Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Of Daughters, Moms, And Their Dads

Even modern cyber-savy parents freak out when their kids send sms'es instead of talking to them face to face. But what do you do with an offspring, adult-size, who sends you an email when she needs a new toothbrush? One mother's response: "I am telepathic. I just got a toothbrush for you. But one day, the commisariat will not be around." Mrs Lee Kuan Yew has been bedridden since 12 May 2008, result of a massive stroke. Some people will just have to grow up, even if she's already in her 50's.

Another daughter recalls how Mrs Lee broke protocol momentarily by abandoning her place of honour next to Mr Mahathir's wife to be near to her own mother for a few words, as latter's hearing problems inhibited conversation. Although Ms Tan Siok Choo wrote that she, and her mom, will always cherish Mrs Lee's kindness, it was the "continuing animus" against her father that prompted her to write to the Straits Times.

In deference to the surviving kin of the late Goh Keng Swee, Ms Tan had waited until after the customary 100 days of mourning before responding to what she calls "Mr Lee's unwarranted attack on my father," the late Tan Siew Sin. In the eulogy to Goh on 23 May 2010, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had said:
"After we had joined Malaysia, we discovered we had been ambushed. He (Goh Keng Swee) stood up for our rights and fought to protect Singapore's interests against the Federal Finance Ministry, whose Finance Minister was his cousin, Tan Siew Sin, who was out to spite Singapore."

Refuting the suggestion, Ms Tan used her father's own words in a Parliamentry speech of 1 June 1965 to demonstrate the true side of the story, "I would like to make clear that we in the Central Government, whatever our differences with the Singapore Government might be, have no quarrel with the people of Singapore. Not only do we wish them well, but also we want them to progress as they should progress, bearing in mind some of the great qualities which they possess in so marked a degree."

Much as Ms Tan is sad that Lee still harbours ill will against a man who has been dead for 22 years, we are sadder still in that kind, encouraging words for Singaporeans had to come from across the Causeway. Back home, we are lambasted with all sorts of pejoratives (literal and metaphorical) and relegated to third class citizen status while $10 million is splurged to welcome foreigners of all shapes, colours and smells. Ms Tan's filial piety is worthy of emulation, and living testimony that she is not the product of a dysfunctional family.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Speech That Need Not Be Delivered

The following is just part of the text of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech for the National Day Rally 2010:
"32. First, competition from foreigners
a. Many Singaporeans accept the economic logic – that Singapore will benefit with foreigners working here
b. But they fear that it will hurt them personally
c. I empathise with this"

Notice he speaks in mechanically numbered paragraphs, there is no prose in his arguments and no poignancy in his words. If you are expecting a "I have a dream" type of inspirational delivery, you need to change channels. Or play the "'Rocky" DVD again. Obviously the desert of disparity that is the current state of our nation, is gazillion miles away from any oasis of hope.

How can he speak of empathy when he has no sense of the angst in our hearts? His father already said that foreigners were brought in as spurs to dig into our hides, and that's got to be painful, whatever the noble the purported objective. What economic logic has Singaporeans accepted, and what benefits have Singaporeans seen with the tsunami of the foreigners? All we see are strange faces grabbing our jobs in the office, even at the kopitiams, and limited places in school and university given away to outsiders, like the recent group of Vietnamese receiving $100,000 each gratis to study here. No bond, no obligation to sign up for National Service. Oh, he did promise to build more schools, but the caveat is that "these new programmes will be expensive", meaning, watch out for fee hikes and new taxes after the election.

The $9K for NSmen is as blatant as any attempt to "buy supporters' vote". After all, in the event of a freak election result, the armoured boys will have to climb into their Leopard tanks and make Tiananmen look like a Disneyland parade on Main Street. But the "largesse" is actually pittance when HDB flats are changing hands at $750,000 (the Bishan seller actually asked for $900,000). Young couples starting out don't wish to be burdened with an albatross of a mortage for fancy BTO flats - they just need affordable subsidised housing, and spare cash for baby diapers. And please provide the long overdue definition of subsidy as HDB declares it. Don't you just hate it each time he says, "I don't want to go into the details" and leaves it to people like Mah Bow Tan and Raymond Lim to cook up fresh new ways to further improverish the citizenry? Lee Kuan Yew may cajole us to stop at two and marry graduates, but at least he does with with charts and empirical data. A Chesire cat grin and canned applause can only strain credibilty.

And what's with the "Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College” and “Goh Keng Swee Centre for Education”? If they are sincere about honouring the pioneer nation builders, how about a building/public road/bus-stop named after Dr Toh Chin Chye? Oh, he's not dead yet. Then why do we have a "Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy"?

At the end of the speech, no one is the wiser how a calibrated inflow of foreigners - from 755,000 in 2000 to 1.25 million last year - could have been justified. If they blame God for the Orchard Road floods, someone should own up for the gross oversight at ICA. Of course that's as likely an event as Balakrishan being made to account for inflating the YOG budget FOUR times. Sure am looking forward to the Auditor-General's report next year.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

An Officer And A Gentleman

Mr Abdillan Zamzuri served his national service obligation as a policeman (police NSman). He learnt enough during his training to appreciate that the law was abused when Lianhe Wanbao photographer Shafie Goh was handcuffed for snapping pictures of the Bukit Timah flood. "As someone who still reports for reservist duty as a police officer, I am well aware of the Penal Code and statutes that govern and dictate what a police officer can and cannot do," he wrote on his blog about the incident that drew castigations of all sorts against the thuggish tactics of a draconian police force. If Hitler were alive, he would certainly rant against his Brown Shirts for being wimps by comparison.

