Friday, August 31, 2012

Justice And Equality, Progress For Our Nation

There were lots of surprises when Chief Justice (CJ) Chan Sek Keong announced his retirement in November.

CJ Chan has served as Chief Justice for only 6 years, compared to his predecessor Yong Pung How's reign of 16 years. His successor Sundaresh Menon, 49, was Attorney General for only 21 months. He was appointed Judge of Appeal just one month ago. Since the mandatory of retirement for a Chief Justice is 65, Menon will be around for at least another 15 years.

Among his many accolades, Chan was lauded for being a champion of good judicial sense. In 2002, NSman Chong was charged with being in possession of a car while under the influence of alcohol. What actually happened was that he was drinking a beer in his father's car, parked near the family home, and dozed off. The engine wasn't even running. The Singapore Police Force has a perverse sense of humour. When Chong was caught for DUI in 2009, he faced jail time as it counted as a second offence. In a rare instance of the spirit of the law triumphing over the letter of the law, Chan ruled that the previous conviction was a weak antecedent to justify a jail term for the case at hand, adding that if Chong's story raised "a question of reasonable doubt, then he ought to be entitled to that doubt".

Unfortunately doubt was not the issue in 1997 when the Workers' Party complained to the police that Goh Chok Tong, Tony Tan and then Brigadier-General (NS) Lee Hsien Loong were seen inside the Cheng San GRC polling station on Polling Day. Directed by Law Minister S. Jayakumar to provide a formal opinion, Chan, as Attorney General of the day, submitted that  "while it is illegal to be within 200 metres of a polling station unless you are voting, if is not illegal if you are inside." It was one of those make-or-break career moves. If an offence was indeed committed, Goh Chok Tong et al could have been barred from contesting an election. When you're right, no one remembers. When you're wrong, no one forgets. Too bad.

A curious aside is that we now have a Chief Justice, a Law Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister cum Minister for Finance from the Indian minority. All we need now is a new Attorney General to be appointed from the same ethnic group, and Singapore will be truly ready for an Indian Prime Minister. Our multi-racial nation has progressed far indeed, although one cantankerous old coot may not be excited with the pace of development.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Starting Them Young

Parents attending the "graduation" function of a kindergarten typically get to see their kids dressed up in costume, going through a song and dance item for the annual concert. It's the culmination of their education, meaning their darlings were rehearsing the whole year for that one performance. That's 12 months at $500 a month or more.

At another end of the spectrum, one Japanese school actually makes the kid do math homework and master the times tables. As in memorising 1 x 12 =12, 2 x 12 = 24, etc. The parents who subscribe to this hot housing believe their children’s brain development can be boosted through early reading, flashcards, language tapes and exposure to classical music. Mom probably had an iPod taped to her tummy when junior was still inside, bombarded by muzak 24/7.

Start them clapping young
“Play is one of the most cognitively stimulating things a child can do,” says Megan McClelland the early-childhood-development researcher at Oregon State University quoted in the New York Times article mentioned in this year's National Day Rally (NDR) speech. A simple game of touching heads and toes, according to the experts, develops the cognitive functions for a preschooler, including focus and attention, working memory to remember rules, mental flexibility and self-control. The Oregon State study claims that a child’s ability at age 4 to pay attention and complete a task were the greatest predictors of whether he or she finishes college by age 25.

There's only one small problem. Nowadays, our teachers expect starry eyed primary one kids to know the alphabet and be able to write their names in English and Chinese on their first day of school. That's when parents start to hit the phone book and hunt down tutors to prepare them for the Gifted Education Program (GEP) shortlisting. The disconnect is big, huge even. Play here means getting a high score at Angry Birds on the iPad. When they are still in the pram.

Don't be harsh on the parents. When they see the Mandarin scholars make brigadier general in double quick time, hoisted into parliament or a CEO seat in a GLC, all on the basis of their paper resume, the examination grade becomes the all encompassing holy grail. Even when these white horses fail in their assignments, say blow up a budget spectacularly or cause havoc in the supply and demand of housing/hospital/transport, they are never sacked. They are merely moved laterally to another similar paying position. Meritocracy rules. If their kids have to master touching heads and toes, they better score an A for that. And if they have to master clapping, it better end up being invited to clap on cue at the exclusive NDR speech. Never mind if the jokes are not even funny.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Singletons Also Have Rights

According to an article in the Economist ("The attraction of solitude", Aug 25th 2012),the single lifestyle is a growing force that cannot be ignored.

Even in traditionally conservative countries like the United Arab Emirates, 60 percent of women over 30 are unmarried. Half of American adults are unmarried, up from 22 percent in 1950. Nearly 15 percent live by themselves, up from 4 percent. The march of singledom is global. Research firm Euromonitor predicts that "singletons" will form the fastest growing household group in most parts of the world. It is anticipated 48 million new solo residents will be added by 2020, an increase of 20 percent.

In Singapore, most singletons are staying with their parents, primarily because their own housing needs have long been neglected. Only those above 35 are allowed to buy from the rip-off resale market. Like most policymakers worldwide, our planners also tend to ignore singletons, saving the best of tax incentives and housing grants for benefit of the married only.

Until now. Housing Minister Khaw Boon Wan has been tasked to "look actively" into whether singles should be allowed to buy built-to-order (BTO) flats directly from HDB. Unfortunately the camera did not zoom in on Khaw's face when the announcement was made. We'll never know if he was as surprised as the rest of the nation, whether concrete plans are in place or it was just nebulous promises in the style of Microsoft vaporware.

