The Importance of Representation

On 14 February 2017 (yes, Valentine’s day I know), I attended a pre-ICT (in-camp training) co-ord meeting for 747 Guards. Any NS(National Service) KAH (Key Appointment Holder) would know this is business as usual, but things do get pretty exciting when it is the unit’s last ICT, and there will be an MR parade. There will be an intention to make it memorable for the men who have served alongside me in defending the interests of our nation the past 15 years. To make that happen, the planning committee has decided to do that momentous parade back at the camp where we served together 15 years ago: Dieppe Barracks.

Then came the conversation on how to make that happen, and one of the important talking points is that of transport arrangements for those who drive. Of course, being an old and about to be torn down camp built in almost colonial times, parking space is a limitation, so the committee communicated that there will be X number of parking lots for cars. This number of parking lots is quite obviously not enough, and us as commanders will have to tell our fellow men to make arrangements for car pooling or public transport.

And then the conversation (almost) ended there.

Each year in our annual ICT in Jurong Camp (which is huge with ample parking lots), between 20–30% of our servicemen will ride their motorcycles into the camp. The KAH group on the other hand, comprise of Officers and Specialists, leaders in the SAF, and by translation, leaders in their own workplaces as well. Being a leader/manager in the workplace puts you on a salary scale that is different from those who report to you. (By translation/assumption/estimate), Many of our servicemen do not fall into the category of commanders in the SAF nor managers in the marketplace. Their salary scale is different, and therefore the mode of transportation that they use is also different.

That day, the committee headed out lunch after the meeting. Every single one of the KAH either drove a car, or car-pooled with a fellow KAH. I was the only KAH that rode a motorbike.

And that is why the conversation did not end.

I spent my NSF days in Dieppe Barracks. I know that parking space is limited not just for cars, but also for motorbikes. With about an estimated 100 servicemen who will be riding (or intending to ride) to Dieppe Barracks, no one on the committee thought about the issue of motorbike parking space. I do not blame them, because it is unnatural to think about an issue that does not directly affect you. That is when I realised my voice mattered. Because I represented the servicemen who rode motorbikes. I had to be the voice that asked whether or not there was going to be sufficient parking spaces for motorcyclists.

Less than a week later on 20 Feb 2017, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat presented the Budget 2017 for Singapore. There were perks (grants and incentives), and there was also changes that pertained to an eventual increase in living costs (30% price increase of water). Some of these increased costs affect everyone (water), but some of these affect a niche group of people. The new ARF for motorcycles is one example that only affects current and would-be motorcyclists.

Many have written about this issue that affects motorcyclists. Here are a two slightly more worthy reads (instead of incoherent mindless rants):

- http://iantan.org/2017/02/death-of-motorcycles-singapore/

- http://mothership.sg/2017/02/spore-veteran-architect-pens-ode-to-riding-motorcycles-that-makes-us-really-feel-like-were-missing-out/

Ian Tan brought up a good point. How many of the civil servants making these recommendations to the Minister actually ride a bike, or have a network of friends who ride a bike? Civil servants and policy makers are a largely white collared work force, and they belong to the middle and upper SES (socio-economic status) group. A large proportion of riders on the other hand come from the lower to middle SES group. Civil servants, for all the research and meritorious work they do, will not fully empathise with the challenges of the lower SES. It is telling when they paint the notion that bikes with OMV of more than $5000 and $10000 are a luxury. For us riders, those more expensive and bigger bikes represent greater safety, and an aspiration not just to ride in comfort, but to make sure we have a greater chance of reaching home to our loved ones. They are an aspirational necessity, not a luxury. And it is not the fault of those in high places when they do not understand, because they will never be able to fully connect with our realities, unless someone raises it up to them.

I am but a minority voice amongst my NS KAH. But a minority voice can represent a significant portion of the population. I realised, had I not used my voice to represent fellow riders in that meeting, many riders might turn up on that momentous occasion at a nostalgic venue, only to be turned away by the guards on duty.

Singapore is a place of (increasing) diversity. If we want it to be a home for all, then the voices of all needs to be heard. The loudest voice does not necessarily speak for all, and the softer (sometimes unheard voice) can sometimes speak for more than a minority.

If you represent a group that might not have a loud voice, I want you to know, your representation matters, and your representative voice needs to be heard in a timely manner.