Friday, August 29, 2014

Barking Dogs Don't Bite

When we adopted a rabbit from the SPCA, we were told to pay for the spaying and neutering fee, on the understanding that a neutered male rabbit will live longer. Also, altered rabbits are supposed to be calmer, more loving, and dependable once the undeniable urge to mate has been removed. All we remember was that the poor creature was sad and forlorn for at least a fortnight. You would be sad too if your family jewels were surgically nipped off.

The Housing Board recommendation to some Ang Mo Kio dog owners about debarking noisy canines seems to have upset some animal lovers. The Action for Singapore Dogs organisation claims on their Facebook posting that "This is an extremely cruel and painful procedure of removing the vocal chords which can cause constant physical pain." Sounds a thousand times more scary than the Isis "FGM edict" hoax in Iraq about enforced female genital mutilation.

Charlotte McGowan, a dog breeder for over 40 years, provides some alternate perspectives at her "Myths and Facts" presentation about debarking (bark softening):
Q: Does debarking remove the dog's ability to bark?
A: No. Debarked dogs continue to bark. What debarking does is to lower the volume of the bark so that it does not carry for miles around.

Q: Is this a "cruel and barbaric procedure?"
A: No.  People with little or no experience raising naturally noisy and talkative breeds may tell you this. People with breeds like Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties) can tell you that this procedure is simple and that it saves lives of dogs that might otherwise be dumped in the pound for their barking. Debarking is a more simple procedure than removing the uterus in spaying or removing testicles in neutering.

Q: Do dogs suffer emotionally from debarking?
A: It is a huge myth to suggest dogs are emotionally disturbed by debarking. Debarked dogs can bark. Even if reduced sound comes out of their mouths, they don't seem to notice at all! Debarked dogs that are not being constantly disciplined for barking, in fact, tend to be much happier dogs!

Before you join the throngs of unhappy people who go on the internet to research additional viewpoints - satisfied people don’t have time to go on the internet, we are told - consider the relative lack of reaction when the minister tried to debark the vociferous online voices. It is a sad day when the activists pay more attention to barking dogs than complaining citizens yapping for the return of their CPF.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Their Gods Must Be Crazy

News like this is enough to turn any one into an atheist. First we have this wife of a mega church pastor cavorting semi-clad in a music video to win more converts, and giving geishas in general a black eye in the process. For the record, real geishas do not provide pleasures of the flesh. They are highly skilled professionals, traditional female entertainers dedicated to performing various Japanese arts such as classical shamisen music, dance and games, appreciated for their subtlety, strength, and grace.

There's nothing subtle about the females travelling to the Middle East to offer up themselves as sex objects for the insatiable Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq. Not just the 3 Malaysians mentioned by Malaysian Insider, Sunni women from Australia and the United Kingdom are also participating in the Jihad Al Nikah  (Arabic: جهاد النكاح‎, often translated as Sex jihad or Sexual jihad), draining the energies of the combatants who probably need it more on the battlefield. It's enough to give the comfort women of World War II a bad name.

Apparently it started after the fall of the town of Mosul, and people were ordered to send their unmarried women to jihad for sex. Note the unabashed request for virgins - these nuts should kill themselves and collect their entitlement of 70 unsoiled maidens in the after life. During WWII businessmen shipped willing prostitutes overseas to service the troops. It was only when the supply ran out that local females were "recruited" to staff the pleasure barracks. Cruel as it may be, at least the Japs didn't invoke a religious entity to justify their atrocity.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Lament For Education

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are two glaring examples of how to be successful without benefit of a university degree. Forbes magazine published a list of college-dropout billionaires on March 11, 2009 and noted that the average net worth of billionaires who dropped out of college, $9.4 billion, is approximately triple that of billionaires with Ph.D.s, $3.2 billion. Then again, what is the purpose of education?

John Goodlad ("In Praise of Education", Teachers College Press, 1997) wrote that educational stimuli stirs and prods the maturing individual to engage in a process or self-transcendence from narcissism to identify with and assume responsibility for humankind and for all species of flora and fauna on which humankind's own survival depends. Quite a mouthful to say that it's better to stop and smell the flower bouquet than swipe the free toothpicks from a restaurant table.

The journey of education, he said, is endangered by alternatives lushly advertised in travel folders that offer more and earlier self-gratification for less discipline and sacrifice. We see that in our variant of meritocracy, where an 18 year old has his path to obscene wealth chartered by the type of scholarship he is anointed with. Never mind if the skillset calls for obfuscation and dereliction of accountability, the legions of minions can always be counted upon to be exploited to the hilt.

