Friday, 28 February 2014

SingTel fiasco: You pay or I block

Contrary to what Singtel claims, there is no misunderstanding.

Singtel will not be charging their customers for the use of the free applications like Whatsapp, they will bill these companies instead. Which logically also mean these free applications will start charging the end-users. It is simple: whoever Singtel is going to charge, the money has to come from some where. The owners of these free applications are already doing the public a charity by making their services free, they are not going to incur losses just because some cheapskate telecom company in Singapore wants to make "sustainable" profit.

Which Singtel customer honestly care if Singtel is missing out on revenue from SMS? Singtel is still sustainably profitable, they made $868 million in 2013 any way. The risk of being in the technology sector is that technologies get phased out very fast. SMS thrived for about 2 decades since 1990, their time is up. Network messaging has taken over now. Singtel is being a very sore loser trying to recover losses through regulations.

Besides, on what basis does Singtel have the right to charge for these free applications? If Whatsapp don't pay, will Singtel block access to their servers? It is going down the same way as the television monopoly. Cable TV simply works by having service providers blocking off the frequency available through these "paid" channels. The logic is simple: You pay or I block. Technology has advanced that we no longer need to rely on centralized antenna, we could use portable cable decoder box. However, the Singapore regulators decided to ban all these alternatives. Do you know that owning a satellite dish in Singapore is illegal? It is as illegal as owning a radio in North Korea.

Singtel's proposal is a step backward for technology progress. They can earn few hundred millions more simply by pressurizing regulators, and they do not have to put in a single cent of investment from their side.

The problem of the press statement lies with Singaporeans not convinced. It defeats the purpose of the "clarification", which just further ascertain that Singtel customers are going to pay more any way.

It begs the question who approved this stupid press statement, which is no better than the suicidal note SMRT made in the same week. It is very bad PR and the fault has to be undertaken by its CEO, Chua Sock Khoong. Oh her father happened to be a PAP Minister who have just passed away. I'm pretty sure she got her position through Meritocracy, the same way as the former CEO who is the brother of the Prime Minister.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Jail terms for PAP critics?

Cyber-bullying will be made a crime in a few months' time and there are good reasons to believe this legislation is yet another political move.

How did the PAP government decided to define cyber-bullying?
"The new law will make it clear that as long as the act is threatening, abusive, insulting and causes distress to victims, it is harassment - even if it is done online."

Causing distress is no less vague than the previous provision of Public Order & Nuisance the offence is currently under. Under such definition, anyone could make reasonable criticisms amounting to causing distress as perceived by a PAP MP who are widely known to be ultra-sensitive and easily intimidated. In 2009, a PAP MP called the police to arrest a mentally disabled youth who slammed an aluminium chair at a glass door outside the MP's room. In no instances, the PAP MP was in physical danger because the boy has already stepped out of the room and the impact were not strong enough to break the glass. Yes it could have been loud but a verbal warning or escort by the volunteers could have sufficed. Unfortunately, or magically, the PAP MP felt intimidated and insisted on 999. The element of feeling abused, insulted and distressed by the victim (PAP MP) is hence sufficient to lodge a formal police report. Impose the entire scenario online, it is obvious that so long the PAP MP feels even slightly intimidated, she can call in the police against any one who dares direct his online remarks or criticisms at her.

And the penalty for a person guilty of the online harassment charge? It has been enhanced to include jail terms or a court's order to mandatory treatment at the Institute of Mental Hospital. The latter is more worrying because any sane person admitted into the asylum will be having a hard time trying to prove his sanity and that is as good as detention without trial. Exactly similar to the Internal Security Act. Just last year alone, the alleged hacker "Messiah" or James Raj was denied immediate access to legal counsel and sent straight to be remanded in the IMH for 2 weeks of "psychiatric evaluation".

It leaves people wondering if the PAP is trying to be as absurd as North Korea. Perhaps detaining people without trial under the Internal Security Act is unpopular, which explains why the PAP may be deciding to send their political detractors to IMH.

