Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Power Of The Sublimal Message

The MCYS video on filial piety seems to be drawing as much flak as the vivuzela from South Africa. Looking beyond the buzzing irritation, is there a sublimal effort in the hidden agenda?

The youngest in the family plays the villian piece, and can't understand the justification for grandma's cantankerous ways. Just like the Gen-X and Gen-Y will never stomach the synthetic adulation for a product way past its expiry date. Dad, however, remembers the rainy days of old, before it was conceivable that Orchard Road could be flooded because of a clogged culvert.

Dad recalls how the colonialist Brits were challenged:
"If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought, and no excuse, whether of security, inconvenience to traffic, or inconvenience to police officers, should allow a government to be deterred from doing what it knows to be right, and what it must know to be right..." (Legislative Assembly Debates, April 27, 1955, vol.1)

What Dad chooses to turn a deaf ear to:
"Over time, the MM says, Singaporeans have become “less hard-driving and hard-striving.” This is why it is a good thing, the MM says, that the nation has welcomed so many Chinese immigrants (25 percent of the population is now foreign-born). He is aware that many Singaporeans are unhappy with the influx of immigrants, especially those educated newcomers prepared to fight for higher paying jobs. But taking a typically Darwinian stance, the MM describes the country’s new subjects as “hungry,” with parents who “pushed the children very hard.” If native Singaporeans are falling behind because “the spurs are not stuck into the hide,” that is their problem." (Interview with Mark Jacobson, National Geographic January 2010)

So how would you answer the plaintive cry, "Dad, grandma treated you and mum so badly"?

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Price Of Justice

For spray painting 2 SMRT train cars and trespassing, Swiss national Oliver Fricker was sentenced to 5 months in jail and 3 strokes of the cane. It could have been worse.

The 32-year-old could have been jailed 3 years, fined $2,000 and administered 8 strokes of the rotan. Above and below captures from a video clip available on the internet illustrate the graphic consequence of an artistic lark gone horribly wrong.
A third charge of cutting the fence at the Changi train depot was stood down. Vandalism of site property is also punishable by caning.

SMRT chief executive Saw Phaik Hwa, 55, was not taken to task for the lapse in security. Instead of spray cans of paint, the intruders could have smuggled plastic explosives into the Government gazetted protected area. Instead she is likely to collect more than the $1.67 million paid her last year. Her deputy Yeo Meng Hin, specifically tasked with safety, emergency, planning and security, is the second best paid executive in the private corporation, raking in $970,272 or more.

Apparently the ex-Duty Free Sales girl was handsomely rewarded for bringing in over $50 million non-transit income from the rental of MRT space to retailers. Not for her experience or expertise in operating a public transportation system. By comparison, her equally ill-qualified predecessors Boey Tak Hap (ex-chief of army) and Kwek Siew Jin (ex-chief of navy) were paid about $570,000 each because rental income during their watch was negligible. Neither secure transportation nor crime and punishment issues are on the minds of the SMRT board members. It's all about milking the last cent from the captive commuter market. Transport Minister Raymond Lim would approve.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Oh Yes, The Law Can Be Mocked

Law Society president Michael Hwang had recommended, among other things, that limits be set on the length of any continuous period of interrogation of a witness and provision made for reasonable rest periods and meal breaks. Parliament met last year to review changes to the Criminal Procedures Code, but somehow the law makers chose to simply ignore and play dumb on this. The subject is brought up again in the latest issue of the Law Gazette.

Without going into specifics, Hwang cited a recent example where a client was inteviewed by a government agency for 36 hours with "virtually no break and certainly no extended period of rest". "We can argue about the rights and wrongs of many things in the CPC, but it seems hard to argue against the introduction of some ground rules in controlling the manner in which people are detained for questioning," said Hwang. Agreeing, Association of Criminal Lawyers president Subhas Anandan said Hwang's idea was "all the more needed" as there was nothing written about access to counsel in the CPC to ensure detainees are not treated unreasonably . If ever Obama wants to relocate Abu Ghraib, he doesn't have to look very far.

Early access to counsel does not take place in all cases in Singapore, unlike in England and Australia, and that's the ugly truth. "If you want to win the confidence of the public, why take statements that implicate the accused at 3 am or 4 am? I'm told it happens in 10 percent of the cases but it should be zero percent, " said Anandan, practicing criminal lawyer and author of the best selling "The Best I Could", a memoir of Anandan’s life and features 15 of his best known criminal cases. He has personal knowledge of the flawed system, having been framed by a crooked cop, and spent time behind bars while waiting for justice to be served. The rub was when his brother, then working for Goh Keng Swee and appealing to same for help, was told by Goh he knew Anandan was innocent, and deigned to render assistance.

National University of Singapore law lecturer Michael Hor thinks there must be some ground rules that the police use, not as detailed as the codes of practice found elsewhere, and definitely not made available to the public. After all, aren't they are supposed to be trained to respect the law and protect the citizens? Hor says, "The crux of the matter is to strike an appropriate balance between increasing transparency and accountability, and the need to be careful not to put in place rules which might hamper and obstruct urgent legitimate police action." In other words, don't make it too difficult for them, for these are the same guys who can't keep a terrorist locked up securely. Unlike their lesser paid Malaysian counterparts.

Gongli might take up citizenship here, but OJ Simpson would be dumb to do so.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Definitely Not Sophie's Choice

I like Sumiko Tan. She has spunk. She raised Goh Chok Tong's blood pressure by entertaining the idea of being a single mother. Only other woman in Singapore that has done that is Catherine Lim. Goh actually ticked her off in his National Day Rally Speech, instead of using the keynote speech to focus on achieving the Swiss standard of living for lesser mortals.

At 46, the editor of the Sunday Times and columnist since July 3, 1994, decided to marry ex-classmate Quek Suan Shiau, 48, an electrician and chess teacher in Wales. "It's set then. I'm saying goodbye to my life as I know it and getting, um, married," she wrote, detailing the strategic moves that ended in checkmate.

