Jun 13, 2008

If A Very Sick Man Was About to Die, Wouldn't You Help To Let His Mother Know?

Apparently not. Today we look at a human interest story in the Straits Times. To summarise, a man had a stroke and would soon die. His relative tried to contact the man's mother. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), which is also our national issuer of NRICs, knew exactly where the man's mother lived, but refused to reveal the details.
ST June 13, 2008
One last look at prodigal son
ST helps cousin of man in coma to locate his family; son dies 15 minutes after mum leaves hospital
By Teh Joo Lin

MORE than 20 years ago, Mr William Rajasingam Kasinathan became estranged from his family. He lost touch with his mother, sister and son.

... Last week, the 53-year-old prodigal son suffered a stroke and was on his deathbed. And the search was on for his kin.

On Tuesday, mother and son had a reunion of sorts - Mr Kasinathan was comatose - in the intensive care unit of Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

The frail woman gazed upon her son and looked lost as she repeatedly rose from her chair and sat down.

Fifteen minutes after the 78-year-old left the hospital, he died.

It was his cousin, Ms Prem Bir Kaur, 53, who managed to track down the old woman.

Aided by a doctor and a medical social worker, she contacted the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), the custodian of the national registration records, in the hope of securing an address.

The hospital staff offered to furnish proof that Mr Kasinathan, a bar musician, was in a critical condition so that the ICA could try and contact his mother on Ms Kaur's behalf.

But rules forbade the ICA from revealing her whereabouts, Ms Kaur was told.

On Monday night, she called The Straits Times, which helped her locate Mr Kasinathan's mother by going down a list of possible family names in the phone directory.

When given the news that her son was gravely ill, the old woman told her daughter: 'He's still my son. Take me to see him.'

Ms Kaur is relieved mother and son got to 'meet' one last time but wonders why the ICA would not help her.

She said: 'It's not fair for him to die alone. At least I can say I've tried to fulfil his last wish.'
And why did the ICA not help to fulfil he dying man's last wish? What reason could the ICA possibly have?
An ICA spokesman told The Straits Times that the National Registration Regulations make it an offence for any public officer to disclose to anyone information from its records - on pain of jail time, a fine or both.

The exceptions are few - when it is in the public interest and with the permission of the ICA Commissioner, or for the purpose of criminal proceedings.

This was not a criminal case, so the police could not formally help either.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Law and Home Affairs, agreed it was important to protect the private information of people.
Recently I commented that PAP MP Teo Ho Pin is quite a clever person. After reading the above ST article, and Teo's remark as quoted in it, I feel compelled to withdraw my comment. I no longer think that Teo is very clever.

According to the law, ICA was not allowed to reveal the old lady's address to Prem Bir Kaur. However, there was a very simple solution. ICA could have contacted the old lady directly, by phone or by mail, and said:
"Dear Madam

We were informed by Tan Tock Seng Hospital that your son William Rajasingam Kasinathan is seriously ill in Ward ___. His cousin Ms Prem Bir Kaur has also contacted us about this matter. She has been trying in vain to locate you.

To safeguard your privacy, we have not given them your personal contact details. However, if you wish to know more about the matter, you can directly contact Tan Tock Seng Hospital (tel no. XXXXXXX) or Ms Prem Bir Kaur (tel no. YYYYYY) yourself."
Simple as that. As I see it, there could only have been two reasons why ICA didn't do it:

(1) ICA is just too stupid; or
(2) ICA just can't be bothered.

Either way, it just reflects very badly on the ICA.

On a separate note, isn't it really quite ironic? If you have died in hospital without signing the opt-out form, the government has the legal right to immediately cut out your organs for transplant purposes. But while you're dying in hospital, the government won't even help to let your mother know.


Anonymous said...

Critical thinking is seriously lacking in Singapore Government Agencies.

What to do? I happened. Nobody is at fault. It just another honest mistake.

Anonymous said...

Not civil. No service.

Anonymous said...

>>Not civil. No service.
Phew! i thought u were going to insult our civil "SERVANTs"..

Anonymous said...

Looks like its another case of following the book blindly. We get that in Singapore everyday, no?
Rather sad state of affairs we are in...

