Ho Ching shares thinking behind mechanics of Temasek Holdings’ public distributions

TL;DR – A former policy planner is here to help you make sense of what Ho Ching said.

This article is contributed by Sam Tan, 45, a former policy planner.

People love to have inside information. Mischief makers know this and make fools out of everyone with this knowledge. A day before, an innocent photo of Temasek Foundation’s internal mask distribution trial got shared out of their internal group.

Everyone who then had a copy of the image, thought that they had access to some priority/first-hand information started sharing to boast. They all got it wrong and Ho Ching came out to clarify.


But what was more important in the (super long) clarification, was also some of her thoughts about the planning of these distribution campaigns that members of the public don’t get to hear about.

As a former policy planner, I thought this was super interesting. A lot of people think that planning for any public exercise is easy… it is not. It is difficult enough for entire Ministries to co-ordinate, plan and execute any little operation… Let alone a volunteer team at Temasek or Temasek Foundation, whom are primarily investment people to begin with.

If you read the comments, many people start their complaints with “Why can’t they just…” – that’s a red flag. Any sentence that starts like that screams that the person hasn’t thought through the problem.

Complexity of using SP bill

Ho Ching shared that the difficulty with SP bills primarily is with a fixed date. It is likely their decision for an oximeter distribution came about at the early onset of the Delta variant. Since there are so many moving parts – from procurement, to planning, to seeking partners…and who knows what other red tapes they have to cut. The more organisations that are involved, the longer it is going to take – by the time clearance from each organisation is made, probably Covid would have been over.

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Complexity of using IC

This is my peeve with a lot of Singaporeans actually. Everyone wants privacy. And then, everyone wants the convenience of using an IC to get services. Firstly, thanks to the PDPA, the identity card is not such an easy document to use. And it does not mean that whoever has access to it knows everything from your bank account number to your pet’s name.

When the government gave out funds to needy families some time last year, many people were annoyed that we didn’t already know how much they earn, what their bank account was or how much they had in their CPF. Even within the government, access to this data is almost impossible.

Although the Temasek family sounds big, they are still a private organisation. Can you imagine  your neighbourhood Econ Minimart requesting GovTech to access our national database? The amount of hurdles and complications is incredible.

The only way they could use NRIC, is when they have a government partner… which brings me to the next point…

People’s Association doesn’t have the time

Why didn’t they partner the People’s Association again then? Well, have you been to the community centers lately? They’ve got trace together distributions, voucher distribution and a massive, massive VacciNation campaign going on. They are completely streched and they have to cater first to government demands, rather than that of a private orgnanisation.

Complexity of delivering products directly to households

Then there are some pampered people whom ask for the things to be sent directly to their homes. Firstly, this is going to result in a lot more packaging. Then it needs to be done by registered mail – because surely there will be tens-of-thousands of people who say they did not receive. And it is expensive – why let a logistics company earn all this, when the money is better spent in getting more products to more people?

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Vending machines not easy

I was pretty amazed at the vending machines that they brought in the other time. And you might think that this is low-technology, but the amount of customisation is incredible. It was modified to connect with your IC numbers and as well as a purchasing system. It was modified to deliver different sizes of masks. And Ho Ching even revealed that the sanitiser dispensers were modified from sake dispensing machines.

The lead time to modify a vending machine requires two things: assurance that the size and shape of your product will not change and as well as a period of testing to ensure that it can dispense the correct number of drops with minimal failure.

Then there are other issues to contend with – how do you determine if someone in Blk 123 Ulu Somewhere road is actually telling the truth when they say that the machine had a dispensing failure? You’ll need a separate set of policies to explain this.

Brochures – unfortunately people don’t read

Then yes, there’s the distribution through brochures, which is the fastest time to market. But then you have people who threw it away or claim not to have received. Unless it came through registered mail, there’s really no way of knowing who has received and who has not.

The government has the luxury of many distribution assets and People’s Association is its primary means of reaching citizens. It even has the military it can mobilise; complete with military logistics. It can gazette open spaces for distribution if it really wants to.

There are so many rules and policies you must design alongside this kind of operations. Doing anything that involves over a million people is no joke. It means one million people will leave their homes, get on public transport and crowd places. If each were to spend $1 each, this is one million dollars that will circulate in the economy.

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If 1% came back to you with a faulty product or asked for exchange, that’s 10k phone calls to contend with. This requires a policy to be developed to manage exchanges and an entire call center operation to deal with 10k persons. See the amount of thinking that goes behind it? Nothing is ever “simple”.

Private organisations don’t have that power. I recall Razer did a distribution early on and all it requested was for interested persons to sign-up for their mobile wallet to get this. I also recall that they got flamed. But there’s nothing wrong with that – they did what they could in their power and asked for an act from you to get it.

Comments usually go “If you want to help then you must [abc,xyz].” But hey – we live in an organized society and even in helping we need methods and processes for accountability. It is very bad manners to expect to be spoon fed, especially when Singapore is not an abject poor society to begin with.

So let’s not be rude with any organisation, public or private when they want to do good. By doing so, you’ll just prevent others from doing the same.

(Featured image via)


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The Editor

Author The Editor

Either busy trying to save the world, or poking my nose into other people's affairs.

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