Saturday, April 30, 2011

MM Lee : 'Aljunied voters will regret choosing WP'

What MM Lee said is found here[Link]

"Stop PAP" sign at Serangoon Stadium where the WP rally was held yesterday:
What do you think was on voters minds when Lee Hsien Loong decided to increase the GST to 7% and increase ministers pay shortly after he was given a strong mandate the 2006?  When he campaigned for a strong mandate in 2006, his message was he will take care of the poor, look after Sngaporeans and address the widening income gap. But the moment he got into office his priority was to increase GST and increase his ministers' pay.

Lets look at the promises he made in 2006.

Now that it is election time he is saying the same things again - that he will take care of Singaporeans and help those in need.  These is only one intelligent line (and countless unintelligent ones) I remember from George Bush:

"If you fool me once shame on you. If you fool me twice, shame on me..." - George Bush.
We deserve to be called daft if we fall for the deceptive marketing again.  The PAP as usual announces a gravy train of good news during the election period just like they did in 2006[..look at the 2006 goodies gravy train]. They can announce so much good news that your ability to think properly and make a good judgement is incapacitated. The latest ones are NWC's wage increase recommendation and $800 that was credited into your savings account yesterday night. PAP's tactics for wining elections are : GRC, gerrymandering, propaganda, upgrading pork barrel, one-off cash payments and sometimes character assasination when other methods fail.  After they win, promises will be forgotten and it will be business as usual.

Instead of being confused by the tactics and arguments, ask yourself this simple question : Is your life better today than it was 5 years ago? The PAP ministers are paid much more today than they were 5 years ago...if they are paid more not for making your life better, are you sure you want to keep supporting them and giving them a strong mandate to do what they have been doing?

If you don't want any regrets after 7 May 2011, ask the right questions and vote wisely!!!

WP Rally, 30 April 2011 (Saturday)
Bedok Stadium
1 Bedok North Street 2
Singapore 469642
Time: 7.00 PM
Attire: Light Blue Top

Friday, April 29, 2011

Make things right for Singapore...

"If you want change, you have to be the change" - Nicole Seah

Do you want that fresh coat of paint and that covered walkway or your voice in parliament?

Frankly speaking, many Singaporeans are fedup with having to make this choice every election as the PAP rolls out its upgrading pork barrel and blatantly threaten to take it away unless you vote for them. This is wrong and it is in our hands to stop them. We are electing representatives for parliament not covered walkways and fountains for our estates paid for by all tax payers. It is wrong to use the people's money to win votes for yourself by threatening voters. That is how the PAP hangs on to power and that is why the PAP doesn't listen to you - they don't need to hear as long as you respond to their threats. It is in your hands to change this.

Yesterday, the PAP sent out a brochure to many homes called "Burning Questions". One of the burning question is why basic necessities should not be exempted from GST.

"If flour and sugar are basic necessities, how about biscuits and cakes? If bananas are are a necessity, what about strawberry?" - PAP's 'Burning Questions' newsletter 

When Malaysia considered implementing GST, the govt promised to exempt basic necessities [Link] so that the poor and elderly will not be so adversely affected by the GST. In fact GST is exempted for basic necessities in all developed countries that implemented it. It is difficult for the PAP govt only because they care little about the poor and elderly. They want to send our elderly to Malaysia and have failed to seriously address the issue of growing poverty and rising income gap. The real burning question is how long do we want to wait for them to fix the problems they created?

Singaporeans can't wait any longer. I attended the 1st WP rally in the 2006 elections. There were much more people in WP rally yesterday night at Hougang. We all know we can't be too optimistic when we see the attendence at these rally as it might not translate to votes. But you can sense that frustration with the PAP has grown and it has spread because the PAP has been deaf to the concerns of the people.
The PAP deployed its usually tactics of pork barrel, propaganda and gerrymandering to preserve power. 29000 voters in Aljunied GRC were sent to other constituencies in the coming elections likely because most supported the WP.  That is how the PAP wins - not by doing what is right and good for the people - but using threats,. deception (propaganda) and manipulation (of election boundaries). It is time to put a stop to this and make things right for Singapore.

WP Rally, 29 April 2011 (Friday)

Aljunied GRC
Venue: Serangoon

33 Yio Chu Kang Road
Singapore 545677

Time: 7.30 PM

Attire: Light Blue Top

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Change must come soon...

WP Rally – 28 April 2011 (Thursday) 837 Hougang Central
28 April 2011 (Thursday)
Field besides Block 837,
Hougang Central, Singapore 530837
Time: 7.30 PM
Attire: Light Blue Top

Singaporeans across the the island have been politically awoken in different ways. It could be the questions you ask yourself when the aged  and frail cleaner comes to clean your table at the hawker center. Why is he still working at his age? Shouldn't he be resting after a lifetime of work? It could the questions you ask yourself when you visit the home of a younger colleague who got married recently. He has worked as hard as yourself or even harder. Why is his HDB flat so small? Why is it so expensive? It could be the questions you ask yourself when you go to your favorite coffeeshp and find that all the local coffeeshop helpers have been retrenched and replaced by foreigners. What happened to them? What will happen to their families? You may have friends or neighbors who fell ill and fell through the many cracks of our healthcare system and ended up with a 6 digit bill like olympic hero Tan Howe Liang's wife[Link]. How can it be when Khaw keeps insisting that healthcare is affordable? Why do so many Singaporeans have to go to Malaysia for treatment when they fall ill[Link]?

When NSP's Nicole Seah was introduced as a candidate, she told us how she was politically awoken. She was a volunteer delivering food to the needy when she met a woman with a roof over her head but was unable to afford meals. She was okay for that day but how was she going to feed herself the next day?  That was when Nicole realised that we need policies that go down to the root causes and not just depend on organisations to solve the problems. This sentiment is frequently echoed by community volunteers and social workers - many of whom feels strongly that Singapore needs a much better social infrastructure as a developed country.

As we ask ourselves these questions, men and women with conviction, drive and passion have stepped forward and offered to take our voices into parliament. Opposition politics in Singapore is always risky and difficult. Not only will candidates be subjected to highly bias media coverage and a very unlevel playing field, many have suffered harsher actions after election defeats. This election we see an unprecedent number of highly opposition qualified candidates with successful careers and businesses stepping forward. Besides the now famous Chen Show Mao, AskNLearn CEO Yee Jenn Jong has also joined the Workers' Party. In case you don't know what AskNLearn is, grab a primary school kid and ask him ...he should know because AskNLearn's product is used by all primary schools in Singapore. Why have these men stepped forward in such large numbers this time? Because we are running out of time to correct the course this country is on. 4 years ago, many were still harbouring some hope that the PAP will be able to correct itself....but they have not and we have moved further down the path that can only take us to a poorer quality of live...

