Singapore showcases how to govern effectively, but invisibly


As the bus approached a stop, the driver waved to a paraplegic waiting in a wheel-chair.

The bus pulled into the bay; the driver stepped out, yanked a lever and out came an iron board on level with the bus stop pavement. The driver pushed the wheel-chair into the bus crowded with commuters returning from work. Those standing made room for the disabled man and even managed to exchange pleasantries with him. The driver got back to his seat and the bus was on its way again. As the disabled man reached his destination, the driver repeated the procedure.

This act illustrates the caring attitude that prevails in Singapore. A colleague mentioned that he failed to see a single cop on the island. And yet there was discipline in all walks of life. Motorists stick to their lanes and even when there is no other vehicle; they stop at the red signal any time of day or night.

The pedestrian is given the first right of the road. Contrast this with the ubiquitous cop on our roads and the prevailing chaos. The only police station one came across was close to the Changi international airport. A Singaporean revealed that there are sensors and cameras everywhere and the physical presence of the law is not necessary.

Even then the only sign of the police in the heart of the city one comes across is close to an underpass. A sign up a lamppost says: Police Camera. Look everywhere you can’t find the roving eye. The underpass itself is squeaky clean. People squat on the floor, reading, texting on their mobiles or play on their playstations. Some brats zip around on their skateboards, going for an occasional toss.

Sometimes you can see a boy or girl puffing away. They can be as young as say, 10 years. Cigarettes are among the costliest items on the island. After they have had that nicotine shot, they stub out the stuff and put it in a bag to be thrown in a trash can later.

This is what everybody does. They eat and drink a lot in the great beckoning outdoors but dump the debris in bags to be disposed of later.

India magic

‘Litter-free Singapore’ signs are seen only on trash cans. In good ol’ Bangalore you are exhorted not to do this all over the city and yet, what one sees is trash and pell-mell everywhere. In Singapore, if you are nostalgic for some trash and chaos, go to Little India. One doesn’t know how, but they seem to get away with it. Somebody quipped that it’s a cultural thing.

Except for a stray case of snatching of a chain or a bag, there is hardly any crime. A hack said that it keeps happening but it is not reported. “Inhumane, repulsive, shocking.” That was a frontpager in ‘The Straits Times’. Even a rather straight paper like that gave a descriptive account of the case. Three prisoners tortured their cellmate for eight days, beating him, making him perform sexual acts and eat faeces. Each of them got between 16 and 18 years as well as the receiving end of the cane.

Another reported case is a 24-year-old man groping eight girls, the youngest just nine years, between February and April. According to the ‘Straits Times’, he grabbed and pulled down the panties of a 12-year-old girl in a lift, kissed her and groped her. The guy got six years and 12 strokes.

A stark difference one notes between the city that has turned out to be just a Singaporean dream as dreamt by S M Krishna, and the real pride out there is the absolute absence of government. Here you see government everywhere, but little governance. In Lion country, roads are just sliced with small excavators, a leaking pipe or damaged cable is set right and the road is put back in shape in no time. No crowbars, no digging and no potholes that keep crying to be filled up. The skies dump huge amounts of rain, but there’s hardly a puddle, much less water-logging.

As if to make the point that democracy is at the root of all our ills, a colleague asked our gracious Singaporean host: “Is there democracy here?” “If I answer that, I can be put behind bars,” replied our host, once a long-time resident of Mumbai. But then, didn’t one say, not long ago, that India is an unbuttoned democracy?

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