[The issue of Nantah is a challenging controversy for the PAP The debate will never end even with with the passing of Lee Kuan Yew. It will also be the most difficult cultural problem that LKY left behind.]
In his email to Nantah graduates announcing the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, NTU President Bertil Andersson failed to mention Nantah. It saddened me and broke my heart. Nanyang Technological University is sitting on the site of old Nantah. If there is no Nantah, where can NTU find her beautiful campus?
Professor Andersson paid his tribute to Lee Kuan Yew: “NTU owes much of our success as an engine of progress for Singapore and mankind to Mr Lee’s vision and stewardship of education… “. He also mentioned about Lee’s ‘personal interest’ in NTU development in its early days. The early days here mean the 1980s/1990s and not 1950s or 1960s.
The email was addressed to Nantah alumnae on 23 March 2015. NTU President either intentionally or purposely omit the history of Nantah. Perhaps, he is ignorance about our past history - the SG50 story. Sucn an ignorance confirms there is no relationship between NTU and Nantah spiritually. It makes one wonder what is the rationale to date back the history of NTU to 1955. The university authority or the government has already had an agenda while for politically reason, they have to make this calculation.
The omission of Nantah in the email clearly shows the double heads snake of the university/government. It wants to project NTU as a young university. However, for political reason, it has to try its best to associate NTU with Nantah. We have to admit the fact that NTU is occupying the campus of old Nantah. Some may even argue the occupation is illegal.
Nantah story must be the most important liberal education for NTU students, perhaps for all students in Singapore. However, the President chooses to ignore the history. In fact, as a show of megre between Nantah and the University of Singapore, Nantah logo went to NUS and not NTU. It makes the issue complicated and creates another controversy. Up to today, I continue to receive newsletters from both NTU and NUS.
Comparing to the pioneering batches of Nantah graduates, I am less attached to Nantah and have less Nantah spirit. Graduated in 1980, the very last batch of Nantah graduates, I was disillusioned by first the setting up of joint campus with the University of Singapore and then the officially announcement of Nantah closure. Helpless, disappointed, confusion, uncertainty and living in fear accompanied my 3-year of study in Nantah. Few people in the world would have this experience: seeing the death of Nantah and voiceless. NTU President certainly does not have such a compassion as shown in his email.
Ignorance and omission of history is not the right way to solve the controversy. When we call for a united Singapore and prepare to march forward toward a better Singapore without Lee Kuan Yew, we cannot deny the truth and contribution made by Chinese in Southeast Asia. The PAP owes them an apology. The current PAP leadership will have to take a right move.
The establishment of Nanyang University in 1955 was a social engagement and commitment. It was a kind of citizen engagement among Chinese in Southeast Asia. It went beyond Singapore. Who could predict such a positive citizen engagement and high hope fail to take off later under the PAP government?
The Nantah spirit although hardly mentioned in SG50 is the critical success factor for Singapore. In many ways, LKY had cleverly used it or manipulated it to his political advantage.
Citizen or social engagement like the establishment of Nantah has disappeared under SG50, especially after 1980. We have made economic progress but less so in social and political progress. It is time for the re-emergence of positive citizen engagement and political participation in Singapore.
Citizen Engagement will move Singapore forward.
The passing of Lee Kuan Yew will result to positive citizen engagement. Lee is credited for the success of Singapore but is also criticised for his strong rule. The success has come at a price which is ‘fear to speak out’. One can be detained without trial under the Internal Security Act. It creates a voice poverty.
Hence, Singaporeans have to sacrifice social accountability, transparency, inclusiveness and responsiveness due to the closed decision making of the government. Singapore is a one-party state and is now a rich country. However, our press is not free according to Reporters Without Borders.
Therefore, Singaporeans are rich but not happy.
The ruling party, the People’s Action Party, maintains an elite and closed decision making cabinet. They believes their policymaking is the best. Even people oppose their policies, they will still implement them as they believe these will benefit Singaporeans at the end.
Citizen Engagement has five constitutive elements: State Action, Citizen Action, Information, Civil Mobilization and Citizen-State Interface. The Singapore model only highlights the importance of State Action - the government knows the best. This unhealthy development makes Singapore looks like a developing country.
The mainstream media is controlled by the government. The short route to accountability has no place here. People find no way to express as there is a closed information loop. During the one-week state funeral for Lee Kuan Yew, the only place for public protest at Speakers’ Corner was closed. Hence, free press or free expression as correct feedback channel is absent.
So, RTI (Right to Information) Act in India questing about the uses of fund for constituency is basically not possible here. Even in social media, the government can ask the site owners to register with them. Hence, social audit is not possible.
However, as the education system is quite well organised. We don’t have Uwezo Initiative problems. The government is promoting the best education and claims ‘every school is a good school’. However, this produces another problem - lack of creativity.
Is citizen engagement a game changer?
Yes. The passing of Lee Kuan Yew is a closing chapter for the closed decision making model. Singapore is already well developed and to move forward, citizen engagement can help to add more power to the country. The diversification/feedback will bring in creativity too.
There is a limitation on technology contribution. In fact, Singapore government and Singaporeans know citizen engagement. Social media, NGOs, feedback channels, social audit and participatory budget are not unfamiliar here. We know the technology and hardware for citizen engagement. We are now demanding the government to relax the game of engagement.
If ‘10% technology 90% politics and institutions’ is an indication, then in the political front, we have seen some changes. In 2011, the ruling party obtained 60% popular votes. However, due to the first past the post system, it still controls 90% of the parliament seats. This unfair power distribution results to more people want to change the system politically, socially and economically.
The PAP government will have to adjust to this demand or to be replaced. We call it a ‘new normal’ which citizen engagement is part of it.
Citizen engagement will have a new future. Without citizen participation and feedback, the government can implement its ‘own’ best but not the best of the people. This game changer has to take place in Singapore. Otherwise, Singapore’s sustainable growth will be limited by the PAP vision.
To aim higher, Singapore will have to look beyond the PAP and looks for more political participation and citizen engagement.