Should Procedural Error Be Swept Under the Carpet

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/overpaid-volunteer-police/3044164.html

The above links to an article from Channel News Asia (CNA), citing Home Affairs Minister’s response to the over payment of Volunteer Special Constabulary  (VSC) over a period of 7 years.

What happened was that the Auditor-General Office (AGO) found Deputy Commissioner of Police and Home Affairs Permanent Secretary authorises the increase in allowances for its VSC. The correct authority to approve that increase is the Minister.  There were other related findings flagged out as well.  The Minister’s explanation is that in essence, the increase in allowance is reasonable and acceptable, implying he would’ve approved it anyway if it was presented to him. It was a procedural error, a lapse in procedure.

It is not uncommon that procedural errors occur in the course of our work. Often, when such errors occur, Ape would ask how and why it occur. Ape seldom look at the consequences of procedural lapses because consequence has a magnitude. In one instance, the consequence can be minor but the same procedural lapse could also result in grave consequences. To illustrate, imagine a procedure put in place that a bus captains have to check the doors are clear of passengers before closing them. Thereafter, ensure the doors are fully closed before driving off. Let’s say a bus captain commits a procedural error by driving off before ensuring doors fully close and it was observed by their internal Quality Control. Since no one was caught by the door or injured and in the interest that the bus captain was trying to achieve efficiency to get commuters reach their destination, we say it’s OK? And to the extent that perhaps the procedure to check door fully close before moving can be dropped? Shouldn’t the bus company look further to determine why the bus captain was not following procedures? Perhaps he wasn’t even aware (lack of training?) Or he thought that QC guy was there and could’ve alerted him if someone was caught by the door (assumptions?) Or the company has strict rules to adhere to scheduled timing (duress?) Or he simply wouldn’t care since he had checked that the door was clear of passengers before closing (complacency?)

Ape don’t know what transpired in parliament other than what was reported in CNA. However, Ape would like to know what makes the DyCP and PS thought they have the authority to make such changes. Why the Minister wasn’t aware that approval has been made to increase the VSC’s allowance? If the Minister has been aware, why he didn’t question who made the approval? Did the Minister know he was the rightful authority to make such approvals in the first place? What other approvals have they made when they do not have the authority to do so? Ape is not hopeful that the answers to those questions will be made public but Ape certainly hope those questions are looked into because if left unchecked, it can snowball into misuse and even abuse of authority.

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Lee, Wong and Quek

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/husband-jailed-five-weeks-for-punching-a-man-who-looked-to-be-taking

The above link is a news article from Singapore’s main stream media. It reported a case of Lee who was convicted of causing hurt to Quek. Quek suffered fractures around his eye socket and loose, chipped teeth. Lee was sentenced to jail for 5 weeks.

What was also reported was that Lee punched Quek because he saw his wife Wong, laying on the bed without shirt  (presumably in her undergarment only) and drunk, with Quek.

At this point, Ape is with you on this if you think Quek deserves to be punched. Ape would’ve probably done same.

When this news article was flashed in the Internet, it invited lots of comments. Most of the comments Ape read seemed to focus on 3 points;

1) Quek deserves it (based on the assumption that he was very likely to have outraged the modesty of Wong, if not already done so, had it not been the fact that Lee arrived home to witness the scene)

2) Lee’s action is fully understandable and expected of any husband.

3) The judge / law appears to be too harsh on Lee. Some people went to the extent of ridiculing the judgement as naive or unjust and that Lee should be acquitted.

What prompted Ape to write about this is the perception relating to point 3 and address the pertinent question ‘should Lee be acquitted?’ To address point 3, let’s look back at the news article for further facts (assuming the article is reporting accurately and factually).

Quek and Wong were out drinking with friends and Wong got drunk. Quek sent Wong home. Wong puked on her clothes and her shirt was removed because of the puke. It was not mentioned who removed the clothes. It was not mentioned how the duo got into the house of Wong and Lee in the first place. It was not mentioned why Quek was sitting on the bed and what was he doing at that point of time. However, based on the comments that Ape has read, the underlying addumption is that Quek got Wong drunk, Quek removed Wong’s clothes and took advantage of her.  Assumptions. Anyway, answers to those questions are irrelevant to the court case in Ape’s opinion and Ape will explain why as he moves on to talk about point 3.

