Saturday, October 30, 2010

Spoken From The Heart

Goh Chok Tong had his ostrich head stuck in the sand for so long, he was utterly clueless. Student Lim Zi Rui's spoken words must have jolted him up from his Rip van Winkle slumber, "If this is happening, it is very serious."

Mr Lim's message at the NTU Ministerial Forum on night of 29 October is the writing on the wall that marks the watershed for a new Singapore in the making:
"When I was younger, I was very proud of being a Singaporean. But that was about five, 10 years ago. Five years later, with all the changes in policies and the influx of foreign talent, I don't know what I'm defending anymore."

Many of his men in the SAF had to compete with foreigners for jobs:
"I feel that there is a dilution of the Singapore spirit in youth... We don't really feel comfortable in our country anymore."

Comparing his personal attitude as a SAF officer with his foreign friends:
"I tell them, this is my country. I can't just leave here whenever I want to. You can come and play and work here, but I have to stay here."

Responding to Goh's lame excuse about workers to build HDB flats:
"My friend got engaged, but lost his engagement because he could not afford a HDB flat."

Goh must have been stoned out of his freaking mind when he claims that Singaporeans don't want to reject foreigners:
"My question was, how are we going to help the younger generation feel a sense of belonging to Singapore? I don't think it's about integrating foreigners."

And in case the Senior Minister still wants to play deaf and dumb like the frog worshipped by Lim Swee Say:
"For my part, don't worry about me. I will definitely do something, if I can, for Singapore. But I can tell you honestly that the sentiment on the ground is a bit different."

Those last words must have finally sunk into Goh 's dense skull of his: "If the majority feel they don't belong here, then we have a fundamental problem. Then I would ask myself: What am I doing here? Why should I be working for people who don't feel they belong over here?" Hey dumbnuts, you were never wanted as a seat warmer here in the first place, and you should really be way over there, far away, maybe with your quitter daughter in the UK.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

They may share the same surnames and political party affiliation, but each seems to have a different idea about the right age to stop work.

Speaking to reporters in Finland, Minister-in-charge of issues of ageing Lim Boon Heng, 63, is suggesting that the Singapore re-employment period to be extended to age 67. He said: "People are healthier and living longer, so they need more money so as to relieve the burden on their children and the Government." To support his thesis, he quotes Germany is increasing its statutory retirement age from 65 to 67 between 2012 and 2029, and Britain will raise state pension age to 66 in 2024 and eventually to 68 in 2044. However, countries do provide for their senior citizen's needs in the twilight years, such as free healthcare and welfare assistance sufficient for 3 meals in a hawker center, food court or restaurant. Just don't count on it in Singapore. For logistics manager Michael Loh, 59, he feels compelled to keep working "until the official retirement age", whatever that is, and accept whatever scraps offered piecemeal to him. Member of Parliament Charles Chong explains why: "we don't have much choice ... because if people are living longer, they won't have enough savings to last for 15 years if they retire when they are just 62 or 65". Longevity is reserved only for the rich.

Meanwhile in Singapore, Lim Swee Say, 56, is announcing plans to make it compulsory for top union leaders to "step down" at age 62. One of the 12 former union leaders who "gave up their post voluntarily" was general treasurer of Union of Power and Gas Employees Mohammed Salleh Kassim, 63, who had to fall in line, rationalising, "It's not wise to hold on to the post till the last day." Not for him the privilege of working longer even if his health permits. If he needs extra income, he'll just have to collect tin cans and cardboard boxes like the rest of the silver haired generation.

One Lim is born in 1954, and the other in 1947. Is it mere coincidence that both are advocating policy changes that are favorable to his own age grouping?

Don't Make Him Angry, You Wouldn't Like Him When He's Angry

Singaporean lawyer M. Ravi had originally invited the local media to his humble office at People’s Park Centre on Tuesday, to clear up what he claimed were inaccuracies in the MSM reporting of his role and statements made in the ICA case of his former client, U.S citizen Kamari Kenyada Charlton. He was riled when the reporters pressed him to clarify that the issue of Kamari being wanted by the Interpol for an alleged phone scam was conveniently raised only after his visa case made the news.

But what supposedly turned him into an incredible hulk was when he sported a recording device that had been placed surreptitiously on the table. “I told reporters clearly that they could take notes, but they should not make recordings,” said Ravi. He was utterly pissed with their "crooked" journalistic procedure. The same "journalists" alleged  that he flung a glass onto his own table, shattering it (the glass, not the table). He did not reach across the table and slap anyone, only prima donna ministers in waiting do that. And no, he didn't turn green and grow 10 feet tall like the Marvel super hero, otherwise the table, and not the drinking glass, would have been smashed up. And the journalists would have made a mad rush run for the exit, instead of waiting for Ravi tell them to get the hell out of his office. Grandma always taught us that guests should never, never over stay their welcome.

Unfortunately for Ravi, as a practicing lawyer in Singapore, he is expected to behave like other lawyers in town, and grovel before the representatives of the official mouth piece.  Already, the President of the Law Society, Mr Wong Meng Meng, took immediate action, writing officially to him and the proprietor of the firm he works at, "to seek a full report, on an urgent basis, on what transpired.” You would have thought that Wong could render the professional courtesy of a simple phone call to a fellow solicitor and clear the air a bit, haze or no haze from Indonesian forest fires. Whatever happened to the courtesy campaign in Singapore?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Fun Game Of Musical Chairs

It had to be the last straw. Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng was supposed to have updated parliament, and the interested public at large, how Mas Selamat made it across the crocodile infested Johore Straits. After all, his Home Team boys ought to have had sufficient time for a thorough debrief at Whitley Road Detention Centre. But Wong had nothing new to report. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Zero. Kosong.

