Sunday, December 25, 2011

Silent Night In Bethlehem

The Arabs in the Bethlehem Manger Square were appreciative of the traditional carol belted out in their native language. The super fit Palestinian soldiers providing security for the VIPs (including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) dropping by for the Xmas eve gathering smiled ear to ear at the recognition of the familiar tune. Peace on earth and goodwill for all mankind.

Li-lathon! Thick-ru-ha!
Khalidon, wa-atheem,
Ith taja-lat lil-wara,
Nematu-rabbil karim,
Fee wajil massih-ih,
Muf-taddil atheem.

P.S. It rained, but there were no flash floods (or "ponding") like at Orchard Road on Friday.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Marry Christmas

The spelling mistake was pretty obvious, since most of the other text on the hotel display were in Hebrew. Aha, jolly good opportunity to chat up the chiobu Jewish receptionist, pointing out to her the management's mistake. No, she insisted, the word is spelled with an "a", not a "e". Google it, we suggested, not wanting to ruin the spirit of goodwill in the air.

Later in the day, after covering the day's activities, we noted that the spelling mistake was corrected.
If only it have been so easy to convince the SMRT apologists of their foibles.

There's a good book out there with a title that asks why intelligent people make the most stupid mistakes. One of the examples quoted was about how animal activists burned down a mink farm to protest the use of animal fur for fashion apparel. The collateral damage of the minks' lives was somehow missed by the animal lovers.

Seng Hand Thong may have thought he was protecting the mirage of superiority that his political party uses to justify their "mandate to rule". In doing so, he ended up exposing the rot within. It would have been so much simpler if he had humbly apologised, repented, and promised to sin no more. The snowballing negative PR is far worse than the SMRT taxi message, broadcasted notably in English, not Malay or Indian.

But we won't let them ruin our Christmas, will we?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Racists Within The Ranks

It looks like Seng Han Thong (MP, Ang Mo Kio GRC) is under fire again (figuratively! figuratively!). And he deserves to be flamed (figuratively! figuratively!) for upsetting the poor lady Halimah Jacob by insinuating that her minority ethnic group is linguistically challenged - "they're Malay, they are Indian, they can't converse in English ... well enough". Han must be either deaf or sleeping in parliament whenever Lim Swee Say murders the English language in public.

Maybe SMRT, in all their high and mighty-ness, also perceives Singaporeans as incapable of reading into the racist smear. SMRT had said in defence: "At no point did Mr Goh highlight any particular race in his remarks." Have the Malay and Indian races of Singapore been eradicted as ethnic components of our society to be replaced by the favoured Foreigners? Will the Chinese racial group be next to go?

Minister of State (Community Development, Youth and Sports) Halimah Jacob was spot on when she fingered the malaise in the elite upper ruling class: "I am reminded of how employers in the past sometimes try to pin the blame on the lowest level workers as a way of deflecting responsibility from the management whenever a major problem occurs." Instead of derailing the SMRT top executives, a bunch of clowns that has yet to come up with a solution for the third rail power supply problem, the lower echelons are prepared to as sacrificial lambs - just like in the Mas Selamat case. If there is an iota of integrity in their veins, their CEO Saw should be fired (literally! literally!) instead.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A World Of Difference

Jerusalem has a Light Rail system, the first of several rapid transit lines planned for the city. The clean smooth 6.5 km ride from Mount Herzel through the heart of downtown to Pisgat Ze'ev in Northern Jerusalem was built by the CityPass consortium. It was inaugurated in August 2011, but full operations began only on 1 December 2011.

The $1.4 billion project was budgeted for dramatically lower costs and an earlier debut, but delays were caused by the discovery of archaeological sites and glitches in the signalling system. During the debugging period between August and December, Jews and Arabs were provided free transportation as a token of goodwill, and in part to make up for the inconvenience, traffic jams and economic hardship created by the construction. This is Israel, not Singapore.

Think of the headaches of the Maplewood residents, and businesses affected at sites like the Beauty World area. Was any affected party compensated for inconvenience or economic disruption? The unresolved problem with the third rail, which provides power to the SMRT trains, is still not addressed. Commuters have been made to pay full fare for a system not thoroughly debugged. Gerard Ee 's PTC even approved the recent fare hike.

