Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shoddy Journalism

During a Q&A exchange of the ''Leadership Renewal The Fourth Generation and Beyond" Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum at NUS in April 2007, a second year sociology major was trying to complete his question, "... we are doing absolutely badly and this is exacerbated by the fact that although Singapore is a First World country, it has a Third World wage structure - and this is according to the Straits Times, not from anywhere else. And even Professor Tommy Koh ..."
PM Lee cut him off with : "Do you believe everything you read in the Straits Times?"

Low Thia Khiang has made it clear he doesn't, but he's probably more upset about the political innocents who might be mortified by misleading headlines or picture captions. After all, Francis Seow's book "The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited" is not easily available at the book shelves here.

The newspaper that was once ranked 154th out of 195 in the "2007 Freedom of the Press World Ranking" by "Freedom House" is crying foul. Never mind if a United States diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks once quoted Chua Chin Hon, the Straits Times' U.S. bureau chief, saying that the paper's "editors have all been groomed as pro-government supporters and are careful to ensure that reporting of local events adheres closely to the official line", and that "the government exerts significant pressure on ST editors to ensure that published articles follow the government's line".

Thanks to the exchange of letters in the Forum page we now know that the Secret Squirrel was in direct email communication with the Straits Times, and not any other publication. We also know that they chose the date of publication, which opens up another can of worms - was the timing intended to inflict maximum collateral damage? Low said in the post election conference his party did not have the resources to investigate the matter, but SPH has. All they need to do is to check the mail header, and lots of interesting things can be found, such as the source of posting. If the Tin Pei Ling example is anything to go by, even the law enforcement folks may not have the political will to complete the detective work. Last time we checked, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein do not work in the shitty times.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Toilet Tales

Chairman of the Foundation of Rotary Clubs, David Tong, has boldly stepped forward to clarify that its constitution bans members from taking part in any political activity in the name of the clubs. He was probably responding to former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bok's Facebook posting, questioning the $100,000 offer to support PAP candidate Desmond Choo's scheme to upgrade old toilets in Hougang. Tan had commented the cause was noble, "However the reason and timing for the donation is misplaced."

Click to read the fine print
 Note the letter of offer was dated 22nd May 2012, at the height of the epic Battle for Hougang. Choo's campaign team said 50 more toilets can be retrofitted with the extra money, on top of the 11 already upgraded, and 19 in the pipeline. The letter is addressed specifically to "Dear Mr. Desmond Choo Pey Ching, Hougang", and yet we are told Tapan Kumar Rao had not even met Choo before - how many strangers know him as Pey Ching? The last line reads emphatically, "I am sure, together we can make a difference." He must have crossed out "Always Here For You," that would be too obvious.

Acting like the saint he is obviously not, Tapan Rao maintains "the political dimension had not crossed his mind" when he penned the missive with a grandiose stroke of generosity. Now he wants to make it crystal clear that "the Rotary Club is not making any donation to any political party." Which happens to be quite true, since the letter spells out clearly that the "Rotary Club of Singapore will be happy to work with you and your team" to "raise funds necessary to retrofit toilets." If Desmond had expected a fat check for $100K to land on his desk ("Choo's toilet upgrade project gets $100,000 donation", ST Breaking News, 24 May 2012), he will be in for another rude surprise. Coming so soon right after his dashed hopes of May 26th, that should be enough make a grown man cry.

Tan demanded to know, "Now that PAP Desmond lost to WP Png in the election, what is the Rotary Stand?" Sorry, Mr Former Presidential Candidate, the offer was good only for "work with you and your team", as in Desmond, not Png. As an ex-PAP backbencher, surely he knows how the game is played.
Guys in black supporting the men in white

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

They Outsource Babies, Don't They?

Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing was quoting ex-DPM Wong Kan Seng when he said Singapore could turn its dismal total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.2 around, as Nordic countries managed to do, if it accepts women having children out of wedlock. That should make him popular in those countries, children born out of wedlock are usually associated with the "b" word.

In March 2011, Wong had quoted OECD figures to show that Sweden, Denmark and Norway have a high TFR because many people there are having babies out of wedlock as much as they are within marriage. What the keechiu general conveniently skipped was the qualification by Dr Yap Mui Teng, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, "although parents may not officially get married, they are more or less in stable cohabitating relationships... Sometimes they go on to marry after a child is born." Something Brad Pitt and Angelina Joline planned to do, after having 3 biological and 3 adopted kids.

Dr Yap cited research published in 2005 to state, "Where they start from is a pro-individual approach - where individuals are supported in pursuing their aims and lifestyles - it didn't start out as a policy to encourage child bearing." In other words, they had children of their own volition, not simply to feed the state with economic fodder.

Singapore women, like the men, are resigned to being pawns in the GDP game. Nine months of labour are nine months of economic loss. That's worse then the opportunity cost of Reservist Training. Some women are even given the pink slip for getting in the family way. And there is always the possibility that the slim waistline will go to pot.

The Daily Telegraph ("Half of India's surrogate babies for UK" reported that British bankers, senior civil servants, executives at MNCs and even National Health Service doctors are having babies through surrogates to avoid pregnancy and child birth. Women in India are being paid up to US$9,000 to donate eggs and carry babies to term. And since most Singapore kids are raised by Filipina domestics anyway (whose maternal roles have extended to carrying the NSmen's backpacks), mom won't have to miss a single day of work. Wong, before he lost his million dollar paycheck, had said that a solution (to the TFR issue) was not just a matter of taking what works elsewhere and trying to apply it here, societal context mattered. Well, it looks like we have something workable here. After all, we have extensive experience outsourcing to India. Why stop at babies?

Monday, May 28, 2012

It's A Fine Mess

Way back in December 2009, many Singaporeans who were retrenched during the global financial crisis were still unable to find a job commensurate with their experience and qualifications. NTUC promised to tackle the "under-employment" issue which was common among older Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs). Halimah Yacob, Deputy Secretary-General, NTUC, said then, “He may be very qualified, very skilled, but the jobs that he wants to do and is willing to do is not available. He ends up doing a job that does not make full capacity, productive use of his capabilities. It also involves the case where jobs are not paying them the kind of salary or earning that they feel is commensurate with their qualifications and skills.” They are obviously still working on the problem.

Once upon a time, only highly qualified expatriates or blue collar workers with specialist trades are granted permits to work in Singapore. Operating under the radar, the liberalised foreign intake policy has flooded the Singapore labor market with foreign PMETs, some with shady paper credentials, leading to intense competition with locals for jobs which otherwise would have been available to them. The threat was no longer the lowly road sweeper or the traditional shipyard worker. The gamut runs from IT engineers, service technicians, supermarket supervisors, front desk personnel, bank officers to physiotherapists in the healthcare sector. The excuse used to be the need to fuel the economy, now the slant is on the declining birthrate. Guess what - the foreigners ain't producing any more babies than the locals.