We know that "asset enhancement" cannot continue forever - it requires our younger generation to take pile up more debt to purchase homes with prices that rise faster than median income - that is unsustainable and they are linking our retirements to an unsustainable idea. Home prices rise by a whopping 59% within 3 years outstripping income growth which is stagnant for a large segment of the population leading to economic risk [Link] ]and risk of default for home buyers[Link]. Minister Mah's idea of a solution to this is to make videos explaining why flats are still affordable with "exceptional' examples:

The little trick here is to choose people who qualify for all the grants buying smaller flats, stretch your home loan longer and choose poorer locations where demand is low - artificially low interest rates also helps. The undeniable mathematical fact is homes today are 59% less affordable than they were just 3 years ago. It is quite ridiculous at this late stage that Minister Mah still wants manufacture propaganda showing that people can still cope after the sharp rise in housing. The basic and simple question is whether these people are better off than if they were buying flats 4 years ago? If the answer is "no"...and  what has the govt done during this time? The housing prices were affected by govt policies on immigration, HDB supply and whether the govt put in controls on speculative inflows in particular from China. Very long loan tenures exposes home owners to extended periods of risk when jobs can be lost and changes in interest rates can strain family finances. To understand this we have to look at figures from 2009 -33000 HDB loans out of 420,000 went into arrears and 8000 families defaulted on their loans[Link]. That was before the economy went into recession and those flats are bought far lower prices relative to income than today's flats. If all is fine why is retirement being pushed further and further back? What kind of public housing policy do we have? It is euphemistically intertwined with something called "asset enhancement"...which at the end of the day causes home prices to spiral up, CPF accounts to be emptied and our reserves in the GIC to grow.   Many Singaporeans have to retire later because they have insufficient to retire on and those who are unable to find work have to sell their homes to's  that for a deal for people who work the longest hours in the world based on ILO's survey.

The Singapore govt budget expenditure for healthcare is 3% of GDP. Even as the cost of care rose double digits a year in recent years, it is maintained at this low level - lower by a large margin compared with other developing countries that spend about 13% of their budget on healthcare. In order to do this, the govt shifted much of the healthcare burden on the sick and their families as medical cost rose. The recent move to implement means testing to cut subsidies for the sick in one example. Other moves include allowing the use of Medisave for Malaysian hospitals implicitly telling poorer Singaporeans to seek medical care in developing country as healthcare capacity is used generate profits as a medical hub for the rich in the region. One example of Singaporeans seeking medical care in Malaysia is 80s cultural icon who had to seek treatment in Malacca when he had cancer[Link]. A large number Singaporeans (17%) are uninsured and many who are insured under old schemes like basic Medishield are no longer adequate because of the low limits that are easily busted by serious illness. If we continue along this direction and let healthcare cost spiral up, many more will fall through the cracks be heavily burdened when they get sick.

In the past decade as the cost of living rose, we also see an expansion in the income gap. Our income gap is the largest among developed countries. This gap is large by all measure - GINI index, absolute wealth. Our mean wealth is US$250,000 but our median wealth is just one-ninth of that at US$9000 [Link] far more unequal and distorted than all other developed countries including asian countries such as Taiwan, S. Korea and Japan. Instead of addressing the income gap directly our leaders try to sell us this idea of social mobility - if you don't do well, it is okay ..your child will have a shot. However, the truth is as the income gap increases, social mobility also decreases. Poor children have vastly different start points from that of richer children[Stark difference in pre-school]. The govt eliminated inheritance tax for the rich, lower the tax of the highest inome earners and corporate taxes at a time when corporate profits were at an all time as a % of GDP, implemented GST to tax the poor and opened the floodgates to foreign workers from 3rd world countries who would accept lower wages to drive down the income of the lowest wage earners. The availability of cheap labor resulted in a decline in productivity and a large segment of lower income Singaporeans became trapped in poverty. Now the PAP tells us it wants to help the poor...are we supposed to trust them after what they have done?

Singapore is not a 1st world country in many aspects. Our wage structure is 3rd world. The lack of democracy, the lack of healthy competition of ideas and govt reliance on propaganda to control the citizens shows that there is has been little political progress relative to countries such as S. Korea that have embraced full blown democracy after years of authoritarian leadership. We have elections during which one side shamelessly dangles hundreds of millions of estate upgrading pork barrel in order to win votes.  Politicians pay themselves millions as the income gap grows when they should be questioning the excessive compensation for executives as the wages of ordinary Singaporeans stagnate. We have to change the way things are done and how this country is run and we don't have much time left as we go down the slippery slope of highly unbalanced policies that benefit the few and burden the many. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


This blog is an open resource until 7 May 2011

I want to announced that this entire blog will be an open resource to all parties taking part in the coming elections. They will be free to use my blog postings for articles and speeches without citation.

Spreading the fear of freak results and losing ministers in GRCs.

The PAP has this strategy of having each GRC helmed by a minister. The idea is make people fearful of "losing a minister" if they vote against the PAP in a GRC. The PAP then puts newcomers in a GRC who get into parliament on the coat-tails exploiting this fear among voters. Yesterday, PM Lee again played up this fear by saying voters "would have to live with the consequence" of voting for the opposition. So is it really that disastrous if a minister is voted out? We have a very expensive civil service which has highly paid permanent secretaries for each ministry and they are further supported by an also very expensive Admin Service. We have seen ministers without any prior experience, say Liu Tuck Yew who was from the navy, move around and head various ministries. This is possible because there is whole civil service infrastructure in place to support decision making. But suppose you're still not convinced and believe the minister to be a "super-being" without whom his ministry will collapse and all those civil servants don't know what to do unless he is around, just rehire him as "mentor permanent secretary" after he loses.

It is really strange how PAP can create this myth that a running small country like Singapore is almost like 10 times more complex than running the USA or UK and people believe them. You see the opposition in other countries, say in UK, taking over after a decade long absence without much problem.

The other favorite fear mongered during Singapore elections is that of a "freak" result. We see the PAP talking about this during every election. The only thing I find "freakish" about our election results is more than one third of Singaporeans vote against the PAP and this one-third is represented by only 2% of the members in parliament - no thanks to the GRC system. The PAP likes to paint a scenario like this[Link] : people actually want the PAP to remain the govt but somehow vote opposition in such large numbers that they become the majority in parliament. If people vote for the opposition in large numbers, it is most likely these people want the PAP to go. If the unlikely outcome of PAP losing the election occurs, it is more due to their tinkering of the election system in the past decades. Their "methods" of winning elections - use of propaganda, upgrading pork barrel and GRCs + gerrymandering - have an outside chance of backfiring badly on them. The PAP has become dependent on propaganda style of disseminating information which often results in oversimplication and one-sided arguments that many, especially the newer generation, find deceptive and this is being rendered useless by the Internet.  Increasing number of people now view their upgrading pork barrel tactics negatively and as something unfair and undemocratic. GRCs and gerrymandering with the electoral boundaries to spread out supporters in a way to gain as many seats as possible and spread the margin of safety. However, if there is an unforeseen swing in votes they will be hit badly losing more seats than if they had more concentration of support within a stronger GRC.

It is not expected for the PAP to lose this elections - despite what they have done in recent years, they still enjoy the goodwill from the 70s right up to early 90s. Reminds me of the Japanese LDP govt that went on and on for years long after they were bad enough to be thrown out. If the remote (I would say negligible) possibility of the PAP losing this elections occur, it will be because of their policies and tactics which have lost them many supporters in the last few years not due to voters making a "freakish" mistake of voting opposition when they really want the PAP.

The outcome most Singaporeans want in this elections is a more balanced 1st world parliament. They want more balanced policies and know they cannot get that with a parliament dominated by the PAP. Once the nomination is done and campaigning begins, it will become very clear where the "hot seats" are and it is a matter of Singaporeans overcoming their own fears to get what they want for the long term good for Singapore, a better future for themselves and their families. This elections, even die-hard PAP supporters have to agree (unless they are unreasonable people)  that the opposition has very good highly qualified people who can contribute. If these people don't win due to what many see as unfair PAP tactics, frustration with the PAP is going to mount further polarising the large segment of the population (now >33%) that don't support the PAP and that is actually not good for the PAP. There are genuine philosophical and ideological difference among the citizens. PAP policies don't benefit everyone and I would argue that in recent years they don't even benefit the majority. This country has to start changing direction soon or it will have to do so in a more abrupt manner in the future. I think in 2006, voters gave the PAP a chance to remake itself under a new PM. However, to their disappointment, the PAP appeared to have remade itself in the wrong direction - unbalanced policies like foreign talent policy became even more unbalanced, income gap got bigger, GST was hiked, minister pay increased and expensive public housing became more expensive. The PAP spent the last 4+ years demonstrating to the people the need for a strong opposition in parliament! ..and I believe this is what they are going to get in the coming election.
PM Lee: No by-election if PAP loses a GRC

By Rachel Chang

IF A GRC is lost at the May 7
General Election - and a Minister along with it - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
does not plan to call a by-election to try and get him elected and back into
government, he told the Lianhe Zaobao Chinese daily.

