Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Avoidable Error

The Sunday Times front page splash was about a 6 year old who won an Encouragement Award in the defence science section of this year's Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Award. Her "cooling umbrella" was meant for soldiers to use in hot weather conditions, so "they can keep up a level of high performance". So, besides carrying the backpack, it looks like the maid will have to tote an umbrella into battle as well.

Maybe the adults didn't want to dampen her spirits by pointing out that the combination of the latent heat of vaporisation of water and the relative humidity in our Singapore clime would defeat her system of evaporative cooling through perforated straws which lined her umbrella. They teach Science in kindergarten, don't they? Someone once tried to market a water spray that claimed to cool the insides of a car left in the summer sun in Perth, where windows have actually popped out due to the intense pressure built up by the heat. It quickly lowers the temperature by about 10 degrees, in a place where it can be 44 degrees in the shade, and average humidity at 40 percent. It didn't sell too well.

Jointly organised by the Tan Kah Kee Foundation, Agency for Science, Technology and Research, and the Defence Science and Technology Agency, with the support of Science Centre Singapore, the award event couldn't be a joke, right? The keynote address was delivered by Su Guaning, president of NTU, another serious sounding organisation. But the last paragraph of the write-up has this sneak preview of what's to come. "I have already thought of a lot of inventions," the acclaimed genius volunteered, "Like a circle which, when you look through it, will let you know whether someone is a good or bad person." Just the thing for those tea parties to vet potential members of parliament.

But you stop laughing when you read that a 23 year old man had two good teeth extracted by mistake in May 2007. Dr Debbie Hong, 30, of the Singapore Dental Centre, must have been on auto-pilot, following blindly the instruction of a wrong referral slip inserted in the wrong patient file. She probably didn't even notice it was a human being seated in the dentist chair, and there was nothing wrong with his upper left first premolar and lower left second premolar. The May 2011 statement from the SDC read, "The disciplinary committee was of the opinion that the wrong extraction of the patient's two teeth was a serious matter which could have been avoided." Why are adults so dumb?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Solving The Housing Problem

If Mah Bow Tan knew it was so easy to solve the housing problems, he would have preached the same message Khaw Boon Wan delivered to avoid the ignominious spectacle of being booted out by the electorate. Build 25,000 instead of 22,000 new HDB flats, provide 45,000 rental flats for those who can't afford to pay the outlandish prices.

Addressing the Sembawang GRC Youth Executive Committee, Khaw rattled off a series of statistics:
  • 45,000 HDB rental flats, including one-room ($26/month) and two-room ($275/month)
  • 5,000 new rental flats by next year
  • 8 months waiting time for a rental flat (21 months in 2008)
  • $1,500 montly income ceiling for applicant households
Most of the data were already made public in Parliament in January this year, and Mah had further announced the shortened waiting time during the Budget Debate that followed two months later. Somehow it sounded sweeter this time on the target audience. For Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who must have been sleeping earlier when Mah was in charge, "welcomed" Khaw's comments, saying, "I'm glad to hear that he is going to ramp up the numbers."

What Khaw did not address was the affordability of new purchase flats, and whether they will still be priced at 30 year repayment levels. The market is already bracing for the price softening impact of the record 25,000 new flats to be built this year. Khaw had simply asked HDB to build "ahead of order", a departure from Mah's instruction to call for construction tender only if orders have been received for at least 70 percent of the units launched.

Even the alternative political parties were treading carefully on this issue at the elections. At stake is the one million existing HDB flat owners, most of whom have been fleeced by the mark-to-market pricing policy. Those who paid $300,000++ for a flat would hate to find out that it's worth only $200,000, the difference being what The Valuer posted to the reserves. Maybe they aren't that greedy, but the truth can only be told if Khaw opens up the HDB books for transparent accounting. Like finally telling us the $8 bill for the heart bypass was closer to $25,000.

Khaw also told the 230 youths who attended the dialogue session that stiff competition posed by foreigners is a reality youths entering the workforce today have to face in a globalised world. The reality is that while foreigners are allowed to displace us from affordable housing units, university places and standing room on trains and buses, the cabinet is immune from the forces of globalisation. Hilary Clinton, or her husband, would more than welcome an opportunity to earn $3.8 million for political office.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

OooOooooOooh I've apologized

The social network is working out to be anathema to the PAP stewards. Instead of engaging the people, they are outraging the citizens at warp speed.

Speed was not invented by this generation's technophiles, wrote Rosenberg and Feldam in their book, "No Time To Think, The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." The public's right to know has been supplanted by the public's right to know everything, however fanciful and even erroneous, as fast as technology allows. Unfortunately for some parties, the fancy and erroneous stuff seem to be self generated.

Price Of Dignity
Lim Wee Kiak kicked it off with his infamous remark reported by Lianhe Wanbao on 23 May, that a $500k paycheck would be beneath the dignity of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts.

His first attempt at spin control was to claim that it was a joke, which the reporter failed to grasp. Recall Goh Chok Chong tried similar line with the trauma posting of his own gaffe.

3 hours later, Lim blames the reporter for quoting him out of context "when they do not report the whole thing". He stated his "whole thing" on individuals who serve should not do so because of pay and perks, adding, "On the other hand, they do have families and dependents and need to consider for their retirement, etc." Talk about pouring oil on a smoldering fire.

The massive outcry from cyberspace must have been a rude reminder for Lim - if you can't stand the flames, better get out of the kitchen pronto. And quickly write a "clarification" note on his Facebook on 27 May:
"On further reflection, I agree that the example I quoted a MICA minister meeting the heads of telcos and saying that there may be some loss of face if the minister's salary is low is inappropriate and incorrect. I withdraw those remarks and apologise for making them."

No apology was made to the reporter accused of lacking a sense of humour and misquoting him out of context. Let's hope that this doesn't mean the reporter has been hastily sacked.

But apologies seem to come cheap these days, and if we are to believe these words from the 2006 elections, the day of reckoning is yet to come.
"You can't just go and say - OooOooooOooh I've apologized let's move on. Can you commit a dishonorable - maybe even one which is against the law - an illegal act, and say 'let's move on, because I've apologized?' You may move on, hah, but you're going to move on out of politics in time."

OooOooooOooh I've apologized

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lessons From The Private Sector

Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen of NUS Business School lends imprimatur to the oft repeated arguments about ministerial salaries. Firstly, he teaches executive and director pay to an executive MBA class. Secondly, he has seen his own peers earning more in the private sector, but without his tenure which provides better job security. Our Men-In-White have best of both worlds, drawing obscene salaries while protected by the safe harbour of gerrymandering and the GRC scam.

It all sounds too much like common sense, when Mak says that if you pay very well, you also risk attracting the wrong people who are motivated purely by money. One example of such motivation is best illustrated by what Dr Lim Wee Kiak, PAP MP for Nee Soon GRC, told Lianhe Wanbao: “If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discuss policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister’s ideas and proposals, hence a reasonable payout will help to maintain a bit of dignity.” It sounds better in the original Chinese:


Mak adds that people who are attracted to politics because of the money (or power) might still want to use their positions for their own benefit because for some, it is never enough. Considering that Lim Wee Kiat is one of the newbies who sneaked into parliament via the GRC route, one only hopes that his monetary concept of dignity is not too virulent among the PAP ranks. But then again, didn't the SAF army generals once tried to justify being driven around in Mercedes cars "so that the men will look up to them?"

The professor says he is not concerned about high pay, and is outraged only by someone who makes money in an illegal or unethical manner, in that the compensation is not related to appropriate measures of performance , or the pay determined is through a contaminated process. By his measures, namely average wage growth, Gini coefficient, average expressway speeds, admission rates of Singaporeans into local universities, percentage of low income families owning HDB flats, our ministers have got away with murder. And if they still persist in the contaminated formulation of drawing private sector pay, to paraphrase the good professor, they risk receiving an unexpected performance appraisal from the electorate again. George Yeo was just the first to face the music.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Questions For The Education Minister

Freshly minted Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat has reportedly received feedback directly from parents through his Facebook account and via e-mail. One wonders how many of the queries border on the mundane ("why my son so stressed, hah?"), and how many will touch on issues that have been buried under opaque layers of bureaucracy. We were never really told why the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme was introduced except that Teo Chee Hean visited some American schools and liked what he saw. Local universities struggled to weigh the parity of the first batch of IBs with A level applicants.

