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Posts Tagged ‘PAP’

De-constructing constructive politics

In News Reports on May 27, 2014 at 2:52 am

The trouble with constructive politics is the word “constructive’’. You can’t very well not be in favour of it. So everybody of whatever political stripe does homage to the President’s use of the phrase in his address to Parliament. But what it consists of is a different matter entirely. You see, you can put any kind of construction on what is constructive politics depending on your point of view and your agenda.

So to Workers Party, constructive politics cannot be of the “bullying’’ kind with the subtext that the PAP is a bully with unfair resources on its side. And the PAP talks about integrity because it seems to have found some kind of wrong-doing in the WP which it isn’t quite saying…Both sides are really being extremely constructive.

Now when the President spoke of constructive politics, he was talking about how we can’t let differences pull us apart such that we’d be gridlocked and paralysed. We all have plenty of differences of opinion and I’m betting that the differences will widen over time, whether of the political kind, over religion and sexual orientation or between new and old citizens. I would like to think that that’s what the President is talking about – about how the nation with so many differences will be able to say: let’s stop arguing, agree to disagree, move ahead on this – or move on to the next thing.

I was hoping to see Parliament discuss these differences and how to narrow them through informed discourse but it appears that the political parties are only vying to see which one puts Singaporeans first. They are talking to each other, not to the people.  

(I congratulate Mr Tan Jee Say for his brainwave of a name for his political party. I can’t wait to see how MPs will try NOT to use it in Parliament.)

Constructive politics means – and this is only my one cent opinion – that we can talk from different points of view in a civilised manner and still agree on the way forward. Unlike what Mr Low said, that constructive politics cannot happen “through a national conversation or public consultation’’, I happen to think they are useful tools to determine the will of the people, beyond voting every four or five years. I wish politicians and office-holders would refer more to the values and aspirations that have been distilled through the year-long Our Singapore Conversation when they make their speeches or policy pronouncements. Surely, they point to the light at the end of the tunnel and can be a basis for most conversations?

Okay, I have some personal constructions on what is constructive politics. One would be how it has to embrace an active citizenry, which includes  advocacy and not just volunteerism. I have often felt that the G would rather we shut up and just hand out face masks.  This is not constructive politics. Citizens want a say and have views too. To do this “constructively’’, they need access to information and proper responses – not cavalier descriptions of them as members of a “vocal minority’’.   

Of course, some of us put across our views in ways which are not flattering to either side of the political divide. The outer limit must, therefore, be the laws of defamation. I know this is one of “bullying’’ tactics thrown often at the PAP government but I cannot conceive of civilised discourse without some parameters. It’s hard enough to tell people that their views should be rational and based on fact not rumours. Surely, we can agree that we can do this without name-calling or disrespect.

If the powers that be resort to defamation suits too easily, then they can expect their credibility to be eroded. But if they have a case, they should take it to court. Note that smaller beings can also take the powers that be to court. It will be an expensive undertaking but it should be weighed against the worth of reputation. Then, we have to let the judiciary do its work. The day we believe or are sure that the judiciary is the Government’s play thing is the day we (at least I) should leave the country.

There is another aspect to constructive politics that doesn’t seem to have been well-enunciated – the role of the civil service. We read often now in MSM about how civil servants should have their ear to the ground and implement policies with the people in mind. I am glad that I no longer hear what used to be said in the past – that civil servants should EXPLAIN government policies. I have never thought that was the job of civil servants. Their fate should not be tied to that of their political masters. They should remain faceless, not appear on TV talkshows or give so many speeches, so that they can remain above the fray should there be a… hmmm… change at the top. We need to trust that this institution will remain rock-solid and separate – not part of the monolith that is the PAP government.  

I am going to stop here because Parliament is still debating the President’s  address. Anyway, here’s to constructive politics!

Not as a check, but for a change?

In News Reports, Politics on May 26, 2014 at 1:33 am

I met Mr Tan Jee Say many moons ago when he was still serving in the Prime Minister’s Office. Like any good reporter hoping to establish a “contact”, I invited him out to lunch. He picked a really, really expensive place, way beyond my means and I wondered if my boss would approve of me putting up the lunch tab as an expense. I am really sorry but that was my most vivid initial recollection of the man who panicked a poor rookie reporter.

Now, he’s making waves again, much to the chagrin I believe of his ex-bosses in the G. First as an opposition party candidate, then a presidential candidate – and now as head of a new political party. I wonder why anyone would be surprised by his move. He’s already a written a book and is somewhat a fixture at Hong Lim Park events. In fact, his speeches are more electioneering than discursive, calling for an overthrow of the PAP G – through the ballot box of course.

What I’ve always remembered: How he kept maintaining that it was not true that the Opposition could not put up a credible Cabinet. Seems he’s done a scan of opposition members and their credentials to assert that the Opposition was more than ready to take over. I wonder what Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Kiang has to say to this. He’s been pretty circumspect, even modest, about the abilities of his party, which has the biggest opposition presence in Parliament. The WP strategy appears to be to act as a check and veer towards the centre, hence the grumbles that WP looks like PAP-lite.

