Friday, September 30, 2005

CPF changes.

From Today online:

26 Sept 2005

New pension plan in works: PM

To help Singaporeans meet their financial needs during their golden years, the Government is studying plans for a new pension scheme, including the provision of life annuities, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed last night.
"Life annuities, which provide a guaranteed income for life, is especially of benefit to those who live longer than average, which a significant proportion will do," said Mr Lee.
The CPF Board is developing programmes to teach CPF members about annuities, and encourage more members to take them up. One way is to change the default option to annuities for all members upon retirement, unless the member specifically decides to opt out.
Mr Lee, who was speaking at the CPF's 50th anniversary dinner, said: "The CPF has enabled every working member to put aside a prudent amount for his retirement needs. It has made Singapore a nation of home owners, and given everyone a stake in our country's well-being." However, the need to help Singaporeans earn better long-term returns on their savings is significant when seen against the relative lack of success of the CPF Investment Scheme (CPFIS).
Under this scheme, members were given considerable latitude to invest their CPF savings as they saw fit.
"However, this has not always worked out as well as we hoped, because the options available to the members are not well tailored to their needs, and it is difficult to educate members adequately on how to plan for their long term needs," said Mr Lee.
Almost three-quarters of the members who invested under CPFIS from 1993 to last year would have been better off leaving their savings with the Board.
In particular, those who invested in unit trusts and investment-linked products have generally received mediocre returns.
One reason for the poor returns is the high cost of investing.
A more fundamental approach to the issue was called for. A bolder but more promising approach is to design an opt-out scheme — to offer a default pension plan which members will go for unless they opt for something different.
The default plan should be optimised for the needs of a typical member, while the alternatives offered should include a range of plans, some offering better returns at higher risk, and others lower returns but less risk.
Said Mr Lee: "We are still studying this. It is not just a matter of designing the right scheme, but also educating people to understand the choices, and accept responsibility for the outcomes."
The Government also has to do more to help Singaporeans stretch their minimum sum to ensure financial security through their lives.
Currently, members at age 62 can either leave their minimum sum with the CPF Board and receive payments for a fixed period of 20 years (which is the default option) or use their minimum sum to purchase an annuity which will make payments for the rest of the members' life.
But most Singaporeans do not understand annuities and, in practice, nearly all CPF members leave their money with the Board in return for payments over a fixed period, said Mr Lee.
He stressed that these ideas are being studied carefully, because they are issues for the longer term, with major implications for many members.
"We are mindful that any change to the CPF system must be made gradually, so as not to destabilise the system or disrupt the plans of Singaporeans approaching retirement," he said.
This is why when the minimum sum was raised in 2003, the increase was phased in over 10 years.
"Similarly, when we are ready to update the CPF scheme, we will give ample lead time for Singaporeans to adjust," said Mr Lee.

Finally our govt. has recognised that the CPF investment scheme is in a need of drastic revamp. Frankly, it is pretty appalling that 75% of the people who participated in the scheme are worse off than if they did not. Of course, one can argue that it is the people who made the choice on what to invest in and thus the govt. cannot be blamed for their loss.

However the fact is that when CPFIS was first launched in 1993, people were encouraged by the govt. to buy stocks from GLCs such as Singtel. I still remembered that then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had personally encouraged all Singaporeans to use their CPF to buy Singtel stocks. Given the legendary level of trust that Singaporeans had in our govt., that was exactly what many did. We all know what happened in the aftermath, the stock price of Singtel dropped to a level below the prices at which they were offered between 2001 and 2002 (possibly even longer). One of the reason for the drop, given by ex-SingTel chairman Koh Boon Hwee, is that Singtel stock was overpriced when launched. As a result of this, many people burned their fingers.

Thus our govt. must share some of the responsibility when it comes to the failure of CPFIS.

My personal opinion is that CPFIS should be abolished, given that most CPF members are not financially savvy. The CPF current ordinary account should be converted to an investment account and made the default plan as Mr Lee had suggested. The newly converted account must be capital guaranteed although there will be no promise on the level of returns. The CPF special account should remain intact to provide an alternative for people who are risk averse and purely wanted to save for old age.

GIC and/or Temasek Holdings can then manage the funds in the investment account, since these 2 govt. institutions always boast that they achieved a level of returns that are higher than the market rate. Furthermore since taxpayers fund them, it should not be any problem for them to set up an extra department to manage the money. In this arrangement CPF members won’t need to pay any commission for the fund management service provided, thus increasing the potential returns for them.

However given the trend of privatisation and the sensitive nature of GIC and Temasek Holdings (GIC and Temasek Holdings might come under pressure to open their accounts to public scrutiny if they are made to manage CPF money), the govt. might prefer to let private financial institutions managed the money instead. Similar capital garanteed investment plans are offered by various banks like UOB in Singapore, so it is nothing new to them. Given enough incentives or govt interventions, in the case of DBS, it can be done.

All that being said, I hope that the govt. can come up with an even better and more comprehensive plan to increase the returns of the CPF. However most importantly, whatever govt do, they MUST NOT increase the minimum sum and withdrawal age again!

For if this goes on, I scare I cannot live long enough to get my money back!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Great policy change and political move by the govt.

