Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bigger Progress Packages

Progress PackageI cannot but marvel at the plans that Las Vegas Sands has submitted in their winning bid for the Singapore Integrated Resort for the Marina Bay area. It is indeed exciting, with a good mix of purpose-built facilities for meetings and conferences, culture and science, guests facilitities and of course, the obligatory gambling den which is one of the raison de'tre of the project in the first place, in spite of protestation to the contrary from certain quarters.

Yet the choice of Sands is a surprise to many punters and analysts alike, though I am sure everyone that was involved in the selection is an expert in his own field and gave expert opinion to that effect. Building the place should be a piece of cake, given Singapore's track record. But whether the place will become successful in the long run remains to be seen. Singapore has no track record of operating a mega-gambling den, you see, unless you view the island-wide government operated 4-D and soccer betting operations as one.

How will Suntec City be affected by this development in the years to come? How will the new downtown pan out? I suppose this is a dream project for any and all civil architects and engineers. Let's just hope that they won't be building razor thin walls and noisy pipes all over to adversely affect gamblers' need for concentration. I am sure Sands has higher standards than our HDB of late.

This is a historic, era setting moment. Let this blog bear testimony to this event, Friday, 26 May 2006 when the choice of Sands to build the first IR is first announced. It may also be the beginning of the end of small time 4-D and soccer gambling, though punters may not agree. Yet gamblers must set their sights, and their bets higher so that Sands and its partners (including the Government?) rake in the money, which is the prime reason for this multi-billion dollar project. Let us, the common non-gambling folk look forward to ever bigger Progress Packages that will arise from the obscene moneys that the government will rake in in various forms of taxes from the building and operation of this newest wonder of Singapore.

Given that the gambling facilities are designed primarily for foreigners, they should apply for Permanent Gambling Resident (PGR) status so long as they promise to gamble at the IR once every week, at least. PGR has its privileges.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Judges can't judge idols

Singapore Idol 2006There is much that is made of Singapore idol wannabes who cannot sing and cannot dance (which isn't important in a singing contest, right?). Well, I was watching SI theatre auditions last evening and I got the distinct feeling that the Judges can't judge. I cannot understand how Ken can dismiss several contestants by saying they can't sing. Well, in my opinion, these singers had tune, rhythm and measure. They can sing. The only thing is they probably cannot sing very well, at least not well enough to proceed to the next stage.

So if I were to bump off any of the judges, I will vote off Ken Lim. In fact, I think they should have this feature in future Singapore Idol singing contests so that judges are more fair and not pretend to be Simon for the sake of pretending. Like the remark that Ken made about some contestant singing too much like Elvis. In fact, it wasn't obvious to me that that guy sounded like Elvis Presley. But them some will argue that this will put a lid on creative criticism, whatever that means, or no criticism at all. Given the dynamics of SI, I don't think it will happen though.

There is a certain logic in mass voting, as we have seen in past events such as the GE 2006 and Idol contests. Extremes tend to be cancelled out eventually. So maybe voting out judges is a good idea. If nothing, it will help to keep pretenders away.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ridiculous Idolatry

The Biggest IdolThe American Idol contest has just concluded with victory going to Mr Taylor Hicks, another American Southener. The Singapore Idol contest, on the other hand, is just beginning, with the first auditions shown last week. I have always thought of the Idol contests, whether American or Singapore, as consisting of two parts - Comedy and Talent. The comedy act comes in during the audition phase and the talent part after all the comedy acts are discarded. I think one of the reasons for the success of the series is the audition phase, which is essentially a freak show. The most famous and successful freak of all must be William Hung. As it turned out, more freaks appeared in the Singaopre Idol edition and everyone, including the judges, had a good laugh or three over the idiotic hopes and dreams of the hopeless idol wannabes. Some of them were repeats - they had tried in the first idol contest and came back for an encore performance.

So I cannot understand why anyone could take this so seriously as to rebuke the judges for laughing and ridiculing some of the performances. Well, how else do you want people to react when the contestants looked so ridiculous, acted so ridiculous and sang so awfully? When some of them came back for a second session of ridicule, what did anyone expect the judges, and indeed the rest of Singapore, to do? Send them to a psychiatric institution (i.e. Institute of Mental Health (IMH), also formerly known as Woodbridge Hospital) or send them off with laughter? Which do you think is kinder? To treat this first part of the show with anything but amusement will certainly kill the series.

