Are we becoming an uncaring elitist society? (aka Wee Shu Min incident)

The first generation of PAP was purely grassroots, but the problem today is that PAP is a bit too elitist.” – ex-top civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow

While I agree with the principle of meritocracy, there is a missing ingredient in the discussion: The question of character…..People who do not care about the less fortunate should not be considered elite.”Tang Li 

“Meritocracy also breeds elitism when those who succeed think they deserve it and look down on those who fail.” – Ex-AMP head Nizam Ismail

 “Dr Goh Keng Swee told me that I had advance in my career not because I was cleverer than others, but because I was in the right place at the right time. In like vein, he told me that Singapore achieved econcmic progress not because we are clever but that others were more stupid.” – Ngiam Tong Dow in “A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy: Reflections”

 “All of them are talents , no doubt about it , but not the right person for the right job. This is Singapore style of Meritocracy that is failing us. Period.”

The need for a compassionate meritocracy

Askmelah’s Note:
Remember the Wee Shu Min’s incident? It epitomises the uncaring attitude of a new social class that is emerging in Singapore. They study hard, fiercely competitive, take their “scholar” titles as if it is their birthrights to a high-paying job and an accelerated career in the Government, statutory boards or Government-linked Companies. They are “protected” and being groomed for higher offices, much to the chagrin of their equally hardworking non-scholar colleagues. Just look around the CEOs (of various statutory boards and GLCs), Permanent Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, “Generals”, “Admirals”, ministers, prime ministers …. more than 80% carry some sort of scholarship titles. In fact it is a rarity these days if you see a rising young office holder nowadays who does not carry one such title. So if you have not studied hard when you were younger because your parents have not told you that this will be the fact of life you will face in Singapore, it is just too bad. Work harder to be a successful businessman instead, if you have that entrepreneur spirit in you, that is.
Talking about justifying the fast promotions of these high-flying officers, it is a little known secret outside the civil service how it works. Let me give some insights: Ever wonder why Singapore have endless “key” or “national” initiatives such as SingaporeOne, Transport masterplan, IT masterplan 2015, Workfare, 3G Defence, Asset Enhancement Scheme etc? It is so that when the Government needs to “justify” the promotion of these officers, there are something to shout about like these officers have done some real (“great”) works. We all know some initiatives failed miserably such as SingaporeOne and Transport masterplan, some achieved less than desired such as Workfare and some ISDN (I-Still-Don’t-know) like the 3G Defence Transformation. Also one Big national initiative not just benefit one officer, it often used to justify the “achievement” of everybody from the minister and other officers down the food chain e.g. Perm Sect, Deputy Sect, CEO of stat board, Deputy CEO, Director, Deputy Director and so on.
Here is an example of the”great achievement” in justifying the fast rise of the two generals:
“MG Chan Chun Sing, 41, will be retiring from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). BG Ravinder joined the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in December 1982. He made significant contributions to the development of the 3rd Generation SAF which includes the application of Integrated Knowledge-Based Command and Control (IKC2) as the key driver for the SAF’s transformation efforts. MG Chan Chun Sing, 41, began his military career in 1987. He was instrumental in operationalising key aspects of the Army’s 3rd Generation transformation. This included the establishment of the Motorised Infantry Training Institute to hone the Army’s competency in motorised infantry operations. MG Chan also oversaw the revamp of the SAF’s combat fitness training system to strengthen soldiers’ abilities to operate in an increasingly complex and urbanised operational environment.” (Sources: The Straits Times, Mar 4 2011 and Mindef’s press release)

Read also:



What being truly elite is
From Tang Li
Source: Todayonline  Jul 23, 2012
While much has been made about the issue of income inequality, we seem to have forgotten a prominent question: What do we consider an “elite” class?History shows that every society has an elite class. Wealth is often a defining factor of what makes them superior, but so are things like education and family.What makes one elite says a lot about a society.Hereditary factors such as caste or nobility are static. Things such as education and commercial success are dynamic.Singapore prides itself on being a meritocracy; one succeeds because one is clever and willing to work hard. This is often expressed in the form of the government scholar, someone who did well academically and earned a good job in government. There are other success stories that we look to, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who are deemed to have earned their wealth through hard work and intelligence. While I agree with the principle of meritocracy, there is a missing ingredient in the discussion: The question of character. Being superior should not just be about achievement but about personal behaviour too. Singapore is justifiably proud of being strict on corruption. However, too much of the discussion centres on issues such as money and sanctions, like in the stories of high-ranking officials charged in court. More needs to be made of people who do or do not do certain things because the acts, in themselves, are right or wrong. We should also focus public attention on people who improve the lot of the less fortunate, often at a cost to themselves. We should aim to have an elite who believe in this. People who do not care about the less fortunate should not be considered elite. The message that being superior is hard work must be drilled into our youth at an early age and constantly highlighted.