Yaacob Ibrahim could provide no (credible) answers for the Orchard Road floods, neither can one expect much from the likes of Lui Tuck Yew. These expensive overheads are just muddling through on-the-job-training at the cost of taxpayers. And if that's not enough, they add to their team keechiu generals and Kate Spade junkies who have contributed zilch since collecting their enhanced paychecks after the May elections.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Two Souls

The Arab manning the hotel souvenir shop in Egypt invited us to come in out of the cold, no purchase necessary. After learning we were from Singapore, he said his name was the equivalent of Peter, as in St Peter. Not exactly something one would shout from the top of the roof in a 99.9 percent Muslim country.

Peter said business throughout Egypt was in the doldrums, following the departure of Mubarak. Would he consider Mubarak a good guy? Yes, said Peter, he was a strongman, but he was getting old (in the head). The new set of leaders are wimps by comparison, and have yet to earn the confidence of the people. Uh uh, we know the feeling, but discretion kept our opinions to ourselves.

Raul the bellhop at Dubai was from Mumbai. He heard from friends Sentosa World Resort (sic) was hiring. Where are the Dubai nationals, we asked him. From the waiters in the coffee shop to the guy in charge of the internet kiosk, everyone was from the Philippines. Only the drivers for the shuttle buses to the city shopping center were not speaking in Tagalog. And practically all the sales staff at the shops were filipinas. One of them said she recognised our "Singapore accent" - maybe she was a former domestic who relocated for the higher pay in Dubai. One up for our distinctive "national identity".

Raul said the drivers were likely from Pakistan or similar. There was the odd bearded guy with a burkha draped missus (or two) in tow. Maybe our hotel was not in the same class as the ones Thaksin hangs out at. Maybe there are more local born and bred there. Maybe.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Out Of Town Perspective

The world looks different from Mt Sinai, Egypt, some 2,000+ metres above sea level. Definitely more peaceful and tranquil, far away from the maddening crowds of Singapore. And the rumble of the problems with the public transportation system.

The wifi router in the tour bus provided net access on the move, and an update of the SMRT woes at home. So CEO Saw is still in self denial mode, refusing to vacate her tenacious claim on the shaky throne, with the atrocious claim that only she can make things right. Will anybody be brave enough to tell her she's the one responsible for the mess in the first place? Lee Hsien Loong made the mistake of not asking Wong Kan Seng to step down after the Mas Selamat debacle, and it cost him dearly at the polls in May. By turning a blind eye, this shirking of his own accountability to the people will surely come back to haunt him in the near future. Lame duck Lui Tuck Yew doesn't have the cojones to take on the patron saint, madame Ho. No wonder the technically challenged Saw, who probably thinks a collector shoe is the latest footwear from Gucci, is acting all cocky and smug.

We had a sampling of the Dubai trains during the transit stopover, a glimpse of what a smoothly run transportation system should be like. Come to think of it, even Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur never had to put up with the SMRT snafus in the past week. Surely it's not too difficult to source a more capable transportation executive than the Duty-Free-Sales girl? With that character in charge, even the camels that we rode on to ascend Mt Sinai were more dependable.

Friday, December 16, 2011

SMRT SNAFU - Situation Normal All Fouled Up

Those who read their news at were probably wondering why everybody was fussing about PM Lee's election speech in May 2006. CNA online had reported it as "counter the opposition" instead of using the more unpalatable verbatim quote of "what's the right way to fix them". Couple of days ago, CNA tried to make a molehill out of a mountain again.

"The disruption began at 6am, and lasted just 40 minutes.
But trains were delayed for more than five hours as a result of the disruption. While engineers managed to partially-restore the services along the affected stretch, peak hour trains could not be deployed to meet the morning peak frequency.
Train services resumed normal operations around 11.45am."
Note picturesque MRT station with no crowds, no rush 

Why were the commuters on the Circle Line all red in the face? The disruption, in the world according to CNA, lasted only a mere 40 minutes. The level of train service between 6.40am and 11.45am was just as before, i.e. late as usual.

Commuters who still feel their work day was disrupted should read the advisory put out by SMRT carefully:
"Passengers who were unable to complete their journeys due to the disruption can file a claim for refund at the Passenger Service Centre in any of the 68 SMRT stations."

Before you rush out to claim your refund, pay heed to how "unable to complete their journeys" can be interpreted:
You could have boarded one of the shuttle bus services;
You could have waited for the train, however long it takes to show up;
You could have switched to a cab and paid the new enhanced charges;
You could have started walking since one is not allowed to be in the network for longer than 2 hours.

