Hypocritical anti-colonialism

June 30, 2017

I refer to the 1 Jun 2017 Straits Times letter “Colonial era an important part of Singapore’s story” by Mr Gabriel Cheng Kian Tiong.

Hypocritical anti-colonial sentiments

It’s quite easy to see through the hypocrisy of those who purport to hold anti-colonial sentiments on account of Britain’s inability to defend Singapore during WWII. All that is required is to check if those persons patronise the many Japanese restaurants in Singapore or enjoy popular Japanese cuisine such as sushi or rahmen. Those persons cannot purport to bear more grudge against the British who failed to defend us against the Japanese than against the Japanese themselves who had inflicted cruelty and bestiality upon our ancestors. As an analogy, it would be unlikely for a lady to say that she is angrier with her boyfriend for failing to protect her than with those who violated her provided the boyfriend didn’t run away but tried to protect her. In our case, the British didn’t run away but tried to protect Singapore. Many British and Australian troops suffered 3 years 8 months of Japanese captivity which was as long as our ancestors suffered under Japanese Occupation.

Lee Kuan Yew didn’t fight for Singapore’s independence

It’s falsehood to say that Lee Kuan Yew stepped up to fight for Singapore’s independence. It was the Leftists who were at the forefront of fighting for Singapore’s independence. Given Lee’s adversarial stance towards the Leftists and his cruel treatment of the latter through detention without trial, Lee was the antithesis of the Leftists and therefore the antithesis of Singapore’s independence fighters.

Instead, Lee fought to transfer Singapore from British sovereignty to Malaysian sovereignty, with no gain whatsoever to our own independence. In fact, Lee didn’t even want independence and cried on national television when independence was thrust upon us. It is ridiculous to credit Lee for fighting for our independence when he didn’t even wanted independence.

More meaningful

It would be more meaningful to remind Singaporeans that Singapore’s progress has been a long continuous one since 1819 and that it was upon the strong foundations laid during colonial years that our post independence successes stood.

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False seeds for multiculturalism

June 9, 2017

I refer to the 3 Jun 2017 Straits Times letter “Seeds for multiculturalism planted long before Raffles arrived in Singapore” by Anthony Oei.

False multiculturalism

Mr Oei’s claim that Singapore’s multiculturalism took root in the 14th century is based not on facts but on misinformation, speculation and false understanding.

Just as Mr Oei going to London for a six month business trip doesn’t make him a London immigrant, so similarly, having Asian merchants come to Singapore in the 14th century to do business doesn’t make them our earliest immigrants. The thousands of international tourists residing in Singapore today are not Singapore immigrants. They do not contribute to Singapore’s multiculturalism. Singapore’s multiculturalism has to be premised on those who live in Singapore on a permanent basis.

Mr Oei offers no evidence of 14th century merchants settling down in Singapore. Instead, he offers the wishful thinking that perhaps some 14th century merchants settled down after marrying local women. The standard of the Straits Times forum has gone down so low that even wishful thinking is now being showcased as evidence.

False assumption of 14th century trading port continuing till 1819

Mr Oei betrays his terrible lack of understanding of Singapore history when he reasons that Singapore’s 14th century existence as a Malay trading port implies that Singapore was more than a fishing village when Raffles arrived in 1819. What Mr Oei fails to account for is the fact that the ancient city of Singapore founded by Sang Nila Utama didn’t survive till 1819. Instead, it was sacked and burnt down by the Portuguese in 1613.

In 1613 Singapore’s main settlement was burnt down by Portuguese raiders and the island slipped into obscurity, with the ports of Melaka and Johor dominating the lucrative shipping routes that linked Europe and India with China and the East Indies.
[The Statesman’s Yearbook, Part of the series The Statesman’s Yearbook pp 1105-1111 Singapore, Barry Turner]

So between 1613 and 1819, Singapore ceased to exist as a trading port and became a small fishing village.

It is also for this reason that any purported 14th century multiculturalism could not have gone past 1613 and continued to 1819.

False understanding and application of Raffles’ separate enclaves

Mr Oei further embellishes his tale by claiming that Raffles’ division of the land around the Singapore River into separate enclaves for various ethnic groups is proof that Singapore was more than a fishing village before Raffles’ arrival. But contrary to Mr Oei’s assertion, there was no such separation of land into various enclaves in Raffles’ original town plan of 1819.

raffles town plan 1819

[Map 2 Raffles’ Town Plan 1819 (SSR, L10, pp.71-75; Raffles to Farquhar 25/6/1819; C Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore 1819-1867, Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1965)]
[The Singapore River: A Social History, 1819-2002, Stephen Dobbs, page xiii]

It was only three, four years later in Raffles’ revised town plan of 1822-1823 that distinct land parcels for separate ethnic groups appeared. By that time, Singapore had already received three, four years’ loads of coolies from China and sepoys from India.

raffles town plan 1823

It is therefore utter rubbish for Mr Oei to claim that Raffles merely built upon what was already there when Singapore had nothing but forest, swamps, marshes and a few huts when Raffles arrived in 1819.

singapore 1819

Mr Oei misses the point

Mr Oei misses the point when he quotes from the book “Raffles and the British Invasion of Java” to paint Raffles in a bad light. That book is centred almost entirely around Raffles’ missteps in Batavia between 1811 and 1816. But Batavia between 1811 and 1816 has absolutely nothing to do with the crux of the issue being discussed here, namely that of Raffles’ founding of Singapore in 1819. The book says absolutely next to nothing about this important achievement of Raffles which is what really matters for Singaporeans. While it is quite obvious that the book’s author Tim Hannigan has an axe to grind with Raffles, even so, Hannigan has no choice but to admit that Raffles was not only the founder of a very successful Singapore but was also ahead of his times.

This is Raffles the hero, Raffles the pioneer, and around him stood all that Singapore had become … Raffles might have been ahead of his time in the 1800s … he had had the dot of land at the bottom of the Malay Peninsula ceded in entirety to the British Crown, and Singapore was prospering … perhaps Raffles really had had the right ideas after all.
[Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, Tim Hannigan, pages 355-356]

The rest

Mr Oei mustn’t forget that it was the Leftists who fought tooth and nail against colonisation but in the end, they were all subjected to the cruelty of detention without trial by Lee Kuan Yew. If there was ever an enemy of the heroes of our freedom fighters, it was Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Oei is sorely mistaken in characterising Raffles as someone who came to colonise us. It is a fact that Mr Oei’s ancestors weren’t even around in 1819 for Raffles to colonise. Instead, Mr Oei’s ancestors only came after Raffles had established the new port of Singapore for reasons as common as escaping the poverty of Manchu China or the chaos after its fall. There is therefore no volte-face in commemorating the true founding father of modern Singapore – Sir Stamford Raffles and that we are all sons and daughters of Raffles.