So now we have Singapore First with a logo that some people say look like an ad for Walls’ ice cream. Never mind the jibes…What does it stand for? Looking at reports of its manifesto, I think Mr Tan and his merry band have simply tapped into a wave of sentiment that is currently prevailing in the “intellectual realm”. That is, to move away from treating citizens as economic digits. Add to this complaints that we look at relationships as “market transactions” and pay ministers like CEOs, you can see where the group is coming from.

It’s a good move to put the party on some kind of “ideological” footing even though some of its “initiatives” on universal healthcare et al aren’t original and have been espoused by other political parties. You can’t, however, define the ideologies of say the SDP or Reform Party (at least I can’t) As for the WP’s First World Parliament, it might have caught on in the last election but I’m not so sure it will next time. The people might no longer just want a check, but some sort of change too.

The PAP itself knows that the “economic” narrative, out and out capitalism and raw meritocracy isn’t what people are looking for. That’s why it has been okay about going for moderate economic growth instead of growth at all cost; why it now uses the term “compassionate” meritocracy with the President making it clear that Singapore is a home, not just a “global marketplace”. (Note: he didn’t use the term “hotel” which was a fave word of the past when EMI-gration, not IMMI-gration was a troubling subject.)

It’s also why it promised a more “social” agenda, pumping more money in the second half of the Parliamentary term into preserving a good retirement for the seniors and eliminating heart attacks via medical bills.

What can Mr Tan and his team offer? Looking at their credentials, they are offering PAP-grown clones with anti-PAP brains. Just tick off the scholars etc he has… Then again, he’s got a couple of cross-overs from other parties. People ask why he doesn’t just join a political party instead so that opposition votes won’t be diluted or split. I thought the answer would be obvious: He wants to head his own party with his own platform rather than subsume himself (and his ambitions) under others. In fact, he’s pitching for a coalition, with himself (?) at the head. This is a man with big, big plans. Not as a check, but for a change.

What happens from here? Seems after the party is registered (question: why didn’t he register it first and then publicise? In case, he can’t get it registered?) various policy papers are going to be put forth. I look forward to reading them, and seeing how they compare with other papers put up by the other parties and what the G is offering.

It’s good to be offered choices. But we’ve got to do plenty of thinking before doing the picking…

Not a Hard Choice: Just read

In Politics, Society, Writing on April 30, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I finished reading Hard Choices by Donald Low and Sudhir V in one sitting today. Yup. It’s that grabbing. A bit cheeky to call it Hard Choices but it’s appropriate since it challenges some of the Hard Truths we’ve always been told about. It’s a quite balancing act for the authors who also include academic Linda Lim based in United States: They’re careful about not knocking the past too much; instead they maintain that the past might not be a good guide for the future. They are, as they say, challenging the consensus or rather, exploding some myths.
The authors acknowledge that policymakers have made adjustments by, for example, moving left of centre in social policy. One thing they couldn’t avoid saying: The policy of flooding the country with foreign workers over the past decade in the go-for-full-throttle economic growth era is to be blamed for some of malaise we face today: stagnant incomes in the lower ranks, low productivity because of access to cheap labour and pressure on housing prices which now need cooling.
For baby-boomers (and almost baby boomers like me), there was this interesting bit: Singapore’s strong reserves were built on the backs of this generation and it makes sense for the state to return some of it to the generation as it ages rather than find new ways of getting more out of the younger people.
At the risk of summarising, I think the key thesis goes something like this:
a. Some of the strongly-held political and economic mantras that helped Singapore to what it is today might not apply if we want to move forward. The “vulnerability’’ narrative, for example, has outlived its usefulness as an inspiration for most citizens while the vision of a “global city’’ might actually be pretty limiting. Why not try for a vision of a just and equitable city?
b. Rather than look at policies from a dollars and cents or economic point of view, why not look at them from the point of view of strengthening the social compact and social trust. Singapore, in the words of Linda Lim, is more than just its GDP. Citizen “well-being’’ is a better measurement of success than economic growth rates.
c. The G should rid itself of some mindsets such as contending that more welfare leads to an erosion of work ethic or automatically reaching for “co-payments’’ and “means-testing’’ and monetary incentives to achieve social policy goals. Rather, all citizens should be guaranteed a basic level of help, that is, go “universal’’ rather than hew to a targeted approach. Ensure one level, and then means-test for the rest. Also, most “welfare’’ approaches seem to be contingent on “employment’’. But what if people are involuntarily unemployed in these times of economic restructuring? What about wage loss insurance?
d. The trouble with sticking to past models and predicting the future based on extrapolations is that the system becomes rigid, inflexible – and late. Like the drastic imbalance in housing supply and demand in the past, or how more rail lines were needed far sooner than expected.
e. The country’s leadership is an incestuous one (that’s my phrase) populated with like-minded people thrown up through similar channels and reinforcing a group-think mentality. Because they had benefited from the policies of the past, they conclude that what had worked for them would work for future generations. That is, they are already “biased’’.
All in, the authors are calling for mindset change if Singapore wants to move forward. Some of the principles policymakers have held on to may no longer work. Higher income taxes do not necessarily crimp work ethic nor is a universal approach to welfare always accompanied by laziness on the part of the recipients. The view that housing is an “appreciating asset’’ needs to change since it’s so vulnerable to booms and bust and not easily “unlocked’’ as a retirement fallback.
They call on the G to have less of a stranglehold on public discussion and dialogue, contending that political openness is needed for ideas to flower and flourish. The book has some policy solutions or alternatives as well, some of which would be unpalatable to the G, like taking out the “political’’ element out of grassroots bodies, such as the People’s Association.
The Singapore of today, they argue, demands “equity’’ and “fairness’’.
I’m sure I’m not doing the book much justice at all. So why don’t you just go buy it and read?

