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Natural for citizens to criticise, as well as praise govt: George Yeo

By Nazry Bahrawi, TODAY
17 August 2007

SINGAPORE: They don't always see eye to eye with the Government.

But political commentators, including bloggers, do have their place in Singapore, according to Foreign Minister George Yeo.

"It is natural that citizens should criticise the Government. It is also natural that citizens should praise the Government for doing good. This is how a healthy relationship is established between the individual and the collective," said Mr Yeo to students from Raffles Institution at a live dialogue session organised by the school yesterday.

Many of the questions centred on political discourse, censorship and democracy. Asked what he thought of political commentators such as Mr Brown, Mr Yeo said he enjoyed some of the well-known blogger's work.

"They are not all fair, but then it won't be funny if there isn't a little (of the) unfair in order to exaggerate a point. It is part of the creative industry, which we are trying to promote in Singapore," he added, citing creativity in blogs, theatre and cartoons.

But what of some Members of Parliament who feel that mr brown was too harsh on government policies? "No, no. In fact, he had even invited me to appear on his blogsite. Maybe one day I will, but I have been quite busy," responded Mr Yeo, who also blogs.

But Mr Yeo did note that some commentators may take things too far. "Sometimes there could be malice in the humour. And if you, as an individual, feel that your reputation is harmed ... then you may have to take action.

"Most of the time, if it is just funny or satirical, I think we should just have a laugh at ourselves. It will build a healthy society and it will make it into a more vibrant city."

To a question on democracy, Mr Yeo said the model differs from country to country. "Whatever form of democracy that we evolve in Singapore, it must do two things: Make us secure and ensure that our economic chances are maximised."

But for a country to work, an active citizenry is crucial.

"We need a good government, and we need a government that does things, but we also need citizens that would do things for themselves and one another," he said.

Singling out the income divide between the haves and have-nots here, Mr Yeo said: "What we need in Singapore is for the people who are more successful to always keep an eye out for those who are less successful and to help them … Whatever the Government does, it is no substitute for the good that we do to each other."

'Be humble and willing to share'

Given the rough patches in Singapore's relations with some of its neighbours recently, some students wanted to know if the Republic's development was a sore point with them.

While Mr Yeo hoped this was not so, he noted: "It is always important to us not to be emotional, be humble and willing to share with others. Accepting that even when we do all these things, sometimes we get criticised for all kinds of things, but we take it in our stride."

Asked about the unhappiness over Singapore's stake in Indosat, Indonesia's second largest mobile phone operator, Mr Yeo said: "The general principles we adopt is be a good corporate citizen, add value where you are, do good to the community yet make a profit … Always observe the local law. That is very important.

"It may be that because we are a little red dot, there is resentment … That is what I meant, that in these countries where we are not very welcome, we should restrain ourselves. - TODAY/fa

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