Be careful what you ask for.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

PAPpy asked for it

Managing the Internet?How can one expect the internet media and those who inhabit it to support you when, in the first place, you have launched an assault on the very core and spirit that is the internet? When the PAP party banned podcasting of the General Elections 2006, it was like driving a knife into the hearts of the internet's adherents. Under these circumstances, even the most apathetic people will take up the cudgels for whatever and whoever opposes the PAP. This is the simple logic to the reportedly 85% negative vibes on the PAP on the internet. It is no great mystery and doesn't require PhD type analysis. It was not the Internet that failed the PAP, but the PAP abandoned the spirit of freedom that is the internet. Such high handed treatment, by threatening punishment through laws that it can pass at will through Parliament, has not, and will never sit well with netizens.

The lesson to learn is that you cannot beat the internet. You can't 'manage' (a word that the PAP still found fit to use after the GE) it either. There is only one option: join it, embrace it even. And that means no restrictions the next time around on the use of internet technologies such as podcasting, and no threat of police and the secret service monitoring conversations on the internet - in other words, no act that netizens will perceive as hostile and against the very basis of the internet. The PAP must realise that the internet is a great leveller, for the opposition as well as for them. So instead of restricting people, it should put its not inconsiderable resources to harvest the power of the internet to rally the troops and win over converts through its sincerity, integrity, honesty and fairplay. Then perhaps the internet will prove a friend rather than a foe.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

For richer or poorer

Property Rise and FallThere used to be a time when investments in property in Singapore was sure to yield high returns - very high returns. I remember my boss once said that there is certainty in the property business - you can't lose. That was back in the earlier 1990s, and indeed he was right. The company is now a major player in the property market in Singapore. I, in turn, bought an HDB apartment in 1993, and over ten years, saw its value more than double what I originally paid for it. I was not the only one. At that time, how much you made in property from your HDB apartments depended on how near you were to the head of the booking queue.

Fast forward 10 years and the situation has changed drastically. Now, Singaporeans who bought 5-room and executive apartments for over $400K apiece are suffering negative equity - i.e. the current value of their apartments is significantly lower than the price they originally paid for them. Losing $50K on paper can be psychologically painful even in spite of the fact that they were aided along in purchasing that apartment in the first place by the government (read tax payers' money) to the tune of $40K. Some are asking who should pay for this loss, as if it is the government's fault that they bought into the property ownership dream. I hope they don't think it is the taxpayers' fault.

Property values, like the values of stocks and shares, rise and fall with the times. The only difference between the two perhaps is the turnaround time between the rises and the falls. Property cycles tend to be longer, but correspondingly, they are more stable investments and can yield rental income in the meantime, irrespective of the assessed value of the property. You either buy or sell stocks, you can't rent them. Speculators can dump their shares in a matter of days rather than years.

So should anyone bear the blame or be held responsible for a personal investment decision such as purchasing an apartment to live in, with a $40K gift from the government to boot? Saying 'yes' is ludicrous and shows a naivete characteristic of juveniles. To suggest that somebody else bear the paper loss shows an inability or unwillingness to take responsibility for an action nobody forced them into. Of course, there are those who would argue that their property prices were inflated in the first place by the government charging market prices for land on which these HDB apartments were eventually built. Yes, I agree about the price inflation part - but only on hindsight. But then, who has the benefit of hindsight when a purchase decision is made? We all hope to make money from the investment some day - sooner rather than later. Even I put money into .com companies that turned out to be .dud companies. Perhaps only those who have been burnt before, or who have lived longer and seen more of these cycles will be more cautious and are more circumspect. Even then, some experienced hands have been burnt before. While I sympathise with owners who are sitting on negative equity, they can hope that when the time comes, their paper loss can be converted to gains. The only problem is that this might take some time coming. In the meantime, enjoy your house and don't think too much about the present. A property is a long term investment. There are troughs and there will be peaks.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A house to call home

A permanent homeSomebody suggested that some government-built apartments (HDB apartments) that are 26 years old has served its useful life and should be torn down and replaced with new apartment buildings with lifts that stops at every floor. I agree that that may be the only option if retrofitting lifts that stop on every floor is just too prohibitively costly. On the other hand, I feel that we are becoming used to the recycling culture. Not that recycling trash is not a good practice. It is a commendable practice as it teaches one not to waste and to conserve the limited resources of our planet earth.

However, recycling non-trash, like an apartment block, is hardly my idea of reducing waste. Many of our 'old' buildings will be considered fairly new in other developed countries, not to mention those countries where the people live predominantly in huts and quickly improvished shacks. Yet here we are, calling for a 26 year old apartment to be demolished because we need to build lifts on every floor. Why do I get the feelng now that our architects and engineers never designed our spanking new apartments to last more than 30 years, what with the razor-think walls and all that residents in Sembawang are complaining about in their relatively new apartments? Can it all be linked somehow? Is there a conspiracy or are people so used to changing houses/apartments (averaging once every 10 years(?)) that our architects intentionally do not want to build houses that lasts?

