Lui Tuck Yew’s resignation and the Singapore Boat

From ‘All have stations to man on the Singapore boat’, 13 Aug 15, ST Forum

(Steve Chiu Shih Tung): Though the major disruptions on the MRT lines were mentioned in Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, we can only guess at what the real factors behind his resignation might be (“Lui Tuck Yew decides to leave politics“; yesterday).

But let’s suppose that the MRT breakdowns were the factors; we ought to contemplate how our responses to the breakdowns might have shaped Mr Lui’s decision to step down.

As citizens, we are all in this one Singapore boat. It’s a boat well envied by international watchers, but it’s a boat that’s already 50 years old, and we have a lot of infrastructure, like the MRT, that has been faithfully serving us for several decades now.

As this Singapore boat weathers all kinds of storms, we must realistically expect wear and tear, damage and even downtime to some of the key machinery running this boat, such as the MRT lines. The MRT is just a microcosm of the crucial machinery running this Singapore boat.

…Storms will come and, often, they are beyond our control. We would do well to rise above our frustrations in the face of inconveniences, recognise the efforts of our fellow countrymen and cheer them on, as they do their utmost to serve us all as we weather these storms together.

The writer has successfully used the pretext of our Transport Minister stepping down from his ‘poisoned chalice’ to display his knack for cheesy analogies. Firstly, to be more specific, Singapore is a SAMPAN, as described by PM Lee himself. Once you’ve got that boat analogy down, you need to make it rock, hence ‘weathering the storms‘. One may argue that a massive MRT breakdown is not a random act of God but an inherent system failure, a problem that Lui has supposedly ‘inherited’ from the past, according to Low Thia Khiang. Not surprisingly, ministers who once owned the transport portfolio decided to keep mum about Lui’s sudden decision, or Low’s suggestion that someone, somewhere along the line of the condemned screwed up. That includes Khaw Boon Wan (Acting Transport Minister circa 2003), and retiring ex Minister of Communications Mah Bow Tan (1991-1999).

Incidentally, just before Lui was tasked to ‘brave the perfect storm’, he spoke of poison mushrooms during his 2011 GE rally. And sick was what our aging MRT turned out to be. Despite having the cards heavily stacked against his favour, we got our Free early morning rides and a new Downtown Line due by the end of the year. Tower Transit London won a bus tender with the Government Contracting Model.  Naturally, with his boss reluctantly accepting his resignation, the accolades from co-workers came pelting like the gentle rain. He was ‘hardworking’, had a ‘heart’ for Singaporeans, and worked the ground like all Ministers should. He descended into the dark belly of the beast with the unwashed masses.  He referred to these niceties, in his own humble words, as ‘obituaries and eulogies without the flowers’. How accurate. We haven’t had such pleasant things said about a PAP politician since LKY passed away.

To say that things haven’t been smooth sailing for the former Navy Chief is an understatement. The hashtag #tuckyew has been trending on Twitter ever since 2011, first tweeted by a guy called Martin Wong: ‘Let’s trend #tuckyew’. For the past 4 years, any delay in train service, any instance of a SBS driver not understanding English, every time a bus gets so packed it passes us by as we flag for it,  someone tweets their frustration with a ferocious, tragically catchy ‘Tuck Yew!’. Alas, despite Facebook pages dedicated to ousting Lui out of the position, our PM’s stand on cock-ups under his Ministers’ watch has remained firm. In response to the Wong Kan Seng-Mas Selamat episode, he said that we should not encourage a culture where officials are forced to resign whenever something goes wrong, that this may appease the angry public, but ultimately leave the problem unsolved. Which explains why WKS is relinquishing his seat ONLY NOW.

An outgoing SMRT CEO, on the other hand, may get the most unceremonious of public farewells. Just ask Saw Phaik Hwa.  Current CEO Desmond Kuek also got rapped for declaring his $2.25 million salary. Nobody is going to send the SMRT CEO off with a bouquet and a heavy heart when they decide to step down, so maybe being Transport Minister isn’t quite the shittiest job in the world after all. Yet, for some reason, nobody tweets ‘PhaikHwa!’, or ‘BakChye’ (Desmond Kuek) when shit happens.

