Friday, 29 February 2008

Singapore's fumble

Following Mas Selamat bin Kastari's escape on 28th Feb, under the pretext of going to the toilet while he was being taken from his cell to the family visit room to await his family, journalists from all over the world had had reports on it.

The one that caught my attention was this...Embarrassed Singapore hunts escaped terrorist, it was the word 'Embarrassed'.

As a Singaporean I felt pretty disappointed by the whole incident and it reminds me of the disappearance of the 8-year old China-born girl, Huang Na, back in 2004.

Remember her killer Took Leng How?

He too escaped from the police on the pretext of going to the toilet and after which he managed to get out of Singapore and into Malaysia without any problem! Next he went all the way to Penang and he returned to Singapore to turn himself in.... (information from Wikipedia)

If Took did not return to Singapore, would he be still at large? The Singapore police only managed to arrest him because he decided to return and turned himself in...

Right now, the Interpol were informed and the police are conducting very thorough search for Mas Selamat bin Kastari. I wish them all the best and good luck...I really don't wish to see another Took; that is the fugitive had to turn himself in in order to be caught.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Is the SG govt listening or is the poor making the govt embarassed ...?

Source: Bloomberg

Facing up to stagflation
Meanwhile the gap between rich-poor widens.
Andy Mukherjee. Bloomberg.
Feb 19, 2008

Stagflation has come to Singapore. The focus of the government's annual budget, announced last Friday, was on dealing with the perils of slowing growth and accelerating inflation, a deadly combination less fiscally robust governments may soon discover.

Of the two, the bigger threat is the 4.4 percent consumer prices rose from a year earlier in December, the quickest pace in a 25 years. It is natural then that the word "inflation" appears 43 times in this year's statement.

Last year it wasn't mentioned once.

The authorities are entering the combat zone from a position of strength. The budget has been in surplus in most years for four decades. For two straight years, people in every income bracket have taken home bigger paychecks.

Even the poorest 10 percent of non-retiree households - with a per-capita income of S$180 a month - have increased their purchasing power. But the rich have fared much better. Since 2006 inequality has widened every year.

Singapore's Gini coefficient, a measure of income concentration, overtook that of the US in 2006 and rose to 0.485 last year, with 0 being absolute income equality and 1 perfect inequality, a high level of disparity for a society with an educated workforce.

Inequity may become a problem because growth momentum has suddenly collapsed as the much-expected "decoupling" from the troubled US economy has so far failed to materialise.

On an annualised basis, GDP contracted almost 5 percent in the final three months of last year compared with the previous quarter.

If there's another fall in GDP this quarter Singapore would technically be in recession.

It is one thing to have an unequal society where the workforce is, for all practical purposes, at full employment and income growth is outpacing inflation for everyone, albeit more quickly for the rich than for the poor.

Lopsided income distribution is to be expected in a city that wants more rich people to come to live and work.

It now takes just a week to register a hedge fund from scratch in Singapore, many times faster than in Hong Kong.

Two casinos will open by 2010, and an annual Formula One night race starts this year.

Singapore tends to eschew subsidies to aid the poor, except in education, basic health care and public housing, the biggest source of wealth creation for its average citizen.

However, Singapore has mechanisms for transferring fiscal surpluses to the poor in bad years and ensuring they can get by even on monthly income that wouldn't buy a meal for two at My Humble House, a restaurant that isn't what its name suggests.

What Singapore has resolutely shied away from is giving citizens any handout that may dissuade them from seeking work.

Unemployment insurance, discussed following the 2001 recession, remains a no-no.

That may be prudent, especially in a fast-aging society trying hard to retain competitiveness as cheaper locations in China and India become more sophisticated producers of almost everything that Singapore makes.

But a prudent course may not be popular in an environment of stagflation. When people start losing their jobs while their electricity bills keep going up, there may be resentment against the rich, many of whom are foreigners.

Singapore is too pragmatic to want to use tax policies to fashion a more egalitarian society. Even this year's budget gave a bonus to the rich by scrapping estate duty.

