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Archive for December, 2014|Monthly archive page

A new vision – in hindsight

In Politics, Society on December 28, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Okay, now that I’ve done my year-end round-up, it’s time for the usual look ahead.

I have to say that 2014 was pretty boring, at least by the standards of 2013. No by-elections, no Population White Paper, no illegal strike by bus drivers and no Little India riot. I suppose I should substitute boring with peaceful. Yup, a peaceful 2014 with long-term worries about low productivity and increasing core inflation. Everything exciting (read: bad) was happening outside Singapore – even flooding! We’re above water this time, so we’re not even grumbling about flash floods as much as before. Even the haze wasn’t as bad.

I am going to sound like the G when I say this but….

  1. we really had it pretty good
  2. we have much to be thankful for
  3. this is a good place to live in

I now await the brickbats.

I liked what Sunday Times writer Rachel Chang said in her column today, that we seem to have reached a stage of melancholia, looking back at our past successes (at least the material ones) and wondering if life will get better. We are angsty people. I see the angst all the time online, and I ask myself if it is merely fashionable to be pessimistic online. Whether we’re making mountains out of molehills and see every bump as a sign of an inevitable decline of this Little Red Dot.

It’s true that things are getting more expensive, the place is getting crowded and we don’t think everything is running as efficiently as before. I’d like to think that to counteract the above, our wages are also going up, more planning is being done to fit in the crowd and maybe we have unreasonable expectations of how things should work because, truth to tell, we can’t seem to separate inconveniences from complete disasters. Of course our train system could be better, but I gather it’s better than most places. We wish our education system was less stressful but we don’t consider that we might be contributing to the stress faced by our children. Some people can’t afford medical bills but that is hopefully being fixed with Medishield Life. And never mind that we can’t see our full CPF at age 55. The thing is, CPF Life will give you money till you die, and to your beneficiaries if you have some leftover.

I know we don’t think much of a Mandai makeover or a Jewel at Changi Airport. They will take years. We know more MRT lines are coming up, but it is not NOW.  So what if the transfers from the G, whether through rebates and credits are increased, we say, when we still have to pay fees, fines and taxes and more for a bowl of noodles at the hawker centre. Give with one hand, take with the other, as a popular sentiment goes.

We are such sour people and maybe we should stop to ask ourselves if our life is so bad that we don’t see anything good ahead. Some things have changed, for which I think the G should get credit. (Except that it is fashionable to say that not enough is being done, or it’s too little or too late.)  I look at what’s been done for the pioneer generation and I (almost) wish I was over 65. I see my mother flashing her PG card wherever she goes in the hope of a discount,  shopping on days for pioneers, getting a free dental checkup and going for specialist medical treatment at lower prices and who will soon be getting medication at even lower rates. I am so glad for her. Even so, the contrarian view is that the G is merely buying votes in advance.

One of our problems is that we have a big G. Everything can be traced back to the hand of the G which is why it is so easy to impute all sorts of motives and blame it for everything. I actually think the G is a convenient scapegoat. That’s the price that a strong government (with good salaries) pays. Yet that is what we voted for in the past. But, as Ms Chang said, we’re no longer at the “developing’’ stage where the household is glad to substitute a black-and-white TV for a colour TV or swop the fan for the air-conditioner. Just look at the kinds of issues that have taken centre-stage this year at least on social media: Penguin-gate, Hong Lim Park protests, rights of foreign workers, Wear White versus Pink Dot, To Singapore with Love, self-classification of arts events. They are hardly bread-and-butter issues for citizens.

“Liberal’’ issues so fashionable in the west have taken root here. Even the G had to concede (engage?) on some points: the death penalty is off the table except in most egregious cases, Pink Dot was left unmolested, the arts community got their way and the penguins did not get pulped. More dormitories will be built for foreign workers and animal welfare legislation was pushed through Parliament. Liberal, civil rights types will claim victory; the G will say it “listened’’.

Of course, the G would insist that Singapore needs a strong government, or every single seat in Parliament. But even the ruling People’s Action Party seems to have conceded that it can’t turn back the clock and looks resigned to facing an uphill fight in the next general election. This is even though it has done a pretty job of fulfilling some promises made during the new normal after the last GE, such as easing transport and housing problems and tightening up on the flow of foreigners into Singapore.

Ms Chang wrote: “It is easy to skip along when economic growth powers ahead.

“What is required of us now is digging deep for correction and re-invention, learning not just to add, but also to subtract. It is perhaps here that we discover the fundamental character of Singapore society and whether cohesion truly exists – not just in a time of abundant growth, but in leanness and fractiousness.

“I think there is already a new vision being forged, and it looks something like this: one with greater social protection that avoids the rent-seeking, morally hazardous policies of Europe; one with leaders who inspire and empathise; one with a brave acknowledgement of entrenched racial and income privileges that masquerade as meritocracy; one with a more open and creative culture whose strength comes from bearing without breaking the weight of political, social and cultural differences, not from pretending those differences do not exist.’’

I agree with the first point on greater social protection. The G is allergic to the word “welfare’’ but I can’t help but think of the various wage support structures and credits for the employed or the write-offs that businesses get for restructuring as “welfare’’. It doesn’t want to have a poverty line or minimum wage but it was okay about mandating a progressive wage model for lower income workers like cleaners and security guards. Save for DPM Tharman, it won’t declare that it is “left of centre’’ but that it would focus on “social policies’’.

On the second point about inspirational and empathetic leaders, I think they are more empathetic than inspirational. In fact, I can’t even name more than a handful of MPs who have done a good job of speaking for the people (and I include the opposition MPs here).

On the third point about privileges that masquerade as meritocracy, the PAP has talked a great deal about busting “closed circles’’ and even amended its constitution to reflect a compassionate meritocracy but I am not sure that the “acknowledgment’’ has led to much action. Unless you count the emphasis on a technical vocation?

As for the last point on an open and creative culture, quite a lot depends on us too doesn’t it? I see the polarisation taking place among various groups staking their claim and I wonder if the accusation we hurl at the G about not being open should be applied to us as well. We no longer pretend that differences do not exist, that is true. But whether we can bear such a culture without breaking is still something we should watch out for. Unless we want the G to intervene…

So is a new vision being forged?