Whether it is the TFR or the silver tsunami, the planners seem to ignore the tinderbox that is the volatile mix of an economically insecure population and the ad hoc infusion of outsiders, especially those flaunting obscene wealth of doubtful origins. One writer has stated that the "anxiety over having too many foreigners needs to be genuinely respected, and addressed sensitively and holistically." The failure to do so will erode the trust between the people and government. Unlike a city hotel that may rent its rooms by the hour, a country worth defending has an innate DNA crying out for enhancing the well-being of its occupiers (called citizens) and nurturing a liveable and inclusive, not polarised, society. It would be sad day when the outflow matches, or even exceed, the influx of human traffic. How many of your neighbors' kids are opting to study overseas, with or without the justification that they could not secure a place in the local universities? Those who cannot afford this costly opt out alternative will add to the simmering disgruntled. The threshold of pain is sorely tested over the surge in foreign workers, soaring housing and transport costs and stagnant salaries for low-wage earners. In the grand scheme of things, Hougang was just a speeding fine.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hougang Wins

"they know what they want"

Never has journalism sunk so low.

There was Teo Chee Hean on the televison screen, calling out again if there were any more questions, obviously desperate to end the humiliation of facing the reporters after a landslide defeat. Candidate Choo, probably still trying hard to tear up one last time for the aunties, was just as anxious to get it over with. There was Low Thia Khiang at the victor's press conference, getting warmed up as the questions built up, only to be interrupted mid-sentence for a special cut back to Teo and Choo to respond to Low's annunciation of what is open knowledge: a campaign stained with old style tactics of character assassination, veiled threats and baseless attacks. Even the supporters from outside Hougang were not spared - traffic directions were warped to prevent them from reaching the political rally of their choice.
"I was hoping to see that as a society, we would move closer to our vision in our national pledge to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality.

But I feel disappointed that there were several calculated moves to discredit the candidate and attack the Workers' Party (WP). This by-election was characterised by baseless attacks, distractions, character assassinations, and veiled threats of using government resources as a carrot and stick to coerce voters."

Low rightfully credited the Hougang voters, who gave Png Eng Huat a convincing 62.1% majority, to "have a clear mind and they know what they want." Despite PM Lee Hsien Loong's professing the embrace of an inclusive society, the ward has been denied upgrading for the past 21 years. It is time the government approves the WP's improvement plans under the Neighborhood Renewal Programme and the Home Improvement Programme - both are funded by the taxpayers, not from money raised by two-time loser Demond Choo or the Rotary Club. Grasping at straws, Teo says he doesn't think Hougang is representative of Singapore as a whole. Oh yeah, so what is it about "inclusive" that the scholar Minister doesn't understand?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Still Trying Their Best

Unlike cry baby Desmond Choo who turned on the tear spigot for maximum effect at the last PAP by-election rally at Hougang, party chairman Khaw Boon Wan resolutely admitted that the PAP is not perfect and the (present) government has its faults, but he added that he is confident the situation will improve significantly within the next 4 or 5 years. Which means those guys only started to earn their pay only after May 2011.  What improvements PM contributed to the lives of Singaporeans since he ascended the throne in 2004 is an open question. His own report card after 8 years has this entry in 2011, "We're sorry we didn't get it exactly right, but I hope you will understand and bear with us because we are trying our best to fix the problems". Try harder. Add spurs.

According to the Financial Times ("PAP deploys Singapore’s ‘auntie killer’ "), the government has responded to the grumbling ground swell by slashing the salaries of top officials and sacking unpopular ministers. Lee Kuan Yew, at age 88, finally stepped down from the cabinet (but still drawing MP pay without performing MP work). The free flow of immigrants – who account for about 1.3m of Singapore’s 5.1m population – has been recalibrated. The budget in February boosted subsidies for lower-income families and included a pledge to spend S$2.4bn in “special employment credits” to help small and medium-sized businesses hire older Singaporean workers. Even NTUC is buckling by proposing to the National Wages Council (NWC) that workers be given a minimum dollar amount as an increment to their basic pay - instead of getting it as a one time payment.

"It isn’t the beginning of the end of the PAP but it’s the beginning of a new kind of politics in Singapore" (FT, 24 May 2012)

Friday, May 25, 2012

This Is Unfair

Broken Arrow is a U.S. military radio code phrase declaring that a ground unit is facing imminent destruction from enemy attack and all available air forces within range are to provide air support immediately. In the case of the incumbent party entrenched in power that would include the Association of Criminal Lawyers, the Rotary Club and, lest we forget, the traffic wardens.

This by-election has brought out the worst in those professing integrity, pointing fingers at others, they forget to look at themselves in the mirror. One can truly sympathise with the angst expressed by one sensitive blogger:
"What saddens me more is how, if my Facebook newsfeed is any indication, some of my pro-PAP friends went along with the PAP and proliferated the smear campaign. I respect the choices they make in supporting the PAP, but I always wonder whether it comes across to them that the image that they are projecting of the party (and to a smaller extent themselves) is not exactly a positive one?"

In the "Hard Truths", Lee Kuan Yew was asked:
"People at the lower end feel that to some extent the system is stacked against them....
It's made for a more cynical society as well, at the lower end. Do you accept that there is a cost to that system?"

Lee's reply to the query is telling, "I feel some angst. I say this is unfair. But the world is unfair." That's easy to say for those perpetuating the unfair system.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fix The Opposition 101

The man joining the gathered crowd was fuming mad, spewing colourful expletives that would make a seafarer blush. He was telling everybody who cared to hear how low the creeps could stoop to fix the opposition.

He had already made an effort to park a distance away from the Hougang rally grounds to avoid jamming the carparks, and inconveniencing the nearby residents. On Saturday he had found the carpark at Block 601 was not too full, and not too far to walk from. This night he was stopped by a large group of car park attendants, refusing entrance except to those with seasonal passes. When told it was because of the rally, he demanded to know why it wasn't cordoned off on Saturday 19th at the same hour he had arrived at the same car park. Confronting the supervisor in charge, he was told they were under instructions from the HDB. Thoroughly cheesed off, he had to move off to another carpark at Block 611, some 600 meters away. Straight away, we were reminded of the story Sylvia Lim told about the stoicism of her secretary: "Never mind - if we have no train, we will take bus! If we have no bus, we can walk!"

After the rally, a few friends walked to Block 601 to confirm the guy's story. Sure enough, the parking aunties were there in force, flashing the parking ticket dispenser like a threatening taser. They also found the carpark at Block 611 added to the cordon. Apparently, as the crowd grew, more car park attendants were mobilised  to increase the no-parking zone. At taxpayers' expense, of course. But did it deter the supporters from joining the rally? See for yourself.

Braving The Weather

Lee Kuan Yew's election rallies [of the 80s] at Fullerton Square were legendary. He and his audience braved downpours during the rallies, when he would speak, off the cuff, for hours, spelling out his hopes, fears, and dreams for the country. (LKY: The Man And His Ideas, page 143)

How times have changed. A new generation of political leaders braved the rain at the Hougang field facing Block 837 on 22 May 2012. Their supporters were not deterred by the downpour, taking in the speeches with the showers from the heavens, with strangers sharing their umbrellas or makeshift rain coats.

But where are Lee's modern day storm troopers? After one pathetic rally on Sunday, they retreated to the mainstream media, taking potshots ad nauseam like Wong Kan Seng did at the integrity of James Gomez over the filing of his minority candidate papers at GE 2006. Which provided inspiration for the brilliant persistently non-political podcast no. 6 of Mr Brown, same guy Denise Phua credited for a check on the government. DPM Teo Chee Hean should pay heed to what the younger Lee used to say in 1956 about steering the press:
"If we attempt to use the whole machinery of state, while we are in office, to bias things our way, then we cannot complain when somebody else, after assuming office, does exactly the same to us." - Hansard, 5 Sept 1956

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Squirrel Gate

"Go and check up the views of ex-NMP like Siew Kum Hong, Calvin Cheng, Paulin Straughan, Eugene Tan, who's now in parliament, and even bloggers like Mr Brown, Kin Mun, they do not have allegiance to specific political parties. But they, together with other Singaporeans who have minds of their own, they are the real check on the PAP. They are the real check on the PAP." - Denise Phua, Hougang By-Election Rally, Sunday 20 May 2012.

