Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On a wing and a prayer …

I hope this isn't another disaster in the making...

Will China Eastern Airlines become the proverbial albatross round SIA's neck?

Prithpal Singh

If Singapore Airlines' track record of management and investment deals with other airlines is anything to go by, the sceptics among us are going to throw up their hands and say "here we go again".

SIA's many attempts to go global have been patchy at best: Its first known effort was a management contract with Air Lanka in the early 80s, meant to be converted into partial ownership eventually.

Unfortunately, SIA managers' working relationship with their Air Lanka counterparts turned sour and the contract was not renewed. Emirates later bought into Air Lanka.

In the 1990s, SIA had an-ill timed foray into India when it did a deal with the Tata group. The airline thought it had a blue chip partner, but it turned out that its partner had very little political clout.

The proposed partnership was countered by the full force of the collective political clout of India's first privately-owned airline, Jet Airways, and others in the industry. This effectively killed the deal.

SIA lost this one great window of opportunity to enter India's now booming aviation industry and has little hope of moving in there in the near future.

In New Zealand and Australia, SIA got a little further, taking a stake in Air New Zealand and Ansett Airways. Both ventures ended with SIA suffering a lot of red ink and a bruised ego.

For one of the world's most successful airlines having to beat a hasty retreat from a potentially lucrative market was truly a humbling lesson.

Then, there was the 49 per cent investment in Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic. Instead of seizing a foothold for further expansion into the Americas, all SIA did was hand over a $1 billion war chest on a silver platter to Mr Branson. The British businessman used that money to set up Virgin Blue in Australia, an airline which has become so immensely successful that it eliminated any hope for SIA to successfully re-enter the Australian domestic market.

Perhaps, even more disastrously for SIA, Virgin Blue has now staked its claim on the transpacific route thus denting chances of SIA flying across the Pacific Ocean from Australia to the US for many years to come.

The optimists will say that these were in the past when SIA was still on a learning curve with foreign forays. They will say that with China Eastern it will be different. That SIA paid its expensive tuition fees and learnt the lessons, that the environment is more liberal, that China is a huge market and an early entry is a must.

Granted that it's difficult to ignore China in this day and age and that there are many opportunities and benefits to be reaped. But one must be mindful that this is not just any industry.

First, it's a very high profile industry which attracts lots of attention and is still highly regulated. And in China, an airline can very quickly become a focus of nationalistic emotion if the fires are stoked.

So, what steps can be taken to protect the investment? The other big question is why is SIA making this purchase? And does it really know what price it may have to pay eventually? Or is SIA prepared to make this foray at any cost, because it's China?

From the preliminary information available, it looks like SIA is just too anxious and overly eager to enter the China market. Many different approaches can be made but jumping into bed with a high profile and well established airline there raises a few red flags.

First, it's easy to get carried away by the "China-cannot-be-wrong" syndrome being manifested in the hype and euphoria of SIA's planned 25 per cent stake in China Eastern.

Any investor will tell you that taking a 25 per cent stake in an airline in China without taking some effective management control (unless one wishes to be a passive investor) is pure folly.

Presumably, SIA's involvement is not just the injection of funds. It's there to make that vital difference: That its involvement will provide much needed management expertise, improvement to product quality, know how, economies of scale to turn this loss-making airline into a profitable one. This is a very crucial point and SIA needs to reveal details of the extent of its involvement in managing the airline.

Second, China Eastern is Shanghai based, 20 years old and well established with 30,000 employees and an extensive domestic and international network boasting more than 100 aircraft.

It's no novice to the business and has an ingrained management style.

Recently, three senior managers were sacked for corruption. It can easily be seen that SIA's management culture is as different from China Eastern's as chalk is from cheese.

"Face" is a huge factor in China and the SIA's corporate style, a la efficiency-at-allcost style of SQ is not likely to sit well with the working culture of the Chinese even with the best of intentions on both sides.

And with such a high profile business as an airline and a management structure which has been in place there for sometime now, I foresee many issues which will sap SIA of its time, energy and resources while it tries to turn around the proverbial giant oil tanker in mid stream. It's the sort of thing that can derail the very best of plans and intentions.

Third, even with the supposed liberalisaton of the aviation industry worldwide, the pace is still slow and patchy.

In China, it's worse. Nobody really understands the complex aviation regulatory environment: It's in constant flux and as murky as the Yangtze River at low tide and as deceiving as any minefield.

Presumably SIA is buying into China Eastern to secure access to domestic air routes, gain market share and achieve more international traffic rights to grow quicker than it could organically. But this is where it could very well get unstuck.

Other Chinese carriers may cry foul due to China Eastern's partial foreign ownership and may put a cap on future expansion plans and traffic rights assignment.

Traffic rights belong to the government. What guarantee is there that after landing a stake, SIA will not get the short end of the stick when it comes to traffic rights as the other Chinese airlines lobby against it citing its partial foreign ownership.

There are indeed many questions which need to be answered. But most important of all is this: Does SIA really need to buy into a Chinese airline when it can instead start with a management contract for a number of years with the option to buy a stake later?

With SIA facing challenges like longer-range aircraft that can skip Singapore, bigger airlines being born out of mergers and posing a serious challenge to SIA and the rise of the mega cash-rich Middle East carriers, is this the best way forward for SIA?

