Archive for May, 2014

The true colours of constructive politics

May 30, 2014

I refer to the 29 May 2014 Straits Times report “The character of constructive politics”.

PM reminded us that politics is not just politics because Singaporeans’ lives and future are at stake. But it was after the politics of the last election in 2011 that Singaporeans’ lives took a turn for the better as the PAP suddenly ramped up housing, transportation and so on. So is the politics of 2011 the constructive politics PM referred to that will better the lives and future of Singaporeans and help us scale new heights?

It was strange that PM should begrudge Mr Low Thia Khiang for focusing on constructive politics when he too focused on getting politics right. PM insisted we don’t want money politics. Yet for so many years, Singaporeans voted in accordance to the PAP’s threat of withholding HDB upgrading which they always emphasized cost a lot of money. He said we do not want politics of envy, yet pay themselves million dollar salaries.

PM explained that constructive politics means developing effective policies, solving problems, creating opportunities, improving lives. Was he referring to the growth at all costs policy that is at the root of the problems today? Was he referring to creating problems so as to solve them later? Was he referring to creating opportunities for the multitude of migrants for whom Singapore belongs to?

What difficult trade-off was PM referring to when approving his multi-million dollar salary? When PM spoke about the good people capable of integrity and character who can represent and serve Singapore with outstanding distinction, was he referring to people like Saw Paik Hwa, Mah Bow Tan, SCDF’s Peter Lim, CNB’s Ng Boon Gay and the CPIB assistant director charged with misappropriating $1.7 million?

What supposed critical importance are ministers and MPs when ministers who mess up in one ministry gets rotated to another and life goes on or MPs sleep in parliament or happily absent themselves every now and then?

When PM spoke of robust and open debate, was he referring Vikram Nair’s rude questioning of Mr Chen Show Mao and subsequent apology during Budget 2012 Debate (Straits Times, Vikram Nair: Show me the money, Chen Show Mao, 1 Mar 2012)? Could PM’s sound bite politics refer to “More Good Years” and “Swiss Standard of Living”?

If anonymous innuendoes or insinuations online or offline can deter people from entering politics, then these people aren’t good enough to begin with.

PM claimed he would get to the bottom of any PAP MP making false and untruthful statements. Has PM gotten to the bottom of these statements?
• Khaw Boon Wan said a four-room flat has remained at 90 square metres since the mid-1990s when there were 310 four-room HDB flat transactions between Sept 11 and Aug 12 with lease dates that are 1995 or more recent having floor sizes between 75 and 89 square metres
Straits Times, HDB hasn’t shrunk flat sizes, says Khaw, 3 May 2012
• Vivian Balakrishnan accused Aljunied contractor ATL Maintenance Ltd of demanding double payment for the same quantity of work yet after all the hullabaloo, the accusation didn’t hold water, paragraph 26
• During the 9 Jan 2012 parliament session, Vivian Balakrishnan claimed that the recent Orchard Road floods were part of a larger, longer rainfall change in Singapore when the evidence gathered then only pointed to a less than 1 mm per year increase in maximum 1 hourly rainfall intensity over the period investigated
9 Jan 2012 parliament session
• Ms Indranee Rajah reportedly said that UK minister remuneration must take into account UK MP allowances but the allowances don’t add to the UK minister’s salary but compensate instead for the UK minister’s actual expenditure incurred at work. Ms Indranee also claimed that the allowances are totally opaque as one has no idea what the amounts add up to when the breakdown of most expense categories are listed MP by MP in a file downloadable from the UK parliament website.
Straits Times, Political pay in UK: Take allowances into account, 19 Jan 2012

PM claimed that constructive politics requires absolute honesty which is the key difference between Singapore politics and politics in other countries. Is PM insulting the politics of Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and Norway which scored equal or better than Singapore in the Transparency International Corruptions Perceptions Index 2013?

Rank Country Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2013
1 Denmark 91
1 New Zealand 91
3 Finland 89
3 Sweden 89
5 Norway 86
5 Singapore 86
7 Switzerland 85
8 Netherlands 83
9 Australia 81
9 Canada 81
11 Luxembourg 80

When PM referred to flawed people who should not be immune from scrutiny, he should at least look himself in the mirror. Who in this world is perfect?

When PM characterized constructive politics as the rallying together of the people for a common cause, was he referring to the bulldozing of acts like the casinos and 6.9 million population white paper resented by the population?

Does PM’s so-called constructive politics being dependent on what political leaders do refer to suing citizens for remarks most Singaporeans can’t care less about?

PM took issue with WP for not acknowledging the good, supposedly inciting division and for silently supporting xenophobia in the name of nationalism. Why does PM want acknowledgement for clearing the housing backlog when people didn’t even expect a backlog to begin with? Why does PM want acknowledgement for vigorously fixing transport woes when Singaporeans didn’t expect transport to fall to such low levels to begin with? Does PM think WP can incite division without there being an actual division to begin with? Does PM think there can be an Independence Day celebration without a national flag? Does PM think that allowing the Philippine flag to be raised in Orchard Road and a march past by Filipinos dressed in military uniform is nationalistic to Singapore or nationalistic to the Philippines? If the flag has no significance, what is the point of our National Emblems Act? What is the point of putting up the Singapore flag on 9 Aug every year? Can a 60.1% PM be the utmost authority figure respected by all Singaporeans on what constitutes xenophobia? Can a 60.1% PM be a good judge of what good politics markers are?

