Monday, April 30, 2012

Offensive Comments

When the world's highest paid prime minister decides to have his own Facebook account, he can bet your bottom dollar he would not want a Denise He type to be his page administrator. Hence, the officious sounding warning shot across the bow:
"We may remove content and/or take preventive action against those who abuse the page."

The nature of the internet being what it is, one man's offensive comment could be a refreshing insight to another. And, as far as personal attacks go, we are all too familiar with one octogenarian's ad hominem tirades, with or without the follow-up punitive fines that bankrupted many a politician. Thus it was inevitable a post such as hereunder would surface:

Before you make judgment and ignore the constructive criticism on the penultimate line, take a look at this contribution from a Cobol Programmer Trainee at IBM Solutions Delivery.

Are you offended already? We have so many IT graduates from the ITE, Polytechnics and local universities, why do we have need of importing such talents from foreign shores? But the real offensive comment has to be this one from an army general who can't tell friend from foe: “When we look at an issue, let's try not to pigeonhole each other as a Singaporean or a foreigner, which can complicate the problem.” Can you imagine him leading our NS men into battle?

Friday, April 27, 2012

For Shame

That's the official reason for wanting to trim a 2 minute segment from Steve McQueen's critically acclaimed "Shame", a movie about sex addiction which could have thrown some light on why a senior legal counsel, a lieutenant colonel, or a school principal would want to surf online for puerile gratification. Academy Award winner for Best Picture "Platoon" was also not shown in Singapore initially because Oliver Stone objected to his film being abbreviated by the censor's scissors, the part where Charlie Sheen inhales smoke from a shotgun barrel. That was at the height of the government anti-drugs campaign.

Curiously, the "prolonged and explicit threesome sex sequence" is significantly shorter than the 9 minute horrific rape scene in "Reversible", and full frontal nudity in "Lust, Caution" was screened without cuts. Has the censorship board reverted to prudish standards?

Movie critic Roger Ebert tells us the American Psychiatric Association in 1987 defined sex addiction as a mental disorder involving "distress about a pattern of repeated sexual conquests … involving a succession of people who exist only as things to be used."  Like a good reviewer, he leaves out the spoilers, and we are still in the dark about the offensive parts. Others with less scruples write that the protagonist walks about his bedroom starkers (an illegal act in Singapore, don't try it in your HDB flat) with his plumbing equipment in full high definition glory, kisses a bearded biker, and then directs him to the subject of mutual interest. Ah, that kind of movie!

Wanna suck face? It's legal.
At least the Japanese are more honest when condemning the popular all-girl AKB48 band members for seductively passing bite-sized candy mouth-to-mouth in an advertisement. "The commercial may encourage homosexuality," complained a Tokyo broadcasting watchdog. The snipped scene in "Shame" also has two girls "sucking face", to borrow the quaint terminology from "On Golden Pond," as in the Henry Fonda line, "Wanna dance or would you rather just suck face?"

So why don't the self appointed custodians of public morality come right out and call a spade a spade? Are they afraid to offend their more liberal minded government officials who might accept that the next Singapore beauty queen could be born a man? For the record, the organisers of Miss Singapore Universe have indicated that they intend to abide by the new ruling set by the Miss Universe organisation to allow transgender women to participate in the pageant. When a country is run like a corporation, it's only the money that counts: tv coverage, tourist arrivals, corporate sponsorships, etc, etc.

Looks like the country is going to the dogs, and before long, we may have to issue an apology to Sun Xu.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kicking Out The Chaff

Richard Hartung is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992, what we do not know is whether he has taken up citizenship after 20 years of immersion. What we do know is that his expat friends have gotten word of employment pass renewal rejections, and even permanent residents' (PR) re-entry permits are not being renewed as (easily as before). Writing plainly with sympathy to their cause, he quotes one blogger: "It's pot luck … Doesn't seem to be any rhyme nor reason." Or is it?

Well, we now know that the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) is targeting an intake of 20,000 to 25,000 to keep the population size stable, whatever that means. In countries that have free healthcare and social welfare for the needy, the number of working age available to support elderly citizens is a significant ratio in demography. In Singapore, young or old, our individual CPF balance is our own lifeline. Ask for a discount in transport fare, and the ogre of a minister will threaten to increase the GST.

The NPTD has also decided to be picky. It wants to emphasise that the new comers must be able to integrate well into our society. Other holistic considerations include the applicants' family ties to Singaporeans, economic contributions, qualifications, age, family profile, length of stay in Singapore, and their commitment to sinking roots in Singapore. Those flighty expats cruising the Clarke Quay bars to pick up SPGs will have to go the way of the dodo bird.

Associate Professor Paulin Tay Straughan, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore and Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) from 2009 to 2012, has some advice for attracting quality immigrants:
- don't just open doors;
- target younger new citizens;
- pick citizens that grow families

Maybe Hartung can now go back to his expat friends now and ask if they are migrant birds of fancy or committed to nation building. After 20 years in the country, he should be talented enough to get that right.

