Saturday, July 31, 2010

Alan Shadrake decides to fight!

."I will not grovel to them....I will carry on this fight." - Alan Shadrake

They offered to drop the charges if he apologised but he refused to roll over. The contempt of court charges only require the prosecutors to prove that there is "inherent tendency" to affect the administration of justice:

"Attorney-General v Hertzberg and others [2009] 1 Singapore Law Reports 1103, which has generated worldwide interest as it arose out of articles published in the Wall Street Journal Asia. In Hertzberg, the High Court of Singapore held that utterances by an alleged contemnor are actionable if they merely have an inherent tendency to affect the administration of justice."

It was reported that the prosecution will put up 20 pages of Shadrake book as evidence. It does not matter if those 20 pages contain fact or fiction, as long as "inherent tendency" can be proven Shadrake will be found guilty. i.e. for Shadrake to win, he has to prove he did not write his own book given what those 20 pages say about how the law is applied in Singapore it is trivial to prove 'inherent tendency'. The integrity of our courts is protected by prosecuting anyone who questions it. That there is justice and equality in our legal system and anyone who says otherwise will be presecuted by the system itself will reassure the public of its integrity is a strange notion. What this will effectively do is intensify the fear in ordinary citizens to speak up when they experience injustice and unequal treatment under the system. The just and equal administration of the law depends very much on the people running the system - what goes on in their head, what they fear will happen to them if they behave in a certain way. Knowing that they are protected because people are unable to speak up against the justice system will take away some amount of check and balance in the system.

The Shadrake case somehow reminds me of another 'equality' issue that was discussed a few years ago....and I will use it to illustrate that whatever the intent of the laws and systems we have in place ultimately it is people in the system and their attitude that determines if you get fair and equal treatment for all. A few years ago, the issue of whether there were NS men identified 'white horses' cropped up in parliament. For the non-Singaporeans reading this, these 'white horses' were the sons of the rich and powerful and there was unhappiness among Singaporeans who perceived that these 'white horses' were given special treatment during NS. Cedric Foo who was Minister of State for Defence explained that 'white horses' did exist and these people were classified to ensure that they did not receive special treatment[Link] i.e. they were to be treated the same as sons of cleaners and hawkers. So the expectation of the govt was that once the COs, ICs and platoon commanders knew that there was a 'white horse' in their unit, they would make sure that he was treated as harshly as they would treat a hawker's son. That is how the PAP expects human beings to behave to bring about greater equality in our society ...that also explains the level of equality we have been getting as a result of their policies. Whether our justice system is fair, depends on the people in the system and how vigorously they will pursue equality in the application of the law....that Vui Kong is treated the same as anyone else even the child of an MP or someone from the upper echelons of our society depends on the people in the system and what they believe will be the consequences of their actions. So if a SAF commander believes that he will be badly reprimanded if he does not punish a 'white horse' as harshly as he would a hawker's son, there will be greater equality among those serving their NS. Those who have served their NS can see for themselves what actually happens on the ground and that is also true for the justice system...people will know what the truth is regardless of what can and cannot be said about the system.
Death penalty book author defiant in Singapore [Link]
(AFP) – 16 hours ago

SINGAPORE — A British author facing a possible jail term over his book criticising Singapore's use of the death penalty was defiant following his first court hearing Friday.

Alan Shadrake appeared in a packed courtroom to hear contempt of court charges levelled against him by the Attorney General following the local launch of his book "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock".

A High Court judge granted an adjournment, giving Shadrake's lawyer two weeks to further prepare for the case and another week for prosecutors to respond.

With his passport impounded to prevent him from leaving the country, the 75-year-old freelance journalist remained defiant despite facing possible imprisonment.

"Whatever they do to me, it will prove whatever I say in my book," he told reporters outside the court after the hearing.

"I'm not a wimp, I'm not a coward," Shadrake added. "I want to have my day in court... I'm not running away. If I run away, it means I'm guilty."

Shadrake's book features candid conversations with a retired hangman, Darshan Singh, who the author says executed some 1,000 local and foreign criminals in a career spanning nearly half a century.

Based in Malaysia and Britain, Shadrake is out on bail for the contempt charges, and is undergoing a separate investigation for criminal defamation.

Defamation carries a sentence of two years' imprisonment or a fine or both, while contempt of court is "punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine, with no limits on either," said a statement from the Attorney General's Chambers.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have urged Singapore to abolish the death penalty.

Amnesty said that with a population of nearly five million, Singapore has one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world. It executed 420 people between 1991 and 2004.

However, Singapore officials maintain that capital punishment has deterred drug dealers from operating in the country and spared the lives of thousands of young people from drugs.

The death penalty is mandatory for anyone caught trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine or 500 grams of cannabis.

Shadrake said his arrest had been counterproductive for the Singapore authorities.

"They've blown me up into a worldwide celebrity," he said, adding that his book was "selling like hot cakes" in neighbouring Malaysia.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved. More »

Thursday, July 29, 2010

MM Lee : Never Retire & the Intellectual Class.

Hardly a day goes by without MM Lee sharing his thoughts with us. You may not like him or what he says but his sometimes very direct assertions does give us a glimpse into the thinking of the PAP govt.

"Never Retire" - MM Lee

Thank you MM Lee. Now we can skip all the useless and worthless talk about pushing the retirement age higher and higher every few years. The term 'retirement age' in Singapore carries very different meaning from other developing countries. In other developed countries, when the govt commits to a retirement age, all govt policies on healthcare, pension and taxation are steered towards making sure workers are taken care of once they reach the retirement age. It is a promise that, however hard your struggle to earn a living is today, you can look forward to retirement at a certain age. Shifting retirement age is a very big issue in other countries and is seen as a solution that is taken at the last resort. In France, people have taken to streets to protest the shifting of retirement to 62. The man who wants to do it Sarkozy says he share the pain of workers and has to convince them that it is only done because it is necessary. Here in Singapore the word retirement has a different meaning and the most important implication of a change of retirement age is when you can withdraw your CPF. There is no govt pension, retirement medical plan or housing to look forward to. You pay for your own retirement. If you don't accumulate enough, you can't retire....simple as that. With the current income gap and rising cost of living, a large segment of the population will never be able to retire regardless of retirement age. Those who struggle the hardest to make a living will also end up working the longest. The govt pushes the CPF withdrawal further and further back to force them to work longer....they have no choice as they depend on their CPF to retire. Those who cannot accumulate enough in their CPF can never retire. The people who can retire earlier are the ones with the highest income and don't depend on the CPF. In many countries, the system attempts to bring about great equality by setting a retirement age and commiting resources to ensure that everyone can retire once they reach that age. This is important because it tells workers that no matter how bad their struggle is when they work for decades at lower paying jobs, they can look forward to a decent retirement. Here we have the biggest income gap in the developed world and a retirement scheme that extends the inequality into retirement with many never able to retire.

MM Lee also spoke about building a separate class of people from the ordinary citizens known as the intellectual class. This class of people will be formed mainly from students imported from India and China. He also said there is insufficient talent among Singaporeans and that the Malaysian talents we imported are "not so bright".
"...they are staying because going back does not give them the opportunities we are offering them here..." - MM Lee
As a strategy, a country should not close it doors to external talent. If you bring in the right people, it can create great opportunities for your own citizens and improve their quality of life. But here, MM Lee is talking about creating a special class of people and giving them special opportunities. I strongly believe that the future of Singapore should depend primarily on developing our own talents and importing foreign talents only if it benefits our ordinary citzens. Once the govt pursue a strategy of importing talent and giving them opportunities, it relegates the development of our own people to a lower priority. Take sports as an example. Why would they bother to scout and develop local talent when they can just hop over to China and bring in talents - it is so much easier and the results more instaneous. To raise the standard of a certain sports requires the (sports) association to popularise it, create clubs in the schools and special programmes for those who are talented. Once you can import talent, you can basically forget about all the hard work of getting locals involved involve in the sport and developing local talent.
Why is MM Lee so obsessed with having an 'intellectual class' anyway? If you have been listening to him closely all these years, you will understand that the PAP believes that it is solely responsible for the success of Singapore. This plays down the contributions of men and women who formed the number 1 workforce in the world for decades - a workforce that never went on strike, accepted less benefits, worked longer hours and took CPF cuts during recessions. This generation of workers are now heading for retirement with little medical benefits and pension because they took low wages to build this country taking us to where we are today. While the PAP govt pays itself the highest salaries in the world, these workers have the least benefits among workers in the developed world. MM Lee talks about expanding the 'intellectual class' by 3 times using foreigners and keeping them by giving them special opportunities. This is what ordinary Singapore get for being obedient citizens - an intellectual class comprising mainly of foreigner sitting on top them and taking away their opportunities to succeed.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Alan Shadrake accused of contempt of court....

