Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry-go-round

Well, its really a merry Christmas for taxi drivers in Singapore this festive season. And certainly a prosperous new year. I hate to take a Comfort cab nowadays, especially after 6pm EVERY day. From then till midnight, for all seven days of the week, the cabby will collect 1.25 times what the meter would read previously. That's pretty steep. So last Sunday evening after dinner at a restaurant, I opted to take the subway train home. As I was walking to the subway, I was looking out for a non-Comfort cab because their fares have (still) not increased. But alas, I reached the train station first. Well look at it from the bright side - walking helped to burn off some of the carbs that I had downed not too long ago, and I saved quite a bit of money as a cab would have had to criss-cross the island from the southern tip to the north-eastern tip where I stay. I wasn't sure if I would not vomit the food when I looked at the final fare on the meter.

Predictably, now that the largest taxi company on the island has increased its fares, all the rest will follow suite. Actually not WILL, they HAVE followed. And the quantum of increases is the same - that's Singapore's version of competition for you. Its rather twisted, really. More like collusion, and all with the blessings of the government, it appears. Its not the first time. The bus and train companies have practiced this twisted form of competition for some time now, with the blessings of the authorities which are helmed by leaders who are "educated" in prestigious Universities the world over at taxpayer's expense, no less. This is really a merry go-around that will sadden Santa Claus this merry season. Its not a season of giving, it is a  season of taking.

And the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS), the PUBLIC Transport Council (PTC) and the Government are not raising a ruckus. The CCS says to the effect that if you are not happy, sue them. Nope, they are not going to front this. The PTC is rather silent as if they are party to this. And the Government insists that they just want to stay on the sidelines as this is a commercial issue. Unfortunately, Singaporeans are not in the habit of initiating class actions suites. We are a long-suffering lot. Perhaps timid. Mostly apathetic. But they pour out their frustrations on social media so that the World knows that Singapore really is not heaven on earth.

To be fair the authorities trotted out some numbers, and with the cooperation of the broadcast media, demonstrated how much cheaper it still is to take a cab compared to cabs in Hong Kong and London. Give me a break. They should know better. An apple is very different from an orange, no? But maybe to them, apples and oranges are fruits, so the comparison is valid. Sheesh, you can't win. Or should I say the cabbies win. The cab operators win. The taxman (government) wins. And we the long-suffering consumers are the losers.

I really must get used to taking the bus and the train, not that those are without their own set of problems. Well, I'll TRY to be merry and look forward to the new year, though this December has brought more than its fair share of bad news, much of which are really avoidable.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The take-charge minister

This must be a first. The North-South and East-West lines of the MRT system has been halted totally, from 5.30 to 10 today, Sunday morning, 18th December 2011! It can only take the might of a government minister, Mr Lui Tuck Yew, the Transport Minister no less, to order this stoppage. Without a doubt this is to avoid a likely 4th break-down of the MRT system operated by the SMRT, if events of the past 3 days are any guide.

Yes,  I haven't heard of the SMRT system stopping operations for such a stretch of time. Fortunately, this is Sunday, a non-working day. However, people in the retail and services trade will still have to make their way to the shops to ensure that they open for business at 11am. Well, these people will have to take the bus, if they know or remember which buses to take, that is. And you can't call in "sick" because this is the last weekend before Christmas, and businesses need all "hands on deck". Employees can't take the first train out at 10 because it takes time to travel, and they literally will not be able to open the store on time.

That said, I must credit Mr Lui for taking over this problem so swiftly. You need ministerial muscle for this - to call time on one of the most important infrastructure on the island - to do what needs to be done, something that SMRT, to its discredit and shame, seem not to have nor been able to do. He has reportedly visited some train stations, checked the signs, the staff, the processes, etc. - something that really is not his job. Any lesser person wouldn't have done this. Just delegate someone to do the legwork. Monitor from the comfort of an operations control centre. Remember, the elections have been over more than half a year, when he was often seen on the trains. But now we know that it was not electioneering gimick. This guy is serious. Remember, he cut short his meeting in Cambodia to give this problem his personal attention. After all, the problem affects thousands of people everyday, and the businesses that rely on people moving around uninhibited. Mr Lui has got his priorities right, which is more than what I can say for the management of the SMRT. This enforced stoppage must really be a slap in the corporate face of the SMRT and especially its manageement, led incompetently by Ms. Saw Phaik Hwa.

Let's hope that with this due diligence check, we won't have another massive breakdown of the train system any time soon. People are entitled to a merry Christmas and a happy new year.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

No Go

Singapore is looking like a third world country if the frequent breakdowns of its 'world-class' transport network is anything to go by. Yes, all of Singapore is pouring scorn on SMRT, the operator of the subway system, now that it has malfunctioned for the 3rd time within the space of a week! The first time was probably an accident. The second time just a fluke of nature. The 3rd time shows that whoever is in charge is sleeping on the job.

You couldn't ask for a more profitable business running Singapore's subway system. First of all, the government builds the infrastructure for the company. This comes to billions of dollars. Then the the government imposes heavy duties on owning and using a car so as to encourage more people to take public transport. The government, again, builds even more subway stations to to make it easier for people to get around on the subways. All the management of the SMRT just has to do is sit around and make sure that its trains run. No need for price and product promotion campaigns, No need for discount pricing. No need for expensive advertisements. No need to entice with a 'Singapore Girl' type branding exercise. Just sit back and see the money roll in, literary every second that the trains are in operation. Heck, you can spend more time at the golf course, or wherever you think best takes your mind off the mundane job of running the public transport rail network. The business won't stop and the money tap won't run dry.

Maybe this is why SMRT finds it so hard to recover from its problems. No, that's why problems keep coming up. Well, ok, both. And you know, we haven't had a lot of support from its CEO, Ms Saw Phaik Hwa, all these many years she has been on the seat, or in the golf course, wherever. She just manages to say the wrong things all the time that I wonder why she is still CEO. Its time for a change, and that change must start from the top. And you wonder why she is paid so much for doing so little. She is also the Chairman of the Risk Management Committee in SMRT. Clearly she is in the wrong job.

Perhaps before the year is out, it will happen. Only, we are not sure if the headline reads:

"SMRT CEO resigns", or

"SMRT CEO fired".

We commuters don't really care. We just want on-time and reliable service. Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Infamous Serenity

Singapore is a sad place, it seems. That's right. It is not heaven on earth in spite of its glowing reputation where everything works, that it is an economic miracle worth studying and emulating. Why so morose? After all, I live in Singapore, and to deprecate the place isn't a smart thing.

Well, the rest of Singapore is also wondering now. It was reported, again, that a dead body has been discovered in Bedok Reservoir - that place of serenity, I kid you not. This is one of those choice locations to have a house, better still if it is a high-rise apartment, for then you can wake up to the scenic beauty of the reservoir right out your window. Now people are not so sure. It appears now to be a favoured place to end one's life, whether voluntarily or not. The subway station (on the raised platforms of the MRT stations) used to be a favoured way of 'going', much to the inconvenience of everyone else who wish to go about their lives. It was so easy and straightforward for the killee. Just jump in front of a train coming into the station and its settled, though not for the longsuffering commuters, nost of whom will be late for work, again. But then SMRT, the operator of the train system put up barriers (after being given the 'push' by the government), and I suppose, it isn't easy to jump anymore. So where do these people go to now?

The reservoir, and in particular Bedok Reservoir, is now the hot place to exit this life, to heaven, or hell, or nothingness whichever faith you belong to. But beyond just dying, one has to ask what is wrong with life anyway. Are people increasingly unhappy, so much so that death is the only solution, the only release? Maybe Ms Sylvia Lim of the Workers' Party is right after all when she said in Parliament that Singapore should adopt a Happiness Index. Not a few PAP MP knee-jerked that economic progress is more important, for without it, there can be no happiness. I suppose, for them to say so, they imply that they are very happy people. Well, they seem to have been proved wrong about other people's state of bliss or lack of it, again and again, if these deaths are anything to go by. But of course, some died because they were murdered, which isn't any better compared to suicide. Why the need to end someone else's life? I guess they must not be very happy when they killed.

Yes, let's talk happiness and not productivity ad nauseum.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I'm not lovin' it

I got horrendous service, if one can call it that, at McDonalds Compass Point today. Terrible is the word that comes to mind as I recall the encounter. I headed to McDonalds for a takeaway meal at around 6.30pm. There wasn't a queue, just a man in front of me who wasn't ordering but waiting for his order to be served. There were ample waiters/waitresses (cashiers?) around so I thought I was guaranteed to a really fast buy.

