Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Honk honk

Just what is wrong with some drivers in Singapore anyway? They act like they own the road, and if you give them a plane, they'd likely feel, and yes, act like they own the skies too. So what is the reason for this rant? After all, Singapore drivers, or at least enough of them, have been known to be an impatient lot. Well I got a taste of that today.

You see, I was crossing the path that leads into a carpark in a building. It was a small entrance, no barrier and good only for a car to enter at any one time. The width of the passage (I wouldn't even call it a road) was so narrow, about 4 strides wide, that one could be forgiven to miss it as a passageway for cars. As I was crossing it, a car honked at me. It was obviously attempting to drive into the pathway into the building. I was obviously annoyed, and would have thrown a rotten egg at it if I had one then. However under the circumstance, restraint is the better part of valor and I let it pass. But I got to wondering why the driver can't even overlook an obvious unintentional instance  of "trespass". No, let me correct that. I wasn't trespassing. I was just using a public facility. The road didn't belong to me, nor for that matter, to the driver of the car. So what right had he/she to honk his/her horn at me? Absolutely no right of way nor right of reason. In fact the driver can be accused of threatening a member of the public. What if I had not heeded that horn? If we follow the logic, he/she would have to get out of the car to take physical action - a threat if ever there was one. If you think I am exaggerating, then think again. What good would honking at me accomplish anyway? The only rational reason I can think of is the driver just takes pleasure in shocking and frightening me. Now why would anyone do that? I wasn't threatening the driver in any anyway, nor obstructing him/her, intentionally. In any case, it would take me at most 4 seconds to cross the path. Can't wait? Must fight? Easy to act thus when you are behind the wheel. Bloody coward.

Obviously courtesy, kindness, graciousness, consideration are not part of the driver's vocabulary, nor mental makeup. They say what goes around comes around. Let the driver beware that the same medicine will be doled out to him/her one day.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Buy rent marry

Minister Khaw Boon Wan has made me feel young again. In a blog post on Boxing Day 2013, he admits to being outdated, that his assumption that people get married first and then get a home is no longer valid. Instead he appears to have been caught off-guard when told by his YOUNG Sembawang activists, that Singaporeans now buy an apartment first before getting married. I don't know how young his young activists are, but this is certainly not news to me. I have been married 21 years. I remember that one of the first things I proposed to my fiancee (now my wife) was to put in an application for a HDB apartment. It was like dowry, except that it is shared by the couple - both fork out their CPF monies.  Marrying and renting just wasn't "on the cards" for us. We were young, just starting out on our careers, and didn't make a pile of disposable cash. So every dollar was valuable, which we would rather put away for tomorrow than spend it today. And so it was for my generation then. The received wisdom then was to head on over the HDB, not the ROM, to get married. And that was more than 20 years ago. At that time, Singapore was not exactly awashed with available HDB apartments. I had to ballot for mine.

So I was amused when Minister Khaw reported his ignorance. I wonder how young his "young activists" are. Is this another case of being fed the wrong and/or outdated information from the ground or being out of touch in the first place, or perhaps both?

Yes, I agree with Minister Khaw that couples, while waiting for their flats could get married, rent an apartment, get a head start in making babies, and then move into their newly minted HDB BTO (whatever) castle. But the argument against this has always been that the money spent on "non-recoverable" rental could have gone into payment for/investing in a HDB apartment, so why spend when you can invest, right? This was exactly what my fiancee and I thought when we embarked on our marital journey more than 20 years ago. From the wisdom of the young activists I see that nothing much has changed all these many years.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Murky Broth

Of late, for every 10 SMS messages that I have received, 8 o f then begins with the qualifier <ADV>. Needless to say, I have become very annoyed with these unsolicited messages. SMS is not like Email. Its something that you would want to check in on because it is more immediate and the person who sends it probably wants to get your immediate attention. Nowadays when I fish out my phone to check my SMS, I often only do one thing - delete the SMS. Its ridiculous. I have to pay to receive something that I never asked for. Some might even call this cheating. Its really getting on my nerves, the same reason why I NEVER answer my handphone calls when the number is one I do not recognise. Experience tells me that 10/10, that call is a telemarketing call, or a call to sell my house, or someone suggesting that I protect myself, my family, my house, my car, and yes, even my dog. Now I have nothing against people selling insurance. They perform a vital advisory service and I have benefitted from such advice. If on the off chance it is a call from someone I know, that person will call back. But this SMS spam is not so easy to deal with. You don't have spam filters that email systems have that will send them to the trash bin immediately. You become a virtual hostage to unwanted and uncalled for messages. But what is upsetting is that  it appears to have the blessings of the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC). As far as I can tell, everyone except the self-interested stakeholder businesses are up in arms and crying foul.

The point is that the PDPC, as CASE puts it, "has back-pedalled and diluted the intention of the DNC (Do Not Call) registry". The PDPC has now allowed for SMS and Fax messages sent by businesses, or whatever entity, to bypass the DNC restrictions so long as there is an "ongoing relationship" between the business and its customers. How does one define "ongoing relationship" anyway? If we adopt the PDPC's understanding of the term, it can be used to define ANY number of transactions between a business and it customers, even "one-night stands". It will be no stretch of the imagination that a business can stalk a customer simply because the PDPC has given its blessings. The PDPC says that an organisation that breach any of the data protection provisions in the PDPA may be liable for a financial penalty of an amount not exceeding $1m. But how can such violation be proved and acted upon if the exceptions and exemptions can be made post-PDPA?