Lest we forget, PRs also put a tremendous strain on public amenities and housing. NPTD needs a projection for that number too, in order to envision the future landscape. Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Leong thinks the PR numbers are much larger than that of the new citizens. No wonder our trains are overloaded, the NPTD number crunchers have again missed the forest for the trees.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Plastic Men And Their Silly Ideas

After HSA finally comes to senses with their silly charges for registering "medical devices", another body is set to push cost of living higher - which just crossed the 5% barrier. The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) is determined to nudge supermarkets, and some say even hawker centers, into charging for plastic bags.

Environment consultant Eugene Tay was spot on when he said these cost adders will not go down well with the low- and middle- income group. He probably had in mind the below $1,500 per month category which Prof Lim wanted desperately to help, not the above $15,000 per month types who send their maids out for the grocery run. The type of people who don't realize plastic is essential for wet items like fish and fresh vegetables. And even they appreciate air flown oysters taste better than canned versions. In our hot and humid climate, brown paper bags - which supermarts in Singapore do not provide - just won't survive the journey home, even in the boot of an airconditioned car. Don't even dream about buying ice cream by the tub.

Of course there are alternatives like bags and baskets made from organic (as in carbon) materials, hemp, jute, hessian, cotton and linen. But that means going to the supermart will be like gearing up for a back-packing trip through the woods. Try putting the tray of eggs in a haversack. And should mom call you at the office to pick up a pint of milk and a loaf of bread on your way home, let's see how you stuff that into your patent leather attache case, or Kate Spade designer bag.

If there's a solution to do away with the plastic bags, don't count on the SEC to come up with one - except to make you pay and pay for them. Do you think they really care if plastic bags kill at least 100,000 birds, whales, seals and turtles every year? The SEC is a NGO (non-government organisation), but is supported by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, headed by that nut case who thinks food is only from a hawker centre, food court or restaurant. Home cooking with ingredients from the supermart must seem so alien to those lodged in ivory towers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Golden Rule

It is easy to appreciate why Yaacob Ibrahim may harbour a personal grudge against the internet. After all, it was through WikiLeaks we learnt of his choice of a Puerto Rican for a life partner, a decision that must have caused discomfit to his parents and relatives. A Malay neighbour once lamented how his father's eyes would brighten up at the sight of his grandchildren, and yet pay scant acknowledgement of his Chinese wife. Some matters are just plain visceral.

Leading his own crusade in the social media, Ibrahim boasts, "there are people out there who want to make sure the Internet doesn't get killed by the downsides.. and they are prepared to be part of the process." Downsides as in how rumours can be spread like wildfire, such as a Green Card could be convenient route to evade NS obligations. Whilst maintaining that traditional media can "separate the wheat from the chaff," he revealed that, as of last December, government ministries and agencies have set up more than 140 Facebook initiatives, 60 YouTube channels, 60 Twitter accounts and 30 mobile applications.

Somewhere after warning that there are laws in place which can deal with those who cause harm, a Vietnamese journalist asked if the local media had gone overboard in publishing the names and faces of those charged with dealings with a teenage whore. She said the families of those accused would be affected, maybe even harmed. We are, after all, in a society where loan sharks periodically harass innocent family homes due to mistaken identities.

Showing his bias, the Minister said "you can't prevent the newspapers from reporting on it", and veered off his pontificating with "In terms of coverage, we leave it to the better judgment of the media providers." Well, how about leaving the truth coverage to the likes of Julian Assange and similar media providers? The Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you", the basis of many of the ethical systems on which societies have been built, is found in Islamic, Taoist, Sikh as well as other religious texts. Surely the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs knows that.

Monday, April 23, 2012

If Life Gives You Lemons

Everybody dreads the chop on the receipt, "Goods Sold Cannot Be Returned". Singapore passed a "Lemon Law" in Parliament on 9 March 2012, due to come into force from September 1 or thereabouts. It comprises amendments to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), the Hire Purchase Act (HPA) and Road Traffic Act and covers all general consumer products purchased.

The amendments in place, hopefully there will be additional remedies beyond rejecting the flaky goods and getting a refund. Retailers may first offer to repair or replace the defective good within a reasonable period of time (more reasonable than the time to call for a by-election) and without significant inconvenience to the buyer. If this is not possible, the consumer may either keep the item and get a partial refund, or return the item and get a full refund.

Although intended for apparel, electronics, furniture, and big-ticket items such as THX certified home theatre systems and cars, the appeal has some parties seeking similar remedial protection for procurement of pets. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA), jointly with Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), has written to assure the public that sufficient laws are in place to protect consumers if a pet does not conform to the sales contract descriptive at delivery. Under the AVA licensing conditions for pet retailers, all animals displayed for sale must be healthy. Sick, diseased or injured animals that have been treated must be certified fully recovered before being displayed for sale again. Just like the Lemon Law which requires retailers to ensure that goods match their description as marketed and promoted. CASE plans to educate the public about the new legislation.

