Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why PAP ‘old guards’ are not our founding fathers

by Ng Kok Lim (source1, source2)

Dear Straits Times, ESM Goh and Mr Palmer,

I refer to the following Straits Times reports:

  • He worked for Singapore all his life – 4 Feb 2012
  • No ‘dumb cow’ but a vocal critic in the House – 4 Feb 2012
  • PAP founding chairman dies – 4 Feb 2012
  • PAP pioneers remember a fighter – 4 Feb 2012
  • What if there had been no Toh Chin Chye? – 4 Feb 2012
  • Dr Toh ‘of a generation of warriors and builders’ – 6 Feb 2012
  • Minute of silence for late Dr Toh – 15 Feb 2012

  • It is heartening to learn that Dr Toh was the veneer of strength behind his more illustrious colleague Mr Lee Kuan Yew; how he exuded intellectual independence rarely seen in parliament these days and how he truly cared for the people. He embodied all that Singaporeans want in our leaders: strong but not bullying, intellectual rather than just scholarly but above all: truly caring.

    The reports referred to Dr Toh as one of Singapore’s founding fathers who struggled for Singapore’s independence and who manoeuvred against the ‘communists’. Dr Toh’s struggle against supposed ‘communists’ wasn’t a struggle for independence but a struggle for power instead. A struggle for independence has to be against some foreign power whose rule we want to overthrow. We can therefore either speak of independence struggle against British rule before 1963 or against Malaysian rule between 1963 and 1965. Dr Toh and his colleagues didn’t struggle against British rule but used British might instead to wipe out political foes and received power from the British. They also didn’t struggle against Malaysian rule but actively courted Malaysian rule instead. Independence fell onto our laps when we were kicked out of Malaysia by Tunku Abdul Rahman. Is the act of founding one of merely receiving independence or one of fighting for independence? To regard founding simply as receiving independence is to cheapen what founding means. India’s founding for example is more closely associated with Mohandas Ghandi, the leader of their independence movement than with Nehru, their first prime minister. Our founding should similarly be more closely associated with those who fought for our independence than those who merely inherited independence. Several books regard anti-colonialism amongst the local populace as the fundamental reason why Britain granted us self-rule:

  • To defuse hostile sentiments against colonial rule, the colonial government had to accept constitution reformation in 1954 to grant Singapore greater internal self-government [1].
  • The people’s vehement desire for self-government was why Britain had to grant early self-government in order to gain the people’s acquiescence to govern them [2].
  • The trade union movement bore Singapore out of colonialism and into statehood [3].
  • There is little doubt that the exodus of British capital and activity due to strikes and unrest hastened the relinquishing of control over internal affairs [4].

  • It was thus the ordinary workers and students, the so-called ‘leftists’ or ‘pro-communists’ who fought for our independence through trade union and student movements. There was nothing particularly communist about these movements which were driven by genuine worker grievances [5] and discrimination against the Chinese educated [6]. Throughout the world today, there are still people who demonstrate against work place and social injustices such as the 2011 Batam demonstrations for fair wage and the 2011 ethnic Indian demonstrations in Malaysia.

    At that time, many strikes began peacefully but turned violent only because employers hired secret society members to break up strikes which led to scuffles or they were triggered by the police using water cannons to disperse picketers [3]. Even David Marshall didn’t think they were communists but Chinese chauvinists instead [7]. The Malayan Communist Party itself admitted that they had no control over the rioters and even criticised the rioters for being overly militant [8]. The MCP had been outlawed in 1948 and their Singapore operation had been badly crippled by the Special Branch in 1949 so that subsequent riots weren’t communist led but arose out of the spontaneous boiling over of hatred accumulated through years of suffering social injustice.

    As we remember the 70th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, let us not forget that these so-called ‘leftists’ were the ones who resisted the Japanese invasion and who fought a guerrilla warfare with the Japanese throughout the years of Japanese Occupation. They were our true patriots who laid down their lives for Singapore compared to some of the PAP ‘old guards’ who worked for the Japanese instead. Should our founding fathers be those who fought the Japanese or those who worked for the Japanese?

    It is interesting to note that the so-called leftists included luminaries like Tan Kah Kee and Tan Lark Sye who contributed much to Singapore education and philanthropy. The former was branded as a communist, prevented from returning to Singapore and forced to live out the rest of his life in China [9]. The latter was stripped of his citizenship and forced to live out his life in Malaysia [10]. How to believe these were hard core communists all out to ruin Singapore? They were businessmen who would have continued to contribute to Singapore’s prosperity had they not been persecuted.

