Just to demonstrate how closely the Singapore gay debate resonates with the cat issues, here’s my take on the today article of the same title.
(EDIT 20070518: Wow, there are people out there with great taste in cynical satirism. IF only I can make moola aka tec funds off it too… FAT dream I know. Oh well. BTW, I did a bit of editing and spicing up since the original was an impromptu shot from the hip.)
why close one eye?
Such an attitude towards flat-pet cats is a lose-lose approach
Tuesday • May 8, 2007
WHAT is clear from the suppressed debate on whether keeping of cats under the Housing Development Board’s rules should be decriminalised is that passions run high over this issue. And where passions run high, reason often runs dry.
Much ink has been spilt arguing whether roaming cats is about nature or nurture, choice or instinct, whether it is sinful or simply an alternative choice of lifestyle. It is unlikely that a consensus is going to be reached anytime soon. But in the fracas over whether keeping cats should be banned in flats, these issues are what one might call pink herrings.
Is the possible repeal of the HDB’s cat ban really about whether cats shed fur or roam?
The HDB’s cat ban is a rare mutant in the laws of Singapore. A paper tiger which provides for a punishment of up to 3 warnings or eviction but which the authorities have an official “close-one-eye” policy to. It also ignores the crime of abandonment, which provides for a punishment of up to 1 year and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
When the Cat Welfare Society proposed changes to the HDB’s cat ban, which is not likely to be debated in Parliament anytime soon, the HDB said that the cat ban would not be deleted. But anecdotal evidence suggest HDB would not be “proactive” in enforcing this law against flat-dwellers with cats unless a complaint is made.
Indeed, for over 20 years, the HDB’s cat ban conundrum must be an uncomfortable wrinkle in the HDB’s ironed facade.
This, of course, does not mean that there has been no cats in flats. And it is no secret. Launched frequently into cyberspace are blogs of Singaporean flat dwelling cats, coming out in Singapore itself no less, and even includes full names and photographs. Bold criminals indeed!
In March 2007, Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, Permanent Secretary (Ministry for National Development), true to HDB’s perennial form, repeated its warped reason for insisting on the cat ban which only showed that like the HDB, he did not have a handle, loved or otherwise, on the true flat-pet cat situation and its relation to the homeless cat issues. (source: http://siewkumhong.blogspot.com/2007/03/budget-2007-debates-ministry-of.html)
And in the same month, Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien, the Minister of State for National Development, (for the Minister for National Development) also backed the official line that the AVA, HDB, Town Councils receive 10,000 cat-related complaints a year and that “30 a day is probably more than what a few people could do, unless they do it on a full-time basis” despite acknowledging that, “Granted, there could be people who … complain more than once.” (source: http://catwelfare.blogspot.com/2007/03/cats-mentioned-in-parliament.html)
What conclusion can one draw but that criminal flat-dwellers exist among 85% of society? Flat dwellers who are responsibly keeping flat-pet cats are criminalised while flat dwellers who are irresponsibly letting unsterilised pet cats free-range enjoy the condonement of a gaping legal loophole.
So, the argument that repealing the HDB’s cat ban would transform owning flat-pet cats from a crime into an alternative lifestyle is blind to realities. Surely it already is an alternative lifestyle in modern-day Singapore.
The point is this: What purpose does the HDB’s cat ban actually serve and what difference could its repeal make when flat-pet cats — and even the Government — are today carrying on their affairs as though it does not exist? This should be the crux of the debate.
On this key issue, only one argument appears to be at all relevant. It is the somewhat-paranoid slippery slope argument that decriminalising flat-pet cats will open the floodgates to all sorts of evils — so that one day adopted pet-cat advocates might even clash with pet-breeding intere$t groups, and TNRM volunteers may be prosecuted for preaching that non-sterilisation of pets for sale is a sin.
Is this not getting leaps and bounds ahead of ourselves? After all, surely religious incitement is a crime in itself — look at what happened to the bloggers charged under the Sedition Act last year.
There is nothing inevitable about what will happen if the HDB’s cat ban is decriminalised. At every step of liberalisation we can question again whether the next step is a prudent one or not. It is difficult to see why this step of bringing the law in line with real life by repealing the HDB’s cat ban should lead to a tumble down a black hole of debauchery.
There is another difficult question that those who predict doom if the HDB’s cat ban is repealed should address. The HDB’s cat ban only makes flat-pet cats illegal; free-ranging pet cats and other pets (equally fur-shedding dogs and assorted cage-cooped animals like birds, hamsters who surely feel the restraints worse than cats ever could) are not. What great ill has befallen society from that?
An alternative argument could be made that even if the HDB’s cat ban serves no purpose, leaving it in the the HDB’s rules and by-laws does no harm. Why change the status quo?
First, there is the negative branding of Singapore as a place where individual freedoms are constrained and animalism, particularly catism are condoned at the highest level. This is particularly damaging to Singapore’s attempt to position itself as a global and vibrant city.
Second is the cultural and economic cost suffered from the loss of diversity when cat people shun Singapore. Tolerance of people who are different has been identified as one of the keys to nurturing compassion and empathy with its attendant economic benefits.
Third is the confusion that arises from having a law which is officially not enforced. Quite apart from the mistaken notion it may give foreigners that criminal laws in Singapore are generally not strictly enforced, one wonders what outsiders would think of a people who gain some sort of satisfaction from adopting an attitude which hints of hypocrisy.
And not least is the undermining of the rule of law itself. As more Singaporeans come to accept flat-pet cats as a personal choice, maintaining a official ban that is honoured only in its breach is bound to lead to erosion of respect for the HDB.
So, the retention of the HDB’s cat ban while maintaining a “close-one-eye” attitude to cats living blatantly in flats is a lose-lose approach for Singapore. If we are going to allow cats in flats, why not take credit for being open-minded enough to do so?
The writer is a true-blue plebian of Singapore. And she is a flat dweller. These are her personal views.
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