Monday, March 29, 2010

Ending Long Service Bus Routes Spells More Misery

Second Transport Minister Lim Hwee Hua claims that "The longer the (bus) service, the more there will be uncertainty because of traffic conditions along the way that will be accumulated as you get towards the end of the service." She presupposes that shorter services and transfers will get commuters to their commuters faster.

What Lim does not comprehend is that the shorter bus services will still have to navigate the bottlenecks of narrow and heavily congested routes. Add to this the time and inconvenience of getting off and waiting for another bus to come along. The rainy weather during the monsoon seasons can only exacerbate an already torturous bus journey. Why does she think airline and train routes are always planned for minimum of stopovers? The other significant change would be the commuters having to pay more to get to their destination because of the transfer costs involved. Contrary to what she told the public, that transfers will save time and cost, the converse is the truth. Even she contradicts herself when she said, "The consideration for you would not be 'If I do two transfers, I have to pay more'. It would be 'Which is the fastest way to get me from Point A to point B?' " At least that is consistent with the PAP line: you want better service, you have to pay more.

Lim justifies the LTA logic with the building of more rail lines - like the Circle Lines - the hub-and-spoke model could be a more viable solution. Unfortunately, unlike Japan, the Singapore MRT does not serve most of the residential areas or places of work. That last stretch between train station and home or office still has to be covered by bus, taxi or private transport. It looks that this Lim is no better than Transport Minister Raymond Lim in solving the public transportation woes.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Making Way For Old Blood At DBS

Most corporate executives step down to make way for upcoming and younger successors. In the case of DBS, Koh Boon Hwee, 59, is being replaced by Peter Seah, 63.

Seah was a commercial banker for 33 years and retired as vice-chairman and CEO of former UOB in 2001, after latter was merged with OUB to fend off the uninvited takeover attempt by DBS. Koh started as a accounts supervisor with Hewlett Packard manufacturing after graduating from Imperial College (mechanical engineering) Havard (MBA). When HP wanted to ship him to China, he jumped over to Liang Court Holdings' property arm. Armed with family money, he ventured into various enterprises including subcontracting manufacture (emulating the successful formula of ex-HP colleague Wong Ngit Liong of Venture Manufacturing), none of which involving banking or financial institutions. After wearing chairman hats at Singapore Airlines and Singapore Telecom, he landed at DBS in 2005. Privately he was telling anyone who bothered to listen it would be his last government appointment. He has his hands full, sitting on the boards of 11 local and multinational corporations.

Seah is sorely needed in DBS, which appointed an Indian CEO in Piyush Gupta, hardly the best man to develop the China market, linguistically speaking. Under Koh, DBS has seen many CEOs come and go, including John Olds (exited early with a multi-million dollar golden handshake), Philip Paillart (short stint frog later involved in ligitinous private company tussle), Jackson Tai (left to let his hair down and play the drums), and Richard Stanley (died soon after Koh announced he was recovering from acute myelogenous leukaemia). Would Seah have handled the debacle of the DBS's High Notes 5 episode better? Time will tell.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Confessions Of A Wheelchair Lover

With Jack Neo, the straying was not due to an affair of the heart. His sin was that of a lecherous dirty old man lusting for youthful flesh, preying on innocents unawares of the ways of the world. So can misguided love justify a transgression?

Lawyer for "prominent paraplegic athlete" Dr William Tan Kian Meng, sued for $400,000 owed, must be grasping at straws when he argued that Tan and the plaintiff had been in an "intimate relationship." A Senior Counsel in the Singapore courts circuit, Jimmy Tan was reported by TODAY to state in court that the plaintiff, Dr Chee, actually had sexual trysts with Tan. Chee, who met Tan while she was the general manager of the Parkway Healthcare Foundation, had testified that she knew Tan could not have children due to his disability. Pardon the pun, but it had to be a limp argument from the start.

Tan does not dispute pocketing the monies, some $259,818.24 received between 1999 and 2007, but is claiming that they were "love gifts" to him. He did not elaborate whether the largese was compensation for romantic affection or physical satisfaction. Tan was honoured by the NUS Distinguished Science Alumni Awards in 2005, citing that he "personifies both passion and compassion". Nothing is mentioned of his sexual athletic skills in a wheel chair. Surely, nobody can be that horny.

Suppose for a moment that there was an emotional entanglement. Does Tan not realise that even in a divorce, irregardless the relationship was institutionally sanctified or not, financial obligations have to be settled? The irony here is that Tan had used his wheelchairs in ultra-marathons across the lengths of New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand, United States and supposedly helped raised more than $14 million for local and international charities over the last 18 years. So why is he quibbling over a relatively small sum?

