Ignoring the spirit of the law: Woman fined $30 for eating sweet on MRT to relieve motion sickness

July 22, 2009 by
Filed under: Archives 

Written by Ng E-Jay
22 July 2009

A lady commuter was recently fined $30 for eating a sweet during an MRT train ride to relieve motion sickness (see embedded video below).

Eating and drinking in the MRT carries a maximum fine of $500. However in this case, common sense has been completely thrown out of the window in what is apparently a silly over-reaction by the authorities.

This is typically what happens in the civil service, Government departments, statutory boards, and Government-linked Corporations and service providers when unthinking subordinates blindly enforce regulations without regard to common sense due to intense pressure from their superiors to keep up appearances.

This shameful episode was recently captured on video by Felicia Low, Multimedia Reporter at Straits Times Razor TV. She was accompanied by SMRT Enforcement Officer and Yishuan Station Master Roger Foo who spotted commuter Zaina eating a sweet while aboard an MRT train.

Zaina explained that she ate sweets because she sometimes felt thirsty or giddy aboard the MRT train. She clearly knew that eating and drinking was not allowed in the MRT and she was obviously trying to be as discreet as possible. The sweet was only used to relieve her motion sickness.

Enforcement Officer Roger Foo responded by saying: “But if everyone is going to tell us that they have to take sweets because they are thirsty or feel giddy, and if everyone were to start doing that, then where are we going to put a line on that?

I will tell Roger Foo this: We draw a line based on basic common sense and human decency.

Obviously, the risk of polluting the MRT train by eating sweets is completely non-existent as long as the commuter throws the sweet wrappers away properly in rubbish bins. There is absolutely no reason why commuters should be forbidden from eating sweets to relieve motion sickness.

Have we lost all sense of compassion in a bid to follow the letter of the law, never mind the spirit of the law?

The reporter ended her video presentation on the note: “Nothing escapes the eyes of the law, including a sweet.”

But clearly, common sense has.

How it all began, and what is wrong with the Singapore system

The crackdown by SMRT officers on commuters who eat and drink aboard trains is due to the recent spate of videos posted on STOMP showing youngsters blatantly flouting the rules by eating burgers and drinking soft drinks in the MRT.

SMRT’s management must have become alarmed at the rules being openly disobeyed and videos of people eating and drinking aboard the MRT being circulated on the internet. They must have also come under intense pressure by LTA to act swiftly and make a grand show of it.

Cherry picking on the weak and easily bullied is a technique often used by the PAP to frighten Singaporeans into submission.

The trouble with this process is that very often, the spirit of the law is lost in the ruthless crackdown and innocent parties like Zaina become scapegoats in the classic game of “kill some chickens in order to scare all the monkeys”.

The irony of this whole episode is that the majority of Singaporeans understand and accept why eating and drinking aboard the MRT should be disallowed.

But clearly, there is always room to be flexible and to allow for basic common sense and human decency to prevail.

Making such a ridiculous spectacle of punishing a commuter just because she had to eat a sweet to relieve motion sickness can only serve to antagonize other commuters, even those who are used to obeying the rules.

The problem with our Government and with the civil service in general is that when orders are passed down from the top, officers often suspend their own common sense and their sense of right and wrong in an attempt at giving their superiors the impression that the instructions are being rigorously followed. They forget why the law is passed and why rules are made to begin with. They ignore the spirit of the law.

That is the cancer that is infecting the Singapore system — people not exercising their own minds and using their own judgment and initiative, but merely following orders blindly and behaving in a ludicrous fashion in order to suck up to their bosses.


24 Comments on Ignoring the spirit of the law: Woman fined $30 for eating sweet on MRT to relieve motion sickness

  1. anon on Wed, 22nd Jul 2009 8:25 pm
  2. i find it quite nonsensical. given that people do travel from one end of the train to another for work and other purposes, is it unreasonable for them to eat a sweet or have a drink of plain water during that hour odd train trip?

    i never felt that the immediate serving of the fine was a reasonable action. a drink of water on the train, if unfortunately caught and given the now defunct procedure of a warning is at least enough for the person to bear until he/she gets off the stop.

    indeed, the line should be drawn at common sense. sweets plain water (thought i personally feel that cupped drinks in a bag is also fine as long as the person doesnt spill or litter on the train) are fine or at least “close one eye”.

    is it necessary to actually go to the extent of no food and drinks? i mean, isnt the rationale behind it to prevent ppl from littering? if they have the resources to get these enforcers to patrol trains and stop ppl from eating etc, might as well get them to catch people who litter on the train or leave behind their food packaging in the train.

  3. Lau Ah Pek on Thu, 23rd Jul 2009 11:02 am
  4. There are too many posting of people eating on MRT on STOMP so they have to carry out this knee-jerk enforcement. Just like the way the town councils enforced the rules of walkway display by the shops after 2 persons died in Hougang Fire almost 2 years ago. Now the walkways are clogged again … waiting for the next tragedy to happen.