Given how loosely defined cyber-bulling is going to be and how severe the punishments could be, it is no surprise that this new legislation ultimately aims to replace the more unpopular method of protecting the vulnerable members of the ruling party, otherwise known as defamation suits. Vulnerable members of the ruling party here, are bully-magnets. Those who periodically make audacious claims from time to time subjecting themselves to public ridicule like Lim Swee Say, Tin Pei Ling, Lim Wee Kiak, Vivian Balakrishnan, Lui Tuck Yew, Grace Fu, just to name a few. These jokers need to be protected but suing their critics into bankruptcy is going to spoil the caring and sophisticated facade they have been trying so hard to establish.

Besides, there isn't a better way to control the internet than to use the spread of fear. By reminding Singaporeans they could be jailed for their "unconstructive" criticisms of our esteemed leaders, it is more than enough to have the average Singaporean to avoid politics altogether. People like me who can't stop criticizing will simply be pushed into anonymity, which in turn could spell more headaches for the ruling party.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

SMRT and Edwards Deming's 5 deadly sins of management

"We were alerted of a track circuit failure on the south bound between Yew Tee and Kranji MRT stations this morning. As a result, our trains were travelling at slower speeds to ensure the safety of our passengers until the problem was rectified at 8.32am. Passengers were asked to allow for longer travelling times while engineers accessed the track, and free bus services were activated between Admiralty and Ang Mo Kio MRT stations, while additional trains were deployed to ease congestion. There was no service disruption although trains ran at a slower speed. We apologize for the inconvenience caused."
 ~SMRT's press statement in response to the track circuit failure on 24 Feb 2014 

 It is utterly embarrassing. The mistake is glaringly obvious especially when there are students missing their exams because of the breakdown. The explanation contradicts itself line by line, word for word, and the non-apology have Singaporeans' blood boiling. It is backtracking, it is unrepentant, it is counter-productive, it is the classical PR fiasco. The press statement has drawn so much angry responses from Singaporeans that Yahoo dedicated a story to it. And right on the second day after the much-spat-on press statement, another breakdown occurred. It used to be rare to see train breakdowns, now it is becoming like an everyday thing. How did things went so wrong for SMRT?

It is a management problem.

Going by world renowned business consultant Edwards Deming's 5 deadly sins of management, SMRT plunged into all pitfalls of a failed management:

1) Lack of constancy of purpose
The train company is diversified into retail business, advertising business, taxi business, bus business and overseas engineering and consultancy projects. Long gone are the days when SMRT was incepted for only one purpose: that is to provide a reliable, safe and sustainable train system for Singaporeans. Presently, there is no plan announced how breakdowns could be put to a stop, except of making contingency and ad-hoc responses. There is no sense of responsibility undertaken by the SMRT management. No heads roll, nothing.

2) Emphasis on short term profits
Dividends. SMRT has committed a payout of 60% of PATMI (Profit after tax and minority interests). The management has clearly a vested interest to put profit above service. Anecdotally, we could see how train ridership is maximized when more chairs are removed to make more standing space, or how trains are specifically timed at the right intervals so each train could be fully packed. Remember how was the SMRT maintenance budget kept the same for 10 years despite rising revenues? All these measures are testimonial their eyes are all for reaping big profits and generating fat dividends.

3) Evaluation of performance
Rewarding of result instead of process management. SMRT management is motivated by profits, not how processes and practices could be better done, anticipated and planned for. This has a lot to do with the remunerations of the SMRT management where too large a component of their package relies on the company's financial performance. The yardstick of performance for the train monopoly should be on the quality of ridership, and not the number of ridership as so proudly boasted in all of its annual reports. The SMRT management should be largely assessed on the train ability to provide comfortable and pleasant commuting experience, and not so much on the amount of revenue.

