Saturday, 29 March 2014

Dear Law Minister, being unpopular doesn't make you right

Dear Law Minister Shanmugam

As a Singaporean, it is heartening to hear that you are committed in continuing "right" policies and bulldozing the unpopular. Presently, you are doing very well. Without your "right" policies, Singaporeans wouldn't have managed to take the top spot in being the most unhappy people in the world and the Workers' Party would not be where they are today.

I applaud you for telling the right thing - the latter half to be exact - there is no reasonable doubt that PAP government has been doing what's not popular. Your years as a senior counsel sure serves you well with that arty farty phraseology of making being unpopular fabulous for governments. Indeed, not many governments get the privilege to screw up and remain in power. Or more accurately, not many governments get to charge their critics with defamation suits and jail them without trial.

Avoiding the pitfalls of being populist is indeed important, and saying that made you my Law Minister look great! Foreigners must be really envious of us for having a government with the right brains formulating all the right policies making all the right decisions.

Let's delve a bit into the "right" policies and agree that what is right means beneficial for Singapore in both the immediate and long term aspects of the economy and society. For a start, any policy that hurts Singaporeans is logically not beneficial to Singapore. It certainly doesn't make sense to see a rich country with trillions of cash tucked away in the CPF and National Reserves for its sovereign wealth fund companies to make bailouts in the private equity market, while the people are struggling to afford retirement and healthcare. It certainly isn't the right policy to call for a population boost when the people are facing overcrowding and inflation resulted from the influx of foreigners. It is also certainly not right to call for a fare hike when the public transport companies are charting tens of millions of profits and causing inconveniences in terms of break downs happening every other week.

We could look at some of the right policies your government has passed many years ago. Back then, the first right policy was the CPF system conceived to provide Singaporeans with retirement. Many decades later today, Singaporeans could not retire and many of them in their 70s are still slogging as hard as when they were during their youth. If hindsight is 20/20, the CPF system failed to fulfil its primary purpose and hence is a wrong policy. Then we have the two child policy in the 80s, and it resulted in an ageing population today. We also had the COE and ERP policies, which relentlessly drives up the cost of businesses while the traffic became more congested than before. We can give these "right" policies an infinite timeline to settle in, but they have never been proven right in any sense then and now.

How many of these policies were "right"? Would you say your present policies of immigration, housing, national service and transport is just as "right"? It is worrying for someone in a Ministerial position, drawing more than a million dollars in taxes every year, to make unsubstantiated boastings about making the "right" policies otherwise known as bullshit. It is especially offending for Singaporeans, who are now bearing the brunts of your "right" policies while you wax lyrical about righteousness. Hold your tongue if you have nothing better to say, making yourself unpopular doesn't make you anywhere right.

Please resign.

Yours Sincerely
Alex Tan

What National Identity, Lee Hsien Loong?

"Like London, we too must manage the stresses and strains of being a global city. But unlike London, we have no larger country which is our hinterland. Our city is our country. Hence, we must get the balance just right -- between national identity and cosmopolitan openness, between free-market competition and social solidarity,” 

What national identity? The terms of the Singaporean citizenship is hardly impressive. Male citizens born here have to serve National Service, while new citizens are exempted. Foreigners holding on to permanent residency enjoys equal rights from subsidies to employment. There is the CPF system that steals your earnings and refuse you your right to withdraw under all circumstances. Also, as a citizen, you have to compromise your standard of living because your greedy government wants to punch above its weight. Truth being told, the Singaporean citizenship is hardly desirable for any Singaporean born and bred here.

The Prime Minister is why.

Lee Hsien Loong is so far off the road he is either outrageously out of touch or simply just couldn't give a hoot about Singaporeans' livelihood. Based on skewed opinions from his grassroots members and massaged statistics from his mainstream media, he misplaced his priorities and misled the country into a soul-less city, policy after policy. Today, he continued to preach about his aspiration of making Singapore a global city while the problems of immigration, social order, security, retirement, healthcare, education and employment takes the back seat. Do not be surprised if he starts saying these are happy problems of a first world country, his idiocy can be astounding at times.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

K Shanmugam's comprehensive solution

"We have a comprehensive solution to uplift lower-paid workers", claimed Law Minister K Shanmugam in a fundraising event to help needy workers. The latest boasting however contradicts with wage indicators, which reflects the long term wage suppression in Singapore. According to the Manpower Ministry's report in 2011, salaries of the bottom 20% income earners have been stagnated for over a decade. Former GIC chief economist Yeoh Lam Keong has also substantiated the report by presenting statistics which shows that the salaries of the bottom 20 percent income earners have fallen by 10% in real terms over the period from 1997 to 2010. The latest labour report on income also tells the similar sob story of how depressed salaries of the bottom 20 percentile are, with only a 0.3% real income growth over the period from 2003 to 2013. The official statistics and analysis is testimonial that Shanmugam's "comprehensive solution" is not anywhere uplifting the low income earners.

