Does the objective of Singapore Day justify its costs?

~ By Ghui ~

On Saturday, 14 April 2012 – Singapore Day, New York was greeted with great fanfare. Singaporeans travelled across America to sample much missed delicacies such as Char Kuey Teow and Laksa ('Singapore Day in New York', Channel NewsAsia, 15 Apr).

For the uninitiated, Singapore Day is a cultural-cum-cuisine based event organised by the Prime Minister's Office, Overseas Singaporean Unit. It is aimed at engaging Singaporeans residing overseas. It is held in different cities with a significant community of overseas Singaporeans. Singaporean cuisine is cooked and served by Singaporean hawkers who have flown especially for the event.

Judging from the response, the event was a roaring success but what made it such a hit? In addition, does the enjoyment derived justify the S$4 million price tag?

In the face of the global economic downturn, S$4 million is an exorbitant sum of money to spend. The recent debates on the struggles faced by low income earning Singaporeans only exacerbate that feeling that somehow we are overspending on something which does not warrant that degree of expenditure.

It is of course important to include overseas Singaporeans and make sure that they do not feel too faraway from home but while the gesture is appreciated by many homesick Singaporeans, I have no doubt that the vast majority of them would query the S$4 million spent ('Thanks, but spending $4m for S'pore Day is too much', Straits Times Forum, 14 Apr).

I am not suggesting that we scrap the event but I would definitely recommend that we dramatically drop the amount spent going forward. For Singapore Day New York, a stellar line-up of Singaporean entertainment ranging from Hossan Leong to Barbarella was flown in. While I am sure that these acts were a bonus to the event, were they really vital to its success?

Food is all that matters

Every write-up about the event on the internet has dedicated paragraphs to the mouth-watering delights on offer. Virtually none mentioned the entertainment that was staged. The food was quite literally the star of the show and the pleasure derived from its consumption was what made the event a success.

What this highlights is that no one really paid attention to the entertainment and that this was where money was perhaps needlessly spent. This was the same with Singapore Day 2009 in London which cost a whopping SGD6 million ('TOCI Special Report: Singapore Day 2009 in London', TOC, 26 Apr 2009).

Being one of the grateful attendees, I have to confess that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. As I ate my way into oblivion, I completely ignored the entertainment that was being proffered on stage. I am in no way slating the quality of the entertainment but I was very clear in my objective – I was there for the food.

In our digital age, everything can be viewed online. I definitely did not need to catch up on Singaporean entertainment. What I could not get online was a bite of the delectable delicacies from home and that was what I came for. The entertainment was but background noise. Many bloggers who wrote about the event concentrated on the food. Few could even remember the performance line-up!

Reading the comments of the attendees in New York, I believe that they shared my sentiments ('S’pore Day in New York a hit but will it bring home local talent?', Yahoo News, 16 Apr).

No money for welfare but…

Given the recent focus on the underprivileged in Singapore and certain MPs who have implied that there is no way to fund certain welfare schemes suggested by some opposition MPs, perhaps we can divert some of the resources spent here to other more worthy causes?

Having established that the entertainment that was flown in especially is not really a “deal-breaker” to the enjoyment of the event, perhaps we can significantly reduce the “frills” to such an event in future. No need for entertainment, no need for goody-bags and no need for fancy decorations.

We can even impose a charge of US$12 or GBP10 for the event. Overseas Singaporeans would still flock to the event given that it is still a low price to pay for a buffet of hawker fare. Reducing the spending on “non-essentials” and imposing a low fare for entry would significantly cut spending but ensure that we can still have the event going forward.

The enjoyment of good food is inextricably intertwined with Singaporean culture so as long as good Singaporean food is present, Singapore Day will achieve its objectives without the need for anything further.