Friday, January 31, 2014

Makes You See Red

According to Hong Kong feng shui master Alion Yeo, the Year of the Horse starting today is going to be the kind of horse that you shouldn't stand behind - because it incorporates the volatile element of fire: "With this being the Year of the Wood Horse, and with wood being very combustible, there will be a lot of scandals, conflicts, explosions and arguments."

But conflicts, disasters, record high temperatures, an economic chill in Asia and more trouble for celebrity bad boy Justin Biebe pale in comparison when gutter politician Vivian Balakrishnan unleashed his NEA dogs to spoil the festive air on Chinese New Year eve.

The goon squad from the National Environment Agency (NEA) raided a floral fair at the Hougang Central Hub where last minute shoppers were hunting down flowers like the pussy willow to decorate their homes for an auspicious start of the Lunar New Year. Their quarrel was obviously with the opposition party organising the event, but ordinary residents were not spared the collateral damage. Together with the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), stall holders were also summoned to appear in court on Feb 18, for manning stalls from Jan 9 to 30, without a licence.

It matters not if the AHPETC had formally initiated communications with NEA over its intention to run the event since Dec 20 last year, "with the nature of the community fair and the benefit to residents clearly stated". Apparently NEA does not engage in civil discourse, they simply resort to the courts to do the dirty work.

Senior Minister Of State For Law Indranee Rajah recently moved a Bill in Parliament to rename the "Subordinate Courts" as "State Courts". While at it, office of the "Chief District Judge" also became the office of the "Presiding Judge of the State Courts". Why not go the whole hog, and call the National Environment Agency the State Environment Agency? Already the Singapore Police Force is carrying on like a State Police Force. It's not just the grass roots organisations that have been politicised as state apparatus, the evil tentacles of the political animals are far reaching and ever more invasive. Baey Yam Keng let the cat out of the bag at the National University of Singapore Students’ Political Association (NUSPA) forum when he confirmed as much, “That is the system here.”

The "Deport Justin Bieber and revoke his green card" petition on the White House's petition website has currently exceeded 100,000 signatures, the number that triggers US Government protocol for White House staff to review it. We should have a similar mechanism to revoke citizenship and deport all  gutter elements in our country.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Just Horsing Around

"PM promises pioneer generation a hongbao", screamed the headlines. What is not stated is who actually pockets the cash.

A neighbour's daughter wrote back from Amsterdam where she is on an exchange program to report that the student's bus pass for a year's free travel over there costs only 20 euros. Compare that to the monthly $27.50 here, or $25 for a ride in the sweat induced stinky trains. As a senior citizen with no source of income, even he has to pay $60 for a monthly "concession" pass.

The Year of the Horse has come upon us, but the horsing around just have to stop.

It's no coincidence the papers are hyping up the decline in profits for SMRT Corporation Ltd (SMRT)'s 3QFY14 PATMI. Before you start commiserating in the name of the William Wan's Singapore Kindness Movement, note they still have $14.2 million net profit for the quarter, down from $25.5 million netted a year ago, to distribute as ang pows to their shareholders and management committees. Embarrassed by the spate of breakdowns, slip-ups and general snafus, SMRT is desperate to justify the  $53.5 million about to be creamed off from the fare hike in April.

SMRT's spin doctors say that train disruptions were due to human error and equipment failure. What kind of humans allow a cable to be contacting an installation bracket and be chaffed to smithereens? Sounds more like an overdose of mismanagement and general incompetence. With the kind of salaries they are shelling out, there must be lots of experienced foreign talents to be recruited from the likes of Hongkong's MTR, London's Tube or Japan's Metro. Real professionals with domain knowledge, not flunkies on tap.

The young people at a recent dialogue with Lee Hsien Loong expressed anxiety about achieving a First World standard of living amid rising costs and more intense competition from foreign trash (FT) for jobs and at work. Their worries stem from regrets in being born too late to enjoy the leap in standards of living their parents experienced during the golden years. Their parents who could afford a car two years after graduation, and pay off the mortgage within 10 years. They should worry. With the forthcoming compulsory Medishield Life horrors, the hefty premiums imposed on the pioneer generation will surely add to the albatrosses around their necks.

Lee's response to the young worry warts was that "I wish I were born 50 years later!" So do we, so do all us, who had to put up with the last 10 crappy years. That way we can truly celebrate Chinese New Year with relief.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Triple Packages

Yale Law professor Amy Chua, aka “Tiger Mom,” and her husband, fellow Yale professor Jed Rubenfeld, have come up with “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America” to postulate that certain groups are destined for success in the United States as measured by income, occupational status and test scores. Empathy does not count.

The Triple Package comprises:
superiority complex - self regard of their culture as exceptional;
insecurity - about being able to live up to group expectations;
impulse control - ability to resist the temptation to take one’s eye off the prize.

Writing for TIME magazine, Calcutta born American Suketu Mehta called it the new racism. She says the language of racism is no longer about skin color, it's about "cultural traits". She's not proud that Indians, aside from Chinese, are the new racialists' favorite model minority.

If Indians are so great, what explains India? The country, she writes, is a sorry mess, with the largest population of poor, sick and illiterate people in the world, its economy diving, its politics abysmally corrupt. For decades, those who could afford to get out did. If India shared a border with the U.S. and it were possible for its poorest residents to cross over on foot, talk-show hosts would be railing against them just as they do against Mexicans.

