Rats on a hill near Bukit Batok MRT

From ‘Rat infestation near Bukit Batok MRT’, 17 Dec 2014, article in CNA

A rat infestation has been spotted in the vicinity of Bukit Batok MRT station. Simulation system operator Ryan Keith, 33, is a longtime Bukit Batok resident, and recorded a video of the rat infestation on Tuesday evening (Dec 16), at the hill just beside the train station.

“I was there for about 10 minutes and I think I saw more than 50 rats,” he told Channel NewsAsia. “This spot is near to many eateries, and rats can breed very quickly and bite through wires, so I am quite concerned.”

He said he has approached the National Environment Agency (NEA) about the problem, and they told him that “they will look into it“.

Channel NewsAsia understands that this is a plot of state land under the management of the Housing and Development Board (HDB), as an agent of the Singapore Land Authority. Channel NewsAsia has approached the HDB for comment.

It does not bode well when an agency says they will ‘look into it’, when they really should be saying ‘we’ll send someone down before someone gets bloody typhus’. At press time, both agencies are waiting for the other to issue ‘statements’, by which time another litter of rat babies would have already been born feeding off scraps from a discarded, oily Old Chang Kee plastic bag. Opposition parties contesting in the ward should be taking notes, because this is the best evidence available if you ever decide to call Bukit Batok constituency a shameful ‘slum’.

In this case, it appears that the buck is being passed to HDB who owns the vermin-infested land. When dead rats were found floating near the Merlion in 1972, the Ministry of Environment directed a complainant to the PWD (Public Works Department) and then the Health Ministry, before redirecting him back to the original contact. Well if only we had grass-cutting coordinator MSO to sort things out back then!

In our reputedly ‘spick and span’ Garden City, you still find these resilient little bastard critters invading shopping malls, fast food joints, hawker centres, HDB drains, or on the MRT. Even the food we eat is not spared. You could find pieces of rat in even roti prata with mutton curry.  In the fifties, people bought hunting cats to take matters into their own hands during a rat epidemic. Today you find rats as large as cats themselves, and the reason why cats are not doing their job is because they’re being over-fed, mutilated by humans, or being rounded up to become cuddle accessories in some cat cafe, where they spend their confined days staring out of the window depressed, fantasising about all the big fat rats they could maim and eat instead of entertaining shitty humans over tea and biscuits.

Well, if even stray cats and dogs are terrified of this marauding menace, there’s only one option left to resolve this issue. Release the PYTHON!!

Update: The NEA, AVA, Jurong Town Council and HDB issued a joint statement the following day blaming the rat infestation on people feeding stray dogs, while a pest control team was deployed to wage war on the rat army, an operation with the cheesy sounding name of ‘Rat Attack’ that drew excited crowds as if they were witnessing a SWAT team in a terrorist hostage situation. Kudos to the Star Pest Control team for braving the rain to subdue the pestilence. These guys have their own Facebook page, which features grisly photos of massive insect nests if you’re into that kind of thing. Their logo, strangely enough, includes a rat with a Elvis hairdo. Still, glad to know someone out there gives a rat’s ass about public health.

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MSO tackling the problem of uneven grass patches

From ‘Government looking to coordinate grass-cutting services in public spaces’, 10 Dec 14, article in CNA

The Government is looking into consolidating grass-cutting services in public spaces. The Municipal Services Office, set up in October, said it is acting on feedback to better coordinate public services for residents.

…The Pang Sua Park Connector in Choa Chu Kang is a popular spot for many, but some have noticed that grass in the area is not evenly cut. Grass-cutting services for this strip along the park connector is managed by NParks. However, across a drain, such services for the plot of land is managed by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). The uneven length is due to the agencies having different schedules for grass cutting.

Ms (Grace) Fu said: “(The person who raised the issue) felt it is sometimes a little bit strange where certain parts seem to be cut well, not the others, and also because some parts that are not cut frequently enough, it actually affected his experience of the park. So I think that we should take such feedback seriously, and we are looking for areas where we can systematically resolve issues rather than just do it on a case-by-case basis.”

