Archive for April, 2011

She prefers her First World estate

April 30, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 30 Apr 2011 letter by Ms Khartini Khalid.

Ms Khalid does not see the need for a First World parliament, preferring a First World estate instead. She should realise that our lives don’t just revolve around our housing estate unless we are housewives. Even if we are housewives, we still need to go Orchard Road. We still need to ensure that Orchard Road doesn’t flood. If our First World Government cannot ensure that Orchard Road doesn’t flood, we will have to rely on a First World parliament instead.

Ms Khalid should spare a thought for her husband, father or brother who now face greater competition for jobs and have to contend with the daily crush commuting to and from work. Without a First World parliament, her loved ones will continue to suffer.

Ms Khalid should also realise that our current policies will affect future generations that include her children and her children’s children. HDB prices have shot up into stratosphere. If we don’t bring them back to more sensible levels, her children will end up paying a lot more for their flats when they grow up. Since our government has allowed HDB prices to shoot uncontrollably up, we cannot depend on them to control HDB price. We will need a First World parliament to control HDB prices instead.

Ms Khalid speaks well of her MP, Mr Zainul Abidin. But Mr Low’s constituents too have spoken well of Mr Low. Given Mr Low’s track record at Hougang, Ms Khalid will continue to be in good hands if Aljunied comes under Mr Low.

Ms Khalid worries that Aljunied will become a Third World estate like Hougang if run by Mr Low. Ms Khalid should understand that the situation in Hougang is not Mr Low’s doing but that of the PAP. It is the PAP that has withheld upgrading from opposition wards all these years even though it has no right to do so. By cowing to the fear of being left behind for upgrading projects, Ms Khalid is in fact allowing herself to be bought by the HDB carrot. Ms Khalid should realise that Aljunied has the same rights to upgrading as the rest of the country whether it is under PAP or WP. She should insist on her rights and not let her rights be taken away by the PAP. She should not feel contented trading her vote for something that is rightfully hers to begin with.

Ms Khalid does not wish to sacrifice her estate’s future for WP’s ideal. In doing so, Ms Khalid may end up sacrificing the future of her children and her children’s children instead.

WP should offer an assessment of its track record

April 30, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 30 Apr 2011 letter by Ms Chen Lee Lee.

Ms Chen wants the WP to assess its own record as a parliamentary voice over the past 20 years. Ms Chen should recognise that there is very little that one, two voices can do in parliament and that this unhealthy state of affairs is due to the unfair political climate imposed by the PAP. Ms Chen should instead examine her own record at helping to uphold political justice in Singapore through her vote.

Ms Chen laments that the WP didn’t address the flipside of pro-foreigner policies which is to enlarge our economy. Ms Chen should go deeper into that policy and ask why didn’t the PAP enlarge our economy through productivity gains instead of constantly relying on foreigners even after so many decades?

Ms Chen claims that inflation is a global issue. But property prices have sky rocketed and so have rents. A significant part of inflation comes from sky rocketing rents which is a predominantly local, not global issue.

Ms Chen laments that the WP didn’t address the root of the problem. But Ms Chen couldn’t even see the root of the problem which is the sheer dominance of the PAP in parliament.

Ms Chen says that including Mr Chen Show Mao in the WP team is an expedient way of boosting the WP academic credential. Can’t Ms Chen see the flipside of her own argument which is PAP’s equally expedient way of maintaining high academic credentials through the inclusion of many scholars in its lineup?

Ms Chen laments that including Mr Chen in the WP team comes at the expense of a native Singaporean. If that is what Ms Chen laments, she should similarly lament on the parliamentary seats taken by Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Dr Amy Khor, Dr Lily Neo and Ms Irene Ng which came at the expense of native Singaporeans too. Ms Chen should recognise that Mr Chen is Singaporean for more years than he is not.

Ms Chen laments that it will take longer for Mr Chen to understand us. Ms Chen should refocus her lament on the PAP instead. Even after so many years, the PAP still doesn’t understand us and continues to implement policies that infuriate Singaporeans.

