Thursday, March 29, 2012

National Harmony Or Racial Harmony Comes First?

Chairman of national racial harmony body Zainundin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP) had asked, "Why would you want to create friction and anger because of your prejudices? By the time your children and grandchildren inherit this country, it's mess, people will start running away."

Zainudin was explaining the rationale for dispatching "racial harmony diplomats" to junior colleges, and later to institutes of higher learning. The initiative, we are told, is a response to derogatory comments attributed to Sun Xu of NUS ("more dogs than humans in Singapore.") and Shimum Lai of Nanyang Poly ("trains need to have separate cabins for humans and fkn dogs"). Police reports were lodged against both parties, presumably by non-canine members of the population. Both are young, and foolishly ranted in what they erroneously assumed was their private domain of cyberspace. Lai's post had the taint of racism, but Sun Xu's case crouched on the realm of xenophobia, which the MP, intentionally or otherwise, missed out on.

Franziska Zimmerman, 37, is Manager, Public Affairs Asia-Pacific, at Syngenta Asia Pacific Pte. Ltd. Elouisa Dalli, 30, is Media & Community Relations Manager, for Syngenta. Both are classic examples of epic fails in respect of their day job requirements. Not exactly babes in the woods, these two are either horribly dense or plain bimbo hires. Any outsider should realise that remarks like "But no one owes anyone else a living; you cannot say you are entitled to jobs in your country" are downright insensitive and political dynamite. Think W.M.D. - Women. Moronically. Demented. The objectives and goals of the Syngenta Foundation are "to work with rural communities in the semiarid regions of the world and improve their livelihoods." Maybe they are more suited to work with farm animals.

One can understand if an employment pass is issued to a rocket scientist, we don't have too many of them here. Or experienced nuclear physicists, those could also justify the import of foreign talent. But our universities and polytechnics produce lots of graduates formally trained in public relations and mass communications. Qualified candidates who not only have the necessary degrees or diplomas but can also speak and appreciate the cultural nuances of languages. We may need the construction labour to work on the infrastructure, but do we need mindless talking heads to ratchet up the frenzy of xenophobia?

Where they come from, an employer has to first demonstrate that a job on offer could not be filled by a Swiss worker or an EU national. If Switzerland makes it difficult for outsiders seeking work, especially those from Third World countries, why should Singapore open the flood-gates for foreign trash like Zimmerman and Dalli?

Zainundin should recognise the presence of negative diplomats introduced into the country by a flawed immigration policy, which stir friction and anger. At the end of the day, when children and grandchildren inherit this country, it's a mess. Come to think of it, it's already a mess, and scores of people are voting with their feet.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Paradox Of Government

DPM Teo Chee Hean told the gathering of Singapore's top public servants that there are difficult decisions which the Government must not shy from. Taking him at his word, the Hougang by-election and the punishment awaiting two former senior public servants arrested by the CPIB will come about, it's just the timing that will be slightly more difficult.

Not so difficult are the decisions affecting the lesser mortals: bull dozing Bukit Brown cemetery for the convenience of those who afford $80,000 COEs and steaming ahead with building eldercare facilities at Toh Yi where 3 other sites nearby are rejected because they are "reserved for future development". Never has the great divide been made so obvious.

The curious part of his speech is the special praise levied on an ex-civil servant who did not bother to change his travel schedule to be on hand to receive the effusive tribute crafted by Teo. Mr Teo (no relation) retired at 60 after 36 years of a good life at the civil service, last appointment being superscaled Permanent Secretary i.e. can afford pastry cooking holiday in France type. Unlike mere mortals who have to worry about the loss of income when let go before the compulsory retirement age of 65 (or is it 67?), Teo - the ex-civil servant, not the DPM - has already been made chairman of MediaCorp. In Japan there's a special term for this, it's called "promoted to heaven."

DPM Teo talked of a "paradox of government" whereby there will be some who expect their government to play a bigger role, while others think the government should take a step back. Maybe it's something in the drinks served at the Administrative Service Dinner or he simply had one glass too many, but it's difficult to imagine any sane Singaporean thinking that the government should step back from tackling the shortcomings of transportation, housing, health care and foreign imports. On the contrary, the sentiment is more like jia you, jia you (加油! 加油!).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

NUS Ain't Got No Bite

When a 23-year-old Ministry of Education (MOE) scholar was handed a 6 month suspended sentence in the UK in December 2010 for possessing child pornography videos, the MOE promptly revoked his teaching scholarship. As he was also expelled from the University of York, he was not allowed to stay legally in the UK.

Sun Xu (孙旭) lost only the scholarship for the last semester, and may be allowed to graduate. Meaning, there's a real possibility he will be a bona fide alumnus of the National University of Singapore. NUS Provost Tan Eng Chye stated their position thus:
After careful consideration, the Board of Discipline decided on the following penalties:
i. A community service obligation of 3 months, the details of which shall be made known to him in due course. Upon satisfactorily completing the community service obligation, he may be allowed to graduate, but no earlier than the end of Semester 1, AY2012/2013;
ii. A fine of $3,000;
iii. An official reprimand.

The Board of Discipline’s decision sends a clear and strong signal that the University does not condone such actions. At the same time, as the administrator of his scholarship, the University has separately conveyed to him that his undergraduate scholarship benefits have been terminated for the final semester as his behaviour was unbecoming of a scholarship holder.

