Thursday, June 30, 2011

LTA Gets Their Way

Spot the minister trying very hard to be inconspicuous
The planned North-South Expressway (NSE) construction includes an 8.8km viaduct that will slice through a swath of several Housing Board blocks at Chong Pang. Those living at Nuovo, along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6, were skeptical about LTA's "commitment" to keep noise level below 67 decibels. Tuck Yew! The stipulation in Article 16 of the Basic Environment Law (Law No. 91 of 1993) for residential areas is 55 dB or less (45 db at night). Building a new road is not a carte blanche to ruin a quiet neighborhood.

Can you blame the Maplewoods residents for raising hell when they found out that a tunnel-boring machine will be located right smack at their condominium 's exit and entrance points? This sure beats the inane LTA decision to erect an ERP gantry outside Hume Park at Upper Bukit Timah Road, the route of access for the Hillview condominium residents heading to and from work.

Maplewoods is highly populated with 3,500 residents. Besides the noise to come, safety was prime concern, for children commuting to nearby MGS, and motorists entering and exiting the condo. LTA's lame excuse that relocating the machines to Sixth Avenue could delay the project by more than 3 years must sound like the 56-man-years quoted to produce the information requested by ex-President Ong Teng Cheong. One suspects they would rather not inconvenience the Ministers and their relatives residing closer to Sixth Avenue.

At last night's 3rd meeting to appease the Maplewoods unrest, one member said it all, "We has asked for and hoped for a complete reassessment without any preconceived  notions, but all they have done really is put band aids on the core issue." Vivian Balakrishnan did not exactly inspire confidence when he finally rose to face the irate gathering, "While I'm in a position to lean on them (LTA), I cannot promise you a final outcome." But of course - he's the defacto Minister of Floods, making sure the Bukit Timah gutters don't overflow (his particular specialty in politics), not the Transport Minister. Meanwhile the LTA confidently announced that the  Downtown Line 2 will be completed on time. Whinge all you want, it's their way or the highway - which also happens to be their other avenue to get back at you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No Country For Old Men, Women

Lots more can be done to help older folk age with dignity, says expert. Dr Alexandre Kalache was passing comment on how an elderly resident of Nightingale Nursing Home was tossed to her bed by two staff members like coolies heaving a sack of rice onto a bumboat.

At Pungol Plaza four elderly women fell down an escalator when the handrail of the escalator stopped suddenly. One of the mall management officers was quick to absolve themselves of culpability by saying the accident happened because the old ladies become giddy. Madam Hoh Peck Tan, 72, may be senior in years, but she's definitely in full control of her mental faculties, "How is possible that all four of us suffer from giddiness a the same time?" Having an escalator handrail freeze while the steps are moving is like a carpet being yanked away while you are standing on it.

A 68-year-old woman was bundled into a police car and sequestered in the foul lock-up while her relatives, ages 70, 55, 60 and 62, scrummaged to make the bail of $2,000. She was alleged to have shop-lifted a $1.45 packet of dou miao (pea shoots). "Why would I steal $1.45 worth of vegetables? I paid for the other groceries," asked Ms Tan.

The Prime Supermarket employee must really feel rotten to the core, when he tried to distance himself by quoting company policy, "We're not accusing her of anything, but we've referred her case to the police." Which makes it odd for the police to rush down promptly to site within 20 minutes, when there was no accusation of a crime committed. On private premises, owned by a private company, no less. Is dou miao more dangerous than an unexploded bomb? And couldn't all the trigger happy parties have given the little old lady the benefit of the doubt, since short term memory is often a liability with senior citizens? For those boycotting The New Paper, please add Prime to your list.

Mercifully, some entities do spare a thought for the older folks. NTUC Fairprice provides a 2 percent discount for those over 60 years, applicable on Tuesdays only. Their generosity should make you weep.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

SAF Has New Toys

It was in 2005 that a Cedric fool, as Minister of State for Defence, who bought treadmills to run the 2.4 km Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) in air-conditioned environs of the Safra National Service Association clubhouses at Tampines and Toa Payoh. Instead of pounding six times round an outdoor track with the wind and sun on their faces like real soldiers do. Other tests - chin-ups, sit-ups, shuttle run and standing broad jumps - were also conducted in the comfortable cool of the multi-purpose halls. No pain, no gain, must sound so alien to these wussies.

Now the softness has gone to the heads of the generals. The military is buying 8,000 iPads at $668 each to "harness our advantage of today's technologically savvy servicemen." Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Neo Kian Hong said troops can use the iPad's built-in camera to take photos and video clips in the field, and send questions to their commanders through a live messaging system and group chat discussions. No longer will commanders have to rough it out with the men in real-life outdoors with the heat and the humidity, virtual reality is the new cool. Last year, BMT recruits were issued with laptops, maybe those didn't come with built-in cameras. Taking photos during field training was once banned for security reasons, same reasons why mobile phones had to be camera free. You know the SAF has way too much taxpayers' money to blow when they splurge on i-toys, what with the Defence Budget creaming off the largest cut of the national budget.

One can understand that arming the F-15SG Eagles and Apache helicopters with AIM and Maverick missiles cost big bucks (why we need all that fancy gear when we don't even have sufficient flying space is a separate question altogether), but how do iPads help to fight battles? Can you defeat an enemy by smashing him over the head with an iPad? Is there a private contractor designed app that will zap a combatant at 100 meters? Maybe they plan to lob iPads loaded with the mee-siam-mai-hum podcast, and attack while the enemy is ROTFL. One wonders how the Auditor General will look at the frivolous expenditures. What next, camouflaged OSIM massage chairs for the hard working generals?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hollow Men

It looks like social media and the current crop of politicians don't mix too well. Intended to overcome the inconveniences of queuing for inexorably long hours at Meet the People Sessions, and spare the parliamentarians from irate constituents carrying flammable liquids, the kind of responses found in MPs' Facebook pages will probably boost blood pressure several points higher.

The printed word provides a better platform for putting across ideas with carefully composed arguments, especially for those who lack the skill of speaking impromptu without the benefit of supporting research material at hand. When one receives a cursory brief response, one can only assume the author does not value your query too highly.

When Cheng wrote to Lim Swee Say that two weeks had passed, with no signs of the authorities on site to assess the situation at Simpang Bedok, where drunken FTs roam freely and a gang fight  actually broke out on a Friday at 5.13 am, all he got was a one liner, "Dear Cheng Denver, the Authorities are looking into the matter." Notice there's no specification of which "authority" was deputed to solve the problem, the town council, the police or a private contractor. And no time table is proposed - maybe proactive action will be initiated only at the next election.