The first order of business for the newly formed MSO is not handling difficult neighbours in a HDB estate, who should clean up collapsed trees or who should catch mynahs, but to tend to ugly looking grass patches because someone complained that his ‘park experience’ was affected by differing lengths of ground foliage  (#firstworldproblems). As a Garden City, having a uniformly green landscape is top priority, of course. You don’t want to instill mass panic in the general public by giving the impression that the drought is upon us once again because some patches look sparser than others. I suppose some people are more concerned about the state of the nation’s grass than their own public hair. Your wall-punching, Teo Chee Hean-dissing, nuisance neighbour from hell can wait, even if it takes 5 years. Grass takes precedence.

In the past, there’s nothing more terrifying than uncut, 1m long grass. People were afraid of snakes lurking within them, or you could step on dogshit without knowing it. Most of the time, however, our problem lies not with the grass itself, but the people paid to trim the green to maintain this tidy ‘park’ atmosphere. Grass-cutters were blamed for propelling rocks onto unwitting passers-by or cracking car windows, or even almost amputating legs off with their deadly hand-held cutters. When we get pricked by a stray twig that sprang wildly off those whirly blades of death, we curse contractors for employing reckless foreigner grasscutters or using a tool that would make them as hazardous as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and we curse them again if they’re not doing a proper job ensuring that not one blade of grass is taller than the other,  because we’re so used to seeing soothing, homogenous open spaces that the thought of one weed of lallang hanging out of place is enough to send us into cataleptic shock. Like when you order ice kacang and only one side of the slope has condensed milk but not the other.

In the meantime, uncles are running riot with their electric scooters, joggers are breaking their ankles tripping over protruding stones, and nobody’s picking up that fishball stick straddling the MRT track and park connector. Some people just don’t like the idea of the grass being greener on the other side, I guess. Next on the agenda, coordinating the management of fallen leaves so that we won’t have a situation where we have neat piles on one side of the pavement, and an unsightly orgy of scattered leaves on the other.

4 year old boy’s death from Nasi Padang a misadventure

From ‘NEA to take action against stall owner’, 1 Nov 2014, article by Hoe Pei Shan, ST

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday said it will be taking action against the owner of the nasi padang stall linked to the death of a four-year-old boy. A coroner’s inquiry completed the day before found that Shayne Sujith Balasubraamaniam had likely contracted salmonella from food which his mother bought from the stall in Northpoint Shopping Centre’s Kopitiam foodcourt, before dying four days later on Jan 22. The coroner called the tragedy a “misadventure”.

Operations at the stall were suspended for three weeks for the NEA to conduct investigations. After the coroner’s inquiry, netizens wondered if stall owner Siti Abibah Guno would face further action. Responding to queries from The Straits Times, an NEA spokesman said yesterday: “With the coroner’s inquiry now completed, NEA will proceed to prosecute the licensee in court.”

Under the Environmental Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations, Madam Siti faces a fine of up to $2,000 for each charge. Investigations had revealed unsafe levels of bacteria at the stall because of two main hygiene lapses – failure to register a food handler as required and failure to protect food in a covered receptacle.

Madam Siti was adamant when she told The Straits Times over the phone on Thursday that she had done nothing wrong as her licence to run a food stall had not been revoked.

According to the NEA’s advisory webpage, ‘3 persons’ were reported to contract ‘food poisoning’ on 18 Jan 2014, and NEA decided to drop the grading down to ‘C, but only effective from 10 April 2014, nearly 3 months after the boy’s death. My Paper reports that other than the deceased, his mother and 2 year old sister were also hit by the salmonella bug, the culprits being curry chicken and tahu goreng. If you check the latest grade for Siti’s stall from NEA’s online database, you would find, to anyone’s befuddlement, that it had since been upgraded to A. But what’s more surprising is that Siti was awarded NO DEMERIT POINTS and listed as NO SUSPENSIONS at all the past year, despite the Jan incident. You might even say it’s an unblemished track record just looking at the details below. No wonder she thinks she has done ‘nothing wrong’.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 7.47.12 AM

 ‘C’ means a score of 50-69%, or barely meeting the passing mark, though the running joke among fans of hawker food is that the lower the score, the tastier the food, with the lowest rating ‘D’ standing for ‘Delicious’. With this Nasi Padang tragedy, you can’t tell that joke anymore without someone groaning at its, well, tastelessness. D is diarrhoea, then death. So, the question remains, how reliable are these ratings anyway? How does the public make an ‘informed choice’ from these grades if there’s a lapse of a few months between a tragedy and the actual ‘demotion’? Or if your online licensing details says there were no suspensions the past year when in fact there was?

