OPINION | Do we have a merry-go-round type of communication on food prices & death penalty in Singapore?

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There have been many complaints about the rising costs of hawker food of late. Most recently, Facebook page Complaint Singapore member Anna Chai who was also staff from Singapore General Hospital highlighted on Thursday (July 7) that her mixed rice order from Outram Community Hospital food court included tiny servings.

She ranted that her meal, which initially cost S$6.70, was not worth the price, especially since the pork chop was about the size of a spoon. “When I ordered the potatoes, I saw only left a very small portion, and I ask the staff do they have some more and is it enough for 1 portion? The staff answered yes (sic),” said Ms Chai.

As she saw the five thin slices of potatoes, Ms Chai ordered another slice of pork chop to add to her meal, which cost S$6.70.

“Good service” vs. Affordable Food

While it is understandable that people feel worried about the escalating costs of living, I do wonder if we are bashing our heads against a brick wall if we blame the hawkers? After all, hawkers are just working people like you and me. If we feel the pinch, wouldn’t they too? If we are struggling to stretch our dollar, wouldn’t they too feel the same pressure?

Sometimes, when we face a problem, we slip into the temptation of generalising people instead of viewing them as individuals with the same struggles of daily life as we do.

A large part of why the costs of food in hawker centers and food courts have increased is because of the skyrocketing rents of premises. With prices of raw materials rising plus high rents, what choice do the hawkers have but to increase their prices?

In fact, this was recently raised in Parliament, and it was disappointing that National Development Minister Desmond Lee told Parliament in relation to rent control that this could “end up reducing the incentive for coffee shop owners to invest in improving their coffee shops to provide better services and facilities to customers.”

While his comments are valid in a vacuum, with the way prices are increasing, plus a GST hike looming, whether there is an incentive for “good service” is not the main priority.

Shouldn’t ensuring that prices don’t rise disproportionately be of a greater priority? What Mr Lee is citing is a boom-time concern. Now that the world is going into a global recession, priorities should be about ensuring that the average citizen can afford a decent meal in a coffee shop or hawker center without the hawker going bust. At this point, it should be about protecting livelihoods and not incentivizing good service.

It does seem strange that people seem to be blaming hawkers instead of looking behind the bigger policy issues. It also seems strange that Mr Lee is more focused on “good service” instead of affordable food at this juncture?

Pro vs. Against Death Penalty

I see this merry-go-round type of communication when we discuss the death penalty as well. It almost seems as though we get stuck at the binary black or white argument about “whether one is pro or against the death penalty” when in reality, the issue is a little bit more nuanced than that.

Firstly, we have the tendency to lump all convicted drug traffickers into a generalised group where no one has any individual identity. That makes it easier for us to condemn and dismiss. Perhaps, unconsciously, we fall into this pattern of behavior because it becomes easier to convince ourselves of the necessity of judicial killing. I say this not to judge anyone or the system. I say this as a fact of human behaviour.

In reality, however, convicts are humans who have done bad things and were caught. Some were victims of circumstance, and some may have knowingly decided to commit crimes. It would be common sense to assume that the first group should get some measure of mercy from the public, but yet, the mandatory death penalty is such that judges do not have much discretion to spare the noose even if they wanted to. And, this is where the argument should fall on.

Instead of the “whether or not we are for or against the death penalty” loop, let’s just look at whether blanket executions actually serve the purpose we want them to serve. Forget the semantics and the lofty, self-righteous arguments from either camp. Instead, let us look at each case on its merits and build wriggle room into a system that allows judges to have mercy when it is judged needed. But, this does require us to look at the humanity within each convict.

And some who staunchly support the death penalty get stuck here because they know deep down that if they allowed themselves the space to look at the human behind the crime, they wouldn’t be for the death penalty at all and, change is scary.

As for those who are just as staunchly against the death penalty, they too get stuck with criticizing the system from top to bottom. There has also been criticism levelled at them for treating criminals like heroes.

I don’t for a second believe that this is what the names are trying to do. They just want to showcase the human behind the crime and because they feel so ignored and helpless, they push that humanity hard in the faces of those who refuse to see, which makes it even more of a turn-off for those who refuse to see .

But what about the voices of the people from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other anti-death penalty groups that have also said such executions were a blatant flouting of international human rights norms?

Human Rights Watch even echoed the calls for Singapore to end executions for all drug-related crimes and commute the sentences of those on death row, as the supposed “deterrent” was nothing short of being hollow in its claim.

“Singapore’s execution of two more people for drug offenses is a blatant fluting of international rights norms that prohibit cruel and unusual punishment. The nations involved in the growing global movement to abolish the death penalty should call out Singapore’s recalcitrant behavior and demand all executions stop.

Recent drug busts in the country show just how hollow Singapore’s claims are about the supposed “deterrent” effect of these cruel executions. Singapore should take immediate action to end executions for all drug-related crimes and commute the sentences of those on death row,” said Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director, Phil Robertson, on Singapore’s execution of Kalwant Singh and Norasharee Gous on July 7, 2022.

Does this serve either party? Is this yet another communication gap where no one is listening?

Perhaps, we should forget about the binary sides we have each chosen and try to compromise. Like it or not, many Singaporeans feel safe with the death penalty in place (strange as this might sound). But can’t we retain it in a way that also allows for mercy?

Remove the “Mandatory” from the death penalty and perhaps, we can start to create a system of consensus.

I am personally against the death penalty but at the same time, I also have to accept that it is not just my worldview that matters. How do we unstuck ourselves from division? It is about finding common ground and then compromising.

No system is perfect. But we cannot make it better without accepting some realities, whether we like it or not.

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