Archive for November, 2014|Monthly archive page

Taxi tales

In News Reports, Society on November 30, 2014 at 8:33 am

There is an interesting read in Sunday Times today by a journalist who took to driving a cab to experience what life was like behind the wheel. It logged his encounters with the good, bad and ugly passengers. The most interesting part was that he developed haemorrhoids after nine days of driving a taxi!

Anyway, here’s my version from the passenger seat.

I date my worst experience in a cab to more than 30 years ago. I was rushing to get to university and had hailed a cab. This John Lennon-lookalike picked me up and we proceeded along the PIE on a ride which involved stops and starts and plenty of jerking on the expressway. He was NOT a good driver. Trouble started when he overtook a sporty-looking car with a surfboard on its roof. He nearly clipped the car. The ang moh driver was furious and so started a car chase down the PIE. Seriously, like in the movies. The cab had to stop in the middle of the road because the ang moh driver succeeding in overtaking us and blocked the way. John Lennon reached below his seat for a metal pole then turned to me and said: “Miss, you be my witness ah!’’.

This beefy ang moh in a sleeveless tee-shirt (surfer dude, I thought) came to the driver’s side and let forth a string of four letter words with plenty of finger wagging as John Lennon clutched his pole with both hands. Then he went back to his car and drove off. If I wasn’t so young, I would have taken more notes. But I was so terrified that I wanted to leave the cab – except it was along the highway. It was a very shaken John Lennon who got me to the university, in the shakiest cab ride of my life.

Future adventures were less exciting, involving drivers who were going to nod off at the wheel (Uncle! Wake up!), a couple of tipsy cabbies who swerved like crazy (again along highways where there’s no chance to hop off) and one who actually wanted to see what my apartment looked like. I told him my (non-existent) husband doesn’t like me bringing strangers home.

On a general note, though, I think our cabbies are a wonderful lot. They don’t try to cheat you; they are polite and give you a pleasant ride, especially Comfort cabbies, and they keep their cabs clean. The limousine drivers are the best of the lot, concerned about you like the radio music and whether the air con is just right. They know how to make just enough small talk to make you comfortable. One day, I stepped into this wonderful Merc with a very, very young man at the wheel. Much too young to be driving a taxi. Definitely below 30. He prevaricated when I asked his age and it seemed he was driving his father’s cab. No, I didn’t report him. He was very nice.

Taxi “uncles’’ and a few “aunties’’ I have encountered include:

a. The die-die want to talk to you cabby

You know him immediately because he starts quizzing you not just on where you want to go and “how you want to go’’ but goes on to list the various ways of getting there nevertheless. Then he moves on to whether you’re working, shopping or why you are so late, early. If you are attentive, he launches into a tirade about road users before going on to lament his lot under this “garment’’. I don’t mind these garrulous cabbies; they are well up on the news. I think it comes from listening to the radio and having their pee or tea breaks with the newspaper in hand. But I’ve had to stop some of them from going on and on when all I want is a rest in air-con. That’s when I say: “Uncle, I am very tired. Wake me up when we are near there’’. Works like a charm.

b. The die-die must talk on the phone cabby

That’s the one who picks up his calls, yes, hands-free these days, and proceeds to gab on with whoever is on the other line. Usually, they think I don’t understand dialect and I’ve heard wonderful tales about mother-in-laws, buying Toto, arrangements for the kids, assignations for dinner ecetera. Of course, I sometimes hear about myself: a chabor going to Bedok. I really hate being with drivers with divided attention, hands-free or not. So I wriggled in my seat and make hrrrmppph noises and even let out a “Uncle, please be careful on the road’’. The last line works.

c.The “grunting’’ Uncle

You don’t know if he really heard you when you give your destination. You hoped that he heard your “turn left please’’ or “go straight’’. He points to the meter when you ask about the fare and when you say thank you, he grunts.  This sort of cabby stresses me out by his silence: I feel I must keep alert in case he took the wrong way.

d. The old familiars

I have come across ex-colleagues driving taxis, even an old university mate, ex-neighbours and neighbourhood fruit stall seller in the driving seat. They usually take no money from me, that is, I get a free ride. Of course, the question which pops into my head is “how come you driving a taxi now?’’ I don’t quite know how to phrase the question because I am not sure if it will cause embarrassment (on either side). The ex-fruit seller tells me plainly though that he earns much more now than he did before. Then there are those who have driven me before (I don’t know how they can recollect faces…) and actually tell me my destination before I do…

I think cabbies are cool. If you can get into a cab, that is. I call taxis often and many times, taxi drivers have asked why I was designated a VIP. I said I didn’t know. But when I left my last job, that VIP tag was taken off too, although I take taxis twice as often. I realised then what it meant to be VIP. You always, always get a cab, come rain or shine or isolated destination. Once, an operator kept in constant touch with me for 45 minutes trying to get a cab for me in heavy rain. When she finally got one for me, she told me the driver had been told to waive the booking fee. How nice! It’s different now. More often than not, I get a disembodied voice telling me that no taxi is available and to try again in 10 minutes. Or a text message. I think to myself: How the mighty are fallen. I am now trying taxi apps.

