Posts Tagged ‘Workers Party’

The WP-NEA affair over a fair

In News Reports on October 17, 2014 at 2:50 am

Remember all that fuss about a Chinese New Year fair in Hougang? How the temporary stallholders got hauled up for illegal hawking? And they thought the t Workers’ Party town council had got all the permits ecetera? Well, they compounded their fines but the town council refused to. See you in court, WP told the National Environment Agency.

I had wondered why the WP didn’t just compound the offence and get on with the business of running the town council. From reading the reports over the past couple of days, I can only surmise that it wanted to make a point about the jurisdiction of a town council and the role of the Citizens Consultative Committee (read: pro-PAP grassroots group).

Not that WP has a hope in getting their points across when the issue is so cut-and-dried: You needed a permit, you didn’t get it, you broke the law.

It wasn’t for want of trying though. The WP counsel wanted to look at whether the requirements for a permit for a temporary set-up were even valid or necessary, especially since the set-up is in an area under the town council’s charge. Why then, for example, the need to also get a supporting letter from the CCC which, by the way, approves the setting up of pasar malams etc.

Seems the line of questioning was deemed irrelevant.

Of course, we need to abide by the law. We need to make sure temporary set-ups are safe, hygienic, don’t add to noise, don’t bother residents and don’t pose a problem to traffic. We expect officialdom to do the needful. WP’s chairman Sylvia Lim argued that this wasn’t about “cooked food’’ nor was it a trade fair. It was a community  a mini-fair, with just half a dozen stalls selling CNY paraphernalia – and therefore did not require a permit.  Except that the WP didn’t make this plain to the NEA. It’s not clear from the reports whether even if it did, it still needed to get a permit for the stalls – with the CCC approval. The fact is that the WP TC had started the process of application but stopped corresponding with the NEA half-way. (Guess it got fed up with the red tape? Or saw a chance to get its grievance out in the open?) It went ahead with the fair even though NEA had threatened enforcement.

Sigh. As I did then, I feel sorry for the stallholders caught in the middle. It’s always the small people who get trampled on.

Anyway, the case is over and verdict to be delivered on Nov 25.

Just three things…

In News Reports on February 20, 2014 at 3:24 am

Plenty of interesting stuff today. I’ll just do it from a numbers point of view on just three bits


That’s the maximum fine Singapore wants to levy on firms who burn forests in Indonesia and the wind blew the smoke over… That’s quite radical given that we’ve had so much talk about how difficult it is to put a legal onus on people to do right outside national boundaries. Lots of problems of enforcement, for example. Rather than discuss if the penalty is too low, which appears to be what people are saying, shouldn’t we be talking about whether it can even be enforced?

The trouble with those plantation firms is that they all deny burning anything and have a zero-tolerance burning policy. It’s those down the line, so they say, sub-contractors and individual farmers and such. And the Indons aren’t quite sharing enough info on who is burning where. How to even know who to take to court in such circumstances?

Also interesting is how the errant “burners’’ will be nabbed. Those managing the companies have got to step into Singapore. If I were a plantation owner, I’d just stay away. Or maybe we’ll just go after the Singaporeans sitting on the boards of these companies first.  

Anyway, it’s up for public consultation. Wonder what the big plantation firms will say…

40 minutes

Those who were at the COI hearing yesterday (and there were not many beyond journalists) were treated to a video clip on what happened in Little India on the night of the riot. Seems like the bus driver had too much on his plate that night to even catch sight of the Indian worker who tried to keep pace with the bus and died under it. Plenty of specifics were given out, such as the speed at which the bus was crawling and how long the man chased after it before he seemed to have lost his footing. The driver isn’t being charged with anything and it would appear that the video is testimony of how he couldn’t have done anything to prevent the sorry accident from happening. ST reported earlier that he was relieved, for which it was whacked by the COI chairman for contempt of court.