Once again, the public has to be re-educated about these attention seeking fund raisers, coming so shortly after the debunking of the skyscraper rapelling monk Shi Ming Yi and first class frequent flyer TT Durai.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Singapore Formula One

The 2010 Formula One season is the 61st, and the first race started on March 14 in Bahrain. Yet the full accounting for the cost of hosting the 2009 Singapore night race is still undisclosed. Years ago, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew once told a CitiBank dinner function that he was stupid not to understand that money could be made by watching cars driving round and round in a circuit. Maybe he was right after all.

Accordiing to TIME magazine, the first Singapore Night Race in 2008 took in US$51 million, but cost US$100 million to run, according to figures from Formula Money. The Singapore government kicked in $60 million, netting a nice profit for the promoter, Bernie Ecclestone, and his Singapore pal and property tycoon Ong Beng Seng. Ecclestone is the one who was quoted giving qualified praise for Adolf Hitler, saying that the German leader "could command a lot of people" and was "able to get things done", attributes similarly shared by Lee Kuan Yew. Commercially, Singapore was supposed to benefit from the "spin-offs" from the racing event, but the retail outlets at the Marina area were devastated by the road blocks put in place for the circuit. If the debut night race was not the financial success trumpeted by the organisers, 2009 can only do worse. 2009 was forgettable for another reason, Renault's Nelson Piquet crashed his car deliberately, hitting the wall on Lap 14, and made world news as the Singapore Grand Prix conspiracy.

The Singapore government views the television coverage as a giant commmercial for the city, a $60 million billboard. But BBC already put the city on the world map when their reporter asked of Lee Hsien Loong, “Finally, Prime Minister, I read that you are apparently the highest paid head of government in the world. Your salary is about four or five times what President Obama gets. Are you worth all that money?” Equally forgettable was Lee's response, "...And you cannot do that (run the government) if you are pretending and you just say, ‘Well, we are all in it for the love of King and Country’. "

Friday, March 12, 2010

Minister Lui Says, Just Do It

Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui Tuck Yew and Acting Minister of Information, Communication and the Arts just mandated that competitors Starhub (cable TV) and Singtel  (IP TV) work out a way for customers to to watch shows from one another, without having to install two boxes in their homes or open another account account. Under the revised Media Market Conduct Code, pay-TV providers must also charge all viewers the same fee for exclusive content they have the rights to, whether they are its customers or another player's.  One suspects that when he was Chief of Navy, he probably proposed sending up submarines to attack land-locked Kuala Lumpur.

While at it, he might as well ask Microsoft and Google to provide a search engine that yields the same results for a query.

Lui is obviously so IT-challenged that he can't tell the difference between delivering content over a cable and a DSL line. Nor is he commercially aware that competing media providers survive by offering unique programming content, at prices customers are willing to pay a premium for. He reminds one of ex-Chief Justice Yong Pung How's daughter being made head of Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore. Then, at least she recognised her own lack of technical competence for the job, when she declared, " I don't even know what CDMA is, but I can always hire someone who does."

Maybe Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui was trying to restore credibility for impotently responding to a question at a dialogue session with residents and grassroots leaders at Xinmin Primary School with, "Ultimately, the consumers will have to decide for themselves whether they want either StarHub or SingTel, or whether they are prepared to have both." SingTel's outbidding StarHub by reportedly $100 million for Barclays Premier League telecast rights had riled football fans, who may end up paying for a technology platform which the telco will be struggling with to deliver the fast moving broadcasts.

Singtel, no-longer under the charge of equally technology-challenged Lee Hsien Yang, and fully apprised of its legally-binding contract for EPL 2010-2013, issued its own response: "We will carefully review the details and actively engage the MDA through the industry consultation process. Our rights to the BPL and ESS channels are not affected by this announcement." In other words, you're so clever, you come up with the solution.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Minister And The Philanderer

There are lots of surprising revelations about the 2-year affair Singapore's most successful film-maker Jack Neo, 51, had with actress-cum-model Wendy Chong, 22. Neo met Chong when she got a bit role as a nurse in his movie, "Money No Enough 2". For one, wife of 27 years and mother of 4 Madam Kng said she had known about the affair for a year but she chose to 'close one eye' and did not confront her husband.

