Archive for November, 2014

Refuting PM Lee

November 30, 2014

I refer to the 4 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “PM calls on S’pore to look outwards and to the future”.

Singaporeans not navel gazing

It is not Singaporeans who have given in to navel gazing. Instead, it is PM Lee who has gone riding on his high horse without checking his pants first. How many times must PM Lee get caught with his pants down before he would finally check his pants before charging off?

Surely the big picture PM Lee wants us to look at cannot be complete without the view from our own backyard?

Don’t repeat mistakes with handling high birth rates

Once upon a time, PM Lee’s father was over zealous with high birth rates and went into overdrive to kill them. PM Lee should learn from his father’s mistakes and not repeat them. Even as low birth rates cannot be wished away, there is no need to go into overdrive to correct them through artificial means like immigration. It may backfire like it did last time. Low birth rates could simply be a manifestation of poor underlying conditions. PM Lee should work hard to improve underlying conditions instead of just treating the symptoms which may worsen the underlying conditions.

Good jobs for Singaporeans

Instead of saying foreigner professionals have created good jobs for locals, why not list out 1,000 highest paid foreigner professionals (including permanent residents) employed by government or government linked companies and explain why no Singaporean can do their jobs equally well?

Joseph Schooling

The Joseph Schooling saga started with Joseph’s father posting a video in protest with being called an ang moh. This was reported by Straits Times on 28 Sept 2014 (My boy’s a true son of Singapore: Schooling Sr). A Google search of “Joseph Schooling” + “ang moh” – “kio” up to 27 Sept 2014 yields the following possible culprits:

Joseph Schooling allowed to defer NS till after Olympics 2016 … › … › Lifestyle › Eat-Drink-Man-Woman
Oct 21, 2013 – 15 posts – ‎13 authors
National swimmer Joseph Schooling — touted as a potential Olympic medial …. ang moh tua ki….. If chinese confirm need to go ns first one. eurasian != ang moh.

Can defer NS by two years now a days? WTF! – Sam’s Alfresco Coffee › … › The Courtyard Café
Oct 21, 2013 – 20 posts – ‎12 authors
KNNBCCB PAP :oIo: Singapore top swimmer Joseph Schooling granted National Service deferment Published on Oct 21, 2013 By … Ang Moh Gau is the best!

The rants are understandable considering they were in response to Joseph being granted NS deferment for 2 years which is an extremely rare privilege. But it should be clear by now that the deferment had been worthwhile because it yielded a true blue Singaporean gold medalist at Asia level with possibly even greater feats in years to come.

Communist and communalist falsehoods

PM Lee should stop spreading the so-called communist and communalist falsehoods. Two of Singapore’s greatest philanthropists Tan Kah Kee and Tan Lark Sye were labeled and persecuted as pro-communists but today both men have had their charges posthumously cleared. This shows just how frivolous the communist tag is. Singapore was the beacon of communal peace throughout our colonial years, communal violence erupted soon after PAP became in charge. So if there was anyone to be blamed for communalism, it would be PM Lee’s father, Lee Kuan Yew. Even Lee Kuan Yew’s good friends Toh Chin Chye and Lim Kim San think so too:

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

[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethinicity and the Nation-building Project, Michael D Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš, page 29-30]

… the political ambitions of PAP leaders led by Lee Kuan Yew created a situation that, if not arrested, might inevitably result in a serious Sino-Malay clash.

[Across the Causeway: A Multi-dimensional Study of Malaysia-Singapore Relations, Takashi Shiraishi, page 43]

He (Lee Kuan Yew) was subsequently taken to task in Malaysia for apparently questioning the status of Malays as the indigenous people of Malaysia, angering Malays and endangering the Chinese in Singapore. He was also accused of having aspirations to become Malaysia’s prime minister and of wanting special status for Singapore within Malaysia

[Chronicle of Singapore, 1959-2009: Fifty Years of Headline News, Peter H. L. Lim, page 74]

… Lee Kuan Yew’s own political ambition also contributed to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia.

[A History of South East Asia, Arthur Cotterell, page 346]

… Mr Lee is a highly is a highly ambitious man,” the Tunku told Malay leaders in 1966, “he feels Singapore is too small for his aspirations … he wants a bigger stage for his dictatorial performances. Mr Lee has become prouder since the outside world proclaimed him as a wise and clever man. But he is living in a dream world …

[Lee Kuan Yew: The Crucial Years, Alex Josey, page 42-43]

The so-called reinforcement of these false lessons in history is akin to the rewriting of history by the Japanese government to whitewash their World War II atrocities. PM Lee should stop behaving like his dishonest Japanese counterparts.

The rest

The place we have built today wasn’t accumulated over 50 years but accumulated over 195 years. The Botanical Gardens, the Clifford pier, Parliament House, City Hall, Empress Place, Victoria Concert Hall, Istana, Fort Canning, National Museum building, Singapore General Hospital, Kandang Kerbau Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, our police force, civil service, laws, port, Bukit Timah Road, Serangoon Road, all these certainly weren’t accumulated in just the last 50 years. PM Lee can be a bit more honest when attributing Singapore’s achievements.

How can Singaporeans take the ball and run when it is always guarded by the PAP? How can we win the game when PAP dictates the game?

Straits Times, PM calls on S’pore to look outwards and to the future, 4 Oct 2014

He outlines three principles to take country to the next stage

AGAINST the backdrop of major world events, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night warned Singaporeans against the dangers of being overly absorbed with internal issues to the detriment of preparing for the future.

Urging them not to give in to “navel-gazing”, he laid out three principles that have helped the country succeed and which would help it maintain its momentum.

These are: Looking outwards and staying plugged in to the world; staying true to good-hearted policies while not shying away from hard-headed realities; and taking heart from the past to embrace the future with confidence.

“We are now at an inflexion point, changing gears, changing pace,” Mr Lee said.

“We need not only to navigate the eddies and currents from moment to moment, but to keep in mind basic principles which will help us maintain our momentum, our direction, our purpose.”

Mr Lee was giving the National University of Singapore Society’s 60th anniversary lecture, titled “Singapore in Transition – the Next Phase”.

His comments come after more than two years in which Singapore has had to grapple with more urgent priorities in housing, public transport and medical care.

Acknowledging that these were understandable concerns, even as the Government is putting in place longer-term shifts for these policies, Mr Lee yesterday sought to refocus attention on the big picture and the world beyond Singapore.

“There are major changes in the Asian landscape which are having a big impact on us, more so because we are a small country,” he said, citing changes in Indonesia, India and China.

“Unless we understand what is happening… we can’t anticipate or respond properly to events.”

Mr Lee also acknowledged that while population and immigration policies had to take the heart into account and consider the social impact – and adjustments had been made – hard facts like low birth rates could not be wished away.

He touched especially on the issue of foreign professionals, managers and executives who compete with qualified Singaporeans for jobs, saying that while he could appreciate their concerns, the bigger picture was that allowing such professionals to come in created more good jobs for locals.

He warned against what he called the “real dangers” of anti-foreign sentiment, citing the latest outburst online against Eurasian Singaporean Asian Games medallist Joseph Schooling.

And in looking to the future, Mr Lee called on Singaporeans to understand the upheavals in their recent past. Citing the challenges from Communists and communalists in the 1950s and 1960s, he said: “The lessons of history need to be reinforced, because if we don’t remember them, we may not learn the hard-won lessons and we may fail to value what we have painstakingly built.”

Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence next year will also see memorials to victims of Konfrontasi and those who fought the Communists, he added. “But SG50 should also be a time to look ahead, to set new goals for the next half century, to see and be excited by the opportunities opening up,” he said.

During the lecture at the University Cultural Centre, Mr Lee also tackled questions from the floor. Professor Tommy Koh, the moderator, said some older Singaporeans in the audience had told him they did not think Singapore could replicate its success of the past 50 years, though he disagreed.

Replied Mr Lee: “We are small. We are successful, we can continue to be successful. But watch the world, have a good heart, but think very hard about what you are going to do, and have confidence in the future.

“You are young, you are living in an age with the amenities, with the knowledge, with the resources, with all the accumulated 50 years of effort which we have put in to build this place. Take it and run with the ball, win the game!”