I think there are plenty of people who have horrible experiences with taxi drivers, just as they do with passengers. The interior of a cab is to me a most precious place. It represents a private contract between driver and passenger, one of security (the driver isn’t going to crash with you on board), of privacy (there’s just the two of us ) and society (we talk the same lingo). It’s the one of the places I feel at home, even with a stranger, as parts of Singapore fly past. It is also a reason I hope the industry is closed to foreigners.

That is why I will wait for a cab I have called; I am never a “no show’’ despite empty cabs plying past. And even though there are occasions when I feel like bludgeoning a garrulous or cranky driver, I don’t. You might as well say, try the bus or the train and you might feel the same. Much cheaper too. Maybe.  What to do? I have been spoilt by taxi Uncles.

Oh! The unFAIRness of it all…..!

In News Reports, Politics on November 29, 2014 at 4:25 am

On Dec 24, the Workers’ Party will know how much of a fine it has to pay for not getting a permit to hold its Lunar New Year community event (WP’s definition) or trade fair (National Environment Agency’s definition). The maximum is just $1,000; the prosecution stated archly that the low quantum was probably why the WP decided to fight the case in court. For those wondering about who will pay the legal fees, the WP MPs said they would be paying out of their own pocket, and not through its controversial (my word) town council funds.

The whole exercise has been very enlightening for the way the WP tried to bring up issues surrounding the offence of not getting a permit, and for the way the prosecution tried so hard to get it to stick to the law. In fact, it had seemed obvious to me from the start that WP will lose (not because I am conspiracy-minded and think it would be “done in’’ in any case) but simply because it was required to get a permit, and it didn’t. It went ahead to hold the fair for three straight weeks although it had been warned several times to shut down. So it really looked like it was “asking for it’’.

Then I think/guess/speculate that what happened next is that WP thought it would be good to use the occasion to test the G on what sort of powers town councils really have and whether they have to comply with conditions attached by G agencies. After all, town councils have the mandate of the people to run the place – so why should so many other agencies intervene? Didn’t the G itself say as much when the town councils were proposed in 1988? Just check Hansard. The trouble is, there are laws of the land (regardless of political colouring) you have to abide by, like environmental laws, and specific laws on the power of town councils. So what does a town council’s mandate to “manage’’ the area mean? It cannot be completely unfettered, but how fettered is the question.

In any case, here’s a condensed version of what happened:

The WP wants to hold a Lunar New Year event in Hougang, organised by the town council. Then it thinks it had maybe better get some kind of permission from whoever/whatever agency. Better to steer out of trouble, it thinks. NEA obliges and gives a form that says “trade fair’’. But it’s not a “trade fair’’. WP thinks. We’re not organising a pasar malam! It’s only five stalls and there’s no cooked food and it’s going to be in an area that is managed by the town council! So it cancels the word “trade fair’’ and sticks “community event’’ and sends back the form.

Then the reply came: “Your forms are incomplete. Where is the “consensus from neighbourhood shopkeepers’’ and “letter of support from the Citizens’ Consultative Committee’’? The WP thinks: what the &&(%^$##! Why must we get the CCC to say okay? The CCC belongs to the PAP, which already lost to us in so many elections. And what is this “consensus’’ from shopkeepers. Yet another PAP satellite? Rubbish! Ignore it.

It holds the trade fair/community event and the NEA sends another letter and yet another and so forth, but the fair/event carries on for three weeks. By now the NEA is fedup that it has been so blithely ignored. Words are exchanged and the WP says “see you in court’’.

In fact, the WP thinks it’s good to go to court because you can bring up all sorts of issues and hopefully get them into the media. It is “open’’ court, after all. Plus, the maximum penalty is $1,000. For $1,000 and whatever legal fees, you can talk about how the G is over-stepping its limits, point to past legislative speeches which give town councils more powers than what the Act says and complain again about how the CCCs have too much say and should have NO say in places run by the opposition.  That is, get out of my kingdom and let me run it for the people who elected me. It’s an alluring argument, except that it runs against the hard letters of the law. So the NEA sticks to its guns and said: You know you needed a permit, you didn’t get it and you still went ahead with it despite us telling you  “Cannot’’. Other issues are irrelevant. Case closed.

The judge agreed with the prosecution. He thinks the WP went to trial really as an “afterthought’’ (It could have just paid a composition fine but didn’t want to.) I really do think it’s an open and shut case although there were reams and reams of precedents and all sorts of points of law espoused on both sides. Did the WP achieve its aim of getting a public airing? Well, only if you followed the case closely and bothered to get through all the arguments and submissions in their original form.

The WP has bigger problems on its hands and this has to do with its town council funds. It has told MOS Desmond Lee to clam up because the Auditor-General is doing the work of looking over its accounts. It will definitely say something in due course. Methinks this is a far bigger issue than whether a town council should have the ability to hold its own trade fair. When the WP is “ready’’, I hope it will be as open over its arears, deficits and handover issues as it was with its complaints about the red tape of the G. And it doesn’t have to go to court to get its side out. I think plenty of people want to hear from it.

