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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A reporter’s notes on Mr Lee

In News Reports, Politics, Society on March 24, 2015 at 2:55 am

If there was one man I was really terrified of, it was Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I thought it was because I was so much younger than the man, until I realized that people far older than I and who had met him far more often, felt the same. I guess it was the way he stared at you and that interrogative tone he used while talking to you. It seemed to me that he was always sucking in his breath when he had to answer any question from me as though he’s thinking “what am I supposed to do with this stupid young thing?!’’

But no, he never lost his cool with me. I think he saw me as a young journalist who could be “taught’’ or set on the right path, so to speak. He was not a man for small talk and that was part of the terror. Your brain got no rest, even when you were having (very healthy/fruity) lunches with him. Even questions on the type of refrigerators on sale seemed to be mere data to him, like some kind of proxy on Singaporeans’ values or indicator of economic wealth. You feel like he was collecting answers on everyday life because he was using them to plug some gaps in a big picture he was drawing in his head.

My ex-colleagues and I who had been invited for those lunches would come up with a list of issues that we will broach with him. Yes, we were interested in them, but it was also so that he could launch forth – and we could eat. So long as we listened, we didn’t have to sound stupid answering his questions.

I remember my first overseas trip with the man. He was then still Prime Minister and was making a trip to Malaysia. He was going to see Tunku Abdul Rahman in Penang and then hop over to Kedah and Langkawi island. He practically jumped  out of the car before it had come to stand still because he saw the Tunku waiting for him at the porch. He did not want to keep the former Malaysian premier waiting. He spoke loudly to the bent old man, because the Tunku had become hard of hearing. His solicitousness towards the Tunku touched me. The way he held his arm and sat with him… Clearly, Mr Lee knew how to treat his elders, never mind their sad/bad history.

It was quite a different treatment he meted out to a foreign journalist who had barged in on a press conference during the trip. The Caucasian man, who told Mr Lee he was actually attending another event in the same building and had taken the opportunity to gatecrash, had asked some human rights question. (I can’t remember what) Mr Lee returned with a stinger on whether he was asking him if he beat his wife.  And that the journalist should have done some homework before asking questions. And come visit Singapore.

I don’t know if you’ve seen Mr Lee angry…it was not a pretty sight. The journalist sat subdued and silent throughout. I felt like going over to pat him on his shoulder but thought again: Stupid bugger! Think you can just swing by and take on Lee Kuan Yew without doing any homework?

I’ve covered him on several occasions, feeling very much like an inadequate young journalist. Because he was THE man, he had to be reported fully. It was so stressful…

I recall how in Penang I left the press delegation en route to an official dinner at a hotel and took a trishaw to a telecom building in Georgetown to file my story. I returned in time for dinner rather smug that I had finished my work before any of my colleagues – and that I could finally eat in peace. Except that Mr Lee decided to get up to make a speech…The media crew thought this was it then, we’ll never be in time to get to our hotel in Batu Ferringgi to file.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I approached a nearby table of towkays in my most ingratiating manner and asked if anyone had a car phone that can reach Singapore. One of them did. Phew! By the way, in case you’re thinking, there were no cellphones in those days. No internet also.

Mr Lee was responsible for giving me the biggest journalist scoop of my career. After one of those healthy/fruity lunches, I asked if he was willing to be interviewed about his son’s cancer. That was in 1993. The then DPM Lee Hsien Loong had been diagnosed with lymphoma, at the same time as DPM Ong Teng Cheong. Besides the “human interest’’ potential that such an interview would have, there was also the big question mark over political succession should the worst happen to the younger Lee. (Insensitive question for a father to answer, but come on, surely, anyone would want to know what he thought?)

Mr Lee thought for a while and said that it might be a “good idea’’ to have the interview. Terrified, I told my bosses he said yes. I had a more than two-hour interview one-on-one with the man at the Istana, with an information officer who was recording everything. (There was an awkward moment when she had to interrupt the interview to switch cassette tapes.)

Mr Lee was forthright enough; he knew what he wanted to say. He also knew what he did NOT want to say. How, in heaven’s name, was I going to ask him what the illness would mean in “big picture’’ terms? I had to ask him three times, in three different ways, at three different points of the interview before I thought I got a full answer. Once, he laughed off the question by saying that anything can happen, like anyone could get hit by a car, for instance.

One reply:  “Singapore needs the best it can get. If Singapore can get a man who has never had cancer and will never get a relapse and who is better than Loong, then that man is the answer. But if it can’t, then you take the best that’s available. Right?”

But what would happen to the political succession plans if the worst were to happen to BG Lee, I asked, hoping that this was specific yet polite enough to get an answer.

His reply: “Well, unfortunately, it’s a fact of life. We may be lucky and it may not come back. So the problem may not arise. If the problem arises, the answer may have to be found in two or three persons to do the things he has been doing. That is life.”

I tell you now that I felt very, very sorry for Mr Lee then. And I felt very, very bad. I was a cad trying to pry open a private space for public consumption. I could see and feel the depth of his emotions then.

What followed later though was near-comical.  Mr Lee wanted to see the article before publication. I said I had to ask my boss first because we normally wouldn’t allow it. (Very brave right?) Well my boss said yes and the print-out was duly faxed over to the Istana. Note that these were the days when printers were of the dot-matrix kind and you can’t adjust the size of type. I got the fright of my life the next day when I got a phone call at home from the newsroom that Mr Lee wanted to see me in the Istana that afternoon. Oh dear! Was it so badly written? Did I get anything wrong?

He started by complaining about the quality of the print – too faint, too small, difficult to read. I told him I would tell my boss to buy new printers (such good scapegoats bosses are!) Then he asked if I thought the article was too long. I said I had run it past colleagues who thought the length was fine. He damn near shouted at me: But they are your colleagues!!! What about ordinary people?? Oh dear, this young person did not want to tell him it was not a done thing to show drafts to outsiders but I ended up telling him that if it was about Mr Lee and his son, everybody sure read everything. (Okay, I put it more elegantly than that)

It transpired that he wanted to give me more information because he thought there was something “missing’’ in the piece. Then he told me of his son’s meditation. I scribbled away, thinking what a fantastic newsmaker he was for volunteering more interesting information without being asked to.

The story was published in The Sunday Times and picked up the world over.