    […] ERPains, Trains & Automobiles – Sgpolitics.net: Ignoring the spirit of the law: Woman fined $30 for eating sweet on MRT to relieve motion sickness […]

  5. Sebatian on Thu, 23rd Jul 2009 1:57 pm
  6. Watching the video makes one sense it’s all staged. How is it the interviewer, camera-man, and Roger Foo were all within camera range of the well groomed sweet chewing offender? Except for chewing gum, how can one’s mouth attract attention while sucking on a sweet? Assuming we’re all not victim to a SMRT hoax, does the management not realize this will make Singapore the laughing stock of the world? What next, ban all water bottles on MRT coaches in case someone takes a sip? Fine babies for feeding on breast milk?

    […] July 23, 2009 Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. II. trackback A more serious take on MRT’s new, Nazi-esque ruling on eating and drinking in MRT trains, where this woman was fined $30 for chewing on candy, despite the reasons she gave for doing […]

  7. pkchukiss on Fri, 24th Jul 2009 2:45 pm
  8. I don’t think that common sense is a hard thing to employ. Rather, I believe that the enforcement officer was repressing his in order to follow the rule to the letter. In the first place, it’s hard to even see that someone is sucking on a piece of sweet!

    More likely, it’s a case of slaying one to warn off the herd. The message they’re trying to drive through is: if even a sweet can get you fined, forget about eating anything else on the train, for that matter.

    I still think that most enforcement officers would use their common sense, away from camera view, unless of course, they’re one of the few who believe that the law must be followed to the last letter. In which case, those people ought to fine themselves first for drinking their own saliva

    […] “The reporter ended her video presentation on the note: “Nothing escapes the eyes of the law, including a sweet.” But clearly, common sense has.” Ng E-Jay […]

  9. Little me. on Tue, 28th Jul 2009 6:12 pm
  10. I had hardly board mrt for these years. This is really an extreme case to stop passenger from eating / drinking in trains (not to say buses).

    For the above case, the lady should be given fine provided she littered the wrapper. If not, that’s alright right. What happen if she is a diabetes? She fainted for not taking safety measures to stop her low blood sugar? And then passengers with cough taking pill to stop the irritation/itch which kept them coughing in the train?

    Sweets should be alright. Not food. But fines need to be given if littering of wrapper is seen.

  11. cy on Tue, 28th Jul 2009 9:34 pm
  12. I was also fined a few months back.. It was in the morning and I was rushing to work as i woke up late.
    As I enter the control station i forgot the little bit of bread i had left for breakfast and that I can’t eat my bread after entering the control station.
    One of the mrt personnel stopped me from afar by calling me. And i thought the best solution was to finish it on the spot before i take up the escalator up to the mrt tracks.
    However, a lady working in the control station came out and reprimanded me for eating after being called on. And after some arguement decided to write me a fine…
    And so I was also fined $30..
    They clearly hold no sympathy and common sense stuff.. Really getting on my nerves.

  13. Vincent on Tue, 28th Jul 2009 11:37 pm
  14. It’s not about tailoring the law to specific circumstances, for that would make lengthly and cumbersome laws. There are several issues to be considered here.

    1) What is the purpose of the law?
    To ensure that certain actions that would cause harm to others do not take place? A general definition, but useful for this purpose. What is the harm here, percieved or otherwise? Littering, pungent odours from food affecting the other passengers. i.e. disrupting the general peace. That seems to be the rationale of that law. However, in this case this does not seem to be happening, which leads us to:

    2) Enforcement of the law.
    Should every law be enforced to the letter? Like the article mentioned, the enforcement tactics put common sense and human decency, not to mention basic human rights on suspension. Why? Can SMRT and LTA offer us an explanation? Shouldn’t the enforcement of the law be subjective in its approach and take note of special cases? Must it take a blanket approach? As commuters and customers we deserve a better explanation other than Roger Foo’s dogmatic response.

    3) Should the law address this issue at all?
    Surely issues like not littering and being kind and considerate to your fellow human beings are in the realm of basic manners and courtesy. If the law has to transgress this area, does it want to take responsibility for the way each and everyone of us is being brought up? If we need a video to tell us how to be considerate, it really speaks volumes about Singapore as a Gracious Society. Are we as Singaporeans going to hand over the responsibility of behaving ourselves in public to a higher order? Is that the best way to ensure decent behaviour in public?

    We are after all your paying customers, LTA, please give us a better explanation.

