UPDATE : Workers Party has sacked Yaw Shin Leong. You can deduce from the statement released by WP what their concerns are:
"WP believes strongly in transparency and accountability, and expects no less from our party members, especially our Members of Parliament."
By continuing not to account to the Party and the people,...." - Sylvia Lim
By failing to come clean and apologize, Yaw puts his party at risk as the WP had campaign for a 1st World parliament, govt transparency and accountability. Some of you pointed out his alleged misconduct was more serious because they involved married women with families. In times like that people think in terms of black and white ...absolute good or evil. WP' acknowledged the contributions of Yaw and his work for the people of Aljunied.
A number of scandals have broken out and started to consumed the attention of the public and netizens. The tabloid has fed the masses with exciting stories to fuel their interest and encourage them to pass judgement on those who have erred. I want to start this article with some wisdom from the Bible:
"Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone" - John 7:53-8:11 [Link]
That was what Jesus said when a woman who committed adultery was brought to him and a self righteous mob wanted to stone her. Whether you're a Christian or not there is immense wisdom in this Bible passage for us on how we should treat those who have fallen short morally. The tabloids supply the juice and in some ways encourage us to do the equivalent of modern day stoning - condemnation by the media, public and the Internet.
Yaw Saw Leong has resigned from WP CEC I will not repeat rumours surrounding Yaw Shin Leong but take this opportunity to address some of the issues that emerge from this episode. In an earlier posting "Scandal January in Singapore", there were comments discussing whether voters and the general public should accept such moral failings of those in public office or civil service.
Suppose today a big announcement is made just like the one that was made on Saturday involving something illegal. Police announce that they have monitored Internet use in Singapore and have requested for a list of users who are civil servants from the ISP that have been visiting very deviant pornography regularly on the Internet. At the same time a list of people list of people is obtained by reporters of govt employees, teachers, doctors, bank employees, lawyers who frequent our casinos more than 3 times a week. Lets say the civil service decide to put telephone taps on the lines of all employees to see who are betting illegally, having illicit affairs, doing ...say they monitor Internet use to find out who uses it to do personal stuff like trading stocks (since it is stock market is open only during office hours so civil servants cannot invest?), dating service, MSN chat, online shopping etc ..throw in a little more detective work to find out who are the ones who are drinkers who get drunk often at pubs, bars and KTV, find out who is gay and violated 377A...check their bank accounts to find out who the overspending shopaholics are... hmm maybe I miss out 1 or 2 things but the idea is to build a list of people with "flaws".
After the whole exercise, you will have a rather big list maybe 20-30% of people will be on this list. Now you correlate this list with the performance of these people relative to others...what do you think you will find? Most likely you'll find that the 2 things are independent because these so-called "flaws" that people like to believe are defects in human character are an integral part of human nature...rather than flaws they are part and parcel of being human- the other 70% of the people you think are 'perfect' have issues you cannot fall out of your detection system or have hidden it from you. The ordinary guy will have one or more of these traits ...he may demonstrate strongly one of these traits or his issue may be spread over a number of them.
Before I give you the more stunning examples. Lets warm up with a few smaller ones. Renown physicists Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman were womanizers - in fact Feynman wrote openly about his appreciation of women and how to pick them up. Famous economist Keynes was gay and is believed to had procured to satisfy his needs. Famous computer scientist, Alan Turing was convicted of indecency[Link]. Newton was a sexual puritan but lost a fortune trading the stock market. Winston Churchill lost a fortune at the stock market and often drank too much. Before I explain how I think such issues should be handled by political parties, civil service and society....lets go through more examples....
What do ex-President Clinton, his vice president Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and Newt Gingrich have in common? They all committed infidelity....and had extremely good performance in public service. Perhaps the most stunning example FDR, whom many consider the greatest American president in the 20th century - historians have found out that he kept not 1 but 2 mistresses[Link]. Because it was morally unacceptable, he was forced to keep it a secret.
The public response to Saturday's events which I saw on the news is to demand that we monitor civil servants closer, check on their bankground more closely to look for clues and if they ever falter, "sack them on the spot". ...and some said it with air of moral superiority. But going after people's private lives can be counter productive -you put in a mountain of effort but you can never get rid of the human weakness of people you hire and most of it has nothing to do with job performance. . A zero-tolerance for certain human flaws simply encourages people to hide their problems until they get bigger until it transform into an illegal activity. You get better people not by insisting they behave perfectly but to step forward and come clean with whatever problems without major impact to their careers so long as they stay well within the bounds of what is legal, do not hurt others and undergo rehabilitation.
How should the public treat scandals surrounding political figures? Should we always demand they step down? For scandals involving corruption, they have to be prosecuted because they betrayed the public trust and did something illegal. However, if the politician is found to have a mistress, what happens? There is no black or white when it comes to such indiscretions. Former French president Mitterand had a mistress, Anne Pingeot. In the past, when these things are found out in Singapore, it is believed that they were asked to step down quietly and very often the public does not hear about it. In places where the society is conservative (or pretends to be conservative), the public will demand the politician step down. There is a danger to this because it encourages politicians to dig out dirt to destroy their opponents and because many politicians are not morally perfect, such scandals become regular affairs, tabloids sensationalise and over time causes great damage to the society as trust for leadership erodes.
Across the causeway, several politicians became embroiled scandals including one repeat allegation that Anwar is gay. If you look at these cases closely, they are likely to involve political enemies digging dirt on the private lives of their opponents. I spoke to a few Malaysian friends and most of them don't care if Anwar is gay but their main concern is corruption and the motives of those behind hiring private investigators to spy on opponents - do they want power for some other purpose far more sinister than a politician having a mistress?
In Singapore, so far it doesn't look like sex scandals have not been used by politicians from either side to bring each other down - scandals have emerged from rumour mills formed from normal human networks. We don't get CDs of scandalous liaisons sent to us by mysterious sources recorded from hidden cameras. However, I can think of one case involving Francis Seow in the 80s. During the 1988 General Elections, Eunos GRC was closely fought and the campaigning was heated. Half way through the campaigning, some details surrounding Francis Seow's private life
was circulated - his team lost but secured 49.11% of the votes. Francis Seow said in a recent video that state intelligence resources was used to spy on him and record his conversations with his girlfriend(girlfriends?) and so on. Almost half the people in Eunos GRC didn't care and voted for the opposition anyway - you have to remember it is asymmetric only one side had the resources to check on the other.
We are all tempted to take the moral high ground when such such scandals occur. The more shocked you are or try to pretend to be, the more you feel this air of moral superiority but we forget we have all sinned and fallen short at some point in our life. There are many things leaders can do that are far more harmful than having a mistress - they can start wars, build casinos, ruin the economy and implement bad policies that hurt the people. Lets not be so fixated with these scandals and make the people embroiled in them go through hell when they have already suffered enough pain from their own failings.