What CASE probably won't address is what happens if lemons end up in parliament. The list is long but distinguished, almost as long as the Hotel 81 front desk register. No need to stoop down to the level of detail provided by the mainstream media, the initials LSS, VB, YI, VN, HK, BYK, TSL, LTY are on the tip of everybody's tongue. LTY is practically a permanent feature - just ask the recent lot of commuters who had to walk the LRT tracks to their final destination. "Clowns Elected Cannot Be Rejected" must be imprinted on every frustrated mind.
That's it folks, the end of the ride. You fall, your problem.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mix And Match

Brecknell Willis is part of the Fanstan Electric Group, a private-owned operation with sister companies in Germany, Australia and America, and offices in Taiwan and China. It's first major rail electrification project was for the Bristol Tramway in 1895. Among its electrification/traction product range is the design, supply and maintenance of Conductor Rail Systems and ancillary products.

Its rail conductor reference list states 5,519 km installed since 1990, in places like Taipei, Milan, Copenhagen, Sao Paulo, London, Oslo, Naples, Amsterdam, Mumbai, Tianjin, Beijing, Berlin, Chicago, Prague, Vancouver, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

An extract of the Singapore record shows that Brecknell Willis conductor rails have been used for our train system since 1998, first applied in the 13.5 km Changi Airport Line. The 63 km of the Singapore-Downtown Line also uses their "No.6 Under running" conductor rails. The latest application is for the Downtown Line 3, a 57 km contract awarded to C.T.C.I. in 2011.

Curiously, the collector shoe from Brecknell Willis is used only in the Circle Line, supplied during 2004-2005. It would seem non-Brecknell shoes are working with Brecknell conductor rails.

This is what the Brecknell shoe gear looks like:

The C.O.I. was told on the first day of the hearing that Brecknell Willis, hired to design the third rail system for Phase 1 of the MRT, had in 1987 suggested using a modified claw, with a split pin locking system (instead of the flimsy spring clip) that could withstand severe vibrations, to hold the third rail. "MRTC rejected the 1987 claw and wanted to use the older claw system," sniggered SMRT's lawyer Cavinder Bull. Today LTA has taken over MRTC's functions since 1995, and by implication, responsibility for the 1980s infrastructure decisions. Enough of the bull already, why can't someone just order the right product for the right application now. Otherwise the whole transportation system will have to revert the old all bus affair, which doesn't break down three times in a week.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Whatever Happened To Brains?

The image of the US Secret Service, immortalised by Hollywood as sharp suited dudes with dark glasses and earpieces ready to take a bullet for the president, is being dragged through the mud after an agent offered a prostitute US$30 for sex despite agreeing to pay US$750 earlier.
Unlike the local lot caught in a honey trap, those guys do not have the deep pockets of a lieutenant colonel, Swiss banker, or scion of a movie theatre conglomerate. That last one must be real stupid; he married a former model taking part in a Miss Earth pageant, not some ugly broad with a mug face that only a mother could love.

But the top prize for idiocy has to go to Teo Ser Luck, who spoke up in defence for the hard core prostitute, “No matter what she did, she is still young. Exposing her identity in the media will not do anybody any good.” Oh yeah, what about protecting the innocent young men yet to be exposed to the duplicity of the world? What happens when she joins the IT industry and sells storage solutions to top uniformed officers like the Chief of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and the Director of Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) ?

Where was this Teo guy when Baey Yam Keng got bruised for rushing to the defence of the PRC scholar who abused the hospitality of his host country? Maybe Baey's apology in parliament wasn't loud enough, or covered as extensively by the mainstream media, currently mobilised en masse to mask the embarrassing revelations in the ongoing COI hearing. Case in point: How can the third-rail claw assembly be "inspected regularly" when the fibre-glass cover is opaque? Transparency escapes those who choose to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.

The last person we expect to step into the dog pile is MP Halimah Yacob who should have kept her own trap shut: “Everyone deserves a chance to repent. The most important thing is, she should receive proper counseling in the future to prevent her from prostituting herself again.” She must think Aljunied folks really like to be reminded of the "R" word. Foot in mouth again, sigh.
"As far as I am concerned, this girl does not deserve protection as she is a
hardcore prostitute who got so many men into trouble” - Subhas Anandan

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Technically Flawed

80 youths - some as young as 12 - were arrested by the Singapore Police Force in July 2011 for being on the records of loansharks. Most of the traumatised school kids were just trying to earn extra pocket money by distributing fliers. To the police they were technically "assisting in the operations of illegal moneylenders".

80 men were hauled up for questioning by the authorities sometime last year - including a head of strategic planning at Police Training Command, a Navy officer, a National Environment Agency senior counsel and a school principal - for being listed in the laptop database of an online vice operation. 44 men, including 9 public servants, have been charged in court.

Their crime is having paid sex with a person under 18. Their foolishness is transacting through an alleged pimp who used to be an adviser to the chairman of Shell International Petroleum. Lulled by the confidence of dealing with a professional with impeccable credentials, the last thing they thought of was to ask the lady to swear on the Good Book and promise to tell the truth, the whole and nothing but the truth. About her age, that is.