Well, I am sure I am wrong, for how can we be dumping good money into such houses that are designed for no more than 30 years? The minimum leases on all new apartments in Singapore is typically 99 years, so they should last that long, at least, if not longer.

Dare I say that, sub-consciously, we have never considered this island our permanent home?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Razor Apartments

Razor-thin wallA reader of Today newspaper complained about the razor-thin (ok, I am exaggerating) walls that HDB apartments come with nowadays. I can understand that as I have lived in several HDB flats so far. Two belonged to my parents and the other belonged to me. When I moved into my spanking new HDB apartment in Pasir Ris about 10 years ago, I felt uncomfortable whenever I went to the toilet. No, I don't mean that kind of discomfort, which everybody suffers from whenever they make a trip there, but discomfort from hearing the gush of water that came from the pipes running along the walls from the ceiling to the floor. It was just so loud. I always told my wife that I could tell if my neighbour upstairs was taking a shower (or doing some serious business) any time of the day with the help of these pipes. From the writer's description of her woes in her HDB flat in Sembawang, these features that HDB built for a greater sense of community bonding seemed to have been enhanced (well, we must try to look at things positively, mustn't we?)

On the negative side, we now learn that these apartment walls can collapse any time (ok, I am exaggerating again) going by the writer's description of how sounds, mostly unwelcome, could be heard quite clearly coming from the apartment units above and beside theirs. This is indeed much worse (or better, depending on whether you are into extreme social bonding and that sort of thing) than my apartment in Pasir Ris. All of which reminded me of the first house I ever lived in - those worker quarters in the former Naval Base.

Built in the 1920s and 30s, they were nevertheless solid structures. I remembered one day, my father wanted to hang a picture on the wall. So he took out his electric power drill for the job. After some time, I heard him remark that it was so difficult to drill a hole as the wall was rock solid. The way that the British built those quarters looked like they wanted to continue being our colonial masters till kingdom come. I have always felt that no building that Singapore has subsequently built has ever rivalled the robustness of those houses that I lived in when I was a child. It's an irony that the buildings that replaced the worker quarters are so flimsy in comparison. I am sure the ghosts rising from the demolished building must be having good laugh. That's one up for the Brits and a woeful zero for HDB (well, ok, I am exaggerating again...).

Well, they have just put a PAP team in place who will build a Hospital in the neighbourhood. Hope it won't feature razor thin walls. Perhaps the writer can look up these PAP chaps to see if they can reverse engineer any of these deficiencies.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Man's best friend and religion

Dogs and IslamSome things never cease to amaze me. And I thought I understood my fellow Muslim citizens and friends. After all, I lived among Malays and Indians most of my school days in the Naval Base and made many Malay, Indian and even Sikh friends, some of whom I am still in contact with. Heck, I even had a Malay friend sit beside me for two years while I was in Secondary 3 and 4, so I thought I understood or at least was sensitive to their customs and beliefs. I know they fast during the month of Ramadan. I know they are forbidden from pork (as the religion considers pigs as unclean). I know that they can only eat halal food - food prepared according to Islamic rules. I know they attend Mosque on Friday afternoons and I know they face Mecca when they pray. I also know that they are obliged to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca (the Haj) at least once in their lifetime. I know their Holy Book is the Koran and I know it is originally written in Arabic. Actually I know all these by living amongst them for many years although I am not a Muslim. All these are well and good. Every religion has its own rules, obligations and restrictions. This does not stop anyone from having Muslim friends. It certainly hasn't stopped me.

Now, after many of those years, I learnt two new things about their religion, Islam. The first is that Islam forbids the drawing of the Prophet Mohammad in the form of cartoons, and second, Muslims are forbidden to come into contact with dogs. And I thought it was the pigs only! I learnt this only yesterday, through a letter written to the press. All this while, I had the distinct impression that our Malay friends love animals, especially cats. Having lived among them for long stretches of my life, I was naturally taken aback by this rule about dogs. What other restrictions and rules are there?

I think our Muslim friends should not assume too much about others, and their knowledge about their religion. Certainly it is unfair for this Muslim lady to write, in a letter to Today (17 May 2006):

Some owners let their dogs roam freely; I often have to rein in my
toddlers. Once a dog ran off-leash and came close to my two-year-old. When I pulled my son away, the owner smiled and said: "It's okay, no bite."

I was angry. With my attire, it was obvious that contact with dogs is prohibited.

Well, to us non-Muslims, nothing is obvious about Islam anymore, not even for me, an old Sembawang Naval Base resident. I believe in multi-religiosity, but are there any more Islamic rules that non-Muslims like myself should be aware of? The impression nowadays is you don't want to offend Muslims. You never know what will befall you, given some of their extreme behaviour in recent times.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

JG and the law

Speaking FreelyJames Gomez (JG) has gone to the police station for questioning over the last couple of days over the Minority Certificate issue. He has been there 3 times. WP's Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang have also been called to assist in whatever investigations the police is conducting. The investigations are now over and Gomez has been given a warning. No fines, no slammer time.