'Elections are a serious thing,' he said in an interview published on Tuesday 'The voters have
decided, and we will accept the voters' decision.'

He added that voters, too, would have to live with the consequences of their choice to turf a Minister

'There are no safety nets in real life. So it's best not to take
the risk.'

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Discrimination against the poor with foreign spouse...

My sister, a community volunteer, told me what she saw with her own eyes. A PAP minister was showing a new candidate around the estate when a resident approached them for help. The man's problem was that he was a low income earner married to a foreign wife. The man's long term visit pass(LTVP)  has been rejected many times by the ICA and he wanted to know if the MP-to-be would help him. Before the MP-to-be could utter a few words of sympathy, the minister replied the man, "We can't please everyone".   In every other developed country, when you marry someone, your spouse is granted citizenship. In Singapore, your spouse is granted citizenship only if your income is high enough. So when your income is low, not only do you have to live in poverty, the govt puts up all sorts of impediments to make it hard for you to lead a normal life.

What prompted me to tell this story is a article in The New Paper today (26 April 2011)-the article is found on page 4. The front page headlines is about Vincent Wijeysingha's sexual orientation, which is going to waste everyone's time and distract everyone from more pressing national issues. The article is about a security guard called Damien Koh who fell in love and married a Vietnamese woman. His wife was granted a LTVP but not PR (or citizenship) because he earned $1500 a month. They have 2 boys both are Singaporeans. Two weeks ago, Damien had a heart attack and passed away. The article discussed how his wife is at a lost because Damien the sponsor for her LTVP  is no longer around. Luckily, the MP for the area is Lily Neo and she will try her best to help her with the LTVP . When contacted, Dr. Lily Neo said there are "many foreign spouses living in HDB rental flats in her ward".

Let me tell you what is very wrong here. If a high income man marries a foreign wife, his wife can get citizenship or PR easily and will be entitled to things like subsidised medical care (class "C" wards)etc. However, if a poor man marries a foreign wife, he may not even get a LTVP and his marriage will be strained and have a higher chance of failing. If he manages to get a LTVP (which has to be renuewed annually), his wife can stay to help look after the children but without citizenship or PR, he has to pay substantially more if his wife gets sick - unnecessarily increasing his financial strain.

Here is another case of a low income man who over 4 years was rejected 20 times by the MoM for is permit to get married because the woman he wanted to marry is a former work permit holder[Link].

Singapore has the largest income gap among developed countries and a 3rd world wage structure. Because of this, there are many hardworking Singapore men who work full time jobs but get very low income.  While the PAP govt says it wants Singaporeans to procreate and lift our fertility rate which has fallen to one of the lowest in the world,  they make it hard this large group of Singaporeans to get married and start a family. These men have served their national service and are expected to die for their country but are denied citizenships for their wives..... citizenship that is given out by the thousands to newcomers who do not serve NS. The new PAP candidates all came out to say they want to help the poor. So are they going to live up to their words and fight for this this unfair policy to be changed? Probably not because it is consistent with other PAP policies such as baby bouus and tax rebates that only encourages procreation only among higher income Singaporeans.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The logistics behind the campaign and importance of volunteers....

This is an interesting video that explains what goes on behind an election campaign in Singapore.

"There is an old saying in warfare that amatuers deal with strategy and professionals with logistics"
- Dr. Cunha

"The well oiled PAP election machine can get its election posters on all lamp-post in contested wards within 24 2006 one of the better organised opposition can do it within 36 hours....on day 5 of the election campaign one of the less organised opposition party was still struggling to get its posters up" - Dr. Cunha.

"In 2006 the WP team in Ang Moh Kio had 50 volunteers during the campaign. ...he  (WP volunteer) claimed the PAP team led by the prime minister had 2000 volunters" - Dr. Cunha

If you want your party to win and represent you in parliament, there is more you can do than voting for them. For the opposition parties competing against a well oil engine with vast resources, they need many hands to help run the campaign. Posters don't magically hang themselves on lamp-posts, flyers don't distribute themselves,and it is in our hands to make the playing field level.

Those who are ready to do more, you can sign up through the party's websites.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

NSP's Nicole Seah....

PAP has lost the moral high ground...

Yesterday there was a report about possibility of well known psychiatrist Dr. Ang Yong Guan joining the SDP[Link]. Dr. Ang was a was the chairman of the management committee of Punggol Community Club, and secretary of the Kampong Kembangan citizens’ consultative committee (CCC). He received two National Day Awards: a Public Service Medal for social and community service in 1995 and a Public Administration Medal – Military (Bronze) in 1996 [Extracted from Temasek Review]. He served in the SAF for 23 years before he left to start his own practice. Dr. Ang who has spent years working along side PAP MPs as a grassroots leader is not someone we expect to join the opposition...and the fact that he is thinking about joining the SDP, a party that has been the target of lawsuits, arrests and unfair public vilification by the mainstream media tells us how opinions and sentiment have shifted among people whom expect to be staunch supporters of the PAP. There are many other highly qualified Singaporeans who have succeeded within the system like ex-top civil servants Benjamin Pwee and Tan Jee Say questioning the leadership direction and calling for a change tells us that even insiders feel that the govt has veered too far off course.  Dr. Ang and Mr. Tan have joined the SDP and will be contesting in the Sembawang GRC

"SEMBAWANG GRC will get a $500 million makeover, to be implemented over the next five years."
-  Straits Times, 23 April 2011.[Link]

In the 2006 elections, the main problems/issues faced by Singaporeans were income inequality, rising cost of living (housing + healthcare+transport), structural unemployment. stagnant wages, and the negative effects of the large foreign influx. Today every single one of these problems has become bigger and more serious - Singaporeans face the same issues in the 2011 elections and the PAP again promises to do something about them if we vote for them. Of course, after the elections, they may deny that any of these problems exists or say it is not the responsibility of govt or blame it on their favorite bogeyman these days - globalisation. In the coming days, the PAP will use the mainstream media to explain why the foreign influx benefits Singapore, why its policies are good and so on. Some issues are too complex for some Singaporeans to grasp the full picture and its a matter of pulling out some selected numbers from here and there to show how Singaporeans have benefits just like what Mah Bow Tan did several months ago and what Tharman did in the recent CNA forum. In the coming days, their propaganda machine will go into full swing. The opposition will reach a limited number through its rallies and the Internet. But given many are worse off or directly hurt by PAP policies in some way, it is hard to guess what goes on in the minds of Singaporeans. The PAP will always say they will make things better during the elections and if you find yourself getting persuaded and swayed by them, I want to tell you a story.