I think so. I agree in the main with what Ms Chang said. But I also think we should cut the G some slack and not see every single word or action as something nefarious. Remember the Our Singapore Conversation? One key thrust was trust. The G should trust us, and we should trust it too. It works both ways.

Dammit! I realised that I haven’t talked about 2015. Sigh. Too tired now.

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Wrapping up Singapore 2014

In News Reports on December 23, 2014 at 7:25 am

A Dozen Things/Events/People that defined Singapore in the Year 2014

1. Chewing over Jover Chew

(This Sim Lim Square retailer in the consumer watchdog’s blacklist made a tourist go on his knees for a refund. He packed up his shop and disappeared from sight, leaving in his wake questions about the adequacy of consumer protection laws)

There was a man called Jover Chew

We hope his kind are far and few

Too many people did he screw

All they can do is rant and rue

The day they met Jover Chew

What did he do, this Jover Chew?

He made people pay more than their due

So why not sue this Jover Chew?

He cannot be found

He’s made no sound

Or he’ll be skewered, ’tis true

 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 

He’s playing peek-a-boo

 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

Who made Sim Lim Square merchants black

Bad retailers will get their due

Lemon laws re-looked anew

Sim Lim Square merchants feeling blue

Customers are far and few

All because of Jover Chew

2. Little India COI

(A Commission of Inquiry was held to ascertain the causes of the Little India riot the year before, and to look at how the security forces handled the affair the night.

Multiple-choice test on miscellaneous info:

(Answers NOT provided)

1. Who is Tiffany?

a.The person who started the Tiffany chain of high class luxe goods

b. An SCDF officer who demonstrated courage under fire

c. A top model who goes by one name

2. What is Kingfisher?

a. A kind of bird

b. A type of beer

c. A gambling den chief

3. What is the meaning of “hold the ground’’?

a. When soccer players decide to play dead in the hope of “fouling’’ the other side

b. When police decide to play dead in the hope that everything will be normal soon

c. When fields are overgrown with weeds

4. How many police cameras are there now in Little India?

a. More than 50

b. More than 200

c. More than 500

5. Which law was enacted in the aftermath of the riot?

a. The Public Nuisance Act

b. The No Drinking/Gambling/Peeing Act

c. The Public Order Act

6. Did the South Asians riot because of pent-up frustrations over salaries and working conditions?

a. Yes, according to NGOs interviewed

b. No, according to foreign workers interviewed

c.Yes, no, maybe, no comment, don’t know, depending on who’s interviewed

  1. The widow’s fright

(A Chinese national who met a rich elderly widow while he was her tour guide moved into her bungalow, became her legal guardian and was named heir of her $40m estate. Yang Yin’s lasting power of attorney was later revoked and he is now facing criminal charges which also involve how he managed to obtain permanent residency here)

There was once an old lady who lived in a big house

She has no children, already lost her spouse

She got to know Yang Yin

Thought he was something

Then found out he’s really a louse

 4. The house where Peter and Paul lived

(A book on a pair of homosexual penguins in the children’s section of the National Library became the focal point of a debate on values, the family unit, paternalism and censorship. News that copies of the book were to be pulped ignited protests by book lovers. The books were later placed in the adults’ section.)

Once upon a time, there were two penguins named Peter and Paul.

They lived in a book, on a shelf in the library.

They were a happy couple, minding their own business and playing happy family.

Then one day, someone found out where they lived and tried to blow their house down. Some people suggested setting them on fire, even pulping their remains

But these penguins had protectors. Knights formed up in battle array guarding  their home. The other side blinked. Today, Peter and Paul are safe. They still live in their book, but moved to another shelf.

5. Manifesto of the Workers’ Party

(The opposition party’s management of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East town council came under fire when it was revealed that one in three of its households were behind their service and conservancy fees. Despite insistent calls for answers by the ruling People’s Action Party, it steadfastly maintained that it would answer questions in due course)

We, the members of the Workers’ Party, pledge to tell the truth (in our own time)

With answers in full detail (after the Auditor General is done)

We give you our solemn pledge that we have not fiddled with numbers (and if it happened, it was an oversight)

That our finances are sound (this is a political party; not City Harvest church)

And that our town council is in tip top shape (we’ll continue to advertise for a managing agent)

Our residents are happy (because they don’t pay conservancy fees)

They like our style of management (because we are sympathetic)

So can everyone else please shut up and sit down.

6. To Singapore, with glove.

(Tan Pin Pin’s film based on interviews with Singapore exiles was deemed unsuitable for public viewing after the G determined that the exiles were re-writing history and whitewashing their own involvement. Revisionism became a point of contention on the eve of Singapore’s 50th anniversary)

Interviewee/Exile: I was never a communist. I was a socialist. Actually I was just a political party activist. Okay, I was on the losing side. I never advocated armed struggle and if anyone thinks I did, they must have been brainwashed. Or maybe I was the one who got duped. I don’t really know who was duping who. In any case, I love Singapore and left it because I feared for my life. I wanted to return but I knew I was on a watch-list and was afraid that I would be thrown into jail or worse, have to serve NS. It doesn’t matter what the Government says, winners after all, write history. Lee Kuan Yew has his story but this is my story. I’m sorry I can’t say anything more because I have been deemed unsuitable for public viewing. Nevertheless, I would like to invite you to Johor for a private meeting. Please do not bring your grandparents along. They might remember me.

7. White and pink on the Little Red Dot

(The annual Pink Dot celebration at Hong Lim Park organized by the LGBT community faced a challenge from pro-family and conservative groups who tried to counter the rise of the LGBT cause with a wear white campaign on the same day, reflecting increasing polarization between the two groups)

Two childhood friends meet in a coffeeshop.

PINK: Are you getting married today or going to the PAP convention?

WHITE: I suppose you’re going to Hong Lim Park..

PINK: Eh, Hong Lim Park is not the only place I hang out…

WHITE:  So long as you and your friends don’t hang out with my children…

PINK: Where’s the wife? Ran off with another man? Or woman?

WHITE: Gone to stay with her parents…we’re getting divorced

PINK: Oh. I didn’t know. Sorry.

WHITE: That partner of yours still with you?

PINK: Yup. We’re getting married. In the States. But you must come for the reception here.

WHITE: Okay. Can you invite my wife as well? Thinking of how we can get back together.

PINK: Sure. Anything for a friend.

WHITE: I promise to wear pink.

PINK: I’m going to wear white.