PM claimed they do their best to practice constructive politics. Their so-called best is to employ supposedly politics blind agencies like NEA and MND to tussle with Aljunied Town Council. Their so-called serious policies and debates ended up with the problems that necessitated solutions he is now so proud of.

It is not up to the PM as a political player himself to decide that the PAP has the highest standards of integrity. That judgment lies with the people. If the PAP indeed has the highest standards of integrity, it would not worry about liberalizing the press or standing up to fair criticism.

PM reiterated Ms Indranee’s accusation that the WP flip flopped on foreign workers. But WP did not flip flop on foreign workers. They merely said too much when it was too much and too fast when it was too fast. Too much and too fast are not flip flops of each other.

PM pointed to the US government shutting down for two weeks. Yet the US is still the 5th most competitive economy in the world. PM pointed to turmoils in democratic Thailand. Yet Thailand is still more prosperous than neighbours ex-military junta Myanmar and Communist Vietnam.

PM took the position that WP should not simply stand for what PAP does and a little better as that meant having no stand. Does the PM want WP to stand against PAP instead? Isn’t it ironic that while seeking constructive politics, PM also wants WP to stand against PAP?

I refer too to Straits Times Singapolitics [2].

PM reminded Mr Low that WP had argued for zero population growth during the Population White Paper debate but since Singapore has continued to grow, shouldn’t Mr Low now argue for the excess 70,000 to be sent home? Mr Low explained that while standing by its call for zero population growth, WP also respected the government’s decision. Isn’t that the constructive politics PM Lee has been asking for? Why berate WP for spending a whole speech attacking one point, yet not appreciate WP when it stops attacking?

PM denigrated WP as a substandard opposition for doing the easy thing of telling the PM to massage the workforce in the various sectors but leaving the actual work to the government. Does the PM want WP to take over the government? If not, how can the PM accuse WP of being substandard? On the contrary, if the PAP cannot do the massaging and require WP to step in, wouldn’t it be PAP that is substandard instead?

PM should not have accused Mr Low of not calling a spade a spade when he himself refused to call a spade a spade when he insisted on calling nationalism xenophobia. How could PM insult Mr Low of weaseling away with words when he concurred with Dr Janil Puthucheary about the importance of how one says it? Or perhaps it was important for PM to say it in an insulting way? Is that the true colour of PM’s supposedly constructive politics after all?


S’poreans first can be good for economy in the long run

May 29, 2014

I refer to the 28 May 2014 Straits Times report “S’poreans first’ hiring not good for economy in the long term”.

Dr Amy Khor said that a Singaporeans first policy would not benefit our economy in the long term as firms that experience hiring constrains might be prompted to move out of Singapore.

We cannot suppose government and government linked companies will move out of Singapore if they fail to hire foreigners can we? Will the Singapore Police Force move out of Singapore if it fails to hire foreigners?

Similarly, service based industries that rely on face to face interaction to do business with the customer cannot move out of Singapore without also losing the Singapore business.
• McDonalds cannot move out of Singapore without losing the business of selling burgers in Singapore. It will take hours for a JB McDonalds motorcycle rider to deliver a McDonalds meal to a customer in Singapore.
• Petrol kiosks cannot move out of Singapore without losing the business of distributing petrol in Singapore. They can at most sell ¼ tank to every customer that drives to JB.
• NTUC Fairprice, Sheng Shiong and 7-11 cannot move out of Singapore without losing their distribution businesses in Singapore

As long as there is money to be made that requires face to face contact with customers, firms in Singapore will not move out of Singapore despite hiring constrains.

Dr Khor should realize that the Fair Consideration Framework will not solve the problem of unfair hiring practices. Foreigners in charge of hiring decisions can continue to hire their own nationals after advertising their jobs on the national job bank for 14 days even if there are Singaporean applicants with the right skills. Dr Khor is therefore not putting Singaporeans’ interests first because the grown economy and increased job opportunities will still go to foreigners. Dr Khor’s call for practicality is a mere call for laziness as it doesn’t go far enough to solve the problem.

Dr Khor claims that in a globalised economy, competition for jobs is between countries and not within countries. Dr Khor is only partially correct. In a globalised economy, a country that has job protection for its nationals only has to compete with other countries for jobs. But a country that has no job protection for its nationals not only has to compete with other countries for jobs but also has to compete within the country for jobs. So it is double competition for Singapore compared to another globalised economy with job protection.

Doctors, lawyers and dentists are quite well protected from the globalised economy because not any foreign university degree in medicine, law or dentistry is recognized in Singapore. If the Ministry of Manpower can similarly limit work permits to Singapore qualifications or qualifications from elite institutions of education, it will not only give Singaporeans a leg up in our job search, it will also boost the value of our university degrees and polytechnic diplomas. What remains then is simply to improve the relevance of our university and polytechnic curricula to industry.

If Singaporeans first has been good for doctors, lawyers and dentists for so long, why can’t it be good for the rest of the economy in the long run?

Comments on Mr Singh’s letters of demands

May 28, 2014

I refer to PM Lee’s lawyer Mr Davinder Singh’s first letter of demand to Roy Ngerng.

Point No. 8 of the letter claims that Roy’s article was clearly malicious. It is not clear why Mr Singh characterized the article as such as he made no explanations. Is a false claim automatically and clearly a malicious one?