Dancing out of A*Star

In News Reports, Society on November 29, 2014 at 12:57 am

Dear Dr Eng Kai Er,

I have been reading news reports on your laments with interest. So you’re now in a job, or rather in a line that you say you don’t like, in a research institute studying infectious diseases. You are now chafing at being tied to your job by a bond, through a scholarship that paid for your first degree at Cambridge University, and another that paid for your PhD in infection biology in Karolslinka University in Sweden.

As you wrote in your blog: “Eng Kai Er is not interested in science at all, but has to serve her bond or pay, as of 30 September 2014, around $741,657.37 in order to quit her job. Since she understands the pain of having a paid job that is not aligned with her interests, she wishes to change the world by having more instances of paid jobs aligned with people’s interest.’’ And that is why you are pledging to give $1,000 a month from her salary to support arts projects for a year.

First, I have to say that a lot of people are in jobs that they don’t like or enjoy, but stay on for various reasons. They grit their teeth and get on with it. Of course, they are not compulsorily bonded to the job – they can jump ship or pursue their area of interest. But maybe they need the money, maybe they feel obliged to their employer who has been treating them well, maybe no one wants to offer them a job to their liking. In other words, you are not alone.

Second, I am a little puzzled that you don’t like science and yet took up a second scholarship to do your PhD. Why? Because you want a PhD? Or it’s a chance to be in Sweden? I think other scholars would be envious of your current position: you are actually in a job that reflects your area of study – not thrown into a job any old how.

Third, you’ve already finished two years of your bond and you’re left with just another four years. You will be only 34, time enough to start a second career.

I guess you’re regretting your move because you’ve (recently?) found your calling as a dancer and choreographer. Your theatre production, Fish, clearly reflected your need to be unfettered, independent and boundary breaking – according to the reviews I’ve read. In fact, in hindsight, I wonder if the production was directed at your bosses at A*Star. I gather that you asked to be transferred to the National Arts Council and was rejected. After spending so much money on your specialist education, I can see why A*Star did so. As a taxpayer, I would be pretty annoyed if you were not deployed in an area that took advantage of your privileged education. That’s the reality, young lady. You had a privileged education, courtesy of taxpayers. You MUST live up to this honour that we have given you.

You might have made a mistake at taking up a scholarship at age 18, or at 24, or even 34, and you might even have repeated the mistake, but as my late father would say, you make your bed – you lie on it. Others have, and quietly too. They bide their time, pay off their debts and start off on a clean slate. To use that awful word, they are resilient. You can do the same. It is only four more years.

I suppose you feel that as a scientist/artiste, you need to express your frustration at being in a day-time job you don’t like. I think it’s great you have other pursuits like so many others, who use what free time they have doing what you like. Oh! How you wish you can do it full-time (even pro bono if you can afford it)! An understandable feeling. You are not alone.

Maybe the media made too much of your blog comments. Maybe you are grateful for the privileged education you’ve received. In fact, you might want to make your own experience a cautionary tale for young people who jump into a bond because it offered an overseas education without regard for the consequences.

But as someone older, I just want to say: Grit your teeth, girl! Pay your debt and finish the bond! Then go show the rest of us some good art.



Turning 50 – ME, not Sg

In Society, Writing on November 27, 2014 at 2:26 am

Old is gold, so I’m told

It’s a line which leaves me cold

Turning 50 is to me

Living half a century

Creaky knees, eyes can’t see

Flesh aligned with gravity

Turning 50 is to me

Living life more crazily

Thank you all for your best wishes

I’m getting ready some fine dishes

Hope they will erase your frown

Age will NEVER get me down!

Twenty years ago, I wrote a column about coming to terms with turning 30. I went into the third decade kicking and screaming, looking with alarm at the mirror and wondering if that’s yet another grey strand on my head. Now, my head is camouflaged, courtesy of good hair colouring and the expert snip of my hairstylist’s scissors. I take off my glasses to read, realizing that I am not just short-sighted but long-sighted as well. I wonder if I should have had Lasik surgery but I gather I’m past the age for it. It does allow me, however, the excuse to collect an array of spectacles to fit clothes for various occasions.

Half a century later and what have I done? At a gathering of ex-classmates recently, all of us celebrating our 50th birthday, I count the number of the “girls’’ who are married with children. “Doing NS’’, “now taking A levels’’, “going abroad to study’’, ‘’empty nest’’. Very mother-like statements which leave this single woman nonplussed. I suppose at age 50, you would have chalked up some achievements, both materially, mentally and, ah, biologically. Then the “girls’’ turn to me, expecting I don’t know what sort of a riot of a life accounting…

I suppose at age 50, it’s natural to take a look at your balance sheet. How far have you climbed up the corporate ladder? How are your kids doing? What’s your bank account like? Who are the friends you have collected? How’s your cholesterol? Are you still as stressed out at age 30 or 40? Have you fulfilled your childhood dream or are you still caught up in the rat race, operating day by day in this tedium that is your life?

