Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Art of throwing Smoke

He was silent when the freedom of the internet was threatened by the likes of Yaacob Ibrahim.  He was just as quiet when the number of dengue cases crept past the 10,000 mark. He did not chime in when Vivian Balakrishnan waded into the hawker center scaffolding dissertation. So what keeps our prime minister awake at nights? Nobody would have guessed it was the beautiful view of the skyline from the Istana’s manicured lawn, a sight none of us will ever get to see at the crack of dawn. Lee posted a Facebook photo of the haze taken at the Istana, commenting: “The city in the distance is barely visible. We are all affected by the haze.”

At stake, of course, are the tourist arrivals, who had not planned to travel all the way to see the Merlion engulfed in smoke. Said national icon is permitted to spit 24/7 to its heart’s content, but smoking is strictly prohibited. Some laws are simply not allowed to be applied with a light touch. Too bad the peasants have to put up with watery eyes, and coughing fits.

Instead of dialling up President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono direct – and remind him how little he is paid for running a country of 247,496,843 people – Lee deputised Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam to call their Indonesian counterparts to register Singapore’s “serious concerns” about the situation and to offer help to fight the fires there. Someone expressed hope that the experts can get together soon to compare notes on “what’s happening and where, and what’s being done.” Every schoolboy in Singapore knows what’s happening (farmers burning crops), where (Sumatra and akan datang, Kalimantan) and what’s being done (zilch).

Balakrishnan, fresh from calling the Aljunied town council to name cleaning contractors, said in his own Facebook account that he asked Indonesian Minister Balthasar Kambuaya to name the companies responsible for the fires there causing the haze. For a guy who flopped at floods, danced around with dengue, the only thing he knows about clearing the haze is, as expected, pointing fingers at someone else.

The Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was signed in 2002, but Indonesia has yet to ratify it. Also not ratified is the extradition treaty with Indonesia, signed in 2007, because their House of Representatives refused to approve both the treaty and the defense agreement as a package. Indonesia’s House Speaker Marzuki Alie had complained loudly about Singapore’s request to be allowed to conduct military training within Indonesian territory in exchange for the extradition treaty. While the politicians quibble, the fires of Sumatra rage on.

Source: Tattler
The writer blogs at http://singaporedesk.blogspot.com

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Dear Mr Tan Chuan-Jin,
I am writing to you as a deeply concerned Singapore citizen, and also as the daughter of a crane operator. I have some burning questions and I ask for your response with utmost respect.
The haze in Singapore has hit a historical high with the PSI reported to have reached 321 at 10pm, 19 June 2013. Air quality is considered to be ‘unhealthy’ when PSI is above 100, ‘very unhealthy’ when above ‘200’ and ‘hazardous’ upon hitting 300. However, my father and his colleagues were still working at a construction site well past 10pm. The workplace did not carry out a risk assessment although the PSI has hit a record high; employees were not issued masks and were even asked to work overtime despite the worsening haze.

It is apparent that for construction work to be carried out in an environment where the PSI has soared beyond 300 is extremely unsafe. Employees are performing physically strenuous tasks and the hazardous air quality is detrimental to their health. Furthermore, the smog creates visual impairment. As visibility is compromised at the workplace, the employees’ safety is put at risk, especially in the building and construction industry where lifting operations are integral. 
I quote the Workplace Safety & Health Act (WSH Act), 
“In situations where haze poses imminent danger to the safety and health of workers and measures have not been taken to mitigate those risks, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) may order the affected work to stop. If any person (individual or corporate bodies) fails to comply with a stop work order, under the WSH Act he shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.”

However, there was no stop work order issued yesterday, even when the PSI has indicated that the haze was ‘hazardous’ at 321. My questions to you sir, is to ask at what point does the Ministry of Manpower determine that the haze is posing a threat serious enough, such that a stop work order would be issued; what exactly are the indicators that the ministry consider when making the decision? Are there any other indicators besides the PSI? Is there any measures taken to ensure that employees involved in outdoor work have their health and physical safety taken care of in a hazardous environment like what Singapore is currently having?

