Tuesday, April 10, 2007

On Abstraction

In representative Governments, citizens elect their representatives to articulate their voices, their grievances, their accolades in the halls of government. These representatives are elected to represent the citizens. Because in the halls of government important decisions are made to distribute finite resources and also enact laws and regulations governing this distribution of resources. When such important decisions are made, the representatives of the citizens debate this distribution. Hoping to secure a favourable distribution for those they represent.

This is the basis of a debate. These representatives seek to influence the decisions for the citizens they represent. The different representatives are articulating for their citizens, conveying their voice into the halls of government. Even if the representatives of their citizens fail, the voice of his citizens are recorded in the annals of government. A record which states clearly that a dissenting voice was made in the event that some time in the future, the debated policy fails and accountability is sought. The representative has fought for his citizens even if he lost. Articulated their views, their voice. The representative of the citizens is precisely this, he represents his citizens. He is their conduit to channel their voice into the halls of government.

There is a breakdown when the representatives, start to represent the party they belong to. Rather than act as the conduit to represent the citizens, they end up representing the party. When this happens, there is little need for debate in the halls of Government. The representatives are not debating. They are representing their party. And the party is made to represent the concept, for example, the concept of Singapore. Than the chain of representation is lost when citizens becomes subsumed into the concept "Singapore" or the other favourite concept "little red dot".

Excerpts from the various CNA reports on the Parliamentary debates :

"Most of the over 20 MPs who spoke on the issue on Tuesday supported the salary rise." -- CNA report

Those who opposed the pay rise unequivocally were the two Opposition MPs, Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong. The only MPs from the ruling party who gave qualified objection to the pay increase were Inderjit Singh and Lim Biow Chuan. Their comments are below :

"How do we answer the man-in-the-street when we're told that about one-quarter to one-third of the expected revenue increase this year from the GST is going to be for the proposed ministerial and civil service salary increases, about $240 million, I was told?" -- Ang Mo Kio MP Inderjit Singh

"I struggle to understand what a top Admin Officer aged 32 at grade SR9 has to worry about that will justify him receiving $363,000 a year … From many people's perspectives, they take no personal risk and are at best, paid employees." -- Marine Parade MP Lim Biow Chuan

Both Inderjit and Lim are raising in Parliament their citizens' unhappiness and concern over this pay increase. Both in their speeches, actually mentions the man-in-the-street and their perspectives. These two MPs are acting as a representative of their citizens, putting their questions, their Voice, into the halls of Government. They make qualified objections to the pay increase. They want to know how can they as representatives, go back and face their citizens. How do they answer to the people they represent? There is clear unhappiness from the people they represent.

We have other MPs from the ruling party, who are also representatives of the citizens, saying the following :

"MPs like Bishan-Toa Payoh's Mrs Josephine Teo, however, pointed out that ministers in other countries may make more money after their term in office ends, such as through public speaking." -- CNA report

As Molly points out, this argument is used by other MPs besides Josephine. And finally, we have the Minister in the thick of the action saying :

"This little red dot is very special because all of us have taken the trouble to take care of it very very well. All Singaporeans have worked hard to make Singapore special. The government is a special government - carefully constructed, bringing in the best people so that it can move Singapore forward, even with all the disadvantages that we have - the lack of resources, the position that we are in the region and in the world. And, Singapore is helped along by a first-class, excellent, efficient, uncorrupted public service that helps it to achieve Singaporeans' dreams." -- Minister Teo Chee Hean

The few excerpts demonstrate the process how "people" or the "man-in-the-street" often gets lost in Singapore governance. Perhaps "lost" is too strong a word, and to be more accurate, it is abstraction. How "people" becomes more and more abstracted in this process of Parliamentary debate. All the unhappiness and concerns of the "people" has become abstracted in that imaginary spiel by Minister Teo. Singapore, Singaporeans, little red dot, us, best people. In that little spiel, the people becomes an imagined concept.

