Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year That Was 2010

Many things were said in 2010. Not only the private acid comments revealed by Julian Assange, but some uttered in public were just as difficult to swallow.

Minister of Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng, the defacto "population czar", confirmed what was a sore issue at the ground level, "I acknowledge that there are also those on employment passes holding jobs that Singaporeans are willing to do, and who compete directly with Singaporeans."

Law Minister K Shanmugam, refusing to admit what Singaporeans already know, said "If the media are no more than a mouthpiece for one or the other party, Singaporeans will see through that and the credibility of the media will suffer." That should explain the falling circulation figures of the Straits Times.

Minister without portfolio and Labour Chief Lim Swee Say also strained credibility when he dismissed talk that his call for a partial Central Provident Fund restoration was linked to a general election ploy: "When we help...workers, it must not be because an election is coming. If we do that, we lose credibility - (that) before an election we push for something, then after the election our workplan changes."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, interviewed by Charlie Rose on his Current Affairs program, said this of his own father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew: "He calls himself a mascot."

Lee Kuan Yew's eulogy to Goh Keng Swee included the snipe, "I had asked him to negotiate a looser arrangement for Singapore but keep Singapore within the Federation. He on his own decided, after discussions with them, to have a clean break."

Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, explained to Parliament how his YOG's S$104 million budget ballooned to S$387 million: "Our initial budget estimates during the bid phase were inaccurate". What he did not clarify was how S$79.8 million was buried in "Other Costs".

Minister of Education Ng Eng Hen set off a firebomb (figuratively! figuratively!) with: "The high weighting given to mother tongue languages in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is now under review and could be reduced." The furious backpedalling followed immediately: "But I should have chosen my words more carefully and apologise for creating that wrong impression.”

Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew ventured into engaging the new media: “Why are the majority of netizens not sympathetic towards MP Seng – is it because of widespread resentment about MPs and government policies, or is that the majority of online Singaporeans have no morals or compassion, and are mean, deceitful and simply put, horrible people?”

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim claimed the Bukit Timah flood was a “freak” event which happens only “once in 50 years”. Soon after, it was Orchard Road's turn.

"Yong Vui Kong is young. But if we say 'We let you go,' what is the signal we are sending?" was his reply at a dialog session in Joo Chiat on 9 May 2010. Law Minister Shanmugan's defence for sub judice: "The Government is entitled to comment on such policies.

Minister for Transport Raymond Lim's justification for the disguised fare hike: "63% of all commuters would see fare savings in their weekly public transport spending under Distance Fares." Net happiness is not applicable here, at least not for the average commuter.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan on his sincerity to solve the long term housing problems: "If you ask me whether it has got anything to do with the elections, the answer is yes. Everything has to do with the elections."

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was caught unawares by a student: "If the majority feel they don't belong here, then we have a fundamental problem. Then I would ask myself: What am I doing here? " No fair, we asked that question first.

Minister-in-charge of issues of ageing Lim Boon Heng, 63, suggesting re-employment period to be extended to age 67: "People are healthier and living longer, so they need more money so as to relieve the burden on their children and the Government." Emphasis is on latter, obviously.

"Resorts World at Sentosa understands (Singapore's) need to maintain these probity checks and there is no issue now," Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang down playing the link with Macau tycoon Stanley Ho. Many other issues came about later.

Foreign Minister George Yeo’s comment on Wikileaks: "I’m quite sure they make worse comments about me." Could he be jealous his opinion wasn't sought by the US diplomats?

Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean explaining crash landing of a Apache helicopter: "The maintenance procedure does not call for the RSAF to open up the AISBV." That's techno-speak for sheer incompetence.

Finally, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan walks away with the Pinnochio prize for tallest tale of the year: "My out-of-pocket expense for the hospital bill was $8 only."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

If It Ain't Broke....

When the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) implements the registration of dual heritage options for children of mixed parentage on Saturday, it could open up a Pandora's box of sorts. First announced in Parliament in January 2010, the initiative purportedly offers the flexibility of how the children's race will be recorded e.g. the offspring of an Indian-Chinese union will have a hyphenated Indian-Chinese or Chinese-Indian designation. The son of an Indian could be called Dhanabalan, but his identity card (NRIC) may indicate his race as as Chinese-Indian. Suppose the parents make the decision based on the complexion of the little tot on arrival, and DNA checks are in order. As the child develops, and should skin tone change dramatically, fairer or darker, there is option to change the race classification at age 21. Before this age, if a couple has three successive kids of different shades, porcelain white, chocolate brown and ebony black, all three will have to stick to the same "double-barrelled" race classification.

And the fun really begins when an Indian-Chinese marries a Malay-German. ICA's "neat" solution is to use the first component of the quadruple-barrelled combination for the double-barrelled race classification. And a Chinese-Italian and Indian-Thai couple is permitted to register with a single race, so long as either first component is used for the race option, obliterating three bloodlines with a single stroke of the pen. Too bad if granddad's proud heritage gets lost in the mathematical permutation.

There is no neat solution to race or ethnic classification. Just stop and think of the human tragedies of Bosnia and Rwanda.

