My Newsradio Scripts

These are my old radio news scripts on Singapore's current affairs when I worked as a broadcast journalist.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

OTGV #15 - SIF Cynics

Broadcasted On: 27/07/2002

One by one, the university-age students stood up to seek answers from their distinguished guest, Minister of State for National Development, Vivian Balakhrishnan.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is an appropriate guest for the 11th Singapore Student Symposium as he is also holding the Chair of the Remaking Singapore committee.

The questions came one after the other, even took up the time allotted for the refreshment break.

And all the questions asked by the inquisitive young minds bore a common thread.

Hi Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

Dr Vivian spoke passionately of the areas in which Singapore need to remake itself. Such, as taking a re-look at laws that maybe too restrictive for the new age.

Very exciting ideas but the questions by the student highlighted their underlying scepticism.

One ponder how the government can bridge this cynicism, this seeming divide between the government and the people.

"My name is Kenneth, studies in California. I know of this ERC sub-committee long-distance between Mr Tharman and some students in Stanford and Berkeley. This was held in March. I think it was good start where people of the ministerial level actually speak to students on the ground. And I managed to tell this to some Singaporeans and the reaction was that 'yeah, they can pretend but actually they won't listen to you.' So my question therefore is how are we to implement these strategies if there is this existing resistance and mis-perception on the part of the general consensus."

For another, the cynicism is directed at the attempts of public planners, such as those at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, to become more open.

"I did conservation journalism. I studied in Singapore then California, I wanted to highlight what Dr Balakhrishnan had said about we will be concerned about how we make decision, especially with regards to land-use. So my questions pertain to Environmental Impact Assessment, as far as I know, in other countries, they require EIAs be conducted before an entity get a land parcel so that they can see whether they plan to is appropriate to that place not just ecologically but socially as well. As far as I know EIAs are not mandatory and the information is not made public. So how can citizens’ participation be included in decisions in land use if EIAs are not implemented?"

Even the present system of meritocracy is not spared.

And it wasn't a Singaporean student who spoke up, but a foreign student who wanted to know if the meritocracy had been mis-interpreted by local companies.

And he drew the loudest applause from the audience.

"My name is Rodrigo Fernandez, I am studying civil engineering at the NUS. I found that in Singapore that job market is selective. If you got first honour you got job but those who are in lower grades, you won't get a job. And recently a friend who's a scholar but then he didn't get first honours so he was rejected by the company you know, for me it's a little tricky you know, is there an opportunity for those us who are not just first class honours and we do other kind of things? [applause] "

Dr Vivian spoke candidly and passionately about his vision of a new Singapore.

He spoke of how the new generation leaders are consultative and may be tolerant enough of alternative cultures to permit bohemian villages that have more relaxed out-of-bound markers.

But even this progressive "concession" is questioned.

"My name is Dominic Soon, I'm studying in Cambridge at the moment. I just want to ask about this concept of bohemian villages. It sounds very great and every thing where we all have a place where we prepare to get offended but the question is, is this going to be characteristics itself? Is society at large going to be a society where we don't want to get offended. Only under very special circumstances. In other words, are we only going to have open discussions in close forums? [thank you]"

I caught up with Dr Vivian after the event and asked him if the dominance of such scepticism in the next generation of Singaporeans is worrying.

"No I think these are commonly held perceptions and I honestly it won't go away just because I say so or because any number of people say so. I think what I said so earlier was that the proof of the pudding is in the eating so young Singaporeans in particular are going to have to see that reality has changed and the rules of engagement and even the way we interact with each other and even the nature of relationship between state and citizens and between citizens and citizens has changed."

Dr Vivian said that he's unperturbed because eventually these students will see that there have been changes.
He's optimistic the scepticism means that these youngsters do care about Singapore.

But the recent transport debate in Parliament yielded nothing for the commuter despite the public furore.
Will this send the signal that the government listens but don't budge?

Dr Vivian explains the importance for the government to stay firm for the good of the big picture.

"You can't take each incident that comes up. One swallow doesn't make a summer. I would be a lot more worried if every issue changed simply because there is contrarian feedback. Then you have a government which is running by polls, will be completely from trying to shift directions with every slightest alterations with the wind or in the current. But we're making sure that when we navigate this ship, we've heard all the weather reports, that we've listened to all our crew members. That we have optimised our crew members and we know where we are going."

Tune in next week as I look at the symposium's plenary session on the Social challenges facing Singapore.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.

