April 27, 2017

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Authors Posts by Bertha Henson

Bertha Henson

Bertha Henson
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Bertha was formerly Associate Editor of The Straits Times and worked as a journalist in Singapore Press Holdings for 26 years.

by Bertha Henson

STOP condemning the couple who starved their maid and thinking their jail terms are too short. Did you notice this point about how they paid Filipina Thelma Oyasan Gawidan $20,000 as part of a settlement agreement?

ST said her lawyers had requested the sum on her behalf and added rather intriguingly that the lawyers “were not named’’. Now, she’s the victim; she doesn’t need a lawyer because the State will act on her behalf. And it doesn’t seem the State was too happy about the settlement either.

Said Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Soo Tet: “The payment of $20,000… does not emanate from genuine remorse, but is motivated by the hope of obtaining a lower sentence and of settling once and for all the civil claims that the victim has against the accused persons.”

The State intends to appeal against the sentences meted out. It wanted a year’s jail but in the end, the judge sentenced housewife Chong Sui Foon to three months in jail. Her husband Lim Choon Hong received a three-week jail term and a fine of $10,000. They are out on $3,000 bail each pending the appeal.

Gawidan, 41, worked for the couple from January 2013 to April 2014. She was given just two meals a day, usually plain bread and instant noodles and had to ask for permission to drink water. Her weight plummeted from 49kg to 29kg, she lost 40 per cent of her body mass and stopped menstruating.

So was the $20,000 a sign of remorse or some kind of bribe? It might be small change to some people. The couple live in a condominium near Orchard Boulevard.

District Judge Low Wee Ping asked the defence to convince the court that their clients were remorseful: “The court must be sure that compensation is not used to buy their way out.”

Mr Raymond Lye, the defence lawyer, said both of them agreed to the settlement and terms without making a single amendment. The terms were not mentioned in court.

He said: “Agreeing to Madam Gawidan’s request in full without negotiation, including the terms of the agreement as drafted by her lawyers, shows remorse and regret.”

According to TODAY, the judge was convinced that Lim was remorseful but didn’t elaborate. He also said that Chong’s actions in depriving the maid of food were “extremely aggravating but accepted that like her husband, she did not seek to starve the maid. He didn’t say more on this.

Maybe we’ll hear more about this later.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Bertha Henson

I GAVE my students an assignment on Hong Lim Park’s Speakers’ Corner recently, and almost all of the 60 undergraduates referred to the restriction on foreign participation laid down last year.

This, they said, was bound to handicap the yearly Pink Dot movement given that most of its sponsors had been foreign Multinational corporations. These companies would now have to apply for a permit to take part or sponsor the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) movement. They can forget it given what Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has said: “In general, if it relates to controversial social or political issues, which really are a matter for Singaporeans, then it is unlikely the foreigners will get a permit.”

Many referred to the G’s allergy to foreign involvement in domestic issues and agreed that it was right that non-Singaporeans should keep out of potentially contentious matters that should be for citizens to resolve. But several also saw this as a move to placate the anti-LGBT movement, prevent a different lifestyle from taking root here and keeping the traditional family unit as the basic building block of society.

None thought that local businesses would step up to the plate, even though they noted that unlike foreign companies, these Singapore-owned businesses do not need to apply for a permit.

Why? The usual ideas were thrown up. Chief among them: Local businesses would be too “frightened” to be associated with something the G doesn’t seem in favour of, even if they identified with the LGBT cause. A second one was that local businesses were conservative and did not want to be seen as endorsing an alternative lifestyle.

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But a report in ST over the weekend has overturned the conventional wisdom. Some 50 companies have pledged support and there’s still four months to go before the event takes place. The organisers said that 70 per cent of the target had been met, and they haven’t even started raising funds officially.

One student wondered why local businesses were stepping in only now. Last year, of the 18 sponsors, only five were local. Perhaps, it was because the foreign companies had been in the forefront all along and there was no lack of funds? Some suggested that these sponsors were small, millennial-owned technology and media companies which would be more open-minded about lifestyle choices.

