Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sorry Also Must Apologise

Bipolar disorder is a condition in which people switch back and forth between periods of a very good or positive mood and downright depressive states of negativism.  The nature and severity of mood swing episodes experienced depends on the individual; the range is often described as the bipolar spectrum.

A contrite Baey Yam Keng told parliament yesterday, "It was never my intention to undermine Singaporeans. But to those whose feelings my words have hurt, I am sorry." This is the guy who told us not to jump to the conclusion that all foreign students are like the obnoxious Sun Xu who insulted our senior citizens and insinuated that "there are more dogs than people in Singapore." In a rare moment of clarity, he mouthed, "I do not think that we can just treat all the negative sentiments towards foreigners as noise."

Just when you start to feel bad about sending him to the dog house for siding with the PRC free loader and not standing up for fellow Singaporeans, he makes you wince again by reverting to attack dog mode:
"If we care too much about what people call us, we will find it difficult to be more than the stereotype or inaccurate label. Let us be confident and quietly proud of ourselves, of what we are."

We may overlook the bad choice of words from a Chinese national linguistically challenged in the English vernacular, but Baey is the Managing Director (promoted effective 4th January, 2011) of Hill & Knowlton, a global public relations company with the corporate boast: "We create value by shaping conversations: we start them, we amplify them, we change them. We can connect seamlessly with all of your audiences." His boss, Regional President & COO Vivian Lines, must be wringing his hands why he ever let him replace Jimmy Tay, who was named PR Agency Head of the Year at the Asia Pacific PR Awards 2009. Surely a humble copywriter would have done a better job than the doggone China lover.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Food For Thought

The eatery at Teban Gardens was one of the few places where you can buy a plate of chicken or char siew rice for $2. Not exactly a balanced meal, since the only vegetable is a few slices of thin cucumber, typical hawker fare to tide over the hunger pangs until time for a more substantial meal at home or elsewhere. With such paltry ingredients, the profit margin should be quite handsome, except for the overheads. Without the airconditioning, large screen TVs and pleasant ambiance, the humble hawker may not have the volume to make ends meet.The national panel chaired by “social entrepreneur” Elim Chew for new hawker centres suggested integrating community space and childcare centres as part of the draw factor. Problem is, the cost of these extras will probably end up in the price of the meal. Don't forget, the guys in charge always remind us that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Once upon a time, hawkers were given licences on the basis they need to make a living in spite of their lack of education or better paying skills. For the rest of us, they provide a source of cheap meals. Those who can afford the XO Sauce know where else to head to. And good riddance to them.

Along the way, “entrepreneurs” have come into the picture, making money by subletting, or turning hawker outlets into restaurant chains. Food courts now boast exotic cuisine, rivalling the seafood prices at tourist trap Newton Circus. 

Here's the worry factor: NTUC Foodfare CEO Perry Ong, who is also in the same panel chaired by Ms Chew, is already eyeing the profit opportunity, “if the Government feels we could potentially add value or possibly co-run it, we will be happy to consider it.” NTUC was originally mandated as a co-operative to provide affordable groceries for the general population. Nowadays, penny pinching housewives head for Giant or Sheng Siong to stretch their dollar. Unless you are keen on fresh air flown oysters from New Zealand on sale at upmarket NTUC Finest, which aims at “bringing the fine life closer to shoppers”. You can probably pick up the XO Sauce there.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Truth Hurts

Baey Yam Keng famously declared "By the way, I am born in the year of the dog" when he dashed to the defence of PRC scholar Sun Xu. Latter was the target of much odium when he coined the other equally despicable phrase, “There are more dogs than people in Singapore.” PM Lee said being poor in Singapore is no fun, but is a dog's life any better?

The mainstream media went overboard on Sunday to paint a pretty picture of how dogs have it good in Singapore - all the abandoned animals photographed were in the pink of health. Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam got into the act when he and his wife Seetha adopted a cute puppy on Saturday at the Animal Welfare Symposium at Chong Pang Community Club - lucky pooch, it will be residing in a millionaire's home. Non-canine observers were more keen to scrutinise the Minister's number two wife, the first time anyone ever got to see her in real life, and know of her name in print.

Dogs didn't get good press in George Orwell's book. There the dogs represent the military/police. Shortly after the last revolution, several pups were stolen from their mothers and groomed and trained to protect dictatorial Napoleon from a second potential by-election revolution, and help perpetuate his rule. It is not difficult to recognise similar characters in our socio-political stage. Other animals on our little red farm have their own battles to fight.

Lesser mortals working class like the baby boomers must empathise with Boxer the plodding horse, who ended up at the glue factory after a life-time of struggle. Always portrayed as a dedicated worker, but as possessing a less-than-average intelligence, hence the constant talking down to. Occasionally the spurs are dug in for a spurt of required productivity. The novel accurately describes the horses as being "most faithful disciples" and that they "absorbed everything that they were told [by the pigs], and passed it on to the next generation by "simple arguments".