In 1996, 103 veteran civil servants sued the govt[Link]. When they signed up to join civil service, they did so under a pension scheme left behind by the British govt. In 1973, the PAP govt persuaded them to sign up for a new scheme called CPF. They were told this scheme was better because they would take home more pay every month and they would be better off in the long run. When they switched to this "better" CPF scheme, they would have to give up their medical benefits and pensions.There were many civil servants put under pressure in the 80s and 90s to switch to the CPF scheme. I remember the Straits Times had article after article on the benefits of switching to the CPF scheme including calculation to show how much these civil servants will benefit from the switch. The man pushing for the civil servants to convert from the old scheme was Lee Hsien Loong. 2-3 decades later many of these civil servants who gave up their pensions realized they are worse off due the the inadequacy of CPF and escalating healthcare cost. They sued the govt and lost...then they appealed and lost again. When they made the wrong choice and believed what was presented to them, they committed an irreversible mistake which they regretted the rest of their lives. The pension scheme and medical benefits that these low ranking civil servants gave up were retained for top civil servants/ministers whose salaries also rose much faster than the average civil servant.

In a few weeks all of us have to make an important decision. We are shown numbers and calculations on how the foreign influx has created jobs for Singaporeans, how HDB remains affordable and massive upgrading carrots dangled to sway you to vote for them. Just remember what happened to those veteran civil servants who believed what they were told.

When the PAP hiked the GST to 7% we were all told it was done to help the poor.  Several weeks ago, Tharman went on TV and show some statistics to prove that GST benefits the poor - his flawed argument was the rich pay more GST than the poor. Before GST, the poor paid no taxes and the rich paid more in income tax and corporate taxes. Yesterday, the PAP govt announced there will be no GST hikes in the next 5 years. Great! But cynics on the Internet joked that the PAP will not be helping the poor more for the next 5
years using their original argument that GST hike was to help the poor.

The PAP wasted a lot of time on a barrage of uncoordinated attacks on the Workers' Party manifesto, Chen Show Mao, and badgering the opposition to say whether they are out to form an alternate govt - this is an amateurish strategy which most people can see through...if the opposition answers "yes" they will be attacked for their lack of experience. Some of the remarks have been weird, for example, Goh Chok Tong said future ministers will serve no more than 2 terms[Link] which completely contradicts the PAP claims that ministers are hard to find rare talents. The PAP also asked voters to scrutinize the details in the Workers' Party manifesto when the PAP manifesto which is one-tenth that of WP's has no details! Mah Bow Tan angered many by saying the reserves are raided if HDB flats are more reasonably priced based on income. A quick look at the larger scheme of things it is clear now to most Singaporeans that the purchase of HDB flats has drained our CPF and it looks more like the PAP has raided our retirement accounts to build massive reserves. Goh Chok Tong said the "ground is not sweet" this elections which is true but why admit and give voters a clear reason to vote against the PAP. Many speculate that the PAP is not so united this time with the abrupt departure of Lim Boon Heng and entry of high profile candidates from the SAF to replace those leaving. Tharman said a strong opposition is good for the country but he was contradicted by Lee Hsien Loong the next day who said the one party system is best for Singapore - how is that for confusion?

When politicians run for office, it is advantageous that they can project a strong sense of purpose, answer the pressing needs of the populace,and  show themselves to be more credible than their opponent. You start by seizing the moral high ground and start your campaign with an edge - you are the good guy and your opponent a baddie that voters should not trust. This moral high ground is lost by the PAP as they pursue their usual pork barrel politics and arrogant denial of citizens; problems. The number one problem this election is the relentless rise in the cost of living which is felt by almost all Singaporeans. The PAP started by denying that the problem exists by saying that housing, healthcare and transport are still affordable. The problem is the cost of living has risen while wages for a large number of Singaporeans remain stagnant - it is a waste of time telling people that things are s"till affordable" when everyone feels the pinch of rising prices. The people want leaders to seriously look at our healthcare and public housing schemes to find ways to stop the price rise that is outstripping our income growth. The candidates interested in serious change to fix the situation appear to come from the opposition.

I can't recall another election in the last 20 years that the PAP is viewed so negatively by so many people. Those who feel the direct negative effects of their policies have quickly woken up and the PAP leadership gives us the impression that they don't know how to steer us to a better future. The opposition has been able to recruit some very good  people and make this look like a battle between a group of "yes-men" and passionate people motivated by the need for change. Many people find the PAP recent move to hike ministers' pay repulsive given many Singaporeans are struggling to cope with the high cost of living. The PAP has a few fallbacks when things are not going their way - the mainstream propaganda machine, upgrading carrots and long term track record.  When voters are not so sure, the PAP will use their propaganda to say "  see how far we have taken Singapore from fishing village to a world class city". These days economic miracles are not so uncommon and unique. We have Taiwan, South Korea and numerous cities in China that have grown rapidly. For many Singaporeans, living in an expensive city with a 3rd world wage structure means that life is tough perpetual struggle. WP's vision of a 1st world parliament that would bring about 1st world quality of life and 1st world schemes for healthcare, housing and transport is appealing to voters. PAP's attacks on WP\'s vision without creating a worthy vision of their own send a strong message that their main interest is to preserve the status quo...a status quo that fewer and fewer Singaporeans want for themselves and their children .

Thursday, April 21, 2011

GE 2011 : Time for change....

The picture above was taken by a New Paper reporter and it shows Chee Soon Juan talking to Tan Jee Say. Tan Jee Say was Goh Chok Tong's principal private secretary from 1995 to 2000.  Although Tan Jee Say has not decided whether he will be running in the coming elections, the picture of him sitting across a very small table talking to Chee symbolises the serious need for this country to discuss and debate the issues that confront us today and in the near future. In 1990s, I remember a series of forum letters written by Chee Soon Juan to the Straits Times warning of rising income gap and poverty. At that time, he faced a torrent of citicism by the establishment that dismissed his warnings and ran him down for "engaging in the politics of jealousy". 2 decades later, we do not have the Swiss standard of living but the highest income gap among developed countries and a growing underclass that is struggling just to survive...and many who can't have to depend on schemes such as Workfare  to keep their heads just above water. Now Tan Jee Say, a top civil servant from the late 1990s, is sitting with the "Singapore Rebel" Chee to decide if he needs to join the opposition to bring about change in Singapore. It just goes to show how clear and compelling the signs are that this country needs to change its course.

In their manifesto, the PAP claims they will help Singaporeans to cope with the rising cost of living citing those one-off election goodies as the solutions to Singaporeans woes. But Singaporeans know that the big elephants in the room are healthcare, housing, large foreign influx and transport. Unless we reform each of these, our quality of life will decline, the income gap will rise and Singaporeans will fall into poverty in greater numbers. At this late hour, it is quite incredible for the PAP to put out a manifesto that just tells us they will preserve the status quo without major changes....quite amazing to hear Mah Bow Tan say cheaper public housing will 'raid' our reserves when most people known that expensive public housing has 'raided' their ability to retire.

"Workers' Party's proposal on housing dangerous...." - Mah Bow Tan, Straits Times 21 April 2011[.Link]

"85% of Singaporeans are living in HDB flats and we intend to keep the values of these homes up. It will never go down,” said MM Lee.Link

I tell you what is really dangerous. What is really dangerous is the PAP linking our retirement to housing by draining our CPF for the purchase of HDB flats. MM Lee said recently that HDB flat prices will never drop. But we know from housing bubbles around the world governments can never artificially make housing prices go up forever relative to income. The global economy to which the Singapore economy is linked is prone to recessions and when the high price of housing fall, Singaporeans will be severely affected and this is really dangerous...and it is the PAP that endangered us with its unbalanced policies.