8. Medishield Life: A bureaucrat’s take

(Concern over the healthcare needs of an ageing population and high numbers of un-insured led to a re-crafting of Medishield, the CPF-based national health insurance scheme.)

In view of higher life expectancies and the tendency of senior citizens to succumb to various illnesses with greater frequency, a new health insurance scheme will be introduced for all, including those who live forever. (See Appendix 1 on life expectancy and death rates for residents)

This will involve a complicated series of subsidies (Table 1) as well as varying premiums depending on age (Table 2) and household income (Table 3). (Please use attached calculator.)

Those who were un-insurable because they inherited their parents’ bad genes will now be covered by this new non-optional scheme, known as Medishield Life. (See Appendix 2 on congenital diseases)

Those with private health insurance should wait until further notice after which they will be advised to consult their respective insurers.

Those aged 65 and above will receive the greatest benefits, to acknowledge their pioneering efforts while they are still alive.

Those who are 64 and eleven months old will be considered for these medical perks on a case-by-case basis.

This policy is to assure Singaporeans of their healthcare needs throughout their life-time, although it is not our policy to guarantee an empty hospital bed when they need it.

9. Cleaning up pay matters

(Salaries of lower paid workers, such as cleaners and security guards, got a boost when the labour movement succeeded in pushing through a wage model of gradual increments based on productivity and scope of work for the two industries) .

Old Cleaner: Your pay got go up or not?

Older Cleaner 2: Got lah. Kiam kana. Just past four figures.

Old Cleaner : Training not hard right? Got to go for class on how to use broom and dustpan…How to work like robot…

Older Cleaner: Work with robot lah. We already work like robot.

Old Cleaner: Aiyah. At least something. Boss cannot anyhow pay us. Always say contract so small, cannot afford. Last time, boss didn’t even give me broom. I bring mine from home. Now company kena get licence.

Older Cleaner: You young people don’t complain lah. At least from now, you can always get more salary, can only go up. I get same salary for more than 40 years already. Clean office. Clean hawker centre. Clean void deck. All same salary.

Old Cleaner: Then how come you stay in the line for so long?

Older Cleaner: Because become dishwasher even worse

 10. SG50

(‘Nuff said)

Emcee: Come on everyone!!!! It’s our 50th birthday! Sing, Singapore! Cheer, Singapore! Read the books! Catch the films! Watch the shows! Remember how we got from Third World to First! Make a baby! Get a fancy birth cert and baby pack! Get discounts – everyone’s getting in on the act!  50 per cent discount on our 50th birthday! 50 cents coffee! 50 different icons! 50 places we remember! 50 top companies! 50 beautiful people! 50 top hawker stalls!  50 other things that I am supposed to say but can’t remember….

11. A dummy’s guide on how to conduct protests

(Han Hui Hui, Roy Ngerng and a few members of the Return Our CPF lobby were accused of heckling a group of special needs children who were performing at Hong Lim Park. They are facing charges of staging an illegal protest. A separate group also launched a silent protest at a human rights forum which featured law professor Thio Li Ann, noted for her anti-LGBT sentiments.)

Protests are a manifestation of unhappiness, usually directed at the authorities or against an abhorrent cause. To conduct a good protest, please ensure that your level of unhappiness is equivalent to the size of your bravado. Fellow protestors must take the cue from a leader, who will instinctively emerge from the background because he or she has the loudspeaker or at least the loudest voice.

Please note that protests can take many forms. A hunger strike, a sit-in, an Occupy movement are all techniques that have been mastered over the years. Protests may also be loud or silent. A parade along public roads or blockade is not advisable. Besides the danger to personal liberty because of police action, the economic consequences could be dire if people do not get to work on time. (Please note that the train service may not be reliable.)

A loud protest is recommended especially for Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park. This is because speaking, shrieking and screaming are essentially the same thing. It is best to launch your protest when someone else’s crowd is present. This will win you converts to your cause or at the very least, scare children.

A silent protest is best indoors, especially for the benefit of the intellectual and the erudite. Placards can be used in lieu of voice, to be held prominently lest they are mistaken as graffiti by vandals. Use CAPITAL letters to emphasise your points.

*Protest Inc wishes you all the best in your next protest. Please burn this booklet after reading.

12. A grass cutter’s lecture

(The state of the grass field in the National Stadium in the new Sports Hub became a national issue when sportsmen complained about the sandiness and uneven-ness of the pitch. International soccer players panned it, and events there were stopped or postponed to let the grass grow, at least till a decision is made on what to do with the turf.)

Please note that there are many types of grass. Some are greener, especially on the other side. Some are like lallang. Some are like carpet grass, like the sort you see on landed property. But guess what, we can all step on grass – unless there are signs which say “cannot’’ or the kind that you smoke.

The National Stadium grass, therefore, must be special. Right temperature. Right sunlight. Right rain. Grass must not only be for people to step on, but also to run on and fall on. Maybe also jump up and down on so that people can see singers on high stage. So it must be good grass, imported or hybrid or home grown. People are also talking about dead grass. Maybe plastic, rubber or synthetic. The main thing is, it must be green. Anyway, someone has decided that we should grow grass, and then re-plant. So I am no longer a grass-cutter. I am now a grass grower.

Go to http://www.thesmartlocal.com/read/singapore-in-2014 for the visual version!

Death amid dirt – and where were we?

In News Reports, Society on December 18, 2014 at 12:51 am

There’s a heart-breaking story in TNP of a man who died alone in his squalid three-room flat in Toa Payoh. His body was found last month after neighbours thought that the stench from his flat was extra terrible. He’d been living in squalor for more than 10 years it seems. Even a month after his death, his flat still stinks because his NOK can’t be contacted to clean up the place. The Cat Welfare Society entered the unlocked flat to rescue seven cats. Would that someone had stepped in to rescue the man earlier…Nobody seems to know the man’s name. He’s not old, in his 50s, it seems. Neighbours know him as Din and says the ex-postman sometimes sleeps at the void deck. Looks like something happened to Din after his mother died 10 years ago.

It always amazes me that in a densely-packed place like Singapore, people can still die un-noticed – amid a 10 year stench. Neighbours spray insecticide around their homes and say that they have complained to their MP (not named). One regretted that nothing was done for the man earlier. I guess we’ll all be pointing fingers at the grassroots organisations who should have known what was happening in their environs. We’ll ask “Where’s ComCare?’’, “Where is the MP?’’, “Did the town council know?’’ We’ll wonder why nothing was done in that 10 years when the man was alive, and in the one month after he died. What happened to the official and social/community support structures in his case? I wonder who buried the man and whether he had his last rites.

