Many students who expected a lively debate with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum (KRMF) left the University Cultural Centre feeling disappointed and wanting more.
In a straw poll conducted by the Observer immediately after the Oct. 19 event, all 20 students polled said that the questions raised had little relevance to the theme of the forum: “What will the next 50 years have in store for Singapore?”
Forum moderator Professor Tommy Koh told the audience at the beginning of the event that more than 500 questions had been submitted when students balloted for their tickets to the event.
Aw Eng Kiat, director of the organising committee, told the Observer that his committee “collated and chose the most commonly asked and in-depth questions”of the 500, nine of which were chosen to be asked during the forum.
The nine questions spanned a broad range of issues, from the economic crisis to the environment, and even Lee’s legacy.
Even so, Uzabiaga Arnaud, a postgraduate student from the Faculty of Engineering, said he expected “a discussion that was more related to the topic.
“I was kind of disappointed that the questions asked and the main topic was not very related,” he said.
Maria Khoo, a fourth-year history major, also said she was dissatisfied with the questions. “I think they were largely unimaginative and a bit sterile. I expected more politically oriented questions, but the many questions raised were more economically oriented.”
Second-year economics student Deepu Nair and final-year sociology major Bernard Lee, agreed with Khoo.
“The questions that were posed were rather shallow, in my opinion,” said Nair.
“There were also not enough questions about current policies in Singapore,” said Lee.
Aw, however, said the questions chosen were “relevant” to the event’s theme.
“There were questions on (the increasing) income gap (in Singapore), China-Japan-US (relations with Singapore), (the) environment, (Lee’s) legacy, et cetera. The nine questions covered a wide spectrum on Singapore as a whole, microscopically and macroscopically,” he said.
Khoo said she was surprised to find that the questions were selected and examined beforehand.
“I did not expect nine questions that were vetted to be chosen.”
Mizra Ismail, a fourth-year law student, said he was disappointed that the audience could not raise questions that had not been selected in advance, because the event organizers had told him earlier that the event would be an open dialogue. He was also uncertain about how the nine questions that were selected were judged to be the best.
“I don’t see how they decided the best nine questions and what the best types of questions to ask were.”
Ismail had expected the forum to be a “dynamic exchange” between Lee and the audience, instead of a “sanitised event.”
“I expected a more interactive talk, where we could speak up and ask questions and further clarify them if we were not fully satisfied with the responses to them,” he said.
Bernard Lee said, “I expected a livelier debate and a more to-and-fro exchange, instead of the nine questions that were rather superficial and did not go thoroughly into deeper issues.”
Ismail also raised the concern that the most had not been made of Lee’s visit to campus, which was a one-time opportunity for many students to get answers to their concerns about the future.
“I don’t see why we should use this opportunity to ask very general questions,” he said. “I think MM (Minister Mentor) Lee was more prepared to take on more direct and specific questions, rather than giving him questions that covered a wide area to talk about.”
Arnaud said he had concerns about some of Lee’s comments.
“Although he (Lee) highlighted that there have been tremendous improvements in the living conditions of Singaporeans since the time your forefathers came here as labourers, a lot of our construction workers or blue-collar workers are still living in very bad conditions here today,” Arnaud said.
There were, however, positive takeaways from the forum for Arnaud. “I liked it when MM Lee spoke about the spirit of the people who built Singapore from the beginning.”
The Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum is an annual event organized by the NUS Student’s Political Association.