The court is hearing the charge of Lee causing hurt to Quek. The charge is not on Quek outraging the modesty of Wong. What was Quek’s motive, what he did or not do to Wong has no relevance to determine if Lee had indeed hurt Quek. The facts established was that Lee had indeed hurt Quek, fracturing his eye socket and breaking his teeth. Quek’s motives and actions if established would only serve to bargain for a lighter sentence. Was the sentence harsh? DPP did suggest 6 to 10 weeks jail but the judge sentenced Lee to 5 weeks jail instead. There was no mention of what Lee’s lawyer fought for but Ape’s guess is probation without jail.

If Quek had indeed took advantage of Wong and Lee’s actions were to save her or acted in self defence because Quek attacked him, perhaps then, Lee might be acquitted. However, there were no evidence presented to the judge to suggest such a case. Can the judge’s ruling be based on assumptions? Assumptions that Lee was attempting to save his wife, acted in self defence? If the judge can base on assumptions , can it also be assumed that Quek had to send Wong home because no one else wanted to. Assume that Wong removed her clothes on her own accord since she was drunk and all thoughts on modesty is throw out of her thoughts? Assume that Quek sat beside Wong a moment longer just to be sure she was sound asleep before leaving and finally assume that Lee attacked Quek relentlessly? Of course the above assumptions are just a figment of Ape’s imagination and thank goodness Ape is no judge.

Why the law is as such? Surely there can be justifiable ‘hurting’? Ape has no answer. Go ask the people who crafted the law, that is the Parliament. Ask the members of parliament who are people voted by you to be your representative in parliament for the crafting, amending and repealing of laws. Or did you assume that the role of a member of parliament is to take care of your estate and has nothing to do with our laws?

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Bukit Batok By Election

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Due to ‘personal indiscretion’, David Ong, Member of Parliament for Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency resigns. By-Election (BE) seems imminent to fill the vacant parliamentary seat. Contending for the seat is Mr Murali Pillai from the ruling PAP and Dr Chee Soon Juan from SDP.

There’s been much speculation how this BE will turn out. Ape just wanna join in and give his primitive primate thoughts starting with his assessment of the two potential candidates.

Mr Pillai will without doubt be given much needed support from the grassroots activist and main stream media. It is claimed that he has been an active grassroots leader and if so, that too can work in his favour. To his benefit in the sense that he has an advantage on the ground sensing. However, as to whether the constituents of Bt Batok will give him his votes due to his grassroots work, that depends how positively visible he has been as a grassroots leader. In terms of how well known he is to Singaporeans and in particular to the constituents of Bt Batok, ape thinks he lost out to Dr Chee.

Dr Chee is definitely a more famous or infamous candidate, depending on which side you’re taking. He has been portrayed as a fool hardy, psychotic, rude politician back in the days where main stream media was the only media. With the introduction of online social media, he was able to reach out to a wider community since GE2011 and made steady progress to improve his image or should ape say, seek redress to correct what was misleading? However, Dr Chee and SDP or any other opposition parties, will always be facing an uphill battle against the incumbent PAP that has been the ruling party for more than half a decade.

As to how the votes will turn out, ape’s guess is as good as anyone. Looking back at statistics, GE2015, BBSMC candidates were relatively unknown but the incumbent PAP won with more than 70% votes? Ape hesitates to use that as a measure to predict the result of the coming BE. After all, nationwide, PAP scored very well in GE2015, much to the surprise of netizens and the incumbent and everyone else. However, in this coming BE, By-election effect and Dr Chee’s relatively well knowned standing may work in his favour. Going further back when Bt Batok was an SMC and SDP contested in GE1988 and GE1991, SDP was able to garner more than 40% of the votes. Assuming the profiles of Bt Batok constituents didn’t change much since, ape’s guess is that Dr Chee stands a good chance to enter parliament.