Everyone was hoping to hear if Mas Selamat actually made the crossing with the assistance of yellow rubber duckies, or stowed away in one of those second hand submarines brought in by Rear-Admiral Lui Tuck Yew. Or teleported into the Malaysian town of Scudai. The way Goh Chok Tong and gang probably did when they got inside the Cheng San GRC polling station in 1997 without physically being within 200 metres of the polling station, also referred to by then Attorney General Chan Sek Keong as the "safety zone which stretches outwards for 200 metres from the polling station".

It's not a bad deal for Wong. He is now DPM only, less responsibility, and collecting same pay. He can even spend more time at those onsens in Japan with his travelling business buddy Ong and his snooty wife. Whether Shanmugam can do a better job keeping Mas Selamat under lock and key, only time will tell. And do we really need another Minister in the already overstaffed cabinet? As full Minister, Lui will be assigned 24 hour Gurkha sentries at his private residence, on top of the other perks. It's good those guys are tall, they can carry the aquaphobic Minister across the flood waters whenever it rains heavily.
The PM must have missed out on musical chairs during his deprived childhood. "This reshuffle is a minor adjustment," he said in typical euphemism.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

That $8 Bill For Surgical Bypass In Singapore

Whatever his noble intentions, be it attracting more foreigners, making a sales pitch for MediShield, promoting the medical tourist business, or plain electioneering plug for the wonderful job the MIW is doing for the country, you can't escape the fact that Khaw's claim amounts to false advertising.

The used-to-be credible Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan ("if everyone were to be like Mrs Lee, this planet would be heaven") proudly declared: "My out-of-pocket expense for the hospital bill was $8 only". Khaw was referring to his bypass surgery, and no, he did not disclose the itemised bill. He did say his hospital expenses were largely covered by MediShield and a private Shield supplement. What he did not reveal was the accumulated sum of the insurance premiums he had been shelling out for a rainy day. Or that, as a civil servant, he is entitled to more medical freebies than the average Singaporean slaving in the private sector. Khaw takes delight to boast in his blog that after the 2008 MediShield reform, the MediShield payout was raised from 56% of large hospital bills to 66%, a 10%-point increase. What he did not mention were the various increases in medical charges and cost of medication since that year. It's the same old pay and pay system, jack up the tariffs, then offer the paltry rebates.

Insurance is a convoluted business. How many realise that many policies do not cover tumours that are benign, non-malignant or pre-malignant and non life-threatening? The 21 definitions of the main critical illnesses set out by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) include this: "A non-malignant tumor/cyst in the brain, cranial nerves or meninges within the skull, resulting in permanent neurological deficit that has persisting symptoms" - meaning, tumors in the pituitary gland and angiomas are not covered. It's a truism about insurance that says you win only when you really lose. And when you're gone, the money goes to somebody else. Will you be really rejoicing that you have stage 4 cancer and your premiums have been up to date?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Your Money Not Good Enough

When Singapore businessman Peter Lim, with a fortune Forbes Asia estimate at £1bn (US$1.6bn), tried to outbid New England Sports Ventures (NESV)'s £300m deal for UK's Liverpool football club, he was ignominiously spurned. It didn't help that Lim’s other interest in English football is his ownership of several (14) Manchester United themed bars across Asia. Lim did say he did not plan to take an active role in running the club.

Mohamed Abdel Moneim Fayed (Arabic: محمد عبد المنعم فايد‎) is an Egyptian businessman who owns the English Premiership football team Fulham Football Club. Plus Hôtel Ritz Paris and formerly Harrods Department Store, Knightsbridge. For years, Fayed unsuccessfully sought British citizenship. For years, both Labour and Conservative Home Secretaries rejected his applications. It has been suggested that the business feud with Roland Rowland over the acquisition of Harrods ruffled feathers. Accusing Prince Philip and Prince Charles of killing Diana (Princess of Wales) and his eldest son Dodi because of latter's romantic interest did not help matters at all.

With the Straits Times extolling the praises of "the breathtaking A$8.4 billion(S$11 billion) bid" by the Singapore exchange (SGX) over the Australian counterpart, sentiments down under can only go sour. SGX just wants to outdo Hong Kong, even though the two exchanges together account for US$6.7 bn in daily trading volume, less than the US$9.49 bn generated by Hong Kong. Sydney Morning Herald wrote, "Australia has become the backyard Singapore didn't naturally have... Instead of seizing the longer-term and greater value-add opportunity of making Australia the regional resources HQ, we're happy to outsource it to a nation with more drive." Ouch! The Australian was more outspoken, "There is... no escaping the fact that this is a foreign takeover of what is currently our monopoly (of the) equities and deriviatives platform." And you thought Singaporeans were xenophobic! Who cares about the Tsunami in Mentawi Islands, the news is all about the political storm over the SGX-ASX merger, termed by JP Morgan as "a heavily politicised issue." Australian law makers have joined in the scrum (Ozzies just love their footy), lambasting the "appalling" level of human rights and lack of freedom of speech in Singapore. The Australian Greens - the party with the power in the Senate - vowed not to support the lifting of ownership cap on ASX.

In a rare interview in 2007, Peter Lim said: “Money is a funny thing. When you don’t have it, you want it. But when you have it, you have a lot of problems. I believe that if I’d had no money, I wouldn’t have had my divorce." He lost custody of his kids in a nasty divorce.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Many Flavours Of Justice

US citizen Kamari Kenyada Charlton, 37, had accompanied his wife to Singapore to seek medical treatment for her pregnancy, and was arrested on 1 September 2010 at Changi Airport departure gates for overstaying. He faces a potential jail term not exceeding 6 months and 3 lashes of the rotan or more.