Let's take a look at his comprehensive solution and dissect the existing policies. Structure-wise, the role of trade unions is to counter balance the economical needs of businesses (cheap labour as always, the cheaper the better) and the government. Being the only union in Singapore, NTUC is supposed to be monitoring wage levels across all industries and negotiate for better benefits with the regulator (Ministry of Manpower in this case) and employers. This is however not happening because the NTUC is controlled by the government, with its union chief being a Minister of State. This is clearly a conflict of interest, henceforth there is no watchdog in place to monitor wage levels and represent the workers to fight for better benefits. Our union is non-existent. NTUC is only an insurance company or supermarket to Singaporeans. Secondly, we have also laws enacted in place that are unfair to workers. The government outlawed spontaneous protests and strikes, naturally, taking away the right not to work unless one is duly paid, or otherwise known as the only bargaining chip to negotiate for a better pay.

The second part of Shanmugam's comprehensive solution is ad hoc cash vouchers. Workfare is paid as and when the PAP government pleases, and more notably, used as carrots during election period. Then, we have the new Wage Credit Scheme, where the government use taxes to subsidize 40% of wage increase. It has been in effect since 2012, but income level still failed to pick up. There are also a number of policy tweaks which have very little contribution to low wage workers. All these are what Shanmugam called, a "comprehensive solution", that continues to marginalize low income earners and forever keep them in the rat race.

The real solution of course is actually very straightforward and have been in place in other countries for decades. Minimum Wage, independent unions and legislating the right to protest for a start. This are 2 policies the PAP is trying to avoid because the first defeats the cheap labour culture they are promoting, and the rest takes away political power from the ruling party. The PAP need to stay in power and will do whatever it can to maintain status quo. Low income workers may not see a better life ahead of them but at least they have Ministers like Shanmugam to give a comforting speech telling them how fortunate they actually are.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Sugar coating contract jobs

Temporary assignments offer exposure to varied workloads, systems and industries, opportunity to expand skills base, make new contacts, work-life balance and higher compensation package. If all these sounds too good to be true, it probably is. State propagandist ChannelNewsAsia have sidelined as a mouthpiece for Singapore employers sugar coating and over-exaggerating the traditionally dreaded contract employment.

It is a no-brainer why people are avoiding contract jobs. The instability, lack of entitlements and lack of employment protection is good enough a deterrent for any serious job seekers who believe in carving out a career for themselves. From the employer's perspective, contract employees are expendable, cheap and out of their care and concern. When there is going to be a downsize, contract employees will be the first to go, no matter how many years of contract they have signed and resigned with the company. Singapore's leading unofficial union leader, Gilbert Goh, often receive letters of contract employees who were unfairly dismissed, like this 36 year old mother. Just read a few articles in his website and we can easily tell that employment protection laws are non-existent.

The only reason why the mainstream media like CNA has to sugar coat contract jobs featuring a job agency's advertising comment is because everyone is avoiding contract jobs like plague. Employers dangle these contracts on exploitative terms because they know unemployment rate is very high from the influx of foreigners. The increased in population has resulted in more foreigner applicants than Singaporeans for every job offered. With such aplenty labour abound in the market, employers are in no hurry to increase their manpower. Besides, where is the NTUC amidst all these promotion of contract jobs? Shouldn't the input of the only legalized workers' union be sought after in order to present a balanced and independent reporting the mainstream media often acclaim themselves to be?

Employers in Singapore are often spoilt by the PAP government. Through their trade associations, they pressure the Government to ease foreign worker quota and reduce levies. The 6.9 million population White Paper, the Wage Credit Scheme and the number of tax breaks are all evidence of the PAP government bending forward for these employers. Unlike the PAP under former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, the current PAP administration believe low unemployment is the key to their performance, not high wages or a quality living standard. It is unlikely Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will deviate from his current strategy of promoting an employee-unfriendly environment to risk having a high unemployment rate.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

PAP Minister: Singapore is a city, not a country

"...the Gini coefficient here has fallen and while it was high for a country, it’s not high for a city, which we are...If you look at cities … the Gini in New York is higher than the Gini for America" 
~PAP Minister Lawrence Wong

Above is the response to a student why Singapore have such high income inequality. Singapore is now officially a city and not a country, henceforth all measurements and expectations of a country does not apply to Singapore, according to the PAP Minister.

Singapore is built by Singaporeans with its male citizens sacrificing more than 2 years of their youth and risking their lives for this country. Every year, there are NS men who die or get permanently incapacitated due to National Service training. I wonder how these NS men six foot under would feel had they found out Singapore is actually not a country after all.