The COI is really laying down the law here, castigating those for trying to “influence’’ the proceedings by interviewing witnesses, for example. The chairman, an ex-judge, also made it clear that the panel wasn’t comprised by idiots to be led by the nose simply because someone from the Attorney-General’s Chambers is leading evidence, something which civil society activist Vincent Wijeysingha had criticised in a letter in TODAY.

$1.12 million

The Workers Party town council said it was owed this much by the previous town council. That was given by the HDB and Citizens’ Consultative Committee for Community Improvement Projects. The MND said there was nothing owed according to its own records. And contrary to WP’s earlier statement that it didn’t get any info from the parties, MND said it furnish the info twice.

That’s just one thing that cropped up in the G’s decision to ask the Auditor-General to go over the town council’s books, which its independent auditors had disclaimed an opinion on. Note that a “disclaimer” is not as bad as an “adverse’’ report, but it was good enough for the G to intervene because of the involvement of public money. Some $22 million can’t be matched but the WP is on record as saying that nothing improper or illegal happened, like the money going into the wrong hands or gone missing. WP’s Low Thia Kiang did say, however, that there might be “technical issues’’ in terms of complying with auditing requirements.

Looks like the G is pretty focused on nailing one big point: the role of party supporters as the TC managing agents and how much of a cut they get from handling TC projects.

I guess some will look at it as G persecution of the opposition ahead of the next election. But what do the Aljunied-Hougang residents think? Are they even following this? Because at the end of the day, whatever the outcome of the audit, it’s their opinion that counts unless criminal wrong-doing is exposed. Or are there other “penalties’’ that the Auditor-General can impose?


Opining on the disclaimer of opinion

In News Reports on February 15, 2014 at 4:24 am

I think a lot of people learnt a new phrase this week: disclaimer of opinion. It refers to how there’s not enough information or evidence for an opinion to be formed. Odd. I would have thought the absence or lack of such info or proof would be enough for anyone to form an opinion which will be : How can leh?

Question: Is a “qualified’’ auditor’s report that has a disclaimer of opinion consider better or worse than an “adverse’’ report?

I am no accountant or auditor so I guess I’ll have to speculate on why there are missing pieces in the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East financial report that defied the auditor’s ability to give a view.

  1. The dog ate the minutes and records that the auditors wanted
  2. They were destroyed in a flash flood or blackened by the haze
  3. Some of the missing stuff is with the previous owner/agent and they don’t want to give them to us for some reason.
  4. They contained some embarrassing stuff so they were hidden from sight.
  5. We misplaced all the receipts or threw them down the rubbish chute or recycled them.
  6. So long as residents don’t complain, why do we need to keep complicated accounts that will take time away from doing what the residents really want?
  7. The more info we give, the more fault people will find with us.
  8. Hmm… what are receivables anyway?

All is guesswork and as such, cannot form the basis of an opinion by the way.

Anyway, the battle is afoot! There goes the G in the form of the National Development ministry making hay of the independent auditor’s report on the Workers’ Party’s past work. Snipe! Counter-snipe! Snipe! Counter-snipe! You can expect the People’s Action Party to add to the exchange of fire, to rock the confidence of voters in their elected members’ ability to manage their housing estate in a financially prudent and competent manner.

The WP is feeling pretty aggrieved at what it called insinuations in the media that it had not been aboveboard in its town council dealings. There have been hints of dishonesty or favouritism, yes. If so, the WP should the right thing: sue the offending parties for libel. Or the MND as regulator should take the town council to task in some way under the powers accorded to it.

Yet, there seems to be stalemate. One which started ever since Aljunied GRC came under the WP.  To be sure, it has been entertaining. The PAP seems to be hitting back after the WP exposed the existence of a PAP company which managed its information systems. Tables have been turned and the WP looks to be on the defensive. The opposition seems to be digging in, or is it digging a hole for itself?