The pig in the book is Squealer, representing the Russian media, who spreads Stalin's version of the truth to the masses. We all recognise the similarities in the MSM.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Quieter One

One thing seems clear these days. If you want to hide something from the internet - you're only likely to make it more widely available, so you're often better off not stirring the hornet's nest. That's what Mike Masnick wrote about Barbara Streisand's legal effort to have the photo of her Malibu beach house removed from the internet. The futile exercise that gave us the Streisand Effect.

Do the people who hire the lawyers realize that the act of trying to repress something they don't like to read online is likely to cause it to be read by many more people, including people who may not have bothered to know about it anyway? The move by Lee Hsien Yang, younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and second son of Lee Kuan Yew, just days after PM Lee demanded a website to apologise for a post that alleged nepotism in the appointment of the premier's wife as head of Temasek Holdings, has set off a stampede of keyboard junkies scouring the internet to locate the offending bits.

Since most of the limelight has been on elder brother, little is known of Lee Hsien Yang - unlike a politician's, his personal life is his private affair. Interviewed years ago by Major Leong Choon Cheong, compiler of the book "Youth in the Army", he considered himself "more at home with numbers than with words"(page 188). He told the author, "I can't tolerate a poet friend". His wife is the one who works with words, a very talented lawyer in her own right, and daughter of Lim Chong Yah, the professor of economics who gave us the National Wage Recommendations (NWC).

Less is known about why he suddenly resigned from Singtel in July 2006, a job that paid as much as $2.2 million in a good year. "It's certainly surprising, it's not something they've been telegraphing," was the reaction then of Hugh Young, managing director at Aberdeen Asset Management in Singapore. Even more surprising was the ex-CEO's parting remark, "At this point in time I really have no idea where I will be going." When he signed on with Fraser & Neave as business consultant for $1 million, even his father was surprised: "That's not a full-time job." "Yes," he explained, "but I'm also going to manage my portfolio." So he went to Fraser & Neave and managed his portfolio, wrote Lee Kuan Yew ("Hard Truths", page 415). Life is full of surprises.

If the legal tussle had proceeded on to court, even the kopitiam crowd will have something to yak about. Unfortunately the website has decided not to "vigorously resist Mr Lee's demands", its lawyer having discharged himself after claiming to fight "in defence of the freedom of expression in cyberspace." The offending comment posted on the website has been removed, nobody knows what the fuss was all about, leaving an open field for speculators to run wild with their imagination. The frustrated keyboard sleuths, at least the pissed-off ones, swamped the website with some 300 comments, postings that were allegedly outright "defamatory and seditious." Since everything online is being purged, rumour mongering will just have to revert to the good old fashion grapevine.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Of Dogs And Men

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Sim Ann disclosed in Parliament that about 800 pre-tertiary and 900 undergraduate students from non-Asean countries are awarded scholarships to study here each year, awards costing Singapore taxpayers $14,000 for pre-tertiary students and between $18,000 and $25,000 for undergraduates. This is on top of the 150 scholarships Education Minister Heng Swee Keat earlier confirmed are given out gratis to students from ASEAN countries at the pre-tertiary level and another 170 at the undergraduate level. One of the recipients is Sun Xu from Suzhou, Chiangsu, China.

Sun Xu (孙旭) posted the following on China's microblog "Weibo" on Saturday, 18 Feb 2012.
His rant was basically about accidentally bumping into senior Singapore citizens, and ended up being the subject of angry stares and muted mutterings. Which led him to conclude, "There are more dogs than humans in Singapore.”

MP of Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng has now shown us where he stands on the dastardly aliens in our midst, "We need to reflect, are we the way that they described?"

And what exactly is that, Mr Baey? That our senior citizens are deserving of the derogative descriptive “瘪三” ? Or that Singaporeans are a "bunch of 挫逼"? Maybe he is simply in agreement with the PRC scholar that, "There are more dogs than humans in Singapore”, alluding to the 60.1% of running dogs that put him into office. Sadly, someone else also used the same pejorative on us Singaporeans.
"Mine is a very matter-of-fact approach to the problem. If you can select a population and they're educated and they're properly brought up, then you don't have to use too much of the stick because they would already have been trained. It's like with dogs. You train it in a proper way from small. It will know that it's got to leave, go outside to pee and to defecate. No, we are not that kind of society. We had to train adult dogs who even today deliberately urinate in the lifts." - Lee Kuan Yew, 1997

It is easy to see why these foreign nationals are emboldened to openly attack us, biting the very hand that feeds them. And we thought only animals are capable of such behavior.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Silver Housing Needs

One of the innovative introductions in this year's budget is the "Silver Housing Bonus". As Tharman Shanmugaratnam presents it, there's $20,000 worth of free money for the taking if one chooses to downgrade from a 3-room flat to a studio apartment. The "net proceeds" of $250,000 from the disposal of the flat can go into a CPF Life account, which pays out about $1,200 a month. So why are the senior citizens not excited about the new deal?

