Monday, October 31, 2005

What does cracking down on illegals has to do with Singaporean workers?!?

From ST:

Oct 31, 2005
Govt to crack down on illegals but S'poreans must do the jobs.

By Ken Kwek

THE Government will do its best to discourage an over-reliance on foreign workers, including cracking down on employers who hire illegal ones.

It will also enhance the value of jobs considered 'unglamorous', provided Singaporeans are willing to change their mindsets and take up such positions.

This was the message from Mr Raymond Lim, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, and Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Education and Manpower), at a dialogue with more than 300 Nee Soon residents yesterday.

Nee Soon MP Ong Ah Heng and Mr Sin Boon Ann, an MP for Tampines GRC, were also on the panel fielding questions from residents after a three-hour visit to the constituency by Mr Lim.

Concern about the employment situation in Singapore dominated the discussion, with five out of over 12 questions raised touching on this.

Mr Jonathan Lim, a member of Yishun Central Residents Committee, said: 'I went to a restaurant recently where most of the waiters were from Malaysia or China. Why don't employers hire more Singaporeans?'

Panelist Oh Cheng San, chairman of Nee Soon Citizens Consultative Committee who owns a restaurant, gave the employers' point of view. He said in Mandarin: 'It's become harder to employ Singaporeans because many are unwilling to work at the weekend, which is a critical requirement in the services industry.'

For their part, Singaporeans should not be afraid of 'getting their hands a little dirty', said minister Mr Lim, who is also Second Minister for Finance and Foreign Affairs.

'No matter what level you start at, you have to get some experience at the front line, because only then will you know what customers want and how services can be improved,' he said.

He added that the Government was looking at ways to create a scale of progression in the services sector.

A national skills certification initiative to boost training in the services sector was announced last week.

'For graduates, you'll have a different entry level, perhaps start at trainee level. But the idea is that, wherever you begin, there's a scale of progression. For a waiter, you can rise to captain and maybe even start your own restaurant some day,' he said.

On helping older and less qualified workers, Mr Hawazi said that both employers and workers had a part to play to boost the job prospects of Singaporeans.

He cited the cleaning industry, in which many companies were illegally hiring Bangladeshi workers in excess of the 30 per cent quota on foreign cleaners.

'The Government will take action against such companies. But, at the same time, Singaporeans must learn to do jobs that they previously shunned or considered unglamorous,' he said.

Mr Lim also said the Government would come up with incentives to discourage employers from discriminating against older and less educated workers.

Isn’t cracking down on illegals the job of our police force? What does it has to do with Singaporean workers?!?

If only our police force can do its job properly, companies that used to hire illegal foreign workers will have no choice but to replace them with Singaporean workers. There will be no shortage of takers for these jobs if these companies are willing to pay decent wages.

All our police force has to do is to discharge their duties efficiently and diligently and the labour market will do the rest. GET IT?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Why don’t we have open political competition, free media yet?

Oct 29, 2005
A difficult transition for Russia

So, what is important is to remember that before you can have open political competition, free media, you need about 40 to 50 per cent of your population to be middle class, income US$5,000 and above. And educated. …

MM Lee on whether creating a viable, competitive economy requires Western political freedoms.

Hmmm…. According to Singapore Department of Statistic, 55.1% of residents aged 25 years and over have secondary or higher qualifications in 2004. About 75% of the Singaporean households have an annual income of S$24708 in 2003.

According to these statistics, I am pretty sure that we have reached the standard that MM Lee had set for ‘open political competition, free media.’

So my question is why don’t we have them yet?

NTUC hit the right note on retirement age.

October 29, 2005
Raising retirement age may backfire.

WHILE it is pushing for people to work as long as they can, the labour movement does not endorse raising the official retirement age as it may backfire and create other problems, said National Trades Union Congress' deputy secretary-general Lim Swee Say (picture).

"Raising the official retirement age from 62 to 'sixty-X' number of years would appear to be an easy solution; just get it implemented and workers can all work longer. But in the labour movement, we don't think so," said Mr Lim.

He was speaking to some 700 employers at the Singapore National Employers Federation Employer-Delegates Conference on Friday.

Forcing companies to continue employing their older workers through legislation would not work, he said.

It is not a coincidence that today, workers in their fifties are three to four times more likely to be retrenched than the younger ones, he added. So if the Government were to raise the official retirement age unilaterally, it will create other problems.

During his keynote address, Mr Lim pointed out that the trend, increasingly, is for companies to source for the cheapest labour, compromising on quality. Mr Lim said: "In the services sector, outsourcing has degenerated into cheap sourcing. Instead of engaging in a race-to-the-top by sourcing for the best, they are now engaging in a race-to-the-bottom by sourcing for the cheapest manpower."

To tackle this, the NTUC is working on an initiative called the "Best Sourcing Initiative", an exercise that aims to encourage buyers and suppliers of services to upgrade their service quality by better sourcing.

Mr Lim said that the best sourcing initiative is not to increase costs for companies, but to professionalise the various job industries so that the buyers pay the right price to get the best service possible.

Meanwhile, the labour movement said it was willing to hear the Manpower Ministry's counter-proposal of exempting low-wage workers from Central Provident Fund contributions. NTUC had made this recommendation to the Ministerial Committee on Low Wage Workers, but Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen did not agree as it will eat into workers' retirement income.

While it is good that the govt had finally acknowledge the fact the increasing retirement age could backfire, I wondered why it too them so long to do that when all indications show that the effective retirement age for Singaporeans is much lower than the official retirement age.

Increasing official retirement would only cause more undue hardships on the people, as the CPF withdrawal age would most probably be increased together. Since the effective retirement age is lower than the official one, this would mean that many people would be denied of their CPF money for a longer period of time when they need it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Please don't blame it all on Singaporean workers.

Friday, October 28, 2005
Don't be picky if you want less foreign talent

The Government can and will cut down the number of foreign workers here — provided enough Singaporeans answer the call and take on jobs which they have typically shunned.

Manpower Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen said this yesterday in response to the slew of proposals submitted by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on how the lower-income group can be helped. Tweaking the existing foreign worker policy was one suggestion.

Saying that the Government would "seriously consider" the unionists' proposals, Dr Ng, who chairs the Ministerial Committee on low-wage workers, told reporters: "(The labour movement) has highlighted certain sectors which they feel Singaporeans can do, and I agree.

"If we can find Singaporeans willing to take up these jobs, whether it's landscape artist, cleaning, healthcare attendants, then we should try to reduce our dependency on foreign workers."

But on the unionists' call for workers who earn less than $1,000 a month to be exempt from Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions, Dr Ng said he would prefer to study other alternatives, rather than depriving these workers of savings they would typically use to buy homes and for their retirement.

"The CPF system for our low-wage workers has served us very well. Ninety per cent own homes, some even own four-room flats," he said.

"The problem here is that would be sacrificing their home ownership aspirations, and for many of them, their Medisave and retirement accounts."

He added that he did not want a situation where many Singaporeans could not own homes because of a lack of savings, which would bring about many other problems to tackle.

The committee is putting together workable solutions and is on track to wrap up its discussions and make concrete recommendations by early next year, added Dr Ng. — Lee U-Wen

While I am glad that Dr Ng is prepared to reduce the number of foreign workers in Singapore, but it is should be clear to Dr Ng that Singaporean workers are not the only party responsible for this situation. It is a well-documented fact that many employers discriminate against older Singaporean workers and prefers to hire foreigner workers.

By reducing the number of foreign workers in Singapore, these employers would have no choice but to hire more Singaporean workers to fill the jobs. This will also exert pressure on the employers to increase their wages so as to attract people to work for them.

As for the CPF issue, although Dr Ng did have a valid point but as I suggested in my previous post the govt can increase the employers’ CPF contribution rate to soften the impact.

Some might worry that the tightening of foreign labour policy and increase in employers’ CPF contribution rate will lead to the outsourcing of jobs to other countries. However I believe the impact will be limited as many low-wage jobs like bus drivers, landscape artist, cleaning, healthcare attendants cannot be outsourced. Hence it is entirely possible to contain the effects of the above mentioned policies.

Miss Chua championing free press.

Oct 28, 2005
Take a hard look at bad press on freedom
By Chua Mui Hoong

THIS has been a Black October of sorts for those who harbour hopes of liberalising, democratising political change in Singapore.

Two high-profile bits of news have given the Republic a decidedly bad press.

A grouping of academics at Warwick University voted against the institution's plans to set up a campus in Singapore, citing concerns about academic freedom and financial viability.

And in its latest report, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Singapore 140th in media freedom out of 167, alongside places like Azerbaijan (141), Bhutan (142), Egypt (143) and Syria (145).

Should Singaporeans care, when their country gets a bad press internationally or when surveys rank Singapore poorly?

Should Singaporeans be irked that this Republic, which has a constitutionally elected legislature and clean elections, is once again rated 'partly free' this year by the well-known Freedom House survey, with a dismal score of five for its political rights (seven being least free on a scale of one to seven)?