Ms Chen claims that Mr Chen is aiming to serve the WP’s cause rather than the causes of her ward. But the cause of serving her ward is also a part of the WP’s cause and hence a part of Mr Chen’s cause.

Ms Chen regurgitates government propaganda about lapses of some First World parliaments. The key, Ms Chen should recognise is some, not all. Many of the First World like Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US and the UK have no lapsed. We too have had lapses such as the Mas Selamat escape and the Orchard Road floods. Would Ms Chen similarly focus on our few lapses and conclude that our PAP government is nothing but lapses?

Ms Chen asks if our parliament too will similarly fall into lapses. In the first place, there are more First World governments that have not lapsed than lapsed. Also, there are currently two miserable opposition members in parliament, far from the number found in other First World nations to have any effect on the balance of power.

Voters don’t need opposition to tell good from bad

April 29, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 29 Apr 2011 letter by Mr Martin Tan.

Mr Tan sees an apparent contradiction between Ms Sylvia Lim calling voters intelligent on the one hand and implying on the other hand that Singaporeans can’t tell good government from bad since our supposed lack of a first rate parliament can only mean that we have voted wrongly in the past.

We can try to resolve the contradiction if we think along these lines:

1. Singaporeans are intelligent enough to relate the obvious problems that they currently face back to us not having a first rate parliament.

2. These problems only happened in the last five years, therefore Singaporeans couldn’t see them to factor them in in their past judgements.

In other words, Singaporeans are intelligent enough to understand what they can see for themselves now but these things that they now see happened only recently.

Or it could simply be that Singaporeans are now better informed than before and can therefore apply their intelligence correctly given the right information.

Aljunied: Her checklist for credibilit​y

April 29, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 29 Apr 2011 letter by Ms Grace Chua.

Ms Chua uses Mr George Yeo’s accomplishments as a minister to ask what Mr Low Thia Khiang has to show. What does Ms Chua want Mr Low to show? To show that he has done ministerial work even though he is not a minister? Mr Low has excelled in his capacity as an opposition MP. He has proven himself more than adequately to move on the next stage.

Ms Chua doubts Mr Chen Show Mao’s ability to relate to local issues after being away for 30 years. If even the PAP, which has been in charge over the last 30 years, cannot but lose touch with local issues resulting in policies that deviate far from the people’s hearts, what more does Ms Chua expect from Mr Chen?

Why WP’s proposal will depress HDB home market: Mah

April 29, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 29 Apr 2011 letter by Mr Mah Bow Tan.

Mr Mah claims that a 20% price reduction on a $300,000 new flat will cost the government $1 billion for the 22,000 BTO flats.

But HDB resale index has shot up by 67% over the last four years. Since new flat price is pegged to resale flat price, new flat price would presumably have gone up by around 67% too. Discounting back, the price of new flats four years ago should be around $180,000.

An increase of 67% followed by a reduction of 20% is still a net increase of 33% over the $180,000 price tag four years ago. When multiplied by the 22,000 BTO flats, this brings an additional $1.3 billion into the government kitty instead.

Therefore, instead of costing the government $1 billion, new flat price with 20% off still nets the government more than $1 billion extra than before.

Mr Mah repeats the claim about BTO flats being affordable with a 20-year loan tenure. Many big tickets bought from Courts appear inexpensive when paid in small instalments over long periods of time. But when interest is factored in, paying in instalments is actually much more expensive than paying the full sum at one go. Therefore, while BTO flat instalments appear affordable, the full sum plus interest is not. Even if that unaffordability doesn’t appear evident now, it will eventually become evident 20 years down the road when the flat owner suddenly realises that 20 years’ worth of his CPF savings has vanished.

Mr Mah speaks of the $40,000 flat discount as being ‘substantial’. But the ‘substantial’ $40,000 discount is only about a quarter of the $150,000 increase in average HDB resale flat price over the last four years.

Mr Mah speaks of the additional housing grants. Even that doesn’t cover the $150,000 price jump over the last four years.

Mr Mah claims that affordable price is the reason why there is a strong demand for BTO flats. COE prices have shot through the roof due to strong demand but limited supply. Therefore, strong demand doesn’t necessarily mean affordable prices. Strong demand simply means that there are many people with an urgent need for a roof over their heads even if the price may be high.

