Whiter than white?

By | January 1, 2004

Barely a day passed in late December without further exposé of a local politician’s “adventurous streak” in the Straits Times. No prize for guessing I’m referring to the National Solidarity Party’s Steve Chia.

Funny isn’t it? At no time during the opposition’s entire existence have they been given so much coverage in the local press. All of a sudden, Steve Chia became the hottest ticket in town, hotter, perhaps, than Michael Jackson. Unlike the latter, no charges were brought against Chia, and his wife has since retracted her accusation.

However, this did not stop people from clamouring for Chia’s head.

In his news analysis, “Spare the pain – step down or resign from party” (ST, Dec 23), Ben Nadarajan argued that “saint or no saint, he [Steve Chia] forgets that he is a public figure who is expected to live up to a much higher moral standard”.

He further suggested that “Chia should do the honourable thing and spare his party – and the people who supported him – pain” and resign.

Before we rush to take the moral high ground and hold people to certain standards, let us try to answer two questions:

1. Who are we to scorn the things that Chia did? I’m not saying we should not hold people in public office to higher standards of accountability. In fact, we should, for this is something that we have not been able to do in Singapore. But to impose one’s moral on another person would be, at best, a subjective affair. To quote an old saying, “let he who has not erred cast the first stone”. Saint or not saint, I doubt Nadarajan would be fighting for his place in the queue with a clear conscience.

2. Exactly what “pain” is Nadarajan referring to? As far as I can see, those who should feel most aggrieved by this sorry affair are the Chias themselves. The rest of us are just standing by the sidelines watching this soap opera unfold before our eyes, so don’t drag us into the bargain.

Double standards
Several readers who wrote in to the ST Forum pages also adopted an “I’m holier than thou” stance.

One letter-writer by the name of Ahmad Shukor reasoned that “had Mr Chia still been a remisier, no one would have given two hoots about the exposé. But because he has assumed a public office as an NCMP, the ‘whiter-than-white’ standard built up by the Singapore government over 38 years automatically applies to him”.

This flawed reasoning was taken apart by another Forum writer, Zhong Zewei, who said that “such an assertion smacks of a brand of elitism which elevates them to a plane of higher intellectual, psychological and moral standing in relation to ordinary citizens”.

“In an era of representative government,” he continued, “such a schism between the people and the government is dangerously alienating.”

Shukor’s point was, however, supported by Daryl Lim Tze Wei, who maintained that “had a PAP member shown Mr Chia’s foibles, he would have been quick to suffer the wrath of a party culture intolerant of such ‘little differences’”.

Is that the reason why the late Teh Cheang Wan, then minister for national development, was driven to commit suicide when it was revealed that he had taken bribes for the construction of Housing and Development Board flats?

And what about the case of acting education minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam? In 1994, as chief economist at the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Shanmugaratnam was charged and fined S$1,500 for breaching the Official Secrets Act. But that did not stop his meteoric rise within the ranks of the PAP.

As for the statement “a party culture intolerant of such little differences”, it would be advisable to check out the following document: http://www.sfdonline.org/sfd/Link

If this is the so-called “whiter-than-white” standard, then we must all be colour-blind. Or just plain blind.

In Chia’s case, it’s his personal indiscretion; in the other cases, they’re public indiscretions. That’s the fundamental difference.

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