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Five points from Ho Kwon Ping

In News Reports, Politics, Society on October 21, 2014 at 10:42 am

How does one get to be a “leading public intellectual’’? I guess it has to be bestowed by the media. So now we are treated to a discourse from said intellectual, businessman Ho Kwon Ping,  a day after an erudite speech by former Foreign Minister George Yeo.

The MSM devoted much space to Mr Ho’s three scenarios of how the political landscape could pan out over the next 50 years – Status Quo, PAP dominant and two-party pendulum as a result of a “freak election’’. As Mr Ho himself acknowledged, those are pretty predictable scenarios. What struck me more was what he said about the changing trends that will affect  “governability’’. (Note that he talked in general terms although he did give some “local’’ examples like the “read-in session after the gay penguins fiasco’’ and Pink Dot celebrations.)

He makes five points which I will place in quotes:

First, the ability of governments to control information will continue to erode, despite sometimes frantic and illogical attempts to stem it.’’

How true. Yet we see attempts to control (or should the term be “manage’’?) the flow of information whether through blunt tools like the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act or new forms of licensing or regulation. It has come to the point that even supposed “self-regulation’’ is viewed with suspicion as the arts community’s rebuff of self-classification showed. And we still have to see what changes to the Broadcasting Act have been dreamt up.

Mr Ho also said this: “Anything censored is still widely available in alternative media, and therein lies the rub: At what point will control and censorship of the mainstream news, cultural and entertainment media become counter-productive by not really achieving the purpose of blocking access to information, but, instead, end up alienating the social activists who, despite their small size, are influencers beyond their numbers?’’

Clap! Clap! Although I doubt that the G would agree that rules are in place to “block’’ access to information…merely to ensure that the right information gets through to the masses. The G is fighting an uphill battle if it wants to carry on with the old ways of simply saying “Cannot’’ or “No’’ or “No comment’’ to mainstream news media. Word will get out somehow or other. And even if it is, say, disinformation, some will regard it as more credible because there is NO information in MSM. Of course, the G can’t go chasing after every bit of speculation on social media. But what it can do is give the MSM more leeway to operate, that is, widen the OB markers.

Take Ms Tan Pin Pin’s film To Singapore with love. The G can’t quite ban it because that would be impossible. A ban would mean penalties for those who break it. Does it really want to punish people who get hold of the film online? That serious meh?  So it does what is known as “signalling’’. It doesn’t like the film and decides that it will “not be available for public screening’’. Frankly, I think it’s a new(ish) argument – that the medium is to be blamed more than the contents. It must, therefore, be okay for transcripts of the interview with the exiles to be turned into a book?

As for Mr Ho’s phrase about alienating social activists who are “influencers’’, I’m glad he said this because I’m pretty tired of the G piously dismissing activists as a vocal minority. The majority might be silent, but they are not dumb.

Second, it will be increasingly difficult to hold the political centre together in the midst of polarising extremes – liberals versus conservatives; local versus foreign; pro-life versus pro-abortion; gay versus straight, and so forth. While fault lines along race and religion have been contained and have still not cracked, the so-called culture wars are intensifying.’’

Yup, we’ve been talking about maintaining racial and religious harmony for so long that we forget that different attitudes to fundamental issues  would form – and widen over time. Our laws are directed towards making sure there’s no incitement of racial or religious tension, especially in the media and in the public space. Not that we haven’t tried to hold together with the G initiating numerous talkfests to gather some kind of consensus on the values, beating the Asian gong, strengthening the mother tongue and having National Education workshops…

“Third, diminution in the stature of political leadership will encourage the rise of so-called “non-constructive” politics. Future leaders simply cannot command the sufficient respect and moral authority to decree what is acceptable and unacceptable criticisms. To have the authority to simply deride wide swathes of criticisms as simply non-constructive is wishful thinking.’’

Mr Ho seems to think the “diminution’’ is permanent or at least irreversible. Is it not possible to shore up stature? Or is this a “gone’’ case?

Governing by decree is definitely history. It is no longer acceptable for the G to simply pronounce that something is unacceptable. Mr Ho cited the read-in at the National Library after the “comic’’ gay penguins saga as a local example. It wasn’t a rabid protest but more like a children’s outing, he noted. But the point, he said, had been made.

The political process will take longer and it will be messier. (I wonder what would have happened if the G tried to ban the sale of chewing gum now instead of decades earlier…) Some people might long for the days when decisions were made quickly, so that we could get on with the next thing. Some will even say this little red dot needs to be run efficiently, like a machine without starts and stops, which is what too much “unconstructive politics’’ will do to the system.

How to find a happy mean? Perhaps, the word stature should be replaced by the word respect – and respect works both ways. The G respects the people enough to give an explanation for what it does and we respect the G as the people we elected to lead us.

“Fourth, maintaining an ethos of egalitarianism in an increasingly unequal society will require more than just political oratory.’’

Mr Ho is talking here about the gap between rich and poor – widening not just income-wise but also in terms of values with the rich flaunting their “bling’’. How to fix this? (I hear somewhere in the background that this is the fault of rich foreigners…) I have to say that I’m a little perturbed too by the affectations of the wealthy or what Mr Ho describes as the “ethos of the elite’’ who drive fancy cars and eat in fancy places. Don’t they realise that being “under-stated’’ is classier? Then again, aren’t we trying to raise the wages of the bottom ranks of workers? Maybe that would fix the problem a little.

“Finally, the absence of a galvanising national mission and a sense of dogged exceptionalism as the little red dot that refuses to be smudged out, will lead increasingly to a sense of anomie – which has been defined as “personal unrest, alienation and anxiety that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals”. It is the disease of affluence which affects individual people as well as societies. We have arrived, only to find ourselves lost again.

“If this seems unnecessarily pessimistic, it is because I personally think the danger of hubris right now is greater than the danger of under-confidence.’’

I’m sure the G would agree with Mr Ho on this. The complacency and sense of entitlement that comes with affluence is numbing. We can view our complaining culture this way – either we have high standards or we just expect everything to go smoothly the first time or all the time.

That’s it folks. Sorry if I was long-winded. I’m suffering from hubris too..

Whose story is history?