As a human, it is my wish to see that everyone has access to care and protection in the workplace, and not to be asked to work in a hazardous situation. As a daughter, my wish is to see my father return home safely each day. I am sure that there are many, many more sons and daughters who feel the same way that I do. We need transparency in this hazy situation; it is not safe to work outdoors in the thickest smog that Singapore has seen. I want to know at what point MOM deems a stop work order necessary. I genuinely hope to receive your response soon. Thank you for your patience.

Yours sincerely,
Chun Kai Xin

Article first appeared on https://www.facebook.com/kaixinchun/posts/10151494556088193

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Mindef discriminates “part-time” degree officers, but nobody knows?

Captain Shaun has served as an officer in the army for about 10 years.
He signed on as a regular during his National Service. After about 3 years into his service, in 2003, he successfully applied for a Local Study Award (LSA) from Mindef. 

Graduated with “honours”, but get “pass”pay?
He graduated form a local university in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science (2nd Class Honours (Upper) and notified Mindef accordingly.
He was subsequently informed by Mindef in December 2007 that “the Scheme B Salary Emplacement Board held on 26 Oct 07 has found you suitable for emplacement onto Scheme B with effect from “1 Dec 07″.
He discovered by accident in Nov 2011 (as part of a new salary review process at that time for all officers of his grade – new MDES service for military officers)  that he was paid the salary and placed on the wrong salary scale of an emplaced officer with a pass degree, instead of that for a 2nd Class Honours (Upper) for the 4  years since his graduation in 2007.
Conservatively speaking if the shortfall in pay is about $200 plus a month, that works out to a total short-payment of about $11,000 for the 4 years.
He then sought clarification from his Unit Manpower Officer (MPO) who eventually referred the matter to the Head of Manpower (HOM).

All the correspondence
In the interest of and to facilitate total transparency of what transpired, all the email correspondence (without the names, except Captain Shaun’s) are transribed below [link]:

 As a last attempt, Captain Shaun contacted the department which administered his LSA. Below is the department’s reply:
From:                           Hd PMB
Sent:                             Tuesday, 7 February 2012 6:56 PM
To:                                ME4 Shaun Fernando
Subject:                      Pay issue / R
Hi Shaun,
Thanks for taking time off to come to JMPD this morning.
Initially, I thought we had a case to fight since there was approval for you to do the course on a part time basis. However, when I studied the issue deeper, I was not sure what was asked of MPPD back then, in 2003, when the check was done. For example, Did LTC G specifically asked that you be allowed to do the course on a part time basis even though you were awarded an LSA to do a degree course on a full time basis.
Back in 2007 when the board was held, we had already check with G if she could remember what did she ask of MPPD. She could not recall anything, and neither could we find anything in the files to show that approval was given to do the course on a part time basis.
MPPD honoured the deed which was changed (by JMPD) to show to show that the course was done at SIM Open University, by allowing you to be assessed by the Sch B Board. So, while the board cleared your emplacement, it was not to be on Honours starting pay, but on a general degree (based on subsequent checks with MPPD). There was no reason given back then, and I do not think MPPD would be able to give a reason now. But they did have an issue with doing the course part time. Of course, we do not have any documentation to show that they were indeed the ones who approved the study on a part time basis.
As such, I would not be pursuing the matter further. If there is anything else that I can do for you, do give me a call. Have a great week!”

Everybody in Mindef trying very had to help?
Comments: You can see from the above that everybody was trying very hard to help Captain Shaun on his pay issue, but after about 12 months of umpteen emails – still no conclusion!
After he resigned from the service in March 2012, he waited until November 2012 to seek advice and assistance from his MP as there was still no conclusive response from Mindef.

MP write – then response very fast?
His MP, the Right Honourable MP for Teck Ghee constituency wrote to Mindef on 28 Nov 2012. Mindef replied on 18 Dec (21  days later – wah! quite fast leh – response this time – not like the above after 12 months still nothing!)
The reply was
“We have reviewed your case and ascertained that you had been emplaced on the appropriate salary scheme throughout your regular service”.
Got discriminatory policy or not?
From the above, it would appear that there may be a discriminatory policy against officers who took a “part-time” degree course, as they will only be emplaced on the “pass degree” salary scale, instead of the “honours degree” salary scale, when they pass with “honours”.
If this is the case, why is this so?
What kind of a message are we sending to the officers – no need to study so hard because even if get “honours” – also get “pass degree” pay scale.
So, full-time course get honours get honours pay, but part-time course get honours get pass pay only?
Full-time course get pass get pass pay, and part-time course get pass get pass pay?
Where’s the logic?

