At the feet of gods

Two recent news stories were left dangling by our traditional media. One was about the extraordinarily high initial valuation put on a donation to the Peranakan Museum, and the other was about the Education Ministry disinviting a distinguished American educator to a conference here.

Both were more than mere gaffes, though not quite putrid enough to be called scandals. Both were reported by our press. Up to a point.

Yet, I could smell a back story in each case, and I’m sure any half-respectable journalist would too. But so far I don’t see anyone whose paid job it is to ferret out the news doing so, even though both cases would meet the public interest test.

Now why is there no ferreting? And what might the back stories tell?

All I have are suspicions. These suspicions however hint at an ugly side of the “Singapore establishment” and bureaucracy. They contest the oft-bandied claim that here we have a competent, nay, meticulous meritocracy, and that integrity is in the DNA of public officers.

I am certain many others share the same thoughts. Actually, the fact that paid reporters are not digging into these two stories leads me to believe that they too share my suspicions. The fear of unearthing truths unflattering to the government is the most likely reason why further questions are not asked.

* * * * *

Let’s start with the Peranakan Museum fiasco. The outline of the story is this: In 2008, a Mr and Mrs Tan Eng Sian offered to donate 300 pieces of Peranakan items to the newly set up Peranakan Museum. These were valued at S$15 million and the donation accepted. The Tans were not paid for the items but they received a tax deduction equivalent to twice the value, i.e. S$30 million. Additionally, they were honoured with the Distinguished Patron of Heritage Award last year.

Apparently, some members of the Board of Directors of the Asian Civilisations Museum, which oversees the Peranakan Museum, had doubts about the valuation. Exactly when they first raised their doubts does not seem to be clear, but seven of the nine members of the Board including chairperson Priscylla Shaw resigned in December 2009.

At some point, two additional valuation exercises were conducted. Both came up with valuations far below S$15 million; the lower of the two said the collection was worth less than S$2 million.

The Tans asked for a return of the collection; the museum agreed. The couple also returned the Distinguished Patron of Heritage Award.

On 19 April 2010, it was reported (Sunday Times, 18 April 2010, Peranakan dealer stands by valuation) that Lui Tuck Yew, the Acting Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, had apologised to the Tans, I would imagine for any distress and embarrassment his ministry might have caused. Lui also acknowledged the important role played by the museum Board in alerting the National Heritage Board that the donation could have been overpriced.

The Sunday Times tracked down the person who provided the initial valuation. He turned out to be Peter Wee, a dealer in Peranakan antiques with a shop in Katong (Straits Times, 19 April 2010, Ex-ACM board raised alert on donation’s value). He told the newspaper that he continued to “definitely” stand by the value he had put to the collection. “I do not look at value merely in terms of dollars and cents,” he said. “I look at it in terms of the history, heritage, culture and the rich individual stories behind each work.

“How I value my history and heritage will be different from the way you value it” – which struck me as a rather odd statement. When commissioned to put a market value on something, surely one should try to be as objective as possible.

However, putting the focus on Wee, as the Sunday Times did, would be to chase a runaway hen when there’s a fox in the chicken coop.

The fox is this question: Why did it take a mass resignation of Board members to get the minister’s attention and compel museum executives to get a second opinion? Resigning would not have been the first step taken. That it had to be resorted to suggests that initial queries were either not taken seriously or stonewalled.

It looks awfully as if the museum officers involved were not only very invested in their decision to appoint Peter Wee as the valuer and accept his valuation of S$15 million, they also resisted oversight by their very own Board. Even the reasonable idea of getting a second opinion — which surely must be considered good practice in any museum — appeared to have made no headway.

How do public servants get to this point where they feel they can act with impunity? I found it disturbing that the story begged this question.

I posed it to a friend at dinner one evening. Yes, he said, he too thought there was more to the story than the newspapers told. More interestingly, he offered his speculation — and I must stress, it’s speculation — as to what could have happened.

One possibility, my friend said, was that the donors could have known a minister or two, and that at some early point in the process, a word could have been dropped from on high to please consider the Tans’ offer.

This is not to say that the “high-up guy” meant anything more than strictly that. I do not think it is in the nature of our ministers to try to sway such decisions.

