The launch of a high-powered organisation called Honour (Singapore) earlier this month caused an online buzz as many people questioned the reasons and motivations for forming such a group. Are Singaporeans lacking in honour? Is this another propaganda initiative to try to “educate” us to honour and obey the PAP-government as if they were our parents?
We should all be concerned and ask some hard questions as this group, led by powerful elites, has stated it wants to do a mass national outreach to everyone (read mass propaganda) including actively engaging youths and children through programmes such as talks and conferences. They are also discussing with the Ministry of Education to develop initiatives for schools. What kind of initiatives will these be and what will the contents comprise? Is it justified if public funds are used by MOE to fund such ambiguous initiatives?
In addition, this non-profit organisation is asking for public donations. How justifiable is it for Honour (Singapore) to be classified as a charity and for it to compete with other genuine charities for donations? Under the Singapore Charities Act, one of the criteria to qualify as a registered charity is that “the governing instruments of the institution provide for the purposes of the institution, and such purposes are exclusively charitable“. Is preaching honour to the people a charitable act?
No doubt though there will be companies that will donate to them for the sake of good government relations and for the generous tax exemption. Registered as a charity, Honour Singapore was granted the status of an Institution of Public Character (IPC) which means all donations are eligible for 250% tax deduction.
On the surface, it sounds almost beguiling as this group has claimed it is out to promote honour as part of our country’s celebration of 50 years of independence. But why honour and why now? How honourable are the intentions of this organisation?
Reports by the mainstream media on the launch event, which was officiated by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, gave no real insights into this group as they parroted the vague media statements such as saying Honour (Singapore)’s “mission is to seek the well-being of the nation by promoting a culture of honour and honouring”.
What is known is that this group is led by a group of prominent elites. It is chaired by Mr Lim Siong Guan, group president of GIC and former head of the Civil Service. Its board members include Mr Richard Magnus, a retired Senior Judge who heads the Public Transport Council, and Mr Jason Wong, chairman of Focus on the Family.
Honour (Singapore) also has a well-connected advisory panel comprising public figures such as Ho Bee Land’s Chairman Chua Thian Poh, Far East Organization CEO Philip Ng, Banyan Tree Holdings’ Senior Vice President Claire Chiang, Lien Foundation chairman Laurence Lien, Islamic Religious Council of Singapore president Alami Musa and businessman and ex-civil servant Andy Lim who is married to ex-Minister and PAP stalwart Lim Hwee Hua.
With such a powerful lineup spearheading this group, what exactly is its objective?
Interestingly, it has been pointed out by sharp-eyed bloggers that Honour (Singapore)’s board of directors are all leaders of Full Gospel Business (FGB) Singapore, a Christian outfit whose stated mission is to bring the ministry of the Christian faith into the marketplace. In response to the allegation of a religious agenda, Honour (Singapore) has issued a press statement to deny this even though HS shares the same office as FGB.
Several troubling questions came to mind after reading the website www.honour.sg and the speeches made at the launch event. Is the PAP-Government using a group of powerful individuals to front Honour (Singapore) which in turn is being used to frame and soft-sell a political agenda through mass indoctrination? Are the community and educational projects by this group a way of re-programming an increasingly critical populace into unwitting obedience? What kind of values and messages will they try to inculcate in the masses in the guise of honour?
As novelist George Orwell had illustrated in his books Animal Farm and 1984, the use of language and not physical force is the more powerful tool in the manipulation and control of minds. A group working in the name of “Honour” certainly sounds more persuasive than the Government commanding us to behave and to obey. And few, especially the young students, would question the legitimacy of indoctrination programmes packaged as educational initiatives in the name of honour.
The first line of Honour (Singapore)’s press release gives another strong hint as to the purpose of this group. It opened starkly in typical PAP-government fashion with: “Strident voices, an undertone of pessimism, and the view that one wins only when another loses are growing more evident in Singapore”. Placed right at the opening, this line deliberately sets an ominous tone to imply our country is at risk and that there is a need for a group like Honour (Singapore) to save the day (and implicit in the messaging, we should follow their mission if we want peace and prosperity).
For more clues on the government’s involvement in this group, read Heng Swee Kiat’s speech made at the launch where he stressed that “we must strive for a deeper understanding and appreciation for what has made Singapore successful so far, and what would help us to succeed in the coming years. In particular, we must reflect on the values that have underpinned our success” such as by honouring our past and our pioneers “who built the foundation to give us opportunities we have today”.