Wah lau! Minister not happy, ah?
Before independent minded bloggers like aforementioned Mr Brown a.k.a. Lee Kin Mun (no relation of the Singapore  princeling), get all puffed up and start petting themselves on the back, here's what DPM Teo Chee Hean has to say about "wild accusations making the rounds on the Internet that were made in order to anger voters just to get a few more votes":

"I am ashamed, really, that people are doing this kind of thing on the Net." (TODAY, page 6, 23 May 2012)

Well, if like minded Singaporeans are really the check on the PAP, one of them will have to shut up. Sylvia Lim of the Workers' Party (WP) has her doubts: "Let me ask Denise one thing - if she receives an instruction from the PAP leaders to keep quiet, is she not going to shut up?"

Blogger turned Member of Parliament Gerald Giam confirms the obvious: "If I had heard her speech back then, I wouldn't have bothered going through all the trouble of joining the WP and contesting in elections.  I would have stayed at home and blogged the way to real change in Singapore."

If Teo is worried about wild accusations, he should tread cautiously when commenting on the purloined minutes of a WP central executive council (CEC) meeting which were mysteriously emailed to the mainstream media. In 1972, five burglars broke into the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington, in search of politically damaging material.  The "Watergate Seven", former aides of President Nixon, were indicted by a grand jury. If the "Secret Squirrel" turns out to be a planted mole, all hell will break loose. Nobody in his right independent mind will want to go there.

Some Spring Cleaning Required

At a Hougang by-election rally, MP for Aljunied GRC Pritam Singh reminded the audience that the PAP have had its share of bad hats, namely Wee Toon Boon (corruption involving about $800,000 ), Phey Yew Kok (embezzlement of trade union funds), Teh Cheang Wan (bribes totalling $1 million), and Choo Wee Khiang (issuing false invoices). All clear examples of bad judgment in assessing human character.

"The problem is that the human being is unable yet to assess this thing called character," Lee Kuan Yew said to Han Fook Kwang et al in "LKY: The Man And His Ideas". He should know. This is how he once extolled the virtues of Teh Cheang Wan, his National Development Minister:
"If I am thinking of retirement, I am going to be his manager." -Hansard, March 22,1985, praising his allegedly high business acumen;

"Where are you going to get another Teh Cheang Wan? It is a serious problem." - ibid, on the difficulty of recruiting such a highly capable person.

And woe betide his trusted lieutenants when they embarrass him about his astute character calls. This was before "I stand corrected" was an acceptable escape clause. Some examples:

Tan Kia Gan, Minister for Home Affairs -
"I had to destroy him. I could not find enough evidence but it was quite clear, more than suspicion, that he wanted a percentage on aircraft to be bought by Malaysian Singapore Airlines." - Hansard, March 22, 1985

Wee Toon Boon -
"It was with great sorrow that we had to prosecute Mr Wee Toon Boon. I had no choice. He was my friend." - Hansard, February 23, 1977

Devan Nair -
"Devan Nair was an alcoholic. The cabinet discussed these developments at several meetings and decided that because of his alcoholism and his behavior which demeaned his office, either he had to resign before he was discharged from hospital and could resume his activities, or he had to be removed from office by Parliament." - Hansard, June 29, 1988.

Khaw Boon Wan had better watch his words when saying things like "a party that had members being sacked" would find it difficult to run a country. Just think about it: if Wong Kan Seng, Raymond Lim or Mah Bow Tan had resigned of their own accord, would Khaw's party have suffered the bruising blow at GE 2011? Moral of the story, clean up your own act, or the people will do it for you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Auntie Vote

Madam Wong (not her real name) cannot work because of a broken ankle. The 2-room flat she's staying in technically belongs to her divorced husband, who died years ago, but town council bills keep coming in. The arrears to date total $5,900. Her daughter, struggling to make ends meet with her own family commitments, stops by occasionally with a bag of groceries. One son who was given away has a doctorate in chemistry and works in a MNC, but is not on speaking terms with his mother. The PAP MP she sees at the MPS (meet the peopel sessions) takes the easy way out, shooting off another form letter to the government agency, asking ComCare to increase her pathetic $150 handout. Sorting out the mess with the HDB flat ownership, or tangling with the Maintenance of Parents Act, are too complicated to address. Anyway, Madam Wong has long past caring. All she wants is the placebo of an MP who promises to get her more money.

The vulnerable Madam Wongs are those housewives of the baby boomer generation, the golden age when one salary was sufficient to support a household, and pay for the flat. Her husband may have seen his CPF contribution trimmed gradually from 40% over the years, his age of withdrawal continually extended, but his workingman's grouses are alien to her. To her, the government has always been there to provide for her needs. That's why she's so grateful for the free bus ride to the rally and the packaged meal.

Boy-boy, auntie sure vote for you one
With dialects supplanted by the Speak Mandarin campaigns, her internet savvy grandchildren are unable to communicate with her. Thanks to the language barrier, she is untouched by online debates over housing prices, health care costs, transportation debacles, university places and jobs taken away by foreigners. Her only concern about the killer Ferrari is not the nationality of the driver, but the licence plate number for a 4D bet. In a sense, she is blessed by her ignorant state.

Is it any wonder politicians are dropping by their households when an election is on? It could well be the rare occasion when these old and lonely folks have any visitors at all. They would not be likely to ask, like the NUS undergraduate, "can I pay less tax, and maybe take one or two years off my NS?" since their ward has always been short changed when it comes to state funds for Interim Upgrading Program (IUP), Main Upgrading Program (MUP) and CIPC (Community Improvement Projects Committee).

It's not too late to pick up dialects. This week is a good time as any to start a conversation with grandma. Plus, Low Thia Khiang's rally speeches are so much more acerbic in the original Teochew.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Power Politics

The word democracy originates from the Greek word δημοκρατία (dēmokratía), which means "rule of the people". In practice, democracy is the extent to which a given system approximates this ideal.

The purest form is direct democracy in which all citizens are allowed to influence policy by means of a direct vote, or referendum, on any issue of governance. Elements of direct democracy can exist on a local level, and on exceptions on national level, in countries which embrace the concept.

The more common form of indirect democracy refers to a system of governance by the people through the proxy of elected representatives, leaders and representatives who are ideally democratically selected without resort to gerrymandering or similar perverse inventions. Edmund Burke's Principle states that representatives should act upon their own conscience in the affairs of a representative democracy. Problems surface when those "elected" representatives are inclined to follow the party line on issues, rather than either the will of their conscience or constituents.

Universal elements considered essential to democracy include freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, so that all citizens have equal access to information and do not feel intimidated to vote according to their own best interests as they see fit. It was a much younger Lee Kuan Yew who once presented it this way (Hansard, April 27, 1955):
"If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought, and no excuse, whether of security, inconvenience to traffic, or inconvenience to police officers, should allow a government to be deterred from doing what it knows to be right, and what is must know to be right."

