Monday, November 1, 2010

NTU MInisterial Forum 2010 : SM Goh's message to young Singaporeans - pls be grateful for what we have given to you.

Last Friday Oct 28th 2010 - I attended the NTU Ministerial Forum 2010 in my capacity as a NTU graduate student. I looked around and thought that I am the only one from RSIS, considering tthhe fact at Trimester 1 has just ended. Pity! Security was tight

The title topic of the event was "Singapore: City of Buzz" SM Goh chose this because he thought that this is a 'timely topic'. (maybe elections coming ???)

SM Goh's agenda in coming to NTU was to challenge us - to make Singapore into a global city of buzz and a home for us as well. In my mind, this is a BIG challenge aka a tall order. From what I see anywhere else in the world (or even in history), there are (or were) few cities - global in outlook and local in nature. However, it is not impossible in the case of NYC, Tokyo, London etc. Then again, these global cities have a hinterland to fall back on. Singapore does not have the luxury of a hinterland since 1965. In history, very few cities had ever survived out there on it's own for long. Singapore will be defying the gravity of history if it hits 100 in 2065. Perhaps we can take the analogy of Sparta and Athens given by Mr Ngiam whom I respect a lot for his outspoken views. Mr Ngiam's interview given here in 2006, sparked my interest into looking deeply at politics along with the GE 2006.

Interview with former permanent secretary, Mr Ngiam Tong Dow:
Let’s look at Sparta and Athens, two city states in Greek history. Singapore is like Sparta, where the top students are taken away from their parents as children and educated. Cohort by cohort, they each select their own leadership, ultimately electing their own Philosopher King. When I first read Plato’s Republic, I was totally dazzled by the great logic of this organisational model where the best selects the best. But when I reached the end of the book, it dawned on me that though the starting point was meritocracy, the end result was dictatorship and elitism. In the end, that was how Sparta crumbled. Yet, Athens, a city of philosophers known for its different schools of thought, survived.

My thinking when I read about this statement said by him, was "WOW, what a amazing revelation! You mean that Singapore will stand a better of survival when there is diversity of thoughts?" Thereafter, I gradually started to push myself to develop my own sense of critical thinking without fear for the first time. Initially, I met a lot of brickbats. Nevertheless, I also learned to respect other people's views and be sensitive to others' feelings. I had come a long way till now in 2010.

And Mr Ngiam's answer here Over the last forty years since 1965, Singapore has survived economically without the Malaysian hinterland. In fact, in a WTO ruled world, the concept of economic hinterlands has become redundant. Singapore will thrive as an economy and as a state if we are able to apply knowledge intelligently. This is the challenge for our succeeding generations

Back to SM Goh's talk, he stressed heavily upon Singapore's past difficulties, success in overcoming the obstacles and today's status as a developed country status. He stressed heavily on the Govt's investment in education and training for Singaporeans. amounting to $175k for each university graduate (from primary school to university). Indeed, I am well aware of this and appreciate the 70% subsidy given by the Singapore Govt for my graduate studies in RSIS. Thank you very much. (But Govt also do give the roughly the same subsidy minus 1k to foreign students too.) I am just pointing it out to put things in perspective. Thanks once again.

Now onto the Q & A. I will not go deep into details. Essentially, the 3 usual kinds of Singaporeans appeared ( I had seen these 3 kinds of Singaporeans before in previous forums). The first kind is one who depends on the govt for everything - a crutch mentality. The second kind is one who exceedingly admire the govt, to put it in a very nice way. The 3rd kind is one who really bother to ask the govt to think deeper into it's policies, while at the same time give due credit to the govt for the things that it did well.

The most highlighted question is the one by NTU final year undergrad Mr Lim Zi Rui. I could tell that he was being overly polite due to his officer training. Come to think of it, I did mentioned these lines of thought to DPM DM Mr Teo in a previous forum. I did it during Young NTUC's YCIS Net Forum 2008 when I just returned from the States. But I did it in more crude and much more army barmy manner. Hahahahah ! Let's just say it wasn't pretty on DPM DM Mr Teo's face.

Now I am more mindful of the cultural constraints that we generally have in Asia. In America where people are more opinionated and not afraid to challenge politicians. As I pointed out to my facebook friends; in my alma mater SUNY Buffalo, Republican Karl Rove got jeered by students during his debate with General Clark (Democrat) in the run up for US Presidential Elections 2008.
Tony Blair got hit with a tough question about the Middle East by a UB political science student Nick Kabat.

Therefore, my style now is always to add some sweetness first before adding the sourness and bitterness into the dish to be served.I would like to ask this question " Why not let foreigners serve some form of national service, accelerating their application for PRs/citizenship as incentive ? This can serve as a common platform for locals and foreigners to bond together in the common goal of defending Singapore and having a stake in this island.

Just too bad that the moderator cut people off by saying time running out : (

Another noteworthy question came from the last student. His question was about how to strengthen the sense of belonging in Singaporeans with Singapore as home. This is the best question of the forum. Personally, I am a assistant organizer of Returned Overseas Singaporeans in Singapore (ROSS) meetup club for this purpose; to find out how do our Singaporeans who lived overseas and returned, still living overseas or living overseas on a long term or permanent basis (still come back to Singapore once a while) - what are our feelings about Singapore ? I collated a lot of viewpoints. Very interesting. Personally, I started my own 10 to 15 year project to see whether Singapore is still worthwhile to be my home. Till 2018 to 2023, I will make my final decision and pass judgement on Singapore.

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