The contention that education is a moral endeavor is a frightening prospect for these people. Goodlad cites the British philosopher John White, who believes there are moral positions that should be made available to everyone in a democratic society, such as fairness, caring, justice, equality and community. Tragedy is a leadership populated by amoral individuals.

It is obvious that education has been corrupted to lesser ends than guiding the delicate process of self transcendence. No wonder the discussion of education is tainted by discourses of starting pay and competitive salaries. Society has no room for ruminations about higher aspirations when the earthy needs of affordable housing, transportation and job security are not met.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Coming Of (electronic) Age

Finally, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs, "The Singapore Story" and "From Third World To First", are now available in electronic book format. In the author's note to the eBook edition, Lee wrote, "It is my hope that the experiences of my generation find relevance with a generation that grew up with digital literacy and technology."

Lee once said he will call it a day when the retelling of his experiences and stories can fit into a thumbdrive. Capacities for thumbdrives are now in the order of gigabytes (GB), yet the nonagenarian was last seen leading a team for the Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in the 2011 elections. Maybe they were trying to physically squeeze two hard cover volumes into a tiny solid state device. It may sound ridiculous, but we are dealing with folks like his son who recently declared that the "human society was not designed with the Internet age in mind."

The eBook format takes the wind out of that argument. The 2 volumes of Hitler’s Mein Kampf take up only 1 megabyte (mb), 7 books of the Harry Porter series add up to 6 mb, and the Oxford Complete Works of Shakespeare occupy only 7 mb of disk space. Even “The Untold Story of Mao” by June Chang and Jon Holliday, which includes 1780 pages of text and photographs, require only 6 mb of storage. It is doubtful all of Lee’s books can even fill up a 2 GB thumb drive.

Produced and sold under licence from Singapore Press Holdings (who else?) which owns the publication rights, the memoirs started retailing at $34.99 each from major e-book distributors from Monday 25th August. It's cheaper online. But you can't use it as an expensive door stop.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Not My Job

This is plain disgraceful demeanor. Barely a week has passed since her great commission, and the minister is already shirking her responsibility and redefining her own job description.

The Prime Minister had made it crystal clear at the nation wide broadcast her million dollar portfolio was a bao-kar-liao assignment - that's dialect for "all encompassing" or "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink". Right off the bat, of course she should expect her phone to be ringing off the hook. If the PM decides to dedicate expensive prime-time television to a fishball stick instead of housing, transportation, health care or immigration issues, it has to be a national priority, right?

Grace Fu begs to differ. By her own definition, the newly launched Municipal Services Office (MSO) is not a "catch-all body, but for complex cases" only, a direct insinuation that a fishball stick does not deserve national attention. Never mind that past attempts to address the "tai-ji" malaise in the system has failed miserably. There was the "Zip-in-Process" (ZIP) initiative in 2000, "No Wrong Door" approach in 2004, "Walls Coming Down" promise in 2006, "First Responder Protocol" improvement in 2012, and the new "Department of Public Cleanliness" set up in 2013. But when a member of the public called the NEA about a serpentine intruder in October 2013, he was asked whether aforementioned snake was slithering in a public park, or in a building, and whither direction it was heading for. If the snake could talk, they would probably quiz it and ask if it preferred to be attended to by NParks, PUB, AVA or the friendly neighborhood police.

Here's how Grace Fu envisages her scope of responsibility: "So, if one knows who to call, of course he can just call the number. But if he doesn't know who to call, I'm hoping to see if I can make it easier for them." Think of it as a high class call center girl, with a compensation package to drool for.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Malaysian Police Boleh

After being on the run since his escape from a toilet window of the Internal Security Department's Whitley Road Detention Centre on 27 February 2008, Mas Selamat bin Kastari was finally apprehended in Skudai, Malaysia, on 1 April 2009. By the Royal Malaysian Police. The Singapore media got wind of the capture by the Malaysian authorities only on 8 May 2009. Mas Selamat was transferred back to Singapore on 24 September 2010. Since then, if the Singapore Police Force (SPF) ever managed to find out how a limping terrorist could evade the "largest manhunt ever launched in Singapore" and cross a body of water, we are none the wiser.

Meanwhile the Malaysian police have been busy again and thwarted a plot hatched by radical Islamic militants influenced by Iraq's extremist jihad group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The 19 suspected militants arrested from April-June had plans to blow up pubs, discos and a Malaysian brewery of Danish beer producer Carlsberg, revealed Ayob Khan Mydin, deputy chief of the Malaysian police counter-terrorism division.