While the self inflicted damage of the two MOE scholars are noticeably different - one hurt himself, the other hurt Singaporeans in general - the pace, and type of justice dispensed leave a bad after taste. This PRC scholar who broadcasted there are more dogs than humans in Singapore may get to serve his 6 year bond here (according to last night's television report), while enjoying the imprimatur of being on the Dean's List. When Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore citizens will be given "absolute priority" over permanent residents (PRs), it looks like he was referring only to the primary school level. It will probably take awhile for him address the tertiary situation. The Ministers seem to work at their laggardly speed when it comes to national issues, but they sure are pretty quick about helping themselves to the new National Bonus.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Priority For Singaporeans

In what must be seen as another "populist move" Education Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that Singapore citizens will be given "absolute priority" over permanent residents (PRs) when balloting is required during the Primary 1 registration exercise. In the event that the number of applicants exceeds the number of vacancies in a specific phase of the exercise, citizens will be admitted first, regardless of how far they live from the school. This will address the tactics of some PRs who buy property from the new or resale market to be within that critical 1 km distance of a popular school.

The last time the scheme was changed in 2010, Singaporean children were given two ballot slips, compared to one for a PR registrant. That apparently had failed to placate the ire of parents anxious to have their wards placed in a "good school".

The end of this month will also see A-level graduands competing for limited places in the local universities. It remains to be seen if another vote gathering gesture will hatched to soothe the tempers of another set of doting guardians. Ideally, foreigners will be granted access only after Singaporeans have secured their admission.  And reduce the number of the ungrateful free-loader type foreign scholars.

A Taiwanese agent advising an American businessman about the amount needed to grease some palms for a multi-million dollar project (American firms are strict about bribes, but "guanxi" is okay) explained the Chinese strategy that if one needs to make a killing, the knife better had better be sharp. If one uses a uses a blunt instrument, one can stab and stab, there will be lots of splattered blood, but the intended target may refuse to die i.e. be prepared to pay big. Whether the Ministry of Education is utilising the correct set of tools will remain to be seen, but we look forward to more goodies as the politicians scheme to improve their diminished mandate.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Curious Case of the Dopey DPP

Chinese national Yuan Zhenghua, 33, was originally charged at his hospital bedside with causing hurt to CitiCab taxi driver Yeow Chuwee Lam, by punching and strangling him when trying to steal his vehicle. Whether Yuan was attempting to rob the cabby of his vehicle or day's takings is debatable, but he did cuff Yeow on the neck and roughed him up - hence the bit about "voluntarily causing hurt". Somehow the police officer in charge failed to recognise cleaner Chandra Morgan being killed in the event of 17 March 2012.

According to section 299 of our Penal Code: “Whoever causes death by doing an act … with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide”. Section 304A of the Penal Code also prescribes a charge of causing death by a rash act.

Apparently the ah peks and ah kongs at the kopi-tiams are all riled up at the travesty of justice. Unlike the incorrigible foreign import PRCs, Malaysians are treated like family. Have been, and will always be. If LKY hadn't got us turfed out of Malaysia, we would be drinking fresh water from the Johore catchment area, instead of the shitty stuff from the toilet bowls. Voluntarily causing hurt in committing robbery attracts only up to 20 years in jail and at least 12 strokes of the cane. Do we really need to provide the PRC guy with free board and lodging for 20 years?

All the anger fuelled by caffeine doses of kopi-o, kopi-si or kopi-peng must have reached some ears in authority. To appease the upset citizens, Yuan has been slapped with 3 more charges on 23 March:
- dangerous driving causing death (up to 5 years in jail),:
- driving without a valid licence (fine up to S$1,000 or jail up to 3 months);
- driving a cab without valid insurance policy (fine up to S$1,000 or jail up to 3 months).

There are probably other charges that could have been piled on:
- making the DPP look bad;
- making Sun Xu look like a wimp by comparison;
- making the cab companies install expensive GPS units for protection;
- making commuters angrier for the fares that will be hiked to pay for above GPS installation

Friday, March 23, 2012

Do We Need A US$68,000,000 Airplane?

Just what the doctor ordered
Air Force Major-General Charles Davis, Pentagon’s programme chief in charge of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft development mentioned it first: “The Israelis have said they’d take up to 100 aircraft. The Singaporeans have said basically the same thing.” Israeli DPM Avigdor Lieberman is in town, maybe he can confirm.

In his "needs-only basis" defence of his budget, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen had claimed, "We buy only what we need, scrutinise available options for the most cost-effective solution. Our first instinct is to upgrade existing platforms to extend their lifespan, instead of purchasing new ones." In a previous comment on the F-35 JSF, his Ministry had confirmed that the plane was “a potential candidate” to meet the air force’s “longer-term requirements for a multi-role fighter”. Do we really really need a top of the line US$68 million (basic configuration) fighter plane? The F-35 is definitely a new plane, so new that it's production schedule is still uncertain.