But in the Singapore system, middle and junior ranks tremble at the feet of gods. They’ve been brought up that way. It’s the Singapore system. So they would have plunged headlong into acquiring the collection believing it had blessings from the highest levels… and when their own Board questioned the decision, well, who the hell are these directors compared to the gods who have spoken?

Wouldn’t even getting a second opinion, possibly revising the valuation, embarrass not only the donor but the gods too? How dare anyone risk crossing the expressed wishes from high up?

Now, as I said, this is just conjecture. We really do not know the back story. But I’ll say this: any one of us who knows anything about the Singapore-Confucian system (in particular the rule: never question your superiors) will say this is entirely plausible. It has a despairing ring of familiarity.

* * * * *

Susan Elliott is the 2009 Colorado State Teacher of the Year and one of four finalists for the 2009 National Teacher of the Year. Despite being hearing-impaired, she teaches her subjects — history and social studies — to mainstream and hearing-impaired students at the same time, in the same classroom.

As reported in a blogpost by Anthony Mullen in Teacher Magazine, Elliott was first invited by our Ministry of Education, then disinvited (and after the story broke, re-invited) to a major education conference to be held here in September.

Mullen wrote:

Once the Singapore education officials discovered that Susan was hearing-impaired, they retracted her invitation. The so-called discovery and subsequent retraction of her invitation was an act of disingenuous statesmanship because the Singapore education officials knew all along that Susan was deaf. The official in charge of inviting and then disinviting Susan attributes the mistake to miscommunication. Wait a minute. Singapore is renowned for its academic prowess; surely the highly educated official could read a simple biography that very clearly noted Susan was hearing-impaired. …

Susan Elliot sent a few emails to Singaporean education officials, hoping the “miscommunication” was itself a miscommunication and the whole matter an innocent mistake. She had to defend her disability and remind conference officials that America’s teachers and children are a diverse lot.

How did the Singapore officials respond? Susan was wished a successful future but remains persona non grata at the conference.

Today’s Straits Times reported that the disinvitation has been retracted. She is now welcome again. See the news story archived below this essay.

Every bone in my body tells me somebody in the Education Ministry failed to think, failed to check facts, and jumped to conclusions.

Think about it:

As Mullen said in his blogpost, “they” must have known from the outset that she was hearing-impaired. Who would be that “they”? For starters, it must include whoever it was who initially put her name on the invite list. This person (let’s call him or her the proposer) must have known about her background and achievements — why else propose her as a speaker at the conference?

Yet, as the Straits Times report indicated, the withdrawal of the invitation had something to do with the conference being about mainstream education, and that someone jumped to the conclusion that she had nothing to do with that, being “a teacher of only deaf students” (emphasis mine); furthermore, that there would be a logistical problem, “a misunderstanding about the need for interpreters” — euphemistic words from the ministry’s statement to the media.

This person who jumped to conclusions and “misunderstood” is unlikely to be the proposer for reasons stated above. It is likely to be the proposer’s superior or other higher-ranking members of the conference organising committee who obviously didn’t bother to find out why Elliott was proposed in the first place. My guess is that the superior officer(s), on discovering that Elliott is hearing-impaired, immediately pigeonholed her as “a teacher of only deaf students” and someone unable to communicate with a mainstream audience without interpreters. The superior officer(s) never realised that Elliott teaches mixed classes.

Why didn’t the proposer then correct her superiors’ misconceptions before someone meekly carried out the instruction to disinvite Elliot?

More trembling at the feet of superiors, perhaps? Have higher officers in our civil service cultivated a reputation that juniors questioning their “wisdom” would be committing career suicide? Do they think of themselves as demigods?

What thinking skills do officers in the Education Ministry have if they are so prone to pigeonholing based on unchecked assumptions? Oh wait, isn’t that what they’ve been doing for years and years? Mother-tongue policy would be the first example that comes to mind. Is not pigeonholing the “Singapore way”?

Indeed, stereotypical thinking is rampant in this ministry. Here we have deaf = non-mainstream, deaf = sign language. Other days we have gay = bad and Malay = Muslim = don’t bother to push them too hard, they’re not very intelligent (Indeed, I heard this one from a teacher herself who was appalled at her colleagues’ attitudes towards Malay pupils).

* * * * *

These two cases show up two chronic diseases that ail Singapore: uncritical thinking and excessive deference to authority. And yet we boast about our education system.