I am in no way suggesting that businesses that engage in direct marketing be banned. By all means communicate with your customers in whatever way that customer chooses provided that he has explicitly and clearly given consent. Now, anything beyond that is ambiguous, and laws are not meant to be ambiguous, are they? It appears that in Singapore, when the government jumps into bed with businesses, a murky broth can surface, to the extreme discomfort of the people to whom it has given its word to care and protect.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I want curry

Friends, Singaporeans, countrymen (and that includes countrywomen), lend me your ears. I write not to bury the dying but to comment on those who would seek to muzzle the tongue. I speak, of course, of the Breakfast Network (BN) ceasing to publish because it does not want to play ball with the Media Development Authority's (MDA) requirement for it to register itself. This, so I read, includes the onerous task of filling up a registration form. But more than this, the Breakfast Network, if appears, refuses to list its group of editors and occasional writers (this last was corrected by the MDA as not a requirement) by name. We learn that by refusing to comply, they will have to shut their doors, errr...website, including their Facebook page.

Ms Bertha Henson, who appears to be helming the BN, is not unknown in the journalistic circles in Singapore. According to her bio that can still be found online, she has been with Singapore Press Holdings since 1986, holding various positions such as Acting Editor of the New Paper and editor in  charge of journalism training programmes of English and Malay papers.. I don't personally know her, but her body of work suggests that she is no lightweight in journalism circles in Singapore.

Thus it came as a surprise that the erstwhile  establishment figure is now fighting a battle with the media supremos in Singapore. For now, she appears to have given up the fight. When a hundred pound gorilla wants to block your way, you don't rush head-on. You'd only damage your brain, with nothing much else to show for it. This is the first time I have heard of this altercation, and about the Breakfast Network. So I do not know if the BN will spout nonsense, or offer a credible voice on and about Singapore. I don't even know if it will be aligned with the powers that be, or the ones on the other side of the political divide, or even be a fence sitter. But one thing is certain - it operates within the sphere of social political commentary and she has written about things that may have caused the authorities to squirm in their seats. You see, the authorities don't like to squirm, if they can help it. In any case, a voice has been silenced. The MDA insists that it is not muzzling the voice of Singaporeans. It says that so long as certain rules are complied with, you can proceed to put out commentary and write about Singapore all you want - short of defaming people and engaging in too much negativity that may cause foreigners to think that Singapore is going to the dogs.

Now if Ms Henson had just restricted her website to issues of cooking in the kitchen, she would have been able to spew some oil and add some spice and honey when discussing her cooking in the kitchen. Then we can all have a party.

See: Media bias

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reflective Glass

Singapore is amazing. There is perhaps no other country on earth where the response  to a major riot on its streets is a call for restraint and reflection on what Singaporeans could have done better to prevent such violent behavior. After all no Singaporean deliberately provoked the Indian foreigners to bring out such violent behavior. Yet some are earnestly suggesting that Singapore could have done more to integrate them into our society, to our way of life, our docility even. We cannot understand why these foreigners reacted so violently for after all, they would have been in Singapore long enough to appreciate that we don't settle grudges this way. We defer to the law and the courts but more often than not, we talk things out. Sure there are people who will resort to violence, but on this scale? We don't fight on the streets or otherwise cause trouble. Those who do know that they will be courting trouble with the authorities. This is probably why Singapore has not had a street riot in more than 40 years.

Yes, Singapore will, and has thrown the book at the perpetrators of this riotous disturbance, but at the same time, it is willing to look into this issue more deeply to discover the underlying reasons for this behaviour, which included the willful act of destroying police vehicles, an ambulance and fire truck. Were the police action too provocative? Judging from the large numbers of policemen that were injured one would have thought that the police was not tough enough. Yet that is one of the things that are being discussed, not how long a jail sentence the rioters will likely end up with, or if they will be caned. Many speculate that they will be deported. Perhaps Singaporeans prefer not to speculate for we have been told more than once that the case is before the Courts so we should not comment or speculate.

Singaporeans have a right to be angry but most of us are in a more reflective mood. Perhaps this is just as well and, true to our nature, we will talk, discuss and analyse, and then move on to the next incident. We don't really like to demonstrate on the streets, unlike a neighbouring country, where you wonder what the people do for a living besides march on the streets.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wisdom of the ages

Mr Hri Kumar, erstwhile MP for the Group Representative Constituency (GRC) of Bishan-Toa Payoh insists that the Workers Party make clear its stand on the issue of Muslims wearing the tudung. He claim!s that the PAP is clear on this, that it has taken a clear stand. He accuses the WP of avoiding taking a clear position on the issue. I don't think there is anything wrong with this stance. After all, they are practising the wisdom of the ages:

"A politician is an animal who can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears on the ground" - H.L. Mencken

"Practical politics consists of ignoring facts" - Henry Brooks Adams

"A politician should have three hats. One for throwing into the ring, one for talking through,  and one to pull rabbits out of if elected" - Carl Sandberg

"Politics, n. Strife of interest masquerading as a contest of principles" - Ambrose  Bierce in the Devil's Dictionary.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bug off