I suppose it will be too much to suggest that the neighbours themselves might have done something beyond complain to the authorities. We are all so good at minding our own business. Maybe the man had declined help from official or community channels over the years. How he lives in his flat is his own lookout; his house is his castle after all.

I don’t know why I feel extra terrible reading this. We’ve read such news reports before. I guess it’s because Christmas is nearing. Malls are crowded and people are spending a whole lot of money buying presents and decorating their homes. People are thronging department store sections which tout gift ideas. Young people are holding hands and taking selfies in front of mall decorations. All hustle and bustle.

Then there is this man who dies alone, in a flat which probably hadn’t been cleaned in 10 years. I think about those news reports of people who volunteer to make over a person’s home, and the happy faces of the owners when it’s done. I wonder what Din would have said if these wonderful people approached him to do the same. Thing is, he fell through the cracks. And I somehow feel that all of us are responsible for this.

A stern reminder to learn lesson

In News Reports, Politics, Society on December 17, 2014 at 1:04 pm

There are some phrases I wish politicians wouldn’t use, and which I firmly believe should be banned from their vocabulary.

Here is my list: a) a stern reminder b) lesson to be learnt c) need to be resilient.

I am referring to the ministers’ statements over the hostage crisis in Sydney. I know the point they are making, really. The hostage taking IS a stern reminder that we cannot take peace for granted and must be resilient and hold together. Yes, there IS a lesson to be learnt here.  The problem is that such a lecturing tone is going to fall on deaf ears. It’s like a parent who says: “Look what happened over there…You want the same thing to happen to you?’’ Politicians must really get better at getting their points across. Or whoever writes their Facebook posts have to do better.

Here’s my one cent worth:

I don’t know how many of you have been to Sydney or have friends and family there, but I’m sure you’re shocked to the bone at what’s happening there. You are just sitting in a café, say a Starbucks along Orchard Road, and a nutter comes in and brandishes a gun, saying that he’s speaking for the Islamic State. We’ve heard or read enough of the Islamic State, its beheadings and bloody ideology. The Muslims among us are appalled, just like the rest of us, at the twisted use of religion. But it takes just one crazed man, never mind if he did or did not return from Syria or even believes in the IS agenda, to set a peaceful place on edge. The Aussies are showing that they are made of sterner stuff. They are stepping up to the plate by even volunteering to escort Muslims on public transport. This is great behaviour. They showed that terrorism isn’t going to change their way of life. Would that we can do the same if something like this should ever happen here. Touch wood!

I know I might be stepping out of line (so bloody arrogant) by making such a suggestion. But seriously lah…

What other sexual subcultures should we know about then?

In News Reports, Society on December 15, 2014 at 12:30 am

I’ve always like The New Paper. It’s a feisty thing. With gutsy reporters who dig deep. For dirt, sure, but also facts. It tells people what they want to know, whether they know it or not…That’s why I don’t criticize much when it resorts to voyeurism and sensationalism. Newspapers, after all, have to sell. Compared to other tabloids elsewhere, TNP is actually pretty tame. Sometimes tamer than the afternoon Chinese-language dailies

I was surprised that it put a dominatrix on yesterday’s Page 1, someone who charges $200 an hour to whip clients. Of course, people will read it. It is part of a lifestyle that most people do not indulge in but may find fascinating. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing this if I did not read the editorial justification for the story, which the reporter acknowledged will raise questions.

“Of course, people will say this story is being run for its shock value, but I beg to differ. We, as journalists, peel away the layers and look beneath the public image of sterile Singapore,’’ she wrote.

Then she asked a “quick question’’: Whether readers know that there was no sex involved when you hire a “professional’’ dominatrix. She said that she was no prude and that if being conservative means burying her head – and those of her children – in the sand about sexual sub-cultures, then she’d rather be liberal and discuss the matter openly with her children.

“Our culture may be conservative, but that should not stop us from being aware of what is permissive and what can happen between consenting adults behind closed doors.’’

I was uncomfortable reading this. If I want to picky and tear the feature apart journalistically, I can. It is just an interview with ONE dominatrix accompanied by an article on why bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism might be some people’s cup of tea. There is really no editorial imperative for such a story, except “pro-dommes’’ saying that there is a “gradual increase in the number of new bookings’’ – which is no different from someone trying to flog a product. It is not a trend story. The practice is not illegal. Nobody got hurt (except in the way they want..) And I keep wondering why the article keeps making the point that no sex is involved for pro-dommes. It’s probably what professional social escorts would say too. Enlightening the public on this “fact’’ is surely not the point of the publication.

If TNP is not a newspaper (and a daily as well), I wouldn’t have a problem with the article. It could appear anywhere in a lifestyle magazine, and even in its inside pages. But as the page 1 story of a newspaper, with the justification that it is peeling away the layers of the public image of a sterile Singapore, then I wonder where the line is going to be drawn. In fact, I am not even sure I agree with the image of Singapore as “sterile’’ anymore.

Does TNP then intend to venture into other “sexual subcultures’’? If so, I have many ideas and can even come with possible reasons for publication:

  1. What goes on in gay clubs – TNP did do a spread on what goes on inside such clubs in the past, with the editorial justification or what is in journalistic parlance known as the news peg being the accidental death of a man in such a place.
  2. The life of foreign gigolos here – So much about female foreign sex workers, how come not much about the men?
  3. Sex orgies in HDB flats – Who says heartlanders are dull?
  4. Public places where lesbians hang out – an informative piece for both straight and gay women
  5. The top-selling sex toy in Singapore – a consumer story for adults.

I can also accompany each with an expert-laden article on the whys and wherefores of such people’s lives and their activities. There are plenty of experts online to quote, like how TNP reported a Mail Online report last year on some overseas experts who believe that BDSM can make you more psychologically healthy because people who enjoy kinky sex are more extrovert and less neurotic. There’s even a Dr Andreas Wismeijer, a psychologist from Tilburg University in Holland, who said BDSM practitioners are no different from the rest of the population, and if they are, “they differed in a favourable direction’’.