One approach to such issues is to discredit all such ratings as either inaccurate or demonstrating a 'Western' bias.

Another more nuanced response argues for 'Singapore exceptionalism', which basically says Singapore's multiracial and fragile society is unique and needs delicate management, and that Singapore is evolving its own brand of political democracy.

There is a third way to respond to Singapore's poor showing in these areas, which is to acknowledge that even if the surveys are not perfect, there may be lessons to be learnt from the substantive issues raised.

In other words, take them seriously enough to examine if, indeed, there are shortcomings in the areas of democratic freedom, human rights and civil liberties in Singapore's system.

After all, we are proud of accolades the country wins in the economic field.

Stories about its standing in competitiveness ratings, the top quality of its workforce, the high level of economic freedom, as well as having an excellent port or airport are regularly featured in the media and become talking points.

When Singapore does badly in a rating with economic impact, we look carefully at the issue and see if something can be done to rectify the situation. For example, Singapore has been doing badly for years now in competitiveness ratings in the indicators based on school enrolment.

The latest World Economic Forum (WEF) rating put Singapore 69th for primary education and health. Instead of rubbishing those ratings in the past, efforts were made to improve. Schooling has been made compulsory and, over time, the school enrolment figures should go up, and the rating improve.

But a poor rating on human rights or political freedom seems to attract a different kind of response, with the Government disagreeing with or discrediting the report.

The Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts' response to the media freedom index is that: 'The Press Freedom Index drawn up is based largely on a different media model which favours the advocacy and adversarial role of the press.'

When Amnesty International highlighted Singapore's execution rate last year, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a detailed rebuttal which corrected factual errors. It went on to accuse the organisation of distorting facts and questioned its credibility.

It may well be that reports from institutions like Amnesty and RSF lack the rigour of competitiveness ratings by the likes of the WEF, and are more open to rebuttal.

Indeed, rights advocacy groups are by no means saintly institutions and some may have murky vested interests.

Even so, a more constructive response is to adopt a spirit of enquiry and an open mind to examine the substantive issues more closely.

For example: Is there cause for concern about media freedom in Singapore? Is the death penalty at risk of being overused? What are the safeguards to ensure that the vulnerable, marginalised groups such as those highlighted by Amnesty receive due process when sentenced?

In the case of Warwick University and academic freedom, Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam struck the right note when he balanced justifying Singapore to its critics, and taking an honest hard look at areas for improvement.

First, he noted that academics are free to study anything they wish and that many academics here are foreigners who presumably have no issue with lack of academic freedom.

He added: 'We should never think we are in a perfect spot. Are we at an optimal point now? I doubt it. We must evolve. The intellectual climate is not cast in stone.

'It will have to evolve with a new generation of Singaporeans...but it will have to reflect realities of the world around us, especially on race and religion.'

The same statement can be made with regard to issues to do with human rights and civil liberties.

Is Singapore at an optimal point now on these? Like the minister, I doubt it. Like him, I think we will evolve in our own way.

On Oct 6, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a talk to the Foreign Correspondents' Association that he had no doubt Singapore society and its politics would change. But Singapore won't become and doesn't aspire to be a Western-style democracy, he said.

Debate about the democratic development of Singapore and taking a hard look at weaknesses in the political system that impede democratic evolution - these are matters of domestic concern, and should not be interpreted as kowtowing to 'Western' brow-beating.

After all, even China is forthright about its wish to evolve a democracy with Chinese characteristics, where the people's 'legitimate rights and interests are fully guaranteed', as its first White Paper on democracy released on Oct 19 stated.

Within the parameters of keeping the Communist Party in charge, even communist China is paying attention to its democratic evolution.

So when foreign criticisms put Singapore's perceived lack of freedoms under scrutiny, the Singapore Government and people should examine the issue with an open mind, not adopt a defensive posture to discredit those views.

As even government ministers acknowledge, Singapore must change politically. No one knows what kind of creature the Singapore democracy will evolve into.

But evolve it must, and part of the process of evolution entails being honest about its flaws.

Seriously, I felt is rather weird and disconcerting when I read this article.

Since when did ST become a champion for freedom of press? Isn't it supposed to be a national consensuses building press? How can it fulfil its duty if there is freedom of press? Won't the people be confused by all the different opinions that arise from the lack of control? Lolx.

Anyway I had suggested in one of my previous post a good way to improve our rankings, perhaps Miss Chua could consider it if she wanted to do her part in affecting changes. ;)

Nevertheless she has highlighted some of the flaws in our system, hence kudos to her for that.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Interesting proposal by NTUC.

Oct 27, 2005
NTUC proposes tweaking foreign worker quota
To help low-income Singaporeans, it suggests changes in seven areas
By Aaron Low

THE labour movement wants the Government to tweak its foreign-worker policy as part of an overall plan to help low-income workers.

This is among a raft of proposals the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has sent to a Government panel looking at ways to help those who earn $1,000 or less a month.

The NTUC also urged the Government to change Central Provident Fund (CPF) rules, to increase these workers' take-home pay.

Altogether, it hopes to see changes made in seven areas, its secretary-general Lim Boon Heng said in a statement yesterday.

These areas overlap with those a Government panel, known as the Ministerial Committee on Low-wage workers, said it would focus on. But NTUC went a step further than the committee by recommending specific changes in each area.

These include calling on the Manpower Ministry to 'tweak' the quota on foreign workers in service sectors, such as cleaning, landscaping and health care.

They make up some of the 12 domestic sectors in which unions are working to create decent-paying jobs for less-skilled Singaporeans.

In these areas, union leaders feel the country should reduce its 'over-dependency on low-skilled and low-wage workers', NTUC said.

On CPF, it felt workers who earn $1,000 or less a month should be exempted from CPF contributions, but not employers.

The aim: To give these workers more cash in hand for their expenses.

This could raise workers' take-home pay by up to $200 a month.

But this will also mean they save less for their housing and retirement needs. To make up for the shortfall, NTUC wants the Government to top up their CPF accounts.

The various proposals were drawn up by some 400 union leaders during a meeting last month and have been formally submitted to the committee chaired by Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen.

They include recommendations to give these workers higher subsidies for childcare and eldercare, as well as a review of the income ceiling of those eligible for such aid.

The ceiling now is $1,500 a month.

To further coax women to re-enter the workforce, NTUC is suggesting that childcare centres stay open longer and on weekends.

Reaching out to low-income contract workers and giving them protection will also be a priority for the unions.

Older workers like Mr Louis Tan, 59, were cheered by the recommendations.

Mr Tan, who drew $1,000 in his last pay as a security screening agent at Changi airport, was particularly happy about the CPF proposal: 'I need the extra cash for daily living, especially since the cost of living has gone up.'

Commenting on the proposals, labour economist Chew Seng Beng said reviewing the number of foreign workers in certain sectors is a 'positive step' as long as Singapore's competitiveness is not affected.

Prof Chew was especially in favour of the CPF recommendation: 'If these workers do not have to contribute to CPF, it will motivate them to work harder as the take-home pay is higher.'

Looks like CPF are not very popular among low-income workers in Singapore. It is not surprising as many are finding it hard to meet their ends with their low salary. A 20% boost in take home pay would mean a lot to them.

It would be even better if NTUC can lobby to raise the employers’ contribution rate for those who earn less than $1000 per month together with all the above measures. This will help to ensure that these workers will have a little more money for their retirement needs.

Lets just hope that most of the suggestions by NTUC would be taken up by the govt.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Interesting letter in the ST forum.

I found this letter in the ST forum. It provide an interesting read although one might not agree with her stand.

Oct 25, 2005
S'pore isn't ready for Warwick, so let's wait

THE local response to Warwick University's withdrawal of a planned campus here ranges from outraged surprise and a sharp defensiveness, to reassurances that all is well with the state of academic freedom here.

While both foreign and local academics hurry to dismiss any rumblings of a perceived 'cabined cribbed confined' atmosphere, the big guns at Warwick remain unconvinced.

This might be due to how aggressive we have been in cultivating a generation which prizes acute individual triumph over concern for the welfare of society at large.

Warwick regularly invites speakers from both the governing Labour Party as well as opposition Tories and Liberal Democrats to deliver speeches at its premises.

Students and academics alike heckle these politicians. Anything is fair game - their latest speech in Parliament, their policy initiative which was condemned as misguided but made it through to the Statute Book anyway - and the politicians take it in their stride.

Can the same thing happen here? Of course, Singapore government ministers do grace the insides of lecture halls in our universities, but do our students take advantage of this? Or are they too worried about who is listening and taking notes?

The number of letters to this Forum page bemoaning the lack of civic-mindedness among today's undergraduates is an indication of how sorely lacking in general empathy our society has become.

Sit-ins, marches and protests are a feature of any vibrant university community. Undergraduates question the world they live in, grapple with concepts of equality, fairness, justice. And as a result their anger and frustration bubbles over and raucous protests ensue. In Britain this is part of undergraduate life.

