Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It is the govt that has to be regulated not the online news ...

It is almost a month since my last posting. It is a bit hard to explain why I have not written as much as I did in the past. There are no major changes in my life except that I'm getting older. Since I started blogging in 2005, the Internet has enabled Singaporeans to have  deeper understanding of the system they live in. It allowed the underlying causes of problems faced by Singaporeans to be discussed objectively and trade-offs in govt polices to be seen with greater clarity.  This deeper understanding does not help the PAP to maintain its dominant position.

Despite having the whole mainstream media on its side,  the PAP has struggled to explain the benefits of the system it has in place and convince the people that old policies and schemes should remain as they are.  The less democratic aspects of the system of govt is becoming less justifiable and less acceptable to Singaporeans. Even as the aspirations for progress and change builds up, the PAP wants to maintain its dominance making as few changes as possible. To do so,  it has to control the Singaporeans' access to information. The PAP wants control and influence over the online news media that has increased in popularity in the last few years. The new MDA regulations gives the PAP govt broad powers to do this.

Under the code, prohibited content includes "material that is objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public morality, public order, public security, national harmony, or is otherwise prohibited by applicable Singapore laws."

The MDA on Tuesday said websites that have at least 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore every month and publish at least one local news article per week over a period of two months must obtain an annual licence.

The MDA said the licence guidelines will "apply to all content on the news sites, including readers' comments on the news sites".

The maximum penalty for illegal broadcasting under the Broadcasting Act is a fine of $200,000 or three years' jail or both. But for sites that are licensed, failing to comply with conditions could result either in financial penalties or the licence being suspended or revoked.[Link]

What worries me is not just the use of harsh laws to limit the freedom of Singaporeans and disable them from effecting change but what the PAP govt can does under a cloak of secrecy due to absence of laws protecting the privacy and freedom of Singaporeans.  

Singapore has a weak legal regime to protect privacy and has deployed extensive surveillance systems.[Link]

You may have missed the news 2 days ago about a  US NSA (America's agency that does surveillance)  technician leaking information about the NSA's PRISM system that allows the US govt to access all servers of major US infocomm companies including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo! etc giving the US govt the technical capability to spy on its own citizens. PRISM gives the US govt access to all emails, VoIP,  files and messages of Internet users.

"The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to" , Whistle-blower Edward Snowden[Link]

While the technical capability exists to spy on its citizens, the NSA is bounded by American privacy laws that limits its surveillance activity to "any customers of participating corporations who live outside the United States, or American citizens whose communications include web content of people outside the United States."[Link].

According to the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, PRISM cannot be used to intentionally target any Americans or anyone in the United States. [Link].

Unfortunately the laws protecting Singaporeans from such surveillance is weak and there agencies such as the CSIT (Centre for Strategic Infocomm Technologies) that operate in secrecy and are known to be involved in surveillance activities from the type of equipment it procures. Without a strong regulatory and legal framework in place, there is a big risk that the interests of Singaporeans will be compromised.

Singapore, where authorities keep a close eye on opposition groups and political commentary, some people use encryption programs to avoid surveillance.

"If you are concerned about electronic eavesdropping, you can use pidgin IM - it has an encryption module for instant messaging," said Donaldson Tan, editor of socio-political website New Asia Republic.

"There is also Tor client for online anonymity," he said, referring to two popular free software programs developed by volunteer programmers to guard against network surveillance.

Asked if he was concerned whether the U.S. government would share surveillance information with Singapore authorities, given the friendly ties between the two countries, Tan said: "The U.S. is really hard to read".

A Singapore government spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Several people in the region said the reports of government access to e-mails and phone calls were not surprising.

"This latest revelation, if true, is really no more than putting proof to suspicion," said Howard Lee, a blogger who often writes about political and social issues in Singapore.

