Saturday, January 31, 2015

Life And Death Links

The chart shows that Life Corporation Ltd's (LCL) original business line of cord blood storage wasn't doing too well. Lots more can be gleaned from its 2014 Annual Report filed with the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX).

Armed with A$5.5 million from the June 2013 sale of its cord blood and cord tissue banking businesses and assets in India, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Indonesia to Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) listed Cordlife Group Limited, LCL quickly bought up Singapore Funeral Services (known as SFS Care Pte Ltd since 2012) in September 2013. The chronology that led to the formation of Eternal Pure Land Pte Ltd (EPL) is spelt out in the annual report:
1 Dec 2013, SFS acquired;
8 Jun 2014, tender submitted;
17 Jul 2014, tender awarded;
22 Jul 2014, bonds signed with "Golden Meditech" and "Northeast" for S$3 million each, funds which may come in handy for the two installments due on 13 August and 14 October 2014.

The most interesting date is 12 June 2014, day when EPL was set up to bid for the land parcel at Sengkang, a newborn with no track record, and only the operating experience of the Singapore entity, Singapore Funeral Services.

LCL's consolidated revenue for year ended 30 Jun 2014 was only A$1,907,000, of which A$1,905,000 was contributed by SFS Care Pte Ltd. Net loss for LCL was A$2,637,000, an increase of 61% compared to the loss of A$1,640,00 for year ended 30 Jun 2013.

You have to wonder what were on the minds of the civil servants when they evaluated the bidders. For all we know, some name dropper may have casually made it be known that Goh Chok Tong's son is on the board of Cordlife. Dr Goh Jin Hian was appointed as a Director of the Company in July 2011. It is ironical that the science of cord blood banking, preservation of cord blood to help nurture life in the future, is now linked to the preservation of ashes, after science has given up on saving life.

There is more to the eye at Sengkang, it's not just "commercial" and "religious" issues at stake. It's so serious, LCL has called for a trading halt after Khaw Boon Wan told the story of deception by Butterfly Lover Zhu Yingtai. As usual, to find the answer to the quagmire, one has to follow the money.

Friday, January 30, 2015

No Go For Go Ahead

Love means never having to say sorry is a cliche from an old movie. The affection is lost on a guy who promised not to introduce a means test during campaigning, and quietly reversed it after the elections were over.

Owners of the Fernvale Lea units - let's call it the Fernvale Lea Group (FLG) - should give themselves a pat on their backs, they actually brought the minister to heel! Without explaining why he decided to overrule his officers' stubborn insistence on the fine print - both the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Housing and Development Board (HDB) had flexed their muscles by issuing a joint statement indicating that the columbarium at a Chinese temple planned in Sengkang will go ahead, despite objections from residents - Khaw Boon Wan made a dramatic U-turn in parliament yesterday, 29 Jan 2015:
“For that Sengkang site we do not want a commercial columbarium and we won’t have one.”

He didn't exactly own up to the mistake - that the Government had awarded a place-of-worship site to a company that was not affiliated to a religious organisation - but merely acknowledged that HDB had awarded the land tender to Australian company owned Eternal Pure Land under the (mistaken) impression that the company was a vehicle for a religious organisation to build and own a Chinese temple. In other words, HDB had shoddy due diligence done on the bidders. Not unlike the oversight of shady dealings in the Brompton Bikes purchase.

Surely the FLG deserves an apology from the pathetic lame duck of a member of parliament, Lam Pin Min, for acting as salesman for Eternal Pure Land, promoting their project as the first Chinese Temple in Singapore and in the region (outside Japan) with a modern automated Columbarium, private viewing booths and E-booking for visitation times. That plus the co-ordinated onslaught from the mainstream media to shame the FLG for harboring selfish not-in-my back-yard (NIMBY) attitudes. At an angry meeting with about 400 affected home owners on Jan 4, Lam actually said that there was no purposeful effort to keep residents informed of the columbarium plans as it was not uncommon for places of worship to house such spaces. Well, Lam And Khaw just provided justification for purposeful effort to scrutinise all government intentions.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Permanent Head Damage

Contrary to popular understanding, PhD is the abbreviation for Doctor of Philosophy, a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities, not Permanent Head Damage. The academic level known as a doctorate of philosophy varies considerably according to the country, institution, and time period, from entry-level research degrees to higher doctorates. Naturally, the institution which accords the title to an individual bears some responsibility for its wisdom to bestow the honour. The term philosophy here does not refer solely to the field of philosophy, but is used in a broader sense in accordance with its original Greek meaning, which is "love of wisdom".

It is hardly wise for anyone to take his personal grievances to the local rag, and expect his story to be told in full unedited glory. As it happened, the dirty laundry flew right back into his face. It is doubtful any political party will accept such an individual within its ranks, especially when it's impossible to gauge which way he bends with the wind. Samples of his scatterbrained machine-gun fire:
  • calling Roy Ngerng “deceitful”, saying that the funds that he raised were “ill-gotten”, mentioning ISIS murderers' and rapists' justifications with Roy's matter, and comparing him to Yang Yin,
  • writing that Vincent Wijeysinghe should “stop pretending to be hurt for personal publicity”,
  • making uncalled for remarks against other opposition parties such as saying that the NSP lacked principles, questioning the general character of SingFirst, and calling out WP's Sylvia Lim's argument as being “very silly”,
  • likening PAP's Heng Swee Keat to Judas Iscariot
  • putting up a tasteless caption of a photo of Lee Kuan Yew
  • saying that, “some religious people are stupid”
  • casting aspersions on SMU's teaching system
  • saying that one “...can rob, rape, murder...just say that you are against the PAP and anything also can. No need to take responsibility.”
It is said that the meaning of a terrorist's bomb is as specific as its debris. Best stay out of firing range, unless you welcome being castigated as part of the the Looney Fringe.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Justice Of The Future

The 71-year-old who caused S$100 worth of damage - incurred to clean up graffiti ("We support CPF blogger" and "Return our CPF money") scrawled on bus stands - was sent to jail for 4 weeks.  Even if he had a valid Pioneer Generation Card on him at time of arrest - conceived to recognise and honour the contributions of Singapore’s Pioneer Generation in nation-building - it would not qualify for a get-out-of-jail-free ticket.