But as I said, I’m only making educated guesses at best. We don’t know the true back stories. And that may be because some senior editors believe it’s the Singapore way that we should not know too much, lest we think less of gods, cease trembling at their feet, and it is the gods themselves who have cause to tremble.

* * * * *

This is the Straits Times story referred to above in the Susan Elliott case:

24 April 2010
Straits Times

MOE apologises over invite mix-up

Event invitation to US teacher wrongly withdrawn over disability concerns
By Jennani Durai

In a mix-up by the Ministry of Education (MOE), a top American teacher was first invited to speak at a teachers’ conference here in September, then had the invitation withdrawn within a week amid concerns about her disability.

MOE has since apologised for revoking the invitation it had extended to Ms Susan Elliott (above), a hearing-impaired teacher, to speak at the Teachers’ Conference 2010. The conference is a biennial event at which international and local experts share perspectives on learning in mainstream education.

MOE had initially invited Ms Elliott, 54, one of the four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year 2009 award in the United States, on March 24 this year, but pulled back its invitation on March 31.

MOE’s statement yesterday admitted the mistake and explained the mix-up.

‘The withdrawal of our invitation to Ms Susan Elliott was a mistake on our part. It arose from a misunderstanding about the need for interpreters and her professional experience,’ said an MOE spokesman.

It is understood the organising committee had mistakenly thought that Ms Elliott, the Colorado state Teacher of the Year 2009, was a teacher of only deaf students, while the conference would focus on mainstream education.

MOE officials added that the chairman of the organising committee of the conference contacted Ms Elliott three days ago to apologise personally and re-invite her to speak at the conference.

‘We should have clarified these matters before making the decision. Ms Elliott has accepted our apology and the organising committee is delighted that she will participate at the conference,’ said the MOE spokesman.

‘We look forward to her contributions in making the conference a success.’

[truncated]

19 Responses to “At the feet of gods”


  1. 1 anony 25 April 2010 at 11:32

    The top MOE official found it too incredulous that she could even teach mainstream students, CUE top MOE official when he/she found out. Probably when that MOE top official/s read that part, they choked on their coffee/tea and splurted it out.

    MOE top official/s bubble dialog box as if in cartoon strip:”How can lah?!!! NO one at MOE who is deaf will ever get to teach mainstream students. If a teacher is deaf, she will only teach deaf students in a special deaf school or else MOE will hear no end to complaints! Forget it lah even if she wins awards in USA for teaching, not applicable in our mainstream school system!”

    Agree with you, the civil service thinking is way too compartmentalized, product of the talented student scheme from primary to government scholarship at some overseas university, referring to that MOE senior official/s. No creative thinking. The inability to fathom the idea of a deaf teacher teaching mainstream school in USA & winning an award for it is way too alien.

    As for the Pernankan Museum valuation, would not a statutory board get a prestigious auction house like Sothebys or Christies to do such evaluation. I was wondering why Peter Wee who does not have any working experience at a prestigious auction house to do such an evaluation.

  2. 2 yawningbread 25 April 2010 at 11:44

    Anony wrote, for the bubble box of an MOE top official: “NO one at MOE who is deaf will ever get to teach mainstream students.”

    Yup. Just like NO one who’s gay will ever get to…

    Oh, this reminds me. This disinvite was not the first time it happened. A few years ago, I received an email communication from another award-winning physical education teacher, this time from the UK, who told me that first she had been invited to speak at an education conference in Singapore and then disinvited after they found out that she was lesbian.

  3. 3 xtrocious 25 April 2010 at 12:46

    I am hazarding a guess…

    But having ex-army honchos to head these ministries could be the main reason why nobody dares to question his superior…

    In the army, it’s deemed as “insubordination” and could lead to a court martial case if one questions/confronts his superior…

    Hence I suspect these heads also do not tolerate their subordinates questioning their decisions – bad, ugly or just plain dumb – when they supposedly take up civilian positions…

  4. 4 KAM 25 April 2010 at 19:48

    This is why Singapore Govt welcomes FOREIGN TALENTS.
    These FTs will be able to speak their minds and then when and if they speak unwelcoming facts or opinions about the PAP Govt, they can be booted out easily.