There's the question whether 27,200 likes of a Facebook page that rejects Ashley Madison setting up shop in Singapore is representative of the majority of Singaporeans'  preferences. I would like to add one more vote (or like) for that Facebook page. But then again, whoever said that this issue is best settled in a one-man/woman-one vote way? When morals are allowed to be settled in this manner, there will be no end of social problems. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah.
I have come across many a broken home where the greatest victims are not the husband or the wife, but the children. It always pains me to feel the loss and confusion that a teenager suffers when his/her parents quarrel and/or separate. One of the most frequent problems I have witnessed is a child's loss of interest in his studies. And this despite the fact that the child is possessed of a good mind and has demonstrated brilliance in school, until parental conflict intervenes.
True, couples do not necessarily separate because of adultery, but it drives a wedge into a child's feelings of security, love and loyalty when his/her parents don't talk to each other anymore. How do you ask such a young person to choose, as he feels he must? Why should he have to choose? It isn't his fault after all, is it? He didn't asked to be born into that family.
So Ashley Madison, bug off. Go ply your ware elsewhere where people are foolish enough to believe in your warped logic and immoral business. You are not welcome in Singapore.

Face it

Is this the face of Anonymous a.k.a the Messiah?

Source: http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/police-haul-suspected-hackers
Yes, he/she/it remains anonymous till today behind his/her/its bald pate.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Fighting a cause

I agree with the Messiah's cause, which is its opposition to the Singapore government's policy of requiring website owners that publishes news to post up a performance bond of $50,000 if the number of unique visitors to its website exceeds 50,000. This has the effect of muzzling independent publishers. How can the Singapore government hope to produce independent thinkers and doers with this wholly unenlightened policy? What, or who is it afraid of?

Having said this, I do not think that defacing the government's websites will cause a change in policy. nor is it the right thing to do because this strengthens the government's position that one cannot allow unfettered use of the internet media to push an agenda, which is what this law is for. Furthermore disrupting these websites will only prevent government employees to complete their jobs. Delays will only create a backlog of work and inconvenience people's access to services that some may depend on for their livelihood.

Bringing down websites, or disrupting their normal functioning is no different from breaking and entering a house and defacing the property. If the Messiah thinks that he/she is bringing salvation and freedom to internet users, I for one beg to differ. There are certainly other ways of making the point These alternatives may take a longer time to produce results, but like Nelson Mandela, reasonable people will agree with a sensible position, if not today then some time later.

Let us be civil and reasonable. Right thinking people who make poor decisions will realise the error of their policies and come around.  If they are not right thinking, they will likely be bumped off in the next General Elections. If nothing. the weight of reason and the force of history will convince them to repent, one day. In meantime, affected parties like Yahoo News may just have to pony up the cash and continue to report without fear of losing their money or favouring anyone. We look to such as these to carry the banner. For the rest of us, we just have to move off-shore with the belief that truth cannot long be muzzled by time, place or coercion.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How much is that again?

$2.80, $3, $3.20, and now $3.80. Taxi fares in Singapore have gone mad. So too the people who allow this state of affairs to carry on. What are these numbers, you ask? Those in Singapore who have boarded a taxi in the last month or so will know. Just 3 weeks ago, I boarded a cab and was taken aback when the meter read $3.80. I learnt later that taxi companies have decided unilaterally to impose an increase in flag down fares for newer models of it fleet of cars because of the extraordinary prices that these cars were acquired, no thanks to the COE system of buying a car in Singapore. An occasional taxi commuter wouldn't able to determine this type of taxis when they stick out their hands to flag for one traveling towards them. More often than not, they'd just have to pay the going rate because it is still quite difficult to get another taxi. From the consumer point of view, this whole system is blatantly unfair.
Today we insist on fair employment practices, but the powers that be seem happy to let this discriminatory taxi fare practice to take place. I believe all taxi flag down rates need to be approved by the authorities. But their stance is that taxi companies are free to set their rates because they are private enterprises, never mind that other private transport operators such as buses and trains do not have such discretion.
What riles me particularly is that you cannot pick and choose the cab you take in a queue. It appears that there is a gentleman's agreement among cab drivers that the cab in the front of the queue must be boarded first. The ones behind this cab will refuse to take you even though the reason why a commuter would want to do so is because the flag down fare is lower. The only way is to let others willing to pay the higher fare to board first until you get to the desired taxi. What if I am the only one in the queue?
And it is not as if the cab drivers are benefitting from this discriminatory pricing. They don't earn more as the rental of these newer cabs are higher. So who are making away with the increases? The taxi companies of course. But since they pay for the sky high COEs, the one which ultimately makes the money is the Government, no? We're already suffering from increasing costs. Why do the governed have to bear this cost, especially when those who take the cab likely do not own a car?
Fairness is not a hallmark of life in Singapore.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wayang wayang

In Singapore, we like to wayang. The latest show we want every business to put on is that they must show fairness in their recruitment advertisements. This means that the ads cannot contain words like 'fresh graduates', 'Permanent Residents', 'foreigners', 'women', etc. You just shouldn't, not can't, be too specific in who you are looking for. The exception is the word 'Singaporean'. Now this is allowed. It's the golden word. The mother of all words. I don't know what our HR professionals must be thinking. I for one think its ridiculous. Its plain and simple stupid. Even our highly educated senior government ministers are singing the same tune. I am calling this a wayang because you can don't use those words in the ads, but when the recruiter shortlists applicants for interviews, only specific people will be invited, no? Looked at another way, you are giving false hopes to people. The more job seekers do not get replies, the more demoralize they will get.

