Singapore Media Watch

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Yaacob: WP's criticism "opportunistic" - Sunday Times

The Sunday Times
15 Oct 2006
Melissa Sim

CRITICISM is easy but solving the problem is much more difficult, Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday in response to a statement made by the Workers' Party (WP) on Friday.

"It is always very easy and opportunistic to criticize the Government and once you criticise, it gets reported in the media you score some political points and then what happens after that?" the minister asked.

The WP had said that the Singapore Government owes it to its citizens to "adopt a greater sense of urgency and firmness" in solving the haze problem.

Dr Yaacob said that the haze is a very serious issue, and the Government, including the affected countries, have put the effort back since 1991. You can check our track record."

"And this is not something appearing out of nowhere like the WP press release."

However he noted that WP chairman Sylvia Lim said that the haze was a difficult problem to solve.

"I'm glad that she has come to this realization, it is something we have known for a very long time."

Our review

The above report carries a reply from Mr Yaacob to the WP's press release ( published yesterday in the Straits Times and TODAY (

Far more Singaporeans would have read the newspaper reports than the actual WP article on their website.

Two important pieces of information were not published in the article by TODAY:

1. Ms Sylvia Lim was aware that the Government has attempted to tackle the haze issue since 1991:

"As early as 1992, the then Environment Minister Dr Ahmad Mattar told Parliament that the government would work with the Indonesian government to look into the problem of the haze from forest fires in Indonesia."

2. Ms Lim had also listed out the milestones that should be set for Indonesia:

a)Time line for ratification of the ASEAN Agreement by Indonesia;

b)Schedule and implementation plan from the Indonesian government on prevention, detection and putting out of fires, including action at the provincial / local levels;

c)Commitment from the Indonesian government to make necessary enhancements to its domestic laws and concerted prosecution of perpetrators of such fires, corporate or individual;

d)Contributions from ASEAN countries including Singapore to assist Indonesia to achieve the above objectives.

The article ends off with Ms Lim's acknowledgement of the difficulty involved which was not reported in the original press release:

She added: "We also recognise that the enforcement for these cross-border problems is always very challenging. If there is a timeline for Indonesia to work to, at least there are some milestones for us to look at, and see if there's any progress."

Did Mr Yaacob reply to Ms Lim's proposals?

We find it surprising that Mr Yaacob make no mention of Ms Lim's milestones in his "reply". Instead of engaging the WP on the haze issue, he chose to interpret the press release as "unhelpful criticism" and defend the government's "track record". Was his reply intended for Singaporeans or Ms Lim?

As the report is based solely on Mr Yaacob's personal views with no input from Ms Sylvia Lim or the writer, many readers may get the following impression from the words highlighted in red:

1. The WP is criticising the government to score political points while making no contributions to solve the haze problem thereafter.

2. Ms Sylvia is not aware of the number of years the government spent on tackling the issue and only knows how to criticize them in one-off press release.

3. The haze problem has been present for a very long time and the Government has done its best to work on a suitable solution for a complicated problem which even Ms Lim acknowledges as a "difficult problem to solve". Therefore, her comments are unfair and unhelpful.

In the spirit of an "active citizenry"

While we believe the government has spared no efforts in working out effective solutions to the haze problem, we feel that Ms Sylvia Lim, as a member of the Parliament, and all Singaporeans have the right to ask the government questions since the haze issue has been perpetual for years and it is becoming a health hazard for us.

Ms Lim is correct that after 14 years, little progress has been made in solving the problem once and for all as evident by the recurring haze and smell of scorched earth Singaporeans have to endure at this time of the year.

By asking questions and expressing our concern over the issue, we are by no means criticizing the government. The government has information which citizens lack and therefore it is not unexpected of them to feel aggrieved and stung by Ms Lim's comments.

Just like a concerned mother who kept pestering the doctor about her child's illness and treatment, it stems more from anxiety rather than distrust in the doctor. Perhaps Mr Yaacob should have taken the comments lightly and more gracaiously.

PM Lee has encouraged citizens to speak up and participate actively in nation-building. Opposition MPs speak on the behalf of the silent majority of Singaporeans. If they are not allowed to question the government, who else has the right to do so? As a government which is responsible to its citizens, it is not too much to ask for answers to clear our doubts in the spirit of the "active citizenry" as espoused by our PM.

