Archive for June, 2014

How Singapore jumped 50 places to become 4th in Environment Performance Index

June 30, 2014

The 28 Jan 2014 Straits Times article “Singapore leaps to fourth place in environment index” reported Singapore leaping 50 places to become world number 4 in the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

The following table compares Singapore’s EPI scores in 2014 and 2012.

Singapore 2014 EPI W × S Singapore 2012 EPI W × S
Child Mortality 13.3 Child mortality 15
Household Air Quality 4.2 Indoor air pollution 3.8
Air Pollution – Average Exposure to PM2.5 4.4 Particulate matter (excluded)
Air Pollution – PM2.5 Exceedance 4.4
Access to Drinking Water 6.7 Access to drinking water 3.8
Access to Sanitation 6.7 Access to sanitation 3.8
Sulfur dioxide emissions per capita 0.6
Sulfur dioxide emissions per GDP 2.1
Wastewater Treatment 14.9 Change in water quality 1.3
Terrestrial Protected Areas (National Biome Weights) 1.1 Biome protection 2.5
Terrestrial Protected Areas (Global Biome Weights) 1.1
Marine Protected Areas 3.1 Marine protection* 3.5
Critical Habitat Protection (excluded) Critical habitat protection (excluded)
Agricultural Subsidies (excluded) Agricultural subsidies 3.9
Pesticide Regulation 1.4 Pesticide regulation 1.9
Growing stock change (excluded)
Forest loss 0.7
Change in Forest Cover (excluded) Forest cover change 1.9
Fish Stocks 0 Fishing stocks overexploited 1.1
Coastal Shelf Fishing Pressure 0 Coastal shelf fishing pressure 0
Trend in Carbon Intensity 7.1 CO2 per capita 1.7
Change of Trend in Carbon Intensity 0 CO2 per GDP 3
Trend in CO2 Emissions per KWH 4.1 CO2 emissions per electricity generation 0.2
Renewable electricity 0
Total 81.80% Total 56.40%

W × S = weightage × score

Singapore’s EPI score increased significantly from 56.4% in 2012 to 81.8% in 2014 because:

PM2.5

• The particulate matter indicator, which was excluded from Singapore’s 2012 EPI score has been expanded in 2014 into two PM2.5 indicators. Singapore scored full marks for both PM2.5 indicators, yielding an extra 8.8% points for us.

Below is a comparison of the new PM2.5 indicator scores between Singapore and Switzerland:

Country Air Pollution – Average Exposure to PM2.5 Air Pollution – Average PM2.5 Exceedance
Singapore 100 100
Switzerland 78.2 56.5

The EPI deems Singapore air to be 100% pristine while that of Switzerland’s is barely passable only. If EPI results are to be believed, you are not going to get fresh air when you go to Switzerland. Instead, the world’s freshest air can be found right here in Singapore.

Singaporeans’ outrage over haze due to Sumatran forest fires, massive purchase of face masks and air purifiers were all just for show because according to EPI, Singapore is flawless as far as PM2.5 is concerned.

Waste water treatment

• The 2012 “Change in water quality” indicator has been changed to “waste water treatment” in 2014 yielding a massive 13.6% increase in points for Singapore.

• As an example, Singapore’s waste water treatment is deemed almost perfect compared to Norway’s.

Country Wastewater Treatment
Singapore 99.7
Norway 77.1

However, according to Norwegian Environment Agency:

“Today, practically all waste water is treated before being discharged into a recipient. The total annual costs incurred by the municipalities for waste water treatment are now about NOK 4 billion.”
http://www.environment.no/Topics/Marine-areas/Eutrophication/Municipal-waste-water/

So Norway should also be scoring close to 100% yet EPI deems it to be deserving of 77.1% only. Perhaps EPI judges waste water treatment according to its suitability for human consumption? That benchmark would have been unfair because there is no need for a country like Norway with plentiful supply of fresh water to treat waste water to a level suitable for human consumption. Because of high energy requirements, it would be environmentally unfriendly for Norway to treat waste water to human consumption level when fresh supplies abound. A nation’s efforts to treat waste water should be judged based on the level of safety with which the waste water can be discharged into the environment. Anything beyond should be discounted as unnecessary for waste water treatment.

CO2

• Two of the three CO2 categories in 2012 have been renamed in 2014 and Singapore ended up with another 6.3% increase in points.

• Instead of tracking the present CO2 emission levels, the new CO2 indicators track changes in CO2 emission over the past 10 years or the past, past 10 years. This is double standard. Why not use trending for all the other indicators? Why only use it for CO2?

• It is unfair comparing CO2 per GDP, it is fairer comparing CO2 per capita. A heavily pollutive industrial nation can get away with high CO2 emissions with high GDP.

Others

• The weightage for access to drinking water and sanitation were doubled yielding another 6.7% in points without change in performance.

• The 2012 sulphur dioxide emissions have been excluded in 2014 thus eliminating our low scores in this area.

Conclusion

• Singapore’s EPI performance shot up from 56.4% in 2012 to 81.8% in 2014 mainly because indicators that it fared poorly in had been taken out while indicators it excelled in were expanded and their weightages increased significantly.

• The new PM2.5 indicator gives the ridiculous result that Singapore air is pristine while Swiss air is barely passable.

• The new waste water indicator unfairly requires nations to treat waste water to a level suitable for drinking. This is energy intensive and thus environmentally unfriendly. The consequence of high energy consumption for excessive treatment of waste water may not show up in the CO2 indicator as long as the treated water contributes to an even higher level of GDP.

• Basing CO2 performance on per GDP basis is wrong because it encourages nations to get around high CO2 output with high GDP instead of reducing high CO2 output.

• Child mortality shouldn’t be used as an indicator because it can be more of a function of healthcare standards rather than environment standards.

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Livable cities don’t require leaders with strong political will

June 29, 2014

I refer to 3 Jun 2014 Straits Times report “Strong leaders, clear vision ‘key to shaping cities’ Factors for liveability, sustainability highlighted at 3 environment forums”.