Shanmugam had the opportunity to endear himself to a a young voter who wrote in seeking advice on how to approach cats who shy away from human contact. Instead of teaching the little girl about the cruelties of animal abuse, and how the tormented creature will always avoid a heartless prosecutor, he brushed her off with "afraid I don't have such powers!"  Yeah, like it's a nice reminder that he exercises his powers only to hang young men caught up in drug trafficking, and incarcerate do-gooders by labelling them Marxists. Ask your own dad about growing up to be a kind lady, he's too busy being minister to bother about the human touch.

But the hollowness is hard to beat when Cheah asked the major goofball of an ex-SAF general whether latter was prepared to lay down his life for this country and its people (meaning Singapore, and not the Langfang Republic). YES, Chan Chun Sing, raising hand, affirmed his willingness, "Because it is my country, our country. No further reason is required for me." Problem with that simplification is that, of late, the possessive adjectives "my" and "our" have lost much of their meaning given the dilution of ownership by the influx of foreigners. He should know better, if he had been listening to his soldiers as claimed, growing numbers of our young men in temasek green have been asking, "who are we defending anyway?"

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Ringing Endorsement

The more common usage of the honorific "emeritus" is as a suffix e.g. professor emeritus, chairman emeritus, director emeritus, bishop emeritus. It can also be used as a noun, e.g. emeritus of chemistry at Stanford University. Calling Goh Chok Tong ESM is rather unfortunate, as those who toy with acronyms may spell it out as Extra Stupid Minister. Goh as good as bestowed the kiss of death on Wong Kan Seng and Mah Bow Tan during GE 2011, when he defended George Yeo by saying latter committed no sin like letting Mas Selamat escape through the toilet window or HDB prices go through  the roof.  Maybe Goh is not a presidential race contender because he can't seem to keep his mouth shut, the one prime requisite of the selected president role.

Ms Tan, who is de facto spokesperson cum media contact for her father's campaign, must be wringing her hands and stomping her feet, after hearing Goh broadcast all the way from Japan that the candidate is "eminently suitable" for the post.  Said the ESM, "He gives a real choice to the people." This unwelcome endorsement, despite the carefully orchestrated efforts to dissociate Tony Tan from the stain of party affiliation.

Main stream media mogul SPH, of which Tan was chairman of until he threw his hat into the ring on Thursday, went the extra mile of polling 60 people on the streets of Singapore to cement the message of choice. 30 reportedly said party association was not critical in the presidential race. 18 thought being close tot the PAP would be advantageous. 12 considered it would work against the candidate. "The political tide has turned, as can be seen from the last election. Anyone associated with he PAP could be received quite negatively, especially by the younger crowd, who prefer someone who will speak out," quipped a director of a childcare centre.

Make no bones about it, it's an uphill task to thwart the official scheme of things. In January 1999, Ong Teng Cheong told PM Goh Chok Tong that he intended to run again in the August presidential polls.  He was given the go-ahead in principle, but was required to undergo a medical exam - he had been diagnosed with cancer in 1992. Although doctors gave him a clean bill of health, Goh and his cabinet quietly made the decision to prop up SR Nathan for the job. Initial soundings had indicated the popular and independent-minded Ong would most likely defeat their yes-man par excellence.  As a fallback contingency plan, Goh's team lined up an alternative, lower-profile candidate than Nathan - one who would be less prickly to handle than Ong.  At the very last nail biting moment, Ong decided not to contest the election and Singapore's fate was sealed. Four doctors from Singapore General Hospital who deemed Nathan fit for office noted "hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol level, prostate enlargement and diverticulitis of the colon."

Strict eligibility requirements for the presidential slot, such as past experience in heading a statutory board or a company with a paid-up capital of at least S$100 million, restrict the number of eligible candidates, who skeptics say, will be eminently suitable for the honorifics of cronyism and nepotism.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Behold The Independent Candidate

anon@June 22, 2011 3:18 PM wrote:
Here's a scary thought ...
Tony Tan resigns from GIC to become Elected President.
GIC and Temasek merge to become a single corporate entity to enjoy cost savings, economies of scale and a larger global footprint to project Singapore's soft power overseas.
And Ho Ching is the new CEO.

Part I is now in play, so are the rumours about the CEO of Temasek stepping down in August heralding the script for Part II?

Tony Tan was always Lee Kuan Yew's favorite choice as successor when latter decided to "step down" in 1988. "Chok Tong was not a natural politician. He was tall, gangling and awkward, and spoke English with a Hokkien accent." (LKY, "From Third World To First", page 744)

Son of a businessman, Tan was born with a silver spoon. He's the rare bird that does not need to be dignified by a minister's hefty salary package. Tony Tan is the nephew of Mr Tan Chin Tuan, philanthropist and banking pioneer who founded OCBC bank. Same guy who made DPM Teo Chee Hean's father CEO of OCBC (1989-1991).

The only hiccup in Tan's 27 year PAP political career was when he threatened to resign on the spot, upon witnessing the 1990 horror of Dhanabalan at the receiving end of an outstretched hand (read the torrid account in Ross Worthington's "Governance in Singapore", page 150). Unlike Richard Hu, whose pilfered files were the subject of the fracas, Tan left after the August 1991 election, to become the chairman and CEO of OCBC Bank. When Lee Hsien Loong was subsequently stricken with cancer, he was asked to return as Deputy Prime Minister in 1995 to "strengthen the cabinet".

Astute Singaporeans will remember Tan for citing the dubious PERC (Political and Economic Risk Consultancy) survey that said Singaporeans are more highly paid than their United States or Australian counterparts "to show why the Central Provident Fund (CPF) rates must be cut swiftly and substantially." Tan told reporters in August 1993,"We have priced our labour out of the market." That may be true of the ministers' compensation, but even the daft man in the street could easily see through the lie. In defence, PERC's CEO Robert Broadfoot (some say Bigmouth) claimed their findings were based on businessmen's perceptions, not statistical reality.