If the G had wished to squeeze the oxygen out of the Pink Dot balloon by the restriction, it has failed. Pink Dot doesn’t look like a foreign adventure anymore and the LGBT community would probably be heartened by local support. One student even thought that it could be a G attempt to gauge the level of local support for the LGBT cause.

It’s not clear if the companies have to make their sponsorship “public” or whether they can go un-named. Just think: 50 banners emblazoned with company name and logo, which is rather more than what a typical charity can muster in terms of support.

A student said that it’s a sign of people becoming more tolerant and accepting of different mores although it’s doubtful that the Wear White contingent would agree. They would point to the 2014 survey in which 78.2 per cent (see chart below) of respondents think that homosexuality is wrong. Now that’s a huge survey with more than 4,000 respondents, although it’s rather odd that while so many are against homosexuality, not as many think that same-sex marriage or a gay couple adopting a child is wrong too.

The Prime Minister himself put forth the G’s position in February in an interview with Stephen Sackur of BBC’s HARDTalk who asked about the possibility of repealing Section 377A which criminalised homosexual acts. Mr Lee Hsien Loong said he didn’t think a conservative Singapore would agree. It is also not the G’s role to lead society in changing social attitudes. He acknowledged that it was a vexed issue which still drew protests even in Western democracies.

What’s the chance that the pro-traditional family movement would react to Pink Dot this year? Given that there is no foreign bogeyman to flog, will we be looking at a culture war? Will it be a row with religious overtones?

Maybe, we shouldn’t be too worried about a potential clash of cultures, so long as it’s done peacefully with neither side presuming to impose its convictions on the other. The trouble with Singapore is that it has never had to grapple with competing, for want of a better word, ideologies – whether politically, socially or culturally. The emphasis is on conformity and moving together harmoniously in lock-step. We see a ripple as a potential tsunami and immediately build dams to prevent flooding.

We don’t see it as civil society in action.

I somehow think that the G should have heeded its own advice and not intervene in the organisation of Pink Dot. (Yes, yes, I know it’s about foreign influence, not Pink Dot per se). It should have let things evolve naturally rather than prompting people (or local companies) to make a stand.

Now, others will too.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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by Bertha Henson

OKAY, here are the four companies that have been singled out for public opprobrium because of their all-male boards.

1. Genting Singapore: five men
2. Global Logistic Properties (GLP): 10 men
3. Wilmar International: 11 men
4. Golden Agri-Resources: eight men

Half of the boards of 751 listed companies are all-male, so why Minister Grace Fu decided to single these four is a bit of a mystery.

So it seems a quota system is going to be applied in corporate leadership ranks.

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The People’s Action Party Women’s Wing, along with BoardAgender, an initiative of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, want at least 20 per cent of female directors on boards of listed companies and statutory boards by 2020.

Is this a tall order? The current ratio of women directors to male directors is 9.7 per cent – a slow climb from the 8.3 per cent in 2013.

But it’s a good bet that it will happen given that the champion is no less than the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth. The women’s lobby wants the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to make gender diversity mandatory, by imposing a “comply or explain’’ disclosure policy as part of its Code of Corporate Governance for listed companies.

Yeah! A victory for the fairer sex who have long been held down by a glass ceiling because the old boys’ club wants to keep them out! Yeah!

Except that it leaves a sour taste in the mouth to have to “force’’ the issue on corporations. It can be seen this way: that men are deliberately keeping women out of the boardroom despite their qualifications; that qualified women have turned down directorships or that women aren’t good enough to be invited in.

Wilmar told The Straits Times that while its board is supportive of gender diversity, its view is that it “should not be the main selection criterion”.

“Board appointments based on the right blend of skills, ability to contribute effectively and experience relevant to Wilmar’s business should remain a priority.”

(Doesn’t it sound like the discussions on the elected presidency? The candidate must have the requisite qualifications first, then race becomes a factor.)

So companies will have to start scouring for women candidates for their boards if it doesn’t want to have to go to the trouble of explaining to MAS why the executive toilet is used by men only.

