Monday, September 30, 2013

How To Suck Eggs

Don’t ever attempt giving needless assistance or presume to offer advice to an expert. If you prefer the wisdom of the phrase in verse, it goes like this:
Teach not thy parent’s mother to extract
The embryo juices of the bird by suction.
The good old lady can that feat enact,
Quite irrespective of your kind instruction.

There he was, the Singapore Foreign Minister K Shamugan telling the United Nations how to eradicate poverty and ensure sustainable development. He must presume that the august gathering never heard of our Gini coefficient of 0.478 (highest income inequality compared to the OECD countries), or the title of the Population White Paper justifying a 6.9 million squeeze into 710 square kilometers, "A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore".

It was Ed Meese who once said an expert is somebody who is more than 50 miles from home, has no responsibility for implementing the advice he gives, and shows slides. Shanmugam was not the first to teach the U.N. how to suck eggs. Kishore Mahbubani, former Permanent Representative to the U.N. and dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, also said earlier, "There are no homeless, destitute or starving people (in Singapore). Poverty has been eradicated."

And there was this boast that Singapore has trained over 80,000 government officials from 170 countries in areas including sustainable urban development. In the light of our world famous flash floods and mass rapid transportation system mishaps, those students had better take a second look at the lesson notes. Or walk into any public toilet of the city who tabled a resolution to designate November 19 as World Toilet Day, at the risk of puking at the level of sanitation that can be found.

As for the pompous advice to the world body to "rethink, retool our economies and societies," someone should repeat that while looking into a mirror. Better still, reflect on what Aung San Suu Kyi said during her recent visit here, "I want to learn a lot from the standards that Singapore has been able to achieve, but I wonder whether we don't want something more for our country."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Edging Towards The Abyss

Birth rates have gone up, evidenced by the total fertility rate (TFR) growing by a 1.29 rate, compared to 1.20 in 2011. That's a healthy improvement of 7.5 percent. Before you start grinning like the jackass you saw on the live TV forum, the news is not all good.

The non-residential population in Singapore continues to rise unabated. It reached 1.55 million in June, up from 1.49 million a year ago, swelling up the total population figure by 1.6 percent, higher than the 1.3 climb in 2004. Since this relentless pace of growth falls neatly within the 1.3 to 1.6 percentage range used by the notorious White Paper for a target population of 6.9 million by 2030, the horror is confirmed.

The prime minister's assurance in parliament that the 6.9 million number was not a target, but a projection, ostensibly a "planning parameter", has just been shot full of holes by the National Population and Talent Division (NTPFD) report. Member of Parliament Liang Eng Hwa had to rub it in with his Freudian slip, "at this pace, the grow is more sustainable".

6.9 million is not sustainable. Even with the present population figure of 5.4 million, they are unable to cope with the housing demand. The PM himself said the additional buses and trains "will take a few more years, 2015, 2016." And Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat still thinks it's perfectly alright to spend $36 million to import foreign students, to feed, educate and guarantee them a job, so they can take away our own youngsters' lunches. How did we come to this?

Oh, we remember.
"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."
(Speech justifying million-dollar pay hike for Singapore ministers, Straits Times, 5 April 2007)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Rare Find

She was one of the odd hires made by SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek after the latter took over from Saw Phaik Hwa, an oddity in that she was not an ex-army buddy.

But Ms Kalai Natarajan had solid credentials, previously a director at Oglivy Public Relations Worldwide, and had been in the marketing communications and public relations business for no less than 18 years. Prior to Oglivy PR, she was Assistant Vice-President of Sales & Marketing for MediaCorp's TV12 and Head of Global Media Relations for Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts. At SMRT, she was overseeing three departments with a staff of 50: corporate communications, marketing and media and passenger service.

So when she resigned after only 5 months on the job, without having to serve the obligatory 3 months notice period for senior management, and without another appointment lined up, tongues were wagging like the hanging power cables of a SMRT train mishap.

An HR expert speculated that there may have been a “cultural misfit” if senior management staff were “not on the same wavelength”. Or same battle dress uniform, since quite a few of the senior management new hires were former SAF personnel, mostly retired or close to retirement age, imported by Lieutenant General (NS) Desmond Kuek. Forced to choose between a little black dress or green army fatigues, the smart lady decided to fall out.

Her replacement has practically zero PR experience. Patrick Nathan, 51, had joined SMRT in 2011 as director for Security Operations and Readiness. Prior to that, he was at the National Security Coordination Centre (NSCC) shuffling papers on esoteric topics like policy, risk assessment and corporate communication. He has the one important qualification that matters to Kuek though. Nathan is a former career army officer who was with the Ministry of Defence for 24 years and 9 months. Officially he joined the SAF in 1979, promoted to colonel in 2004 and seconded to the NSC as deputy director until he "retired" in 2006. Old soldiers don't just fade away in Singapore, they are put out to pasture at SMRT.

You know what they say about Mussolini, at least Il Duce ("the leader") made the trains run on time. Unfortunately for us, the general in charge of Singapore just excused himself, "the trains will take a bit longer (new signalling, new lines, more rolling stock, etc)... that will take a few more years, 2015, 2016, but we are making a lot, as much haste as we possibly can." Sigh, there are generals and there are generals.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes

There is a "live" forum program that lives up to its name, and it's called "Talking Point." The pathetic facsimile organized by Channel NewsAsia (CNA) last night turned out to be a cosy fireside chat with moderators Sharon Tong and Walter Fernandez.

Lobbing softballs at the Prime Minister, both were obviously trying very hard to protect him from the "tough" queries emanating from the public.  What was shown on the television screen were saccharine sweet tweets from obsequious sycophants, the grassroots type worshippers who would have sent mangoes to Michael Palmer.