It seems that NEA will only issue some kind of strained apology or reassurance when hundreds of people are affected, like the Geylang Serai rojak poisoning back in 2009, which also took 2 lives thanks to an outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacterium that also sounds like a Harry Potter spell to induce instant faecal incontinence. Back then, the CEO of NEA himself wrote a letter to Today saying he was ‘deeply saddened’ and that NEA ‘should have moved in firmly’ to tackle the rat infestation problem at the Temporary Market. In this Nasi Padang case, they’ve decided to go on the litigious offensive straight off, before telling us how ‘affected’ they are by the tragic demise, or what measures, other than tweaking gradings up and down, are going to be implemented to ensure that such ‘misadventures’ don’t happen again. Incidentally, the rojak stall was also rated C (Rojak stall given C grade for hygiene in Dec, 8 April 2009, ST).

 Meanwhile, if you think you’re safe if you avoid stalls which display uncovered food, whether it’s economic rice, rojak or Taste of Nanyang Chicken Rice, think again. Even dipping your fishballs in a Sichuan hot pot may not avert a gastrointestinal holocaust. Nor eating Prima Deli chocolate cakes. You should also worry about what your kids eat in their school canteens. If you see a food stall with a ‘C’ rating, don’t think of it as ‘satisfactory’ or ‘average’, but ‘CAUTION’.  Do a quick spotcheck of the premises before ordering, and don’t gobble down the food in case it’s swarming with gross, hidden maggots, as what happened with another case of Nasi Padang last year (also from a stall in Yishun), an image that is enough to turn you into a vegetarian for a week. Watch out for Ecoli in salad though.

As for NEA’s online database, if it’s really a case of wrong information displayed, then you’ve just scored a big ‘F’ in my book.

MBS food court chicken rice stall infested with cockroaches

From ‘NEA to take action against Marina Bay Sands stall for cockroach infestation’, 11 Oct 2014, article in CNA

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will be taking enforcement action against a chicken rice stall at the foodcourt at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) for cockroach infestation.

In a statement on Saturday (Oct 11), NEA said it has found cockroach infestation at the stall in the 1983 – A Taste of Nanyang foodcourt. The foodcourt has voluntarily closed since Tuesday evening (Oct 7) for cleaning and pest control treatment, in the wake of customer complaints and photographs of cockroaches that went viral online.

…The 1983 – A Taste of Nanyang food court is located at the South Promenade of The Shoppes at MBS and is run by Koufu. Other branches can be found at Changi Airport Terminal 1, JEM, Republic Polytechnic, ITE Ang Mo Kio and the Nanyang Technological University.

When Facebook user Kovit Ang posted his image of a troop of five roaches ready to attack pieces of fried meat, he did weight-watchers all over the country a huge favour. Now if you find yourself having a ridiculous craving for chicken rice between meals, it helps to recall that horrific photo, feel the surge of bile up your throat, and switch to an apple and a protein bar instead. But before one tars all Food Republics, Kopitiams and Koufus with the same brush, remember that one of the reasons why food courts exist is because people wanted to avoid pests like stray mynahs and, in the case of the recently shut down Ghim Moh Market, rats living in up to 71 burrows.

Not much is mentioned about the significance of ‘1983’ in the Koufu website other than a story that suggests the origin of nasi lemak at Malacca Street. It wasn’t that far from ‘1983’ when Singapore had its very first ‘food court’. Scotts Picnic in Orchard, established in 1985, was supposed to be an ‘upmarket’ hawker centre, where patrons could eat in air-conditioned comfort. A string of food halls with the same dining concept and similarly snazzy titles (Food Paradiz, Food Palace) followed suit, but within 3 years owners were reporting slumps in takings, with complaints that the air-conditioning made oily smells cling to one’s office attire. This despite attempts to install roman columns and chandeliers or employ a live DJ to spin the latest 80’s hits.

The food court idea was meant to be an improvement of the existing hawker centre infrastructure, a culinary ‘renaissance’ so to speak, for the busy office worker in the heart of town. Today, with a near patriotic resurgence of hawker culture, these places have been reviled by food lovers all over, not so much for the hygiene or stubborn oily smells, but because it’s the only place where you’ll get charged $8.50 for chicken rice, cockroach or no cockroach, that tastes mediocre, if not downright terrible. There are exceptions, of course, though seeing a Hokkien Mee seller in a food court wearing a straw hat doesn’t mean the dish is any good.

