Monday, February 28, 2011

Just What The Doctor Ordered

Recall that Manpower Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen once said “You’re getting a bargain for the ministers you get… I worked half as much and earn(ed) five times more when I was in the private sector.”  (Channelnewsasia, 9 September 2003). That set everybody (including Goh Chok Tong who was seated next to him at same press conference) wondering if he was dumb to sign on, or just plain bullshitting.

Straits Times decided to tell us what we were supposed to know all along: "It is public knowledge that top surgeons like Dr Ng Eng Hen, prior to joining government service, earned a income of $4.5 million in 2001." What is not public knowledge is whether 2001 was a bonanza year for Ng, or he was consistently invoicing super-sized bills. But we do know that, based on the current ministerial salary of $1.6 million (before add-ons like mid-term, year-end, GDP indexed bonuses, etc), the 2001 number is definitely less than the 5-fold he rattered off. There's another key difference to note. Those in the private sector knows that pay can go up and go down - even Steve Jobs was jobless when his board kicked him out of Apple in May1985- but ministers' payola is recession free and guaranteed. Even when they turn complacent and let terrorists escape through the toilet window.

Ng's name was brought up as illustrative of how brazen Singapore doctors can be when billing for their services.

Dr Khoo Kei Siong, deputy director of Parkway Cancer Centre, reportedly quoted $300,000 for a 30-minute overseas consultation that took less than 3 days including travelling time - the first class air ticket and hotel accommodation are extra costs. Dr Goh Seng Heng, a general practioner once billed $55,000 for 2.5 hours of treatment spread over 15 days. He also charged an Indonesian client $3,000 an hour for the 17 hours of travel and treatment he undertook. Professor Soo Khee Chee, head of the National Cancer Centre and one of 3 witnesses for the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), said Dr Susan Lim could have charged her Brunei client up $300,000 without batting an eyelid - just for the good doctor's service, all extras to be billed separately.

Ng is current Minister of Education, and the $10.9 billion budget allocated for 2011 is second highest, right after Defence. Let's hope he hasn't carried over the billing philosophy of his private practice days.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Game On

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"Gerrymandering is a practice of political corruption that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected, and neutral districts."

To maximize the effect of supporters' votes and to minimize the effect of opponents' votes, two strategies of gerrymandering employed are packing and cracking. In packing, voters of one type are corralled into a large electoral ward to reduce their influence in other wards. In cracking, voters of the other type are spread out in order to deny them a sufficiently large voting block in any particular ward. The incumbents in Singapore are using cracking to maximum effect, roping supporters into friendly territory,  and hiving off pockets of opposition to weaken their cultivated base.

That's the theory anyway. The ugly practice is best illustrated in the Aljunied GRC, where Foreign Minister George Yeo had a close shave of just 12.2 percent  from the Workers' Party team led by WP chairman Sylvia Lim in the last general elections (GE). 5,614 voters suspected of voting for the wrong party have been lobbed from Aljunied and consigned to Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC. For addition insurance, 19,549 voters have been added from PAP "stronghold" Marine Parade GRC. Another opposition party has already lamented aloud that all their targeted SMCs have been redrawn into GRCs, and one targetted GRC has been “cut into pieces”. You can't get any more explicit than that.

All the changes by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, the composition of which is a guarded secret, are supposedly done to reflect population shifts and housing developments. The total number of constituencies has gone up from 23 to 27, the significant figure being the number of 12 single-seat wards. This pales in comparison to the 21  SMCs up for grabs during the 1991 GE, when the opposition scored its biggest win of 4 single seats. To make sure that never ever happens again,  the number of SMCs was slashed to 9 in the following GE of 1997. Now that's kiasuism for you.

Makes you wonder why the opposition bother with the skewed playing field. Before Mubarak caved in, Time magazine wrote that the Egyptians lacked a  charismatic, reassuring figure among the protesters. Without a Corazon Aquino or a Václav Havel to rally the masses, the people's will has no punch. The incumbents however, still have their symbolic relic on call. Whether wheel-chaired up a ramp, or hoisted by fork lift to the stage, you bet Lee Kuan Yew will be put on display. And should faltering vocal cords fail him, they'll probably attempt lip sync with past speeches of past glories. The wayang season is officially on, but tuning to American Idol is less aggravating. There the people get to vote, and their votes count.

Friday, February 25, 2011

$8 For Heart Bypass Is Still Cheap

In 1955 Susan Lim MBBS (Hons 1, Monash), PhD (Cantab), FRCS (Edin, Gold Medal); FRCS (Glasg), M.Med Surg (S'pore), AACS, FACS, FAMS was born in Singapore and educated at Singapore Chinese Girls' School and Raffles Institution.
In 1974 she studied medicine at Monash University on a Colombo Plan scholarship.
In 1984 she was awarded a fellowship with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
In 1988 she completed a Ph.D. in cell immunology at Cambridge University under a Winston Churchill Scholarship.
In 1989 she was appointed Senior Lecturer and Consultant in Surgery at the National University of Singapore Hospital.
In 1990 she successfully performed the first liver transplant in Asia history.
In 1991 she rose to the prestigious position of associate professor in surgery.
In 1995 she left the university and went into private practice, it was difficult for her to be a surgeon, a researcher and a lecturer all at once.
In 2000 she was named Singapore's "Spirit of the Century" following a national contest to select a role model for the 21st century.
In 2003 she founded Stem Cell Technologies which researches the use of adult stem cells for cell therapy and regenerative medicine.
In 2005 she became the youngest-ever elected Fellow of Trinity College at University of Melbourne.
In 2006 she was awarded the Monash University Distinguished Alumnus and appointed visiting professor at the Institute of Cell and Molecular Science at Barts and Queen Mary's School of Medicine in London.
In 2008, the U.S. Committee for Review & Recognition named the 28th American Academy of Continuing Medical Education award "the Susan Lim Award". It recognizes achievement in the advancement of laparoscopic and minimally invasive surgeries.

In spite of her busy schedule, Dr Lim provided breast cancer treatment for the younger sister of Brunei's Queen from 2001. In 2007 she spent 33 days in Brunei, setting up a "medical infrastructure" there for her patient who died 7 months later in August. Between March 8 and June 28, Dr Lim sent several invoices for services rendered, adding up to a total of $24.8 million. The bill is at the heart of a court case between Dr Lim and the Singapore Medical Council (SMC). Reportedly reduced to $3.25 million, it is still a substantial sum, with or without the assistance of Medisave, Medifund or Medishield.

