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.

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