"As citizens of democracies, our response should not be fear, but a concerted voice to demand accountability and transparency. I believe this is the current aim of civil society groups in Singapore."[Link]

The existence of secret organisations operating in the absence of regulation that protects the privacy of Singaporeans from surveillance by the state creates fear among those who legitimately oppose the govt because they hold a different point of view.  There is no reason to govern Singapore with such repressive measures that does not exist anywhere else in the developed world except to maintain dominance at a time when there is a growing desire for change.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sylvia Lim drops the bombshell on AIM issue!

When the AIM issue emerged a few months ago,  PAP's Dr. Teo explained that the move to have an open tender to sell the town council software was recommended by consultants. Several software companies collected the tender document but nobody responded so AIM wanting to help the town councils decided to bid for the contract.

"The TCs advertised the tender in the Straits Times on 30 June 2010. Five companies collected the tender documents. These were CSC Technologies Services Pte Ltd, Hutcabb Consulting Pte Ltd, NCS, NEC Asia Pte Ltd and Action Information Management Pte Ltd (“AIM”). 

I am aware that NCS considered bidding but in the end, decided not to do so as it was of the view that the IP rights to software developed in 2003 on soon to be replaced platforms were not valuable at all.

Another company withdrew after it checked and confirmed that it was required to ensure renewal of the NCS contract without an increase in rates. The company did not want to take on that obligation. The others may also have decided not to bid for similar reasons.In the end, only AIM submitted a bid on 20 July 2010." - Dr. Teo's statement[Link]

The Worker's Party has rejected MND findings that resident's interests have not been compromised

"On the tender, she suggested no software company here could fulfil it other than AIM, because it required all directors to have town council experience. She also said there was no reason given for the need for the one-month termination clause - and added that the MND report did not address this issue." - Report on WP's rejection of MND report[Link]

In her parliament speech yesterday, MP Sylvia Lim said:

"In this light, I cannot help but recall the Parliamentary debate in 1988 when the Town Council Bill was first presented for the Second Reading. At that debate, the then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong justified the introduction of Town Councils as providing political stabilisers to the political system. He said there was a need to protect the public by ensuring that political parties which aspired to be government should first prove that they could run a Town Council for a constituency. He said: “If a new party finds itself unexpectedly in government, it would be like an aspiring pilot taking over an SIA jumbo jet in mid-air before he has flown solo in a Cessna. This cannot be in the interest of passengers in the jumbo… TCs are the Cessnas of our political system”. He also highlighted that some PAP MPs had expressed a fear that opposition MPs could win “some seats, prove themselves” (able to run the Town Councils) and thereafter “fan out to other constituencies in subsequent elections” (Hansard, 28 June 1988)

Is this what this whole AIM episode is about – ensuring that the passengers in the Cessnas have bumpy rides or even crash land? Does the government even care about the passengers in the Cessnas, or are they simply collateral damage in a bigger political game.

........ In our view, the PAP TCs had unjustifiably risked a disruption to public services and that this should not be allowed to recur. I am relieved to read that the MND recognized the need to preserve continuity of public services as a paramount priority"

For a democracy to function properly, the choice of the people has to be respected. When they choose a new govt, power has to be handed over smoothly so that the people do not suffer disruption for exercising their vote. It takes at lot of arrogance for a group of leaders to believe that they are the only ones who can lead the nation. It takes some amount of  hubris and elitism for them to believe that they are the only ones with the right to leadership. It takes a lot of disregard for the rights and interests of the people to want to see them suffer when they no longer want you as their leader. After getting paid the highest salaries in the world, not planning for a smooth handover should the people express a desire to be led by another party based on a different ideology is just irresponsible. It is not just AIM but the entire civil service and SAF has to be independent from the PAP - it is not right and very dangerous for a political party to put its own power above the interests of the people....doing so undermines the stability and security of the country.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Foreign wealth widens inequality in Singapore - Report....

