Singapore: Senior officials arrested in a corruption investigation. Subway commuters trapped underground without light or proper ventilation. Flooded roads in the financial district.  

It may sound like Indonesia or perhaps the Philippines, but this is Singapore -- the wealthy island state that has long been the envy of those neighbours for its ruthless efficiency, clean government and high standard of living. 

The city-state remains a relative paragon of good governance but a succession of embarrassing setbacks is damaging its reputation and heaping pressure on the long-ruling government as it faces an unprecedented erosion of public support. 

The problems highlight a growing gap between Singaporeans' expectations of their government and the administration's ability to deliver as it grapples with an influx of foreigners, a yawning wealth gap and strained infrastructure. 

Those are all problems of success, but they have fuelled perceptions that the government is out of touch with Singaporeans' concerns at a time when public debate is flowering as never before in the tightly controlled state. 

That became starkly clear in elections last year when voters handed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's People's Action Party (PAP) its lowest ever share of the popular vote. 

"There is an unleashing of frustration and everything is becoming a focal point of the frustration," said Bridget Welsh, an associate professor of political science at the Singapore Management University. 

"A lot of people in Singapore feel that they have to speak out to make Singapore brighter. This is actually something Singapore needs to go through to become stronger." 

The PAP, which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965, responded to its election embarrassment with a series of government measures aimed at addressing citizens' worries. 

It tightened the flow of foreign workers, who make up 36 percent of Singapore's population of 5.2 million, up from about 20 percent a decade ago.  

It has also pledged to strengthen a flimsy social safety net in a country that has the world's highest proportion of millionaires but where there is no minimum wage and some jobs pay less than S$1,000 ($800) a month. 

In December, the government took new steps to cool surging property prices, with the toughest measures aimed at foreign buyers who have become increasingly visible in the residential sector. Most dramatically, Lee and his ministers agreed to slash their hefty seven-figure annual salaries by more than a third in a nod to growing discontent over wealth inequality. 

"We must uphold inclusive growth and social mobility as pillars of a united Singapore," Lee, who remains the world's best-paid premier, said in his New Year message. 

But the government's perception problem took a further hit last month with the arrest of the chief of civil defense and the head of its police anti-drug unit on corruption charges, the highest level graft investigation in two decades. 

Rather than an official announcement, the news was broken by a Chinese-language daily which felt bold enough to run the story without confirmation from the government. 

A few hours later, the Home Ministry confirmed that both officials were being investigated by the anti-corruption watchdog for "serious personal misconduct". It later emerged that the first arrest had been made a month earlier but not made public. 

P N Balji, a former editor of Singapore's New Paper, says the government's handling of the case highlighted its inability to communicate well with an increasingly demanding public.   

"This is not a stupid government, it has done a lot of good things for its people, it is respected overseas and its model of governance is highly sought after," he wrote in a commentary. 

"Yet, one of the basic attributes of a smart government - squaring with its citizens and carrying them along - seems to be missing." 

      
(Agencies)