It was disturbing therefore, to read PM Lee's advice in support of Desmond Choo, "The voters in Hougang should consider carefully, not blindly, but carefully who is the best candidate, who can best represent them well, who will work best for them and has the strongest backing and look after them and that is the way democracy is meant to work." The subtle nuance that the power of the people should surrender to the accumulated power of the political party is not missed. That was how Hitler played the game with his Brown Shirts, the "Sturmabteilung" who snuffed out his Social Democrats and Communists opponents by sheer political organisation. From the perspective of an ex-general, it must be tempting to subscribe to the Mao doctrine, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Has it finally come down to this?

When Lee Kuan Yew was at a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' meeting in London, he observed that two young colonels were representing the Nigerian and Ghana governments. This is what he told the University of Singapore Society afterwards on 7 October 1966: "Pray that my successor will be an economist. Then you have a future."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

View From Block 837

The Gathering Storm

Full Team Backing

The Night Is Still Young

Friday, May 18, 2012

Money That Go Into Schools

The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that $650 million has been allocated to upgrade 71 more primary schools from November next year. The first phase kicked off in 2009 and, since then, 78 primary schools have been upgraded and 11 new schools built.

Not all schools in Singapore are created equal. Neighborhood establishments are typically at the bottom of the food chain. The "brand name" ones seem to have a monopoly of the best-of-the-best infrastructure, and some claim, also calibre of teaching staff. One in particular boasts of:
  • 12 lecture halls that can accommodate 3,209 students. That's equivalent to the seating capacity of 6 Airbus A380s. Or the seating capacity of 38 single-decker buses. Forget about MRT trains, they are still breaking down.

  • A boarding school with 522 dormitories, 5 times the number of rooms in Raffles Hotel, which has only 103.

  • Sprawling campus grounds taking up 18 hectares of space in land scarce Singapore. That's enough spread for the water catchment area of 3 Lower Pierce Reservoirs. Or the land area taken up by 6 Esplanades. Or 25 soccer fields.
Is it any wonder why every year, parents will resort to extreme measures like moving house just to be within 1 kilometer of the choicest educational monolith? Goh Keng Swee liked to tell the story of how his son would ask him to drop him off a few metres away from the school gate. Junior was too shy to be disembarking from his beat up jalopy - rumoured to have a gaping hole in the floor board - as his classmates were chauffeured in exotic European makes (this was way before ministers paid themselves millions). Things have moved on, although progress may not be the right word to use. Think Porsches, Ferrris and Mercedes convertibles. No wonder the schools need a bit of sprucing up.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Welcome To Hotel Singapore

As Bloomberg reported: “Renouncing your citizenship well in advance of an IPO is ‘a very smart idea’ from a tax standpoint," quoting University of Michigan international tax law professor Reuven Avi-Yonah. By moving to Singapore, co-founder of Facebook Eduardo Saverin will avoid paying at least US$67 million (S$85 million) in American taxes when Facebook launches its initial public offering. And how did Saverin make his first millions? Mark Zuckerberg described Saverin like this: “My friend who wants to sponsor [Facebook] is head of the investment society. Apparently insider trading isn’t illegal in Brazil so he’s rich lol.”

We don't know how Ma Chi, the PRC driver of the Ferrari 599 GTO that killed a taxi driver and his passenger, made his millions, only how he started making money at age 18. Instead of dwelling on how they will cope with losing a husband and a father, it was curious to read his surviving kin flaunting his material acquisitions on this earth: “Mr Ma’s wife, known only as Madam He, told Wanbao that her husband had bought a $3 million condominium in the East Coast and a $400,000 BMW. The Ferrari was a $1.8 million limited edition car that he bought for his 30th birthday last year.” Would anyone really want that kind of an epitaph? Maybe the blame should be on Deng Xiaopeng, who did tell his people, "To be rich is glorious."

Ma was reported to be applying for his Singapore permanent residency. Saverin is a PR and has lived in Singapore since 2009. But his spokesman said that although he plans to live in Singapore "for an indefinite period of time", he is not applying for Singapore citizenship after giving up his United States passport. So what kind of citizens were the planners aiming for when they handed out the application forms?

That's just it, isn't it - Scandinavian Fredrik Haren's “best place in the world to be creative”. Singapore is the destination of choice for their one-night stands, to juice up on their "creativity", and then hop on to the next port of call. We have our own share of these cosmopolitan types, who have the credit cards to jet to other countries and sample the delights over there. But nation building is about the stayers, most of which are the heartlanders. The people who will be around to look after the baby boomers who have already done their part to build the economy. The people who will be around to bear arms and defend our country when the time comes to repel the invaders.

Sure there is creativity, the wrong kind that builds casinos and sea front bungalows for those refugees from high income tax regimes. Not the kind that builds affordable housing, and healthcare for an aging population. Billions pledged to the IMF, but pittance allocated to encourage our women to raise kids. And there's the creative accounting, which is probably causing one Christopher Balding to lose his hair, trying to reconcile the total increase in debt and the total government surpluses with the purported amount of assets under management. Perhaps that's why the old geezer said we are not yet a nation, he was just building a hotel all along.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is Madoff In The House?

Poor Christopher Balding is asking all the right questions, but the answers won't be forthcoming. With the passing of Dr Toh Chin Chye, only one surviving member of the old guard can unlock the secret. We can't be too sure if dad will allow sonny to have the keys to the car.

"To be clear there is no public record of expenditures by the Singaporean government to account for the $512 billion SGD in free cash flow since 1991. Nor is there a public record of assets held by Temasek, GIC, or other public body in large enough amount to account for such a large discrepancy. Remember if this $512 billion earned the 7% GIC claims to have earned there should be more than $1 trillion in assets."
("The Mess That Is Singapore Part II", The Balding Blog)

If, as the professor asks, the Singapore government enjoyed free cash flow from budget surpluses and borrowing totaling S$512 billion between 1991 and 2002, where did the money go?

When Dr Chee Soon Juan raised the issue of Singapore's secretive US$10 billion loan-pledge to Suharto at a wet market in Jurong East during the hustings of GE 2001 (“Mr Goh! Mr Goh! Where is our money, Mr Goh?”), Goh Chok Tong, without saying a word, facetiously pointed to his pocket and waved his pesky questioners away. Election theatrics aside, Goh later said the issue referred to a US$10 billion loan offered to the Suharto government during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. The loan had conditions attached and was not taken up.

Last month, Singapore announced a contribution of US$4 billion to the International Monetary Fund. Under query in parliament, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong assured the public that the money will not come from the Government Budget, but from Official Foreign Reserves (OFR) held by the MAS. And where did MAS get their seed money in the first place, pray tell.

From the layman's perspective, why should good money be thrown after bad, especially when our own people need it more - to boost up wages for the lower income, build more affordable housing, repair a failing transport system, and reduce health care costs.

With so much money bandied around, it is a wonder that Singapore still has a high debt-GDP ratio. The truth is that our CPF savings is exchanged for pieces of paper called “special issues of Singapore Government Securities (SGS)”, a unique loan instrument afforded to the government. In other words, the CPF is the primary purchaser of the debt issued by the government of Singapore. Oh, we are supposed to get our retirement money back, with the pathetic 2.5% - if the monies are invested wisely. GIC and Temasek have boasted of 7% and 17% returns since inception. If their books are in order, we are back to the original question: where did the money go?

