The Cyber Charms of Our Government Bodies

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This article is concurrently posted on The Kent Ridge Common.

There are times when we sigh, trying to pick apart the convoluted writings of government bodies, to unravel the meanings they hold for us. The CPF statements, for example, and the newspaper quotes about the latest policy changes. Sometimes, there is a need to read such information repeatedly just to understand their literal meanings. We may have to spend a lot more time to decode their implications for us. Bertha Hanson, a seasoned ex-journalist, has written a list of words that bureaucrats tend to bandy about.

But there are also heartening instances of our government bodies trying to shed their stodgy images while communicating their intentions. The online media has been a sphere for the government and the governed to converse with each other.

Some civil service institutes have been more successful than others, sharing information succinctly and with grace. Take, for example, the press releases by the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, the body responsible for preventing illegal entries of people and cargo into Singapore as well as issuing travel passes and documents.

Their work, while essential in safeguarding Singapore, may sound boring to the general public. (How to communicate a factual incident on an illegal entry in a sufficiently interesting manner to capture the attention of a hyperactive online audience?)  Despite this challenge, the authority has come up with soundbites of information that convey important messages with clarity, brevity and wit:
Caught In The Web of Love
Prologue: True love…seriously?
It was May 2012 when a married Singaporean man was attracted to a female Chinese national and the couple decided to develop their illicit relationship further.  Unfortunately, as with many heart-rending love stories, they did not live happily forever as both were married, but not to each other.
Angry Birds: The ICA Version
Known for their great vocals, mata putehs (also known as Oriental White-eye) have been living under the attention of many bird lovers. However, when trapped and forced to be silent, these birds got angry and made their stand.
Do Not ‘Harbour’ Ill(Egal) Thoughts
In the month of June, three men were convicted of harbouring immigration offenders (IOs) and were each sentenced to no less than six months of imprisonment as a result. The trio had committed an offence under Section 57(1)(d) of the Immigration Act (Cap 133).  To those who think that they will be able to pull off the same stunt without getting caught, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) advises them not to harbour such ill thoughts.
The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority isn't alone in this attempt to reach out to the public. The Facebook page of the Ministry of Education is a board of parenting tips, interesting trivia and quotes, along with official updates about government policies.

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The efforts by these government bodies to engage with internet-savvy Singaporeans can be very creative, and really commendable.

Often, we tend to look to the wittiness of overseas cultures - such as these fake signs in London trains - and wonder if Singapore is too staid, too safe and predictable for the same flowers of creativity to bloom here.

Yet one visiting professor from America once mentioned to me that Singaporeans are really humorous people - always ready with puns and deadpan jokes - just that they don't seem to find themselves humorous. Perhaps it's because we measure ourselves against foreign standards that we think we're more boring than we actually are?

The online dispersal of information by some government bodies - including the Ministry of Education and the Immigration & Checkpoint Authority - points the way forth. Other public institutions can certainly take a leaf - or Facebook update - from their books.

So yes, kudos to these government boards for loosening up, for signalling that Singapore can be funny - even for those in official capacities - and for conveying information in such catchy, readily understandable manners!

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