Earlier this week, the authoritarian state of Singapore banned the setting up of a new business that teaches Singaporeans about democratic values and free elections. Stoking nationalism, the Singapore government took issues that the business owners are funded by American philanthropist George Soros and a number of foreigners making donations through their website The New Naratif.
Oversimplifying matters, the government alleged that being foreign-funded means being an agent for foreign powers to forward a political agenda. Assuming such preconception is accepted, doesn’t the local state media befit exactly the description and acting for foreign powers? The Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is a publicly-listed company and it’s key source of funding is advertisement revenue with customers being foreign corporations. Straits Times is foreign-funded and with it’s credibility ranking at 151st for press freedom, nobody would disagree that Straits Times does not have a political agenda, so why, is it allowed to operate?
It is hence obvious, that forwarding a political agenda is not an issue when it aligns with the government’s. This is also why Dr Thum Ping Tjin is the only one singled out for further background investigations, while the foreigners invited to the public hearing, like this anti-Russia Ukrainian, making absurd claims are excused.
These episodes only goes to show that the Singapore government cannot be relied on to exercise independent judgement on matters of foreign funding.
It is just the same as the Select Committee on online falsehoods, where the government made it clear that any news not in the government’s favour is fake news. Any political agenda not aligned with the government’s means a person is a foreign agent, spy and traitor. The Singapore government becomes the arbiter of truth deciding which political agenda is a “foreign interest”, as such, giving a class on democracy and free elections become “foreign political agendas”.
Free democracy workshops are naturally banned because the ruling party thrives on voters’ ignorance. Surveys have shown that the ruling party supporter base are mostly elderly Singaporeans, and those with lower education qualifications. The younger and better educated population are wary that placing blind trust in a single party is haphazard for the Singapore political system, which is currently corrupted with nepotism and fascism.
Foreign funding can be a force of good. Equipping the civil societies and news media with resources would put them on equal footing with the state media funded by the dictatorship.
What is wrong with foreign funding? The pertinent question should instead circle around what is the funding used for. Overthrowing a dictatorship to liberate a population is perfectly legitimate enough a reason. If change does not come from within, let change come from outside. Singapore should support not only free trade, but also the free exchange of ideas. Dismissing opposing suggestions as “foreign political agenda” is just witch-hunting, such baseless accusations would only distract the actual discussions why a certain concept may or may not be applicable to Singapore.