Archive for February, 2011

Don’t oppose for sake of opposition

February 28, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 28 Feb 2011 letter by Mr Steven Thng.

Mr Thng says that no voters in Aljunied GRC will be affected because the land shifted there from Hougang is uninhabited. But seven polling districts have been lost to Ang Mo Kio while six new ones are being gained from Marine Parade. So the changes aren’t insignificant and therefore the accusation of gerrymandering appears reasonable. Mr Thng wouldn’t be so perplexed if he could see the full picture instead of focusing only on the uninhabited plot of land.

Mr Thng also says that the elections committee is fairer now because GRCs are now smaller. But any GRC is itself unfair so just because the situation is slightly less unfair now doesn’t change the fact that it is still unfair.

So contrary to what Mr Thng says, the opposition is not opposing for opposing’s sake. Instead, it is Mr Thng who is supporting for supporting’s sake.

Mr Thng says we need mature opposition parties who agree with good policies. Is Mr Thng blind or sleeping over the last four years? So many bad policies over the last four years that require redress, what good policies does Mr Thng want the opposition to agree to?

The goal for the nation is often used as an excuse to pursue goals that seem to benefit the government while detrimental to the people. Perhaps it is Mr Thng who has to answer his own call to be more mature and to reflect on issues better and not end up daft like MM Lee makes us out to be.


New electoral boundaries don’t benefit PAP: SM Goh

February 28, 2011

Dear SM Goh,

You said if a chilli crab stall is very well known, it matters not where the stall is located. You also said that electoral boundary changes disadvantage the PAP more than the opposition because your MPs have to do more work whereas the opposition has no roots and can go anywhere. You then gave advice to the opposition to build up reputation in order to win seats.

Is it easy for a new chilli crab stall to establish its reputation by going from place to place every day without a fixed base to operate from? Or is it easier for the chilli crab stall to establish its reputation at one particular location first before venturing to other locations? Many food chains started from a fixed location, not by travelling from place to place.

Hence, if your advice to the opposition is to build up reputation first, then you should give the opposition the permanence of base from which to establish their reputations. If you force them to run around from place to place like a refugee, are you helping them or preventing them from establishing their reputations?

On the other hand, the PAP has an established reputation. It is the PAP which can go anywhere. Therefore, boundary changes which force candidates to go from place to place benefit the PAP more to the detriment of the opposition.

Reasons flats remain affordable​: Good discount, no cash upfront, CPF-servic​ed

February 27, 2011

Dear Mr Lourdesamy,

I refer to your Straits Times letter dated 26 Feb 2011.

You said HDB flats are priced with a ‘generous’ discount. But that ‘generous’ discount of $40,000 at most is only a fraction of the $150,000 increase in average HDB resale prices over the last four years. Since new flat prices are pegged to resale flat prices, the average price increase for new flats should have far outstripped your ‘generous’ discount as well.

We must interpret the 30% affordability benchmark that the HDB uses more carefully. If a house is deemed to be unaffordable when more than 30% of income is used to pay for it, does it mean that the house suddenly becomes affordable when only 29% of income is used instead? This is like saying 100 degrees Celsius is hot but 99 degrees Celsius is not. Instead, it would be better to use finer sub-categorisations like those used by the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey which classifies housing into: affordable, moderately unaffordable, seriously unaffordable and severely unaffordable to better portray housing affordability. HDB shouldn’t hide behind just one international benchmark which is more of a benchmark for unaffordability than affordability. HDB should instead demonstrate to fellow Singaporeans that it’s position that Singapore housing is affordable continues to hold true under any other international housing affordability standard.

Finally, the CPF is our retirement fund. Using CPF to pay for housing and in the process emptying our retirement fund does not mean that housing is therefore affordable.

MM: If you’re going in for personal glory, forget it

February 16, 2011

Dear MM Lee,

I refer to the 12 Feb 2011 excerpts of your interview with the Straits Times.

