Archive for August, 2012

Critique on SGPolCom’s 4-part “Stop At Two” policy analysis

August 28, 2012

Dear TREmeritus,

I refer to the series of four articles [1], [2], [3], [4] by SGPolCom.

In its first article [1],

  • SGPolCom claimed that from 1977 onwards, the government battled Singapore’s decreasing birth rate.
  • It also claimed that LKY’s population stymying policies were only up till 1977 and that in six short years, the entire government did a reversal of their objectives.
  • In the second article [2], SGPolCom claimed that 1978 marked the end of population disincentive policies.

    SGPolCom then contradicted itself when it wrote in its third article [3] of a Mr Joe Lim, now 60, who paid fines in 1981 and 1983 for having his third and fourth children respectively.

  • How could the government have battled decreasing birth rate from 1977 onwards when it was still fining people in 1981 and 1983?
  • How could the entire government have done a reversal in six short years (till 1977) when it was still fining people in 1981 and 1983?
  • How could 1978 mark the end of population disincentive policies when the government was still fining people in 1981 and 1983?
  • The “Have Three or More (if you can afford it)” policy in 1987 is the more appropriate break point from population disincentives though it wasn’t from 1988 onwards that a third child would get a child relief instead of a fine. Therefore, population disincentives lasted up till 1986, about a decade longer than what SGPolCom would want us to believe. SGPolCom’s so-called fertility boosting policies in 1983 [1] weren’t fertility boosting policies per say but eugenics policies.

    A parallel universe

    In creating its parallel universe, SGPolCom confined the period of population disincentives to between 1970 and 1978. But disincentives to large families was introduced in 1969 [5-1]; the government’s first Five Year Plan to curb population growth was from 1966 to 1970 [5-2] and the government launched a nationwide family planning campaign as early as 1960 [5-3]. Therefore, population stymying policies occurred between 1966 and 1986 at least but SGPolCom has chosen to restrict the period to between 1970 and 1978.

    In its parallel universe, SGPolCom claimed to have eliminated those years of population disincentives by shifting them 8 years to the right. But shifting those years to the right doesn’t eliminate those years but merely delays their occurrence. It’s like trying to eliminate World War 2 by shifting it 8 years to the right or trying to eliminate the stock market crash by shifting it 8 years to the right. That merely delays but does not eliminate World War 2 or the stock market crash respectively. It’s not a valid approach.

    SGPolCom then compared the parallel universe it created with Korea and claimed that they are very close even though Korea did not undertake “stop at two” [4]. But Korea also undertook population control [6], [7]. So at best, SGPolCom merely showed that our delayed population control measures were as effective as Korea’s population control measures. Hong Kong and Taiwan have similarly employed birth control measures [8], [9], [10] so it is meaningless to compare Singapore with her East Asian dragon cousins since all have resorted to population control and one merely ends up comparing efficacies in birth control measures.

    Since the alternative world that SGPolCom created did not eliminate those years of population curtailment nor sufficiently account for the full duration of population curtailment, SGPolCom ended up not fully accounting for population curtailment and severely underestimating the effects of population stymying policies.

    SGPolCom claimed there were 118,886 recorded abortions in the 1970s [4]. The following table [11] shows the yearly abortions from 1970 to 1980 and they add up to 118,886. But 1980 is not even part of the 1970s. Why did SGPolCom include 1980 as part of the 1970s?

    Year Total reported resident abortions
    1970 1,970
    1971 3,407
    1972 3,806
    1973 5,252
    1974 7,175
    1975 12,873
    1976 15,496
    1977 16,443
    1978 17,246
    1979 16,999
    1980 18,219
    Total 118,886

    It is difficult to dissociate the effects of government policies from any natural population tendencies given that they happened concurrently [5-4]. But while we can’t directly measure the effects of government policies, those policies have been considered successful and that Singapore has been particularly noted for the stringency of our National Family Planning Program launched in 1966 [5-4]. The success of government policies in curbing population growth can be seen in its achievement of targets [5-2]:

    Targets Achievements
    First 5-Year Plan (1966-70) Reduce crude birth rate from 32 per 1,000 in 1964 to 20 by per 1,000 by 1970 Crude birth rate reduced to 22.1 per 1,000 by 1970
    Second 5-Year Plan (1971-75) Reduce crude birth rate from 22.1 per 1,000 in 1970 to 18 per 1,000 by 1975 Crude birth rate reduced to 17.8 per 1,000 by 1975

    The Singapore government, along with those of Hong Kong and South Korea, received high scores for their population control efforts [5-5]. In other words, our government played a pivotal role in successfully reducing our birth rate between 1966 and 1975. It is therefore not right to say that our birth rate reduction had little to do with our government.