Thanks to the lack of specifics - the prime minister has this habit of palming off devilish details to his ministers - there is already ugly talk of setting limitations for singletons, e.g. smaller flat sizes, non-mature estates, second tier queues. While they are at it, why not bring back the Lee Kuan Yew suggestion of two electoral votes for the married, one vote for the singles? As Assoc Prof Straughan rightly put it, "housing is a basic need... you can't deny a Singaporean of a basic need just because they don't conform to the ideal family types."

The country is already divided over xenophobia and racial issues, do we need another fissure by discriminating against the singletons? Lest we forget, they do pay taxes, and the males have completed their national service obligations. And we don't mean by saving babies' lives in the hospital.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Another Half Baked Solution

The wife was already in 18 hours of labour, the doctor suggested a Caesarian to relieve her suffering. After the delivery, she was groggy and feeling nauseous from the effects of the epidural. C-section patients typically stay in the hospital for 2 to 4 days before going home. He was carrying the newborn to his bed ridden wife, too weak to reach out to the bassinet, when the office called. "Your wife gave birth already? How come you not back in the office?" That was when he swore never to work for another Japanese firm again.

The "Entitlement under Child Development Co-Savings Act" stipulates that an eligible employee is entitled to absent herself from work 4 weeks immediately before and 12 weeks immediately after delivery, totalling 16 weeks. The prime minister is now pondering whether to convert part of the 16 weeks for paternity leave. Currently most of the private sector companies allow 2 days' off to distribute the traditional cakes to announce the newbirth.

The UK offers additional paternity leave (APL) of up to 26 weeks' leave to care for the child, on top of 2 weeks of ordinary paternity leave. The US offers 12 weeks unpaid parental leave but individual states provide more and some are paid. Most US companies include it in their contracts. Australia now offers paternity leave if you have given birth or adopted a child since 1 January 2011, subject to compliance with their "Work Test" as set out by legislation.

Get real. Most employees in Singapore, male or female, regularly forgo their annual leave entitlement because of work commitments. Some are allowed to rollover their due for one year, some are compensated monetary equivalent in lieu of holidays missed. The HR professional with 20 years' experience in multinational firms states the case when he said it had been a challenge to get Singaporean men to take childcare leave. The Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) highlighted that men are already spending time from the workplace for reservist training, do we need another excuse for a foreigner to take away a Singaporean's job?

With pre-school requirements in the cards, the cost of raising a child had just been hiked. New tuition center scams will no doubt sprout to cater to this new market of pre-schoolers. Mom definitely needs her rest from the physical labours of bringing life to this earth, but dad has to make sure he has a job to pay for the additional expenses. Not everybody works for NTUC where they can afford to park non-productive staff who fail to be elected at by-elections. You don't have to be a negativistic one-eye dragon to see that more problems are being created by the cockaminny "solutions" to address the total fertility rate. The elephant in the room is this 8 million population target the planners have yet to justify. The difference between a country and a city is that you can breathe fresh air more freely in the country, instead of suffocating in the city's toxic fumes. Death by asphyxiation is a painful way to fold up.

Monday, August 27, 2012

All Sound And Fury, Signifying Nothing

The indelible image from the National Day Rally (NDR)speech was a poor girl squashing herself into her seat by the wall, hoping it will open up and swallow her whole to spare her the embarrassment of her life. The other cringe worthy moment was the yarn about an 87 year old auntie shooting 50 hoops every morning at Teck Ghee. Maybe Lance Armstrong should have adopted her porridge and Horlicks diet instead of performance enhancing potions.

The NDR delivery was supposed to be our equivalent of the American State of the Union address. Once upon a time Lee Kuan Yew used it as a powerful platform to launch his epochal plans for the nation, such as the stop at two(1960s - stop making babies) and graduate mother(1983 - start making babies) policies. Sometimes he would use the occasion to remind Singaporeans who's in charge "‎..and even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me to the grave and I feel that something is going wrong, I'll get up!" (NDR 1988).

Whatever you think of the man, you'll have to give him credit for the painstaking effort he puts into his epic presentations, loaded to the gills with supporting statistics and gee whiz graphs. Not flaky stories that strain at credibility. This is one guy who won't ask you the irritating question, "What do you think?" Enthralled, the nation would watch in fascination, as he expounds on the future from his helicopter visionary perspective. That was the glorious past. Sit warmer Goh couldn't deliver a decent speech to save his own life. Now the Son needs additional support to stand before the nation. For the record, remote control aeroplanes and robotic toys are no big deal when Curiosity has landed on Mars by deploying a parachute and firing its thrusters remotely 78,341,212 kilometers from home.

The contributions from the supporting cast Heng, Wong and Halimah Yacob are so forgettable it's difficult to recall anything they said. Except to remind you, especially for the two newbies undergoing on the job training while drawing full pay, that they desperately need our input (the so called National Conversation) to figure out what to do for the next lap. Halimah Yacob missed the opportunity to enlighten the country, doomed to fold up because of the dismal total fertility rate, how she raised five kids, and still managed a successful well compensated career.

How can there be hope, heart and home when when the real issues - foreigner, infrastructure, housing, transport and healthcare - are still outstanding? Home now is for the Vietnamese who took up a place in the university while a Singaporean had to go overseas for her degree, stretching her father's finances while his taxes are used to fund the foreigner's board, lodging plus tuition fees. The heart is surely misplaced when the GST voucher entitlement, intended to offset the regressive GST, is skimped to one per household, while there are no limits to splurging on designer office chairs and folding bicycles. The only hope for us is that the audience, nodding and clapping on cue like a City Harvest Church congregation while their pastor tells them Jesus was rich because the Roman soldiers fought over his undergarment, is not representative of the country's born and bred.