Mr Singh’s claim for damage is based on Roy’s article being widely read and widely circulated through the internet. However, an article’s wide readership and circulation doesn’t necessarily imply damage done to PM Lee’s reputation. If readers do not believe Roy’s supposed assertion on the PM, then no damage has been done. Examples abound from the internet and from the press of people who do not believe Roy’s supposed assertion:

• Most of the points he raised were without merit and probably reflected a lack of understanding of how complex financial systems work
ST Forum, CPF cannot behave like hedge fund, Jason Soon Hun Khim, 27 May 2014

• Unfortunately he said the wrong thing and got sued by a government minister
TR Emeritus, I’d debate the person openly if he accuses me of something, Ben, 26 May 2014

• For a start, I do think this blogger Mr. Roy Ngerng has probably gone a little too far by saying you misappropriated funds. It is indeed not well substantiated. I think you can rest assured Sir that most Singaporeans are well conceived enough to know that this is not well served on you.
TR Emeritus, An open letter to PM Lee Hsien Loong, Y. C. Ho, 26 May 2014

• He could be overzealous this time to say something unfair to you. Even many of us think it was a bit overboard.
TR Emeritus, What is PM Lee trying to prove?, Albert, 25 May 2014

• If you look closely at Roy Ngerng’s defamatory infographic, it defamed not only PM Lee but also other individuals like Tharman and Ho Ching.
TR Emeritus, 5 myths about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Tan Hong Kit, 23 May 2014

Thus far, of so many posts on the Internet about the law suit, I have not come across one that expresses agreement with Roy’s supposed assertion that the PM misappropriated CPF money. In that case, where is the supposed damage to PM Lee’s reputation?

Some people assume that the damage, based on past cases, should be around $200,000 to $300,000. But that is the price of the PM’s reputation, not the cost of the damage to the PM’s reputation. The damage to a $1 million Ferrari cannot automatically be $1 million. Suppose the Ferrari’s car plate was damaged, the cost of damage is just the cost of the car plate, not the price of the entire Ferrari. PM Lee’s reputation may be worth $200,000 to $300,000. But the damage to his reputation is not automatically $200,000 to $300,000. The damage has to be quantified.

One way of quantifying damage is through interviews. If we do that, we may find that 60% of Singaporeans do not believe Roy but believes PM Lee instead strongly, passionately, unreservedly and eternally. No amount of Roy can tarnish their good faith and belief in PM Lee. Hence PM Lee’s reputation remains intact and is in no way damaged in so far as his 60% supporters are concerned. Similarly, as much as 40% of Singaporeans are already against the PM to begin with, with or without Roy. Roy’s article did nothing more to tarnish the PM’s already tarnished reputation in this group. So if we exclude the 60% on whom PM Lee’s reputation remains untarnished and the 40% on whom PM Lee’s reputation was already tarnished before Roy wrote his article, there will be no new damage to PM Lee’s reputation arising from Roy’s article.

We can also look at PM Lee’s vote percentage in the next election. If the percentage remains more or less the same, wouldn’t that suggest that the PM’s reputation remains largely intact and does not suffer any material damage?

Mr Singh’s second letter

I refer too to Mr Singh’s second letter of demand to Roy. Mr Singh claims that Roy has opportunistically used the lawsuit to raise his profile and to garner support. But didn’t Mr Singh acknowledge in his earlier letter that Roy has the most popular blog in Singapore and that it was foreseeable that Roy’s article will be widely republished across the internet? Why then would Roy need to use the lawsuit to raise his profile when his profile is already so good? Conversely, if Roy has to resort to using the lawsuit to raise his profile, doesn’t that suggest that the initial damage is somewhat limited? Isn’t Mr Singh contradicting himself somewhat?

Correcting PM Lee’s pioneer package address

May 22, 2014

I refer to the 10 Feb 2014 Straits Times report “PM Lee outlines health-care package for 450,000 pioneers”.

PM Lee reportedly paid tribute to those who were at least 16 years old in 1965 as the pioneers who built the Singapore nation from its infancy. But the Singapore of 1965 had been thriving and prospering for 146 years already since 1819 and not at all at infancy.

First generation of Singaporeans
PM Lee thanked this first generation of Singaporeans. But the generation of 1965 wasn’t the first generation of Singaporeans. Generations of Singaporeans have existed since colonial times as these letters attest to:

• While the peculiarities of his predecessor, amounting almost to eccentricity, had laid us unfortunate Singaporeans under his ban …
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 17 Aug 1848, page 3

• Do then the Singaporeans acquiesce in the opinions of the Straits Times?
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adverstiser, 15 Feb 1850, page 2

• And last but not least comes “Snoutt-a-Goosta,” also new to Singaporeans …
Straits Times Overland Journal, 27 Apr 1869, page 4, “The Coming Races”

• I should be much surprised if it were found that the Singaporeans approve of this scant politeness shewn to a meritorious officer …
Straits Times Overland Journal, 6 Dec 1871, page 4, “Reception of admiral Kellet”

• The library is visited by large numbers of passing visitors and by numerous Singaporeans …
Straits Times Weekly Issue, 20 May 1891, page 13, “The Raffles Library”

• … there certainly appears to be an overwhelming majority of Singaporeans in favour of the “Cuss you, Jack, I’m all right” spirit I had the misfortune to encounter …
The Straits Times, 4 Nov 1925, page 10, Singapore Courtesy

• As another Singaporean, I wish to say that his last remark was quite uncalled for …
The Straits Times, 21 Dec 1925, page 10, News Services

• Sir, it is curious how illogical, I almost wrote obtuse, are the minds of some Singaporeans.
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 25 Aug 1928, page 10, Fullerton Building

• The degradation of Waterloo Street here is known to every Singaporean …
The Straits Times, 1 May 1939, page 15, Waterloo Street in Singapore

PM Lee recalled how the journey of many from this group of pioneers started with their migration here to start a new life. But pioneers have been migrating to Singapore since 1819 to start a new life here. The migration of the pioneer generation of 1965 was no more than the continuous migration of pioneers here since 1819.