Local and global thought leaders supposedly said that leaders with strong political will and so on are the key to shaping livable and sustainable cities.

The following are cities that topped Monocle’s most liveable cities 2014. Most are not characterized by leadership with strong political will.

Monocle Most Livable City 2014 Country
1 Copenhagen Denmark
2 Tokyo Japan
3 Melbourne Australia
4 Stockholm Sweden
5 Helsinki Finland
6 Vienna Austria
7 Zürich Switzerland
8 Munich Germany
9 Kyoto Japan
10 Fukuoka Japan
11 Sydney Australia
12 Auckland New Zealand
13 Hong Kong China
14 Berlin Germany
15 Vancouver Canada
16 Singapore Singapore

The following are cities that topped the EIU’s Liveability Ranking 2013. Again most are not characterized by leaders with strong political will.

EIU Liveability Ranking 2013 Country
1 Melbourne Australia
2 Vienna Austria
3 Vancouver Canada
4 Toronto Canada
5 Calgary Canada
5 Adelaide Australia
7 Sydney Australia
8 Helsinki Finland
9 Perth Australia
10 Auckland New Zealand

Thus, there is no need for leaders with strong political will to shape livable cities.

Minister Khaw Boon Wan said politicians who give voters “goodies” to win elections risk going bankrupt, souring everyone’s view of politics and leading to insolvency and eventually political cynicism. But many authors attest to Singapore practicing its fair share of giving out election “goodies”:

• The PAP’s resounding victory at every general election since 1959 and the practice of giving out ‘election goodies’ through the annual Budget seem to indicate the truth of this assertion.
[Cinema and Television in Singapore: Resistance in One Dimension, Kenneth Paul Tan, page 167]

• Besides some genuine appreciation for the government’s achievements, tight media control, pre-election distributions (popularly known as ‘goodies’), a limited nine-day election campaign, and lingering fears from the past persecution of opposition politicians, explain what in other countries would be considered a respectable vote share for the government.
[Handbook of Emerging Economies, Robert E. Looney, page 222-223]

• In his budget of February 2006, several months before the General Election, PM Lee introduced a massive S$2.6 billion Progress Package that will pay every adult citizen in cash a ‘growth dividend’ of between S$200 and S$800 … Low-wage workers … would also get ‘workfare bonuses’ ranging from S$150 to S$1,200 each … These were in addition to the regular National Service bonus and CPF top-ups.
[Social Policy in Post-Industrial Singapore, Kwen Fee Lian and Chee-Kiong Tong, page 8]

• Election-eve government spending initiatives have also been undertaken by the ruling party (The Straits Times 16 Jun 2006) … However, the spending pattern, and express government statements about disbursements, make full use of the stick-and-carrot approach … On the eve of the 1997 election, the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong made statements that opposition-held estates risked eventually becoming slums, without the necessary government funding to upgrade the estates …This same carrot-and-stick was used again in the 2006 election (The Straits Times 5 May 2006, 29 Jun 2006). This attracted allegations that the PAP used state funds for party political purposes to obtain political and electoral advantage during the election, especially when such handouts were given extensive publicity by the media in Singapore.
The publicity surrounding the New Singapore Shares Scheme is an example of this extravagant media coverage. Three months before the 2001 election, the then Prime Minister Goh announced the New Singapore Shares Scheme (Business Times Singapore 20 August 2001). Under this scheme, Singaporeans were given between $200 and $1,700 worth of shares linked to accumulated government surpluses, wih the option of exchanging some of these for cash. The shares were available on 1 November 2001, two days before Polling Day (The Straits Times 13 October 2001) … At the very least, this seemed to take the form of using public money to project the government in a positive light (The Straits Times 13 October 2001).
This strategy was followed by the next Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. Prior to the 2006 general election there was an offer of a $2.6 billion ‘Progress Package’ to Singaporeans. The Budget was unveiled on 17 February 2006. Polling Day was on 6 May 2006.
Where the playing field has already been tilted in favour of the ruling party, however, it is questionable whether tying in estate upgrading priorities and election eve spending to the continued propagation of the ruling party might not raise ethical issues.
[Democracy, Media and Law in Malaysia and Singapore: A Space for Speech, Andrew T. Kenyon and Tim Marjoribanks and Amanda Whiting, page 168-169]

• Since 1997, the issue of estate upgrading has featured in every election as a campaign tactic by the PAP. As an incentive for voters to support the ruling party, he PAP has tied votes directly to the eligibility for Housing Development Board (HDB) estate upgrading plans. As then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong warned, “You vote for the other side, that means you reject the programmes of the PAP candidate … If you reject it, we respect your choice. Then you will be left behind, then in 20, 30 years’ time, the whole of Singapore will be bustling away, and your estate through your own choice will be left behind. They become slums. That’s my message”
[Management of Success: Singapore Revisited, Terence Chong, page 108]

Crediting the wrong person

June 27, 2014

I refer to the 3 Jun 2014 Straits Times report “Experts identify 45 ‘sacred’ heritage sites”.

Straits Times credited the identification of 45 sacred sites and buildings deemed worthy of conservation by heritage experts and architects to a suggestion by Professor Kishore Mahbubani in his 10 May 2014 Straits Times column “Prepare for a political crisis”. Straits Times also reported Professor Mahbubani quoting from Professor Joel Kotkin.

But Straits Times had already reported Professor Kotkin’s call to conserve lesser known historic buildings in its 9 Apr 2014 report “Retain more heritage buildings, key spaces”. Earlier still on 22 Mar 2014, Straits Times introduced Professor Kotkin’s working paper “What is a City For?” and reported nominated MP Janice Koh mentioning that paper in parliament.

Instead of crediting Professor Kotkin, the original caller for the conservation of such places or Janice Koh for taking the issue to the parliament, Straits Times ended up crediting Professor Mahbubani.

It is the same with Singapore’s post independence economy which followed the report “A Proposed Industrialization programme for Singapore” written by Dr Albert Winsemius and his team from the United Nations but people end up crediting LKY instead.

Unfair comparison between SIT and HDB

June 24, 2014

I refer to the 20 Jun 2014 Straits Times letter “HDB policies will change with the times” by Kammo Liu.

