Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Rountable on social and political issues

I had a roundtable discussion with three young people about social and political issues in Singapore. We started with different perspectives and managed to find common ground on the following issues:

a) Educate people about the values of honesty, fairness and public service
b) Tell consumers about their rights under the Consumer Protection and Fair Trading Act and the Unfair Contracts Act
c) The slogan "cheaper, better and faster" is not good and not fair for workers
d) Media to reflect honest and diverse views
e) The standard of business ethics in Singapore is rather bad
f) Singaporeans need to improve our social behavior


Anonymous said...

REX comments as follows,

I am sure all points a) to f) are valid and aptly sums up the ills in our society these days.

In my opinion, the solution to ALL these problems, though varied, points only one way - eradicate the climate of FEAR and INSECURITY and most if not ALL these problems will be diminished (though not eradicated completely).


a. Honesty, fairness and public service - Although these sins have been around since "Adam and Eve", they will tend to be less prevalent if people feel more secure, content with the overall social and political environment.

b. Consumer's rights - people do not bother with such abstractions simply because in Singapore we have no other recourse to "rights" in many cases. A good example was the lack of government authority support in the minibonds scandal which erodes confidence in the concept of "rights"; through this example people would tend to be fearful and resigned to their fate in future, when they make mistakes not throught their fault.

c. CBT slogan: If workers are less fearful and insecure, they will be able to be more creative and will focus their energies more on doing things better and faster. The word cheaper is completely irrelevant as it polarises the camps of "employers" vs. "workers". It is unbelievable that a minister level person could not think ahead and deep enough to forsee this.

d. Media. The media is made up of people who are also suffering under the Fear and Insecurity factor. The people in the media, persoanlly, they worry about their jobs so they speak against their conscience. The bosses, same same, they also want to keep their job to support their house loans and expensive living. In Singapore because social security is a "big joke", therefore, people cling on to their job for dear life and EVERYTHING else is not important. Fear factor need to be contained and you have to nip the problem in the bud first!

e. Standard of business ethics. This point overlaps point (a) which mentioned "fairness".

f. Improve social behaviour. Social behaviour will definitely improve if people do not feel Fearful and do not feel Insecure.. you have to feel relaxed, content, and HAPPY (Yes, Happy!!) before you can pass on the better side of yourself to another fellow being!

In conclusion, "telling people", "educating them" etc is not going to help much. Surely there is little point in preaching to an adult that honesty is a virtue. Everybody knows that.

We have to get rid of, or at least reduce, the Fear and Insecurity issue of citizens first. I cannot see any other way.


Tan Kin Lian said...

Thanks for your positive comments.
I have spoken to may adults about honesty. They expressed surprise.
They did not realise that it is dishonest to make a profit at another person's expense by over-charging them (due to their ignorance or trust) or by giving misleading information. They think that it is acceptable business practice.

They were also surprised that honesty includes telling the truth and not give half truths.

It is necessary to preach the virtue of honesty. Many people that I spoke to agree that more people should come forward and talk about honesty.

They also expressed the wish that our leaders should also preach honesty and set a good example.

I hope that you agree with my perspective.

Anonymous said...

You cannot have honesty when there is no transparency and those at the top are not accountable.

Honest Man said...

We are caught in a fix. The island that we are on has nothing except human beings.
From as far I can remember till today, I am reminded that my JOB is THE MOST IMPORTANT.
From ministers to my employers, I am reminded that without my job, I am nothing.
I owe it to the "MNC", to "investors" to people I dont even know.
My job gives me a salary that will provide me with home,car, maid,food,holidays, a lifestyle that I enjoy.

If I have to lie, cheat and do the bidding of my employer, would it be a difficult choice?

This is the Singapore way of life.

Challenge anyone on the street if they will give up their jobs for a life of righteousness.

This is why we vote ( if you get the chance) for the same party each time. This why many things will not change.
The fear, as "REX" proposes, is true.. its the fear of losing your job.

Mr Tan, has retired and has sufficient funds to enjoy his pursuits. Many of us, worry about our jobs. Ever been jobless and having a mountain of bills to pay?

For many people in the West, they have many avenues to get support and help. Many in the East where they are so poor, they have nothing else to lose, they live off whatever they can find.

Singaporeans are neither. Poor but not poor enough. Rich but not rich enough. And it will be managed that way for a long, long time.

