Swiss Oliver Fricker entered Singapore through the most original way possible — two days ago, he made the headlines by being arrested for allegedly spray painting graffiti on one of Singapore’s MRT trains. Another Briton, Lloyd Alexander, is wanted in connection with the case. He reportedly left Singapore for Hongkong before the incident was reported.
The Fricker graffiti reminded many Singaporeans of what was most probably the most infamous case of vandalism due to the international furore surrounding the corporal punishment of caning lashed out on American Michael Fay, in 1994. Fay had then spray painted several cars before being arrested and punished with 6 strokes of the cane. Following pleads for clemency by the then President Clinton, the late President Ong Teng Cheong commuted Fay’s sentence from 6 to 4 strokes of the cane.
What was Fricker’s role in this alleged case of vandalism? If reports were to be believed, he and his accomplice cut through a fence at an derelict MRT depot, before having the luxury to spray paint graffiti on an MRT carriage. He faces up to 3 years in jail, a fine, and most certainly a few strokes of the cane — given the authorities hard-nosed approach in dealing with vandals.
Most of the reports so far focused on punishing Fricker for his role in the vandalism. Sure enough, he trespassed into an out-of-bounds territory in the MRT depot and spray-painted a train. But if Fricker should be punished for vandalism, dare I say that SMRT should be equally if not more culpable.
Without question, they must answer for the startling lack of security around the premises of the train depot — an obvious easy target for terrorists. While intelligence months earlier resulting from a raid of terrorists in nearby Indonesia had pointed at the possibility of an MRT train station being targeted for terrorism (a map with a red circle around Orchard MRT was found), it is clear that from this breach of security that security strategists were still stuck within a box — that is, the box of merely deploying additional personnels for a presence around train stations, believing that a terrorist needs to board a train, deposit a bomb and leave in order to carry out acts of terrorism on our transport system. This is not to say that such a method of having security personnels on board train is ineffective, but there could be thousand more ways a terrorist may plant a bomb on a train that does not involve him boarding the train even. Cutting through the fence in a poorly guarded MRT train depot to plant a bomb is but one of the many possibilities.
Even more disconcerting is the fact that the train defaced with the graffiti was allowed to run on the transportation system for 2 days. According to a SMRT spokesman, this is because the graffiti was mistaken as ‘advertisement’ and not reported (Singapore has been liberalizing its attitude towards graffiti as a form of art — consider, for example, how graffiti is not only allowed but encouraged in certain places such as the *scape youth park) by both passengers and SMRT staff who had seen spray paint.
This does not answer the question of why the survelliance cameras at the MRT train depot were not reviewed on a day to day basis to consider the possible breaches of security. How are these tapes reviewed? Were there lapses in the review of these tapes? Why was it only 2 days later that the defacement on the train carriage was realized not to be an advertisement but an act of vandalism, leading to a more extensive review of the tapes finding Fricker guilty of the crime?
After grabbing the newspaper headlines in a most original way, Fricker is currently out on a $100,000 bail. SMRT has since promised to increase its security patrol and surveillance around the MRT depots to prevent the repeat of such security breaches — a move that should have been done eons ago to stymie the hatching of potential terrorist plots.
If indeed the result of these surveillances causes a terrorist plot to be foiled, then Singaporeans indeed owe a huge thanks to a Swiss business consultant to an IT firm who had sneaked into a MRT depot and delivered, dare one admit, a work of art. It is a stab at the hard-line, no-nonsense reputation that Singapore has in the eyes of many; clean, green and safe.
And this is indeed Fricker’s mitigating factor. He had, not, unlike Michael Fay, randomly spray-painted cars in acts of malicious intent. His purpose is not to derive pleasure from the pain of others seeing their luxury cars damaged or vandalized; he is here to point out the false sense of security that we have been assuming in our country. He tore straight into the most vulnerable parts of the transport bodily system and pointed out where the cancer was.
In a rebellious act he showed all of us how vulnerable we can be. And it is because of him that we have stitched up the problematic areas of our transport security system — which may have potentially saved thousands of lives. In cutting straight into our softest tissues he left a mark in the form of what some may consider as vandalism, others as art. But let us not be the straight-nosed Singaporeans that many have thought us to be elsewhere. The fact that it took so long to be reported suggests that nobody was seriously negatively affected by the graffiti, unlike the spray paint on random cars by Michael Fay.
His graffiti on the train was allowed to be paraded around our country’s train system like a giant neon sign declaring that our transport system had been breached, but most Singaporeans are perhaps too busy playing with Facebook or games on their iPhones to notice that something was amiss or unusual. Now that we know the graffiti for what it is, we can perhaps take a second to laugh at ourselves before seriously considering who should bear the brunt of the blame.
In quickly pointing fingers at Fricker the blame game was swiftly played to suggest that without him, none of this would have happened in the first place. But it takes two hands to clap — Fricker was merely the active ingredient, the spark that caused a box of dormant gunpower to explode. A spark is truly as important as the dormant gunpowder in causing the explosion, they both exist mutually dependent on each to bring out the reaction.
Fricker should indeed be punished but strong mitigating factors should be considered in his favor. He may have to face a fine or possibly a short jail span, but corporal punishment is a very harsh verdict considering that his intent and resultant damage differed strongly from the case of Fay.
At any rate, one should not believe the gunpowder if it says that it is the spark that caused the explosion. If Fricker could be so severely punished for his act of vandalism, or his work of art, then surely the individuals responsible for the security of Singapore’s transport should have to face some sort of music, too.