As for the Singapore boat, it’s probably less a case of a good man tossed overboard, but one setting sail for less turbulent waters towards the horizon. Here’s wishing Tuck Yew all the best in his future endeavours. To his successor, let’s pray that he makes good of his time in charge while walking the plank.

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Burning an effigy of Lui Tuck Yew is illegal

From ‘Burning of effigies at Speaker’s Corner may be an offence: Police’, 30 Jan 2014, article by Xue Jianyue, Today

In response to media queries, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) clarified today (30 Jan) that the burning of effigies at the Speaker’s Corner may constitute offences under legislations such as the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. The police added that under regulations set by the National Parks Board, which manages the Speakers’ Corner, activities that involve the use of fire at the venue also require the approval of the Commissioner of Parks.

Last Saturday, protest organisers shelved plans to burn an effigy of Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew after they were spoken to by the police. The protest was against the impending 3.2 per cent public transport fake hike, which will kick in from April 6.

Under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, any person who sets fire to or burns any material to the annoyance, inconvenience or danger of the public shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000.

In its statement, the Police said it had advised Mr Gilbert Goh, who led the protest, that the burning of effigies in the Speakers’ Corner may constitute an offence. “Upon the Police’s engagement, the organiser decided against burning the effigy,” said the police.

Lui Tuck Yew: Flame-proof

Lui Tuck Yew: Flame-proof

Instead of setting fire to a shitty-looking effigy of our Transport Minister, Hong Lim protesters gathered around the figure to splash it with water(Protesters drop bid to burn effigy, 28 Jan 2014, Sunday Times). A terrible waste of a precious resource if you ask me, and not quite as fun or cathartic as ganging up on the helpless doll and beating it silly with your bare fists. I doubt the Police, nor NPARKs, would have any problem with that because no one would ever mistake Gilbert Goh’s ugly dummy for a human being getting the thrashing of his life.

But seriously, if you want to make an effigy, at least do a proper face cut-out.  A Lui Tuck Yew pinata stuffed with coins would have been a better idea. Nonetheless, some people seem to find the image of Lui Tuck Yew in a sports jacket and N’Sync pants rather amusing. I mean, just look at THIS GUY in the background. With the hat straight out of the Crucible.

Here to party, y'all

Here to party, y’all

PM Lee, in his address to NTU students in response to online behaviour, described some ‘group dynamics’ like a pack of hounds hunting. Today conveniently headlined the article as ‘PM cautions against LYNCH MOB mentality’, when Lee himself did not appear to use the loaded word ‘lynch’. He did, however, mention ‘abusive, hateful mobs’, though I doubt anyone here would go beyond desecrating a minister’s likeness through fire/water and march on to his house with a flaming torch in hand, or attempt to overturn a MRT train. The closest anyone came to symbolically embarrassing SMRT was some Swiss guy with cans of spray paint in 2010.

Yet, you don’t even need to light a match to get arrested for threatening violence against a minister. Just typing out the fantasy of burning Vivian Balakrishnan online would have the police hot on your tail. Even if it were legal and done in a contained manner with a fire-safety officer on standby, what good would effigy-burning do other than leaving a charred mess for our poor cleaners to dispose of? As much good as spitting on your EZlink card out of frustration, perhaps. Not sure if the magnetic strip can withstand the corrosive potency of human saliva.

Slapping uncle: Shame on me for taking the MRT. SHAME!

But maybe the Hong Lim pyromaniacs have a point, even if effigy-burning does seem like the stuff of 16th century witch-slaying festivals. In 2008, an article titled ‘More open field’ was published in the Today paper, where protests which involve ‘burning an effigy of a Singapore political leader’ MAY HAVE A PLACE in Singapore. Apparently, neither of the relevant agencies objected then when people asked for permission to perform this exact activity. Why the U-turn now?