Hypocritical for Singapore to rely on China for survival

November 29, 2014

I refer to the 27 Nov 2014 Straits Times letter “Does S’pore still need a great power to survive?”

Mr Yong is correct, not many people truly understand Singapore’s vulnerability, not even Mr Yong himself.

Geographically, Switzerland is somewhat sandwiched between France and Germany which fought three bitter wars between 1870 and 1940 (including the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 which gave birth to the German Empire). Culturally, Germans and French also form the two biggest ethnicities in Switzerland. It is remarkable that Switzerland didn’t become embroiled in those three wars despite being geographically and culturally close to the two warring nations. If Switzerland can maintain neutrality despite geographical and cultural connections, why can’t Singapore?

It is not correct to say that American influence in Asia Pacific is declining. America continues to have very strong presence in the Asia-Pacific with bases in Hawaii, Guam, Okinawa, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore and Darwin. Even though US forces in South Korea and Japan are being consolidated, those in Guam and Darwin are being expanded. US forces in Darwin will be closer to Singapore.

It would be strange for Singapore to rely on China for survival while hosting an American naval base. That would be like relying on a friend’s adversary for protection. It would be hypocritical too for the government to seek China’s help while continuing to label and persecute Singaporeans as Chinese chauvinists or pro-communists. Furthermore, would PM Lee have the cheek to seek China’s help after joking about Beijing’s free smoke from the window and free pork soup from the tap in front of their American adversaries?

Straits Times letter, Does S’pore still need a great power to survive?, 27 Nov 2014

NOT many people truly understand Singapore’s vulnerability.

When I did my postgraduate studies in Britain in the mid-1980s, I had an opportunity to interact with students from other Commonwealth countries.

We discussed the role of the colonial master, and I was teased when I said Singapore had urged the British government not to pull out its military forces prematurely in the late 1960s.

My classmates believed that nationalism should prevail over colonial affiliation. They did not understand that Singapore, which did not have the capacity to defend itself then, had to rely on a great power like Britain to survive.

Unlike Switzerland, the geographical, political and cultural set-up of Singapore does not warrant or permit us to pursue neutrality.

Now, we can defend ourselves as we have built up our own defence forces. We have also been cooperating militarily with the United States to strengthen our defence and security.

However, will American influence in the Asia-Pacific region continue to decline? Or will it bounce back and prevail?

It is premature to tell whether Singapore will need a great power like China to survive in future. Indeed, as I read the article (“Concrete moves to make Sino-S’pore defence ties stronger”; Nov 15), I wondered if Singapore could survive without one.

A realistic view is for Singapore to explore academic means to enhance military relationships with China.

The two countries can establish a research centre, perhaps called the Institute Of Sun Tzu’s Art Of War, to achieve this purpose.

Sun Tzu’s Art Of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise. Its strategies and tactics have influenced Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics and legal strategies, among other things.

The research centre would symbolise a new era of practical cooperation and face-to-face interactions between Singapore and China. It would also bring new ideas on how Singapore can manoeuvre militarily and diplomatically in this highly complex and uncertain world.

Paul Yong Teck Chong

Singapore not necessarily the safest country in the world

November 28, 2014

I refer to the 30 Aug 2014 Straits Times report “S’pore ‘must stay vigilant against violence’”.

Singapore is not the safest country in the world. The safest country in the world is Liechtenstein with zero murder rate.

But the Economist magazine discounted Liechtenstein because “its population could fit in a football stadium” (The Economist, Dicing with Death, 12 Apr 2014). But Liechtenstein’s small population is a double edged sword as a single murder will blow up the murder rate more so than it does in other more populous countries.

For example, Liechtenstein had a murder rate of 2.9 per 100,000, 2.8 per 100,000 and 2.8 per 100,000 for 2004, 2008 and 2010 respectively. It registered higher murder rates than Singapore in those three years all because of 1 murder in each of those three years.

Murder rates also fluctuate from year to year. In some years, Hong Kong and Japan murder rates are lower than Singapore’s, in other years, the reverse is true.

It is fairer to compare countries based on average murder rate. Judging by average murder rate from 2000 to 2012, the safest countries tend to be rich – either oil rich, Western or East Asian.

UNODC murder rate

Country/territory 2010 2011 2012 Average 2000 to 2012
Kuwait 0.4 0.40
Japan 0.4 0.3 0.48
Singapore 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.49
China, Hong Kong SAR 0.5 0.2 0.4 0.59
Iceland 0.6 0.9 0.3 0.65
Indonesia 0.4 0.6 0.6 0.65
Liechtenstein 2.8 0 0 0.65
Bahrain 0.9 0.5 0.66
United Arab Emirates 0.8 0.6 0.7 0.70
San Marino 0.7 0.70
Austria 0.6 0.8 0.9 0.71
Oman 1.1 0.74
Saudi Arabia 0.8 0.80
Switzerland 0.7 0.6 0.89
Denmark 0.8 0.8 0.8 0.89
Republic of Korea 0.9 0.90
Norway 0.6 2.2 0.91
Algeria 0.7 0.7 0.97
Germany 0.8 0.8 0.97
Sweden 1 0.9 0.7 0.98
Netherlands 0.9 0.9 0.9 1.03

Exceptions include Indonesia, with an average murder rate not significantly different from that of Singapore’s. Fandi Ahmad may have considered Indonesia’s low murder rate when he decided to retire in Batam instead of Malaysia.

Singapore’s high solution rate for murder is understandable given our low murder rate. All else being the same, a lower murder rate means less murder cases to investigate, means more resources can be devoted to solve those few murder cases.

Rape and sexual violence

However, when it comes to rape and sexual violence, Singapore’s average rate is higher than either Japan’s or Hong Kong’s.

UNODC rape rate

Country/territory 2010 2011 2012 Average 2003 to 2012
Egypt 0.12 0.13 0.08
Mozambique 0.27
Armenia 0.37 0.34 0.47 0.35
Azerbaijan 0.18 0.20 0.36
Yemen 0.61
Turkmenistan 0.67
Syrian Arab Republic 0.68
Tajikistan 0.75 0.55 0.70
Lebanon 0.72
Nepal 0.79
Guinea 0.92
Indonesia 0.91 0.81 0.72 0.95
Serbia 0.75 0.82 0.89 1.00
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1.20 0.91 1.07 1.00
Nigeria 1.05
Albania 0.76 0.70 0.76 1.08
State of Palestine 0.37 0.44 0.19 1.24
Montenegro 0.81 0.48 0.48 1.27
Algeria 0.82 0.77 2.01 1.29
United Arab Emirates 0.90 1.32
Japan 1.01 0.93 0.97 1.35
Maldives 1.38
Hong Kong 1.59 1.28 1.69 1.47
Canada 1.70 1.59 1.43 1.62
Qatar 1.74
India 1.84 1.75
Jordan 1.76
Greece 1.94 1.55 1.50 1.82
Ukraine 1.38 1.89
Sao Tome and Principe 1.12 1.64 1.94
Sierra Leone 1.96
Turkey 2.19
Macedonia 1.33 1.95 2.04 2.23
Georgia 1.87 2.37
Uganda 2.09 2.48
Hungary 2.46 1.96 1.92 2.55
Bahrain 2.61
Guatemala 2.62
Kenya 2.25 2.22 1.82 2.68
Rwanda 2.88 2.31 2.31 2.81
Cameroon 2.90
Singapore 3.23 2.89 2.51 2.91