Aside from having a defence force of its own, the country also goes through an election. Never mind that the election in Singapore is not democratically recognized, it is still a process the people go through to acknowledge their country's sovereignty. Singapore may have all the traits of a city, but it's status as a independent state should not be trifled with or conveniently used for an ignorant Minister's weak defence against income inequality. Is this a slip of tongue, or did the loose immigration policies actually diluted Singapore's national identity right from the Ministerial level?

Besides, even if Singapore is a city, the fact remains that the PAP government have not offered sufficient support to ensure the poor enjoy their fair share of the nation's success. In other countries, they have suburbs for those who enjoy the slower pace of life and do not mind earning lesser. Singaporeans have nowhere to go to except to emigrate if they ever want to have a better quality of life. It is apparent that the PAP Minister is unapologetic to the poor and has scripted his defence to counter questions pertaining to income inequality in Singapore. Singaporeans are very unfortunate to have such a person for a Minister.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Why are Singaporeans unhappy?

The signs are all there, from official surveys to not giving up seats to the increasingly frequent public quarrels - Singaporeans are really unhappy. Foreigners like Charlotte Ashton often wonder why is there so much bitterness when we have cheap and good food, accessibility and relative wealth as compared to our neighbouring poverty-stricken Southeast Asian countries. Like the foreigners who do not live among Singaporeans, the PAP government is curious too. None of them have any idea why Singaporeans are so unhappy, but they can feel the vibes and hear it from Singaporeans everywhere.

Being a really unhappy Singaporean myself, my only gripe is simply inequality. Inequality in every sense, every configuration of the Singapore's system and every corner of Singapore society. From economists indicators like the Gini Coefficients to a little stroll down Orchard Road, inequality has become an epidemic in Singapore.

The PAP government is having a hard time trying to cover up the gross inequality in Singapore. Recently, the Minister for Social Development, former army chief Chan Chun Sing, denied the call for a poverty line. Having a poverty line will deny help to some of the needy who fall out of the poverty line, he claimed. The true reason for not having a poverty line is of course to mask up the fact that the number is going to be astonishing. According to the National University of Singapore, a person is in poverty if he earns less than half of the median income of more than $3000*. Couple this finding with the report by CPF, more than 26% of the Singapore citizens and PRs are earning below the poverty line. There are a few discrepancies found in the government statistics that clearly shows signs of cover up:

1) Annex J's reporting of monthly wages is missing in 2012. See 2011 and 2012 reports.
2) Data of Median income per capita has been readjusted to become Median income per household.
3) Data of Domestic purchasing power per capita has been readjusted to GDP per capita

Obviously, someone in the government does not want Singaporeans to know how many poor people there are and how poor Singaporeans really are relative to their counterparts overseas. In another lacklustre attempt to cover up poverty, Minister Chan Chun Sing claims that every needy reported in the media has been followed up by his ministry. It makes us wonders what about those not reported in the media and whether if the media has been on his Social Development Ministry's payroll to find and report extreme poverty cases.

So is income inequality the only grapevine behind unhappiness? No of course not. We have the National Service system where new citizens are exempted even when they are young and able-bodied. We have employers who openly discriminate Singaporeans and especially those with NS duties. We have also an unreliable and expensive retirement and healthcare system that is sure to bankrupts you either during retirement or in times of major illnesses. We have the longest working hours in the world, but there is no social mobility and decent wages to fulfil the much-acclaimed Meritocracy that hard work pays. We have the Ministry of Manpower who tells Singaporeans they do not qualify under the Employment Act and hence not protected from employment abuses just because they earn above $2500. We have cheap labor, but we also have ghost labor who work long hours at meagre salaries and are not recognized under government statistics. We have local universities who prefer giving scholarships to foreigners who cannot string together a coherent English sentence than Singaporeans just because the latter comes from a Polytechnic. We have a dysfunctioning electoral system called the GRC, which resulted a 40% Opposition representation becoming a 10% Opposition presence in Parliament and having a Parliament of MPs that propose policies that Singaporeans reject. We have a Prime Minister who believe billion dollar projects like Project Jewel is more important than healthcare and if Singaporeans want more healthcare subsidies, they have better pay for more premiums. Oh and if you complain about the PAP government, prepare to face defamation suits by either the PAP politicians or the Attorney General. Protest and go to jail. There is no tolerance for dissent. To sum it up, there is little or no incentive being a Singaporean. How can a person in the right consciousness knowing all these inequality be happy?