One is immediately reminded of MP for Tampines GRC, 43-year-old Irene Ng, getting hitched to a 62-year-old Scotsman who wore a skirt to the wedding. Ng had met Graham Berry while on a three-month fellowship at the University of Edinburgh in August 2006, and Berry proposed two months latter. He has two children, Louise, 38, and Mark, 36, from an earlier marriage, having twice taken the oath before the officiating priest to "to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part". Being Asian, many Singaporeans were curious what the foreigner will bring to the table. "I never asked him to (move to Singapore). It was his decision," replied Ng. "He has not decided what he would do in Singapore, but I know that he will be by my side in helping me to become a better MP." The bride also claimed that the union that fulfilled four government policies: it is pro-family, promotes active ageing, foreign talent and racial harmony.

Sumiko's choice differs in that an Ang Moh is not involved (unless you count the other woman, who is Welsh). The man has a previous marriage, and his 5-year-old daughter prefers to take her chances with mom. He does own an earthly possession, a 1,000 cc motorbike. Britain's divorce laws are tough. Like Berry, Quek will be moving into his little woman's house. So how will this arrangement check out?
1) Pro-family - Negative. Divorce and no kids in the new set up. At her age, Down syndrome should not be dismissed lightly.
2) Promotes active aging - Jury is out. Like, there's a world of difference between line dancing and pole dancing. Mama was always right about getting hitched early. And, oh yeah, remember to marry up.
3) Foreign Talent - Not an issue, if he still has his Singapore passport.
4) Racial harmony - No worries. Sumiko's mother is Japanese, but nobody todate has confronted her about the Nanking massacre.

Still, something nags me. You could have done better for yourself, girl. Did you really have to take a bus from Swansea to Heathrow? All by yourself? What about the note that promised, " I'll drive you to the end of the world and back"? Be cool, don't rush the joint bank account.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Best Of The Best Gets Better

The following quotes, taken from the March 2010 edition of the PETIR newsletter, were supposed to be the "best of sound bites by ministers and MPs". All we can say is, we've heard better.

I just want to clarify to the minister that women choose their clothes, including their undergarments, to look good for themselves, not only for the men.”
– MP Irene Ng teaching fashion challenged NTUC secretary- general Lim Swee Say a thing or two about the real world. The laughs really start when Dr Lee Wei Ling disagrees and says Ho Ching is her dress consultant of choice.

"When I switched to a slow ball, it is not that there was something wrong with the fast ball. But because, at different stages of our life, we just have to adapt to our physical condition and play with the right ball."
– Minister Lim Swee Say, explaining low productivity as a government strategy. To those who "catch no ball", fret not, this frog-in-the-well is also stone deaf as and when he chooses to be so.

There’s definitely no bullying here. It’s very much a consultative process all the way through.”
– MP Indranee Rajah provides insight into the PAP’s leadership style. As in how residents of Pasir Ris and Tampines were consulted over rental blocks being built next to their flats. When complainants expressed their fears the rental flat neighbours would make the area unsafe and seedy, "This seems to me to be a fundamentally wrong approach," she had said in a non-bullying tone.

We need every Singaporean to understand that this is not just about sports or young people – it’s for all Singaporeans.”
– Minister Vivian Balakrishnan lamely tries to whip up some excitement about the non-event of the inaugural Youth Olympics, the same spoilsport who said bar-top dancing can be fatal. Just before the authorities gave the go ahead for the alcohol influenced gymnastics activity. Continue to ignore.

Two is enough.”
– Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew referring to the number of casinos slipped in through the crack, despite self professed personal objection. His original stop at two policy to address the birthrate also screwed up many lives.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Score Update - FT 1, Singaporeans 0

Ever wonder why the PAP ministers treat Singaporeans like dirt? Do we really deserve to to be slimed as "small-minded", "unfair" and "very, very selfish"? Does a dog bite the hand that feeds it?

Making reference to the all China-born team that beat China at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Moscow last month, Minister of Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan raved and raged that "To deny them the right to call themselves Singaporeans is very, very selfish.  It's very unsportsman like." Oh, we get it - it's very sportsman like when opposition ward Town Councils are denied upgrading funds made available to PAP wards. But we digress, Low Thia Khiang is handling that exposé superbly.

What Balakrishnan fails to understand is that all this mollycoddling of the China paddlers is making xenophobics out of us. Why couldn't an aspiring Singaporean table tennis player be at the tournament to pick up pointers instead of that Lee Jiawei who didn't lift a ping pong bat at the matches? As for making "sacrifices to be here", Balakrishnan should take a look at their bank balance before and after landing at Changi airport. It's not unlike the ministers' situation, before and after they gerrymandered into the ministerial income tax bracket. Even the China import students get free tution, book allowance, hostel accommodation and $400++ monthly pocket money, a total outlay that makes mockery of the $500 NS allowance.

A better example of how FTs are favoured over local born came from a Singapore Sports School student who asked why national jumper Matthew Goh was denied a deferment when he could have made a bid for a bronze medal - and really give us reason to cheer. Matthew is a two time SEA junior gold medalist and the national record holder of Long Jump in Singapore. Balakrishnan's response speak volumes about the double standard: "We normally do support their appeals, but the final decison is made by Mindef". And in case you missed the drift, he adds, "..each competition will have to be assessed on its own merit." China girl paddlers number one, everyone else please stand back in the queue. In stark comparison, and inspite of his sports accomplishments, Matthew still has to "buy my own spike shoes, pay money for my transportation, pay for my apparel, supplements".

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Truth Will Always Be Malleable

Non-fiction is often updated in light of fresh developments that have transpired after the first print, but whoever heard of a revised eulogy? Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew rephrased his version of history in the eulogy he delivered at Goh Keng Swee's funeral just last month.

He had then claimed that it was Goh who, "on his own.. decided to have a clean break (with Malaysia)" . Goh, lying in state, was in no position to refute the distortion, but others like political scientist Hussin Mutalib of the National University of Singapore decided to press for the truth, writing in to the Straits Times to query whether it was Singapore or Malaysia that "precipitated the idea of Separation".

In the current Petir, official newsletter of the PAP, Lee penned this version:
"When we found ourselves trapped in a Malay-dominated Malaysia, I led the fight for a Malaysian Malaysia. When the movement gathered massive Malaysia-wide support from the non-Malays in Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah, the Tunku decided to cut Singapore off".

