Monday, 17 March 2014

Cabinet Records and Maturity of the State

[The unwillingness to share and open information from the Malaysian government leads to a delay or even wrong investigation of the missing MH370.  Now compares it with the case of the PAP government not releasing old cabinet records, how mature is the state of Singapore as a First World country?]
The PAP government is famous in keeping everything confidential even for old records. Even a 30-year old cabinet record, the PAP still wants to keep it for themselves, far away from the public. We are now a First World country and yet we still behave very immature in many ways, especially in transparency and checks and balances.

So, who is immature after nearly 50 years of independence? Is it the PAP government or the People?

The government: It continues to control the press. It finds uncomfortable with the social media. It is acting like a child in information sharing and disclosures.  
The people: With better education, more channels, different viewpoints of getting information, the people of Singapore have become more mature in selecting and trusting the information.
Some may argue both the government and the people are not mature. They may even accept the argument of “(it) is not transparency for transparency’s sake”. #1   No matter how you look at it, the government is far from maturity in handling public information, including old government records.  It still maintains its old position of “Policy papers or cabinet papers may not have complete information or detail because the civil servants writing them know that the reports will be made available.”#1  

This last answer in fact is an insult to history, insult to historians, and insult to national archives.  The PAP government needs to know the importance of history, the correct versions of the events and decision makings. Perhaps, there is an urgent need for the PAP to learn about Si Ma Qian and his famous writing of Shi-ji (The Records of Grand Historian). He made a personal sacrifice to write and record the history for future generations to learn, to study and to correct.

As far as the PAP is in government, the cabinet records and other so-called confidential information will not make public. The official history of Singapore in this case can only be the PAP version of Singapore history. So, the PAP is suggesting to the people unless there is a change of government otherwise all remain the same.

If we look at the Malaysian government’s handling of information in the MH370 case, we see the similarities in PAP too. They are too used to a control press environment, too comfortable with protected working condition, and also group thinking attitude.

Let’s draw a simple conclusion in the Malaysian case. They are now under intense international criticisms and quick actions.   
Limited information sharing or selected information disclosures +
Inexperience or not the best team in charge =
Wrong direction/analysis of investigations
Perhaps, in future the international community will agree to some changes of protocol to allow non-host countries or experts to have more opinions, more information disclosures in air disasters investigation.

Now we compare this to the management of Singapore reserve.   
Limited information sharing or selected information disclosures +
Inexperience or not the best team in charge =
Wrong direction/analysis of investments
The PAP government is not willing to share the information of our reserve. This is in line with the first argument of “(it) is not transparency for transparency’s sake”. Perhaps we should also look at how the records are written. The government’s second argument is if civil servants know the historical records to be made public, they “may not have complete information or detail (for their writings)”.  Why do they not write and record accordingly to the facts?  Why do they not tell the truths if the records are for public consumption?

The PAP claims they are paying top dollars for top talents and we have the best team in charge of our reserve, be it Temasek or GIC. However, the recent case of Olam and many other past investments seem to suggest the team is inexperience in international investment and they always ‘buy high and sell low’.

We are an international financial centre but many top financial positions are not held by Singaporeans. Just like the Malaysian case, there are many top foreign experts helping the investigations to locate the missing flight but the final decision making is still in the hand of Malaysian government. We cannot rule out the possibility of group thinking in the Malaysian government.

Same thing can happen to the management of Singapore reserve. We are paying top money for top talents in the management of our reserve. But we cannot rule out the group thinking of our top decision makers.  The PAP acknowledges that only few people know about our reserve (not even the late President Ong Teng Cheong).

We also cannot rule out despite paying top money to top foreign talents/investment experts, the PAP is not willing to disclose or share information with them, just like the PAP is not willing to share information with Singaporeans. Hence, best investment strategies for our reserve are not materialised or implemented.   

So, we may conclude the investments of our reserve are in the wrong directions and wrong analysis, following the Malaysian pattern.  Of course, no one will know the real answer as old records are not open for public inspections.  

The PAP is not mature enough to share the information, but the people demand to know more.

It is not a question of ‘compassion deficit’ or ‘information deficit’. It is after all a growing ‘deficit between the PAP and Singaporeans’.  The Malaysian lesson reminders us that we may moving towards a wrong direction and time and efforts have been wasted unnecessary due to the lack of transparency, checks and balances.         


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