Anonymous said...

In line with Mr. Wang on critical thinking, we have binary logic from our ICA, instead of 5W1H, they have 0W0H, the proud result of our eduction system.

Anonymous said...

Another goog example of let of critical thinking,0W0H of reult from our world class eductation system.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

How can you say that Dr Teo Ho Pin is not very clever? He got PhD you know?

May be what my friends told me about PhD = Permanent Head Damaged is true, no?

aliendoc said...

sad...but not surprised by the attitude - lacking in compassion, & not thinking out of the box.

Die die also must be by the book. Literally.

Anonymous said...

You bet ICA will release the particulars of activists and dissidents if the gov't sees fit to put them under surveillance

Anonymous said...

Surely, you are aware of the perils of not following SOPs .....

A system that prides itself in being systematic, is in itself, a systemic risk, losing the ability to change and adapt, unless compelled otherwise ...

Anonymous said...

Another educated idiot

Anonymous said...

I doubt its just the critical thinking that they are lacking, its the laziness and the lack of a sense of duty that civil servants have towards the people. The government are supposed to serve the people, but this government expects the people to serve them. Everyone else in the civil SERVICE must have adopted the same attitude.

Anonymous said...

Wow that is sad, But maybe he sense his mother presence and get the forgiveness for his action and leave peacefully (hopefully).
But the way that ICA handle this is Dismal at best.(unfeeling)>_< at worst.
And HOTA is just to harvest organs for enriching the hospital treatment of rich clients.
For example they never harvest an >>ET organs even if it save another >>ET and I digress...

Anonymous said...

Probably the ICA staff thought it was none of his business since it was not in his job scope, in this case, to take the initiative to contact people. Typical mentality that is pervasive throughout the civil service and GLCs.

Given the recent hoo-ha over the MSK boo-boo and subsequent punishment of lower rank staff, he might also be afraid of making a boo-boo if he does something "extra" and risk being sacked or demoted. This is because he does not understand the rationale of keeping information confidential.

Anonymous said...

Good point Mr. Wang. You have again shown how idiotic and uncarring the pap has managed to turn Singapore into.

Anonymous said...

George says:

Are all of you surprised at such an attitude? Is it a mere coincidence that the ICA is yet another agency of the MHA?

Just yesterday, more escapes from police custody.

It must, it has to reflect on the leadership at the MHA!

Anonymous said...

ICA to peasant: You die your problem.

Anonymous said...

Drop by at ICA Building and see the MESS for yourself and you will say:"F**KED-UP"! They only know how to sqeeze money from Singaporeans ie. $80 for a 5 years passport, $60 to replace a plastic card which was of poor quality when issued-NRIC card..........Yet you've got to take long queue to get things done in this STUPID building. ICA-GO EAT SHIT!

Anonymous said...

Another fuckup outfit under Wong Kan Seng

Anonymous said...

"I no longer think that Teo is very clever".

Mr. Wang, I think the following statement is more effective when we need to call a spade a spade.

"I now think that Teo is very stupid".

Don't you agree ?

Anonymous said...


Recently I asked a Sales staff for his supervisor mobile number, because I have loss his number after changing to a new phone. The response is we cannot do that due to privacy right. Since I know the supervisor by name and told him that I have ordered more than 25 Notebook thru him. And I asked do you know what your company will be missing if I will to turn to a competitor? Response was called back later.
My point is, where is the common sense go to ? He could call his supervisor and let him know I'm calling. Oh well, I Guess our top scholars civil servant are no different from those salesman on the street.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,

From my experience as an ex-civil servant, I may have a third reason why the ICA did not do anything to help. They might have thought about what you suggested, and could have been bothered to do it, but then somebody probably wondered: are we allowed to do this? So they were probably afraid that by contacting the mother directly, they might get in trouble, 'so in the end better not'.

This 'so better not' attitude is quite prevalent in the civil service, and everybody just wants to 'cover backside', so if these attitudes are to be corrected, somebody from the top has to do something.

That's why whenever I read posts like this from you, I seriously hope that someone in the Government is reading and listening too, so that they can really do something about it.

Anonymous said...

Kiasi is the word.

Anonymous said...