Now, I am not making a judgment on what adults do privately. It is their business. If it is not illegal and doesn’t harm others, consenting adults should be left to their own devices. What I object to is a newspaper struggling for an editorial justification for a story which has no journalistic merit.

Its conclusion that our conservative culture “should not stop us from being aware of what is permissive (is this supposed to be a derogatory word or what?) and what can happen between consenting adults behind closed doors’’ is too sweeping for comfort.

I want my newspaper to remain a NEWS paper.

A deadly serious laugh

In News Reports, Society on December 13, 2014 at 3:44 am

Prof Kishore Mahbunai is now down to his last big idea for Singapore: We should litter not, laugh a lot and love Singapore. I am only going to deal with laugh a lot, because that’s the most fun part. He thinks part of the reason we are gloomy people could be that we live in such a densely populated place. Easy to get irritated. We simply have to learn to love with this existential condition, he says.

He also wants national cartoonists to be nurtured and for leaders to allow themselves to be made fun of. Like Tommy Koh, Chan Heng Chee, Ho Kwon Ping and Gerard Ee. He said that they surely wouldn’t mind being lampooned once in a while. (Note that he steered clear of political figures here, although he named Malaysia’s Mahathir as someone who, despite being heavily caricatured, didn’t have his stature diminished one bit.)

Gosh! I think he doesn’t get online much.

Anyone I can just imagine the fuss if cartoonists started parodying everyone in more accessible, physical spaces than, hmm, online. So boh tua, boh suay!   There’s a difference between tasteful illustrations and comic caricatures. And the plain rude types. I can already hear the protests: It would denigrate the authority of the person. Surely, a cartoonist can’t be going around asking for permission from the person he wants to parody?

In any case, I agree that we should laugh a lot more than we do. I can’t help but think about how deadly serious we are about holding to certain points of view.

So let’s have a deadly serious laugh then…

POLITICIAN aka PM: I am deadly serious when I tell you that we’ll be seriously dead if we lose the next election.

PANEL MODERATOR: Can you please be deadly serious or even half-way serious? In fact, can you just be serious?

TAI TAI: I am in a deadly serious fix. Both my hairstylist and manicurist have gone on holiday.

ANXIOUS DAD: Son, this is deadly serious. If you don’t get into the Gifted Education Programme, it will kill me.

KID: I am going to throw a deadly serious tantrum if I don’t get to play on my iPad. In fact, I might cry, choke and die.

CYCLIST: HolyCrit is about deadly serious cycling. Except no one has died yet.

JOVER CHEW: Of course I am deadly serious about ethical business practices which do not include making customers kneel.

SIM LIM RETAILER: I am deadly serious when I say that Sim Lim Square is now a seriously dead place.

SPORTSHUB: We are deadly serious about replacing the National Stadium turf with dead grass.

MOS DESMOND LEE: I am deadly serious when I say the Workers Party should be transparent and accountable about its town council finances.

WP’s SYLVIA LIM: I agree that this issue is so deadly serious that you will have our answer in due course.

YANG YIN: I am deadly serious about my love for Singapore, my godmother and her money.

PROF KISHORE: I am being deadly serious about laughing a lot.

It’s so interestingly irritating

In News Reports, Politics on December 12, 2014 at 2:08 pm

All this batting to and fro between the PAP and the WP is interesting, in an irritating way. Interesting because controversies always are; but irritating because it is no longer entertainment to spectators. The game doesn’t seem to be ending. I need a loo break. I need to eat. I need to sleep. Yet I am stuck in the stadium with no idea how the game will end. What’s funnier is how the debate is now about whether the WP has been keeping “silent’’. Who says, WP says. We’ve been saying we’ll tell all in due course. Yet the G is making charges that there’s more going on, “bigger problems’’, in the WP town council. The G should keep quiet and just let the Auditor-General do its job. After which, the G is sure to let it all hang out.

WP’s Sylvia Lim says the PAP’s investigating arms would be the first to hold WP to account, so what’s the problem? MOS Desmond Lee says this shows the WP is asking the G to act as a check. Methinks it’s more like Ms Lim saying “if you’ve got anything on us, show your hand’’.

Actually, I think the same too. If the G has more info, come out with it. All this “you first’’ is quite annoying. After all, its  Auditor-General is already on the job. Has been since March in fact. If you’re wondering why I keep pushing this point, it’s because it’s time the AGO say something. The WP says it is waiting for the AGO before talking (although this is not the sole reason for the “delay’’, Ms Lim maintains) The G has said NOTHING about the delay (?) on the AGO front. In the meantime, everyone is looking forward to a non-partisan account from the bean counters that will tell us whether

  1. The WP is terribly incompetent in managing finances
  2. The WP has been doing something underhand with the money. Is using the WP’s “new’’ Aljunied TC money to plug the gap in the old Hougang TC hole something okay to do?
  3. The WP has been, I’ll say it, siphoning residents’ money into some other pocket.
  4. The WP has actually done very well/at least in managing its finances. It couldn’t submit its financial statements because its paperwork is bad but that’s sorted out now.

The WP hasn’t come out very well in this battle thus far, not with Mr Lee’s latest riposte.

So the WP hasn’t submitted its service and conservancy collection forms to MND since April 2013. Ms Lim countered that it did not give the S&C fees because the MND wanted the forms in a certain format which its computer software couldn’t generate. But it seems those forms haven’t changed since whenever. Nor does the de-activation of the PAP-owned AIM from the WP TC have anything to do with the inability of the software to generate those “forms’’. WP had been submitting forms after the break up. (In fact, why the need for the WP to bring AIM in?). Nor was it “no time and no energy’’ to submit forms because it was serving the AGO’s needs. The AGO entered the picture several months after the WP.

So the implication is that the April 2013 figures were so alarming that the WP decided to “hide’’ everything after that date. The April 2013 rate was 29.4 per cent, which meant that 39,000 households in AHPETC were effectively subsidising 16,000 households who did not pay their fees. MND said the town council past submissions showed that 10,000 (63 per cent) out of the 16,000 households only started owing arrears in the last two years. The arrears rate for hawkers was 8.2 per cent while that for commercial tenants was 50.2 per cent.