Taking a stake in China Eastern, far from providing it the next wing to take it higher, could potentially become the proverbial albatross round SIA's neck distracting it from being what it's good at: Maintaining SIA's pride of place as the best and most profitable airline in the world.

It can only continue to do so by sticking to what it knows best and becoming an even better world airline. One would have thought that after so many unsuccessful attempts to go global, SIA would have learnt its lessons. But it seems it has not and is hoping it will get lucky this time round.

Prithpal Singh is an aviation, tourism, travel and hospitality veteran.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The flaw is no law

Singapore News // Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The flaw is no law

Unlike legal codes, guidelines lack teeth to free workers from discrimination • News Comment
Derrick A Paulo

When it comes to fighting labour discrimination, Singapore prefers to tread lightly.

The latest sequel to the trilogy on combating workplace discrimination — following the update of the 1999 guidelines on job advertisements, a code for responsible employment practices in 2002, and guidelines for pro-family practices in 2004 — is yet another set of guidelines.

Race, religion, gender and marital status are all "don'ts" for job application forms, according to guidelines issued two weeks ago by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices. These, however, are only "practical" tips for bosses, as the alliance said. Once again, legislation will not be introduced.

But shouldn't it be introduced, in order to better deal with the problem of discrimination?

The planned Tripartite Centre for Fair Employment is designed to advise employers keen to adopt such practices — in other words, the converted. The same type of employers as the 420 so far, including 59 from the public sector, that have pledged to implement fair employment practices.

It is easy to preach to the converted. But what about the remaining 133,000 small and medium-sized enterprises?

While the 180 employment-related discrimination cases that the Manpower Ministry (MOM) received in the past three years is not an excessively large number in a labour force of more than 2 million, job discrimination appears to be on the rise.

The incidence of pregnant workers complaining of unfair dismissal has doubled since three years ago. In all probability, there is a fair number of silent sufferers out there who chose not to, or did not know how to, lodge a complaint.

A survey last year by global staffing solutions firm Kelly Services ranked Singapore one of the three countries, out of 28, with the highest rates of workplace discrimination. Two-thirds of the 1,500 respondents polled here complained of having experienced prejudice of some sort when applying for a job in the past five years. They cited age as the top factor (29 per cent).

Even if these are mere perceptions, the bulk of which an MOM investigation could well find to be unsubstantiated, they affect the sustainability of Singapore's social stability, which can only need more attention, especially since our population of 4.5 million is set to grow.

Singaporeans should not have to look at the job market — and their career prospects — through the lens of discrimination. When Singaporeans are sent the proper signals of assurance that there will be a fair deal at the workplace, foreigners are also more likely to get a warmer welcome and their contributions valued more.

If all the authorities do is exhort employers, promote programmes and set up one centre, their efforts can only go so far. Legislation can help, if we can be flexible, creative and selective.

During the Committee of Supply debate in March, Nominated Member of Parliament Eunice Olsen suggested using a voluntary compliance agreement (VCA) to change unfair hiring practices.

A VCA is a mechanism now used to tackle unfair trading practices under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act. When errant traders sign a VCA, they admit to carrying out unfair trading practices, agree to stop such practices, and make the necessary remedies to affected consumers.

Only refusal to do so or a breach of the VCA gives the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) the option to seek a ruling from the courts. And penalties apply only when a company incurs the court's contempt by failing to adhere to its ruling.

Replace trader with employer, Case with MOM or an equal employment panel, and consumer with employee to get a helpful piece of legislation to fight job discrimination.

Current legislation, such as section 14 of the Employment Act and the Retirement Age Act, provides only avenues for workers to seek redress for unfair dismissal or job termination based on age, respectively.

The MOM can also take up cases to seek individual remedies, but this is certainly not the best way to empower a state to effect sustainable, long-term change.

An employment VCA will help. It is more likely to get employers with unfair practices to stick out like a sore thumb than if 0.003 per cent of companies — or more — pledge to be fair employers.

"This is about educating employers and having the teeth to back it up … And it is done without incurring frivolous legal claims, as only MOM, after a fair assessment, can take legal action," Ms Olsen said. She suggested homing in on hiring practices before deciding if the VCA is suitable for discrimination in training prospects, promotion benefits and retrenchment bias.

There was no reply to her suggestion. Instead, we were told about guidelines, the tripartite centre and pledges.

If such measures are enough to enact sustainable change, why do we not depend solely on persuasion, such as in intellectual property, to uphold IP protection? Why have coercive laws to deter infringements and piracy?

It is not about the numbers. The Government is drafting laws to make sex with minors overseas a prosecutable offence here, even though only three Singaporeans have been caught since 1994 for such acts.

The answer is simple. When applied to fair employment, not to legislate is to close an eye to discriminatory practices.

What's your view? Email us at

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Are Morals Exclusive to Religious People?

Do we really need religious texts to justify our moral code of conduct?

More often than not, Christians and other theists purport that religion provides a platform, or a moral standard, if you will, by which humans can behave in a decent manner. Without religious values, morals, as we understand, will decay, and social decay and utter rottenness would fester and erode society and civilization away, starting from the fringes.

Scary thought indeed, but on what basis do they justify such scary, fear-mongering predictions?

