Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

ABSD – A Bad Stupid Deal if you’re not married

In News Reports on March 30, 2013 at 9:06 am

A couple of days I go, I wrote about the discriminatory practice of the Finance ministry in the implementation of the Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty. I wanted to alert property owners that singles are treated differently from married couples when it comes to paying the ABSD. That was the shock I got when I wanted to upgrade. (I’m declaring my interest here)

Seems like The Straits Times picked up on the issue although all it would acknowledge was that there was “uncertainty over whether stamp duty concessions for married people would also apply to singles’’. It carried a report today.

Doesn’t matter.

What matters is that the MoF has clarified the matter, or rather, confirmed what I said. A single, or for that matter any Singaporean household that doesn’t have a married couple at its core, (think dad and son combinations or siblings), will be treated differently. How?
These non-married people will have to pay 7 per cent ABSD when they buy a second home without disposing of their existing home first. Married couples will have the same 7per cent extra to pay too, except that they get their money back if they sold the existing house within six months.
This, the MoF says, is a concession or relief.

An MOF spokesman said that the Government raised the ABSD rates to moderate demand for properties and help cool the market.
It limited ABSD concessions to a narrow group of buyers, namely Singaporean married couples, to help them acquire and upgrade their matrimonial homes.
The MOF spokesman said that if more groups, such as singles, were able to qualify for ABSD concessions, it would defeat the purpose of the cooling measures.
“As such, Singaporeans will need to dispose of their first residential property if they wish to avoid ABSD on their next purchase. Singaporeans, including Singaporean singles, can buy their first residential property without any ABSD,” he added.
“The ABSD measures announced in January are significant, but they are temporary. They will be reviewed in future depending on market conditions.”

Let’s see what the ABSD is about. It is to stop people from over-leveraging themselves and buying second and third homes for investment or speculation purposes which they can ill afford and driving prices up. The bubble will burst if mortgage rates go up.
So levying ABSD on those who buy a second or third property for speculative or investment activity is quite the right measure to use for those who already have a roof over their heads and to keep prices moderate.
But for those who want to upgrade, the ABSD doesn’t make much sense. After all, they are buying a place to live in. It just makes upgrading more difficult. To escape ABSD, you have to sell your home first.

Now what does a buyer’s marital status have anything to do with this?

Married couples pay up 7 per cent if they want to secure their second home first before selling their first home – in fact, that’s what people usually do. But they can get it back as a concession if they sold that existing home in six months. Singles do not get this concession.

You know, it is by the grace of the Government that married people get relief. And that sort of assumes that the G can decide what group to prefer and what group to discriminate against. As usual, singles get the wrong end of the stick. Even if they paired up with those related by blood.

Now, how come?

MoF appears to be raising the spectre of a whole lot of singles hotting up the cooling measures (or defeating the purpose, as it put it). I wish it will tell me how this will happen. Maybe singles will suddenly buy a second property, then sell their first for a quick buck in six months, and then repeat the process again and again? If so, married couples can do the same. Then again, it describes married couples as a “narrow group of buyers”. Seriously??

Is there some other message that the G wishes to send with such unequal treatment? That being married has its privileges so everyone had better get married? Never mind if you are moving in with your mother? What will it do with all that 7 per cents from non-married households?
Also, it is silly for the MoF to talk about how singles can buy their first property without any ABSD. Has it forgotten that the A stands for Additional?

No matter how the MoF couches this, it stinks.

ST said some experts disagree with the policy, as singles who buy a home for owner occupation will end up with one home eventually. And if they do so within six months, they should get the same relief as married couples. I don’t see other experts who agree with the G’s rule. Of course, singles agree that it’s discriminatory. And I really don’t think married couples would say any differently.

MoF acknowledges that the ABSD measures are significant, “but they are temporary’’. MoF will need more than just statements to sweep this issue under the carpet. Unequal treatment, even if temporary, is just plain wrong.

Another letter home

In Society on March 29, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Dear Mom and Dad,

I write to tell you that I’m coming home. I can’t stand this place anymore. I stick out like a sore thumb. I know you want me to earn more money so that we can all live a good life at home. But it’s getting tougher and tougher for me.

The locals are getting xenophobic and racist – even if they don’t want to admit it. They say that locals should come first. Strange. I always thought they believe in meritocracy which is why I came here to work in the first place.
And it WAS a good place. Colleagues were friendly and people were kind.

Now those colleagues have complained to the government officials that some of us are being hired because the boss is one of us. Never mind that the company isn’t even a local one.

I show them my university degree and they sniff at it. So many foreigners with university degrees who can’t compare with their own graduates, they say. I tell them that they didn’t want to do my job in the first place which was why I was hired. They say it’s because I asked for less salary…Can you believe this? I suppose they don’t care if the company went bankrupt or if it re-locates elsewhere. Where will they work then? Serve them right if they have to go abroad to work like me.