But wait, when the guy in front of me had gotten his order, I stepped up to the counter, ready to give my order. Well, nobody bothered a look at me. I began to think I was in a closed counter and debated whether I should switch queue. I persisted, and finally, a cashier asked to take my order. I told her that it was a takeaway order, she duly keyed in my order, then put the receipt on a serving tray, which she then pushed to one side. I was left to guess if I should stand aside and wait for the order to be deposited on that tray. Yes, that seems to be what I was supposed to do. The waitress just assumed I could read her mind.  Ah well...

Some others (I'll refer to them as boys) took over the 'delivery' (yes, one was handling the burger and another the drink). I suppose because of the tray, the boy putting together the order together assumed that it was an eat-in order. I corrected him, and he turned to the cashier for confirmation. The cashier had to ask me again if it was a takeaway. I couldn't blame her for forgetting. She was already serving the next customer and probably had erased me and my order from her mind. So ok, the boy (he was really just a boy, probably a student doing this for extra pocket money) transferred my order, which included fries, to a plastic bag, and in the process, spilled a couple of fries onto the table. He didn't bother to replace them, nor apologise. He left the bag on the table for me to collect. Ditto the other boy who gave me the drink - collect it yourself, their body language seem to be saying.

Needless to say, this is no way to treat a customer. McDonald has been pretty innovative in the past year or so, experimenting with different ways to improve the process. An example was the hand-held ordering while people waited in a queue. But today, I really got the raw end of the deal. Is this a new innovation? If it is, it has left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Speaking for Pappy


Frankly, I don't think the PAP needs anyone to speak for itself. However this is what the Facebook page,  Fabrications about the PAP purports to do. When a party is not able to convince the electorate anymore, and part of the electorate needs to speak up for them, then something is very wrong with the PAP, seriously.

Don't get me wrong. I am not an hardcore blame-the-PAP for anything and everything person. If you have followed this blog all these many years, you will note that I support certain government policies and initiatives. But equally, I express my disagreement and sometimes, displeasure, when I, well, don't agree. I try to take a balanced stance. The Fabrications Facebook page writes about truth and lies. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, it is really difficult to tell the difference and point to something as belonging to one or the other. We ordinary citizens have no access to government papers and discussion, and lets be frank about it - I don't trust anyone and everyone, at least not all the time, and this applies to the PM and the ESM. That's their job, the government machinery, to convince me of their sincerity and truthfulness. I promise to lend my ears, and I will make up my mind based on the balance of evidence. I may be wrong, but nobody can accuse me of blind trust. Truth be told, I have been ridiculed and reprimanded by my kopi-buddies when I openly supported Tony Tan. I have been given the scold stare when I openly rejected Tan Jee Say. And I have been criticized similarly in these pages as well. You note that I have never deleted any of the comments which contain criticism, It is the lay of the land. You give and you take. I am not better than you and neither are you, I believe, better than me. Many silent in the majority, some vociferous in the minority. Either way, all have reasons for their point of view, whether you agree or not.

I do not claim to be anything more than a voice, subject to abuse and the occasional praise. It's just that I try to be as reasonable as I can, for the sake of country and society, and yes, for change when necessary. A party that thinks it is always right, and refuses to change when it is manifestly wrong is just delaying the day of its demise.And that applies to the Opposition as well.

One thing though - why do I need to be anonymous? Frankly, fear of the inconvenience of having to explain myself to certain overzealous 'officials'. If you think I am reasonable, then good. If you think I am spouting nonsense and wasting my, and your, time, that's your privilege to do so.

My $0.02 worth.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

PAPolitical Association

I agree with the good professor, Tan Ern Ser. He said that "PA's actions may erode the moral ground of the PAP and dilute its political capital". (reported in Yahoo News Singapore, 2 Sep 2011). He is referring to the People's Association's (PA) policy not to appoint Opposition MPs as advisers to its grassroots organisations because they cannot be expected to implement government policies, for which the PA was set up in the first place. This would have been non-controversial, say 20 or 30 years ago when the PAP dominated the government, and thereby any state organ and statutory board, of which the PA is one. In these many years, we have had an enlightened government which, for the most part, put the people in its centre as it built up the nation's hard infrastructure, and its soft infrastructure, such as the PA. Almost all constituency wards were held by the party and it made sense to have its own MPs become advisers to this grassroot organisation in its constituencies to promote the governments' policies. This is all nice and dandy, and nobody should fault this government strategy to win the hearts and minds of the people. After all, should the Opposition one day come to power, they would want to also make use of this powerful organ to its own advantage.

But what is good in one era may not be so in another for the PAP government. PM Lee had said in May 2011, after the PAP won with reduced margins and lost 6 seats, including a supposed impregnable GRC, that today's electorate is different, and that the PAP government has to do some "soul-searching and studying". He also said that the call for a "transformed PAP...would not go unheeded". That is 3 and half months ago. With this latest PA saga, those words appear to be quite empty. But wait, just this fortnight, DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam, commenting on Dr Tony Tan's slim margin of victory in the Presidential election, said that "politics here has become more pluralistic and the trend will continue...". And what has the PAP done about this? From the same said saga, nothing, zilch, tiada, ஒன்றுமில்லை, 无. It does not appear that anything will change at all, as far as the PAP is concerned.

Perhaps history will record this PA incident to be a turning point in politics in Singapore. Faced with a near lost election and government inertia, erstwhile fence-sitters and moderate conservatives will switch their allegiance to Opposition Parties staking moderate and sensible views, such as the Workers Party. The elephant has started to move, as the electoral pattern in the Presidential elections has shown. When they stampede, there will be no stopping them. And the tragedy will be that the PAP does not know what hit them.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A few good men

Mr Tan Kin Lian has conceded defeat already? Well, I suppose he has been seeing early returns and they don't look good. If he doesn't secure at least 12.5% of the votes, he will lose his deposit of $48,000. I hope he gets to keep it. And even if he does not secure the minimum number of votes, he should get his money back. After all, he didn't throw his hat into the ring on a whim. And he has been described, with the other 3 candidates as honourable and honest. He has run an earnest and clean campaign. So why should the State keep the money?

Give back the man his money!

Singapore must Win

Today is polling day to elect Singapore's next President. By tomorrow, Sunday morning, Singapore will know who its next President is. There is a certain air of excitement - at least that is what I sense in some of my colleagues yesterday as they looked forward to today, never mind that the consequence of the results is, well, inconsequential - nation-wise. We are, after all, electing a figurehead. Though there has been much talk of the President's powers in guarding the reserves and policing senior appointments to government, I would think that the first is an exceptional situation and the second a formality. In a sense, it is no more than buying insurance for that rainy day. I am sure some would lambast me for belittling this whole process and event. My stand is that there should never have been a need for an elected Presidency in the first place. Parliament should just convene and nominate one that is acceptable to the majority in Parliament, and therefore the people. But in Singapore, because the composition of Parliament is not truly representative of the people, we end up with another national election within the space of 4 months, and unlike in years past, 4 candidates are contesting. Some of the candidates assume that they will do what Parliament has failed, or will fail to do - to check on the government and be more active in the formulation of national policies and laws. Since it is illegal not to vote, I'll be heading to the booths this morning to silently voice my choice of a President, however inconsequential.

At his point in time, it appears that Mr Tony Tan and Mr Tan Cheng Bock are front runners. TT hinted that he might lose during his Boat Quay rally speech - "I might not win...but at least I tried..." He must admit that his sons' NS records have done tremendous damage to his bid. Mr Tan Kin Lian almost self destructed yesterday when he hinted that Mr Tan Jee Say was not an honorable man. And I heard in the office yesterday many voices against voting for Mr Tan Jee Say. 'He is a loose canon', 'cannot be trusted', 'too confrontational', 'aiyeerrr', were some of the reasons cited for dropping him from consideration. Perhaps only the opposition politicians and their die-hard followers will cast their vote in his direction. Overall, it appears that only TCB has come through relatively unscathed in the 9 days of campaigning - from being quaint and dowdy to become a credible, warm and sensible man with a Presidential bearing.

So the word on the streets is that the real contest is between TT and TCB - ironically 2 former PAP men. They would likely share 70% of the votes, with the rest split between TKL and TJS.

May the best man win. I hope that all of them will take back their not insignificant $48,000 deposit.

In any case, however voters vote, Singapore MUST win.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Seeing is believing

So how is one to choose the 'correct' person for President of Singapore? You shouldn't apply a political yardstick in making your choice. And there isn't much of a choice if one were to make the decision based on looks. Perhaps if we had a female candidate among the lot, it would be easier, though not necessarily in the looks department. You can attend rallies. There is only one for each candidate, so if you miss it... Listen in on their debates though in the last one organised by The Online Citizen, you might not have found it any more enlightening.