UNODC sexual violence rate

Country/territory 2010 2011 2012 Average2003 to 2012
Sao Tome and Principe 0.00 0.00 0.00
Egypt 0.22 0.14 0.22
Yemen 0.26
Guinea 0.33
Syrian Arab Republic 0.39
Kyrgyzstan 1.02 0.44
Dominican Republic 0.52 0.52
Nigeria 1.09 0.84 1.03
Philippines 2.33 1.83 1.85 1.79
Indonesia 2.07 2.07
Armenia 2.77 2.40 3.54 2.15
United Arab Emirates 2.25 2.25
Guatemala 2.34
Albania 2.51 1.40 1.39 2.38
Kazakhstan 2.21 2.31 2.59 2.39
Azerbaijan 2.24 1.99 2.43
Tajikistan 2.58 2.57 2.46
Mozambique 3.18
State of Palestine 4.41 4.23 2.84 3.32
Bosnia and Herzegovina 3.82 4.35 3.63 3.84
Turkey 3.92
Georgia 3.76 3.98
Ukraine 2.93 4.04
Slovakia 3.55 4.30 2.64 4.29
Cote d’Ivoire 4.35
Serbia 5.11 4.50 4.03 4.63
Montenegro 5.81 4.03 3.86 5.57
India 6.03 5.91
Oman 6.10
Morocco 9.02 6.40
Macedonia 5.90 5.99 5.70 6.48
Belarus 6.73
Hungary 7.63 6.30 6.71 6.92
Greece 8.11 9.63 7.38 7.05
Romania 7.12
Burundi 7.57 6.96 7.33
Italy 7.95 7.60 7.70 7.35
Japan 6.53 6.33 6.68 7.56
Poland 8.11 7.93 7.26 8.33
Cyprus 7.16 6.90 6.11 9.15
Kenya 11.77 11.19 11.13 9.22
Algeria 10.24 10.29 3.41 9.70
Bulgaria 9.42 8.85 9.56 11.48
Sierra Leone 12.05
Russian Federation 10.98 11.61 12.31
Republic of Moldova 15.59 13.01 17.56 12.79
Mongolia 13.34 14.09 13.53
Croatia 13.07 12.97 11.89 13.77
Bahrain 14.86
Slovenia 18.25 15.13 12.77 15.01
Lithuania 19.26 18.76 16.75 15.19
Colombia 14.49 17.14 23.54 15.50
Kuwait 16.91
Czech Republic 17.16 19.66 18.58 17.55
Latvia 11.05 9.55 15.82 18.13
Malta 21.42 16.18 19.17 18.65
Portugal 20.83 20.59 20.12 19.10
Brazil 23.83 23.00 26.87 20.04
Spain 21.56 21.20 19.27 22.35
Austria 23.46 25.87 25.05 22.44
Hong Kong 26.04 25.45 26.06 24.38
Cape Verde 24.61 22.42 26.90 24.65
El Salvador 35.88 10.52 50.85 25.12
Guyana 18.70 37.55 35.20 25.18
Estonia 21.18 24.02 30.99 25.93
Argentina 26.78
Australia 28.35 25.04 27.91
Mexico 28.94 28.51 30.11 28.23
Bolivia 38.83 34.26 45.96 29.78
Singapore 31.09 29.78 29.28 30.02

The safeness of a country isn’t just a function of murder rate but depends too on rape rate, sexual violence rate and so on. Considering everything together, Singapore isn’t necessarily the safest country in the world. It is just one of many safe countries in the world.

Straits Times, S’pore ‘must stay vigilant against violence’, 30 Aug 2014

Singapore may be the safest country in the world, as recently noted by The Economist magazine, with few murders, nearly all of which are solved.

But in a Facebook post yesterday, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said it was also important for the country to remain vigilant, especially in the area of gang violence.

He highlighted a recent study of homicide trends here by two senior officers from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) – Mr Tai Wei Shyong, who is the chief prosecutor of the State Prosecution Division in the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and Ms Tang Gek Hsien, an assistant director of MHA’s Joint Operations Division.

They studied figures from 1955 to 2011 and found that homicide rates have steadily decreased since the 1950s, as the population grew more prosperous and educated, among other reasons. But the study also noted that in recent years, there has been group violence in Singapore between male gangs which has led to deaths, Mr Shanmugam pointed out.

“They wisely warned that it was important for us, from a policy perspective, not to assume that historical murder rates will not rise again, if there are changes in our social structures and norms,” wrote the minister. “We need to watch out for emerging sub-cultures of violence among socially disenfranchised groups.”

Referring to The Economist article published in April, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore had 11 murders in 2012 – one for every 480,000 people. He contrasted this with Honduras, “the world’s most violent country”, where one in every 1,100 was killed.

He added that Singapore also had a high solutions rate for murder – about 90 per cent, against the global rate of 43 per cent.

Singapore Institute of Directors’ meaningless findings

November 27, 2014

I refer to the Straits Times reports:

• Busier is better for board directors, 5 Nov 2014
• Gaps in ‘busy directors’ study, 8 Nov 2014
• No claim of ‘busy’ board directors as role models, 18 Nov 2014

The Singapore Institute of Directors’ supposedly remarkable finding that directors with more board seats achieved better board meeting attendances is not only unremarkable but meaningless without controlling for other factors.

This was pointed out by Dr Mak Yuen Teen who suggested that those with better attendances could have had less board meetings to attend.

This was in turn refuted by Singapore Institute of Directors which explained that directors with six or more directorships attended more meetings per board seat than directors with just one directorship.

But Singapore Institute of Directors also revealed that the majority of directors with six of more directorships didn’t have any disclosed executive positions whereas 75% of directors with just one directorship have executive positions.

Herein lies a possible difference between directors with six or more directorships and directors with single directorships that wasn’t controlled for – executive position. An executive position or lack thereof can make a big difference to a director’s ability to juggle multiple directorships. Without controlling for this important difference, Singapore Institute of Director’s conclusion is essentially meaningless.

Straits Times, Busier is better for board directors, 5 Nov 2014

Those with many board places attend more meetings, study finds

The common belief that directors sitting on the boards of several firms are so stretched that they have poor attendance records has been undermined by a new study.

It found that that people with more board places were better at showing up at meetings than those with fewer seats.

The Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) and the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (Isca) looked at 3,670 directors across 717 Singapore-listed firms. The figures were taken as at the end of last year.

The study assessed how many directors attended more than 75 per cent of their company’s board meetings. It found that 81 per cent of directors who had only one board seat achieved that attendance threshold.

That figure jumped to 91 per cent for directors who held two to four board seats, and rose to 95 per cent for those on five to seven boards.

But its most remarkable discovery was that 100 per cent of people with eight to 10 directorships turned up for more than 75 per cent of board meetings.

That finding was “surprising”, said SID vice-president Adrian Chan as he presented the results at the Carlton Hotel yesterday morning.

Mr Chan, who is also a corporate lawyer, said it signals that multiple directors in Singapore do take their jobs seriously.

However, there were fewer such multiple-seat directors to begin with, as more than 82 per cent of directors sat on only one board.

The highest number of independent directorships held by one person has also fallen – from 12 seats a few years ago to nine seats as at the end of last year.

The study results add another data point to the debate over the thorny issue of multiple directorships, which has been going on for several years.

Some industry watchers have said sitting on many boards can leave a director with too little time to properly discharge his duties, while others argue that multiple board seats can help a director gain more connections and exposure that may benefit all the boards he is on.

The study also looked at gender diversity, disclosure of director salaries and whether a board chairman is independent.

Mr Chan said boards of listed firms could improve their gender diversity and their disclosure of how much directors are paid.

The gender imbalance of board here remains severe. A survey earlier this year found that women held just 8.3 per cent of board seats in Singapore-listed firms, lower than in countries such as Australia, Britain, China and Malaysia.

SID and Isca’s study produced a similar single-digit result, finding that only 9.7 per cent of board directors were women.

The figures differed as men held more multiple directorships than women, Mr Chan noted.
The percentage of female independent directors was even lower, at 5.9 per cent, while 56 per cent of boards have no women at all.

Firms were also reluctant to disclose how much they paid their directors. Only 31 per cent disclosed the precise remuneration of directors although the code of corporate governance now demands it, SID and Isca noted.

The lack of independent chairmen was another issue. Only 18 per cent of boards had chairmen who were independent directors.

The directors in the study were from Singapore Exchange main-board-listed firms, Catalist-listed firms, business trusts and real estate investment trusts.

Straits Times, Gaps in ‘busy directors’ study, 8 Nov 2014

THE report “Busier is better for board directors” (Wednesday) seems to suggest that busy directors are somehow role models for other directors.

This is based on a study which showed that those who sit on more boards have higher qualifications and better attendance at board meetings.

There are alternative explanations for these findings.

In the case of attendance at board meetings, the study failed to set a control for the number of board meetings. Therefore, hypothetically, if a board met only once and a director attended this one meeting, the attendance would be 100 per cent.

It is possible that boards with busy directors have fewer board meetings – precisely because the directors are busy.