Anti-colonial struggle
PM Lee reminded us of how this special generation took part in the drama of anti-colonial struggle. However, not everyone in this special generation participated equally in anti-colonialism. PM Lee’s own father LKY and others have credited the Chinese-educated Leftists as the protagonists in the anti-colonial struggle so credit should mostly go to them:

• For Lee the greatest sins of the English-educated lie in their self-interest, and failure to cast their lot with the anti-colonial movement. He was certain that Singapore’s political future would be in the hands of the Chinese radical left [page 35]
• For Lee, the Western-educated elite too prone to kowtow to the British were pathetically ‘irrelevant’ in the anti-colonial struggle; labour unions and the Chinese-educated world were something else altogether [page 38]
[Singapore: The State and the Culture of Excess], [Yao Souchou]

• A growing chasm between the Chinese-educated and English-educated population was clearly developing. This chasm was marked by the general allegiance of the English-educated to the British. This was in clear contrast with the vehemently anti-colonial and anti-imperial Chinese-educated Chinese [page 53]
[Negotiating Multiculturalism: Disciplining Difference in Singapore], [Nirmala Purushotam]

• Singapore’s anti-colonial movement was largely organised by Chinese-educated leaders from the Chinese middle schools [page 173]
• This (anti-colonial) movement was led largely by Chinese-educated leaders enjoying popular Chinese support [page 248]
• The citizenship-language campaign … had whipped up considerable Chinese interest in politics by 1954 [page 259 – 260]
[Political Development in Singapore, 1945-55], [Yeo Kim Wah]

• The left wing, strongly supported by the Chinese-educated working class, was probably the more passionately anticolonial entity [page 157]
[Fates of Political Liberalism in the British Post-Colony: The Politics of the Legal Complex], [Terence C. Halliday, Lucien Karpik, Malcolm M. Feeley]

Battle against communists
PM Lee claimed the special generation that took part in the anti-colonial struggle also battled the communists. This is a bizarre contradiction since we know that it was the Leftists who dominated the anti-colonial struggle and it was also the Leftists who were the most sympathetic towards the communists (though not necessarily communists). Therefore, the Leftists who played the biggest role in the anti-colonial struggle cannot be the Leftists who battled the communists. It was the British who more or less wiped out the communists in Singapore through its Special Branch with hardly so much as a battle so that the Leftist anti-colonial movement couldn’t have been communist led but had been led by true Singaporean patriots.

• The Malayan Communist Party … was not particularly effective. It hosted a meeting … most notable … for the comprehensive surveillance by the British Special Branch … Subsequent mass arrests decimated the MCP [page 134]
[Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the], [James R. Arnold]

• The first thing to realise is that although left-wing and anti-colonial radicalism flourished to unprecedented levels during the first half of the 1950s, the Communist Party itself was diminishing as a controlling force in Singapore over the same period [page 26]
[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project], [Michael D. Barr, Zlatko Skrbiš]

• The MCP itself … seems to have been more a figment of the imagination of … the British Special Branch and the right-wing forces in Singapore. Its “ghost” may have lived a much longer and more active life than the real one ever did. While the party … attracted idealistic recruits from Singapore … we may question the extent of its organization and power in Singapore, particularly during … 1952-63. Repeated waves of arrests, banishments and defections between 1948 and 1963 severely limited its ability to launch an effective organization [page 101]
[Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control], [Carl A. Trocki]

• In Decemeber 1949 the Special Branch obtained the full list of the STC through a planted informer, and conducted a raid on 1 May 1950. Singapore Town Committee Vice Secretary Ah Har and three other committee members were arrested … Later that month, 20 more MCP and ABL members were arrested. Seven months later, on 5 December, because of an alert Special Branch officer, STC Secretary Ah Chin and his assistant, Ho Seng, were caught …the mass arrests caused the near collapse of the MCP’s operations in Singapore [page 61]
• In October 1951 the MCP issued a new directive aimed at restraining the Urban Armed Unit from engaging in … excessive and counter-productive violence [page 62]
• These mass movements took place substantially without the direction of the MCP … passions among the masses were running so high that these leaders could not successfully impose any sense of restraint, let alone strategy, over the crowds that they had brought together [page 63]
[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore], [Michael D. Barr, Carl A. Trocki]

Fight against communalists
PM Lee then claimed that the special generation that contradictorily took part in anti-colonial struggle and battled the communists also fought the communalists which led to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia and hence independence.

Several books see it differently however; they attribute the racial riots and our separation from Malaysia squarely on the political conflict between PM Lee’s father LKY and the Tunku.