Race is a term intended to designate main subdivisions of the human species. Its core intention is to distinguish groups based on physical characteristics, such as skin pigmentation and hair texture. When a child does not strongly resemble either parent, he/she may have difficulty time identifying with either in attempting to resolve the duality. Should the child arbitrarily identify with his or her most influential parental/dominant figure, peer conflict may result if the child’s physical appearance does not support the choice of racial identification. It is painful enough to watch interracial couples resolve their own racial identity issues, but do the kids have to navigate the treacherous labyrinth of racial identity formation as well? Contemporary researchers may suggest that race is largely a social construct that has little biological significance, despite the societal emphasis placed on race. But milk tolerance rates are extremely racially specific, and lactose intolerance (LI) primarily affects people of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Jewish and African descent. The harried doctor at a public hospital may be misled by the NRIC information.

Recall the hullabaloo when teachers were instructed to use only Hanyu Pinyin names in class, and the poor kids didn't know when they were addressed. There's wisdom in grandpa's advice, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." You should remember him, he's the guy who used to have your same surname.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

His And Her Story In Singapore

She left life in a soyabean farm and the harsh winters of Hielongjiang province, China, to seek a better life in October 2009. Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) let her in as a foreign talent to work as an assistant supervisor in an Indian restaurant at Jalan Besar. The real money was made on the side as a hostess at the Club Infinitude karaoke lounge of Outram Road. By March 2010, she was earning top dollar, commanding $800 for an overnight personal engagement.

He attended the best schools in Singapore and University of California, Berkeley, in USA. After graduation, at 24, he worked at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) between 1995 and 2001, and became Vice President of their real estate arm. In 2001, he was already CEO of Roundtree Capital, a company with US$5 billion in investments in Asia.

But the tragic confluence of two disparate lives climaxed not at Verona, but in a multi-million dollar bungalow at exclusive Sentosa Cove. The state coroner recorded that she undressed for a skinny dip in the private lap pool of the mansion in the early morning hours, her untimely death by drowning at age 24 ruled a misadventure. There can be no better illustration of how ugly a Gini coefficient inequality can serve up. The Bard penned these words:
"The sun, for sorrow will not show its head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe..."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Who's The Expert Here?

It was sheer chutzpah for the M1 spokesperson to strongly object to the Government proposal for ISPs to state average internet access speeds clearly by saying "there is no basically no sound, objective and equitable basis to do so considering the many variables involved." That's like saying a car will never achieve the advertised x kilometers per liter because of road surface, tyre condition, driving skill and the odd freak flood theory offered by Environment Minister Yaacob Ibrahim.

When Starhub, Singtel or M1 signs up a customer for one of it's high speed 10Mbps broadband plans (or  vaunted 100Mbps fibre link), it makes you wonder if they bother to check if the customer is using a relic 800 MHz IBM Thinkpad running Win98. As for verifying connectivity, real engineers carry professional toolkits to check line quality at the wall-end cable point, independent of the PC equipment hooked up. In November this year, the Sydney-based Australian Federation Court found Singtel-Optus guilty of "deceptive conduct" for throttling back a consumer who had exceeded his quota of peak hour usage down to the sub-broadband level of 64 Kbps, and there was no challenge to Justice Nye Perram's technical determination of access speed.

For the gang of three ISPs to dare to cock a snook at the Government's proposal to get them to disclose the average surfing speed for marketing their broadband services, they must be really disdainful of the level of competence of the IDA or technically challenged minister in charge, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore had a bad start when their first CEO daughter of ex-Chief Justice Yong Pung How defended her dubious appointment with words to the effect, "I may not know what CDMA is, but I can always hire someone who does". If the people put in charge by the Government are lacking in expertise, the supervised private sector can only run amok. The IDA should bring in the expert from the Australian court.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Time To Sober Up

People always like to tell success stories, like the yarn of teenage girls making millions selling trinkets on eBay. But real life's a bit more complicated.

The Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) character in the "Social Network" movie about the origin of Facebook is brutally honest when he narrates at net speed the 43 second tale (between 01:21:17 and 01:22:00) of how things really work:

"A Stanford MBA named Roy Raymond wants to buy his wife some lingerie, but he's too embarrassed to shop for it in a department store.
He comes up with an idea for a high-end place that doesn't make you feel like a pervert.
He gets a $40,000 bank loan, borrows another 40,000 from his in-laws, opens a store and calls it Victoria's Secret.
Makes a half million dollars his first year. Starts a catalog, opens three more stores,and after five years, he sells the company to Leslie Wexner and The Limitedfor $4 million.
Happy ending, right?
Except two years later, the company's worth $500 million, and Roy Raymond jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Poor guy just wanted to buy his wife a pair of thigh-highs, you know?"

Is that a parable? So asked the young Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jess Esienberg). We have our own tall tales in town, like the son of a Prime Minister who made Brigadier General, also at net speed, despite skipping Section Leaders' Course and missing 4 months of Officer Cadet Training. Does anybody know anything at all about the poor sap who threw himself into the MRT train tracks? The T-shirt tells it all: "Life's A Bitch, Then You Die". After all the revelries, that should sober up the year end partying crowd.
Anaglyph 3D image of a lesson in life

Friday, December 24, 2010

What Guys Want For Christmas

Santa does his darndest best to make wishes come true during Christmas, but some tasks are simply too herculean to even attempt. One party wants to sue the Government for torture during his ISA detention, another is asking the Government to cut car taxes to offset hefty COE premiums. Notice Grinch is also spelled with a "G". Good luck with the former, the latter problem is theoretically solvable.

