Friday, February 26, 2010

Singapore's Most Trusted People

You have to be weary about the Asian Reader's Digest list of the most trusted people in Singapore when it includes a paraplegic neuroscientist and Paralympian fund raiser who was sued for the repayment of S$400,000 in alleged loans. Dr Willliam Tan's accuser said the monies were meant to be loans to help with his living expenses, overseas education in Australia and in relation to the firms he helped run such as the Wilcare School of Health Sciences.

Topping the list, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong is best remembered, as an Attorney General, for ruling that it's illegal to be loitering around 200 m of a forbidden peripheral zone but perfectly legitimate to be found inside the balloting area, leaving many wondering how Goh Chok Tong et al transported themselves across no-man's land. As Chief Justice, he makes more sense, ruling in favor of a young man charged for drinking a can of beer in his father's stationary car at a HDB parking lot. The engine was not even running. The arresting Singapore police officer had said he was caught imbibing alcohol while in possession of a vehicle.

Dr Lee Wei Ling is daughter of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. Dr Shovon writes this of her: "My then deputy in Singapore, Dr Lee Wei Ling, accused me of unethical conduct in relation to this project. Dr Lee is an influential person, the sister of the Singaporean Prime Minister, and daughter of the (then) Senior Minister. She took over the Directorship of the National Neuroscience Institute on my leaving." Inspite of the protestions of the Singapore Medical Council, who fired Dr Shorvon, the UK General Medical Council dismissed the allegation of unethical conduct comprehensively and completely, and their actions were confirmed by a Judicial Review.

And media artiste Gurmit Singh, number 10 on the list, does not wear even a turban.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Real Meaning Of Productivity

According to Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the government will spend $7 billion to transform the economy by building "superior skills, quality jobs, higher incomes."

Then he gives an example of a target job skill he had in mind: mixologist. That's his high falutin' expression for a bar tender - the guy who concocts drinks for patrons too drunk to tell what is in the glass. You will be excused if you thought the Minister had one drink too many. By his scheme of things, the road sweeper will be called an environmental engineer, and he will be next in line to upgrade to toilet washer, since latter job does not require long hours in the sun. Not for them $45,000 pastry cooking lessons in France; that's for permanent secretaries who can be away from his office for months and still keep his job. And that's not all, they are have tasked another expensive Minister, Teo Chee Hean, to form a new National Productivity and Continuing Education Council. Meaning there's going to be another bunch of civil servants drawing high salaries.

Singapore did undergo a period of job ungrading years ago, when labour intensive industries were replaced by capital intensive ones like printed circuit board manufacture. Then the old guard like Goh Keng Swee turned the swamps of Jurong into factory complexes overnight.

But this generation of politicians has once again proved to be bankrupt of ideas. If they are really serious in increasing productivity, they should reduce the size of the bureaucracy, the number one cause of high operating overheads for businesses. Does the Prime Minister really need a Minister Mentor, two Senior Ministers, two Deputy Prime Ministers and 15 Ministers (two of which are without portfolio) to help him run the country?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Floating Support For Unpopular Minister

On 4 February 1973, the first Chingay parade was held in Singapore to make up for the dampening effect of  banning firing of Chinese New Year firecrackers, considered a fire hazard. This ban was viewed unfavourably despite the safety issues cited.
The People's Association and the Singapore National Pugilistic Association organised street parades featuring signature floats, acrobatic acts, lion and dragon dances, stilt walkers, etc, to bring back some cheer to the general public.
It is doubtful this particular float in this year's Chingay Parade 2010 lifted spirits. On the contrary it reminded everybody of the housing squeeze and unaffordable prices brought on by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan's policies, in particular the unbearable crowding due to his ill conceived notion that the island can support 6 million peoples, 30% of which are foreign immigrants. Lee Kuan Yew has said that he deserves to lose his seat, and the GRC of Tampines, in this coming general election, if he failed to cough up a good explanation.

But who paid for this float? Mah is already remembered for wasting $400,000 on Interbrand to rename Marina Bay (as Marina Bay). Talk about throwing good money after bad.

Worried about the grumblings on the ground, the ruling PAP is once again redrawing the electoral boundaries to absorb discontenting constitutuencies into the fold of their money bought supporters. What's another few thousands to prop up their weakest link?

Friday, February 19, 2010

All Hail The Sultan Of Spin

He was not the first Senior Minister (that honour goes to Rajaratnam), but Minister Mentor is so contrived a title no other country has it. What he should be called now is the Sultan of Spin.