According to religious authorities, Man, it seems, is the only divine creature who has been bestowed with a conscience; a kind of a gauge, if you will, to associate with morals, the rights and the wrongs of every thought-provoking issue. Animals, they claim, cannot conform to moral quotes because of this rather mysterious instrument.

The virtuous chimp???

Science, however, is beginning to unravel the mysteries behind animal behavior. According to recent scientific studies, primates, too may well have developed a sense of morals too, and you bet they aren't worshipping any Roman or Hellenistic deity (Or maybe they do, but these chimps aren't telling. Tsk Tsk).

The Evolution of Morals

In scientific lingo, morality is defined not within the confines of some absolute values; rather, it is a set of rules, codified or otherwise, for which animals or man within a certain community live by, to breed harmony as well as avoid fighting amongst fellow members of a community. In short, species living together in groups have rules to restrain themselves for the better good of the group. Dr. de Waal, director of the Emory University, contends that all social animals have had to constrain or alter their behavior in various ways for group living to be worthwhile. These constraints, evident in monkeys and even more so in chimpanzees, are part of human inheritance, too, and in his view form the set of behaviors from which human morality has been shaped.

This is not to say that chimps are law abiding creatures in a human sort of way; the morality that apes abide by are simply unwritten laws passed down from generation to generation to keep their groups intact, reducing conflict and unnecessary squabbles that may threaten or break up their groups.

In many ways, primate morals, especially chimpanzees, share a startling similarity with its homo sapient counterparts.
For example, when two chimpanzees fight, the rest of the family members would invariably console the loser, indicating that some form of compassion must have been rendered on the part of the consolers. This type of humanoid behavior requires a certain empathy and self-awareness which may far surplus anything we know with regards to the animal kingdom.

Primates have also been observed to exercise a sense of reciprocity and fairness. They remember who did them favors and who did them wrong. Chimps are more likely to share food with those who have groomed them. The adage "one good turn deserves another", it seems, is not merely exclusive to Man alone.

This ability to gauge certain patterns of behavior, and the propensity to reciprocate to kindness, is indicative of the type of moral values that primates may have, and that we are only beginning to apprehend primate behavior from a wholly scientific point of view.

Social Order: Law of the Apes

Besides providing guidelines, adhering to moral standards goes a long way in ensuring social order. Humans enforce this form of moral-induced social order either through customs and traditions, or written, codified law.

While primates may not be as advanced, research into primate behavior reveals certain traits mirroring this phenomenon.
Macaques and chimpanzees, for example, have a sense of social order and rules of expected behavior, mostly to do with the hierarchical natures of their societies, in which each member knows its own place. Young rhesus monkeys learn quickly how to behave, and occasionally get a finger or toe bitten off as punishment.

Maybe some humans just can't behave with or without religions........

While science is beginning to compare and comprehend human concepts with animals, it is important to know that what may seem to be moralistic concepts exhibited by animals may be inherited survival instincts intended for the sole purpose of bettering their chances of survival in their respective communities.

Nonetheless, studies into animal morality seem to indicate that morals need not exist within the realms of religion and dogma. Rather, it is a compliance within a strict, patriachial social order that will bring about some form of a greater good within a community.

In the case of Man, we may have taken it a step too far (Or maybe we are too smart for our own good): Morality, it seems, has become synonymous with invisible deities and alpha males, which really isn't necessarily the case.
If apes can behave without the need to cook up some non-existent, ridiculous deities, then we should look at ourselves in the mirror and seriously wonder whether we really are a higher order of species than mere apes.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Untold Truths of National Service

From Edmund Ng,

Lawrence Leow was a bright young kid. He was very active in school and was pretty diligent in his studies. He was studying in Anderson Junior College. Disaster struck when he was serving his National Service.

Lawrence had suffered heat stroke during his National Service. What happened next was a shock to many of his friends and family. Due to the heat stroke suffered during National Service training, Lawrence was paralyzed in most of his body. He also suffered inflammation and infection in his wind pipe. That resulted in having an operation to have a opening at his throat.

Lawrence could not eat on his own and had limited mobility. He could only type using a small digital pad or sms to communicate his thoughts. He was in no position to take care of himself. As he can't speak, he could only capture your attention by breathing deeply. Yes, it does sound like Darth Vader breathing with intensity.

I was concerned over his situation so I asked him whether Mindef offered any kind of assistance or compensation to him. I was told they are only paying him $500 a month plus a CSC card. In Lawrence's own words via sms to me, "The $500 is not even enough for me to hire a maid!".

This is sad as it adds on to Lawrence's family burden. During the free internet marketing workshop at HWA, it was his grandfather that had been wheelchairing him all the way from Bukit Batok to the HWA office at Balester. How many more are in the same predicament of Lawrence Leow?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Leong Sze Hian on Singapore's vital socio-economic indicators

From Sammyboy,

Singapore has been voted as the top choice of location for expats in the world and also the best asian city in the 2007 Worldwide Quality of Living Survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting. The Senior Minister has voiced his concerns about Singapore's brain-drain. So, why are Singaporeans leaving and may not be returning, when it is the best place in the world for expats to live and work, and the best for quality of life in Asia?

The answer may lie in some statistics for the last year or so.

The Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in his inaugural speech in the Distinguished Speakers Lecture series of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) on March 21, said that "it is quite puzzling that Singapore is still aspiring to be world class, when it has exceeded world-class standards in many areas" and cited "10 dimensions in which we have achieved or exceeded previous 'world-class' standards".