Thus this policy causes people to waste a lot of time writing in when they aren't suitable to start off with, and wasting recruiters' time having to sift through a larger than necessary pile of applications. The result will probably be no different from employers' original intentions anyway. I am sure we have something more meaningful and productive to occupy our minds.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wi Wait?

SBSTransit reportedly plan to install internet access points in it train stations so that commuters can surf the internet for free. But the caveat is that once you get onto their trains, you are on your own. No internet signal will be available inside the train. In this case, you will likely have to switch back to your 3G or 4G data plans.

If this is the case, I find this exercise a waste of time and resource. No commuter wants to stay a second more in the station if he has a choice. The shorter the wait for the next train, the better. So who really would benefit from the free Wi-Fi? And even if the WiFi proves useful, it will be short-lived and ultimately useless.

It appears from reports that the real reason for this largesse is data collection more than anything else, This can be quite sinister, especially when the user is not informed of what is going on behind the scene. But maybe I am reading too much into this. Maybe the train company has nothing but good intentions. But as it stands, this is really a half-baked idea.

Go the full distance, I say, just like what Hong Kong and Japan have done. Make whatever you invest in useful to your customers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Speaking in tongues

Over the last year or so, the Singapore government has scaled back on the once highly generous policy of giving out various types of employment permits, which has caused the population to swell to unacceptable levels - in terms of exceeding public infrastructure capacity (read crowded trains/buses, skyhigh property prices and crowded public places (eg. Little India)).

The other bugbear is the unease that locals feel when they are served in restaurants and shops. More often than not, they are greeted by foreign-sounding English speakers. Some speak in barely comprehensible English, like yesterday in a hardware store. This local Chinese woman (you know she is local because she spoke in unmistakable Singaporean English) asked about a product she was looking for. The sales assistant was obviously a non-local Chinese, very likely China Chinese, judging by his incomprehensible English and intonation. Needless to say, the woman asked for someone else whom she could understand in English.

Granted this has been happening for some time now. But can we not have some patience in these encounters, I wonder? No matter what one thinks of foregners in our midst, at least you cannot but admire these people who are trying hard to learn the language. In this instance he could have switched to Chinese, as another sales assistant did when he conversed with me. But he bravely attempted in whatever English he knew. Admittedly his English was atrocious, but I could still understand some of what he was saying. Frankly all it would require is just clarify whatever is not clear. My father could not speak a full sentence in English, but he worked for the British for well over twenty years though obviously not in a position that required constant conversation in the language. It is incredible how arrogant we Singaporeans have become. We are bilingual, but never use this ability to bettter understand foreigners in our midst. Sometimes I really wonder what all those years of learning in the rigorous  Singapore education system has produced?

One must admire those who try, and help them become better in that process of learning. Isn't this what we would want our teachers to do for us and our children?

Friday, August 09, 2013

I am 48

Oh no no no, I am actually older than 48 this year. But my country celebrates its 48th year of nationhood. I suppose it is also its independence day. Just the other day, some of my older friends reflected on how, in their lifetimes, they had sung 'God save the Queen' when Singapore was a colony of Great Britain since its founding in 1819, 'Negara Ku' during its short time as part of the Malay federation (also known as Malaysia) from 1963 to 1965, and thereafter 'Majullah Singapura' since separation and independence.

My father was counted among this generation. He probably sang another national anthem of the country of his birth. My mother reminded me how my father loved Singapore. He would always make it a point to have the national flag flying from his house's window come this time of the year. I suppose Singapore gave him the peace and stability to raise a family of 5 boys even though he never earned much.  Then again, we never needed much more. He was a good father, faithful husband, and loyal Singaporean.

Some would say his generation is dying out. Today we have more people lambasting the government at every opportunity, justifiable or not. But this is not necessarily bad. It's just that other things beyond mere survival has taken over. Most of us own our houses, some even have 2 or more. We have jobs, and healthcare is first rate, if only somewhat pricey. We have become more vocal. The good and the bad has come out of this. Those who act irresponsibly get whacked, as they should. Some in power don't deserve their pay, and they have answered for their incompetence. Probably a few more should face this punishment. It is probably only a matter of time.

On the whole, this country just works. Anyone denying this should try staying elsewhere. You never know what you miss until, err, you miss it.

As a person who has grown up all his life singing only one national anthem, I say 'Majullah Singapura', hopefully forever.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cry the beloved country

If my child's health is at risk, then can you blame me if I cry for him to be relieved of his suffering and regain his health? Apparently, Indonesian Minister Agung Laksono doesn't care a hoot. Instead he is calling us names, that we are a nation of cry babies which cannot put up with some smoke.

I say let's gas his house where his family lives in and then we shall see who the cry baby is. It is precisely because Singaporeans care that we have made every effort, albeit often more than necessary, to keep our environment clean and green. Environmentally, Singapore is probably way ahead of many cities in terms of liveability, more so than even Jakarta, where, I assume that Laksono makes his home. But that really explains it all. If he doesn't care about his own back yard, why would he care about his neighbour's?

I hear that many Indonesians come to over to Singapore to be treated for their illnesses. There are reasons for this, but Laksono either does not care or he is ignorant. Next time if he ever wants to come to Singapore to seek medical treatment, he can line up last, after the many crying babies that need our care and concern more.