The CNA website did have some real hard questions meant for Lee, but they took them down quickly - probably for fear of losing their jobs. Three such samples that survived the deletion:
  • Sir, do you know how stressful it is for us singaporean kids now? We no longer compete with our own people but foreigners as well. #askpmlee
  • How to have work life balance when we are all slogging so hard to meet the high end living demands in Singapore? #askpmlee
  • What can we do to promote racial harmony? Because, let's face it, racism is still common. #askpmlee
None of those above was aired, but of course that was expected. Still, one clever fellow managed to embed a paraphrased quote from Aung San Suu Kyi ("the visitor") to make it sound milder. What Daw Suu actually said was, "You can't expect everyone to agree with you, that is simply not possible... if you believe that what you are doing is good for the country, then you must be prepared to lose the next elections."

Lee nearly jumped out of his seat when the words sank in, and exposed the ugly self when he said he disagreed with the part about losing an election. In that priceless moment, we saw the emperor without his clothes.

The game was up, and the charade was painfully played out for the rest of the program. So much for wanting to forge a new way forward with all Singaporeans by answering questions “live”. Perhaps junior needs to take up private tuition lessons from the Burmese democracy icon who also said: “But transparency is linked to confidence. We need a leadership that has enough confidence in themselves to be transparent and enough honesty to accept criticisms and to meet it in the best way possible which is to say by redressing what needs to be redressed."
Liddat, how to rebuild trust between electorate and govt?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Secretive Communications

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) is busy refuting allegations in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service Radio interview concerning Singapore's (lack of) commitment to fighting match-fixing. BBC confirmed it had received a complaint from the SPF, "The BBC strives for balance and impartiality and in line with our editorial guidelines we asked the Singapore Police Force for comment but were not granted an interview. A similar request in March was also declined."

On another international front, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) on Thursday wrote that SingTel has been facilitating access for the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) in a partnership with British, American and Singaporean intelligence agencies to tap undersea fibre optic telecommunications cables that link Asia, the Middle East and Europe and carry much of Australia's international phone and internet traffic.

The British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is also collecting all data transmitted to and from the United Kingdom and Northern Europe via the subsea cable that runs from Japan, via Singapore, Djibouti, Suez and the Straits of Gibraltar to Northern Germany. The SMH emphasised that access was facilitated through SingTel, which is publicly-listed but majority-owned by Temasek Holdings.

SingTel and Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), in the manner of the SPF response to BBC investigations, have not responded to queries sent to them. The idiom "No smoke without fire" means that when people suspect something, there is normally good reason for the suspicion, even if there is no concrete evidence. To prefer to wait and then react to "allegations" is a curious choice. Have they learnt nothing from the haze inducing fires from Indonesia?

The news floating around the globe is consistent with The Guardian's newspaper report in June about the GCHQ interception program leaked by Edward Snowden, codenamed Tempora, that involves harvesting all data, emails sent and received, instant messages, calls, passwords and more, entering and exiting Britain via undersea fibre-optic cables. Australian intelligence sources have separately confirmed that their ASD and the highly secretive Security and Intelligence Division (SID) of Singapore's Ministry of Defence also play key roles in intercepting communications traffic through Asia.

Thanks, but no thanks
She didn't need access to the secretive stuff to appreciate what is going on in Singapore. After receiving briefings from the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Singapore's education system, and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) on anti-corruption policies, Aung San Suu Kyi was sharp enough to conclude, "Myanmar should not seek to recreate S'pore's policies". No country deserves to be cursed with MOE scholars with proclivity for pedophilia, or CPIB officers misappropriating money for casino visitations. Or top civil servants with fetish for oral gratification. She acknowledged that corruption cannot be "rid off entirely", no matter how much the office holders are allowed to pay themselves. Instead, she suggested  Singapore could learn "from us", a more relaxed way of life. "Perhaps, warmer and closer relations," and she wasn't exactly recommending the practice of installing relatives in the Istana.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Going Before The Camera

In the movie version of the "Frost-Nixon Interview", there is a line that goes: "The first and greatest sin or deception of television is that it simplifies, it diminishes, great complex ideas, tranches of time." Whole careers become reduced to a single snapshot. The speaker was referring to the reductive power of the close-up which captured Richard Nixon's face, swollen and ravaged by loneliness, self loathing and defeat, at the moment when he finally admitted his Watergate role.

According to James Minchin, Lee Kuan Yew during his early days as prime minister had to soften his TV image, as  his official smile is not unlike that of a crocodile tenderly anticipating its prey. When he is not tensed up to rebuke or attack, he tends to appear bored or chemically over-relaxed, wrote Minchin.
When Lee first saw himself on television, (Alex) Josey tells us, he was momentarily shocked into silence. He was appalled at the fierce and unsmiling figure on the screen, clearly spoiling for a fight. "This was not the figure the political Lee wanted to present to the electorate," wrote Josey.
(page 284, "No Man Is An Island", James Minchin)

We don't know why Lee Hsien Loong - or his hired public relations consultants - thought of going before the cameras, or what political figure Lee plans to present to the electorate. The mainstream media says he wants to forge a new way forward with all Singaporeans by answering questions "live" on a TV forum on Channel NewsAsia on September 24, and the "open discussion" will see him answer questions raised by people from "all walks of life". It's all Orwellian Doublespeak, of course.

