June 26, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

When a kindergarten puts up a notice telling parents about an unsuccessful “child-grabbing’’ incident, you can bet you are starting a mild panic. And so it was when a Hougang PCF kindergarten posted a notice outside its premises warning parents about a man described as, get this, “normal looking’’ but with a terribly abnormal “white plastic object tied around his neck’’.

The PCF announcement made the rounds on social media with parents warning each other about such a lurking predator. That it came from an established institution rather than one of those anonymous pranksters or well-meaning but uninformed do-gooders lent credibility.

What happened then? The police came out to say in the middle of yesterday that the message should not be circulated as it can generate unnecessary public alarm, causing fear and panic in the community. Transmitting false messages is an offence under the Telecommunications Act. If this is done with intent to cause fear and alarm, or to incite offences against a group, it would also be an offence under the Penal Code. Offenders may be punished with a jail term for up to three years, fined or both.

Phew! That’s heavy…

Thing is, was this a false alarm or a prank or was there truly such an incident?

The PCF notice was quite specific about what happened including the time and place of incident which was reported by the parent who claimed to have held on to the child as the supposed “grab’’ was made.

Were the police called? Because the police statement said they were informed about three hours after the incident was supposed to have taken place – about a 50-something said to be interacting with children in a neighbouring block. And they are looking to pick up the “suspect’’. Is the result of the “panic’’ or the original incident?

Well they did pick up someone. A 43 year old who was apparently merely trying to hold the child’s hand and seemed to have been misconstrued by the suspicious mother. You know the sort, the neighbourhood eccentric. Seems CCTV footage showed it all.

More important is whether the public should be warned if a (real) predator lurks in the neighbourhood. Most times, it is only when a case comes up in court that people realise that there had been, say, a serial molestor in the neighbourhood. What if a member of the public decided to make a “police report’’ public in the interest of warning others? The police would probably say that such a matter was best left in their hands, including whether the neighbourhood should be notified. Plus, jumping the gun might well hinder investigations and alert the predator.

Well, you can’t blame parents for getting worked up. And the Hougang kindergarten operator probably thought it was doing the right thing. Let’s hope that operator doesn’t get the book thrown at them.

By Kwan Jin Yao

It would appear that the Committee to Strengthen National Service (NS) has laid out two main objectives: First, to sustain a “commitment” to the NS institution; second, to gather varied opinions from Singaporeans, who could also articulate concerns or frustrations.

What exactly does the Committee mean by “commitment”? Is it for full-time national servicemen (NSFs) to be more dedicated to their roles and responsibilities? Are the members going to encourage more NSmen to clear their physical fitness tests and combat obligations faithfully? For many, the two full years of training and 10 cycles of reservist are already tremendous commitment; what more does the Government expect from them? Therefore, if “commitment” is going to be a guiding principle in the upcoming sessions, then the exact goals should be clearly established from the get-go.

The second intent, on the consolidation of feedback, is a more worthwhile endeavour. A soldier’s experience and perception of the military are more often than not shaped by his day-to-day activities. The Committee is well-positioned to not only hear these comments, but also galvanise its divisions and units to proactively seek out views from its personnel.

Present plans to organise focus group discussions and town hall sessions across the country are going to be constructive, for NSmen will be able to air their grouses or inconveniences they have experienced. To make the process more meaningful, the Committee should also make trips to the camps and units. These on-the-ground interactions with the NSFs are crucial because they are the ones who can speak most directly to how procedures or protocols can be improved. Enhancing the way NSFs train, work, and live will yield greater dividends.

If the Committee heads down this path, then it has to move to reduce the potential fear and apprehension that some might feel when it comes to voicing perspectives, particularly on a public platform. Will servicemen be cautioned or lectured by their superiors on what they should or should not say? Will they be allowed to speak up about transgressions? There is a website for visitors to pen their viewpoints, but what happens if the website is inundated by complaints or unit-specific incidents?

