Even after gathering feedback from their constituents, the data is meaningless if student representatives choose to act in their own interest instead of what their constituents want. In the present system, there is no particular incentive to act according to the desire of the student population even if one disagrees with it as a student representative. The strengths of the previously mentioned C-Cube initiative are, thus, based on a few presumptions: that Presidents of the faculties and halls are aware of the viewpoints posited by their constituents, and that these individuals do communicate what has been discussed with their executive members. The ideal is that all the student representatives who vote during the meetings are in-the-know. However, I am not sure if all the student-leaders present at the Council meeting were sure about what they were voting for as well. Based on the meeting minutes, which charted how the session panned out, the context was poorly laid out: there was no summary of how Rag and Flag has evolved over the years, and no substantial information about on-theground sentiments, and no useful explanations on how the Council came to these decisions in the first place. The meeting proceedings seemed rushed, and questions asked, messy. One of the other ways to establish greater accountability would be for each voting member to explain how and why he or she voted for or against a motion. There
were 17 abstentions on the vote to keep the Rag Shield, and it would be meaningful to know their rationales for voting in a particular manner. While it might not be expedient to do so in the context of a meeting, the final, published version of the meeting minutes could have an accompanying addendum with the aforementioned information and standpoints. There are persistent queries on the entire expenditure of the event, and the general wastage of resources and finances involved with Rag and Flag. On that note, I think two Council decisions were steps in the right direction. First, in an attempt to reduce costs, the lorry has been removed (26 for, 7 against, 14 abstentions). The lorry has been part of Rag since its inception, but its inclusion will only be justified if the procession-tour element of the Rag is brought back to the event. Second, the decision to adopt a rotation system between NUS and the public is a good compromise. While we seek to minimise the huge expenses when Rag is held outside of school (4 in public places, 16 in NUS, 24 for the hybrid rotation, 3 abstentions), a well-planned public event could raise the profile of this NUS tradition. In the past, Rag and Flag has been plagued by a number of controversies. The most notorious practice involved rumours of participants emptying purchased soda drinks, so that the aluminium cans could be used for the design of the float. NUSSU has encouraged the PBs to be more conscious of the materials they utilise, and
hence included a recyclingenvironmental component to the judging criteria. There is another rumour that the Business School had a “bull head” laser-cut for its float in 2011, and this customised design service was provided by an external partner. At the time of writing, nobody from the Business Rag team of 2010/11 has responded with comment – specifically on the actual amount that was spent on the “bull head”, and how it was financed – but in the following year, NUSSU banned all forms of outsourcing concerning the construction of the float. I have faith that if competition was taken entirely out of the Rag and Flag equation, the many transgressions could be curbed, and the members involved with the Rag project would then search for more creative alternatives. More details would be given on the cost cap for 2013, but it should be significantly lower, given the removal of the lorry. On the transparency of the PB expenses, I maintain that it would be a good move for the respective PBs to disclose breakdowns on how much they have spent on the construction of their floats, as opposed to giving ballpark figures based rigidly on the caps set in place. They remain accountable to their constituents of the faculties or the halls. The NUSSU Exco, on the other hand, should let students know how much has gone into the Rag event. This will be in line with the Exco’s practice of responsibly furnishing the student population with the administrative and financial details of its overall operations, and I thank Mr.
Goh for providing the figures for Rag from 2007 to 2012. To my knowledge, such details are difficult to obtain for the average student; not many would know who to approach. Already for this article, the information was obtained from the NUSSU President and not from publicly available and easily accessible figures. It would be insightful to have an estimate for how the PBs manage their expenses, and the general costs of Rag and Flag.
Flagging Rag This commentary is not a call for Rag and Flag to be scrapped, for I have too much respect for its heritage and history, and recognise its value through my friends who have gained so much through it. Instead, this should serve as a starting point for discussions and discourse, to empower the reader with the requisite knowledge to form their own judgements. As a writer who asks the inconvenient questions and writes his thoughts, nothing would please me more than someone who disagrees with my point of view.
Acknowledgements Mr. Augustin Chiam, for his patience, recommendations and editing expertise Miss Loh Peiying, for her advice and guidance through the NewspaperSG platform Students, student-leaders, and representatives for agreeing to the interviews
Published on Apr 6, 2013