The study also fails to take into account situations where a director arrives late and/or leaves early, or directors who call in to participate in part of the meeting, which then constitutes “attendance”. Board meetings can also vary considerably in duration and substance. There are also issues of attendance at committee meetings and shareholders’ meetings.

More importantly, there is much more to a director’s responsibilities than just attending meetings.

A responsible director would be thoroughly prepared for meetings, be available to participate in discussions and decision-making between meetings, be available for major company events, undergo ongoing professional education, and make site visits as required – just to name a few things.

Are busy directors able to do all these things as well as less busy directors? Are busy directors more likely to be “fair weather” directors who resign when the company is in financial strife because they are too busy to give the company the necessary attention in its time of need? We should not jump to conclusions on the basis of possibly spurious findings.

Mak Yuen Teen (Associate Professor)

Straits Times, No claim of ‘busy’ board directors as role models, 18 Nov 2014

WE THANK Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen for his feedback on the Singapore Directorship Report (“Gaps in ‘busy directors’ study”; Nov 8).

He made a fair assertion that we should be extremely cautious about making busy directors role models, by linking “busyness” with better attendance and qualifications. We note that he had, on previous occasions, raised concerns about multiple directorships. We share his concerns in general. Hence, we did not make the assertion of these directors being role models.

We are similarly cautious in drawing any conclusion that directors with multiple board seats are prone to or display certain behavioural traits, such as arriving late for and/or leaving early from board meetings, being not well prepared for such meetings, or being “fair-weather” directors who resign when the company is in financial strife.

Such behaviour could be equally applicable to any individual director, including single-seat ones. And how busy a director is would also depend on his commitments in general, in addition to holding multiple directorships.

Overall, how well a director performs or meaningfully contributes to the board very much depends on the individual, in particular his commitment, experience and professionalism. It is incumbent upon the nominating committee to take this into consideration for the appointment or re-appointment of directors to the board.

Based on the report findings, we had presented that multiple directorships do not seem to be as major a problem as is commonly perceived.

Beyond having higher qualifications and better attendance at board meetings in general, our data further showed the following for directors holding multiple board seats, in particular those with six or more seats:

These directors attended more meetings per board seat held than those holding single seats, suggesting they did not sit on a large number of boards that held a small number of meetings annually.
The majority of these directors did not have any disclosed current executive position held, compared with a fourth of single-seat directors.
These directors also seemed to have better practical experience, with a majority disclosing having had finance experience at senior management level, compared with a fifth of single-seat directors.
Further analysis of the 31 individuals who held six or more board seats indicated that they tended to be individuals who were well-respected in their respective fields, had strong experience as board directors, and were likely able to effectively contribute to the boards they sat on.

Adrian Chan
First Vice-Chairman
Singapore Institute of Directors

R. Dhinakaran
Vice-President, Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants
and Chairman of ISCA Corporate Governance Committee

Semakau not the only world prettiest landfill

November 26, 2014

I refer to the 29 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Semakau landfill to get green power grid” describing Pulau Semakau as the “world’s prettiest landfill”.

The following are former landfills from other parts of the world that are arguably prettier than our world’s prettiest landfill:

Harborside International Golf Center in Chicago

Tifft Nature Reserve in Buffalo, N.Y.

Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California

Overpeck Creek in Bergen County, N.J.

Semakau’s 1MW solar power will also be dwarfed by the 10MW solar power in a New York City landfill:

Other pretty landfills:

Straits Times, Semakau landfill to get green power grid, 29 Oct 2014

THE world’s prettiest landfill will soon become greener.

Singapore will start building a power grid at the lush Semakau Landfill next year, to show how renewable energy from the sea, sun and wind can be combined with other technologies to provide a stable source of electricity.

The hybrid micro-grid is the first in the region and is believed to be the largest in the tropics.

It will produce about 1MW of power for a start, which will be used on Semakau. That amount of power is enough for small islands and villages, and can act as an emergency power supply for cities.

In Singapore, it would be enough to power about 250 four-room Housing Board flats.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office S. Iswaran announced the project yesterday at the opening of the inaugural Asia Clean Energy Summit, which is part of this year’s Singapore International Energy Week.

He said the project could allow Singapore and its partners to provide electricity to island communities and remote villages. The research could also be used to improve cities’ power grids.

“All of these are acute needs in Asia… and Singapore aims to play a meaningful role in Asia’s clean- energy journey despite our geographical limitations,” said Mr Iswaran, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will invest a total of $8 million in the grid infrastructure, and the project is expected to attract some $20 million in investments from clean-technology companies in the next five years.

NTU will build the grid and develop the technologies with 10 multinational companies, for a start. These include some of the world’s biggest renewable-energy players, such as Vestas, the world’s largest manufacturer and installer of wind turbines.

The National Environment Agency and the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore will also support the project.

The grid will use energy storage systems and algorithms to tackle renewable energy’s traditional limitations. Sunlight is needed to produce solar power, for instance, but storage systems can store the power for later use.

Professor Hans Puttgen, senior director at NTU’s Energy Research Institute, said that a key research area will be technology that converts power to fuel.

One method uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide, and the two gases are converted to methane, which is then fed into a natural gas power grid. This also helps to reduce carbon dioxide’s impact on the environment.

EDB executive director of clean technologies Goh Chee Kiong said such power-to-gas technology “is a very exciting frontier for a lot of major companies today”, and that the Singapore project could catalyse research here in the field.

Prof Puttgen said that the work will evolve as new technologies and partners come on board.

“It will never be finished, and it has been designed to be that way,” he said.

Minister Chan Chun Sing’s common Singaporean future

November 25, 2014

I refer to the 23 Nov 2014 Straits Times report “Base S’pore identity on common future: Minister”.

If Minister Chan Chun Sing will not base the Singaporean identity on the past due to difficulty of defining a shared past, can he then define what that supposed “common future” should be that our Singaporean identity will be based on?

Will our common future be $10 XO source chai tau kway or $1.50 hawker centre chai tau kway? The future will be bleak if Singaporeans are forced to keep up with $10 XO source chai tau kway cost of living. Can Singaporeans revert to $1.50 cheap and delicious hawker centre chai tau kway cost of living?

Or will it be kuih lapis social assistance (Straits Times, Tackling poverty the ‘kuih lapis’ way, 15 Nov 2013)? How many layers of kuih lapis must Singaporeans peel before reaching the poverty line? Or peel all 18 layers also won’t see the poverty line?

Or will it be asking less of what the Government can do for us, and more of what we can do for ourselves” (Straits Times, ‘Don’t throw stones… offer better ideas’, 3 Jul 2011)? So in future, Singaporeans have to fry our own chai tau kway even though we have already paid $10 to our XO source chai tau kway ministers?

Or will it be government discussing issues more and people understanding it is not always possible to have what we want (Straits Times, Lesson in love for country during tough times, 15 Apr 2011)? So in future, government say kee chiu, we kee chiu?

The common future exemplified by Minister Chan looks bleak.

Straits Times, Base S’pore identity on common future: Minister, 23 Nov 2014

Identity is not just about the past but our “common future”, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing told a youth forum yesterday.

He said a Singaporean identity is difficult to define based on a shared past as many in the population have different roots, grew up in different environments and speak different languages.

Instead, the Singaporean identity should be based on a common future which the Republic can move towards with a shared perspective.

“While we look at the past to find a source of strength for our values, we must not let our past be a source of division,” he said.

“Instead, we should let the future be a unifying force for us.”

Mr Chan was addressing 300 local and foreign tertiary students at the Institute of Technical Education College East on embracing diversity.

The event was organised by the National Youth Achievement Award Gold Award Holders’ Alumni.

Some students raised concerns about competition from foreigners in the job market, while others asked about their assimilation into society.

Mr Chan explained that there is a need for foreign transient workers for jobs which cannot be filled by Singaporeans as well as for those in new industries where there is still a lack of local talent.

But he said the Government has tightened the labour demand in certain sectors to ensure that companies do not become reliant on “quantitative labour inputs but qualitative labour inputs”.

“Over time, we hope to progressively replace the dependence on foreign transient workers (in the newer industries) with our local people,” he said.

Mr Chan also said it is a way of life for cities to have populations consisting of people from many different races as they compete for the best talent.