Like all dictatorship, the PAP often resorts to propaganda and using simplistic but misleading info-graphics to convince Singaporeans to serve the country's greater purpose. One such example is Government-linked Temasek Holdings-owned Starhub, which have spent millions in advertisements attempting to discount the credibility of the Gallup findings. Watch this and be happy:

Friday, 14 March 2014

Latest cheap labor fad - Filipinos

They are better educated and they speak better English than Bangladeshis, China and Indian workers. Like others, they are hardworking, hungry and cheap. Singapore's latest source for cheap labor is coming from Philippines. The PAP government has recently set up overseas training centers in Philippines and are looking to recruit some 200 Filipino construction workers a month, or 1200 workers a year. Strangely, the PAP government do not see the need to make similar effort locally and create similar training centers in Singapore then choose to complain blindly that no Singaporeans want to be a construction worker. The decision to recruit Filipino construction workers was never in Singapore's mind before, the prime choice of cheap labor has always been China, Bangladesh and India. This however comes conveniently right after the China drivers' strikes and Little India riot. The PAP may believe Filipino workers are more docile and more willing to accept abuse and exploitation than the average China, India and Bangladeshi workers. If this is really the supposition the PAP hold, they are going to be very wrong. Overseas Filipino workers are widely known to demand a lot more than others. It will only be a matter of time more of them will start demanding for Permanent Residency in Singapore and make Tagalog an official language of Singapore.

A typical construction worker in Singapore gets about $650 a month, with accommodations provided for. Exchange that amount into the Philippines Pesos and the unskilled construction worker will earn about 23,000 pesos - more than the average teacher in Philippines.

But what Filipinos do not realize is that Singapore has an exploitative employment culture. The typical construction worker from Bangladesh and China has to pay more than $4000 in agent fees to secure a work permit in Singapore. They usually work overtime everyday, up to more than 72 hours a week so they could pay off their exorbitant agent fees and send what's left to their family. The meals of these construction workers are also overtly modest - nothing more than a packet of rice with curry gravy. Their entertainment are also kept very cheap ranging from watching bikini-clad girls in Sentosa to hanging out with friends in Little India. It makes one wonder if the Filipinos are as hardy as the average construction workers in Singapore. They may or may not get to earn more in Singapore, but their life is definitely going to be very much tougher than they already are in Philippines.

Filipino construction workers in Singapore are going to sense the seriousness of income inequality and the lack of disrespect as felt by Indian workers. They will look at Filipinos holding on to S-pass and E-pass, and wonder why are they treated so much differently. Even the Filipino maids are having a better life and earning more than them. The long term envy, or jealousy for some, will create an imbalance in mindsets and lead to an increase in crime rate and eventually a riot.

At the same time, the enclaves of the Filipino community will go beyond Lucky Plaza and Orchard Road. Tourists around the world will start asking where are all the Singaporeans in Singapore. Singaporeans has already become estranged from the influx of foreigners and the further intake of these Filipino workers would make good reasons why more Singaporeans are getting bitter. After all, the ultimate beneficiaries of these workers are construction companies, employers and the PAP government who stand to gain $750 a month per worker hired. Singaporeans will not only not gain a single cent from their presence, their public transport will be more crowded than ever.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

SFMP - yet another billion dollar of PAP's misplaced priority

$1.1 billion - Garden By the Bay
$1.2 billion - Bishan man-made river
$1.2 billion - Project Jewel
And now $1.5 billion into the Sports Facilities Master Plan

The maintenance of these buildings alone cost hundreds of millions a year. If we could size up all these investments pumped, Singapore might be able to provide a decent retirement for all Singaporean elderly after all. Just a few days back, Gerrard Ee chastised Singaporeans of not having the discernment between the need and good-to-have. We wonder what does he have to say about the PAP government's latest big spending.

It is simple to know what should be high on the priority list and require immediate funding and attention. These billions should have gone into subsidizing HDB prices, imposing temporary tax breaks to businesses as incentives in exchange for Minimum Wage, subsidizing education costs and increasing the number of local tertiary institutes, lowering or removal of digressive taxes like GST/COE/ERP, supplementing the CPF Life Fund to increase the amount of payout for retirees, supplementing the Medisave fund to provide more subsidies and more coverage, or simply, the PAP's favorite way of vote buying by giving out generous Cash Vouchers to help citizens manage the cost of living.

Oh no, all these domestic needs listed above are not priorities. Singaporeans do not need help through subsidies and reducing taxes in managing the cost of living. They are not even anywhere near the list of building a garden, river, shopping mall and sports facilities. The PAP always claim they know best, and they are always going around telling people the PAP is the only party that have the political courage not to be populist, so they could mask the fact that they are actually out of touch with reality. The PAP believe Singaporeans are already very well taken care of and that the people just need to count their blessings they are not born in Philippines, India and China.

When Singaporeans needed more funding in healthcare, the PAP have the audacity to ask for more revenues. But where did they get their taxes from when they fund these billion dollar projects?