Although billed as a cost-effective Chevrolet of the skies, the the F-35 loomed as the Pentagon’s biggest budget-buster. Even with the deep pockets of the US of A, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is eyeing next-generation weapons, specifically the F-35, should $500 billion in automatic defense budget cuts go into effect starting in  January 2013. The Pentagon will cut $1.6 billion from the program, canceling 13 jets next year, under proposals sent to Congress on Feb 13. It had initially planned to spend nearly $382 billion for development and purchases of the F-35. Italy announced it will reduce its planned order from 131 to 90 F-35s. Even orders from the U.K., the biggest partner with a stake of US$2 billion, are in flux.

Singapore's defence expenditure has been on an insatiable climb, rising this year to a humongous S$12.3 billion, constituting 24.4 per cent of the government's total expenditure for 2012, according to an AFP report. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) lists Singapore as one of 5 countries accounting for almost a third, 30 percent, of the volume of international arms imports - India (11 percent), South Korea (6 percent ), China and Pakistan (both 5 percent), and Singapore (4 percent). Yes, Singapore (pop. 4.6 million, land area 693 sq km) is spending almost as much as China (pop. 1,330 million, land area 9,596,960 sq km).

The US has a "super committee" – officially called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (JSCDR) – to decide the fate of the costly fighter jet. Thanks to the mandate given by 60.1 %, we have one ex-surgeon with a blank check and a shopping list to delight a kid at a candy store.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The House As A Financial Asset

Remember the sweet siren calls of asset enhancement?

The abstract for the paper "The Impact of Housing Prices on Aggregate Consumption: Evidence from an East Asian City-State" by Phang Sock Yong states clearly that "there is no evidence that housing prices have produced either wealth or collateral enhancement effects on consumption."

There is no need to dwell too deeply into the esoteric academic references to appreciate what we experience in real life. Since CPF "liberalised" the use of the retirement funds in 1980, housing stock is four-fifths HDB, and home ownership is in excess of 90 percent. All this is supposedly good news except that cash was diverted from other necessary expenditures, resulting in the unique Singapore position of being asset rich, cash poor.

The research found that, regardless of the definition of consumption expenditure or disposable income used, the ratio of total consumption expenditure to GDP less personal and corporate taxes fell from 0.59 in 1979 to 0.44 in 1999. Under the myopic hypothese, consumption should track income/wealth movements and respond correspondingly to income/wealth increases and decreases. So where did all that wealth generated go to? Definitely not to the average HDB owner, struggling with a 30-year mortgage repayment schedule.

Phang has an explanation for the negative impact of housing price increase on aggregate consumption: The negative wealth effect of house price increases (on those seeking to upgrade or enter the housing market) is stronger than the positive wealth effect of those seeking to downsize their housing assets (presumably to cash out for retirement needs). In Aesop Fable terminology, those chasing the elusive pot of gold may not realise that at the end of the rainbow, the pickings are not that attractive. The paper concludes with this recommendation, "asset enhancement" polices should make a distinction between price increases for housing vis-a-vis other financial assets. Think twice about before betting big on your house, especially one built by HDB.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

No Money, No Retirement

Author of more then 30+ academic papers, on retirement and other issues, Assoc Prof Hui at NUS should know his subject well. His latest study predicts that the present lot of tertiary educated Singaporeans with starting pay of $2,560 will only have one-third of what is required to maintain their lifestyle prior to retirement, after coughing up $560,000 for a Government 5-room flat.

His premise is that an income replacement rate of 66 percent is the international benchmark of retirement adequacy for homeowners. While some will quibble whether this is too much or too little, it should be safe to assume that at age 65, all major financial obligations on house, car and tertiary education outlays for their own children should have been met during the productive years. What's leftover in the piggy bank is meant for a comfortable subsistence, unless you still plan to zip around in a Ferrari California or ski at the Alpine slopes.

When the British colonial authority in Singapore introduced the CPF in 1955, it was a compulsory savings scheme to set aside money for the retirement years, since not all were entitled to the alternative pension fund. The contribution rate was calibrated for such intent, and should suffice for said needs. Until somebody upstairs decided housing could tap on the retirement funds, and while they are it, make the workers pay for health care out of same. Piggy started to slim down and has never been the same since.

Only 45 percent for CPF members have enough for the minimum sum last year - and the payouts based on that number probably won't be anywhere near the 66 percent income replacement rate quoted by the academic. Worse, some are pledging up to 50 percent of their properties to meet the minimum sum requirement. Meaning, cash wise, piggy is even skinnier - a large chunk of pork belly has been carved out by "affordable housing".

That political lure of "asset enhancement" has turned into an I.E.D. - improvised economic disaster. Add the expectation of home-owners seeking to make handsome profits from selling their homes and, Prof Hui said "the future of our next generation will be in jeopardy as it will not be sustainable." He proposed shorter leases to tame the obscene housing prices, and expects the outcry of existing HDB owners when numbers start to tumble. It will be like a recession, he said, the paper value goes down, but the roof is still there. No need on camp out at Changi Beach, yet. Unfortunately the bunch of guys currently in charge don't have the political will to do the necessary. They won't even tell us the true cost of construction.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Dead Don't Stand A Chance

Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin claimed that the Government had explored many options, such as widening Lornie Road and constructing a viaduct, before making the "difficult decision" to slice a swath of real estate through the doomed Bukit Brown cemetery. Due to the undulating topography of the affected area, about one third of the new 2-km road, spanning 600m, will require a vehicular bridge to be erected some 5m to 10m above ground. Even for non-civil engineers, one can easily see the that the proposed scope of works is more extensive than a simpler road widening exercise.