Heng’s second point was about ‘Honouring Our Word”. Here he emphasised that “we are a people and a government whose word can be trusted...and ensure the predictability in policies which will make others feel safe for decades to come”. The clincher within this paragraph was when he said “most fundamentally, we are a people whose word is our Honour, we are a people you can trust”. WE? Who’s we? In his speech, he lumped both the people and the government in the WE, a sneaky way of trying to convince people that the Government is trustworthy.
Heng also made a third point about “Honouring One Another”. Here, he used fear as an alarmist weapon by citing how differences and fault lines had led to World War One and the Ukraine war. He then launched into a spiel about how we should avoid such fault lines by honouring one another and working together for the “greater good”.
The Honour (Singapore) website was more direct on how it would use honour as an “Enabler for Constructive, Respectful Debate”. It stated: “As we look into the future, we can also expect an increasing desire by citizens to speak out on a widening array of national issues, and to be able to act on their own initiatives but with government support. In order to maintain peace, harmony, and stability even in such times of debate and individual actions, there must be a national consensus that all things are done with a view to enhance the well-being of the nation. To achieve this, there must be a strong vein of honour and mutual respect between individuals even when there may be sharp differences in views over particular issues.”
By now, I think many readers would have drawn the same conclusion as I did. It seems quite clear that Hope (Singapore) was established to push a national agenda and to strengthen the people’s trust in the PAP/Government by using the honour narrative. The Honour (Singapore) website even highlighted this sentence in bold font : “Trust is the lifeblood that determines the quality of relationships that undergird every community and society. And honour is the foundation of trust.”
Post GE2011, the Lee-led Government has increasingly taken aggressive actions to stem the wavering trust and waning votes. That Honour (Singapore) would be used by the Government to shore up its power base should come as no surprise. They have come under growing and vocal criticisms over their highhandedness and flawed policies (from immigration to housing and CPF) which have eroded our Singapore identity and pride and which have driven up the cost of living to the point where Singapore is ranked as the Most Expensive City to live in in the world according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.
For an idea on how Hope (Singapore) will carry out the indoctrination read its evangelistic declaration on the website: “It is imperative that the culture of honour be embraced by Singaporeans as a fundamental virtue in the compass for Singapore’s success in the years to come. It is a message and a belief that needs to be espoused and embraced by schools, parents, leaders, workers, and community groups, with the help of various channels like talks, conferences, media, events, and community activities.”
Some of the key messages that Hope (Singapore) might evangelise in its outreach could well include:
1) Honour your pioneers especially the PAP-Government leaders. Praise the pioneers and do not act dishonourable by criticising the government leaders especially the Lee family who are beyond reproach. Honour and Obey your government if you want Singapore’s success to continue.
2) Honour your word – Look no further than to the PAP-Government leaders as exemplary examples who are trustworthy and who always honour their word (especially to foreign investors and businesses). Honour your word like how your government has ALWAYS honoured its promises (forget about broken promises such as returning your CPF at 55 as that’s for your own good).
3) Honour one another – Be measured when voicing your views and manage your differences for the sake of survival and harmony. Let consensus rule and the majority win for the greater good of this country. You are behaving dishonourably if your views are too different and critical and if you do not understand the need for consensus.
On this topic of honour, one cannot avoid asking just how honourable has the PAP-government been since it came into power? History is replete with examples of its dishonorable behavior from the way Lee Kuan Yew had disparaged Singaporeans to how he and his Party collaborators used their absolute power to consistently repress our civil rights by introducing draconian laws and occasionally circumventing our Constitution when it suited them. And of course, we cannot forget how numerous critics of the government were brought to their knees via the ruthless use of the Internal Security Act which allows for detention without trial, through questionable crackdowns like Operation Coldstore and the Operation Spectrum (Marxist Conspiracy) and via the use of lawsuits to bankrupt and break its political opponents and overly vocal critics.
Honourable is certainly not a word that comes easily to mind when we think of our incumbent government.
In the coming months and years there will be a lot of “noise” in Singapore about honour and honouring. We will do well to prepare for it by remembering, and telling our children, that true honour boils down to knowing and having the integrity to do what is morally right.
We must never hush our conscience and let others, especially an elite group with dubious intentions, dictate to us on who, what and how we should honour.
“Act well your part, there all the honour lies.” Alexander Pope, English poet.