For a very long time, we’ve resisted attempts to set quotas based on gender, except for female enrolment in the medical faculty some time ago. The emphasis of women’s groups was more on granting equal benefits to men and women and getting men to do right by their women, such as paying for maintenance in divorce cases, and rejecting the objectification of women.

The political sphere was much derided in the past for the lack of female representation in Parliament and in the Cabinet. But over the years, the numbers have increased without any kind of rule or requirement imposed. Now, there are 24 female MPs and one female minister. In fact, the PAP women’s wing wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in its quest for more female directors if it didn’t have a female minister to push for it.

Some people will wonder: What will women directors bring to the boardroom table that men can’t?

ST tried to find out.

Singtel group chief executive Chua Sock Koong said the ability to draw upon a diverse collection of skills and experiences has led to better execution of the firm’s business strategies.

It’s a pity she didn’t elaborate.

DBS Bank, which has two female directors, said the board’s diversity provides a wider range of views and expertise, which helps board members better identify possible risks, pose challenging questions and contribute to problem-solving. Which is so broad that it doesn’t say anything.

SingPost, which has three female directors, said: “A wide range of perspectives is critical for an effective board.” But doesn’t say how.

The companies cited missed a chance to tell of the difference a woman’s input makes. Some examples might open the boardroom doors wider in future.

The push for female representation shouldn’t simply be a diversity issue – or we might as well push for multi-racial representation as well. The men must understand why it is good for them.

What can be said though is that women directors would be good for women who work in the companies. They will understand why women need Pap smears and mammograms among medical benefits, and why they shouldn’t be unfairly penalised in career prospects because they took maternity leave. Likewise they know the importance of having more female toilets than male toilets.

And no, this is not an attempt at being facetious. Hopefully, the women’s lobby will come up with more examples of the corporate kind, in case the men don’t get it.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson

IT BEING the season of Lent, I am going to confess to a sinful act of omission: I stood by while bullying took place. My excuse is that I was restrained by my mother, who shot me a “don’t you dare interfere!” look. So, both of us pretended that we didn’t see or hear what was taking place five metres away from us. Now, this isn’t about a big boy bullying a smaller one or a gang of girls beating up one of their own. This was a maid employer-versus-maid scene taking place in a maid agency.

It’s all too common to see maids “returned” to their agencies because their employers are dissatisfied with their work. The maids are the ones who are teary-eyed with a big suitcase standing in one corner while Mom harangues her or the maid agent.

I have never got used to such sights but this one I witnessed last week took the cake. The screaming Mom emptied out the maid’s suitcase onto the floor. Clothes, slippers, toiletries and underwear spilled out. Her purse was unzipped and coins poured out. The Mom was presumably checking if the maid was taking away anything that was not hers. I thought to myself that she could have done that at home while the maid was packing up.

There were other maids in the shop, waiting for placements, looking on. They kept an absolute silence. As did the maid agents who looked to be in despair over Mom’s antics. And you know what? The Mom had brought her son who looks to be no more than six years old. While she was screaming away, he busied himself eating his packed lunch of chicken rice. But he got up to pick up the coins that had been thrown all over the floor, stacking up the 10 cents and 20 cents for the maid to return to her purse.

I am not sure what the problem was but it had to do with the maid complaining about not getting her eight hours of rest and the Mom responding that she can’t help it if the maid can’t sleep when she’s supposed to. It also had to do with the maid talking back, referring to a Ministry of Manpower booklet on maid rights. Of course, the maid said nothing in the shop. Her face was set in stone in a formidable attempt at self-control but which she quite quickly lost…

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The maid agent who was talking to the two of us made a concerted attempt to engage our attention during the kerfuffle. It wasn’t very successful. Our ears were otherwise engaged even though we kept our eyes on him.

The maid re-packed her belongings and the Mom proceeded to discuss arrangements with the maid agent, who looked like she’d rather be elsewhere. Then she was off, with son in tow.

