ST Forum: Rights debate: Question is ‘What are good values?’ (June 21)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I struggle to understand Dr Wong Jock Onn’s views in his Wednesday letter, ‘S’poreans guilty too, not just rights activists’.

He suggested that Attorney-General Walter Woon had wrongly criticised Western human-rights activists for believing ‘they and their values represent the apex of human moral development’. He cites three examples to illustrate Singapore’s own impositions on ‘Singaporeans who do not hold the same view’.

First, Dr Wong took issue with the Housing and Development Board for offering ‘hefty’ subsidies and new flats only to family units and not to singles. As a single person, I appreciate that public resources are scarce. The Government must prioritise the public’s interests.

Families as the backbone of society deserve special consideration. Singles generally do not have the same responsibilities such as raising children although there are exceptions where they are the sole provider for their parents. In such cases, they may seek assistance from the Government or charitable organisations. Singles 35 and above are given some HDB entitlements.

Second, Dr Wong objected to the Media Development Authority’s (MDA) ban on programmes with homosexual themes. Does he wish to see homosexuality mainstreamed? Many will find this undesirable.

While Singapore accommodates homosexuals, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said the Government will ‘not allow or encourage activists to champion gay rights as they do in the West’. This is encouraging.

Additionally, MDA adopts a calibrated approach; while banning programmes which celebrate homosexual themes like same-sex marriage, it allows programmes on free-to-air channels featuring famous lesbian hosts.

MDA is responsible for protecting social interests like public morality and the interests of the young. Adults who want exposure to homosexual values have Internet access.

Third, Dr Wong states that ‘men get better treatment than women’ because of influential Confucianist ideas that men are more ’superior’ than women. He glosses over policies that treat both sexes equally.

Women should receive equal pay for equal work and equal voting rights, but there are justified instances of differential treatment. For example, NSmen receive pay differentiation and tax relief in recognition of their sacrifices.

Laws embody social values which serve the common good, not merely the preferences of some vocal individuals who consider certain policies oppressive or unjust as violating interests which they like to (falsely) call ‘rights’.

Disagreements exist in all mature democracies. Not every agenda deserves special legal treatment. Good governments must balance interests and make wise decisions. The real question is: What should our society recognise as good values, deserving legal protection?

Let’s be specific.

Ng Eew Hwong (Ms)