Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Casino : Crime, tragedy and lousy jobs....

Here is just one of the many crimes linked to the casinos. Here are a number caught using other people's ID yesterday[Link]. Here are some of the sad stories linked to the casinos :[suicide 1][suicide 2][suicide 3] [financia loss 1][Financial loss 2] and many more that are not reported.
Other crimes linked to casinos[Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link].[Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link][Link]

Casino gamblers are mostly locals [Link].
When the govt decided to build the casinos, we were told that it will keep problem gambling under control, the purpose of the casinos was to create jobs for Singaporeans and attract foreign gamblers. None of these promises were kept. If you visit the casinos, you will find that most of the workers there are foreigners. Even if jobs were created for Singaporeans, many of the jobs are low-paying jobs with poor benefits (read here about labor problems at MBS casinos : Link Link). The clear winners are Genting which is on track to make more than $1B in profits this year from RWS and Sands which will make more in Singapore than in Vegas. What Singaporeans get in return after then initial construction boost are broken families, crime, lousy jobs (if not given to foreigners) and more suicides.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Vincent Cheng @ Hong Lim ...

Finally, we get to hear him speak....thank you Jacob George for the recording.

The 1st part of his speech reminds me of how I used to think about the PAP - integrity, vision, competence. Many of us, once we get past the Straits Times and open our eyes to see reality, we begin to understand what the truth really is. Vincent Cheng who was accused of being a Marxist conspirator acting on the instructions of Tan Wah Piow tells us he never acted for Tan Wah Piow and never had political connections to Tan Wah Piow. He was detained for 3 years without trial on that accusation. The whole nation was told that was why he was detained. Singapore is a place where it takes so much courage to tell the truth....Vincent Cheng took a lot of risk to tell us what we have suspected to be the truth for a long time. 23 years is a long time but the ISA which was used to detain, torture and force a confession from Vincent Cheng still exists largely unchanged from the day he was arrested in Operation Spectrum.

It is time for Singapore to get rid of the ISA and replace it with an anti-terrorism act to reflect the real threats to our society today. The draconian ISA perpetuate a climate of fear and has resulted in unjust treatment of hundreds of Singaporeans like Vincent Cheng whose only intention was to better the lives of the downtrodden and exploited among us.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

PAP Govt tells others the "Singapore Way" of helping the poor...

Finance Minister Tharman gave a speech on the "Singapore Way" of helping the poor at NTU a few days ago. During the speech he again spoke about the big amounts the Singapore govt gives to the poor to show the rest of the world how 'generous' the PAP govt is to the poor:

"...substantial subsidies also make their way into the pockets. Taken over a lifetime, a typical low income family would receive from the state half their total earnings, he said. These subsides cover areas such as education, housing and Workfare..." - BT, 25 Sep 2010.

This is the 2nd time I hear Minister Tharman talking about 'substantial subsidies' given to the poor. I will tell you why this is an extremely unintelligent and flawed way to measure out how much real help the poor actually gets. Suppose the SMRT or Singapore Power or HDB decides to raise their prices tomorrow for whatever reasons (boost profits, increase margins, pay their CEO more, offset costs etc), the poor families whose wages are stagnant and have little buffer for such price hikes will get into trouble immediately. The govt will have to increase subsidies for these families e.g. give out utilities voucher and so on, but their quality of life won't improve one bit with the increased subsidy. The size of these subsidies (especially market subsidies) correlate with the gap between the rising cost of living and depressed wages. If this is the correct way to measure generosity and help for the poor, then those who employ maids in Singapore must be very generous. Maid who are paid about $270 to work full time in Singapore are given subsidies in the form of free housing and food worth more than 100% of their income so maid employers are even more generous than the govt is to the poor in Singapore! The truth is maids in Singapore get the lowest pay in the world[Link] and cannot afford to pay for their own necessities. If you think like the PAP and Minister Tharman, slave owners in ancient Egypt are also very generous because they subsidise the basic living of their slaves by an infinite multiple of their income given slaves are paid zero and get to eat 100% subsidized food and have free lodging.

The correct way to see if low income workers are receiving enough help is to look at their quality of life. Are they able to live a decent life - raise a family, retire at a proper age after a lifetime of work, are they able to get good medical care, eat healthy diets, live in decent size housing, receive reasonable work benefits such as medical leave, off days, decent work hours - and so on. A report by the ILO shows Singapore workers working the longest hours[Singapore Workers Clock Up Longest Hours: ILO] longer than those in S. Korea, Taiwan and Japan, yet we have the biggest income gap in the developed world. What does this tell us?

"We have a philosophy of viewing employment as the main social safety net in Singapore and this must be so. This is how you keep families together." - Minister Tharman

If employment is the main social safety net, it is greatly damaged by the PAP govt when it opened the floodgates to cheap foreign labor and causing the income of poor families to be depressed in the past decade. Apparently, the more important philosophy that people working full time jobs should earn a decent income does not exist in the PAP. Talking about employment without reference to wages is meaningless. When you don't have a minimum wage and employers can choose to pay very low wages because they have access to cheap labor from 3rd world countries, you put your people at risk...and that is what the PAP has done. I want to show you this video again [from an earlier posting]to show what the insistence that poor unfortunate families find work does to families:

"I've applied with the govt before. It always comes to nothing."

"They keep telling you to work. Its okay if I can find a job. But I may not find one that allows me to look after my children. We go to them only because we need help. They shouldn't say 'Look for a job. Don't always expect help' "

"I kept quiet. Just weep. What else?"

Here is a poor family with 2 disabled kids. As it is not challenging enough for her look after her disabled kids with special needs, the govt agencies insists that she finds work and denies her the help she needs - that is the PAP govt way of helping the poor.

"FINANCE Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday gave policymakers and opinion-shapers from all over the world an insight into the 'Singapore way' of helping the poor"
- BT, 25 Sep 2010

Insight to helping the poor? It is more like insight to how 'boxed in' and ideological the PAP govt's approach to helping the poor is. Their approach lack logic, pragmatism and ultimately hurts the people they claim to help. If we continue on the same path, the income gap will keep growing, the number of poor and the ultra-underclass will keep growing. When Dr. Chee Soon Juan, warned about the rising income gap more than a decade ago, the PAP ministers and state controlled media accused him of engaging in the "politics of jealousy". Four years ago, during the 2006 elections, the Workers Party spoke about the "new poor". Today most Singaporeans understand what is going on and they also know that if nothing changes, it will definitely become worse. Change will not come from people sitting in ivory towers seeking to preserve the status quo because it benefits them most to keep things the same.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Treat people well in their time of need....