The teenager who was arrested for vandalising the rooftop at Toa Payoh housing block 85A was placed on probation for 15 months and required to perform 80 hours of community service. His graffiti case involved a more explicit message, expletives included, and the writing on the wall could not be missed.

Once upon a time, we had a chief justice who boasted that the quality of his justice dispensed was dependent on his satisfaction with the breakfast he was served that particular morning. He could get away with it; he loaned his lecture notes to a prime minister when both were studying in Cambridge. And you thought Marlon Brando's Godfather knew how to collect.

But Graaaskov was not physically involved in the crime of the century, okay, maybe 50 years. He was such a obedient child, he left early so as not to miss the last bus home, and upset his doting parents for breaking a curfew. In other words, he was not guilty as charged. He was cuffed and locked up in a detention cell for something he did not do, specifically, vandalising a rooftop.

Graaskov was punished for something else. First spelled out in a 1956 science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick, and popularised by Tom Cruise in "The Minority Report", "precrime" is a system which punishes people for crimes they would have committed, had they not been prevented. As the narrative goes, had Graaskov not been apprehended, he would have had his wanton way with the spray cans. In the movie, the system of predicting the future is performed by three mutants known as "precogs", because of their precognitive talents by which they can see into the future. The local parlance is "helicopter vision", and we have our own variant of "holy trinity". The next logical step to "read only the right stuff" will soon be "think only the right stuff". Forewarned is forearmed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Happy Mistake

Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) chairman and Workers’ Party (WP) chairperson Sylvia Lim explained that the omission of an additional step to avoid double counting of households in arrears over service and conservancy charges (S&CC) led to the erroneous figure of 29.4 per cent reported to the Housing and Development Board (HDB). The number that drew much flak from the baying wolves - reminiscent of the attack dogs jumping on fictitious heckling of speech needs children at Hong Lim Green - turned out to be 5.66 per cent.

Same eye popping figure that galvanised Desmond Lee into full assault mode, warning of "serious implications for residents", and other dire consequences. Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong also leaped into the foray, crafting a long and verbose commentary to suggest that the town council’s silence on the issue signalled that “something is seriously wrong”. Both have dug for themselves holes so deep they are probably wishing that they had paid more attention to Ms Lim's prudent advice “not to confuse or alarm the public by speculating on whether the S&CC arrears situation has worsened or whether AHPETC is facing ‘bigger problems'”.

Apart from AHPETC, only Potong Pasir received anything other than a “green rating” for S&CC arrears management in the Town Council Management Report. What the architects of that blunt instrument fail to appreciate is that a higher proportion of households in arrears over service and conservancy charges (S&CC) also implies the town council in charge is more forgiving and empathetic in the approach on collections. Instead of harshly imposing a penalty fee of $12 as well as a legal fee of $12.85 over an outstanding sum of $192.90, and inadvertently exposing the lucrative business of legal firms charged with enforcement. Especially firms with close affiliation with town councils.

Monday, January 26, 2015

From Zorro To Zero

Does it look like Lim Swee Sway was about to blow a raspberry? After all, it's not everyday that you have to surrender your job after a harried exchange of paper correspondence, via slow mail and not even electronic communication, and expeditiously effected within a single day. For sure, as Lim would say, he didn't get the memo.

Whoever penned "Prime Minister" in the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) letter of request was not using the same writing instrument or style of the two signatories, President Diana Chia or Secretary-General Lim Swee Say. The immediate same morning letter of response from the prime minister's office also had the addressees scribbled on a blank space allocated, as if the letter was prepared in advance, before confirmed knowledge of who will be actually making the request. Picture a guy dragged off the stage, screaming and kicking, "No fair! I won't sign! You can't make me sign!" "Members of the NTUC Central Committee" were also included in the salutation, but none of them had signed off on the originating letter of request that kicked off a chain of flurried activity on Friday, 23 January 2015. The very same afternoon Chan Chun Sing shows up at the NTUC premises on cue, wearing the identical T-shirt as the gathered troops. Presumably, the choice of colour was based on his military background, and not allusion to greenhorns in general.

The National Delegates' Conference is a long way off in October, so what was prompting the indecent haste for the installation of a new union chief? Surely the law can't have caught up with Lim for the pilferage of half a box of designer toothpicks, and he couldn't have been seen receiving mangoes from ardent grassroots leaders. Perhaps the court jester has finally run out of jokes or shaggy dog stories. You know the type of yarn, where the joker holds rapt attention of the listeners for a long time for no reason at all, and the end resolution is essentially meaningless. A national conversation running out of steam.