Instead of admitting that foreigners were brought in to make up for the declining birthrate characteristic of all developed nations, Lee Kuan Yew is pushing a new yarn that foreign workers were essential to build the integrated resorts. Hello, the people of Singapore never wanted the casinos in the first place. Even if these foreigners had to be brought in to do the dangerous work, do they have to stay on after the construction is done?

Mr Muthu Kumar, 32, a workplace safety and health officer, put it across succinctly, "I'm fine with foreigners as long as I have a job." The reality is that foreigners are taking over the workplace, from backroom technical support to cushy front desk sales counters, hardly the jobs that "no Singaporean wants to do". Even CNA, based on casual observation at the Resort World Sentosa, doubts the majority of the 36,000 job openings, the fictitious number that Dr Tony Tan shed crocodile tears over, supposedly available at the two casinos, will be actually allocated to Singaporeans. Need we add that university places are also reserved for foreigners, resulting in parents having to send their children abroad, at great and unnecessary expense? Old age is no excuse for failing to get the facts right.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Experience Not Required

Rumors surround the appointment of ex-CEO Hsieh Fu Hua of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) as special adviser to Temasek Holdings dominatrix and wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Ms Ho Ching. Latter was supposed to have resigned in the wake of multi-billion losses by Temasek, the subject of a White Paper mentioned by Chairman Dhanabalan, but which has yet to see the light of day. Of her short-lived chosen successor, Charles Goodyear, she said “Chip brings capabilities that I don’t have.” Father-in-law and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew himself was quoted as saying that Goodyear was picked to be the next CEO as “there was nobody inside Temasek equal to the job”.

Market watchers say Hsieh brings in lots of relevant experience on how to search for a CEO and identify good attributes. Which begs the question: what experience and attributes did Ho Ching have in the first place to be in charge of the nation's billions in sovereign funds? Ms Ho graduated from University of Singapore in 1976 with a Bachelor of Engineering, and Master of Science (Electrical) from Stanford University, USA. She began her career as an engineer with the Ministry of Defence, married the Prime Minister's son in 1885, quickly became Singapore Technologies Deputy Director of Engineering in 1987, and "retired" as President and Chief Executive Officer to head Temasek in 2002. Financial management may not be rocket science, but surely a dollop of the relevant track record must count for the top job. In 2006, Fortune magazine remarked that Ho had made "a spectacular misjudgment" in the purchase of Thaksin's Shin Corp shares. This she did by ignoring adviser Goldman Sach's call for due dilligience.

To be fair, brother-in-law Lee Hsien Yang also had zilch relevant job experience and track record before trading in his Brigadier-General uniform to be made head of Singapore Telecommunications in 1995. After his mysterious exit from the telecoms giant in 2007, he picked up a million dollar job as Business Consultant to Fraser & Neave, a F&B and property outfit. After much public disquiet, Lee is no longer consultant but still keeps his million smackeroos as Non-Executive Director and non-executive Chairman. On 1 July 2009, Singapore Transport Minister Mr Raymond Lim appointed Lee as the chairman of the restructured Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (nope, he doesn't fly either).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bringing Out The Sin In Singapore

When the subject of the casinos was first broached in 2005, churches distributed stickers exhorting "Say No To The CaSINo". An online petition to stop the casino, "Families Against the Casino Threat in Singapore", garnered some 29,000 signatures. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew himself discovered in a straw poll of his peers at a dining table that the only supporter of splurging over $6 billion of taxpayers' money to build a gambling den was an operator of a casino.

But his son and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong insisted on going ahead, regardless of his father's foreboding warning about the poison of the vice structure "no, no, don’t do that, you'll bring mafias here and money laundering and all kinds of crime".

The doors were opened on Chinese New Year's day, and the effects on civil society were immediately apparent to all. Madam Gan, 53, emerged bleary eye from the Resorts World Sentosa Casino after spending 11 hours gambling at baccarat. "I'm going home to nap, and I'll come back again in the afternoon," she vowed. Madam Huang, 71, and grandmother of 6, played roulette and baccarat for 14 hours before seeing sunlight at 9.30 am. Their children will just have to wait to collect their ang pows, a time honoured Chinese custom of distributing red packets of money to the unmarried during this festive occasion. That is assuming mom or gramdma gets to beat the house.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reason To Leave The Country

First it was Wong Kan Seng, then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, and even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong chimed in to add salt to the wound. How much more persecution can the poor pastor bear?

