23 Jan 2006

Reason #1,846,778,387 why the gay movement in Singapore is infantile

Blogger requested in email to cease criticisms of PLU

Yesterday evening, pleinelune, who speaks for gay lobby group PLU on Singabloodypore, emailed me, requesting that "for the sake of community image" and the image of PLU, I should not expose the public to further criticisms of PLU's modus operandi and public statements. Somehow, the image of PLU and the community is threatened every time I comment that I do not agree with their policies or actions. Newsflash: PLU does not have a mandate for sole representation of the community. Newsflash: Even in a one-party state, people are allowed to openly raise disagreements with party policy. Newsflash: Wong Kan Seng, Minilee, and Papalee have NOT said that criticisms by Singaporeans will lead to a diminishing of the public image of Singapore.

Most recently, Alex Au issued a statement that the NVPC is not a real NGO, because it gets funding from the government. His usual spokespersons on Singabloodypore also maintained that as the offices of NVPC are located in a ministry building, NVPC is not an independent organisation.

I have taken pains to point out this line of argument is untenable. Alex Au, with more than 10 years in activism and what his defenders call "constructive engagement" with the government, wouldn't know an NGO if it came up and slapped him with a trout. I pointed out several NGOs which receive substantial proportions of their budgets from governments:

1. A quarter of the US$162 million income in 1998 of the famine-relief organization Oxfam was donated by the British government and the EU. Applying Alex Au's logic, Oxfam is not independent!
2. The Christian relief and development organization World Vision US collected US$55 million worth of goods in 1998 from the American government. Therefore they are run by the government!
3. Médecins Sans Frontières gets 46% of its income from government sources. It's a stooge of the French government! It's NOT an NGO!

Gentle bloggers, these are facts that one can easily look up on the internets. Did Alex Au conduct due diligence before he accused NVPC of being non-independent due to government funding?

I have also commented that PLU's second press release "Behind the Liberty League Scandal", was a strategic failure. When the Ministry pulled a reporter's news story off the papers at the last minute, PLU went ballistic and accused the government of censorship, of poor governance of NVPC, and said "the hole is being dug deeper and deeper".

PLU's defenders then went on to say that MCYS and NVFP ganged up on the lobby group. Presumably, that's why the news article was pulled off. And presumably that's why PLU has issued a statement that preemptively cuts any lines of communication and goodwill it has with the bureaucracy.

1. NVPC is an NGO. It is not a "government body", as PLU's statement erroneously claims. Did PLU do any research before typing out its statement? The ministry provides the funds, but it is up to NVPC to spend it, as it wishes. There is no issue of governance here, merely an issue of poor judgement: NVPC foolishly funded a sex ed quack.

That Liberty League is a Pte Ltd is irrelevant. As long as it declares itself a non-profit to NVPC, it is obliged to provide full and regular accounts. That it has only $10 in startup capital is irrelevant. It will find the rest of the money elsewhere, in order to match NVPC's funding, dollar for dollar.

2. I don't know if there was a secret agreement by MCYS and NVFP to oppress gay people. Certainly it's nice to think so, and even to speculate on the basis of insufficient information. I don't know if MCYS called off the news story because it supports NVFP, or whether it needed time to conduct investigations with NVFP on the Liberty League, or whether it needed time to spin an appropriate response. Certainly it's nice to think of the possibilities, and even to speculate on the basis of insufficient information. Or even to blog about it.

It would be prudent, if one wanted to do more than blog about it (like say, issue a press statement), to make inquiries about the status of the investigation by MCYS and NVFP. PLU did not do so, and instead chose to issue its statement. For all we know, MCYS and NVFP could be doing background checks on Liberty League; making Leslie Lung conform to the rules; finding a way to drop the Liberty League quietly; anything. In fact, there is insufficient evidence for myself or PLU to guess what is going on.

Yet PLU has chosen to interpret the removal of the press story as outright censorship, whereas it could be a media blackout. One would assume that as PLU had cooperated with the reporter to write her story, it would've contained all the errors I have pointed out, like the insistence that NVFP is a government body, or that in effect the Ministry has sanctioned Liberty League for schools as a semi-official sex ed course, for example.

3. It's very nice to preemptively tag the issue as a "scandal" and frame it as a scandal, even before the public gets to know about it and get all worked up over it. Along with the insinuations of a ministry pulling the strings of an NGO, and the claims of press censorship, this is a particularly nice and constructive way to engage the issue with the government, and to persuade the bureaucrats to listen to your lobby group in the future.

By pointing out these flaws in PLU's statements and operations, I have once again undermined the image of PLU, an image so precious to them, they're asking me - through their proxies - very nicely to keep quiet. I'm sure the very possibility that mistakes should be pointed out when they're made doesn't matter. Or perhaps we're witnessing the doctrine of PLU exceptionalism - it is free to criticise the government, but for the sake of 'unity', no one is allowed to criticise them in public.

PLU is too weak to stand up to public scrutiny! The Government has always been hostile to PLU! Don't give PLU any more trouble by criticising it! I fail to understand how by pointing out the flaws in PLU's very open actions, that I'm washing its dirty linen in public. Or that it's a very bad thing.