One would have thought Enche Abdillah deserved praise for presenting a more positive image of the protectors of the law. Instead, the careerist elements of the police force dragged him into the Pasir Ris Neighbourhood Police Centre and grilled him for an hour. Officially, he was told he was being investigated for the offence of "prejudice to the conduct of good order and discipline." That has to be the ultimate perversion of common sense. The cop with the handcuff fetish was a model of "good order and discipline", and identifying rogue behaviour and abuse of the public trust is an offence? No wonder no officers in the Whitley Road Detention Center pointed out that there were no bars in the toilet window that enabled Mas Selamat to take flight.

We are told that officers from uniformed groups are bound by a code of conduct that forbids them from detailing information about operations and procedures, among other things. In other words , see no evil, hear no evil, and definitely blog no evil. Commandos under training can die in simulated drownings, but no officer is supposed to report it. Rostered officer fails to turn up for guard duty, but even the son of the Prime Minister is not supposed to blow the whistle on the miscreant. What other dirty linen is secreted within the barracks of the uniformed groups?

Goh Chok Tong was quoted by the Straits Times, Apr 6, 2002, as saying, "If you sing Jailhouse Rock with your electric guitar when others are playing Beethoven, you are out of order. The whip must be used on you." Which is some what different from what he said earlier on 3 Nov, 2001, "“I would want to form an alternative policies group in Parliament, comprising 20 PAP MPs. These 20 PAP MPs will be free to vote in accordance with what they think of a particular policy. In other words, the whip for them will be lifted." Police officers, like other civil servants, know what is the political flavour of the day.

Our sympathies go out to the career sycophants who are not allowed "speak in the capacity of a _____ (insert appropriate job description here)". They may never leave home without their American Express Card, but their thinking brains, they likely leave behind in the Victoria's Secret underwear drawer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Two Sets Of Records

Number of Gold Medals won:
"I only wish to question the increase in the YOG budget, which rose to $387 million from the initial $104 million," said Abdul Malik Mohammed Ghazali, who was arrested by the police for having "incited violence" with his postings on a Facebook site, "burn Vivian Balakrishnan and the PAP" and "rally together and vote them out".
Asked to comment, Balakrishnan's response was, "I didn't know about it until I read about it in the papers. It shows that I almost didn't care." Without citing any numbers, the Minister still insists that the Games would bring Singapore "significant tangible benefits".

Number of Presidential Pardons granted:
Benjamin Sheares (1971-1981)2
Devan Nair (1981-1985)1
Wee Kim Wee (1985 -1993)3
Ong Teng Cheong (1993-1999)1
S R Nathan (1999 - present)0

Except for the civil rights groups battling tirelessly for an end to the Mandatory Death Penalty, nobody else seems to care either.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Of Mouse And Men

Asked why he flew away to escape US jurisdiction, Oscar winning film director Polanski said in the Marina Zenovich documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired ", "Well, I, as you say, ran away, because I think that I was very unfortunate to have a judge who misused justice. I think that I was some kind of mouse with which some abominable cat begins a sport." On July 15, 2008, Polanski and his lawyer Douglas Dalton asked the L.A. district attorney's office to review his case based on new evidence disclosed in the film, including alleged improper communication between a member of the prosecutor's office and the aforementioned judge, Laurence J. Rittenband.

After her elder brother was cleared of wrong doing by the Court of Appeal in July 2010, the biggest reaction came from Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim, who put up the $1 million needed for his defence, and kissed the ground in celebration. She said loudly that she wanted to know how much State funds had been spent in the 5 years to prosecute Mr Bachoo Mohan Singh. Latter, 61, made legal history as the first person charged in Singapore with making a false claim; he is also the first lawyer in Commonwealth countries to be convicted of such an offence. Singh's case arose from a failed 2003 property deal , unaware that the flat buyer and seller were involved in a clandestine cashback scheme in which an inflated sale price is declared to the HDB authorities.

The high profiled and former president of Netball Singapore is not one who keeps mum when things are not as they seem to be on the surface. She is now hauled up to court by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) for failing to have the buildings on her farm in Kranji inspected. Her lawyer accused BCA of "malicious prosecution", since BCA allowed many farm buildings in Kranji to be occupied and used, some more for more than 20 years, without a CSC (Certificate of Statutory Completion), the piece of bureaucratic paper that mandates the 5 year inspection. BCA executive engineer Tan Kwan Joo's response was that they did not take action on those owners as "there were too many of them". But somehow Ivy-Singh Lim's Bollywoood Veggies seemed to loom brightly on their radar screen.

This case is worth monitoring, since Tom and Jerry cartoons are such entertaining cat and mouse developments.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lesson From A Commuter

The press must be so pressurised to sell Transport Minister Raymond Lim's distance-based fare system, their reading comprehension has been clouded over. TODAY titled Mr Tan Hong Boon's letter of August 24 as "Distance-based fare saves time, money".

For the past few years Mr Tan had been travelling from home to church by Service 132. "Under the old fare system, this option was the cheapest," he wrote. In rainy weather, not having to change buses must have been a plus factor too. He did explore Service 25/Service 145 and Service 74/Service 855 routes, both taking less travel time than the direct ride, but costing more in bus fares. Since the new distance-fare system kicked in, he has changed to the Service 74/Service 855 route, now cheaper than Service 132. He explains why:
"Were I to take Service 132 now, it would cost me an extra 17 cents and extra 15 minutes."