Efficiency and effectiveness have been a hallmark of PAP governance and when the town councils were instituted years ago, it was to impress that fact into voters. They were told their votes would have immediate consequences on their living environment as the elected political party would be running their neighbourhoods. Sure, Potong Pasir and Hougang, small, single-member constituencies were wrested from the PAP and they too had some teething problems, including the fact that the grassroots structure is entirely in the G’s hands. But over the years, residents reckoned that they were still good enough to run their estates, thereby voting the opposition in again and again. (Until the last GE when Potong Pasir went back into PAP hands)

It was a different ball game when a whole GRC was lost. It represented an opportunity for the WP to tackle bigger game. If it does well, then the PAP would have lost a key card: that only the PAP can manage estates in such a way that rubbish doesn’t pile up storeys high in the chutes. (Remember?) If it doesn’t, then the PAP can crow that it is right. If an opposition party cannot manage a GRC, would voters in GRC keep them or would those elsewhere vote them in? And how could it manage even bigger game, like the government of a country?

The problem, however, is that residents-cum-voters have never quite been inducted into town council work. All they care about are clean corridors, working lifts and low service and conservancy charges. How all three components come together, and are linked, are like alchemy to most people who are too busy making a living. And what role does the G, or the HDB, or the National Environment Agency or the People’s Association or the town council, or the Community Development Council or the political party branch play in the neighbourhood?

To residents, the work of the town council had seemed no different from pre-town council days. Talk of engaging residents in estate maintenance appear to be confined to getting them to vote on whether to get their blocks upgraded or a new colour scheme or fancy name for the neighbourhood. Perhaps, there was a jolt during the Lehman Brothers crisis when it appeared that town councils had lost money in investments. Maybe that year, more residents bothered to look up their TCs’ financial reports.

In any case, the PAP TCs seemed to be working like a collective most of the time although there are variations in the amount of S&C charges among the town councils and estate maintenance levels.

In recent time, I daresay residents have been getting an education in grassroot politics and financial management. Parochial matters like who pays for hawker centre cleanings, who gives out licences and the political connections of a managing agent would never have made big news in the past. Nor would the role of the Citizens Consultative Committee – and its advisers – be questioned as much as now.  Even the cancelled invite of Dr Tan Cheng Bock to an Istana party threw some light on grassroots politics.

You almost wished the HDB was back in charge so that residents can just go on living quietly without needing to get grimy.

The WP has been having a hard time of it.

It has had to face an entrenched grassroots system with significant financial muscle and oversight over some areas in the estate, and which has a member of the ruling party as its adviser. The system comes under the purview of the People’s Association headed by a minister. It is common to find key grassroots leaders wearing both the party and community hats.  

From four instances in its annual report that independent auditors queried in the WP’s first year as a mega-TC,  the number has now grown to 13. It seemed that the four instances which refer to the “handover’’ of Aljunied GRC from the PAP to the WP have still not been resolved. In a interesting riposte, the WP suggested that MND help it get the information from the previous auditors and other parties:  “Unless those agencies with the required information furnish them to the Town Council, it is likely that information gaps will remain and the accounts will continue to be qualified every year…In this regard, we note that the MND could well be the best party to assist the Town Council to resolve some of the key information gaps.”

No, MND did not say it would help out, but merely pointed out that the WP had pledged earlier that it would resolve them.

Question: Would the previous auditor, the CCC and the previous PAP TC please respond?

As for the other nine instances, the WP doesn’t seem to have an answer for the state of its financial accounts.

In its responses, it focused on tackling what looked like a direct contravention of TC rules, that it transfer funds into the sinking account. This was described as an oversight which had since been rectified. That is just one “save’’.

The bottomline is that more than $20million worth of funds seemed to be in question. A few instances cited refer to its employment of its managing agent FM Solutions who comprised party supporters. This is where the hints of “cronyism’’ are concentrated. The WP noted that the MND and auditors took issue with how the town council did not provide details of project management service fees paid to the agent. It said it was surprised as it was “standard practice for town councils to include project management fees in the managing agent services awarded’’.

Question: Is that true?

