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The – deliberate – sound of silence?

By Andrew Loh

It’s been a week since the media reported that transport operators have applied to the Public Transport Council (PTC) to increase transport fares.

If one has been reading the forum page of the main broadsheet, The Straits Times, one might be thinking that the announcement – or the fare hike itself - is such a non-event that no Singaporean is complaining about it to the press.

PTC Chairman Gerard Ee had confirmed with the media on August 1st that the transport companies had applied to increase fares.

A check of the Straits Times forum page from 1st August to 7th August shows not a single letter of complaint about the potential fare hike.

There were 3 letters, however, about the PTC’s stricter rules for transport operators and one from the press secretary to the Minister Of Transport.

Praise first, then criticize but don’t mention hike

The 3 letters all begin with statements like “I LAUD the Public Transport Council (PTC) for …”, “I AM pleased that the Public Transport Council is …”, “NEWS about shorter waiting time and higher service standards for buses is welcome….”

And although the announcement that transport operators have applied for a fare hike was made public together with the PTC’s announcement of setting higher standards, none of the letters mentioned the fare hike at all.

Instead, the letters were about bus bunching, MobileTV, waiting time, and “the seat after the rear door” and the like.

The conspicuous absence of any letter about the fare hike itself is a most curious thing.

Is it a deliberate move by the ST to “play down” the sentiments against the increase? Or perhaps the ST feels that since National Day is so near, it should not let the small matter of a fare hike disturb our celebrations of it? Maybe the ST is waiting for the PTC to decide before publishing – or not publishing – any letters of complaint?

Or perhaps the truth is that Singaporeans are really not bothered about the potential hike and thus no one has written in to complain?

On the other hand…

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but letters of praise for the PAP have been appearing instead, as we head nearer to our 42nd birthday as a nation.

The first one was on the 31st of August, headlined “PAP leadership as sterling as in the past”.

“Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself adheres to the same high principles of propriety and ethical standards, as was seen in the recent episode concerning his second son, 2LT Li Hongyi, who was reprimanded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for broadcasting a complaint about lack of leadership within the military. Not only did PM Lee not intervene, but he also left it entirely to the SAF to discipline his son as it deemed fit. May Singapore be blessed always with good, able and honest political leaders.”

3 days later, on August 3rd, this letter: “Singapore blessed with the present PAP leadership”.

“I REFER to Mr K. Kalidas' letter, 'PAP leadership as sterling as in the past' (ST, July 31). I can vouch that the present PAP leadership is as people-orientated and dynamic as in the past…..This is the present political leadership that Singapore is blessed with.”

On August 6th, we had two letters about the wonders of our ministers and PAP MPs. The first, “An enlightened approach to healthcare”, praised Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan thus:

“This last paragraph of his speech, I applaud as the most enlightened I have read in a long while; a refreshing well-thought through principle in what has primarily been a debate on cost-efficiency, and implementation of health policy.”

The second sang the praises of the PAP’s P65 blogsite, titled “Blogsite of post-65 MPs a step in the right direction”:

“WHILE browsing through the blog site (http://www.p65.sg/), I was pleasantly surprised to read about the clearly articulated brainstorm of our post-65 MPs who have no qualms in voicing the promptings of their hearts and minds.”

To summarise

So far, what has taken place are:

1. The usual deadline for application for fare increases was moved from May to August.

2. The PTC has set tougher standards for operators to adhere to. Penalties for failure may incur fines for the operators of between $100 and $10,000.

3. The government announced a $10 million fund to help the needy on the same day that the PTC’s announcement was made.

4. Transport operators have confirmed that they are asking for a “small increase”. But neither the PTC, the operators or the media have disclosed the exact amount submitted for approval - surely, all 3 parties must know what it is, right?

5. The conspicuous absence of letters of complaint in the media, especially the Straits Times.

6. The emergence of letters of praise for the PAP.

What can one make of this? I am not sure, really. What I do know is that there are quite a few people who aren’t happy at all that transport fares may go up again.

One can only hope that the mainstream press will reflect this.

For now, methinks the mainstream press is trying too hard. It reminds me of that advertisement – hearing only the good stuff...

Or maybe it's just me.

*If you have written letters about the fare hike to the Straits Times but your letter has not been published, we would like to hear from you. Email us at: [email protected]

Read also: Fare hike for public transport in October?