I must confess my ignorance of politics and whatnot; what is written here is what I feel, based on the bits and pieces of news that I’ve been receiving, perhaps selectively.
There are two government decisions causing a gnawing worry in me lately. The first is MDA’s recent online news licensing scheme, and the second is the two-day alcohol ban in Little India. Both to me share a similarity: they try to solve a problem by rooting out the superficial causes. And the reason why I’m worried is that both decisions seem illogical and unwise to me; I’m worried because they corrode the trust I have in the government– if not from propaganda fed since I was a kid, then from what seemed to be a certain receptiveness to having input from the citizens from all those Our Singapore conversations.
I’m more than worried; I’m scared.
Obviously there are things happening in Singapore recently that have shaken the Disneyland image that we like to have, and I don’t think that’s the end of it. The strike was the first in 26 years; the riot, the first in over 40 years; both happened a little more than one year from each other. Both involved foreign workers. At the same time it’s clear that the xenophobic levels in Singapore have been scaling exponentially in the past few years, and the liberal immigration policy we’ve had has been pointed out as the cause. We’re rapidly being outnumbered, and it’s not exactly rocket science to see that we’re not comfortable with it. The government’s response is to pop Population White Paper planning for even more people in this congested space which we are already jostling for, without addressing integration issues adequately. The economic benefits of the projected increase are much harped upon; the social concerns, hardly addressed.
What is the two day ban on alcohol in Little India supposed to achieve? An assurance that the government is doing something, anything? A real fear that another riot triggered by alcohol is going to happen in these two days? A belief that a 400-strong riot with a almost blemish-less history such as ours can really have a root cause in alcohol?
One thing that Alex Au wrote really struck me:
Community spaces must be provided. We must be mad to think that we can bring in so many foreign workers and not need to provide leisure and recreational facilities for them. They don’t ask for much, but we could do with spacious community halls, or even just open-sided pavilions, located at all the main places where foreign workers like to congregate on their days off. At these pavilions, have some shops and kiosks that sell the food and snacks they like or the things they need, such as phone cards or cheap clothing. Of course there has to be seats and toilets too. …It has long bothered me that we seem to operate on a model of wanting the foreign workforce for their labour and economic value, yet wishing they would disappear at all other times. We shunt them off to distant dormitories and do everything possible to signal that they are unwelcome in our city and suburban centres. We also want them for their labour, but begrudge them a living wage, decent healthcare and fair treatment. This is not only very short-sighted, it is remarkably naive to think it will never boomerang on us.
There are two ways we can see the ban: first, that the government is in denial that its immigration policy has had a huge oversight in terms of social issues, or second, that the government is aware of these issues, but does not trust the public enough to reveal its thought process, to invite discussion. Both reflect badly. Invite discussion? What discussion?
A thought occurred to me a few weeks ago: why is it that while America has NY Times and Britain has The Guardian for incisive commentary, Singapore doesn’t seem to have an equivalent? These are two of the few sources I read for informed opinions on world affairs. When I was in primary and even secondary school, I used to think that The Straits Times was a newspaper comparable to any out there internationally, because it was the best of all we had, but increasingly as I grew older my curiosity felt more and more unsatisfied by their reporting. Many ‘why’s I had were unanswered; articles seemed increasingly vacuous. Even the “Think” section did not ask for much thinking; I wanted more, and I wasn’t getting it. I read it less and less when I found that reading articles to the end provided hardly any more information than reading the headlines.
After having that thought, however, I began looking out for more of such commentaries, and found that while the scene was nowhere as robust as that in the US or UK, I could still get a semi fix (sometimes) from online sources such as The Breakfast Network, Yawning Bread or The Independent Singapore News. It’s not so bad, I thought. We’re getting to it.
Oh yeah, oh yeah. For those of you who are following, The Breakfast Network is shutting down because MDA has asked them to register, making it necessary for them to put in some huge amounts of administrative accounting in order to continue their online existence. What? A pooling of opinions is now a huge business that needs to account to the government who, what, how?
I’m confused by the government’s decisions, and I don’t feel so secure anymore in this place that refuses to accept that we’ve moved past the age of draconian measures. In a nutshell, I feel helpless. And I don’t feel like the government wants me, or anyone not a politician, to help either.