Questions have been solicited from the public three weeks prior to the forum; that's as "live" as can be orchestrated. The "open discussion" session will be facilitated by Walter Fernandez, MediaCorp's Editor-in-Chief, and Ms Sharon Tong, a presenter - moderators, never leave home without it. As for "all walks of life", the list is curated and, purportedly, members of the public are invited to vote on the issues. "Curated" is defined in the dictionary as "Select, organize, and look after the items". Nothing is left to chance.

Lee junior has his own version of a smile, abandoned only when he had to apologize for not getting it right, as in during the 2011 general election. What did Aung San Suu Kyi say about leopards during the Q&A at Singapore Management University yesterday? "It's not that I want the leopards to change its spots. I just want the leopard to stay beautiful and dignified in the jungle." The "soldiers shouldn't be in govt" message was delivered before 400 government officials, business leaders, academics and students at the Ho Rih Hwas Leadership in Asia Public Lecture. Among them was Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim. The generals, if sighted, were not mentioned.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mad About Tuition

Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah failed to understand what is happening on the ground when she said private tuition is not necessary in Singapore's education system. She was responding to MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Denise Phua's question about the issue of teachers resigning from the Education Ministry to join the lucrative tuition industry.

A Norwegian friend reading for her doctorate in Singapore had sent her two daughters to a neighborhood school and made the observation that all the material in the syllabus is not covered in school; teachers expect tutors to make up the shortfall. Back in Norway, her kids never had homework, everything is taught in class.

Then there are the teachers who come up with "tricky" questions that "would set the A* students apart from the A students."  You can argue till the cow comes home about what happens when electric current passes through the tungsten element of a light bulb:
  • Only light energy is produced;
  • Light and heat energy is produced;
  • Magnetic fields are induced by flowing electrons;
  • Global warming results from the depletion of the ozone layer.
  • Melting glaciers will sink the bloody island
It is no wonder that private tutors, especially those ex-teachers, are so much in demand. They are intimate with the type of questions will surface in examinations, or the type their colleagues still in the system will set. We shall ignore the possibility of collusion, as that is in the department of the CPIB.

It is now common for a straight A student in, say Chemistry, to still engage the services of a private tutor for Chemistry. Apparently in the premier schools that have garnered 85% of the scholarships, four distinctions is now blasé. The race is for the prestige of the scholarship award. Heck, they are even tutored to apply for the scholarships.

What about the key to the parents' mindset and belief that, according to Indranee Rajah, "having tuition will give their children that additional edge"? The situation is beyond remedial coaching for the academically weak, trying to master the three Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic. It's all about the mad, mad race for the scholarship nomination, and the escalator ride thence prepared by the PSc, the stairway to heaven that could even end up in a ministership.

Since the Ministry of Education will be the last to admit a major revamp of the system is in order, the people will have to come up with the proposals. For starters, why not make it a rule that scholarship aspirants will be disqualified if they have engaged services of a private tutor? That should send a the message to the kiasu parents, not to pile on unnecessary tuition onto their wards.
 setting A* students apart from the A students.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Loyalty In Uniform

It's the rite of passage for every Singaporean male to spend a couple of years in Temasek green. The experience which is supposed to separate the men from the boys, the committed citizens from the flitting foreigners, can also be deadly - suffocation from smoke grenades, amputation by naval mooring gear, or simply crushed by runaway army vehicles. Someone should do a tally of the cost of national defence in human terms.

Author Joel Chasnoff took the leap of faith from Chicago to Tel Aviv to sign up with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) because he thought it was cool to fight for his race, threatened with extinction by nasties like Hezbollah suicide bombers. It turns out that in-camp training with the IDF was no boy-scout camp, and graduation meant a posting to the Lebanon Security Zone, where a real war is fought out amid orange groves teeming with seasoned guerrillas. Told with humour, his accounting also includes shedding of blood and loss of limbs - Joel fired his first anti-tank missile and rained artillery on a stray dog, that looked suspiciously like an enemy.

The real kicker is when he tries to marry his sweetheart - other reason for trading his stereotype American Jew comfort zone for a Uzi and dog tag - only to be told he's not a Jew because his mother's conversion was not Orthodox. Explaining that the mitzvah certificate used to join the army is unacceptable, the rabbi deadpanned, "That's civil law. Marriage is religious law. It's the law of God." His best man screamed, "He's in the army! He's in Lebanon! What could be more Jewish than that?"

So it comes down to that. Will two years in uniform make one a loyal citizen? The answer depends on whether we are called to defend our loved ones or some bureaucratic machinery who spends millions on a welcoming party for foreigners.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Trusting Our Basic Instincts

The fact that a lot of ink - ink, not blood - has been spilt by commentaries over a polytechnic lecturer's query about nurses banned from wearing tudungs is solid proof that religious tolerance is alive and well in Singapore. In the bad old days, any mention of a subject touching on race, language or religion will have you hauled away by the boys in blue, or men in white coats, depending on your final destination of police lock-up or mental institute.

Mother Teresa's headgear
Chong, one of 11 forum participants to share their thoughts on racial harmony, told those assembled that nursing students had to remove their Muslim scarves before going on clinical attachments or starting full time work in hospitals. He was referring to the piece of cloth used as head-covering like a shawl, not the keffiyeh or hijab that leaves only the eyes exposed, or the full body veiled burka attire of the NTUC day care center employee who hurt a little boy's leg. When you think about it, most nuns, eminently Mother Teresa, covered their hair when making hospital rounds.

More surprisingly, we learnt from another panelist, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Eugene Tan, that there is an "unwritten state policy" that front line officers working in the police force, nursing and at immigration checkpoints should not wear the tudung.  One always thought that the staff had a choice of working at the front-desk, or at the back-room, the latter being a safer refuge from unreasonable and irascible customers. Incidentally, how can you enforce a policy that is not written down?

