Friday, 22 September 2023

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More reporting and accounting please

By Bertha Henson

Whenever I read about an agency spending money on itself (oops! I mean, money to serve the public better), my eyebrows automatically furrow. So the Science Centre is spending $29m on a revamp. You know, I think I’ve read something like this in the near past – but I can’t check it against the centre’s website because its coverage of media coverage hasn’t been updated in a year or so.

Never mind that. So what’s the $29m for? It’s for a virtual aquarium, a digital planetarium and a space academy, among other things. What, oh what, are those? Something to do with fish, stars and outer space? And people wonder why there’s less interest in the hard sciences. BECAUSE the people who promote hard sciences cannot speak English.

Never mind that. Where’s the money coming from? I can only presume that it’s from “partners” since the announcement was made at an appreciation dinner… Wow! Is the private sector really going to raise that kind of money? Or has some of been budgeted for by the G?

Is $29m big money, or not very much given what it wants to do? When was the last time the centre had a revamp and what was done then and with what results?

I ask these questions because they should be asked. It isn’t just Brompton bikes being bought that should be queried. Those bikes are far cheaper compared to money expended on mega revamps, makeovers and what have you. Thing is, we read these articles and get the feeling that these projects should be applauded. That we should go wow! Likewise, we should ask questions when the G and its many agencies give out grants, funding and other other sort of help, whether in the interest of research and science or to upgrade something or some people. It’s called accountability.

Some questions for the Science Centre (sorry, you just happened to be in the news)

What does the CEO mean when he says the centre needs to keep up with other attractions? Universal Studios? Or other science-oriented places? The MBS Arts & Science Museum? I mean, if private sector is taking up the “slack”, that’s a good thing no? G can keep some of the money and spend it elsewhere.

This planetorium, aquarium and academy etc – why these subjects? I thought Resorts World Sentosa was doing something big on the fish world already. Space? Just something to capture the minds of young boys? What is being taught? Those ex-NASA scientists – what will they be doing?

And after all that money is spent, what does the centre hope to get out of it? More visitors? What are current numbers anyway? More bright sparks enrolling in hard science courses? A Singaporean astronaut?

I am pretty sure the centre has some of these answers, because it couldn’t have plucked $29m from outer space. Will be good to see some cost-benefit projections and private sector-like KPIs.

I read today’s Today which talked about how the civil servants are getting antsy in light of the procurement lapses. Seems like things are already being tightened up, and the complaint now is that they have to justify everything they buy, including stationary. I know the feeling. When something happens, the animal that is the organisation goes into panic and new rules/systems are put in place. I was aghast when I was once asked in my old company why I gave out stress balls to student-subscribers – we had hundreds. Justification? For fun? Coz they like them? Coz they managed to answer this or that question or took part in some games?

Taken to extremes, I guess things can get ridiculous. So, within, the civil service is tightening up. And without? That’s our job to keep check(as the netizens have shown over the Brompton bikes). It’s called citizenship. As well as the job of the media. It’s called reporting.

This article first appeared on Bertha Henson's blog. Bertha Henson is a former Associate Editor of The Straits Times.

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