Foreign wealth widens inequality in Singapore - Asia-Pacific - Al Jazeera English

"The influx of money is making Singapore one of the richest cities in the world. But the low tax rate also means no social security net, given the plummeting wages among the poor as foreigners take up blue-collar jobs" - [Link]

Some time back statistics released show that the average household income of Singapore Indians has increased significantly:

"Indians overtook Chinese as the ethnic group earning the highest income. Last year Indian household earned a median income of $5370. This compares with $5100 for Chinese families and $3844 for Malay families"
- [Link]

As a Singaporean, I thought "wow, this is fantastic" for our fellow Singaporeans to have made so much progress. Later I found out how this "progress" was achieved.  Singapore opened its doors to wealthy Indians from India causing the average income of this ethnic group to go up. The "long time Indian Singaporean" did not make much progress in recent years and like all other Singaporeans suffered from the rising cost of living as Singapore became more crowded.

If we bring in rich people to the country, the rest of the population can benefit if the rich is properly taxed to provide a source of money for social spending or if they invest in businesses that create better paying jobs for Singaporeans.  In Singapore our tax rate is very low and we do not tax wealth but income. A person shifting his wealth to Singapore pays very little in taxes and we attract wealthy people with the wrong motivation -many are because they want to avoid high taxes back home. If they don't want to contribute to the society that made them rich, they are not here to benefit our society as a whole except a few private wealth managers and our already wealthy banks.

In the US, President Obama increased minimum wage[Link] several times, increased taxes for the rich[Link], gave more people access to college education. He has also gone after the banks and rich people who evaded taxes by shifting money off-shore[Link].

The Singapore govt is not only doing little  to address the inequality that is polarizing our society...our deregulated banking system, low taxes and citizenship schemes for the rich thwarts the efforts of other govts to fix this problem by allowing rich individuals to escape their responsibility back home. The money that has flowed here into property investments has made life difficult for the ordinary Singaporean by raising his cost of living and worsening the inequality problem in Singapore.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Malaysians Overseas Protest : Different countries, Different reactions....

It is always interesting to step back and see what happens when similar events take place in Singapore and in other countries. How the authority reacts and what Singaporeans think of it. Malaysians around the world have reacted negatively to the election results and the rising use of racism among those in power to maintain their hold on the country. There is always hope for a country where the citizens are willing to overcome difficulties to bring about positive change

People in many other countries can identify with the basic human yearning for freedom, justice and democracy.

In Melbourne, the most livable city in the world, Australians express their solidarity with a group of young Malaysians in black protesting in Federation Square.

The same thing happened in Singapore and the reaction is somewhat different. I'm not talking about the police who first warned the protesters then later arrested 21 Malaysians for gathering at the Merlion Park  yesterday - the police had little choice, they had to enforce Singapore's law otherwise they will be accused of double standards. The police had to do what they did. 

Before we jump in and discuss this further, lets be clear about what the Malaysians did at Merlion Park. They gathered there at 5pm yesterday wearing black t-shirts, holding up a few signs and later sang the Malaysian anthem. There was no rowdy behavior, shouting or anything like that. Here is a picture of some of those involved in the protest.

The police had to arrest them because they have broken Singapore laws and Singaporeans have been arrested for lesser offenses of similar nature. I think the Malaysians who had been warned earlier expected to be arrested given the Singapore Police is known for its efficiency. These young people probably felt that it was worth doing even if they were arrested, sent to jail and expelled from Singapore.

Here's a sample of reaction from a number of netizens[Taken from Straits Times website] typical of the reaction from Singaporean netizens.

Most of Singaporeans' comments resemble one of the following... If they want to protest, please go back to Malaysia. We cannot allow this kind protests because it will destabilise Singapore. They should be taught a lesson. Lets not be soft to foreigners.

"The Malaysians protesting and breaking our laws should be thrown into jail and barred from entering Singapore immediately.

Singaporeans is not involved in your domestic problems Malaysians must learn to respect the law of each countries in which they do business, live, works or travel."
- Arami Chong, Straits Times Reader.

A small number Singaporeans did say that the authorities shouldn't be so harsh a group of people who gathered peacefully and caused no damage to public property.

Does allowing people to protest peacefully undermine the security here? How many of you would hesitate to go to Melbourne because the allow both citizens and foreigners to protest there? Thousands of Singaporeans send their children to Melbourne for their studies every year....and they are not worried protests are allowed there.