It's not conformity that makes for greatness, she pointed out. It's an individual striking out against the expectations of his culture, as exemplified by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropping out of Harvard. That line of argument can be used against group think too. Our curse here is that a select coterie is suppressing other groups with -
The Triple Whammy:
superiority complex - of the get-out-of-my-uncaring-face elitist crowd;
insecurity - clinging to gerrymandering and the GRC for fear of being voted out;
impulse control - tenacity to hang on to million dollar salaries whatever the Gini coefficient may be.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Votes Don't Count

Trust Lim Swee Say to announce that he will be contesting in the East Coast GRC at the next general election, supposedly to implement plans he has for the ageing constituency. Only in Singapore, can an ageing politician simply declare he plans to be minister again, regardless of the wishes of the electorate.

Lim must be addicted to the high he gets each time he looks at his Central Provident Fund (CPF) account balance. "Some more, it's guaranteed," he gleefully told his audience. He may have to step down as union chief when he turns 62 in July 2016 - pursuant to a National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) constitutional change made in 2011 - but he still wants to keep collecting those million dollar cheques. You would expect an outgoing chief to endorse at least one of the 4 successors in waiting, but the selfish sycophant (synonyms: toady, creep, crawler, fawner, flatterer, flunkey, lickspittle, kowtower, obsequious person, minion, hanger-on, leech, puppet) would not volunteer a single word of support for Zainal Sapari (48), Patrick Tay (42), Ang Hin Kee (48) or Yeo Guat Kwang (52).

He did say earlier he would step down once a suitable replacement for his role is found. And what exactly is his role? Minister-without-portfolio implies good for nothing special, and changing the title to Minister in the Prime Minister's Office suggests he's just another useless appendage. As for distinguishing himself as resident jester in the court, the keechiu general has proved himself worthy of wearing that hat one time too many. Doing battle in every street corner, every cyberspace corner, be it in the mass media or social media, except in dicy quarters like Little India or being mired in the Anthony Casey saga.

Lee Hsien Loong shares his disrespect of the people's will, by giving Lim the ringing endorsement, "I haven't agreed to let him go". Someone should have made a police report when Lim pilfered toothpicks from the fancy Din Tai Fung Chinese restaurant - half a box is definitely more than reasonable use quantity. That would have taken the decision out of Lee's hands.

In one of his rare utterances without a grammatical error, Lim said, "In democratic societies, people give us their trust." Then he segued into what has to be a horrific rape of the democratic process, "If we look at votes as our ultimate goal and play politics, then we will fail eventually." That has to be the most sacrilegious assault of the ballot box, ever. Assuming, of course, that there was no hanky panky behind those empty ballot boxes for the  2011 Presidential Election.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Last Word

"Thank you awesome Scoot community for the overwhelming response. The Amazingly Cheap (AC) Escape to Perth sale sold out in half a day." - Scoot Facebook, 26 Jan 2014

Budget carrier Scoot's "Escape Plan: Fly to Perth Cheap Cheap, Poor or not!" promotional offer was quickly snapped up, faster than bak kwa sales at Chinatown, even though tar and feathers were not permitted as carry-on luggage.

The accompanying copy said it all: ""Hmm... we heard that Perth has become the destination of choice for an escape. So we decided to work overtime to bring you The great A.C Perth Escape Sale! (A.C for Amazingly Cheap of course.)"

200,000 Singaporeans were living overseas in 2012 – an increase of 27% from 2003. Of these 50,000 were staying in Australia. In 2013, one part-time banquet server with a Diploma in Tourism & Hospitality Management made plans to leave Singapore for greener pastures in Australia, and explained why:

"The many years of army reservist training and obligations staring down the barrel and the stiff competition (through the foreign talent programme) from skilled migrants in jobs and other areas, such as housing – are two factors. The fact that foreigners do not have National Service and reservist obligations but I do, makes me feel like a second-class citizen."

The speaker is no disgruntled wuss, he was honoured to be chosen as a torchbearer at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games. Push factor was the motivator:

"The Singapore government has already announced their “White Paper” at the beginning of this year. This means that they intend to increase the current population of 5.3 million people to 6.9 million by the year 2030. Singapore is such a very small country and the land is definitely insufficient to accommodate 6.9 million people! When 2030 comes, it will definitely be too crowded living here!"

Hmm... somebody may have the last laugh after all.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Something Is Wrong With William

"Something has gone wrong with us Singaporeans." Why would the general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) William Wan (‘Where has all our empathy gone?’, Shitty Times, Friday 24 Jan) write something like that?

There was once a William Wan (WW) who preached from the pulpit, spouting stories from the bible like the Book of Numbers tale when God was angry with his people for commingling with the Moabite foreigners - specifically "played the harlot with the daughters of Moab" (Numbers 25:1, RSV). Phinehas, son of a priest, followed Zimri the Israeli and his Midianite wife home, and pierced a spear through both of them. God then said, "Phinehas the son of Eleazor, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel." This verse has been oft quoted by the Ku Klux Klan to justify their xenophobic attitudes and practices.

No effigies please, we're Singaporeans
Singaporeans would never go that far to avenge an insult. At worst they could subcontract the sticky task to the Ah Longs, to superglue the door locks of the racist's condominium or spray paint his precious Porsche, as Michael Fay would do.

Why would this William side with a foreign trash who taught his precocious 5-year-old to mock an ethnic group with the offensive buck-teeth and slope-eyes gesture? The offspring of copulating with a Miss Singapore? Talk about Singaporeans being screwed! And the greatest crime of this wuss of a wealth manager has to be depriving us of a rare COE. The car population is limited to 0.3 per cent growth, while the immigrant population is allowed to gallop at double digits. Way before the advent of the Year of the Horse.

Even a Shanmuganm called his apology a sham, "But some feel that the manner of his apology showed a lack of sincerity. And I think there is some basis for thinking that." That's a lawyer talking.

