by Law Kim Hwee
New Zealanders have J Ardern, the Queen of political Syn- (prefix: acting or considered together; united) while Singaporeans are blessed with Josephine Teo, our Queen of political spin.
With Ardern, her leadership (@ USD$326,000/yr) gave her citizens an early, decisive hard lockdown but rewarded them with the earliest return to normality amidst this COVID-19 pandemic and accolades aplenty worldwide.
While with Teo (@ USD$1,000,000/yr salary, it was work-in-regress followed by work-in-progress costing taxpayers not-to-be-disclosed millions if not billions of dollars… and counting.
Before we discuss her majesty’s spin, let’s first remind ourselves of her foot-in-mouth utterances
Back in 2014, Teo said, “That’s why our ability to respond when things don’t go as well as we would like them to, has been affected. Sometimes we also scratch our heads and say: ‘Why are people so angry?’” [Straits Times, 11 Jan 2014]… as if our justified anger would hinder this government’s delicate ability to respond to issues.
Then she uttered the infamous, “You need a very small space to have sex” in an interview with Straits Times. Three years later, she shared that she should not have said that as it was meant as a private joke.
In her BBC appearance, Teo asserted, “There are in Southeast Asia alone about 10 million migrant workers. A fraction of them in Singapore. We’re not perfect but we do what we can,” she said. Sounds very reasonable.
But last I checked, there are 622 million people in ASEAN. Singapore has 5.8 million residents.
Teo asserted Singapore has only a fraction of the 10 million migrant workers, or 400k. Or 1/25, oh yea, only a fraction. But on a per 1000 basis, we have about 68.7 Foreign Workers per 1000 residents. Compared to less than 15.6 for the rest of ASEAN residents.
In other works, Teo could have also said that her government is intoxicated with exploiting cheap foreign labourers to the tune of 4.4 times our neighbours.
Her majesty spins a fine yarn of math and statistics.
Yet on Monday (4 May) in parliament, she now claims, “Throughout this period, migrant workers were also on our radar,”.
Her subtext is, she has foresight and effort to show for. Don’t we all appreciate her hardwork. But, wait a second, didn’t Lawrence Wong pleaded on 9 April, “Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of the benefit of hindsight,”?
So, who are we to believe? The Spin Queen?
Last I checked, in the private sector, key managers are paid for results, neither for their plans nor their efforts. If she dares to take home her private-sector million-dollar salary, it’s only right to hold her performance by her results or lack thereof.
I save the best for last.
On 21 April, Teo said at a press conference, “And it is important for us to recognise this (question of FWs’ livelihood and what is necessary to break the transmission) and not frame this really from a cost viewpoint and as a result conclude that we didn’t undertake these measures earlier only because of cost.”
Her subtext is, she’s a deep thinker, circumspect and thorough and humane.
In any business scenario planning – and in matters of national gravity, it should be no less if not more important – a manager has to come forward with the total projected cost of taking preemptive action versus costs needed to deal with the consequences of inaction or ineffective action.
In the case of the COVID-19 situation in migrant workers’ dormitories, that would be the taxpayers money spent to take preemptive action to pay their salaries, waive their levies and be able to re-house and feed them at the same venues and facilities that would have to be used if and when the infection spread, as is now the case. But the setting up of those venues and facilities would have been done at a measured pace – without the urgency for which contractors would demand and extract a price premium – at taxpayers’ expense.
And apart from the quantifiable monetary costs, imagine the immeasurable value of what the free, glowing international publicity the People’s Action Party (PAP) so craved for will be now. Instead, Singapore is being reported as shamefully exploitative of poor Third World labourers, dropping the ball and bluntly – and rightly – told to “cut back on the back-patting”.
Teo can spin however hard and fast she wants but a closer examination of the details shows up her yarn of hollow, self-serving, Party-serving sound bites that come back to bite her, her PAP and, sadly, Singaporean taxpayers pockets.
Regrettably, unless Singapore voters vote in more non-PAP MPs into parliament, Teo will simply brush aside ALL calls by Opposition MPs for the comparative full cost details between what is now done to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and acting preemptively to minimise infection amongst the migrant worker community.