From ‘Balakrishnan: PUB should not have used word ‘ponding’ for floods ‘, 9 Jan 2012, article by Feng Zengkun, ST
…Dr Balakrishnan said during the Parliament session that the ministry checked the Stamford Canal and nearby drains after the Lucky Plaza and Liat Towers floods in December, and found no signs of blockage.
He said national water agency PUB should not have called the phenomenon at the water-logged areas ‘ponding’. He added: ‘As far as I am concerned, PUB should not have not used the word ‘ponding’. I call a spade a spade. A flood is a flood.‘
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan tells it like it is, even if such comments are really too little too late. Rest assured that this will be the last we hear of ponding from PUB, but the Minister’s intolerance for sugar-coating is merely a delayed reflection of ground sentiment to offset the general lack of enlightenment when it comes to tackling flood issues. The use of the spade idiom is apt, since PUB effectively dug a hole for itself by explaining away ponding in a response to a reader who had the same thoughts as Dr Vivian, but merely expressed them earlier.
Since Dr Vivian is such an advocate of honesty, it’s only fair that he should also speak directly and responsibly in the event that he makes a mistake, which was exactly what happened when the YOG blew its initial budget threefold in 2010.
“We got the initial estimates of the money to be spent on the YOG wrong”
A mistake is a mistake indeed. Besides speaking directly, word play and alliteration seems to be the man’s forte. On the AWARE saga in 2009, he unleashed the following tongue-twister/mind-boggler.
..We live in a diverse society, there will always be some issue we cannot agree on – we need to be able to learn to live and let live, to agree to disagree and do so agreeably.
One can’t help but agree to agree. A Today reader once complained that Vivian’s ‘idiomatic manner of speaking’ was a communication barrier when addressing the common people. In a BCA speech, he used ‘eggs in different baskets’ and ‘certain eggs getting into trouble’. I’d be surprised if he hasn’t yet used the ‘You need to break some eggs to make an omelette’ classic. If there’s any Minister would could pull off a Zen koan without blinking or the slightest hint of irony, this man would be it.
In 2004, Vivian was one of the more outspoken proponents for the introduction of casinos in Singapore, and this was what came out in his justification:
We must be able to attract our share of the rich and famous for which casinos may be an attraction. If they’re going to lose their money, they’re going to lose it our way..
Which is, technically, what’s really happening when we promote our IR to tourists. Except that what, or rather WHO, he meant by ‘our way’ remains anyone’s guess; the deliberate ambiguity has been concealed by flowery language.
Straight-talking and idioms, however, won’t help one score points across the Causeway, something which Vivian has plenty to learn from LKY’s experience with our Malaysian politician counterparts. 10 years ago in 2002, when he was Young PAP Vice Chairman, he ‘jokingly’ referred to Malaysian journalists as a ‘pack of wild animals’, a comment which would ‘bring irritation to bilateral relations’. The first thing one imagines of a ‘pack of wild’ anything would be hungry wolves, hyenas or any other canine breed, which the Malaysians may have taken in the literal sense and hence offended by it.
In the spirit of calling spades spades and flood floods, this is what I would say to our Minister’s lament on PUB’s choice of words: Tell us something we don’t already know.