Final verdict on the new fangled system: more expensive, slower.

He has learned his lesson, the new distance-fare system has "forced me to think of alternative ways to save time and money." The corollary of this is that the recent spate of bad governance may force Singaporeans to think of alternative political parties to save time and money. Maybe then Singaporeans won't have to work till we keel over. Maybe we'll have time to bounce grandchildren on our laps, and money left over for our kids. Maybe.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Statistics Of Inflation

Higher transport, housing and food costs were identified as the main culprits contributing to the Singapore consumer pricing index increase of 3.1 percent. A DBS analyst said inflation should stay above 3% for the rest of the year before falling to 2% on weaker growth momentum in 2011.

Looking closer, we see housing cost rose not because of the cost of building houses, but higher electricity tariffs. Despite privatisation programmes and years of experience operating power plants, the authorities never seem to achieve any efficiencies to lower energy costs. Walk into any department store, and one can see prices of consumer goods have dropped significantly, thanks to open market competition and matured product cycles. A state-of-the-art plasma TV with wireless internet connectivity retails for less than half the asking price of not too long ago.

Prices of clothing and footwear rose 3.2% because of the sale of more expensive ready-made items following the Great Singapore Sale period. The equivalent basic apparels available at HDB heartland shops, the fast growing outlets of choice for penny pinching expatriates, are still being sold at basement prices.

Cars and petrol, as expected, spiked the cost of transport by 10.7 percent. COE prices have dipped recently, but they are still hovering at stratospheric heights. The Department of Statistics may never divulge the factor contributed by the thinly disguised distance-based fare hike, but this will certainly be hitting the pockets of more Singaporeans than the fewer owners of European cars and fancy sports jobs.

The good news is that if one has not been suckered into the upgrading scam, walks to the wet market for home cooking ingredients instead of eating out, and avoid the round the year Supersize Sales at Orchard Road tourist traps, your shrinking dollar will still go a bit longer. Just stay away from seafood for a while, somebody is probably still trying to recover from his $26 million binge at the baccarat table.

The bad news is that the inflation statistic will be used to adjust all sorts of government charges upwards. Think LTA, PUB, URA, HDB, MOE, MOH, et cetera, et cetera. The ministers have already made provision for a heftier paycheck in the annual budget, one self fulfilling prophecy forever carved in stone, at least for the present government. Notice these costs of governance never seem to go down when the inflation rate falls. Newton's law will be taught differently in schools. With the Youth Olympic Games ending a few days away on August 26, Singapore athletes may never get to bite into gold in the immediate future, but the Department of Statistics will certainly be awarded their medallion yet.

Monday, August 23, 2010

No Golden Years For The Elderly

The experts have confirmed it. Based on a new index put together by Institute of Policy Studies academics Yap Mui Teng and Kang Soon Hock, the older folks in Singapore scored poorly in active ageing: one in five feels that he or she does not have sufficient income for living. Financial security was one of three areas where elderly Singaporeans fell short, the other two being health and community engagement.

Which is strange, considering that when the baby boomers started work, CPF contribution was about 40%. A high savings rate of 40 cents to the dollar should have built up a handsome nest egg for the golden years after a life long chase of the rainbow of dreams. Or Swiss standard of living. Whatever.

Back then, their parents paid something in the region of $13,000 for a 3-room flat. The real deal of a subsidized housing scheme that Lim Kim San was charged to build, with which he succeeded wildly to house some 80% of the public. Somewhere along the line, when Dhanabalan was Minister of National Development, someone got greedy and argued that land allotted for public housing could be sold to the private sector at market prices. And that was the start of the slippery slope, and eventual legacy perpetuated by Mah Bow Tan, that ended up with today's horrific prices. With the same definition of subsidy as used by TT Durai's NKF.

The composition of CPF balances from the official website shows that withdrawals under the Public Housing Scheme (PHS) sucked up as much as $91 billion in 2009. Meaning more members are using more of their CPF savings to service housing loans for their HDB flats, leaving little or nought for health or community participation issues. The CPF document confirms home financing as "likely main cause for the dip in the proportion of OA (Ordinary Account) savings".

Retired military officer James Law, 63, puts it succinctly: "It's hard to age well when you don't have health and money."

Meanwhile, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Boon Heng, put in charge of ageing policies, talks of a $20 million fund to cultivate interest groups (to get elderlies involved in the community). Maybe he wasn't listening when MP for Jalan Besar Lily Neo was questioning Transport Minister Raymond Lim why one in three seniors has to pay more for the new distance-based fares. There's no point in organising activities when the cash strapped has to bleed further for the transportation to get there. Yes, it's that sad.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Feel Like Taken For A Ride?

Look at the above maps (click for larger view), by rail and by road, and note the locations of Bras Basah, Serangoon, Kovan stations, the relative distances as the crow flies, and read what Straits Time wrote in defence of the distance-based fares:

"A train trip from Bras Basah station to Serangoon station, for example, is calculated as having a distance of 11.4 km. The journey costs $1.58.
However, a train trip from Bras Basah station to Kovan, which is farther away than Serangoon, costs only $1.46. The distance between Bras Basah and Kovan is calculated at 8.9 km.
Why does a commuter need to pay more to go to Serangoon than Kovan, if the latter is farther away on the North East Line?
This is because the fare for the journey is based on the fastest travel route via the Circle Line.
As both stations are on the Circle Line, commuters do not need to switch between rail lines.
The fastest route in this case happens to be longer, which is why the fare is higher."

