Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

People in the news

In News Reports, Politics, Society on July 30, 2012 at 2:59 am

I didn’t read the papers over the weekend. And my life went on! Not good. Shows I can do without. But in the interest of this blog, and to hew to my view that a citizen must be engaged in this country’s conversation, I dutifully went through the copies….and found:

a. Gosh! Ram Tiwary got acquitted!

I have an interest in this Sydney double murder case because I was the ST news editor at that time and followed it real closely. It’s simply too dramatic a case. A couple of young Singapore men bludgeoned, knifed to death in their home – supposedly by their flat mate. Lives cut short, even as they were pursuing that Singaporean dream of getting a degree. I read all the statements, twists and turns, what the judges said. I noted every contradictory statement that Tiwary made. The wheels of justice grind very slowly in Sydney…after eight years, he’s acquitted by a court of appeal. After two previous juries pronounced him guilty.

I don’t suppose that means he is CLEARED of a crime, that is, it was definitely NOT him who did the deed? His lawyer says it’s due to lack of evidence, which means it is NOT clear that it was he who done them in. That is, he COULD have done it, but no one can prove it. Or maybe the acquittal was due a technicality as in his  earlier trial, where the judge was said to have wrongly advised the jurors. Or maybe the jury system isn’t working – can’t assess the evidence – so a panel of wise men had to deliberate….

Speculation is premature I suppose. But the implications for Tiwary and the families of the men are enormous, as Ben Nadarajan said on Saturday. Tiwary is getting a passport to return home. I wonder how he feels. Clearly, for the affected families, there is no closure for their grief. I can’t wait for the grounds of decision which led to his acquittal. Hopefully the wheels of justice in Sydney will turn a little faster.

b, Hmm….Desmond Kuek might be new SMRT head.

The third military man so far to head what is now commonly described as the “beleaguered” transport operator. Saw Phaik Hwa’s term now looks like an aberration. A woman. Spiky hair. Retailer’s instinct. Now man. Straight-backed. With experience in, I suppose, organisation and logistics. Looked like what the doctor ordered – go back and take the same old medicine. An image change as well although I’m sure the ex-CDF chief is eminently qualified for the thankless job of re-working the place. I like talking to military men. In my former  life, I’ve had to deal with them a bit. Usually straight-talking, no nonsense but in a language that only men in the military are familiar wth. I recall one encounter with Kuek when he was still CDF chief. He thanked me for a Page 1 story on some change to SAF. He liked it, he said. I said, Thank you, but I didn’t like the story at all. And we didn’t write the story for you..The surprise on his face! And those in uniforms  around him! Maybe I seemed ungracious and should have just said, You’re welcome. Maybe no one talks back  to the CDF? Anyway, he was interested enough to ask me why and I had a ball of a time telling him his people should speak in English instead of in army. And that half the population didn’tdo national service. He listened and I hope he will continue to do so. Heading the SMRT is more than a logistics exercise, it’s about dealing with people. The commuters. Whom we all know are an exacting bunch!

c. I mean…what is Tey Tsun Hang up to?

So an academic got caught receiving favours, including a Mont Blanc pen and two tailored shirts (sheesh, she took his measurements?) Ok, he was charged with getting sex as well – apparently in exchange for giving the girl favorable grades. Which makes you wonder – did those favours REALLY result in her getting a second  upper law degree? She really didn’t earn it? Or did they just have consensual sex, a two-night stand under the influence?  I suppose it’s like the CNB guy who will go on trial because he had sex with someone who is involved in a business transaction with an agency. Did the women get what they want or said to have wanted? Will someone re-look her academic credentials?  After all, the NUS moved the rest of his students when the case came up to other law lecturers….

Beyond that, it’s intriguing howTey keeps referring to his academic writings. One particularly was named – on the supine, suppliant profession and its practice (being deliberately vague here because of contempt of court rules). Many people have read that to mean that he thinks the charges are to punish him for his academic work. That’s muddying the waters a bit. Does he think the whole thing came up because “people” were digging for dirt as some  kind  of  payback for his academic work? That his work is so water-tight that “people” couldn’t catch him out for that and so went on another tack? It’s like getting Al Capone for tax evasion, or getting someone  for possessing porno at home? Except that people like me wouldn’t know about his academic work until this case came up….so it has backfired on the “people”….Stupid “people”. Sex and politics is such a heady mix…

d. And there goes…..M Ravi

Bipolar or eccentric. Publicity seeker or crank. Tree hugger. Singer. Dancer. Don’t know. But he’s certainly entertaining.