Anonymous said...

c) The slogan "cheaper, better and faster" is not good and not fair for workers

Now, after many years of growth and progresses in Singapore and early this year Global Finance Crisis,NTUC came up with this " CBF"slogan.
Why the need to become cheaper in our products & services?Are we trying to "kill" ourselves now?We certainly cannot be cheaper then our neighbouring countries,so what is next?Can Mr.TKL advise us?

Old worker

Anonymous said...

So much publicity and justification for our high priced talents.

And what do we get? Cheaper, Better Faster.

Isn't this just a twist on what our Singapore Ah Bengs' call "cheap & good?"

Now if we at least get the sort of innovative leadership we see at Apple, then at least I feel better.

It's just the same old "Asian sweatshop strategy" wrapped up in a new package.

Like the old fashioned Chinese Lantern. It's pretty, shines very brightly and can be seen from far away. Look more closely, and it's mostly empty space with a lot of hot air coming out at the top.

Anonymous said...

The insurance companies use their agents who have a huge data base of cleints who know and trust them to push their rotten products without the customers knowing it.
These clients buy becuase of the trust they have in the agents. So it is easier to dump whatever products on the unsuspecting customers.Why rotten products like cashback endwoment can sell becuase of this.
Trust!!!!! Trust is very dangerous and insurance agents exploit this trust to the maximum to achieve their own goals. Conning and cheating is only possible if there is trust.

Anonymous said...

REX comments again,

Hi Mr Tan.
Re- "honesty"
My view is as follows, the base line for honesty is NOT TELLING A PLAIN LIE. Beyond that, it is a grey area. Why? Consider the below example.

Suppose you overcharged and the customer was given most of the facts to read. And also, every other seller in the block had been using the same way of doing business all the years. You don't want to lose out... don't have the guts to spoil the market - your competitors may even threaten you for doing that....therefore you don't want to be lau-hero and change the status quo, and you flow with the tide... and justify your dishonesty.

On the other end of the scale, we have an example of really honest living. Have you been to the wan ton mee stall in Sernagoon garden "ming garden" kopitiam? IT IS ONLY $2.50 a bowl!! And the quality is SUPERB - 1960's style i swear. She could easily follow the market and charge $3.00. However i think even with $2.50 it is enough to cover the costs and she continues honestly to sell at the low price because, somehow, (i don't know how!) the owner is content, happy and not many worries in life.

If we can get banks and insurance companies to be like the noodle stall it will be wonderful

But alas, Fear and Insecurity are the root of many evils in Singapore!

In summary, People get "dishonest" by your definition, because of many reasons, and i totally agree that to set things right the government must do something, set examples.

Setting examples at the highest level with surprising, novel widespread policy changes is better than any campaign or education policies. Right now the government only see statistics not soul.


Anonymous said...

REX comments on CBT slogan.

In designing a slogan, it is important never to mix cause and effect. We want our people to do something, in a certain way, that is "Cause". Doing things better is "cause". Doing things faster is another "cause". But "Cheaper" - it's not a cause, it is the EFFECT of doing things fast and better. Because, when things are done fast and better you can price your products better and compete. There is no need to state the EFFECT if you want to encourage workers to follow a certain behaviour pattern.

Cause and effect should never be mixed togehter in the slogan.

As usual the ministers made mistakes which causes anxiety and they pretend nothing happened. Some blogger recently commented that government behaviour borders on the phenomenon of "having an elephant in the room and pretending nothing is happening".

There are too many huge elephants in Singapore.


Ps>> I think mr tan suggested "better, faster, MORE". I can agree to that, since more goods (or service)is a cause. The effect corresponding to "more" will be that you become more competitive, possibly you can price you products lower and secure bigger market...

C H Yak said...

(a) In Singapore, there seems to be double standards in the yardstick to measure "honesty and fairness" expectation for individuals vs corporations and particularly the public service sector.

For the commoner we expect them to be extremely honest and fair, but when these individuals are acting on behalf of corporates and Authorities, they become extremely arrogant in handling the individuals. Particularly when it involves the public service, the corporations are always in the "right" without even passing a "reasonableness test". So you see the the foremost is to push away responsibility for the corporation, even if it is in the "wrong". There is also no public apology for being wrong on the part of public Authorities.

This arrogant attitude against the commoners can exist from the lowest level of our organisations right up to the highest order which is the judiciary and Govt. in their decision making and administration.

(b) Acts about Fair Trading have been passed but the general attitude towards the consumers is still very bad. I like to recount a good experience in China recently. I bought two light bulbs wrongly from a supermarket and returned to the supermarket to ask for a refund the same day. I got the refund back readily without any questioning and doubt. The service counter simply checked the receipt and condition of the bulbs and gave me a refund. In Singapore, if the same was to take place, the reception staff would insist that I purchase something else of a higher price in "exchange".