The on-line LTA Distance Fare Calculator computes the distance from Bras Basah to Kovan (8.9km) to be shorter than to Serangoon (11.4km). Judging from the maps, this appears to be based on the length of the train tracks, rather than the geographical distance to the destination. The 11.4 km journey on the Circle Line from Bras Basah (CC2) to Serangoon (NE12/CC13) has 11 stops. The shorter journey via the North East Line has 6 stops (Woodleigh is not in service). How can the longer Circle Line route, with more train stops, end up as a faster ride? Are the trains there souped up hot-rods driven by F1 wannabes? The writer also argues disingenuously that the Circle Line route to Serangoon requires no train switch, but conveniently omits mentioning that the journey onward to Kovan, for an apple-to-apple comparison, does have one transfer at Serangoon. LTA got its knickers in a twist by trying to throw a dubious time variable into a straight forward distance-based formula.

In an equitable implementation of a distance-based fare structure, the public should have been given a fare choice to travel from Bras Basah to Serangoon via the cheaper North East Line or the more costly Circle Line. Instead, LTA simply sticks it to the commuter with the Circle Line computation. But then freedom of choice is not exactly an enduring feature of the Singapore scene, or is it?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Case Of The Phantom Spectators

Organizers of the cursed (two reported cases of food poisoning todate, latest affecting 21 staff and volunteers) Singapore Youth Olympic Games (YOG) claim that the 320,000 tickets for the 26 sports were completely sold out, yet the rows and rows of unoccupied seats prove that fact is indeed stranger than fiction. Unlike the bank fiasco, there is no outsourced IT related problem for a scapegoat.

In anticipation of a lukewarm reception for the non-event, the Ministry of Education (MOE) had earlier bought up 80,000 tickets to prop up the dead horse even before the race started. Although issued free, some schools extorted a $5 "refundable" deposit for the tickets to "reinforce this message". Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary school Clifford Chua insists this was not an attempt to coerce his pupils to support the games. At Anglo Chinese School, principal Richard Lim charged $1 or $2 to "encourage them to treasure the ticket". Parent Md Alkaf's take: "It's not the right way because if the student is really interested, he would turn up".

If that's not enough to rile you up, the kids are being blamed for the empty seats - it is alleged they do not stay for the duration of the sessions. North Vista Secondary's Julia Edison tried to reason,"They might have to stay past dinner, and we have to think about their meals". Hey, even if all the 80,000 MOE issued ticket holders fail to turn up (and risk threats of disciplinary action and detention classes), that's only 1/4 of the seats affected. The real situation at ground zero is even more pathetic.

Forum writer Alan Hart wrote in to report that venues were 60 percent empty.  Debra Tan, watching from her television set, could see the badminton venue was 50 percent empty. Leong Soon Hoong was actually at the Singapore Indoor Stadium  for 6 hours, and saw less than 20 percent occupancy, most of whom were school children on tow. Commenting on her experience with the half empty stand facing her at the Jalan Besar stadium, Carn Oh wondered if "the tickets appear to have fallen into the wrong hands". Or were there 320,000 tickets sold in the first place?

To muddy the murky waters further, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sport Vivian Balakrishnan has  instructed venue managers at the various sites to resell tickets to walk-ins if seats are still not occupied after a session has started. "Even if it means kicking someone like myself or the officials out of the official seat," he boasted. The temptation must be pretty strong to go out there right now and buy a ticket just to kick those officials, especially if it's Balakrishnan, but isn't it illegal to occupy a seat paid for by someone else? Unless that guy got a refund or something. Else someone could get into a fight over the seat, someone could fall down, someone could get killed. You know, like over the bar-top dancing thingy?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gambling With Your Money

The Hebrew word chutzpah (pronounced /ˈhʊtspə/) is used indignantly to describe someone who has over-stepped the boundaries of accepted behavior with no shame. Such as Minister Vivian Balakrishnan telling BBC's Sharanjit Leyl that the US$290 (S$387) million over spent on YOG "will more than pay for what we have invested". Leyl was questioning the risk of being first to host the games, with no gage of how successful or how widely watched it will be.

But this one really takes the cake. According to press reports, the unidentified 50-ish businessman is a managing director of a multi-million dollar company. One of the early birds at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), he was granted a $500,000 credit line after depositing $100,000 and a blank cheque 3 weeks after the casino opened for business in March. Thereafter he went on a wild roller coaster ride, won or lost several hundred thousand dollars at each turn, and nosediving as much as $6 million negative at one single session at the baccarat table.

In early June, he made a personal best of a $18 million loss, surfaced for air with a $3.7 million recoup, and then hit rock bottom by blowing another $11 million. Big deal, he paid off $10 million of his debt without so much as a whimper. It's not like he had to have his flat repossessed by the HDB and move into the void deck.

Now his lawyers plan to sue RWS, claiming "the casino at no time performed any background checks on his credit-worthiness or his financial capacity." Look, anyone who can make good 10 million smackeroos without raising a sweat has to be good credit in anybody's books. Come to think of it, that initial $500,000 credit could  be construed as be a personal insult, and probable defamatory assault on his financial standing.

The other charge is just as laughable, "RWS has encouraged irresponsible gambling and had breached the duty of care owed to" the businesman. Naturally the local law firm providing the legal advice is not identified. Maybe they are afraid to take on clients who might plan to sue the Minister for irresponsible gambling and breached the duty of care owed to the taxpayers.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Four Legs Good, Or Two Legs Better?