Mr. Kamari was permitted entry into Singapore on a 3-month tourist visa and his wife on a 6-month medical visa. Why the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA) did not make allowance for husband and wife to be together throughout the duration of the medical stay is a reflection of their bureaucratic mentality. A relative of Mr. Kamari's wife who also overstayed in Singapore, by 194 days and thereby exceeding the same 3-month tourist visa restriction, was permitted to settle by paying a fine of S$500. The ICA inconsistency in enforcement reflects the arbitrary application of the law.

Mr. Kamari's lawyer, M. Ravi, appealed for a commutation of the American's potential sentence. But in a written response to Mr Ravi, the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) rejected the appeal "after having carefully considered your representations". Mr. Ravi plans to take the case to Singapore's High Court on grounds of discrimination, contending Mr. Kamari faces differential treatment.

The same M. Ravi, defending British author Alan Shadrake, was given short shrift this week by the AGC who "opportunistically used the cover of court proceedings to threaten me with future contempt proceedings". “What a scandalous allegation is that,” he told Justice Quentin Loh. “She (Deputy Public Prosecutor Hema Subramanian) is saying I should be held in contempt of court.” Well, at least you can give the AGC credit for consistency in their modus operandi.

The last time an American was whipped in Singapore was in 1994, when teenager Michael Fay received 4 strokes and 4 months in jail for spray painting former High Court judge Amarjeet Singh's car, despite appeals for leniency by then U.S. President Bill Clinton. Amarjeet's gleeful take on the Fay punishment: "You know, once you loosen up or the laws become lax, everything comes in. The floodgates are opened. It doesn't pay to mess around with the system." His own son Dinesh Singh Bhatia was later caught in a spectacular October 2004 drug bust and sentenced to one year's jail for consuming cocaine. Justice does get served, it just takes a bit of time to come around.

The U.S. Embassy in Singapore said it is watching the Kamari case. Maybe Obama has already been updated by Twitter @BarackObama.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Must Have Collectible

British author Alan Shadrake ("Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock"), is in court for scandalising the judiciary. Yet a greater crime has been exposed in Newsweek (25 October 2010), one of planet Earth's largest news magazines with a world wide circulation exceeding 3.5 million in 2003, mocking the revered image of the State's founding patriach.

Singaporean Jimmy Ong, safely ensconced in New York and out of reach of the long arms of the law, shows off his watercolor of a gaming table with three playing cards, each depicting a caricature of MM Lee Kuan Yew. Yellow card has a small prostrate figure on hands and knees, pleading "Papa, can you help me not to be frightened?" Second Purplish card has a squatting figure and MM is turning smile to scowl, ignoring the plaintive cry, "Papa, don't you know I have no choice?" For the third Red card the little guy is obviously starkers and "assuming the position" - and it is clearly not the missionary style. Horror of horrors, MM is now painted with a contented smirk, and the little fellow is covering his face with both hands in abject shame.

The people at Media Development Authority must be slipping. They interrupted a private showing of the video "One Nation Under Lee" at Peninsular Excelsior but they missed out on the big one. More embarassing, when asked to pay for an entrance ticket, the MDA called in the police "for assistance". Gallery owner Valentine Willie confirmed that the use any cabinet minister's image requires approval from the MDA. Willie acknowledged that at his recent exhibition, he did not seek any permission nor did he encounter any problems from the authority.

Perhaps MDA no longer accords MM the same adulation as a cabinet minister, and is treating him as a mascot, the curious description used by PM Lee in the last Charlie Rose interview. What an outrage, "founding father" MM Lee relegated to the level of adoration of a YOG plush toy giveaway. Someone's head gotta roll for this one.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Putting Singapore On The World Map

See? You don't need to (over)spend $387 million for the YOG (Balakishnan) or blow $150 million on the F1 (Iswaran) to put Singapore on the world map. Balraj Naidu did just that by going to Baltimore for some serious shopping, the ultimate Singapore Sale of the century.

Hogging the headlines of Reuters and other international news agencies is that convicted Naidu conspired to aid his political affiliation of choice, the Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, தமிழீழ விடுதலைப் புலிகள் ). Naidu claimed that he didn't know the USA considers them as a foreign terrorist organization. Naidu faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

In April 2006, Naidu's Indonesian source unwittingly introduced him to an undercover agent in Maryland who purportedly had military weapons for sale. For US$900,000, some 28 tonnes of ammunition and weapons were airlifted to the US territory of Guam. On 29 Sept 2006, Haniffa Bin Osman (Singapore citizen, sentenced 37 months), Haji Subandi (Indonesian citizen, 37 months), Erick Wotulo (retired Indonesian Marine Corps General, 30 months) and Thirunavukarasu Varatharasa (Sri Lanka, 57 months) were arrested and indicted. After serving his jail time, Haniffa Osman was paid US$1,000 to remain in the US to appear as a witness against Naidu. With friends like these, you don't really need enemies. Even Judas was smart enough to ask for 12 pieces of silver.

Founded in 1976, the Tamil Tigers has advocated the violent overthrow of the Sri Lankan government, employing acts of violence, including suicide bombings, against both civilian and military targets. The U.S. Department of State designated the Tamil Tigers as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997. As such, the Tamil Tigers cannot legally raise money or procure operational equipment in the United States.

In Tom Plate's book, Minister Lee Kuan Yew is quoted to remark unfavourably on the present  Sri Lankan leaders. Naidu should have known better he does not have same double-O license (for Overpaid Octogenarian) to broadcast his political sentiments. According to AFP reports, Sri Lanka's prime minister told parliament on Tuesday that Tamil rebel leaders based in the United States and Norway are still trying to revive their defeated separatist movement. .