Somebody alerted me to his website the other day and pointed out that he writes quite a bit for the international community on issues in Singapore, so I did a google on him and sure enough, he has a personal website and a blog. The blog may be in his name, but apparently he has some people writing for him occasionally. I am probably the last person to know about this as I am sure the rest of the blogosphere are aware of this. So much for being politically aware. I never claimed that anyway, so I am still an infant, probably because I am not all that 'kay poh', but saying this is just to save my own face.

What I want to ask is, why does JG need to work in Sweden to do his political analysis work on Singapore and probably the region? I do not see from his existing work any interest or commentary on Europe, Russia or the US, so why go so far from the centre of action to do your analysis and writing? But of course, I am a political neophyte. Some would argue that academics and other 'experts' in Harvard and other US institutions regularly comment on things happening in the rest of the world, including Singapore. Perhaps the rarefied atmosphere there improves the thinking process and enhances the commentaries and analyses.

We have precedents. One of Singapore's most reknown dissidents, Mr Francis Seow, is a resident critic there, if my facts are still up to date. Does JG want to write from afar because the atmosphere will be more liberal and he will be among likeminded people, or is it because he is stifled by the tropical heat in Singapore, or both? Apparently, some people do not wish him to write as he likes. I will admit that it can be constraining to write in Singapore. The ban on political podcasting recently is a good example.

Ultimately, however, Singapore needs to loosen up on its own soil and allow different opinions to flourish. It is said that Singapore has been loosening up gradually, but gag orders such as that on podcasting serve instead to strike fear in people. We are forever looking for that invisible Out-of-Bounds (OB) marker. So long as an OB marker exists, writing and speaking as you wish in Singapore can be a dicey thing.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Minority Report

Who is the Minority?The Singapore Elections Department has clarified the criteria it uses to determine if a person qualifies for a Minority Certificate that can be used to certify that a GRC has all the requisite people to form a GRC. In response to a reader's query why the Race on one's National Identity Card (NRIC) that all Singapore citizens hold cannot be used to certify eligibility, it wrote:

"Race" as stated in an identity card (IC) does not meet the requirement for minority certification. This is because for the purpose of GRC candidature, certification is, firstly, to ensure that the minority communities are properly represented by people who are accepted by them as members of their communities and, secondly, that there is no dispute over this point on Nomination Day.

The certificate states that the candidate has been certified by the appointed Malay/Indian or other Minority Community Committee as a person belonging to a particular community (and not just to a particular race).

For example, a person belonging to the Malay community is defined as any person - whether of the Malay race or otherwise - who considers himself to be a member of the Malay community and who is generally accepted as a member of the Malay community by that community. Today, 11 May 2006

I learnt something new today - that the minority applicant/candidate need not necessarily be of the race it seeks to represent. So an ethnic Chinese or an ethnic Indian can represent the Malay community as a Minority candidate so long as the Malay community accepts the person. But who in the Malay community decides? The Elections Department clarified that it is an appointed committee that will decide, which begs the question, who appoints the committee? What if a section of, say, the Malay community (and I don't mean a Malay community of Chinese, however convoluted that may sound) do not agree with the appointed committee? Then is the certification of the applicant/candidate valid anymore? How can those in the ethnic community in question who dissent make their views known? Can they reject the application? Who will decide either way, and is there a law to help one to decide without ambiguity? I am not a lawyer, and I only learnt about this yesterday through the Elections Department letter quoted above. But from my conversations with fellow Singaporeans over the GE week, the reader's query is shared by not a few of them. One of them is an Indian who is passed 50. He is an educator. I do not think the younger ones are any wiser either. I daresay some politicians across all parties who stood for or were involved in the GE 2006 are not aware of this either. It would seem then that this is a revelation for many of us Singaporeans.