On paper, the Government uses Certificates Of Entitlement to cap the growth of the car population. The growth was halved to 1.5% last year, although the growth in human population was significantly higher. Every 6 months, the Land Transport Authority determines how many COEs will be available, based on the number of vehicles taken off the road in the preceding 6 months. You don't need a genius to figure out that when motorists postpone their next car purchase because of economic uncertainty, less cars will be deregistered. The shrinking pool of COEs can only drive the demand and cost of premiums upwards, a vicious cycle spiralling into a black hole of misery. Control engineers will recognize it as a feedback loop gone horribly wrong.

Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport Dr Lim Wee Kiak articulated what the motoring public has been asking for umpteen years, to let the buyers bid for what they are prepared to pay. Said Dr Lim, "This means that when you bid for it you pay the actual price of what you bid. Rather than the current system where you pay the lowest (bid), not the highest." It also means car dealers will no longer have their way ripping off potential buyers with "guaranteed" COEs. He's filing a question on the issue to be addressed by Transport Minister Grinch Raymond Lim at the next parliamentary sitting. Come to think about it, maybe the guy planning a lawsuit about the ISA might have a better response.

On subject of Christmas presents, what do you give to someone who has everything? Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew once told a group of young media folk he will retire when his data bank can be put into a thumbdrive. Guess what? The pdf version of Tolstoy's monumental "War And Peace", all of 2,882 pages, takes up only 6.23 megabytes. The e-book pdb version is only 1.75 MB. Lee's memoirs number only 680 pages (Vol 1, "The Singapore Story") and 778 pages (Vol 2, "From Third World To First"), including indexes. The Asia Wall Street Journal is giving away this 2 GB drive for free.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

He Didn't Get The Memo

The last time we heard from ex-Chief of Air Force Goh Yong Siang, and currently Senior Managing Director of Strategic Relations, was when his strategy to recover a cherished brand name ended with Temasek Review being renamed as ....... (drum roll) ......... Temasek Review.

Queried about Koran Tempo's report that his company's assets were about to be seized by Indonesian anti-monopoly agency KPPU (Komisi Pengawas Persaingan Usha), his cavalier response was, "Temasek has not received official notification from the Supreme Court." Maybe he didn't get to read the memo, but everybody else is cognizant of the sequence of events:

November 2007 - KPPU ruled Temasek and its affiliates were in breach of Indonesia's anti-monopoly laws. As two of its subsidiaries had stakes in two major Indonesian telecommunication companies, Indosat and Telkomsel, it was in a dominant position to control of more than 50 per cent of the celluar market and allowed it to fix tariff rates. KPPU fined Temasek and the other parties 25 billion rupiah (S$3.7 million) each.
December 2007 - Temasek filed an appeal at Central Jakarta Court, claiming KPPU had no basis for the decision.
May 2008 - The court upheld the KPPU's judgment and ordered the stakes in either Indosat or Telkomsel be sold within two years and reduced the fine to 15 billion rupiah each. ST Telemedia sold its stake in Indosat to Qatar Telecom in June 2009, an act that can be construed as acceptance of the court ruling.
May 2010 - Indonesian's Supreme Court rejected Temask's appeal to overturn the ruling. A fine of 150 billion rupiah (S$22 million) was set, which includes 15 billion rupiah for each of 10 Temasek-linked companies involved in the case.

KPPU commissioner Erwin Syahril said that the competition watchdog is asking a Jakarta district court to "sequester Temasek's assets because there was no payment from it".

The Koran Tempo article has the subhead "Sudah 10 tahun lebih tidak membayar denda", meaning "more than 10 years, fine not paid" - our local equivalent is O$P$. KPPU chairman Tresna Soemardi explains their exasperation, "It (Temasek) always sends letters to say it does not have an office in Indonesia." If Yong's strategy is to act blur like sotong, as in Army days, or "buat bodoh" in Indonesian parlance, he should pay heed to what Muhammad Reza, the agency’s chief of investigations, had to say, “Once the company has been formally notified of the fine and doesn’t pay it, the Indonesian anti-monopoly commission may ask for a court order to seize the assets.” It doesn't get more official than that.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Tale Of Two Cities

After a 40 minute hearing, Judge Steven Ashurst of York Crown Court sentenced MOE scholar Wong, 23, to a suspended jail term of 6 months for 17 charges of possessing child pornography videos. He will stay out of jail if he behaves himself for the next 2 years, but he will be listed on the sex offender registry for 7 years. Wong was saved from a potential 5 year imprisonment because the British courts believed that Wong, a first time offender who had pleaded guilty, deserved a second chance in life.

Card carrying PAP member Danny Soo was arrested by the police on 7th July 2009 and jailed 9 months for taking upskirt photos of unsuspecting women. District Judge Lee Poh Choo remarked that even if Soo was active in community service (which was used in his mitigation), he must still face the harsh consequences of his criminal acts. During an exclusive interview with Straits Times in 2007, Young PAP Chairman and MP Teo Ser Luck said he had asked Soo to become the Chairman of Punggol Park Community Club and Citizens’ Consultative Committee in 2006. "He cares for others. He had been volunteering for many years and earned the respect of others to be…a potential leader," Mr Teo had claimed. Too bad his political master cared nought for him. The used douchebag even had to return his Public Service Medal, awarded for 15 years of grassroots work.