The locals say we stick together and don’t want to “integrate’’. When I tell them this is natural, they say we’re stuck up. But you know, even among the locals, you don’t see much interaction between races. In fact the locals know less about the country than people like me! We had to go on orientation programmes. I bet most have never even been to a museum!

When I go to the doctor, I get asked about my nationality and my citizenship. I pay more, you know, as a foreigner. Soon I will be paying even more in all sorts of areas because the government wants to make clear that it favours its own locals. It is all political in my view. The government wants to win elections. It has been spooked by protests. One more is coming up on May Day.

When I eat where the locals eat (because it’s cheaper) I get stared at. Now I eat at places where they don’t eat (and it’s expensive). I try to speak the way they do but I cannot mimic their accent. They don’t even speak proper English and they look down on those who do! At least, my English is grammatical even if it is not so good!

I’m quite sure I get charged more at shops because I am a foreigner. I tell shop owners that I am not a tourist and that I live and work here but somehow that makes things even worse. Next time, I will say I am a tourist.

As for the Internet, I can’t go online without someone saying something about foreigners. I can’t even defend myself without being flamed. One of my friends from the Philippines lost his temper and started ranting. Now his account has been hacked and the locals are threatening to do all sorts of things to him. All he said was that the locals think too much about themselves and expect too much. He’s now worried that they know where he works…

By the way, my landlord is upping the rent. Space is premium he said. Plenty of people want to rent. I will pay – because it is better than living in the workers’ dormitories. My company is also taking back the company car. The boss says it’s too difficult to maintain and he has to keep costs down. So now I take the train, stuck among the smelly locals. In fact, I’m lucky if I can catch the first train. Sometimes I take a taxi and the cabby asks me immediately where I am from. It’s uncomfortable. In the past, I never had to say so often where I come from.

So Mom and Dad, once my contract is up, I am coming home. Nothing like being among your own kind. What’s the weather like in Singapore? Still as hot and humid?

Your loving son.

Unequal treatment

In News Reports on March 25, 2013 at 2:19 am

This is a rant. It’s personal, but I think every property owner should take note because it is about a little known piece of information regarding stamp duty.

I got the shock of my life when I was told this morning that I had to pay the additional buyer’s stamp duty (ABSD) of  7 per cent even though I am selling my current home and buying the next one to live in. Apparently, I have to sell first, be home ownerless, and then buy the second home to avoid the duty.

There is the option of selling later and getting the money refunded but, get this, this refund is only for married couples. And there I was thinking that the ABSD was to prevent too much speculative activity in the property market. Again, a policy objective with yet another head grafted on to it: The ABSD is not just to curb speculation but also to help married couples upgrade?

I can understand if the G imposes all sorts of restrictions on subsidised housing, and uses public housing policy as a tool to achieve other national objectives, like giving couples priority in the HDB queue so that they can start a family. But to intervene in the private property market to achieve other ends beyond the stated objective of cooling the market is way too discriminatory. Why should I be penalised with a 7 per cent ABSD because I am single? Why should the refund only apply to married couples? After all, I am not indulging in speculative activity. The proof will come when the current home is sold within the six months time frame set for a refund.

What’s ironic is that this single won’t be living alone. My mother is moving in with me after selling her HDB flat. That, however, doesn’t matter according to the rules. If it’s joint ownership, both of us would have to sell first and buy later. I suppose I can move in with my mother for the time being as I get my house sold with the new place in my name. I suppose the G thinks it’s okay to inconvenience singles and better to placate married couples?  

How many singles and parent-child combinations are in this bind, I wonder. This is unequal treatment. It should be re-looked and revoked. Seven per cent ABSD is a lot of money – and I don’t know why I have to pay this. Singles are already discriminated against in the public housing market, although there has been some loosening. Now, will the G please leave those of us in the private housing market alone? 

Moral policing?

In News Reports, Politics, Society on March 24, 2013 at 9:29 am

I rather enjoyed reading The Sunday Times’ article on Singapore’s top cop, Commissioner Ng Joo Hee. He seemed to have led an exciting life, policing Liverpool matches, sitting in a black-and-white in Los Angeles with an American beat cop (ate doughnuts!) joining the British inspectors for a course in the UK. Then of course, peace-keeping missions in Cambodia and setting up the police Special Tactics and Rescue or Star unit with former members of the British Special Air Service.

So exciting, I thought. Then I got down to the last few paragraphs of the article:

Another battle he fights, aside from crime, is corruption, which he addressed in a recent message to his officers, saying: “From the moment we choose to wear police blue, we also choose to live by a special code.”
It is the same code which he believes former colleague Ng Boon Gay broke when he was charged and put on trial for corruption last year.
“Boon Gay has been found not guilty… but certainly his acts are reprehensible,” he says. “He has broken every one of our values and he has tainted the whole police force by his behaviour and that is very disappointing.”