Ms Kammo made the common mistake of unfairly comparing the 23,000 housing units built by Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) over 32 years with the 54,000 units HDB built in 5 years.

Japanese Occupation and post war baby boom

The 32 years between 1927 and 1959 spanned the Japanese Occupation. Does Ms Kammo expect SIT to build homes during the Japanese Occupation? Surely the occupation years cannot be included in any comparison between SIT and HDB?

It is also not fair to compare SIT in the years immediately following the end of the war given the extensive war damage and disruption to the construction industry which will take time to restore. It is not fair because by the time HDB started in 1960, the nation had had 15 years to recover from the war versus none for SIT if we start comparing immediately after 1945.

• World War II halted the SIT’s functions and presented it afterwards with a truly formidable problem. At the end of the war, houses were destroyed or derelict but the population was on the increase and a baby boom was under way.
[Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley, page 18]

• The combination of low construction and war damage had resulted in a substantial housing shortage in the immediate post-war years.
[Squatters No More: Singapore Social Housing , For Third Urban Research Symposium: Land Development, Urban Policy and Poverty Reduction , 4-6 Apr 2005, Dr Belinda Yuen, NUS professor]

Different charter, different purpose

SIT wasn’t created to develop new houses like HDB was. SIT’s function was to renovate insanitary homes and to house those rendered homeless by its improvement programs, hence it’s named “Singapore Improvement” rather than “Housing Development”.

• When the SIT began its operations in 1927, it possessed only the power to lay out roads, back lanes, open spaces, and drainage, as well as prepare and implement improvement schemes. It did not have the power to zone, a severe impediment to the enactment of a master plan for the entire island.
[Flammable Cities: Urban Conflagration and the Making of the Modern World, Greg Bankoff and Uwe Lübken and Jordan Sand, page 311]

• There was an anomaly, which became glaringly obvious in the post-war years, in that the SIT was not sufficiently empowered by legislation to do the work it was expected to do. The SIT was formed in 1927 under an ordinance which allowed it to condemn insanitary houses and effect their renovation but not to build new houses. The SIT was given very limited power over housing, and was to build accommodation only for those who were made homeless by its improvement programme.
[Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley, page 18]

It wasn’t until after the war when the housing situation became dire that SIT took on the added role similar to HDB’s. So for fair comparison, only years after the war should be compared, it is not fair to judge SIT for what it wasn’t created for.

High rise

Since HDB’s success formula ultimately lies with building high and high rise flats only appeared after the war, the relevant comparison period should be after the war. It is not fair comparing a period where there are no high rise flats with a period where there are. UK’s first high rise flats appeared in 1948 while those in Singapore first appeared in 1951. A fairer comparison between SIT and HDB should be from 1951 onwards.

• It is worth nothing that the first ten-storey tower blocks in London had appeared only three years before, in 1948.
[Beyond Description: Singapore Space Historicity, Ryan Bishop & John Phillips & Wei-Wei Ye, page 56]

Comparing the years after 1951, SIT built 18,153 flats (Public Administration Singapore-Style, Jon S. T. Quah, page 60) between 1951 and 1959 or a rate of 2,017 flats per year, which is nearly three times that of 23,000 / 32 = 719 flats per year referred to by Ms Kammo. The figure of 2,017 flats per year is fairer to SIT and is a fifth of what the HDB achieved in its first five years – 1/5th, not 1/15th.

HDB benefitted from SIT’s experience

HDB inherited and benefited from SIT’s invaluable experiences, it spring boarded from SIT’s base and foundation, it did not start from scratch.

• The Singapore Improvement Trust … did provide the basis of a public housing bureaucracy with a valuable accumulation of experience, which could later be utilized by the Housing and Development Board. An illustration of this transition is the development of the first satellite town, Queenstown, which was originally planned by the Trust but was left to its successor to accomplish.
[The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in Singapore, Michael Hill and Kwen Fee Lian, page 114]

There was also an overlap of up to 19,372 units between the work of SIT and HDB in the development of Queenstown which is no small number compared to the number of flats HDB built in its early years. Although the majority of those units were built by the HDB, one cannot deny the fact that they were started by the SIT.

• Although the development of Queenstown was initiated by the SIT in 1952, the estate was subsequently completed by SIT’s successor, the Housing and Development Board (HDB), in the early 1970s. A major part of the town was developed during the first Five-Year Building Programme (1960–1965). Between the years 1952 and 1968, a total of 19,372 housing units were built in the area.
[HistorySG, an online resource guide – Development of Queenstown, Singapore’s first satellite town, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/history/events/ecd861b6-87eb-4f95-bfb9-4cc439cf44ea%5D

Different eras

It is also not completely fair to compare SIT and HDB because they belong to different eras, just as it is unfair to compare Singapore’s GDP during Goh Chok Tong era with Singapore’s GDP during Lee Hsien Loong era and concluding that the latter is better than the former. When measured against the standards of its own time, SIT’s performance had been commendable.

• The housing of 150,000 Singaporeans by the SIT had no parallel elsewhere in Asia. Straits Times, 2 Feb 1960
[Beyond Description: Singapore Space Historicity, Ryan Bishop and John Phillips and Wei-Wei Yeo, page 57]

• … He told the Straits Times: “I have never seen such wonderful blocks of flats … The S.I.T. flats, which he toured yesterday, “staggered him.” … “People in Liverpool where we consider ourselves to be in the forefront of town planning and slum clearance, would fight to get an S.I.T flat in one of the new blocks I saw to-day.
[The Straits Times, 10 June 1952, Page 5, He is all praise for SIT homes]

• The S.I.T should be congratulated for developing Queenstown into a beautiful estate which was once covered with shrubs and graveyards. Queenstown should now be considered a model housing estate for Singapore. It has the highest building, schools, markets, good roads and plenty of playing grounds for children and very good flats.
[The Straits Times, 8 September 1956, Page 12, A SLUM IN THE MAKING]

• One of its enduring achievements was the building of a new town at Tiong Bahru, intended to relieve the congestion in Chinatown. It housed 6,600 people and was to have been the first of a series of satellite towns.
[Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley, page 18]

• The SIT record shows that by the end of 1959, it had built 22,115 housing units, 904 shops, and twelve markets. Another solid achievement to its credit was the completion of the Master Plan. It is often commented that the performance of the SIT was unremarkable compared with that of its successor, the HDB. But the different conditions under which the two bodies worked should be taken into account.
[Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley, page 19]

Land Acquisition Act

Perhaps the most important difference between SIT and HDB was that the latter had access to abundant cheap land acquired through the Land Acquisitions Act whereas SIT had to haggle with property owners over land compensation.