For starters, there's no $250,000 bonanza. The downgraders will still need a roof over their heads, and a studio apartment will cost up to $119,000 at current HDB "subsidised" prices - which include the hidden "reserves" component alluded to by Mah Bow Tan. Once again, HDB stand to benefit from the transaction, at undisclosed profit margins. The reduced sum means that the associated CPF Life payout will be nearly halved. Living space will also shrink to 45 sq meters. And there's a waiting list. Last month 's launch in Tampines saw 322 applicants for 180 units, making a subscription rate of 1.7 times.

Mrs Chua is one of those less enthusiatic about the scheme, "I like the space that I have (4-room); if I can afford to keep the flat, I would rather do it." Sociologist Tan understands the premium on living space, "Perhaps the flat is where their children will meet them on weekends and where their grandchildren are sent on weekdays, so they would still prefer to live in a larger flat." No one is looking forward to a lower standard of living, not after a life-time of toil. Others may have to hang on to their older, more spacious units for other pragmatic reasons. Their children have just started work and savings, and economic propects, are just not enough to commit to a 30 year mortgage. If every cloud has a silver lining, this ain't it.

Another reason for the lukewarm response is that the Silver Housing scheme is targetted at those with $10,000 in their CPF balance. Or less. With those kind of financial resources available, you will be hard put to find a nursing home willing to take you in for the long haul. Who says there are no poor people in a developed country?
Plan "B" would have to be the group home for the elderly, such as the one-room rental units at Pipit Road. The flats are partitioned so that each resident has his "own little corner" in the communal quarters. For all we know, Mas Selamat may have better accommodation arrangements.
Here's something to look forward to.....

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tough Parenting

More than 28 million people have seen the video. Tommy Jordan of Albemarle, N.C. responds to his daughter's profanity-laced letter on Facebook, complaining about her parents and the chores she had to do around in the house. By perforating her shiny laptop with 9 rounds of .45-caliber hollow points.

And how did the 15 year old react to the video and the demise of her laptop? “I can’t believe you shot my computer!” was the first thing she said when she found out about it. Then dad and daughter sat together and talked for quite a long while on the back patio, about the things she did, the things dad did in response, etc. (as recounted by Jordan to Anita Li of the Toronto Star)

What about all the online feedback? People were telling her she was going to commit suicide, commit a gun-related crime, become a drug addict, drop out of school, get pregnant on purpose, and become a stripper because she’s too emotionally damaged now to be a productive member of society. Her response was “Dude… it’s only a computer. I mean, yeah I’m mad but pfft.”
She actually asked her dad to post a comment on one of the threads (which he did), asking what other job fields the victims of laptop-homicide were eligible for because she wasn’t too keen on the stripping thing. You gotta luv this gal. Like father, like daughter.

Not all father-child differences are reconciled so swiftly. Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his autobiography that his father had a violent temper, and his earliest and most vivid childhood recollection was being held by his ears over a well. The 4 year old had misbehaved and ruined his father's expensive 4711 brilliantine, a hair pomade of that era. In a rage, Lee senior dragged his wayward son outside and dangled him over the well opening in the family compound at Tembeling Road. ("The Singapore Story", pg 25)

Years later, delivering the eulogy at his mother's funeral  in 1980 (Madam Chua Jim Neo/Mrs Lee Koon Choy), Lee Kuan Yew spoke of his mother's closeness to her grandchildren, highlighting in several instances a closer relationship than they enjoyed with their own mothers. Equally pointed was his omission of any reference to his father's presence and personal grief. ("No Man Is An Island", James Minchin, pg 9)

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Trojan Horse Of Sorts

"If we are not vulnerable, why do we spend 5 to 6 per cent of GDP year after year on defence," he said. "Are we mad? This is a frugal government." This was how Lee Kuan Yew justified the defence spending as necessary to resist any possible pressure from its larger neighbours, implying that there are more foes than friendlies out there.

Singapore, which has one of Asia's best-equipped militaries and ranks high internationally in per capita defense spending, raised its national defence budget by 4.3 percent on Friday. The Ministry of Defence's total expenditure for 2012 has been earmarked $12.279 billion, an increase of $504 million over last year.

In time of war, Singapore’s reservists will be activated to be cannon fodder at the frontlines. Unlike the estimated 20,000 locals every year, the foreigners and permanent residents (PRs) who make up some 36% of the populace need not undergo National Service training or be tied down to in-camp reservist commitment for 10 long years. Even Goh Chok Tong sensed there was a serious problem when a Nanyang Technology University (NTU) student once told him at a student forum: “Why must I defend foreigners? I feel that there is a dilution of the Singapore spirit in youth. We don’t really feel comfortable in our country any more.”