Laksono, go suck eggs.

P.S. What does "go suck eggs" mean? Here are some choice opinions, and I agree with every one of them:

"I believe that the phrase comes from noticing animals who will sneak up to a nest and suck the contents out of an egg. So you're relating the person you're talking to to a thief and baby-killer".

"Suck an egg" was a very handy insult when I was in elementary school because it directly translates into Finnish as "ime munaa", which means "suck [my] dick", so it was a way to insult classmates without the (English, American, Canadian etc.) teachers catching on to the severity of the phrase.

When I was growing up in New Orleans in the 70's, "go suck an egg" basically meant "fuck off."

"Go suck an egg" (American) - a general go-away type of insult.

"Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs" (British) - meaning to presume to instruct someone actually more knowledgeable than yourself.

I always just thought it meant they'd do disgusting stuff. I had a grandmother who could occasionally be persuaded to suck an egg, to the horror and delight of her pleading grandchildren. She'd poke a hole in each end, suck out and swallow the contents. We'd all squeal and clap and shout at her how repulsive that was, and she would beam with delight.

Source : http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=482556

Nation of smokers

You think the day would never come. But Singapore is now a nation of smokers. How can anyone avoid it when the PSI, as of 20 June 2013, 3pm, is reading 355. This is rated as Hazardous to people on the island. To put it starkly, the air has become poisonous. Even our army boys are not allowed to go out in the open for exercises.

I wonder too if the environment is hazardous to yesterday's bug bear - the dengue-bearing mosquitos. If it is, then there is possibly a silver lining in the current hazy situation in Singapore. In one fell-swop, our dengue problem may likely have been resolved, but at great cost. It has put people's lives in danger and would virtually halt all outdoor activities, much like in the days of SARS, when, I remember, the streets were void of human existence.

And I wouldn't bet on this going away soon despite the best effort of the Singapore government. Do you even think that the central government in Jakarta hold sway over the farmers in Sumatra who have been doing this for years? They didn't listen last year, nor the year before, nor any time within our collective memory.

I hear that face masks are flying off the shelves. I probably should get some here in case the masks are out of stock when I return. Return...now that is something I am not looking forward to.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Home away from haze

Singapore's PSI read 290 this evening (Wednesday), the highest it has ever been. And here I am, sitting in a hotel in Penang, away from it all but constantly receiving reports from various people and news sources that has me worried.. And truth be told, the sky is as clear as day here. The only problem is the heat. But compared to what I am reading about the hazy situation in Singapore, that's an immense blessing. I am not due home yet, but already I might to have extend my stay here. I hope not coz school restarts next week and my son needs to be in school. But then again, if this condition persists, could the government announce the closure of schools?

Thursday, June 06, 2013


The day my blog blacked out in support of FreeMyInternet.

This means that I am against the MDA ruling to require Singapore news websites with 50,000 unique hits a month over two month to be individually licensed and post a performance bond of S$50,000.

Be careful folks, the paths get slippery here if we stand for this thoughtless and certainly unpopular ruling. But then the PAP government always prides itself on making and imposing unpopular policies, whether they are inane or not.

Read also the news report 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Good value for whose money?

"If this $10 million gets 20 per cent of our commuters to shift their behaviour, I think that's fairly good value for money", so said Mr Janil Puthucheary, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC. Mr P was echoing the government's numbers when he was speaking, rather proudly, as if he had just discovered the cure for dengue fever, about the Singapore government's decision to underwrite the cost of offering free travel on our subways since he was the first one to suggest this in Parliament not too long ago. 

Can Mr P explain to me how he thinks that the government's 20% is "good value for (my) money"? Usually when someone says that, he has a reference point. For example, product A's price is $100. In a promotion, the seller offers it at $100, and throws in services valued at $30. That's good value for money because my money has been able to obtain more products/services. The price has not gone up nor down, just that value has been added to that same $100. In many people's estimation, that's good value for money.

In the context of this free-ride(r) programme, the commuter pays nothing and gets a more comfortable ride. Obviously it is good value for them. But this is lopsided. Only a few will benefit. Does Mr P mean the tax-payer who is funding this and ensuring that his fellow-citizen is happy although the tax-payer gains nothing? Rather altruistic, but some people love to be do-gooders and thereby gain value for their money, somehow. Or maybe good value refers to increased positive sentiment by the people towards the government on an erstwhile intractable transportation issue, in which case the $10 million is good value mileage for the government, at said same tax-payers' expense?

Any way you look at it, value is provided by tax-payers whether they benefit or not. But the government appears to benefit either way. I suspect that Mr P had the PAP government in mind when he made that remark about good (political?) value for money.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Myths and might

Someone brought this article to my attention. If you have not already read it, I think investing some of your precious time on this will be enlightening and well worth it.

Economic Myths in the Great Population Debate, written by members of the Economic Society of Singapore and published in the Institute of Policy Studies website.