I would like to bring your attention to this heart warming story about a volunteer in the Canadian YOG team who suffered a heart attack in Singapore. The 68 year old Canadian suffered a heart attack in Singapore while walking down a flight of stairs. He had to undergo open heart surgery at NUH's Heart Centre but has since recovered and will be going home to Vancouver next month.

"His medical expenses and lodgings will be paid for by the Singapore YOG Games Organising Committee.

I'm very grateful to the people of Singapore for taking care of me."
- Straits Times 24 Sep 2010.

I'm glad the govt did the right thing by paying for his medical expenses so that he can concentrate on getting well and not worry about being means tested and having to shoulder the burden of medical treatment in Singapore. He wasn't told by our govt, like they often tell Singaporeans, that he is financially responsible for his own health and sickness. As a Canadian he receives free universal medical care back home and would be unfamiliar with a healthcare system that pushes as much financial burden to the sick and their family as possible to keep govt expenditure down. Mr. Milan Fischer will go home with a very good impression of Singapore not because the system treated him like they would a Singaporean but because the system treated him differently from how it would treat a Singaporean....

The govt approach to healthcare is to make Singaporeans shoulder as much of the healthcare burden as possible. For this reason, ordinary Singaporeans shoulder the highest % of total healthcare expenditure vs govt expenditure among developed countries.
At the same time, the govt tries to make Singapore a medical hub for the rich causing a large portion of our healthcare capacity to be privatized and cost to increase. Because the rising cost is passed on to Singaporeans, there is limited incentive for the govt to keep healthcare cost down. Singaporeans are now asked to buy insurance from for-profit insurance companies and now part of our healthcare expenditure goes towards the profits of these companies. These policies are becoming increasing complex and when you get sick, you cannot be sure that you're covered (Read this story about a woman who pays $600 a month on insurance only to find she wasn't covered :[Link]). Hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans do not even have insurance and cannot afford to get sick. Singaporeans will be grateful if they are treated like Mr. Fischer in their time of greatest need....when they are seriously ill, they should be able to concentrate on getting well and not worry about the financial burden imposed on them by the govt when they are sick.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A fantastical piece of advice...

MM Lee has gone to Russia to impress the Russians with PAP's success story. He was asked by a Russian business students what advice he would give if approached by 2 Russian presidents - one old and the other young:
".....'to get out of business' and not have the state run all major enterprises. Mr Lee said that it has been proven time and again that private companies are always more profitable and more efficient than state-run ones." - Straits Times, 20 Sep 2010.

In Singapore, GLCs (Govt Linked Companies) account for a significant portion of the GDP[Link]. GLCs are closely linked to PAP govt's power hierarchy. For example, when Minister David Lim left the govt, he went to NOL to replace the foreign talent who was then CEO. High ranking officers in SAF and govt transit to GLCs such as ST (Singapore Technologies), Semb Corp and so on. When the PAP needs new blood, it frequently looks for them in the GLCs e.g. MP Wee Siew Kim (father of Wee Shu Min) works in ST, and so on (here is an un-updated list to show PAP govt's link to businesses[Link]). The close association of the PAP govt with this network of GLCs causes the interests of the PAP govt to be aligned with a small group of power-elites and policy making to be lopsided trading off the interests of ordinary Singaporeans to maintain a power structure that preserves the PAP's hegemony. The PAP govt had to keep raising the salaries of ministers and MPs because they found it hard to bring in highly paid overcompensated GLC executives into politics.

It is strange, almost bizzare, for MM Lee to tell the Russian govt to "get out of business" when his own govt is so closely linked to a network of GLCs.
Sep 20, 2010
MM's take on a 'fantastical' scenario
By Jeremy Au Yong MOSCOW:

Imagine two Russian presidents, one young and one old, came to you and sought your advice on the next decade. What would you tell them? This was the scenario put to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew last Saturday by Russian business school student Sergei Koltovich at a dialogue in Moscow.Mr Lee, while stating that the situation was fantastical, said he would give both leaders similar advice: Get out.'I would say to the older leader, get out of the communist system, shed it. Forget your empire. If you think you can re-create your empire, you are wasting your time and resources,' he said.To the younger one, his message would be 'to get out of business' and not have the state run all major enterprises. Mr Lee said that it has been proven time and again that private companies are always more profitable and more efficient than state-run ones.He said: 'If a man is hired by the state to run the company, his career is not at stake, the company succeeds or fails, his salary may go up and down slightly or he may get the sack. So if there's a crisis, he can go home at 12 o'clock and he's asleep. 'But if he has a 30 per cent shareholding, that night he'll be working frantically... he must solve the problem or lose his fortune.'The need to encourage private enterprise was a message Mr Lee would dwell on during his dialogue with the MBA students of the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management. He is a member of the school's international advisory board.Throughout the hour-long session, he was asked numerous times for his take on Russian issues.He told the students that the two reasons for his faith in the future of Russia's economy were the enormous amount of natural resources the country had, and the calibre of its people.But the people were being held back by a system that did not allow private enterprise to bloom and be supported by the government, he said.'If you discover an oil field, the government comes over and Lukoil says we will look after it. In that way, you control everything, that holds them back,' he said, referring to the Russian oil giant. Elaborating on the example, Mr Lee said that if the country was more open to letting foreign oil companies in, it could benefit from their expertise. American oil companies, in particular, were very good at drilling, he said.'If you open up the market, American oil companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, they come exploring. Yes, they make some money but they discover new fields for you and ways to reach it. 'I think it's not in the Russian mindset, it's something that has to change if they want to grow faster,' he said.Mr Lee attended the meeting of the school's international advisory board yesterday as he wrapped up his visit to Moscow.He is in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev today and is due to meet Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Never Retire" Message gets louder....