Singapore's justice system was inherited from British colonial days. Despite similar origins, the disparity between the administration in both countries makes one wonder if the law here serves to rehabilitate or to evoke punitive malfeasance. Lip service is paid by the politicians for the "Yellow Ribbon Project", spearheaded by the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE) Network, a group of major community and government organisations tasked for the rehabilitation of ex-offenders. One of their stated objectives: Inspire community Action to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders back into society. Yet, one won't be surprised if things really get out of hand. Like the case of the Muslim cleric arrested in north-west Bangladesh, following the death of a woman who was publicly caned as punishment by an Islamic court for an extra marital affair.

One could speculate that the British judge may have be tempered by the spirit of charity during this yule-tide season, when Christians celebrate the birth of a Saviour to save sinners. As for us, we are just relieved we no longer have a Chief Justice whose dispensation of justice depends on the quality of the breakfast he feasted on the particular morning of the court hearing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Bomb At Our Doorstep

When Malaysia's Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Peter Chin pronounced plans to get its first nuclear power plant up and running by 2021, there was no public uproar, unlike the local reaction to the building of the two casinos. Malaysia has been operating its 1MW TRIGA® Mark II research reactor since 1982 and signed an international nuclear safeguards agreement in 1972.
A nuclear power plant consists of four fundamental elements: the reactor, the coolant system, the electrical power generating unit, and the safety system.

The source of energy in a nuclear reactor is the fission reaction in which neutrons collide with nuclei of uranium-235 or plutonium-239, causing them to split apart, producing huge amounts of energy.

Energy produced in the reactor is used to boil coolant (water, liquid sodium, or carbon dioxide gas) and heat water in a secondary system, to produce steam to rotate the blades of a turbine. The turbine powers a generator that produces the desired electrical energy.

The safety system in a nuclear power plant addresses a most serious potential problem: the loss of coolant in the system. If such an incident were to occur, the reactor core could melt down, spewing radioactive materials to the rest of the plant and the outside environment.

When generating unit No.4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine blew up in 1986, radioactive clouds released were detected as far away as in Western Europe. Acute radiation syndrome (ARS) was diagnosed in 134 people on-site, of which 28 people died. 10 years after the industrial accident, remains of the Chernobyl reactor were too radioactive for anyone to spend more than a few minutes in the area. Experts claim that nuclear power plant can never explode like a nuclear bomb.

Still, boys will be boys, and scientists playing with spent uranium rods might be tempted to moonlight for bad guys. Fortunately, according to the Newsweek Dec 20 article ("Killing The Killers" by Roen Bergman), Israel's Mossad are pretty good at terminating these shady characters, as in terminate with extreme prejudice.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Looking Desperately For Good News

It looks like December is a month of bad news. Mark Zuckerberg beat Julian Assange as TIME's Person of the Year. There may be credibility in the book account ("The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich) of how the original Facebook idea was stolen from the Winklevoss twins - why else settle so quickly for 1.2 million common shares and pay $20 million in cash? With a networth of $6.9 billion, he should be able to afford fancy lawyers like OJ Simpson's dream team.

Assange's standing could have been smeared by one Swedish woman's accusation of tampering with a pristine prophylactic product. In Norway, the locals told me a joke about their neighboring country in the south. They say Jesus couldn't have been born in Sweden - Mary was a virgin.

Back home, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng is re-elected to the Central Executive Committee. Which means complacency is being rewarded, once again, for more good years. Just what the country needs with the housing bubble on the verge of bursting, and COE soaring towards the $100,000 level. And Malaysia just announced plans to build two 1000MW nuclear power plants by 2021- looks like the arms race is really on. Time to shut up these talkative diplomats at MFA.

The worst news has to come from Hongkong's Consumer Council which claims that potato chips cause cancer. Acrylamide is identified as the carcinogen, which was found in all 90 types of starchy crispy snacks tested (except one). But why pick on potato chips like premier brand Kettle, supposedly containing 3,000 micrograms(mcg) of acrylamide per kilogram, when ordinary biscuits can contain up to 2,100 mcg per kg? One gets suspicious when the highly salted and just as crispy Want Want Rice Cracker is reported to contain only 6 mcg per kg. So are we heading for a potato-rice war as well?

Friday, December 17, 2010

What Exactly Did Not Take Place?

Mr Danny Soo Ee Hock, member of the ruling PAP party and its youth wing Young PAP, was a prominent grassroots leader of the Punggol Park Community Club Management Committee, and a recipient of the Public Service Medal (PBM) on National Day 2010. He's no. 92 on page 5 of the honours list.
He also happpened to take about 200 upskirt videos of unsuspecting women with a USB pen camera pen while riding the escalators of shopping malls. District Judge Lee Poh Choo said Soo knew full well what he was doing and deemed him a serial offender. Too bad he was a highly regarded member of the People's Association, and hailed as an example of the new blood renewing grassroots ranks.