It was only then that I burst out in consternation at the humiliation I had witnessed.
Was the Mom trying to show who’s boss? Was she showing her son how a maid should be treated? Didn’t she feel any embarrassment at being such a public spectacle? What a disgraceful human being!

The maid agents agreed that the Mom was “too much” but said there was little they could do with the “customer”.

Whatever wrong the maid had done, no one deserved such a public shaming. I think of her pitiful belongings spread out on the floor and the little boy who was doing his best not to draw attention to himself. I think of how frightened the row of maids must be. What if their next employee was a carbon copy of this particular Mom?

The law isn’t equipped to deal with maid employers who don’t know how to behave like decent human beings. It’s only equipped to deal with those who pinch, punch, slap, scald and starve their maids. I am not asking for the law to intervene in the confines of a home; that would be an invasion of privacy. I am musing aloud at the sort of arrogance some people have and the power they think they wield when they are given the charge of another person’s life.

What would that particular Mom think if her own employer at work dismissed her and swept her belongings from her desk to the floor in full view of her co-workers? I don’t think anyone would stand for such treatment. Even if the victim kept silent, there’s a chance that the co-workers would speak up for her or lodge a quiet complaint to “upstairs”. But we’re talking about foreign maids here who are trying to make a living away from their families and friends.

I am compelled to write this because of the maid who was sentenced to four months jail for “ill-treating” her four year old charge. She had tried to retrieve a medical device from his throat, using her hand and tweezers, and didn’t inform her employers when she couldn’t.

I can just imagine the consternation of the parents when they found out that their boy, who has muscular atrophy and needs support ventilation and oxygen, had been gagging on the plug for hours and turning blue. I can also imagine the terror the maid was feeling about being found out, which would be sooner or later, and being sent packing.

The prosecution asked for 18 months jail term after she pleaded guilty earlier this month, a sentence which District Judge Low Wee Ping had described as “manifestly excessive”. He said that “the system” is at fault for allowing domestic helpers to perform “such medical work”.

“We employ maids too generally. We employ them as car washers, plumbers, house painters, medical caregivers… when we shouldn’t be. And when they do something wrong, we point our (fingers) at them.”

Noting that she had no legal representation, he asked if there was a lawyer in the courtroom who could do the job. Lawyer Mahmood Gaznavi stood up to the plate.

In a later hearing for sentencing on Thursday, Mr Gaznavi described the case as “akin to a specialist carpenter asked to perform complicated mechanical works. She is a person of no skills, let alone skills required to nurse a child who is bedridden.” The maid had two days of instruction on the medical device to suck phlegm from the boy’s throat.

“The accused did not commit the offence out of malice, but out of overzealous attempts to correct an initial act gone wrong,” he said. He distinguished her case from others in which children are deliberately and repeatedly abused by their caregivers.

The prosecution is appealing against the sentence, so not much more can be said about the case. But it’s worth noting that maids cannot be the Jill-of-all-trades in the household. More importantly, they must be treated as human beings who have similar fears and anxieties and who should be accorded the same dignity we expect for ourselves.

People would say that the maid should have told the parents immediately about what happened instead of quaking in silence, just like how I should have intervened in the bullying case.

It’s not comparable, I know.

Except for Mr Gaznavi, nobody behaved very well in this article. My apologies to all maids for the terrible behavior of that particular Mom. Rest assured that not all employers are like her. And dare I say that in the court case, justice was tempered by mercy.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

IT SEEMS like ministers here are out in force to drive home the security message in the aftermath of the London attacks. In Vietnam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called for fortitude and resilience should such an attack happen here. Others have called for unity and solidarity. But what exactly do these words mean? We take a stab at it. 

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What to do/not to do in a terrorist attack.
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(A public announcement service not sponsored by SGSecure)

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a. Don’t take selfies at the attack site. Definitely do NOT take wefies with the injured.

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b. Don’t attack police for “allowing’’ this to happen. It was bound to happen. Time enough for reviews and recriminations later.

