Be suspicious of fly-by-nite opinions

It’s OK for someone like me with a narrow vision, no reputation and no pretensions of great — or even little — intellect to shoot off my mouth after a visit or two or three to a country, pretending to speak like an expert to end all experts.

This is because those kind enough to hear me out would know that I’m no authority and they might be poorer in knowledge if they treat what I articulate as gospel.

Not so when it comes to those who are who’s who in their sphere of influence and when visiting Singapore, the country’s elite will sit at their feet waiting for pearls to pop out from between their pearlies.

Such elevated folk should, no, must be more thoughtful with what they articulate, not make sweeping pronouncements about their host countries when their comments carry disproportionate weight.

It doesn’t matter whether the remarks are positive or negative. What matters is that they are opinions formed without thorough thought.

Let me cite two recent examples where I think the conclusions these “experts” have formed about Singapore are dead wrong, even if the conclusions are flattering to my country.

First, there is Paul Vocker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve and economic adviser to President Obama.

When he was in Singapore recently to speak at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, he said: “I wander around the city and wonder where the poor people are!”

Dr Vocker should have taken a walk up and down Bukit Timah and Dunearn Roads and he would surely have run into the wizened old down-and-out I’ve written about here, here and here.

Also by stating that he hasn’t seen a poor person — while intended as a compliment to the country — Dr Vocker actually makes nonsense of efforts such as the Straits Times Pocket Money Fund, Comcare, NTUC free text book distribution, public assistance etc etc

Like it or not, while we are not Somalia or even Bangladesh, there are poor people in Singapore!

The other person’s pronouncement that got my goat is New York Times bestselling author and explorer, Dan Buettner, whose five-year global study on the keys to personal happiness fingers Singapore as the happiest in Asia.

This is because in Singapore, people of different ethnicities feel they belong and fit in. Citizens are able to trust their Government and police. Unemployment is low, home ownership is high. The country gives people access to green spaces despite having one of the highest population densities in the world.

I’ve no quarrels with his findings so far.

Mr Buettner says where security is concerned, Singapore shows that feeling secure is more important than freedom when it comes to happiness.

His kicker: “In Singapore, you cannot freely buy pornography, it is harder to start a political party, but if you’re a woman, you can walk down the street any time of the day and you can be pretty sure no one is going to bother you.”

Alas Mr Buettner is somewhat out of touch with recent reality. Even men aren’t quite safe.

Ask Jarius Ang. Or ask the family of the woman who was murdered in Woodlands on the mid-Autumn festival night.

So Mr Buettner, Singapore may not be Mexico where violent crime is concerned; but we aren’t Bhutan either.

It’s best that those who flit in and out of Singapore don’t ruin their reputation by passing off fleeting impressions as erudite research! Even if it does my country no harm, it can’t do much good for your reputation.  Or your street cred, uncle!


2 thoughts on “Be suspicious of fly-by-nite opinions

  1. Singapore is touted as safe and green. Sure, being safe doesn’t mean 100% no crime. Similarly, sweeping statements that we are strong in maths and science doesn’t mean every child is a maths genius. It is the overall impression built across years that counts. I am much like you, short sighted, not-reputabed or noticeable in magazines like the Peak – a commoner. But being a commoner is good. It allows us to speak our minds.

    The little I know of visiting speakers is that they pay compliments to the host country highlighting where they see as perceived strengths. I don’t think any sensible visiting speaker ( who knows that they remarks will be reported ) will criticise the host with unkind remarks. The truth of the matter is somewhat in between – there are some people who are happy, relatively-rich and some poor and sad. It’s like to quote an ex-collegue “My mother is a woman”. Happiness is a state of mind and depending on when one is surveyed, even a rich tycoon can be sad or a poor person happy when he/she received sudden cash 🙂 So the happiness index to me is pure “marketing” campaign. That said, measurement of such matters are not internationalised. Sure, there are sudden gang murders and strange psychotic crimes, but at the same time, unique Singapore organisations help nail down issues when they pop up. But there is nothing to say that they help every single Singaporean but definitely, the help comes for deserving ones – on a case by case basis.

    This is our difference. No one can gurantee perfection but during their watch if something happens, appropriate authorities will step up and react. May not be instant published open appology for their mistake but definitely, sometimes, over react for the better of Singapore. It is all about being fair, accountable and responsible for the roles each play. And if every Civil Servant and leaders hold themselves strong to these principles, then Singapore will still a very good place to live in, in years to come.

  2. Hi Uncle Keng: Speakers who pay us insincere or shallow compliments do both us and themselves a diservice. Of cos I don’t expect Vocker to hammer us but when he chooses something apparently innocuous — not seen one poor person in his strolls in S’pore (how many strolls did tt Uncle take n where?) — it smacks of both mental laziness n insincerity. As for tt happiness thingie, I think just as there are pple like that S guy who wants to make a fast $ by sliming Sg, there are also pple like the B guy who wants to grow rich n famous by being our “ambassador”. Both r anathema to me. Sg should be confident enough not to care abt either but by the solid evidence of our shining city edifice and the fact that at least 80% of us r well fed, well housed, well governed etc etc… let us just work on alleviating n elevating the remaining 20% but also like u say, accept that there will always be that 20% (ok, u said “no perfection” actually) — otherwise, we wld all be in paradise! Happy mid-week! 😀

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