No wonder dad wasn't seated among the chosen faithful in the audience. Now, don't you anonymous bloggers start another rumour about his health. Most likely he was taking a respite from his daily 100 laps in the pool.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Unnatural Goings On

Major Bill Shaw (author of "Kill Switch"), thrown into a Afghan jail for a trumped up bribery charge, was relieved to learn that homosexual activity at his prison was punishable by the guards. Until he discovered that the Taliban considers the "recipient" as the guilty party, not the "initiator." From that perspective, our 377A is more brutal. Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.

Tan was initially charged under Section 377A. The extract from the Court of Appeal judgement says that one unwanted effect of Section 377A is that it may also make criminals of victims. It cites three examples:
1) A man subjected to domestic abuse by his male partner;
2) A man sexually assaulted by another man;
3) A man who was robbed after having sex with another man.

Justice Rajah said it is no comfort for the Attorney General to assure that persons issued with stern warnings under Section 377A are "for all intents and purposes, left alone". After all, the good judge added, no minister "has gone so far as to state that there will be no enforcement of Section 377A."

Come to think of it, no minister has gone so far as to state that there will be no detention of political enemies under the Singapore Internal Security Act (ISA). All Teo Chee Hean cited in his justification of the ISA in his Parliament Speech of October 2011 was "civil disorder and disturbances and defiance of the law to threaten stability, order and security." That must be the ultimate catch all phrase for every infringement of the law imaginable under the sun.

The curious part of the Court of Appeal judgement has this bit about how the provision "affects the lives of a not insignificant portion of our community in a very real and intimate way." Does that mean there are more poofters (read "unapprehended felons in the privacy of their bedrooms") around than before? Is that the real reason total fertility rate is down? My neighbour has a simplistic argument why homosexuality is unnatural: the natural order of sexual union is procreation.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Define Legal

One of the memorable quotes from Susan Lim's lawyer was to ask if there is a law against making profits. The Singapore answer to that one seems to be: it depends on who is raking in the millions.

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) finally suspended surgeon Dr Lim from practising for three years and fined her $10,000.  All because her rich patient, reputed sister of the Queen of Brunei, didn't quibble about the bills before she succumbed to her breast cancer. Her surviving relatives did.

Before you reject the doctor's submission that the SMC had  made "errors in law and errors of fact", consider her argument that Singapore has no guideline on the maximum fee that a doctor can charge a patient, charges that are mutually agreed upon between doctor and patient before treatment can commence. Consider also the compensation of a high earning professional like Lim is used in the benchmark to compute the ministerial salaries. Which also has no maximum ceiling.

The hot seat again
There is also no ceiling for the amount spent on a office chair. The Attorney-General Chambers (AGC) is defending it's purchases of Herman Millers by explaining that it had "complied with all relevant procurement rules and best practices for its procurements." If these guys don't know the law of the land, who does? Even SPRING (an agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry), who paid $650 instead of the $597 charged by the same vendor to AGC, is coughing up the same justification - that the agency has "adopted the best sourcing approach" - to make it sound all perfectly legal.

Legalised corruption is still corruption, or as the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) presents it, low corruption doesn't mean there's no corruption. The CPIB spokesman said, "The fundamental building block is to make sure people have the right values and ethics..." Now that's more difficult to define.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bicycles Are Not Cars

Once upon a time, when Singaporeans were a wee bit less uptight, they used to laugh at themselves. The well worn joke about bad drivers (typically told by non-drivers) is that they tend to be old, female or Indian. But the worst driver of all is an old Indian woman. In current context the stand up comedian will be hauled up in court for being sexist, racist and downright disrespectful to our senior citizens. Don't expect the Law Minister to go to bat for you.

The reality today is that it's a jungle out there on our roads. When a motorist toggles the turn indicator, it means he has just executed a turn, not merely expressing an intent to make a turn. Forget about maintaining 6 car lengths behind the front vehicle when travelling at 60 kph - nature abhors a vacuum. Even when you are the model road user, always staying in lane, maintaining speed limits, there's no guarantee some red Ferrari won't collide with you for an insurance claim. Given such stressful driving conditions, does the motorist really have to put up with a 1.5 metre cycling lane on our already narrow, congested roadways?

Granted, more may have to downgrade from four wheels to two, given the relentless climb of the COE, but there is this potential health hazard of breathing the incomplete combustibles from the automotive exhausts. Cycling can be a pleasurable form of exercise, when the routes are at recreational parks or outlying nature reserves where the air is fresh and clean. Only idiots and retards will peddle downtown, at the peak of rush hour traffic, wallowing in the toxic fumes. And when they cycle three, or four, abreast, you know they are just out to be a nuisance to the real road users, the people who have to pay road tax, hurrying to work, or sending their kids to school. A bicycle is not a car, nor should it behave exactly like one because of one important difference: the danger to the operator. Even at slow speeds, cyclists can easily break bones or even die in a collision.

The author of "How to Not Get Hit by Cars" has a bit of practical advice for those insisting on competing with cars for roadspace, "Sure, cyclists have a right to the road. But that's a small consolation when you're dead."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Question Of Values

One of China's most acclaimed novelists, Yu Hua, recalled a story of the university student who hurled a rock as troops surged into Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. When his father, a colonel in the People's Liberation Army, was weeping at the sight of his son's bullet ridden body, he was asked, "Was he a victim of friendly fire? Or was he a rioter?" The answer could determine the future of the colonel's army career. The father did not flinch, "He was a rioter."

The lecturer of a local polytechnic recalled his head of department had walked into his room one day to announce that everybody was getting new chairs. When he said his was still as good as new, the HOD took a box cutter from his desk and sliced into the leather, "You need a new chair now." The lecturer preferred to keep quiet, as his retirement was due in two years' time. Who had more to lose, the soldier or the academic?