This is the problem. Just follow law and don't ask so many questions, stupid.


I'm very confident to say that in Singapore, the people are there to support the law and protect it.

It's the other way round, stupid.

I have another ridiculous example to share:
I was a Project Manager overlooking a proof of concept implementation for a certain civil body. Sometimes the sysadmins give vendors pseudo and temporary account name and password to help in proof of concepts and various implementations.

Due to the stakeholders' schedule, they were unable to complete their own rounds of testings. Thus the PoC was delayed. And the vendor has packed off and left (there is no profit gained in PoCs anyway. it's usually for free.)

Now the product configurations were tied to the vendors account (purely so, because it's their product). I requested for his password because only the vendor understands the configurations and security access he has applied in his product.

However I was rejected outrightly. The only way was to provide me the vendor's password. However they will not give me because it's a 'secuirty breach'. The next alternative is to get the vendor to write to the security manager, verifying himself as the account holder so that his password would be sent to him through mail (not email)!!!

I was fuming. Any other attempts was met with "I have to follow the secuirty procedure", just follow law mentality.

Firstly, this is a development environment, which has no impact to customers or users. Secondly, I am the PM for this PoC. Thirdly, no vendor will be bothered with a PoC (which does not generate revenue at all) and then wasting his time to write to my security manager and request for password and then pass to the PM.

This is pure absurdity. And the sysadmin would not even budge or log in with his own admin account for me.

The funny thing was: I asked to see the secuirty policy whereby the security manager is one of the authorized persons to release the password to me. And there was none.

Most Singaporeans follow laws without thinking so much that they have become dull in their understanding and thinking.


Anonymous said...

A typical civil servant with blinkers that narrow his vision to one straight line and duly support with many non-thinking taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

If there wasn't a kin around to sign forms, i think they won't hesistate to use law to harvest the organs of a person. they will say they do it under the advice of doctors, who need to save others.

useless bunch of fools, but i bet my last dollar that somebody will use "private information" to track who votes for opposition.

Anonymous said...

>>"I seriously hope that someone in the Government is reading and listening too, so that they can really do something about it."-from The J-thing said.

The surest way to get the gov to listen to you is to kick them out. Vote for more opposition, with the current bunch of brain-dead and arrogant incumbents, any Tom Dick or Harry is a breath of fresh air.

Anonymous said...

I think some similar to this happens all the time in the SAF.

I have heard numerous stories of national servicemen getting injured whilst on overseas training and the SAF did inform the parents immediately. Often the parents find out because one of their son's platoon mates informed them. In these cases though, I cant understand why such information was withheld from the parents. Surely they will find out sooner or later. I guess there is a culture of keeping things secret, whether it makes sense or not.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Elia Diodati, a blogger, shares his own ICA story:

".... In response to Mr Wang’s posting, I have to add that I have my own horror story about the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

Somebody I knew died and I was involved with sorting up matters. At some point we found out that the ICA had recorded the wrong date on the death certificate issued to the family. (Yes, they handle those too.) Despite several attempts by the lawyer dealing with the estate to rectify the situation - even mailing out a copy of the obituary run in the Straits Times to prove that the death certificate was incorrect - the ICA stubbornly refused to admit that they had made a mistake. It took an extremely angry and upset letter by the immediate family to ICA - still grieving and in the middle of handling funeral arrangements - before they would even deign to fix the date of death. On top of that, ICA still charged the estate extra for corrected copies of the death certificate. I think it was $60 per certificate or total, I don’t remember.

Seriously, ICA, why on earth would you think that your date was more correct than the family? I mean, who would have known it better? Or cared more, for that matter.

That’s why I’m not at all surprised to hear that ICA screwed up again, by letting bureaucratic red tape triumph over common sense ...."

For the rest of Elia's blog post, click here.

Anonymous said...

Read what Dr Teo wrote about Dr Teo's achievements - or are my eyes playing tricks on me?


Anonymous said...

