A “learning experience” for weak leaders

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 taking credit for the hard work those same civil servants put in on other occasions?

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.

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PUB knew canal was not big enough but didn’t act?

I don’t expect to have no floods in Singapore, and I think Singaporeans are willing to forgive the occasional lapse in planning that leads to floods of this nature. But I would have expected at least an ounce of contrition on the part of the Minister for his ministry’s failure to act on a known problem in time. Instead, Singaporeans just got excuses and extreme examples. “Sorry” seems to be the hardest word for our leaders to say.

Environment Minister Yaacob Ibrahim attributed last Thursday’s floods in Bukit Timah to a “freak” event that occurs “once in 50 years”.

He said: “What happened was very unusual. The intensity was tremendous.”

Flood waters partially submerged ground-floor buildings and cars. The Straits Times carried a picture of a car in car park with the water mark reaching almost the side view mirrors. The flooding occurred along two stretches of Bukit Timah Road — from Coronation Road to Third Avenue and from Wilby Road to Blackmore Road. The damage from all this has yet to be tallied.

A businessman TODAY interviewed remarked: “This is like those news footage you see of floods in Manila or Jakarta. This is a prime housing area. I don’t understand how the flooding could have happened.”

According to a PUB spokesman, the heavy rainfall caused the 1st Diversion Canal from the main Bukit Timah canal to burst its banks. The canal was built 37 years ago, in 1972.

I was therefore surprised was to hear the Minister say: “We knew the diversion canal was not big enough to take this.”

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“No regrets” for $6.8bn loss?

Sometimes I wonder why Parliamentarians and political commentators even bother to debate government expenditure. To paraphrase a senior statesman, perhaps we all have “no sense of proportion”.

Temasek’s realised loss after selling its Bank of America (BoA) stake could be as high as S$6.8 billion, according to figures published by the pro-government Straits Times. That’s more than the Singapore government’s 2009 budget for healthcare, community development, social services, and manpower development combined!

And the secretive Temasek thought it could keep it hush hush when it sold its stake before the end of March. It was only discovered when a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that Temasek no longer held BoA or Merrill Lynch shares.

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