More intriguing is the nugget that Neo chose to telephone Foreign Minister George Yeo personally from his house the day before the press went to print on Saturday evening 6 March. Yeo wrote in his blog: "He wanted to tell me himself and not have me learn from newspaper reports. Giving me the background, he was full of remorse, adding that his wife and children were angry with him for what he did." The Minister was obviously ignorant about Madam Kng's casual attitude about her husband's philandering - she must have aware of the curtains that Neo installed in his car to facilitate mobile trysts. Coming so close to 8 March, celebrated around the world as International Women's Day, the whole affair is a smirch on wholesome family values. And Yeo actually called on the public to be supportive of the Neos. Neo and Yeo, except for a character difference in their surnames, and to the best of public knowledge, are not related. Was Neo going to be in the line-up of candidates in the forthcoming General Election? If so, Yeo's PAP must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

It's The Gahment's Fault

Discerning Singaporeans turn to the internet for the real news, but the Sunday Times does have the comics section to enliven living in the stressful city. For starters, there was this bit about Ho Ching teaching Dr Lee Wei Lin how to dress up.

But Fiona Chan, writing her March 7 "Reflect" piece about Singaporeans blaming the Government when things go awry, really put a smile on your face with the two following anecdotes:

" Traffic jams? Stupid LTA.  Crowded showrooms? Lousy URA.  Escaped terrorist mastermind? Useless MHA.
Okay, it's a bit hard to argue with that last one. "

" Last Sunday, I went to see the doctor at a family clinic near my home. The place was packed with sick children and anxious parents waiting for the single doctor on duty to call them in.
In strolled an MP bent on distributing Chinese New Year oranges, he cheerful brisk demeanor clashing starkly with the surrounding tension as he asked for the doctor, who hurried out to meet him.
And before I knew it, I found myself saying irritatedly: "Stupid Government, nothing beter to do, is it?"
"Yeah lor," my husband replied. "No wonder the clinic queue so long - it's all their fault." "

Friday, March 5, 2010

If You Can't Do, Teach

You would think that it is a matter of common courtesy that you inform your employer your intentions for the job commitment, and give him sufficient notice should you decide later to quit. More so if you were appointed Attorney General of Singapore.

Walter Woon, 54, obviously kept it all to himself. If indeed, "I only agreed to do this job for two years," as Woon claims, no one else knew about his stepping down, until he announced his last day will be on  April 10.  Since his replacement has to complete his current work obligations before being able to start in October 1, they had to rope in Solicitor-General Koh Juat Jong to serve as acting AG for the interim 6 months from April 11 to Sept 30. So why the sudden haste for the departure? Woon may say he had long planned to return to teaching law at the National University of Singapore, but his new employer hasn't figured out what his job scope will be: NUS law dean Tan Cheng Han said he has yet to discuss his plans for Woon. He'd better ask if how long Woon intends to stay this time.

As A-G, Woon raised eyebrows when he decided, on his own initiative, to appeal for a life term for Aniza Essa, a young mother, who was already convicted of instigating her boyfriend to kill her enstrangled husband. The Court of Appeal rejected his legal arguments, and affirmed her 9-year jail term. Could he be a sore loser?

Coffee shop talk has it that it's all a game plan for political office and a higher income tax bracket during this coming general election, rumoured to be in June. Which seemingly runs contradictary to his stated (honourable) intentions: "At this point of my life, I think that I can make a more significant contribution through teaching and writing." Well, if he does change spots, the party he signs up with certainly deserves what they get.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Opium Of The Foreign Worker

Lee Kuan Yew used to take pride in that his government was not one to shy away from tough decisions which will steer the country out of the morass of economic doldrums. One cannot say same of his son leading a coterie of effete incompetents.

Opposition leader Low Thia Khiang gave them a wake up call by forcing them to face reality: the foreign worker levy has "become an opium, opium for the Government because it collects money from the levy, opium for the businesses because it was a soft option for them". Easy access to cheap foreign labour, Mr Low argued, offers little incentive for companies to boost up their productivity - the Government has to assume responsibility for the low productivity in the last decade, a decade of bad governance. Do away with the foreign worker levy, he proposed, and use a reduced dependency ratio to provide employment for local workers instead. "The reduced dependency ratio will force employers to look hard at how to reskill and make Singaporean workers productive instead of looking to relatively lower-cost foreign workers as an option to compete in the market," said Mr Low.

PAP MP Josephine Teo (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), exhibiting the crutch mentality of her colleagues, could only see the part about foreign labour being cheaper without the levy, completely ignoring the accompanying tougher recommendation of a dependency ratio. It's just demonstrative of their ingrained mindest so used to bleating "four legs good, two legs better." Mr Low castigated them for their impotent responses from the floor, "What solution do they have? Maybe they don't even have their own views because they are members of the Government and NTUC," reminding one and all of their sheep-like attitudes.
And if they still don't get it, Mr Low threw in a Chinese proverb for good measure - "hu jia hu wei" ( a fox assuming a tiger's identity) - to describe the the useless labour MPs as borrowing someone else's authority.