Conclusion

Mr Oei’s essay is chockfull of mistakes. He argues on the basis of wishful thinking, not facts. He ignores the sacking of ancient Singapore in 1613 and instead assumes that ancient Singapore survived till Raffles’ arrival in 1819. He conveniently points to Raffles’ land allocation by race but fails to consider that that allocation was in 1823, not 1819. He completely misses the point by using evidence from a book that is almost entirely about Batavia between 1811 and 1816 and nothing about Singapore in 1819.

Appropriate to celebrate 200 years of Singapore’s founding

May 27, 2017

I refer to the 26 May 2017 Straits Times letter “Inappropriate to mark anniversary of colonisation” by Mr Anthony Oei.

Unlike Mr Oei, my parents and grandparents feel / felt neither shame nor humiliation with our colonial past despite having lived through the colonial era like Mr Oei has. Far from being subjugated, colonial Singapore offered many of our forefathers the opportunity to escape the poverty of their hometowns and to prosper through hard work and entrepreneurship.

To those who know their Malaya from one end to the other, no less than to the casual visitor, it is a constant source of wonder how so many different races and communities live and work together in the utmost harmony … we repeat, that the different communities live and work in harmony because the British system of justice and administration enables them to obtain fair play. There are no discriminatory or repressive laws, there are few, if any race prejudices in the bazaars and counting houses, there is nothing to prevent the humblest coolie from rising to great wealth – many indeed have done so …
[The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 26 July 1935, Page 8]

Privileged class still exists today

It wasn’t just colonial era Europeans who enjoyed privilege, colonial era towkays enjoyed privilege too. They may not wine and dine at the same places but they certainly had their own exclusive clubs like those on Ann Siang Hill. It isn’t as though privilege ended with the end of colonial rule. Today, Caucasians continue to live more prosperous lives than the average Singaporean, often becoming our bosses, getting better paying jobs and staying at better houses. Our GINI inequality index remains one of the highest amongst advanced economies. Our indigenous per capita GDP lags behind our per capita GDP showing that indigenous Singaporeans aren’t making as much as their foreign counterparts.

Wrong to say that Raffles colonised Singaporeans

Mr Oei is mistaken in saying that Raffles came to colonise us. When Raffles came, there were only about 120 Orang Lauts in Singapore. There were zero Chinese or Indians for Raffles to colonise. Raffles imported tens of thousands of Chinese coolies to build up Singapore. While life certainly wasn’t a bed of roses for these early Chinese coolies, they came of their own accord, to escape poverty and to find riches in this land of opportunity.

Raffles’ contribution far more consequential than given credit for

Raffles’ establishment of Singapore as a free port wasn’t just a useful contribution. It is the reason for our birth and of our prosperity. Three out of four reasons Dr Goh Keng Swee gave to explain Singapore’s prosperity are directly linked to our port and the British institutions that we inherited.

There are four reasons which enabled Singapore throughout her history as a British colony, and today as an independent republic, to survive and even prosper in the face of apparently insurmountable difficulties.

First, there is the well-known fact of a superb central geographical location with a natural harbor swept by currents flowing between the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

The second reason must be ascribed … to Sir Stamford Raffles’ great vision of the island growing into a great emporium founded on the Victorian belief in the virtues of free trade. Successive colonial governors zealously nurtured the port, maintained lean and efficient administrators, and allowed merchants and bankers full scope for the exercise of their talents. In the modern idiom, the Victorians who governed Singapore established and maintained an infrastructure at minimum cost with maximum efficiency.

The third reason derives from the second condition, the nurturing of the free enterprise system. In the absence of monopolies and privileged business interests, keen and free competition ensured efficient business.

Finally, what made Singapore grow as a trading centre despite mercantilist policies of neighbours was that the economics of the business did not add up to a zero sum game. This happy result emerges from the continuous and rapid economic development of the countries in Southeast Asia under British and Dutch colonial administrations.

For well over a hundred years Singapore learnt to adapt her economy to changing circumstances. This ability to adapt which was won in the hard school of experience remains an asset which the government of independent Singapore decided to retain. It might have been politically expedient to rid ourselves of institutions and practices that bore the taint of colonial associations. Had we done so, we would have thrown away a priceless advantage.

[Goh Keng Swee, The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1: Why Singapore succeeds, pages 6-7]

Sizeable poverty remains today

Mr Oei’s lament about the colonial government not doing enough to enrich our lives similarly applies to the PAP government today. According to the SMU paper “Measuring Poverty in Singapore: Frameworks for Consideration”, page 60:

• In 2008, Straits Times reported 23-26% of Singapore households fall below social inclusion levels
• In 2008, the Lien Centre reported 20-22% of households fall below relative poverty estimates
• In 2006, Asher and Nandy reported 26% of workers fall below relative poverty estimates

We must also consider the fact that a great number of people living in Singapore during colonial times were foreign workers who were neither citizen of Singapore nor British subject until 1959. There was thus no onus for the British government to enrich the lives of non-British subjects during colonial times just as there is no onus for the PAP government to enrich the lives of approximately 1 million foreign workers in Singapore today.

Colonial Singapore wasn’t poor Third World

Mr Oei is wrong to say that colonial Singapore was a poor Third World country. Singapore’s 1960 per capita GNI of US$4,794 (Penn World tables with some conversion) in 2010 PPP USD was already within World Bank’s classification of an Upper Middle Income nation, one rank below a High Income nation but two ranks above a Low Income nation. Colonial Singapore was thus Middle Income, not poor Third World.

Our per capita GDP in 1960 was already $1,330 which gave us a middle-income status
[Carl A. Trocki, Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control, page 166]

Unreasonable to expect prosperity immediately after Japanese Occupation

Mr Oei unreasonably laments about Singapore slums in 1947, just two years after the end of the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation. Does Mr Oei seriously believe that Singapore could overcome the ravages of the greatest calamity that ever befell us or the world for that matter in just two years?

Even for London, 1947 was described as a year of decay, decrepitude, sagginess and rottenness where housing was a disgrace (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-495096/Britain-1947-Poverty-queues-rationing–resilience.html).

It wasn’t just Singapore that had to deal with shortages of food and other life essentials in 1947. 1947 was also a year of food rationing in Britain that wouldn’t end till 1954 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/4/newsid_3818000/3818563.stm) by which time Singapore had already become the most important communications centre in the Far East.

Singapore was the most important communications centre in the Far East, not just for shipping but a focal point for airlines, telecommunications and mail distribution at the beginning of the 1950s.
[The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, W. G. Huff, pages 31-33]

Britain failed to defend us against Japanese

While lamenting Britain’s failure to defend us against the Japanese during WW2, Mr Oei fails to consider that Britain itself barely survived the Battle of Britain and that Japan wasn’t any ordinary, run of the mill enemy but a powerful one that had also pushed the mighty Americans out of the Philippines. Does Mr Oei think that if Singapore had its own indigenous forces at that time it would have successfully held out against the Japanese? Even today, can Singapore’s indigenous forces resist another Japanese invasion?