At the end of the day, you can vote for one because your friend is voting for that candidate, although this presents a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Or you do your ini-mini-mai-ni-mor - which is what you probably do at the gambling tables, turning the presidential election into a 'gaming' event. Yet another is by way of elimination - "anyone but this and/or that candidate". This is choosing by not choosing. Or, if you are not satisfied with any of these options, then just combine all these strategies in any meaningful way and some ONE must surely pop up for you to cast your vote for come 27 August 2011.

If you are still lost, may I suggest you go visual. Cast your vote based on your preference for the symbol of each candidate. They are there for a purpose, you know. This is my assessment of each of the candidate's symbols and their meanings:

The Tan Kin Lian hi-5 - This must surely be the most imaginative symbol of the lot. While the hi-five thing is a bit corny, and un-Singaporean, the picture showing a hand within the talk blurb tells me that the candidate behind this symbol not only is a talker, he is also a do-er. And we want a President who not only is eloquent, but does what he says he will do. TKL can do with much improvements in his diction, though.


This one, in my opinion, wins hands down, errmmm, up.


The Tan Jee Say heart: This must surely be the most boring of the lot. In fact, a charge of plagiarism can even be brought against the candidate, i.e. if someone had copyrighted the symbol. Obviously a lot of effort has been spared on creating a meaningful symbol. This universal symbol of love is applicable to everyone and anyone. Unfortunately, many people have used it for both heavenly as well as derogatory purposes, so one is left wondering... Well, give him a ear to find out more about his stand, though not necessarily your heart.


The Tony Tan spec: Perhaps the most recognizable symbol vis-a-viz the candidate. Simple, personal, and I like the spin that has been given to it - taking a long term view, something that is so characteristic of his political career. Obviously this is a spectacle for the long-sighted, the person who is not rash, not impulsive, but one who is reflective, looks at things from all angles. Great symbol, though it doesn't have a winning 'ring' about it.


The Tan Cheng Bok fan: I must say this is the most conventional of the lot. It reminded me of a coffee table book about the Singapore story which featured the stems of a palm tree characteristic of this part of the world that was published a long long time ago. His spin on it is pretty un-imaginative - he might well have used other similar objects such as a hand (well, that is taken), a traditional chinese-type fan, a wind-screen wiper (naah...too few 'leafs'), a rainbow or any semi-circular figure. It was thoughtful though and he does relate it back to his own name though you have to know Chinese to appreciate this point.

A safe bet.

There you have it. Bring your own spin to these and see if it resonates with the candidates'. The choice will then be obvious, don't you think?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Un-Presidential

'Crowd control is a function of the police, it is not the function of the President', Mr Tan Jee Say reportedly said in response to a question from a member of the Hainan Tan clan association on his inability to control his supporters when they jeered at his rival, Dr Tony Tan, during Nomination day on Wednesday. The member questioned his ability to control a country if he cannot control his own supporters.

And Mr Tan's answer? It is not the job of a President to do so, that this job belonged to the Police. So he thinks that he is already the President? I am very concerned. What if he really became President? He would be shirking responsibility left, right, up, down, centre and just about anywhere else except himself on anything he wishes to avoid responsibility. Does he not know that as the big boss, the buck, as the Americans say, should stop with him?

I will be concerned, nay, very concerned if Singapore chooses him as President. The last thing Singapore needs is Emperor Tan Jee Say.

Your President

I'll be up front about this. The Singapore Presidential Election has been blown way out of proportion to its significance and its purpose. If it is to elect a representative to give voice to the political aspirations of the people, then Parliament has failed. All the elected MPs have failed to do their jobs. That's because this is what MPs and Parliament are meant to be and to do. And the 'louder' the noise in this election, the greater these are a reflection of these failures.

Once upon a time, the Presidential election was a dignified, if boring event. This is the first time in 18 years that Singaporeans go to the polling booth to cast their votes for a president. So I can understand the excitement, particularly so soon after the Parliamentary elections in May 2011. Obviously many feel that they have not been heard clear enough, or that the results did not reflect that proportion of votes that went either way. So many people, including a particular Presidential candidate, have this delusional impression, that the President can make a difference in the entire political process. Heck, Mr Tan Jee Say and company are treating this contest as an extension of his lost election bid in May. One must be blind not to see this. Surely there was no need for the jeering, which Mr Tan JS' supporters resorted to when Mr Tony Tan introduced himself as a presidential candidate on nomination day. I can understand, and expect this in an American Presidential election, but that's not what Singapore's President is about. I must say that the PAP government made a big mistake in making the Presidency an elected position. Well, they have the majority power to repeal this law and set everything back to what it should be - an appointed position acceptable to Parliament, and therefore the people. And don't anyone go around to say, like Mr Tan Kin Lian, that Parliament is toothless since the PAP government dominates it. Does this mean that we should all give up on Parliament as the true voice of the people and just have the President as the alternate voice? Is this why Mr Tan Kin Lian has never bothered to stand for elections to Parliament?

Yes, we can move in the direction of an executive president, but it involves changing Singapore's system of government away from Parliamentary democracy towards the American model. Maybe we are evolving, so fond is the PAP government in innovating unique features in government, which includes the Group Representation Constituency - another feature that will come to haunt them one day, and lead to the inevitable dismantling of this most undemocratic of institutions.

So to fellow Singaporeans I say - forget about the politics. Choose the one whom you think is best able to represent you as an independent figure above politics, one who will be able to unite and not divide, one who can speak well and present you well as a citizen of Singapore, and guard your interests not only in Singapore but the world as you travel the length and breath of it. Choose the one whom you think can be the face of Singapore regardless of race, language, religion, and, more importantly, regardless of politics (if this is even possible).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sleeping Parliament

There has been much debate, talk, threats, admonishments, etc. regarding the elected presidency in the last month. Electing a President in Singapore used to be a done deal, nothing much to look forward to, no need to cast any vote. In the past, the ruling party, the PAP, has always had it way. The candidate which it endorses always became President, and that includes President Ong Teng Cheong and the present President SR Nathan.

This time, it is different. No less than 4 have put their names name. They are informally referred to as establishment candidates such as Dr Tony Tan and former long-time PAP MP Dr Tan Cheng Bok. Add to that the anti-establishment candidates that are Tan Kin Lian and Tan Jee Say. No one really is independent, when you come to think of it. But more of this can be written in the coming days.

My concern is that the Singapore Parliament has not sat since the end of the last GE in May 2011. I wonder why. No issues since then to discuss? It is odd if this is the case. Singapore is going into unchartered territory, economy-wise, so the governement reminds us. Does this not merit sitting? But more so, non of the elected MPs have been sworn it, 5 months after their election. I wonder about the significance of this swearing in ceremony, since MPs would have gone about their constituency work by now, listening to the people, advising them, writing letters to the powers that be, etc. etc. Does not being sworn in mean that they have any less validity or authority as MPs? Can they, in fact, go about their Parliamentary duties, and that includes seeing people and making representatons on their behalf? If the answer is yes, then it would appear that the swearing in ceremony is dispensable. But if our MPs are doing less for the last 5 months, they would have saved a pretty penny related to being in Parliament for meetings and discussion. Can we ask for some of the allowance back? Its like being on half pay, you know.

The Thai Parliament convened within a month of its election. Of course there was a change in government, which perhaps necessitated the convening of Parliament, but does Singapore has anything less that its law makers can afford to take such as 'long holiday'? No wonder the elected Presidency is being viewed as a GE proxy. Parliament has been as silent as a Church mouse thus far.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

To preside or not

The other day, a friend of mine made the point that a duly elected President in Singapore probably has a greater claim to being the people's representative compared to our Members of Parliament who were elected not too long ago. The reason? Well, many MPs were part of a group of candidates, and the group (known as Group Representative Constituency, or GRC for short) might get elected even if you don't think some one or two of its members deserve your vote. That is why MPs such as Tin Pei Ling would have lost if she had stood on her own.

So this will be proven true in 13 day's time when Singaporeans go to the polls once again, to elect the President of Singapore. There are now 4 contenders - whittled down from 6 due to the extremely stringent qualification criteria. In fact, at one point, there was even speculation that all 6 except one of the candidates would be dis-qualified. It now appears that having a contest is preferred over a walkover. Thus candidates Tony Tan, Tan Kin Lian, Tan Chen Bock and Tan Jee Say - all from the Tan clan - will put forward their reasons for people to elect them next week. It is GE reloaded! Interestingly, after spending so much time and effort in securing qualification, Mr Tan Kin Lian has hinted that he will not, after all, be running. One wonders if this whole thing is about electing an individual to become President, or electing a party/platform to make up for the losses in the last Parliamentary elections? If it is the latter, then Mr Tan Jee Say's candidacy is puzzling. If he wins the Presidency, he will effectively be 'gagged' by the Constitution. Yes, the Government will try its hardest to do that if it thinks you are 'out of line'. He will miss the next GE scheduled in 5 years' time, in 2016, or earlier. A President's terms is for 6 years. Isn't a voice in Parliament more 'free' and effective than that of a President? At least there you can be partisan and push your agenda. As President, you should be above the fray, not siding one way or another, at least not openly. Of course he can resign as President and take part in the GE, should he feel that he has made no headway in the highest post in the land.