But instead of viewing it negatively, he urged Singaporeans to embrace the opportunity to learn from foreigners.

He added: “They can share different perspectives and provide new ideas. The interplay of those ideas with our ideas will help Singapore stand out as a global city.”

Singapore is a father deprived country

November 24, 2014

I refer to the 19 Nov 2014 Straits Times report “Honoured for contributing to S’pore-China ties”.

Singapore is a father deprived and father crazed country. Everything must have father. Liu Thai Ker is now our latest “father of urban planning” even though Liu was hardly involved in any of Singapore’s earliest urban planning milestones.

Singapore’s first urban planning milestone was the Jackson Plan for the Town of Singapore in 1822. Liu’s grandfather wasn’t even born yet.

Singapore’s second urban planning milestone was the 1958 Master Plan. Liu was still studying in Australia then.

Singapore’s third urban planning milestone and our first post independence was the 1971 Concept Plan. Liu had barely joined the HDB for two years then. In any case, Concept Plan 1971 was produced by a team from the United Nations. It would be nearly 20 years later before Liu became involved in Concept Plan 1991.

Singapore planning milestones Liu Thai Ker career
Jackson Plan of the Town of Singapore, 1822
Master Plan 1958
1969 : Joined HDB as Head of Design and Research Section
Concept Plan 1971
1975 : Chief Architect, HDB
1976 : Deputy CEO, HDB
Master Plan 1980 1979 – 1989 : CEO, HDB
Concept Plan 1991 1989 – 1992 : CEO and Chief Planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
Concept Plan 2001
Master Plan 2003
Master Plan 2008
Concept Plan 2011
Master Plan 2014

Singapore’s Concept Plan 1971 was the work of Mr Henry Wardlaw and his team from the United Nations Development Programme Urban Development and Renewal Project for Singapore between 1967 and 1971 (Centre for Liveable Cities interview with Henry and Bridget Wardlaw on 18 Oct 2013).

Mr Wardlaw credited then HDB CEO Mr Howe Yoon Chong and then Minister of National Development Mr Eddie Barker as key figures who pushed the project through.

One of Singapore’s coordinators for that programme was ex-president Ong Teng Cheong (The Pioneer Club, Service to nation before self,

The persons most involved in Concept Plan 1971 were thus Mr Henry Wardlaw and his Urban Development and Renewal Project team, Mr Howe Yoon Chong, Mr Eddie Barker and Mr Ong Teng Cheong.

Most of what Liu did was subsequent to the creation of Concept Plan 1971. It is thus more appropriate to call Liu the son of Singapore urban planning than the father of it.

Throughout the 1970s, the URA’s work centred around implementing the first Concept Plan, which had been developed in 1971 with the help of the United Nations. The Concept Plan covered many areas, from population growth to town planning, road planning and transport systems, and the port and airport. It was a huge, multi-agency effort coordinated by the Ministry of National Development (MND).

“The Concept Plan required a lot of additional detailed and specific information for the purpose of implementation,” recalls Liu Thai Ker, who headed the HDB and then the URA from the 1970s to the 1990s and is today known as the architect of urban Singapore for his work on public housing. From large-scale land development agencies like HDB and the Jurong Town Corporation, to water management agencies like the Public Utilities Board (PUB), each agency had to provide its plans to the MND in detail and declare their land use needs for incorporation into the Concept Plan.

[The Business Times, Building A Nation: The Early Years, 29 Jul 2014]

It is also inappropriate to regard Liu as the architect of urban Singapore when Liu was just one of many architects and for much of his career was involved in only a subset of Singapore urban planning – HDB estate planning.

Honoring contributions to S’pore-China ties

Isn’t it ironic that Tan Kah Kee who built schools and universities in China was banished for having pro-Chinese Communist Party sympathies whereas Singapore now honors those who contribute to S’pore-China ties?

Isn’t it ironic too that Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) is now being honored for contributing to S’pore-China ties whereas previously it was being persecuted by the PAP?

PAP set about neutralising Chinese schools, which were powerful auxiliaries to labour unions and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce which is the major funding and controlling body for Chinese education in a bid to control education

PAP quite often levelled the charge of “chauvinism” on prominent businessmen of the SCCC to destroy them.

[Carl A. Trocki, Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control”, page 150]

Lee Kuan Yew wrote: We had decided to make an example of prominent figures who had acted as front men for the communists, believing that their wealth and standing in the Chinese-speaking community gave them immunity. Number one on the list was Tan Lark Sye, then honorary president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the founder of Nanyang University.

[The Business of Politics and Ethnicity: A History of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sikko Visscher, page 155]

Straits Times, Honoured for contributing to S’pore-China ties, 19 Nov 2014

A prominent master planner-architect, a singer-songwriter and a local business chamber have all been honoured for contributing to Singapore-China ties.
Now in its fifth year, the Business China awards were jointly presented by Business China and OCBC Bank at a gala dinner at the Shangri-La Singapore last night to recognise businessmen, professionals and organisations.
The Business China Excellence award went to Dr Liu Thai Ker, Singapore’s “father of urban planning” who has shared Singapore’s urban development experience with China since the 1980s. He is also a planning adviser to more than 30 cities in China.
“I believe this is the first time they have given the award to a professional, instead of a businessman or entrepreneur. I’m more than happy to be recognised for my contributions to bring China and Singapore together through my profession.
This award won’t go unnoticed by Singapore and Chinese developers and government officials. I hope I will continue to have inquiries from these people to help them with projects in China,” Dr Liu, 76, told The Straits Times.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean described Dr Liu as a “front runner” in helping deepen collaboration in services between the two countries.
“In the first half of 2014, Singapore had become China’s third largest foreign trading partner for trade in services.
As we develop higher value-added services in areas including urban solutions, logistics and information and communications technology, our companies can seize opportunities in these areas, and create a ‘win-win’ situation for both countries,” Mr Teo said at the awards.
The Business China Young Achiever award went to JJ Lin, 33, an influential figure in the Chinese pop music scene.
Mr Teo said he hopes the success and popularity of Mr Lin will “inspire many more of our young people to learn the language well, and to spark off more such modern cultural exchanges between our young people”.
The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI), which won the Business China Enterprise award, has helped Singapore businesses by tapping its extensive networks in China.
For instance, the International Enterprise-SCCCI Singapore Enterprise Centre in Shanghai provides a one-stop service centre to help Singapore’s small and medium-sized enterprises develop market contacts, competencies and knowledge in China, Mr Teo said.
Business China was set up in 2007 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s father, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao to create a network for Singaporeans who can connect to China economically and culturally.

Singapore’s much vaunted ERP system is a dud

November 23, 2014

I refer to the 10 Sept 2014 Straits Times report “When ERP rates rise, traffic speed goes up too”.

Minister of State Josephine Teo reportedly said that car speeds rose 7% per dollar increase in electronic road pricing (ERP). But that one dollar increase is how many percent? The most common ERP rates are $0.50, $1, $1.50 and $2. Let’s say the average ERP rate is $1.25. An increase of $1 over $1.25 is 80% increase. 80% increase in ERP rate in return for a measly 7% increase in car speeds shows just how sorely ineffectively ERP is as a means of traffic congestion control. Singapore’s much vaunted traffic congestion system turns out to be quite unspectacular after all. It doesn’t reduce congestion but merely transfers congestion from one road to another road and ceases to be effective when all roads lead to congestion.

If the optimum speed on arterial roads is 20 km/h to 30 km/hr, then might as well replace cars with electric bicycles or electric scooters?

