Archive for October, 2011

Government ‘seized chances for growth’

October 23, 2011

Dear Mr Lawrence Wong,

I refer to the 19 Oct 2011 Straits Times report of your comments in parliament.

You explained that the first half of the last decade saw two recessions and slow growth; the start of the second half of the last decade brought opportunities which the government duly seized but it meant more foreign workers, more investments and more jobs for our people; we ran into infrastructure bottlenecks but that was better than not seizing the opportunity and letting things be; opportunities come in cycles, if we fail to seize them, we would be worse off today.

Referring to Table 1 below, in the period 2002 – 2003, despite SARs, GDP continued to grow even as our population shrank. GDP growth in the period 2003 – 2004 was comparable to GDP growth in the next three periods. Yet, this was achieved with about half to one third of the population growth. It therefore doesn’t seem true that seizing opportunities means having to boost population and foreign workers tremendously.

Period GDP growth ($m) Population growth (‘000) GDP growth / Population growth ($m / ‘000)
2000 – 2001 -$2,016 110 -$18
2001 – 2002 $6,920 38 $182
2002 – 2003 $7,825 -61 -$128
2003 – 2004 $16,438 52 $317
2004 – 2005 $14,353 99 $145
2005 – 2006 $18,169 136 $134
2006 – 2007 $19,913 187 $106
2007 – 2008 $3,671 251 $15
2008 – 2009 -$1,929 148 -$13
2009 – 2010 $35,974 89 $404

Table 1: Year-to-year GDP and population growth

Referring to Table 1 again, the period 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 saw little or no growth. Yet population continued to increase by record levels. How can you say that the government was importing foreign workers to seize opportunities when there were little or no opportunities for growth to be seized during those two periods?

Similarly, referring to Table 2 below, we had about twice as much GDP growth per growth in population in the first half of the decade compared to the second half. If we were seizing excellent opportunities that came along in the second half of the decade, why did our GDP growth per population growth dive so much? We weren’t seizing excellent opportunities that came along, we were growing as much as we could at diminishing returns in GDP. Comparing the two halves of the last decade, the choice wasn’t between seizing opportunities and letting things be. It was between seizing the right opportunities and seizing all opportunities with no regard to our country’s wellbeing.

Period GDP growth ($m) Population growth (‘000) GDP growth / Population growth ($m / ‘000)
2000 – 2005 $43,519 238 $183
2005 – 2010 $75,797 811 $93

Table 2: Half-decade GDP and population growth

Referring to Table 3 below, in the periods 2006-2007, 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, the estimated increase in Singaporeans employed is either negative or minimal compared to the jobs that went to foreigners. Therefore, your claim that more foreign workers meant more jobs for Singaporeans wasn’t always true. In fact, it was more often false than true.

Period Increase in foreigners employed (‘000s) Increase in PRs (‘000s) Estimated increase in Singaporeans employed (‘000s)
2005 – 2006 90 31 118
2006 – 2007 120 31 -25
2007 – 2008 177 29 20
2008 – 2009 30 55 -38
2009 – 2010 48 8 86

Table 3: Year-to-year increase in foreigners employed, PRs and estimated Singaporeans employed

Furthermore, why would we have run into infrastructure bottlenecks if there had been proper government planning and foresight? Worse still, when we ran into infrastructure bottlenecks, the government’s most energetic response then was to deny that there were infrastructure bottlenecks.

You tried to convince Singaporeans that we were better off by comparing median incomes in the first half of the decade with that of the second half. But when the government grants large numbers of citizenship to foreigners with well-paying jobs, it automatically raises the median income without actually changing the incomes of the rest of us Singaporeans. To be fair, remove all citizens granted citizenship between 2005 and 2010 from your data and we shall see how much our median incomes have actually increased without the boost from our new citizens.

You hoped Mr Giam would consider the facts and be persuaded that in the last ten years, the PAP successfully steered Singapore through difficult times and did good for the people. What you wanted Mr Giam to consider are not facts but half-truths and falsehoods. The truth is that the PAP bungled along from one crisis to another. It made things worse for Singaporeans when it chose to grow at all costs.


