Executive summary: Gd intentions are not enough; move on fast, and mud sticks: in short, life can be most unfair.
Uncle Leong’s latest piece on AIM(http://www.tremeritus.com/2013/02/22/aim-saga-part-2-has-just-begun/), reminded me that I had planned to write about what Raffles could have taught the PAP in its handling of AIM’s contract with PAP town councils. But the Punggol East by-elections and the Population White Paper crowded out the piece. So it got KIVed and then forgotten until Uncle Leong’s piece reminded me of it.)
Over the December hols, I read a very interesting book, “Raffles and the British Invasion of Java”(http://rafflesandjava.com/ for more details). As I was finishing the book, the AIM story was developing fast and furious. What struck me was that Raffles got himself into a bit of bother over a similar incident.
But before I go into the details, let me give some background.
When Raffles died, his crowning achievement in the view of his contemporaries was not the founding of S’pore (it was still a work in progress: it was loss making) but his lieutenant-governorship of Java from 1811- 1816. Westminster Abbey has a memorial statue to him erected a few years after his death. The inscription reads: “To the memory of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles … Lieut. Governor of Java … he raised Java to happiness and prosperity unknown under former rulers”. (While “first President of the Zoological Society of London” was the other achievement inscribed on the memorial, S’pore was not mentioned.)
His career went downhill after Java. It was so bad that after his resignation in 1823 on grounds of ill-health, he was investigated for various financial irregularities. He was cleared but to show his employer’s displeasure at his conduct, he was sent a bill in 1826 for £20,000 (now around £1m). He died shortly afterwards.
As to his rule of Java, Dutch sources and historians disagree with the view of British historians and biographers that he brought prosperity to Java. So does the author of the book I read. To them, he failed to improve the lives of the Javanese.
Now to what the PAP and in particular Dr Teo Ho Pin could have learned from Raffles.
He had told his employer, the East India Company, that Java would be profitable for the shareholders.
But he was wrong. To try to cover part of the cost of invading and governing Java, he sold some land by way of auction. But he was a member of the consortium that won the auction. Knowledge of his participation became public (to be fair to him, he never hid his participation), people complained publicly, and he had to sell his share in the consortium, at cost, to try to avoid the issue from escalating.
He justified his action by saying he did it to instill confidence: that the fact that he was willing to invest should have encouraged other bidders. His boss, who liked him (and who had wanted to conquer Java from the Dutch irrespective of the cost) told him that he did not doubt Raffles’ good intentions, but it was bad judgment to be a member of the consortium.
Raffles was impeached although the judge dropped the charge after investigating the matter. But the incident dogged him in later life, when the East India Company investigated his financial affairs after his retirement: the issue was raked over again. Actually, the directors didn’t like him because he was into empire-building (literally), when all they wanted were profits. Raffles never ever made money for the East India Company. He was a true-blue predecessor of our SAF scholars, he spent money other people’s money, never made it. For the record, the SAF chief, scholar, Temask MD, now CEO of NOL, has reported yet another loss. And Desmond Quek, another scholar and SAF chief, has admitted that SMRT’s costs can only go up.
To be fair, even Raffles’ many enemies and critics conceded that unlike many other East India Company officials, he wasn’t making money on the side, and that unlike many other officials, he retired poor. Still the Java land sale is a blot on his reputation and judgment.
Will the AIM incident result in a similar permanent blemish on the PAP’s “whiter than white” uniform? In the case of Raffles, mud from the land sale stuck, even though he was cleared of financial impropriety.
And is the PAPpies call for a tender, their way of trying deescalate the issue: if someone else does the job, then AIM is history and we will be asked to “move on”.
Of course if AIM takes part in the tender and wins (remember it helped draw up the tender specifications, all hell will break lose. Knowing the competency of the PAPpies today (think Kate Spade Tin, Hri Kumar, Ms Fool, Dr Teo, Dr Lim, GCT, Mah Bow Tan, Raymond Lim and Wong Can’t Sing), no prizes for predicting that AIM will win the tender.
And to think that the PAP was known for its competency, while the WP was known to be the home of bicycle thieves, loonies and economic illiterates. Those were the days, my friends; when we were young.