Political elitism Takes an emotive turn

The term is becoming synonymous with ‘privileged class’ and ‘leadership arrogance’, threatening PAP’s long-term rule.
By Seah Chiang Nee, Oct 29, 2006
Source:…ics-061029.htmSingapore’s People’s Action Party is confronted with a widening class divide and a creeping political elitism that could drive it from power, if they are allowed to fester.Inter-related, these problems are shaping up into the ruling party’s biggest challenge in the next election in 2011 – and probably beyond.They are neither new nor unique in the world, having prevailed in advanced nations like the United States, Britain and even Japan – except in Singapore, the small size and meagre safety net are exacerbating matters.The General Household Survey revealed that the top 20% of Singapore’s households last year earned 31 times that of the bottom 20%. And the gap is widening. Two events last week showed up how much disconnect there is between a segment of the political elite and the citizens it has to represent. The problem is serious. “We have a crop of well-off MPs who have little empathy for the poor or needy, seeing failure is an individual’s fault. Political elitism and arrogance are undoing the PAP’s strong record of achievements,” one party grassroots worker said, calling for political reforms. “Otherwise, the PAP cannot survive a one-man-one-vote democracy for no more than two or three elections.” “The stability of a society depends on how people feel. If there is a group which is unhappy, such that they rebel against the system, that can lead to all kinds of trouble,” warned Labour chief and a PMO minister Lim Boon Heng. For some time, party workers have been giving feedback to the leadership that public feelings are rising against what they say is a system that favours the elite and the rich. The first advice: Change the criteria and selection of PAP Members of Parliament (from whom Cabinet ministers are selected). Laid down by Lee Kuan Yew, the system measures political ability by academic, professional or business achievements, particularly those who are related to past achievers. This could be attributed to Lee’s belief that intelligence – or alternatively mental subnormality – is inherited from parents’ genes. Only a few newer MPs are social workers or people with good community links, but compassion, charity and humility generally rank low in priority in a candidate’s qualities. For decades, the party leaders have tended to come from the ranks of scholars and technocrats, described by Lee Senior as “among the best in Singapore.” In a different era, the system had worked well in building an efficient, modern city. That was the good part. But in the new Singapore, elitism breeds resentment and friction. Many of these MPs, raised in wealthy homes, are simply too removed from the plight of poor Singaporeans they are supposed to represent. Unlike politicians elsewhere, the MPs in Singapore are co-opted into politics without party experience or having to campaign hard to win votes. During Lee’s popular past, this posed few problems. PAP candidates were virtually always automatically elected. A popular joke in those days was “Even if it fields a monkey, it will win.” Today, with the unfettered reach of a critical Internet and an educated electorate, every comment or behaviour of an MP comes under intense scrutiny. Last week provided evidence of this. It began when Wee Shu Min, 18-year-old scholar-daughter of a PAP MP, launched a scathing attack on Singaporean Derek Wee for voicing concerns on job security and age discrimination. She described Derek as a “stupid crackpot”, “the sadder class”, over-reliant on the government in Singapore where society is “far too survival of the fittest” and signed off with: “Get out of my elite uncaring face”. Other condescending terms: Derek is a typical “wretched, under-motivated, over-assuming leeches” specimen of Singapore. He has a “middle-class under-educated penchant” for complaining and should get on with life. It was political dynamite for several reasons. Firstly, she was a scholar (10 A’s in O-level, strong bilingual, French) in elitist Raffles Junior College, the sort that is earmarked for an easy road to high office. Secondly, her father Wee Siew Kim is an executive of Singapore Engineering and MP in PM Lee Hsieng Loong’s Ang Mo Kio group constituency, so whatever he does affects the PM’s political fortune. Hundreds of angry Singaporeans consider her remarks as elitist and insensitive against the common people. To make matters worse, the MP issued a statement that appeared to support her elitist remarks. The controversy may have sealed his political career; there is little prospect of Wee standing again in the next election. Unfortunately for the PAP, it occurred at almost the same time as news broke of a 40-year-old unemployed father of two teenagers jumping in front of a moving train. After failing to get a job for four months, he committed suicide with S$16 in his pocket and a pile of debts. Shu Min had written, “If you’re not good enough, life will kick you in the balls. That’s just how things go.” Critics connect the two with devastating effect for the system. Her comments have divided Singaporeans. Some of the more successful elements back her argument that Singapore’s capitalist system supports the “survival of the fittest” theory. One asked, “What’s wrong with being elitist?” At least one saw the debate positively. “In fact, we are already unintentionally preparing ourselves to enter the post-Lee Kuan Yew era by creating a bit of chaos here and there,” he wrote. “When Lee finally goes, we would already have got used to the chaos; we can (then) re-make our beloved Singapore.” (This article was specially written for The Sunday Star, Oct 29, 2006)