Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dirty Little Secret in Our Golden Period....

In other countries, the top leaders are subjected to a high level competition and low income workers are protected with safety nets. In Singapore elite leaders are protected from competition and our low income workers exposed to intense competition. We end up with leaders with the highest salaries in the world and low income workers with barely enough to eat!

Well I guess we have a system that is fair, since there is no MINIMUM WAGE for our low income workers, there shouldn't be a MAXIMUM WAGE for our elite leaders. I wonder what will happen if we import the best leaders from around the world to run Singapore Inc and give them the single goal of making life as good as possible for as many Singaporeans as possible. How would they run our system? Will they run it the same way the PAP runs it?

Suppose we stop the import of low skill foreign labor from competing with the bottom 30% of our workforce what will happen? ....Will we see the income of our cleaners rise? I guess the bosses of cleaning companies will be screaming that their profits are affected if they have to pay higher to attract Singaporeans. Since we don't have welfare, minimum wages and independent unions, one would think that stopping foreign labor from competing with the bottom 30% of our workforce thereby restoring wages to their natural levels from artificially depressed levels would be something sensible. I use the word artificial because a cleaner imported from Bangladesh is happy to take up a low paying job in Singapore because his family back home enjoy a cost of living less than one tenth that of a Singaporean family. To make a Singapore cleaner compete with one from Bangladesh is to increase his misery by 10 times!

In the beginning. the Foreign Talent Scheme was sold to Singaporeans as a scheme to attract the best talents from around the world to help create the best jobs for Singaporeans. Today a foreigner willing to clean tables for $500 is also a top talent because he & his family can live comfortably on that income while Singaporeans can't. Our Golden Period simply cannot do without the low income workers because the spectacular profits of our GLCs depend on them.... thats our dirty little secret....

S'pore's dirty secret .....
Straits Times 28 Jul 2007.
They keep offices, shopping centres and the roads clean. But their wages look shabby compared to the rest of boomtown Singapore. SUE-ANN CHIA finds out why the pay of cleaners and labourers declined over the past decade
Madam Aishah Mohamed Yunos, 30, toils at four blocks in a Bukit Panjang housing estate, wiping walls and lifts and sweeping and mopping floors.
The neighbourhood is spick and span. But the job pays crumbs.
At least that is what Madam Aishah feels when she pockets her monthly wages of $400. If that's not lousy enough, she has not had a pay rise in two years on the job.
'There's nothing else I can do,' she says with a careless shrug. She left school at Primary 6.
Her story, if she sticks to cleaning work, could soon mirror that of another cleaner's, Madam P. Devi, 60.

Nine years ago, she earned $500 a month cleaning offices. Today, she earns $440 cleaning at a mall in Holland Village.

'I have enough to eat,' she says, by way of prefacing how she has no right to be unhappy because she is illiterate. She and her retiree security guard husband, 69, who gets a pension, are supporting two children still in school.
The two women, across two generations, are in the beleaguered brigade of Singapore workers whose pay packets have slackened even as other workers have marched ahead in an expanding economy.
In the last 10 years, the starting salaries of all occupational groups rose - except one.
That group: cleaners and labourers. Their median monthly starting pay fell 30 per cent between 1996 and 2006 - from $860 to $600.
The Government's latest wage report says the group's median pay was being dragged down by a sizeable number of this category of workers languishing in extremely low-paying jobs.
At the bottom of the heap: office cleaners and aircraft loaders. They start with a monthly pay of $500 and $550 respectively.

In 1996, newbie cleaners made $550 while newbie aircraft loaders made $650.
While aircraft loaders' pay went up with experience, office cleaners had no such gains. Their median monthly salary fell from $708 in 1996 to $657 last year.
Twin forces thwarting rise in wages
WHAT accounts for their shrinking wages?
Labour economists blame two forces: competition from low-skilled foreign workers and the growing trend of outsourcing.
'Salaries are unlikely to rise as long as low-skilled local workers compete with low-skilled foreign labour who are often paid less,' says Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat, vice-dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
His view that foreign workers depress the wages of local workers has been aired before by others, including Mr Lim Swee Say when he was deputy labour chief.
In an interview last year, Mr Lim, who is now the labour chief, said he suspected the easy entry of cheap foreign workers in some sectors has reduced the incentive for employers to improve work processes and raise productivity. It is easier and cheaper to hire cheap, than to invest in better work processes.
But he made clear he was not opposed to foreign workers, saying that they contributed to the economy. Economist Lim Chong Yah, who headed the National Wages Council for 29 years until 2001, also last year warned policymakers to be careful about allowing 'too free a flow' of 'very low value-added labour, very low-wage labour'. The other issue to contend with is outsourcing. As firms cut costs and headcount, many outsource non-core functions like cleaning.
Instead of being on the more stable payroll of these companies, cleaners are now hired at a much lower pay by cleaning agencies which then assign them to different workplaces.
Cleaning agencies, in their fierce battle to win contracts, slash the price of their bids. The losers: the cleaners who end up with even lower pay.
Prof Hui notes that outsourcing also encourages service buyers such as building owners to switch to cheaper cleaning contracts. This means some cleaners may continue in the same job under a different employer - often wearing just differently coloured uniforms - while others are forced to seek new employment.
'This perpetuates the low pay of such workers who do not benefit from any seniority-based component in their pay but are constantly treated as new employees,' he says.
Part-timers, retirees depress wage figures
FIGURES from five cleaning companies surveyed by Insight indicate that cleaners' pay may be creeping up.