Another NMP asked if Singapore can move beyond the "crutches" of self help groups like the Group Representative Constituency (GRC) system which is supposed to guarantee minority representation in parliament, "Do we have enough confidence as a people to say - let's give ourselves a chance, and see if we can survive, see if we can enhance trust by trusting our basic instincts?" Ah, but he forgot the "unwritten state policy" behind the GRC system, which allowed Mah Bow Tan to enter parliament after being roundly defeated by Chiam See Tong with 60.3% of the votes in 1984. Singapore has indeed progressed in racial harmony, but trust in its own people is still wanting.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Magnamity To Forgive

Omigosh! Did Tommy Koh really say that? Elsewhere in the mainstream media, every one is singing the old man's praises on cue, including one guy who claims the clean toilets at Changi Airport are attributed to his personal intervention.

Former Law Minister Jayakumar, still sprightly for his advanced years, was quick to jump to the defence. Paraphrasing his successor Shanmugam, and using similar vernacular, Jayakumar said, "He can be criticised for foolishness, maybe even for incompetence, for arrogance, but his red line was - not on reputation and integrity." Actually, Shanmugam had used words like "stupid fool" and "don't know what they're talking". Jayakumar is retired, Shanmugam is still on the payroll, so former can get off with the harsher "foolishness", "incompetence", and "arrogance". Both draw the same line on corruption though, as in Minister of National Development Teh Cheang Wan caught taking in cash on the side.

Which kind of justifies Tang Liang Hang being bankrupted and booted out to Australia. For good measure, Mrs Tang suffered same treatment. Tang was the chap who raised the issue of the Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL) condominium purchases during an election campaign, specifically the discounts received by father, son, mother, daughter and assorted relatives from a company which happened to have a brother on board as director.

Prof Koh also touched on the some Singaporeans' view on the Internal Security Act (ISA), as an example of "rule by law, rather than rule of law". Here, it was ex-chief justice Chan Sek Keong who jumped in to say that the standard definition of rule by law is that the government is subject to the law and accepts so. In which case, there would rule of law, and the government is not "ruling by law". This from the guy who ruled that the Parliamentary Elections Act forbade unauthorized persons to loiter within 200 metres of polling stations on polling day, but does not apply to unauthorized persons who were already inside the stations.

With such clarity of thought on the subject of corruption and the law, one wonders why there have been some many long drawn corruption cases in the courts. The answer must be embedded somewhere in Mr Chan's open question, "If the government does not rule by law, in the technical sense, what else can it rule by?" Here we are reminded of how Pontius Pilate famously replied, "What is truth?" ("Quid est veritas?")

Monday, September 16, 2013

Batman Will Be So Envious

What the Singapore Police Force (SPF) wants, it is sure to get, and damn be the budget - that's the impression we are sensing here. We are not talking about Herman Miller chairs or Brompton Bikes, this is serious money for a super duper "gizmo-packed patrol car" that will make the Batmobile look like a Category A China import. The future police car will have a 2 to 3 litre engine capacity, definitely Category B.

Based on requirements listed so far, each high-tech fast response vehicle will be equipped with state-of-the-art GPS navigation, in-vehicle video system with four point recording and an automated number plate recognition system enhanced with night vision thermal imaging. And if the wish list seems a bit over the top, there is this locator tracker that can be fired to latch on a target vehicle  so the officers can track it at a later convenient time. Like when the exciting movie on the video system has ended.

Whatever happened to the effort to emulate the Japanese system that has police officers patrol the neighbourhood on bicycles? Japanese police departments try to be as visible in the community as possible, not hidden in a climate controlled air conditioned automobile with personal comfort system "suitable for prolonged seated operation and safety".

While they are at it, why not buy the Lotus Esprit Series 1 "Submarine" car that was featured in the 1977 James Bond film, "The Spy Who Loved Me"? Propelled through the water by a working electric motor, the vehicle would be perfect for patrol duties in the flood prone areas. It was last sold by RM Auctions on 9 Sep at 616,000 pounds (US$967,000), but it's a heck cheaper than a F-35B Lightning, the plane that AOL Defense reported Singapore will be ordering 12 units at US$108.5 million a pop (price tag as of 30 July 2013).

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Rashomon Effect

Akira Kurosawa's movie version of Rashomon is a 1950 Japanese period drama well known for a plot device which involves various characters providing alternative accounts of the same incident. The incident concerns the rape of a woman and the murder of her samurai husband, as narrated through the conflicting perspectives of four witnesses, including the bandit/rapist, the deflowered wife, her dead husband (speaking through a medium), and a woodcutter, the one witness that seems to be the most objective and least biased. The Rashomon effect is a term used by a number of scholars, journalists and film critics to refer to contradictory interpretations of the same events by different persons, a problem that arises in the process of uncovering truth.