The WP gave an interesting piece of background on the hiring of the agent. When it opened job for tender, there were three interested parties but only one applicant, the incumbent who had ties with the party. One wonders what would have happened if no one wanted to take on the job?  Re-tender again and again? MND steps in? Or is it the responsibility of the political party to iron out that wrinkle, which means it would most probably turn to its supporters – and that’s wrong?.

But there have been other charges of over-payment and of projects awarded without tender. Allegations of impropriety. Various sums have been put out and it is likely that only close political observers would keep track, not the residents in Aljunied and Hougang.

The image painted, however, is that there is something not quite right in the town council, and that this is not in the interest of residents. What of next year’s financial statement when the TC would have to factor in the management of Punggol East?

Both the WP and the MND should stop the sniping and settle questions of illegality, irregularity or impropriety.  


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.

Detractors on Day 2

In News Reports, Politics on February 6, 2013 at 1:22 am

I wish The Straits Times had excerpted Inderjit Singh’s speech. It’s amazing how he swung both ways – hit the G and hit the Workers’ Party. But his words resonated with me although I wonder quite a bit about his call for a “breather’’ on growing the population.

He said that we should stop getting in new citizens and PRs for a while and get going on correcting the mistakes of the past, that is, ramp up the infrastructure. So let Singapore be like Dubai for a while, with transient workers. Sounds interesting. But this still doesn’t mean Singapore won’t be crowded, however transient those workers are. I am not sure whether Singapore is more worried about the rising number of foreign-born new citizens and PRs, or the absolute number of people crowding this space.

The New Paper had a lot more detail on his speech and in fact, focused parliamentary coverage on the veteran MP who has been known for speaking his mind and speaking up for small businesses. It seems like he wants some measures to make sure that PRs and new citizens are “committed’’ to the country. So much so that he actually suggested jailing PR boys who don’t do national service. He also wants a $50,000 levy on PRs who buy HDB flats on the open market and to sell them to Singaporeans only if they moved. Also, to tighten rules on the number of dependents a new citizen or PR can bring into the country.

You know, this is going to make Singapore pretty unattractive to foreigners who want to set down roots here – or maybe it will drive them to think harder about committing to Singapore. This isn’t just a place you can make money, you have to pay an admission price too.

Business Times chose to highlight MPs who like Mr Singh talked about fixing the current problems first. This was one way to gain Singaporeans’ trust that the G put the people first, they said. Some might say that this was refreshing, and even a little sad, to have even PAP MPs say that the G should do more about tearing down the cynicism gap. I find it tragic that ministers have to keep reiterating that the White Paper is for the benefit of Singaporeans. Call me naïve (okay, I am) but why would any elected G dependent on votes do things to earn the ire, rather the fury, of its voters? Unless there is a view that the G somehow aggrandises itself in the process…you know, infrastructure brings in big bucks… Now, whatever one might say about the PAP G, I don’t think it’s “like that’’.

I wouldn’t question the motives of the G at all, but I would question its methods. In this regard, I wondered at the way the PAP tackled the WP on its own proposals. It’s the usual strategy: Don’t talk so big; show me “how’’. I hope I don’t have to hear Mr Low Thia Khiang say, as he had before, that the WP’s role is to check the G, not to propose policy alternatives since it doesn’t have the resources at its disposal and is not ready to form the next G for some time…

But I think some of questions posed to the WP can be posed to the PAP too. I still have no clue how some of those projections are made. If labour force growth and productivity growth is so low, doesn’t it mean that it hasn’t done enough or the measures to raise both don’t work or won’t make much of an impact? How did it come to such conclusions? After a year of work, there must be some “numbers’’.
By the way, there was a bid to amend the motion on endorsing the White Paper yesterday to delete the words “population policy roadmap’’ so that the White Paper wouldn’t look like a population target but a land use plan to meet population projections. It’s a simple change and some would say even just cosmetic, but no harm done if the G is intent on “clarifying’’ that 6.9m number as something we all hope will not be reached.