Now, I wonder why it was necessary for him to say that about his erstwhile colleague (or is Mr Ng still on the force?). Perhaps, he was asked for his view and sought to give a politically correct answer. Sure, policemen must not and cannot be corrupt. And if Mr Ng (the Commissioner) wants to give examples, there are plenty he could have chosen from, outrightly guilty officers who want sex from prostitutes in return for not turning them in for some crime to those convicted of taking under-table money. But Mr Ng (the ex-CNB chief) was singled out for mention instead, although as the Commissioner noted, he was not guilty by law.

By describing Mr Ng’s acts as “reprehensible’’ and that he broke a police code, I suppose the Commissioner meant that Mr Ng should not have been engaging in a sexual dalliance with a woman who is not his wife – or with another man’s wife.

I suppose I can understand a code which says that a policeman should not commit adultery with another policeman’s wife. I can even understand, even if it is not a good thing, if policemen believe they should protect their own (obviously this is not the case here). And I would definitely rather that the police code embraces a value like, every crime is worth our time (rhymes too!) An honour code that I believe exists among soldiers is to leave no man behind – not bad at all. Then there is a journalist’s code to get to the truth without fear or favour – which can be pretty tough to uphold.

In this case, we are talking about a policeman, not a priest. And when we say we want a “good’’ cop, it means we want an able person who enforces law and order. I am not sure I care if the cop indulges in something on the side; but I would care if a cop is slip shod in his investigations, turns a blind eye to some crimes, thinks some types of crime are not worth his time and can’t crack a case in his whole career. I would care if a cop’s work is not up to scratch so much so that a wrong person gets convicted or if he clearly took a bribe to let someone off the hook.

So Mr Ng had an affair and the court seems to agree it was just that – an affair, whether loveless or not. Seems gratuitous for the Commissioner to weigh in after he’s been cleared.

Mr Ng’s past – he probably has a similarly exciting story to tell like the current commissioner – seems to have been forgotten, like he’s an embarrassment. I wonder how many drug syndicates he’s busted, and how many criminals he’s put behind bars while he headed up the Criminal Investigation Department. I wonder if he received any medals in his career. The man dashed his career with his sexual indiscretions not because he was corrupt. He should have, to use a police term, covered his tracks properly (Maybe that makes him a bad policeman?)

In light of his reply on Mr Ng, the Commissioner was asked if his stand was that every police officer must be beyond reproach. He said: “The public expects it and that’s why this is more than any ordinary job. You want to do this job? It’s different, it’s tough.”

How he came to this conclusion on the expectations of the public, I don’t know.

You know, I can (more or less) understand political parties giving philandering members a wide berth, to the point of prompting an election. We are rather more conservative than other countries which give even presidents with a wandering eye (and hands) a pass. That’s because political parties campaign on a platform of moral integrity. I doubt that policemen signed up to be politicians and priests.

In any case, I don’t suppose the Commissioner, in describing Mr Ng’s acts as a taint on the force’s reputation, will be embarking on a “clean-up’’ exercise to police the moral standards of his men.
But if he does take action, good luck to him then. I wish him all Herculean strength.

Dare we talk about abortion?

In Society on March 21, 2013 at 12:11 am

It seemed like such a no-brainer to me – introduce a culture of adoption to raise Singapore’s people numbers. So I’m glad a few MPs raised it during Parliament’s committee of supply debate although the Population White Paper was deafeningly silent on that score.

The reply from Minister Chan Chun Sing was a little disheartening. He wants to tread carefully. I think it’s a rather more “careful’’ move to encourage adoptions – of unwanted babies here and abroad – than letting in foreigners in the hope that they will take on PR or citizenship as well as understand the responsibilities that come with a new status. After all, we have no clue how foreigners are let through the gates since immigration rules are so opaque.

Do I really have to reprise the benefits of an adoption culture? I mean, don’t we already know of families which want to adopt a child because the couple has missed the biological boat and modern medicine didn’t help? Isn’t it clear that such couples have done their sums and know that they can afford to raise a child? More important, these are people obviously want children, not like others who have to be persuaded to have them.

Sure, checks will have to be made on them as it is already the case. In fact, the checks by accredited agencies who bring in babies from abroad are pretty rigorous from what past media reports have let fall. Once the couples are “cleared’’ and baby comes along – I can imagine the love and attention showered on their new addition.
Voila! An instant Singaporean to be brought up in the Singapore way by Singaporeans.

Sounds good?

I wish someone had asked for an update on the state of adoptions. How many foreign babies are adopted every year? In the hundreds? Are the rules too tight? Is there a waiting list of families waiting to adopt a child? Have there been instances of “baby buying’’?
Now another controversial idea has been thrown into the picture: Discourage abortions and have pregnant women bring their baby to term for adoption by couples who want to have children.