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c. Don’t jam 999 with calls for updates. Switch on telly, listen to radio or see if there are Twitter updates from police. London police tweeted a total of 20 times in one hour.

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d. Don’t be an ASS and share gossip and speculation from sources which don’t have boots on the ground.

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e. Do run and help if you are in the vicinity. Like British MP Tobias Ellwood who is being hailed a hero. But no one is going to blame you if you run and hide.

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f. Don’t pin the responsibility for the attack on any group without proof. Because if you’re right, you’re just being its propaganda outlet. If you’re wrong, you’ve been very unfair to some people.

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g. Do a Paris Hilton post-9/11 and go shopping. Retail therapy is good and shows that you’re keeping the economy going.

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h. Do go to work as usual. Terrorism isn’t a contagious disease.

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i. Don’t go taking and uploading pictures of what police are up to in the aftermath. You’re just tipping off the bad guys.

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j. Do hand over pictures or videos of the attack to the police if you have them. No need to try and make a name for yourself for “being there’’. You don’t know what info you’ve captured that’s valuable. The opposite reaction applies too: Don’t hoard what you have because you don’t want to get “involved’’. All of us are already involved by then.

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k. Don’t grumble about road blocks, bag checks and security measures that mean you lose time standing in a queue or stuck in a jam on your way to school or work. The good news is that your bosses and teachers are stuck too.

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l. Do look for instances of humanity among the depravity; there will always be people who rise up in a crisis to lift spirits.

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m. Do respond to ground-up appeals for solidarity #WeAreSingapore or #SgStayingStrong.

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n. Do upload the SgSecure app on your phone if you haven’t done so.

 

Hopefully, we will never, ever have to go through any of the above. But you should know the mantra now: it’s not if, but when.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user TheDigitalWay. (CC0 1.0)

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by Bertha Henson

WE’LL all be hearing more from Mr Peter Ho, the former head of Civil Service, because he’s been picked to give the Institute of Policy Studies series of lectures. TODAY ran an interview with him on aspects of the civil service. Perhaps, he could expand on some points he made in his interview when he gives his lectures.
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1. Mr Ho said that increasing complexity of policies and higher order needs of the populace means coming up with new ways, such as more risk management, to solve problems.

”It’s not that traditional tools are no longer important; tools like cost-benefit analysis are still relevant. But cost-benefit analysis in a complex environment, in and of itself, may not provide you with the complete answer. Cost-benefit analysis is quite linear, and traditional tools don’t help you get your arms completely around complex problems.”

(What traditional tools are less important then? Can he cite instances when the solution did not address the problem because traditional tools were used? Was there a moment of epiphany for him?)

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2. We don’t know when the interview was conducted, whether before or after the Prime Minister said that he didn’t want to be surrounded by naysayers. But clearly, he agrees that the rules-bound culture has to change, going by his message to the younger generation of civil servants.

”Your job is to find ways to improve Singapore’s position and the lot of Singaporeans in a period of accelerating change and uncertainty. Of course, you’re not going to be criticised for following the rules, but if you want to lift the quality of your policies and plans, and raise the level of good governance practised in Singapore, then it cannot be just about saying: “I followed the rules.” Instead, it should be that “I tried to make things better.” The basic misconception some younger civil servants may have is that what worked well in the past will be what propels you into the future successfully. Our civil servants must be able to keep up with the pace of change. You have to ask yourself if the rules, plans and policies still serve the purpose for which they were designed, or if we need to change them in order to do things better. ”

(There’s no point speaking in generalities. Can he enlighten with examples when sticking to the rules is to the detriment of policy outcomes? Or when rules work against the desire of the public service to be emphatic or to “have a heart’’. Can he also tell what rules have been changed because they are no longer relevant. Would policies on single mothers be one of them?)
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3. Mr Ho talked about the need to be bold which is more difficult now because the basics have been achieved and Singapore is now “competing at the top’’.

”Today, of course, you still want that spark — that ability to think boldly about the future. But the big challenge now is, how much risk are you prepared to take? These are serious risks because we’ve achieved so much, that a bad miscalculation can mean losing it all. The stakes are much higher.”

