An Archbishop checked into a hotel with a lady. The press got hold of the news and on the next day, splashed it across the newspapers headlined “Archbishop found sleeping with woman in hotel!”. When asked, the Archbishop clarified that he was sleeping with his lawful wife in the hotel. Now that is mischievous reporting. If the whole truth were reported – that the Archbishop was sleeping with his lawful wife in a hotel, nobody would be bothered to read. There would not be any scandal to report. It’s no longer news worthy. That anecdote was related by our late founding father Mr S Rajaratnam when I attended a student seminar in 1982.
Did MP Baey Yam Keng resort to half truth when he publicized his $2.50 Nasi Padang with a glass of $0.50 rose syrup drink on his Facebook when the same plate of Nasi Padang reportedly cost $6 to others? From the Archbishop anecdote, we could tell the difference between reporting the whole truth and half truth. I’m not accusing him of lying. We accept that he was speaking the truth when he innocently announced to the whole world that he had a cheap lunch in town. Is it the whole truth?
Let’s analyze this simple innocent declaration of his $2.50 Nasi Padang on his Facebook.
Let us first look at his background. According to online wikipedia here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baey_Yam_Keng, he is a two term MP since 2006. He came from elite schools and graduated with a good degree from UK on EDB scholarships. We can safely say that he is from the elite class. He is typical of the elite class. He is not like us. He is unlike us.
From the nonchalant manner he answered to the furore by commoners, it seems that he really did not know that the food he paid for was a huge discount. He did not even bother to clarify with the food seller. He thought that the food was cheap and he posted it on Facebook with a picture of the meal. What was his message?
If it is a small matter, the public would not have been outraged. It would not have become a talking point in town. All over the cyber world, people are still talking about the $2.50 Nasi Padang. Even in the coffee shops, heart-landers are also talking. The general consensus is that the MP does not know understand the costs of living. Where in Singapore can you get such a good deal? Even a plate of mee or mee rebus costs at least $3.00. The cheapest but rarely one could get is $2.50. We are talking about a plate of Malay rice with chicken and two vegetables. We know that Malay food is usually more expensive than Chinese food. To add to his naivety, he further added that the rose syrup costs him only $0.50! Where in Singapore could you buy a cup of drink for only $0.50? The minimum price for a cup of drink is at least $0.80 for black coffee or $1.30 for a soft drink. Those are the current market prices for a decent meal and drink in any coffeeshop in Singapore. It’s even much higher in a food court.
MP Baey does not seem to understand or know about market prices for a decent meal and drink in Singapore. He is out of touch with the common folks having their meal and drink in a coffeeshop. Maybe, he was glad that he could pay so cheap for his meal that he could not resist telling the whole world that actually costs of living not that high at all. Singapore is still a cheap place for food and daily living? Only he knows. We don’t know what was his message.
Next, if MP Baey is not a public figure, it is of no significance. The fact that he is an MP and yet he does not seem to understand about the costs of living here causes such an uproar. Is he typical of the elite class? Will he understand the commoners’ struggle with the ever increasing costs of living with wages remaining constant or stagnant? If he does not understand the pain faced by commoners, how could he empathize with the residents? How could he speak up for the man in the street?
My friend Vanessa ever told me to be very careful with what I say. Once said it can’t be taken back. Yes, MP Baey is the most active new social media user. You could find tons of his postings made on FB and twitter. He loves to report his daily routine like jogging, breakfast, lunch and even dinner to all his fans. His fans are addicted to his endless stream of live postings.
Whatever blunder he has made about the $2.50 Nasi Padang, I still find him a nice, likable, handsome and energetic MP trying his utmost to fulfill his MP responsibility. He even resigned from his day job to be a full time MP which is applaudable! The problem with him is that he should learn from the PM. Just say sorry and say, “I’ll get it right the next time!” Don’t try to defend or exonerate himself out of the mess he created. Instead, he tried to salvage his bruised ego by asking the same stall holder to offer the same $2.50 to everybody but with fine print – “only children and senior citizens” within a certain time frame on a given day for the sake of charity! Making hay out of the sun? To get more publicity? That is not the way to damage control.