Deciding on MP “material”

In News Reports on April 29, 2014 at 12:15 am

Way back in late 80s, when I was a rookie reporter in a past life, a colleague and I set about piecing together an article about the People’s Action Party’s soon-to-be unveiled candidates for the 1988 general election. It was a tough job because it was a big slate of about 20 (the George Yeo batch) and we went about verifying each name one by one. The PAP wasn’t saying anything so it was a tough job nailing each man and woman in white. It took us two months. Although convinced that we got it right, our editors sat on the piece, worrying that its (premature) publication would land us in hot soup. They sat on it for so long that we were “scooped’’ by our rivals in the Chinese newspapers. Then it was published, late by journalistic standards. My colleague and I were none too happy of course but we were assured that caution, especially during such an explosive time, should be the order of the day.

Some reasons for the hesitation:

  1. We could have got a name wrong.
  2. The name could be right, but if he or she was “dropped’’ at the last minute, then it would be such a loss of face for the person wouldn’t it?
  3. Do we want to upset the PAP by tipping its hand so early and without its sanction?  

 We were too young to argue too much with our bosses but we did: the names can’t be much of a secret if the grassroots leaders and their colleagues were spilling the beans and we have pictures of the candidates in leading roles at community functions.

Fast forward and you now have the PAP itself announcing its candidates or “potential’’ candidates early. It is doing so, it said, in response to complaints that their charges are being “parachuted’’ for the fight only at the last minute. Best that they be given some grassroots exposure and publicity.

The PAP could have sent them to the ground quietly if the idea was to only expose them to grassroots work. This means that when it comes to unveiling them, it could say that they have experience under their belt and not just degrees to their name.  For the candidates, it means time to build a corps of party workers and to lead them – rather than be led by them. 

By going public, you can bet that people would be dissecting their resumes and the Internet would be doing a CSI on them. (One “candidate’’ must be regretting his remark lamenting how he didn’t “score” in Primary Five maths, made in an interview two years ago.) Well, the five so far have probably braced themselves – for bouquets from those who know them, and brickbats from those who don’t.

Here are their names:

  1.  Ms Chan Hui Yuh, 37, a director at construction company Infra Waterproofing
  2. Mr Kahar Hassan, 45, a deputy director (infrastructure) with rail operator SMRT.
  3. Mr Chong Kee Hiong, 48, chief executive of OUE Hospitality REIT Management
  4. Saktiandi Supaat, 40, head of foreign exchange research at Maybank,
  5. Amrin Amin,35, corporate lawyer at Watson, Farley & Williams Asia Practice

Good for them, I say.

If you have an ideological position, don’t be coy about identifying with the political party you are with. The spotlight will be shining on you and even if you are “dropped’’ at the end of the day, it would have been an experience to remember. Can add it to your resume! And please continue your work at the grassroots level.

And if you decide to say “no’’ to being nominated because it’s got too hot in the kitchen for you and the family even before the hustings, then it’s good for the rest of us, because you clearly aren’t cut out for political life. And please continue your work at the grassroots level.

While the PAP is letting them loose on the ground to test their mettle for MPship, another call is being made for names to be put up as Nominated MPs. Of the nine NMPs, six will not be seeking second terms. (NMP Eugene Tan has confirmed that he is carrying on, by the way).

Former PAP stalwart and presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock has weighed in on his FB page, reiterating his opposition to the scheme. He was the only PAP MP who said no to the scheme which was first mooted in 1990 to give people a wide representation in Parliament or quell demand for opposing voices, depending on your point of view. I reported on the debate and I must say Doc stuck to his position:

 “Parliamentarians must earn the right to speak in the House. To earn this right, he or she must get elected in a general or by-election. Being elected by his constituents, he is responsible and accountable to his constituents for whatever he says in the house. On the other hand, an NMP, not being elected, is not responsible or accountable to anyone. Also, by participating in an election, the MP takes the risk of losing and not being elected. This is not so in the case of the NMP. So Parliament, being the highest legislative body in the land, must not be seen to promote non-risk taking, which is not in line with government’s call to its citizens.’’

I supported his position then, with a column on how elected MPs shouldn’t be given such short shrift. That it was important that a representative in Parliament be in touch with public sentiments by dealing with them at ground level. I still say it is bad to have MPs and Nominated MPs sitting cheek by jowl in Parliament because it is an indictment on elected MPs who, presumably, aren’t able to represent the whole spectrum of the people. There was a sop thrown to the dissenting PAP MPs then (Dr Tan wasn’t the only vocal one although he was the only one who said “nay’’) – that it was for MPs to decide every term on whether they would let NMPs into the House. But this “sop’’ has been taken away. The NMP scheme is now carved in stone.

In his FB post, Dr Tan noted the changes in the scheme which was intended for non-partisan and independent voices but has since evolved into “a path that should never have happened – specifically by allowing sectorial or functional group representation”.

“So you have NMPs representing trade unions, tertiary institutions, professional bodies, businesses, arts and theatres, social services and sports. These are civil society groups with vested interests. Can they be truly non partisan?’’

