Monday, December 24, 2012

The Michael Palmer – Laura Ong affair: Forgiveness will help build a better Singapore society

As I was reading the many reports in the media and comments on the internet about Michael Palmer and Laura Ong, I couldn't help but wonder why many in our society have become so unforgiving. 

The photograph of Palmer in Sunday’s New Paper (Sunday 16 December 2012) on the front page tore at my heartstrings.  For here was a man who has done so much for his residents, sacrificing family time so that he can bring hope to the needy and when one mistake is made, his whole career and personal life is damaged. It is really a sad state of affairs because you can do 101 good things, but the moment you make one wrong turn, all the 101 good deeds that you've done, is clean forgotten.

As human beings, we can never be perfect for to err is human. Only God is perfect.

It is evident to me that many of the high profile sex scandals involving top civil servants are those who are holding highly stressful jobs that demand long working hours.  And when such a scenario takes place, those who are lonely, stressed out and feel unloved can develop relationships with one another over a period of time.  

But we must never forget that it takes years to build up trust, and only seconds to destroy it.

An affair is directly proportional to one's spirituality.  When our spiritual foundation regardless of the faith we practice - Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism etc is weak, we become vulnerable into doing bad things.  Remember although God is watching all the time, so is the devil. The only difference is the devil works overtime - to tempt us into committing sin and doing ungodly things.

So let’s condemn the sin not the person committing the wrong act.  As the saying goes, “Don’t look down on a man unless you are willing to pick him up.”

As with any relationship, be it in an office setting or personal encounters, every happy successful partnership begins and ends with the same ingredient – the willingness to negotiate.  The willingness to forgive. 

This is why talks on marriages should be promoted at all levels - schools, government agencies, the CCs, etc.

Despite the numerous crimes and arthrocities committed against the South Africans, former South Africa President Nelson Mandela was able to forgive.  But before forgiveness could come about, Mandela wanted to know the truth so that he could work towards forgiveness and reconciliation.  That was the measure of the man!  And we can all learn from Mandela to build a better Singapore where forgiveness becomes second nature.

My Christmas wish for Michael Palmer and Laura Ong and their families is that you can come out of this episode stronger and more resilient as you struggle to rebuild your lives with the unflagging support from your family members whom I hope will stand by you through thick and thin.

Merry Christmas to one and all. God Bless!




Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Letter to The New Paper (TNP)- Govt should manage public transport

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to The New Paper on the above matter is published today in TNP, page 27, Wed 12th Dec 2012.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has hinted that public transport fares may have to go up so that drivers can be given higher salaries. 

This is causing anxiety among those who are already worried sick over the cost of living.

SMRT makes millions of dollars in profits and its top executives are paid high salaries and bonuses.

The Government has often advised citizens to save for a rainy day.  Perhaps, if SMRT had done the same during the years of high profits, it may be able to pay its drivers more without raising fares.

Why should the public have to pay more instead?

Concerns about the rising transport costs may be one reason why some are reluctant to take up jobs far away from their homes.

Public transport needs to manage by the Government, like public health services.   



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Baffling how no one stepped forward to help suicidal mentally retarded teenager

An open letter to Prime Minister  Lee Hsien Loong,  Minister for Health &  related Govt leaders/agencies

In the Straits Times report “Teen gets 8 weeks’ jail after 13 suicide attempts”, 18-year-old Kathleen Seah Pei Yi was sentenced to 2 months’ jail for repeated suicidal attempts.

I am baffled that despite media reports highlighting the plight of this mentally retarded teen and the difficulties her caregivers are facing, not a single person or organisation offered to help ease their struggles. 

In my discussion with Education Minister Heng Swee Keat during the first National Conversation exercise, I appealed to Mr Heng to help caregivers of the mentally ill.  The minister was sympathetic and assured me that he would look into the welfare of caregivers of psychiatric patients.  But I have yet to see any sustainable support being given to this group.

Does it make sense to place a mentally retarded child who is obviously not in her correct state of mind into prison just because no one wants to assist this family? Is this what an inclusive society is all about?

Our mental health care providers, including the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) must work closely together to help ease the suffering and emotional distress which caregivers of the mentally ill face every day in their lonely and isolated lives.

The Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) manages psychiatric homes in Pelangi village and even in Bukit Gombak where those who have been abandoned by their families or are unable to take care of themselves for whatever reasons, can be given shelter, food and care.  Although Kathleen has not been abandoned by her family, some flexibility should be exercised in cases like this. 