Ayob Khan told AFP the group, all Malaysians, had visions of establishing a hard line Southeast Asian Islamic caliphate spanning Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. "From interrogating them, they talk about [Islamic State] ideology, including the killing of innocent people and also Muslims who are not in their group," he said, demonstrating that the Malaysian authorities are better at eliciting information from captured terrorists under detention. Thanks to folks like him, Singaporeans can sleep nights. Ayob Khan has to be grossly underpaid.
This man definitely deserves a beer (Calsberg of course)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Demand For Law

When a member of a certain profession tries to discourage you from going into the same field, chances are that he is protecting his turf for ulterior motives. The law of supply and demand is immutable, or as Law Minister K Shanmugam pointed out, the juicy starting salaries and annual increment of past years won't last forever. Budding lawyers will have to understand that the market may change based on laws of economics, not fine points of law.

Going by Nominal Value Added, we are told the legal services sector has grown from $1.5 billion in 2009 to an estimate of $2.1 billion last year. It helps when professionals like Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and Member of Parliament for Chua Chu Kang GRC have no qualms about billing $46,729 to $77,102 for each day in court, and as much as $100,000 per hour of hearing. A friend had a taste of cowboy town when he was quoted $500 for a simple transfer of title for a 2-room flat after his mother passed on. Fortunately someone within the housing board was prepared to do the same paperwork for $38.50.

The total number of lawyers churned annually out by local universities NUS and SMU in the last 3 years range from 334 to 369. The third law school, at SIM University, is expected to take in 50 to 75 students yearly. Compared to the estimated 1,142 Singaporeans reading law in the United Kingdom, one can see a big squeeze ahead if the number of local training contracts fail to absorb the potential flood of applicants.

Then again, not every young legal mind may want to practice law here. Not when we have rulings like it's okay to be found inside a prohibited zone, but not if caught loitering within 200 meters of it. The advantage of an overseas education is that one can be tutored by first world legal expertise, instead of third world partisan practitioners. Hopefully we can look forward to a future generation who will champion the rule of law, instead of rule by law.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Third Eye

When the taxi driver appeared to have difficulty with our destination, we suggested he use the GPS system in his cab, but he said the LCD display was not a navigation system. It was just a digitised map, and yes, his rental did go up after it was fitted. We then taught him how to enable turn-by-turn voice guidance navigation with Google maps on his android smartphone.

ComfortDelGro recently installed in-vehicle cameras for its fleet of more than 16,000 taxis, purportedly as an added safety and security measure for drivers to identify passengers who evade fares, as well as to provide video evidence for accident situations. If rentals also did increase, it is not public knowledge.

ComfortDelGro is now testing a new smart camera on 30 taxis for the next 6 months that it says can determine real-time traffic risks while a vehicle is in motion and prompt the driver with audio and visual warnings.  Mobileye® is a “smart” camera located on the front windshield and uses proprietary pedestrian detection technologies to measure the distance to vehicles, monitor lane markings, speed signs and hopefully avoid collision with objects being scanned. Nothing is mentioned about prevention from being rammed from the side by a speeding Ferrari trying to beat the lights at Rochor Road. The installation for the fancy camera, which retails for S$2,300, will be done for free for the cabbies. Who has to end up paying for the expensive accessory is not disclosed.

Yang Ban Seng, ComfortDelGro’s chief executive for its taxi business, said “This device acts as another ‘eye’ for our cabbies, who spend a large part of their days and nights on the road.” What we really need is someone to keep an eye on the costs of operation, and work towards reducing exorbitant taxi charges, not find another excuse to hike fares.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Defending Unorthodox Ways Of Doing Business

While Brazil has denied links with property firm EcoHouse, a developer who claimed to be working with a Brazilian government social housing programme, it has not refuted reports that GIC Private Limited (formerly known as Government of Singapore Investment) has acquired an 18.5 percent stake in Brazilian education services company Abril Eduacao.

Opaque as ever, GIC did not disclose how much was shelled out for Brazil's primary and secondary school market. Reuters is guessing that the investment is worth about $330 million. How much of that has been tapped from the Central Provident Fund ("GIC pays no regard to what the source of funds is" - Tharman) is more difficult to decipher. We know CPF can be used for our children's education, but spending it on Brazilian kids?