"Are you worth all that money?" was the final question presented by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) interviewer Jonathan Head in 2009, who had read that "you’re apparently the highest-paid head of government in the world." Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's reply (snipped off by local censors) comes to mind here:
"We go on a system which is open, honest, transparent. What is the job worth, what is the quality of person whom you want. You need the best people for the job and these are jobs where you make decisions which are worth billions of dollars. And you cannot do that if you’re pretending and you just say, well, we’re all in it for the love of king and country. We wanted to be honest, we want people not to come in for the money but at the same time, their sacrifice cannot be too great."

Supporters of Dr Lim argue that charging as much as the market will bear is an accepted practice in business, even the SMC Code of Ethics has nothing to go after doctors about the pricing of their services. But is it acceptable practice for governance?
Another instance of converting airplane to hospital for VVIP

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Of Gods And Animals

John Pomfret, Washington Post's bureau chief for Los Angeles, was one of the first American students admitted to Nanjing University in 1981. Narrating the stories of his classmates, he documented in "Chinese Lessons" (publisher: Henry Holt and Company, 2006) the travails of the Middle Kingdom from Mao's Great Leap forward to Deng Xiaoping's economic revival. As reporter for Associated Press he was booted out of China for associating with protesters at Tiananmen. The man was actually photographed with student leaders Wu'er Kaixi and Wang Dan, and the picture was displayed at a Ministry of Propaganda exhibition called "The Truth about the Beijing Turmoil".

Although fluent in Chinese, Pomfret admits, on page 235, that he was rarely treated as equal. He quotes Lu Xun, China's greatest twentieth-century writer, "The Chinese have two ways of looking at foreigners. We either look up to them as gods or down on them as animals." Pomfret says he enjoyed being treated like a god, even an animal, by Chinese women (lots of cross cultural dalliances in the book), but couldn't stomach it from the men.

Before xenophobia reared its ugly head, foreign workers coexisted peacefully with Singaporeans, except for the odd episode with the Serangoon Gardens dormitory. Filipina domestics stay with the same employer for as long as 16 years, and shipyards hire NTS (non-traditional source) workers routinely to handle the dirty, difficult and dangerous marine jobs - the dreaded 3 Ds. CEOs at top multinationals have always been worshipped as gods as early as Goh Keng Swee's pioneering industrialization days. Here we refer to expatriate representatives from Fortune 500 companies, although Nick Leeson in his heydays was similarly idolised at SIMEX before he broke the Barings bank.

But when the government opened the floodgates for IT staff from India, finance executives from the West, and academics from China (with barely passable command of the English language), all in the name of economic growth, congeniality became limited in supply. Not only were middle class jobs endangered, overcrowding on trains and public roadways pushed up costs. These arrivals grabbed from the same pool of affordable housing and COEs.

Ministers tried to paper over the issue by claiming that they are transients. After the casinos, MRT tunnels and other infrastructure are built, they will go home, and Singaporeans will have their country back. But the same bunch of Ministers are also saying they are needed to address the low fertility rate. Foreigners, if we are to believe them, are prolific breeders, and not just in the Year of the Rabbit.

Temperatures can only rise higher with Finance Minister Tharman's recent exposition that "the increase in foreign worker levies is not an attempt to get employers to substitute local workers for foreign ones". That was his response to a query at a post-Budget forum, asking why the hike in levies, which apply to employment pass and S-pass holders, do not apply to skilled foreign workers. Unionist Wilfred Thiang Singapore Maritime Officers' Union made sure the Minister understood the message: imposing a a levy on foreign professionals would boost the employment prospects of tertiary-educated Singaporeans. But Tharman is adamant that "It is going to be a process of winnowing out. Some will lose, others will win." Singaporeans will prefer to do the winnowing.
Student leaders at Tiananmen Square 1989

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Machines With No Souls

Russian world chess champion Kasparov disparaged Watson (see yesterday's post) as a passing entertainment akin to the wind-up automata of the 18th century. A strong human Jeopardy! player, or a human doctor, may get the answer wrong, but he is unlikely to make a huge blunder or category error, answering "Toronto" in the "US Cities" category, as Watson did. In a closed-system of raw data computation, cold logic misses the significance of the emotive element.

As of  0953 hrs 23 Feb 2011
There's gotta be good reason why 88% of Singaporeans polled are not "definitely" satisfied with this year's election budget goodies. Goh Chok Tong admitted just as much when he went on the defensive to tell his Marine Parade constituents that "each Budget will not be able to please everyone." Personally, he identified two areas missed out in the budget, that of special needs children, and of caregivers. We all have our own wish lists.

But surely, the $110 savings from abolishing of radio and TV licence - just enough for transport and entrance fee for a trip to the casino - should put a smile on the glummest of faces. Except that it is also a rude reminder that every law abiding citizen who faithfully paid his dues has been ripped off for decades. Just like the Water Conservation Tax of 30% in our monthly utility bill - subject to GST - isn't that a tax upon tax?

The 1.5% to 2.5% reduction in progressive income tax rates that frees up cash in hand, instead of being buried in untouchable CPF accounts like the Medisave, should also be cause for celebration. Except that the beneficiaries of this group are also those worst hit by the regressive Goods and Services Tax. Those with chargeable incomes of $40,000 will see the maximum 35% tax saving of $350. Assuming a modest weekly grocery bill of $100, the GST paid out over a year will be $364. See - easy come, easy go. It's too depressing to compute the cost benefit analysis for those struggling on monthly paychecks of $2,000 or less (Hint:chargeable income of $20,000 attract no tax, and no budget savings). Worthy of note is that income tax estimated to be collected in 2011 is $19.6 billion, vis-à-vis GST to be harvested of $$8.4 billions. All we need is a little nudge to the GST rate, and you can wipe that smile off your face.

Watson has no soul, its banks of Power7 processors have special air-conditioning systems to keep it cold. Maybe the Ministry of Finance types are not much different. Which makes one wonder if Lee Kuan Yew actually shed tears at the 1965 press conference about the separation from Malaysia. Or was it because, to paraphrase Mark Zuckerberg's assessment of the Winkervoss' motives, "for the first time in their lives, things didn't work out the way they were supposed to for them"?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Education In Spending

"Which country spends billions for defence to nurse the
paranoia of a freak election result?"
“I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords,’’ declared Jeopardy! superstar Ken Jennings as he conceded defeat to Watson, the follow up act after IBM's Deep Blue defeated the world's best chess player in 1997. Watson’s remarkable natural language ability to understand the nuanced, pun-laden language of humans demonstrated that given enough time, money, and human input, there are few tests that modern computers cannot pass with flying colors.