Accounting is a fearful thing. I mean, what if you fall short? Are you going to spend the rest of your short life making up for mistakes and mis-steps of the past? Get yourself into some mid-life crisis and buy a fast car? (I can’t do that because I don’t drive) Quickly see what you haven’t got done, and go do it? I suppose some people will do that because they hear the clock ticking and want to get as much out of life as they can.

Am I different?

Some years ago, I wrote a column on the end of life. Nothing morbid. I just think that everyone must have an end goal or what they would like carved on their tombstone . I want to be remembered as a good daughter, a good sister, a good boss and a good friend. Fulfilling all four is good enough for a good life for me. Then. Now I add a fifth: A good citizen.

That probably sounds corny to people, like some national education or civics lesson. It probably doesn’t figure on most people’s radar because being a good citizen comes naturally no? Pay your taxes, don’t break the law…don’t spit, litter or defeacate in public places… But I am talking about being invested in this place we call home and getting involved in the big discussions of the day. It’s one reason I keep writing. I do it for pleasure and out of passion. I am glad that I have time for this pursuit, even though people ascribe all sorts of motives to what I do.

Frankly, I don’t care what people say. That’s the good thing about being old(er). There is no more the neediness of youth, this keeping up of appearances (just use good skin care products). You develop enough self-confidence to both stay the course and accept other points of view graciously. You know the importance of growing old gracefully. You become pretty zen.

I think I am pretty zen – and that is helped admittedly by my not being tethered by mortgages and re-payment plans. But on top of zen, the other important thing to me now that I am late in my life, is not to take things too seriously. I see people online ranting unreasonably, irrationally and rudely, casting a sour pall over everything and I wonder if they think they are smart or realize that they are just very, very unhappy people.

At the end of the day, and of your life, that’s really what we wish for no? To be happy.

Besides the five “goods’’ listed above, here’s what will make ME happy

  1. Going on a rail holiday in India, one of the few places I haven’t been to
  2. Getting myself a very, very expensive designer bag because I can surely afford it since people half my age can….
  3. Mastering the Chinese language
  4. Resurrecting Breakfast Network

An S-League farewell letter

In News Reports, Sports on November 16, 2014 at 8:35 am

I don’t watch football, but the controversy over S-League’s move to trim down the league looks pretty exciting. More exciting to me than watching grown men chasing a ball.  So let me re-produce the drama in a letter. FICTION, of course.

Dear XX,

Congratulations on turning 35! In five years’ time, you will be eligible for Eldershield! In the meantime, to prepare you for your future and to ensure that you rest that torn tendon, broken ankle and bruised body suffered over the past 10 years, we have another surprise for you! No longer will you need to sweat in the sun and get drenched in the rain, you will be given a one-way ticket out of football, with 10 free passes to watch future S-League matches!

This is to demonstrate our appreciation of your loyal service and for sticking with the S-League despite its declining lustre. You will be pleased to know that we are adding a new shine to the league, with fewer teams and younger players. You see, the racial and age demographics are simply weighted too heavily towards a certain race and beyond a certain age. This does not mean that we consider you old, not with the sort of goals you have scored, the awards you’ve won and despite being caught smoking. We just don’t think you can run as fast as the young ones, who must be given room to play. This is not unlike air stewardesses who get grounded after a certain age.  Not because their looks fade, they just need to rest more. Like you.

We entreat you to turn a deaf ear to those who say that we are engaging in age discrimination and that we should be reported to Tafep. We aren’t giving you the boot; you can keep them. Plus, you are far too young to be considered old. And please banish any idea of starting a union. That is not sportsmanlike behaviour. Note that you should never have considered footballing a life-long career. That’s like scoring an own goal. Every person changes jobs several times in his life-time; it’s the nature of this globalised, mobile and inter-connected times. Your second career, we are sure, will be as fulfilling and you can turn to the labour movement for a job. So many others have made it, as sound technicians or in construction and some of them even coach other teams. Go read The New Paper on Sunday on warriors who turned workers.

Please do not complain to the media that we should have communicated the news to you earlier so you could have found places in other teams. By the way, do not try Tanjong Pagar; it’s sitting out the season. And we think you should also give up on Woodlands and Hougang because they will be merged. Yes, Woodlands. Not Aljunied.

The reason we kept this wonderful news under wraps and couldn’t do a locker room briefing was because we didn’t want to tip off the bookies (You know how tough Singapore is on match-fixing or team-fixing). This is the big idea we have to rejuvenate the S-league. Rejuvenation by regulation. Immediately, the median age of the footballing fraternity will go down. You know also that we will start footballing in a big way in schools. Please make sure your son gets on the programme.

For your info, this is how we will be wording the news to the media: “In the interest of achieving a higher level of footballing excellence, the S-League has resolved, after numerous discussions among key stakeholders, to streamline the number of teams to a nice round number, 10. To ensure that new blood is infused into the league, we will also cap the number of senior players in each club, all of whom agree that they should be amputated to make way for younger players. This demonstrates their profound commitment to the S-League which they will continue to support by attending the matches. To show our appreciation, they will be allowed to play the jackpot machines in their former clubs.’’

