Minister sees perils in liberty

  South China Morning Post
October 4, 2002

By Jake Lloyd-Smith.

SINGAPOREANS have been warned by the government that there is a price to be paid for liberty if officials ease their famously strong grip on society.

Minister of State Vivian Balakrishnan told parliament that if there was "less shackling" by the state, people had to be prepared to accept more responsibility for their actions.

"While I support the liberalisation ... I also want all us to be aware that there is a price to be paid for liberty," he said.

His comments appeared in yesterday's edition of the Straits Times.

The remarks came as MPs, almost all of whom come from the ruling People's Action Party, discussed why so many young citizens apparently had little attachment to the rich but rule-bound island-state.

The many young professionals who opt to emigrate were labelled as quitters by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in his National Day address last August. The comments sparked a heated debate.

Mr Balakrishnan framed his reply around the seemingly innocuous pastime of late-night party-goers dancing on bar table-tops. The practice is illegal in Singapore on safety grounds.

This year, several bar owners have been fined for failing to keep their customers' feet on the floor.

Discussing the liberalisation of table-top dancing has become a proxy for a wider debate about how much freer Singapore should, or should not, become.

Mr Balakrishnan pushed his remarks to the limit, saying that even though bar-dancing rules should be eased, this could lead to injury or even death.

"If you want to dance on the bar top, some of us will fall off that bar top. Some will die as a result," he said.

"Usually it is a girl with a short skirt who's dancing on it, who may attract some insults from other men.

"The boyfriend starts fighting. Some people will die. Blood will be shed for liberalising the policy."