It was with great fanfare earlier that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced the switch to distance-based fares from 3 July 2010. LTA had claimed that "It corrects an inequity in the previous system - where those who make transfers ended up paying more for their journeys than those who make direct journeys for the same distance traveled on the same mode." Distance Fares, LTA tells us, is a fairer system as commuters pay the same fare for the same distance travelled on the same mode of travel, regardless of whether they make transfers.

Then someone pointed out that LTA's computations of the distances were wrong in several instances. Commuters soon discovered that they had been paying extra - for between 0.1km and 2.4km more than their actual distance travelled. LTA quickly covered up by saying the errors were due to "changes on the ground" such as road diversions. Are we daft enough to believe contractors can dig up public roads without informing LTA?

When more discrepancies were brought up, they ran out of credible excuses, and invented the line that "travelling time - and not just distance - is also used to charge train commuters under Singapore's distance-based fares system." Apparently this takes into account walking and waiting time. Nope, they did not specify if walking was assumed at tongkat speed or Olympian speed [insert shameless plug for YOG here] .

Any motorist with a decent GPS system knows he has a choice of route selection based on shortest distance or shortest travel time. The former may end up with wasted time at traffic lights, and the latter favours expressways which usually result in longer road journeys. The driver has the discretion to over-ride the onboard computer in light of real-time traffic conditions. Public transportation is less flexible.

Train tracks and bus routes are predetermined by the experts at LTA. As are train and bus schedules. If there was a mix-and match-opportunity with the previous transfer system, the new distance-based method, which discourages transfers, effectively puts an end to the discussion. It was either four legs good, or four legs bad. Or is it two legs better now?

The bottomline is the Public Transport Council promise that the majority, or 63% of commuters will see average fare savings of $0.48 a week (or $25 a year), based on data LTA supplied from purportedly actual weekly travel profiles of commuters. And when commuters end up paying more for public transportation than they did before (some computed fare increases from the new Distance Fare system range from 3.75% to more than 7%), they know that another dose of the Orwellian doublespeak in Animal Farm is being unleashed on the public.

Just listen to the yarn that Minister for Transport Raymond Lim spun in parliament on Monday about both SBS Transit and SMRT expecting to lose $32 million this year alone, relative to how much they would have earned without distance-based fares. How can they dare to lose money if SMRT revenues grew 9 percent to $235 million from last year, and SBS Transit grew 6.5 percent to $179.83 million? If the distance-based fares will cost public transport operators $88 million a year in revenue as he claims, why did Lim go ahead with the exercise? Is he getting tired of the millions clogging up the bank account? Is he authorised to dump money like Temasek? In time, we'll know the truth whenthe directors' fees and bonuses are totalled up at the end of the year.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why Is He Still There?

"Why Am I Here?" was the ill-chosen book title of S.R. Nathan's memoir.  Singaporeans know why: he was not the best candidate, he was more "selected " than "elected", he was simply put there.

Ong Teng Cheong (he was elected by a narrow margin, over the unwilling contestant Chua Kim Yeoh) tried to make something useful of the Presidency by looking into, and actually looking after, our nation's reserves, and was treated as pariah for daring to do so.  "They said it would take 56-man years to produce a dollar-and-cents value of the immovable assets," said the late Ong, "The government would not need to give me the dollar-and-cents value, just give me a listing of all the properties that the government owns."

Oh well, maybe the President can grant a pardon to save a life, such as the young life of Yong Vui Kong, who was only 19 when arrested for carrying 47.27 grams of heroin. Or so we thought.

According to the High Court, in the opinion of Justice Steven Chong, the authority to grant pardon rests firmly  within the Cabinet:
"The President has no discretion under the Constitution... to grant pardon. The power to do so rests solely with the Cabinet." That's how he interpreted Articles 21(1) and 22P(I) of the Constitution, which states that the President shall "act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or of a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet."

Ex-Attorney General Walter Woon had commented similarly in March this year. During a Court of Appeal hearings over whether the mandatory death penalty was constitutional, Professor Woon had said that "although in theory it is the President who exercises the perogative of mercy, in fact it is the Cabinet who makes the decision."

It looks like the irony rests not only in the title Nathan selected for his first literary effort, which had drawn public responses ranging from, "I also want to know why he is here!" to "He needs to justify his existence?" to "Our President so free to write book, ah?" Maybe the sequel should be named, "Why Should The President Be Paid Millions?"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Saving SM Goh

During the NKF-SPH trial, Goh Chok Tong said he knew trouble was a-brewing when his wife, in ardent support of TT Durai, said $600,000 was peanuts. Somebody must have realised he himself landed in hot soup by telling his residents at the Marine Parade National Day dinner, "This (spin their own Singapore Dream) is far healthier than to live the Singapore Gripe and drone on like vuvuzelas".

The Straits Times editorial piece tried to soften the blow by claiming that Goh was being both "observational and exhortatory" in his "gentle goading". Goh had referred to current public concerns such as floods, high home prices, crowded trains and distance-based bus fares as The Singapore Gripes, complaints which Goh said, buzz on like the irritating South Africa noise makers. That's about as gentle as being run over by a Leopard tank.