4) Mobility of management
When Saw Phaik Hwa could not perform as the CEO, a SAF general cum chief of army was parachuted into the million dollar position to save the day. In all honesty, Saw Phaik Hwa was not given an opportunity to redeem herself by putting a stop to all these breakdowns. Today, we have Desmond Kuek, the Brigadier General whose leadership have seen by far the most number of breakdowns in SMRT history. The choice of CEO was a mistake. Desmond Kuek was not equipped with the experience, management skills and engineering knowledge to manage a train company, and it looks like Singaporeans are paying a heavy price for his OJT (On-Job-Training) today. SMRT should use a new CEO, someone from the ranks and files of the train company who possess the operations experience. Someone who is in for the long haul and not so much on sporting a red hairdo and in the position to milk as many millions as much while they are still CEO.

5) Use of visible figures only for management, with little or no consideration of figures that are unknown 
Like salesmen, the management have only profit in mind. Couple that with a CEO who knows nuts about the train business, it is impossible for the SMRT management to be accurately assessed on the right measurement. Unfortunately for SMRT, the management has no regard for known measurements, let alone the unknown figures. There is a known measurement of commuter experience, it is clearly stated by the number of people packed into each train. There is also a known measurement of commuters' responses to price hike, the feedback are all over on the internet. There is also a known measurement of train performance, the number of breakdowns that occur in the month. Known measurements have always been ignored and cast as unrealistic expectations that from the public. This explains the disconnect between the SMRT management's view of performance and that of the commuters'.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Inadequacy of healthcare remains unaddressed in Budget 2014

$450 a month after 50% subsidies. That is too much a cost for some financially-strapped Singaporean patients with kidney failure, and their alternative? Suicide.

Being a country with one of the highest suicide rate in the world, many Singaporean patients are looking at death as an alternative to avoid the high cost of medical treatment in Singapore. Just 3 months ago, a 95 year old samsui woman jumped off her 4 room HDB flat after knowing she has to be hospitalized for over 3 weeks resulting from a fall. Samsui women were construction workers during Singapore's early development days and they are highly regarded by Singaporeans for their contributions. Unfortunately, the PAP government do not recognize such senior citizens for their contributions.

Singaporean patients who require financial aid can admit into the government class C wards, regardless of age. However, a night's stay in the 9 bedded class C ward costs at least $35 a day after subsidies. A 3 weeks' hospitalization cost for the 95 year old could have easily cost over $700. Unlike most developed countries, Singapore do not have pension payout nor free healthcare for its elderly citizens. The average retiree in Singapore receives about $260 a month under the new CPF Life scheme. The inadequacy of the CPF payment system and the absence of a free healthcare system naturally created a myriad of problems relating to healthcare and retirement for Singaporeans who may have spent their entire life working. To top it all, this samsui woman is not an isolated case. In the same year, a 31 year old single mother pushed her paralysed 9 year old son out of her window as she could no longer afford the cost of healthcare and living.

In the recent Budget, the PAP government decided to pledge its entire eye-popping surplus of $6.8 billion plus another $1.2 billion into a medical fund that progressively subsidizes elderly patients aged 65 and above. There are several good reasons to question the validity of PAP's generosity:

1) Despite its enormous $8 billion size, the Pioneer Generation Fund however does not provide free healthcare for the 450,000 elderly. The PAP government claimed that the total cost is $9 billion, but did not provide any evidence to support this claim.

2) The healthcare budget does not address the fact that the Medishield system remains inadequate in addressing Singaporeans' healthcare needs. Out of pocket expenditures are not expected to be decreased for the rest of Singaporeans.

3) Notice that the $8 billion is not going to be given away immediately to the elderly. Like the CPF, will Temasek Holdings be the caretaker of the remaining of the $8 billion fund?

So how were the healthcare needs of Singaporeans addressed? We still have to rely on the broken CPF-Medisave system and more of us will continue to be bankrupted by major illnesses. No thanks to the PAP, suicide is still an option aside from access to healthcare. There will still be people jumping or pushing their family members off their HDB pigeon holes to save their family members from bankruptcy.

As always, all these of course doesn't stop a PAP Minister who enjoyed a $8 heart by-pass surgery from jumping on the self-praise bandwagon: