Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Quick Thoughts - "MPs rev up lobbying for more buses in their estates"

The front page article on today's Straits Times was "MPs rev up lobbying for more buses in their estate."

This is going to be a short and easy post, because shredding this article isn't going to take much effort.

The editors of the Straits Times obviously want to paint the story as one showing how the earnest, hardworking MPs (from the PAP) are doing all they can for their constituents as far as improving bus transportation in their wards go.

There's only one issue. If these PAP MPs truly had their constituents' interests in mind, they would have petitioned the government for better public transportation long ago. Instead, they whistled their way past the problem while hewing to the government's stand that "There's nothing to see here. Move along."

This is not your grandfather's "lobbying", as odious as that word is, bringing to mind bottom-feeding K street lobbyists. No, this is something more objectionable. Your PAP MPs are grandstanding and chest beating, jostling for advantage and strenuously protesting their constituents' needs now that there is official acknowledgement that "a problem exists". Funny how what wasn't a problem before suddenly afflicts every part of Singapore now. Our PAP MPs have never seemed more hollow and self serving.

In addition, to the astute and the observant, this is also a vivid demonstration of political influence. It's not going to be about which ward needs the most help. It's about who's closest to the center, and also where the most political points can be scored. It's about favor, reward and patronage.

Articles like this make me angry. Furious in fact. Our media isn't spineless or irresponsible. It's simply evil. It deliberately misleads, obfuscates and whitewashes. It makes people stupid to read it, smothers citizen engagement and in doing so, saps the vitality of the nation. Good citizens are thinking citizens. Calling the Straits Times the Singapore version of Pravda would be high praise.

Second, it has not escaped my attention that just two days ago, the results of a survey were published showing that overcrowding on public transportation by foreigners was a major gripe of survey respondents when asked about their attitudes towards foreigners and immigration.

It is no surprise then that the government is choosing to move in a big way to address public transportation woes. In doing so, it hopes to blunt criticism of its own immigration policy.

Again, there's just one problem, if you actually think about how people behave and how they think.

I think the unhappiness with foreigners here is multifaceted, and the average Singaporean, while being fed up to the back teeth with the situation, would probably still find it hard to articulate exactly what they're unhappy about. Add to that the fact that most people know instinctively that it is not politically correct to express disquietude over the situation, lest one be accused of being xenophobic. Nonetheless, the negative feelings remain, unexpressed.

This is why there are explosions of anti-foreigner vitriol and rhetoric every time some incident involving a foreigner happens, which in recent weeks have involved, as the stars would have it, traffic accidents. Three words apply here: incoherent, inchoate rage.

What is the most visible sign of what has become increasingly an intolerable situation? Answer: overcrowding on public transportation -- by foreigners. It is visible, and it is OK to criticize. And it's clearly a government created problem through their lack of investment. Types like Saw Phaik Hwa who didn't exactly endear themselves to the public also made public transportation fashionable to criticize.

That doesn't mean that alleviating the public transportation situation will absolve the government of blame for their immigration policy. Wishful thinking.

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