Mr Tan is reportedly only 57 this year. I would have wished that he contest the next GE to improve the chances of increasing the number of opposition parliamentarians but this is not to be, unless he can wait another 10 years. By then he will be 67, which is really when he should be standing for President.

Let's see what happens this coming Wednesday, Nomination Day.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Stratospheric Air

A HDB apartment owner is asking for $900,000? Shocking? Well, not really. I once owned a HDB Execute Apartment (a 5-roomer). In the heady days of 1996, it was not inconceivable for me to fetch $700K on the market for it. My brother actually sold his for a cool $600,000. That was the price at which it was valued at that time. Fast forward 15 years today. $900,000 looks right, in a red hot property market where all rationality has gone out the window. But when you consider how people have been willing to pay the high prices for DBSS apartments although they have the same restrictions as a public HDB apartment, you know the time is now to make a killing on your humble public housing apartment.

Why should anyone begrudge another about making good money on their properties? If I had the same opportunity, I'll put out my apartment too on the market at stratospheric prices, so long as people are willing to pay the asking price. And you say it's crazy? Honestly, who do you think is crazy? The one who can make half a million on a single property sale, tax free mind you, or the one standing red-eyed thinking about it? Come on, don't be hypocrites! Say you love the money. It'll certainly come in useful, if not for yourself, at least for your children?

How I love the Singapore property market. The only thing left to do is to cash out of the country and go find a more down to earth place to live.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Elections 2.0

Hmmm...Singapore's upcoming Presidential elections is becoming more and more exciting. Former PAP man - Dr Tan Cheng Bock, set the ball rolling first, although to date, he seems not to have collected the application forms from the Elections Department. Then Mr Tan Kin Lian, former CEO of NTUC Income Insurance, declared his intentions, and has picked up the forms. Dr Tony Tan resigned his positions from the PAP and his high profile positions in government-linked companies to offer himself a the 3rd candidate. Now "former" SDP man, Mr Tan Jee Say is throwing in his hat too.

What a Presidential election this is shaping up to become. With Mr Tan JS' entry into the fray, the elections feel like GE 2.0. Of course he has resigned from the SDP, reportedly with Dr Chee Soon Juan's blessings. He has openly said that he will use this platform to engage on "issue of conscience..." whatever that means. If this isn't opposition electioneering, I don't know what is.  Come on, the people have already cast their votes, and whether you like it or not, won or lost, the people have spoken. I, for one, am not interested in a activist President. There will be no end of to-ing and fro-ing. Instead, let our victorious opposition speak for us in Parliament. They have the mandate and the validity, not any elected President. If you asked me, we shouldn't even need to elect a President. Let the victors nominate and have it affirmed by Parliament. The President has limited powers, and largely plays a ceremonial role. And he will still do so, no matter how aspiring Presidential candidates like to fantasize about that position. If nothing, the money is good...

You want change? Then vote in opposition in numbers for them to form the government and then change the Westminster style of government to the American one. Then Presidential elections have real meaning. I am sorry, but I think JS is way off his rocker. But then when you think that he is associated with Chee Soon Juan, you cannot be surprised by this latest development.

Friday, July 01, 2011

End of the road

The word on many Singaporeans' lips yesterday was the closing of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. You never know what you miss when it is gone. Many Singaporeans turned up on the last day of operations of the KTM trains yesterday, to have a last look. But I suspect that many came to have the first look. Except for history buffs, and buildings buffs, few would venture into this railway station on a normal day. They'd rather hit the Malls where there are lots more to see and do than to come to this place where the most exciting thing happening is the arrival and departure of the, let's admit it, ultra-slow trains. And even then, once you've seen it often enough, it will probably be a bore.

I took this train up to Malacca a few years ago, and the entire journey took 3 hours! I would have almost reached KL in the same time if I went up by private car by the North-South Highway. It is a train system that probably has seen little improvements over the years. Truth be told, some parts of the train are rusted. But at least I sat in first class coach. It wasn't exactly the Eastern Orient Express First Class, but it was comfortable. Moreover, it was just S$50 from Singapore's side, and RM50 from Malaysia's side.

My wife and I were in front of the TV when the news came on yesterday. It showed many people milling around and taking pictures. We looked at each other with knowing glances. Were we glad we took this train some years back. At least we now have bragging rights.

Adieu KTM!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Almost Numero Uno

Wow, Singapore will overtake Las Vegas as the world's second largest gambling den in terms of gambling, err... gaming revenues this year? And we thought that Singapore has only just started. Resorts World Sentosa only opened in 14 January last year, and Marina Bay Sands a little later on 27 April 2010, all slightly more than a year ago, and we are already #2, worldwide?

Singapore are known for many first, and best's. Best airport in the world, best airline (SIA), busiest Port, best paid government (excluding under-the-table shenanigans of politicians in some countries), first F-1 night race... Add to these Singapore's record speed in reaching #2. At slightly over a year, it is early days yet to supplant Macau's number 1 spot right now.

But not everyone in Singapore are necessarily happy about this dubious position. Behind this spectacular result lies many broken hearts, homes and businesses. What else do you think those numbers mean? And this also goes to show the big fat 'lie' when proponents in government, of gambling, pitched it as an Integrated Resort. Unfortunately, time has a way of making us forget a lot of things. Well, Marina Bay is not known for its Conventions, Suntec City, and even the grand old Raffles City are bettered used. Hotels? Any tourist agency worth its salt will direct customers to more location friendly hotels in the city, except if you are a gambler. And how much would the just opened Science Art Theatre have contributed to the overall revenues? I am not sure if it is even making money. Dining? Who dines there except the gamblers? The only non-gaming place worth going to, in Marina Bay is the SkyPark, and Universal Studios Theme Park in RWS.

So I am just one damned confused Singaporean what INTEGRATED really means.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Much ado about nothing

Mr K. Shangmugam and Prof Jayakumar have made it abundantly clear that the President has no executive powers, only custodial ones. In other words, his work is that of a goalie and woe is he if he takes the ball right across the field to put one in the opponent's net, not that it has not been done before. President Ong Teng Cheong tested these waters and came up against a brick wall, and Mr Ong Teng Cheong was once a Deputy Prime Minister. The PM and his Cabinet are still the 'boss'.

Why do we even bother to elect the President of Singapore? The vote will make absolutely no difference to the endgame because the 'real' powers still reside in the government. And if the sitting government wants to play punk, I am sure it can think of ways to go around the toothless powers of the President. That power can easily be circumvented because the President is still a human being. You don't really have to empty the Reserves to enrich yourself. Just 0.0001% is more than enough to last you a lifetime. What counts is that the 'right' government be put in place - honest and 'clean' people. If this turns out not to be the case, that the powers that be are raiding the coffers, I am sure Singaporeans will protest in numbers, both online and probably offline too. That's better than a President whose powers are so limited in the first place.

The only reason Singaporeans are given the right to choose the President is that it gives a certain accountability (ok, it also called 'blame') when things don't work out - 'it is not the government's fault...'. But given the stringent criteria for standing, the presidential candidates are effectively already filtered without any campaigning. So no Fullerton Square speeches, no knocking on door to door, and certainly no TPL. Things will be a lot less controversial. The result will just be about bragging rights, with no significant consequence.

This is why I feel that Mr George Yeo should not stand for election. He is way too young to be some people's mouthpiece. And the young people who are supporting him? They are just so ignorant. Energetic perhaps, but haven't considered what they are asking of Mr Yeo. They think this is a consolation prize, or even a First Prize, a GE 2.0, perhaps? Rather, Mr Yeo should turn his talent and effort to more substantive work, where a greater number of people stand to benefit, probably on the world stage.

Having said all that, all of us can do with another public holiday, though business owners may not be all that enthusiastic about the lost of productivity over an inconsequential event.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Phoenix will rise again

Well, I got half my wish. Mr Mah Bow Tan is out of the Cabinet, though he remains a government backbencher. I am ambivalent with his replacement, the former Health Minister, Mr Khaw Boon Wan. One hopes that he doesn't do a rabbit trick in the National Development Ministry by acquiring a BTO (Build-to-Order) apartment for $8 for himself. But then again, he has breached the income ceiling, so no chance.

Somehow, now that Mr Mah is out, I feel a tinge of regret. The blame for the skyrocketing prices of public apartments was not his alone. The Permanent Secretary probably bears as much responsibility, if not more, for not alerting his political masters about an impending problem. But then, they are civil servants, so they just do what they are told. But Mr Mah has taken responsibility and lost his job. And that's that. Of course, his generous government pension will not leave him begging on the roadside. He will be well taken care of. Some chairmanship position will come along, and he'll be a hero (hao han) once again.