No mention is made of how he dissed the Central Government by contesting the April 1964 elections. Mubin Sheppard, authorised biographer of Tunku Abdul Rahman, recorded that Lee actually told one rally audience that Tunku was not of the calibre to lead the nation. And as for the mythical "massive Malaysia-wide support", PAP won only 1 out of the 104 contested in the non-gerrymandered electoral process. MCA, pronounced dead by Lee' s PAP, won a respectable 27 seats. According to Tunku, "We dreamt of Singapore in connection with Malaysia as what New York is to America, but little did we realise what the leaders of the PAP had in mind was a share in the running of Malaysia. This was considered as unacceptable" (No Man Is An Island, by James Minchin, 407 pages). Even as Tunku was receiving treatment for shingles In London, he was convinced Lee was making his plans for Malaysia unworkable, "Every movement caused grinding pain, but the mind was alive and active; so as I laid (sic) there I was thinking of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The more pain I got the more I directed my anger on him..."

Who was it that said history is written by the winners? The brute that is totalitarianism is not only the atrocity it commits but the attack it makes on objective truth - the attempts to control the past as well as the future. Our only hope, is that the liberal habit of mind will survive, which thinks of truth as something outside oneself, something to be discovered, not as something one can make up as one goes along.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pay More For Protection

The line from the movie Avatar, "What the hell have you people been smoking out there?" comes to mind when one reads about the latest attempt by a Government minister to shun responsibilty for debacles happening under their watch.

Law Minister K Shanmugam apparently sees the world only in black and white - he claims that since SMRT is a private corporation, the Government should not be held accountable for the breach of security at the train depot. By his logic, if the Changi airport is attacked by terrorists, and the iconic control tower blown to smithereens, SIA alone will be penalised for the loss of lives and property.

So what kind of protection can Singaporeans expect from the police force and security apparatus of the Ministry of Home Affairs? Does it mean that when one is robbed or physically assaulted, the police will only take action if the offence is committed on public property, such as a common sidewalk leading to a privately owned pub, cinema or country club? When a car is vandalised or broken into, does it matter if the vehicle was in a HDB public carpark or the basement of a private condominium?

"Is it fair for the public through the Government to pay that security in manpower terms or terms of the costs," asked Shanmugam. He was arguing that although SMRT depot has been gazetted by the Government as a protected place, the security of the premises remains the prime the responsibility of the corporation. We are not told if the private residences of cabinet ministers are gazetted as protected places, but we do know that the cost of the 24/7 Gurkha security is definitely borne by taxpayers. They could have saved money for the taxpayers by deploying local policemen like before, but the Malay dominated constabulary seemed to have fallen out of favour after 911. Perhaps we will be seeing more of the foreign talent Gurkhas guarding SMRT premises. That would be a welcome excuse for Transport Minister Raymond Lim to jack up train fares. Either that or a GST hike.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

How Stamford Canal Was Clogged

How many Starbucks cups does it take to clog a 2.7 metre by 2.7 metre drain? Too many. Since the truth will never see the light of day, we might as well extrapolate from the following scenarios:

SMRT bus routing gone haywire

MRT train attempts to wash off graffiti

RSN submarine has flaky GPS

F1 driver took a wrong corner

LTA erects new ERP gantry

Homeless tent dwellers relocate from Changi beach

Saturday, June 19, 2010

PUB Caught Off-guard

At a press conference, the national water agency's third in as many days, PUB's chief executive Mr Khoo Teng Chye admitted on Friday that they were "caught off-guard". PUB staff had kept a close watch on Bukit Timah, not realising that Stamford Canal could be in trouble. Like the 3G iPhone, their OS is obviously not multi-tasking.

But Mr Khoo stopped short of issuing an apology on behalf of PUB: "We are responsible for the drainage system so it's our job to make sure that the drainage system functions well. When there are problems like these, I think we have the responsibility to make sure that we try and manage it, learn from it and take the necessary steps to prevent a recurrence." In other words, expect more problems, but they'll just move on and continue to draw obscene fat-cat salaries. Accountability was never in the job description.

More than $2 billion has been poured into improving drainage infrastructure over the past 3 decades, including the extravagant $226 million Marina Barrage undertaking and associated "lifestyle attraction" infrastructure. PUB already has the budget to spend $150 million annually over the next 5 years on drainage improvement works. The agency's maintenance expenditure has also been doubled to $23 million. Money gushes in like flood water.

"Of course, what they did not realise was that the Stamford Canal was also having some problems, because we were, frankly, a little bit caught off-guard by what happened at Stamford Canal. But, of course, now that becomes a new hot spot," Mr Khoo said. Of course, they'll always come up another the spot. You expect them to lose their jobs? Like fellow scholar Khoo Chin Hean (no relation), ex-Chief Executive of Energy Market Authority, who pegged electricity tariff to wild oil price fluctuations?

PUB's claim that the Stamford Canal was last checked only in March was always suspect. Pressed again on when the canal was last cleaned of debris, Mr Khoo avoided a direct answer by detracting with how drainage systems are meant to be "self-cleansing" and covered drains are less likely to collect litter. Now the drains get blamed for not doing their share of "self-cleansing" duties. Mr Khoo also said one of the difficulties of managing the drain systems is the unpredictable tropical weather. See, even the weather gets blamed. Everybody but PUB bureaucrats.

Help With Math Required

What the Straits Times took as gospel truth when it reported:
“It was the same story for Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang Town Council. MP Inderjit Singh, who chairs it, said between 0.1 per cent and 0.2 per cent of the $45 million to be collected yearly is written off.”

Simple math indicates 0.1 or 0.2 percent of $45 million is only $45,000 or $90,000.

Note the "Provision for impairment" figures of $2,237,334 (FY2008) and $1,357,093 (FY2009) in the Notes To The Financial Statements. Go figure.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Flood Problem Hiding In Plain Sight

The word has been used so often, the Singapore government should patent it. Once again, complacency comes to mind when it was revealed that the cause of the Great Orchard Road flood is an open drain.

Not just any open drain, but a culvert measuring 2.7m by 2.7m. Wide enough to fit an SBS bus. We are told the first heavy downpour carried debris and vegetation into the culvert at the junction of Tanglin and Orchard roads, choking the humongous drain, and sent dirty water gushing up the whole stretch of touristy Orchard Road. From photos shown in the press, an SBS bus was not swept into the culvert. The litter problem in that part of town must be real bad.

