So what’s new? A slew of initiatives have just been announced and they are aimed at tackling a slew of technical issues facing Bukit Panjang LRT. It sounds as if the system has been running trouble free for two decades, but users know better. My nephew in America has remarked that our intracity train system is a lot better than that in the US. This surprised my 13-year-old who thought that everything is better in America, but again, we’ve got to put matters in perspective. Singapore is a land that eschews “service duplication”; preferring to run tight, efficient ships with few redundancies. This also means that we have fewer comparable alternatives when the beaten path is blocked. Thus when one drain gets choked, we see a disastrous spillover. A breakdown in the New York subway, however, has a very different effect as that on any of our MRT lines. In fact, train breakdowns can be somewhat inconsequential in America. I’m not sure if they should insist that some passengers put on a sarong before entering the stations.
Next, our head of Civil Service in Singapore, Mr Peter Ong (who has seen quite a bit of the limelight recently and it makes one wonder) made the astute observation that online sphere is an area with great scope for policy-makers to understand Singaporeans’ behaviour and apply the right nudges. Mr Ong was actually talking about “behavourial interventions”. In other words, nudging the silent majority to speak up in the online space so that a better balance of views is captured.
I think Mr Ong is making a very tenuous assumption about the “silent majority” here and if a mature, articulate and hitherto silent group can be mobilised to “balance the views”, they would have been found and mobilised a long time ago. Some bloggers and online critics call them the internet brigade (IB). However, as many of us have observed, most members of IB are far from mature and articulate. Some can’t even hold a candle to a 16-year-old. Knowing that colourful critics arose spontaneously, Mr Ong and others like him should perhaps look a little more closely at what constitutes the “silent majority”. Certainly they are supporters and conformists, but are they supporting and conforming for all the wrong reasons? Are they living in ignorant bliss with no interest in what is going on as long as there is TV and freebies? Are they business people totally preoccupied with profits and paranoid about being “marked” and sabotaged if they speak their minds, revealing a set of rather awkward and embarrassing hard truths? Or could they be civil servants (albeit lesser ones than Mr Ong) who are always afraid to speak their minds in public before the speech is approved by higher authority? With a career baggage on their backs, some members of the silent majority may not feel safe to comment until they have safely retired. Getting these folks to argue their points on social media when they are still vulnerable may yield some embarrassing “yao mo gao chor” results.Getting the disgruntled to speak their minds when they are no longer vulnerable may not help achieve the kind of “balance” Mr Ong is referring to. Even then, they may still get into trouble if they stray into the realm of “sedition”. The only Singaporean who can pass sweeping remarks on ultra-sensitive topics and get away with it has already died.
So has Mr Ong and others like him ever taken a step backwards and questioned if the silent majority could be so silent because it simply has nothing cogent to say? Apart from those who are afraid, there are also those who brought Mata Mata into its third season, giving Cheryl Wee’s mawkish performance the thumbs up. Frankly, I’d rather these folks remain silent.
The one who wins this week’s award for funniest line has to be National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan who was on MediaCorp’s Chinese-language station Capital 95.8FM for a live radio talk show on June 23, 2015. Mr Khaw said:
“If you ask for my personal opinion, I think (there is) a need to do some adjustments and I generally prefer to give every Singaporean couple a chance of living in HDB. You may come from say an upper-income group. You do not need an HDB flat. But I feel that it’s good for all Singaporeans, or almost all Singaporeans to have a chance of living in HDB for 5 years, and interact with the community. I think it’s part and parcel of a Singaporean way of life. It’s just like males go for National Service, and I think if we can give them this opportunity of staying in HDB towns, I think there are more positives than negatives.”
From the “silent majority”, we move to the high-income minority who don’t qualify for “subsidised housing”. Mr Khaw wants to give these folks an opportunity to stay in HDB flats and interact with the community. I have a better idea. Why don’t we give these BMW owners the opportunity to drive a Tata Nano and enjoy a ride in downtown Mumbai? I’m sure they’d be thankful.
But of course, these folks, if they are as “forward looking” as typical Singaporeans, will snap up those HDB flats like hungry alligators – not to interact with the community, I assure you. The most jarring part of Mr Khaw’s speech has to be the part about staying in HDB flats being like serving NS. If the day comes when foreigners’ stay in HDB flats can be counted as NS when they become our “new citizens”, I certainly hope we won’t just keep quiet. But knowing Singaporeans, those who only have daughters may still choose to stay with the silent majority.
Have a good weekend.
© Chan Joon Yee