The move is aimed at getting the world's wealthy individuals to move assets to Singapore, with no levies on capital gains and the top rate for personal income tax at 20 percent.

To make sure the poor don't fall further behind, the emphasis of the government's budget this year is on returning S$5.4 billion worth of fiscal surplus to the people, especially low-income households and the elderly.

As a small, open economy, Singapore cannot do much to escape stagflation. As a prosperous nation - average household income from work last year was equivalent to US$50,000 a year - it is going to be under increasing pressure to shield its vulnerable from economic forces over which authorities have no control.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Who is your MP?

It was a Wednesday evening at the void deck of Block 310, Hougang Ave 5 - where Hougang MP, Mr Low Thia Khiang, has been holding his Meet-the-People sessions since 1991.

There were proper lighting, 2 wooden tables (one for registration and the other for Mr Low to use), about 10 plastic chairs for residents to sit on, and of course the occasional refreshing night breeze. Who said that Meet-the-People sessions have to be held in classy, air-conditioned places with higher maintenance cost?

The residents registered themselves, wrote down their particulars and sat waiting for their turn to meet their MP. Some had come from areas such as Jurong, Bedok, Tampines and of course, Hougang.

After the session ended at around 10pm, Mr Low offered to give me a lift home, as my house was located en route.

"Mr Low! Mr Low!" I heard someone shouting, as we were making our way to the car park.

It was a young chap, probably in his early twenties; he was waving frantically as he ran towards us. His face was filled with beads of perspiration and anxiety. Without further ado, we turned back to find out what was happening. And yes, this was a young chap calling out to his MP as though he was calling out to a friend. Amazing! I thought to myself.

"Mr Low, 我的朋友不要回家,他已经好几天没回家了。你可以去劝劝他吗?", the young chap was panting as he spoke.

Without any hesitation, Mr Low asked," 你的朋友在哪里 ?" With that, the young chap, whose name is Daniel, pointed to another young chap who was seated alone, staring blankly into the air.
Mr Low then advanced slowly and sat down beside the troubled-looking young man. I stayed behind with Daniel as I did not want the guy to feel intimidated by too many people around.

"My friend does not want to go home; he said that his father ill-treats him," explained Daniel. "His mother and sister are here to fetch him home. See, they are over there," he continued.

I looked over my shoulder and saw them; desperation was written all over the elder woman's face. Knowing that her son normally hangs around Hougang to play soccer with his buddies, she had come from Tampines to fetch him home.

I looked around me, and saw 5 of his friends there, aged about 13 to 25. They started throwing questions and comments at Daniel:

Who is that man? MP? You mean that's your MP?

I don't even know who the MP of my constituency is!!!

I though he is your uncle, neighbour, or some relative!

Daniel started to explain that Hougang has been under the Workers' Party since 1991, that Mr Low held his weekly Meet-the-People sessions there, how everyone in the estate knew him so well, how often he did his house visits, what he has done for the residents of Hougang, where one could look for him if they needed help, where the Town Council was, the operating hours of the Town Council, etc.

I could hardly believe that all those words were coming from the mouth of a very young chap who was barely 21, someone who was not even eligible to vote! He knew so much about his own MP as compared to his 5 friends from other constituencies.

Daniel's friends looked astounded, and one kept mumbling that he had never seen his MP, that he didn't even know whether it's a he or a she.

I had no idea how Mr Low's chat with the young guy was progressing then, but I could tell that the young guy was beginning to open up to Mr Low.

Meanwhile, Daniel and his friends told me that they had difficulty communicating with their troubled friend, who kept everything to himself. An hour later, Mr Low walked over to us and immediately I introduced Mr Low to the young chap's mother. He then took her to a corner and spoke to her.

Next, Mr Low went back to the young chap again, this time with his mum. The few of us who were seated a distance away thought that all was well and he was going home. However, the guy was still very resistant to the idea of going home. Mr Low then spent another 30 mins coaxing him.

