You have to hand it to my former boss, Mr PN Balji for being able to stir up a few emotions and you have to hand it to the Young Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC who cheered the Israeli Bombardment of the Gaza Strip aka Thambi Pundek to rise to the bait.
Mr Balji wrote a commentary, which was posted on Yahoo (http://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/missing-piece-smart-government-024702253.html) which said in not so many words that the government’s handling of the communications over the sacking of two senior civil servants was badly done. This obvious point has caused something of a commotion. Singapore’s Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) has circulated the piece to all the ministries and anything that the top can do; the bottom proved that it can do slower.
Within a few days of this piece of news going out, the Young Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC who cheered the Israeli Bombardment of the Gaza strip aka Thambi Pundek started singing the praises of Mr Balji’s article and decided that he needed to meet the man rather urgently. As he said, “The article was well written but no matter which way you look at it, it was an insult to the establishment.” He went onto elaborate, “It has caused a lot of anger amongst the establishment and I need to get to the bottom of his motives.”
What’s interesting about this exchange is the fact that it is a sad reflection about the type of people who are being recruited by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Simply put, the Young Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC who cheered the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip aka Thambi Pundek, couldn’t be bothered to read and analyse (apparently analysis is unpatriotic) what had been written.
Let’s start with his key concern – namely why Mr Balji had described the handling as “Bad PR.” He kept mentioning, “But the Minister has given a response – how can he say it’s bad PR?”
One merely needs to observe the way the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) have been trying to define the word “arrest,” it’s obvious why the delayed release of information about the two men can only be construed as bad PR management.
While the current Home Affairs Minister, Teo Chee Hean (apparently the patron of the Young Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC who cheered the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip aka Thambi Pundek) has acted more quickly than his predecessor (Wong Kan Seng), would have, each ministerial statement appears to be a reaction to something else.
Simply put, the MHA has fluffed its communications efforts by releasing information a month after the fact. The Corporate Communications Department at MHA forgot one of the most basic rules of PR – tell your story before someone else does it for you.
Let’s start with the obvious. Two of the most senior civil servants were “arrested” at the beginning of the year (one at the end of December 2011 and another at the start of January 2012). The story was first published by the Chinese daily; Lianhe Wanbao (usually considered the trashy Chinese paper) and then the government issued its statement.
It doesn’t take an idiot to see that Wanbao did what every responsible newspaper should do and it doesn’t take an idiot to see that from that moment, MHA was not in control of the story.
Whatever it said seemed like a cover up for something. The Ministry claimed that it didn’t release information earlier because “investigations were underway.” It claimed that it needed to be “fair” and to allow “due process” to go through.
However, the question remains, “Why didn’t the Ministry release information when the two men were arrested?” The argument seems to be that they were “arrested” under the “prevention of corrupt practices act” but investigations were underway.
While the Ministry might be technically right, the perception that it is creating is that it has something to hide and it is acting to protect two senior civil servants (one only ran civil defense, which is responsible for things when a crisis takes place, the other only ran the body responsible for narcotics related crime.)
As far as the public are concerned, arrested means that you have a water tight case and you are ready to prosecute. Furthermore, it’s understood by the public that nobody moves against officials of that level unless they are pretty darn sure that there’s a water tight case against them.
So, why the hell did it take such a long time to release information? People can accept that it might not be appropriate to release information during an investigation. However, most logical people cannot accept the fact that an arrest, particularly of two very senior officials would be kept from the public for over a month.
So, one has to ask why the “establishment” would be upset with Mr Balji for pointing out he obvious? Surely, most right thinking people would be upset with him if he had not pointed out the obvious.