Should Minister Wong Kan Seng Resign? Between a Rock and Hard Place is The Chance To Take The Red Pill

Success is due to my efforts, Failure is the team’s fault.

I have rarely met a leader in Singapore who has not said the above, but instead the bottom:

Success is due to the team’s efforts, Failure is my responsibility.

Aaron seems to think the option we choose will

either we create a culture of aversion to mistakes or we create a modern day nobility.

I’m assuming that Aaron is saying if we force Minister Wong to resign or fire him or demote him or just plain make him suffer beyond the current high level of stress he definitely looks like he is going through, then we will create a culture of aversion to mistakes.

I think Aaron’s post had to do with what our Prime Minister said:

‘I will ask the same questions of the minister: How is he involved in the matter? Has he been incompetent or negligent? Most serious of all, is there a question of integrity? If so, he has to go, even if the actual incident is minor.

‘I will also ask: Is the minister able to put things right or does the situation call for a new pair of hands not encumbered by what went before to take charge and make a fresh start? Of course, the Prime Minister himself is accountable too, to Parliament and ultimately to the electorate.

‘However, we should not encourage a culture where officials and ministers resign whenever something goes wrong on their watch, regardless of whether or not they are actually to blame. That would be the easy way out. It may temporarily appease an angry public but it will not fundamentally solve the problem.’

from: Beyond witch-hunts to sanction for lapses

or was it this line:

“If you generate the culture that nobody wants to make mistakes and (is) afraid to do something for fear of making mistakes, that – as Dr Goh Keng Swee used to say – would be the biggest mistake of all,”

from: Endoh’s post quotes PM as saying the above.

I learned something new about how to assess the situation when something goes wrong from Lucky Tan:

Look at – 1. People 2. Processes 3. Checks

Now. People who don’t do their jobs get fired all the time. So the question is, whether Minister Wong was doing his job. What was his job? I don’t know what his bosses say his job is, but as a citizen, I had always assumed the job of the Minister of Home Affairs was to ensure that the proper processes and checks was in place for the whole of his Ministry to do what their site states – to bring about a safe and secure best home for Singaporeans.

Obviously, he can’t come out with all the processes and checks. He has people under him to do that.

The question, then, is did he ensure those people under him were doing their job. If yes, then someone lied to him and the chopping knife should probably stop with that liar. Of course, the next question then is why isn’t there a check to ensure people can’t lie to our Minister of Home Affairs. Did our Minister ensure that there was such a check to prevent people lying to him. If yes, then the one responsible for the checks should be given 100 times jialat jialat. We could keep going on. The check on the check. But let’s be reasonable.

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, then clearly, Minister Wong has failed in his job. Of course, we are ALL assuming what his job scope is.

I think Endoh has the questions pegged down.

A. Is Mr Wong unaware/not kept in the loop/advised on the latest development in a high-security facility housing terrorists, especially when it is guarded by two prominent units – ISD and Gurkhas?

B. Is Mr Wong not briefed/aware/advised on major projects like the construction or renovation of Whitley Detention Centre governed by his Ministry?

C. With so many lapses as I have stated above, why is Mr Wong always not in the loop?

D. If the answer to all or any of the above is yes, why weren’t these flaws spotted by Mr Wong during all his meetings and briefings?

E. If the answer to all or any of the above is no, is Mr Wong even proactive and involved in all these development?

Here is the thing. There are many kinds of risks. There are super dumb totally unjustifiable not calculated type of risks like jumping out of a window on the 21st level of a building with no parachute hoping you will survive the fall and there is the calculated albeit slightly crazy risk like jumping out of the same window with a parachute.

Punishing people for not doing their job is different from punishing people for making mistakes. The question that needs to be asked is the severity of the mistake and how the mistake came to be made. Was the mistake made in earnest because an attempt was made to do the job? Or was the mistake made because nothing was done to do the job?

It isn’t just action that is risky or that leads to mistakes. Inaction by itself can also be a risky choice and can lead to mistakes.

Punishing people for mistakes also isn’t a bad thing. What it does is force people not to take unreasonable risks.

The keyword here is unreasonable.

The end product isn’t a culture that is risk adverse. The end product is a culture that is risk sensitive.

In fact, I would say not punishing the Minister makes future Ministers risk adverse in initiating change. Why do anything differently from the last one if he could get by with the current system and still draw a million dollar salary. Why make the extra effort?

If however, there was some sort of punishment for our leaders who failed to do their job, they might be more on the ball to ensure the risk of their rice bowl being lost is protected. They will then take calculated risks to do their job.

There are many types of risk and risks that are assumed by different people.

When people aren’t punished for not doing their job, the risk of them not doing their job is assumed by those who depend on them. In this case, the citizens of a country bear the higher risk that the Minister will not do his job.

Finally, one thing which hasn’t been emphasized enough is rewards for taking on risk and responsibilities. The members of our government are being paid quite a bit. They are being compensated for having to manage more things than the people under them. Also, they are being compensated because the risk of something not directly under their responsibilities messing up is higher than a guy under them managing a smaller organization.

You create a risk adverse culture when the people aren’t able to assess risk and reward effectively or when you skew or break the positive correlation between risk and reward.

So, if indeed Minister Wong really didn’t not do his job, then yeah, no point making him a scapegoat just to appease the mob with their pitchforks. But we shouldn’t be afraid to punish our leaders if they had failed us just to prevent creating a risk adverse government.

Cos everyone takes risk.

This was a chance for our government to take the red pill and wake up to the reality of how the rest of us feel about the current system of leadership, rewards and responsibilities and do something about that reality. Instead, they chose to take the blue pill and remain oblivious or to twist what Aaron said, to remain in a state between hardness and rockness.