Singapore is more than just Lee Kuan Yew and his government

Mr Oei mistakenly credits Lee Kuan Yew and his government for lifting us from poverty to First World metropolis status. Lee Kuan Yew himself said that Singapore was already a metropolis back in 1967. How could Lee Kuan Yew have lifted Singapore to metropolis status in just 2 years of independence?

On my first official visit to America in October 1967, I recounted to 50 businessmen at a luncheon in Chicago how Singapore had grown from a village of 120 fishermen in 1819 to become a metropolis of two million.
[From Third World to First, memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, page 74]

Surely common sense should tell Mr Oei that either Lee Kuan Yew was lying in 1967 or that Singapore was for all intents and purposes already a metropolis or very nearly so by the time the British handed Singapore over to Singaporeans.

Furthermore, the one true hero of our post independence industrialization and rapid economic growth wasn’t Lee Kuan Yew but Dr Albert Winsemius. Both Straits Times and Lee Kuan Yew himself credited Dr Winsemius for what Singapore is today.

He was Singapore’s trusted guide through economically uncharted waters for 25 years from 1960. Through him, Singapore borrowed ideas and strategies that worked for Netherlands and other developed nations. Singapore’s economy is flying high today, thanks in large measure to his sound advice and patient counsel. He is the Father of Jurong, the Dutchman behind Singapore Incorporated. Dr Winsemius was a special person for he had changed Singapore to what it is today. For Singaporeans today, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to the Dutch economist.
[Straits Times, Dr Albert Winsemius Singapore’s trusted guide, 7 Dec 1996]

He was behind the 10-year development plan that saw the island state transform into today’s high technology, high value added industrial hub.
[Straits Times, He Believed in Singapore’s Future, 7 Dec 1996]

Singapore’s economic miracle owes something to Dutch economist Dr Albert Winsemius. Dr Albert Winsemius was not merely a consultant, he was someone who revolutionalised and set Singapore’s economy in the right direction.
[Tactical Globalization: Learning from the Singapore Experiment, Aaron Kon, page 170]

Singapore and I (Lee Kuan Yew) personally are indebted to him (Dr Albert Winsemius) for the time, energy and devotion he gave to Singapore. I learnt much about Western business and businessmen from him … He gave me practical lessons on how European and American companies operated … showed me that Singapore could plug into the global economic system of trade and investments.
[Straits Times, Singapore is indebted to Winsemius: SM, 10 Dec 1996]

The question Mr Oei should ask himself is this: If Lee Kuan Yew hadn’t been around in 1965, would Singapore have degenerated into something worse than Malaysia or Indonesia today? Southeast Asia is prospering, China is prospering and fellow East Asian tiger economies like South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have been prospering for fifty years. Surely common sense should tell Mr Oei that even without Lee Kuan Yew, Singaporeans could not have been so singularly useless that we alone would fail while practically the whole of East Asia prospers?

Raffles is the only founder of modern Singapore

Mr Oei mistakenly regards Lee Kuan Yew as the founder of modern Singapore. Modern Singapore refers to Singapore post 1819 and it has only one founder – Sir Stamford Raffles. Modern Singapore can be clearly distinguished from ancient Singapore by the more than 200 years gap during which Singapore lay in ruins and was practically devoid of civilisation so much so that when Raffles arrived in 1819 and saw only 120 Orang Lauts with a few huts and fishing boats, it was literally Ground Zero. Everything had to be built from scratch by mostly thousands of Chinese coolies who literally carved a city out of virgin jungles.

Mr Oei should not whitewash Raffles’ and colonial era contributions towards Singapore’s nation building. The Singapore that we know today can be continuously traced back to 1819. Many of Singapore’s grandest monuments and most cherished inheritances originate in the colonial times which began with Raffles. Our only World Heritage site – the Botanical Gardens, the world famous Raffles Hotel, old Supreme Court and City Hall, National Museum, Fullerton Hotel, Asian Civilisations Museum, old SJI building, the Peranakan Museum and beautiful shop houses along the Singapore River are all inheritances from colonial times.

The Singapore economy today is built upon the solid foundation laid by the British. Our climb towards World No. 1 port status was from World No. 5 or 6 in the 1930s.

Singapore was already the estimated 5th or 6th most important port in the world by the early 1930s and the key port in the Straits region by the late 19th century
[Goh Kim Chuan, Environment and development in the Straits of Malacca, pages 107, 114]

Even our status as a financial centre has its origins in colonial times.

In the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century Singapore was the most important of the three British “Straits Settlements” functioning as trade entrepots on the Malayan Peninsula. The sizeable flows of goods channeled through Singapore supported a significant business in banking and trade finance. During its colonial period Singapore thus served to a limited degree as banking and financial centre for the immediately surrounding region.
[Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley, page 337]

Our first public housing precincts and first high rise flats were built by the British. HDB inherited and continued from that solid foundation.

The Singapore Improvement Trust … did provide the basis of a public housing bureaucracy with a valuable accumulation of experience, which could later be utilized by the Housing and Development Board. An illustration of this transition is the development of the first satellite town, Queenstown, which was originally planned by the Trust but was left to its successor to accomplish.
[The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in Singapore, Michael Hill and Kwen Fee Lian, page 114]

The housing of 150,000 Singaporeans by the SIT had no parallel elsewhere in Asia. Straits Times, 2 Feb 1960
[Beyond Description: Singapore Space Historicity, Ryan Bishop and John Phillips and Wei-Wei Yeo, page 57]

… He told the Straits Times: “I have never seen such wonderful blocks of flats … The S.I.T. flats, which he toured yesterday, “staggered him.” … “People in Liverpool where we consider ourselves to be in the forefront of town planning and slum clearance, would fight to get an S.I.T flat in one of the new blocks I saw to-day.
[The Straits Times, 10 June 1952, Page 5, He is all praise for SIT homes]

The S.I.T should be congratulated for developing Queenstown into a beautiful estate which was once covered with shrubs and graveyards. Queenstown should now be considered a model housing estate for Singapore. It has the highest building, schools, markets, good roads and plenty of playing grounds for children and very good flats.
[The Straits Times, 8 September 1956, Page 12, A SLUM IN THE MAKING]

By falsely declaring Lee Kuan Yew the true founder of modern Singapore, Mr Oei not only robbed Raffles of its rightful place in modern Singapore’s history, but also sullied what it means to found. George Washington founded America by fighting British colonialism. Lee on the other hand, enjoyed the patronage of his British masters and came to power under the auspices of British colonialism instead.

Mr Oei should be clear; Lee Kuan Yew received education at Raffles Institution. Lee was educated in Raffles’ name and was the product of what Raffles founded, not the other way around.

