English as it is spoken in Parliament

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By Augustine Low

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Doublespeak. Beating around the bush. The art of answering without answering.

Call it what you will, some of the Ministerial replies to MPs’ questions in Parliament this week can be seen as baffling at best and excruciating at worst.

The Ministry of Transport takes the cake for, shall we say, going the extra mile.

Here are excerpts:

On whether the Government should fund all public transport fare concessions, or let some of the concessions be borne by full-paying commuters

“The (Fare Review Mechanism) committee was also mindful that if all the concession schemes . . . were to be borne by the Government, there would be that lack of tension in the system, so to speak … so I think there’s a certain tension and a certain balance that they’re trying to achieve.”

–        Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew

(The tension in the system Mr Lui refers to comes with the metaphor of the wheel: without a tight band or chain linking it to a spindle that can move it along. The ex-Chief of Navy needs to understand that using half a metaphor without explaining it doesn’t always work!)


On moderating and delaying transport fare increases

“While fares are likely to have to go up in the coming years, they will not become less affordable for the average commuter, and will be considerably more affordable for the low-income and disadvantaged groups.”

— Lui

(Huh? And again, huh?)


On the charging of different fares for different taxis by the same operators

“This is not a recent phenomenon, although we are seeing more of it lately.”

— Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo

(Means what?)


On whether it was fair to commuters that taxi operators should impose different fares for different models of cabs, and if the Transport Ministry could do something about it

“Rather than talk about the question of whether it’s fair or unfair, we have acknowledged that it complex and confusing. We are interested in trying to find a better way to let the commuters understand what the fare structure is, so simplifying it is what we would like to do right now.”

— Teo

(A grand total of 52 words that add up to: Yes, we will be simplifying the fare structure which is now too confusing)


On whether the Government could also simplify the rental that is levied on taxi drivers

“I am not sure that is an outcome we want to see.”

— Teo

(You mean “No”?)


MP Cedric Foo, who is also Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, told The Straits Times that the Minister did not answer his question directly, “but obliquely”. The MP was trying to be tactful. He should have scratched his head and said: “What was that all about?”

Looks like there are things being uttered within the hallowed chambers of Singapore’s Parliament which could leave listeners dumbfounded. It’s just as well that Parliamentary proceedings are not televised ‘live’. Viewer discretion would then have to be advised.

Augustine Low is a communications strategist.