In News Reports, Politics, Society, Writing on October 12, 2014 at 9:55 am

I like reading about the past. In fact, over the past two years, I have eschewed fiction. I read plenty of non-fiction, in particular, history. Whether the books are about adventurers who trek through the wilds, on ice or up the Nile and the Amazon, early pioneers in the United States or Australia or about dynastic families such as the Tudors, Hapsburgs or the Ottoman empire, I devour all. I often wished I did my degree in history rather than in political science. After all, political science is just a multi-varied framework that describes what really is political history.

It is important to know the past because it is a signpost of the future. I read about the different empire builders in history and wonder if ISIS is a repeat: that’s how empires begin, with an idea and then wholesale slaughter of those not in agreement, before coming to something more akin to stability. So it is now in Stage 2?

I read about the Crimean War because of what is now happening between the Soviet Union and Ukraine and was enlightened on four things:

  1. That the Lady of the Lamp Florence Nightingale served during this war and more people DIED under her care than in other hospitals. Because her hospital was built on a leaking sewer system which seeped into the water.
  2. That the Charge of the Light Brigade immortalised by actor Errol Flynn and poet Alfred Tennyson was a suicidal assault by unthinking calvary who obeyed orders of silly, squabbling commanders.
  3. That the phrase the Fourth Estate was coined during this time during a Parliamentary session in England to refer to pressure from the popular press to launch a war against the Russians (I have always thought it was of American origin!)
  4. Russian writer Leo Tolstoy was in the war and based some of his characters in War and Peace on real-life officers.

I guess those are the “facts’’ I have gleaned. As for impressions: The English wanted war, the French were dithering over it, the Turks were overwhelmed and Tsar Nicholas I was mad.

History books give the facts but how the facts are presented is another thing altogether. I read Eri Hotta’s Japan 1941 – Countdown to Infamy, on how the Japanese cabinet decided to go to war and I am left with the impression that every minister was either out for himself or very, very stupid. I read the Balfour Declaration and was sorry about how the Arabs appeared to have been conned by the crafty British to carve out Israel during the period of the Great Game played among colonial powers for control over other people’s territory.

Sometimes I read more than one book on the same period or people – and think I am actually reading about a different period and different people. So I read JOP Bland and Edmund Backhouse contemporary record of China under the Empress Dowager and Jung Chang’s Empress Dowager CiXi and wonder why she is so much more emphatic/sympathetic to the woman than the Englishmen.

I read Raffles and the Great Opportunity by Victoria Glendinning and want to put flowers under the statue of the great man (so brilliant but misunderstood). But I also read Raffles and the British Invasion of Java (crazy, cruel megalomaniac) – and I wish he stayed in Java.

Now we are being fed reams of newsprint on the Battle for Merger. I will go buy the book because I am interested in history and this has to do with my country. But, dare I say that I am also aware that it will be one-sided reading, from our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew? Because I was not born during those times, I do not quite know what the communists did nor their views on why they do some of the terrible things they are said to have done. I wish I could hear from the older generation who lived through those times.

Also because then, I will have a better idea of why the G is so adamant that Tan Pin Pin’s film To Singapore, With Love, cannot be screened in public. (Actually I won’t have a better idea because I haven’t seen it). Some very tough words have been used by both Communications and Information Minister Yacob Ibrahim and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to defend the G stance. The G says that the film is full of drums – distortions, rumours, untruths, misinformation and smears. It was self-serving because the interviewees (communists who fled the country) chose to white wash their past and did not talk about their “wrongs’’.  (I hear background noises…like, did the Holocaust really happen?)

It’s so terribly odd. We decided not to screen a one-sided film, but are okay about reading a one-sided book – which is more or less on the same topic (?) or at least of the times. It seems to me it would be good to let both loose on the population, as Han Fook Kwang suggested in Sunday Times today. It is when there are two opposing ideas that people get excited and engaged; a monologue will have the opposite effect. Letting the film be broadcast might generate more interest in Battle for Merger, he says, and make it come alive.

I think it’s a good idea too. PM Lee says that a film is not like a book, and therefore cannot be easily countered. Frankly, I have great faith in the ability of the G to counter “anything’’. It seems lazy to resort to a ban when it might be better to engage the film. In fact, given what he has said, maybe Ms Tan should consider putting the exiles’ transcripts in a book! And they could be packaged together with Battle for Merger for sale! Okay, bad joke.

In any case, here’s what PM Lee said: “Why should we allow through a movie to present an account of themselves (that is) not objectively presented documentary history, but a self-serving personal account, conveniently inaccurate in places, glossing over inconvenient facts than others which will sully the honour and reputation of the security people and the brave men and women who fought the Communists all those many years in order to create today’s Singapore?”

I think the better justification is the later half of the statement on the need to preserve the honour and reputation of those who fought. I would dearly love to hear from them, for a firmer grasp on that period which most of us weren’t born early enough to experience.

But I was taken aback when PM Lee also said the communists were still vying for “a place on the winners’ podium’’. Goodness!  In 2014? I doubt most people understand the first thing about communism, unless they mistake it for consumerism!

I don’t think I will be sticking my neck out if I say that communism will never return nor take root here. Nor do I think Ms Tan’s film will be a threat to national security. Let everyone have their say. People will have different views, sure, but I really doubt that they will be so rattled as to shake the foundations of our country. The past belongs to everyone. Let the present people be the judge.

Our stolid young people

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 29, 2014 at 12:07 pm

I asked my class of undergraduates this morning if they knew about the happenings in Hong Kong. They knew there were demonstrations but didn’t know what they were about. Nor did they know that the demonstrations were student-led. So I had to tell them that the young people of Hong Kong were unhappy that they were unable to pick their own leaders or rather, they had to pick them from a slate of Beijing-picked candidates.

I got to asking them if they would ever do what their peers in Hong Kong were doing – skip classes, get out on the streets and agitate for a cause. They looked flummoxed at the question. None could come up with a cause that could galvanise them. So I suggested: What if a neighbouring country decided to block access to Singapore? The answer:  the people should do nothing because it might bring more problems for the G which already had to deal with another government. Well! That was extremely thoughtful!

I pressed the issue and one undergraduate thought they would be moved to act if, say, a “bumiputra’’ policy of sorts implemented here, in the form of quotas based on race. The rest of the class nodded sagely. So, I asked, that’s because it affects you directly I suppose….They agreed.

