Hyperbolic wisdom from the transport minister

At a dialogue with residents of MacPherson on Sunday, Transport Minister Raymond Lim responded to questions about transport fares in the midst of an economic downturn.

A resident, in the best English he could muster, said he hoped there would be “no any increase in transport fare” next year. The Minister’s response?

You want it to be free, do you want the GST to go up to 8.5% to run a completely free bus and train system?”

I don’t think completely free public transport was on the minds of any Singaporean. We all know that nothing is free in this country, even if we’ve paid for it in taxes. Why was the Minister talking down to Singaporeans like that by using such hyperbole?

In response to another resident’s question whether the transport companies were making “a lot of profits”, he said:

“We don’t want the companies to be making excessive profits, but that’s different from saying that they cannot make profits at all.”

Again, hyperbole. Is everyone clamouring for public transport companies to make zero profits? In fact, their balance sheets are far, far from zero.

In response to further requests for transport subsidies, he said:

“There are only two persons who pay when it comes to public transport fares. One, I use – I pay. Or two, I use – you help me subsidise my ride. What happens when you subsidise my rides? That means the taxpayers are now paying.”

“My” rides? Does the Minister really take public transport?

Actually I see nothing wrong with the “I use, you help me subsidise” model. “I” being wealthy taxpayers, and “you” being the working class commuters who are struggling to pay for their transport to their $700 per month cleaning job.

And finally, when a resident questioned why when oil prices have fallen to about US$33 a barrel from a high of US$147 in July, bus and MRT fares haven’t seen a similar drop, the Minister reasoned that “public transport fares are not directly linked to oil prices”, but to a basket of other “national factors”.

Technically he is correct — they are not directly linked. The Public Transport Council’s “maximum fare adjustment” is proportional to inflation (the Consumer Price Index), wage increases and inversely proportional to the profitability of the public transport operators.

But two of those three factors are linked very closely to oil prices. In fact, the public transport operators said so themselves, as highlighted by another TOC article.

A Straits Times reader, maynardjohn, responded:

Nobody claims the relationship between oil prices and fare prices is 1:1. Neither is there a demand that the correlation be linear. Hence an increase of 40% in oil price is fully compatible with an increase of 0.7% in fare price (the latter being a rather arbitrary function of operator’s profit). By the same token, the commuters fully expect that a substantial fall in the oil price to translate into a reduction in fare price.

Unsurprisingly, reactions to the Minister’s statements provoked a rather unhappy reaction from Singaporeans. The Online Citizen’s quote of his remark provoked over 60 angry responses in just 12 hours.

Even the Straits Times article on his remarks evoked an unusually negative reaction from Straits Times subscribers. The comments thread had three pages of commentsall of them negative.

Perhaps the Minister did not realise that he was on national television, and thought he was just speaking to a group of elderly grassroots supporters who couldn’t even understand him, let alone talk back to him.

Here’s the clip from Channel News Asia:


Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

9 thoughts on “Hyperbolic wisdom from the transport minister”

  1. In answer to your title question: Because HE CAN!
    This talking down is now an hallmark of these out of touch and arrogant bunch of people.
    No where did I see an intelligent question posed by the journalist covering the comments.
    We get who we vote for. If the 66.6% continue to vote like this.. we can only be guilty of helping to perpetuate this talking down and outright nonsensical logic and double talk.

  2. When I first saw the clip on TV, my first thoughts was that Raymond was being extremely condescending in the way he addresses the audience – he talks down very visibly.

    THIS is the price of the GRC system and the system where PVP MPs are guaranteed victories – they take the people for granted, and they talk down to their constituents; simply because there are no price to pay for arrogance.

    Come the next election, if he was to encounter the same scare George Yeo encountered for taking the people for granted – I would love to see the change in Mr Raymond’s tone and stance when talking to the voters.

  3. Don’t you realised that these videos usually are in the settings of:

    1. Elderly audiences
    2. PAP functions and events
    3. Internal party meetings

    Until it gets broadcast (TV or youtube) and we get stumped with ‘million-dollar’ answers that are out of this world.


  4. Anyone noticed his limp handshakes with the constituents. Almost or maybe as bad as Seet Ai Mee’s ; really looked like the most unwilling handshake I’ve seen in a long time.Get the impression that he doesn’t even want to be there meeting these people….hope I’m wrong….

  5. some of my reflections on this incident and other similar boo-boos by govt officials.

    arrogance, out-of-touchness seems to be a hallmark of our current leaders. i agree with SS and AC that this is the result of GRC, and the way our leaders are “appointed”.

    But the fact of the matter is that these guys are NOT politicians. They’re executives who are appointed the roles (when u get invited to a tea party by LKY, i’m sure they were given an offer they cant refuse). Do they really want to serve the public in the first place? Did Mr Lim REALLY want to go out to the public or press to tackle their questions?

    i really do think our ministers need loads of PR. While corporations/CEOs take all public engagements seriously by preparing themselves, i dont see our govt folk really prepare themselves. (perhaps as a result of believing they’re untouchables?) if they can pay millions to ministers, i think the appointment of press secretaries as critical too.

    In some defence of the Transport Minister, we’ve never really got to know Mr Raymond Lim as a person. Did he even want the job of Transport Minister in the place, salary notwithstanding?

    Here in HK, i had the pleasure of talking to a district counsellor during the recent elections. Here is a person who’s sole job is about serving the public – people come to him with problems, at which he takes them up to the proper channels to solve their problems. I can truly see his desire of wanting to help people in his district.

    i think there truly is a difference of wanting to be a public servant as opposed to “elitist” technocrats/executives such as we have in Singapore.

  6. I think that being a minister is more than being a CEO. I believe that a person has to have their heart in serving the nation – or he/she should not and cannot be the right person for the job.

    As Gerald mentioned, public service is a calling. A minister is first and foremost a leader of the people and for the people – he has to inspire the people to hold faith in him and his party; and that is why he needs to be able to connect to and connect with the people.

    If we wanted a CEO we could have hired any one from all over the world with the top dollar we are paying. We have to have a Singaporean, and we have to have an election, because we are appointing a leader for the Singaporean people, and we are putting the nation in his hands to hold and nurture, or to let go and shatter.

    Some might feel that the above comes across as being overly idealistic – if so, it is a sign of dark times for Singapore; a sign of how low bar have fallen for what being a minister means.

  7. Now I know why many of us have chosen not to serve.

    On one hand, the opposition parties are hell-bent on destroying PAP. They do not have the people in mind. Unlike in the U.S., even as the GOP and the Democratic Party are loggerheads, their members (although not all of them) still place the country before them.

    On the other hand, PAP has taken its resources (i.e. talent pool and supporters) for granted. It’s mentality is “Hey, we can’t be beaten!” So, no matter how eager we want to serve, PAP will still keep its doors shut.

  8. When I heard Raymond Lim on 93.8 radio talking about the fair increase, he sounded sharp, aggressive and arrogant. I thought that he was lecturing the audience. Seeing the video, I could see that he should have kept a cooler composure, handled the matter with a smile and responded in a more friendly manner. The answer could be similar in concept, but the tone could have been more friendly and people-oriented. I hope Mr Lim learns how to handle the public more effectively as he did not have a bad perception in the eyes of the public.

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