Josephine Teo and Her Husband Perfectly Exemplify What the PAP Mean When They Talk about Meritocracy
Josephine Teo has rightly earned Singaporeans’ ire for some of her asinine comments excusing herself for the way she failed to do anything to prevent the pandemic sweeping through the foreign worker dormitories like wildfire and then blamed critics for perfect hindsight. It was already well known by January that the disease spread rapidly through close proximity which is why China ordered a draconian lockdown in Wuhan. In February, there was already the case of the Bangladeshi foreign worker who visited a clinic and a hospital but was sent back to his dorm each time. Not only was she aware of the high density accommodation in the dormitories (a euphemism for overcrowding and insanitary conditions, but she was aware that such conditions were essential to the PAP’s economic model of low cost foreign labour to keep costs low (misleadingly as it turned out) and the cornerstone of their claims that Singapore under their leadership is exceptional compared to other developed countries.
Teo has a long history of asinine comments such as her claims that Singaporeans only needed a very small space to have sex. So do factory chickens. What she said is deeply revealing about how the PAP regards Singaporeans and the philosophy of the Government’s housing policy which has been about growing the population, increasing housing density while ensuring that they retain the lion’s share of any rise in property prices through their ownership of the freehold underlying HDB and subjecting purchasers to a range of onerous conditions which underline their tenant status. Her out of touch and insensitive comments put her on a par with Marie Antoinette, the one of the famous “let them eat cake” remarks.
While she is quick to invoke the Government’s new instrument designed to stifle criticism, the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act (POFMA), she herself talks cock most of the time, as demonstrated by her misleading claims that 63,000 jobs were created in 2019 (see my blog here). My personal experience of her is confined to a seminar I attended way back in 2009 when the PAP were still willing to debate with me. She ridiculed the UK Government’s generosity in allowing her to use the NHS for free while she was studying in London and went on to claim that as a result of having a free health service Britons paid a huge amount of tax. She of course omitted to mention that most of the higher tax is paid by high earners like herself since the UK tax system is much more progressive than Singapore. Singaporeans have to put a lot aside in CPF every month to meet future medical bills but end up footing a lot of the costs on an out of pocket basis whereas Britons get universal free health insurance and do not need to worry about medical bills. If POFMA had been around then I would have issued her with one on the spot. However POFMA works asymmetrically. It allows PAP Ministers to spout nonsense and falsehoods without the public having a right to challenge them while critics can be issued with Correction Notices without the state even providing the facts to prove that what the person said was false.
Amidst the public anger with Josephine Teo, some have claimed that her husband, Teo Eng Cheong, who is CEO (International) of Surbana Jurong, in charge of Singapore and South-East Asia, has benefited from the dormitory crisis because Surbana has received contracts to build facilities for recovering and early-stage Covid patients (overwhelmingly foreign workers) at Singapore Expo.
However this misses the point entirely. Surbana is 100% owned by the Government, split 51/49 between Temasek and Jurong Town Corporation. It is yet another example of the fake corporatisation is designed to deceive Singaporeans (and Western pundits) as to how much of the economy is owned by the Government. In my last blog post I published a comment from a reader stating that in 2000 he had calculated the state’s share of the economy at around 70%.
What Singaporeans need to be angry at is the fake meritocracy that results from this Government control. Too many times PAP Ministers’ spouses or relatives are given the top jobs at GLCs with the prime example being the PM and his wife whose qualifications to occupy the top slot at Temasek for fourteen years (on a remuneration that the Government has tied itself in increasingly untenable knots in an effort to keep secret) remain as mysterious to me as they must do to most Singaporeans. Mr Teo has similarly mediocre qualifications yet somehow has managed to be appointed to several key roles, including head of the Competition Commission of Singapore from 2008 to 2010 where he was notably silent on the Government’s monopolies over large swathes of the economy which have resulted in higher prices and less choice for consumers than in other countries. Surbana’s board is meanwhile packed with the usual suspects so that Temasek can claim that its companies are models of good governance.
Other examples of PAP power couples include Heng Chee How, whose wife is the Auditor General (how can that be squared with the most basic requirement for independence), Heng Swee Keat, whose wife is head of the National Heritage Board and a Director of Gardens by the Bay, and Ng Eng Hen, whose wife is CEO of SingHealth. I could go on but the links between the PAP elite, their spouses, relatives and children (who usually are given Government scholarships despite coming from very wealthy families and fast-tracked into the next generation of leadership) has been well documented by Jesse Scott in her blog.
Jesse Scott quotes from the New York Times which, though about China, is equally applicable to Singapore:
“It is all but impossible to distinguish between legitimate and ill-gotten gains because there is no public disclosure of the wealth of officials and their relatives. Conflict-of-interest laws are weak or nonexistent. The business dealings of the political elite are heavily censored in the state-controlled news media.”
— ‘Princelings’ in China (NYT)
Despite the anger now towards Josephine Teo and the Government I expect much of it will evaporate by the time the elections are called and Singaporeans will return the PAP to office with the same or an increased majority. As long as Lee Hsien Loong and his wife control most of the economy and the land and the reserves they have an inexhaustible source of patronage in order to buy loyalty through the distribution of jobs in the bloated public sector.