Singapore's laws on drug trafficking are extremely harsh. Mandatory seath penalty is imposed for possession of small amounts of drugs. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act[Link], a person possessing small qualities of drugs is presumed to be trafficking it unless proven otherwise. The mandatory death penalty has been imposed recently on a poorly educated Malaysian, Yong Vui Kong. who was running errants for his mob boss when he was a teenager (19yrs old). It doesn't matter that he could've been 'forced' into it by the mob or that he was poor or that he was a teenager - the death penalty is mandatory for the amount of heroin he was carrying. Vui Kong had 47 grams on him. I wonder if he even knew that possessing 30 grams of heroin carries the death penalty - in China he would have been spared because it takes 50 grams for death penalty to be imposed. We can argue whether death penalty is right or wrong but even those who support the death penalty have to admit that our laws are harsh harsh that we have one of the highest, if not the highest, execution rate per capita in the world

The problem with extremely harsh laws is that you have to apply them equally to every one and that for practical reasons is very difficult. The system has to be equally determined to prosecute someone from a wealthy country where the same crime carries a far lesser punishment. The death penalty in Singapore will trigger a big outcry in the home country, accusations of human rights violation, and protests by its leaders. Death penalty for 47 grams of heroin is quite shocking for people in many countries.

One of the issues Shadrake examined in his book is whether the law has been applied equally in all cases involving drug possession - rich and poor, people from different countries. You may think that now that charges have been brought against him, he has the chance to offer proof to substantiate what he wrote. That would be true if he was charged for criminal defamation in which case, his lawyer can defend him by showing that what he wrote is true. However, he is charged for 'contempt of court'. In Singapore, you can only legally say that our judicial system is just and all it takes for them to prosecute is for you to write something contrary to that. Alan Shadrake will be found guilty of those 'contempt of court' charges unless he can prove he did not write his book, "Once a Jolly Hangman" - at this point it doesn't matter what he wrote is true or not:
"I submit that the ‘inherent tendency’ test does not meet the standard of rationality required by Article 14. First, when the test is applied, it does not matter whether there is any truth in the utterance by the alleged contemnor. A court may convict so long as it takes the view that the utterance poses some hazard, even if slight, to the administration of justice."

- Freedom of Speech and Contempt by Scandalizing the Court in Singapore

British journalist accused of contempt of court [Link]

Friday, 23 July 2010 19:26

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the contempt of court charges that have been brought against British freelance journalist Alan Shadrake in connection with his new book, “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock.”

Freed on bail last night, Shadrake is due to appear before the Singapore high court on 30 July.

The press freedom organisation has seen a copy of the complaint brought against Shadrake by the attorney-general’s office. It consists of just a series of biased and malicious allegations that show that the case is an abuse of judicial authority.

The complaint says that parts of the book, which is about Singapore’s use of the death penalty, “contains imputations against the independence and integrity of the Singapore judiciary”. In evidence, it quotes around 20 passages which for the most part contain widely-known facts about Singapore’s justice system.

“He was very tired and shaken when he was released,” Shadrake’s lawyer, M Ravi, told Reporters Without Borders. “During our interview, he broke down in tears because of the pressure he had been under during the interrogations sessions. The police questioned him again today for several hours. My client insists that everything he wrote in his book is true.”

Shadrake is facing a possible two-year jail sentence and a heavy fine if convicted. Reporters Without Borders calls on the British government to do everything possible to get the Singaporean authorities to drop the charges. In response to a question from Reporters Without Borders, a Singaporean diplomat in London confirmed that Shadrake would have to remain in Singapore “to assist the police" with their investigation.

Shadrake was released from the headquarters of the Singaporean Criminal Investigation Department at 11.30 pm on 19 July after payment of 10,000 Singaporean dollars in bail. He spent a total of 39 hours in police custody, during which he had to sleep on the floor of his cell and was interrogated for several hours at a stretch about his book.

The police have confiscated his passport and mobile phone.

20 July 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

MBT : There is IMBALANCE in the Market!

Imbalance? The word 'imbalance' must be Minister Mah's euphemism for 'shortage'. Still, I think it is a step forward for Minister Mah to admit something is amiss[Imbalance in resale market]. There has already been months of waiting by ordinary Singaporeans and flood forum letters, complaints to HDB, discussions on the Internet and many many signs that something is not right. Yet the minister made numerous denials that something more needs to be done before the shortage worsens.

Admitting there is some kind of problem is a first and necessary step to start fixing the problem....but it is not a sufficient step to address the issue completely. Minister Mah still has not demonstrated that he understands the cause of this 'imbalance' (maybe he just doesn't want to admit it). One just have to look at his proposed solution:

'HDB has launched almost 9,000 new flats in the first half of the year, and it will launch another 7,200 in the second half to meet growing demand. Another 4,700 new flats under HDB's design, build and sell scheme (DBSS) and recently sold executive condo sites will also add to the supply. In the short-term, Mr Mah said it was hard to tell if prices would continue to rise' - Straits Times Report [Link].

Strangely, Mr Mah said 'it was hard to tell if prices would continue to rise'. Why is it so hard to tell when the PM just said that 100,000 foreigners will be needed in the coming months. How can the shortage (a.k.a imbalace) be fixed when HDB is only offering 11,900 new flats? ...and these flats take time to build before people can live in them!

The truth is the PAP GDP growth strategy has now become highly dependent on foreigner labor and this imported labor is brought in at a faster rate than what our infrastructure can support. Trains become overcrowded, housing costs spiraled up and there was even a shortage of hospital beds a few months ago. To keep the GDP rising, the benefit of which is very unequally distributed with much of it going to the profits of corporations many of which are linked to the PAP govt, ordinary Singaporeans have to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the pain and burden of PAP policies.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

HDB prices hit new high!

The prices of HDB rose by 4.1% in the 2nd quarter (April - June) of this year[Link]. This rise is also mirrored in private properties which rose more than 5% in each of the last 2 quarters of this year - that is a whopping rise of more than 10% in 6 months. There are many negatives associate with the increase in property prices. Property prices rising much faster than income means that ordinary Singaporeans have to take up more debt for housing. The price rise also worsens the effect Singapore's income gap which is already the highest among developed countries - middle and lower income families have to purchase smaller homes and are unable to upgrade while wealthier Singaporeans more than 1 property can enjoy the wealth effect of higher prices by selling at these lofty prices.

Things are not going to get better with another 100,000 extra foreign workers that PM Lee said will be here in the coming months. They too will need housing and that will worsen the situation. In the recent BTO for Ponggol Waterway Terraces, the number of applicants was 18 times the units on offer. We have a very hot market set to get hotter in the coming months unless HDB does something to meet the demand. One can argue whether we are in a bubble or not. Bubbles are obvious only on hindsight. However, price rise that is so much faster than income growth means that the debt burden for ordinary Singaporeans buying homes has increased rapidly in the past few quarters. For an economy that depends on workers to be faster, better and cheaper, rising debt burdens and increase in cost of living will undermine their ability to save, cause their living standard and quality of life to fall and lower their ability to start a family and have children. The govt is asking workers to be cheaper while it does little to arrest the risning cost of housing.

Last week NMP Viswa Sadasivan urged the govt not to focus solely on GDP growth[Link] and use other economic indicators that measure the general well being of the ordinary Singaporean. I would go even further than that by saying that the high GDP growth is negatively correlated with improvement in quality of life for a large segment of the population. For many Singaporeans, the GDP growth in recent years simply translate to increase cost of living without the correspondng rise in wages. It has to do with the way the PAP govt generate such high growth by importing foreign labor. When the economy grows, you see headlines like the on today's Straits Times "Resale HDB Prices hit new highs" but you won't see headlines like "Wages of Singaporeans go up by 5% last quarter". property prices, transport costs, utility rates, conservancy charges rise to negate any economic benefit of growth.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sunshine Empire : Lessons Learnt....