I had covered him as a journalist a few times since but I will never forget the interview(s) because it was the most intimate moment I have ever had with the man. I saw him then as a politician, a statesman and a father. Whatever his bullying tactics, his terrifying demeanour and fierce outbursts in the public eye, I had managed to catch glimpses of the private man. I think some of my ex-colleagues had a lot more experience with him especially in the course of writing his books. I can only offer you a few paltry insights.

Once, I sent him a note saying that I was unable to turn up for lunch because I was ill. He returned the note with a message that he hoped I would be all right soon. It is to my great regret that I have lost the note. But I still have that full transcript of those interviews with some of his comments written in red.

I will cherish them.

PS. I found that cancer story online http://ourstory.asia1.com.sg/dream/lifeline/lee1.html

No man like him

In News Reports, Politics, Society on March 23, 2015 at 12:55 pm

And now the grieving starts. I had a look again at the television broadcast of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement of his father’s death. I saw it at 8am online – but you know how live streaming sucks. Now I see clearly how tough it must be to remain prime ministerial when it’s your father who has just died. Nobody would fault Mr Lee if he broke down in tears instead trying so bravely to hold them back. But he did. The son remained prime ministerial.

So many things have happened since the announcement of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s  death in the early hours of the morning. Flags are down half-mast, people are streaming in to pen their condolences in books that will be kept for posterity, the great and good the world over have sent messages. They praised him as a visionary leader whose counsel on geo-politics was sought and who cut through the chase. There was no bullshit about him.

I was taken aback when I read that Dr Henry Kissinger, now 91, recalled how Mr Lee’s first words on their first meeting was “You make me sick’’. It had to do with the US involvement in the Vietnam War and how some top American academics had wanted the country out. Mr Lee wanted the Americans to stay. “That took courage,’’ said Dr Kissinger as ST reported today.

Singaporeans can take pride in how world leaders regarded their first prime minister. Messages via official channels and even social media have come from world leaders, including Malaysia’s Najib Razak. The Brunei Sultan has already called at Sri Temasek where Mr Lee’s cortege has been placed for a private wake. Indonesia’s Jokowi is coming to the funeral on Sunday.

In fact, my worry is that with him gone, would the international glow on Singapore fade too? Mr Lee’s international stature had much to do with how much regard big countries had for this little red dot, as his successor Mr Goh Chok Tong himself testified. New leaders would stop by Singapore to take his counsel and I am still a little pissed that US President Barack Obama didn’t do the same. It is too late now for him to meet the man he described in his White House message as a “true giant of history’’. Harrrummph.

Major media have spewed forth obituaries, some positive, some negative. Even as they lauded his achievements as a pragmatic politician who took Singapore from Third World to First, they also highlighted the more draconian aspects of his “reign’’. References were made to detention without trial, political prosecutions/persecutions and the chewing gum ban. From the Western media was this tone: “Singapore is successful BUT’’, rather than “Singapore is successful DESPITE’’. A Foreign Policy commentator even called him the world’s “most successful dictator of the 20th century’’. I can’t decide if it was derogatory term or a backhanded compliment. Go read for yourself. The Economist called him the “wise man of Asia’’ while recalling descriptions of Singapore as “Disneyland with the death penalty’’ and “Pyongyang with broadband’’. I want to harrrummph again…

Of course, there were obituaries and tributes that were “over the top’’, with nary a negative word. I guess we should expect this. Sometimes what’s said reflects a depth of feeling, sometimes, a sheer lack of words.  After all, we are not used to expressing emotion, according to some survey. Also, it is not “nice’’ to say bad things about a man who is dead, however glad you are that he is. (Shut up, will you?)

Yes, I have been reading obituary after obituary. I can’t get enough of them. It is so interesting to have the man viewed through different lenses. Some facets have come out. I was so surprised to read Mr Lee Hsien Yang saying that the family bathed by ladling out water from those big dragon-motif salted egg jars, and that his parents did so for almost six decades until a shower was finally installed in the bathroom in 2003 after his mother had a stroke.

My goodness!

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Mr Lee was well-known for being frugal and for his distaste for ostentation. I remember once walking behind him with my eyes glued to a hole in the singlet he had on under his CYC shirt. This was no ordinary man who knew about ordinary things or cared about the material stuff. He once told me of how his refrigerator had been in family since forever and asked me what sort of fridges were on sale now. I don’t know Sir, I’ve never bought one, I told him. I felt like sinking into the floor…

Then there was former Speaker of the House Abdullah Tarmugi who said that Mr Lee was the only MP who always sent him a note explaining his absence from Parliament. Again, I went “my goodness!’’. You mean the rest of the MPs…?

Anyway, this was a man who stuck by the rules. It showed discipline and an inclination for order. Would that others follow his example.

Now we will be treated to (or is flooded with?) more black-and-white footage, some of which we’ve never seen before. We will be facing reams of text and old photographs. The older generation will have a fine time pointing out to the young ones who’s who  seated/standing near the young Harry Lee. Old names will surface again, the likes of Ong Pang Boon, Jek Yuen Thong, Toh Chin Chye and other members of the Old Guard, both living and dead. Already, I hear the “silent’’ majority speaking up, talking of water rationing days and other hardships they faced while bringing up a brood of children. Now, as my mother would say, “people are born into air-conditioning’’ and still think life sucks because they can’t afford a new car or house.

I hope our young people are taking it all in. His many books on his ideas and thoughts can be heavy going but, surely, plonking yourself in front of the television to watch some local history isn’t too strenuous an exercise?

I hope they get to know the man. PM Lee said “we won’t see another man like him’’. I agree. Not here, not in the future, not anywhere.

I’m glad that we can boast that we had a man like him.

NOTE: President Obama did meet Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I apologise for my error and am swallowing my Harummph.

A full life and a good death

In News Reports, Politics on March 18, 2015 at 3:46 am

My late father was one of those early PAP pioneers who went into the kampongs to see how electricity and water could be delivered to residents. To hear him talk, Singapore was a muddy place, a Tower of Babel – and poor. But the people had bright eyes. Sharp eyes. They weren’t beaten down or down cast. They just wanted someone to lead them.

For the majority, that man was Lee Kuan Yew and the first generation of PAP leaders. It always seemed odd to me how an overseas educated lawyer could have connected with the hoi polloi. Perhaps, it was because, as my mother always enthused, Lee Kuan Yew was such a handsome man when he was young. His education was a plus – the people wanted their children to be like him. These days, the people turn up their noses at scholar-leaders as out-of-touch elitist technocrats….How things have changed.