The PAP approach to rising healthcare cost has been to shift the rising costs to the sick and their families through means testing to keep govt expenditure which is already the lowest among developed countries down. Singaporeans today do not have universal healthcare as about 18% (1 in 5) are uninsured. Pushing more financial burden onto Singaporeans as healthcare cost rise sharply due in part to govt policies to turn Singapore into a medical hub for the rich, has strained the finances of the lower and middle income groups. We are starting to have a system in which quality and timeliness of care is sharply differentiated based on your ability to pay - further exacerbating the effects of the income gap. Khaw Boon Wan liberalised the use of Medisave for Malaysian hospitals implicitly telling those who are too poor to seek medical care in Malaysia.

The foreign talent policy grew from one that brings in selected talents to help develop the Singapore economy to  one of massive influx straining our services and infrastructure. This influx has become a blunt tool for the PAP to grow the GDP by increasing the workforce headcount. The effects has been detrimental for ordinary Singaporeans who saw their wages depressed, cost of living go up and increasing structural unemployment as employers become less willing to keep older workers because they can import younger foreign ones.

The PAP manifesto of 1688 words just tells they intend to do things the same way despite the pleas of Singaporeans. The PAP is very confident (some say complacent) because it has a whole lot of pork barrel to influence voters:

"SINGAPORE : Residents in the newly-created Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC) will see their estates rejuvenated to the tune of more than S$600 million, under the area's five-year town renewal plan.", CNA, 21 April 2011[Link]

The Workers Party has presented manifesto with more than 17,000 words and within these words are ideas that will change your life for the better and put this country back on the right track. However, these words are not actionable without your support and votes to get the people behind them into parliament. I remember during the 2006 elections, Low Thia Kiang urged Singaporeans to put his A-team in Aljunied into parliament. In 2006, I was in East Coast GRC but thanks to PAP's gerrymandering,  although I'm staying in the same place, I'm now in Aljunied GRC.....and I'll be voting for change.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

GE : 7 May 2011

PAP Manifesto : More of the same...

The full version of the manifesto found here : :Link

As a voter, you should read the manifesto in full and compare it with WP's manifesto to make a decision.

The PAP Vision:

"You can count on the PAP to do
the best for Singaporeans from all
walks of life, and to keep us united
through good times and bad.

Together, we will make Singapore
a vibrant and inclusive society, with
opportunities for a better life for
each and every citizen. We will be
a city for the young and old."

On the surface it looks like an acceptable rather vague&  broad general vision but there is something very subtle that is embedded in it  - see if you can spot it. It says it aims to provide "opportunities for a better life for each and every citizen" as opposed to making life better for each and every citizen. This statement in the vision tells us that the underlying belief in the PAP that it is sufficient just to provide "social mobility"/opportunities  rather narrowing the income gap or mitigate the effects of the income gap to elevate everyone to a "better life". You have some chance for a better life but if you don't make it, your life won't be better. This is a huge downgrade from the Swiss standard living we once look forward to and....what will happen to ideas that will improve the lives of all Singaporeans such as  universal healthcare, decent retirement for all, worldclass public transport (not sardine cans), and better public housing? In fact, where solutions are cited in the manifesto, they are what the PAP has been doing in the past decades e.g. retraining of low income workers from one low income job to another etc.  When the same solutions are used, we will only get the same results - widening income gap, rising cost of living and a deteriorating quality of life.

The PAP must be very confident to present such a manifesto without new ideas to a populace waiting not so patiently for solutions to the serious problems and challenges they face.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Heart of the housing issue : Cost of Land.....

"LOWERING land cost as a way to reduce new Housing Board flat prices is tantamount to raiding Singapore's reserves This is because all land is sold at prices set by the Chief Valuer, and the land sale proceeds go into the reserves." - Mah Bow Tan[Link]

Well a few day ago,  he was saying that healthcare, defense and education expediture will have to be cut for the govt to sell flats cheaper. Now we get to the heart of the issue:

1. Most of cost of HDB flats comes from the land cost component.
2. Land cost is determined by a Chief Value in the govt.
3. When this land is sold, the money goes to the reserves (GIC).

The bottom line is when Singaporeans take up 25 year mortgages to buy homes, they borrow money from the bank to pay HDB and most of the money ends up in the GIC.  Minister Mah uses the phrase 'raiding the reserve' to describe the suggestion by Worker's Party to sell land at a more reasonable price. It is not true that the reserves are 'raided' because not a single cent needs to come out from the reserves to get this done - money will still flow from our pockets to grow the reserves albeit at a slower rate.

In the next few questions we asked to explore  have to ask are:

1. How can land be valued fairly?

2. How do reserves benefit ordinary Singaporeans in their lifetime once they grow beyond what is needed for cushioning economic crisis? Who really reserves really benefit?

3. How do we maximise the benefits of public housing for Singaporeans in the long term?

HDB's mandate is to build affordable homes. Unfortunately, nobody bother with the definition of the word "affordable" which has become one of the must abused words in Singapore. Does affordable means median annual income times 5 or 10? Does affordable simply means being able to service your housing loan which have tenures of 10, 20 or 35 years?  Because affordability was not defined, we have politicians arguing that it is still affordable after a 50% surge in prices.

"First the cost of new houses for 1st time buyers is about 23%...the cost of servicing the flat. That hasn't changed very much over time and is significantly lower than Hong Kong and most other cities. It is significantly lower than the developed countries at large. It is cheaper to own and service a mortgage on a house in Singapore than it is in any other developed countries..." - Minister Tharman in CNA Forum, on Singapore's future, April 2011 [[Video Link]

There are numerous flaws in Minister Tharman assertion in the recent forum but I put it up to show how determined PAP is to deny that serious problems faced by Singaporeans exist. To watch Minister Tharman say that Singaporeans have it good, homes are easily affordable....better than all other developed countries just add to the frustration of Singaporeans coping with the high cost of housing. I'm sure regular readers of this blog can pick out the flaws in Tharman's argument easily but for those are having trouble figuring it out here is the explanation. When Tharman talks about the relatively constant average quantum (23%) that 1st time buyers use to service loans, it counts only people who can afford a home - many can't afford homes give up looking for one. Also, they keep the quantum constant by buying homes smaller than what they want or need at less desirable locations and the tenure for loans has increased - in the past people finish paying their loans in 10 years or less now the tenture can be as long as 3 decades....there is a big difference between paying 23% of your income for 10 years vs 30 years.

He says we are better off  than Hong Kong which is no consolation given the housing misery there (unhappy Hong Kongers come out in force to protest every weekend for a good reason). He then goes on to make a very strange and really hard to believe assertion that the housing situation in Singapore is better than all other developed countries. Singapore has the 2nd highest population densities[Link] in the world and many cities in develop countries have suburban areas where housing is very cheap. Singapore is the 11th most expensive city in the world but is 43th and 49th in domestic wages and purchasing power respectively, along the likes of developing countries like Turkey, Slovakia and Qatar and far below the capitals of other Asian Tigers – Seoul, Taipei and Hong Kong[UBS Report, Temasek Review on the report]. Singapore has the highest income in equality among developed countries which means that the lower rungs of our society are more adversely affected by high housing costs than else where in the world. Tharman's denial that there is a problem with high housing costs shows that there is no interest in govt to solve what many Singaporeans think is serious problem.

The undisputable truth is housing is far less affordable that it was 20 years ago. The median income rose 111% (not inflation adjusted) while the price of housing as measured by the RPI rose 342%. That is the source of unhappiness among Singaporeans and it is a very real problem:
The huge surge in housing prices came after the PAP govt liberalised CPF for the purchase of homes. That single move resulted in billions in CPF accounts mobilised for the purchase of private homes and HDB flats. Most of the money ultimately ended up in our reserves. Prior to that move, Singaporeans had enough in CPF for retirement and HDB provided what most people would consider affordable housing.  Once CPF was used for housing, our homes became inextricably linked to our retirement. In addition to this move,  our CPF is also locked to low fixed returns - the GIC borrows our CPF at low interest rates to invest for higher returns...yes another reserve building scheme at the expense of' our retirement. After adjusting for inflation, our CPF returns is way below other pension funds such Malaysia's EPF.  The situation is so problematic even pro-PAP writer Chua Mui Hoong called for CPF returns to be improved[Link]. The PAP solution to all these problems is to ask Singaporeans to retire later....and later..and perhaps never.

