Singapore: Rising Social Ills

1999

Dr James Chin

The PAP regime have always portrayed Singapore as one of the key proponents of the 'Asian Way', with strong and clean government and bureaucracy, respect for law and order, strong interventionist approach to ethnic relations issues, group-centred as opposed to the individual-centred West, and strong family institutions ('family is the basic building block of society').

Recent events suggest otherwise.

In the past month, several teenagers have been charged and jailed for computer hacking. What was unusual about the cases was that the computer servers hacked were mostly based in Singapore. Given the republic's well known harsh attitude towards computer crime (and criminal activities in general), the teenagers must have known that they were risking severe penalties by hacking into computers based in the republic, more so than computers based outside Singapore.

This is in line with a general rise in youth delinquency, especially all-female school gangs. These gangs were described by police as being 'worse' than their male counterparts when it comes to violence and extortion. A recent survey found that teenagers were also experimenting with sex at a younger age and felt alienated from their parents.

The number of divorces rose by15 per cent from the previous year. Divorces among non-Muslim couples have risen substantially, more than double last year's figure.

The old ethnic tensions between the Malay minority and the Chinese-majority surfaced again. At an official forum last month, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew remarked that before a Malay Singaporean Armed Forces officer could be put in command of a 'machine-gun unit', background checks would be carried out to see if he had family ties in Malaysia. This caused Malay organisations to protest loudly and their request for a meeting with Lee was typically brushed aside. Surprisingly, one of the PAP's most senior Malay leaders, Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Foreign Affairs), raise the issue in Parliament, cautioning against the danger of stereotyping Malays. The political omnipresence of SM Lee was such that Zainul was also quick to point out that the remarks showed Lee's 'deep-seated concerns that cannot be easily wished away by rational thinking'. Despite of this, many Malay Singaporeans were offended by Lee's questioning of their political loyalty.

The past few months also saw a rise in the number of public servants charged with corruption. Most of the charges relate to policemen taking protection money and 'entertainment' from loan shark operators and even small time criminals. The police in Singapore are generally regarded as the most efficient and corruption-free in the region.

More seriously, former Nominated-MP Change Shaw Peg, owner of a construction business, was charged with paying a man to take the rap for employing illegal foreign workers in one of his projects. In June, Choo Wee Khiang resigned as MP two hours before pleading guilty to abetting his brother-in-law in using false invoices to cheat a finance company into granting loans worth around S$1 million. He was sentenced to a nominal two weeks jail sentence and a S$10,000 fine.

These two cases have important political ramifications as the PAP always claim that their candidates go through a very stringent selection process. The last high profile corruption case involving PAP leaders was in 1986 when National Development Minister Teh Cheang Wan committed suicide after being investigated for corruption. Ten years earlier in 1975 Minister of State for Labour Wee Toon Boon was jailed for 4-1/2 years for receiving almost S$1 million in "commissions".

The rising social ills are most probably linked to the regional economic downturn. Although Singapore as a whole was not as badly hit economically compared to her neighbours, but Singapore society did not escape the crisis. The individual Singaporean was hurt by the regional downturn, causing strains on the family institutions and causing others to seek financial gains by corrupt means.

WATCHPOINT: Expect more reports on youth delinquency, breakdown of cohesion of the family institution, government moves to woo back the Malay community and more reports of public servants and politicians charged with corruption.

 

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