How many affected, how long, how much?
How much is the difference in the 2 pay scales in a typical lifetime of an officer?
How many officers have been affected by this over the years?
According to Captain Shaun, the reason why he ended up with a course which was apparently defined by Mindef as “part-time” (which from the above email correspondence – it would appear that nobody knows – MPOs, HPO, CO, and of course Captain Shaun)

Discrminatory policy that nobody knows – until its too late?
Why didn’t the relevant department in Mindef inform Captain Shaun (or for that matter have they ever informed any other officers in its history) that a “part-time”degree course (as defined by Mindef which apparently nobody knows about this policy) would result in a lower salary scale, even if they graduate with good honours?
If officers like Shaun had been informed, why would anyone choose a part-time course?
In this case, Shaun selected a course which was approved by Mindef – which the local university decided to run classes on the average of about 4 nights a week to accomodate learning adults. So, Shaun was none the wiser to the predicament which he found himself in, when he graduated (which fortunately he discovered almost by accident  oniy 4 years later).
Shaun had initially applied for a full-time course which was validated by a foreign university (approved by Mindef), but his admission was not successful. Then, he was transferred to the subject 4-year course (also approved by Mindef in a new deed issued to Shaun)
In fact, he lost out in pay for 1 extra year, because the course he selected ended up to be 4 years, instead of the normal 3 – officers on the Local Study Award only get an allowance of $9,000 a year during the period of studies.

MOE – Your view please?
What is the view of the Ministry of Education on the above apparent “discriminatory” policy?

Universities – Your view please?
What is the view of the local universities on the above apparent “discriminatory” policy? Are part-time degrees from UNISIM worth less than a full-time degree?

“Care for soldiers”?
In this connection, according to Mindef’s core values (the last out of 7 core values) is “care for soldiers”.
Civil Service core principles?
According to the Civil Service’s 7 core principles – maybe 4 of them may well apply (or arguably was not applied well enough) in this case – “Responsiveness and Effectiveness,  People-Centricity, Mutual Courtesy and Respect, and Shared Responsibility for the Public Good”.

ASEAN Human Rights Declaration?
The subject issue of “discriminatory” policy (if indeed there is one as I have asked above) may also need to be seen with reference to and in the context of Article 7 and 9 of the ASEAN HUMAN RIGHTS DECLARATION:
“7. All human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. All human rights and fundamental freedoms in this Declaration must be treated in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis.
9.In the realisation of the human rights and freedoms contained in this Declaration, the principles of impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, non-discrimination, non-confrontation and avoidance of double standards and politicisation, should always be upheld. The process of such realisation shall take into account peoples’ participation, inclusivity and the need for accountability.”

$12.3 b not enough is it?
According to the article “Hard truths about Singapore’s defence” (Straits Times, Mar 17) – “Singapore’s defence budget, at a projected $12.3 billion this year, is the biggest in South-east Asia. And it is an open secret that Singapore has one of the highest per capita defence spendings in the world, after countries such as Israel. It possesses a highly-advanced “third generation” fighting force built on the principles of “see first, think quicker, kill faster”.” – So, maybe $12.3 billion may not be enough – such that have to stinge on not paying “honours” degree officers “honours” pay! And as to “”see first, think quicker, kill faster” – how come one simple pay clarification can take 12 months without any conclusion!
May God help us – if war really comes!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The fall of Singapore inevitable?

Is the Fall of Singapore Inevitable?  This question may have many different response, there may be a majority that says 'No, its not possible!.' But in my opinion it will be a yes, reason being?

say no to an overpopulated singapore 

1) The PAP government is no longer capable of ruling Singapore, yes we can agree, Lee Kuan Yew did a pretty much good job in building up Singapore, but as time progress, they have changed. The citizens are starting to lose trust in the government. Moreover with the recent new ruling by MDA to control internet, white paper for 6.9 Million population, new ruling by MAS to curb cars in Singapore, rise in cost of living, rise in elitism in Singapore lastly rising number in the number of foreigners. These has already brought about much unhappy towards the government.