Five to 10 years ago, a cleaner would be offered around $580 to $600 a month. Today, he would get about $100 more, says Mr Kevin Loh, the boss of Campaign Cleaning Services.
Mr Joey Yeung, executive manager of cleaning company SQ1 Development, addsthat those who work in far-flung places like Tuas can get even more, about $900.
If so, why do the national figures show them making so little?
Labour economist Shandre Thangavelu suspects the wages are depressed by part-time workers like retirees agreeing to work for a lot less.
Madam Wang Xiu Qin, 67, is among them. She retired five years ago as a waitress but went back to work two years later to beat boredom at home.
She has since been cleaning office toilets four hours, six days a week. She is pleased with her pay of $350 a month.
But there are many others who struggle to survive.
Madam Sharon Kong, 50, earns $300 a month keeping an office clean. She works three hours a day, six days a week.
'I earn just enough to buy food from the market to cook and feed the family,' says the mother of two sons, aged 22 and 25.
Her factory worker husband earns about $1,000 a month and one of her sons help with other family expenses.
Can she get a better job?
Not a chance, as 'I only have primary education,' she says.
Tackling issue through productivity boost
THE plight of low-wage workers - with stagnant or shrinking pay packets - is an issue the Government and labour movement have been grappling with for some time.
Three years ago, the Job Recreation Programme (JRP) was set up to boost the productivity and pay of low-skilled jobs in several sectors, from cleaning to construction.
Last year, Workfare, an income supplement for low-wage workers, was introduced and is now a permanent feature for workers aged above 35 and whose income is $1,500 and below.
Labour chief Lim Swee Say tells Insight: 'The downward pressure on the wages of low-wage workers will continue to be there for some time as there is no shortage of low-cost, low-skilled workers in the world.'
The cause may be global, but the effect is truly local. The biggest worry is the widening income gap between high- and low-end workers.
Different countries look for different solutions - from a minimum wage policy and closing the door on low-skilled foreign workers to paying foreign local workers the same wages.
But Mr Lim calls these 'easy solutions' that do not necessarily work.
He wants Singapore to focus on raising productivity.'When their productivity goes up, their pay will also go up without eroding business competitiveness.'
Some success has been achieved through JRP, which has boosted the salaries of security guards, landscape technicians and bus captains.
Mr Lim concedes that 'there is still a long way to go' in improving the pay of every low-skilled worker.
One major criticism of the programme is that it spreads itself too thin in trying to reach too many sectors.
Still, Mr Ang Hin Kee, director of NTUC's Employability Enhancement Department, believes it has made a difference to the cleaning sector.
'JRP pilot projects have demonstrated that workers in the cleaning industry can earn higher wages through re-skilling and job re-design,' he says.
He notes how 75 conservancy cleaners who went for the programme found their wages going up from $750 a month to about $1,000. They got a new title to boot: building custodians.
The new perks come with added responsibilities of weeding, checking and rectifying defects in drains and replacing light bulbs in HDB blocks.
Another recent success was at three major hospitals which revised their cleaning contracts.
Previously, their housekeepers just cleaned the wards. Now, 15 of them act as team leaders to inspect ward cleanliness and prepare simple reports.
Their monthly pay rose from $800 to $1,050. Their job title was also spruced up. The housekeeper is now the facility services specialist.
But these are small-scale efforts. The JRP has yet to cover the large army of cleaners who clean commercial properties such as offices, shopping centres and condominiums. There are about 22,000 of them.
It will do so by year's end, says Mr Ang.
The biggest hurdle in pushing the cleaners' brigade is posed by sceptical companies. They want to see a cleaner environment first before they will pay cleaning companies more for better-trained workers. This causes a vicious cycle as cleaning companies do not pay more and the lowly paid worker sees no incentive to do more. There seems to be no way out.
Mr Lim advocates staying the course with JRP, as skills re-development is the only way for 'more low-wage workers to be part of the race to the top'.
But the brigade may also have thinning ranks of Singaporeans in time, as the workforce becomes better educated and move on to better work while cleaning jobs are revamped to attract better pay.
For now, though, the problem cannot be wiped clean.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Creating the BEST socio-economic system in the world...

"My ambition, having created this Singapore, is to preserve the system that produces the answers that we must have as a society to survive," - MM Lee, Sep 2006.
If someone comes to you and say which society/system do you think is the fairest, most equitable and ensures the gives the best chance of survival for your children and your children's children what would be the answer....
I found this question by Warren Buffett most thought provoking:-
Suppose 24 hours before you are born, a powerful genie comes up to you and says he will create any socio economic system you wish. There is just one catch - you cannot choose which family you're born into - you can be born rich or poor, smart or stupid, man or woman...any race, possess any kind of talent or no talent at all. What kind of system will you ask the genie to create?
Warren Buffett gave some interesting comments on this, you can watch his video here...his comments on this is in the middle of the video.
"There are people out there who claim they have a capitalist mind and socialist heart but there is no greater capitalist mind than Buffett's and no bigger socialist heart than that of Buffett's after making his vast fortune, he is giving it ALL away"- Lucky Tan
If you think hard about it, you will realise that people will leak from societies/systems that they feel is unjust & unequitable where there are large segments of people who are unempowered to places with better systems. You see you're the genie for your children and your grandchildren, where you choose to live (suppose you can afford to move) or stay that is where they will be born. You cannot control how intelligent they are and your middle class fortune cannot ensure that your grand children will be rich by the time they are born. You would want them to be cared for when they are sick regardless of their ability to pay and you would want them to get a fair chance when fall on hard times.
"Welfare is a dirty word. How come all my friends who emigrated went to countries with a working welfare system? " - Lucky Tan
I'm sure the PAP govt thinks about building an equitable system for its citizens all the time. Although our esteemed MM Lee seemed relieved when he said that 80% of the populace cannot afford to emigrate, he has worked hard to build a society based on justice & equality....not one where a handful of elites feel they are entitled the disproportionate amount of wealth our society creates while the poor live on 2 meals a day.

Friday, July 27, 2007

What the Singapore Flag means to the next generation....

As National Day approaches, The New Paper has been asking readers to interpret the flag and explain what it means to them.

Today it features the interpretation of a Singaporean student, the product of our outstanding education system.
The student's understanding of the ideals represented by the 5 stars on our flag impresses me tremendously.


Thank goodness, we can be sure this student won't grow up to be an activist like the Chees and get bankrupted, arrested and jailed. Our education system is working well to preserve the wonderful system we have today....


You can always tell if a system is just by the way celebrities are treated. Paris Hilton also got jailed so I guess the American justice system is almost as good as ours....but they don't seem to be able to cane criminals as well as us.

I believe our students are our future, the leadership of tomorrow and the embodiment of our hope and dreams. As long as they have a true purpose in life guided by the ideals symbolised by the stars on our flag, Singapore can look forward to a bright future.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

In Debt We Trust Part 3 : Leong Sze Hian writes....

Part 1 here and Part 2 here
I'm 100% disappointed with Leong Sze Hian's lack of faith that our MAS & govt has thought through this issue carefully (see letter below). Citibank has said the purpose of their new credit card aim at students without income is to educate our students on credit. With Citibank offering free education to our students, I'm dismayed that Leong Sze Hian does not show appreciation for this fact.
Mr. Leong goes to say that we should copy Malaysia and cap credit card interest rate at 15% APR to stop predatory practices by banks. Absurd! Absurd! Absurd! This is an insult to our extraordinary govt and ministers - how much our ministers are worth vs Malaysian know the answer. If Mr. Leong has nothing to do please don't insult our esteemed govt by asking them to copy Malaysia. Malaysia should always be copying Singapore. In fact the interest rate on those student credit cards is a whopping 28% - the idea is to teach our students that it is a good idea to borrow money at 28% if they have an emergency, for example, if they like the $400 Hugo Boss shirt on offer very much they should just go ahead and buy it otherwise the offer will be gone.
The govt of Singapore and MAS works for the interest of ordinary Singaporeans....and when it comes to student credit cards there is alot of interest involved - a whopping 28% APR. It is just incidental that our credit card laws have boosted bank profits tremendously and some of these banks happen to be GLCs (Govt Linked Companies). If anything, it launches our students and those without income into the Golden Period of easy money, spending and more spending. This is consistent with the govt call for Singaporeans to work longer, if you have debts it is likely you end up working until the day you die.
Students and those unemployed may not be disciplined enough to control spending
Letter from Leong Sze Hian
I REFER to the article, "A credit card for the young" (July 19).