You might think that I collected these headlines over a period of time but they are from today's New Paper. Yes, this is the amount of "encouragement" from just one single newspaper in one day telling you that you're better off not retiring - you'll be 'understimulated', idling, wasting your time and so on if you retire. For your own good, you shouldn't retire.....

The truth is the govt is selling the "never retire" idea not so that you can have a happier life but to solve other problems. A large segment of the population work for low wages and will never be able to retire at a proper age and have to keep working until they are very old. The PAP govt has been extending the CPF withdrawal age forcing Singaporeans to work until an advanced age and locking up bigger sums by raising the minimum sum and through schemes like CPF Life. As a principle, the PAP wants ordinary Singaporeans shoulder all retirement responsibility themselves without govt help. In a socio-enomomic system that has the highest income gap among developed countries, many workers don't even make enough to keep up with the rising cost of living let alone save for retirement. Unless the system changes, many will not have enough savings and CPF to ever retire. Today, we see many aged cleaners, tissue paper sellers and old folks who struggle to get by collect aluminium cans from bins, the sad thing is we see it so often and have gotten used to it. Many don't think about it until someone from China or Phillipines points it out to us..........a scene often repeated is one in which a tourist from China sit at one of our hawker centers to savor our local delights only to get a shock when a frail aged Singaporean comes by to clean the table - something he never expects to see in a first world country. He looks at his Singaporean friend for an answer but get this "what's the big deal" look. Many Singaporeans have no choice, under the PAP leadership, but to accept that some among us have to work until the day they die. This something considered inhumane in other countries but is a policy goal of the PAP govt and the state controlled media goes all out to get us to accept it by telling us that it is a "waste to retire", "retirement is idling"...and promote MM Lee's notion that retirement means death[Link]. The old folks that are working today were part of an obedient workforce that created the Singapore economic "miracle" in the 70s and 80s when Singapore's economy grew rapidly and the workforce ranked number 1 in the world for more than 2 decades. Today some members of this highly productive number 1 workforce have to continue working in their seventies as the PAP govt takes credit for Singapore's economic success by paying its people in govt the highest salaries in the world and forgets the workforce that made all the sacrifices - a workforce that never went on strike, accepted long hours, worked the 3 shift, took reduced benefits and CPF reductions to keep Singapore competitive.

A few weeks ago, I met a friend who retired after a successful career. He now spends his time with his wife who was retrenched a year ago. The couple have 2 children and are looking forward to having grand children. He told me that retirement is the best part of his life which was "quite stressful" when he was climbing the corporate ladder. He told me he finds those articles that criticise retirement by calling retirees "time wasters", "idlers" and "useless" very insulting because he feels they are directed at him asking him to give up the best part of his life. The real tragedy is so many Singaporeans who have worked hard all their lives are forced to continue working when they are aged employed in menial jobs for very low pay. The PAP govt is trying its best to deliver this "work until you die" future to ordinary Singaporeans by asking you to be "better, faster, cheaper"...... and "work forever"....

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More than 1 million local visitors to casinos since opening.....

More than 1 million Singapore residents have visited the IRs since they opened[Link]. When the govt changed the rules to allow casinos in Singapore, they told us that it will create jobs for Singaporeans and bring foreign gamblers to Singapore. If you go to the IRs, you will see for yourself that many of the workers are foreigners. RWS wouldn't spend money to provide free transport to HDB heartlanders if its clientele is mostly foreign. Among other CRA violations, the RWS gave the local media stories of big winners at its casinos to entice locals to gamble.

So did the casinos bring more good than harm to Singaporeans?

PAP govt's main "harm prevention" is the NCPG (National Council of Problem Gambling) [Link]which has an annual budget of $2.5M. Compare that with the $387M that RWS made in a single quarter (3 months)....$2.5M is not even enough for the free snacks they give out at RWS to entice local gamblers.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Even Tommy Koh supports minimum wage....

I've always thought of Tommy Koh as a staunch supporter of the PAP govt.

'The growing disparity and the hardship faced by the lowest 20 per cent of our workers is a threat to our social cohesion and inconsistent with our policy of inclusive growth,' - Tommy Koh.

GDP growth does not benefit ordinary Singaporeans unless the wealth created is shared more equally. We know the standard argument against minimum wage that it is not good for economic growth and job creation. This standard argument does not make sense if your goal is something else, say, enhances social equity, prevent the spread of poverty or raise the quality of life for the people at the bottom. You can create tons of jobs and attract billions in FDI if you keep your worker's wages low. Why do you think money FDI goes to China & Vietnam? Armies of peasant workers in these communist states willing to fill the factories work long hours for low wages. However, trying to compete against them using the "cheaper, better, faster" low wage strategy is a race to the bottom. You win only by impoverishing your own people. The PAP govt has brought in cheap labor from 3rd world countries to keep our GDP growth high. This depressed the wages of the bottom 20% and caused Singapore to have the highest income gap among developed countries. It is often said that Singapore is a developed country with a 3rd world wage structure.

Minimum wage, progressive taxation, social safety nets, universal healthcare and public housing are the ways to narrow or mitigate the effects of the income gap. The PAP govt has fouled up every single one of these - they implemented GST to cut corporate taxes & taxes of the highest income earners. Singapore has the most expensive public housing in the world - short in supply, high in prices and causes ordinary Singaporeans to be deep in debt for decades. They aspire to make Singapore a medical hub for the rich causing capacity to shift private hospitals and medical costs to escalate much faster than wages - they continuously shift the burden of these higher costs to ordinary Singaporeans to keep govt expenditure low. The hospital capacity has not expanded as 1 million people were added to the population causing the hospitals to be overcrowded. The minister in charge then pushed for medisave to be used for hospitals in Malaysia causing many of the sick to seek cheaper treatment in Malaysia (Malaysian hospitals now take care our sick !) Means testing which removes much of the subsidy for middle income families moving the heavy burden to those who get sick and their family was implemented this year. Adding to all these is the huge foreign influx which caused housing prices to escalate, public transport to be overcrowded and the income of Singaporeans to be depressed.