Skip to 49:50 of the video (Lee Kuan Yew speaking in October 1998 at the Shell Distinguished Lecture Series: "The Origin of the Meltdown in East Asia") where he says, "I'm not wanting to defend unorthodox ways of doing business," just after defending Suharto and family for stashing away $42 billion of a nation's wealth. It's okay, he said with a straight face, because Suharto and his family had vested $42 billion and their enterprises in Indonesia, "they didn't put their money outside". 30 years of "corruption, cronyism, bribery and the rest of it" was justifiable in his eyes "because they made growth". What brought the country down was foreign debt, and he blamed IMF for highlighting the financial morass.

We may not have to worry about foreign debt, but the local debt could bring us down to our knees. The composition of government borrowings outstanding as of March 2013 was S$396 billion (comprising T-bills ($60 billion), SGS Bonds ($87 billion) and SSGS ($249 billion)). We now know what SSGS is. We now know where the SSGS ends up. What we don't understand is why they are still saying our CPF is risk free.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Story of the Fishball Stick

Quite a few viewed the National Day Rally speech on Youtube, at 9.15 pm the visitor count was 6,093. Maybe they were hoping to capture a personal video of another "mee siam mai hum" moment for posterity, the type of glitch that seem to pepper his public performances. He did mention the Minimum Sum was going to be raised to $161 twice, but the staid non-reaction of the selected audience in attendance let that pass. However, it was difficult to miss the saga of the fishball stick.

Once upon a time, there was an entity that went by the acronym of PWD, which stood for Public Works Department. If you had a mosquito problem that needed defogging, a pavement that needed to be resurfaced, or a road that needed to be dug up, you had only one number to call. Think of it as the ghost-busters of public space, the sentinels of a well maintained environment, once upon a time.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the captive audience he found out (what we all already know) that it took 3 government agencies to address one miscreant piece of wood, presumably used for piercing fishballs. Mercifully it was not bagged and sent to a government laboratory to determine whether it could have been satay or yakitori.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) would only budge if the offending litter was on a grassy slope, the National Parks Board (NParks) if it was on the park connector, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) if it was on a pavement next to a roadway. Imagine the big inter-agency quibble over a pavement running down a slope, along a park connector, abutting a roadway.

Why the need for NEA, NParks and LTA when PWD was doing a good job for the price of one? Quite simply, that kind of bloat translates to justification for 3 sets of offices, 3 sets of permanent secretaries and 3 sets of superscale civil service officers. First rule in government spending: Why build one when you can have two at twice the price?

Lee's solution is to set up a fourth agency, the Municipal Services Office (MSO) under the Ministry of National Development.  Grace Fu must be glad to finally have something to do, to justify her million dollar paycheck. After all, she must feel lost among the numbers of Minister-in-the-Prime Minister's Office, which used to be more accurately called Minister-without-Portfolio.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Another Close Call

They say if you open the windows, expect flies to come in. Certainly not Ebola, unless you have a open door policy for all things foreign.

There was a mild scare yesterday when a Nigerian woman in her 50s was identified as a possible Ebola case by doctors at Gleneagles Hospital and transferred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH)'s Communicable Diseases Centre. She had flown into Singapore recently and arrived at Gleneagles's emergency department with a fever. What we do not know is whether she is one of many African foreign talents welcomed into the country by the liberal immigration policies or just another high valued individual landing here with lots of cash to park at our banks.

According to latest update (14 August) issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), 128 new cases of Ebola virus disease, as well as 56 deaths, were reported from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, bringing the total number of cases to 1,975 and deaths to 1,069.

Ebola is a scary viral illness with initial symptoms of a sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and sore throat. Then it gets worse - vomiting, diarrhoea and - in some cases - both internal and external bleeding. The incurable disease infects humans through close contact with infected animals, and then spreads between humans via direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments.

It's so scary that WHO has warned that there is "no early end in sight" to the severe health crisis and called for "extraordinary measures". Measures such as the Korean Air decision to suspend its return flights from Incheon, South Korea, to  Nairobi, with effect from August 20.

India's health minister Harsh Vardhan said 500 Indians are in the Republic of Guinea, 3,000 in Liberia and 1,200 in Sierra Leone, from where the maximum cases have been reported. Nigeria has a much larger presence of nearly 40,000 Indian citizens. "If the situation worsens, there is a possibility of these people returning home," Vardhan said. Hopefully not with the disease.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) claims that the risk of Ebola in Singapore remains low as there is limited traffic between West Africa and Singapore. Just in case, they carried out a mock "preparedness" exercise at Changi Airport, coincidentally, yesterday. All we need now is a tweet from Singapore Airlines declaring that they do not have connecting flights from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Conjuring Up The Future

The minister sticking to the nonagenarian like a leech in the photo op gave a longer speech than Lee's two minutes at the microphone. After stating that the aim of the Government is to ensure every Singaporean owns an asset - a HDB flat - so that everyone will have an albatross hanging about his neck for the span of the 35 year mortgage a stake in the country, he proceeded to advise against borrowing against the future, so that a financial burden is not passed on to future generations.