Give Ms Sylvia Lim a chance to contribute

We suggest that Ms Sylvia Lim be given a chance to contribute to the government's efforts to fight the haze. As a promising NCMP, it will be good exposure for Ms Lim to have practical experience in public governance.

We urge Mr Yaacob to extend an invitation to Ms Lim to join his task-force as an observer. We are confident Ms Lim will have constructive ideas to contribute. This will also dispel the misconception that the opposition are only "opportunists" with no action. If the government does not give our opposition MPs an opportunity to show us what they are capable of, then it should refrain from criticizing them for doing nothing in the future.

In the United Kingdom which has a similar Parliamentary system in Singapore, opposition MPs form a shadow cabinet to serve as understudys to the relevant ministries. This mentoring scheme enables the opposition MPs to be familar with the modus operandi of the government so that in the event they win an election, they are able to take over the reins of government with no hiatus almost immediately.

As we only have 3 opposition MPs in Parliament, it is imperative that they are given adequate opportunities to demonstrate their capability. Let us voters see for ourselves their performance now instead of conveniently dismissing them again as "wayang" before the next election.


  • Aiyah, now because of Sylvia's comments, Yaacob and possibly HL will have the excuse that they have to devote time and energy 'countering' her instead of solving the haze problem.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:59 PM  

  • Aiyah, now because of Sylvia's comments, Yaacob and possibly HL will have the opportunity to claim that they have to devote time and energy 'countering' her instead of solving the haze problem. What an opportunistic response to her criticism that would be.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:00 PM  

  • Is it just me, but I cannot find wp press release in any part of the press (aka ST and today). It's very bad for the media to print a PAP reply to a WP press release that was not printed in the press. How then can Singaporeans discern for themselves the truth?

    By Blogger Charissa, at 4:32 PM  

  • I think Yaacob is the opportunistic
    one, not Sylvia. The haze problem
    has been there for the past more than
    10 years. What was Yaacob doing?
    Simply drawing big fat pay from
    taxpayers' hard-earned money and let
    the citizens suffer from the inhalation of the smog and subsequent
    side-effects, while he stays in
    air-con comfort?!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:24 PM  

  • Track record for not being able to solve this ongoing problems for the past 10yrs or so?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:26 AM  

  • Instead of facing up to the comments, Yacock chose instead to launch a flanking attack and accuse Sylvia of politicising. It is clear who is the one politicising here. Standard PAP modus operandus.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:27 AM  

  • Keep up the good work !!

    Really need to spat shit on The Shitty Times !!

    By Anonymous Kuntakinte, at 1:23 AM  

  • I read the ST version and would have thought WP was opportunistic too, if I hadn't read this post.
    Thanks :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:23 AM  

  • Politics is a dirty business. PAP goes all out to score political points itself.

    Which pot is calling the kettle black?

    By Blogger *The Lunatic Fringe*, at 2:24 PM  

  • You know, we must surely thank the gahmen for their effort to solve this haze problem. Despite working on this problem for 14 long years, we continue to be plague by this every year. This showed how difficult the problem is in the first place and they most definitely deserved every penny of their million-dollar salary for having to deal with such difficult problems.

    May be we should double their salary so that they will continue to put in greater effort to think of solutions while we continue to look forward to MORE GOOD YEARS . . . with HAZE.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:24 PM  

  • PAP was opportunistic and scoring political points too with the James Gomez & Chee Soon Juan issues.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:26 AM  

  • Why bother to speak up?
    Criticise without offering solutions and you become a "partisan player".

    Criticise too much and you run the risk of "inciting disaffection against the government".

    Criticise too much and you might disparage someone important, end up slapped with defamation suit.

    Criticise too much and you might be charged with making an "insulting" comment under the Miscellaneous offences (public order and nuisance) act.

    Criticise too much and you could step on an OB marker (more like OB landmine) which you couldn't clearly see.

    Criticise and you may be accused of trying to score political points.

    Put on your smile, your plastic smile Singapore.

    By Blogger nec tamen criminosus, at 11:41 PM  

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