The Sunday Times article which discussed (or tried to discuss) this issue had some interesting statistics. There are about 12,000 abortions in Singapore every year. But before anyone starts screaming blue murder, the number and proportion of Singapore women who head for the clinics have actually come down by about 25 per cent, from about 9,770 in 2003 to about 7,280 in 2011. Most of them are unmarried.

The rest are made up by an increasing number of foreign women.

(For a moment, I wondered at that increasing statistic until it was pointed out to me that Singapore was one of the few places in Asia where abortions can be performed upon request. So I guess we have plenty of desperate women who head over here to have a safe abortion, boosting our reputation as a medical hub. I am being sarcastic here.)

I’m not sure that having fewer abortions would lead to more adoptions. In the middle, a lot more work has to be done to persuade women to stay the course for nine months besides some sort of matching exercise for baby and couple. Doctors and counsellors warn of the emotions that will be involved in such an exercise, pre- and post-birth. I wish though the article had voices of the women, instead of relying on such second-hand sources.

But several suggestions have come up to make it less easy for a woman to abort. Moral considerations aside (let’s not go there please), there are pragmatic reasons for doing so given that raising the TFR has become an all-important national objective.
(Before you start jumping, hear me out)

What was interesting about the Sunday Times piece was how archaic our abortion laws and regulations are. They were intended for a time when couples were not stopping at two and desperate women were resorting to quacks and do-it-yourself methods to rid themselves of their babies.

Mandatory pre-abortion counselling was only for selected groups. The rest get a free pass: Foreigners, rape victims or Singaporeans with three or more children, and those who have not passed the PSLE.
I can more or less understand the reasons for them being singled out, although I think counselling should be mandatory for everyone on moral grounds. (Okay okay, let’s not go there!)

Foreigners: The State is not the church and is in no position to prescribe/proscribe the actions of foreigners who have probably made up their minds if they’ve made the trip here for an abortion.

Rape victims: They would rather not have a reminder of what they had to go through. They need counselling of a different sort.

Three or more children: This is odd. Isn’t the slogan still Have three or more if you can afford it? Seems such couples can be persuaded to keep another child. Aren’t some perks in the Marriage and Parenthood package applicable to such families?

PSLE and less: So the assumption is that a less-educated woman will be a poor mother? Does it matter if she is married to a millionaire? Sounds discriminatory.

There is another category: Unmarried girls below 16 seeking abortions are referred to the Health Promotion Board Counselling Centre for pre-abortion counselling before they can have the procedure. Parental consent is not needed.

I suppose a crime has been perpetrated here – underage sex. I wonder if the girls have to give up the name of who made them pregnant. Probably not since they don’t even have to inform their parents about what was happening to their bodies. The reason, I suppose, is to stop young women who are afraid of their parents’ ire from going for back alley abortions or DIY methods which could endanger their lives. Better a safe abortion than a sorry one? But in this day and age, might it be that parents are more open to having to take care of their grandchild? After all, they have more resources than their young daughter and single mothers have finally made it into the Government’s line of sight.

In any case, mandatory pre-abortion counselling for better educated women doesn’t seem to be working. In 2011, 36.3 per cent of all abortions involved university or polytechnic graduates – more than double the 15.6 per cent in 2003.

Perhaps the greater recognition for single mothers announced during the Committee of Supply would do more to get the better educated women to keep their babies than have to watch a pre-abortion video.

The article also talked about the kind of educational materials that these women are given to read: The Truth About Abortion and Contraceptive Methods – Which One Is Best For Me.
So, the message is: Next time you want to have sex, use protection, you ninny.
Now why not change this to Abortion and Adoption: Which One Is Best For Me?

Some people have asked for other changes, like having a longer than 48 hour “cooling off’’ period for the woman to think about whether she still wants a baby.
Others have suggested that instead of allowing abortions for babies up to 24 weeks of gestation, the period could be shortened to 16 or 20 weeks. So, women have a shorter “cut off’’ date. In fact, 24 weeks is a pretty long time and doctors say the baby might well be able to survive out of the body by then.

Re-visiting this issue, however, is going into controversial ground – like whether abortion is really pure murder at this stage and whether as a country, we should condone such actions.

Nevertheless, it seems to me the abortion laws are worth a re-visit or an update. If public discussion is too controversial, then perhaps some quiet changes to regulations can be made. It is terrible, I know, that the issue has surfaced because we are facing a baby emergency and not because there is a sudden tweak of the national conscience. (Oops! I did it again!)

But the changes can be viewed as a convenient meeting of minds and hearts: among those who think abortion is wrong, those who want women to have children and women who want a say over their bodies.

Dare we?

Cut off a few heads

In Money, News Reports, Politics, Society on March 9, 2013 at 11:10 pm

There was an interesting feature in The Sunday Times today about COE prices by ex-ST editor Han Fook Kwang. In essence, he recounted how various changes to Singapore’s car ownership story has caused the explosion in COE prices. The earth should have moved within the G ranks, he said, when COE prices shot up. It didn’t.