In last year's Chemistry paper for the A levels, there was one question that was out of syllabus. However, one school did provide the required text material for its own students, and the raw score was adjusted upwards for the whole 2010 batch of students to address the anomaly. Some "B" grade students happily earned an "A" score, thanks to the "upgrading" exercise. Not all "A"s are created equal.

The incongruity happened because, for reasons best known to the Mandarins at MOE, junior colleges do not use textbooks. Instead, teachers produce notes which are culled from the recommended textbooks included in MOE's official syllabus for each subject. Although the same list of recommended books are used by the teachers to prepare the study notes, the students end up with study material content that depend on the varying industry and competence of the relevant subject teachers. Teachers are not textbook writers. Despite the differing sets of input material, all students sit for a common test paper to evaluate their scholastic output.

One teacher acknowledged and recognised the inequality of the system, but could offer no explanation. She had her own frustrations with the top-down dictates from MOE. "Do you know we are not supposed to teach Kirchhoff's Law?" she volunteered, referring to the most fundamental and important rules in electronics. If Mr Kirchhoff fell out of favour with the powers that be, perhaps one day Issac Newton will also face the same fate. Maybe our schools will soon explain away all physical phenomena as acts of god. That would be so convenient for the Minister for Floods.

Although better recognised for his experience at MAS, Heng was supposed to have spent time at the Education Ministry, the esteemed halls of which have been paced by many high flying scholars. Time will tell if he is the right man for the job. One thing's for sure, it has to be better than tasking Tharman Shanmugaratnam to spearhead the learning of Mandarin, as he was once assigned.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Everyday Robbing People

When the CBD (Central Business District) system was first introduced to relieve traffic congestion, a lawyer argued successfully in court that it was illegal to charge motorists for usage of roads for which they are already paying road tax. No matter, the government simply passed a new law to make it legal. For speaking up to protect the interest of the common people, the lawyer's career path had to take a slight detour.

The much maligned Electronic Road Pricing system never really worked in that heavy traffic was simply diverted to other roads, afflicting other routes with the congestion it was supposed to prevent. You still get to be late for work, appointments, or sales calls. But the ugly gantries continue to be erected, harvesting handsome sums for the tax collectors.

The Land Transport Authority announced that will fund 4 parties with $1 million each "to design, develop and demonstrate technological solutions" for a new system to charge motorists not only for where they travel to, but also for the distances they clock getting there. In other words, pay as you drive. Notice that in the stated objectives, there is no mention of making car ownership more affordable.

In Singapore, the invasive nature of knowing where you have been at certain hours of the day or night is something we are used to, although other enlightened countries might find that reason enough to kill the initiative. Instead of the visible iconic blue-and-white gantries to warn you of the daylight robbery ahead, the proposed innovation will have "soft" zones, which presence is detected only by a new in-vehicle unit (IU). Since satellite signals, such as those used by space-based global navigation satellite GPS receivers, cannot be used because of tunnels and "urban canyons", the positioning data will have to be transmitted using A-GPS. Meaning, motorists will have to subscribe to one of those pricey data plans marketedd by the ISPs. Good time to invest in telecoms shares.

Not too long ago, tempers flared when commuters discovered that the new-fangled distance-based fares ended up to be a disguised hike in transportation charges. Raymond Lim may be soon forgotten, but he won't ever be forgiven for that duplicity. So will this satellite tracking system be a repeat of history, another Everyday-Rob-People exercise? Suffice to say, it is no coincidence that the new guy in charge has a moniker that sounds like Ptui! Tuck Yew!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Review Of the Salary Review

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean may have forgotten about Tan Yong Soon the Permanent Secretary, but lesser mortals have not. What peeved Singaporeans was not that he spent $46,500 for a pastry cooking holiday in France, but that he boasted he could have been away from office longer and not be missed.

A day after Gerard Ee said he will do away with the top secret formula that benchmarks minister's pay to the private sector, Teo quickly shot up his hand ("kee chiu'!) to object . Clouded in the same awe of mystery as Mah Bow Tan's dreaded Valuer for HDB pricing, the benchmark that was set at 2/3 the average income of top earners in the banking, accounting, engineering, law, local manufacturers and multi-national manufacturers, was used to determine the paychecks of ministers and top civil servants (administrative officers at the entry level Superscale Grade of SR9 and up). Teo drew the line in the sand, service salaries are outside the scope ot the review panel. Which means that people like Tan Yong Soon can look forward to being paid twice as much as Barack Obama. And you can't even vote him out of office, the way George Yeo was booted out.

Teo, who is the minister in charge of the civil service, said civil service salaries are reviewed regularly to ensure they remain competitive with the private sector. Never mind if private sector job scope, responsibility and accountability are different from the recession-proof public sector. "That's the principle for all civil service salaries because we need to make sure that public officers are properly rewarded. That's the only way in which we can get a good, competent and honest public service," adding, "this current review is focused on political appointment holders." That last emphasis was a personal message for Gerard Ee and his review panel.

The irony is that Teo said all that while handing out promotion certificates to members of the Home Team, the clowns who failed to catch Mas Selamat Kastari on the run. The terrorist was caught instead by the Malaysian police, who are paid pittance when compared with the amounts the fat cats are drawing. To this day, they have yet to extract the vital information from their prisoner - how did he make his away across the Johore Strait? Meanwhile, Teo insists on robbing the poor taxpayers to enrich the "good, competent and honest public service", which happened to include the SLA officer with a penchant for exotic European cars.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mother Of All Screw Ups

You want 8.5% GST izzit?
In America, they are called "talking heads." Like mushrooms feasting on a rotting tree trunk, transport analysts are coming out of the woodwork to salvage the collateral damage that is outgoing Transport Minister Raymond Lim. Singapore's public transport system failed because planners took their eyes off the ball, pronounced the experts. For good measure, the surge in foreigner influx also took the blame.

According to them the problem started way before Lim took over the ministry on 30 May 2006. He only began to screw up royally after that fateful day.

The screw up began in 1996, when Mah Bow Tan was Communications Minister and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) released a White Paper entitled A World Class Land Transport System which aimed to create a denser rail network and committed to launching one major rail project a year.

In 1999, Yeo Cheow Tong screwed up by tweaking development goals, such as extending rail line targets. "He didn't follow Mr Mah's plan very well, " claimed Associate Professor Lee Der Horng of NUS. Transport economist Michael Li of the Nanyang Business School said Yeo focused more on developing the air transport sector. He was gazing skywards instead of paying attention to the ground. SIA business class has to be more sexy than MRT train rides.

In 2000, Mah screwed up as the National Development Minister by projecting that the population would rise from 3.9 million in 2000 to 5.5 million by 2040 or 2050. He must have been gazing elsewhere too when the population surpassed 5.0 million last year. Someone in charge of immigration at ICA also screwed up by issuing citizenships like it was going out of style (Foo Mee Har got hers "within days", remember?) - that had be to the the Home Affairs Minister, a.k.a."population czar".

"My feeling is that the current spike caught the Government off guard," said Associate Professor Gopinathan Menon of NTU, stopping just short of laying the blame for the humongous screw up at the feet of the guy in overall charge of the Government.

All this theorizing is just too heavy for the common man, crammed daily into over crowded buses and trains. All they remember is Raymond Lim threatening to raise the GST if they even dare suggest a lower tariff in transportation charges.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

More Empty Promises

At the swearing-in ceremony last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, "Politics is not a job or a career promotion. It is a calling to serve the larger good of Singapore. But ministers should also be paid properly in order that Singapore can have a honest, competent leadership over the long term."