“I feel unbearably terrible for my grave error for which I regret deeply. I’ve let many people down. When it first happened, I mentally planned three steps:
0ne, sincerely repent and confess,
Two, bravely face all the consequences from the authorities, and
Three, after paying my dues, depart from the very nation that I love.
After much struggle I decided to be true to my heart, because Singapore is my home, no matter what.” (Pastor Tan, ST Feb 16, 2010)

Someone wrote "It (Buddhism) can be a godless philosophy. It can also be a social science. It can also be a religion. It depends on which angle you view it from." Given the vagaries of this group of followers, why was the ISD so quick to punish? The case of the hit-and-runaway Romanian dilpomat was a clear cut case, and yet the authorities decided to sit on their hands and let the criminal escape retribution. Todate , has Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng even utter a single word on the police debacle? Maybe Pastor Rony Tan should pack his bags after all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Perspective Of Cultures

The daughter of Lee Kuan Yew claimed to be a balanced bilingual, and yet could not understand why Lianhe Zaobao editor Lee Huay Leng wrote "Why I missed Beijing And London." Dr Lee Wei Ling also claimed that the Straits Times is better than most American papers in terms of it sheer coverage, and that Singapore Chinese newspapers are more credible than that of China. No wonder Dr Lee failed to fathom Editor Lee's sense of loneliness when latter had to go home from her Beijing posting - back to the bottom of the well, looking up only at a limited expanse of the sky approved for viewing by the censorship board.

At least she admits that Singapore is too young a nation to have the history, and depth of culture, of Britain and China. What she conveniently skips is that, thanks to her father's social engineering meanderings, any semblance of Singapore cultural development has been thwarted by acts like the doing away of dialects, and currently, the pollution of unfettered immigration. How can you make a clear soup if you keep stirring the pot?

Dr Lee wrote that she could not understand the logic that one can access the culture of the entire world (via online connections and cable television) and yet feel loneliness. That's easy to say when you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and get to travel with your father to meet President Obama, who may not otherwise give you the time of day. Les Miserables may not be playing at the Esplanade, but she and/or her siblings can easily afford to hop on a jet to London's theater square. Her disconnect, like those of her family relations, explains why she'll never appreciate the perspective of the needy, who longs for a better life than that available to them at the bottom of the food chain in Singapore.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rooting Out Evil Doers

The Straits Times coverage of the AWARE saga was criticised for being "exuberant." But nobody is saying a word about the orgy of tormenting Pastor Rony Tan, a simple man of faith who was arm twisted by the ISD to apologise to the Buddhist monks for carrying out his ministry. It was a case of grovel or being sent to the stocks.

Even Goh Chok Ong joined in the feeding frenzy, laying on the lashings on the front page of the paper on Chinese New Year's Day edition. They must count more on the Buddhist votes than that of the Christian community for the coming general election, currrently rumored to be slated for June.

Meanwhile societal ills starting to sweep the country to coincide with the opening of the casinos are ignored. VietNamNet Bridge reported that police of the southern province of Tay Ninh and guards at HCM City’s Tan Son Nhat airport on February 9 rescued nine girls who were about to sold to brothels in Singapore. According to investigators, Tran Thi Kim Ngan, 19 from Tay Ninh, Ly Thanh Mong, 25 from Vinh Long province and Do Van Thanh Nhut, 21, went to provinces in the Mekong River Delta to choose pretty rural girls at the age of 20-30 to sell to brothels in Singapore. Vietnamese police are expanding investigations and cooperating with Singaporean agencies to detect and rescue other Vietnamese girls sold to Singapore by this ring. The Singapore Police has not issued any public statement about the co-operation, if they are co-operating at all.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Romania Firmly Disassociates Itself

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned Mr Aurelian Neagu, Romanian Ambassador to Singapore, to tell the envoy that Dr Ionescu "had made very serious allegations against the integrity of the Singapore Government which MFA categorically rejected as lacking any basis in fact."

In a recent interview with a Romanian television station Antena 3, Dr Silviu Ionescu had claimed that the case against him was a “set-up” by the Singapore government because he had been reporting on political activities here. Ionescu was quoted as saying, “The first two years were normal, but subsequently I received complaints from the Singapore government that I was too concerned about the local politics which has caused tremendous amount of stress on me.”

It figures. George Yeo has finally decided to do some work to earn his Foreign Minister pay because of the embarassing allegations against the Singapore government, not because the Singaporean victim of the hit-and-run accident Tang Kok Wai is deserving of justice and retribution. But will he have the balls to go the extra mile to sue the Romanian for defamation and libel?