Wrong to say that Raffles usurped the Singaporean household

Mr Oei is wrong to say that the British usurped the Singaporean household. Mr Oei should get his facts right. When Raffles landed in 1819, there were only 120 Orang Lauts in a few huts. There were no Chinese or Indian households for Raffles to usurp in 1819. Practically all Singapore households today came after Raffles or were descended from those who came after Raffles. So the truth is that we are all sons and daughters of Raffles. Raffles built a city and a home for us all; he did not usurp our homes or our household. He got land, essentially undeveloped land from the then Temengong and Sultan of Johor. So if Mr Oei is so righteous about returning usurped land, he should fight for Singapore to be returned to Johor. Is that really what Mr Oei wants?

Conclusion

• Mr Oei begrudges the privileged class during colonial times but turns a blind eye to the privileged class today.
• He makes the false claim that Raffles colonised us when nearly all our forefathers weren’t even around in 1819 for Raffles to colonise.
• He takes too lightly Singapore’s founding as a port and our British institutions which Dr Goh Keng Swee attributes as being 3 out of 4 reasons why Singapore succeeded.
• He begrudges poverty during colonial times but ignores poverty today.
• He makes the false claim that colonial Singapore was poor and Third World when our 1960 per capita GDP shows otherwise.
• He expects life to return to normal just 2 years after the end of the Japanese Occupation when even in Britain, life did not return to normal until 1954.
• He laments British failure to defend Singapore against the Japanese but fails to acknowledge that Japan was so strong militarily it was able to sweep the mighty Americans off the Philippines.
• He credits Lee Kuan Yew for transforming Singapore to a First World metropolis when Lee Kuan Yew himself admitted that Singapore was already a metropolis in 1967 just 2 years after our independence. Singapore could not have catapulted to metropolis status in just 2 years. In all likelihood, Singapore was already a metropolis or nearly so when the British handed Singapore over to Singaporeans.
• He ignores the fact that our post independence industrialisation and rapid economic development was under the guidance and blueprint of Dr Albert Winsemius, not Lee Kuan Yew.
• He falsely proclaims Lee Kuan Yew as the founder of modern Singapore and ignores the fact that much of what Singapore is today evolved continuously from Raffles.
• He wrongly claims that Raffles usurped Singapore households when there were no Chinese or Indian households in Singapore for Raffles to usurp in 1819.

The Singapore story began in 1819, it didn’t begin in 1965. The years 1819 to 1964 are an integral part of who we are as a nation. Singapore could not have sprouted from nothing in 1965 but owe much to what have been built up from 1819 to 1964. They are our cherished roots and heritage that we should not deny.

Reply to “a final rejoinder on justifications for water price increase”

March 10, 2017

I refer to the 8 Mar 2017 Online Citizen commentary “A final rejoinder on justifications for water price increase”.

Bullshit 1: Lost debate, just declare opponent’s logic faulty

Prof Ng claimed that most of the points I made earlier were clearly faulty on logic and economics. But if that were true, then shouldn’t it be very easy for Prof Ng to clearly pin point what exactly were wrong with those arguments? Yet, half the time we find Prof Ng conveniently sidestepping arguments by claiming they were irrelevant or making half baked generalisations without substantiations or simply restating arguments without actually addressing counter arguments.

Bullshit 2: No more shouting about 30% inflation

Prof Ng’s original argument was that since general inflation is 30%, water should also be inflated 30%. When I pointed out that more than half of our water experienced little or no inflation having been fixed at 3 cents per 1,000 gallons since over 50 years ago, which leads to an average water inflation of about 15% only, not 30%, he brushed that off as irrelevant. This was what he wrote exactly:

“When I use ‘inflation’, I refer to the increase in the general price level, as consistent with general usage, not to the increase in the costs of water supply alone as calculated by Colin. I will thus ignore his figure of 15% as not relevant to my point.”

Thus, Prof Ng did not actually address my argument but merely brushed it off as irrelevant so I maintained my stand that Prof Ng was wrong to insist that the half of our water that experienced little or no inflation be inflated 30% as well.

Prof Ng has now completely changed his story in his latest reply. From saying 3 cents per 1,000 gallons is irrelevant to general price level, he is now saying it is irrelevant to determining long run marginal cost. It seems that Prof Ng has capitulated on this original argument and no longer insists on 30% inflation anymore. How is it possible that someone whose reasoning is ‘clearly faulty’ can succeed in forcing Prof Ng to capitulate on his arguments?

Bullshit 3: Long run marginal costing turns out to be rough estimate only

Prof Ng continues to insist that long run marginal costing is the efficient way to price water even though it was pointed out to him earlier that the market equilibrium price cannot depend on marginal cost alone but must require demand curve information too which has been totally lacking in the water debate thus far.

Prof Ng has finally let the cat out of the bag and admitted that he merely ‘roughly estimated’ and made some ‘reasonable projection’ to arrive at the demand situation. That is exactly as expected. How can there be a price demand curve for water when Singaporeans have been paying fixed water price all this while? Long run marginal cost is useless without the price demand curve for water. Any talk about using long run marginal cost to determine the market efficient water price without the price demand curve can only be bullshit. Isn’t it scary the entire nation has been suckered into putting their faith in a water price that turns out to be based on rough estimates only?

Bullshit 4: Water demand not inelastic well beyond 0.5% level of water consumption

Prof Ng claims that water demand is not inelastic well beyond 0.5% level of water consumption. That may not be true.

According to a study by Yale and Harvard researchers (Managing water demand: Price vs. Non-Price Conservation Programs by Sheila M. Olmstead and Robert N. Stavins), price elasticity of US residential water ranges from -0.3 to -0.4. This means that a 10% increase in marginal price of water only lowers water demand by 3% to 4%.

In another study (Residential price elasticity of demand for water – comparing Cyprus with other countries), researchers obtained average price elasticity of water for various cities / countries as follows: Melbourne -0.08, Sydney -0.09, a Cyprus city -0.05, Denmark -0.52, Finland -0.41, Turin Italy -0.52, TWM Netherlands -0.36.

Thus, in all these cases, water demand is indeed price inelastic.

More importantly, Prof Ng is completely silent on the argument that the increase in consumer surplus brought about by a shift in the demand curve to the right or up is spurious to say the least when applied to water demand. If this argument is clearly faulty, why can’t Prof Ng simply demolish it?

Bullshit 5: Only focused on water infrastructure

Prof Ng is only focused on water infrastructure but the government shouldn’t similarly adopt this silo view of our economy but should instead take a holistic view and appraise all infrastructure investments against future gains from industries and businesses.

If the government is confident that future gains from industries and businesses outweigh all infrastructural commitments by more than GIC annual returns, then by all means carry on. There is no need to increase water price since future gains will more than pay for these investments. But if the government isn’t confident about future gains, it shouldn’t drag the people along and force them to pay for their folly.