The Stamford Canal for the Orchard Road drainage system comprise two canals, a shallow one of 2.2m on the Paterson Road side, and a deeper 3m deep canal on the Scotts Road side. The culvert connects the shallow canal to the deeper one. With all the digging done for the MRT station construction, surely the engineers could have easily built another diversion for the shallow canal. Maybe the PUB guys don't talk much to the LTA guys, or the ENV guys in charge of drainage planning and control.

Industry experts say that insurance claims by businesses affected could exceed $6 million. To fix the problem, PUB announced it will now inspect the Stamford Canal once a month, instead of the current practice of 3 to 6 months. Ms Lee Bee Wah, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC and deputy chairman of the National Development and Environment Government Parliamentary Committees, said dthe flooding was a "timely wake-up call" that something more needs to be done to prevent a similar occurrence. Permanent secretaries in the Environment Ministry specialising in flood control will probably have to cut short their trips to France for pastry cooking lessons.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Great Singapore Floods

The last time the city was crippled by a flood was as recent as 7 months ago in November 2009. Then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim said, “What happened was very unusual … The intensity was tremendous …”, and he called it a “freak” event which happens only “once in 50 years”. Taking their cue from the minister, the Public Utilities Board leisurely scheduled their plans to double the capacity of the main Bukit Timah Canal in 3rd quarter 2012. For yesterday's flash flood, the condominiums and commercial buildings in the flood prone area had to contend with new water level sensors that broadcasted their impending disaster slightly ahead of time. Cluny Court's management was supposed to be grateful that only one car was ruined when overflowing canal water poured into their basement carpark, again.

One Caucasian tourist was saying on TV last night that she never expected to see the waterlogged chaos that was Orchard Road "in a first world country". TODAY had a more political correct quote from visitor Educardo Gomez, "It's quite a sight - one that I never expected to see in Singapore - but these things happen, even in the most developed places". To support Mr Gomez, the broadsheet had a photo on page 30 of the flash flood devastation in France's Cote d'Azur region. For the record France does not have the world's highest paid cabinet ministers.

Also, the geographical region referenced is not as densely built up as Orchard Road. Ditto the Bukit Timah/Dunearn Road stretch, where you can't throw a stone without hitting a brand new condominium; it's easier to hit a Kim or a Lee in Korea. It's not rocket science that urban and developed areas have special vulnerability to flash floods - impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces are man-made constructed surfaces like concrete shopping malls, high rise buildings, driveways, parking lots and sidewalks. These surfaces replace natural landscape and nature's means to absorb flood waters. These surfaces amplify the the velocity of flood waters because they rush over hard surfaces instead of seeping into the soil. You don't need to be paid a million dollars to understand that.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Disgraceful Attempt By Grace Fu

Mr Low Thia Khiang, in capacity of Chairman, Hougang Town Council, released a press statement yesterday to counter Senior Minister of State Grace Fu’s response to his charge that opposition Town Councils had never received either IUP, MUP or CIPC funding to improve and rejuvenate their estates, thereby placing them in a disadvantaged position compared to PAP TCs.

Debunking The Lie:
SMS Grace Fu had said that “not all PAP wards qualify for upgrading programme” and that “how much a town council gets from the government depends on the number and types of flat, not whether it is run by PAP or the opposition.”

The Challenge:
It is time the Ministry of National Development let the public know how much additional funding each PAP TC has received todate through the various upgrading programmes or has benefitted from the programme up to financial year 2009. This way Singaporeans can have a clear idea of which PAP TC did not qualify for the upgrading program as alleged by Grace Fu.

On the issue of collection of Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC) arrears with which the opposition TCs were made to look bad in the Town Council Management Report, Low pointed out that PAP TCs had written off S&CC arrears. PAP TCs could afford to do it because they had priority access to additional funding received through upgrading programs. Some PAP TCs also used their own TC funds to help residents to pay and reduce the number of months in S&CC arrears and dress up the TCMR. Residents who dutifully paid their full share will be sorely pissed.

All these will come to light when MND details the additional funding each PAP TC has received through the various upgrading programmes which are funded by the national budget. If MND chooses to release the data, that is.

The 2005 SPH-NKF libel lawsuit exposed NKF CEO TT Durai's lie that he did not fly Business Class on charity funds, although he successfully sued and claimed court awarded damages from two individuals for saying same. In August 1997 and December 1998, NKF volunteer Archie Ong and aero-modelling instructor Piragasam Singaravelu respectively were hauled to court separately for defamation. The truth could have been established by simply checking against SIA's Priority Passenger list, but either SIA was keeping mum or the authorities pretended not to know. These big boys tend to stick together and look after their own, to the disadvantage of the less privileged common man.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Beware Of The 'G' mail Inbox

Google's Gmail pioneered the automatic scanning of e-mail content in order to append context-sensitive advertisements to them.  Permitting e-mail content to be read, even by a computer, raises the risk that privacy in e-mail will be compromised.  Furthermore, mail that non-subscribers happen to send to Gmail account holders is also scanned by Gmail automatically, even though those senders never agreed to Gmail's terms of service or privacy policy.

The term "governmental request" is referred to three times on the Gmail terms-of-use page and once on their privacy page. This implies all Gmail account holders have effectively consented to allow Google to disclose any and all email content to any official from any government whatsoever, even when the request is informal or extralegal. Big Brother could not have wished for a better tool.

Mr Peter Ho, Head of Civil Service and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the Ministry of Finance and IDA’s Government CIO Office have started to develop a masterplan to up the ante.

Under the guise of a "government-with-you" paradiagm, James Kang, assistant chief executive and government chief information office of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, presented the government plans to move from data collection to "making sense of collected data". The government, he pointed out, is an ideal candidate to provide a platform and data, given its vast repository of information.

Currently the Singapore identity card number is a powerful access key for a whole array of confidential information, ranging from the status of your road tax payment to all your accounts in local financial institutions. And should you forgetfully leave your IC with the security guard of an office building, do not be surprised to receive a call on your private mobile number to retrieve it.

