Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Quest For More Information

Was Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, the right person to ask if his ministry would consider looking at the suitability of a Freedom of Information Act for Singapore? He's probably still sore WikiLeaks revealed the Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs since 2002 "has a more open-minded interpretation of the Koran" and said his Puerto Rico born wife converted to Islam to "satisfy the conservative standards of Singapore".

Academics, economists and sociologists are demanding more than the "pledge to share more information." They want the raw data, instead of the ad hoc releases from the official propaganda machine. We have seen how Lawrence Wong massaged the MOM statistic about how the bottom 20 percent income earners stagnated over the past decade. Wong broke the numbers into first half of the decade with a negative plunge, and second half of the decade with the recovery, emphasizing the second to cover the pain of the first, and ignoring the same end result: real monthly income change for the 20th percentile of 0.3% for 2001-2010.

Researchers and university dons seem to focus on the two hot-button issues - foreigners and wages. But the data which merits closer scrutiny is the costing for the HDB flats. Recall the "Report on The National Kidney Foundation" dated 16 December 2005 by KPMG which stumbled across the TT Durai style of accounting:

6.11.1 The NKF reported in its Investment Report 2004 that it enabled its patients to save in excess of $3.5 million in treatment costs by providing subsidies for costly medication and by bringing down drug prices.

6.11.2 We found that the amount of such savings was derived from the difference between the prices charged by NKF and a notional market price of drugs based on estimated annual consumption in 2004 instead of the difference between the prices charged by the NKF and the actual prices of drugs paid by the NKF. These savings were reflected in invoices given to patients.

6.11.3 We found that the stated cost of drugs dispensed to patients as reflected in the invoices closely approximated the market price of the drugs.

One may argue that, going by the dictionary definition of subsidy, being "Monetary assistance granted by a government to a person or group in support of an enterprise regarded as being in the public interest," HDB flats are subsidised. But what if the actual accounting is a facsimile of the NKF model? In his last dying gasps as Minister of National Development, Mah Bow Tan muddied the waters further by adding the notion of national reserves into the costing.

There is anecdotal evidence that the subsidised medication from our Healthcare system may be sourced cheaper across the Causeway. In the Michael Moore 2007 documentary "Sicko", Americans crossed the border to Canada for more affordable medicine. Since Singapore is a duty free station, there should be no significant disparity in prices of pharmaceutical products in JB. Unless the bean counters have a different philosophy in preparing the books. Will a Freedom of Information Act provide any illumination in such murky waters?


  1. There are many things the government is trying to hide from the people. I see the lack of information as a lack of accountability. The mainstream media only report on what the government want us to hear. We need sites like Temasek Review to reveal facts that government does not want us to know. Facts like Tony Tan is an uncle of Lee Hsien Loong. Facts like the uptrend of TB occurrence is the result of our immigration policy. Facts like Temasek Holdings incurred paper losses in the order of billions by investing in Standard Chartered Bank. Facts like Temasek Holdings in trying to gain over control of Yahoo to control online news content.

  2. i hear your arguments agst creative accounting and reading of statistics, and yes, we'r being done over. i am however hesitant about jabbing yaacob over his wife's conversion. at least there, you have to admit, the man was honest. quite rare these days. tho it is islam which does not tolerate muslims marrying someone who is not a muslim, not just spore conservatives.

    bringing up his sons' citizenship has more cache, no? hopefully, he was honest as well there and they really will take up spore citizenship in time to do NS. but by then, he may not be in govt... or even in spore.

  3. "the man was honest"?
    If not for WikiLeaks, we would never have known about this man's priorities. How long has he been in public office? Since 1997. When did the public know about his personal convictions? 2011. Thank God for Julian Assange.

  4. Anyone wonder why Mah Bow Tan kept mum during the recent parliamentary debate? I thought he would rebut WP's MP, Gerald Giam, and show the us concrete, undeniable and indisputable evidence how truly affordable HDB flats really are!

  5. The NKF case is just a tip of an iceberg yet to be uncovered. The Freedom of Information Act will never be implemented so long as the current ruling party is in power, simply because the dirts for last 40 years have been so thick that many will be prosecuted. Change of power and return power to the people are necessary to abolish the ill Official Secret Act and replace with Freedom of Information Act. Wise Singaporeans are waiting for that day to know the hard truths of the past since independence. The daft Singaporeans are those delaying this process of democracy. This government is not transparent and not accountable for its people. Change is a must.

  6. I am a retired civil servant. I am waiting for the day of Freedom of Information Act to tell my story. I cannot disclose anything if there is still Official Secret Act in force. I am waiting... waiting...waiting and hope the day comes before I leave this world.

  7. Last time (even without any FOC Act), they even publish the details of each HDB contract award for all to see with the aim to maintain competitiveness among HDB contractors. Now it seems competition is not that important anymore ?

    Try fishing in the HDB website for the constrution cost now and one probably can guess they are not too keen for the public to recall such details. Why ?

    Would you want your customer to really find out that your retail price is maybe 2 or 3 times your cost price when instead you are actually telling them you are selling them a 'subsidised' product which is supposed to be cheaper, better and faster ?

    With a Freedom of Information Act, it can only mean political suicide for PAP. Do you think LKY or his son would ever allow that in their lifetime ?

  8. Since they won't open up FOIA, OSA, Whistleblow Act etc, their only tactic is to attack the new medium and discrediting them as misleading and falsehoods, hiding behind cloak of anonymity, when their very own behavior suggest they are the embodiment such values. When you can't be transparent, is easier to ask the other party to be transparent. Is called "Projections".