Apparently the police have also been lulled into believing it's an open-and-shut case. Lawyers have now pointed out that the age of the girl is not included in the court documents. According to the legal eagles, this means the charges are technically flawed - "The charge sheets should set out her date of birth so we know she was below 18 at the time of the offence." Which means some of the 80 interviewed will not be charged if the liaison dangereuse was concluded an hour or a minute after she turned 18. The pertinent factoid here is that prostitution in Singapore is legal. Sure it's a sin in the eyes of the morally upright, but the law makers here appear to be on the side of the female with a service for hire. Hey, at $850 a session, she has to be the poster child of productivity.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Round One

During the Iran-Iraq war, there was a cartoon of two boxers slugging it out in the ring, with no one in the spectator seats watching. The only observer was a cleaning lady, who told the warring adversaries, "Please turn out the lights when you're done."

LTA (represented by Allen & Gledhill) and SMRT (Drew & Napier) brought their expensive lawyers into the Attorney-General's Chambers for the long overdue Committee Of Inquiry (COI) hearing. That Second Solictor-General Lionel Yee had already set the tone by making it clear the inquiry "is not an adversarial proceeding but a fact finding one," did not dissuade the two contestants from coming out slugging. Maybe it had to do with the presence of the CID, and the implication that a criminal element would not be discounted.

When the short lived ex-President of AWARE Josie Lau brought in legal help for the disastrous EOGM of 2009, she blew $99,291.28 (Rajah & Tann have donated $5,000, Deloitte & Touche $3,000) for the whole shebang which did not help her cause by a single iota. Doubtless, the lawyers will in similar vein benefit more from this sham of a COI than the commuters who will be ultimately stuck with the bill.

At the end of the wasted day (day one of a protracted 6-week wayang) COI Chairman Tan just had to direct the warring factions to focus on certain key issues, elementary stuff like:
- whether trains could have gauges to detect missing collector shoes;
- whether a transparent cover could facilitate inspection;
- whether the 45 minute power supply backup was sufficient

To which, we might add: who's gonna be the fall guy for this one?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Who's Monitoring Who?

If there's any doubt that Big Brother is in charge in Singapore, all you need to note is the proliferation of CCTVs installed at every nook and corner of the city state. VP of media for Shaw Theatre said the cameras in its newly renovated multiplexes such Jcube and Lido are meant for anti-piracy purposes. "However, we also realised that they allow us to troubleshoot any disputes involving  cinema operations or customers," he said.

Meanwhile Lui Tuck Yew's LTA has installed CCTVs to nab those parking illegally at private housing estates. LTA issues about 300,000 tickets for parking offences annually. Considering that there are 900,000 registered vehicles out there, there's a tidy revenue stream for the taking. And you thought those summonses were intended for education, a public spirited exercise to inculcate in motorists a healthy respect for the law.

When the lights went out onboard an MRT train on the North-South Line yesterday, the SMRT spokesman said blackouts in its trains are "not uncommon" and are "usually due to human error". He added, "We can rectify the problem quickly as long as it is reported to our staff.  In this case, we did not receive any report." Looks like CCTVs should be installed in the MRT control room, with the cameras focused on the staff, to "trouble shoot any disputes involving train operation or customers". Lui may call the tender for the car park monitoring, it is doubtful he would like to catch SMRT staff sleeping on the job. And they wouldn't dare sneak off to Jcube or Lido, the CCTVs there are actively monitored.
Screen grab from "Enemy Of The State"

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Shocking Response

"My concern is this: Yes, we can give wages a shock but in the process, are we also able to give productivity  an equal shock." The speaker happens to the worst example of the productivity malaise in Singapore.  After relinquishing his short stint as Second Minister of National Development in 2005, Lim Swee Say (林瑞生), he has been minister without portfolio up to today. Meaning, he's good for nothing special. Unless you count dressing up as Zorro and generally making a fool of himself on stage with ditties like "Upturn the downturn".

One of those high income earners losing sleep over Professor Lim Chong Yah's radical proposal of a deep wage freeze, Lim Swee Say conceded that driving wage growth through productivity gains will take time. And that's the way these guys like it: the longer it takes, the bigger his bank account will swell. Hence the hentak kaki pace of bringing to justice the two top uniformed officers caught bedding the same IT vendor. Ditto the Hougang by-election.

"Every month, when I receive my CPF statement, I feel so rich," he once told his captive audience of grassroots supporters. In office since 1999, this guy still hasn't mastered the art of public speaking. Makes you wonder how he survived as Deputy Managing Director of the Economic Development Board when he was based in New York City from 1991 to 1993.