It is an irony that we learnt this only AFTER the elections.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

GE 2006 Impressions

Every person in Singapore will have his or her own impressions of the just-concluded elections. I live within the electoral boundaries of Pasir-Ris Punggol and therefore had a chance to cast that all important vote. Pasir-Ris Punggol is relatively new in terms of housing and facilities, so there wasn't the kind of upgrading issues that plagued such Opposition wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir. So what else in these elections occupied my minds most? These must include:

1. The Greatest Distraction
The Gomez Affair was an issue that is blatantly blown out of proportion and portrayed the PAP in very bad light, as far as I am concerned - petty, bullies, psycho-analyst wannabes, smart-alecky, arrogant. These words and more apply in great measure to one person hyping up the issue - Wong Kang Seng. However, the tactic could have held back more from voting for the WP in Aljunied, so it could have worked. Nevertheless, the bitter after-taste lingers for me and, I believe, for many others. The cost to the PAP in the future can be immense in terms of lost goodwill and a greater fear of associating with PAP and PAP people. Now who will dare to be open and frank with PAP people, even those who have been buddies with you for 10 years or more? Do you now believe more or less in PAP's claim to want to nurture an open and inclusive society? When it suits them, when it comes to the crunch, they will not hesitate to turn around and screw you, friendship notwithstanding. Caution is the better part of valour.

2. Most debated issue
Not cost of living, not the NKF, but lift upgrading. The is a perennial bug-bear or favourite issue, depending on which side you are on. The PAP used it as an enticer, the Opposition claimed it as a right for the people as the money belongs to the people. Ultimately, it didn't matter at all where the PAP wanted it most to matter. The $180m carrot was of no use whatsoever in wresting back the seats of Hougang and Potong Pasir. If nothing, the PAP lost further ground, with Goh Chok Tong's aura of authority, respect and wisdom significantly losing its shine. He was absent at the PAP's post-election press conference. It was left to Lee Hsien Loong to explain his failure. Clearly, this pork-barrel politics is not only not working, it seems to have cost the PAP some significant votes. The PAP should re-strategise, but going by Mah Bow Tan's initial knee-jerk response the morning after polling, the policy will be status quo - i.e. give upgrading to PAP wards first and the opposition wards will continue to be last in line. Obviously, this policy hasn't been effective at all in winning over enough of the people to make a difference, so the PAP will do well to re-think. Perhaps it should offer the 'carrot' way ahead of any elections. People generally do not like threats thrown at them during election time. A positive message is always better than threats. What if Sitoh Yi Pin had gotten the PAP to provide lift upgrading in the preceding 5 years instead of just expensive porridge, you wonder?

4. Most under-debated issue
Cost of living issues were not adequately addressed and debated during these elections, if only because the Gomez affair overshadowed the issue. But this continues to be a real problem that a Progress Package on its own will not address in the long term. In the days to come, it will be inevitable for public transport services and utilities to raise prices because the spike in the price of oil cannot be controlled either by the Opposition or the PAP government. This will again become a bugbear, an issue that was, sadly, neglected.

5. Most silly performance
SDP self-destructed. The SDP, once a dominant political force under Chiam See Tong, is today a shadow of its former glory, all because of Chee Soon Juan who received and acted on very very bad advice from parties overseas, both friendly and unfriendly to Singapore. The party has now become a liability which can expect mass defection to better managed parties such as the Workers Party, and, ironically, the SDA, which is headed by its former head, Mr Chiam See Tong. With a lawsuit hanging over its head, it is a spent force headed for irrelevance and political extinction. I won't bet on this party being around in the next General Elections, slated by 2011 at the latest, at least not under current management.

The people have decided

Yesterday's polling results announcement was a snappy affair. The Parliament before and after the polls will be little changed, with both Mr Low Thia Khiang and Mr Chiam See Tong retaining their seats with increased margins, especially Mr Low. The people of Hougang and Potong Pasir did not bite the multi-million dollar carrot dangled in front of them by the incumbent PAP at the last minute through no less than the Senior Minister himself, Mr Goh Chok Tong. I suppose loyalty counts for more than money for residents in these two wards. Money politics has not proven to be very effective. On the other hand, the PAP may have weakened its moral high ground through its 'pork barrel' tactics. There would most likely be people who voted PAP because of these 'pork', but the numbers are not big enough to make a difference.

Steve Chia will lose his NCMP seat because the WP's Aljunied team polled about 42% to his 39%, so he is not the best loser this time around. As to who in the WP Aljunied team will take the NCMP seat is yet to be seen. I don't think there is a precedent for this. It is probably up to the WP's CEC to decide which of the 5 team members in the GRC team will take up that position. Perhaps Sylvia Lim, as the leader. Some would salivate at the Gomez option, given his penchant for controversy, but its just speculation at this time. In any case, the WP has taken a small step in making more of its voice heard in Parliament with two members. This augurs well for them and for greater representative democracy in Singapore.

The sweetest victory must have been for Mr Chiam, the man SM Goh has callled old and by implication past his use-by date. Many in Potong Pasir did not agree, with slightly more weighing in this time for the 'old' warhorse. It seems that the residents of Potong Pasir are a resilient and loyal lot, who are not easily swayed by last minute 'goodies'.

