The Online Citizen

Competence, messy PR, and a conspiracy theory

January 30
13:38 2012

~by: Howard Lee~

For all the blunders and perceived partisanship often attributed to it, I continue to have faith in our public service.

I don't necessarily mean the top dogs in the service, but the rank and file who continue to soldier on each day at their jobs. I trust that they will continue to do the right thing for Singaporeans, even if their actions are sometimes not the smartest.

Such would be the case for the latest incident by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which saw two of its statutory board heads under the public spotlight for alleged corruption.

Many reports, not to mention comments in online platforms, have suspected MHA's release of the news as a conspiracy theory that purposely avoided the ministerial pay debate in Parliament to prevent embarrassing the political elite.

But to think so would be to undermine the basic principle for why Singapore needed the pay review in the first place. The idea of giving high pay to prevent corruption was a Lee Kuan Yew construct that has begun to lose is appeal in recent years. The unhappiness that citizens currently have with an exorbitant pay package has less to do with ministerial corruption, important as that might be, but ministerial incompetence in the past few years.

In that sense, to accuse MHA of playing politics is to short-change ourselves. The ministerial pay review should not be just about corruption, but accountability for the success and failure of each Ministry. If we do not insist on this view, we are merely giving the political elite an excuse the use corruption as the only criteria for evaluating the worthiness of high ministerial pay.

We need to send a clear signal that paying for a clean government is not as effective as harsh penalties for a corrupt government.

And from that perspective, MHA has not failed in its duty. It is clear that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau will not hesitate to take to task even those at the top of the public service, and credit must be given where it is due.

Whether it has deliberately withheld publicity for political convenience can only be anyone's best guess. But MHA does have a right to withhold publicity until investigations are completed. The bigger question is whether, when it so decides to go public, it is done with the best interest of citizens.

MHA's actions are revealing of a public service that is keen to do right by the people, but is so inept at handling public relations, such that the blunt end – completing the investigations – takes precedence over a much-needed sharp end – assuring the public that everything is under control and the rule of law is maintained.

My guess for what led to the current situation? The papers caught whiff of the case in December and was pressing MHA for details, but MHA did not want to compromise the investigation and played poker face. When Lianhe Wanbao finally broke the news, for whatever reasons that it did not do so earlier, MHA basically went public with the current lines, which are also quite likely not very different from the lines that it started off with when the case first came into being.

If you ask me, MHA should really have gone public with those lines in December to let citizens know that something is not right, but things are still under control.

Hence, the lame-duck excuse of MHA going public because Wanbao broke the news the day before, is little more than a glaring omission that MHA has taken the PR battle with the media more seriously than its public service commitment to put the interest of citizens first.

And it is necessary to note that even with a free press, the interest of the media and those of citizens might not necessarily align. A free press might only be interested in sensationalising the issue to boost readership (and I suspect this applied to Wanbao here), and not get to the issues that matter to citizens.

Unlike P N Balji, I would not credit traditional media for breaking the news and forcing MHA to 'come clean'. So far, the news revolving the case has been nothing more than tabloid trash – the female IT executive that was supposed to be involved in the case according to the New Paper is still elusively at large. Indeed, traditional media has thus far failed to get a firm fix on what is really important: Did the public service do right by citizens?

Such a view would only come about when we get to the bottom of the case. But until now, the truth if that MHA has yet to reveal even the basics of the case, such as whether the motive was greed (intended corruption, if you will) or a gross lapse in judgment due to a weak moment of the flesh (accidental corruption, if you will). The official word remains – investigations are ongoing for "serious personal misconduct", and it is inappropriate to comment at this point in time.

So whatever 'investigative journalism' that traditional media has done here is, at time of publishing, little more than a desire to break news, but irrelevant news. MHA has not budged much despite of the media hullabaloo, but is concerned enough about its transparency quotient to issue a series of media releases. None of which took any pains to clarify if public interests have been compromised.

The real drive to make the case meaningful to citizens is evidently not coming from traditional media. For that matter, it might never. But it can come from the innate desire of the public service to do right by the people.