They also agreed that they were more concerned about studying and stability than agitating for any kind of big picture cause. There was some laughter about being “brainwashed’’ and focusing on the immediate; about being brought up to value peace and stability. There was also talk about whether protests and demonstrations would lead to anything at all. In other words, we should do a cost-benefit analysis first. What a practical group, I thought. Lost cause, I thought. Then again, even in my time, some time ago, there was little “political’’ activity on campus. It was mightily discouraged and the one time an attempt was made by the students’ union to convey a sentiment on a political matter – selling tee-shirts saying no to the since-rescinded graduate mothers policy – the university administration came down on the undergrads like a ton of bricks.

Given that the class was talking about protests, we of course went on to talk about another protest – the Return Our CPF lobby which created such a ruckus on Hong Lim Park over the weekend.  They didn’t realise that the lead organiser Han Hui Hui  is all of 22 years old, their peer.  They were shocked. They wondered why she had “so much time’’. After all, they were studying so hard. Plus, it is not likely that she had any CPF to collect. They saw the video of the little altercation Ms Han had with the authorities. They blanched and pronounced her “immature’’. As for her motivations, she was an “attention seeker’’. I said she was a student and another undergraduate immediately went online to find out that she was a “full-time political activist’’. They wondered what she lived on.

I don’t agree with Ms Han’s near-anarchic antics and I wouldn’t want to hold her up to her peers as a model to emulate. I marvel at her energy and wish it could be directed to better use than working up crowds. Then I looked at my class of stolid undergraduates and wish they were more interested in what’s happening around them, rather than what’s before them. I told them about the Population White Paper protests and the rage against the 6.9 million figure by 2030. I said the supporters were mainly old(er) people, when it was actually an issue that should bug the young(er) people. (By that time, I hope to be resting by the beach…)

Is there any way we can build a young generation of people who are in between the stable/stolid and the hysterical/anarchic? Should we? Or should we make sure they burrow into their books and don’t get too interested in other matters in case they feel the urge to get “involved’’ in the “wrong way’’? By the way, I am NOT fomenting revolution. And I am very sure people will argue that youthful ideals need not be channelled into political activities. In other words, we should get them involved in the “right way’’, like join the Youth Corps and do good.

But I am aghast at how ill-informed and un-interested (much less uninvolved) our young people are in the issues of the day. “No time,’’ is what they cite as a reason. I always retort that they should “make time’’ if they want to be citizens engaged in the life of the country. What is the point of being a person if you care about nothing bigger than yourself? No need to demonstrate; but at least KNOW what’s happening.

I read today ESM Goh Chok Tong pronouncing that the jury is “out’’ on young Singaporeans. He cited that old saw about the first generation building something good, the second generation maintaining it and the third generation squandering everything. Hmm, I think I belong to the second generation….I catch myself agreeing with him and then wonder if I am being “ageist’’. The older people said the same thing about my generation too, and I guess we will do the same for the younger lot, like calling them “strawberries’’.

Maybe I’m too pessimistic. Maybe I’m being unfair. I don’t think I was very interested in current affairs when I was their age. I too wanted to study and get As. I suppose I am hoping that they will reach the age of enlightenment (not entitlement) earlier than I did.

To those who use the Speakers’ Corner, with respect

In Politics, Society on September 27, 2014 at 4:13 pm

I have been doing some research on the Speaker’s Corner for an article I have been commissioned to write, right from the time it was first mooted by, yes, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It was PM Goh Chok Tong of the kinder, gentler nation mantra who actually balked at it at first before deciding that it was “safe’’ to go ahead  without the social fabric getting torn up or burnt down. Those with long enough memories will recall what a joke the Speakers’ Corner was then. No microphones, no loudhailers, topics to be given in advance ecetera and definitely no protests or demonstrations of any sort. Oh, and you sign up with the police, not the NParks if you want to use the space. That was way back in the late 1990s when even indoor events needed a public entertainment licence. People wondered at that time if raising your hand would constitute a “demonstration’’.

Then the rules started getting relaxed to allow for performances and you can actually have a stage and a microphone. Then more and more people started using the space. Why not? It’s nice and big. And free of charge. Whether you want to stage a vigil or carnival or do an election-style rally or rant, Hong Lim Park is a great venue, with MRT stations so close by. No need to book weeks in advance. You wonder then why it is such “hot’’ property with people vying to hold events there. I suppose we have to thank the father of Hong Lim Park, Gilbert Goh, for turning the park back to the landmark place it used to be. Every other week, there seems to be a political event of some sort.

It’s a confined space, yes, and those who have wanted to stage marches from or to Hong Lim Park have been told no. So Ms Han Hui Hui wanted to do a march ON the park grounds, like some kind of parade. Interesting. A better idea than asking people to bring posters lambasting politicians or setting effigies on fire or spitting on portraits of people you don’t like.

I love being at Hong Lim Park to watch the range of people, including clueless tourists, who attend various events. This was a place for people to “let off steam’’, for those who feel disenfranchised or marginalised to say their piece, for non-mainstream groups to feel at home together. Of course, plenty of mainstream groups use it too, like the YMCA today. I think of those days when individuals would bring their own crates to stand on to speak to a sparse crowd (if you can even call it a crowd) and I think about how far we have come. Of course, it is never far enough for some people. We watch the demonstrators in foreign countries on TV and we think about how exciting it looks. We wonder why not do it here as well, or we ask ourselves – can we?

Truth to tell, a lot of the stuff of the political kind is pretty defamatory. But no one seems to have sued anyone for anything – yet. I guess there is a consensus even among the thin-skinned that this is the place for you to rant if you can’t be rational. Do you realise it’s actually safer to rant at the park than rant online? It is like exercising parliamentary privilege! And plenty of rants we’ve heard. I have heard reason too, by speakers are more concerned with laying out the facts, than working up the crowd. For some of the more outrageous “facts’’, I try to check on them when I get home, just to see if they were put in the right context. Again, sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s amazing what adding a few more words or subtracting a few more words can do to a “fact’’.

Even if everything said there is fiction, I think it is good to know how people are perceiving things. It is “feedback’’ and an opportunity for the powers-that-be to correct misperceptions and dispel rumours in other ways – even if they do not want to engage speakers directly. Hong Lim Park might not be the “pulse’’ of the people, but there are beats that should be heard, countered or responded to.

As for the “thousands’’ who turn up for some of the bigger events, I wonder if they should be counted as “supporters’’. I can bet anything that a big proportion of people are there just to watch if there would be fireworks. They are “spectators’’, not “supporters’’. Of course, there will be supporters who carry placards or are fervent believers of the cause. I wish I was there today, as a spectator to see the fireworks.

