Friday, April 25, 2008

To resign or not to resign, that is the question?

Earlier this week, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong, with reference to the ongoing Mas Selamat saga, delivered a ministerial statement in Parliament that concluded that while mistakes were made, they were made at the lower levels and hence, Deputy PM Wong Kan Seng, who is concurrently the Minister for Home Affairs, need not resign.

Expectedly, a variety of responses were made in reaction to this statement by PM Lee, with most registering disapproval, if not displeasure, of the conclusion that it is not necessary for DPM Wong to step down.

I, being caught up with preparations for yet another exam season (preparations have unfortunately been slow, especially considering that exams start next week) and wanting to digest more fully PM Lee's statement and the discourse following it, have not made any response. Now, with some free time to spare, I would perhaps offer my humble opinion.

Putting PM Lee's statement into a nutshell

In a nutshell, PM Lee put forward the following key points in his statement:

i) While utmost efforts have been made to prevent them, mistakes and lapses would perhaps inevitably occur, considering that it is human to err and that no system is perfect. The important thing is that lessons be drawn from these mistakes and lapses and that appropriate actions be taken to rectify them.

For those of you all who can read and understand Mandarin, this point of PM Lee can perhaps be succinctly expressed in this well-known Confucian saying of: “人非圣贤,孰能无过。 过而能改,善莫大焉。”, which can be loosely translated into "Being imperfect, it is human to err; there can be no greater good than learning from one's mistakes and rectifying them".

ii) While it is understandable that people should feel upset, if not perturbed, by the occurrence of mistakes and lapses, people should not forget or overlook the hard work that have been put in by those personnel & agencies that have made those mistakes. The achievements and successes of these personnel and agencies should also not be forgotten.

iii) While appropriate disciplinary action will be undertaken, there should and must be a limit as to how high up the hierarchy such actions be undertaken.

iv) While it may be politically expedient to do so, it cannot be the case that "officials and Ministers resign whenever something goes wrong on their watch, regardless of whether or not they are actually to blame", as this will do nothing to solve the problem at hand.

Well, considering the above and the critical opinions expressed against PM Lee's statement, I suppose that (with no intention of blasphemy), just as how a local blogger drew a parallel between DPM Wong and Pontius Pilate, the imagery which comes to my mind is of DPM Wong being like Jesus, guilt-less but with everyone baying for his blood.

A mistake, honest or not, is still a mistake

Hmm... On one hand, I have to say that the points put forth by PM Lee in his statement are not entirely devoid of sense or merit.

However, while I agree that human beings, being imperfect, perhaps inevitably commit honest mistakes, just as how a white lie is still essentially a lie, a honest mistake is still nonetheless a mistake. While saying that a mistake was unintentional and indeliberate may perhaps, to some extent, reduce the animus towards the individual(s) making the mistake, it neither mitigate the fact that a mistake has been made nor lessen the severity of the implications of the mistake. Likewise, while it is indeed true that people should not forget the hard work and achievements of those committing the mistakes, this cannot mean that mistakes can then be brushed aside.

Understandable but unpopular?

Also, I find it interesting that PM Lee should defend his decision to not have DPM Wong step down by saying that if he had made the opposite decision, it would be but a politically expedient move.

The reason why I find this interesting is that, in my opinion, it can be inferred that PM Lee's decision to not have DPM Wong step down was perhaps also based on strategic political considerations. This is considering that if PM Lee had decided that DPM Wong should step down to appease public opinion, it would most likely set a precedent for similar moves in the future. In other words, if DPM Wong was made to step down due to public pressure, this would perhaps not only result in similar calls for ministerial resignations for future mistakes but perhaps also for past mistakes.

Understandably, this would not bode well for the government, considering its perennial statements about its difficulties in finding people of ministerial calibre to join it. I mean, just think about it, if you all were in PM Lee's position, would you all, after spending so much time & effort finding and grooming your ministers, agree to them stepping down due to public pressure?

In addition, it can be observed that the decision to not have DPM Wong step down despite public pressure was perhaps also based on the PAP government's long-standing principle that they cannot and should not openly concede to public pressure and/or opinion. To do so, as they have argued, would be a display of political weakness.

Hence, I have to say that while the decision to not have DPM Wong step down may perhaps be a strategically understandable move and may even prove to be a correct move, in the political sense, it remains nonetheless an unpopular tactical move.

Will Singaporeans remember?

In the end, I suppose that, despite the title of this post, the critical question is, seeing how it has already been decided by the government that DPM Wong need and should not step down, no longer whether he should resign or not. Instead, my opinion is that the more important question to ask now is what sort of impact, if any, would such a decision have on the electoral chances of the PAP in the next round of General Elections (GE)?

Will Singaporeans by then still remember about the Mas Selamat saga and other unpopular moves made by the PAP government in the past few years e.g. ministerial pay increases and GST hike? Or will they, as Dr. Terence Chong puts it, albeit with specific reference to the ministerial pay increases, forget about it by the next GE?

Of course, one main factor determining the answer to such a question would, besides unknown future developments, be whether Mas Selamat would be re-captured by that time; hopefully, he will be. And perhaps it would also hinge on whether DPM Wong would still be contesting in the next GE.

And, finally, if I may, I think I will end off with a rather frivolous observation. If indeed Mas Selamat is still hiding in the jungles of Singapore and have been able to escape detection, perhaps the SAF should, if and when he is re-captured, hire him as a JCC (Jungle Confidence Course) instructor (I say this with tongue firmly in cheek).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the olden days where the media are controlled, everything will be forgotten comes Election Day. In today's Internet age, you can rest assured that blogs and forums will be there to remind.

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