From Today online:
26 Sept 2005

Govt may end foreign workers' medical subsidy

Duty of employers to care for staff: MOH

Tan Hui Leng

THE Ministry of Health is "seriously reviewing" whether to terminate medical subsidies for foreign workers holding work permits and employment passes in Singapore, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

"When we subsidise them, we are actually subsidising the employers," said Mr Khaw at a dialogue session with residents at the Kaki Bukit Community Centre.

"As workers, this is really part and parcel of their employment medical benefits and employers should be subsidising them."

The MOH is planning to consult the Manpower Ministry on this subject.

Blue-collared workers holding work permits are of particular concern as many do not enjoy corporate medical benefits. There are 540,000 work permit and 80,000 employment pass holders in Singapore.

Foreign workers enjoy the same medical subsidies as citizens at government medical institutions, and this came into focus recently when Tan Tock Seng Hospital saw a sharp hike in foreign patients admitted with chicken pox.

Due to the infectious nature of the condition, their employers preferred to have them stay at the Communicable Disease Centre (CDC).

Mr Khaw said that he has since called a stop to the practice due to overcrowding at the hospital, particularly with the current dengue scourge.

He also put an end to the free treatment of chicken pox at the CDC, an age-old practice.

He said that the right thing to do was for dormitory managers to have one or two isolation rooms where those who contract chicken pox could stay.

Mr Khaw noted that Singaporeans with chicken pox were typically not hospitalised.

While changes may "take some time to organise", it would be easier to implement at the polyclinic level where up to five per cent of patients are foreign workers.

As consultation costs are not high, foreign workers may, in fact, find it more convenient to go to the GP where 80 per cent of primary healthcare is conducted, he reasoned.

But with higher costs if one has to be hospitalised, foreign workers may well need to get insurance in future.

"I think we should make all foreign workers … do a compulsory medical insurance," he said, adding that the premium would be low as most of them were young and healthy.

Would this increase business costs for their employers? Said Mr Khaw: "Maybe so, but you have to treat it as part and parcel of the cost of employment. The alternative is to hire Singaporeans."

After all, it is "not quite right" to pass this medical subsidy cost to taxpayers, he said, adding: "I can then use more of (the money) to help out needy Singaporeans who need it more."

This is great policy change by the govt.

Now with the review of the health policy, not only Singaporean taxpayers will soon no longer need to bear the burden of subsidising the healthcare of the foreign workers, foreign workers will also benefit from the more comprehensive healthcare coverage given by the compulsory medical insurance (Many of the workers get no medical assistance from their employers). The doctors in private practise and insurance companies might also be smiling at the thought of the extra customers they might get due to the new policy.

This is also a great political move by the govt.

Our Health Minister Mr Khaw Boon Wan showed his political acumen when some employers complained that the compulsory health insurances would raise their production cost.

Mr Khaw scored some political points by suggesting to these employers that if the scheme pushes costs too high, then companies might consider employing locals instead. The part where he said that it is "not quite right" to pass the medical subsidy cost to taxpayers, and that he can use the money "to help out needy Singaporeans who need it more" does not hurt either.

What a good move, Mr Khaw. ;)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Wah Singapore union dared to strike ah! Strike against a Temasek Linked Company (TLC) somemore!

When I read this article, my 1st reaction is: "Zhun bo? Mai hao siao lah... S’pore where got simi lanjiao strike 1?"

I always thought that S’pore’s unions is like what Rockson had said:
No, our champion union say, Thank you big oversea company for come here to invest Singapore, Singapore worker is really need to upgrade, so sorry our worker is not good enough for you. Don't worry, we wun let them suka suka strike one. We dowan hurt your company feeling.
Then SMRT is TLC somemore leh! They wanna die ah, strike…

I still remember that got that pai kia Malaysian FT SIA pilot Ryan Goh kenna kicked out of Singapore by our most venerable Lao Lee.

Lao Lee say that this pai kia Malaysian FT Ryan Goh is the ‘“chief instigator” behind the move to sack the SIA pilots’ union leadership after it had approved pay and job cuts during the SARS crisis’ and ‘had “surreptitiously” taken actions “that would undermine industrial peace in SIA and also put the economic interests of Singapore at risk.”’ (Get from Think Centre 1.)

But I think MRT is also very important for our economy leh, since it carries so many people. Dunno how many man-hours and income will be lost if SMRT people decided to strike man (Sunday also got a lot of people work ok!). Even last time our ex-president Ong sanctioned a 2 days strike against a MNC when he is the head of NTUC he also must do it secretly or else sure kenna stopped. That union head Ong Ah Heng not scared of being fuck backside for organising strike ah?

Then I noticed that Ong Ah Heng is also a PAP Labour MP. Maybe like tat then can strike. Only gahmen MPs can organise strike against gahmen companies. If the strikes are against big overseas companies and/or are organised by opposition people or FTs one then cannot liao. Gahmen cannot let opposition people or FTs anyhow strike, wait they drive away big oversea companies and make gahmen lose face.

But sometimes hor, big gahmen company like SMRT also dunno why so fucked up. I thought gahmen should take care of its people 1? Why gahmen company can agree to increase in salary (3%) and performance bonus (1-3%) then break promise say no $ to pay the workers 1? If really no have $ still nebermind, but how come SMRT still can pay the shareholders (actually is Temasek Holdings aka gahmen lah) 3% from the profits huh? Heng that Ong Ah Heng (*heng ah heng? hahahaha) got balls to question his bosses and threaten to strike, or else huh the SMRT workers really kenna “eaten up” gahmen man~

Monday, September 26, 2005

A rare piece of article from ST columnist.