Compare that to what he told BBC journalist Jonathan Head in 2009:
"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."

So is the guy suffering from schizophrenia or what? The answer seems to be blazoned on the latest TIME cover, 'What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs." Save for the sex part, "Lies" and "Arrogance" fit the bill perfectly.

It's easy to debunk the "not a career promotion" boast. Just list the take home pay of the cabinet members, before and after being sworn in as ministers. Do a quick check of the ministers who have retired, is Yeo Cheow Tong still in the same income tax bracket? Will George Yeo find a similar paying job in the private sector within the next 6 months? - no cheating here, no GLC linked entities or any of the companies in the stable of Mrs PM Lee.

It is no comfort that Gerard Ee is named to head the committee for the review of ministerial salaries. He is also the Chairman of the despised Public Transport Council (PTC), the implementation tool of the Transport Minister, best exemplified in the 12 September 2006 blanket approval for local transport operators SBS Transit and SMRT to hike bus and train fares by 1.7%. During the run up to the GE 2011, when oil prices rose significantly, PTC was unnaturally quiet about fare hikes. This committee smells a lot like the one Wong Kan Seng created to look into the Mas Selamat escapade.

Ee himself has already set the tone for his task, "Whatever we work out, the final answer must include a substantial discount on comprable salaries in the private sector". These guys are still adamant on private sector pay but without private sector accountability. No wonder, look at what public service pay is like in the rest of the first world countries:
  • Donald Tsang Yum-Kuen - Hong Kong (S$716k)
  • Barack Obama - United States (S$555k)
  • Nicolas Sarkozy - France (S$441k)
  • Angela Merkel - Germany (S$420k)
  • Gordon Brown - UK (S$387k)
  • Taro Aso - Japan (S$337k)
Even if PM Lee takes an immediate 50% pay cut from his S$3.8 million, he will still be the highest paid public office holder on planet earth.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Too Despicable For Words

A simple "No" would have sufficed as an answer.

White Lies

They say a white lie is a minor or unimportant lie, especially one uttered in the interests of tact or politeness. In the Prime Minister's press conference announcing his new cabinet line-up there was no shortage of examples. Some of them border on prevarication - a statement that deviates from or perverts the truth.

He said the departures of MM Lee Kuan Yew and SM Goh Chok Tong were not due to election results, and particularly not due the comments made by MM Lee. Despite all the rhetoric about communicating with the people, he chose not to hear about the many PAP supporters who openly declared that they were voting for the opposition on account of the "5 years to repent" remark. Even opposition supporters were (pleasantly) startled by the vehemence of the reaction on the ground.

He said Wong Kan Seng, Mah Bow Tan and Raymond Lim "expressed their desire to step down earlier." Except for Lim, both Wong and Mah featured heavily in the mainstream media during the hustings, pitching vigorously for the party and more good years. Mah even penned a whole series of weekly articles in the TODAY broadsheet to defend his HDB pricing policy, which was subsequently published into a glossy booklet. Does that look like a guy who planned to quit any time soon?

He said Yaacob Ibrahim is moved to MICA "because we think they've done well". We don't know about Halimah Yacob, but Ibrahim was definitely an EPIC FAIL! Apparently MICA has already announced plans to treat Malay as a foreign language. Somehow that is not going to make the guy any more popular among his fellow Malays. Haven't we just gotten over the bad patch about the integration over sharing meals ugliness?

Asked by a reporter what he was looking for in the newly minted ministers, he said "Proven performance and potential as well as political touch." That's how he picked Chan Chun Seng for the MCYS slot? Barking orders on a parade square is proven performance for political office? Even the aunties he bribed with free packet meals to make up the numbers at the election rallies would balk at that. PM Lee contradicted himself by admitting that "He's not (even) been in a ministry as a civil servant".

On why there's no woman minister in his line up, he said "when have a suitable person, we will promote her." So what's wrong with Lily Neo? She has the track record (proven performance), she's well accepted by her constituents (political touch), they even pulled her into Tanjong Pagar to improve their chances over there (potential). Is she blackballed because she took down flavor-of-the-month Balakrishnan in parliament over the welfare handouts?

He claims to aim to deliver better results and a better life for Singapore - whether it's housing, health care, a better transport system, or better social safety net - and then talks about trade-offs and judgments which ministers have to make. And the people to accept at face value, he might as well add, whether they like it or not. Another repeat of the last 5 years of "my way or the highway" style of arrogance and hypocrisy.

Abraham Lincoln said this in the 1860s, "You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time." You don't have to be very old to recognise the truism here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Business As Usual

Foreign content in water supply
In a statement on Tuesday, national water agency PUB said it had confirmed that the water from Block 686B, Woodlands Drive 73 was 'safe for consumption before the supply was restored'. The town council and PUB officers went door to door to reassure residents the water was safe for drinking and advised them to run their taps for five minutes as a precaution. The body of a 30-year-old Indonesian maid was found in the water tank of the affected block on Monday16 May at around 10 am. Only her murderer can tell us how long the putrefying corpse had been polluting the drinking supply. Contamination of water sources and the resulting transmission of infection may occur in a very limited number of cases when bodies are in contact with the water system and transmit gastro-enteritis. (WHO, Water Sanitation and Health)

No statement is expected to be issued by the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources to assure citizens about the safety of the environment and water resources of Singapore. Maybe he is more concerned about floods which endangered his re-election barely a week ago. No statement will also be issued by Minster of Health about the efficacy of the washing, flushing and sterilising carried out on four affected water tanks by town council subcontractors such as Sergent Services Pte Ltd, employer of the murder suspect. Maybe he is still recovering from the blisters on his feet, after pounding the pavement to garner precious votes.

During the election hustings, opposition members took to task the security breach when two Bangladeshi port workers who dozed off in at Chittagong ended up in the Pasir Panjong Container Terminal in Singapore. Both could easily have been Al Qaeda zealots, armed with AK-47s and C4s. The water tanks at the Woodlands block could have laced with Sarin by similarly minded foreigners. No statement will be issued by the Minister of Home Affairs about the current status of homeland security, post-Wong Kan Seng complacency. As recent as 30 March, Shanmugam was challenging 29 teams from NUS, NTU and 4 polytechnics about the collaboration to come up with creative and innovative ways of improving homeland security.

After the election activities concluded on 8 May, all the ministers seem to have gone back into hibernation mode. The new cabinet line up will not change a thing. The sighting of men in white on the ground will once again be a rarity at wet markets and kopitiams.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Night Of The Long Knives

Whoa! The two old guys must have been real unhappy - they even refused to stay on as chairman, a typical post for senior executives who are kicked upstairs as reward for years of loyal service. Instead, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will replace Lee Kuan Yew be the new chairman of GIC, and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be the new chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), formerly occupied by seat warmer Goh Chok Tong.

There's no Senior Minister post in the new line up, a position which will be befitting Wong Kan Seng, given his seniority as contemporary of PM Lee (both were elected in 1984, and made ministers immediately thereafter) . Wong joins Mah Bow Tan and Raymond Lim as the casualties of the watershed election - not that anyone would shed a tear for either of them. With Mah goes the myth of affordable housing, and one million HDB owners must be losing sleep tonight over what will happen to their enhanced assets. Will the new National Development Minister, Khaw Boon Wan, start offering $8 flats? Will he start building HDB flats in Johore, Batam and Bintang?

Yaacob Ibrahim was somehow spared the guillotine, even though there were floods occurring during the election week. Not that soggy fields were any excuse for the poor turnout at PAP rallies. Maybe it was a move to appease the lingering hurt of the Hard Truth comments. The Environment and Water Resources job went to Vivian Balakrishnan. Better start praying he won't be organising the Water Olympics or something - the Marina Barrage is already another white elephant, as far as flood control goes.