(Can he give examples of what areas require bold but risky changes? Would the report of the Committee of the Future Economy or the reserved Presidential Election be among them? If so, what are the risks involved? Also, the general perception is the G prefers to make “tweaks’’ rather than take bold steps – or is this the wrong perception?)
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4. Mr Ho talks about how many ingredients go into making a judgment call.

“…every major decision and every major policy are not an exercise to find the right answers. They are always an exercise in making the right judgment — not a hard right or hard wrong — but a balanced one that serves the best interests of the majority and the country. You cannot make everybody happy. Also, judgments always have to be revisited now and then — to go back to my point that things are changing. What seems to be sensible now may in a few years’ time no longer be sensible. You have to be prepared to constantly change.”

(Again, examples are needed. But there’s another point to consider: The public service shouldn’t think that a change is an acknowledgment of a mistake and therefore paper over the “change’’ as something that is a natural follow through of the old policy. When policies make a sharp turn, the people must be brought on board in understanding the changed circumstances or even objectives. Would he consider that enough explanation was given for the sudden announcement of the increase in the water price? Could Hong Kong’s seizure of the Singapore’s Terrexes be better explained to the people as an example of the changed geo-political realities that Singapore faces?)
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5. This wasn’t touched upon but hopefully, Mr Ho will pick up the subject in one of his lectures. The civil service has always been accused of “group think’’ with its top echelons being a closed circle of like-minded individuals. That so many top civil servants cross into the political sphere doesn’t add to people’s confidence that radical or bold ideas can surface from the G. One example is how the Committee for the Future Economy is stuffed with Old Economy members. Singapore’s Establishment seems to be a closed rank of people who went to the same schools and move in the same circles with very few gaps allowing for “mavericks’’. Please do not use the sole example of Mr Philip Yeo. He’s just one man.

 

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by Bertha Henson

a. IT’S the end of Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) because the last bastion, Braddell View, is going en bloc. Don’t remember HUDC? It’s the predecessor to the executive condo, except that it’s still built by HDB. It’s for those who just missed out of a new flat because they earned too much to be eligible for one. Oh, and if you’ve been to a HUDC flat, you know the apartment sizes are bigger than those in exec condos. Seriously worth paying for…then.

b. Paying for a taxi ride is going to be a different experience soon. You can pick to pay by the meter or have a fixed payment set at the start of the ride. The cab companies, minus the biggest player ComfortDelGro, are joining up with Grab to launch JustGrab for the fixed payments. There’s still the usual GrabTaxi if you want to pay by taxi. So you’d better have the app on your phone because you might just be standing along the road, hoping to flag a taxi down and finding that they’re passing you by. 

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c. UniSIM is now SUSS. This is not a joke. The former little private institution which is gearing up to be Singapore’s sixth university will be re-named Singapore University of Social Sciences to reflect its focus on social courses. Not everyone is enamoured of the name change with some people pointing out that SUSS also has finance and business degree courses. Seriously, that’s a small thing. Look at Nanyang Technological University which keeps adding non-tech courses all the time…

d. Businesses are getting more help. More than 85,000 employers here will receive about S$660 million in Wage Credit Scheme (WCS) payouts, with small and medium-sized enterprises getting 70 per cent of the sum disbursed the end of this month. Not a big deal you say because you’re just a paid grunt? Well, you’ll have to remember that some of this money should go into supporting the wages of those who earn $4,000 a month and below. For them, it’s something.

e. We’re into fake news big-time. Thirteen People’s Action Party politicians, including a Cabinet Minister, have had their Facebook profiles faked. They look like them but aren’t by them, in what is known as a phishing attempt to get data. They’ve all been taken down so you can’t see what the fake Chan Chun Sing said and how it compares to the real Chan Chun Sing’s tone of voice. It isn’t known who’s behind this prank/attack. Needless to say, the politicians AREN’T laughing.

 

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by Bertha Henson

NOW, here’s the thing. You can expect a stiff response to a civil society activist who complains about being incarcerated. But you don’t expect the same response to a 74-year old woman who lives alone.