This govt now claims that "Singaporeans come 1st". Do you believe them when they say that? The PAP govt with the large network of companies to which it is linked has diversified its interests beyond that of ordinary Singaporeans. Its policies are lopsided and ordinary Singaporeans pay the price.

Sep 14, 2010
Tommy Koh weighs in
By Zakir Hussain


SENIOR diplomat Tommy Koh on Tuesday waded into a debate on minimum wage and argued in favour of such a wage as it will improve the lot of Singaporeans in low-paying jobs.

'The growing disparity and the hardship faced by the lowest 20 per cent of our workers is a threat to our social cohesion and inconsistent with our policy of inclusive growth,'he said at a book launch.

'As a Straits Times correspondent has recently commented, Singapore is a First World country with a Third World wage structure.'

Prof Koh, special adviser to the Institute of Policy Studies, was referring to an Insight feature in May on how wages of low-income workers in Singapore had not advanced.

He made his case in a speech at the launch of a book of essays on Singapore's success story and its challenges, Management of Success: Singapore Revisited.

His remarks come in the wake of a debate between two National University of Singapore economists.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Minister responds to calls for a minimum wage

The MOM has responded to calls for a minimum wage on its blog:


In a reply by Minister Lee Yi Shyan, he wrote that minimum wage "distort market mechanisms and also makes the labour market more rigid. In fact, it can even hurt employment opportunities for low-skilled workers, making it harder for them to find jobs". A minimum wage, if properly set, is the income required for decent living in Singapore. It only distorts the market and hurt the employment of workers when you have an economy dependent low wages and many workers currently employed below the minimum wage. If the govt had achieved growth in the economy by raising productivity and fostering innovation, the number of low wage workers will be small and setting a minimum wage will only affect the workers at the margin by pushing up their wages. The PAP govt is unable to implement a minimum wage because a large segment of the workforce does not make enough for decent living. Why do we have this problem? The PAP govt opened the floodgates to cheap foreign labor to grow the GDP disincentivising businesses from making investments to raise productivity and retained industries dependent on cheap labor. It is disingenuous now for the Minister to say he is worried that a minimum wage will "hurt employment opportunities for low-skilled workers"....they have already hurt these workers by importing cheap labor causing their wages to be depressed.

The minister also cited workfare as alternative to minimum wages. If you go to bus interchanges these days, you see big posters telling workers they can get up to $3200 per annum from the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) subject to various conditions. Workfare is a pro-business scheme because it uses tax dollars to supplement income and businesses pay the same low wages to workers. The result is businesses have no incentive to improve productivity and workers are locked into menial jobs. For this reason, the harshest critics of workfare call it "slavery"[Link, link, link].

The minister wrote that the unemployment rates in western countries with minimum wages were high (8%)prior to the current recession. There are countries without minimum wages and high unemployment and there were periods when countries had low unemployment and minimum wages (US, 1996-2006). High employment rate itself does not deliver quality of life when a large segment of workforce(20% of workers) don't make enough for decent living and many who now make a decent living won't make enough to retire at an advanced age.

Unfortunately due to PAP own past policies which caused the income inequality to be the highest among developed countries and the economy to become dependent on low wage imported foreign labor, the PAP govt will now strongly resist having a minimum wage.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Minimum Wage - How long must we wait?

Hong Kong has already done it. Malaysia will most likely have it by next year.

In an earlier posting in Jul 2009[The Truth about Jobs, Jobs, Jobs], I discussed why the PAP govt will resist having a minimum wage for Singapore workers. We very often hear the govt talk how it has done well to lower unemployment in Singapore. That is only one side of the story because creating jobs in Singapore is not the same as creating jobs in other developed nations - all these countries have minimum wage laws and they have to create jobs that pay decent wages while Singapore govt can just create jobs that pay any salary. In fact Singapore creates so many jobs, the govt imports tens of thousands of foreigners to fill them. What is important is not number of jobs but the availability of jobs that pay good decent wages.