We have heard the Government's official version of how Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah died from positional asphyxia. Now thanks to the persistence of the family's quest for the truth, we have their account of the horrific abuse of a young man by sadistic prison officers of the Abu Ghraib persuasion.
On 27 September 2010, the following officers of the Prison Service were on duty at Changi Prison Complex, Institution A4:
Deputy Superintendent of Prison Lim Kwo Yin Darius (“DSP Darius”);
Deputy Superintendent of Prison Harry Yap Hong Hock (“DSP Harry”);
Assistant Superintendent of Prison Teo Chong Lian Dylan (“ASP Dylan”);
Chief Warden Daljit Singh S/O Gurbachan Singh (“CW Daljit”);
Chief Warden Rozairudin Bin Zaini (“CW Rozairudin”);
Sergeant Yen Chia Hsien (“Sgt Yen”);
Sergeant Tan Heng Chye Marcus (“Sgt Marcus”);
Sergeant Lee Fangwei Jonathan (“Sgt Jonathan”);
Corporal Anand Pereira (“Cpl Anand”); and
Corporal Robby Bin Sulaiman (“Cpl Robby”)

On that day, sometime between 7.30 am and 7.45 am, Sgt Yen commenced his morning shift duties at Changi Prison Complex, Institution A4. While in the course of carrying out his duties, Sgt Yen arrived at cell number 555 and saw Dinesh. Sgt Yen then uttered the words “Dinesh, long time never see you. Now you come back, you become a suicidal watch”.

These words were heard by Dinesh and was misunderstood by Dinesh to mean that Sgt Yen was partial against him. Dinesh asked Sgt Yen a question, the gist of which was, “Sir, you got something against me is it?” Dinesh then turned away from Sgt Yen and, as he turned away, he gestured his middle finger at Sgt Yen and uttered a vulgarity. Sgt Yen verbally reported the Incident to DSP Darius. However, no written report was lodged.

Despite the fact that Dinesh was not allowed to go to the outdoor yard, he was deliberately let out at about 9.45 am. Because of the earlier incident, as Dinesh was returning from the outdoor yard to his cell at about 10.45 am, he was accosted by Sgt Jonathan and then tackled by Sgt Yen onto the ground.

While on the ground, Sgt Yen restrained Dinesh. At this juncture, CW Daljit approached Dinesh (who was still on the ground and restrained by Sgt Yen) and attempted to lock Dinesh’s arms. DSP Darius also approached Dinesh and he restrained Dinesh’s lower limbs. Sgt Jonathan deployed the Oleoresin Capsicum Delivery System (“OCDS”) and applied the same onto Dinesh’s face. Sgt Jonathan then placed both his knees against the sides of Dinesh’s head and applied pressure. Consequently, Dinesh was unable to breathe. At the same time, Dinesh was also weakened by the OCDS. His eyes became red and there was mucus coming out from his nose. All these physical symptoms were ignored. He was then handcuffed to his back and placed in a prone position.

Subsequently, Cpl Robby, Cpl Anand and CW Rozairudin also approached Dinesh. Together with Sgt Yen and CW Daljit, they restrained and controlled Dinesh’s body and his movement including through the use of joint-locks to cause Dinesh to suffer pain. They were then directed to lead Dinesh to the outdoor yard. After a few steps, Dinesh was put into a prone position again on the ground. Dinesh was then lifted up and brought to the outdoor yard. Dinesh was profusely apologizing and begging for leniency from the officers but his pleas were ignored.

When Dinesh was brought to the outdoor yard, DSP Harry and DSP Darius were also there. Dinesh continued to be restrained and made to suffer pain from joint-locks applied by CW Daljit, Sgt Yen, Sgt Jonathan, Cpl Robby, Cpl Anand and/or CW Rozairudin. Dinesh was then drooling from his mouth. Again, this physical symptom was ignored. Dinesh was brought to stand in front of two rows of inmates and then instructed to continuously shout (each time louder than the previous) using vulgar language in Hokkien - directed at a notorious gang.

Subsequently, Dinesh was brought from the outdoor yard to a common area known as “Sally Port”. At “Sally Port”, Dinesh was again put in a prone position on the ground. While on the ground, Dinesh continued to be restrained and made to suffer pain from joint-locks applied by CW Daljit, Sgt Yen, Sgt Jonathan, Cpl Robby, Cpl Anand and/or CW Rozairudin.

Dinesh was then lifted up from the ground and led to Stair Core 3 (which is a staircase landing) for relocation to the Disciplinary Housing Unit (“DHU”). ASP Dylan was also at Stair Core 3. Dinesh continued to be restrained by CW Daljit, Sgt Yen, Sgt Jonathan, Cpl Robby, Cpl Anand and/or CW Rozairudin. Dinesh was walking unsteadily and perspiring profusely. Again, these physical symptoms were ignored.

On level 2 of Stair Core 3, Dinesh was put onto the ground again. At this juncture, Dinesh had become physically very weak. Again, this physical symptom was ignored.

Dinesh was then lifted up again and led into cell number 1 in the DHU. Sgt Marcus opened the door to DHU Cell Number 1. Inside DHU Cell Number 1, Dinesh was again put onto the floor in a prone position. While on the ground, Dinesh continued to be restrained and made to suffer pain from joint-locks applied by CW Daljit, Sgt Yen, Sgt Jonathan, Cpl Robby, Cpl Anand and/or CW Rozairudin. ASP Dylan and DSP Darius also arrived in DHU Cell Number 1.

In DHU Cell Number 1, while on the ground in the prone position that he was put in, Dinesh was moaning softly. His eyes were closed and motionless. Again, these physical symptoms were ignored. At the same time, Dinesh continued to be restrained and made to suffer pain from joint-locks applied by CW Daljit, Sgt Yen, Sgt Jonathan, Cpl Robby, Cpl Anand and/or CW Rozairudin.

While in DHU Cell Number 1, one of the officers then poured water on Dinesh’s face but there was no response from him. More water was poured onto Dinesh’s face. However, there was still no response from Dinesh. DSP Darius then gave instructions to all the officers in DHU Cell Number 1 to leave the cell, leaving Dinesh unattended.

Subsequently, DSP Darius returned to DHU Cell Number 1 and was unable to detect any pulse on Dinesh. Dinesh had died.