The new card — aimed at students and young adults who do not earn enough to qualify for a regular credit card — will offer a higher interest rate of 28 per cent on rollover balances.
While I understand the rationale for making credit available to those who earn less than $30,000 a year, why is the interest charge so high? Those who roll over their credit balance may end up doubling what they use and owe, every two years or so.
We may be able to take a leaf or two from Malaysia, which has recently announced that the maximum interest on credit cards cannot exceed 15 per cent, for those who do not default on their repayments in any 12-month period.
The annual fee of $28 for the new card works out to 5.6 per cent of the credit limit of $500. This, I believe, makes it one of the highest fee-to-credit ratios in the world.
.Singapore already has one of the highest debt per capita in the world. Such credit cards may propel the numbers up, as well as increase the proportion of the population with debts.
.Students may end up in debt before they graduate and young adults may be in debt even before they start a family. How many Singaporeans may be in debt at retirement — a time when they should have accumulated sufficient assets instead of a negative net worth?
It remains to be seen how many of the estimated 900,000 Singaporeans aged 18 to 54 who earn below $30,000 may end up in debt.
Not long ago, a pensioner drawing a monthly income would have been denied a credit card.
Now, students and the jobless are being offered one.
As a conservative who has been encouraged all my life to tighten my belt and save for the future, I question the wisdom of issuing a credit card to a jobless person and then hoping that he or his parents will exercise sufficient discipline to keep his spending within affordable limits.
.How will the credit worthiness of the applicant be assessed if he has no job?
I also wonder why this card is needed at all. The people being targeted may already possess an ATM card or a supplementary credit card, which are the safer barriers against overspending.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Taiwan Current Affairs TV Show on Singapore...

I was shocked when I watched this. I'm sure most Singaporeans will be offended so don't watch it unless you have been reading your Straits Times regularly.

I'm so surprise such an irresponsible TV programme is allowed to go on air in Taiwan. It is very disappointing that they don't have proper controls to prevent unfiltered information to go on the air. I'm shocked by many assertions made on the programme - that democracy is more important that the pursuit of economic growth, that our system has no check and balance, and our democracy is a farce. What rubbish!!! It is obvious these commentators don't know what they are talking about. Since their golden period when they were under the KMT, the Taiwanese political system has descended into chaos.

Now if you ask any Taiwanese which party willl win their next elections, they will say they don't know. Every weekend they have protests for/against reunification with China, nobody seems to be able to decide on this issue and no body seems to be afraid of the authorities. There 15 newspapers and 7 24-hr news stations in Taiwan each expressing a different viewpoint causing much confusion among the Taiwanese. It is clear that Singapore has a system that is far more advanced than the Taiwanese and they do well if they listen to the KMT's presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou plan to emulate Singapore - they should consolidate their newspapers and TV stations, have more predictable elections that is won by the KMT and focus on economic growth. I'm sure the Taiwanese will be happier people if they have a more advanced system of govt in place like Singapore. They wouldn't be wasting their time protesting on the streets and will have more time at the shopping mall. A media that provides high quality filtered and harmonised information will help them to relieve of the burden of pondering over issues. It will take them 40 years to get to where Singapore is today and they better start soon or we will move even further ahead of them.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Minister with million$ remuneration causes a re-numeration!

Scanning through the education records of our esteemed ministers, I realised that most of them were educated in foreign universities - during their undergraduate days they were surrounded by foreigners. I guess that is why they took the trouble to bring in so many foreigners to our local universities so that Singaporean students can enjoy the same type of education they had.

"How come our Minister of State for Education doesn't know
how many foreign students he is educating?" - Coffeeshop Talk.
MOE clarified that the number of foreign students admitted to local universities is 4,218 not the 987 figure given by Minister of State Mr. Gan. Many of you are probably concerned about how such an error can occur.....was our esteemed minister trying to mislead us? ...Goodness no! It was probably an honest mistake. Our minister was probably busy with more important matters and didn't have time to double check his answer to the parliament. Our ministers are men of high integrity and noble intentions therefore they can only make honest mistakes. Hence, there is real no issue with the answer given in parliament.
On the other hand when opposition politicians give the wrong numbers, you can be sure they are not simply typographical errors but are sinister attempts to misrepresent the grand achievements of our beloved govt. That is why have to be severely punished with hefty fines for contempt of parliament. We can assume that opposition politicians are downright evil and dishonest as they receive no remuneration for being Singapore, you really have to pay for honesty. Once you pay up, even the worst mistakes become honest ones.
Singaporeans are so lucky to have a govt that is so honest it can only make honest mistakes.

In Debt We Trust Part 2 : Starting Young....

Part 1 here

Looks like MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) wants to make sure that young people don't miss our Golden Period. In March this year, they removed the rule that required credit card companies to issue cards only to people with an income. That allowed Citibank to issue credit cards to students. OCBC will launch a similar card targeted at students in the coming weeks.

Our students are responsible people will not abuse the credit card:

"A credit card will come in handy when I want to buy that $399 Hugo Boss shirt. If I wait for my $150 weekly allowance, the shirt might be gone" - Sng Ren Zhong, JC Student, Straits Times 19 Jul 2007

I'm sure our MAS officials have done their due diligence on this issue and are not just blindly following global trends. Our highly paid civil servants in the MAS did this for the good of Singaporeans and not because it will enhance the profitability of the banks who are known to lobby for favorable policies in other countries. The change will give banks access to an additional 900,000 potential credit card users. I'm sure the MAS looked at what happened in other countries like Taiwan and S.Korean before making their decision.

With more students using credit cards and we can expect bigger crowds at Harvey Norman sales. Our citizens will be empowered - with buying power. They will have the freedom to buy whatever they want.....

Thursday, July 19, 2007


The moment Sylvia Lim entered politics I knew she was up to no good. During the last elections, she tried to 'poison' us mentally and trigger timebombs. Lucky for us our govt was vigilant and rescued Singapore from those poisonous ideas.

Sylvia is at it again! She wants to ensure separation of executive and juciary powers like what they do in Western countries. They (Westerners) think it is important to separate the powers to have independence between branches of govt to make sure that one branch is not beholden to another. Letting our PM appoint 2 members of the LSC (Legal Services Commission) she claims will 'undermine the public confidence in the neutrality of our courts'. What rubbish!!! Our elections department is also under our Prime Minister's Office and they are known to conduct fair and neutral elections. Even when intimidated by James Gomez during the last elections, they maintained their neutrality by releasing the CCTV of James Gomez wagging his finger at them to show us that he was a real brute.

Our Prime Minister is also empowered to recommend who should be the Chief Justice. You can see from the choice of the previous CJ Yong (who was recommended by Lee Kuan Yew) that this has been done in a manner that ensures neutrality. Yong was certainly a good choice although he worked as a banker most of his life, he struck fear into accused criminals by doubling their jail terms on appeal....he was so fierce he wanted to jail one man beyond the maximum allowable jail term.

The track record of our leaders speak for themselves when it comes to ensuring the independence & neutrality of our judiciary and civil service. There is no need to theorise what more has to be put in place to ensure independence. We can count on the integrity we paid for in our leaders ....all else are just conspiracies.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Explaining a discrepancy.....