So, you see, we will be giving you a nice send-off. Actually, what we are not telling the media is how much we will save by slimming down the league. But pure mathematics will show that it means we will have more money to spread around fewer people, whom we can probably pay better too. That is, unless yet another sponsor pulls out. Anyway, at the very least, you will no longer be embarrassed about playing to empty stands or handing out flyers to get people to watch you play. And we don’t have to come up with gimmicks like hand out finger food to spectators.

Another point we hope you will note: Please do not tape or video any proceedings between the S-League management or your club and you. That would be a very bad foul. It is very awkward to hear ourselves telling you about the hard truth about football in Singapore. People will think that we are high-handed and do not care about breaking your rice bowl. Please remember that the people do not play referee in this case. Nor should we give them more off-field drama  – unless they are paying spectators.

It remains for us to wish you the best in your future career. Go break a leg!

Yours sincerely,

S-League board and management

It ain’t over for Jover?

In News Reports on November 15, 2014 at 2:11 am

Has Jover Chew started anew?

Selling his stuff before his lease is due?

He’s still in hiding, is Jover Chew

Under the radar, this cuckoo flew 

A man named Ricky has picked up his slack

Running the shop amid much flak

Oh what teeth our laws doth lack

To deal with a man like Jover Chew

Go look at Mobile Air’s Facebook page. Yes, it has one. Whether it is Jover Chew’s real account or a spoof, I don’t know. But, man oh man, the people commenting on the page are really angry. Either Mr Chew is insane and waiting to be chewed up – or someone is being a Joker for Jover…

Besides that entertaining FB page, the news is that another company has taken over Mobile Air’s premises in Sim Lim, calling itself HJ Mobile. It has started selling. At least, it calls itself a company even though it is not registered with ACRA – which lawyers TNP spoke to say makes the owner eligible for up to a year’s jail and a maximum of $5,000. Yup, you can’t sell stuff without getting your company registered, Mr Ricky Lee.

And who is this Mr Lee? He’s 33 and used to work for Mr Chew. He later worked for four months in JW World, another Sim Lim shop, last year. He heard that Mr Chew was selling his business and got it at “below market price’’. How much, he wouldn’t say. He declares that Mr Chew is not linked to the business. Well, we wouldn’t know, as the company isn’t even registered. I wonder if Mr Lee is reading about how he can be jailed and fined – and whether he is doing business today. I wonder also whether ACRA will allow him to register the business or at least make it painful…Hey, ACRA, there’s about a year’s lease left on the outlet…Maybe you guys should hold out till then?

TNP has the best coverage of the resurrection of Mobile Air as HJ Mobile although it didn’t find out what HJ stands for…High Jinks? Hero Jover? Huge Joke? ItReporters saw the same people who manned Mobile Air at the shop. They said they were doing inventory work. I must say the salespeople are either foolhardily brave or shamelessly brazen. You would have thought they joined their ex-boss in hiding.

What’s clear is that Mobile Air’s antics have affected the first and second floor retailers in Sim Lim, with some of them moaning to ST that they don’t even see a single customer all day. Looks like even tourists know enough to stay away. Mr Lee said he would sell his products at a discount or export them to Vietnam and Thailand.

Maybe I am too unkind to Mr Lee. Maybe he really wants to make good, will rein in his staff and be an ethical businessman. Maybe he’s simply trying to help his ex-boss. (I am trying very hard to keep a straight face).

What does CASE say to all this? While Mobile Air is “live’’, it can be served an injunction that will stop it from unfair practices. It’s a wonder that Mr Chew hasn’t started winding down his company yet. It doesn’t take long. Then CASE’s Seah Seng Choon proceeds to lament that this is the “challenge’’ it faces with errant retailers who can simply wind up and re-start. It makes you ask: Shouldn’t CASE be lobbying for some changes on this front – or is this what the G is talking about when it refers to coming changes to punish errant retailers.

As for that impending injunction which surfaced after Mobile Air refused to sign that badly named Voluntary Compliance Act, it seems it will take a long time in coming, long enough for Mr Chew to do the needful to save his skin. There’s a bit more information on this “injunction’’ which was published in TODAY. It said 22 businesses have been served the VCAs over the last decade. Of these, 17 have complied (that is, we agree to be good ) but the remaining five had injunctions served successfully against them after they declined to sign. Isn’t it time for CASE to tell us a bit more about the five and how the injunction works? That would be useful consumer education.

By the way, CASE wants two retailers, Tele Infinity and Mobile Alliance,  in People’s Park to sign the VCA too. Seems the People’s Park people are even more gangsterish than those in Sim Lim, with 146 complaints against Sim Lim’s 103. I wonder what the two retailers have been up to? Making customers kneel for refunds or giving refunds in coins?

