The guest of honour, Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Defence, arrived punctually at the Festival of Dance to mark the closing of the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) at Kallang Theatre on July 29.

Looking around, I could not help noticing…

…the theatre was half-filled. I wondered if the arts scene would ever flourish if there were no interest shown, especially among the youth, in the performing arts. Surely we cannot expect much for the future, can we?

I shared my thoughts with my mother. She said: “Never be too hasty with your conclusions. Can’t you see the audience is still filing in?”

She was right. Soon, I could not see what was happening on stage. My view was blocked by a flow of people locating their seats. I only got glimpses of Dr Ng presenting the certificates to the various schools. Most of the time, I saw someone’s back or backside.

Lights went out when the first item was presented. I was appalled to see a large group of people waiting at the entrance while two elderly ushers were frantically trying to guide a few at a time to their seats. This lasted for 30 minutes!

I had the “distinction” of seeing something different because of my privileged position. I was sitting in my wheelchair next to an aisle seat in the last row. Why? The theatre is not handicap-friendly.

The organisers had given me a good seat which I could not take advantage of.

Thanks to Mr Henry Tan, a member of the SYF Steering Committee, who had gone out of his way to assist me, I had a vantage point from which to enjoy the show. However, he could not have known his kind intention would be sabotaged.

If you have not attended any arts performance before, you can be forgiven for thinking it is fashionable to be late. After all, there were so many latecomers.

What’s more, they seemed quite comfortable keeping to their own schedule than making it on time. They walked in nonchalantly and were not bothered by the inconvenience and distraction they posed to others. I was disturbed by what I saw, as lateness is bad manners and most of the latecomers were students, parents and, I believe, teachers.

Aren’t parents and teachers supposed to be role models? Shouldn’t they be aware of the importance of punctuality? Where is their sense of responsibility for themselves and towards others?

I see punctuality as an essential virtue. It is necessary for a gracious society. It is a reflection of a person’s respect for others. It also shows the importance of the activity to the person.

Some of you may argue, better late than never. My question is: Isn’t “never late” best?

Although it is a personal responsibility to cultivate the habit of punctuality, I believe organisers of regular events can help by enforcing some discipline. For example, the organiser of the SYF could inform guests that there would be no admission after 7.30pm and mean it. I am confident that future SYF events will have fewer, if not no, problem with latecomers.

While I empathise with Ms Jessica Goh who was denied entry at last year’s National Day Parade because she was late (“Hurdles on the way to NDP”, Aug 3), I support the decision of the organisers. The event cannot run like clockwork if punctuality is not observed. Lateness should not be condoned as it can be infectious. Look at what happens at the Chinese wedding dinner.

Something has to be done to condemn tardiness and encourage punctuality. Otherwise, some people will just remain punctual in their lateness, while others will suffer in silence because of their inconsideration.

It is our shared responsibility to ensure that lateness is held in as much contempt as any obnoxious act. It may not be easy, but together as a community, we can eradicate the bad habit.

(This article can be found in the TODAY of 15 August 2005)