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

the new HDB scam

HDB has recently announced a new transaction system where buyers will have to obtain a buying option first before getting any official valuation. The immediate impact we could see is that sellers are going to be in for a rude shock on transaction day that their houses are not worth as much as their property salesman projected out for them. It works vice versa for the sellers who might end up forgoing their option if the valuation turns out too much (unlikely of course). This new ruling, according to Minister Khaw Boon Wan, will "rationalize" the process of negotiations and restore the "original" intention of valuation, which is to help buyers secure a loan.

How does a move that discourage the volume of sales transactions helps buyers to secure a loan? Sellers is now in a precarious position and especially for those who have not paid off their housing loan, they are very likely required to pay back accrued interests owed to their CPF in cash (it sounds stupid owing your own CPF account money but this is true). In the immediate period, we will see the following:

1) Nose-diving of sales volume of HDB resale flat as sellers will wait for the HDB to backtrack on its new ruling given how rubbery housing policies in the recent years have been under Minister Khaw
2) Housing supply goes down, housing prices of the other 2 categories(Private and BTO) goes up
3) More property agents will belly up
4) Rental market is going to become very strong because PRs will be forced into private properties or rental 

The real impact of the new regulation is to prop up property prices by cutting supply. We all know the HDB profits when BTO prices goes up. We also know the condominium developers are also in for a haul when private property prices goes up. We also know property transactions contributes a large component to the GDP. But unlike everyone, Singaporeans can no longer profit from the property pie because it is the HDB who is going to determine your housing price at a loss.

Securing a housing loan depends on three factors: income, size of loan, period of loan and deposit of loan. The new ruling has nothing to do with any of these. It does not help buyers secure a housing loan just simply because the Minister who enjoyed flashing his nipples said so.

Singaporeans who have recently bought their flats and expected to sell their flat for a tidy profit after the 5 years Min Occupancy Period have been cheated. Asset appreciation approach has turned out to be a Pyramid Scheme where new buyers will be hung out to dry. Welcome to Singapore Inc. You can kpkb but you will still be cheated.

Monday, 10 March 2014

"Security Officer Day" or better salaries?

It is hilarious how unique Singapore can really be especially when it comes to exploitation of workers. In their initiative to push for a "Security Officer Day", the Security Association of Singapore claim this will better recognize the efforts of our security officers and attract more people to the security industry. However, is having a day you could call "your own" really what these lowly paid and overworked security guards need?

Just a few months ago, the call to raise security guards' salaries have been put off because their employers are "worried" about the cost increase. This reason alone is enough to continue paying security guards $800 a month and it is really dubious if having a "Security Guard Day" will make any difference. Security guards in Singapore usually work averaging about 72 hours a week, or 12 hours a day for 6 days a week, drawing a salary from $1500 to $2000 including overtime. Some are even paid from as low as $800 a month. The working hours of a security guard is the longest in any industry, which explains why there is a high turnover for the industry.

Interestingly, despite such low salaries and having the longest working hours, security guards in Singapore are high in demand. A functioning economy will tell you that a job that is high in demand is usually well paid and comes with good perks. In Australia, security guards are paid from as high as $3300 a month on average, or about $20.18 per hour. They have no shortage of security guards. However in Singapore, this is otherwise. The main reason behind this is solely because of the lack of a trade union for the security industry. Unlike for the cleaners, NTUC did not propose a minimum salary for security guards. Employers are able to trample on their employees' rights and demand for a decent salary because the government allow it to happens so in the name of sustainability. The trickle down approach by the PAP government usually means little or nothing left for those at the receiving end, hence this is why front line employees are usually lowly paid and largely unmotivated. Having a public holiday for them is not going to relieve any of the bitterness felt by these exploited employees. These security guards in Singapore could not even protest like their counterparts in US does, we all know the PAP government is more than happy to punish dissent.

Companies which can't survive paying decent salaries to employees should have no place in Singapore. Their sustainability must not be built on the misery of employees because this is akin to slavery. Being a slave is a job with terms and conditions too, and you can still be paid. The PAP government's primary priority should be to allow unprofitable businesses to fail than to allow them to violate the human rights of Singapore employees. It is hard not to find fault with the PAP government with their employment model they adopted and so shamelessly defended. Perhaps we should start with firing Minister Tan Chuan Jin by removing him out of Marine Parade GRC.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Ukraine crisis: Real Lessons for Singapore

As expected, the commentaries by Straits Times and Lee Hsien Loong (see above picture) has spun the Ukraine crisis into one that supports the ridiculous Defence Budget and the necessity of National Service. But are these really true lessons about the necessity of defence for a small nation Singaporeans should consider?