    According to a study by Chen and Pang [5-6], the National Family Planning program was responsible for 75% of the estimated 250,000 births averted between 1967 and 1976. Using the same approach [12], we find that an additional 934,420 Singaporeans would have been added to our population if not for the National Family Planning program.

    Year Total averted births × 0.75 Half of total averted (represent females) TFR 27 years later Children born to unborn women Total averted births and their children Cumulative
    1966 22,808 11,404 1.74 19,843 42,650 42,650
    1967 23,201 11,601 1.71 19,837 43,038 85,688
    1968 26,504 13,252 1.67 22,130 48,634 134,322
    1969 26,732 13,366 1.66 22,188 48,920 183,242
    1970 21,386 10,693 1.61 17,216 38,602 221,844
    1971 18,845 9,422 1.48 13,945 32,789 254,634
    1972 20,746 10,373 1.47 15,248 35,994 290,628
    1973 25,269 12,635 1.6 20,215 45,484 336,112
    1974 26,276 13,138 1.41 18,524 44,800 380,912
    1975 29,635 14,817 1.37 20,300 49,935 430,846
    1976 32,916 16,458 1.27 20,902 53,818 484,664
    1977 30,141 15,071 1.26 18,989 49,130 533,794
    1978 30,169 15,084 1.26 19,006 49,175 582,969
    1979 29,646 14,823 1.28 18,973 48,619 631,588
    1980 30,130 15,065 1.29 19,434 49,563 681,152
    1981 30,167 15,083 1.28 19,307 49,473 730,625
    1982 30,200 15,100 1.22 18,422 48,621 779,246
    1983 29,151 14,576 1.15 16,762 45,913 825,159
    1984 30,343 15,171 1.2 18,206 48,548 873,707
    1985 31,266 15,633 31,266 904,973
    1986 29,447 14,724 29,447 934,420

    Adding 934,420 to our current resident population of 3,789,300 would give us 4,723,720 residents, which is 91.1% of our current total population of 5,183,700. In other words, our population demands would have largely been satisfied if not for our government’s population stymying policies.

    The “Stop at two” and other population stymying policies definitely played a key and vital role in reducing our fertility rate to what it is today. Blaming the government for successfully achieving fertility reduction is therefore not wrong.

    Thank you

    Ng Kok Lim

    [1] A History of Singapore’s Population Control, 1947 ~ 2001, 12 Aug 2012, SGPolCom

    [2] The Effects of the Population ‘Disincentives’ policies, SGPolCom

    [3] Population ‘Disincentives’ Policies – a Factual Breakdown, SGPolCom

    [4] Stop Blaming the ‘STOP AT TWO’ Policy, SGPolCom

    [5] The global family planning revolution – three decades of population policies and programs, Chapter 13, Singapore: population policies and programs, Yap Mui Teng

    [5-1] page 202, Box 13.1

    [5-2] page 205, Table 13.1

    [5-3] page 203-204

    [5-4] page 201

    Given the simultaneity of events, directly measuring the contribution of the government’s population policies and programs, begun in the early stages of the country’s independence, is not possible, but those policies and programs have generally been considered successful. In particular, Singapore has been noted for the stringency of its National Family Planning Program.

    [5-5] page 430, Table 24.2

    [5-6] page 214

    [6] Expert group meeting on policy responses to population ageing and population decline, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat, New York, 16-18 Oct 2000, Policy responses to low fertility and population aging in Korea, Ik Ki Kim, page 4
    Korean government launched a full-scale national family planning program in 1962.

    The 1973 Maternal and Child Health Law legalized abortion. In 1983 the government began suspending medical insurance benefits for maternal care for pregnant women with three or more children. It also denied tax deductions for education expenses to parents with two or more children.

    [8] The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong
    The successfully launched “Two is Enough” campaign quickly became household word in the territory.

    [9] Population Control and Economic Development, Goran Ohlin, page 81-82
    The target of Taiwan’s family planning policy is to reduce the birth rate from 3 percent to 1.8 by 1970, and it was estimated that this would reuqire the insertion of 600,000 loops in the period 1965-1969

    [10] Sociology, Jon M. Shepard, page 490
    Family planning has worked in Taiwan, where by the turn of the twenty-first century, the birth rate declined below replacement level.