What if Mr Pillai gets voted in? Things will more of less be the same in Bt Batok and parliament. The exciting part will be when Dr Chee gets voted in. Singaporeans will most likely be treated to more debates and residents of Bt Batok will get to experience how their town will be run by a different entity, for better or worse.
Before all these excitement gets into the heads of anyone and everyone and especially Dr Chee and SDP, do brace for the possibility that SDP will face a slew of technical challenges especially in the running of Town Council. Getting into parliament is only a step. Holding that MP seat will take a lot of efforts on any opposition MPs. Ape thinks it will do any opposition party a favour if they could work with grassroots leaders for the better of the community instead of viewing them as redundant or worse, PAP’s lackeys. The same applies to civil servants. Do not forget, PA’s grassroots leaders and civil servants are duty bound to support the government who has been voted in by the majority of Singaporeans, regardless of their personal inclination and vote cast. When a politician make enemies of grassroots leaders and civil servants, he is loosing their votes.

Let’s see how the BE will turn out.

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Retirement Age?

The government is considering varying retirement age according to industry’s needs. The official feedback portal REACH has opened a discussion forum on this topic as can be accessed via the following link https://www.reach.gov.sg/participate/discussion-forum/2016/03/02/vary-retirement-age-beyond-h-ntuc

Ape wonders what is the purpose of setting a retirement age in the first place. Do excuse this ignorant hairy primate but ape’s impression of a retirement age was for the purpose of determining the age a worker would draw his pension. Thus, a ‘retirement age’ would allow both employers and employees to plan their finances accordingly. Since pension is no longer relevant to most Singaporeans, what purpose does a retirement age serve?
Employment is a two way relationship in that one offers his time and expertise while the other offers remuneration. When both match, wah lah! When we set a retirement age, what it means? Employer cannot sack a non performing employee because he haven’t reach retirement? Or an employee who is still able to do his job and perform the tasks assigned must ‘retire’ when he reach a defined age? What logic is that? Why even bother about varying retirement age according to industry demands? Can’t we simply remove ‘retirement age’ and let both employers and employees decide when’s a good time to retire?

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Singapore Island Country Club offers ‘poverty simulation’ programme for members – Channel NewsAsia

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/mobile/singapore/singapore-island-country/2489266.html

Singapore Island Country Club or SICC abbreviated will be conducting a poverty simulation exercise. Club members are invited to sign up as volunteers where they’ll be given a chance to role play different scenarios faced by real people with real hardships.

Ape is very skeptical how such an exercise can make someone appreciate and understand the hardships faced by those living at the poverty line. Are the wealthy club members so detached from reality that they require a simulation exercise?
To put in perspectives, members are adults and presumably gone through fairly extensive life experiences. It is quite possibly that some of the club members came from humble beginnings and worked their way to where they are now. To this group, they’ve been there, done that. Poverty simulation will be nothing more then textbook revision for them. There can also be members who are born with a silver spoon in their mouths. One might argue that perhaps such poverty simulations will do some good. Ape begs to differ. A simulation on poverty and hardships has one significant difference with what is real – the light at the end of the tunnel. No matter what is being thrown at the participant, they can be assured that at the end of the exercise, they’ll be back to their restaurants, golf and whatever lifestyle they have. To a person with real hardships and suffering from poverty, often the light at the end of the tunnel is not visible. It’s easy to tighten your belts, grit your teeth and endure when there is certainty. How many people in poverty have such certainty?
Ape agrees with Mr Joseph Ng. It might be more worthwhile that club members volunteer to help out in homes of needy people.

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When Systems Fail

Ape happened to stumble across this blog.

The author recounted the incident on Bt Panjang LRT when the train door was opened while moving. For the benefit of readers who may not be aware of the background and cjain of event, LRT is a driverless, short distance train. On that fateful day, due to certain issues, it failed to operate. Procedures call for a driver to take over and drive it manually. Although the driver ensured the doors were closed prior to moving off, he failed to check that it is locked. As a result, the door opened and the fail safe mechanism automatically applied brakes forcing the train to a stop. Following that, the driver checked a second time and ensured that the door was closed and locked before moving off. Fortunately, no one got injured as a result of this chain of events.
What caught ape’s attention is that disciplinary action was taken against the driver. Key word here is ‘disciplinary’. Ape is in the line of safety and whenever the words ‘disciplinary actions taken on operator’ pops up, like the failsafe brakes, ape automatically raises his eyebrows.

