Written by Ng E-Jay
22 July 2009
A lady commuter was recently fined $30 for eating a sweet during an MRT train ride to relieve motion sickness (see embedded video below).
Eating and drinking in the MRT carries a maximum fine of $500. However in this case, common sense has been completely thrown out of the window in what is apparently a silly over-reaction by the authorities.
This is typically what happens in the civil service, Government departments, statutory boards, and Government-linked Corporations and service providers when unthinking subordinates blindly enforce regulations without regard to common sense due to intense pressure from their superiors to keep up appearances.
This shameful episode was recently captured on video by Felicia Low, Multimedia Reporter at Straits Times Razor TV. She was accompanied by SMRT Enforcement Officer and Yishuan Station Master Roger Foo who spotted commuter Zaina eating a sweet while aboard an MRT train.
Zaina explained that she ate sweets because she sometimes felt thirsty or giddy aboard the MRT train. She clearly knew that eating and drinking was not allowed in the MRT and she was obviously trying to be as discreet as possible. The sweet was only used to relieve her motion sickness.
Enforcement Officer Roger Foo responded by saying: “But if everyone is going to tell us that they have to take sweets because they are thirsty or feel giddy, and if everyone were to start doing that, then where are we going to put a line on that?”
I will tell Roger Foo this: We draw a line based on basic common sense and human decency.
Obviously, the risk of polluting the MRT train by eating sweets is completely non-existent as long as the commuter throws the sweet wrappers away properly in rubbish bins. There is absolutely no reason why commuters should be forbidden from eating sweets to relieve motion sickness.
Have we lost all sense of compassion in a bid to follow the letter of the law, never mind the spirit of the law?
The reporter ended her video presentation on the note: “Nothing escapes the eyes of the law, including a sweet.”
But clearly, common sense has.
How it all began, and what is wrong with the Singapore system
The crackdown by SMRT officers on commuters who eat and drink aboard trains is due to the recent spate of videos posted on STOMP showing youngsters blatantly flouting the rules by eating burgers and drinking soft drinks in the MRT.
SMRT’s management must have become alarmed at the rules being openly disobeyed and videos of people eating and drinking aboard the MRT being circulated on the internet. They must have also come under intense pressure by LTA to act swiftly and make a grand show of it.
Cherry picking on the weak and easily bullied is a technique often used by the PAP to frighten Singaporeans into submission.
The trouble with this process is that very often, the spirit of the law is lost in the ruthless crackdown and innocent parties like Zaina become scapegoats in the classic game of “kill some chickens in order to scare all the monkeys”.
The irony of this whole episode is that the majority of Singaporeans understand and accept why eating and drinking aboard the MRT should be disallowed.
But clearly, there is always room to be flexible and to allow for basic common sense and human decency to prevail.
Making such a ridiculous spectacle of punishing a commuter just because she had to eat a sweet to relieve motion sickness can only serve to antagonize other commuters, even those who are used to obeying the rules.
The problem with our Government and with the civil service in general is that when orders are passed down from the top, officers often suspend their own common sense and their sense of right and wrong in an attempt at giving their superiors the impression that the instructions are being rigorously followed. They forget why the law is passed and why rules are made to begin with. They ignore the spirit of the law.
That is the cancer that is infecting the Singapore system — people not exercising their own minds and using their own judgment and initiative, but merely following orders blindly and behaving in a ludicrous fashion in order to suck up to their bosses.