Bullshit 6: Corruption allegation

Prof Ng claims that the statement “extra money gained by the government goes into their pockets and disappears into government reserves only to reappear as losses in government investments” constitutes a serious allegation of corruption. That is a silly accusation. The government makes huge budget surpluses all the time which goes into government reserves and on to government investment vehicles. This happens all the time and is common knowledge, so what’s there to allege?

Bullshit 7: Larger population substantially reduces per capita costs of goods like defence

Prof Ng continues to harp on his mistaken view that a larger population substantially reduces per capita costs of goods like defence when it has already been pointed out to him that the effect may not be as significant since it is only applicable to capital costs but not necessarily to running costs. In the desalination example he gave, I provided evidence to show that capital costs is only 30% of total costs so the cost spreading effect would be much greatly reduced. For example, if our population doubles, the cost of desalination will not halve. Only the 30% cost is halved to 15% so the final price is reduced from 100% to 85%. So instead of a 50% reduction in desalination price, we only get 15% reduction, a vast difference indeed.

Bullshit 8: Higher flat price largely paid by immigrants

Prof Ng claims that higher price of flats and land is largely paid for by new immigrants and that existing Singaporeans are not made worse off. That is not true. PRs only purchase about 20% of HDB resale flats which means that Singaporeans buy the remaining 80% so an increase in flat price is largely paid for by Singaporeans, not immigrants.

PERMANENT residents (PRs) may buy one in five, or 20 per cent, of HDB resale flats today
[Straits Times: PRs, foreigners form 12% of HDB dwellers, 19 Feb 2010]

The new figures released by Mr Khaw looked at the 2,162 HDB resale transactions closed last month. They showed that a fifth of buyers were permanent residents (PRs), 8 per cent were private property owners and about a quarter – 23 per cent – were newly married couples, or first-timers.
[Straits Times, “Who the resale HDB flat buyers are”, 26 Jun 2011]

The PR numbers are in fact not insignificant – it was reported last year that they accounted for 20 per cent of all resale transactions in 2010.
[Sunday Times, Avoid Feast and Famine in Housing, 4 Nov 2012]

Bullshit 9: Turning a blind eye to increased indebtedness of future generations

Prof Ng says that although non-owners are worse off when property prices increase, their parents will be better off. But that doesn’t answer the point I made earlier about the fact that families with many children (say three or more) may end up worse off than before as the combined losses by the many non-owner children in future housing purchases outweigh the present gains by their parents. In other words, the parents’ gains will be more than paid for by their children in the future. Property gains by one generation gets passed down as debts for the next generation.

Furthermore, parents’ gains are on paper only for unless parents can bunk in with their children or have more than one property or migrate to a cheaper country, they will have to continue to stay in their house and cannot realise their paper gain. Downgrading depends on parents having a large enough flat to begin with and may not reap much cash considering that proceeds have to go back to CPF first.

Bullshit 10: Pursuance of efficient water pricing through rough estimations

Prof Ng has the cheek to highlight pursuance of efficient policies in water pricing when his own water pricing turns out to be based on rough estimates only. How can Singapore be truly efficient in water pricing using Prof Ng’s rough estimated water pricing?

Reply to more justifications for water price increase

March 8, 2017

I refer to the 4 Mar 2017 Online Citizen letter “More on justifications for water price increase”.

Bullshit 1: Can’t refute, so call it irrelevant

Prof Ng could give no reply to the fact that more than half of the water we consume experienced little or no inflation having been fixed at 3 cents per 1000 gallons all this while. Since half of our water experienced little or no inflation, Prof Ng has no basis to compare it with 30% general inflation and insist that this water should be inflated 30% as well. What Prof Ng cannot refute, he calls it irrelevant. That’s all he can do.

Bullshit 2: Government says save water means water is underpriced

Prof Ng says that when the government asks people to save water it means water is underpriced. But that could be due to water being, according to Minister Chan Chun Sing, a so-called existential issue needed for our survival rather than it being underpriced. Surely under pricing is not a matter of existence or survival is it?

Bullshit 3: Water revenues not enough for infrastructure investment

Much of the infrastructure investment is to support future population and industry growth. The proper appraisal for these infrastructure investments should be the incremental revenue from future industries and businesses less cost of these additional infrastructure investments weighed against an appropriate cost of capital such as GIC 6.1% nominal returns (http://www.gic.com.sg/report/report-2014-2015/investment_report.html, in USD). Infrastructure investment can only make sense if it can yield more than 6.1% annual returns. If it can, then there is no need to increase water prices. If it cannot, then it is better to park the money with GIC and earn 6.1% instead.

Bullshit 4: Economics

Long run marginal costing has one problem – where is the demand curve? Long run marginal cost alone is insufficient. Without the demand curve, there is no way of working out the equilibrium market efficient price.

The government can plan for the quantity demanded in future just as it planned for the quantity demanded today. But quantity demanded doesn’t constitute the demand curve. There is no price information on consumers’ willingness to spend on water. The current water price is a dictated price which is not necessarily the price consumers are willing to pay at the current quantity demanded. Since water demand is highly inelastic, in the worst case scenario where water demand is perfectly inelastic, it would be impossible to determine exactly what price consumers are willing to pay for the present quantity demanded.

As long run marginal costing has been in place since 1997 (http://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/singapore-shows-the-way-on-water/63431/), it can be assumed that the current pricing is already at the current long run marginal cost. So when water planners move Singapore from the current long run marginal cost to the next long run marginal cost through intensive infrastructure investment, it should be accompanied by a rightward shift of the demand curve through population and industry increases. This rightward shift of the demand curve will lead to higher demand curves which will lead to an increase in the willingness of existing consumers to pay for water.

Consumer surplus is calculated based on the area between the demand curve and the price line. So when the demand curve shifts right or up, there is an increase in consumer surplus for existing consumers. This implies that existing consumers now derive more benefit from the fact that there are now more consumers, greater quantity of water supplied and higher price to pay for water. But that’s not how normal consumers feel. When population increases, water supply is increased and people pay more for water, the average consumer doesn’t feel happier about it nor derive more benefit from it.

This should show how nebulous the consumer surplus concept is when applied to water demand. Since market efficiency and long run marginal costing cannot be separated from the concept of consumer surplus which is nebulous when applied to water demand, the whole long run marginal cost way of determining water price is seriously flawed.

Bullshit 5: Government will lessen increases in other areas

Prof Ng claims that the additional money that government makes from supplying water will lessen increases in taxes, charges and prices of other things. That again may not necessarily be true. The extra money that the government gains can simply go into their pockets and disappear into government reserves only to reappear as losses in government investments.

