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Musings

Singapore Government: Damned If It Does, Damned If It Doesn’t #sghaze

The government can do no right, it seems.

The Internet is such a confusing and overwhelming platform at the moment (and I recognise the irony of penning this piece). Most are dismayed by the lack of decisive leadership, but I think the government has – finally – recognised the severity of this haze crisis. Many refuse to trust it, but do its job, it will. To contend that the agencies and their employees are lackadaisical, apathetic, or resting pedantically on their laurels would be grossly unfair. If you compare the actions taken by the military and the civil authorities, it boils down to the lack of contingency preparations and experience.

Who could have anticipated the severity of this phenomenon? We say “yes we should have seen this coming”, “we’ve been plagued by the haze since forever”, “the government should have engaged in more diplomatic overtures”, but hindsight’s 20/20.

Not that we should expect nothing, but the government can’t do everything. Some say a Stop Work Order should be issued, but what will the implications be? Or should the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) determine the outdoor industries most affected, before crafting solutions? Why shouldn’t employers shoulder some of the responsibilities (back to the idea that the government must do everything and anything)? I think they do, without having to wait for some enforcement order from MOM. Some say that we do not have the privilege of time, but I’d rather the government evaluate all the options in a more measured manner (which I trust it is doing), instead of making hasty decisions or announcements that might generate more panic and unease.

Complement these strategies with more communication and health advisories, remind us that we’re all in this together; yesterday’s press conference was a good start. This website too. We play our parts responsibly, and the government does what it can. Once we’ve survived the worst of this haze, we will rightly take the culprits to task (though easier said than done, with the plethora of interests, greed, and pragmatism intertwined), and consider broader, long-term regional recommendations. And the government agencies in Singapore will start to put proper protocols in place to deal with future occurrences.

Perhaps the only silver lining is that groups of spontaneous Singaporeans who have gathered to distribute face masks, to offer their accommodation, and to reach out to the needy or less-privileged. I suppose it’s a way of getting used to the notion that our government – any government – cannot do everything.

One last point (again, irony): how useful is it to have commentaries and posts floating around about the worsening haze conditions, and the purported incompetency of the government (important health advisories or critical announcements notwithstanding)? I can’t even ascertain the veracity of: whether animals – like pigeons – are genuinely dying because of the haze (doctored photographs? or taken out of date and context); or if the PSI-PMI figures are fudged (are we interpreting the data correctly? can we trust the “adjusted” readings? which indicator? everyone’s calculating averages? who’s right? why would the government agencies not report accurate ones? glitches on the website?) I blame this culture of sensationalism (and I concede my complicity).

Okay I will just shut up now. And mask up.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

Discussion

9 thoughts on “Singapore Government: Damned If It Does, Damned If It Doesn’t #sghaze

  1. I think one of the key factors here is a distinct lack of trust of the govt by the people, especially the netizens. It doesn’t help that this comes at the back of a whole series of events that have chipped away at this very trust – everything from the seeming incompetence in the train issues to the floods, from the AIM saga to the hawker centre cleaning issues, from the population white paper to the new online media controls. The populace is frustrated that the most well-paid ministers in the world seem to show creative leadership not commensurate with their high salaries, while coming up with schemes that don’t seem to take into account the thoughts of the very same populace that put them in power, then seemingly attempting schemes to control what people see and hear, with govt action taken on media people from cartoonists to journalist and with new rules on the last bastion of free media, the internet.

    This lack of trust is very debilitating at a national level. It shows up in the face of national adversity as a house not standing together. Historically, countries where the populace is clearly the driving force behind the election of and decisions by the leaders, having a clear voice represented by them and a system of democracy that is obviously free and fair, fare much better under tough times, their citizens more able to put aside political differences in a time of crisis to rally behind these democratically-elected leaders.

    Posted by CT | June 23, 2013, 12:51 am
    • I suspect this distrust is not unique in Singapore (though many would then point to the high ministerial salaries, as you did). I too am critical of the G for many policies, and while it is not exempt this time round for the haze, some of the accusations lobbed against it is rather unfair. It now has a proper strategy in place, and we’ll look for more decisive leadership abroad, in terms of seeking long-term solutions with Indonesia. I am glad the SDP and WP have concurred with the G’s plans, and that we’re going through this crisis collectively.

      I’m curious: when you refer to “countries where the populace is clearly the driving force behind the election of and decisions by the leaders”, do you have any in mind? Would I be right to point to the Scandinavian countries?

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | June 23, 2013, 11:09 am
      • The Scandinavian countries have obviously been a model for a while, but I live in the West now and I see how this democratic process takes place. Yes, many will grumble about the govt, but when push comes to shove, they will say it was their fault for voting them in and will stand behind the govt when disasters happen. In fact, to be more specific, they don’t even think it’s a govt thing to help in disasters. It’s a country thing and everyone is part of the country. The distinct lack of inputs by the people into the ruling process distances them from the ruling of the country and puts the onus of all problems back on the govt. Here where I live, it is the people’s country. I have seen an ordinary citizen raise an issue which led to the change of tax laws because the process allowed for the calling of a referendum, so that the thoughts of the majority are put in place. Also, because the ruling party does not get entrenched in power for too long, the elements of government are not seen to be extensions of the ruling party to control the people for their own ends, but really as administrators independent of ruling party but working with them for the better good of the people. Put it this, can you imagine if WP took over power today? What can we imagine will be happening in major stat boards like HDB, CPF and MOM? What about the MSM? What would happen to these? Food for thought.
        Singapore must ultimately belong to Singaporeans. The sense of ownership starts with trust and that the people, not the ruling party, ultimately wield the power, over and beyond the 5-yearly polls.