Mr Mah reiterates the crashing of the housing market due to WP’s proposals. That is not true. When done gradually over a long period of time, the WP proposal will not crash the market but will bring prices back to more decent levels.

The lowering of HDB prices from its current sky high levels shouldn’t be viewed as depressing the market. It can only be viewed as bringing prices back to normalcy.

Don’t rock S’pore’s foundation​s: MM

April 26, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 26 Apr 2011 report of MM Lee’s pre-election message.

You referred to MM Lee as modern Singapore’s founding father. The term ‘modern’ is unclear because what is modern today may be ancient decades down the road, just as what we now see as ancient was actually modern decades ago. If you refer instead to MM Lee as the founding father of independent Singapore, then that phrasing is also inappropriate because it belittles the significance of what founding means. The founding fathers of America had to fight a war with the powerful British Empire to win independence. The founding father of India too had to fight to win India’s independence, albeit peacefully. We had independence thrown at us. We didn’t fight for it, we didn’t even ask for it, it was thrown at us, we were kicked out. If stretching our arms out to receive independence can be considered an act of founding, founding must be really cheap isn’t it?

MM Lee reminded Singaporeans to remember where Singapore came from and how tough it was for us to get to where we are today. MM Lee should know very well that we came from a British colony. That was how we started – 1819. To focus entirely on the problems of the post-independence era is to ignore how equally tough it was when we started in 1819, when we literally had to carve a city out of a jungle. How equally tough it was to survive and to rebuild after the Japanese Occupation.

MM Lee said that it was not by chance but through careful planning by the first generation of leaders that the Singapore today came about. That is like someone who says that the movie succeeded because Fann Wong was used as the leading actress. Who is to say that the movie wouldn’t have succeeded just the same had Zoe Tay been used instead? When a country has succeeded, it is very easy for the leaders to claim credit for themselves. But who can say for sure that had it been a different team, the country wouldn’t have succeeded just the same?

Most of us grew up with the belief that it was MM Lee and his team who took us to where we are today. This belief is so deeply sunk in that we never even bother to question its truth. Because we believe that our success depends on the PAP, we continue to cling on to them tightly, never letting them go for fear of losing prosperity. We believe that good leadership is the key to a country’s success. But if that is true, then all the prosperous countries must be blessed with good leadership and all the poor countries must be lacking good leaders. If we study all the countries in this world, not just selected countries that are often used by politicians and forum writers to justify this thing or that. If we study all the countries in this world, we will invariably find that the prosperous ones belong to three main groups: the West, the oil rich countries, East Asia.

What is so special about the West? They are innovative. They started the industrial revolution. They made all the scientific discoveries. They were the first to arrive.

There is nothing special about the oil rich countries, they are just oil rich.

But what about East Asia? Without exception, all of East Asia are prospering. If we study how GDPs have multiplied over the last four decades for all countries, not just selected countries, we find that, aside from countries that struck oil or diamond, the chart toppers are all East Asian. Quite clearly, the difference has been in culture and society. We are merely a part of the collection of East Asian success stories. If good leadership is the reason for a country’s success, then all of East Asia must be blessed with good leadership. But there were a hundred over developing countries emerging from the ashes of the Second World War and all the good leaders happened to congregate in a handful of East Asian societies? So coincidental? What is the chance of that happening?

So MM Lee is right when he said that it wasn’t due to chance that we became what we are today. But it wasn’t due to our first generation leaders either. It is always possible that a different team would have taken us to where we are today, perhaps even further. Just look at Hong Kong, even without our authoritarian first generation leaders; they have succeeded just the same and with a lot more freedom too.

MM Lee spoke of the schools, hospitals, universities, police force, armed forces, air force, all built from scratch, from ground zero. But the school that educated MM Lee – Raffles Institution, was built by the British. Not only that, our police force also came from the British. So were our civil service and basic laws. We inherited a lot from the British. For many of the things we have today, we didn’t build from ground zero. Even before the government built hospitals, we already had Tan Tock Seng. Even the history of our national university can be traced to colonial times. The only thing that MM Lee listed which he built from scratch was our armed forces. But the armed forces basically comprise you and me, the common folks. So MM Lee didn’t give us our armed forces as much as we gave MM Lee his armed forces.

