Sunday 20 September 2015

Complaining about the complaints: Singaporeans get the haze we deserve

I don’t mean to complain, but the haze is back for the second time this year and it’s worse than before.

In March, the three-hour PSI in Singapore hit 106, which is in the unhealthy range.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) released an advisory that said:
“The haziness is likely due to an accumulation of particulate matter in the atmosphere under light wind conditions. Burning activities in the region could have contributed.”

Hmmm, what were these “burning activities in the region” NEA was referring to?

Since this happened in March, it couldn’t be Singaporeans burning stuff for the Hungry Ghost Festival since that takes place around August and September.

Let's blame Indonesia.

On March 3, Jakarta Globe reported:
“Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has denounced neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia for complaining about the severe haze caused every year by Indonesian forest fires.

“He said he took note of the way the neighbouring countries had kept complaining when toxic haze from adjacent areas in Indonesia, Riau in particular, fouled their air.

‘For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us. They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset,’ Kalla said.”

Jakarta Globe added:
“Kalla said Indonesia has repeatedly and profoundly apologised for the forest fires and for the inconvenience and pollution the haze caused in neighbouring countries.”

Was the Indonesian vice-president right? Should we be grateful for the “nice air from Indonesia” we get the rest of the year?

This wasn’t the first time that someone had complained about our complaints.

In 2010, then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong reminded Singaporeans to think of the less fortunate. He said:
“It is important that we do not complain too much when we can’t get the house that we want, we can’t get the carpark that we want, when the MRT trains are a little crowded.

“We are in fact quite fortunate. These are problems created by our own success. There are many people who are not able to benefit from our overall success.”
It’s so quaint that when Mr Goh made this speech five years and a gazillion breakdowns ago, all you could complain about the MRT trains was that they were “a little crowded”.

O, Phaik Hwa, Phaik Hwa! Wherefore art thou, Ms Saw Phaik Hwa?

But despite Mr Goh and Mr Kalla complaining about our complaining, we can’t seem to break the habit. It has been our favourite pastime after shopping and eating for too long.

Just over a week ago, after his Reform Party lost the election, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam said:
“Singaporeans get the Government they deserve. I don’t want to hear any more complaints.”

I don’t think he means he wants Singaporeans to stop complaining. He just wants Singaporeans to stop complaining to him.

But then why would we complain to him? It’s not like he’s a Member of Parliament and can do anything except compare Singapore to North Korea.

What I infer from Mr Jeyaretnam’s remark is that many people had been complaining to him about the Government, which led him to believe that many were unhappy with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and thus his party had a good shot of winning the election.

When this turned out to be not the case, he understandably felt misled by the complaints and doesn’t want to hear them anymore.

But Mr Jeyaretnam wasn’t the only one blindsided by the election results. Many have given their analysis on why the PAP did so well in the election, but the real question is why no one saw it coming. Not even the PAP.

The answer? All the complaining we do.

As Mr Tan Jee Say of the Singaporeans First party said:
“The results are not consistent with the feedback we’ve heard from the ground, and these results are even worse than what we had expected.”
My guess is that the “feedback” they heard were complaints about the Government. This Complaints Index is probably not the most reliable indicator of how Singaporeans will vote.

So the lesson the opposition parties have learnt here is that just because they hear many complaints about the Government, it doesn’t mean the majority will vote against it.

So it’s their turn to complain about the complaints.

Just like the Indonesian vice-president did six months ago.

Hey, wait. Didn’t Mr Kalla say we get to enjoy 11 months of “nice air from Indonesia”?

But we had the haze in March, August and this month, and the year isn’t over yet. That’s less than 11 months of nice air!

Can we complain now, Mr Kalla?

That is, if Mr Goh and Mr Jeyaretnam are okay with it.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 September 2015