Sunday, November 09, 2008

Recession : Bad leadership in times of trouble?

A month ago, I wrote No leadership in times of trouble.
2 days ago, I had to sit through lunch with a group of young angry people. They were so angry over so many things - high HDB prices, electriciy bills, fear of being jobless, congestion on the roads, overcrowding on the MRT etc etc - I had to get them to calm down and eat their lunch instead of ranting or we would have been stuck at the foodcourt for a few hours.

“If we just send away the foreign workers now, it will do us harm. For example - companies which are already in difficulty and they hire half foreign workers and half Singaporeans and you tell them that foreign workers must go out. And when you take Singaporeans, his cost will go up and the company may close. And if the company closes, even the half who have jobs may lose their jobs" - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Another day another explanation why so many foreign workers are needed. This time he contradicted his own and his ministers' previous explanation that foreign workers are not here to "keep wages down". If they are not here to keep wages down, why would cost go up when Singaporeans are hired. A few years ago, our demographics post-baby boom had limited us to slower economic growth. The PAP govt realised that slower economic growth can be overcome by importing foreign labor. Why is high economic growth important to the PAP? There is a belief in the PAP govt that with economic growth everything else can be solved. We did not go for what other govts went for - which was a moderate foreign workers policy - sustainable and beneficial to the citizens. We had a foreign worker policy on steriods - we brought in more foreign workers per capita than all other countries (except oil rich middle-eastern states?). The numbers overheated the housing market making expensive for Singaporeans to own a home, overcrowding in public transport, rising costs and exacerbated a worsening income gap. It was a simple formula the PAP applied to get the GDP outcome it wanted : MORE INPUT = MORE OUTPUT = HIGHER GDP. The economy did grow in all sorts of bubble like manner but it was all a numbers game. Along the way condescending explanations were thrown at Singaporeans. One of more insulting ones was to call Singaporeans "small minded" when they expressed their fears and concerns over this policy. Other explanations include "foreign workers create jobs for Singaporeans"....but most people are asking what would the right numbers to maximise the benefits to Singaporeans...and for that one they never got an answer.
In 2006, PM Lee argued strongly for a casino against the objections of the population. Many of us spoke against the social ills that it will bring and many were wary that the casino boom was its tail end with so many governments (Thailand, Vietnam, Phillipines etc) jumping onto the same bandwagon. Most people knew that trying to overturn a bad idea of the PAP govt would be futile but they felt so strongly about it they spoke up and put up a petition anyway. PM Lee then shocked us all by granting 2 licenses instead of 1 as if to slap the faces of those who stood up against his govt casino idea. 2 years later, the casino boom ended, they have to turn down the lights and scale down the shows in Vegas to save costs...Sands is going bankrupt. Genting plans to delay the opening of its casino. A few days ago Sands' stock spiked up on rumors that the Singapore govt will step in to help them with their fianances. While our govt is known for throwing money to salvage bad ideas (remember Chartered Semicon..? ABC Learning?...Micropolis?) many of us hope they will make an exception this time and not use tax payers money to help Sands.....
"It occurred last Sunday, when a train commuter refused to give up his seat to a pregnant woman even when he was asked. Instead, he blamed it on the tough life, reported The Straits Times’ news portal.The episode was photographed by an eyewitness, who quoted him as saying, ‘Life is already full of suffering, why should I reward her (the pregnant woman) for bringing one more life into this world?’" - [Link]
The worrying thing about the ranting I had to sit through 2 days ago at the food court is that we are only at the onset of bad times. If you recall, the so-called "good times" were actually already quite bad for many Singaporeans. The income gap growing and incomes were stagnant or falling for the low income groups. The lack of political will to solve these problems during the "good times" means we have to carry them all the way into the recession. As with every recession, retrenchments will come....first a trickle then a torrent. If the leadership is indecisive and their reponse to the impending problems unsystematic, we will see both fear and resentment. If the govt acts the same way it acted when the minibond fiasco, Singaporeans will be in for very hard times. Many govts have already put in safety nets and clearly articulated their game plan to ease the suffering of the populace during this recession. Do you know what to do when you need help? Where to go? What kind of help you can get? ....Singaporeans don't know because its leaders have not said much about what needs to be done to help them in this recession. Grab a Hong Konger and ask him the same questions. They know because they have put in place a comprehensive safety net for troubled times and this was the subject of much debate for many months. Barak Obama has not even taken office when he held a press conference a few days after winning the elections - that he has an economic team in place, he will increase jobless benefits and he will implement a stimulus package immediately upon taking office if President Bush cannot get one done before the end of this year. Obama will get a roadmap and gameplan ready even before he steps into office.
Singaporeans paid for world class leadership....yet the uncertainty for Singaporeans will be high as we enter this recession. We are still getting explanations about why Singapore Power has to raise its tariffs that all we are getting? Explanations why we have to suffer more pain as the economy worsens. We did not pay this govt so much to give explanations on why they can't do things better for Singaporeans...we paid them for leadership...and we are seeing little of it as we face the worse recession in many decades.
"Take your family to the movies, shop, dine out at restaurants and hawker centres, go for your regular foot massage, indulge yourself at a spa, take a taxi, donate to charity and so on..."
"Sir, how do Singaporeans know they won't lose their jobs after spending that money? Are you going to take care of them?..."
-Lucky Tan
" the gahmen want to say to you...
You die, your buisness
Thats life, shit happens
Dont expect us to take care of you
You die, your business
Dont try to blame us
Cause we got more important things to do"
During the Asian Crisis, I remember seeing long queues of people outside MP's offices. People were lost, desperate and needed help urgently. The MP had to make "on-the-spot" decisions on what to do to help them. I believe given the high household debt levels caused primarily by the rising cost of living, the problem is much worse this time round. ...but the govt don't seem to have learnt the lessons of the past that a comprehensive system has to be in place to lessen the unnecessary suffering of Singaporeans. There just doesn't seem to be any leadership in this crisis.....just more explanations on why the govt can't get things done right....