One clue for betting on the wrong horse - the patron of SKM is Lee Hsien Loong and its adviser is Lawrence Wong, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, both avowed admirers of all things foreign. Casinos, F-1 races, Swiss Bank Accounts, you name it.

When William wrote, "in a civilised society, one need not gloat at the fallen," he was this close to plagiarising Tommy Koh: "In advanced democracies, when an election is over, the vanquished will have the grace to congratulate the victor and the victor will have the magnanimity to forgive his opponent for all the unkind things that the opponent has said." Except that the barbs here were targeted at the father who raised the son who worships foreigners. With quips like "their (foreign workers) crime rates are, in fact, lower than Singaporeans in general.”

For all the high falutin talk about empathy, SKM's Wan should take serious look at why, after a Singaporean student was already issued a notice of offence for charging her phone at an unlocked MRT station power socket, the LTA should follow with legal action to haul her up in court. Something is seriously wrong with William.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Strike Three

Following the North-South Line (NSL) disruption of Monday 20 Jan 2014, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) issued a statement saying, "LTA has directed SMRT to provide a full report on the incident, including the recovery measures carried out, and an assessment on what more could be done to help commuters adjust their travel plans."

Yesterday, following the Wednesday night breakdown on the East-West Line (EWL), Transport Minister  Lui Tuck Yew met with SMRT’s CEO Desmond Kuek to convey his "concern and disappointment", and "urged SMRT’s senior management to quickly identify the root causes of the occurrences." And conveniently forgot to ask for the assessment report demanded on Monday. How many times must the Lieutenant General need to be told to get his act together?

Lui already cut him some slack, itemising only the NSL disruption (Kranji-Yew Tee) of 11 Jan, NSL disruption (Sembawang-Marine Bay) of 20 Jan, and EWL disruption of 22 Jan, and skipping the Bukit Panjang LRT failure of 19 Jan. Ah, the George Yeo logic, LRT is not MRT, like integrated resort (IR) is not casino.

In the United States they have the Three-strikes laws which mandate state courts to impose harsher sentences on habitual offenders who are convicted of three or more serious criminal offenses. The name comes from baseball, where a batter is permitted two strikes before striking out on the third.

Baseball may not be popular in Singapore, but it is blatantly obvious the quack CEO is being let off one time too many. Maybe it has to do with his military rank. Lui was only a Rear Admiral before climbing on the GRC gravy train. And the other Rear Admiral, Deputy PM Teo Chee Hean, is also playing second fiddle to the Brigadier General in charge, never to achieve top job unless hell freezes over. Maybe the colour of the uniform does matter.

Then again, Saw Phaik Hwa was sitting pretty for quite a while, even carried shoulder high like Cleopatra on the backs of bare bodied young men, because of official patronage. Technically it was Chew Choon Seng, present Chairman of SGX, and chairman of SMRT board who appointed her in 2002. But her unofficial backer was much more powerful. Perhaps Kuek also has his own god-father, one that has Lui quivering in his Navy blues.

Occam's Razor is a line of reasoning that says the simplest answer is often correct. Perhaps it's just the old boys' network in play. All of them fellas are just covering their rear orifices. Lest the stench of the collusion, like our transportation system, gain world wide attention.
...the decision made by PTC is not an ASS MRT decision...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Much Ado About Anton

There Is Always A Choice
Writing in his new book "Selalu Ada Pilihan" (There Is Always A Choice), President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recalls the shock of being told he could only achieve one third of what he set out to do for his country. "When I heard this, I was taken aback. I momentarily thought: Why is this friend of Indonesia inclined to think less of his abilities and of the government I lead?"

True to character, it was Lee Kuan Yew who volunteered his unsolicited opinion, "But remember, the problems that need to be overcome are very complex. Even if you put in your best effort, in these five years, you will probably be able to resolve about 30 to 40 per cent only." Makes you wonder what advice he gave his own son when the Dragon Prince ascended the throne in 2004. He has had double the time afforded to Dr Yudhoyono, and has the cheek to want to be around for another 20 years. Thanks to his cultivation of the high net worth individuals, we have the Anton problem.

“In fact, if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here, my Gini coefficient will get worse but I think Singaporeans will be better off, because they will bring in business, bring in opportunities, open new doors and create new jobs, and I think that is the attitude with which we must approach this problem.” (Lee Hsien Loong at the inaugural DBS Asia Leadership Dialogue, 5 July 2013).

Singapore has one of the world's highest annual GDP per capita incomes with official data showing it stood at $65,048 in 2012. And Anton Casey is merely fulfilling the prime minister's master plans to pack in the billionaires. So what if "my Gini coefficient will get worse"? There's always the ioniser in the Porsche to neutralise the stench from the public transportation system.

Instead of blowing $387 million on the Youth Olympic Games - which Vivian Balakrishnan threatened to do all over again - to put Singapore on the world map, Casey achieved much more with less expenditure. The publicity generated exceed even the F-1 night race fever, with free coverage in:
Daily Mail
The Independent
London Evening Standard
The Times
The Telegraph
The Australian
AU News
Gulf Times
Arab News
The UAE National
South Africa Independent Online
The Times of India
South China Morning Post
HK Standard

Don't be surprised if a National Day Award is already lined up, and wife and kid will be featured at the National Day Rally speech. Then again, you may beg to differ with the PM's attitude with which we must approach the Anton contribution. In that case, remember the Indonesian president's book title - "Selalu Ada Pilihan".