It is clear that MHA still has much to learn about citizen engagement, and since Mas Selamat's escape and recapture, has yet to get its messy act together. The good news, however, is that it is still competent in one of its core functions – due process in an investigation – whether you choose to call it a convenient excuse for a conspiracy, or not.

  • Crows belong to Nea; Mynahs belong to AVA; Cuckoos belong to PAP

    First of all the CPIB should not be under the contro of the PM. It should be independant reporting to the jusiciary panel headed by the Chief Justice.
    Secondly we proudly claim to be Asians but when it comes to accepting the fallacies of your men under your ministry Lanky Teo (like his predecessor Toad WKS) flinch from the responsibility. In Japan or for that matter India it would have cost the job of the Minister.

  • Crows belong to Nea; Mynahs belong to AVA; Cuckoos belong to PAP

    First of all the CPIB should not be under the contro of the PM. It should be independant reporting to the jusiciary panel headed by the Chief Justice.
    Secondly we proudly claim to be Asians but when it comes to accepting the fallacies of your men under your ministry Lanky Teo (like his predecessor Toad WKS) flinch from the responsibility. In Japan or for that matter India it would have cost the job of the Minister.

  • sex¥

    Don't be fooled. We are being distracted by the supposed sex show. There are bigger problems at stake. It could be compromise of security etc. what we are getting is a streaker running through a football pitch of an intense match where fame and glory are at stake.

  • sex¥

    Don't be fooled. We are being distracted by the supposed sex show. There are bigger problems at stake. It could be compromise of security etc. what we are getting is a streaker running through a football pitch of an intense match where fame and glory are at stake.

  • son of s

    The idea of enriching public servants and ministers with King's ransom as salaries is the sillyiest notion I've ever heard. It can only come from a person who directly benefits from the notion itself. Indeed he and his cronies have benefitted over 17 years of million dollar payout and set to continue.All of them have become millionaires. These parliamentarians with such fragile ethical nature have been successfully restrained from committing corruption for 17 years and rewarded so handsomely.

  • son of s

    The idea of enriching public servants and ministers with King's ransom as salaries is the sillyiest notion I've ever heard. It can only come from a person who directly benefits from the notion itself. Indeed he and his cronies have benefitted over 17 years of million dollar payout and set to continue.All of them have become millionaires. These parliamentarians with such fragile ethical nature have been successfully restrained from committing corruption for 17 years and rewarded so handsomely.

  • Rodolfo

    The public service is perceived to be high on IQ and not so high on EQ.

  • Rodolfo

    The public service is perceived to be high on IQ and not so high on EQ.

  • son of s

    @Rodolfo
    High on Money.

  • son of s

    @Rodolfo
    High on Money.

  • Pingback: Competence, messy PR, and a conspiracy theory  |  The Temasek Reveal

  • Pingback: Competence, messy PR, and a conspiracy theory  |  The Temasek Reveal

  • percevale

    @Rodolfo It's my belief that the public service is not high on either. If it were, there would be less "by the book" verbatim responses.
    What the public service has attracted is book smart street dumb individuals prone to shooting themselves in the foot. Left in the private sector with no "connections", they'd be gazelles ripped apart in the wild.

  • percevale

    @Rodolfo It's my belief that the public service is not high on either. If it were, there would be less "by the book" verbatim responses.
    What the public service has attracted is book smart street dumb individuals prone to shooting themselves in the foot. Left in the private sector with no "connections", they'd be gazelles ripped apart in the wild.

  • Hum

    Wow sg so great and bombastic leh.
    With cpib under pm, it would unbiasely also investigate pm if necessary! Wa lan eh! Wa biang eh!

    But who shall give order?

    And then hor, ep would even check his old company where he was much in charge leh!

    60% mom n dad educate well leh!
    Yiba yiba untooneh untooneh!!!

    Yours
    Superstition n perception n trust

  • Hum

    Wow sg so great and bombastic leh.
    With cpib under pm, it would unbiasely also investigate pm if necessary! Wa lan eh! Wa biang eh!

    But who shall give order?

    And then hor, ep would even check his old company where he was much in charge leh!

    60% mom n dad educate well leh!
    Yiba yiba untooneh untooneh!!!