The much-publicized development is guesstimated to cost IBM between US$100 million and US$2 billion (actual figure is a closely guarded secret) over a three year period. Let's hope it doesn't give the Ministry of Education any bright ideas - like paying big bucks for a software to mark essays.

The Criterion software, developed by American company Education Testing Services, was tested, measured, and found wanting. It was supposed to be able to comment and make recommendations on grammar, usage, mechanics, style and organisation, but ended up just correcting errors of spelling and grammar, i.e. what your average spell checker does for free. English teacher Clarinda Choh at Hwa Chong is not alone in maintaining that software "will not be able to detect nuances in language and style." Well, definitely not without Watson's 2,880 cores and 16 terabytes of memory anyway. Criterion was reportedly tried out by thousands of secondary schools students here since 2006, at $55 per student. Which begs the question - why is MOE even wasting money to evaluate such stuff? It would do education more good if they had brought in the Jeopardy! program instead of the public service broadcast (PSB) crap that was excuse for the $110 TV and Radio Licence fee collected all these years.

MOE is allocated 23% of the pie, right after the biggest slice for Defence. The 2011 budget comprises $$9.77 billion for Operating Expenditure and $1.14 billion for Development Expenditure, funding meant for Primary, Secondary, Polytechnic and University education (includes JC/CI, ITE, NIE but excluding independent schools). One can understand that Leopard 2A4 battle tanks and F-15SG Eagle fighter jets cost a bomb, but how is the money spent at MOE? For instance, how much (tuition, food, board & lodging, plus $400 per month pocket money) is given to foreign scholars who are depriving Singaporeans of the limited places in the various institutes of learning? The Education Statistics Digest 2010 numbers at the MOE website don't reveal much except that there's a $103 million entry for "Others". Let's hope they are not using the same accountant who cooked the YOG books for Vivian Balakrishnan.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Too Hard To Swallow

Critics of Tom Plate’s "Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew" said the journalistic instinct in him took a back seat when Lee dropped a bombshell, saying that three ministers quit because they could not accept Goh Chok Tong’s style soon after he took over as Prime Minister in 1990. There is nothing to show that Mr Plate asked the follow-up questions - Who were the three? What was it about Mr Goh’s style that the three didn’t like?

While Tom Plate deigned to nibble at the bait, Han Fook Kwang and his Gang of Six swallowed hook, line and sinker. Thus we have The Gospel According To Harry Lee: "When three ministers - Dr Tony Tan, Mr S. Dhanabalan and Dr Yeo Ning Hong - left the Cabinet between 1991 and 1994, shortly after Mr Goh Chok Tong took over as prime minister, Singaporeans were told only that they had asked to return to the private sector." According to Lee, the three ministers had resigned in quick succession because they "didn't take to (Mr Goh's) style".

Interviewed by Straits Times in Dec 1993, Yeo rubbished rumours of personality clashes, dismissing them as "foolish talk". Dhanabalan, in a rare commentary on why he left the Cabinet during a Q-and-A session with ST in Dec 2007, was downright coy, "All I would say is that I had differences which I felt I could not live with. Therefore, I thought it was best to step down and work with the leadership in other ways."

The truth was lurking somewhere in the National Day Rally speech on 17 Aug 2005, when outgoing  PM Goh Chok Tong spun a strange tale, "You may also have heard this old story about Loong...."

Goh was referring to the urban legend about Dhanabalan at the receiving end of an outstretched hand. One version has it that all three ministers, Dr Tony Tan, Mr S. Dhanabalan and Dr Yeo Ning Hong, left the meeting in a huff and tendered their resignation. Both Tony Tan and Yeo Ning Hong were subsequently persuaded to rescind their notices and continue their services. The fact that there's this new variant of the narrative out in print brings to mind the adage "where there's smoke, there's fire." Talking about his "Conversations" book with Mahathir, Tom Plate wrote, "I never felt he was lying to me, consciously, anyhow.... One could make allowances for honest gaps in memory,or even divergences of perspective; but not outright prevarication." So he did sense the difference between the two MMs.

Dr Ross Worthington's account does not mention Yeo Ning Hong, but details of the explosive altercation bear close resemblance. Unfortunately, in the light of Alan Shadrake's woes, it is unlikely Dr Ross will ever be in town to promote his book. You can find it in the National Library of Australia. There's one copy in the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, but you can't borrow it.

Following is the extract from page 150 of Ross Worthington's book, "Governance in Singapore"(Publisher: Taylor & Francis, Inc, Dec 2002):
In 1990, an incident occurred in a pre-cabinet meeting which was the beginning of entrenching further among the many in the core executive, resistance to Lee Hsien Loong's long term ambitions for prime ministership. Prior to this meeting Lee Hsien Loong had gone to the office of Richard Hu, the Minister of Finance, and removed a number of files without Hu's permission. At that time Lee's office was on the 48th floor of what is now Temasek Tower and Hu's was on the 50th floor.

At the pre-cabinet meeting Hu took Lee to task for doing this and was supported by Tony Tan. Lee's response was aggressive and insulting, he directly insulted Tan and Hu, a man of his father's age. This was a double insult to Hu, who was Lee's superior in cabinet and a person of an age who should of itself deserve respect in Chinese society. Suppiah Dhanabalan intervened and chastised Lee for his behaviour, demanding that he apologise to Hu, withdraw his remarks and not interfere in other minister's portfolios. A heated exchange occurred into which a number of other issues intruded and eventually Lee lost his temper, and reportedly reached across the table and slapped Dhanabalan across the face.

This caused an uproar in the cabinet and Lee was severely chastised by Goh Chok Tong. Dhanabalan stormed out of the room and did not return for some time. Lee, in response to a demand from Goh, subsequently apologised to Dhanabalan, Hu and Tan. Hu, Dhanabalan and Tan all initially stated that they would leave the cabinet as a result of this incident. Goh later took up the matter with Lee Kuan Yew who reportedly verbally thrashed his son over the matter.

This was apparently followed by a more sober, educational but equally critical assessment from Lee Hsien Loong's mother, a talented though background political adviser. Lee Kuan Yew reportedly met later that day with Hu, Tan and Dhanabalan, apologised for his son's behaviour and requested that they not resign, supported by a similar request from Goh Chok Tong.