(Sheesh. I wonder if the other half of the tenants submitted their fees in kind, since it didn’t in cash! When the town council raised its S&C fees in April this year, it didn’t say anything about arrears but told residents in its mailer about higher electricity and cleaning costs)

As for whether the town council can be compelled to submit its arrears, MND says that the Town Councils Act doesn’t allow this. “MND has no power to compel TCs to submit information to MND, and there is no penalty under the TCs Act if the TC does not do so. There are currently only three offences that attract fines – these relate to the misuse of TCs’ funds, contravention of TC-Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) rules and the wilful withholding of information required by an auditor without reasonable cause. This is because the TCs are supposed to be directly accountable to their residents.’’

This is so odd. So there is less oversight because “TCs are supposed to be directly accountable to their residents’’ – who can only exercise their oversight and hold TCs to account once every four or five years. I wish the MND would just say it overlooked this aspect when the legislation was framed, which is why in the next breath, it talks about reviewing the Act to strengthen regulatory oversight.

I am learning a lot of words from the G, like obfuscation. When it comes to slamming, the PAP is pretty good. But I didn’t think much of this line from MOS Lee last month : “Instead, we have seen a coordinated online campaign to distract the public, using falsehoods, half-truths and speculations, by friends, sympathisers and proxies of the Workers’ Party (WP).  The aim is to confuse the public and distract them from the real issues.  MND has addressed these untruths.  This is what the WP often does when caught under the spotlight – raise a flurry of red herrings in the hope that people forget that they have not come clean.’’

A coordinated online campaign? What evidence does the G/PAP have of this? Or is it lumping anyone and everyone who has something to say as “friends, sympathisers and proxies’’ of the WP? This isn’t fair to those who raise legitimate questions and want to know more about this black box called town council financing. Not everyone who raises questions are being deliberately misleading, they could be well-meaning but ignorant. If so, it is the duty of the more knowledgeable to put things right – rather than read motives and agendas behind what they say.

I’m glad that MND explained, in light of the supposed campaign filled with red herrings, how G grants are given out to town councils, the difference between operating surplus and accumulated surplus and how the sinking fund gets money. We come away better educated.

Today, Ms Lim has a riposte to Mr Lee’s riposte:

After accusing the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and the Workers’ Party (WP) of not being accountable and transparent on the issue of S&CC arrears, MOS Lee now does not deny that the accusation was a non-starter.

“We had pointed out that the public could expect that the PAP would be the first to hold WP to account; that the PAP government had all investigative arms at its disposal to hold WP to account for any matter under the sun, and that AHPETC was facilitating the audit of its accounts and systems by the Auditor-General’s Office and that, like all other Town Councils, its annual audited accounts would be published.

“MOS Lee has now shifted his position to say that “WP is relying on the government to check them, instead of taking responsibility themselves for accounting to the public what they have done or have not done.”

“We have said many times that we will account to the public in due course, and we will.

“It is instructive to note the various positions taken by the PAP. When we said that we would explain to the public the S&CC arrears in due course, this was sarcastically labelled “the sound of silence”.  When we explained to the public the circumstances why AHPETC was unable to submit the S&CC arrears report in the format demanded and that MND had refused to accept our S&CC arrears submission in our own data format, this was labelled as making excuses.

“Seeing such responses from the government is regrettable.  We will leave it to the public to make its own judgment.’’

So what’s going to happen now? A riposte from Mr Lee?

I need a loo break.

Partying into the next GE

In News Reports, Politics on December 8, 2014 at 9:39 am

So the People’s Action Party has started the election ball rolling. It’s framed the terms of the contest: First World Government, not First World Parliament. I wish though the MSM would make it clear that this is not the Prime Minister addressing the nation. Mr Lee Hsien Loong was speaking as the PAP secretary-general and he was speaking to the party faithful. A quibble you say? It isn’t. Because that is the line that MSM must maintain between the G and the party. Plus, it’s the truth.

I was a little flummoxed at how what he told party activists was suddenly elevated into a national issue. Perhaps it is, or even should be. But that’s the interpretation or analysis of the facts. And putting cart before horse. So what did the party chief say? Every media angled on how he said the GE would be a “deadly serious’’ fight. Deadly serious for who? Given that he was speaking to party activists, it would be deadly serious for them especially if the PAP loses. Extrapolate further, and you could say his message could also be directed to the population at large.

If the media treated it as a party message, then it could be interpreted thus: Wake up your ideas! You think we are going to sail through the next GE like we did the past? Better buck up and don’t get complacent or you may find that we’re not just out of some wards, but out of government!

In any case, how would Mr Lee know that the PAP won’t form the G anyway? It all depends on whether the opposition parties choose to contest more than half the seats and deprive the PAP of forming the government on nomination day. But if the opposition decides to organise itself and contested just half or less, than the PAP has to worry about the by-election effect. (The PAP in power already leh, so let’s vote in a few more opposition politicians.) The PAP already knows what a by-election means. It lost both the Hougang and Punggol East by-elections. Hougang was helmed by a philanderer (from the Workers’ Party) and the voters still picked a member of the party he belonged to. Punggol East was also helmed by a philanderer (from the PAP) but voters chose to throw the party out as well.

Okay, the PAP failed to form the G on nomination day in the last two elections. Perhaps Mr Lee expects the trend to continue, especially with opposition politicians figuring that they have social media to utilise. Third time lucky/unlucky?

One political commentator noted that this was the first time the spectre of the PAP losing the GE has been raised by the PAP itself. Why did it do so? I wonder what the PAP thinks would be better for itself: form the Government on Nomination Day and never mind if people use the vote for opposition parties and lose more seats OR don’t form the G and scare everyone into voting for it so as not to get what it calls a “freak election result’’. It might actually win some lost seats in the process or at least retain its parliamentary margin. (NOTE: a freak election result is what happens when people actually want only one thing to happen, that is, more opposition members in Parliament, but get more than they bargained for: opposition forms the government. Of course, it is NOT freakish if that is what people really want. In fact, it might be the will of the people! Who can say?)

As a political strategy though, framing the contest as who forms the G is a great one. Why wait till Nomination day and find out that most of the seats are up for grabs and only then start telling people the consequences of the vote in a doomsday voice? Best to start seeding the ground early, whatever happens on Nomination Day. Unless, of the course, the G resorts to certain tools in its kit – bring back six-member jumbo GRCs, reduce the number of single-seat wards and redraw the boundaries such that those pesky opposition voting blocs are split up….