Those who have gone through the university system and are currently bogged down with work and family life honk their horns as they drive along marching students, supporting their cause and inwardly grateful that these young people are voicing their own concerns.

It doesn't need reminding that the Vietnam War was won (or lost - depending on whose side you look at it from) on the campuses of America. Similarly, protesting students in Britain have prevented cuts in nurses' salaries, fought for the extension of the National Health Service and battled to prevent introduction of ID cards - they call them 'dog tags'.

Would students in the planned - but now aborted - Singapore campus be looked on indulgently as they exercised their right to protest? I doubt it.

Would they instead be viewed as an annoyance, have intelligence dossiers on them created, and marked throughout their academic career and beyond? What do you think?

The president of the National University of Singapore, Professor Shih Choon Fong, has himself made it plain that there remains a critical difference between Western societies and 'ours'. For those of us tired of hearing the recurring theme of Asian versus Western values, this is little comfort.

Universities are meant to have universal values. If Singapore isn't ready, then let's wait.
Rejini Raman (Ms)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Don’t know whether I should be proud or embarrass...

Singapore has went up seven spots in the 2005 World Press Freedom Index. The new ranking is... number 140th out of 167 countries!

Sometimes I really don’t know whether I should be proud of the improvement or feel embarrass about the dismal state of our media industry…

October 24, 2005
Singapore 140th in press freedom index
Derrick A Paulo

Singapore has inched up seven spots in the 2005 World Press Freedom Index, released on Thursday by international association Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF).

The Republic is now ranked 140th out of 167 countries, one place behind the Philippines.

Last year, Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, slammed the rankings for favouring the press' role of criticism and opposition — a model Singapore does not follow.

RSF noted in this year's index report that Singapore "has a quite different style".

It attributes the country's low ranking to "the complete absence of independent newspapers, radio stations and TV stations, the application of prison sentences for press offences, media self-censorship and the opposition's lack of access to the state media".

The 20-year-old organisation was bleak in its assessment of press freedom in Asia, calling it the toughest continent for journalists.

Once again, North Korea was at the bottom of the rankings, with Nepal, China, Vietnam and Myanmar not much higher up the ladder.

But there are a couple of bright spots.

Indonesia is now ranked 102nd, a jump of 15 places, whilst Malaysia is 113th, up nine rungs.

The latter no longer has any journalists or cyber dissidents in prison and peace accords in Indonesia have opened up the former rebel province of Aceh to journalists, said RSF.

South Korea is the highest-ranked Asian country at the 34th spot.

The mostly Northern European countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland were once again tied at the top of the rankings.

The United States proved it was no bastion of press freedom through legal moves that undermined the privacy of journalistic sources.

Contributing to this was the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller. The move saw the US slip 20 places to number 44 on the list.

One observation made by RSF is that countries that have recently won their independence or have recovered it (within the past 15 years) are "very observant of press freedom and give the lie to the insistence of many authoritarian leaders that democracy takes decades to establish".

It cited nine countries — including ninth-ranked Slovenia and Timor Leste which stands at the 58th position — as part of this group.

As a note to its index, RSF stressed that the rankings "should in no way be taken as an indication of the quality of the press in the countries concerned".

Saturday, October 22, 2005

What can I say?

What can I say?

Judge Rajah disallows proceedings to be in open court
21 Oct 05

The judge presiding over the case of the four protesters versus Minister Wong Kan Seng and Police Commissioner Khoo Boon Hui has refused to allow the proceedings to continue in an open court.

Instead he has directed both parties to present their submissions on 28 Oct 2005 whereupon he will decide on whether to accede to the Attorney-General's (AG) application to strike out the protester's Originating Motion.

In his arguments Mr M Ravi, lawyer for the Applicants, said that an open hearing would allow the press to report the case so that the public can be informed of the arguments. Mr Ravi quoted the late judge, Lord Denning:

... a newspaper reporter is in every court...He notes all that goes on and makes a fair and accurate report of it. He supplies it for use either in the national press or in the local press according to the public interest it commands. He is, I verily believe, the watchdog of justice. If he is to do his work properly and effectively we must hold fast to the principle that every case must be heard and determined in open court. It must not take place behind locked doors. Every member of the public must be entitled to report in the public press all that he has seen and heard. The reason for his rule is the very salutary influence which publicity has for those who work in the light of it.

Despite this, the judge decided that the hearing should continue in chambers.

Films Act should be amended to allow party political films.

Friday, October 21, 2005
Rethink*ng politic*l c*ns*rship

Political films deserve an airing – with conditions

TODAY, legal and media professionals will gather at the Supreme Court to debate the relationship between law and media. One can expect the issue of the Films Act to be brought up.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) recently noted that the MediaCorp television series Up Close did not breach the Films Act prohibition on party political films, as the episodes in question — which featured five ministers talking about their portfolios — were "non-partisan" and aired "for the purpose of reporting current affairs".

The Government had introduced the ban on party political films amid concerns that "political discourse in Singapore would degenerate into 30-second spots directed by image consultants", and that the quality of election campaigning would be compromised. As then Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo emphasised, the Government desired "to keep political debate in Singapore serious".

According to the Films Act, "a party political film" is one "made by or on behalf of any political party in Singapore"; by any body whose objectives primarily concern Singapore politics; or by any person for "any political end".

A film has a political end if it contains material "intended or likely to affect voting in any election or national referendum in Singapore"; "partisan or biased references"; or comments on "any political matter". As is typical of most media legislation, the classification is worded broadly to capture diverse activities, even discussion on government policies. It allows for two situations in which a film is not a party-political film: If it is made to report current events, or to give general information on election "procedures and polling times". Offenders can be fined up to $100,000 or imprisoned for up to two years.

The MDA faces a daunting task in deciding what is — or isn't — a "party political film". How does it decide if something is "partisan" or if it merely "reports current events"? Is this best decided by an independent body of persons, or by a group of government employees?

Some, like me, feel a review of the Films Act is in order. For example, its process of assessment, investigation, enforcement and appeal can be codified separately.

Decisions should preferably be made by an independent body of people whose deliberations should be public and free from any perceived political pressure from the dominant party or the opposition parties. There should be opportunities for appeal and for judicial review. Yet even with such codification, any decision can be disputed as subjective, since it is based on interpretation. So, we need to ask if banning such party political films is the best way forward in the first place.

These films can be easily screened outside Singapore, and controversy is often the best crowd-drawer. Also, film bans are increasingly irrelevant in this age of broadband Internet access, which has made it possible to download films from websites that are hosted overseas, such as Martyn See's documentary on Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan, Singapore Rebel.

Even if such websites are blocked — as they are in China — there are Internet entrepreneurs who will simply mirror the website and provide regulators like MDA with a bigger problem to manage. A better solution may be not to ban these films but to require them to include warnings or declarations, for instance.

If the film is deemed partisan, MDA, together with the Singapore Film Commission, can appoint another film-maker to introduce brief footage that will make it less partisan. For example, if the film makes fun of film censors, get a quick view from film censors, or request an academic to provide a brief analysis. Such clips can be screened at the end of the film to balance audience perspective, as a condition for the film being passed for screening in Singapore.

Conditions can also be imposed on where and how party political films can be screened. For example, like R21 (restricted) films, such films could be screened in specified cinemas only. Tickets could be subject to a minimum price of $20 — half of which could be donated to the film commission and the National Arts Council.

These moves would address the Government's concerns about the negative effect of party political films and its desire "to keep political debate in Singapore serious", while in the long run, also enrich our creative industries and make audiences more media savvy.

I largely agreed with the author that the Films Act should be amended to allow party political films, with the conditions that the contents of such political films are based on solid facts and some counter-arguments from the other side are provided. A good model for such films would be “The Corporation”.

However, I am aganst the idea that the films can only be shown in specific cinemas and are subjected to minimum price of $20.

On what basis should such films be subjected to such bias? The producers should be able to show their works to whoever they like at whatever price they wanted to charge. They should even be able to distribute it on the Internet for free should they choose to. Restricting the films through the above mentioned means is just another form of censorship.

Moreover, no cinema would show such political films if they have to charge movie goers $20 just for the simple reason that they know such films will have no market at such artificially high price.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Please do what you preach!

So much for the much vaunted program of asking the private sector to hire more older workers. There is only one thing I wanted to say: "For goodness sake... PLEASE DO WHAT YOU PREACH!!!"

Friday, October 21, 2005
A tired knock on civil service doors

Lee Ching Wern

LEADER after political leader has asked the private sector not to discriminate against mature workers. A recent survey may see fingers pointing in a different direction.

It appears that the public sector, the biggest employer of all, is donning a younger look than it should have.

According to a survey conducted by the Public Service Division (PSD) on over 70 public-sector organisations, about 39 per cent of the 110,500 public officers are above 40 years old. Just 17 per cent are aged above 50 years and barely 1 per cent is above 60.