The 'G'-mail account they are offering all Singaporeans with internet access, to be called OneInbox, will serve as an electronic safe deposit box. Mail such as tax statements, reminders to renew TV llicences and bills for service & conservancy charges which town councils are so desperate to collect will be sent to this Internet mailbox. Scanned copies of private documentation such as baptismal certificates, deeds of trust funds, pre-nuptial agreements, certificates of deposits for offshore accounts, etc, are also invited to be stored there. "So, if there is a fire people no longer need to risk their lives running into their homes to save their important documents, " said Kang in packaging the softsell. Just make sure that you don't put your Edison Chen-type collection of photos in the vault.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lim Kim San: One Man, Many Hats

The young bank officer being introduced to Mr Lim Kim San at his SPH office could scarcely believe the words uttered in a moment of candour, "One thing you can say of the PAP, they look after their own kind. If it weren't for them, I'll be sleeping in the streets." Lim was appointed executive chairman of Singapore Press Holdings from 1988 to 2002, and senior adviser till he retired in 2005. He died in July 2006.

Former Straits Times senior writer Asad Latif never had the opportunity of such a eye-opening perspective, as his book, "Lim Kim San: A Builder Of Singapore", was written without a single personal interview with his subject. His literary effort is more accurately described as a review of Lim's Oral History Inteview as conducted by a Mrs Lily Tan, a former director of the National Archives, and in all probability a civil servant who was fully aware her paycheck was determined by her sense of political correctness.

Latif also depended as his source of information on the "builder, political leader and corporate icon" inteviews with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. As in the "Men In White" book, the author allowed the duo to paint history as they saw it. And take snipes at their political adversaries.

In the Latif book, Lee is quoted as describing Ong Eng Guan as a "maverick, unstable minister in the National Development Ministry who was out to make a name for himself at all costs and was unstable and reckless." Ong apparently irked the man because, we are told, he wanted to turn the Istana into public housing, i.e. covert the state land to house the masses instead of serving one useless figurehead. That has to be a popular recommendation, relevant even in today's political climate.

And when Ong Teng Cheong wanted to do more than be a useless figurehead, Lee said, "Ong wanted to have a powerful presidency (to guard the nation's reserves). This may be unkind (it definitely is), maybe his chemotherapy and his problem with his cancer may have affected his judgement. He wanted to stay on as the president and die in office." The public record has it that Ong Teng Cheong decided not to run for a second term as elected president because he had cancer. And President Ong was not given all the trappings of a state funeral.

According to Goh Chok Tong's version of the clash, "His (Lim Kim San's) advice to the president then (Ong Teng Cheong) was to put a system in place to check the Government but not approach it as though the present government was a rogue government." In other words, only a non-PAP government can ever qualify as a rogue government. That's the kind of advice one expects from one who knows which side of his bread is being buttered.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Is The Straits Times Weighing In?

The Straits Times was given a smack on the hand for its biased coverage of the AWARE saga. DPM and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng then said the government had analysed the volume, tone and objectivity of the coverage of the AWARE episode, and found it wanting in some respects, adding, "Journalists should not get caught up in the stories they are reporting, however exciting the stories may be". Is it now taking sides in the earthly trials of Paster Kong Hee? The headline "City Harvest founder now accused of plagiarism" seems to suggest so.

Two American authors of a Christian study book, Professor Sid Buzzell and Dr Kenneth Boa, said they would not be pursuing the matter of their materials being copied by Pastor Kong for his "Daily Devotion" writings. "In the spirit of our book's notes, we prefer to let the matter go rather than create issues for Mr Kong, " said Professor Buzzell, a dean of the school of theology at Colorado Christian University. Which is a very Christian thing to do. The one who cast the first stone about plagiarism was a blogger who highlighted the trangression on his blog "Cheat Grace" on May 9. The blog has been put on holding pattern since June 8, the blogger having established his case, and wisely decided to move on.

But The Straits Times chose to take the step of informing a third writer, Bill Perkins, 61, that his material was also copied. Perkins is less forgiving, "Plagiarism is wrong, regardless of the motive.. It misleads the reader into thinking something about the author that is not true." Buzzell had premised his spirit of forgiving upon Pastor Kong's repentance, "If he continues to copy the material, we can take it from there," and also, "seek advice from others who are more legally sophisticated about such things". Who knows, they may even be guided to hire the lawyers that financially humbled TT Durai of NKF infamy.

Prior to his conversion, Paul, an apostle of Jesus, did naugthy things, like "violently persecuting the church of God and trying to destroy it" (Galatians 1:13). On the road to Damascus, he was blinded by a "light from heaven", and then had his sight restored by Ananias as an object lesson to start a new life to do good things. Will Pastor Kong ever be given a chance to amend his ways?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pay First, Maintenance Later

The first inaugural Town Council Management Report (TCMR) of 16 town councils has the best performers ranked to be Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Tanjong Pagar run by his father Lee Kuan Yew. With the frequent flyer miles these two have been chalking up, it makes you wonder how often they show up at meet-the-people-sessions or town council meetings. The two worst performers are, predictably, the opposition wards: Hougang of Workers' Party's Low Thia Khiang and Potong Pasir of Singapore People's Party's Chiam See Tong.

The rub is this: their low grades have to do with collecting of arrears in S&CC (service and conservancy charges). Penalised for being sympathetic to the financial pain of the residents in their ward. The big "winners", by comparison, are living up to their party efficacy of "pay and pay". Even Dr Lim Lan Yuan from the National University of Singapore spotted the irony in the priority report: "They may not be chasing residents as much as the others, because when you chase too much, residents may not be happy."

Low Thia Khiang has always been skeptical of the undertaking from day one, "Such an exercise.. which inevitably requires much resources put in by the town councils, would translate into higher operating costs, and residents will eventually end up paying higher service and conservancy charges". Opposition town councils are perpetually placed at the bottom of the queue for estate upgrading. Nevertheless, the Hougang Town Council was given a ranking of 4 for maintenance, against the "3 and below" grade received by a PAP town council, inspite of all the upgrading priority afforded them by the party controlled HDB. "It is an accomplishment," Low was proud to announce.

Chiam See Tong decided to call a spade a spade, and dismissed the report outright as a ploy to discredit his town council. "They want to thump Potong Pasir down, " a combative Chiam declared. "Potong Pasir is the best town council in Singapore, what do you expect me to say?" Agreeing, residents in Potong Pasir paid no heed to the poor assessment. "It's okay because at least they clean it every day. And I see the person cleaning the lift and sweeping the corridors," said one resident. "I see a big improvement from previous years, such as the roadside, the gardens, the walkways," said another.