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 11.16.53 PM

Maybe some people do need the burning simulation as a therapeutic outlet for their fury. Like the taxi driver who set MP Seng Han Thong aflame, for example. If viewed in that context, perhaps the Minister should encourage rather than clamp down on it. Better a recipient of an over-dramatic insult that getting third degree burns, I say.

Singaporeans can’t burn minister effigies on open ground since it’s in breach of public safety, yet we allow other countries to do it on our behalf. In 1990, Lee Kuan Yew’s effigy was burnt by angry Indonesians for his Sukarno remark. In 2007, Wong Kan Seng was the victim of a Thai protest, though it seemed he had nothing to do with what the mob was raging about. Despite all the hate directed at Anton Casey, no one thought of putting the guy’s face on a makeshift scarecrow and setting him alight. If the Police had found out that Anton was the target instead of Lui Tuck Yew, they may even join in the ceremony and fire a few rounds into his effigy for good measure. Perhaps we should all just stick to burning PSLE homework then.

Lui Tuck Yew disappointed with train disruptions

From ‘Transport Minister Lui disappointed with train disruptions’, 23 Jan 2014, article in CNA

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew expressed his concern and disappointment with the recent spate of disruptions on the SMRT rail network during a meeting with the operator’s CEO and senior management on Thursday.

He was also briefed on the status of the ongoing investigations and SMRT’s preliminary findings on these incidents. Mr Lui said: “I share the frustrations of train commuters affected by these incidents, and I empathise with them on the anxiety and uncertainty that they may experience.

“I am also very concerned about SMRT’s service recovery efforts, particularly in reaching out to affected commuters promptly and keeping them updated during these incidents.”

Minister Lui has been ‘concerned’ and ‘disappointed’ before. In 2011 he expressed the same emotions about the N-S line breakdown which had someone resorting to breaking a window with a fire extinguisher. He told SMRT chairman Koh Yong Guan that he held the board and the management team ‘responsible for making it right’. 3 years later, it looks like disappointment alone won’t cut it anymore. Koh Yong Guan is STILL board chairman, and unless our minister has forgotten all about the pledge to uncover the ‘root cause’ in 2011, perhaps it’s time ultimatums are issued instead of second chances and tame euphemisms for ‘pissed off’.

Disappointment is shaking your head and walking away, and it has been a favourite tone adopted by some our ministers whenever someone upsets them. Lim Swee Say, for instance, was disappointed when DBS retrenched workers in 2008. S Jayakumar was surprised and ‘disappointed’ with accusations by Malaysian officials over the Pedra Blanca incident a year earlier. Disappointment is a mother telling her kid nicely that he’s an utter failure, but still loves him anyway. It’s time to slam your fists and up the ante, Lui Tuck Yew. Even your name rhymes with a classic expression that should have been thrown at SMRT a long time ago. They’ve had their chance to redeem themselves, but not only have they struggled to set things right, they even managed to convince the PTC that they deserve their fare hike.

There’s no shame in telling SMRT how you really feel to show Singaporeans that you mean business. Try DPM Teo’s expression of ‘deep dissatisfaction’ with the ICA checkpoint lapse and MFA trespass. Or DPM Wong Kan Seng being ‘totally appalled and flabbergasted’ following the ICA passport mix up in 2008. K Shanmugam recently revealed that he was ‘terribly upset and offended’ by what Anton Casey posted on Facebook. If you want SMRT to wake the Tuck up, you have to take it on a personal level beyond tepid ‘disappointment’, that you’re upset, furious, bloody disgusted and that such breakdowns are totally UNACCEPTABLE. It will even help you score brownie points for the next election, even if chances are nothing’s going to happen to the SMRT board anyway.