So how should the debate proceed after Day 2? There is a letter in the ST Forum Page today that’s pretty useful methinks. Let’s put those big population figures out of the way on focus on just a few things – the low fertility, aging population, reliance on foreign labour, depletion of local workforce. That 6.9m number is too distracting, said the writer.

I agree.

Deciphering Day 1

In News Reports, Politics on February 5, 2013 at 12:32 am

OKAY, I am asking this question again. What happens after five days of Parliamentary debate on the White Paper? Doubtless, the paper will be endorsed given the People’s Action Party’s majority in Parliament. And then what? Will it be revised in any way to take into account comments and views made by the PAP MPs and Opposition MPs? Will we see the revised version? Or is this a done deal?

I agree with an MP who talked about the haste with which this White Paper seemed to be proceeding. ST commentator Chua Mui Hoong said the PAP was doing business-as-usual and tried to make the point that this debate was NOT usual. She stopped short though of saying anything more beyond giving reasons for the difference between this debate and others.

So we have DPM Teo Chee Hean sketching out the plan, arguing that the G was not pro-foreigner but intent on keeping the Singapore “core’’. I don’t think his points in Parliament went very much beyond what the White Paper said. I guess he’s saving some bullets when he has to round up the debate. Oh my, the dozens of civil servants who must be taking notes….

So, the WP opposes the plan. Of course it does. So do the National Solidarity Party and the Reform Party. The NSP wants a referendum while the Reform Party went into full scale attack mode on almost every point.
The WP thinks the upward boundary could be 5.9 million, if we squeezed the retirees, housewives etc back into the workforce and thought harder about getting more Singaporeans to have babies.

Actually, this is one point that the PAP should explain – its “resigned’’ attitude towards future TFR, as WP’s Sylvia Lim put it. How did it come to conclude that its marriage and parenthood package would only raise TFR to 1.6, from the current 1.2? Do we need more radical thinking?

Also, the policy changes to get Singaporeans back to work or to work longer – they have just started. So it doesn’t have much faith in them either? There’s the Special Employment Credit which encourages hiring of older workers, re-employment legislation which just kicked in last year. The latest labour force statistics comparing last year and 2011 showed that the employment rate of women aged 25-54 is up (from 73.0% to 74.0%) and the employment rate for older residents aged 55-64 is up from 61.2% to 64.0%. Is this not a helpful sign? Or still not enough?

I wish the White Paper gave more insight into how the planners do projections. I mean, the sort of statistics that would explain how the big numbers that so plague us come about. Economist Donald Low has pointed out that the White Paper seemed to lack research. I agree – or maybe the planners think most of us wouldn’t be able to understand the research anyway? That this is a paper that’s pitched to the general population? If so, shame on them. For a paper as important as this, it should justify all its numbers.
Instead, we are supposed to take the big numbers at face value, trusting that the planners have worked through the numbers? But the same question can be thrown at the opposition as well. How did it come to 5.9 million as the upper limit? It’s not enough to say “our projections show’’…Hmm. What underlying numbers are we talking about?

Also, did the planners look at how other countries do it? Did they remove the bias against welfarism, as MP Seah Kian Peng put it, and keep an open mind about the practices that can be adopted/adapted from, say, the Nordic countries? Because you know what…without such references, the planners looked like they were planning Singapore’s future in an ivory tower. Someone, somewhere must have done something right that we can copy – no need for a uniquely Singaporean solution right?

As for the White Paper’s productivity targets – well, the employers seem to agree that they can’t achieve productivity by much and that’s why they need more foreign labour. Looks like all employers, big and small, are united on that front. No ifs and buts. This is going to be interesting….Which MP is going to speak for them in Parliament? Speaking for business will go against the grain so to speak. It will be highly unpopular to the people at large who want fewer foreigners in future. I suppose Nominated MPs – not accountable to the electorate – can play the role…

By the way, I like what Mr Seah said as reported in ST:

The Government does not always know best, he acknowledged. “It may only know what is efficient, what is rational, what costs the most, or the least.”
Sometimes, he pointed out, it is right to do what the people want. “Not because we think it is right, but because they do.”
The Government must resist the “self-righteous, sanctimonious chant that ‘We do what is right, rather than what is popular'”, he said.