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Could Have Been Worse

When Low Thia Khiang asked Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean why the Special Operations Command (SOC) took one hour to arrive at the scene, Teo could only utter a lame "certain response time was required."  For 19 whole minutes, the SOC sat around and twiddled their thumbs while Little India burned. And when it was finally activated at 10.04 pm, the SOC clowns managed a snail's pace to reach the site at 10.42 pm - probably hoping that all the nasties would have disappeared into the night by then.

Mas Selamat must be ROTFL in his detention cell - he might just beat Chia Thye Poh's record for being detained without trial. But Selamat's Houdini-style evasion was easily outclassed by one female who really made mockery of the highly decorated Keystone Kops. The chronology of how she led the clownish cops on a merry-go-round went like this:

Jan 17, 1:58pm 
Right under the watchful noses of the Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers, the 27-year old simply drove past the Woodlands Checkpoint in a Malaysian-registered flaming red Perodua. Then, after two full minutes have lapsed, only did they decide to lock down the arrival zone. Exactly as the idiom goes, shut the stable door after the horse has bolted. Officially, an island wide alert was issued to the police and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) CCTV footage was reviewed.

Jan 20, 1.35pm
Three days later, an alert taxi driver reported to the police that a woman was tailgating him. He drove to the Police Cantonment Complex as instructed. There the idiots actually tried to engage in conversation with her, but she just drove off. The weird bit here is that, despite an "island wide alert was issued to the police" for three whole days, the numb skulls failed to register her face or her car.

Jan 20, 2.32pm
Same woman tailgated another car into the Sherwood Road premises of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and drove around the compound like she owned the place. She was stopped only after security officers cornered her. Note: the only alert people in the whole farce here is a taxi driver and security guards. Teo's elite Home Team must have been sleeping at home, waiting to be activated.

Teo's response was predictable: "the breach could have had more serious consequences". Obviously not serious enough to send the Commissioner of ICA and the Commissioner of Police to the woodshed. Russian security officials are now busy hunting down three black widows, and one of the potential suicide bombers has already entered Sochi, site of the Winter Olympics. Let's hope none of the other ladies are heading this way.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

SMRT Stinks

Near verbatim transcript of Briton Anton Casey's effluvial riposte:

"Before we start this journey together it is important for you to understand. I don't mean to offend anyone. Don't be offended, don't be angry at me. Be angry at your mom and dad, for raising you a wuss. Taadaa!"

Like thousands of others, resident foreign talent Casey has a bitch about Singapore's public transportation system. No, it's not about the fare hike and the frequency of breakdowns. Casey had to send his Porsche to the workshop and downgrade to an alternative malodorous mode of travel to his day job as Senior Portfolio Manager (Team Leader), HSBC International Banking Centre.

My friend's wife knew it was a bad move her husband bought a Ferrari when she overheard her son's exchange at the kindergarten playground:
"Did you come to school in the sports car?"
"Nah, we used mom's crappy Japanese SUV."

So who's the retard, father or son?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Double Barrel Snafu

It was already difficult to write about the breakdown of the Bukit Panjang LRT Line on Sunday, coming so soon after the announcement of the insidious fare hikes. The really difficult part was SMRT's refusal to respond to queries on what actually caused the power failure to occur between Fajar and Bangkit station at about 9.19 am. That particular LRT system had two breakdowns causing delays exceeding 30 minutes last year, but obviously no red flag was raised. And in April 2012, the same line provided the first spectacular images of the uniquely Singapore skywalk, when 11 passengers had to a balance gingerly on the steel rails to reach the safety of the next station. Where the escalators fortunately did not burst into flames. The escalator fire was at Toa Payoh MRT station in April 10, 2012.

Blame PTC, not SMRT,
for fare hike
Before the explanation about the Bukit Panjang disruption could even make it to print, another snafu took place at the North-South Line (NSL) this morning, inflicting misery on  19,000 commuters at a Monday morning's peak hour rush. This time a signal fault at around 8.10 am supposedly caused a southbound train to stall about 500 metres from Ang Mo Kio station.

The Netflix PowerPoint presentation, which apparently went viral on the internet, is about their company approach to talent and culture and has 5 points.  The first two stands out in the light of our train failures:
1) Hire, reward and tolerate only fully formed adults
2) Tell the truth about performance

The first point confirms the obvious.  Not satisfied with playing soldiers, the kids are now placed in charge of a big train set. The frustration here is that their ongoing incompetence - the new team has been installed for over a year - is not only being tolerated, they are rewarded with fare hikes which will surely guarantee their bonus cheques. Point two is about transparency, which doesn't exist in their official lexicon. All they have is a string of euphemisms to stonewall until the next round of fare hikes.

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek said "timing is most unfortunate" that the incident occurred just after a fare hike was announced last week. He sounds like saying the disruption is to be expected, situation normal all fouled up, and the only unfortunate element is the timing, not the big fail in performance. April 6 is still a few months ahead, maybe there's time to implement one Facebook fan's suggestion: "Why don't they introduce a system whereby fares will be reduced each time there is a breakdown?" Better still, dock the pay of the Lieutenant General in charge and his line up from the kindergarten sandpit.
Sorry guys, you can't vote us out

Friday, January 17, 2014

Concession Is For Operators

Forget about the gee-whiz graphics. The important thing is that adult card fares for buses and trains will increase by 4 to 6 cents per journey starting 6 April. The other thing of importance to note is that the rip-off revenue from the fare increase is at least $53.5 million. Bus operations will cream off $48 million, while rail operations pocket an extra $5.5 million. On average, adult commuters end up paying $21 more a year, while senior citizens and students are poorer by $10 to $7. That math is not in the fancy diagram.