Here is one true lesson about Ukraine: Real Democracy

A better interpretation of the Ukraine crisis, is the emphasis of a true representation of the people. Lee Hsien Loong don't want you to know that a people's revolution has just happened in Ukraine. Through several bloody protests, the Ukraine people and their Opposition Parties actually has overthrown their dictator President because they believe Ukraine Elections are not fair. The people do not believe their controlled media and refused to be threatened by their former government who have gone as far as shooting protestors on sight. Most notably, the protesters fought the police with mirrors:

There were so many Ukrainian protesters who died, and this brings another real lesson to Singaporeans: Freedom is not free, it costs lives. Dying for your people's freedom is true patriotism. No of course the PAP don't want you to know that. They want you to believe that Ukraine is in a very bad situation today because they gave up their nuclear weapons and entrusted their security to US and Russia. And PAP wants you to believe that Ukraine is in trouble because they did not focus on their defence, which is bullshit because the Ukraine's defence force is no push over for your info(they have more than 15 million people fit for service).

Here we also learnt the importance of a free and independent media. One that does not side with the ruling party and practice censorship like in Russia and Singapore. And the most important of all: Freedom of Speech. The Internet is a great source of unrestricted information that enunciates the truth. Most of these protesters actually turned anonymous online to set up pages and hack into the former Ukrainian government websites. This is also why Singaporeans must oppose to the PAP's attempt to control the internet in the name of "cyber-bullying" and setting up of the $50,000 bond for "responsible" reporting by news media.

Singaporeans should take the real lessons of Ukraine and stop listening to the PAP-controlled mainstream media. The Ukrainian people certainly did not listen to their former government to stay at home in order for the revolution to happen. If not for the revolution, would the Ukrainians finally find out how "rich" their country really is? Singaporeans should be looking at our own state of Democracy instead of how rich and powerful our SAF really is. We might finally get to know how much do we really have in our National Reserves after all.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

NS is a punishment for those who choose to be born here

What is the difference between ordaining citizenship through birthright and immigration? The latter do not have to serve 2 years plus many years of National Service. This is brute inequality and a miscarriage of justice. The new citizen gets to enjoy each and every equal rights as the NS men without having going through all the physical torment in the name of training, risk of losing a limb or a life, and the risk of getting charged for even the slightest mistake. NS is certainly not an opportunity for one to get rich or a social standing that puts you ahead in life. It is a burden that denies you of employment opportunities and make you less attractive an employee as compared to the foreigners.

Every year, more than 20,000 foreigners are given new citizenship. About half of them are males who are in good physical conditions, because a criteria of being an immigrant is good health without illnesses that will put them in PES F. At the same time, there are only 31,000 babies born here every year. That translates to about 15,500 potential male soldiers. Going by this year of 2014 alone, it means there only 3 out of 10 of the citizen population are serving NS. Throw in another 2.5 million foreigners, we are talking about 3 solders serving every 15 persons. And the reason why these 3 soldiers were singled out is because they were born here. The only explanation why new citizens do not need to serve NS is clearly saying it is a punishment to be born here.

Despite such gross inequality, the PAP government do not care. They believe giving NS men a few hundred dollars of vouchers and a year of SAFRA membership card is enough to compensate the forced sacrifices. Singapore is no longer a poor developing country like it was in the 1960s, it can be considered one of the richest nations today and it owes its success to these NS men. However, none of the fruits of success has been enjoyed by them, and instead given generously to new citizens so they could vote for the ruling party. Such is the sad state of affairs in Singapore.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Incompetence of PAP resulting in rising cost of living

Just so you know by now, Singapore is officially the most expensive city in the world. If you are just plain ignorant or a PAP apologist like him, you may like to download  the comprehensive report which clearly shows there is no political agenda against the PAP and the methodology adopted is reasonably just. Given how politically negative this ranking is reflecting on the ruling party, we should expect to see more comments from Singapore-based academias like PRC scholar Sun Xi (who has earlier defended the PAP's foreign talent policy, being a foreigner himself) to "weigh in" as if they are any experts or consultants in determining the cost of living.

Is the cost of living an issue before the ranking? No, a post-General Election 2011 poll conducted by JobsCentral shows that 51% of the voters took the cost of living as their determinant factor when they cast their vote. Even in the election campaigns of the PAP stretching as far as 2006, the ruling party has made several mentions of helping Singaporeans to manage the rising cost of living. 8 years down the road from 2006, today, we can safely conclude the PAP has failed utterly delivering their promises. So what happened?

An unrepentant habit in the old direction is why.

Right after making big speeches about controlling the cost of living and winning their mandate in 2006, Lee Hsien Loong said he wanted to help the poor and started raising the GST. This sparked off a relentless increase in cost of living and caused the income divide to worsen.