Ngiam Tong Dow once said George Yeo can weave magic with words. The context was the request from the MITA minister to build the Esplanade theatres and concert halls for $600 million. Before this, the highest ever request from MITA had been for $50 million to reconstruct and refurbish the Victoria concert halls, and even that was approved only because Goh Keng Swee personally placed his "considerable power of persuasion" behind the proposal. At the launch of Ngiam's book "Dynamics of the Singapore Success Story", Yeo confirmed the story: "When I was in MITA, Mr Ngiam was Permanent Secretary in the Finance Ministry. He almost killed the Esplanade project about which he paid me a high compliment years later."

The "high compliment" paid by Ngiam: "MOF was defeated by this ingenious procedural innovation," which was to use the Totalisator Board to finance the capital expenditure outside the Budget, using future revenue streams. Then Finance Minister Lim Hng Kiang has another variant of the ingenious scheme, giving Yeo less effusive credit for deploying future revenue streams, but the money was still spent.

Behind the cascade of words, more schemes must have been hatched. Why else is the current generation feeling the burden of financing the strained infrastructure, such as the $1.1 billion freebie for SMRT and SBS Transit? On Tuesday (Aug 12) SBS Transit reported a 57.2% increase in net profit for the second quarter; will they ever return anything to the taxpayers? The future's a tricky business, when the guys in charge weave magic with words.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How To Spend 10 Years

The Straits Times article kicked off by saying that Lee Hsien Loong's first decade as prime minister can be summed up in one word: Challenging. If someone else had written that piece, one could infer it was another way of saying the prime minister is politically challenged. There was quite a laundry list of what went wrong since Singapore's third round of musical chairs began on 12 August 2004 to support the thesis.

For starters, the bruising battles of the by-elections in Hougang (May 2012) and Punggol East (January 2013). Latter was triggered by a taste for mangoes, a very senior foreign affairs official would later be felled by pineapple tarts.

The sharpest recession since independence in 2008 when economic growth bottomed to 1.8 percent, and further shrunk another 0.6 percent in 2009. And that's not even accounting for the millions lost by Town Council mayors in flaky investment schemes.

Despite nation wide concerns about the detrimental social impact of gambling - and even disgruntled mutterings from cabinet members within - the go-ahead was given for Marina Bay Sands (May 2006) and  Resorts World Sentosa (Dec 2006) casinos.

With the richer getting richer, Gini coefficient careened from 0.464 in 2004 to 0.489 in 2007. Here's why: "In fact , if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here, my Gini coefficient will get worse but I think Singaporeans will be better off".

Then the mother of mayhem with the population bloat of 4,166,700 (2004) to 5,399,200 (2013), giving rise to a myriad of shortages relating to transport, housing, healthcare, jobs and education. Topped off by the the Population White Paper target of 6.9m population by 2030.

The fireworks that rounded off the sorry decade were train breakdowns, riot at Little India, bus strikes and sex and corruption scandals involving "incorruptible" elites. Lest we forget, there's also this lawsuit against a health worker that opened up the Pandora's Box of the Central Provident Fund  which turns out to have severely debilitating and far-reaching effects.

In retrospect, those with hindsight (which the guy obviously lacks) would have predicted the inevitable. Here's why: "Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in Parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I'm going to spend all my time thinking what's the right way to fix them, to buy supporters votes."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Payback Time

Payback can be a bitch.  Eugene Tan had made it well known - online, offline and maybe kopi-tiam circuit - that he was seeking another term as Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP). He was not chosen. Chairman of the Special Select Committee of Parliament Halimah Yacob explained: "We looked for eligible candidates who had distinguished themselves through their contributions to society or to their respective field, and who could bring their specialised knowledge to add to the depth and breadth of debates in Parliament."

Tan fits the descriptive to a T, as he is an Associate Professor of Law at Singapore Management University (SMU), and teaches Constitutional & Administrative Law as well as Law and Policy of Ethnic Relations in Singapore. He has participated in many televised discussions, so many that detractors awarded him the unsolicited sobriquet of media whore. Problem is, he takes his job too diligently and seriously, so seriously that he dared point out to the Speaker in the nick of time that quorum was not met when two bills were about to be passed in parliament. Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen saved the day by asking for an adjournment instead of summoning the MPs back into the Chamber. Ng is also one of the eight select committee members.