In the annals of corporate history, many once revered brand names have fallen by the wayside, because they failed to adequately, constantly and continually address their shortcomings, and internal and external criticisms. This failing may arguably be applied to the history of nations too.

In the context of his speech which was on building the Singapore brand and national branding, I think we may want to take a step backbards, and do some critical self-analysis of our current weaknesses, and try to improve on them. In our perhaps zealous attempts to become world-class in so many things, we may have paid insufficient attention to some 15 dimensions, which I shall describe below.

Singapore was ranked 130th out of 178 countries for Happiness, 40th out of 41 countries for Libido, 30th out of 35 countries for Courtesy, 5th in the world for Prisoners Per Capita, 105th in the world for Income Equality, 154th for Press Freedom by Freedom House, and 15th out of 16 countries in the Asia Democracy Index.

Dimensions relating to income:-

1. Income distribution continued to widen - the Gini coefficient increased from 0.468 to 0.472.

Percentage of employed households with household income from work below $ 1,000, increased from 5.4 to 5.7%. Average monthly income from work per household member among employed households was only $ 300 for the 1st to 10th decile, and $ 540 for the 11th to 20th decile. Average monthly income from work per household member among non-retiree households was only $ 160 for the 1st to 10th decile, and $ 470 for the 11th to 20th decile. With about over one million households, does it mean that about 90,000 non-retiree households are still surviving on only $ 160 average monthly income from work per household member?

The 1st to 10th decile among employed households had the lowest number of working persons at 1.28, supporting the highest number of average persons in the household of 3.92 persons. Generally, the larger the average household size, the lower were the average number of working persons. This trend persisted until the 70th percentile for average number of working persons.

Number of part-timers has more than doubled over the decade from 51,400 to 112,300 expanding their share of employment from 3.5% to 6.3%. The median monthly income for part-timers is still the same at $ 500 compared to 10 years ago. In view of the 118 per cent increase in part-timers for the last decade, does it mean that more residents are working for income of $ 500 that has not changed for 10 years?

Since "retiree households who had no income from work comprised 5% of all resident households in 2006", and "8.5% of resident households had 0 number of working persons", does it mean that 3.5% or about 37,000 households are not retired but have no income from work ? How many of these - about 37,000 households are living with no income from work, because they have sufficient funds to sustain themselves indefinitely or for a prolonged period of time?

Whilst the Resident labour force increased by 27 per cent for the last 15-year period from 1.373 to 1.737 million, Unemployed Residents increased by 149 per cent from 28,000 to 69,600. This means that the Resident labour force increased by 1.6 per cent per annum, and Unemployed Residents increased by 6.3 per cent per annum.

Dimemsions relating to expenditure:-

2. As at the end of last year, banks have repossessed 1,445 HDB flats financed with bank loans since the start of bank origination in January 2003. In recent months, the rate is about 60 cases a month. This means that 1.6 per cent of HDB flats on bank loans have been foreclosed. 7 per cent of the 89,000 HDB flats with bank loans which is about 6,230 HDB flat owners have not been able to pay for more than 3 months. Some of these may become foreclosures.

From 2002 to 2006, some 360 households voluntarily surrendered their flats after defaulting on their HDB concessionary loan repayments. HDB's annual report said that it provided financial assistance to 28,386 flat-owners in its last financial year, Does this mean that 28,386 flat-owners had difficulty paying their HDB concessionary loan monthly repayments or HDB rental?

In the HDB's last two offers of 2-room flats, about 42 per cent of the applicants were 55 years and older, and 56 per cent had household incomes of less than $ 1,000 a month.

3. According to the Yearbook of Statistics Singapore, water, electricity and gas tariffs increased by 8.6, 2.8, and 4.2% per annum from 1995 to 2005, against inflation of just 1%. The number of electricity accounts in arrears is about 3,600 and the number of Pay-As-You Use (PAYU) meters is about 12,500.

4. MediFund paid out $40m to 290,000 Medifund applications approved last year. Does this mean that the average Medifund payout per patient was about $138? According to the Ministry of Health's (MOH) web site, "for FY2001, a total of 157,190 Medifund applications were considered, of which 156,780 applications or 99.7% were approved, amounting to a total disbursement of $27.2m ". Does this means that the average Medifund payout per patient in 2001 was about $174?

Why is it that the average Medifund payout per patient has declined from $174 in 2001 to $138 last year, when as I understand it, the average costs of hospitalisation have gone up? According to MOH's "Affordability of Healthcare Data", the average hospital bill size for Class C was $858 and $495 at the 50th percentile. So, does this mean that some needy patients may still be financially stressed in having to pay the shortfall between their bill and the Medifund payout, by instalments to the hospital after their discharge?

According to the MOH's web site, polyclinics "served about 100,000 dental patients". According to the DOS, there were about 104,900 households in the 0 to 10th decile with no income from work and about 104,900 households with average income of $1,180 in the 11th to 20th decile. Each visiting the public dental services once a year, would total about 377,640 dental attendances per year (assuming 3.6 average household number of persons x about 104,900 households with average income of $1,180 in the 11th to 20th decile, and that all the 0 income households are mostly retirees and others who can afford private dental care). How many can afford the private dental consultation rates starting from $45 compared to the polyclinics' rates from $12 to $20.50 for adult Singapore citizens, and from $6 to $10.50 for children and the elderly? Since the polyclinics only served about 100,000 attendances last year, and some went to private dentists under the Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS) and about 3,000 under the Public Assistance (PA) scheme, where did the rest of the lower-income Singaporeans go to for dental treatment?