Don't be sad Zorro is hanging up his cape, he still has his CPF statement to keep him enthralled with the magic of guaranteed returns. Like his nonsensical tale of a deaf frog who could take a verbal question about critics after concluding a race, he will always respond, "I'm deaf. I can't hear them". Here's the ultimate shaggy dog story.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Facebook Quirk

In December last year, Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook is considering ways users can express their feelings beyond the "like" button. However he quickly dismissed any idea the social network will ever add the long-requested "dislike" button. There are times when you may want the simplicity of a one-click response and a "like" doesn't feel appropriate, but Zuckerberg thinks a "dislike" is too much of a negative sentiment.

The problem with the status quo is that sometimes you can't add a negative comment without clicking on the "like" button first. If Adolf Hitler were to have a Facebook page today, he would easily be flooded with tons of brickbats, all 6 million of which may have to "like" him first. Which is why the number of "likes" is never an accurate measure of popularity.

A netizen came across another interesting feature of Facebook not commonly known. Apparently his very public contribution of a sentiment from the heart vanished mysteriously, only to reappear visible only to him and his Facebook friends. No, his Facebook account was not hacked by some overzealous administrator, but most likely was thwarted by exploiting some privacy setting.

The question remains as to why someone would do that. Especially when this Saturday is supposed to be occasion for a mini version of China's "Hundred Flowers Campaign" (simplified Chinese: 百花运动),  a period in 1956 in the People's Republic of China when the Communist Party of China (CPC) encouraged its citizens to openly express their opinions. The  true nature of the exercise has always been questioned by historians, especially when the "Anti-Rightist Movement" that shortly followed resulted in the persecution of intellectuals, officials, students, artists and dissidents. All of whom would have clicked on the "like" button, if Mao Zedong had a Facebook account.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

True Leadership

Obama fan or not, you have to admit this guy gives a damn fine speech. And to think the old coot once called him a "flash in the pan".

America is so proud, they have released the full version of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address:
"Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years."

The inspiring words are worth reading, although the rousing live broadcast was definitely more stirring. You can tell the applause is real, not the canned stuff we are used to hearing in Mediacorp productions. As in North Korea staged events.

As he checked off the litany of what was achieved in just 6 years, there was no regret list. No asking the electorate to forgive him for not getting it right. Sure there were hiccups, yet you get the distinct impression he will continue to deliver his best during the balance 729 days of his remaining term. Need we add, he is paid only a fraction of what the greedy office holders in the little red dot reward themselves. Make believe politicians who can't even deliver a credible speech to save their own lives. Paper generals who resort to name calling because they can't get the facts right.

And when Obama's two terms are up, he will gracefully make way for another democratically elected official to do his or her best for the nation. No gerrymandering to fix the opposition so that his party of nattering nabobs will dominate for perpetuity.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Medishield Slaves For Life

Upon reaching the age of 60, my uncle received a letter from the Automobile Association of Singapore (AAS) informing him that, in appreciation of his many years of support, he will be henceforth entitled to free membership for the rest of his life. If only Medishield Life works like that.

No, Medishield Life makes you pay for the hiked premiums all the way to age 90 and beyond (see Medishield Life Premium Calculator example) - the premium calculator even accepts input from someone born before 1920. The MediShield Life Scheme Bill being rammed through parliament also makes it legal for Ah Kong to be fined $5,000, jailed for up to a year or both, should he run out of cash and defaults on the premium payment.
"The Bill (also) gives the national insurance administrator the same powers as that of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore to recover unpaid premiums, such as through employers or banks."

Worse, the wide-ranging powers bestowed to the administrator of the MediShield Life Scheme grant them unfettered access to people's income and health status without explicit consent from them. Personal data in Singapore is supposed to be protected under the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA). Not so when the law is always malleable to those determined to collect more money. This is what happens when parliament is dominated by one political party.

The wide, some say wild, bordering on berserk, ranging powers are justified by the flaky argument that defaults on premiums will mean a heavier load on other policy holders. Including policy holders who have to pay full premiums even though they are living overseas for extended periods, and won't be in town to enjoy the "enhanced benefits". Friends of ours who have migrated but still hanging on to the red passport will have no choice but to finally burn the bridges.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Time To Get Real

At least Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is one who recognised that recent 60 per cent fall in crude oil prices affects the global economy, and Malaysia is no exception. When he tabled the RM273.9 billion 2015 Budget last October, it was pegged to US$110 (RM390) per barrel in 2014 and a projected estimate of US$105 (RM370) per barrel this year. His Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Ahma Husni Hanadzlah said yesterday Budget 2015 will likely be restructured to take into account the weakening of the ringgit and falling oil prices. Opposition voices are already clamoring for the government to delay the start of a six-per cent goods-and-services tax which kicks in on April 1.

Insulated by his million dollar package, the Transport Minister who's middle name should be spelt with a "F" instead of "T", is still regurgitating the 3.4 per cent roll-over from the 6.6 per cent full hike recommendation of the previous fare review adjustment in January 2014. When Brent, light blend 38 API, fob U.K. was quoted at US$105.7 per barrel. He resorts to mathematical masturbation to demonstrate that a 2.8 per cent increase is a negative 0.6 per cent decrease. Hence the attention grabbing headline: "Public transport fares may drop next year: Lui"

In his recent interview, Lee Hsien Loong gave himself a pat on the back for "putting a lot of emphasis on education". Fortunately not everyone swallows the propaganda dished out in the classrooms, and more are getting educated by the school of hard knocks. They can see their shrinking purchasing power at first hand, continually eroded by government tariffs and charges which can only go up, never down. "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." - Abraham Lincoln

Monday, January 19, 2015

Open-minded Interpretation

All is Forgiven
Readers of The Economist in Singapore found a blank page in the latest 17 Jan edition. Lianhe Zaobao reported that 22nd page of an article on Terror and Islam ("After the atrocities") was left with nothing but two words "Page Missing" .