All held out for some time, but eventually Hu agreed to stay, but Dhanabalan and Tan both resolved to leave. This they did the following August 1991 elections, all without a public word against Lee Hsien Loong, continuing to subscribe to the tenet of all secrets staying within the PAP family.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Define Bonanza

The headlines scream "$6.6 billion bonanza" for households in the various forms of cash handouts, tax rebates and top-ups to help them battle the tsunami of rising costs waiting round the corner.

What they don't put on the front pages is that Minister Teo Chee Hean is getting 5.4% extra for his Defence budget, a $620 million jump to $12.05 billion. That should explain his earlier cautionary advice that people should not set their expectations too high for the election budget goodies. The allocation for Health is cut by $24 million to $2.6 billion in the revised 2011 budget. Please, please, don't get sick - your TV licence rebate of $110 is barely enough for the A & E admission charges at the nearest public hospital. Transport budget is down by $585 million, a 12.6% reduction to $4 billion. How do you think Minister Raymond Lim will make up for the shortfall - other than the traditional bus/train fare hikes, ERP charges, etc? We don't want to know either. For the rest of the sobering numbers, download this pdf file (before it's deleted).

Madam Ong, 80, should be pleased. Her public assistance payout has been increased from $360 to $400 (kudos to MP Lily Neo for her tireless efforts). But philanthropist Wee Lin and founder of charity Sunlove Abode fears for her lot, "the payouts might not be sufficient if other living costs, such as electricity prices, continue to rise." The electrical tariff was hiked 3.3% for the first quarter, as oil price hurdled towards $100 a barrel. As for "more financial support of young families", executive assistant Valerie and mother of three kids has this to say about the $300 from the new Child Development Credit Scheme, "The amount is not even enough for what we spend in one month."

Why the big disconnect? Maybe it has to do with the $1 billion that Mah Bow Tan splurged for an air-conditioned botanic gardens, exceeding the original budget of $893 million without a whimper of protest from paliamentary members. So it's less than Balakrishnan's $200+ million YOG cost overrun, which happens to be close to what the Government claims is the cost of U-Save rebates for 800,000 HDB households. Or that $11.6 million is set aside yearly just to maintain the office of the President of the Republic of Singapore - refer to aforementioned pdf file.

A wise aunt has this timeless advice: if you are going to give someone a present, make sure it's something of value. Nobody appreciates receiving a Happy Meal toy packaged in a new wrapper.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Epitome Of Cool

When PM Lee Hsien Loong took to the stage with Marina Bay Sands' Sheldon Adelson, one speculates if he had any thoughts about the SAF officer who lost his job and family because of the social malaise of gambling. His spin masters will be quick to point out that Lee was there to officiate the opening of the ArtScience Museum, not the den of sin. As in George Yeo's lame disclaimer, "The IR is not a casino".

Captain Kheng lost "five figures" sums at the Resorts World Sentosa, could not repay the loansharks, ended up as their runner, and his wife had to fly home to Taiwan with the kids to escape the harassment of creditors. To top it all, he is going to jail for two years for working for the loan sharks to service his debt, doing unto others what was done unto him. "I went to the casino to check out the place out of curiosity," a sad refrain being repeated across the island.

Gambling is not the only vice at George Yeo's integrated resorts. Inserted in today's morning paper is an ad for Chippendale®, a touring company best known for erotic male dancing that was featured in the film "Just Can't Get Enough." The blurb reads like this, "Every pose, strut and move of their taut torsos and sinewy muscles elicits scream of delight from excited audiences". In case you are one of the few remaining innocents, the target audience is horny aunties and desperate housewives. Okay, add frisky teens with rich daddies for a potent mix.

The gals never had it so good in Singapore. When Section 377A was amended by parliament in October 2007 to legalise private, consensual anal and oral sex between heterosexual adults, it retained the criminalization of same acts between men. Girls who just wanna have fun, homo or hetero, are not so constrained. No wonder they don't bother to marry or raise kids.

The promoters who flew in French mademoiselles for the Crazy Horse revue must be sore, They weren't allowed to advertise, one key factor that led to the business venture's demise. Government officials even insisted on inspecting the G-strings used by the ladies. How they achieved that, or drew up the standards for exposed epidermis, we leave to your imagination. It may not be cool to pollute minds then, but endorsed icons of today are significantly different. Until it was stopped by public outcry, Resorts World Sentosa had the tacit approval of LTA to run free shuttle buses to the heartlands and rope in the dopes.

Gambling, specifically the sound of revenue ringing up the cash register, seems to justify the means. It gives new meaning to the saying "Fiddling while Rome burns".

Double Standards

In Oscar contender “The Kids Are All Right,” Annette Bening plays a controlling, short fused career woman who works in a hospital and found her status as a parent of two kids challenged by an interloping stranger who also happened to have slept with her marriage partner. You don't have be perched on a moral high horse to be upset by the turn of events, and empathise with her climatic outburst at the destroyer of conjugal bliss, "If you want a family so much, you go out and make your own!"

Director Lisa Cholodenko has managed, albeit sneakily, to shock us out of our comfort zone with a situation where moral elasticity is confronted by a sturdier, more traditional concept of living. The twist here is that the family unit under assault is a lesbian couple, and the external threat is the straight sperm donor who fathered their children.

The Singapore censors are not interested in the moral dilemma, real or fictional. As far as they are concerned, "The majority of the members agreed with the board that the film ... has exceeded the film classification guidelines." According to the Board of Film Censors' classification guidelines, "'films should not promote or normalize a homosexual lifestyle." "The Kids Are All Right" was slapped with category R21, applying to "films that may contain adult issues, themes and more explicit scenes," and limited its release to one single print. Lesley Ho, former director of the Singapore International Film Festival, howled, "I thought we had grown up. I am flabbergasted." Grown ups who plan to shell out for the pricey cinema ticket please take note: even with a R21 rating, the "more explicit scenes" are snipped off.

Although then PM Goh Chok Tong told Time magazine in 2003 that his Government was openly employing gays, even in sensitive jobs, the official line has always been that it recognizes homosexuals as part of the city-state's society, but that they are not accepted by most citizens. However, that doesn't stop MM Lee Kuan Yew from accepting them as PAP MPs, "As far as I'm concerned, if she does her work as an MP, she looks after her constituents, she makes sensible speeches, she's making a contribution, her private life is her life, that's that." He goes on, "You know, there are two standards. It's one thing the people at large, it's another thing, your minister or your prime minister being such a person."