"I am running as an independent candidate," declared the former Deputy Prime Minister. "My candidacy does not have the backing of any political party." He did emphasise that he informed the chairman of GIC, which happens to be the Prime Minister, of  "my intentions to contest the elections and to resign from GIC as a matter of protocol." The PM presumably valued the candidacy of the president more highly than the chairmanship of GIC, the entity charged with getting a good return for the people's money. This has to be the odd instance when the custodian outranks the chief honcho.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Apocalypse Now

The Monetary Authority of Singapore issued an all points warning, "The current low global interest rate environment will not continue indefinitely." Some economists are also sharing the sentiment that the ultra-low borrowing rates in Singapore could soon start rising. The common message preached seems to be that house buyers should not over extend themselves, and fall over each other to sign up for the 30-year loan buffet spread that Mah Bow Tan structured to make HDB flats "affordable".

The three-month Singapore dollar Swap Offer Rate (SOR) is hovering at 0.2 percent, the benchmark for bank loans. MAS warns that at the ultra-low SOR, a 35-year, $1 million loan at 1 percent interest rate in the first year may mean "just" an installment of $2,823. But every 1 percent point increase will set you back by $500. If rates rose back to 2006 levels of 4 percent, that monthly installment could easily balloon to $4,300 monthly. The scariest part of the message is the $1 million example. Is this what they are planning to price HDB flats at? Is this going to be worse than the 6 million population target that caused so much misery?

People with money in the bank will see this as a glass half full (hurray, no more pathetic rates for their fixed deposits), rather than half empty. People who have more than the minimum sum of $131,000 in their CPF account, which was raised from the previous mandated $123,000. CPF Board said the new MS will apply to members who turn 55 from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012. According to the Future on Retirement Survey done by HSBC bank, most Singaporeans will have less than that minimum amount in total savings. Based on the HSBC survey, the average Singaporean has only $120,000 for retirement, and this sum includes non-CPF savings and investments.

So who are the people who made a buzz line for the over priced Centrale 8 DBSS flats, leading it to be over subscribed two times? Stock brokers will tell you these guys who drank the Kool-Aid must be the same lot who subscribes to the greater fool theory. Never mind the unearthly unjustified price tag, another fool around the corner will always be willing to pay more. Khaw Boon Wan has done his part by foretelling in his blog of the housing apocalypse to come. But, having cried wolf once too often, nobody knows what to say anymore.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Your Bomb, Your Problem

Now that the elections are over, most of the ministers seem to be missing from action, comfortably ensconced in their private ivory towers, miles away from the hot and humid wet market where they were last spotted during the month of May. All the postulating about listening to the people doing a better job addressing their needs have vanished like the morning mist.

Our sentiments exactly,  Mr Yap
Mr Yap, 64, assistant manager of LHT Holdings who was building a new warehouse, discovered he had a bomb shell on his hands, literally. When workers tried to sell off what they thought to be scrap metal, the hardware dealer noticed the bronze tip was similar to the bullets he handled during national service (that's one reason why saving lives of babies can never be equal to undergoing NS training). It was a war relic, probably dating from the days of Syonan-to, when our future PM was doing translation work for the Japanese occupying forces, and endangering the lives of countless freedom fighters.

Surprise number two was when Yap called the police for help. The latter showed up and did the easy part, cordoning off the area, and covering the explosive with a red canvas sheet marked "dangerous". That's it. A flabbergasted LHT director told the press, "The police say this is private property, so we have to get a private bomb disposal company to do it, and they won't send in their own squad." The fact that the land was leased from statutory board JTC Corporation, and therefore not private property, cut no ice with the police. LHT even had to pay $600 for two Certis Cisco officers to guard the bomb overnight. The boys in blue probably wandered off to the nearest Starbucks to hassle black shirted netizens discussing politics over lattes.

At wit's end, Yap telephoned DPM and Home Affairs Mininster Teo Chee Hean's office. That's the same Teo who said "Singapore needs to maintain heightened security", now that Bashir has been sentenced. Teo never returned the call to Yap. Instead, he must have dialled up the Defence Minister (his former portfolio before the cabinet reshuffle), as Yap soon received a call from the SAF's bomb disposal unit.

Png of Explomo Technical Service said it would cost about $15,000 to cart away a bomb, hire a barge to transport it offshore to Pulau Senang and engaging security escorts to detonate it there. It must sound so expensive to the police, compared to spending $846 (GST inclusive) for the Temasek Sword presented to Shanmugam, a gift which should come in handy for the next round of promotions. "We always advise people not to touch the war relic," said Png, "Don't move it. Just call the police first." Er, was that the Singapore Police Force he meant?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

All In The Family

Hear only the good stuff
The Financial Times (FT) newspaper first reported on Wednesday 15 June that daughter-in-law Ho Ching, 58, might leave Temasek (the company, not the website) at a time when the investment firm has turned around from losses from the financial crisis, "during which the value of its portfolio fell from S$185 billion to S$130 billion". In response to rumours that she will likely step down in August (Temasek releases its annual review for the year ended March 31 in early July), Temasek spokesperson Jeffrey Fang told MediaCorp, "We decline to comment on the speculation."

Reuters now report that Ho Ching told her employees that had she had to leave on a high note, she could have done so last year. Last year Temasek's port folio rose 43% year-on-year to $186 billion at the end of March. The same last year, her husband had no inkling that the election results will net a significant dive at the polls.

This is not the first time there has been talk that Ms Ho Ching, wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, might leave Temasek, and probably not the last. In 2009, it was officially announced that former BHP Billiton CEO Charles Goodyear would be her replacement. Chairman Dhanabalan, while trumpeting that "Ho's resignation had nothing to do with her performance", even cited a White Paper that supposedly tabulated the rationale for her stepping down. Nobody saw that piece of documentation. What we witnessed next was the sudden departure of Goodyear 4 months after his appointment on 1 March, with Temasek citing "unresolved strategic differences." The main stream media quoted stuff like Goodyear would not allow Blackberries to be used during meetings.

Ho Ching's first high profiled resignation in 2003, then from the Singapore Technologies Engineering (ST Engg) board, was when chairman Yeo Ning Hong chastised her for giving a million dollar bonus to one of her managers. She left in a huff and "told my father-in-law to take care of it." Yeo was promptly taken to the woodshed, given a dressing down in parliament, and she was back in charge. Lee Kuan Yew proudly added, "...and in a higher income tax bracket." That parliamentary speech is in the Hansard, you just have to search for it.

Now the more interesting story is why Lee Hsien Yang left Singtel....

Monday, June 20, 2011

Design, Build and Sell Scam

The howl that was heard across the island was not about the sighting of a red moon, but the $880,000 price sticker for a 5-room Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flat in Tampines. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan could have chosen his words better when he commented about the outrage committed on HDB premises, "If buyers find a price too high, they can walk way." Doesn't that sound remarkably similar to SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa's truculent dismissal, that if the train is full, take the next one?