    As for the majority of the pigeons in Singapore, they will continue to live the Lee-gacy of not questioning because it is easier to go with the flow.

    One question came to my mind when I watched the 2nd TV Debate from the UK candidates last week. Are they more “able” people or PM than Lee Hsien Loong?
    The sad answer is NO.

    No matter how much we “hate” the Lees or the system or that LHL is the son of LKY, we have to accept the FACT that he is indeed the BEST man for the job.
    Why?
    Because all things squared, with lets say Goh Chok Tong, LHL is still LKY’s son, and with that parameter alone, he is more suited for the job than any other Tom Dick or Harry in Singapore sphere.
    If there is anyone who tries to suggest otherwise, he is really at odds with facts.
    When LKY dies, and perhaps this parameter is removed, then perhaps another real qualified person, may be able to contest against LHL. That is, if LHL has not bought him over yet.
    Also, with so many years as PM, LHL will of course have a headstart against any contestant.
    Sad but true.

  5. 5 quirkyhill 26 April 2010 at 20:36

    “How I value my history and heritage will be different from the way you value it” – which struck me as a rather odd statement. When commissioned to put a market value on something, surely one should try to be as objective as possible.

    i agree with this point. when i read that part in the papers i was wondering about that as well. i think the valuer did (could?) not face up to the reality that other than him, most valuers wouldn’t put much market value on peranakan artefacts.

  6. 6 George 26 April 2010 at 21:09

    Alex,

    The following was my post in response to an article in the TOC on Susan Elliott.

    In my opinion, the initial withdrawal was prompted by the belated realisation of the MOE bureaucrat concerned that unlike the US, the Singapore Education Ministry does not recognise the right of hearing impaired Singaporeans to mainstream schooling under MOE, nor is there a state mandated system to help children born hearing impaired to learn to speak during their crucial speech development stage – which once missed often led to them having to learn signing.

    It is almost entirely possible for congenitally hearing impaired children without other medical issues, to be taught and learn to speak normally with early intervention, assistance of relevant professionals (speech therapist, audiologist) and the proper stimulation. Statistically, in every cohort of children born in a year there would be a small percentage born with various degree of hearing impairment. They represent a loss in human potential forgone unnecessarily when in fact many could have been saved from a lifetime of enforced silence if the necessary help and intervention is rendered. You also wouldn’t need to resort to expensive subsequent medical treatment like cochlear implants.

    On the Baba artefacts, one issue around which everyone involved seemed to be tight-lipped about is that of the fees charged by and paid to Wee for conducting the valuation. It was a 5-figure sum. It must have come from govt aka taxpayers’ money.

    Reproduced hereunder the post on Susan Elliott:

    One can justifiably wonder whether MOE would relent on its ‘disinvitation’ of Ms Elliott had the winner of the US top teacher award not blogged on it.

    By his action, Mullen, the eventual winner of the top award, shows the world the world of difference between the character and values that a good teacher in the US possesses and espouses against the value system which seems to date back to the dark ages straightjacketting local teachers and the teaching profession here as a whole.

    In the ST report, MOE exposes its own long-held bias against physically disadvantaged/disabled children of Singapore by refusing them the right to mainstream schooling, treating them as ‘basket’ cases to be picked up by charitable organizations. Mind you, teachers (and other educational professionals) working with handicapped children are NOT recognized by MOE, NOT paid by MOE and paid much less then their ‘colleagues’ in regular mainstream schools, when their tasks are that much more challenging.

    I am not surprised that the SAD (a really regrettable but accurate acronym for School of the Deaf) is unaware of events. It is neither supported nor staffed by MOE but it is the main school taking care of Singapore’s hearing impaired students depending on among others sponsorship of hearing aid companies.

    Perhaps, that would also account for the knee-jerk reaction by that MOE bureaucrat who precipitated the ‘disinvitation’ because of a stereotypical image of a hearing impaired person – that she would be signing and require lots of backup that MOE is in principal unprepared to support, provide or accede to, given the value system here regarding the education of the children with hearing impairment and other disabilities.

    Yet another reason is perhaps Ms Elliott teaches hearing impaired children on the US and recognized for it whereas in the Singapore educational system the schooling of hearing impaired children is officially unrecognized and non-existence! It would be too much of a face-slapping contradiction for the local educational authorities to give counttenance or to brook.

