Friday, October 31, 2014

Speak Softly And Carry Bricks

“Their remedy lies, if at all, in the legislative sphere,”  judges Andrew Phang, Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li said in a written verdict to dismiss a constitutional challenge against an archaic law criminalizing sex between men. Section 377A was first introduced in 1938 by British colonial administrators, and carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail for homosexual acts between men, but not women. The government's official position is that Section 377A is not actively enforced, i.e. it stays on the books for "wayang" only. The disturbing message is not about what goes on under the bedsheets, but the subjugation of the law to the members in parliament.

Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo will be so happy, so long as he is still in parliament, no law can touch him. The Law Society's literary contribution about distinguishing between over billing and over charging was a waste of chargeable time.  From what we surmise from the erudite judiciary, parliament alone decides what is legal. Yang Yin need not lose sleep over deportation, if he still has the letter of recommendation from a parliamentarian.

Tim Cook, CEO of the world’s most valuable company, pointed out in his coming out article in Bloomberg that when Arizona’s legislature passed a discriminatory bill targeting the gay community, they spoke up, and eventually torpedoed that anti-gay bill.
"When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick."

Those who mounted the constitutional challenge against the "crippling" piece of legislation should take heart from Tim Cook's words. As should those fighting for our constitutional right of freedom of expression. Just speak softly and add your own bricks.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Animal Farm Bill

You know the circus is in town, when more and more politicians are getting into the animal act. Instead of going the extra mile to reduce the onerous cost of housing ("HDB to reduce supply of BTO flats next year"), Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan was singing praises of fellow two legged creatures Yeo Guat Kwang, Alex Yam, Gan Thiam Poh, Edwin Tong and Vikram Nair for tabling a bill in Parliament that would set new animal welfare standards. The same "w" word that is taboo when applied to humans in Singapore.

Khaw highlighted the significance of the Private Member Bill in his blog post on Friday, "In our Parliament history, there have not been many Private Member's Bills. On MND matters, there has been none." History in the making, chaired by Yeo of the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee (AWLRC), who happens to hold office in 64 other corporate entities. We are told numerous consultations were organised by Yeo's pack of party animals to ensure that all views were considered. "It will also update the penalties for convicted acts of animal cruelty," a measure taken no doubt to address ravenous wolves in sheep's clothing who are always baying, "What's wrong in collecting more money?"

Give an inch and they predictably demand a yard - not the animals, the activists. At least one party, Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), is bitching about its views being rejected. Currently motorists who may accidentally turn a dog, horse, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or cattle into road kill are supposed to stop and pick up the mess. ACRES is upset cats, monkeys, birds and rabbits are not accorded similar privileged treatment. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) argued that the specific provision for animals in the Road Traffic Act (RTA) was confined only to farm animals of commercial value. Which kind of makes sense in the current scheme of things, since non-economic contributing humans are rarely entitled to welfare, however dire their needs.

It is interesting none of the warring parties seem to a hoot about chickens. These are definitely farm animals, and they produce their quota of eggs on demand. Whether they have access to their nest egg at retirement age is a different matter. Maybe the chicken joke is too politically sensitive.
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: Because the grass(roots) over the other side is more lucrative.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

His Story

A new exhibition chronicling 700 years of Singapore's history opened at the National Museum of Singapore on Tuesday. The historical period spans Ancient Singapore (1300 to 1818); Colonial Singapore (1819 to 1942), Syonan-To (1942 to 1945); Road to Merdeka (1946 to 1965) and Independent Singapore (1965 to 1975).

National Museum director Angelita Teo said the "Singapura: 700 Years" exhibition aims to give visitors an immersive and multi-sensory experience, including the simulated exercise of casting your vote for merger with Malaysia. Unwittingly, it reminds one of the origin of the first con.

Toh Chin Chye did not mince his words about the level playing field:
"And the ballot paper was crafted by Lee Kuan Yew. Whichever you voted, you voted for merger. There were three choices: A, B, or C. But frankly, they were all votes for merger. And we moved in the Referendum Bill that spoilt votes will be counted as votes for merger."

Calling it a humbug, Lee Siew Choh fleshed out more details to demonstrate that the referendum of Sept 1, 1962, may be  something the PAP Government would very much like to forget. The three questions in the National Referendum gave voters no opportunity to express their wishes with a simple answer of "Yes" or "No" as is normally the case in fair democratic referendums. Moreover, the important questions were all posed by the ruling PAP alone with no consultation of opposition parties.

Alternative A:
This was the PAP White Paper proposal: merger as a state within the Federation with special conditions and a large measure of local autonomy. The opposition parties pointed out that it would make Singapore citizens into second-class citizens of the proposed Malaysia Federation.

