With the debate over Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code reignited on and off our online space, we found ourselves hardly surprised to hear an iteration of the question being surfaced at the opening night of the 2018 Singapore Summit.
Offering a new analogy to it, however, was the person the question was targeted at: opening speaker, 4th-generation minister and potential Prime Minister candidate Education Minister Ong Ye Kung.
Here’s what he covered in his interestingly-domestic-focused speech, by the way:
A young member of the audience asked Ong how Singapore can become more inclusive to others, beyond the scopes of race and religion, also mentioning LGBTQ people.
Even though she didn’t focus solely on it, Ong picked up on her mention of it and addressed the topic head-on.
LGBTQ people “live in Singapore peacefully”
Here’s what he said:
“I thought Singapore is one of the most inclusive place in the world because… it is deep in our DNA to be inclusive and take in people of all shapes and sizes, all from everywhere, all backgrounds.
And you mentioned LGBTQ, the fact is they live in Singapore peacefully. No discrimination against work, housing, education, to go about their lives. And therefore this is what we are. But however on the issue of LGBT, it is also an issue of social mores and societal values. The population of Singapore is split in two when it comes to legislative changes.
So the government’s view has always been, when concerns such an issue, it’s better, we might be the largest animal in the jungle but we are not the jungle. Some things we leave it to society to decide over time.”
Being “less of a nanny state”
During the 37-minute question-and-answer segment, Minister Ong also found himself touching on the oft-cited foreign perception of Singapore being a “nanny state”, thanks to a question from DBS Group CEO Piyush Gupta about risk-taking and the promotion of entrepreneurship.
“Singapore being a nanny state, depends on what kind of nanny. Some nannies are fairly nurturing and when you grow up you remember your nanny as very nice to you and imparts all the right values. Some nannies don’t let you do anything. But it’s a fair comment (to call Singapore a nanny state).”
But, he added, society needs also to be able to “celebrate failure”, as long as it is taken in the right spirit.
“Sometimes, we should allow innovation to take place, it doesn’t mean it will go well. But that’s how we learn, trial and error, we correct. So if I were to say a major shift in mindset, culture, that is a fair comment.”
Responsibility of 4G leaders
Moderator Tan Su Shan, Group Head of Consumer Banking and Wealth Management at DBS Bank, also asked Minister Ong how would he as a “4G leader” would help people in a time of massive volatility.
In response, Minister Ong said that as “younger Ministers”, the 4G leaders had a responsibility to be more in touch with the changes occurring within the younger generation. He said:
“They have different hopes, different dreams, different from the past generation and we have to connect with them, match it to the kind of environment they will grow up in and come up with a plan for the future.”
However he demurred when it came to the distinction between the terms 3G and 4G leaders, and said that the Cabinet had a “spectrum” of ages and experiences.
Nas Daily over Crazy Rich Asians
Here’s another thing that perhaps shouldn’t have surprised us: the weaving in of Nas Daily and “Crazy Rich Asians”.
Asked by Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Simon Tay what values he would like to see represented to foreigners who see us through the lenses of CRA, Ong responded that Singaporeans didn’t take the film too seriously, because “we know who we are”.
He observed, for instance, the fact that the hawker centre the movie featured “wasn’t the best”, and that Nick Young drove in the wrong direction, towards Jurong, when he was supposed to be chasing Rachel Chu to Changi Airport.
And perhaps almost predictably, he joined a growing group of Singapore minister fans of a certain Arab-Israeli vlogger:
“As for foreigners, I would say watch the movie, watch how great Singapore, how nice Singapore is, then watch Nas Daily. He has some very good one minute videos, and then visit us and compare to see if it’s accurate.”
The popular vlogger, whose real name is Nuseir Yassin, has produced 12 videos (and counting) that examined all aspects of Singapore’s society, from the water supply to Changi Airport to our parking styles.
Recent remarks on Section 377A
Ong’s statement on the LGBTQ issue echoed the remarks made by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam about repealing Section 377A, the Singaporean law that criminalises gay sex.
On Sept. 7, Shanmugam said that Singaporeans were “deeply split” on the issue, with the government in between the two groups who alternately want to repeal the law, and those who are opposed to any change over the law.
“(While) the law is there, there will be no prosecutions for private conduct…We live and let live. If one side pushes, you’ll expect a substantial push back. So we’ll have to go with the way the society’s viewpoint goes on this.”
Top image by Jeanette Tan.