"We say Singapore is multi-racial. We all have the equal right to belong and call ourselves Singaporeans. Yes, there will be competition, but it will be fair competition. There may be inequality of outcomes, but we will still look after each other,"
- Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, CNA, 8 Sep 2010[Link].
I wonder how hard Dr. Balakrishnan challenged himself when he came up that. Once a critic of the govt, he has morphed into a "PAP man" and he is in charge of the MCYS (Community Development, Youth and Sports) that takes care of some of the less desirable "outcomes" of the system. If you end up without housing because prices have gone up so much and have to sleep at the roadside, MCYS men will come quickly to pick you up and send you to one of the govt shelters - poverty can be kept invisible. If the MCYS men act fast enough and you're willing to bend the definitiions a little to call shelters "homes", the PAP can then boast to the world there are "no homeless in Singapore". They don't boast about that too often these days - NSP's Goh Meng Seng found homeless people living in tents at the beach, I see the homeless sleeping next to pillars at covered walkway leading to Bedok Interchange everyday. Earlier this year Dr. Balakrishnan scolded bloggers and Al Jazeera for misleading the public[Link] in the case involving a homeless couple by saying the couple's plight was due to their own doing when it was govt policy and rules that led to them being homeless. Now Dr. Balakrishnan says there is "fair competition" in the system although there may be "unequal outcomes". What is so fair about a system in which a large segment of population work full time jobs and cannot make enough for basic necessities? These people will never accumulate enough for retirement and will have to work their whole life. Is this fair? Under the current system, Singapore has the highest income inequality among developed country how can a system that produces such a lopsided outcome be considered fair?
In 2007, even though I was critical of the govt and had some understanding of how this elitist govt operated, I was shocked when PM Lee announced massive pay hikes for the govt. At that time the PAP men had already occupied all of the top 30 highest paid politicians rankings in the world[Link]. How could the hikes be justified when Singapore already had the highest income gap among developed countries? They did it just after the elections as if they couldn't wait - doing it so close the elections was politically unwise because it would become a permanent liability in future elections...it was as if they felt so strongly about it and were so confident of winning future elections, they couldn't wait. The debate on the hikes was almost surrealistic with the PM & MM joining the fray talking about the "extraordinary talents" in govt and "painful sacrifices" the PAP men had to make to be in govt and how the country would sink without them so on. Portraying the govt as extraordinarily talented created another liability later on- when hiccups occurred such as escape of Mas Selamat, floods, housing woes, they instantly lose credibility when people see that they are as human as anyone else. While the PAP govt was arguing to hike its own pay hike, others around the world saw excessive compensation for executives as inherently unfair, unnecessary and artificial[Link, Link]. Instead of setting the example to correct the unfairness in the system, the PAP govt argued that they should simply 'follow the market' :
".....you 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]
So where is Lehman Brothers today? Goldman these days is very busy answering the US SEC for its past unethical behavior. When things are wrong and unjust, we need leaders who are able to see it and set the right example through their actions. Based on what Dr. Balakrishnan said, if you or your children suffer from the unequal outcomes brought about by the system, you have to accept it so long as the system is fair. But how can the system be fair when it produces such a high level of inequality in the first place? Because it is meritocratic and market driven, it has to be fair? We can have meritocracy and the free market, but a different set of govt policy/rules will produce a very different outcome. We have rich doctors because the govt wants Singapore to be medical hub for the rich at the expense of ordinary Singaporeans who now have to face overcrowded hospitals and rising cost of medical care, we have rich bankers because the govt deregulated our markets to allow them to sell structured products with high profit margins to Singaporeans and they can market highly profitable credit cards and unsecured loans....casino operators make huge profits because the govt reverse early policies to allow them to operate in Singapore. It is govt policy to open the floodgates to foreign labor which depressed the wages of a large segment of the population. The outcomes we have today are result of decisions the govt has made and the govt has been consistently lopsided puting businesses and GDP growth above the interests of ordinary Singaporeans.
So when will we have minimum wages? The PAP wants to preserve the status quo. As long as it can maintain its hold on power, it will continue to implement pro-business policies. Minimum wages takes away businesses' access to cheap labor compelling them to invest their profits in machines to increase productivity. Just compare the labor intensive approach to construction in Singapore vs somewhere else where there is no cheap labor. Lim Swee Say, as labor union chief, tells workers to be cheaper, better and faster. Why doesn't he tell landland lords to lower their rents to make Singapore more competitive? Why doesn't he tell Singapore Power to lower its tariffs which are the 2nd highest in the world so that businesses can pay workers more? Making labor cheap and all else expensive works against ordinary Singaporeans especially those in the bottom 20%. The PAP govt says that businesses will flee if a minimum wage is set....we should ask ourselves what good is achieved if we retain a business dependent on cheap labor in Singapore....let it go and make space for businesses that can pay workers more. Other countries have implemented minimum wages for more than 5 decades. Even Malaysia is going to set a minimum wage.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Beware the sweeteners.....

There is an important difference between pleasure and happiness and not knowing it often leads to misery. I had an acquaintance once who was a real nasty chap and those who worked with him long enough knew he was a backstabbing, selfish, miserly, lecherous and sometimes less than absolutely honest character. I was invited to his wedding and was quite surprised when I saw his bride - a stunning beauty much younger than himself. A few fellers at my table who were closer to him told me he only dated the girl, a graduate from one our local universities, for 6 months before the girl agreed to marriage. When he came over to my table for photo-taking, I asked him cheekily how he managed to "get such a beautiful girl". He laughed and said, "I'm damn good at dating". A few years later, I heard his marriage hit the rocks because his lecherous inclinations got the better of him. This is a cautionary tale about the important difference between someone treating you well just to get you to say "yes" to him and someone treating you well because he cares for you. The difference between pleasure and happiness is one lasts and the other doesn't. If you want a happy marriage that lasts, try not to do things when you date that you wouldn't do after you get married. It takes may take integrity to do this and people have a tendency to hide their uglier parts but a marriage counsellor once told me mismatched expectations are the main cause of unhappiness in a marriage.

A few months ago, SMRT CEO Saw said the frequency of trains cannot be increased further and that the trains have not reached "crush load". A few days ago, it was announced that the frequency of trains will be increased by simply upgrading the signalling system. These these signalling mechanisms have been in operation for years in Japan and Taiwan. The change in signalling system will raise capacity by 20%. Hmmm....problem solved? Very interesting. The property prices rising too fast? Nothing done for 2 years but cooling measures announced one day after National Day Rally and along with it the HDB will boost supply. How nice of them to be so considerate...a bit late but at least something is done. Singaporean men feeling bad about having to serve NS and reservist duties while their colleague from China who got to study in NUS/NTU free of charge on a Singapore govt scholarship don't have such obligations, lets give $9000 to NS men to narrow the divide. Not everyone is satisfied about it because those who have finished reservist obligations don't get anything. Don' t worry something will come your way - your estate will be upgraded with the nicest walkways in Singapore, beautiful blue dolphin fountains and they will throw in a sweet smelling rose garden....a place you where you can de-stress after paying all your bills. Too many foreigners, don't worry the PAP govt will moderate the influx and make sure "Singaporeans come first". So nice, so considerate and so caring of them......
Asked if the new housing measures were a response to ground sentiment that housing will be a hot topic in an upcoming election, Mr Mah said: "If you ask me whether it has got anything to do with the elections, the answer is yes. Everything has got to do with the elections."
- Today Online. 31 Aug 2010[Link] on the increase supply of flats.

What is important at this point in time is not what the govt says or does but why they are doing this. If they are just "courting" you for your vote, just like some men who behave their best, wine and dine you just to get you to say 'yes' to their marriage proposal, it is not going to last. If they are not doing it because they genuinely care about you, you will be in for an unhappy marriage and your misery can start as early as the morning after your wedding day. You should be wary...more wary when the man is extremely sweet and unusually generous because it is more likely they are acting and hiding their real intent and nature.
If the 2006 elections is anything to go by, the sweetening has only just started. More goodies will come your way - estate upgrading worth hundreds of millions, New Singapore Shares shoved into your pocket, more money for ComCare, higher pay for workers, .....just look at the good news gravy train before the 2006 elections.....a snapshot from my blog in 2006[Link]:

The good news gravy train - extreme overload ------ [Link]

