Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Should the Government Follow Through on A Ridiculous Promise?

Written by johnleemk on 2:43:19 pm Mar 10, 2007.

Helen wrote in response to an earlier article on the free gift offer for MyKad applications:

Hello John. Very belated CNY greetings to you. :-)

Reading your post reminded me of my initial indignation when the prize was first offered. I was one of the first batch to change MyKad and felt injustice (great injustice) was done when early birds are penalized for their 'initiative.' But, having read now they are pulling out of their promise, I am once again visited by my sense of indignation.

I agree with you there are no legal basis for the garmen to stick to their prize. But then, the good faith of a promise exceeds the boundary of the law book. Assuming of course the promise itself is not of anything illegal and does not contradict the existing law.

Like you say, it's not right in the first place to offer reward for people to do their legal obligations, but then in view of the fact the garmen actually open their mouth and made a promise, it's in good faith they should follow it through. The issue is of course not mere legal obligation, but the sincerity and credibility of a governing body making good of its word.

If little petty promises like this are easily waived aside, what credibility do the governing body has when it comes to bigger issue?

I think the point of contention here is one of values. Which do we value more — a sense of justice in the fact that nobody should be rewarded for doing what they are legally required to do anyway, or a sense of fairness in the idea that the government should uphold its promises, even if they are wholly ludicrous?

For me, I have to give priority to the former, but I can see why others would opt for the latter. I think, however, that holding the government to all its promises without evaluating the premises behind these promises is not the right thing to do.

If the promise is predicated on rewarding people for something they are already legally bound to do, the promise itself is flawed at the fundamental level. Of course, it does not feel "right" either for the government to renege on this promise later on, but the government is simply rectifying its original error.

Furthermore, with specific regard to the MyKad case, the new minister was the one who cancelled the offer, which had been made by his predecessor. I would analogise this to a new government being elected. Should this government be held responsible for the promises of its predecessors?

It does not feel right, I agree, for the government to go back on its word. But demanding that the government never admit its past policies were mistaken in some way feels even less right.

In my opinion, it is good that the government not be afraid to admit its mistakes. Not enough people have the courage to say they were wrong. The government has admitted it was wrong to reward people for doing their legal duty.

You might argue that the government could have admitted it was wrong without going back on its promise. But this divergence between word and action, I think, would be even more harmful to the government's credibility than the ostensible damage done by the cancellation of the ill-thought-out reward.

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