But my late father grew increasingly disenchanted with the PAP in his later years and ended up cheering the opposition at their rallies. He always found himself a spot near the front of the stage. I am not sure what caused the swing, but I think it had to do with the size of his pension. He was a retired policeman with bullet wounds on his body – and the pension was miserable. He thought he had been forgotten. But, and this he was grateful for, he was entitled to first class medical treatment. He joked that he would need to have a heart attack to enjoy them. Well, he had a few…

When Mr Goh Chok Tong took over as Prime Minister, my Dad made sure to meet him so that he could grasp his hand. He wanted to see if Mr Goh had a firm handshake. My father came home to pronounce that Mr Goh’s eyes widened, but that he had a good, strong grasp. Even so, for my father, the jury was still out. I wonder what he would have made of Mr Lee Hsien Loong, earlier known as BG Lee – or seed of Lee to those who know Malay. But he didn’t live to see the changeover.

Mr Lee, 91, is now in hospital with pneumonia. He was a man of my father’s generation, a man’s man. These are the men who didn’t mind a bare-knuckled fight in an alley. They were alpha-males, not new age sensitive guys. They were autocrats, firm in their belief that a firm hand was needed for the greater good of all. Our parents and grandparents will remember those days when they “followed’’, convinced that it was in their best interest to do so. The flip side, of course, is that they had no other choice. There was no other power base seeking their vote; the Barisan Sosialis having walked out of Parliament.

I don’t think anyone would deny that fundamental liberties were not high on the citizens’ list of priorities then. They wanted homes and jobs. Politics was reduced to being able to deliver those goods. Some people were run over as the PAP bulldozed its way to its objective, with homes and land acquired compulsorily and the Stop at Two policy enforced through warnings that your kid might not get into a good primary school (yup, even then!) and incentives for women to have their tubes tied through painful ligations. MNCs were wooed to jump start industry; there wasn’t much talk of developing our own brands then methinks. Families, familiar with the war-time chaos in the recent past and in the region, cried when their sons were called up for National Service in its early days. Singapore was “hot housed’’.

History will decide if the benefits were worth the damage. But, however revisionist history may be, it cannot ignore the universal acclaim that has been heaped on this little red dot nor the statistics that prove how far we have come.

The elder Lee has been in hospital since Feb 5. He is a lightning rod for controversy. Even members of his first Cabinet didn’t always seemed to have agreed with his policies. Succeeding generations with different priorities thought his hold was too tight, even draconian. They think he passed down those traits to successive leaders – despite the changed environment. The move from Third World to First wasn’t just economic. Education (which the elder Lee wish women didn’t have so that they would be happy producing babies!) ensured that mindsets were changed too. Yet Mr Goh Chok Tong, while insisting that he was wearing his own shoes, still followed in the elder Lee’s footsteps especially on two routes: ensuring the PAP’s total dominance in Parliament (remember lift upgrading and jumbo GRCs?) and promising more good years economically. Both were hard to achieve given the changing voter appetite and the already high economic base Singapore was operating on.

Truth to tell, I consider the younger Lee very much a reformer. He tried to reform the PAP’s anti-welfare policy and its mass production of people for the workforce. He loosened regulations for public assembly. Detractors will always say too little, too late. But the fact is, they happened. If my father was alive today, he would be a pioneer of pioneers, a centurion. I wonder what he would have thought of the Pioneer Generation Package. I think he would have said it was his due although he would be glad that my mother would have some State support. I wonder what the elder Lee thought of the policy changes over the past five years or so, especially post-2011 GE. Would he have called them populist?

The elder Lee is in hospital, hooked up to a ventilator. A lot of good wishes and plenty of unkind words are floating around the ether. I think those with only unkind things to say should shut up. There will never be a perfect politician. Even a “popular’’ politician will be unpopular with those do not like their populist policies. Already, some are wishing for the good ole firm hand of the old Lee, believing that the younger Lee is pandering to people’s peeves. They prefer the Hard Truths because they can’t make up their minds about the Hard Choices placed before them. How often have you heard people say that they wished the education system was “simpler’’, because they are lost in the maze of educational opportunities for their children. In fact, they are not even sure that they can take advantage of it because they cannot grasp the implications of a choice and if they do, lack the capital, in money or social terms.

I wonder though what the elder Lee  would make of the fissures today. How an old hoary chestnut like whether Thaipusam should be a public holiday came to be resurrected as an issue. How those in HDB flats resent those in private property and those in private property resent those living in Sentosa Cove. How locals and foreigners don’t get along. And how we became a nation of individuals looking out for ourselves more than for each other. I think the grand old man would have simply ordered everyone to shut up and sit down…Like it or not, he glued everyone together.

Now, the elder Lee’s condition has taken a turn for the worse and it appears that the state machinery is gearing up for the inevitable. The man has had a good long run, a full life and whatever his detractors may say, he took us to this point in time. I don’t think, given his age, that I should wish him a speedy recovery. Rather, I wish him a good death. That he will go peacefully, surrounded by family.

A non-cynical response to National Day 2015

In News Reports, Politics, Society on March 16, 2015 at 6:06 am

So it’s going to be a long holiday in August…a four-day weekend! Hey, if Polling Day was tagged on Thursday Aug 6 or Tuesday Aug 11, it would be five days of no work! But, sheesh, we would have to vote before leaving town or come back early enough to vote. We DO want to be in town for the general elections don’t we? But if the GE wasn’t held in that period, would we stay in town for the National Day/SG50 celebrations alone?

I don’t know why there is so much cynicism towards the SG50 celebrations. Some people think it is just SG50 fatigue. The drum roll started too early and we are tiring of the beat. News everyday about all the grassroots groups, schools and commercial types getting on board are becoming wearisome. That red dot with SG50 stamp is so wide-spread that it is ceasing to be meaningful. I wanted to get on the bandwagon too. I wanted to get a grant from the celebrations committee for a book to commemorate SG50…but then, there will be so many, many books I gather. As well as films, exhibitions, songs and whatever creative way anyone can think of to talk about this nation.

Hopefully, the people behind the celebrations pulling the strings will be able to build things up to a climax, on National Day. On that day, I hope a lot of people take in the celebrations at home (by staying in the country) and as many Singaporeans abroad return to see how Singapore celebrates its 50th birthday. Serious.