“Mr Gan said 28,000 Singapore students applied to
the universities this year and half of them were offered places. In contrast, 23,000 foreign students applied and only 987 or 4.3 percent were given places” -

“international students now make up about 20% of NTU’s undergraduate population and about 33% of its graduate population…the National University of Singapore (NUS) said about 20% of its 23,900 undergraduates and about 50% of its 9,100 postgraduate students are from overseas…the number of permanent residencies (PRs) awarded last year rose to 57,300 – a 9.6% increase from 2005 and a 55.3% increase from 2004”- Business Times of 26 May 2007.

The people I spoke to who graduated from NUS & NTU stared at me in disbelief when I mentioned these numbers - only 4.3% of the foreigners who applied got into our universities. They were sure there are lot more foreign students than the 987 our esteemed minister said were successful with their applications.

Of course our Minister of State for Eduction Mr. Gan did not lie when he say only 4.3% of foreign students who applied to our universities got a place. One plausible explanation is the rest got into our unversities because they were offered scholarship and hence did not need to apply for a place in our universities.

As Singapore aspires to be an education hub, we cannot expect top foreign students to apply to our universities like locals - they have to be invite to our universities through offers of scholarship.

I met a lecturer from one of our universities the other day. He said many foreign students take advantage of a loophole in their scholarship requiring them to work 3 years in Singapore before leaving for other countries. They simply claim that they are unable to find jobs for 6 months and they are allowed to leave - thus getting a free education at the expense of Singaporeans!! Wah so wonder our beloved govt like them so much to give them free scholarship while Singaporeans like myself struggled through my university giving tuition on weekends and make ends meet by taking up bank loans for my fees. I took 5 years to clear my education debt after I got my 1st class honours from NUS. I guess my govt was afraid that I wasn't challenged this day I'm still thankful for the challenges they gave me. I guess they are kind enough to reserve such challenges for Singaporeans while foreign students are given scholarships and denied the benefit of shouldering the financial burdens that Singaporeans received.

Illusion of Wealth?.....

The other day I went to my favorite mutton soup stall and found out the price has increased to $4 from $3.5. Rentals at nearby condo have increased by a whopping 40-60%. We all know that the stock & property markets are booming.

Our M3 has expanded by 23% y-o-y. M3 for those who don't know economics is the broadest measure of money in our economic system. M3 is closely associated with inflation. Well there is alot more money sloshing around in our economy than a year ago.

From my belcony, I can see numerous cranes building condos that will soon surround me. Anyone looking out will have little doubt that the economy is booming....but all it takes to build these condos is the willingness of more homebuyers to take up bigger housing loans that they have to pay off over 25 years. My friend working in the margin department of a local brokerage told me the stock market boom is in part fueled by the amount of margin debt which expanded by serveral times in the past year. You can feel very rich if you're willing to borrow for that HDTV, surround sound system, Europe can keep our retail sector growing....

But how is the REAL economy doing, take say, our key electronics sector:

Not too well I'm afraid. Looks like MM Lee's Golden Period will be built on a stock market bubble and condo boom. Well as long as Singaporeans are willing to keep paying more and more for condos and working until their golden years to pay for it, I guess we can keep stretching this Golden Period ...until....

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Malaysia is LEAKING People too....

Report here:

According to the report, some 106,000 Malaysians had given up their citizenship between 1996 and April this year - 70% or 79,100 were Malays, 23% or 25,107 Chinese & and 350 of other races. If you recall, 52% of Malaysians are Malays, 30% are Chinese, 18% others (mostly indians). Malaysia's total population is 27 million.

It is strange with the pro-Bumi policy there is a disproportionate number of Malays who have given up their citizenship. The Chinese whom we expect to leave in large numbers to come to, say Singapore, are actually more likely to stay put than Malays!

The other thing I can't understand is the top five destinations of ex-Malaysians were the United States, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia. Singapore actually comes after USA, Australia & Taiwan. I wonder why Malaysians want to go to the US, Australia & Taiwan when they can come to Singapore. It is nearer and we have a far better system of govt than all those countries. Why would they want to stay in countries where the leaders are worth only a fraction of Singapore's leaders ......and there is disorder because they allow protests in the streets.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Healthcare Pricing Singapore Style.....

I think our system has gotten better at creative pricing of healthcare services. Even for a person who is concerned about healthcare and keeps a close watch on escalating healthcare costs and how subsidy is being reduced....... I'm really surprised by this one from today's Straits Times forum:
If you get 50 pills from the doctor and you're suppose to take 1 per day, it will cost 3 times more than if you're to take 2 per day. Yes, the same 50 pills cost 3 times more if you consume it slower. I know the govt is perpetually worried about people abusing govt aid by consuming more than they really need (e.g. 3 meals instead of 2 meals per day) that is why they give people on PA (public assistance) enough for only 2 meals a day......I don't know they are so cautious to extend these wonderful ideas to healthcare. I guess they are worried that the woman might consume more medicine than she really needs even though it is perscribed by a doctor.
A few months ago, I woke up with an extreme pain in my elbow. I went to the GP and he told me I needed to get it checked by a specialist as my joint might be infected. I took some pain killers to keep the pain away andI called up the govt hospital to ask for an appointment. They told me 2 weeks time unless I came in as a "private patient". I didn't know what "private patient" meant to my pocket -$500?, $1000? so I just took more blue painkiller pills and the '2 weeks later' appointment. It was strange that a clerk (not doctor) was at the other endtelling me what my medical options were.
Two weeks later I turned up at the hospital and was seen by a specialist:
Specialist: Lucky Tan right, sit down. What's wrong with you?
Me: I woke up 2 weeks ago and my elbow hurt like hell, the GP asked me to come here and check if it's infected.
Specialist:2 weeks ago? Does it hurt now?
Specialist:In that case, there is nothing I can do for you. Come back again if it hurts and I can run some test on fluids in you elbow joint.

$70 for a 1 minute conversation with a specialist....and that was subsidised!
The Singapore healthcare system is going to be great! As our Minister Khaw focusses on reducing subsidy at the same time Singapore turns into a medical hub for rich millionaires in the region and beyond, our healthcare industry will enter a Golden Period of high profits. You may think the priority of care depends severity of your sickness - ah that is so old fashion in modern Singapore Inc. You want treatment fast, just pay for it - be it dental care, elbow pain, etc. The poor can afford to wait and the rich can afford to pay.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

In Debt we TRUST!

"Stay away from credit cards and invest in yourself and Remember: ... Money doesn't create man; it is the man who created money." - Warren Buffett

Some unscrupulous person sold my telephone to a bunch of telemarketers; I now get 3-5 calls a day from credit card companies, banks and sometimes finance companies based in Philipines who promise to double my money in 3 months if I just wire a few thousand to them. Of course, I won't fall for the filipino finance company ploy but the ones from the banks are quite seductive - low interest of 3.5% for 6 months, interest free loan for 6 months just pay 2.5% ....."Sir, you have $8K available from credit card why don't you transfer it at an attractive promotional interest of 14.5%"....I had to explain to the telemarketer that 14.5% is NOT an attractive interest rate but he told me that other customers are happily paying 24% on rollover debts which amounts to billions in Singapore....

