As the dust settled for the AIM mishap and many Singaporeans trying their best to celebrate the first week of the new year amidst the gloom of an impending recession, I have pen five important lessons to learn from the AIM incident.
1. Never mix politics with business
Clearly, what irks most Singaporeans about this mayhew is that they dislike a government that mixes politics with business.
Chief on most people mind is why was there only one bid from the tender exercise two years ago when the government decides to privatise the whole project and of course why the three directors were all ex-PAP Members of Parliament?
Each town council has to pay $785 per month to use the system for the remaining one year period of the lease which amountss to $147, 000 – not alot of profits considering that the PAP-controlled company has paid 140, 000 for the ownership of the system.
My take is that the government wants a PAP-controlled entity to own the system rather than doing it chiefly for financial profits.
They want sole control of the system so that they can monopolise the IT system which controls the town councils.
When an opposition ward comes on board after winning a new constituency at a election, they will then realise how difficult it is to take over a town council from the ruling party.
We saw how Aljunied GRC faced the same takee-over problem when they were given the lowest rating during the recent town councils’ review.
It was aimed to make the opposition ward looks bad and it nearly succeeded.
The whole saga is confusing and and made worse by the fact that no government official has came out in the open to talk about the matter.
A reader xa.low has commented on my article Is there any other better way to engage the blogging community besides suing Alex Au? stating:-
“It seems directors of Aim receive no fee or payment of any kind. It is a wholly-owned PAP company. In this transaction, the TCs came out slightly ahead, they were able to continue using the financial software, did not face an increase in maintenance and support charges whilst a new system is being developed. Looking at the figures, AIM itself didn’t make any money – which is why some people are asking why then did it bid for this job.”
Yet another reader going by the moniker Godd posted the following comment on the same article:
“It says the contract is for 8 years, each of the 14 town councils pay $875 per month? How much would that be ? Did you pass your Primary 4 Mathematics? Clue: 8 x 12 x 14 x 875 equals The software property rights was sold to AIM for $140,000 and lease back to the town council each paying $875 per month. This is what I understand . Am I right ? no profit ? Revenue is 1.176 (1,176,000) million , no maintenance expense Bought for 140,000. Work out the profit? Any other agenda apart from profit? Would a PAP company want to provide services to an opposition ward?”
Amazingly, none of the government officer – be it town council chief Dr Teo Ho Pin or Minister in the PM office Grace Fu has came out with details on the financial aspects of the whole AIM mishap.
Many Singaporeans have commented that if there is nothing to hide why not be open and lets things be transparent?
It is the same old communication misfiring from the ruling party and it also gave the impression that they have something to conceal which may not be the case.
The saying that you should never mix politics with business rings very true here as the first impression of the whole AIM saga was that a PAP-controlled entity won over the business with only one solo bid during a tender exercise.
2. Never mix social community work with politics
What we can certainly be sure of is the government wants the company that acquires the AIM business to be directly affiliated with the PAP perhaps for fear that if the owner is anyone else then they can use the system against the party as so far most town councils are managed by PAP – except for Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC.
There is probably also this plan that if any SMC or GRC falls to the opposition, they will pull out the AIM system within a month of the take-over leaving the opposition town council to create their own IT system.
Its an ungentlemanly way of doing things here but again politics is dirty and our opposition parties will have to be prepared for such adverse treatment from the ruling party if they ever win a GRC or SMC.
Many people have also commented to me that the government represents one big business entity and only certain people related to each other can have access to the business.
Moreover, the people who are appointed to certain influential positions also suggest that they want monopolistic control of the portfolio – especially if it has infuence over a large segmnt of the population.
For example, the one who sits on the head of our rade union NTUC is Mr Lim Swee Say – a PAP minister and another government officer Mr Yeo Guat Kwang headed the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) who is also a PAP MP for the last ten years.
Mr Lim Biow Chuan has since taken over the President’s role from Mr Yeo in June last year.
Mr Lim is also the current PAP MP for Mountbatten perpetuating the ascension plan of yet another PAP MP for the top job at CASE.
When I worked previously in the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), I was aghast to know that there are at least six PAP MPs sitting on the board of CDAC – a community social enterprise that is funded by our monthly CPF contribution.
The board is headed by none other than Minister without portfolio Mr Lim Swee Say and it is no wonder that CDAC is a huge political social engine for the PAP.
I don’t even want to talk about People’s Assocition (PA) and other social arms such as Community Development Ouncil (CDC) and e2i.
Its difficult sometimes not to feel angry when such community socal network is intertwinked with political agenda.
I also remebered working with the Central Singapore Community Development Council *CDC) few years back as a career consultant.
Though CDC is a off-shoot of People’s Association (PA), much of the work they carried out has political undertone.
For example, I remembered organising a support group for the CDC and asked a family service centre to facilitate the 4-weekly sessions.
The management wanted to highlight the event on the press and a Straits Times journalist was asked to report on the event.
The whole interview was conducted at the CDC though I thought that it would be more appropriate if it was done at the family service centre where the sessions were held.
Nevertheless, the reporter later came by the family service centre and sat in the session and when the article was out two days later I realised that it was a propaganda message for the CDC and of course the ruling party.
Both the family service centre and myself were unwilling to organise another support group sessions for the jobless when we were asked to conduct another series a few months later.
When social aid agencies funded under the umbrella of the government became their propaganda mouthpiece, the aid granted out is often laced with an agenda that will only benefit the government and not the recipient.
