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#28: Class-blindness is the new “I don’t see race”

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I think we might have solved inequality, guys

So, some talk about inequality again—apparently we can bridge the gap if we just see “people as people” not think of them in terms of social class, income or status. The Ministry of Social and Family Development has also published a paper about its approach to improving the situation of low-income or vulnerable families.

There was also the Institute of Policy Studies’ 30th anniversary event, which reads like the most infuriating series of panels. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam talked about the escalator of social mobility. Chan Chun Sing, our rumoured future Prime Minister, seemed to think that he shouldn’t be judged as an elite because of his humble beginnings. Manpower Minister Josephine Teo argued that having a minimum wage could lead to lower levels of employment, or even workers who will choose to work illegally below the minimum wage. It’s an argument that drives me batty: people might work illegally below the minimum wage, so let’s avoid that problem by making it legal for employers to pay workers as little as they want?! My palm, it meets my face.

But not all was lost: Cherian George gave a good speech on diversity and pointed out in front of Janil Putucheary that the government is a “biased referee” when it comes to particular issues. Veteran diplomat Tommy Koh responded to Teo’s comments on the minimum wage at the event, and reiterated his stance on Facebook that “the current income distribution of Singapore is a moral disgrace.” He also criticised The Straits Times for biased reporting, which now gives us a useful segue to…

The state of/and the press

Yahoo! Singapore reported this week that The Straits Times’ political editor was reassigned after government officials expressed unhappiness over some of the articles under her purview. ST’s chief editor, Warren Fernandez, called the story “fanciful”, and said it was just a regular reshuffle, which Cherian George rightly calls out as “conformism and self-censorship at an advanced level”. What I find most interesting about this, though, is that it seems as if ST insiders are willing to leak information now. Which is great, ‘cos we need to hear about these sorts of shenanigans going on in our mainstream media newsrooms.

What’s not great are things that endanger the health and safety of journalists and other staff—like when a suspicious package was delivered to ST’s newsroom.

Execute first, ask Singaporeans later

The Ministry of Home Affairs are doing their first survey on the death penalty (it’s not the only survey the government is doing). I’ve no doubt that the results will show that the majority of Singaporeans are pro-death penalty, but the devil is also in the details, in the way they ask questions and whether the people they survey actually know that much about the death penalty. I wonder how many Singaporeans know that we executed four people last week? It didn’t get any play in the mainstream media—I’ve finally seen one article in The Straits Times about Prabu and it was one they republished from a Malaysian newspaper.

This is going to be MHA’s first survey, but NUS and SMU academics, plus human rights groups Maruah, did one a couple of years back. They found that there was apparent lack of interest and knowledge of the issue, but that most Singaporeans supported capital punishment. That said, the support was “equivocal and nuanced”. This survey was also based on a questionnaire that was used in Malaysia—as I pointed out in my piece for The Lowy Institute, the results are comparable, and show that, when it comes to the death penalty, the difference between Singapore and Malaysia isn’t public opinion, but political will.

Also related to the death penalty: last year, lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam published an emotional poem just hours before his client was hanged. The Attorney-General’s Chambers claimed that it was in contempt of court, and Eugene was fined $6,000 by the High Court. Now he’s been fined an additional $5,000. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

Got some more…

Edwin Tong gave an interview about the Select Committee and its recommendations on what to do about deliberate online falsehoods. We’re again assured that it’s possible to define what a “deliberate online falsehood” is, but no one seems to be doing this thing that is very possible to do.

We’ve got another political party on the scene: Lim Tean has successfully registered People’s Voice. Just in time for the elections, rumoured to be coming up ahead of schedule some time next year.

A senior manager at the info-technology arm of the Ministry of Health testified that he delayed reporting the SingHealth security breach because it would have meant “non-stop” work to deliver answers to his superiors. His chief executive admitted a day later that workplace culture was something that had to be addressed—unfortunately for us, I don’t think this cultural issue is unique to this office.

Events and announcements

New Naratif is doing our first AMA on our Facebook page! Off the back of the success of our podcast on Singapore’s hawker industry, Lim Jialiang of Smith Street Taps will be answering your burning questions on 6 November at 8pm.

AWARE is hosting a dialogue on what should come next in the fight for equal access to housing for single parents. It’s in the evening of 15 November. More information here.

Asian Urban Lab is hosting Crazy Questioning Asians: Building Our Intellectual Traditions at The Substation on 17 November. Registration is required, so don’t miss out!

AWARE is also hosting two talks on syariah law: one on wills and inheritance on 19 November, another on divorce on 23 November.

Penawar, a support group for women who are Muslim or come from a Muslim background, are having their first public event on 21 November. They’ll be launching their website and their first zine, so RSVP here!

The T Project, which runs a homeless shelter for transgender women, are holding a fundraiser on 6 December. They’re having a screening of Iron Ladies at the Singapore International Film Festival, followed by a Q&A. Get your ticket here.

About the neighbours…

I was pretty struck by this article in Coconuts Manila about how the crappy traffic congestion in Manila affects people’s love lives. It can be an absolute pain trying to get to dates, and some are even put off meeting people who don’t live in the same part of the city as they do.