Now back to the issue of land valuation. Land in Singapore is a scarce and precious resource most of which was originally owned or acquired by the govt using the Land Acquisition Act. We can reclaim some land from the sea provided our neighbors don't complain but the total land area in Singapore won't increase much over time. Given this situation, the decision to make public housing the main form of housing under the control of the govt is a correct one. We have seen what happened in many developing countries where free market for land allowed the rich buy up most of the land and the poor people become landless, sometimes homeless  and trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty - the only solution left in places like Philipines was to carry land reform in which govt forcibly take back land and redistribute it to the lower classes. That is the bleak situation that public housing programs try to avoid - the dynamics of the free market for land which causes income gap to expand depressing your middle class and sending the lower class down to poverty. The purpose of public housing is defeated if we directly link the price of land for public housing to free market auctions to developers. The success of public housing is measured by affordability and progress is made when people take up less debt, have more disposable income, have a better quality of life and the effects of the income gap is mitigated through the public housing program. Under Minister Mah, the HDB failed to do all that and when confronted with WP's manifesto to improve the situation, Minister Mah is worried that our wages will flow at a slower rate into GIC's astronomical coffers - is he for more affordable housing or reserve building? Lets not forget the high resale prices is caused by govt move to open the flood gates to the foreign influx and the BTO which limits supply.

The situation might be slightly better if the govt articulates a clear plan on how the Singaporeans will benefit from the reserves in their lifetime. Will part of it flow back to improve the quality of retirement for Singaporeans? The GIC today provide high paying jobs for a small number of elites who manage the reserves. For a long time, Singaporeans have been asking for greater transparency and accountability in the management of the reserves...these are after all build from the sweat of Singaporean workers who have to get into heavy debt and delay their retirement to pay for expensive public housing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Minister Mah attacks WP's affordable housing plan....

Last year Hazel Poa of NSP caught Minister Mah fudging the numbers to show that housing was still "affordable"[Link.] I thought Minister Mah would have learnt not to do something so deceptive again. Unfortunatlely, we will have to catch Minister Mah again....this time for fudging logic...

"Minister Mah Bow Tan warned against the Workers' Party (WP) call for cheaper HDB flats on Thursday, saying it would mean larger subsidies for housing at the expense of other needs, such as healthcare, education or defence.

Calling the opposition party's manifesto 'irresponsible', he noted that the WP had not said where the extra money would come from, and pressed them to reveal the implications of their proposals." - Straits Times (see article below

Minister Mah calls WP irresponsible for its plan to provide more affordable flats. He says that cheaper flats means more housing subsidies and  less money for education and healthcare. Let me ask you a simple question. In the past few years when the price of HDB flats surge by more than 50% , by Minister Mah's logic, the govt should be awashed with more money from selling HDB flats for healthcare and education - if that is so, why did the govt implement means testing to cut subsidies for healthcare and why did they have to raise school fees for universities and cuts subsidies for education of children with special needs etc?  The fact is budget has little to do with HDB selling price. If anything, when the HDB prices go up, the HDB actually shows more losses due to "market subsidies" which increase proportionately with price. Why is this so?

1. Land sales are not included in the govt revenue in the budget. This has been a long standing issue because it distorts the fiscal picture and Sylvia Lim of WP has called for the situation to be fixed[Link] so that Singaporeans can get a more accurate picture of govt expediture vs revenue.

2. A large component of HDB flat sale price is due to cost of land priced at the market.

3. HDB buys land from SLA at market price. The revenue of land sales is not included in the budget's revenue figures.

4. The HDB then includes the land cost plus other cost to price new HDB flats. It then sells it at a "market subsidised" prices to flat buyers.

When the price of flats surge up by 50%, no significant amounts of money went to subsidise healthcare and education. Similarly, if the price rise of flats is kept close to changes in median incomes as suggested by the WP amd  by pricing the land sales to HDB accordingly, govt healthcare and education expediture will not be affected.

Linking public housing to median income changes is sensible because if housing price move significantly vs income, it means that Singaporeans have to take up more debt to financed their home purchases. Every where else in the world, public housing is priced for affordability and not directly linked to market prices. The high debt taken up by ordinary Singaporeans pay for expensive new HDB flats...most of the money eventually goes into our reserves i.e. GIC. The issue of risk free gains when 1st time buyers sell in the resale market can be addressed by lengthening the lockup periods for selling the flat and limiting the number of timeas a person can buy directly from the HDB. In the long run a healthy steady state should be  housing market where prices are closely correlated with inome gains. When you have prices moving up 50% without the corresponding gains in income, debt piles up and a bubble forms.

Apr 14, 2011

Mah Bow Tan: WP manifesto 'irresponsible'
By Teo Wan Gek

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan warned against the Workers' Party (WP) call for cheaper HDB flats.

NATIONAL Development Minister Mah Bow Tan warned against the Workers' Party (WP) call for cheaper HDB flats on Thursday, saying it would mean larger subsidies for housing at the expense of other needs, such as healthcare, education or defence.

Calling the opposition party's manifesto 'irresponsible', he noted that the WP had not said where the extra money would come from, and pressed them to reveal the implications of their proposals.

'You can't get something for nothing,' he said on the sidelines of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Corporate Seminar.

The WP had unveiled its 63-page manifesto on Saturday. Called Towards A First World Parliament, it contains proposals on 15 broad areas of public policy, with a number focusing on hot-button issues like public housing and immigration.

One of the key points under public housing was to allow for cheaper HDB flats by pegging the price of the flats to the median incomes of households that qualify to buy them, instead of pegging them to resale market prices. Another was for flats to be affordable enough that mortgages can be paid off in 20 years instead of 30.

Read the full report in Friday's edition of The Straits Times.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why PAP needs the upgrading crutch....

About a month ago, there was an exhibition in my area showing how the estate will be revamped in the coming years - a new MRT station, new bus interchange, parks and cycling paths etc.and the usual HDB upgrading for flats in the area. Singaporean voters know that their vote is linked to upgrading and which blocks get upgraded is decided by the % support for the PAP.  As the HDB flat is usually the single biggest asset owned by Singaporeans who have to service their housing debts for more than 2 decades, the threat to leave their ageing flats in a state of decay is a effective one. Just look difference between Potong Pasir and the PAP constituency just next to it - we should all applaud the real sacrifice of Potong Pair voters not to be lured by upgrading and doing the right thing. The HDB upgrading is perhaps the worst form of pork barrel politics in the world - as a threat and carrot it is very direct and real while politicians in other countries are only able hazy promises that their opponents can also many countries pork barrel politics is illegal.

"Vote the PAP and you will get upgrading earlier, he responds quietly and reacts with an amiable smile when a woman retorts: 'Do the upgrading first'." -Straits Times 14 April 2011 on how PAP's Hougang candidate, Desmond Choo plans to win votes.

In 2 recent forums, young Singaporeans asked the PM about the linking of upgrading to votes. Older Singaporeans don't bother because they have already heard all the answers and the answers can only make their "blood boil".  PM Lee gave the usual bad answers:

"The answer is that there has to be a distinction. Because the PAP wards supported the Government and the policies which delivered these good things." - PM Lee to student Seah Yin Hwa[Link]

Seah then asked if he could pay less tax and maybe "take one or two years off my NS?".