People ask a lot of black-and-white questions about whether it’s patriotic to go away at this time. It’s not unlike the angst every year when people take a holiday during the Chinese New Year period instead of hanging around for reunion dinner with the extended family.   I am sure there will be people who go away because it’s not often you get such a long break that isn’t part of annual work leave. And there will be people who say there is “nothing to do’’ in Singapore anyway. Or people who say we don’t have to be at home to celebrate, we do so in our hearts.

I just look at it this way. Your granddad/mom or dad/mom is having his/her 70th

/80th birthday bash and wants his/her whole family to be around. The most enthusiastic takes over the organization and even the most distant relative, whom you see once a year, expects an invitation. Sibling rivalries are tamped down and we seat squabbling relatives far from each other. Everybody is determined to have a good time or at least not to let the grand old man/lady down, even though we think he/she might be the devil himself/herself. And when the birthday cake is rolled out, we sing the birthday song lustily and throw in several yam sengs.

What counts is the years that have passed and the whole family still made it through – more or less. That’s my poor analogy for SG50.

So can I ask that we see this year’s National Day this way instead of tainting it with sourness? That we do not link the party with our constant pre-occupation with MRT breakdowns, the coming elections and the foreigners in our midst? Or who is getting free tickets or not? Or why there are some freebies and not others? Let’s not dampen the mood so early in the year over some thing that will happen several months later.

A response which FAILS

In News Reports, Politics on March 12, 2015 at 6:13 am

When I read Mr Donald Low’s commentary in The Straits Times recently headlined, Budget 2015: In deficit, yet very prudent at heart, I thought that I learnt something. (In fact, he posted his views on my FB wall as well a little earlier). Like many people, including MPs, I was concerned that we were going too much to the left that we have “nothing left’’, to borrow a phrase from an NMP which received a lot of thumping from her other colleagues in the House.

But I am not a bean counter/economist so I am not clear about whether the “spending’’ will really affect the country’s financial position and what it means for future spending. So we are in deficit. To the layman, a deficit is a “bad’’ thing, as it is spending more than what you earn. Maybe to a trained economist, it might well be a good thing as it might lead to more spending by other people. Or something like that. I don’t know. So I have asked many times about what a “deficit’’ really means.

Mr Low suggested “concerns about fiscal sustainability are mostly misplaced’’.

“The main reason is that the Singapore Government presents its Budget position in a conservative way. Some revenues are excluded and some “expenditures” should not be wholly counted as spending in the current fiscal year. Consequently, Budget surpluses are understated and deficits overstated.’’

Ah….that’s interesting, I thought, so we may be panicking for nothing. He talked about how land sales are excluded as revenue, how the Constitution already puts a brake on fiscal spending and what is seen as expenditure might well be defined as capital transfers.

He did a lot to allay my concerns.

Somebody else also dug this up for me: For the 2011 Budget by way of official Singapore accounting had a $3.8 b surplus. By International Monetary Fund accounting standards, the 2011 Budget had a surplus of nearly $38 b. To further provide a sense of proportion that’s missing from this debate: the $38 b surplus would put Singapore at no. 7 for national budget surpluses in the world, between the UAE and Qatar.

Ooh. Even more interesting.

Then comes a letter from the head of the Government Parliamentary Committee on Finance and Trade and Industry, Mr Liang Eng Wah.

MR DONALD Low dismisses the dangers of spending beyond our means (“Budget 2015: In deficit, yet very prudent at heart”; last Saturday).

He is right that the Government is fiscally conservative. But he is wrong to be dismissive about the concerns raised by me and other MPs that social spending must be sustainable.

Government spending is going up steadily. The new social programmes – for example, Silver Support, higher subsidies for health care and MediShield Life, and the Pioneer Generation Package – are necessary and right.

But we must proceed carefully. As our economy matures and growth moderates, revenue growth will slow. Spending programmes, once committed to, cannot be cut back without the utmost pain and political resistance, as seen in every advanced society. There will be constant pressure to spend more; indeed, Mr Low’s article is a prime example.

Moreover, often, more government spending alone has not solved social problems. Many countries went overboard on welfare with the best of intentions but with unintended results, including massive unsustainable deficit. Now they are forced to cut back and restore financial sustainability, with the harshest impact on the young.

Mr Low ignores this and argues that if something cannot be financed sustainably by the Government, with its ability to pool risks, it cannot be done by households either, which is an unacceptable outcome.

This is a false dichotomy between two extreme choices. Every society must support those with less, find the right balance between personal responsibility and state welfare, and muster and safeguard the resources to meet essential needs.

No government can spend to meet all possible wants, or ignore how its spending will impact individual and family responsibility. Singapore is no different.

Mr Low had earlier posted an intemperately worded version of his commentary on his Facebook page which asserted that “there is something inherently flawed with the concept of sustainability”. Significantly, he omitted this radical claim from last Saturday’s commentary in The Straits Times. But he has not retracted his earlier version, which was circulated widely online. Instead, he described it (on Facebook) as a “rant”, and thanked a Straits Times journalist for turning his “rant against the sustainability prudes into an op-ed”.

How are we to read a commentary which represents, not the writer’s sincerely held position, but a pose to gull us into believing that he holds reasonable views?

If I were grading this article, I would give it an F. Because it doesn’t engage Mr Low’s points at all. Everybody wants a “sustainable budget”, even Mr Low I would think. But the big question is whether we are all talking about the same “budget’’. What goes into the definition of surplus, deficit, spending and revenue? I would have thought that Mr Liang would take issue with Mr Low’s point that the G isn’t painting a true picture of the country’s finances. That it is deliberately being opaque for some (nefarious?) reason

I also fail to see how Mr Low is asking for MORE spending in his article. What I got from it is that he’s telling people not to worry about over-spending because we ain’t..

What is more upsetting to me is how Mr Liang chooses to side-track into whether Mr Low’s views are “sincere’’. Why?

I can’t help but think he’s annoyed at this portion of Mr Low’s article.

One cannot applaud higher social spending that meets real needs on the one hand, and criticise it for not being sustainable on the other. Such a critic has an obligation to explain how those needs can be met without State support, or take a stand to argue it should be cut back if he believes it is a luxury that those with lesser means should not spend on. Failing to do so is just as irresponsible and populist as the people who call for more spending without saying how it would be financed.’’