And then there's the far fetch fantasy that "Under the bridge, eco-linkage can be maintained and wildlife in the area can continue to traverse between both sides of the road." Let's just say that heavy traffic on a dual four-lane expressway and the sanctuary of a quiet natural habitat are incompatible elements.

Untold to us is the Government's development plan for the area. Economic consideration has to be the driving force for the planners to "make the final call on the trade-offs between competing land needs". The dead must give way to the living where money matters are involved in the competition, such is the unbending rule of pragmatism. Sometimes it is easier to understand the truth, than trying to decipher the message behind a mountain of lies.

Compared to the leisurely time-table for the Hougang by-election or the COI for the SMRT debacles, the dead are given a shorter time-line: "All Affected Graves which are not claimed by 31st December 2012 will be exhumed in accordance with Government practice for unclaimed graves and the remains cremated individually." That has to be the ultimate insult to our glorious dead.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sorry, Grace Is In Short Supply

From curry-gate to the hi-jacked taxi that mowed down a cleaner at Budget Terminal, much has passed that taxed the reservoir of graciousness extended to the newcomers. Straining at the limits of the milk of human kindness, one may postulate Sun Xu's repugnant attitude was an act of youthful exuberance. He did make an effort to apologise, but even if his despicable diatribe about dogs in Singapore is forgiven, it is unlikely to be forgotten. Especially when unmuzzled barking canines make periodic appearance in parliament.

Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair tried to make amends for his dastardly snide attack about Nigerian scams, the euphemism used being "eagerness to engage" his political opponents. Why he chose Mandarin daily ZaoBao as platform to express contriteness (he is rumoured to favour Urdu over Tamil) is up for speculation.

For those who can't bear the sight of Chinese characters because of the ill will generated by native speakers in recent weeks, the rough translation goes thus:

He said: "I assumed that since Chen practised law, and is an economist,

he would match my vociferousness with like vigour.

But he did not, instead he said he had nothing to add.

I then felt very uneasy, so I did not continue on."

Needless to say, depending on the reception of the targetted audience, expect him to be "quoted out of context", or misunderstood because of the cross-language communication. Was it so difficult to say sorry to Mr Chen, in plain English, so all of us can appreciate the effort at graciousness?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Excuse Me, You Somebody Meh?

This Baey Yam Keng guy is such a walking PR disaster, it makes one wonder what he's doing at global public relations company Hill & Knowlton. Read his Facebook post and try to figure what message he was attempting to send. It starts like this:
"My child scored the second highest in her class for a recent Maths common test, but her achievement was undermined by a classmate to be due to her father being an MP. "

Somewhere down his convoluted train of thoughts, we sense the justification for his exercise in futile verbosity, "Your classmate may not necessarily understand what I do, but I am sure his comments meant no malice." He's using his daughter as a proxy to hit back at a kid her age! Hello, if you want to pick a fight, at least choose someone your own size.

Quite obviously Baey hasn't watched the Roman Polanski movie "Carnage", in which two sets of parents initiated a cordial meeting after their sons are involved in a playground rumble, and ended up exposing their own visceral failings as their increasingly childish behavior throws the evening into utter chaos. Some so-called adults, instead of the kids they are trying to preach to, should be seen and not heard - or read in social media.

Baey rode the coattails of the GRC sham into parliament, instead of facing the opposition mano-a-mano in a SMC like, say, Hougang. One hopes his daughter will not follow the cowardly ways of his poor example, and fight her own battles instead. Else she should follow the example of Goh Chok Tong's daughter and emigrate to a foreign land, where her own kids need not be embarrassed by the antics of a screwy grandpa. 
Kate Winslet unleashes the honest truth in "Carnage"

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Chinese Are Here! The Chinese Are Here!

Zhuang Guotu is Dean at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies of Xiamen University and a consultant at the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council (OCAO). According to his research findings, the steadily rising rate of Chinese migrants to Singapore has accelerated sharply in recent years, with about 500,000 to 600,000 Chinese applicants approved in the past two decades. The number accounts for 10 to 12 percent of the city-state's total population.

Zhuang predicted an expansion in Singapore's strategies to welcome more Chinese, based on the government's 2030 blueprint to house a population of about 6.5 million and maintain the ratio of Chinese Singaporeans at around 75%, aided by an inflow of 1.2 million from mainland China.

He categorised the migrants into four groups: "hi-tech" talents and students, "normal" technology migrants, investment migrants, and labor migrants. Chinese migration cases on matrimonial grounds or lacking legal documents, or people entering as self-employed persons, were also noted in the study.

Zhuang presented the progress his research team had made studying the distribution status of and development trends in Chinese migration, during the second official forum in November 2011, sponsored by OCAO. It seems (China News website) knows more about the PRC intake than we do.

Apparently Chinese businessmen are having second thoughts about emigrating to the United States, as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which was enacted in 2010, requires a US citizen or green card holder living in China to file Form 8938 and report his or her foreign financial assets if their total value exceeds $200,000. Thanks to a soaring federal deficit and to combat tax evasion, the US has stepped up efforts in recent years to track down citizens with significant offshore financial standings. It would appear Singapore's ICA prefers the soft touch, applicable also to wealthy Indonesian Chinese.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No End To SMRT Maintenance Woes

Senior Vice President of SBS Transit Corporate Communications Tammy Tan said the water leakage in an MRT train was "due to an electronic failure in the air-conditioning control system". That's bull and you don't need an engineering degree to know it.

