Archive for May, 2011

If our economy ever falters, that is the end of Singapore

May 30, 2011

Dear readers,

A colleague of mine showed me this link about parliamentary debates on ministerial salaries some years back.

LKY’s point then was that Singapore’s trade is three and a half times its GDP, higher than that of Hong Kong’s and much higher than those of Denmark’s, Switzerland’s and Finland’s. If we refer to data from the University of Pennsylvania’s (Upenn) Centre for International Comparison, Singapore’s trade as a share of GDP was already 369.5% in 1960. The PAP government took over in 1959 but obviously, the PAP couldn’t have boosted trade to 369.5% of GDP in just one year. What does this show? Trade has always been a big part of our economy right from the colonial times. We have been founded as an entrepot trade centre. It was Sir Stamford Raffles who gifted us with this perfect location for trade. We didn’t need million dollar ministers to steer trade to Singapore then, why would we need million dollar ministers to steer trade to Singapore now?

According to the Upenn data for 2009, the trade share of GDP for Denmark, Switzerland and Finland are 90.9%, 71.7% and 92.4%, hardly small either.

LKY’s next point was that Denmark, Switzerland and Finland are part of Europe. If they fail, they are still caught in a European situation. If our economy ever falters, that is the end of Singapore and its First World status and we will go back to Southeast Asian situation. The greatest catastrophe that ever befell Singapore was the Japanese Occupation. Everything came to a standstill. There was acute shortage of food and supplies. People resorted to eating rats. What worse faltering can happen to Singapore? Yet we bounced back. So don’t be taken in by LKY. If we ever falter, we will bounce back because fundamentally, ours is not a Southeast Asian situation. Ours is an East Asian situation. Without exception, East Asia has prospered.

We should also note that Europe didn’t go out of its way to bail out Greece and Ireland which were subjected to severe austerity measures. We should note too that during the Asian Financial crisis, the IMF also bailed out South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and other Asian nations.


Figures, facts and fallacies

May 22, 2011

Dear Dr Tan Khee Giap,

I refer to your comments on the UBS Prices and Earnings Report 2009 which was carried by the Straits Times on 3 May 2011.

You complained about the UBS’s understating of the percentage of professionals, managers and executives (PMETs) in Singapore which tended to understate our true average wage. But most of the first world cities ahead of us in the UBS list also had their percentage of PMETs in their workforces understated. Hence, any disadvantage that we suffer would likewise be suffered by them as well. So this does not explain why our gross hourly wage is not even half that of New York’s.

You complained about the UBS excluding CPF from our net wage which is used to pay for housing, medical and education expenses. But having for paid all these, how much is left over for retirement? We must recognise that the net wage in Western cities essentially refers to consumable income after deducting for retirement needs. To compare apple to apple, our net wage should also be net of retirement funds. Since our CPF is our retirement funds, our net wage should therefore be net of CPF.

You complained about the UBS’s use of European goods and services to reflect costs. You said this biases up our cost of living since Western goods tend to be more expensive in Asian cities. But Western services are not cheap compared to Asian services. Plumbing, car repair, window works, electrical works, house renovation and so on are much more expensive in Western cities than in Asian cities. Also, a significant number of items in the basket of goods are no longer Western consumption items but have become global consumption items. Items like skirt, shoes, shirt, jeans, socks, computers, IPods, MP3 player, refrigerator, LCD TV, digital camera, vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, phone bills, Internet connection, movie tickets and so on have all become global consumption items. Western food items like McDonald’s, KFC, Coca Cola and so on have become global consumption food items. Also, Western bread and Asian noodles are both made from wheat and are therefore subjected to the same global wheat pricing.

You complained about the UBS using private housing rents to calculate price levels when the majority of Singaporeans live in flats where rental is 30% cheaper. But if you refer to Page 10 of the UBS report, it clearly states that gross or net hourly pay is calculated excluding rent. Our HDB flats are more expensive than private housing in Western cities. If the UBS factored in rents, we would have fallen even further back in the rankings.

You complained about the UBS putting Singapore’s electronics and household appliance prices higher than Mumbai’s. Anecdotally, you said this is not true because visitors from India spend much on electronics here. But it is possible that Indian electronics products are not the latest so our Indian visitors are coming to buy the latest to bring back home rather than to buy the same things at a cheaper price.

Finally, you constructed your own index which puts Singapore in a much better light. You said it is based on official sources of monthly wages but adjusted to account for slightly different national statistics for different countries. All these sound very dubious. Show us your sources so that we can verify them independently. Show us your adjustments so that we can judge their reasonableness.

