LET us praise Singapore. Almost every day a new report declares it the cleanest, most efficient and most visionary place in the universe.
Last Thursday, the World Economic Forum rated it Asia’s most competitive economy and the world’s third-best after Switzerland and Sweden.
With growth forecast at 15 percent this year, it will have the fastest-growing economy on the planet, beating even China’s, for heaven’s sake.
Singapore is also rated by Transparency International as Asia’s least-corrupt nation, and the world’s third least corrupt after New Zealand and Denmark.
Yet these sterling stats doth laud too much, methinks. For despite them, Singapore still fails to rate highly in lists of the world’s most livable cities.
In the 2010 Mercer Quality of Living survey, for instance, it sits down at equal 28th with Calgary, Canada.
This paradox is puzzling and reminds one of the classic Bob Dylan line: “There’s something going on here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?”
For sure, odd things have been going on in Singapore recently, like the horrific brawl last Tuesday between Singapore’s Young Lions and the Beijing Guoan football
Vicious head butts, stud-bearing karate kicks and rapid-fire fisticuffs raged until the match was abandoned amid chaos.
The bizarre, but by no means rare, eruption of violence recalls another rarely noted quirk about “crime-free” Singapore – the way its yellow pages are full of lawyers.
They are not sitting around doing nothing, nor are they all working on wills and real estate contracts. Many are handling criminal cases – murders, robberies, fraud, rape – go to the courts any day of the week and find out.
That “crime-free” mythology echoes another equally daft one about there being no poor Singaporeans. There are plenty, believe me.
They gather at housing complexes in the mid-afternoon to receive a charity package that includes six eggs, a bag of rice, a can of baked beans, a packet of hot chocolate and a single toilet paper roll.
Then there’s that old saw about Singapore efficiency. Let’s look at that in the context of its famed security services.
In June, despite supposedly strict surveillance, a couple of high-spirited guys sneaked into the depot for underground MRT trains and spray-painted graffiti over several carriages.
Then, bizarrely, the colourful train went into service in full view of astonished commuters – some of whom doubtless realised that the perpetrators could just as easily have planted bombs on the MRT.
This shocking security lapse followed an even more serious one two years ago when the nation’s most-wanted terrorist, Mas Selamat Kastari, escaped from the infamous Whitley Road Detention Centre.
Selamat had asked to go to the toilet, then climbed out of the loo window and fled. No Singaporean minister or high official resigned after this shameful and embarrassing travesty.
And talking of travesties, consider the June flooding of Singapore’s central business district, when water rose to waist level along tony Orchard Road and Shenton Way.
The official excuse: drains blocked by leaves. Yet Singapore routinely gets torrential downpours and leaves fall all the time. How about a little forward planning from Asia’s allegedly most efficient nation?
And – hold your breath – it ain’t clean anymore. Visitors are shocked by the rubbish on the streets each morning – paper cups and wrappers, foam burger cartons, empty bottles, advertising fliers and cigarette butts.
As well as that, tourists also seethe at the way Singapore hotels charge exorbitantly for internet usage. What happened to the wired city? Elsewhere across the region, hotels provide free service.
Singapore will never win any most livable city awards when folks are ripped off for checking their email, and when its citizens wantonly litter – knowing underpaid foreign workers will pick it all up next day.
No, I’m afraid that beyond those rosy stats, something is rotten in the state of Singapore. And its prime minister needs to get out his dad’s whip and start cracking it.