Monday, July 03, 2006

A brainwashed civil servant

Generally speaking, i have alot of respect for Singapore civil servants. Not so much those in the higher rungs but those who are lower who encounter the public everyday during the course of their work. It is a highly stressful and mostly thankless job. If you care to to take some time to observe patiently, you'll notice what i'm saying. Of course, as in any other organisation, the civil service has its bad eggs.

The reason i bring up civil servants is because of a letter by K Bhavani, Press Secretary to the Minister for Information, Communications and The Arts. The letter published today in TODAY is in response to an article written by one of Singapore's famous blogger, mrbrown and published in TODAY on Jun 30, 2006.

The letter by Ms Bhavani, a civil servant, just gives a bad name to all the other civil servants. Especially the lower rungs who are trying to do their utmost to carry out their duties. Ms Bhavani, i presume, will be sitting in her cosy air-conditioned office avoiding direct face-to-face brickbats from the public!

Before I give you my reasons why the Press Secretary's letter should be discarded as toilet paper, I suggest you first read mrbrown's article and the response by Ms Bhavani. Or you may just want to continue reading as i've posted both of it below as published in TODAY.

S'poreans are fed, up with progress!

Moving ahead is great but it would be even greater to be able to make ends meet

Friday • June 30, 2006

THINGS are certainly looking up for Singapore again. Up, up, and away.

Household incomes are up, I read. Sure, the bottom third of our country is actually seeing their incomes (or as one newspaper called it, "wages") shrink, but the rest of us purportedly are making more money.

Okay, if you say so.

As sure as Superman Returns, our cost of living is also on the up. Except we are not able to leap over high costs in a single bound.

Cost of watching World Cup is up. Price of electricity is up. Comfort's taxi fares are going up. Oh, sorry, it was called "being revised". Even the prata man at my coffeeshop just raised the price of his prata by 10 cents. He was also revising his prata prices.

So Singaporeans need to try to "up" their incomes, I am sure, in the light of our rising costs. Have you upped yours?

We are very thankful for the timing of all this good news, of course. Just after the elections, for instance. By that I mean that getting the important event out of the way means we can now concentrate on trying to pay our bills.

It would have been too taxing on the brain if those price increases were announced during the election period, thereby affecting our ability to choose wisely.

The other reason I am glad with the timing of the cost of living increases and wages going down, is that we can now deploy our Progress Package to pay for some of these bills.

Wait, what? You spent it all on that fancy pair of shoes on the day you saw your money in your account? Too bad for you then.

As I break into my Progress Package reserves to see if it is enough to pay the bills, I feel an overwhelming sense of progress. I feel like I am really staying together with my fellow Singaporeans and moving forward.

There is even talk of future roads like underground expressways being outsourced to private sector companies to build, so that they, in turn, levy a toll on those of us who use these roads.

I understand the cost of building these roads is high, and the Government is relooking the financing of these big road projects.

Silly me, I thought my road tax and COE was enough to pay for public roads.

Maybe we can start financing all kinds of expensive projects this way in future. We could build upgraded lifts for older HDB blocks, and charge tolls on a per use basis.

You walk into your new lift on the first floor, and the scanner reads the contactless cashcard chip embedded in your forehead. This chip would be part of the recently-announced Intelligent Nation 2015 plan, you know, that initiative to make us a smart nation?

So you, the smart contactless-cashcard-chip-enhanced Singaporean would go into your lift, and when you get off at your floor, the lift would deduct the toll from your chip, and you would hear a beep.

The higher you live, the more expensive the lift toll.

Now you know why I started climbing stairs for exercise, as I mentioned in my last column. I plan to prepare for that day when I have to pay to use my lift. God help you if some kid presses all the lift buttons in the lift, as kids are wont to do. You will be beeping all the way to your flat.

The same chip could be used to pay for supermarket items. You just carry your bags of rice and groceries past the cashierless cashier counter, and the total will be deducted from your contactless cashcard automatically.

You will not even know you just got poorer. And if your contactless cashcard runs out of funds (making it a contactless CASHLESS cashcard), you just cannot use paid services.

The door of the lift won't close, the bus won't stop for you, taxis will automatically display "On Call" when their chip scanners detect you're broke.

Sure, paying bills that only seem to go up is painful, but by Jove, we are going to make sure it is at least convenient.

No more opening your wallet and fiddling with dirty notes and coins. Just stand there and hear your income beeped away. No fuss, no muss! I cannot wait to be a Smart e-Singaporean.

I also found out recently that my first-born daughter's special school fees were going up. This is because of this thing called "Means Testing", where they test your means, then if you are not poor enough, you lose some or all of the subsidy you've been getting for your special child's therapy.

I think I am looking at about a $100 increase, which is a more than a 100 per cent increase, but who's counting, right? We can afford it, but we do know many families who cannot, even those that are making more money than we are, on paper.

But don't worry. Most of you don't have this problem. Your normal kids can go to regular school for very low fees, and I am sure they will not introduce means testing for your cases.

We need your gifted and talented kids to help our country do well economically, so that our kids with special needs can get a little more therapy to help them to walk and talk. And hey, maybe if the country does really well, the special-needs kids will get a little more subsidy.

Like I said, progress.