While many would associate Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew with black mouthing Singaporeans as daft, ignorant, etc, it was actually Goh who cast the first stones. He had derided Singaporeans for going on like birds, "cheap cheap cheap", when sighting shopping bargains in Perth - this was when scores of retired civil servants had collected their CPF bonanza and emigrated to WA. Then there was the name calling of Stayers and Quitters. People who live in glass houses shouldn't really throw stones, as his own daughter packed her bags for a foreign land, married a foreign chap and gave him a foreign looking grandchild. This was before foreigners washed on our shores like oil spill from a punctured tanker.

But what is diificult to swallow is the editorial line that Goh - "or any leader" - can do only so much to bring about change, specifically, he "cannot dream for you". So the Swiss Standard of Living was really just for him and his immediates, and not for the general citizenry funding his salary and perks? Was Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech meant for him alone or the populace? It's easy to be cynical about "leaders" when they refuse, or don't know how, to lead the way. Here's the constructive advice: It's time to step aside for others who will, and can, do a better job.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is It Gonna Rain Or What?

"Our economy has rebounded strongly from last year’s recession. GDP grew 17.9% Y-on-Y in the first half of this year." That was the opening line from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day message on Sunday. He added that "This exceptional performance is the fruit of Singaporeans’ united response during the crisis."

As quickly as the fireworks have faded from the skies, the experts have now changed their rosy predictions to a "statistically possibility of a technical recession". We are now told quarter-on-quarter growth in the April to June period has already slowed to 24 percent from the 45.7 percent of the first 3 months of 2010. Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng went so far as to state that the economy could contract by between 9 and 10 percent this quarter, and have zero growth in the 3 months after.

But what about the much heralded and over-hyped impetus to jumpstart the GDP with the opening of the casinos? For some strange reason, Ravi Menon, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is unable to measure their financial contribution. Well, the operators seem to be more enlightened. Las Vegas Sands of MBS said last month that their Singapore venture turned in a strong performance, generating $127 million in pre-tax profits in the first 65 days of operation. Resort World Sentosa reported in June it was on track to meet it's target of 13 million visitors in the first year of full operation. And don't forget the highly touted spin-offs to related sectors such as hotels, restaurants and retailers, the same justifications employed for bringing in the F1 race slotted for September. So is the glass half full or half empty?

It has been postulated that a gloomy forecast tends to scare an electorate to vote for the status quo. Conversely, painting an overly optimistic future may prompt them to be more adventurous at the polling station. Whatever their strategy, there's always the ready response to a freak result:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

There's A Good Story Here Somewhere

The press claimed that DBS and IBM jointly released a blow-by-blow account of how the online banking system went on the blink and caused island wide havoc. But at the end of the day, we are not even shown what exactly was the offending cable. Just like PUB never did release a photograph of the clogged drain.

All we know is that two employees at the bottom of the food chain won't be allowed anywhere near DBS computers again. Their laughable repair antics rival the bungling efforts of the Watergate burglars. Instead of doing a continuity check of the suspect cable, whatever it is, they simply plugged it in and out, as if that would coax the hardware to co-operate. Instructions to do that actually came from IBM's overseas support centre, location of which Asean General Manager Cordelia Chung curiously declined to disclose. If chewing gum were not banned in Singapore, they'd probably have a few sticks in their standard issue IBM service kit too. The least management could have done is to release a copy of the repair procedure that tripped their best brains. Are they afraid some techie from Sim Lim Square will teach them a better way to go about it? At lower rates? A smoking gun is always the best tool to kill off conspiracy theories.

Once upon a time, the adage was that if you buy IBM, you can't go wrong. That alone justified the high price tag and monopoly of the corporate market. But when things go horribly wrong, the gaze should be on the business side of things as well as the technical. MAS only went so far to suggest that DBS should diversify their outsource providers, nobody has yet dared raise a finger at the errant vendor. DBS CEO Piyush Gupta himself would not hear of initiating legal action against their favourite vendor. Throwing good money after bad never solves problems. Setting aside another $230 million is no assurance that the money will be spent on decent cables. What they should do is call for an independent third party to audit the whole shebang.

Watergate brought down Tricky Dicky. But where are our equivalents of Woodward and Bernstein? The local mainstream media likes to conjure up journalistic awards and pad themselves on the back, but where's the beef to show for it? And that "scoop" about the capture of Mas Selamant, notice all the details and photographs of the hideout came from Malaysian papers. Come on guys, start earning your pay!

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Difference Of Opinion

Ang Moh/Foreign Talent/Permanent Resident Larry Haversack Have-a-shag Haverkamp tried to slime Singaporean Tan Kok Tim for pointing out Lee Kuan Yew is wrong to say people should keep on working until they kick the bucket.

First he drags out this Julie Curtis, an actuary at Boeing, to question the findings of academic Dr Ephrem Cheng Siao Chung (B.Sc., M. Sc., Ph.D., University Of Alberta). Isn't it kinda obvious that Curtis, being a Boeing employee, has a vested interest in saying that "The idea of working longer will shorten a Boeing employee's life expectancy simply isn't true"? You expect her to say "Working for Boeing is bad for your health" ?

For the record, her empirical data have been challenged. What does “number alive” in her chart actually mean? If you retired at 50 and it was 30 years ago, then you could expect that you don’t have long to go. If you have only just retired, you would certainly expect to “be alive”. It says “a random sample” – but is it the same number for each age cohort? And how long ago did each person retire? Is it also evenly distributed?

Haverkamp also quoted a British Medical Journal study which claims that employees who retired at 55 had a significantly increased mortality compared to those who retired at 65. Then he shoots his own foot by noting that some workers may have retired early because of health reasons. Brilliant, sick people die earlier. So what else is flawed with that study?