The Auditor-General's Office (AGO) says that it aims to audit the larger statutory boards at least once every 5 years and other statutory boards at least once every 7 years. The audit frequency cycle obviously requires improvement as illustrated by the case where the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) delayed collecting a $501,998 debt for over 15 years. When their officers finally decided to get off from their Herman Miller chairs to recover the sum of money, the company disputed the debt owed but the Ministry did not have the necessary paperwork to "substantiate the debt". More likely the the paper trail disappeared during the long lost years. It was also a long time before the public got wind of the MOM's taste in expensive office furniture. By then, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) had already procured 200 chairs at $597 each for a total of $119,400 from the same supplier, Xtra Office Pte Ltd, in March 2012. The AGC also bought 350 chairs costing $155, clear evidence that there are less expensive alternatives.

We are told that, to safeguard the independence of the Auditor-General, he is appointed by the President and not by the Government, whose accounts are subject to his audit. The same President whose salary was designed and approved by the Ministerial Salary Review Committee appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after GE 2011. Like the audit frequency, 5 years may be too long an interval to wait to take out the trash.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Them's Fightin' Words

strabismus  [strah-biz´mus]
n a condition wherein the two visual axes of the eyes are not aimed at a single object. In paralytic strabismus the muscles in the eyes are unable to move because of infection, tumor, or injury. In nonparalytic strabismus, there is a defect in the location of the eyes in relationship to their focal point. Also called "squint",  "crossed eye", "google eye", "boss eye", "yinty eye", "cock eye", "bodger's peeper", "wonk eye", and "wok eye".

With normal vision, both eyes transmit the same messsage to the brain. This binocular fixation is necessary to see three-dimensionally and to aid in depth perception. When an eye is misaligned, the brain receives two different images. Young children learn to ignore distorted messages from a misaligned eye, but adults with strabismus often develop double vision (diplopia). But what do you call an adult if his eyes see the same information but sends a different message to the brain?

In her version of the oft quoted advice from the people in power, "My way or the highway", a certain pink blogger has paraphrased it thus: "But we must progress WITH Singapore ... Or get out."

Frankly, there must be many who wish they have the option of doing just that, what with the current state of misgovernance that is on track to turn our women folk into domestic help.
"You know, the cure for all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government. You get that alternative and you'll never put Singapore together again: Humpty Dumpty cannot be put together again... my asset values will disappear, my apartments will be worth a fraction of what they were, my ministers' jobs will be in peril, their security will be at risk and their women will become maids in other people's countries, foreign workers. I cannot have that! " - LKY, Straits Times, 5 April 2007

A friend lamented that he should have stayed on in Australia after completing his tertiary education there, instead of being the filial son and coming home to be around with his aging parents. Having planted his roots, like all NSmen trained to handle firearms, he is not about to leave without a fight. Especially when the enemy is from within.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Liddat Also Complain

The Executive Summary of the U.S. Department of State report on Singapore Human Rights Practices for 2011 reads like this:
"Singapore is a parliamentary republic in which the People's Action Party (PAP), in power since 1959, overwhelmingly dominates the political scene. Opposition parties actively participated in the May 7 parliamentary elections and the August 27 presidential election, which were generally free and fair; however, the PAP continued to benefit from procedural obstacles in the path of political opponents. Security forces reported to civilian authorities. 
The government has broad powers to limit citizens’ rights. While the 2011 general and presidential elections generally were seen as open, free, and fair, the government benefitted from the use of legal restrictions that handicap the political opposition. The Internal Security Act (ISA) permits preventive detention without warrant, filing of charges, or normal judicial review; in recent years it has been used against alleged terrorists and was not used against persons in the political opposition. 
The following human rights problems also were reported: mandated caning as an allowable punishment for some crimes, infringement of aspects of citizens’ privacy rights, restriction of speech and press freedom and the practice of self-censorship by journalists, restriction of freedoms of assembly and association, and some limited restriction of freedom of religion. 
The government prosecutes officials who commit human rights abuses, although there were no instances of such prosecutions reported during the year. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year and therefore impunity did not appear to be a problem."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is telling everybody who bothers to listen that it is unhappy that the US report “again includes the same gross inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the Singapore Government’s policies that we have rebutted in detail year after year”. They refer, of course, to the reminder about Singapore’s continued use of the Internal Security Act (ISA).  If this upsets the politicians to no end, why don't they follow Malaysia's example of doing away with the archaic way of keeping Communists at bay? Instead of welcoming them en masse into the country under the guise of addressing the population growth rate. And while they are cleaning up their act, how about taking a look at the "procedural obstacles in the path of political opponents"? If the MFA wants a perfect report card, like the Asian student in Australia who bitched about 99.75 marks, they should start sweeping with a new broom. And stop waffling about it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Price Of Silence

Contrary to widespread public skepticism, what you read in the morning papers can actually be true, when the source of their stories originated from the online media. As in the strange tale of the love child thrown out of her only home since the age of 7, her silence supposedly purchased for the price of $1 million.

Ms Chan was not ashamed to admit that "my father and mother were not married when i was born." What riled her was that her "legitimate" siblings "kicked me out of the family... and who are going around town saying that i demanded money from my step mother, when i was kicked out."

When father died in 2009, her step-mother, 78, wanted to sell the $20 million bungalow at Lornie Road. That's lots of money to go around for her, her 4 kids, and Chan, the offspring of her husband's mistress. Apparently Chan was not happy about moving out of the outhouse (what's that? a bungalow within a bungalow?) in the family compound and was given 1 million smackeroos on condition that she won't publish anything about the subject matter on the internet or social media. Mainstream media was probably left out because nobody believes the stuff they print anyway.

