The recent serial breakdown of train services laid bare the difference between the Government’s rhetoric on national security and the reality of its provision.
Leaving aside the matter of how the trains and tracks malfunctioned, there is the equally important concern of the fact that the follow-up response and security arrangements were found desperately wanting.
Communters were left in the trains in total darkness for nearly an hour when service brokedown on the North-South Line on the evening of 15 December 2011.
There was no communication from train officials and no attempt by the authorities at a rescue. Stranded passengers had to force open the train doors to get out. One person smashed a window to get air into the carriage. All had to eventually walk down the dark tunnel to escape.
Commuters at the affected stations said that was “total confusion” because of the lack of information and directions on where to go for help and what to do. To make matters worse, station managers were not trained on emergency procedures.
In short, there was no plan for such exigencies.
In such times where the Government pushes the point that Singapore is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, it seems bizarre that it is so entirely negligent on this front. And yet, this is the reality: there weren’t even plans to mount a simple rescue exercise when trains malfunction.
If the incident had been a result of a coordinated violent attack, imagine the number of lives that would have been in danger both in the strike as well as in the aftermath.
This takes us to our main point: The Government spends huge amounts of money producing expensive and sophisticated commercials on how it protects the security of the nation. These commercials by the Singapore Armed Forces (here) and the Singapore Police Force (here) are expertly crafted with dramatic background music and heart-pounding scenes, not unlike those that you see in Hollywood blockbusters.
Obviously, no expense was spared in the making of such commercials. Unfortunately they are the work of experts from the media industry, not the people who tell us they are looking after our national security.
Such is the tragedy. We have a ruling party and a national media whose intertwined interests have lulled us into a stupor that everything is taken care of for us. Unfortunately, events have shown that there is more form that substance.
Nothing seems to have been learned from past failures. When Mas Selamat escaped, Mr Lee Kuan Yew blamed the complacency of Singaporeans. When broke in to a train depot and sprayed graffiti on the trains, it was the SMRT management that did not provide security. Now the confusion stemming from the breakdown of train services is blamed on the employees’ lack of proficiency in English.
The political culture within the PAP is one of not accepting responsibility. More dangerously, those in charge continue to spend heavily on commercials that impress our senses but, in reality, does little more.
The SDP has warned time and again of the lack of democratic accountability in Singapore. The sooner we rectify this, the safer this country will be.