Therein lies the moral dilemma. Enemies are supposed to come in from outside our territorial limits. However, thanks to some ill conceived immigration policy, the foreigners are already within the city limits. As it was in Troy, the Trojan Horse had been welcomed with great fanfare. The 200 foreign construction workers who initiated a lightning strike at the premises of Sunway Concrete Products and Techcom Construction & Trading Pte Ltd demonstrated how easy it was to disrupt Singapore’s usually orderly and well-functioning daily routine. The police may have cordoned off the site of Singapore's first industrial action for many years, and barred reporters from the scene, but the world press has already reported on the fiasco. None of the foreign protestors were arrested for staging an illegal assembly.

It may be argued that the real bad guys here are the people at Manpower who allowed these migrant workers to be exploited at $2 per hour. But our cabbies are punched up by drunk Ang Mohs who fly off scot free, thanks to the HomeTeam members who turn a blind eye to the flight risks. And our women's anatomical bits are groped by similar types at $10,000 a squeeze. The fine is peanuts when country clubs like SICC are prepared to pay $30,000 a month for a non-Singaporean general manager with faked academic credentials. Even the football clubs have their share of FT cons with less than fortright business disclosures. The barbarians are definitely within the gates.

Here's the additional rub. While the dollars allocated for defence have been ramped, National Development spending, which includes monies meant for public housing and infrastructure, has been cut from $3.07 billion(FY2011 Revised) to $2,514 9 (FY2012 Budgeted). This year's budget has been billed as one to produce a more inclusive and stronger society. The question on everyone 's mind will be, who is included, and what society.
The biggest slice of FY 2012 Budget

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fun And Games

Sigh, is this really that offensive? Enough to detract the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) from cleaning up their own act, and distract the public from the investigation of MHA high ranking officers exchanging sensitive information for bedroom favours? And provide more delays "to come clean with the people what information have they got (sic)", to borrow the words of one Khaw Boon Wan.

That "Thailand is a place of little true joy" is simply a expression of what the Campus Crusade for Christ group hoped, some may say naively, to achieve in their mission trip, i.e. show them true joy, whatever that may be. Their target audience may welcome the visit, or they may not. The choice is that of the Thais - they may not receive the religious messages, but they may find the guitar strumming and sing along musical presentations entertaining. Campus Crusade for Christ is an interdenominational Christian organization that promotes evangelism and discipleship in more than 190 countries around the world. Besides the traditional one-to-one conversations about God to reach out to students, they also use mass meetings, film showings and new media, such as Google advertising. They also founded The Jesus Film Project in 1981 to translate the Hollywood film "Jesus" into 1,006 languages and shown the film in 228 nations. That's another way to spread "true joy" to other people. If you don't like it, don't attend the showing.

Besides the Campus Crusade for Christ, there are many other Christian groups on campus. All of them share something common, young undergraduate minds trying to understand religion. Not all will find it though, some may discover joy elsewhere. Should their quest for personal happiness and spiritual knowledge be quenched by the sledge hammer of the MHA?

Even within the Christian world, it's not all fun and games, joy and laughter. To give you an idea of how complicated religion can be, take a gander at this extract from a stunning guide into the source of scriptures:
"Later in the Book of Isaiah, the Sepuagint's (Greek translation of the Hebrew original text) "And I saw two mounted horsemen, and a rider on an ass, and a rider on a camel" became an embarrassment to Christian apologists but a welcome support to Muslim disputants, because it seemed to be prophesying not only that Jesus would enter into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday riding on a donkey, as the Christian Gospel described him doing in the New testament, but that he would be followed (almost exactly six centuries later) by the prophet Muhammad, who was a camel driver."
("Whose Bible Is It", Jaroslav Pelikan, Penguin Books, 2005, pg 59)
Just a passing thought: If the SCDF Commissioner and CNB Director "got religion", would they have found joy in the private company of the IT executive?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Running Out Of Patience

There is a remarkable scene in the Margaret Thatcher movie, "The Iron Lady", when Meryl Streep dresses down Anthony Head (as Lord President Geoffrey Howe) for shoddy work. Other members grumbled, "I wouldn’t have spoken to my gamekeeper like that."
The Iron Lady in action

While some may venture that the expulsion of Yaw Shin Leong is rather harsh treatment, few will excuse him for absenting himself from the Tuesday night council meeting and an opportunity to come clean before his party leaders. It's one thing to seal his lips in front of the blood thirsty mainstream media, trying to chalk up brownie points for the pro-alien people, it's another to let down those who placed good faith in him. The anguish is plain in Low Thia Khiang's affirmation that the people's interest comes first before his party's priorities, "We require our MPs to be responsible people. Although it is a difficult decision... we'll have to make it so that the Workers' Party and its MPs can stand tall and hold their heads up to take the PAP government to account."

