Monday, August 30, 2010

My Take on the ND Rally .....

I was actually out when speech was broadcasted live. When I got home, I noticed both my immediate neighbors were watching it on TV. They don't seem to be people who would be interested in politics. I prefer to watch the recorded version on youtube or read the transcript so that I can replay or re-read key portions of his speech.

The transcript is found here - every paragraph is numbered. I was looking specifically for how 2 issues will be addressed - the income gap under the segment on the economy and how the large foreign influx is suppose to benefit Singaporeans under the segment on immigration.

In para 15-30 (refer to transcript), he attempted to explain the immigration issues. He explained that immigration issues have surfaced around the world including in US where the society is relatively open:

  • "Lessons for us:
    a. Immigration and foreign talent are difficult issues everywhere
    b. They pose very real political and social challenges
    c. But if we can manage these, benefits are substantial" - Para 21 of transcript.

He also mentioned the key concerns of Singaporeans:

    "But they are concerned about:
    i. Competition
    ii. Crowding – housing and transport
    iii. Character of society
    iv. Also want to be sure that Singaporeans are more valued than foreigners " - Para 15

The examples he cited where people have concerns about immigration were countries many times the size of Singapore with low population densities. Yet the citizens find it hard to accept large number of immigrants. In the US, the number of foreign born workers (including those naturalised) is only 15%. The foreign workforce in Singapore is 30% not counting those who are newly converted citizens and PRs. The US is a big country with plenty of room to take in immigrants yet they have restricted the flow...... same with Australia. None of these countries have done it at the same scale as the PAP govt. No other govt except the New Zealand govt has been proactive in bring people into their country - New Zealand terribly is underpopulated with more sheep than people. Immigrants find their own way to US and Australia seeking out opportunities on their own. The Singapore govt has set up offices in many countries offering scholarships, jobs and assistance to settle in Singapore. Singapore is a very small island with limited land and housing. The issue with immigration has never been whether we should have immigration or not but the numbers. Singaporeans have always accepted immigrants in the past from Malaysia and Indonesia but the issue today is with the large numbers in the recent waves that strain our infrastructure. We have probably cross over the point where Singaporeans have net benefits from the influx. PM Lee kept talking about having immigrants to create jobs. We bring in so many that Singaporeans find it hard to get good jobs due to competition especially older Singaporeans who now face the serious problem of structural unemployment and under-employment as a result of the PAP's immigration policies. The PAP's immigration policy is pro-business. PM Lee talks about job creation but the real problem is wages. Bringing in foreign workers in such large numbers has driven down the wages of a large segment of the population resulting in the largest income gap among developed countries without the corresponding safety nets to mitigate the effects of poverty. In the past decade, we have seen the emergence of the "new poor" and a growing ultra-underclass that will result in serious social problems in the future.

.................."Basic principle: citizens come first....", para 31

In para 31 to 35, PM Lee tried to reassure Singaporeans that they come first and they will be protected. Looking at the PAP policies, it is hard for me to believe Singaporeans come first. Businesses come first. Remember the casinos (oops IR)? Many suggested that since the PAP govt claimed that main benefit of IRs is jobs for Singaporeans, they should have concrete targets for the % of Singaporean workers hired at the IRs. That is what the Hong Kong govt did for the Hong Kong Disneyland. For a business that was granted a special license to operate a business with such high margins and negative effects the society, the PAP govt could have secured greater benefits for Singaporeans but it refused to do so. At the end of the day, one the casinos owned by Malaysians will be making more than $1B a year, filipinos and mainland Chinese celebrate the large numbers of jobs for them and Singaporeans lose their shirts gambling there. So who came first in the govt's decision to allow the building of casinos? The IRs are just one example. Over the years, Singaporean workers' job security, retrenchment benefits, retirement and healthcare benefits etc have declined under the PAP govt while corporate profits as a % of GDP have climbed to new highs. Singaporeans don't come first. The PAP govt with the large network of companies to which it is linked has diversified its interests beyond that of ordinary Singaporeans.
  • "Finally, we need immigrants to make up for our population shortfall
    a. Our efforts to produce more Singaporean babies have not yielded results
    b. Despite all our measures, last year we had fewer babies than 2008" - Para

I've pointed out a number of times on this blog that the above logic is completely flawed. Singapore's workforce today was born in the 1960s to early 80s when the birthrate is higher and this period also include the baby boom years when birth rate was more than 3 per couple. We can only compensate low fertility rate today by importing babies or young kids not the large number adults brought into the workforce. The main reason for importing adults is to artificially expand our workforce to generate economic growth. Doing this will in fact cause more problems in the comng decades when this large workforce age - we will have a bigger ageing workforce issue down the road.