Back in the dark ages of safety management, or rather the lack of, whenever an incident or accident occurs, blame was almost always apportioned to the operator. It could be the driver, ship/plane captain, engineer etc. Since it’s the human operator to be blamed, well, disciplinary actions were taken on the operator. However, to err is human, as the cliché goes. To prevent the mistakes of an operator causing harm to productivity or human lives, machines were built and designed to have as much automation as possible, thus removing the human element and human errors. No human, no error. Perfect world, right? Things are not so simple. Machines can fail and sometimes with disastrous result. Complex ‘machines’ designed, built and managed by experts do fail as in the case of Space Shuttle Challenger, Chenobyl Nuclear Power plant or in more recent years, Fukushima nuclear power plant. Failure of Fukushima plant was attributed to natural disaster but humans were involved to recover and contain the further failure as much as possible. Furthermore, complex systems are designed and built by humans. An error introduced at the design and building stages can be dormant until that fateful day. The point ape want to make is that we can never remove the human element and with it, potential human errors. The question is whenever human error is involved, is it just or fair to impose disciplinary action on the ‘erring’ human? To err is human. If we accept that every one who has erred and ought to be punished, including possibility of job termination and criminal charges, rightfully, when such people is removed, there should not be any more of these problems, right? Accidents still continue to occur and often, involves human who ‘erred’. Take a moment to pause and think. In spite of disciplinary actions and even threats of criminal charges in some profession, who do people continue to ‘take short cuts’ or ‘take the easy way out’ or ‘forget’?
Remember, to err is human. Those in the line of psychology or human factors will tell you that the very nature of humans that make succeed and rise above animals, traits such as adaptability, are also the very reason how human can err. Yes. Humans adapt if you’ve not realised yet. Humans adapt under stress. Humans adapt when needed tools are not available. Humans adapt when they race against time. Humans adapt when there are conflicting priorities such as ‘get the train moving’ vs ‘check and double check’. Humans adapt when procedures were not clear. Humans adapt… you get the point yet?
Well, fortunately in current safety management, operator error is not the end stage of investigations but the beginning. We are never satisfied with the simple answer of operator action / inaction. We delve deeper. What could have caused the operator not checking the doors are closed and locked. Are the procedures clear? Was the driver receiving instructions that caused him to overlook? Was he trained properly? Were there other alarms or signs that could’ve warned him that the doors are not locked? Could the system be built that the train could not move in the first place until doors are closed and locked . Simply put, what caused the operator to commit the error. To be fair to SMRT who manages the LRT, at least they are looking into redesigning the system to address human errors. However, what if procedures were not clear or the driver wasn’t trained properly. Does he deserve to be ‘disciplined’? The question of culpability has to be addressed. How then should management decide when disciplinary actions be taken?
Ape will just end this post here with this last question for readers to think about.
Also, here’s an interesting chart for readers to refer. The chart is developed by a psychologist dealing with human errors and promoting just culture. It is meant to help people like ape to determine when should disciplinary actions be taken when an operator commits an error or violation (of prescribed SOPs)
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Parliament Debates

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Of late, much has been spoken on mainstream media, online or print, social media, local blogs and websites etc about the AGO’s report on AHPETC. Clarifications, feedbacks, comments, accusations and what not were all over the place. Ape shall not repeat what has been said, especially who’s right, who’s wrong, was the audit politically motivated, did AHPETC conduct their business with due diligence and all the blah blah blah…

Instead, ape wonders, how often do our parliament file a motion to debate on the conduct of a ministry, statutory board or any organs of state. When was the last time a ministry requested AGO to conduct a special audit, out of the usual scheduled, periodic ones, on any other TC, statutory board etc.

Ape remains unconvinced that the AGO findings is so critical that a motion has to be filed to support the AGO report in parliament. Is that a norm? If that is so serious, what about AGO report on other ministries and statutory boards whose function affect not just residents of Aljunied, Hougang and Punggol East constituencies but the whole of Singapore. When was the last time AGO report is debated in parliament? Or is Minister Khaw setting a precedence, perhaps to warn all public service officers that corporate governance will be the highlight henceforth and any unsatisfactory findings will be flagged, highlighted in parliament and debated?

Another related issue got ape confused, that is with holding the 7 or 6 million SCC grant to AHPETC. Does the Minister has unfettered powers to withhold such grants? Or such authority has to be guided by certain principles and processes?

Ape is not an ardent follower of parliament or Singapore statutes but if any of you do know, please share.

Last but not least, ape wishes everyone a Happy Chinese New Year… And for those of you who do not celebrate CNY, enjoy the super long weekend!

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