Your most important lesson for aspiring politicians is to forget about going for personal glory. For someone who didn’t do it for personal glory, wouldn’t you push glory away when they are being heaped upon you? Many call you the founding father of Singapore. Clearly you don’t deserve that title which belongs to Sir Stamford Raffles. If you are not for glory, why not tell everybody to stop referring to you as the founding father? Some even refer to you as the Nelson Mandela of Singapore. You know how different you are from Nelson Mandela. You even once remarked how unusual it is for a man like Nelson Mandela to have no bitterness for being locked up for 27 years. Why keep undeserved glory that is heaped upon you?

You said you were putting your life at stake fighting the communists. But there were no communists. There were no finger nails pulled out. Why use a communist tale from elsewhere that never happened in Singapore?

You said we are an island with no resources. So what? Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea have little or no resources but have prospered just the same. Add Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland. They too have little or no resources but prospered too. In fact, our strategic location which is the very reason for our founding is the one resource that has allowed us to prosper in the first place.

You said you have done it and seen it through. No. You alone would have amounted to nothing. Without you, Singapore may be different but would be just as prosperous.

You said we leapfrogged by linking to the outer world instead of being dependent on the region. But that strategy came from Dr Albert Winsemius, not from you. You chose to depend on the region when you first took power in 1959. It was only with our separation from Malaysia in 1963 that we have no choice but to look towards the outer world like Dr Winsemius suggested.

You said your country is important to you. If that is the case, why didn’t you fight the Japanese like Lim Bo Seng did? Why did you work for the Japanese instead?

You said you spent your life building this country. No. This country was built by our forefathers since 1819.

Young S’poreans keen to hear MM Lee’s views

February 4, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 16 Jan 2011 report on the public response to MM Lee’s new book.

It is inappropriate to refer to MM Lee as Singapore’s founding leader as Singapore was never founded by MM Lee. Mr Cheo Ming Shen’s referral to MM Lee as being the equivalent of Singapore’s Nelson Mandela is also terribly wrong. MM Lee locked people up whereas Nelson Mandela was locked up. The two men are as different as night and day. Singapore’s equivalent of Nelson Mandela has to be either Dr Lim Hock Siew or Mr Chia Thye Poh who were locked up for 19 and 32 years respectively.

Whether MM Lee sees socio-economic debates from the country’s perspective or from the perspective of his own benefit is debatable. Take the example of the debate on million dollar minister salaries. If MM Lee didn’t care for himself but for his country only, he can always donate his million dollar salary to the country. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he keeps his own million dollar salary.

The silent revolution in my backyard

February 4, 2011

Dear Mr Ho Kwong Ping,

I refer to your 19 Jan 2011 Straits Times column.

You said the pragmatic genius of Singapore’s political pioneers was to broaden the middle class massively and to co-opt the working class into adopting middle class lifestyles and mentalities. This you say is the socio-economic revolution you have searched for but failed to find in South America.

If you cast your net wider, you will find three other similar revolutions in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. Together with Singapore, these are the four East Asian Dragon economies. Of the hundred over developing economies sprouting from the ashes of World War II, only these four experienced such revolutions. Why these four economies? Why are they all clustered in East Asia when the world is so big? If each of the hundred over developing economies had an equal chance of experiencing that revolution, the probability that any would eventually do so would be less than 0.01. The probability of having all four economic revolutions in East Asia is even more remote and near impossible. Yet it happened. Why?

The fact that all four revolutions came from East Asia suggests that there is something special about East Asia. Could it be due to the pragmatic geniuses of the respective East Asian economies’ political pioneers? Again if we assume that the hundred over developing economies had an equal chance of receiving pragmatic geniuses as their political pioneers, that probability would again be less than 0.01. The probability that all four East Asian economies would receive those prized geniuses would again be too far remote for us to believe that East Asian prosperity is the result of the chance receiving of pragmatic geniuses. The underlying reason for East Asian prosperity must be something more fundamental, something tangible which you can readily identify and distinguish from the rest of the developing world.

That common denominator for East Asian success is more likely than not socio-cultural in nature. East Asians are known to be hard working, frugal, competitive and place great emphasis on education. These are the characteristics that distinguish us from the rest of the developing world. In all likelihood, it is these socio-cultural characteristics that have rapidly propelled us further than other developing economies.