Sunshine Empire ran a Ponzi scheme using more from new investors to pay existing ones. These schemes will eventually collapse when they cannot find new investors to pay existing ones. Using slick marketing and a number of well dressed hardselling sales people, Sunshine Empire pushed its investment profucts, known as memberships, to ordinary Singaporeans. It was reported that a number invested their entire lifesavings. Sunshine Empire promised roughly 2% returns per month and collected $180M from investors. At its height, its well renovated was packed with eager investors wanting to purchase memberships.

Here are the postings in my blog on Sunshine Empire:

Man Badly Burnt by Sunshine Empire Scam....19 Oct 2009.
Singaporeans try short cut to riches....28 Oct 2007

The authorities stopped Sunshine Empire only after it had already sold 20,000 memberships. It just shows how many people are unable to differentiate an almost obvious ponzi scheme from a legitimate investment product. This large number tells we are long way from being a completely financial literacy as a society and scams and con-men such as James Phang can inflict great harm on ordinary people. Very often the authorities take a 'buyer beware' approach expecting ordinary folks to be equip with the knowledge and experience to avoid such scams. The Sunshine Empire case shows us this expectation that people over time will develop the financial skills to avoid major scams is simply not realistic. It has been been 46 years since the 1st major Ponzi scam, the Gemini Chit Fund[Link] swindled thousands of Singaporeans and we still don't have a regulator with enough teeth and vigilance to stop such blatantly fraudulant scams.

Recently the media reported that a landbanking company, Profitable Plots, sold questionable products to many investors who are now trying to recover their money. In June this year, a group of Profitable Plot investors decided to sue company [Link]. All this happened long after Malaysian authorities raided Profitable Plot's office[Link] in Oct 2008. Today there is still no action from the authorities here and Profitable Plot investors have taken matters into their own hands[Link]. How long before the authorities start to act? When the case involve tens of thousands of investors?

Here in Singapore, the authorities have time to catch and fine people for hawking of newsletters. They will react strongly when people write books about them that they don't like[Link] and the laws are extremely and unnecessarily harsh to prevent certain types of that authorities can arrest people quickly and throw them in jail for their views. Videos are banned if the contents don't boost their reputations and reinforce their version of history[Link]. However, when it comes to stopping financial scams and con-men to prevent ordinary Singaporeans from being hurt, there is no sense of urgency,

Stock Market Update

In my previous stock market update in June 2010[Link], I wrote:

I ran everything through with the latest data and this is what I got:

1. The market will recover from the recent abrupt drop from now until end Jul 2010.

2. In end Jul 2010 to Aug 2010, the market will form a 2nd peak that will be close but lower than the 1st peak. You should really get out if here if you miss the 1st chance to end out in end April early May.

Since I haven't completely embarassed myself by making wrong forecasts, lets continue. Despite doom-sayers talking about a double dip recession and worsening European crisis, the market rallied for more than a month. If you look across markets, there are a few important things to note. First is relative strength of the some Asian stock markets vs the US stock market. The Indonesian stock market is at an all time historic high[Link]. This is a departure from the rally from early last year when the STI was closely correlated with the movements of the DOW. Secondly the US$ has weakened considerably against the Euro and a number of Asian currencies and this favors the risk trade. On Wednesday the DOW had a sharp selloff because the Bernanke said the US economic outlook that is subject to “unusual uncertainty'. Actually this is not true. Many investors are confused too by the sometimes good sometimes bad economic data that comes out. The confusion stems from the fact that the economic indicates are split into various timeframes some are leading indicators, others are lagging indicators and a few like transport related indicators that can be measured in realtime are coincident indicators. When you get various economic indicators sorted out based on the timeframe ...what it tells you with a good degree of certainty is the US economy has been growing but it is slowing with a good chance of a historically rare double dip. The only is uncertainty is what Bernanke himself is going to do to delay what some people say is the 'inevitable'.

I ran the new data through my models since the last update and it tells me that we are on track for a run up to a peak from end Jul to Aug 2010. Not only that because money is flowing into Asia ...and focussed on index stocks tracking the recent purchases - the STI is up even when advance-decline line dips down) the peak (measured by the STI)may exceed the high of this year. However, like I said things don't look too rosy beyond that and this run up is likely to soak up much liquidity and the outlook for the economy doesn't look too good.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Floods : Singaporeans want answers!

Lets face it - we, netizens are not experts in flooding. However, it does not take experts to figure out that what Amy Khor said about the Marina Barrage alleviating floods('preventing a bigger disaster' were her exact words) is inconsistent with the way the barrage works during low tide when the crest gates have to be opened. We were told it was once in 50 years rainfall, then debris in drains, then later that morphed into the Stamford Canal not being wide enough. Yesterday, MM Lee said that the floods were due to 'extraordinary rainfall' and cannot be avoided. That high rainfall cause floods is obvious but if that is the main cause why haven't the flood prone low lying areas just north of Singapore i.e. in Johor had any floods in recent weeks? Is it possible that heavy rain just fall intensely onto our tiny little red dot leaving nearby areas like Johor dry? The ordinary Singaporean may not be an expert but he can tell when he is given an incorrect explanation and he can generate intelligent questions that he wants answered.

This is a picture of the areas in Singapore that has been flooded[Google Map Link] courtesy of Kojakbt:

You can superimpose that on to the canal system [Link].

I urge you not to jump into various conclusions how ever logical and obvious as they may seem because we are not experts and cannot prove anything rigorously without more data - there are also other plausible explanations e.g. underground works and construction have affected the flow of underground water. The authorities have created many convenient explanations that seems to put blame away from themselves ..and changed them along the way when the older explanations cannot fit the new observations - once in 50 years rainfall, debris in drain, etc. That is not the way to win confidence and reassure the public. There are people who have suffered serious damage to property and business who deserve better answers.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How the Marina Barrage Crest Gate works....

"The Marina Barrage reservoir did help in preventing a bigger disaster during the recent flash floods, said Dr Amy Khor, who was present at yesterday's event in Bukit Gombak"

"The Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, said that six out of the seven gates at the barrage were left open to manage the amount of rainfall during the heavy thunderstorms last month."

- Today 12 Jul 2010[Link]

Here's a set of pictures (courtesy of Kojakbt) that appeared in the Straits Times explaining how the crest gate works to alleviate floods:

You won't need a Phd or a engineering degree to understand where I'm getting at. Just simple common sense will suffice.

You look at the middle diagram which shows the crest gate lowered to allow storm water to go into the ocean. The pumps in the barrage are not used in this situation. The gate which has been retaining water is lowered to allow fresh water to flow into the ocean. Can someone tell me how this alleviates floods? When the barrage did not exist, water flowed unhindered into the ocean. Now we have to wait for the crest gates to open...and when they are fully open the passage for the water is much smaller than before when the barrage did not exist. When the gates are closed there is a lot of back pressure under heavy rainfall causing water to accumulate in the drainage system behind the barrage. It was reported that the crest gates were lowered during the recent floods so we did not face the situation where the sea level was higher than the fresh water level i.e. the pumps were not used during the recent floods.

I can understand that the barrage can block water from the sea when tide rises but I really can't understand how the barrage 'alleviates flood' when rainfall is heavy and the fresh water level rises above sea level. Can someone explain to me how having the barrage helps (compared with not having it)?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Marina Barrage and the floods....

LATER UPDATE: NCMP Slyvia Lim (Worker's Party) asked about the role of the Marina Barrage in the recent floods.

Ms Lim had asked the minister to clarify what she termed as 'confusing statements' in the media about the role of the barrage in the floods, pointing out that PUB's Chief Executive Officer Khoo Teng Chye had earlier said it was not to be blamed for the June 16 flooding along Orchard Road. When opened to great fanfare two years ago, the $226 million Marina Barrage was being touted as the solution to relieve flash floods in low-lying areas around the city. Explaining the role of the barrage, Dr Yaacob said it played three main roles, that of a freshwater reservoir, to prevent floods as well as for recreational activities. During a rain storm, seven pumps and nine crest gates at the barrage are used interchangeably to release water out to sea depending on the prevailing tidal levels and predictions based on statistical modelling.[Link]

Dr. Yaacoob basically stuck to the explanation that the 16 June 2010 Orchard Rd flood was caused by 2 bursts of heavy downpour 30 minutes apart- 100mm of rainfall within 2 hours and clogged drains were the causes. This explanation is not satisfactory because Orchard Road area had 2 floods after 16 June after PUB said it will monitor drains for debris and rainfall was not as intense. The govt will look at look at widening Stamford canal to prevent future floods....this again is already behind the curve because there were many other places that were flooded 2 days ago Upper Thomson, Bukit Timah, Stevens Rd, Orchard Road, Cresent Road, Bedok and Sims Ave[Link]....a lot more has to be down all over Singapore.