Monday, February 11, 2013


More on the White Paper on Population. The PM said, quite rightly, that the conversation will continue outside of Parliament on the issues raised. Whether the Paper is right or not, we will know possibly in 2020 or 2030. Many of us may not be around when that happens. But the PAP did insert a caveat as the debate over the numbers were debated. That 6.9 million suddenly became a guide and not a target and the Paper, amongst other things, was amended accordingly But more damaging to its credibility was the original claim, albeit in a footnote, that nurses belong to that class of workers considered "low skilled" (page 40, footnote 12). This also was amended, but not when the politicians and their officials pointed it out, but when the nursing profession raised the issue. The government may called this a (regrettable) mistake, but it is a disturbing mistake nonetheless. You just have to wonder about the authors of this paper, which took one whole year to develop and write, whether in their minds they view our Florence Nightingales as low skilled workers. There is such as thing known as a Freudian slip and this is perhaps a significant mental one. Maybe the reason is because, today, many of them - the nurses, are from mainland China and not a few are Filipinos, which unfortunately, have been associated in Singapore more with household maids. There has been a dwindling number of locals who are willing to take on the profession, which is not to say that the profession is any less noble and essential.

But that's how our officials see people - low skill, high skill, low class, high class, moneyed class, foreigner, moneyed foreigners, maid-master/madam-servants, temporary foreign workers (whose job is to provide for locals - build its houses. feed them, ensure that they continue to lead a comfortable life, etc.) And alas, national policies are an outgrowth of these prejudices and biases, are they not? It is no wonder that the government appears to have created a chasm between itself and the people. This stratification reminds one of the labourers who are beholden to the rich gentry, the landowners, and the capitalists for their livelihood in a bygone era - a point that Mr Iswaran, and probably Dr Balakhrishnan, seem to have been at pains to point out in Parliament last week. Nothing really ever changes, does it? The thesis, anti-thesis which must then give way to a new synthesis. Has the PAP become the unfeeling thesis of the day that is crying out for an anti-thesis? Hopefully, we are more enlightened by virtue of the fact that we have received so much education. But above all, we need to stay humble, As some wise people have said, it doesn't matter how good the policy is, how visionary, how well-meaning nor how enlightened it is.

The important thing is that it be communicated well such that people will want to fall over each other to get in line (ok so I exaggerate) to give it their self-serving support, but support nevertheless. In this the sitting government has failed miserably, and at great political costs.

Saturday, February 09, 2013


As expected, the much debated Whitepaper on Singapore's future population growth (Population White Paper: A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore) was passed in Parliament yesterday. What else can you expect when the PAP has more than a two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament. Of course, the Opposition Workers' Party (WP) voted against it. But more significantly, 3 of the 4 Nominated MPs voted against it too, and the other one didn't express support either way.

This issue has been the talk of the town in the past two weeks, in the office, along the corridors, on the streets in the bus stops, at the coffee shops and foodcourts, at home and at mom's place. I am no exception. And you know what? Of the 10 people I spoke to, 10 of them opposed increasing the population to 6.9 million. Goes to show how unrepresentative of Singaporeans Singapore's Parliament is. Well, of course PAP will tell you that mine is an unrepresentative sample of the population, so my 10/10 cannot be taken seriously. But seriously too, I wasn't taking a poll. It just was a fact the everyone I met opposed the idea of having 6.9 million people sharing the limited space on this island. Even those who were staunchly pro-PAP didn't want to venture an opinion. If this issue were put to a Referendum today, I am quite sure that the outcome will be different from what Parliament decided yesterday.

Of course, as the paper got talked about and there was a sense of overwhelming opposition to the numbers, PAP Ministers began to insist that 6.9 million is "not so much a target but more a projection", that the actual number is likely to be between 6.5 - 6.9 million. Some government Ministers went as far as to say that the preferred number is 6.5 million. This is incredible as I understood that the Whitepaper was 1 year in the making, and involved feedback from no less than 2,500 people. After all that time, money and resources (paid for by tax-payers, may I add), our government is not too sure if they have the numbers correct. If not, what are we then debating about? It is no wonder that these same government Ministers not only turned English language teachers but also demonstrated the meaning of "hyperbolic".

Mr S. Iswaran's hyperbole must take the prize hands-down:

“It will exacerbate uncertainty in the economic environment and accelerate business closures and the offshoring of activities...”

“Singaporeans will lose their jobs and instead of productivity-led growth, it would easily tip our economy into a downward spiral. This abrupt move will derail our efforts to boost productivity and restructure the economy...”

“We would be breaking faith with companies who are already invested here and are in the process of ramping up their operations...It will damage our reputation and severely impair our efforts to attract new and different businesses which can offer precisely the kind of diverse jobs that better educated Singaporeans seek...”

 “But what the Workers’ Party is proposing is to jam-brake and put our economy in a tailspin, and our businesses and workers risk a hard landing...”

In sum, what he was saying is that Singapore will face imminent collapse if the Whitepaper is rejected. And why? Because businesses will jump ship and go elsewhere, never mind that we have one of the most business-friendly tax regime in the world. Odd that this same "jump ship" argument is not applied equally to the proposed population proportion of 40% foreigners in the Whitepaper. Going by the same logic, if the economy goes south, wouldn't they jump ship too, and leave the 60%  who are Singaporeans to sink or swim, assuming that we would have developed a high dependency on their presence?

Fortunately, 13 people in Parliament were not taken in by such hyperbole. They demonstrated more balance, pragmatism and common sense - something that the PAP government USED TO be well-known for. But more importantly, going by my conversation with people on this matter, they were speaking for the majority of Singaporeans.