Or maybe he was. His glorious write-up was expunged from the website, but a sneak peek at the html source code reveals the redacted material:

Part of the official statement issued by George Yeo's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the leaked cables reads, "On the specific complaints raised by the Malaysians, what Singapore officials were alleged by WikiLeaks to have said did not tally with our own records. One purported meeting did not even take place." Let's just say we have seen enough of their integrity in record keeping to place more faith in Julian Assange's archival methodologies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Stingy Heartless Nanny

A man was fined $2,000 yesterday for using "threatening words" on Ms Nancy Quah Suat Lay, 36, chairman of the Young People's Action Party Marine Parade Branch. The unemployed fellow apparently lost his cool as he was not satisfied with their level of aid. Peethambaran had been visiting the branch since July last year to seek help from relevant government agencies after being unemployed for some time. It was noteworthy that Ms Quah alleged the jobless man had threatened to sow discord between Singaporeans and Malaysians, promising to do exactly what was accomplished by our loquacious MFA diplomats with the super sized egos. Instead of issuing a protest note to Singapore over the WikiLeaks disclosures, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman should have made a police report like Ms Quah did.

To appreciate the frustrations someone like Peethambaran might have experienced, just take a gander at the documentation required to qualify for a miserly $300 handout:
1) Your identity card
2) Identity card(s) of family members within the same household
3) Birth certificate(s) of children (below 15 years old)
4) Marriage/ Divorce certificate
5) Latest payslip(s)
6) CPF statement(s)
7) Bank account passbook(s)/ statements/ Medical appointment card(s)
9) HDB booklet (for rental flat)
10) Town Council booklet (service and conservancy charges)
11) Latest SP Services bill
12) Documents on assistance received from other organisations
13) Any other relevant supporting documents eg. prison visiting card, outstanding payments owing to other organisations

And you thought nobody can top how Transport Minister Raymond Lim's LTA made commuters jump through the hoops for a refund of the excessive fare charges incurred by errors in their new fangled distance-based fare system.

Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, claimed that the number of ComCare applicants has dropped by 11 per cent in the first 9 months of this year, because of an increase of job seekers and a recovering economy. She probably has no freaking idea how many have given up trying to get financial aid from “The Stingy Nanny,” the title of the Economist article wrote up in February this year: “The government does run a handful of schemes directed at some of the needy, from low-income students to the unassisted elderly. But these benefits are rigorously means-tested and granted only sparingly."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Looking After The Bottom Feeders

Singapore cabinet ministers' salaries are pegged to the 48 top earners in the private sector in 6 professions. The scheme is to rank these high rollers according to their paycheck, take the median payand lob off one-third. This way, a minister's salary is "kept competitive" against the private sector, even though the fat cats are safely esconced in the cushy public sector. Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also Minister-in-charge of the civil service, claimed that while "there is no perfect method for doing this benchmarking", the current method had been debated thoroughly in 1994 and had the support of the (PAP dominated) House.

In the Great Government Salary Debate of 2007, Workers' Party's Mr Low Thia Khiang countered with: "We suggest that the benchmark should take into account international practice, in particular countries such as Switzerland, Denmark and Finland." Low noted that these countries have a pay adjustment scheme, but "unlike Singapore, they all do not have a sure-win formula that ensures civil servants always have the best deal by benchmarking specifically to the top few earners".

"There's simply no point in offering high remuneration just to entice someone to serve if what he is interested in is to make more and more money for himself and his family in pursuit of material interests. Don't forget that even if you don't pay peanuts but pay with a bigger piece, say, a banana, you can still get a monkey," he said. And, thanks to WikiLeaks, we have just seen/heard a lot of them at the MFA.

One year earlier in 2006, while speaking to a election rally in Lee Hsien Loong's home turf of Ang Mo Kio, Low told a rapturous audience that he would rather see the ministers' salaries be pegged what the poorest 20% of Singaporeans earned. Ministers' pay could be multiplied by a factor of 100, and they could still get $80,000 a month. "This will give the ministers an incentive to bring up the income of the lowest 20% of Singaporeans," he said to loud cheers from the epic crowd. To understand why his enthusiatically welcomed proposal fell on deaf ears, look at this recent chart:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Deep Throat Revealed

Obviously Australia's The Sun-Herald was being coy about the source for its exclusive story on former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim ("Singapore intelligience agency confirms sodomy act"), which prompted latter to tweet "Source? Polis SB Msia. Bukti tak ada." (Rough translation: who's the freaking ratfink?).  Or perhaps the papers down under just didn't want to have their pants sued off like Wall Street Journal and similar others - the list is long, but distinguished. "I challenge them to produce evidence," blogged an unamused Anwar.

Actually it's a no-brainer to figure out who has the biggest mouth on the island. The deep throat going by the anonymous moniker "them" is none other than Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew allegedly telling Australian officials that Anwar "did indeed commit the acts for which he is currently indicted."