This is one of the few rare times that I agree with a ST columist. I especially loved the part whereby Cherian George is quoted saying wryly in Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation: 'Serangoon Gardens residents can now advertise their homes as "being near the sea".' So here is the article for all who is interested:

Sept 23, 2005


Don't let electoral boundaries breed cynicism, apathy
By Peh Shing Huei

PENG, a truck driver from Woodlands, went to see his MP to get help to woo the girl of his dreams.

He went down with his friend, Bin.

The MP agreed to help - until he realised the girl involved lived in the opposition-held Potong Pasir ward.

'During the last elections, you guys should have drawn the boundaries so that Potong Pasir is part of your constituency,' Bin lamented.

'Excuse me, but we are in Woodlands,' interjected a perplexed Peng.

'No problem,' added the animated Bin. 'All you need to do is link, link, link, link, link and then you call the whole thing a GRC.'

The above snatch of dialogue is fictitious. It's from Jack Neo's romantic comedy, I Do, I Do, which I saw on DVD recently.

But what is real is the picture painted of Singapore's electoral map.

Changes to electoral boundaries have become so frequent here that some would probably not be entirely surprised if some day, Woodlands were to be linked up with Potong Pasir to be one big GRC.

As opposition MP Low Thia Khiang once said in Parliament: 'Maybe, one day, there will be only five GRCs - north, south, east, west and central.'

We laugh at the joke in the movie because we can identify with it.

In fact, the question has to be asked: Have Singapore's electoral boundaries become a laughing stock and fodder for satire in some quarters?

Recall the 1996 boundary changes, when Serangoon Gardens was made a part of Marine Parade GRC.

As author Cherian George noted wryly in Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation: 'Serangoon Gardens residents can now advertise their homes as 'being near the sea'.'

The People's Action Party has often said that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office, makes its changes to electoral boundaries based on population shifts.

But the perception among others is that politics does play a part. Why else, say voters, would changes take place to areas where the opposition had done well in previous polls, giving advantage to the ruling party?

For example, Cheng San GRC, where the Workers' Party narrowly lost in the 1997 polls, was broken up in 2001, and the same happened to Eunos GRC earlier.

Does this constitute gerrymandering, which is to divide an area into voting districts so as to give unfair advantage to one party in elections?

The PAP has always maintained that the committee set up to review boundaries is independent and favours no political party.

But even the Feedback Unit's Political Matters and Media Group noted in 2002 that the boundary changes were 'less than fair', highlighting the extensive redrawings of boundaries for the past five general elections which were announced close to Nomination Day.

It also highlighted the perception that the panel is seen to be not independent.

To be fair, Singapore is not the only country where the perception of gerrymandering is an issue.

In fact, the term 'gerrymander' originated from the United States, where Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry's party drew an odd-shaped election district that looked like a salamander in 1812.

'Gerrymander' is a combination of his name and the lizard-like amphibian.

More recently, The New York Times had editorialised that because of gerrymandering, New Yorkers had 'no more voting options than North Koreans have'.

In Singapore, the tendency to redraw electoral boundaries, without population shifts as the key reason, can create problems.

For one, it can breed complacency in MPs from the governing party, who think that - if their wards prove to be tetchy ground - redrawing would be one safe option they can hope for.

But what bothers me most is that boundaries have become fodder for jokes among Singaporeans and have proved to be such good material that they have crept into our popular culture.

Many Singaporeans in my age group don't treat the boundaries seriously.

Older adults remember the early days - before the mid-1980s - when boundaries did not change so quixotically. They recall the days when Marine Parade represented just Marine Parade residents, and know that inland Serangoon Gardens voters wouldn't really care two hoots about the issues faced by those living by the sea.

But what about young Singaporeans like myself?

We don't have the benefit of history. We have been brought up in an era when frequent boundary changes have become a laughing stock.

Would a child brought up on a diet of electoral-boundary jokes take an election seriously?

And, by extension, would he or she take elected politicians seriously?

I have my doubts.

Unless addressed, the perception of gerrymandering would tend to reinforce political apathy among younger Singaporeans.

Can Singaporeans trust the electoral process, if the outcome of electoral-boundary changes is often to remove wards that the PAP nearly lost?

And if young Singaporeans become cynical about electoral boundaries, won't that cynicism extend to elections, and the vote?

It's a sad day when issues surrounding the citizen's hallowed right to vote become less and less like the serious matter they should be.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Giving credits when they are due.

As a rule of thumb one mustn’t oppose for the sake of opposing and should give credits when they are due. Giving credits is what I am going to do now.

The new policy of allowing good Normal stream students to skip the N Levels and thus giving them a clear five-year route to the O-level examinations is worthy of praise.

About 70% – 80% of the 10,000 Normal (Academic) students in each cohort do well enough at the N-level exam to proceed to Secondary 5 for the O levels. This new policy will enable these Normal stream students to prepare more adequately for their O Levels given the significant differences between the N Levels syllables and the O Levels syllables.

Once freed from the mad rush to cover the O Levels syllables in Sec 5, schools can offer much more subjects to the students. For example A Maths, an important subject in both JCs and Polys’ engineering courses, can be introduced to more Normal Stream students. The teachers can also focus solely on the O Levels without being distracted by the N Levels. Hence credits should be given to MOE for formulating the new policy.