The PAP government may have won the votes in Parliament yesterday, but it may likely have lost the plot in the long run.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Singapore for Lease

The government of Singapore just announced that its target population growth number, right up to 2030, will be 6.9 million. No one can fault this government for being forward thinking. In fact, right from the very beginning, in 1959, Singapore has been led by a group of highly capable people who put policies into place that has brought it first world status in less than 40 years. You can't take away this achievement. I grew up under this government, and I must say, benefitted from these policies. There may be many naysayers. I suppose they might have had a vastly different and likely unpleasant experience compared to mine, but I would venture to say that for most of us citizens, life has become good. This is brought home the more you travel outside the country.

But I come not to praise the past, important as it may be. Let us not forget history, how we got to where we are lest a collective amnesia comes to haunt us one day. I come to consider how the current leaders appear to have a plan to lease out the entire country to foreigners come 2030. I quote Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister for the Environment & Water Resources, about the rationale for this policy Whitepaper:

"...we will need some kind of 'top up' over the next two decades - foreigners to work with us, care for us, pay taxes and to help create opportunities...".  (Today, 31 Jan 2013, page 4).

If this doesn't sound like renting out our country for monetary returns, I don't know what is.  According to the numbers worked out in this scenario, by 2030, we will have 2.5 million foreigners gainfully employed in our midst whereas citizens will make up 3.8 million working people. That's roughly a 40% foreigner and 60% citizen-working population. Well, if you think about it, this scenario is based very much on our experience today. The older citizens among us are well endowed with residential properties. Many rent part or even all of these out to foreigners. It does not take a leap of imagination to arrive at the thought that we can rent out the entire country, much as we do our houses in order for our tenants, the foreigners, to "care for us" and "pay our taxes".

My worry is that this assumes the foreigners amongst our midst are stupid enough to support us in our "old age". Why should they? They come here to make money for themselves, to live for themselves, and to leave when things don't go right. Otherwise they won't be foreigners, would they? They'd would have traded in their foreign citizenship for Singapore's. But our government is an optimistic lot, and they think they can hook these 2.5 million foreigners, hook, line and sinker, to support the old folks in Singapore, willingly or unwillingly.

The optimism expressed in the White Paper goes beyond belief. And given that the current government has messed up the triumvirate policies on foreign workers, transport and housing in the past ten years, it doesn't give me any confidence in the robustness of the policy proposals. The White Paper would likely turn out to be largely a work of fiction.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hazarding a guess

Ms Lee Li Lian, opposition Workers' Party candidate for the Punggol East By-Election, was elected MP last evening. Congratulations to her!

It is said that her margin of victory was unexpected. In fact, it was astounding. I had earlier said to some colleagues that Dr Koh will be elected, no doubt about that. Well, it just shows how bad I am about politics and predictions. I am glad I stayed away from making too many predictions, and making them openly, unlike Mr Desmond Lim who, unwisely, put himself up for election and lost his deposit for the second time. I appreciate his wanting to "stay faithful", but I thought it was foolishness. When people have all but said they are not interested in you (he garnered only 4.45% in the last General Elections (2011), he should have seen the writing on the wall. Numbers do tell a story, pity that he cannot or refuse to see it. How to be a leader like that? Who dare follow you to the edge of a cliff?

At least Chee Soon Juan of the SDP has better sense, and perhaps, in the longer run, timing. But well, Mr Lim's deposit money will go to government coffers, and that will benefit the people, right?

But back to Ms Lee, whom the press has described as a "feisty" women. Indeed, she had the guts to stand against a much more highly educated specialist doctor. Of course she benefitted from the strong support of WP's leadership and machinery, but nevertheless, it is Ms Lee who is putting her head on the chopping block. She reportedly work tirelessly, visited every apartment block in the constituency, and made hard hitting speeches in the rallies. Perhaps not the best, not the longest and not the most inspiring. She might have had a lot of coaching, But then, who doesn't get coached? So you must give it to her for running a tireless campaign. And I salute the 54.52% of the voters who threw in their lot with her.

They were not seduced by the PAP's rash of "special offers" leading up to and during the political hustings. They were not distracted by other fringe candidates. They did not have a lot of amenities. But they placed their trust in this erstwhile Normal Stream and subsequently Polytechnic graduate (she also earned a business degree from Curtin University). Nowhere comparable to an MBBS and whatever other letters after Dr Koh's name. That's either faith or foolishness, only time will tell.

But I surmise that she will do well. But then, that's me with my predictions again. However, I am entitled to be right at least for once?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Two for one

Two for the price of one. The PAP candidate, Dr Koh Poh Koon, for the recently vacated constituency of Punggol East is promising that he will still serve the constituency in the unlikely event of not being elected. That's what all candidates seem to be promising nowadays. If you win, you serve, if you don't win, you'd still want to serve. Happened in Potong Pasir constituency where the PAP slogged for 30 years as a non-representative before narrowly wresting it back from the Singapore Democratic Party/Singapore Democratic Alliance in 2011. I suppose the electorate needs to be wooed, not just with carrots for today but the entire carrot farm. People just don't like "professional parachutist" who come by to win elections but otherwise cannot be seen nor heard. Happened in Hougang constituency too. Mr Desmond Choo promised to continue serving the residents even after his defeat at the polls last year. I am sure both men are sincere, and that's a bonus for the electorate. So does it matter anymore if the PAP candidate wins at all?