In other words, if MPs are worried about sustainability (and we all are), then why aren’t they looking at whether some spending should be cut or how more revenues should be raised? I so agree. In fact, isn’t this what the G keeps accusing the opposition of? What alternatives do you have to what you criticize or worry about? Is it enough to merely say we should be “cautious’’?

But what gets my goat is his mention of what Mr Low wrote on his FB wall which he calls an intemperate version. I hate to get into the same ad hominem fallacies that Mr Liang engaged in. But I don’t suppose Mr Liang has ever said anything in private at any time of his life that contradicts/exaggerates/diminishes his public views….

So, postings on a FB wall are now evidence of a person’s sincerity? The place we put pictures of our leftover lunch? We do not write on my FB the way we would if something is intended for widespread publication. I’m sure no MP speaks the way Mr Liang writes either.

It’s disappointing. There I was thinking that Singapore has moved away from questioning people’s agenda/ motivations and that public discourse has shifted into an analysis of content. How can the level of public discourse be raised if this is the sort of “right of reply’’ we see?

Methinks Mr Liang also needs an education in the role of editors. Yes, they turn “rants’’ into something publishable – that’s their job. And that’s because they see something in the “rant’’ worth sharing, a germ of an idea, an argument. They try to draw it out. In fact, it was very nice of Mr Low to thank the journalist because most editors don’t get thanks for working on someone’s article.

This sort of responses from politicians will only drive views underground. There are people (like me and probably plenty of others) who really want to LEARN something and appreciate different perspectives.

How is this kind of response (so 1980s…) good for Singapore?

* Now I am worried that someone will look at my primary school essays, my diary and my FB wall, of course, to make the case that I am not sincere.

KISS: Keep it sweet and simple

In Money, News Reports, Politics on March 11, 2015 at 12:06 pm

I think everyone wants to know how they can use that $500 the G will give under SkillsFuture and for what sort of training. I guess the details are going to be worked out. Already there are calls to expand the programme, so that senior citizens can pick up new hobbies, for example. Already there are complaints that the money is too little for any real specialized training. Most people forget that some courses are subsidized and if you are above 40, the courses are subsidized 90 per cent and that $500 might well be enough to defray the cash portion.

Thing is, we have to be clear what SkillsFuture is for. It’s not to take up any old course but to help advance your current skills set and for those in a rut, pick up skills that might help them move into a second career. In fact, I can imagine a whole new industry of trainers of basic and esoteric skills asking for WDA accredition so that their courses will come under the SkillsFuture.

So the idea is to have individuals take control over their own training although how they are going to get time-off from their employers is another thing altogether. Seriously, SkillsFuture is useful for those who are already thinking of going for courses and can work out the timing on the own. For the vast majority, they will have to be pushed. Or their bosses have to be pushed.   Methinks it makes better sense to expand the current incentives for companies to send their employees for training and have the G pick up even more of the tab for this. Okay, I know this will be unpopular but there should be a bond attached so that workers won’t jump ship after they get another certificate or diploma. I’m sure that is a reason employers balk at sending their workers for training – best to get the most out of their workers NOW than waste time getting them trained for some other boss.

Not so long ago, the NTUC suggested setting up a SkillsSave account for every worker. I suppose the SkillsFuture programme is something like this. I think the G should go further and consolidate all its “training’’ programmes into one – from cradle to grave. So there is the Child Development Account run by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, which morphs into the Post-Secondary account run by the Education ministry and now SkillsFuture run by the Manpower ministry. Doesn’t it make better sense for all these schemes to come under an individual’s name? And on retirement age, what leftover will go into….voila! the CPF Retirement Account!

I mean, wouldn’t it be wonderful for citizens not to have to remember so many things and have the G streamline as many of its policies as possible and adopt its much vaunted whole-of-government approach?

The G spot – on town councils

In News Reports, Politics on March 3, 2015 at 1:37 am

So we were treated to a spectacle in Parliament recently with the Workers’ Party having to defend its management of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East town council in the wake of the Auditor-General’s findings. The WP is being cajoled into pursuing its own investigation into the supposed shenanigans of its managing agent. The G has warned darkly about criminal charges.

A repeat performance can be expected when the MND’s budget comes up for debate with more details on a review of the Town Council Act. Perhaps, all will be unveiled to tighten the practices of town councils to subject them to more regulatory oversight. Among the expected rules : town councils won’t be able to decline submitting reports to MND, such as on its service and conservancy charges arrears. But whether WP committed a big or small foul, criminal or civil, some people want to know if the infrastructure in place for a changeover of town council operations is robust enough.

What a poster said: Can we confirm that citizen’s monies are not wasted in having to come up with a completely different accounting system that has to be set up from scratch when GRCs change hands, and the old system abandoned? Can we assure that no such wastage occurs in future, including man hours spent in parliament debating such wu-liao things that should not have happened in the first place if system was not changed?

There’s some sympathy for the WP which singled out the difficulty in getting a new software/computer system set up to reconcile S&C accounts after it pulled Aljunied and Punggol East under its fold. The withdrawal of the PAP’s AIM company left a gap. Software glitches, manual counting led to mistakes in its arrears reports, so WP said.

Netizens have a point about the transfer process. What sort of time frame is adequate for handover processes that involve thousands of dollars? What if the current managing agent pulls out or terminates its contracts? Was the Town Council Act conceived without safeguards for a handover in the expectation that town councils will not change hands? What is the role of the G (as opposed to a PAP-controlled G) in ensuring that voters’ choice is respected and their interests – despite their political inclinations – safeguarded?

Another poster said: Should all Town Councils be de-politicised and centrally administered so that there will be minimal or no handover/ mis-management issues? The welfare of residents must always come before politics.

Some have called for a return to the HDB days when it managed estates. But it seems too late to roll back time. Imagine the politicians having the ground cut out from under their feet literally. Town council management was supposed to display their ability to run the small stuff. If you can’t manage an estate, can you manage the country? Such management was supposed to keep them close to the ground, instead of merely seeing their duty as talking shop in Parliament. But is there a level playing field or are there obstacles, wittingly or unwittingly, put in the way when a new group takes over?

It is my fervent wish that should there be a review of the Act, it would be submitted to a parliamentary select committee to gather more views.

The roles and responsibilities of MPs in town councils brings forth another point on their relationship with the grassroots groups.