So what was the problem today….let’s see…

It’s about NParks letting two events go on at more or less the same time. They were quick enough to say no to the Lawrence Khong group which wanted the same date as Pink Dot, so why were they tardy here?

I guess it’s because Pink Dot would have occupied the whole space and whatever the Khong camp says, it is clear as daylight to anyone that the event was meant to compete head-on. But Return My CPF versus a YMCA concert? In any case, NParks claims that multiple events on the park is pretty normal. I guess it will have to re-write its manual after today.

And what was all that fuss about the YMCA being a People’s Action Party front? So what if it is? So what if a Mayor graced the event or the Prime Minister? Ms Han says she had been advised to cancel or postpone the event by “grassroots’’ people and the police. It seems to me that they were right (!) to advise her to do so. What a farce! No one will remember what was said at the event – but they will remember adults heckling special needs children and marching around the concert stage! I think their CPF should remain locked up forever!

I thought the authorities were superbly patient with Ms Han and her attempts to hold them to account with her repeated questions for names, designations and sections of the law. She sounded like a broken – and a very high-pitched – record. I really don’t see what the fuss is about moving the event to a more secluded space so as not to distract people who want to be at either event. Sure, everyone has “rights’’, but to insist on “rights’’ when there is a solution or compromise is not exercising those rights responsibly or graciously or respectfully.

I hope nothing drastic happens to the park because of Ms Han’s antics. Like registration being handed back to the police and having to sit down and not move around (that is, no march, no placards) when an event is taking place. We have won the space by respecting the law and respecting the views of others. It took time, it was hard earned. I dread to think that some hardliners will want the OB markers drawn tighter because adults do not know how to behave respectfully towards the authorities, fellow citizens – and even children.

It’s just a matter of respecting others, the way we want to be respected too.

Selling travel to ISIS

In News Reports, Politics on September 23, 2014 at 4:05 am

All this news about ISIS is scary. Did you know that travel agents were trying to get people to Syria and Iraq? What? You didn’t? Okay, this is why they failed even though they had booths at the Natas travel fair.

Booth 1: Return ticket guaranteed!

Come and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Islamic State! Explosives guaranteed to deafen you. Not using acid yet but there is potential for blindness! And of course, we guarantee you a ticket home! Either in one piece or several pieces…Your choice! Souvenir box included. Oh, and please patronise the life insurance agent next door!

Booth 2: Learn new skills!

We soooo agree that Singaporeans need to upskill and re-train! So take the next plane and learn how to wield explosives and even a big knife! Here is a free demo on beheading processes! Wait! Wait! We didn’t smuggle that sword through! Hey! We declared it at Customs! It’s not a weapon! It’s a demonstration prop!  Hey, come back with my swooooord!!!! Bloody customs!

Booth 3: Discount for those with accents

Yup! We will give a 10 per cent discount of airfare if you can speak English with a British, American or Australian accent. We will, however, require you to agree to be recorded and video-ed (hood will be thrown in). You want to try Sir? Eh, that’s not an American accent. Not even English you talking….Eh, what leh? Singlish cannot. Cannot. Cannot! Bloody Singaporeans… anything for a cheap flight…

Booth 4: Do community service abroad!

Tired of visiting old folks homes? Taking care of abandoned pets? Go further! Go abroad and teach English to the children of fighters! No need for qualifying test, so long as you had pre-school education by PCF or NTUC. Montessorians also welcomed. The children need a basic foundation in English to communicate with the rest of the world. Teach words like slaughter, kill, behead, slay, assassinate and….eh, where’s my thesaurus?

Booth 5: A family vacation in sunny Syria

We are a family-friendly place and welcome whole families, including your wife and sister who will find our handsome men irrrrrisistable and virrrrrile. (Psst…It’s a quick way to get rid of that nag at home) Your children will be inducted into boy scout/girl guide camps and leave with badges and a certificate in guerrilla warfare which they can show off to their schoolmates! Oh wait. I see the women from Aware…Quick! Pack up!

Booth 6:  Club Med extra-ordinaire

Our Guest Relations Officers will provide a variety of entertainment and make sure you are comfortable in our bunkers. You must try our special cocktails of the Molotov kind. Guaranteed to make your insides burn so that you will thirst for more! Try your hand at building sand castles and air raid shelters in the wonderful desert sand. Or go partake of the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. All destroyed JUST FOR YOU!

Booth 7:  Come and be terrified!

Why go to Disneyland or even Sentosa’s Universal Studios to experience terror? Roller coasters are archaic! And House of Horrors? Pah! Come and be terrified as you have never been terrified before. Dodge explosives and machine gun fire! Escape burning buildings…! Good practice for your next IPPT! Endorsed by the SAF! Eh, what’s this? Military police? Aw come on! Just promoting a career as an armed force…Hey! Where are you taking me?

Booth 8:  Be a terrorist-tourist!

Why be a tourist when you can be a terrorist and be on the watchlist of every law enforcement agency in the world? Get your mugshot on every spy screen and be a household name! Then return home to great acclaim after your tour and enjoy the confines of a cell. One good experience deserves another! Two vacations for one price! Helloooo… You are ISIS agents?  No? ISD? What is that? Never heard of it….why are you giving me a bracelet?

Booth 9: DIY travel

No gimmicks here. Just good advice on how to get to ISIS. Talk to our consultants one-on-on on which websites to go to, how to evade law enforcement and crowd source for funding and travel insurance. Do so quickly before the United Nations Security Council passes a resolution making it more difficult and the different countries get their domestic laws in place. Remember the window of opportunity is getting smaller. The door is about to close. We will be running out of runway. We willllllllll…..aaahhhhhh…eeeyaaa….

Sheeesh. Singaporeans can’t recognise satire.

Danger: bad film

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 11, 2014 at 12:57 am

Sheesh! So Tan Pin Pin does NOT have plans to upload her banned film, To Singapore, With love, on YouTube. At least for the moment. And there I was hoping to get a free screening! She’s going to re-submit it for rating although how this would get past MDA’s strictures without making further cuts to the tales of the nine exiles, she didn’t say.

 May she succeed like Ken Kwek did, getting an R21 rating for his Sex.Violence.Family Values film which was initially banned from public screening in 2012. ST had an intriguing bit of info, indicating that a “purely private’’ screening is allowed. Now, this is odd given that the film was deemed “Not classified for all ratings’’. So what is a purely private screening? At the home of Tan Pin Pin?