Hmm. I think PAP Ministers should take heed and think hard about how they come across to people especially on this topic. Win their hearts first, then their mind.
In this case, I don’t think ST did the PAP a service. Its coverage seemed focused on giving Mr Teo the stage, to the extent of excerpting his speech. It’s way too much. All it does is make him come across as defensive.


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?
– 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.

A post-BE conversation

In News Reports, Politics, Society, Writing on January 28, 2013 at 12:01 am

A post-BE conversation among Punggol East residents, members of the sandwiched middle class, and fed-up with the lack of facilities in the ward.

Mr Lim, married, no children, in his early 30s, lives with his parents, runs a small agency
Mrs Ho, 33, working mother of two, wants to have three
Mr Ali, 40, married with one child in primary school
Mr Fernandez, 25, single

Mr Lim: So what you think will happen now? Our rubbish will still be collected, right? My parents worried.

Mr Ali: Of course lah, the PAP can’t just walk away like that. But I don’t know how the town council will work. Now we’re parked under Pasir Ris-Punggol town council. You think WP will have problems getting stuff from PAP?

Mr Fernandez: No way the PAP will give problems. WP already raised this AIM business what. The PAP can’t risk another blocking tactic. But I keep wondering about the CDC. It will still look after us right? It has ComCare to give out. And what about PCF? You think it will set up kindergartens and childcare centres?

Mr Ali: If it doesn’t, I’m sure some businessman will do. Eh, Lim, you do lah. The Government already said it will have more anchor operators. But that covered linkway that Dr Koh promised? Is this from town council money or HDB? Not so clear.

Mrs Ho: Whatever happens, that Ah Lian better fix the childcare problem. She’s a woman, I expect her to speak for mothers like me. Good to have her join that Sylvia in Parliament. Except both have no children right? I hope they don’t think like that Chua Mui Hoong and Rachel Chang in that Straits Times – these single women! Can talk about what…entitled… parents taking money from single taxpayers…! And they better tell the Government to let my family go in the front of the BTO queue. Why they only let first-time families? What about my family? Need a bigger flat!

Mr Lim: Anyway, I’m glad we have our coffeeshop back. Past week, everywhere so crowded. I bump into the Ah Lian just now and said: Huat ah! I also saw that Dr Koh. I tried to avoid him but he came to shake my hand. I told him I didn’t vote for him. Told him nothing personal, just sometimes the PAP needs to wake up its ideas. You think he will come back here next GE?

Mr Ali: Got quite a slap already, might be a bit malu… you think he want to come back here? Even the Prime Minister’s last minute speech didn’t help him. He actually seem like quite a good guy. He salah. Should have joined WP. Now I think a lot of good people will join the WP. Got chance to get into Parliament.

Mr Fernandez: And no one will want to join the PAP! Yay! I guess they will have arm twist some civil servant or army officer to join and stand next election. And make sure all civil servants and SAF guys vote for them! Haha. They should never have made Michael Palmer resign. Now Eurasians only have that De Souza lawyer. Put another Eurasian and I vote for him!

Mrs Ho: You cannot think like that lah. So racist! I never liked that Palmer. His poor wife…you think we women welcome someone like him? The PAP should have fielded a woman. Hey, you know the marriage and parenthood package? We’ll still get it right? My husband and I thinking of having another one. Not going to put us last in the queue or anything?

Mr Ali: Alamak! Two not enough ah? My one already got so many problems. I can’t even help him do his homework. So tough. And then this year Primary Six, I can’t even understand all this IP business lah, what streaming lah. Eh, I thought you complaining about how much it cost to bring up children? And how your boss never give you leave when your children sick? And how you can’t trust your maid to look after them? Better think again lah.