Few Singaporeans bother to ask what is the intention of those involved in the protest at Merlion Park. This is the first thing you have to do before you jump in to condemn and accuse them of anything. Their intention is not to challenge our laws or our authorities or to disrupt the peace in this country. They feel strongly that there is a need for change in their home country and like all young people around the world they want a better future for themselves and their fellow countrymen. The response of many Singaporeans is we should treat these people as criminals and apply the harshest punishment. We must not forget that positive change comes from people standing up for what they believe is right and those who want to preserve the old order will use laws to suppress change for the better. The laws used against this group of Malaysians can also be used readily against Singaporeans when the time for change comes ....we have to look beyond the our harsh laws designed to limit our freedom to think about what is morally right and what is morally wrong. What is right is always worth supporting no matter how repessive the environment.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Malaysia's elections holds many lessons...

Finally it is over and the results are out. The opposition won more than half the votes counted but did not get enough seats to form the govt. The opposition support is concentrated in Peninsular Malaysia where they won 53.3% of the vote vs 45.7% for BN.

While the ruling party in Malaysia is very different from the PAP, there are several common traits they share. One is the control of the traditional news media. I always pick up a copy of the English newspapers whenever I go to Malaysia  - there is plenty of coverage for govt programmes, the leaders and nothing about the opposition - if there is something, it is usually negative. The Malaysian opposition has been able to overcome the state controlled media using the Internet and social media for its campaign. 

"The mainstream media is completely controlled by the government and denied access to the opposition. Malaysia ranks 145 on Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index and has dropped in the ranking every year since 2003. During the campaign period countless hours of airtime and dozens of pages of newsprint are dedicated to promoting lies and misinformation about the opposition without providing any opportunity for rebuttal. There can be no real democracy with such a lopsided and biased media environment. Throughout the last five years Malaysian authorities have arrested bloggers under charges of sedition and treason." - [Link]

Singapore's mainstream media is ranked 149 compared with 146 for Malaysia's. 

Another issue in this election is the lack of independence of the Election Commission. This election, the Malaysian EC;s reputation is completely ruined. Opposition supporters who are now the majority of Malaysian voters are suspicious of the election results. 

"It's electoral fraud, the Election Commission's complicity in the crime, attempting to steal the elections from the people," - Anwar [Link]

There are many issues associated with the Malaysia election process - these include postal mail in votes, phantom voters, etc. In this election, there were accusations that foreigners were flown on chartered flights to closely fought seats to vote for the ruling party, vote buying, ballot stuffing, problems with indelible being washable. While it is not clear if these incidents were widespread, the social media reported many of these showing video evidence like this one below of foreign workers brought to polling centers.

"Based on the voter list gazetted in March 2013 the following has been identified:

- Postal voters who by definition are engaged in national service with a national origin from Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Indonesia
- 28,000 Philippinos and Indonesians designated as voters based in
Sabah but casting ballots in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor state
- The Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project has identified countless examples of dubious registrations in the voter file including instances of 100s of registered voters residing in a single home, foreign nationals listed as registered voters, individuals registered doubly as regular and postal voters,

The Election Commission acknowledged many of these problems but failed to take adequate steps to resolve them." 
The Election Commission falls under the purview of the Prime Minister's Department and incidents of possible fraud gets linked quickly to the Malaysian Prime Minister completely eroding the trust of people in the system. The Election Commission should be completely independent and the members should not be elected by leaders of a political party so as to command public confidence. When elections become closely fought, the public can be extremely suspicious of various actions of the EC if it is not an independent body.

The drawing of boundaries of constituencies has a potent effect on the number of seats won by a party. In Peninsula Malaysia, the opposition won 53% of the votes but it lost many closely fought seats because the ruling party could examine previous voting patterns in sub-districts and adjust the boundaries according to get as many seats as possible and to deny proper representation for people who oppose them. These boundaries should be drawn objectively so there is equal weight for each vote.