People, oh people…

In News Reports, Politics, Society on July 27, 2012 at 1:06 am

One of the objectives of the media must be to give citizens information to develop an opinion or make it easier for them to live their lives. Sometimes, the media points the way, taking apart a long-winded report or speech to give you the salient points (from their point of view of course) So there I was hoping that the various media have torn apart the Population report, pick out the key stuff and save me the trouble of reading the tome and figuring the statistics.

So I have from ST the point that the G wants feedback on birthrate, immigration etc. Not once, but twice within the paper. Helpfully, it seems the G has framed some discussion points like whether we would still tighten inflow of immigrants even if it means the population ages and shrinks and the foreign spouses of Singaporeans find it tough to get PR or citizenship.

I suppose there is a shock factor here: that there are plenty of Singaporeans married to foreigners who will want their spouses to live here – and they really haven’t said much in this on-going debate so far. Trouble is, how many of them – and their children – are here? ST doesn’t say but a graphic gives a 15 per cent figure of the non-resident population for dependents of citizens (old and new I presume), PRs and work pass holders.

From Today, which led off with new information instead of exhortation:

Immigration statistics revealed by the Government for the first time showed that, between 2007 and last year, the majority of those granted citizenship and permanent residence were not economically active — with the number of dependents outstripping working individuals. During this period, there were 259,040 new permanent residents (PRs) and 92,310 new citizens. Working individuals accounted for 48 per cent of the new PRs and 38 per cent of the new citizens.

I’m not so sure how to read the above statistics. So those that are not economically active are their wives and children? And if this continues, are we supposed to close the door on dependents of foreigners who want to live, and the foreign dependents of Singapore citizens?

The Today story jumps straight into population experts saying OF COURSE, you must give the foreign spouses citizenship.

One other question posed by the G which ST reported was which category of foreigners should be tightened? The maids, construction workers, your foreign spouse….Again, I guess this is to shock Singaporeans into thinking a bit deeper about the us-versus-them divide.

I wonder though if more fundamental questions should be asked, like whether we really need more people (that is, foreigners) to accelerate or maintain economic growth? Maybe, our productivity efforts will bear fruit….don’t laugh. Or if the answer is no, would we accept (without complaint or whining) a slower rate of growth in exchange for feeling better about living in our own country (yep, loaded question but that’s really what the discomfort is about right?)

BT has a rather strange angling – it was on all the G’s plan to expand infrastructure over the next decade to cope with population growth over the years, even though inflow of immigrants has fallen since 2009. So there were stats on roads, rail, housing, medical care etc and how much has been budgeted for them. Is all this new? Or is it just a compilation of past announcements? How does this plan gel with the G’s efforts to collect feedback? Is this to meet current demand? I mean, looks like everything’s fixed for the next 10 years…

Never mind all that. I hope Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans, speak up. I say young Singaporeans (those in school, about to leave school, or just starting work) because their life experience has been shaped differently from the rest. Already, they are studying with non-Singaporeans, interacting with them, and even doing National Service with them. Their parents and older folk have been shaped differently and will perhaps veer emotionally towards maintaining the status quo or hark back to a time before S-pass holders, Chinese national hawkers and Indian IT experts.

Anyway, it’s time the whole population talked. And I guess I still have to go read that Population report for a fuller picture.

Rich list; poor list; good list

In Money, News Reports, Society on July 27, 2012 at 12:05 am

Whenever I see a “rich” list, I feel so, so poor.

My eyes glaze over the names of the usual banking, property types to pick out new names. Who are these fellows? Foreigners, or rather ex-foreigners, and some very Singaporean brand names, like Hotel 81 and Sheng Siong, this time round. Oops! I mean their founders. Interesting that BT and Today went with headlines that said The rich got richer – by 9 per cent. So…that’s the income divide fully manifested! ST buried it somewhere in the bowels of the story.

It’s great that rich foreigners have decided to become citizens and sink their lot here. Even better to see the Hotel 81 and Sheng Siong bosses get into the list. So we can all aim to be like those Singapore entreprenuers and not depend on “family” money to be in the ranking.