Remember that the NMP scheme didn’t have a good start with just two NMPs in the pioneer batch. Now, the full quota of nine is being filled every time with even more applications to the Parliamentary Select Committee to look over now that “sectors’’ are invited to submit names.

But Dr Tan has a point about sectoral representation, although one can quibble with his definition of “non-partisan’’ as groups which have vested interests. It is terribly odd for the labour movement to be considered a “sector’’ in need of representation when you have so many labour MPs including their chief who sits in the Prime Minister’s Office. It is also terribly odd for the People’s Association to lead a “sector’’ when every PAP MP has links with it or for the National Council of Social Service to be only body representing social service.  

Dr Tan also said: “At the same time, there are many other groups representing clan associations, religious organisations, minority races, new citizens and people of different sexual orientation, all wanting their voices heard in Parliament. Naturally, they are unhappy that they are not allowed representation in Parliament under the NMP scheme.’’

He noted that they can lobby sitting MPs to reflect their concerns, but he didn’t say that they, too, could try and get into the House through the “independent’’ route, not as a sector representative.  

I still think the NMP scheme is a slap in the face of elected MPs, but I cannot deny that some NMPs have been able to raise issues that MPs, chary of going against the party line, would not. The likes of Prof Walter Woon, Viswa Sadasivan and Siew Kum Hong come to mind as sharp debaters with strong points of view. And given what PAP Hri Kumar Nair and WP’s Sylvia Lim said recently about their party Whips – it only justifies further the need to have NMPs.

I recall a Straits Times columnist who called for the NMP scheme to be made more transparent a few years ago. So far, we only know of who succeeded, not who applied. It is time for the House to lift the veil on the scheme and share details of how it came to the conclusion that such and such a person should be allowed into Parliament. It is even more critical that it does so for the coming batch because they would be in the House at a critical juncture of our national life: when the G makes a bigger “left’’ turn in the run-up to what looks to be a very interesting and controversial general election.

If someone wants to be nominated as a Nominated MP, announce it. The sectors can do so on their behalf and those who brave the independent route can’t possibly be so shy as to shun the spotlight which will be trained on them if they eventually succeed in being nominated.

Thing is, the NMP scheme is pretty much a fact of political life, despite Dr Tan’s misgivings. More people have grown comfortable with the idea of having them in the House, although some will still label them as “co-opted’’ MPs.

But do we need to “kick’’ the sectors into having representation by having such a structure? Is it not time to do away with it and have all go through the independent route? Also, must the sectors be represented if they already are, by sitting MPs? Surely some of them are strong enough as a force to make their views known such that the House would be forced to take them into account? (Note: most of the sectors’ constituent groups are “establishment’’ types like the universities in the “academic’’ sector.)

How many “independents’’ usually apply? About 30 or 40? Can past and current sector representatives say hand on heart that they are not beholden to the sector to protect its interest in the highest forum in the land? Can they say that they would subordinate sector interests for the national interest? Or is this even a point for discussion since NMPs are supposed to add diversity to the House?

Questions like the above would be moot (or least rendered less relevant)  if everyone went through the same route.

My bottomline: It’s going to be too hard to get rid of the NMP system but it is not so hard to refine the “application’’ structure or do away with sectoral representation altogether. It is definitely not hard for Parliament to give more details of what goes on behind closed doors when it weighs the worth of a nominated candidate.

The people are the ones who put MPs into Parliament and when MPs give themselves the power to decide who should sit with them, the people should get a look at how it’s done even when, and especially because, the people have no say.

That’s reasonable, no?  

 

 

Takeaways at half-time

In News Reports on April 26, 2014 at 1:56 am

At the risk of over-summarising, here’s a run-down of how a panel discussion on the G’s half-time report went. Please refer to earlier blog post on the report.

Top takeaways:

  1. The G is in a pickle, said the non-partisans on the panel. It’s got about two years to shore up its score with the people who seem to want more checks and balances but don’t seem to want the G to have more power to solve their “problems’’ which could really be unrealistic expectations.

 Quotable quotes:   

 “So the current situation looks something like this to me: A Government out of its comfort zone and unable to quite meet the expectations of Singaporeans and a citizenry demanding what the Government could not reasonably deliver considering the trade-offs, while entrusting it with less power than it used to have.’’ – sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

 “The second half of this term of Parliament is short simply because time is of the essence in wanting to try to fix the many hot button issues and put bluntly, time is running out. And in many ways like what Ern Ser says, the population may have some unrealistic expectations.’’ – NMP Eugene Tan.

 2,, Different groups of people have different expectations – and confidence – in the G’s ability to solve problems, with the most anxious being the middle-aged, sandwiched class. (Actually, methinks it’s a case of whether you see the glass as half-empty or half-full.)

Quotable quote:

“Now, look at another age category – the 35 to 44. They are less approving than the average of how government is doing now in elderly, the poor, healthcare and transport. When you ask them about the future, they are less likely to express confidence than the other groups, in the areas of the poor, health care, housing, transport as well as foreigners’’ – academic Gillian Koh.