2) Opposition, I am not trying to say that the opposition party are  useless and unable to garner votes nor control Singapore, but by the time the PAP government are thrown down from power, and the oppositions are to take over, it will be not easy for them to regain control of Singapore, what we may see everyday are protest, strikes and riot. This can be easily related to many countries around the world in the past century, with a tyrannic government it will bring about resentment. Some may say there is still another General Election we can change the government the government will be constantly changing, each time the government is changed, each time things will get messier and messier, as new policies and change does not have enough time to take place. Thus the government themselves will cause the fall of Singapore.

3)   The number of foreigners in Singapore is constantly increasing, and the number of Singaporeans leaving are also on the rise, we may see a time where there is only foreigners in Singapore, and the big question is what does Singapore has to offer for them to stay here permanently? So after sometime the population will start shrinking once again.

4) Sustainability of our population, Singapore has no natural resources, some main sector which makes up major part of our economy are  medical equipment, SMEs and tourism.  Main question, should we depend on tourism? Singapore is a very small country what that is interesting for tourist can be easily be seen in less than a week, and out of 10 how many will come back again? Is tourism sustainable in Singapore? You say for yourselves. With the current policies, will many people start their business here? Lastly medical equipment, my
opinion is we should actually focus in this sector, why you may ask? During a economy slowdown, which will you save on?  Going on a holiday or taking care of your health? 

My prediction would be that come 2018 Singapore economy will crash badly from the economy crisis. Look at the pattern  since Asia started booming.

1988: Crisis started from the West
1998: Crisis started from Asia
2008: Crisis started from the West
2018: ?

So we should start preparing and brace ourselves for it. As based on my prediction, once Singapore economy crashes, the government will fall as well in the 2021 election and on a side note, the economy crisis this time will not be of anything minor, it may be worst than the Great Depression in the 1930s.

All these are only my prediction, who knows it may not goes as what I have predicted? But one thing that is for sure the government will soon lose its power. Nothing stays in power all the time. Only time will tell.

“Be the Change you wish to see in the World.” ~  Gandhi

Source: Chloe Junior TRS Editor

Friday, 7 June 2013

MDA – Loosening the G string

I sat through the live telecast of Talking Point on the issue of new licensing of online news sites. The most unbelieveable thing to happen in the programme is that the MDA personnel was not there, not Yaacob or Koh Lin Net but the Minister of MOM, Tan Chuan Jin. Isn’t this odd? Don’t tell me the new regulation was initiated and approved by Chuan Jin and he has to kuai kuai come out to explain his stand? Quite possible isn’t it? If I were Yaacob or Lin Net, even if my name is named after internet, I would not want to explain anything so unpopular if I have nothing to do with it. Your guess why Chuan Jin has to front this show.

What came through very clearly was that the regulation was rushed out without much thought, with many blanks left unanswered. Now they are going to relook at the details and to fill in the blanks. The main purpose is to target sites that are reporting on Singapore news and not so much about the right news. But right news still came out for some discussion and by the end of the show, no one really knows what is the right news or what is the right news all about.

The other point that came out clearly is that bloggers or individual websites will not be targeted. Then why was this not spelt out in the first place? Or is this an after thought, that bloggers were originally in the scheme of things? Imagine how much venom would have been taken out from the bloggers if from the first move the MOM clearly said bloggers will not be affected by the new regulation. It is still not too late to make an amendment to make it official that bloggers will not come under this regulation. Will the MOM just do that?

The truth is that MOM was not sure how things would develop and they wanted the provision that when blogs take on the characteristics of news site, reporting on Singapore news, then they will come under the regulation. Then I must say many bloggers will eventually come under the regulation despite the denial. Don’t trust me, let me explain. What if I keep reporting on the number of crocodiles in Sungei Buloh Wetland? Is that not reporting on Singapore news? What if I keep reporting about MRT jams or breakdowns as I take the train daily? Is that not reporting on Singapore news? There is no where to run when the definition of news is everything under the Singapore sky. Would MDA want to make this ‘Singapore News’ more specific?

Bertha Henson kept asking the minister what was the real intent of the regulation. And some callers asked a very simple question, ‘Is there anything that is not covered by existing regulations that made the rushing out of this new regulation that necessary and urgent?’