You could have done any of the above, or even charter a chopper if really desperate, and still be "able to complete your journey".
And if you feel skepticism is out of order during this yuletide season of goodwill, see the way SMRT quickly responded to last night's total chaos on the North-South Line. Let's hope they aren't as prompt in making a police report about the train cabin windows that were smashed to let in fresh air for the suffocating passengers.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Exam System Is Broke

Allison Pearson, commenting on the Daily Telegraph's expose of GCE history chief examiner Paul Evans' shocking action of revealing contents of future papers to teachers, was no more surprised by her own daughter's attitude. "Relax, Mum, it was a paper from 4 years ago... Plus, if the paper's hard, the examiners will adjust the grade boundaries so I'll probably get an A* anyway."

One schoolgirl who sat for this year's A Level biology paper at a Dover Road premier school said something similar. The questions were difficult, but she was confident that the T-score will be tweaked if everybody else stumbles. Last year one chemistry paper question was out of syllabus, but since a particular JC had supplied its students with the material for the answer, everybody had a free boost in their grades.

Pearson reflected that, during her days, one "swotted up as hard as you were inclined", and the exam results will pretty much reflect one's strengths and weaknesses in the subjects studied. Those were the days when 10As were unheard of, Bs and Cs were respectable grades. There was no such thing as "being good at exams". Or as Evans explained the game in play, "We're cheating, we're telling you the cycle." His illogic for focusing on key topics instead of covering the entire syllabus, "Yes, if we are proper educationists, our gut instinct is to teach the lot... (but) if you are under pressure to get results and you are hammering exam technique, you may go at a slower rate."

Our teachers will recognise the technique: if you teach the whole syllabus, you will have less time for drill practices. All the holistic spiel about skipping the O Level in the IP system so kids will have more time for enrichment activities is plain baloney. The extra time is more likely spent in extra tuition classes. They even have tutors for students sitting for the IB. One lecturer claims that even undergrads are attending tuition classes.

Quick to distance themselves from the British exam system under fire, principals like Chan maintain that other than briefings on changes in syllabuses, teachers here have limited contact with Cambridge examiners. Specifically, "...questions that will be used for exams in the future are not discussed." Tell that to the kids, and especially their parents, who sign up with ex-teachers who make a bundle selling tuition services on the premise of their uncanny skills at spotting questions.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Matter Of Perspective

"COES mainly for the rich? That's life," wrote the director of Mag-E to the Forum page, to justify one car on the road and another in the garage. Not any car of course, he was referring to a Ferrari for "forging deals" and "paying the salaries of his average-income employees." That's sickening.

Once upon a time, cabinet ministers made a point of driving (and being seen in) cheaper Japanese makes. Slowly, they have moved on to more expensive and swankier European marques. Goh Keng Swee would be rolling in his grave. His favorite story was about his son asking to be dropped off a distance from his Alma Mater - the kid didn't want to be embarrassed by his dad's humble set of wheels.

Delivered as a Babara Weinstock lecture in January 1979 at the University of California in Berkely, Goh Keng Swee's perspective about good business ethics and sustained economic growth comes across in this excerpt:
"When businessmen earn money the hard way, i.e. the honest way, they do not engage in meaningless extravagance. Profits are not spent in conspicuous consumption but are ploughed back into the business.
Where, however, business profits are the results of favours granted through bribery, the effects are different. The businessman himself may or may not re-invest profits earned. This depends on whether he can secure more favours to start new monopolies. In that event, he would be imprudent not to stash a good portion of his profits in an unnumbered Swiss Bank Account.
Patrons behave differently. Since they have acquired vast fortunes by virtue of the positions they hold and not because of work put in, the temptation to spend freely becomes irresistible. Almost invariably, there is competition among patrons to impress one another and the general populace. This is why we so often witness gross extravagance among the wealthy in third world countries."
(page 193, "In Lieu of Ideology, An intellectual biography of Goh Keng Swee", Ooi Kee Beng)

It makes you wonder if present day Singapore is still lingering at Third World status.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Power To The Consumer

One thing's for sure, ComfortDelgro directors won't be on Santa's list this year. The biggest cheer this season is that Singaporeans have awakened from their "daft" mode, and the boycott is on, with a vengeance.

Still in denial mode, the rapacious taxi company is assuring itself that demand will return to normal once commuters "get used to the new fares". There's no new normal for these villains, even as the cabbies have to bear with the consequences of their greed:
"When I drove past, they flagged for a cab from another company."
"I've earned  about 50 percent less today than I normally do."
"It's a very slow day for me and I hope business picks up soon."