The same poster asked: On a related matter – there are many posters, placards etc in my estate from the Town Council / Residents Committee featuring the picture of our elected representatives – who pays for these materials? And if it is the “town council” is it an appropriate use of S&C funds. If it is the PA, is it an appropriate use of non-partisan funding?

It is an old issue raised even in pre-Town Council days. The alphabet soup of grassroots groups run by the People’s Action Party in constituencies are G institutions. The G is the PAP. Hence, the PAP is in charge of grassroots groups. That’s how the logic goes for the opposition politicians and their fans.

Personally, I don’t think the groups painstakingly built up by the G should be handed over simply. The deal was the town council changes, not the constituency groups. My problem is whether the authority of the grassroots groups are on a par or even over-rides that of the elected MPs. It is something the WP tried to raise in court in the saga over whether its trade fair was held legally. It had, among other things, chafed about having to gain the support of the Citizens’ Consultative Committee, the key grassroot group in the constituency.

So here is my own question:  Please explain the role, responsibilities and powers of the appointed members of the Citizens’ Consultative Committees and how they compare to those of the elected members of the constituency they serve in.

The G spot – on education

In News Reports, Politics on March 2, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I like reading G replies to MPs’ questions. Sometimes, the questions are asked orally and since the G gets up to answer and take followup questions, the answers get air-time or print space. But there are also questions which ask for written replies, and unless there is a big news point, it usually gets ignored by the media.

I have been trolling/trawling through the MOE website to take a look at some past questions and answers because I have asked those who follow me on Facebook to send me questions they have for the debate during the Committee of Supply. This is the time when the G talks about its work for the coming financial year and take questions from MPs. It takes the form of a “cut’’ in the budget. MPs say they want X ministry’s budget “cut” by $10 or $100 and then asks questions. Okay, there has never been a real “cut’’ in recent memory; it’s more like a formal excuse to raise questions.

Anyway, I was looking what has been said about foreign students in Singapore schools, including the tertiary students.

This is the question I posed which got the most number of Likes:

There is a concern that the G is subsiding the education of foreigners with more and more scholarships. Can the G give the breakdown of how much has gone to who in recent years and what sort of benefits we, the nation, has reaped from the scheme. Besides goodwill, that is.

Now, it seems they’ve been asked a number of times, especially by Hougang MP Png Eng Huat and NCMP Yee Jenn Jong, both of the Workers’ Party.

In fact, Mr Png asked more or less the same question twice, in 2013 and in January this  year on the spread of foreign students here.

The answer in May 2013: The vast majority of university places have gone to Singaporeans. In AY2012, Singaporean students comprised 79%, while International Students and Permanent Residents comprised 16% and 5% of the universities’ intake respectively

The answer in Jan 2015: At the tertiary level, in each year, IS make up around 1% of the Institute of Technical Education’s (ITE) intake, around 10% of the Polytechnics’ intake, and around 15% of the Autonomous Universities’ (AUs) intake. PRs make up another 3-5% of the cohort.

As for the mainstream schools which Mr Png also asked for, these are the figures: Out of the total enrolment in our national schools (Primary Schools, Secondary Schools and Junior Colleges), around 9% are PRs and another 5% are IS

So the numbers been pretty consistent at least at the tertiary level, with the proportions the biggest in the Computing, Science and Engineering departments.  With the expansion of university places and a decision to cap the foreign intake at 2011 level,  the proportions are likely to fall.

The question of foreigners in the education system is a perennial one, even though places for Singaporeans have been increased. The replies by MOE revolve on the need to add “vibrancy’’ and “diversity’’ to the system and I believe every parent with school-going children know what sort of competition their foreign peers pose.

The other big question is not so much the number of places the foreign students take up but the amount of subsidy given to these students which could have been diverted to locals.

Here’s where there is this thing known as the tuition grant, which is a subsidy that tertiary students get so that they don’t pay the full price of study.

In January, the G told Mr Png:  The number of international students who receive tuition grant in each of the matriculation cohorts has decreased over the last few years from 2010. Currently, international students who receive tuition grant in each matriculation cohort comprise about 6% or 1,700 in the polytechnics, down from 9% in 2010. In the publicly-funded universities, they make up 13% or 2,200, compared to 18% in 2010.

International students in our tertiary institutions pay higher fees than Singaporean students. The tuition grants for international students total about $210 million per year, which is less than 10% of the total annual subsidies to our tertiary institutions.

So there you have it. It’s $210million. Even with the grant, they still pay higher fees than Singaporeans, with IS paying 70 per cent more and PRs paying 25 per cent more.

In return for this subsidy, they are obliged to work  in Singapore for three years unless they got approval to defer service because they want to pursue further studies. Apparently, eight in 10 start work immediately.  Here’s where the numbers get wonky. It seems an average of 250 defer service. So are there bondbreakers? Or not?

Here’s what MOE said: MOE has been enhancing tracking efforts to facilitate more immediate and closer tracking of tuition grant recipients who had not yet started work upon graduation, or who have not sought formal approval for deferment. As the work is in progress, the final figures are not currently available. Action will be taken against those who default on their service obligations by pursuing liquidated damages from these individuals. Where liquidated damages cannot be recovered, their status as bond defaulters will be taken into consideration should they subsequently apply to work or reside in Singapore.

That sounds quite lame. It does make one wonder what sort of tracking device the MOE has given that the tuition grant scheme has been in place for a long time. No figures at all? As for escaping without paying liquidated damages, and the penalty is not being able to work or live here…hmmm…why would they?

Looks a case for ….the Auditor-General?

—————————————————————————————————

Is every school really a good school? It’s been a couple of years now and there’s still some perception problem going on. How do you separate a designer school from a neighbourhood school? I guess the difference will be grades. Parents still look at which schools got the most number of A students no matter how hard schools obey the MOE directive not to disclose too many numbers or rankings.

Thing is, every school being a good school is not about every school having the same (top) grades. It’s about having more good teachers spread around more schools which will try to specialise in certain areas beyond the academic side.

The G said that it employs 30% more teachers than a decade ago, with “academies” set up to share best practices. There’s a STAR or Singapore Teachers’ Academy for the Arts and even PESTA or PE and Sports Teachers’ Academy.  Then there are “niche’’ areas established by schools, such ase Design Thinking, Outdoor Education, Applied Learning and Aesthetics. In 2013, 73% of secondary schools and 66% of primary schools have already established a niche.