Ministers Who Speak With Forked Tongue

Seeing his PAP colleagues mired in their lame arguments about the need for a large influx of foreign workers to boost the economy, Minister of Home Affairs decided to revert to the other justification: replenishment of the declining population.

First he ate humble pie by admitting, "I acknowledge that there are also those on employment passes holding jobs that Singaporeans are willng to do, and who compete directly with Singaporeans." So much for the PAP MPs who keep insisting that foreign workers take on only what Singaporeans decline.

But he then shoots himself by saying that Singapore needs 20,000 new citizens each year to make up for the shortfall of newborn babies. Ignore for the moment the number of Singaporeans voting with their feet, thanks to the hamfisted way they have been running (down) the country. Reports have it that the number of new PRs minted each year rose from 32,000 in 2003 to 63,000 in 2007, which works out to an average of 48,300 a year over a 5-year period. Wong has to explain this 48,300 figure when he already argued we need only 20,000.  He can't.  Because Low Thia Khiang has already presented their mismanagement during the past decade, their mad rush for "growth at any cost." Trust Lim Swee Say to try to defend this past growth strategy with "as a result, Singapore today continues to enjoy one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world," without qualifying that most of the jobs went to foreigners. Read what Wong Kan Seng confessed above. Two university dons actually pointed this out years ago, and were bruised by Minister Ng Eng Hen for telling the truth.

Once it was four legs good, two legs bad. Lim is now bleating "four legs better" with this: "But the past strategy is no longer relevant," noting that "the new model aims to reduce reliance on foreign workers." No, the world hasn't changed, the spin doctor's tune has.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

MP Ong, Shut Up Already!

A good salesman knows when to to stop talking after he has delivered his pitch. Trust labour MP Ong Ah Heng to dig himself a ditch .

Supposedly having fought for the welfare of his bus drivers for nearly 30 years, Ong claimed that "even with a pay of $1,800", very few locals want the job. So what does Ong, who is paid the $14,000 MP allowance on top of his day job, do for the SBS Transit's 5,500 drivers - of which only 38% are citizens? He brings in foreigners, but did not disclose how much they are paid to drive the buses. As guidance, Ong did reveal that local contract cleaners are paid $1,000, but only $600 for foreign workers. More disturbing, he confessed his own personal bias against Singaporeans: "They (his example) don't want local workers who are old, they want young foreign workers.  To satisfy the demand, I changed the local workers to foreign workers."  So is he sincere about ensuring Singapore commuters wait only 5 minutes for a bus, or obssesed about padding the bottom line? Already he's wielding the typical PAP sword for productivity - if wages for drivers go up, will people be willing to pay higher fares? The answer, Mr Ong, is that people were never willing to compensate MPs with obscene payouts in the first place, especially for MPs who don't have the electorate's interest at heart.

Listen to the truth in the words of the feedback he received from the populace: "In my constituency, many low-wage workers are hostile to foreign workers because they think foreign workers depress their wages." To paraphase fellow PAP MP Wee Siew Kim, and father of the elitist icon Wee Shu Min, "Some people just can't handle the bitter truth."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hidden Goodies In The 2010 Budget

In his dialogue with the Marine Parade GRC constituents Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong could not miss the 100-strong audience was so bored many were preoccupied by whispering among themselves or composing sms messages.

Confirming their unspoken thoughts, Goh said there was a lack of interest about the 2010 Budget because there were "hardly any goodies" for the sandwiched middle income groups. Instead they were asked to be excited about the productivity growth programmes, their so-called solution to the debacle of the foreign worker policy which caused Singaporeans to be robbed of housing, schooling and workplace opportunities. No effort has been made or suggested to ameliorate the ills of occupation by the foreign crowd, currently making up one third of the population. The token increase in foreign worker levy may discourage some employers from phasing out our countrymen from the workforce for a few dollars' savings, but the damage to the human landscape has yet to be addressed or remedied.

Actually, it's not true that there are no goodies in this budget. Broadsheet TODAY reported that "Salaries for political appointments - ministers, ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries - are estimated to be $58.28 million, or 8.8 per cent higher than last year." But the ministers are not pegging their self administered pay rise to the goal of a 3% growth in productivity. "If we can't achieve our 3-per-cent growth, we achieve 2, 2.5, we will say, 'It's not bad'," said Mr Goh. In other words, even if the productivity goes south, they will still stick to their 8.8% increment for what is already the world's highest payscale for ministers.