The net result is that the political landscape in Singapore is little changed. The Progress Package has not worked any magic in gaining greater support for the PAP, if that was one of its intent in the first place. The people gained both ways - they got the money (many would say 'their' money) and they got to vote for their candidates (at least the 1.2m whose wards were contested). The results show that the choice has changed little from the last elections. Although the total share of votes for the PAP has gone down to 66%, it is still higher than the share two elections back. With a booming economy, this is to be expected. But the PAP must realise that roughly one third of the people in all contested wards support the Opposition now.

The greatest failure (and conversely the greatest success for the PAP) is the SDP. Both teams garnered a shave above the 20% required to keep their candidates' deposit of $13,500 each. SDP is now a spent force due to the mis-management and disunity of its leaders, Chee Soon Juan and Ling Howe Doong. With a lawsuit hanging over their heads, there is more drama to come for the SDP. It is no wonder that people deserted them in droves.

Its been an exciting time. One would have wished the Opposition had won a GRC to increase its representation in Parliament and prove that a GRC is not beyond them. The WP came close. Whether the Gomez affair cost them the GRC will be a subject of debate post-elections. If it did, then Wong Kan Seng will be justified in his tactic of putting doubts into Singaporean's minds regarding Gomez's integrity and suitability for Parliament. However, I feel that that is giving too much credit to WKS. More likely, the PAP Aljunied team is well liked and hardworking, so credit where credit is due.

WP's 'gan shi dui' acquited themselves well in taking roughly a third of the people in the PM's own backyard. This team of WP GRC candidates are hardly over 30, and for them to carry about 30% of the votes against the PM's is a credit to them. I think the WP should pat themselves on the back this time. Next time, these people will be more experienced and perhaps more ready to fight a more successful battle.

That's Vote Singapore 2006, out.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Symbiotic relationships

The PAP and NTUC symbiotic relationship traces back to PAP's labour roots, and the PAP Government performs many different and non-conflicting roles in labour matters...

...workers' rights can be and are well protected under the PAP and NTUC symbiotic relationship, as both institutionally-independent organisations want to improve workers' lives and create a better future for all Singaporeans. Mr John De Payva, rebutting WP stand on Labour ties with PAP, 5 May 2006

What better way to prove your point than to have the point proven for you? John De Payva, erstwhile President of the NTUC, wrote a lengthy letter to Today (5 May 2006) refuting the position of the WP on 'Looking out for Workers'. Mr De Payva trotted out the "symbiotic relationship" between the NTUC and PAP to make the point that workers' rights are being protected. This is precisely the problem. In the days when there weren't any or insignificant Opposition in Parliament, this position could conceivably hold. But it will increasingly become untenable with an increase in Opposition Representation. Any Opposition party's criticism of this symbiotic relationship, which Mr De Payva uses twice in his letter, can only be valid.

The NTUC President has confirmed in writing that NTUC == PAP. Need more be said?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The right stuff

The Right StuffWell, not all PAP candidates smell. Four new PAP candidates were publicly singled out as having the right stuff to be promoted to government positions. While some of them reacted by saying how they have the experience to do this and that, only RADM Lui Tuck Yew said something that must have touched the hearts and minds of voters. He said while it was "exciting" to be considered for high office, his first priority was to become a good MP who could see to the needs of the residents. (Today, 4 May 2006 p. 3). No threats, no exclusions, no if-you-don't-vote-for-me-I-will-screw-you attitude.

This is so refreshingly humble, compared to the high and mighty and at times, threatening words from some of his fellow PAP members. All of them should take a leaf out of this man's understanding of the fundamental purpose of standing for elections - to serve the people. For this alone, he has my vote this Saturday. He has the 'right' stuff.

Gangs of Singapore

If you elect Steve Chia, I'm sorry, he is not (in) my party, if he comes to me and says he's got somebody who is jobless, well, I'll tell him (he's) got to find somebody to help him...But if Mr Gan is your MP and he comes to me, then I'll move heaven and earth to help you. That is our pledge. Lim Boon Heng, current Labour Chief, at a PAP rally on Wednesday night

The Big BossThe PAP and Mr Lim Boon Heng can be sore losers. They may become sore losers. You do not win the people's vote and their hearts by threatening to abandon them. If the PAP abandons the people, that's OK. They will lose the country eventually. But how can the NTUC chief abandon the workers, whether they live in Chua Chu Kang or Ang Mo Kio? That is Lim Boon Heng's mesage to the rest of the workers in Singapore. If they don't vote PAP, he, as the boss of NTUC, will abandon them.

