The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The hidden costs of cheap foreign workers.

Singapore loves slave labour. By this, I mean cheap foreign workers who will work for money that Singaporeans wouldn't even call money at all. Most Singaporean employers seem to think this is a great idea, in fact, many Singaporeans have become rich on the back of this modern day slavery. However, is there a catch with this capitalist dream?

Yes. Sometimes "cheap" is not cheap, but may turn out to be more expensive than any employer could possibly have imagined.

I shall explain. I know of a private school, in Singapore, whose Chinese owner (from the People's Republic of China, but a PR, here) likes to employ foreign workers at the lowest of low wages. He thinks this is a great way to increase his margins, painlessly. Yet, as he has recently learned, sometimes anesthetics just don't work.

In his company, most administrators are earning around a 1,000 Singapore dollars per month. Some earn more...but I don't think any is on a salary of even as much as 2,000 dollars. Now, these wages are considered high for some classes of foreign workers (who may earn only 250 dollars per month, for instance)...but these wages are still low compared to what most Singaporeans would expect for the jobs he is asking them to do. (To put these figures into perspective, 1,000 Singaporean dollars is, as of today's exchange rates, only 690 US Dollars. For scaling purposes, the rent on a two bedroom government (HDB) flat is around 1,600 dollars per month. Thus, people being paid these wages can only afford a room in someone's apartment, at most.)

For many years, it has been like this, at this particular school. The Chinese boss has never given a Christmas bonus. He has never given a Chinese New Year bonus. Some people have worked there for many years, and never received a raise. He lost his best administrator because he wouldn't give her a 12% rise - she left for another position that paid her about 70 % more. Yet, he didn't seem to mind.

Recently, however, something has come to light. One of his recent appointees (the third girl in a row, in about nine months, to do the lost administrator's accounts job), disappeared one day, back to Malaysia. She was a very chirpy, smiley Malaysian Chinese girl working on a much smaller salary than any Singaporean would, in her job. However, sometimes a smile is not what it seems.

She had disappeared because a large cheque had bounced, made out to herself, from the company. As you might have guessed, the boss didn't sign such a cheque: she had. Rather resourcefully, she had forged the two signatures required on the cheque to make it out to herself, for a five figure sum. It was not the first cheque she had so made out. The previous one - for 10,000 dollars, went through to her account without any problems. The problem this time, was that she had made out a cheque so large that it was greater than the balance in the company account that month. It bounced...and her game was up.

On her sudden departure, an investigation began. The last time I heard, up to 70,000 dollars, perhaps more, was suspected to have been embezzled. This particular girl had only been in her job for about six weeks.

Investigations have revealed that others, too, are involved in embezzling from the school. At least one sales staff member (again very lowly paid, in terms of basic salary) has been doing something rather clever, if you approve of criminal intelligence. This staff member, as yet unidentified, though it might be the person who has taken a sudden one month leave of absence, has been selling school courses for cash, to foreign students - and pocketing the money. Apparently, fake copies of the contract have been given to students, to convince them that they have been officially registered. Yet, none of these students appear on the official school books. These students have been turning up for classes, yet they don't appear on the roster, at all.

Again, large sums of money appear to be involved.

Now, some of you might think that the boss of this company deserves what he gets for paying such unattractive wages to his staff, and employing foreign workers, just so that he can pay them less than any local would work for - and, to a degree, I suppose you would be right. He shouldn't be paying such low wages. Yet, the owner is not the only victim in this. The foreign students who have paid thousands of dollars in cash for their courses may not be allowed to attend the school, since the school has actually received no money at all. These are innocent victims of this situation. In many cases, they are not from wealthy families and their parents have struggled hard to raise the money to send them overseas to study and better their lives. It isn't fair that they should have to suffer.

It is, however, very easy to understand where the motive for these crimes has come from. The company boss is paying wages that are, actually, too low to survive on, in expensive Singapore. To make ends meet, workers in such a situation are often forced to take on a second job. Yet, even a second job, at those kinds of rates, would not provide enough money for them. So, they start to get imaginative - and work out ways to get ahold of the money they need, by illegal means.

It seems obvious that had the company owner paid decent wages to his staff, that these crimes most likely would not have occurred. They would not have had a strong motive to steal, or embezzle, or cheat, because they would have enough money to live on. As it is, however, they may have felt they had no choice.

In a way, it is quite a darkly funny story. The owner has lost more money, in a short time, than he probably would have had to pay out, in decent wages, to have prevented this situation in the first place.