• The events of 1963-1965 appear to be substantially a clash of temperaments and world views, with consequent misunderstandings among the key players. Lee’s own colleagues tell a story of Lee Kuan Yew in overdrive, aggressively engaging in brinkmanship and pushing the Malaysian experiment to the precipice. Lee found it difficult to exercise self-control in front of a microphone and developed a pattern of making outrageous and inflammatory speeches, which Toh Chin Chye later characterised as anti-Malay. When Lim Kim San, a key cabinet minister during the period was asked by Melanie Chew whether he counseled Lee to tone down his speeches, he replied “Oh yes! We did! But once he got onto the podium in front of the crowd, paah, everything would come out. Exactly what we told him not to say, he would say!” Lee at this time was driving himself to the brink of a breakdown, and his judgment was impaired by a regime of prescription drugs designed to help him cope with the stress. He was not at his best and all his prejudices about Malays and his fears about the future were given a free rein, just at the time when he needed to keep them under strict guard [page 29-30]
[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethinicity and the Nation-building Project], [Michael D Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš]

• On 31 August Lee Kuan Yew had personally declared Singapore’s independence. He had refused to comply with the decision of the Malaysian Parliament to proclaim Malaysia on 16 September … The Tunku’s government and the British Government, however, did not agree with Lee’s action. Lee was forced to brief angry British Ministers and officials about his move. Lee explained …”Indeed I had urged them to do something dramatic on 31 August” … This was, in fact, a violation of the Malaysian Agreement … The Tunku, however, was not to be outflanked … he announced the appointment of two Bornean politicians to his Federal Cabinet … But no Singapore leader was appointed … that probably … started the thorny relationship between the Alliance Government and the PAP … that eventually led to Singapore’s exit from Malaysia. Lee was rebuffed, despite his desire to share power at the Federal level … Privately … Lee had made it known that he wanted to be in the Federal Cabinet, if not to displace the MCA, at least to be accepted as an equal partner [page 98-99]
• The Alliance Government announced support for the Singapore Alliance candidates, followed by the Tunku personally arriving in Singapore to address an Alliance rally. This angered Lee and the PAP … It was clear that the Singapore elections (of 1963) had sown the seeds of race politics between Singapore and Malaysia [99-100]
[Malaysia: The Making of a Nation], [Cheah Boon Kheng]

Further evidence of our separation being fueled by politics rather than by racial differences:

• Up to the 1950s, there had never been a Sino-Malay riot. The Malay and Chinese had lived on the island side by side and never once fought each other [page 17, 18]
[A Sociolinguistic History of Early Identities in Singapore: From Colonialism to Nationalism], [Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chew]

• The ethnic relationship between Singapore and Malaysia was very weak and the politicos took advantage of this for their own good. The gap between ethnic groups was manipulated by politicos and the press, resulting in the simmering of tensions between Chinese and Malays [page 68]
• It was a low class but effective method for politicos to manipulate ethnic issues. As a result, the relationship between ethnic groups worsened [page 70]
• Tekong was able to endure the ethnic storm because the Chinese and Malays had lived together in Tekong for over a century, there was a profound and close relationship between them. There were no politicians on the island to provoke different ethnic groups [page 71]
• The ethnic conflict revealed the contradiction between PAP and UMNO [page72]
[Retrospect on the Dust-Laden History: The Past and Present of Tekong Island in Singapore], [Leong Sze Lee]

PM Lee referred to his father LKY as Singapore’s founding prime minister. But Singapore has no founding prime minister for neither 1959 nor 1965 were founding years but the years we attained total internal self-government and independence respectively. We have only one founder – Sir Stamford Raffles, whose name is behind the school that educated LKY, PM Lee’s father.

Who’s luckier: children with maids or children with moms?

May 20, 2014

I refer to the 19 May 2014 TR Emeritus article “Shanmugam: The values of our children”.

Mr Shanmugam claims that Singaporeans are lucky many of us have domestic help. But are we luckier than Westerners who earn twice as much as us and who can afford to have the wife stay at home to look after the children full time?

Would be good if we can conduct a survey or even a referendum about whether Singaporeans would like their salaries doubled while keeping cost of living the same so that the wife can afford to stay at home to look after the children full time.

Our 2013 median resident employed household income was $7,870 (Singstats) while our 2013 median gross monthly income (including CPF) from work for full time employed residents is $3,705 (MOM website). The ratio of median household income to median income from work is slightly more than two. This means that on average, most households comprise both husband and wife working to support the family.

If our median income from work can be doubled without affecting cost of living, Singaporeans can maintain their household income while allowing the wife stay at home to look after the children full time. Our dependence on maids will significantly reduce and the so-called compassion, kindness, consideration and the right values Mr Shanmugam wrote about can be passed on from generation to generation.

Were we happier and luckier growing up with our mothers around or are children today happier and luckier growing up with their maids around?

Response to Parliament Opening Address

May 18, 2014

I refer to President Tony Tan’s opening address for 2nd session of 12th parliament.

Dr Tan said that every Singaporean can take pride in our survival and prosperity against long odds since independence. Dr Tan cannot be more wrong; Singapore had been thriving and prospering for more than a hundred years before our independence in 1965.

Dr Tan said that at 50, we are a young nation. But the Singapore today has continuously evolved since 1819 for nearly 200 years already. We should be celebrating our Bicentennial, not Silver Jubilee. While extolling the pioneers of 50 years ago for overcoming formidable obstacles to build Singapore, Dr Tan forgot to mention the pioneers’ pioneers who overcame even greater odds to lay the strong foundation underpinning our success today. If the honouring of our pioneers is confined to just the last 50 years, we risk being disrespectful to pioneers’ pioneers like Tan Kim Seng and Lim Bo Seng who came before.

Dr Tan urged us to always uphold the ‘founding ideals’ in our pledge written in 1966. But 1966 is 147 years after our founding in 1819. How can we be founded again 147 years after our founding in 1819? What ideal of a fair and just society was Dr Tan pledging to uphold when he allowed the PAP to disadvantage opposition wards in HDB upgrading while serving as Deputy Prime Minister?