• The work of the SIT was hampered by the greed of property owners, who demanded excessive sums as compensation for their condemned houses, and by the law which favoured the propertied classes. A scheme to improve ninety-four houses in Bugis Street involved the SIT in a protracted legal battle from 1933 to 1937 which went up to the Privy Council where a decision was given favouring the owners of the houses.
[Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley, page 18]

It should therefore come as no surprise to Ms Kammo that HDB was able to house 85% of Singaporeans after buying up nearly all the land in Singapore on the cheap.

Events like the Bukit Ho Swee fire of 1961 also helped clear slums to yield 60 hectares of precious land for housing.

Conclusion

The evaluation of SIT’s performance over 32 years is unfair because:

• The period spans the Japanese Occupation and doesn’t take into account extensive war time damage that required time to repair.

• It also fails to account for the fact that SIT’s per-war purpose wasn’t to build new homes but to improve existing insanitary homes. SIT shouldn’t be taken to task for what it wasn’t tasked for.

• HDB’s success lies with building high but high rise flats didn’t appear in Singapore until 1951. So at the very least, comparison should be after 1951 as it isn’t fair comparing a period where there are high rise flats with a period where there aren’t.

• SIT’s performance after 1951 was three times better than the often but unfairly quoted performance over 32 years.

• HDB could spring board from SIT’s wealth of experience, it didn’t start from scratch

• It is never entirely fair to compare the different eras to which SIT and HDB belonged. SIT did well when compared to its own time.

• HDB had plenty of cheap land acquired through the Land Acquisitions Act whereas SIT had to fight protracted legal battles over land compensation.

Racial harmony not due to PAP

June 22, 2014

I refer to the 5 Jun 2014 Straits Times letter “Striking a delicate balance” by Mr Kuek Jia Yao.

My Kuek attributes Singapore’s racial harmony to the success of post independence government policy. It is not. Singapore has had racial harmony between the two main races of Chinese and Malays throughout our hundred over years of colonial rule by the British. Racial conflict arose during our tumultuous years of marriage into Malaysia when the political conflict between Lee Kuan Yew and Tungku Abdul Rahman led to racial politics. The divorce between Lee Kuan Yew and Tungku Abdul Rahman in 1965 disentangled their political conflict and the racial politics involved. Racial peace gradually returned to us after that.

Similar to racial harmony is religious harmony which the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) has been promoting since its founding in 1949. The founding of the IRO predates the founding of the PAP so again it cannot be said that religious harmony was solely the work of the PAP.
[Straits Times, Religious harmony as envisioned 65 years ago, 5 Jun 2014]

I refer too to the 8 Jun 2014 Straits Times report “Use social media to fight extremism”.

Minister Heng Swee Kiat said that the voluntary Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) was supposedly ahead of its time when set up 11 years ago to rehabilitate radicalised individuals with extremist beliefs. But 11 years ago was 2003, two years after the 2001 world shaking, recession inducing Sept 11 Terrorist attack on America’s World Trade Centre. The Singapore Jemaah Islamiyah plan to bomb embassies was also uncovered in 2001. It would be more appropriate to say that RRG was set up in response to Singapore and global extremism rather than to say that it was set up ahead of its time.

Sample size of one hardly any better than biased samples

June 22, 2014

I refer to the 17 Jun 2014 Straits Times letter “Don’t take good govt for granted” by Mr Eugene Tan.

Mr Tan ridiculed Ms Catherine Lim for her silence on Singapore’s supposed near top ranking in Gallup’s 2013 Most Emotional Society survey when in the previous year Ms Lim attributed Singapore’s bottommost ranking in the 2012 edition of the same survey to authoritarian government policies. Mr Tan is wrong. Singapore came in 67th of 143 nations in the 2013 survey, putting Singapore at the 47th percentile, hardly the so called “appearing near the top of the list” as claimed by Mr Tan. Let’s repeat this to Mr Tan: 67th of 143 is far from, not near the top.

• Singapore came in 67th out of 143 countries in the “positive experience” index in the latest survey, which was carried out last year. The findings were released yesterday.
In the 2011 study, it was the least positive of 148 countries – its worst ranking since 2007, when it first took part in the study.
[Straits Times, Method behind the survey, 1 Oct 2013]

Mr Tan contrasted PAP’s low percentage votes of 61% and 65% respectively during the non-crisis years of 1992 and 1997 with its high percentage votes of 75.3% during the crisis year of 2001 to show that when it comes to the crunch, people trust PAP.

The following table shows that 2001 was the only year when a crisis year was also an election year. Hence, Mr Tan’s theory that crisis years means good election years for PAP has a miserable sample size of just one only, hardly sufficient for making anything out of.

Year PAP election vote percentage PAP leader Year Recession events
1968 86.7% Lee Kuan Yew
1972 70.4% Lee Kuan Yew
1976 74.1% Lee Kuan Yew
1980 77.7% Lee Kuan Yew
1984 64.8% Lee Kuan Yew
Lee Kuan Yew 1985 Singapore’s first ever recession
1988 63.2% Lee Kuan Yew
1991 61.0% Goh Chok Tong
1997 65.0% Goh Chok Tong
Goh Chok Tong 1998 Asian Financial Crisis
2001 75.3% Goh Chok Tong 2001 Sept 11 Terrorist attacks
2006 66.6% Lee Hsien Loong
Lee Hsien Loong 2009 Global Financial Crisis
2011 60.1% Lee Hsien Loong

While having the cheek to wax lyrical about the need to avoid sampling bias when quoting the opinion poll taken before the 1948 United States presidential election, Mr Tan ended up making a statement out of a sample size of just one only. Does Mr Tan not realize that using a sample size of only one is hardly any better than using biased samples?