It's still a puzzle why cheerleader "kee chiu" Chan Chun Sing is made an Acting Minister. The Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports must be the slot for ministers with training wheels, given Balakrishan's record. But what can a former army general do as Minister of State for the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts? Order the unruly arty-farty types to fall in line or get shot? And wasn't Heng Swee Keat destined for the finance job, given his impeccable credentials as CEO of MAS? Maybe his role in the Lehman mini-bonds is still fresh on some investors' minds. Oh, we get it, the Ministry for Education is in for another round of experimentation again, with your kids as the fresh batch of guinea pigs.

Be grateful for small mercies, it could have been worse. Janil Puthucheary could have been made Minister for Defence. Foo Mee Har could have been appointed Minister of Finance.

Truth be told, the appointment in dire need of a fresh face is that of the Prime Minister. The present one doesn't seem to quite hack it.

This Will Not Wash

PM Lee Hsien Loong was the one who invented the rule. All candidates who are contesting in the General Election are not allowed to campaign on Cooling-off Day, a day before Polling Day 7 May 2011.

PAP candidate Tin Pei Lin said on Thursday May 5, her Facebook page carried a "clarification" on reports that a MacPherson resident had been refused help for her child's tuition fees. A snide comment about her political adversary Nicole Seah on 6 May at around 1.33 pm on her Facebook read:
“OooOoooOooh so that’s what REALLY happened? Wow. I think tears in Parliament is worse than ANYTHING ELSE!”

Quicker than the reaction to Goh Chok Tong's own Facebook post about her "trauma", the comment was taken down after 20 minutes. But not before a netizen beat her to the draw.
When contacted, Tin told Channel NewsAsia one of her administrators, a Denise He, had mistakenly made the post.
"She wanted to post the comment in her personal capacity, and she was using her mobile phone. But she didn't realise that she had inadvertently posted as my profile rather than her own ... It was an honest mistake," Tin said. Instead of doing her job as official moderator, she had asked her "administrator" to remove the comment immediately. She added that she had earlier given strict instructions to her team of administrators not to make any postings on Cooling-off Day.

When Nicole Seah made an official complaint to the Elections Department, she was told to make a police report before they will take further action. It's good advice. In a court of law, Tin risks persecution for perjury if she sticks to her Kate Spade bag of lies. Any posting from a mobile phone has a unique signature. Unlike a dynamic IP address, the IMEI number is easier to trace. Denise He has to be produced in court. The act of deleting the post is tantamount to tampering with evidence. Finally, her computer or Denise's mobile will yield the tell tale electronic footprints - modern computer forensics is that good.

In the bad old days of parliament, prior to all the reforms alluded to in the GE 2011 election promises, Tin  would simply make a Mas Selamat type apology pioneered by Wong Kan Seng. And the people will be asked to please move on.

On 16 May a member of the public lodged an official police report against Ms Tin Pei Lin, elected Member of Parliament, Marine Parade GRC. Police confirmed they are investigating the offence, which carries a fine or imprisonment or both.

PM Lee made the rules. PM Lee also said at Boat Quay, "if we have to discipline somebody we will do that, and we must learn from the lessons, and never make the same mistake again." The ball is in PM's court.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

High Hopes For High Office

International Monetary Friends
Local mainstream media pulled out all stops to whip up national pride when finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was appointed head the policy steering committee of the International Monetary Fund in March this year. Speaking at The Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum, PM Lee boasted that Tharman was elected because Singapore had a high reputation as a state which worked. Little did he know about the kind of company he would be hanging out with.

The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who headed the IMF for 3 1/2 years, is but another illustration of how high office is no guarantee of moral fortitude. While Strauss-Kahn denies the brutal rape attempt at the US$3,000-a-night Sofitel New York suite, fresh revelations unfold. Socialist party official says her daughter Tristane Banon was left traumatised after an alleged attack by Strauss-Kahn in 2002. Banon consulted a lawyer, but did not press charges. "I didn't want to be known to the end of my days as the girl who had a problem with the politician." Apparently Strauss-Kahn's womanising has been an open secret in French political circles for years, even friends admit "he had an interest in women". Thierry Saussez, a former adviser to Sarkozy, said: "All this stupefaction from people is sheer hypocrisy. Everyone in Paris has known for years he had something of a problem."

The incident couldn't have come at a more inopportune time, wrecking his hopes of running for the office of President of France. Strauss-Kahn played a key role in coordinating the joint response to the emergency bailouts of Greece, Ireland and now Portugal from their sovereign-debt crises. Greece is in renewed crisis, and many economists expect a restructured rescue package for the country. However fancy his resume, economic growth is no justification for abuse of power.

Maybe Tharman Shanmugaratnam should stay home at squeaky clean Singapore, where the only shenanigans to hit mainstream media headlines were Jack Neo's casting couch techniques. And we still don't know why he called George Yeo about it. Goh Keng Swee did create a bit of a flutter in 1986 when he ditched his wife of 44 years for a younger woman. But he did resign from office to avoid staining the white party colours. With the older generation of leaders, honour was an esteemed virtue. Even as PM Lee mulls over the key appointments for his new cabinet, across the island, fingers are crossed about the recent additions to his team. The PSI of 58 on Saturday may have dissuaded Singaporeans from venturing outdoors, but the no amount of haze will deter the truth seekers on the internet.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A House Divided

MP for Jurong GRC Mdm Halimah Yacob claims the decision of MM Lee Kuan Yew and SM Goh Chok Tong to leave their Cabinet positions was "not sudden". She was speaking to reporters during a community event on Saturday. It was reported that PM Lee Hsien Loong didn't confirm that he would accept their resignations from the Government. We are told he said it's a "major event" and would like to take a couple of days to think before deciding. It looks like Halimah Yacob is the only one who is not surprised by the turn of events. Even junior was caught off guard.

When someone makes a dramatic change in career plans, there're always the push and the pull factors. Since both ministers will lose their executive perks like 24/7 Gurkha security posted outside their residences, and the phalanx of Security Officers escorting them wherever they go, pull factor has to be on the low side. They might even fret about not having access to the VVIP lounge at Changi Airport, or picking up their own luggage from the carousel, as Goh Keng Swee did when faced with the retirement scenario. Charlie Rose might not be calling for another interview any time soon either.

Halimah Yacob also fantasized that the decision was not made as a result of the election. The watershed election, as we recall, started with the shedding of copious amount of water from Lim Boon Heng's tear ducts, and it was downhill from there onwards. SM Goh made it clear at one point that the election campaign was solely under the charge of PM Lee, and no one else. It was PM Lee who distanced himself and his cabinet from MM Lee who had urged local Muslims to "be less strict on Islamic observances". And at the conclusion of the profuse apologies rendered at Boat Quay, he made it abundantly clear that "we don’t try to do it MM’s style". In an instant, he dusted off the efforts of his father's generation, relegating it to the trash bin of history - "it’s a different generation from the Singaporeans who worked with you and built this Singapore in the 1950s, in the 1960s and ‘70s" - to make way for " me, my team, and we are taking it forward ... but doing it our way".

The new internet generation and social media crowd shouldn't be hasty to take credit for the push factors. Professor Ang Peng Hwa of Nanyang Technological University, reported: "We're trying to do this research project and were trying to look for a place where a pro-PAP blogger post would blog. We couldn't find a pro-PAP blog. The only pro-PAP blog was the PAP itself!" Lest we forget, there's still a large number of baby boomers who swear by the old brand name. And one million HDB owners scared stiff about negative asset enhancement. Not to mention those Civil Service card carrying members who hesitate to be seen standing next to an opposition candidate. It would take a couple of more punches to knock the incumbents out. Like the one telling constituency members they would have "five years to repent" if they voted for the opposition.