Dr Tan claimed that no other country in the world has, through the promotion of home ownership, leveled up society and enabled Singaporeans, especially the poor, to build up significant assets and have a tangible stake in Singapore’s progress. What supposed leveling up is Dr Tan talking about when Singapore has one of the highest GINI inequalities amongst First World nations? Our homes cannot become significant assets without also becoming expensive liabilities that will lock up even more of our precious income and lower our standard of living while requiring our children to pay even more for their homes in future. It is a zero sum game that merely transfers wealth from future generations to present ones. It is not leveling up but pricing up of the most important component of our cost of living.

Dr Tan stressed the importance of constructive politics where the nation and its people are put first. Can Dr Tan explain:
• How constructive is the politics of making use of supposedly politics blind national bodies like NEA and MND to attack or to disadvantage Aljunied Town Council and how that supposedly puts people first?
• How constructive is the politics of threatening Singaporeans with 5 years of repent and insulting Singaporeans with names like quitters, champion grumblers, spurs not stuck deep enough in the hide and how that supposedly puts people first?
• How constructive was the politics of disadvantaging opposition wards in HDB upgrading and how that supposedly puts people first?
• How constructive was the politics of locking political opponents without trial longer than Nelson Mandela was and how that supposedly puts people first?

Dr Tan warned against the hurly burly of politics in many other countries that have resulted in short term populist measures, sometimes gridlock and paralysis that will weaken Singapore. But isn’t the government busy implementing supposedly populist politics like increasing housing supply, improving public transport and controlling foreigner influx after the hurly burly of the last election? Do we see Singapore being weakened by these measures? No. So in the case of Singapore, the hurly burly of politics strengthens, not weakens Singapore by forcing the government to implement popular yet right measures.

Dr Tan emphasized the need for Singapore to have the best ideas and best leadership. But who is best qualified to decide who has the best idea and the best leadership? Those who decided that Saw Phaik Hwa was best turned out to be wrong. So how do we know whoever is deemed best today is actually best?

Dr Tan urged all sides to take a long-term perspective for the common good. Dr Tan should realize that it is the government that is taking the short-term, instant tree perspective of mass import of population without first making adequate provision for housing, transportation, healthcare and so on. He should therefore thank the non-government side for nudging the government towards a long-term perspective for the common good.

Dr Tan exhorted all to come together and move ahead as one united people once the debate is settled. But how can the debate be settled when we do not have referendums on important issues like casinos and 6.9 million population? If the Swiss whom we supposedly model after have referendums on major issues despite a larger population spread over a wider logistical space, why can’t we? How does Dr Tan expect Singaporeans to move ahead as one when our wishes have not been respected?

Dr Tan claimed that our pioneers fought for our independence. Actually those who fought for our independence were collectively known as the Leftists. It is they we should honour for our progress towards self-determination. LKY and the PAP fought to merge us with Malaysia and in so doing, made us lose some of that self-determination.

I refer too to the 17 May 2014 Straits Times report “An invitation to renew vows”.

Straits Times compared the relationship between government and citizens to that of a marriage and characterised Dr Tan’s speech as an invitation by the government to renew wedding vows by pledging as husband to woo Singaporeans with good education and so on.

Straits Times can’t be more wrong, the relationship between government and citizens is a servant master relationship, not a husband wife relationship. A husband doesn’t have to renew his status every five years. A husband doesn’t threaten his wife with 5 years of repent if she doesn’t choose him. A husband doesn’t insult his wife with words like spurs not stuck deep enough in the hide. A husband doesn’t declare the house belongs to everyone who steps into the house.

The Singapore society has turned topsy turvy because the servant government thinks he is the husband master and decides rather than follows instructions.

Kungfu meritocracy

May 16, 2014

I refer to the 27 Apr 2014 TR Emeritus article “Potential PAP MP upset about not getting P5 math prize”.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong claimed that giving the Math prize to another pupil who scored half a mark less than him in Primary 5 went against fair play and meritocracy. Mr Chong has failed, after all these years, to understand his teacher’s important lesson on the philosophy of meritocracy in society.

Meritocracy in society is very different from the meritocracy of winning Math prizes which is more like sports where the winner takes all and nobody remembers the Silver medalist. But meritocracy in society is not winner takes all. If society is run as winner takes all, there will be riot and society will collapse. The best lawyer doesn’t take all the cases; the best doctor doesn’t perform all the surgeries. The spoils of this country are shared by all in proportion to each individual’s respective contribution. So if Mr Chong performed half a percent better than his counterpart for example, he should get half a percent more than his counterpart. He should not be getting everything while his counterpart gets nothing. Singaporean meritocracy is quite often elitism in disguise as the winner takes much more than a fair share of what he deserves while the loser takes much less than a fair share of what he deserves.

Mr Chong shared the beauty of meritocracy as working hard and grabbing the opportunities given to you. Sadly after all these years, Mr Chong still does not understand that “opportunities given to him” is based less on meritocracy and more on relationships. Mr Chong gave the example of how the hero in Chinese sword fighting novels always get taught by skillful old pugilistic masters after showing perseverance and sincerity. Has Mr Chong forgotten how one hero had to rely on his wife’s close relationship with a pugilistic master and bribery in the form of delicious cooked food before the master was willing to teach the hero? Has Mr Chong forgotten about another hero who merely stumbled upon an opportunity to absorb tremendous amounts of “internal energy”? Mr Chong’s romanticized version of meritocracy makes one wonder if he is not another elitist divorced from the true principles of meritocratic society.

Choosing the right person

May 16, 2014

I refer to the 23 Mar 2014 Straits Times commentary “Missing MH370: A mystery, with some revelations” by Mr Warren Fernandez.