The New Straits Times (Malaysia's version of the Shitty Times) deem this bombshell  a "Hail Mary", and quoted the cable issued in November 2008 that made this explosive observation: "The Australians said that Singapore's intelligence services and (Singaporean elder statesman) Lee Kuan Yew have told ONA (Office of National Assessment, an intelligence network/spy network that includes Singapore) in their exchanges that opposition leader (Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim) did indeed commit the acts for which he is currently indicted." Karpal Singh, Anwar's lead counsel, is cited as demanding that the Minister Mentor display his evidence, whether it is video, pictures or material witnesses, if he can get Lee to testify. A big IF. Karpal plans to put it to Lee that his "evidence" is flawed because it was supplied by the Special Branch and that the alleged entrapment to fix Anwar was illegal to begin with.

Malaysia's top leaders, either still in shock or recovering from personal remarks flung on their own selves like "incompetent politicians", have refrained from making comments. But Lee's nemesis Mahathir Mohamad could not resist rubbing salt to the wound, telling reporters he believes Lee knew about Anwar's activities.

Nuclear tipped missiles from North Korea may or not may not have the range, but lobbing artillery shells from across the Johore straits is a subject of different trajectory. That should the "merry" out of this season's greeting.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Talking Dickheads in MFA

It's confirmed. The BMD (Big Mouth Disease) is contagious. More virulent that H1N1, our nation's security is being threatened by characters who's pecadillo is to prance around on the world stage, seeking adulation. Foreign Minister George Yeo says not to worry about the "cocktail talk", affirming that these high earners are tasked to imbibe alcohol at tax payers' expense. The least they could do is to learn to hold their liquor, and control that wagging tongue.

Ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Permanent Secretary Peter Ho was recorded telling a US official in March 2008 that Mahathir Mohamad had been "throwing stones" at his successor Malaysia Prime Minister Adbullah Badawi. If that's not inflammatory enough, Ho (not the-daughter-in-law) alleges "Najib Razak, he is an opportunist. Although he has not been critical of Singapore, he will not hesitate to go in that direction if it is expedient for him to do so."

Another MFA Permanent Secretary Bilahari Kausikan, in September 2008, told US Deputy Secretary of Defence for South East Asia David Sedney that former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra is "corrupt", along with "everyone else, including the opposition." That label may easily be construed to also smear Thaksin's business partners like Ho (the daughter-in-law). Kausikan went so far as to allege that Thaksin "made a mistake in paying off the crown prince by paying off the crown prince's gambling debts." This clown prince should know that les majeste is no smiling matter in the Kingdom of Thailand.

But the greatest surprise is to find Tommy Koh, he of the Law of the Sea fame, submerging into murky depths to black mouth Japan as "the big fat loser" in the context of improving ties between China and Asean. He also attributes the decline of Japan's position in the geo-political region to its "stupidity, bad leadership , and lack of vision." He likes the "s" word so much he uses it again to trash India, describing his "stupid Indian friends" as "half-in, half-out" of Asean. I don't suppose he will be shopping at Mustafa Center for Christmas presents.

Witness Julian Assange's problem in Sweden is traceable to a prophylactic malfunction, and in the case of "Woman B", Sofia Wilén, the absence thereof in the morning after episode II (apparently having consensual sex in that country without a condom is considered rape, punishable by a minimum of 2 years imprisonment). For Singapore's woes, a humongous rubber of industrial strength is definitely needed to shield us from the talking dickheads.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gambling With Your House

The Macmillan dictionary defines subsidy as "an amount of money that the government or another organization pays to help to reduce the cost of a product or service". The closest one can get Mah Bow Tan to admit HDB housing is not subsidised is his contribution today:
"In contrast (to market based pricing), a cost-based system means that the same price would be charged for different flats in the same project, regardless of the location, floor, direction, and other attributes." Just as Clinton once asked his questioner to "define is", Mah is challenging you to "define cost".

Mah is trying again, in his nefarious scheming agenda, to muddy a basic concept. A unit on the 12th floor obviously requires longer piping runs and wiring conduits to reach than one on the 2nd floor - these engineering and construction costs can be accounted for without nebulous conjecture. But he factors in subjective elements like "an unblocked view". How does one value an unfettered view of towering concrete blocks versus, say, a maze of MRT tracks?

Further confirmation of his warped logic is evidenced in his statement that "the subsidy must be set relative to market values". That's as good as the NKF definition of subsidy, as exposed by the KPMG investigation team:
6.11.1 The NKF reported in its Investment Report 2004 that it enabled its patients to save in excess of $3.5 million in treatment costs by providing subisdies for costly medication and by bringing down drug prices.

6.11.2 We found that the amount of such savings was derived from the difference between the prices charged by NKF and a notional market price of drugs based on estimated annual consumption in 2004 instead of the difference between the prices charged by the NKF and the actual prices of drugs paid by the NKF. These savings were reflected in invoices given to patients.

6.11.4 As mentioned above, the market price was a notional market price determined by the NKF. The NKF, being a substantial and significant purchased, enjoyed subsidies and rebates from its drug suppliers. Instead of passing these costs savings to its kidney patients, we found that the NKF charged its patients a premium for certain drugs.

"In my understanding of NKF's view, subsidy must be tested against the market rate and not the net amount incurred." Doesn't that sound remarkably like Mah's sermonising?