Najib Razak now says he wants "reconciliation" . It is for Malaysians to decide whether they accept him as their leader after what happened in this election. The majority of Malaysians wanted real change and voted for it. They now feel rather "short-changed" after participating in an election process that left so many unanswered questions. I know a few Malaysians who went back home just to vote from faraway places such as Australia and England. 300,000 Malaysians working in Singapore rushed home last weekend to cast their votes. They knew the importance of this election and how it could have changed the course of the country.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Malaysia's hotly contested elections....

In order to win the Malaysian elections, both the ruling party and opposition have resorted to highly populist manifestos to win the votes.

Here's a Malaysian opposition candidate promising the people free education all the way to university, cheap patrol, money for those over 60 and many other goodies.

Najib himself had already implemented free outpatient healthcare for the elderly, free health screening and welfare programs for the poor. To get re-elected, it was reported he had to 'copy' parts of the opposition manifesto so that he would not lose out in the 'goodies for votes' game.

All this highlight one often mentioned problem with democracy. In order to get elected, politicians make all sorts of promises that cost the country billions. Once they start handing out goodies, the country start to have budget deficits, borrow from international lenders and end up like Greece and Spain. This however is just one side of the story - that dire outcomes are linked to giving too much to the people is just one interpretation of the story...convenient interpretation for those who are against social safety nets. Spain's problems are caused by the govt bailing out banks after its property bubble not welfare. Greece's problem is messier - it ran a bloated govt sector and the govt cheated on the budget accounting with the help of Goldman Sachs.

So what is going to happen to Malaysia if the opposition wins and start its free education program. Will it go bust? According to the politician in the video,  under the steady hand of the opposition, the state of Penang tripled the reserves in 5 years by running the place more efficiently and getting rid of corruption....all of the opposition controlled states have healthy finances.

In Singapore, for some reason, Singaporeans think of free education as a bad idea. But free education has existed in many countries like Germany for a very long time. Without going through the maths, we have been led to believe that something given out free is just not sustainable and will strain the govt finances. The strange thing about Singapore is the govt happily provide free university education through scholarships to many foreigners but insists on reducing the subsidy for own citizens by hiking tuition fees every few years.

But lets go through the maths to see how much is needed to make university education completely free in Singapore. Every year about 30% of a cohort enter university - roughly 12,000 students. On average they pay something like $8K in tuition fees [Link]and each university course is 3-4 years. So making university education completely free will cost the govt roughly 12,000 x 8000 x 3,5 = $336M more in its budget. The total amount is about 2-3% of our defense budget or 0.6% of our total budget. To put things in perspective the 2012 increase in defense budget was by $504M [Link]to $12.24B - there is no urgency to increase our defense budget which is already far in excess of what is needed to defend Singapore but they chose to do it over something else for the citizens. What I'm getting at is the issue of free university education has little to do with financial prudence and more to do with ideology - they refuse to do it not because the money is not there but they prefer to do something else with the money.

The Malaysian stoy is far more complex and intriguing. Under the Najib administration, Malaysia has a debt to GDP of 52% - making it the most indebted nation in South East Asia. All these promises the opposition has made to the people on the surface appear to be populist and designed to win votes. However, there is another dimension to this. The spending is only possible if they can get rid of corruption and unlock the billions lost in govt contracts and crony capitalism. In other words, the promises made can only be fulfilled if the opposition runs a clean govt and stay away from practices that has hindered progress in Malaysia.

Here is Anwar explaining his vision with great clarity and charisma.

For Malaysians it a choice between maintaining the status quo which they are familiar with or taking a chance with a new govt. The power structure in the ruling party makes it hard to rid itself of corruption because corruption ad cronyism has become entrenched. Taking a chance with the PR coalition involve risking your future with an new govt without experience. The opposition has chalked up a decent track record in 5 states that they won in the 2008 elections and shown that they can get things done. For the Malaysia voter, the only way ahead and the only way to get real progress is to dismantle the existing power structure which is riddled with corruption ...but that cannot be done without taking some risk with a new govt....