The GE has to be called by January 2017. The bet is that it will be late next year or early 2016 to take advantage of the SG50 hype and the feel-good factor. Actually, there are many issues that will be on the table next year that might well form its election platform, like Medishield Life. “If you like Medishield Life, vote for the PAP! A vote against means that you are against Medishield Life and thence, our social policies. And didn’t you want the PAP to do more on the social front anyway?’’

Then there are amendments to the Broadcasting Act (if too tough, get it done early and hope people forget since the opposition will make hay out of it). There are also changes to the CPF after the review committee does the job (it can say it is listening to feedback or the opposition can say the changes don’t go far enough). I think the Town Council Act would be up for review too to plug loopholes on financing and who can or cannot be employed in the management. (Which will not look good for one particular opposition party and make it harder for those who think running an estate is a walk in the park).

And though Mr Lee said that every seat will be a national contest, I wonder if it would actually be more advantageous for the PAP it say it will be a “local election’’, in the light of what is happening/not happening in the Workers’ Party town council. People won’t “get’’ the big picture, but they know enough about dirty corridors and lifts which don’t work. Of course, if the WP shows that there is nothing wrong with the way it runs the town council when the Auditor-General is finally done with his work, then the G would have egg on its face. In fact, it might well be that the Town Council Act was badly conceived or the “regulators’’ did not do due diligence. (Speculating here, okay…)

In any case, I think the PAP already has a very strong hand in this game. It can safely say that it has fixed most of the things it would fix after the last GE, like housing and transport and tamping down on the number of foreign workers. (The opposition can, of course, say “not good enough’’) It can cite plenty of schemes and subsidies about levelling up the population especially the lower income group. (The opposition can, of course, say “too little, too late’’) It can say that it is living up to its new, improved constitution about making Singapore a fair and inclusive society underpinned by compassionate meritocracy. (The opposition can, of course, say “that’s because we’re around to make sure the PAP changes’’.)

You know how the game is played. The PAP will ask the opposition: “What ideas do YOU have?’’ Another point which it doesn’t emphasise as much is: “Where are you going to get the money from since you can’t touch what we’ve made in the past?’’ Actually, I wonder what are the provisions made for the finances of a changed government? Is it as clumsy as the handover of a town council seems to be?

BTW, what Mr Lee said about social media is the most placatory I’ve heard from him on the issue in a long time. According to CNA, Mr Lee noted there are different and louder voices now in society, especially on social media. Some mean well, and the PAP must engage and persuade them to make common cause with the party. But, Mr Lee said there are others who will try to mislead voters, and this will lead Singapore into trouble. And the party has to counter, expose and defeat them.

This is going to be interesting. I’m not sure the PAP has really been engaging well-meaning detractors on social media, it’s more like “digging in its heels’’. As for “counter, expose and defeat’’, we have a lot of examples of that. Methinks Mr Lee should have used the words accountability and transparency as the key approach in responding to social media views. Of course, there will be those who prefer not to believe anything the PAP says whatever the facts. But my bet is that there is still a wide middle ground just waiting and watching.  Both the PAP and opposition parties must work on engaging that middle ground instead of assuming (like the PAP does) that the silent majority is on its side or (like the Opposition does) that the vocal minority is vocalising for the majority.

Some people have pointed out that the PAP (and the opposition too) shouldn’t take the view that “if you are not for us, you are against us’’. But that is surely the point of casting a vote: You make a decision on who to back. Of course, you don’t have to display any partisanship if you don’t want to. And the vote is secret.

The question is: on what basis is that decision being made? On the way political parties frame the election agenda to influence thinking? I don’t know about you, but I will make up my own checklist closer to the date.

Party news!

In News Reports, Politics on December 6, 2014 at 4:49 am

In the Workers’ Party

So no one wants the job of managing agent. The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East town council put out a tender and there are no takers. Actually, it’s no surprise. Brave is the firm which takes on a job that will be scrutinised left and right by nosey parkers and politicians. I wonder which firms now run the People’s Action Party town councils – only Bishan-Toa Payoh is self-run. Why won’t anyone do the job? Well, if everything in the town council’s finances have yet to be cleared up, you’d be wary of bidding for the contract too. (Again, what’s taking the Auditor-General so long?!) As for established firms, there’s the worry that doing the job for the opposition party  would jeopardise any renewal of its contract with the PAP town councils. In any case, what does the Town Council Act say in the event that no one wants the job, despite repeated tenders? I suppose the Workers’ Party would have to cajole some established firm, or ask a new, nothing-to-lose firm, or ask its own partisans to form a company to do so. If the last happened, as it was with FM Solutions and its partisans, then it might open itself to charges of partisanship. I suppose the party would have to do the job itself. Maybe it should go ask the Bishan-Toa Payoh MPs for some pointers….or maybe not.

In the People’s Action Party

There’s a lot of fuss in the ST about the election of its Central Executive Committee tomorrow although I am not sure why. A short list is put up and there will be a vote for 12 members, after which the rest or most of them will be co-opted. Political observers will be reading closely to see who got elected and who got co-opted, as an indication of the person’s standing in the party ranks. But beyond that, what else? There’s no way the PAP will say who got the most votes or the least. As for who becomes office-bearers, that’s all done within the CEC itself. All very hush-hush but then again, people will see who got what post. The G might want to be transparent but the PAP certainly isn’t. Not that it has to since it is, after all, a political party which reports to its members. Sometimes though, I think of all the “leaks’’ coming out of other parties and making it into the public eye – the dissent ecetera – and I wonder if the media will go digging around the PAP like they do for the others. Actually, the PAP seems to be a pretty disciplined party, unlike other political parties which have ex- or current disgruntled members resorting to social media to grumble. Anyway, let’s see what happens tomorrow. It’s not likely to be like the UMNO general assembly that’s for sure!

In the Singapore Democratic Party

On Jan 10, the SDP will unveil its vision and direction for Singapore, its strategy and campaign activities. It’s starting early because it thinks the polls will be held by the end of next year or early 2016. Now…this is interesting! I’d love to see what it has to offer. Will it be a PAP-lite? Nah, that sounds like the WP. Will it want to overthrow the G or would it be happy to be a check and balance in Parliament? Is it think of forging an alliance with Singapore First party which is helmed by an ex-SDP member and erstwhile Presidential candidate? It has worked on several papers, on healthcare ecetera. I would love to see what it says about the coming changes to the CPF and Medishield Life as party of its strategy or vision. SDP is usually portrayed as more “western’’ oriented and liberal and, as G’s representative in Hong Kong said, “pandering’’ to western media. I wonder how it will respond to these recent charges of dishonestly portraying Singapore in the Wall Street Journal. Actually, I just want to know if it has a catchy slogan….