Here is his list of how this happened:

In 2003: car loan restrictions which had been in force from 1995 lifted.
In 2002: ARF reduced from 140 per cent of the open market value of a car to 130 per cent, part of a planned reduction in the tax which was brought further down to 100 per cent in 2008.
In 2009: COE numbers reduced to slow down the growth rate of the car population from 3 per cent a year to 1.5 per cent, and to 0.5 per cent this year.

“Should anyone be surprised then that COE prices exploded, hitting the $90,000 mark?
“In its defence, each of these changes could be justified on its own grounds, as indeed they were. But taken together, it was a recipe to break COE price records. It shows how important it is for policymakers to be clear about what they want to achieve and to be wary of unintended consequences.’’

What he wrote sounded a bit like what National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said about housing policy during the budget debate. So many tweaks over the years that we’ve lost sight of what is the G’s role in providing public housing – hence high HDB prices.

In 1971: HDB flats can be resold for a profit.
In 1989: HDB flat owners can keep their flat, even when they buy a private property.
In 1993: Buyers can take loans based on the prevailing market value of the flat,instead of HDB’s historical selling prices.
In 2003: HDB flat owners can sublet their flats.

In between, the housing policy is used as a social tool for everything from making sure families stay together, encouraging the formation of families, raising the value of housing assets by subsidising upgrading, catering to the accommodation of foreigners and PRs, ensuring the spread of races…You name it, the housing tool can be used to fix everything so much so that the myriad renovations might well damage the supporting beam structure.

So Mr Khaw as well as other MPs are asking for a back to basics look at housing policy.

The trouble is, the genie is out of the bottle. Going back to basics and first principles mean that some groups which had benefited from the changes which made housing policy so complicated will be affected.

Mr Khaw raised the example of the income ceiling for HDB flats.
Should it be lowered, raised or lifted. Should executive condos continue to be offered? (Now we have to remember that ECs were in response to the housing needs of a sandwiched class who were priced out of both public and private property.)

Another example he gave was whether the HDB should return to pre-2003 days of strict owner-occupation. Then what would happen to the many retirees who rely on income from subletting or the younger homeowners who use it to help support their lifestyle?

A third example: Return to pre-1989 days when HDB flat owners have to sell off their flats when they buy a private residential property. What to say then to Singaporeans who aspire to live in a private condo and use their HDB flat for additional rental income?
Mr Khaw has been fighting fires (his words). He’s delinked BTO flat prices from the resale market to make them more affordable although he very cleverly said that those who want to figure out the discount should do the sums themselves (which property analyst will do this please?)

So housing will now be part of an in-depth conversation within the National Conversation. Mr Khaw’s back to basics re-look should apply to other policies as well. For example, have we lost sight of the G’s role in public transport (why should it subsidise transport operators?) and education (with calls now to nationalise pre-school education)?

In fact, one important facet of this discussion is what we, the citizens, want from the G in these areas. Our record is not good – we want the G to do everything. Every segment of the population wants something different that is in its interest, and policies are tweaked to cater to demand. The result is a many-headed monster of a policy. It is a Hydra that will eat the next generation, not mine or my parents’ – since we probably would have got most of what we wanted over the years.

Maybe, we should just do this: Come to an agreement on the G’s role in each area and state its mission and vision in the provision of housing, transport, education and healthcare, plus the underlying principles that will underpin its operations to fulfil its vision. Then we should look at the monster with a view of cutting off some of its heads and making sure they don’t grow back. It’s easier said than done of course.

But it would be an interesting political and intellectual exercise.

The “other” Singapore

In Politics, Reading, Society on March 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal about Singapore – and it’s a place I don’t recognise. It is about glitzy nightclubs, private jets, fast cars, high fashion and high-life. It talks about beautiful people togged up in clothes and shoes with names I can’t pronounce. About people who jet into Singapore to play and foreigners who decide the little red dot is the best place to park their money.

It’s about a lifestyle that isn’t reported for local consumption. It sounds like Vegas, but it is actually buttoned-down Singapore. My eyes go wider than wide when I weave through the article. Singapore has a nightclub at Marina Bay Sands which is just a year old, but Pangaea (how do you pronounce this anyway?) is now considered the most profitable club in the world with revenues of more than $100,000 per night in recent months.

It’s also one of the most expensive clubs, with tables costing as much as $15,000, with the uber-rich regularly chalking up six-figures. The jet-set of the world jet in on really serious jets, including n A380 which was converted to include a pool and basketball court, according to its owner, Michael Ault, a blue-blooded pedigreed American who moved from Manhattan to Singapore three years ago.