Anything criminal, defamatory or inciting violence on racial and religious issues are fully covered by existing laws. Then why ah? Why in such a hurry to rush out this regulation without making sure that the G string is properly tied and in the right place. Now the G string is found to be too tight and a lot of loosening and readjusting will need to be done, exposing many embarrassing holes and parts that should not be exposed.

What is the real intent of pulling this G string?


Source: Chua Chin Leng aka redbean

Monday, 3 June 2013

Singapore Bloggers Rebel Against New Law


Call for rare protest rally in government - approved “Speaker’s Corner” next Saturday

Singapore’s blogging community is rebelling against a stringent new law that requires online news sites to put up a performance bond of $50,000 and to submit to government censorship, calling for the general public and bloggers to rally next Saturday against the measure.

Last Tuesday the Singapore Media Development Authority issued the new regulations, which it said were designed to place the websites “on a more consistent regulatory framework with traditional news platforms which are already individually licensed.”

The protest group, calling itself “Free My Internet,” is asking Singaporeans to rally in Hong Lim Park, the site of Singapore’s speaker’s corner, where a May 1 protest drew 3,000 participants protesting the government’s plans to let in vast numbers of new immigrants. It was said to be the biggest protest crowd in Singapore in modern times.

“We encourage all Singaporeans who are concerned about our future and our ability to participate in everyday online activities and discussions, and to seek out alternative news and analysis, to take a strong stand against the licensing regime which can impede on your independence,” the organizers said. “We urge Singaporeans to turn up to send a clear message to our elected representatives to trust the Singaporeans who elected them.”
The message was signed by 35 bloggers, who asked all Singapore bloggers to go black for 24 hours from midnight June 6.

“You can choose to create your own blackout notice, or use www.freemyinternet.com we have created for your convenience,” the group said. “When you reopen your blog, write your account of the protest, about the new regulations and censorship, or anything related to media freedom in Singapore. Share your thoughts. Share your hope that the light that free speech provides will not go out on us.”

The Speaker’s Corner, modeled after London’s free speech site of the same name, is hardly free. Demonstrations are allowed only by Singapore citizens and attended by Singapore citizens. Banners, films, flags, photographs, placards, posters, signs, writing or other visible representations or paraphernalia containing violent, lewd or obscene material must not be displayed or exhibited, the government says. Events must not deal with any matter that relates directly or indirectly to any religious belief or to religion generally, or which may cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups. Events adhering to the regulations are not immune from other existing laws such as those relating to defamation and sedition, which in Singapore can be extremely broad, especially when the Lee governing family is mentioned.

More in: http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5465&Itemid=195

Singapore bloggers to protest Internet restrictions

May Day Protest at Hong Lim Park against 6.9M Population White Paper

Singapore bloggers are planning a rally and an “Internet blackout” this week to protest controversial new rules they say will muzzle freedom of speech, organisers said Monday.
A coalition of 34 prominent bloggers called “Free My Internet” will stage the rally on Saturday, a week after the surprise regulations kicked in on June 1 requiring news websites — including one operated by US-based Yahoo! — to obtain licenses from the city-state’s official media regulator.

The bloggers will also replace their homepages with black screens featuring the words “#Freemyinternet” for 24 hours on Thursday.

“There is a need for this physical protest because numerous dialogues with the government over the last five years about liberalisation and deregulating the Internet have actually concluded in the opposite,” said Choo Zheng Xi, a spokesman for the group.

“We want the government to know that the people need to be consulted, and that parliament needs to be consulted before sweeping changes are made to legislation,” said Choo, the co-founder of popular political website The Online Citizen.

Volunteer-run blogs have gained popularity as an alternative news and opinion source in Singapore, where the mainstream media is widely perceived as pro-government.
The Media Development Authority (MDA) last week sought to allay fears that the new rules were aimed at the city-state’s feisty blogging community, pointing out that blogs were not considered news portals.

More in: http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/2013/06/singapore-bloggers-to-protest-internet-restrictions/

Who Deserves Our Wealth?

