Archive for July, 2011

Accept EP’s role or don’t stand

July 31, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 30 Jul 2011 letter by Mr Daniel Chia.

Mr Chia says that the office of the elected president is not the office for the voice of the people. But the so-called office for the voice of the people represents only 60% of popular votes. Even PM Lee has admitted that he will not speak for all Singaporeans equally, preferring to disadvantage voters in opposition wards when it comes to HDB upgrading. Since, the so-called office for the voice of the people doesn’t speak for all Singaporeans equally, there is a need for other avenues through which the voice of the people can be heard. The Straits Times forum is another avenue through which the voice of Mr Chia has been heard. If the people’s voice can be heard through the Straits Times, why can’t it be heard through the president?

Mr Chia says championing public issues is the work of the MPs. But anybody can champion public issues, including the elected president. Because public issues are everyone’s issues including those of the elected president’s.

Mr Chia says if the elected president doesn’t comply with the duties of the constitution, conflict may arise between him and the government. But compliance with the duties of the constitution doesn’t mean compliance on issues concerning the people. No one should let potential conflict with the government stifle him or her from championing public issues. During the Third Reich, the German people didn’t speak up for justice because they feared conflict with the government. The result is that no one dared rein in a run away Nazi government that brought Germany to utter ruins. So history tells us never to be afraid of conflict with the government. It is our right as well as our duty to speak up and to champion the right causes for the public regardless of whether they are in conflict with the government or not. It is better to be right in conflict with the government than to be wrong in compliance with the government.

Mr Chia says that just as there are distinct responsibilities between the president and the CEO of a company, so too must there be distinct responsibilities between the elected president and the government. But the CEO has no right to tell the president of the company to shut up. Similarly, the government has no right to ask the elected president to shut up. The CEO reports to the president of the company. Does the government report to the elected president? Hardly.

Mr Chia warns Mr Tan Kin Lian not to step out of his boundary and interfere with the government’s operational duties. But why in the first place should the boundary of the elected president include gagging him?

Mr Chia reminds Mr Tan Kin Kian to leave day to day running of the country to the government. But leaving the running of the country to the government doesn’t mean that Mr Tan should remain silent about how things are run. The government is the servant to us all. Not interfering with how the government does its job doesn’t mean we can’t give feedback on how it is performing. ‘We’ includes everyone including the president.

Mr Chia cautions Mr Tan and Dr Tan not to run for office if they cannot accept the elected president’s role. But the elected president’s role doesn’t include being dumb. Accepting the elected president’s role doesn’t exclude Mr Tan and Dr Tan from speaking up for justice. If part of the elected president’s role is to remain silent in the face of injustice, then we might as well call the EP the eunuch president.

Mr Chia expresses sadness that Mr Tan and Dr Tan now wants to be the people’s spokesmen. What is so sad about that? On the contrary, it would be sad indeed if the president continues to be a voiceless puppet that does nothing except shake hands with visitors.

Having a eunuch president who is gagged and cannot speak out for justice will not help maintain Singapore’s image and status globally. It will only bring shame and dishonour to Singapore both locally and globally.

Offer an alternativ​e better than nationalis​ation

July 29, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 22 Jul 2011 letter by Mr Toh Cheng Seong. Mr Toh asked the WP to state the cost of buying out outstanding shares of SMRT and SBS.

Cost of buying back SMRT shares

According to SMRT’s 2011 annual report, Temasek Holdings and DBS Group collectively holds 54.3% and 9.01% of SMRT shares respectively. Before we continue we must find out how much of the DBS Group is owned by the government.

According to DBS annual report 2010, DBS Nominees, DBSN Services and DBS Vickers owns 16.01%, 9.82% and 0.26% of DBS Group shares respectively. Since DBS Nominees, DBSN Services and DBS Vickers are wholly owned subsidiaries of DBS Group, their shares are effectively owned by the rest of the non-DBS subsidiary shareowners. In addition, UOB Nominees, which owns 2.91% of DBS Group shares, is 22.45% owned by DBS Group. Therefore, if we allocate the 16.01% + 9.82% + 0.26% + 22.45% of 2.91% = 26.7% of DBS Group Shares owned by DBS Group itself to the rest of the non-DBS shareowners, total government holdings in DBS Group shares is 37.3% (Maju Holdings’ 15.23% + Temasek Holdings’ 12.06%) / (1 – 0.267).

