The SASW says, according to a news report by the Straits Times, that the reason for rescinding the original award was primarily because Mr Wham “has only about seven years of relevant experience”.
The Straits Times report then said “[in] comparison, previous outstanding award recipients each had more than 10 years of experience.” It is unclear if this was said by the spokesman for SASW or a view of the Straits Times reporter.
In any case, the “10 years” criteria is a moot and irrelevant one.
This is because, on the National Council of Social Services website, there is no such stipulation or qualifying criteria for the award. In fact, qualification for the OSWA is “5 years or more of service experience as a social worker” – a requirement which Mr Wham fully satisfies, given that the SASW itself recognises that Mr Wham has seven years of relevant experience.
So, how is it that the SASW finds it possible to cite a non-existing criteria (“10 years of experience”) and withdraw the award? By doing so, the SASW is not only arbitrarily setting its own rules – which run contrary to what is stipulated publicly – but it is also not adhering to the criteria laid out on the NCSS website (“5 or more years of service experience”).
This, as many online commentators feel, is a question which the SASW needs to explain further – so that future potential nominees and the public are clear about the criteria.
2 full weeks to realise “miscommunication”?
The SASW also apologised for the “miscommunication” with Mr Wham about the original OSWA. The reason it gave was, according to the Straits Times:
“… the first email [to inform Mr Wham he had won the OSWA] was sent to Mr Wham before ‘an endorsement of the winners was finally obtained from the selection panel’.”
The selection panel comprises social workers and representatives from the SASW, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), NCSS, and ExxonMobile, which is the sponsor of the prizes.
The reason given by the SASW again leaves one puzzled, for the following reasons:
- Why, if the selection panel did not endorse the award, did the association send out the first email informing HOME that Mr Wham had been given the award? Who made the decision to send out that email and by what or whose authority did he/she send it out? Surely, such official communication would have been vetted and confirmed by the person/s in charge before it was approved.
- Why did it take the selection panel a full 2 weeks to realise its “mistake” or “miscommunication”? And only informed Mr Wham on 11 November - 3 days before the award ceremony itself at the Istana on the 14th?
- What transpired during those 2 weeks? Who spotted the “mistake”? How was the mistake realised? Did not the SASW realise that there were in fact no mistakes since the qualification criterias as posted on the NCSS' website clearly make Mr Wham completely eligible?
- Surely, with such a selection panel which comprised so many members from various organisations, the SASW would be aware and mindful to have the panel’s decision before sending out the original email. How else could it be?
So, what really happened, resulting in the withdrawal of the OSWA to Mr Wham?
One would not know for certain, unless one has insights into the workings of the selection process, internal communications between the members of the panel, or if the SASW provides more information.
Questions about the whole controversy raised by some quarters include:
1. Was there interference from the “higher-ups” in government, perhaps even a particular ministry?
2. The OSWA is cited on the NCSS website as being “the highest award conferred by the President of Singapore to recognise and acknowledge the outstanding contributions by dedicated social workers of Singapore to the social service, healthcare or community sector.” As such, one would – rightly – expect that the utmost care and respect be taken with regards to its being awarded. Thus, a “miscommunication” is a very serious matter as awarding such a prestigious award and then withdrawing it – without any concrete or rational reasons – is highly disrespectful not only to the winner but also to the office of the President.
3. If the reasons given by the SASW are indeed truthful, why is it that no one was held accountable for the lack of oversight?
The SASW owes the public – and Mr Wham – a more truthful (and convincing) explanation. What it has offered so far does not make sense – at all.
*Mr Wham has since declined the PSWA award.