The first rule of the wayang fight club is, don't make them lose face. In the immortal words of Robin Williams in "Good Morning Vietnam", who sadly passed away today, "This will not look good on my resume."

Former NMP Siew Kum Hong nailed it when he observed of the nine fresh faces selected: "they do seem safe." Notable newcomer is President of the Society for the Physically Disabled Chia Yong Yong, a dedicated professional and wheelchair bound for more than 20 years due to muscular atrophy. What they were looking for ideally is someone blind, deaf and dumb - in line with Yaacob's dictates of see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Chia is too nice a person to do it, but someone else may just still reach out from his wheelchair to deliver a few tight slaps if and when they pull another Population White Paper stunt.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Somebody Definitely Overcharged

Thanks to a partisan mainstream media, we were more than enlightened with the inglorious details of how surgeon Susan Lim overcharged her royal patient from Brunei. The Business Times online report (2 July 2014) was first to break the story of how lawyers for the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) - Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and Melanie Ho of WongPartnership (WongP) - overcharged for their work against Dr Lim. Unfortunately we missed it it because of travel to wifi challenged locations; this is note for self.

Lim's husband Deepak Sharma - ex-Citi Private Bank global chairman - had disputed WongP's bills. In particular, in one of the bills, WongP was charging what amounted to $77,102 for each day they were in court. In another, it was $46,729 for each day in court. And for the third bill, the lawyers' charges worked out to be $100,000 per hour of hearing.

The total bill from the WongP lawyers - which amounted to $1.007 million - was brought before a taxation hearing, and the assistant registrar reduced WongP's tally of costs to $340,000 - about a third of the original demanded. When Mr Yeo and Ms Ho applied to have this decision reviewed, High Court judge Woo Bih Li eventually allowed a total sum of $370,000.

Sharma subsequently lodged a complaint to the Law Society of Singapore (Lawsoc), alleging, "I believe that the actions by the lawyers in grossly overcharging my wife by $637,009 (the difference between the original bill amount of $1.007 million and the $370,000 allowed by Justice Woo) are dishonourable and constitute grossly improper conduct."

Lawsoc's review committee (RC) looking into the complaint dismissed the charges against Yeo, on grounds that Yeo was not involved in the preparation of the bills, and therefore there was no misconduct on his part. Something akin to saying Hitler is not responsible in the extermination of 6 million Jews, since he did not operate the gas chambers.

Last we heard, Sharma was applying for a judicial review of this decision by the RC, first time ever someone in Singapore has applied for a judicial review of a review committee's decision - definitely a shoo-in entry for the Guinness Book of Records. He also had to apply for the admission of a Queen's Counsel, Michael Fordham, to represent him for the forbidding battle ahead as all of the over 20 Singapore Senior Counsels he approached declined to engage in legal combat. The heavy artillery is understandable since Yeo is also a People’s Action Party MP (Chua Chu Kang GRC). That plus the big bucks involved.
the list is long but distinguished....

Friday, August 8, 2014

Shades Of Honour

You know Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat makes a lousy teacher when he chose to speak on the value of honour for his speech at the launch of a new non-profit organisation, Honour (Singapore), on 5 August 2014. That word is currently a rude reminder that the present government has failed to honour the promise to return the citizens' life savings at age 55. As the late Toh Chin Chye put it, "Mr Speaker, I think fundamental principles are being breached."

Heng should read the Oxford Dictionary example of how to use the word, "I must as a matter of honour avoid any taint of dishonesty". The new organisation he was honouring hardly fits the third aspect he prescribed, "to honour one another by appreciating one another, understanding one another, and respecting differences in views as we build a common future". True, the website of Honour Singapore may profess that it “is a multi-racial, multi-religious, national initiative that seeks to promote a culture of honour and honouring in Singapore in the belief that this is an essential attribute for the continuing peace, progress, and prosperity of Singapore". But what they don't tell you honourably is that its Board of Directors is stacked with leaders from Full Gospel Business (FGB) Singapore.

The mission statements of FGB Singapore aim to, amongst other goals, “multiply disciples and enlarge our reach and spheres of influence” and "establish and advance the Kingdom of God in the marketplace, cities and nation". Something you might easily imagine as being penned by the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). The Executive Director of Honour Singapore, Jason Wong, is also the Chairman of Focus On The Family, a Christian group well-known for adopting an uncompromising stance toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community under the guise of advocating “family values”.

