The G gets a Fail x 3

In News Reports on June 7, 2014 at 5:53 am

In the name of constructive politics, I’m going to say something that I hope some people, especially those in power, will take constructively. It’s about the way the G is communicating with the people. There are three recent events that I am inclined to give G communications an F. Here’s what and why:

a)        The SingPass affair. I don’t know why the G can’t be clearer about the way things happened. If it was, then it must be the way the media reported what happened. To put it bluntly – it looked like a mess. I am putting together what happened through sheer guesswork. And from a layman point of view.

So 11 people reported to IDA that they have got notices to re-set their passwords, and that was when the red flag went up. Then I suppose IDA checked those 11 and found something about the telephone numbers that raised another red flag. Somehow, they managed to link the telephone numbers to another 1,500 plus more accounts. And from among them, found that someone had tampered with the passwords? That this was the case for 45 accounts which, I think, probably had weak passwords? Like 12345 or something? But apparently, the hackers got through – and nothing happened? And that’s why although there was a “breach’’, the SingPass system was not compromised?

Plenty of technical types have weighed in online to explain what should have been explained by the IDA. That there was a difference between a breach – which is something that happened on the user front – and a “compromise’’ of the system – which is something to do with the servers which contained the data.

But you know what? Do you think the layman has any clue when jargon is employed? I went to the IDA website for enlightenment that morning but there was no mention. So much for the Infocomm Development Authority making use of ICT …Nor was there any sign on the SingPass website that morning to alert users.

The IDA set itself up for attack by not making it clear why a breach is not a “compromise’’. To those who are distrustful of the G, can you blame them for thinking that the G is indulging in semantics or was trying to put a good spin on something? Or that it was placing the blame at the door of the users instead of ensuring that the mother of G portals had more security features than an IC number and a password?

Really. The G doesn’t do itself any favours. Perhaps, it doesn’t want to give a blow-by-blow account in case of “info overload’’. But the SingPass is something almost every adult Singaporean has, and each and everyone will want to know the ins-and-outs of the affair. So can please be clear next time and lose the jargon?

b)       As for info overload, some people have been wondering if this is why the Medishield Review Committee couldn’t be more specific about the rise in premiums when it can be so specific about the amount or kind of subsidies that would make up for the extra money. Is it a case of softening the ground with the good news before hitting us with the bad stuff?

Frankly, it really looked like good news all around with claim limits lifted, deductibles held steady and co-insurance levels brought down, that is, if the layman understood the meaning of deductibles and co-insurance rates. I think the G (and the media) needs to realise that not everyone is au fait with the workings of insurance policies and while it is easy to say that they should go find out for themselves, it is actually easier if the G explained it properly first. So the deductible is that amount which the insured have to pay before insurance kicks in – and that is capped at 3,000. And even when insurance kicks in, there is a co-insurance portion which the insured has to pay himself. The good news is that this out-of-pocket payment will come down with the review. That means even with higher premiums being paid out, when the health bill comes along, the insured won’t have to pay too much. The question that people will have, again, is how much premiums would they have to pay in the first place.

There is another reason the committee should release all details at one shot: Because others will come in to fill the gaps. And if DRUMS start taking hold, there will be those who hear only the drumming even when full details come out.

c)        Which brings me to another point – on wages. I wonder why the NWC released its recommendation BEFORE the Manpower ministry released the labour statistics which was  reported yesterday. Isn’t this like putting the cart before the horse?

So this is what TODAY said about the wage statistics: Real wages up by 2.9 per cent: MOM.  

BT said: Singapore salaries last year up 5.3 per cent: MOM.

It seems even journalists themselves did not know that MOM’s statistics are not new. They were actually in the NWC press statement when it announced its recommendations for the year.

 What really is most interesting are the DETAILS in MOM’s wage statistics. In this instance, ST scored well. Its headline said: Highest pay hike in 16 years for blue-collar workers.  These workers had a 5.4 per cent pay rise last year, and this was the first time it outstripped those of white-collar workers. (My quibble, however, is why ST chose to use the term blue and white collar when it seems the report was referring to rank-and-file and non-rank-and-file…Aren’t there also rank-and-file white collar workers?)

 There is one illuminating point in the ST story. I had asked in an earlier blog post if employers were unhappy with having to give wage increases (that $60 for those earning $1,000 and below) because real wages had out-stripped productivity.  In fact, productivity actually fell 1.4 per cent in 2012 and 0.2 per cent last year. MOM seems to think this doesn’t matter. This is because between 2003 to last year, productivity rose 1.4 per cent each year, while real total wages grew 1.5 per cent per cent. The long-term trend as ST reported, was “less alarming’’.   


In any case, I think it makes better sense for the wage report to be released first so that people can pore over the figures, understand them and have a basis with which to analyse the NWC figures.

Because if even journalists can miss the news, what about the rest of us?


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