Back home, the local media is simply delirious over Balraj Naidu's other political involvement in Kenneth Jeyaretnam's Reform Party. Nobody gives a damn about the Dr Ongs anymore. And Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee won't be losing sleep over the charge that police leaked confidential information to TNP reporter Ms Ng Wan Ching.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who Cares About Maintenance

The AH-64 engine ice system serves to prevent icing of the engine air inlets and the NGB (nose gearbox). The NGB fairing has heater blankets to prevent ice from forming on the gearbox coupling fan and air duct to the main transmission deck. Each engine has an anti-ice and start bleed valve (AISBV) which is spring loaded open. It can be closed either mechanically by the hydromechanical unit (HMU) or electrically by the pilot's ANTI ICE control panel controlled solenoid. The start bleed valve controls anti-icing airflow to the engine and bleeds air from the compressor during engine starting and low engine speeds. The valve closes at 91% rpm or 60% torque, whichever occurs first. When energised the solenoid opens to allow fifth stage air to enter the servo and close the metering valve. If power to the solenoid is lost, the valve opens by spring action. If the metering valve fails to open, the metering valve shaft closes a sensing switch and lights the ENG 1 ANTI ICE or ENG 2 ANTI ICE indicator on the pilot caution/warning panel and the ENG ANTI ICE indicator on the CPG (co-pilot/gunner) caution/warning panel.

Trust Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean to gloss over the details when he reported on the corroded valve that downed an Apache helicopter. Teo, another ex-Navy guy, told parliament that procedures mandated by the manufacturer do not include inspection of the valve, and therefore his airforce guys never bothered about it. He added, "the maintenance procedure does not call for the RSAF to open up the AISBV. This can be done only by the manufacturer", neatly transferring the responsibility of the defence of our nation to a third party vendor. While he's at it, why not outsource the whole defence system? Lots of Singapore men would welcome the idea since NS liability is always an inconvenience employers hate to put up with, preferring instead to hire foreigners.

Teo concluded by saying Mindef will be taking steps to replace/re-certify the valve more frequently and update the maintenance procedures. Which they should have done in the first place, instead of hentak kaki until a juicy GLC appointment comes up. And please ask the pilot and CPG to pay more attention to the caution/warning panel.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Surely You Are Not Afraid?

The perennial topic comes up each time elections are imminent. Theoretically, by matching the serial number on the ballot paper against the electoral roll number printed on the counterfoil, the polling agents (usually staff from the Ministry of Education) can easily trace how anyone has voted.

The practice of numbering ballot papers, inherited from the British system, is the achilles heel of the secret vote, latter being fundamental to the concept of a true democracy. The justification comes about when a voter arrives at the polling station only to find that someone pretending to be them has already cast a ballot. The bogus vote can, again theroretically, then be substituted by the genuine one.

During the run-up to the 2006 General Elections, Channel News Asia aired a programme “Why My Vote Matters” which featured a dialogue session between Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and a selected panel of media executives born after 1965. Journalist Lee Chern Wen asked about SM Goh Chok Tong's election promise that if more than 60% voted for PAP, a certain constituency will get the upgrading. Her question to MM Lee, "How does the PAP know it's 60%? How can the residents not be fearful when you actually check into..." did not receive a convincing response. Lee's reply, "We can guess from our campaigning and our house to house visits, but we won't know who comprises that 60%," was met with Ken's famous repartee: "You don't need to know that to strike fear though".

Everyone appreciates that the fact of whether someone has voted or not should be verified, to prevent impersonation or double-voting, but there should be no way to trace how anyone has voted. Maybe we should adopt the system of marking fingers with indelible ink, seen in Third World countries in the African continent. The ink plays a similar role for conducting fair and impartial elections to control fake voting.  Since quite a few Singaporeans are already feeling they are fast becoming Third Class citizens, it may be the most appropriate approach to a vexing problem. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rename Temasek Review As.... Temasek Review

First, a clarification of the cast of characters is in order, given that so many Ongs have been in the news recently. Dr Ong (not the ACS(I) principal who deserted his staff and students in the midst of the final year exams) is the medical doctor who was hauled up by police for reputedly putting up posters of the toilet-mouth MP Lee Bee Wah. Better expressed in her own colorful vernacular, Lee heads for the "jamban" only when the ugly stuff is about to exit the nether region. Goh Yong Siang is the Temasek Holdings representative who is asking a website to change its name, supposedly because his employer uses same for its annual report. His company employs lots of imported high fliers and intelligent talents who execute esoteric deals like buying BOA shares at its high (US$13.7), and selling low (US$6.8). These people are just too clever to call their yearly financial publication "Temasek Holdings Annual Report".

All the brainpower amassed there never seemed to doubt for a moment that TNP was mistaken in identifying Dr Ong as the owner/founder of Temasek Review. Failing miserably in her feckless attempt at fishing, TNP's Ms Ng Wan Ching is now requesting (quickly changed to "asking") to meet with the persons named “Eugene, me (admin04), Amanda and Damon”. Kudos to Dr Ong for fending off the pesky journalist. As an encore, please offer her a lobotomy at discounted price.

Temasek Review is so well recognised that Australian Broadcasting Corporation invited it to be featured in an upcoming radio documentary jointly produced by Australian Broadcasting Corporation and BBC World Service. From the remote country of Netherlands, a Master of Arts in Media Culture student from Maastricht University wants to include it in an academic paper entitled “Transformations in Media Culture” which focuses on Socio-Political Blogs in Singapore. Even the Wall Street Journal (12 Jan 2010) quotes from it: "On Temasek Review, a Web site dedicated to Singaporean affairs, one writer recently warned Singaporeans would be "replaced" as "3rd class citizens" by foreigners, while another said that immigration "will emerge as the single most important issue" in Singapore's next general election, due by 2011." Temasek Review is now ranked 63,930 in a websites of the world survey and 162 in Singapore, moving up the charts to surpass TodayOnline who is now ranked 203 in Singapore.