Khaw Boon Wan wants us to save for a rainy day

From ‘Save for a rainy day, advises Khaw’, 8 Aug 2011, article by Alicia Wong in sg yahoo news

Amidst the financial turmoil plaguing America and Europe, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has reminded Singaporeans to save for a rainy day.

“Sometimes you get fine weather, sometimes rainy. But if you have always saved for the rainy day, you’ll be pretty steady and safe,” he was quoted as saying by The Straits Times.

…Minister Khaw also pointed out the need for political leaders to have foresight and “tell people what is unpleasant sometimes”.

…”To lead, you must be able to see first further, and tell people what is unpleasant sometimes,” he said. “I try to say what’s right,” he added. “Pleasant or unpleasant to me, is not as important as what is right, what is rational.”

There’s a reason why the PAP logo has a bolt of lightning in it, and that’s because our ministers like to frighten us with stale cliches of rainy days and stormy weather. I won’t go into how patronising this piece of advice is, since it’s stating the obvious that Singaporeans have to ‘tighten their purse-strings’ during this difficult  period and ‘ride out the stormy seas’, though some of us have been subject to ‘rough weather’ for the longest time.  It’s easier to tell people to brace for ‘dark clouds on the horizon’ than promise ‘clear skies’ and ‘sunny days’. After all, hiding behind the ‘weather’ analogy is ideal because it’s the only unpredictable, uncontrollable element that everyone can relate to, suggestive of an act of God which the government can’t possibly be responsible for. No minister is going to use quantum physics to describe economic turbulence because it’s too deep, nor the unpleasant word ‘chaos’ because it’s too apocalyptic. ‘Weather’ seems perfectly fine, even if it’s centuries old.

As a leader, other than ‘telling us like it is’, Mr Khaw and rest of the PAP should also lead by example and tell us how they’re going to put taxpayers’ money to more prudent use, or whether there’ll be any tapping of the national reserves (saved for rainy days like these according to our PM, see below) to help us ‘weather the storm’, instead of just reminding us of what we already know from our parents. Telling us what is ‘rational’ or ‘right’ doesn’t make it timely, appropriate, or in this case, even necessary. So much sunshine was dispensed during the last elections that it’s telling how gloomy the weather forecasts have suddenly become, especially in the wake of public transport fee hikes which makes this piece of advice as helpful as a teaspoon in a flood survival kit.

Here’s a sampling for how the PAP’s favourite platitude has been tossed about like a ‘buoy on a stormy ocean’ for the past half a century, which makes you wonder if this country is really ‘Singapura, sunny island set in the sea’.

S Rajaratnam (Raja: Watch out for storms in changing world, 25 Dec 1967, ST): As far as Singapore is concerned, the problem is one of making certain that we survive until the advent of sunnier, calmer weather. We cannot control the weather but if we have the tenacity, intelligence and resilence we can ride the storm.

Dr Ang Kok Peng, Minister of State(Communications) (Don’t spend on luxuries, Ang tells youth, 19 Feb 1973, ST): The young should be taught to practise self-discipline and to save not for only a rainy day but also for building up the economic resources of Singapore.

Lee Kuan Yew (PM:Let’s find that niche, 18 Aug 1980, ST): And we got to get it into the heads of our younger generation that life is not a bed of roses. This generation has never known unemployment but if we run into stormy weather, they will get a dose of it in the 80s.

Dr Tony Tan (Rough times ahead, 16 May 1982, ST) : ‘The lower rate of growth in the first quarter of this year is a warning to us that, while we hope for an uplift in the US and the world economy, we must be prepared if necessary, to face rough weather. To avoid sinking, we must tighten up the hatches. We must cut out unnecessary spending and avoid wastage.

Goh Chok Tong (How elders can help young to weather hard times, 6 March 1983, ST) : It would also mean taking advantage of the slack period to improve ourselves to acquire knowledge and skills which we can use when the stormy weather blows over

Goh Chok Tong (A nation of cynics,  24 Aug 2002, Today): Fair weather Singaporeans who, having benefited from Singapore, will pack their bags and take flight when our country runs into a little storm.

