Sunday, April 24, 2011

Selling off our heritage

Some 5-10 years ago, as if at a given signal we started all this nonsense about naming buildings and institutions after dignitaries and philanthropic donors. Now, I don't really care if they name new (or even old) buildings after people who give lots of money. Nor do I particularly care if they want to name institutions and buildings after local 'heroes' and prominent figures who have contributed much to our nation building. But naming established institutions after people who just give money is, I think, way over the top.

I beilieve the NUS was one of the first to lead the charge. The School of Medicine particularly. I for one, was aghast when heard they named the grand old School of Medicine after a Yong Loo Lin. 'Yong who?' was my first response. How could they? Here was my old alma mater, 100 years old, with a proud heritage.....gone overnight. Morphing unceremoniously into the Yong Loo Lin of Medicine. "Yong-who? School of Medicine?" . No consulation with staff.....or alumni. Talk about a top down approach. Many of my contemporaries had been equally appalled. A heritage sold. No matter how the School of Medicine insists on the continued heritage, there is no doubt it had all been destroyed by the stroke of a pen.

How much was the heritage worth? One hundred million bucks. Sounds big doesn't it? Until you realize how big the annual operating budget for the school is. Let me tell you one hundred million dollars doesn't really go very far. Consider for example, that the NUS operating expenditure is in the range of $1.5 billion.

And so we sold the hundred year heritage for a hundred million dollars. One million for each year. How callous, and tragic (not to even mention that the old original building of the medical school, the female asylum, had much earlier on, been bulldozed over to build a carpark!).

This was most certainly one of the straws that led to the final one for Dr Tan Cheng Bock. He finally resigned in exasperation from the board of Jurong Hospital when they decided to name the hospital after Ng Teng Fong, whose family had also donated some money.... some $125 million of it. Again while the sum may appear big, it is also small compared to the $1 billion the government is spending on the hospital.

So what gives....?

Seems to me that our idea of Total Defence includes the protection our heritage, because it is our heritage that holds us together and gives Singaporeans a sense of that common history and vision for the future. Seems to me that the selling off of our heritage for a paltry 30 pieces of silver is not working in our favour, and undermines all the effort in the building our total defence.

It is time to take stock.


Anonymous said...

You have obviously not been employed by an institution that is only partially funded by the govt. When your annual operating expenses are more than the amount given to you by the govt, you too would find it very hard to turn down a million dollar donation, let alone one consisting of a hundred million. I, like you, agree that naming something as important as a medical school or hospital to the 'highest bidder' reeks of greed. But then again, having enough money to run (or even expand) that school or hospital seems sweet too!

Anonymous said...

To Gigamole...

Perhaps the below will help explain not all of it but almost the whys and hows of the direction Singapore is heading...and it is gonna be ugly as hell...and not by the common "powerless" folks/locals choice.

It is sad.

Anonymous said...

2 value systems. We may lament but it's a lost cause. Spore pendulum has swung so far that everything can be reduced to, rationalised into, explained away in $ and cents. Or so they think. The chickens will come back to roost.

gigamole said...

Not sure if I agree with you about there not being enough money.... There is always enough is really having unrealistic expectations abbout what you can achieve with the resources you have. And what sort of priority you want to place on various aspects of your performance indications.

So fundamentally it comes down to what KPIs are important and what you want to trade off to achieve those KPIs. The no-brainer approach is to trade off long term intangibles for short term visible proxy indicators for what you really want. Middle management is really very good at these trade-offs. Some one else will have to clean up the mess later on.

gigamole said...

Sadly in Singapore, money has become the proxy KPI for every aspect of our lives. Methinks this is not going down well with the electorate. If our national leadership is wise, and I hope they are, they will do well to recognize this well of miscontent and begin to recalibrate their management strategies.

Anonymous said...

I'm hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to reverse this selling off our heritage when the right people are in leadership, starting with this election and future ones that follow.

cheesepie said...

I think somewhere along the lines we have adopted the US way of doing things.
(in an attempt to become "first" world)

Although I have never worked or lived in the US, I hear from my friends that this is common practice there. Schools and universities are named after folks who donate large amounts of money.

Perhaps it will come across as an incentive and cause people to outbid each other - for their names to go down in the history books?

gigamole said...

Yeah, there's been a bit too much of that blind aping of and alignment to the US system.

So much for independent thinking at that level.