Community Leadership / Governance / Malay-Muslim Community

Response to MCCY Letter – My Intentions being Misperceived

I read with disappointment the letter by Ho Ka Wei, Director of Corporate Communications, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth which was published on 29 Apr 2013 in the Straits Times’ Forum page.

The letter suggests that I had used “AMP as a platform and a cover to promote (my) race-based politics.”

This suggestion is incorrect. I also take exception to the suggestion that I had engaged in self-promotion at AMP.

All strategic decisions of AMP are discussed and collectively decided by the Board of Directors of AMP (led by the Chairman), which consists of highly qualified professionals. The AMP Board had also overseen the Convention process, which had brought together many suggestions and ideas from different groups of professionals. The proposals made at the Convention are made collectively, after going through many processes of debates and iteration.

The proposed strategy of a Community Forum (ComFor) was part of a series of proposals suggested by the Leadership and Civil Society Sub-Committee of the Convention.

In gist, ComFor was meant to be an extension of an existing platform – the Community in Review forum organized by AMP and RIMA (AMP’s Research Arm) to discuss issues affecting the Community. ComFor was an extension of CIR, as it was meant to also track strategies proposed at the Convention annually.

The ComFor proposal came under a broader umbrella of adopting a national approach (as opposed to the current community-centric approach) in addressing issues affecting the Community (e.g. education, social issues, economic development).

All the Convention proposals were briefed to political leaders prior to the Convention, including the Convention’s Guest of Honour, PM Lee, as well as the Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.

In fact, AMP had dropped one proposal arising from concerns expressed by political leaders.

One key strategic thrust at the AMP Convention in 2012 was to look at issues from a national approach.

ComFor was certainly not meant for racial politics, and this assurance was explicitly given to our political leaders before the Convention.

The ComFor proposal was eventually altered by AMP, after taking into accounts concerned expressed by the Establishment. AMP then proceeded to use the existing CIR platform (albeit on an expanded basis) earlier this year.

In relation to my blog entries, I had, when I was a still a Board member of AMP and RIMA, explicitly mentioned that the comments made therein are my personal ones and do not reflect the views of AMP and/or RIMA. I removed this disclaimer after I had stepped down from the boards, as it was no longer necessary. The setting up of my blog was also known to AMP’s directors at the outset.

My thoughts on approaching the various issues within the Community is to relook them as Singapore issues, and not as Malay issues.

In fact, I believe that a State-led approach in approaching issues affecting disadvantaged groups across all communities would be more effective and efficient (compared to the current paradigm of essentially relying on ethnic-based self-help groups to shoulder the burden of approaching educational and social problems).

I have also argued that race-based SHGs could perpetuate cultural stereotypes or the myth of race-based deficiencies.

I am concerned and have commented on issues affecting all Singaporeeans – e.g. rising income inequality, issues of social mobility, a revamp of the educational system as being key to social mobility , meritocracy etc.

While a lot of my social work has been connected with the Malay-Muslim community, I see “class-based” programs as opposed to ethnic-based programs, as the way forward. PAP MP Zainal Sapari has himself mentioned the need for a class-based affirmative action program during this year’s Budget debate. I believe in such an approach to mitigate the harsh edges of meritocracy, and have made such an argument in my blog.

Turning to the Facebook Group ‘Suara Melayu Singapura’ (Voice of Malay Singaporeans) – in which I am one of several administrators in the Group – some PAP MPs and AMP directors and members have been invited in that Group. All discussions are above board. Some members of the Group are from outside the Malay community.

I fear that my intentions have been misperceived.

I have earlier set out the circumstances and underlying reasons behind my leaving AMP and RIMA Boards. I have made it clear that my departure was not because of a desire to join any political party, but out of my personal disagreement on the use of funding cuts as a means to curb civil society activism or to discourage critical views.

I have always been an advocate of a vibrant civil society – which Singapore needs to embrace and nurture, for it to become a resilient society.

In fact, I had advocated this at the Singapore Perspectives 2013 seminar organized by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in Jan 2013. The thrust of my presentation was that Mr George Yeo’s seminal call for greater civic participation by Singaporeans, made in June 1991, is still relevant and far from being actualized today.

During my speech at the Hong Lim Park protest on 16 Feb 2013, I had argued for the need for Singapore to embrace a diversity of views.

At the Workers’ Party Youthquake forum, I had broadly argued for taking a national, as opposed to ethnic-based approach to address social issues. I also argued that race-based policies tended to divide us as Singaporeans, rather than to pull us together. Finally, I concluded by remarking that race should not matter in Singapore.

I hope that I have clarified my intentions above. In summary, I am a firm believer of taking a national approach, across all ethnic groups, to address issues of such as social mobility, education etc.

Far from engaging in racial politics, I am a believer that Singapore needs to nurture a vibrant civil society, in order for it to be resilient.


2 thoughts on “Response to MCCY Letter – My Intentions being Misperceived

  1. Pingback: Nizam Ismail’s “Response to MCCY Letter – My Intentions being Misperceived”. | The Sun Shines on Singapore

  2. Hi Sir,

    I appreciate that taking a national approach towards tackling social issues might have its own strengths. I just wanted to ask within the current national social needs landscape, what would this national approach entail? As you know, there is already an established “Many Helping Hands” framework where there is a variety of VWOs and self-help groups that work towards meeting social needs. Wouldn’t it better to instead look towards how this current existing framework can be further improved upon and how gaps within the system can be rectified?

    Just wanted to get your thoughts on this.

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