Goh maintained that Temasek Review had been the name of Temasek Holdings' annual report since 2004 and was "well-known and indisputably associated with Temasek". Earlier this year, the company renamed its annual report Temasek Report, but denied that it had anything to do with the website. Maybe Goh wasn't important enough to be updated. Maybe he went overboard by including these lines in his written request: "Temasek has no issue with the desire to foster and facilitate serious debate and discourse and to provide news of socio-political affairs of Singapore. That is the right of every Singaporean."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sure Formula For Richness

Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim dominated the front page by offering to buy Liverpool Football club for $750 million in cash. Son of a fish monger, Lim made it rich as a remisier and an astute investor in logistics, paper production, education, health care and restaurants. In the Money section, we read of Dr Anthony Soh's botched $117 million takeover bid for Jade Techonologies because he had less than $300,000 cash in hand. And somewhere in the Home pages, a Singapore tycoon lost $100 million at the casinos RWS and MBS. But seafood mogul Henry Quek still holds the dubious world record for dropping $26 million in 3 days at the bacarrat tables.

The fortunes of some will wax and wane, but there is a select group whose wealth are doctored to head upwards only.

The guiding benchmark for ministerial salaries, we are told, is set at two-thirds of the median pay of the top eight earners in each of the six sectors: multinational corporations, lawyers, bankers, accountants, local manufacturers and engineers. Presumably some of the gentlemen mentioned in the first paragraph will be included in the sample at one time or other. Bouyant for the moment in the rough seas of the private sector, it's no guarantee their fortunes will not be wiped out in a single bad investment decision. So their name is scratched off the list of top earners. So the people who administer the benchmark looks for another top earner, probably a wealthier candidate, to be included in the list. Which should explain why Minister Lim Swee Say said, "Every month, when I receive my CPF statement, I feel so rich and the best part is, I know the CPF money won't run away. Not only is it earning good interest, my capital is protected."

Don't worry, it's all perfectly legal. Rationalising the discounts he and his family received for the HPL Nassim Jade condominium purchases, Lee Kuan Yew once told parliament that it's natural the hawker will give him extra egg for his order.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How Low Will They Go?

Labour chief Lim Swee Say may choose to turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the plight of the low wage earners, but market forces are still very much at work. Gleaned from the latest release of the Labour Market Highlights September 2010, a joint annual publication by the Ministry of Manpower and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, the following provide an insight of what the service, manufacturing and retail industries are offering as bare minimum.

Since the above are "published" numbers, it goes without saving that undocumented hires are much worse off. And what opportunities are there for the barely literate, who are unable to qualify for the WSQ (Work Skills Qualification) certification? Squat by the roadside to sell tissue paper?

Urban expert Joel Kotkin ("Great hawker or great scholar for a great city?", ST 13 Oct) is quoted as saying that "A great hawker is more valuable to me than a PhD in English. There must be dignity of labour and respect." He was expressing disappointment that Singapore society is too focused on paper qualifications - "credential crazy" is what he calls it. Hitting closer to home, he adds, "Do you really need to import all your plumbers, all your hawkers or mid-level office staff?"

Fully agree. Just look at this Lim character, Singapore Armed Forces Scholar in Electronics, Computer and Systems Engineering from Loughborough University and Master's Degree in Management from Stanford University. Despite all his paper padding, the humble chicken rice seller commands more respect from the common people.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's Just So Scary

Now we know why NTUC Secretary General and Minister Lim Swee Say is so set against the idea of a minimum wage - he's afraid of getting it wrong.

Lim claims that a minimum wage is hard to implement effectively and failure to do so will trigger negative effects on workers and bosses alike. Maybe he should swallow his own "training and skills upgrading" mantra and go learn from the 90+ percent of International Labour Organisation (ILO) members who have successfully implemented minimum wage policies without the armageddon of job losses and business failures Lim likes to prophesy about. It's about time he walks his talk and start climbing the "skills ladder" he recommends for the bottom feeders.

ILO said a carefully articulated set of wide ranging policies is needed to secure minimum income for low-wage workers. But while the measures in Singapore reflect an implicit holistic approach to the issue, this does not mean there is no need for a minimum wage because it can help prevent abusive wage practices. Tommy Koh has pointed out that every advanced economy has a minimum wage, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. SNEF may cite Denmark, Germany and Switzerland as examples with narrow income gaps without minimum wage guidelines, but these countries do not have exploitative wage practices. The average monthly salary of a bus driver in Germany is US$2,156 compared to US$571 in Taiwan (2005 figures, International Average Salary Income Database).

Imagine Goh Keng Swee backing out from his Jurong plans because neosayers were calling it "Goh's folly". Imagine Lim Chong Yah declining the task at the National Wage Council. Now imagine the many Singapore talents who can easily replace this kiasu, kiasi so-called labour union leader.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

About The Insurance Scam

The world is an uncertain place. Whether it is physical property or human life, the risk of loss due to damage or disability is often translated into financial terms. For the family or community, the loss of income can become a matter of survival for the dependants.

Risk doesn't mean that something will happen but that there is a statisical chance of happening. The whole concept of insurance is that the individual risks associated with a person or entity can be spread them among many others so that if they actually occur, the financial burden will not be overwhelming. The various cocktails of personal, health, property or indemnity insurance products are too many to list, but they are all related to the propensity to pay.

But if you have really deep pockets, should you care about insurance policies at all? If you have 5 cars in the garage, would you lose sleep over the Ferrari wrapped around a tree at Nicoll Highway? The businessman who stands to lose $6.5 million shelled out as a single premium was 64 when he took out the policy. Whatever the value of the cover, did he ever ask himself if he will have the time to enjoy the money? Quite obviously, it was not the protection from calamity that sealed the deal, but the temptation of 6 to 7 percent returns. Putting aside the pros and cons of insurance as an investment instrument, we see again the sad story of greed exploited by the even greedier.