I am very pleased that Jeremy has set out in writing his reasons why he disagrees with my proposal for the privatization of Temasek and GIC and the distribution of shares to Singaporeans.   I hope we will see more of his ideas on this subject or anyone else’s for that matter. Unfortunately Jeremy’s disagreement seems to stem from a basic misconception and a failure to grasp what the process of privatization and public listing of a previously nationalized asset entails. As he has misunderstood the process much of what he has written makes little sense.

Before we get into that mess let’s start with areas of common agreement. Happily we both agree that there needs to be more transparency. However Jeremy seems to accept the government’s own figures for its budget surplus which I most definitely do not.  Our government’s budget figures are not set out in the format described as  ‘best practice’ for governments by the IMF and in general use by advanced democracies worldwide.  As a result our budget contains discrepancies which makes it impossible (even for me) to decipher and gauge true values. I first alerted Singaporeans to these discrepancies in 2012 here.

Jeremy also agrees with me that one possible way to achieve transparency without privatization and public listing and distribution of shares is the Norwegian model, where the SWF is required to achieve an extremely high level of transparency and is responsible to Parliament for its performance each year. I’ll come onto Norway later because Jeremy gets mixed up by that as well.

Jeremy worries that $6 billion a year of extra spending is being unduly profligate and talks about finding savings in the defence budget to pay for it. This is despite my pointing out that the true surplus in 2012 was at least $36 billion.  I also pointed out that even the Net Investment Returns Contribution of $7 billion which is supposed to be allocated to current spending, in fact went straight back into the reserves.  The savings to be made in the defence budget are miniscule compared to the surpluses and the amount MOF likes to give away to other nations.  In any case I contend that we should be increasing our spending on defence in line with the rest of Asia not reducing it.

I was completely confused by Jeremy’s contentions that privatization (allowing public listing and trading in the shares of our SWFs) would not bring about transparency and accountability and wondered why he brings up the global financial crisis of 2008 as having some relevance to my proposals.  I do not see how this is an argument that listing the shares of our SWFs will lead to less transparency.  Also why would Jeremy would have brought up MERS as an example?  MERS (which stands for Mortgage Electronic Registry Service),  is an electronic registry operated by a privately held company (MERSCORP, Inc.) designed to track ownership rights and mortgage loans in the United States. Since this is a privately held company it is not listed on a public stock exchange.

Could it be that Jeremy simply didn’t know what is meant by the term ‘privatization’ when proposing  that we allowing public listing and trading in the shares of our SWFs.  As his arguments make no sense I am guessing that Jeremy has confused the process of ‘privatization’ with privately owned  or he may here be thinking of private equity buy outs. Jeremy is fiercely refuting a proposal that was never posited in the first place.

I don’t see how he could have made this mistake.  I even give Warren Buffet’s publicly listed company, Berkshire Hathaway as an example of how transparency is a spur to better performance in my original article.

After mixing up private and publicly listed and so forth Jeremy says that transparency did not prevent the global crisis of 2008.  Here Jeremy is correct. But did I say transparency would somehow prevent financial crises?  No, I make no claims for transparency by itself. I do not say that it will prevent future financial crises.  The cause of that crisis was indeed not a lack of transparency. If anything there was too much data, as Nate Silver makes clear in his excellent book, “The Signal and the Noise”. The problem lay in the interpretation of that data and the conflicts of interest to which certain key institutions like rating agencies were prone. These examples of willful blindness to the fallacies in the analyses by ratings firms were then compounded by the mistakes of policy makers, at least in the initial stages, which almost brought the global financial system to its knees.

There is no argument to be made that a public listing will not bring about a much greater level of transparency. Of course it will.

How about accountability? At present there is very little information available to judge the performance of our SWFs. We do not even know what the real level of assets is. What we do know is that historically there is a strong statistical correlation between the level of secrecy in an organization and the likelihood of mismanagement or fraud.

Privatization and the disclosures that would be necessary if the SWFs were listed would make it much easier to identify underperforming management. It would provide a spur in the side of management, to use LKY’s favoured term. Accountability is like everything else- we have to demand it.

By listing Temasek holdings and GIC, shareholders would be able to vote against the re-election of the board or individual directors at the company’s annual meeting if they felt that the company was underperforming. It is notable that no heads rolled after both Temasek and GIC lost a significant percentage of their value, even though they claimed to have recovered their losses remarkably quickly.

