Archive for July, 2007

Different lenses for foreigners past and present

July 29, 2007

Referring to the above report (ST, 18 Jul 2007), I do not agree that we view foreigners past and present with different lenses. Rather, our view of the foreigners past and present can differ depending on our vantage point just as what we see on the top of UOB centre is very different from what we see when we are at street level.

From an economic perspective, we are all digits and hence the same, past or present. But when we look at history and legacy, then clearly past foreigners who have given all their lives to this land certainly earn the right to be called locals. Present foreigners on the other hand, have footprints all over Singapore that are as yet fresh and unsettled. They may use this land as springboard to greener pastures and we cannot doubt their purpose here is primarily monetary rather than sentimental. Past foreigners were once present foreigners, coming ashore for the primary purpose of earning a living too. But they are no longer present foreigners but have gone past that and become locals, truly concerned about the well being of this land that they now come to regard as home.

Only time will tell if present foreigners will become past foreigners, in the meantime, let us not pretend, from the perspective of history and legacy, that they are the same.

Referring to the comment in the extract “It would be unfair to view foreigners solely as … burdens or usurpers of what rightfully belongs to Singaporeans, since the majority are here to work and play a vital role in keeping the economy humming”. I recently met with my ex-colleagues who said their CEO, an ang moh, had just made a disastrous decision that wiped off millions from their profits, despite everyone else’s disagreement. This is just one of many examples where these new foreigners truly usurp the throne that rightfully belongs to us but harmed rather than benefitted our economy despite drawing shamelessly high salaries. In this sense, you might think of past foreigners as slaves made good whereas present foreigners are kings waiting to be served.

Monopoly need not be a dirty word

July 29, 2007

I refer to Mr Charles Tan’s article “Monopoly need not be a dirty word” (Today, Sat, 28 July 2007) in which he describes our recent debate on the monopoly of NETs and Starhub as ‘micro’-arguments that misses the ‘big picture’.

Mr Tan reminded us of our small size to explain why we cannot have too many cable TV providers. He reasons that “if the United States had one cable TV provider for every 4 million residents, they’d have about 70 such providers … which they don’t”. This runs counter to evidence.

According to the the NCTA (National Cable and Telecommunications Association), there are 7090 cable systems in the US serving 65 million households. That works out to 109 cable systems per million households whereas Starhub’s cable system currently serves 490,000 households. So clearly, on a per household basis, there are 50 times as many cable TV systems in the US as compared to Singapore.

Furthermore, a quick check at http://www.epinions.com shows us that Los Angeles, with a population of about 3.8 million, has 6 cable TV providers. San Diego, with a population of about 1.2 million, has 3 cable TV providers. So if we were to compare city to city, we find no substance in Mr Tan’s argument for Starhub’s cable TV monopoly.

Mr Tan cited massive fixed costs as justification for a monopoly but NETs, having been established since 1986 has had more than 20 years to recoup any fixed costs it might have incurred. What more justification does it need for recouping fixed costs?

Mr Tan doesn’t believe markets should be further distorted by government regulation but the purpose of government intervention is precisely to correct distortions and imperfections of the market.

Mr Tan makes use of the pharmaceutical industry as an example where it is important to protect a monopoly so as to encourage new discoveries and new inventions. But what new discovery or invention does NETs or Starhub represent? Both are creations of the west which are then transplanted here. NETs usage has not changed much for the last decade or so while Starhub is like a postman delivering content but not a creator of content itself.

Mr Tan warns us that if the government were to interfere with the business of NETs for example, the latter would stagnate in its technology and sink to the level of communist inefficiency. If that were true, then all our buses and trains must be languishing in communist inefficiency all this while. If the public transport council can decide the price of buses and trains, I don’t see why a similar agency cannot oversee NETS charges.

Mr Tan argues that profit from monopoly will fuel R&D and pay good wages to researchers. Seriously, what significant R&D does NETs or Starhub endeavour in?