Mr Fernandez drew from the MH370 crisis the lesson of picking the right people with the right combination of skills, experience, character, temperament, grit, groundedness and good sense for key jobs that go beyond gender, race, age, background and even nationality.

One such person supposedly picked as the right person for a key job was ex-MRT CEO Saw Peck Hwa who didn’t understand the fundamentals of the train business and allowed train infrastructure to fall into disrepair. The people who chose Ms Saw must have been blind. So even if we were to agree with Mr Fernandez, how do we find the right people to choose the right person for the key job? How do we know if those who chose Mr Fernandez made the right choice? What has Mr Fernandez accomplished thus far to show that he has the right combinations of skills, experience, character, temperament, grit, groundedness and good sense to be the right person? Mr Fernandez’ stern warning by the police for going against the law in conducting a poll after the writ of election had been issued probably shows he hasn’t got good sense. Since he has already failed one of his multi-faceted definitions of what constitutes the right person, does he still think he is the right person for the job? Or perhaps his criteria are meant for judging other people but not himself? All the rhetoric about going beyond gender, race, age and so on is for other jobs, not his?

Comments on higher paying jobs going to PRs not xenophobic

May 15, 2014

I refer to the 13 May 2014 Straits Times letter “How to help foreigners integrate” by Mr Christopher Chong.

Mr Chong claims there are plenty of xenophobic views and comments accusing PRs of taking higher paying jobs from Singaporeans but didn’t mention how many comments he actually came across. What percentages of the tens of thousands of comments made each day do these comments constitute that is sufficiently large enough for Mr Chong to consider them plentiful?

Has Mr Chong checked the veracity or otherwise of those comments? If not, on what basis does Mr Chong dismiss them as being xenophobic? What if those were true incidents worthy of further action by the authorities? Wouldn’t Mr Chong have done his fellow citizens a disservice by brushing off their legitimate concerns?

Mr Chong should understand that it is not just netizens but no less than our Deputy Prime Minister Mr Tharman who has made similar remarks of late. Mr Tharman said that differences in hiring mixes between banks have been observed; some banks have Singaporeans much better represented in the range of functions while others have Singaporeans very much in the middle and back office and that it is a challenge to make sure Singaporeans are adequately represented in a good spread of positions including the best jobs in the front office for treasury and trading [1]. Isn’t Mr Tharman saying some banks hire Singaporeans mainly in lower paying jobs in the middle and back office while higher paying jobs in the front office go mainly to foreigners? Isn’t that the same as what netizens are saying? Is Mr Chong going to brand Mr Tharman as being xenophobic also?

Isn’t Mr Tan Chuan Jin’s Fair Consideration Framework to ensure fair playing field for Singaporean workers meant to address the legitimate concern of good jobs going to foreigners? Is Mr Chong going to brand Mr Tan as being xenophobic also? In fact, all First World nation governments have one form of protection or another against job loss by citizens to foreigners. Is Mr Chong going to brand all First World nation governments as being xenophobic too?

Mr Chong should not be too trigger happy with the word xenophobic as he has failed to show himself to be adequately qualified to use the word.

[1] Straits Times, Crucial that S’pore core can land top banking jobs, 16 Jun 2013

When it comes to jobs in the banking sector, the challenge is not just to make sure that Singaporeans are adequately represented.

It is also important that they take on a good spread of positions, including the best jobs in the front office for treasury and trading, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

He added that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), together with the Ministry of Manpower, started “very active discussions” more than a year ago with banks here about their plans to develop the “Singapore core”.

Mr Tharman, who is Finance Minister and MAS chairman, was speaking on the sidelines of a dialogue with Indian students at Hwa Chong Institution. He told reporters the local core in banking is “not just about numbers”.

“It’s about proactive career development, and making sure that Singaporeans are represented in the areas of the banks which are going to see growth opportunities,” he said. “It’s making sure there is a good spread of opportunities for Singaporeans within the different banking functions.”

Without going into details, the minister said differences in hiring mixes between the banks have been observed. “Some of them have Singaporeans much better represented in the range of functions. In some others, Singaporeans tend to be very much in the middle and back office,” he said.

His comments were sparked by a dialogue participant’s concern that there were high numbers of foreigners in the financial sector.

In a similar vein, another student inquired about the role of international schools here. It was announced last year that new sites would be released by the Government for international schools.

After the dialogue, Mr Tharman explained that part of Singapore’s competitiveness as a business centre is that children whose parents travel from other countries to work here can have an uninterrupted education at quality international schools.

But diversity is also important. “We are not keen on having too much expansion of schools that are only for one ethnic group or for one nationality,” he said.

“For those who are PRs and those who are here in Singapore for the long term, we want as much as possible that their children go through our national schools,” he added, noting that this has to be done in the “right proportions”.

The dialogue for Indian students was held as part of the Singapore Indian Development Association’s three-day seminar for youth leaders. Other topics discussed included national identity and the cost of living.

Singapore was no fishing village half a century ago in 1964

May 13, 2014

I refer to the 10 May 2014 TR Emeritus article “Growth or no growth – what is the future Singapore should prepare for?” by Dr Tommy Wong.

Dr Wong claims that Singapore has miraculously grown from a humble Third World fishing village to a bustling First World cosmopolitan city over the past half a century and the credit goes to those who made it happen.