It seems that Police and Prisons Department believe in meting out the same treatment to everyone, regardless of age or type of crime. The sanctity of their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) is critical. Officers should leave their brains behind and refer to the book.

So Madam Gertrude Simon wrote to the ST Forum Page to say that elderly people should be treated better by the police and recounted what her mother went through over the weekend of March 4. Madam Josephine Savarimuthu went to Ang Mo Kio South Neighbourhood Police Centre to presumably report a missing pawn ticket. That is, she went to seek help.

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Because we are a smart nation, the police officer could immediately see that there was an outstanding warrant of arrest for her in 2016 for a town council-related matter. She was taken, handcuffed her daughter claimed, to Ang Mo Kio police station and then to the State Courts and then to Changi Women’s Prison.

What did the agencies say? They made an issue of her declining to contact anyone, not even for someone to bail her out. “If she had accepted the bail offer, she would have been released that day, and attended court another day,” it added.

In other words, it was her fault. She need not have spent time in jail; she chose to.

Obviously, police officers are not very good at dealing with old people who can become flustered and forgetful when they are stressed. Then you have to reckon with this stubborn streak that they have about not “bothering’’ their children; that they are able to take care of themselves.

You would have thought some officer would have the initiative to ask to see her belongings to find traces of her next-of-kin, or go down to the house, which must be in the neighbourhood, to gather some clues. This, presumably, would not be SOP. And of course, the police don’t want to seen as favouring someone with (gasp!) an outstanding warrant of arrest.

The agencies, probably in anticipation of arguments that the old lady was traumatised, made it clear that she “did not show any sign of being traumatised, and was alert when in police custody.” At the same time though, they also said that she was restrained at the hands and legs as part of Prison’s SOP, “which include preventing persons in custody from harming themselves.” But she wasn’t traumatised, was she? So why would she harm herself? Ahhh….that SOP again.

The saving grace was that the old lady was put in a medical ward and given her medicines. She stayed the weekend at the G’s expense. When her daughter finally knew what happen, she tried to see her mother on Sunday but couldn’t because it wasn’t visitation day. I don’t know about you, but if it was my mother, I would have barged through the prison gates and raised an almighty stink. Hey, this is an elderly person we are talking about, not an able-bodied pai kia.

MP Louis Ng would probably have cited this as an example of the public service without a heart. Should rules and SOPs be adhered to strictly even though a little empathy and common sense would serve better? It boggles the mind that the police could have forgotten that their strict adherence to SOPs was a factor that accounted for their late response to the Little India riot in December 2013.

Consider also what her summons was about. According to the old lady, it involved the wrongful placement of potted plants outside her flat, which amounted to an offence involving a $400 fine. Hardly a hardened criminal.

The agencies’ response is really, to put it bluntly, horrible. If the purpose was to maintain an image of immoveability because of a “duty to uphold the law”, it succeeded.

I wish the response would have been this instead:

We learnt with much regret what Madam Josephine Savarimuthu had to go through over the weekend when she was remanded at Changi. In hindsight, we could have done more to track down her next-of-kin and spared her the ordeal of incarceration. Law enforcement officers must uphold the law but they should also be sensitive in their one-on-one dealings with members of the public. While abiding by SOPs is important, this does not mean that no discretion is afforded to officers handling individual cases.

We will be looking for her missing pawn ticket.
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Read part 1 here.
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Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

Here’s what we think of the response from the men in green on the subject of personal data.
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We refer to the letter by Mr Darryl Lo on the labelling of our recruits’ portraits using their NRIC number.

Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) recognises that making available our recruits’ portraits, labelled together with their NRIC numbers on a platform accessible to the general public, was an oversight. We apologise for the mistake. (What do you mean “recognise’’ this oversight? Why not just say apologise for making available portraits and NRIC numbers?)

