To say that the past week has not been a good one for the PAP government is a gross under statement. First, was the continuation of the saga involving the break-in to the government-owned MRT train depot in Changi. Then the release of the Town Council Management Report (TCMR) provoked a much stronger than expected reaction from opposition MPs which they could not satisfactorily respond to. Finally, the most appalling was the massive flood in Orchard Road and Bukit Timah after just a few hours of rainfall, that caused millions of dollars in damages.
Although the three incidents are not connected, there seems to be a common thread running through all of them. In all of them, Singaporeans neither saw nor heard from the Cabinet ministers in charge for days on end.
It has been over a month since the MRT break in happened, and we have only just yesterday had the “privilege” of hearing a comment from the Second Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam disclaiming the Government’s responsibility for the incident. We have still not heard a squeak from Transport Minister Raymond Lim and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng.
For the TCMR, after Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang came out swinging in defence of his track record and alleging that the PAP has been unfairly allocating less funds to opposition-run town councils, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan decided to “arrow” his junior minister, Grace Fu, to defend his policies from the opposition onslaught. After weakly defending the Government’s indefensible position on the issue, Fu has been unable (or unwilling) to respond to Low’s third and most cutting statement to the media.
Then came the floods in Singapore’s crown jewel of tourism, Orchard Road. National water agency PUB’s instinctive reaction when the news of the floods first broke was to claim that 60 per cent of June’s average monthly rainfall poured down that fateful Wednesday morning. (So? June is not exactly a monsoon month.) The civil servants then blamed a blocked drain for the flood and later admitted that they were “caught off-guard”.
Yet throughout all the mayhem caused by the flood and its aftermath, the minister in charge of the PUB, Yaacob Ibrahim was no where to be seen. He only emerged from “hiding” at a community event on Saturday, where he was cornered by the reporters. And what did he say? That he has asked the PUB to do a “review” of all the canals. My goodness! That’s like shutting the stable door after the horses have bolted. It’s easy to ask for an after-action review. But how about apologizing and accepting just an ounce of responsibility first?
Is this what we pay our Ministers millions of dollars a year to do? To deflect responsibility to their subordinates when things go wrong, but bask in the limelight and take credit for the hard work those same civil servants put in on other occasions?
As a taxi driver pointed out to me, when our elites make mistakes, it is a “learning experience”, but not so for us commoners. Yaacob said that his focus now is on learning from the episode and preventing such floods. Why can’t he also “focus” on apologizing and taking responsibility?
The problem in Singapore is that our political leaders have it so easy that they are becoming complacent. With no adversarial press, strong opposition or active civil society to keep them on their toes, they are just coasting along and collecting their $150k++ salary each month–plus “performance” bonuses at the end of the year.
Maybe at the next elections, Singaporean voters need to give them a “learning experience” they won’t forget.