"Higher wages seen for Singapore workers as job market tightens" "Singapore businesses optimistic in first half of 2006" "Singapore's employment in 2005 at all-time high of 2.3 million" "Singapore's economy expected to continue prospering: PM Lee" "$1b help for low-wage earners" "NTUC aim: Make 10,000 jobs pay more this year " "Record 32m pass through Changi Airport" "Foreign Trade hits record $716b" "RECORD panel recommends financial incentives for NSmen" "Private and HDB home prices move up" "Panel recommends incentive package for companies to hire older workers" "More workers expected to find jobs in 2006: NTUC Chief " "Biomedical sciences industry may exceed government's 2015 target" "NTUC to set up $50m fund to help low-wage workers upgrade their skills " "S'pore strong trade performance expected to continue into H1 2006" "Medisave withdrawal limit to be raised from $300 to $400 from April" "Singapore expects strong manufacturing investments in 2006 " "Strong jobs gains show Singapore employers hiring for growth: analysts " "Jalan Besar Town Council unveils $517m estate upgrading plan" "S&C and rental rebates for 700,000 households" "Sembawang Town Council to spend $570m on renewal plan" "Civil servants to get 1.75 month year-end bonus" "12% of Singapore employers to increase hiring in Q1: survey " "Singapore created 28,500 jobs in Q3 " "Singapore raises economic growth forecast to around 5% for full year" "ComCare Fund disburses $8.7m to help low income households" "East Coast Town to u
ndergo S$500m renewal programme " "HDB upgrading programme speeds up with 64 precincts chosen for 2006 " "Jobless rate down to 2.5%. Lowest in 4 years" "More Jobs Than Ever Before As The Tide Turns"
The govt also threw in a fantastic budget in 2006 loaded with goodies[2006 Budget Goodies].
We all know what happened in the 4 years after the last elections when Singaporeans were courted with all these goodies. GST hikes, more foreign influx, minister pay hikes, means testing for hospital....and endless hikes for transport, utilities and public housing. The more goodies they give you, the nicer they treat you before the elections, the more pain will come after it. The nice and sweet disappear quickly once they have your vote. You're delighted because you will be getting $9000 for serving NS and some people are not too happy because they will be getting nothing. I tell you the $9000 matters little in the bigger scheme of things. Its like talking about the size of diamond on the ring the man gives you when he proposes....it is how he treats you after the wedding that matters in the long run.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

TOC : Stop using the poor for your political agenda – Part Two

In TOC's latest article "Stop using the poor for your political agenda - Part Two"[Link], Leong Sze Hian wrote:

"In this connection, I refer to media reports (“Full house at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital” , ST, Jul 25) that the new Khoo Teck Puat Hospital has been full since it opened recently, and that the bed crunch has been so bad in the past couple of years that non-urgent surgery had to be put off, beds placed along corridors and hours spent waiting for an available bed.

According to the Department of Statistics’ Yearbook of Statistics 2010, the number of hospital beds in Singapore, has hardly changed – from 11,742 to 11,663, from 1999 to 2009.

The number of hospitals only increased by one, from 28 to 29.

During the same 10-year period, the population grew from 3.96 to 4.99 million.

Although the Health Mnistry has said that Singapore will not be caught out by a shortage of hospital beds again, even with the net increase of about 400 beds after the expected opening of the 700-bed Jurong General Hospital before 2015, and the closure of the 300-bed Alexandra Hospital, the total number of hospital beds is only expected to be about 12,613, even after adding the 550 beds from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

If not for allowing Medisave to be used for hospitalisation in 12 approved hospitals in Malaysia, since March this year, the shortage of hospital beds may be even worse."

It turned out I wrote something about shift of capacity from public to private hospital and how the govt's plan to be a medical hub for the rich has driven up medical cost much faster than the rise in wages. The govt then implemented means testing to shift the rising cost to Singaporeans to keep its own expenditure down. The article I wrote, together with another in TOC by Leong Sze Hian became material for a Social Studies Revision Guide for Sec 4 to test students on critical thinking. Now some secondary school students will know how to call the govt's bluff on medical care in Singapore.

In an earlier edition of this study guide, Source C was an article from the Straits Times about overcrowding in public hospitals and spare capacity in private hospital and how means testing will push patients from public to private hospitals by eliminating their subsidy. In the latest edition Source C is an SMA article which is more supportive of the govt's argument - people who can afford to pay should not be getting subsidies.

The revision guide also used material from other blogs such as Yawning Bread in a number of critical thinking tests. The author probably figured out you get one side of the story from mainstream media and the other side from the Internet....for critical thinking to take place you need to look at both sides.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Prof Hui : Evidence for link between foreign labour influx and depressed wages is compelling....

"A growing influx of low-skilled, low-cost foreign labour has effectively increased Singapore’s overall labour supply. There is an ongoing debate as to whether this has depressed domestic wages at the bottom. I believe the available evidence for this link between the influx of foreign labour and depressed wages at the bottom is compelling."
- Professor Hui Weng Tat, LKY School of Public Policy,
Straits Times Article : Minimum Wage Law Works[Link]
I personally believe the foreign influx is also the main cause of structural unemployment among older Singaporeans age 45 and above. While many Singaporeans experienced first hand the negative effects of the PAP govt's very extreme foreign labor policy - importing foreign labor at one of the highest if not the highest rate per capita in the world - through housing and transport, the real economic pain is experienced by the bottom 20% of the population that saw their wages depressed as the cost of living rose. ...and the PAP is responsible for this through its lopsided and unbalanced policies.

SM Goh : Take the rational approach....

"On housing, Mr Goh acknowledged that the surge of immigrants in 2007 and 2008 caught the Government by surprise. But the Government had not stopped them from coming because the booming economy needed workers.

Mr Goh also acknowledgedthe National Development Ministry 'did not provide for the sudden surge' in its housing plans." - Straits Times, 7 Sept 2010.