The lesson to be learnt from this story is that hiring foreign workers, on slave wages, may, actually, be a false economy. If a worker cannot meet their basic needs from the salary they are being "paid" they will do so by other means. A company that pays slave wages, is a company that will be stolen from, by its enslaved workers.

The investigation into how much has been embezzled from this particular school, has only just begun. So far, at least two thieves have been detected. There is, at this time, no telling how many are involved, nor how much may turn out to be missing. Yet, it is clear that this tale of misfortune, was unnecessary. All the owner had to do was pay a decent wage to his workers. It seems simple enough. To do otherwise, is to put the company at risk of huge and unexpected losses. If such crimes are big enough, they can bring a company down.

So: don't put your company at a proper wage.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:41 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't think it was appropriate to say that the man was a "Chinese" boss.

When I tell a story, I never mention the ethnicity of the person I'm referring to. ie I don't make sentences like:

"The Chinese man behind the counter was very rude." or "The Indian man sleeping on the bench was a moron"

It's just not appropriate.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

On the contrary it is 100% appropriate to mention his ethnicity since it pertains directly to understanding the story. You see it would be meaningless to observe that he has never paid a bonus (hong bao) on Chinese New Year, if he was a non-Chinese boss. Why would an Indian or a Malay or a Caucasian give a Hong Bao on Chinese New Year...this can only be understood if we can see that he is going against the conventions of his society and ethnicity.

Anyway, he is a PRC Chinese man and this bears on his business practices. This cannot be fully understood without knowing where he is from. Your attitude obscures the truth of the situation...and why would you not want the truth to be understood?

In this case, the boss is Chinese...and so are the people who have stolen from him. The story cannot be fully understood without knowing the background of the people involved. In a way, his staff are being just as sharp about money as he paying such low wages he was consistently depriving them of they have turned around and deprived him of money, too.

If no mention of ethnicity and nationality was made, then it would be impossible to understand that he was operating his business in a particular way, according to the conventions of his culture - but that he was also ignoring those conventions which said he should be generous around New Year.

If I wrote as you want me too, I would be hiding the truth and preventing understanding.

Think of it this way. Without knowing the ethnicity of the people in the story, we cannot know what is considered normal behaviour for that race or nationality. Without knowing that, we cannot understand the story fully...because we have no benchmarks for comparison. Your way of doing things forever prevents understanding. I don't think THAT is appropriate.

By the way, your examples of sentences not to write are insulting. I have not written such sentences in this or any other post. Your examples extend my informative way of writing into territory it has never and would never venture into. Is that appropriate? No.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have rotten apples everywhere not only restricted to foreign employees or Singaporeans. Do you remember the following cases involving Singaporeans
1) F&N Finance staff blew millions
2) SembCorp Marine finance staff's $330 million FX scandal
3) Ren Ci Hospital
4) NKF
5) Lawyer David Rasif made off with millions of dollars belonging to his client and so on
Do you know recently a Malaysian Security guard loss his life in the Singapore River while saving a women.

So it is not fair to generalize all the foreign workers are bad as we have rotten apples every where

12:37 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your comment.

It is clear that I have been misunderstood. I was not generalizing that foreign workers are all bad. Not at all - I was just saying that paying slave wages would motivate some of them to steal.

As for the Singaporean led scandals you mention - you are right. Locals are quite skillful at dishonesty, too, in some is a country where the love of money is greater than the love of law and order. Hence the financial dishonesty (which often starts at the TOP of organizations actually).

Kind regards

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Valentine

You are actually too kind to the PRC'ians business folks. the dumb politically correct frog-in-the-wells like to defend the PRC's actions 'cos it makes them sound cool/fair/whatever.

Hello. Thats how most sweatshop SMEs operates everywhere (that does not have min wages/decent labour laws).

Having said that, The PRC boss greatest mistake is not taking proper account lessons or implementing proper 4-eye policies.

See the Madoffs and other assorted wall street crooks. They are well paid but it is never enough!

1:56 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your supportive comment. I did think it was the wrong way to do business: I am glad to see that someone agrees.

Yes...this is world is becoming quite mad for the crimes of sheer human greed out there. It is all quite unsettling.

Best wishes

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article.

Never mind what others say.

It is gratifying to know that the whole issue centers around the PRCs. We need to unit to drive them out of Singapore.

Majullah Singapura.

12:08 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

In the drive to keep up the proportion of ethnic Chinese in Singapore (which is clearly the local policy) the government has overlooked that PRCs have different standards of behaviour, ethics, outlook and beliefs. So, along with importing them, come a whole lot of other issues.

I wonder if Singapore's system can survive too much of this?

6:22 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for your kind thought, re. my article. I am glad it is appreciated!

Best wishes

6:58 AM  

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