Thursday, May 14, 2009

Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS).

A Mr. Lawrence Loh had a letter published on TODAY outlining his personal experience at MPS which mirrored my take on why a good number of our MPs are out-of-touch with reality. It is entitled "MP had no empathy" (Letter from LAWRENCE LOH KIAH MUAN - Updated 10:07 PM May 13, 2009).

I felt I just had to archive this. I have no faith in Singapore-based online news outlets keeping any article alive forever.

It started with Member of Parliament (MP) Seng Han Thong being set on fire. Then came MP Denise Phua who was threatened by a rag-and-bone man. Recently, MP Cynthia Phua was subjected to a display of violence by a constituent.

Although these incidents are disturbing and a cause for concern, I wonder whether the constituents are solely to be blamed.

Allow me to relate my personal experience.

In February 2001, my older son died in a naval accident whilst serving National Service. In that year, my younger son was due for enlistment. A friend, a very active grassroots member, suggested that I approach my MP, for help in exploring the possibility of getting an exemption for my younger son. I was reluctant but he went ahead to fix an appointment for me at the Meet-The-People Session (MPS). I subsequently relented and he accompanied me there. It was in March 2001. That was my first appearance at a MPS, and it was to be my last.

I waited until midnight before I could meet the MP. Prior to this, he was given the case paper which detailed the objective of the meeting and the circumstances of my case.

When I entered the room, his first remark was “Yes, what can I do for you?”. There was no attempt at offering a word of sympathy or condolence. I then related my situation and said that both my wife and I were very traumatised.

His next remark “What traumatic, after two months, you won’t be traumatic?”. With that, I decided to end the meeting. And with that, my respect for him hit ground zero. I was too stunned and grief-stricken to react. Someone who was less-controlled and less-measured than me could have flown into a rage and become violent.

MPs are elected or appointed to serve the constituents. People who attend the MPS are those who have real problems and need help. In a lot of instances, they are stressed, distressed and troubled. What they need is a caring soul, a helping hand, a gentle voice, and words of hope and encouragement. To dispense these, MPs need good interpersonal skills and a high EQ. Arrogance, a patronizing, chiding and belittling attitude, aloofness and lack of empathy will only trigger acts of rashness and violence. Many of our politicians have a high IQ, some are scholars. However, a high IQ is not the only attribute needed in a political career. A high EQ is equally, if not more critical, especially when it comes to dealing with the constituents.

In my case, I would have felt good if my MP could have been a warm and caring person. If he could have been empathetic, consoling and helpful. All these qualities can only come from the heart, not from the mind.

How many of our MPs can stand up and be counted for this?

If Mr. Lawrence Loh is reading this, my condolences on your loss. I am sorry your emotional hurt did not register with the MP and I am also sorry it did not initially register with myself until after I've read to the point where you expressed that hurt. All I can say is in Singapore, people tend to have this mindset where if you ask them for something exceptional, they think you are out to cheat them or cause trouble for them.

Something else caught my eye in that article ... one of the comments:

Meiyi- Updated 03:03 AM May 15, 2009

When you have heard of a story, please do not hear one side of the story and jump into conculsion that what you have heard is true. In everything we do, there is a cause and effect. There must be something that the resident said for the MP to react that way.

While the premise of what is said is true, that one should take accounts with a pinch of salt, the "conclusions" of the comment abuses that notion. What does Meiyi mean by "must"? The implication of disbelieve, that Mr. Loh has exaggerated things, is there in the sub-text. Why is Mr. Loh's account any less probable than Meiyi's supposition? In any case, I guess the ball is in the MP's court ... let us hear what he or she has to say (I would note that Mr. Loh had been kind enough not to publicly identify that MP, but I think he really should have outed the MP).

Personally, I'm inclined to believe Mr. Loh's account given my personal experiences with bureaucrats in Singapore (and many other places), especially those who think highly of the powers and authority that have been vested in them.


Peter of Albany said...

I know Lawrence Loh myself and I can tell you that he speaks the truth. He is a good man and a top executive in a Singapore publicly listed company. I have great respect for the man.

Chee Wai Lee said...

Cool, good to hear from someone who knows him personally! If you can, please forward my regards and my sympathy that he had to go through this ugly episode dealing with his MP.