“People only remember the bad things, not the good things.”
How true it can be. In this case, it has caused the resignation of our Transport Minister, Lui Tuck Yew.
I cannot say for others, but I must admit that his job was a poisoned chalice from the start. Initiatives in land transport that involve infrastructural development will only bear fruit years down the road. The range of upcoming lines such as the Downtown Line, Thomson Line and more only shows how long-term the Transport Ministry is. Transport goes beyond land as well; aviation and maritime interests are critical too. All we hear in the media, however is:
Why did the train break down again? Why are the buses so crowded?
Only when Tuck Yew decided to resign were there plenty of sentiment that he did a good job, that he was an unlucky minister to have obtained a cursed portfolio, and that he was really a hardworking minister with a sharp mind. Three questions should be asked.
Responsibility or in response to vitriol?
It would seem to be either (a) Tuck Yew taking responsibility for transport as a whole, and hence deciding to resign or (b) he couldn’t tolerate the vitriol online. I suspect the former is more applicable. That, however, opens a new can of worms: who takes responsibility when lapses happen under his/her charge, even when he/she may not be directly responsible? In some countries such as South Korea, ministerial replacements are common1 2. However, another view on responsibility is this: if one sets out to do things right, even in the face of adversity, one will maintain his footing and not leave until his job is accomplished.
With this situation, it is tricky; MOT has already set out a transport blueprint till 2030. Is it simply a case of Tuck Yew calling it quits now that his job is done, and that there is nothing much more he can do? We will never know, and for as long as no one knows, there will be all sorts of stories roaming around.
What do our rants really mean?
We often rant about inconveniences that plague our lives. After all, we compare on relative scales, and choose what to compare against to make our point. If we are unhappy over fares, we compare it to the Shenzhen Metro. If we express dissatisfaction over punctuality, we compare with the Japanese.
This episode has proved one point: opinions can change heavily online because different people will choose to comment or share their views depending on the situation. For instance, it would be an invitation for a flamewar if someone writes a post that runs along the following line during a train breakdown:
“Be grateful that there are functioning trains in Singapore most of the time! In Europe, once a strike is called, public transport is paralysed for hours or even the entire day.”
Rants, however, will dominate online media each time breakdowns happen. That’s normal, but it does not necessarily always mean that the minister is to be blamed, and hence needs to be taken to task.
Where would Tuck Yew go next?
If current online sentiment be believed to be true, we lost a good Transport Minister. That does not mean that such a talent should be wasted. The statistics show the good work he has done.
May he find a more forgiving environment where he can contribute his vast experiences in engineering and analysis. Perhaps being head of a transport-related entity?
Your guess is as good as mine.
(In 2014, Gilbert Goh wanted to burn an effigy of the Transport Minister…but changed to spitting on it instead when advised burning was against the law by the police)