Air conditioners work by removing moisture from the environment to give us a feeling of comfort. The water extracted from the air during operation falls down the cooling coils and drains into the base and channels or passages to the discharge outlet. Air conditioners "sweat" when the air filters are dirty or the discharged channels clogged. In other words, assuming the system was installed correctly in the first place, it is an issue of poor maintenance.

The on-going 6 hour disruption for the Dolby Ghaut to Harbour Front NEL is attributed to a connecting cable of the overhead power supply located south of Outram Park station which had snapped. No doubt it is due to another failure of the maintenance system, or the lack there of.

The real worry is the falling e-clip, last detected at the Clementi section. Manufacturer PANDROL introduced their e-PLUS System in 2000 as a retrofit system for older ‘e’ clip sleepers installed in locations with very high lateral forces, such as the curving section at Clementi when centrifugal forces kick in. SMRT is still using the old ‘e’ clips.

The SMRT spokesperson with the fancy job title said the "indoor rainfall" fault has since been rectified. Let's see how she comes up with another story when a train flies off the track.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Invitation To An Execution

The squatter farms bounded by former KTM railway tracks, Sungei Ulu Pandan canal and Clementi Avenues 4 and 6 yielded jackfruit, melons, bittergourd, chilli, sweet potatos and fish, a gotong-royong type enterprise that had gone on unperturbed for years. Until a spoilsport made a complaint about leaves being burnt at the plot. SLA promptly slapped eviction orders on the illegal sheds and structures, giving March 20 as the date line to cease and desist agricultural operations.

We are firmly reminded that under the State Lands Encroachment Act, it is an offence to unlawfully use the land by erecting buildings, cultivating, enclosing, clearing or residing at any part of it. Ms Poh, writing as SLA Head of Corporate Corporations, also alleged that "some individuals have not only encroached on state land for their private purposes, but several have also fenced up parcels of land as their own and padlocked them for their exclusive use." Apparently several ponds with stagnant water were also found, which means NEA can also be roped in to jointly prosecute the wanton law breakers for mosquito breeding.

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Sim Ann has called on those who have been using the 1,800 square metres site to come forward "so their views can be heard." So far, the owner of the fenced up vegetable patch has identified himself, one of those trusting souls who probably still believes compassion is not yet dead. The invite would be more assuring if the proposed discussions serve to explore the building of elder-care centres in idyllic Garden of Eden environs, complete with gardening and horticultural opportunities, until authorities firm up their profit generation plans for the vacant state land. Instead of locating them in built-up areas like Woodlands and Toh Yi.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Inciting Violence

The Associated Press photo of Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, then Chief of the Republic of Vietnam National Police, putting a bullet through the head of prisoner Nguyễn Văn Lém (referred to as Captain Bảy Lốp) during the Tet uprising of 1968 helped galvanize American public opinion against the war in Vietnam. It was later ascertained that Lem was suspected of having murdered one of Gen. Loan's senior officers, and his entire family, during the carnage in Saigon. The death of a single Viet Cong would hardly have seemed noteworthy, especially in a week when thousands of his communist comrades were killed mounting an abortive offensive that included Vietcong death squads targeting South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their stead, the police officers' families.

Four years after the picture by Eddie Adams, another indelible image of the war created an equally emotive impact of revulsion, the sight of a screaming 9-year-old Phan Thị Kim Phúc as she ran naked along a road after having been burned in a South Vietnamese napalm attack. Such is the power of the photographic image in the hands of the print media. Adams told Time magazine, “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation.”

For doctoring the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the impromptu summary execution, a former employee of Singapore Technologies was fined $8,500 for inciting violence. Instead of the Vietcong, the face superimposed was that of the former Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister. The only similarity was that both were unpopular figures of the time. The Deputy Public Prosecutor had urged the court for a 9-month jail term, arguing it was in line with the criminal intimidation sentencing benchmark. The defendant's lawyer said that the posting was "a grandiose statement, hyperbolic, surreal" and the exclamation marks at the end of the comment underlined those facts. We've heard quite a bit of those grandiose statements in the press recently, hyperbolic and surreal, such as $850 a month can afford a $100,000 HDB flat.

Monday, March 12, 2012

More Money For Police

Last week has to be a week to remember. Everybody got pay rises. NS men, bus drivers, road sweepers, even domestic helps who will take the extra money in lieu of the mandatory day off per week. As usual, those excluded from the windfall will recall the quote about how the PM will "spend  my time thinking what's the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters votes".

The best deal was for the Home Team, a.k.a. the boys in blue. Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry Mr S Iswara announced new a starting salary of up to $2,370, while those who did not serve NS will be paid $2,140. In addition, a sign-on bonus ranging from $8,000 to $10,000 has been introduced, in the style of Wall Street bankers. To encourage staff to stay on, a uniformed officer can look forward to a handsome retention package of $34,000 to $50,000 under these revised payment schemes, surely a variant of the golden parachutes enjoyed by top performing CEOs. Let's hope these guys put the money to good use, such as investing in self improvement courses.

