Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament on Monday that S$4.4m was “committed” for the Singapore Day event in London earlier this year. The event, organised by the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU), took place on 29 March in Victoria Park, London this year.
Singapore Day, a ticketed event, is held annually in various cities with a large concentration of overseas Singaporeans. Past events were held in New York (2007), Melbourne (2008), London (2009), Shanghai (2011), New York (2012), and Sydney in 2013.
The one in London, touted as a “reunion of Singaporeans”, saw a turn-out of some 9,000 Singaporeans (and their friends) for the full day event which started at 7am and ended at 8pm.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was the guest of honour, and he was accompanied by DPM Teo and Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Over the years, we have tried to make this as accessible and relevant to Singaporeans,” Ms Fu was reported to have said.
“We hope that we have brought some of the updates from Singapore and really try to make this as close to your heart as possible. The idea is to get everyone, as many as possible to participate and connect back with Singapore, and hopefully relieve them of some of the homesickness.”
From the accounts of Singaporeans who have attended these events, the consensus seems to be a positive one.
“It was heartening to see the huge turn out on that warm, sunny spring afternoon where, for a moment, it almost feels like it was Singapore instead of London,” said Joy Ho, writing on Monday Flying.
She added, “Singapore Day exemplifies the fact that the Singapore culture extends beyond geographical boundaries and, is in fact, something that Singaporeans carry with them no matter where they went. It is the thing that tells one that he or she is ‘home’.”
According to a press release by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) on 30 March:
“Singapore Day 2014 provided an opportunity for Singaporeans abroad to network and update themselves on Singapore. Participants enjoyed the familiar tastes, sights and sounds of home including authentic hawker food and were updated on developments in Singapore, including the education landscape, the sports scene, infrastructural developments and career opportunities. Participants were entertained by the Dim Sum Dollies, Hossan Leong, The Noose’s Chua En-lai and Michelle Chong, music duo and radio entertainers Jack & Rai, as well as indie rockers, The Great Spy Experiment. Fellow overseas Singaporeans also took to the stage to entertain the crowd.”
That’s all well and good.
However, the revelation by DPM Teo, in response to a question by Nominated Member of Parliament, Faizah Jamal, that S$4.4m was “committed” to the London event threatens to cast a pall over the positive vibe the event has generated among overseas Singaporeans.
DPM Teo said the accounts were still being finalised but he said “the amount spent should be close to the budgeted amount.”
According to a local newspaper report, DPM Teo said “a total of 182 personnel from Singapore, including from the public sector agencies, food crew, concert artistes and production crew, had flown to London for the celebrations.”
This tallies with the number which DPM Teo had mentioned when he spoke to the media on the day of the event itself.
“More than 180 overseas Singaporeans volunteered to help organise and contribute to the event,” DPM Teo was reported to have said. (See here.)
It would seem that the 180 or 182 personnel who had flown to London to – presumably – help organise the event were volunteers.
In the NPTD’s press release, it also said “more than 180 overseas Singaporeans from the UK and even as far as the US contributed as volunteers for the day.” (See here.)
Are these 180 or 182 Singaporeans volunteers or are they paid personnel?
And even if they were, it is still questionable why such an event would cost S$4.4m.
It is also believed that previous events cost between S$2m to S$4m.
Singapore Day is a laudable event and we should indeed support it. After all, it is for our own Singaporeans who, for various reasons, are overseas. Anyone who has been abroad for an extended period would know that there are few things as joyous and comforting as coming into contact with things from home, and that sense of familiarity and support is worth the trouble.
It would be a shame if criticisms of the amount of money spent on the events were to diminish all the effort put in by the volunteers and all who attended the events.
It is thus important for the government – and especially the OSU – to provide clear explanations for the amount of money spent in London.