Research shows that US banks make the biggest profits from rollover debts with high probability of default. The high risk loans with high incidence of default and bankruptciies are also the most profitable for banks. There is no incentive for banks to alleviate the situation.

Throughout history money lenders have to be contained by govt cannot count on the self-control of ordinary citizens. Credit card debt is addictive like drugs and we don't rely on individual responsibility when it comes to drugs .....why then do we allow them to destroy themselves with debt? The consumer debt situation in USA, UK and S. Korea tell us we should not standby as debt devour our society. Counting on the banks to be ethical is like asking a tiger to be a vegetarian......if you don't watch them closely, they will 'eat' it structured deposits, issuance of credit card debts, banks don't give us a reason to believe they can self-regulate.

It used to be that one bank is allowed to make unsecured loans of 3 months of a persons salary(6 months card + credit line) with so many banks allowed to operate here this limit is not useful. A person who overspends and addicted to debt simply goes to several banks to get more money. Banks love customers who can't pay up because they keep rolling over their debts and paying hefty interest.

An extraordinary govt should be able to safeguard the interests of its citizens over the interest of banks. Banks can be force to screen their customers more if the maximum interest is capped to say 15% and the maximum loan that a bank can extend lowered.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Li Hongyi Makes it to Financial Times

I'm going out for dinner. I'll come back to comment on the article.
In the meantime please fill free to expres what you think..... do leave your comments.

I'm back. I slept on it and woke up with an answer.

He wrote in his capacity as a citizen of Singapore as far as I know the SAF even its highest echelons is answerable to the citizens of Singapore. I guess there are procedures/rules in place and he had to be punished for not following them.

I just have a few comments on the FT article:

“No ordinary OCT [officer cadet trainee] would dare to write such a letter addressed to all the big guns in the [defence] ministry".

Only in non-democratic countries people fear their leaders. Do people fear George Bush in USA? Do people fear Tony Blair? People don't fear authority in real democracies. That is probably why Li was not afraid to speak his mind.

Mr Li was apparently being groomed for a future leadership role after being awarded a government scholarship to study economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Singapore military has served as a training ground for political leaders

In a real meritocracy, competition is kept alive and as broad as possible so that people with the highest ability will emerge. FT is wrongly accusing our beloved govt of un-meritocratic practices by grooming certain individuals for higher appointment. Meritocracy has been upheld as the cornerstone of our society and it will fail if we undermine it by grooming selected individuals for certain appointment killing the spirit of competition. A govt that works for the interest of the people will never do this.

“SAF is not a charity organisation and does not owe anyone a career”.

I'm glad Li Hongyi understands this. It explains the high level of competence among the top leaders in the SAF. Our former CDF (Chief Defense Force) was given a specially created position in Temasek Holdings and his predeccessor is now heading shows how versatile their talents are being able to contribute to diverse fields after their stint in the SAF.

E-mail by Singapore PM’s son backfires
By John Burton in Singapore

Published: July 13 2007 18:02 Last updated: July 13 2007 18:02

A son of Singapore’s prime minister has been reprimanded for e-mailing a complaint about a fellow army officer to the country's defence minister and hundreds of other military personnel. The case involving Li Hongyi has served as a lightning rod for criticism on the internet of his family’s political power.

The defence ministry said on Friday it had issued the reprimand against Mr Li, 20, after his 2,000-word letter of complaint was posted on the internet and drew widespread attention.

Mr Li, a 2nd lieutenant, is the first-born son of Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, and Ho Ching, head of Temasek Holdings, the state investment company, and grandson of Lee Kuan Yew, independent Singapore's first leader. The letter provoked complaints on the internet about the Lee family's political dominance in Singapore.

“No ordinary OCT [officer cadet trainee] would dare to write such a letter addressed to all the big guns in the [defence] ministry,” read one posting on an internet political chatroom. The internet has emerged as a forum for political criticism of the government in a country where the media is guided by the state.
Mr Li, who is doing his compulsory military service, sent the e-mail last month to Teo Chee Hean, the defence minister, senior military leaders and other army personnel complaining that a colleague had gone absent without leave on two occasions but that no action had been taken by his superiors.

The defence ministry said that Mr Li had gone outside the chain of command “by broadcasting his letter of complaint to many other servicemen – almost all of whom were neither directly under his command, nor in an official capacity where they could deal with the matters contained in his letter of complaint”.

Much of the internet criticism commented on suggestions that Mr Li was apparently being groomed for a future leadership role after being awarded a government scholarship to study economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Singapore military has served as a training ground for political leaders and executives in state companies. Mr Li’s father was a brigadier general before entering politics. Temasek announced last week that a former head of the Singapore armed forces had been appointed to the newly created post of portfolio management managing director.
In his complaint letter, Mr Li said his colleague’s continued service in the military was an “embarrassment” and that the armed forces was “not a charity organisation and does not owe anyone a career”. The defence ministry said that the officer accused by Mr Li had since been court martialled.


Our esteemed MM Lee is right! Singapore is in a Golden Period. He must have concluded this after seeing the prices of top end condos hit $4000 psf, Mercedes showrooms filled by eager buyers and the number of millionaires hitting new records.

In the past 5 years, Singaporeans have benefitted from the economic policies of the PAP primarily focussed on generating as much economic growth as possible. MM Lee tells us, ".... as long as we are making solid growth, most problems can be managed". This is an important piece of insight; while other countries concerned themselves with more equitable distribution of wealth, better safeguards for low income workers as economies globalise, Singapore wasted no time to embrace globalization and the hot flow of instant money that it would bring.

Indeed 2% of Singaporeans who are landlords with multiple properties to rent out benefitted from rising rentals, our GLCs benefitted by raising prices on EVERYTHING , rich developers got richer as property prices shot through the roof...and our govt benefitted by increasing the GST which benefitted all the businesses who took the chance to raise prices, ....looks like the economic growth generated plenty of benefits......

Businesses enjoy pro-business policies that open the floodgates to foreign workers who are willing to work for much lower wages because it is more than sufficient to support their families back home who still enjoying a "3rd world cost of living". With corporate profits at a record high as a % of GDP, our business are certainly enjoying this Golden Period.

In the coming years, the PAP govt with give us more of the same type of policies that resulted in the Golden Period we are living in today. Tomorrow will indeed be better and brighter for Singapore Inc as profits soar and GDP grows......

Friday, July 13, 2007

As a Citizen, I have a right to DEMAND..!