The same Focus On The Family people who were rooting for another group that attempted the surreptitious takeover of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). In 2009, a clique of conservative bluenoses under the leadership of Josie Lau briefly took over the AWARE executive council on grounds of it allegedly promoting a pro-gay agenda, and was subsequently booted out of office unceremoniously.

The honourable thing to do here is for Jason Wong, Richard Magnus, Georgie Lee, and Khoo Oon Theam to openly declare that they are also leaders of FGB Singapore and Focus On The Family. And explain "enlarge our reach and spheres of influence". To be fair, Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) also tested the tenuous line between state and religious affiliation when he was quoted saying, "Both politically and materially and philosophically, we have been supportive of the Palestine cause and have made that very public." Was that why a Palestinian flag was displayed from a housing board flat instead of our national colours?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Over The Top Solutions

SingTel chief executive Chua Sock Koong nearly caused an online firestorm on the first morning of the Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona. She was quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald as saying that telcos should be allowed to charge over-the-top (OTT) players for using their networks, "The main problem we have as an industry is we have been unable to monetise this increased demand...and (average revenue per user) has fallen over time." The fury unleashed resulted in Singtel quickly clarifying that it will not charge consumers separately for using services like WhatsApp and Skype.

Their revenue model will surely take another hit if Singapore startup Gentay Communications succeeds with their VoIP-based Nanu service, funded by an unnamed Japanese corporate investor and our very own Sim Wong Hoo, CEO of Singapore-based Creative Technology. Father-and-son team, Martin and Daniel Nygate, expanded on what is fundamentally a VoIP technology originally developed to support low bandwidth ship-to-shore voice communications for the maritime industry. With an Android smartphone and access to wifi you can now make free calls to landlines in 41 countries, including the US and the UK, while free calls to mobile phones will work for Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, and the US. The price you pay is a voiceover advertisement over the ringtone while waiting for a response from the receiving end.

Not bad for an alternative to the automated "operator is busy" message whenever you dial Singtel for assistance. Nanu believes that everyone around the world has the right to make free phone calls and is on a mission to end phone bills once and for all. That must sound Greek to a telcom that charges for telling you the time of the day. Notice that while innovative folks in the private sector contribute to reduce the cost of living, the Very Evil People in the government linked entities connive to make everything more expensive, being it toll charges for using the Causeway or healthcare. Who do you think ends up paying for the special bonus and 10 percent salary increment lined up for the 23,000 voters nurses?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cheering On Singaporeans

Eight times Australian National Champion and Commonwealth Games Men’s Singles silver medalist (2006), William Henzell, lambasted Singapore for sending a “professional team” - the politically correct descriptive for "mercenary" - to Glasgow that was largely made up of PRC-born players. “I don’t think what Singapore does is in the spirit of the Games,” Henzell whinged. “It’s disappointing to see.”

Henzell touched a raw nerve. You see, what Singapore does is not exactly in the spirit of nation building either. Bringing in hordes of foreign players into the workforce, some with doctored and dubious paper qualifications, and calling them talents. Gong Li and Eduardo Saverin may have signed on, but they only add to the rarefied list of multi-millionaires, not the types doing the grunt work like having to bear arms to defend a country. At time of jumping ship, the Brazilian-born resident of Singapore was reputedly joining a growing number of people giving up U.S. citizenship ahead of a possible increase in tax rates for top earners.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong celebrated the "achievements of Singapore" on his Facebook page, "especially our table tennis team which continued to dominate". Fortunately he did mention by name the ones who rightfully deserve our congratulations: Joseph Schooling (swimming), Hoe Wah Toon (gymnastics), Danny Chrisnanta and Chayut Triyachart (men's badminton doubles), Derek Wong (singles), Teo Shun Xie (gold medalist, 10m air pistol) and Jasmine Ser, who brought home a gold for women’s 50m rifle, 3-positions. That's the politically correct thing to do.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

You Ask Them

The following excerpt is from the Charlie Rose interview of 28 March 2011:
LKY: “I said in that book (“Hard Truths”) that I think that Malays, that Muslims should be relaxed and eat together with the others.”
CR: “And it created a firestorm and your son said, the Prime Minister, differed with you.”
LKY: “That’s right.”
CR: “So, were you right or your son?”
LKY: *laughs*; “He has to be right because he is the Prime Minister.”
CR: “But … but?”
LKY: “But you ask the average person in the street whether what I’ve said is true.”
CR: “And they would say?”
LKY: “You ask them.”