I wish him the best.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Young and Old Ones

I am now sitting in a cafe restaurant having a late afternoon lunch. In the background, on the loudspeakers, I hear Cliff Richard singing "The Young Ones" - a song recorded in 1962, ohh,,,47 years ago. The lighting is somewhat dim, giving you a cosy feeling as you await lunch that your significant other is getting. There are a smattering of youngsters hunched over their books and notes, no doubt preparing for their exams. These exams are held around this time of the year. Never mind, the restaurant has many unfilled seats. Better to look somewhat filled than have an empty restaurant. It is, after all, 3pm. The lunch crowd has thinned and the dinner crowd is not due till 6pm, or later.

I wondered how many in the restaurant knew Cliff Richard, or how old this song really is. It probably pre-dates the year that many in the restaurant were born. It certainly pre-dates mine, if only by a year. Certainly those young people behind the service counters also fall into this group. Has the young really changed all these many years since, the so called Gen Y? They seem to be enjoying this tune, the same tune that their parents danced to in their youth. I don't know what Cliff Richard's generation is called. They represented the baby boomer generation after World War II. Gen A perhaps? Much has been made of how the Gen Y are a different breed today, the incessant connectedness on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and, of course, their SMS via Handphones. These gadgets weren't there for the Gen As, perhaps for the Gen X, but not as pervasive as today's youth. However the change, "The Young Ones" remains evergreen.

Which raises the question, that at heart, are the Gen Y really different? The last General Election seems to suggest that the government needs to engage the young ones more, that more young people are needed in politics and government. The disaster for them, of course, is to find someone as young as Ms Tin Pei Ling , only 27 years old, keyed into the consumer-oriented culture of the young, such as hugging a Kate Spade bag. She stood for the General Elections and won, albeit through a back door. There was immediate calls for her to be sacked because many people felt that she is undeserving. But are these young ones all the same? Not really. One doesn't need to look far. Nicole Seah, only 24, spoke with conviction and maturity well beyond her years, and consigned her team mates to playing second fiddle to her, people old enough to be her parents.

So it is not the young ones. Rather, its is the conviction, the imagination and the creativity, young or old, Nicole Seah and George Yeo, that really matters. Let's not swing from a lost end to solely the young generation, only to lose the older generation, in time to come. Surely MM Lee and SM Goh's admonition to "always have in mind the interest of the older generation...the generation who has contributed to Singapore must be well-looked after" bears remembering. For after all that is said and done, we are one big family, young or old, Gen A or Gen Y.

Encore!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Calling time

Mr Lee Kuan Yew will no longer be called a Minister Mentor. He will now simply be called the Honourable Member for Tanjong Pagar. He has announced his retirement from the government cabinet, the first, and perhaps the last time since Singapore's independence in 1965, almost 46 years ago.

He has done the right thing. Not that his views are no longer valued. I enjoyed reading him in  Hard Truths, and find agreement in much that he had to say. But there is a sense that his politics, built through the struggles in the 1950s and 1960s, and surely thereafter putting in tough policies to ensure Singapore's survival and prosperity, reiterated in Hard Truths, is perhaps past due. This is not to take away the incredible achievements of this man. It takes a coup or an uprising in some countries to push a sitting leader, such as Hosni Mubarak, and Ben Ali of Tunisia, off their seats of government. Fortunately, in Singapore, it took a General Election, a democratic process no less, for both Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong, 2 former PMs, to call time on their stay in the Singapore Government Cabinet.

I wish Mr Lee Kuan Yew more great years of health and happiness for he certainly deserves them.

For Mr Goh Chok Tong, becoming a tuition teacher towards the tail end of his political career isn't too bad either. One only hopes that the student is worth his time.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Point of inflexion

As post-mortems and celebrations are going on island-wide over the results of the General Elections, some people are still quite sore about Ms Tin Pei Ling becoming MP-designate. There is even now a Facebook petition to remove her from this honorable position, such is the extreme dislike for her.

Well, I don't think it will happen, much as we wish for it, unless she voluntarily tells her shi-fu (Master or Teacher), Mr Goh, that she wants to do the right thing and quit. But I don't think Mr Goh will have any of it. Instead, he will probably tell his tu-di (student) that lessons have begun. Mr Goh mentioned that it will take a good 3 years for her to graduate. But  never mind, the tax payers are picking up the tuition fees, which amount to at least $15,000 x 12 months x 3 years, which is $540,000, You know how many zeros there are in that number? And for just one unproven person? The rest of us have to mug multiple sleep-deprived years for a scholarship which may not even pay that kind of money and comes with a title to boot. But well, its an unfair (PAP) world, something that MM Lee Kuan Yew keeps saying in the book, "Hard Truths".

For much of the vaunted incorruptible system that the PAP government has spent the better part of 40 years putting in place, they have now arrived at the point of an 'inflexion', a point in which the level ground is starting  to slope ever gently downwards...

God help us all, and especially our children and children's children if this continues...

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Extreme Results


Most.Least
Why / Why Not
Greatest Regret
George Yeo voted out of Parliament. He was an excellent Foreign Minister and one able to empathise with the electorate.
Greatest Disappointment
Mah Bow Tan retains his seat in Parliament. He cannot empathise with the electorate. Period
MVP (Most Valuable Politician)
Nicole Seah. We want to hear more from her from now on.
MUP (Most Undeserved Politician)
Tin Pei Ling. Now an honorary Member of Parliament who said all the wrong things getting there. We want to hear what she delivers from now on - in Parliament, i.e. 
Most Exhilarating Moment
The Workers Party capturing a GRC. Let us look forward to more to come.
Most Boring Moment
The Returning Officer (Mr Yam Ah Mee) reading "Pursuant to Section...". I think he can recite it even in his sleep now, not that it is particularly nightmarish, i.e.
Most Predictable
PM Lee Hsien Loong's and DPM Teo's teams winning in the mammoth GRCs of Ang Mo Kio and Pasir Ris-Punggol


GE 2010 Results

Results of my General Election wish list

Result Wish List
PAP returned to power with reduced majority
WP captures Aljunied GRC with a landslide
Mah Bow Tan voted out of office

2 out of 3 isn't that bad.


Saturday, May 07, 2011

Wish List

This is my wishlist for these elections:

1. PAP returned to power with reduced majority
2. WP captures Aljunied GRC with a landslide
3. Mah Bow Tan voted out of office

The Wait

Its amazing. The mechanics and voting process in Singapore. Its entirely manual. I don't know about you. But I don't think I saw a single computer in the voting centre. You can transfer billions of dollars online, but when it comes to voting, at least in Singapore, the good 'ol pen-on-paper way is still the safest? It appears to be an aberration in Singapore. We spent billions on automation, telecommunications, IT, etc. but cannot trust it enough to conduct polling.

I'm glad I went early. In fact, I arrived on the hour, at 8. Its not that I am kiasu or kiasi. Typically, Singaporeans don't get up early on Saturdays, after 5 straight days of toil. So I didn't expect too many people at 8am. I was right. The queue wasn't long. Probably 13 or 15 like-minded people in front of me. The polling centre was just a stone's throw away from where I lived. If it is going to be as hot as the last few days, I pity the people showing up later in the day. Better bring along a portable electric fan, failing which, a hand fan might be essential. Yes, the polling centre has airconing, but you're going to spend a considerable amount of time out with nature before you can get into the cool room.

Remember, the whole process is manual, with checking and double checking processes, and joining empty queues that are not your designated one is not an option. There will be several queues. Your queue number is listed on your polling card - A1, A3, A3... And you can't change queue. That's because the register, with your name on it, is only with the election officers in that queue. So if most of the people turning up with you at the polling station has the same queue number as you, you'll really have to wait, even though there is no one in the other queues. And you'll have to put up with official queue-jumping. The elderly, infirmed and otherwise handicapped will be ushered to the front of the queue, over everyone else, by the election officials.

Have a happing outing at the polling stations today!

Do's and Don'ts of Voting
Prohibited Items

The Choice

Just cast my ballot. Mine is a GRC. Took 15 minutes from queue to booth. Took less than 5 seconds to mark the ballot paper and deposit it in the ballot box. Its ironic that some have waited all their lives for this moment. I have voted a couple of times before, so there is no novelty but there was still a tinge of excitement. After all, you don't do this everyday, and what you do today will decide your next 5 years.

Voted for the party that I believe will work for my constituency and the nation. The other party is just not credible right now. Never seen the candidates before, until this past week. This is not to say I endorse every menber of the GRC team that I voted for. If given a choice, I'd vote for another, you know, that one next to Hougang. As far as GRCs go, you have no choice but to vote along party lines. Its as if the person does not exist. Sigh...