UPDATE : I did a quick check on the Internet and found that the construction of barrages around the world to prevent or control flooding very often leads to increased flooding as an unintended consequence[Check for yourself here]. The reason is water flow (fluid dynamics) is highly complex and is often not amendable to analysis. One hint that something has gone wrong is areas that don't normally flood starts flooding (think Orchard Road). When the big flood in Orchard Road first occurred, the PUB quickly put out a statement that it was caused by debris and would be worse if the Marina Barrage was not there. Now that we have 3(?) other floods since then and floods recurring at Orchard Road at much lower rainfall than the earlier one, I think it is time for them to check all the possibilities not just the ones that absolve the govt from blame and conveniently lead to conclusions that nothing needs to be done.

"The Marina Barrage is the result of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s vision nearly two decades ago when he envisaged damming the mouth of the Marina Channel to create a freshwater reservoir" - PUB Website

A popular hypothesis has emerged among Singaporeans that the Marina Barage is a possible cause of the floods. I'm not an expert in floods so I cannot say with any certainty if this hypothesis is true. Remember a few weeks ago when Orchard Road became flooded, the govt quickly came out with an explanation that it was due to a clogged drain and that PUB will be monitoring the drains closely[Link]. How then do they account for the floods that came after that one? Orchard Road has been flooded a few times since then. The govt' has lost credibility due the flood issue and they will lose more if they don't come up with a good explanation and long term solution soon. Be it climate change, drainage or the Marina Barage, Singaporeans need to know what is going on and that there is a plan and solution in place that will prevent these damaging floods. Singaporeans are not so reasonable to expect 100 new drains to be constructed by tomorrow but they have to start working on the solution else can the govt answer to those whose goods, cars and homes have been damaged in recent weeks.

Why do so many Singaporeans think the Marina Barrage is the culprit?

The Marina Barrage (Chinese:滨海堤坝) is a dam in Singapore built across the mouth of the bay, between Marina East and Marina South. It was officially opened on 1 November 2008. [Wikipedia]

Here is an air picture of the barrage:

Another picture:

When the Marina Barrage was opened, it was said that it can be used for "flood control". The barrage has steel gates that separate the sea water from the fresh water. The barrage can prevent rising sea tide from flooding the island - but the problem is water flow in the other direction from the island to the sea. During heavy rainfall, the steel gates are opened to allow the storm water to flow into the sea. According to the hypothesis, herein lies the problem, in the past without the barrage, storm water flows freely into the ocean but with the barrage, this flow of water is impeded by the structure causing a back pressure leading to rising water levels on the island.

Netizens and ordinary Singaporeans do not have the data or expertise to rigorously prove this hypothesis. Only the govt and its experts can come up with rigorous explanations. I highlighted this popular hypothesis only to show the need for the govt to step forward and explain what is going on. The public generally don't accept "once in 50 years" and "debris in the drain" type of convenient (convenient for the govt to do nothing) explanations which now look rather ridicious given the frequency of these floods.

Some other flooding incidents associated with building of barrages in other countries:

In Kuching :
The Malaysian govt denied it because it was the one that build the barrage.

An official report by the Dutch Government found the construction of a storm surge barrier across the Oosterschelde estuary in the 1980s actually increased the risk of flooding in the area. [Link].

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hong Kong Passed Its Minimum Wage Law Yesterday....

Despite having a legislature which is composed mainly by members not elected but selected by Beijing and dominated by business elites, they have passed their first minimum wage law. The minimum wage is set at S$5.84 per hour.

In a posting about a year ago[Link], I explained why the PAP govt refuses to implement minimum wage laws. The 3rd world wage structure in Singapore has resulted in enormous disparities:

Lowest paid jobs in Singapore*

1. Office cleaner $600
2. Manufacturing labourer and related worker $760
3. Kitchen assistant $991
4. Plastic product machine operator $994
5. Hospital attendant $1,000
6. Travel agency and related clerk $1,016
7. Waiter $1,080
8. Pre-primary education teachers $1,100
9. Lorry attendant $1,102
10. Pest exterminator $1,106
* Based on median starting salary from The New Paper

If a meaningful minimum wage is set, the economy which is dependent on low wages (Cheaper, Better, Faster) will be affected. Countries that have a 1st world wage structure have no problems implementing minimum wages and in fact, they all have it to raise the living standards of a small segment of the population at the margin. For me, the issue is not whether we have minimum wages or not but years of unbalanced policy making, lack of independent unions and dependence on cheap foreign labor has made it difficult to implement minimum wages. We have a large segment of our population now locked in an underclass with little chance of elevating themselves no matter how hard they work.

Hong Kong is not a democracy, it is not even a nation. I think for a long time, many believe that in Hong Kong, it is every man for himself and 'you die your business' ....complete laissez faire....brutal capitalism...where people have 'you sell you soul for money' kind of greed. But today they have comprehensive welfare, minimum wages, and a populace yearning for democracy and justice and are willing to take to the streets for it. The minimum wage legislation saw huge opposition from big businesses who threatened to layoff workers but the fact is only their profits will be hurt. The minimum wage set at S$5.84 per hour is not high but the victory shows that it is possible in Hong Kong to win against the big businesses there to bring about greater social equity - something we cannot see in Singapore. They will be able to do more when they become more democratic in a few years.

If Hong Kong can pass a minimum wage law, where does that leave Singapore? Think hard about what kind of political system we have here. How the PAP has become intertwined with a network of businesses to which it is linked and how the establishment has other interests and priorities other than that of ordinary Singaporeans. There is no interest to bring about balance in policy making - the PM can tell us 6 months ago that they are serious about moderating the foreign influx only to take it back last week by saying 100,000 more are needed. Be it floods, crowded trains, insufficient public housing, income gap, ...when the problem affects ordinary Singaporeans and not PAP's interests, there is little will in govt to get it fixed.
Hong Kong Passes Minimum Wage Law

Sat, Jul 17, 2010

HONG KONG - Hong Kong on Saturday passed its first minimum wage law, a controversial issue that has divided the city's business sector and labour groups for more than a decade.

Lawmakers hailed the passage of the bill - secured after more than 40 hours of heated debate - as a historic moment for Hong Kong, where policymaking is often heavily influenced by the powerful business elite.

Officials said the law will take effect next year, and a government-appointed task group is expected to propose a minimum wage level in the coming months.

But pro-democracy legislators, whose numerous attempts to have the bill amended were blocked by their pro-government counterparts, said there were many loopholes in the new law.

Lee Cheuk-yan, lawmaker and a leader of Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said: "No doubt it is a historic moment for Hong Kong."

"We have now said goodbye to an unfair practice in a capitalist economy and acknowledged the fact that workers should be rewarded for their hard work," he told AFP.

Recent surveys showed that many workers at large retail chains are only paid between two and three US dollars an hour.

Lee said it was "regretful" that the legal framework for setting the minimum wage will be largely controlled by the government.

Under the law, all members of the task group will be picked by the city's chief executive. The legislature can only approve or reject the wage level proposed by the group, but cannot make any amendment.

The law will require the task group to review the wage level once every two years, instead of once a year as proposed by trade unions.

"We will have to use public pressure to campaign for a fair minimum wage level, since under the legal framework the control will be largely in the hands of the government," Lee said.

Unions have pushed for the minimum wage to be fixed at 33 Hong Kong dollars (S$5.84) an hour, saying anything less would not cover basic expenses with living costs having risen sharply in recent months.

Many countries already have minimum wage legislation in place, with the hourly rates in New York and London set between 7.25 and 8.80 US dollars.

Hong Kong's minimum-wage proposal had faced stiff opposition from some of its largest employers, with some threatening large-scale layoffs if the change was introduced.