Mr Tan ‘dissects’ the Starhub case as one of maintaining ‘margins in the face of licensing fee hike for English Premiership football coverage’. He may have dissected the case but he ended up throwing half of it away. Yes, part of the reason is that the EPL is asking for more money but the more important reason is the bidding war between Starhub and Singtel which resulted in Starhub paying a lot more than what the EPL had hoped for. So the crux of the issue isn’t ‘consumer demand far outstripping supply’ but rather there are two companies vying for sole coverage of EPL.

Just as there can be only one EPL, so too can there be only one Singapore. If the EPL wants to profit from the lucrative Singapore market, it can only approach Singapore. This is where government invervention could have helped. One way is that the government buys the rights to the EPL so that as a single entity it would have had better bargaining power over the EPL. The government can then sell these rights to either Starhub or Singtel or both. All would have benefited.

Mr Tan reasoned that the $10 increase in EPL charge is of no concern as the ‘psychological trauma’ would wear off in no time. His is the sort of attitude that makes for good slaves, who sooner than later forgets the pain and is ready for more abuse.

Mr Tan borrows the term “the law of small numbers” to suggest that $15 to $25 is peanuts compared to $15 million to $25 million as though the average EPL viewer earns $15 million. He should have used the law of large numbers to show that $15 to $25 is a lot more painful than 15 cents to 25 cents.

Mr Tan asks why, if we were truly disadvantaged, doesn’t the government act on our behalf against these monopolists? The problem is, both these monopolists are owned by the government, who is the ultimate monopolist. If anything extra incurred by Starhub is conveniently passed on to consumers, where is the pain and hence the incentive for the government to act?

Mr Tan believes that government intervention, apart from disincentivisation, would lead to arbitrariness of what can or cannot be. I wonder how the public transport council currently decides what can or cannot be and whether their decisions can be considered arbitrary. I also wonder how much of the public transport council’s decision disincentivises the good operation of our bus companies.

Mr Tan’s suggestion of peer-to-peer Internet streaming of EPL may have legal implications.

One thing I would agree is that live EPL matches is a luxury, but we don’t even have highlights the day after.

Yes, monopoly need not be a dirty word but Charles hasn’t been able to show us why.

Big hike but still 21% lower than 1996 high

July 28, 2007

It seems standard practice these days to compare property price hikes with those of 1996 as though the latter is the correct price against which to benchmark. But the peak of 1996 was followed by the plunge of 1997. Since the prices of 1996 couldn’t be sustained and suffered a sharp correction thereafter, are they not too high to begin with? What could be our purpose for comparing with the unsustainable prices of 1996? To see how close we are to the trigger point for crashing? To see how far prices can stretch before snapping back?

So perhaps the correct price to benchmark against is not the peak of 1996 but that of 1997 and thereafter. From the benchmark of 1997, we can then ask ourselves how much higher can the price of 2007 sustainably climb up to.

Many property pundits cite the booming property prices around the world as evidence that what we’re experiencing is nothing alarming nor extraordinary. But we only have to look at the United States to see that what comes up must go down. Do we need to go through the up and down cycle like everyone else?

Property prices can be controlled as long as we balance demand and supply. We know our marriage rate, which follows a predictable pattern. We also know how many work permits we issue each year. Surely we would also know how many extra houses are to be built to accommodate any increase in demand due to increase in talent inflow?

Channel U Shoot 3: ex-convicts

July 19, 2007

This is a TV discussion forum on Channel U. Today’s topic is about society’s acceptance of ex-convicts. I am very pissed with one of the two main panelists – Cai Shen Jiang.

At one point in the show, an ex-convict was speaking behind a veil about being reaccepted by those around him which gave him a lot of confidence about our society. Cai Shen Jiang then questioned the veiled speaker why he is still speaking behind a veil if he truly has confidence with our society? This prompted the ex-convict to unveil himself even though he had wanted to protect, not his own identity, but that of those around him.

This in my opinion is very irresponsible of Cai Shen Jiang. He is like a smart aleck daring a poor boy to prove his bravery by jumping into the sea and swimming across the channel. What if the poor boy drowns subsequently? He can say the boy has himself to blame for trying to be someone that he isn’t. But isn’t the smark aleck partially responsible for causing the boy’s death?