Nobody really cares about the goings on within gated grounds of the rich and notorious, private citizens are entitled to their privacy, standing members of parliament included. The public interest lies in how the court will rule on whether the undertaking signed by Chan amounts to a total gag order on speaking about the family affairs or whether it was really about airing dirty laundry.

The wide publicity coverage of the recent high profile graft cases unearthed by our hard working CPIB chaps has led many to assume that Singapore's 5th ranking by corruption watchdog Transparency International is at risk. Surprise, surprise, the number of cases totaled only 138  in 2011, compared to 323 in 2007. The only worry is that the downward trend could be the result of paying off the potential whistle blowers. That's corruption upon corruption. Nixon got into a real mess because of the secret slush fund to silence the Watergate bunglers. This is the kind of stuff that can bring down a government. Especially if office holders have lots of skeletons in their cupboards.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Engineering Takes A Back Step

"After an extensive search and selection process, we are pleased that we have someone of Desmond's background and calibre joining SMRT as the new CEO," was the announcement from the rail operator's Board of Directors. Problem here is that their anointed one is not even a practising engineer (Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, Master's degree in Public Administration). Which means the $10 million report of the Commission of Inquiry that came up with various engineering issues to be addressed is as good as being trashed, cast aside like pearls before swine.

You would think that with the fat salary that comes with the job, it would be a cinch to hire someone with the track record and qualifications in running a transportation engineering company. Surely we are not the only country in the world with a mass transit rail system. Perhaps the directors at SMRT would care to show us who else were considered for the challenging task ahead. For all we know, maybe the selection criteria were tailored the way the specification was drawn up for foldable bikes at NParks.

When Yong Pung How's daughter was made the first CEO of IDA, even she was aware she was ill qualified for the information technology appointment. Hence her infamous repartee, "I may not know what CDMA stands for, but I can always hire someone who does." Do we really need a repeat of that fiasco at SMRT? What we need is someone like interim CEO Tan Ek Kia (Bachelor of Science (Mechanical Engineering)), a seasoned professional with more than 30 years of experience in design, engineering and construction, project management, as well as being a Chartered Engineer with the UK Engineering Council and a Fellow of the Institute of Engineers, Malaysia.

SMRT's net profit for the latest financial year shrunk by 25.6 percent to $119.9 million. The fourth quarter net profit ended March 31 dropped 59 percent to $13.9 million from the previous year. Perhaps this could  be the real justification to bring onboard another compliant pen pusher. Once again, profits and shareholder dividends take precedence over engineering concerns.

Phaik Saw Hwa must be regretting her hasty decision to resign, a well compensated seat which paid $1.85 million in 2010. After all, she was never fingered for the failures at the tracks, specifically the double whammy train breakdowns in mid-December. If there's one thing she does well, it's making money for the board. At the sacrifice of maintenance budgets and pesky details like falling third rails. Like she used to say, the people can always take the next train.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Improvements To Be Made

It now appears that an audience with the Queen of England is easier to arrange than an interview with Woffles Wu. The minister - maybe we should start calling him Mr SHAMugam - just provided the clue why the police has yet to determine the driver of his speeding car: they never got to ask the plastic surgeon the important question. Maybe the cops did, but the doctor thought it beneath his dignity to exchange words with a lowly paid civil servant. After all, not everyone has the privilege of the Law Minister batting for him.

Responding to Nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan's tabled question, Shanmugam said Wu was not interviewed during initial investigations in 2005 and 2006 because Kuan  had identified himself as the driver. And the trusting cops simply took the word of one old guy without seeking collaborative evidence from other witnesses? Such as the addressee of the official government letter requesting particulars of the driver? Well, it looks like the procurement system is not the only standard operating procedure that is in dire need of improvement.

Shanmugam also disclosed for the first time that the speeding case of 2005 was reopened after "graft cops" received a tip-off in July 2009, and acted upon only in February 2010. The CPIB handed the hot potato to the traffic police in August after concluding no corrupt practices had transpired. In the context of current definition of the "c" word, we assume that no gratification was obtained or received. Whether Mont Blanc pens or Apple iPods count as much has yet to be decided in court.

Since only a few paragraphs of the 30 minute exchange with Sylvia Lim was reported in the mainstream media, we may never get to know what upset Shanmugam so much that he tried to pin her for implying the AGC had acted mala fide.That's highfalutin Latin for "undertaken in bad faith" or  the intentional or malicious refusal to perform some duty or contractual obligation. Ms Lim's original query was whether "public concerns about the equitability of the legal system" was addressed. The public is still waiting.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The New Social Ethos

"If we go on like that, this place will fold up, because there’ll be no original citizens left to form the majority," former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew harped on the low fertility rate at the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru National Day celebration dinner on Saturday, "... and we cannot have new citizens, new PRs to settle our social ethos, our social spirit, our social norms." That last bit has to be a red herring.

Let's ignore for a moment that he was the first to penalise Singaporeans for having more kids if they fall short of his graduate mother expectations. He may deny authorship for nipping the procreative drive, but he cannot evade responsibility for the alien invasion. They brought in the foreign elements, temporal sojourners who were supposed to leave town after the infrastructure was built, but chose to stay and started to crowd out the locals. No wonder original citizens are a dying breed.

The Saturday story of the Brit who's "active in grassroots and political work", is not exactly the best of shiny examples about the new citizens and their social ethos. Relocated here at age 18 when his father was hired by Singapore Polytechnic in 1985, he left to join the Royal Marines after 2 years of schooling at ACJC. A kneecap injury washed him out of the elite commando force and his ambition to bear arms for Her Majesty's Service.  He returned to Singapore to try his luck in theatre and television. If he had gone to Hongkong, he would have to bear with the acronym for Failed In London Try Hongkong.