As a blogger and contributor to Singabloodypore I take this request to stop talking about PLU as an insult to myself and to the ideals of SBP. They suggest I voice out my dissention privately to their organisation in the future, instead of subjecting it to public scrutiny. Actually, I find their suggestion very humorous.
I concede your point about PLU having to be open to criticism. Every organisation, every society has to be. However, the issue of washing our dirty linen in public comes into question. Yes, PLU has made mistakes, but it is ineffective to publicly denounce PLU in front of anti-gay people. We are only penalising ourselves.

No. I hold that the more mollycoddled PLU is, the less its mistakes are pointed out as such, the more its defenders penalise it. I don't wish to see PLU as a monolithic party that is more interested in party unity than an open marketplace of ideas. I would hate to think of PLU as having a monoculture, and dominated by groupthink, where no one dares to tell its leaders that what they're doing might be not quite right.

See also:
More reasons why the gay rights movement in Singapore is infantile.

17 comments:

pleinelune said...

*buries head in hands* I give up.

Btw, I don't speak FOR them, and they never asked me to say anything. I do it out of my own interest.

Anonymous said...

“The ministry provides the funds, but it is up to NVPC to spend it, as it wishes. There is no issue of governance here, merely an issue of poor judgement: NVPC foolishly funded a sex ed quack.”

Put PLU aside.

This is solely my point of view.

What does poor judgement leads to? .....in this case, it leads to poor management of funds! Believed there must be a signed agreement between the ministry and the NVPC and that NVPC undertakes to utilise the fund in a good way. And the fund comes from the Ministry, which is still the public's money! Accordingly, the fund was still not properly utilised if “NPVC foolishly funded a sex ed quack”. So, in my opinion, the NVPC owes a duty of care to the public for being negligent if they'd not checked properly on LL before disbursement of the fund to NVPC; unless there is a collaboration between the Ministry, NVPC and LL to secretly carry out this so-called "purposive project", for whatever reason.

Anonymous said...

correction - "before disbursement of fund to LL"

Anonymous said...

Hmm.. As an outsider, I think you have something personal going on here. I hope you start your own plu soon though. Seems like you have a thing or two to say. Maybe you can contribute better being out there pushing for the rights you so believe in.

akikonomu said...

Accordingly, the fund was still not properly utilised if "NPVC foolishly funded a sex ed quack". So, in my opinion, the NVPC owes a duty of care to the public for being negligent if they'd not checked properly on LL before disbursement of the fund to NVPC

Who are NGOs accountable to? Who should they be accountable to?

These are actually recurring questions that pop up in discussions of even the most proper NGOs abroad. Opinions vary. Occasionally, huge donors demand certain details in programmes be there or not be there. The NGO is free to comply, persuade the donor, or even say thanks, but no thanks. You suggest that the taxpayers should have a say. And still others believe it is the stakeholders, the supposed beneficiaries of the NGO's programmes, who should be the ones the NGO must finally account to.

It's an operational dilemma that besets many, many NGOs.

Can the taxpayers really claim the NGO is accountable to them, if the funding of an NGO by a government is considered a real gift, with no expectations of reciprocity? Most certainly we can still try, but you can be assured the churches can outmobilise their taxpayers than your taxpayers. I'd hate to think of the consequences once we give FOTF the idea that it can lobby on behalf of taxpayers to affect programmes that NGOs fund.

akikonomu said...

On one hand, there is accountability, and on the other, autonomy/independence. Keep that in mind for the time being.

Let's say we actually use the "waste of taxpayers money" approach. This will attack both NPVC for making the foolish decision - and the Government, since it's taxpayers money. And who won't love a chance to attack the gahmens.

Fine. Major embarrassment for both NGO and government if you spin this right. Ministry says "Okay, how silly of us - but I swear it's an honest mistake! Since the public is in favour of scrapping the LL programme, fine. In future, no such thing will happen anymore because we'll be monitoring and controlling what NGOs do with the funds they get from the government." I bet you the government will try to represent the interests and values of the taxpayers. The majority of them are conservative, for Asian values, are family oriented...

On one hand, there is accountability, and on the other, autonomy. What might be an independent NGO will no longer be independent. Not just NPVC but many, many others. If this goes through, we'll have to thank the people who pushed the taxpayers money argument.

This is why the focus has to be on the sex ed quack line, and why the appeal cannot be about government control, or taxpayers getting offended at the poor governance - it has to be strictly about how poorly the LL programme is serving its supposedly beneficiaries.

Molly Meek said...

2 words: mandatory solidarity.

Kelvin Wong said...

Somehow Akkiyo here twisted the argument. The whole arguement was about whether NPVC is truely independent of the government. I never read any parts where PLU claimed that ALL NGOs are garmen controlled. One have to check how NPVC came about and which people and organisations has powers in it to know. Please argue correctly.