    As an aside, perhaps, it is the right place here to also point out that many hearing impaired young Singaporeans would not have to attend SAD where they learn signing, but mainstream schools instead, if the Singapore system had provided for early detection at birth of children who are born (congenitally) hearing impaired, which I understand is now being done, but most importantly follow this up with early intervention – for example, assistive devices, courses to teach parents how to help/encourage hearing impaired children to learn to talk, professional speech therapy and audiology services – to help them to pick up speech from babyhood on. This is crucial in getting a person to eventually speak and cannot be overemphasized.

    Now that the invitation has been restored let us hope that professionals, teachers and officials of the private/charitable hearing impaired schools here would also be invited to hear Susan Elliott speak/share about her knowledge and experience teaching the hearing impaired US students.

  7. 7 yawningbread 27 April 2010 at 01:03

    George – your point about how Singapore does just about nothing for hearing-impaired children is a very good point.

    Re “5-figure sum” – the Straits Times reported S$17,000.

  8. 8 George 27 April 2010 at 16:51

    Alex,

    When I look at how this country has developed and become, I really feel sad
    for us Singaporeans.

    I believed in NS because I had believed in what SOMEONE said about building ourselves a nation which we must defend with our lives. I was among the first batches of full time NSmen. We were SAFTI trained. My batch of officer cadets also saw some ‘action’ during the Malaysian 13 May 69 riot when we were deployed for IS duties.

    Those days were long gone and so were the promises made by the ruling party forgotten. I am sure I am not the only one much wiser about the sort of politicians currently running the country. It certainly wasn’t what we were made to envisage when the govt was mobilizing and rallying the common people, the youth, the adults to rise to the occasion for the sake of the country once upon a time.

    I believe in human terms, this country has ceased to progress decades back and it is not because of a lack of funds.

    Lies, damned lies and statistics have become the order of the day of this govt.
    Conscience, milk of human kindness all take a backseat as far as govt policies goes.

    • 9 xiaohongdian 11 May 2010 at 11:49

      In the course of history (We shalt not look too far, just at the Ming and Qing Dynasty and how their downfall came), we can see similiarities that build up.

      Are we too blind to realise that CHANGE is needed for the better or worse?

      Apparently, there are some who refuses to see the fact and remains stoic on their position.

      Needless to say, it was the very same reason why Dr Sun Yat Sen have to change the system in existence for centuries. His passion and vision has not failed us yet.

      We can and we could do something about it😀

  9. 10 vic 28 April 2010 at 10:43

    Alex,

    In Singapore, there is education and education.

    Schools under the Ministry of Education (MOE) directly enjoy vast funds for infrastructure and curriculum development , and is able to commensurate teachers well.

    Schools under National Council of Social Service (NCSS), a statutory board of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, operate more as charitable organisations and work within limited handouts. Needless to say, teachers/staff workers of these ‘non-profit’ groups don’t get paid well.

    But of course, any state-school needs an ‘endorsement’ of MOE and there is a Special Education branch set up to train teachers who choose to work in MINDS or School of the Deaf specifically. But as far as support is concerned, it pretty much stops here. NCSS pays or the school tries its best to raise their own funds, as any charitable organisation is entitled to do. This explains the existence of MINDS’ business wing, which provides employment to its own graduates to help SIA untangle earphone wires.

    This arrangement contrasts sharply with that of UK’s, where Special Needs Schools fall under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education as well. Every young person is seen as a potential to contribute to society, regardless of any physical or mental ‘deficits’. In Singapore, I can only hazard a guess that children with Special Needs are not perceived to be contributors, in an economic sense of course, and thus are not entitled to share financial resources made available for mainstream schools. They can only rely on welfare and handouts, and remain society’s financial burden throughout their lives.

    But I have also read that children with mental disabilities in Japan are thought customer service and are employed by depatmental stalls to smile and greet customers. They can be productive as well.

    Go check out Singapore’s School for the Deaf and you will see a huge logo of NCSS there . To sum up, i suppose Ms Elliot Susan’s ‘unique’ success and ability to contribute like a ‘normal’ person to society, has unsettled some fixed thinking of these issues in the top echelon of MOE.

    Let’s hope that this particular incident doesn’t stop here but help address the way we see and help children with Special Needs integrate into our society as productive contributors.

