“Some people have been reproaching me with being anti-government and writing only negative things. So I tried to look for something positive to write about but couldn’t find anything,” writes one of the editorialists in Weekend a couple of weeks ago.
My professional ethics would not allow me to criticise another member of the profession. I would never stoop that low. However, I thought I would tender some useful advice.
Pay a visit to MBC Happy Land! It is a wonderful land where people take Happy Pills and face the day in a very positive way. They love the government of the day and they immediately fall in love with all the projects it wants to introduce. Anyone who has difficulty believing that just has to listen to the man-on-the street interviews conducted on any government project so far.
You will perhaps recall how happy everybody in Happy Land once was about the Heritage City project. Everyone interviewed said it was a great project which was going ‘to propel the country into the next century’. The financials had been worked out properly and Mother India was going to help us realise the former prime minister’s dream. Until a man called Gérard Sanspeur saved us from that calamity. By then, millions of our hard-earned money had been wasted. But people in Happy Land were happy nonetheless.
The list of the projects people in Happy Land were enthusiastic about is endless: The Air Corridor, DP World in the port, the Special Purpose Vehicle with Ghana, the West Ham football school, the bicycle factory… When the projects collapsed, Happy Land inhabitants must have taken an extra dose of Happy Pills and looked forward to the next project to be happy about.
So, a couple of days ago, we took our own advice and went to Happy Land to watch the great Metro Express project ‘debate’. Almost everyone interviewed thought it was a great idea – again! They would be happy to change their mode of transport in favour of the modern metro which will revolutionise the island – in a good way, of course – and ‘propel us into the next century’. Again! Two advisers from the Prime Minister’s Office took the opportunity to tell us about the magic they had used in the finances: the project was going to cost Rs29 billion under the previous government, according to one of them and Rs37 billion according to the other – a small variation; nothing to worry about – and now it’s going to cost only Rs12 billion, according to one and Rs18.8 billion, according to the other. Besides, the project, as it has now been conceived, will start generating a surplus as from the first year! Absolute magic! Voodoo, if you prefer. Similar to the handling of the BAI, where everyone was going to get their full money back without the taxpayer having to fork out one cent! Or Betamax, where we are going to pay Rs5 billion as a penalty but still save on the transport bill for our petroleum products! Take another pill and remain high. You are in good hands!
Don’t you dare question anything if you don’t want to be called a hysterical, negative anti-patriot! Don’t you venture to say we would have preferred for the nation to pay more and have a proper elevated metro that would solve traffic congestion for good. You might be accused of politicising the debate. Don’t even say that we don’t expect the metro to make a profit as long as we are told the truth. Insolence! And, whatever you do, don’t ask to see the Voodoo magic on paper: the contract which was going to be signed by the previous government with Afcons and the one signed with Larsen and Toubro so that a real comparison can be made. Hysteria! Don’t breathe a word about the loan agreement. Blasphemy! Where is the Cost and Benefit Analysis of the Singaporeans? Shut up! Who will benefit from the jobs and the scrumptious posts in the ‘special vehicles’? Paranoia!
So, I suggest you multiply your visits to Happy Land. While there, stock up on Happy Pills. You will need bigger and bigger doses to dig out good news. Beware of the side effects, though!
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