Like the inconsistent variants in Rashomon, the two accounts are challenged by logical incompatibilities.  One interpretation is certain, the final version will be motivated by factors of ego, face-saving and politics. Due to its emphasis on the subjectivity of truth and the uncertainty of factual accuracy, Rashomon has been read by some as an allegory of the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II. The Dinesh variant could well turn out to be an allegory of the defeat of a certain political party.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Rich Get Richer

The report by Wealth-X and UBS said that 50 Ultra-High Net Worth (UHNW) people in Singapore made it to the ranks of the super rich after property prices kept rising, rising, and rising last year. The Wealth-X mission statement: Provide our members with intelligence that allows them to acquire new relationships, expand existing ones, and eliminate compliance hurdles.

UHNW individuals are defined by Wealth-X as having total assets of at least US$30 million (S$38 million). On average the 1,355 UHNW Singapore residents have US$180 million in total assets. Together they have a combined wealth of US$160 billion. Singapore has a ratio of billionaires per capita 3 times higher than that of the United States, with one billionaire for every 200,000 residents.

Of course, not all their money is made from property asset enhancement. The government has made sure the rich get richer, through measures such as:
  • Gains derived from the sale of a property in Singapore is not taxable as it is deemed as capital gain;
  • There is no estate duty payable for deaths on and after 15 Feb 2008;
  • Generally, dividends paid on or after 1 Jan 2008 by a Singapore company are not taxable. Foreign dividends received in Singapore on or after 1 Jan 2004 by resident individuals are also not taxable;
  • Goods & Services Tax or GST on Investment Precious Metals was removed by the Singapore government on 1 October 2012.

Throughout the course of history, the flow of migration has always been directed towards destinations where there is perceived freedom and prosperity. Nobel prize-winning economist and champion of laissez-faire economics Milton Friedman referred to this as “people voting with their feet”. It works both ways. Singapore is very welcoming and inviting to the über rich, it is also getting very hostile to those struggling to make ends meet. The tragedy is that the poor are too tied down by debt servicing to make the relocation with their feet.

A Mr Tan, 71, who has a postgraduate in mathematics, actually pleaded with his doctor to end his life and his wife's two years ago. Even he could not do the math, caring for his dementia afflicted wife, a son with obsessive-compulsive disorder and a daughter with schizophrenia, all on the pathetic financial assistance and food rations from the community development council. There's no report on the ultra destitute individuals in Singapore.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering 9/11

Each time the tale is retold, astonished friends had to ask, "And you still sat there while he had a shaving razor in his hand?"

Twelve years ago, my friendly neighborhood Muslim barber was still trimming my hair when he asked if I saw the collapse of the World Trade Center on television. No I didn't, but I learnt about it on the internet, and remarked to him, "Wasn't it terrible, so many lives were lost."

"Ya, too bad many died. But you know what, in my heart, I feel good." Why? Because the Americans are too proud, he reasoned. I explained the fallacy of the thought - the walls of his barbershop were plastered with posters of Hollywood stars, from Michael Jackson to Madonna - and no, he did not slit my throat.

There was no need for fear, the different races in Singapore have always lived together in peace. We may have our own unique religious and cultural practices, they have never stood in the way of harmonious coexistence. Once a while, politicians may stoke the differences for personal ambitions, but common sense soon prevails.

There are those who are still urging Barack Obama to act, to unleash hell on Syria for the use of sarin gas on its own citizens. They argue that the proposal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons through diplomacy rather than resorting to military force is a cop out.

Whatever the outcome of the international showdown, it is no excuse to be distracted from our own country's myriad problems. The issues of affordable housing, medical care and transportation have yet to be solved, roads are still flooding and trees are still falling every time there's a downpour. Don't try to pin it on the guy who initiated the tree planting in the first place though, he already absolved himself of the stop-at-two policy fall-out. That and the plane loads of foreigners that are straining at the limits of a melting pot society.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

No Cigar

Ng just lost to Thomas Bach of Germany.

Ng Ser Miang's qualifications for the bid of International Olympics Committee (IOC) President - reputedly most powerful man in world sports - were listed as President of organising committee of 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics, vice-president of International Sailing Federation 1994-98, and non-resident Singapore ambassador to Norway.

The "Pros" in his favour:
Candidate from Asia, continent of increasing influence; organiser of inaugural Youth Olympics, affable personality, popular with members, diplomatic experience.

The "Cons" against his selection:
Seen by some as "too nice," not viewed as having imposing public presence, potential opposition from some Asian countries.

His own assessment of his "Strengths":
"I am proud to be Asian, but I'm also global. To lead a world organisation, it is necessary to have a world view. Being from Asia is also advantageous because I would bring to the table a different perspective."

Ng was supposed be among the top three, and one of two candidates from Asia, the other being C. K. Wu of Taiwan.

Nice try, Mr Ng, but no cigar. Perhaps it wasn't a good idea to mention the botched Youth Olympics Games involvement.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Curse of the Certificate of Entitlement

Is that it? Motorists island wide were anticipating earth shaking measures to address the soaring cost of that  accursed piece of paper called the Certificate of Entitlement (COE). Obviously running out of ideas, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew came up only with a token change to a flawed system that is in dire need of a radical overhaul:
From February 2014, Category A cars, in addition to having engine capacity of not more than 1,600cc, must also have engine power not exceeding 97 kilowatts (130 hp).

Apparently nearly half of Category A COEs went to premium models in recent COE bidding execises. These "premium" models were lower end variants of brand name luxury vehicles, such as the Mercedes Benz C180 (engine power 115kW) or BMW118i (125kW). The move is supposed to appease those who can afford only the mass market models, which brands are normally whispered to avoid embarrassing the bottom feeders.