Lest we forget, those travel concession passes for senior citizens and students are pre-paid expenses.
Should members of either category happen to take less trips - because of sicknesses or other reasons that prevent them from boarding a daily train or bus - there's no rebate on the monthly ticket value. If the public transport operators are sincere about providing relief from cost-of-living pressures, they should offer percentage discounts off daily fares as in the schemes for the low-income and disability groups. You have to take a very large pinch of salt to imagine the new schemes will actually cost the government anything close to the $50 million figure they quoted. Besides, that $50m "largesse" is deducted from tax revenues, not the bottomless defence budget or ministerial salaries. Wait a minute, Gerard Ee and his Public Transport Council (PTC) mafia are not done,  they already decided on a 3.4 per cent increase for next year, based on a "rollover" of the original intent of  a 6.6 percent hike.

To justify the 3.2 per cent fare increase, which happens to be higher than previous adjustments, the gang of goons assume that the average national wage increase is likely to be close to 5 per cent for the full year because of generally better year-end bonuses. Did you get a wage increase close to 5 per cent or enjoyed "better year end bonuses"? If you did, raise your hands ("keechiu")! Otherwise, feel free to show them the middle finger.
They were supposed to go take a hike, not hike the fares

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Papering The Paper Generals

Early retirement for armed forces personnel used to be age 45. Presumably that's when the bones start to ache and marksmanship is adversely affected by deteriorating eyesight. Time to let the younger ones take over the dangerous task of defending the country. Desk job jockey officers, however, can soldier on, and keep barking orders till they lose their voices.

The lucky ones, like the Rear Admiral (NS) CEO at the National Environment Agency (NEA), can battle on by fending off attacks from Vivian Balakrishnan over restaurant-type food sold at hawker centers. The minister is overtly sensitive to the "r" word, a constant reminder of his "hawker center, food court or restaurant" rebuff to Lily Neo's request for a sufficient social welfare payout to afford 3 meals a day. Some even make it into parliament by luring old folks to political rallies with the inducement of free packaged meals. Army officers are supposed to possess skills honed in training, operations, planning and policy roles. So far we have yet to see demonstrable results at train operations or road planning.

Others may need special help after discovering that the years in uniform hadn't prepared them for useful work in the real world. Somehow the dean of postgraduate professional programmes at the Singapore Management University (SMU) has this freaking idea a master's degree or PhD title will be more relevant to the professional soldiers than a couple of medals for combat experience. Like, say, a Purple Heart for being brave at the front lines. The inglorious retreat at Little India does not count. Speaking at the launch ceremony, Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng actually said, "Some even have combat experience in Afghanistan." More likely the closest they got to an I.E.D. was the Ingenious Expense Deduction for the $1 million per year bond-free postgraduate scholarships. The first-of-its-kind Warriors Scholarship is supposed to be sponsored by SMU, but you can bet the bill will end up being paid by the tax payers. When it comes to round tripping, City Harvest's Kong Hee ain't seen nothing yet.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Towering Inferno

Jesse Colombo, self-styled anti-economic bubble activist, made his charge quite clear in the Forbes article, "Why Singapore's Economy Is Heading For An Iceland-Style Meltdown." He says Singapore is currently inflating "one of the most egregious examples of post-2009 bubbles", and predicts the boom will end in similar (but necessarily identical) manner.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is not about to take that lying down, and be accused of sleeping at the wheel. To deflect the sting of the tight slap, MAS insists that the Government and MAS have taken decisive steps to cool property demand and prevent excessive leverage. It cited Three Facts: 1) new housing loans declining, 2) household balance sheets are strong, 3) property asset values are higher than debts incurred. The latter is that one card which will bring the whole house tumbling down - when asset values fall, you can forget about household balance sheets and loan servicing. As in the debacle of the Marina Coastal Expressway opening, the traffic advisories are issued after the event.

It took a fire on the 65th floor of the posh Marina Bay Suites to confirm the worst of Colombo's fears. We now know more than 90 percent of the Marina Bay Suites are unoccupied. Only 20 of the 221 units at the 66-storey tower have physical residents, the rest of the 203 sold have phantom owners waiting to "flip" their investment, and cash in the chips as they would at the shared namesake casino. The Indonesian owner of one 53rd floor unit may not wait that long, "I bought an apartment in Singapore because it is very safe and clean here. But now I want to sell."

Thanks to the country's bubbles, wrote Colombo, the ranks of Singapore's wealthy is helping to fuel a luxury consumption boom in everything from high-end apartments to exotic cars. Just like in Iceland before the fall. There may be more Marina Bay Suites with similar occupancy rates, and no tears will be shed when the speculators get burned. Unfortunately the madness spreads to the heartlands, where first time owner occupiers end up indentured to a 30 year mortgage for a public housing unit.
Alarming map of 17 countries with potential housing bubbles

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Just Another Fare Hike Exercise

The arrant knave of a Transport Minister, Lui Tuck Yew, should have waited 2 to 3 weeks before opening his big mouth. On January 10, 2014 he boasted that rail commuters can expect trains to arrive more frequently as the number of delays across the network has come down. The number of delays lasting more than 10 minutes dropped from 51 in 2012 to 36 last year, but there were 8 disruptions lasting more than 30 minutes last year, the same as in 2012.

On the very next day, January 11, SMRT was given a galloping kick in the butt into the new year with a 1 1/2 hour disruption between the Kranji and Yew Tee MRT stations. Initially the blame for the 12.30 pm breakdown of the North-South Line (NSL) was a euphemistic "loss of traction", which could mean anything from a drive component failure or outright engine seizure. Turns out it was just another cable fault, not unlike the 4 1/2 disruption of the Circle Line on 18 December 2013. That power trip was due to a cable allegedly damaged by a Land Transport Authority (LTA) contractor during a scheduled power cable replacement exercise. SMRT did not say who the contractor was, the finger pointing was strictly one-way traffic. Then the new Downtown Line (DTL) was disrupted on Friday 27 Dec, the second time DTL service was down after its official opening on 21 December 2013 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Operator SBS Transit fingered a little girl for activating the China made detrainment door device.

