Govt uses slick ads to boost image

Singapore Democrats

In 2009, the Singapore Police Force released a video to demonstrate its preparedness to put down riots and violent demonstrations that may take place during the APEC meeting that was held in Singapore that year.$CUT$

A group of rowdy protesters – not coincidentally carrying “Freedom Now” and “Democracy Now” banners – is shown in the video bent on violent confrontation with the police.

As the background music evokes a sense of fear and impending dread, the narrator assures the viewer that

To be ready for any protest that may disrupt public peace, the police have been conducting training exercises to manage such incidents.

The demonstration then degenerates into a full-blown riot where the protesters start lobbing projectiles and even firebombs at the impressive-looking Special Operations Command (SOC) officers who are specially trained to quell riots. The rioters are quickly subdued and hauled away while the narrator says:

In this scenario, police backup is quickly sent in, and the rioters are swiftly surrounded and eventually arrested and taken away. Tough, disciplined and highly skilled and backed by the latest equipment, these officers are a formidable force to be reckoned with. They can be relied upon to deal with even the most violent riots which threaten lives and property.

With the recent riot in Little India – and more tellingly the evidence that came out during the Commission of Inquiry (COI) hearing – the police’s rhetoric has been sorely exposed.

The hearing found that there were insufficient number of officers available, they were not properly equipped, radio airwaves jammed at the crucial moment, the commanding officer did not have any idea how many men he had at his disposal, and officers on the scene admitted that they were not trained to handle a full-scale riot. And when the SOC finally arrived at the scene, it did not have the numbers to fully contain the mob.

By the time the situation was brought under control, there was more than half-a-million dollars of property damage, several emergency vehicles were wrecked, and scores of police officers were injured.

The COI remarked that “a lot of things were wrong” and the police response was “not acceptable”.

This is the danger that Singaporeans live with. We have a Government happy to engage PR firms to come up with attractive commercials and slick advertising campaigns to paint a picture of an efficient and sound system in Singapore, only to find things fall apart when the real test comes.

The clip, aired on an episode of MediaCorp’s Crime Watch, then runs the propaganda that links protests with terrorism. A police spokesman points out:

The presence of 21 leaders in Singapore makes APEC week the target for terrorists. We cannot allow public demonstrations to undermine security by distracting the attention of our security forces by creating opportunities which could be exploited by terrorists.

Of course, such a statement ignores the fact that a suspected terrorist escaped from maximum security detention – and, might it be pointed out, where there were no distracting protests – or that a elderly woman had wandered into Singapore without a passport or that a Malaysian driver had skipped the Woodlands immigration checkpoint and drove around the country for days before she was finally spotted and apprehended.

If Singaporeans feel a little nervous about the sound-too-good rationalisations coming from this Government about its foreign talent policy or the affordability of HDB flats or the soundness of its GIC and Temasek investments, it’s because much of the rhetoric has failed to match the reality.

It must be cautioned, however, that hyperbole is not always couched in expansive braggadocio, they can also come in tears, expressions of remorse and promises of change.

Watch the police video here. The relevant segment starts at the 3:25 mark.

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