    [11] Historical abortion statistics Singapore, Wm. Robert Johnston, last updated 11 Mar 2012

    [12] Total births averted is found by adding new cases of family planning acceptors, female and male sterilisations and abortions found in Table 13.3 on page 212 of Dr Yap Mui Teng’s thesis [5]. Using the same approach as Chen and Pang [5-6], number of births averted is multiplied by a factor of 0.75. Next, it is assumed that half of these averted births would have been females as SGPolCom has done. Next, it is assumed that these females would have given birth 27 years later compared to 30 years later assumed by SGPolCom. The TFR 27 years later is used to calculate the number of children these averted females would have given birth to in their lifetimes. The averted births and their children would have given us an additional 934,420 people.

    If we include indirect government involvement between 1949 and 1965 in funding the Family Planning Association of Singapore, the predecessor to the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board, the number of averted births would be even more.


    Parliamentarians must set aside partisan interests

    August 20, 2012

    Dear Straits Times,

    I refer to the 16 Aug 2012 letter by Mr Alex Chiang.

    Mr Chiang thought that Dr Ong didn’t know what happened during the parliament discussions on Dr Wu. From Mr Chiang’s reply, it seems like the other way round – it was Mr Chiang who didn’t know what happened.

    Law minister Shanmugam merely showed six cases, a tiny fraction of the thousands of cases relevant to Dr Wu’s case. These six cases were far from adequate to show that Dr Wu’s case was in line with all such cases. It was therefore meaningless to ask Ms Lim to clarify her position since any position based on six out of thousands of cases was bound to be inadequate and meaningless.

    It was wrong of Mr Chiang to say that accepting Mr Shanmugam’s argument meant confirming the integrity of the system as there was no way of confirming the integrity of the system just by looking at six cases. To confirm the integrity of the system, all cases must be shown to be in line with Dr Wu’s case. If just one case is not in line with Dr Wu’s case, the integrity of the system is compromised.

    It was also wrong to say that Ms Lim didn’t answer clearly. Ms Lim clearly pointed out the inadequacies in Mr Shanmugam’s question, namely that there were other cases that may not be in line with Dr Wu’s case. So even if Ms Lim were to be asked the same inadequate question three hundred times, there could be no clearer answer other than that the question was inadequate.

    Mr Chiang should not accuse Mr Low of creating a tense atmosphere when it was Mr Shanmugam who tensed up the atmosphere with his aggressive badgering of Ms Lim to answer his less than adequate question and his refusal to take Ms Lim’s intelligent answers to his inadequate question.

    From the video [1], we see that the first four times Ms Lim spoke (8:14, 10:36, 12:03 and 13:36) were in response to Mr Shanmugam’s invitation for her to speak and in all these instances, Ms Lim spoke only after Mr Shanmugam had gone back to his seat to sit down. The first and only time Mr Low came forward (12:28) was while Mr Shanmugam was in the process of going back to his seat to sit down. Thus, in all these instances, both Ms Lim and Mr Low had been most courteous and did not interject Mr Shanmugam.

    On the other hand, the video (13:48) clearly shows Mr Shanmugam interjecting Ms Lim even before Ms Lim had completed her sentence about the Tan Jack Saa case.

    At 15:54, Mr Speaker prompted Mr Shanmugam to pass the time to Ms Lim but Mr Shanmugam brushed off Mr Speaker and chose to carry on. Ms Lim did the courteous thing of sounding out to Mr Speaker her wish to speak. Mr Speaker also did the courteous thing of putting in Ms Lim’s request exactly after Mr Shanmugam had completed the point he was trying to make and was moving on to his next point.

    It was at 23:28, more than 7 minutes later that Ms Lim finally got to speak again but only after Mr Shanmugam had finished speaking and only after Mr Speaker had invited her to speak.

    At 23:41, when Ms Lim hardly spoke for 13 seconds, Mr Shanmugam interjected Ms Lim again.

    At 25:28, even though Ms Lim was seen to be visibly disturbed by Mr Shanmugam’s insinuation that she had injected politics into the case, Ms Lim did not do what Mr Shanmugam did which was to go to the microphone and actually interject the other person. At 25:33, Mr Shanmugam asked to answer without being interrupted when he already had taken up the lion’s share of the air time, interjected Ms Lim twice and rejected a call by Mr Speaker to pass the time to Ms Lim. Despite all that he had done, he still had the cheek to say that he had given courtesy to Ms Lim to finish when he clearly had not.

    The video clearly shows that Mr Chiang was wrong to accuse Mr Low of interrupting Mr Shanmugam when no such thing happened. Mr Chiang was also wrong to accuse Ms Lim of interrupting Mr Shanmugam when it was the other way round; it was Mr Shanmugam who had interrupted Ms Lim twice. By highlighting the one instance where Ms Lim was visibly affected by Mr Shanmugam’s false accusations while ignoring all the other occasions where Ms Lim had been polite and the two occasions where Mr Shanmugam interrupted Ms Lim, Mr Chiang was clearly showing his bias towards Mr Shanmugam.