In this regard, especially when engagement with the young is desired, the Committee might be handicapped by the lack of demographic diversity in its composition. Furthermore, the members seem to be soldiers who might have left the service a long time ago, or high-ranking commanders who might not be representative of the general population (within the army, regular men and commanders are treated differently). Unless it moves to involve more in the coming months, any recommendations at the end of the process could be perceived apathetically.

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By Yen Feng

Singaporeans are the region’s top spenders when it comes to eating out, a new Mastercard survey has shown. On average, people here spent US$262 a month versus about US$200 for Americans. In second and third place are the Japanese and Chinese, which spent about US$225 and US$203 respectively.

You have to take these findings with a grain of salt – first, it was conducted online, with only about 450 respondents, and only over a two-month period.

The figures from the US were from a survey conducted in April and May last year – it’s not “seasonally adjusted” – ie it doesn’t account for the holiday period where spending is usually higher. So, not sure if a fair comparison can be made…

In any case, the bigger question probably for most Singaporeans will be: Huh? Food so expensive already, and we are spending more? How does this jive with all this talk about food prices, cheaper hawker fare, and rising costs of living?

That’s the problem with these surveys – it’s so unscientific you can say Singaporeans are the top spenders or put another way, you could say it’s the most expensive place to eat out. Since it’s a Mastercard survey – it only stands to reason that the former would be the preferred message – so that more F&B outlets may be encouraged to offer credit card services, for instance.

ST’s Home cover report on this survey therefore might have shown  more restraint. It described Singapore as being “truly a food nation” and said “It does not look like Singapore’s love for food will wane any time soon.” Uh-huh.

ST said of the 455 online interviewees, 24 per cent said they planned to eat out more in the next six months; 13 per cent said they planned to eat at more expensive venues.

Rather than say: Wah, see, got people want to spend more some more!, why not ask: What about the 76 per cent and other 87 per cent who don’t? Are they planning to eat out less? Eat at less expensive venues? Why?

These are questions worth answering – just don’t expect it to come from Mastercard.

by Lim Weixiang

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The cycling community is in a tizzy over a photograph of errant cyclists along Changi Coast Road which appeared in My Paper on 6 May, 2013. It showed three cyclists riding dangerously in the middle of the road. One was even caught doing a U-turn right across the two-way, four-lane road.

Bad riding habits are a danger to road users definitely but then came allegations that the photograph was doctored to make a point. That is, cyclists are a menace. The New Nation, a satirical website, took the photograph apart, declaring that it was digitally manipulated or “Photoshopped”. The reason for doubting the authenticity of the photograph: the apparent lack of shadows cast by the bikes on the road. Many have congratulated themselves for being “sharp-eyed” enough to notice the apparent inconsistency but perhaps they should also be sharp-eyed enough to notice the overcast sky.

Any experienced photographer would be able to tell you that on an overcast day, the cloudy sky acts like a giant soft box to diffuse the light and therefore for a slim ‘object’ like the cyclist and his bike, any shadow cast would be extremely faint, which is why it hardly shows up in the photograph. In fact, the shadow cast by the passing van does not show up in the photo at all, the shadow of the van captured in the photograph is actually the shadow UNDER the van. 

Now these allegations are dangerous, as dangerous as cycling dangerously. The New Nation might well believe that the picture was doctored or was merely indulging in yet another satirical stunt of showcasing half-truths as it so proudly proclaims. But what takes the cake is that the photograph is being shared among the cycling community, with cyclists getting hot and bothered over what they think is victimisation.

Perhaps, this defensiveness is understandable with so many cycling deaths in recent times on that particular road. But it is no reason to cast aspersions on the integrity of the photojournalist. Since it was a New Paper photograph, TNP has weighed in in photojournalist Mohd Ishak’s defence.

What it did: displayed a series of running pictures by Mr Mohd Ishak , which he snapped on Jan 16, 2011. If there is a question about the photograph, it is that it is dated. It might well be that cyclists today no longer indulge in such stunts on the road, but now that the authenticity of the photograph has been proven, the local cycling community would do well to consider a campaign to promote safe riding.

