You Are Who You Are

One of the stories that was going around the internet is a story of how our President Madam Halimah Yacob became the first person to make a donation to the Boy’s Brigade’s “Share-a-Gift” charity drive by scanning a QR code from a banking app. This would under normal circumstances be a run of the mill story. The President, in the Singapore context is a ceremonial figure, pretty much like the Queen in the UK. Like the Queen, she makes the news for simply being who she is and her role is pretty much, well limited to making public donations, waving to the public on special occasions and sitting there and looking pretty.

However, in this case someone decided to let the world know how much the President was donating. It turns out that this was a donation of $40 and it goes without saying that the Online media had a field day with it, pointing out that our president, who receives around $1,589,900 a year from the civil list (note that this is the President’s personal pay and not the other costs like staff and so on) was donating a mere $40. The story can be found at OCA.

When the internet was set ablaze with the news of the President’s donation, there was a “clarification” the next day and it was reported that the president’s donation was “symbolic.” [LINK]

OK, I’m going to avoid talking about the merits of her donation and focus on the inept handling of the media messaging. Simply put – the people handling media relations for this president should be crucified for allowing the President to be placed in a situation where the amount of her donation was disclosed.

While one might argue that what she donates is her personal choice, the fact of the matter is, the woman is the President and as they say, when you become a public figure, particularly a well-financed one, you effectively become public property. Everything you do is newsworthy and if you choose to get involved with “charity” you need to be seen to be genuinely interested in that said charity.

The late Princess Diana

The late Princess Diana was a master of this. She always looked good for the media – if anything she looked a bit too good for anyone who had has been working on the ground. However, she always appeared to care, doing things like shaking hands of AIDS patients that elected politicians wouldn’t touch. She spoke up about things like landmines. Once again, nobody seriously thought Diana was going to clear landmines but the fact that she “championed” the cause made her, appear genuine.

Our President’s PR people by contrast, were, well to put it charitably – lazy. Look, it’s no big deal if the President makes a financial donation other than the fact that it’s the president doing it. However, the inevitable reaction after that is to check if the amount because, well that says a lot about how genuine the president is about promoting that particular charity. I will also stress the point that while it was the President’s personal money to give, the fact remains, the president is paid by the public, which in turn means that the public has expectations of how the president will spend that money.

Secondly, it looks like the president’s PR people are still living in a world of one-way communications. They send a press release and a few snaps and the mainstream media dutifully publishes whatever they’re told to publish.

Well, it might have worked in the old days but these days, there is competition from online media. If the mainstream doesn’t do something interesting with a story, the online media will. The media landscape is no longer about one-way communication. Online communication is a dialogue. I, for example, do read the comments whenever a piece gets picked up by TREmeritus. Sure, not all the comments are agreeable but I still read and engage because, this is the nature of the world we live in. Comments will be made instantly, unlike the mainstream, where readers will have to write letters, which go through editors and so on and so on.

It looks like the President’s PR people didn’t take the fact that online media exists. Surely, they would have been aware that the guys from the online media would be willing to pounce on things.

I remember telling General Electric Commercial Finance that it was better for them to spend $10,000 organising a charity event like a day out for kids with ailments rather than giving the cash away. The client made the point that this was still cash. My counter was the fact that they had to remember they were part of GE, one of the world’s super large and wealthy corporations, where a cash donation of $10,000 make them look cheap. My advice to GE would apply to the President.

Then there was the clarification of this being “symbolic.” Perhaps it was but it made the president look defensive.

Then there’s the fact that there are other ways to make a difference. While the President has very little actual power, she does have authority as a head of state. What’s stopping her from becoming a champion of a good cause? She has the opportunity to do good for society in a non-partisan and non-political fashion. Donating a few bucks and saying it’s just symbolic is, well, if I’m being kind – pedestrian. Not enough for a head of state. Nobody expects her to donate her salary but at least look like you’re trying.

Too many of the people controlling the image of our powerful people appear stuck in the 1960s. Its time they realized that things have changed and if they were really doing their jobs, they’d adapt and live in the present to build the future instead of harking back to an old rule book, which may no longer be relevant.


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.







11 Responses to “You Are Who You Are”

  • Pap GAME the Nation:

    SINGAPORE — A 47-year-old Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA) officer was charged on Tuesday (Nov 24) with accepting bribes from two female Chinese nationals between 2018 and last year.

    Checkpoints inspector Teo Hwee Peng allegedly took the kickbacks in various forms, such as sex and money, in


    IRON RICE BOWL not enough….

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  • Asd:

    I think scout 40$ is generous but we talking about brigade here so it’s lame and shameless

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  • TUMASIK Patriot:

    Caught with their Pants DOWN in the Corruption case of Scotts 28 & nassimJade…

    The Lies (Indo spelling for Lees)… Donated the corrupted figure received in a discount to Charity Making it a Big Deal…You are CORRUPTED and donate to Clear your CORRUPT ACT is an act Mastered by the Lies…

    The Palsu(Fake) President is following a Symbolic Act learned from the Masters!!!

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  • Police CLOSE DOWN:

    Well it’s symbolic. Amount don’t matter.

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  • Hole In My Sock:

    No need spend a single cent.

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  • opposition dude:

    Ha ha it sure is funny reading this article. While Hakimah is president it also is undeniably an unneeded position. When Nathan was president people were already saying that he does nothing more than shake hands, kiss babies, appear at NDP and the President’s Star Charity.

    Simply put, since the role is ceremonial then the media reflects this with the occasional donation and such and such. It’s all PR and wayang after all.

    In future we won’t have a president once the kiasees aren’t in the majority and PAP not the ones running the show.

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  • xoxo:

    Actually,she pressed wrong sign
    She wanted to key 40 cts,

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  • nathan chen:

    What then should be the acceptable symbolic amount for President Halimu to donate? I think a $100k donation by the President would be a classy symbolic act. $40 is shambolic gesture by the President.

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  • you're right!:

    You’re spot on, Tang Li, the clowns are all stuck in the 60s, performing the same old tricks!! It’s kind of getting stale and bored watching them!!

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  • Harder Truths:

    Put lipstick on a pig, and the world will still see the pig.
    They fool no one (but the 61%)

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  • Do more:

    Need to do more for the poor and needy.
    President should take the lead in this area and do more.
    Ensure no Singaporean are left alone and in a lurch at this crisis.

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