    Yours
    Superstition n perception n trust

  • prudencerequired

    The debate on ministerial salaries coupled with the  debacle of CNB, SCDF and CPIB has cast a terrible gloom over the whole civil service. I appreciate the article by Howard Lee in that he made a special effort to state that the general rank and file of the Civil Service is trying to do right, however the leadership and policy makers have recently been disappointingly dropping the ball. 
    I wonder if it would it be fair for forumers to cast disparaging statements on the whole of the civil service as completely inapt and are all money grubbers? I fear that such statements is not only unfair and also damaging to the morale of civil servants who are sincerely trying to do their jobs.
    Every institution or company would have individuals who do not perform up to expectations. Should we not seek to correct or replace those individuals rather than disparage the whole company? Of course, there are certain institutions/companies whose "rot" might be systemic or run deeper and nothing but an overhual is required. But is our Civil Service really in that terrible a condition? I'm not too sure… (Yes, I have to admit that I'm writing from a slightly biased position, as I'm a Civil Servant-teacher.)
    I look at my fellow colleagues who slave hard to do right by the children under our charge, with parents neglecting them due to work pressures; I look at nurses in government hospitals sufffering abuse from patients and doctors; I look at underpaid and overworked social workers attending to broken families; and I ask, would labelling them all as "not high on either" be really useful in improving the situation? Of course, some of us in the rank and file do not, at times, approve of certain policies and directions of our leaders, just like how I believe those in the private sector would not support all policies set by their bosses. But we are all governed by them. 
    I guess what I'm trying to get at is that we should exercise some prudence when making disparaging comments, in our moment of displeasure, and consider if we might inadvertently hurt those who are trapped in between and trying to do good.

  • prudencerequired

    The debate on ministerial salaries coupled with the  debacle of CNB, SCDF and CPIB has cast a terrible gloom over the whole civil service. I appreciate the article by Howard Lee in that he made a special effort to state that the general rank and file of the Civil Service is trying to do right, however the leadership and policy makers have recently been disappointingly dropping the ball. 
    I wonder if it would it be fair for forumers to cast disparaging statements on the whole of the civil service as completely inapt and are all money grubbers? I fear that such statements is not only unfair and also damaging to the morale of civil servants who are sincerely trying to do their jobs.
    Every institution or company would have individuals who do not perform up to expectations. Should we not seek to correct or replace those individuals rather than disparage the whole company? Of course, there are certain institutions/companies whose "rot" might be systemic or run deeper and nothing but an overhual is required. But is our Civil Service really in that terrible a condition? I'm not too sure… (Yes, I have to admit that I'm writing from a slightly biased position, as I'm a Civil Servant-teacher.)
    I look at my fellow colleagues who slave hard to do right by the children under our charge, with parents neglecting them due to work pressures; I look at nurses in government hospitals sufffering abuse from patients and doctors; I look at underpaid and overworked social workers attending to broken families; and I ask, would labelling them all as "not high on either" be really useful in improving the situation? Of course, some of us in the rank and file do not, at times, approve of certain policies and directions of our leaders, just like how I believe those in the private sector would not support all policies set by their bosses. But we are all governed by them. 
    I guess what I'm trying to get at is that we should exercise some prudence when making disparaging comments, in our moment of displeasure, and consider if we might inadvertently hurt those who are trapped in between and trying to do good.

  • Sleeping time

    TOC, 
    Im sick and tired of reading articles on the CNB/SCDF. basically the writer is rehashing what is already known, but wrapped up what is already known in a beautiful writing style. No value added. 
     
     

  • Sleeping time

    TOC, 
    Im sick and tired of reading articles on the CNB/SCDF. basically the writer is rehashing what is already known, but wrapped up what is already known in a beautiful writing style. No value added. 
     
     

  • Sleeping time

    Just to add on, 
    TOC, you are another TRE.

  • Sleeping time

    Just to add on, 
    TOC, you are another TRE.

  • Road belongs to LTA; Pavement belongs to PWD; Jamban belongs to PAP

    The pampering of the civil service and the extra-ordinary remuneration they receive compared  to the rest of the world has led to complaceny at all levels in the Public Service.