DBSS flats are housing units wedged between regular Build-To-Order (BTO) Housing Board flats and executive condominiums. Buyers must have a household income not exceeding $10,000, whereas the income ceiling for ordinary HDB flats is $8,000 (a number which the minister has already announced intention to raise to $10,000). The HDB website makes the incestuous link very clear: “Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flats will be offered for sale under similar eligibility rules, terms and restrictions as applicable to new HDB flats." Which means housing grants are also available. Khaw tried to downplay the loop hole in national housing policy by claiming that "they form a tiny portion of the total housing options for Singapore." On one hand, Khaw maintains his ministry has no control over the flats' pricing. On the other, he promises to ramp up the supply of ordinary BTO flats and "price them appropriately." Does the man even comprehend the scope and responsibility of his new portfolio?

Maybe the minister has forgotten about the hot-button election issue of affordable housing. Maybe he needs to have it explained to him in simple language, that even a 4 year old can understand:
"Not everybody rich. Like minister family. House for staying. Not for speculation. No house, no marriage. No marriage, no kids. No kids, more foreign talent." (in 25 words or less)

Khaw Boon Wan was once upon a time one of the more credible ministers in the cabinet. At one stage, even the PM was envious of his popularity. After the affordable heart by-pass operation, he's starting to sound more like his despicable predecessor in the Ministry of National Development. "When they tendered for the land, price control was not a term of the tender," wrote Khaw in his blog.  Land for DBSS, BTO or plain vanilla HDB flats are government acquired and priced by the Chief Valuer. The mark to market valuation results in large amounts transferred to the secretive reserves, of which Shanmugam says only the past reserves are guarded by the elected president. Who knows what profligate plans they have designed for the present and future reserves?  If a percipient Khaw is privy to the key for affordable housing, he does not seem to have the political will to apply it. The marionettes may have been changed, but the wayang goes on.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Matter Of Taste

The dinners are held at "secret" locations in Singapore
Feedback from a reader claims there is still this clamoring for "foreign talent" over "Singaporean talent."
"One self-proclaimed world class higher education institution has go further to fire many existing local professors at 55 by not giving tenure to them. Many of these early retired professors are actually not bad but just not in the correct political circle. Instead, many under-performing PRC or Indian professors are given tenure to work till 65. Government talks so much of getting people to work till 65 and its related institution is doing the reverse. Many people are just silent about these injustice."

The university is not named. We do know Dr Denisa Kera, 36, is a professor of interactive media design at the National University of Singapore. We do not know why we need someone from the Czech Republic to teach interactive media design in Singapore. Maybe the internet speeds there are superior to what local ISPs can provide. Dr Kera can't have too busy a teaching curriculum, since she has sufficient time on her hands to run a 200 member Secret Cooks Club, which organises "dinners (based) on novel technology, philosophy and food science concepts." Such as serving sushi on a naked woman's body. Her partner in the dubious scientific undertaking is a 26 year old French entrepreneur she met at Hackerspace, an underground clubhouse for hackers, another wholesome pursuit for those so inclined. Neither has a drop of Japanese blood in their gastronomic veins.

irashaimase いらしゃいます
Nyotaimori (Japanese: 女体盛り, "female body presentation") is the practice of serving sashimi or sushi from the body of a woman, typically naked. Nantaimori (Japanese: 男体盛り) refers to the equivalent using a nude male bod. Nyotaimori was once practiced in the secret underworld of the Yakuza. Cleanliness is the most important factor in preparing for this event. All body hair must be removed and the person’s skin must be cleaned by soaking in a hot bath and then thoroughly scrubbed down with a akasuri (rough cloth). The woman’s body must be cooled by rinsing with chilled water to bring the body temperature down, before the sushi is positioned on strategic parts of the body. Sushi allowed to stand at wrong temperatures can be a killer dish, in the literal sense of the word. We are not sure Dr Kera adheres meticulously to the Japanese fetish for detail, since she is supposed to be hired by NUS for her scholarship in interactive media design, not exotic cuisine. Notice her serving tableau pictured above features Victoria's Secret lingerie - a departure from nihon-go authenticity
Too bad those many local professors who were retired early at 55 actually believed that, as academics, they were only supposed to publish or perish. No one told them about the new economics of sleaze in Singapore.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Money Doctors Make

It was a matter of time before Ng Eng Hen's earnings as a doctor in the private sector would crop up in the profile high case of Dr Susan Lim. After all, both had a penchant for signing off big bills during their heydays.

According to Owain Stone, forensic accountant author of the KordaMentaNeo 31-page expert report commissioned by Susan Lim, Dr Ng Eng Hen earned $4.5 million before swapping out his surgeon garb for politics in 2001. By comparison, Susan Lim raked in $4.6 million in 2003. We don't know whether Stone had access to Ng's income tax returns, or merely extrapolated from the maiden press conference with Goh Chok Tong during which he declared his financial sacrifice to serve the people of Singapore: "You're getting a bargain for the ministers you get... I worked half as much and earn 5 times more when I was in the private sector."  (Channelnewsasia, 9 Sept 2003)

Why the sudden altruism? A close examination of the the tabulation of Susan Lim's 2002-2008 takings provide some clues. Her salary and director's fees varied from $3.2m to $334,000, as her total earnings fluctuated from $13.26m to $1.38m. That's more ups and downs than the Battlestar Galactica roller coaster ride at Universal Studios Sentosa. For Ng, since August 2004, he has been enjoying a guaranteed million dollar steady ride, plus the regular GDP performance bonuses and other perks of office. Without the twists and turns of a stomach churning career in the private sector. Susan Lim is actually saying that her practice is technically bankrupt.

Talk about wild rides. John Sculley (Pepsico 1970–1983) was personally lured by founder Steve Jobs to become CEO of Apple in 1983. Subsequently his power struggle with Steve Jobs resulted in latter being booted out by the board in 1985. By May 1987, Sculley was named Silicon Valley's top-paid executive, with an annual salary of US$2.2m. The "Sculley Era" finally ended after he was forced out in 1993. In the real world, job security is not a given.

Industry experts knew Susan Lim was betting big. One company valuation expert said the upside to her Brunei assignment was huge: "If this job had gone smoothly... there would be tremendous benefits for her reputation. With such a high profile client, her business could have gone sky high." Instead of just her pair of hands exhibited at Madam Tussuad's, her wax statue may be competing for space with the likes of world celebrities and movie stars.