        Posted by CT | June 23, 2013, 11:01 pm
  2. Reblogged this on Youths Today- Global Perspectives and commented:
    that is perhaps, one reason why i’m volunteering to distribute masks on Monday. Only 100 masks, so if any of you have extra N95s, contact me! I’m part of the movement ‘Project N95 Mask’, an initiative by students. Contact me if you’re interested too!

    Posted by vlee9595 | June 23, 2013, 2:30 am
  3. I do think that this Haze issue, and the dissatisfaction that has arisen, have several different parts to it. One bit is what you mentioned – the government can’t do everything, and some policies, like a Stop-Work order, has its implications. Implicit in this is also that Singaporeans can do more, employers can do more, and everyone can start by helping one another (and perhaps not hoarding masks when there is already a shortage helps).

    That said, I don’t think that the government is quite in a situation where it is doing what it can. there might be many areas where the government’s hands are tied, but not all.

    One example is the urgent need for masks, and the subsequent distribution of these masks. Theoretically, there should be enough masks for everyone.. but it is obvious that there aren’t.
    1in terms of stock, even if we were to give the benefit of the doubt that the severity of the haze was unexpected, as an act for the welfare of citizens, urgent, and surplus imports of masks need to be made. Of course, individual suppliers would already being doing so, and indeed a silver lining you have mentioned is how groups have come together socially to act for society, to give out masks to people who need them. But the Government is in the best position, and have the most resources to get imports in asap, and should do erring on the side of caution, so that masks are readily available for people to buy. And this should be communicated clearly, better. Instead of we are doing what we can, which really means nothing (you can’t do what you cannot do), explain; We already have 9 million masks. We are going to get more because we know many people do not have masks at present. We cannot expect these masks to come in immediately. but we have already purchased them, they are coming, they on the way. You can get them at this location. They will available by this date. And we will ensure that there is more than enough stock.

    In terms of distribution, surely more can also be done. We all know that construction workers do not wears masks. Lower income laborers are not wearing masks. the old aunty and uncle going around collecting cardboards are not wearings masks. Cleaners and coffee shops are not wearings masks. Of course, employers should be decent enough human beings to care for the welfare of these people. And other people should be decent enough to help distribute, if they can, masks to others who need them. But if the employers are not doing this, then the government, in a time crisis, cannot stand back and say, hey look, you SHOULD be doing this.. but if you don’t what can I do? that can’t be the correct answer. The correct answer is to then take action, to distribute masks more actively. Policemen going around can carry spares masks. CCs/RCs should carry spare masks. The government cannot do this alone. It can’t identify every aunty collecting cardboard, but they can do more, because at present, very little is being done. 200,000 masks is an insufficient effort, quite simply because an action plan 4 or 5 times this scale is not beyond the government. And this action is needed in times of crisis. This is not a simple case of a trade-off in determining a day to day policy. We are in a time of crisis.

    Additionally, I think the prevailing distrust is quite an emotional thing. People don’t trust the government in terms of PSI readings and so on. Why? Well we all have people we don’t trust, which could have manifested from many different ways – such as perhaps the withholding of information, or previous experiences of where one party was not completely honest. Relationships between people and government have been strained… clearly a loss of trust, more apparent now than before. And being emotional beings, this distrust grows in this time of crisis.
    I’m not saying this behavior is right… but it is… human… and I do understand that people are frustrated.
    I’m also not sure if this is a culture of sensationalism generated online. Offline, aunties and uncles who do not go on Facebook, and do not read online sites, also are wary of the figures reported.

    All these seem to point an accusing finger at the govnerment. Well, I do think that the job they do is difficult. I do agree completely that action should be taken in a measured manner. that no mass stop-work oder is issued is probably the right decision. But there is more that needs to be done, by both govt and people.

    Posted by Jeffrey Ong | June 23, 2013, 5:14 am
    • Besides doing our part, it’s important to be sceptical and critical. But given this is the first time such a crisis has unfolded on such a scale, I think what the G has done is reasonable. And on this rare occasion, the SDP and WP have concurred with the strategies (the latter has also worked the ground accordingly, which is commendable). I will reserve further judgement of the G, after it has engaged in regional discourse or engagement.

      The masks: a lot of the panic was driven by artificial demand and misinformation. The former: individuals stock-piling or buying more than what is necessary (or worse, for resale at jacked-up prices). Eventually, the retailers had to put a cap for a period of time. The latter: posting of photographs and claims that there were absolutely none left. It takes time for the re-stocking, and different locations around the island still carried them. To me, I think the G shouldn’t be involved in everything (because it cannot), and there are behaviours it cannot police.

      The PSI: fundamentally, what is the purpose of the PSI / AQI / PM Index. They help inform the public, to help the G craft advisories. I can’t see why the G would want to fudge the numbers (to kill off more Singaporeans? to mislead them?), and the screen-shot that has been going around is probably a glitch (unforgivable though, in the eyes of many).

      I agree that there is a trust deficit. But I have also come to accept that there are many who will never agree with the G. That’s fine by me too.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | June 23, 2013, 11:34 am
      • The trust deficit has a threshold. When it is breached, it’s not fine anymore. It is then treading in dangerous ground. Admittedly, it’s very difficult to identify that threshold.

        Posted by sbksim | June 24, 2013, 4:19 am
  4. , I blame OUR government for NOT taking IMMEDIATE, DECISIVE actions to manage the crisis and alleviate the suffering of the populace. Right now and over the last few days, while we are breathing the smog and gasping through the masks (if you managed to get any, that is), our PM has written a letter to the Indonesian authorities, held a couple of press conferences, arranged for a new committee to look into the haze matter and asked us to remain calm .

    Posted by Toby O. Frazier | June 29, 2013, 6:17 am

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