5. The Ministry of Education helped 35,000 school children in its Financial Assistance Scheme.

At the announcement of the setting up of the ComCare Fund on 19 January 2005, it was said that the five Community Development Councils (CDCs) handled 35,000 hardship cases in 2004, granting almost $ 40 million in assistance. Why is it that it would appear that about two years later, the amount of assistance given out has only increased by 70 per cent ($ 68 divided by $ 40 million), against an increase of 157 per cent in the number of needy families (90,000 divided by 35,000) ?

About 60,000 Singaporeans did not sign up for the Progress Package.

6. In 2005, the $4 million Public Transport Fund set up and funded by SMRT, SBS, Comcare Fund, the 5 CDCs, SLF and NTUC, received more than 92,000 applications for 80,000 vouchers worth $50 each. The funding organisations pitched in with the $600,000 needed to pay for the extra vouchers. The total of $4.6 million divided by $20 means that about 230,000 people received about $20 each to help pay for the transport fares increase in 2005. Even if we assume that all the about 104,900 households in the 0 to 10th decile with no income from work are retirees and others who can afford the fares increase, we are still missing about 147,640 (377,640 (3.6 persons x about 104,900 households with average income of $1,180 in the 11th to 20th decile) - 230,000). Does this mean that they did not apply for transport vouchers?

7. According to studies at the National University of Singapore, the average propensity to consume (APC) which is measured as the ratio of private consumption expenditures to GDP, has fallen steadily over time from 0.82 in 1960 to 0.43 in 2003.This has produced the lowest ratio of private consumption to output in the free world.

Dimensions relating to net worth:-

8. Household Net Worth increased by 3.8 per cent per annum from $ 548 to $ 660 billion from 2000 to 2005. However, after adjusting for inflation, CPF contributions and the interest on CPF balances, and cash savings and investments, does. it mean that household net worth may actually have declined?

65, 69 and about 75 per cent of CPFIS investors did not beat the 2.5 per cent interest on the CPF Ordinary Account for the first 9, 10, and 11 years of the scheme on a cumulative basis. What were the statistics after 12 and 13 years of the scheme ?

Other dimensions:-

9.Last year, there were 120,000 ex-offenders whose records were spent, 11,000 ex-offenders are being released every year, plus the current 14,453 prison population - how many ex-offenders in total are there in Singapore , since only those convicted of minor crimes and who remain crime-free for five years may have their records marked as spent and those convicted of serious offences and jailed for more than three months or fined more than $ 2,000 cannot have their records erased ? According to the World Prison Population List of King's College London International Centre for Prison Studies, the prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population) for Singapore, at 350, was the fifth highest in the world.

10. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) World Economic Outlook Database September 2006, Singapore is ranked number one in the world for current account balance in percent of GDP ratio. Singapore's ratio of 28.5 in 2006, is more than double the second ranked country, Switzerland's ratio of 13.3. Singapore's US$132 (S$205) billion foreign reserves has been ranked number one in the world on a per capita basis.

11. According to a report on the "WELLBEING OF CHILDREN", "Children (under 14 years) who seek psychiatric counselling - 16,487 children sought psychiatric help at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 2002. 2,485 of them were newcomers...(Source: The Straits Times, October 5, 2003)".

12. Only 1 per cent of patients in Class A or B1 wards who sought to downgrade were successful, according to a report in Parliament in April 2007.

13. According to the recruiting firm Hudson's survey published in May 2007, Singapore workers suffer the 2nd highest work-related stress in Asia, with 52% of employees reporting being stressed.

14. The British Council study on the walking speed of pedestrians published in May 2007, found that Singaporeans are the world's fastest walkers. The British Council said people's walking speed is a reliable measure of the pace of life in a city.

15. A 2007 survey of 15 industrialised countries including Australia, Canada, USA, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong and Japan, found that while Singaporeans are most active in saving up for retirement, they end up with one of the lowest retirement income levels. The study, conducted by the AXA Insurance Group, showed that the proportion of Singaporeans contributing to a savings plan, mainly through the CPF, outstripped that of other countries. Yet, among the 15 countries, the average retiree in Singapore has the lowest retirement income.

The Budget Debate is over. Like a company making its strategic plans and setting its goals for the future, perhaps we could look at some of the above statistics, with the view that some of them may be considered useful as benchmarks for measuring Singapore's progress and performance in the future.

Some of the above may also help some of us in thinking about what we hope to achieve and concerns to address for our future.

Leong Sze Hian

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Decriminalizng Gay Sex: A Sign Of Eroding Social Values?

Gay Pride: A Symbol of Emancipation for the Gay Community

In many countries (including many US states), sodomy involving consensual homosexual adults are outlawed, and it is quite astonishing to note that even in supposed secular countries such as Singapore, gay sex is being stigmatized as a criminal act. It seems that the law itself has placed upon the state the patriarchal right to dictate what goes on behind closed doors, and that sex outside the pro-life format is deemed as a perceived threat to members of the public.