There's an upside for Ng too. If he masters the art of keeping his mouth shut (no shooting off about more jobs going to Singaporeans instead of foreigners, tweaking the weightage for mother tongue languages, etc), he could take a stab at the elected presidency during his evening years. That's $4m a year for 6 years, guaranteed income from the taxpayers.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Taming Of Saint George

The last word we heard from George Yeo was his Facebook post that said he was considering making a bid for the $4 million presidency, and taking two weeks’ off to "pray for wisdom". But after consulting "not only colleagues, friends and family members", he notably missed out waiting for divine guidance from above, and threw in the towel: “After considering all factors, I have come to the conclusion that, in this phase of my life, I can better contribute to the Singapore we all love in other ways. I have therefore decided not to run for the Presidency this August.”

Did Jayakumar scare him off with his kendo wooden sword? Or was it the powerful "President has no role to advance his own policy agenda" follow-up admonishment from Law Minister Shanmugam and his Attorney General? Maybe it was the photo of the Minister being presented with a more wicked looking Temasek Sword by the Singapore Police Force.

Truth be told, the president's job is quite simple. Just zip your lips and look after the past reserves. Don't even bother to ask awkward questions like what is the difference between past, present and future reserves. When they wanted a $150 billion guarantee for bank deposits during the financial crisis circa 2008 S R Nathan just signed on the dotted line in a jiffy. He knew better than to query whether that sum represented 100% or 50% of our total sovereign wealth fund (SWF). That's why he knows he can look forward to another financially lucrative term should he decide to throw his hat into the ring - provided, of course, another blue-eyed boy is not lined up for the race.

Frankly, nobody quite understands what Yeo means when he says " I can better contribute to the Singapore we all love in other ways". He only way he knows how to "serve" Singapore is to be a yes-man. This guy, despite the reputed brainiac capacity, even spouts nonsensical p.c. stuff like "an IR is not a casino" just to suck it up to his political paymaster. George Yeo likes to quote his brother Jim's philosophy that "to succeed in life, one needs the 3 B’s. What are the 3 B’s? They are Brains, Balls and Breaks". Aljunied was a tough break, asking teeny boppers to collect the nomination forms on his behalf was brain-dead, and it looks like the cojones are missing when they are sorely needed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Money Well Spent

Singaporeans can pat themselves on the back. They know the meaning of hard earned money and how it should be applied to achieve maximum happiness.

A group of anonymous donors contributed some $250,000 through the Red Cross Society in support of the rehabilitation expenses for the Thai youngster who lost both her legs at the MRT station that lacked safety barriers. Another anonymous donor, Singaporean living in Hongkong, called Tan Tock Seng to offer to settle the estimated $46,000 hospital charges. We are told details of the transaction are still being worked out, but rest assured it won't be a $8 billing. Even Nitcharee Peneakchanasak's electric wheel chair was a gift from the Rotary E-Club of Singapore. And a well-wisher at the airport send off presented her with $800 in cash.

But discerning Singaporeans can also see how money can be better applied. Well, maybe 40% can.

During GE 2011, the incumbent PAP spent an average of $1.90 per voter, compared to $0.61 for the alternate political parties. The law allows candidates to spend up to $3.50 per voter, up from $3.00 in the 2006 election.

PAP paid $4.2 million for the 82 seats they contested, while opposition parties expended $1.34 million for the fight. Lee Kuan Yew's Tanjong Pagar GRC blew $185,667.84 even though there was no fight, as their walkover was a hollow 35 second "victory". Notably Vivian Balakrishnan's Holland-Bukit Timah was second highest spender at $$204,746, a far cry from his YOG profligacy.

Where did the money go? PM Lee Hsien Loong's expenses in Ang Mo Kio included $163 for 90 boxes of Jacob's vegetable high calcium biscuits delivered to his Teck Ghee branch two days after parliament was dissolved (but before official campaigning started). Father Lee Kuan Yew's bill included $44 for buns (half coconut, half red bean paste) for helpers on Nomination day. These guys obviously never heard of out of pocket generosity.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Silly 5 dB Difference

Land Transport Authority plans to install sound barriers near Bishan MRT Station to reduce train induced noise by at least 5 dB. According to the LTA spokesman, the targeted reduced noise level of 75 dB to 80 dB is like listening to someone practising on the piano. What may sound like music to their engineers may drive others to bonkers.

The Singapore environmental quality standards stipulated in Paragraph 1, Article 16 of the Basic Environment Law (Law No. 91 of 1993), determines the following to be "desirable for the preservation of the living environment and (is) conductive to the protection of human health".

Type of areaDaytimeNighttime
AA50 dB or less40
dB or less
A and B55 dB or less45
dB or less
C60 dB or less50
dB or less
  • Category AA is applied to areas where quietness is specially required, such as those where convalescent facilities and welfare institutions are concentrated.
  • Category A is applied to areas used exclusively for residences.
  • Category B is applied to areas used mainly for residences.
  • Category C is applied to areas used for commerce and industry as well as for a significant number of residences.
In any event, space adjacent to a road carrying arterial traffic as an exception has a higher limit of 70 dB or less (Daytime) or 65 dB or less (Nighttime).

Loud noise can be very damaging to hearing. Both the level of noise and the length of time you are exposed to can put you at risk for permanent noise-induced hearing loss. Standards set by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) indicate that continued exposure to noise over 85 dB will eventually harm hearing. They list following average decibel levels for everyday sounds.
  • 30 dB = whisper, quiet library (faint)
  • 40 dB = quiet room (moderate)
  • 60 dB = typical conversation, dishwasher, clothes dryer
  • 70 dB = busy traffic, vacuum cleaner, alarm clock (very loud)
  • 80 dB = blow-dryer, kitchen blender, food processor
  • 90 dB = subway, passing motorcycle
  • 100 dB = hand drill, pneumatic drill
  • 110 dB = maximum output of some MP3 players, model airplane, chain saw (extremely loud)
  • 120 dB = jet plane takeoff, siren (painful)
LTA has not pressured SMRT to accelerate the installation of safety barriers that could have spared 14-year-old Nitcharee Peneakchanasak from losing both her legs (they offered her $5,000 as compensation). Instead, they are embarking on an expensive exercise to shave 5 decibels.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mouth Watering Surfing Speeds

When the headline says, "Singtel ups the ante", one assumes the biggest telco in town is achieving something worth crowing about. Instead, it simply confirms what is public knowledge: paying customers have been short changed for their internet access speeds.