Of recruitments made over the past three years, just 14 per cent of new hirings were above 40 and just 8.4 per cent above 50.

"To be honest, we should be looking at more. The number of workers aged 50 and above should go up to about 25 per cent of the workforce," said Madam Ho Geok Choo, HR practitioner and MP for West Coast.

"If you are telling everyone to employ mature workers, then the civil service should also walk the talk with the Government. It cannot be paying lip service."

Her sentiments were echoed by NTUC assistant secretary-general Madam Halimah Yacob. She felt that the number of new recruits above the age of 40 in the public sector should be increased to 20 per cent.

"If you compare these numbers to the proportion of unemployed mature workers out there, there is certainly room for improvement," said Mr David Ang, executive director of the Singapore Human Resources Institute. As of June this year, 47,900 workers above the age of 40 were jobless, making up about 50 per cent of the total unemployment figure in Singapore.

To look at how the public sector can do more for mature workers, the Government recently formed a workgroup under the National Tripartite Committee on the Employability of Older Workers.

Minister of State for Manpower and Education Gan Kim Yong, who chairs the committee, told Today: "The committee recognises that the public sector is an important sector which we should look at to promote the employment of mature workers.

"This is why the Public Sector Workgroup, one of the eight Sectoral Workgroups that have been formed by the Committee, was among the first to be set up."

Mdm Halimah, who also sits on the committee, said the PSD may conduct some pilot projects to try and boost the recruitment of older workers.

Meanwhile, some Government organisations already have established HR practices to employ mature workers. For example, the Ministry of Education has an employment scheme in place which engages the services of retired teachers on a contract or part-time basis and the Ministry of Home Affairs has a structured career transition and training programme for police officers due to retire.

Since the private sector is profit-driven, some think that the public sector should be more likely to tweak its policies to accommodate older workers.

Said Mdm Ho: "To be fair, I think every ministry has key performance indicators to meet. But rationally speaking, if you ask who's responsible between the public or private sector, it would be the public sector. At the end of the day, private sector companies are business enterprises that have to survive in cutthroat competition.

"Thus, the onus is very heavy on the Government agencies."

But this might not be easy at a time when Government agencies have been directed to cut staff by 3 per cent every year. The public sector is also traditionally obliged to hire fresh graduates.

"You can't force the same thing on every agency because they face different challenges," said Mdm Halimah.

"But it is important to adopt a common philosophy: 'Yes, we in the public sector believe in recruiting older workers.'"

Finally a newspaper is pointing it out.

Friday, October 21, 2005
So many jobs created, still so many jobless

Almost 49,500 jobs were created in the first half of the year

Job creation is at its strongest in four-and-a-half years, but that has not led to a significant fall in unemployment, the Ministry of Manpower said yesterday.

According to its paper on the latest trends on employment and labour supply, the unemployment rate stands at 3.4 per cent, only slightly lower than the 3.6 per cent a year earlier.

This despite gains of 49,500 jobs for the first of half of the year, more than double the 24,600 over the same period last year.

Economic growth has not yet solved the problem of structural unemployment, where there is a skills mismatch between lower-educated job seekers and the new jobs created.

Much of the job growth is occurring mainly in higher paying positions occupied by professionals, managers, executives and technicians, which collectively form almost 50 per cent of local employment.

But with retraining and jobs redesign, the ministry is optimistic that lower-skilled Singaporeans can "look forward to securing employment so long as the economy continues to grow".

It added that more people are entering the labour force to seek work, buoyed by the increased job opportunities from the economic upturn.

The Workforce Development Agency also issued a release yesterday on how it is facilitating employment among Singaporeans.

Of the more than 45,000 job seekers who registered this year for employment assistance with the Distributed CareerLink Network, about 20,000 were placed in jobs.

Over half are workers above 40, and about 75 per cent are lower-skilled workers. This placement rate is an 11 per cent increase over the same period last year.

MOM data highlighted that local residents, including permanent residents, benefited most from the job gains.

In the last 18 months, local employment rose by 78,400 or 65 per cent of total employment created over this period. Excluding National Servicemen, there was a record 2,256,100 employed persons as of June, of which 642,400 are foreigners.

At the industry level, construction halted its slide in local employment with the addition of 400 jobs.

And although local plant and machine operators and production craftsmen suffered job losses as companies continue to shift their operations overseas, manufacturing added 13,900 jobs.

The services sector emerged tops in job growth, rising by 65,300 in local employment in the past 18 months.

Well, I have highlighted is before. I am just glad that Today decided to bring the issue out into the open without the usual spinning.

There is another point that I wish to highlight. That is the possibility that the unemployment rate for local residents is artificially lowered when PRs and Singaporean Citizens together are lumped together for the calculation of unemployment rate.

Why do I say so? That is because we all know that many foreign talents get their PRs relatively easily once they had secured a job. By lumping PRs and Singaporean together, there is a good chance that the unemployment rate would appear lower.

Therefore we Singaporean Citizens need to ask our govt.: What is the actual unemployment rate for Singaporean Citizens?

What is there to hide, my dear govt.?

Thursday, October 20, 2005
Protesters' court motion challenged

A-G Chambers says action against minister and police chief is 'scandalous, frivolous'

Lee Ching Wern

THE application by the Attorney-General's Chambers to strike out an application filed by three protesters against Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng and Commissioner of Police Khoo Boon Hui was heard yesterday in High Court behind closed doors.

Ms Chee Siok Chin, the sister of Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, Ms N Gogelavany and Mr Yap Keng Ho were part of a group of four protesters dispersed by police outside the Central Provident Fund Building on Aug 11.

They filed an application in the High Court last month to seek a declaration that Mr Wong and Mr Khoo had acted "in an unlawful and unconstitutional manner" when the group was ordered to disperse for causing a "public nuisance".

The fourth protester, Mr Tan Teck Wee, is not party to the application filed against the Government. In the request to strike out the trio's application, the A-G Chambers described it as "irregular, scandalous, frivolous or vexatious" and "an abuse of the process of the Court".

The A-G Chambers argued that the protesters were "attempting to use the proceedings as a means to their political ends" and the Court should not allow this action to go any further.

It argued that they wrongly named Mr Wong and Mr Khoo as respondents to the legal action. Doing so "creates the impression in the eyes of the public that this action is brought about by the personal actions of the present holders of these offices".

It also said the application was an abuse of the process of court as there must be a "real contest of legal rights" between parties before the court grants a declaration.

The other reasons cited by the A-G Chambers: The trio are not claiming any consequential relief or any legal redress for the alleged wrong they suffered; and the application preempts criminal prosecution.

Mr M Ravi, the lawyer representing the trio, argued that the Constitution clearly states that four or less protesters is lawful and that the police ought to determine how the protesters were a nuisance.

Ms Chee, 39, told reporters after the hearing that the "peaceful protest" was carried out in their personal capacity. According to their affidavit, the trio were standing peacefully with a fourth person, Mr Tan Teck Wee, outside the CPF Building in Robinson Road on Aug 11 when police asked them to leave.

The hearing continues on Friday.

Why does the PAP govt. want the hearing to be held behind the veil of closed court if the action against the minister and police chief is so "irregular, scandalous, frivolous or vexatious"?

Isn’t this a great chance for the PAP govt. to expose these “shameless” people in the open court, in front of all Singaporeans?

I see no reason why the hearing for this case should be held in closed court when even the SDP people want hearing to be conducted in open court. They even post their report on the proceedings on their website.

All these made me ask: “What is there to hide, my dear govt.?”

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Issues that needed to be properly debated in Parliament.

Oct 19, 2005

More questions than answers, unfortunately
By Lydia Lim

THREE controversial issues cropped up in the House yesterday.

What they had in common was a focus on persons who, either because of who they are or
the circumstances they find themselves in, would reasonably be considered disadvantaged, if not vulnerable, members of society.

The plight of criminals of below-average intelligence, accused persons in police custody and opposition MPs came up for debate.

The brief but lively exchanges on the rights and protection due to them proved to be the highlight of an otherwise dry session spent mostly on administrative changes.

Mr Sin Boon Ann (Tampines GRC) kicked off question time by asking about people of low intelligence who commit crimes.

The practising lawyer called for a review of laws so that these individuals would be sentenced differently from convicted criminals of normal intelligence.
Some members of the public have of late made similar calls.

This followed the case of 18-year-old molester Iskandar Muhamad Nordin, who has the mental age of an 11-year-old.

After he was sentenced to nine months' jail and three strokes of the cane, he appealed to be spared the rotan and be given a longer jail term instead. In August, his appeal was rejected. His sentence was also more than doubled to two years' jail and nine strokes of the cane.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Law S. Jayakumar refused to be moved by the appeals of three MPs on the subject.

Sentencing decisions, he said, were best left to the judge. He added that no one would be held criminally culpable if his mental capacity was so limited that he did not understand what he had done was wrong.

Nominated MP Eunice Olsen then spoke up for accused persons held in police custody without access to legal counsel. This has long been a concern of lawyers.