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Info-graphics : Income Inequality in Singapore....

I haven't been writing for a while. I think it is the big overhang from the White Paper that incensed Singaporeans and intensified political discussion at all levels of our society. Singaporeans today are much more aware of the challenges in our society than any other point in the last few decades. While the govt tries to fix the problems we have with housing and transport, the real hard problem that our society face is that of inequality. The PAP seem to avoid all the hard decisions on taxes, minimum wage and healthcare - preferring to keep the status quo...but the middle ground is very much eroded.

The problem of severe inequality makes solutions for all other problems harder. Inequality in itself creates an unlevel playing field for Singaporeans and when a large segment find it so hard to overcome their  disadvantages they will stop supporting the matter how good your transport system is or what you try to do in public housing.

We have never seen the kind of extremes we see in the wealth distribution today. It is the highest in the developed world (we sometimes share this dubious honour with the United States). A dominant govt like that PAP cannot say it is not due to its policies is clearly an outcome of its policies. Policies that amplify inequalities by continuous pursuit of pro-business policies almost to the point of neglecting the plight of the working class. The PAP now alters its policies to limit foreign labor growth and increase the ratio of Singaporeans in the workplace. But this is a shift from an extreme position and there is only so much it can do because businesses have grown dependent on imported labor. Telling Singaporeans they are "doing something" is not going to satisfy the ordinary working citizen that is fast losing his patience because he senses the PAP govt is unable to make fundamental changes...and perhaps it can't because it has painted itself in the corner by going down the same path for far too long.

Watch the Malaysian election closely because it is going to tell us something. Politicians such as Najib knew he had to make changes when the citizens voted in large numbers for the opposition. He did go ahead to make numerous changes like eliminating the ISA, implementing minimum wages, providing free healthcare for the elderly and he did run the economy relatively well - decent growth and low unemployment. But what he couldn't do was to get rid of cronyism and corruption which Malaysians today simply cannot accept. It remains to be seen if he has done enough but my sources tell me they are heading towards further losses.

Leaders sometimes know that they need to change after they overcome their own denial but underestimate the rate and magnitude of change. I think leaders in Singapore have underestimated the effects of income inequality. From their Ivory Tower they can philosophized and think that people should just accept the extreme inequality as a consequence of their "meritocratic system". This is a mistake. It is an easy mistake to make when you experience the favorable outcomes of the system as an elite showered with opportunities and high wages - you justify your own success as the result of meritocracy and by that token see the failure of others as the result of their lack of ability and effort. But they forget that meritocracy does not exist in isolation - the inequality is amplified by policy choices of our leaders and not just dependent the talents and effort of individuals. Our relatively extreme inequality is simply the result of extreme policies adopted by the PAP govt....and the PAP govt has made no fundamental changes to move from its extreme.      

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Video on the Income Gap...

This video about the income gap was released late last year and has gone viral. It shows how bad the income gap is in the USA by taking the ratio of the wealth and income of the top and comparing it with the bottom.

If you find it shocking how bad the income gap in USA has become, you should be aware that there is only one developed country worse than the USA when you measure income gap as a ratio of the income of those on top vs those at the bottom. That country is Singapore.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Documentary : The One Per Cent...

Here's a documentary made by Jamie Johnson heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. He explores the effect of the wealth gap on American society discovers how it leads to stratification and resentment.

IIn Singapore we often hear that that the income gap is the result of meritocracy. Nothing can be further from the truth. The wealth gap represents an unlevel field rather than the superior talents of some to contribute to society. The PAP govt exercise extreme parsimony in helping the poor, sick and disabled but gives handouts to big businesses in the form of low taxes, cheap foreign labor and pro-business policies. At the same time the govt reduced the benefits and protection of our workers and force them to struggle by importing cheaper labor to compete against them and making them endure the rising cost of living. This is how we end up with such a large income gap and an un-meritocratic system.

