Three tell-it-as-it-is viewpoints

This was a busy week, with Donald Trump’s ascendancy and talk of Brexit dominating the foreign news headlines, and in Singapore, a Parliamentary debate on Benjamin Lim, the teenager who fell to his death a few hours after being questioned by police over an alleged molest case.

The busy news file is reflected this week, as always, in The Straits Times Opinion pages.

With so many deserving articles published this past week, I just want to draw attention to three.

The first is from Devadas Krishnadas, a management consultant and regular Straits Times contributor. He alludes to the rise of United States Republican candidate Donald Trump and explains his allure to voters as The Seduction of the Simple.

 

“Simple understanding, simple explanations, simple solutions, simple assurances simply made. This holds tremendous appeal to those who have a fear of uncertainty, are themselves ignorant, are prone to believe that someone other than they are to blame for their lack of achievement and who indulge in fantasies in which simplistic divides between right and wrong and good and bad actors define the world.”

He argues that Singaporeans too are being Seduced by the Simple. This happens when debate takes place “as if Singapore is in a vacuum or becoming too fixated on absolute views”. The world, he says, is complex.

Understanding policies and trade-offs is difficult. This requires an informed and involved citizenry.

The alternative is a worldview that is unrealistically simplistic - for example, believing that Singapore can insulate itself from external influences, or refusing to acknowledge trade-offs, such as understanding that calling for more subsidies means taxes have to rise.

The tendency of Singaporeans to want to have their cake and eat it too, was the subject of another commentary by Food Editor Tan Hsueh Yun.

She had broken the news story a few days earlier, on Lana cake shop owner Mrs Violet Kwan looking for a buyer for her shop and business. Some netizens had criticised Mrs Kwan for wanting to sell her business and recipes, rather than taking on “disciples” and giving away her recipes for free.

Hsueh Yun’s from-the-gut riposte argues that the recipes and skills that hawkers and chefs spend decades perfecting should be as highly valued as shop space, technological prowess or other assets.

 

She wrote: “Recipes and techniques need to be thought of as intellectual property with value, and the willing buyer and seller will need to work out what that value is.”

She added: “We do not bat an eyelid when people sell their assets. We even cheer on savvy tech entrepreneurs who sell their apps for billions. Yet, we get huffy when hawkers try to sell assets they have built up painstakingly over decades of hard work.

“This sort of double standard has to stop.”

Another say-it-like-it-is commentary came from The Straits Times’ senior transport correspondent Christopher Tan.

Revisiting the debate on alignment of the Cross Island Line, he goes through the pros and cons of the two proposed routes: one that would cut across and go under the nature reserve; and another that skirts the nature reserve but is expected to cost $2billion more to build.

 

In the end, he says, the government has not made a compelling argument for why the line has to go through the reserve: “It makes little sense to build a line under a forested area - much less one that is protected by law - unless there is truly no other alternative.

“And so far, the Government has not made such a case.”

Just as Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan encouraged Singaporeans to keep an open mind on the issue, Chris noted that no government official has spoken in support of the skirting-the-reserves proposal, and urged: “Equally important, government officials would have to do likewise.”

As Devadas pointed out in his commentary, the world is complex. Making policies is difficult.

Being an informed citizen, understanding that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, and keeping abreast of issues while retaining an open mind - these are all difficult.

But I agree with Devadas. To be a deserving citizen in a democracy requires no less.

muihoong@sph.com.sg

Opinion Editor Chua Mui Hoong blogs regularly on notable commentaries and issues.