In another instance, the discussion fell upon a comparison between Durai and Mediacorp artist Li Ming Shun. A guest panelist opined that the former is more unforgivable than the latter because the former caused hurt to so many more people than the latter. To this, Cai Shen Jiang asked whether there is any difference between killing many persons and killing just one person?

The stupid Cai Shen Jiang might as well have asked if there’s any difference between raping one woman and raping many women. Every rape counts as a separate offence and the penalties all add up don’t they?

It’s just that murder is so heinous, one is enough to send you to the gallows. You can’t hang a person 10 times for committing 10 murders can you?

Lastly, there was a telephone interview with a carwash businessman who employs ex-convicts. In the course of the interview, Cai Shen Jiang accused the businessman of not being sincere enough and not doing enough to embrace ex-convicts.

Who can fault the businessman for helping ex-convicts? Hasn’t he done enough? What has Cai Shen Jiang done to help ex-convicts? Who is he to make such comments?

Tree’s end is near

July 12, 2007

I read with regret the decision by LTA and the National Parks to cut down the 80-year-old tree along Braddell Road. I support LTA’s earlier decision to save the 80-year-old tree and urge it to remain steadfast in its decision.

As a relatively young nation of 42 years, this 80-year-old tree is a rare heritage that we should all strive to preserve. We may plant a thousand trees now but we won’t live long enough to see any of them grow to the size and magnificence of this 80-year-old.

If our trees have to give way each and every time there’s a need to widen the road or alter its path, when would they ever live up to 80 years old?

We can make the road safer without cutting down the tree. By building a road divider all along Braddell road leading to the tree that broadens gradually, any driver dutifully following the road curvature would eventually round the tree safely when he or she reaches it.

Financial crisis, 10 years on

July 9, 2007

Towards the end of an interview with BBC (ST, 6 July 2007), Mr Goh said the following:

“In 10 years times, if you come to Singapore, there should be many things for you to do. Whatever you want to do, you should be able to do in Singapore. That kind of change must come about because we need talent for Singapore. We need foreigners to come to Singapore. We hope they will work here. We hope some of them will become permanent residents and, of course, citizens. A cosmopolitan Singapore will be very different from a Singapore which is just multiracial in terms of having Chinese, Malays and Indians. That’s the direction we are moving in.”

It sounded very much like Mr Goh is prostituting Singapore to the West. I can almost hear these unspoken words “Come please, we give you our women, we give you cosy jobs, come plant your genes here as we think they’re much better than those we have inherited from poor Chinese, Indian and Malay peasants.”

I can’t believe we’re unashamely selling our country away. Already we see many ang mohs holding high positions in protected GLCs. And while we make life easy for them, we true Singaporeans are doing all the dirty work on the ground. What is our country becoming?

Certain things are not said and cannot be said and we can only guess what they are. What are the reasons for the govt’s overzealous embrace of foreigners? I can only speculate on three reasons:

1. To improve racial harmony
2. Govt thinks ang mohs are really better than the rest of us
3. Singapore women wants ang mohs

1. As we become more multicultural, instead of just tricultural, racial lines will become more diffused and less intense. As we also actively encourage interracial marriages, racial lines will become blurred so that races can blend into one another.

So far so good. But which are the two main groups at loggerheads with each other today? The ang mohs and the muslims. We have a sizeable Muslim population here. You mix it with ang mohs you’re going to have an explosive mix not unlike Israel and Palestine.

We need to really ask ourselves is it race that is the threat to social cohesian or religion? The current islamic fundamentalist threat is not a race threat but a religion threat. Would a strategy of integrating races mitigate a religious threat? I don’t think so.

There are many mixed marriages between Chinese and Indians but not as many between Muslims and non-muslims. Even if you bring ang mohs into the equation, the problem remains, Muslims and non-muslims cannot intermarry without non-muslims getting converted. So what you get in the end is not a mixed marriage but a muslim couple with muslim children. The intended integration doesn’t materialise while the real fault line between Muslims and non-muslims persists. Unless we recognise that the real issue is religion and not race, we cannot possibly go the right step. There might be a need for the muslim community to relax the need for conversion for the purpose of marriage.