With electioneering so close, some town council chairmen were quick to assure residents they would not have to pay more for improvements. Ms Indranee Rajah, chairman for Tanjong Pagar Town Council, said it seeks to work within its budget so residents would not pay more (Tanjong Pagar scored a banding of level 1 for all the indicators, except for maintenance, for which they were banded level 3.) The spoiler came from Cynthia Phua, chairman for Aljunied Town Council, who cautioned that if residents do not cooperate, more home visits by town council staff could lead to higher manpower costs.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sue The Lawyers

One of the many objections to the building of the casinos was that it would attract a new breed of unsavoury characters to town, villians which clean-cut Singaporeans are not accustomed to dealing with. But nobody expected the first to be conned would be a large group of lawyers.

The Inter-Pacific Bar Association group called IPBA 2010 had planned their conference to be held at Marina Bay Sands in May 2010. The US$5.5 billion MBS was originally scheduled to be opened in September 2009, leaving a good 8 months for the kinks to be ironed out, barring contingencies and unforeseen circumstances. After all, had not Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson publicly declared that MBS will open for business only when its full suite of facilities was ready?

Other than the September opening date, IPBA was also assured that their conference would not be the first large scale one to be held at the new premises - nobody, lawyers included, wants to be a guinea pig. Boy, were they in for a ride. IPBA charged that:

1) Requests for site visits to check out the facilities were postponed or refused;
2) MBS used their conference event to secure the Temporary Occupation Permit and Casino Regulatory Authority licence "ahead of normal course of events";
3) They had to scrap the opening reception at the SkyPark* as it was not ready;
4) The actual conference was plagued by power failure, sound system breakdown and interruption by ongoing construction. Hotel rooms had non-functioning air-conditioning and toilets.

For being shortchanged, IPBA withdrew a $300,000 payment, for which MBS has sued the lawyers. Now, that has to be chutzpah. IPBA 2010 group has influential members, including Mrs Lee Suet Fern, daughter-in-law of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. This is one smart lady who will not be treated shabbily; just ask her husband, Lee Hsien Yang.

* The lawyers should be thankful the SkyPark was not ready for the proposed reception. Jutting 218 feet into thin air, the cantilevered observation deck portion of the SkyPark has to be supported by two counterweights of 700 tons each. Even so, engineers designed the cantilever to carry the total weight of 900 people safely, not the 1,000 lawyers and judges invited for the bash, including Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, and former Vice-President Al Gore. Add the usual complement of security personnel and hangers-on, and it would have been a recipe for disaster.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Letter Of The Law Rules

Law enforcers in Singapore have it easy, they simply go by the letter of the law. Not for them the headaches of solving the idiomatic antithesis of pitting the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law.

Under the Casino Controls Act, no local residents, except "casino employees and authorities carrying out their duties", are exempt from paying the levy to enter the casino premises, an offence that attracts a fine of up to $1,000 plus the levy quantum. Should the casino operator fail to collect the levies, it is deemed to have contravened Section 116 of the Casino Control Act, and thus liable to disciplinary action, which can be cancellation or suspension of the casino licence, a letter of censure, or a fine up to $1 million. Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was proud to shell out the 100 bucks when he and some grassroots followers visited Resorts World Sentosa "to take a look" a few weeks after it opened, declaring, "No choice, all Singaporeans must buy!"  No legal mind in the land dared venture that the prime minister could qualify as one of the "authorities carrying their duties", such as making an impromptu audit of the facilities, and ensuring terrorists were not on site to laundry their dirty money.

The 15 diners who "waltzed through Marina Bay Sands' casino without paying the levy" will surely face the consequences. Never mind if that route was the only exit after one of many MBS opening glitches that left them trapped in a high rise building. The diners had just patronised one of the spanking new MBS' restaurants, Imperial Treasure, on May 4, when they discovered that the two lifts were out of order. MBS staff blocked their egress and insisted on collecting the levy first. The profit motivated staff would probably have stood their ground even if the restaurant was on fire. The Singapore law was the law. See their determined faces here and here.

Playwright William Shakespeare wrote numerous works dealing with the letter versus spirit issue, almost always coming down on the side of "spirit", and forcing villains (who usually sided with the letter) to make concessions and remedy. Intentionally following the letter of the law but not the spirit has always been a useful tool of choice for oppressive authoritarian governments.  It is easily accomplished through exploiting technicalities, loopholes, and ambiguous language like "at the Minister's pleasure". Member of Parliament Alvin Yeo, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law weighs in on the strict interpretation, "If you use language that's so general, it doesn't help the person on the spot because they won't know if it qualifies as an extenuating circumstance."

Monday, June 7, 2010

SMRT Graffiti Wake Up Call

It was almost a reprise of the Mas Selamat flight from his cell at Whitely Road Detention Centre, the authorities were so slow and incompetent that the defaced MRT train had a full 48 hours run in public view before the vandalism was detected. Last August, a new police department was actually set up specifically to secure Singapore’s public transport network against criminals and terrorists. Instead of the stereotype photoshopped mugshot of the Muslim terrorist, they should have been on the look out for an Ang Moh with a spray can.

SMRT has installed countless CCTVs at the train stations, ever ready to catch Singaporeans in the act of littering since trash bins have been removed in their vicinity for fear of bombs being deposited instead of litter. The officers monitoring the CCTV screens must have been bored with looking down necklines, if they watching at all, for they never saw the coach painted on the side with the trademark signature of the perpetrator, "McKoy Banos".

A man named Oliver Fricker has been "assisting the police in their invesgations", to use same parlance of the CAD boys currently reviewing the finances of City Harvest Church. The foreigner is a 33-year-old Swiss national, having been granted entry into the country as a business consultant by the ICA which, until recently, had been handling out work permits like free tissue paper. The real cuplrit is probably the one who flew away. British citizen Lloyd Dane Alexander arrived here a few days before the incident, and purportedly left Singapore for Hong Kong before the security guys woke up with red faces.