Related Websites:

Singapore Student Symposium by Singapore International Foundation

Remaking Singapore Committee

Urban Redevelopment Authority

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OTGV #14 - Mendaki HELP

Broadcast Date: 25/03/2002

Books are window to different worlds known or foreign, real or fantastic.

Most education psychologists agree that if you inculcate a love of reading in a child while young, then the battle to educate him or her is nearly won.

At MENDAKI, under-performing Malay primary school students have been receiving valuable extra-curricula help via its Reading programme.

Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang as I look at the latest phase of Mendaki's reading programme.

The Home Enabling Learning Programme or HELP was launched in the second week of March this year.

Incoming Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs, Yaacob Ibrahim on Mendaki's investment.

"It is a very expensive programme. A lot of resources. But we want to build skill sets within the family and the children so that they can be on their own so that when they reached sec one, I don't have to run a tuition programme for them. It is a long term investment in that sense, basically."

The key to the whole operations are the volunteers that drive it.

"My name is Badral bte Abdullah, and I am one of the HELP volunteers. I am delighted and proud to be a HELP volunteer. It gives me a great pleasure to see a child craving to read more and more as he or she discovers a whole new world of experiences through reading. No amount of money can describes this feeling of satisfaction. This is the best reward."

The rewards aren't material and the volunteer aren't restricted to the Malay Muslim community.

Associate Professor Yaacob calls on volunteers from all walks of life.

"The person must be qualified, the person must be able to read, must have a certain attachment for children, understand their sensibilities. If you feed that bill, you are blue, yellow, green, it don't matter, come in!"

Australian expatriate, Georgina Aisyah Scully is also a volunteer and she describes her routine during her home visits.

"We read story books together, and we play lots of games that encouraged oral language, and pre-reading skills and uhm, Quaishril has a number of brothers and sisters so it's fun actually. So it's a fun time. I leave it to them, which activity or games which they like to choose to play. I bring a selection of picture books and they choose whichever one they like to read. And we just have a very informal visit down in the lounge together and have a little session."

Georgina says there's no communication problem with her charge.

"Noi, no problems at all. I think they can understand me and I've pointed out them if they having any problems just to ask me to repeat or I am sure that mom and dad will let me know if I am not clear, if any slang that I am using they are not familiar with and mom and dad speaks wonderful English so we have no problems there!"

Having a non-Malay volunteer has secondary benefits.

Not only the child gets educated, but the adults learn as well.

The adults learn about cross-cultural communications, and tensions or misunderstanding may be scattered when the parents and volunteers are working hand-in-hand to teach the children.

Dr Yaacob again.

"They become role models for the children. And the kind of role model that we can bring may not be from our own cultural base. It can be from the Chinese community, expatriate community and what have you. That's a wonderful opportunity so I don't think integration is our ultimate objective but it's an important by products in the process."

But with expatriate volunteers like Georgina Scully and the use of English books, is there a threat of the Malay students imbibing a foreign culture?

Outgoing Minister for Muslim Affairs doesn't think there's such a threat.

"I am less worried about that one then the ability to read. Because if you are able to read and received knowledge, there'll come a time where you'll be more discerning about what you read. Through books you gain knowledge, you gain depths, you gain all sorts of perception of things. So I would be less worried that you are influenced or imbued with values or attitude which are quite foreign to you, you know. Because if you start from that premise, then you confine your knowledge, you confined your readings to those which don't go at odds with your own traditions then you do not learn beyond the confines of your own culture."

A happy parent, Mdm Noryati, is very happy that she has the services of Georgina Scully.

Mdm Noryati

"I feel very proud having a volunteer like Ms Aisyah because after she come to my house, they started to enjoy reading more you see? Brothers and sisters get along. They enjoy getting together playing games like what Ms Aisyah taught them, yes."

So pick yourself up and volunteer for the Mendaki's reading programme.

Interested, Mendaki's Sharifah provides the information.

"The more we recruit the more we will train. So spread the word, around to your friends, to call us at Mendaki. The number is 245-5728. The main line is 2455766."

Sally forth and spread the word on each of your individual grape vine.

You are not just helping a young child but also yourself in understanding and making friends across communal boundaries.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.

Related Websites:


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OTGV #13 - Singapore Identity

Broadcast Date: 24/06/2002

As a land of immigrants, Singapore is close to 2 centuries old.

Much more if you count the orang lauts who'd been here before Raffles and the opening of the immigration floodgates.

But as an independent country, it is barely four decades old.