Food guru Dr Leslie Tay is all too familiar with how the food court subletting system compromises the quality of one’s cooking, himself declaring that he would never visit such a food court if he could help it.  Koufu Sentosa has even found itself listed on Lonely Planet, the nadir of the evolution of the food court from hawker centre upgrade to campy tourist trap. The operator has even masked its hydra arms in various guises, calling its Star Vista branch in Buona Vista ‘Kitchen’, among others including ‘Gallerie’, ‘Rasapura’ and the ultimate, ‘GOURMET PARADISE’. The only thing ‘nostalgic’ about 1983’s Taste of Nanyang after this roach incident is how it suddenly reminds you of the conditions on board the overcrowded boats our migrant forefathers arrived in, like in ‘The Awakening’.

But if you’re a Koufu devotee and still believe that the cockroach incident in an iconic building is an isolated incident simply blown out of proportion, maybe this photo below, snapped at Koufu HDB Hub Toa Payoh circa 2011, will change your mind not just about the franchise, but chicken rice forever.

The menu at Koufu has gone beyond ‘exotic’

Mandai should be left alone for future generations

From ‘Use Punggol as a lesson in development’ and ‘Mandai should remain untouched for our next generation’, 15 Sept 2014, Voices, Today

(Sum Siew Kee): I was recently at the Punggol Waterway Park and it is an impressive development. No one was there, however, and I could guess why. It was the early afternoon on a weekend. The sun was blazing and the trees were small and few. The bare grass and concrete around the park did not help.

I looked at the woods in the vicinity and wished that I could be in the shade. Then I remembered that Punggol had been a forest/mangrove, razed for residential development. We are spending money to recreate the waterways and replant the trees. And if the trees do not provide sufficient shade, the park will be used only in the early mornings and late afternoons.

The redevelopment at Mandai should take this lesson into account. Instead of something “spectacular” made primarily for tourists, we should have attractions targeted at residents, which need not be big nor fancy. (“Mandai area set for major redevelopment”; Sept 5). Residents cannot visit the zoo or bird park every week, but can take regular walks in a nearby forest, if only to escape the city briefly. This may not bring in the tourist dollar, but it brings positive externalities and makes Singapore a more attractive place to live in.

…We must decide when to spend and when not to spend. Big-budget activities look good on a civil servant’s curriculum vitae, but may not necessarily be the best use of Singapore’s scarce natural resources.

(Ben Lee):…Having visited Mandai’s forested area, I am overwhelmed by the natural settings that house some of our most vulnerable fauna and flora. Many of our native animals survive in scarce spaces within our nature reserves, where human intrusion such as army training, jogging, cycling, school visits, et cetera, is pervasive.

These precious species include the banded leaf monkey, Sunda pangolin, lesser mousedeer, Asian palm civet and flying lemur, or colugo. Ground dwellers form the bulk of the wildlife. In my assessment, the status quo is more ideal for our next generation to appreciate our natural forest, which is dwindling due to developments for housing and recreation.

…My concern, as a wildlife conservationist and advocate, is over the plan to relocate the Jurong Bird Park. There would be more roadkill from heavier traffic and animals encroaching on human settlements due to lack of food and space, as well as an increase in the opportunities afforded to potential animal poachers.

Mr Singapore Zoo himself Bernard Harrison was against the relocation of Jurong Bird Park, citing cost issues (he estimates $200 million), wondering if there’s a dearth of creativity among Singaporeans and would ‘hate to see Supertrees’ in Mandai. The author of ‘Naked Ape, Naked Boss’ was also a former CEO of WRS who left in 2002 because he couldn’t stand the ‘civil service manual’, and didn’t see eye to eye with chairman Kwa Soon Bee. You don’t need to pack Mandai with another tourist attraction to realise that wild animals are already intruding into human territory, from pythons in swimming pools and toilet bowls, groceries-swiping monkeys to crocodiles in reservoirs. Like most people I know, I haven’t visited the Bird Park since primary school excursion days, and it’s unlikely that I’ll revisit even after the big Shift. Somehow conservationists have become afraid to tell it like it is, in fear of being labelled tree-hugging Luddites who collect useless knowledge like the difference between a mousedeer and a LESSER mousedeer, which is ‘Leave Mandai alone, dammit!’.