The entire speech misses one key issue - income inequality. PM Lee emphasised the importance of maintaining high economic growth but he did not tackle the problem of wealth distribution. More and more Singaporeans are left out and don't benefit from the growth in the economy. In fact they suffer from the price increases that occur during periods of economic growth and they don't see corresponding increase in their wages. Singapore had rapid growth in the 70s -80s and we had the number one workforce in the world during this period. It was reported recently that 20% of this group of elderly Singaporeans who contributed to the most rapid growth in our history live in poverty and will never be able to retire("Not So Golden Years For the Elderly in Singapore", Straits Times [Link]). With the huge income gap today, we can expect an even bigger % Singaporeans in our generation to face these problems in the future if nothing changes. What is the point of economic growth if it is not shared more equally? I'm not going to accept a system that will leave so many of my fellow Singaporeans living in poverty, unable to retire and working until an elderly age as our leaders pay themselves the highest salaries in the world. The PAP govt is not going to change this - the PM doesn't even talk about it during the ND rally.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

4 Themes for PM Lee's National Day Rally Speech

Time flies. The previous ND Rally did not feel like it was a year ago.
In the last ND Rally, there was expectation for PM Lee to talk about the problems and issues faced by the country but he gave a speech recapping the PAP govt's old achievements and on religiosity. However, with the elections coming, he now has to now focus on important problems faced by Singaporeans. PAP MP Teo Ho Pin got it right when he said

“If I am the one deciding, I will not call for an election this year. There are still issues which are not solved which may lead to some Singaporeans being unhappy with the government. Next year will be better......” (Translated) MP Teo in Lianhe Wanbao

Whether the elections is held this year or next, there is little time left to win the voters over. What PM Lee should have done was to focus on the problems and solutions in the previous ND rally and demonstrate the results in this one. Allowing the problems to worsen and unhappiness to fester for so long has been unwise. For this ND Rally, if he wants to limit the loss of votes at the election, he will have to show that he understands the concerns of Singaporeans and will take steps to address them. However, I believe it is a little late and voters will suspect he is just doing it just for the elections. He and his ministers wasted 4 years doing little to address the key issues and now the unhappiness is fairly widespread. The frustration surrounding these issues has grown into intense anger for some and that showed up as vitrolic criticism during the YOG - an event on which the PAP staked its reputation. All this ugliness ended with a critic arrested for "inciting violence" when he posted on the “I hate YOG organising committee” Facebook page
that it was time to "burn" Vivian Balakrisnan and the PAP govt at the next elections. It didn't matter to the police that everyone else can see that he was speaking metaphorically. That so much anger was vented on Minister Balakrisnan shows how deep the divide has become. Vivian Balakrisnan was after all the the minister that headed the "Remaking of Singapore" committee that held out hope for some that the PAP govt would become less "PAP-like" and was ready for change. We have since learned how unchangeable the PAP has become and this young minister who was once seen as one who would challenge the old PAP ideas morphed to accept and support them. It's like "change we can't"...and the ridiculous charges against of PAP critic Malik shows that when the going gets tough and they can't win, they will simply use and spread fear.