Also seems like by her (Akkinonmo) logic, anyone who agrees with PLU is their spokes person and hence cannot be objective about the matters at hand. I wonder if that means only Akkiso is the objective person.

Aikido said "One would assume that as PLU had cooperated with the reporter to write her story, it would've contained all the errors I have pointed out," I agree that you can only see all people who disagree with your views as biased and unobjective. I think one of the reaons is the fear that if different people of different interest could dig up and same dirt and have the same point of view that PLU had in their statements, it would discredit Aikoko's view that PLU is wrong and stupid, because she held the position that all stupid people believed and agrees with PLU. Which in this case the reporter was the one who contact PLU about this issue and she worked independently on it, if one read further postings on signel.

Lastly, at least people in the PLU dare to show their REAL name and face and, so that they can have their life scrutinized by the likes of Akomoni, unlike you-know-who.

akikonomu said...

Congratulations, Kelvin Wong!

Jimmy Carter, the ex-President of the United States, is the top official of the NGO Carter Centre. We only just need to look at this appointment to know that the Carter Center is hence not independent of the government. Newsflash: Many, many NGOs and consultancies outside Singapore are fronted by retired government officials, former political advisors, and so on.

Perhaps Kelvin Wong should enlighten us how NPVC is not really independent of the government is not equivalent to NPVC is not government-controlled.

In addition, I refer Kelvin Wong to the official PLU statements, which indicate its belief on the status of NPVC more accurately than how Kelvin Wong does it here himself:

"The government needs to explain why the NVPC thinks $100,000 is money well spent..."

"PLU... believes the government needs to explain its grant to Liberty League..."

"By giving $100,000 to Liberty League, as reported by ChannelNewsAsia (CNA), the Singapore government is helping to promote a religious cause..."

"Further investigation revealed that Liberty League should not even have qualified for the grant, based on the criteria listed on the website of the National Volunteer and Philanthropic Centre (NVPC), a sub-unit of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS)."

"That a government ministry and its quasi-independent body..."

"what kind of half-cocked background checks did NVPC do before they dished out $100,000, when we as outsiders and amateurs could find all this information in one afternoon? Did this government body do due diligence?"

Anonymous said...

It sure looks like Akikonomu has a personal beef with PLU.

If I'm not wrong, it had been said publicly by Liberty League themselves that the money came from the MCYS.

As for whether NVPC is truly independent or autonomous, I think referring to the UK or US examples is not very useful. In those countries, the trade unions for example are not linked to the govts, but can we say that of Singapore? The situation in Singapore is quite different, and as said above, while there are some truly independent NGOs, there are also others which are "govt-linked NGOs".

In any case, if the money came from a ministry to the govt-linked NVPC, does any intelligent person in Singapore believe it didn't come with strings attached?

Victory Ground said...

Akiko...
There are some reasons why your agruments/prescriptions should be taken with a pinch of salt.

1. You appear ignorant of the typical workings of many government ministries. I doubt you ever worked in one. Or if you did, it must be a really unique ministry or a really unique department with its own culture.

2. You seem to live in an ideal world. But what you read about; what you get to know about... most times are not the complete story. Power dynamics come into play. Not everything is on an equal platform for discussion. It is not as simple as you think.

3. And the third reason totally disqualifies you from "prescribing" anything:
- You are probably inexperienced when it comes to dealing with the media.
- You appeared to have done NOTHING in response (except "lament" which is exceedingly helpful of course).

Once again: "Any line of action has pros and cons. Any line of action can be criticized. Experience helps you choose between alternatives. The world doesn't go in black and white: A is a good plan; B is a bad plan. No- They are probably both grey to varying degrees."

All talk, no action.
Correction: Some talk can be constructive... but yours is... Sigh.

A pail without content... sure make a hell lot of noise.

I shall end off with my favorite quote for you:
"Activism... some have the spirit and the guts to do something about it. Others merely lament and... puke."

rench00 said...

while i am not sure about Akiko's experience in dealing with the media or whether Akiko has actually worked in govt. ministries, i do think that he has every right to criticise in any forum.

however, i do feel that one who has experience would be in a better position to give criticisms, input, feedback which would be more useful.

i do agree with Akiko's view that one should not mollycoodle any organisation, NGO, activists and/or the government by not criticising them. and the last thing an organisation that has been criticised should do is to ask the person who has criticised it to shut up. rather, perhaps that particular organisation can reflect on the criticisms and, if the criticisms are valid, improve, if not, forget it and move on.

no love like tough love.

on a seperate note, i wonder whether the the child (a) knows the inner workings of ministries, (b) has dealt with the media before, (c) experienced the power dynamics.

if so, then perhaps could share the experience.

if not, then the child is committing the same faults that he/she accuses Akiko of.

pleinelune said...

No, the child isn't, because he/she didn't make any judgements on PLU's methods and the LL saga. He/She was only pointing out that Akiko didn't have all those qualities in order to make a judgement.

pantalaimon said...

I wonder if Akikonomu is not perhaps too quick to conflate disagreeing with him about the flaws of PLU with agreeing unreservedly with everything PLU does.

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