Unlike Mr Kwek’s film which was deemed racially explosive because some parts could offend Indians, Ms Tan’s film was whacked with the “undermining national security’’ label. That’s heavy.

According to MDA, she let the interviewees get away with untruths about their past, like forged passport info and absconding from National Service. It is not true that they had to leave and not true that they can’t return to Singapore, it said. I guess this means that they probably haven’t been put on the “ban’’ list of the immigration authorities to be turned them away if they showed up at the airport. Nor are they on some “wanted’’ list.

ST helpfully included some background on ex-Communist Party of Malaya members such as Eu Chooi Yip and P V Sarma, who returned from China in 1991. I wonder what the two had to do when they got home. Because it seems that the nine would just need to agree to be interviewed by the authorities on their past – probably a renunciation of communism. But there was also this line “Criminal offence will have to be accounted for in accordance with the law’’. Goodness! Isn’t this an indication that the NS abscondees and passport forger would charged for crimes? You wonder then why they wouldn’t want to return home…

In any case, ST said that about 40 members of the filmmaking and arts community have criticised the ban, calling on the G to release the film so that viewers can make up their minds. You know, whatever these exiles did, it was a very long time ago. I doubt that there are many people here who would want to pursue the communist ideal in modern Singapore. But many people are interested in the past, having only heard about some of the names that Ms Tan interviewed, like Tan Wah Piow, now 62.    

But the key point is whether the G believes that such paternalism is needed to safeguard national security – or whether it is merely insisting on its own narrative of history. As an IPS academic said in TODAY, a determined audience would get hold of the film somehow. Better to un-ban it and have the G release its own version of events. After all, if the film makes its rounds on the Internet, wouldn’t the G have to counter it? If it is such a detriment to national security, it would have to do something about its exposure.

Actually, my other question is whether Ms Tan considered taking into account the G’s view of what the exiles might have said in her film. That would have made for a more complete film-cum-documentary. Or, the G can always make its own…

Great grad dreams

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 10, 2014 at 1:19 am

I’ve met several parents over time who have sent their children abroad to study for a degree. And there have been times that I’ve been taken aback at the course of study. Like criminology, art history, media studies, psychology or sociology. I wondered if this was because they were “sexy’’ subjects. I don’t hear so much of those who take up “hard’’ subjects, like engineering. Of course, I hear of plenty who study law abroad, now a headache of the Law minister who wonders if the Singapore Bar would be big enough to accommodate them.

Going by what MPs say in Parliament, there are many different kinds of parents:

  1. Those who think a degree of any kind would lead to a good job and would therefore fork out big money to get their students into a university abroad, especially if they can’t get into a university here.
  2. Those who want to pigeon hole their children into degree courses that they think would bring in big money for their children in their adulthood. They want to set them up “for life’’.
  3. Those who let their children pursue their “dreams’’ regardless of whether they have the aptitude or can fit into the economy here later. They proudly proclaim that they let their children be, even if their children are really mistaking infatuation for passion.

I pity Education minister Heng Swee Keat who seemed to be contorting himself to explain that he wasn’t dissing the worth of a degree.

“Qualifications matter, but they must be the right qualifications and of the right standard for what we want to do,” he said, citing doctors, nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists as examples of occupations that require professional qualifications. “But not all qualifications matter — not if they do not help us build the right skills for what we want to do,” he added.

At the risk of over- summarising, I think he was also trying to say that even a diploma could be as “good’’ if it means the diploma holder has the depth of skills that the course required of him.

He’s in a bit of a bind because his predecessor had already stated that all primary school teachers will be degree-holders from next year. The assumption is that grad teachers will have a stronger mastery of content and pedagogy. So now Mr Heng has to say he will continue to hire non-grads who have the aptitude and passion. Nothing was said about whether they can master “content and pedagogy’’.

In fact, Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing sounded a bit gleeful (sorry!) when he said that early childhood educators – the people under his domain – don’t need degrees. Just like our parents didn’t need degrees to bring us up.  

Actually it’s all back to what the education system is all about. Mr Heng said it was about the quest for skills rather than paper qualifications. I think he should be blunt and say that it is about churning out people who can fit into the economy.

That’s what it’s about isn’t it even if it isn’t politically correct to say so? People can’t expect that the economy in future will accommodate jobs of all kinds or even the number of jobs in a particular profession. (Hence, lawyers being pushed into doing criminal and family law instead of “big money’’ law). I can sort of imagine bureaucrats toting up numbers of workers needed to fill different sectors in the short, medium and long-term and collaborating with the university, polytechnic and technical institutes of the number of places for courses every year.

The difference is that instead of setting up a three-tier structure with the technical institutes at the bottom, then the polytechnics and universities stacked on top, the push is now to see them all as parallel structures with the formerly bottom two rungs supplemented by workplace training and extensive skills to reach the level of university graduates. So Singapore doesn’t want just an ITE grad, it wants an extremely skilled ITE graduate with the opportunity to catch up with their university peers later in life.

Now, whether that will work or not is something, to use that trite phrase, “time will tell’’.

So now, we are deluged with media reports of ITE/poly students who did well. Actually, we should also be exposed to the other side: graduates with esoteric degrees who discover that they can’t advance as far as they want. In fact, MPs are already saying that more grads than non-grads go to their Meet-the-People sessions looking for jobs. I can just imagine what these disappointed people are thinking: “I am a grad, and I still have no job’’. And then going to Hong Lim Park to claim that foreigners were taking their jobs…

Sigh.

Everything is so inter-connected.

Chatting with Lim Swee Say Part 2

In Money, Politics on August 31, 2014 at 12:52 am

Tomorrow, a big change is going to sweep over one sector, or rather, cause a ripple in the way employers pay their workers. It has to do with the 40,000 or so cleaners in Singapore’s 900 companies. From then on, they will have a career progression path, much like most other workers. It means that they won’t be stuck at the $1,000-or-so a month bottom rung of the pay ladder. If they learn to operate machines, they can move up a step or two, and this will be accompanied by a raise in pay. No big deal you say? After all, it is the case in other parts of the labour market. You do more, you earn more. Except that the cleaning sector is an odd place.