Anonymous said...

Well written Lucky. Indeed the ministers are seemingly so far from the people on the ground, with the minibonds fiasco to raising of tariffs etc. I hope the people who voted them in can see for themselves what kind of leadership they have voted in, I for one have never voted because of the area I live in, and not because I am a true blue Singaporean, who never quitted and never made my home elsewhere though I was offered twice to be a citizen elsewhere with a job and benefits which will take care of me for old age. I believe in the Obama spirit and CHANGE and HOPE is really needed and I do wish that our government's bad governance will eventually lead to their downfall in order for the people/citizens to do what's right and vote in the necessarily people, may not be the right people but we need something like what has happened to Malaysia and hope that in the near future we will have enough democracy like America to be able to leave this cage like atmosphere in Singapore. The feeling of helplessness yet abandon from the very people who was suppose to be able to make things better - it sucks to be a Singaporean.

From a middle class young hard working Singaporean's perspective.

Fox said...

Great insight.

The government takes GDP growth rather than GDP per capita growth as its benchmark of economic performance although it is the per capita GDP growth that is more indicative of the average Singaporean's benefit from economic growth. It is common knowledge that the cabinet indexes its annual bonuses to GDP growth.

Little wonder the government is unable to resist going for immediate input-driven growth. Labour productivity be damned!

Anonymous said...

However evil/incompetence the ministers look, we can only blame the voters - the 66.6% who vote them in. come the next election, who dares bet that history will not repeat itself?

Anonymous said...

Good post.

It has all been said. We await the next polls.

I hope there will not be anymore huge GRC - I hate to see good Ministers leave.

Better bet to have Single seat wards.

GRC will see PAP lose big!

Anonymous said...

don't assume you can find a job easily after yr RT.
Many older PMTs (47 & above) hv been jobless for 5, 6, 7, 8... years until now.
Finally they hv to accept it as "life" and retire (RT) early.

Anonymous said...

ranting will not save the country. small concrete actions will. our government has been trained all these years to ignore our complaints and ranting and unless Singaporeans are united, nothing will change. If environmentalist hope to change the world by starting with individuals doing simple things, such as using less water, separating waste into recycling and non-recycling, why can't we do the same. Stop buying Straits Times is a good start. Withdraw your money from DBS is another. Can you imagine what happen if 5000 people queue up to withdraw the money from DBS? Can you imagine if 100,000 people stop subscribing or reading Straits Times. Can you imagine if everyone stop shopping at ntuc income for one day? Peaceful, organised and legitimate actions will send a stronger message for change than just individual ranting and complaints.