“There is assessment of how their lives are being affected now, but there is also a realisation that not all problems can be solved straightaway and also an appreciation that things are being done that will lead to better outcomes.’’ – PAP MP Hri Kumar

 

  1. Both the People’s Action Party and the Workers’ Party members have to abide by the Whip, which holds their parliamentary votes in line. PAP MP Hri Kumar noted that WP has never uttered a contrary position to its own party line to which WP’s Sylvia Lim replied that this was because they are too small a group in Parliament and risk looking divided. Then they crossed whips…

Quotable quotes:

 “How many times have you heard a WP MP give a different view from the WP? Zero. A WP MP has never, in the time I’ve been in Parliament from 2006, stood up to say ‘I’m taking a different position from my party’. So if you think our Whip is thick, theirs is thicker and theirs is obviously more painful.”  – PAP MP Hri Kumar

“I don’t think many people would be comfortable with the fact that you have a whole House full of MPs from one party no matter how much they talk… because in the end you know that the party Whip comes in and that’s about it.” – WP MP Sylvia Lim

  1. Although immigration did not figure as the top hot button issue in the survey, it is the root of a lot of complaints about cost of living and accessibility, maintained the non-partisans. PAP’s Hri Kumar rebutted with charts on what the PAP had done to counter the impact of the foreigner influx – but which seemed to have gone un-noticed.

 Quotable quotes:

“The only question is whether it will manifest as an issue in and of itself or whether it will be fingered in a whole variety of other hot button issues, but certainly it will materially affect how Singaporeans assess the Government. And immigration is complex and it may not feature so prominently because no political party or candidate wants to be labelled as xenophobic or anti-foreigner; neither would any one party want to come across as a staunch supporter of more immigration. So you’ll see the parties continue to gingerly tread around this particular issue.’’  – NMP Eugene Tan

“There was a huge credit side which no one wants to talk about” – PAP’s Hri Kumar on the $5b Job Credit Scheme which saved jobs.

  1. Everything thing boils down to the big question. How will Singaporeans vote in the next election? Will good governance matter?

Quotable quotes:

 “There is an implied assumption in this survey that perhaps the way voters view policy progress or lack of progress will determine how they vote. While we do talk about all these policies and how they might affect the election, in the end how people really vote…could be affected by other things.” – WP’s Sylvia Lim

“There’s a very good chance that as our democracy progresses, the margins will become thinner and thinner…So it is all the more crucial that we hold the opposition’s feet to the fire because as the margins become very thin there will be a … possibility that an election will actually see a swing. And if it swings, people want to be assured that the new party coming in will have the capability to lead.” – PAP’s Hri Kumar

 “I think the Government will need all the time to the end of the point in order to get the performance up for people to really feel that the changes have mattered, they have made a difference in their lives.”  – Academic Gillian Koh

 

 

 

Overheard at the Istana dinner party

In News Reports on February 8, 2014 at 3:36 am

It’s tomorrow….and here’s a look at what they might be talking about among themselves

Table of ex-MPs

“Eh, Andy, you here also ah? How come? You step down in 2006 still got connection with PA ah?”

“Of course lah. PA invited Chiam, must invite me as well. Not bad ah? One-term MP can still come to dinner.”

“Poor thing lah that Cheng Bock. So popular in Ayer Rajah. Almost become President. But still cannot come to dinner. He’s 73 right? Cannot be considered pioneer generation ah?”

”Eh, talking about president, you think George Yeo is here? He qualifies right? 2011 then kena voted out.Was he going to run for President on our side or some other side?”

”Dunno. Bosses never say. But if we see him tonight, must ask him. But he might be too paiseh to say lah. At the end, president became Tony Tan.”

Table of military-cum-grassroot leaders

“This Tan Chuan Jin and Chan Chun Sing should have been fiercer. These generals should have whacked the Indonesians harder! Naming warships! By the way, we have similar warships or not? Bigger? Better? Faster?  

“Must ask DPM Teo and Lui Tuck Yew, former navy people. I’m waiting for Tuck Yew to talk back to the Indonesians. But he too busy with trains to talk about boats.

“Actually, our generals not even born yet during MacDonald House bombing. Who else still around at that time? Maybe should drag out Winston Choo to say something.’’

“Aiyah, we relying on our minister-generals’ guanxi with the current Indon armed forces lah. The Indon leaders also probably not even born yet.’’      

Table of conservative grassroots leaders

“What is this HPB thinking about? They keep saying family is basic unit of society but they go on and on about gay stuff. Now my son also saying he might be gay! I told him whether gay or not, make sure you do National Service and be a man!

“I think someone in HPB screwed up lah. You wait…sure backtrack.’’

“Anyway, my MP Lim Biow Chuan already filed question in Parliament. I told him he better do it because I know a lot of people not happy but don’t want to say anything.

“Wah! You told him ah…Very brave. You not scared people call you what..what…homophonic or a biggod or something?’’

Table of Aljunied grassroots leaders

“Eh, Victor, you good lah. Write letter to ST Forum page and all. Really need to whack those Workers’ Party people. How can? No licence also can hold fair. And then our own fair they come and kachou…”

”No lah. Simple thing. They didn’t answer Minister Khaw last time about contracts for their friends, so I just repeat lah. Must shut up that Pritam and Sylvia.”

“I think you better lie low lah. You also party branch chairman, not just CCC chairman. Already people saying PA cannot be PAP. You will cause us problems only…”

“Aiyah. Tell the truth lah. What to be scared of? Same complaint for so many years already. Still the same leh. I just carry on. See what those Workers Party people can do. They not here right?”

