National Heart Centre’s action in Rachelle Ann Beguia’s case is flawed

by: Ghui/

The issue of “foreign talents” has been hogging the news of late for all the wrong reasons. Tensions have run so high that every negative aspect of Singaporean life is invariably linked to the“scourge of the foreign talents”.

The lid suppressing the frustrations of Singaporeans seems to have burst open, releasing a floodgate of anger that appears insatiable. When one issue involving foreigners recedes, another one quickly arises to take its place to give Singaporeans a further outlet to vent their resentment.

As the furore over Wang Peng Fei’s Youtube video dies down, a certain Ms Rachelle Ann Beguia, a clerk at the National Heart Centre (NHC) has arisen to take his place as “offending foreigner of the month”.

Her comments were indeed thoughtless, careless and insensitive. However, instead of defensively interpreting her silly remarks as insulting and ungrateful, we could also view them in another light. While her remarks were seemingly made against Singaporeans, let us not forget that they were also made in support of a fellow Singaporean, Ms Penny Low.

Rightly or wrongly, perhaps Ms Beguia’s statements were merely a misguided means of showing her support for Ms Low? How many of us have uttered disparaging remarks about a friend’s boss, boyfriend or colleague in the name of defending a friend?

I am not defending Ms Beguia. Her statements were indeed, on the face of it, rude and callous but since she apologised almost immediately, maybe we should consider giving her the benefit of doubt. It is entirely possible that in her overzealousness to defend an MP she supported, she went overboard in her comments.

Let’s not forget that her husband has also come out to say that the comments were made by him and not her (see HERE).

While the frustration felt by many Singaporeans against the influx of foreigners is understandable, the issue that must be addressed is the policy on immigration. In dealing with valid anger, we must channel our resentment in the correct direction. This is a problem that the government must deal with and we must avoid directing our anger at specific individuals, however silly they may be.

While Ms Beguia has offended our pride and ridden rough shod over the sacrifices made by our national servicemen, is her offence so grave as to merit such a witch hunt?

Perhaps aware of the intense scrutiny this issue is under, and mindful of the frenzy caused by Wang Peng Fei,the National Heart Centre (NHC) was quick to distance itself from Ms Beguia by stating that Ms Beguia posted these comments in her personal capacity.

While I applaud the NHC’s prompt response at reputational damage control (especially when compared with certain government agencies and government linked companies), I cannot help but question the suitability of certain portions of the statement.

The NHC stated that it has always advocated to its staff that they should be respectful at all times, courteous and constructive when engaging media platforms. While I have no doubt that it provides media training and guidelines to its more senior staff, I question if they have provided the same training support to a clerk?

If it had not provided adequate training to its entire staff on what constitutes media platforms; and what courteous and constructive engagement on such media platforms entail, it is certainly a little rich to issue such a statement.

I do not think that Ms Beguia thought herself as engaging a media platform when she was posting comments in her private capacity. She did not purport to post these comments on behalf of NHC nor did she mention who she worked for in her posts.

As such, it is perhaps ill fitting for the NHC to declare that it was conducting an official enquiry and that appropriate actions would be taken accordingly.

This is a personal issue and by publicly declaring that it was investigating the issue, NHC is making it into an NHC issue, which it isn’t.

However ill advised and foolish Ms Beguia’s comments were, she made them in her private capacity and it is not for her employers to take her to task. She has not bad mouthed her employers in any way and so it would be sufficient for the NHC to simply disassociate itself from her statements by stating that they were made in her private capacity and that NHC did not agree with her comments.

Besides, there is no evidence to suggest that Ms Beguia posted these comments during working hours. Should an employer have the right to dictate what an employee can or cannot do outside office hours?

If Ms Beguia has broken any laws, it is for the authorities to investigate and unless and until the authorities have made such a determination, it is perhaps a tad trigger happy for the NHC to imply punishment and dish out moralistic advice. The NHC’s statement should simply have read: “Ms Beguia’s comments were posted in her private capacity. NHC does not condone nor agree with her comments.”

Besides the glaring problem of the government’s policy on immigration, this debacle highlights a further issue – that of our relationship with the internet. Ms Beguia is not the first person to run afoul the pitfalls of over sharing on the internet. Nor will she be the last.

Social media websites such as Facebook give users the illusion of privacy. While you are conversing with “friends”, you may be lulled into the false sense of security that you are only conversing with the people who are responding to you while forgetting that the contents of such discussions can be viewed by all and sundry.

The effects of damaging statements once uttered in a public forum cannot be erased even if the message is physically deleted. Remarks made by Tin Pei Ling about Nicole Seah on “cooling off day” led to an investigation carried out on her despite her deleting the message within 20 minutes. Tin Pei Ling’s error in judgment was reprehensible because she ought to have known better. At that point, she had already been roundly criticised for a variety of things. She was running in an election and was aware that press attention was focused on her. She was regarded as a public figure in Singapore.

So, if Tin Pei Ling could make the mistake of uttering imprudent statements online, what of Ms Beguia, a private citizen?

Ms Beguia was indeed indiscreet and foolish but in our assessment of her, one must not forget that it is easy to make her mistake. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, comments and thoughts are rapidly shared. While the internet has revolutionalised how we communicate, it has also removed the luxury of reflection. We post our comments before we even have time to digest them. It is an easy error to make with an unforgiving outcome.

The internet is a fairly new addition to our lives. Perhaps its banes have not yet been brought to the forefront of our consciousness. In time, it would be and perhaps then, we would be more circumspect in our usage of the internet as a platform for our views.

The two issues highlighted by the MsBeguia incident – immigration and our dealings with the internet are both real problems. However, let’s not allow emotional outbursts to detract from the real issues and their solutions. Hot blooded reactions and the NHC’s trigger happy statement only serve to muddy the waters. These problems can be solved.

So let’s isolate the genuine concerns and apply the correct cures.