According to the Economist, print copies of the magazine that are sold in parts of Southeast Asia should read: "In most of our editions this page included a picture showing the current cover of "Charlie Hebdo". Our Singapore printers declined to print it." The message also directed readers to where they could view the image on The Economist website if they wished to.

Times Printers Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of Singapore's Times Publishing Group, claims the Economist had asked them about concerns running an image of the Prophet in tears holding a "Je Suis Charlie" placard under the headline in French "All is Forgiven." "We consulted and registered our concerns with The Economist magazine. After deliberation, The Economist ... sent out a replacement page to us which we have printed accordingly." Quite obviously, even the replacement page has been censored.

The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) which came about in 1974 requires that no newspapers are to be printed or published without a permit which is granted, refused or revoked upon the Minister’s discretion. No prizes for guessing who the printers might have consulted. The Singapore Information Minister said on his Facebook page he appreciated the printers' decision as the image would not have been authorised for publication.

Perhaps Yaacob Ibrahim missed the article by Fareed Zakaria ("No mention of 'blasphemy' in the Koran", ST Tue 13 Jan 2015), the part which states the idea that Islam requires that insults against the Prophet Muhammad be met with violence is a creation of politicians and clerics to serve a political agenda. Nor, the writer adds, does the Quran anywhere forbid creating images of Muhammad.

We know from Wikileaks that Yaacob Ibrahim once told U.S. embassy officials that he "has a more open-minded interpretation of the Koran" and that his Puerto Rican wife converted to Islam "to satisfy the conservative standards of Singapore." Not exactly cleric material, which means the politician is very much in play.
Isaiah’s vision of Jesus riding a donkey and Muhammad riding a camel,
al-Biruni, al-Athar al-Baqiyya ‘an al-Qurun al-Khaliyya (Chronology of
Ancient Nations), Tabriz, Iran, 1307-8. Edinburgh University Library.
(Thanks, anon@1/19/2015 3:51 AM)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Lessons From Planning Inadequacy

"Father, I have sinned, it has been 4 years since my last confession....."

It was 2011 when he first fessed up to his failings, "Well, we’re sorry we didn’t get it exactly right, but I hope you’ll understand and bear with us, because we’re trying our best to fix the problems". At stake then was George Yeo's hide, and a wobbly GRC heading for repentance. So he asked for more time, "I think we know what we are doing, we will work with Singaporeans in our own way to deliver results."

His own way doesn't seem to be working too well. He even shortchanged us on his listing of "regrets". He rattled off housing, transport and immigration but left out the old lady who languished overnight at a hospital corridor when her relatives were told a bed in a proper ward was available. And persists in lying about the Population White Paper. If 6.9 million was not a target, why was it, 5 years ago, even 17 year old scholars from China were invited to sign up as permanent residents?

He prided himself on the work done in education, ignoring the fact that the pesky issue of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) has been swept under the carpet. Sure, more university places are being created for Singaporeans, but that's because of the hue and cry over free tuition, board and lodging frittered on foreigners who tell the world there are more dogs than humans in our country. Former ambassador to the United Nations Dr Tommy Koh was depressed to learn that about a third of our students go to school with no pocket money to buy lunch. The China students are given $450 a month for pocket money.

Lee said Singapore's last 50 years was not as turbulent as, say, China's tumultuous hell ride. Someone please remind him of the man who jumped into the train tracks after giving his son the only money left in his wallet - all of $10. We don't know about the money in his CPF account, which is frozen for his retirement needs - in the afterlife.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Huffing And Puffing At The Post

ad hominem
ad ˈhɒmɪnɛm/

adverb & adjective
1. (of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining.
"an ad hominem response"
2. relating to or associated with a particular person.
"the office was created ad hominem for Fenton"

An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for argumentum ad hominem, means responding to arguments by attacking a person's character, rather than to the content of their arguments. Abusive ad hominem usually involves attacking the traits of an opponent as a means to invalidate their arguments.

Rather than rebutting - at the danger of "putting reason and intellectualism to sleep" - the points raised in the two opinion pieces of The Huffington Post, namely "Without Freedom There Is No Free Trade" (13 Nov 2013) and "Free the Singapore Media and Let the People Go" (11 Dec 2014, Chan Chun Sing resorted to the brass knuckles favoured by his political masters. A reprise of the treatment given to Chiam See Tong when latter faced off Mah Bow Tan, the blowback of which resulted in Chiam being elected to Parliament in 1984, the second opposition politician ever to be elected to Singapore's Parliament after J. B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers' Party (WP) in 1981.

Name calling like “political failure” may bruise the thin skinned types who actually claim to be "flame-proof", but not men of sterner stuff. As for "misappropriating research funds", the subject is postage to express mail his wife's doctoral thesis to her academic adviser in the United States, not a director level branch head of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) skimming off $1.76 million to fuel his gambling habit. The crime buster organisation's lame excuse for the lapse in supervision: “the offences were well-planned and hard to detect”.

Chees' version of the truth is that the university had authorised the mailing (approved and signed off by his department head) and that his sacking was designed to make people think very carefully before saying "the wrong thing". Asked by reporters to comment about the matter at a forum in 2012, Dr S. Vasoo chose to stay silent on the charge:
“It fabricates evidence – as Dr Vasoo did twenty years ago – to deprive people of their living. Lest I be accused of fabricating this, I draw evidence from the fact that this accusation has been published abroad in my colleague, Chee Soon Juan’s book, Democratically Speaking, available these last three months and against which Dr Vasoo has not raised a whimper.”