So many of the world’s rich and famous have moved here, as permanent residents or new citizens. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. Australian mining tycoon Nathan Tinkler. India telco tycoon Bhupendra Kumar Modi. New Zealand billionaire Richard Chandler. US investor Jim Rogers, who set up shop there in 2007. Indonesian-born millionaire Frank Cintamani. According to the article, Gina Rinehart, one of the world’s richest women, slapped down $46.3 million for a pair of Singapore condominium units last year. Gosh! And we gasp at $1m price tag for an executive condo!

I suppose we have always known that some of the rich and famous have moved here, (remember the fuss when Gong Li became a citizen?) but they were never put under the spotlight as a collective group. This is probably one of the advantages of re-locating to Singapore. Celebrities, billionaires and luminaries are left alone to do as they please; no paparazzi, no protestors, in a place where it is safe to park their money, pay low taxes, with order strictly enforced. (I wonder if they had to go through a Singapore Citizenship Journey, visiting places of civic interest and attend a block party. Whether their children had to do national service.)

I guess we should be glad that we are such a playground, an Asian Monaco. Hopefully, these rich people-turned-PRs, or PRs- turned-new citizens will leave some business or money behind to filter to the rest of us. That they wouldn’t keep to themselves, but would put what they can into a country that provides them with better comforts than their own home country. Wealth-X, a private consultancy that provides intelligence on the world’s uber-rich, estimates some 1,400 ultra-high-net-worth individuals now hold more than $160 billion of wealth in Singapore, reported WSJ.

I mean, there should be a price of entry.
How did they get through the gates in the first place? Up to last year, there was a programme that allowed wealthy foreigners to “fast track” their permanent residency if they kept at least $8.1 million in assets in the city-state for five years. Investors who plan to dedicate a few million to help companies in Singapore grow are still welcomed, according to WSJ. So some big money has to be sunk here first, and hopefully, jobs created.

Do I sound envious? I am – and I don’t quite know why.
Part of the reason is probably that that sort of lifestyle is out of my reach, like I am on the outside of a fish tank looking in. Another part could be a sense that we are building a city for “other’’ people to live, work and play in. Could such PRs and new citizens ever become part of the Singapore core?

This is not to say that as a country, we have not done well for ourselves. WSJ reported that one in six homes has disposable private wealth of at least $1 million, excluding property, business and luxury goods. Add in property, with Singapore real estate among the most expensive in the world, and this number would be even higher. Now, that must include quite a few citizens, I should think. Singapore also now has the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world at $56,532.

Then I think about the debate we are having about the way we should go. All that talk about income inequality (second highest in the world), social safety nets and the need for an inclusive society. We talk about $50 pay increments, jammed roads, trains breaking down, unaffordable cars and the salaries of cleaners and drivers. We live in HDB, travel by MRT, shop at NTUC. We have a sandwich class.
WSJ reported Garry Rodan, a fellow at the Asia Research Center at Murdoch University as saying that the rich in Singapore now find themselves with “new avenues to display their wealth,” while “aged Singaporeans with grossly inadequate savings can be seen on the streets collecting plastic bottles for recycling.”
Ouch! That hurt.

Sometimes I think it’s good that the rich keep to themselves, ring-fenced by high entrance fees. That we see only their cars; 449 Ferraris now and 469 Maseratis.

Now, they should make sure they do not crash them – and stay invisible.

Read for
– So you don’t give a sh** about Lit
– A young Malay’s view on racial strait-jacketing

Mr Sitoh, say it like this lah

In News Reports, Politics on March 7, 2013 at 4:36 am

The Straits Times today honoured PAP Sitoh Yih Pin by excerpting his speech in Parliament for its Speech of the Day column. Mr Sitoh spoke about trust between the government and the government. Interesting. A few days ago, ST carried a report on the level of trust between the parties. While Singaporeans trust the G as an institution, they don’t trust the leaders when it comes to breaking bad news. Mr Sitoh didn’t mention the survey carried out by public relations firm Edelman, by the way. My guess is that he probably read the findings.

Anyway, he said the G should be courageous enough to tell the truth, even if it is unpleasant. No one can quarrel with that. Straight talk is always appreciated. Methinks it can be more hard hitting. So I will list his six hard truths – and with tongue half in cheek, rewrite them – and respond to them.

1. We will increase the number of places in universities and polytechnics and 60 per cent of Singaporeans will become PMETs, but some graduates will never stay in private housing or own a car. This is because 85 per cent of housing are HDB flats and only one-third of families have a car presently and these numbers will not change drastically.

Re-written: Hey, I know most of you young people are going to be university graduates, but face it, just because you have a degree, doesn’t mean you get to stay in a bungalow and drive a Ferrari. I mean, for every one of you, there are five others with your qualifications. How to give all a bungalow and a Ferrari? Remember that 85 per cent of people live in HDB flats and one in three families have a car now.

Response: Orh ok. Then I study for what? At least, can make the HDB flat bigger or nicer? And make sure the HDB price is not the price of a bungalow or private property? I don’t need a Ferrari. I don’t mind taking public transport. I hope by the time I start work, the trains and the buses are running properly. I mean, have you seen how jam-packed it is at peak hour? I can’t even get to school on time some days.

2. This country needs to continue to be run as a meritocracy. There is no other feasible alternative. The best will get more. One may rightly question the norms of meritocracy, as in what makes a person more meritorious? One may even ask why there are so many brand-name schools in the more affluent areas in Singapore and not in the new HDB estates. And in the harsh reality of meritocracy, we also expect the meritorious to do what is necessary for meritocracy to remain relevant – they must contribute more than others to the betterment of the society and maximise welfare for everyone living and working in Singapore. Meritocracy cannot be “take and take” by the best and the ablest without any obligation to serve and contribute.

Re-written: Man, you tell me lah, what to replace meritocracy with? If you work hard, you can get far and you get rewarded. That’s how it’s always been here. I think, I’m not sure, I mean… you go figure why the brand name schools are in rich people’s neighbourhood. But just because you are among the best, it doesn’t mean you think you are entitled to all good things in life. So give more of your time to the community, more of your money, more of your whatever…

Response: I can take meritocracy lah. But now I live in an HDB estate, and went to the school near my home. That school ah can’t be compared to the brand name ones, which got swanky buildings and smarter teachers. So these people don’t start from the same line as me, and therefore, can probably run faster and further from me. I get left behind how? Of course, if I become a doctor or lawyer, I definitely will do more for the HDB people, like give free legal advice or free medicine. (Even if I don’t, how can you tell?)

3. Even if we increase our total fertility rate to 2.1 in 2013 suddenly, we will need to import labour to care for the elderly over the next 20 years. The babies born now or in the near future will not be ready to look after the 900,000 baby boomers retiring over the next 20 years.

Re-written: You know, even if every couple have two children from now, we still won’t have enough people to take care of the old. People like your parents, you know how many there will be over 20 years – 900,000! So can stop grumbling about foreign workers and nurses and care-givers or not? You think you can take of so many people by yourself?

Response: You think my parents are what kind of people? They are educated, got degree, got savings, got medical insurance. They know how to keep healthy. Anyway, are you trying to scare me with 900,000 old people? For all you know, they will move to Johor or somewhere not so expensive. They are already complaining its crowded here.

4. Our public hospitals will continue to give good care that is accessible and affordable to all. But we will have to continue to have waiting times and the latest high-tech expensive care options will not be available to all.
Ultimately, health care is a trade-off between affordability, accessibility and quality. Usually, quality in terms of expensive care is of a lower priority, although we will not compromise patient safety. This is true for most developed countries in the world.

Re-written: When you get sick and go to hospital, you know you can pay your bill. Really! Believe me! Okay, so you have to wait a bit to see a doctor, and maybe that expensive drug or machine cannot use Medisave to pay for. But what to do? Everywhere else, the same.

Response: Touch wood! I don’t want to get sick at all. And are you sure I can still pay for medical bills when I get older? I don’t think the Medisave is mine. I mean, it’s mine but I can’t use the money for some things unless the Government says so. I suppose I can buy a lot of health insurance policies or just go somewhere else where it is cheaper to get the drug or medical treatment. Wait a minute! What if I can’t afford the drug? I will probably die? Cannot be.

5. We will make our public transport reliable again and increase capacity. But COEs may never go back to the days of old again. There are limits to our car population just as there are limits to our human population.

Re-written: Face it, kid. You might not even be able to buy the COE, much less the car. You think you can turn back the clock and get $1,000 COE? Fat hope! Anyway, can you imagine how crowded the roads will be? You might as well take public transport. Don’t worry it won’t have so many breakdowns and you will be able to breathe on the bus and train.

Response: You sure bus and train fares will still be cheap? I mean, someone has to pay for the drivers and all that right? COE? Huh, already given up hope.

6. We will limit the influx of foreign labour to Singapore, but we cannot shield our workers from competition. The reality is that our workers will still be competing day and night, 24/7 with workers in China, India or Indonesia

Re-written: We heard you. So we’re going to scale back getting foreign workers in. But, you know what? Don’t think just because there will not be so many of them here, you can sit back and relax and collect your pay cheque every month. Don’t forget that the Chinese, Indians and Indonesians are working very hard in their own countries. If they make your company go bankrupt, then what you do?

Response: Yah lah. Yah lah. How many times you must repeat this?