Prof Lim told Today: "If the NTUC secretary-general Mr Lim Swee Say has serious reservations for my ER2 (Economic Restructuring 2) proposal, then the logical sequence is to keep it in deep freeze, instead of temporarily freezing the salaries of the highest income groups as suggested by me." Stay tuned, the spirit of wage reform will remain, to the march of the spirit of GE 2016.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Scary Friday

Scary Wage Freeze
Friday the 13th invokes nightmarish characters like Freddy Krueger, not a mild mannered professorial type like Lim Chong Yah. Yet he has managed to instil fear island wide in a pretty short time with his "shock therapy" - the clarion call of  a 3-year plan for a wage freeze for top earners ($15,00 and above) and a 50 percent or more wage rise for those earning less than $1,500.

What scared Lim was the Gini coefficient creeping from 0.454 in 2001 to 0.473 in 2011, a whisker's hair from the "danger levels" of wage gap disparity. Globally, income inequality is disconcerting because of the threat it poses to social stability. Not that we will ever have winds of change as in Egypt or Syria, more likely the Leopard 2A4 tanks will be rolled out in a reprise of TianAnMen. Still, it could be as messy as a Freddy Krueger production.

What scares Lim's detractors are:
Scary foreign talent loss- people who leave just because they won't be getting 5 percent more automatically each year. For these lot, who have no intention of ever serving in NS anyway, it's good riddance for them.  If they wanted to go, they would have left already.

Scary unemployment - have no fear, if labour intensive sweat shops shut down, workers will move on to higher productivity operations. That's what happened in 1979, low tech textile workers ended up as assembly line operators in outfits like Hewlett Packet manufacturing, wiring components instead of threading buttons - exactly what was intended, breaking out of then low-productivity and low-wage economy.

Scary high inflation - the oil supply shock was the bad guy during the 1970s, not the NWC recommendation fall-out. Since MAS is maintaining its strong SingDollar, lose no sleep over that fact that 80 percent of our goods are imported. What we should worry about are the sources of domestic inflation - electricity tariffs, transport fares, housing COVs, and money making scams like the HSA charges for evaluating medical devices.

Scary implementation issues - 60 percent of the workforce is covered by NWC alone. In 1979, the NWC rammed the major wage reform through, why should they change loyalty now? He may not have Dr Winsemius at his side this time, but Lim's daughter is still married to Number 2 Son.

One suspects the scaredy cats, masquerading as nattering nabobs of negativism, are the guys whose wallets are at knife's edge. Think of the many MPs whose allowances have breached the stratosphere, with no associated productivity gains whatsoever to show of. These are the chaps most likely to say, "If there are no Sunshine bread (with ex-SMRT Saw at the helm), let them eat cake." Let them taste the electric volts of the shock treatment.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Good Riddance To The ISA

It may be one small step for our neighbour, but it's a giant leap for human rights advocates. The new Security Offenses Bill presented to the lower house of Malaysia's Parliament on Tuesday will limit detention without charge to 28 days, not indefinitely, as was the case under the repressive ISA law.

The British introduced the "Emergency Regulations Ordinance" in 1948 during the Malayan Emergency in response to a communist uprising and guerrilla war. Three years after The Emergency was declared over in 1960, the Internal Security Act was passed in place with the same powers to curb communist insurgency. Singaporean Chia Thye Poh, the world record holder for imprisonment by his wicked law, was detained under the ISA from 1966 to 1998, for allegedly being a communist. Maybe that's where the Americans got the idea for Abu Ghraib.

Today, Communists from China are welcomed with open arms, especially those bearing the promise of economic gifts. The Singapore Ministry of Education even send teachers out to traverse the PRC expanse to offer scholarships to little commie ingrates, only to have them label our senior citizens dogs after being feted at taxpayers' expense.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the new legislation will give police all the powers they need to protect national security and combat terrorism, at the same time introducing new safeguards for civil liberties to ensure that the highest standards are upheld.

That must sound all Greek to Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who stubbornly insisted in October 2011 that ISA helps Singapore to tackle not just terrorism, but also other threats such as foreign subversion, espionage and racial agitation. Teo ruled out all suggestions to replace the ISA with a Terrorism Act, unless the Act is "very broad in scope and provides for preventive detention, just like the ISA", i.e. replace the ISA with another ISA. This guy justifies detention without trial for terrorists by maintaining that such trials would "expose information terrorists could use to pursue their agenda". Needless to say, all open trials also tend to expose the hidden agenda of the prosecuting party. Maybe he should be sent across the Causeway to learn from our more enlightened neighbours, and paid like his Malaysian counterpart while he's taking lessons.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Don't Get Sick

According to the KPMG May edition of their publication "Issues Monitor - Healthcare" (thanks, TK of Apr 10, 2012 12:12 AM), there is a booming medical tourism trade ripe for the picking. Besides geographical proximity and cultural similarity considerations, they highlight cost savings as a major pull factor.

This is what they write about the government initiatives in action:
- Over 2006-08, the annual number of medical tourists to Singapore jumped more than 16 percent, from 555,000 to 646,000 visitors. By 2012, the country aims to attract 1 million medical tourists.

