Monday, March 8, 2010

Whining gets you nowhere

Mar 7, 2010

Singaporeans should stop blaming the Government when things go awry and focus on serious issues

By Fiona Chan

The evening was hot and stiflingly muggy.

I was spending it in the most unfortunate way possible: in the backseat of a taxi that appeared to have gone green as far as air-conditioning was concerned.

The odour of thousands of former passengers' derrieres wafted up from the worn leather seats, hovering indelibly in the stuffy air with nowhere else to go.

To top it all off, I was late to meet my friends, caught in a massive traffic jam, and forced to watch dolefully as the peak-hour meter vaulted upwards in staggering jumps that would have left any Olympics athlete in the dust.

I am not given to hyperbole. In fact, I have never exaggerated in my whole life.

But this was without a doubt the longest half-hour I have ever experienced.

It wasn't just because I was holding my nose with one hand, fanning myself with the other, and attempting mental sums to see if I would have enough money left for dinner after this taxi ride.

No - the truly interminable part of the ride was the taxi driver, who was cheerfully determined to pass on the wisdom of his considerable years to me.

'You know why got traffic jam or not?' he asked me in the tone of someone who has achieved enlightenment and wishes to lord it over mere mortals.

'Why?' I replied distractedly, half- dreading bloodthirsty reports of multiplecar pile-ups spanning several lanes.

No such luck.

'Gahmen's fault,' he announced triumphantly.

Oh, I said. Was it road works? Lane closures? Tree pruning?

'No, lah,' he said. 'Stupid gahmen, never widen the roads. Then sell so many cars. Then, worst of all, got ERP.'

Hmm? I queried. Surely the Electronic Road Pricing system would reduce the number of cars on the roads? And with COEs, cars are already so expensive - that would help traffic flow too, wouldn't it?

'Don't know, lah,' was his blithe response. 'All I know is, if something go wrong, sure is gahmen's fault.'

He then took it upon himself to explain why the Government should be blamed for rising food prices ('they raise the price so they can collect more GST') and even the shortage of babies ('the flats now so small, how to make baby?').

This got me thinking: In this no-nonsense nation that prides itself on being hyper-workaholic and ultra-efficient, it's amazing how much time Singaporeans find to complain about the Government.

Traffic jams? Stupid LTA. Crowded showrooms? Lousy URA. Escaped terrorist mastermind? Useless MHA.

Okay, it's a bit hard to argue with that last one.

But in general, the endless carping about the Government's shortcomings knows no boundaries. It has been blamed for everything from climate change and the global financial crisis to individual Singaporeans not being able to find parking, cheap housing or a wife.

Just three years ago companies were lamenting the shortage of foreign workers. Now, there are way too many.

Four years ago there was a huge oversupply of Housing Board flats; now, there aren't enough.

It seems that no matter what the Government does, it's not good enough, goes too far or is just plain wrong.

We've all heard the unending stream of these grouses. Most of us have even indulged in it ourselves.

In fact, bellyaching may well have overtaken bellyfilling as the new uniquely Singaporean pastime.

At first glance, this seems more amusing than harmful. After all, it's hilarious that every time a place is too crowded or a queue is too long, it's somehow pinned on the Government.

As the joke goes, when you get burned by a hot cup of coffee in Singapore, your first thought is to blame the Government for not imposing a rule to require bigger 'Caution: Hot' labels.

But the fact that complaints against the Government have turned into such a farce is exactly where the danger lies.

If Singaporeans cry wolf about every little thing, how are we to separate the wheat from the chaff and highlight the real problems we face?

Instead of passing the buck to the Government all the time, we should give up the laughable grievances once and for all in favour of focusing on serious issues that the Government can and should fix.

Of course, the fact that it's 'always the Government's fault' is actually partly the Government's fault. Its historically paternalistic attitude has helped turn its citizens into disgruntled, pouting children who hold it against Santa Claus when it doesn't snow at Christmas.

And you don't have to look far to find fault when it comes knocking on your door - in my case, in the shape of a well-meaning but annoying Member of Parliament.

Last Sunday morning, I went to see the doctor at a family clinic near my home. The place was packed with sick children and anxious parents waiting for the single doctor on duty to call them in.

In strolled an MP bent on distributing Chinese New Year oranges, his cheerful brisk demeanour clashing starkly with the surrounding tension as he asked for the doctor, who hurried out to meet him.

And before I knew it, I found myself saying irritatedly: 'Stupid Government, nothing better to do, is it?'

'Yeah lor,' my husband replied. 'No wonder the clinic queue so long - it's all their fault.'

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