A friend received a scary letter, complete with threat of hefty fines and other punitive measures, for making nuisance calls to the police help line. It turned out that the Emergency Call applet of his Android smart phone was overtly touch sensitive, a mere brush against shirt or pants pocket will dial the emergency line. Just Google "Remove Emergency Call Button" and you'll get a idea of how pervasive the problem is. Obviously our highly compensated Home Team can't discern an accidental occurrence from malicious criminal intent. Hence the suggestion for more education, particularly in IT awareness. What was unaccountable was how the default number dialed, programmed in firmware as 112, ended up as 911.  After patiently explaining to the officer who penned the threatening missive, the response he got from the technology challenged retard was, "Okay. But next time don't do it again."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Over My Dead Body

The Prime Minister promised he will call a by-election, but he won't say when. That's nothing really original. Goh Chok Tong once promised to deliver the Swiss Standard of Living, but he also didn't say when.

Replying to Christopher de Souza's question if he is considering calling a by-election in Hougang SMC, PM Lee said he has not yet decided on the timing. In deciding on the timing, he will take into account all relevant factors, including:
  1. the well being of Hougang residents,
  2. the issues on the national agenda,
  3. the international backdrop which affects our prosperity and security,
  4. and whether papa says okay or not.
The last hurdle refers to the explanation given by Lee Kuan Yew (his octogenarian father) when he moved the Constitutional amendment in December 1965:
"[This amendment] revokes a clause (holding a by-election within three months) which was introduced into the State Constitution of Singapore when it entered Malaysia."

Reference was also made to an affidavit in the High Court by Hougang resident Vellama Marie Muthu, 42, seeking (i) a declaration and order that the Prime Minister does not have "unfettered discretion" over whether he has to call for a by-election in Hougang, and (ii) whether a by-election had to be called within three months or within a reasonable time.

While ostensibly declining to talk about matters which are sub judice, he has, inadvertently or otherwise, answered part one. As for part two, we too well what the old man will probably say, "Over my dead body."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Help For Poor Students

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament on Thursday his ministry is increasing financial support for needy students. Income ceiling for its assistance scheme will be raised from current S$1,500 to S$2,500. A new per-capita income criterion will also be used in parallel, so students from households with a per capita income of S$625 and below will qualify.  Schools will also be given additional grants of up to S$15,000 for the next 3 years, to provide additional support for students who may miss the criteria for financial help.

In real money terms, the MOE bursary handout for a Singaporean studying in a tertiary education institute is in the order of $800 to $2,150 per year (equiv $66 to $179 per month), tenable for 1 year only. Conditions apply - monthly gross household per capita (average) income must not exceed $1,700 or $1,200 per month respectively.

On the other hand, in addition to free tuition and books (estimated at $12,000 a year) provided generously by MOE, PRC scholars (such as the Sun Xu (孙旭) rumoured to be scion of well heeled Communist Party official) also enjoy:
Accommodation expenses to the tune of about $300 per month;
Monthly allowance of around $400 per month.

To get more out of the system, Singaporeans in dire need of funding can suck up to the PRC scholars by playing nurse-maid, i.e. waiting on them hand and foot like filipina domestic helps. NUS is offering its students a single room in the hostel inclusive of free meals if they are prepared to "be-friend" 17-year-old PRC scholars and serve as "mentors" to 6 of them for 1 or 2 semesters. NUS promises to reimburse all financial outlays relating to family hosting and outing duties. Which means you can finally afford to bring grandma to Universal Studios-Sentosa and charge it to MOE. The briefing is on today, 9 March 2012, at the Faculty of Science.

Heng said the support package for low and middle income families would relieve some burden, "But let me emphasize, it is not just about money, but an integrated approach, addressing financial, socio-emotional and learning support, in partnership with parents and the broader community." So that "socio-emotional and learning support" was all about bending over backwards for the foreigners.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Affordable Health Care On The Rise

"Health Care 2020 will ensure that Singaporeans always have access to good quality and affordable health care. After all this is integral to an inclusive society," sang Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, introducing a new twist to the a capella of affordability as defined in Singapore Inc. We saw how that plays out in the $1,000-a-month can buy a $100,000 flat fantasy.

What Gan failed to expand was that the "inclusive society" refers only to those who can afford to pay the higher Medishield premiums he is rolling out. Specifically, a 45-year old, who now pays $144 a year, may have to pay $84 more, while a 75-year old who's current premium is $462 may have to pay $240 more a year. These hikes of more than 50% kick in at a period when these folks are in the evening years, probably unable to work, retired, and most definitely without a source of income. Those familiar with insurance coverage know only too well what a missed premium means - all bets are off, regardless of the previous payments made on time dutifully during the past umpteen years.

Gerald Giam, careful to keep a dry eye in case some BG makes fun of his propensity to tear up when thinking of the unfortunates, urged the minister to reconsider the increase since Medishield still had enough reserves to meet the higher payouts. Nope, what the minister, talking like a bank manager, wanted was fresh funds. The reserves in the Medishield, according to him, are meant to offset the premiums when they are older and not working, implying that the 45- and 75-year olds are not old enough, and should really get off their lazy bums and go look for a job. So that's why then Presidential candidate Dr Tony Tan said in August 2011 that if elected, he hoped to raise the age limit for taxi drivers to 75 years old....