You set out to point out the fallacies in the UBS report. You ended up producing your own fallacious arguments that put shame on you and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Don’t marry the wrong party, says Lim Swee Say

May 20, 2011

Dear Mr Lim Swee Say,

I refer to the 6 May 2011 Straits Times report of your election comments.

You asked the electorate to shun the opportunistic suitor who promised the sky. But your WP opponent suitor promised to be our voice. He didn’t promise the sky so why shun him?

You said the PAP suitor is sincere and can offer long term happiness. Which suitor will say he is not sincere? How do you prove your sincerity beyond offers of money? You think money can buy long term happiness?

You said Singapore is like Chelsea or Manchester United of the Global Premier League. But Chelsea’s and Manchester United’s positions required tons of money to purchase and to maintain. Will our position in the Global Premier League cost more than the people are prepared to pay for?

Dear Ms Jessica Tan,

You said East Coast MPs were able to put up a strong case to government agencies to push for upgrading. No matter how strong a case opposition MPs put up, they will never receive upgrading. So it is not a matter of how strong or how weak a case the MPs put up but whether they are PAP MPs or opposition MPs.

Dear Mr Raymond Lim,

You said the PAP can offer plans that the WP team lacked. That’s because the PAP holds the nation’s purse string and is using it to forward PAP objectives. That’s fundamentally wrong and unacceptable. Doesn’t Mr Zainul Abidin always ask: “are we Singaporeans?”

You said voting the WP will lead to gridlocks. But voting for you five years ago also led to gridlock on Singapore roads. You said the people will end up as losers if they vote for WP. Actually, it is the PAP who is the loser, the sore loser who threatened Singaporeans with five years of rumination and repentance.

Dear Dr Maliki,

You said Singapore is more welfare-oriented than any other country. But we are well known for treating welfare as a dirty word. Are we more dirty than any other country?

Can ‘small change’ proposals bear scrutiny?

May 20, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 2 May 2011 letter by Mr Phui Peng Chuan.

Mr Phui said that most Singaporeans wouldn’t want to know about government investment losses. Not necessary. Without doing a survey or a national referendum, we wouldn’t know. It is good to know about government investment loses. That will confirm once and for all whether Mr Tan Jee Say’s ‘small change’ comment is valid. It may also help Singaporeans make sense of whether the billions they contribute each year to the reserves through housing are worthwhile.

Mr Phui said Mr Tan’s background doesn’t guarantee that his proposals will work. But it also doesn’t mean that it definitely won’t work. Even if there may be elements in his proposal that we may not agree with, there could be other elements that are worth considering.

Groupthink​: What about WP candidates​?

May 20, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 6 May 2011 letter by Mr Toh Cheng Seong.

Mr Toh accuses the Workers’ Party of groupthink because they all sing the same party line: “First World Government”. What kind of logic is Mr Toh driving at? If a company’s mission statement is to “Make a difference”, and all employees strive to “Make a difference”, are all employees guilty of groupthink? Even if all employees share the same mission statement, it is unlikely they would have the exact same judgment to the multitude of everyday issues confronting the company. That is the litmus test for groupthink. It stems not from having a shared vision or mission but from the lack of independence and diversity at solving everyday problems. Therefore, having the same party tagline doesn’t condemn the Workers’ Party to groupthink. Instead, having unity of voice on each and every occasion condemns the PAP to groupthink.

Mr Toh accuses the Workers’ Party of being tied to the party’s whip in parliament. But Mr Low Thia Khiang has never used the whip on Ms Sylvia Lim in parliament.

Mr Toh asks if Mr Low has ever supported government policies that benefit Singaporeans. Has Mr Toh forgotten that in the last parliamentary debate, Mr Low supported the government returning funds taken from our reserves?

Mr Toh claims that many multi-party democracy co-drivers disagree for the sake of disagreeing but he doesn’t provide any example. He should provide an example so that we can write to the ambassador of that country and see what the reply will be. Even if there are truly examples of co-drivers disagreeing for disagreeing’s sake, Mr Toh hasn’t shown why the Workers’ Party would belong to that category.

Ultimately​, good stems from us, not the politician​s

May 20, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 7 May 2011 letter by Mr Ang Wu Chye.

Mr Ang seems to embrace the notion that a more educated and informed society should churn out more positive rather than negative comments. If that is the case, North Korea must be the most educated and informed of all societies since it churns out practically nothing but positive comments.

Both positive and negative comments are important for us to recognise the good and the bad of our society so that we can continue to promote the good and minimise the bad. Online media appears to display more negative comments because it is the only outlet available for negative comments. On the other hand, positive comments are so lavishly displayed on printed and television media, they hardly need repeating in online media.

