23 November 2003

PAP Governance from the 1984 Operations Manual

"How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?"
"And if the Party says that it is not four but five - then how many?"

The powers-that-be probably had enough of the popular heckling of its failed PR-exercise on White Horses, and went back to the issue of the Great Leader's London Trip to cover it up - an irony, since the White Horse affair was probably leaked in order to relieve tension on the Great Leader.

The national newspaper duly reported that contrary to what the Great Leader and his medical team announced almost 3 weeks ago, the missus had suffered a cataclysmic stroke with internal bleeding, the kind that kills 8 out of 10 such stroke victims. And contrary to rumour, the missus flew back on a commercial SIA plane, where none of the passengers had a clue about who was in the first-class front cabin.

"How many fingers, Winston ?"
The needle went up to sixty.
"How many fingers, Winston?"
"Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!"

It's all very nice, case resolved with the proper explanations from all involved. The Great Leader is not an unfair man who abuses his status.

But questions remain:
1. You mean to say the entire medical team and the Great Leader lied about the condition of the missus from the beginning? In their original words, it was a "mild stroke".

2. The entire medical team originally claimed that the missus' condition wasn't life-threatening or serious. They felt she could survive a 18-hour flight three days after her stroke. Such high-altitude flights would normally induce massive bleeding in the cataclysmic stroke patients! Now, their heads should roll for putting her into such danger, and she should've stayed in London at a private hospital for a month.

3. You mean to say the Great Leader lied when he said our national airline spent 2 days retrofitting a plane so it would be, in his own words during the initial press conference, "a flying hospital"? How modest that we are now told her flying hospital consisted of just the front cabin on the plane, in the first class section.

4. Let me ask: if you spend 2 days retrofitting a plane on short notice, surely it means it screws up the entire flight schedule of the commercial passengers?

And surely, given the status of the Great Leader, his missus, and family on the plane... standard security procedures would've been taken, like body checks, more scans before boarding, lots of security personnel with earphones. Surely it'd be impossible for the passengers to notice that someone big was on the plane?

Incidentally, we are never given the flight number of the "commercial plane" that Great Leader and missus took home.

"How many fingers, Winston?"
"Four! Stop it, stop it! How can you go on? Four! Four!"
"How many fingers, Winston?"
"Five! Five! Five!"
"No, Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are four. How many fingers, please?"
"Four! Five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!"

Incidentally, I think both operations Great London Escapade and White Horse were brilliant sucesses of the Government, and should be acknowledged as such. In the end, the public is told what it needs to know, and has absolutely no way of refuting what it is told.

My previous post about the White Docket scheme was a spoof of the news reports on the White Horse revelations by the Minister of Defense, Cedric Foo. And yes, White Dockets really do exist, as pointed out by one of my readers. But it does illustrate the principles of information management that qualifies his actions as a success.

There is nothing secret about White Horses, the state of POW training in commando camps, the waste of time and money - to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars - by bureaucrats on WITS projects, and even White Dockets, which, as a reader points out, really exist. These secrets are "open secrets", some as old as modern Singapore itself.

The recent disclosures of the first 3 issues in open Parliament is a fantastic and brilliant move. If they never raised these issues in open Parliament, it would be impossible for us to discuss White horses, commando training, and WITS projects in any open forum (open = public, can be logged down).

The only venue to speak about these issues in the past was always in secret, and always as an act of very discreet "indiscretion", as a private matter transmitted from one individual to another. These indiscretions would be largely subversive, underlying connotation "Singapore is not a clean country".

That these topics are now able to be discussed in Singapore shows how much we owe to Mr. Foo, and how much permission was actually needed before Singaporeans feel they can talk about this openly.

Not only are they allowed to talk freely, now everyone is incited to debate the issue of favouritism in a context that is socially favourable. The connotations are now socially engineered in a single stroke, and changed to "standards of fairness". Such discourse is not subversive, but conservative and reactionary, re-affirming the values of justice, equality, clean government and efficient administration. The dissent of public discourse is subverted, tamed and domesticated.

And besides, according to the officials, all these activites belong to the past, and no longer take place. There is no more biased treatment of certain soldiers, no more White Horse classfications, no more deaths in the army, no more illegal and questionable army training, no more wastefulness in the civil service. Hence, it is impossible for future discourse to be subversive, or continue to bear any connotations that "Singapore is not a clean society."

Can we disagree? And where would we find the proof to back our dissent? We will neither find out just how bad the abuses and mistakes were, and whether they still exist.

In fact, our leaders have just decisively shown who's in charge here. At the end of the day, they control the information, how much Singaporeans are allowed to know, and what Singaporeans are allowed to talk about, and in what context.

And this is why the Civil Service is still the ideal job of every graduate here. It pays to stick with the winners.

"How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?"
"I don't know. I don't know. You will kill me if you do that again. Four, five, six - in all honesty I don't know."
"Better", said O'Brien.

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