Sigh, that double standard again - one for the common man, and one for the privileged class. One wonders if the Singapore Penal Code of 377a was intended to be a malleable instrument of law, pliable for the favoured and the anointed few.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Scantily Clad Babes In Singapore

National service for
Chingay 2011
Stop the press! Singapore is among 9 locations chosen for the 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated, along with others such as Philippines' Boracay Island and the Canandian town of Banf. They say anyone who tells you they buy Playboy to read the articles may be a liar, but those who pick up copies of SI make no pretences about their purchase. And it's not about the swimwear either.

Fashion photographer Wee Khim accurately noted Singapore is an unusual pick to photograph bikini babes as the beaches here "are not pristine" and there there are "no wide open spaces or beautiful horizons." Truth hurts. Annex IV of MARPOL 73/78 (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships) does not require vessels below 400 tonnes to be fitted with a sewage treatment plant. Yup, those little boats you espy on the horizon while inclining on Palawan Beach are dumping nasty stuff into the water.

It appears that the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STB) "invited" the magazine to shoot here. At a price. When asked how much it spent to invite the magazine here, Chang Chong Pey, Executive Director of Brand Management, Destination Marketing and Strategic Marketing at STB (now that's quite a mouthful right there), declined to say. President Ong Teng Cheong probably had a easier time querying about the amount of Singapore's financial reserves. So, you can tell us, but then you'll have to shoot us?

Each time the civil servants embark on a spending binge like money is going out of style, they always claim to help profile Singapore as fun/ vibrant/ exciting /cool (delete where applicable). Didn't taxpayers already shell out for F1, YOG, etc? Besides, Singapore was already featured on Top Chef, The Martha Stewart Show, The Amazing Race, and De Dana Dan the Bollywood movie? Oops, was taxpayers' money involved there too?

If it's bikini babes STB is after, you would have thought the PA had already put on quite a show at Chingay this year. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations lists "too much of a good thing" as a proverbial phrase and dates it from the late 15th century. It's still applicable today.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Relentless March Of The Gini Coefficient

The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion developed by the Italian statistician Corrado Gini and published in his 1912 paper "Variability and Mutability". Worldwide, Gini coefficients for income range from approximately 0.23 (Sweden) to 0.70 (Namibia) although not every country has been assessed.

No matter how the Department of Statistics jiggle the numbers, Singapore's Gini coefficient (ranked second highest in 2009) is an ugly reminder of the widening income disparity. The orange line is based on lower numbers adjusted for "Government benefits and taxes" to pretty up a gruesome picture. If they are referring to housing grants or GST relief payouts credited to the CPF account, we know neither provides the hard cash to put food on the table. Or pocket money for the school kid to stave off hunger pangs during recess time. NTUC's welcome largess of a 5 percent discount on 500 essential items like rice, cooking oil and detergent confirms the pitiful plight of the poor is very real. Never mind if the temporal relief is only good for 3 months, after which the general election should be over, and a new round of price hikes will be slammed in. Beggars can't be choosers.

Meanwhile the holdouts against a minimum wage salvation are still preaching the skill upgrade gospel. MP Liang Eng Hwa repeats the official mantra, "Rather than cash handouts, training and increasing their productivity may help them break out of the low wage cycle."

The cleaners at a friend's condominium are issued with a plastic bucket and a mop to wash the common corridors and lift lobbies. At their advanced age, each is already worried that the onset of rheumatism could threaten their means of livelihood. Maybe Mr Liang can advise what skill upgrade program is available for such employees to improve their lot? Surely the management committee of the building complex is not about to invest in robotic cleaning devices and train them to operate the new gizmos? Don't laugh, PM Lee actually lauded Lim Swee Say for a similar recommendation for mechanical road cleaners. The hard truth is that there are many physically and mentally disadvantaged who, through no fault of their own, have fallen into the cracks of a cold hearted society hell bent on economic advancement. Since there is no welfare income to speak off, these unemployed derelicts don't even make it into the computation database of the Gini coefficient.

MM Lee once told NUS undergrads at a forum to ignore the UNDP readings, "Never mind your Gini coefficient. If you don't have a job you get zero against those with jobs." A social class divide appearing in Singapore, he claimed, was unavoidable in a maturing society. Citing the example of China, he said the country started as a classless society but has gradually evolved to favour those who have the right connections. But does that mean Singapore is marching in the right direction?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Safety Certified But Not Satisfied

5 tonnes of crushing steel
When Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Teo Chee Hean responded to parliament members who questioned the SAF's safety measures after recent incidents involving reversing army vehicles, Teo didn't exactly provide a wealth of details so that future NSmen can learn from the mishaps and know when to duck. As in avoiding the killer machines, not embarrassing questions.

All DPM Teo would enlighten the house was that the army's Safety System was certified in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS). A system that allows for a Motor Transport Officer to be run over by a Land Rover (July 2009) and then a Lance Corporal to be rear ended by a truck (January 2011). In both accidents only two men were present at the stationary vehicles. Dead men do not provide eye-witness testimony.

What the parliamentarians heard was that the army truck reversed into Lance Corporal Eugin Wee Yong Choon, a Signal Operator who was somehow tasked to unload stores from the back of a military transport. And they were satisfied with that minimalist report. The parliamentarians never bothered to quiz Teo what stores were being delivered that necessitated the requisition of a 5-tonne military vehicle. Assuming the item was larger and heavier than a six-pack of Heinekens, why didn't the driver lend a hand to LCP Wee in the manual discharge of the cargo? The tailgate is a hefty piece of heavy metal. If the army's safety procedures were fundamentally sound as Teo claimed, why didn't the driver switch off the engine and engage the manual brakes before allowing Wee to alight for the unloading operation? Since Second Lieutenant (2LT) Chan was also crushed by a standing vehicle that was supposed to be securely parked, one wonders if the OHSAS covers this aspect of safety. Unlike the downing of the Apache helicopter due to a missing instruction in the maintenance manual, the loss of innocent lives in two similar occurrences apparently did not faze Teo sufficiently to warrant a re-write of the Standard Operation Procedures.

The only logical conclusion to make out of Teo's lackadaisical attitude to the human tragedy is that another round of musical chairs will be played out after the elections. Let the next Defence Minister deal with the crap. The safety lesson here seems to be - 官官相护 (guān guān xiāng hù) - bureaucrats shield each other.

Monday, February 14, 2011

All Inclusive Society Excludes Poor

PM Lee Hsien Loong and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had earlier promised budget goodies to mitigate impact on inflation, especially on low-income families, so why did Teo Chee Hean have to temper their generosity by saying things like "We need to keep our expectations realistic"? Is he telling us in advance the two aforementioned will turn out to be Indian givers?