Before I discuss the themes that will be covered in today's ND rally, I digress a little to show a series of articles that has been appeared in the Straits Times: For the past few months, the Straits Times has published a number of articles that follows a common template - a PR, foreigner or new citizen with excellent accomplishments in school, in business or at work coming out to say how much they like the system in Singapore. It is not clear what the intent of these articles are but they keep reappearing in the main stream media. Some people believe they are trying to tell long time Singaporeans to be grateful for the wonderful system they live in. It is a little strange if that is the intent because anyone from a developing country would be grateful if they get to move to a developed country. Often coming from an impoverished countries with widespread corruption, these people would be happy and grateful whether they are in Germany, USA, Sweden or Australia. Because they are grateful, long time citizens have to also be happy with the system and their political leaders? German citizens have to be happy with Merkel because immigrants to Germany are happy and grateful to be there? Using immigrants to tell citizens to be grateful is a silly idea. This series of articles have an unintended negative effect. A significant number of citizens that have seen their incomes and living standard fall in the past decade facing intense competition for jobs and housing in a tough struggle to better their lives- emphasizing that foreigners come here and do very well rubs salt on their wounds and heighten their fears that the govt immigration policy will worsen their plight.

For the main themes at this years ND rally, I look forward to PM Lee speech on the economy and immigration. The main problem with our economy is the unequal distribution of wealth leading to biggest income disparity in the developed world. Many Singaporeans did not benefit directly from the GDP growth of the past decade and PM Lee has to explain how he plans to narrow the income gap and ensure that the benefit of GDP growth is more evenly distributed. The last time he spoke on this issue, he said that the GINI Index which measures inequality does not matter - I want to see if he continues to deny there is a problem here. Many Singaporeans are still waiting for an explanation on how the liberal immigration policies which has pushed up the cost of living, strained our infrastructure and depressed the wages of a large segment of our workforce actually benefits them. Early this year the govt appeared to be doing a U-turn when it said that it will moderate the foreign worker policy. PM Lee did a U-turn on that U-turn when he said that the growing economy means that an extra 100,000 workers will be imported in the coming year. This ND rally is a chance for him to further clarify the govt's stand on this important issue. If he can't convince Singaporeans that the immigration policy is beneficial to them, the unhappiness will translate to votes against the PAP at the next elections.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Death Penalty : Why we need to rethink....

Many years ago, I went to JB with a friend to do some shopping there. After shopping at Holiday Plaza, we went to the carpark where my friend parked his car. Holiday Plaza was our last stop and we were going back to Singapore from there. When my friend got to his car, he took out a stick with a mirror at one end and a flash light from the boot. He then spent about 10 minutes checking the undercarriage of the car. Baffled, I jokingly asked him if he was looking for rats or cockroaches. He told me in a morose tone that he heard rumours of drug trafficking syndicates sticking packets of drugs onto the undercarriage of Singapore cars and picking them up when the cars parked at the HDB parking lots in Singapore. They could figure out where he stayed and worked by looking at the carpark labels on his windscreen. My friend was worried that if he was caught at the customs with drugs, both of us would be sentenced to death. I spent the rest of journey back to Singapore thinking how it was possible for laws to be crafted such that people who were sarbotaged, deceived or unkowningly exploited can be hanged . You think that such a harsh cruel punishment would require overwhelming proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt but it is not so in Singapore....

"...whether or not contained in any substance, extract, preparation or mixture, shall be presumed to have had that drug in possession for the purpose of trafficking unless it is proved that his possession of that drug was not for that purpose

.....Any person who is proved or presumed to have had a controlled drug in his possession shall, until the contrary is proved, be presumed to have known the nature of that drug.

..... The presumptions provided for in this section shall not be rebutted by proof that the accused never had physical possession of the controlled drug. "

-Misuse of Drugs Act[Link]

My friend's fear of being hanged if drugs are found on his car is not unfounded. There is no need for the prosecutors to provide proof that he is a drug trafficker. He is guilty of trafficking unless he can prove otherwise. He is presumed to have knowledge of the drugs unless it is proven otherwise. Think about does one go about proving that he has "no knowledge" of something? This set of laws violate what ordinary folks think of as a basic principle of justice - "innocent until proven guilty". Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, you're guilty until proven innocent.....not only that, once you're found guilty death penalty is mandatory if the drugs involved exceeded certain thresholds. For such a harsh irreversible punishment, shouldn't a person's guilt be proven "beyond reasonable doubt"? Shouldn't a judge have the discretion to decide on the death penalty?

In the case of Vignes Murthi, the main evidence given was from an investigating officer who was under investigation for rape, sodomy and bribery. The laws make it easy to prosecute suspects on little evidence. Malaysian human rights acitivists asked if Singapore authorities have been "callous" and indifferent to human life.....

