Gahmen Introduces 5-Cs of Handling Public Criticism

July 23, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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Below is a section of The Unofficial “Official Gahmen Handbook” on how to deal with bad publicity. It is taken from http://forums.delphiforums.com/sammyboymod/messages?msg=18761.1

Following the recent spate of criticisms made against the Gahmen, the PS21 Office has published a Handbook that teaches Gahmen officials how to handle bad publicity. The Handbook explains the 5-Cs of deflecting public criticism.

The Handbook is the brainchild of Mr Chin Gao Siam, a Senior Officer in the PS21 Office. Mr Chin explains: “Over the past year, many Gahmen agencies faced intense public criticism. Some of them managed to come up with ingenious and creative approaches to persuade the public that it is not their fault. I thought, why not compile these best practices and disseminate to all Gahmen officials?”

So, if you are a Gahmen official, how could you respond when something goes wrong? Here are 5-Cs from the “Not My Fault” Handbook:

1. CONSOLE your critics:

The first basic way is to take the “I feel your pain” approach. PM Goh used this after the bus fare hikes when he said that he “understood” the situation. The Handbook explained that by offering understanding and consolation, the Gahmen can give the impression that it knew what the regular person went through, even though the well-paid Gahmen officials probably cannot recall the last time they took a bus or an MRT, benefit from lower taxes and pay little GST.

“Understanding” is cost-effective, because you don’t have to “do” anything. An elaboration of this method is to tell critics that it is for their own good. Eg, the fare hikes were meant to give a signal to the people and educate them that there will be more pain ahead. Getting ST/BT writers to write supportive articles, eg, explaining how a widening income gap is inevitable with globalisation, also helps.

2. CONFUSE your critics:

A second tried-and-tested method is to avoid answering the central issue, but instead introduce new, irrelevant issues to confuse your critics. The Gahmen’s handling of the transport fare hike is an excellent example. Instead of providing a satisfactory answer to the question “Why is there a fare hike?”, it threw another question back at the public “Do you prefer infrequent big hikes or frequent small hikes?” and thus avoided the original question altogether.

3. COUNTER-ACCUSE:

Another popular and effective method is to blame your customers. For example, when several DBS bank accounts were hacked into recently, the bank blamed its customers for not installing good anti-virus software and for relying on cheap pirated copies which they bought from the pasar malam downstairs.

PSA has also honed the ‘Blame your customer’ tactic to a fine art. After two of its biggest customers defected to Johor, it explained that these customers were too stupid to appreciate the better quality of service which PSA provided.

“Sometimes, if your customers are too stupid, it makes better sense to lose them and have them move away.” explained Mr Chin.

MOH used this technique when it blamed the family of the liver failure victim for indecision. However, Mr Chin noted that this backfired, because of wrong information. The addendum to this technique is therefore: Get your information right, first.

If you can’t blame your customer, find anyone in sight and push the blame to them. When DBS faced legal threats from UOB and OUB, it cleverly pushed the blame (and also the bill) to its adviser Goldman Sachs. Another solution is to blame foreign talents who were recruited to manage Government-Linked Companies. “Nobody will shed a tear if you fire a foreign talent, which is why GLCs should hire more of them so that they can be let go when things go wrong,” said Mr Chin. Junior employees may also be good people to blame, because they cannot deny their fault. This was best illustrated in the case when bus drivers were blamed for the bus fare hikes because they wanted higher pay.

However, Mr Chin qualified this best practice. “You should never, ever, make a senior Singaporean civil servant look bad, as this undermines public faith in the civil service. Also, it is not convincing because it is well known that senior people are normally PSC scholars who graduated from top overseas universities and they never make mistakes.”

4. CONFIRM “honest mistakes”:

This latest response was pioneered by the IDA. It argued that its $388M ‘ang pao’ to SingTel was an ‘honest mistake’, hence no one should be punished. “This type of ‘honest mistake’ is different from the ‘dishonest mistakes’ typically made in the private sector which calls for punishment,” explained Mr Chin. He foresees that the “honest mistake” clause will be used more frequently by Gahmen agencies in the future. The Handbook also distinguished between “honest mistake” and “incompetence”.

“Incompetence” is when junior officers make errors, “honest mistakes” are by senior officers.

5. CHALLENGE your critics:

When you finally cannot find a way to explain the situation, challenge your critics to enter the political arena and run at the next General Election. In the meantime, insist that the Gahmen has the People’s Mandate to rule.

The Handbook has been warmly welcomed by Gahmen and civil servants, because the public has become pickier and whinier, and only know how to complain without giving constructive suggestions. One week into its publication, the Handbook is already into its second print run.

However, Mr Chin has received little monetary compensation for his bright idea. His salary has not been pegged to the number of copies sold, the effectiveness of the Handbook or to the average revenue of the top 10% of current bestsellers.

He submitted his suggestion via the Staff Suggestion Scheme and only received a $2 award for his idea.

The spokesman for the Public Service Division explained that since civil servants are not punished for mistakes, they would not be rewarded for good work either.