What’s also interesting is how the Forbes ranking gave some details of their philantrophic deeds – especially in education. Go buy BT. I suppose this provides some leavening. If you are so rich, there will be people who ask what you are doing with all that money. Churlish I suppose. You make your money, you can decide what to do with it. Except that with all that concern over income inequality, it seems in pretty bad taste to simply hoard it for your heirs.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if there was a “poor” list instead. I guess that would be political unacceptable  and explosive. There will be complaints that the ranking method is wrong (you don’t  really hear this about  a rich list) and a lot of hand wringing and calls to do more for them. I wouldn’t feel so so rich reading a poor list. I will just feel so so bad.

I wish there was an annual Philantrophy list. I know that there are various awards given to donors and the good people. But they are varied, scattered and even ad hoc.  I want to know how those people who have benefited from being part of this place are giving back, whether in terms of their brain power or money. Will this be too onerous for our rich people? Pressuring them to give? By the way, I don’t care if they are doing it for tax purposes. Nor do I  care if this starts a race among top donors or foundation founders or scholarship boards. Better, I think, than Lim Chong Yah’s formula to cut the wages at the  top and give to the bottom. In this case, if you have extra, then give.

Let’s have a “good” list.

It would dampen the politics of envy. And make me feel so so much better.

Money minefield

In Money, News Reports on July 26, 2012 at 1:10 am

Am I supposed to be worried about the economy dipping below 1 per cent growth or happy that core inflation is easing to 2 per cent? That’s the conflicting emotion you get when you read more than one newspaper. BT went for the worried angle and ST the happy one.

Actually on Tuesday, we’ve already read about inflation – that it would be on the high side. No specifics then. Now we get specifics – from 3.5 to 4.5 per cent and now 4 to 4.5 per cent. I remember how my mother complained on Tuesday that the G was telling people what they already knew – that everything is getting more expensive. Then, no mention was made of core inflation, which covers everyday stuff minus cars and housing. In fact, what was reported was the impact of inflation on different income groups. Yup. You guessed it. The poor gets hit harder.

So what is this second bite at the cherry? This time, core inflation is said to be critical. The wordings are that the core inflation forecast hasn’t been revised – its between 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent. But it will ease over the next few months to maybe 2 per cent, because oil price is lower and therefore electricity and petrol get cheaper. Yup. Excellent. But hey, when are town councils going to raise S&C charges as the ST reported today that they will do? Won’t this bring core inflation – or is it headline inflation – back up? I mean, according to MAS, June’s inflation numbers was due to no S&C rebates. Or is S&C charges part of housing cost – which is not part of core inflation….Sigh. Dunno. Confused. Give up.
Anyway, the below 1 per cent figure for growth seems to be a worst case scenario, based on factors like whether there will be a recession in the US, the eurozone implodes and a hard landing in China. MAS seems to have ruled out the last. So I guess we can still expect growth of between 1 and 3 per cent…

You know, I still can’t decide if I am going to be better or worse-off

A moral mess

In News Reports, Society on July 26, 2012 at 12:29 am

What in heaven’s name is happening to our doctors, teachers, lawyers and civil servants? Everyday, we’re reading about these professionals being accused of or pleading guilty to a whole barrage of crimes: having sex with patients, underaged girls, students in return for doing favours or just for kicks; prescribing illegal stuff; favouring supposed friends; sleeping on the job; being loco etc. And I am not even talking  about religious leaders aka known as the City Harvest people who can afford high-priced Senior Counsels.

Okay, I don’t care who defends who – and some have yet to be proven guilty. And yes, they make for great reading and you start thinking, hey, maybe this is a sign that, never mind the Woffles Wu puzzle, the rich and famous do NOT get away with doing illegal stuff.

Except that, there seems to be too many of them….Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that everything is happening in a clump.

What has happened to the ethical codes that underpin all these professions? What are their leaders doing about imbueing them in the members? I don’t think it’s enough to say, we caught the bad hats, we weeded them out and you shouldn’t tar all of us with the same brush. Some introspection is surely expected.

Of course, there would need to be system changes, especially in the civil service. You’ve got a foreign service officer accused of fraud and now the NParks guy who bought expensive bikes. And every year, we’ve got to read reports from the Public Accounts Committee, Accountant-General etc lambasting some agency or other over its sloppy procurement procedures. I believe some suggestions were made to improve this process earlier this year. Has it been done? Is it an improvement over the Finance ministry’s explanation about how those Bromption bikes were bought?

With so much de-moral-ising news, I always find the Bouquet column in ST’s Forum Page a joy to read. It’s short, snappy – and grateful. People remembering to thank others for doing nice things. I wish there were more of them to read to balance the daily diet.