Conferment of Ford’s Theatre Lincoln medal to Mr Lee Kuan Yew

October 21, 2011

Dear Ford’s Theatre,

I refer to the recent conferment of the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln medal to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The Lincoln medal is supposed to be awarded to individuals who through work, accomplishments or personal attributes, exemplify the legacy and mettle of President Lincoln.

President Lincoln is best remembered for the emancipation of slaves in America. Lee Kuan Yew never accomplished anything remotely close to that. Singapore was founded in 1819 as a free port, not as a slave colony. The closest we had to slaves were the coolies from China. It was William Pickering who stopped the coolie influx when he became the Protector of the Chinese in 1877. When coolie trade was finally abolished and banned in 1914, Lee Kuan Yew wasn’t even born yet.

President Lincoln is also credited for upholding equal voting rights for all. But Singaporeans’ right to vote was never a gift from Lee Kuan Yew. Conversely, it was our right to vote that put Lee Kuan Yew in power. Our right to vote as free citizens of Singapore is the result of a long journey that began after the Second World War when the local populace pushed for greater political self-determination. This was followed by David Marshall’s fight for full independence which eventually led to full internal self-government for us. All that Lee Kuan Yew did was to surrender part of that self-determination to Malaysia through merger. Independence was thrust upon us because we were expelled from Malaysia, not because Lee Kuan Yew fought and won independence for us.

In fact, Lee Kuan Yew once said he is not convinced that one-man-one-vote is the best and that we practise it because that is what the British bequeathed us. How can a man who doesn’t believe in one-man-one-vote exemplify Lincoln’s belief in equal voting rights for all?

Some people might think that Singapore’s prosperity is due to the work and accomplishment of Mr Lee Kuan Yew – an accomplishment worthy of Lincoln’s legacy. That would be a grave mistake. Singapore was already an important and prosperous port city soon after its founding. Even in 1960, around the time when Lee Kuan Yew took power, Singapore was already one of the most prosperous in Asia, bettered only by Japan, oil rich Brunei and Hong Kong. While it is true that our per capita GDP grew manifold after Lee Kuan Yew took power, the architect of that progress wasn’t him but Dr Albert Winsemius, a Dutch economist sent by the United Nations to help us industrialise.

President Lincoln is said to have given hope to nearly all regardless how humble their beginnings. But Lee Kuan Yew once implemented the Graduate Mothers Scheme which advantaged a small number of graduate mothers and disadvantaged many more non-graduate mothers. He is thus an elitist quite unlike President Lincoln.

President Lincoln is said to be the master in the art of rhetoric. Lee Kuan Yew recently threatened voters with five years of repent if they voted in the opposition. He once referred to Singaporeans as ‘working animals’ whose spurs are not stuck deep enough in the hide. He once said that our women will become maids in other countries if not for his good government. Does Lincoln ever give such crass rhetoric?

President Lincoln released political prisoners after the Civil War but Lee Kuan Yew locked away political opponents for more than thirty years – a record even Nelson Mandela cannot beat.

President Lincoln believed in democracy for America. Singapore’s democracy is only in name. Imagine one company owns all the paid newspapers, is always chaired by important ex-ministers and the company’s shares belong mostly to government linked companies. Imagine opposition wards being excluded from nationwide housing enhancement programmes. Imagine six constituencies lumped together as one and contested as one, thus raising the bar for political new entrants while entrenching the incumbent.

In many fundamental ways, Lee Kuan Yew is the diametric opposite of Lincoln. He is far from exemplary of Lincoln. He is most exemplary of Joseph Stalin instead.

WP speeches met with robust response from PAP MPs

October 19, 2011

Dear Mr De Souza,

I refer to the 19 Oct 2011 Today report on your comments in parliament.

You asked Mr Giam not to throw the baby out with the bath water. It is not Mr Giam but the PAP whom you must ask not to throw the baby out with the bath water. When HDB first started, it built flats affordable to the people. Today, it builds flats pegged to market prices that enrich government coffers. In so doing, the PAP has thrown out the baby that was the HDB of yesteryears and replaced it with the current HDB Incorporated which is master at squeezing ever more money from the people.

You said our housing is the envy of many first world countries. Name those first world countries. Show us surveys of American or Canadian expatriates so we may see to what extent they prefer the small sized yet expensive apartments they are squeezed into now compared to the huge bungalows they have back home.

