~ By John Chan ~

I often wonder if one were to answer an exam question in the manner that our government replies to queries, would he fail.

As I have observed, government replies typically reframe the question until there is no semblance of its original substance, then addresses it tangentially before avoiding specific and often key points. Of course, I am not suggesting that the government should answer questions as though it is taking an exam, but there is so much room for improvement.

1st Case: FAIL – Answering Out-of-Point

When the human rights group Maruah Singapore asked Mr Tony Tan about whether the detention of the alleged Marxist Conspiracists was justified, Mr Tan decided to reframe the question into one on terrorism. Was he presumably implying that the alleged conspiracists were terrorists? He then went on and on about how terrorism is a fact of modern life when in fact the Marxist incident happened decades ago!

2nd Case: FAIL – Unsupported and Illogical Argument

Finance Minister Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam says the $1.1b is a subsidy to the commuters. By his logic, if we want cheaper electricity, he should give our money to the PUB. If we want better network coverage, he should give our money to the telcos etc.

Further, why can't the $1.1b be used to directly subsidise commuters by lowering fares or through fare rebates etc. Why such a roundabout approach? Also, if the reason is that fare subsidies do not address the issue of poor service, why allow PTOs to deliver such poor services with only laughable penalties (see report Bus companies fined for not meeting service standards).

Further, Mr Shanmugaratnam has still not explained why a PTO subsidy is needed instead of requiring them to raise funds by selling shares, for example? If the reason is that a share sale will dilute shareholders' ownership, then why must we ensure (ensure, mind you) PTOs make profits on each part of their operations when they are hugely profitable overall?

Lastly, Mr Shanmugaratnam says that not one cent will go towards the profit earned by the PTOs (see report $1.1b bus package is subsidy for commuters, not operators), but as a finance minister, he must surely understand the fact that 'a dollar saved is a dollar earned'. The $1.1b subsidy is clearly a windfall for the PTO regardless of whatever benefits that commuters may or may not get, and no amount of sophistry will change that fact.

Conversely the PTOs should be obligated to deliver acceptable bus service standards – even if that might be at a loss – so long as they are making an overall profit. And if some in the government would like to coin terms such as 'PPP' (Public Private Partnership), then the speicifc terms of such a partnership should be spelt out so that these can be scrutinised by the public from the outset.

3rd Case: FAIL – Irrelevant Justifications

Now Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew says there can be no concession for polytechnic students and the disabled because there are no fare reviews this year.

And by the way, is the minister then telling us that only when the fares are revised upwards (have they ever been revised downwards?) will there be concessions offered to the two groups? Then how about the numerous times the fares have been raised in the past?

4th Case: FAIL – Vague and Non-Committal Answers

When Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan Jin said, "Could we have shared better to the public at the earlier stages? Perhaps. But not all plans can be shared beforehand due to market sensitivity" and "Inevitably, it is our responsibility to make the final call on the trade-offs between competing land needs" (see report BG Tan: Why we made 'difficult decision' to build road through Bt Brown), does he mean that the Bukit Brown saga was handled in the correct manner and that there no time to consult with the public before the plans were revealed in the news?

Is it also the practice of the government and, specifically, Brigadier-General (NS) Tan's ministry to push any plan they have through brute force regardless of any objections by other stakeholders of society?

Well, surely we deserve better. But for the students out there, it might be prudent not to emulate the government style in answering your exam questions or you just might fail.

Headline photo courtesy of Jaywalk Online


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