Alternative B:
This was the Barisan Sosialis' proposal for full and complete merger as the 12th state of the Federation. There would be no loss of citizenship for Singapore citizens. Dr Goh Keng Swee pointed out that under the Federal Constitution, in Penang and Malacca only those born there were automatically citizens, and all others had to apply for registration. Having said that, Goh and Lee later got Tunku Abdul Rahman to agree that all citizens of Singapore would become citizens of Malaysia automatically under Alternative A.

Alternative C:
This was supposed to represent terms "no less favourable than terms for the Borneo Territories" (that is, Sarawak and British North Borneo, now called Sabah). Problem is, no one, not even the PAP, knew what those terms were. In fact, those terms were not made known until some time well after the referendum was held in Singapore.

Thus voters were asked to vote for something which was totally unknown to them. The Barisan Sosialis  slammed it as a sham referendum. The late David Marshall called it a most dishonest referendum. And it was criticised severely by the United Nations Committee of 17, the United Nations Special Committee on Colonialism.

It was not a period to be proud of in the annals of Singapore. And the con goes on.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Negative Returns

The board of steel mining company London Mining, which suspended trading on AIM (as in AIM the London Stock Exchange Company, not the $2 outfit associated with Teo Ho Pin), decided to put the company into administration after "a lack of liquidity due to the dramatic fall in iron ore prices”, a victim of the double whammy of supply glut and softening of demand from China, the world's largest consumer.

When the company ceased trading on AIM on Friday 10 October 2014, its share price was valued at 4.17p.  In 2011 the shares traded at more than 400p.

In 2010 GIC (formerly Government of Singapore Investment Corporation) was a substantial shareholder in London Mining with 8,485,184 shares or 7.46% of the doomed stock. By 2014, GIC grew this to 9.26% before cutting back slightly to 9.23% in August 2014, and started to trim to 4.21 in October ("GIC Pvt Ltd cuts stake in London Mining to 4.21 pct"). When GIC finally exited London Mining on 10 October, there was a big hole in the balance sheet of about S$50 million by one conservative estimate. The monkey business is yet to be reported in our mainstream media, which chose to splash stories of the Colonel Sanders look-a-like clinking champagne glasses with the Queen of England.

It's a classic repeat of the Bank of America investment strategy, buy high sell low. Temasek Holdings lost US$1 billion in that one deal in 2Q 2009 (188.8 million BOA shares valued at US$13.7 each sold at an average US$8.67 per share).

In August 2014, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam told parliament the GIC is not managing the Special Singapore Government Securities (SSGS) or Central Provident Fund (CPF) monies on their own, but a combined pool of Government funds. Since Hong Lim Park will be off limits for any public discussion of what that really means, we do understand Tharman also said, "GIC has achieved good long-term returns to date. But as investment markets are uncertain and volatile, GIC's returns over shorter periods could be low or even negative."

All we want to hear is what happens when GIC's returns are "low or even negative." And is that when the "Return Our CPF" chant is considered annoying enough to be a chargeable offence, while Yang Yin's "Come on, money, I love you!” is not.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fantastic Discounts




It sure looks like the Great Singapore Sales is on again, with offerings of fantastic discounts to make up for the dwindling number of tourists. Visitor arrivals in Singapore slipped 2.8 per cent year on year to 7.5 million in the first half of 2014 as the number of Chinese visitors slumped 30 per cent. They blame it on the New tourism laws in China, implemented in October last year, which clamp down on "zero-dollar tours" that hit travellers with surprise fees. Other predictable excuses include the MH370 mystery, Sabah kidnappings, Thailand unrest, and possibly Ebola. Nothing is mentioned about the kid gloves treatment reserved for Yang Yin, as any special deal for the rogue tour guide from, China might be construed as scandalisation of the legal system.

What then to read of the persistent refusal of the Singapore Medical Council's (SMC) to accept the court's judgments about their share of overcharging? By appealing against the latest round of price slashings will the SMC not pose a real risk of undermining public confidence in the judicial system, a charge which is currently levied at one blogger?

When Assistant Registrar Jacqueline Lee decided that Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo's bill for legal fees was way too high - even the combined 718 hours spent on the case by Alvin Yeo, Melanie Ho and Lim Wei Lee of WongPartnership were inflated to 1,900 hours - shouldn't the  Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) of the Singapore Police Force be called in to investigate?

Public confidence is further eroded when the Singapore Law Society can actually write a letter to the Straits Times on 16 Oct 2014 entitled “Don’t equate reduction of costs with overcharging”. Which is the way of the Law Society saying that it is the winning lawyer’s duty to charge as much as possible, except that recourse is not available to medical doctors. Meaning, had they represented the ailing Brunei royalty in a court case, their bill could possibly match or exceed the $24.8 million invoiced by Dr Susan Lim.