It is not very rational to allow so many immigrants into the country without providing sufficient housing. Worse still, the Minister of National Development first denied the problem when it surfaced, then said he was caught by surprise and he later played around with numbers to show that housing was 'affordable'. He was caught by Reform Party's Hazel Poa for his use of those numbers[Link]. Along the way, the govt tried to blame the people for having 'unrealistic expectations' [Link] and so on. The govt's denial and dithering on the issue is what got the people all up in arms (this is a figure of speech, metaphoric use...lest I'm accused of inciting violence) over the rising housing prices. It would have been more rational for the govt to simply admit there was a shortage and move quickly to address it. SM Goh is right, the govt should have taken a rational approach to problem solving.
SM Goh also has other deep and interesting thoughts, here is one of them:

"Unhappiness, those who are happier, in total there's net happiness, there's no such thing called total happiness, don't believe in it. It's whether we create net happiness in all this," said SM Goh.

He added it is "very difficult to satisfy everybody" and in politics, trying to make everybody happy is "impossible".

They key, said SM Goh is to "make the most number of people happy, the most number of times". [Link]
Make the most number of people happy the most number of times - that is indeed a wise idea. If the PAP govt has been doing that for the last 5 years, they can confidently have an election tomorrow and not worry about the results. The truth is one of SM Goh's successor's first major move after taking office was to up the world record salaries of our ministers to set new world records - how does that make the most people happy? It only makes the PAP leaders happy and a large segment of the population who have seen their incomes stagnant in the past decade unhappy and angry. His next big move was to increase the GST - an unnecessary move which resulted in the govt having billions of surplus. The GST increase was implemented together with the reduction of tax rate for the richest Singaporeans and corporations at a time when Singapore has the largest income inequality among developed countries. So how does that make the most people happy? Does medical means testing make most people happy? - the poor pay the same while middle class families now pay more. SM Goh's successor did not lead with this wisdom of 'making the most people happy most of the time". Almost every major policy change exacerbated the income divide (foreign labor, GST, removal of benefits for workers e.g. medical benefits for low ranking civil servants, neans testing, etc etc etc) ...you can read my blog of numerous examples of PAP's lopsided and unbalanced policies. That is why the PAP should be worried about the coming elections.

Monday, September 06, 2010

SM Goh : View Problems in Perspective....

"It's important for those who are facing problems of success - like inadequate car parks and housing at the top end - to think of those who are struggling to make a living everyday. There are many people who are not able to benefit from our overall success. So just remember that, as we also try to solve our own problems at the top end,"
- SM Goh, 4 Sept 2010.
People have a whole new perspective when problems that previously affects others spread to them. People focussing on their own success and their own interests have always worked to the PAP's advantage. It is the not guy who votes for the PAP to get his estate upgraded or the feller who too busy getting his new car to think about the poor that the PAP has to worry about. The voters that the PAP has to worry about are those who look beyond their own problems to question why we have so many old folks who are unable to retire and have to work as cleaners - many were part of the generation that contributed the economic miracle that took Singapore from 3rd world to 1st. Why is the income gap so big in Singapore? Why can't we have minimum wage and safety nets for the low income group? Why can't we have universal healthcare so that no Singaporean has to worry about money when he gets sick?
When the PAP govt increased it's own salary which was already the highest in the world, did they spare a thought for those who were struggling to make a lliving? When the PAP govt implemented all the changes in the CPF did they consider those low income individuals who will never make enough to retire? Are they suppose to work until the day they die...is that the PAP plan for these people?
The more you think beyond yourself and your own problems, the more you will understand how PAP policies have left a large segment of Singaporeans behind in their system. The more you care about your fellow Singaporeans, the harder it is for you to accept the lopsided policies implemented by the PAP govt. While you may have been able to cope with the neverending increase in cost of living and overcome the challenges the PAP govt creates such as importing foreign labor to compete against you, your fellow Singaporeans may not be so lucky. Today there are many Singaporeans whose wages are so depressed, they cannot afford basic necessities such as housing, utilities and transport. There are many older Singaporeans who are badly affected by structural unemployment because the govt has open the flood gates for foreign labor - employers have an endless supply of young workers and that takes away jobs from people above 45 years old..... many of whom have children to feed and parents to support. Did the PAP govt think about them?
If you view problems in the right perspective, looking beyond your own life and thinking deeply about the problems faced by those who have to struggle the hardest in our society, you will come to only one conclusion on how to make things better for all Singaporeans...and that is....
SM Goh asks Singaporeans to view problems in perspective
By Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid Posted: 04 September 2010 2047 hrs

Video Link :SM Goh asks Singaporeans to view problems in perspective

SINGAPORE : Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has asked Singaporeans to view problems such as overcrowding in trains and increasing property prices in perspective, and remember those who are less fortunate.

Mr Goh was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a community event on Saturday held in conjunction with the Muslim fasting month. The Ramadan-on-Wheels is an annual event that aims to help the needy.

It is organised by the Malay Youth Literary Association. This year, over 200 beneficiaries who have been given S$200 Giant Hypermarket shopping vouchers each, headed off with volunteers to shop for their daily groceries. All that would not have been possible without supporters. And it's this thoughtfulness that Mr Goh hopes to see in Singaporeans, even as the country deals with challenges which have accompanied the country's success. "It's important for those who are facing problems of success - like inadequate car parks and housing at the top end - to think of those who are struggling to make a living everyday. There are many people who are not able to benefit from our overall success. So just remember that, as we also try to solve our own problems at the top end," urged SM Goh.

Ramadan-on-Wheels has reached out to more than 1,200 disadvantaged families since it started in 2001. - CNA /ls

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Singapore population crosses 5M....Part 2.

From Paul Krugman's famous paper Myth of Asia's Miracle[Link]:

"Even without going through the formal exercise of growth accounting, these numbers should make it obvious that Singapore's growth has been based largely on one-time changes in behavior that cannot be repeated. Over the past generation the percentage of people employed has almost doubled; it cannot double again. A half-educated work force has been replaced by one in which the bulk of workers has high school diplomas; it is unlikely that a generation from now most Singaporeans will have Ph.D's. And an investment share of 40 percent is amazingly high by any standard; a share of 7O percent would be ridiculous. So one can immediately conclude that Singapore is unlikely to achieve future growth rates comparable to those of the past. ".

Krugman was wrong! The paper written 1994 failed to foresee that the PAP will resort to brute force expansion of the workforce and population to keep the economy growing. Never in the Nobel Prize winner's mind could he imagine that a country would import foreigners in large numbers to maintain high economic growth. Countries usually keep their economies growing through innovation and increased productivity - it is a tough approach but leads to higher incomes thoughout the work force and a higher quality of life.