A friend suggested checking with the retirees in the neighborhood who drive, if a ride to the airport is needed during this holiday season - let the senior citizens pocket the cab fare instead. Totally wicked!

The Public Transport Council reported that none of the other cab companies have yet to notify it about revising their fare structure. None except SMRT, the other government linked operator, that is. Come next Tuesday, SMRT will be following the ComfortDelgro template to a T. Now if that's not a clear case of price collusion, the Competition Commission of Singapore needs to take a second look at the law books.

We don't have a Ralph Nader to champion our cause, so the John Lennon lyrics will have to do:
Singing power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on

Monday, December 12, 2011

Where In The World Is Liechtenstein

The additional 10 percent stamp duty for foreign buyers and property speculators seemed to have ruffled a few feathers. The Real Estate Developers' Association (Redas) cried foul, whined about "the lack of consultation" on the government measures. In the past they may have had cosy links with the bureaucrats in charge, at the cost of home owners, but the new normal demands everything to be under the scrutiny of anti-competition watchdogs.

Overseas consultants have joined in the protestations, with some delighting to highlight how Hongkong's non-intervention policy makes investment more attractive - whose non-intervention government also recently announced it may reverse property cooling curbs if so required. And in Britain, non-residents pay no seller's or capital gains tax for playing in the property market. If Singapore is giving all these foreign countries the wrong end of the stick, why is Liechtenstein so favoured?

Liechtenstein National Museum
Liechtenstein is a tiny country with a land area of 160 sq km (compared to Singapore's small 704 sq km) wedged between Switzerland (west) and Austria (east). It has a population of about 35,000, of whom one third are foreigners, a similar ratio as in Singapore. It turns out it is also a member of the Singapore-European Free Trade Association FTA (EFTA), which comprises Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. But the EFTA is just one of a long list of trade agreements signed to reduce or eliminate obstacles to trade and enable cross border movement of goods and services between the signatory countries, e.g.
  • ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA)
  • China (CSFTA)
  • The Gulf Cooperation Council (GSFTA)
  • Japan (JSEPA)
  • Korea (KSFTA)
  • Trans-Pacific SEP (TPFTA)
  • United States (USSFTA)
Someone else must have also wondered about the preferential treatment for the EFTA countries, and the United States(USSFTA), which are as foreign as China and Australia. The press now tells us these exceptional countries have certain exempt clauses in their free trade deals with Singapore. Clauses which do not exist in the other FTAs. Strange, huh?

The only other bit we know about the Liechtenstein connection is that George Yeo signed the FTA in 2002 when he was in the MTI. According to his blog, Liechtenstein's foreign minister then was Ernst Walch, with whom he had a nice lunch and a nice visit to the modern art museum in Vaduz. Walch's daughter studied law at NUS.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More Slut Than Stud

SlutWalk SG has come and gone, with minimalist impact, thanks to our sisters who made sure exposed epidermis on display did not detract from the main message.

When a female bares her midriff, you're spoiled for choice when it comes to adjectives: tart, slapper, slag and slut ... all of them nasty and all of them suggesting that women should really stick to sex for their procreative role only. And try not to enjoy it too much. Due to a quirky bias in history (there's no such word as "herstory"), coming up with a pejorative for someone male who likes to flash his nude torso in public is really challenging.

In our unfair world, men are esteemed for their conquests, women are cherished for fighting them off. So is there even a male equivalent for the word "slut"? What exactly do you call a guy who delights in brandishing his naked bod as a badge of pride?

UrbanDictionary defines "manwhore" as:
"A male who's unleashed himself from the bonds of society; thinking for himself and following his own mental dictates and biological drives."

That sounds more stud than slut. Dominique Strauss-Kahn may prefer "womaniser" or "libertine", and even that smacks of a boast rather than a scarlet letter. None of these labels seem to convey a sense of moral depravity, instead they are tinged with admiration and (male) jealousy. No wonder DSK was widely expected to seek the Socialist nomination for President of France in 2012, until he was derailed by the Sofitel tryst in New York.

Even so, it's hard to imagine DSK standing in front of the Abercrombie & Fitch store in Orchard Road. If it's abs they want to show off, Arnold Schwarzenegger would been more appropriate. But these in the line-up look more like boy toys. Fairies also come to mind, but Enid Blyton will be upset by the imagery.