At SAMH’s Pelangi Village, there are volunteers who teach art and pottery to psychiatric patients and with encouragement, support and motivation, I have every confidence that the troubled teen can go on to lead a more fulfilling life. 

Placing the teenager who is mentally retarded in prison will only worsen her condition, as imprisoning a person can do a lot of damage. For isolation makes a person to feel unwanted, uncared and unloved.

So what happens when the teen serves her 8 week jail sentence, then comes out and again tries to harm herself? Put her in jail- again? Can’t the authorities look into long-term solutions, instead of short term ones? And it is not as if I have not raised this matter to the Health Minister when I first read about her plight more than a month ago.

See my open letter to the Health Minister here:

As a society if we cannot feel and show compassion to the vulnerable in our society, then will we ever become a gracious and caring nation? To this end,  I am not at all surprised that Singapore was ranked as the most emotionless society in the world, according to a Bloomberg News report on a Gallup survey.



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

View issues raised by Singaporeans as feedback, not complaints

In his letter “Void decks (and complaining) are uniquely Singaporean” (The New Paper, Oct 22), reader Wee Hong Giap opined that void decks are a good space to foster community spirit and that Singaporeans complain too much.

First of all, when Singaporeans raised issues that affect their daily living and environment, it must not be viewed as complaints, but rather as feedback. Feedback that can help improve the lives of all our citizens.

Let us not forget that more than 80 per cent of our citizens live in HDB flats and our homes must be a place when we can return to after a hard day’s work to rest and get respite. Children need to study, the elderly sick need to rest.  

While activities such as wedding celebrations can help foster community bonding, void decks should not be used for anything and everything.

In my place, where I live, practically every other month, there is renovation work going on opposite my block or at my block.  And these renovation works can last a month.

Then there are wakes and clan associations that use void decks and basket ball courts that has disrupted the peace and quiet which residents guard so jealousy these days.  And I can tell you that these noise pollutions can sometime take place 7 days a week.

A lady friend of mine who lives near my block told me that because of the smoke that was pouring out from the incense that was being burnt at these clan association activities, she fell sick and had to be hospitalized.

There is a definite need to control excessive noise in the heartlands, and I’d like to make the following suggestions, which I hope the Government will seriously consider for implementation:

 (a) Have funeral wakes and wedding celebration in enclosed areas. For example, build multi-storey funeral parlors similar to the ones at the Singapore Casket Company, and allow wedding celebrations to be held at Community Centres to which affordable prices can be charged.

(b) As double-glazed windows can help to reduce noise levels significantly, HDB can offer this option to citizens applying for flats. It cost less than $1,000 to install this in a room.

( c ) The renovation noise in HDB flats can be unbearable even with ear plugs or installation of double-glazed windows.  Hence, it may be necessary to restrict these renovation works up to 2pm on weekdays with none carried out on weekends and public holidays.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Caregiver burnout: Raymond is interviewed on Radio- 938 LIVE

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) has launched a set of self-help solutions for caregivers to cope with the emotional and social stress of caring for the elderly with dementia. Recently, Minister of State for Health, Dr Amy Khor, also emphasised the importance of strengthening access to a strong network of support service for caregivers to manage their stress and become more effective. What's really needed to care for caregivers. Find out more from Raymond Fernando, caregiver to his wife who suffers from schizophrenia.

Click under: Caregivers

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dismissal of NTU Asst Director Ms Amy Cheong : Raymond writes to the press

Letter to TNP: Govt should address excessive noise in housing estates

Raymond’s letter on the above matter is published in The New Paper today, Wednesday 10th Oct 2012, page 21.  

While it was dreadfully wrong for Ms Amy Cheong to pass insensitive remarks that has caused disharmony in the community, I share the sentiments expressed Mr Noor Mohamed Marican, legal adviser and council member of the Inter-Religious Organisation Singapore, that the sacking was too harsh.  

And I fully agree with him that the posting was done on the spur of the moment.

Perhaps, the NTUC assistant director for membership could have been sent for intensive counselling to get her to see the importance of living harmoniously in a multi-cultural society like Singapore. 

After counselling, NTUC could have got her involved in Muslim community projects where she can see first-hand the rich culture which our Malay friends have inherited.

I have many Malay friends, some of whom were my former national service mates. They helped me a lot as I was weak in certain areas. I have fond memories of all of them.

I believe that Ms Cheong’s remarks were out of frustration rather than malice.