Many issues with study hailing Singapore as best in class in public transport

June 18, 2014

On 2nd and 3rd of Jun 2014, Straits Times alerted Singaporeans to yet another international study, this time by Credo Business Consulting LLP and sponsored by Siemens AG Singapore, honoring Singapore for having the best transport network in its class in terms of annual cost of commuting.

It reminds us of another accolade, the Best Metro Asia Pacific award Singapore won for two consecutive years in 2009 and 2010 before the most catastrophic MRT disruptions in the history of our nation the following year in 2011. The sharp contrast between the glamour of 2009, 2010 and the sorry episode of 2011 should serve as a warning to all about the trustworthiness of such awards or studies.

Hong Kong has done better

Credo’s study shows that Hong Kong has done better than Singapore as far as metrics relevant to current public transport performance are concerned:

Credo metrics (higher means better) Hong Kong Singapore
M1 Current capacity & crowding 10 10
M4 User functionality 9 9
M5 Reliability & onboard quality 5 6
M6 Affordability 5.5 3
M10 Density of network 10 4
M11 Average commuting time 5 5
Overall 7.4 6.2

Yet Credo deems Singapore as having done better than Hong Kong presumably because Credo divides annual cost of commuting by per capita GDP. Singapore’s higher per capita GDP compared to Hong Kong’s will result in a lower annual cost of commuting for us despite our inferior metrics. Credo should consider dividing annual cost of commuting by wages instead to eliminate the unique problem in Singapore where per capita GDP is high but wages are low. As far as Singapore and Hong Kong are concerned, public transport is fully paid for by wages and so should be normalized by wages, not per capita GDP. Credo can introduce a different metric to reflect differences in fare box recovery across nations.

Affordability

Credo’s affordability metrics contradicts LTA’s 2013 average bus and MRT fares:

Credo affordability metric (higher is better) LTA average MRT fare (S$/pax trip) LTA average bus fare (S$/pax trip)
Hong Kong 5.5 $1.60 $1.20
Singapore 3 $0.90 $0.70
New York 5 $1.50 $1.30
Tokyo 5 $1.20 $1.60
London 1.5 $2.60 $0.90

Credo lists Hong Kong’s, New York’s and Tokyo’s fares as being more affordable than ours whereas LTA claims, year in year out, that Singapore has the cheapest fares amongst the five cities. This is despite Credo dividing fares by per capita GDP which tends to favor Singapore due to our high per capita GDP. Again for the same reason of fairness, Credo should consider dividing the affordability metric by wages instead.

LTA’s figures can be obtained by aggregating fare revenues for SBS and SMRT and then dividing by their combined ridership:

Revenue (million $) Ridership (millions) Fare ($)
SMRT bus $223.90 335.4
SBS bus $644.90 973.5
Total bus $868.80 1,308.90 $0.66
SMRT train $607.90 654.4
SBS train $148.10 175.6
Total train $756.00 830 $0.91

The average bus fare of $0.66 is lower than the minimum bus fare and obviously comprises lots of rebated fares, which means transfers from trains, from other buses, from SMRT to SBS and vice versa. Herein lies the problem with the LTA approach, it gives the average price for all part journeys that we make every day but it does not give the combined price of a complete journey from home to destination or vice versa. It doesn’t reflect our true fares.

Congestion and overcrowding

Like Hong Kong, Singapore scored a perfect 10 out of 10 for congestion and overcrowding. Credo calculated congestion and overcrowding by dividing public transport capacity by peak AM demand weighted by modal share (page 57 of preview report). An attempt to recalculate the figures using Credo’s methodology arrives at a completely different picture below:

Hong Kong Singapore
Current congestion and crowding (Credo) 10 10
Peak AM volume of commuters (Credo) 1,555,000 997,000
Train percent share (LTA) [1] 55% 41%
Peak AM volume of train commuters
(Peak AM volume × train % share)
853,975 406,185
Total train capacity (passengers / hour) [2] 599,200 147,000
Calculated train capacity / AM volume 70% 36%
Bus percent share (LTA) [1] 45% 59%
Peak AM volume of bus commuters
(Peak AM volume × bus % share)
701,025 590,815
Total bus capacity (Number of buses × seating capacity) [3] 766,630 347,400
Calculated bus capacity / AM volume 109% 59%
Calculated total capacity / AM volume 88% 50%
What the congestion ratios should be 10 5.6

The table above shows that if Hong Kong scores a perfect 10 for congestion and crowding, then comparatively, Singapore should have barely passed only. That would have greatly impacted our annual cost of commuting and our ranking in the Credo study.

Reliability and on-board quality

Credo used the reliability and on-board quality metric as proxy for waiting time when calculating cost of commuting (page 56 to 58). This metric considers age of fleet, service reliability, air conditioning and Wi-Fi connectivity.

• Credo didn’t take into account Singapore’s hub and spoke model of public transportation that forces most journeys into multiple part journeys that compounds and exacerbates our waiting time
• It is unfair to include air conditioning as a criterion because air conditioning is largely not required for the cooler climates of most Western nations which are tolerable even in summer given their lower humidity.
• The inclusion of Wi-Fi connectivity as a criterion is problematic because while our MRT stations may claim to have Wi-Fi connectivity, the connection breaks once we enter the tunnel. People can read books, play pre-installed games, watch pre-downloaded movies, pre-downloaded news on buses and trains and don’t have to rely on Wi-Fi.

Conclusion

Credo should divide annual cost of commuting and the affordability metric by wages instead of per capita GDP for better fairness. It can introduce a new metric to account for differences in fare box recovery across nations.

Credo’s study debunks LTA’s yearly statistics showing Singapore having the lowest fares amongst five cities.

Credo’s congestion and overcrowding metric for Singapore seems way off which may significantly impact our annual cost of commuting and ranking in the Credo study.