Recently, in one of Singapore's major newspaper, The Straits Times, a rather homophobic professor (the straight laced types, no doubt), wrote about the dangers of legalizing gay sex (Gasp! How unholy!).

The whole issue, it seems, centres around a little-known legislation, otherwise known as Section 377A of the Penal Code ("Penal" here does not refer to the penis, even if this whole issue is exactly about that - the penis). According to the Code, it "prohibits the commission of gross indecency by one male person with another male person."

Below is the summary of points made by Yvonne, along with my rebuttal:

Excerpts from the Straits Time article, dated May 4 2007:

Decriminalizing homosexual acts would be an error

1. Firstly, the legal meaning of equality must be understood within its social context. Equality is not an absolute value. Extreme applications of equality impair community interests and violate the rights of others. Furthermore, the Constitution does not prohibit all forms of discrimination.

What Yvonne is implying here is that the Constitution of Singapore does allow for some forms of discrimination against......who? Besides gays (supposedly), are other minority groups supposed to be the target of discrimination by the Constitution? Are atheists, agnostics, gays, vegetarians and other minorities at risk of being targeted by the Constitution?
If equality is not extended to everyone regardless of race, religion or creed, then what kind of equality are we talking about?

To even suggest that the Constitution promotes certain forms of bigotry, well, pardon me for saying this, is really tantamount to defecating and eating gourmet food in the restaurant both at the same time. Yes, it is disgusting and totally abhorrent, but that is exactly the point.

2. Like cases must be treated alike, but Parliament may enact measures which differentiate between different groups. The courts hold that such measures must satisfy two tests to be constitutionally valid. Firstly, the classification must have a rational basis. Secondly, the law must serve a legitimate purpose which is reasonably related to the basis for the classification.

Ah, rationale. I love rationality, so let us use this as a yardstick for her homophobic support for this "Penal" (Again, no deference to penis) code.
Let's see: Two homosexuals contend that they would spending a wild night buggering each other, and basically have hot monkey sex. Are their actions bothering anyone? Hmm...... hell no.

Are they subjecting anyone to any grievous bodily harm? No again. Well ok, maybe some busybodies with nothing better to do will arm themselves with a pair of binoculars and spy these "obnoxious" buggers having a whale of a time, and just maybe they would be offended. Sure they would, but wouldn't the simple solution be to simply look away?

Since rationality can only be served to debunk such bigotry, wouldn't Yvonne require another form of yardstick to justify her convoluted opinions against the gay community? Something archaic.........something religious.......now you get the drift.

3. In constitutional terms, equality claims operate within a broader social context. Homosexuality is offensive to the majority of citizens. Allowing an aggressive homosexual rights agenda to dictate law reform ignores the nature of Singapore's multi-religious, multiracial community. Such an agenda would be divisive.

Oh, yes, this one's a better yardstick. So the majority of us are religious (albeit worshipping different deities, but hell, then we'd be all offensive to each other, right?), multi racial (What has race got to do with it???), and........yes, different.
By virtue of this argument, Yvonne seems to argue that the majority of Singaporeans of every race and religion find homosexuality "offensive", but surely wouldn't that hatred unite Singaporeans, instead of being divisive? Clearly, our professor isn't as clear headed as one would expect from someone who "professes" to be a professor, but let's not get into ad hominems first.

4. Any argument to decriminalise homosexual sex must consider the harmful social consequences. For example, would affirming homosexual sexual practices serve the common good? It is a known medical fact that homosexual intercourse or sodomy is an inherently unhealthy act that carries higher risks of a number of sexually transmitted infections.

Ok, we all know that butt sex constitutes a risk factor when AIDS is concerned, but really, has Yvonne ever heard of this rather ingenious device known as condoms? Oh sure, condoms aren't 100% effective, but used correctly, condoms have been known and tested to be an extremely potent form of STD prevention.

Maybe she knows about condoms, it is just that her religious creed are aligned with those of the Vatican: Contraceptives are evil! No condoms, no birth controls, period. Damn, to think that we live in the 21st century!
So, gay sex is a threat to public health, so we must ban them, right? Ok, let's see. Cigarettes cost billions of dollars worth of medical bills and is responsible for the highest numbers of deaths, so why aren't cigarettes banned? Hmm, maybe its just me, but countries, including Singapore, may find the tax money incurred from cigarettes too enticing a buck to pass up.

Shellfish and seafood have the nasty habit of passing to us incurable forms of hepatitis, so why are we not banning them?

More importantly, there are more heterosexuals with AIDS than homosexuals. Are we suggesting a ban on heterosexual sex as well?

The list goes on, but the point is this: Human liberty cannot be dispensed away with some frivolous health claims and some disillusioned forms of morality based solely on cultural and religious convictions.

5. Moreover, any reform to the Penal Code must preserve fundamental values which serve the public good, instead of abstract notions of equality or fashion.

Fundamentalist values indeed! Yvonne may have given us a glimpse of the kind of religious upbringing that she has been subjected to.
For all the merry-go-rounds she has subjected to readers, this may be the most valid reason for he abject disapproval of gays: Religion.

Homophobia: A Case of Prejudice and Religious Bigotry

Like most hatreds directed against certain communities, such as Jews, gays, atheists and other minorities, homophobia has a lot to do with religious indoctrinated and perceived evils.