Lee Hsien Loong (Brace for tough times: PM, 23 Feb 2009, Today): ‘For one, the reserves will not only tide Singaporeans over on a ‘very rainy day‘, but also provide confidence to investors that ‘the economy has resources, is strong, and the Singapore dollar is strong’

Postscript:Hot on the heels of Khaw’s worldly advice is none other than Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s uncanny carbon copy of the ‘rainy day’ analogy (Economic storms may affect Singapore: Lui Tuck Yew, 13 Aug 2011, ST)

…Singapore can weather the turbulence if the government and people all came together to face squarely the challenges and make tough decisions as a nation.

He added that there are measures in place to help needy residents and Singaporeans can also prepare for the gloomy financial forecast by saving for a rainy day.

It appears that fine weather is as rare as a politician telling us something new.

Opposition is poisonous mushroom, PAP is chiku tree

From ‘GE: Lui Tuck Yew tells story about trees and mushrooms’, 30 April 2011, article by Rachel Kelly/Julia Ng in CNA online.

…Mr Lui also told supporters a story about a village which was sheltered by special tall trees (PAP) which protected it from storms. Yet the villagers were tempted by mushrooms which spouted only every five years.

He said: “The villagers asked, ‘Are these mushrooms any good? They are so pretty. Shall we remove some of these tall trees and allow the wild mushrooms (Opposition) to grow?’ And so the wise old man told them that these mushrooms may look pretty but some of them are poisonous, and ‘if you associate too closely with them, these wild mushrooms will weaken us, stunt our growth, and retard our development. Leave them alone, protect the trees, these trees are special trees’.”

If a tree falls down in a forest...

From cars and buses, the bad analogy bandwagon has made a turn towards horticulture this time. Other than the fact that these ‘special’ trees are protecting our little island village from natural disasters (actually it’s our geographical position, not the PAP that deserves credit), Lui Tuck Yew’s parable makes the PAP sound like the ancient magical Ents of Tokkien’s Lord of the Rings, craggy guardians of the forest, steadfast and wooden to the core, while the Opposition are ‘pretty-looking’ fungi leeching off the PAP’s holy sap. He’s right about the age of some of our more prominent ‘Ents’ though.

I have no idea if this story is made up, but no decent village elder will chop down trees in exchange for a field of giant mushrooms out of a Smurfs cartoon. Perhaps our minister needs some lessons in basic ecology, but to put it simply as I would to a child asking about wild plants; both the tree and the humble mushroom live in harmony as nature intended. The mushroom’s poison is a self-defence mechanism, not a weaponised chemical used to intoxicate humans or infect nearby trees. I’m no botanist but it would take a creeping plant to take root and strangle the PAP tree, not a dash of ‘pretty’ poisonous mushrooms which thrive on the shade of its host, which brings us to the biblical, and perhaps more accurate,  metaphor of ‘seeds’, courtesy of our resident cabinet wordsmith SM Goh Chok Tong (‘Careful of the seed you sow’, 2 May 2006, Today)

It would have been fine if we left it as that, that no one knows what beast with a bark worse than its bite (groanworthy pun intended) would sprout out of Opposition seeds, which is sensible coming from SM Goh, if only someone else from PAP hadn’t already described in excruciating detail the kind of fruit that some PAP trees are bearing from the dismally titled article below (The Chiku Man 9 Oct 2004, Today). So there we have it, PAP newbies are unripe chikus, while Opposition are wild poisonous mushrooms. If a more palatable fruit has been chosen instead, say a rambutan, then it would have been harder for folks  like myself to choose between the two. Just to take the mushroom analogy further, a mushroom’s poison could be turned into a useful medicine or chemical later if you just take some time to study it. A chiku, well, is just a tasteless way of packaging sugar, vitamins  and minerals. No wonder the ground is ‘not too sweet’ this time.