"While I may only be a 2nd lieutenant, I am a citizen of this country. And as a citizen I have the right to demand high standards from the leaders of the SAF. While it is true that high standards are hard to come by and even harder to enforce, for such events to come to light and yet nothing be done about it is to say the very least, unacceptable and disappointing. "
- Li Hongyi (son of PM Lee)
"Yes, anyone CAN DEMAND but whether your demand is
met really depends on who you are....:
-Lucky Tan
As an ordinary worker and citizen of this country, I have the right to demand a more equitable economic system one that distributes wealth fairly to everyone. I want my leaders to go beyond the simplistic approach of just focussing on GDP growth and maximise the gains for ordinary citizens. A worker who has a full time job should make enough for basic necessities and not have to accumulate arrears with our state own enterprises (GLCs) for utilities, rental and healthcare. Every tradeoff has to benefit ordinary citizens, not govt-linked-entities, corporations and a handful of elites.
As a citizen of this country, I have the right to choose the best person to represent me and my interests in parliament. I do not want to be held hostage by threats of living in a degraded environment if I do so. The old and sick should not be forced to walk the stairs because they voted for someone of their choice and not someone selected for them. I want to be able to listen to all the competing views so that I can make an objective assessment when I exercise my right to vote as a citizen.
As a citizen of this country, I demand the right to all information held by my govt as long as it does not compromise national security. Such information will allow me to have input into government decisions that affect me. It also enhances increase the openness and transparency of government.
I'm a citizen of Singapore, I live in a nation led by extraordinary leaders whose integrity, ability and commitment to its citizens can make leadership in many 1st world nations look mediocre. That is why they truly deserve the highest renumeration in the world. I'm sure a few basic demands is not beyond them. Let us have transparency so we can see how truly extraordinary they are and clear all our doubts. Let us have fair elections, they should have no problems winning since they work wholeheartedly for the interests of all Singaporeans...they have nothing to worry about.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Profitable Healthcare - Singapore as a medical hub!

You may be wondering why MediShield is put in the hands of 'for-profit' insurance companies, why means testing is necessary, why waiting times at polyclinic can be 3 hours (with appointment) and why the waiting time for subsidize care is increasing. Here's the explanation.

"There are many people happy with the healthcare system in Singapore ....those who have never been seriously sick!" - Lucky Tan

There is a transformation of our healthcare sector taking place right now and it will soon impact you in the coming years when you get sick. In the past, the much of our resources in healthcare is allocated to public hospitals and a relatively small % to the few private hospitals. This does not make sense for the PAP govt. Just look at the enormous profits that can be made by the healthcare industry in the US (ranked 37 in quality and No. 1 in profits and most costly to citizens).....something has to done to tap the profits in our healthcare service. What better way than to turn it into a hub! Yes, but don't worry our medical hub is far more successful than our education hub, budget airline hub etc:

“Singapore is widely regarded as a leading destination for international healthcare seekers. Singapore received 410,000 international healthcare visitors in 2006 and many others sought ancillary healthcare services while in Singapore for other purposes" [link]

Yes 410,000 visitors last year and growing. Expect the medical hub to grow and our limited healthcare resources to be allocated according to who can pay and afford. So you as an ordinary Singapore citizen compete against the millionaire Indonesians, Arabs and even Americans for the best care.

"Is the class "C" subsidy a market subsidy or cost subsidy?" - Lucky Tan
Whatever resources is left in public hospitals is rationed among Singaporeans hence the increased waiting time.
Singaporeans should accept with the changes in our healthcare sector because it will bring in profits - plenty of profits = good for Singapore Inc. Why was MediShield put in the hands of insurance companies? ...Why is the govt introducing means testing saying they are targetting millionaires when the criteria ($1000 household income per capita) will hit middle income families the hardest?!
The healthcare sector in Singapore in entering a Golden Period of high profits. Singaporean blood donors are helping to fuel the profits with their blood which now goes to treat healthcare visitors from all over the world for a profit. Looks like there is alot to look forward to in this Golden Period...starting with healthcare....

Those Bloody Rules Must be followed in Singapore....

What happens if you lose alot of blood (due to an accident?) and go to the hospital? Suppose you need alot of blood or your life is in danger. Watch the video below:

Yes, I was moved to tears too when I watched the video.

Apparently, there are rules in place to make sure you don't use up too much blood from the blood bank. If you need more blood than the quota, you have to find donors to top up what you have drawn from the blood bank (now you know why the call it a bank). But the bank only accept deposits during office hours.....there are no automated blood deposit machines that operate 24 hrs. In the meantime, you might die but rules have to be followed.

I'm sure these rules apply to equally all Singaporeans - ordinary Singaporeans as well as the ruling elites without exception because we have a society built "based on justice and equality". Our leaders who are men of the highest integrity will never deceive us with an inequitable healthcare system because our lives depend on it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Foreigner scolds Singaporeans, Singaporean scolds Singaporeans!

It took me while to recover from the horror described in the letter below.

I'm even more stunned by how this Singaporean (Shaun Jalleh) who has lived in Singapore all these years can be surprised that Singaporeans sat quietly as abuse was hurled against them by a tyranical racist. This Singaporean is also upset that Singaporeans did not stand up for themselves and was disappointed with the apathetic nature of his fellow citizens.

I want to assure Shaun Jalleh that it is not the fault of the Singaporeans on the bus that they did nothing nothing as abuse was hurled at them. Standing up to tyranny just doesn't pay in Singapore, it is better to remain silent and mind your own business. Singaporeans have been conditioned over long periods of time to accept various abuses - be it companies raising prices by abusing their monopolistic positions or the detention of men who were infected with alternative ideas - speaking up always proves to be useless and changes nothing. It is more economical to sit quietly and pretend nothing is happening.

July 10, 2007

Tirade of racial abuse aboard bus and no one bothered to act

ON JULY 4, while travelling on bus service 16, my fellow passengers and I were the victims of racial abuse. The incident was sparked by a person who boarded the bus but had no change for bus fare. At that moment, an elderly Caucasian woman came up and offered to pay the fare for that person. She did this while raising her voice and commenting that Singaporeans will never help anyone but themselves and that all Singaporeans were money-minded.

She even went so far as to add a four-letter vulgarity before the word 'Singaporean' in every sentence she uttered. At that moment, I could not remain silent any longer and I interrupted her, merely uttering the words, 'excuse me'. It was then that her racial slurs began, referring to Chinese people as 'chinks' and how she hated all of them. I then accused her of being a racist which she freely admitted to being, all the while adding again the four-letter vulgarity directed at all 'chinks'.

She then remarked to the entire bus how Chinese people could not speak proper English, adding that she did not know how they could see owing to their small eyes.
To say the least, I was shocked and horrified by her bigotry. Being lost for words and disgusted at her deplorable behaviour, I just called her a disgrace.
After the dust had settled, I found myself utterly disappointed at how such a small and hateful person was allowed on our shores, if in fact she was in Singapore on a long-term basis.
However, I was even more disappointed in the extreme apathetic nature of my fellow Singaporeans. This racial abuse lasted a good five minutes on a bus packed full of Singaporeans who had just finished work, and no one except me had shown disapproval of this verbal abuse.

Everyone just sat there without saying a word. If we Singaporeans do not stand up for ourselves in the face of such blatant tyranny, who will? The ironic thing is that I am Eurasian and my girlfriend is German and I was the only one who said something when she went on her racial tirade.