The "typical speeds" of it's fastest mobile broadband plan - 21Mbps - could only manage 4.8Mbps at best, a far cry from their advertised claims. The small print says "The typical speed range was derived through an analysis of real user data over multiple 24-hour windows at various locations around Singapore, including major 3G hotspots." We are not told what broadband speed test was used for the findings.

The Numion website provides a very vigorous checkout. It measures surfspeeds inside Singapore and out (worldwide). The time to ping the server at Singtel's Exeter Road HQ is meaningless when you want to access CNN or BBC for the real news. Who wants to place their trust on a politically biased website?
Typical "bad hair day" surfing experience in Singapore
The curiosity is that Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) spokesman Seah Seng Choon does not seem to be bothered by the sub par performance, but simply chorussed the Singtel tune of being "a first for the mobile industry in Asia" to broadcast its pathetic delivery on promises. The other ISPs are probably holding off until they get their act together. In countries other than Singapore, false advertising is a magnet for law suits. Other countries, which can achieve mouth watering speeds such as illustrated below.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cheap Electricity

Buried in the back pages of Saturday's paper was a little known oddity that Singapore's PowerSeraya had been quietly selling surplus generation capacity to Malaysia. Apparently the Energy Market Authority had granted authority to export electricity until Wednesday June 15. EMA said the Government will consider any requests that may emerge for local firms to sell more electricity to Malaysia i.e. EMA intends to make more money.

Let's get this clear. Singapore power stations have excess production capacity over domestic demand. Surely you don't need Economics 101 to appreciate that should have led to a price decrease in electricity tariff!

Singapore's power stations were built over the decades with taxpayers' money. PowerSeraya was privatised and sold to Malaysia's YTL Power after a surprise"unsolicited proposal" for $3.8 billion in 2008, a week after Temasek Holdings had said it would shelve tender plans for PowerSeraya owing to "market conditions". YTL is Tan Sri Dato' Seri (Dr) Yeoh Tiong Lay, one of Mahathir's Chinese business cronies who made millions building B.O.O. (build own operate) and B.O.O.T. (build own operate transfer) power plants when Tenaga Nasional Berhard failed to deliver (and earned it's sobriquet "Total National Blackout"). YTL must have been so grateful for the Singapore deal it treated SR Nathan and his VVIP crowd to an Andrea Bocelli concert at Botanic Gardens (billed as "YTL Concert of Celebration 2010, Andrea Bocelli in Singapore"). The public were given limited lucky draw passes to sit on the wet grass, and car parks were strictly off limits to the hoi-polloi on that star studded evening.

According to EMA's numbers, Singapore's total power generation capacity is about 9,800 MW, while the peak demand is around 6,500 MW. Even if the money made from YTL was not filtered down to the public, you can see there's lots of leeway to reduce electricity tariff. Unless EMA thinks Singaporeans are too daft to understand the economics of supply and demand.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Jayakumar's Reality Check

Go on, make my day!
He may be officially out of office, but former Senior Minister Jayakumar seems to be punching above his weight to knock some sense into the free spirited contenders scrambling for the presidential prize. And he's outfitted for the task too, resplendent in his stylish kendogi (剣道着) and armed with a threatening shinai (four-part bamboo sword). Roller blading with his daughter was too just too lame an image for a former Law Minister.

"President is not a separate political centre" was the warning shot across the bow. Jayakumar said he was surprised and disappointed over some of the statements and claims made by would be candidates and what they intend to do if they were selected for the plum job at the Istana. If these guys even imagined the post was "distinct from the government" and carries "certain executive powers", he was quick to clear their freaking minds. Jayakumar's reality check about the discretionary custodial powers of the office was a rude reminder of the limitations that frustrated Ong Teng Cheong to no end:
  • The protection of reserves (don't bother about asking what it is)
  • Key public sector appointments (just sign on the dotted line)
  • Internal Security Act detentions (weapon of choice)
  • Investigations by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (careful here, PM can refuse the go ahead for Head of CPIB to investigate top politicians)
  • Restraining order under Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act ("christians are less likely to riot", remember?)
In all other areas, he added for effect, "the president, under the Constitution, must act on the advice of the Cabinet." He need not be a Pinnochio (the nose would grow too long and unwieldy, what with all the tall stories emanating from high office), but he better acknowledge quickly who will be pulling the strings.

But why is the man who has stepped down from office reading the riot act? Does he, like Wong Kan Seng and Mah Bow Tan, still have the Gurkhas providing 24/7 security for their private homes at taxpayers' expense? One reader highlighted that the PMO's directory shows that both Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong still have Principal Private Secretaries and Press Secretaries at their beck and call! When does a former PAP minister actually stand down?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Incoming Fare Increases

Tuck Yew! (sorry, couldn't resist that!) Who cares about adding additional bus, train capacity if it means higher cost of living for the consumers? After all, as Prof Chin of NUS said, "My feel is that for land transportation (compared with aviation and maritime) - trains, buses - we probably are adding capacity not ahead of demand. Maybe not even in tandem with demand." In other words, the whole mess is due to bad governance over the past years.

Responding to a question on how the Government might try to mitigate any rise in fares, Lui said any fare increases will take effect later this year. Talk about tunnel vision, he can only conceive of price increases, not price reductions. And he would not touch the sacred cow of a flawed formula that has brought in millions to the state coffers, and finances his personal Swiss standard of living. According to his fellow MP Lim Wee Kiak, it's below his dignity to accept anything less.

The formula used for calculating fares, for some strange reason, factors in inflation besides average wages and productivity of the operators to arrive at the fare adjustment. Inflation, a.k.a. consumer price index, is computed using a basket of inputs, including cost of transportation. Think about it. Fares increase will nudge up inflation, which in turn, thanks to the formula, hike the fare further up. Control engineers will recognise this as the mutant negative feedback signal that, instead of modulating the dynamic behavior of the system to a desired level, spirals it out of control.

At fault is the official dictum that "fare rises keep pace with what people can afford". In plain English, what commuters can afford to be ripped off. They actually say it in print, "it ensures operators can earn enough to improving service". Highest paid SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa, 55, was rewarded with $1.67 million in 2009, and her gem of a comment on the state of the transportation system was “We've yet to push people into the train”. Look like the push from 66.6% to 60.1% is not enough to change things for the better.