    Mr Chiang felt it would have helped if Ms Lim had given her views clearly after being shown the facts. But Ms Lim did give her views clearly. Not only that, the facts shown were severely inadequate, only a miserable six out of thousands of facts that was hardly sufficient to confirm Dr Wu’s case. The inadequacy of Mr Shanmugam’s question meant that any answer would not have affirmed the integrity of the legal system nor upheld accountability.

    Mr Chiang expected parliamentarians to put aside partisan interests to speak for Singapore. Mr Chiang should put aside his when speaking for Singapore.

    [1] Oral answer by Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, to Parliamentary Questions on the Woffles Wu case, 13 Aug 2012,

    Not as sports-crazy as China? Imagine these…

    August 19, 2012

    Dear Straits Times,

    I refer to the 14 Aug 2012 letter “Not as sports-crazy as China? Imagine these…” by Mr David Foo.

    Mr Foo professes to use examples to show how wrong Mr Christopher Ong was when he concluded that uniting the nation through national sports is overblown. Mr Foo should consider the context in which Mr Ong made that conclusion. He was referring to national sports through foreign born athletes, not national sports per say.

    Mr Foo imagines Singapore playing against Brazil for the Olympic football gold while the whole nation comes to a standstill to watch the match. One detail missing from Mr Foo’s fantasy is whether the 11 players representing Singapore are all foreign born. If that were the case, we might end up with the same situation as table tennis where a purely foreign born team could not unite the nation. The closest we got to Mr Foo’s fantasy was the 2008 women’s table tennis team’s Olympic silver medal effort. We were up against the Brazil of table tennis – China. Yet, the nation was far from coming to a standstill. Contrast this with our previous experience with the Malaysian Cup tournaments. A mostly native Singaporean effort was able to galvanise the nation without us having to go up against Brazil.

    Mr Foo reasons that if we had Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps, Singaporeans would be more enthused by our sporting achievements and this will contribute to our unity. Actually, the achievements of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps transcend nationality. Singaporeans are enthused by their achievements even though they are not our achievements. If unity means the spontaneous and unanimous rooting for these heroes, then Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps have united us though not in the nationalistic sense. The example of Lee Chong Wei is the one that most clearly demonstrates how to truly unite the nation – through our own native people.

    Mr Foo wants us to punch above our weight in sports. But we can’t even carry our own weight in sports and have to rely on foreign born talent. Does Mr Foo want to make it our lifeblood to depend on foreign born talent to win glory for us?

    Permanent measures of Olympic achievement

    August 18, 2012

    Dear Straits Times,

    I refer to the 14 Aug 2012 letter “Permanent measures of Olympic achievement” by Dr Yik Keng Yeong.

    Dr Yik says that the athlete’s sacrifice and devotion to the arduous process of attaining the Olympic medal makes its attainment uplifting and edifying to the national psyche. But when the attainment process is cut short through the import of ready-to-deliver athletes, it cuts down the amount of uplift and edification and also short changes our national psyche. Permanent or not, there is no pride in realizing that competition at the highest level can be bought rather than nurtured.

    The scorn poured on our efforts to erect artificial edifices is not due to them being artificial but due to them being disconnected from the hopes and wishes of the people.

    Dr Yik likens our foreign born athletes to his foreigner professors who have nurtured and trained him well. This is a mistaken association. If our government had imported foreigner doctors to do Dr Yik’s job instead of foreigner professors to train Dr Yik, Dr Yik would never have become the doctor that he is today. Dr Yik should therefore be mindful of the difference between the foreigner coach who helps mold champions out of Singaporeans and the foreign born athlete who competes on behalf of native Singaporeans. The former helps native Singaporeans while the latter substitutes for native Singaporeans.

    Dr Yik says that once a winning sporting tradition has been established, native Singaporeans will stand on the podiums. We didn’t need a winning sporting tradition for Mr Tan Howe Liang to stand on the podium. The win also did not inspire a winning sporting tradition. Similarly, employing foreign born athletes to win us a few medals may not necessarily inspire a winning sporting tradition.