Mr Ang asks us to remember courtesy and graciousness as though we are being discourteous and disgraceful when we show displeasure at being treated like mere workers to be used to achieve GDP growth and reserve accumulation. What should we do? Show courtesy and graciousness to those who have been taking us for granted and who have shown neither respect nor graciousness to us? By doing so will the situation improve?

Mr Ang questions if we have been treating our parents well, keeping our parks clean, adopting a happy and contented mindset and appreciating our parks and gardens? Does Mr Ang think that by doing all these, our problems will disappear? Many of our problems are caused by inappropriate or inadequate national policies. How does Mr Ang expect us to overcome these problems by treating our parents well and keeping our parks clean? If we treat our parents well, will HDB flats become more affordable? If we keep the parks clean, will transport become better?

PAP system helps those in need, say candidates

May 20, 2011

Dear Dr Osman,

I refer to the 2 May 2011 Straits Times report of your election campaign remarks.

Based on Workfare and help given to the Malay-Muslim community and to prison inmates, you questioned the validity of the people’s concern that the government is proud and has not worked hard to solve problems. But examples of particular segments of the population being taken care of doesn’t hide or cover up the lack of care and concern to other segments of the population. We shouldn’t brush aside the concerns of those who have been neglected simply because there were others who were well taken care of.

PM Lee’s election comments

May 19, 2011

Dear PM Lee,

I refer to the 3 May 2011 Straits Times report ‘Govt’s duty is to do good for Singapore’.

You said the NCMPs are voted in. At the same time, you also said that one-third of Singaporeans vote against PAP rather than vote for an elected opposition. Why the contradiction? Those who voted for the best losing opposition candidate who eventually becomes an NCMP, you say they are not voting for that candidate but yet you say the candidate was voted in.

The chicken who crows story is best used on the PAP. When global economy recovers and lifts our economy, the PAP says it’s because of them. On the other hand, when the opposition challenge is weak, we see little impetus for PAP to change. But when the opposition mounts a strong challenge, we see a strong impetus for PAP to change. This is equivalent to the chicken keeps quiet, the sun doesn’t come out but when the chicken crows, the sun comes out. It’s quite clear to everyone that we need a strong opposition to make sure that the PAP does the right thing.

I refer to the 3 May 2011 Straits Times report ‘PAP’s goal is a better life for all: PM’.

You said most PAP policies benefit the middle income. Actually, they are designed to extract as much as possible from the middle income to feed the reserves which gets lost in bad investment decisions. You said the party consistently provided jobs for Singaporeans but are they jobs that Singaporeans want?

I refer to the 4 May 2011 Straits Times report ‘Please take good care of Singapore. It’s a precious jewel’.

You asked first time voters to please take good care of Singapore because the country belongs to the young people. But Singapore belongs to all Singaporeans so you should ask all Singaporeans to take good care of Singapore. But how to take good care of Singapore when we don’t have a say in anything? We don’t have a say in the casino issue. We don’t have a say in housing matters. We don’t have a say in the direction the country is headed towards. So I think it’s better you tell this to yourself instead. Please take good care of Singapore and don’t play with our lives and our future.

You said our parents vote on gut instinct, loyalty and long experience of what works in Singapore. That is the problem. If we vote on the basis of our gut, we cease to think about what is good for Singapore. If we vote on the basis of loyalty, we may end up voting out of blind loyalty. If we vote on the basis of what has worked for Singapore in the past, we may end up voting for the past instead of for our future.

You said our parents know what can go wrong if we have a bad government. In any period of power struggle, things would be quite unsettled. But that should not not be mistaken to be a period of bad government. When things go wrong in times of peace like now, it is a sign of bad government.

I refer to the 6 May 2011 Straits Times report ‘S’pore belongs to you, PM tells the young’.

You said you are slogging so that young Singaporeans can have a better future. But you have tied your work to the GDP and have relentlessly increased GDP without increasing incomes by as much while causing housing prices to shoot up tremendously. If this is the better future you are offering to young Singaporeans, they have reason to worry.

I refer to the 7 May 2011 Straits Times report ‘Your vote will decide your children’s future’.

If you consider the vast amounts of problems we have brought to ourselves, we have not done well by being different from others. There is a reason why other nations do not mindlessly import people en masse. Our exceptional performance becomes not so exceptional when you divide it out by the extra people we have had to bring in. What is the point of enlarging the pie when we end up having to share it with even more people?

You asked older Singaporeans to also consider their children when they vote. Considering that rising HDB prices means higher burden for our children, you should ask Singaporeans to vote against the PAP.