Michael Chan, chairman of fast-food giant Cafe de Coral - who was ranked by Forbes magazine as the 35th richest man in Hong Kong in 2009 - has said his company might issue a profit warning if the hourly rate proposed by the unions became law.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Filipinos celebrate job creation in Singapore

Here is the video link.

"It's a good result and we should be happy..." - PM Lee on the 15% economic growth this year[Link].

"I'd imagine there will be more than 100,000 extra foreign workers this year. I cannot see it otherwise, but we have to accept that" - PM Lee [

"Higher growth not higher wages yet..." - Straits Times 15 Jul 2010[Link]

Singaporeans want good economic growth so that they can get higher wages and better job opportunities. In recent years, economic growth produced little of these benefits for Singaporeans. Real wages grew by only 1.4 per cent per annum from 2001 to 2009, according to the Ministry of Manpower’s Labour Market Q1 2010 report. Going forward the govt aims to raise median income from $2400 to $3100 in 2020. This is roughly 2.5% per annum. Job opportunities for Singaporeans especially those above 40 have not improved as structural unemployment remains a problem in Singapore. In the past, before we imported foreign workers by the hundreds of thousands, when the economy grew, the labor market would tightened up and older workers would get reasonably good job opportunities. Not true for today's economy....PM Lee said the rapid growth means 100,000 more foreign workers will be brought in ...and this also means older Singaporean workers who are unemployed or under-employer will see little improvement in employment opportunities because employers can employ younger foreign workers given the floodgates are open. The video link I put up shows the excitement in Philippines generated by Singapore's rapid growth which represents improve job opportunities for filipinos. I do not begrudge the individuals from Philippines who take up these job opportunities - they have families to feed and many are hardworking individuals looking for a better life for themselves. However, Singapore is a nation not a corporation and the success of govt policy has to be measured in terms of how much it benefits ordinary Singaporeans.

No Singaporean I met has been particularly happy about the high economic growth except one guy who is waiting to sell his HDB for a high price so that he can move to Australia. We have become familiar with the effects of high economic growth - rising cost of living relative to wages, overcrowding of public transport, increase competition for housing and cars, higher stress levels etc. The high economic growth leads to a lower quality of life for many Singaporeans and PM Lee's remark that 100,000 extra foreign workers has brought about widespread dismay among ordinary Singaporeans who believed that his govt was sincere about moderating the number of FTs.

The PAP govt with the network big businesses to which it is linked has formulated policies that are unbalanced with benefits going to a small segment of the population. These policies have exacerbated the effects of our income gap which is the largest among developed nations and life for many Singaporeans has worsened year after year in the past 2 decades.

Friday, July 16, 2010

$1.2B still get monkeys....

DBS paid $1.2B to IBM in an outsourcing contract for 10 years in 2002. As part of the deal, 500 DBS employees who formed the IT team were hired by IBM[Link] in one of the largest outsourcing deals ever in Singapore. Outsourcing became fashionable about 10 years ago and there was a rush by companies to outsource their inhouse non-core activities to other companies. You wonder how IBM which simply took over the staff from DBS can do a better cheaper job and still turn a profit for itself doing essentially the same thing DBS was doing inhouse. I'm not here to condemn IBM or DBS for the recent debacle - there's enough of that by other bloggers and netizens already. I'm familiar with IT systems and can understand how small mistakes can lead to severe consequences. In this case, it was reported that the IBM maintenance team was given a set of just outdated (outdated by a few days?) procedure by a regional team and that led to the shutdown. Quite unlucky....and you can feel sorry for the engineers who simply followed the wrong instructions given to them leading to the mess. At the end of the day, it could boil down to one person looking up the wrong instructions....this type of human error cannot be avoided unless other checks and processes are in place e.g. someone else has to sign off the instructions and so on. But sometimes systems are so complex, you cannot tell that the set of instructions are so critical and there is just no way to prevent it unless you put in checks all over the place which can be quite inefficient. So even IBM makes mistakes just like everyone else....but you notice how quickly the blame shifts from DBS to IBM and because it is IBM a big established brand name. Suppose the same 500 staff from DBS formed a company called XYZ and DBS gave the contract to them and the same thing happened, it is harder for DBS to offload the blame to a no-branded company. If DBS had not outsourced to IBM, it would have to take all the blame on its own.

When I started work many years ago, I was tasked to buy a piece of computing equipment. I looked around and the best deal was from a lesser known (no brand) company which sold the equipment for half the price of similar HP and IBM equipment. It did some checks and found that the equipment was really value for money but was given advice by a more experienced colleague not to buy it. The logic is like this - if it is IBM and it breaks down, the management will blame IBM.... but if I buy an unknown brand equipment and it breaks down, they will blame me for choosing the no brand one even though I did a proper assessment. I won't tell you what I eventually bought but in most companies, people will buy the branded equipment because they rather use the company's money to buy something more expensive than to take on the risk and responsibility. The difference in this type of decisions is the result of company culture and the willingness of people to take responsibility and risk ultimately determines of a company can compete and survive. Many companies start off small and lean then before they find success. When they become richer, they can lose the 'can do' spirit and the management starts hiding behind consultants who are hired for expertise they are suppose to possess so that they can blame the consultant for bad decisions...when responsibility and blame can be outsourced by paying money ...why not.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Singapore is the fastest growing economy in the world!

The Singapore economy grew a whopping 18.1% in the 1st half this year and is set to grow by 13-15% in 2010[Link]. This growth rate exceeds that of China.

This growth spurt like the economic growth of the past few years has not translated to gains for many ordinary Singaporeans in terms of wages. The over-heated rapid growth has resulted only in rising cost of living - housing prices, transport costs etc. PM Lee said yesterday that the rapid growth means that we have to bring in 100,000 more foreign workers:
'It cannot be helped because with the market so tight, if we don't allow the foreign workers in, you are going to have overheating.

'But we are managing the number of foreign workers. Their levies are being calibrated to moderate the inflow.

'But even with that, I would imagine there would be more than 100,000 extra foreign workers this year. I cannot see it otherwise. We have to accept that.' - PM Lee [Link]

I see. So that is what the PAP means when it talks about moderating foreign workers. We have to just accept it - the crowded trains getting more crowded, the high housing prices becoming higher and cost of living goes up further.

So what is the difference for Singaporeans if we grow 5% vs 14%? I figure we have to grow about 4% to maintain full employment for Singaporeans. However, PM Lee said something rather interesting yesterday. He said the rapid growth means we have to import more foreign workers - so the justification for more foreign workers is rapid growth. The truth is we are able to achieve this block buster, world beating economic growth because Singapore imports more foreign workers per capita than any other country (less the few oil rich middle eastern nations). Now this growth becomes justification for more foreign workers. So much for sincerity in wanting to moderate the number of foreigners.

Many countries are wary of the economy growth being too fast. China is one good example. They spent the last 9 months cooling off their economy to get growth down to below double digits because the cost of living was rising too quickly in particular the housing market. I'm not saying the Chinese have done a great job - in recent months there has been worker unrest all over China because wages have risen too slow compared with the cost of living and the income gap in China has widened further. It would have been worse if the Chinese govt had done nothing. The Chinese govt also allowed the Yuan to rise to keep inflation under control. You can expect the MAS to allow appreciation of S$ for the same reason. What is clear is fast growth is not always good ...and in today's economy it is more often bad for ordinary citizens because over the years, a greater % of GDP has been going into company profits vs workers' wages. Do the recent economic growth benefit you greatly? Were you able to sell your HDB flat at a high price...?..Hmm so now you're homeless and have to pay more for a smaller unit!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

France to raise retirement age to Singapore's.....

The French workers are up in arms about the increase in retirement age and massive protests will be organised soon.

France's biggest union, the CGT, has told the government to go back to the drawing board and come up with another plan, calling it a "flagrant injustice" that puts the burden of reform on workers.

Retirement in France is not the same as retirement in Singapore. The French medical system is number 1 in the world and free for everyone. The public and private sector workers are on pension schemes while in Singapore the retirement age of 62 is can be quite meaningless for many people because there is no pension or welfare scheme and many will not accumulate enough to retire at that age anyway. The minimum sum in CPF is just sufficient for basic living (I hope) and has been recently stretched further with CPF Life. You retire on what you can accumulate and if you can't, you keep working and working.