“Please lah. You think Lim Swee Say will invite them here?”     

Table of long-serving grassroots leaders

When PM going to speak leh. We all waiting for this pioneer generation package. Show me money! Huat ah!

What you think going to be inside? Sure something for health right? He said not going to be one-time right? Until the day I die right? My cholesterol very high already and they still serving this kind of rich food. Aiyoh.

You scared to die, just eat the loh hei lah. Free dinner.

The Party before the riot

In News Reports on December 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm

If not for Sunday’s riot in Little India, the MSM would have splashed an event earlier in the day, the People’s Action Party congress, all over Monday’s print and broadcast news. Actually, Zaobao kept the Prime Minister and PAP secretary-general’s speech as Page 1 lead. But it looked like ST made a quick decision to replace the story with what happened in Little India. PM Lee’s speech was moved to Page 2. I’m reading tea leaves here…

The decision isn’t wrong. The first riot in 40 years beats a party congress any time news-wise. Truth to tell, I was more obsessed with the whys and hows of the riot than I was in what the PAP leadership said although it was to be a re-making of sorts for the ruling party.

Belatedly, therefore, I went over the speeches at the party website and took a look at the resolutions approved.

I have to say I was a little disappointed. The PM’s speech was not unlike what he said at the National Day rally, except that it was customised for his audience of party members with references to the work done by stalwarts. The most significant thing was that a group will be set up to look at ageing issues, known as the PAP seniors group. This is not a gathering of old folks, the PM made clear, but of people, including old folks, who want to take a close look at the issues which affect our greying population.

That’s a good move. Politics-wise, it would give older party members a sense that they have not reached their expiry date of usefulness to the party. Nation-wise, a group of ordinary people, including older people,  looking at the multi-faceted issue of ageing might give all a better feel of problems than the numerous high-level committees which have discussed the matter in the past. Seriously, so much attention is given to the youth and young people issues that we forget that the bulk of the population will be the older folk. I am guilty of it too.

I don’t know how often I’ve told my undergraduate students that Singapore is “yours now’’. If problems arise, you are the people who will have to face them and solve them. Me? Hopefully nicely retired and lazing by the pool. This is why I push them to get interested in the Medishield Life discussions because hey, thanks, for paying my premiums when I get old(er). This is why I asked them to write about the URA Masterplan in the now-comatose Breakfast Network  because it will be realised in their lifetime. Me? Hopefully still ambulant in elderly-friendly spaces. I tell them about COE and property prices and say, they might be difficult for you to own. But then again, my generation lamented that it was more difficult for us as well when we compared ourselves to our parents’ generation. (The big houses were all taken…)   

My reasoning was faulty. The grey and the greying should take the bull by the horns and settle their own future. I think there is this idea that when you reach a certain age, your time has passed and the younger generation should step up to the plate, including thinking for you. This sort of thinking only adds to the perception that being old is to be a burden, whether on the family or the nation. We “consume’’ resources while the young people are to be “invested’’ in.

Older people are worth investing in too.

————————————————————————————————

Okay, I wasn’t too enamoured by what Minister Chan Chun Sing said about “communications’’ and exhorting the party members to do battle on all fronts. Too Churchillian, methinks, and where’s the war? It might be all right if this was a closed-door event; leaders will do what it takes to rally members. But an outsider looking in would be wondering what he meant by : “We must continuously and strenuously defend the common space for people to speak up.’’

“ If we do not stand up for what we believe, others will occupy that space and cast us into irrelevance. We must not concede the space – physical or cyber. We will have to learn from the 1960 generation of PAP pioneers – to fight to get our message across at every corner – every street corner, cyberspace corner be it in the mass media, and social media. We will have to do battle everywhere as necessary.’’

Fighting words.

So is it a common space to be defended or a space for the party to occupy?  Who are the “others’’? Other political parties or ordinary voices which do not sing the PAP song? Is this intended to herald in the knuckle-duster era?

I suppose we should simply read it as a call for party members to stand up and say clearly that the PAP is delivering the right stuff in the right way for Singapore, for Singaporeans and with Singaporeans. Typical political party language.   

Mr Chan needs a better speech-writer.

 

Doubt on Day 5

In News Reports, Politics on February 11, 2013 at 6:34 am

Do you realise the Prime Minister likes talking in threes? I don’t mean three languages like he did in Parliament.

- He set three groups apart for special consideration (old, young and poor),
– He set out three issues that arise from the population conundrum (baby numbers, identity building and economic consideration)
– He gave three ways to make Singaporeans feel special (they are in the majority, they are better treated than others, they will be given the chance to upgrade and get good jobs)
– He pointed out three issues for further discussion (how to get Singaporeans to marry and have babies, how to restructure the economy while keeping it vibrant, how to keep Singapore’s identity strong while keeping the country open)

Well, that looks clear enough although I wish he was reported in threes, which would have made reading the whole of words in the media more simple. So did he or did he not “cast aside’’ the 6.9m population projection as BT put it? None of the other media said it that way, except BT. Rather, they focused on the 2020 review that is to come. Well, I think it’s good to kill this divisive figure, whether it’s a target, a projection, a planning parameter or whatever. I wish the PM would be more precise about this – so that we could put the figure to rest.