Romania's swift response to the summons was to lift immunity for Ionescu and distancing itself from latter's charges. It said that since Ionescu has been suspended from his diplomatic job, it will be up to him to decide to return to Singapore for the coroner's inquiry. In other words, thanks to George Yeo's inaction and his colleague Wong Kan Seng's characteristic complacency, Ionescu has flown the coop, and definitely out of reach of the fumbling law makers.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Kids Can Wait

"We are not considering a casino but an IR- an integrated resort. IRs are quite different." So said Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo, as he joined his fork-tongued colleages in defending PM Lee Hsien Loong's horrendous decision to build two casinos despite nation wide objection. Yeo was using the official spin that there are more wholesome family orientated activities in an IR than just a gambling house of sin. Or is there?

Sentosa Resorts World’s much-anticipated casino has been granted its operating licence today and will welcome its first public gambler at the auspicious time of 12:18 pm on Sunday 14 Feb 2010 (In Cantonese "1218" sounds like "easy to prosper"). But the Universal Studios Singapore amusement park and its kiddy rides will not open till March. So while daddy tries his luck at the roulette tables, the kids will have to pray he has enough money left for the admission tickets to Jurassic Park and Water World attractions.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Freedom Of Worship

One wonders how many of the witch-burners bothered to sit through the youtube videos which resulted in Pastor Rony Tan being hauled up by Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng's thugs.

In calm, careful language, Pastor Tan was just facilitating ex-monk Joseph's presentation of his personal testimony. If Tan expressed skepticism in the chanting of meaningless mantras or the concept of karma, he was surely entitled to fair comment. If he had believed otherwise, he would have been a Buddhist monk instead of a Christian pastor. Similarly, a Muslim must have found incongruency in Christian practices, and voiced his difference in opinion in the privacy of his circle of associates, to justify embracing his faith of choice. Even feminist mentor Thio Su Mien has her inviolate right to subscribe to intercessory prayers to save Singapore from the Tsunami.

So why is Wong sticking his nose into the internal affairs of a religious group, when his boys in blue should have better things to do like keeping terrorist Mas Selamat securely locked up, like the Malaysian police is doing successfully? Maybe he's just polishing apples, after Minister Mentor told Mark Jacobson of the National Geographic that he is now practising religion ("You see most Chinese here are Buddhists or Taoist ancestor worshippers, I’m one of them", LKY 6 Jul 2009).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Religious Cops

The Internal Security Department (ISD) of the Home Affairs Ministry listened in on the sermon of Pastor Tan, decided his comments were highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they allegedly trivialised and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists, and hauled up the Christian leader for interrogation.

Senior Pastor Rony Tan, founder of the Lighthouse Evangelism church, was made to apologise: "I sincerely apologise for my insensitivity towards the Buddhists and Taoists, and solemnly promise that it will never happen again." Relishing with glee he had the support of the powerful secret police, Taoist Federation chairman man Tan Thiam Chye told the press, "When I saw him, he looked verry sorry and remorseful - frankly, he looked terrible."

But the Singapore Buddhist Federation wants blood and said it will still approach the authorities and have its voice heard in order to prevent similar incidents in future. "It is good that the authorities have looked at this matter, but this is a matter of national concern. We want to appeal to the public and the authorities to make sure there is no second time," said the federation’s secretary-general, Venerable Kwang Phing. Singapore Buddhist Lodge chairman Lee Bock Guan claims, "Lord Buddha taught us to be compassionate and forgiving, but repentance must be sincere and followed with deeds, lest this untoward event be forgotten and repeated."

The last time the Buddhist Federation made the headlines was when their Venerable Shi Ming Yi was been found guilty of fraud, falsifying documents, misappropriating funds and giving false information to the Commissioner of Charities. Venerable Shi neither repented of his wrong doings, nor followed up with deeds, such as returning the money conned from gullible followers.

Intellectual Morons

The title of Daniel J Flynn's book, "Intellectual Morons, How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall For Stupid Ideas," posits that ideology deludes, inspires dishonesty, and breeds fanaticism. That one sentence explains why Singapore should be free of the shackles of one-party dominance that is destroying society as we know it. For years they have been telling the populace: why bother thinking when the guru provides all the answers? The good news is that Singaporeans are thinking, and they are seeing that their leaders have put their brains on autopilot while feasting on the taxpayers' money. How else to account for the gibberish uttered by the one time Cambridge scholar who graudated First Class Honours in Law:

“One-man-one-vote is a most difficult form of government.. Results can be erratic.”
- Lee Kuan Yew, Dec 19 1984

“What are our priorities? First, the welfare, the survival of the people. Then, democratic norms and processes which from time to time we have to suspend.”
- Lee Kuan Yew, 1986 National Day Rally

“Now if democracy will not work for the Russians, a white Christian people, can we assume that it will naturally work with Asians?”
- Lee Kuan Yew, Asahai Shimbun symposium, May 9, 1991

