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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2 Responses

  1. […] also acknowledges the valid concerns about agencies under the MND. Recall the recent incident involving a fishball stick in August? We have set up an oversight office to coordinate the different agencies to remove all fishball […]

  2. […] neighbour from hell is yet another example of PM Lee’s proverbial fishball stick analogy. The police can’t barge in guns ablazing and the town council won’t do anything about […]

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