Bullshit 6: More roti prata

Prof Ng continues to adhere to his roti prata style of heads he wins, tails you lose argument that European cities not only have higher water prices, they also under price water according to long term marginal costs. But as mentioned earlier, long term marginal costing has serious flaws when applied to water pricing. Also, do European cities have 50% fresh water capped at 3 cents per 1,000 gallons? Why not compare with Asian cities?

Prof Ng also mentions that only 1% of water consumed is for drinking. Is Prof Ng suggesting that water is not an existential problem as Minister Chan Chun Sing insisted since we can get more than enough drinking water from our own reservoirs? Or perhaps both Prof Ng and Minister Chan think that flushing the toilet is also an existential problem?

Bullshit 7: Buries his head in investment costs only

Prof Ng continues to ignore the high running costs of desalination and chooses instead to bury his head in capital investment only. According to Hyflux (Hyflux named preferred bidder for Tuas II desalination plant, Singapore, 7 Mar 2011, page 8), the amortised capital cost of the desalination plant is only 30% of operating costs. No details are given on the number of years of amortisation but by considering a longer time period, the share of capital cost may be even lower. Hence, Prof Ng’s focus on spreading capital costs over a larger population can only apply to at most 30% of desalination costs only.

Again, Prof Ng brushes off high running costs as irrelevant. As the exchanges continue, more and more of Prof Ng’s answers become condensed into one word – irrelevant, rather than effective rebuttals.

Bullshit 8: Higher prices benefit Singaporeans

Prof Ng claims that higher prices due to more people fighting for limited resources will accrue mostly to Singaporeans and the government and is only bad for non asset holders.

Correction Prof Ng, since the government owns most of the land in Singapore, higher prices will accrue mostly to the government rather than to the people. Secondly, the children of Singaporeans are non asset holders so this is bad for our children. Our gain will be their loss so there will be no net gain for Singaporean families with many children. Thirdly, there is a sizeable population of foreigners, PRs or otherwise, who also benefit from higher prices. Many of them have sold their houses back to Singaporeans at much higher prices and emigrated to the West, taking their gains (our losses) with them. So it is hard to say that Singaporeans (not including the government) has benefitted.

Prof Ng says that higher population leads to lower per head costs of defence and other goods. Is the per head cost of housing lower now due to higher population? Between 1991 and 2015, non-landed private residential price index rose from 42.8 to 137.4 while population increased from 3.1 million to 5.6 million. Per head price increased from 13.8 per million to 24.5 per million, it didn’t decrease.

Reply to Prof Ng’s reply

March 2, 2017

I refer to the 2 Mar 2017 Online Citizen letter “A reply to “False justifications for water price increase””.

Bullshit 1: 30% hike cannot even catch up with inflation

Prof Ng said that general inflation since 2000 has exceeded 30%. However, according to MAS core inflation index (http://www.mas.gov.sg/statistics/other-statistics.aspx), core inflation increase since 2000 is 29.959%. It hasn’t exceeded 30%.

More importantly, the price of raw water from Malaysia has remained at 3 cents per 1,000 gallons all this while and hasn’t been subjected to inflation. Since Singapore gets half its water from Malaysia (Straits Times, Singapore’s water success has H2O expert worried, 21 Mar 2016) and more from our local reservoirs, more than half of our water has not been subjected to inflationary pressures. Setting aside the low cost involved in treating fresh water, the average inflation that can be applied to our water should only be about ½ × 30% + ½ × 0% = 15%. Thus, Prof Ng is wrong to say that the announced 30% water fee hike cannot even catch up with inflation. It is about double the average water cost inflation.

Bullshit 2: Singapore water price compares favourably to other countries

Prof Ng likes to compare Singapore water price to those of European cities. But even amongst European cities, there are some with reasonably low water bills relative to their incomes (http://www.thejournal.ie/water-charges-ireland-europe-rankings-3015297-Oct2016/):

City Annual water bill as percentage of median income
Dublin 1.3%
Stockholm 1.5%
Rome 1.7%
Madrid 2.2%
Luxembourg 2.5%
Helsinki 2.8%
London 2.9%
Paris 2.9%

Prof Ng selectively chooses Beijing as a comparator for Asian cities which he conveniently brushes off with the comment that he dares not drink straight from a Beijing tap. But the same can be said of Singapore; almost every household boils water to drink or installs expensive water filters.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have cheaper water than us that isn’t inferior in quality.

Bullshit 3: Often hear about water saving on radio

Prof Ng claims that he often hears about water saving on radio but not saving of other things and asks why. The reason is that our radio stations are government owned and broadcast what the government wants the people to hear.

Bullshit 4: Water prices do not adequately reflect costs

Prof Ng claims that our water prices do not adequately reflect costs. If that’s the case, then PUB should be suffering immense losses year after year. But no, PUB has been making positive net operating income and positive net income before grants all the way till 2013 and 2009 respectively.

Bullshit 5: Price goods at the highest cost source

Prof Ng says that water should be priced at the higher costs of producing NEWater and desalination even for raw water obtained from Malaysia for economic efficiency. But it is precisely a monopoly that prices goods way above costs which results in a dead weight loss for society that leads to economic inefficiency. So on the contrary, for economic efficiency, water should be priced near its weighted average cost of production.

Prof Ng claims that any extra money made by the government in producing water can be used to offset spending in other areas and lower taxes in those areas. But what we are seeing is a near simultaneous increase in the price of everything. Car park, electricity, conservancy and now water charges have all gone up. Tell us Prof Ng, what is going to go down? For all we know, all these increases are just being used to shore up investment losses by our government.

Bullshit 6: Most cities under price water causing wastage

Prof Ng likes to cite high water prices in European cities but yet claim that many cities under price water causing wastage. If so many European cities are charging high water prices, then surely there should also be many cities that are not under pricing water? Prof Ng flips arguments like flipping roti prata. Whichever way he flips, his logic is always, heads he wins, tails you lose.

Bullshit 7: Population increase does not lead to lower water costs

Prof Ng disagrees with the notion that population increase has led to water price increase. He can only make sense of this notion in a simple dichotomy of Singapore being fully supplied with cheap Malaysian water versus Singapore requiring expensive water over and above that supplied from Malaysia. The truth is more than that.

Let’s say the cost of purifying Malaysian raw water is $1 per litre while the cost of producing NEWater and desalinated water is $10 per litre. Let’s say at first we were producing 9 litres from Malaysian raw water and 1 litre of NEWater and desalinated water. The weighted average cost of producing water would be 0.9 × $1 + 0.1 × $10 = $1.90 per litre.

Let’s say due to population growth, on top of consuming 9 litres from Malaysian raw water, we now also consume 9 litres of NEWater + desalinated water. The weighted average cost of water is now 0.5 × $1 + 0.5 × $10 = $5.50 per litre. So the average cost of water has indeed increased as a result of population increase.