Credo’s classification of Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo as high density compact centres is problematic as other cities in the “well established” category may be no less dense or compact than them. Credo defines high density compact centres as:
• Modern cities that have experienced recent or ongoing expansion, with high population density centres. Transport networks may be less developed than in well-established cities.
It is not clear why Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo are considered less developed or not well-established.

Credo should have accounted for the fact that Singapore being smaller than many other cities will, all else being equal, have lower fares.

[1] Calculation of train percent share and bus percent share for Hong Kong and Singapore

Singapore trips / person / day Hong Kong trips / person / day
Train (from LTA’s Statistics in Brief 2013) 0.44 0.67
Bus (from LTA’s Statistics in Brief 2013) 0.64 0.55
Total 1.08 1.22
Train % 41% 55%
Bus % 59% 45%

[2] Calculation of total train capacity for Hong Kong and Singapore

Capacity per train arrival Interval between trains (seconds) Peak hour capacity (number passengers per hour)
North South line 1,400 120 42,000
East West line 1,400 120 42,000
North East line 1,400 120 42,000
Circle line 700 120 21,000
Total capacity 147,000

Data for Singapore trains
• A six-carriage train can carry about 1,400 commuters during peak hours, said SMRT rail strategic planning director Lui Weng Chee.
[Straits Times, Passenger capacity to increase up to 50%]
• This leads to gaps of at least 120 seconds between a train leaving and the next one entering the station.
[Straits Times, NEW SIGNALLING SYSTEM Work to ease congestion on busiest train lines]

Hong Kong train lines Peak hour capacity (number passengers per hour)
East Rail Line 101,000
Island Line 85,000
Kwun Tong Line 85,000
Ma On Shan Line 32,000
Tseung Kwan O Line 85,000
Tsuen Wan Line 85,000
Tung Chung Line 45,000
West Rail Line 64,000
Airport Express 6,400
Disneyland Resort Line 10,800
Total capacity 599,200

Data for Hong Kong trains
• Legislative Council Panel on Transport Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways, Capacity and Loading of MTR Trains, CB(1)980/13-14(03), Annex

[3] Calculation of total bus capacity for Hong Kong and Singapore

Singapore buses Number of buses Bus seating capacity Number of buses × seating capacity
SBS double decker buses 1,330 130 172,900
SBS single deck buses 1996 80 159,680
SMRT Bendy buses 114 130 14,820
SMRT single deck buses 1026 80 82,080
Total 4,466 347,400
Hong Kong buses Number of buses Bus seating capacity Number of buses × seating capacity
Double deckers 5,123 130 665,990
Single deckers 388 80 31,040
Minibuses 4,350 16 69,600
Total 766,630

Data for Singapore buses
• All 3,326 buses in our fleet are air-conditioned, with four in 10 being double decks.
[SBS annual report, page 4]
• Assumed 10% of SMRT buses are Bendy buses (welcome any information on this for update)

Data for Hong Kong buses
• Currently Hong Kong’s franchised bus network is made up of about 600 routes, operated under six franchises by five franchised bus companies with a total fleet of 5,511 licensed buses (at end of 2013), comprising 5,123 double-deck and 388 single-deck vehicles.
[http://www.hongkongextras.com/busservices.html]
• With a fleet of 3777 buses, mostly double-deckers, KMB is one of the largest road passenger transport operators in the southeast Asia.
[Information Services Department publication “Hong Kong: The Facts” dated Sept 2013]
• Public Light Buses (PLBs) are minibuses with not more than 16 seats. Their number is fixed at a maximum of 4350 vehicles.
[Information Services Department publication “Hong Kong: The Facts” dated Sept 2013]

Cockeye leading to supposedly parallel paths to independence

June 13, 2014

I refer to the 13 Jun 2014 Straits Times article “US and S’pore: Parallel paths on the road to independence” by Professor Peter A. Coclanis.

Professor Coclanis was far off the mark when he likened Singapore’s path to independence to America’s long and tortuous one.

• America had to go to war for its independence, Singapore on the hand, never fired a single shot for our independence. If professor Coclanis could refer to US’ peace treaty with Great Britain in 1783, surely he must know that Singapore had no such treaty with Great Britain?

• American independence leaders put their lives on the line for their people, Singapore’s leaders merely received independence without ever getting into harm’s way.

• American independence leaders wanted independence. Singapore leaders didn’t even want independence; we were kicked out of Malaysia.

• American independence leaders were either joyous or relieved when independence was finally won. For one Singapore leader it was a moment of anguish and an occasion for crying on national television.

The difference between American independence and Singapore independence is as different as day and night. The similarity that Professor Coclanis finds in Singapore’s independence situation and that of America’s reads more like fiction than fact.

Professor Coclanis’ claim that newly independent Singapore struggled to establish credibility in the international community holds no water:

• Singapore joined the United Nations just one month after independence

• The following year, in 1966, Singapore joined World Bank, IMF and the British Commonwealth

• Another year later in 1967, Singapore joined the newly formed ASEAN

The rapid inclusion of Singapore in all major international and regional organizations after independence suggests that Singapore did not struggle with credibility in the international community. Professor Coclanis might be interested to know that the Singapore flag had already been raised at the 1960 Rome Olympics when Tan Howe Liang won us our first ever Olympic medal.

Professor Coclanis’ characterization of post independent US as being surrounded by powers that are suspicious, potentially hostile and far stronger militarily than itself seems to give the impression that then Spanish colonized Mexico was all out to conquer the US. How could that be when Spain supported America during the Revolutionary war with weapons, supplies and even opened up a separate front against the British?

Professor Coclanis’ reminder of large government debts at America’s independence has no parallel in Singapore where our debt at independence was only 2.7% of our GDP then:

• its real GDP has increased … since independence – from approximately S$3 billion (US$964 million) in 1965 … Singapore’s foreign reserve has also grown consistently … the 1965 amount (approximately S$12 million) … The government’s financial situation changed from a deficit of S$80 million in 1965 …
[Population Policy and Reproduction in Singapore: Making Future Citizens, Shirley Sun Hsiao-Li, page 42]

Professor Coclanis wrongly characterized Singapore in the mid-1960s as being every bit as dire as US in the mid-1780s:

• Lee Kuan Yew himself had admitted to businessmen in Chicago that Singapore was already a metropolis in 1967. How could such grand boasting be consistent with a dire situation?