After settling down to married life in 1994, it was another 7 years before he became permanent resident in 2001. He cited his homemaker wife as excuse for not making the commitment as citizen. A move back to Britain or elsewhere was still in the cards. He signed up only in 2011, a long 26 years after landing on our shores.  At age 45, his options must have been drastically reduced, his day job is regional sales for a software company. Most first world countries would have demanded specialist skills or a fat bank account.

By his account, when BG Tan Chuan-Jin asked him point blank where he was from originally ("Where are you from?"), he feint confusion, and said Moulmein-Kallang. Having turned his back on his country of birth, can such be counted to defend his country of adoption?

The official spin has always been that foreign talents bring along special skills and are here to create jobs. Truth is often stranger than fiction.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Love Hate Parodies

When Sin Chew Daily reported that a "quirky" music video depicting the frustrations of the average Singaporean had received an unexpected endorsement from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, we thought it was referring to the cheeky Mentos rap that has the truism about government scholars cramming real hard, working all night to make life more miserable for ordinary citizens. Who do you think came up with the money making COEs and ERPs?

Instead it was a saccharine sweet delusional diversion, a pale parody of a Bollywood production with prancing zombies zonked out on the prosperity placebo. The video clip was supposed to put in perspective the love-hate relationship many Singaporeans have with their country's foibles, but the portions are way, way skewed towards la la land. And it's not even accurate.

Dream on. Cleaning tables can afford you a $73,501 COE for a small car (as of 9th August 2012)? Sure, if you still think you can pay off a $100,000 HDB flat on $1,000 a month.

You call that a queue? Better close that gap before some one cuts in, and be careful with the raised finger gesture. Cross culture co-mingling can be a touchy affair.

A padded wallet, didn't it go the way of the dodo bird? Most probably it's stuffed with GST U-Save vouchers - applicable only for one member per household.

Has the anti-littering law been lifted? Kids, you definitely do not want to try this at home, unless you plan to move the whole family out to the void deck.

Hah! National Day, and there's only one flag on display at the whole block. The grassroots leaders must be skiving.

Haven't you learned anything from the Sticker Lady episode, don't you know graffiti is verboten? You think this is your grandfather's sand pit izzit?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Value The Frugal Life

In the Sunday feature article ("At Oxley Road, we value the frugal life"), the author wrote that "the house we have lived all my life is more than 100 years old." It was odd therefore to recall that the same person was named in the purchase of two condominium units which caused much public disquiet in 1996.

It all started when the Stock Exchange of Singapore (SES) censured a publicly listed property development company called Hotel Property Ltd (HPL) for not seeking shareholders' approval for the sale of some of its condominium developments at discounted price. Dr Lee Suan Yew, Lee Kuan Yew's younger brother, was then on the board and had purchased a unit in Nassim Jade which was developed by Ong Beng Seng, Singapore property tycoon and Managing Director of HPL.

Following, Lee and his son, Lee Hsien Loong, publicly disclosed that they too had bought HPL condominium units. Other family members also shared similar interest in the HPL development. Daughter Lee Wei Ling, then medical doctor in a government hospital; sister Lee Kim Mon; two other brothers Freddy and Dennis; Kwa Kim Li, a niece of Lee; and Gloria Lee, Lee's sister-in-law, all bought condominium units  at discounted prices.

When SES issued a statement censuring HPL for the breach of regulations, it noted that some of the discounts given to directors and their relatives in respect of the Nassim Jade units were higher than those given to non-related buyers and that the publicly listed companies have a duty to obtain the best price so as to maximise the return to its shareholders. Lee Suan Yew quietly resigned as a director with HPL.

The other victim of the fallout was Tang Liang Hong, who was taken to task for commenting on the issue in Asian Weekly Magazine (Yazhou Zhoukan):
"Why wasn’t this matter handed over to the professional body like Commercial Affairs Department or Corrupt Practice Investigation Bureau? They are government departments not only rich in experience, but are also well-known for being "iron-faced with selfishness" [a Chinese phrase meaning firm and impartial]. They would be more detached and their reports would have been more convincing to the people. Koh Beng Seng and Finance Minister Richard Hu are after all not experts in this field."

According to his affidavit, Tang faced 13 defamation suits instituted against him, 3 of which brought by Lee ("SM Lee") solely, 2 by his son, ("DPM Lee"), and a further 2 by SM Lee and DPM Lee jointly. That has to be an Olympic record of sorts. No foreign nationals from PRC were involved.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Light In The Tunnel

Note the sentence construction: "On Friday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said its expenses for the Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing came up to $4 million - less than the $5.9 million that rail operator SMRT earlier said it had incurred." A superficial read gives the impression that that the COI cost only $4 million, less than $5.9 million reported earlier. The hard truth is that LTA blew $4 million and SMRT blew $5.9 million. A total of $10 million for a frigging puppet show that leaves the train system no better than it was on 15 Dec 2011.

After the embarrassing YOG budget report the authorities seemed to have shied off from a detailed breakdown of the expenses. Most likely the bulk of it went to the lawyers - Allen & Gledhill (LTA) and Drew & Napier (SMRT). The fact that litigators took center stage over technical experts on train systems speaks volumes about the nature and tenor of the inquiry. The technical causes "may never be known with absolute certainty."(Greer, Ove Arup & Partners)

Do we need to spend $10 million to acknowledge that SMRT has failed, among other things, to exercise due diligence and vigilance expected of a public transport operator, and to maintain its network in good and efficient working condition? Much of the shortcomings were painfully obvious when it was shown how low tech cable ties were used to fasten critical components of the power supply system for the trains. Dropped claws, damaged collector shoes and deformed third rails were symptoms of a flawed management regime hell bent on money making, and damned be the engineering fundamentals.