PS. ST named the NUS law professor for his supposed sex-for-grades stunt although he hasn’t been charged. I suppose this puts it one up on TNP which first broke the story? Can’t  be. I guess the stable of newspapers have different standards on naming people….Hmmm

Enough in Medifund?

In News Reports, Society on July 23, 2012 at 1:02 am

When a policy change kicks in, another must surely follow to keep pace. Now that Medishield changes have been announced with higher premiums and cash upfront before the insurance kicks in, is there enough in Medifund to keep pace?
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong says that the poor who can’t afford the cash up front or deductible can turn to Medifund. The question is: How much does Medifund have? What have the pay outs been like? How much has gone into paying for deductibles and how much for other medical bills? I’m sure there have been past reports, but an update is timely given the new circumstances. Also, is Medifund the ONLY recourse? I believe there are others but signing up for them disqualifies you from Medifund aid.
I have always thought a newspaper has three functions: To inform, entertain and educate. In my view, they translate into news, views, reviews and news-you-can-use. I’d like to see more of the last. Interestingly, there was prominent explanation on U-save being applicable to households rather than individuals. A good newspaper’s job must be to make our lives easier. In this case, it did. But as that old cliche goes, more can be done

Looking out for Linksters

In News Reports, Society on July 23, 2012 at 12:38 am

My nephew, aged 3, is teaching his grandma how to use the iPhone. His tiny fingers fly across the iPad screen too, killing monsters and turning nursery rhymes on and off, low volume, high volume. Brows furrowed, he can spend hours focused on the gadgets. The house is quiet. Strange how in the past, how parents dump their children in front of the television set to keep them out of mischief. Now you achieve the same effect with smaller stuff.

I am not comfortable with his fascination for mobile gadgets. So whenever I am with him, we engage in sword-play, catching, a bout of wrestling, colouring and lego-building. He still doesn’t want to look for caterpillars and grasshoppers on the condo grounds and said a definite no to hunting for spiders…Why am I not comfortable? I am not sure. Perhaps, because that was not the way my peers and I grew up.

Which was why I was interested to read the  ST report on the Linksters, whose young lives revolve on their mobile gadgets. The survey confirmed what we already know – that they spend most of their time  online, connected to friends and prefer to communicate virtually. That they grew up in affluent times and want different things from their parents and grandparents.

Okay. So what? Is this a good thing or bad thing? Something that society has to live with, because they will BE that society soon? Or something to counter now?

The only supposed consequence reported was that employers (those old fuddy duddies) will have a harder time dealing with them when they get out in the workplace. Yesterday’s Sunday Times piece by Serene Goh also noted that their views will be formed  by the peers, rather than the more steadying influence of the older and wiser. (PS. shouldn’t the survey have been reported FIRST, before a commentary run?)

I was also drawn by sociologist Tan Ern Ser’s remarks that the “good news” (in quotes) is that the youngsters are still exposed to community projects, internships and part-time jobs.  I assume then that the survey is “bad  news”?

I think parents badly need some guidance now on the pros and cons of bringing up a Linkster. Time and again, you see reports of studies on the good/bad effects of such connectedness. The general focus, however, has been to shield the youngsters from predators online and bad material. What about the whole online/mobile culture? Will Wikipaedia be the source of all knowledge? Will everything that happens or is said become a question of whether you Like it or not? Will friendship be measured by the number of Facebook friends you have, rather those friends who will offer you a REAL shoulder to cry on?

I consider them pressing questions because parents can switch off the television, but it’s harder to keep a mobile phone out of a youngster’s hands. Or maybe they shouldn’t? We definitely need some pretty expert opinion here.

My nephew knows not to touch MY iPhone – on pain of the cane. I’d rather much prefer he gets bruised  and knee scrapes and the house be filled with his hollering – than quiet tapping. Someone please tell me why.

The Tiger of Lion City

In Money, News Reports, Writing on July 21, 2012 at 6:12 am

I declare today’s ST page 1 story on the Heineken bid for APB unreadable. For crying out loud, you need the patience of a saint, go over the whole thing five times, and STILL can’t make sense of who is fighting over which piece of what stuff. The article chokes you with numbers. You would have thought a graphic on all the parties and how they relate to each other would have clarified matters easily.  So thankfully, there was BT, which had a graphic. Odd, since a business paper could roughly expect that its readers would understand  the battle lines, but a general paper must expect that most of its readers would not….