Gan ended his song-and-dance on the note, "We want to avoid the pitfall of countries where health care is virtually free, resulting in a insatiable demand from patients". Maybe the minister can show us who likes to be sick, and actually enjoys partaking of medication?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Watered Down Answers

Opposition MP Mr Low Thia Khiang had simply asked Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan for a breakdown of the cost of water produced by the PUB, and tariffs charged to households.

Instead of a straight forward answer, Balakrishnan blistered and blustered,"'s not a simple matter of how much it costs to buy water from Malaysia or to even get water from a desalination plant. You have to pay for the cost of entire system. It's all very transparent, it's laid before Parliament."

What he laid before Parliament was that total revenue collected was about $1.2 billion in FY2010, compared to $1.34 billion in total expenditures. PUB collected $674 million in water tariffs and $327 million in waterborne and sanitary appliance fees. "That's nowhere near $1.3 billion", according to the accounting challenged minister. What he omitted to highlight was the Water Conservation Tax of 30% (of $674 billion), and the GST applied on top of the grand total (that's tax upon tax, i.e. double charging). Close enough.

Given his dismal credibility of the YOG record, what we really need is a full disclosure of the expenditures. Recall the free condoms distributed on site to horny athletes and the expenses lavished on Canadian volunteer Milan Fischer, 68, whose leg cram ended up a with 4-hour open-heart operation for an aortic dissection, inclusive of hospital and recovery stay charges. Monies expended for a Youth Olympics.

Each year, the government has to provide a grant to water agency PUB to support its investments. We just what to make sure the money is invested on Singaporeans.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Maid Issues

We can learn much from this expat, writing about one negative experience with a live-in domestic help, lessons like:
  • Don’t leave your purse/wallet out. Be aware of your cash
  • You are the employer, not their friend
  • Don’t project your cultural values onto them
  • Think long and hard about leaving your maid alone in your home for weeks at a time
Their rude awakening was stumbling across photos of a mostly naked man in their home on the domestic's mobile phone. Fortunately she lived to account for her misdemeanors and be sent home by her employers before the situation really got out of hand.

Filipino maid Rezzilyn's naked body was discovered in one of the "transit rooms" at a Geylang Lorong 22 hotel, next to her Bangladeshi lover, both with fatal slash wounds at throats and arms. Her friends who used to hang out with her before the man came into the picture said she has a husband and three children at home in the Ilocos, Philippines.

We never had to worry about above tips (1) to (4) with Gloria, even loose change left in the jeans pocket will be returned to us without prompting. From day one of her 10+ years with us, she has preferred extra pay rather than a day off on Sunday. When it was time for the home visit, she would request the monetary equivalent of the return airticket and related travel expenses. Her goal is to put aside the pennies for a shop-house when she finally goes home to augment the family finances. Fortunately for her, 47 sqm of living space won't cost $100K at Batangas.

MOM is justifying the mandatory one day off per week move by quoting a tenuous link (based on MOM records and feedback data) between lack of days off and maid's injuries, suicides and runaway cases. We will just have to wait and see if more Rezzilyn-type cases surface. Interestingly, MOM does not forfeit the security bond if the maid violates the work permit conditions by "moonlighting" or getting pregnant. This has to be a pro-business proposition, since the Geylang supply must have been affected by the new foreign worker quotas.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Height Of Stupidity

When Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin started off his Facebook mathematical treatise of financing a $100k asset purchase on a $1,000 per month income with "Tears were shed by some, who lamented about the ability to buy flats for their parents in the future," he was obviously taking a jibe at Gerald Giam, who teared when contemplating the plight of the poor. That poke has to be as tasteless as “OooOoooOooh so that’s what REALLY happened? Wow. I think tears in Parliament is worse than ANYTHING ELSE!” - the post attributed to the Kate Spade MP's undeclared administrator.

"The key to engaging people online is to be yourself," said this guy who is supposed to be lauded for his effective use of social media to engage constituents. Get the man credit for showing us his unabashed true self. Tan also said understanding the needs of residents is also crucial, and "almost as important as the actual outreach to the needy".

Right, try to understand the needs of the chap struggling to house and feed his family on $1,000 a month. Surely air-conditioning can't be too high on his list of priorities. The architect (and his boss who approved of the plans) who used up 2 sqm of the precious 47 sqm m of the claustrophobic two-room flat for an air-conditioning ledge must have been dropped on his head when he was a child. Either that, or he was born plain stupid.

And who can ignore the space wasted for the "Household Shelter"? That has to take up at least 10% of the limited living area. Oh, we get it, it's part of the grand HDB vision: flats are built smaller because families are getting smaller. This is how Forrest Gump would put it, "Stupid as stupid does".

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Art Of Sophistry

In ancient Greece, sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching "arete" — excellence, or virtue — predominantly to any young nobleman seeking public office. In modern usage, sophism, sophist and sophistry are derogatory terms. A latter day sophist would not hesitate to craft a specious argument to appear logical while actually representing a falsehood, or he might use obscure words and complicated sentence constructions in order to intimidate the opponent into agreement out of fear of feeling foolish. It's prettier when done with powerpoint charts.

