Man who insulted public officer shows us why we can’t have good things in Singapore

TL:DR – Why you gotta be so rude?

When a Ms Elizabeth Aw, a public officer asked how he used up the $147,538 he withdrew from his CPF, Chan Kong Thoe, 56, passed a snide remark that humiliated her and insulted her modesty. As if that wasn’t enough. Chan than called Ms Aw a “low-class officer”. For doing all that, Chan, a part-time security guard was charged under the Protection from Harassment Act. He was convicted and fined $3000.

Why was Ms Aw interested in how Chan had used the money he withdrew from his CPF? After all, it is his money. Why should anyone care? What right does anyone have to question how Chan used his own money?

True. It’s his money. And in most instances, we have no right to question how someone uses his own money. But not in this case. Because Chan was receiving financial aid under the MSF-run ComCare scheme and he was applying for an extension. He was required to disclose that he had withdrawn money from his CPF. His failure to do so made him ineligible for an extension.

With over $147,000, why would he still need financial aid?

Life some times deals us a bad hand. Once in a while, despite our best effort, we stumble, we fall, and we need some help to pick ourselves back up. And that’s what the ComCare scheme is for. The ComCare scheme supports responsible persons and families who need temporary help as they work towards self-reliance.

We don’t know what sort of family commitments Chan has. But can anyone who has over $147,000 be considered in need of financial aid? With proper budgeting, $147,000 can go a very long way. Think about it. If Chan spends $2,000 a month, $147,000 can still last him 70 months. That’s close to 6 years. And $2,000 a month can get you quite a decent lifestyle in Singapore. Not luxurious. But decent.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be what Chan did. Instead of budgeting properly, he appeared to have spent all his money in a short span of 5 months. That’s close to $30,000 a month.

Maybe there were some legitimate reasons. Maybe Chan’s children are addicted to gambling and owe loansharks huge sums of money. And as father, Chan just had to help his children. Maybe Chan wanted to grow his money so that it can last longer. But he ended up being scammed by unscrupulous cheats.

Should the state help people who squandered away their money?

If any of those were true, then fine. Chan should have just told Ms Aw. There is still a good chance that MSF will extend ComCare assistance for him. But no. Chan didn’t tell Ms Aw. Instead, he chose to insult her. It’s hard not to suspect that Chan squandered his money away in a rather irresponsible fashion.

If that is the case, then should the government still give him financial aid? Let’s put it in another way. If this person approached you in the streets to ask you for money, would you give him if you knew he would just squander it away? If you won’t, then you probably shouldn’t want the government to give this person cash handouts. Because the cash handouts the government gives comes from the tax you pay.

It’s your money.

Your hard earned money.

Being good custodians of public money in an imperfect world

So Ms Aw was trying her best to be a good custodian of public funds. She is trying to make sure that the government spends your money responsibly, wisely, and in a way that best benefits society. But what did she get when she tried to do that? She got insulted. How can that be right? Would you rather our public servants just anyhow give away the money you entrusted to them?

Perhaps Ms Aw could have been more empathetic. Maybe she came across as being overly intrusive. Or she sounded like she was on a moral high horse, talking down to Chan. We agree that there are some public servants who can be unbearably unempathetic, ridiculously rigid, frustratingly full of themselves.

So there is definitely room for improvement. Public servants can always be better trained to handle sensitive situations better. But by and large, our public officers aren’t that bad. For the few bad eggs, there are multiple ways to complain about them. Hurling verbal or physical abuse at them will only get you into trouble.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin wrote this on his Facebook page in response to another incident where another MSF staff was physically assaulted in the course of her work:

“My officers strive to do their best when they serve the public. Despite the occasional physical and verbal abuse our officers are subjected to, they remain committed and passionate about their cause. I will not tolerate any behaviour by anyone who causes harm to my officers. We will do our utmost to protect them in the course of their duties. I hope that my officers will have your support too as they do their best to serve.”

And that’s definitely something we agree with.

Mutual respect is key

As much as we expect the highest standards of service from public officers, we should try to be the best “customers’. After all, respect is often mutual. Public servants are also someone else’s sons or daughters, husbands or wives, brothers or sisters. How would you feel if your son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister got physically abused by another person at work?

If we, as “customers” of public service cannot be respectful in interacting with public servants, then we can’t blame the government for putting in rigid systems that take away the human touch. For instance, Ms Aw could well have just rejected Chan’s application without even speaking with him to find out what happened to the $147,000 he withdrew from his CPF.

Or to prevent such things from happening again, the government can just put in stricter rules on how people can use or withdraw money from their CPF. As one comment on Facebook in response to this incident put it:

“Now I know why government need to keep increasing age for cpf withdrawal. Thanks to people like this guy. Thanks a lot Mr Chan”

Is that what we want? Of course not. Then we should really be better customers.

(Cover image via)



Author: CRC

Working on a startup is a scary crazy process. To destress, I write random stuff.


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