"The retirement of LKY was long overdue, as he has been seen as disconnecting from contemporary Singaporeans," said Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at the Singapore Management University. Whether that contemporary lot refers to the population at large or within party ranks remains to be seen.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saturday Night Special

The blurb goes on to say that "After a watershed general election, we have decided to leave the cabinet and have a completely younger team of ministers to connect to and engage with this young generation in shaping the future of our Singapore."
Both Lee and Goh sure made their contributions alright - Lee with his "5 years to repent" challenge, and Goh with his share of scoring his own goals. Given the timing, barely one week after the election post-mortem, maybe it was a Saturday Night Massacre. We'll never know for sure, these guys bring their secrets to their graves.

Quitters' Row

What about net happiness?
"We thought people were happy and, in fact, walking the ground showed that people were happy with us. But the national mood, the national issues, just swept us... And when we realised (that) it wasn't just local issues but that national issues had taken priority, I thought it was rather too late", Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, 63, who was Senior Minister of State (Foreign Affairs) until booted out by the electorate, offered a familiar refrain on the Aljunied campaign.

For a "seasoned politician", MP since 1997, Zainul should have heeded the Bard's words from Macbeth, "Where we are, /There's daggers in men's smiles." He joins a chorus of sore losers who blame "national issues" for their downfall. There's nothing "national" about bread and butter issues like cost of living, affordable housing and being crowded out by foreigners, except that these are nation wide detritus of defective policy making. When BG Tan Chuan-Jin told the May 4 lunchtime rally at UOB Plaza that the ruling party has to change in order to retain the "moral authority", he only scratched the surface of a metasizing malaise in leadership. Debunking Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim's cavalier everything-is-water-under-the-bridge dismissal, Zainul Abidin Rasheed maintains otherwise: "You need only ask the Malays and Muslims in Singapore - many were hurt by those (MM's Hard Truth) remarks and remain so".

Zainul was once seconded to Mendaki and MUIS, where he was in position to provide inputs to aid a minority group. Personally, he represents a triumph over the marginal placing in a multi-racial society, thanks to being included in a higher income tax bracket. His children succeeded while their peers are still trying to play catch up in the fast paced GDP rat race. But Chinese and Indian Singaporeans have also slipped through the cracks of a jaundiced system that tend to favour the anointed elites. The income disparity will never narrow when the rich continue to be pampered with policy changes like the abolishing of estate duty, while the call for exemption of GST for essential items fall on deaf ears.

Zainul said that he is unlikely to stand for election again in 2016, but will remain as adviser to the grassroots organisations in Aljunied GRC, unless the party decides otherwise. The curious bit is his steadfast refusal to be the next Speaker of Parliament. One would think a voice in parliament has more impact in transforming society than a voice in a Residents' Committee. Perhaps he is sending a message that the wayang will go on, despite all the abject apologies and promises to reform their bad old ways. Besides, "Having not been elected, it is not appropriate for me to be considered as Speaker of Parliament." For this affirmation of personal integrity, Zainul can hold his head up high.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Money Is Never Enough For These Guys

Both George Yeo, 57, and Lim Hwee Hua, 52, have announced their "retirement from politics". Since both are below the oft quoted retirement age of 62 for lesser mortals, the question arises if both of them are eligible for "retirement benefits".

The Parliamentary Pensions Act (Chapter 219) provides for the grant of pensions and gratuities in respect of service as Members of Parliament and as holders of ministerial and other offices a.k.a. "office-holders".

The pensions in respect of office holders (which covers "Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Speaker, Senior Minister, Minister, Senior Minister of State, Minister of State, Mayor, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Parliamentary Secretary or Political Secretary") is spelled out in Section 4. A office holder may be granted a pension if he ceases at any time to hold office and has -
(a) not less then 8 years' service
(b) attained the age of 50 years

The annual amount of pension payable to an office-holder shall be one-twenty-seventh (1/27) of his annual salary in that office for every completed year of service in any office, subject to a maximum of two-thirds (18/27) of the highest annual salary of any office.

The pension granted under this section shall continue for the life of the person or until he is again an office-holder.

George Yeo has 23 years of service, office holder since 1988. Lim Hwee Hua has 15(?) years of service, office holder since 2004, when she was appointed Minister of State for Finance and Transport. Yeo is definitely "in the money" as he meets the 8 year requirement. Since his highest annual salary was drawn as a 2 million dollar minister, he is set for life. Lim was appointed minister of state on 12 August 2004, so the computation for her gratuities may fall under Section 3, "Pensions in respect of service as Member". That may be incentive to change her mind and run for office again in 2016. Unless she's satisfied with the Section 6 provisions which count her less than 8 years service in office as additional pension for Member's service.

All this money talk may have piqued you to wonder about the "old timers". Section 5 of the Act caters for those serving officer-holders who have attained 55 years of age. Provided the office holder has not drawn a pension under Section 4, he may be granted a pension notwithstanding the fact that he has not ceased to hold office. Now there's one good reason why a 87-going-on-88 year old was contesting in this year's general election.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Another One Bites The Dust

Who turned out the lights?
  Ex-Foreign Minister George Yeo told the press he's already 57 years old and would be 62 by the next general election, and would rather have a younger person to take on the important task of reclaiming Aljunied. Ex-Minister Lim Hwee Hua, a member of PAP's losing Aljunied GRC, has also declared she will not contest in 2016. She also said she will leave it for someone younger to do battle as she'll be 57. While both ministers can afford to retire early with their millions, lesser mortals are asked to work to their grave. For them, retirement is not an option.

Just as Seet Ai Mee went down in history as the first minister to lose her office in an election, Lim shares the dubious honour of being sacked by popular vote from the office of Minister, Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and Second Minister for Transport. She was made full minister on 1 April 2009, a cruel joke that lasted two years for some residing in Serangoon Gardens.

Lim polled 40% of the votes in Serangoon, her Waterloo and site of the contentious foreign worker dormitory. Over 1,600 residents out of the roughly 4,000 households in the immediate vicinity of the proposed dormitory presented a petition to Lim in 2008. During a dialogue session, which was attended by some 250 people, the residents could sense they were talking to a brick wall. She was paying lip service to the peasants, and deferring to Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan who had said earlier in the year in Parliament that, given the constraints of land, foreign workers’ dorms would eventually be near residential areas. It was the tip of the iceberg of the foreign worker influx, and we were kept in the dark.

Today, Lim said she does not believe anything she did differently in her Serangoon Gardens division would have changed the outcome of her fate. "People feel they are not being listened to sufficiently and that the party makes policies based on their intellect and does not seem to listen," she said. What she did not say was that she was part of the groupthink, and supporting Mah in 2008 would certainly not deter her promotion in 2009. Like the rest, she has mastered the art of obfuscation, masking the truth from the people, and maybe herself as well: "The Serangoon Gardens episode was a good experience – residents got a better understanding of the macro needs whilst being assured that the disamenities, if any, would be minimized, through constant interaction among all stakeholders." Cocooned for 15 years of smug self-adulation at The Party, she was enlightened only at the 9 days in May, "It is a surpirse for us that the resentment is so deep."

Lim said she'll head back to the corporate sector (last employer: Temasek Holdings). It remains to be seen if she'll ever draw the same super-sized paycheck again. But quite definitely, she can kiss the 8 months GDP-linked bonus goodbye.

Violence Against Democracy

According to the 3rd Edition of the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2010, Singapore is ranked a pathetic 82th in the world, the same rank it attained two years ago and remains classified as a ‘hybrid regime’ among the likes of Russia, Pakistan and Cambodia.

Definition of Hybrid regime: Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates my be common. Serious weakness are more prevalent than in flawed democracies -- in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. (Malaysia is ranked 71th in the world, and classified as a ‘Flawed democracy’, one rank higher than 'Hybrid regime', closer to 'Full democracies' ).