Do the Singaporeans have a common identity?

Hi, welcome to On the Grapevine with me, Chong Ching Liang as I explore whether there's a growing sense of Singaporeanism.

The Institute of Policy Studies recently released the findings of its survey to find out about Singaporean's sense of rootedness.

Director of the Institute, Professor Tommy Koh explained why the study is conducted.

"Back in 1990 IPS conducted a survey. The survey attempted to find out more about Singaporean's sense of ethnic identity, national identity and the sense of belonging to Singapore. The results of that 1990 survey were very encouraging. It showed that across the board, all the ethnic, religious divides, there was a good sense of national identity, of belonging to Singapore and we wanted to do a follow-up study. This study was completed in June last year. I said June last year because I thought it is important to let you know the study was done before September 11."

Senior Research Fellow Dr Ooi Giok Ling highlighted the key findings.

"What we found, you know, the main highlights, 78% of the people we interviewed actually thought of themselves more as Singaporeans than the race they are. Which mean national identity actually does subsume to a large extent, the ethnic identity of people and ethnicity. The same proportion of people said they thought in this way regardless of ethnicity."

But a closer look found that.

While Chinese Singaporeans tend to hold race and religion as more important to their identity,

they reported that they were more likely to feel discomfort in a room full of other races.

Dr Ooi's co-researcher, National University of Singapore's Dr Tan Ern Ser explained this seeming paradox.

"I think this has a lot to do with demographics. I mean the fact that the Chinese being the majority right? As the majority, you may not bump into a lot of the minority and therefore you, you're more or less quite comfortable where you are but it doesn't mean you are racist. You know, it just means that you don't have the occasion, the frequency, the chances of meeting minorities will be much lower. For example if you go to a hawker centre right, the chances are that you will meet more Chinese than you will meet minorities."

Dr Ooi noted that this finding may allow a tweaking of national policies on inter-racial relations to function more efficiently.

"Generally the Chinese, as the majority seemed a bit more laidback in terms of making the effort to bridge ethnic boundaries, to appreciate a bit more, this ethnic diversity. They generally adore this multi-racial diversity but they are not very, very familiar or appreciative of this unique feature of our society. Our survey does help to improve consciousness of exactly where more attention should be paid. And it's certainly not the smaller ethnic groups like the Malays and the Indians if you actually want to concentrate on improving ethnic relations. You have to work among the Chinese as well. There's always this assumption that the smaller ethnic groups tend to be the one, I supposed, more frustrated with their status and their position in the inter-ethnic society, but this seems to be less the issue based on this survey. It looks as though we need to work equally with the Chinese based on this survey. In fact even more so."

But while Singaporeans seem to head towards a sense of a common national identity, there're still differences between social economic classes and certain age groups.

Dr Ooi again.

"We found the younger and the more highly educated a bit more skeptical and then they were less willing to accept without querying the expressed purposes of some of the national policies or policies that have been introduced to, you know, manage inter-ethnic relations. So they are more likely to disagree that, you know, they could contribute to harmony the way they are you know, like the ethnic quotas in public housing estates."

The survey may have provided a hint as to why there's political apathy among Singaporeans.

Only 4 out of 10 Singaporeans say that they feel a sense of belonging to Singapore because they have a say in government policy.

Dr Ooi says more active citizen participation may improve the efficacy of national policies especially in the area of inter-ethnic relations.

"Largely because it is so centralised, top-down kind of policies that has been used, we should re-think, I guess, in the light of this survey whether there's fuller participation, the inclusion of stakeholders like the citizens, citizen groups might help to enrich our approach to managing ethnic relations."

It does seem that the IPS survey has thrown up more questions for the nation to ponder.

But the questions don't detract from the good news it provides.

A recap from Professor Tommy Koh.

"One of the highlights of the 2002 survey is that while ethnic identities are still important but they co-exist with a greater sense of national identity."

And so that may be the destiny for the eventual Singaporean identity:

a national identity that makes room for our ethnic backgrounds.

A reflection of the multi-racial country we live in.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.

Related Websites:

Institute of Policy Studies

National University of Singapore

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OTGV #12 - Polytechnic Seminar

Broadcasted On: 23/09/02

The Goh Chock Tong administration has brought about a greater level of consultation.

I came from the eighties vintage where students never have the chance to ask Ministers questions, and

even if we do, we wouldn't dare to suggest to them that the local political environment is stifling.

But that's what a number of polytechnic students broached with their ministerial guests during the various polytechnic fora.