5 years later in 2011, Lee Hsien Loong and his compatriots made similar speeches about reigning the cost of living but he did nothing to the tax policies. GST remained at 7%, CPF contribution was increased instead to reduce the out-of-pocket dollars Singaporeans are holding, COE prices are left to spiral out of control which indirectly increases cost of goods and private transportation, public transport fares are allowed to increase, more ERPs are erected and the utility tariffs and HDB prices went up, and the list goes on. The PAP has done nothing to help Singaporeans relieve through lessening the indirect taxes. It is the same old approach adopted in 2006.

Lee Hsien Loong is yet again expected to remain silent on the issue of rising cost of living. His Ministers and MPs are probably busy cracking their head to think of valid excuses to make it seems like they have been trying their best. But if the PAP has and is really trying their best, incompetency perhaps is best befitting of them and that it brings more urgency than ever to replace them.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Does Tan Chuan Jin really know how to resolve the manpower crunch?

Like many first world countries, Singapore faces a problem of manpower crunch in manual labor, especially in construction trades like carpentry, construction, painting and brick laying. It hampers growth in labor-intensive sectors and reduce the capabilities of contractor companies to take on more businesses. The singular fix-all strategy adopted by the PAP government to tackle the problem of manpower shortage has always been consistent for the past few decades - through the exploitation of cheap foreign labor. When Singapore needed more maids during the 1990s, the earlier PAP leaders imported them from Philippines. Today Singapore need more manual labor, and the newer generation of PAP leaders simply copy-paste the same solution their predecessors adopted by importing workers from India, Bangladesh and China. In fact, the new batch of PAP leaders believe that this solution of importing cheap foreign labor has few repercussions and is sustainable in the long term. This use-and-throw concept entails the PAP culture the ruling elites are so proud of - Pragmatism. When you need them, you use them and once they outlived their usefulness, send them home.

Unfortunately for the new batch of PAP leaders we see today, they amplified the pragmatic trait of their predecessors. Economic growth at all costs - the apex of Pragmatism in PAP. Young leaders like the new Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin believe that there is only one way to address the problem of manpower crunch and find the sweet spot of raising productivity. The rules are simple:

1) To relieve the manpower crunch, import more foreign labor.
3) To raise productivity, reduce foreign worker quota.
4) If nothing works, try convincing everyone your policies can never be wrong because you are a million dollar talent and policies simply need time to take effect then continue applying rule 1, 2 and 3.

Unfortunately throughout the 2 years Tan Chuan Jin has been Minister, productivity growth for 2013 remains at 0%. So just recently, Minister Tan seems to have awaken from his insanity and started proposing something a little different to increase productivity. He wants to introduce a Minimum Quota for skilled foreign workers, otherwise known as R1 Work Permit Holders. These skilled foreign workers are legislated by the Manpower Ministry to command a Minimum Wage of $1600 (not for Singaporeans sorry). Yet again, this is another single minded solution which like the 4 rules above, do not solve Singapore's problem of a manpower crunch. Playing with quota ratios and price of levies will just increase inflation and have no impact on productivity at all. There is no value added in these manipulations, Tan Chuan Jin will just end up with low productivity and low manpower availability.

The logical strategy of increasing skilled workers is to attract people, including Singaporeans, to take up training, internship and education of the specific trade. If there are still few takers, implement an attractive trade-specific Minimum Wage. Given how dangerous and tiring these manual labor can be, it should be an alternative for people with little education to strike it rich through sheer hard work and real risk taking. This is, after all, a Meritocracy that rewards hard work. The only reason why Singapore is facing a manpower crunch is because Singapore is not a Meritocracy. No matter how many bricks a bricklayer in Singapore can lay and how many hours he clock, he can never earn enough to retire comfortably. The Singapore system is a discriminatory one that rewards and relegates people according to their education. Many people are poor not because they are not willing to work hard, but because they have no alternatives to break out of their poverty cycle in Singapore as compared to countries like Australia and Canada. Until the day Minister Tan acknowledge the absence of Meritocracy in Singapore and recognize that the current salaries for manual labor is depressed beyond recognition, Singapore will forever face a manpower crunch.

Monday, 3 March 2014

"Special arrangements" made to keep Singaporeans from emigration

A Working Holiday Programme is a temporary residence permit that allows a young traveller, typically between the age of 21 to 30, to work and experience the life of living in the visa-issuing country for usually a period of six months. It is especially helpful for young people who wish to emigrate because it gives the person a living experience of the country he is going. For a Working Holiday Programme in Singapore, young foreigner graduates from the following 8 countries are free to apply:

Hong Kong
New Zealand
United Kingdom
United States

There is a good variety of job options young foreigner graduates from these selected countries could choose to work in, except for medicine and law where accreditation is required. It is clear Singapore is opening its gate wide open to welcome the inflow of labor.