    Dr Yik disagrees with Mr Ong’s suggestion to pump more money into sports facilities as he feels that Singapore is already well endowed with first rate public gyms, courts, pools and tracks. Dr Yik is mistaken. According to the 9 Jun 2012 Straits Times report “12 more schools open sports halls to public” more schools have opened up their sports facilities for public use to cope with demand. The report also says that some badminton enthusiasts have to book their courts one month in advance and that sports facilities are typically oversubscribed during the evening peak periods on weekends. So Mr Ong’s concern is not without basis.

    Here’s what an Olympic medal is worth…

    August 18, 2012

    Dear Straits Times,

    I refer to the 14 Aug 2012 letter “Here’s what an Olympic medal is worth…” by Mr Philip Tan. Mr Tan claims that sports’ ability to forge national unity was proven when Team Singapore was greeted to rapturous homecoming at the airport. How many of those at the airport were direct families and friends of the athletes? How many were directly employed or affiliated to the respective Sports units represented at the Olympics? How many were specially transported there to boost numbers like was done when Community Centres transported people to election rally sites to boost numbers? How many were government officials and their entourage determined to glorify this event? After stripping away all these people, how many are left who were there purely out of national pride and not due to some other vested interests?

    There was no report of mass hysteria from the public during their victory parade across the island and the same questions have to be asked about those who were at Jurong Point to cheer the athletes. There is therefore room for doubt about whether Feng Tianwei has truly captured the hearts of Singaporeans since we don’t know for sure the connections and backgrounds of those who were there to cheer her. When staff from the Ministry of Community Development lined up Thomson Road to send off the late Mrs Lee Kuan Yew, was that an outpouring of national pride or the following of orders?

    Mr Tan argues that China shows more nationalistic fervor than Singapore because Singapore is much younger. If Singapore is much younger, then China must be much older. But China celebrates 1949, only 16 years earlier than the 1965 that Singapore celebrates. So China isn’t much older than Singapore unless Mr Tan is referring to China’s few thousand year history that stretches far beyond the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. If that is how Mr Tan thinks, then he must employ the same logic to Singapore and accept that Singapore’s history goes beyond 1965 and all the way to 1819 when Singapore was born. In which case, Singapore is no longer very young.

    Mr Tan says everybody loves a winner, especially a big winner. In that case we can simply celebrate Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. Malaysia celebrated Lim Chong Wei even though Chong Wei did not win. That is what national pride is all about, not the celebration of some big time foreign winner, but the celebration of the kampong boy turned good.

    Heated exchange in House between MP and minister

    August 17, 2012

    Dear Mr Shanmugam,

    I refer to your parliament exchanges with Ms Sylvia Lim on Dr Wu’s case [1], [2].

    There must have been thousands of cases that are similar to Dr Wu’s case. Six cases are not sufficient to prove anything. How do we know if the thousands of other cases which you did not pick but which are similar to Dr Wu’s case have not resulted in more severe sentences? Insisting that Dr Wu’s case falls within the broad framework of the six cases you chose doesn’t prove that Dr Wu’s case falls within the broad framework of the thousands of cases you did not choose. Pick a different set of six cases and Dr Wu’s case might fall outside the broad framework of those six other cases.

    If you argue that Ms Lim’s sole cited case of Mr Tan Jack Saa cannot compare with the six cases you have cited, you should also accept that your six cases cannot compare with the thousands of cases you did not cite. Since your six cases are insufficient to prove anything, there is nothing wrong in Ms Lim’s refusal to answer your question since answering it proves nothing.

    Consider too the case of Mr Lee Kiat Seng [3] cited by you. The case is nearly identical to Dr Wu’s except that Mr Lee paid his fall guy $300 to $500 whereas Dr Wu did not. But given how impossibly rich Dr Wu is, there is no reason why Dr Wu wouldn’t pay $300 to $500 if his fall guy wanted it. Strip away the $300 to $500 which is really peanuts to Dr Wu and the two cases are just about identical. Yet Mr Lee ended up with 2 weeks’ imprisonment while Dr Wu did not. If $300 to $500 can make a world of a difference, does it mean that a drug dealer who pays someone to carry drugs for him is deemed to have been much more culpable than a drug dealer who sweet talks a lady into carrying drugs for him? Does it mean that a man who pays someone to stab another is deemed to have been much more culpable than one who simply convinces another to do the stabbing? Can different methods of achieving the same criminal outcome lead to vastly different sentencing outcomes? Putting the two cases together suggests to the public that it is ‘safe’ to get someone to take the rap for your speeding offence as long as you don’t offer money outright. You can give him a good salary increment or a good bonus later as long as you don’t offer him money outright. Wouldn’t that be ridiculous?

