Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thanks for the money! Now give me incentive for thanking you! And give me incentive for willingly receiving the incentive and giving you face!

Thanks for the money! Now give me incentive for thanking you! And give me incentive for willingly receiving the incentive and giving you face!

There is something odd with the Straits Times journalism today. On page 12, the headline reads "NSmen happy with new award".

In the article written with Lester Koh and Teh Joo Lin, only 2 National Service personnel are interviewed, 20-year-old NSF Justin Ong and 31-year-old NSman Roger Ng.

Other people interviewed were experts, public officials and/or authority figures, comprising Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap, Member of Parliament Michael Palmer, researcher Ho Shu Huang, and Minister of State for Defence Koo Tsai Kee. 4 of them have each given a sentence or two on their take on the matter, in light of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally promise and the government's subsequent implementation of the NSman-specific monetary incentive. Well, not quite monetary as it goes into the CPF accounts, which Singaporeans do not have general access too.

Hey, honestly, I think this is a positive socialist gesture. Wait, make that nationalist socialist gesture, because Singaporeans are the ones who serve NS. Remember the catchphrase "Jobs for foreigners; NS for Singaporeans"? The government is doing a little bit to re-balance, by giving Singaporeans some consolation, I mean reward.

I personally feel this is good for most NSmen, because the small sum can definitely help chip in for education and/or housing, although it is insufficient for these two items. Perhaps it can make NSmen look sexier in the eyes of women. "Hey baby, I've got $9000 in my CPF, would you like to hook up? I'm now a desirable man who is in a better position to buy a HDB flat!"

Back to the Straits Times page 12 article's headline "NSmen happy with new award". 2 NSmen and 4 authority voices were interviewed. Is the headline reflective of the article's content?

Perhaps by "NSmen happy with new award", they mean the 2 NSmen who were interviewed. If not, shouldn't the headline be reworded into "2 NSmen happy with new award". Obviously, these 2 NSmen interviewed do not represent the larger diverse population of NSmen out there, never mind the opinions of the authority figures (2 in academia, 1 MP and 1 from MINDEF). If the headline is to be retained as "NSmen happy with new award", the reporters should have put a sub-header "So says 6 men" or a lead paragraph saying "6 men interviewed believe that NSmen will be happy with new award".

On the very same page, is an article continued from page 1, with the header "Only S'poreans will benefit". This is government speak, and it also shows the Straits Times as a complicit and willing platform for government rhetoric and press releases. If the reporters and the editor involved are diligent enough, the header should read "Government: Only S'poreans will benefit" or "(*insert prominent public official's name): Only S'poreans will benefit".

If these were classroom assignments for journalism class, I can see a big F grade at the corner of the exercise. Sorry Lester and Joo Lin, the headline might not even have been your idea.

I hope my criticism of the Straits Times will not affect my chances of being in the top 10 for the (SPH's) "Most Insightful Blogs" next year in 2011, because I wasn't featured this year, due to some blacklisting perhaps?

Moving away from journalism, I mean reporter-ism, since journalists actively and independently look for news while reporters wait for news, I would like to focus on the financial incentive.

Any financial incentive, no matter how limited its usage as decided by the government, has a direct benefit to citizens. The money can only be used specifically for housing, healthcare and retirement, and considering the weight of these items, the sum is useful but pretty small nevertheless. By limiting its usage in the form of putting the incentive into NSmen's CPF accounts, the government is again reiterating its stand that it believes Singaporeans are not financially literate enough to handle their own money.

There are immediate needs like higher education (yeah right, $3500 can only get you 1 semester's worth of education in a local university) and the payment of utility bills (is there any help there?).

With this selective (re)allocation of money, we might as well tell the government, "If you don't want to give, just say so la!"

This is conditional love from a state that tries to appear to be compassionate and understanding. If you are truly compassionate, abolish mandatory death penalty for starters.

At the same time, the idea of giving money plays to the logic most Singaporeans subscribe to. The state has created such a system, an ideology, a way of thinking in which everything can be numericised and things work on an incentive-disincentive system. Economic rationalism determines social processes and ways of life.

To show "appreciation", we show some colourful Yusof Ishaks. This is the culture created by the state and fully embraced by the citizenry, and we all speak the same language. Nationalist socialist policies will be implemented once in a while, but to make Singaporeans feel sometime is actually being done, or let them know explicitly they are being helped, everything is articulated in terms of dollars and cents. This is a self-perpetuating cycle.

Even I am complicit in this. Last year, my reservist training clashed with my full-time graduate studies, and during the period of time where I am teaching, doing research and also writing. My application for deferment was rejected, and two weeks were taken away from me.

I wrote to the Teo Chee Hian and ask for 2 weeks in return, that MINDEF shows its understanding and appreciation for an NSman like me (best commander award winner by the way) and pay for 2 weeks of my semester's fees in the event I am unable to finish my course by the time my scholarship expires.

Since the government has created a discourse in which everything is communicated in dollars and cents, I opted to speak in the language only they will understand. Because reply letters from MINDEF appeared out of character when they kept using rhetoric such as "appreciation", "understanding" and so on - alien language to me. So I demanded that they show their "appreciation" and "understanding" by putting their money where their mouth is and pay for 2 weeks worth of semester's fees in the event I am unable to complete my course. They cannot meet this, and it says a lot about the government's sincerity.

The governmental discourse has two levels. Firstly, everything is articulated in dollars and cents, and people (appear to) willingly participate in it and are greatly affected because of their participation. Secondly, in view of my experience and also the example of selective and controlled handing out of incentives, the government dictates the terms, conditions and grounds for the articulation of such a discourse.

Given these, any form of empowerment through governmental handing out of monetary incentives to NS-serving citizens is illusory, because they want the expenditure of money to be executed in a way aligned with the government's agenda of production and productivity.

Perhaps, those $9000 to $10500 token sums may slightly hasten the production process for the government, raise happiness by a few percentage points or improve any other indices only interpretable to them.

Isn't it interesting when we have a "white" ruling party in the PAP, and that we now have national(ist) socialist policies to govern (and socially engineer) the country? I never say anything ah!!! I never say ah!!!

Remember in 2006 when Lee Hsien Loong was talking about buying votes? This monetary incentive for NSmen is a vote-buying exercise. Every policy and law that the ruling party passes constitutes a political process and deliberation with an aim and a view to solidify and preserve its political legitimacy, especially so if these policies and laws impair or limit a citizen's capacity to participate in the democratic process.

But Singaporeans are siao-siao people, because we have a siao-siao PAP government with siao-siao policies. We can say "thank you" and give you xoxo hugs and kisses, but we still can vote your ass out of Parliament.


Gary said...

I particular hate such 'givings' by the govt because it is meant to manipulate you. When you look at the 'gift horse' in the mouth, you realise that it really does not cost the govt as it looked on the surface - $9,000 per NSman -because actually much less is/will be actually given away. For one, you have to go to Uni/Poly to touch some of it. You can't touch it if you go overseas for your studies or decide not to go for the prescribed higher studies. It really all boils down to promises, promises and more promises.

If govt is sincere, hand it out in real hard cash.

Singapore Kopi Tok said...

"We can say "thank you" and give you xoxo hugs and kisses, but we still can vote your ass out of Parliament."

That should be the way anyway. We take what they want to give, but vote based on principles not presents. However, their present this time around backfired politically and there is more anger now than when if they did not offer anything.