This clearly demonstrates "commercial and corporate" arrogance in Singapore. I like to compare and benchmark against China because it is a communist state while Singapore is a developed country and democratic.

This is one very keen topic which I had requested Mr Tan to share his thoughts for a Fraier Society, together with another subject Corporate Social Responsibility.

(c) "Cheaper, better and faster" Slogan - While crying workers should be "Cheaper, better and faster", I hope our Government and the NTUC will also work "Cheaper, better and faster" and be "fair" to implement a "minimum wage policy" for our workers. Once again, we can benchmark against a huge communist state like China which can implement "minimum wage policy", commplemented by the Yibao (public health insuarnce) and Retirement scheme effectively throughout the various provinces, while still keeping retirement age at 55, and having 5-day work week and 2 Golden Week a year, I would think that our Government leaders certainly need to work "Cheaper, better and faster" to catch up with the Chinese leaders. Without a minimum wage policy, this slogan is suppressing the workers.

(d) Media to reflect honest and diverse views. I had shared and commented in a separate posting about what I observed recently in China's National Day celebration TV programmes where the media focussed and paid greater tribute to the common people who participated and put up a good show for their 60th National Day, instead of glorifying their leaders or the Poliburo which would seem propaganda.

Our media must not be prevented in maturing this way since it has been put under one roof (SPH). If diverse views are tolerated and given flexibility and a fair chance of airing, the public would be more matured and ready to decide what is right and wrong. And not pre-empting and selecting what is decided as "right" for printing and dissemination for information, which tend to create a "mindset" problem.

(e) Standard of Business Ethics - As observed for (b) above, I hope there will be no double standards in treating business ethics and commercial and authority arrogance. The public sector also should not be placed above the private sector in standards. There should be at least equal footing and fairness for "individual vs corporations" and "private vs public sectors", if the lesser individual is not given greater respect.

C H Yak said...

There is certainly a need to improve our social behaviour. But how to improve our social behaviour?

Mr Tan commented :- "It is necessary to preach the virtue of honesty. Many people that I spoke to agree that more people should come forward and talk about honesty....They also expressed the wish that our leaders should also preach honesty and set a good example".

My questions :-

How is it possible for our leaders to do so if public Authorities is to be placed above private corporate citizens and ordinary layman?

How is it possible if our corporations reward their staffs more based on the profits they contribute than the quality of service they offer to the consumers? Is commercial arrogance tolerated and seen as a norm and measure of executive power for climbing the management ladder?

How is it possible for our leaders to do so if public Authorities are shielded from mistakes by statutes and leaders would not admit and apologise for obvious mistakes committed?

Recently, China Premier Wen Jiabao said something wrong during a visit to a school during their National Day celebration. He realised his mistake after the visit, and immediately the next day, he contacted the main media (TV and newspapers) to offer his apology. His act of honesty was commended widely by Netizens. This is the benchmark the public would expect. I believe more will salute him for his honesty than criticise him for his wrong remark or mistake.

Anonymous said...

It is not human nature to be honest to begin with.

Especially when comes to transaction of money.

Consumer has a right to know how much they should be paying right?

Which business can tell me how much is their cost and how much they profitted from selling a product/service to me? None.

I also cannot anyhow guess because that is speculation.

As a consumer, if I know the cost of the product is $1 and it is sold at $5~6, then I know it is overcharging and I can look for alternative product or simply walk away.

Unfortunately, nobody in Singapore is practicing this policy.

Anonymous said...

More comments from REX

They did it again. Today's newspaper carried another probable mistake of the government, which I think they arrogantly denied again. H1N1 vaccine costs $29 at polyclinics but $27.80 at private clinic "Healthway". When quizzed the MOH declared that they "don't make profit", they merely cover cost of vaccine, storage, delivery and overheads above the $16 cost from the supplier... Wah lau, with all the government machinery and economies of scale behind them, i am sure many of these padded "costs" are just left hand paying to left hand kind of costs. Additionally. as a government i think they should sell at cost $16, to singaporeans, even waive GST. (by the way, isn't GST also a profit for the govt?).

Someday, HDB flat will cost more than private flat, if this goes on. It is absurd that I have to wait 1 hour at a polyclinic for services and pay more for h1n1 jab, than at a private clinic.

They might as well shut down the government tomorrow since they say the overheads are so high..


Anonymous said...

Hi Rex,

I must say that I enjoy reading your comments very much.

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