Straits Times, When ERP rates rise, traffic speed goes up too, 10 Sept 2014
Speeds rise an average of 7% per dollar increase, says Josephine Teo

MORE than three-quarters of Singapore’s 74 electronic road pricing (ERP) gantries have not had their rates changed in the last three years, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said in Parliament yesterday.
Of those that saw changes, only eight showed a discernible upward trend in rates, she added.
But it reduced congestion: Speeds rose an average of 7 per cent per dollar increase, she noted of the eight gantries.
“As for the majority of the gantries which did not need a rate change… a balance has been achieved, with the ERP rate sustaining a traffic speed in the optimal range,” she said.
Mrs Teo gave these figures when replying to Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), who had asked for proof that the ERP system was effective.
She said: “The effectiveness of ERP… is not evidenced by the number of gantries that see rate changes, but from the changes in traffic speeds that result from each rate change.”
Mr Baey also asked if rate revisions – which are made quarterly – had made it too daunting for motorists to remember the prevailing charges on the road.
Mrs Teo said rates are changed only when average speeds fall outside the “optimal range”. The optimal range for expressways is 45kmh to 65kmh, and for arterial roads, 20kmh to 30kmh.
But she acknowledged that rate changes may elude motorists.
“Speaking as a motorist myself, I have to confess that it is probably true of many motorists that even when rate changes are announced in advance through the media, we don’t always pay attention,” she said.
“Very often, we pay attention when our in-vehicle unit goes beep and we look at the number and it looks different from the last time we were on the road.”
It is then that drivers decide whether to change their travelling patterns. Some may still feel the time saved is worth the higher rates, she said.
“But each time there is a rate change, we do notice that there are certain drivers who have changed their travelling pattern.”
Mrs Teo said the satellite-based ERP system, which the Land Transport Authority is working on, will be a “fairer” system.
Likely to be in place by 2020, the system offers “the flexibility of charging drivers according to the distance they travel”.
“This is an inherently fairer system as those who contribute more to congestion will pay more,” Mrs Teo said.
“The incentive for these drivers to change their time, route or mode of travel would thus be stronger.”

Comments on Ho Kwong Ping’s speech

November 22, 2014

I refer to the 21 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Can PAP stay dominant? A daunting task, says Ho Kwon Ping” and “The next 50 years in Singapore politics”.

Mistaken view that Singapore success is due solely to PAP

Mr Ho Kwong Ping takes a mistakenly narrow view of Singapore’s success story when he attributes Singapore’s consistent economic growth solely to PAP without acknowledging the great many non-PAP factors critical to our success:

• PAP legend Dr Goh Keng Swee wrote of four factors critical to our success – excellent geographical location, Victorian institutions of free trade and free enterprise, the rapid development of our neighbors and adaptability honed over 100 years by our colonial government.

• The economic blueprint that our economic growth was based on was written by Dr Albert Winsemius and his team from the United Nations.

• PAP inherited one of the most prosperous and well functioning of British colonies that boasted the third highest per capita GDP in Asia then after adjusting for purchasing power parity (Penn World tables) which put us in middle income status by World Bank standards today.

• PAP legend Dr Goh Keng Swee also wrote of the Cultural Revolution scaring investors away from South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong and leading them to Singapore.

Mistaken view that economic growth is broad based

Mr Ho takes the mistaken view that Singapore economic growth has been broad based. Over the past 50 years, Singapore has been consistently one of three most unequal societies amongst First World economies alongside the United States and Hong Kong. Mr Ho’s placing Singapore top most amongst newly independent states on the basis of broad based economic growth is therefore invalid. Given the consistently lower GINIs of South Korea and Taiwan, the title of Number 1 amongst newly independent states has to go to either South Korea or Taiwan.

PAP’s supposed incorruptibility is self-deceiving at best when seen from the perspective of million dollar minister salaries.

Mistake to equate Singapore governance to ascetic personal lifestyle

Mr Ho is mistaken to equate Singapore governance to ascetic personal lifestyle. Has he forgotten how Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment Mr Tan Yong Soon splurged S$46,000 on a family cooking course at Le Cordon Bleu cookery school in Paris in 2009 just when many Singaporeans were still suffering from the recession brought about by the Global Financial Crisis?

Mistake to advocate power and dominance

Mr Ho shouldn’t have advocated for any political party to remain in power or to maintain dominance but to advocate doing good for the people instead. Mr Ho is after all a Singaporean first and a PAP supporter second. He should have advocated that nation comes before party.

PAP’s long rule through underhanded methods

Mr Ho should recognize that Mexico’s ruling party’s long rule is without the underhanded methods employed by the PAP. How can any First World political party have the cheek to face the world for employing North Korean methods of power entrenchment?

Wrong concept of Singapore age and founding generation

Mr Ho has the wrong concept of Singapore’s age. Although Singapore independence is only 49 years old, Singapore itself is no longer young. We have been around since 1819 for 195 years already.

Mr Ho has the wrong concept of our founding generation. If the founding generation is the generation who took charge in 1965, then what do we call the generation comprising Tan Kim Seng, Tan Tock Seng, Gan Eng Seng and Lim Bo Seng? Where does that leave the founder of Singapore Sir Stamford Raffles?

Straits Times, Can PAP stay dominant? A daunting task, says Ho Kwon Ping, 21 Oct 2014

Singapore’s best days are still ahead of it but, in contemplating its next 50 years, a key question to ponder is whether the ruling party will stay dominant, said leading public intellectual Ho Kwon Ping yesterday.

The People’s Action Party (PAP), which has been in uninterrupted power for 56 years, has accomplished two major feats where many others have failed, he said.

First, it has produced consistent economic growth with broad- based gains for its entire people, and second – even harder – it has maintained exemplary, transparent governance with an entrenched ethos of incorruptibility.

“Its third challenge is not to just remain in power, nor to maintain its one-party dominance and deny the opposition its self-described role as a ‘co-driver’ of the nation, but to do so in a manner which ensures that the party truly renews itself and retains its original vitality, vibrancy and vigour,” said Mr Ho in the first lecture of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)-Nathan lecture series on Singapore’s public policy.

But will it be able to do so, asked the businessman as he sketched out three basic possibilities.

First, an accidental or freak election that throws out the PAP. Second, a split within the PAP resulting in a loss to an opposition party which might not otherwise be stronger than a united PAP. And third, an anticipated, outright loss to an opposition party.

“I would rate the first possibility – a freak election – as having the highest chance, followed by an internal split, and the least likely is an outright, widely predicted loss,” he said.

In all likelihood, it would be an interplay of these scenarios, he added.

While he did not think the PAP would lose its dominance in the next 15 years, it could happen further down the road, he said.

Only one other democratically elected ruling party, Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, had ruled continuously for a longer time than the PAP’s 56 years, said Mr Ho.

Pointing out that a change of power can happen only when people believe an opposition party can govern, Mr Ho noted that recent elections had established the credibility of some opposition parties as “serious-minded, competent and constructive”.

Mr Ho, who was giving the talk as the first S R Nathan Fellow – a title given to honour the former president’s contributions – predicted that the journey towards socio-political and cultural maturity would define Singapore’s next two decades. In yesterday’s first of five lectures, he said: “In the history of young nations, this is the most precarious period of transition, when new generations who have not the slightest personal memories of or connections to the founding generation, take on the mantle of leadership.”

Noting that Singapore was at a “watershed moment in history”, where “economic progress must now be matched by a more holistic maturation in other spheres of life”, Mr Ho urged the younger generation to grasp the nettle and define how society should develop.

The one-time rebel and political detainee also said that this evolution would not be tension-free.

How the younger generation approached this task would determine if the country was “fated to either decline through thoughtless hubris, or flounder in equally thoughtless self-doubts and anxiety”, he said.

Straits Times, The next 50 years in Singapore politics, 21 Oct 2014

Mr Ho Kwon Ping, the first Institute of Policy Studies S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore, delivered his first lecture on Monday on The Future Of Singapore: Politics And Governance. Here is an excerpt of his speech.

IN ONLY 20 more years, the youngest minister today will be retiring and there will remain no more politicians who have any working memory of today’s leaders, much less the founding generation.
In the history of young nations, this is the most precarious period of transition, when new generations who have not the slightest personal memories of or connections to, the founding generation take on the mantle of leadership.
Passing on policies is easy; transferring ideals and values requires continual collective connections between generations of living, breathing people.
To achieve consistent economic growth with broad-based gains for its entire people has already been a rarely scaled hurdle. To maintain exemplary, transparent governance with an entrenched ethos of incorruptibility is even harder. The People’s Action Party (PAP) has enabled Singapore to rise to the top of the list of successful newly independent states with these two accomplishments.
Its third challenge is not to just remain in power, nor to maintain its one-party dominance and deny the opposition its self-described role as a “co-driver” of the nation, but to do so in a manner which ensures that the party truly renews itself and retains its original vitality, vibrancy and vigour.
If history is anything to go by, this last task will be daunting. The fact is, democratically elected ruling parties have generally floundered after about a half century to three-quarters of a century. They become corrupt, riven by internal strife and eventually prompt a previously loyal electorate to vote them out.
One thought is that there are only three basic scenarios for the PAP in the next 50 years:

1. The Status Quo Scenario. As it suggests, this scenario sees the PAP controlling, say, 85 per cent to 90 per cent of parliamentary seats, with the opposition controlling at most a dozen seats. This is regardless of the popular vote, where support for the PAP has dropped to a record low of 60 per cent, and may even decline further because control of Parliament is what really counts.