Anonymous said...

You don't dare to vote against PAP.

You have been brainwashed into believing that if the PAP is gone, your HDB flat will drop 50% in value, your jobs will vanish, and your mothers will become maids.

You have no balls!

Anonymous said...

Such a sad post. So true as well.
If this event happened during election year, the situation would be entirely different of course.

But knowing the short memory span of Singapore, all these bad memories will be washed away with a few "brainwashing" newspaper reports and a couple of dollars in 2010.

Good luck Singapore. We will need it.

Anonymous said...

The best weapon to deal with "opponents" is to "keep quite" or to "ignore", such as to ignore complaints.
If u read the book "the story of 3 kingdom", such methods hv been used extensively.
B4 Elec. some ask if there wld be incr in gst? total silent.

yamizi said...

Be a man, do the right thing during election time.

Anonymous said...

rehashing old complaints and yet hankering for more of the same leadership in another form.

looks like the people have not learnt anything yet.

Daniel Ling said...

I think my pea size brain is really too small. I sincerely do not understand wat was meant by

" These measures have to be taken because, Mr Lee said, Singapore just does not have enough workers.

The unemployment rate here is 2.3 per cent, a figure economists describe as full employment. "

I would ve thought tat Unemployment = Not enough jobs. How did it become not enough workers?

Maybe my ang mo really really bloody hell bad. =X

4 dictionary results for: unemployment Unabridged (v 1.1) - Cite This Source - Share This
   /ˌʌnɛmˈplɔɪmənt/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [uhn-em-ploi-muhnt] Show IPA Pronunciation
1. the state of being unemployed, esp. involuntarily: Automation poses a threat of unemployment for many unskilled workers.
2. the number of persons who are unemployed.
3. Informal. unemployment benefit.

I sincerely read it as Not enough Jobs... Maybe they need a FT to take over me. To read it as Not enough workers... =X

To the 3rd Poster, do note tat there r controls in place such tat voting may not work.

PS: Ty Mr Lucky Tan for the nice article
PS2: I need to go sit 1 corner draw circle to reflect on my lousy ang mo...
PS3: I sincerely hope SGeans will remember ALLLLLLLLL of these in 2011

Anonymous said...

Come the next election a few dollars will make you forget all these. Singaporeans with their lollipops in hand will know exactly where to put the X on the ballot papers. I wonder if the ballbulteevot papers will have a number at the top???

Sgcynic said...

(Straits Times, 8 Nov 2008)

"... Sands said that it had also received word from the Casino Regulatory Authority of Singapore that it had approved the company's proposed casino floor plan for up to 1,000 gaming tables, instead of the originally planned 600 tables."


Anonymous said...

Hey Lucky, always love reading your article, very insightful. With regard to LHL's comments that hiring of foreigners protects Singaporean jobs because of current quota of 1:1 ratio imposed on companies' hirings is not accurate. In actual fact, the ratio is much worse for Singaporeans.

For EP (above $2,500), there is no quota at all. So technically, an Indian IT company setting up shop here can hire 100% Indian programmers with no Singaporeans provided their salaries are above $2,500 (in practice, there are rampant frauds and abuses in the industry).

For WP (less than $2,500), the ratio is not always 1:1.

According to:

Construction sector: Ratio is 1SG to 7FT

Marine sector: Ratio is 1SG to 5FT

Manufacturing sector: Ratio is 1SG to 1.9FT

Process Industry: Ratio is 1SG to 7FT

Services sector: Ratio is 1SG to 1FT

Landscaping/Agritechnology/Incinerator Plant Sector: Ratio is 1SG to 1FT

So, on avg, as shown, the ratio is more than 1:1 (ie, with 1 Singaporean on board you can hire a lot more cheap foreigners). So who is LHL trying to smoke?

More discussions on this can be found in:

Anonymous said...

600 tables to 1000 tables.

$100 tax on locals removed.

Students free visits to casinos.