The surprising development to this twist of events is that the Prime Minister is apparently caught flat footed. Instead of relishing to seize the day and reclaim the renegade ward, he seems hesitant to go into battle. "On whether and when to hold a by-election in Hougang, I will consider the matter carefully." Hardly the demeanor of a take charge general in command. "Under the law, there is no fixed time within which I must call a by-election," he added, as if the people has infinite patience to await an elected representative to voice their needs in parliament.

Perhaps his plate is still full, what with the SMRT unresolved headaches, CPIB probes, and people like Foo Mee Har publicly threatening to "take steps to protect my rights if it becomes necessary to do so." Lawyer Chia Boon Teck expands on latter's pugnative stance, which mirror's the recent reaction of K Shanmugam, "If anybody wants to talk publicly about somebody else, especially a public personality, then you better be careful... If what you are hinting at is based on rumours and gossip, then you are exposing yourself to legal suits." There was no legal action in Yaw's case (the expulsion is in line with party Constitution, and legal recourse is remote) , but look how rumours and gossip can bring one down. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fuel For Thought

K Shanmugam's "All are equal before the law" speech at the Rule of Law Symposium yesterday touched on corruption. Although he did not refer to any specific case, everyone in the audience knew the latter was about the two top civil servants hogging the headlines, subject of which Teo Chee Hean is steadfastly maintaining in parliament that there was "no delay" in releasing news of the CPIB coup to the information starved public. But when Teo said, "It was necessary to give CPIB time to gather evidence, seize documents, conduct interviews, etc", you bet there will be lots of speculation on the internet whether the extra time given to the CPIB will constitute "delay." As Bill Clinton will put it, "define delay".

Speculation on whether all is equal before the mainstream media brewed up another storm. A blogger wondered aloud about the MSM treatment of  the rumours concerning opposition MP Yaw Shin Leong. He got screwed because of some nutty posting by a "Scroobal". Shanmugam actually instructed Allen and Gledhill lawyers to trace and sue the pants off that character, but as the legal eagles put it, "the internet being what it is, Scroobal has been untraceable so far". All these publicity means there will be lots of speculation on the internet about what the fuss is really all about.

Apparently all the Scroobal postings have been erased. The blogger who received the lawyer's letter of advice also duly removed the comments from his website. What remains as fuel for speculation is the stuff printed by the Straits Times:
"Mr Au said that there had been "relative silence when it came to allegations swirling around K Shanmugam and Foo Mee Har at various points in the recent past.
That there were rumours is widely known, though as in the Yaw Shin Leong case, no one can point to any proof."

Man, that really takes the cake. We are told if we read it in the Straits Times, it has to be true, but K. Shanmugam and Foo Mee Har in a same story? Anyone with an imagination that wild surely deserves an Oscar for creative script writing. I think there's enough speculation even for the most avid of internet addicts. It looks like Yaw was wise to say, "We do not comment on rumours".

What the lawyers say is not okay to say

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Sin In Singapore

The landline comes free with the internet access package, but we seldom bother to pick up the hefty the phone books from the collection centres. Now they deliver the Yellow Pages section to our door step. See what is listed under "Entertainment-Escort".

Whether it was such an ad that led to the downfall of the principal from Pei Chun Public School is any body's guess. What we do know is that prostitution is legal in Singapore. Officially, places like Geylang are DRAs - Designated Red-light Areas - where presumably, a female in financial straits may sell access to her private portals to pay off the utility bills, town council charges, or the HDB 30-year mortgage. Males, unhappily, do not have the recourse. What they have is 377A.

The tricky part is that the marketing of the goods falls foul of the law e.g. pimping of the services is illegal (as is public solicitation). Wikipedia defines a pimp as an agent for prostitutes who collects part of their earnings, which amount to 60 to 70 percent of the $70 - $200 charge for "basic services" in the current Singapore context. The pimp may receive this money in return for advertising services, physical protection, or for providing (or in some cases monopolizing) a location where she may entertain her clients - such as budget hotels in Geylang, Balestier or Joo Chiat. Now, if the pimp chose to advertise the said services with Yellow Pages, will the latter be consider part and parcel of the modus operandi? Maybe someone should ask Mah Bow Tan, who is now Chairman of Global Yellow Pages Ltd. For all we know, all those shady budget hotels were built during his tenure as Minister for National Development. Erected at a faster pace than public housing for the poor.

It is common knowledge that, in practice, the police unofficially tolerate the operation of, and monitor a limited number of brothels. The only requirement is that prostitutes at such establishments have to undergo periodic health checks and must carry a health card when the boys in blue come a calling. There's no law for the ladies in waiting to carry their passports with them at all times. Section 376B of the Penal Code stipulates that dalliances with anyone under 18 faces potential jail time for up to 7 years. Buyers beware - especially you guys in the education and uniformed service!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bedroom Secrets

Discovering that Santa Claus does not exist may have been traumatic for kids, but adults are not spared from disillusionment with the subject of their hero worship either.