None of the above performance shortcomings seem to be factored in when Lui decided on a fare hike to be announced on Thursday. Instead, he actually helped create excuses for the operators' claims of higher operating costs, one example being the "revised penalty framework for train operators". And then there is the additional annual fee payable to the LTA, to "step up our regulatory oversight," something someone obviously overlooked during umpteen years of train operations. SMRT Corp, which bears the brunt of the fee rises, inadvertently let the cat out of the bag with this statement: "These regulatory costs are part of the higher costs that public transport operators have to bear."

Why wait 2 to 3 days for the big announcement on Thursday when the foul deed is already done? Perhaps they are testing the waters with the diversionary concession schemes for the low-income workers and persons with disabilities. If the electorate is as daft as the Old Man once said, they might, once again, get away by robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Medishield Premiums Hiked

You will be forgiven for giggling like a schoolgirl when reading Han Fook Kwang's bitch about the system which is doing him in. This is the guy who co-authored the Lee Kuan Yew books, praising him to the skies and extolling his views as the best conceivable by man. Karma is sweet.

Han just discovered that his MediShield premium is now $1,589, double what was deducted ($800) from his Medisave account automatically last year. That's a 100 percent hike. Your chortling at his discomfiture builds as he started to realise his deductible also went up, from $3,000 to $3,500. Then he asked those questions he should have presented to his subject of many interviews:
- Can insurance companies raise their charges without asking their customers whether they wanted the changes?
- Who regulates their business to make sure what they do is in the public interest?
- How then to make good on the pledge and ease Singaporeans' health-care worries?

Suddenly the official excuse is hard to justify, even for a life long apologist, "These revisions are necessary in order for us to stay aligned with the latest claims experience, so we can keep up with Singapore's changing healthcare landscape."

So what are the forthcoming changes in Singapore's changing healthcare landscape? You guessed it. The new Medishield revamp announced at National Day Rally 2013, the nefarious scheme with no choice to opt-out, with new premiums which will definitely be higher. And since the humongous hike that Han experienced has quietly taken place, the additional hike that comes along with MediShield Life won't look that bad. Just like using 6.9 instead of 7.0 million for the Population White Paper figure.

Indonesia is also launching a compulsory national scheme, one that provides free outpatient and Class III hospitalisation, for a mere 25,500 rupiah a month (approx $2.50 a month). And the bottom third of all citizens - some 86.4 million who fall below the poverty line - need not pay. The comprehensive coverage even covers birth, maternity cases and those already ill or getting treatment. "Now, the poor get health protection, the poor can get free medical treatment. This is guaranteed by BPJS," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democrat Party. Words you'll never hear from the sorry excuse of a pink shirted politician.
Guaranteed to make you puke

Friday, January 10, 2014

A History Of Violence

In 1987, it was Teo Soh Lung at the receiving end:
"I looked at the officer's face and believed that he wouldn't use his hands. But I looked at his knuckles and they told me he knew karate. I was afraid. He was DSP Benny Lim.

There was one male officer who came in and shouted something. My answer did not satisfy him or rather he was not prepared to be convinced. He gave me four hard slaps. I stared at him and he challenged loudly if I was going to remember his face and complain. I did not respond. The slaps sent a gush of hot blood to my face. I could feel a stinging warmth. After slapping me, he walked out of the room."

Even ex-solicitor general Francis Seow was not spared:
"He was as threatening and as vulgar and as obscene as his Malay colleague, warning me that he was a hot-tempered man and could not control himself as well as his Malay colleague. Unless I spoke out, he threatened to hit me and, as I persevered in my silence, he swung his fist at me. I braced myself for the blow, again, but his fist, too, stopped just short inches from my face. They were without any doubt the goon squad. They were nasty, ugly - like men deranged."

In 2014, three Indian nationals have filed a formal complaint of police brutality. Arun Kaliamurthy, Rajendran Mohan and Ravi Arun Vengatesh were allegedly subjected to racial slurs, threats that they would be put to death and physical violence at the hands of rogue officers. Extracts from the affidavit:
"He was sat against a pillar in the middle of the two officers while they questioned him. During this time, he was repeatedly told to admit to his involvement in the riots. When he denied these allegations, the female officer, of Indian origin, punched Arun in the ribs with her fists. The female police officer also told Arun that 5 police officers have been killed and that he was to be hung. He was told that even if he kissed her foot, he would still be hanged."

"At this point, Rajendran was asked to admit to his involvement in the riots. When he refused to admit to something he had not done, the IO inflicted a backhanded punch on him in the stomach.  He was then told that if he chose not to admit to his involvement at this stage, the punishment he would receive would be a lot more severe. Following this denial, the IO then poured a bottle of cold water over him and lowered the temperature in the room.  The IO also used the bottle to whack him on the head, albeit not viciously."

"He (Ravi Arun Vengatesh) was then transported to the CID headquarters where he was subsequently brought into an interrogation room and was asked to sit on the floor. Even before any questions were asked, he was slapped 4 to 5 times. When he protested to the physical abuse and declared his innocence in the riot, the IO at the time told him, even before being tried in a court of law, that he must be guilty if not he would not have been arrested in the first place."