Quote of the Day --

"Simple-minded ones like me can never realize eternal truths without constantly blundering and failing. Pray, forgive my errors and my rude speech. Instead of treating me as a mere monkey by birth, as I myself was content to think, you have elevated my status, and honoured me. After piercing my body with your arrow, and when I am about to die -- you are touching my understanding with a supreme illumination ..." -- The Ramayana as narrated by R.K. Narayan

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

not abstraction more like invisibilisation sianz

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look Singaporeans! If I your SUPREME LEADERSHIP cannot make you kneel and beg before me< then I am not qualified to be your leader! Get the Message?

6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a sad day when you can only measure your success through the failure of others, belittling the success of others or the intellect and hardwork of your own people.

7:52 PM  
Anonymous Riding roughshod over S'poreans said...

All I can say is that I'm glad I had the guts to leave Singapore; that I did not vote for PAP when the rare opportunities arose to make a choice; and that my children are spared the indignity of being threatened with incompetent govt if a pay rise was not granted to civil "servants"

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The echoes from history (extracted from Wikipedia):

"The Tsars (or Czars), Russia's monarchs, governed with an iron fist. Both the state and the church were subordinate to this autocracy, which in 1905 was headed by Nicholas II, of the House of Romanov.

Five percent of Russia's population consisted of the nobles, who owned most of the land, occupied the top jobs and generally lorded it over the peasants, who, with the increasing industrial working class (proletariat), made up the remaining 95 percent of the Russian populace. Their land, labour and goods were at the mercy of the aristocracy, and their socio-economic conditions were usually rather poor.

Although unrest had been a regular part of the Russian Empire, serious disturbances had been rare in the decades prior to 1905. Nonetheless, political discontent had been building since Tsar Alexander II's controversial 1861 decree, which saw the emancipation of the serfs. Prior to this, the serfs had been penniless slaves; now (having been given the right to own land and freed from compulsory service and obedience towards the nobility), they were merely penniless. The emancipation was dangerously incomplete, however, with years of "redemption" payments to the nobility, and only limited, technical freedom for the narod (common people). Rights for the people were still embedded in a range of duties and rules which were rigidly structured by social class.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to say that Singaporeans will be the most pitiful earthlings in a very short time. Try to get out of THE WELL before it suddenly dries up.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The early apples were now ripening, and the grass of the orchard was littered with windfalls. The animals had assumed as a matter of course that these would be shared out equally; one day, however, the order went forth that all the windfalls were to be collected and brought to the harness-room for the use of the pigs. At this some of the other animals murmured, but it was no use. All the pigs were in full agreement on this point, even Snowball and Napoleon. Squealer was sent to make the necessary explanations to the others.

‘Comrades!’ he cried. ‘You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would come back! Surely, comrades,’ cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, ‘surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?’

Replace Jones with economy and you have the same argument

11:17 PM  
Blogger multisubj yb said...

Better not to quote Ramayana because Rama was a greater despot than Singapore/Thai/Indian/Chinese or any other tyrant rulers. Ramayana misleads people. Let free thinking flourish. www.ramayanayb.blogspot.com

6:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was Arjuna who represented the positive force that overwhelmed the devilishs if my memory of Ramayana is correct

9:05 AM  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

multisubj yb -- the quoted portion happens to be from what is considered the most controversial chapter in the Ramayana where Rama kills Vali.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first signs of rot are beginning to show. It started with the casino decision. A basic value was compromised giving lots of good reasons.

I remember your MM said that he had made mistake early on by not allowing casinos. So he made it sound as thought if he had made a mistake in not allowing something, then allowing it had to be simply the best possible thing to do.

Now this pay hike. Let's assume for a moment that the current system is actually okay and Singapore is unique and blah. Why was there a need to effect a pay hike when there was no crisis of talent. The system was in place to activate the moment there was a situation where people were not joining. There was a formula in place. Activate it when a need arose.

Was this the only barrier to people entering? What is the system to attract new talent? How do you now ensure that only the right people get attracted? The salary (just like in any job interview) is that last thing that ought to be discussed. Why is it the first? Too many questions?

7:31 AM  

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