• Singapore’s 1965 per capita GDP of US$5,317 (Penn World Tables, average of output GDP and expenditure GDP) when adjusted for purchasing power parity already put us in the Upper Middle Income category of World Bank’s classification of countries. We were already at the cusp of becoming First World at independence. How could that be a dire situation?

• 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]

Professor Coclanis may have mixed up our 1965 unemployment rate with our 1959 unemployment rate when he claimed that Singapore’s 1965 unemployment rate was 14%.

• In 1959, the unemployment rate was estimated at 13.5%. It receded gradually but was still near 10% in 1965.
[The Singapore Economy Reconsidered, Lawrence B. Krause & Koh Ai Tee & Tsao Yuan Lee, page 5]

• As late as 1959, the unemployment rate was estimated at 13.5 percent.
[Singapore Tax Guide, Ibp Usa, USA International Business Publications, page 172]

Whatever the case may be, Professor Coclanis’ figure is a tad higher than most that can be found online:

• High unemployment rate, estimated at about 10 %
[MTI Insights 1965 – 1978, http://www.mti.gov.sg/MTIInsights/Pages/1965-%E2%80%93-1978.aspx%5D

• Data compiled by Fields (1984) show Singapore’s unemployment rate declined from 9.1 per cent in 1965 …
[Trade, Jobs and Wages, Hoon Hian Teck, page 7]

• First, the period of the mid-1960s was a period of conspicuously high unemployment rate for Singapore. Year-to-year variations show an unemployment rate that ranged between 8.1 and 8.6 per cent (Chew, 1986: 136).
[The Newly Industrializing Economies of East Asia, Anis Chowdhury, Iyanatul Islam]

• … unemployment rate of 12.3 per cent in 1965, newly independent Singapore …
[Domestic Political Structures and Regional Economic Co-operation, Harold A. Crouch, page 19]

Professor Coclanis could have explained how the post war baby boom led to a sharp increase in young adults seeking employment 20 years later.

Professor Coclanis’ characterization of our post independence neighbours as being powerful and deeply suspicious is problematic because:

Indonesia
• Just the month after our independence in September 1965, Indonesia experienced a coup and Singapore friendly Suharto took power while Singapore unfriendly Sukarno lost power. Lee Kuan Yew himself credited Suharto for providing 30 years of stability in the region. Professor Coclanis’ characterization of newly independent Singapore’s neighbourhood as being tough was thus inaccurate as Konfrontasi had effectively ended with Sukarno’s deposal by Suharto.

Malaysia
• The British were still around in 1965. They had 50,000 troops in Malaysia and 80 warships versus Malaysia’s own forces of 30,000 regular troops and 15,000 reserves. It was unlikely that the Malaysian military then was more powerful than the British who were there to keep peace. In any case, they had a common enemy which was the Malayan communists who never fired a single shot in Singapore.
[The Defence of Malaysia and Singapore: The Transformation of a Security System, 1957 – 1971, Chin Kin Wah, page 98]

• The same year that the British pulled out in 1971, Malaysia and Singapore were joined together in the Five Power Defense Pact which suggests cooperation rather than suspicion.

• British agreed to S$367 million (£50 million) of British loans and grants (for Singapore defense). Singapore would take over radar network and Bloodhound missiles from RAF. Singapore received 12 jet trainer aircraft the following year and a squadron of Hunter Mark 9 aircraft operationally ready by 1971. 6 fast patrol boats were ordered for the Navy.
[The Defence of Malaysia and Singapore: The Transformation of a Security System, 1957 – 1971, Chin Kin Wah, page 151]

• By 1971, Singapore has had 6 years of training by Israelis and 4 years worth of National Service. By 1970, Singapore had two brigades comprising one tank regiment, six infantry battalions and one artillery battalion. It also had a reserve brigade of three infantry battalions. Not at all toothless or powerless.

Professor Coclanis wrongly referred to Singapore’s leaders at independence as our founding fathers. The Cambridge dictionary refers to a founding father as someone who establishes an important organization or idea.

• In our case, Singapore isn’t just an idea but is a real physical organization that has existed since 1819; our leaders at independence cannot claim to have established it in 1965.

• A name change from State of Singapore to Republic of Singapore in 1965 also cannot qualify as an act of founding just as each name change from RTS to SBC to TCS to MediaCorp TV cannot qualify as an act of founding.

• Our independence in 1965 was akin to the break off of a subsidiary company from its parent company. There is no founding in so far as the new company is concerned, only a change in ownership. For example, Frasers Centrepoint Limited was demerged from the F&N Group in 2013. Do we say Frasers Centrepoint Limited was founded in 2013?

The title of founding father can also be an honour bestowed on individuals to whom the people of the nation owe the debt of their freedom and independence. Lee Kuan Yew himself said in his memoirs that we were already ¾ independent in 1959 and we achieved the last ¼ independence when we were kicked out of Malaysia in 1965. We neither owe our first ¾ independence in 1959 nor the last ¼ independence in 1965 to our leaders in 1965 because full internal self government in 1959 was the culmination of the work of mainly the Chinese educated, the Left Wing and the working class from 1945 to 1959 while 1965 was a gift from Tungku Abdul Rahman.

To be a founding father also entails that noble sacrifice of putting one’s life on the line to fight for the independence of one’s people, something our leaders at independence never did. Between Lee Kuan Yew who worked for the Japanese and Lim Bo Seng who died fighting them, who is more befitting of that noble title? We should not cheapen what it means to be a founding father by bestowing it onto someone unworthy.

Professor Coclanis wrongly attributed our thriving let alone survival to ways found by our leaders at independence when clearly, those ways were to be found in a report entitled “A Proposed Industrialization programme for Singapore” written by Dr Albert Winsemius and his team from the United Nations.