Mr Fernandez: Anyway, that bus service and new coffeeshop better come soon. Real fed up eating at the same place. And Rivervale Plaza. They better go bribe the contractor to get it ready by June. If not, I might move out of this place. Find a babe. Get married. Get new HDB flat. Near my parents’ place so can get the grant. And maybe one baby so can get the bonus.

Mr Lim: Lucky you! My parents want me to move out but my wife and I don’t qualify for HDB. They won’t help me with the cash downpayment for that EC. Too expensive. Jialat. Everything so expensive. Everywhere so crowded. So many cars, always traffic jam. MRT also jam-packed. My business can’t get more foreign workers. I want a new car but thinking a second hand one better. How to survive like that? Tell you, PAP better wake up its ideas! Huat ah!

Mr Ali: You been going online or not? My son asking me why everybody so against the PAP. I think whatever PAP do, sure people will have something to say. Can’t do anything right anymore. Quite kesian. Mrs Ho: Eh, eh, see who’s coming…Low Thia Khiang right?

Mr Fernandez: Rock star!

Mr Ali: Come here! Come here!

Mr Lim: Huat ah!

The effect of this by-election

In News Reports, Politics on January 26, 2013 at 4:26 pm

There are only two things that will get ordinary Singaporeans to cheer – and that’s when Singapore wins a significant soccer match and when the Opposition wins an election. And so it was… just now. And I am not even talking about those at the counting centre or those who are die-hard supporters of the hammer. I gather it was quite noisy in Hougang.

Truth to tell, I thought the PAP would win. So much had been made of local issues – and if the constituents really thought that way, they would plump for the person who had the backing of the Government. This was also not Hougang, but a PAP ward for what it seems forever and ex-MP Michael Palmer was said to have been pretty good at working the ground. But it seems the voters thought: a) The WP can do the job in the ward as well too b) The PAP deserves a “slap” c) Singapore needs a plural Government d) We remember Lee Li Lian; we don’t know Koh Poh Koon e) Those national packages will be delivered anyway however we vote.

Any one of the five or a combination?

Now I suppose much will be made of the by-election “effect”. That the people want the PAP in power, but a by-election was a good chance to put in a new voice. The WP campaigned that way although I thought that it was only at its final rally that it got its act together to push the PAP back on the defensive. I thought it should have used its First World Parliament slogan. I thought it should have taken aim at AIMgate earlier in the campaign.

In fact, I thought the “hammering” that the WP got, at least online and from certain opposition quarters, for being so “conciliatory” towards the G – telling people that the policies need to mature and that it sometimes works with the G behind close doors, would not do it good. I thought Ms Lee was a bit of a damp squib, who would counteract the strong support from the WP leadership. I wondered if if those jibes about the WP being “arrogant” would work.

On all fronts, I thought wrong. And I congratulate the WP.

The BE result showed that voters considered the WP the dominant opposition party. A multi-cornered fight diluting the opposition vote? Nah. The disarray among the opposition ranks turning voters to the PAP side. No too. Now, what if the Singapore Democratic Party contested? How would the vote go? I almost wish it did, just so to hear from the voters on how they rate the SDP. My heart, though, really goes out to Singapore Democratic Alliance’s Desmond Lim. Just half a per cent, even less than the 4 per cent the last time round.

So what now? DPM Teo Chee Hean, anchor minister in that part of Singapore, looked so drawn and haggard. Both he and the PM did the courteous thing, thanking supporters and congratulating the victors. The voters have made their choice, they said. I was expecting something more…”and they would have to live with it…”…But no. I don’t know how Dr Koh feels. He must have realised it was risky never mind the Punggol boy- made – good tag. And never mind what I think was a tight campaign by the PAP, with quick counters after WP rallies and no mis-thought retorts and mis-timed attacks. I say he is a brave man. The thing is, the PAP says he will be fielded in future elections. And people will remember if he is NOT fielded in Punggol East again but in a safe GRC.

