Friday, April 04, 2008

My rights

Incoming Singapore Law Society President, Mr Michael Hwang is right. One should never take the word of a civil servant, or even a senior civil servant to be the last word on anything. Singaporeans are all too docile and often 'kow-tow' when the government says that something is not allowed, or something cannot be done because of 'the rules'. Well, one must ask, what are these rules and who set those rules in the first place? What is the basis for those rules and, more importantly, are they fair? Are those rules set down to make the work of the government department more convenient or are these rules made after due consideration to the people's general welfare? One must understand that many rules made by government departments are not laws duly considered in and approved by, Parliament. Thus they do not carry the full weight of the law. Often, Singaporeans confuse the law and the rules and think of them as one and the same, for after all, isn't the government the law? Well, not really...

Some years ago, I took possession of my spanking new HDB apartment. I was upset when HDB told me that I was not allowed to hang my air-con compressor unit outside bedroom window. It said that since my apartment came with a utility yard, the compressor had to be installed there. Further, if the wall did not come with a wooden casement expressly designed for the installation of air-con compressors, then installing one was forbidden. All this according to the HDB rule books. Of course, I wasn't happy. Putting that gigantic compressor in my small utility yard only took away space, for example, to hang my clothes indoors, particularly on rainy days. So I took a walk around the neighbourhood and noticed some apartments came with the wooden casement whereas mine did not. Was this omission intentional or did the builders forget about the casement in the first place? If it were the latter, then HDB had done me an injustice by removing that choice from me.

So I went up to the HDB branch office and spoke to the civil servants there. Of course, they explained the rule to me, but I countered with my observation and told them flat out that their rules were unevenly applied and thus unfair. I made a fair bit of 'noise' and submitted the mandatory written appeal, and to their credit, they finally relented and allowed me to hang my air-con compressor outside my bedroom window instead of in the yard, which was some way away and would have cost me extra, according to my air-con contractor. What was gratifying in the whole episode was that I noticed other apartments also started to install their air-con compressors outside their windows which had no wooden casements, similar to mine. I would like to have thought that my effort paved the way for them. And all this was achieved without involving any lawyer. So yes, Michael Hwang is correct. We should question the rules and determine if right is on our side. And if it is, why are we not claiming our rights?

Image source: Author: Ettore

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

I wonder what would be Michael Hwang's stand be, as the Law Society President, concerning the dreadful detention of a person without trial under our dreadful Internal Security Act.

Is it perfectly OK for us as citizens of a just society to remain silent when such a cruel law, whether rightfully or wrongfully, is being used by our elected goverment against some other member(s) of our humanity.

By the same extension, wouldn't abuse of such a cruel law make our leader(s) appear to be evil person(s), whatever good intentions that they may have ?