It may not be worth your while, MINDEF!

Did you read about the guy who boasted about his ability to evade national service through lying and malingering, and then boasting about it in an anonymous forum? You can read all about it here. The article reports that MINDEF and SAF are investigating. Well, I am writing to say that it would not be worth the while spending precious resources on something like this.

Let me explain.

What would the SAF/MINDEF hope to achieve by investigating the issue? After all, the report is unverified, and there has only been one known report of it having had happened. Do we really want to spend all those man-hours verifying what we already know - that if someone wants to deceive and malinger, there is really nothing much that the SAF can do about that? After all, if the alleged malingerer hadn't boasted of his "achievements", would the SAF even come to know about it? I seriously doubt that.

So, MINDEF & SAF, instead of trying to manage this event, step back and take a look at the big picture. Go back to what you are trying to achieve and make that your stated intent. The intent could be something like, "To ensure that everyone who needs psychiatric help receives it." If that is your intent, then, someone who deceives the system is treated as an anomaly. We take comfort not by the low (or no) number of people who malinger, but by the high number of people who are helped psychologically. Therefore, one needs to establish the right metrics in support of your stated intent.

Of course it does not mean that we let everyone who malingers get away with it scot free! If - and this is a BIG IF - you can identify the person cheating the system, by all means throw the book at him. But you cannot spend an inordinate amout of resources doing that. Hence you need to identify your constraints like not busting a certain resource level to be used for these instances, or establishing a trigger point (say 4 cases a quarter) that needs to be crossed before these resources are used. If these are not encased in the system, it might well be a case of throwing good money for bad.

A little reframing might well be helpful as well. The SAF - and the Singapore civil service as a whole - might do well to remember that they cannot manage everything, identify all possible loopholes and go after every offender. Just like that of the traffic police who cannot be everywhere and who rely on random spot checks and severe penalties, the SAF may well let this guy go but put in place big fines and heavy penalties for people coming after him who are caught malingering; and every now and then, choose a couple of people who were given NS dispensation at random and test their condition. And if they do identify a malingerer, throw the book and the kitchen sink at him. This way, people will think twice about committing the act, even if they can get away with it.

So it's better to just let this guy go, scoring it one for anomaly; but bringing out the warning sign to those who may be thinking of doing it in the future. Next time, they might not be so lucky and the price is exhorbitant. That will help keep everyone in check.

Now isn't that a better strategic solution?

Written by Ian Dyason

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