The PM wants attention back on national issues. Yes. The BE is out of the way. We should get back to national issues. Now with a bigger presence in Parliament, WP will have to live up to its words and act as a check. Or show the “value of political competition”, as Sylvia Lim said. Even if the WP does not have its own transport masterplan or marriage and parenthood package, the hope is that it will critique thoroughly those policies that have been just announced. Also, that it will get to the bottom of AIMgate – which it had provoked. In my view, it should come up with its own proposal on the “fundamental nature” of town councils, which is being studied by the National Development ministry. This it should do, now that it has even more town councils under its charge.

Anyway, the WP seems to have planned ahead, announcing date and venue of Ms Lee’s first Meet-the-People session. It is looking way ahead too, introducing four new faces (almost PAP-like I must say) at its last rally. It looks good to stay ahead of the rest of the opposition pack, although I am sure there will be some debate on whether olive branches should be held out to the other political parties.

The more difficult “thinking” will have to be done within the PAP though. It cannot simply content itself that this was just a by-election, and an opposition win was to be expected. I doubt that it will be complacent. I wonder now what new strategy will be formulated, whether in Parliament or in image. Its much vaunted “new normal” after the last GE doesn’t seem to have sunk in. Will it by the next GE? Or not at all. If so, the by-election effect might well sweep the general election.

You know what? There is someone I wish we could hear from. Former PM Lee Kuan Yew. What is he thinking I wonder. That the vote of the people is a terrible thing, as he once said?

Clever tactics

In News Reports, Politics on January 23, 2013 at 12:02 am

Reading the news reports on the by-election, it seems Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang is in a bit of a fix. I had wondered why he chose to “thank’’ PM Lee Hsien Loong for his comments over the weekend that the WP hadn’t been able to make much headway in Parliament with its own policy proposals.

At last night’s rally, he clarified that it was because the PM had reminded “all of us that the Workers’ Party is still not large enough to have the resources to make alternative policies’’.
“In the Westminster parliamentary system, an alternative government must be complete with a shadow cabinet and ample resources for policy research to verify and propose alternative policies. Currently, we have a small group of professionals and academics working behind the scenes to help MPs scrutinise government policies. But expecting a party with 6 elected MPs to form an alternative government is premature and unrealistic.’’

So that’s why you need one more WP member in Parliament, he reasoned. Clever twist.

The PAP seems intent on making sure everyone knows that the WP “got no ideas’’, much less the ability to form a government. But the second part about being in Parliament is about raising relevant questions. Mr Low cited his MPs who spoke up and on what issues. But in this instance, the WP will be better off giving statistics of PAP MPs who did not speak or made only minimal contributions in Parliament in the check-and-balance role. And the proportion (not number) of questions and interventions WP made in Parliament compared to the much more sizeable PAP.

If there is someone Mr Low should thank, methinks its SDA’s Desmond Lim who elevated WP to a “dominant’’ party in his self-styled online rally. He spoke about how there were only “two’’ voices in Parliament. (Gosh! I would have thought that in a shouting match, the WP would be drowned out by the PAP chorus). Of course, Mr Lim didn’t mean it to be complimentary. It was more like the WP was singing at the same pitch as the PAP (that’s my interpretation, btw) and not performing the “checking’’ function.

Seems a lot of firepower is being directed at the WP. Ex-members are speaking up online about past squabbles etc. Mr Low has had to go on the defensive and rebut charges of being “arrogant’’. Odd, I thought that was a label more commonly attached to the PAP.

You have got to admire the PAP in this regard. Unless it had all its MPs sign some binding non-disclosure contract, its ex-MPs generally stay silent – and even run PAP companies. They help out in party HQ or in other ways on the ground. They don’t deride the party. If they do, they go the whole hog – and run for President!!! (Sorry, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, couldn’t resist it)

The PAP also seems to have a “tighter’’ campaign, going with “the man with a plan’’ when it comments on the BE. It’s letting its “national’’ campaign be represented in the announcements on train expansion, property and baby boosters . Clever people.


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