High-definition televisions, a high-speed broadband wireless network, underground expressways, and contactless cashcard system — all our signs of progress.

I am happy for progress, of course but I would be just as happy to make ends meet and to see my autistic first-born grow up able to talk and fend for herself in this society when I am gone.

That is something my wife and I will pay all we can pay to see in our lifetimes.

mr brown is the accidental author of a popular website that has been documenting the dysfunctional side of Singapore life since 1997. He enjoys having yet another cashcard, in addition to his un-contactless one and the ez-link one to add to his wallet.

Distorting the truth, mr brown?

When a columnist becomes a 'partisan player' in politics

Monday • July 3, 2006

Letter from K BHAVANI
Press Secretary to the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts

Your mr brown column, "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" (June 30) poured sarcasm on many issues, including the recent General Household Survey, price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares, our IT plans, the Progress Package and means testing for special school fees.

The results of the General Household Survey were only available after the General Election. But similar data from the Household Expenditure Survey had been published last year before the election.

There was no reason to suppress the information. It confirmed what we had told Singaporeans all along, that globalisation would stretch out incomes.

mr brown must also know that price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares are the inevitable result of higher oil prices.

These were precisely the reasons for the Progress Package — to help lower income Singaporeans cope with higher costs of living.

Our IT plans are critical to Singapore's competitive position and will improve the job chances of individual Singaporeans. It is wrong of mr brown to make light of them.

As for means testing for special school fees, we understand mr brown's disappointment as the father of an autistic child. However, with means testing, we can devote more resources to families who need more help.

mr brown's views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.

mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.

mrbrown's article merely reflected what alot of Singaporeans are feeling and thinking. Ms Bhavani's response seems to be written by a brainwashed civil servant who has sold her soul to the system. The system created by the ruling Peoples' Action Party.

Instead of viewing it as a reflection of what Singaporeans are going through, and acknowledging it, thus going on to do something to remedy the situation, she writes using such words as "distorting the truth", "diatribe", "partisan player in politics", etc etc. It makes me wonder if she herself is a member of the PAP!

By all means do respond to the article but not in such a PAP-brainwashed manner. It would have been okay if she had just stuck to answering about the issues raised in mrbrown's article. Hell we're Singaporeans for god's sakes, why can't we as a people write about such things which affect our daily lives!

This is what happens when one political party has been in power for so long. Arrogance seeps in and infects them. A born-to-rule arrogance which is passed on to those civil servants in the higher rungs!

Related stuff

Here's a thread from the local online forum - Lee Hsien Loong Rebuts K Bhavani

Govt gets touchy from

Government criticised for condemning "unconstructive" article - Reporters Without Borders

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a neutral party in the debate of this topic of 'Pay rise for civil servant' and would like to share some of my thoughts. Firstly, I must clarify that I am not making an argument on right or wrong rather I am looking for interested parties to constructively discuss about this hot topic.

I personally too agree that there should be someway to demarcate a reasonable pay packet for civil servant but how should we define a 'Reasonable' pay and who should have a say to it. Is it the President, Prime minister, the government body itself or the members of public?

Should the pay packet be based on qualification, experience, risk involved, courage or the willingess to take on jobs that others would not want?

If we leave the decision to the government, the members of public might be unhappy as it would be deem to be unfair. If we leave it to the members of public to decide then most of them might probably suggest to bring down the civil servant's pay to the minimum possible. Thereafter they would be able to pay less for taxes or the difference in savings can then be channeled to other areas e.g helping the lower income earners, which is one of government’s intended move.

Now let’s make a comparison on the private sectors. If we were to allow consumers to decide on the pay packet for the private sectors, which do not affect themselves then I believe most of them would also want the pay of the private sectors to be brought down to the minimum possible. This will definitely lower the cost for the manufacturing of products and the cost of service, which will in turn lower the cost price of products and services . Needless to say, the consumers will benefit from it.

My view is that there is no right or wrong to both thinking. Its only how one looks at a similar problem. In fact, everybody would most probably put themselves as a top priority over others. This is inevitable as this is human nature.

There is no one thing in this earth that can make every individual happy. Nothing is perfect. Maybe you would say that pay rise to everybody will do it but have you given it a deeper thought? Pay rise will only positively affect the employees but not the employer, who will have to give away more, meaning employers will earn less.

I think this is the current trend or behaviour in society. You are expected to do more than what you are being paid. Does it ring a bell to you? Workload increases unknowingly and within seconds but when comes to pay rise, bosses will consider a hundred times (Maybe takes months or years).

I often hear people saying that which line is better…… maybe easy life or earning easy money … so on and so forth. But have you tried it? It always looks brighter on the other side of the river until you step foot on it. Do you know how much the workers are putting in and their sacrifices, be it in the private or government sector.

Lets highlight one example. If we were to set a pay of $3000/mth for a refuse collector or an undertaker, would most of us make a fuss over it? Would we say that they are over paid in view of their education and job scope? What if you are paid the same to do their job? Are to going to undertake the job? Frankly speaking, I will not even if I am paid much more than that.

So is it high time, we look outside the box and at the bigger picture as to what could happen or what would have been the difference if we change the present. Would it be better or worse?

Maybe somebody can shed some light on this matter.