Minister Lui deigned to venture too far out to antagonise the super rich by levying a surcharge on those who own multiple cars. Especially those have fleets of exotic sports vehicles for showing off, not basic transportation to a day job. He also rejected calls for a Pay-As-You-Bid system and a ban on dealers bidding on COE, for reasons best known to himself - and dealers consulted by the minister.

Shifting qualifying models from Category A to Category B means no difference to the cost of car ownership, if the recent numbers of the 4 September COE bidding exercise is anything to go buy. That damn piece of paper is still another $80,000 tax going to the greedy government:
  • Category A (cars up to 1,600cc): $77,304, up from $76,223 previously;
  • Category B (cars above 1,600cc): $77,100, up from $76,607 previously;
  • Open category: $80,000, up from $79,223 previously.

The COV (Cost Over Valuation) took umpteen cooling measures (anybody keeping count?) to be tamed, in the ever elusive chase of the affordable public housing flat. Let's hope this tweak to the COE outrage is first of many to come.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Frost Interview

Sir David Frost with "Tricky Dicky"
Early this week, Sir David Frost, 74, the journalist and broadcaster whose lengthy career stretched from cutting-edge 60s satire to heavyweight interviews and celebrity gameshows, died of a heart attack. The world, however, was mesmerised by Obama's turnaround approach to the Syrian situation.

Sir David was larger than life, an extraordinary man bestowed with charm, wit, talent, intelligence and warmth. His many brilliant interviews made a huge impact on television and politics, but none were as riveting as the Nixon interviews.

The Ron Howard movie of the Frost/Nixon interview in 1977 showcased one of 20th century television's most dramatic confessions, thanks to artistic inventions by scriptwriter Peter Morgan. Under Frost's coaxing, Nixon was persuaded to overcome his reticence and put his mea culpa on the record once and for all.

"Yes," said Nixon, "I let the American people down. And I'll have to carry the burden the rest of my life."

Nixon's biographer Jonathan Aitken revealed that the truth was slightly less melodramatic. Ever the master stonewaller, Nixon fulfilled his contractual obligation to sit through all 24 hours of televised interrogation, but he managed to weave a web of maximum tedium and minimum disclosure. Worst of all, he yielded no ground on Watergate; nor did he come anywhere near offering an apology for it. His staff had to gutsy up and tell the boss, "Listen, if this ends the way it has, the world is going to say, there goes the same old Nixon."

Eventually, Nixon was grudgingly convinced, agreed to offer one more additional interviewing session, and conceded that he had participated in the cover up and lied to the world about it.

Back in 1977, Nixon was at rock bottom as a disgraced political pariah in exile, and faced the added indignity of being desperately short of money. Unable to meet his doctors' and lawyers' bills, Nixon was on the verge of no longer being able to pay his staff. Frost's willingness to pay Nixon $600,000 for the interview - around $8 million in today's money - plus 20% of the profits, was a financial lifeline.

Wonder how much Frost will have to pony up to get Lee Kuan Yew to talk. As in really talk, concede how he let the Singapore people down, and have to carry the burden for the rest of his surviving days. The difference here, of course, is that Lee doesn't have to worry about money.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Great Divide

The tv talk show had posed the question - Citizen-PR gap: Have we widened it too much? When the talking heads were done, 67.8% said no, 32.2 % said yes. In the light of latest developments, one could almost sympathise with the newcomers.

"A" moved from Malaysia to continue his studies for the A-Levels. Got his degree at Nanyang University, married and had a son who completed national service, studied overseas and currently working over there.

"B", also from Malaysia originally, qualified for and obtained his citizenship from Australia, and took up residence here because of work commitments. His two sons have completed national service, one studying in the UK and another is at NUS.

Both "A" and "B" have been permanent residents (PRs) for decades, and never saw the need to take up citizenship. They live in private properties, paid their taxes and higher school fees for the kids. If the measures directed at PRs affect them, they are not significantly perturbed. Singaporeans aren't too upset either, after all, both did not compete for the limited supply of public housing, and took their proper place at the queue for schools.

What the xenophobic are really upset about are the new immigrants who are squeezing out the citizens at the work place, schools, public transportation and subsidized public housing. Immigrants who are brought in just to make up the 6.9 million.

The real divide is not about living harmoniously in Singapore, the real divide is between the planners and the people who are suffocated by the strained infrastructure. It is sad, but the newcomers seeking a better life here need not end up as scapegoats for a flawed government.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The New Normal About Skin

"But if you say I am a stupid fool who doesn't know what I'm talking about, and the Government comprises ministers who don't know what they're talking about and you criticise every policy of the Government, no one can sue you," Law Minister K. Shanmugam expounded to students from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law at a dialogue session.

The first part of the quote spells out what will attract legal action, "If you make a personal allegation of fact, if you say I took money, I am corrupt, I will then sue you and ask you to prove it."

The skin is an ever-changing organ that contains many specialized cells and structures, most of it between 2–3 mm thick. It functions as a protective barrier that interfaces with a sometimes-hostile environment. If any of the structures in the skin are not working properly, a rash or abnormal reaction is the result. That's one good reason when a lawyer's letter of demand is in the mail.