For sneaking into the Changi depot restricted area by overcoming a series of barriers, including cutting through a fence topped with barbed wire along Xilin Avenue, Fricker faces potential jail time and permanent defacement of his butt. Just ask American Michael Fay. Fricker was arrested one week after the incident was first reported to the police on May 19, longer time than Mas Selamat took to scoot off to Scudai on the Malaysian side of the Causeway.

Dr John Harrison, a specialist in terrorism research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said, "It could have been a very serious situation. An individual with knowledge of the system and intent to disrupt or damage it could do much, much worse". But neither Transport Minister Raymond Lim nor Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng has bothered to comment on the breach of national security. Come to think of it, all the Ministers have been awfully quiet. All they all asleep or just afraid to lose their budgetted 8.8 percent wage increment because of a public relations gaffe?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

NKF Short Of Money Again?

The main source of donations for the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is from the LifeDrops programme, whereby a set amount is deducted every month from donors through Inter Bank Giro or credit card. Compared to the 280,000 donors just before the NKF saga broke in 2005, currently there are about 180,000 donors who are still loyal to the programme. In dollar terms, donations and grants fell from $62.4 million in 2005 to $26.7 million in 2006 in the aftermath of the TT Durai revelations. Chairman Gerard Ee is adamant the drop "definitely" has nothing to do with the 2005 scandal.

So, is NKF is short of money, as Chairman Ee appears to claim? The NKF had $269.5 million in its reserves in 2008, compared to $262.8 million in Dec 2005, the year when the scandal broke. In 2009, the figure was $277.7 million. The average expenditure for the last 3 years was $50 million per annum. Ratio of reserves to annual operating expenditure is 5.08 for FY2009, meaning NKF has financial reserves to last more than 5 years, even if the donation tap is turned off tomorrow.

NKF also has a revenue stream from the deed of settlement made with TT Durai on 21 June 2007. NKF will receive from Durai a total sum of $4.95m. This is settled by way of an initial payment of $500,000 on 4 July 2007 and the balance payable in 11 instalments of $300,000 each (commencing 4 November 2007) plus 1 final payment of $250,000 (on 4 July 2011). Others on the old board of directors have also contributed to the kitty.

Since 2008, after setting aside $50 million in cash, some $200 million are parked in investments, which unfortunately resulted in losses of $2.551 million (FY2007/2008) and $5.765 million (FY2008/2009). Also, despite the reduction in manpower (annualised manpower cost was reduced from $4.8m in FY2005 to $1.2m in FY 2006), total employee costs have gone up by 8%. The NKF financial reports do not state the compensation of top management or remuneration paid out to current directors, but rest assured they are not paid peanuts.

What is really curious are the comments made by CEO Eunice Tay, on her failure to recruit registered nurses from India where they are paid only $130 a month, to work in Singapore for $1,750 plus allowances. She even has problems getting retired nurses to work for her, "I will take them on half time, part time, any time they are willing to give me." Do we have a Foxconn here, the Apple-Factory in China where workers keep killing themselves, is it just another slate of bad management? They can't pin the investment loss on her as Eunice Tay was in legal practice from 1986 to 1990 before joining the healthcare industry in 1991, financial expertise in handling hundreds of millions is not exactly her forte. Maybe she'll do a better job when the reserves drop to a more manageable amount.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

On Calling It A Day

When Al Gore and Tipper announced this week that they were separating after 40 years of marriage, wagging tongues wanted to know only one thing – was there a man/woman involved? No, the Gores said, there was no third party involved, adding that the decision to split after 4 decades and 4 adult children was “mutual.”

“People are living longer, and they’re less willing to spend their last decades with someone who leaves them unfulfilled,” a Wall Street Journal reporter suggested in an article on “late stage” divorce.

For the late Goh Keng Swee, before he decided in 1986 to divorce his wife of 44 years, Alice Woon, already there was talk of him being seen increasingly in the company of his colleague Dr Phua Swee Liang, who headed the Gifted Education programme in the Ministry of Education. Whether this contributed to the decision to step down from office is not clear, even after going through "Goh Keng Swee, A Portrait", the book written by his daughter-in-law (Tan Siok Sun, 2007, 222 pages).

Tan did record his early thoughts in 1982, about the prospect of retiring:
"Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure that is going to be quite a problem. You know, suddenly you find that you've no SOs [Security Officers] and you are just an ordinary citizen. I hope I can still make use of theVIP room [at Changi Airport] when I travel but then you are on your own, you've got to clear your own baggage at the other end and so on and so forth. But it has to come and you might as well reconcile yourself to it."

And reconcile to the realities of the day he did:
"If they accept it, and they find me useful, okay, I carry on. If after some time they say, 'Look, what you are saying is absolute rubbish,' then you just hang up your gloves and call it a day."

The tragedy is the way he had to leave. Goh's father, Goh Leng Inn died in 1971 after his health deteriorated and spent the last years of his life bedridden. At the funeral, saddened by the indignities old age had brought to his father, he turned to his then daughter-in-law, Jennie Chua, and said, "If given a choice, I will not go this way; I would rather fly a plane and crash it into the sea."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Some Inconvenient Truths

"What were the principal causes of this political catastrophe? An early and continuing factor was the fiery rhetoric of Lee Kuan Yew and his decision to enter PAP candidates in the 1964 general election. Elections campaigns offer opportunities for the expression of intemperate opinions, which might otherwise remain unspoken. This rhetoric, admirably suited to the political scene in Singapore, soon antagonised Malayan leaders, including the ever-tolerant Tunku.
Lee told one rally that Tunku was not of the calibre to lead the nation. At another rally he told his audience: "We have to save the Tunku from his so-called friends", and at another, that "the Chinese leadership in the Alliance by the MCA is replaceable". There were also many other attacks on the MCA and attempts to split the UMNO-MCA alliance."

Above quote is taken from "Tunku, His Life And Times" (Mubin Sheppard, 2007, 230 pages), the authorised biography of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the man who had to fend off Macapagal of the Philippines and Sukarno of Indonesia to make Malaysia a reality.

After the 1964 election Tunku had to take action to de-escalate the incendiary atmosphere, and he arranged a meeting at which he, Tun Abdul Razak and Tan Siew Sin met Lee Kuan Yew, Lim Kim San and Dr Toh Chin Chye of the PAP to declare a truce, and agree not to raise sensitive issues relating to the position of the communities in Malaysia.