8 years ago, there were already cries of protest when STB got hooked on this ‘eco-tourism’ craze, proposing a ‘mixed use’ attraction and ‘back to nature’ accommodation. They promised that they would be ‘sensitive’ to the environment. Today, they tell us the same thing, even though the decision has already been made. Since when have we conducted and completed an ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ that was NEGATIVE and we trashed all our mock-ups and blueprints going ‘Oh well, too bad, let’s just build another casino on Sentosa then’? How about doing an EIA on a more regular basis AFTER you’ve poked your itchy fingers into virgin land? That is the only way to determine if you had been ‘sensitive’, or just bloody clumsy. Tell us how many trees would need to be uprooted, how many animals displaced, instead of throwing a EIA report in our faces saying ‘See I told you so!’.

In spite of what the Government has done for the Park Connector Network, the Green Corridor, an upcoming marine park and Punggol, ‘development’ still sounds like a dirty word these days, and it’s only natural to be wary of our government’s intentions to revamp Mandai in a bid to pursue the tourist dollar, after what we’ve done to Tampines Bike Park, and proposing to do to Bidadari or Bukit Brown, in a frenzy of ‘progress’. Even Pulau Ubin’s fate looks to be on tender hooks now. As for Punggol, PM Lee once called the Waterways our very own ‘Venice’. Charming and novel the first time round, the artificiality of it gradually dawns on you, that the eco-park theme still pales in comparison to the raw, twig-crunching-beneath-your-feet joy of forest treading. Unlike the actual city, the only thing sinking, however, appears to be its popularity among people who’re NOT ‘Punggolites’.

No matter how creative you are with eco-projects, you can’t stop Singaporeans from eventually getting tired of them. A retreat from the city means a day spa in Batam or ECP for the average Singaporean, not wandering through the forest feeding mosquitoes. We’d rather be stuck on our sofas in our air-con rooms watching Animal Planet Youtube on our iPads. Ah, BUT NOT THE TOURISTS, they say. Seriously, if tourists want an ‘eco’ experience they’d go to Indonesia or Costa Rica. STB should focus on preserving our hawker culture, not tussle with environmentalists whenever they want to chop down some trees to make way for a spa in a log hut facing a mangrove swamp.

Yet, we tend to be knee-jerkingly protective, and rightfully skeptical, over radical makeovers of untouched land when we have so little of it left, but the truth is that Mandai has been altered in bits and pieces over time, and because we eventually adapt to these ‘developments’, we fail to realise that today’s Mandai only vaguely resembles the old Mandai of the past. From what used to be lush tin mining territory, we’ve snuck in a Zoo, widened its roads, built extensions of a reservoir, highway and golf course, warehousing, army camp, orchid garden, a state-of-the-art crematorium, and finally a Night/River Safari to its current incarnation. Before you know it there’ll be a freakin MRT line there. It’s like replacing parts of a vintage car with new shiny ones. You’ll only realise the stark difference once someone adds the finishing touches and by then it would have been already too late, your protests drowned out by the assurance that this spanking new vehicle will be ‘bigger and better’, and that many ‘consultations’ with concerned parties have been held. More like ‘consolations’ really, because they’re going to DO IT ANYWAY.

This incursion into Mandai isn’t a brutal rape of Mother Nature; it’s a slow creep to the death, like a painless, but invasive, tumour, and before you know it, 30 years from now, you’ll have condos facing our new Mandai Reserves called ‘Mandai 8′, ‘Le Fauna’, ‘Sky Safari’,  hipster cafes dedicated to the late, great orang utan Ah Meng, a jungle-themed mall and cinema. Rare creatures like mousedeer and pangolins would have died out before anyone this generation has seen one outside of the Zoo’s enclosures. Nature enthusiasts who’ll complain about the first condo in Mandai would have long forgotten that the same voices went unheard back when we talked of building a damn army camp there, when we were probably also told that the government would be ‘sensitive’ to the whispers of the wild.

If our obsession with progress, little-by-little, goes unchecked, it would not be nature’s whispers but the haunting bellow of ghosts that we’ll be hearing. Bernard Harrison has proposed building an ‘UN-ZOO’ instead of lumping the Bird Park together with the current attractions. He would probably agree with me that a better alternative would be to leave the Mandai wilderness UNTOUCHED.