Looks like slowly but surely,
Sands has got our PM and all cabinets ministers by the balls.

Muahahaha - play with devil, you get burnt!

Anonymous said...

It should be relatively easy for younger ones to find a jobs, even in recession.
For older folks, even if you hv a degree or diploma, it is quite diff. to look for a job in sg.

Anonymous said...

A good government can take care of the citizens by implementing minimum wage. It looks like the Singapore government is doing the opposite by allowing unrestrained inflow of foreign workers thereby setting a "maximum" wage for its citizens. The salary of the foreign worker plus all the levies equal the maximum wage for the local.
Actually implementing a minimum wage policy can be good for the country. You force the local companies to innovate to be more productive. Let me give a couple of real examples which I observed in Australia which pays very high salaries to those doing menial work. Recently in Australia I bought a large fridge and a washing machine and these were delivered and installed by a single, yes single, worker all within half an hour. (I also bought a 32" plasma TV in Singapore and it was delivered and installed by 2 workers well over an hour.) Another example in Australia the rubbish collection is done by one worker and in Singapore you have one truck driver and a few cheap foreign workers doing the same job.
What I'm trying to say is that by pampering our companies with cheap labour the Singapore government is actually perpetuating our reliance on cheap labour and companies will not explore other avenues to improve productivity.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that while Australia has announced that it's re-looking at its immigration policy during this economic downturn, we are going the other direction.

Anonymous said...

question: is GDP per capita based on resident population? including foreign workers? We should monitor this GDP per capita (including foreign workers) to get a feel of how much productivity growth we have ...

I feel that one should not restrict workers who wish to work in any country ... we should welcome them but at the same time mitigate effects that will impact our society, socially and financially.

Anonymous said...

Mr Lucky Tan,

U really speak for me and my family.

Thank you very much.

Your sincere reader,

AlphavilleSG said...

Voting the PAP govt. out of parliament doesn't complete the equation, I think what Lucky is suggesting (?) is an expectation of expediency and leadership in times like these.

If the PAP govt. leans towards doing what's right for the prosperity of this country (and there's no reason why they can't, it is an one party state), they will be rewarded. If not, we would chance a change for these failings.

Anonymous said...

Good point, anon @6:01 PM. Employers need to be weaned off this cheap foreign labour dependency. Minimum wage can be implemented successfully, many countries have already done so. There will be abuses, but this will encourage businesses to innovate, as you rightly pointed out. You should spread this message to more people and blogs like TOC especially.

Anonymous said...

Well its all talk now, come election these same lot will take a few hundred dollars and hope the the neighbour is voting for the opposition. He will not because he wants to be on the safe side just in case the serial numbers can be traced. I have heard grumbling from the citizens for so long is actually means nothing. we will never talk owner ship like the Americans or even the Malaysian to send a message that the government workd for the people and not the other way around. Pathetics lot we are..its amazing.

Anonymous said...

Inasmuch as we griped, ranted, raved, and castigated; the sad fact remains that come the next election, the PAP will still be in power.

Gerrymandering, a weak opposition, the climate of fear - all this will ensure the PAP will return to power.

The only way is to leave, and let this country go to the dogs, the running dogs of the PAP.

Anonymous said...

Hey when you get the opportunity, you should also visit the other singapore tourist attractions . What you have visited might have been good, but there are still a couple more attractions you can visit. The zoo, birdpark etc..

Anonymous said...

kanni nah lah!
give your support to SDP!

all hum ji Sgians deserve being screwed by familee and their cronies!

Onlooker said...

Blaming others for the voting in of the present singaporean government is what push the fence sitter to them that why you see many people who blames other are actually doing the job for the hatchet man.
Instead of blame ,help out in the alternative party that you want in parliment or better yet run in election as an independent candidates.
Especially for those who have opportunities to work overseas or emigrate.Consider this option before leaving at least.
Freedom need to be fought for.
American freedom from the bush king is shown when barack obama is elected.
It is time true democracy come to Singapore.

xNSman said...

Even the fence sitters can do something without sticking their necks out if they are scared. In the first place, why are you scared if Singapore is such a great place? Start off by buying books as well as donating to the opposition parties. Start with $10 a month and a book or two to give to your friends. They need money to push their programs and to generate publicity. If you cannot even do this, then, you deserve to remain in a deep hole we call Singapore democracy.