Chan may chafe at Huffinton Post for giving an opposition member "undeserved space", but thinking members of the electorate are welcoming the airing of dirty laundry with glee.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Perceived Corruption

Lee Hsien Loong attributed Singapore's drop of 2 ranks to 7th position in the Corruption Perceptions Index to two high profile cases of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Commissioner (sex-for-contracts) and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) assistant director (misappropriating $1.76 million).

Corruption cases nowadays are not always as clear cut as Teh Cheang Wan caught counting the illicit cash from contractors in his Ministry of National Development office.

In September last year, on his appeal, a former Ikea food services manager was cleared by High Court Justice Choo Han Teck who said that his actions did not amount to corruption because there was no third party to induce him to come up with the idea to rip off Ikano, the company that runs the Ikea stores here. Which led the prosecution to ask the Court of Appeal to rule on whether someone could be considered to have been "induced" in cases where the idea of receiving a bribe came from himself and not a third party. The Court of Appeal finally ruled that in order to prove corruption, it was not necessary for the transaction to be initiated by a third party.

The convolution takes another turn in the complaint against Alvin Yeo in relation to the overcharging of legal fees while acting for the Singapore Medical Council (SMC). A Law Society review committee ruled that there was no professional misconduct on the part of Alvin Yeo as he was not the one involved in the preparation of the bills. The same Law Society also wrote: "The winning party’s lawyers have a duty to seek the highest quantum reasonably arguable."

Naturally, the Law Society would not deign to induce anyone to overcharge, and lead him down the slippery slope of greed, avarice, and inevitable stain of perceived corruption. But what do we know, the interpretation of law is often in the hands of devious minds. Which could explain why Yang Yin is emboldened to file court papers demanding access to $1.13 million cash while facing criminal breach of trust (CBT) charges for misappropriating $1.1 million – $500,000 in 2010 and another $600,000 in 2012.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Geylang Goes Up Market

Look, mom, there's a brothel next to our block!

Those moving into their new flat at Sengkang West may think they have it bad because they will be sharing space with a columbarium. Spare a thought for those at the even numbered Lorongs of Geylang, especially the area URA has decided to rezone from "Residential/Institution" to "Commercial/Institution."

The emphasis on commercial over residential considerations is an obvious choice for the Urban Development Authority (URA). Confucius once said "微臣從沒見過 如斯好德如好色的人", which can be loosely translated as "never has the virtuous take precedence over vice". The infamous "Four Floors of Whores" at Orchard Road has always done a roaring trade, whatever the state of the economy. Perhaps something more posh sounding is on the drawing board for the Designated Red Area (RDA) Geylang district, something along the lines of "Skyscraper of Sluts" or "Prostitutes@Pinnacle?"

The outcome is inevitable - URA has weighed in with the overseas funeral parlour developer - but those affected will no doubt still go over the fine print in their signed contracts. Proud owners of residential developments under construction (#1Suites, Treasure@G20, Treasure@G6) and recently completed (Royce Residences, Central Imperial) may not have that much to lose. Sleeping jowl to jowl next to a member of the oldest profession of the world is definitely more desirable than proximity to an urn of ashes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cash Is Still King

The tightwads hanging on to our Central Provident Funds (CPF) with a death grip would like you to believe that every senior citizen will blow their life savings in a jiffy on a second wife in Batam. They have yet to come up with a logical justification for denying our unfettered access for healthcare needs. That doesn't stop them from throttling the Medisave component. Current choke holds in place:

$200 a year limit for outpatient treatment;
$400 a year limit for chronic diseases, certain screenings and vaccinations;
$600 a year limit for outpatient scans for cancer ($300 for non-cancer related scans)

Whoever heard of anyone "splurging" on medical treatment? Surely nobody in their right mind wants to be sick. The mainstream media took pains to highlight that our caring government has dropped the requirement that patients with chronic diseases have to pay the first $30 of each bill before being able to access their Medisave account balance i.e. no cash in pocket, no payment via Medisave, you die your problem.

What they fail to tell you is that, effective July 2014, patient will have to co-pay 15% of the bill in cash upfront (IMH- Business Office - FCF-CDMP wef 01/07/2041). So much for the kind intention to "reduce patients' cash outlay". You can't miss the fineprint for this doozy, you won't be allowed to pay by Medisave if you don't have the 15% cash in hand. The official jargon, drummed into the nursing staff trying their darndest best to explain the ruling, is:
"We encourage everyone to spend every Medisave dollar wisely, so it remains sufficient for your healthcare needs over a lifetime."

Ignoring the fact that if Ah Kong leaves the clinic without the medication for next month due to a shortfall in hard cash, his lifetime will be unkindly abbreviated.

Monday, January 12, 2015

So Was He Arrested?

Sometimes the paucity of information from the mainstream media is downright infuriating. The report starts off saying it was his "alleged" involvement in the theft of a branded wallet that got New Zealand surgeon Adam El-Gamel in hot soup with the law.

To refute reports circulating in New Zealand it was a case of mistaken identity, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) confirmed the 58 year old British passport holder was indeed arrested on Jan 8 around 8.10 am at Changi airport:
"He was involved in a case of theft of a branded wallet that took place in a shop in Orchard Road in February 2014.
He was subsequently released at 5.30 pm on the same day. Upon the completion of investigations and in consultation with Attorney General's Chambers (AGC), he was administered with a conditional warning."