The insurance agent involved in the dispute was once hailed by the media for earning more than $300,000 in annual commission from new policies. Then, and now, the details of those policies are never held up for public scrutiny. The news is always about how much they make, not how they make it. If the cabinet ministers aren't paid millions, nobody will give them the time of day. Especially when you scrutinise their performance record of recent years. The high premiums have always been questionable, and the insurance scheme against corruption and bad governance could turn out to be another scam.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Holes In Holistic Education

Two first-year female students in Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC) were reportedly caught having a tryst in a school toilet, where they were captured on video surreptitiously by other students. ACJC principal Kelvyna Chan declined to comment on the veracity of the limited information about the episode. All she would say: "We would like to assure you that no one has been expelled from the school. From time to time, students are involved in actions which the school does not condone." And why were they not expelled at all? Is this part of the school's holistic approach to education?

When one of the coupling parties was asked on her Formspring site, "Where are you going next?" her online response was: "Where the wind takes us." Like the SarongPartyGirl of old who published her own frontally nude images for the whole wide world to oogle at, she seems awfully cavalier about her infamy. On the practical side, one wonders how they could have been "surreptiously" filmed in the tight confines of a toilet cubicle. Maybe it was all staged as a coming out event of sorts.

In the USA, William Lucas (15), Tyler Clementi (18), Asher Brown (13) and Seth Walsh (13) died because they were hectored by classmates about their sexuality. Young Clementi jumped off the George Washington bridge after his double life of being openly gay to some and tightly closeted to others was exposed, also by video. The outrage here is cyber-bullying, although the harassment could just have been carried out viciously on the campus grounds, as in the case of Seth Walsh.

In Singapore, the ACJC principal doesn't appear to be too outraged by the goings on in her school. How should one read her unflappable attitude about the moral issues here? That girls just wanna have fun?

Insiders say the whole school population, which includes Balakrishnan's son in JC1, knew about the washroom incident several weeks before the story broke. And all the advice the innocent youths had from their educator-in-chief Kelvyna Chan was to stonewall it and "Don't anyhow comment." So what else is lurking in the corridors of Singapore premier schools?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Stuff That Sells Papers

Sex helps sell publications (amongst other things). That was why maiden issues of The New Paper (a.k.a. The Nude Paper) featured scandalous stories and scantily clad females. It was supposed to target the blue collared workers who can't understand the high falutin words used by some politicians quoted in the morning rag.

Biased journalism has similar effect on sales. Fans of the embattled Dr Ong Teck Chin must be ringing up the paper for reprints of the movie star quality shots used for Sunday's front page and accompanying feature article. In real person, he definitely looks more effeminate than Mel Gibson in Braveheart. The sympathy being garnered for Ong reminds one of the Straits Times front page letter Ho Ching wrote in support of TT Durai before latter was pulverised by Davinder Singh. Ms Ho was reminding the public of Durai's contributions, basically amounting to raising lots of money with contrived tear jerking stories. The part about enhancing his own lifestyle came out only later in court. They talked about "the legacy" of Dr Ong in the papers, and how he raised the ranking of the school under his charge with "concentration camp" techniques. No further details were given about his well known favoritism for certain categories of teaching staff. If they are serious about newspaper sales, they need to dig up more juicy material.

But sex and biased journalism were not used for Saturday's front page story of TNP. Someone said confidential information was procured for a smear campaign. Never mind the story was full of holes, the facts mangled beyond recognition, and the picture of Lee Bee Wah was never printed on a toilet cover. Actually there are lots of upmarket toilet covers with more attractive illustrations than an old bat. So is the journalist from TNP, Ms Ng Wan Ching, breaking new ground by using fiction to boost circulation? Or is someone trying to lure the writers of the targetted website out of anonymity by dangling a juicy defamation suit? TT Durai took that bait, and look what happened to him.

Friday, October 8, 2010

He Spoke The Truth After All

The funeral at Mandai Crematorium was supposed to be a private affair, and it should have been conducted as originally planned. Let's just say some of the revelations may not have the effect intended.

Minister Mentor said these in his eulogy:
"She warned me that I could not trust my new-found associates, the left wing trade unionists led by Lim Chin Siong" - who else did she disapprove of, who ended up incarcerated, without due legal process?
"She was furious that he never sent their high school student helpers to canvass for me at Tanjong Pagar" - who and how were the objects of her fury "fixed"?
"She would sometimes warn me to be careful of certain persons" - by corollary, who in present day high office benefitted from her seal of approval?
""She told me that we will not succeed because the Umno Malay leaders had such different lifestyles and because their politics were communally based, on race and religion" - so will Goh Keng Swee finally be spared being the scapegoat for the separation from Malaysia?

As one of the "troublemakers" runned out of the country, Francis Seow's determination that "Behind all this grand scheme of things is the ... the Dragon Lady" could be easily dismissed as the vendetta of an embittered adversary or the obfuscation of a geriatic mind. It turns out that the man who was nearly passed over as Solicitor General because, as LKY told him, "You have been seen walking across High Street, hand in hand, with a woman who is not your wife," is as sharp as ever. As good as his choice of female companionship. Thanks to the human foible of procastination, the well thumbed copies of "To Catch A Tartar" and "The Media Enthralled" were not despatched to the Salvation Army donation bin. That would have been a double tragedy.

One question remains. Francis Seow: "She has been the one advising Lee Kuan Yew what to do, how to do it, etc." Juxtaposed against Lee's "Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life," does that mean he may finally "lighten up and smell the flowers", to borrow the words Li Xiuqi used for her post-stroke grandmother? There must be many of us who would rather treasure a softer, kinder image of the man.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Scholar, an Officer, and a Gentleman

When a parent once asked Dr Ong the difference between independent schools and ordinary ones, he told her former are allowed to charge fees independently of Ministry of Education guidelines, i.e. if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

PAP MP Denise Phua said on national TV, "I think Mrs Lee is a personification of what I thought was not possible in women - to have it all." Some would say Dr Ong Teck Chin, principal of Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) for 16 years, would be the male equivalent. Honours degree in Chemistry from NUS, doctorate from Oxford University, chairman of the Publications Advisory Committee under the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, an elder at Bethesda Church in Frankel estate - what do you give a guy who has everything? Gasp, surely not a boy toy?