Ex-President Ong Teng Cheong asked that question once, and was informed by the Accountant-General that it would take "52 man-years" to produce just the list of physical assets of the Government (Government’s assets include both physical assets and financial assets). Now that we have a president related to the prime minister through family ties, will a better answer be forthcoming? Here's what the Ministry of Finance says:
MAS and Temasek already publish the size of the funds they manage. As of 31 March 2011, the Official Foreign Reserves managed by MAS was S$295 billion, and the size of Temasek’s portfolio was S$193 billion.

It is the size of the Government’s funds managed by GIC that are not published. What has been revealed is that GIC manages well over US$100 billion. Revealing the exact size of assets that GIC manages will, taken together with the published assets of MAS and Temasek, amount to publishing the full size of Singapore’s financial reserves.

It is not in our national interest to publish the full size of our reserves. If we do so, it will make it easier for markets to mount speculative attacks on the Singapore dollar during periods of vulnerability.

Further, our reserves are a strategic asset, and especially for a small country with no natural resources or other assets. They are a key defence for Singapore in times of crisis, and it will be unwise to reveal the full and exact resources at our disposal.

A simple no would have sufficed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Not Your Typical Case Of NIMB

It is important to highlight this instance of objecting to the building of an elderly centre has nothing to do with the not-in-my-backyard (NIMB) syndrome. The good folks at Jalan Batu are just cheesed off why the elected MP for Mountbatten didn't even know about the development at the void deck, and that there are more viable sites within the same vicinity. Such as:
  • -The open field between Blocks 10 and 11, which transforms into a humongous pond every time it rains;
  • -The water fountain near the blocks, which used to be a popular basket ball, now spewing water nobody cares to watch;
  • -The Katong Community Centre, euphemistically presented by one resident's prose: "This CC is a big white elephant. I've stayed here more than 50 years, but I haven't stepped inside it for more than 10 seconds." Except when the meeting was convened to point out what a waste of money it was to build it in the first place.
The void deck is a feature of HDB blocks as nobody wants to stay on the ground floor, the landing place for jettisoned litter originating from above. It has evolved into a focal point of community life, be it a Malay wedding or a Chinese wake. It's probably all Greek to MP Mr Lim Biow Chuan, but the resident of Block 11 says it best, "Our children play every day at our void deck. I feel so secure because when they play downstairs there are neighbours watching over them. They're not my race, they're not related to me, but the amount of bonding you have in the void deck cannot be found even in your own house." This is social integration in action, communal harmony at its finest hour.

Feigning ignorance (Lim: "I have absolutely no idea who authorised it") only made the gathered residents angrier, which drew jeers and the caustic rejoinder:"Without your consent, people are doing this. So, what are you doing?" Wait a minute, weren't Singaporeans supposed to be daft, and docile like sheep? MPs in white are supposed to be worshiped like gods, they alone can decide whether an estate turn into a slum. Something is in the air, the spirit of Hougang must be contagious.

Spoiler: Lim may remonstrate till he's blue in the face but, just like MP Sim Ann's "support" at Toh Yi, the final official response will be "the other alternative sites are not feasible as they are either too small, or have been set aside for other future development." 

The neglected fountain - all form, no function

Monday, May 14, 2012

What Really Matters

Her previous blog entry was dated 15 May, 2011, one week after celebrity Returning Officer Yam Ah Mee announced in his robotic monotone that Aljunied voters had decidedly returned the mandate to the Workers’ Party. The Chairman recalled one supporter had bellowed out: “I want to REPE-N-N-T-T-T”, which should tickle your funny bone.

Unlike the joker who flooded you with a tsunami of words, and a decades old graveyard will still be paved over for a new property development - you read that correctly, the pathetic road widening excuse was just a lame cover up - Sylvia Lim Swee Lian ( 林瑞莲) is one of those rare types who says what she means, and means what she say. No one can express her strength and conviction better than herself, unfettered of mainstream editorial bias:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Difference One Person Can Make

In Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white. She wrote in her autobiography, My Story: "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Madam Vellama, 42, part-time cleaner, has a son aged 18 and a daughter aged 8. She is her family's sole breadwinner. Her husband cannot work due to memory loss and other ailments. After Yaw was expelled on 15 February, Hougang's meet-the-people-sessions were helmed by WP's Aljunied GRC MPs. But Madam Vellama said: "I don't want to see one MP this week, then another week, another MP" - especially since she did not elect them.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong maintained (still maintains) that the Constitution does not require him to call a by-election within any time frame. Lawyers and academics weighed in with their expert opinions, but Madam Vellama acted.

  • 2 March - Madam Vellama filed an application to get the court to declare that the Prime Minister does not have "unfettered discretion" in deciding whether and when to call a by-election. She also asked the court to issue a mandatory order for him to do so within three months or a "reasonable time";

  • 30 March – AG argued in High Court to throw out Vellama’s application, Judge Pillai reserved judgement;

  • 3 April – Judge Pillai dismissed AG’s argument to throw out Vellama’s application and fixed date (16 Apr) for hearing of the application to proceed in an open court;

  • 4 April – AG filed Notice of Appeal against Judge Pillai’s oral judgment of April 3 and sought an expedited hearing on its appeal;

  • 5 April - Mr Ravi argued successfully that the appeal hearing should take place only after Justice Pillai issued his written grounds of decision. The open court hearing, scheduled to take place on April 16, put on hold;

  • 10 April – Justice Pillai said he granted leave for Madam Vellama Marie Muthu's application to be heard in open court as he was of the view that the very low threshold for leave has been met, noting:
    (i) the matter complained of is susceptible to judicial review;
    (ii) the applicant has sufficient interest in the matter; and
    (iii) the material before the court discloses an arguable or prima facie case of reasonable suspicion in favour of granting leave;

  • 12 April – Judge Phang ordered AG to file its case for appeal by 26 Apr and for Vellama to file her response by 10 May. Hearing fixed in the week commencing 14th May for AG’s appeal to be heard;

  • 13 April – Madam Vellama filed application to Court of Appeal to strike out AG’s appeal on procedural ground;

  • 17 April – AG’s appeal against Judge Pillai’s decision and Madam Vellama’s application to strike out AG’s appeal are both fixed on 16th May to be heard in Court of Appeal;
Then someone blinked.
On 9 May, PM Lee directed the President to issue the writ of election for the by-election to be held, with polling day set on May 26. Nomination day 16th May, also happens to be the date scheduled for the Court of Appeal hearing.

On 11 May, Madam Vellama, through her lawyer M. Ravi, declared that "as the factual objective of her litigation has now been achieved timeously, she is prepared to withdraw her application".

Rosa Parks did not just inspire change during the civil rights movement, her action also inspired many to stand up for their beliefs, and understand the difference one person can make. We dare say Madam Vellama has achieved similar for Singapore.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Don't Insult Hougang

For two decades Hougang had to put up with second class treatment, sand was kicked into their faces by the bully on the beach. They were perennially placed at the bottom of the list when it came to Lift Upgrading Programs (LUP), projects financed by public money, not the private coffers of the incumbent political party.