Altogether Mr Low had spent nearly two hours with him and had done his best, but was still unable to change the boy's mind. Eventually, Mr Low managed to persuade the boy's mum to go home first, let him cool down, and hopefully find a better time to talk to him.

With that, Mr Low said to me we had to be going. I looked at my watch and it was about 20 mins to 12am!

"Encourage your friend to look for a job," Mr Low said to Daniel before leaving for the car park. We bade farewell to the group of friends, and left.

I felt quite sure that Mr Low had made the troubled young boy feel much better after the chat, even if he did not succeed in persuading him to go home.

But what stuck in my mind, and actually touched me, was how well and confidently Daniel had spoken of his constituency, the place where he grew up, the MP whom he had known since young and regarded as a friend; someone he trusted and relied upon to make his estate a better place to live in, a place that is full of life, at least to him and his friends.

So do you know who your MP is?

For almost everyone living in Hougang Constituency, the answer is an affirmative "Yes".

This article was first published in 'Hammer', issue: 0801

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

A day at the beach in China...

OMG...when I saw this I was like...errr... just when one needs to relax and get away from it all!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

First world country having 'brain drain problem'

This report from

MM Lee says Singapore facing brain drain problem, did it came as a surprise? To Singaporeans, foreigners or even our Ministers?

I'm sure most of us are pretty aware of this danger and had wanted the government to address it indirectly previously in especially these two cases; foreign workers and education.

MM Lee said in this article that 'every year, there are more people going abroad for their first or second degree'.... why is that so?

Why are people opting to go overseas for studies when they can study in Singapore where their friends, family and relatives are? Why would they want to choose to go to a foreign country to start all over again?

The answer is in this article? Or is there other causes?

Why is Singapore only attracting Chinese and Indians? MM Lee said that the draw for the Chinese is that their children can learn both English and Chinese, while the Indians like Singapore because it is close to home....

Yes, the Chinese can learn both English and Chinese in Singapore, but they can do it in Malaysia as well. And the Indians like Singapore because it is close to home???? I don't understand, why does the Indians feel that Singapore is close to home. Was it because there are Indians in Singapore too? If we are talking about distance wise, there are other, better places that are nearer to India than Singapore.

I remembered one particular interview I had conducted with a Chinese who can speak very good English because she had studied in Canada before. I asked her why did she choose Singapore... the answer was... she had tried getting citizenship from Australia, Canada, States, New Zealand and even Malaysia but she could not get any of it. Hence her last resort was to try Singapore and she got it.

MM Lee also pointed out that ... American firms recruited bright Singaporean students straight out of universities... Again why are our people choosing them over Singapore firms? Why are they willing to start afresh in a new, unfamiliar place?

Are Singaporeans threatened by the 'Foreign talents' that the government had been encouraging?

Or they can no longer stay in Singapore because of the way the country is run?

Could it also be the fact that they felt that Singapore is just too stressful to work and stay in with inflation higher than pay increment, etc...

MM Lee had highlighted the 'Pull' factor of this problem but had he ever wondered what the 'Push' factor was??? What is forcing Singaporeans to seek better shelter elsewhere and the need to look for greener pastures.

I think our biggest failure is the inability to make our citizens feel their love for the Nation. Besides our education has to play a part in it, the emphasis by our government and of course the society on material gains has to be blamed.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

CPF Life

The new thing in town is 'CPF Life'.... have not heard of it?

Here it is:

Govt accepts Longevity Insurance Committee's recommendations

And what exactly are the recommendations?

CPF members to choose Lifelong Income Scheme packages at age 55

Take some time to absorb... which is what I'm doing....

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Singaporeans in Istanbul

I spent nearly a month in Istanbul and is now going to write on my experience as a Singaporean roaming around in Istanbul. Yes, I'm back :) I'm curious, just how much do people know about us.

Wherever I went, I was often ask...from Japan, Korea? Or sometimes even China or Malaysia? But never Singapore. I don't think I look like a Chinese from China, Korean or even a Japanese. Well, hmm... maybe a bit of Malaysian because we are so near to each other.