The Public Transport Council is responsible for using the formula to "regulate" fares. That's Gerard Ee, the same fellow reviewing the salaries of the Ministers to ensure that the end result is dignified for the beneficiaries.
SMRT is the name, profit is the game

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Watered Down Excuses

During Operation Desert Storm, America amazed the world with the pin-point accuracy of their GPS guided Tomahawk cruise missiles, launched miles away from a remote battleship in the Mediterranean Sea. The BGM-109 Tomahawk land-attack missile (TLAM) can hit a building from 700 miles with a CEP (Circular Error Probability) of the order of 10 meters. The PUB is now telling us rainfall over Singapore has similar targeting precision, aimed squarely at Tanglin Mall and St Regis Residences. A PUB spokesman had said earlier on Sunday that flooding in the affected buildings was due to an "excessive amount of rain which fell directly into the basements".

In June around this time last year, PUB said a clogged drain was responsible for the Orchard Road floods. Except that the drainage canal opening was large enough to drive a SMRT bus through. No photographic evidence of the debris causing the blockage was ever presented. To date we don't know whether it was Minister Yaacob Ibrahim or PUB CEO Khoo Teng Chye who conjured up the creative tall story.

Yesterday, PUB claimed a "computer glitch" was responsible for alerting all buildings in the flood vicinity except for Tanglin Mall and St Regis. No further details were provided, whether it was a program bug, system crash or human error in inputting of the database. Or whether suspect buildings had a preponderance of voters who cast their ballots for the opposition parties. Needless to say, PUB credibility is at an all time low. And flooding occurrence around the island is at an all time high.

Unlike Vivian Balakrishnan, the PUB CEO cannot use the "I am not an engineer" lame excuse. The guy has a civil engineering degree from Monash University, courtesy of a Colombo Plan Scholarship funded by taxpayers. Whether he was too busy being CEO to apply his engineering knowledge to practice is a question only he can answer. Fortunately you don't really need an engineering qualification to point a finger at the building owners for installing under-sized water pumps. Orchard Road Business Association executive director, Mr Steven Goh, countered with a raised-middle-finger-type response: no pump system in the basement of every shopping centre would be able to handle the deluge of water that came gushing down on Sunday. Indeed, if drainage pumps were the magic bullets, shouldn't PUB have installed them at all flood prone areas island wide?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Selecting A New President

During GE 2011, someone wanted to know how to intentionally cast a spoilt vote. The lady apparently found the responsibility too onerous, and belonging to a different constituency, she was not even affected by the "emotional dilemma" at Aljunied. The election for a new president is a different ball game. It's all about the money.

A is an ex-MP ("stepped down" before GE 2006) and former PAP member who junked his membership card. We are now told latter action was part of the preparation for the presidential race. He started blogging recently to sell his story, which conveniently skips mention of his publicly declared support of the controversial Operation Spectrum while he was in parliament and part and parcel of the groupthink. 22 young Roman Catholic church and social activists were detained without trial, Singaporeans which were later deemed "do gooders" by the prime minister. Most former MPs enjoy a healthy pension and string of directorships to help pay the bills.

B is an insurance executive who retired in 2007. He got some friends to collect the presidential election forms because he was "too busy", and now his wife is supposed to be the reluctant one. In 2008, he said he would run for the election if 100,000 Singaporeans endorsed an online petition of support. He ended up with something like 1,200 signatures. Two very good journalist friends of his apparently called him a "megalomaniac" for the shameless way he made himself the face of his organisation when he was top dog, and detractors once created numerous copies of a fake obituary of him and flung them from the roof-top of a building.

C was publicly voted out of office, and 1 month later, still failing to clinch any lucrative private sector job offer, despite embarrassing accolades that rank him the best thing to have happened since sliced bread. He is still a card carrying member of the PAP. He started tongues wagging with the Facebook posting: "Thinking hard about it and praying for wisdom". This was a curious U-turn from an earlier declaration about not being "temperamentally suited for such a job". Young Lien We King, who was deputed to collect the forms on his behalf, said of his hero: "He probably is, er, free spirited in the way that, er, in that he is very open, er, and he is very open to learning, very open to new ideas and very open to meeting new people, and that is refreshing for my generation and even for my parent's generation." He is also the sensitive guy who said ‘The Last Temptations of Christ’ was allowed to be sold in Singapore and not ‘The Satanic Verses’ because "Christians are less likely to riot."

The common denominator in all three above is that none have drawn a $4 million paycheck in their life time. Heck, they don't even have a full-time day job to speak of. This may be the odd occasion when we want to vote for the "official" PAP candidate, whoever he or she is. After all, the post is just window dressing, right?
Should groupies decide who the next president will be?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Millionaires In Charge

Plutocracy is defined as rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth. The word plutocracy (Modern Greek: πλουτοκρατία - ploutokratia) is derived from the ancient Greek root ploutos (wealth) and kratos(rule or to govern).

According to a Boston Consulting Group report, Singapore has the highest concentration of millionaire households in the world, with 15.5 per cent of all households boasting at least $US1 million ($940,000) in assets under management. The figure is far higher than second-ranked Switzerland, where 9.9 per cent of its households are in the millionaire category. Hong Kong came in fourth place, with 8.7 per cent.

One such millionaire Singaporean bidded $97,200 for two bottles of 200-year-old champagne ($54,000 bottle of Vevue Clicquot and $43,200 bottle of Juglar) salvaged from a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Actioneer John Kapon of Acker Merrall & Conduit said the anonymous buyer now owns a piece of history.

Dunearn Road Submerged
We don't know much about the guy with the expensive taste, whether he is ruling a business enterprise or lording over a government department, but we do know about the millionaires in the cabinet. Environmental and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's concern with liquids now has to be more attuned to the floods at Bukit Timah. It's not just that up-market Tanglin Mall was flooded on Sunday, an Indonesian student was also drowned at Balestier on Wednesday 1 June. Both will be in the history books of Singapore.

"Minister, you mentioned improvements in the building codes," prompted the reporter at the press conference conducted by said Minister after the record flood waters had safely subsided. This is something that the BCA and PUB will have to study, deflected Balakrishnan, " I'm not an engineer, so I'll take it advice on a professional level." Take that as a lesson learned from the YOG blowout, when he failed to take advice from the Russians, who had prior organizational experience with a youth olympiad at Moscow. Since flooding is now deemed an engineering problem, not merely an act of God, why do we need a millionaire minister with no engineering background?

