by Kok Ming Cheang
The Straits Times article, “Singapore’s Government has not gone slack” by Finance Minister and PM-designate, Heng Swee Keat is a standard rebuttal to any criticisms leveled at the PAP government, this time came from the Zaobao Editorial of 1 Feb.
In the corporate sector, management gurus do not regard such person highly as he is seen as defensive and blind to his own weaknesses.
By reading the ST article closely, one will note that he seems to point at all the things that are grossly wrong with the PAP governance of our island nation but denied them flatly. If this is his mindset, how can he, even, if he were elevated to PM after the coming GE 2019, be expected to take any corrective actions to improve Singapore’s governance?
He said: “We will not flinch from taking a hard look at ourselves each time there is a failure, and doing whatever is necessary to put things right.” If his statement has anything to stand by, then surely we should not be experiencing so many cases and incidents of management and operational lapses and failures?
He even came out strongly to show his seriousness: “I reject strongly the suggestion that the political leadership has allowed the whole system to go slack.”
Aren’t these the main complaints and grouses of the citizenry over the last 5 to 10 years? Mr Heng is obviously trying to overlook the massive failures in the Healthcare sector with the loss of 1.5 million patients’ medical data in SingHealth hospitals and the recent disclosure of data-leak of sensitive data of 14,200 HIV patients (which was kept under wrap by MOH since 2016).
Both the chairman of SingHealth Mr Peter Seah and the CEO, Prof Ivy Ng are still safe in their high positions and the only penalty on them was a voluntary acceptance of a financial penalty, how much, only God knows. The Health Minister, Mr Gan Kim Yong has let the citizens down on so many instances and yet, he had not even openly apologised, let alone asking him to step down and quit politics.”
He continued, “We will not flinch from taking a hard look at ourselves each time there is a failure, and doing whatever is necessary to put things right.” If the PAP leadership has even taken a serious look at how the various Ministers and MPs had performed in their official duties, I believe several of them would have been axed a long time ago. It’s because no PAP ministers and their appointed elites have been singled out to take responsibility for management and operational failures and lapses, the citizens are now faced with a CRISIS OF GOVERNANCE not only in the Healthcare sector and Defence but across many government organizations and agencies.
Can Mr Heng Swee Keat come forward as PM-designate and admit that the PAP government has indeed gone slack over the last 50 years and show us his courage to hold Ministers, Generals and CEOs in government agencies and GLCs for their failures to perform up to public expectations and commensurate with their million dollars salaries? Now as Finance Minister, can he be bold enough to compel Temasek Holdings to open its books to show the money its has made or lost as a sovereign fund like other Nordic countries?
I worked in the public sector long before Mr Heng started his civil service career. The long list of management and operational failures and lapses (with many cases flagged by the Auditor-General), is mind-boggling, totally unprofessional and almost unbelievable for a Singapore that pride herself as a highly efficient , well-managed and corruption-free country.
Let me provide some examples to jolt Mr Heng’s memory of how poor is the PAP governance in Singapore:
- ST 20/12/17 – A syndicate scammed the SkillsFuture Singapore government agency out of some $40 million in fake claims (A sign of poor systems, poor management and lack of supervision).
- ST 25/2/17- $2.2 million had been paid out for some 4400 false claims for one particular training course (Can we trust the numbers of people being trained under the SkillsFuture Fund?).
- 13/9/18 – More than 800 patients of GP clinics received wrongly labelled medicine due to a fault of a computer system run by Integrated Health Information System (IHiS), the government IT organization that caters to medical practice (Poor management of IT system by MOH).
- ST 25/7/18 – Auditor-General flagged many lapses and weaknesses in government departments and agencies including People’s Association which were not fully rectified and even repeated (Poor management and supervision by civil servants and their permanent secretaries).
- ST 6/5/17- The Competition Commission of Singapore, a statutory board under MTI only started to look into the rising cost of infant milk powder after a ST article reported that the cost of a 900gram tin of formula milk powder increased 120% over the last decade to $56.06 a tin. Immediately, PAP MPs jumped into action by raising parliamentary questions and Josephine Teo’s famous quote, “Milk is milk” (PAP MPs were complacent and ignored the plight of young mothers who struggled with the high cost of infant milk powder for at least 10 years).
- ST 10/1/18 – The Petrobras bribery scandal involving Keppel (Keppel O&M) surfaced. A crackdown on money laundering in Brazil since 2014 uncovered massive corruption involving many companies doing business with Petrobras and involving Singapore government-linked Keppel (Poor corporate governance in GLCs).
- ST 30/11/18 – The government’s decision to levy parking fees on school teachers in school premises, led to the discovery of all elected MPs being granted an annual parking permit costing only $365/- or $1.00 a day for parking in any public carparks and in Parliament House. From Jan 2019, they are required to pay $250/- a year for parking in Parliament and parking fees in HDB carparks. For how long had elected MPs been enjoying this unfair special privilege? (The PAP political elites, as they form the majority in Parliament, lack a sense of fair-play as citizens’ representatives. They should have spoken up long before it was discovered).
- ST 30/9/18 – Out of the blue, MOH puts a stop to foreign patients referral contracts which prohibit public hospitals from engaging foreign agents to recommend business with payment of commissions. MOH declared that it was not aware of such practice. I knew of this practice more than 15 years’ ago (Wrong policy at the expense of local patients and poor public administration).
- ST 16/7/17 – PIE worksite collapse at Upper Changi Road East killed one worker and injured 10 others. Or Kim Peow (OKP) was the awarded contractor. Why was OKP which was given 25 demerits points by MOM and black-listed for 3 months earlier in the year, be allowed to work on a government project? In Sep 2015, OKP was involved in another worksite accident in which one worker was killed and four others injured (Poor governance in MOM and LTA).
- ST 7/4/16 – The government’s Productivity and Innovation Scheme under MTI will expire after YA2018. It has cost taxpayers $billions to fund SMEs’ productivity improvement programmes but Singapore has not succeeded in productivity improvement over more than a decade. At the end of 2015, there were 488 alleged fraudulent claims and Indranee Rajah was happy to announce that the tax authorities were able to claw back some $11 million. No one knew how much money was lost in the PIC scheme (Poor system control and poor governance).
The above list is not exhaustive but I believe sufficient to tell Mr Heng that the PAP government is indeed slack and incompetent. He should spend more time improving the state of governance instead of giving lengthy defence for the Establishment and his political colleagues.