This debacle has left me with the opinion that our Government's drive towards attracting foreign talent needs to be approached with great caution. More stringent checks on potential immigrants are required, which should not be solely based on paper credentials, but on their sentiments towards Singapore and their people. One bigot allowed to grace the country I love is one too many.

Shaun Jalleh

Sunday, July 08, 2007

MM Lee : Singapore In Golden Period!

I felt a bit down yesterday after reading about how 22 evil doers tried to undermine Singapore in 1987 as part of a Marxist conspiracy. Luckily, they were foiled by the ISD and Singapore was rescued from destruction.

Today's Straits Times is more uplifting. MM Lee tells us we are in a Golden Period. From my apartment I can see the numerous construction cranes building new condos that will take us to this Golden Period. Indeed the Golden Age is upon us. In 1984, Singapore aimed to have a Swiss standard of living. We must have leapfrogged the Swiss to enter this Golden Period, because I still haven't had a chance to use my fondue pot.

What does it take to get to this Golden Period? Among the many important things,.... night life, F1 racing and casinos.... these are the things our esteemed MM Lee says that will transform us. Wow so visionary. You might think that cities like Macau & KL has already been there and done that, but it will be different when it is done by an extraordinary government.

I truly believe Singapore is entering a Golden Period. All the signs are there, just look around. I'm not talking about the numerous Singaporeans who have dyed their hair gold in anticipation of this Golden Period or those that have dyed their hair platinium white in anticipation of the Platinium Period after that.

What I'm talking about is working into your golden years. Its official! CPF withdrawal age raised to guess what you will be doing in your Golden Years probably not be wasting time walking around in the park or looking after your grand children. Some of us will probably have productive golden years working for the company with Golden Arches that is if no one invents a robotic cleaner by then.

At the rate we are minting millionaires and 'sleepers' our income gap our Gini Index will be hitting the golden ratio of 0.618 from our current 0.51. With the price of food, housing and medical care increasing, someone suggested I keep my savings in gold because cash might be eroded by the rising inflation we are seeing these days.

I'm glad our MM Lee has yet again reminded us how lucky to have such an extraordinary leadership that has led us to this golden period....our leaders are worth their weight in gold.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Losing your handphone in Singapore.....

I've lost mine 5 times in 8 years. The last 2 times I managed to get the phone back ...there is secret to this which I'll explain further down.

Losing my handphone is extremely stressful because I have 200+ contacts, I store all my future appointments/reminders in the electronic calender..... losing a handphone disrupts my life and lowers my productivity. The first thing you do when you lose it is to call up your service provider to cancel all premium services to prevent the person who finds the phone from using MMS, IDD and making 1900 calls. After that, you try to contact the person, first by SMSsing, then calling. If the person intends to steal your phone, he will turn it off after a few rings and you will never see it again. I guess the next thing that happens is the person will remove the SIM card and try to sell it off..... most probably to a 2nd hand dealer. I did a quick informal survey once among friends who have lost their handphones ......return rate is about 20%. 80% of the people who find handphones will steal it.

After I lost my handphone for the 3rd time, I decided I had to do something about it. I gave it alot of thought and realised that I was at the mercy of the honesty of the person who found the phone. How to make that dishonest person honest?.....

I found out that my Nokia phone is worth about $60 at the 2nd phone dealer so I stuck the above message onto the battery so that it would be seen if the person decided to remove the SIM card. It worked like a charm the next 2 times my phone was lost! The last time I lost my phone, I tried "acting blur" and "forgetting" the $80 by just thanking the person after he returned it, ...he asked point blank "Where is the $80 reward...?".

Every handphone has a unique number known as the Imei. This number is hardwired to the phone and remains even when the SIM card is replaced. There is a suggestion by a Mr. Peter Humphreys (see below) to disable the stolen phones based on the Imei. The idea is to make stolen phones worthless and 2nd handphone dealers more vigilant. It would remove the incentive for being dishonest. If they do that, I can reduce my reward to $20 ($10 for transport and $10 for being honest).

Integrity can be bought. By giving people incentive to be honest, they will be motivated behave honestly. The price of integrity falls if the system has various checks in place to reduce the gains from dishonety. How much you need to pay for integrity reflects the quality of the system and safeguards in place to prevent abuse. However, I'm not hopeful that our telcos will implement this because they have nothing to gain from it and they will incur some (very small?) cost to monitor blacklisted Imei.


Straits Times Forum 2 July 2007.
Telcos should disable stolen phones via Imei

MY FAMILY has just had its third mobile phone stolen in Singapore over the past three years. We know it was stolen rather than 'lost' as it was fully charged and on, yet when we called to see if someone had found it, it diverted to voice mail suggesting someone had removed the SIM card.

We then called our operator to stop the thief making calls, but this does not stop the thief inserting his own SIM card. The operator can disable the phone itself by stopping any calls based on the unique Imei number (which I record and can provide to the operator). So why don't operators stop phone theft by using this feature?

Peter Humphreys

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Having less than perfect children in Singapore....

There is no insurance covering newborns diagnosed with congenital medical problems in Singapore (... closest one is from Great Eastern that pays only IF the problem is discovered 2 years after the child is born). 1% of babies are born with heart defects, 1% are born premature, other diseases such as blood disorder Thalassaemia Major, spinal bifida, autism, celebral palsy etc. About 3% of children are born with serious major congenital malformation. The cost of treating newborns with such defects can be quite expensive for Thalassaemia, for example, a bone marrow transplant costs $100K. Heart problems can cost between $20K for a hole in the heart and $100-$200K for more serious defects. Not only that, parents sometimes have to cope with the cost of lifelong care..... theraphy, medication, followup treatment. In many cases, one parent quits the job to take care of the child.

About 1.5% of the population are millionaires. I guess for that 1.5%, it shouldn't be a problem. What about middleclass and poor families? What are the costs like say when you have an autistic child?

Here's a letter from the Straits Times Forum below read it - it is just a sample of the challenges faced by parents of such children.

The PAP govt is not looking at helping such parents but is actually reducing subsidy for treatment that is free in almost all developed countries. I see we are going to top 1st world status in a different way - reducing help for children with chronic illnesses!

I guess Singapore simply cannot afford it. Our spending on healthcare is $2B and we need to continue to invest in other countries such as Shin Corp in Thailand which cost tax payers $5B. We need to spend $10.7B on defense, twice as much as all our nearest neighbors.

The govt of Singapore encourages everyone to have more children - perfect children not one that will cost the state money because they can import healthy people from other countries so why should Singapore Inc bear the cost of less than perfect workers.

July 4, 2007 Straits Times Forum

Help middle-income families with autistic kids

I AM the mother of a young child diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. My husband and I have had to put up with the incredible cost of seeking early intervention for our child. The cost of treatment and care is about $2,700 per month.

The early-intervention programme at a government-sponsored centre last year was quite affordable at $240 per month. We were shocked when fees were revised in January and we had to pay about four times more. We were told that subsidies from the Government had been reduced for middle-income families and that they would be reduced further over the next few years until they are non-existent in 2010.