I would also like to praise NTUC (actually they also part of gahmen lah) for coming up with some good ideas to help the poor.

The ideas ranged from exempting those who earn $1,000 and below a month from CPF contributions to helping the low-income by giving them more funds for training and bigger day-care subsidies for their children and elderly folk. These are all good ideas that merit further studies. Thus credit should also be given to NTUC for championing the cause of the poor.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Foreigners can protest but local Singaporeans cannot?!? Like tat win liao loh!

I am dumbfounded when I read this article from Today online... Here is an excerpt:

S'pore to loosen up for IMF- World Bank talks

WASHINGTON — Neat, tidy and fabulously wealthy Singapore will loosen up for law-abiding protesters when it hosts next year's annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF, a minister said yesterday.

Mr Raymond Lim, Second Minister for Finance and Foreign Affairs, promised that the demonstrators who traditionally dog the meetings of the international financial organisations would not be kept out. "Absolutely — within the limits of the law," he told reporters when asked if Singapore would tolerate public protests at the meetings next September.

"We can't be prim and proper Singapore. To stay relevant, you can't wipe the dust off all of the time," Mr Lim said, in advance of this year's IMF-World Bank meetings in Washington this weekend.

Singapore, one of the richest countries in Asia, is the land that famously banned chewing gum as a sticky menace to its spotless streets. However, the authorities hope to showcase the city-state as a lively hub of cutting-edge technologies and vibrant arts when the 184 members of the World Bank and IMF descend upon it in 12 months' time. ...

Walau like that S’pore gahmen win liao loh. This must be another first in the world for S’pore.

All the funny funny foreigners can come to S’pore to hold public protest to kao peh kao bu about IMF and World Bank, while local S’poreans cannot even hold a peaceful march against the building of not one but TWO casinos in our own country! I still haven't mention the 4 people who kenna confronted by about 40 police, about a dozen are riot police, when they hold a silent protest outside CPF HQ to kao peh about the lack of transparency in gahmen institutions like CPF, HDB and GIC hor...

Somehow this reminds me of a Bruce Lee movie where there is scene in which Bruce was barred from entering a park in China by a jarga who pointed to a sign that stated: “Dogs and Chinese are not allowed to enter.” Maybe hor, our S’pore gahmen should also make a law that state: “Dogs and S’poreans are not allowed to protest.” Then they no need to worry that the local Singaporeans will try to do stupid things like holding public protests or demonstrations ever again.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Ehh gahmen, can jail the bus companies' people for being fare cheats or not?

Nowadays huh, gahmen damn fierce leh. Racist bloggers wanna catch, White Elephant people wanna catch, now even fare cheats also wanna catch and send them to jail...

If like that hor I wanna ask the gahmen leh. Can the gahmen also catch the bus companies' people and send them to jail for repeatedly overcharging my bus fare or not? They are also fare cheats what. So if wanna jail then must be fair rite. Cannot just jail the commuters who cheat the bus companies without jailing the bus companies' people who cheat the communters, correct or not?

Singapore gahmen so good and fair, I am sure they will jail all the bus companies fare cheats for cheating my money so many times until I don't know how to count!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Interesting debate on political competition.

There is an interesting debate going on in Sammyboy Forum on what benefits can political competition in Singapore bring to Singaporeans. This is one of the better threads on Sammyboy with little mudslinging and plenty of rational argument, so I recommend all who are interested to have a look at it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What is wrong with LTA?!?

Seriously, it is hard not to wonder what is wrong with LTA nowadays. There has been one fiasco after the other coming from LTA for a few years now.

LTA's problems started way back from the when the opening of NEL is delayed not once, not twice but THRICE from November 2002 to April 2003 to June 2003. The delays are due to the technical problems (caused largely by its own making by choosing a untested fully automated system over the tried and tested one with drivers) and when part of Eu Tong Sen Street caved in on November 1999.

Barely a year later in April 2004, there is the Nicoll Highway collapse during the construction work of the circle line. 4 people are killed in the accident and a major delay in the construction is caused. The investigation report on the accident has exposed serious failings within LTA and the main contractor for the project.

However LTA's problems does not end there. In 2005 there is again problems coming out of LTA. For example earlier this year it is discovered that commuters taking buses are frequently overcharged by the EZ Link system.

Then there is the White Elephants Incident in August 2005, where residents living near Buangkok MRT station placed eight white cardboard elephants in various poses lined the road that leads to Buangkok MRT station during a visit by Dr Balakrishnan to complain in a humorous way against the continuing closure of the station. Transport Minister Mr Yeo Cheow Tong then promised to ask LTA to conduct a feasibility study and give an answer within 'a month or so'. Apparently that is beyond LTA’s ability as later Mr Yeo changed his words and said it would takes a few months. A police investigation is also launched to find out who placed the cardboards there and see if any offence has been committed due to a complain from public. It is, however, unclear that who actually lodged the complain.

During the same month there is also the Hock Kee House affair where the owners of the place are first only given one month to get their asses out of the place, before public pressure made LTA extend the deadline to 3rd of October. Mr Yeo has since apologised for the debacle that is entirely of LTA own making.