And that’s because of people like you and me…   

Mr Lim Swee Say, head of the labour movement, was in story-telling mode. The story had to do with how when he was Minister for Environment and Water Resources in 2003, he visited a hawker centre and watched how cleaners went about their work. A pail of water and a cloth, which became dirtier and dirtier with every table cleaned. He got to talking to the hawkers who said they each paid each cleaner $80 a month to clean the tables.  That was all the cleaners could do in a day. Would they pay them $120 ? They said they would, provided that the cleaners could do their work better and not have customers complain about the state of uncleaned and uncleared tables. That was when he worked with the contractors to see if the cleaners could do a better job as well as handle more stalls. The cleaning trolley, which  people now see in hawker centres, with different compartments for detergents and several “washing’’ containers, is one outcome. It allowed the cleaners to do their rounds a lot quicker. They could handle 12 stalls instead of eight. And it was a lot cleaner too. Their pay, therefore, went up. (He calls it ESS – easier, safer, smarter)

This a reason for Mr Lim’s obsession with labour-saving devic es. Pay can only go up if low wage workers can work faster and better (a Lim Swee Say phrase..). That means using machines. But there is another unique thing about cleaners: They do not work directly for their employers. They really work for third parties: the mall owners, building managements and hawker centre committees who are old fashioned about the way they tender out jobs for cleaners. They usually set a head-count, rather than define the job scope. That means they ask for a certain number of cleaners, which meant that it is in the interest of the contracting company to pay the cleaners as a low a wage as possible to win the tender. Mr Lim calls this “cheap sourcing’’. They should be leaving it to the companies to decide the number of cleaners needed for the job to be done, he said, or “best sourcing’’. (So he has a BSI – Best Sourcing Initiative…)

I thought that made sense. I see it for myself in my condominium when the queries are about the number of security guards rather than whether the job gets done. Because, really, why should we care how many people the cleaning or security company hires so long as the place is clean and security is assured?

But changing mindsets from cheap sourcing to best sourcing is a slow and arduous process. When a company loses a contract the next time bidding comes around or when the contract expires, it does not mean the cleaners or security guards lose their jobs. What happens then is that the new company hires them instead, and since the new company probably got the tender because it under-cut the rest, their pay does not go up. In fact, it might go down, if they prefer to stay in familiar surroundings. Hence, you sometimes see the same people all the time – in different uniforms. This is a spiral which goes on and on, leaving wages stagnant.

To raise their wages, a structural change must take place to “force’’ higher pay in the sector. Enter the progressive wage model which has been described variously as a minimum wage. (He calls this PWM. )

Mr Lim acknowledged that in the cleaning sector, as well as the security and landscaping sector soon, this will be the case. Companies are not allowed to pay cleaners less than $1,000 a month. This is the law and is part of a licencing condition that the National Environment Agency will oversee.  

But more than a floor, a series of rungs have been created, each tied to job scope and productivity. So is an indoor cleaner worth more than an outdoor cleaner? If there were different sets of machines, which ones can workers operate?  A cleaner’s ability will be matched against an industry standard of skill levels. (This, by the word, is WSQ – Work Skill Qualifications). And this is again set to different wage levels. Again, all this is law and a company which flouts this stand to lose its licence – and cannot operate at all.  

I proceeded to irritate Mr Lim with a few “buts’’.

But don’t foreign workers have a role in keeping wages low in the sector? If we kept the numbers small, the wages of local cleaners will go up no?

Mr Lim’s reply: Not with the dependency ratios in place. So if a company hires 10 locals, it can only hire one foreigner if the dependency ratio is set at 10:1. The number of foreigners hired is dependent on the number of locals. If the company can make do with fewer workers, it will lay off the foreigner first – unless of course, companies scream loud enough for dependency ratios to be changed.

But isn’t this intervening in the free market by using the blunt instrument of the law?

Mr Lim’s reply: Yes. And it has to be done because the market has failed to set the wages correctly because of the emphasis on headcount rather than quality of manpower.

But why not set a minimum wage for all labour intensive sectors?

Mr Lim’s reply: This would allow companies to sack people and hire others – at minimum wage. So it doesn’t matter how good you are, you will never be better paid because the headcount only cares about how “cheap’’ you are.

But a worker who is trained may get sacked anyway and what happens if joins a new company?

Mr Lim’s reply: He doesn’t start at the bottom. He takes his qualifications with him which will require that he be paid according to his skill level. (Hmmm….it’s like have a diploma versus a degree) A smart employer will make sure the salary is according to the job scope.

But the cleaning companies would be required to train workers or get new machines and where will they get money for this?

Mr Lim’s reply: Actually, he just rolled off more ABCs….more funds and schemes that will help pay for training. Then there is IGP, Inclusive Growth Programme, that will help pay for new machines. (Go read Part 1 if you want to know more)

But some cleaning companies won’t be able to qualify for the licence and will have to shut down. So where will workers go?

Mr Lim’s reply: Companies have had six months to prepare and it seems that most will be able to meet the Sept 1 deadline. If some have to shut down, others which are licensed will snap up the workers. He doesn’t think people should be too bothered if there is a shake-up because the bottomline is: cleaners’ wages will go up.

I’m glad I had a chance to talk to him. (Our meeting was supposed to be held at TCC at NTUC centre at OMB – yup, his subordinates speak in ABCs too – but was shifted to his office). There are too many complicated policies in Singapore. They are like jigsaw puzzles. Miss a piece and you won’t get the whole picture. The PWM or progressive wage model (may I ask that the NTUC not be so quick to turn everything into acronyms?) looks pretty workable to this layman although I pity the people who have to monitor its workings. I don’t know, though, if there are further ramifications for the labour market, in terms of salary distortions.  

Mr Lim said he’s only looking at the security and landscaping sectors, which suffer the same “market failure’’, for the time being. Slow steps. He went on to say that he hopes other sectors would voluntarily adopt the PWM (I don’t know how he keeps all the ABCs in his head).  

I have to say that I didn’t manage to irritate the genial man.

He answered questions so well, so fully.  

He irritated me instead.

After the rally…the buffet

In News Reports, Politics, Society on August 18, 2014 at 4:14 am

I started painting my nails halfway through watching PM Lee’s National Day rally speech last night. Bad of me; I should have been taking notes. But the speech struck me as very administrative and municipal. Plenty of human interest stories of people made it good despite the odds (kudos to them!), with PM in the role of interviewer. And an explanation of how CPF works with the PM playing financial planner to a fictitious 54 year old Mr Tan. PM Lee was a real estate agent last year.