Join me Chong Ching Liang as On the Grapevine peeps into the Polytechnic Forum on Re-making Singapore.

This year's organising Chairwoman, Sharon Cheong, on the tradition of the annual polytechnic forum.

"Polytechnic Forum has been an annual event in the polytechnic calendar since 1996. Each forum sees the gathering of some three hundred students from the four polytechnics to discuss key issues in Singapore and other parts of the world that impact on youth and the future of Singapore."

Last year, the Polytechnic Forum focused on how the government can communicate with the youths.

Mr David Lim, the Acting Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts was the guest.

In 2000, the guest was Rear Admiral Teo Chee Hean, the Education Minister.

This year, the fine tradition continues with the Minister of State for National Development, Vivian Balakhrishnan.

This year's Polytechnic Forum also coincides with an event that could be racially charged.

So Dr Vivian threw the gauntlet to the polytechnic students, and encouraged the students to pick up the discussion on ethnicity.

"How many of you have read today's paper, can I just have a show of hands? [Laughter] More accurately, how many of the students have read today's papers [more laughter] Okay. That's an interesting start. Well, I am sure you will read the papers later on and you will see we started off with bad news. The government has announced that another 21 had been arrested under the Internal Security Act for activities related to the terrorist agenda. So I think it would be artificial to talk here as business as usual when real things are occurring out there."

But almost all who stood up failed to pick up the ball when Dr Vivian hit to their courts.

Here are a couple of the students’ questions.

"I'm Jermaine Teo; I'm from the School of Engineering, Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Today I am here, to pose you a question from my discussion group - Beyond Careers. In the process of Re-making Singapore as you are trying to do right now, uhm, will people be able to embrace all types of careers not just the common traditional ones like doctors, lawyers. Will we also be able to do the alternative ones, the arts, designs and the likes? How do we do this? Okay take for example, if I have a passion for music, and I want to stop my engineering studies, if I tell that to my parents, my parents are going to ask me, 'Jermaine, are you thinking okay today?' My friends and my teacher are going to say, 'okay, I need to talk to you'."
"I'm Alex from Temasek polytechnic. It’s a long standing issue, polytechnic students entering university as compared to J-C students, the number of poly students entering local university are so low that in a course of 60, one to two of them are from poly. The rest of from JC. What I want to ask you sir is, Is it possible for Poly students to have an equal standing with JC students when it comes to entering a local university. [loud applause]"

Most of the students came prepared with questions and they seem unwilling or unable to ask questions on ethnicity even when openly prompted by Dr Vivian's opening speech.

To be fair, most who stood up to ask questions were chosen representatives of various sub-groups that had discussed topics concerning Beyond Cars, Beyond Careers, Beyond Clubs, Beyond Credit Cards, Beyond Cash, and Beyond Condominiums.

So perhaps they felt an obligation to ask those questions and therefore didn't respond to the Minister-of-State's call for a dialogue on ethnicity and racial diversity in Singapore.

But even if the polytechnic students can be accused of being bound to their pre-deliberated questions, they cannot be accused of being politically apathetic.

A number spoke on Singapore's polity. Here's an example.

"I'm Rakesh from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Basically this is my question. You can find many political cartoons in foreign newspapers. But we don't find it in local newspapers. Why is this so? Are our politicians unwilling to accept criticism?"

After the session with Dr Vivian, another student tried to explain to me why youths end up being apathetic.

Ironically, the very emotional force of his comments suggests he is far from apathetic.

"We hope that our views is treasured and being heard. Why? Because we are encourage to be a thinking nation. And if our voices are not heard, we think, what's the point? Most of the younger generation has this mindset about joining politics. If you want to join politics in Singapore there are 3 things you have to observe. First, you are have to have a lot of money, so that in case of being sued, you resources to fall back on. Second, your asset must not be in Singapore in case everything fails and you have nothing to fall back on, you still can run away. Third aspect, if you don't have the previous two? You better join the PAP because it's the safe path to politics. "

The polytechnic students forwarded a list of suggestions came up to the Remaking Singapore Committee after 3 days of discussion.

The dialogue element is not quite there judging from this year's event, but at least one knows that the polytechnic students concern is able to make there way to their ministerial guests, year after year.

This is Chong Ching Liang, for Newsradio 938.

Related Websites:

Remaking Singapore Committee

Ngee Ann Polytechnic

Singapore Polytechnic

Nanyang Polytechnic

Republic Polytechnic

Temasek Polytechnic

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