I really wonder why should any Singaporean tolerate this sort of nonsense dished out by LTA. I really hope in the upcoming elections, Singaporeans would grab the chance and hold the politicians responsible for these fiascos. The best way to do so is, of course, by removing the minister who is in charge of the incompetent LTA...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Seditious Sedition.

Currently “sedition” seems to be the most “in” word in both Singapore’s media stream media and blogsphere. This is all started due to the arrest of 3 bloggers who were making racist statements against our fellow Malay Singaporeans.

Indeed our PM Lee has came out to warn Singaporeans that the government would act against anyone who engaged in activities that would stir up distrust and enmity between the races

However what is the Sedition Act all about? Here is an excerpt:

Short title.
1. This Act may be cited as the Sedition Act. Interpretation.

2. In this Act —"publication" includes all written or printed matter and everything whether of a nature similar to written or printed matter or not containing any visible representation or by its form, shape or in any other manner capable of suggesting words or ideas, and every copy and reproduction or substantial reproduction of any publication;"seditious" when applied to or used in respect of any act, speech, words, publication or other thing qualifies such act, speech, words, publication or other thing as one having a seditious tendency;"words" includes any phrase, sentence or other consecutive number or combination of words, oral or written. Seditious tendency.

3. —(1) A seditious tendency is a tendency —(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;(b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), any act, speech, words, publication or other thing shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency —(a) to show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures;(b) to point out errors or defects in the Government or the Constitution as by law established or in legislation or in the administration of justice with a view to the remedying of such errors or defects;(c) to persuade the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter in Singapore; or(d) to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of Singapore,

if such act, speech, words, publication or other thing has not otherwise in fact a seditious tendency.

(3) For the purpose of proving the commission of any offence under this Act, the intention of the person charged at the time he did or attempted to do or made any preparation to do or conspired with any person to do any act or uttered any seditious words or printed, published, sold, offered for sale, distributed, reproduced or imported any publication or did any other thing shall be deemed to be irrelevant if in fact such act had, or would, if done, have had, or such words, publication or thing had a seditious tendency.

Now I have a few questions.

Is questioning the loyalty of our Malay compatriots considered seditious?

Is saying Singapore is not ready for an Indian Prime Minister considered seditious?

After all these statements might arguably “promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.”

I think by now some of you have already guessed whom am I referring to. If not you can click on the links to find out.

I shall leave it to you to decide if they too should be charged under Sedition Act.

As for me, I will keep my mouth shut in case I am too charged under the Sedition Act for bringing “hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government” and/or raising “discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore”…

Sunday, September 18, 2005

PM Lee: Elections coming!

Wooh PM Lee finally start hinting on elections liao! Here is the article in ST.

Sept 18, 2005
'My second year? Preparing for polls'

Expect more young people to run in the next polls, including those aged below 30,says PM Lee. And the PAP is confident of riding out any controversies

By Zuraidah Ibrahim

MR LEE Hsien Loong enters his second year as Prime Minister with his eyes firmly set on the next general election.

While not ruling out elections this year, he revealed that the People's Action Party (PAP) was still interviewing potential candidates and was looking to bring in more young people, including those aged below 30. The Government has until June 2007 to hold the general election.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Lee also expressed confidence that the People's Action Party (PAP) would ride out the controversies that punctuated his first year in office, including the casino issue and the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) saga.

On the ground, he felt people were still worried about jobs but the mood was much better this year than last.

The wide-ranging interview at the Istana looked back on 12 months of the Lee Hsien Loong government, and sought the PM's impressions of his leadership style and his working relationships with Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong.

Asked what he was looking forward to in his second year, he replied: 'Preparing for the elections. Continuing to strengthen ourselves. We are still interviewing people.

'We continue to reinforce the team and to refine the message because when you go, you have to have a longer-term view but you also have to have a message which resonates with the moment.'

On the controversial decision to allow two casinos - the most divisive issue of recent years - he said the Government probably did enough to win over most Singaporeans.

'I think, over a few days, we were able to change people's perceptions,' he said, referring to the intense debate in Parliament.

Some observers have predicted that the PAP would pay the price at the polls, or that it would have lost a referendum on the issue.

But Mr Lee said: 'I think, at the end, at least 60, 70 per cent, if we had gone for a poll, would have supported this, which was not the case before we made our pitch.'

He admitted he would have preferred not to tackle the casino issue so early in his tenure, but had to move because Singapore was 'pressed for time'.

'We could have held it off for 12 months or so but there's a risk somebody else will move first and we will have lost time,' he said, noting that Thailand had since announced similar plans.

Displaying the traditional PAP approach to governance, he added: 'I think you'll always have an eye as to the impact on the elections but you cannot be adding up your sums on every little item, or else you will never do anything you need to do.'

Asked if he aimed to sustain the PAP's winning margin when he leads the party into elections for the first time, Mr Lee said each general election was different. In the November 2001 polls, the PAP claimed 75 per cent of the votes and all but two seats.

'The last time we did it immediately after 9/11 and going into a rough patch, people were very worried about their future. And so we had a very good result,' he noted.

'I think this time it'll be a different situation. I don't think you can compare it with last time.'

From what the PM Lee has said, it seems that he is quite confident of the upcoming GE. But then again there had never been any doubt that PAP is going to win the next GE. So the main question is whether the opposition parties going to make more inroad in the PAP dominated parliament.