Your search for a Che Guevara inspired style of economic revolution bore no fruit because, the economy cannot be willed to succeed by one man or one committee as the failure of the communist attempt at economic revolution has shown. Our silent revolution is much less the work of any one pragmatic genius but the collective achievements of many individual pragmatists.

A Singapore lesson for US politics

February 4, 2011

Dear Mr Friedman,

I refer to the 31 Jan 2011 Straits Times reprint of your New York Times article.

You were reportedly struck by the linkage between the direction to which our science teacher is pushing her students and the direction to which our government is pushing the country. But our government hasn’t always pushed in the right direction. In the early part of the last decade, they were still pushing for the electronics industry when it was already withdrawing en masse to China causing much hardship and a mad scramble to find the replacement biomedical industry. The danger of over-relying on central planning and central direction is thus shown evidently.

It is ironic that you should view with disdain the Republican preference to not cut the US defence budget while holding Singapore up as a model lesson for the US when Singapore too has always withheld from defence budget cuts.

Singapore is by no means the only high income nation with little or no natural resources. Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland are examples of other high income nations with little or no natural resources.

While Singapore’s per capita income is only just below US levels, it is way below those of New York’s. When compared to other first world cities, our per capita income becomes less impressive. Being a small city in an era of US maintained global peace is a blessing as the majority of prosperous nations tend to have smaller populations.

Our country’s 14.7% growth last year is the result of mass labour import over the last three years. The Global Financial Crisis prevented the additional labour from contributing to growth then but once the crisis was lifted, the effects of the addtional labour was registered immediately. This growth which comes from the piling on of more people does not mean that we are doing things better or producing more individually but from the simple fact that there are more hands on deck. In the context of space constrained Singapore, this mass labour import cannot continue indefinitely and has certainly led to the aggravation of over-crowdedness and sharp property price increases.

If America does not take governing seriously, how did it manage to respond so swiftly and so decisively to lift the entire world from the Global Financial Crisis?

Home ownership subsidy in Singapore is a myth. Resale housing prices shot up by more than $150,000 on average over the last four years. The so-called $40,000 subsidy hardly makes up for this sharp price increase over the last four years.

There is no reason why politicians should be paid top dollar to achieve high quality and low corruption. Hong Kong, which matches Singapore very closely in almost any global ranking, does not pay top dollar to achieve high quality and low corruption. So do many other first world nations like Switzerland and Finland.

America’s problems are not due to politicians not taking governing seriously. America simply has more problems to cope with than Singapore. Its population is more aged than ours which necessitates higher healthcare and social security spending. It is carrying the burden of global security on its shoulders. All these are problems we in Singapore either don’t face or has yet to face. Given the disparity in problems faced, it is understandable if conditions in the US aren’t as rosy as those in Singapore. To view that as not taking governing seriously would be too simplistic and unfair.

Why S’pore can’t produce a Fortune 500 company

February 4, 2011

Dear MM Lee,

I refer to the 22 Jan 2011 Straits Times report of your views on why Singapore can’t produce a Fortune 500 company.

You said Singapore is too small to produce a world class manufacturing giant of Fortune 500 class. Why restrict ourselves to manufacturing? Is it a lesser achievement if we produced a Fortune 500 company that isn’t a manufacturer? The following countries with similarly small populations like us have produced Fortune 500 companies:

Population Fortune 500 companies
Hong Kong 7 million Hutchison Whampoa, Jardine Matheson
Switzerland 7 million Nestle, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, UBS, ABB, Roche Group, Novartis …
Scotland 5 million Royal Bank of Scotland
Finland 5 million Nokia
Austria 8 million OMV Group, Erste Group Bank, Strabag
Denmark 5.5 million A.P. Møller-Mærsk Group, Danske Bank Group
Ireland 4.5 million CRH

Thus, being small doesn’t mean we can’t produce Fortune 500 companies. Being small doesn’t mean we must resign ourselves to relying on foreign multinationals to drive growth.

For all its falling on hard times, Taiwan continues to be represented in the Fortune 500 by such companies as Acer and Asustek.

Creative recruiting people from Silicon Valley doesn’t change the fact that Creative was started by a Singaporean. While a Fortune 500 company would most likely be a global company that recruits from all over the world, it would more likely than not provide greater opportunities to people from its country of origin than from elsewhere.