Cleaning Up the Government: Black, White and Grey Corners and Public Expectations
So did public frustration make the government do the right thing in the NParks Brompton controversy? By all accounts, if it were not for the online complaints, the Brompton bikes purchases would have gone unnoticed and also swept under the carpet. The online mob is in a lynching mood, encouraged by the government’s purging of its ranks recently.
A school principal and other civil servants were castigated in an underaged hooker case. The topmost officers in the SCDF and CNB were hauled in for corruption charges, unusual as most corruption cases were in the ranks and file. Now, at least one NParks staff is embroiled in a scandal regarding at best, misuse of taxpayers money or worse, corruption. The government is making a show of cleaning up since the last GE and if the momentum keeps going, an MP or even a minister might be next if a whistle-blower steps in to give damning information on wrongdoing to work up public anger.
“Damning information” is however easy to come by and believed as we are frustrated and have evolved into a society cynical of the government’s intentions and integrity. This is not a bad development as long as it is part of the overall psyche of being cynical of all political-business agendas and machinery e.g. from governments, their contractors, the lobbies, the activists and the media.
The underaged hooker and sex-for-contracts cases are still in the court’s hands, and in the NParks case there is no formal charge yet until CPIB decides to. However, the court of public opinion has decided on the wrongs and wrongdoers already. The underaged hooker and sex-for-contracts cases are clearer on the black and white as more information has been revealed.
The grey NParks case is most telling of public bloodlust as there is no actual crime confirmed yet. The anger evolved from one of use of taxpayers money ,which is not the real issue as “value” over an item purchased is subjective, to one of civil servants personally benefiting from public contracts warded. From what was disclosed by the media and Internet CSI, the practice is actually not uncommon in the private sector. The bikes purchases are actually legitimate as long as the NParks staff did not receive any personal kickbacks and proper paperwork, versus doctored paperwork, was done. Opportunities are given to suppliers one knows and trusts, while there is some cynicism towards certain suppliers based on fair or unfair assumptions. Suppliers who did not get the contracts might become upset over lost opportunities and get even.
Nevertheless, in the Brompton bikes case, regardless of who started the whistle-blowing in the Internet, we expect public servants to have higher standards of “right” and “clean” behaviour, double-standards though it may be. Whatever practices that works in the private sector, cannot apply in the public sector. It does not matter whether the purchase was legitimate, it must be seen as legitimate as far as public expectation goes.