In the past, there was little awareness among Singaporeans of how the death penalty was used. There was little reporting on the papers on the specifics of various cases and Singaporeans were largely ignorant of what went on. Thanks to activists, the Internet and Alan Shadrake, many Singaporeans are forced to rethink what they once accepted. Over the years, our authoritarian govt tweaked the laws trading away justice for expediency without anyone to oppose them. I remember clearly when the bill to lower the threshold of drugs for mandatory death penalty was put up, the main justification given was that authorities found it difficult to presecute suspects and send them to the gallows because they were caught with drugs smaller than the existing thresholds. Today, we have Yong Vui Kong, a poor and lowly educated young man, sentenced to death for 47grams of heroin - a crime he committed when he was just 19 years old. In communist China, it would have taken 50 grams of heroin for the death penalty to be imposed. While other countries have abolished or seek to abolish the death penalty to create a more humane society, the govt went in the other direction to expand its use and we ended up with one of the highest, if not the highest, execution rates per capita in the world.

Some argue that the harsh laws are necessary to protect our society. Is that true? Every year thousands of our best talents emigrate to countries where death penalty has been abolished or used only in heinous crimes such as murder. Many emigrate to these places because they believe these are good places to raise their children. The death penalty shouldn't be used to compensate for the lack of expediency of law enforcement agencies. Singapore is a developed country and we have the means to do away with unnecessary executions if we better our ability to fight crime.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Casinos: The high social costs...

"Citing a number of analysts, the Straits Times claims that the bulk of the gamblers at the two casinos are Singaporean citizens and permanent residents, who have to pay a S$100 ($72) daily or S$2,000 ($1,435) annual levy to play the tables" - [Report]
"It is believed that the victim lost a huge sum of money amounting to some S$70,000 at a casino last week, which resulted in his act of suicide.....", ST May 2010.[Link]

"The reason for the attempt of suicide is still unknown, probably because the victim owed debts or suffered huge losses in casinos like previous reports of similar suicide cases"

ST April 2010[Link]

"...15 percent of Singapore problem gamblers have attempted suicide, "

[Link] 29 Sep 2009

I'm sure not many of you will feel sorry for the rich feller who lost $26M at the casino recently. The media reported that the married high roller who turned up at RWS with a girlfriend lost this massive amount over a period of 3 days. There are several things to learn from the story. People can lose control at the casino and gamble away their lifesavings. You cannot count on the casino to limit the social costs of its existence because a large part of its profits comes from problem gamblers. For every Henry Quek (the chap who lost $26M), there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ordinary Joes who lost more than they can affort and whose families have to suffer the effects of those losses.

I read a brokerage report on Genting early this year . The analyst rated the stock a sell because he believed investors are overly optimistic about Genting prospects and his back of the envelope calculation showed little chance of Genting breaking even this year. Boy was he wrong! Genting reported blockbuster profits of $396M in the latest quarter and revenues of $860M[Link]. If this continues Genting will report profits in excess of $1B for the whole year. This is performance far exceeded the highest expectations of analysts that cover the company. The govt will be collecting plenty of corporate tax from Genting and its shareholders are cheering the success of the company. But who pays the price?

The high profits of Genting means that its casino is filled everyday by gamblers. It is not known how many are Singaporeans, like Henry Quek and how many are foreigners. There is plenty of harm to go around. I don't think you should be too happy even if some of the profits come from foreigners. It is not good to have foreign workers who are supposed to be here to earn a living and better their lives back home to lose money at the casino. We have seen quite a few crimes committed by people who lost money at the casino.

We were told the main benefit the casino is to create jobs for Singaporeans (not tax revenue for the govt?) but if you visit the casino, many of the jobs are taken up by foreigners and this whole thing about job creation may be a farce because Singapore has to import foreigners to fill many of the jobs available. The real problem is with structural unemployment among older workers which is linked to the large number of younger workers employers are able to import instead of employing older workers.