Mah's pathetic defence of his Singapore Sales strategy (mark up first, then discount down) is his "basic principle" that the HDB flat is an asset that grows in value, to be realised in the future for resale in the open market. In other words, basic accommodation is not meant to be the roof over one's head, it is just another poker chip in their grand scheme of things. That, of course, is consistent with his boss' stubborn plans to build, not one, but two humongous gambling dens, despite widespread public outrage and inevitable social detriment.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

When Elites Take Charge

Ever wonder why the uppity powers that be always seen to ignore the mutterings of the groundswell and end up making life more miserable for the masses? Author Yves Smith ("ECONned", Palgrave Macmillan 2010, a book about flawed financial theories that culminated in the global meltdown of 2008) has an interesting anecdote that may provide some clues.

When Henry Kissinger was first made head of the US National Security Council, Daniel Ellsberg of RAND Corporation was briefing him on options for Vietnam, and chose to add these words of advice:
You've been a consultant for a long time, and you've dealt a great deal with top secret information. But you are about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe 15 or 20, that are higher than top secret...

First, you'll feel exhilarated by some of this new information... you will forget there was ever a time that you didn't have it, and you'll be aware of the fact that you have it now and most others don't... and that all these other people are fools.

Over a longer period of time... you'll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information... In the meantime, it will become difficult for you to learn from anybody who doesn't have these clearances. Because you'll be thinking as you listen to him, "What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know?" And that mental exercise is so torturous that... you'll give it up and just stop listening...

The danger is that you'll become something like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours.

Scarcely 2 years later, Kissinger, in a meeting with Ellsberg, dismissed the group resignation of a team of consultants in Cambodia in protest of the policy of escalation because "They never had the clearances." Yet the consultants turn out to be correct. Kissinger's course of action was a failure.

Maybe it's time to change out the morons in charge.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dark Clouds Are Gathering

When informed that the new statutory board set up to investigate real estate miscreants had already received 150 complaints, there was something oddly lackadaisical about Mah Bow Tan's response. The National Development Minister said he was not surprised by the number. Does that mean he knew consumers were fleeced by the real estate industry all along and he stood by doing nothing? Was he in cahoots with them in ramping up the housing prices? Why has he never questioned the legality of the COV (cash over valuation) scam that arbitrarily and capriciously inflates the officially documented market valuation of a property?

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has now promulgated that Singapore's fast-rising home prices are "worrying", as real-estate lending accounts for more than 50% of total loans in the banking system. That same statistic is as low as 2% for Korea, less than 15% for Indonesia and the Philippines, and below 20% in Hongkong and Thailand. Even in China, where famed short-seller Jim Chanos is betting his own money that the country is experiencing a massive property bubble, the number is below 20%. At 51% of advances, Singapore banking sector's exposure to property is the highest in East Asia, followed by Taiwan (42%) and Malaysia (38%).

Not too long ago, the MAS dismissed the effects of US's quantitative easing, which other countries recognised as fuel for asset bubble formation such as in property markets. And that's on top of Singapore's own unique problems of HDB construction shortfalls and competition from foreign buyers. It is noteworthy that MAS's own annual Financial Stability Review is consistent with ADB's observations: that household debt has been growing at a faster rate in recent quarters - fuelled by housing loans which account for the bulk of household borrowing. Need we add that the servicing of those loan commitments are also diminishing the CPF funds that are supposed to be parked for a retirement safety net?

Don't we have an expensive in-house "forecaster" who is supposed to scan the future for dark clouds? Mah, like the rest of his colleagues, is obviously depending on the short term memory spans of Singaporeans to erase the multiple instances of bad governance. Of the flood of complaints, he said, "I would expect this to taper off over time."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Truth In Advertising

It was déjà vu all over again when I read Ms Lau's letter to the press about being led on a wild goose chase by Courts Bukit Timah for a non-existent $399 laptop. The caveats in said item advertised were "from $399" and "limited sets - one set per customer", clear warning bells for any savvy street-wise shopper.

I was in Jurong East a fortnight before and happened to browse the outlet there when one harried sales assistant asked another colleague for help about a customer's query for a TV on offer. Latter said a clipping of the ad was conditional for the special price (check the ads, pure bunkum). Just then, another early bird shopper came along, newspaper ad in hand, wanting to buy a computer on offer. This time the storyline was, "Sold out! There was along queue before the shop was open!" Just for the heck of it, I piped in and asked about a USB harddrive advertised. "We don't carry that in this shop," was the response. You gotta give credit to those guys for creativity.

Since consumers in Singapore do not have a Ralph Nader to champion their cause (Consumers Association of Singapore is a lost case), don't expect the CEO to be dragged to court (the edifice Alan Shadrake is accused of blaspheming, not the mega-store taking bargain hunters for a ride). Not when poster child Terry O'Connor has recently been given a special foreign talent spread in the papers, praised to the heavens for his "sort of chutzpah that you do not learn in school" when he lambasted his own chairman for a hiccup in the store's roll-out plan. "I don't have a temper but I do have a strong sense of fair play," quipped O'Connor ironically.