I hope the other party gets its deposit back. Not that I am doubtful, but its a lot of money. Nobody should get hurt in these elections, not financially, not psychologically, not emotionally. We are all honest and sincere people trying to give choices to the people.

So far, so good. Its a credit to the government.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Lion and the mice

These Elections has thrown up several new faces. After all that has been said and done in the last 9 days, I cannot but have the impression that PAP's 2 Generals plucked from the SAF and 'plonked' into PAP has been relatively silent - like a mouse. On the other hand, the very young Ms Nicole Seah has roared like a lion and captured the hearts and minds of many.

Her eloquence is a stark contrast to the highly touted generals who cannot speak enough to leave an impression. Is PAP seriously looking to them to lead the 4th generation of its political leaders? What a disappointment.

Vote wisely tomorrow.

The door is that way

It appears that Minister Mah Bow Tan hasn't heard the people at all. Not even after 9 days of intense voices coming from all corners, including the public, that HDB apartment prices are too high and has given many people, especially the young ones, grief in securing a decent home to start a family. He practically called people who are crying out about high prices of HDB apartments liars - yes, liars. He said, "Look at the interior furnishings (of houses around you)...many do up their house lavishly. Look at the car parks. They are full every night...you also see Mercedes and BMWs. So how is it possible, if our flats are supposedly unaffordable?" (Today, Friday 6 May 2011, page 14). As if everybody owns Mercedes Benzes and BMWs...sheesh.

Yes Mr Mah, there are these things, but have your ever asked how people finance these things? First, they have to borrow to pay for the apartment, then they borrow more to pay for the renovations and furnishings, and then they borrow even more to buy that car (and they aren't necessarily Mercedes and BMWs), and...

People in Singapore have had to mortgage their lives over to the banks to get the good things in life while the PAP government, and Mr Mah, boast to the rest of the world that Singapore people are property owning people, that its housing policies are probably second to none, that its National Development Minister probably deserves a Noble Prize in National (Housing) Development...

Clearly, while PM Lee and Minister George Yeo have seen the light and learnt to commiserate with the people, Mr Mah is still as stuck up as ever. He insists on mowing down the electorate, calling them liars. He has lost my respect and any claim to represent the people.

Singapore goes to the polls tomorrow. It doesn't happen everyday. You can only vote once every 5 years (or thereabouts). So exercise your voting power tomorrow. People of Tampines GRC, do the right thing. Do the rest of Singapore a favour. Show him the door. Vote him out. Let Mr Mah know once and for all that Singaporeans cannot be bullied!

DPM Teo said that we need good people to help PM Lee govern better (Today, 6 May 2011, page 4). But you know what, Mr Teo? Mr Mah isn't one of them. But let's also show some compassion. Give him a chance to run for the Presidency in August. Give ALL Singaporeans the opportunity to  k***k him in the b**t, again.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Stand down

PM Lee Hsien Loong has done well. Like his father, MM Lee Kuan Yew, he has apologised, but in this instance, on behalf of the Singapore government. He said that the PAP government has not done well in planning for the upsurge of foreigners arriving in Singapore (housing and transport), about the flood in Orchard Road and even Mas Selamat's escape from custody in 2008. This comes on the heels of Minister Khaw Boon Wan's candid admission of "gaps and deficiencies in the system after many opposition parties criticised the lack of hospital beds and medical personnel in their rally speeches" (Yahoo News - 4 May 2011). Minister Mah Bow Tan should listen up.

All these complaints have been raised and given free airing during the last few days of campaigning for the General Elections. That's another plus for the PAP government. No gagging, no censorship although there has been veiled threats. So the democratic process is alive and well in Singapore. The PAP deserves to be returned to power, especially with PM Lee still in charge. Making a mistake is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as the lessons are learnt and steps are taken not to repeat them, as PM Lee has pointed out. And I think the PAP government, with their track record, can just deliver again.

But this is not to say the opposition parties should lose. Quite the opposite. If not for the opposition's criticisms of and exposing the shortcomings of the government, I am sure PM Lee would not have been forced against the wall to be contrite. So PM Lee has demonstrated that Singapore needs an effective opposition to help it govern even better. In this respect, these days of campaigning has brought about a positive process to improve Singapore all round. I hope the PAP government now acknowledges that having real opposition voices in Parliament can only be good for Singapore in the long run, which is the point that the Workers' Party has been making all along.

Majullah Singapura!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Red herring

Is the reported high inflation rate in Singapore for real or what? A hawker living in a 3-room public apartment was quoted as saying that he will take the family for a holiday in Thailand with the $900 that he received from the government's Growth and Share giveaway. I would have thought that it would have been more prudent to keep the money aside for a rainy day. Who will believe them now if they complain about inflation? Surely this inflation thingy has been a red herring all along?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Negativity

6 days have passed since nomination day. So far, I have yet to come across anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who has anything good to say about the ruling party. There are my colleagues, who condemned the PAP policies on Ministers' salaries and the obscene bonuses they voted for themselves. Then my brother vented his displeasure on behalf on young couples who cannot buy a public apartment without becoming indebted almost for the rest of their lives, and then there was a friend who said that MM Lee's talk about people not getting their estates well maintained if they didn't vote PAP, warning that voters will regret voting for the opposition was a big turnoff. When I pointed out that the opposition party contesting in his constituency wasn't all that great, he said he would vote against the PAP anyway. And another relative expressed similar sentiments about the seeming arrogance of the author of those words.

Is there nothing good to say about the PAP, even after they have all been gifted with cold  hard cash, some to the tune of $3,000 and more? It would appear that even before polling day, the PAP has lost the emotional bond forged with the people during MM Lee's time as PM, including, sadly, for MM Lee too. But then maybe I am not moving in the right circles?

Lose and lose

With the battle in Aljunied GRC heating up, some people are warning that if the PAP team loses, it will not be able to find another George Yeo for a Foreign Minister, as if he is the only one on Island Singapore that can assume that role competently. If this were the case, then the PAP's vaunted succession-minded approach to government has failed. And for PAP themselves to even suggest this shows that they do not have any confidence in their succession plans, if it exists. Some voters are spouting the same fears, either out of ignorance, or fear, or simply being pliant i.e. conditioned after many years not to think for themselves.

And now we are also told that if the PAP loses, it will lose its Zainul Abidin Rasheed's services as Speaker of Parliament. Well, that wasn't the plan, or at least, Mr Zainul himself was surprised by the announcement. So now the PAP has loaded the potential damage if they lost Aljunied GRC and are going to town shouting about this. Nothing wrong with this, except that we are given the impression that Mr Zainul is the only choice. From his reaction, though, he doesn't think so, but has no choice but to obey. There was talk earlier that Mr Abdullah Tarmugi retired as Speaker of Parliament so as to assume the Presidency, slated for Elections in August 2011. Is this either or both? Hmmm...is race becoming a factor in the equation, which the PAP is apparently orchestrating? I thought that's political hara-kiri in Singapore politics. But perhaps the rules are different for different parties...

So far, PAP's message in Aljunied GRC has been a negative one. Vote PAP so as not to LOSE George Yeo and Zainul Abideen Rashid. Vote Workers' Party and your will LOSE Zainul Abideen Rashid and George Yeo.

Very inauspicious, that word.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

No money no house

In these Elections, the PAP has warned (actually, I was thinking of using the word 'threatened') that the value of Singaporean's properties, which mostly refers to their houses, will likely fall if the Opposition Parties were to win in their constituencies. The latest came from none other than SM Lee Kuan Yew, with (surprise?) Mr Mah Bow Tan, the Housing Minister (formally the Minister of National Development), sitting beside him. Earlier on, Mr Mah had criticised the Workers' Party for proposing that public housing prices not be pegged to the resale market prices, but instead to the median income of Singaporeans. He warned that doing so will cause property prices to fall and thereby possibly wipe out a substantial value of every Singaporean's house. Well, I won't go into the arguments which have swung back and forth and will probably still be debated long after the Elections.

My point is so what if the valuations dropped? The increased values of our houses are first of all, unrealized gains. What good is it to be told that my house is worth $900K when the house that I need to replace it with, should I want to cash out, will probably cost me $900K, if not more? So what real gains are there, really? How much more wealthy have we become with all the touted asset enhancements brought to the people by the PAP government?  Now I would admit that this is true for the older generation, those that bought their HDB apartments relatively cheap, direct from the government. They probably paid $120K to $180K, or thereabouts, for a 4 or 5 room apartment back in the 1980s and early 1990s, but have since then made a real pile of money as the values of their properties have increased 3 or 4-fold. Well, the younger Singaporeans among us have found that this is no longer true. They have to pay through their noses nowadays for their first HDB apartment, and more if they have to settle for a resale one. And part of the reason is that the government had decided to price public housing according to market rates. So the Workers' Party does have a point. The disappointment is that the PAP cannot see the point, or at least is pretending not to. A climb-down now during these Elections will cause a lost of face, if not votes.