But too many people have been asking why the G leaders themselves do not walk the talk, by sending their own children to an “ordinary’’ good school. Is this more a question of letting everyone be happy thinking that their kids are in good school, while they are actually being prepared earlier for a skilled job?

One poster said: “I feel they lose the moral authority when they send their own children to top and foreign schools. If they can make that distinction, then the mantra should be changed to “every school is good, but some are better than others”.

Perhaps it is time for an update and to see if these “niches’’ have done anything to advance a student academically or otherwise. A parent would ask about the use of Design Thinking in their child’s future – and how that would fit into his educational future. As well as whether with better teachers, has Ah Boy’s grades got better?

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————People are still wondering if teachers are really teaching or doing all sorts of other things besides teaching. This is not withstanding the publicity about Allied Educators who are meant to lighten the teacher’s load over the years.

One poster said: “I’ve gathered a lot of feedback from friends in the teaching line that most of their effort is spent on administrative and event management, than actual teaching and curriculum planning for the students. They’ve feedbacked this numerous times to MOE, proposing employment of staff whose job portfolios specialise in this to assist or even take over, so that they’d be able to devote more time and effort to duties with direct relevance to teaching instead. However MOE seems very adverse to this proposal till this day. Am curious to find out their rationale behind this.’’

Now, there are school counsellors as well as another group who specialise in Learning and Behavioural Support, helping teachers manage students with mild special needs such as  dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyper-activity disorder.

The third group supports teachers both within and outside of the classroom, including the conduct of co-curricular activities and remedial classes. In May last year, the G said that since allied educators were introduced in 2009, their numbers have been raised from 600 in 2009 to more than 2,500 today. MOE said it had “largely achieved’’ its staffing targets, with an average of seven such allied educators in each Primary and Secondary school.

Perhaps the question is how it sets the targets in the first place and whether what schools need is really more administrative support, that is, clerks, rather than the fancily named allied educator.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

There is a new term parents have to get used to. It’s the Pupil-Teacher-Ratio.

Nope, it’s not about class size which is something most of us are used to.

One poster said: Please publish statistics for actual class size in actual classroom setting throughout the years. (Don’t just count total number of teachers to total number of students.) My observation: class sizes of 40+ are still a norm.

 The good news is that the ratio of the total pupil enrolment to the total number of teaching staff in schools has been going down over the years, from one teacher to 26 pupils in 2000, to one to 17 for primary schools. In secondary schools, it’s from one to19 in 2000 to one to 14. And that, by the way, is comparable to the OECD average of 15 and 14 for primary and secondary schools respectively.

The bad news is that people still think in terms of class size. It’s no longer the case where students are divided into equal numbers and stuffed into classes with a teacher coming and going for different subjects. MOE said in a letter in July last year that learning support programmes in literacy and mathematical skills at Primary 1 and 2 are conducted in classes of eight to 10 students. “Some schools may also choose to deploy two teachers to a class of 40 students where one teacher guides the class through the curriculum while the other teacher assists specific students who may have greater learning difficulties.’’

Given the tremendous interest in “teacher’’ time and the amount of autonomy schools have, perhaps schools should publish its class size statistics on their websites? Or can the G furnish more detailed figures?

NEXT BATCH: On town councils/HDB/estate planning

The Budget – and my two cents worth

In Money, News Reports, Politics on February 24, 2015 at 3:51 am

First, an announcement: Sin taxes have NOT been raised. I guess that’s a small reprieve for those who smoke and drink, especially those who are unhappy at not being able to drink in public places after-hours…There’s nothing on property either, so your home is safe…

Okay. That was just an attempt at light-heartedness.

So what is it about the Budget that will make anyone, including me, happy? I am UNhappy that my CPF contribution rate is going up, although the euphemism used is “normalised’’. Having enjoyed a little bit more take-home pay for a few months after turning 50, that little bit is going to go back into CPF. The plus point is that my employer also has to pay its 1 per cent portion. Yes, yes, I know all the big picture arguments about retirement adequacy…Still I was hoping that only the employer contribution rate went up, not mine!

That’s the trouble isn’t it? We’re all looking at what’s in it for us.

Drivers are fuming at the extra duty on petrol, after enjoying lower petrol prices over recent months. Even though the higher duty isn’t going to push pump prices back up to where it was, it just seems like a little windfall has been taken away. Then comes the argument: What is all this about taxing road usage, rather than ownership then? Point to ponder: The G needn’t have upped petrol duties, but upped ERP rates instead – and earn curses everyday from drivers who have to pass through gantries. Petrol duties are….well…subtle.

Actually much of Budget 2015, dubbed the Jubilee Budget even by the PM, was anticipated:

– The CPF review panel and the NTUC recommended the “normalisation’’ of CPF contribution rates for older workers, and so it happened.

– The panel also suggested raising the CPF salary ceiling from $5,000 to $6,000 while  NTUC wanted it in two steps – in $500 increments. The G did it in a single bound.

– The NTUC wanted some kind of training account to encourage workers to upgrade. It happened. The SkillsFuture credit is going to be set up with $500 in the first instance. And those aged 45 and above can get up to 90 per cent of their continuing education courses subsidized. I suppose we’ll hear more about how this “credit’’ will be administered. Maybe a sort of Edusave account for workers?

– Businesses wanted a moratorium on foreign worker levies. It happened. They are “safe’’ for two years although Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam made it plain this was no rewind, just a pause.

– Businesses wanted more restructuring support, such as the continuation of the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme and Wage Credit Scheme. They’re still alive, although the co-funding portions have been lowered. Nothing was said about monitoring or tracking the usage of PIC which, I suppose, will be raised by the MPs. Nor was more said about driving up our dismal productivity figures, which I thought would feature majorly…

– The Silver Support scheme announced during the National Day rally was fleshed out, with about $600 going to seniors and up to $750 to the really badly off group every quarter. Now, that’s a windfall. The G seems to be conscious about how people will grumble about eligibility criteria and has decided on a mix of past income, household type, level of support. The Manpower ministry will sort this out. I wonder why. Shouldn’t this come under the Ministry of Social and Family Development?