Anonymous said...

If Lucky Tan's Articles could be made available more widely, I believe many more Singaporeans will be able to understand and be able to see their own futures better.

TOC is helping in the disseminations of some of the better blogs and I hope other bloggers and netizens will chip in as well.

Articles such as this thread are enlightening, very well writtened and easy to understand. Most importantly, they explained the intricacies in our System of Governance(Government). How our live are affected by policies and their implications.

There are much valuable informations for the average citizens in these articles. It is a great pity that such great articles do not reach more.

May we netizens help to widen the readerships and if possible to further disseminate them to others.


Anonymous said...

Oops, my apology to Sg Daily which helps to spread good blogs to us too.

From Yourstruly: patriot

Anonymous said...

One very simple fact - For SG govt to become a "world class govt", the only way is that it has a sizable opposition to act as a shadow, as a whistleblower. If not, you better off living in China.

LKY spent his best days fighting communism. But in the end, we became one, only to be disguised under the skin of democracy.

Some people argue that they want to vote for opposition, but the opposition members are crap, so they still stick with PAP. Yes, they may not have a CV as long as your roll of toilet paper, but as long as people think like this, there will never be any change and you will continue to live in a dictatorial country.

And just look at Singapore now. 1 out of 4 people in Singapore is a foreigner!!! Maybe more now. You take MRT, the person beside you is from China. The one in front of you is also from China. Where is the Singapore I once knew?

My mother once said something to me that I will never forget - "I rather be a foreigner in a foreign country, than be treated like a foreigner in my own country."

Anonymous said...

Well said, Lucky. It seemed that we had one long recession which never ended. The past 2 years of high growth only caused more misery because it brought in higher inflation and lower salaries. It was harder to get employed. FWs were everywhere. There is a quota, so they said, but the gahmen know how to help companies get around that quota. Simply by dishing out PRs to any foreigner who applied. PRs are hidden inside the label "Singaporeans". So they said they have created a lot of jobs for Singaporeans. But why are there still so many people unemployed? There are still employers who would rather hire young FWs to fill administrative posts than to hire older local graduates who were more than willing to take on these junior positions.

Anonymous said...

I hope people will think this way:

- if you accept that few hundred dangling in front of you, remember the few thousands that they will take back from you after election

- 33% already voted opposition, did they get into trouble?

- weak opposition does not mean we have to vote pap. Any opposition voted in is a signal to pap, the weaker the opposition means the stronger the signal!

- why is our opposition weak? It is because YOU did not support them
They will grow stronger with more support.

Anonymous said...

Our government from the top down are all well paid and enjoy unpublished perks - and jobs for life as they retire to GLCs and others for 2nd and 3rd careers.

This in itself is not bad, but they are unaware of the real world outside their cocoons! Many started off life that way in special streams and even when sent abroad do not broaden their horizons.

Besides, what have they done to merit their positions and salaries?

Now we can see that they are protective of their status and remuneration which suggests they are motivated by fear of losing what they have.

And so they'd rather do nothing than do something wrong - which is why we are behind some other places in transparency, for example.

Some popular websites (Talking Cock) have suffered attacks. Likeliest suspect? After all our govt and suppliers have been helping the Burmese junta in policing their part of the www.

I can only hope that Singaporeans will show up at the polls and register their disappointment with the current state of the government.

Li Shi Min said...

To the previous comment....I think that there is nothing wrong if we reward well civil servants or public sector leaders if they do well, whatever that might mean....

However, I am concerned when we "golden parachute" people whose skills/experience are really doubtful into positions that they can't seemingly contribute effectively...

A case in point...the former CDF, Ng Yat Chung...What right does he have to steer Temasek as one of its top chieftains? I am surprised that a career solider can transform into an investment specialists just like that....

Other names immediately spring to mind but i do not want to bore u...

The point is this...u can pay well...but pls do choose the right people...really based on merit...and not based on relationship...

Even if Mr Ng really had good and useful qualities, the public certainly do not think so...and the burden falls on Temasek to explain why they need to pay huge salary to employ a career solider?