So effectively, the government owns 54.3% plus 37.3% of 9.01% = 57.6% of SMRT shares. So only 42.4% of 1,517,432,196 shares needs to be bought back at the last transacted price of $1.855. The cost of buying back SMRT shares from non-government hands would be about $1.2 billion. SMRT has been making more than $160 million in net profit after tax for each of the past two years. Therefore, the cost of buying back SMRT shares would be recouped in about 7.5 years. If we consider SMRT’s profits over the next twenty, thirty or even fifty years, buying back SMRT is not an unprofitable undertaking.

Cost of buying back SBS shares

According to SBS’s 2010 annual report, ComfortDelgro and DBS Nominees own 75.11% and 1.65% of SBS shares respectively. According to ComfortDelgro’s 2010 annual report, DBS Nominees, Singapore Labour Foundation, DBSN Services, UOB Nominees, DBS Vickers owns 20.18%, 12.09%, 10.83%, 5.29% and 0.16% of SBS ComfortDelgro shares respectively. Based on the government’s 37.3% ownership of DBS Group and DBS Group’s 22.45% ownership of UOB, total government ownership of ComfortDelgro shares works out to be: 12.09% + 37.3% of (20.18% + 10.83% + 0.16%) + 37.3% of 22.45% of 5.29% = 24.2%.

Therefore, government ownership of SBS shares = 24.2% of 75.11% + 37.3% of 1.65% = 18.8%

So effectively, the government needs to buy back 81.2% of 308,472,266 SBS shares at the last transacted price of $1.865 = $467 million. SBS has been making slightly more than $54 million for each of the past two years. The cost of buying back SBS shares would be recouped in less than 9 years. Again, if we consider SBS’s profits over the next twenty, thirty or even fifty years, buying back SBS is also a profitable undertaking.

Therefore over the long term, tax payers won’t have to foot a thing for the purchase of SMRT and SBS shares.

Do taxpayers have a choice?

Mr Toh pointed out that taxpayers have no choice but to pay tax through driving or through taking the cab even if they don’t take the bus or the MRT. Mr Toh is thus agreeable with Mr Giam on this point.

Mr Toh posited that more train commuters could mean more COEs for those aspiring to own a car. That is why improving train capacity and service standard is important to more comfortably accommodate train commuters so that they have fewer reasons to aspire to own a car.

Mr Toh claimed that the WP can do better than hawk a state run monopoly. But state run monopolies such as that which supplies water has shown to operate well and efficiently. The state’s continued monopoly in water supply signals its importance as a public good. Similarly, if the state were to take over the running of public transportation, it too will signal transportation’s importance as a public good.

Mr Toh referred to new rules in the pay TV market that supposedly negates unhealthy competition through exclusive content as an inspiration to how public transportation woes can be better managed. Mr Toh is counting the chicken before they hatch. Until the next battle for Premier League TV content, it remains to be seen if these new rules will work.

Presidenti​al hopeful’s contradict​ions

July 28, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 28 Jul 2011 letter by Mr Eric Tin.

Mr Tin claims that Mr Tan Kin Lian is being self-contradictory when Mr Tan argued on the one hand for the elected president to represent the views of the people and actively engage in public debate while accepting on the other hand that the elected president can only perform duties and have powers set out in the constitution.

There is nothing self-contradictory between Mr Tan’s arguments and his acceptance of the elected president’s duties and powers. The former is what Mr Tan is pushing for the elected president to strive for, over and beyond the latter which are the elected president’s assigned duties and responsibilities. It’s like Mr Tin being an ordinary citizen with no assigned roles and responsibilities beyond being a law abiding citizen doesn’t prevent him from speaking out on issues that matter to him. It would be an insult and a joke to our country if our president claims that he cannot express his opinions and cannot engage in debate because the constitution doesn’t allow him to. The constitution doesn’t prevent free and responsible speech to anyone including the elected president. Imagine President Nathan telling all the dignitaries who visit Singapore that he cannot speak on behalf of the people and cannot engage in public debate because those are not his assigned roles and responsibilities. What respect would anyone have for this kind of president?