Having to publish regular audited accounts would also allow a spotlight to be shone on the way the management of these companies value their positions.  I believe that Singaporeans want to know how the PM’s wife is doing and to be able to move her on if her and her team’s performance is subpar.

Of course just as transparency doesn’t guarantee good governance so even a public listing might not prevent fraud altogether. UBS, in which GIC invested so much and lost most of its investment, is a good example. On balance, if our assets are being squandered and lost through poor investment decisions then I would rather know than not.

Nevertheless a system that allows the government and the managers of the SWFs to transfer assets into the fund at grossly undervalued levels, see “Has Temasek Found A Cure for Balding?”, is one where one should be suspicious of the performance claims by management. Notwithstanding the fact that the current CEO of Temasek got her job purely on merit, as our State-controlled media frequently remind us, privatization would also ensure a separation between management of our SWFs and the government, which is necessary to fulfill any standard good governance requirements.

Jeremy agrees with me on Norway but after that his ideas fall down because he has failed to grasp the fundamental difference between Norway’s situation and that of Singapore. The Norwegian fund has been built up by taxes and royalties on the earnings from the exploitation of the country’s gas and oil reserves. As these are exhaustible resources that, by definition, cannot be replaced, there is a strong argument that they should be represented on the nation’s balance sheet as an asset.  They belong not just to the current generation of Norwegians but also to future generations. As they are used up, they should be replaced by financial or real assets such as infrastructure investment. The current generation should only be able to draw on the income from those assets.

Singapore is a different case entirely. The assets of our SWFs represent forgone consumption by present and past generations of Singaporeans. There were no resources that were used up to earn those assets only sacrifice and austerity by Singaporeans past and present.  In other words, the sweat of your grandfather’s brow, people being denied medical treatment that is freely available in most other advanced countries and our old people, the disabled and those in single parent households having to live in hardship. I could go on but I have made the point repeatedly that our people live in wholly unnecessary austerity to accumulate surpluses that will never be spent even if they are not frittered away through poor investments.

There is no obligation to pass on these assets to future generations and it should be up to individuals to make their own decisions as to how much they want to leave (in economics we call this their intergenerational time preference function).

One can say with certainty that with productivity growth averaging at least 2% per annum in advanced countries like the US (though maybe only half that in Singapore due to the PAP government’s preference for cheap foreign labour over automation) that future generations as a whole will definitely be much richer than current generations. Likely technological advances may raise this productivity growth by several orders of magnitude.

Thus it is difficult to make a case as to why the state needs to maintain a reserve beyond what is needed for genuine emergencies or to defend the currency. At the moment the MAS has to hold down the Singapore dollar to prevent our currency appreciating too far and making our economy even more uncompetitive, so arguably it does not need to hold excess reserves.  In a succinct and admirably clear article (see here) Andy Wong also supports the contention that the reserves are much bigger than they need to be. Furthermore it has not been explained to us why we need to go on accumulating assets at the same rate nor why the PAP government is so anxious to keep postponing the CPF withdrawal age and the minimum sum.

We can think of Singapore as being like an enormous hedge fund, though apparently with only subpar returns. A few government functions are added on, though one day a future government might want to divorce itself from the people entirely and just keep the assets! As a hedge fund, it is in an admirable situation compared to the rest of the industry. This is because it can coerce its investors into keeping their money in the fund and make withdrawals more and more difficult.  I am sure a lot of real hedge fund managers would like a similar situation.

This brings us of course to a further reason why the current situation is so unfair to the present generation of Singaporeans.  If there were no immigration then future generations would be the descendants of Singapore citizens today and one could argue that to retain a substantial pool of assets in the state’s hands for the benefit of future generations at least had some merit. As an economic liberal who believes in individual choice, I would still prefer those decisions to be made by the individual.

However, the PAP government seems determined to dilute the current generation’s stake in the SWFs by enfranchising millions of new citizens. It has been suggested that the underlying reason behind this is to maintain its grip on power. While it still has control over the people’s assets it has an enormous carrot to use to induce foreigners to become citizens and to bribe them once they do so.  We can already see that happening in a limited way with the foreign scholarship programmes that our SWFs have set up.