I am asking for concrete help for middle-income families like mine to cope with the huge expense of providing our children with early intervention. In places like Australia, the US, UK and Hong Kong, the state bears most or all of the expenses. Why is Singapore so far behind?

Ng Suu-piing (Mdm)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Extremely high standards at MOE!

Looks like the shortage of teachers is a Singapore myth. MOE has many highly qualified applicants and is in the position to choose the best.

Here's a letter by someone rejected by the MOE. Oh what a whiner! Doesn't he understand the high standards we have at MOE. Even an acclaimed playwright who has straight As for his 'O' & 'A' levels...winner of Prime Minister's book prizes, National Arts council's prestigious Young Artist Award, well loved by students and the principal does not qualify for the position of relief teacher these days.

Looks like MOE has extremely stringent criteria for selecting teachers even relief teachers.

July 2, 2007

NZ-trained teacher rejected due to his age?
I READ with interest the letter 'Is there a shortage of school teachers?' by Madam Jenny Sim Siew Hwa (ST, June 21). I moved to New Zealand in 2000 and trained as a secondary teacher there to teach physics, science and mathematics.

While in New Zealand, I taught physics and science in an all-boys school as well as a co-ed school. Recently, I decided to return to Singapore and applied for a teaching position with the Ministry of Education (MOE). An interview was arranged and I returned to Singapore during my term break last April. I was surprised the interview panel did not even realise I was teaching overseas and as such had an overseas address.

Later, I received a letter telling me I was unsuccessful in my application as 'the crop of applicants were of a very high standard'. Looking at my teaching qualifications, teaching experience and testimonials from principals and heads of department I worked with in New Zealand, I was disappointed.

In New Zealand, I would be snapped up as I teach a specialist subject - but not in Singapore. On the one hand, I hear there is a shortage of teachers but my experience is that MOE does not seem to realise that.

It makes me wonder if overseas teacher training qualifications are recognised.
Or is age a barrier? Incidentally, I am 50 years old. I have read about how Singapore wants to encourage the elderly to remain in the workforce and thought my work experience would be an advantage to my teaching as I can bring relevance into my lessons.

On its website, MOE encourages mid-stream career change. Could it make its criteria clear?
The teaching profession has been undervalued and MOE is not helping to improve its image. In general, the mindset of employers in Singapore has to change to realise that middle-aged employees bring in more skills than are taught in theory. As part of the workforce that has contributed to what Singapore is today, I am disappointed and may return to New Zealand where I am better appreciated.

Cheong Kam Seng
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Monday, July 02, 2007

Penniless in the land of plenty.....

Here's an article by Seah Chiang Nee. In case you don't know who he is, Mr. Seah was the editor of one our dailies Singapore Monitor until he had a change of heart in Australia and went to work for The Star.

In the following article, Mr. Seah highlights the one of the many grand achievements of the PAP - stretching the working life of Singaporeans. To get this done, the PAP had to remove various pension schemes, liberalise the CPF so that money goes housing instead of retirement and keep the cost of living high by having regular price increases to suck away whatever spare cash Singaporeans are able to squirrel away for old age. Thanks to all the PAP has done, we can all look forward to a long productive life.

Penniless in their twilight years in a land of plenty

For many elderly folk, Singapore is a tough place to live in. Many senior citizens just do not have the skills for the modern economy. WITH better living, Singaporeans are enjoying one of Asia’s longest life expectations, averaging 82 years – but it’s not everyone’s cause for celebration.
In fact, for half the retirees with insufficient Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings, it could be a terrible burden. Singapore is also one of the region’s most expensive cities to retire in.
The government obviously sees the downside of a citizen who retires at 62 and lives for two decades without any income.

Last week, it served notice of its intention to push the retirement age by three years to 65. In fact, where possible, it prefers citizens to carry on working until 70.
However, there is some contention over the prospect of a delay in the withdrawal of the minimum CPF savings from 62 to 65. . CPF is the republic’s mandatory retirement fund in which a member can withdraw a portion at 55, but has to leave behind a minimum sum. From this, he or she receives a monthly payout from age 62.

This sum now stands at S$96,000 (RM220,800) and must be gradually topped up to S$120,000 (RM276,000) by 2013. “I think it is quite reasonable to raise it to 65 if our objective is to raise the employment rate of this group of people,” said the minister overseeing issues on ageing, Lim Boon Heng. He is apparently preparing the people for the inevitable.
Twenty-five years ago when retirement and the CPF withdrawal age was 55, it was a different world. At that time life expectation was 70 years, 12 years less, so a change comes as no surprise.

Public reaction has been strong. CPF is one of the most cherished things in a Singaporean’s life, and any talk of delaying withdrawal is bound to bring out strong emotions.
(In the 1984 general elections, the government’s vote fell by a hefty 12.4% just because of a rumour that repayment would be delayed beyond 55.)

It is understandable. For many elderly folk, Singapore is a tough place to live in. In the first place, many do not have the skills for the modern economy.
After a lifetime of work, they want to take charge of their savings and spend it as they wish. The trouble is that while the majority is financially conservative, others make a mess of it and get into trouble.

Many are simply not capable of managing such a large fund on their own. Either they become fair game for cheats or they gamble or spend lavishly on wine or women.
“When the money is gone, they become homeless or penniless, cursing the government for not looking after them,” said a small businessman. A year ago I met a weeping gentleman in a hospital room being consoled by two nurses. A China woman whom he had befriended had cheated him of S$60,000 (RM138,000) of his CPF savings, he told the nurses.

In a fast-paced city very much preoccupied with the bottom line, the elderly get less respect and care than they deserve. In failing health and overwhelmed by Singapore’s new technologies, many are still toiling in menial work. Liberal-minded Singaporeans decry two perceived wrongs. First, senior citizens are given only the minimum level of government financial help considering the state’s enormous wealth.

Second, they resent the government’s control on people’s retirement money.
“Something must be fundamentally wrong with society if one cannot retire after working for 30 to 40 years,” exclaimed a young professional. Unlike in many western countries, Singapore has little or no social security or welfare. These factors partly explain the city’s low birth rates.

Living in a highly competitive nation has helped to turn Singaporeans into some of the most pessimistic people in the region when it comes to retirement savings.
The Thais have the most sanguine feelings about retirement, according to a survey by American International Assurance (AIA).

Some 61% of Thais believe they will have sufficient funds to retire, based on current savings patterns. This contrasts with just 24% of those surveyed in Hong Kong, 47% in Malaysia and 27% in Singapore. While the government wants people to work longer, until 70, many Singaporeans actually want to quit earlier. A study by a financial protection player, AXA Group, showed that Singaporeans, on average, consider the ideal retirement age as 54, the earliest among the 15 countries surveyed. Those in Hong Kong, Canada and Australia would opt to retire at 55, while the Japanese want to wait till they are 61.

The ruling People’s Action Party constitution still declares it as a “democratic socialist” party, but in the past 40 years, the “socialist” part of it has been in decline (Lucky Tan: Excuse me Mr. Seah, are you sure the "democratic" part is not in decline?). For their part, Singaporeans are learning to depend less on the government for their needs, including jobs and cheap public services.