It is sad to note that in the meantime, the New Nation has been pretty self-congratulatory, maintaining that it had forced TNP to respond to allegations. Since when has rumour-mongering and half-truths passed for responsible punditry? Rather than patting its own back, The New Nation owes TNP an apology.

by Rachelle Toh 

Most (if not all) of us here in Singapore would be familiar with the MRT announcements made in the stations and on trains. The cool melodic voiceovers have become somewhat iconic, evident in Tan Pin Pin’s documentary Singapore Ga Ga, which featured Juanita Melson, the voice of MRT announcements in English until 2008.

People have fawned over Juanita Melson’s crisp English pronunciation, as a good standard for speaking English in Singapore. But it seems the time has come for Singaporeans to be able to speak fluently in more than one language.

The latest buzz online revolves around Fizah Wizah, the girl who can perfectly mimic one of the announcements commonly heard in MRT stations. In the video, she begins by suggesting that SMRT should hire her, as she is able to make the announcements in Singapore’s four official languages, before rattling off the announcement warning commuters to stand behind the yellow line on train platforms.

What is so impressive about her? Many people seem amazed by this girl’s ability to (almost) perfectly mimic the service announcements that accompany commute by train. And say them in four languages. Most of us can only speak two, and some perhaps only one. But here is someone who is able to switch between four, and very smoothly too. No wonder people are so impressed.

Who wouldn’t be, if you were able to switch between four languages so quickly and fluently?

by Wesley Gunter

Some Singaporeans have their panties in a knot over the Singapore Cancer Society’s latest cervical cancer ad showing three local celebrities in white dresses posing cheekily like screen legend Marilyn Monroe in the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch. Why? Because of this supposedly morally objectionable tagline: LIFT YOUR SKIRT, SAVE A LIFE.

These six words seem to be more offensive to Singaporeans than watching a Quentin Tarantino movie judging from the flood of feedback from the public who claimed to have been “offended”.

While it’s understandable that the ad may be offensive to those who prefer to see things in black and white, or to those who think “thinking out of the box” means stepping out of their work cubicle for a smoke break, some of the comments quoted in today’s ST just defies common logic.

Take this, for example: Vivien Tan, an administrative manager, who said: “Some women might think it is an advertisement for movies or fashion.”

I don’t know what movies this lady has been watching, or what movie posters she has come across, but the ad sure doesn’t look like any movie poster out there I’ve seen lately.

Miss Yvonne Jin, a 21-year old student shared her brilliant take on the issue by saying “… Just because [using sexual undertones] gets people talking doesn’t mean it sends the right message.”

Sorry but isn’t the purpose of advertising to get people talking? And what is so wrong about the message? It’s basically telling women to get a PAP smear to reduce their chances of getting cervical cancer. But put that way, it’s not going to grab your attention, is it? Sex sells… or haven’t you noticed any of the programmes on the Disney channel lately? Welcome to the real world…

Probably the most self-righteous comment came from Ms Corinna Lim, Aware’s executive director. She said: “It is a sad reflection on society that good causes also have to resort to sex to promote their message.”

For crying out loud, where have these people been living their whole lives? Have they never watched television before? And to be honest, if an ad like this CAN make more women go for PAP smears because it GRABS their attention and saves their lives, hasn’t it met its objectives?

The only thing that is “sad” about this whole affair is how this creative attempt was so readily shot down before it was given a chance to see if it actually works.

By Bertha Henson

Looks like the people and the politicos are at odds when it comes to the “fundamental nature’’ of town councils, going by a poll in ST published today. Most of the 50 people polled wanted town councils to be “apolitical’’, harkening back to the old days when the Housing Board and National Development Ministry ruled the roost with MPs conducting meet-the-people sessions in their wards. The politicos, however, didn’t think such a turnaround was needed and suggested that maybe more oversight of town councils’ activities can do the trick.

If the poll is correct, it seems that the people had never quite imbibed the notion of town councils as political entities in the first place. It was intended for MPs to show their mettle, so to speak, by demonstrating their ability to run housing estates. MPs must show that they are not just talk (in Parliament), but action (on the ground) as well. Of course, those with long memories will recall that it had looked like a way to warn residents that electing opposition politicians might lead to dirty corridors and rubbish piled up in the chutes…

That didn’t happen.