Charlie Rose would not be able to follow up on that challenge because no details about "the average person in the street" were provided by Lee Kuan Yew. The kind of contact details that Ken Kwek would not divulge when demanded of Lee in the televised dialogue session of 12 April 2006 ("Why My Vote Matters") with a selected panel of young mass communication practitioners below the age of 30.

The kind of contact details demanded of Minister of State (National Development) Maliki Osman and Speaker of the House Halimah Yacob when Faisal Abdul Manap narrated the unpalatable encounter of a couple with a Housing Development Board executive. The crux of Faisal's narrative was that a divorce was recommended by the civil serpent servant so that the wife could be eligible to buy a flat under the Singles Scheme. Faisal was accused of making an allegation against HDB ("These are very serious statements that are being made against our civil servants" - Maliki).

Although protected by parliamentary privilege, Faisal chose to apologise as it was not his intention to cast negative aspersions. Faisal explained that, as he was no longer a counsellor, he would not have the contact details of the couple in distress. Part of us suspects he was doing a Ken Kwek. “But you ask the average person in the street whether what I’ve said is true.”

Monday, August 4, 2014

So Much For Transparency

This confirms they don't have a single honest bone in their body. First they tell us that GIC's annualised 20-year REAL rate of return is 4.1 percent. Then, probably realising that the number is none too impressive, group chief investment officer Lim Chow Kiat added that their portfolio also generated a 12.4 percent annualised NOMINAL rate of return for the past 5 years. It's bad enough the chow-kuan Lim chose to compare apples with oranges, the sad fact is that the whole bushel of rotten fruit is just performing to script.

It was only recently that the Republic's sovereign wealth fund manager, with well over S$125 billion under its control, reluctantly admitted that its funds are sourced from current account surpluses, government surpluses AND CPF inflows. What they are still not willing to reveal is exactly how much CPF monies have been stashed in the hush-hush pool. While on the subject of secretive money, do note that those surpluses are the result of the present government being thrifty (planners' view) or plain mean (people's view). Money which should have been allocated for social needs, be it healthcare, public transport or affordable housing for the masses.

Does it help if they add Suppiah Dhanabalan to the board? When he was in charge of DBS, and officers were jumping ship because they were the lowest paid, Dhanabalan gave the lame excuse that DBS was the training school for Singapore's future bankers. The stampede continued unabated, and he had to quietly revise the pay scale to match. And when he killed off POSB, he claimed that the effect of disgruntled customers moving off to other banks was minimal. The reality was that the migration of funds was huge, and he had to quietly bring the POSB name back. To date he is still keeping mum about Ross Worthington's documented account of being slapped in the cabinet meeting room, continuing to "subscribe to the tenet of all secrets staying within the PAP family" (chapter on "The Civil Service and Core Executive Dynamics", page 150,151). The tragedy here is that Dhanabalan is a bible carrying church goer, and he will be carrying secrets to his grave, all for the sake of a seat on the board.


Friday, August 1, 2014

No Sex Please, We're Singaporeans

Referring specifically to Astonishing X-Men Issue No. 51, the Media Development Authority statutory board spokesman said: “The MDA takes a holistic view in assessing content and considers all factors, including the context, presentation and language.”  The presentation on the cover of the comic is a graphic illustration of two full grown men, not penguins, about to suck face. MDA had had actually assessed the particular X-Men issue way back in 2012, two whole years before raising hell about “And Tango Makes Three”, “The White Swan Express” and “Who is in my Family?”

The Kinokuniya Singapore main store at Ngee Ann City had the presence of mind to have it wrapped in plastic and labelled “Unsuitable for the young”. After all, we hardly want young impressionable minds to be misled into thinking that it is perfectly a-okay to smooch passionately in full view of a conservative public. Even when Jack Neo was carrying on with his couch casting extra curricular activities, he had curtains installed in his vehicle. Whatever happened to "Go get a room"?

What boys and girls, boys and boys, and girls and girls do in private is their personal affair. Even the cops have promised not to barge into bedrooms to enforce section 377A of the law. But you really have to draw a line when amorous couples embrace so openly and explicitly that your kid will start to doubt the stock-brings-babies version of procreation.

The spokesman added that there was no breach of content guidelines, “which allow for the balanced depictions of same-sex relationships if they do not encourage or promote alternative lifestyles”. The new normal seems to be promoting promiscuity, so long as it's pro-family. Tell that to Lawrence Khong, whose daughter was played out by the cad who got her into trouble, who never contemplated to start a family in the first place.