  15. smrtdog on Sun, 2nd Aug 2009 10:35 pm
  16. what kind of world do we live in? one can’t even chew on a candy to relieve motion sickness? what’s next? no talking on trains? no foul odor on trains?

    next time im going to pee in the train for fun

    […] I can still eat RIGHT? cos the news and everything and that aunty which was caught eating her sweet: A lady commuter was recently fined $30 for eating a sweet during an MRT train ride to relieve motio… So it was DURING the RIDE and INSIDE the TRAIN. HELLO OSMAN? Are you BLIND??? I was eating OUTSIDE […]

  17. The future is here! « Ning's Magic Diaries on Wed, 19th Aug 2009 12:11 am
  18. […] sad but true, to a certain extent… in this quirky little red dot where you can get a thirty dollar fine for sucking on a sweet when you’re in the train. So yes, it seems like they’d prefer you barf and make a stinky of a mess on the floor if […]

  19. Boycott on Sun, 11th Oct 2009 7:11 pm
  20. It appears that SMRT does not feel a need to clarify this situation, and this lack of response implies that the management is supportive of this action. The problem is that we do not have a choice in public transportation, or do we? I have decided that I will avoid SMRT where possible, avoiding their train, buses and taxis! Recently, having just arrived at the airport, I was routed to an SMRT taxi, I declined and insisted on taking an alternative company’s taxi. Though a small gesture, in my own small way, it was made to protest against a company which shows a total lack of care for fellow human beings.

  21. Fare’s fair | Sentinel Weekly News on Mon, 19th Oct 2009 8:08 pm
  22. […] more substantial than a bag of sweets on the bus inconsiderate, or a fact of life? Should we follow Singapore’s example, and ban eating and drinking on public transport altogether? And is there anything more likely to […]

  23. Fare’s fair | kybruno on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 10:20 am
  24. […] more substantial than a bag of sweets on the bus inconsiderate, or a fact of life? Should we follow Singapore’s example, and ban eating and drinking on public transport altogether? And is there anything more likely to […]

  25. D on Fri, 30th Oct 2009 2:14 pm
  26. Absolutely retarded. i would just slowly the sweet and challenge them to prove that i was actually eating anything

  27. Sheelah on Wed, 10th Feb 2010 6:22 am
  28. I guess the tough stance by SMRT is why we have one of the cleanest stations in the world if not The Cleanest. As the officer said, if they give in to one excuse where will the line be drawn. Once you have lived outside of Singapore, you will learn to appreciate This Fine City.

  29. Sweets aren’t allowed on the MRT? - EIDUS.SG on Tue, 11th May 2010 4:14 pm
  30. […] You can also read about this incident here and […]

  31. Jireh Tan on Wed, 12th May 2010 1:08 am
  32. Sheelah, I really think that arguments such as “once you have lived outside of Singapore, you will learn to appreciate This Fine City” are really unhelpful to advancing the dialogue. At best this argument is patronizing, at worst is it offensively arrogant – so what if YOU have lived outside of Singapore? That has nothing to do with this situation right now. I have lived outside of Singapore too – and I still feel that there’s something a bit silly about fining a woman 30 dollars for consuming a sweet on the MRT. There is no logical causation about living outside of Singapore and appreciating a situation like this.

  33. A fine city | @MountSophia on Wed, 14th Sep 2011 6:26 pm
  34. […] Singaporeans (and tourists) seem to follow the rules, and the effect of this is that Singapore is a very clean city. The streets are not sterile, of course, but compared to e.g. Oslo (where we lived before moving to Singapore), it is hardly any litter in the streets, or on the MRT (subway). It is, by the way, up to S$500 fine for eating or drinking on the MRT – even sweets or plain water (http://www.sgpolitics.net/?p=3437). […]

  35. Justsaying on Fri, 15th Nov 2013 3:00 am
  36. If the LTA officer, in view of the camera, had not issued the fine, he would probably get some repercussion from his superiors. What we have here is a deeply embedded fear of authority that has overtaken any courage to show compassion for a fellow human with human needs.

  37. Liana on Wed, 20th Nov 2013 2:01 pm
  38. Sorry to say the woman was unlucky, I have seen people drinking and eating in train, where the so -called officers to catch these people. So a sweet can help make a nauseous person feel better, stop a bad cough momentarily, prevent vomit or even faint, but smrt is saying no. It’s a load of rubbish.
    And the officer had to fine her $30 because he in being filmed on tv. While the intention is good, officers should assess it accordingly, not just blindly following orders.

  39. LIm on Fri, 29th Nov 2013 12:52 pm
  40. The officer Roger Foo already mentioned that unless your action is supported by medical reason/s all have to adhere to the rules and regulations that SMRT had set. Many people only think it is just a sweet. Supposingly, the passenger accidentally spit out the sweet, what are the chances he/she will pick it up and what are the chances that he/she will ensure the sweet that dirty the seat/s and or flooring is properly cleaned up?
    In short, the rules are there because it is impossible to have all commuters who are civil minded. These rules are to deal with such people. What has worked well, keep it unless the similar action taken by the officer Roger Foo, we still have dirty MRT then it is time for a re-think.

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