In 2009, the American Family Association disapproved of the influence of the A & F "sex-as-recreation" lifestyle fashion apparel, and asked the brand to remove its "sexualized shirts" from display. The government will probably wait for outraged citizens to protest first before they figure out if the store's message is consistent with the recent roll out of moral education in schools.
Does this picture make you see red?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Black And White Proof

If anyone wants proof that paying civil servants high salaries is no guarantee of warding off corruption, he need look no further than the morality tale of of ex-PAP MP Choo Wee Khiang. The astonishing revelation is that he allegedly took a bribe of US$200 for approving the use of two training venues in China by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA). Is there no limit to stooping down for greed?

Choo was head of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) for nearly 20 years, an appointment which probably came about by way of his political affiliation. Credited with Singapore's silver medal success at the 2008 Olympics, he also held other appointments like general manager of the Marina Bay Golf Club. The official endorsements enabled him to con a secondary school principal into engaging STTA for training services which were never delivered.

The question on everyone's lips is how such a shady character was admitted into parliament. Well, he was the MP for Marine Parade and Jalan Besar GRCs from 1988 to 1999, another shining proof of the failings of the GRC system.

Choo made headlines for other dubious reasons while holding political office. In an odious speech made in Mandarin during a parliament session in 1992, he actually mouthed this, "One evening, I drove to Little India and it was pitch dark but not because there was no light, but because there were too many Indians around." The Singapore Government then, for reasons undisclosed, chose not to act against him for breach of parliamentary privilege, even though the utterance was hideously racist.

Choo lost his MP position in 1999 only after pleading guilty to a charge of abetting his brother-in-law to cheat a finance company by issuing false invoices worth $1,000,000 in 1990. Which means from 1990 to 1999, while he was wearing white and white, his heart was as dark as the night he drove into Little India. Under false colours, he was re-elected to office in 1991 and 1997, bearing the imprimatur of the PAP. In spite of being jailed and fined in 1999, this ex-convict and unrepentant racist was publicly honoured with the International Olympic Committee President's Trophy in 2009.

Malaysia's Public Service director-general Tan Sri Abu Bakar Abdullah just announced a performance-based remuneration scheme which gives government employees a pay rise of 7% to 13%. If he thinks that will help fight corruption in the civil service ranks, he should pay attention to the Singapore example.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Of Course It's Price-Fixing!

In one of its rare successes in persecution, the Competition Commission of Singapore (“CCS”) issued an Infringement Decision on 23 Nov 2011 against 11 modelling agencies in Singapore for breaching the Competition Act (“the Act”). It stated for public record, "Trade or industry associations should not become the vehicle to facilitate price collusion or price-fixing."

When CCS ruled against the Singapore Medical Association (“SMA”) Guidelines on Fees in August 2010, it made clear, " In general, price recommendations by trade or professional associations are harmful to competition because they create focal points for prices to converge, restrict independent pricing decisions and signal to market players what their competitors are likely to charge."

Now put into context the action plan of the National Taxi Association (NTA), a trade union body representing some 12,000 taxi drivers, which has said it "is already in talks with other taxi companies and urges them to adjust their taxi fares as soon as possible."

You don't need to be a qualified civil lawyer like Mr Sng Kheng Huat to concur that the NTA statement "smacks of an attempt at price-fixing."

So why did the CCS declined to "comment "on individual cases or whether it is investigation a case"? Could it be because ComfortDelGro's major shareholder (12.1%) is Singapore Labour Foundation? We know the part about fixing the opposition, are they planning to fix the commuters too?

CCS is a statutory board established under the Act on 1 January 2005 to administer and enforce the Competition Act. The Act empowers CCS to investigate alleged anti-competitive activities, determine if such activities infringe the Act and impose suitable remedies, directions and financial penalties. Now go investigate and earn your year end bonuses.

Does this look like they need the money?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Too Good For Miracles

A miracle is a rare event often attributable to divine intervention. For agnostics or atheists at large, a miracle can also be thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature.

The Train Miracle
The new fancy MRT signalling system has not been installed. The new trains on order won't be delivered until umpteen years down the road. Yet, inspite of these supposedly insurmountable encumberances, train waiting times managed to be shaved to an average 3 minutes. By simply tweaking the train schedule! The SMRT is adding more than 260 extra trips ahead of the December festive period, reducing the North-South Line wait at Yishun to 3 minutes, and the East-West Line wait from 6 to 4 minutes. Now why didn't they think of that before?