Imagine having to go through the pressures of our stressful working life and then coming home to find that it’s not possible to rest because of the noise.

Noise pollution can not only increase our stress levels but can also cause heart problems and other health issues.

The Government needs to address excessive noise in our housing estates, especially since the population is set to rise to six million.

Maybe, funeral wakes and wedding celebrations can be held at enclosed designated areas. Community Clubs should open its doors for wedding receptions and charge affordable prices. 

There must be some control over excessive noise because a conducive living environment is vital for a healthy lifestyle.

It is futile for the Government to keep saying that Singaporeans must manage their health to reduce medical expenses, if our environment does not pave the way for healthy living.


P.S: (1)The world is so unpredictable. Every one of us makes mistakes, no one is perfect. Only God is. The Singapore Heart which I would like to see is that we are able to forgive, live and let live. We are on a small tiny island and we are all brothers and sisters. Let’s show compassion, forgiveness and don’t hold grudges. Forgiveness means releasing the mind and heart from past hurts, from resentments to which we have a right in order to move our own lives forward.

 (2) This noise pollution is also affecting the place where I live in Ang Mo Kio. Right in front of my block, workers are digging the road to lay some cables, and the noise is terrible. Even on Sundays, they are carrying out these works, causing a din. In my block, there is renovation going on, endless noise. All this excessive noise is taking place at the same time. There is very poor coordination between Govt agencies, leaving residents with no peace of mind and at the mercy of these contractors.

(3)  I have to write my books late into the night because of this noise pollution and because my wife who is immobile needs my care. She is also vulnerable into falling into relapses because of her schizophrenia illness. Pratically every month, there is renovation works being carried out opposite my block because housing agents are pushy in their sales tactics enticing house owners to sell their flats. They shove leaflets into HDB flat owners gates and doors. This is also a form of littering. The Govt needs to put a stop to this. In any event, flats are built for people to live in and have respite after a hard days work. It is not for making a quick buck.

(4) Some students study at void decks near my place, a tutor teaches a student 2 blocks from my block. Void decks can serve such purposes.
(5) In Hong Kong, the Govt has made it a ruling that all renovation works must be carried out on weekdays up to 2pm only and NOT after that. This should also be the case here in Singapore.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Raymond's letter to the press: Tackle rising number of suicide attempts head-on

My letter on the above matter is published in MediaCorp's TODAY Newspaper on Tuesday 9th Oct 2012.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly one million people die from suicide each year. Depression is projected to rank second as a cause of global disability burden by 2020.

While some people may take a critical view, we must understand that those who commit suicide do so because they feel isolated and see death as the only option to end their suffering.

To save lives, they must be given the opportunity to talk openly about their suicidal thoughts. Studies have shown that hopelessness is a strong predictor of suicide.

It is never easy to understand what pushes so many individuals to take their own lives. But if we show that we care and offer a good support system, it could at least reduce suicide numbers.

Last year, 992 people here, both locals and foreigners, were arrested for attempted suicide, a five-year high. I feel that some measures could be taken to bring down our suicide rates.First, a task force including the police, counsellors, Members of Parliament, psychologists, psychiatrists, as well as ordinary citizens who have overcome attempted suicide and are now leading normal lives, could be formed to tackle the issue.

We should tap those who have overcome attempted suicide so that they may share their life experience with those who may be suicidal.

We should form associations for foreigners to participate in activities, so that they feel welcome, and not lonely. These associations should have a counsellor whom troubled people can approach for assistance.

It should be made known that there is a crisis hotline and that there is always help out there. At the same time, it is better to have professionals reach out to the community. Face-to-face interaction can make a difference in saving lives.

Having on-site systems can ensure that a proper care plan can be put in place for a suicidal person.

To this end, it would be useful for befrienders or volunteers who are trained in crisis management, or have some knowledge of psychology, to keep in close contact with the suicidal person/s once their crisis has passed.

Ultimately, friends can also provide vital support in the recovery process, and we should do all we can to help save and reclaim lives.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jail not the option, psychiatric homes run by SAMH is

Jail not the option, psychiatric homes run by SAMH is:
An open appeal to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong & his ministers

The report, “Only jail will keep her alive” (The New Paper, September 24) clearly demonstrates how difficult the caregiving journey can be for family members looking after the mentally ill.

It must be extremely stressful for Mandy’s father to worry about his daughter’s frequent attempts to harm herself, and more so when there are mounting bills to pay for her hospitalisation in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).  And medical fees these days don’t come cheap.