Pension reform is not something of choice for France. They must do it to get their deficits down and restore fiscal discipline. Even the French unions agree that something has to be done. What they disagree with is Sarkozy's plan which they consider unjust:

Under the plan, French workers will have to pay contributions for a longer period and some new taxes will be imposed on high-income earners and on capital gains to help plug a gaping hole in pensions funding.

The unions want the hole to be plugged by increasing taxes for banks and taxing capital gains and for the retirement age to remain the same. Sarkozy's plan vs the union's being hotly debated in France and are generally the only 2 approaches being discussed there.

"I'm expecting demonstrations. I know that people are suffering. What will make a difference will be our idea of what is just" - Sarkozy

In Singapore the govt has implemented a system in which each person pays for his own retirement. It is drilled into Singaporeans' minds that this is the only way to do it. Whether this is a good system or not depends on what you want to optimise quality of life, economic growth or social justice. In France, moving the retirement age to 62 is considered great suffering for ordinary people even by a president who is a pro-business rightwinger....the PAP govt will be shifting retirement age to 65 in 2012 and eventually 67 later on[Link]. In France, sharing the fiscal burden among business, high income earners and ordinary workers is considered unjust by many - but in Singapore the retirement burden is borned solely by workers themselves and a large segment work for low wages will never accumulate enough to retire.

Is the Singapore system good? It is good only when income inequality is small ...then your quality of retirement life relative to others depends on your own discipline to save, and the system achieves both low taxes and high social equity. However, when income inequality is high, the system amplifies the inequality - lower income groups are forced to save degrading their quality of life and those who are too poor don't have enough to set aside cannot even retire. Singapore has the largest income gap among developed nations and the retirement system amplifies this large gap....As our income gap increases, this 'every man for himself' system will further divide our society and erode social cohesion. France has a much smaller income gap yet it concerns it is concerned that the proposed pension reform will bring about grave injustice for ordinary citizens. The difference between Singapore and France represents the numerous policy options and alternatives that can be considered as we evolve. But changes to our system will never come if we stick with a dogmatic ideological govt with a single KPI of economic growth and puts zero weight on the ideals of our pledge which contains the words "justice and equality".
France launches bill to raise retirement age [Link]

PARIS (AFP) - – The French government was Tuesday to officially launch plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, in a sweeping overhaul of the pensions system that labour unions have vowed to fight.

The plan is a centrepiece of President Nicolas Sarkozy's reform agenda as he eyes a reelection bid in 2012, but it has been overshadowed by a huge political funding scandal that hit his Labour Minister Eric Woerth.

Under the plan, French workers will have to pay contributions for a longer period and some new taxes will be imposed on high-income earners and on capital gains to help plug a gaping hole in pensions funding.

The most controversial parts of the plan will be pushing back the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018 and bringing pub sector pension plans in line with those in the private sector.

Talk of raising the retirement age has been taboo in France, where the right to stop working from age 60 has been enshrined since 1982, one of the main legacies of Socialist president Francois Mitterrand.

Sarkozy said Monday he was ready to discuss some of the measures in the bill with the trade unions, but that the 62-year target and the extension of public sector employee contributions would stay.

"I'm telling you: 62 years, that we won't touch," he said in a major television interview called in an attempt to move beyond the Woerth scandal.

"I'm telling you: The equality if public and private contributions, that's a question of justice. On the rest, we'll be open to hear what our negotiating partners say," he declared.

The plan prompted mass street protests last month and labour unions have vowed further action when parliament debates it in September.

"I'm expecting demonstrations. I know that people are suffering. What will make a difference will be our idea of what is just. Not the size of the protests" - Sarkozy said.

Woerth's presentation of the bill at Tuesday's cabinet meeting comes at an especially delicate time, after a scandal linked to the fortune of France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt.

A government report cleared Woerth of accusations that he helped Bettencourt evade taxes, but other probes into her affairs are pending and he has also been accused of illegal campaign funding and conflicts of interest.

On Tuesday he is to formally present his pensions bill to the government, which is expected to approve it and pass it on to parliament to debate in September. Sarkozy predicted it would be voted into law shortly thereafter.

The reform is aimed at helping the government meet its announced deficit target of three percent of GDP in 2013. Woerth says it aims to balance the books and achieve "zero-deficit" in its pensions scheme by 2018.

France's biggest union, the CGT, has told the government to go back to the drawing board and come up with another plan, calling it a "flagrant injustice" that puts the burden of reform on workers.

Jean-Claude Mailly, leader of the Force Ouvriere union, has branded the draft legislation "socially unjust and economically inefficient".

Like many other European countries, France is facing a funding shortfall in its pensions plan due to a growing older population and fewer working-age people paying contributions.

The deficit is on track to reach 45 billion euros in 2020 and could reach between 72 and 115 billion euros by 2050, according to France's COR pensions advisory council.

French workers on average retire at a younger age than most of their counterparts in Europe and the proposed changes will still leave them with one of the lowest retirement ages on the continent.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dr Lim Hock Siew Video is now banned....

Here's part of the letter that was sent to Martyn See to inform him that his video recording of Dr. Lim Hock Siew's speech has been banned.

MICA's statement on the banned was reported in in My Paper yesterday[Link]:

It said that the film by Martyn See, 41, "gives a distorted and misleading portrayal of Dr Lim's arrests and detention under the Internal Security Act in 1963".
"The Singapore Government will not allow individuals who have posed a security threat to Singapore's interests in the past, to use media platforms such as films to make baseless accusations against the authorities, give a false portrayal of their previous activities in order to exculpate their guilt, and undermine public confidence in the Government in the process,"

Basically what MICA is saying is they banned this film because they want only the truth to be told and this film is full of falsehoods, lies and distortions. Dr Lim Hock Siew was detained for 20 years without trial. During that period, the PAP govt had all the time to show the evidence and tell the truth so that we can all see how wonderful a job the ISD has done to protect us from evil. We are all still waiting.

The ISA and the ISD perpetuate fear among the population that if they don't obey the govt, don't say the right things and oppose the govt to being about change and progress to this nation, they will one day hear a knock on their door and end up like Dr. Lim.

It is time to get rid of the ISD and ISA and replace it with an anti-terrorist act/unit that can better address the real security concerns of this nation. Suppressing the stories of innocent people whose lives have been devastated by the ISD can never change the truth.

The video of Dr. Lim Hock Siew's speech should not be banned. It should be shown to every Singaporean so they know what the ISD has done and the lives they destroyed. We ought to know because they say it is done for our security - unarmed educated men and women who had never engaged in any acts of violence jailed for decades so that you can feel safe ...but the truth is as long as the ISD is not abolished Singaporeans will always be fearful of that knock on the door at midnight.....and that is what makes Singaporeans feel unsafe to speak and stand up for their fellow man and worthy causes.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Without Vision or Purpose...

The other day Minister Tharman said the PAP govt has set for itself a goal of raising the median income from $2400 to $3100 (real income) by 2020. When I first heard of it I wrote on my blog that this goal isn't so meaningful because it says nothing about what our quality of life will be like and that matters much more than a numeric target. What is the point if price of housing, medical care, and COE goes up even faster, and buses become more crowded and stress levels go up further. Even as a numeric target the rise represents a mere 2.5% increase per year - given our GDP growth is set to exceed China's this year...and if grows by 6-7% a year, this type of median income increase can only widen our income gap. Despite my negativity about this whole target thing, I actually found out that I've been far less cynical than other Singaporeans. The other day while talking to a couple of friends, I now understand that many Singaporeans believe the govt will achieve this target simply by handing out PRs and citizenship to richer foreigners to push up the median income...the income of current Singaporeans can remain stagnant or sink and this target can still be achieved. The govt has not articulated how it intends to achieve this target and the means is more important than the ends in this case. When SM Goh became PM, he at least had a plan that can be considered a vision - Swiss standard of living. We all laugh at where we are today relative to the goal of his govt but at least the target setting was very clear so that we know how far off we have wondered. Without a clear vision of how life will be for Singaporeans, the current PAP govt muddles along telling you that housing is still affordable, your public transport system is world class and we have good affordable heathcare. 10 years from now where-ever today's Singaporeans end up, success can be declared....$3100? No even sure if it is enough today for a man to start a small family with 2 kids and be able to retire.