She asked what rights an accused person had to legal counsel and what safeguards there were to ensure that his constitutional rights were not violated during police investigations, conducted without a lawyer present.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng stood firm in his defence of current practices.

The courts, he said, have ruled that an accused person's right to legal counsel is to be exercised within a reasonable time after arrest, and not immediately after being apprehended.

He also cited various instances when a lawyer's presence might impede police investigations.

Finally, it fell to opposition MP Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir) to raise his question. The person he chose to champion was none other than himself.

He complained that popular singers from China and Taiwan were performing at constituency events and urging residents to vote for his rival, Mr Sitoh Yih Pin.
Such endorsements flout the Government's own stand that foreigners should not meddle in local politics, he said.

But Mr Wong disagreed. Foreign artists are free to sing the praises of their hosts. Besides, no one can say for sure that Mr Sitoh will be fielded as a candidate in the next election.

Unfortunately, the brevity of yesterday's exchanges meant they threw up more questions than answers, giving the issues an unsettled air about them.

On foreign interference in local politics, for instance, it remains unclear just what foreigners are allowed to say or do. Just an example: Yes, during an election, most Singaporeans would not want a foreigner on a campaign walkabout or making stump speeches or even just singing a song in support of someone.

But what about outside of an election? Would those same actions constitute meddling? And what if Mr Sitoh were already an MP? Could he still invite foreigners to help him garner support?

As for persons in police custody, it remains unclear what would be considered a 'reasonable time' for someone to be held without access to a lawyer.

Mr Wong said yesterday that it was in the public interest for police to conduct thorough investigations.

Is it not also in the public interest to ensure that the rights of accused persons are protected? How can a balance be struck between these two objectives?

As for criminals of low intelligence, can it not be argued that they should be treated as minors when some of them have the mental age of children? Also, are police officers trained to question these individuals, who tend to be more easily influenced by others?

These are just a sampling of questions that have surfaced and will likely continue to simmer.

MPs should find ways to air them again, especially the latter two relating to the rights of individuals before the law.

These are matters of public interest and deserve to be debated thoroughly. And no better place than Parliament to do it.

I have no answers to these questions, however I do agree that these issues needs to be thoroughly in the Parliament.

In the meanwhile at Mr Wang's blog, there are interesting debates son both the lawyer access issue and the low IQ issues. Have a look if you are interested in what the former Deputy Public Prosecutor had to say.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Warwick say 'No'.

From ST:

Warwick says 'No'

But UK university to continue discussions on alternative plan
By Ho Ai Li and Sandra Davie

AFTER deliberating for more than a year, Britain's Warwick University has decided against setting up a branch campus in Singapore, at least for now.

The 33-member university council, its executive governing body, voted against the expansion plan yesterday, deciding it could not proceed against academic opposition underlined by a 'nay' vote from the university senate a week ago.

The senate, composed of academic staff and a few students, voted 27 to 13 against the move. Its key concerns were the question of academic freedom and the financial viability of the Singapore branch.

Though not binding on the university council, the vote was expected to put pressure on the governing body's decision.

Yesterday, the university said it could not proceed 'in the absence of a positive commitment from the academic community', though a feasibility study released two weeks ago had pointed out several advantages of opening a branch here. It had concluded that Singapore is 'the only credible Asian location for a Warwick branch campus of truly international character'.

But in a statement, Warwick spokesman Peter Dunn said the council plans to continue discussions to bring forth 'an alternative plan' for development that would command the support of the senate and the council.
he plan had been to set up here by 2008, attracting 10,000 students by 2022. It would have offered courses from the life sciences to performing arts, with fees at around £12,000 (S$36,000) a year.

But the issue of academic freedom was such an overriding concern that the university invited human rights expert Dr Thio Li-ann from the National University of Singapore to speak to about 80 staff and students last month.

Among other things, they had wanted to know what were the limits on what could be said or taught here.

Warwick has been weighing a move here since it received an invitation to do so from the Economic Development Board (EDB) last year.

It would have been the second foreign tertiary institution, after Australia's University of New South Wales, to set up here.

The Warwick rejection means that EDB will now have to find another partner to set up a second comprehensive university. It is also a defeat for Warwick vice-chancellor David VandeLinde, who has been a strong champion of the project.

From Financial Times:

Warwick votes against Singapore campus
By John Burton in Singapore
Published: October 14 2005 11:57 | Last updated: October 14 2005 11:57

Senior lecturers at Warwick University in the UK have voted against setting up a branch campus in Singapore due to worries about limits on academic freedom, dealing a possible setback to the city-state's ambitions to become a regional hub for higher education.

Singapore requires international educational institutions operating in the city-state to agree not to conduct activities seen as interference in domestic affairs.
The lopsided 27-13 “no” vote by Warwick's senate this week is believed to be the first time a foreign university has rejected the conditions set by Singapore.

Although the vote is non-binding, it is likely to put pressure on the university council to abandon the Singapore plan when it makes a final decision on October 18.
Warwick and Australia's University of New South Wales are the only two foreign universities selected by Singapore's Economic Development Board to set up a full-scale campus.

The city-state has succeeded in attracting smaller schools operated by several top institutions, including Insead and the University of Chicago Graduate Business School, in an effort to triple the number of university students to 150,000 in the next decade.

The Warwick vote came as the outgoing US ambassador to Singapore warned in a farewell speech that Singapore's limits on expression might cause the government to “pay an increasing price for not allowing full participation of its citizens”.

Faculty and students at Warwick have questioned the costs of the nearly £300m ($525m)
project and the university's ability to attract quality students and staff to the Singapore campus. But much of the criticism has focused on limits on academic freedom and civil liberties, including curbs on gay rights and high execution rates for criminals.

Warwick recently sent a letter to EDB asking that its students in Singapore be exempt from strict laws limiting freedom of assembly, speech and the press, and the removal of bans on homosexuality and certain religious practices on campus.

It also sought guarantees that staff and students would not be punished by the Singapore government for making academic-related comments that might be seen “as being outside the boundaries of political debate”. EDB said it would not comment.

The demand that the Singapore campus enjoy the same degree of academic freedom as in the UK came in response to an advisory report by Thio Li-ann, a law professor at the National University of Singapore, which said freedom of “speech is permissible as long as it does not threaten real political change or to alter the status quo”.

She warned that “the government will intervene if academic reports cast a negative light on their policies” but said the presence of Warwick in Singapore could “serve as an impetus for continued liberalisation”.

I noticed that there is a marked difference on how the same event is being reported by ST and FT. ST did not really goes into why Warwick's academics rejected the proposal but FT did. I hope this is not an attempt to cover up the real reasons on why the ventured is rejected.

Anyway the fact that Warwick was warned that “the government will intervene if academic reports cast a negative light on their policies” pretty much said it all. Academic freedom is an illusion, period.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Test on our judicial system.

Govt files and serves argument at the last minute
18 Oct 05

First it applies for the hearing to be behind closed doors. Now it submits its arguments at the last minute. The Government obviously doesn't want an open and fair legal contest.

In contesting the Originating Motion (OM) taken out by Ms Chee Siok Chin, Ms Monica Kumar and Mr Yap Keng Ho, the Attorney-General (AG) has filed its arguments at the very last minute and then failed to give a copy to Mr M Ravi, the applicants' lawyer. Mr Ravi was given a copy of the arguments on 18 October 2005 only after he pestered the AG for it. The AG's application to strike out the protesters' OM will take place on 19 October 2005.

Ms Chee, Ms Kumar and Mr Yap have taken out an Originating Motion against Mr Wong Kan Seng, Home Affairs Minister, and Mr Khoo Boon Hui, Commissioner of Police, asking the courts to declare that the police had acted unlawfully when they dispersed the four protesters on 11 August 2005.

In return the Government has applied to dismiss the action taken by the three activists. But instead of making its case on why the protesters' action should be dismissed in open court which was originally scheduled for 21 October 2005, the Government wants the matter to be dealt in chambers – away from public scrutiny.

With all the resources at its disposal, why does the AG have to resort to such tactics such as denying the protesters sight of its arguments. If it is confident of its case then set it out confidently and in an honourable manner rather then trying to keep information from the protesters and leaving Mr Ravi with no time to prepare his counter-arguments.

Is this how the Government hopes to win the case by first running away from the open hearing on 21 Oct and now by trying to shield its arguments from the protesters?

But then the PAP has never been reknowned for fighting in a gentlemanly manner, has it?

I have mentioned before in my previous posting on why it is of paramount importance that this case is heard before an OPEN court. It seems that the PAP govt. has chose to hide behind the veil of a CLOSE court when their political opponents confronted them with law. Well, I must say that isn’t unexpected. After all, this is the norm rather than the exception.

Should our courts accede to PAP govt.’s request (Which I expected it would.), it will be doing itself and the Singaporean public a great disservice. As that will not only deny Singaporean public its right to thoroughly scrutinise the hearing and ruling on the case but also give more credence to the allegations that Singapore’s judiciary is bias against the oppositionists.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


US envoy slaps Singapore over freedom of speech.

