Can the government really start having more confidence in Singaporeans?

By April 5, 2017Current

TL;DR – Should they?

The Public Order Act will be amended. It will give the police commissioner the power to reject applications for public assemblies and processions involving foreigners with a political agenda.

Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun spoke against it in Parliament. He was concerned that the change will impede “active citizenry” and reduce participation in Singaporean civil society.

To that, Minister Shanmugam responded:

“Why don’t we have confidence that our people can organise and take part in civic activities?”

Good question.

Why not? Maybe it’s because there are a number of instances where the government didn’t have confidence in Singaporeans.


Remember the time when the National Library Board (NLB) pulped books? The NLB didn’t seem to have confidence in Singaporean parents. In fact, the government had so little confidence in Singaporean parents that it felt that it had to step in to determine what children read and not read on behalf of parents.

Then there was the time when the government decided to ban a movie.. The movie, “To Singapore, With Love”, deals, indirectly, with one of the most controversial elements of the island nation’s history – the detention without trial of hundreds of people accused of being Communists and being part of a conspiracy. The Singaporean filmmaker, Tan Pin Pin, profiles nine people of different political views, aged between 60 to 80, who escaped in the 1960s and 1970s.

The government banned the movie because it felt that “the individuals in the film have given distorted and untruthful accounts of how they came to leave Singapore and remain outside Singapore”. It demonstrated how little confidence the government has in Singaporeans’ ability to be critical of the things we watch and come to a reasoned, logical conclusion.

No. One movie. That’s all it would take to change what Singaporeans think happened in history. Or so the government thinks. Such little confidence the government had in us.

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So it’s interesting that now a Minister thinks that we should have more confidence in Singaporeans. Indeed, MHA’s ban on foreign sponsorship of the Pink Dot event has shown that there is a glimmer of hope that Singapore is becoming a more mature society.

But that’s all it is for now. A glimmer.

There are still some ways to go before we are a truly mature society.

For instance, fake news abounds. Worse, there are people who believe and spread fake news. Sites like All Singapore Stuff and States Times Review still get frighteningly high number of views. Those aren’t signs that inspire confidence. Perhaps that’s why the government thinks that it needs to do something to address fake news.

But the government can only do so much. At the end of the day, each and every single one of us has to step up. All of us have to be discerning, exercise critical thinking, care deeply for one another, and be actively involved in building a mature and vibrant society together. If that happens, then perhaps our government will be convinced that they don’t need to be as paternalistic as it is today.


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Jake Koh

Author Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.

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