MP Denise Phua on walking time bombs

Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar Ms Denise Phua apologised on Friday  (Apr 8) for her choice of words in her recent speech during the Ministry of Home Affairs budget debate.

“I should not have used the phrase ‘walking time-bombs’ to describe congregations of high density,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

Ms Phua, who is also the mayor of the Central Singapore, was relating a recent visit to Little India in Parliament. As her constituency covers part of the Little India neighbourhood, she had put forth some suggestions in an effort to safeguard against a repeat of the Little India riot. The suggestions include forming a multi-agency Task Force to manage security risks of congestion or ring-fencing communal residential areas.

“I have no intention to undermine any specific group,” Ms Phua explained. “I personally get along very well with the foreign cleaners in my constituency. To them and the other foreign workers in our country, thank you for your help and please accept my sincere apology if I have caused you concern.”

If the Mayor of Central Singapore had stopped at a simple apology, her supporters could still argue in her defence that she only used the phrase on unruly crowds in general. By bringing in ‘foreign cleaners’ in her follow up response, it’s clear who she was referring to. To make matters worse, her ring-fencing suggestion brings to mind barbed wire, sentry posts and District 9.

Amazingly, this isn’t the first time that Denise has used ‘walking time bomb’. She used it to describe the remote gambling industry, (though technically a website doesn’t ‘walk’ so it’s more accurate to call it a ‘ticking’ time bomb instead).  Whether it’s an online casino or a bunch of workers chilling with a six pack, anything that looks suspicious to Denise Phua is a disaster waiting to happen. Our dismal birth rate. The diabetes epidemic. The Korean fried chicken craze. They’re all goddamn ticking time bombs. At least our leaders are wise enough to avoid using bomby analogies to address the ISIS situation, unlike this inflammatory headline from the Herald Sun.

There are less controversial ways of employing such violent metaphors. You could call an obese man with heart problems a ‘walking time bomb‘ and no one would call you out for hate speech. Or kids who are prone to temper tantrums (What makes your little walking time bomb tick?15 March 2016, ST). Even teenage sex is a ‘ticking time bomb’. It’s a metaphor that’s designed to instill irrational fear and creates more impact than just saying ‘The crowds in Little India are, well, A CONCERN’. Still, it’s best to avoid any utterance of the word ‘bomb’ in Parliament. In today’s climate, a bomb is no longer a staple Wile Coyote prank in a cartoon. People have been arrested for making bomb hoaxes over the phone. No other 4 words in the history of the English language would incur more time, resources and chaos than you shouting ‘I HAVE A BOMB’ on a plane.

Little India is not the only place that may require you to suit up like our Explosives and Ordnance Unit. Geylang has also been affectionately termed by Police Commisioner Ng Joon Hee as a ‘potential powder keg‘ in 2014.  The chances of anyone actually getting injured in these ‘lawless’ enclaves is low however, compared to the ticking time bomb that is peak-hour commuters on a platform in Jurong Interchange MRT.

I guess it will be the last that we hear of Denise ‘Time-bomb’ Phua’s pet phrase. Maybe we’d all be less harsh on her had she used ‘a bubble waiting to burst’, ‘a kettle boiling over’ or a ‘pimple waiting to pop’ instead.