But by the middle of December 1964, inter-governmental co-operation between Singapore and the central government in Kuala Lumpur had deteriorated to such a serious extent that Tunku spoke of a "breakaway", and the calamity that would be for Singapore and Malaysia. Tunku's efforts at moderating was criticized by UMNO, and further jeopardised by a speech by Lee Kuan Yew on May 21, "If we must have trouble, let us have it now. If we find that Malaysia cannot work, then we can make alternative arrangements."

After recuperating from an attack of shingles in Switzerland, Tunku returned to Kuala Lumpur and wrote to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, telling him that he and his ministers had decided on separation.

On evening of August 6, Goh Keng Swee and colleagues were in Kuala Lumpur and was told of the Alliance decision. Informed by telephone, Lee drove to see Tunku at about mid-day on Saturday, August 7. The congenial and kindly Tunku had run out of patience with the maverick, and produced the "Separation Agreement" for Lee to sign.

Ismail Kassim,of The Straits Times, Singapore, said in his review of the book, "It is a story that will strike a responsive chord in many readers... Not surprisingly, it abounds with many interesting vignettes about the personal life of the Tunku which are not generally known to the public." And not generally known to Singaporeans either.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

It's All In The Taste Buds

Pastor Kong Hee of City Harvest Church wrote this in defense of her wife pictured above:

“China Wine” is a music video about a girl who has to take up an extra job at a nightclub to make ends meet for her family. Some pastors immediately took offense at the club scene and sexy dancers around her. As for her costumes, she wore gym clothes which was not inappropriate for the set she had to act in. At the end of the music video, she caught her boyfriend cheating on her in the night club and confronted him in Mandarin. If you understand what she said, her words were neither crude nor profane at all. She basically shouted at the guy, “Hey, what are you doing with this mistress?” Unfortunately, the video translator subtitled that as “Hey, what are you doing with this b****?” That final b-word caused a further uproar among pastors, who were quick to condemn her for uttering profanities. A few of them wrote me angry emails calling Sun a “whore,” “hooker,” and other nastier, derogatory terms. Some said she was promoting free sex and immorality. But any intelligent, objective viewer would know that the whole drama is not about sex; if anything, it portrays the reality of a fallen secular world."

To sample his flavour of preaching read his whole sermon here.

Just keep in mind that this guy has a different definition of righteousness as mentioned in Matthew 21:32 (NIV Version):
"For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It Pays To Maintain A Low Profile

City Harvest Church is a high profile church, with a capital "H". It counts a number of prominent business leaders among its congregation and its events have links all around the world. Some of these names include WyWy Group chairman Y.Y. Wong and Bayan Tree Holdings' Ho Kwon Ping. Also movie producer Jack Neo. Founder and Pastor Kong Hee calls himself a businessman and wife Ho Yeow Sun is the aspiring pop star flashing her boobs in a plunging neckline Armani gown at the Hollywood Film Festival.

Barely 10 hours after he wrapped up the recent 5-day Asia Conference organized by the church, which featured plenary sessions and workshops spiced with beauty  pageants, talent competitions and a special performance by popular Taiwan songstress Tsai Chin, the Commercial Affairs Department moved in on him. In all, police from the CAD rounded up 17 church members for questioning at the Cantonment Complex, and took away their files and documents from homes and offices.

City Harvest Church is big. It has a congregation of 33,000. It occupies a $48 million compound in Jurong West, complete with titanium clad building and a $583,000 fountain. The church has a 30-minute television broadcast program Harvest Time, which is televised on 14 Cable Television Networks and satellites with a potential viewership of about 1.486 billion. Although the CAD claim it has nothing to do with the raid, City Harvest did raise its profile even higher with its $310,000,000 stake in Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre. The Commissioner of Charities had stepped in to question the church about the mega-deal.

During the April 14 interview with Charlie Rose, Lee Hsien Loong claimed that Falun Gong had appeared as a flash mob one day in front of the inner sanctum, and it was the first they (Chinese Government) ever heard of Falun Gong, and "that scared the daylights out of them." So what, Charlie Rose had asked, "But is it a threat to them?"
"When they discovered who was in the Falun Gong and how many of the senior officials had joined the secret group they were... they were shaken", replied Lee. God is not scary, but monied people are.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Cost Of Medical Advice

When early tests showed an abnormal ECG stress test reading and high calcium score, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, 58, was in "denial" and in no hurry to schedule the angiogram recommended by his doctor. The CT angiogram on April 29 revealed a blockage in his left main artery, and he finally surrendered to open heart surgery for a coronary artery bypass graft. He lived to tell the tale on his blog.

But SingHealth's Group chief operating officer, Dr Wong Yue Sie, died at the age of 49 on Friday 28 May after developing a massive stroke. Being a medical professional, we assume he was more knowledgeable about his state of health than Mr Khaw. He could have been symptom-free too, as Khaw put it, "I was fit as a fiddle... I had never felt breathless climbing stairs or when running on (the) treadmill, let alone experienced any heart pain or angina".

Former honorary treasurer of the National Kidney Foundation ex-property consultant Loo Say San, 61, also succumbed to a massive heart attack on Sunday evening. As a member of the NKF's excutive and finance committees, Loo had the power to make investment decisions without the prior approval of the executive committee.

By virtue of their income tax bracket, all three would have been in the "private patient" category of a government hospital. In most countries, public hospitals essentially offer free medical treatment to their citizens, with funding derived from government taxation. In Singapore, however, the public hospitals charge patients according to the ward class that they choose to reside in, and subject to the newly introduced means test. There are essentially five ward classes; A, B1, B2+, B2 and C, with class A being the most expensive and C, the cheapest.

Being admitted to a A or B1 ward, one automatically becomes a "Private Patient". Outpatient charges will range from S$92 to S$46 per consultation, compared to the S$29 applicable to a "Subsidized Patient". Query the nurse at the payment counter about the vast disparity, and she'll tell you with a haughty air, "Private patients will be attended to by a consultant or registrar, subsidized patients will treated by any medical officer on duty." In other words, not all the sick in Singapore will receive the medical treatment  most suitable to their urgent needs, but rather to their ability to pay the bill. That pain in your chest could also be due to a hit on your wallet.