Let’s say in the long run, population exploded and on top of the 9 litres of Malaysian raw water, we consume 27 litres of NEWater + desalinated water. The weighted average cost of water will become 0.25 × $1 + 0.75 × $10 = $7.75 per litre, which is an increase again.

Bullshit 8: Larger population lowers cost of desalination

Prof Ng claims that a larger population helps lower the cost of investment for desalination. But that’s only for fixed costs, not running costs. The main cost of desalination is the cost of electricity and every extra litre of desalinated water will use an extra amount of electricity.

Bullshit 9: We are economically better off with larger population

Prof Ng says that we are economically better off with a larger population because immigrants cannot take away assets owned by existing people without adequate payment. But the issues involved are much more than that. As more people fight for the same amount of limited resources, prices go up for all. Also, the law of diminishing returns will ensure that as more and more people crowd onto this island, the benefit from the extra people will become lesser and lesser until it actually begins to detract from rather than add to the well being of the society.

The leaders of this country must recognise the optimum level at which Singapore can perform and not force our country to go far into diminishing returns.

March 2, 2017

I refer to the 1 Mar 2017 Channel News Asia article “water must be priced in full to reflect its true scarcity, says Masagos”.

Mr Masagos was reported to have said that water must be fully priced. Except for the last few years, the government has been making money selling water to the people since day one. In that sense water has not only been fully priced all this while, it has been overpriced.

Mr Masagos claims that we subsidise housing. But a brand new ‘subsidised’ HDB flat can cost half a million dollars, a price that can buy you a condominium in many Western cities. The same can be said of healthcare and tertiary education. The government’s concept of subsidy means handsome profits for themselves.

How can Mr Masagos claim that water is of strategic and national security importance but not housing, healthcare or education? Without an educated workforce, can Singapore achieve the high income and prosperity it enjoys today? Without housing, can a slum filled Singapore be as safe and secure as it is today?

Mr Masagos claims that consumers must feel the price of water the moment he or she turns on the tap. Then by all means penalise households or companies with high water usage. Don’t punish everyone with a 30% increase that affects even those who are thrifty with water.

Mr Masagos claims that water should be priced at the long run marginal cost. But the long run marginal cost is the cost in the future, not the cost now. If we expect HDB flats to cost $1 million each in the long run, do we price them at $1 million each today?

Mr Masagos says that costs have gone up. But so too have revenues, which Mr Masagos conveniently omits saying.

The three desalination plants that will be built in the next three years are meant to serve population growth. Excessive population growth is the mother of all problems. It shouldn’t just be the people who must feel the pinch of water price to cut down water usage. The government should also feel the pinch of the people’s reactions to population growth problems to cut down on population growth.

Mr Masagos gives no details about the $0.78 per m3 desalination price in 2005 and the $1.08 per m3 desalination price at Marina East. For all we know, the difference could be due to higher land costs that are factored into the desalination price.

Mr Masagos says we are a water stressed nation. But water stress is not merely a function of water scarcity; it is also a function of overpopulation. The more we overpopulate tiny Singapore with limited water resources, the more we stress ourselves with water.

False justifications for water price increase

February 28, 2017

I refer to the 25 Feb 2017 Channel News Asia report “Raise water prices by as much as 100% to reflect production cost: Economist”.

Water price hasn’t increased for 19 years

• Professor Ng said that water prices have not been raised since 2000 – nearly two decades ago.
• But the price of raw water bought from Malaysia has also remained at three cents per 1,000 gallons since 1961 and hasn’t been raised for 56 years already.
• Why does Prof Ng begrudge 19 years without increase in treated water price but forget that the government has been profiting for the past 56 years with no increase in raw water price from Malaysia?

Operating cost increase

• Prof Ng claimed that the cost of operating Singapore’s water system has more than doubled from S$0.5 billion in 2000 to S$1.3 billion in 2015.
• But according to PUB’s 2016 and 2011 annual reports, the revenue from operating Singapore’s water system has also more than doubled from S$0.55 billion in 2001 to S$1.2 billion in 2015.
• The net income loss in 2015 is only about $69 million. If we divide $69 million by Singapore’s 2015 population of 5.535 million, we obtain $12.5 per person per year or roughly $1 per person per month.
• So if the argument is simply to make up for increased costs, then approximately an extra $1 per person per month should suffice.
• However, the increase of 30% on an existing annual revenue of S$1.2 billion will amount to an extra $360 million per year or $360 / 5.535 = $65 per person per year or $5.4 per person per month.
• The government will thus be collecting 5 times as much as is needed to cover revenue shortfall.
• Hence, the argument that this is about cost recovery is not valid. It is not merely about cost recovery but making 5 times that amount of money instead.

Comparison with other cities

• Prof Ng said that Singapore’s water price is not high compared to other Asian cities when income level is factored in whereas water price in European cities are much higher than Singapore’s.
• It is strange that Prof Ng factors in income when comparing with other Asian countries but does not factor in income when comparing with European cities.
• European cities having much higher wages than Singapore should end up with water prices that aren’t as high too with income factored in.

Should increase 10 years ago

• Prof Ng said water prices should have been increased 10, 5 years ago.
• 10 years ago is 2007. But according to PUB’s 2016 annual report, PUB registered positive net income before grants in the years 2007, 2008 and 2009. There is therefore no justification for water price to be increased 10 years ago in 2007.

Net operating income ($ m) Net income before grants ($ m)
2015 -$38 -$69
2014 -$11 -$57
2013 $5 -$45
2012 $26 -$36
2011 $0 $82
2010 $12 -$72
2009 $114 $48
2008 $134 $71
2007 $133 $225
2006 $268 $275
2005 $138 $174
2004 $49 $146
2003 $20 $108
2002 $48 $58
2001 $119 $154

• Negative net income started to occur since year 2010 when our population was about 5 million.
• Since then, population growth has depleted our water supply, necessitating ever more expensive means of water production including desalination and NEWater.
• Of Singapore’s four water taps, two are expensive. They are not the panacea they are touted to be to solve our water problems.
• Thus, Prof Ng’s claim that on the basis of economics, water price should have increased many years ago is false. It is because the government is unable to grow the economy without growing the population that we end up with the need to employ ever more expensive ways of producing water for ever more people. Is the government’s inability an economic problem or a government problem?