MM Lee urges us not to rock the foundation. It is not us who is rocking the foundation, it is MM Lee’s successors who are rocking the foundation. In fact, they have so over loaded this country beyond its current carrying capacity that we are in danger of sinking like the overloaded ferries of Mersing which capsized.

MM Lee wants us to ask ourselves how a Singapore house is 10 to 20 times the price of an Indonesian house and 5 to 10 times the price of a Malaysian house. We want to ask instead how come housing in many Western nations is so much cheaper than ours without compromise to prosperity?

MM Lee asks us not to risk our assets, property values and job opportunities. Good, old MM Lee at this scaremongering best. Why doesn’t he repeat his rant about Singapore women becoming maids? What risk is he talking about? Will the civil service stop functioning the day PAP is gone? Will public servants suddenly forget how to work when PAP is no longer around? All the basic tools of this society that we inherited from the British will continue to run with or without the PAP.

MM Lee asks us to vote for men and women with proven character and track records. In that case, shouldn’t MM Lee encourage Singaporeans to vote for Mr Chen Shao Mao since he proved his character by volunteering for national service and serving with distinction and he also charted a blistering career record which nobody can deny? Conversely, would MM lee ask us not to vote for Mr Wong Kan Seng and Mr Mah Bow Tan since their track records are now tainted and disproven?

WP’s plan leaves home owners vulnerable

April 25, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 21 Apr 2011 letter by Mdm Shirley Chng.

On behalf of 85% Singaporeans who own HDB flats, Mdm Chng cautions against pegging new flat prices to median income.

She says it might seriously affect those who are forced to sell their flats for which they paid a lot. She is right; we should consider the plight of any such persons. But Mdm Chng should not forget that if prices hadn’t shot up in the first place, there would have been no cause for worry about it plunging next. In other words, Mdm Chng should show concern when prices first shoot up, not when prices are already so high.

Mdm Chng should also realise that the situation is not unlike that of someone who has paid $50 for a bowl of noodles and she in turn is asking everyone else to also pay $50 for their noodles. Does Mdm Chng not know who gets the last laugh? It is the noodle seller because he ends up making tons of money. In the context of property, the government is the sole supplier of public housing and the near monopoly supplier of land. When property prices go sky high, it is the government that has the last laugh.

Mdm Chng says that the only group we should be concerned with are first time buyers with no existing flats. On that basis, she concludes that lowering HDB prices across the board is unwarranted. Mdm Chng seems to think that first time buyers with no existing flats form only the minority. She is wrong. Sky high property prices will not only affect first time buyers now but will also affect all future first time buyers. That includes all of Mdm Chng’s children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, grand nephews, grand nieces and so on. What Mdm Chng’s generation enjoys her children and her children’s children will end up paying for.

Mdm Chng urges for the protection of 85% of existing HDB owners as though all 85% can sell their flats now to reap the gains. Where are the 85% going to find another 85% Singaporeans to sell their flats to? At any one time, only a small minority of the 85% can sell their flats to reap profits. Whatever this small minority is is equal to the actual number of buyers. Since at any point in time, the actual number of sellers is equal to the actual number of buyers, there is no basis to favour the former over the latter group.

‘Bad idea to lower cost of land’

April 25, 2011

Dear Mr Mah,

I refer to the 17 Apr 2011 Straits Times report of your comments on the Workers’ Party manifesto.

You said lowering cost of land is taking money from Singapore’s reserves. But in the first place, who paid for the high cost of land that fed government coffers? It is the people. The people ended up bearing the high cost of land. So the government has been taking lots of money from the people by charging a very high price for land. Since the people have been charged a very high price to begin with, lowering the cost of land is merely returning money that the government has overcharged to the people.