Remember in those days how there was so much discussion about how town councils will be akin to “local governments’’ with representatives elected from residents who live there? There was all this expectation that residents themselves will have control over their neighbourhoods. Doubt that this is happening anywhere. Do you know your town councillors? In fact, do residents even scrutinise town council annual reports and act as the real overseers of their estate?

Instead, town councils have succeeded in becoming so partisan that political party members are employed in town councils or as their managing agents, whether in the People’s Action Party or opposition side. In fact, it is so partisan that the PAP actually started a company to serve their IT needs!

You know what? Residents don’t care who looks after them, so long as the rubbish is collected and void deck is clean. It might be the HDB, the town council or a private company from outer space doing the cleaning and residents wouldn’t bat an eyelid so long as things run smoothly. It is when things don’t or some aberration is brought to their attention, that people sit up and look at what’s happening.

That’s when they will find out (or not) the number of relatives, friends, party members or partisan companies employed by town councils for no other reason than political affiliation. Then again, so what if the void deck is clean and the rubbish is cleared and the S&C charges aren’t unreasonable?

It’s a little disappointing that people don’t look beyond their immediate comfort zone.

The town council “experiment’’ has actually not been too bad from the residents’ point of view. MPs are kept on their toes because residents know where to go to when they want to complain about bad estate upkeep. The MP is also, ah, a cleaning and maintenance contractor… Plus, residents can always threaten with the vote: Raise my service and conservancy fee and I’ll kick you out! Maybe it’s a good thing that residents aren’t so political. Imagine a whole housing estate lobbying for lowered fees… town councils will be ham-strung no end…

Back to the apolitical/political nature of town councils. For the best analysis, read the piece by Eugene Tan in today’s edition of TODAY.In the wake of the ministry’s review of the AIM saga in which a PAP owned company was providing services to PAP-run town councils, the key question really revolves on the oversight role the State should play in ensuring that residents get essential services despite changes in political “ownership’’.

The ministry has recommended another “strategic’’ review which all and sundry hopes will be non-partisan and inclusive. MND Minister Khaw Boon Wan will be making a statement in Parliament on Monday and the Workers’ Party, the one which raised the issue, has applied for an adjournment motion so that more time can be spent discussing the town council issue.

Perhaps, someone will do something about the role of HDB residents themselves in ensuring town councils are politically accountable to them. So many suggestions and tweaks have been suggested – centralise this, decentralise that, allow this and disallow that… But nothing has been said about the rights and responsibilities of residents whom the town councils serve.

by Daniel Yap

A 24-year-old nurse has become the third victim of chemical burns from sitting on an unknown substance (ST, Nurse Burnt by substance on train seat, Mar 3). Wan Zahfirah Arshad was taking the north-bound train on the North-South line at 11am yesterday when the incident happened.

TODAY also reported that she suffered third-degree burns to her left buttock and was warded at the Singapore General Hospital. Third-degree burns are considered severe.

The apparent acid attack follows a similar incident on April 14, when a 14-year-old student suffered chemical burns from sitting on an unidentified substance at a bus stop along Bukit Batok East Ave 3. Last year, another woman suffered chemical burns, also on the north-bound train on the North-South line.

The latest incident has sparked calls for vigilance online, with some speculating that the incidents could be connected and deliberate. People are encouraged to watch what they sit on, even if it looks like water, and not to rush for seats on the train.

No arrests have been made in connection with any of the three cases and it is unknown if SMRT surveillance footage has shed any light on the incidents.

by Bertha Henson

Sometimes banging the same drum makes people deaf to the noise. Or worse, it makes them cynical. Sure some statements bear repeating, but the question is whether people are listening. So I wondered at what had been said at NTUC’s May Day rally by the leaders of the G, business and unions. Were they even talking the same language as the people who were at Hong Lim Park yesterday afternoon?