2. The govt sees all the great ang moh inventions like Google and Microsoft and thinks perhaps the ang mohs have it in their genes – creativity. But Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China have shown the world that they can match the west in terms of creativity. if oriental Japan, Korea, Taiwan can be as creative as the west, surely oriental Singapore cannot be that bad?

I once read from a book that the character of an organisation takes on the character of its leader. You have a strong leader, the organisation stresses leadership. You have a kind leader, the organisation stresses kindness and compassion.

If you put an engineer to lead the country, you can be rest assured that the character of the nation will steer towards innovation and invention. What happened for the last 40 years is that we have been led by a lawyer. What do you think becomes of our island? Very law abiding but otherwise very unimaginative. The lawyer charges you with his book of rules so you better comform to his book of rules.

If ang mohs were truly more innovative then asians, how do you explain so many chinese and indian brains working in silicon valley? how do you explain personalities like Jerry Yang who started Yahoo?

Its clearly not a case of race but that of environment that is the incubator of ideas and innovation. What we need to transplant here is the set of conditions conducive for the expression of ideas, not the ang mohs.

3. Mr Goh’s daughter married a Briton and he now sees her and his grand children only twice a year. That’s sad for him. He may have realised that Singapore girls prefer ang mohs so the govt has to import ang mohs to cater to them lest they become old spinsters.

You ain’t seen nothing yet

July 8, 2007

Mr Mah said in an interview with Straits Times (29 Jun 2007) that Singapore can comfortably accomodate a population of 6.5 million without any compromises. Over the years, as our population has grown, our flat sizes have correspondingly shrivelled while our neighbour’s flats have gotten nearer and nearer so much so that we now have front row seats for viewing our neighbours’ daily activities. Is this Mr Mah’s so called ‘not compromising on quality of life’? Is that comfortable? Is it really bearable? So what if it is not bearable? What choice do we have except to migrate?

I wonder if he is living in a world of his own when he said that housing prices are rising at a ‘steady’, ‘sustainable’, ‘comfortable’ rate? Doubling of HDB prices in a month is ‘steady’, ‘sustainable’ and comfortable?

Is he trying to hoodwink the general public by saying that HDB prices have risen only 3 to 4 percent recently when that 3 to 4 percent includes a large number of unwanted Jurong West flats that the govt had to split into smaller units to induce buyers? Why doesn’t he show us the 100% price increases in Tiong Bahru for example?

He urges Singaporeans to look forward to the unveiling of his so-called ‘master plan 2008′ with anticipation, not with trepidation. I can only view it with resignation …

Mr Mah is also planning two more regional centres in Jurong and Paya Lebar. While these may go some way to alleviating the crowdedness in the city centre, its effectiveness is rather limited. Take the current Tampines regional centre for example, how many Tampines residents actually work in Tampines? By virtue of the fact that Tampines is only a regional centre, it cannot possibly offer the wide array of job opportunities found on the rest of the island. A biomedical aspirant would probably end up travelling from Tampines to Tuas everyday. A petrochemical worker would have to make the daily trip from Tampines to Jurong island. A financial professional would still have to travel to the CDB for that’s where the best financial opportunities are. In other words, wherever you site your regional centre, as long as it is not centrally located, it would not have a significant impact towards reducing travelling and traffic congestion.

The problem which our scholarly planners fail to see is that any family would comprise members with different interests that requires them to commute to different parts of the island for their daily pursuance of those interests. Eldest son might be a doctor at SGH and has to travel south. Second son may be a pilot and needs to travel east while third son might be an engineer working in Jurong and so travels west. Given such a situation, which is not uncommon, the best planning would be to house the masses right in the centre of the island so that whichever direction they choose to travel to, commuting time and distance will not substantially eat into their waking hours.

But what have we with our current situation? Central locations like Holland and Bukit Timah are too lightly populated with bungalows while the masses are conveniently pushed away to the far flung corners of the island. So much for planning …

Vivocity has been earmarked as the new rest and relaxation hub but it is located in the south whereas most of our new housing estates are located in the north; Bukit Panjang – Northwest, Woodlands – North, Seng Kang and Punggol – Northeast … so much for planning …

By locating recreation amenities on one end of the island and homes on the other, Minister Mah is forcing us to make the daily crisscross all over the island, compounding travelling woes and traffic congestion.