I admit that I am one of those who benefited from the relatively cheap housing in the early 1990s, and I voted for them in every election. But you know, I don't gain any more benefit from the rising value of my house today. On the other hand, the increased (and increasing) valuation of my property only attracts higher property tax. The real beneficiary of asset enhancements is the government. So, tell me, Mr Mah, how has PAP's recent housing policies really benefited me and the many property-owning Singaporeans?

See also Mr Wang Says So

Friday, April 29, 2011

Devil fight devil

The Singapore General Elections are in full swing. All but one constituency is being contested. Some have very strong and credible opposition teams, such as that in the Aljunied GRC. There is a sprinkling of other promising opposition candidates spread across the other opposition parties, so this General Election is shaping up to be a fight to watch.

But I was puzzled when Mr Khaw Boon Wan, erstwhile PAP man and Health Minister was reported to have said, "You cannot suddenly plonk somebody, no matter how bright and intelligent...to take charge of a government". (MyPaper, 29 April 2011, page A8). Is he speaking for the opposition or for the PAP, because that's exactly what the PAP did, 'plonk' some people into the PAP election teams and expect them to form the next government - people like the 2 high flying Generals, and the Doctor who was gifted a seat in Parliament when another PAP candidate pulled out at the last minute, and even a former civil servant who paid for her early release from the Civil Service, not to speak of that girl.... Is Minister Khaw a shadow opposition member, because, in this instance, he appears to be carrying the torch for them.

Perhaps PM Lee should look at the devils within?

Friday, April 08, 2011

On Second Thoughts

Opposition MP Low Thia Khiang pitch about buying political insurance now resonates with me. The present government is good, but it is not perfect. Some policies are not debated enough in Parliament nowadays. Many PAP members make the obligatory speeches, especially near election time. Truth be told I am hearing from some 'new' MPs in Parliament in the last few months. I didn't know they were MPs, to start off with. I couldn't place their names at all, much less their faces. It is said that faces are easier to remember, but.... Sylvia Lim, only a losing finalist and thus not a duly elected MP, has been far more visible. And even when they speak, they don't offer fresh perspectives, and tend to sing the same tune as the government. Their speeches do not inspire and make you sit up. In fact their speeches are so bland that I wonder why Mediacorp even bother to broadcast their speeches on TV.

And yes, they are yes-men and yes-women. Take the proposal to reduce GST, as proposed by Mr Low Thia Khiang. If there were a Tan Cheng Bock or a Tan Soo Khoon, it could have been different. I am sure they will bring something new to the debate. But the current generation of PAP MPs? I suppose they assume that Mr Tharman, with his array of statistics, can only be right. Where is the debate? The cut and thrust that once fired up Mr Lee Kuan Yew and  which helped to engage with the electorate and carry them into and through unchartered waters. There are still uncharted waters in the future, as the PM always reminds us, but who can carry us through them? The A-team? 'A' in the classroom only or 'C' on the ground too - the ability to Carry the ground on their own steam?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The 10 Reasons

PM Lee Hsien Loong's speech that there is not enough good people in Singapore to form another team of government ministers is less than convincing, to say the least. That the PAP has tried their level best to attract good people into the party and to stand for elections but failed does not mean that there are not enough good and capable people who can take over the government. Most of the new PAP faces come from government or the trade unions. You wonder why. I think there is an obligation factor involved or even a ladder-climbing opportunity, I mean, for the serving civil servants. After all, they don't have to resign their civil service posts if they become MP, do they? The PAP has wondered why people from the private sector are so reluctant to go into politics. I think these are possible reasons, which, I am sure the PAP also knows:

1. Being in government will make no difference to career advancement in the private sector. What's more, loose change under the table is an unpardonable sin. In the private sector, under the table shenanigans are sometimes obligatory to move the business agenda forwards, no?;
2. The good people know there is already a good government, so they wouldn't be able to contribute significantly more. In this sense, the PAP is a victim of its own success;
3. The good people don't agree with the PAP, which isn't the same as not agreeing with the government. Perhaps some of the ways the PAP does things, their policies and approaches just put these people off;
4. They don't like playing politics, at least not in public though they may not shy away from it in the office. The variables are far less in the office compared to the public. They are in control, not controlled;
5. The PAP is looking for Saints. So the good people don't want their past to be dredged up, for example, forgetting to pay that $100 tax 10 years ago, whether intentional or not. There is such a thing known as guilt by association;
6. The sixth is an extension of the 5th. They don't want dirt to be digged up about their close ones, or even the not so close ones, although they were in the least at fault themselves;
7. They don't see themselves as patriots who feel they have a responsibility to give back to society. This doesn't make them bad people, does it?;
8. They value time spent with the family more than power and glory;
9. They don't want to be traumatized and have some senior person tell on them; and
10. They hate white shirts and trousers / dress pants.

Well, ok, the last reason is somewhat frivolous, but your can't blame people for their dress sense. But you know, there are about enough reasons to stay out, at least for those thousands who are successful in the private sector. If there aren't these thousands of good people out there, who do you think is bringing wealth into Singapore? The sitting MPs?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Kidding you kidding me*

Has SM Goh Chok Tong lost it? He back tracked when he realised that his initial remarks about Ms Tin Pei Ling having to seek 'trauma specialist' Dr Fatimah Lateef's help for trauma suffered due to negative talk of her hadn't been stately as befits a senior Minister. But instead of saying 'I stand corrected...' as MM Lee Kuan Yew did when he back tracked on his remarks about Malays being a race apart in his book "Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going", SM Goh put it down to jesting (tongue-in-cheek was the word he used). And what is worst, the Straits Times are also convinced that he was merely joking and making people look like fools for taking him that seriously over the remark. Unfortunately, this remark, made on Facebook and went to Twitter on 2nd April, couldn't count for an April Fool's day joke. Otherwise, Mr Goh could have honestly explained it all away.

First, even if it was a joke, it was done in bad taste. Given how Ms Tin has reportedly suffered, the last thing SM Goh should have done is to pour oil over simmering coals. He did so. The PAP has always said that people who stand for national elections must be serious people, and here, you have have a senior minister jesting over one of its own deeply hurt comrade. Was it really intentional? It would appear that only the PAP and the Straits Times believe that it is.

Second, it would have been good if SM Goh were contrite about his ill-considered remark (also known as a boo-boo). I believe that what he was originally reported to have said, about Ms Tin having to seek medical (psychiatric) help, was true. Instead of coming clean, as PAP always demands of its opponents, he sidestepped the issue by trying to pull wool over the eyes of the rest of Singapore, claiming that he wasn't serious at all. Come on, Mr Goh, give Singaporeans more credit for being able to tell the difference between serious and foolish talk. That's what you would want them to do in the coming General Elections, right? Representatives of the PAP should do no less.

Apparently, SM Goh has still not learnt enough from the Master in the art of contrition, not that the Master is a particularly contrite man.

See Yahoo's report

* to be sung to the tune of ABBA's 'Loving me loving you".

Friday, April 01, 2011

Youth in the Box

What's wrong being 27 and standing for national elections? Singaporeans are biased and can be sexist too. Many people are casting doubts on Ms Tin Pei Ling's qualification for standing as a PAP candidate for elections, slated to be held either this month or in May 2011. Many say she is too young and thus lacking the bearing of a law maker and representative of the people. People forget that one of the important roles of an MP is to think on the national scale, propose measures to do something better or institute suitable controls via laws to facilitate activities for the country. Sadly, in Singapore, MPs are more often viewed as glorified social workers, whose job is to write letters, petition government departments for this convenience and that 'want', and, occasionally do some walkabouts for the publicity. It would be even sadder if MPs themselves view their role in this limited, parochial manner. But so far, that's the impression I get from a majority of little-known sitting-MPs who turn up to speak in Parliament only near election time.

But lets not judge a person by her youth. It has been pointed out that Mr Tan Soo Khoon, a former PAP MP, was also 27 when he entered Parliament. Actually, Ms Tin, age-wise, is in good company. Britain's four-time PM, William Gladstone, whose political life spanned over 60 years, first entered Parliament when he was only 23 years old. The similarity, for now, ends there. If she is elected, she will be judged sooner rather than later, with all manner of yardsticks thrown at her. Then only can we know the measure of this brave woman.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Elect Them?