The crowd that converged at the void deck that once served as site of Chiam See Tong's Meet-the-People-Sessions were peeved residents of Potong Pasir who wanted to petition against the narrow defeat of 0.36% of the votes. Recent revelations came to light that ballot papers marked with protest messages against the incumbents were treated by the Elections Department as valid votes. Since PAP man Sitoh Yin Pin won the election by a mere 114 votes, every single ballot paper counts. These ballots are currently sealed in the Supreme Court vault for 6 months, after which they will be destroyed. The can only be retrieved by court order, to satisfy doubts that a vote has been fraudulently cast. The Singapore courts have issued no such order to date.

Advising the gathering to disperse immediately, police spokesman Humphrey Sew said, "Police then warned the parties concerned that what they are doing may constitute an illegal public assembly." In 2007 Sylvia Lim spoke against 4 amendments to Laws on Peaceful Assembly, and told parliament to distinguish between gatherings which are violent such as rioting, and those which are peaceful. Article 14(1) of the Constitution supposedly enshrines the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and without arms. Worse, pursuant to the Public Order Bill introduced in March 2009, all outdoor activities that are "cause-related" will need a police permit, no matter how many people are involved. Until then the law required a permit only for gatherings of 5 or more people. Uniquely Singapore, one person standing for his constitutional rights is defined by the law as an assembly.

The disgruntled citizenry had initially called for a by-election in Potong Pasir, then the petition changed to a call for an inquiry into the narrow margin. Chiam had this bit of advice: "If any political party wants to grow, it needs to build credibility and trust in the eyes of the people and not resort to violence and hooliganism." In the last ditch effort to salvage his electoral campaign, PM Lee Hsien Loong apologised for the mistakes under his watch and pledged to make adjustments to the system and do better, "When these problems vex you or disturb you or upset your lives, please bear with us". He didn't stipulate a time frame for the contrite acts of repentance.

In the lexicon of the incumbents, only gerrymandering and dubious electioneering innovations are tolerable acts of violence and hooliganism against the institution of democracy.

Calling It Quits

When Dhanabalan bade farewell to his staff at Ministry of National Development, he was asked what he would be doing after stepping down as minister. His reply was as fake as could be, "I'll be helping out at my church". He ends up helping Ho Ching at Temasek Holdings, wife of the guy who originated the slap that was used frequently in the election rally analogies. The same dose of scepticism can also apply to George Yeo's "need a break to spend more time with the family."

His last hurrah before polling day was all about "the importance of transforming the PAP". He claimed to have committed 23 years of service to the residents, and yet got to understand their aspirations only in the 9 days of campaigning. He quoted Low Thia Kiang saying they won Aljunied not because the Aljunied team did not do a good job, but because the voters wanted WP to be their voice in Parliament. Well, if Yeo and his team did a good job speaking up for the Aljunied residents all those years, why would they want someone else to represent their voice in parliament? For 23 years he watched his MIW comrades speak down on the citizenry, treating them as compliant fodder for their economic plans. Like them, all he cared for was his GDP linked bonus.

Yeo said he would help in" whatever way I can" to bring about this transformation of the PAP. But his offer was conditional upon the Aljunied people returning him his $2 million a year salary. No money, no honey. The term pro bono does not figure much in his vocabulary. All his fancy speeches, all his superior intellectual ideas, he was merely hawking them like the way the denizens of the night at Geylang ply their wares.

Where in Yeo's public statement did the reporters find the words to conclude "Foreign Minister George Yeo calls it quits in politics"? All he said was that, despite the wishes of his supporters, he would not stay on to win back Aljunied in five years time. Maybe another GRC, one that requires less work. He has been on auto-pilot for so long, he has forgotten how to use manual controls. Pressed by a reporter, he actually said, "So I don't think I'll ever retire from politics." Low thought he would be meeting a tiger in Aljunied, it turned out to be a pussy cat.

When Singaporeans lose their jobs, whether because of retrenchment or displacement by a foreign talent, they simply brush up their resume and plunge straight back into the employment market. They don't have the luxury of waiting around for a juicy appointment from their political master. Yeo is about to find out that private sector salaries are hard to come by for damaged goods, soiled reputations and used douche bags. The real world is quirky like that.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

No One Should Be Left Behind

When the U.S military planned the helicopter raid on Abottabad, the generals were mindful that it could end up like a bad replay of the disastrous 'Black Hawk Down' incident in Somalia of 1993. Intended or not, Nicole Seah's words in a rally echoed the valuable lesson to be learnt from the Mogadishu triumph over adversity: No one gets left behind. The soldiers cut away a whole section of a helicopter to retrieve the pilot's crushed body, to save it from desecration by the enemy.

The real life picture in Singapore's battle for the underdogs is not that pretty.

"To me, too many citizens have fallen through cracks of the social welfare net or are struggling daily even when they have jobs. What seems to be of greater concern now is the national bottom line, party interests and a respective MP's own report card, " wrote one PAP backer who voted for the opposition in his letter to the Forum page.

Overheard at a rally, was a young man's angst expressed to his friend across the barricade. The helper said he may wear the T-shirt with the party's colours, but he was conflicted internally about the plans to help the poor. This was one who swallowed the incumbent's line that GST was collected from the rich to help the poor. "You are an asset owner," he told his friend, "you understand they will have to raise taxes to fund the poor." His thesis was that the low income lot will fritter away the money directed for their financial assistance, so why waste time and effort on a Robin Hood gesture? This guy was a male version of a Wee Shu Min.

The Theory X and Theory Y explanations of human motivation created and developed by Douglas McGregor assumes the worst and best in men. Theory X assumes the average person dislikes work, has no ambition, shirks responsibility, resists change - and, yeah, needs spurs to be dug into their hides. Theory Y is the softer, kinder approach. It believes that  most people will be committed if rewards are in place to address their higher needs such as self-fulfillment. They will be self directed to their work objectives when the opportunity exists to align personal goals with organisational goals. Such people are certainly not daft, and will not appreciate being labelled thus. Unfortunately for us the bunch voted into power has different ideas about the electorate. This is what Lee Kuan Yew said in 1994, "There are not enough old people in Singapore yet. But... there will be .. when they are over 70 years old and they have run out of their CPF savings, they are going to vote for a government that promises them more."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Operation Save Our George

The gathered faithful hoping for a miracle
Xenophobia in Singapore has definitely gone awry. Calls for throwing out foreign talents culminated in chucking out a foreign minister. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bath water. But not all is lost for their boy, George.

According to a well placed mole, the generals in the cabinet (lots of them this year) hunkered down in the basement of an Oxley Rise residence, the place where all the lightning bolts originated. The initial name "Operation Thunderstorm" was rejected because it reminded them painfully of the Hammer, used by Thor the thunder god to smash his enemies. Non-uniformed types like Goh Chok Tong are strictly excluded since they tend to score in their own goals.

More was at stake here than just the fate of a fellow brigadier general. Lim Hwee Hua the first woman minister, Zainul the potential Speaker of the House and a senior minister of state, Cynthia Phua the indefatigable bouncer at Meet-the-People-Sessions, and Ong Ye Kung the newbie destined for high office. Ong was approached for the 2006 GE, but declined to honour his family's wishes. His father, former Barisan Socialis Member of Parliament was "not comfortable with it".  Unlike the cad elected into government at Pasir Ris-Punggol, Ong can hold his head high for honouring his father's contribution to the nation's turbulent birth.

The game plan is sheer genius even if it borders on the macabre.  MM Lee falls into a coma. Doctors of every expertise confer and deliver an ominous prognosis, better prepare for the worst. An unprecedented by-election is called, since this is one GRC where remaining members cannot bear the extra load. After all, who can co-pilot the founding father with his terabytes of war stories? George Yeo and his A-Team ("A" for Aljunied) comes to the rescue. The opposition senses this is a military operation, and chooses not to be flattened by 55 ton Leopard tanks.  It's a walkover, they don't even have to wait 35 seconds for the inevitable. The extra bonus is that the the rooting-tooting general is gone, whose embarrassing public appearances are outdone only by Teo Ser Luck's getai-style rabble rousing.