As minorities who practice behaviors that run smack against the grain of the common heterosexual varieties, their practices have long been branded as deviant and ungodly. The bible, in all its wisdom, has even decreed that gays are to be put to death.

In recent years, many theists and fundamentalists have also insisted that there is a high percentage of gays amongst those found guilty of paedophilia, even though there is no conclusive evidence to justify such an erroneous claim.

Personally, I am a heterosexual, but I really don't give a damn with regards to what people are doing in the privacy of their own homes, as long as you do not harm anyone with your actions.

As an atheist and a minority myself, I emphatize with what gays have to go through, because intolerance of this sort can act as a sort of catalyst to invite all kinds of hate groups in the name of religion that is similar to the culture backlash by Christian fundamentalists against atheists and other so-called "infidelic" creeds.

Fortunately, the Singapore government takes a neutral stance with regards to the gay community. As far as I am concerned, I haven't seen any lynchings, nor have I really read any news with regards to the mass convictions of gays for the mere act of committing gay sex.

Nonetheless, such discrimination are based on archaic and dogmatic reasons that do not adhere to any form of reason and logic. Homosexuals are not criminals, and to criminalize them with some stupid, irrelevant code of law is something that should be a thing of the past.

Should Kids Be Classified Under Religious Sects?

When it comes to matters concerning religion, theists and religious groups tend to get away with many of our liberties, with blantant disregard to secular norms and human rights. Rationality and reason, it seems, are applicable to many issues, but when matters of religion are concerned, no amount of reasoning, it seems, can seep into the fabric of entrenched religious dogmas.

Altar boys of a Catholic Church: Catholic Children?

Muslim Children?

Or Just Simply Children?

The minds of children are, metaphorically speaking, untainted blank sheets of paper. They are not born with any inherent beliefs, nor do they have the slightest dogmatic thoughts of invisible deities. Because they are born as such, learning becomes paramount to their existence, for even in a civilized world, knowledge is necessary to keep the child away from harm's way, as well as equipping them with the basic necessary skills for communication and survival. Hence, the idea that children can be attached with any sort of religious identities is not only ludicrous, it inhibits and limits the child's niche to a very selective community.

Richard Dawkins, an eminent atheist and professor, opined that no sane parent would call their child a Tory child, a left-wing child or a liberal child, yet they have no qualms calling them Catholic, Protestant or Muslim children. Such a degree of biaseness, it seems, has nothing to do with the child's beliefs.

All too often, religion is forced and shoved down the throats of children who are barely old enough to discern and rationalize the tenets of various beliefs, and religious folks will tell you that indoctrinating young children is easiest, since their minds are the most pliable at ages below ten. As children, their minds are "programmed" by natural selection to take orders without question. This evolutionary trait of compliance, it seems, allows children to learn the necessary skills for survival within the shortest time frame.

Unfortunately, this very trait has become a form of exploitation by parents who unwittingly indoctrinate their children to obey their respective religions blindly, without seeking any forms of justification, logic and rationality behind their faiths.

By labelling kids in accordance to the religions of their parents, there is also this tendency to segregate these kids from other kids who do not share their parents' religious backgrounds and creeds. Children in a Catholic school, for example, would likely not mix around as much with Protestant children as their catholic counterparts.

Another form of segregation of a more sinister kind may be that parents tend to imprint on the impressionable minds of their children that their beliefs are right, and the rest are outright false, and those so-called "infidels" who do not believe in their exclusive religion would find themselves burning in the raging fires of hell. This abject exclusivity leads to condescension and leads to further arrogance and segregation, for the child who harbors such fire and brimestone beliefs will not see eye to eye with people, possibly showing scant (or worst, disdain) respect to people who do not share their creeds and beliefs. Chances are, such children will stick to their own niche, seldom or never venturing to mix around with friends outside their own little band of religious kids and folks.

While I am not suggesting that classifying kids in accordance to their respective faiths that they are brought up in constitute child abuse, it is important to realize that children are far to young to make up their minds with regards to certain creeds and philosophies, and to label them as religious only serves as just another dastardly means of segregating them from an ideological and religious level.

-"What can it mean to speak of a child's 'own' religion? Imagine a world in which it was normal to speak of a Keynesian child, a Hayekian child, or a Marxist child. Or imagine a proposal to pour government money into separate primary schools for Labour children, Tory children, LibDem children and Monster Raving Loony children? Everyone agrees that small children are too young to know whether they are Keynesian or Monetarist, Labour or Tory, too young to bear the burden of such labels. Why, then, is our entire society happy to slap a label like Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew, on a tiny child? Isn't that, when you think about it, a kind of mental child abuse?"

-Richard Dawkins, "Imagine No Religion"

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Solving The Baby Puzzle

From Todayonline:

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Solving The Baby Puzzle

Paulin Straughan

AS FERTILITY rates continue to fall in developed economies worldwide and governments struggle to design comprehensive pro-family packages to arrest these trends, it is critical that we identify the structural and cultural constraints modern economies pose to parenthood commitment.

Three main developments in recent history must be addressed in reviewing the issue of low birth rate: the change in women's social status, the increased demands of paid work, and the evolution of the sacred child ideology.