For example, we all know that CDC is set up to organise social aid programmes for the needy and low-incomed group.
Their employment arm is also weakened by the fact that many counsellors are not well-trained to be career coaches themselves.
Many career counsellors are merely executives working in other non-related functions elsewhere before.
We are also instructed to delist jobless names from the system once they have hit the 6-month deadline underscoring the fact that our unemployment data needs to be constantly reduced – at all costs.
This is probably the main reason why our unemployment statistics have always hovered around 2% or less – the zero record yardstick used to track unemployment.
Moreover, when a government aid agency such as the CDC is headed by a mayor who is also a PAP MP, there is every reason to believe that political agenda will sometimes over-ride social causes benefitting no Singaporeans in the process.
This probably also explains why so far most government aid agencies like CDC, e2i, NTUC, TAFEP, MOM and Caliberlink are not really going all out to help Singaporeans.
The political masters are pulling all the strings from behind – much to the detriment of the population and aid agencies sometimes have their hands tied behind their back even when they want to do more for the people.
3. Opposition and PAP need to work well together
The opposition parties and PAP may need to work well together in the future guaging from the trend of the recent strong resurgence in opposition politics.
Many political observers have analysed that the ruling party will need to share their power with opposition parties in the future as most certainly more wards will fall to the opposition in future.
There will be the sharing of common resources especially in the town councils whereby services are sometimes pooled collectively for economic and practical reasons and the AIM incident is a classic case.
The fall-out also indicated that there is strong intense rivalry between WP and PAP – one party is riding on the rising tide of discontentment felt by the population and the other is trying its best to hold on to power.
We are also unsure who is right this time round: both parties have stated their claim that the other party is wrong and both parties refuse to give ground for fear of losing credibility before the voters.
I only empathsized with the people in Aljunied GRC as they have to bear with the fall-out from the ground battle between Workers’ Party and PAP.
The ruling party has make it very clear that they will not make it easy for the opposition parties when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of the people.
The way the ruling party has side-lined the former two opposition wards – Hougang and Potong Pasir for any upgrading works may mean that PAP could have make it very difficult for the newly-won Aljunied GRC to function after the take-over.
It is unsure how this tactic will help them win back the opposition voters but one thing is for sure – Singaporeans are affected by how well-run their estates can be as it may mean a higher valuation for their homes when they want to sell them in future.
I have heard how Singaporeans voted for the ruling party even though deep down they hated the party for fear that their estates will become as run-down as Hougang and Potong Pasir.
Anyway, PAP may need to come up with a strategy to work well with the opposition on the ground as a coalition seems likely in future especially when predictably more seats will go to the opposition.
If not, the people will suffer from the fall-out or is that what the ruling party wants constituents staying in newly-acquired opposition wards to experience?
4. Communication problem from PAP
I have always believe that the government has a problem communicating well with the ground.
They often speak from a top-down position and infuriates quite alot of Singaporeans in the process.
People like town council chief Dr Teo Ho Pin or DPM Teo Chee Hean are poor communicators and need to have a crash course on communication.
Maybe they do not really know the ground well enough or all along they have being speaking from a top-down approach.
More seriously, they didn’t asnwer the elephant in the room – why was there only one bid for the tender exercise and why the company was stuffed with three ex-PAP MPs?
The government may need to develop public relations people who are specialised in communication to handle such massive political fall-out.
Merely placing a minister or organisational chief on the pedestal may not do the work well.
They have bombed badly with the Mas Selamat fugitive case and faring not too well with the Orchard Road “ponding” flood last year.
The government however has surprisingly handled the Michael Palmer’s sex scandal case quite well and the fall-out was somewhat contained.
Moving forward, with more imminent scandals and mishaps to come in the year ahead, the government really needs to come up with a contingent plan to communicate well with the ground failing which it will only further alienate them from the voters.
5. Coverage on the mainstream media vs social media
I have being reading quite alot of the AIM stuff on sociopolitical sites such as TRE and TOC.
Though the mainstream media covers the issue later on, the matter was already well covered on sociopolitical sites within the first few days of the incident.
One wonders whether Singaporeans prefer to read such controversial stuff on the alternative media as they are often juicier though not always accurate.
Sociopolitical site like TRE has came a long way and I thought that their coverage of the AIM saga was pretty comprehensive.
Whistleblowers also prefer to hand in their articles to the alternative media as there is a likelihood that their articles will be posted anonymously after some verification.
A mainstream reporter will probably wants to see you face to face first before they consider publishing your article.
As the mainstream media is also state-controlled, there will be the chance that a discriminating fact be omitted intentionally so that the government will not look so bad on paper.
I am afraid that for the AIM coverage, the alternative media has won hands down as they are able to follow through with the coverage thoroughly for over a week once the news broke.
There was also the investigative element to the coverage as amateur writers dug through business company report.
The mainstream media only came in a few days later with more comprehensive coverage and there is a investigative lack in their reporting.
It is hope that there is more freedom of press in our country so that reporters can do their job well.
Right now, many Singaporeans prefer to read alternative sites for controversial happenings and this does not do fair justice to our mainstream media which has a good crop of reporters and journalists.
Moreover, the country can only progress well democratically if the press is transparent with all its reporting.
Controlling the press in this modern era will only make things worse – people will simply flock to alternative sites.
Written by: Gilbert Goh