Thursday, September 10, 2015

Action needed, not just words

In recent days, much ado has been made about the need for, and importance of, alternative voices to speak out for you.

The minority in the House have indeed spent their tenure productively. They have taken to the floor during every opportune topic that serves their interests while electing to remain silent on awkward issues where their arguments or logic prove weak.

Let us be clear that while alternative voices can speak out, their scattered presence in the House makes them utterly irrelevant when the time comes to vote on matters that truly matter to you and I.

They do make their voice heard. Often vociferously, sometimes logically, always futilely because that handful of dissent doesn't matter.

Alternative voices do not necessarily translate to alternative action. Know the difference.

The point to be made is that Singaporeans need to filter out the lofty, empty promises from candidates claiming to be change agents for all things unpopular, untimely or unrealistic that the G wants to shove down our throats.

By all means choose the better candidate or team. Slick slogans aside, do so with your eyes wide open on what those alternative voices can realistically do for you beyond hollow rhetoric.

Debate over $1 billion price tag for E-2C Hawkeyes
Back in 1984, the then MP for Anson, J.B. Jeyaretnam, made clear his reservations about Singapore's plans to buy four Grumman E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft for $1 billion. It was then our most expensive defence purchase.

The flying radar stations were deemed necessary as eyes in the sky to give the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) early warning of airborne intruders and the time needed to get Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warplanes up in the air.

The SAF requirement for AEW pre-dated the combat record of such assets in hot-wars fought by overseas air forces that validated the value of such assets in air combat.

Still, at $1 billion a pop, it was a political hot potato.

A spirited debate ensued in the Singapore Parliament over the need for, timing and wisdom of this purchase.

To be sure, the late JBJ gave a good account of himself. He maximised his airtime in Parliament, even though his arguments against and knowledge of air operations were not particularly illuminating.

Hot air
All that hot air counted for nothing because the RSAF still got its E-2Cs.

So while the Hansard attests to the intensity and ferocity of the debate, it did absolutely nothing to change the RSAF's growth trajectory. Those Hawkeyes still came home to roost.

Along the way, there was an earnest attempt to ensure a balanced budget and people-friendly programmes. A year after that budget debate, Singapore fell into recession (scrimping on the E-2Cs would have done absolutely nothing to steer us clear of that slump) - highlighting Singapore's exposure to the global market economy.

Helplines were extended to Singaporeans and our economic posture adjusted along the way. Beyond the rhetoric, who was there to spearhead all of that?

Survive and thrive
After the Asian financial crisis, after the dot.com bust, after the 9/11 attacks rattled the world, during and after the deadly SARS crisis, who led, who assured and who helped this tiny city-state navigate dangerous episodes?

When our national budget is adjusted every year, such tweaks are made independent of, and not because of, the clarion call for change from alternative voices in and outside the House.

Yes, there have been fruitless trips up blind alleys with botched policies. Admittedly, there have been foot in mouth moments. The hue and cry such issues raise among thinking Singaporeans - and there are many outside the orbit of political circles - often serves as the trigger for the G to stop, take stock and modify its stance where necessary.

It is this ability to adjust and adapt to changing conditions that has helped our accidental nation, ejected from the Federation 50 years ago, to survive far longer than expected.

Separate the wheat from the chaff.

1 comment:

Wee Hong Liang said...

Let's be frank here; the issue of defence is definitely one-party sided due to its sensitive nature and the qualitative benefits of a strong deterrence. While I applaud your efforts in proving that words do not always equate to meaningful action, keep in mind that most of the policies debated aren't necessarily defence-related. It is one way to vote for defence and another for the nation. Still, love your writing and your evaluations on key topics that plagued Singapore at the moment. Cheers!