Oh! There’s something happening on the coin front. The G said it’s reviewing the legal tender laws which allow people to pay any sum in $1 coins. This means you can turn down coins if the sum exceeds a certain limit. It said so in ST Forum Page. Well, looks like at least that ONE thing can be fixed fast…

Raffles Place People

In News Reports on November 15, 2014 at 1:14 am

ST has a wonderful picture on Page 1, of the people at Raffles Place helping the stabbing victim and holding down the attacker at lunchtime yesterday. Go buy ST. It is a powerful picture. It showcasesnot just the public spiritedness of the people, but also its cosmopolitan mix. Of the English-language MSM, only TNP managed to throw up a name, a 28 year old auditor Mohammad Nazir Abdul Rahman, who helped pin down the assailant. Go buy TNP. Its sub-editors, however, seemed to have forgotten the need for proper picture captions and I can only assume that he is the man in the dark blue polo tee-shirt and beige pants. (I guess Friday is casual day at KPMG). And the police will be pleased to know that he pinned down the attacker because his national service police training kicked in. He must therefore be Singaporean, or least a second generation PR. Nah. Singaporean. I hear you ask, Is this important? Not to me, but to the cynical who think Singaporeans can’t be bothered to do anything but watch or complain.

Good on you, Mr Mohammad Nazir! I hope police will give you an award!

Now who were the rest of the people? TODAY said it tried to approach some of them, including the woman in the beige jacket who seemed to be tending to both victim and assailant in the pictures that have been circulating, but they declined to be interviewed. What I really want to know is the identity of this brave woman who was the first to act. She held on to the assailant right after the attacker stabbed him but couldn’t hold on to him. And what about the women whom Mr Mohammad Nazir referred to as having saved the victim’s life by tending to his injuries and which woman went to get hold of a first-aid kit?

I am sure there will be some who will point out that many others simply watched and took pictures. Curious bystanders and gawkers. Maybe we expected the whole of Raffles Place to be chasing down the man, like some kind of lynch mob. But it is enough methinks for some good souls to take the lead for the rest who were too stunned or did not want to put themselves forward for some reason. And they showed that good sense and quick thinking can come in many stripes and colours…

Of course, now everybody is wondering about the identities of the stabber and the stabbed. TODAY said that the victim was a frequent visitor to The Arcade, with its myriad of moneychangers but the moneychangers declined to speak to reporters. Many will note that the victim spoke in Mandarin. Let’s not jump the gun and conclude that they are Chinese who are not from these shores because we can’t conceive of such a brazen attack from our “own kind’’. I hear you ask, Is that important? Not to me, but to the anti-foreigner lobby who will chalk it up as another point in its favour. The stabber and stabbed can be of any nationality, just like the people who helped.

Climbing the corporate ladder – systematically

In Money, News Reports on November 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm

There’s a story in MSM today that you probably missed. It’s to do with the progressive wage model. Sounds “blah’’ I know but I have been trying to wrap my head around this concept that the labour movement has been promoting for some time now. Most of us would probably associate the model with cleaners who now operate with a minimum wage floor that will go up when they obtain skills or can do “high-order’’ work. More recently, the security industry was announced as sector number 2, to begin in 2016, to be followed by workers in landscaping. I can understand the need for a wage floor for the lower paid because they simply are paid too poorly. In fact, for cleaners, adoption of the model is part of a licensing scheme that all cleaning companies must get before they can bid for contracts.

But I can’t seem to wrap my head round why other better-paid sectors would need it. So the NTUC is happy that nearly 270 unionised companies have come on board to adopt the model, which is basically a career and wage progression ladder. I would have thought private sector companies, especially the big ones, would have human resource departments which have already mapped out how their employees should be assessed and paid or promoted. It seems the private sector already does plenty of merit-based promotion and payment but the labour movement wants to make this process more systematic and transparent. I wonder how many companies actually want to tell their employees how they promote and pay people. After all, this an important lever for a company to get more from its workers. And would they want to be bound by a wage structure that says when and how they should promote? Seems to me a bit like tying the hands of employers. At the very minimum, they have to abide by a wage floor for employees.

Looking through the case studies presented by NTUC at its conference yesterday, I was surprised that Singapore Airlines and SMRT were among the companies that have recently adopted the model. SIA promotes not just on merit, but also level of competency. Here’s what its human resource person said: “In the past, promotions were hard to come by. People had to wait for vacancies to arrive through resignation. Our staff are loyal so the attrition rate is low, as far as our general staff are concerned, so you had to wait a long time for vacancies to arrive.” Since it implemented the model, it has promoted 85 general staff.

I guess that’s a point in employees favour. Too often, they look up at the seniors in the company hierarchy and wonder when they will be pushed off their perch so that a vacancy is available. It must be pretty demoralising for a young person to see so many not much older people above him on the ladder. It’s a temptation to job-hop, to seek better prospects elsewhere. Yet, I wonder too how the companies feel about having a bigger and bigger wage bill, unless of course, it is accompanied by bigger and bigger output.

It seems some people in the F&B sector are taking on the model with a starting pay of $1,300 a month for service crew, instead of $1,200 a month. Instead of five levels to the top, which is Operations Manager, it created another two rungs in between. I think employers will have to keep persuading staff that this isn’t a way to slow down progression, which will be how some people will see it (as road blocks rather than rungs). I had a look at the ladder and the good thing is that the top level can stand to earn at least $4,500 a month instead of the current maximum of $3,800. Of course, how long it will take to get through seven levels instead of jumping through five….It seems that the labour movement wants these companies to be a nucleaus of sorts to infect the rest of the sector and has set up tripartite sectoral committees which will decide on wage increments and any changes to the ladder. It’s like price-fixing with a floor, except that both employers and unions have a hand in it.