Which statement in the constitution explicitly prohibits the elected president from publicly expressing his views? If there is such a statement, then it is fundamentally unconstitutional which the people of Singapore must be made aware of. Any self-respecting Singaporean would agree that free but responsible speech is a right guaranteed by the constitution, elected president or otherwise.

Mr Tin claims that taking a position either for or against the government means taking a partisan stand on an issue. It is Mr Tin who is politicising the issue of free and responsible speech by the elected president. No individual, elected president or otherwise, should be denied the right to take a stand on any issue, either for or against it. Taking a stand means taking a stand, not taking a partisan stand. By taking the same stand as that of the government, do we therefore say that Mr Tin is taking a PAP stand on this issue? Certainly, not. We must respect that Mr Tin is merely taking a stand which he feels is right, regardless of which party happens to take the same stand.

Not being elected to play the legislative role of MPs doesn’t mean that the elected president cannot have opinions and cannot debate on issues. It is like Mr Tin who is also not elected as an MP but yet can have his opinions and can debate on issues. Doesn’t it puzzle Mr Tin that the elected president has less rights than himself?

The elected president is expected to exercise powers within legal limits. Those legal limits do not preclude his legal rights as a citizen for free and responsible speech.

The elected president doesn’t undermine his dignity by engaging in public discussions just as Mr Tin doesn’t undermine his dignity by engaging in public discussions. One doesn’t undermine one’s dignity by expressing one’s views publicly per say. One undermines one’s dignity by expressing undignified views publicly or privately.

‘Don’t throw stones… offer better ideas’

July 3, 2011

Dear Mr Chan,

I refer to the 3 Jul 2011 Straits Times report of your comments at a Young PAP dialogue.

You urged young people to ask themselves whether their ideas can move the country forward. Are you doubting young people’s ideas? You should ask yourself who are you to judge their ideas which might not be worse than yours. Please don’t speak of young people as though you are very old. You asked young people not to throw stones, cast doubts and tear down institutions. Are you saying people should not criticise or question institutions even when they failed to carry out their duties to serve the people? Are you asking people to condone institutional incompetence and wrong doing?

You said people were caught in the heat of the moment attacking the government or the opposition. Actually, if you look at PAP comments, even your own comments during the heat of the moment, the most scathing attack actually came from the PAP. You asked if people have better ideas to bring the country forward. Of course they have. But until the problem is acknowledged, would the government even bother about solutions being offered even if they are good ones? When people give feedback on problems, the government spends its most fruitful energies denying the problems. If you deny there are problems, would you even be interested in solutions? No problems why need solutions? Until the problems are acknowledged, how can we move forward?

You said politics for politics’ sake is poisonous to our country. Please tell that to your PAP comrades. The PAP is the master of politics in Singapore.

You are convicted that young people should ask less what the government can do and more of what they can do for themselves. If we take housing for example, practically all land for housing comes from the government. What do you want people to do for themselves if housing is too expensive? Emigrate? You lament that people always ask what the government is doing. If it is the government’s job that is not being done properly, who else should we ask but the government for what it is doing or not doing? What kind of job pays millions but doesn’t allow people to question whether the job has been done properly? Part of doing more to take charge of our lives is to challenge the authorities for not doing their jobs or not doing them properly. Taking charge of our lives doesn’t mean we shut up and do our own things when the government is screwing up our lives. You prefer young people to believe in something, ask for help, and do it. Precisely, young people believe housing should be more affordable, they ask the government for help and since help is not forthcoming, they do it by taking the government to task.

You said picking up litter is taking charge of our own destiny, writing to the government is outsourcing the problem and taking a picture and posting it on Stomp is tearing down the institution. But what if it is the government that is caught littering? Picking up after the government is tough since the government’s litter tends to be larger than any one individual can carry away. Writing to the government is not outsourcing the problem but asking the government to face up to the problem. Sending a picture to Stomp is not tearing down the institution but making sure that the institution doesn’t hide from the issue but face up to it instead.

Should the need to protect Singaporeans from squandering their CPF money prevent us from helping those with real, legitimate reasons to use more CPF? Should a policy’s broad rationale shackle us from recognising, understanding and addressing real, legitimate case-by-case circumstances? Australia may have high income tax rates to fund social welfare. But they still take home more than we do according to the UBS report on prices and earnings.