2. The Dominant Party Scenario. The PAP retains control of an important two-thirds majority or, at the very least, an absolute majority, of parliamentary seats. Assuming there are still around only 90 to 100 seats in Parliament, that means the opposition parties will control around 30 to 50 seats.

3. Two-Party Pendulum Scenario. A single opposition party or a coalition wins an election. Power then shifts between the PAP and the second major party in Singapore. This is pretty much the norm in all other developed, liberal democracies. A variant of this scenario is that the PAP splits and new coalitions form which alternate in winning elections.

These scenarios are quite obvious and commonsensical. It is the likelihood of the various scenarios occurring which may be controversial. Let me rate these probabilities into three categories: Unlikely, Possible and Likely.
And let me divide the next 50 years into three sets of 15 years, with each set roughly comprising three elections. We can therefore create a matrix for the scenarios:
Status Quo Scenario: first 15 years, possible; second 15 years, unlikely; third 15 years, unlikely.
Dominant Party Scenario: first 15 years, likely; second 15 years, possible; third 15 years, possible.
Two-Party Pendulum Scenario: first 15 years, unlikely; second 15 years, possible; third 15 years, likely.
Basically, all these scenarios foresee that the PAP will face a challenge to retain the same degree of control over Parliament as it has had in the past. So long as the very popular current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong remains in control – not only as PM but as Senior Minister or Minister Mentor, like his predecessors – the mantle of legitimacy can perhaps be extended to younger leaders. But even Mr Lee will be in his 80s by three more elections. The challenge will be considerable from then onwards.
This is not actually a radical conclusion – almost everyone I informally surveyed agreed with it broadly, but differed in their estimation as to how many years it would take before the PAP would lose an election, and how many terms it would stay out of power before bouncing back.
In fact, Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself has publicly pointed out that the PAP will eventually lose an election, but he did not foresee a date nor a cause.

Causes for loss of power
SO FAR, historical trends elsewhere point towards an election loss by the PAP in the second half of the next 50 years. Or to put it another way, it would be extraordinary if that did not happen. The issue we should now consider is: What might cause the PAP to lose a general election, given its current overwhelming dominance?
There are three basic possibilities: First, an accidental or freak election. Second, a split within the PAP, resulting in a loss to an opposition party which might not otherwise be stronger than an united PAP. And third, an anticipated, outright loss to an opposition party.

1. Freak Election
Advocates of the freak election thesis note that the near-absolute control of Parliament by the PAP is not reflected in the total anti-PAP votes in every general election, which has averaged between 35 per cent and 40 per cent.
This has been due to the first-past-the-post Westminster system, which intentionally favours a strong ruling party rather than multi-party coalition governments. And so a party winning with only, say, 60 per cent of the total votes cast in an election may control some 90 per cent of Parliament – as in Singapore.
However, this can also give the PAP and its supporters a false sense of security. If sufficient voters want more opposition parliamentarians than the paltry 10 per cent at present, or are unhappy about a particular policy, but do not necessarily want a change of government, this might result in a relatively small swing in the total votes cast – say, 8 per cent to 10 per cent. This could result in a small majority still for the PAP of, say, 52 per cent against 48 per cent of total votes cast. But it could also result in sufficient constituencies – especially the big GRCs – being lost, to actually tip the balance and result in an unintended loss of power by the PAP.

2. Split in the PAP
The second cause of a loss of power would be if the PAP split into two. History shows that internal differences must be extremely severe to split a ruling party, because opposing factions are self-serving enough to thoroughly dislike each other but remain unhappily married in order to remain in power. Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party is an example of convenient marriages between extreme, divergent factions.
Currently, there are not any foreseeable issues nor distinct ideological rifts which can be so controversial as to cause a split. Over the long course of history, perhaps a reunification with Malaysia, or a complete halt to national service, might qualify as fundamentally radical enough to split a party, but these sorts of issues are hardly on the cards. It is hard to imagine issues of the scale of, say, Scottish independence or Hong Kong’s system of elections, on the Singapore horizon.

3. Massive Loss of Legitimacy
The third possibility, that of an outright, convincing and even widely anticipated win by an opposition party – such as occurred recently in the Indian general elections – is possible only if there is a long, irrecoverable and massive loss of legitimacy by the ruling party.

This is not likely to happen just because of honest policy mishaps, perhaps partly due to an innate Asian conservatism towards regime change and deference to authority. On the flip side, however, Asian electorates are increasingly intolerant about corruption in public office, partly because it is so prevalent.
Singapore achieved its enviable, probably unrivalled record of incorruptibility largely because Mr Lee Kuan Yew set a tone of governance which equated to an almost ascetic personal lifestyle.
If future political leaders become blase about corruption, accepting it perhaps as part of the general cynicism of the New Normal, and value their occupation as similar to that of the well-paid investment bankers against whom their pay is benchmarked, rather than as an almost-sacred mission, then Singapore indeed will no longer be exceptional.
And if Singaporeans become cynical about the absolute incorruptibility of their government and see their leadership as being no different than that of counterparts in Asean, in Hong Kong or Taiwan, or indeed in India and China, then the calculus of governance will change forever.
There is no evidence that corruption has increased in Singapore’s public life, despite a few scandals involving mid-level bureaucrats. Singapore remains exemplary among its neighbours and even its counterparts in developed countries, for its low level of corruption.
Of these three possible causes for loss of power, which have the greatest likelihood of occurring? I would rate the first possibility – a freak election – as having the highest chance, followed by an internal split, and the least likely is an outright, widely predicted loss. But this is a quite arbitrary stab in the dark.
In all likelihood, it is the interplay and combination of these three scenarios in different ways, which will pose a challenge for the PAP.
Just as I’ve highlighted three possible causes for loss of power, there are many factors which can either delay or accelerate these possible causes.
One is demography. Singapore is one of the fastest-ageing nations in the world. Old people are inherently more risk-averse than the young. They want to conserve whatever they already have, whether it be wealth, health or benefits. They are not likely to risk what they have for the sake of vague idealistic notions such as freedom of speech or more opposition in Parliament.
However, the silver vote can also be vociferous about protecting their own rights. Just before the last general election, an IPS survey showed that the percentage of elderly swing voters rose to 45.4 per cent, compared to only 35.2 per cent in the previous election. The only demonstrations at Hong Lim Park which have been attended by people over 60 were those protesting about CPF and Medisave issues.
Another factor is the PAP’s organisational structure. The cadre system mitigates against internal fractures. Of course, this can also lead to internal rigidity and intrigues. Yet another factor is possible loss of economic competitiveness. The trade-off in fast-growth, low-freedom societies is that the delivery of a rapidly improving material life will offset the relative paucity of civil rights. But as Singapore’s economy matures and the low-hanging fruits of economic growth have all been plucked, the social compact can start to fray.
A final and important factor is the relative strength of the opposition parties. Other than a freak election, a change of power can happen only if the electorate believes that, if given the chance, an opposition party can actually govern.
Having covered the politics part of this lecture, let me now talk a bit about governance. And a key issue here is governability – to what extent will Singapore be more difficult to govern, regardless of who is the ruling party?
I can identify several trends which will affect governability:
First, the ability of governments to control information will continue to erode, despite sometimes frantic and illogical attempts to stem it. Because knowledge is power, and the ability to control access to information is the key to power, governments instinctively want to be the gatekeepers. But, increasingly, social media and its incredible variety of means for people to connect even across a heavily censored Internet system is undermining the Government’s ability to shape how people think.
Anything censored is still widely available in alternative media, and therein lies the rub: At what point will control and censorship of the mainstream news, cultural and entertainment media become counter-productive by not really achieving the purpose of blocking access to information, but, instead, end up alienating the social activists who, despite their small size, are influencers beyond their numbers?
The Singapore Government has a counter-argument and it is that even if a control or censorship measure does not achieve its stated purpose, it signals the values of a society and must be enacted irrespective of the chances for success.
Against this backdrop, we now have gay penguins singing To Singapore With Love.
Second, it will be increasingly difficult to hold the political centre together in the midst of polarising extremes – liberals versus conservatives; local versus foreign; pro-life versus pro-abortion; gay versus straight, and so forth. While fault lines along race and religion have been contained and have still not cracked, the so-called culture wars are intensifying.
Third, diminution in the stature of political leadership will encourage the rise of so-called “non-constructive” politics. Future leaders simply cannot command the sufficient respect and moral authority to decree what is acceptable and unacceptable criticisms. To have the authority to simply deride wide swathes of criticisms as simply non-constructive is wishful thinking.
However, if political power in Singapore will increasingly be shared between competing groups, as it is now in Hong Kong and Taiwan, it is important that political discourse does not descend to the theatrical farces which now characterise their legislative meetings. In these territories, a political culture of mutual respect has not been established. It is imperative that this be established in Singapore in coming years, so that by common consent of all political players – rather than by ministerial decree – a consensual culture of constructive politics emerges.
Fourth, maintaining an ethos of egalitarianism in an increasingly unequal society will require more than just political oratory. While Singapore was never a socialist state, its ethos was fervently egalitarian and this helped to create a sense of common purpose. In recent years, the ostentatious pursuit of wealth rivalling Hong Kong standards has become fashionable. Extolling our casinos, Formula 1 Grand Prix and highest per capita number of billionaires and Lamborghinis in the world, as evidence that Singapore has now become a world-class city, could perhaps be dismissed as the crassness of the rich, except that this ethos of the elite is occurring just when income inequality has become the worst since independence.
The gulf between rich and poor Singaporeans, not only in terms of wealth but also in terms of values, is probably more than ever before, and is continuing to widen. Even the gap between old money and its sense of responsible philanthropy, and the nouveau riche’s penchant for affectation and bling, is widening.
Finally, the absence of a galvanising national mission and a sense of dogged exceptionalism as the little red dot that refuses to be smudged out, will lead increasingly to a sense of anomie – which has been defined as “personal unrest, alienation and anxiety that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals”. It is the disease of affluence which affects individual people as well as societies. We have arrived, only to find ourselves lost again.
If this seems unnecessarily pessimistic, it is because I personally think the danger of hubris right now is greater than the danger of under-confidence.