I had to look over the newspapers this morning to find out what I missed. I think it was this point: PM Lee called for a cultural shift – away from chasing grades to valuing a person for his worth and character. He made the point much sharper in his Mandarin speech when he stressed that a university education does not guarantee jobs. And please don’t enrol any old how into any university course which you are not suited for.
Good point. That’s a reason I gather that our universities now do away with grading first-year examinations so that freshman can check out their aptitude and inclination against what’s on offer before buckling down to work. Hence the PM’s emphasis that an ITE and poly education would do just as well so long as it is accompanied by learning in working life. (A freshman in my class told me he was puzzled by the PM’s speech. He was a polytechnic student. For the past three years, poly students have had the carrot of a university education dangled over their heads with the promise of more university places. Now that he’s in the university system, a different song is being sung. *shakes head*)

So it looks like the focus has shifted to equipping the broad swathe of young people in the ITE and polys for the market. For what areas I wonder? To replace foreign S pass holders in areas traditionally shunned by Singaporeans? The PM also gave examples of those who did well despite lack of paper qualification except, as he noted, his examples were all Keppel employees. You need a company that makes money and a good boss who doesn’t look at grades and will give you a chance to move up the ladder. He said that the civil service will lead the way so that the career paths of grad and non-grad civil servants aren’t always so separate.

DPM Tharman will be leading a team to get the nation to “learn as you earn’’ (my phrase). What does this mean? Compulsory continuing education as is the case for some professions? Guess workers shouldn’t think that they have left the classroom forever. Or that examinations and tests are things of the past. It would be interesting to hear how DPM intends to integrate working and learning, as well as starting and raising a family.
I think the cultural shift is something to be encouraged. It’s in line with the compassionate meritocracy that we want to build here. It really shouldn’t matter which school you went to or how well you did in an exam hall; what matters is what you can bring to the table. But it would take people (parents and employers) some time to recognise this. That prized photograph of a family member in a graduation gown and cap is still very much sought after, no matter what sort of degree, course or university the person had enrolled in. One sign to look out for to know if the cultural shift is a-coming: whether people start believing that every school is a good school.

Here’s a run-down of the news points on the CPF front:

a. Four-room flats to be included in lease buyback scheme, which is now confined to three-roomers or smaller. This means that those who don’t have enough cash to retire on can still remain in their homes and get a pay-out in a lump sum and every month. One question: Your child won’t be able to inherit the home then? Or only up to the expiry of the home owner’s lease?

b. Minimum sum for next year’s cohort of 55ers already calculated: $161K. PM stressed repeatedly that the sum is not too much, and people tend to forget that half the sum can be a property pledge. Most people would be able to make the grade – and get a pay-out for life. I think of the minimum sum as a one-off insurance premium you pay in return for a monthly annuity.

c. The poor elderly will get an annual bonus called Silver Support pumped into their CPF. Thing is, what is poor elderly hasn’t been defined yet. Can’t just be looking at minimum sum right…because they might have well-heeled children to count on for support.

d. A committee will be set up to add some flexibility into the system – like allowing those who need money urgently to draw up more in a lump-sum (this is a big change of heart on his part, he admits), or having a scale of payments which increase or decrease with age.

Wonder what the Return My CPF lobby will say…PM Lee didn’t touch on the interest rates earned on Ordinary and Special Accounts which some people think should be pegged to what fund manager, GIC, makes. He didn’t talk about the use of CPF for housing, presumably because he is clear about how both CPF and housing are twin pillars of old age. So we’d better hope that the housing market keeps moving up…

As for what else in his speech was worth noting….Here are my, ahem, news reports:

a. HD: Pick up sticks gain popularity

A fishball stick dropped by a litterbug earned more than one mention in the Prime Minister’s National Day rally speech last night. It was the subject of a complaint by a civic conscious citizen who noticed that it had been lying on the ground for a good two days, well past Singapore’s efficient cleaning standards. His MP, Mayor Low Yen Ling was galvanised into action, as she sought to ascertain the agency responsible for the fishball stick’s continued offensive presence. After intensive and extensive investigations, PM Lee decided that it will be the National Environment Agency’s business to pick up sticks, although people shouldn’t be dropping them in the first place. He used a dialect term “pau kar liao’’, causing many to wonder if he was moving away from the Speak Mandarin policy.

A Municipal Service Office graced by Grace Fu, he announced, will be set up to ensure that all sticks anywhere will be picked up with alacrity. In the meantime, the civic-conscious citizen complained that he had sent a picture to STOMP which obviously did not realise the political potential of the stick which, it argued, could have been holding up a sotong ball.

b. HD: East Coast residents upset with Jurong plans

Hundreds of East Coast residents will be gathering at Hong Lim Park on Saturday to protest plans announced by the Prime Minister to make Jurong more hip and happening. Upset that they will only be getting the Thomson/Marine Parade MRT line, they are organising an online petition calling for the Singapore-KL high-speed rail to terminate in the east instead of the Jurong Lake district. “The Jurongites can keep their Chinese and Japanese Gardens,’’ said lead organiser Tan Kah Tong. “We don’t even mind if the Science Centre re-opens there but we think the Jurong Lake should be filled in and move to the East so that we will have a bigger East Coast Lagoon or East Coast Lake.’’ Planning authorities, dealing with the fallout from PM Lee’s National Day rally speech, said it will meet disgruntled residents to explain that these are tentative plans, not confirmed targets. It is understood that one option is to move the proposed Ng Teng Fong hospital, which has had its opening delayed by six months, to the east to placate the residents.

c. No news is… good news?

The PM didn’t talk about how economic restructuring is affecting the economy and making SMEs scream about not being able to get foreign labour. Nor did he say anything about low productivity.

The PM didn’t talk about the looming culture war (although he spoke about a culture shift) brewing between conservatives and the not-so-conservative a la the book pulping issue and the Pink and White standoff and who really decides what sort of values the people should hold.

The PM didn’t talk about how events in Syria, Iraq and Gaza might affect the Muslim minority here and create tensions although he did use the Ukraine/Crimea conflict as an example of how small nations must stay strong.

And, finally, he didn’t talk about the pesky people online….Thank goodness!

Singapore’s slow poison

In News Reports, Politics, Society on August 17, 2014 at 8:11 am

I’ve always been a fan of ex-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. He is a decent man. A good man. He is an old-fashioned conservative in the Platonic mould– believing in the establishment of a group of wise men to lead the rest. People should know their place, that is, don’t be boh tua, boh suay.