The cost lowering can be gradual so that its impact on resale flat price can be slow and gradual. Notice that the Workers’ Party did not advocate a sudden return of price back to normal. Contrast this with the PAP track record of allowing property prices to shoot up like a rocket in a matter of just two, three years. Shoot up like crazy can, go down slowly cannot. The reason is clear. You want the price to keep going up because that will allow the government to squeeze more money from the people to feed government coffers which end up being wasted by our state investment agencies anyway.

You said it would cost the government billions to lower the prices from current levels. Doesn’t that in turn tell us that the government has been making billions from the people by hiking prices to their current levels? You seem to be telling the people that government taking billions from the people is okay but government returning billions back to the people is not okay.

You said lowering prices means home owners’ assets cannot grow over time. Are you telling the people that asset values can miraculously grow over time without having anyone to pay for it? You are telling people that money can drop from the sky out of nowhere. Money cannot drop from out of nowhere. Growing asset values means growing asset prices that will be borne by our children and our children’s children. You are robbing our future generations to pay for the present and past generations. You are irresponsible.

You said money from land sales goes into our reserves and is therefore not money from left pocket to right pocket. But PM Lee has just dipped generously into the reserves during the recent crisis. So the reserve is another pocket that the government can slip its hands into. No doubt the government has to ask the President permission. But has the President ever said no?

You claim that the Workers’ Party’s plan of abolishing the elected presidency is a grand plan to ‘raid’ the reserves. But PM Lee has already ‘raided’ the reserves during the recent crisis. With such an accommodating president, why is there a need to abolish the elected presidency just to raid the reserves?

You want the opposition to make clear how they are going to get the money to reduce home prices. But you never seemed to see the need to make clear how the government is getting all that money from the people by jacking up home prices.

The inconvenie​nt truth about WP’s campaign slogan

April 24, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 23 Apr 2011 letter by Ms Indranee Rajah.

Ms Rajah claims that the Workers’ Party is twisting in every possible way to explain away its campaign theme of a First World parliament. That is not true. Along the way, the Workers’ Party has elaborated more in response to public queries and has clarified its campaign theme.

Ms Rajah claims that the Workers’ Party finds it inconvenient to identify countries as models for a First World parliament because of what is happening in most of the First World. Does Ms Rajah have proof to say so or is she saying it because she feels like it? As a lawyer, she should know better not to insinuate without proof. The Workers’ Party has already explained that it wants to evolve its own model that works for Singapore. Ms Rajah can refuse to accept the Workers’ Party’s reasons but she has no right to declare the reasons false unless she can prove it.

In any case, if we refer to the World Bank’s indicator for government effectiveness, what is happening in most of the First World isn’t as bad as Ms Rajah makes it out to be. Countries like Denmark, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Lichtenstein and Hong Kong have done as well as before if not better. Countries like Switzerland, Canada, Luxembourg and Australia have only dipped slightly. Countries like Norway and the Netherlands continue to do well despite larger dips. Therefore, Ms Rajah’s claim that parliaments of First World countries aren’t exemplary because of what is happening to their countries now isn’t quite valid.

Also, what is happening now is just a snapshot of what has happened over many decades. The Global Financial Crisis is touted as a once-a-lifetime event. Do we judge First World countries on the basis of this single event only? If this had been 1997 and we are in the midst of the Asian Financial Crisis, would Ms Rajah be able to say the same?

Ms Rajah claims that there is nothing unique about scrutinising government policies since we already have non-constituency MPs doing it. Ms Rajah is ignoring the right of the opposition MP to block government policies.

Ms Rajah now claims that blocking government policies is about gaining power. Must Ms Rajah and the PAP always see things through their own power hungry eyes? The most innocent thing can become tainted when seen through tainted eyes.

Ms Rajah should realise that even if the vision of a First World parliament is inspired by those found in First World countries, it doesn’t automatically follow that those countries must be the ones to model after. Ms Rajah cannot preclude the Workers’ Party from adapting existing examples into a model that suits Singapore.

The inconvenient truth that Ms Rajah points to is merely caused by her own convenient but illegal insinuations.

Housing queries WP should have asked

April 24, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 23 Apr 2011 letter by Mr Ang Kok Thiam.