You notice how quiet the Singapore’s National Council On Problem Gambling (NCPG) is in recent months. When was the last time you saw an anti-gambling ad? Given what is going on at the casinos, the NCPG should be doing its job to tell Singaporeans about the harm of casino gambling and run an anti-casino gambling campaign. The NCPG has a paltry annual budget of $2.5M (vs Genting's $396M quarterly profits) - this money is probably not even enough to buy the free drinks and snacks the RWS gives out at its casino to attract gamblers. This govt is not serious about solving the problem of gambling. The NCPG was formed in 2005 only to reduce the resistance towards having casinos.... looking at Genting's huge revenue and profits, do you think things are under control?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

$387M can't buy you the real Spirit of Singapore!

There was a time not too long ago when Singaporeans cheer their team with all their hearts. You didn't have to force school children to cheer and support our sportsmen. Our sporting heros came from our schools and kampungs. You knew them or knew someone who knew them. There was enthusiastic support for our sportsmen and great pride among Singaporeans when they won. amount of money can manufacture that.

YOG : Overwhelming Negativity on the Net


I've only one previous posting on the YOG[here]. It is expected that once Singapore won the bid to host the YOG, considerable resources will be set aside to ensure that the event is a success. My main concern was the tripling of budget to $387M. The govt will have to be accountable for that and show the people how the $387M was spent. Money aside, there seems to be a lack of interest in the event among the public. On the Internet, the PAP critics have pointed their guns at the YOG organisers and been firing non-stop for the past few weeks inevery single discussion forum on the Internet. Why the intense negativity and anomosity towards the YOG?......

Many see this as a PAP govt project. Something that the PAP leaders associate themselves with and are willing to move vast resources i.e. people and money to make it work....their own glory is at stake. The problem is we do not see the same commitment and enthusiasm when it comes to solving serious problems faced by Singaporeans. The YOG budget for this was rammed up to $387M without much fuss. NS men, school kids, JC students and teachers were 'volunteered' to help out. MOE bought 80% of the tickets and there was little interest from local and foreign spectators for the other 20%. Do you see the govt coordinating manpower to line flooded areas with sandbags to protect the residents? Do you see resources being channelled quickly to Singaporeans who lost their jobs during recessions to help them during the hard times? The minister in-charge of YOG, Vivian Balakrisnan vigorously debated against further increase in allowance under the PA for the poor when the cost of living rose and many were found to be skipping meals to make ends meet. Yet, for the YOG, pouring in a few extra hundred millions is no big deal and considered 'worth it'. The interests of this govt appear to have diverged from that of the ordinary folks. Therein lies the source of apathy among the public and the intense negativity on the Internet. A govt that out of habit throws the problem back at the people when they ask for help now sees the YOG being thrown back at them...YOG ? That's a PAP project. On the Internet the focus is on everything that goes wrong at the YOG.-bad (dog) food for volunteers, poor coordination at the opening ceremony, collapsed roof at basket ball match, empty seats and the list goes on...and on. We have a group of people so disenfrancised, frustrated and angry with the PAP govt that they see the YOG as a project for PAP self-aggrandizement using tax payers' money. The same money that can be used to alleviate the transport woes, floods and improve their lives.

We have people who are disinterested...we also have people who are very angry and fed up ...all this has turned somewhat ugly with people tossing one spanner after another. It would have been different if we had a govt that shows more care for the people.

SM Goh : Your Problems are just Gripes....

"SENIOR Minister Goh Chok Tong last night called on Singaporeans to spin their own Singapore Dream and live it, rather than focus on what he termed the Singapore Gripe.
While gripes about current concerns such as floods, high home prices, crowded trains and distance-based bus fares were understandable, he urged people to not lose sight of the many more things which are going well for Singapore." - Straits Times, 8 Aug 2010[

For a leader who once told us that we were headed for the Swiss standard of living, SM Goh has decided to recast the materialistic dream of 5 Cs (Condo, Cash, Credit Card, ...) to a less materialistic form (comfort, charity, career, children..)[Link]. He urged Singaporeans not to 'gripe' about floods, home prices and crowded trains. SM Goh has misunderstood. Our dreams are far bolder and bigger than the one the current PAP govt is set out to achieve - GDP growth, more GDP growth, GDP growth at all cost. We want greater economic equality so that the bottom 20% of Singaporeans don't have to live in poverty. We want greater democracy so that ordinary citizens have a voice in govt. We want the trains to be less crowded not just because we find it hard to get on but the older folks, pregnant women and less abled have even a harder time. We are concerned about the high price of housing not because we are looking for homes (l already have one) but because it puts our fellow Singaporeans into deep debt that they have to shoulder for for decades. We do not want floods not because our own homes and surroundings are flooded but because other Singaporeans had their property destroyed and their lives endangered by the recent floods.