Professor Coclanis wrongly attributed our constitutional order as being the creation of our leaders at independence when the bulk of it was simply inherited from the British.

Professor Coclanis wrongly attributed the dampening of ethnic tensions to the work of our leaders at independence when Singapore never had ethnic tensions between the Chinese and Malay races throughout our colonial years until the years of power struggle between Lee Kuan Yew and Tungku Abdul Rahman. Dampening of ethnic tensions can be attributed to the divorce of Lee and Tungku which eliminated the source of that tension and allowed the former peace between the two races to gradually return over time.

Professor Coclanis didn’t seem to realize that the similar market friendly policies and capitalist development via property protection, transparency, probity, contract enforcement and rule of law were the similar products of English law and English institutions most notable of which are the free market principles of British economist Adam Smith.

While Singaporeans can agree with Professor Coclanis that we can take pride in having developed more quickly than the US, what is worth knowing is the Flying Geese theory of Industrialization referred to in Ezra Vogel’s book which Professor Coclanis either didn’t know or couldn’t care sharing. Britain, the first nation to industrialize took the longest to industrialize because there was no other country to learn from. Germany, France and later the US industrialized quicker because they could see what Britain was doing and so could skip re-learning what Britain had already learnt. Then later when Japan industrialized, it too learnt even quicker because it had even more experiences from more countries to learn from and could skip even more steps. Then when the four East Asian dragons of Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore came along, they learnt even faster based on the same flying geese theory of industrialization. Finally today, we have China growing at rates that surpass even those of the four East Asian dragons.

To conclude, it took a lot of imagination, truth bending and cock eye for Professor Coclanis to see so many parallels between American Independence and Singapore Independence.

Huge land, large population, natural resources not necessarily conducive for fast growth

June 12, 2014

I refer to the 4 Jun 2014 Straits Times report “From 50 sq km slum to green city in strife-torn Angola”.

Surbana Managing Director Mr Louis Tay shared at the World Cities Summit about how African leaders often asked him if their countries can develop in less than the 40 years it took Singapore. African leaders are misinformed. Singapore was already at the cusp of becoming First World when it turned independent in 1965 as our 1960 per capita GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity was already in the Upper Middle Income bracket by World Bank classification today. LKY himself told businessmen in Chicago in 1967 that we were already a metropolis (you can’t turn a fishing village into a metropolis in two years).

Mr Tay explained to his African friends that bigger, more populous Africa with oil, gas and diamonds should develop faster than small, low population, zero natural resource Singapore.

• Does Mr Tay not know that the percentage of small population economies (less than 10 million) achieving World Bank’s High Income status is almost double that of large population economies (more than 10 million)?

• Does Mr Tay not know that economies not dependent on natural resources (less than 5% of GDP) achieving World Bank’s High Income status is more than double that of economies dependent on natural resources (more than 5% of GDP)?

• Does Mr Tay not know that Singapore has a natural resource far more precious than oil, natural gas or diamond? Our priceless geographical location has been the foundation of our prosperity since our founding in 1819.

Mr Tay is thus wrong, large populous African nations will find their progress not as smooth or as quick as smaller more nimble populations having no natural resources.

Expectations not unrealistic

June 11, 2014

I refer to the 3 Jun 2014 Straits Times letter “Expectations need to be realistic” by Mr Benjamin Chow Kok Fai.

Mr Chow laments the political challenge of satisfying rising citizen expectations. No Mr Chow, expectations have not risen, standards have fallen instead. Did we ever have such massive, frequent MRT breakdowns? Did we ever have such pricey flats? When was the last time we had such large scale riots?

Mr Chow shares how his generation was grateful for just having a roof over the head and how they regarded taking a trishaw a luxury and retirement a foreigner’s indulgence.

• Singaporeans today are also asking for a flat which is no more than what Mr Chow’s generation had asked for.

• The earlier generation mostly commuted within the immediate neighbourhood. A person today may have to travel long distances from say Punggol to Tuas to work. Does Mr Chow expect today’s generation to commute such long distances on trishaw?

• Did Mr Chow see more old people cleaning tables when he was younger or is he seeing more old people cleaning tables now? Mr Chow only needs to refer to Singapore’s workforce participation rate and the relentless increase in retirement age to know that retirement is more difficult now than it was in the past.

Mr Chow wants Singaporeans to be thankful that Singapore’s provision of everything is more than sufficient to meet basic needs. In that case, what is the government ramping up flat building for? What is the government frantically improving land transport for? Singaporeans are not entitled to owning two flats so the additional flats cannot be for anything other than to meet basic needs. Singaporeans cannot be taking the same bus twice at the same time to go to work so again the additional transport capacity cannot be for anything other than to meet basic needs. So quite obviously, it is because basic needs are not being met that the government is frantically ramping up their provision.

Mr Chow points to living conditions in other countries. Which other countries Mr Chow, Switzerland?

Mr Chow claims that we demand more entitlements but have forgotten how our forefathers lived and how no one owes us a living.

• No Mr Chow, we remember how our forefathers lived because we lived with them as their children or grandchildren. We remember not having mobile phones. Do we thank PAP for mobile phones today? We remember not having computers or the Internet. Do we thank PAP for computers and internet today? We remember having bulky expensive televisions. Do we thank PAP for slim LCD televisions today? We remember consumer goods were expensive. Do we thank PAP for cheap China made products today? We also remember that the family could live on the salary of one parent but today we need both parents to work to sustain household expenses. We also remember watching World Cup for free but not anymore.

• While no one owed Mr Chow’s generation a living, no one restricted their means of making a living either. Mr Chow’s generation could choose to buy their own taxis to become their own bosses instead of working for taxi companies and paying exorbitant rentals. Mr Chow’s generation could choose to sell cooked food by the road side instead of paying exorbitant rental rates of food court stalls today.

Mr Chow wants us to be grateful for what we have before asking others to win us over. Mr Chow should try paying for today’s flat prices and today’s median household expenses with today’s median household income while saving up for ever increasing minimum sum before asking us to be grateful.