Interest in blogger Roy Ngerng’s case has now gone into fever pitch with new developments mounting by the day. Hot on the heels after news that he has lost his job at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) broke, it appears that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has issued a statement to back up TTSH’s decision to terminate Ngerng’s employment.
All this might seem perfectly normal given the public interest in the case, but a closer inspection of the statements from TTSH and MOH will reveal that everything is far from normal. Has TTSH’s statement been fair to Ngerng? And why was there a need for MOH to also issue a statement on top of TTSH’s statement? While Ngerng was an employee of TTSH, he was not an employee of MOH.
PM Lee has sued Ngerng for defamation on the basis that Ngerng has made unsubstantiated allegations against him. TTSH has made the decision to terminate Ngerng’s employment on the basis that he has “misused company time and resources to access non-job related social media sites to pursue his personal interests.”
TTSH also noted that his alleged defamation of the Prime Minister reflected conduct that was incompatible with company values and standards. “While our staff are free to pursue their personal interests outside work, they must conduct themselves properly, honourably and with integrity. In particular, they cannot defame someone else without basis, which essentially means knowingly stating a falsehood to the public,” the hospital said. “(Ngerng’s) continued disregard of the Hospital’s warnings and advice has rendered his employment with TTSH untenable.”
While TTSH’s sacking of Ngerng is not the subject of my article, I would like to point out something very telling in the TTSH’s choice of words. It has used the word “falsehoods”. While Ngerng’s statements might have been unsubstantiated, this does not necessarily mean that they are false. Unsubstantiated simply means unproven. It does not equate to it being a lie. The usage of this word certainly gives me the impression that the TTSH has already arrived at a verdict and has made that verdict public before the case has even commenced in court.
While this insinuation may have been unintended, it does blur the lies between what constitutes the public sector and what makes up the PAP.
Someone can work for the public sector but have views against the current government. There is a distinction between the current ruling party and the government. There will always be a government in Singapore. Whether the PAP will continue to form the government is anybody’s guess. Why then is the TTSH seemingly backing a certain version of events, which seems aligned with the PAP’s?
Its statement – by no means a common practice for every employee it terminates – should have stopped at where it found grounds to terminate Ngerng, and not ventured into the debatable elaboration of falsehoods.
Pre-judging “suitable employees”?
Leaving whether or not the TTSH’s view is justified aside, at least the TTSH still has some nexus for comment. They were after all Ngerng’s employers and entitled to explain their version of affairs to the public given the high profile nature of this case. But why does MOH also feel the need to weigh in and back the TTSH up?
Ngerng’s employer was TTSH, and TTSH has already made and explained its decision. This was a decision that was accepted by Ngerng. That should have been the end of the matter. The statement issued by MOH was therefore not just unnecessary but confusing for the public as well.
Furthermore, MOH’s statement was unnecessarily damning in its proclamation that Ngerng’s “actions show a lack of integrity and are incompatible with the values and standards of behaviour expected of hospital employees”. Why is MOH making such broad, sweeping statements about how hospital employees should behave? Does being the ministry in charge of healthcare give MOH the right the determine how hospital employees, be they in the private or public sector, should behave? Should this not be something that is agreed between employer and employee?
In issuing this statement, has MOH imposed an unnecessary employment burden on Ngerng, who might now be judged by other hospitals as being “incompatible with their values and standards”? What impact might this have on Ngerng’s future employability in the healthcare sector?
MOH really has no reason to get involved or to issue a statement, much less pass judgement, knowingly or otherwise, on how suitable Ngerng is to work in hospitals. This does unwittingly give the impression that all the powers that be are ganging up on a single citizen and muddies the waters between the PAP and government bodies that should exist independently of the PAP.
MOH as a public body should take great care not to perpetuate the wrongful belief that the PAP and the government are the same thing. Its duties to serve the public remain no matter who forms the government. It should therefore take an impartial stand on this and not contribute to the blurring of lines between what is public and what is the PAP.
As it is, Ngerng’s lawyer M Ravi has already taken issue with TTSH’s and MOH’s statements as they have implications on the legal dispute between Ngerng and PM Lee, and it remains to be seen if this matter will be taken further.