Linking votes to upgrading is unfair and undemocratic. It uses tax dollars collected from everyone to shore up the votes for the PAP during elections. The question is not whether it is right or wrong but why the PAP introduced this when most Singaporeans can see that it is not the right thing to do.

In the 1980s, the PAP was steadily losing % of votes election after election (see chart above). In order not to lose more seats, GRCs were created to "average out" the votes among strong + weak candidates. We can easily understand how this works by looking at how the PAP plans to bring Tin Pei Ling into parliament via the GRC route. While the GRC helped to retain seats for the PAP and brings into parliament weak PAP candidates that would have lost elections, the % votes for the PAP continued to decline right down to 60% in the election after GRC was introduced. If nothing was done, there was a good chance the PAP would lose a few GRCs in the 1991 elections. The PAP had 2 choices - fix their policies so that ordinary Singaporeans will benefit from them or tweak the system to retain their dominance. The PAP chose to do the later by linking votes to estate upgrading. I remember at that time many Singaporeans were outraged by this - you sensed that there might be a backlash against the PAP....sad to say their "kiasu" nature got the better of them and the % votes for the PAP went up after that.

Linking votes to upgrading actually carries very high long term risks for the PAP. Having found a way to unfairly coerce the electorate to vote for them, they make fewer adjustments in policy formulation thinking that winning votes is just a matter of dangling bigger and bigger upgrading carrots before voters - we are starting to see upgrading plans in excess of $500M ...very soon we will have billion $ upgrading plans. At the same time, voter frustration builds up and unhappiness with the PAP festers as the PAP go along the same path without making the long overdue changes. When the upgrading carrot loses its effect, there can be abrupt shifts in voting patterns that will catch the PAP off guard. Some people say that this coming election will be another "foregone conclusion" like the last 5 elections but I think it is a lot harder now to guess what goes on in the minds of voters.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Workers' Party Manifesto

Some food for thought before I discuss the manifesto. Wong Kan Seng urge voters to ask "hard questions" about the WP' manifesto. are a few hard questions. The weekend New Paper gave extensive coverage to Minister Shanmugam's political career. He mentioned that he took a pay cut of 65% to join politics and we keep hearing this type of stories from PAP candidates. Minister Ng Eng Hen for example told everyone he took a pay cut because he was paid millions as surgeon. But the hard question Shanmugan should have asked himself was if capable lawyers like himself had to be paid so will poor people get justice when they cannot afford capable lawyers like himself. Ng Eng Hen should ask  if surgeons like himself are paid so much how are poor people going to have access to his services when it is needed to save their lives.

The truth about the WP manifesto is it generates hard questions for the PAP to answer not the other way around!  Why did the PAP take us along this painful road on which they seem to be the biggest beneficiary of the current system when other roads exists?

If you listen to WP on the above video, you will realize that much of what they proposed is similar to what has been posted on my blog. Not that they have taken ideas from my blog .... these are workable ideas that will improve the lives of Singaporeans that have emerged in the past few years and have been discussed in various forums - other political parties have similar ideas. Because of PAP positioning on the political spectrum which is far to the right[Link], our opposition parties' proposals look very "middle-path" and centrist.

"As for Tin Pei Ling, we first noticed her in this (NUS) hall in 2007 when we had a party convention. She was one of the speakers and she impressed the audience. We made the right decision. It looks like she’s going to MacPherson and she’ll be a good MP in due course,”  - PM Lee on selction of TPL

"Besides studying whether the gap is widening, it is more important to find out if the lowest-income group is able to get by and not fall into the vicious cycle. Many people are complaining and blaming the government for this problem. But is this really the responsibility of the government? I don’t think so" - Tin Pei Ling PAP 2007 Party Convention

You can read Tin Pei Ling entire speech here[Link]. I brought this up not to discredit TPL, there is enough of that on the Internet already but to show you how the PAP select people based on the same ideological framework. I wonder if Ms Tin would have been selected if she said  that the income gap is worsened by PAP policies and the PAP must embark on serious changes to address this issue....if she said that my guess is she would have been crossed out immediately. Take the example of NMP Siew - he was, in my opinion, the most hardworking NMP ever brought into parliament and one who will stand up and ask the hardest questions and argue his case vigorously....what happened to him? They decided to replace when his term ended. My point is this - the PAP has made claims that it has a diverse team and all Singaporeans need to do is support this team and they will be well represented in parliament...they try to tell voters there's no need for opposition. The PAP this time round took in new candidates mainly from the SAF, NTUC, civil service and banks. If they were from somewhere else like Ms Tin, I'm sure the selection process screens them for "ideological compatibility". The end result is policies in recent years that increase the pay of ministers, increase the burden of sick, old and poor (GST), widen the income gap etc. The PAP likes to say that there is no choice but to do what has been done for the long term good of Singapore but policy options actually only disappear after they apply their ideological contraints.

The WP's manifesto is developed based on a completely different philosophy. During the debate on Minister salaries, MP Low Thia Kiang challenged the PAP ministers to peg their salary as a multiple of the salary of the bottom 20% of workers. The PAP pegged their pay to the highest income earners. This example is the clearest illustration of the difference in the philosophy of the WP vs the PAP.  There is no free market in the world for ministers salaries (otherwise we could have gotten Bill Clinton at a lower cost) and it is determined purely by the ideological motivations of individuals. That we have to pay the highest salaries in the world for PAP ministers, says a lot about how extreme PAP ideology is hard to find a person like Tin Pei Ling who can stand up and declare that the income gap is not the responsibility of the govt - that is why she is so strongly endorsed by PAP ministers and considered impressive by the PAP leadership.

PM Lee said a few days ago that Singapore does not have enough talents for a 2 party system. He is wrong. The PAP cannot find enough Tin Pei Lings to fill its ranks because there are not many people attracted by its ideology and philosophy - many intelligent educated loyal Singaporeans don't want anything to do with the PAP. You see real talents emerging in the opposition ranks and these people stepped forward sacrifcing much with little to gain.

The PAP's unusual ideology is what drove campaigns/policies such as "stop at 2", graduate parents scheme, "cheaper, better, faster", GRCs etc that most Singaporeans find hard to accept. In order to stay in power, the PAP resorted to less than democratic means of controlling the media and repressing else do you get the populace to accept what you do and retain dominant power. There is no other society in the world that has elected a govt like the PAP when elections are  free and far and there is freedom of the press.

The important changes will never come from the PAP (voluntarily). Their new candidates for the elections shows how determined they are to preserve the status quo, If you want change, you have to support another party with ideas based on a different philosophy. Only when the PAP loses seats, votes and support will they be able to overcome their own ideological constraints and do what is right for the people of Singapore.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Why having Social Mobility is not enough....

In recent days, we see the PAP introducing their new candidates to the press and to Singaporeans. You can find a series of video on YouTube in which the candidates summarise their life story, tell about their love of Singapore, how they succeeded in life and why they want to give back to society. Even though these people have chosen joined the PAP and, by virtue of that, generally have different views from me, I believe some of them are sincere when they say they want to help the poor and the elderly. They are sincere but they are also wrong - wrong to think they can help by joining the joining the PAP they help to preserve the status quo, the ideology and perpetuate a system that yielded very poor outcomes for those in the lower rungs of our society.

In those YouTube videos, many of the new PAP candidates introduce themselves like this : they were from a poor family, worked hard and succeeded in life and so conclude that Singapore has a good system. Using their own extraordinary feats of social mobility they jump into the conclusion that the Singapore system is good despite the income inequality because social mobility gives everyone the chance to succeed.