You said it is unfair to say that the PAP has failed in housing based on the strong foundations upon which we were built. But those foundations were built by our forefathers. The flats today are mostly built by previous leaders like Mr Lim Kim San. When will the present PAP government ever stop basking in the glory of previous generations and start asking themselves what exactly have they contributed to housing today other than sky high property prices? There is very little that the present government has to show to refute the nationwide belief that it has failed miserably in housing the people.

You may think that Mr Giam is fine tuning PAP policies. But changing from market driven HDB prices to HDB prices set in accordance to median incomes is a fundamental change in policy, not a fine tune of policy. So it is not a tacit concession but an outright rejection of flawed PAP policies.

While we may have scaled much with this government, the similar scaling that has taken place in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea without a similar PAP styled government suggests that we could have scaled as much if not more without this government.

Don’t use ESM title for Mr Goh

October 16, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 11 Oct 2011 letter by Mr Tan Soon Meng.

It is wrong to use the term ‘founding prime minister’ on Mr Lee Kuan Yew for Mr Lee never founded Singapore. Singapore was founded in 1819, long before Mr Lee was born. Mr Lee became prime minister in 1959 not to an independent Singapore but to a Singapore with full internal self-government. The road towards full internal self-government began with David Marshall, not Mr Lee. Even in 1965, independence was thrust upon us when we were kicked out of Malaysia, not fought and won by Mr Lee.

If we were to take the example of George Washington, he fought the British and won independence for America. Mr Lee neither fought the British nor the Malaysians to win independence for Singapore. Mr Lee relied on the British to lock up all his political opponents and then actively courted the Malaysians for merger. If we were to transpose Mr Lee’s actions onto George Washington, it would be as though Mr Washington collaborated with the British to wipe out his fellow American political opponents and then sought a merger with Canada but got kicked out instead. That kind of Washington will never be respected by Americans as a founding father.

A case for non-interv‚Äčention

October 16, 2011

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 10 Oct 2011 letter by Mr Tan Han Sing.

Mr Tan considers buying private property as being no different from taking a cab instead of taking public transport or dining in a restaurant instead of eating at a food court.

We know that HDB flats are always over-subscribed manifold. Let’s say HDB flats are three times over-subscribed. The corresponding analogy for public transport would be that three times as many people want to get on the bus but most couldn’t because there is only one bus for every three busloads of people waiting for the bus. The corresponding analogy for the food court would be that for every seat available, there are three persons fighting for that seat. Fortunately, our public transport and food court crowdedness are not as severe as our undersupply of flats. Therefore, Mr Tan’s analogy is inappropriate because it doesn’t illustrate the severity of our housing situation which has forced many people to consider buying private property instead.

Also, Mr Tan’s analogy doesn’t take into consideration the fact that there are eligibility criteria for buying new HDB flats. No such criteria exist for public transport or food courts. Buses and food courts do not close their doors on those who are single and below 35 years old or who are above the income ceiling.

Mr Tan portrays the private property buyer as one who cannot afford a dearer housing choice but insists on getting one. But it is also possible that the private property buyer has little cheaper alternatives due to HDB restrictions.

It is also wrong for Mr Tan to say that, as far as the government is concerned, buying private property is a matter of free competition and free choice. Government policies strongly influence the competition and these choices. The government controls land sales and in so doing, controls supply of private property and hence private property prices. It also controls private property prices through the income ceiling which forces those above the ceiling to buy resale flats or private property. By controlling the number of new flats built, it strongly influences resale flat prices which in turn affect private property prices. But most importantly, the government influences housing prices simply by inundating Singapore with foreigners. Mr Tan is being naive when he thinks of property prices as being determined by market forces without realising that the government is the key player of the market.

Mr Tan lambasts Singaporeans for asking the government to help them upgrade to bigger houses with better environments. His criticism is not fair. Singaporeans are just asking for sanity in housing prices that they can afford with their salaries.

Mr Tan feels that the private developer shouldn’t be taken to task if people can’t afford the prices it sets. But how can the private developer set high prices if there isn’t a glut of people wanting to buy its units due to the severe imbalance between land released and people let in? Shouldn’t the government be taken to task instead?

Mr Tan feels that a prospective buyer has many choices. Whatever the choice, it is bound to be far more expensive than it used to be.