That kind of statement opens up a whole can of worms. After one whole year of investigations - from Feb 2014 to Jan 2015 - the SPF professionals must have compiled the evidence to prove the theft was authentic, and not just alleged. And then the swiftness of justice administered - nabbed at 9.10 am, freed at 5.30 pm - which happened to be "a conditioned warning". How come Singaporeans are not entitled to such privileged treatment? Three kids - aged 9 to 12 - were handcuffed in public for theft of some cheap sneakers. Age cannot be the consideration here, special deals for the pioneer generation notwithstanding. The 71 year old expressing his endorsement for a popular cause ("We support CPF blogger" and "Return our CPF money") by writing on bus-stops was sentenced to four weeks in jail. The financial impact of his criminal behavior? The Today newspaper said that MediaCorp had to spend about 100 Singapore dollars (some 80 U.S. dollars) to clean up the defaced advertisement boards. Maybe the branded wallet El-Gamel lifted was a cheap imitation after all.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Take Down Of Pinoy Ello

Except for a side distraction from the mainstream media about the surprise find of a columbarium next to some new public housing development, the online pursuit of a black sheep in the foreigner population pool was accomplished in pretty good time.

3 Jan - A "Edz Ello" sends message to the country: "I will be praying that disators (sic) strike Singapore and more Singaporeans will die than (sic) I will celebrate." It was obviously not the best of congratulatory salutations for the SG50 festivities.

4 Jan (11 am) - Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) issues a statement on its Facebook page, promising to look into the matter: "Dear all, thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. We expect our staff to be respectful and professional. Rest assured we are looking into this."

4 Jan (1 pm) - TTSH issues an update on Facebook claiming that their Filipino employee’s Facebook account had been hacked, implying the offensive postings were not made by him. TTSH also said its employee has made a police report, hopefully mindful that giving false information to a public servant is a serious offence. Offenders can be punished with a jail term, or with a fine, or both.

4 Jan - Former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Calvin Cheng reminds Singaporeans to "have more of a backbone and thickskin", adding:
"Tan Tock Seng Hospital has said that the account of its Filipino staff was hacked but even if it wasn't so what? Are you going to go on a frenzied witch -hunt just because some foreigner called you a loser on the Internet ?"

5 Jan - Philippine Embassy issues a reminder to its Facebook followers to be responsible when posting online content. Not sure if also directed against Cheng's ranting commentary.

5 Jan - TTSH's latest Facebook post announces that nurse Ello has been put on “administrative duties”, pending police investigations. The Hospital does not make it entirely clear whether the police are investigating the hacking of Ello's account or the offensive comments attributed to him.

6 Jan - The Singapore Police Force (SPF) acknowledges a report has been lodged against the TTSH staff member.

9 Jan - TTSH announces that "We have dismissed Mr Ello Ed Mundsel Bello from our Hospital immediately for his offensive online comments made in 2014 while in our Hospital’s employment." Apparently someone confirmed Ello Ed Mundsel Bello a.k.a. Edz Ello has owned up authorship to the inflammatory posts. As quid quo pro, TTSH hit out at another posting: "We would also like to clarify that a quarter of our staff are foreigners, contrary to the inaccurate report by Shin Min Daily News on 5 January 2015." Hmmm, looks like Calvin Cheng is not the only Pinoy lover in town.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Screwed For Life

CPF LIFE is supposed to be an annuity scheme that provides members with an income for life from their drawdown age (DDA) or when they join the scheme, whichever is later. In any commercial annuity offering, after the principal sums and schedule are mutually agreed upon and established, the drawdown amount is determined and fixed. As good as written in stone.

That's what Vikram Nair, a politician, lawyer and member of the country's governing People's Action Party, was alluding to. In his example, the monthly income of $1,270 is fixed for life.

Now look at the fine print on the CPF Life website:
"The payout range is based on interest rates of between 3.75% and 4.25% and does not represent the lower and upper limits of the payout. The monthly payout may be adjusted every year to take into account factors such as CPF interest and mortality experience."

In other words, the people in charge can change their minds, anytime, anyhow. They are telling you in black and white they can adjust the payouts - supposedly based on CPF interest and mortality experience - and damn if they bother about the actuarial science behind the computation, the discipline that applies mathematical and statistical methods to assess risk in insurance, finance and other industries and professions. Actuaries are professionals who are qualified in this field through education and experience. Obviously professionals are not in charge, just the usual set of clowns determined to rip off a docile populace. The Fernvale Lea customers won't be the only ones to start paying closer scrutiny to the fineprint.

Okay, Nair, we need you to explain CPF Life again.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hey Big Spender

Hey big spender, move aside, there's a new profligate in town!

There's no record in the mainstream media, but those who attended an election rally at Clementi in 2011 will recall hearing how Balakrishnan found the money to burn. The way he told the story, when he approached the prime minister for more funds for the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), PM Lee asked, "How much?" Balakrishnan did not ask for $300 million, he did not ask for $400 million, the number he requested for was $387 million dollars. He thought he scored a debating point when he told the crowd - mostly old folks shipped in from some community center - he did not spend one cent more. It still boggles the mind how the sum requested matches exactly the final bill presented in parliament. If his prediction is that good, how did he miss the original budget of $104 million?

