Firing Edz Ello now the way to go for TTSH?

ttshBy Howard Lee

So Tan Tock Seng Hospital has fired staffer Ello Ed Mundsel Bello, better known as the Edz Ello who made disparaging remarks online against Singaporeans by calling us losers and laying sweeping claims to our jobs and women.

Posting on its Facebook page, TTSH gave the key reason for why Mr Bello, who worked as a nurse, was dismissed: Because he made other similar disparaging remarks, which were highlighted by eagle-eyed Internet users.

“In the course of our investigations, we were alerted to and reviewed three earlier online posts made by Mr Bello in 2014 that touched on race and religion:

i) An offensive Facebook comment on Singapore;

ii) Two offensive comments on religion on his Google Plus page

Mr Bello has confirmed that he had made these three posts.

These comments were highly irresponsible and offensive to Singapore and religion. They have distressed members of the public and our hospital staff. His conduct goes against our staff values of respect, professionalism and social responsibility. As a public healthcare institution, we take a very serious view and have zero tolerance on conduct that is offensive and detrimental to multi-cultural harmony in Singapore.”

Some might be pleased that social justice has finally been served, and to be honest, Mr Bello elicited nothing that he did not deserve. To mock your host country and one of its religions is just… not polite. If you insult your host, expect to get thrown out of the house.

Yet, no matter how much we dislike Mr Bello for his anti-Singapore comments, there is something about what TTSH has just done that can hardly be justified.

Let’s start with the obvious. The comparison of Mr Bello’s sacking with that of blogger Roy Ngerng, who was also employed by TTSH, cannot be understated. Some would say that TTSH has grown a spine and is actually applying standards equally.

past commentsBut what standards? That it is intolerant of staff who write the wrong things online? Granted, there is a marked difference between the reasons for Mr Ngerng’s and Mr Bello’s dismissal. The former was fired for allegedly making defamatory remarks against the Prime Minister, while the latter was fired for allegedly making insulting comments against Singapore.

Nevertheless, both were exercising their right to speak up for what they believe in. Should TTSH be policing what its employees do online? Perhaps that is an ethical question that has no answer, besides how TTSH wants to project itself to current and future employees.

On the other hand, we should seriously ask if TTSH is taking this step only because it is caving in to public pressure, or in the case of Mr Ngerng, political pressure. This does not bode well for society and the workplace at large, if we allow TTSH to be any kind of indicator of when, how and why employees should be dismissed. The employer pays for work to be done, and as long as it gets done by all legal means, why should any employee be dismissed?

That actually brings us to the next and decidedly more important question: Why did TTSH take the pre-emptive step to dismiss Mr Ngerng/Mr Bello when the court case/police investigation has yet to be concluded? TTSH said as much for Mr Bello’s case:

“Our decision for dismissal is independent of the ongoing police investigation of the more recent alleged posts made in January 2015. We are still in full cooperation with the police on the alleged comments.”

Mr Bello has supposedly filed a police report claiming that his Facebook account has been hacked, which was supposedly the cause of the disparaging remark that earned him vigilante justice from social media. If he were to have made the other remarks as TTSH has claimed, it might prove his claim of a hacked account to be false. Shouldn’t TTSH have waited for the police investigation to have concluded before taking action?

In fact, the controversy that surrounded the latest remarks on Mr Bello’s Facebook page have greater implications, even legal ones. If he has indeed made them himself, he would have essentially filed a false police report, which is an offence punishable by law.

And if he did make a false police report, he would have been lying to both the police and TTSH. Would that not have been a firmer ground to call for his dismissal?

If anything, by dismissing him now, TTSH might have unwittingly let him off the hook lightly. Without an employer and the related employment pass, Mr Bello would have no choice but to return to his home country. Would he return to face the law should investigations reveal that he has indeed made a false police report?

While some of us might revel in this latest decision by TTSH, we should also not lose sight of the broader implications. Letting Mr Bello go does not really solve anything apart from appease public unhappiness. Real change comes when we are able to widely accept that employers allow employees their freedom of expression, and only take action when they fail in their jobs or in fulfilling their employment contracts.