After all the dust is settled, and everybody comfortably sworn into parliament, MM Lee miraculously awakes from his nap. He reminds the astonished citizenry: "Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up." Mah Bow Tan chimes in with his lower HDB prices mean raiding the reserves argument. Life goes on. Oh, lest we forget, a new post is created for the reinvigorated politician - President Mentor - pays more than the Prime Minister.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's Safer In The Matrix

When General Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st Airborne defending the besieged town of Bastogne at the Battle of the Bulge, was told of the Nazi demand to surrender, McAuliffe responded with the famous retort and a morale booster to his troops: "Nuts!" Like the puzzled Germans, MM Lee must be trying to comprehend how Low Thia Khiang managed to respond to his 2006 taunt to move out of Hougang SMC and secure a GRC.

Except for that spearhead victory, and Low's protege's impressive debut at Hougang, Singaporeans may not have much else to celeberate. True, the poor showings at Goh Chok Tong's Marine Parade GRC (56.6%) and Wong Kan Seng's Bishan-Toa Payoh (56.9%) may be a harbinger of the same fate at Aljunied at the next election. Bottom line, the incumbents still garnered 60.1 % of the votes.

One of the hot button issues in this election, resonant in all the opposition camps' rallies, was the cost of public housing. Workers’ Party candidate Lee Li Lian, who contested the Punggol East SMC, took the fight to the hated National Development Minister thus, "Dear Mr Mah Bow Tan, I am sure many Singaporeans here tonight would agree with me that the length of our mortgage loan is an issue. Mr Mah, I am just curious... do you want your own child to take 30, 40 or even 50 years to repay his or her own housing loan? And I am sorry Mr Mah, I forgot you actually do not have that issue, you have the money to pay for private housing, unlike us."

But when Mah counter attacked by claiming the Workers' Party's proposal to lower land prices for HDB flats would devalue the assets of 1 million HDB home owners, he struck at the Achilles heel and hit a raw nerve. In this toxic policy of the private sector linked HDB pricing, Mah is like the drug peddler who gives free shots to get one hooked. Fearful of the pangs of withdrawal, the addicted will refuse the horrors of the cold turkey cure. Suddenly, the status quo appears more desirable than the alternative.

This year's voter turnout at 93.06% represents the lowest in more than two decades - it was 94.04 % in 2006, and 95.91% in 1991. Lina Chiam lost Potong Pasir by 114 votes (0.36%), and Charles Chong barely made it with 382 votes (2%) in Joo Chiat where the turnout was only 87.7%. There could be a myriad of reasons, including the mysterious failure of the Elections Department to send out thousands of ballot cards and vague cut-off dates to qualify overseas voters. But the fear of impending doom looms large. Never mind if the international commodity prices have already crashed, and oil price is starting to head south. And if the property bubble bursts in 2012 as predicted by some pundits, some Singaporeans would rather let nature take its course than be associated with it through a vote for the opposition's salvation plans. They seem to prefer the seduction of Mah's blue pill, instead of a rude awakening.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tears Or Jeers

Before the deluge of apologies, a flood of tears came first. If there was a pun intended, this has to be water-shed election of sorts. It's easy to see through the charade of the sorries, but what of the tears?

Lim Boon Heng
Conspiracy therories abound about his unsolicited public bawling (the reporter's question about groupthink wasn't even meant for him). Did he cry because he voted (in favour of building the casinos) against his principles? Did he cry because most of the 35,000 jobs created went to foreigners instead of Singaporeans? Skeptics say it was due to the late discovery he was kissing goodbye to a million dollar job, and may have to see his banker pretty quick about refinancing his good-class bungalow.

Watson Chong
This WP candidate said that shortly after joining the Workers Party in April 2008, his wife of 17 years threatened to leave him for signing up with the opposition party. ''If you join, I'll divorce you,' that's what she said,' recounted Mr Chong. Fortunately for the father of two children, aged 10 and 12, his family has since come round to support his political involvement. Happy endings, though rare these days, do exist in Singapore.

Khaw Boon Wan
Instead of talking about his plans for Sembawang GRC, Mr Khaw rambled on about the blisters on his feet caused by pounding the pavement (old styled campaigning instead of hitting the keyboard). Since it was the anniversary of his $8 heart bypass operation (now revised to $25,000), he regaled with stories of people he met asking if he could really handle the pace. Then, inexplicably, he choked up. He told of a "sad story" of a resident's husband who had a severe stroke two years ago that reduced him to a vegetative state. The sight of him lying in the lounge sofa, not knowing what is going on around him, must have reminded Khaw of his own mortality. Better stop and smell the flowers.

Nicole Seah
You would cry too if you heard how the financially strapped resident was refused a refund for a $80 tuition deposit. Worse, when the mother sought help from her MP, she was chided for the "small amount". Then you get angrier when the MacPherson Zone B Residents’ Committee clarified that she failed to give one month's notice for withdrawing her ward from the class. Pausing to compose herself, Seah told the estimated 10,000-strong crowd, “This is the kind of problem we have. We need a government who has a heart for Singaporeans.”

Lim Hwee Hua
The Serangoon Garden MP was heckled and accused of making her rounds only during election time. Then an incident in 2009 resurfaced, of a mentally disabled boy who had come to one of the Meet-the-People sessions in Serangoon North and slammed a chair on the door in frustration after witnessing the callous treatment meted to his mother. Lim refused to accept the handwritten letter of apology brought in later by the mother. Oh, she also accused Low Thia Khiang of being arrogant when latter responded to allegations by Lim that he mismanaged the accounts at the Hougang Town Council. What the fish was she crying about? Is she fearful of the ultimate retribution from the Almighty, that she will have to repent?

How The Ballot Is Abused

By now, everyone knows our vote is secret.

The ballot boxes are scrutinised by watchful eyes from both camps. After counting, the incineration of the sealed boxes of ballot papers is also similarly witnessed. This is the last bastion of legitimate democracy. This is a line that even moral degenerates like Vivian Balakrishnan, with his smear campaign against Christian fundamentalists and gays alike, dare not cross. The last thing he would want is a flight of Black Hawk helicopters laden with Navy Seals hovering over his residence, a reprise of their successful surgical strike at Abottabad.

Prior to the 1997 election, all votes were counted at the constituency level. To fix the opposition, there was a change to count the votes at the precinct level. This does not compromise vote secrecy, since there is still no way to determine how individuals voted. However, as Low Thia Khiang explains it, "Such a counting system allows the PAP to know which cluster of of flats or areas contained more opposition supporters so that they can redraw the boundaries to their advantage (at the next election)." This is the crux of their gerrymandering.

This was why some 22,000 voters living in the Hougang area which was part of Aljunied GRC have been moved into Ang Mo Kio GRC. What the PAP fail to recognise is that the knife can cut both ways. The batch of voters kicked around like a football could end up to be a liability for the Minister at Ang Mo Kio GRC. Their tunnel vision has always been that the electorate always vote for the Party, never mind if the team include dubious characters with shady motivations for office.

In the sample polling card for West Coast below note the designation for "polling place no." While awaiting your turn, see how HDB and private property dwellers queue at different lines. You get the idea.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Burning Questions

They could not deliver the polling card on time, but they made sure made this pack of lies (covering Cost of Living, Jobs and Income, Housing, Immigration, Healthcare and Ageing) was in my letter box. The 24 page glossy comprises a series of Questions & Answers in four languages, obviously penned by some elitist ensconced in an ivory tower. Some samples of their crap logic are listed here:

Q: Why doesn't Singapore cut the GST to lower costs?
A: Cutting the GSt will benefit the rich more than the poor.
Hard Truth: They still stubbornly refuse to accept the universal truth that GST is regressive.

Q: Why not exempt basic necessities from GST to help lower-income Singaporeans?
A: If flour and sugar are basic necessities, how about biscuits and cakes?
Hard Truth: This is exactly like Marie Antionette, when told the people have no bread, saying, "Let them eat cake!" Off with their heads!