Giving Balakrishnan a run for his money is Lawrence Wong, who admitted that within the first week of 2015, he has already blown $3 million of the $5 million set aside for the SG50 celebrations. No worries, there's more where the money comes from. Speaking at the first ground-up event supported by the free money, the chairman of the SG50 Programme Office told the crowd gathered at the Botanic Gardens, "If there are more good ideas and we need to will top up the fund, we will top up the fund." With 51 weeks more to go, he is unlikely to break Balakrishnan's record. Then again, who knows what else they have up their sleeves?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Economic Growth Is So Overrated

The dictionary defines stasis as "a period or state of inactivity or equilibrium" e.g. "The country is in economic stasis".

That was the term hanging in the air when we were talking to a Japanese manager in his plush office 60 floors up, overlooking the future site of Summer Olympics 2020. Already a bridge spanning the Tokyo Bay was in place, providing access to new sports stadiums and supporting infrastructure on Ariake, Odaiba and the surrounding artificial islands. The Tokyo metropolitan government set aside 400 billion yen to cover the cost of hosting the Games.

Depending on who you talk to, Japan has had one or two lost decades of economic growth. Yoshinoya, operator of the 115-year-old beef bowl chain, raised the price of its regular-size "gyuudon" dish by 27 percent to 380 yen (US$3) on 17 December 2014, the first pure price hike for the dish since March 1990. A favourite of Japan's penny pinching corporate employees, it is an informal measure of consumer prices equivalent to the Big Mac Index. Elsewhere, train fares, like the prices of the canned beverages in the ubiquitous vending machines, appear to be frozen in a time warp.

On the streets, everyone was stylishly dressed, accessorised with the latest iPhone model. From the young to the silvered haired generation, an overnight stay at an onsen, which can cost anything from $100 to $500 per head, was an affordable weekend getaway. If stagflation crimped their style, it was not obvious.

Perhaps the Japanese had long attained the Swiss standard of living, something Goh Chok Tong promised, but failed to deliver to the masses. It must be nice to be able to cruise at such a high altitude of living.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

One-upmanship Works Both Ways

Not once, not twice, but three times the Singapore Government sent a Third Person Note — a formal diplomatic nasty letter — to its Indonesian counterparts to register its ugly protest over the naming of KRI Usman Harun. And culminated in Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen declaring that KRI Usman Harun would not be allowed to dock in Singapore and the Republic’s navy would not sail with it in joint exercises.

The Bung Tomo-class corvette, equipped with advanced underwater sonar capabilities — the Thales Underwater Systems TMS 4130C1 hull-mounted sonar - was deployed by Jarkarta yesterday to join in the multinational effort for the search and recovery of the black box of AirAsia QZ8501.

More than 150 Hull-Mounted Sonars have been sold by Thales Underwater Systems, and adopted by the South African Navy (Meko A200 class), Indonesian Navy (Sigma class)
Royal Moroccan Navy (Sigma class) and United Arab Emirates Navy (Abu Dhabi class).

KRI Usman Harun was originally one of three Nakhoda Ragam-class corvettes built for the Royal Brunei Navy, a variant of the F2000 design, that have been sitting in BAE Systems Marine yard at Scotstoun, Glasgow, since 2007 after Brunei refused to accept the vessels over operating costs and a lack of sufficiently trained personnel to operate the ships. After BAE successfully took them to court, the vessels remained in Glasgow while Brunei looked for a buyer. In November 2012, it was announced that Indonesia acquired the vessels for one-fifth of the original unit cost. Sister ship KRI Bung Tomo, named after Sutomo, the leader of Indonesian guerilla during the Battle of Surabaya, has been involved in the search and recovery operations since late December 2014.

Instead of diving into the Java Sea, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) waded into the depths of the dictionary to come up with something to wash the pie off Ng's muddied face. The best they could do is this:
“Singapore offered its help for this humanitarian effort arising from a tragic accident of AirAsia flight QZ8501 which has befallen our Indonesian neighbour. We offer our deepest condolences to the bereaved families of the passengers and crew. The Singapore Armed Forces will continue to assist in this search effort professionally.”

Meanwhile, RSS Valour has returned to Tuas Naval Base after only 8 days on site, with RSS Supreme following suit for "replenishment". Why they could not take on bunker, fresh water and virtuals at a port closer to the area of operations is anyone's guess.

Monday, January 5, 2015

No Peace For The Departed

The latest brouhaha in town concerns a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) upset at Sengkang West. Once again, the authorities are counting on the short term memory span of Singaporeans to forget that tempers also flared in 2012 over an eldercare center in Woodlands Street and a studio apartment for the elderly in Toh Yi Drive.

A wide range of facilities are found within Fernvale Lea, boasts the glossy brochure for the Housing & Development Board (HDB) Build-To-Order (BTO) project. You can choose to jog along the meandering footpath or exercise at the adult and the elderly fitness stations. You can also pay respects to the dead at the columbarium next door.

Adding fuel to the rising temperatures, the HDB and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) dug in their heels by saying that the town map and site plan issued did include notes which indicated that "places of worship may include columbarium as an ancillary use".

Member of Parliament Lam Pin Min didn't exactly help to defray tempers when he wrote, "I have also been reassured by the developer that there will NOT be crematorium or funeral parlour services at the new temple." Maybe Lam is not familiar with Chinese funeral rituals, but when the ancestral table is ceremonially installed at a temple, there are prayer rites conducted by monks, complete with chanting and musical accompaniment. Interestingly, HDB awarded the tender for the columbarium development to Life Corporation, an Australian funeral services company. Maybe the outfit from Down Under also missed the fine print.