Let me end this short criticism of MP Baey by asking him to learn from another veteran ex-MP and ex-Cabinet Minister General G.Yeo. Like MP Baey, General G.Yeo also loves to post all kinds of things especailly about his daily routine on Facebook with pictures of places he is visiting. But he is careful with his comments and he does not speak unnecessarily. He only talks when necessary. He is one of the greatest local intellectuals alive after our late founding father S Rajaratnam. He fully understands the Chinese saying, “言多必失” It is a great loss to our nation that he no longer contributes actively to government. I never fail to read his insightful articles whenever he writes to international publications. I have reproduced a similar recent food posting by him. You could see for yourself the big difference between a novice and a master.
I just received this comment from my reader.
“Alan the fact of the matter is that he got a discount. Can’t weasel out of that. The rice stall guy is a brown noser. He shouldn’t have given a discount.
Baey was ex MD of Hill & Knowlton, a PR firm. Yet he was disastrous in handling this controversy. He seems ignorant of prices of food that ordinary people eat, thinking it’s probably cheap and costs of living for common folks are really affordable. Does he always patronize fine-dining Michelin-starred restautants? Has he – like so many other people in power – gotten so out of touch with reality on the ground?”
Nasi padang politics
It started as a seemingly innocuous $3 meal of nasi padang and rose syrup drink.
But after Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng posted a picture of the food on his Facebook page last Wednesday, it sparked an online furore.
A netizen claimed he was charged $6 for the same dish at Al-Madina Muslim Restaurant, prompting others to accuse Mr Baey of receiving preferential treatment and not being aware of food prices.
Yesterday, he said his conscience was clear and he did not knowingly accept a discount for the meal of two vegetables, chicken, rice and a glass of bandung.
The stall in Tampines Street 44 had just been set up and did not display prices; he rarely ate nasi padang; and he gave $10 and was given $7 in change, he added.
Mr Baey stressed that his actions were “above board”, reiterating a point he made in a column in yesterday’s MyPaper newspaper.
Netizens had also accused him of being out of touch, to which the MP replied that he did not say the food was cheap.
“I think I deserve better credit. It would be quite simplistic of me to make such a statement,” he told The Straits Times.
Some netizens, the nasi padang seller and other MPs defended Mr Baey, saying the matter has been blown out of proportion.
The hawker, Mr Kuthubuden Shaik Dawood, 47, told The Straits Times yesterday: “Mr Baey didn’t know we gave him the discount; we just collected the money from him.”
His staff had recognised the MP and charged him less, he added. Mr Kuthubuden also said he will offer a $2.50 deal to 100 customers for a plate of nasi padang and a drink between 11am and 2pm this weekend. All proceeds will go to the Tampines North welfare fund for needy residents.
The netizen who claimed he was charged $6 for the same meal, a Fernando Fonseca, declined to be interviewed. But Mr Kuthubuden insisted he must have ordered more, based on how his stall prices its food.
MPs said they would usually insist on paying the full price, especially if it is stated.
Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling said she would not accept discounts on food, as a matter of principle. Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Alex Yam added: “When offered a discount or free drinks, we tell the stallholders we appreciate their gesture… and we try as much as we can to err on the side of caution to ensure everything we do is above board.”
Mr Baey, one of the PAP’s most active MPs on social media, said he will continue to remain active online. “It’s a learning point in how to deal with such an online response,” he said. “But it’s important to be consistent… and I’ve no intention of changing it.”
This article was first published in The Straits Times Home section, page B2, on Wednesday Dec 18
A great PR man doing a great PR job
Say whatever you like about Baey Yam Keng, he is indeed a first class PR man. Just for a $2.50 nasi padang meal, he is able to arouse enough publicity to himself that no one or organization could attract even after spending several million dollars on a top notch PR agency to do such a job.
Baey Yam Keng’s name is in everyone’s lip. His photographs, selfies, are everywhere, in the main media and social media. His facebook is hot. He outshines everyone, even the PM and the President as the most talked about guy in town. He even out done the Little India riot. No one is going to forget him. He monopolises the news for a whole week and still counting.
After this term in office he could go back to PR and will be the most sought after guy in the industry to carry any advertising job. You just have to give it to him when generating publicity is concerned. Well done man.
The whole publicity stance costs him $2.50, meals and drinks included. Oh, he added another $3.70 for another meal to extend the publicity campaign and raise it to a higher pitch. Can any PR agency do it, all $6.20 to be in everyone’s lips and in every media?
Baey’s the man.