In George Orwell's Animal Farm, Napoleon confiscates nine puppies,and secludes them in a loft. Napoleon rears them into fierce, elitist dogs that act as his security guards. The dogs are the only animals other than the pigs that are given special privileges.

The animals are still in charge. Benny Lim was appointed Permanent Secretary PMO in 2011. Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee used to work for Benny in the ISD. Eric Tan, Benny's go between for ISD/Singapore government and the Church in the Marxist Conspiracy sham of 1987, was moved laterally over the $1.7 million embezzled by his CPIB Assistant Director Edwin Yeo, but you betcha he's still on the payroll.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Looking Like A War Zone

Speaking at the Singapore Anglican Community Services 100th Anniversary Charity Gala Dinner in Dec 2013, Lee Hsien Loong made the dubious claim that more social spending does not mean better results. As an example, he pointed out that the Americans spend more on healthcare than anybody else in the world, 18% of GDP. Singapore budgets only a minuscule 4% of our GDP for healthcare, and our life expectancy is longer and infant mortality rates are lower. The difference is that the cost of staying alive here is depleting our own savings intended for retirement needs. Unlike in America, there's no social security here.

"It is the results which count, not how much you spend, not how much the government takes onto itself," he boasted. One result of that parsimonious attitude towards healthcare spending is that we now have a shortage of hospital beds, with patients ending up in corridors or tented facilities associated with disaster relief zones.

Changi General Hospital (CGH) started housing patients waiting for beds in a large make shift air-conditioned tent this week. Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) has been forced to set up 49 beds along the corridors of its wards to cope with the shortage. Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) resorted to sending patients to Alexandra Hospital, one of the few public hospitals with spare beds.

Chief executive Loh of Mount Elizabeth Novena explained that private hospitals usually aim for occupancy rates of 70 to 75 percent. If occupancy rates cross 80 percent, "it means on that on peak days they could cross 100 percent and our responsiveness will be affected." For private hospitals, Loh said, that is not acceptable. The picture is obviously quite different at our public hospitals. TTSH, CGH and KTPH all experienced more than 92 percent bed occupancy last week. At the National University Hospital (NUH), the occupancy rate was already 80 percent. Squeezed out of public housing, transportation, educational institutions and work place, we are now also squeezed out of hospital wards. Has the target 6.9 million population been breached?

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong claims to have seen the growing demand for hospital care some years ago - suggesting he has been sitting on the problem for quite some time - and that the Government has (finally) begun building more hospitals. In the meantime, "we are actively working to tackle the current crunch in a few hospitals," he said. Foresight is obviously not the forte of this bunch of clowns.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

From Russia With Love

According to Wikipedia, the Order of Honour (Russian: Орден Почёта) is a state order of the Russian Federation established by Presidential Decree No. 442 of March 2, 1994 to recognise high achievements in government, economic, scientific, sociocultural, public, sport and charitable activities. Its statute was amended by decree No. 19 of January 6, 1999 and more lately by decree No. 1099 of January 7, 2010 which defined its present status.

Notable recipients of the Russian Order of Honour include:
Mikhail Gorbachev - first elected President of the USSR
Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov - Russia's Foreign Minister
Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov - Former Prime Minister of Russia
Pavel Romanovich Popovich - Cosmonaut
Juan Antonio Samaranch - Seventh President of the IOC
Vitaly Gennadyevich Savelyev - CEO of Aeroflot
Anatoly Yuryevich Ravikovich - Actor
Andrey Tokarev - Paralympic medalist
Valery Yakovlevich Leontiyev - Pop singer
Vladimir Putin - 4th (Current) President of Russia
Anatoliy Aleksandrov - Rector of Bauman State Technical University

Since Lee Kuan Yew is not a Russian citizen - not that we know of anyway - how did he qualify for the Russian Order of Honour? The medallion was presented by Mr Leonid Moiseev, Russia's Ambassador to Singapore, to Lee on Monday 6th January 2013 2014 at the Istana, although Mr Putin supposedly conferred the award months ago on 10 September 2013, date of his 90th birthday. The only clue to the mystery is what he said in parliament way back in May 1996, "My being me helped me get, if you like, the inside track and special treatment. ...".  It is open secret that many foreigners who have been issued a Red passport are still holding on to their original ones.

The sharp eyed will notice another non-Russian recipient on the list is Juan Antonio Samaranch, Spanish ambassador to the Soviet Union and Mongolia in 1977, an appointment which reputedly helped him to gain the support of the Soviet bloc countries in the election to the presidency of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), held in Moscow in 1980. We can't ask him if he held dual passports either, he died in April 2010.
The Little Red Book from Putin, not Mao

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Very Well Thought Out

Transport Minister Liu Tuck Yew does not think road-design issues caused the epic traffic snarls on the first day of operation of the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE). His confidence in his own words is coloured by the acknowledgement that it would take two or three weeks to determine whether that was the true situation report.

If indeed the road-design was well conceived and thought out, why are tweaks still needed for Singapore's most expensive expressway? That the Land Transport Authority (LTA) could "immediately" convert a 2-lane turn off to 4-lanes at the snap of a finger on day one suggests that construction and/or land-issue constraint was not the issue, but someone simply failed to engage his brains when embarking on such a mega infrastructure undertaking. On the other hand, the planners did pay special attention on other revenue generation aspects.

Thanks to the well-thought out road-design, motorists using Ophir Road to get to Sheares Avenue to access the MCE will have to pay to enter the Central Business District (CBD), even though they have no intention of entering the CBD. Motorists exiting MCE to get to Rochor Road will also have to pay to enter the CBD, even though they have no intention of entering the CBD. Welcome to the latest ERP death trap. To avoid the hefty toll charges, motorists will just have design their own route.