PUB's $uper$cale $alaried CEO Khoo Teng Chye suggested several ways to alleviate future flooding in the Tanglin area, including building a pond in the Botanic Gardens, "But given the built-up situation and high cost of land, these are very expensive schemes." That must be music to the Minister's ears - if that's one thing Balakrishnan is good at, it's writing big checks.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Safety Takes A Back Seat

Equipped with that power drill, he could have saved a young life
It would appear that something tragic has to take place, before the authorities in Singapore will act on safety measures. Try explaining that to the parents of Indonesian student William Lim, who fell into a open drain because a protective barrier was not installed.

Assistant director of PUB's waterways department Choy Wai Kwong acknowledged he was aware the Mandalay Road stretch was the lowest point in the area. Despite the many instances of flash flooding across the island during the past year, the national water agency had scheduled plans to cover the exposed drains only by the first quarter of next year. It was not exactly the type of complicated public works undertaking that necessitated a call for tender and evaluation of bids. As a matter of fact, by noon of yesterday, one day after the loss of a young life, new railings were promptly installed along 15 m of the drain where flood waters had obscured the death trap at 2.40 pm on Wednesday. All that was needed to save the life of a 15 year old was an timely instruction from an officer in charge.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, MP for the Moulmein-Kallang GRC area, actually claims he had informed the PUB about the flood prone Mandalay Road last year, after receiving feedback from residents in the vicinity. PUB officials may have ignored him because they were reporting to Yaacob Ibrahim then. But, as Lui reports, PUB has for now taken immediate measures by installing railings to improve safety.

The new minister in charge of the PUB catchment and waterways department is none other than Vivian Balakrishnan, the gutter guy who moved heaven and earth for his YOG project schedule. Lui is Transport Minister. The Land Transport Authority is in charge of putting up the MRT platform screen doors, the absence of which resulted in a 14-year-old Thai girl losing both her legs in a train accident at Ang Mo Kio MRT station in April. LTA's excuse for their leisurely schedule for putting up the safety barriers was that they only have a 3 hour window each day for installation work.

While the various ministries, and their expensive ministers in charge, figure out their personal priorities, watch your step as you navigate the streets of Singapore. Until we have the right people in office, safety is your own responsibility.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Career Options For Members Of Parliament

The Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC, Yeo Guat Kwang, had listed 64 appointments in his official power resume. Baited by a posting about his super-active business calendar, he has now, inadvertently or otherwise, confirmed his peripheral sources of income: "I wish to clarify that apart from my job as NTUC director and as Independent Director to the few companies stated, I do not receive remuneration for these other roles."

The "few companies" in which he serves in non pro-bono capacity to date:
  • Independent Director, Grandwork Interior Pte Ltd (interior fit-out works, restoration and custom-made furniture)
  • Independent Director, Japan Foods Holding Ltd (Japanese restaurant chains)
  • Independent Director, Koyo International Ltd (systems integrator)
  • Independent Director, United Envirotech Ltd (environmental engineering and consultancy)
  • Independent Director, Asia Water Technology Ltd (water purification and wastewater treatment)
  • Independent Director, HLH Group Ltd (property investment and construction)
For perspective, recall former PAP MP Dr Wang Kai Yuen, with 11 directorships under his belt, used to lament that "some of the companies pay me as little as $10,000".

Yeo Guat Kwang is a Bachelor of Arts degree graduate from NUS, and has no formal training in engineering, finance, business administration, or specialised trade skills. Prior to entering parliament in 1997 via the Cheng San GRC route, he was a secondary school teacher with the Ministry of Education.  The pinnacle of his career development then was being made Specialist Inspector for Chinese (1993-1996). It would be an interesting exercise to date the chronology of his directorship appointments.

The companies Yeo is associated with professionally span quite a diverse range of technologies and business interests. In July 2009 Koyo International Ltd's subsidiary Koyo Engineering (S.E.Asia) Pte Ltd was awarded two contracts worth $14.6 million by the Ministry of Education for the maintenance of Mechanical and Electrical (M & E) systems in two school zones.

It is no wonder then that the newly commissioned MP for Marine Parade GRC has just resigned her day job as a senior business consultant.  Who cares for a pissy post at Ernst & Young when the yellow brick road leading to parliament house is paved with gold? Meanwhile another de-commissioned member of parliament who seems to have difficulty securing alternative employment in the private sector is eyeing another soft option: the elected Presidency. Apparently the pay packaged is good, very good.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Clare Boothe Luce was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1942 and remembered for challenging the rosy promises of a global market, the borderless economy that came about with the arrival of air travel. Ignored in the debate, then and now, was the human face of globalization, the fear of foreign money, foreign goods, and foreign people. Clare Boothe Luce coined a term to describe an argument that intentionally misunderstands globalization or misrepresents it in order to advance a questionable point. She called it globaloney.

Khaw Boon Wan's propaganda about Singapore youths entering the workforce today having to face competition from foreigners is example of such baloney about globalization. Especially when his crowd extols the merits of foreign talent over our own born and bred.

The April 2011 piece in Wall Street Journal (India) highlights that engineering colleges in India now have seats for 1.5 million students, nearly four times the 390,000 available in 2000. The image of an India churning out hundreds of thousands of well educated students every year looms large as a threat to the better-paid middle-class workers of a globalized economy.

Unfortunately 75%of technical graduates and more than 85% of general graduates are considered unemployable by India's own high-growth global industries, including information technology and call centers, according to assessment tests conducted by their National Association of Software and Services Companies. Companies like Call-center 24/7 Customer Pvt. Ltd, who made offshoring a household word, are having difficulty sourcing competent hires, and forced to expand its search to the Philippines and Nicaragua. Most of its 8,000 employees are now based outside of India.

To bridge the widening chasm between job requirements and the skills of graduates, Tata extended its internal training program. It puts fresh graduates through 72 days of training, double the duration in 1986, said Tata chief executive N. Chandrasekaran. Samples of such graduates:

"I was not prepared at all to get a job," says Pradeep Singh, 23, who graduated last year from RKDF College of Engineering, one of the city of Bhopal's oldest engineering schools. He had been to 5 job interviews, and was rejected each time. He is taking courses to prepare for job interviews.

Deepak Sharma, 26, failed several exams at a top engineering college outside of Delhi, until he finally figured out the trick: Writing his mobile number on the exam paper. He did that for a theory-of-computation exam, and shortly after, the examiner called him and offered to pass him for 10,000 rupees (about US$250). "I feel almost 99% certain that if I didn't pay the money, I would have failed the exam again," said Mr. Sharma.

With all the globaloney going on, our nation's resources ought really be focused on its own citizens, with emphasis on those who have served National Service. A good start is to make sure their places in the universities are not taken up by outsiders.