A few days ago, the Swiss President came to Singapore and said this about the Swiss vandal Fricker case:

"It's your decision, but the perception in our country is not a positive one because for a long time, we have moved from such penalties to other than physical punishment" - Swiss President[Link]

Do you know why we have to cane people for graffiti? Do Singaporeans have such deep hatred for graffiti that we have to punish people more for graffiti? Does graffiti cause us so much harm that Fricker deserves physical punishment?

Our Vandalism Act was written in 1966 before graffiti became fashionable yet it contains an interesting law that says you will get mandatory caning if you use 'indelible ink' vs erasable ink. If Fricker has drawn his graffiti with non-permanent markers, he would be in less trouble than he is today. So he is being punished for the difficulty of cleaning up the graffiti - it which case, a fairer punishment for him would be to clean or pay for the cleaning of the trains. Why the cane?

"The Vandalism Act 1966 was originally passed to curb the spread of communist graffiti in Singapore during the period following Singaporean independence.
Destroying or damaging any
public property without the written authority of government officials, statutory boards or armed forces lawfully present in Singapore are in violation of the terms of the Act. " - Serving History[Link]

Our Vandalism Act is so harsh because the communists defaced public property to spread propaganda and there was a political purpose to suppress them with this harsh act. 44 years later, with the fall of communism we still keep the act and use it on mischievious foreigners with too much time on their hands. Yes, the laws have been kept unchanged and harsh when it no longer serves the same purpose.

Recently, the NSP got into some trouble for selling newsletters[Link]. The purpose of the illegal hawking law is to prevent unlicensed hawkers from selling food because it is potentially unhygenic or illegal hawking of goods without paying rent thereby competing unfairly against shopowners who pay tax and rent or cluttering public spaces. The NSP violated nobe of these and was fined for not having a license to sell its newsletters. Licenses are only granted to people 45 years or older and are jobless. So unless our opposition parties recruit people who are jobless and above 45, they cannot sell newsletters to the public. This is an interesting use of a law created for some other purpose.

If we are just perserving the status quo and we accept things as they are, we will never progress very far from where we are today - the examples I give are related to the laws of the land but there are many aspects of the our socio-economic and political system we are told to accept that we shouldn't if we want to better our lives. There is no bold vision to look forward and no desire to improve the current system. 10 years from now what change can you expect?...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Why the YOG will be a big success.....

Singapore hosts the inaugural YOG. Not much is known about how the rest of the world will take to this. Given that it comes just after the biggest and most spectacular sporting event in the last 4 years, World Cup 2010, some wonder if it is a little hard drum up the excitment for this event. When Singapore bidded for it, our leaders, given their extraordinariness and vision, must have factored in the timing of the event among other things. Whatever you think about this event, I tell you it will be a big success....and I'll tell you why.

There is alot at stake for the PAP govt to ensure that the event succeeds as it has put its reputation behind the event when they put in the bid to host it. Hosting events of this scale showcases the leadership and organisational skills of the establishment - we have MPs, Perm Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries and a BG (Res) in the organising committee[Link]. This event will impress the world with our globalised city - the modern infrastructure, tourist attractions, IRs etc.

You can see how determined the govt is to ensure its success. Insufficient budget of $104M? No problem quadruple it to $387M....just tell the public that the positive publicity about Singapore will more than justify this...Slow ticket sales? No problem get MoE to buy 80,000 tickets (to date 100,000 of the 250,000 tickets have been sold).

What am I getting at? See when something is important enough for the PAP govt, it will command the vast resources it has under its control to ensure its success be it people, time or money ...they will quickly move these resources to fix any problem that stands in the way quickly and efficiently to ensure success. The PAP govt effort in the YOG shows you how important the event is to the PAP leadership.

Cartoon by Joshua Chiang.[Online Citizen]

What about your problems - say, housing, transport & healthcare? What about the income gap and rising poverty problem in Singapore? The PAP govt seems to be willing to let these drag on and on - deny, debate, dither. You don't see any debate over the YOG $283M budget overrun. It shows you the priority this govt puts on problems that affect ordinary citizens ...versus the YOG. Your problems, your pain and your quality of life lets slowly debate about it and talk about how you can help yourself,, how you can get used to it, how Singapore is better than 100 impoverished third world countries so you ought not to complain, how the PAP govt has already done too much for you and goes on and on. Lets get it clear - if you want the PAP govt solve your problems with a sense of urgency and get their priorities straigtened out and put the citizens ahead of their other interests, you better vote wisely and show them the blue dolpin fountain they want to put near your home as part of the next cycle of upgrading linked to your vote doesn't matter....all it does is make you forget your real problems for a while as they get larger and cause you more pain later on.

Wall Street Journal : 1937 vs 2010

This chart appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 2 Jul 2010[Link]:

It shows the stock market movement in 1937 (light red line) being closely correlated with 2010 (deeper red line). It may all be just coincidence but I remember this story about the 1987 crash very well - George Soros when asked how he managed to escape unscathe during the crash said that lengendary investor John Templeton shared with him a chart that showed the 1987 market was closely correlated with the 1929 one before the big crash.

All this may turn out to be a something like Paul the Octopus (or Singapore's parrot Mani) whose picks have correlated actual World Cup match results. All luck and coincidence? However, my take on the market[posted here] is we are indeed in for one last rally (shown also in WSJ's chart) fuelled by good company results, coincident economic indicators which will show good growth and plenty of liquidity. This last rally catches the short sellers off-guard and sucks back in the money that left the market in May. The govt stimulus will run out and austerity measures will kick in later part of the year and Paul Krugman will be proven right(?)[Krugman on the coming 3rd depression] and this debt ridden global economy goes into a painful restructuring....

Friday, July 09, 2010

Ultimate Apathy? ....Part 2.

UPDATE: There is a New Paper report that gives more details about the story. It was less one sided that the original letter by the victim's sister. The woman involved did fight back and the attacker wanted the bus driver to detour to a hospital for treatment of his 'wounds'. The bus captain did contact the operations centre and the incident was reported to the police and the strategy was for the police to intercept the bus on its route - unfortunately the attacker escaped before the police got to him. So the truth depends on who tells it....and what she is trying to convey. But at the end of the day, the fact remains that a man attacked a woman on a bus in front of a group of passengers that did not step forward to help. Benjamin Tan, the only protagonist in the story, told the News Papers the 'gawkers were blocking the way' when he tried to help. When things happen, we should try to do more to help. A few commenters suggested the woman could have been abusive, rude and provoked the man in some way...and that I've jumped into conclusions. In the 'good old days', people will have enough common sense to separate the people fighting so that they don't end up strangling each other ...then it will really be too late to do something. Regardless of who started the fight or for whatevever reason how does sitting around and doing nothing help to make things better?

Part 1 is found here.

Rather sad to hear about the incident in which a girl was attacked on a double decker bus and no one bothered to help her not even the bus driver (oops, I mean bus captain) who just drove on. Only one young man by the name of Benjamin Tan tried to help.

Have we become such an uncaring so society that everyone just minds his own business and can't be bothered with what happens to others. When you see no reaction on the part of Singaporeans to things that happen around them, it doesn't mean all is well.....things can be falling apart and everyone is just sitting around apathetically....

We teach our young maths, science, languages etc and the intense competition in schools is suppose to be part of education system that produce a high standard - parents pay money to send their kids for tuition so they can score higher than other kids But what is the use of all that if we produce people who don't give up their seats for the old and pregnant women on the bus - we need special seats and signs to remind them to do it. The 1stt thing we should teach our children is to care about others and be aware of the needs of can forget about the rest of the stuff if we can't get this done right.
Attacked but they just stared

My sister and I have lost faith in the kindness of Singaporeans - except for one
Letter from Irene Teo 05:55 AM Jul 08, 2010,-but-they-just-stared
July 8th, 2010

ON SATURDAY evening, my sister boarded SBS bus No 30
along West Coast Road, heading for the Esplanade.
She took a seat on the upper deck.

A male passenger took the seat next to her, positioning
himself very close to my sister. She asked him to give
her a little space. In response, he inched even closer.

Then, to her utter surprise, he punched her several
times on her head.

My sister tried to defend herself, but she was no match
for this man. He held her wrists and continued his attack,
hitting her on the head and in the stomach.