Inheritors of the Future
THE deepening of a shared national identity, the pursuit of a compelling social vision, and the shaping, articulation and moulding of that vision through a collective imagination is the central task of the younger generation. Stumbling into the future without a clue as to what are the promises and the perils is quite possibly the best way to ensure that we will encounter an accidental disaster.
Thankfully, I have not found, in my conversations with young people, either the hubris or the immobilising self-doubts which I was afraid of. It is not as if the young people I spoke to were very happy with the state of Singapore today. Far from it. Almost everyone was critical of one issue or another, and to varying degrees.
But what impressed me was the overwhelming sense of what sociologists call self-agency – the simple notion that I can change things; that I am in control of my life and my future.
This kind of political DIY, or Do-It-Yourself, attitude has in the past decade encouraged a participatory democracy which resembles Singapore’s early years, but which then surrendered to decades of developmental authoritarianism.
One striking example – which was not imaginable in my generation – was the response to the famous Gay Penguins episode – which will go down in Singapore’s history, I hope, as the kind of comic relief we need as a nation while we tackle the underlying big issues.
The fact that some bureaucrat banned some children’s books as pro-gay and anti-family is not unexpected, and not dissimilar in logic to the banning of chewing gum decades earlier. But 20 years ago, such bureaucratic actions – not necessarily about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues but over anything, such as fines for this or that offence, or banning shoulder-length hair for men – would have been met only with grudging acquiescence.
But as a sign of the times, including the power of social media, the response this time was some 400 young parents decamping to the National Library to read the banned and to-be-pulped books to their children. It was not a strident political demonstration and more like a children’s outing. But the point was clear.
And the same is true for the unprecedented 26,000 people who gathered at the Pink Dot event – not to just celebrate gay rights nor to oppose the Government, but to celebrate the increasing diversity and self-agency of civil society.
So I conclude today’s talk with a hopeful view of Singapore politics in the next 50 years, simply because in the bigger picture, I do not see the ossification of an ageing political elite increasingly out of touch with a restless youth, such as led to the Arab Spring; nor do I see fundamentally divisive issues such as in Hong Kong over its relationship with China; nor the exhaustion of Old Europe unable to confront big, difficult issues.
At 50, Singapore is still a young nation in search of its future. I do not think there are more, or fewer, challenges ahead than in the past 50 years. They will simply be different challenges.

Respect for constitution indicates maturity of society

November 21, 2014

I refer to the 14 Oct 2014 Straits Times letter “Constitution no guarantee of peace, prosperity and progress” by Ong Kah Han.

Placing the constitution debate in the wider national context means the entire nation should be involved in deciding constitutional changes. What better way to involve the entire nation than through referendums.

Although a written constitution is no guarantee of peace, happiness, prosperity and progress for the state, no state which is at peace and in happiness, prosperity and progress is without a written constitution.

Low home ownership rate doesn’t necessarily mean lack of affordable housing. Low home ownership rate can simply mean that rent is even cheaper. For example, German housing prices are generally much lower than Singapore’s. Yet German home ownership rate is lower than ours because German home rental is even cheaper.

Singapore’s high home ownership rate isn’t necessarily a good thing. It can simply mean that most of our retirement money is locked up in our homes resulting in insufficient funds for retirement.

Yes, written constitutions cannot guarantee there will be no civil wars. Nothing can.

Yes, written constitutions cannot guarantee there will be no coups d’état. Nothing can. Not even political consensus. The military need not abide by any political consensus.

Regardless of debates about the fine details of the constitution, the bigger picture is always that constitutional changes must reflect the will of the people, not the will of a political party. We must never lose sight of that.

When the written constitution can be trampled all over by civil wars and coups d’état, it simply means the nation is still at a primitive stage of societal development. When the written constitution is firmly enshrined and can no longer be violated by civil wars, coups d’état or the whims and fancies of a political party, it means society has reached a certain level of maturity and stability. Do we as a society aspire for a constitution that is respected or a constitution that can be easily violated?

Although the national machine may break down from time to time and not function well, without the constitution blueprint, how do we build the national machine in the first place?

Straits Times, Constitution no guarantee of peace, prosperity and progress, 14 Oct 2014

I READ with interest Ms Dierdre Grace Morgan’s letters (“Constitution should reflect will of the people”, Sept 23; and “Constitution’s higher purpose”; last Wednesday).

Her arguments, as well as those of Assistant Professor Jaclyn Neo (“Should constitutional principles be eternal?”; Oct 4), are well-founded and deserve greater reflection.

However, the Constitution should not be viewed merely through a Constitution-centric lens, where debate centres on the purpose and meaning behind the Constitution per se. Rather, we should place the debate in the wider national context and what it means for our nation-state.

It bears no reminder that the presence of a written Constitution is no guarantee of peace, happiness, prosperity and progress of a state.

For example, some nations guarantee a constitutional right to property, but still face low home ownership rates because of a lack of affordable housing.

Singapore, despite recent increases in housing prices, has a high home ownership rate despite its lack of a constitutional right to property.

Also, many nations have written Constitutions but are still mired in civil wars because the people believe in settling their differences through the law of force rather than the force of law.

Some states experience repeated coups d’etat because of a lack of political consensus among the political actors, who resort to extra-constitutional measures to achieve what they want.

Essentially, we may have lengthy debates about the finer details of our Constitution, but we must not lose sight of the bigger picture.

Extra-constitutional forces such as societal acceptance of the rule of law and political consensus, and trust among political actors to tackle hard and crucial national issues together are equally important as – if not more important than – having a written Constitution with a clear purpose.

After all, a Constitution is just like a blueprint for the national machine. We can have the best scheme of interlocking gears but it will still break down and not function well if we lack the lubricants of adherence to the rule of law, trust and political consensus.

Ong Kah Han