Much of the COI "recommendations" will take years to implement, but one which can be addressed quickly is the frequency of testing of the trains' emergency battery capacities. SMRT is supposed to enhance commuter comfort, such as the availability of air-conditioning systems on the trains and MRT stations, which unavailability caused commuters to be trapped in suffocating pitch black cabins during the breakdown of Dec 2011. The first generation trains were designed with an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) capable of supporting emergency lighting and ventilation requirements for up to 45 minutes. Which means the backup batteries were either never checked for expiry dates, or never fully charged at all. That such a simple task was missed is pathetic reflection of the people in command.

Para 666 of the COI Report notes that "there appears to be a lack of competent mid-level engineers in SMRT" and "the SMRT Board also appeared to be lacking in engineering expertise as they had no engineering or train-focused representation". Enough said.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Matter Of Cost

It's no longer funny. Nanyang Siang Pau reported that an accountant in her 30s did not show up after being informed of her mother's death at a nursing home. She refused to be associated because of the S$2,000 in funeral expenses. A saddened undertaker who learnt about the travesty donated a casket and paid for the last rites.

Last month we learnt via word of mouth an ex-colleague's father had passed on. The simple wake and the cheap coffin in the void deck said it all, our old friend was trying to make ends meet. Since he did even post the obituary notice in the morning paper, we called up those we know. Many declined to attend, citing various excuses - the customary donation of money to help offset funeral expenses (Chinese call it “pak kum”, literally “white gold”) was obviously too much of a tax in these hard times. The cheapest niche in a government columbaria costs $500 for standard, $900 for a family. The website clearly states that there will be an extra $250 selection fee should one wish to choose a different location from that allocated by the state. Even in death, freedom of choice comes with a price.

What is also hard to fathom is why Khaw Boon Wan is still maintaining that $2,200 is justifiable for a foldable bike: "That’s why just now I was trying to lift these cheaper bikes which are not foldable, it’s not easy." He was probably trying out one of the 47 bicycles sponsored by French consumer-product company Bic to aid the National Community Emergency Response Team (Cert) work in Sembawang GRC. Bic will also provide another 53 of the Aleomakino Italy bicycles - which cost about $200 each - to West Coast GRC.

Lim Chong Yah was spot on when he said the Gini coefficient is approaching dangerous levels.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

National Night

Finally, a National Day ditty that makes lotsa sense. And if you are one of those who think otherwise, why so serious?

Why you eating a mint baby?
So I can kiss you, on the face -Why?
Because it's National Night - What??
You see this August the 9th, it's time to do our civic duty
And I"m not talking about speeches, fireworks, or parades
- But I like that stuff
I'm talking about the stuff after that stuff
I'm talking about making a baby, baby.

U ready? Leh-go!
The parade is long gone, the kids are in bed
Let's not watch fireworks, let's make 'em instead
Yeah, it's National Night and I want a baby, boo
I know U want it, so does the SDU
I ain't Merlion, baby, this is national duty
Let me SMS the details of our late night dooty call
Yes, y'all, I'll meet ya in the hall
Don't wake the kids up, cos they'll be appalled
About the stuff we gon' do up in that bedroom
I'll take your breath away like a sonic BOOM

It's National Night, yeah, so let's make fireworks ignite
It's National Night, let's make Singapore's birthrate spike
Singapore's population it needs some increasing
So forget waving flags this August 9th we be freaking
Like a government scholar I wanna cram real hard
Tap U all night like an EZ-link card
Let's make a lil' human that looks like you and me
Explorin' your body like the Night Safari
I'm a patriotic  husband, you my patriotic wife
Lemme book into ya camp and manufacture Life

It's National Night, we'll gonna go all the way for Singapore
You know what I'm saying?
Light some candles while I sing the chorus
You're gonna do what you're gonna do baby
It's National Night, come on now let's get that baby bonus
Girl you're so hot I wanna turn on the AC
You finer than eating durian on the MRT
From Changi to Joo Koon, from PIE to the KPE
Your'e riding 70 mph on the AYE

If a fish and a lion can spawn an infant
You and I together, let's not do different
So mobilize your body coz my name is Mc'Loving
Put this track on repeat. let's put a bao in your oven -TAU SA PAU

It's National Night, I wanna upgrade your HDB baby
I can't wait to buy a $900 stroller, I wanna hang out on your void deck
It's National Night, you know what I'm saying, that's what I'm saying
It' gonna be a really, really, really, really fancy stroller

Whatever you doing right now,
Whether you're about to get your tau huay, get your National Night on,
If you're visiting  Gardens by the Bay right now, get your National Night on
And if you're offended by this song, well, get your National Night on
It's August the 9th baby, this ain't no holiday
Raise that flag, get mobilized, and let your patriotism explode!
Cos it's National Night

Friday, August 3, 2012

Yes, She Really Did It

The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) gave ping pong paddler peddler Feng Tianwei the honour of being Singapore's flag bearer at last Friday's opening ceremonies at the London Olympic Stadium.

Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) President Lee Bee Wah gushed, "She is everything you want of a sporting ambassador."

Deputy Prime Minister and SNOC President Teo Chee Hean and President Tony Tan Keng Yam flew half way round the world, at taxpayers' expense of course, to be on hand to offer her personal congratulatory handshakes for the Bronze award. The $250,000 cheque, also sourced from same taxpayers, will follow after.

Then Feng had to throw her victory bouquet to her compatriots.