“With few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries…What Asians value may not necessarily be what Americans or Europeans value. Westerners value the freedoms and liberties of the individual. As an Asian of Chinese cultural backround, my values are for a government which is honest, effective and efficient.”
- Lee Kuan Yew in speech entitled ‘Democracy, Human Rights and the Realities’, Tokyo, Nov 10, 1992

“I’m not intellectually convinced that one-man-one-vote is the best. We practise it because that’s what the British bequeathed us.”
- Lee Kuan Yew, 1994

Monday, February 8, 2010

No Thanks For Foreigners

Sumiko Tan may have Japanese blood in her veins, but she can't speak a word of the language. Can she know about Singaporean domiciles to understand the angst of being diluted by aliens?

What riled me was when she wrote of the "cheerful Chinaman" who attended to her at the petrol kiosk. Mohamed had a ready smile for me for the past 6 years at a Shell station, until he was "retrenched" when the management decided to save a few dollars by hiring from China. I don't know where she gets the idea Singaporeans hate to stand on their feet for hours. Long before the PAP's ill-conceived social engineering initiatives, the counter staff at Metro, Yaohan and numerous other departmental stores were all manned by true blue Singaporeans. And everyone was looking forward to a job working in the air-conditioned comfort of a posh mall.

What does this sycophant of a Straits Times writer know? Perhaps she should be replaced by Burmese eager to produce copy at half her paycheck to appreciate the issue at hand. She can't even land a decent man to start a family and help address the societal problems of a declining birthrate. BTW, Japan also has same issue of an aging population and shortage of babies, but they at least have the national will to preserve their ethnic heritage.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Bring On The Foreign Hordes

When Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said the government will not reverse its calibrated intake of immigrants, he maintained that it was their model of economic growth based on importing foreigner workers and expatriates that fueled the Singapore productivity engine. If it makes Singaporeans feel richer, they shouldn't have reason to complain, or so they claim.

But, as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew told Mark Jacobson of National Geographic, the citizenry is still grumbling.

And that's because the undisclosed reason for the invasion of foreign elements is their warped approach to address the diminishing population. Low birthrate is not unique to Singapore, all developed countries, from Japan to France, face the same problem. What exacerbates the situation is the number of Singaporeans voting with their feet. Even if the baby boomers are not in a position to pack and go, they are making sure their offspring have a better life in a country where democracy is not abused. To add salt to the wound, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan is steaming ahead with his goal of crowding 6 million on the tiny red dot, even if it means that 1 in 3 will be a foreign face. Does he bother about the rising level of dissatisfaction? Not when the Old Man is still around to protect him: he was saved from electoral defeat by Chiam See once, he's cock sure his star will still shine.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

U.S.A. To Engage Singapore

The exchange between Senator Jim Webb and the next United States ambassador to Singapore, Mr David Adelman, at his nomination hearing before the US Senate Foreign Realtions Committee, is bound to rankle one octogenarian:

Mr Webb: The Economist Democracy Index ranks Singaporea as 82nd in the world in terms of democratic development, below neighbours such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines. Reporters Without Borders ranks the country 133rd out of 175 for press freedom. What is your view in terms of whether and how the United States should engage Singapore on these issues?

Mr Adelman: My view is the United States must engage Singapore on these issues. You identified the area where, quite candidly, Singapore needs the most improvement if it were to live up to the ambitions Americans have for democracy.
Make no mistake, currently Singpaore is not a multi-party democracy, and I intend, if confirmed, to use public diplomacy to work towards greater press freedoms, greater freedom of assembly and ultimately, more political space for opposition parties in Singapore to strengthen Singapore into a multi-party democracy.

The Straits Times was quick to neutralize Mr Adelman, claiming that he was not authorised to speak the press until the nomination process was complete. PAP styled ad hominem attack followed by highlighting Mr Adelman's posting would be his first time working overseas. Former Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia, K Kesavpany, joined the barking dogs, "My experience, as a diplomat, has been to first settle into the post, study the lay of the land and (then) decide on what I want to do." In other words, beware the defamation suit.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Official Doublespeak

Finance Minister Shanmugaratnam refused to keep "rigidly to a fixed number (of foreigners) year after year", preferring instead to rely on the pricing mechanism of worker levies to control the foreign invasion. In other words, he's sticking to the official line that the FTs are taking up jobs shunned by Singaporeans.

Questioning Shanmugaratnam's avoidance of being "hamstrung by rigid quotas", one journalist spelled it out in no uncertain terms, "is the new policy "economically or politically motivated"?

It goes to show that you can fool some of the people some of the time.....