Skip to content

One does not SimplyGo EZ-ly to make stupid changes

This week: LTA back-pedals on SimplyGo, a Chinese teenager allegedly identified as a white supremacist, and it's really gross how the Singapore government talks about Malay "progress".

If you would like something good to listen to this weekend, might I suggest this Sound BOMB performance by NMIXX? Put your headphones on for that sweet, sweet spatial audio experience.

Also, am curious: is anyone planning to go to the Xdinary Heroes concert in Singapore in March? Surely I can't be the only fan in this entire mailing list.


Do you have SimplyGo? Or an EZ-Link card? Or is it a SimplyGo EZ-Link?

In last week’s newsletter, I asked you to choose which annoyed you more: S Iswaran’s corruption charges, or the SimplyGo fiasco. 151 of you responded. Here are the results:

Well, good job guys, we've collectively shouted the Land Transport Authority into submission and they have now back-tracked on the plan to force everyone to switch over to SimplyGo. If only I hadn’t converted my EZ-Link to SimplyGo just one day before they announced this about-turn. At least those of us who converted our cards will be able to exchange them for plain ol’ EZ-Link at some point—more details to come in February.

The government says they’ll be spending an additional $40 million so that commuters who want to can continue using their EZ-Link cards and NETS FlashPay cards. I wasn’t the only person to detect a slightly sour note here, as memes like this show:

Credit to @sgpmo on Instagram
Credit to @sgpmo on Instagram

How much did building the SimplyGo system cost, and what sort of considerations and consultations were taken into account before this whole disastrous exercise? They apparently had focus group discussions between 2020 and 2023, as well as a trial with over 1,000 people. Despite this, Chee Hong Tat, the transport minister, said that the Land Transport Authority had “underestimated” people’s desire to be able to check their card balance at the gantry, and that pushing everyone to use SimplyGo was a “judgement error”. I’m curious about why this was such a surprise. Did no one in the focus groups or trial raise this issue? How did they choose the people to consult? Chee did concede that it would have been better if they’d consulted more widely to get a larger range of opinions before proceeding, which makes me wonder about the sort of representation they had in their focus groups.

In any case, the EZ-Link card-based system can live on until at least 2030, after which they’ll evaluate again. Long live the card balance display.


A teenager has been given a restriction order under the Internal Security Act. The government says it was because he had been radicalised to identify with white supremacist ideology.

The Internal Security Department said on Wednesday that a 16-year-old boy had been given a restriction order in November last year. “Investigations found that he was self-radicalised by online far-right extremist propaganda,” they wrote in a press statement published on the Ministry of Home Affairs website. “Although of Chinese ethnicity, the youth identified as a white supremacist, and aspired to conduct attacks overseas in furtherance of the white supremacist cause.” They added that the boy, who had been active in “several far-right online chat groups and channels, where he shared violent anti-African American videos”, had considered going to countries like the US, France, Italy or Russia to attack non-white groups there. The ISD said that he didn’t actually take any steps to carry out any such plan, and also didn’t have any desire to carry out attacks in Singapore.

The ISD also said they had released a 19-year-old from detention this month. He’d spent the past three years in detention, because he had allegedly “made detailed plans and preparations to conduct terrorist attacks using a machete against Muslims at two mosques in Singapore”.

I always feel uncomfortable reporting on ISD statements because cases like Operation Spectrum have shown the ways that the Internal Security Act can be abused, and with such cases we only ever have the ISD’s word for it, with no independent investigation, verification or reporting. But if the gist of these cases are accurate, then it’s cause for concern that young Singaporeans are finding far-right extremist and white supremacist groups attractive. I’ve also heard from people I know who are teachers—both in Singapore and out—that they’re seeing teenage boys in the thrall of grifters like the right-wing misogynist Andrew Tate.



When a particular ethnic group is over-represented in the prison population, shouldn’t you be asking why instead of acting as if it’s that group’s problem?

Did you know that Singapore has a Malay/Muslim Organisation Rehabilitation Network, specifically focused on Malay-Muslims who have been released from prison? Rehabilitation and reintegration are good goals, but this racialised approach is really problematic. Look at this headline: “Despite progress, long-term reoffending in Malay community still an area for concern: Shanmugam”. It’s so condescending. What does this headline signal to readers? By talking in terms of “progress”, it suggests that the Malay population is somehow ‘behind’ the rest in the country and needs to catch up. The issue of reoffending is racialised as a ‘Malay problem’, as if there is some sort of inherent issue with the Malay community that leads them to break laws and get in trouble. This is the sort of dog-whistling that perpetuates racism.