My first instinct was there must be Korean and Japanese tourists flocking to Istanbul every year hence triggering the locals to ask qusetions as such.

Of course, I will deny all and said that I am from Singapore.

And this is when you know just how world-class our government think we are. Locals who knew Singapore, replied politely and some quite curtly.

"Oh, the very fine city, strict government..."

"No, chewing gum right?"

"Very small?"


"No outdoor smoking..."

"So where is your hometown in Singapore?".... ermm.. Singapore is a country, State and my hometown is Singapore.

Some will give you puzzling stares, I guess that indicates they have no idea what or where is Singapore. However, there were also some that try to look like they know but I kind of sense that they don't. Of course there were some who genuinely knew where Singapore is.

I will never forget this reply... "Oh Singapore, a small country trying to be big but has everything."

There were some positive replies too.... very clean country, very obedient people, shopping paradise...

I was wondering how come the answers were not such as...the one with the busiest port, good governance, great financial centre, etc...Nope, none of these... not what our government had painted or wanted Singapore to be to other countries.

Well, maybe Turkey is too far? But I understand that the Singapore government had got some projects with the local government there. Such as acting as a Consultant to the yet-to-built underground metro that will link the west side of Istanbul to the east.

I also met 2 Singaporeans who were working in Turkey. They were sub-cons of LTA and had been working there for the past 8 months with no idea when their job is going to finish.

Guess what? A group of Singaporeans and that includes me, went 'go karting' in Istanbul and just at the entrance of the karting centre were flags of various countries mounted on the gate. A Singaporean lady, aged 60, had been in Istanbul for the past 17 years, pointed out to us in amazement that there is no Singapore flag.

This is not a surprise if we cannot see other Asian flags too. However, we saw with our eyes very clearly that there were Japan, Korea, Indonesia and even Malaysia flags and no, no Singapore flag. I scanned through the area with my eyes once again when we leave the centre and true enough no Singapore flag. To be frank, I was slightly disappointed.

As I mentioned, Turkey could be too far for them to know or understand us... how about Indonesia then?

I got to know an Indonesian guy who had worked there for 8 months too. We were at the topic of Suharto's death and then of course that brought us into politics. He was aware of who Lee Kuan Yew is, the man who was PM for too long which was very exceptional. His next question was, who is our current PM?...Lee Hsien Loong, LKY's son, I replied.

He was stunned...LKY's son? Oh, ermmmm... can it be done like that?

Oh by the way, his response towards Suharto's death was...yes he has done good for the country but he should be penalised as well for this wrong-doings. It would be good to declare him bankrupt or at least repay the money which he had laundered, its only fair.

And back to the group of Singaporeans whom I had went go karting with. Most of them were ladies who got married to Turkish guys and hence is now staying in Turkey. We talked about Singapore; how early the kids got to wake up to go to school and how late they end their day, before coming to Turkey they had never voted before, missing Singapore food, the stop at 2-child policy was something that everyone cannot forget, and of course who else but LKY :)

During the last week of my visit, we were treated to a fine Turkish restaurant for dinner. The restaurant Manager then asked where we were from and he attempted to find our flag among the numerous flags that they have collected.

Alas! After some time, he brought us the Singapore flag :) Our host then looked at it with interest and started pointing out the similarities that it has with the Turkey flag.

Lastly, I noticed that the job opportunities in Istanbul is wide-spread. There were at least 5 types of public transport available. Small bus, cabs, dolmus, metro, ferry, city bus, etc. In Singapore, only the high-end retail boutiques then one will find a security guard. Right here, most retail outlets have one and that includes all fast-food restaurants.

Well, of course they need to have more job opportunities given the large population it has.

Nevertheless, it was good experience and it made me realised once again that we still have a long way to go.

Friday, 1 February 2008


My stay in Istanbul will be extended to 9th February 2008.
Thank you for visiting