In order to make the BMT graduation parade a memorable and meaningful event, BMTC uploads soft-copy portraits of our recruits online so that they may share these with their family and friends. This effort has been warmly received by the recruits. (It’s great that you want the recruits to feel good so score 1 to you. Are you saying that want to do good, also kena tekan??)

Previously, the soft-copy portraits were labelled manually via a different system, such as the use of the recruits’ Platoon, Section and Bed Number. However, for the most recent graduating BMT cohort, the labelling was auto-generated via the scanning of the recruits’ SAF identity cards for the purpose of speeding up the process. This resulted in the portraits being labelled by NRIC numbers. No other personal data were released. (Blame technology)

BMTC immediately removed the link to the portraits by noon the following day, when the oversight was realised. We are reviewing our procedures to prevent a similar recurrence. (How was the oversight discovered?)

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Other questions:

a. How many soldiers got their face and NRIC numbers publicly splashed? A few thousands?

b. How long in all were they in the public space? Remember that a minute is a long time on the internet.

c. How was the “oversight’’ discovered and who was responsible, besides the machine, for this oversight?

d. How did this come to pass when just a month ago, the personal data of 850 soldiers were stolen? Sure, it’s not related but wouldn’t there be a higher level of alertness after that?

e. Will Mindef or SAF be penalised under the Personal Data Protection Act? Probably not as it does not apply to G agencies. So what sort of oversight (not the same as “oversight’’ above) is being exercised over the protection of personal data by G agencies?

Seriously Mindef/SAF, you need to do more to show people that you are capable of being cyber-warriors that the minister has painted – and not a leaky vessel.
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Read part 2 here.
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Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

I HAVE been swimming four times a week for the past four years. Okay, I’m lying. I have bouts of down time which usually last a couple of weeks. The last bout lasted two months, until the middle of February.

I suppose I can trot out the usual excuses like no time, crowded pool, rain etcetera to justify my sloth. Truth is, as anyone who exercises regularly knows, it’s so hard to get back into the groove if you’re out of it so long. So during the two months of inactivity, I did what I’m sure no doctor would recommend: I ate less. I figured that less exercise should be accompanied by less calorific intake. After all, my mantra is, I exercise so that I can eat whatever I want.

People say that even if the rain was pouring down or the pool filled with screaming kids, there’s always the gymnasium or other exercises that are weather and child-proof. I agree. Except I think swimming is the least disruptive of all exercises both pre-and post-wise. At least for me.

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I just change into my costume, drape a towel around myself and my feet in flip flops and take the lift to the ground-floor to the condo swimming pool. I do so in the mornings, when children are already in school and tai tais haven’t readied themselves for public exposure. Neighbours always ask me the same question when they see me in the pool: “Isn’t it cold?” I tell them it’s cold only if you decide to stay put in the pool, which is surely not the point of the activity.

I am no swimmer, frankly. I’ve always feared water and won’t get into a pool where my feet can’t feel the floor. I swim breast-stroke only and keep my head above water all the time. I do not wear goggles or a swimming cap. I find them “fussy”.

While I don’t know how to tread water, I am very good at walking, jogging and doing a whole bunch of exercises in the pool. I don’t know if they qualify as aqua-aerobics but they are, believe me, tiring.

When I am done, usually in 40 minutes, I get out of the pool, drape a towel and proceed home for a bath. It’s so much easier than getting into jogging gear with socks and the right shoes. And then having to get out of them.

How did I get myself back in the groove? By that most mundane of methods: looking in the mirror. People who exercise look healthier. I look thinner but unhealthy. Then there’s the other big difference between people who exercise and those who don’t: watch the way they walk. The fitter person seems to float on air while the sloth drags his weary body. I was starting to “feel’’ heavy.

Then there are the eight sets of swimming costumes that lie un-used in my wardrobe. I hesitate to get into them because I’m worried about looking flabby. Yet I know I will get flabbier if I don’t get into them. I did the next best thing: I bought myself another swimming costume. Now…if you buy something, you will use it. I don’t regret paying for the new costume because of what I have been able to receive in terms of healthier skin and lighter feet.

It also means I can eat more.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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