Wow, wow, and WOW! Senior Civil Servants in Singapore will be paid 8 months bonus for last year's stellar economic growth of 14 plus percent! And these include government ministers, who already receive million dollar annual pay packages. Do the math. As many have observed, even Barack Obama doesn't get paid this much to run the world's only superpower government. Well, ok, there are uncertainties in politics. One day you are a minister of such-and-such, and the next day you may be out on the streets, booted out by the electorate. But senior civil servants - the perm secs and all, they can pretty much stay around forever so long as they don't 'mess up'. And that's really the problem about them receiving such large bonuses. You get rewarded, hugely, for keeping the status quo! And my bonus with tax rebates and all annoiunced in the budget last month now looks a pittance in comparison!

Don't experiment. Don't fix anything which is not broken. Just don't do anything and you will get your bonus, and 8 months at that. How this is related to a stellar economic perrformance eludes me. And the local press, such as the Strait Times are trying too hard being apologists for the government. They deconstruct the 8 month figure to show that it is actually 3 or 4 months, citing that the 8 months is based on the basic pay amongst a total package that includes various other variable components. Well, it is either 8 months or it is 3 months. Why the need to deconstruct? To make it more palatable for the man in the street, who I surmise, is shocked at the quantum. But this is enshrined in the law, they would say. And it certainly is.

Which is why we need more good opposition minds in Parliament who can pour over legislation and prevent such madness from ever being instituted again, or at least make it much more difficult to do a 'walkover' by the government. Come on Singapore, we owe it to ourselves to make sure that the people's money is not frittered away by some senior civil servants on gourmet trips to France while the rest of us have to earn double incomes to service that 30-year mortage, send our children for tuition classes, pay the bills and, perhaps, keep the car. If Singapore is as resilient as it is for its leaders to be rewarded with 8 months bonus, a couple of fallen ministers does not matter, does it?

Let your votes count this year!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Elect Them

The Government just announced a $13B budget that has most workers salivating. But of all the comments made about this budget, I like the one from Mr Chiam See Tong, the Member of Parliament for Potong Pasir. He called this a "Fantastic Election Year Budget". Spoken like a true politician!

Unlike many opposition politicians in Singapore, who cannot say anything good about the government, Mr Chiam gives credit where credit is due. But in so doing, he manages to put forth the opposition view, and that is this is pork-barrel politics at play. Mr Chiam does not dismiss out of hand that this is indeed a people's budget. It is obviously very good for the man in the street. Come on, what can beat being given cash, and legally at that? So we go off with a clear conscience that this is not a bribery. Of course some will read this as a sort of 'bribery' in an Election year. Well, you can't please everybody, not even after forking out S$3.2 billion giveaways. I venture to speculate, though, that this largesse will have little impact, if at all, on the additional votes that the PAP can pull in some time this year. The ROI just won't do justice to the amount of money spent.

But then again, some would say that the money is the people's in the first place, so no big deal when it is given back to them. And since its theirs, they'd probably make a bee-line for the Casinos to gamble it all away, and then wait for next year to come. Just make sure that the chicken that lays the golden egg is not inadvertently, and prematurely, slaughtered.

To those who still say that the budget could have been better for the man in the street, I say, get real. Opposition for the sake of opposition is way past its used-by date. They should take a leaf out of Mr Chiam's approach. He has credibility and integrity.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

We have grown

I think that we, as Singaporeans, have gotten so used to hanging on to every word that our MM Lee Kuan Yew says that every time he does say something disagreeable, Singaporeans go into a fit - as if he is God who has just pronounced an infallible truth. The most recent example is  where he was quoted as saying that Malay Muslims are "distinct and separate". This had the Malay community up in arms with all manner of accusations, both by the Malays and opportunistic people, flying left and right that LKY is a racist. There has even been the observation that the government is complicit in his remarks for if it were anybody else, you can be sure that the ISD will be knocking on his door. Well, the ISD stayed home, so people observed.

What is my take on this whole affair? I have lived my life largely under Singapore's firstt PM - MM Lee Kuan Yew. I have lived through the years when Communism was still the greatest threat on earth, with US and the former USSR training their most lethal missiles at each other, and inventing and building new 'strategic' ones all the time for the same purpose. So the threat of being over-run by the China-supported CPM, or at least the perception, was very real for Singaporeans. But more than that, there has always been tension between the majority Malays rulers of (the former) Malaya and those who believed in multi-racialism in Singapore. I say political because on the ground, the Malays couldn't be nicer and agreeable people. But the years of experience naturally brings a certain concern, if not fear, about how society is developing. So I can understand where MM is coming from.

I had another chance to speak to this Malay acquaintance who taught religious classes in the Mosque. He let on that his children, who are all schooled in Madrasah's, didn't manage to do well enough to take the PSLE. Nevertheless, he had hopes that one day, they would be good enough to proceed to Al-Azhar University in Egypt to pursue the ultimate Islamic education in order to provide leadership to the Muslim community in Singapore.

Among the many reasons he may have in putting his children through this unconventional Islamic education route was that he felt that children needed a moral compass. If left to themselves, he feared that they would stray. This had been a particularly Malay youth problem though they do not have a monopoly on this concern.

I thought this was enlightening. In the highly competitive society that Singapore is today, religion can be an anchor to ensure that people do not go astray. Thus far the Christians, and increasingly the Buddhists, have youth programmes in religion to provide this moral compass. Enlightened Muslims are doing though largely confined in the Mosques and their religious schools. It would be best if they could bring this out of these institutions into the wider community, if only to let others know about their moral principles beyond just the ritual fasting and food abstinences, and more so about their view on life and society in order to remove perceptions of extremism and exclusivity that MM has spoken of. The ball really is on the Malay-Muslim community, not to prove anything, but to demonstrate their involvement and integration into the wider community within the context of Islam.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Whose Singapore?

I have reflected again on what I wrote in my last post, about Singapore Malays begin less easy to get along with nowadays, compared to 30 more more years ago during my younger days. I must say, in all justice, that I know many Malays who are as friendly and 'mild' (i.e. not militant) as those that I called my best friends in the days of my youth. Now, I even know a person who teaches religious lessons at a Mosque. In my conversations with him, I have found him to be anything but extreme. Instead, he goes for 'secular' courses to upgrade himself, thinks of a whole bunch of options, not quite decided yet, of where to head towards - career-wise. Obviously he is not quite the same as those Malays I have known a long time ago, where striking out on a high performance career was the last thing on their minds. As a religious teacher, he was anything but militant in his outlook nor extreme in his views. And there is one other I know who is so full of life and fun and enthusiasm for life. Being around her can be infectious, and she doesn't spout militancy or separateness. In fact, I have seen recent photos of her in China sans the Tudung - a form of the hijab worn among Malay women. I don't think she is being a hypocrite - just being pragmatic.

I do not want to generalize. There is ample evidence to show that some Malays have become 'apart' but there are others who still are very much my fellow citizen, if not a friend who lives next door. And they can even be nicer than your own kind in some respects. So in this sense, Singapore's race policy has succeeded. While a bad apple may spoil the whole basket of them, there remains a certain resilience in the "regardless of race, language or religion" ethos that has characterized Singapore for well over 40 years.

If this were not so, Singaporeans will be making a bee-line for the exit.

In a sense, this is not Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore, it is S Rajaratnam's Singapore.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Live and let Live

Would you rather that someone be open and honest with you, or that that person is pleasant and agreeable in front of you but say all sorts of un-sayable things behind your back? I think most, if not all, would rather the former than the later. But there are people who are so unsure of themselves, so sensitive and so lacking in self-confidence that you'd better watch what your are saying. They would rather the latter because if you tell them the truth, they cannot handle it (which reminds me of the movie, "A Few Good Men"). I am referring to the sensitive nerves that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has (again) managed to prick among Singapore's northern and southern neighbours, which are majority Muslim countries. Mr Lee made the 'offending' remarks in the newest book on him "Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going". And I agree with what he has said. There was a time when, growing up in a multi-racial community, one didn't think that a Malay or an Indian or a Chinese made that much difference.

Sure all of us looked different, spoke different languages, believe in different gods and exhibited peculiar mannerisms that one can put down to culture, social habits of particular peoples, and yes, religion. But beyond that, we called them friends, some even best friends though there were some who we didn't get along with. We just avoided these, err, let's just say disagreeble, people's company. I certainly didn't avoid them because of religion, nor they me. We, at least I, felt that whatever you believed is a personal matter and should not form any kind of barrier to good relations. I even got invited to meals at these different friends' homes. That was a much more enlightened period if only because religion was not a barrier that it is today, and here I must agree with Mr Lee. Islam in the last 2 decades or more, has become exclusive. Not only that, in some quarters they have become so sensitive about the exclusivity of their faith that they cannot tolerate others. What had happened between then and now? I will not venture an answer. Historians are probably more qualified to do an objective analysis and provide some answers, some day.

For me, I can only reminisce of the time when the many peoples in my neighbourhood, in the worst case, just live and let live.