime minister of misappropriating state pension funds. While supporters say the defamation suit is crucial to ensure Singapore does not embrace a culture of slander and libel, critics insist it will harm the image and reputation of Lee and his party, especially since the case is being pegged as a David-vs-Goliath duel.

International rights advocates have often chided the Singaporean government for using the threat of defamation suits as a way of stifling opposing voices.

"When Mr Lee Kuan Yew liberally used the defamation suit against his critics, one of the reasons he gave (if I remember correctly) was that he wanted to punish them for implying government corruption, and thus eroding the trust of the people, which he said was necessary for the government to do its work," Lim wrote.

"Today, in a twist of supreme irony that would have incensed Mr Lee, Singaporeans see the defamation suit itself, and not the act that has entailed it, as the very cause of the erosion of trust.

"A few more applications of this once-effective instrument of control, even if legally justifiable, would surely damage the PAP cause further, in the highly charged atmosphere of the new Singapore."

Even though it won the 2011 general election, the PAP suffered its worst performance since independence in what many observers have termed a watershed election. Since then, the government has faced criticism from citizens complaining about overcrowded public transport, plans to bring in more foreign workers and the rising cost of living.

Over the years, Lim has written many commentaries addressing sociopolitical issues, surprising many with her bravado.

"Thank you Catherine for speaking up and sharing your view, for being an eloquent voice and for remaining constructive," said a blog reader named Markus. But while many left positive comments on her blog, some attacked her for writing the letter.

"If you think being a prime minister is so easy, why don't you go ahead and run for the position?" asked a commentator who posted his name as Jason Chua.

"It is easy to complain, complain, complain … but can't you see that the government is already doing its best?"

Lim is no stranger when it comes to ruffling political feathers. In September 1994, one of her controversial commentaries, "The PAP and the people - a great affective divide", was published by The Straits Times, the country's main English-language broadsheet. The op-ed piece claimed that while citizens respected the PAP, there was little affection towards the party.

Two months later she wrote another damning piece. The staunch PAP critic was then rebuked by the prime minister at the time, Goh Chok Tong.

In his book Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew, author Tom Plate, a former editorial director with the Los Angeles Times and acclaimed syndicated columnist, wrote: "By fax I asked him [Lee Kuan Yew] to offer some self- criticism.

"He referred me to Catherine Lim."


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This article is now closed to comments

Why is the SCMP giving so much airtime to this one writer?
Democracy is about being skeptical to the Government...not blindly trust of having affection to it.
Dr Michael Barr's comment in his Conclusion (Chap 8) that: "There is ... enough truth in the myths of meritocracy, elite governance and pragmatism" is even more insightful than Catherine Lim who thinks that "the alternative would be just too scary".
It is LESS SCARY than perpetuating near half-century of PAP rule where - upon microscopic examination - 2G-4G PAP laws/policies have deceptive veneer of achieving public good at the toxic expense of our Country and Our People, eg:
(A) Total Population target of 6.9mn with the long-term objective of negating Native Singaporeans' votes by New Mints' votes in GE2015-16 and 2020-21 and NEVER disclosing the number of citizenships granted to New Mints since 2000 with the peak of population deluge in 2005-6,
(B) Passing a law that (i) invoked majoritianism over private non-landed property so that natives are displaced by wealthy foreigners who naturally prefer already built-up prime/popular residential districts where the PAP Govt do not have enough land supply to sell in Govt Land Sales and (ii) sanctions demolition of condos upon TOP if 90% owners think it is profitable whilst they over-hype about "Endearing Homes" and "Sustainable Redevelopment", [to be cont'd]
PART 3 (contn): (E) Mandating Medishield LIFE from 2015 which would ADVERSELY affect the long-haul nature of insurance planning for 2mn policy holders who bought Medishield Integrated Plan introduced in 2005 by then Health Minister Khaw BW who went even further by sanctioning approved Medishield insurers' sale of Riders to negate two key policy deterrents that Khaw embedded in the National Scheme (ie, Deductibles and Co-insurance) against over-consumption and abuse (even more galling was Minister Khaw himself bought those Riders as he clearly did NOT believe in his own policy deterrents - Khaw paid only $8 cash for his Class A Ward Heart Surgery in 2010 because of his enchantment with SGH ward slippers), and
etc, etc, etc. Little wonder that those who were gullible enough to believe PM Lee's apology pre-GE 2011 are still grasping at straws in their hope that the PAP are NOT already past the point of no return.
PART 2 (contn): (C) Approving 742,000 Work Permits in 2012 whilst knowing there were only 143,000 Bed Spaces in Dormitories and collecting $2.5bn Workers' Levies from the blood, sweat and tears of foreign workers WITHOUT (i) building enough dorms (hence, illegal land use in both public and private housing, offices, even construction sites which they cannot detect on proactive basis but enforce on reactive basis after receiving loads of complaints), (ii) setting dorm/meal standards to ensure proper survival conditions (done only AFTER strike by SMRT Mainland Chinese drivers) or (iii) conducting dorm/meal audits and then asserting that Little India Riot that targetted Establishment symbols (ambulances, police cars) had nothing to do with workers' unhappiness with the Establishment,
(D) Mandating CPF LIFE for those born in/after 1958 where the monthly pay-outs from age 65 depend on not just interest rates but on mortality rates of CPF members, esp those who have met CPF Min Sum (little wonder that everybody is hollowing-out CPF for anything and everything BEFORE age 55), and knowing how to peg CPF Min Sum at age 55 to inflationary index but totally clueless on how to peg CPF Pay-out from age 65 to typical expenditure patterns of retirees,
jayb ... I never knew that it is totally Chinese to talk about "trusting the govt"? Americans should not be so self-indulgent and narcissistic as to assume that the world subscribes to your beliefs about what the relations between the state and society ought to be. One reason for the dysfunctional political system in the US is the erosion of trust between the government and the people since the end of WWII. Get off your high horse and deal with that before you seek to teach the rest of the world how to run their own house. Yes guns are an inherent right of citizenship so much so that not a year goes by without some gun-shooting spree of innocent school kids. Please save your perverse ideals for your own backyard. It can rot for all I care
ah yea? so... you'd be happy standing by and watching the govt has all the guns? .. back to the "trust the govt" theme... ha ha....
What has happened to proper copyediting?
this is totally chinese think to talk "trust the govt". no citizen should "trust the government". one reason the US Constitution establishes a divide and rule system and most significantly throw in the Second Amendment to make gun ownership an inherent right of citizenship. guns not to fight criminal but to fight oppressive govt.
I have brought you a quote from another site, which I thoroughly agree with. Leave your notion o American "exceptionalism" at the door when you discuss anything on an international platform.
Lastly, what exactly do you mean by, "totally chinese". Did you even study geography or travel to the region to understand ANYTHING about the country you just commented on?
Keep your arguments regarding guns or whatever new social ill your country grapples with to discussions where they belong. Your domestic ones.
And don't you imagine for half a second that you can come on any platform, especially one as international as the internet with such ignorant statements and not get shot down or at the very least met with a rebuttal.




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