F1 Grand Prix is not a $25 chicken rice race

From ‘Singapore GP not a $25-chicken-rice race: organisers’, 14 Sept 2014, article in CNA

The Singapore Grand Prix is meant to be a great experience and not a ‘$25-Chicken-Rice’ race, said the organisers of Formula One’s (F1) only night race, in response to a report that showed the city-state may not be the most affordable place to catch an F1 race.

Race organisers say Singaporeans consistently make up about 60 per cent of the over 80,000 race-goers each year. This applies to every price category – from the cheapest walkabout tickets to the Pit Grandstand.

“Over and above a sporting occasion, it is a huge social occasion now. Singaporeans like a good party,” said Mr Michael Roche, executive director of the Singapore GP. “I think this loyalty has grown among Singaporeans – they’ve become quite proud of the Singapore Grand Prix and they like it when the world is watching Singapore and the skyline.

“We don’t want to be a ‘$25-chicken-rice Grand Prix’. We want to be a great experience.”

But there is a price to be paid for the chance to experience F1’s only night race. Travel website TripAdvisor ranked the Singapore Grand Prix as the seventh most expensive, out of the 19 races worldwide. It said the price of catching the Sunday final race here is S$622.67. This includes the cost of the cheapest tickets at S$207.33, a meal and a night’s stay at a hotel near the track.

Roche’s analogy of a ‘$25 chicken rice dish’ is likely a snub at the famous house special at Meritus Mandarin’s Chatterbox, which now incidentally costs $27. Curiously enough, the ‘legendary’ chicken rice was created by a German chef back in 1971, who was inspired by the hawker version to create a premium dish, made from COBB 500 chickens, medium grain jasmine rice and homemade ginger and chilli sauces. I wonder what former executive chef Peter Gehrmann would think of the comparison, with Roche suggesting that $25 for a plate is overpriced, overrated when it seems like only top-grade ingredients went into its concoction. Chicken rice will never be ‘sexy’ or ‘glamorous’ like an F1 race no matter how you mark it up. And honestly, thank God it’s not.

While Chatterbox used to be a ‘coffee house’ in those days, today it’s a casual diner and its ‘award-winning’ chicken rice still wins the hearts of some locals who appreciate the generous servings of meat, describe the sauces as ‘sublime’ and the meal as an ‘annual pilgrimage’ (WHAT awards exactly, I wonder). Perhaps the Night Race is more of a $25 XO Chai Tau Quay instead? 20 years ago, Chatterbox charged their chicken rice at $16 per plate (Is $16 too high a price for chicken rice, 17 Aug 1995, ST), which is still cheaper than what you can get for a BURGER at F1 ($17) today.  In 2009, food stalls in the F1 zone were charging chicken rice and HOKKIEN MEE at $8, which was expected since the whole event was designed to milk the most out of rich people, though if I had to choose between a sub-par, measly $8 chicken rice and the Chatterbox dish, I’d rather splurge on the latter. According to Trip Advisor, we also sell the most expensive pint of beer in the history of F1 ($13.58), no thanks to our recent increase in sin taxes. Nobody seems to be overly concerned about a riot breaking out on the grandstands.

But look at the discrepancy between our minimum ticket price vs Malaysia just across the Causeway ($207.33 vs $39.12). The CNA article also didn’t mention that, according to the BBC, Singapore has the MOST EXPENSIVE 3-day ticket OF ALL (1,109 pounds) (2013). The second most expensive ticket in the world was from Brazil, at a distant 745 pounds per ticket. This year, for $42276.50 you could book a GREEN ROOM (Oops, you can’t now, it’s sold out!). What the F1 organisers are avoiding to explain really is WHY so expensive compared to the rest of the region (i.e Malaysia), even for a night race. It’s not that we have the most ardent racing fans so much as we have the greatest concentration of goddamn billionaires  (26) here.

Not to mention the other intangible costs of a night race on our environment, namely the excessive use of lighting. No, the F1 isn’t a $25 chicken rice dish. Ecologically speaking, it’s a $25 triple-decker Big Mac, sinful beyond redemption, greasy, artery-clogging, too much of which will eventually kill you. In the government’s eyes, it’s a billion-dollar baby.