This year's budget had a bonanza of 6 billion surplus, instead of the deficit projected by their collation of best brains in the land, plus one very expensive oracle with purportedly uncanny predictive powers. Is Teo planning to buy more military toys with the windfall? Perhaps a Starwars inspired type Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to shield us from intercontinental missiles because of one old coot's careless words?

Thrift is good. But it makes no sense to pile up reserves when the poor is still with us. Especially when we have spendthrift types in the National Parks Board who splurge $200,000 for unnecessary gizmos at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. One is supposed to aim a smart phone at a coded mosaic to download video information about the flora and fauna at the mangrove swamps. Which means you need a data plan or at least a internet enabled device with wifi capability. Spoiler alert: By the time you fired up your browser, the surprised critter would likely have vamoosed into shelter. Too bad if you are still are using a plain vanilla second hand Nokia with monochrome LCD display. You need AMOLED screen (bright sunlight) and hi-res megapixel camera (pattern recognition) to be educated about mud skippers and fat cat bureaucrats with a budget to burn. Like the polytechnic department head who whipped out a box cutter when one of his lecturers said his leather chair was still good for several more years. "There, you need a new chair now," smirked his supervisor. Needless to say, the all inclusive society has no room for the poor at the Sungei Buloh development.

The problem with civil servants drawing superscale salaries is that they can't imagine life subsisting on $360 a month or less. MP Lily Neo can wear her voice out shouting for the financially challenged, and Minister Vivian Balakrishnan still imagines the destitute dining out 3 times a day at a hawker center, food court or restaurant. He'll probably ask you to skip one outside meal to pay for the mobile data plan, like Minister Lim Hng Khiang suggesting to skip one hair dressing appointment to pay for the breast scan. What's the Mandarin phrase for birds of a feather sticking together?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

This Is A Joke, Right?

In the movie,  December 21st of the year 2012 is the day time as we know it will end. Government types secretly built huge arks to survive the floods that will wipe out all humanity. Those with money are allowed to buy tickets and party on board while lesser mortals drown. Oh yeah, some are even given free passes.
There was a heavy downpour in the afternoon, but surely the Chingay route can't be flooded?
What do you know, the Minister of Floods is at the bow. No wonder he didn't bother to spend money on the drainage system.
"Drown, you miserable rats, drown! Who's having the last laugh now?"
MM said to be less strict on religious observances, guess it's okay to party like there's no tomorrow.
What to do, happened already.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Scrapping The Bottom Of The Barrel

That Mubarak has to be ejected from office by the outpouring of citizenry onto the streets is stark reminder that politics is a serious business. The battle for the minds of the common people should have been fought in the august house of parliament. To demean this hallowed institution with the presence of a second-rate artiste from Channel 8 is to defile the blood, sweat and tears of pioneer parliamentarians like Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Devan Nair. Real men, not reel actors, some of whom have languished in jail like Mandela to wrestle freedom from the colonialists so that Singapore could be born.

Thanks to the personal endorsement of court jester Lim Swee Say, we had a one term nominated member of parliament who's lasting image was, and probably still is, that of a bimbo accessory on the Wheel Of Fortune television program. The forthcoming outrage also lends credence to speculation that Jack Neo the philanderer was actually in the running for the GRC sweepstakes. Why else would he have on hand the direct telephone number of Foreign Minister George Yeo? His casting couch victim wasn't one of those foreign crows from China who needed help with her multiple entry permit (salacious pun not intended).

In his saner days, here's what Lee Kuan Yew said of the Singapore parliamentary system:
"It's different from the American presidential system, where you say,'I'm a peanut farmer, vote for me,' and they did.
Here, you have got to win the confidence of your fellow MPs, who would have many years of sitting down listening to you, arguing with you and forming their conclusions of you."

Perhaps even the powers on high are tired of the charade perpetuated, and decided to make official the wayang sessions that is the current state of parliamentary debate. While they are at it, why not add a dash of eye candy? "Bobbi" the ex-stripper who choreographed the opening ceremony of the World Youth Olympics in Singapore on August 14 had her 5 minutes of fame - maybe she deserves a seat in parliament as well?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Brown-nosing All The Way To Parliament

How can you place the trust of the people in characters who won't even give a straight answer to a simple question? Asked whether he could be a People's Action Party candidate in the coming election, Ong Ye Kung said "If it happens, it happens."

Free parking at SPH
The 41 year old had just quit his high flying super-scale salaried career in the recession-proof ranks of the civil service because he "happened to meet" Foreign Minister George Yeo this week, who also happened to ask "if I want to accompany him around his GRC". If Ong really had it in his heart of hearts to serve the people, why couldn't he have joined the private sector and still "continue my work for workers" in the NTUC? His move to NTUC as "an employee" was obviously a safety net, in case he misses the extra $190,000 allowance as a member of parliament. Not for his kind the rough and tumble of the uncertainties of the private sector. When Mah Bow Tan lost his maiden and straight electoral battle with Chiam See Tong in 1984, he had SPH to provide safe harbour until a GRC ticket was handed to him at the next election.

Besides Ong, Janil Puthucheary who was moved from East Coast GRC last month to help out at MP Charles Chong's Punggol Central ward, was just as creative with the gainsaying, "Honestly, I have no idea." Another NTUC man, Ang Hin Kee, just appointed the PAP branch chairmanship of the Seletar-Cheng San ward in Ang Mo Kio GRC, a post almost always held by the PAP MP or candidate in the ward, also decided to act blur-as-sotong, "Only PM knows."

One would think potential candidates looking forward to be of service to the electorate would proudly and forthrightly declare their credentials to the people, so as to win their confidence and votes. Not hide behind innuendos and the protection of the established clique in power. But if this sample of the 240 potential candidates invited for "tea" sessions is anything to go by, they look like another batch of colourless apple polishers, specialising in puckering up to bless somebody's derrière. Frankly speaking, a taxi driver would make a better, and believable, election candidate. At least he's closer to the ground than these anointed effete.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Student, The Cop, The Property Agent And The Judicial System

Student S was fined $2,000 yesterday for perverting the course of justice by soliciting assistance of police deputy superintendent P who lined up property agent A to take the rap for beating a red light.

Police deputy superintendent P was sentenced to 6 months for "recommending" A as the fall guy, since latter had already chalked up a checkered history of demerit points. How convenient to have access to police records of traffic violations.