    Many Singaporeans are grateful to the PAP ‘old guards’ and regard them as our founding fathers because they believe the ‘old guards’ took us from Third World to First. The following books suggest that Singapore wasn’t Third World when PAP took over in 1959:

  • In 1960, Singapore’s per capita GDP was $1,330, which gave the country a middle-income status [11].
  • Post-war Singapore was never a backward fishing village waiting to be transformed by Lee Kuan Yew into a modern economy. The King of Thailand wouldn’t have sent 20 of his sons to a fishing village for education in the late nineteenth century. A fishing village could not have staged a manned air flight as early as 1911. Singapore was credited with the finest airport in the British Empire in the 1930s. In Aug 1967, speaking to American businessmen in Chicago, Lee Kuan Yew acknowledged that we were already a metropolis [12].
  • Unemployment in 1960 was estimated to be 4.9% [13]

  • The following book suggests that our progress was simply a matter of continuing our colonial tradition of free market adaptation:

  • Development through multinationals required no more than what Singapore had always done historically – respond to changes in the international economy and in foreigner requirements. Accepting foreign enterprise is a continuation of a long tradition of adaptability (since colonial times) [14].

  • The following books suggest that resourcefulness of people, favourable global conditions and luck played a part too:

  • According to the Winsemius Mission: resourcefulness of her people, active industrial promotion by government and close cooperation between employers and labour will allow Singapore to successfully carry out its proposed programme [15].
  • Until 1973, growth was made possible by an expanding world economy unfettered by trade and investment restrictions, supported by trade liberalisation in developed countries that was sparked off by the Kennedy Round of multilateral trade negotiations in the Sixties. Singapore was also given access to industrialised markets under the Generalised System of Preferences [16].
  • Some of Singapore’s economic success must be attributed to luck. For example, it benefited from the oil exploration boom in the region in the early 1970s. Singapore’s leaders were guided by the counsel of the eminent Dutch economist, Dr Albert Winsemius who was struck by the often informally acquired skills of Singapore labourers whom he watched undertaking effective repair jobs with simple tools [17].

  • The following books suggest the indispensability of Dr Winsemius to Singapore’s development:

  • Dr Winsemius and I.F. Tang made extraordinary contributions to the economic development of Singapore as leader and secretary of the first UN Industrialisation Survey Team in 1961 [18].
  • With Singapore’s secession in 1965, the United Nations Proposed Industrialization Programme for the State of Singapore became the basis for Singapore’s industrialisation strategy [19].
  • The 1960-61 United Nations mission led by Albert Winsemius helped develop a blueprint for Singapore’s industrialisation and development plan and recommended the establishment of EDB [20].

  • The following books suggest that the PAP ‘old guards’ foolishly chose import substitution first but were forced to switch to export industrialisation only when we were kicked out of Malaysia:

  • Singapore at first adopted the industrialisation policy of import substitution, followed after 1966 by the export of labour intensive manufactured goods [21].
  • Singapore’s industrialisation strategy was originally dependent on policies of import substitution within the Malaysian common market, but the attainment of political independence in 1965 led to export industrialisation [22].

  • Import substitution was adopted in the early 1960s in anticipation of the Malayan common market. However, Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965 dashing the hopes of the common market, hence an export strategy was promoted instead [23].

    Thus, our development was in accordance to Dr Winsemius and his team’s plans, we avoided the mistake of import substitution only because we were kicked out of Malaysia, we had resourceful people, favourable global conditions, good luck and were merely continuing the good, old colonial tradition of free market adaptation. Thus, many factors contributed to our progress; the notion of the PAP ‘old guards’ singularly dragging us from Third World to First is false.

    Finally, we must also consider the deplorable manner with which the PAP dealt with its political opponents and ask ourselves if these are what we expect of our founding fathers. When PAP detained Barisan leaders during Operation Cold Store for alleged connection to the Brunei anti-Malaysia revolt, the British Commissioner Lord Selkirk and his deputy Philip Moore believed the Barisan had intended to work within constitutional means. Subsequent British investigations found little evidence of the allegation for which Barisan leaders had been detained. Yet, by the time the Barisan leaders were released, the election was over [24]. The operation thus appears politically motivated and lacking in scruple. When David Marshall tried to visit the detainees, he found appalling conditions worse than that experienced by those who were detained in Malaysia and worse than anything ever experienced under the colonial government [25]. How can we associate such cruel methods with our founding fathers?