The Hospital Miracle
The project completion date was advanced not by 2 weeks, or 2 months. We are told, via Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong's blog, the new hospital at Sengkang will be on stream 2 whole years ahead of schedule - from 2020 to 2018! The last time a construction schedule was abbreviated so significantly was when the Marina Bay Sands Casino Resort was rushed into service to expedite collection of the $100 entry levy.

Two miracles in a row, it's almost enough to turn anyone into a religious convert. But just before you start believing again, they hit you with a property tax whammy. Just when inflation is about to knock your breath out following world wide forecasts of a gloomy future.

With home prices expected to fall 30 to 40 per cent over the next three years, Singapore's developers are already bracing for a moribund market and expect to take a hit in first-quarter earnings. The rebound they hoped for is turning out to be the stuff of dreams.

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) has decreed that 4- to 5-room HDB flat owners will have to pay $5 to $29 more property tax from 2012 onwards. Their justification is that property prices have been on the increase in the past years, without paying heed to what the doomsday sayers portend about the imminent future. Perhaps that's why they want to stiff you now, before the bubble bursts, and make them look silly for asking more money then. Adding insult to injury, they once again offer a one-off token rebate of $55, good for limited time only, while the hike will be in place for perpetuity. You expecting the IRAS will ever reduce the Annual Values (AV)? That would be a real miracle indeed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

No Comfort For Commuters

The headline says it all - Singapore's largest taxi operator ComfortDelGro has its eye on the profit line. When it cites "strong population growth and an increase in tourist arrivals have resulted in a significant spike in demand for taxi", it was not trying to address a shortage in supply. There was no equivalent sound bite of "they can always take the next cab".

ComfortDelGro is no run of the mill transport company. It knows its action is implicit direction for other taxi operators to follow. The National Taxi Association (NTA) actually urged the other operators, Trans-Cab, SMRT, Premier, Smart and Prime, to join in the feeding frenzy. This selfish act is a move that will push up inflation which is currently running around two-year highs. In October the transport component, which makes up 16 percent of Singapore's consumer price index, went up by 10.5 percent year-on-year, faster than the 5.4 percent rise in the overall index.

NTA president Wee Boon Kim had the audacity to admit that Comfort Delgro had been in discussion with leaders from two of its branches over the fare issue in the past few months. They probably plotted in secret, and sounded out the official blessing for their greed before making the move. The "win some, lose some" strategy - token 20 cent discount for call booking - is as good as lifted from the government line when the distance-based fare structure was implemented.

You can bet your increased flagdown fare that the head of the Government Parliamentary Committee and Transport, Cedric Foo, won't be making strenuous objection on your behalf. As a matter of fact, he is already making pathetic excuses for the other side, arguing that the taxi industry is deregulated and therefore a free market. The committee he  heads is just for show, another wayang to justify the MP allowance.

Let's hope the other cab companies will not sell their soul to the devil. Commuters can rally around and support them, and boycott the government linked entity. For once, let them have a taste of discomfit.

Monday, December 5, 2011

No Sluts Please, We're Singaporeans

Superman dresses like this
The good news is that SlutWalk Singapore had a better turnout than the Occupy Wall Street "protest" at Raffles Place. Still the reported 650 was a pale shade of the 10,000 that showed up for a Pink Dot celebration on 18 June 2011.

The bad news was that the ladies that were at Hong Lim Park on 4th Dec were all "staidly" dressed. Maybe it had to do with the dress code stipulated by the organisers - come as you are, whether in t-shirt and jeans, in fishnets, in a sari, in a jacket, or in a tudung. All the eager photographers who converged at the event venue had to contend with, nay, hope for a sighting of a wet t-shirt at least since the skies did sprinkle some showers of blessing intermittently.

Constable Michael Sanguinetti, who started it all when he dispensed grandmotherly advice at a York University safety forum by preaching that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimised,” would be a welcome male guest in most Asian homes. Especially those with female members yet to tie the wedding knot. Organizer Vanessa Ho even hid her active role in putting together SlutWalkSG from her from her parents "because of their conservative values". Just like some young women's choice of clothing are also kept secret from mom and dad, if they value the free board and lodging provide by same doting parents.