Thus, while I would support some form of progressivity in the distribution of shares to try and ensure that more of the assets go to those at the bottom of the wealth distribution in an effort to promote genuine equality of opportunity, as opposed to the present fake meritocracy, I do not see any rational argument why the bulk of the assets need to be held back by the state as Jeremy advocates. His self-confessed collectivist bent is not radically different from the PAP’s and does not represent genuine reform. Despite saying he wants more transparency he seems to favour keeping the status quo. While he may feel that readers may be impressed by his knowledge of simultaneous equations from O Level Maths, it does not really buttress his arguments which have shaky theoretical underpinnings and some serious fundamental errors.
Nevertheless it is great that he has come forward to provide a rationale and hopefully we can have more reasoned debate in the future.  As Jeremy is an SDP policy author, the more common ground we can establish now the better.

Source: Kenneth Jeyaretnam

* As a blogger, KJ hopes to help imagine a model for a New Asian Nation to bring about a free and fair future for Singapore. KJ is a Cambridge trained economist who could be broadly described as from the Keynesian school. He is also a successful ex-hedge fund manager and a liberal opposition politician who contested in the 2011 General Election with his party. He is currently the Secretary-General of The Reform Party. 

Why it is desperately important for the PAP to do all it can to stay in power

I have shared this before and i feel it is important to share it again in light of the new licensing regime imposed on online websites.

The PAP has to ensure that it stays in power by all means as it has too much at stake. It is to them inconceivable, what the retributions would be should they be overthrown from power…. For that would mean a scrutiny of all that it has done over the years that it was in power. There are just too many skeletons in the closets for them to be comfortable with the handing over of power to another political party. Just take a look at what Aljunied GRC has uncovered with the AIM transaction.

Imagine what else would be uncovered if an opposition alliance comes into power to form the next government?

For Singaporeans, it would be good to take the chance by getting an opposition government into power, at least, to take stock of what the PAP has done in the last fifty years. In other words, we, the citizens, take the chance to regain the power in our hands by voting for a different government, to see what the PAP has actually done in the last twenty years, at least.. We take it that the first thirty years were good years.

It is a small price to pay even, if say, the opposition government fails us. At least we know that the next PAP government is going to be more citizen-friendly than this arrogant one. Really, we have nothing to lose.

In my opinion, the WP and SDP are looking more and more like political parties we can take a chance on. Ask yourselves, what can be worse than having the new PAP running away with arrogance, disrespect, and haughtiness?

Singaporeans, we should stop considering what is at stake for the PAP.

We have to start asking what is at stake for us and for our children. Do you see the new PAP delivering to you what you want? Your CPF, your home, your ability to move around with your car, your thoughts control etc are questions you should start asking yourselves.

Listen closely to what the other alternative parties are promising you. Are you afraid to get some returns of what you and your parents have invested in and worked hard for? Your parents sacrificed their lives for your well being. They expected the PAP to deliver to you what the PAP had promised them.

Today, you are going through the same cycle for your children, without any of the promises they made to your parents fulfilled. In fact, your parents are still slogging away when they should be retiring. They are slogging away to allow you to slog for your children. Your twilight years is going to be worst than your parents’. They died thinking the PAP would take care of you. Is the PAP taking care of you as your parents thought they would? If you still don’t make the effort to think rationally, you will surely end up like your parents while your children end up worst than you.
After you have asked yourselves these fundamental questions, the next thing to ask yourselves is why it is so important for the PAP to make sure it stay in power? Do you think their obsession to stay in power is because it believes it has your best interests at heart? Or do you think they have to stay in power because they need to prevent the things they have done over the last fifty years from being exposed to public scrutiny? Why are they so fearful of the truth? There is only one answer; there are just too many things they have done wrong, so wrong that they may even be criminal in nature.

They are in so deep that any PAP defeat would immediately translate to a PAP collapse. And the collapse would be quickly followed by criminal charges for all the skeletons presently tucked comfortably away in their closets. All in the white family would come under scrutiny and anyone and everyone who had been appointed to positions of power will be investigated for foul play and breach of any kind.

It does not take a rocket scientist to follow the drift i am presenting here. The stakes for the whites are simply just too high to be left to chance. That is why, if it has to make every citizen pay to talk, the PAP will do that without even blinking the eyes.

Source:  The Alternative View