Authorities not claiming responsibility over a fishball stick

From ‘New Municipal Services Office announced’, 17 Aug 2014, article by Monica Kotwani and Eileen Poh, CNA

There will be a new authority set up to coordinate the work of various Government agencies in order to better serve the public when it comes to municipal issues. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced this on Sunday (Aug 17) during his National Day Rally. The Municipal Services Office (MSO) will coordinate the work of agencies such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA), NParks, the Housing and Development Board and Police. The aim is to improve service delivery to residents.

PM Lee highlighted an example cited by Mayor for South West District, Low Yen Ling. “Yen Ling’s residents had complained that the walkway to the Bukit Gombak MRT Station was often dirty,” Mr Lee related. “One resident told her he saw a fishball stick there on the walkway. The next day he came back and looked, the same fishball stick was still in the same place. Her residents have very sharp eyes. So Yen Ling called up the agencies to find out why the area was not being cleared regularly. And she had to make multiple calls to several agencies, held several meetings. She finally managed to establish what happened. “

Ms Low found that a slope on the left of the walkway is overseen by the National Environment Agency (NEA). In the middle, which is a park connector under NParks, while the pavement close to the road is under LTA. Mr Lee said the cleaners of these areas had different cleaning schedules, and the area on the right where the fishball stick lay was cleaned every two days.

Stick it to the Man

Stick it to the Man

Ironically, in the same article, PM was waxing lyrical about Singapore becoming a SMART NATION, and here you have a mayor having to arrange MEETINGS with agencies to decide what to do with a dumped fishball stick. I wonder who would take responsibility if the fishball stick happens to lie exactly midway between NPARKS and NEA’s turf. Maybe the cleaners under the respective payrolls would have to play scissors-paper-stone in order to come to a decision.

Like an unexpected pregnancy after a drunken mass orgy, the Bukit Gombak fishball stick anecdote has become an awkward metaphor of our neurotic, self-serving, ‘not my problem’ bureaucracy. Creating another liaison office to coordinate a response isn’t going to solve the actual problem here which PM Lee did not address in his rally: LITTERING. In full parental mode, our government have spawned yet another nanny to pick up after us because we don’t know how to make people responsible for their own environment. It’s like how setting up child welfare isn’t going to stop people from having irresponsible sex. In fact it takes some of the guilt and regret off your shoulders because you know someone ‘s taking care of your damn baby, rather than leaving him abandoned and straddling the imaginary boundary between two agencies who want nothing to do with him.

The formation of an MSO is a typical approach to how we deal with such issues: Create another layer of bureaucracy to address it, confuse everyone with yet another acronym, and hope for the best. This is just sweeping the littering scourge under the carpet. And then putting another carpet on top of the first one for good measure.

‘Municipal’ is a word that is as old as there have been only gas lamps on the streets, as seen in this 1849 article below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 10.24.50 PM

It’s also an old-timey word you wouldn’t expect Singaporeans to even pronounce properly, with the MSO appearing to be an organisation whose responsibilities we’ll inevitably mix up with those of the ‘Town councils’.  MSO also stands for ‘Medisave-cum Subsidised Outpatient‘ scheme, or the fancy rank of some random customer service officer in the civil service. Maybe we need another agency to regulate how agencies are named, one that could launch an ‘Acronym Streamlining Scheme’. Or ASS.

There are other ‘grey areas’ around which our ‘relevant authorities’ don’t want to touch with a ten foot fishball stick. Nobody wants to claim responsibility over pesky mynahs, for example.  Then there’s killer treesleaves in drains, or even stray pythons, which depending on where the creatures are found may have to involve ACRES, PUB or even the Police Force. Some of these, like venomous reptiles, obviously need more urgent attention than something out of an Old Chang Kee deep fryer, and I’m not sure if the MSO can get the agencies’ act together in double-quick time before someone gets killed. We need an Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force equivalent to deal with such things. A ‘task force’ implies active hands-on, while an ‘office’ brings to mind meeting minutes, roundabout e-mails and endless hole-punching. If I need someone to get rid of a snake in the toilet bowl and I don’t know who to call, I instinctively would choose the people who call themselves a task force rather than an office, though there jolly well could be no difference between them at all.

Good luck to us if we were ever invaded by a swarm of radioactive, mutant, giant mosquitoes aggregating and breeding over a drain by the road in a HDB estate. By the time you get around calling NEA, AVA, HDB, PUB, LTA, the Town Council, or the whole damn ARMY, we’d all get hemorrhagic, radioactive dengue and die a horrific death before the first minutes of meeting have even been tabled.

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