Go to for the New Normal Labour Market, What’s all this about giving transport operators money and the very minimal explanation against a minimum wage scheme

An alternative news report

In News Reports on March 5, 2013 at 6:45 am

There was once a guy who was an insanely jealous fellow. When he thought his girlfriend was cheating on him because she met some other guys for lunch, he threw a water bottle at her. Then he took her watch and smashed it because he found out it was a gift from another guy. He was so jealous that he didn’t stop there. He stalked her to the ladies’, grabbed her arms and started shaking her.
This was done in full view of other people. He knew he actedly badly but it seemed that he couldn’t help himself. The girlfriend became naturally terrified of him and told him so. He got angry again and punched her, again in front of people. Like many cases of abuse, he pulled the apology stunt again when they were alone. They kissed, made up and made out.
Then his demands started. He wanted lunch, fast-food lunch so she went and got it for him. Because their relationship was supposed to be “secret’’, she was worried about others seeing her pass the package to him. She was silly enough to hand the food to someone else. Then the hammering started again when he found out – he threw a stack of papers and even a chair at her.
By this time, the girlfriend was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. This was the guy she had befriended, picking up out from a crowd of other guys. They went to the movies together, petted and made out on staircase landings, playgrounds and even at her home. He was her “baby’’ and she was his “darling’’. She had tried once before to break off the relationship but he broke down in tears. They had sex for what they thought was the last time, just before both were due for a vacation. But when vacation was ended, they started up the relationship again.
The girlfriend decided that she had enough of the abuse and told her pastor, then a family member. They went to her employer and the police got involved. That was the end of it…for her.
She is 31, married, a teacher. He’s 13, and her student.
The moral of the story is: Boys cannot handle sex with an older woman, who shouldn’t be having sex with a boy anyway.
(The case of the teacher who pleaded guilty to underaged sex was reported in all the papers today)

The curious case of Cherian George Part 2

In News Reports, Politics, Society on March 5, 2013 at 3:39 am

SOME local luminaries have weighed in on controversy over the Nanyang Techonological University’s decision to decline Mr Cherian George’s application for tenure a second time. You know, so far, the suspicion has been over whether he was denied tenure because of his outspokenness, but another facet that hasn’t quite been explored was whether what his work as an academic fits the NTU’s criteria on who gets tenure.

The group said in its open letter to NTU’s top brass: “Singapore universities have made impressive strides of late and have drawn faculty and students from all over the world. They have adopted international benchmarks in faculty assessment that emphasize teaching and research excellence. However, commentators worldwide have noted that such benchmarks, which measure academic publication in specialist journals and expensive scholarly books, discourage the engagement of academics with their immediate social context.’’

Breaking this down, I suppose the subtext is whether NTU thought that “publication in specialist journals and expensive scholarly books’’ as more important than having academics who can promote public discourse in their area of expertise. In other words, maybe Dr George didn’t have stuff printed in the right journals, even if he is known as intellectual busy (or maybe too busy) in the public arena raising the level of political discourse.

“If NTU’s tenure criteria are not seen to support such engagement it will impoverish Singapore’s intellectual community and raise a troubling future scenario. Social transition in the next decades will bring robust public debate among an increasingly diverse populace. Promotion and tenure criteria that do not appear to value public engagement will discourage academics from speaking up.’’

There have been suggestions Dr George could have been disadvantaged at the outset because of his field of expertise in a university that is still predominantly “technological’’.
One former academic explained it this way to me: “The nature of the engineering/science fields and journalism (or the social sciences/humanities for that matter) result in very different types of research done, and therefore the volume of publications produced, the reach they have (or “impact factor”) and where. Furthermore, non-research contributions might be valued differently. In engineering/sciences, it might be the number of patents or products put into the market. But in other fields like journalism, it could be service as role as a public intellectual, as George was.’’

In other words, there are certain qualitative differences in disciplines which should be acknowledged and accounted for in the granting of tenure. The question then is whether NTU’s top brass is applying the same standards to all in NTU seeking tenure, regardless of disciplines. Looks fair, but is it?

Apparently, the NTU top brass and the faculty which Dr George belongs to, the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information have different ideas about tenure. According to Yahoo, his colleagues have decided that a collective formal letter of concern would be written to the school chair, Associate Professor Benjamin Detenber, over George’s “implicit’’ dismissal.

NTU has confirmed that “those who do not obtain tenure on the second attempt can continue to teach for up to one more year at the university”. While the schools initiate the nomination process for tenure, it is “very common’’ for nominations to be rejected at the college and higher levels of review.”

By the way, the 2013 Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings released this morning showed that NTU moved to the 71th-80th band, up from the 81-90th band last year. Among universities in Asia, NTU came in 13th. Urrrhhh… congratulations NTU. The rankings are based on 16,639 responses from senior academics around the world. The poll asked academics to nominate no more than 15 of the best institutions in their narrow field of expertise, based on their experience and knowledge. I wonder if the “narrow field of expertise’’ included communications and information.

Dr George has kept a prudent silence so far. According to Yahoo, following notification of his rejection slightly more than a week ago, he will have another four days to decide whether or not to appeal the decision. Stay tuned for Part 3.

More on
– How different media reported the announcement that a monthly adult travel pass may be introduced.
– Is the G’s use of TFR and dependency ratios right for population projections?