There appears to be zero interest in considering intersectionality and systemic problems. How does racism, prejudice and discrimination affect the opportunities that people might have access to? How does intergenerational poverty and class inequality affect social capital that can in turn affect access to education or employment or self-development, which then has an impact on whether people struggle or thrive in society? How does the Singapore prison system decide who to expend rehabilitation resources on? There is research on this, and you can find the paper here. A blog post on the NUS website introducing this article sums it up:

While there is no explicit discrimination based on race, A/P Ganapathy finds that prison authorities perceive ethnic minorities as recalcitrant offenders, and thus deny them entry to rehabilitative opportunities that have limited vacancies. A Malay inmate who was interviewed by A/P Ganapathy even held the view that the Yellow Ribbon Project is for ‘Yellow’ people only – meaning the Chinese.

Furthermore, A/P Ganapathy argues that Singapore’s racialized system of welfare delivery – evident in the establishment of ethnic self-help groups – has entrenched an unequal possession of resources across races. In Singapore, the Chinese dominate the middle and upper classes and thus command better economic resources – which ethnic and faith-based rehabilitation agencies are able to access to fund their programmes. Chinese ex-offenders also have access to interpersonal networks that provide better economic opportunities for them to reintegrate into the workforce.

However, A/P Ganapathy also suggests that these unequal outcomes are partly a result of ethnic minorities’ tendencies to foster social ties with co-ethnics rather than the Chinese. This isolates them and limits their access to the resources held by the Chinese majority. An Indian ex-inmate recounted pressures to “take the side” of his Indian cellmates, leading him to reject offers to participate in rehabilitative programmes in prison.

A/P Ganapathy concludes that the Singapore government’s policy of “racialized rehabilitation” is likely to benefit majority clients but disadvantage minority members, and that reintegration needs to be seen as a structural issue that intersects race and social class.”

From the WTC community

I’m trying out something new(ish): from time to time I get emails from Milo Peng Funders and other subscribers to this newsletter, asking my questions about this or that. I’d like to share some of these questions and my answers—there might be more than one of you wondering about the same thing! If you have a question that you’d like to send, just hit reply to this email and ping it over. Alternatively, you can fill this contact form.

A reader of the newsletter asked me recently for my thoughts on the discrepancy between the teenager who killed his River Valley High schoolmate getting a sentence of 16 years’ imprisonment, and people like Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam being executed for drug trafficking.

It’s important to note that the teenager would never have got the death penalty anyway, not just because of his age, but also because he was ultimately charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

I think the key here is not to demand that the boy gets the death penalty—that would just be enacting more violence, and will solve very little—but to question why the punishment for non-violent drug offences is so disproportionate. The way drug trafficking is viewed as on par with murder—and has led to more death sentences in Singapore than murder cases have—is a feature of the War on Drugs and the government's desire to demonstrate a show of strength. This causes so much more pain and trauma and harm than if the policymakers and lawmakers really sat down and looked at drugs holistically as a public health issue tied up with social and economic issues.

On the radar

🧑🏻‍⚖️ The International Court of Justice has delivered its ruling on the emergency measures that South Africa was seeking against Israel. It has ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians, but did not go as far as calling for a ceasefire, which will be disappointing to many. However, James Bays, reporting from The Hague for Al Jazeera English, points out that the court did rule in favour of South Africa in a number of ways: “They agreed that they had jurisdiction in this case, that they have standing in the case, that some of the things that South Africa has alleged are certainly taking place within the definition of the Genocide Convention.” South Africa itself says that this is a “decisive victory” for the international rule of law. Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, says: “The World Court’s landmark decision puts Israel and its allies on notice that immediate action is needed to prevent genocide and further atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza. Lives hang in the balance, and governments need to urgently use their leverage to ensure that the order is enforced. The scale and gravity of civilian suffering in Gaza driven by Israeli war crimes demands nothing less.”

Thank you for reading! As always, feel free to forward this weekly wrap to anyone you like, and spread the word about this newsletter!