Mahatma Gandhi's unusual practice of sleeping nude next to nubile, naked women - in some cases, his young relatives - to test his restraint is documented in biographer Jad Adams' "Gandhi: Naked Ambition" (Quercus, 2010) . "Abnormal and unnatural" was how the first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, described Gandhi's advice to newlyweds to stay celibate for the sake of their souls.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King engaged in extramarital affairs, Ralph David Abernathy acknowledged in his 1989 autobiography "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down"(Lawrence Hill Books, 2010). He wrote: "We all understood and believed in the biblical prohibition against sex outside marriage. It was just that he had a particularly difficult time with that temptation." The FBI did put together a tape of the indiscretions caught on camera and accidentally - some said deliberately - sent it to Martin's wife, Coretta.

John F Kennedy's legendary appetite for female companionship has now been updated with a memoir written by then 19-year-old intern cum mistress Mimi Alford, now 69 ("Once Upon a Secret; My Affair with President John F Kennedy and Its Aftermath", Random House Audio, 2012). Putting aside the graphic details about their liaison, some interesting revelations have surfaced. At the height of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy confided in his lover he was prepared to blink first: " I'd rather my children were red than dead." Even in bed, he was thinking of his country's future.

But when special prosecutor Kenneth Starr went after Clinton's affair with his intern, his infamous report became viral as a pornographic document on the Internet. He may have claimed that "it is unfortunate, but it is essential", that many details revealed highly personal information, many of which were sexually explicit, the end result is that the villain looked more victimised than his purported victim. In 2004, Starr expressed regret for ever having asked the Department of Justice to assign him to personally oversee the Lewinsky investigation, saying "the most fundamental thing that could have been done differently" would have been for somebody else to have investigated the matter.

Investigative reporters should take note, sometimes a better recourse is: "don't ask, don't tell." All that prying about the bedroom habits of high ranking civil servants and "allegations of serious personal misconduct" is now unearthing an online prostitution ring involving a handful of public servants, some say as many as 80, mostly from the education and uniformed services. Well, they do have lots of money to spend, thanks to the generous compensation packages crafted by the Public Service Division.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Money Makes The Academic World Go Round

Dorothy Rowe is an internationally renowned psychologist whose book, "Why We Lie", has many lessons worthy of contemplation. In both private and public life, says the notes on the cover jacket, we damage our selves with our lies, and damage other people. Lies destroy mutual trust, and fragment our sense of who we are.

In 2008 Rowe was invited to become an honorary professor at London Metropolitan University (LMU), and the staff who invited her made sure she was paid for her work. However, by May 2010 the university was in financial straits, something to do with their awarding the Dalai Lama an honorary degree, and there was no money to pay her. Rowe agreed to work for free. Needless to say, the staff at NUS are of a different persuasion. There, the credo seems to be, no money, no teach.

The National University of Singapore is asking permission from the Ministry of Education (MOE) to increase university tuition fees for the new academic year 2012-2013. While the details of their submission are not available to the public, two justifications have come to light.

The politically correct pitch goes like this:
The money would serve to increase financial aid for needy students. Targeting students from the bottom 20% of households in terms of average income per family member, bursary funding for needy students will be increased from $5 million to $9.5 million, starting from academic year 2012-2013.

The word from the horse's mouth is like this:
We quote the NUS Provost, Professor Tan Eng Chye: “I think all of us, when we work in a company, we all yearn to see some salary adjustments every year. So do all the faculty staff.” 70% of NUS’ budget is spent on the salaries of the faculty staff.

And we thought the focus of the tertiary institution was to teach. Why is the academic institution involved in charitable causes, when we have a national budget to address the needs of the poor? NKF's TT Durai tried to get rich that way, and look what happened to him. Perhaps the recent instance of how the Public Service Division made many civil servants happy with a mere stroke of the pen has triggered a wave of self justifying entitlements. That plus how the Ministers can still afford their bungalow, cars and domestic helps inspite of a purported wage cut. Monkey see, monkey do.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Selfish Reasons

Seriously, I don't know what to say about this.

Following the footsteps of the Woodlands group who objected to the building of an elder-care centre at the void deck of their HDB blocks, residents at Toh Yi estate were protesting last evening against similar intentions for a plot of land at the junction of Toh Yi Road and Toh Yi Drive. Plans for the construction of 130 studio apartments were announced last month, before heckles were raised at Woodlands. Designed to be fitted with senior citizen friendly grab bars and anti-slip tiles, these apartments are open for application only to those aged 55 and older. To many, it brought back haunting images of the notorious death houses at Sago Lane.

Said retiree Loh, 66, "These old people are living there alone. It's almost as if they are sent there to just wait to die."

To appease the objectors, HDB explained that the block will have a playground and exercise corner on the second floor, which will be open to all residents in the estate. The facility will have a place for the young and the old. Cringing before the loud noises raised, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Sim Ann made the token support argument, "every existing amenity is precious to our residents." She was referring to the $120,000 spent by the town council to build the jogging track and garden at the same plot of land just last year. Another instance of what the right hand of the government not knowing what the left hand is doing. She added, "I fully understand why some residents may be reluctant to see these go - in fact, having invested effort and resources in the site, we in the grassroots feel exactly the same way."

