Saturday, December 24, 2011

PAP MP Seng Han Thong should do better

PAP Member of Parliament Seng Han Thong has given a twist to the whole MRT fiasco when he gave his opinion to BlogTV. His comment has literally divert the attention from the competency of SMRT management to the racial remarks embedded he made in the show.

You can watch the whole BlogTV show here.

The Online Citizen has put up an article which attracts more than 10,000 likes within 24 hours. TOC has made a couple of updates since then. Cherian George has made the comment that TOC was wrong in its reporting headlines because MP Seng was "just quoting from SMRT sources". At this point of time, the Law Minister Shanmugam has come out to defend MP Seng while the other PAP minority MPs like Halimah and Inderjit have expressed regret that MP Seng has made such comment.

Seng Han Thong (SHT) has initially denied any wrong doing while stressing that he has been quoted "out of context". Subsequently, he came up with an official apology but still insisted that his words have been misconstrued. He finally came up with another press statement to say that he was actually trying to "defend" the SMRT staff but it was TOC which put up the wrong headline. You can read his full statement here.

The magnitude of this issue has inevitably attract the attention of the higher echelon of PAP leadership due to the more than 10,000 likes on TOC article within 24 hours. Debates are going on whether SHT has made a verbal blunder or that TOC has put up "falsehood" on its website.

I am going to dissect on this issue on two fronts. First on whether SHT agreed with SMRT VP assessment that the staff could not handle the situation well because of their deficiency in English language. Secondly, on whether SHT is trying to "defend" the workers.

Some people, including the Minister of Law Shanmugam has claimed that what TOC has put up is falsehood or inappropriate Headline. Let's read the initial article put up by TOC. It says only the following:

"In a BlogTV programme MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Seng Han Thong admitted that part of the problem with the SMRT breakdowns last week is due to SMRT staffs not being trained in emergency preparedness. He said that because some staffs are “Malay(s), they are Indians, they cannot converse in English good, well enough”. See from 6.12 minutes"

Watch the video again.

1) SHT did not DISAGREE with the quote or rather the misquote he thought he has heard from radio, on what the SMRT VP has said. In fact, he has to agree with whatever quotes he believed he heard in order to make the following comment that the staff should use broken English. He did not disagree the context that the staff cannot or uncomfortable to speak proper English.

So, is it "falsehood" that TOC has made in its article and headline that SHT admits that the SMRT staff cannot converse well in English? Apparently not.

2) If you are still not convinced, roll back and watch the front part. He said the problem should be split into two. SHT has made quite a silly remark about SMRT staff could handle emergency like terrorist attack but could not handle train breakdown. Then he "misquoted" SMRT VP to say that this problem occurs because some SMRT staff because they are Malays or Indians, cannot converse well in English. SHT did not disagree with SMRT VP's assessment but offer a solution, that is to tell the SMRT staff to use broken English instead.

SHT has responded at first instance that he has been quoted out of context and misrepresented by TOC. Apparently he didn't realize or understand that his remark or rather, misquote of SMRT VP, is potentially racial in nature. He blamed it on others like TOC who has misinterpreted him.

Whether SHT is a racist or not, I have no comment on it because I don't really know him personally. I only know him as a public figure, an elected Member of Parliament. Naturally, we would be more demanding on an elected MP, be it PAP or opposition. He is not the Tom, Dick or Harry we meet on the street but a politician who has been elected to represent the constituents.

As a politician, we would expect him to be ultra sensitive to racial connotation inherently. Even if he has quoted SMRT spokesman, it doesn't mean that there is nothing wrong with what he has said. For a politician like him, if he truly believes that SMRT spokesman has said what he has quoted, the first thing in mind is to rebut such racial tag. But SHT didn't do that. He repeated it as a matter of fact, agreed with it and added his own comment that the staff should use broken English instead. If he doesn't agree with what SMRT spokesman has said, why would he suggest using broken English?

SHT may not be racist but at the very least, he has failed quite badly as a politician, a PAP MP to be exact. He lacks racial sensitivity.

SHT tries to defend himself by saying that he was just trying to defend the workers. Did he really do that during that BlogTV program?

He agrees with SMRT assessment that crisis management was compromised due to the workers' lack of linguistic abilities, instead of reprimanding the SMRT of neglect in training the staff in both technical and linguistic aspects.

He wasn't "defending" the staff at all. He was merely telling the staff that they could just use broken English. He seemingly agreed with the blame on the staff's linguistic inadequacy contributed to the bad crisis management during the train breakdown.

I will put up examples on how he could have REALLY DEFENDED the staff:

1) If he has honestly heard wrongly that the SMRT VP was talking about only Indian and Malay workers having problems in speaking English, he should actually say it has nothing to do with their race! That's defending them.

2) He should have said, it is SMRT's responsibility to give adequate training to its workers, including English, so that they could perform their duties more effectively and could handle such emergencies well.

3) He should have said, if their workers cannot handle such situations, it is NOT the workers' fault but the SMRT management which failed to provide all necessary training to them. The SMRT management shouldn't use the lack of linguistic ability of its staff as an excuse of not providing such training.

4) He should have said, you cannot expect the staff to handle the situation if the management, for whatever reasons, didn't provide the necessary training.

It seems to me that SHT was trying to defend the SMRT management rather than the workers. He avoided answering the question posted by the host on whether SMRT management more concerned about profits rather than public service. He even went that far to suggest that SMRT could handle terrorist attacks even though they couldn't handle breakdowns like what we have experienced.

SHT has committed a series of blunders right from the start.

1) Misquoting SMRT spokesman.

2) Didn't even realize at first instance that the misquotes which he has put up is potentially racist.

3) Failed to rebut the racist connotation embedded in his misquotation but instead agreed with it unwittingly to make the other point.

4) Trying to cry foul without realizing that he has misquoted SMRT and what he has done is racially insensitive.

5) Shifting blame unto TOC while "apologizing" which makes him looks bad.

6) Trying to say that he is "defending" workers when the video has shown otherwise.

I have only this to say to PAP MP Seng Han Thong: You failed quite badly as a politician and you should do better than this. Just accept the fact that you have made a series of blunders, just apologize and stop blaming others from "mis-representing" you. You are basically insulting the intelligence of the ten of thousands people who have watched what you say whom come to the conclusion that you have made such inappropriate racially sensitive remarks.

Goh Meng Seng

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