But of course. Singaporeans are not dumb. It has been demonstrated many times over that a PAP MP is best able to erect buildings such as community spaces, hospitals, sports complexes, wet markets and the like at greater speed and certainty than any opposition party candidate can. They don't have to content with dirty tricks blocking their way. Don't get me wrong. I am not urging voters to vote PAP in the Punggol East by-election on 26 January 2013. I am not writing about a situation that has not already been practiced and proven elsewhere. It is just a fact of life in Singapore for years now. That's the benefit of having been in power for so long. The civil and social infrastructure virtually belongs to one party - the PAP, so much so that the PAP cannot see it being used, nor shared, by any other party, never mind that tax-payers' money enabled these to be realized in the first place. The AIM-AHTC saga has demonstrated this.

So the opposition parties have their work cut out for them. And from the look of things, every opposition party wants a piece of this pie. They can use this platform to blow their trumpets but not necessarily to win. So when you know that the chance of winning is slim, you don't need to shy away. Take the opportunity to hold rallies, trumpet your policies, reach out to people, blast the competitors and prepare for 2016 when the next GE is scheduled to be held. The people of Punggol East appear to have been quite happy with the performance of its last PAP MP. Why would they want to change, anyway? It is really local bread and butter issues that most electorates are concerned about, not freedoms of expression and greater opposition representation in Parliament and the like. But who knows the minds of the electorate?

But strange things can happen...stay tuned.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Suspect body of work

Here it goes again, another sordid account of sex and lies rolled into a case of corruption in "squeaky clean" Singapore. This time, a law professor stands accused of favouring a student through an illicit sexual relationship. The student reportedly gained from the tryst through better grades in the professor's classes. The Court is now called upon to decide if there is any truth to the allegations.

Once again, the CPIB's "star" witness, the student in question, has given evidence in Court that contradicts the statements she gave to the CPIB during its investigations and upon which the same body has proceeded to charge another with corruption. Why again? Because in another case of corruption with illicit sex, CPIB "star" witness, a Ms Cecilia Sue, also offered contradictory evidence in Court - accounts that did not square with the statements she gave the same CPIB officers.

I am leaving the Courts to decide, as I must, the merits of each of these cases. But my question is, what is wrong with the CPIB? Surely having its star witness perjuring themselves in Courts once is an aberration, but when it happens again, you begin to wonder how CPIB obtains the written evidence upon which a case is made. From what I have learnt so far from the press, it appears that such evidence may not have been given entirely voluntarily, which explains differing accounts proffered in a Court of Law and the CPIB statements. For the second time in as many months, CPIB has had to decide if it is going to impeach the evidence of its main witness. The greater question is if CPIB has not lost its credibility as an investigating body that aims to uncover corrupt practices. Can CPIB bring another case to court without the same thing happening again? The likelihood, going by the two recent cases, suggests that it is not high.

We shall soon know as there are two pending cases that will be brought to Court in the coming weeks, that of the corruption cases of Mr Lim Sin Pang, formerly chief of the SCDF, and Rev Kong Hee of the City Harvest Church. Well, maybe not the latter as it does not involve sex. But one never knows.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Mind your own IT business

Singaporean, or at least those politically-aware, would have seen it coming. A reportedly shell company owned entirely by the PAP buying up a software system that was developed with tax-payer money for the sake of maintaining a software system that experts have judged as "obsolete and unmaintainable" defies every rule of business logic. But let me not be accused of repeating anything libelous. After reading through whatever is there on the internet regarding the AIM-AHTC saga, both from AHTC and AIM, I came away with the distinct impression that AHTC has not explained the situation clearly and fully, and AIM has not been convincing at all with its explanation.

This is why the blog posts on this subject by Mr Alex Au on his Yawning Bread blog has not only captured the attention of the social media, it has been vetted through a fine toothcomb by the PM's lawyers, who have determined that parts of the posts are libelous and threatened to sue. Truth be told, I don't read Yawning Bread at all, but due to the publicity that has been stirred up, I have also begun my "fine toothcombing" of the posts, some of which are quite lengthy and appears to have been a product of extensive research. Dr Teo Ho Pin's explanation (defence) of the issues raised by both WP's Sylvia Lim, bloggers and social media, pales in comparison. To me, his explanation raised more questions that it answered. Quite obviously, he has never been an IT professional, but trying to explain an IT business. It's like expecting Ms Saw to run a train company, no?

I do not propose to jump into the fray to add my 2 cents worth, for it is only 2 cents after all. I have no first hand contact with either party that I can add meaningfully to the unfolding events. The only thing I want to say is that it appears that the PAP has become rather petty of late. It used to be that they were focused on winning the hearts and minds of Singaporeans, never mind that similar libel laws have been used in the past. I don't know about Mr Au's political affiliations, but he appears to be a private citizen expressing his opinion publicly in a medium that even PAP stalwarts and Ministers have embraced with a vengeance. And anyone who have read those posts will come away with the impression that it is not all rant. Is this precisely the reason why he is being sued, that he is being too honest? (Brazen is another word to substitute for honest).

Unfortunately, those who are late to the "game" will never be able to judge for themselves as the offending post has been removed from the blog. How to have a conversation like that?

Read AsiaOne for reports around this saga. Then trawl the internet for the details.
Is this AIM or is that AIM?