The report ends with Mr Mah declaring job satisfaction with seeing his plans materialise. I wonder how Mr Mah can derive job satisfaction when his customers, the ordinary folks of Singapore are highly dissatisfied? How can a govt that doesn’t bother about our satisfaction lead us to improve our customer service standards?

Why are the public, bus drivers treated differently?

July 7, 2007

A sharp letter by Mr Chew Mun Kit …

IN THE face of increasing assaults on bus drivers, police have said that such attacks will not be tolerated.

Those who assault bus drivers will be prosecuted under Section 323 of the Penal Code and police investigations were initiated in all cases, except when the drivers themselves did not want to pursue the matter.

I read a few letters in the Forum in April, also referring to the above legislation. The letters are ‘Punched and hit but police won’t be taking action’ (ST, April 4), ‘When is an offence seizable?’ (ST, April 6) and ‘Why that advice to lodge magistrate’s complaint’ (ST, April 14).

The letters started with a Ms Kong Lai Meng who had been assaulted asking why the police did not go on to detain the suspect, and ended with a reply from the police force.

From the letters, it seems that a complaint has to be lodged with a magistrate before police can initiate action. In cases where grievous hurt was caused or weapons were used, offenders would be charged under Section 325 or 324 instead.

This being the case, how could the police say beforehand that they will initiate investigations and charge offenders under Section 323? Surely, more information is required before the police can take action.

Unless there is a fundamental difference between a bus driver and a regular guy on the street, police should take the same stand. It seems that bus drivers can opt out of police investigations whereas common citizens have to opt in by filing a report with a magistrate.

Chew Mun Kit

Singapore cabbies puzzle HK visitor

July 7, 2007

Another one I like by tourist Michael Gleissner from Hong Kong (ST Forum, 29 Jun 2007). I sympathise with the taxi drivers. They’re trying their best to make a living lest worry about customer service. It is the taxi companies’ exhorbitant rentals that are causing this lose lose situation for customers and drivers alike …

THE taxi situation in Singapore has reached another low point.
Admittedly, I am spoilt by Hong Kong, where all you need to do is raise your arm and a taxi would stop and the door open, rarely beyond a two-minute wait.

And this is regardless of where you hail a cab.

With the cabbies, it is customer satisfaction first, even if they do not comply with traffic regulations all the time.

In Singapore, not only did I find myself in endless queues on my recent visit, but taxi drivers also kept stopping to ask would-be passengers where they were headed. They would then shake their head and drive off.

Do cabbies take on passengers only if the route is convenient to them?

Who is the customer and who is the one who is supposed to provide a service?

In no other city I know of can a taxi driver reject a customer based on his destination.

I could only shake my head in disbelief.

Michael Gleissner
Hong Kong

LTA, MOE’s responses were non-replies

July 7, 2007

I like this letter by Dr Lim Boon Hee too (ST Forum, 29 Jun 2007) …

I REFER to the replies by the Land Transport Authority (‘Market forces determine taxi fares’) and the Ministry of Education (‘MOE committed to five-day work week'; ST, June 28).
The replies do not address the writers’ concerns at all.

The taxi situation is appalling and to solve this vexing problem surcharges and fares would have to be tweaked, cab rentals adjusted to attract more drivers, and supply may have to be increased.

LTA’s hands-off approach – declaring that taxi supply, fares and surcharges are left to the taxi operators to determine in a deregulated industry – essentially means that the present frustrating situation will remain the status quo, that is, one of the worst in Asia.

What ‘market forces’ are there in free play when an imperfect market exists?

After all, electronic road pricing, diesel taxes and certificates of entitlement are controlled.

Similarly, the husband of a teacher is crying out to MOE for help.

He is asking MOE if his teacher wife has the right to reject going to work on Saturdays without being unduly penalised by the ranking system for being unwilling to perform more than her expected duties.

After all, officially, it is a five-day work week.

Contrary to the MOE spokesman’s reply, teachers have not been given the ‘flexibility’ of choice as to whether to return to school on weekends.

On the other hand, schools have been given too much flexibility and authority to organise too many unnecessary activities on Saturdays.

Dr Lim Boon Hee


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