In 2010 Low Thia Khiang exposed the duplicity of state funds allocated for Interim Upgrading Program (IUP), Main Upgrading Program (MUP) and CIPC (Community Improvement Projects Committee) when he challenged Senior Minister of State Grace Fu to show the public how much additional funding each PAP Town Council had received through the various upgrading programs funded through the national budget. The disgraceful minister of state clammed up in a hurry. The light of truth has a tendency to do that when shined on dark intentions.

Stopping short of asking them to repent during GE 2011, MM Lee even alleged Hougang flat values are lower compared to that of similar flats in neighbouring areas because they belong to an opposition ward. "If you have the wrong government, your property prices go right down. Ask why in Hougang the property prices are not as high as their neighbours," he sneered.

Hougang is living proof that Singaporeans can carry on without the presence of the bully boys. Its 37,407 residents go to work, raise children, take care of their elders and serve NS, all without having to bow and scrape to the white attired. Sure they had to walk the extra kilometer, heads held high, after their wet market was bulldozed to the ground, but their families need not starve. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

DPM Teo insulted the 243,368 voters there when he suggested that Hougang could have "two MPs for the price of one". That's not even original, a plagiarism of Low Thia Khiang's brilliant strategy for securing the Aljunied beachhead. Perhaps Teo has already seen the future, when the reversal of fortunes finally come about, and top dog becomes real underdog. Forget what they are blabbering on about a "local contest". This by-election is a watershed opportunity to send them a national message. A nation is demanding to have its identity back, cleansed of the dilutants eroding our original stake holding. It's time to put on the Les Miserables soundtrack:
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Weighing In For The Big Fight

It was obvious the televised interview was unrehearsed. When a reporter asked Desmond Choo why he contradicted PM Lee who had suggested the Yaw saga was far from closed, it was not bravado but sheer political naïveté that made him declare on national tv, "Well, obviously our opinions differ and you can see that I am my own man." Someone please buy him a ticket for The Avengers:
Captain America: What's the matter? Afraid of a little bit of lightning?
Loki: No, but I'm not a huge fan of what follows.

Tharman jumped in to rescue him (who, Lee or Choo, it's hard to tell) by declaring that the Yaw affair was a national issue from the PM's perspective, not a local issue in respect of the current by-election. Choo had better grasp what he's getting into. Just learn from WP's Low Thia Khiang, "I believe it can never be so clear-cut whether it's local or national. While we've noted (Tharman's) comments on what the PAP wants to do, we have to see what comes out before we respond." Tharman may claim to be the underdog in this rumble, but Low has seen what "hulk, smash" can do.

“I’m still a rookie politician,” Choo admitted. At 34, be may not be as green as the Marine Parade gal lofted into parliament. But then, although married, he still has yet to complete his national service obligation to improve the total fertility rate. Maybe he, too, can't tell the difference between G-12 and G-spot. Compared to his opponent, it's easy to tell who has "eaten more salt than he has tasted rice."

Choo's just another of those sheltered scholar types - his day job is an appointment at NTUC, for pete's sake - who's so insulated from the ground that he thinks he can save Hougang single handedly. He claims he has refused help from party big wigs, while sitting flanked by the Finance Minister and the Minister of Education. For his sake, Tharman and Heng Swee Keat won't take offence at the insult. Maybe he meant to say big wigs like Emeritus Senior Minister Goh, who specialises on kicking in own goals, and provide the entertainment value at every election.

Heavy on the give-aways (porridge, hearing aids), Choo announced the launch of a monthly free legal clinic starting on May 15 that will be helmed by Subhas Anandan and a team of lawyers. Et tu, Anandan? This slug fest is so full of surprises.

The Yaw Factor

These things do happen in dysfunctional families. One member thinks lowly of Indian ethnic groups, another has a low esteem of our women folk.

Here's how it was written up on Sunday Times, 25th Sept 2011:
"Mr Choo, 33, who was the People’s Action Party’s candidate in Hougang in the May General Election, was criticised for being sexist when he made his maiden rally speech. During that speech, he recounted a meeting with an elderly Hougang resident who told him that choosing an MP is like choosing a wife.

‘If your wife is unable to cook, there’s no point. You must choose a wife who is able to look after you and do things for you,’ Mr Choo had said in recounting what the elderly man told him."

For his extremist perspective, Desmond Choo was nominated for the sexism Alamak Award by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware). It was not the kind of landslide victory he was looking forward to.

Yaw had a different problem, he liked women too much. The Workers' Party (WP) wasn't interested in the lurid rumour mongering, they didn't want to go there. The man didn't show up for the disciplinary meeting, he was booted out. Unlike U.S. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr who didn't know when to quit when he went after Bill Clinton, he had to tell the whole wide world what the president did with a cigar.

PM Lee thinks different, he wants WP to give a "full and proper account" of Yaw's personal indiscretions. Probably will provide more distraction from the embarrassing revelations at the COI hearings. But the kind of folk addicted to such tabloid sleaze will probably start asking why Lee Kuan Yew married in secret while studying at Cambridge. His wife even put the ring on a chain, instead of on the fourth finger of her left hand.

Nah, this by-election is not about one guy's marriage. As a matter of fact, husband and wife are reported to be travelling in Vietnam. For all we know, they are on their second honeymoon. This Hougang event may well turn out to be a referendum, a report card on how the citizens feel about the transport meltdown, housing affordability, foreigner divide, and income gap. One year has come and gone, millions in bonuses have been paid out to the ministers, and yet "much work remains ahead to translate good policies and programmes into actions on the ground, and to deliver the results that we all look forward to" (PM's own words).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Haste Makes Waste

Shortly after returning from his leave of May 1 to 6, the Prime Minister instructed President Tony Tan to issue the writ of election on 9 May for nomination day to be 16 May, to be followed promptly by actual polling day on 26 May. After all the delay tactics, court room drama and all, the obscene haste to rush the by-election through with minimal time for the electorate to vet the potential candidates merely confirms the incumbents have not changed their form or style of politics. Either that, or they are assuming the promises of GE 2011 to "do a better job" have already been forgotten.

Curiously, the Returning Officer for the Hougang by-election Yam Ah Mee has approved the use of 9 symbols by candidates: scroll, bicycle, ship, tree, flower, horse, hen, rhinoceros and bird. Are they attempting to detract from the highly anticipated clash of symbols between the lightning bolt and the hammer? If so, they might as well add the following symbols already deployed for the pork barrel politics - bowl of porridge, hearing aid, wet market.

They are also probably counting on the short term memory of the average Singaporean voter. Especially folks who have forgotten about the racist humour of one PAP Member of Parliament Choo Wee Khiang:
"One evening, I drove to Little India and it was pitch dark but not because there was no light, but because there were too many Indians around."
That quip was made during a 1992 session of parliament.

Two years earlier, the same Choo was fiddling with the books. The law caught up with him only on June 7, 1999, when he pleaded guilty to a charge of abetting his brother-in-law to cheat a finance company by issuing false invoices worth $1,000,000 in 1990. In a statement on his stepping down prior to sentencing, then Acting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was saddened by Choo's resignation and that Choo "has done the right thing." Note the regret was about his resignation, not the transgression of law.

That kind of history didn't bother the guys who made him President of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), a tenure which he abused by incurring three counts of corruption and one of criminal breach of trust. From 2005 to 2007, Choo was alleged to have charged his personal airfares, expenses, phone bills to the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) and received gifts of S$1,500 and US$600 from Chinese coaches and players.