An MP is a duly elected representative of the people. In times past, they are even referred to as the Honorary Member for xxx. Apparently, as far as the PAP and NTUC are concerned, the Honorary title is reserved for PAP MPs only, for how can the NTUC ignore a duly elected honorary MP acting on behalf of its constituents even if that MP doesn't belong to the ruling party? That MP is the people. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, the government is by the people and for the people. We are not a country of gangs with specific turfs to control and protect. If Lim Boon Heng thinks that is what PAP stands for and how a government should behave, then I think Lim Boon Heng must take Parliamentary Democracy 101. Clearly he has no idea what Parliamentary Democracy is all about or how it works. He demeans the ideals and purpose of a Democratic Government by Representation and the process of the General Elections.

He should stop acting like a gangland boss who threatens and cajoles the common folks into joining his gang. Not joining, he seems to imply, will carry unpleasant consequences. If people can only get help from the NTUC through their PAP MPs and not any other Opposition Party MP, then what does that imply? Is the NTUC == PAP? If it is, then it validates all the criticisms leveled against the NTUC for being too closely tied and dependent on the PAP. The workers are the ones who will lose out eventually in such a system. I daresay that Lim Boon Heng is planting the seeds of worker opposition and industrial strive by so closely aligning the NTUC with the political incumbents, the PAP.

Perhaps the 'gang' leader should reconsider and apologise to the workers for hijacking the workers' organisation?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Better the screwer than the screwee

Getting screwedI am getting fed-up with the news that is reported on the on-going GE. The news is getting stale. Last night, I get bombarded again with at least 15 minutes of reporting on the Gomez affair. The Elections Department video was screen again (ad naseum), and George Yeo repeated the points he has made previously over the affair. The only thing new is MM Lee weighing in on the affair, but its the same affair, the same issues, the same party, the same attempt at psycho-analysis.

I agree with Low Thia Kiang. Why is the PAP so 'lo so', like a long-winded grandmother or grandfather who keeps on harping on the same old issue time after time? If it was the other way around, with the Opposition harping on a PAP candidate's mistake, I'd imagine the PAP lambasting them for having nothing else to say, no substance, no real issues to talk about, empty. Somehow, it comes across differently with the PAP.

The more I hear the PAP harping on the issue, the more I get the feeling that either they have nothing else they want to talk about, or they are trying their level best to make Gomez a pariah, or both. (The Opposition will use the word 'martyr', I believe). Nobody is perfect. People make mistakes, people wrongly accuse the innocent. Their intent may even be dishourable. But don't we always teach our children to apologise if they have done wrong? Don't we tell them that this will settle the matter? But no, the PAP are not children. They are giant babies and big bullies throwing a big tantrum, refusing apologies, psychoanalysing and picking for a fight. When will they grow up, you wonder?

Yes, perhaps the PAP is right, that this incident points to some failing on the part of Gomez, and even the Workers Party organisation and approach, if you psycho-analyse this deep enough, like what Mr Wong Kan Seng has done. But the part about it being a conspiracy, the detail analysis of the video? I think Mr Wong has exceeded himself this time. Film students should take note of the masterly dissection, analysis and interpretation of a video. Nobody could have done better than the PAP machinery. Now I understand why even the new PAP candidates, not to speak of the general populace, are SO reluctant to come into politics. When you get screwed, you really get screwed. But the new PAP candidates are smart. They weighed their options and decided that it is better to be the screwer than the screwee.

But is the PAP suggesting that all PAP candidates are saints who are incapable of making mistakes? If the PAP keeps at this, it will begin to haemoragh votes to the Opposition (if it has not already happened, that is). George Yeo should take special note. There is something called 'street sympathy' where people will side with the original bully they see being bullied and beaten even after an apology was made.

Who, except the PAP themselves, can see that this is unjust? And they dare say that their slate of new candidates have a mind of their own. Why are these independently minded, carefully selected, professional and successful new PAP candidates so SILENT now? Don't they see anything wrong in this incessant hammering of an opposition candidate over an issue which is not even central to election issues? Don't they disagree with Wong Kan Seng that there is something sinister in what otherwise looks like an honest mistake? Do they swallow hook, line and sinker Wong Kan Seng's analysis as the only valid version of events? Don't they see anything else worth talking about? The Opposition is right. We need REAL alternative voices in Parliament, and they don't wear white. Even before the new PAP candidates take their seats in Parliament, they are already a white-wash.

On the other hand, what this incident has highlighted is Low Thia Khiang's even-handed handling of the situation. With increased press and media coverage he has been given, I am beginning to form a very favourable impression of him. I am sure he will retain his Hougang seat. I wished he was leading a GRC. He would win that also. But then, who is to say that Sylvia Lim's team won't win, in spite of James Gomez?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Barbeque and molehill

Make a Mountain out of a MolehillWho would have thought that these two words would characterise the early part of the Singapore GE 2006? But it has, with the PAP hammering the WP (no pun intended) incessantly for the last few days over Mr Gomez's oversight at the Elections Department and his threat of action against the Elections officials before he discovered that he, Mr Gomez, was the one who had made the mistake.