Lest you think the Toh Yi crowd has a genuine supporter in their ranks, here's what Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohammed really feel: "Some think that the Government will try to appease residents who didn't vote for them. But it will be dangerous if the Government gives in to populists demands." The brigadier general also made some pleasant sounding remarks about Bukit Brown, but the bull dozers are still moving in.
No Country For Old Men

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pay Hike! Pay Hike!

The Public Services Division implemented a 5 to 15 percent pay hike for civil servants "where their salaries needed adjustment to remain competitive and keep pace with the private sector." The XO sauce,oops, MX grade, officers who are benefiting from this benchmarking exercise are:
  • MX11 and 12  grades - young officers to middle managers drawing $3,000 to $7,000 - get 10 percent;
  • MX10 and "just below 9" - deputy director types drawing $6,000 to $10,000 - get 5 percent;
  • MX9 grades - those drawing above $11,000 - no adjustment needed since they are already getting private sector salaries for doing public sector work
In its typical opaque manner, the PSD said it has "selectively made salary adjustments for some generic schemes of service" in February 2012, without specifying what those schemes are or the number of civil servants who will be receiving the extra pay. Also not disclosed is who will be entitled to the top 15 percent hike.  Presumably it will the non-graduate officers in the lower and middle rungs of  the management support scheme whose pay starts at $1,600. Nobody knows for sure.

No wonder Gerald Giam was all befuddled when he thought the MX9 scheme was a straight forward salary scale, not tempered by some secretive formula tweaked to suit the political climate of the day. He said information about the MX9 salary scale was something "we are not privy to". Neither are we, the taxpayers, Mr Giam.

Meanwhile in the real world of the private sector, the 2012 Hays Salary Guide is saying that the Singapore workforce can expect an average salary increase of between 3 and 6 percent this year. It looks like they won't be having their chye tow kuay at Peach Garden outlets.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Value Of Friends

During the launch of book Men-In-White book, one of the authors mentioned taking Dr Toh Chin Chye for a car ride around town, and he asked what was the spiky looking building at Esplanade Drive. This was sad. Was this how the founding chairman of the richest political party in the world lived out his last days?

Dr Toh Chin Chye 1921 – 2012
Thanks to the account of former journalist Pang Cheng Lian, we are glad to learn that he had friends who bothered to hold monthly lunches with him. And put up with a cantankerous old man with a failing memory. The people who cared for his company included former MPs Ho See Beng, Robin Sim, and ex-colleagues in the Cabinet, Ong Pang Boon, Lee Chiaw Meng, Tang See Chim, to name a few.

These are guys with personal knowledge of Toh's contribution to the nation, not third party accounts. The man who could have been Prime Minister on two momentous occasions. Once on 17 July 1961, when Lee Kuan Yew wrote him that the trade unions, the Middle Road Crowd, wanted Lee to resign and Toh to take over as the Prime Minister. Then again in 1964, consequent to race riots in Singapore and Malaysia, when Lee offered to resign, purportedly as an attempt to defuse the strained relations between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Extremists from UMNO (United Malays National Organization) were demanding the Tengku should arrest Lee and prevent him from causing more political mischief and ethnic tension in Malaysia. In that eventuality, Toh or Dr Goh Keng Swee would have been the next logical choice to become Prime Minister of Singapore.

Straits Times wrote that " is caricature to say personal bitterness drove him into embarking on a late career as a vocal critic", implying he was unhappy for being booted out of cabinet prematurely at age 59. We believe his outrage stemmed from the shoddy treatment of faithful stalwarts who stood by the party during the nascent trials of nation building, only to be cast aside like used douche bags to make way for technocrats parachuted in. Hear his words from an 2002 interview:
"You don't repay their loyalty by throwing them out suddenly. They have no jobs to go to... We have the responsibility to help them find another job."

It is said his physical deterioration accelerated with the demise of his wife, and then adopted daughter. In the end it is the love of human beings that sustain life, not pecuniary pursuits.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Drivers For Motivation

Barely one year in office, and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat has picked up the nasty habit of sliming Singaporeans in public, the demeaning trait of Goh ("quitter") Chok Tong and Lee ("daft") Kuan Yew. He is telling everybody that young Singaporeans need more drive.

Well, at least some young guns are motivated enough to refute the Minister,
"I feel it's a sweeping statement to say that Singaporean students lack drive," (2nd year Ngee Ann Polytechnic student, 23);
"I feel that Singaporeans students have drive. .. towards choosing well-paying jobs as has been ingrained into them from a young age," (2nd year NUS student, 20);
"I am driven by my desire for happiness, which comprises a stable income and job I'm happy with," (Film and media studies student, 18).
Surprise, surprise - the one who disagrees most with Heng is a foreign visitor from Australia, "I feel that the students here have enormous drive. They are highly motivated to do well.  It surprises me, really. They are more motivated compared with Australian students." Good on ya, mate, thanks for the ringing endorsement!

