The Formula One race each September speaks of what’s wrong with the Singapore model — buttering up the elite while making life miserable for the ordinary guy.
A large part of our downtown is barricaded for weeks in advance of the race with fencing like in the picture above. Pedestrians have to walk around them — at places detours stretch for hundreds of metres — to cross a road or reach a bus stop. The city looks like a concentration camp.
The inconvenience reduces shopper traffic to the area and every year, shopkeepers (and their employees) complain of reduced business, though things may have improved somewhat with the opening of the Circle Line stations Esplanade and Promenade, permitting underground access to Suntec City. There is also the question of who pays for all this work — putting up barricades and taking them down again. Does anyone know?
I feel sorry too for the average tourist who visits Singapore during this period. I saw a family group from Hong Kong, for example, trying to take a picture of the iconic Esplanade theatres, only to feel frustrated that they couldn’t get the fence out of the picture.
During the three or four days of the race itself, a constant roar of turbo-charged engines permeates the downtown. I was once up on Mount Sophia, about 1.5 km away from the race circuit, and still the noise could not be ignored. Think of all the people who live within that radius. The quality of life for the ordinary bloke suffers just so the glamouritzi get to hobnob and clink their champagne glasses.
Our government however, thinks Formula One has brought great benefit to Singapore:
Around 40,000 visitors are estimated to have attended this year’s Singapore Formula One (F1) night race, said Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Lim Hng Kiang.
In terms of benefit to the economy, the first two races in 2008 and 2009 had brought in more than $260 million in tourism receipts, said Mr Lim.
40 per cent of the race attendance were made up of international visitors, which number 70,000. Worldwide, 195 million ‘live’ television viewers tuned in during the races.
Said Mr Lim, ‘The race has given Singapore good international exposure and it continues to enjoy strong support locally and internationally.’
Despite charging a premium for rooms during the F1 weekend, many hotels reported occupancy levels of over 90 per cent. This is significantly higher than usual, Mr Lim observed.
The event also provided a networking platform for businesses with many taking up hospitality suites to host partners and clients at the race. For example, the Singapore Exchange organised a conference at the sidelines of the race to bring together potential investors in the Asian motorsports industry.
— AsiaOne, 19 Oct 2010, Govt to consider renewing Singapore F1 contract. Link.
As you would have noticed, the measure of “benefit” is, as usual, framed in economic terms, with special reference to the interests of the elite. No mention is made of quality of life.
However, there is a glimmer of hope. Under the current contract, Singapore will be hosting the race until 2014. Renewal after that is uncertain.
But senior minister of state S. Iswaran said on Sunday the government would need to weigh up the costs and benefits before making a decision about the future of the event.
“We want to make sure the economic benefits are justifiable going forward,” he told reporters at the Marina Bay circuit on Sunday night.
“I would say the decision to proceed will rest on a robust cost-benefit analysis, and clearly the terms on any deal we get going forward,” Iswaran added.
— auto123.com. 26 Sept 2010, F1: Singapore not certain to sign another contract. Link.
The decision needs to be made in 2012. Presumably we will soon be able to know, by reading the tea leaves of the Straits Times. Either the boosterism will go up, portending renewal, or there will be stories putting the spotlight on the ill-effects of Formula One. After all, as insider journalist Chua Chin Hon told United States embassy officials, in a wikileaked cable:
Chua noted that how the government intends to push a certain policy is often foreshadowed by extensive media coverage (published before the official policy announcements).
— Wikileaks.org, purported cable dated 16 Jan 2009, Journalists frustrated by press controls. Link.
Frankly, this comes as no surprise. Anyone who has watched the mainstream media in Singapore knows that that is what they are for, much like in the days of old, heralds and criers would precede the king, announcing to townspeople the approach of his majesty so people would know in advance to bow.
Oops, I shouldn’t assume that it’s only our mainstream media. Our leaders, on their “grassroots” walkabouts, still employ the same method. A phalanx of “grassroots supporters” still precede them organising smiles, handshakes and photo opportunities.
What did come as a surprise was another revelation from a different wikileaked cable — that Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts Yaacob Ibrahim’s wife is an American citizen from Puerto Rico and thus, his two children are also entitled to American citizenship.
His wife is an American citizen who grew up in Puerto Rico. Yaacob told emboff that he has a more open-minded interpretation of the Koran and said his wife converted to Islam to satisfy the conservative standards of Singapore. They have two children, both American citizens, and they travel to the U.S. frequently to visit his wife’s family.
— Wikileaks.org, purported cable dated 3 Feb 2005, Muslim MPs in Singapore, Part 1of 2. Link.
It says a lot about our local media that this has been kept from us all this while.
One the one hand, it could be argued that that’s a private matter, and intrusion into privacy would be a slippery slope that media should not go down. There is some merit to that argument, but it’s not as if it is clear where the line should be drawn. It can equally be argued that the basic facts are pertinent, especially since the man is doing a public job. He has to make decisions that impact us, and the factors that may affect those decisions are surely relevant to us. Sometimes, factors are not conscious ones, but they still have part to play. For example, religious affiliation, interests in commercial enterprises, degree of wealth accumulation, sexual orientation, kinship with other powerful people, are among the many factors that can impact on the way a public servant performs his job.
Surely, that a cabinet minister’s wife and children have potential loyalties to a different country, is a know-worthy factor? Surely, that the wife of the Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs, was once Christian and only a convert to Islam for the sake of marriage and appearances, is likewise a know-worthy factor, especially for Muslim citizens?
This is not to say that Yaacob’s ability to do his job is in any way diminished by it, but if the public is to judge his performance, as all public servants are subject to, then why does there appear to be a years-long attempt to keep such information from the public eye?
Of course, someone will argue that there was no such attempt at concealment. I find it hard to believe. Very often, ministers go to official functions with their spouses. Am I to believe that his wife never accompanies him? Or if she did, media photographers took special care never to photograph them together? Alternatively, if Yaacob has never been seen with a wife, how come nobody has ever speculated that he’s gay?
There are so many holes in this, there is no explaining away the silence of our media.
It’s not just that each September that our city becomes a concentration camp. All year round, we may be living in an information concentration camp.