Mr Ang accuses the Workers’ Party of asking the wrong questions and of proposing simplistic and ill-considered solutions because he feels that the solutions are detrimental to existing home owners.

Average HDB resale prices have shot up by more than $150,000 over the last four years. So compared to four years ago, flat owners have seen a boost of $150,000 on average to the value of their flats. It is this $150,000 increase in flat value that Mr Ang is trying so hard to protect. Any reduction to this $150,000 increase in flat value is, in Mr Ang’s opinion, detrimental.

Mr Ang should realise that he cannot realise the $150,000 increase in flat value unless he sells his flat. Having sold his flat, he cannot buy another flat because that will wipe out his $150,000 gain. So in order for the 85% Singaporeans owning HDB flats to realise the $150,000 increase in flat value, they must all sell their flats. Yet, these 85% Singaporeans must not buy back those same flats because that would wipe out their $150,000 gain. Where are they going to find another 85% of Singaporeans to buy those flats?

This is where the mirage of the supposed $150,000 increase in flat value lies in. If all Singaporeans decide to sell their flats, that $150,000 evaporates straight away. If having too many sellers lowers the price of flats, then having too many buyers will raise the price of flats. That’s how the $150,000 came about in the first place. There were too many buyers compared to sellers. In other words, Mr Ang is trying to defend the perpetual under supply and over demand of flats. That is irresponsible, that is not right.

However, Mr Ang can say that the flats need not be sold now but can be sold to future generations over many decades. If we think along that line, we must inevitably come to the conclusion that the $150,000 gain will be paid for by someone in the future. In other words, our gains will become the liabilities for future generations. That is the sad truth about asset appreciation that Mr Ang doesn’t seem to understand. There is no free lunch in this world. Money doesn’t drop from nowhere. You can’t have 85% of Singaporeans suddenly becoming $150,000 richer just like that. Their riches will have to be paid for by their children and their children’s children. Wiping off the $150,000 increase in flat price will also wipe off the $150,000 increase in liabilities for future generations. So it is no more detrimental than it is beneficial to future generations. A responsible government will recognise that and actively control flat prices. An irresponsible government will peddle the asset enhancement fallacy without telling us its detriment to future generations.

Mr Ang dreams of the magic combination of affordable new flat price without any impact on resale and private property prices. Such wishful thinking shows Mr Ang’s lack of understanding of the close intertwining of the various property market segments. Even Mr Mah acknowledges the close relationship between new flat price and resale flat price.

Mr Ang asks if government measures thus far are balanced between existing and aspiring home owners. The fact that resale flat prices are up $150,000 on average over the last four years is an obvious indication of the government’s skew towards existing home owners to the detriment of home aspirants both now and in the future.

Mr Ang asks if more can be done to help aspiring home owners and whether this can be done without going against the principle of self-reliance. It is funny that Mr Ang should be concerned with the principle of self-reliance when he is defending the ‘windfall’ $150,000 increase in flat values. If Mr Ang truly believes in self-reliance, he should ask the people to work for the $150,000 and not depend on property prices to shoot up by $150,000 which ends up being paid by someone else instead.

Mr Ang asks if the opposition’s proposal will not crash the market. The opposition has proposed a target. But the route to that target can be gradual so that the market will not crash.

Mr Ang claims that rising home prices was not brought about by Mr Mah or is the fault of the ruling party. He says it is driven by a booming economy and by a prospering middle class. Mr Ang should know his property indexes more thoroughly. During the global financial crisis year of 2009, while GDP contracted, HDB prices actually rose rather than fell. So clearly, a booming economy is not the main reason why home prices have shot up. At the end of the day, it is still demand and supply that determine prices. Since demand from immigrants and supply from HDB are determined by the ruling party and Mr Mah respectively, Mr Ang’s claim that this has nothing to do with them is highly unbelievable.

Mr Ang points to China and Hong Kong where the price of housing is also a hot issue and asks why these places have not implemented opposition proposals? Perhaps Mr Ang can see that as a testament to the ingenuity of the opposition proposal?