The European CEO Heng quoted was reportedly shocked by the alleged Singaporean response, "What if I fail? Will I still have a job? Is there a support system and do I get retrenchment benefits?" Doesn't that sound remarkably like the lines used to justify the million dollar ministerial salaries? That money will take care of the uncertainties of the political arena? Maybe that CEO should have talked to real lesser mortal Singaporeans instead of the typical invitees to the Istana tea session. Or some of his own countrymen caught up in the throes of the European sovereign debt crisis.

It beggars to ask, is there such a thing as "noble" motivation or drive? Don't embarrass our local sportsmen and women with that question. Theirs is a carrot dangling in front of the goal post - real gold to strive for at the SEA games ($10,000), Commonwealth Games ($80,000) and Olympics ($1,000,000).

Heng didn't spell out for his listeners what actually drives him and his comrades. The following table with numbers from the Andrea Ong article ("What price a minister? 42 years of controversy") may provide the clue for the source of their motivation and drive.
(* where monthly figures are not available, reported annual pay is divided by 12 months - who can keep up with all those bamboozling bonuses?)
Monthly SalariesMinister PayPM Pay

Thursday, February 2, 2012

SMRT Numbers Game

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced that SMRT has awarded contracts worth about $600 million comprising:
  • additional NEL trains - S$234.9 million
  • additional CCL trains - $134 million
  • re-signalling of the NSEWL - $195 million
  • signalling of Tuas West Extension - $40.3 million
The SMRT revenue for the three months to Dec 31 2011 alone is $268.2 million, which means the projected income for a whole year is likely $1.07 billion or more (FY2011 revenue was $969.7 million). Easily pays for the long overdue equipment purchases to address the current operational shortcomings. Assuming the assets are depreciated over 10 years, it will cost them only $60 million a year.  According to Lui Tuck Yew's LTA logic, it appears that SMRT only operates the trains, so the bill is not even picked up by them. However, the depreciation charges will come in handy for net profit calculations.

Another intriguing number to note is that the operating expenses posted for same quarter ending Dec 31 is $227.7 million, of which repairs and maintenance expenses amount only to a pathetic $20.9 million.  Which suggests that the hardware is hardly given top priority by the management in charge. The SMRT 2010 annual report shows similar figures, $79.2 million for the whole year for repairs and maintenance, or about $20 million per quarter. No wonder the trains are breaking down.

The EBITA margin was 32.5% for FY2011, the corresponding net profit margin being 16.6%. Huge juicy profits made from the long suffering commuters who have no alternative public transportation system to turn to.

The employee statistic tells another interesting story: number of employees went from 6,102 in FY2002 to 6,565 in FY2011, about 7% growth over 9 years. But "Staff and related costs" jumped from $184m in FY2002 to $313.6m in FY2011, a jaw-dropping difference of more than 70%. Obviously some people there are getting awfully rich. Make no mistake though, this is not the Melbourne-based bus company who paid out millions in bonuses to its staff for loyalty after owner Ken Grenda profited from selling the family business.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Radical Solutions Needed

Two questions on social inequality and mobility that came up during a Singapore Management University (SMU) forum on Tuesday night are worth highlighting.

Third-year student Ms Mathew said the Primary 1 registration system creates an uneven playing field for children as places are given first to those who live near the schools and whose parents are their alumni. She asked if the Education Ministry had plans to tackle this issue.

SMU alumnus Ong said he observed at a neighbourhood school that several students were too poor to buy red-and-white outfits to celebrate National Day, and asked if the Government had a clear policy on addressing the issue of social inequality.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, as expected, did not provide pertinent answers, but laid on the blame with a broad brush on Singaporean parents. He said: "Honestly, if parents' mindset is that there is only one good school in this place, whatever system of allocation, whether by proximity, by pure balloting, by whether you volunteer and all, that will not have any good outcome." Heng had his party issued blinkers on, ignoring the elitist elements in the school system.

He may not admit it in public, but not all schools are created equal. Even teachers are assigned according to their personal assessment by superiors - the less favoured being doomed to the neighborhood establishments where gangs proliferate and girls hawk their services for extra pocket money. A principal once told us not all the students at her school are wearing the new uniform just introduced because many could not afford the expense, and at least 800 were in arrears with the school fees. Needless to say, there were no posh cars in sight waiting to pick up their wards. A neighborhood school is not a place where you see maids carrying the kid's school bag.

Maybe we should just do away with the brand names, and just number them as Primary School 32, Secondary School 45 or Junior College 88. And buy lots of those American yellow buses to transport the students to schools all over the island, regardless of race, language or postal district codes.