By John Burton in Singapore
Updated: 1:42 p.m. ET Oct. 12, 2005

The outgoing US ambassador to Singapore has criticised the city-state's restrictions on free speech in a rare public rebuke by a US official of one of Washington's closest Asian allies.

Ambassador Frank Levin said Singapore's 20th-century political model may prove inadequate for the 21st century, warning that the government "will pay an increasing price for not allowing full participation of its citizens."

The ambassador told an audience at a farewell dinner that he was "embarrassed" when police asked him if he wanted to press charges against six demonstrators protesting the Iraq war in front of the US embassy in 2003. Singapore bans demonstrations of five or more people.

"I said 'no.' I mean, go ahead, hold the signs and say something if you want to," said Mr Lavin, who will become under-secretary for international trade at the US Commerce Department.

Mr Levin said it was "surprising to find constraints on discussions here" given Singapore's strong international links in the economic sector. "In this era of Weblogs and Webcams, how much sense does it make to limit political expression?"

Singapore's one-party political dominance provides "enormous strengths," such as "very high quality leadership," but it also has weaknesses since "the lack of open and vigorous debates might reduce a government's popularity if it doesn't let ideas or views be properly aired."

Lee Hsien Loong, the Singapore prime minister, said last week that he did not believe that Singapore should adopt an "idealised form" of liberal democracy, explaining it was unsuitable for the country.

US-Singapore ties have strengthened during Mr Lavin's four-year tenure as ambassador, including the signing of bilateral free-trade agreement and a new security framework that might lead to an increased US military presence in the city-state.

Recent US ambassadors to Singapore, including Mr Lavin, have normally been highly supportive in their comments on Singapore. Mr Lavin's predecessor, Steven Green, left his post to become head of a Singapore-listed venture capital fund and was appointed a special advisor to the Singapore government and its honorary consul-general in Miami.

But Patricia Herbold, Mr Lavin's successor, has suggested that the Bush administration might be preparing to take a tougher line on Singapore's human rights record.

Ms Herbold, a lawyer and Republican fundraiser, told a US Senate hearing on her confirmation that she would continue a dialogue that Washington has with Singapore regarding the openness of its society and its political system.

US-Singapore relations have improved steadily since late 1980s, when Singapore accused the US of interfering in its internal affairs by alleging that the US embassy had secretly provided financial support to an opposition politician.

At the time, Singapore relaxed its ban on demonstrations and allowed a large protest rally to take place in front of the US embassy.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

Ouch! My My… That farewell slap must have hurt. However, I must admit that I mostly agreed with Mr Levin. I hope that our govt. would not over-react and brand this as interfering with our domestic affairs. This is the sort of frank and well-meaning advice that Singapore always gives to US as a true friend. Hence I can only say what goes around, comes around.

High time to review the current setup of our public transportation system.

From ST:

It's a wish - one company running buses and trains

Watchdog chief says if it isn't feasible, let one run trains and another buses
By Christopher Tan

IF THE new Public Transport Council (PTC) chairman had his way, there would be just one public transport company running both trains and buses - to avoid duplication of resources.

Said Mr Gerard Ee: 'If that's not feasible, we should have one running the trains and one running the buses.'

SBS Transit and SMRT Corp run both rail and bus services which are clearly demarcated.

There have been suggestions for them to merge operations or operate only buses or trains.

Former senior civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow and even Mr Lim Jit Poh, chairman of ComfortDelGro, of which SBS Transit is part, made such suggestions after the controversy over Buangkok MRT station.

Completed more than two years ago, it is yet to open because SBS Transit started operating the North-East MRT Line with fewer riders than projected. The station has fewer developments around it than most other MRT stations.

Mr Ee would not be drawn into the Buangkok debate, saying the PTC cannot decide on MRT stations. However, the council, a watchdog body formed in 1987, will have more say in other areas.

The Public Transport Council Act is expected to be amended to 'give the PTC a bit more clout'. Proposed amendments include new measures such as penalty fees for fare evaders, and a five-year operating licence for buses.

More importantly for the commuters, the PTC will revise fares every year.

There will be automatic fare revision, said Mr Ee, unlike now when transport companies must apply for fare increases.

A new formula will be used to revise fares, said Mr Ee. It takes into consideration prevailing economic factors, average wages and productivity of transport operators.

'We will stick to the formula religiously, except under very exceptional circumstances like a natural disaster or an unusual economic boom,' said Mr Ee.

He added that the PTC will convene each year in April-May to decide on revisions. 'Over a period of time, you show people you have the will to apply the formula - to raise or lower fares. Then the annual adjustment will become a matter of course, like what happens in London each year,' he said.

Unlike the previous formula, the new one takes into account productivity gains by operators, which are to be shared with commuters.

Mr Ee said the PTC will also review other policies with bodies like the Land Transport Authority.

'It is time to take stock of the entire public transport system and look at policies that have been with us for the past decade,' he said. 'Nothing should be sacrosanct.'

One matter he cited is how bus routes are distributed, and the territorial rights of the two bus operators.

Most of the routes were distributed 'a long time ago', he said. Now the rail network is up and going, he wants to examine whether 'how the island is carved up for buses still makes sense'.

Except for isolated spots in the city, SBS Transit and SMRT buses do not ply common routes.

While his statements hint at a liberalisation and increased competition all round, he confesses he is 'not sure' what the answer will be.

But the bus route issue is 'one of the last holy cows we should challenge'.

Barring a merger, that is.

I oppose the creation of a private transport monopoly by merging SBS and SMRT (Nationalisation can be considered because this means our govt. have to take full responsiblity for any fare increase.) as Mr Ee had proposed. Such a private monopoly would only promote price fixing, which in turns leads to the artificial inflation of the train and bus fares.

However his second idea of one company running trains while the other running buses deserves some serious study. The reason being that this would promote competition between the bus and train companies. With more competition, the public transport companies would less likely to increase their fares.

My personal take is that the second idea is feasible and would benefit Singaporean public much more than the current arrangement.

Hence, perhaps it is high time for our Transport Minister Mr Yeo Cheow Tong and LTA to do their jobs and produce a comprehensive study on this issue. Hopefully with the study, the current arrangement can be altered in a way that is beneficial to the Singaporean public.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Asset rich cash poor.

From ST:

Oct 11, 2005
Some flat owners can't afford to downgrade

They won't have enough to buy cheapest flat after paying off loan
By Daryl Loo

NEARLY half of the wealth of Singaporeans is invested in their homes, very often in bigger HDB flats.

Even in the bottom 20 per cent income group, more than half own HDB homes that are four-room flats and bigger, according to a paper released by the Department of Statistics (DOS) yesterday.

There is a danger in this, said Dr Amy Khor, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development.

By doing so, some Singaporeans may over-extend themselves financially in their zeal to own a home and may not be able to afford to downgrade when they need to - such as when the breadwinner loses his job, she added.

Calculations by the DOS show that almost one-third of the bottom 20 per cent will get less than $100,000 cash back when they sell their home and pay off their HDB loan.
This means they cannot afford even the cheapest three-room HDB flat which costs $150,000.

And renting an HDB flat has stiff conditions, including a 2 1/2 year waiting period after the sale of an HDB flat.

The overwhelming focus on property ownership is a result of the Government's constant push for people to buy their own homes, 'to encourage a sense of rootedness in the country', noted Dr Khor.

But she expects this 'asset rich, cash poor' situation to improve over time, as the Government now encourages home buyers to be prudent.
It also recommends that banks adopt stricter checks when assessing whether a home owner can afford the loan he wants.

In all, Singaporeans' wealth in residential properties is a whopping $359 billion, or 47 per cent of their total wealth.

The remaining $407 billion is invested in other financial assets such as savings, shares and life insurance.

Property consultancy Knight Frank's director of research Nicholas Mak estimates that the proportion invested in homes here is much higher than in the United States and Europe, although he did not have exact figures.

'But the 47 per cent in homes should be similar to that in Hong Kong and Japan,' said Mr Mak.

Nanyang Technological University's Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap said it is a predictable phenomenon that Singaporeans invested such a large portion of their money in their home.

'That's because historically, putting your money in property had been the fastest way for your assets to rise,' he said.

According to the DOS, about nine in 10 Singaporean households own their own home, with 93 per cent of HDB families owning the roof over their heads, and 88 per cent of those living in private homes.

Well, the article had said it all. Singaporeans are assets rich and cash poor. What made things worse is that the bulk of the assets that a typical Singaporean owns is his/her HDB flat.

With the soft property market, which comes together with the economic downturn, it become nearly impossible for people to cash out on their assets without making a loss. Furthermore as we all know, shelter is a basic necessity. New accommodation needs to be found after the flat is sold. Hence it is often a double whammy for Singaporeans when they need to cash out on their assets during economic downturns.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Interesting but very lengthy article.