The social status of Singaporean women has continued to improve since the nation state obtained independence in 1965. Women were granted equal access to formal education, skills training — and paid work. The rise of the dual-income family has resulted in serious contradictions in the way family life can be lived. This, together with the continued devaluation of domestic work including child rearing, and the increase in demands of paid work, has made it increasingly difficult for young adults to embrace both work and family.

Work in contemporary economies has been restructured such that we now have to work longer hours and be flexible with when we can work as we now service a global, borderless economy that crosses multiple time zones. The performance-based system and a tendency towards contract work also keep employees always anxious about their job. How can we commit to long-term invests like marriage and parenthood when we are uncertain about the future?

And as we have fewer children, each child becomes more precious. As pregnancy becomes a more conscientious decision, parents are also mindful of their responsibility to the child. Contemporary parenthood demands intensive and expensive methodologies which require total commitment from the parents — particularly the mother. Concurrently, paid work calls for total commitment as well — and both require the players to be on call 24/7.

How can we realistically serve two such demanding masters? What can be done to alleviate the contradictions impact?

Given our very pragmatic outlook, it is no wonder that more young adults are delaying family formation in lieu of career advancement.

It is thus essential that we start to place value on child rearing and domestic work — by putting an economic value on commitment to family work, and not merely paying lip service and bestowing motherhood labels on how noble raising children is.

For parents, the time that is not spent at office work is presumably spent at home work. That work is currently invisible. A radical perspective is to pay the mother for her work at home as well. The question is, should the employer be paying, or should the government shoulder this?

We should also embrace policies that centre on a dual-income family, and not assume that there is always a full-time homemaker at home to weave the work-family interface.

Such a perspective would seriously re-look the ease with which employers can call on employees to take on overtime work or business travels. Work hours will be constructed around a typical schedule which facilitates family work — so that parents can be home when children are expected to be home. In short, we can no longer render domestic work as invisible.

But perhaps the most important constraint is that which we place on the expectations of children. Singapore parents see formal education as the most reliable means of upward social mobility, and we must review the demands we place on our children in the area of academic excellence.

For a shrinking young population, is it still necessary for children to go through so many levels of streaming? For example, if indeed the IB programme is deemed superior, why not let the entire cohort enjoy these instead of allocating limited places through streaming?

I understand the need for special streams to help those with learning disabilities stay in the formal education system — but I do question the need to segregate the average and above average from the "top".

Because of the competition to get into better schools, and the limited places available in such desired programmes, parents shoulder undue stress in their obsession with giving their young children a head start in life. Given the sustained low fertility rate we have suffered, each child is so very precious. Can we not afford to educate each of these children to the best of their potential?

These proposals may seem radical and discriminatory to those who are free from family responsibilities. But if we are serious about arresting the alarming demographic trends of delayed marriage, low fertility and a greying population, we must think out of the box.

A system that favours singlehood has resulted in family formation being relegated to the back burner. Increasingly, policies are governed by the principle that the family exists to service the needs of the economy. To revert the direct effects of such governance, we must be willing to reposition the family to the centre, and put the needs of the family first.

Is such a proposal that radical? After all, we are talking about the long-term social health of our society.

The government is now looking to boost existing measures to make Singapore a more pro-family place and perk up the birth rates. Any holistic review must tackle the root cause of the problem, and recognise that people find it hard to balance work and family and that it is impossible to serve two masters without any sacrifice.

The writer is a sociologist and the vice-dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore. The views in the article are her personal views.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

ERP rates at 5 gantries to go up from Monday

GST increase liao now ERP!

Public transport will be next.

From ST:

ERP rates at 5 gantries to go up from Monday

FROM next Monday, using the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) slip road into the Central Expressway (CTE) will cost car drivers $4.50 a pass between 8.30am and 9am.

The stretch of road was already Singapore's most expensive after the Land Transport Authority (LTA) upped the electronic road pricing (ERP) rates for cars to $4 just three months ago.

Drivers of heavy trucks and buses will incur a hefty $9 charge.

ERP rates at two other CTE gantries will also rise by 50 cents. The one north of Braddell Road will charge $2.50 between 8am and 9am, while the one south of it will charge $3.50.

This means someone living in northern estates like Sengkang, Yishun or Yio Chu Kang using the CTE during the morning peak could pay $6. Add another $2.50 if the drive continues into the Central Business District.

Warehouse manager Adrian Wang, 47, said he avoids the CTE 'because it is congested, and yet you have to pay'.

The Yishun resident said he takes the Mandai-Bukit Timah-Clementi route - which is longer, but free - to his workplace in Pasir Panjang.

Communications manager Diana Lee, 33, also avoids the CTE. The Hougang resident heads east to the Nicoll Highway to get to her Raffles Place office.

'Even when Nicoll Highway was closed for repairs, I used other roads,' Ms Lee said, adding that the CTE is 'too expensive and it's still jammed'.

Observers reckon that may change soon. Associate Professor K. Raguraman, a transport researcher at the National University of Singapore, said '$4.50 seems like a high sum to pay, especially in combination with other ERP charges along the way'.

He said the sum 'may just do the trick' in motivating motorists to change their travel patterns, or to use public transport.

The LTA is also raising the ERP rate for the Kallang Bahru gantry of the PIE by 50 cents to $1.50 between 8.30am and 9am. And it is extending the operation of the Bendemeer Road gantry by half an hour to 9.30am.

Locations of visitors to this page