Mr Richard Seow, chairman of the ACS Board of Governors, who announced the appointment of Mrs Fanny Tan, deputy principal of ACS(I) as acting principal of ACS(I) on Tuesday, also said the Board is currently looking into a complaint that has been directed at Dr Ong.

Apparently a biology teacher in his 30s contacted The Straits Times last Thursday and alleged the principal had "behaved inappropriately" towards him. His claims are purportedly backed by e-mail, text messages and recordings. Dr Ong had reduced his teaching duties and created a new position as his de facto personal aide, jetting off together on overseas trips to recruit foreign scholars. Yes, the foreigners competing with your ward for a place in the school are proactively sought and groomed by the principal. With the blessings of MOE. Paid out of your income taxes.

Ong, who handed in his letter of resignation abruptly on Saturday, 4 weeks before the end of the school year, in the midst of the students' final-year examinations, told the press, "I have been wanting to step down for a while. Do you know I had a bypass? Two years ago. I have done a lot for ACS and I want to move on." Well, if you have to go, you have to go. Not everyone subscribes to the work till you die credo.

The school grapevine has it that teachers were caught unawares with the developments - which had percolated through the sprawling Dover Road campus (School's Vision Statement: A Scholar, an Officer, and a Gentleman) - and they were unclear about the reasons behind Mr Ong's sudden exit. All they knew was that Dr Ong bowed out after the school's board of governors concluded a meeting on Saturday morning.

A parent whose son is in Secondary 1 said: "He is an educator, and this is a boys' school. If there is inappropriate behaviour, clearly this cannot be accepted. I would definitely want the boards to investigate and for the findings to be made public." The investigation is still on, but good luck about the "findings to be made public" part.

Fertile Minds And Wild Imaginings

Tony Blair apparently has his detractors, and his memoir "A Journey" was a feeding frenzy for those unaffected by his personal charms. But a movie alluding that he was duped all along?

"The Ghost Writer" is about a successful British ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) attempting to to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang. Cutting to the chase, the ghostwriter discovers that Lang's wife Ruth was recruited as a CIA agent by a Professor Paul Emmett of Harvard University. The longsuffering politician's wife had surreptitiously shaped PM Lang's every political decision to benefit the United States as directed by the CIA.

As in the Robert Harris novel ("The Ghost") the movie was adapted from, the character of Adam Lang is a thinly veiled portrait of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Even BBC notes that the character "was inspired by Tony Blair", and that "the ghost of Tony Blair ... haunts the fictional Mr Lang, with references to Iraq, the 'war on terror', and a much too cozy relationship with the United States". Actors playing Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart and the US Secretary of State bear startling resemblance to their real-life counterparts, Robin Cook and Condoleezza Rice, respectively.

Okay, that had to be imagination given free rein by Hollywood, and conspiracy inspired Roman Polanski, the producer-director. Then I came across this:

Aw, c'mon, give it a rest! Remember the last words Coca-Cola president Donald Keough said about the New Coke saga? "We're not that dumb, and we're not that smart."

If you are not scared about growing old by now, you should be.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Flogging A Dead Horse

Where did he get the numbers? ST's Leonard Lim claims that $260 million in incremental tourism receipts were generated from the 2008 and 2009 Singapore F1 races. He also bets that this year's bumper will exceed last year's $93 million. Which means 2009 numbers had plummeted from the $167 million of the inaugural 2008 "world's first night race". No wonder Minister of State Iswaran said that any talk about extension of the 5 year contract will have to survive a robust cost-benefit analysis.

Lim himself makes mention of the Turkish Grand Prix which saw its 100,000 fans of 2005 dwindle down to 50,000. The 200,000 capacity Shanghai International Circuit had an attendance of 30,000 diehards in 2009 and 85,000 this year. And you thought the YOG turnout was bad. According to TIME, average 3-day attendance for the newer races in Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Korea fell from 187,724 in 2008 to 161,613 in 2009." In Bahrain, all you could see in the stands were a few civil servants, " said an attendee.

Moneywise, the Australian Grand Prix bled the city of Melbourne A$130m over the past 3 years. The mayor of London Ken Livingstone cut a deal with Amaury Sports Organisation for the first stage of 2007 Tour de France in London at $2.7m, telling Bloomberg it was "dramatically less" than the cost of a Grand Prix. Formula 1 is too expensive even for London. After the Montreal race was axed from the calendar, the Canadian Grand Prix authorities said, "The actual business model implemented by the owners (of F1) and F1 teams is no longer feasible."

As for the night skyline the government officials keep harping about, professional photographers have lamented that an earlier start of the race would have yielded better pictures.

The on-site experience at Singapore Grandstands is literally a blur, as you can't possibly focus on cars zipping past at 200+ kph. On television, the cars, thanks to limited opportunities for overtaking, look like schools kids queuing up to see the principal. Or Singapore tariffic waiting for the ERP gantry to change status. What the race needs is some of the track excitement in Iron Man 2.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sound Strategies

Sim Wong Hoo may the last to be featured in the IT Pioneer Entrepreneur series, but he was the first local to make it on the international scene. He's living proof that Singapore is not caught wanting in real talent.

For Creative's anniversary celebrations, he once placed a series of consecutive ads in the Straits Times, which traced the untold story of his success. As a polytechnic diploma holder, Sim could not get funding from EDB, who probably wouldn't tell him the time of day because of pedigree bias. This paper snobbery would get worse when Philip Yeo, then chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), would later say, "with a degree, you can only wash test tubes". So he packed his bags and headed for the US of A, where he was recognised for his own merit.