You said we are also voting the next government. After so much struggle, the result is still a miserable 6 opposition to 81 PAP MPs. The next government was never in question.

Opposition offers bad ideas and empty rhetoric: Shanmugam

May 19, 2011

Dear Mr Shanmugam,

I refer to the 5 May 2011 Straits Times report of your election comments.

You said the opposition has offered bad proposals or empty rhetoric and played up emotions for pure political gain. The same can be said of the PAP.

You warned the rally crowd of flat prices coming down if they are pegged to median income. Isn’t that playing up emotions for pure political gain? There is no one who disagrees that flat prices are too high now. What is wrong with lowering flat prices to more decent levels then?

You said Mr Tan Jee Say’s plan to phase out manufacturing will cause 500,000 job losses. But you didn’t mention Mr Tan’s plan to replace those jobs with jobs that are more creative and entrepreneurial in nature. Jobs like those in Google and Apple that Singaporeans want. Furthermore, Mr Tan didn’t say he will phase out manufacturing. He only said he will encourage them to move to cheaper places. Phasing out, like the phasing out of pig farms in Singapore, leaves people with no choice. But Mr Tan is giving people a choice. They can choose to stay instead. So you have misrepresented his proposal. Is this not playing up emotions for pure political gain?

You said Mr Tan’s plan will lead us to rely on the good wishes of our neighbours. But who says we must relocate to our neighbours? The world’s most sought after products are all made in China. We can go there instead.

You said this election is a fight for the soul of our democracy. You are right. Our souls have been eaten up by the PAP Corporation. It is time we reclaim our souls from the PAP.

You said the PAP has delivered decades of good governance. But those decades were delivered by previous generations of government. You must be crazy to think that we can appraise the current government on the basis of the good work of past governments.

You said long term planning has made Singapore exceptionally successful. You mean our recent grow-at-all-costs strategy is long term planning? If PAP long term planning creates so many problems, I can’t imagine what PAP short term planning would lead us to. Hong Kong is just as exceptionally successful as us without the PAP. Hong Kong shows that we can be as exceptionally successful without the PAP.

You said the opposition works up unhappiness even though policies are for long-term benefit. You mean asset appreciation is for long-term benefit? It is a Ponzi scheme that passes on the burden of previous generation gains to future generations.

You asked the opposition how many foreigners is too many? Isn’t this a question the PAP should ask itself? Clearly the PAP has never asked itself this question. No wonder the foreigner population kept ballooning and ballooning without end.

You said the opposition is trying to translate unhappiness into votes. What you want them to do instead? Translate unhappiness into happiness? Pay high price for HDB is happiness? Squeeze in public transportation is happiness? Pay politicians millions of dollars to say stupid things is happiness?

You said voters are deprived of a proper debate. When you misrepresented Mr Tan’s proposals, you have already deprived Singaporeans of the chance to look at an alternative plan as it is.

You said non-constituency MPs have limited voting rights. Their limited voting rights limit their ability to vote for our future. That’s why we need elected MPs to vote on behalf of citizens.

SM Goh urges voters to take a long-term view

May 19, 2011

Dear SM Emeritus,

I refer to the 6 May 2011 Straits Times report of your election comments.

You said Singaporeans should ask:

(1) Who could form the best government to solve the nation’s immediate and long term problems?

But the nucleus of the new generation of leaders comes from the civil service. The civil service is there to stay regardless of which party forms the government. Hence, the answer to your question is the civil service could form the best government regardless of which party it serves.

(2) Who could run town councils and look after estates?

Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong have proven that they can. They also didn’t loose any of their town council money unlike some PAP town councils which did.

(3) Who could best represent the people in parliament?

Definitely not Dr Balakkrishnan who will only ask the people if they want to eat in a coffee shop, food court or restaurant. Definitely not PAP yes men and yes women.

(4) Will there be political stability or uncertainty?

You think too highly of Singaporeans. We are not the gungho type who would fight street battles with the government like elsewhere.

(5) Will the country be politically united or divided?

You bully opposition wards so jiat lat you still have the cheek to ask for political unity?

(6) Can we attract investments?

That question is no longer sufficient. We should ask: can we attract the right investments? Can we grow our own indigenous enterprises so that we can be less dependent on investments?

(7) Can we grow the economy?

That question is no longer sufficient. We should ask: can we grow the economy sensibly and responsibly?

(8) Can we create sufficient well-paying jobs if there is no stability?

Since we have stability, this question is irrelevant.

In addition, you also said that you would readily place the future of your children and grandchildren in the hands of the ministers and office holders because you know them. The problem is, most Singaporeans do not know the ministers or office holders personally. How to place our children’s future in their hands then?