For the sake of the people of Hougang, this Choo better not take on the guise of a scroll, bicycle, ship, tree, flower, horse, hen, rhinoceros or bird. Given the short times allocated for the by-election, it's easy to make a mistake.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Learning From Hainan

The Singapore Government spends undisclosed sums to host bureaucrats from China, teach them about governance and stuff, all on the premise they have lots to learn from us.

As Reuter describes it, Hainan has poured money into prime seafront property, five-star hotels, golf courses and marinas for private yachts. Just like the Singapore model. And along familiar lines, the economic growth has resulted in inflation and a yawning income disparity. The poor family farms, that once generated 20,000 yuan (about S$4,000) a year, are sold off to build luxury homes that fetch as much as 150,000 yuan per sq m. What we would call land acquisition to feed the land bank for property developers.

"It is more like a hometown of rich outlanders, instead of ours, though we were born here and lived on htis land for generations," lamented the 26-year old Zhang, whose parents used to grow mangoes on farmland which has been cleared for construction of another new tourist resort. It is enough turn anyone into a xenophobe. But the similarity dies here.

Fortunately the Hainan goverment does not turn a deaf ear to its citizens' plight. Last year, it gave urban residents 42 yuan a month to subsidise food consumption. Across the board, not selectively in predetermined electoral wards.

The central government also pledged to raise the annual average minimum wages by at least 13 percent in the five years to 2015. Maybe not as drastic as Prof Lim Chong Yah's recommendations, but at least they are headed in the right direction, they do have officially sanctioned minimum wage levels. And oh, the local authorities have to set the lowest wages at least 40 percent of average local wages. You see, these guys take the income gap seriously.

Maybe the Singapore lecturers should learn from their PRC students.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Air Force Envy

The Ministry of Defence initiated LALEE (Low Altitude Long Enduring Endurance) research in 1998 to replace the E-2C Hawkeye early warning aircraft, among other purposes (presumably military ones).

"We will have to look at replacing the E-2C, which has been with us for 14 years. I think the time has come," said Maj Gen Lim in 2004. One option was a system like the LALEE, studied for 3 years by a team under a Prof Lui. The unmanned air vehicle (UAV) was described by Lui as "an integrated airborne surveillance and communications system to provide continuous temporal and very large spatial coverage". The good news to taxpayers was that it would "provide a task group operating in the littorals (coastal region) with continuous surveillance from the air at a cost considerably cheaper than operating current-generation surveillance and communications platforms". During the 21 April 2004 presentation to the Unmanned Vehicles Asia Pacific conference in Sydney, Maj Alfred Fox, then director of Mindef's newly established future systems directorate, displayed images of a single fuselage air vehicle with a large, underslung phased-array radar (Flight International, May 2004).

According to Associate Professor Tan of International Studies, University of New South Wales, Australia, Singapore already operates a comparatively large UAV fleet, consisting of about forty Hermes 450 and Searcher UAVs. On top of this, it also acquired four advanced surveillance platforms comprising Gulfstream 550 jets equipped with the Elta conformal EW system which went into service in Israel in 2008 ("East Asia's Military Transformation: The Revolution in Military Affairs and its Problems", Security Challenges, Vol.7, No.3, Spring 2011).

When the four Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye aircraft were first delivered from 1985-6, our neigbours were not too happy with the intrusive spy in the sky. Goh Chok Tong made more people unhappy when he said the cost of each plane was "only" equivalent to a plate of char kway teow for every man, woman and child in Singapore. This had to be a precursor of the "$600,000 is peanuts" remark made by Mrs Goh during the NKF saga. The Aviation Research Group says the price for one Gulfstream G550 starts at US$59.9 million.

Singapore's defence ministry confirmed the purchase of the four Gulfstream luxury business jets in 2007. DPM Teo Chee Hean, the big spender, proudly announced their operational status in April 2012. The G550 can fly faster, higher, longer and see farther than the E-2C Hawkeye which it replaces. A quick look at the Gulfstream brochure also shows that the configuration can be easily tweaked to rival the accouterments onboard America's Air Force One. Poor Obama, and he thought he had one up over the highest paid political leader in the world.
Highly customisable layout options for the Elites

Monday, May 7, 2012

Singapore's Achilles Heel

According to Senior Lecturer (NUS Real Estate) and Director of Sustainable Asian Cities Malone-Lee Lai Choo, Singapore's built up land has a net density of 12,400 persons per square km, compared to Hong Kong's net density of 26,000 persons per sq km. Therefore, this expert thinks that there is room to increase built-up land to 70 per cent and for the population to grow to 6.5 million.

Like all talking eggheads, this baloney spouting Malone ignores the fact that Hong Kong has a hinterland to retreat to. Heck, most of their hardworking males probably have a 2nd, 3rd or 4th wife installed in Shenzhen or similar rural respite from the urban jungle. After a harrowing work in the city, they have a countryside to retire to for a healthy family life.

How crowded exactly is Singapore? The Kaiser Family Foundation's global health gateway is an online clearinghouse for the latest data and information on the U.S. role in global health. The Foundation receives substantial support for the global health gateway and its work on global health policy from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. According to its database made available online, Singapore tops the country list for population density.

If you are still looking for the Swiss standard of living promised, wake up. The other interesting data extract shows that lots of thriving countries are experiencing low population growth rates too. So why is Thailand, Switzerland and Japan not shipping in aliens by the plane loads? Obviously, GDP growth and productivity is fueled not only by sheer numbers - unless all the planners intend is a sprawling ghetto of sweat shops.

The Economist (21 April 2012, "China's Achilles heel")) touched on how China's one child policy, not unlike Singapore's stop-at-two, resulted in the total fertility rate falling from 2.6 over the past 30 years to 1.56. Another clear example of why social engineering in the hands of myopic bureaucrats is so dangerous. But the article also highlights that America is one of the rare examples where a country can utilise mass immigration to build a skilled labour force. And that's because America is an open society with a long history of immigration and strong legal and political institutions, and we might add, healthy respect for human rights. Dictatorships in the tropics trying to duplicate the formula produce only nation wide misery. They may dig up academics to justify their harebrained schemes, but the ugly results are plainly visible in our overloaded trains, cramped housing, precipitous wage gap, and growing social friction.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Smaller Sizes, Bigger Lies

Retiree Chan, 76, remembered fondly that his previous home, a four-room HDB flat in the 1980s, boasted a size of 105 sq m, or 1,130 sq ft. Today, four-room flats built by HDB have shrunk to about 90 sq m, or 969 sq ft.

In Nov 2011, speaking at the HDB Professional Forum held at DB Hub Auditorium, HDB chief executive Cheong Koon Hean confirmed same, that it reduced flat sizes in the mid-1990s. What riled just about everybody was her perverse justification that household sizes in HDB flats had decreased from 4.6 people in the 1980s to 3.4, ergo the shrinking floor area. Thanks to Cheong, the average HDB flat will be not be a conducive nest to grow a larger family, and improve the total fertility rate. Oh, we forgot - the hidden agenda to import foreigners to dilute the Singaporean breed, people like the fictitious Deutsche Bank employee from the Philippines who pledged undying support for the PM on his Facebook wall ("Please remain as our leader for as long as you can. Only you sir can lead this nation to continued success").