His soundcard was not unique. Ad-lib was already around, Turtle Beach had technical advantages and a higher price tag, and even Disney had its own Sound Source. Sim's stroke of genius was to give away 200 "samples" to developers who wrote software around his product specifications. As PC Magazine punned it, Soundblaster quietly dominated the sound market. The rest is history.

Creative's engineering strength is not just hype. Apple paid US$100 million in settlement for infringing their mp3 patents. But while Apple had flamboyant Steve Jobs to complement techie Steve Wozniak, the man who solely assembled the circuit board and OS for the Apple I computer, Sim had no marketing guru. Just as Sony's Betamax lost out to VHS, razzmatazz and snake oil do triumph over technical superiority.

Creative's declining fortunes can be attributed to product maturity too, expiry dates do matter in a fast changing world. Until they come up with the next big thing, regaling stories of the glorious past does zilch for the bottom line. Same principle applies to them aging politicians too.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

This Is Not Mother Teresa

Madam Kwa Geok Choo, known to the world as the wife of Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, died at 5.40 pm on the evening of 2 October 2010, 11 weeks before her 90th birthday, at her Oxley Road home. Her daughter Wei Ling, 55, was by her bedside. Younger son Hsien Yang, 53, had been with her earlier in the day. Her husband of 63 years was in hospital with a chest infection. The flying PM was out of town.

Although Straits Times Online reported that "Netizens send condolences", they quoted only the saccharine sweet posts but not the unexpected ugly backlash from disgrunted citizens. Frankly, nobody deserves that level of vitriol, alive or dead.

She was rumored to have nagged to death Wong Ming Yang, the beautiful first wife of Lee Hsien Loong, for contributing an albino to the family bloodline. Then there was the story about rearranging the career path of a coloured young man who paid too close an interest in daughter Lee Wei Lin. Like the internet myth about Wong Kan Seng marrying into the Lee family, the truth will probably be shaded quite differently.

But she was by his side when Chia Thye Poh was accused of being a communist and locked away for 32 years. She was there when Teo Soh Lung's life was destroyed because, in her husband's eyes, she would look like a typical communist cadre if she had sported a ponytail. As for the Mareva injunction invoked on the properties of Tang Liang Hong's wife, guess who's the conveyancing expert?

You can't pin the Holocaust on Eva Braun, but they do say that “Behind every good man is a good woman,” and vice versa. Why should Lady Macbeth lament, "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand", when it was her husband who wielded the dagger? Even Geok Choo was confused when she once wondered aloud, why her husband was admired by many and hated by just as much.

In the same week that the Princess of Wales and Mother Teresa died, the adulteress was worshipped while the nun was buried in the backpages. The mainstream media tends to screw up their perspectives in these matters.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tears Of A Crocodile

Accolades came in fast and furious during the last few days, paying homage to Dr Balaji for his contributions as politician and caring citizen. Even the gay community forgave him for providing causal link between HIV infection and Sentosa beach parties.

He was one of the super 7, freshly minted MPs squirreled into parliament via the GRC machinings, with the distinction of being anointed Minister material. But for reasons undisclosed, he never made the million dollar club. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself said Dr Balaji distinguished himself in many fields - in medicine, the community and the public service. No dressed-up Zorro, this was superman in the flesh. According to Lee, who met him two weeks before succumbing to colon cancer, his mind was still on his responsibilities to the Cheng San-Seletar residents.

Yet for all his invaluable services enumerated, PM Lee said he saw no difficulty in the 5 other MPs taking over Dr Balaji's duties. So was he a redundant player, or the Ang Mo Kio GRC is just another bloated overhead, a waste of taxpayer money? Or perhaps they are still sore at Cheng San, who rooted for JB Jeyaratnam's team in the 1988 polls. They don't give a hoot, Cheng San can go to pot, seems to be the message.

No by-election has been considered to replace the late Dr Balaji, Lee Hsien Loong told reporters, disappointing both opposition parties and citizens clamouring for their voices to be heard in parliament. This was also the sham in Jurong GRC, when a by-election was not called after MP Ong Chit Chung died in July 2008. You would think they had lots of talent standing by in the wings, ready to render service for the nation. After all, the money is good. Very good. Yet it appears that the ruling party is afraid to face the people, as their leader takes flight to Belgium, avoiding awkward questions.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wait, It Gets Betterer

In his classic deaf-frog mode, Lim Swee Say ignored the arguments for a minimum wage posited by economist Hui Weng Tat and ambassador-at large Tommy Koh, in particular former's point that a minimum wage would force employers to invest more in technology to raise productivity. Which was exactly what Lee Kuan Yew did years ago by railroading capital intensive manufacturing over low tech and low wage cottage industries like textile production. By making printed circuit boards instead of sewing jeans, the workers earned more and the nation's GDP improved by leaps and bounds.

London Business School professor Lynda Gratton may have inadvertently touched a raw nerve when she said companies had to stop paying top executives "500 times" more than its lowest paid workers to ensure the building of fairer societies. During the 2006 elections, opposition leader Low Thia Khiang presented a very good suggestion of pegging the minister’s pay to 100 times those of the bottom 20 percent as incentive for ministers to improve the lot of the poor. Heck, make it 500 times, 1000 times even, so long as the economically challenged are not left further behind as the select crowd relentlessly pursue monetary goals at the cost of social stability.

Gratton cited the example of a firm that pays its top management 20 percent more than its lowest compensated employees, and asked Lim if more companies would do so in future. Predictably, the minister repeated his party's mantra that "top dollar would have to be paid for top talent". This coming from a specimen that gives talent a bad name. The same who mouthed that "to reduce the number of low-wage workers by having a minimum wage, the number of workers with no wage will go up". Don't be surprised this clown will come up with a "betterer" solution, turn the clock back, and reinstate slavery.