Property agent A was sentenced to 3 months, probably because she had previously spent 2 months in the slammer in 2008 for hurting a public servant, drink driving, failure to give a breath specimen and disorderly behavior. She was fortunate not to have being slapped with additional charges of being rude to an officer and resisting arrest.

Student S was let off easy for her misdemeanor, because District Judge Jill Tan believed in a psychiatric report that claimed a "causal link" between her depression and calling up a police pal to rope in a sucker. And the good judge was convinced there was little chance of her repeating the offence, hence sparing her jail time. For the 2008 vehicular related offence of beating a traffic light, driving without licence or insurance, and without the car owner's permission, S had paid a fine of $1,900. The punishment for getting someone to assume criminal liability for running a red light apparently attracts a jail term up to 7 years and/or fine of $10,000.

So did S pull off an Oscar worthy performance in the courts? She had already sweet talked her Bulgarian business manager partner into letting her live in for 6 whole months (another media report refers to the foreigner as a "housemate"). And she was featured in a Maxim spread in 2007, suitably attired for ogling by the type of alpha males who buy those glossies. Depressed or not, her lawyer Lim Kia Tong told the court that his client would still be appealing against the sentence.

The other Oscar contender could be the female who hit a bicyclist so hard he flew onto her left windscreen, cracking the shatterproof glass, and dragged the crumpled bike for several kilometres. She told the judge the Lexus she was driving had such excellent sound proofing that she was unaware of the impact, and drove straight home to sleep in her good class bungalow. And the judge took her at her word.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Campus Priorities

Students interacting on campus, a la Social Network
"We're going to make NTU a tourist attraction," said president designate and provost Professor Bertil Andersson. Okay, that explains the recent fee hike despite huge surpluses nesting in the reserve account. And we thought they were building better libraries or bringing in qualified academics who are more passionate about teaching than spending money.

The interactive brains behind the 15-year masterplan for Nanyang Technological University have in mind a mini-Holland Village - replete with restaurants, pubs, shops and cinemas. Holland V is so notorious for rip off prices, even Ang Mohs head for the HDB heartlands for their essentials. For administrators like Swede Andersson who lives on campus, it must be quite a journey to lunch at Shangrila or hit the happy hour at Clarke Quay. If the Herman Miller Aeron chairs can be justified, why not these up market conveniences? Then there's this creative line that says "we must create meeting places where the humanities girl can meet the engineering boy." If the nation's goal for more babies can be furthered, who's to query the grandiose expenditure? Besides, all the public carparks are too brightly lit to play doctor - even for Jack Neo's curtain draped automobile.

Outgoing president Su Guanning apparently agrees to the "need to adapt to changing pedagogical requirements", though whether these entertainment facilities will sustain new forms of teaching and research, conducive for the gestation of a nobel prize laureate, is open for debate. Unless they are planning courses for movie making and alcoholic concoctions, and thesis themes pontificating on why this year's Oscar nominations have to include gratuitous sex scenes - think Black Swan, Blue Valentine and The Kids Are All Right.

Unlike the monied Winklevoss twins of Social Network fame, students like Sherlene can see the lavish plans will only benefit those who can afford the hefty dormitory fees to stay on campus. "Interaction's a good idea, but the question is if we have the time to use the facilities, especially since I live at home and most of my free time is spent working on projects."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lessons From Cairo

Commenting on the social unrest in Egypt, Foreign Minister George Yeo said, "I don't think that the event there would be so bad as to threaten the passage of ships through he Suez canal." We don't know what his choice of reading material is, but some publications are already declaring, "After Egypt and Tunisia, other governments in the Arab world are feeling the heat".

They are also saying that dictators like Mubarak, who had signaled he intended to run for a 6th term despite being 82 and in poor health, find it difficult to handle change because the structure of power they have set cannot respond to the new, dynamic demands from their people. So it was in Tunisia; so it was in Egypt. Spot the familiar seeds of discontent in the following quote:
"Over the past 5 years, the Mubarak regime has pursued an economic growth plan of rapid liberalisation, promising to deliver jobs and modernity in the process. Increasingly, however, Egyptians complain that unemployment is higher than ever, that the cost of living has risen while wages have stayed the same and that government corruption and repression have come to permeate all aspects of society." (TIME, 7 Feb 2011)

"That means that the region's so-called stability was an illusion," says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. "These regimes are not, in fact, stable and are going to fall - if not now, then later."

What is unique in Cairo is the behavior of the protesters calling for the resignation of Mubarak, which led Obama to cite their maturity and civic-mindedness as reasons for hope that Egypt will transcend from pharaohism to democracy. However, the decision to cut off mobile telephones, text messaging and the internet proved a turning point. "When you block the internet, you are asking the people to come down to the streets," said engineer Shawawi, "and anything can happen."

There are many lessons Singapore can learn from the unfolding events. When push comes to shove, like the Egyptians, long cowed by the heavy hand of Mubarak's police and intelligence forces, people will be heeding a crash course in protestation. Maybe material like their 26-page pamphlet titled "How To Protest Intelligently", with instructions on where to go, what slogans to chant and what to wear. Not exactly something to look forward to.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Two CNY Stories

A friend wanted to borrow a digicam for the Chinese New Year holidays to help decide upgrading from his point-and-shoot to an ultra-zoom or pro-sumer DSLR. Always careful with our hard earned money, we never opt for the latest and greatest. Met on morn of CNY eve for the handover.

While trading thoughts about sensor size and crop factors at the HDB kopi-tiam where coffee at 90 cents is significantly cheaper than Starbucks', a family was quietly settling down at the next table. Styrofoam boxes of packet lunches were produced from the ubiquitous red polyethylene bags and distributed. Another member, apparently working at one of the food stalls, brought forth a small plate of roast duck, hardly enough for the 6 seated, plus the contributor. It was too early in the day, but we realized it was their CNY reunion dinner.

Suddenly, the DSLR in our hands looked obscenely out of place. The 62mm UV filter serving as lens protector costs more than their feast. We wished the floor under our feet would open up and swallow us in. It is very unpleasant to come face to face with the extremity of the Gini coefficient.

On the festive day itself, we observed the strict CNY tradition of trekking to family and relatives' homes. For many this is the once in a year mandatory meeting of the clan, when demanding work schedule is no excuse for not getting together. There's the usual updating of marital status of the ladies, and the fecundity of the just married. The banter is in dialect, so grandpa and grandma can listen in approvingly.