The full page "Traffic Advisory For Motorists", costing something in the region of $25,000, should have been published days in advance of the grand opening of the MCE, not afterwards, as an after thought. Certainly money was not a constraining factor, the ERP tolls collected will more than cover the expense.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Can't Take It With You

On Saturday, January 4, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) welcomed the move of Singapore's Court of Appeals to grant Philippine National Bank (PNB) legal title to former President Ferdinand Marcos' Swiss funds. For 10 long years the $30.1 million deposit was sitting in the local branch of German bank WestLB, comprising US$16.8 million (S$21.3 million) and £4.2 million (S$8.8 million).

The money is part of what the Philippine Supreme Court declared in 2003 as Marcos' Swiss ill-gotten funds. “The PCGG views the Singapore decision in a positive light," PCGG chairman Andres Bautista said, sounding more like an understatement than celebration. The court affirmed Singapore High Court ruling that the PNB held the legal title to the funds as depositor of the money as well as original account holder with WestLB. Led by Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justices Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li, the decision effectively junked the claims of the Philippine government, at least five of Marcos' foundations set up to hold the money in Swiss banks, as well as 9,539 human rights victims under the Marcos regime.

The late Indonesian tycoon Liem Sioe Liong, one of Southeast Asia's richest men, must have also left a sizeable financial footprint in Singapore when he passed on in June 2012. Liem had been living here since 1998 after moving to Singapore in the wake of anti-Chinese riots that hit Indonesia.  Located in Katong, his house sits on a massive 86,000 sq ft site that was purchased in 1970 and currently valued at approximately $100 million.

Liem reputedly prospered through his close relationship with Suharto, the autocratic president who ruled Indonesia from 1966 until 1998. As one of a number of ethnic Chinese tycoons who made fortunes because of their links to Suharto, he was an obvious target of visceral anti-Chinese sentiment that the corrupt president stoked and sometimes allowed to boil over into violence. When his Bank Central Asia (BCA) collapsed during the Asian financial crisis, panicked depositors rushed to pull their money out of BCA in May 1998 and a mob ransacked one of his Indonesian homes.

Liem's family is worth around $3.6 billion, according to a Forbes estimate, or $8.5 billion, according to calculations by Indonesian business magazine Globe Asia. It was a shock to stumble across his final resting place at the Chinese Cemetery in Choa Chu Kang, sharing the same exact plot size as any average HDB dweller.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Destructive Trends

Our American guest did not hide his disappointment when we drove him to Bugis as requested. He had come all this way to see Bugis Street, not Bugis Junction.

Decades ago, as a young Hewlett Packard R&D engineer charged with technology transfer, he was making his first trip to Singapore. After spending nearly 22 hours changing planes and in actual flight, he finally dropped his bags at the hotel and made a beeline for Bugis Street, at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. He had heard about the famous "ladies" of the night who will pose with you for a polariod photo at $10 a snap. One specimen did grab his hand and shoved it up her skirt to demonstrate she was the "real thing". What happened, he asked, where are they now? We don't know, we confessed. Maybe at Changi Point, maybe at the Four Floors of Whores in Orchard Road.

As Little India is slowly being sanitised, another landmark is about to be erased. Very soon, one needs to go to their dingy dormitories to meet the migrant workers. Horrors, like heading for Auschwitz to see a real Jew. Recall our forefathers were also migrant labour, some were actually locked away when Singapore was Syonanto. Except for the dastardly few who collaborated with the Japanese invaders, as a translator or wearing their police uniform.

Rumour has it that Benjamin Sheares Bridge will also go under the wrecker's ball of the construction crews. Many an overseas visitor waxed lyrical about the fabulous city skyline coming into view as they were driven in along the East Coast Parkway. The route from Ayer Rajah Expressway heading for the airport was just as scenic, with the Flyer on one side, and the Marina Bay Sands casino on the other. Now all they see will be the boring concrete walls of the underground stretch of the Marina Coastal Expressway.

We worry about the core of the Singapore identity being diluted. We should also worry about the familiar places being eradicated, places we grew up in, places alive with fond memories of yester years. It's bad enough there's no heart in the city; soon, the soul will also be extinct.
Not Bugis Street but Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fresh Groundwater In Singapore

A new study published in the journal Nature reports that an estimated half a million cubic kilometers of low-salinity water is buried below the seabed in various locations, including off the coasts of Australia, China and South Africa.

If we are to believe Dr. Jacobus Groen of VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands, a co-author on the study, our days of drinking toilet water may be over. This is what he told Asian Scientist Magazine:
“I visited Singapore in 2003 to explore the possibilities of finding offshore meteoric groundwater (OMG). OMG is most likely present everywhere on the Sunda Shelf – the seas between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. As for Singapore, indications for OMG have been found on the Sumatra side of the Strait of Malacca,” Groen says.
“I also did a small groundwater survey in the Old Alluvium on the east side of Singapore. In that zone there is a well close to the coast with deep fresh groundwater, which – to my opinion – can only be explained as fossil water formed in glacial times when sea level was low and the entire Strait was exposed. This fossil groundwater is likely to extend into the offshore sediments.”

According to the authors, the stored amount of OMG for Singapore will last for hundreds or even thousands of years. However they do warn of some environmental effects that have to be taken into account, such as the lowering of the seafloor or land around the wells, which necessitate that recovery should take place some distance away from the coast. In plain English, the boffins are saying that, handled wrongly, the island could sink. And given the cock-ups we have seen in 2013, from train breakdowns to massive congestion, the elites could just do us in. Not that they have to worry, they have made contingency plans for a flood of biblical proportions.
Noah would never settle for a sampan 2.0