This blind adherence to rules and abdication of discretion exists in the private sector too! Recently I applied to OCBC Bank for a housing loan. The CSO asked me to submit my most recent income tax statement. When I replied that I had none as I had retired some time ago, I was told that my application could not be entertained. I explained that I had FDs much more than the amount of loan that I was seeking which incidentally is only half of the purchase price of the property and that the reason for wanting a loan was to have interest expenses deducted against the rental income for tax efficiency purposes. The CSO then said that she would check with her supervisor. A day later she rang back and said that the answer was still no as all housing loan applicants are required to have an income. This was the same bank that rejected my application for a credit card earlier because I was above 55 years old apparently!

I believe this sorry state of thinking skills is the result of our educational system and the overall kiasi and kiasu culture that has prevaded our society with its tight control on dissension, politically incorrect views etc

Anonymous said...

The ICA was both, too stupid to think of sending out that letter to the mother and even if they could come up with the idea of sending that letter out, a good likelihood that they just couldn't be bothered.

Dr Teo Ho Pin is a prime example of why Singapore lacks soul. SM Goh once commented about the lack of grace amongst Singaporeans. He should take a long hard look at how his party MPs think and behave before he makes comments about the social behaviour of Singaporeans in general.

Oh, btw, I hope Worker's Party Yaw SL realises now what an idiot he voted for in the last elections.

Anonymous said...

WKS's ICA allowed murder suspect Took to escape by letting him simply walk across the causeway unstopped. But oh they are good at stopping opposition politicians at the airport.

This in a nutshell sums up the priority of the civil service. Partisan politics.

Anonymous said...

Too mechanically straight-jacket.
Very good in regurgitating policy statements without adding any real value.

But that is what they are paid for (doing post office job), to follow strictly to rules / regulations which are dead parameters which do not always capture every real life case which has moving and shifting parts.

Anonymous said...

They 'Just Follow Law'ed.

Anonymous said...

i think they just don't want to take responsiblity...they don't want to do extra miles to ask the upper authority....

should ICA also provide service?

Xtrocious said...

I think one common reason behind poor customer service is the lack of automony (i.e. some leeway to make decisions versus just blindly following the routine) given to the frontline staff...

And our "culture" does not encourage nor reward people who show initiative...

Anonymous said...

It is sad to read that such attitude is still the norm rather than the exception in, of all places, our civil service.

There have been so much talk and calls for teaching our students to think out of the box, but it seems to be another lost cause, because, ultimately, following the book is still safer. Blame not the people behind the desk, but blame the establishment for fostering this kind of mentality in our civil service. What a sad state of affairs for a supposely first world government!

Anonymous said...

"There have been so much talk and calls for teaching our students to think out of the box, but it seems to be another lost cause, because, ultimately, following the book is still safer."

How do you expect our students to think out of the box when there are criteria and restrictions?

Anonymous said...

The hospital staff offered to furnish proof that Mr Kasinathan, a bar musician, was in a critical condition so that the ICA could try and contact his mother on Ms Kaur's behalf.

But rules forbade the ICA from revealing her whereabouts, Ms Kaur was told.

I would like to ask something here. Perhaps it is because the only proof that ICA could get was that the man was sick but the actual bond (mother and child) could not be proven? After all,m the time span for any investigative work could have been too short.

My final analysis? The civil service is bound by rules. We can say that they are too inflexible but I think it is the same anywhere you go. WHy is it that the doctors can go out of the way to help? Perhaps because they see the patient directly and can thus empathise with the patient while ICA sees this as just another case load.

An example. When we see people coming up to us for some survey, we just shun them aside, not looking beyond the fact that a few minuts of their time could mean a lot to them and their career. Cos we do not know them and whey do we care..

YOu might say that this is a life and death case but then, the ICA cannot empathise here because they do not know the patient and perhaps, just perhaps, they have heard this all too often during their duty when people give excuse why they must overstay so on.

Is the newspapapr being good here? Can look at both angles cos if they are really good, why not just do this as a favour and leave it at that instead of publishing this out to show the whole world the good that they did?

I am just presenting another side of the coin.


Anonymous said...

Benevolence is the virtue that touches the hearts of men. Without the hearts of men a country has no soul. If no steps are taken to improve the situation ,we might up end up like a flickering flame thats extinguished in presence of the slightest breeze.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Well, Philip, if the man was actually not actually the old lady's son, then upon notification by ICA, the old lady would just have said, "Oh there must be a mistake. I don't know anyone by the name of William Rajasingam Kasinathan." And that would be the end of the matter.