Half a century ago was 1964. How could Singapore possibly have been a humble fishing village in 1964 when we already had many high rise flats built by then?
• Three 9-storey SIT flats built along Upper Pickering Street in 1951
• Twenty-one 7-storey flats built at Redhill Close by 1955
• 14-storey Forfar House built in 1956
• 9-storey flats built at Kim Keat in 1958
• 10-storey flats built at Aljunied in 1961
• 15-storey Margaret Drive flats built in the 1960s
• 20-storey flats built at Selegie in 1963

How could Singapore have been a humble fishing village in 1964 when:
• LKY had already declared in an Aug 1967 speech to American businessmen in Chicago that we were already a metropolis? (You can’t turn a fishing village into a metropolis in three years)
• Singapore had already staged a manned air flight in 1911
• Singapore had the finest airport in the British Empire in the 1930s
• The King of Thailand sent 20 of his sons to be educated in Singapore in the late 19th century
[Peter Wilson / Gavin Peebles, Economic growth and development in Singapore: past and future, Page 26]

• Singapore was already the estimated 5th or 6th most important port in the world by the early 1930s and the key port in the Straits region by the late 19th century
[Goh Kim Chuan, Environment and development in the Straits of Malacca, pages 107, 114]

• Singapore was already the world’s largest rubber exporter in 1960
[The History of Singapore, Jean E. Abshire, page XV]

• Singapore had become the trade focus for an immense, wealthy area stretching from the Bay of Bengal to China and embracing the whole of Southeast Asia by the 1930s
[Yeo Kim Wah, Political Development in Singapore, 1945-55, page 14]

• Singapore had become the example par excellence of a colonial port that prospered on global trade and thrived as a trade intermediary between advanced industrial economies and countries with lower levels of achievement
[Abu Talib Ahmad and Liok Ee Tan, New terrains in Southeast Asian history, page 152]

• Singapore had become a global port that could rival any other in the world by the time the Suez Canal opened in 1869 and with the advent of the steamship revolution in the latter half of the nineteenth century
[Derek Thiam Soon Heng, Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, Singapore in Global History, page 57]

• Singapore was the most important communications centre in the Far East, not just for shipping but a focal point for airlines, telecommunications and mail distribution at the beginning of the 1950s
• Singapore was the biggest market in the world for natural rubber, an important international market specializing in tin futures and a major oil distribution centre in the inter-war period
• Singapore had extensive numbers of high quality entrepreneurs and substantial industry and a skilled labour force, not least in ship repair prior to independence
• The first estimates of Singapore national income in 1956 showed rapidly rising per capita income that was very much greater than almost anywhere else in Asia
• Singapore had already experienced considerable economic development before World War II
• Singapore in the mid-1950s had 30 people per private car compared to 70 for British Malaya and more than 120 for the rest of Asia
[The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, W. G. Huff, pages 31-33]

How could Singapore have been a Third World country in 1964 when:
• Our per capita GDP in 1960 was already $1,330 which gave us a middle-income status?
[Carl A. Trocki, Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control, page 166]

• We were already of Upper Middle Income status according to World Bank classification of our 1964 per capita GNI (in 2011 PPP USD)?

1964 per capita GDP / GNP / GNI GDP per capita (output) GDP per capita (expenditure) GDP per capita (average)
Real per capita GDP (chained PPP, 2005 USD) using PWT 8.0 $5,989 $2,762 $4,376
Real per capita GNP (chained PPP, 2005 USD) using PWT 7.1’s GNP to GDP ratio $6,151 $2,837 $4,494
Real per capita GNP (chained PPP, 2011 USD) converted by comparing World Bank’s current GNI and 2011 GNI for 2005 $6,896 $3,180 $5,038
World Bank classification by income Upper middle income status Lower middle income status Upper middle income status
From US$4,036 to US$12,475 From US$1,026 to US$4,035 From US$4,036 to US$12,475

Quite clearly, our average 1964 per capita income of US$5,038 was already well above the Low Income or Third World level of US$1,025 or below. We were thus already well above Third World status by 1964 so Mr Wong is wrong to say that Singapore miraculously grew from a humble Third World fishing village to what it is today over half a century. The credit should therefore also go to those who built the outstanding foundation upon which independent Singapore stands.

I refer too to the 9 May 2014 Straits Times article “Drawback of selling flats to buy bigger private units” by Mr Frederick Ho. Mr Ho claims that Singapore has gone from Third World to First in lifestyle and wealth since HDB was set up in 1960 [1].

Once again, our average 1960 per capita income of US$4,287 was already well above the Low Income or Third World level of US$1,025 or below. We were already well above Third World status by 1960.

1960 per capita GDP / GNP / GNI GDP per capita (output) GDP per capita (expenditure) GDP per capita (average)
Real per capita GDP (chained PPP, 2005 USD) using PWT 8.0 $5,075 $2,413 $3,744
Real per capita GNP (chained PPP, 2005 USD) using PWT 7.1’s GNP to GDP ratio $5,184 $2,465 $3,824
Real per capita GNP (chained PPP, 2011 USD) converted by comparing World Bank’s current GNI and 2011 GNI for 2005 $5,811 $2,763 $4,287
World Bank classification by income Upper middle income status Lower middle income status Upper middle income status
From US$4,036 to US$12,475 From US$1,026 to US$4,035 From US$4,036 to US$12,475

[1] Straits Times, Drawback of selling flats to buy bigger private units, Frederick Ho, 9 May 2014

IT HAS been decades since the HDB was set up with the mission of providing affordable homes for Singaporeans (“Why condo units are shrinking” by Ms Chan Suan Yen; Wednesday).
Since then, we have gone from Third World to First in terms of lifestyle and wealth.