Perhaps, the language needs to be a little different. I read ST’s coverage of the May Day rally and wondered if the speakers at NTUC rally could ever convince the die-hards who believe that tripartism is more an isosceles triangle than an equilateral one. The short end: the workers.

Hong Lim Park speakers told personal stories, everyday stories that people have heard about or experienced first-hand. There were few “big picture’’ concepts that were elaborated upon except one: the need to change the G to effect change. What sort of change and tweaks in policies were not discussed (save the need to restrict employment passes) because they were subsumed under this one umbrella: The G does not understand the people.

Never mind that ministerial pay has been reduced, it is still a flashpoint. That plus the articles that workers work too many hours, are over-stressed, unemotional and under-paid with inflation eating into their wages, add to the sense that the little people were being passed by in the big scheme of things.

For example, here was what was said at NTUC rally: The economy needs to keep growing if wages were to go up. Singapore needs to attract high-quality investments, raise productivity.

This is like a mantra which Singapore has maintained for ages. There has been some change in the position, for example, there’s no need to grow at breakneck speed. There’s also an acknowledgement that years of productivity campaigns haven’t worked.

To those who flocked to Hong Lim rally, wrongs and admission of wrongs signalled an incompetent G. As for having to grow the economy, this past strategy seems to have benefited businesses, and related foreign investors, more than it did the workers. Hence, the distinction Singapore has of being the second most unequal country in the world. In fact, even with greater growth, the perception is that the richer will just get richer and the poor, poorer.

The much-vaunted triangle of G, business and worker must realise that some people aren’t listening to what they are saying.

For example, the unions are going for a progressive wage model where low wage workers get higher wages if they train. There is some impact in the cleaning and security sectors. Much has been said about Workfare and other income boosters which will raise salaries, especially those earning less than $4,000 a month.

But there was no mention made of any G scheme to raise incomes of workers at Hong Lim Park. Instead, the call was for the establishment of a minimum wage policy. Here’s the tragedy: Selective amnesia? Whatever the G does is either not acknowledged or viewed to be of little consequence or has some nefarious agenda. It’s a pity.

The concept of tripartism needs to be explained clearly in terms of how the relationship benefits the workers. That it has been the reason for years of industrial harmony may not be good enough. The SMRT bus drivers’ strike may be an aberration but the fact is that it exposed some cracks in the relationship – such as the need to unionise foreign workers and for management to meet workers halfway. According to ST’s report: there were three cases of unions taking errant employers to court. Now if only more workers knew what they were about…

Also, the other big question is whether tripartism has worked in terms of making working conditions better and salaries for workers higher. The current state of low wage workers is largely the result of businesses relying on cheap – and foreign – manpower rather than productivity gains to boost revenue. The slow pace of increase in wages is not an overnight phenomenon yet it seems to have escaped the eyes of unionists.

When someone mentions NTUC, what comes to mind immediately? Not the union movement in the forefront of the workers, but supermarkets and insurance. NTUC has a branding problem and should, like so many ministries, go back to convincing people that its core function is the representation of workers, even in spite of government and business.

So how now?

Can the establishment afford to ignore the Hong Lim Park group? Or is this an ever-growing segment of the population? Statements made at the park were seductive even if selective. In the current climate of what I can only describe as “angst’’, they are becoming more and more seductive.

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by Salima Nadira

The May Day protest was a show of “people’s power”, according to organiser Gilbert Goh of Transitioning.org. The list of speakers comprised “ordinary people” save for Mr Tan Jee Say, a former presidential candidate. Mr Goh claimed to have a list of 30 to choose from, and decided on 11 as the voice of the common people.

But some Singaporeans didn’t want to be on the stage – they preferred to make their stand from the ground. On the green grass of Hong Lim Park. Many bore placards expressing a range of messages, from angry ones like “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong!” to plaintive ones like “Can I afford to buy a HDB flat with my future spouse?” held by a young Chinese boy, aged eight. His parents had brought him and three young siblings, including a two-month old to the May Day protest.