Women may or may not admit that they dress the way they do to attract men's attention. The difference comes about when the attention is welcomed, as in a eligible suitor of significant financial means, or unwelcome, as in the gawking stare of a casual road sweeper. Even Jimmy Carter confessed that he had an eye for the ladies as well as the White House, " I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times." Bill Clinton's weakness was a visible thong.

You don't need grandma to remind you to be streetwise, forewarned is forearmed. Even alpha males avoid walking into a dark cul-de-sac at Geylang since those fake Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches are so damn realistic even in broad daylight. You don't want to lose an arm, or worse, just because of the right or freedom to wear whatever you want.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Consolation Prize For Corruption

It was not the report card they expected. Singapore is now placed fifth according to the latest ranking by non-governmental corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI). Significantly, the countries perceived by experts or their residents to be less corrupt - New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Sweden - all have heads of government drawing smaller salaries from the tax payers.

Mr Liau Ran, who oversees TI's rankings for East Asia, has this notion about corruption-free countries: "In many countries, you have to pay (and pay) to get things done." TI's ranking has a more stringent definition of corruption: abuse of entrusted power for private gain. What Liau missed out is that what we have is a pre-paid reward system for sanctioned corruption of morals.

Responding to Han Fook Kwang's concern about the ministerial pay policy remaining deeply popular, Lee Kuan Yew said this, "It is people's expectations - office is for honour. It is not."

He expands:
"We are in this part of the world where "money politics" is the culture, we're not in Europe, nor Australasia, or some region where different political cultures prevail, different standards of living and different population ratio. Are we able to maintain this system? You see your counterparts, their wives are bedecked with jewels. And yours?" (HT, page 123)

In case you miss the drift:
"Some Singaporeans believe ministers ought to do it for honour and glory. But how many will do it for more than one term? My generation did it because we had prepared ourselves to give up everything.
Can a successor generation do that? No." (HT, pages 125-126)

It would appear that the vaunted aspiration for attaining the Swiss standard of living was never about striving for the European benchmark of moral society, just the monetary hallmark. Hence the consoling pat on the back: Singapore remains the least corrupt in Asia, ahead of Hong Kong and Japan. The attempt at sophistry reminds one of an old communist joke:
"Following months of negotiations, the long awaited hundred-metre sprint race between American President John Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita Khruschev finally took place. The Soviet First Secretary came in a respectable silver medallist, while the American President was unfortunately second from last."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Life Outside The Cabinet

John Swire & Sons (South-east Asia) has appointed former Transport Minister Raymond Lim as a senior adviser to "provide both focus and expertise to efforts to develop and broaden the range of investments in the region." Little is known of the charter of the Swire Group entity which was incorporated only in August.

Swire Pacific Offshore (SPO) is the more well known local unit in the London based Swire Group, owner and operator of an extensive fleet of 75 offshore supply vessels (PSVs, AHTS) to support the oil and gas industry, including drilling, production, exploration, pipe-lay, subsea construction and FPSO operations. Lim was in finance before politics, one of the managing directors of Temasek Holdings and chief executive of DBS Vickers Securities. In a statement Lim said "I look forward to helping it grow in the region," presumably not in the land-based transportation industry.

The big question in everybody's mind is whether he is getting anything close to his former ministerial million dollar paycheck. In "Lee Kuan Yew, The Man And His Ideas" (Straits Times Press,1998), Lee himself said, "There's no way a prime minister can argue that any any minister can walk out of his cabinet and get this kind of salary." Not unless Swire pays its advisers big bucks. Fraser and Neave did. Lee Hsien Yang received $1 million as a business consultant after departing from Singtel, never mind if he had zero experience in food and beverage or property development.

It's interesting to note that nearly all the ministers who lost their appointments after May 7 have yet to get a "real job". After landing a Senior Advisor appointment with Malaysian conglomerate Kuok Brothers, George Yeo curiously labelled it as ""an informal arrangement." He added, " I'll join (the) private sector next year, " which makes one wonder what an adviser does for a living. Lim Hwee Hua seems more prolific in collecting "informal arrangements" (whatever Yeo means by that term), as senior advisor to global investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) in addition to being appointed as a non-executive director at Jardine Cycle & Carriage. A recent update to her resume is an appointment as an independent non-executive director on Ernst & Young's Global Advisory Council (GAC). At least she's collecting all these stuff while she's out of the cabinet. Recall former PAP MP Dr Wang Kai Yuen, with 11 directorships under his belt, who used to lament that "some of the companies pay me as little as $10,000".