So I wasn’t surprised when he worried about bonds between the government and the governed being loosened; he’s always been big on social cohesion. But his use of the family as an analogy bugged me.

Here’s what ST reported:
“Speaking at length on people-government ties in family terms, he said that just as parents do for their children, the Government imparts values and sets norms for society through its policies and creates opportunities for people.
People cannot choose their parents but they can choose their government – a privilege they do not always value and “sometimes decide with less care than we should”.
Singaporeans also demand much more from the Government than their parents, accepting their family’s situation but not the constraints faced by the Government.
And while they do not criticise their parents’ imperfections, (“We love them.. Warts and all.’’) when it comes to the Government, they “see only warts… and freely criticise it for its slightest mistakes or when we disagree with it”.

This bit is from The Online Citizen:
“This state of relationship between the people and the government is part of the so-called New Normal,” he said.
“But if this New Normal leads to fractiousness, divisiveness and estrangement in the Singapore Family, then we will be undoing what the Pioneer Generation had painfully and diligently built over many decades,” added Mr Goh.
He said that unlike in the past where Singaporeans were clear about where they were headed, “now people are pulling in different directions.”
“We still discuss and debate, consult and engage’’, Mr Goh said. “But each group is now more assertive than before in pushing its point of view and vested interests. Each side does not want to give an inch without taking a quarter. The common space for Singaporeans is getting smaller instead of bigger.”

Why am I bugged? Because I can see that his comments will create even more fractiousness. Already wags are pointing out that he is harking back to a paternalistic government. Stretch the family analogy further and you get this: “Daddy and Mommy know what’s good for you. So shut up and just do as you’re told.’’

The question to ask is what lies at the root of the discontent or the disengagement between the G and the people. I am going to stick my neck out and say that it is ministerial salaries. I consider it the root of all evil. Serious. It reduces what should be a social compact into a business contract. We cannot see the family analogy because we are run like a business. (The wonderful thing that has happened over the years is that we are no longer known as “Singapore Inc’’ with citizens being shareholders and the government sitting as the board of directors. I have always thought the analogy was unfortunate.)

Consider why there is less respect for our leaders. We pay them so much, they are expected to do well. If they don’t do well, we complain that they are not worth their pay. How is this a family structure? We certainly don’t pay our parents to run the household although we do give them an allowance and take some of the financial load off them when we start working.

I know that every government struggles over this issue of how much to pay each member. Talking about, and approving, your own salary seems rather self-serving and pretty awkward. So salaries are kept low and unseen perks, pomp and privilege are added to the job description. On the whole, they might be paid many times more but the voter is blissfully unaware or complicit in some way.

So rational and efficient Singapore has come up with a formula which sets the pay higher than what other nations pay their leaders. Only that, with performance bonuses decided by the Prime Minister. And nothing else. I think. So clean. So rational. So transparent. So why are people grumbling? After all, if the ministers met their KPIs, why not?

Now, the Singapore pay structure, pegged by a complicated formula to economic growth and private sector pay, has been tweaked over the years. There was even a review committee headed by Gerard Ee which, unfortunately, only did more tweaking rather than examine the fundamental principles underpinning the structure. Ministers have given up bonuses and agreed to pay cuts, like the rest of the hoi polloi, when times are bad. But who remembers this? Who remembers how finely calibrated ministerial salaries are, and how so much thinking has gone into making them “fair’’ or “appropriate’’? Can you recall the sort of “premium’’ given to public service in drawing up salary structure? All the rationalisation is lost on the people. They see only one thing: We have highly-paid ministers. And we measure their monetary worth against every screw-up or warts. We do not cut them some slack, as Mr Goh would like, because we do not see them as our parents but as chief executives and general managers.

Ministerial salaries have never got much air-time in the media, except when the G says something about it. Yet it is talked about at election rallies and brought up in bars, coffeeshops and the Internet every time the G screws up. This sacred cow was not even raised at the Our Singapore Conversation.

I know the argument that the G has for defending their salaries, chief of which is to keep our leaders free from temptation that high office can bring, in other words, money politics and corruption. I would like to think our citizens are made of sterner stuff and our watchdogs far more vigilant than those elsewhere. In fact, I wouldn’t mind paying the watchdogs a lot more to ensure they do their jobs well. And even have caning introduced for corruption convictions! So why not just pay the politicians more you say? Because leadership is not just a “job’’, it is a “relationship’’ built on, yes, trust.

(Frankly, I also won’t have a problem if, after leaving Government, they are recruited by the private sector or go on the lecture circuit. Let the market dictate then what they should earn. Nothing to do with us voters)
Then there is the other argument about bringing in talent who would otherwise prefer to keep their privacy and their highly-paid jobs instead of venturing into politics. They can’t “lose out’’ too much. So we’ve heard about the salaries of doctors and lawyers who join politics and what they stood to “lose’’ even as ministers. Okay, but if I want to be churlish about it, I can also point out that many ex-civil servants have now crossed into Cabinet, and it is not likely that they would ever get those kind of salaries, would they?

All these comparisons leave a bad taste in the mouth. Of course, no minister would say they are in it for the money. In fact, they seem to be pretty frugal; they drive themselves, for example, and take care not to dress flashily. Their offices are smaller than those of some CEOs. What they say or how they present themselves matters, but not as much as what people think and are increasingly vocalising. It is a slow poison.

I know what the next question will be: You talk so much, do you have a solution? I don’t, which is why I’ve held off writing on the subject for so long although it has been nagging me for some time. But the subject must be brought to the fore and tackled head-on, however embarrassing it might be for the current leadership. When the G talks about building the public trust or its erosion, it never, ever talks about ministerial salaries. It is that big elephant in the room. But still we are trying to pull up the wages of low wage workers and narrow the income gap. We are restructuring the economy and SMEs are feeling squeezed. All this dislocation to work and to pay is being done against a backdrop of public angst over ministerial pay.

We need another formula, one that will not make our leaders paupers but will not make the people laugh when there is talk of “servant leadership’’. We need to put to rest or at least diminish the people’s big bugbear over pay, and build a new relationship between the rulers and the ruled – one that will not be clouded by the monetary worth of a minister nor assessed in terms of dollars and cents.

How? I’m afraid I don’t know…

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