Why are doctors so special?

In News Reports on December 6, 2014 at 3:18 am

Why does it look like the Singapore Medical Council is a law unto itself? I refer to a commentary in ST today which says that the SMC has “refused to divulge if its income comes entirely from its 11,000 members, or whether it has separate government funding’’. I wish the newspaper told its readers if its refusal was to questions from the media, or whether it is a general blanket “no comment’’. It’s probably the latter.

Unlike the Singapore Dental Council, the SMC doesn’t list its income or disbursements in its annual reports. No financial information at all. The Dental council gets G funding (not much: about $180,000 for 2013) and puts down its registration fees in total. So what is happening in SMC? All we know now is that doctors who want to renew their practising licence pay $400. So that’s $4,400,000 every year. What about G funding? If the G gives to the dentists, surely it disburses to doctors as well. The SMC is, after all, a statutory board set up under the Medical Registration Act. Aren’t doctors concerned about how their money is being used? What’s the oversight authority doing then? Surely, the Health ministry can compel the SMC to do what it should in the interest of accountability?

I have to say I am pretty surprised, even outraged, at how the SMC shrouds itself in silence despite several controversies that it has been associated with. In fact, I wonder how it can get away with such shoddy annual reports for so many years. The G keeps emphasising the prudent use of taxpayers’ money (I am assuming it gets a grant) and proper procurement and payment procedures but it seems the SMC is exempt. Can the Auditor-General, Accountant-General and the Public Accounts Committee go take a look please?

I read the article with much interest because I have been following medical disciplinary cases. It’s not widely known that doctors pay their own legal fees, whether they win or lose a case at the disciplinary inquiry level or in the courts. But late last month, the courts decided to break precedent when it ordered SMC to pay the legal costs of gynaecologist Lawrence Ang.

Reading the back story to Dr Ang’s case was illuminating. So a baby’s mother complained to SMC that Dr Ang didn’t act in her best interest. Her new-born had to resuscitated and ended up with an infection and congenital pneumonia that required five months in hospital. Now, get this, the SMC actually dismissed her complaint. So she went to the Health minister who told SMC to hold the inquiry. It found him guilty of not having a neonatologist present and suspended him for three months. This is despite five of seven doctors who said there was no need for a neonatologist to be present all the time. It seems the SMC took the minority view – and didn’t explain why. Dr Ang (good on him!) fought the verdict in court and the SMC was blasted by no less a personage than Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon who said there was nothing in the disciplinary hearing that supported a guilty verdict and “the question of sentence does not arise at all”.

Sigh. It does make you wonder if Dr Ang was presumed guilty as charged because the Health Minister wants an inquiry and therefore wants results. Ooops! Cannot be lah.

Back however to the question of money. Who pays in the end?

The ST article was useful in giving the court’s (old) point of view that the SMC should be exempt from paying legal costs. In 2010, the highest court of the land said in overturning another SMC guilty verdict said it was prepared to give SMC “the benefit of the doubt that it had acted in good faith and in the public interest in trying to stop what it believed to be an inappropriate treatment for a particular medical condition’’.

Now, doctors are insured by the Medical Protection Society, an international body, so they don’t really have to pay out of their own pocket. It’s just that their premiums get higher and higher the more complaints made against them. And I guess patients pay more and more…According to ST, the premium for gynaes like Dr Ang is now $36,000 a year, up from $25,695 just three years ago.

As for the SMC, it really doesn’t matter whether it wins or lose a case, since somebody else will be paying the cost. I wonder if this why SMC’s lawyers seem to think that they can charge SMC the earth, and the SMC is willing to foot the bill – it would have come from somebody’s pocket anyway. In the case of Dr Ang, the SMC would have to pay its own way. (It’s not known how much). Frankly, I am still wondering how it intends to pay Wong Partnership the fees it had charged SMC for handling the Dr Susan Lim case. Her husband went to court to get it taxed down. In total, the original bills amounted to $2.33million, and was brought down to $687,000. Since it can’t turn to the Medical Protection Society, the money to pay the lawyers must come from somewhere, unless the lawyers give a big discount…

The ST article made much of how doctors should stick to medicine and leave the disciplinary stuff to trained lawyers. In 2009, attempts to place a lawyer on its disciplinary tribunal were “derailed’’, said ST. I had a look at the Medical Registration Act and it actually “allows’’ – not mandate – legal eagles to sit on the tribunal. Here’s the legal gobblededook from Section 50:

  1. (1)  The Medical Council may from time to time appoint one or more Disciplinary Tribunals, each comprising —

(a) a chairman, from a panel appointed by the Minister, who shall be —

(i) a registered medical practitioner of not less than 20 years’ standing;

(ii) a person who has at any time held office as a Judge or Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court;

(iii) an advocate and solicitor of not less than 15 years’ standing as an advocate and solicitor; or

(iv) an officer in the Singapore Legal Service who has in the aggregate not less than 15 years of full-time employment in the Singapore Legal Service;

(b) subject to paragraph (c)(ii), not less than 2 registered medical practitioners of not less than 10 years’ standing from among members of the Complaints Panel; and

(c) where the chairman is a registered medical practitioner —

(i) one observer from among members of the Complaints Panel who is a lay person; or

(ii) a member who is a person referred to in paragraph (a)(ii), (iii) or (iv), in lieu of one of the registered medical practitioners referred to in paragraph (b),

Now, I can’t recall a time when the chairman is NOT a doctor (I will be glad to be proven otherwise). But if the chairman IS a doctor, then there must be either a layman or legal person on board. In Dr Ang’s case, there was one un-named layman. Frankly, I don’t need to be a lawyer to see that it’s simply NOT common sense to pick a minority view to pronounce a guilty verdict and not explain why.  Perhaps, it’s time for another review of the MRA.

More importantly, it’s time someone told the SMC that it cannot operate like some private entity and keep the books to itself. Doesn’t it have any corporate governance procedures? Its finances are a total blur/blank. Even worse than that of the Workers’ Party-run town council. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist that.)