Threading through the speech was an unsaid acknowledgment that the G had miscalculated – again. This time, over the way it sold the White Paper. Much ink has been spilled on the way the G looks only at numbers and hasn’t felt the pulse of the people well enough to realise that the White Paper would rouse such resentment. It is, in fact, the first time I can ever recall that the G making such a mis-step, a terrible mis-step, since it had already admitted that it did not realise how much resentment the people would feel over the recent influx of foreigners straining the infrastructure. It was then actually a mis-step on top of a mis-step.

So did the PM manage to paper over or patch up the differences over the White Paper? Did he manage to persuade the people to get over the emotional hump posed by the 6.9m figure as ST commentator Chua Mui Hoong put it? Did he manage to at least repair the bridge between the government and the governed, and make a start at restoring public confidence in the G’s ability to solve problems, as ex-ST editor Han Fook Kwang put it in The Sunday Times?

I wish I was in Parliament to listen to the proceedings as it seemed that even the PAP MPs seem to have caught on to the Us-versus-the G rhetoric so much so that MP Denise Phua has to call on all to stop the G-bashing already. I liked what she said, that the MPs will work harder but that the only promise that can’t be made was to “turn our cheek every time we are being slapped’’.

In fact, the G has been subjected to quite a bit of “slapping’’ and it has been turning the other cheek. It’s very un-PAP like. The apologies, the clarifications by ministers no less…but I don’t think they assuaged the population. In fact, it only whets the appetite for more. I feel sorry for the G and actually wonder if the PAP would be able to persuade more people to join its fold, so unpopular it has become. I have to say this: the PAP G is looking soft, and I don’t like it. And those who have always liked a tough G – and that could be a big group – might be wondering at our wavering politicians.

Or maybe I have got it all wrong. There are still plenty of people who are firmly behind the PAP. Maybe, in their heart of hearts, even those who are pro-opposition will admit that there isn’t any other group with the ability to take its place in Government. Even the Workers’ Party doesn’t think it can do the job. At least not yet.

But what’s the bet that even if the PAP delivers on its promises to strengthen and expand the infrastructure in the next few years, that the people’s anger will abate? That the trust that has been forged between the older generation and the older leaders would be replicated among the younger set?

Politics is an emotional thing and come 2016, what will happen? Will a political tsunami accompany the silver one?

I dread to think.

Duelling on Day 4

In News Reports, Politics on February 8, 2013 at 1:33 am

There is some merit in NOT carpet bombing the news. I read ST’s coverage of Day 4 and got thoroughly confused about what’s happening. Stuff kept getting repeated. Quotes got repeated too. Seems no one person is looking over the whole coverage.
And those boring, boring headlines. Yesterday’s headline was about a “major’’ shift in planning infrastructure. Today’s ST headline was yet another “major’’ shift in the economy. I don’t think anything quite beats the headline for the first day of debate : that the White Paper was for “the benefit of Singaporeans’’.

Here’s where the smaller papers do much better – pick the relevant points and home in on them. But I suppose ST has to labour under the burden of being the newspaper of record (of sorts).

BT homed in on the G’s objections to a total foreign labour freeze advocated by the Worker’s Party while Today gave an excellent account of the PAP-versus-WP sword play. I could follow it, because each cut and thrust was well juxtaposed, with relevant backgrounding. I thought its insertion of PAP MP Lim Wee Kiak’s apology to WP’s Low Thia Kiang right at the top of the article was a stroke of genius: It reflected how tense and impassioned the debate had become for Dr Lim to tell Mr Low to “turn up his hearing aid’’. Ooh, what a cut! For which Dr Lim was good enough to apologise for.

Sorry. The rant above was just me using my ex-journalist lens while reading the newspapers.

Back to Day 4.

You know, I almost expected an apology from Mr Wong Kan Seng. This was the minister who presided over the whole population growth and who turned on the tap big-big. He was a pretty tough nut then, putting down criticisms of immigration. I guess he was only doing what he had to. I wish he had said more about those years of exploding numbers, never mind that PM Lee had already said that the G lacked foresight then.

I also wish (well, almost) the WP had never put out its paper. Then we might get down to tackling some points in the White Paper instead of witnessing point scoring, jibes and snide remarks. Then again, if the WP didn’t, we wouldn’t be having a debate on whether the tap should be shut tight, or opened slightly. Clearly, the WP’s no increase in foreign workers position is being attacked, both in and out of the House. I can’t agree with the WP either. No increase at all? Rather too drastic. I know it’s the WORKERS party, but it can’t mean that it is so totally against employers as not to give them a bit of room to hire a few more people? By the way, ordinary Singaporeans employ foreigners too, as maids. And nursing homes need foreign helpers too.

I want to see the PAP MPs and Nominated MPs get down to other issues.
Can we, for example, have a clear definition of what is the Singapore core? I don’t think PAP MP Alex Yam’s use of the apple – which he brought into Parliament – quite makes it. You eat the apple (which I presume stands for foreigners) and you throw away the core!
So must the Singapore core be born and bred – as WP’s Sylvia Lim put it? Or can we be Singaporeans out of conviction and choice, as Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin said quoting the late PAP ideologue S Rajaratnam?