I asked NTUC why employers would even want to be part of this and the answer that came back: Labour crunch. Employers would want their workers to stay on rather than job hop to the next employer who pays $10 more. I suppose in this full employment period, this is the best time to press employers to raise wages in accordance with skills and more or better service. I hope though that it isn’t the case that just because someone has a diploma or two, it means an automatic push up the ladder. Because it can turn the phrase “life-long learning’’ into a weary paper chase. And we thought we left school a long time ago!

That TV clip which went viral

In News Reports, Society on November 13, 2014 at 8:01 am

So many people have been talking about the Channel 8 show 118 that I had to go and find out for myself what the fuss was about. It’s actually over a 90 second rant by a young man about the cost or standard of living. His parents were chiding him for some underhand methods he had doing business – and he just let it go. In Mandarin. This is my very loose translation.

“You think I’m the only one anxious to make money? Go ask other young people, who’s not anxious? By the time I finish serving the nation and graduate from university, I’ll be 23, 24 years old. In a blink of an eye, I’ll be 30. In these few years, I need to get married; buy a house, start a family with kids; how is that possible without money? A flat now costs at least $300,000 to $400,000. Let’s talk about basic daily expenses…For someone working in the CBD, who takes two or three train trips, sometimes when you’re in a hurry; you take a cab, just transportation fees itself will cost $6-$7. Even the cheapest lunch cost up to $5-$6, a cup of coffee cost $6-$7 at a cafe! Never mind that, the government wants us to get married and set up a family early, but I’ve to get girlfriend first right? If I don’t bring her out for meals, movies, overseas trips once in a while and buy her branded items occasionally, nobody would want me even if I look as good as a celebrity. Some people have to go to university, take loans and even give the family an allowance. A wedding banquet cost $1000 and above for a table. A wedding photo shoot is $3000 to $4000. All this costs money, money, money! Our generation don’t ask for a luxurious lifestyle. Just to maintain our basic expenses, we have to go out and earn more money. I’m sure you don’t want your son to end up asking you for money to throw a wedding banquet or to buy a flat when he is starting a family. Yes, I agree my methods may be extreme and I’m in the wrong. But the fault is not in me, it is caused by the society.”

Apparently, the video clip resounded so much with people that it went viral. It touched a chord – or is it a raw nerve? So many people weighed in, applauding MediaCorp for the script. They said it represented reality – that everything was getting too expensive. I was thinking to myself that it was very odd for MCS to be so politically incorrect. I mean, where’s the balance? I mean, you can use your CPF money with bits contributed by employer for housing – and don’t forget all the grants you can get for staying with parents or near them. I mean, do you have to have coffee at Starbucks? You can still get coffee at less than $1. You don’t have to throw a $1,000 per table wedding banquet do you? Why not ditch that expensive girlfriend? And how dare you blame society for everything!

At least, I can hear these answers from authoritative sources and old fogies which will balance out his rant. Much like Tan Pin Pin’s movie To Singapore With Love, right? No balance. I doubt that her movie will make communists out of the people or make them resort to subversive action. But, hey, this MCS clip is really, really subversive. And it’s free-to-air!

So I was interested to see what MCS has to say about the clip going viral. TODAY obliged today.

The show’s scriptwriter Ang Eng Tee (of The Little Nyonya fame) said he had written the monologue to represent the views of a certain type of young person.

“The character is focused on branded goods and flashy cars. He represents that sort of young person’s values,” Ang said. “He feels life is stressful because a cup of coffee from a popular chain costs S$6 and he needs to buy his girlfriends branded gifts.” The 54-year-old writer said when he was writing the character of Shun Shui, he spoke to many young people, including friends of his 23-year-old daughter, to get their views. “I know a lot of young people feel a lot of stress and can relate,” he said. “(But) the clip that was uploaded to Facebook probably provoked a bigger reaction because it was an isolated 90-second bit of dialogue.”

Oh dear! So this is said to be representative of a sort of young person’s values. I hope it’s a small minority. (I hope it’s not like the beautiful young people featured in Sunday Times Lifestyle pages who don’t mind splurging several thousand dollars on a designer handbag not even a year into their foray into the workplace because it is a “statement’’ about their identity. In fact, I have no clue what that article was trying to prove – that there are such young people? Sorry, I digress)

Now, the scriptwriter said that if the clip was viewed in context, the character’s parents were chiding him about his credit card debt, “but this young person didn’t care’’. “I think he represents some of the people in Singapore. I don’t think there are a lot of them.’’ He said that there were other characters in the show who are “more grounded’’, like a 30-something who would rather drink $1 coffee at the kopitiam.

So revealing. The under-30s who play free and loose with money and an above-30 who is more frugal. Maybe, the younger character will age and be landed with house and family, forcing him to drink coffee at the kopitiam.

What is interesting is how so many people saw the clip and cheered it. It’s like taking someone’s quote out of context. What has happened to living within your means? And is it so important to maintain a certain lifestyle that you would break the bank, have three months worth of credit card arrears or do something underhanded?