Anyway, there I was trying to make sense of why this is such a big deal. A corporate battle is always interesting  I suppose, especially among big name playersand with big money. I mean, won’t I get to drink Tiger beer still? Then I turn to the Insight pages in ST about the worry pver yet another Singapore icon disappearing  into foreign hands. Hmm. Sentimental value versus business considerations? How protective should we be about our treasured icons? If we are too protective, we can’t blame other countries from doing the same to our Singapore businessmen who want a piece of something iconic from them. Some of our own already facesuch problems.

What we should be protective about is stuff that is of strategic value to Singapore – do we want PSA in foreign hands?

As Eu Yan Sang’s Richard Eu said, its the heritage, not the owner that counts. Raffles hotel is still around never mind its ownership change. While we can’t say Tiger Beer is Singapore-owned, we can say it’s a Singaporean brand (generalise a bit lah)

Kudos to the Singaporeans who make money from this battle.  May Tiger Beer live forever.

AFTERNOTE: I found a graphic in the ST Money pages. Too late. Should have been with the P1 story.

Paying for pre-school

In Money, News Reports, Society on July 20, 2012 at 5:50 am

I thought the most useful article today was in the Opinion page of the ST by the author of Starting Well, which argued for G intervention in the pre-school sector, or rather, a takeover.

It was filled with statistics on how Singapore’s pre-school system fared against others (not well) and gave reasons on why this was so. It also referred to how other countries do it. It makes four recomendations to a) raise minimum teacher qualifications b) have  more teachers so as to reduce class ratio c) bolster parental awareness of the importance of pre-school education 4) increase state spending.

On the last bit, it made the interesting point about subsidies being given to the demand side, that is, to parents. Rather than supply-side to the pre-school providers – and asked for a balance.

The report is laudable but methinks it lacks some  bits – more Singapore numbers beyond the average pay of teachers here and teacher-student ratio.

First, do ALL in the Primary One cohort have a pre-school education, which is not mandatory?

Second, of those who do, how equipped are they? Is there a great difference in standards, say between the PCF trained and the privately trained?

Third, what IS the minimum standard that a kid has to start with in Primary school. Must he already know his alphabet and multiplication tables?

Fourth, is the teacher shortage due to low pay, therefore pushing teachers to take on more  lucrative jobs as private tutors?

What is the issue about? I suppose the main thing is the general quality of pre-school education here compared to others. But I figure that for most parents it is a question of equitability. Those who cannot afford the fancier kindergartens will wonder how their kids will fare when they start primary school with their more “expensively-educated” classmates. Worse, they may blame themselves for not giving their kid a good head start. The 10 years of compulsory education starts at Primary One, but it doesn’t seem to be that every child is at the same starting line.

Then there is the issue of teaching standards and curriculum. I believe the G has made some changes over the years regarding requirements of the syllabus and teacher qualifications. But the advent of the private sector and the willingness and ability of parents to pay means varying standards – and additional worry about some children being left behind . Parents expect money NOT to play too big  a part in pre-school education, after all, education is affordable at the later primary and secondary school. But money DOES play a part , and so early in a child’s  life, even with G subsidies for them. In fact, I don’t understand why the report says that Singapore doesn’t have available its spending on pre-school children – surely it keeps track?

Hence, it seems that the G’s oft-cited 10 years of schooling should be increased to at least 12. I think that is a far better way to raise the water level, far better than having even more universities and polytechnics  which might actually lower the crest of the wave… Or it can take a closer look at the New Zealand model, which is private sector led, but with G help on both demand and supply side.

We’ve got to bring back that old maxim – That in Singapore, you study hard, you work hard, you can get a good job, raise a family and support your elders. That in Singapore, you don’t have to depend on who your parents are, or how much money they have. Meritocracy will see you through.

Makes sense, right?


Can die!

In News Reports, Writing on July 20, 2012 at 5:08 am

Dead men don’t talk, but according to the LTA, they can plug leaks. Or that’s what ST had the LTA saying in its headline on what the two men who died were up when the MRT roof scaffolding fell on them the day before. It’s so hilarious, can die!

I wondered too about  the P1 story on New canal to help ease Orchard floods. I would have thought the correct word was flooding. If it’s a question of fitting the longer word in, then do away TO HELP. So you get New canal to ease Orchard flooding. By the way, I was intrigued to read about “high-profile” floods….A person is high-profile, even an event. But a flood???? It’s like its issued a press statement announcing their arrival and plenty of drum banging preceded its coming….