Meritocracy is destroyed by the advantages of wealth and an unlevel playing field. Workers at the bottom 30-40% in Singapore have the lowest wages in the developed world, live in a city that is 6th most expensive in the world, and have no independent collective power to improve their situation.  The system has so many obstacles in the way of people making their way up:

Mr Chan said the Government, however, does not have data to track relative social mobility, which is the proportion of people who have moved up or down the socio-economic scale relative to the rest of their cohort over time.

"This reflects the churn amongst income groups in our society. We do not have data on such churn as it requires longitudinal studies over a long period of time," said Mr Chan.
He added that while the Government has tried to track inter-generational movements for social mobility, it has not found any studies to be "particularly complete".  [Link]

The PAP often says that social mobility is one redeeming characteristic of its system. But when asked for data on this by an NMP, they admit that they have no data to track social mobility. They are actually in denial of the facts.
The Great Gatsby Curve is a chart[Link] plotting the (positive) relationship between inequality and inter-generational social immobility in countries around the world. It shows a strong correlation between income inequality and lower social mobility.

The PAP has tilted the playing field so much, Singapore is now a "haven for the rich" (see previous article). But we should not blame the rich for being rich and resent them for coming here -  most of us aspire to be ultra-rich too. If you are rich, you might do the same to move to a place the favors those in the richer classes over the other classes. They are only acting in their own interests and not here to disadvantage any of us - that is not their intention. However, we do expect enlightened leadership to act in a balanced manner so that the system is fair  If our income gap remains where it is, Singaporeans with lose faith in the govt and our society will become polarized as trust is eroded. That is a bigger threat to our society than the one we spend $12B to defend against.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

WSJ - Wealth Over the Edge Singapore...

"....Singapore has some of the lowest taxes in the world, including none on capital gains and most foreign dividends. But it also has relatively secretive private banking laws and zero harassment from paparazzi or protesters, whose activities are narrowly proscribed by Singaporean authorities, further creating an aura of order and stability."
- WSJ [Link]

If you're unable to play the above video click Here

"Singapore's "Gini coefficient"—the best-known economic measure of income disparity—is the second highest in the developed world. Wealth-X, a private consultancy that provides intelligence on the world's uber-rich, estimates some 1,400 ultra-high-net-worth individuals now hold more than $160 billion of wealth in Singapore. Even upper-middle-class natives find themselves unable to afford houses in some parts of the city-state, such as Sentosa Cove, where more than 60 percent of the houses are owned by foreigners. Some are put off by flashy displays of wealth, particularly when it is the wealth of foreign nationals."- WSJ [Link]

While ordinary Singaporeans find life getting tougher and tougher with every passing year, Singapore has become a favorite destination for the ultra-rich. The movement of wealth to Singapore did not benefit Singaporeans at all except for the lucky few involved in wealth management and property.  The income gap ballooned so did the cost of living causing Singaporeans to feel that the quality of life has deteriorated over the years.

In the past we attracted entrepreneurs who came to start businesses that created jobs for Singaporeans. These days Singapore has become a playground for the rich...the rich that are here because they see Singapore as a haven that protects their wealth from taxes and protects them from scrutiny. The excessive conspicuous consumption in the form of Ferraris, nightclubs with thousand dollar cocktails, and the expensive brands dominating shops along Orchard Road have become painful reminders of the large polarising income gap in our society, The PAP has pursued policies that turned Singapore into a magnet for the rich. Policies often have to favor one section of the society over another ...and Singapore becoming a haven for the rich shows which segment of society PAP policies have leaned towards and all this is the outcome of the choices the PAP govt has made.

"Public expressions of anger or dissatisfaction with Singapore's transformations are limited, since protests for the most part are prohibited. Yet signs of unhappiness are multiplying. The city-state's ruling party retained power with its lowest percentage of votes in Singaporean history in 2011, and a thriving blog culture is prodding officials to consider some changes to the country's economic model, including the creation of a bigger social safety net for the poor, which likely would require higher taxes."- WSJ [Link]

As Singapore becomes a favored playground for the rich, life here has become a much harder struggle for the middle class and below.