When Lee Hsien Yang was once asked about criticism over the excessive goodwill paid to acquire Optus -  SingTel paid $13 billion for Optus in October 2001 and most of the acquisition was goodwill worth $11.4 billion - he mentioned something about a thick skin. Recently his brother boasted, as one blogger put it, he is a thick-skinned prime minister who is “flame-proof” to cyberspace vitriol against him. ("When you are in the public eye, you flame me, I'm flameproof."). Before you jump to the conclusion that thickness of the epidermal layer is a genetic trait, remember the father has bankrupted many an opponent who dared suggest something negative about his person or office.
"I have sued 15 or 20 times over the last 30-odd years and they come back with the same story that I have been plundering the place, I've enriched myself, and if I had not stopped it each time on its tracks, I would not have survived or enjoyed the reputation and that I think I do enjoy, that I'm prepared to stand up and be  scrutinised." (Interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, 4 June 1995)

For someone who talks much about digging spurs into the hides of Singaporeans, the thickness of his own epidermis measures quite differently:
"Every morning, my task begins with reading five, four now, newspapers. It can be tiresome. I note the scurrilous, the scandalous. I can live with that.  But when any newspaper pours a daily dose of language, cultural or religious poison, I put my knuckle-dusters on. Do not believe you can beat the state." (speech to the Singapore Press Club, Nov 15, 1972)

The moral of the story is to take Shanmugam's words with a large pinch of salt. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The End of The COV Is In Sight

For house hunters, it was sweet music to the ears: "Sell at all cost." Aunt Jen had to downgrade from her private property to a resale flat to finance her son's overseas education. Same week she was house hunting, Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat confirmed that $36 million is spent annually to bring in foreign students who take up limited university places, and later, jobs in our own local market. Most of these are from single child families, whose parents may move into town to take up residence and buy up the same resale flats. Hopefully for residence, not speculation.

What a change one week made. The new 3-year wait for fresh permanent residents (PRs) before they can buy resale flats turned out to be the one cooling measure that had real bite. Sellers are now panicking, according to property agents, "Some sellers are so desperate for "whatever they can get" that they are even agreeing to sell their flats at zero COV." According to the Singapore Estate Exchange (SRX), the had trend started earlier: The number of zero COVs was 14 in January, and tripled to 49 in July.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan once said that the cash over valuation (COV) - cash premiums - for Housing Development (HDB) flats cannot be scrapped as such payments are set by buyers and sellers themselves. Khaw explained it thus:
"COV is the difference between (a) price of flat as agreed between buyer and seller and (b) the valuation of the flat given by a professional valuer. (b) is done by an objective professional. (a) is between buyer and seller. Abolishing COV means removing (a)? Then who sets the price? The professional valuer? Years ago, it was tried. COV then went underground as 'under counter cash payment'."

The "under counter cash payment" scam is traceable all the way back to "cash-back" schemes in 2001, wherein buyers and sellers over-declared the agreed selling price in order for the buyer to get a higher loan either from a bank or the HDB - also referred to in the trade as "over invoicing". The cash surplus would then be illegally divided among the parties involved. Such offences are punishable by a jail term and/or a fine.

What the minister refused to address about the legality of COV, the free market has managed to tame. Khaw's last words on the subject were: "Clearer rules and regulations with penalties and strong enforcement will be enough to check any under counter cash payment." Khaw may have the luxury of time to come out with the penalties and strong enforcement, but ordinary folk can only hold out for so long.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Price Of Fame

This month, the Marina Bay area is being locked down again for the F-1 night race so that another $150 million can be splurged to make the Singapore skyline "more well known". Quite arguably, the city state is already famous, though not always for good reasons.

Joel Brinkley's recent book, "Cambodia's Curse, The Modern History of a Troubled Land" (Perseus Books Group, 2011) has this mention on page 174:
"...So it was in 2000 when oknya Lao Meng Khin asked to buy the rights to take out the last major forest in  Pursat Province, in south-central Cambodia. They agreed on a price, to be paid directly to Hun Sen.

Another oknya, Ly Yong Phat, is also a wealthy senator, actually bought the right to sell off tons of Cambodian land. Singapore was a veracious purchaser of sand; the city used it as landfill to create more real estate. For years it had bought sand from Indonesia, but sucking it from the bottom of the seabed had caused "very severe environmental damage in many Indonesian islands," the Indonesian Foreign Ministry had said. Indonesia banned sand dredging.

Almost right away, oknya Ly Yong Phat bought the right to begin sucking sand from the bottom of Cambodian rivers and seashores, for sale to Singapore. The Phnom Penh Post reported that sand dredgers were at work inside the Peam Krasp Wildlife Sanctuary, among other places. By the summer of 2010 riverbanks were beginning to collapse, dragging boat piers and outbuildings down into the water."

Eventually, Hun Sen issued a "partial ban" on sand dredging, but loopholes allowed the continued sale of contracts as he pleased.

There is no direct translation for oknya in English. The word has its origins in early Khmer, referring to someone who was a devotee of Siva, the Hindu deity. In modern context, it was roughly defined as one of Prime Minister Hun Sen's wealthy cronies. In 1993, Hun Sen decreed that anyone who donated at least $100,000 for "public works projects" would win the oknya title. Holders of the title did favours for the prime minister, usually taking on building projects that help to enhance his own reputation.

A variety of Cambodians and Cambodia experts agree that fundamental change cannot come until Hun Sen leaves the scene. Installed by the Vietnamese in 1985, he was born in 1952, so he could potentially remain in power into the 2020s or '30s. "In 2013, I will be only 61 years old and still firm," he once proclaimed at a university graduation ceremony, "Even now I have already become the longest ruling prime minister in Asia and made a historical record." The other contender for that title may disagree, having been prime minister from 1965 till 1990, and bestowed other titles like Senior Minister and Minister Mentor to have a tug on the puppet strings for several more years. It's one thing to be famous, it's another to be infamous.