Why do you think people are spending so much time protesting against the use of mandatory death penalty in Singapore? They want a more just and humane society - that is their dream.
SM Goh wants to recast our dreams but within the established power structure to maintain the status quo. The future is ultimately far more challenging and Singapore will do much better with a more open society one that does away with the current power hierachy and its draconian rules and controls that limit our freedom. We need to be innovative and creative to do well and not depend on the old tired formula of doing things faster and cheaper. We have dreams of real change to make the lives of Singaporeans better far and they bolder than what the PAP govt is willing to take on.....lets not have our dreams recasted and moderated away

Friday, August 13, 2010

Feeling out of place in your own country....

A friend of mine staying in the west told me that many of his Singaporean neighbors have moved out in the past few years and his family is one of 3 Singaporean families left on his level of the HDB block. That is what is happening in some parts of Singapore where Singaporeans have become the minority in their own country. We have been told not to be small minded and welcome foreigners with open arms. Most Singaporeans have nothing against the hardworking individuals who come here to better their lives and many of us would do the same if we are in their shoes. We do, however, take issue with the govt opening the floodgates to bring in so many people putting a strain on our transport, housing and healthcare services. We also do not want to end up as strangers in the place where we live surrounded by transient foreign workers who come and go every few months.

Friday, August 06, 2010

My National Day Message: No Dream too Bold....

"There is something down the road that we can strive for
We are told no dream's too bold that we can't try for
There's a spirit in the air, it's a feeling we all share
We're going to build a better life, for you and me
We can achieve, we can achieve......"

- Count On Me Singapore[Link]

During my NS days, I had to sing "national songs" every Saturday with my buddies. The feller heading the unit was a very patriotic Singaporean and he sang with the loudest voice. The rest of us were reluctant conscripted choir boys. However, if you keep singing these songs every Saturday for more than a year, they tend to grow on you and the lyrics you can't be bothered with you start to remember. The song "Count On Me, Singapore", tells us to have bold dreams as a nation so that we can build better lives for everyone. If we try hard enough, "we can achieve". As a nation we need a bold dream, because it is bold there will be risks and setbacks but will to try hard to overcome it to build a better life for everyone. That was the "can do" spirit we aspire to have more than 2 decades ago. The events in recent years have reminded me this song I sang as an NS man more than 2 decades ago....I'll tell you why....

A few weeks ago, many Singaporeans suffered losses and great inconvenience due to flash floods in Singapore. The response from the leadership was that Singapore "cannot be floodless" and that every other road has to be converted to a canal if we want a floodless Singapore. That was a very disappointing response to a very serious problem. The leadership has given up even before trying. How do they know that an innovative idea won't be discovered if they invested in a study into the recent floods? Even if we cannot stop all floods, the goal of having a floodless Singapore is a worthy one because as we work towards this bold vision, we will always seek out solutions that will reduce the frequency of flooding. Flooding is just one example of lack of commitment and boldness on the part of the govt tackling problems we faced.

If we keep our current model of economic development, we will continue on this trajectory of rising income gap and declining quality of life for many Singaporeans that we have seen in the past decade. Going forward, the govt has set itself a low hanging goal of increasing the median income by an average of 2.5% per year for the coming decade. This is a meaningless goal because it is not clear if it translate to any rise in the quality of life - housing cost has risen 5% in each of the previous 2 quarters and that alone negates any improvement to affordability of housing for median income families for the next four years based on the 2.5% income increase the govt aims for. When asked about the income gap measured by the GINI Index, our PM trivialized the problem by saying that the GINI index not a good measure of inequality and that the govt has already done "a lot"[Link]. Singapore has the largest income gap among developed nations yet there is a lack of determination in govt to enhance social equity. There has been many ideas suggested including having minimum wages which is implemented in all developed countries except Singapore or restructuring our economy to move away from industries dependent on low wages and so on. However, the govt will not make any bold moves and will continue pursue GDP growth by importing cheap labor. The unequal distribution of wealth has resulted in a large segment of the populace, roughly 30% of households, experiencing decline in living standards in the past decade as Singapore produces the highest number millionaires per capita as wealth distribution has become extremely unequal[link]. This govt has no bold vision to bring about a more equal society and will only make small changes only if it does not compromise its other interests....that is all we can expect if nothing changes.