With rising costs here, many caregivers have little choice but to leave their stricken ones alone at home and go out to earn a decent living. Mandy’s parents have to undertake physically demanding jobs – her dad; James is a lorry driver and her mother, a dish collector in a foodcourt. 

On top of that, Mandy’s father has to pay for his son’s university education.  With the son having to stay focused on his studies, there is hardly anyone to take care of Mandy.  This is, unfortunately, the predicament which many caregivers fall into, and it’s only practical that they be given support.

While hospitalising Mandy in IMH each time she attempts suicide many be necessary, it cannot be the long-term solution. (Mandy has attempted suicide 10 times).

 It is also futile for professionals to keep reminding caregivers to take care of themselves so that they do not suffer caregiver burnout, yet nothing concrete has been done to support this group.

Surely there must be better way to help this troubled teenager and her caregivers, and all those in their predicament.

The Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) manages psychiatric homes in Pelangi village and even in Bukit Gombak where those who have been abandoned by their families can be given shelter, food and care.  Although Mandy has not been abandoned by her family, some flexibility should be exercised in cases like this.  

IMH must work in tandem with our mental health care providers to provide the vital support for both patients and their caregivers. 

I urge both IMH and the SAMH to look into Mandy’s case compassionately so that her dad can have some peace of mind. Let us not forget that being a lorry driver calls for concentration on the roads, and James needs to stay focused while earning a living.

It is encouraging that the Prime Minister and his team wants to inculcate compassion and care in our society through the Singapore Heart. So it’s only fitting that those who are disadvantaged and marginalized are not left to feel uncared for.  This is not what an inclusive society is all about.

Leaving the teenager, Mandy who is mentally retarded in prison will only worsen her condition, as imprisoning a person can do a lot of damage. For isolation makes a person to feel unwanted, uncared and unloved.

Like the late Mother Teresa once said: “The biggest disease in the world today is not tuberculosis or leprosy, but the feeling of being unwanted.”


Reply from MOH on 3rd Oct 2012:

Dear Mr Fernando,

We refer to your email to the Ministry of Health.

We have taken note of your feedback for future review.

Thank you.


Yours sincerely,
Ho Mei Xian
for Quality Service Manager
Ministry of Health, Singapore




Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Find ways to bring down suicides

"Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down "
- Socrates -

I refer to the article, “Woman and toddler found dead (Sept 14) in MediaCorp's TODAY newspaper.
According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that approximately one million people will die from suicide each year.  By the year 2020, depression is projected to reach second place in the ranking of global burden of disease.

While some people will criticize those who commit suicide, we must understand that these people do so because they feel isolated, hopeless and find that the only option to end their suffering is through death.  Suicidal people must be given the opportunity to talking openly about their suicidal thoughts because lives can be saved.  Studies have shown that hopelessness is a strong predictor of suicide.

It is never easy to understand what pushes so many individuals to take their own lives.  But if we show that we care and have a good supporting system, it can prevent or at least reduce people from taking their own lives or that of their loved ones.

Last year, 992 people here were arrested for attempting suicide-the highest figure in the last five years. Besides locals, foreigners are also losing the will to live.

To bring down our suicide rates, I suggest the following measures be taken.

Form a task force

Form a high level task force to address and tackle the rising number of people committing suicide or attempting to end their lives. Members could include the police, HDB staff, counsellers, Members of Parliament, psychologists, psychiatrists and even ordinary citizens who have overcome suicide and now leading perfectly normal lives.

Sharing a life experience

Tap the experience of those who have overcome suicides and allow them to share their experience with those who may be suicidal.

Form associations for support

Have associations for foreigners to participate in activities so that they feel welcome and do not feel lonely and isolated. These associations should also have a counsellor whom troubled people can approach for assistance. Make known that there is a crisis hotline to these foreigners – that there is always help out there.

Reach out to the community

While helplines do help, it is far better if we have professionals come down on-site as face-to-face interaction can make a big difference in saving lives. With the on-site system in place, a proper care plan can be put in place to ensure that the suicidal person does not have more depressing thoughts.  And once the suicidal crisis has passed, it is crucial to stay in touch with the person, periodically checking in or dropping by.  To this end, it would be useful if Befrienders or volunteers who are trained in crisis management or have some knowledge of psychology keep in close contact with the suicidal person/s.

 At the end of the day, friends can provide the vital support in the recovery process and we should do all we can to help save and reclaim lives.