Q:Are good jobs that Singaporeans want and can fill being taken away by foreigners?
A: From 2005 to 2008 when the economic was growing, the number of jobs for both Singaporeans and foreigners grew.
Hard Truth: Note they omitted to mention the academics' finding that more new jobs went to foreigners than to Singaporeans.

Q: Can young Singaporeans still afford HDB flats?
A: Young Singaporean families are offered several kinds of help to buy their first HDB flat.
Hard Truth: Young Singaporeans are shackled with a 20- to 30-year mortgage that depletes the CPF account meant for retirement funds.

Q; Are foreigners here driving up prices?
A: Permanent residents can only buy resale flats and do not receive any housing subsidies.
Hard Truth: Maybe the question should be rephrased: Are foreigner here driving up prices of resale flats? Subsidy for Singaporeans is not subsidy as internationally defined - A payment from government to individuals or businesses without any expectations of profit. The best way of thinking about a subsidy is as a negative tax.

Q: Is healthcare given low priority by the government in Singapore, since the country spends so much less on it than some other developed countries?
A: While the government may spend less on healthcare than other developed countries, it takes better care of citizens in many instances.
Hard Truth: That must be the instance of how Health Minister paid $8 out-of-pocket cash for a bypass operation. Read the real truth from a practicing medical professional.

Q: With Singapore's population ageing, will there be enough healthcare facilities and nursing homes to cope with the rising demand?
A: The new Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, completed last year, has 500 beds.
Hard Truth: The Khoo Teck Puat Hospital is the only new hospital that has been built for a long, long, time. Total number of beds have remained stagnant for umpteen years.

Reprise Of The $8 Heart Bypass

It all started with this blog entry by Khaw Boon Wan:
“In my recent bypass surgery, my hospital bill was largely paid by MediShield and a private Shield supplement. Medisave took care of my co-payment of the bill. My out-of-pocket expense for the hospital bill was $8 only; yes, no typo here.”

Then the press picked it up and went to town with the Minister's boast about affordability of health care in Singapore:

Naturally, many were skeptical about Khaw's claims. He did not provide further details, or a copy of his hospital bill. One blogger even attempted to work out the math. If he knew of any health insurance schemes that would be helpful for Singaporeans to arrive at similar low out-of-pocket expenditures, he wasn't about to share it. Not yet.

Days before polling day, May 7, Khaw suddenly decides to provide fresh information (just like Vivian Balakrishnan's revelations about the YOG budget). Mr Khaw clarified what he described as lies over his medical bill, that his heart bypass operation last year cost him only S$8. Khaw revealed that his total bill for a week's stay in an a Class A ward came up S$25,000. He said the "bulk" of this was paid for by MediShield and Medisave, but he did not say exactly how much. There's reason for him to keep the cards close to his heart.

During the last general election, Sylvia Lim spoke strongly against the introduction of the Means Test. Sensing public sentiment was also against the scheme, Minister Khaw shelved it. Then, after the PAP was returned to power, the Government quietly implemented the system with minimum of publicity. Many learnt of it only when presented with a hospital bill.

Khaw has a civil service card, meaning he is entitled to free medical treatment and special discounts on hospital services. He is not about to tell you that his privileges are unaffected by the Means Test, despite his multi-million dollar salary. Stop dreaming that you too can have a $8 bypass operation in Singapore.
Membership has its privileges

You Have To Repent

But when we are angry, and someone
 tries to reason with us, we reject it.
Whoa! What was that George Yeo was saying on national TV? Not only did he maliciously slice into the internationally acclaimed reputation of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, lauded by the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger, Yeo tried to obliterate what's left of the remnants of respect for the esteemed founder of Singapore. Unlike Yeo, Singaporeans in the main are well brought up by their mothers to respect the elderly, and to treat Ah Kong with kid gloves if he tends to act slightly cranky at old age. The politics of this general election just hit rock bottom.

But there it was, in print, in the mainstream media of the state paper:

"Some voters in Aljunied are so unhappy., thery are prepared to vote WP because of these grievances. When angry, some will reject rational thinking. This is why when MM said that Aljunied voters will have to repent if they vote WP, there was deep resentment. When I was having dinner last night at Blk 401, one man told me to my face that he was voting WP because of what MM said."

The above is an edited version of what Yeo actually said on TV, the Straits Times being the Straits Times. They left out the last part, when the Minister told the man he supports his stand on polling day tomorrow. In case the video is deleted, this is what was in the video record:
"You know when people are angry, sometimes they get very emotional. They lose their temper, we lose our temper, we say things, we do things, which we regret later. But when we are angry, and someone tries to reason with us, we reject it. So when MM said, "You will have to repent!" This created greater anger, greater resentment, in many people.

Last night when I was having my kway chup supper at Block 401, opposite Ponggol Park, I went round shaking hands. And one Chinese man in his forties, he said "I am voting for the Workers' Party because of what MM Lee said".

I look at him, with a certain sadness, and I said, "I respect your feeling."

Notice that in the careful choice of words, in the Gospel according to George Yeo, everyone stinks, and only he emerges smelling like roses.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where In The World Is The Polling Card

Polling is just two days away, but where on earth is the polling card? The notification over the radio tells you to call their hot line (1800-2221808) or check with the election website (http://www.elections.gov.sg/).
The nice lady at the receiving end of the hotline was kind to inform that lots of people have yet to receive their polling cards via slow mail. She did a quick check, and confirmed the details in the Register of Electors. If the polling card does not arrive by Saturday, she suggested to simply show up at the Polling Station with your identity card.

One alternative is to visit your community centre and obtain a Poll Card as shown hereunder.

Now, exactly why the Elections Department is tardy in sending out the polling cards is the mystery here. Do they want us to cast our vote, or do they just want another excuse for an apology?

Liar, Liar, Bum On Fire

You know you've wandered into a PAP rally when chairs are neatly set up in an open field. The crowd is smaller, and the audience is distinctly decades older than the targeted generation of first time voters. And the speaker on stage is crafting his words solely for the benefit of the mainstream media.

The mystery of why PM Lee didn't apologize on his himself at the Boat Quay rally was dispelled during the opening minutes of Vivian Balakrishnan's speech. He had PM Lee's approval for a revised budget of $387 million, or so we are told, up from the original estimate of $104 million in November 2007. See, all that talk about overspending is a big fat lie. The new mystery is why this number is made available only now, at the penultimate hour, the last lap before the May 7 polling date. There was no mention about this statistic when questions were fielded in parliament about the YOG debacle.  Unexplained also, then and at last night's rally at Clementi Avenue 4, was what went into the "Other Costs" of $79.8 million.

Balakrishnan concocted a story about running into a young man in a LRT train ("He never expected a Minister to ride the train") who asked him about the overspending on YOG. The snake oil dispensed: it's all about the youths. "This is the first and possibly last time an Olympic event will be held in Singapore" and "would make a big difference" to Singapore youths. The big difference as we know too painfully well is that volunteers were given skimpy packet meals (some kena food poisoning somemore) while the foreign guests feasted on gourmet buffet. Some of these helpers were practically forced marched by their teachers into "volunteering". At the end of the day, their certificates of appreciation weren't even signed by the "grateful" organizers. The signatures were photo shopped, just like the wanted posters of Mas Selamat. And the big reward for their sacrifice, a day at Universal Studios, was only good for limited hours, on limited days, and allowed for barely enough time to queue for the big rides. This is almost second nature to the man, strictly in style with his "Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court, or restaurant?" type of largess. Batteries definitely not included.

Balakrishnan said he believes young Singaporeans want respect, fairness and a land of opportunities. "If as a political party we cannot address these key needs of young Singaporeans, I think we are in trouble." That was about the only bit of honest truth in his oratory of the night. By that time, you could smell something was burning. Hot air is combustible, don't you know?