As a result of the attack, my sister sustained bruises
on her head, neck and arms.

The struggle lasted for 30 minutes and was witnessed by
all the passengers seated on the upper deck, but during
the entire incident, not one of them tried to intervene
and stop the attack.

None of the passengers even bothered to help my
sister pick up her belongings.

Only one passenger – Benjamin Tan Wei Kiong –
who had been seated on the lower deck came to her aid.

Benjamin heard the commotion and headed upstairs.
He asked the bus driver to stop the bus and call the police.

But the driver refused to, saying that the SBS command
centre had told him to drive on.

After this shocking incident, there are a few crucial
issues I want to highlight:

- Why didn’t the bus driver stop the bus?
Driving on meant my sister, as well as other passengers
on the bus, was put at risk of another attack.

- Why didn’t the bus driver contact the police?
Surely all bus personnel have been trained as to
.what to do when a passenger is assaulted.

Even if he had been instructed to drive on and not
stop, couldn’t he have assessed the severity of the
situation and taken action?

- Most importantly, why did no one on the upper
deck come forward to help my sister? Thanks to the
inaction and apathy of the spectators on the bus,
my sister is nursing not just her physical bruises
but also the emotional hurt from the fact that
no one bothered to help her.

This incident has made me lose faith
in the kindness of Singaporeans.

The only glimmer of hope is the existence of
Good Samaritans such as 22-year-old Benjamin,
who helped my sister and who later spent his
Saturday night at the police station with us.

Thank you, Benjamin.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Soccer ....Fooled by Randomness...

The psychic octopus from Germany got it right again. For those of you who say ...Huh? You must be non-soccer fans missing out on the World Cup excitement and the whole circus surrounding the event. For those who don't know, there is a famous octopus called Paul in Germany that has been predicting the outcome of World Cup soccer matches played by Germany. His record for this World Cup is a perfect 6 out of 6 matches. This is quite amazing. The chance of getting it right 6 out 6 is roughly 1 in 300. That means that if started with a bet of $1000 on Paul's predictions you will end up with $300K by the time yesterdays Spain vs Germany match ended.

Here's Paul in action:

Paul did far better than the best new paper 'expert' punters ...he did even better than this bunch analysts from UBS, Goldman and JP Morgan [World Cup Prediction A Meta Analysis]who used sophisticated models and got everything wrong - they applied the same models as those they use to come up stock market predictions sent to clients so think twice before you follow their recommendations. If you think I'm asking you to gamble your hard earned money on Paul the Octopus, ..hack no. I told this story to show you how futile it is to predict the outcome of events that are random and how analysis can actually prove a waste of time. As for Paul being psychic...I don't think so...I think he got lucky and those who made money off his predictions are also lucky. It is only on hindsight we know for sure he will be perfectly right. Paul might get it all wrong at the next tournament and those who punted heavily on his predictions will be asking for him to be cooked alive.

Gambling is bad. I'm not here to encourage gambling but the next part intends to show how groupthink and biasness in judgement can lead to errors and opportunities for some people. It is hard to win at soccer betting and you shouldn't do it even for fun. The Singapore Pools set the odds that ensures that it wins. As more people put their bets on various outcomes, they adjust the odds based on how many bets are put on an outcome. Suppose the Singapore Pools offer odds at 1 to 5 Brazil will beat a weak team. If there are many fans of Brazil who think it is 'impossible' for them to lose and these fans go all the way to bet that Brazil will win. Singapore Pools will lower the payout to '1 to 6' and if more bets for Brazil comes in they lower the payout further to '1 to 7', '1 to 8' and so on. As the odds shift because people become fixated by the idea that 'Brazil cannot lose' egged on by expert opinion in The New Paper and so on, it is possible that they become so bias that it becomes favorable to bet against them. While the probability of Brazil winning is still higher, the high payout from Brazil losing more than compensate for the low probability of such an outcome. This approach is similar to the notion of contrarian investing. While it is hard to predict where financial markets are headed, it may be less hard to figure out whether other investors are very biased to a certain outcome i.e. either too bearish or bullish relative to the underlying reality.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Those Minister Salary Hikes in Retrospect....

" have to pay the market rate or the man will up stakes and join Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers or Goldman Sachs and you would have an incompetent man and you would have lost money by the billions" - MM Lee, April 2007 [Link].

Lehman Brothers has collapsed due to incompetence and greed of its higher management. Lehman paid its people well but it collapsed. Goldman is under investigation for committing fraud[Link] and various forms of unethical behavior.

There are many lessons learnt in the recent financial crisis but it can all be summed up in several words - transparency, accountability, check and balance. Paying vast sums of money to people cannot bring you the desired results if these ingredients are missing. You attract people with mony, you will only get the greediest people in management and the end result can only be disastrous. We do not have a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)....the PAP govt put in place a draconian Official Secrets Act (OSA) which is the reverse of the FOIA so that ordinary citizens will not have information needed to press for changes that can improve their lives and the country. The PAP govt engages in pork barrel politics (linking upgrading to votes) and repress the opposition so that there will be no check and balance in place - the PAP can do what it wants to preserve its own hegemony and serve its own interests ahead of those of ordinary citizens.

The PAP tells us that we need to pay more to get better leaders. It has been 3 years since those massive pay hikes for ministers ....are things better today than they were 10 years ago? Our lives will improve only when the system is changed and to change it we need to exercise our votes wisely in the coming elections....put in place the check and balance, demand the transparency that is missing and hold this govt accountable for what it has done.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Was it just a fare increase....?

Update : Many people I ask aren't sure if they are actually paying more. I have found a way to check and compare the old fares and new:

I did a few sample checks and found that if you have no transfers, you always pay more under the new structure. If you have 1 transfer, you sometimes pay less. But the increase can be as big as 10-15% for certain trips- this is huge because previous increases were 1-2% and commuters took issue with those hikes. For those who have to pay more, this fare hike is probably the biggest one in their lifetime!

Did commuters asked for the fare structure to be changed? No. This was a move introduced by LTA and the public transport operators.. Under the new structure, they eliminated the penalty for transferring to another bus but increase the fare for single bus trips for various distances. This makes it hard to figure out if you'll end up paying more or less from this new structure. However, if you have a direct bus and do no transfer, you will almost certainly end up paying more. Many people I asked who have one transfer still end up paying more. So you need multiple transfers to benefit from the new fare structure. The publicity posters and booklets only show positive examples of people saving money:

"The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has said that under the new system, one in three commuters would see a fare increase" - CNA[Link]

I'll tell you why this new structure simply makes no sense. Firstly, it makes people pay more for the same distance if they do not need multiple transfers. What it does is reduce the penalty for multiple transfers which shouldn't have been there in the first place - this incentivise people to make transfers to cut down on distance. However, it is NOT DISTANCE BUT TIME that is more important. Very often the distance gains you make transferring from one bus to another is easily lost due to waiting time. It is rare to gain any time by transferring twice when you have a direct bus - yet it is only in these multiple transfer trips that the new fare is cheaper . The new structure penalises those with direct buses by raising the fares for such trips....and may incentivise people to make time wasting multiple transfers to save money. If they genuinely wanted to encourage people to save time, they should have simply eliminated the transfer penalty and keep the other parts of the fare structure the same. It is time not distance that is important to the commuter and they have started off with the wrong basis for the new fare structure.....and the more cynical people asking if this is simply a scheme to raise the revenue and profits of the public transport companies.


Some say bus fares up 40% after new calculation [Link]

By Liang Kaixin/Sharon See Posted: 05 July 2010 2101 hrs

SINGAPORE: Monday was the first work-day after the public transport operators started calculating bus fares based on distance travelled on 3 July.

Those travelling to Malaysia by bus were in for a surprise.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has said that under the new system, one in three commuters would see a fare increase.

For those affected, LTA estimates the average weekly fare rise to be about 30 cents per commuter.

However some commuters have called the Channel NewsAsia hotline, saying the fare for the journey from Kranji MRT Station to Johor is up by 40 percent - from $1 to $1.40.

This has affected many who are working or studying in Singapore, as they are also not allowed to cross the Causeway on foot.

Meanwhile, private bus operators said they have not seen an increase in customers because "many commuters may not have realised that bus fares are higher now".

- CNA/ir