French fishing vessel Alf and Royal Navy helicopter (image - Royal Navy, Wikipedia)

Choice between short term incompetence and long term incompetence

French fishing vessel Alf and Royal Navy helicopter (image - Royal Navy, Wikipedia)
“Need help?” (image – Royal Navy, Wikipedia)


In an article before the last election, there was the idea that the driver of the ‘vessel’ that is Singapore might have lost its way and that a more suitable driver that could bring the people in the direction they wish was necessary.

Some editors at TOC laughingly suggest that this is probably where Low Thia Khiang got the inspiration of suggesting that the opposition is the co-driver to PAP in running the government.

Jokes aside, five years on and this vessel is continuing to hold steady on its journey (to nowhere?). But the more important question is probably, is it still structurally sound for the long term? The continued failure of the public transport system may be one of the more visible indicators of this concern and it does appear as though our infrastructure as it stands will not be able to weather the lofty ideals of a ‘well-populated’ Singapore in the near future. Meanwhile, the assurances we have gotten from the government have been just that – assurances without any concrete follow-through.

The analogy used five years ago thus has to be updated, and while we appear to be a strong and sturdy vessel able to stay afloat, it appears we are structurally falling apart bit by bit. It is also apparent by now that the current driver does not quite have an idea where we are supposed to be heading or how we are going to get there. It is primarily relying on the fact that only it has the necessary working knowledge of how to manage this particular vessel, to justify that it is the only one qualified to drive.

But the reality is that the driver we have now is a far cry from the one who started off our current journey, a driver who worked the crew hard but knew clearly where it wanted to go and how to get there.

Unfortunately, the driver we now have is unilaterally focused on ensuring that no one else gets access to the control room or even learns about how the vessel itself is driven. This driver pretends to know what it is doing and is often seen busy maneuvering the vessel but achieves nothing but meaningless movement that is headed in no specific direction.

Lee Kuan Yew Goh Chok TongCurrent White vs Past White

If by now, you don’t get the analogy, the ‘vessel’ is the government establishment and the ‘driver’ is our government. The government we have now is nothing like the government we had in the 80’s – and this distinction is something the electorate needs to understand.

While it may have meant something once to have unfamiliar people wearing white easily replacing the more familiar ones wearing the same (i.e. an expectation of standards maintained over the transition), it is definitely not the case now. Wearing white alone no longer affords indication on the competency or capability – and it is truly sad that the ruling party has resorted to banking on the probability that the people will act on this habit of blindly accepting white-on-white replacement.

In GE2011, many were worried that their house values would drop and the economy would spiral downwards, among other bogeyman tales of fiction. So they did what they are most famous for – complain and complain until they reach the voting station, put a cross next to the lightning symbol, come out and continue to complain and complain.

They attended the opposition rallies, listened to the passionate individuals who stepped forward amidst the uncertainty and grumbled alongside the opposition supporters. But they chickened out when it really mattered – at the polling booth.

Perhaps four years ago at the last election, we could not be sure if the ‘vessel’ was damaged and the discussion revolved only around the best ‘driver’ to manage our journey. And we collectively chose to go with the current driver with the belief that a new driver was less able to manage this fine vessel. But today, we know that the vessel itself is being slowly damaged by the current driver – if not explicitly, then at least intuitively.

Image - Wikipedia
Image – Wikipedia

Vote for whose future?

So the people of Singapore are now presented with a different conundrum – do we keep faith with the current driver who does not know where he is heading and is in fact slowly but surely destroying the vessel itself, or do we replace the driver altogether?

No doubt, even with a better prepared opposition in this election, there will invariably be a price to pay when we go with a new driver, since be would have no clear knowledge how to operate the vessel and needs time and patience to learn and practise the controls. However, the key difference to note here is that the new driver is clearly focused on getting the vessel heading in a specific direction that most of us would want while trying to repair the damage already done (together with any damage that it itself will create in the process of learning to run a country).

With many of the current policies in place wreaking havoc on the lives of Singaporeans (without any assurance that this pain of today is resolutely for a better tomorrow), this ‘business as usual’ practice can only last so long before irreparable damage sets in.

The ‘pragmatic’ segment of the electorate now has to resist old habits that have been drilled into us over decades. Those who intend to vote PAP to protect their (immediate) future must do so with the realisation that their decision will jeopardise their (children’s) future. It is thus time for us as a nation to be willing to weather the storm of a new driver learning the ropes for a few years so that better drivers can be installed in our children’s time.