- The government is promoting medical tourism with a network of high quality clinics and hospitals than can cater to foreign patients.. This is in addition to various drug manufacturers and biomedical research laboratories owned by large foreign pharmaceutical manufacturers that have established themselves here in recent years. Apart from the 15 hospitals that are equipped to treat foreign patients, the government has aggressively worked to attract top doctors and scientists from around the world and pushed for major foreign pharmaceuticals to establish operations.

Using sample data from the Ministry of Health website, one can see that the hospital bill for heart surgery can vary quite a bit depending on how deep your pocket is, or how the Means Test determines your fate.

We all know what happened to housing prices when that minister-from-hell decided to use market valuation for land allocated for HDB flats. His sickening opportunity cost argument was that the same designated plots would have generated more revenue for the government if used for private development. Now, imagine what would happen if the supply of hospital rooms in the country is tilted towards the deep pocketed medical tourists instead of the "subsidised" lesser mortals. For all we know, it has already happened. Please don't get sick, you may not be able to afford it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's Always About The Money

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) classify medical devices varying in complexity from simple products like tongue depressors, surgical sutures and contact lenses to more complex devices such as implantable defibrillators, prosthetic heart valves and diagnostic imaging systems. Dr Raymond Chua, deputy director of the HSA health products regulation group, talked of the need "to instill the sense of safety in doctors". From the perspective of the layman, all we see are the questionable charges implemented to evaluate "medical devices" like wheelchairs, bandages, and condoms. Like the $6,000 and 11 months for the "full evaluation" of a prophylactic. Are they planning to recall Annabel Chong for an encore performance of her marathon session?

What local doctors are really upset about is why the approval of the FDA or the EU is not enough. "The FDA is a US monstrosity that has thousands of people working full-time. Why does HSA want to re-do what the FDA has done?" asked Dr Huang, an ear, nose and throat specialist. One suspects the answer is right there in the good doctor's question. The Health Ministry probably wants to create another monstrosity in the civil service, staffing it with thousands of people (and expensive permanent secretaries), and boosting the cost of living even higher than it already is. We have seen how Vehicle Inspection Centers have been set up to swell up the government coffers. And made thousands of motorists poorer. MAS claims to be "very concerned" about the persistent inflation, hovering around 5%. It's strong Singapore dollar strategy won't be of any help if the inflationary pressure is generated internally.

On the medical supply side, many reputable manufacturers may decide to skip the Singapore market rather than put up with the bureaucratic crap. But doctors who run the risk of importing an item not registered with HSA face a potential fine of up to $50,000 and/or a jail term of 2 years. At the end of the day, the patient suffers - for want of a better catheter or anaesthetic. Eye specialist Dr Tan suggests HSA should follow the example of Japan, where doctors can bring in anything - instruments, drugs, etc - if they assume personal responsibility for their use. If you can't trust your doctor, who can you trust? HSA is not budging, they are only prepared to "review its charges." It was always about the money, not affordable health care for the citizens.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Time Out

Whoa, time out! You know this xenophobia thingy is getting a wee bit out of hand if thin-skinned football fans raise the red flag over crummy giveaways like a mug, portable fan, 6-can cooler bag and travel bag. Anybody familiar with marketing mechanics will know that the cost price of the gift items are way less than the purported $50. You get more value in your National Day Parade goodie bag.

Unfortunately for Starhub's Ms Ong, head of corporate communications and investor relations, the politically correct charged atmosphere of recent weeks required an apology of sorts. Hence a segment marketing exercise ended up, by their official admission, as "an own goal". It's either that or subject of another police report. Never mind if the original aim was to target the skinflint Ang  Mohs to sign up, especially the chao kuan types (literally, Hokkien for "smelly-type" - used to denote a cheat or devious person, according to the Coxford Singlish Dictionary) who bring their own 6-packs to the kopi-tiam to watch for free.

What the protesters should really grouse about is why Singaporeans have to pay in the first place when some countries get to watch for free. Media Development Authority's new "cross -carriage" rules merely requires Starhub to share it's broadcast rights with its competition. Sports group subscribers 4 years ago only paid $10 - $20, while non-sports group subscribers paid $50. Now it has gone up to $69.55 - only early birds who sign up before 30 April are entitled to the $58.85 pricing. Now, that's something to grumble about.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Gift Of Giving

Way back in 2007 when the peasants grumbled noisily about PM Lee's 25.5 percent salary hike from S$2.46 million to S$3.1 million a year, he tried to salvage his bruised moral authority by promising to donate the $600,000 to "worthy causes". Notably, the word "charity" was not used.

Apparently he kept his word for the past 5 years, or so we are told. This year it was revealed the money went to:
- a Community Initiatives Fund under the People's Association (S$200,0000);
- a new Prime Minister's Social Service Award ($$100,000);
- a Prime Minister's Valedictorian Award for the top student in each graduating cohort from the School of The Arts ($50,0000).

The balance of the money ($250,000), says he, will go to a range of community, grassroots, youth, arts and welfare organisations (details not provided).

