"I refer to the letter "More than just a taste of home" by Mr Roy Quek of the Overseas Singapore Unit of the Prime Minister's Office (May 9), responding to my commentary "Not a recipe to win hearts" (May 4).
Mr Quek asserted that "Mr Siew's commentary is built around his mistaken premise that Singapore Day was organised to woo overseas Singaporeans back". There was no such mistake or premise on my part.
My commentary explicitly stated my personal belief that Singapore Day "served to refresh connections with overseas Singaporeans, to remind and update them about Singapore". This would have been clear and unmistakable to any reader."
I had initially been inclined to just let it be. But what got me pretty annoyed was the response from PMO to the e-mail that had been sent to them. The e-mail was from fellow TODAY writer Adrian Tan, who basically pointed out this pretty fundamental -- and obvious -- error and questioned why this error had been made. I had replied over that e-mail, asking PMO what their response was or whether they were going to respond at all.
Adrian replied to my e-mail (somewhat aggressively), ending with this paragraph:
"Am I correct, PMO that misrepresenting (whether negligently, or wilfully) in public the views on an MP (even an NMP) is a serious matter? Or am I wrong and that it's OK for the civil service to misrepresent publicly theviews of NMPs?"
PMO finally responded, one full week after Adrian's initial e-mail and three days after my e-mail. Their response is reproduced below in full.
"Dear Mr Siew,
The Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) does not see a need to respond to Mr Adrian Tan's comments as Mr Tan was sharing a personal view, which we have duly noted.
We will be happy to engage and discuss with Mr Tan if he has specific ideas and proposals on how we can better engage and connect with our Overseas Singaporeans, including suggestions on how we can improve on Singapore Day and other outreach initiatives.
I thought that there were many things lacking about this response. Firstly, it was sent only to myself -- it omitted Adrian and other cc addressees (TODAY folks), which I thought was a little impolite. The tone of the message was also pretty arrogant and high-handed.
Second, it was unsigned, with the sender unnamed. I'm told that the Overseas Singapore Unit is a 3-person unit, so that is pretty much an exercise in futility.
Third, Adrian was not stating a "personal view" -- he was pointing out an error. Was it too much for them to acknowledge whether there was in fact an error, and if not to explain why they had stated what they did?
Finally, the suggestion seems to be that the OSU will engage Singaporeans if and only if there are specific ideas being offered, and in no other circumstances. Is that really an appropriate position for a government agency to adopt? Whatever happened to taking in feedback? Is the only feedback that is valid and which the OSU will deign to respond to, feedback to help the OSU do its job?
All of these things are really not quite acceptable and not becoming, especially for a unit of the PMO, which really sets the tone for the entire civil service. So it really did raise my ire a bit. I had been inclined to simply blog about the mistake, because I have no wish to embarrass anyone publicly. But if that was going to be PMO's attitude, then I decided to write in to set the record straight in TODAY, who agreed to publish a response.
This whole episode has been more than a little disappointing. I didn't expect any bouquets, but to be misrepresented was uncalled-for. And I am sure any reasonable person would find the response from PMO simply unsatisfactory. This is not an ego trip from an NMP who has inflated expectations and perceptions of the importance and power of this appointment (trust me, I very much swing towards the other extreme), but simply an expression of annoyance, disbelief and and above all disappointment from a citizen.