Usually, a Working Holiday Programme is available two-way. Unfortunately for Singaporeans, it is only one-way. Young Singaporean graduates do not enjoy similar luxury of choice as their foreigner counterparts. In fact, Singaporeans can only go to one place for Working Holiday: New Zealand. It is hence apparent that the Singapore government has made "special arrangements" to ensure young Singaporeans could not get out as easily as foreigners are coming into the island state.

When most young Singaporeans do not get the opportunity to live and work in other countries, many tend to hold very high regard of Singapore's way of life. It is very often told and repeated in the Singapore media that we come in top in economy, stability and happiness:
NTUC: 9 in 10 working Singaporeans are happy.
Straits Times: Singapore is no. 3 in maximizing potential of its workforce
Straits Times: Singapore is 3rd richest country in the world
EDB: FACTS AND RANKINGS (virtually saying Singapore is the best in everything)

With the occasional reports of natural disasters and hate crimes in other countries, some young Singaporeans believe they couldn't have their future brighter anywhere than right where they are, and this is exactly the result the PAP government hope to achieve from their "special arrangements". Given how attractive an immigrant is depending on his qualifications, another obvious "special arrangement" is of course to maintain a low tertiary educated population by not building more universities and discourage young Singaporeans from holding a bachelor degree. Perhaps breaking their legs would be too authoritative and obstructive to those who still need to serve their National Service, Singaporeans are deliberately handicapped so they could not pick walking out as an option.

Mix these classified social conditionings with legislative limitations like National Service obligations and the CPF, and we could see how much effort the PAP government has put in to make it very hard of the average Singaporean to ever consider emigration as an option. After all, when every Singaporean son starts leaving, who will be left to serve NS? NS is after all a privilege for Singaporeans born and bred here and it would be very unfair to get doctors like MP Janil Puthucheary and new citizens to serve.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Invisible Man and CPIB

First it was the former CNB chief, Ng Boon Gay, who was acquitted of corruption charges for awarding lucrative IT contracts in exchange for sexual favors. Then it is former NUS law professor Tey Tsun Hang's turn to be acquitted for giving good grades in exchange for sex. It begs the question: why is there such a great disconnect between the CPIB's definition of corruption, to the Subordinate Court's and the High Court's? It is understandable that law enforcement is open to interpretation, but there ought to be some consistency and common consensus in what is outright wrong, and there is no way a suspect charged and hauled up to be shamed in public could be acquitted. We thought Ng Boon Gay's acquittal is a one-off because it is rare anyone can get off the hook when they are charged by a public prosecutor - especially when it is the almighty Corrupt Practice Investigation Bureau.

So what happened to the CPIB? The CPIB reports to only one person, the Prime Minister, and not even the elected President. It is hence logical to see that whoever CPIB is prosecuting, nothing proceeds without the the approval of Lee Hsien Loong himself. The Prime Minister has been clever to sit totally invisible and not make a single comment referencing to the slew of corruption cases that have opened up. It wouldn't be appropriate of CPIB to make a press statement, but the Prime Minister's Office owe the public an explanation what resulted in the two high profile acquittals. Does the CPIB not have decent prosecutors who could present their case to make these cases a no-brainer? Who will be next to be found not guilty and inconvenienced to the point of having served a 5 month jail sentence?

Or perhaps, a more pressing explanation the Prime Minister owe to the public is the $1.76 million corruption case committed by former CPIB assistant director Edwin Yeo. It happened under your watch, Prime Minister? What went wrong? Why are you silent on these issues? Where are you?

Going back to the point where the CPIB reports to no one but the Prime Minister, it begs another question: Could the Prime Minister be investigated by the CPIB? If not, who is there to check on a corrupted Prime Minister? Perhaps the PMO would like to clarify on this as well. Then again, who investigates the CPIB? It seems that the current system is not as corruption-proof as it is. A piece is missing to close the loop of accountability, and that is Transparency to public scrutiny.

Salaries, balance sheets, budget statements and many other relevant financial details and rationale behind state decisions should be made available to the public. In Australia, they enacted transparency into their system and called it the Freedom of Information Act. Journalists, activists and any members of the public have the enforceable right to access government documents relating to policy making. While such act doesn't stamp out corruption, it certainly doesn't impede the carriage of justice. Throughout the 50 years PAP have been government, their biggest failure is to instil a system of transparency and accountability. There are many questions unanswered, and many questions unquestioned because there is a buffet of laws including civil defamation lawsuits that are ready to serve the questioner. Singapore's system is designed to be one-way open loop, where nobody has the right to question the person at the highest chain of command, who is believed to be utterly incorruptible. To put in plainly, Singapore is indeed a dictatorship.