Roping in the kids
Roping in the kids (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

Some placards had concrete suggestions, like “Scrap Dependent Pass privileges for Employment Pass holders! Singapore is FULL”.

(Photo by Shawn Danker)
(Photo by Shawn Danker)

At such a politically-charged event, did these Singaporeans shy away from the limelight? Speaker after speaker declared that they were unafraid of it, as they took to the stage. Those on the grass too, they said, were unafraid to be seen at a political event. One speaker who had been lined up, however, was missing. Malay activist Nizam Ismail forsook the stage to survey the event from the grass.

While periodic cheers of “we want change’’ were heard and the “loud’’ placards were paraded, there were also those who expressed a more moderate – or careful? – viewpoint.  A Malay male artist in his 20s whose placard was a line sketch inspired by the Romantic Era, with a quote by Franklin Roosevelt, said that he was “politically neutral”.

(Photo by Shawn Danker)
(Photo by Shawn Danker)

He cited the slogan of the previous rally on Feb 16, “Singapore for Singaporeans” as having been twisted, and preferred to rely on the subliminal messaging of art – “Those who are guilty will feel it,” he said, laughing.

Two designers also turned to art for their means of political expression – they set about making a film with the attendees of the rally. The film, titled “Why we do this” would be a compilation of clips of Singaporeans holding up pre-written placards expressing statements like “We are not taking sides… This is a movement of people, not of politics”.

(Photo by Shawn Danker)
(Photo by Shawn Danker)

Filmmaker Carl Ong, a freelance web designer by profession, said that they were amateurs and that this was actually their first film. Though not politically affiliated with any party, he wanted to get the message out that Singaporeans need not necessarily have to be political in order to have something to say. He hopes only for the film to go viral, saying: “Based on experience, I will be happy if just one person is affected by this video”.

Some dealt with the politically-charged atmosphere by injecting a lighthearted note into the affair. A young couple in their late 20s paraded placards with messages like “Mee siam mai hum” and “I love bachormee”. They said they had missed the previous rally as they were overseas, but would not have missed the chance to be at this one.

Singaporeans make their love for food known (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Singaporeans make their love for food known (Photo by Shawn Danker)

On the fringes of the event were tee-shirt sellers and face-painters, who had a tenuous link at best to the actual politics of the rally. One set of tee-shirt designs was sold by the Good Citizen art collective, helmed by freelance illustrator Dan Wong. They claimed no involvement with the rally aside from having been asked by popular Facebook group EDMW loves Singapore to print and distribute certain tee-shirt designs for them. Though the Good Citizen group also organises politically-themed art events, group member Lydia said it was uncomfortable with some of the assertions made by opposition speakers, which could be extreme.

Good Citizen Singapore at the rally to get some publicity for their shirts (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Good Citizen Singapore at the rally to get some publicity for their shirts (Photo by Shawn Danker)

The voice of the common person seems to be characterized by caution. And yet, in an environment like Singapore where, as lawyer M Ravi said during the press conference, “everything is political”, it would be prudent to be cautious. The positive view is this: Singaporeans are finding their own way of making their voices heard, navigating the pitfalls of politics with some skill and much hope. In light of civil society activist Jolovan Wham’s speech about the G frightening the civil society with threats of funding cuts and accusations of political agendas, optimism is in the air. Whether this is for a change of Government or just more room for citizen expression is unclear.

Though Hong Lim Park event was labelled a protest, it was still a political rally. People were urged to show the People’s Action Party the red card at the next general election. Cabinet ministers were mentioned and boo-ed. The protest’s die-hard supporters were squeezed round the front of the stage, waving Singapore flags.

Others, however, preferred to stay on the fringes, on foldable stools or canvasses they had brought. Seems many people were there to listen, to absorb what was being said – and maybe make up their own minds about their role in the future of Singapore.

What was nice to see and hear: Everyone with hand on chest reciting the Singapore Pledge and standing respectfully at attention as the National Anthem was played.

As a grassroots event, it was extra-ordinary.

 

Find out more about what transpired during the actual protest here. Also, check out our photo montage of the entire event at our Slice