Raymond Anthony Fernando 





Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Real issues, effective communication & leadership- The National Conversation - Letter to SPH Journalists

From the desk of Raymond Anthony Fernando
Warren Fernandez

ST Editor

Ms Zuraidah Ibrahim

Sunday Times Deputy Editor

Ms Rachel Chang

ST Journalist

Dear Journalists at SPH,

I have been following the reports that you have written on the National Conversation exercise, and frankly I am somewhat disturbed by what I read.  As journalists,  you need to provide different perspectives, be neutral and not keep putting down Singaporeans all the time. That’s not the way to go. That’s not the way to build a truly cohesive society that can work with the Government of the day to make Singapore the BEST HOME to live in.

Singaporeans who raise issues on the difficulties of getting jobs are reasonable - they are real issues. I would like to ask all of you this:  
Supposing you wake up one morning and discover that you are out of a job, and later find out that your job has been taken away by a foreigner, how would you feel?
How would you feel when you have mouths to feed, having to looking after a family member who is disabled, or ill?  
How would you feel if you end going to the CDC and  be put through rigorous questioning when you are already down on your luck?  
Have all of you gone through that?

More queries:

How would you know what it is like to care for a family member who has a serious mental disorder and you are all alone to carry out this extremely difficult task with absolutely no structural support system in place?

Have any of you been to IMH- especially in the afternoons when the counter there is like a market?

Have any of you been inside the wards of IMH, including the forensic wards and see what goes on behind closed doors?

Last year, 992 people were arrested for attempted suicide. Is this not cause for concern? Is this not an issue to be addressed and discussed openly and rationally?

I have put forwards questions on mental illness and answered the call by PM Lee, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and the media to participate in the NC exercise?  What happened? All these queries have been blocked off? Is this fair journalism? There is a large psychiatric community here in Singapore, and it is growing? 
The Straits Times has done a grave disservice and injustice to the mentally ill and their caregivers by deliberately choosing to ignore our cries for help. But I will be relentless in bringing hope to the mentally ill and their caregivers, with OR without your support.

Through my reasoning with Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, there has been a break through. He has invited me to sit in at one of his dialogue sessions to touch on mental illness- to share my wealth of experience in how I have cared for my wife for 37 years; counting.  Yes, my wife has schizophrenia and advanced arthritis, but I’m still damn proud of her.

Read his email to me from Education Minister Heng Swee Keat:

Dear Raymond

Thanks for this note. I am sorry I missed your email earlier.   I thank you for sharing your perspective and experience, as well as the efforts you are making to help your wife and others. I am glad to learn of the support from the church.   I am asking my colleagues to look into the issues you raised.

Meantime, may I invite you to join one of our dialogue sessions for you to share this with others?


Heng Swee Keat

Then from the Secretariat of NC:

“Dear Raymond,

Thank you for writing to Minister Heng and we at the Our Singapore Secretariat also extend our thanks for the good work that you are doing to aid your friends and family. We have received this correspondence from The Minister and note that he has invited you to the dialogue sessions to share from your wealth of experience.

We are in the process of organising the platforms to engage Singaporeans, and will contact you again via email in a few weeks’ time to join in one of the sessions.

Thank you once again for the good work you do. Please continue to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly because the future of Singapore's proactive community service is in hands like yours. We hope you also consider encouraging your friends to take part in this national conversation on Singapore’s future.

Warm regards,

Tim @ Our Singapore Secretariat”

I’ve written to PM Lee and his team on the NC TV show and my sentiments are best expressed here on my blog:

Report to PM Lee and his team:

As one priest puts it so well, “ Unless it (mental illness) hits you or your family, you don’t know, and many a time you just don’t care!”

In closing, those who have not experience the hardships citizens like us face: See this:

I hope you will mull over what I’ve said and show me that indeed even the press can have a Singapore Heart.

Thank you, for your time.


Raymond Anthony Fernando

Advocate for the mentally ill and their caregivers





Monday, September 17, 2012


Raymond’s letter on the above matter is published in The New Paper today, Monday 17th September 2012 on page 20.  

The report shows how people who are emotionally or psychologically disturbed can be at risk of abuse.

In the U.K, the Government has introduced a “No Secrets” guidance to protect the vulnerable from abuse.  Under this programme, local authorities including health and social care professionals work with the police and criminal justice agencies to reduce the risk of abuse and step in promptly when abuses occur. 