"All I want on TV is products at great prices, packages and so on," the native of Liverpool, UK, who left for Singapore in 1993, is quoted as saying about his sales strategy. All the customers want is just some truth in advertising.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happiness Is A Favourable Set Of Statistics

Based on research done by professor Ruut Veenhoven who runs the World Database of Happiness at Erasmus University Rotterdam, here is a list of the top 10 happiest countries in the world in ascending order:
10 - Luxembourg
9 - Guatemala
8 - Canada
7 - Sweden
6 - Australia
5 - Finland
4 - Iceland
3 - Austria
2 - Switzerland
1 - Denmark

Quantifying happiness isn't an easy task. Researchers at the Gallup World Poll went about it by surveying thousands of respondents in 155 countries, between 2005 and 2009, in order to measure two types of well-being. Denmark(10) again tops the list, followed by Finland(2), Norway(3), Sweden(4), Netherlands(4). Singapore is tied at 81st spot, shared by Hongkong, Japan and Iran.

Yet American author Dan Buettner is claiming in his new book that statistics from three sources, including above two, pointed to Singapore as the happiest place in Asia. According to him, Singapore has all that correlates to happiness on a worldwide level: 1) tolerance, 2) status equality, 3) security, 4) trust, 5) access to recreation and financial security.

Whoever he talked to obviously didn't brief him about these correlations: 1) filial piety over shelter for Mas Selamat morphed into a political race card, 2) perceptions of citizens relegated as 3rd class denizens, 3) gangfights and fatal stabbings in shopping malls, 4) "subsidised" public housing ending up as unaffordable market value transactions, 5) after a life time of toil, CPF savings are insufficient for retirement.

Buettner got this right though: There is no question that Singapore shows that happiness can be manufactured or engineered through government policy. He explains the magic of the statistics, "When it comes to manufactured happiness, I don't know anybody else on the planet who has done a better job than (MM Lee) has, and I know there will be lots of people laughing at me right now." When people are mandated to be happy, that's not funny Mr Buettner, not funny at all.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Monk, The Clown And The Minister

Hey, Money No Enough is my line!
Venerable Shi Ming Yi (Chinese: 释明义) was the darling of Singapore socialites (the government awarded him the Public Service Medal in 1996) when he rappelled down highrise buildings and froze his rocks in ice to raise money, lots of money, for Ren Ci hospital. He has done his time for his $50K crime, but somehow it ain't enough for some people. The gala dinner of Nov 21 to mark his 20 years of service as an abbot apparently has raised the ire of some folks in the Buddhist community. Maybe it was the price tag of $1,000-a-table, maybe this was only his 18th and not 20th year. A nun said, "He's climbed too far up, and now he has a long way to fall."

Trangressions of the flesh are apparently more forgivable in Sin city. Jack Neo's 2 year- extramarital affair with 22-year old model Ms Zhong Jiayan and his sexual harassment of Foyce Le Xuan, 25, could have turned real nasty. Fortunately he had a direct line to George Yeo. It was also convenient that his 46-year-old wife Mdm Irene Kang said she already about the affair a year ago, and WikiLeaks was not a threat then. Nobody even bothered to slap the cross dresser with a court order to stay 100 m away from any nubile aspiring Fann Wong wannabe.

Hence no heads were turned when the philanderer was invited to grace Education Minister Ng Eng Hen's launch of the ITE Performing Arts Higher Nitec programme for 2013. MOE has had its hands full recently with school girls making out on camera in a premier JC, horny female teachers coupling with male students and a principal making hits on their favoured male staff - and getting away with it. Ng Eng Hen seems to take all these shenanigans in good stride, as if it was all a holistic exercise in public education. Let's see if Jack Neo's new film will feature lots of teenagers in Sexy Japanese School Girl Uniforms.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Truth Can Be Pretty Nasty

Now we know why no food stamps will ever be distributed in Singapore, and healthcare will never be free. Even Dr Toh Chin Chye had maintained that citizenry should be entitled to free medical services. Agence France-Presse's report of the Wikileaks has this quote:
"MM Lee noted that he had learned from living through three and a half years of Japanese occupation in Singapore that people will obey authorities who can deny them food, clothing and medicine.”

There is an exception to the rule of course, as in the freebies promised by his son in the coming election budget. Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a stern statement chastising the leak, saying that disclosing such confidential document would only "serve to sow confusion". And screw up the whole election strategy.

Given the many parallels that abound in the family influences on Singapore and North Korean style government, say succession plans, the other disclosure in the US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks is disturbing: “They are psychopathic types, with a ‘flabby old chap’ for a leader who prances around stadiums seeking adulation.” The laps around the pool and a strict exercise regime may have gotten rid of the flab around the waist, but the part about seeking world stage adulation is pretty obvious. The unsavoury comments about another country's head of state were found in a document detailing a conversation between Lee and US deputy secretary of state James B. Steinberg in May last year. It's not too late to cancel your Christmas holiday plans for Pyongyang.

But what should really rile you is his justification for giving special treating to PRC scholars or new-wave Chinese migrants: "MM Lee noted that his own experience as a student in the UK had left him with an enduring fondness for the UK. When he spent two months at Harvard in 1968, an American professor had invited him home for Thanksgiving. This was not the sort of thing that happened in the UK, and Lee had realized he was dealing with a different civilization. In the future, China’s leaders will have PhDs and MBAs from American universities, he predicted.” Taiwan's Foreign Minister Chen Tan-sun detected just as much when George Yeo spoke at UN's General Assembly in 2004, "It was nothing but an effort to embrace China's 'balls', forgive me using such a word".