The only countries where there are comparable rates of immigration and size of foreign workforce are rich middle-eastern countries that have their native population comfortably positioned on top and foreigners to do all the hard work. In Singapore, foreigners are brought in at all levels intensifying the competition for jobs, space and services. A large segment of the Singapore population has been crushed both in the literal and figurative sense. We are crushed in the MRT trains and many are crushed by the competition for jobs and education.

Whether you need a hospital bed, a home or a place in the university, the large influx means there are fewer vacancies for Singaporeans. Singaporeans who were to be able to gain entry to various courses in universities now cannot get places with the same grades (Average Grades? Getting into Uni is a squeeze). At the masters degree level, the 'squeeze' is even tighter. Richer parents send their children overseas to Australia, UK etc so that their children can have the advantage of a university education. Poorer Singaporeans cannot afford to send their children overseas and these kids will not have the opportunity to get a university degree. The reality is human intelligence follow a bell curve - half the people are of below average intelligence. When you start to import the cream of the crop from China and India in very large numbers giving them scholarships to study free in local universities, you leave fewer places for Singaporeans who could have benefitted from a university education.

PAP leaders frequently lament the lack of talent among Singaporeans to justify importing foreign talents in large numbers. The leaders of many other countries accept and work with their own citizens and whatever talents they are born with to try to develop every person to the fullest making the best of what they have. They don't belittle their citizens as 'lesser mortals' lacking talent and drive. They don't call their own citizens daft and ignorant ...and they don't threaten stick the "spurs under the hide" of their citizens as if they are animals or slaves in their own country. Every year thousands of highly talented Singaporeans leave the country because they have enough of this type of leadership. While they are talented and can make a good living in Singapore, they don't want their children, who may be born average, to struggle in this system.

We need leaders who believe in their own citizens. What is happening today is the govt proactively bringing in foreign students in large numbers from developing countries, using tax-payer dollars to entice them with scholarships to study free in Singapore. When they do this, many Singaporean children especially children of poorer families will lose the opportunity to get a university education. One of my friends failed to get into NUS in the 90s because he failed his GP - he appealed but he was rejected despite having decent grades in other subjects. However, when the govt wanted to give students from China opportunities to get degrees in local unversities, requirement to be proficient in English was waived. They are willing to create opportunities for foreigners but not for their own citizens. It is too late for PM Lee to say "Singaporeans come first" - the fact that he has to tell Singaporeans explicitly that they come first just shows how deep the feeling of being relegated to 2nd class in their own country runs among Singaporeans.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Singapore Population crosses 5M....

3.23 million citizens and 1.84 foreigners (incl PR). Foreigners make up 36% of the population. The % does not include those who took up citizenship as adults.

During the ND Rally, PM Lee asked Singaporeans to do their part and help to integrate the new arrivals. He also explained the benefits of having foreigners and other countries are doing it. Lets put it this way - Singapore's immigration policy is not the same as what other countries are doing. The PAP govt policy borders on the extreme. For example, in the US, immigration is also a hot topic but the foreign born (including those who took up citizenship) is only 16%. We frequently hear our PAP leaders tell us to be more open and accepting etc as if Singaporeans are very xenophobic. I find these remarks insensitive and unfair. I tell you, frankly, that Singaporeans are the most open people in the world. There was hardly a whimper of concern when the number of foreigners hit 16% because people trusted the PAP govt and the state controlled media on this issue. No where else in the world can you find such a high level of acceptance of foreigners. It was only when the numbers crossed 25% that Singaporeans realised something was amiss. It was when serious structural unemployment emerged and family breadwinners had difficulty holding on to jobs and income that they suspect something is wrong. For the residents in Jurong it was when the public transport reached 'crush-load' that they woke up and began to understand what the govt has done.

After implementing an extreme policy (immigration on steroids?), the PAP leaders went round to chide Singaporeans for being small-minded. Citizens from big countries like Australia,US and UK raised their concerns about immigrants when the % of immigrants were much lower than in Singapore.

Singapore's immigration policy has never been about benefits for the citizens. It is a policy driven by business demand for labor from China & India and the PAP's fixation with high GDP growth. Now at this late hour with the elections coming and voters who have woken up to what the PAP govt has done, the PM tries to reframe the entire thing as something done for the benefit of citizens. This is ridiculous. How many people will believe him? While many feel the pain from the rising home prices, crowded public transport and increased competition for jobs, the real tragedy is found in the thousands of low income families that have been pushed further into poverty as the cost of living rose and their wages became depressed. Netizens and bloggers are not small minded, they are concerned about the plight of their fellow Singaporeans especially the less educated who are unable to speak up for themselves.

Singapore population tops five million, 36 pct foreigners

AFP Report[Link]
SINGAPORE - Singapore's population crossed five million this year and more than a third of the total are foreigners, the statistics department said on Tuesday.

The city-state's total population stood at 5.08 million people at the end of June, it said in a statement.

Of the number, 3.23 million are citizens, 540,000 are foreigners with permanent residency and 1.3 million are foreign professionals and workers along with their dependents, resulting in a 36 per cent share for foreigners in the general population.

The population growth rate was 1.8 per cent in 2010, reflecting a slowdown in the number of permanent residents and foreign workers being admitted into the country, the department said.

The number of permanent residents rose by 1.5 per cent, down from at least 6 per cent growth per year between 2005 and 2009, it said.

Growth in the number of non-residents, or those on professional employment passes and shorter-term work permits, slowed to 4.1 per cent, off from peaks of 15 per cent in 2007 and 19 per cent in 2008, it added.

Because Singaporeans have not been producing enough babies, the government had for years rolled out the welcome mat for foreigners, whose numbers rose drastically during the economic boom from 2004 to 2007.

But after the 2008 global financial crisis, the government has taken a fresh look at its open-door policy following complaints from citizens that foreigners are competing for jobs, housing and medical care.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged the problems in a speech on Sunday and vowed to review immigration policies, cap new foreign hiring this year and enhance benefits accorded to citizens. -- AFP