Singapore should introduce a similar programme to safeguard the interests of those who are vulnerable.  It can be a troubled student, as in this case, or an elderly resident who may be abused in a nursing home.

First, under this “No Secrets” guidance programme, service users should be encouraged to identify what they would like to see happen, if at any point while making use of a service, they are at risks of being abused.

Second, service users should not be isolated and at higher risk of abuse. 

Third, social care professionals must act upon abuse and report it as a crime and not simply write it off as an internal incident.

Advocacy plays an important role in protecting the vulnerable from abuse. Family members or the victims of abuse themselves should be able to report any incident and be assured that it will be handled professionally.



Saturday, September 15, 2012

National conversation, unity and leadership - An open letter to PM Lee & his team

An open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong  & his team

Dear Prime Minister Lee,

I am providing you with some frank and constructive feedback on the National Conversation programme which you have implemented, and I trust that you, PM Lee and your team will view it positively and in the right context so as to make this whole project successful and rally all those living here- Singapore and foreigners alike to help your Government to make Singapore the best home to live, work and play in. A Singapore with a heart, a Singapore with a soul and a Singapore that truly cares.

National conversation or “selected” conversation?

I caught the TV show on CNA last  night on the National Conversation programme which you are spearheading, but like many Singaporeans was very disappointed.  It was clear that the programme was “scripted” and only a selected few were chosen to ask questions.  Only the educated elite were handpicked to participate in the TV show. There was not a single local senior citizen that was invited. Instead a foreigner singing praises of the Government was allowed to air his views.  

During your National Day Rally speech, PM Lee, you took the opportunity to criticize some Singaporeans, but praised foreigners; putting them on a pedestal. Last night, again Singaporeans were chided both by you and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who has also now jumped on the bandwagon. 

As it is, Singaporeans are already upset that foreigners are taking our jobs, so by putting down Singaporeans; does it help in any way to integrate the locals with foreigners? The national conversation exercise should not be a platform to put down Singaporeans, but must be used to discuss matters, even sensitive ones that affect all our lives.

What makes for a good Political Leader?

Ironically, those who make good political leaders are often those who least want the position in the first place! These are individuals who do not seek power but who have authority conferred upon them by others who value their judgment.

So what makes a good political leader? A good political leader is:

  • Someone who serves as an example of integrity and loyalty to the people they represent, both to the public and to other political leaders.
  • Someone with good communication and inter-personal skills, who can work with a range of other people, regardless of political party or opinion, to achieve the greatest good for the general population.
  • Someone who can resist the various temptations and lures of the political arena.
  • Someone of strong character, with both conscience and charisma
  • Someone willing to listen to the needs of the common people and to represent them faithfully.
  • Someone with the courage to stand up and say what needs to be said – rather than just tell the general public what it wants to hear.
  • Someone who is willing to make difficult (and possibly unpopular) decisions for the greater good.
  • Someone who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to discuss matters on any subjects no matter how thorny the issues are.Someone who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to discuss matters on any subject no matter how thorny the issues are.

Stress eating into our lives

Work stress

In a survey conducted by online job portal Jobscentral, it was found that two-thirds of Singapore workers said their workload has increased when compared with six months ago.

Ms Michelle Lim, chief operating officer of JobsCentral Group, said: "Singapore's workplace environment is a tough and demanding one. Workers place career as one of the top priorities in their lives and often make personal sacrifices for job advancements. "On the other hand, employers faced with increasing manpower cost embark on the unending quest for higher productivity. It is not surprising that our workers are feeling more stressed and working longer hours."

In another section of the survey, it showed that almost one in four Singapore workers said that they feel bullied at work. Seventy-four per cent of the respondents who said they were bullied indicated that colleagues are the biggest bully.

So it’s very clear that work stress that will lead to our workers falling into depression is a real issue, and needs to be tackled - quickly.

Mental illness, suicides on the rise

Act before it is too late

The number of Singaporeans and foreigners developing mental illness is increasing. 

I have written to you and the team several times, as well as through the media to address and tackle mental health issues, but all refuse to talk about these subjects. My comments about these matters was unfairly removed at the CNA website last night when Lawrence Wong participated.

It very clear to me that your Government does not want to discuss these thorny issues even though it is becoming a nagging problem here. And ST Editor Warren Fernandez confirms beyond a shadow of doubt that indeed you and your team will not answer questions on such topics. See Warren’s reply to me:

“Apologies for not getting back to you sooner. Yes, the team has indeed been inundated with questions. I have checked with my colleagues and understand that the plan is not for all these questions to be posted or reported on. Instead, questions will be sent to the PM and we will put some of these to him to respond to on video. We will report on the responses. Hope this clarifies.