  • Road belongs to LTA; Pavement belongs to PWD; Jamban belongs to PAP

    The pampering of the civil service and the extra-ordinary remuneration they receive compared  to the rest of the world has led to complaceny at all levels in the Public Service.

  • Forbetterjustice

    Of course the majority of the CIvil Servants in the Civil Service are good Servants with the personal motto "Tell me what to do and I will do"! Added, please cut long meetings short and let us go home once your Instruction Manuels are done. No reflections and careful discussions of concerns and intuitive care what can happen right under their noses. Why are online citizens bombing those in volve? Because they do not trust those at the top, who are put there to manipulate the events, the stories, the messages and the people so that they will always have the upper hand. Re-storying is high skill function of the top civil servants and Politicians appoint those who will compromise their integrity and the truth. Don't be surprise with the end results of your so called investigations of corruptions and dirt….PM said he will "ease these people out" Ease?
    Also the Judiciary is known to play up to the PAP and the Public galery too. And these heavily and highly controlled CPIB, CID and IRAS are all not doing straight forward investigations. There is systematic method in exercising power and control…Just note that people who have experienced and seen these acts of devious control, selective biases and none response to investigating or prosecuting those well connected will never believe in the goodness of our government anymore. There is a need to rotate these powers of government and to spring clean the rot that is clearly there to save Singapore!

  • Forbetterjustice

    Of course the majority of the CIvil Servants in the Civil Service are good Servants with the personal motto "Tell me what to do and I will do"! Added, please cut long meetings short and let us go home once your Instruction Manuels are done. No reflections and careful discussions of concerns and intuitive care what can happen right under their noses. Why are online citizens bombing those in volve? Because they do not trust those at the top, who are put there to manipulate the events, the stories, the messages and the people so that they will always have the upper hand. Re-storying is high skill function of the top civil servants and Politicians appoint those who will compromise their integrity and the truth. Don't be surprise with the end results of your so called investigations of corruptions and dirt….PM said he will "ease these people out" Ease?
    Also the Judiciary is known to play up to the PAP and the Public galery too. And these heavily and highly controlled CPIB, CID and IRAS are all not doing straight forward investigations. There is systematic method in exercising power and control…Just note that people who have experienced and seen these acts of devious control, selective biases and none response to investigating or prosecuting those well connected will never believe in the goodness of our government anymore. There is a need to rotate these powers of government and to spring clean the rot that is clearly there to save Singapore!

  • Choong Ho

    I fantasised abt the it exec. She must be dam sexy and seductive that scholarsticular brains suckcum to testicular fortitude.

  • Choong Ho

    I fantasised abt the it exec. She must be dam sexy and seductive that scholarsticular brains suckcum to testicular fortitude.

  • David

    Is Singapore so "big" that the woman at large remained a mystery and un-identifiable?  Is she some bigshot wife that must be protected at all cost? Just like the Venture's wife who slapped air stewardess and get scotsfree for being violent.

    Having said that,  the MHA minister should be responsible and accountable for the lapses in his ministery conduct. I wonder how many  bonuses will he be getting withs such incident. Even if he is not getting it at all, his pay remain the best paid in the world.  How to justify pegging salary with top 500 elites and than screwed up with denting a hair?
     

  • David

    Is Singapore so "big" that the woman at large remained a mystery and un-identifiable?  Is she some bigshot wife that must be protected at all cost? Just like the Venture's wife who slapped air stewardess and get scotsfree for being violent.

    Having said that,  the MHA minister should be responsible and accountable for the lapses in his ministery conduct. I wonder how many  bonuses will he be getting withs such incident. Even if he is not getting it at all, his pay remain the best paid in the world.  How to justify pegging salary with top 500 elites and than screwed up with denting a hair?
     

  • Void Deck belongs to Town Council; Lift Landing belongs to HDB; Tong Sampah belongs to PAP

    @sleeping time
    and you are another papig (pap+pig).

  • Void Deck belongs to Town Council; Lift Landing belongs to HDB; Tong Sampah belongs to PAP

    @sleeping time
    and you are another papig (pap+pig).

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