Of course given the kiasu nature of PAP, losing more than the 2 seats occupied by Mr Chiam of SDA and Mr Low of WP will be a major lost of “face” for them. So expect PAP to use its usual carrot and stick tactics during the GE. I will not go into the “stick” today but rather I will focus on the “carrots” I want. So here is my wish list!

Wish No. 1:

An anti-discrimination law to punish employers who sack female employees the moment they declare that they are pregnant.


As the recent news reports have suggested, this practise is becoming increasing widespread in Singapore. This is a major blow to Singapore’s efforts to introduce family friendly policies. I can imagine how a happy occasion is turned into a nightmare when a pregnant employee is sacked just when her family needs the income for the upcoming birth of the baby. So if the govt. is serious about increasing birth rate and promoting family friendly policies, the introduction of such anti-discrimination law is essential.

Wish No.2:

Tightening up of our labour policies by increasing the levies on companies employing foreigners. The Skilled Foreign Worker Levy is currently $80 and will increase to $100 from 1 January 2006, but I hoped that would be increased to $200 on the next budget day.


As I have mentioned in the previous post, the unemployment rate for resident labour force (i.e. PRs and S’pore citizens) is 4.5% in June 2005. This level of unemployment is unacceptably high for a country where social welfare for the unemployed is close to zero. Since it is unrealistic for the govt to provide unemployment benefits as it would be very costly and according to govt and most of the population that it would breed laziness (although I would argue that it isn’t true…), the next best option is to increase the levies on the foreigners so as to provide incentive for companies to hire Singaporeans.

Wish No.3:

Significantly reduce the level of road tax on diesel powered vehicles.


With the introduction of Euro 4 standard, a diesel vehicle can be even cleaner than a vehicle that runs on petrol. So there are no environmental reasons to restrict the number diesel vehicles in Singapore (gahmen last time say diesel polluting so must restrict lah). Moreover given the ultra high fuel price nowadays it would be much cheaper for Singapore to use diesel rather petrol. Of course there is an issue of loss in tax revenue as petrol is taxed while diesel is not (PAP is not call Pay and Pay for nothing one ok!). So there is a dilemma for the govt here, but it can impose tax of diesel while giving rebates to owners of the commercial vehicles. The exact process has to be worked out by the govt, but hey we don’t pay them millions for nothing right?

Wish No. 4:

I wish that the govt could start looking into a workable public pension plan that runs concurrently with the CPF for elderly citizens above 70.


This is probably the most unrealistic wish of all, however it is my personal favourite lol… Singapore’s population is aging rapidly hence there is a real need to look after the welfare of the elderly. Moreover this scheme would give Singaporeans a stronger sense of ownership of their country and provide an incentive for more PRs to convert their citizenships to a Singapore one. However this will be a very expensive policy and money have to be found to fund this program. I personally propose that the benefits that the PRs receive to be significantly cut back and this together with the revenue generated from the two new casinos… eh no Integrated Resorts… should be able to fund most of the cost. If these are still not enough new tax can be imposed on luxury goods to fund the program.

There are certainly more election goodies that I hope would be given out by our generous govt., but I will leave the listing of my fantasies to another time. Ciao!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Spin detected? Employment growth in first half of 2005 highest in 4.5 years or slight increase in unemployment rate?

I was reading CNA, when I spotted an article which says "Employment growth in first half of 2005 highest in 4.5 years."

Employment growth in first half of 2005 highest in 4.5 years
By Hasnita A Majid, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : Good news for the labour market.

Driven by sustained economic growth, employment creation picked up momentum and job vacancies continued to rise amid a positive business outlook for the second half of this year.

The Manpower Ministry said overall employment in the first half of the year grew by 49,500, double the gains of 24,600 over the same period in 2004.

This employment creation was the highest in four and a half years.

According to its Labour Market Report for the second quarter, overall employment grew strongly by 31,700, up from 17,800 in the previous quarter, and triple that for the same period last year.

The services sector registered strong employment gains of 18,400, followed by manufacturing with 9,300.

Construction employment also rose by 3,400, reaffirming the turnaround observed in the first quarter of 2005.

Unemployment rates went down. The overall unemployment rate in June was 3.4% compared to 3.6% for the same period last year.

The report added that the improvement in unemployment from a year ago was mainly felt by the better educated and the younger job seekers.

However, difficulties faced by the less educated and mature job seekers still remain.

This group accounted for one in four of the 24,900 local job seekers in June 2005.

- CNA /ls

The same was echoed in ST's article with the same headline, although there are more details on the unemployment rate of people above 40.

Job creation rate highest in 4 1/2 years

49,500 jobs added in first half of year, but unemployment among older workers is up
By Sue-Ann Chia

BOOSTED by sustained economic expansion, the job market is now growing at a faster pace.

The number of jobs created hit a 4 1/2-year high in the first half of this year, with 49,500 jobs added.

That's double the gains of 24,600 reported in the same period last year.

And government surveys show the pace will continue to accelerate in the second half of this year, led by the services sector.

This was the picture painted in the labour market report of the second quarter, which fleshed out earlier employment figures.

The Manpower Ministry report yesterday showed several bright spots. The jobless rate between April and June stood at 3.4 per cent, which analysts say is a good showing. They expect it to improve - but not as fast - in the second half of the year.