High interest payments

• From the table above, it can be seen that PUB’s net operating income has been quite healthy over the years. But net income before grants has been unhealthy since 2010. The difference is in borrowing costs or interest payments.
• The following are the pertinent information to consider from PUB’s annual report 2016:

Balance sheet 31/3/2016 31/3/2015
Current assets – cash ($ m) $831 $780
Current assets – other investments ($ m) $91
Current liabilities – borrowings ($ m) $250 $100
Non-current liabilities – finance lease payables ($ m) $489 $513
Non-current liabilities – borrowings ($ m) $1,400 $1,650

• Looking at PUB’s balance sheets above, there has been an increase in short term borrowings by $150 million ($250 m – $100 m) between the start and end of FY2015 while accumulated cash has increased.
• Question is, why increase borrowings by $150 million when PUB has cash or cash equivalent of $780 million at the start of 2015?
• More likely than not, interest from cash will be lower than interest from borrowings. In that case, PUB should not have increased short term borrowings by $150 million but should have taken the funds from its existing cash pile. In fact, it should have retired the entire $250 million short term borrowings with the cash it has.

Long term bonds

• The table below shows various long term bonds issued by PUB at various times.

Interest (%) Issue date Maturity date As of 31/3/2016
2.42 15/12/2009 15/12/2016 $250 m
3.9 31/8/2006 31/8/2018 $400 m
3.52 26/10/2005 26/10/2020 $300 m
3.012 12/7/2010 12/7/2022 $400 m
3.62 12/10/2007 12/10/2027 $300 m

• As an example, on 12 July 2010, PUB issued a $400 million bond which forced PUB to pay 3.012 % interest to bond holders every year for the next twelve years.
• But according to PUB’s 2011 financial report, PUB was sitting on a cash reserve of $400 million on 31 March 2010.
• Why didn’t PUB use the $400 million cash to pay for whatever that it needed to pay for either in part or in full instead of issuing a $400 million bond and incurring 3.012 % interest in turn?
• In fact, by the end of the fiscal year on 31 Mar 2011, PUB’s cash reserves swelled to $1,056 million. In other words, the $400 million bond issued in FY2010 did nothing but add to their cash reserves.
• They were so good at generating cash then; it didn’t make sense for them to issue bonds.

Conclusion

• It isn’t just the price of treated water that hasn’t increased for nearly two decades. The price of raw water from Malaysia hasn’t increased for more than five decades already.
• The proposed 30% increase is 5 times the amount needed to cover costs
• Price of water in European cities is not as high as depicted by the government if high European wages are also factored in.
• There is no reason to increase water price 10 years ago because 10 years ago, the government was making money, not losing money from supplying water.
• This whole issue of water price increase essentially stemmed from over population which depleted our water supply and necessitated more expensive means of water production
• PUB’s net operating income is largely sound all this while except for the last two years.
• PUB’s negative net income before grants is largely due to high interest payments due to the large volume of long term bonds it has issued. At least some of these bonds issued appears to be unnecessary and could have been funded using the cash stockpile that it has.
• PUB’s main problem isn’t economics, it’s financial management. Without sound financial management, any price increase will not be enough.

Digital innovation can come from exam focused education

January 21, 2017

Singapore’s economic troubles, exacerbated by globalisation, automation and China’s aggressive investment in Malaysia have made our political champion scream for an education system that can mould an innovative culture geared towards the digital revolution. Our current education system is deemed to be overly exam focused and to involve little more than memorisation and regurgitation of ten year series exam question answers than critical thinking. This, the champion argues, stymies the futures of the great majority of our people.

The starting point of the argument is the future of our economy – one that thrives on innovation and succeeds in the digital arena. USA, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and perhaps China are the best examples of these champions of digital innovation having produced digital champions like Microsoft, Apple Computers, Google, Samsung, Asustek, Huawei and so on.

Putting aside USA, when we look at South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China and ask ourselves what kind of education systems they have, the answer is invariably the same. South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China have education systems that are just as exam focused if not more so. The suicide rates of students in these countries are much higher than ours. The fact that these economies can thrive on digital innovation despite having exam focused education systems seriously challenges the notion that an exam focused education system is preventing us from becoming an innovation driven economy.

So what is the key? From the beginning, South Korea, Taiwan and China were like Singapore. We made all kinds of goods cheaply for the USA and the West. But over time, South Korean, Taiwanese and the Chinese governments worked closely with their local firms and created global conglomerates out of them. This is the critical aspect that has been missing from Singapore.

Today, a top Singaporean engineering graduate from NUS and NTU has no place to go except to work for foreign conglomerates. There is no Singapore Samsung for him or her to plug into to contribute towards the next Singapore Samsung Galaxy.

We had Creative Technologies, Mr Sim Wong Hoo was our poster boy. But Mr Sim turned out to be no Steve Jobs and Creative fell into oblivion. One wonders if things could have turned out differently had Mr Sim had more government support like the chaebols in Korea.

Samsung has demonstrated that success in the digital economy need not come from a man like Steve Jobs who can think out of the box. Success can also come from a workforce moulded by an exam focused education system and supported by a nurturing government.

Commentary on 2016 US presidential election

November 9, 2016

It is a pity that Hillary couldn’t make history by becoming US’ first woman president. The online support I came across for Hillary in the lead up to the US presidential elections had been overwhelming. The attitudes of most Singaporeans towards Hillary and Trump had been as clear as day and night.

Hillary represented pedigree, much like PAP does in Singapore. Trump represented the maverick outcast, a social malign that has similarly dogged Chee Soon Juan. Clearly, Trump would never have been given a chance in Singapore.

There are of course important differences. Dr Chee is learned, gentlemanly, knows his stuff and reasons well whereas Trump doesn’t know what he is talking about or at least that is the impression I am given of him.

But the association is still valid because even though Dr Chee’s public image has greatly improved of late, the maverick impression that the public has of him has more or less stuck through the years.

When the US people became fed up with their government, they changed their government. When the UK people became fed up with the immigration that came with the EU they voted out of EU. I am not sure if Singaporeans are fed up with the government yet refuse to change the government or they are sincerely happy with the way our government is.

While the US presidential election never affected me much, I was silently hoping for a Trump win amidst the deafening cacophony of ringside cheers for Hillary.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support groping and if it can be proved in court that Trump groped all those women then he deserve to pay the price and Trump’s vice president might end up becoming the president while Trump goes to jail.

But my basic premise is this. It really doesn’t matter who the US president is, US will be great just the same. If Apple’s Iphone batteries are going to explode in the air, they are going to explode regardless if Hillary or Trump is in charge. Microsoft, Google, Facebook will continue to churn out their billion dollar businesses regardless of Hillary or Trump. Amidst the clamor that Trump will run down the US economy, this is a good opportunity to show that he won’t or more appropriately he can’t. The democratic institutions of America which may lead to gridlock and so on will ensure that Trump will not have Mao Tse Tung’s dictatorial powers to run down the country. While The US president is the symbol and focal point of US power and prosperity, he or she is not the basis of US power or prosperity.

If Belgium can operate for about a year without a government, you can be rest assured that in the context of Western societies, good or bad governments doesn’t really matter because the engine that drives their economies doesn’t come from the government.

The Democrats have had two terms, it’s about time power wheeled back to the Republicans so the balance power is always maintained.