Hopefully, this can be settled today. Along with it, I hope the sentiments of the minority communities can be addressed too. I count at least three Malay MPs who have wondered if the racial makeup will stay the same and the status of Singapore Malays in 2030. Then there was an intriguing comment by Nominated MP R Dhinakaran on the worries of the Tamil-speaking Singaporeans being swamped by the non Tamil-speaking Indians.

The Eurasians? Speaking for myself, I don’t care lah. But I don’t know if others do.

ALL MPs should work harder

In News Reports, Politics, Society on February 4, 2013 at 1:05 am

So now you have ministers stumbling over themselves and each other to explain the 6.9m figure. It’s not a target, not a prediction, not a projection. It’s a planning parameter, a worst case scenario. In other words, we might not hit it. So please don’t worry. Thing is, if we don’t hit it, the White Paper makes it seems like we will not even make 1 to 2 per cent growth (which is really low going by the standards we’re used to). Is that really the case?

In any case, Parliament sits today and a whole bunch of people are speaking up, including all the opposition MPs. I hope they dispense with the niceties and cut to the chase and don’t all start lauding the White Paper for its comprehensiveness and then immediately go on to do the popular thing of talking about the people’s worries of living in a crowded space.

Can we hear some substantial views instead about how to keep Singapore going, an analysis of the assumptions the White Paper has made, and deeper look at particular parts of the paper?

Based on what I’ve read online and offline, some strands of thought have emerged. And yes, some are contradictory.
a. Is the G too fixated on GDP growth and have simply worked backwards to come up with the numbers? Does GDP growth equate to higher standard of living? Some have pointed to Nordic countries which have kept populations small while still achieving a quality life style.

b. Is the G paying enough attention to the baby front? Should we be devoting even more resources to have more babies?
Suggestions:
– Take a look at Singapore’s adoption processes and see if things can be made easier for couples who can afford it to adopt an “instant’’ Singaporean brought up in the Singapore way. And who will serve NS.
– Or put all our effort into raising the fertility rate, that is, really, really subsidize potential parents. (Then you have to deal with where the money is coming from – single taxpayers?)
– Convert long-staying foreign spouses to PR and then to citizens (TNP had a story last weekend about a poor Indonesian who has been rejected time and again even though she’s bringing up Singaporean children as a widow of Singaporean husband) Of course, some would make the point that these foreigners are not economically active, hence why give citizenship…? (That’s the problem when Singapore men marry down. Serious.)
– Slay the sacred cow of the ban on dual citizenships. After all, it’s not uncommon to hear even Singaporeans saying they will jump ship if things get too crowded. And some 200,000 already living abroad anyway. Plus there are long-staying foreigners here married to Singaporeans and think that giving up their citizenship marks a betrayal of their homeland. Usually the better-educated men. (That’s the problem when Singapore women marry up. Serious).

c. Cost of living versus standard of living is something that should be explained. Are they necessarily opposed to each other? An ST Forum Page writer raised this matter today and it’s worth elaborating that keeping cost down means somebody else is going to suffer. I mean, if taxi fares remained low, you wouldn’t have so many people wanting to be taxi drivers because they realise they can now make a decent living driving…But of course, I would STILL complain leh. Human nature.

d. Another point on cost of living. Dare we slay the sacred cow about “home ownership’’? Our home ownership push is so successful that every newly formed family expects to own a new home asap if not immediately – and then they scream about high prices. Thing is, is renting or leasing such a bad thing? If something is out of reach, then you settle for the next best before you can afford what you want. I am not talking about rental flats from the G which should only be for those who are in real dire straits. But renting from the rental market. Why should only foreigners be tenants? Can’t Singaporeans rent homes too? Or too paiseh?

e. Businesses are screaming about tightening of foreign labour in the immediate term and how they will have to close down or relocate. This is in contrast to the ordinary people’s views: They think already too many here. I guess some business people figure that this is “forced’’ restructuring of the economy into the higher value-added services sector although it wouldn’t be politic for any G man to say so. Then, there’s this question of productivity. It would be good if we have an update on whether the productivity incentives are bearing fruit – and whether more can be done to make it easier for businesses to access. Even the planners admit that 2 to 3 per cent growth is a stretched target – which begs the question of why it is in the paper in the first place. And what would change if the target isn’t met? We bring in more foreigners to achieve GDP growth or throw in even more incentives for baby-making?

f. All those plans for more rails, reclamation etc is nice. But one wonders how we are going to pay for them. So the projected GDP growth is enough to cover the cost of laying rail lines and building new homes? Or are we looking at the possibility of dipping into reserves on the premise that we’ll be investing in Singapore’s future and averting a future crisis? By the way, who’s going to sell us sand?

I’m sorry if I’m not very coherent. I guess the subject matter is so vast that to come up with something sharper is difficult. Or I’m just stupid. You know, I’m looking forward to hearing the MPs speak. A couple of opposition parties have already said their piece but not the Workers’ Party. I know Mr Low Thia Khiang is trying to project a moderate image and seems to expect to only serve as a “check’’ or co-driver. You can bet everyone will be watching the party’s performance in this regard. With so high a margin of victory in Punggol East, we expect a rigorous performance. No less. And from the PAP MPs too, if they don’t want to labour under the perception that they merely parrot the G’s line which is why the G needs a “check”. And from Nominated MPs as well given that they have picked because they have some level of expertise in some areas. Bring that expertise to the fore please.

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