Before you gather in throngs and march with flaming torches and pitch forks to give her a warm welcome back to her generous host country, consider what might have happened if the wilting flowers had landed in the Singapore cheering section. She could have been fined for littering. Or charged with dropping killer litter. Play nice.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Brompton Saga Rehashed

When The Washington Post first reported on discoveries that ended up as the Watergate affair, Editor Ben Bradlee noted that the protestations from the White House fell short of denial. On the basis of what he coined as "non-denial denials", he extended his support for Woodward and Bernstein's investigative reporting.

"Read my lips"
"Did I jump the gun? I don't think so," Khaw answers his own question in his first official comment on the Brompton bikes hullabaloo since the investigation was turned over to the CPIB. To assess whether it is indeed a sin of omission, or sin of commission, on the part of the Minister-in-charge, it is useful to review the chronology of events that unfolded per his story telling:

On Jun 22, Khaw discussed the Zaobao report on the purchase of 26 units $2,200 foldable bikes with his staff and wanted answers on: (a) why foldable bikes; (b) how the supplier was chosen.

On June 30, NParks submitted their internal findings, and Khaw was satisfied that the decision on foldable bikes could be justified.
[Significantly, here Khaw reveals for the first time, "for thoroughness", he commissioned an MND Internal Audit Team to "dig impartially and more thoroughly into the transaction", and verify "if the procurement was conducted in a fit and proper manner".]

On July 4, Khaw blogged that he had been satisfied with NParks' justification for the purchase, while observing that "NParks might have gotten a better deal if there was greater participation in this quotation", without mention of the audit he commissioned.
Online vitriol started to simmer over the cavalier attitude towards abuse of public funds. Since mainstream media seemed to take the Minister's comments as the final word on the matter, cyber sleuths took the initiative to unearth the hidden details and hit pay dirt.

From July 14, according to Khaw, the audit team took notice of comments circulating online on the friendship between one NParks officer and the owners of the company supplying the bikes. [Significantly, the audit team came across the incriminating inputs from internet sources, not from their own internal thorough investigative efforts.]

On July 20 the MND audit was completed, and the findings determined that while the reason for the purchase was valid, there were "certain discrepancies which suggest a possibility of bias". Note the blame is on the process, not the people involved. The online sentiments boiled over.

On 21 or 22 July, what Khaw termed as "over that weekend", we are told for the first time, the audit findings were discussed with the Permanent Secretary of the MND and it was decided to report the matter to to the CPIB.

On July 23, the report to the CPIB was made, a press statement was issued the following day, and the NParks officer was suspended from duty.
[The first MND statement had a glaring omission of the culprit's name. A second statement confirmed what the Net already knew. Latest disclosure has it that the guy is still on full pay, enjoying his leave entitlement, inspite of being suspended from service.]

"Did I jump the gun? I don't think so," that's what the man said. Well, in the light of facts on hand, we beg to differ. We don't need Yaacob Ibrahim's Media Literacy Council to teach us how to read between the lines, our netizens are doing very well, thank you. It is all too easy to brush the Minister's action/inaction to the side as something of a sympathetic parent trying to make excuses for his child's poor performance in the championship game that led to team's loss, to borrow the excuse for Alan Schwartz bringing down Bear Sterns ("Bear Trap, The Fall of Bear Sterns and the Panic of 2008"", Bamber and Spencer). If Khaw had been open and transparent in his blog of 4 July, the mud would not stick.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You Can Fool Some Of The People...

There was once this Cedric fool who suggested that the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) be conducted in the air-con comfort of a SAFRA club house. Exercise is always accompanied by sweat, the natural way humans cool off body heat generated by vigorous physical activity. Every NSmen understands fitness requires strenuous effort, except perhaps for paper generals who make BG rank in 10 years, 6 of which were spent in lecture rooms at Cambridge and the like.

Then there was the fool-me-hah! character who irked everybody by boasting she was made citizen in record time, revealing that the ICA was boosting population numbers as if on steroids. To be fair, brick bats thrown her way involved stories about her husband's discharged bankruptcy status. And there is the new development about a sister-in-law who was thrown out of her house because she was born out of wedlock.  Her husband should really clear the air about these unsubstantiated stories in the rumour mill. The last we want is MPs handing out Mont Blanc pens to advance their promotion prospects.

But Grace is no fool, she has just been promoted to full minister, presumably to replace the first female member of the cabinet kicked out in the Aljunied massacre of GE 2011. Or that someone took note of her great sacrifice for having "experienced a drop in my income" by joining politics. Doubtless, the extra loss of privacy, public scrutiny and loss of personal time will be more than compensated for by the elevation to a higher income bracket.

Her appointment as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Environment and Water Resources doesn't quite fit the PM's objective of the reshuffle, "These changes will help us to serve Singaporeans better."  Surely the beleaguered Lui Tuck Yew could use a helping hand in LTA, with a second minister to work on the road transportation while he tries to straighten out the mess with the trains. Her taking over Lui's hat as Second Minister for Foreign Affairs simply confirms the guy has his work load cut out for him. Surely the urgent issues Singaporeans are looking forward to be served better are public transport, housing, inflation, affordable heath care. Doling out packet meals for aunties to boost rally attendance is required only once in 5 years.

The other foolishness has to be about the obliteration of the Arts and Sports focus. Nominated Member of Parliament Ms Koh speculated that "the role of arts has been subsumed to serve community bonds." The disappointment about sports being relegated lower status was expressed by the President of the Singapore Bowling Federation, "I don't know what are the signals, now that it is parked under a different name." The only one happpy about this development has to be the keechiu general who boasted his $1.33 billion budget for the Sports Hub will not be overrun like the YOG instance. And someone else will have to handle the bid to host the 28th SEA Games in 2015, a real project with a real time line, not some airy fairy performance goal that cannot be measured objectively.