In May 2009 it was reported that a Singapore Buddhist temple had received about $1.5 million dollars in cash from a mysterious donor, in stacks of $1,000 notes deposited monthly in the temple's donation box. The regular contributions to the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, a religious welfare group which is not politically affiliated, varied between $40,000 and $50,000. The lodge's chairman Lee Bock Guan said he was sure the money always came from the same unknown donor,"You know it is the same person, because the notes always come in the same, neat stack. By donating in cash, this person clearly prefers to be unknown."  The lodge has been providing free vegetarian meals to the less-privileged for more than 20 years, at a cost of nearly $210,000 each month.

Easter is a good time to reflect on Sunday School stories. One in particular, The Widow's Mite, tells of a widow who donates two small coins (a mite being the least valuable coin available at the time), which was everything she had to her name, while the filthy rich gives only a small portion of their own wealth. The traditional interpretation of the morality tale is that the value of a gift is not accounted by how much is given, but by how much is kept back. And whether one makes a song and dance about the "act of generosity".

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Words In Play

In his first public comment on the canine proliferation in Singapore, PM Lee's advice is to maintain a certain balance and not get worked up every time someone misspeaks."

At first glance the word seems to be taken directly out of the Orwellian lexicon of Newspeak, the fictional language in George Orwell's novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four", a deliberately impoverished language promoted by the state. Closely based on English, it has a greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar. This suits the totalitarian regime of the Party, whose aim is to make any alternative thinking impossible by removing any word or possible construct which describes the ideas of freedom, rebellion and so on. One character in the book, Syme, says admiringly of the shrinking volume of the new dictionary: "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."

The Merriam dictionary actually defines it as:
1: to speak (as a word) incorrectly
2: to express (oneself) imperfectly or incorrectly

MG "keechiu" Chan Chun Sing's own take on the same PRC scholar utterance preaches, "We must never justify the comment by responding to it in a manner that validates the comment." Now that could easily be misconstrued as cocking a snook at Baey Yam Keng's infamous repartee, "I think first of all, these are behaviours (sic) that this gentleman has picked up. We need to reflect upon ourselves, are we the way they described?" Did MG Chan mis-speak, or was it Baey, self -acclaimed somebody at a top PR company, who mis-spoke? Frankly, we don't give a hoot what these pups are yapping about, all that bothers us is that if they don't say what they mean, how can they ever mean what they say?

Yesterday PM Lee was reminded of what he told Lianhe Zaobao in April 2011, that he would not use by-elections to bring in losing candidates who contested in the GE, "as elections were a serious matter". Asked if he still held the same view, he said "I have to see what exactly I told Zaobao, the circumstances then. It would depend on the situation." Whether he mis-speak or mis-spoke, one thing's for certain, plenty of guys will be getting worked up.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bad Habits

Established in 1854, Chijmes was once the original site of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. Chijmes became a lifestyle destination after a $100-million makeover was completed in 1996. Archbishop Nicholas Chia of the Catholic Church in Singapore took offence with the planned "sacrilegious night of partying” scheduled there for Saturday 7 April, eve of Easter Sunday. Naturally police reports were filed, and letters went out to various ministries with the alphabet soup acronyms like MHA, MCYS and MICA.

Director of organiser Creative Insurgence, Aaghir Yadav, pleaded in vain, “The overlap with Easter weekend was not intended to be offensive. We have since been in touch with the Archbishop’s office to explain our position and have apologised for offending anyone unintentionally,” he said. According to his AngMoh mindset, there was also nothing offensive with the "nun-inspired Cosplay costumes". Nice try, but no cigar.

Landlord Perenial Retail Management, through counsel, asked the sacrilegious parties involved to cease and desist, threatening legal action to ensure enforcement if necessary. He may not fear God, but lawyers are more scary in Singapore. Yadav capitulated:

"It has come to our attention that Perennial (Singapore) Retail Management Pte Ltd, the landlords for Chijmes has intervened to immediately stop the event planned for Saturday. Therefore, despite our best intentions to move forward - after having apologised for unintentionally offending the Catholic community - and to carry on with an event that aimed to showcase the sounds of one of UK's most popular recording labels and super-clubs, we will have to cancel the event.

We would like to reiterate that we used no religious symbolism in any of our marketing and promotional materials and had no intention to cause any upset. "

The religious symbolism referenced has to be the young women (un)dressed in skimpy nun-like habits, with skirt lengths way shorter than mid-thigh length. Not exactly the outfit worn by Julie Andrews in "Sound of Music", a movie classic also with primary focus on the music, albeit not the kind Creative Insurgence had in mind for the Escape Chapel Party. A safer choice would have been Humpty Dumpty, as in Easter eggs, a thoroughly family oriented wholesome recommendation except for the cholesterol. But that would have been so incompatible with the SIN in today's Singapore.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gupta's Expensive Buy

We should be used to this kind of incestuous deals by now. DBS pays $9.1 billion to buy 67% of Bank Danamon Indonesia, the stake which is held by Temasek Holdings. What is the message here? That Danamon will perform better under ownership of DBS, or Temasek is tired of Danamon's record of returns since its acquisition in 2003?