The WP's Mr Low Thia Khiang has very wisely got Mr Gomez to apologise publicly over the incident, throwing in a translated version in Chinese for completeness. But the PAP would not relent, insinuating some bigger issues around what Mr Low calls a molehill. So the skewering of Mr Gomez in public goes on and on. To me, Mr Gomez is proving to be a disaster for the WP. It now puts into jeopardy whatever chance the WP had of winning the Aljunied GRC, it being its strongest team in these elections. It would be such as pity if the WP lost on this incident alone.

If you ask me, I tend to agree with Mr Low. The PAP is building a mountain, and it is making sure this mountain is overarchingly high. So high that it will bury the WP. The PAP is milking this incident for what it is worth. But this is politics.

However, if you reflect on it, this oversight could have happened to anybody. In fact, the PAP's own MP, Mr Gan Kim Yong, who is also a Minister of State to boot, had a similar encounter on Nomination Day. He thought that he had forgotten to submit a document on Nomination Day. He rushed back to the Nomination Centre only to discover that it was a false alarm. So the PAP should not make too much of the issue lest the mountain comes crashing down on them instead.

The lesson to learn is: Everybody makes mistakes. Just don't push your mistake to somebody else, and worse, threaten them. People do not take kindly to threats, especially when they know they have done nothing wrong.

SM Goh Chok Tong wisely said 'Move on'. The point has been made. Don't have to continue the witch-hunt and psycho-analyse this thing to death. The PAP should listen to its party elder and move on to more substantive issues.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Watch what you say

Poison TongueEvening news have become interesting over the last couple of days due to the extensive coverage that the local broadcast media are providing. Kudos to them. While listening to the latest juicy details of the goings-on and interviews of candidates in these elections last evening (Sunday evening), I was discomfitted by 3 comments made by the incumbent party candidates:

The first has a women PAP candidate (sorry, its a new candidate and I cannot place her) who agreed that while the opposition candidates' qualifications have improved this time around, their morals and integrity are suspect. In one broad stroke, she painted ALL opposition candidates as lacking in integrity. I was incensed. Yes, you may say that about Mr Gomez, but to extrapolate that to cover all opposition candidates? That's crossing the line, lady.

Another PAP candidate, I believe another newbie guy standing in the Sembawang GRC constituency disparaged the opposition, saying that they couldn't organise themselves properly. An example he cited was that opposition candidates only put up their posters and banners at midnight. Now, I would have thought that that is being considerate and hardworking. There is nothing wrong doing so at midnight. It certainly doesn't demonstrate dis-organisation. If nothing, the PAP people managed to mess up their own banner, as my picture displayed in this blog a couple of days shows.

The third is Mah Bow Tan's rejoinder to Chiam See Tong about the 2-in-1 attraction of electing Mr Chiam and getting the PAP to continue working for the constituency. Mr Mah reversed that to say that with the PAP candidate elected, they'd still get Mr Chiam as NCMP. I agree with Mr Chiam that Mr Mah doesn't know what he is talking about. But, in reporting the Chiam-Mah exchange, I cannot understand why CNA chose to report that Mr Mah "turned the tables" on Mr Chiam. If CNA were more objective in its reporting, they would have used a neutral word like "rebutted" instead for obviously, "no tables were turned". Come on CNA, you want to boast about being the region's premier news media. Act like one first in your own backyard.

A Place run by Automatons

AutomatonsOften-times, I have asked myself what is wrong with the LTA (Land Transport Authority). There is the Nicoll Highway incident, where, as the Authority overseeing the project, questions have been raised as to the blame it should take. Then there is LTA's CCTV-on-buses project which caused commuters' to ask, rethorically, who will be paying for the increased costs that transport companies will incur. There are many more such examples if one goes further back. Granted, it is not one of the more naturally popular government agencies, together with the IRAS, but for one reason or another, it seems to go out of its way to irk residents.

The latest must about their directive to Crime Library to take down notices on missing persons it puts up at bus stops. The reason given were twofold: it makes the place unsightly, and it distracts motorists which may lead to accidents. Several people have written to the press, and I am sure more have written or spoken through LTA's hotline, expressing surprise and dismay at this ruling. Many have argued that the job of finding lost ones is far more important than keeping the place spick and span. I can't see any right-thinking and compassionate person disagreeing at all. Letters continue to pour in to the press in spite of LTA's reply to the public's feedback earlier. LTA had replied, as usual, by spouting the official line and would not back down. Somehow, I get the feeling that the LTA is run by a group of automatons that possess no good sense of judgement, no common sense and no heart. It is time for an operation to make these automatons more human-friendly.