Friday, October 05, 2007

Lincoln Lesson

The National Library Board (NLB) did something fantastic recently. It sent out 800,000 mailers to its delinquent members to request them to settle their outstanding fines. According to reports, some of these fines have been outstanding for as long as 11 years. According to its external auditors, delinquent accounts should have been settled on time - a important practice in good governance.

My concern is that Singapore has 800,000 book reading people who have chosen not settled their fines. We are not talking about traffic fines, parking fines, etc. How much can a library fine amount to? S$1, S$2? But a letter writer to Today stated that he had a 20 cents fine dating back 11 years. That is astonishing as I understand from my many years as an active library member that additional penalties are levied on unpaid fines. So a 20 cents fine 11 years ago would have accumulated to quite a tidy sum today. NLB is probably also remiss in not recording the accumulated penalties on top of fines. To think that all these years, I have been faithfully and honestly paying all my library fines, not that there were many in the first place.

800, that's not a small number of people who are basically not honest. Many of them would probably have thought 20, 30 cents are peanuts that the NLB can absorb. But really, it is dishonesty any way you look at it. It is not so much whether NLB needs the money or not (it probably doesn't going by the fact that it left its debtors alone for so many years), but whether a person, after agreeing to the library rules and profiting from its free services subsequently reneges on it by refusing to settle their fines. All of which reminds me of the oft-quoted stories of how Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the US, walked 6 miles (that's almost 10 km travelling there and another 10 km for the return journey - a total of 20 km!) to pay back a few cents to a woman who had overpaid for dry goods at the store that Lincoln ran, and on another occasion, finding that he had used a four-ounce weight instead of an eight, he walked miles to deliver to a woman the full order of tea she had paid for. Lincoln was then all of 22 years old.*

So whether one owes 10 cents or $10, the right thing to do is to return what is owed. Somehow, a people who is more much more well-to-do, with all the comforts of modern living compared to Lincoln in 1831, cannot see the virtue of honesty. This is probably symptomatic of a society drunken by Totos, 4-D, Lucky Draws and the specter of Casinos in its own backyard. They don't mind spending time every week, if not more often, lining up to buy those lucky numbers but rationalize to themselves that it is a waste of money driving/walking/taking the bus down to the library to pay a 10 cents fine. Their economics may be spot-on, but their morals leave much to be desired.

I hope these 800,000 see the error of their ways and turn to the straight and narrow. Be honest. It is not about the money, it is about doing the right thing. Make good your debt. Be responsible. You don't want tax payers, like me, to pick up the cost of the mailers for you too, do you?

* Source: Sandburg, Carl (1993), "Abraham Lincoln". Galahad Books, Page 25.


James Chia said...

I just received a slip from NLB showing a fine of $2.35 which I have owed for years I think. Even though it's only a little amount of money which I think NLB would not really mind me not paying up, I still feel guilty because it was my fault for being lazy to walk to the counter to pay up!

Abao said...

I haven't paid up my fines in the past years as there was no means for me to pay up (I dont own a cash card for 1), until about 3 weeks ago I saw that they implemented ezlink payment. I thought that was good, and was preparing to pay up on the next trip (in a few day's time to return books) when I saw the letter.

I immediately laughed after reading the letter and drawing the lines in my head.

They could have reached us by simply issuing a press statement and air it on TV or the print media instead of sending costy (maybe 8cents is cheap by their standards?) 800k reminder letters.

Oh and by the way, 800k/2930k ("Native Singaporeans" - My memory's not very good, but this number is derived from Seah Chang Nee's news article) people is not a small amount, but you should be glad.

If someday the count reaches 80-90% of the population then you should understand where our country's first world education has led to. Which is very sad actually.

Its still reversible if we start to take moral education seriously at all fronts: the state, the parents and the masses. But as of current, only the masses such as you are espousing moral values.

It will need some lobbying if moral values are to be viewed in a different light.