    [1] Straits Times, 14 Aug 2012, Heated exchange in House between MP and minister

    [2] Oral answer by Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, to Parliamentary Questions on the Woffles Wu case,

    [3] Annex to oral answer by Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, to Parliamentary Questions on the Woffles Wu case,

    To Singapore.​.. from an expat returning home

    August 15, 2012

    Dear Straits Times,

    I refer to Mr David Fedo’s 28 Jul 2012 article “To Singapore… from an expat returning home”.

    Mr Fedo claims that Singapore gets more things right than most other countries. But most other countries are Third World. So what if Singapore gets more things right than most Third World countries? Only shows that Singapore is better than Third World. But Singapore was already better than Third World at independence. Similarly, saying day-to-day life is a whole lot better than many other places when many other places are Third World isn’t really saying anything at all.

    Not all expatriates share Mr Fedo’s opinion of excellent schools in Singapore. Some have returned home especially for the purpose of enrolling their children into schools back home.

    Referring to the table [1] below, our unemployment is not less but more middling amongst First World countries.

    Country Name World Banks average unemployment 2000 to 2009
    Netherlands 3.36
    Norway 3.58
    Switzerland 3.6
    Korea, Rep. 3.61
    Luxembourg 3.9
    Austria 4.32
    Denmark 4.6
    Japan 4.65
    New Zealand 4.74
    Singapore 4.77
    Ireland 5.22
    United Kingdom 5.29
    Australia 5.48
    Hong Kong SAR, China 5.51
    United States 5.54
    Sweden 6.35
    Canada 7
    Belgium 7.59
    Italy 8.15
    Finland 8.29
    France 8.75
    Germany 8.89

    Our homeless situation may not be as rosy as Mr Fedo makes it out to be. The fact that 389 homeless people were picked up last year [2], an average of 85 beggars each year from 2006 to 2009 [2], the gross inadequacy of our three homeless shelters [2] and the pledge to build 10,000 rental flats [2] all indicate the severity of the problem.

    Referring to the table [3] below, it isn’t just Singapore but nearly all First World nations have low homicide rates, one of the key crime rate indicators.

    Countries UNODC average homicide rate 2000 – 2009
    Japan 0.5
    Singapore 0.5
    Hong Kong, China 0.7
    Austria 0.7
    Norway 0.8
    Denmark 0.9
    Switzerland 0.9
    Liechtenstein 0.9
    Germany 1
    Sweden 1
    Italy 1.1
    Spain 1.2
    Netherlands 1.3
    Ireland 1.3
    New Zealand 1.3
    Australia 1.4
    France 1.5
    United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1.6
    Belgium 2.3
    Republic of Korea 2.3
    Finland 2.5
    China (Taiwan) 4.2
    United States of America 4.9

    Our wonderful food comes from the diverse cultures brought into Singapore by the British during colonial days; they are not forged by our PAP government.

    Medical care is no more exemplary than those of other First World nations. Referring to the tables below [4], we have some of the worst mortality rates for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and communicable diseases amongst First World countries.

    Location WHO mortality rate due to cardiovasular disease and diabetes (ages 30-70, per 100,000 population) Location WHO mortality rate due to communicable diseases (per 100,000 population)
    Switzerland 59 Finland 11
    Australia 65 Austria 14
    France 65 New Zealand 15
    Italy 66 Italy 16
    Monaco 68 Switzerland 17
    Spain 68 Australia 18
    Japan 68 Sweden 20
    Norway 74 Germany 21
    Netherlands 77 Monaco 22
    Sweden 79 France 23
    Austria 80 Canada 23
    Canada 82 Spain 24
    Ireland 84 Luxembourg 25
    Republic of Korea 85 Norway 27
    Belgium 85 Denmark 27
    New Zealand 91 Netherlands 28
    United Kingdom 91 Ireland 29
    Denmark 92 Republic of Korea 29
    Luxembourg 98 Belgium 33
    Germany 102 USA 34
    Finland 112 United Kingdom 36
    Singapore 115 Japan 40
    USA 137 Singapore 66

    The $1 billion cost of building Gardens by the Bay is no small change. Ask Singaporeans what they would rather the $1 billion be spent on and it may be no surprise how different the answers turn out. There is no need to spend $1 billion to build “a people’s garden for all to enjoy every single day” [5] when the people already has so many gardens to enjoy every single day. It is a garden built more for tourists and foreigners than for Singaporeans. Perhaps that is why Singaporeans take it for granted but not foreigners. Splashing $1 billion on a park is a silly way to rival New York and London. New York and London are great not because of Central Park or Hyde Park but because of their people. Singapore will not become great because of Gardens by the Bay just like Singapore did not become great because of the Esplanade. For all of Mr Fedo’s praises for Gardens by the Bay, the fact remains that he returned to America. Talents like Mr Fedo will not choose Singapore over America simply because of Gardens by the Bay.