Best regards,

Warren Fernandez

The Straits Times”

How can you then say, PM Lee that no one will be left behind?  Looking at the composition of the 26-member national conversation committee, I do not see a single person who will represent persons with mental illnesses. Are we then a truly inclusive society? Is this committee truly representative of ALL Singaporeans?

Last year, 992 people were arrested for attempted suicide. Mental illness is creeping into our homes, into the community, into our schools, into offices and even into churches.  These are the realities- realities which your Government must surely address and not “sweep under the carpet”.

Foreigners are dying so tragically and taking their innocent children along with them. On Thursday 13th September 2012, a 33-year-old woman from China and her 6-month-old daughter fell to their deaths from a 25th storey flat in Sengkang.  And there have been other foreigners who have come here and committed suicide. Are all this tragedies good for Singapore’s reputation, PM Lee?

In fact, one of the best ways to de-stigmatize mental illness is to talk about it openly. And if the Govt. is willing to address these issues rationally and come up with solutions that can help the mentally ill and their caregivers lead normal lives, then the perception of society towards people with mental illness will change for the better because the Govt. "leads by example". But if mental health issues are avoided, then all efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness will fail.  

And by not wanting to touch on mental illness, the Govt. will be doing a great injustice to the mentally ill and their caregivers who are also citizens of this land- and there are many in this group.

Good public relations vital for a cohesive society

I have answered the call by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and his team to participate in this National Conversation programme, but I am treated like a “nobody.”

In the end I had to end up writing to the press to explain why effective communication is vital in building a good image of the Government. Take a look at the said letter:

I am not hopeful that the Government will respond positively to this, but I must try.

At the end of the day, effective communication helps to build trust and consensus – key points which I documented in this letter to the press.

When I wrote another letter to the press on how we can build good neighbourliness, answering the call by Law Minister Shanmugam who will work out the legal framework on anti-social behaviour, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan replied to me almost immediately. I was impressed with his good PR skills. Dr Vivian did not view my letter to the press as a complaint, but rather as useful feedback to improve the lives of all our citizens.  I commend him as a good Cabinet Minister who sees the importance of communicating effectively.

Do read the said letter:

Prime Minister Lee, although you have assured all Singaporeans that through the national conversation programme, you would "leave no stone unturned" and that “no one will be left behind”, I don’t see this happening.  You are indeed leaving many behind.

I have been in PR for more than 10 years, handled all kinds of people, including VVIPS that included former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and politicians like the late JBJ Jeyaratnam.

I have handled customers who are extremely difficult, and in the process I have seen “the good, the bad and the ugly”. But I learnt so much – so much that it helps me to better manage my wife’s schizophrenia illness for 37 years; counting. And I want to share these experiences so that we can help our people living here stay resilient during any crisis.

Will you, PM Lee give me that opportunity so that we can save and reclaim EVERY life?

On Friday as I was bringing my wife home in a taxi after her medical appointment at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, a young Chinese taxi driver, and he was pretty well educated, told us that in the army, soldiers are told by their commanders to obey and not question. And that when the Government brings in such commanders, the same principle applies- “You obey and don’t question.” You can’t do that in today’s society where technology is so advanced.

I agree with you, PM Lee that continuous learning in a globalised world is so necessary.  So, even you as a Prime Minister and your young inexperienced ministers can learn some good PR skills  and on mental health issues from a “nobody” like me who has “tasted salt.”  If the national conversation programme can be well executed with no one left out, the PAP will be able to secure a better standing in the next GE. If it does not, it will lose more votes, and that’s my very frank view.

Thank you, and I hope to see the winds of change. Have a nice day, one and all!


Raymond Anthony Fernando Someone who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to discuss matters on any subjects no matter how thorny the issues are.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Letter to the press: Govt agencies can be good neighbours, too

My letter to MediaCorp's TODAY newspaper is published today, Friday 14th September 2012.

The proposal of a legal framework to deal with disputes between neighbours is timely.

Where there are shared amenities, such as common corridors, enforcement should be taken against those who insist on cluttering them with potted plants, furniture and other bulky items, which pose a danger during emergencies such as a fire.

There is also a need to ensure that noise pollution is kept under control, which can adversely affect our health.

Good neighbourliness is everybody's business. Government agencies, too, must do their part to ensure that we live in a conducive environment.

