(Left to Right) Josephine Teo, Ong Ye Kung, Khaw Boon Wan and Grace Fu.

by Augustine Low

Minister Josephine Teo said yesterday that the inflated circulation data scandal of SPH Media Trust (SMT) would not affect the government’s commitment to fund SMT up to $900 million over five years.

She stressed that circulation numbers were not a key consideration in funding requirements—the focus was on reach and readership.

While the two are not synonymous, they are related – higher circulation implies higher readership. More importantly, when something illegitimate happens, it upsets the apple cart and changes the equation completely.

To give an analogy: assuming that you are the hiring manager for someone later found to have a fake university degree. You conduct a review and recommend to senior management that the status quo remains, that no action be taken because university degree was not a key consideration in the hiring decision—the focus was on work experience.

Not only will you be laughed at, you will get a tongue-lashing for trying to play a silly game and missing the forest for the trees.

Ministers quite often provide explanations or excuses that either blur the lines or add insult to injury.

Disruption of train services? Minister Ong Ye Kung attributed it to an “honest mistake.” When Tamil text in a public notice was wrongly replaced with Hindi text, Minister S Iswaran too called it an “honest mistake.”

Over the years, how many times have an “honest mistake” been bandied about?

Now, if you make a mistake at work and the boss demands an explanation, you would likely be in trouble for saying “honest mistake.”

You could earn a rebuke: Trying to be clever huh? Is there such a thing as a dishonest mistake? You better apologise and hope there are no further repercussions.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a major outbreak at foreign worker dormitories. Minister Lawrence Wong explained why the outbreak was not prevented: “Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of the benefit of hindsight.”

Try giving that excuse when the project you are overseeing takes a bad turn. Your boss will tell you that you are paid to anticipate and solve problems, not lament about the lack of hindsight. If you are lucky, you get away with only a reprimand. But do not expect to be tasked to lead another project for a long, long time.

When a Covid-19 cluster occurred at Changi Airport, Minister Ong Ye Kung—like an action movie director—said that a “very virulent” variant of the virus “broke through” the layers of defence at the aviation hub, despite the best efforts of everyone.

If you are an IT guy and a computer virus wreaks havoc on the office system, you could attempt a similarly colourful excuse about a vicious virus breaking through the barriers and defences put up. Except that your boss could slam you for watching too many Hollywood movies: You think the virus is Rambo or Terminator, is it?

You may recall the uproar over a whopping S$410,00 consultancy fee paid to construct a S$470,000 rubbish bin centre by the National Arts Council. The Auditor General’s Office Report flagged the “exceptionally high” consultancy fee.

Minister Grace Fu defended the costs incurred, claiming it was a “complex project which required significantly more design expertise.”

Let’s say you are managing the facilities for an industrial building and you commit close to half a million dollars for a rubbish bin centre, most of it as consultancy fee. All hell breaks break loose if the top management finds out. You could always give the excuse that it was a complex project—but be prepared to be kicked out of the building for not using your common sense.

So we, the working class, the rank-and-file wage earners, have little to no hope of getting away with excuses that Ministers get away with.

Perhaps none has been as masterful as former Minister Khaw Boon Wan. When a tunnel flooding disrupted a Downtown Line open house, he said: “Sometimes things will happen, but then it happens on when we were having our open house, then that is bad luck.”

Hmm . . . . bad luck! Why didn’t anyone think of that? It can be applied for any situation.

The next time something terrible happens at work, try telling the boss, can’t be helped, bad luck. Wonder what the reaction would be.

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