Finally he quotes a Ms Sally Green-gross (nope, you read that correctly) who said "Work .. provides mental and physical activity, self esteem, social interaction and income for us.  Sudden retirement may not be the honeymoon we expect it to be".

Whether she's green or not, that has to be a gross distortion of the work situation in Singapore. Here it means heading for the overcrowded MRT station before the sun has risen, and crawling back home for dinner after the sun has set. To pay for the housing loan, utility bills, property tax, tv licence, town council charges, and avoid a warrant of arrest for being late with the check. Amidst the constant threat of being replaced by a foreigner willing to slave for lower wages. Meanwhile, being labelled as daft, ignorant, requiring spurs stuck in the hide, must do wonders for self esteem. Social interaction? They don't even have time with the kids, who are overloaded with extra homework because of ECA activities like "volunteering" for the bloody YOG. No, retirement is not a honeymoon, it is just a long due and deserved rest. You can't compare this to Lee Kuan Yew's "work", his son even told Charlie Rose in the interview of 14 April 2010: "He calls himself a mascot".  Some more suka-suka set his own salary.

What to do, white man speaks with forked tongue. Always have, and always will. Better to believe Mr Tan.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Who Says YOG Is Boring?

The organisers of YOG must be real desperate to turn to a Sydney stripper to choreograph the opening ceremony of the World Youth Olympics in Singapore on August 14. She used to perform a 15-minute full strip routine on Friday and Saturday nights at the Pure Platinum and Men's Gallery clubs in the city.

"Bobbi", 41, was a bachelor of commerce student in Perth when she joined her sister dancing in Japan, and ended up doing cabaret shows for 7 years. "The first time I went completely nude I was very shy. It was in a private gig in Tokyo. Now it doesn't bother me at all," she recalls. Her parents were devastated. Dad doesn't want to talk about it at all.

She met her husband at Dancers Cabaret, giving him a lap dance (a service she still offers at her website). According to her, that's where most of the girls hooked up with their boyfriends and husbands - in the club. "Where else are you going to meet guys?" she said, advice she'll probably offer to the government dating agencies.

"I play around with the buck. I put my whip around a guy's head or put my hat down on a head. Anything where you're making a fool out of them gets the best response."

Obviously some fool is already paying good taxpayer money for a role model that rubbishes every Asian value we've ever known. But is the casino any better? The youths flying into Singapore for some wholesome athletics will be getting an eye-popping jaw-dropping education way beyond their years, thanks to Minister Vivian Balakrishnan et al responsible for this gig of a lifetime.

20 podiums and poles have been put up among the seating at the giant stadium and scantily clad dancers will be gyrating 5m above the audience. Just remember, boys and girls, it's strictly see-no-touch. Even Bobbi has her rules: "Anything that's interactive gets the best reaction but you've got to be careful, the rules don't allow much customer participation." What a tease, no wonder the dirty old men got hooked.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Cops Should Be Arrested!

In Singapore, for a S$30 parking fine, you may be issued a warrant of arrest, find youself handcuffed like a common criminal and put into a holding cell, to apply for a bail costing as much as $1000 from a judge via CCTV (security arrangement for his/her self protection from common criminals), and then only finally released to pay your fine at LTA - only to discover that all the inconvenience was due to LTA having had your postal address wrongly recorded in the first place.

Warrant for arrests are also routinely issued for selling $1 tissue papers without a hawker licence from NEA, littering, missing the dateline in settling Town Council bills. The Singapore Police Force (SPF) must really enjoy these type of work as they didn't bother to collect the $25 fee for each warrant of arrest enforced on behalf of the prosecuting agencies, mainly statutory boards and town councils. That's $648,000 in total revenue for the 12 years between 1997 and 2009. Some minister obviously sleeping on the job since 1997.

The Auditor-General, in his latest report for May 2010, also found that the SPF, for inexplicable reasoning, did not impose $242,000 in liquidated damages on two contractors defaulting on $2.6 million worth of contracts. The contractors' names were not disclosed to protect the identities of the innocent/guilty parties.

While they are quick on the draw to collect from the little men, the SPF was decidedly slow to return what's due. Remember all that bailout money? As of August 2009, the AG found 46 cases of unrefunded cash bail, amounting ot $440,450. These refunds were outstanding for periods ranging from 41 days to 1,694 days (or 4 1/2 years), far exceeding the published timeline of 15 to 23 working days. Tardiness which could earn a warrant of arrest.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said it was incompetency that allowed Mas Selamat to fly the coop. Guess they don't pay much attention to his critique nowadays.

Meanwhile Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng has commented on the Alan Shadrake case, at yesterday's MHA national day observation ceremony, even though the author's day in court is yet to come. Legal eagles please advise, is this sub-judice or a case of, if Shanmugan can get away with it, why not me?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Some Unpleasant Truths

Some may feel uneasy about Alejandro Amenabar’s "Agora", a film about the Library and political chess piece of Alexandria circa 400 A.D. Oppressed Christians warped into intolerant persecutors, enforced by radical Taliban-like zealots called parabolanis, overthrow the elitist intellectual pagans, and then turn on the Jews. Caught in the maelstrom is beautiful Roman philosopher Hypatia, a 4th- and 5th-century mathematician and astronomer who, centuries before Galileo, deduced that the Earth cannot be the center of the universe.

