More happened this year to make Singaporeans understand the type of leaders they have than any other year I can remember. Leadership was put to the test with events like Mas Selamat's escape, investments in trouble banks, price hikes and the grand finale - the minibonds saga. We were told that we have to pay our ministers the highest salaries in the world because they are estraordinary. Any doubt that our leaders are extraordinary should all disappear if we look back at what happened in 2008......
First I would like to start off with an extraordinary solution that was put in place early part of this year. With the rising cost of living, stagnant wages and the 2nd highest electricity tariffs in the world, a large number of Singaporeans defaulted on their electricity bills. After much thought an ingenius solution called PAYU was implemented. Poor Singaporeans now have to accumulated enough cash to top up their cash cards to have access to electricity. To me this solution embodies many principles that the PAP govt operates on - the GLC (in this case, Singapore Power) cannot be put at risk of making less profits, the problem is viewed as one caused by poor Singaporeans using too much electricity and the solution put in place forces them to on electricity usage. The relentless increase in tariffs that resulted in Singapore's electricity costing 62% more than Hong Kong and govt policies that resulted in incomes of the poor being depressed are not to be blame - the poor have to be blamed because they are using too much electricity ...more than they can afford so the solution was designed to force them not to use electricity unless they have money. Yes, the problem is always caused by people who are paid less than $1200 a month and never by those who are paid millions a year supposedly to take care of Singaporeans.
Mas Selamat's escape gave a further understanding of what accountability means to this govt. Accountability for this govt means being able to blame the people down the line for deficiencies in processes for which the people on top are responsible. Also, notable was the actions of the govt after his escape - the couldn't decide if he was really dangerous ...he was dangerous enough to be locked up without trial but posed no danger to the population when he escaped. I really wonder where Mas Selamat will be celebrating the New Year tomorrow. Any idea?
Throughout the year we had numerous issues about the transport system. The solution was always the same - congestion? Raise ERP. MRT service no good? Raise fares. Whatever the problem was, the solution always involved Singaporeans paying more. You wonder what the Minister is for when all the solution is so mechanical. We discovered what the minister is for towards the end of the year - he is there to explain why the fall in price of oil cannot result in fare reduction even though the rise in oil price caused much of the increase. Don't understand? You probably need a Phd to figure that one out that is why they chose a Dr. to be the Transport Minister.
The highlight of the year for me was the minibond saga. The govt deregulated the financial sector allowed structured products that can only be understood by financial engineers to be missold by relationship managers whose main motivation for selling was commissions. When these products imploded causing 10,000 Singaporeans to lose their life savings, the 1st reaction of this govt is to act like nothing happened. When it became apparent the victims would not remain silent MAS hammered a deal with the banks to put in place a process to handle the compliants without ever meeting the vi. Unlike the authorities of other countries who spoke to the victims to see what can be done to help them, MAS kept its distance. MAS refuses to conduct direct investigations into the complaints letting the banks handle the complaints from the people were supposed to have victimised. Our leaders stepped forward to blame the victims for their plight blaming their desire for better returns for those losses. This incident showed how extraordinary our leaders are for they acted differently from the leaders of every other country where the problem occurred. This incident shows clearly where our leaders will stand when Singaporeans suffer from misfortune.
While 2008 has been an extraordinary year, I'm sure that our understanding of our govt will be further deepened in 2009 as the effects of the current crisis start to bite and the govt has to make the type of choices it had to make during the minibond saga and Mas Selamat's escape again and again throughout the coming year. Our govt is indeed extraordinary - that is why this blog exists ...if the PAP is like any other govt, there will be nothing to write about.