Photo from BBC

In a state media interview with CNA, former Minister for propaganda Yaacob Ibrahim said that Singaporeans are happier with the government today and that the public transport problems have been “alleviated”:

“I think more positive compared to 2011. I think people understand where we are coming from. At the end of the day, we can alleviate some of the transport woes. I think all the ministers including current Transport Minister Mr Khaw Boon Wan showed that they are working very hard to try and solve the problem. I think the concerns now are about the whole economy. People are worried about jobs. The Government is trying its very best to grow the economy. There are some concerns about cost of living but I think generally, they know that we are trying our very best.”

Currently only a MP, Yaacob Ibrahim also defended the million-dollar ministerial salaries he was getting, saying that the high expectations justified the high salaries:

“During the 2011 election, at least one resident brought up the issue of high ministerial salaries. In light of this, some might say the electorate’s high expectations are justified. I think expectations should be high regardless of salaries. We expect people, including the ministers, to work their best. I’ve always believed that we are a small country with no margin of error. If you’re given a position or responsibility, you’d better do your job right and do the best that you can, but sometimes things may not work out. That’s the reality of life. I think what’s important is how we respond. The way we respond to a crisis has to be professional and constructive. You’ve seen incidents in other places where the agencies couldn’t deal with the situation and the population gets inundated by other crises.”

The ex-Minister then said the Ministers are not out-of-touch even when they do not take public transport or live in a HDB flat. Calling the criticism “unfair”, Yaacob Ibrahim said the PAP elites are “always on the ground”:

“I don’t think that’s a fair criticism. I think our ministers are plugged in. You can check. Almost every weekend, all of us are down on the ground. I appreciate where that’s coming from, but I don’t quite agree that is the yardstick that you should use. I would use this argument that I’ve used before: you want me to be a communist before I appreciate communism? I know what public transport is all about. I used to take public transport. Now, because of the nature of my job I have to move from place-to-place, so I have to take the car. I think the measure by which we must judge is how well can you relate to the minister and how well the minister can relate to his constituents. I think we have to look at the totality of things that we do rather than whether we take the bus or not. I think that’s a bit too minutiae to use as a criteria. I don’t have to experience everything to appreciate the problem. I think the Ministers are concerned when there is a big problem and that we need to tackle that problem.”

Also the former Minister for Environment in 2010, Yaacob Ibrahim defended his “one-in-50-years” comment on the Orchard Road flooding incident, stating that Singaporeans have misunderstood him:

“I regretted not explaining that statement. People forget I’m an engineer by training. One in 50 is a probability concept for hydrology. I learnt that in school. It’s just a probability that this event can occur. But it doesn’t mean that it cannot happen tomorrow. I should have thought through more carefully how to explain that concept.”

Yaacob Ibrahim then defended the new media censorship laws – including a S$50,000 bond for blogs – he imposed while he was Minister for Communications and Information, and claimed that he is only giving himself “a right of reply”:

“If you are reporting on Singapore, we have to hold you accountable just as I hold the mainstream media accountable for their reporting. You can criticise the Government, but you must give us a right of reply.”

When questioned about Singapore mainstream media’s 151st-ranking on the World Press Freedom index, Yaacob Ibrahim said:

“I have not gone into depth on their criteria. All I would say is that we are a different country… I’m not apologetic about what the Government has done. There has been a lot of content we’ve allowed online. It’s only when you cross certain red lines, that we come down hard because we have to protect the larger interests.”

The former Minister in charge of Muslim affairs then addressed the racist Presidential Election, claiming that Malays in Singapore are not as talented as Chinese or Indians:

“Sometimes in life, you cannot go on a perfect trajectory. You need to intervene. Our talent pool is not deep. That’s the honest truth. We have talented people, but we don’t have that depth of other communities like the Indian or the Chinese communities. So I decided on balance that this was the better approach and the most important thing is that the person must meet the criteria set out for any presidential candidate.”