The parallels to militant Islam are obvious when actual teachings of Jesus are twisted for the subjugation of women, which was so unconsciously and universally accepted then. Contemporary accounts recorded that Hypathia was condemned a heretic, the mob scraped off all her flesh with oyster shells while she was still alive, her mutilated body was dragged through the streets.

Faced with the ultimatum to be baptized or risk death, her response to the Roman government official is awe inspiring:
"Synecious, you don't question what you believe. You cannot. I must."

It is a lesson for us to dare to separate the chaff from the oats, instead of blindly swallowing a daily litany of lies and untruths.

TODAY reader Tan Kok Tim has diplomatically debunked the latest propaganda: A study concluded that for every year a person works beyond the age of 55, he lives an average of 2 years less. University of Alberta's Dr Ephrem Cheng (Siao Chung) did an actuarial study of lifespan versus age at retirement, based on the number of pension cheques sent to Boeing Aerospace retirees. It found that staff who retire at the age of 50 had an average lifespan of 86. Those who retire at the age of 65 live to an average age of just 66.8, consistent with the finding of Japanese Nobel Laureate Dr Leo Esaki that many who retired at 65 usually die within 2 years of retirement. Furthermore, Dr. Esaki indicated that the peak creativity of most scientists occurred around the age range of 20 to 30 years. As one gets older, the experience increases but the creativity decreases steadily with age ("Optimum Strategies for Creativity and Longevity", Dr Sing Lin, Ph.D. 林星雄 博士). So the 86 year old drawing a hefty paycheck has to be a dole bludger.

Monday, August 2, 2010

More Intellectual Class or Deadwood?

"You know American Generals – they don’t do well, they get fired and they give them a medal, they send a new general! I think we have to develop that approach to life." Lee Kuan Yew was obviously referring to General Stanley Allen McChrystal, who dared undermine his Commander-in-chief's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lest you think Lee has had a change of pacemaker heart about Singapore's version of life-time employment, that edict is meant for lesser mortals only, not for his anointed elite class. Sorry to disappoint you folks, all men may be brothers, but some are big brothers.

Did Yaacob Ibrahim cringe when Lee said, "How can you say the response is sufficient?" in answering a reporter's query about the freaking floods? Was Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng fired for letting a terrorist climb through the toilet window? Will daughter-in-law Ho Ching ever be made to account for blowing $30 billion in bad investment decisions? Did National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan wet his pants when Lee said he deserves to lose his seat in the coming elections if he is unable to defend his HDB pricing policies? Can pigs fly?

Remember the CEO of Energy Market Authority who "stepped down" after the debacle of indexing electricity tariffs to wild oil price fluctuations? He's back in the office with another job title. A Permanent Secretary who retired recently was "rehired", and replaced Ho Kwon Ping as chairman of MediaCorp. Ho is a self made entrepreneur of resort hotels and former journalist for the Far East Economic Review. His successor is a nobody in the media scene. Philip Yeo once told the press the guy actually had the temerity to walk into Yeo's office to ask what else was available in the way of juicy appointments. You don't even want to know about the generals and admirals who were conveniently appointed CEOs of GLCs and statutory boards just before they hit the SAF retirement age of 45 (later changed for the benefit of a Malay career officer).
That's just a small sampling of the "intellectual class" Lee referred to: "We are going to have an intellectual class, about maybe three times as big as what you have now and that will give us the dynamism, the powerful engine to carry us forward faster." The reality is that more deadwood past their expiry dates will be clogging the drainage systems, drowning the country with a barrage of sycophants. Mini-Lee Kuan Yews they may be, but definitely not the mini-Goh Keng Swees the nation needs.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Oh Shut Up Already

In the movie classic "Top Gun", hot shot Maverick is given a dressing down for endangering a US$40 million fighter jet, "Son, your ego's writing cheques your body can't cash".

He's not yet 86, but every time Foreign Minister George Yeo makes unsolicited comments about China's policies and how it should be engaged, one is reminded of the ant who was staring up the rear of an elephant, with the intention of rape. This time he has gone too far, and become a greater security threat to our country than all the jihadist wannabes put together.

Washington Post reported the shot fired across the bow by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at the Asean Regional Forum in Hanoi, during an unpleasant exchange between Yang and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton:

"When he returned, he gave a rambling 30-minute response in which he accused the United States of plotting against China, seemed to poke fun of Vietnam's socialist credentials and apparently threatened Singapore, according to US and Asian officials in the room. 'China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that's just a fact,' he said, staring directly at Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo, according to several participants at the meeting."

MFA quickly issued a statement, claiming, "..Minister Yeo did not see Minister's Yang's words or glance as threatening to Singapore." Just how did he qualify for the Foreign Minister job anyway? Maybe he needs to attend one of those SPUR (Skills Programme For Upgrading And Resilience) courses on body language and nuances of the spoken word. The last time Yeo goofed up badly was during a meeting at the UN's General Assembly in 2004, when he provoked Taiwan's Foreign Minister Chen Tan-sun into describing Singapore as "the size of a piece of snot". Mr Chen said of Yeo's speech, "It was nothing but an effort to embrace China's 'balls', forgive me using such a word". Talk about being wedged between a rock and a very hard place.

In July Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met with business leaders and politicians in Houston and was asked why Singapore allocates $11.5 billion for defence, the highest budget among all the ministries. Lee told the gathering Singapore spends on defence "in order to feel safe", "We're very small. Your Mayor said we're the size of the city of Houston. But I think we're smaller than the city of Houston". He might also add that his cabinet ministers have very big mouths.