Where renovation work is being done in an estate, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) should inform residents so that those affected can find alternative accommodation or plan their schedule accordingly.

I live in Ang Mo Kio, where hacking often takes place simultaneously in my block and the one opposite. I have suggested to the HDB that a notice be placed at the lift landings of the affected blocks, but no action has been taken.

Elderly residents need rest, and children have to study. Moreover, there are childcare centres in many HDB blocks. We should not subject children to excessive, unhealthy noise.

At Block 584, where a childcare centre is housed, lift upgrading is scheduled to commence this month. Flats are also going to be built at the car park now in front of the centre. It would not be fair to subject the children to extended noise pollution.

There must be some arrangements to temporarily relocate the centre to a nearby site. Let us not risk the children and staff having health issues in future, especially when medical costs are far from cheap.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Replies I received.
(1) Dear Mr Fernando,

Thank you for your email. NEA will review the situation with the other relevant agencies and take the necessary action.
Best wishes,
Dr Vivian Balakrishan
Envoirment Minister

(2) Dear Raymond

Thanks for speaking up against noise pollution – and this time even for our childcare branch at Ang Mo Kio block 584.  

Kudos for your public consciousness.  Hope you and Doris are okay – haven’t seen you in a while (except in print)!

God bless

Ms Phyllis Tan



Monday, September 10, 2012

Letter to the press: The Government’s National Conversation Programme

MPs should also respond to questions on Facebook

My letter to The New Paper on the above matter is published today, Monday 10th September 2012, page 17.

In an effort to reach out to all sectors of the population, the Prime Minister has initiated the National Conversation programme. 

It is encouraging that hundreds of our citizens have answered the call by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat to participate in this exercise.  This is a good sign that Singaporeans are showing a keen interest in building a better future for our country.

But although there are assurances that at least 30 dialogue sessions are being planned, the Government needs to respond to queries online where citizens are waiting for answers.

Questions that have been posted on the Facebook pages of our ministers and Members of Parliament sometimes go unanswered.  This defeats the whole purpose of the national conversation programme.

I have responded to the Education Minister’s call for feedback both on Facebook and directly to the ministers on some social issues which are close to my heart, but no one has responded. 

I have not received even an acknowledgment or an interim reply.  Yet with technology, this can be done in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

I agree with Mr Heng that nobody should feel intimidated about participating in the national conversation.

But the Government should also not cherry- pick what issues it wants to address and tackle, and what it does not.  No one should feel that they are being left out.

Poor communication or the lack of it can lead to a great deal of misunderstandings and unhappiness.   Responding to queries or feedback is not only gracious, but it helps to improve the communication process.

Effective communication can help to build trust and consensus. In order to have creative effective dialogues, all parties must be able to express themselves clearly and listen for understanding. 

Together, let us have a good two-way communication system that cuts across every sector of the population in order to make the Singapore National Conversation a resounding success.  Otherwise, as many already believe, this project will be seen as just another public relations exercise by the ruling party.



P.S: (1) I had written to the Education Minister about the 26 members committee : This was my query, but have yet  to receive a reply.
"Dear Mr Heng,
I’ve noticed that there are a large number of people in your National Conversation committee from all walks of life that includes the President of the society for the Physically Disabled, and even a taxi driver. But I have not read of any one representing people with psychiatric conditions & their caregivers. I’d like to know why this is so, given that there are hundreds who are in this group. Is anyone looking into the welfare/interests of the mentally ill & their family members? Can you kindly enlighten me, Mr Heng. Thank you.
Raymond Anthony Fernando"

(2) NMP Eugene Tan in his recent commentary & analysis to MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper  said, & I quote,” Looking at the committee's composition, the accent on youth is also evident. Most members were born post-1965 and the oldest (actress Lim Ru Ping) is a relatively youthful 61 years of age. But the dialogue about our future has to include the past, present and future. Any vision outlined will be path-dependent on the past and present. Furthermore, there will be far more Singaporeans aged 60 and above in 20 years' time than there are today,” unquote.

I agree with Eugene’s observations. Just look at the committee’s composition. Even though suicide is on the rise (last year there were more than 900 people who were arrested for suicide attempts), hundreds suffering from depression and other types of mental illness, with caregivers struggling to cope in caring for their loved ones, I do not see anyone who is representing this marginalized group in the National Conversation Committee. How can we then say, in the Prime Minister’s own words, “No one will be left behind”.