In healthcare, instead of aiming for universality and affordability, govt policy has shifted the burden of rising costs to Singaporeans through means testing. Hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans remain uninsured as cost rises. Capacity has shifted to the private sector as a result of govt aspiration to be a medical hub for the rich in the region to increase profits from the healthcare sector. Govt hospitals are now overcrowded [Link]and the cost of medical care is spiraling up much faster than the median wage. As the cost increase, the Singapore shifts the burden to the sick and their family to keep its expenditure low - the Singapore govt's expenditure as a % of total cost is the lowest among develop countries and ordinary Singaporeans shoulder the highest % of the healthcare costs among developed countries. After Obama pushed through his major healthcare reform billin the US, Singapore became the only developed country without universal healthcare[Link]. We need a bold vision to deliver the high quality care to everyone regardless of income group with less differentiation so that the healthcare does not further exacerbate the inequality that already exist in our society due to the income gap. Overcrowded public hospitals and under-utilised expensive private hospitals for millionaires is not the way to go....but we will certainly have more of that if nothing changes.

Politically, Singapore has become one of the least democratic countries in the region with Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia moving away from one-party or strongman rule to full blown democracy. Singapore continues silence dissenters and keep draconian rules that prevent the emergence of alternative ideas and agents of change. While all these serve to preserve the status quo and the PAP hegemony, its effects goes beyond political realm has resulted in a society that has become apathetic due to fear and lost its ability to innovate its future. We have lost the ability to dream "bold dreams" restricted by rules created by an authoritarian elitist top-down govt that demands obedience. We cannot count on the govt anymore to deliver the changes that result in a "better life for you and me". To achieve that we now have to put aside our fears so that our boldest dreams can come true and that starts with putting in parliament people who share the same dreams who will push for much needed changes that will make your life better.Link

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Jurong East MRT reaches tipping point....

There were reports about the crowds at Jurong East last year[Link][Link]. But little has been done. In fact things have been getting worse not just at Jurong East Station but, I believe, throughout the public transport system. Many netizens are just fedup with the situation. The denial from the govt and SMRT is causing frustration. Many have taken to filming or taking pictures of the situation as evidence of their unpleasant experience.

....This recent video shot in Jul 2010:

Singapore cars are the most expensive in the world. Most commuters don't have a choice but to use the public transport. You make think that given the high number of complaints and unhappiness over this issue, SMRT CEO will be doing everything she can to fix these problems. Don't even dream. The 1st picture was taken in late 2008[Link] and 2nd picture I posted was taken in early 2008[Link]. Things have not gotten better since 2008. However, what CEO Saw will be pre-occupied with is probably not your problem of having to squeeze like sardines every morning - the SMRT has reported a profit decline of 21% in the last quarter due to the increased costs resulting from circle line operations[Line] and CEO Saw will have to tackle that as her top priority to appease demanding shareholders. I don't blame her - it is her job to get profits back up so that dividends to shareholders can be maintained. While CEO Saw become a symbol of frustration for many Singaporeans, I urge you not to focus anger on her as it is not her fault that you are smelling armpits everyday.

Will things improve? Not if the govt is bringing in 100,000 more foreigners even as CEO Saw says that the train frequency cannot be increased further. All this is the result of a quota system that pushes the cost of car ownership to highest in the world, a "for-profit" public transport system that puts profits above people and an FT policy that puts economic growth above the quality of life of ordinary Singaporeans.

Crowd control needed What should be done when platforms are overcrowded?