Human resources executive Soh, 28, shares the sentiments of those moving into Fernvale Lea next year. "I know I should respect the dead, but I don't wish to live near a columbarium knowing that the dead are resting there." The objection is not necessarily one of superstition, but the journey home after a hard day's work should be towards a place of happiness, not a house of sadness.

There are valid reasons why most of us don't visit our ancestors' final resting places on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The pain has to be too much to bear, especially when the departed is so dearly beloved. And when we do visit, we like to recall the cherished memories in a quiet and serene environment. Not within the sights and sounds of a development boasting of two playgrounds for frolicking kids at play. Is that so difficult for the insensitive bureaucrats and heartless politicians to understand?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Money Well Spent

On Thursday 1 Jan 2015, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Autonomous Unmanned Vehicles (AUVs) that arrived on the RSS Persistence via Super Puma from Pangkalan Bun could not be unloaded until 7pm due to sea conditions. RSN personnel explained that they have to wait for better weather to start productive work as the AUV has to be launched from the RSS Persistence using a smaller craft.

The 1.8m long 37kg AUV is supposed to hover above the sea bed, with sonar scanners picking up images from each side. But the images are not uploaded immediately, and must be retrieved from the craft's memory card after each deployment to be reviewed manually by trained personnel. Ergo, any items identified may have drifted away by then. Also, the AUV is not a pinger, and pretty useless for detecting signals emitted by a plane's black box. The craft's primary use in the Singapore Navy is to search for mines. Last we heard, AirAsia QZ8501 was not carrying mines.

Meanwhile, harsh weather notwithstanding, the Indonesians, using correct equipment for the task at hand, found two large objects on Friday night measuring about 10 metres by 5 metres. "As I speak we are lowering an ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) underwater to get an actual picture of the objects detected on the sea floor. All are at the depth of 30m," rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo proudly announced.

Indonesia is unique among developing countries, and unusual among other Asian countries, in the relatively low priority given to defense spending. In 2009 the military budget totaled US$3.3 billion, about the same military budget and force level as Thailand, a country with less than one-third of Indonesia’s population, and Burma (Myanmar), which has only one-quarter of Indonesia’s population.

Last year Singapore allocated about $12 billion of its budget to national defense. Malaysia's annual defense budget was almost $5 billion in 2013, while Indonesia, Southeast Asia's biggest economy, had an annual defense spending of about $7.9 billion.

That's the difference between Indonesia and Singapore.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Just Do It

A colleague used to take pride in his command of spoken English, as he had the misconception that only the hoi-polloi of Ah Bengs sprinkle dialect in daily discourse. Until a German visitor reminded him that his sentences are often terminated with "lah", the unique punctuation that gives away the Singaporean presence. That and the occasional instances of "meh" and "hor".

Language development starts from a young age, and that's one reason only the born and bred have a true accent that is discernible from the fakes. Like those who have spent a couple of years overseas and think their American slang is so cool. Anybody can wear denim or dye their hair blonde, only true Canadians will pronounce Toronto as tuh-ron-no, silent on the second T.

Born in Yugoslavia, landed at the age of 27 and picked up the red passport 8 years later in 2007, it is doubtful that Aleksandar Duric can be mistaken for a Singaporean at any social gathering. Unless the ex-football coach also happens to be a closeted cunning linguist. So why did William Wan suggest that we should "do it like Duric"? That has to be the unkindest cut to our Singaporean identity. ("Do it like Duric... See what makes us Singaporean", ST Friday 2 January)

Sorry, Wan, we have to disagree that "there are limits to building a national identity". Unless the powers in play are still practising the colonial divide and rule tactics of fracturing an evolving nation for selfish reasons, to perpetuate their totalitarian dominance.

Banish our true mother tongues, force feed a language from a communist country, and for good measure, import more foreign languages from Burma, North India, Philippines, Vietnam and goodness where else. The story of the Tower of Babel is about God being unhappy that one people with one language could build a tower reaching for the sky. So he confounded their speech, so that they could not understand each other, and scattered them over the face of the earth. Wan should know this story, unless he has decided to worship a different god.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Off To A Flying Start

When the Flying Dutchman announced he was going off the air, he wasn't too explicit about his plans other than focusing on his businesses outside radio, "... shore up the businesses to make sure they give me the retirement I want.” Which prompted his co-host to ask if he was retiring to prepare for retirement. Sounds like he's heading for a  busman's holiday, where a man who drives a bus for a living goes on a long bus journey on their holiday.

Another personality who hanged up his trademark yellow wellington boots in 2014 said he wants to spend the next 20 years making his family smile. One of his regrets is missing his firstborn’s first steps: “I left the house and the baby was still crawling. I came home late – the baby was walking.” Since Gurmit Singh's youngest child is a 20-month-old baby girl, plans for another must be on the way.

Fandi Ahmad was more candid when interviewed for 8 Days magazine’s 27 November 2014 issue, "“I want to retire in Batam.  I like the kampungs there with their coconut trees. Singapore has no kampungs anymore, and it’s getting so expensive!” Outside of football, he went through two failed investments  made in the early 2000s – a used car dealership and a coffee shop.

At least these guys still have the resources to look forward to their dreams of retirement.

Recently some of us pooled in to top up the depleted Medisave account of one senior citizen relative who needs monthly check-ups and medication. Rude awakening number 1: There are two lanes for payment, an express one for payment in cash, and a slow lane for those who pay by Medisave and have to fill up a form to do so. Rude awakening number 2: A maximum of $400 can be deducted within one year. Anything extra, pay in cash. If you have the cash.