State productivity

May 31, 2010
Singapore Democrats

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Mohd Jufrie Mahmood

The latest buzz word that has currently made a come back is “productivity”, or in the case of Singapore the lack of it. It has just been retrieved from the store and dusted off the thick cobweb that has shrouded it all these years.

Productivity is the rate at which it makes goods or provides services, and is usually judged in connection with the number of people and the amount of materials necessary to produce the goods or services.

The more skillful and hardworking the workforce is, I suppose, the higher would be the efficiency and productivity. But higher productivity of the workforce alone does not necessarily translate into more profit if the management miscalculates the costs and pre-occupies itself with activities not related to the company’s or its shareholders’ well-being.

Worse, if the management’s objective is other than to make profit for the shareholders because the company is already flush with cash accumulated over the years when competition was not as tough. It is instead largely obsessed with retaining control of the organisation by manipulating or withholding information from shareholders so that it can continue to pay itself huge salaries and bonuses. In the process they squander the company’s funds.

The company I am talking about is, of course, Singapore Inc.

When an alternative group emerges to challenge the incumbent management team, all kinds of methods are employed to ward off the challenge. It even goes so far as to change, or even go against, existing company rules and standing orders to retain its grip.

Even when the PAP loses colossal sums of money due to bad decisions it remains unfazed. There is neither accountability nor transparency. And of course no apology either. Its continued survival at the helm depends on its keeping the truth away from the shareholder-electorate.

In the meantime productivity takes a back seat.

Take the case of the never ending court prosecution of SDP leaders and social activists.

Last year saw the prosecution of 19 individuals who conducted a peaceful Tak Boleh Tahan protest outside Parliament House in March 2008. The trial took more than one year. It required the services of one judge, three deputy public prosecutors, numerous prosecution witnesses and technical personnel, not less than five or six policemen at any one time put on duty in the court, court support staff, court space, cost of electricity, etc. 

The amount of state funds wasted on the entire exercise must have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars. In contrast, the maximum fine for the minor offence is $1,000.

On the day of the incident itself, more than 40 police officers were deployed at the scene to film, monitor and arrest the protesters. What about the cost in transporting everyone the police station, not to mention the man-hours used to carry out the investigation and process all the paper work?

This is not to mention the loss of productivity suffered by many of the accused and their employers. All because the powers that be chose to selectively prosecute citizens who were exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

When I saw Dr Chee Soon Juan in court on one occasion, handcuffed and legs shackled, it dawned on me how wasteful the state was. There were no less than six police/prison officers standing guard around him, inspite of him being shackled and placed in an enclosed dock. 

The offence did not even require him to post bail. If he was really such a dangerous criminal, would he not have escaped a long time ago? This is productivity Singapore style.

Why can’t the AG’s chambers act more productively to free the courts so that the judges can attend to more serious cases? Charging the SDP leaders repeatedly that no democratic society would even think of doing serves only the interest of the PAP. There is no productivity gain for the nation.


Jufrie Mahmood is a member of the Central Executive Committee of the SDP.