    The PAP also cracked down on unions for union fund misuse when the funds were used to support families of striking workers and detained union leaders but weren’t properly documented due to poor accounting practices then. One example is Jamit Singh who was charged with misappropriating funds in 1962, jailed and then banished to Malaya. Jamit protested by saying that helping people is a matter of heart, not keeping records. Deputy public prosecutor, Francis Seow subsequently admitted that the trial was intended to reduce Singh’s capacity for ‘political mischief’ [26]. Again, how can we associate such cruel methods with our founding fathers?

    Worst of all are the experiences of Chia Thye Poh and Lim Hock Siew who were locked away / confined for 32 and 18 years respectively. To say that Dr Toh’s service to the nation is at great sacrifice to his career and prospects is to trivialise the sacrifices of those whose best years were taken away from them without ever being tried or convicted.

    In conclusion, there is hardly any good reason to regard the PAP ‘old guards’ as our founding fathers. They inherited rather than fought for our independence and were followers too albeit of Dr Winsemius’ plans. Above all, they were guilty of perpetuating injustices unbefitting of founding fathers.

    Thank you


    Ng Kok Lim

    [1] Derek Heng, Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, Singapore in Global History, Page 220
    [2] Karl Hack, Defence and decolonisation in Southeast Asia, page 224
    [3] Michael Fernandez and Loh Kah Seng, Paths not taken – political pluralism in post-war Singapore, Chapter 11
    [4] Chris J Dixon, South East Asia in the world economy, Page 144
    [5] Michael Fernandez and Loh Kah Seng, Paths not taken – political pluralism in post-war Singapore, Chapter 11
    At that time, workers worked 12 to 14 hours a day with only two days leave during Chinese New Year. Of the 1955 strikes, half were sympathy strikes while subsequent ones were mostly economic in nature. The strikes brought about an increase in pay, sick pay and two weeks’ annual leave for workers. Various ordnances between 1955 and 1957 gave workers eight-hour work day and Sunday off, something we take for granted today. The unions sought to address genuine workers’ grievances and to restore their rights and dignity.
    The National Service ruling angered Chinese Middle School students because they were compelled to defend the same British order that had discriminated against them and in which they saw no future. Largely, the Chinese who felt that they were not treated as equals by the British did not feel obliged to serve the colonial government.
    [7] Carl A. Trocki, Paths not taken – political pluralism in post-war Singapore, Page 127
    [8] C C Chin, Paths not taken – political pluralism in post-war Singapore, Chapter 3
    [9] Robin Ramcharan, Forging a Singaporean statehood, 1965-1995: the contribution of Japan, Page 111
    [10] Edwin Lee, Singapore: the unexpected nation, Page 296
    [11] Carl A. Trocki, Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control, Page 166
    [12] Peter Wilson / Gavin Peebles, Economic growth and development in Singapore: past and future, Page 26
    [13] Philip Nalliah Pillai, State enterprise in Singapore: legal importation and development, Page 29
    [14] W. G. Huff, The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, Page 36
    [15] R. P. Le Blanc, Singapore. the Socio-Economic Development of a City-State: 1960-1980, Page 14
    [16] R. P. Le Blanc, Singapore. the Socio-Economic Development of a City-State: 1960-1980, Page 22
    [17] Diane K. Mauzy / Robert Stephen Milne, Singapore politics under the People’s Action Party, Page 66
    [18] Ngiam Tong Dow / Simon Tay, A Mandarin and the making of public policy: reflections, Page 66
    [19] Philip Nalliah Pillai, State enterprise in Singapore: legal importation and development, Page 30
    [20] Danny M Leipziger, Lessons from East Asia, Page 240
    [21] Jacques Charmes, In-service training: five Asian experiences, Bernard Salomé, Page 21
    [22] Robert Fitzgerald, The Competitive advantages of Far Eastern business, Page 55
    [23] Eddie C. Y. Kuo / Chee Meng Loh / K. S. Raman, Information technology and Singapore society, Page 87
    [24] Michael Fernandez and Loh Kah Seng, Paths not taken – political pluralism in post-war Singapore, Page 218
    [25] Carl A. Trocki, Paths not taken – political pluralism in post-war Singapore, Page 121
    [26] Michael Fernandez and Loh Kah Seng, Paths not taken – political pluralism in post-war Singapore, Page 218-219

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