    Our ‘blossoming’ from a cultural desert was in response to foreign critics. Why spend so much money to turn our country into what foreigners like? In a letter to Straits Times [6], Mr Heng Cho Choon said “He does not relish the concerts at the Esplanade, but instead enjoys the occasional getai during the National Day celebration and the Hungry Ghost Festival.” Getai is our culture. The arts explosion is an explosion of Mr Fedo’s culture, not our culture. Why does Mr Fedo think Singaporeans should fully appreciate the explosion of his culture? Also, our ‘blossoming’ is more hardware than software. The millions spent building cultural infrastructure doesn’t change Singaporeans’ taste or lack thereof for arts and culture. It’s a very superficial blossoming, one that connects more with foreigners than with Singaporeans. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that our museums cannot compare with the likes of the Louvre or the British Museum and that is nothing to be ashamed of. We were never in a position to expropriate priceless cultural and historical artifacts from all over the world during colonial times.

    Mr Fedo should understand that superiority over Third World countries around the globe is nothing to gloat about and that Singapore isn’t superior as far as First World countries are concerned. More importantly, Mr Fedo should also urge Singaporeans to look beyond physical and material wellbeing and to question Singapore’s continued deficiencies in press freedom and political fairness. Ultimately, Mr Fedo was only here for a few years. He is not here for the long haul. He has no vested interests to fight for a more just and democratic society. He only has to return to one that is.

    [1] Unemployment data obtained from World Bank. The data is exactly the same as the one from International Labour Organisation (ILO). The latest year available in the data is 2010. However, there is no Singapore data for 2010; hence only data up to 2009 is used. Data is averaged between 2000 and 2009 to smoothen out year-to-year fluctuations. Without doing so, Singapore would fare worse since Singapore’s unemployment in 2009 is 5.9% which is higher compared to Singapore’s average of 4.8% between 2000 and 2009. Both World Bank’s and ILO’s Singapore unemployment figures are for the resident workforce. The numbers correspond to Ministry of Manpower’s non-seasonally adjusted figures. Data from IMF not used because it neither corresponds to MOM’s seasonally adjusted or non-adjusted figures.


    [3] Homicide rate is one of the most fundamental crime rate statistics. Data is from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Latest year available is 2011 but only for three First World nations. 2010 data also not complete and missing Japan, Denmark and so on. Data is averaged from 2000 to 2009. This is to smoothen out fluctuations from year to year. For example, amongst First World nations, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan had the lowest homicide rates in 2011, 2010 and 2009 respectively. Since the rankings fluctuate from year to year, it is better to take the average over several years instead.

    [4] Data from World Health Organisation (WHO). Latest year available is 2008. Singapore ranks 12th out of 23 First World nations for mortality rates due to all causes.

    [5] Channel News Asia, 28 Jun 2012, Decision to build Gardens by the Bay not an easy one: PM Lee

    [6] Straits Times forum, 14 Aug 2012, A senior’s view of the average Singaporean, Mr Heng Cho Choon

    Singapore a costly city? It depends

    August 10, 2012

    Dear Straits Times,

    I refer to the 1 Aug 2012 report “Singapore a costly city? It depends”.

    The many private sector surveys that paint Singapore as expensive are renowned ones like UBS, Mercer and EIU. It is unlikely that these renowned institutions, making independent studies but coming to the same conclusion, are all wrong and that only LKY School of Public Policy is right.

    It is also wrong to break down cost of living into expat and resident categories. An expat who returns home becomes a resident in his home country. It is unlikely that he would lower his standard of living and consume a lesser set of goods when he goes home. But according to LKY School of Policy, this expat who returns home ought to be judged based on the resident category of goods when he in fact still consumes the expat category of goods back home. This will result in an incomplete comparison because the expat category of goods consumed by the resident in other countries (but expat in Singapore) is unaccounted for when compared to the Singapore resident.

    Furthermore, if the average Singaporean cannot afford the expat category of goods that the resident in other countries (but expat in Singapore) can afford, doesn’t it show that the average Singaporean has a lower standard of living? LKY School of Public Policy seems to promote the ridiculous idea that the society that uses cheaper or more inferior goods is better off when it should be the other way round: the society that can afford more and better quality goods ought to be better off. Any purchasing power parity calculation restricted to a set of inferior goods is bound to be meaningless. So what if rice is cheaper in Singapore but housing, cars and lifestyle goods are cheaper in the West? Do we have better purchasing power because we can buy more rice or do we have better purchasing power because we can buy more housing, more cars and more lifestyle goods?