  10. 11 matt 30 April 2010 at 09:34

    you might be interested to know that according to the SPH annual report tan eng sian is one of their 20 largest ordinary shareholders. google “tan eng sian”.

  11. 12 eyes open 30 April 2010 at 20:48

    What can you expect when you have a minister and a ruling party that chooses to sweep the issue of the homeless under the carpet, refuses to be interviewed by the foreign media, and then turns around blames the foreign media for inaccurate reporting. This party is authoritarian and dictatorial, so vote wisely.

  12. 13 One Very "Misguided" and Confusius "Confused" man? 5 May 2010 at 13:03

    All the reasons behind the questions raised in this blog and forum lies at the very “foundation” of the following quotes. And they are the cornerstones of “Singapore’s uncritical thinking” masses who gave their “souls” to “daft” ideas. The very “idea” that literally “every” aspect of even their private lives should “best” be prepared and delivered to them. Much like nanny’s “mother’s” milk and “mother’s” dishes on the dinner table as “the healthiest” for you!

    [QUOTE]
    “I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters – who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.” – Lee Kuan Yew, Straits Times, 20 April 1987

    “I make no apologies that the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP.” – Lee Kuan Yew, 1982, Petir

    “If I were in authority in Singapore indefinitely without having to ask those who are governed whether they like what is being done, then I would not have the slightest doubt that I could govern much more effectively in their interests.” – Lee Kuan Yew, 1962

    “Repression, Sir is a habit that grows. I am told it is like making love – it is always easier the second time! The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course with constant repetition you get more and more brazen in the attack. All you have to do is to dissolve organizations and societies and banish and detain the key political workers in these societies. Then miraculously everything is tranquil on the surface. Then an intimidated press and the government-controlled radio together can regularly sing your praises, and slowly and steadily the people are made to forget the evil things that have already been done, or if these things are referred to again they’re conveniently distorted and distorted with impunity, because there will be no opposition to contradict.” – Lee Kuan Yew as an opposition PAP member speaking to David Marshall, Singapore Legislative Assembly, Debates, 4 October 1956

    “I pointed to an article with bold headlines reporting that the police had refused to allow the PAP to hold a rally at Empress Place, and then to the last paragraph where in small type it added the meeting would take place where we were now. I compared this with a prominent report about an SPA rally. This was flagrant bias.” – Lee Kuan Yew complaining about the Straits Times in 1959.
    [UNQUOTE]

  13. 14 Robert L 6 May 2010 at 23:47

    Dear YB

    I had no comments until I saw the hint to Google Tan Eng Sian for the list of shareholders of SPH. (Thanks to that blogger above.)

    A person named Tan Eng Sian is listed as holding 12.5 million shares of SPH. At a dividend of 25 cents per share, the dividend from this holding alone is $3.1M.

    Now, if like any sane person, this Tan Eng Sian does not keep all his eggs in one basket, it could be expected that he might have other shares with total dividends of, say $10M.

    Coming back to the “real” valuation of the Peranakan items, we find that it’s worth less than $2M. So if this Tan Eng Sian is one and the same person, we can see that his tax deduction of the original inflated $30M will cover completely the conservative income of $10M, and that the actual tax payable based on the conservative liability of just that $10M alone earns him MORE than the value of the items that he donated. In business terms, he gained a profit from the deal.

    Now, if his income could be more than the supposed $10M of shares dividends, like if it were $20M, then he would have made a profit of double the value of the items he “donated”. By linear projection, if his tax liability (income) is $30M, he would make the maximum gain from the inflated valuation of the items and made a profit of 3 times the value of the items he “donated”.

    For Minister Lui Tuck Yew to say that it was an altruistic donation runs counter to the fact that the donor stood to gain more from his donation than the value of the items donated!

    It’s like I donated my junk old TV set worth $600 and got paid $1,200 and Minister Lui says I am altruistic! Huh?

    Unless Minister Lui is now bold enough to state that he does not agree with the valuation of less than $2M.

    So we, being lesser mortals, have plenty of unanswered questions. Is the Tan Eng Sian the same person? What is his tax liabililities (taxable income) – is it $10M or even more? Or does Minister Lui disagrees with the valuation of less than $2M? Is there a prima facie case of tax evasion?

