Tan Siok Choo
Taken from The Sun
In Kuala Lumpur and in Jakarta, the statement by Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew that the Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia "are successful, they are hardworking, and therefore, they are systematically marginalised" has generated much anger.
Instead of hurling brickbats at Singapore's former premier, Malaysian politicians should offer Lee several mega-litres of sympathy.
It is much needed. Two events in September and one in July have added up to a summer of discomfort for Lee and Singapore's top leaders.
Last month's annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Singapore is one example. Intended to generate more than four million smiles, this much-hyped event - on which the Singapore authorities had spent US$60 million (RM220 million) in preparations - initially provoked 30 frowns.
Although 30 is an insignificant number, the frowners included three high-profile personalities - World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, IMF managing director Rodrigo de Rato and the president of the European Union (EU).
In a strongly-worded statement, Wolfowitz said barring 27 activists from civil society organisations (CSOs), accredited by the World Bank and the IMF, from entering the republic was "a breach of the formal agreement" Singapore had signed with the two Washington-based institutions three years ago.
After Wolfowitz said the ban was an embarrassment to Singapore, the World Bank and the IMF, the Singapore Government relented and announced 22 out of 27 activists would be allowed entry into the republic.
Equally embarrassing were accusations by CSOs that Singapore had been selected as the conference venue because of its authoritarian reputation. Denying the accusation, Peter Stephens, regional communications manager of World Bank, said Singapore had been the only country to submit a formal bid to host the event.
Poor Singapore! Instead of focusing on the record turnout of 20,000 people for the IMF/World Bank meeting in Singapore and the epochal reform in IMF voting power, the international press seemed to delight in headlining the negatives.
International newspapers like the Financial Times put on its front page the three-day stand-off between Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan and the police at Speakers Corner.
Furthermore, the Sept 19 coup in Thailand that ousted controversial premier Thaksin Shinawatra generated even more negative press for Singapore.
Thrown into the spotlight was the US$1.9 billion (RM6.9 billion) purchase of Shin Corp - a company owned by the former Thai Premier - by the Singapore Government-owned Temasek Holdings in March this year.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Eric Ellis described Temasek chief executive Ho Ching's purchase of Shin Corp as a "spectacular misjudgment". Ho Ching is the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"As Thaksin banked Temasek's tax-free cash, Thais burnt Ho Ching's effigy on Bangkok streets, reducing the reputation created for her by Singapore spin doctors as a safe pair of hands," he said.
"Thais stopped using the television, airlines, finance and technology businesses Temasek bought. Now Shin buyers wear a US$2 billion (RM7.4 billion) paper loss on the deal after less than six months," Ellis wrote.
Perhaps more mortifying for Singapore is the comment by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor at Chulalongkorn University.
"We hear a lot from Singaporeans about transparency and what integrity they have in business. But I'm afraid that by their own standards, Temasek has failed the test," he said.
Yet another source of negative press was the unexpected resignation in July of Lee's younger son, Hsien Yang, as chief executive of Singapore Telecommunications. Better known as Singtel, the company, 54% owned by Temasek Holdings, is Singapore's biggest listed entity and Asia's fifth biggest phone company.
A Reuters story notes Singtel's new head will face strong headwinds. With two-thirds of pre-tax earnings from operations outside Singapore, growth will depend on overseas expansion. According to a poll of 19 analysts, Singtel could post a 17% slump in net earnings to S$3.46 billion (RM12.7 billion) for the year ending March 2007.
Unkind analysts pointed out Singtel shares, listed on Nov 1, 1993, have traded below the price of S$3.60 (RM8.20) at which they were sold to institutional investors for over six years.
Singapore leaders are unaccustomed to such negative publicity. As a gesture of sympathy, Malaysian politicians should send Lee a box of mooncakes as a reminder that to receive sweetness, he should first give sweetness.