For all those interested here is an article by Cherian George for ST:

Oct 10, 2005
Managing civil disobedience

By Cherian George
For The Straits Times

THE 'white elephants' affair has resulted in a 'stern warning' to its unnamed perpetrator. After this case, people will be more careful to check that they do not accidentally flout the law, as the unfortunate Mahout of Buangkok appears to have done.

However, this is unlikely to be the last such case. The stern warning will not deter opposition activists who believe in deliberately breaking the law to make a political point. Their attempt to inject civil disobedience into Singapore's body politic represents an intriguing challenge to the People's Action Party's ideological hold. It calls for deft handling. While thwarting a protest is easy for the authorities, the question is how much political capital they will have to spend in the process.

This is the real power of such campaigns. By deliberately but non-violently flouting laws that they deem unjust, opponents put the authorities in a fix.

The state could choose to close one eye, but this would diminish its authority and probably invite follow-up breaches until these are too large or too flagrant to be ignored. If the state responds with force against a peaceful protest, the activists can still try to claim the moral victory. They may succeed in convincing the wider public that the law in question - and the state's power in general - is neither just nor moral, but instead backed by sheer force.

Thus, campaigns of civil disobedience test a state's moral legitimacy, revealing whether its rule is based mainly on consent or on coercion.

Dr Chee Soon Juan has been dabbling with this strategy for some years, at least since 1998, when he spoke in public without a permit and landed up in prison. His new book, The Power Of Courage, promotes non-violent civil disobedience as an opposition strategy in Singapore.

The Government has responded that the rule of law must be respected. Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said that wilful law-breaking 'regardless of whether you think it is a silly law or not...does violence to the rule of law', even if the actions are peaceful.

While the principle of zero tolerance for law-breaking is straightforward, applying it will be a challenge. Civil disobedience will test a key element of PAP governance: its acumen in calibrating its use of force against political challengers, such that opponents are neutralised with minimum collateral damage.

This is not to deny the other - and much better-understood - sources of the PAP's strength, namely its outstanding record in delivering the goods, its internal discipline and its ability to win genuine freely-given loyalty from the majority of Singaporeans.

But every state, by definition, also comprises instruments of force. And the intelligent use of force is no less a dimension of good governance than, say, an efficient bureaucracy or long-term urban planning.

Its calibrated approach to coercion may be one of the least appreciated of the PAP's many skills. Indeed, stating it this way will probably provoke some incredulity. After all, even some of the PAP's most ardent supporters think it is guilty of occasional overkill. PAP leaders themselves are not coy about their macho side. Mr Lee Kuan Yew talks of knuckledusters and nation-building with equal aplomb. If the PAP were to develop and market a computer game, it would be a cross between SimCity and Street Fighter.


IMAGE aside, however, the facts show a government increasingly aware of the need to exercise self-restraint in its use of force. Yes, it has an array of repressive tools within easy reach. But, compared with other states that possess similar tools and are controlled by similarly strong-willed leaders, Singapore's Government has been relatively judicious and sophisticated in their use.

The spectrum of coercive tools available to an authoritarian regime today ranges from political murders and disappearances, and torture and imprisonment without trial, to criminal prosecution, civil action, the banning of organisations, sabotaging opponents' means of earning a living and character attacks through state-controlled media.

The most extreme of these tools have never been used in Singapore. And it is noteworthy that detention without trial, under the Internal Security Act, was used frequently in the 1960s and 1970s but has not been applied to non-violent political opponents in almost two decades.

As for criminal prosecutions, most of these have not involved jail terms. Dr Chee went to prison because he would not pay a fine. The state's weapon of choice - defamation civil suits - similarly does not involve incarceration, though it can be devastating financially.

Some may argue that these distinctions are academic, as the PAP's calibrated coercion is still coercive enough to neutralise the opposition. On the one hand, that is precisely the point being argued here: The PAP has developed into an art form the ability to suppress challenges with a fraction of the brutality employed by the most ruthless dictatorships, but with an effectiveness that more than matches them.

Still, the difference between physical torture and a lawsuit is hardly insignificant. To claim otherwise - to say that Singapore is like the Soviet Union of the past, or like Zimbabwe today - is to trivialise the suffering of dissidents in some of the most inhumane regimes of the modern era.

Furthermore, different tools have different secondary effects. That is why calibrated coercion is not only more ethical than unbridled repression, but also the smarter option for any regime interested in long-term consolidation rather than short-term plunder.

States that overplay their hand often find the excessive violence backfiring on them. It unleashes a moral outrage that opponents can harness to mobilise a hitherto-inert public behind their cause.

Tipping points

IN THE Philippines, the sight of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr, gunned down in cold blood on the tarmac of Manila International Airport in 1983, was the beginning of the end of the Ferdinand Marcos regime.

Indonesia, May 1998: The shooting of four student protesters was the tipping point that turned the Reformasi campaign against then-president Suharto into a full-blown revolution.

Malaysia's Reformasi got a fillip from sensational images of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim being snatched away under the Internal Security Act and then emerging from custody with a black eye, courtesy of the country's police chief.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew would later comment that the Mahathir government erred tactically in using the ISA instead of a straightforward criminal charge - a rare hint that the calibration of coercion is a conscious policy, even if never enunciated.

One of the few political theorists to have analysed the cost of a state's violence to the state itself was political philosopher Hannah Arendt.

In her pithy treatise On Violence, she rejected Mao Zedong's oft-quoted dictum by arguing that while violence can flow from the barrel of a gun, power cannot.

Power corresponds to the human ability to act in concert; it belongs to a group and exists only as long as the group coheres.

'Single men without others to support them never have enough power to use violence successfully,' she wrote.

'Even the totalitarian ruler, whose chief instrument of rule is torture, needs a power basis - the secret police and its net of informers...Where commands are no longer obeyed, the means of violence are of no use...Everything depends on the power behind the violence.'

Power is sustained by legitimacy, and legitimacy is what's lost when violence is misapplied. 'To substitute violence for power can bring victory, but the price is very high; for it is not only paid by the vanquished, it is also paid by the victor in terms of his own power,' she said.

Therefore, even though violence, power and authority often appear together, they are not the same. Indeed, she added: 'Power and violence are opposites; where one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears when power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power's disappearance.'

Arendt thus zoomed in on the counter-intuitive truth that run-of-the-mill dictators have failed to understand. As in so many other areas, the PAP belongs in a different league. It may have wielded mallets to smash assorted flies in the 1960s and 1970s, but since the mid-1980s it has been relatively self-restrained in the use of force.

This is why the Catherine Lim Affair was able to create such a stir in the mid-1990s, and is still talked about 10 years later, despite the fact that she was not arrested, exiled or 'fixed'. Her books were still published and used as literature texts in government schools, so she was not even punished professionally.

Three decades ago, these less-calibrated means of coercion were more routine. A Singaporean from that period, transported through time to the present day, would be dumbfounded by the notion that the Catherine Lim Affair - which never got nastier than a verbal lashing - could be iconic of PAP intolerance towards dissent. He would have concluded, correctly, that the PAP had changed.

Our time-traveller would be wrong, however, if he assumed that the PAP had undergone a fundamental philosophical conversion towards liberal ideals. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong emphasised at his talk at the Foreign Correspondents Association last Thursday, it has not - and will not.

The change is instead at the level of methodology. By systematically shifting political controls behind the scenes - through legislation covering trade unions, universities, the press, religious groups and the legal profession - the PAP has pre-empted ugly confrontations with institutions that could challenge its authority.

Mixed blessing

THE contemporary scene of calibrated coercion is a mixed blessing for Singaporeans who want more freedom. There is certainly less cause for fear today than in the old days when coercion was more blunt. On the other hand, the PAP's self-restraint gives its opponents less moral ammunition.

Controls are so seamlessly integrated into the system and coercion is so well calibrated that the average Singaporean can go through much of life without bumping into the hard edges of PAP authoritarianism. This is bad news for pro-democracy activists, who consequently have a tough time reminding Singaporeans that they should care about political liberalisation.

That is where Dr Chee's strategy of civil disobedience comes in. It is a predictable response to the PAP's success at calibrated coercion. It involves seeking out laws that may not enjoy great public support, and deliberately flouting them to provoke a forceful response. The use of force will ensure victory to the PAP, but the price of victory, to borrow Arendt's words, will be 'paid by the victor in terms of his own power'. The strategy turns the state's monopoly of force against itself.

Other states have fallen into the trap when those at the top miscalculate, or when their functionaries - especially the police or army - get trigger-happy when putting down peaceful protests. There is little risk of the latter in Singapore, where uniformed services are highly disciplined and under firm civilian direction. The former scenario - political miscalculation - also seems unlikely.

However, it should be noted that a new and less experienced generation of ministers and permanent secretaries is taking charge. For them, there may be an urge to deal with challengers of any sort in the most expeditious manner, and the temptation to get their way through actual or threatened force may be irresistible. The alternative - the use of reason and debate - may seem too slow, too weak, especially when more decisive tools are at one's fingertips.