  14. 15 xiaohongdian 11 May 2010 at 11:42

    The whole episode has such a familiar ring to the outcome. Nothing withstanding to the large population that works in the civil service, we should look at the context what has gone wrong; and what to do about it.

    Of course, paper talk is nevertheless easy to quip. Standing up the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the seniors require more wits and courage.

    To say that the front-line staff / operational level do not take initiative is a misnomer. Very often than not, reasons aside, they keep quiet / hold their peace more for survival.

    In a system where it relates so closely to the imperial Confucian doctrine, one can be hardly fault for not opposing / challenging the top-down approach.

    That said; when the top refuses to see any wrong / see wrong but refuses to change – due to resistance / fear / other reasons, everything else remains status quo.

    That inner voice coming from 2.5 yr of service I had put in and the very reason I moved on.

  15. 16 Jonno 11 May 2010 at 12:47

    These incidents reminded me of the situation when Mrs. Lee had an unfortunate stroke while in UK when both she & MM Lee were on a visit there for some forgotten seminar. To cut the story short, she received immediate medical attention there but subsequently, a SIA plane was immediately chartered & stripped out to fit medical equipment to fly out Mrs. Lee to S’pore where she was supposed to receive more medical treatment more worthy of her status.

    MM Lee subsequently spoke about their situation in some political dinner engagement and a lady reporter sent there to cover the event took down his dinner speech verbatim word-for-word. Subsequently, when her article published, it caused a huge embarrassment for both S’pore & UK govts – MM Lee ‘must have’ mentioned that he ‘called’ then-PM Tony Blair for ‘help’ to circumventing the UK medical emergency ‘backlog’. This caused a huge uproar in UK where common tax-paying folks have to wait a long time to get medical attention and here, PM Blair ‘bend’ backwards to accommodate a 3rd world foreign ‘dictator’. Also, embarrassing for him was when S’pore citizens started questioning whether the chartered SIA plane was paid by tax payers $ so on. Once again, to cut the story short, this lady reporter together with her bosses were called in to MM Lee’s office & ‘believed’ to have been ‘given a hairdryer’ treatment! MM Lee could not ‘categorically’ deny his words as it was covered by one of his so-called ‘managed’ media people. Also, any subsequent action would deemed to be detrimental to S’pore ‘managed’ democratic & ‘free’ press status to foreign investors. It was a PR disaster for the S’pore govt & MM Lee.

    The beauty of this cross-border event was that it was covered by both foreign & local presses – there were virtually no ‘censorship’ on the foreign press whilst the ‘verbal’ misstep occurred at our own backyard. I believe that that caused the precedents to be set for the way public servants behave & act [exercising self-censorship & making sure that they cover their ass] in the future. Lo & behold, it is actually happening now!

  16. 17 Jonno 11 May 2010 at 13:25

    It is nothing short of stupidity for the National Heritage Board & Peranakan Museum to appoint a self-serving Peranaken dealer to value the Peranakan artifacts. Of course, he would put a high valuation to the collection as it would invariably increase the value of his own stock. It’s a classic conflict of interest! Also, the lack of published transaction information in Peranakan artifacts – unlike those in more transparent fine arts & works of art auction markets conducted by Sotheby’s, Chistie’s, Bonham’s, Phillips de Pury & Company – could allow much leeway to arbitrarily value the holdings!

    “How I value my history and heritage will be different from the way you value it” – Pure Bollocks! Just a self-serving statement which is less to do with history, heritage & culture but more to do with lining the pockets with money!

  17. 18 MOEteacher 14 May 2010 at 08:33

    Thank you for your post. It is a vey accurate capture of the ailments in the ministry and Singapore as a whole.

  18. 19 Yesman 14 May 2010 at 09:17

    There is a systemic problem. How do you propose we make the much needed and necessary changes; so that we’ll be effective and not remain perpetually uncritical, self-serving and fearful? The way I see it is cast a no vote for this way-of-life in Singapore. Nothing sends the message across more clearly than a vote against this present government’s way. The civil service will remain intact. But the leaders sitting at the top will change. With this reform, many in the civil service can reclaim their intelligence and freedom to be creative and effective. New leaders at the top will learn from the bad habits of past leaders and improve the present undesirable status quo. What say you?


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