At first glance, $4.25 of benefits for every $1 of taxes paid by the lower income household group seems awfully generous. We assume the chart was constructed using personal income tax data plus miscellaneous vehicle related taxes. The respective budgeted revenues for FY2012 (i.e. sources of income) are $7.8 billion (from income tax) and $1.6 billion (from motor vehicle related taxes). The mirage here is that the government collects only about $9.4 billion while handling out lots of goodies for the poor and needy. A quick reality check will show that $9.2 billion incoming from GST is expected for FY 2012, income that cannot be neatly categorised as sourced from lower-, middle-, or upper income households, with or without car ownership. Regardless of what they are insisting, we all know GST is regressive. The poor are also unlikely to shop at airport duty free shops with GST rebates, or benefit from the newly introduced GST waiver for buying gold. You bet your bottom dollar these folks will be paying more than $1 for the $4.25 worth of benefits.

You ain't seen nothin' yet. Khaw Boon Wan has come up with a new math for buying a $100,000 flat on a $1,000/month salary. Specifically, he was enlarging on Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugeratnam mind-boggling declaration in parliament: "98 per cent of Singaporeans below the age of 35 earn at least $1,000 and are able to buy HDB flats". Khaw explained that Tharman was referring to a two-room flat, which has a subsidised price of about $100,000. If the applicant is a first-timer, there is a housing grant of up to $60,000, and the net purchase price will be about $40,000. Ergo, the $100,000 flat can be sold for $40,000 and HDB won't go broke. Khaw only tripped when he revealed that the median income of two-room applicants, based on recent BTO (build-to-order) launches, is at about $1,400 - those earning $1,000 knew better than to try. Khaw is a good guy, he may stretch the truth a wee bit, but he won't lie all the way to the grave. Unlike some people.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Attack Dog Mode

You can almost feel the super human effort when ST writer Rachel Chang struggled to tone down the vicious assault, "PAP MP Vikram Nair was almost unrelenting yesterday in his attack of Worker's Party MP Chen Show Mao".

It's hard to ignore the underhanded insult that Chen "spent more than half his life abroad and came back to Singapore shortly before the elections", implying he's ill qualified to comment on the foreign worker situation here. But Chen achieved distinction working overseas, elevating the Singaporean brand status, and more important, he came home to serve. And where and what was Nair doing before May 2011? Writing for the P65 blog under a false declaration.

Chen's investment skills are world acclaimed, he was named one of American Lawyer’s 2010 "Dealmakers of the Year" in April 2011. Nair's association with the word is that of the Nigerian email scam. Like the $1.1 billion scam unfolding before our very eyes.

We were told earlier the big payoff was to buy 800 new buses. Then we are told it's for 550 buses (transitlink) and 250 new buses (perhaps from another bus operator). Latest revelation from Tharman Shanmugaratnam is that the $1.1 billion is for ramping up the bus fleet and covering operating costs - specifically $$280 million for 550 new buses and $820 million for operations - a significant deviation from pure asset acquisition to profit generation. At least the Nigerian scam was crystal clear and transparent.

Tharman says the government package amounts to a $110 million per year. What he does not care to disclose is that the bus companies paid out a similar amount in dividends for 2011 - exactly $129 millions(1,518,843,196 shares at 8.5 cents per share). The killer bit is his threat that if the government does not step in, commuters will have to pay 15 cents more in fares per journey. That sounds rather like Raymond Lim once upon a time telling us that if public transportation is subsidised, GST will have to be hiked:
“The money still must come from somewhere, right? It is about 1.5 percentage point increase in your GST. So now it’s 7 (per cent), you want it to be free? You want the GST to go up to 8.5 per cent, to run a completely free bus and MRT system?”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Crystal Clear

Assistant Professor of Law & Nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan had made it crystal clear:

Article 49 (1) of our Constitution provides that an election “shall” be called when an elected parliamentary seat is vacated. The Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) provides for the same.

Further, Section 52 of the Interpretation Act states: “Where no time is prescribed or allowed within which anything shall be done, that thing shall be done with all convenient speed and as often as the prescribed occasion arises.”

Constitutional law professor Thio Li-ann and adjunct law professor Kevin Tan, both lecturing at the National University of Singapore (NUS), as well as assistant professor in constitutional law at Singapore Management University (SMU) Jack Lee, concur with Mr Tan.

To hear Hri Kumar (Senior Counsel Drew & Napier LLC & Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP) say, "Article 49 of the Constitution does not say that an election shall be “called” to fill a vacant seat. It simply prescribes that the vacant seat “shall be filled by election” reminds me of a former boss's frustrating experience with a retard.

General Manager Hancock was stationed in Manila when he received a letter from the bank to collect a new check book. After navigating the horrendous traffic of Makati to the bank building, he was told that his check book was not ready for collection. Fuming mad, Hancock showed the letter to the officer. The latter read it calmly and said, "Yes, the letter states that the check book is ready for collection. But it doesn't say "when"."

We all know that Hri Kumar is not a stupid man - that would be an insult to all appointed senior counsels - he's being devious for a good reason. He states that reason thus; "But Hougang is a hot seat...The by-election will surely generate much heat and debate across the island." He's not just saying that the kitchen is too hot, and the PM should get out of it, he's telling us that the PM is too cowardly to face the electorate.