That's when we learnt a distant aunt has 3 sons in the university, one reading his masters. She had toiled 10 years as a cleaner, followed by 25 years as a food court help, her husband drove long hours as a delivery hand. That's not all. Their eldest daughter graduated last year and is working as an accountant. It must have been an uphill task to support their education costs, and the kids must have done their part studying equally hard to qualify for pocket money, bursaries or scholarships. Ang pows may be exchanged, but it's never polite to discuss money openly on this auspicious day. This couple of humble means, in spite of the discrimination and stigma of the Graduate Mom policy, achieved more for the nation's call for babies than selfish society elites.

Nah, we don't need filthy rich foreigners to populate our country, our own born and bred can do just fine. What we do need is a revamp of the group think that is vitiating the future of our nation.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Provoked By Mahathir

Dr Mahathir Mohamad's controversial work, "The Malay Dilemma" (1970), did not flinch from spelling out the economic backwardness of the Malays, and the need for the state to assist in their rehabilitation to a level playing field. The book, penned without resorting to journalists seconded (pro bono?) from national newspapers, was banned for presenting a bitter truth. He went on to write also "The Way Forward" and a "New Deal for Asia".

But it is the slim volume "The Malaysian Currency Crisis" that is a fascinating read of how he faced down the 1997 Asian crisis, and spurned IMF intervention to defend the Malaysian ringgit with his own initiative. Most of the other Asian tigers turned pussy cats and let Camdessus call the shots. He identified the ravenous currency traders, named George Soros who had shorted the British pound to profit US$1.1 billion, on the hunt for fresh meat. Licking his wounds after Mahathir's capital controls won the day, Soros had to admit his adversary did the right thing by not submitting to IMF doctrine. Mahathir took it upon himself to study the mechanics of offshore money transactions to enjoin in battle. Nor for him the stock response of some prime ministers, "my cabinet minister will be providing the details." And when his deputy failed him, he didn't just say, "what to do, done already." In other words, he's no wuss.

Love him or hate him, this guy had the gravitas to lead a nation. That's why you sit up when he denounced MM Lee for his remarks in the odious volume which should really be called, “Lee Kuan Yew: Half Truths To Keep Singapore Sinking”.
“I’m not surprised by his statement because to him religion is not important. For him, the end justifies the means, so if he wants racial integration in Singapore, he won’t let Islam stand in the way of his goals. That is Kuan Yew. He totally does not respect religion and the sensitivities of other races.”

Mahathir also blamed Lee for breaking a promise not to contest in east Malaysia in the 1964 elections, saying it was his actions that led to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia. The fairy this side of the causeway blames everybody else, the most recent of which was that Goh Keng Swee "decided on his own that it would be better for Malaysia and Singapore to have a clean break."

And as for the tit-for-tat about Mahathir criticising his successor, guess who described Goh Chok Tong on national TV as "wooden" and that he might have to see a psychiatrist about it? Poor Goh, he recalled the awkwardness after the inexplicable speech, "How would the people come and greet me? It was very awkward. They looked at me...they didn't know whether to smile or to sympathise with me." So much for "Mahathir undermined his successors, I never did."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Perils Of Childhood

Mrs Servos was spot on when she was quoted saying, "This sounds like they are using the extra hours to teach the syllabus".

Unlike Amy Chua the Tiger Mom, Singapore mothers were rued by the schools who are holding back Primary 3 and 4 students for supplementary lessons. Which means 9 and 10 year olds could be held hostage from 7.30 am until 4.00 pm for up to 4 to 5 days a week. At this rate, even if parents want to have kids, the kids will refuse to be born.

The obvious question was "Why aren't the 6 hours adequate to cover the syllabus?" If St Gabriel Primary was truthful in explaining that the additional lessons were part and parcel of the school curriculum, then MOE needs to review the curriculum. And someone needs to review the geniuses at MOE. As expected, MOE quickly and conveniently absolves itself of responsibility: "Schools have the autonomy to decide on supplementary classes depending on the learning of their pupils". Which begs another question: Why are the principals so keen to have teachers stretch the contact schedule if MOE's requirements about learning can met without the extra hours? Don't they have a life too?

The only folks not fazed by the detention are those who have no time for the young ones in the first place, like the business executive and his working wife who think of the extra periods as free daycare. After all, preschools like Charis Montessori kindergarten charge as much as $700 extra for "enrichment" classes that run till 5.30 pm. They are the types who hand their kids $50 worth of coins for the video arcade so mummy and daddy can do their own thing. Philip Larkin the English poet says these of such parenting:
They f— you up your mum and dad
They do not mean to but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra just for you

Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary, Harvard president and recently departed Obama administration chief economic adviser, mused about the fate of kids at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week. "People on average live a quarter of their lives as children. That's a lot," Mr. Summers said. "It's important that they be as happy as possible during those 18 years." Let's not give the wee ones a rocky start.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Perception Does Not Match Reality

According to a local paper Baldwin Boyle Shand was appointed in Dec 2010 for "a global campaign aimed at reforming Singapore's plain vanilla image as it loosens up some of it's laws" by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) for an expenditure of $280,000.

The Holmes Report reveals that the official tender documents indicate the assignment is worth as much as S$1.5 million. Does MICA's RADM (NS) Lui Tuck Yew intend to post an "Other Costs" item to account for the excess charge, in the fashion pioneered by Vivian Balakrishan for his YOG budget? The tender, titled ‘Strategic Plan for Marketing Singapore’, points out that Singapore has undergone numerous changes in recent years and has “transformed into a vibrant global city”. However, while numerous branding initiatives have been deployed at a local and international level, “the perception of what we have to offer still does not match reality.”

Thanks to the internet, the world knows exactly what is the reality in Singapore. Between Alan Shadrake's "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock" and Han Fook Kwang's "Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going", isn' t there enough publicity going around? Perhaps MICA had in mind, "virtual reality".

With the ‘Uniquely Singapore’ campaign running since 2004, associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon of NUS Business School shares the feelings of those who think that another marketing blitz is just a duplication of efforts, overlapping the promotion initiatives of Singapore Tourist Board and Economic Development Board. BrandAsian chief executive Joseph Baladi, who authored a book on Asian branding, also concurred that a global public relations drive is not necessary for Singapore at the moment. Unless MICA is privy to knowledge that the WikiLeaks are more damaging than what Foreign Minister George Yeo claims. Come to think of it, Kim Jong-Il couldn't have got over that “psychopathic types with a ‘flabby old chap’ for a leader who prances around stadiums seeking adulation” remark so quickly.