I know this is just a drama series, but it is worrying to me that to some, it sounds true to life – when in fact, the truth is, most spending is within our control.

The hole is getting bigger

In News Reports, Politics on November 12, 2014 at 10:05 am

Okay, does anyone remember that there was supposed to be a review of town council legislation? It’s supposed to be led by Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan who is supposed to focus on three specific areas: The councils’ duties and responsibilities in relation to HDB; the adequacy of their sinking funds and long-term financial sustainability; and the arrangements when they change hands between MPs.

That was announced in May 2013, in the aftermath of the controversy caused by the employment of a PAP company, AIM, to handle some software systems for town councils. If you recall the case, the Workers’ Party blamed the termination of AIM’s services for some of the tardiness over its town council financial reports. There was plenty of rowing over it with the PAP town councils obtaining a clean bill of health at the end. Then, the PAP start its own shooting war, accusing the WP of employing cronies and not exercising due financial diligence. Inflammatory and near defamatory words were exchanged.

Well, Mr Lee seems to be taking his time with the report even though in February this year, there was yet another kerfuffle over the WP’s accounts for the Aljunied GRC-Hougang town council. This time, its independent auditor said he couldn’t form an opinion on its accounts because there were missing pieces of information, which the WP promptly said was due to “handover’’ issues, among other things. The Auditor-General’s Office was directed to look into the accounts. He was to examine whether the town council has taken “all reasonable steps” to safeguard the collection and custody of its money, that money went to the right people and that no laws were broken.

Well, the Auditor-General doesn’t seem to have finished his report either. In fact, he’s the reason cited by the WP for its tardiness : It was too busy preparing for his audit to think about its financial statements and can only respond fully to queries about its bad report card after the audit was over.

 Maybe WP has a point. As reported by ST, according to the National Development ministry, the town council’s poor performance in corporate governance was because it has not shown that it has rectified “various legal and regulatory contraventions” reported by its independent auditors for the 2011 and 2012 financial years. Also, it has not submitted its FY13 financial statements and its self-declared corporate governance checklist. (I guess it’s waiting for directions from the AGO?)

But how does it account for its rather poor collection of service and conservancy fees which is at 29.4 per cent as end April 2013? The norm is about 3 per cent. “From May 2013, the TC stopped submitting its monthly S&CC arrears report altogether, despite repeated reminders,” said the MND.

Minister of State for MND Desmond Lee has weighed in to shed more light after WP chief Low Thia Kiang maintained that he had no cash flow problems and that poor financial management had no impact on the running of an estate (makes you wonder why anyone needs to pay S&C fees then).

Mr Lee said that Mr Low, who was in charge of Hougang town council before it merged with Aljunied GRC in the last election, also had hefty arears of about 7.8 per cent. The town council’s independent auditor had a net operating deficit of about $92,000 and an accumulated deficit of about $9,000. All of which was swept away when the two wards merged after the 2011 general election. The PAP-run Aljunied town council had an operating surplus of $3.3 million. But the merged entity had a deficit of $734,000 in the 2012 financial year.

What of 2013? Don’t know because it hasn’t submitted its latest financial statement. The bet is that the hole is bigger.

Now, the G seems to have a lot more information than anyone else (except the WP which is keeping silent). But I wonder how it has come to pass that a town council can NOT issue reports on its S&C fees to the G for more than a year without attracting sanctions. Is this part of regulations? Or a guideline that can be broken? As for its financial statements, WP chairman Sylvia Lim said she has already told MND about their status implying, I suppose, that the G shouldn’t be surprised that it didn’t get them.

Is there no “trigger’’ point for the G to act? Or was it not provided for in the town council legislation? Perhaps, the G is sticking to its position articulated by MND Minister Khaw Boon Wan, that town councils are necessarily political in nature. It’s for the MPs to manage the town councils and you, the voters who voted for them, good luck to you! Thing is, why is the review and the AGO audit taking so long? Does the G want to wait till the WP town council is bankrupt to show the voters the outcome of their vote? Are things only going to happen closer to the next GE? And what happens if the town council cannot pay its debts? Is the G going to do a bail-out and show its generous side?

I wonder what the residents in Aljunied and Hougang are saying? They don’t care so long as their rubbish is collected? They don’t believe the statistics and agree with Mr Low that all is hunky-dory? To have three in 10 households in arrears is okay? The other seven households have no problems subsidising the rest and really like the “compassionate’’ attitude the WP is showing?

Oh! Where is the Citizens’ Consultative Committee in all this? Shouldn’t it be at the forefront asking questions of WP since it’s a grassroots body with the welfare of residents at heart? The members can’t merely be signing off on licences for trade fairs right?

I see a cat-and-mouse game going on. The G wants WP to admit to some kind of financial mis-management. WP wants to see how far it can push blame to the G. So both sides aren’t saying anything much. It’s the Aljunied and Hougang residents who will ultimately suffer from the politics that is being played out at the grassroots. And maybe the rest of us taxpayers as well if the G is merely waiting for the hole to get bigger for the WP to fall in.