Tuesday, October 20, 2009

KRMF 2009 -- a stage-managed event

I have just returned back from the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum 2009 (this year, the guest of honour was Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and the forum moderator was Professor Tommy Koh) and I must say that I am quite disappointed in how it went. My disappointment stems primarily from how the Forum appeared to be stage-managed (and, based on my interaction during the post-event reception with those of my friends who also attended the event, I am not the only one with such a sentiment).

Why do I say the Forum appeared to be stage-managed?

Well, before the actual Forum began, Professor Tommy Koh explained that about 500 questions were sent in by those applying to attend the Forum and out of these questions, the student organisers of the Forum chose 20 questions. Then, out of these 20 questions, Professor Koh, after discussion with the student organisers, selected 9 questions to be posed to Minister Mentor (MM) Lee during the Forum. [Note: after reading comments that have been made in response to a complaint similar to mine, I thought I should clarify that while it was clear that the questions were pre-selected, it however remains unclear whether MM Lee himself knew beforehand what questions would be asked or had a hand in selecting the questions]

It was however not made clear upon what basis or criteria these 9 questions were chosen out of the about 500 questions that were sent in. With this opaque process of selecting questions, I cannot help but wonder if some form of censorship took place behind the scenes.

If the selected questions were, to some extent, provocative or insightful questions, I would perhaps be less disappointed. But, as things turned out, the selected questions were generally what could termed as "politically safe/tame" questions; only one of the question, which was about whether the recent influx of new immigrants will dilute Singapore's national identity, perhaps got close to be provocative.

And if the questions were selected only to kick start discussion, I would not have mind them as much. However, these selected questions were the only questions that were allowed to be asked during the whole Forum! The rest of the audience were, in effect, denied the chance to ask MM Lee any questions during the Forum before it ended promptly after he answered the nine selected questions. In light of this, the call for active participation from the audience by the Forum's Project Director in his opening address would appear most ironic.

Perhaps the organisers of the Forum will defend themselves by claiming that the rationale of having only pre-selected questions being asked during the Forum was to ensure the Forum adhered to the planned time schedule. I will concede that, compared to similar events of previous years, this year's Forum ended on time. But, if given a choice, I (and I suppose many amongst the audience will perhaps agree with me) will rather have the Forum end late due to an over-abundance of people wanting to ask questions than to have the Forum end on time with only pre-selected (and "politically safe/tame") questions being posed. The latter, in my opinion, runs contrary to the very notion of what a "forum" is supposed to be.

In addition, I cannot help but have the feeling that this pre-selecting of questions was perhaps in part to prevent a repeat of what happened four years ago at a similar event which MM Lee was also the guest of honour.

Hopefully, this year's Forum will not set a precedent for subsequent forums. In the end, forums are supposed to be open and engaging, not stage-managed.


From what I heard, next year's guest of honour for KRMF may be Foreign Minister George Yeo


Anonymous said...

LCC, thanks for the report. What were the other eight questions?
Kah Seng

LCC said...

To: Kah Seng,

You're welcome.

I cannot say for sure what the other 8 questions were since I was not taking notes.

However, based on my memory:

There were 2 questions about environmental issues; one on whether the upcoming Copenhagen summit will resolve the climate crisis and the other about whether Singapore can improve on its environmental record.

One was about how MM Lee want to be remembered after he passed on.

Another was about what values MM Lee thought Singapore will need for it to continue thriving.

There was one question about MM Lee's about the global (economic) situation.

A question was also asked about whether MM Lee think there is or will be a social divide in Singapore.

Another question was on what more, short of a minimum wage, can Singapore do to help the bottom 20% of Singapore's population.

And, finally, a question was also asked about what MM Lee think would be the key economic strategies and niche areas that Singapore has to concentrate on in the future.

Note: The above questions appear not in the order in which they were asked but in the order in which I recalled them.

Anonymous said...

Anybody heard of the forum in NUS again on 23 October? Is Singapore = PAP?

Anonymous said...

if it's gonna be george yeo, i am positive there can be more controversial questions asked.hehe.

Anonymous said...

... as opposed to which other POLITICAL events that are not stage-managed?

amindscape said...

Yup, there's a forum on PAP=singapore.

@LCC: MMM lee did not know any of the questions beforehand.

the NUSPa selected qns as they wanted it to be as related to the theme as possible, and minimize it from being haphazard. Also, the questions that NUSPA received were mainly job related, and these were the most interesting ones. But can you blame undergrads being so preoccupied with being so extremely concern with job prospects. Is it not the over-pragmatic self?

Anyhow, i think the forum was more about MM's personal thoughts than his take on the questions posed. And personally, I wouldn't blame the organizers for selecting questions, at least not to the extend in commenting that it's stage, but rather, the lack of Q&A is disappointing, perhaps even undermining undergrads intellectual capacity. The least they could do is to respect the majority.

Ah Cow said...

In his recent dialogue with Russian students MM said that he did not like to read from a prepared text and preferred to react to the audience.

That being the case why were the questions in KRMF 2009 pre-selected? Why was the floor not thrown open to the cut and thrust of unknown questions that MM claimed he preferred? Why was it staged?

What a wasted opportunity for him to prove his worth!

Anonymous said...

Thanks LCC. I think you are quite right, the organisers are still suffering from the 'Jamie Han' syndrome.

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