Critics are already saying India import Piyush Gupta overpaid - a premium of 56.3 percent over last month's average share price. Another big spender, foreign talent Philippe Paillart, blew $10 billion for Dao Heng Bank in 2001, an investment DBS had to write down twice. Bank Danamon's shares surged 50 percent at the news, meaning Gupta will be blowing more money to acquire the outstanding shares. From whence did DBS and Temasek get its original seed money in the first place - you know the answer to this one.

The real interesting bit is to come - we are talking about the country that refused to sell us sand, and still pissed off with the extradition impasse of crooked businessmen parking their ill gotten funds here. Reuters are already reporting that some Indonesian bankers would try to block the deal and were considering a media campaign targeting public opinion in the hope of influencing politicians.

"You're going to see some movements to halt this deal in the coming days," said a senior executive of a rival local bank, who asked not to be named because of what he called the sensitivity of the issue. "This is about nationalism. We don't have to be afraid of Singapore ... We're going to raise this case to parliament, the central bank and (banking regulator) Bapepam," he added.

Bankers and industry analysts generally agree there is little scope for a rejection of the deal on strict regulatory grounds, but a politically focused campaign could prove unpredictable. Looks like there are going to be more excuses to delay the Hougang by-election.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Matter Of Expectations

The Bukit Brown saga proved a new paradigm for "consultative governance" is in place. The man at the centre of the cemetery engagement effort, Tan Chuan-Jin, says he has no regrets about reaching out to interest groups on various policies. He attributed the disappointment of the soured interested parties to a "mismatch in expectations". "Everyone came in with their own expectations," he wrote, implying that everyone should have realised that the government's expectation comes first. Always have, always will be.

Following the Woodlands group who objected to the building of an elder-care centre at the void deck of their HDB blocks, residents at Toh Yi estate voiced their grouses on 8 February against similar intentions for a plot of land at the junction of Toh Yi Road and Toh Yi Drive.

On 5 March, HDB officials distributed a circular to all the 1,600 residents in the area confirming it will stick to its original plan to build a block of 130 studio apartments, despite howls of protest and a signed petition. It rejected alternative sites suggested by 230 residents in the estate,including one just 20m away near Block 17 instead. MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Sim Ann described HDB's decision as "a reasonable outcome that addresses the overall interests of residents in our estate".

On 1 April, the signboard is already is in place. Notice the dateline for application is 3 April - gives you the feeling that the plan was in place all along. The writing is literally on the wall. Sim Ann's "reasonable outcome" is not too dissimilar from BG Tan's. When Irving C. Johnson, who started the save Bukit Brown petition, called on the government to conserve what little is left of local history, the reply was a simplistic “Bukit Brown is needed in the future for housing." Quite likely the alternate sites for the Toh Yi project are also "needed for housing", as in more money to be made from private development instead of public housing requirements.
Click to see the big rush to get it done
 Whether the protesting parties are dead wrong or plain selfish is subject for separate debate, but it is clear that the wayang continues to play on like the insufferable afternoon soap operas. Why pretend to listen to alternative views when your mind is decided on a blinkered course of action?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

No April Fool Joke

April 1 has come and gone, so it's no joke - they actually hiked the electricity tariff again. This time by 4.3% to a new high of 28.78 cents per kWh. If there's any relief for the financially challenged, the jokers haven't mentioned it. How did Sigourney Weaver put it in Avatar? "They're just pissing on us without even a courtesy of calling it rain."

SP Services says "the increase in fuel oil price saw a corresponding increase in price of gas which is used for power generation in Singapore" i.e. they are now shifting blame from the oil price to gas price. Oil or gas, surely there are futures contracts to hedge against?

The Energy Market Authority has this blurb about vesting contracts being introduced in 1 Jan 2004. The key policy objective of the vesting contract regime was supposed to curb market power in order to promote efficiency and competition in the electricity market for the benefit of consumers. The vesting contracts are bilateral electricity contracts between generation companies and SP Services. Under the vesting contracts, the generation companies are committed to sell a specified amount of electricity (viz. the vesting contract level) at a specified price (viz. the vesting contract price). This was meant to remove the incentives for generation companies to exercise their market power by withholding their generation capacity to push up spot prices in the wholesale electricity market.

EMA reviews both the vesting contract (last updated per addendum 4 in March 2011) and the parameters used to set the vesting price every two years.

So how is it the price to the consumer is jerked every quarter? When the Natuna Gas Supply was negotiated, surely it was on a longer term than quarterly basis? After EMA engaged Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) to review the tariff formula in 2009, the net result was that the fuel component of the tariff was revised based on the 3 months of the preceding quarter instead of the last month. But the vesting price is still tweaked every quarter. It's like what Gerard Ee and and his merry men did: after so much "deliberation", and paying some consultant $860,000, the Ministers are still living it up with at least a million dollars every year, thanks to the creative bonuses. And the taxpayers are still footing the bill - if not from the electricity bill, it's the ERP, COE, GST, HDB pricing, transport fares, health care charges, university fees, etc, etc.