    Furthermore, the break down between expat and resident categories is arbitrary and LKY School of Public Policy’s division may not necessarily be the most fair and objective. We can devise a category that is anything that fills the stomach. For that category, some Third World nations may end up having the highest purchasing power because it costs them next to nothing to fill their stomachs with grass and grasshoppers.

    It was also reported that the LKY School of Public Policy, using the ILO database, found Singapore’s gross hourly wage to be US$17.71 (SG$22.30) last year, 88.8% that of New York’s (US$ 19.9).

    The ILO database can be assessed here: There are only three links under the wage category:

    1. Wages by economic activity
    For this Table 5A, the latest year available is 2008 and it is United States that is being listed, not New York

    2. Wages in non-agricultural activities
    For this Table B7, neither United States nor New York is listed

    3. Wages in 159 occupations (October Inquiry)
    For this Table O1, again it is United States, not New York that is listed and the latest year available for United States is 2007

    It is bewildering that the LKY School of Public Policy could obtain New York’s gross hourly wage last year from ILO when the ILO database doesn’t even contain data from last year nor contain data specifically from New York. Even if we were to install ILO’s “Key Indicators of the Labour Market, 7th Edition” software application, we can only go as far as 2009 for a limited number of countries only.

    What is interesting for the United States data in Table 5A is the accompanying note which says “Notes: 1 National classification not strictly compatible with ISIC. 2 Not all employees covered; only production and non-supervisory workers; private sector.” There is no such note accompanying the corresponding Singapore data. In other words, LKY School of Public Policy is actually comparing the wages of all Singapore residents with the wages of US production and non-supervisory workers which is not an apple to apple comparison.

    We can go straight to ILO’s US data source which is the US Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS). BLS indeed has two different figures for average hourly earnings in 2011: US$19.5 for production and non-supervisory workers and US$23.1 for all workers. The LKY School of Public Policy’s figure of US$19.9 is indeed quite close to the BLS’s figure of $19.5 for production and non-supervisory workers. The LKY School of Public Policy has used the wrong figure and should have used the figure of US$23.1 for all US workers instead. Moreover, LKY School of Public Policy could have directly obtained from BLS, New York City’s average hourly wage of US$30.7 [1].

    Having established the wage figure for New York, we also need to ascertain the correctness of the wage figure for Singapore. The Ministry of Manpower lists our 2011 average monthly earning as SG$4,334 [2]. The average weekly paid hours is listed as 46.2 hours [3]. The hourly wage works out to be SG$21.6 / hour which is slightly lower than the figure of SG$22.3 quoted by the LKY School of Public Policy. This is equivalent to US$17.17 when converted to USD using the exchange rate of 1.2579 [4].

    So the average Singapore resident worker’s wage is US$17.17 / US$ 30.7 = 55.9% that of the average New York worker. It is therefore true that the average Singapore wage is much lower than that of New York’s and that UBS is not wrong to have painted the same picture. Contrast this with the LKY School of Public Policy’s figure of 88.8% which paints the wrong picture because it is wrongly based on US rather than New York data and wrongly based on production and non-supervisory workers rather than all workers.

    LKY School of Public Policy’s effort to debunk the UBS study has once again turned out to be a flunk.

    [1] US Department of Labour, Bureau of Labour Statistics, Average Earnings and Hours in New York – April 2012, Table 3

    [2] Ministry of Manpower, Manpower Research and Statistics Department, Yearbook 2012

    [3] Ministry of Manpower website, Labour Market Statistical Information, Hours Worked

    [4] Singstats website, Table A4.1, Exchange Rates

    Happy 47th Independence Day, Happy 193rd Birthday, Singapore

    August 9, 2012

    We are all born helpless and dependent on our parents to feed us and to take care of us. We go through a long period of growth, learning and development to become independent. For some independence means the day we complete our schooling and start earning our own living and not depend on our parents for pocket money. For others, independence means the setting up of our own families. Whatever the case may be, we count our age from the day we are born, not the day we became independent.

    In the same token, Singapore was born in 1819 and gained independence in 1965. We should count our age from 1819, not 1965. While we celebrate 47 years of independence, let’s also celebrate 193 years of age.

  • Happy 47th independence day, Singapore
  • Happy 193rd birthday, Singapore
  • Let us not forget that independence was thrust upon us when we were kicked out of Malaysia. For that we have to thank Tungku Abdul Rahman. Above all, let us thank the one and only true founding father of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles.