27 Jun 2005

Take survey or face fine, Everyone told

I suppose this is one way of getting around the major problem of poor response when using a postal questionnaire but surely forcing people to return is a gross invasion of privacy. Anyone ever heard of civil liberties or the right to privacy in Singapore?

If the Department of Statistics requires a certain number to be returned then they should send out the largest number possible that will ensure they meet their quota. They could also put an incentive in place, win a free trip, never have to answer one of our surveys again. The use of a fine if it is not returned should be viewed as a threat. Yes you get a great return rate, but the information provided is not likely to be correct. It cannot be annoymous, information might be checked by the authorities. The data collected may have a high claim of internal reliability but it lacks any claim of representativeness and therefore lacks any claim to being scientific.

The information is provided under a threat.

It can in no way claim any level of 'validity'. The person filling it out had better be careful. If I was filling it out I would have my lawyer sitting next to me while I did so.

I could guess the findings now, "Our survey shows that the laws of Singapore are being adherred to by all Singaporean households." And those laws are CONSERVATIVE, therefore Singaporeans are conservative, so we will introduce changes in government policies, but very slowly. Our population does not desire dramatic change because they are conservative.

Or is it that our survey threatens people if they do not fill the form in, and if information is not correct. What happens if someone fills the form in saying that they are a lesbian couple, one an illegal immigrant, both 26 years old, living with three children from their past marriages? Is there even a section on the form that enables the respondent to input such data?

June 27, 2005
Lee U-Wen

THIS was one lottery where Mr Mika Sampovaara didn't want his name to be pulled out of the hat.

The 35-year-old trader from Finland, who moved to Singapore last year, received a letter from the Department of Statistics (DOS) in March, asking him to take part in the General Household Survey here.

Mr Sampovaara was not interested.

"I don't have anything to hide, but I should have a basic right to privacy. They want to know my passport number, date of birth, education level, my wife's name, and so on. It's very unusual for me. Whatever the institution, reputable or not, that's a lot to ask for," he said.

He told the DOS that he did not want to participate. He was in for another jolt.

"I was told that was not an option and had to give them the information they wanted."

If he didn't do so on time, he would be fined.

According to the department website, anyone who refuses to answer or knowingly provides wrong information faces a fine of up to $1000.

The department feels that the survey, conducted every 10 years, is extremely important. After compiling data on how much families earn, spend and travel, it helps the Government plan public programmes and policies.

But Mr Sampovaara comes from Finland, where there is no obligation for people to take part in such surveys.

This was confirmed by the Embassy of Finland. In fact, about 37 per cent of the people there refuse to - or do not - respond to similar household surveys.

Here, too, Mr Sampovaara wants his right to privacy to be respected even as the Singapore Government seeks to attract more overseas talent.

"Don't get me wrong, I love Singapore very much. It is a very safe country and I've had a wonderful time here so far," said Mr Sampovaara. "I do not like to be forced to do anything just for the sake of doing so," he added.

Apparently, the DOS remains unmoved in the face of his stand. Mr Sampovaara said he had received at least 10 phone calls from the department, which randomly selected 90,000 homes - about 10 per cent of households here - for the survey.

When he refused to cooperate, a DOS officer came knocking on his door. It was after 10pm. "I told him to go away but it was hard to sleep afterwards," said Mr Sampovaara.

When contacted by Today, the DOS said that it typically takes about half an hour for a family of four to complete the GHS.

Said Ms Ang Seow Long, its assistant director of publications and statistical information: "It's important that respondents provide the required information so that the results are complete and nationally representative.

"The majority of respondents are co-operative and have helped to maintain a high response rate."

She reiterated that the households that had been selected could not be replaced - to ensure that the survey remained representative. She said there were safeguards in place to protect the confidentiality of the information given to the DOS.

Mr Sampovaara, to whom the issue of privacy is vital, still hasn't budged. He is beginning to realise there are no easy answers.

How Other Countries Do It

In the United States and Canada, the Statistics Act requires the authorities to inform respondents whether their participation is mandatory or voluntary, depending on the nature of the survey.

Closer to home, countries such as Japan have laws stating that those selected for housing surveys are obliged to respond or face penalties.

No such obligation or penalties exist in Finland.


mis_nomer said...

Hmm... very interesting.

A.Ball.of.Yarn said...

interesting, I've never heard about the fines before.:)

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