OCBC economist Suan Teck Kin sees the unemployment rate hovering at 3.2 per cent till the second half of next year, even as more jobs are created. The reason is the continuing retrenchment in the manufacturing sector.

Hardest hit were the older and less educated workers, who form the bulk of those laid off. Their unemployment rate has also worsened.

The jobless rate of those aged 40 and older and with below secondary education rose from 5.9 per cent to 6.8 per cent in the 12-month period ending this June.

This group accounted for 24,900, or one in four, of the jobless pool in June.

Said labour MP Halimah Yacob: 'We strongly urge employers not to discriminate against mature workers, but to provide them with equal employment opportunities.' But older workers too must adapt to new job requirements and salary, she added.

Meanwhile, 31,700 jobs were added between April and June, much higher than the 17,800 in the previous quarter. The boost comes from both the services and manufacturing sectors, which had gains of 18,400 and 9,300, respectively.

Employment in the construction sector also rose by 3,400, reaffirming the turnaround seen in the first quarter of this year.

With more jobs, the ratio of vacancies to jobseekers also rose. There are now 46 openings for every 100 jobseekers, the highest in almost four years. Close to six in 10 of the 19,200 vacancies come from the services sector.

Retrenchments were also down: 2,116 people were laid off, which was 2.4 per cent less than the first quarter.

One blip in the report, however, is the re-employment rates of those retrenched in the past six months. It dipped to 54 per cent in June, a significant drop from 68 per cent in March and 64 per cent in June last year.

Analysts say this group of about 2,000 could be less active in their job search or jobs available did not suit them.

Still, the overall trend shows improving job prospects as job creation picks up pace. But it is the better educated and younger jobseekers, such as fresh graduates and those younger than 30, who are finding it easier to get a job.

This could be due to their open attitudes towards temporary and contract jobs, said Ms Annie Yap, managing director of recruitment agency GMP Group.

Companies also seemed more keen to hire fresh entrants. Communications graduate Vanessa Poon, 23, got a job in public relations even before her results were out. 'It was a surprise. I was ready to wait four months for a job.'

All these seemed very good, it was what the government had been saying all along: Structural unemployment. This can be solved so long people upgrade their skills and jobs are redesigned for them, or so we are led to believe.

However something just doesn't feel right, so I went to Singstats to search for more information and I found this. Much of the press statement is the same as what is in the press, however I found something else that isn't.

3. Based on preliminary estimates from the General Household Survey conducted by the Department of Statistics, the seasonally adjusted overall unemployment rate was 3.4% in June 2005. Among the resident (refers to S'poreans and PRs) labour force, the unemployment rate was 4.5%. These rates are lower than a revised 3.6% (overall) and 4.7% (resident) in the same period a year ago, but are marginally higher than the 3.3% (overall) and 4.4% (resident) in March 2005. An estimated 97,200 residents were unemployed in June 2005. The seasonally adjusted figure was 78,900.

Now then I realise that the 3.4% unemployment is the overall unemployment, not unemployment for Singapore's residents. In actual fact, unemployment rate for Singaporeans and PRs (4.5%) are much higher than what we were led to believe.

It is noteworthy that despite "overall employment grew strongly by 31,700, up from 17,800 in the previous quarter" and "employment creation was the fastest in four and a half years", both overall and resident seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for both residents and overall went UP instead of going down when compare to March 2005!

What is the reason for that? Who got the jobs that were created? Who are the ones benefiting from the economic growth? What can be done about the high unemployment rate among Singapore residents? Our government must answers these hard questions and spinning isn't an answer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The firestorm Airframe (Ephraim la... cb how to pronounce this type of name?!?!) stirred up and its potential political significance.

As many of people would have known by now, Airframe sent a complain letter to ST to kaopeh why lime magazine and even ST recommend Rockson to S'poreans when he use so much foul language. Since then Hell had broken loose and Airframe has become public enemy number 1.

Well I have to admit that I am one of the loyal member of Rockson's fans who religiously check for the latest update everyday. So naturally I am on Rockson's side on this issues, however I am still very surprise at the speed and efficiency that Airframe is tracked down on the net. I guess it doesn't help that he uses his real name, which is somewhat unique and thus easy to tracked down, to blog. Soon even his friendster's profile is found and a "fan" site is setup for him. Well well, this teaches us to be careful with what you say when you have your pictures and profile out on the internet.

But beyond the hilarious comments and flaming that comes with picture (RA), there are issues that we can look at.

I noticed that S'pore bloggers and blog readers are somewhat militant in nature. This is not the 1st time that a person is tracked down and flamed for something he writes. One of the most notable example was the PSC scholar racist affair.

Is this a sign that Singaporeans have suppressed their frustration for too long and that it needs only the slightest excuse to explode? This militant tendency is not restricted to the Internet, a look at the recent NKF affairs you will see many signs that are similar to what is happening on the S'pore blogsphere. This, together with the undercurrent of dissatisfaction brewing against the government on the ground (as can be seen from many anti-PAP comments on blogs and the usual kopi-shop talks) makes the current situation very interesting.

Will frustrations against PAP and militant tendencies manifest themselves during the coming GE, which must be held latest in 2007? Well, that is a question I am unable to answer. However my gut feelings is that the coming elections might be the most exciting one since the one in 1997, and I am looking forward to that. ;)

Monday, September 12, 2005

My thoughts on Goodbye, Lenin!