Anonymous said...

One thing ICA officers could have done if they were really uncertain about what they should do or could do was to have consulted their superiors even the ministers if necessary. After all, these superiors and the ministers have the interests of the people at heart, or so I am told, in which case they would not mind being disturbed by a human interest situation which they could help. On the other hand perhaps I am being naive. In which case, I stand corrected for wasting valuable time.

Anonymous said...

FEAR - this is the root of the problem and many others in Singapore. A society run on FEAR is an awful one to live in.

Anonymous said...

Blame it on our education system. The rote learning and focus on mastering techniques of tackling exam questions leaves our brain wired up the wrong way. We lose the ability to think out of the box. Just look at the obsession with streaming and exam-focused curricula even at the primary level. How to think differently when the young mind is forced this way to learn. Our children are not learning to learn, but to ace exams. Perfect to cultivate working bees (anyone saw The Bee cartoon show?). Sounds familiar?

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang,

Perhaps, as another poster said, better to cover your ass cos if there was a mistake, and then get complained for harassing an old lady, a lot of work for them to do so take the safest course of action, do nothing.

And again, because they did not physically see the patient, hard to them to see the human side of the story. With the civil servants under threat of complains for the most little things, sometimes, the fear is there. And i mention civil servants, the lowest ranked people in the frontline facing these kind of problems.

Blame them for not being able to think critically? Perhaps. Empathise with them? mmmm


Anonymous said...

For staff who are not at management level, if taking the initiative works, there will be no commendations, if it somehow backfires, then they will kanna jialat jialat.

This is the Singapore system. If something is not specified, it is safer to wait for instructions or approval all the way from the top. Showing initiative is not part of the culture and frowned upon.

Anonymous said...

There are procedures to follow in any work we do. The question we could ask from this situation is do we understand why do we need to follow them and under what situations would/ could deviation occurs.
Interestingly there are a few cases of "not following procedures" when they should (that results in escape boo-boo), and those on the extreme where they stick to their guns (for the correct to stick by the books but uncompassionate reasons)

Anonymous said...

Actions are linked to reactions / consequences / rewards.

If you are brought up in this Fine city, you should understand this perfectly well. So well, that it might not be obvious but manifest itself subconsciously.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Excerpt from QQ-Librarian's blog, commenting on this matter:

"... Common sense + a sincere desire to help should prevail .... That is the whole point of having a human being at the frontline, if everything can be covered simply by following rules blindly, then a robot or machine can do the job better."

For full article, click here.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your argument, Mr Wang. I have been reading and following your posts for long and you have indeed pulled out certain dark and murky sides to our 'perfect government' without them being peppered with political satire, but with a little unique touch of cynism. Bad dose of government some 'intelligent' one mentioned, so that we can learn from it since our government 'is actually the best of the best in the world'? Honest mistakes, oh man, yet another laugh to pull off. We had quite a few in the years running, so why haven't we learned anything from them? Appalling, so it seems, the dynastical reign that so does quite alot of pontificating, thinking that everything they do is right and that they can blithely dismiss mistakes with the weirdest excuses you can ever imagine. This is where all of our money goes to. Sigh. They are too busy counting their riches to be bothered with the life of one of their citizens.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I just rejected one comment from a reader named "Giggles". There is a line in the comment which I think is potentially defamatory - it concerns the HPL condos.

Giggles is invited to repost, if he's still interested, his comment, minus the HPL remark.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago, as a teacher , I once wanted to contact a parent whose child suddenly fell ill. The phone had been listed private the previous week and I had not been informed. However the operator at Singtel apologised she could not give me the new number to protect the privacy of the parent. Nevertheless she kindly voluntered to contact the parent and inform him to call me back.
And sure enough in less than 5 minutes the parent contacted me.
Here was a person bound by strict rules but still prepared to go one step ahead to help in a serious situation.

Anonymous said...

As I see it, there could only have been two reasons why ICA didn't do it:

(1) ICA is just too stupid; or
(2) ICA just can't be bothered.

Answer : (1)