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Leave nothing to fate

Updated On: Aug 03, 2010
Glitches should not just be accepted as the price of progress, but problems to be creatively solved
TODAY, 3 Aug 2010
As we prepare to celebrate 45 years of independence, I can’t help but reflect on the achievements that Singapore has made. We have many things to be proud of and celebrate: Racial harmony, equal opportunity, stability, prosperity and so on.
But a whole string of events — from security lapses to the flash-floods, freak accidents, backyard beauty clinics, technical glitches and casino crimes — lead me to feel a little concerned about where Singapore is heading.
The unease I feel with all these seemingly isolated, unrelated events lies in the fear that they are actually somehow interconnected and are broader symptoms of a society and people under stress and showing signs of distress.
One could be sanguine about all these lapses, accidents and glitches, and dismiss them by using the type of logic that says the more cars there are on the road, the more accidents there will be. But does this kind of logic undermine good old common sense, and is this kind of mentality befitting a society in the First World?
Let me elaborate on my concerns. First, is the current relentless pace of growth sustainable and the optimal way for Singapore to develop? Just recently, the president of Singapore Green Building Council, speaking at the National Sustainability Conference, admitted that the “demands posed by rapid urbanisation mean it is a challenge to grow the economy in a more sustainable way”.
The floods we experienced in the last two months were not just due to the unusual amount and intensity of rainfall, but has much to do with the effects of rapid urbanisation that somehow was not anticipated by our planners.
With more asphalt roads and more built-up areas to accommodate the surge in demand for housing, cars, business, et cetera, the rain coming down just could not dissipate fast enough. Hence, a certain “resignation” that no amount of engineering can prevent flooding.
Indeed, as we become even more crowded, dense and built-up, some degree of flooding might not be unavoidable. What is important is that the authorities are gearing up efforts to look into more flood-prevention measures and to minimise the impact of floods. Such efforts are more in line with the “pioneering spirit” and the amount of engineering, social and otherwise, that has propelled Singapore from Third World to First.
Singapore has made that shift in less than two generations due to the sheer hard work, determination and “can-do” spirit of its government and people. However, as the society becomes more complex and diverse in all aspects, and as we begin to experience seemingly more setbacks, glitches and mistakes — we should not just be resigned to them and accept these as the price to be paid for so-called progress. Instead, we as a society need to continuously think of new ways to manage the problems and minimise the mistakes.
Singapore has come this far not because of a stroke of luck (though perhaps luck was also on our side). It came this far because its leaders had left nothing to chance and fate.
Going back to the Third World mentality of being resigned and resilient may make us a little happier and less complaining. But is this the best we can do? Just as the Government has constantly warned the people against becoming too complacent and uncompetitive, it is also the right and responsibility of the people to keep raising questions to hold the Government accountable so that they do not become complacent.
We have the best brains in the Government and, therefore, we must expect nothing but the best in our efforts to keep Singapore afloat. Why were we caught off-guard by the floods? Why were there such a string of freak accidents — a crane crashing down on a bus, crane accidents at worksites, uprooted trees causing havoc, and a bus hitting a pillar in a car park?
The Government, of course, cannot be blamed for such freak accidents. But could these be symptoms of an overstretched society facing a labour crunch and struggling to cope with a relentless pace of development, and businesses cutting corners for jobs to be done faster and cheaper?
What are the reasons behind the technical glitches that seem to be plaguing the various tourist attractions of late — the Sky Tower, the Battlestar Galactica ride at Resorts World Sentosa, the Singapore Flyer and the Marina Bay Sands? A lightning strike on our Merlion is an act of God, but these technical glitches are certainly not simply divine interventions.
These are but a few examples. If one looks at what is happening around us, one might wonder what the future will be like for our children. So as we celebrate our 45th birthday, we can also do ourselves a favour by pondering on what we can do together, as a society, to make Singapore a truly First World nation – not only in its infrastructure but in its culture and mentality.