"She was a 'good grassroots leader' and her experience helping her parents in their family-run coffee shop showed 'she knows what it is to be poor and to work hard" - PM Lee on Tin Pei Ling..

"From being able to travel to Hong Kong every year to see him, suddenly, we had problems getting pocket money," recounted Mr Choo, 33. He added that his father had to borrow money to put food on the table. "- PAP's Desmond Choo, telling his story.

"The 47-year-old senior vice-president at DBS Bank spent most of his growing up years not certain if there would be enough food on the table, or knowing if he would be able to complete schooling. His father was an odd-job labourer who carried rice and vegetables, and his mother worked in a factory to supplement the family income." - PAP's Mr Gan Thiam Poh's story.

I'm not going to exhaustively list all the bankgrounds of PAP candidates who are from poor families but they all said the same things - they understand what it is like to be poor, they joined the PAP to help poor people and the system we have is good because they have succeeded. One of the worst things a person who wants to help the poor in Singapore can do is to join the PAP govt. They will be required by the PAP party whip to vote for all sorts of policies that will harm the poor such as GST hikes, influx of cheap foreign labor, increase of retirement age etc and as PAP men & women they have to support an ideology that is against more direct help the poor, safety nets, minimum wage and greater rights and equality for workers. Worst of all, their success stories are used as testimonies to show that the "system is good" and no major change is required. For each of their great feat of social mobility, there are hundreds of thousands of workers struggling at the lower rungs It is not enough to tell these people that they could have made it or their children have some small chance of making it - the large and expanding income gap means their chances diminishes with each passing year. Most people are not born with the high intelligence (oops some you may disagree!) of PAP candidates - ordinary people have average intelligence and half the population have below average intelligence - telling ordinary citizens they have some chance of success or explaining to them their plight is due to their own lack of talent is not going to satisfy them. They can see that the inequality is built into the system and when the income gap is so large to amplify the differences among people, they will feel the system is unfair and unjust...

Lets not forget the system we have today is the product of years of undemocratic semi-authoritarian rule during which the rights and benefits of workers were reduced, independent unions disappeared and came under the control of the govt and headed by a minister. Under these circumstances, it was possible to push through policies that caused the economic inequality in our society to expand and our income gap grow to the largest among developed countries. Every 4 years, the PAP will introduce candidates who say they understand what it is like to be poor and want to help the poor...4 years later the cost of living rises, the income gap grows and they bring in even more PAP candidates who say they would like to help the poor. The truth is joining the PAP is a bad way of helping the poor because it preserves a system and policies that will not help the poor.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

CNA Forum : Cost Of Living

I will give my take on this interesting discussion later in the day.
Watch it. Cost of living looks like its going to be the single biggest issue in this election.

I wanted to write about the cost of living and the flaws in Tharman and Josephine Teo's argument. I read through the comments and noticed quite a few people have already figured it out.

I will instead tell you a story about Mr. Wijeysingha not Vincent Wijeysingha, the SDP rep in the video but his father, Eugene Wijeyshigha, who was my JC principal.

During one of the celebrations at my JC (I think it was National Day) there were several performances put up by students - the Outdoor Activities Club (OAC)  had a flying fox demonstration followed by the TKD club's action-packed sparring. During the TKD item, Principal Wijeysingha suddenly stood up and ran all the way from his seat in the stadium to the part of the field where the 2 TKD  exponents were sparring, The whole school was quite shocked by the sight of the principal running across the football field and everyone wondered what was going on. . . When he stopped ...everyone understood what he was doing. The OAC guys secured one end of the flying fox rope with a metal spike hammered into the ground and Principal Wijeysingha was afraid that the TKD guys might injure themselves falling onto the spike. Although he was sitting quite far away from where the TKD fellers were sparring, he didn't wait for somebody else to do something ...the moment he sense trouble, he got up and ran as fast as he could to prevent a potential accident.

There is a reason why Dr. Vincent Wijeyshigha joined the opposition. I think everyone who listened and watched him on Saturday night understands why we need to put  this man into parliament. Just as his father prevented a potential accident so many years ago, we need more people like Vincent Wijeyshingha in parliament to put this country on the right course and create a better future for Singaporeans.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Cost of Living and the coming elections...

A few days ago Today did a survey and found out the biggest election issue is the rising cost of living. [Rising Cost of Living Matters Most to Voters]. Rising cost of living has affected everyone right up to middle income families[Middle income worry over cost of living]. It hurts low income families the most and some of these families have to cut down on the quality of food and nutrition[.Link]. But if you think things cannot get worse....think again..

Here is a chart of S$ vs US$:

The Singapore dollar has appreciated against the US$ by 11% within 1 year. The stronger Sing$ has helped to prevent the cost of imported goods from rising too quickly i.e. imported inflation. There is a limit to how much we can allow the Sing$ to strengthen as explained by SM Goh yesterday[Link]- Singapore's economy depends a lot on exports and a rising Sing$ makes our exports less competitive. Once we reach the tail end of this Sing$ strengthening we will start to see the full effects of imported inflation. Also, govt linked NTUC and transport operators have held back price increases (until after the elections?).

 "On rising costs, this is a perpetual problem - every generation, every year, we
are faced with the question of rising costs. Another word for this is inflation" - Goh Chok Tong

While inflation occurs all the time when there is economic growth , there is an important difference between the past and what has happened the recent few years. Last year we saw the economy growing 14% but real median income rising by only 0.3%. A large part of income growth is eaten up by inflation. If the guy in the middle is only marginally better off, roughly half the people are worse off because income growth is slower as we move down income bracket. Right at the bottom we see the real pain in families that have to adjust by cutting down on meals and quality of nutrition. Right on top we have ministers who received 8 months bonus and a whopping pay rise of 30% (linked to GDP growth)   they don't have to worry about inflation.  We have had inflation in the past but income distribution was more even and the majority of the population gained from GDP growth. The PAP govt will always say that it is not their responsibility, there is nothing that can or should be done, things are still affordable and that is the nature of the economic system the PAP has designed to be the best for Singapore in the long run etc etc etc.

It is very hard for the PAP to run away from all this because they have given themselves so much credit for improving the lives of the people in the past. That was the main selling point in the past - it was called the "social contract" [Link] - don't mind the undemocratic ways of the PAP, don't mind them bullying their opponents, don't mind them limiting your freedom and human rights long as  you're economically better off, you should support them. Now that this social contract is under strain and cannot be fulfilled for many Singaporeans, the PAP  has to fall back on its alternate marketing strategy which is "we have better people than the opposition". We get this parade of "yes-men" and "yes-women" doubt highly qualified on paper but for many ordinary Singaporeans having qualified people to just preserve the status quo and  the system that has led to year after year of deterioration of their quality of life is no longer good enough. This claim that they have "better peope"  is not helped by them having Tin Pei Ling as a candidate when the opposition has people like Dr. Vincent Wijeysingha and Chen Show Mao.

At a time when we have an electorate that is yearning for change, the PAP looks like they are going to sit tight and try to preserve their system with their "next generation leaders" plucked from various parts of the establishment : the SAF, civil service, NTUC etc. The best system for ordinary Singaporeans is one that safeguard their interests and deliver the best quality of life possible over the long term - that is not the system we have today in which so much of the economic benefits of growth goes to a small concentrated segment of the population to produce the biggest income gap in the developed world. To accept this system, you have to believe President SR Nathan deserves to be paid $4.2M per annum[Link] when close to 460,000 Singaporean workers make less than $1500[]2009 Figures].