Letter from Roger Lim 05:55 AM Aug 02, 2010LAST Monday, between 8am and 8.15am, there was an exceptionally high number of commuters on the Jurong East MRT Station platform. A train from the North East Line had just arrived and unloaded a train full of passengers to add to the already overwhelming rush-hour crowd. As I was halfway up the escalator to the platform from the ticketing concourse level, I suddenly heard commuters at the top of the escalator yelling frantically: "Stop the escalator, press the button!" The platform was so packed that the commuters from the escalator were unable to get off the escalator when they reached the top. There was brief chaos. Those at the top of the escalator were forced to run down, against the flow of the escalator, bumping into those already on the escalator. I was looking for the "stop" button, but there were none to be found midway along the escalator. Commuters from the ticketing concourse level, unaware of the situation at the platform above, continued getting on the escalator, aggravating the developing stampede at the top. They could not hear the calls to push the "stop" button. Meanwhile, the SMRT staff were helpless, as they were deployed to handle commuters at the train doors who were blocking the entrance and standing beyond the yellow line. The situation was anything but orderly. Thankfully no one was hurt. I appeal to SMRT and the relevant authorities to review the risks involved when platforms are overcrowded, and come up with crowd control measures to prevent a true catastrophe from happening. Perhaps, SMRT can also consider reinstating the escalators from a decade ago, which had black arrows along the entire length of the escalator marking an emergency "stop" point which could be activated by simply kicking on the black arrows.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Night Parking Charges Double....

Here is a good exercise in critical thinking. Read the article below on the upward revision of night parking charges.

URA claims that it is helping residents who are SPT (Season Parking Ticket) holders to get parking lots by increasing the parking charges so fewer non-SPT cars will park at their carparks. See how helpful URA is. They are good guys - or so they claim. But think hard about this. If a non-SPT holder needs a parking lot in the vicinity because he is visiting his girlfriend or works the graveyard shift, he won't have any other choice except to park there even if they double the charges to $4. There is a simple way to solve this and that is to have more parking lots set aside for SPT holders by painting them red. The ideal solution would be for the URA to build more parking lots to meet the increased demand for parking in a particular area.

URA's solution helps nobody but itself to make more revenue. Still they have to invent a reason to make themselves out to be the good guys.

Revised night charges for URA and HDB carparks
NIGHT parking charges at HDB and URA carparks will increase from S$2 to S$4 starting November 1 to better manage the higher demand.

The changes will apply to carparks with the Night Parking Scheme (NPS), which provides overnight parking facilities for non-resident motorists and visitors.

"Currently, most NPS carparks are heavily utilised due to higher parking demand," said URA and HDB in a statement." This has resulted in residents with Season Parking Ticket (SPT) facing difficulties in getting a parking space when they return home at night."The new charges will help "safeguard the interests of SPT holders," they said.The current night parking half-hourly charge for areas without the NPS will remain at S$0.50.The new S$4 night parking coupons will be available for sale from October 15. Motorists holding the S$2 night parking coupons can continue to use them by displaying two S$2 coupons.

Stock Market Update

My last stock market update is found here (23 Jul 2010).

I wrote :

"Despite doom-sayers talking about a double dip recession and worsening European crisis, the market rallied for more than a month......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. "

When I wrote my previous update in late Jul 2010, there was a selloff that day because Bernanke said the US economic outlook is unusually uncertain. Today the DOW surged 203 pts because Bernanke said that US consumer spending will accelerate[Link]. The stock market ignored weak economic data in manufacturing[Link].

Since I haven't embarassed myself so far. Lets continue to look ahead. The market is indeed running up to a peak from end Jul to Aug 2010 and I expect pretty good gains in the near term. The market appears to be getting somewhat 'euphoric' and will quickly draw in much of the available liquidity. I ran the new data through my models and it shows we are going to peak between 20 Aug to 28 Aug (with a maximum likelihood of a peak on 25 Aug 2010). Since I've not given myself much wiggle room to fudge the forecast later on, I should ask for mercy if I do get it wrong afterall I'm not a professional and don't get paid for this (actually I do but only from my own investment returns)'re entitled to bash me later if I get it wrong but do wait until late Aug to see if I've embarassed myself.

Like I said in my previous update. The economic outlook don't look too good. The leading indicators so far shows a slowdown in all major economies - US, Europe and China. I've said despite this impending slowdown, markets will rally due to liquidity and it is doing so right now....but when the liquidity runs out, the party is over....don't be left holding the bag.