Singapore Ambassador Slams New York Times’ 38 Oxley Road Article, But Is He Ignoring Something?

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Singapore Ambassador To The US Ignores The Real Issues Of 38 Oxley Road Saga

ceasefire may have been called on the 38 Oxley Road saga since July 6, but the smoke that has arisen from the battle has travelled far and wide.

The saga has gained international traction given Singapore’s reputation as a country that is intolerant towards corruption — so much so that the New York Times (NYT) described the issue as a “national crisis” in an article dated July 4.

And the article has drawn the ire of Singapore’s Ambassador To the United States Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, who took issue with it in a letter to the editor of the American newspaper.

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Terse Response

In his terse letter, Mr Ashok raises 3 main objections that he had to the NYT article, mainly:

  1. The article’s description of the 38 Oxley Road saga as a “national crisis”.
  2. The article supposedly “promoting” the “abusrd notion that Singaporeans link the legitimacy of their governement with the fate of” 38 Oxley Road.
  3. The article not seeking any comments from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong or Singapore’s government on the article.

Here’s his letter in full, kindly released on Facebook by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

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Were Mr Ashok’s objections valid?

Let’s examine the 3 main problems Mr Ashok had with the article.

1. What “National Crisis”?

Mr Ashok argued that labelling the 38 Oxley Road saga as a “national crisis” was clearly blowing the matter out of proportion.

As justification, he cited that PM Lee already explained himself, and “no Member of Parliament made any allegations of impropriety or wrongdoing against the PM during the debate”.

Thus, there is “no national crisis in Singapore”.

Essentially, he is saying: “PM Lee says he didn’t abuse power, MPs also never say, so there was no abuse of power.”

Mr Ashok seems to have conveniently overlooked the fact that all but 6 elected MPs in Parliament are from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which PM Lee is the head of.

And despite PM Lee lifting the party whip, it’s quite evident that all the parliamentarians under his party are still “whipped”, for almost none dared to make these allegations of impropriety or wrongdoing.

The closest an MP got to that was Ms Rahayu Mahzam, who suggested that PM Lee’s statutory declaration may come across as a sleight-of-hand challenge to the validity of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

And given that PM Lee’s siblings were not present to rebut him in Parliament either, it wasn’t surprising that the parliamentary sitting on the saga didn’t manage to “clear the air” at all.

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2. It’s Not The House, It’s The Alleged Abuse Of Power

Mr Ashok was also quick to dispel the “absurd notion” that Mr Lee’s house was seen by Singaporeans as a symbol that gave political legitimacy to the incumbent ruling party and prime minister.

But we think Mr Ashok missed the point here — the fate of 38 Oxley Road is not the issue that has gotten Singaporeans all aflutter. 38 Oxley Road is merely where the issue started.

It’s the fact that PM Lee’s own siblings have accused him of abusing his power over their family dispute, which happened to arise over the fate of 38 Oxley Road.

And it’s this abuse of power allegation, levelled upon PM Lee not by some opposition politician but by his own siblings, which threatens the legitimacy of the government.

3. Is It Worth Seeking Govt Comments?

Mr Ashok also implicitly questioned the journalistic integrity of the NYT by saying he was “surprised” that NYT failed to gather any statements from PM Lee or the Singapore government before publishing the article.

By saying that, it seems that he is trying to paint the article as biased and unsubstantiated.

However, we think Mr Ashok has mistaken the NYT for Singapore’s mainstream media outlets like The Straits Times, which regularly asks government agencies and ruling party politicians for their input before publishing any story that can be construed as putting them in a negative light. This is done in the name of creating “balance” in an article.

But the NYT, unlike the mainstream media in Singapore, doesn’t have to care what the Singapore government says.

And it’s quite likely, nay, it’s almost certain that if the NYT had called the government to comment on the article, the response would be similar to the letter that Mr Ashok wrote — i.e. one that denies any impropriety or crisis, ignores the real issues and objects to the very article itself.

Being that as it may, why should the NYT ask the government for comment when any fool can predict what it’s going to say?

What Did The NYT Article Actually Say?

Mr Ashok’s response to the article seems to misconstrue the original purpose of the NYT article, which wasThe article was focused on “questions about how this island nation is governed, the basis of the governing party’s uninterrupted 58-year rule and how the country’s leaders are chosen”.

While arguing that the ruling party “tended toward authoritarianism”, controlled the media and crushed dissenting voices, the NYT also admitted that “most Singaporeans were happy to accept limits on freedom in exchange for prosperity”.

The main issue that the article brought up was not the fate of 38 Oxley Road, but the alleged abuse of power in a government with “few checks and balances”.

If proven to be true, these allegations would “upend Singapore’s carefully cultivated, squeaky-clean, corruption-free image”.

These are the true reasons why the NYT called the saga a “national crisis”, and though Mr Ashok did mention them, he only did so to deny them and explain them away by saying that a heavily partisan Parliament didn’t see anything amiss.

Nothing New

Mr Ashok brought up points that were similar to those mentioned by PAP parliamentarians. 

And his refusal to accept the term “national crisis” to describe the saga stems from the fact that he does not acknowledge that the allegations against PM Lee haven’t been answered adequately by a “whippped” Parliament.

Curiously, Mr Ashok also chose to focus on Singaporeans not linking the legitimacy of the government with the fate of the house, but seems to ignore the fact that Singaporeans may link the legitimacy of the government with the abuse of power allegations.

And if we choose to ignore these points, then clearly, ignorance is bliss.

Featured images from Facebook, Facebook and The New York Times

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