The situation, in short, is dynamic. The Government can narrow the opportunities for effective civil disobedience by pro-actively amending regulations that are over-broad and difficult to defend intellectually to the ordinary Singaporean. Until then, the Chees of Singapore will continue to pressure those points in the law. The authorities will not give in; they will say no. But they will have to calibrate carefully how they say no.

The writer is an assistant professor at the School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, where he researches media and politics. This article is based on an academic paper on calibrated coercion, published in the Asia Research Institute's working paper series, at .

I just have one question. Why did Cherian George leave out the infamous 'Marxist plot' in his article? This is a big case whereby it even caused the detainment of Francis Seow, a former solicitor general and president of the Law Society in Singapore. The article would be more complete if this notorious case is mentioned.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The pot calling the kettle black.

Now, this is what I call the pot calling the kettle black.

SINGAPORE — Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday criticized the corruption and pork barrel politics that have bedeviled Japan’s political system.

Lee, speaking at a luncheon organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association, said Japan is a good example of an Asian-style parliamentary democracy that has worked well. “But they landed into problems because of corruption, money politics, pork barreling, and then necessary changes were not made and the country, instead of making adjustments and prospering like America, just flew straight on and went into a storm. So how do we maintain our system and not end up like that?”

Japan Today 7 Oct, Singapore's PM criticizes Japan pork-barrel politics.

Oct 9, 2005
$160m plan to transform Aljunied
By Chua Kong Ho

IN THE next five years, Aljunied GRC will be a hive of building activity.

About $160 million will be poured into its five divisions to give its 250,000 residents a lifestyle that promotes sports and family bonding.

Each will have its own sports or adventure park so that residents need not travel a long way to access them, said Foreign Minister George Yeo last night when he unveiled the masterplan.

However, the top project will be a bid to give HDB home owners lifts that stop on every floor. Some $65 million has been set aside for lift upgrading.

'As our population is ageing, we must take care to look after the elderly, the less mobile and the handicapped,' said the minister, one of five Aljunied GRC MPs.

He was speaking at a dinner to launch a roving exhibition of the proposed plan to get residents' feedback.

Aside from the lift upgrading, ramps and guard rails are to be built, and more seats at void decks and parks will be added.

The cost of the massive redevelopment programme is one-third more than the $120 million being spent under the current five-year plan, started in 2002. Among other things, markets and food centres have been refurbished and pavilions built.

Its announcement, the first by a constituency this year, is seen by some as a sign that the General Election is imminent.

The GRC is a potential hot spot, with reports that the opposition Workers' Party has stepped up its grassroots work there in recent months.

At the last GE in 2001, a WP team was disqualified from contesting because of incomplete nomination papers.

Said political scientist Ho Khai Leong of the Institute of South-east Asian Studies: 'In the past few months we have been getting signals from the mass media of positive new government policies...But this is the clearest sign yet that an election is on the horizon.'

Asked whether the plan was being timed to garner support from voters for the GE, Mr Yeo told The Sunday Times: 'If you ask me whether this has anything to do with serving residents, winning their support, yes, the whole idea is to serve residents, win over their support and serve them better.'

Whatever the goal, all residents interviewed welcomed the promise of new and improved facilities.

Said teacher Juny Iskawati, 27: 'It will encourage families to come together and use the facilities without having to go too far.' She now works out at a centre in Yishun, near her workplace.

She is looking forward to an adventure park to be built on an empty plot next to Paya Lebar Kovan Community Club (CC).

There will also be a sports arena next to Kampong Kembangan CC and a sports hub next to Punggol CC. Both will be built on empty plots.

Water sports facilities at Bedok Reservoir Road will be upgraded and there will be open spaces at Eunos Park for jogging and even skateboarding.

Also being planned: a new remote monitoring system to tighten access to the pump rooms and rooftops of all HDB blocks; and more linkways between HDB blocks and schools.

With these changes, Mr Yeo is hoping 'to make Aljunied GRC a preferred residential area for family life and an active lifestyle'.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Thoughts on PM Lee’s replies.

My thoughts on PM Lee's replies.

From ST:

S'pore will set its own political model: PM

Transparency and openness will be hallmarks, even if Western model is out
By Peh Shing Huei

EVEN as Singapore changes to become a global city in 20 years, one thing is for sure: The Western liberal model will not be the system of government here.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was unequivocal yesterday in explaining why Singapore was not headed down that road.

The reason? Singapore has a system that works, with parliamentary democracy, free elections and an electorate with an overwhelming confidence in the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

'And for good reason - because it is a party which has delivered, a party which has a strong team and is one which they have confidence in for the future.'

Mr Lee was responding to a question by Reuters journalist Geert De Clercq during a Foreign Correspondents Association luncheon at the Raffles Hotel.

Mr De Clercq had asked if Singapore's bid for a more vibrant city a la London and New York would see a concurrent move to a Western-style of governance.

PM Lee's answer was a 'no'. 'I do not even see a Western model which you described in an idealised form as being the target which we want to aim for,' he said.

So what political system does PM Lee propose then? Is it a system whereby the party, govt and army are fused together? Is it a system whereby there isn’t any independent union? Is it a system whereby the judicial system is allegedly under undue political influences? Tell me PM Lee, what political system do you envision?

Even the Leninist system that I had just described is western. Unless the system I found so familiar in Singapore is actually the traditional Chinese Imperial system. Hey, come to think of it they might just be similar in some ways!

In sketching the journey ahead for Singapore, PM Lee foresees a system shaped by Singaporeans and their values. Not any magic formula or Constitution.

He also expects a system marked by openness and transparency as the people seek solutions to national problems.

'If there's something which we are not happy about or is not right, we will speak up and we will discuss. Nothing is verboten, nothing cannot be discussed and everything can be examined,' he said, using the German word for 'forbidden'.

Oh I see, PM Lee is envisioning a system shape by ‘Singaporean and their values’, which is ‘marked by openness and transparency’ where ‘nothing is verboten’ ehh?

Ok, since PM Lee is so big on ‘openness and transparency’, how about opening the accounts of GIC, Temasek Holdings and our national reserves for a start?

Since ‘nothing is verboten’, how about let start by discussing why so many people in the establishment had the surname ‘Lee’ without it ending up with people getting sued for defamation? Or how about letting Singaporeans (Those foreign IMF protesters do not count!) hold peaceful demonstrations without it being branded as illegal assembly?

By the way is it Singaporean values or PAP values that PM Lee is talking about at the beginning?

Mr Lee spoke on a wide range of issues during the 45-minute question-and-answer session, including economic, population and terrorism issues.

Earlier, in his speech, he identified several key obstacles confronting Singapore.

They include terrorism from Islamic extremists, the ageing population, nurturing the next generation of Singaporeans to produce a diversity of talents, and developing a broad leadership in all spheres of life.

Singapore, he said, is an improbable nation and therefore cannot be compared to such places as South Korea and Taiwan, which swung from martial law to liberal political systems.

It has 'some basic imperatives which will remain constant'. For example, Singaporeans will always have to earn their own living, racial and religious harmony must always be maintained, and the country must always outperform bigger and better-endowed rivals.

Hmmm, how about Hong Kong then? Now Hong Kong isn’t a democracy. The people there can’t even elect all its legislators, not to mention its Chief Executive Officer. Furthermore Hong Kong is part of PRC, which isn't very tolerant of dissent. However in Hong Kong, it is possible to hold peaceful demonstrations, sue the govt and even criticise the Chinese Communist Party. What do you think about that PM Lee?

Mr Lee also cited the Japanese system, noting how it had not evolved into a Western liberal model. Even then, it was not without its flaws of corruption and pork-barrel politics with the government spending in exchange for political support.

Like Singapore, it has a dominant political party that has brought stability and long-term growth to the country.

'So how do we maintain our system and not end up like them? There's no magic formula,' he said. 'I think it depends on the team, the ethos of the whole leadership group.'

It seems that PM lee has short memory that he had forgotten about the 1997 General Elections. I still remember that then PM Goh Chok Tong threaten Singaporeans that if they do not vote for PAP, their estate will become 'slums'. Now, if that is not pork-barrel politics, I don’t know what is.

He acknowledged that continued strong support for the PAP hinges on its performance, renewal and ability to continue to deliver results and show 'unambiguously that this is the best team, Team Singapore, work for it, it will work for you.'

In the immediate future, he is more than confident it has the backing of Singaporeans. That will be clear enough in the next General Election, which must be called by June 2007, he said, in reply to another question.

'I have no doubt that when we go, we'll have strong support, including a strong mandate.'

With the LTA fiascos and the shortage of hospital beds during the dengue outbreak, I have reservations on the ability of some of PM Lee’s team members. So it might be better that PM Lee’s himself do something about it, if not Singaporean voters might just help him to alter the makeup of ‘Team Singapore’.

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