If you buy Ms Cheong's line of argument, living space per person actually improved to 26 sq m to 32 sq m for four- and five-room flats in new projects - up from the 23 sq m to 27 sq m for the same types of flats built during the 1980s.

The only glitch is that it makes National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan a liar. At the annual REACH Contributors' Forum on Wednesday night, he told a student from the National University of Singapore that HDB flats are not shrinking, contrary to popular belief. In fact, sizes of HDB flats have been the same for the past 15 years - 1997 onwards. The trick, you see, is selecting the timeline for the illusion of truth. If you go back further in time, back in the good old days of Lim Kim San, HDB flats were factually affordable. If you had $1,000 a month then, back in the 1980s, you would probably have snubbed HDB and gone straight into private property.

The Minister promised that Singapore will not go the way of Hong Kong, where flats are "far smaller". But would you buy a second hand car from a guy who once boasted he paid only $8 for open heart surgery? "In the past five years, the population was growing rapidly that infrastructure could not keep up so because of the temporary imbalance, prices shot up," Khaw explained, conveniently skipping the part where HDB joined in the feeding frenzy of the property developers to rip off those desperate for a simple roof over their heads. The average flat size may have shrunk by about 10 percent, but the prices have jumped more than 10 fold. The lies have also grown more audacious.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Money Never Enough

TIME's May 7 adapted account of the take down of Osama Bin Laden (Manhunt: The Ten-Year Seach for Bin Laden by Peter Bergen) describes the high stakes that faced Obama. Everyone knew he was "betting his presidency" on the available options - Predator drones with Hellfire missiles, B-2s with laser guided bombs, special forces on the ground, or joint operations with Pakistan. If he hesitated and Osama escaped, he would be tarred and feathered like Jimmy Carter, following the abortive 1980 raid to rescue the Americans hostages in Iran. Although the president of America is paid peanuts compared to the prime minister of Singapore, Obama showed true guts and took the risk .

Our PM, on the other hand thinks it's too risky to increase the salaries of low wage workers by 50 percent over 3 long years. He put the final seal on the "shock therapy" proposal by Lim Chong Yah, relative or no relative. In the earlier shock therapy of 1979 - 1981, the paper general was spending more time in classrooms instead of being out in the field. It shows.

All the naysayers, including supposedly labour champion Lim Swee Say, have focused on the pay rise. Prof Lim's initiative also calls for a wage freeze of those fat cats collecting more than $15,000 a month, Lim and Lee included. The irony was not lost on union leader Rajendran, "the higher income are getting more each day, while the lower wage ones just get a little every year -$40 or $50".

Ministers and other political appointment holders cooked up a new formula to award themselves 2.625 months of "national bonus" for last year's lacklustre performance, with nothing to show for it except nation wide chaos in floods, transportation, housing and spiralling inflation. PM helped himself to twice the payout, 2 x 2.625 months of his $2.2 million a year. How did Lim Swee Say put it? Q.E.D. - Quite Easily Done. You don't need a degree in Mathematics to understand why Prof Lim's shock therapy was shot down in flames.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Health Hazards

What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is a contagious bacterial infection usually affecting the lungs (pulmonary TB), but may spread to other organs like lymph nodes, kidneys, bones, joints, etc. (extrapulmonary TB).

What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?
The symptoms of TB include a low-grade fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss and a persistent cough. Some people may not have obvious symptoms.

Who gets tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis can affect anyone of any age. People with weakened immune systems are at increased risk, for example due to chemotherapy, diabetes, or certain medications.

How is tuberculosis spread?
Tuberculosis is spread when a person with untreated pulmonary TB coughs or sneezes, releasing microscopic droplets of bacteria into the air. Prolonged exposure to a person with untreated TB is necessary for infection to occur, such as someone you live with or work with. Forced proximity in a congested public transportation cabin is not helpful.

What are the experts saying?
It is clear that TB control in Singapore is now at a cross road; additional measures and resources are critically needed to battle this disease. Pivotal to this is to acknowledge and address TB in foreigners and its impact on the local population.
Between 2004 and 2010, the population increased 22 percent (from 4.17 to to 5.08 million), thanks to a "liberalised immigration policy" after 2005.
During that period, there was a 46 percent spike (from 1,916 to 2,791) in total number of new TB cases notified in Singapore - with the proportion of foreigners increasing from 29 to 47 percent, as pointed out by Dr Chee and Dr Wang in last month's edition of Singapore Medical Journal.

What is the government saying?
"In 2010, the TB incidence rate among Singapore residents was 39.2 per 100,000, while that in non-residents was 42.1 (?). Non-residents accounted for 27 percent of TB cases reported in 2010, hence the majority were contributed by Singapore residents," pooh-poohed a Ministry of Health (MOH) spokesperson. In November 2011, MOH actually called a a press conference to correct a "misleading" press report that "a lot of our TB problems are from the foreigners."

Who do you believe?
As Clinton would put it, define "foreigners". The citizenship papers liberally handed out by the ICA merely change the statistical presentation, but the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis) remains politically insensitive. Tuberlin skin testing (PPD) for TB is but one method to ferret the carriers from high risk sources. It remains to be seen if the public health of Singaporeans rates prompt action from the pro-alien authorities.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Conduct Unbecoming

There are many posts on the closed doors meeting pertaining to the impending crackdown on the Singapore internet. It was conducted according to the Chaltham House Rule, which stipulates that nothing should be done to identify, either explicitly or implicitly, who said what. The government representatives obviously were not looking forward to being named in public, like the infamous 48 listed, in case they said something stupid. After all, their wife and children may suffer from the unwarranted glare of the media.

One said representative explained that in the light of recent reports of hoaxes, falsehoods and racist comments that have spread online, there is a need for a code of conduct to serve as an alternative mechanism for people to seek redress. Otherwise, they will resort to calling the police.

Let's deal with the last line first. A netizen made a police report about Sun Xu's “I will wait for him with a knife” threat of bodily harm. The police first said a magistrate's complaint was required, then said it had decided to take no further action “after careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case and in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers.” The combined civic action of the bloggers was more effective in the take down of the PRC scholar ingrate.

Racist comments there are aplenty, but none beats the failure to integrate over a meal accusation levied at our Muslim brothers. But unlike the two young men who were jailed under the Sedition Act, this one culprit was let off with a "I stand corrected" cop out. By any first world standard, this is conduct unbecoming.

We are not told what hoaxes and falsehoods the government representative alluded to. For all we know, the police warnings about spreading "false information about unverified cases of kidnapping" could have been a plant, a precursor to the excuse for a clampdown on cyberspace. What we do know is that hoaxes and falsehoods continue to be propagated and sponsored by the mainstream media. As are the lies that housing, transportation, healthcare, education are "subsidised". The truth that social media has maintained all along is that these tariffs are but a discount from the market rates, an adaptation of the pricing model used by TT Durai's NKF. Tan Chuan-Jin may blog until he's blue in the face, but a $100,000 flat is not affordable to someone drawing $1,000 a month, even before inflation hit 5.2%. And then there's the guy who said foreigners are workers transient workers who go home after the infrastructure is built. Just to make sure we are on the same page,
falsehood [ˈfɔːlsˌhʊd], noun, is
1. the quality of being untrue
2. an untrue statement; lie
3. the act of deceiving or lying

That's the definition from the internet version of The Collins English Dictionary.