Today on one of my favourite blog Singapore Ink, Izydata had posted an article on one of my favourite movie Goodbye, Lenin!. However I think he did not gave a complete picture of the movie, maybe because he had only caught bits of it. Here is my comments on the movie I posted on Singapore Ink. I hope that it will give readers another perspective on movie.

Here is my comments:

Good Bye Lenin is one of my favourite film. I highly recommend this movie as it is both thought provoking and very entertaining, but think some of the scenes were censored in the Vcd version.

What you said might have a point but my interpretation is different. To me the movie is not really the propaganda and glorifying of the past regime. It is about heightened hope and the subsequent disillusions.

Alex had high hopes about the reunification of Germany. He and many other East Germans had unrealistic hopes that once Germany is united again their lives would improve. However that is not to be. The lives of the East Germans did not improve as they expected in fact many got worse. Many was retrenched and remain jobless. Even now, after 15 years of reunification, East Germany unemployment rate is 18.6% - in many regions it tops 25%. People starts to wonder what went wrong and long for the past, when they at least had a sense of self-worth.

The news that Alex made isn't really about propaganda; they are actually his hopes for better days. It is his way of defying reality and perhaps as you had said what he wished had really happened to his country. (As in people of West Germany actually find the East better and prosperous and wanted to come.)

Here is a link on the woes of former East Germany.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Views of a child born to Chinese-educated S'poreans.

Was reading Mr Wang's blog when I chanced on a debate on the usefulness and role of Mandarin in Singapore. Some say Mandarin is part of our identity (ethnic chinese), while others say we are S'poreans not PRC Chinese so there isn't a need to know Mandarin. Some say with the rise of China there is much economic value in knowing Mandarin, while others assert that S'pore is still English dominated and even if one wants do deals in China there isn't a need for him/her to know Mandarin at all.

However since both of my parents are Chinese educated, I understand how they feel about the Chinese language issue. Like what the article in Zaobao has said, they have a lingering resentment on how they have been marginalised by the PAP government. However they too understand that the situation is irreversible and the English first policy have done Singapore much good. My parents have encourage me and my sis to master English, while not neglecting our Mandarin. They also sent both me and my sis to an English speaking country for our university education. They are not some Chinese chauvinists who want to force Mandarin down people throats. They just want to help the culture and language they loved to survive and hopefully flourish in the place they called home.

Here is the translation of the article.

Views of an old Chinese-educated S'porean

By Han Tan Juan

In his National Day Rally Mandarin speech this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong referred to entertainer Jack Neo's recent talk show in which the latter interpreted "jing ying" as Singaporeans who are proficient in the English language and "jing hua" as those who are well-versed in the Chinese language.

Here is an undeniable fact: "Jing ying" enjoys higher status than "jing hua" in the government service, job market and business sector, which is why it is the goal of many parents to get their children to become "jing ying" and not "jing hua".

In Singapore, the "gold content" or value of the English language far surpasses that of Chinese.

Singaporeans who are not proficient in English often find themselves coming up against a wall. After a while, even the dumbest will learn his lesson.

Mr Lee disagreed with Jack Neo's talk about old Chinese-educated Singaporeans as being the disappearing "jing hua". "This is a long-running serial and the best shows are yet to come", he said.

If I understand Mr Lee's comment correctly, the cast in the shows must be elite who have an excellent command of both the English and Chinese languages.

He also noted that the older generation of Chinese-educated Singaporeans are becoming more active and some have even taken up university courses. This is an encouraging phenomenon.

I believe Mr Lee wanted to boost the morale of this group of Singaporeans. But I think it is more important to know why these Singaporeans feel discouraged.

Having suffered for decades for being handicapped in English and having been marginalised for years, I'd be lying if I say we do not feel demoralised at all.

We no longer have the youthful passion for change. We just want to preserve our "spiritual home" - our undying love for the Chinese culture which we will never give up.

And there is something that we would very much like to speak up but is afraid to - the fear of being labelled as Chinese chauvinists.

Some years back, some of us had expressed unhappiness about the lack of Chinese signs at MRT stations. The authorities had responded then by saying that signs cluttered with words would not be pleasing to the eye.

Meanwhile, well-meaning people had cautioned us against getting into trouble over the "sensitive issue" of language.

Once bitten, twice shy. It's a lingering fear that refuses to go away.

I believe the majority of the older generation of Chinese-educated Singaporeans no longer view the People's Action Party government the way they used to.

We are well aware of the big picture - that under the leadership of the government, Singapore has prospered and become an affluent society where most people are able to live comfortably.

Even though we have been disadvantaged in the past, we place the overall interest of the nation above all and have no problems affirming the contribution of this government.

This change of attitude should be both ways - the PAP government should also see us in a new light.

The differences and conflicts in the past are now history and we should not allow history to repeat itself.

We are aware that we just do not have the environment that is needed to restore Chinese as the first language in our schools.

We recognise that English is the dominant language and we encourage our children to master it. But we do hope that parents who are English-educated can also urge their children to learn the Chinese language well.

If we in the past could persevere in our efforts to pick up English, why can't they now show a little determination in learning Chinese?

There is no need for our leaders or the English-educated elite to worry that English will become less important.

As I see it, the real challenge for the English-educated elite is that their dominance may one day be threatened by a younger generation that is proficient in both English and Chinese, or both "jing ying" and "jing hua".

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