Now for what’s not anticipated:

At the low end:

Although the CPF review panel had suggested raising the salary ceiling and older worker contribution rates, it didn’t dwell very much on the issue of retirement adequacy. It’s been getting some brickbats for this. After all, there’s no point tweaking the nomenclature surrounding the Minimum Sum if people don’t have a minimum sum to speak of. Now, the G has loaded another 1 to 2 per cent interest for those with low CPF balances. I wonder how this will pan out in concrete terms – how many people will achieve the minimum sum levels when they hit 55?

At the high end:

The higher personal income tax for top earners hadn’t been expected, and seems to be bucking the trend of lower income taxes worldwide. It has always amazed me that so many people here do not pay tax at all. BT says 90 per cent of the people here account for just 20 per cent of direct taxes (GST is an indirect tax). I guess some people will sniff and say that the G “taxes’’ in other ways, through levies and fees ecetera.

With these changes to make the system more progressive, I had expected the term income inequality to be used and references made to the Gini co-efficient. Instead, Mr Tharman took a big sweep of history talking about the rise in median incomes since 1965 and how they compare with other countries. Conclusion: We’re better-off. The “median Singaporean worker’s wage” (Mr Tharman didn’t say how much) is now the highest among the Asian newly industrialised economies and just 10 per cent lower than Japan. Over the past decade, “median household income per person” has increased, in real terms, by 36 per cent, he said.

I am no economist but I gather there is some concern about Temasek Holdings being included into the Net Investment Return framework. In case you don’t know what this means, here’s, hopefully, an accurate idiot-proof version: Currently, when MAS and GIC invests money, there is a return on investment that is projected/calculated. Half of this “projection’’ – whether it comes through or not – can be used by the G. Now, the concern is whether Temasek belongs in the same category as MAS and GIC which both invest conservatively. Temasek is supposed to be more “adventurous’’ – so you can’t be that sure about returns. I guess it’s a way to bolster our revenues and, another guess, to show detractors that Temasek’s money is being put to public use.

As I said, I am no economist but it does look like a lot of long-term thinking went into the budget. Some will say it is the work of civil servants. Even if so, I would think they would need some political direction. I frankly don’t care if it’s an election budget or not – oh, we’re all still getting GST cash rebates – but it does make me ask myself if any other political party will be able to produce a Budget that is so wide-ranging and finely-calibrated.

Anyway, let’s see how the MPs do during the debate on the Finance Minister’s statement. I hope they will cut to the chase and raise pertinent issues rather than merely laud it with nice-sounding adjectives. In other words, I hope to see, in productivity parlance, some “value-added’’.

Relating to the related third parties

In Money, News Reports, Politics on February 14, 2015 at 2:59 am

I wonder what sort of Valentine’s Day Mr Danny Loh and Ms How Weng Fan are having today? It can’t be comfortable for the husband-and-wife team to hear themselves being mentioned so many times in the august chamber of Parliament. What’s worse are all the innuendoes and sometimes blatant charges levelled against them by the People’s Action Party ministers and MPs.

Like,

  1. How they took advantage of their membership in the Workers’ Party and their friendship with its chief to set up a money-spinning commercial vehicle in the form of FM Solution and Services.
  2. How they over-charged the town council for managing fees, by about $1.6million a year.
  3. How, despite their double-hatting, it was not clearly stated in documents for all town councilors to know.
  4. How they were invoicing, approving and signing cheques from the town council to themselves.

The WP, to give its due, tried to defend its agent.

Like,

  1. How the couple stepped in when nobody else wanted the job.
  2. How they went from employees in Hougang town council to setting up a company because the entity made it easier to manage a town council which now had to deal with Aljunied and Punggol East as well.
  3. How the fees were settled via open tender.
  4. How they had no say in other tenders and that it was the WP MPs who co-signed cheques anyway.

Needless to say, the WP’s position cut no ice with the PAP side, who used words such as integrity, honesty, pattern of denial and deflection and even (gulp!) unlawful to describe the WP’s relationship with their managing agent. The WP said it wasn’t as though no one knew of the managing agent’s antecedents. Everything was out in the open (just not in the books…) But the PAP’s reply is that this is not the way things should be done, not by Financial Reporting Standards required by law anyway.

The G ministers keep asking the WP if it would sue the managing agent. The couple, as well as fellow shareholder Yeo Soon Fei must be wondering what their political masters will do now.

If the WP sues, then it would be like caving in to the PAP and turning around to slap a friend who had helped in time of need, as Mr Low Thia Kiang had described them. If it does sue, who knows what else would be unearthed that would do the party more harm than good? The trio might well hit back to protect themselves.

What about that “forensic’’ audit that the PAP side keeps calling for? The Auditor-General Office didn’t do a full audit, but a partial one over a limited period, which was why it could only say that it didn’t have enough information to ascertain if there was any wrong-doing.

One definition forensic audit: An examination and evaluation of a firm’s or individual’s financial information for use as evidence in court. A forensic audit can be conducted in order to prosecute a party for fraud, embezzlement or other financial claims. In addition, an audit may be conducted to determine negligence or even to determine how much spousal or child support an individual will have to pay.

So the PAP is calling on the WP to get someone to comb through its finances and, presumably, make good its boast that no money is missing. It is not unlike the case of the National Kidney Foundation, when auditors KPMG produced a report for the new NKF board which led to the civil suit with the old board and T T Durai. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who was Health minister at that time, referred to this yesterday, adding: “I’m not sure if this may happen in the case of the town council.’’

Precisely. Why would the WP investigate itself? Or are we talking about the “new’’ town council after the next general election?

Hmmm… what new regulations the G will come up with now that Parliament has unanimously approved a motion for stricter oversight over town councils? Besides having the authority to compel town councils to submit reports, I wonder if it will include giving the G the authority to order a forensic audit (if it already does not have the power).

I hope the media aren’t waiting for the Committee of Supply debate next month to give us the next instalment of the saga. In fact, the people behind FMSS should have been chased down way long ago. What are they up to now? They are no longer managing the town council right?

What saddens me is that this is really a grassroots saga and there seems to be little movement on the grounds of Hougang, Aljunied and Punggol East. One resident asked WP’s Yee Jenn Jong about the report a couple of nights ago “but he didn’t answer and walked away quickly’’, according to Education Minister Heng Swee Keat. (Wow. PAP’s got ears peeled in opposition territory.)

Nobody else deluging the town council with email? Crowding Meet-the-People sessions for an answer? Calling for a meeting with their MPs, just like the Sengkang residents did when they heard that a columbarium was coming up?

Is that why WP MPs could tell the PAP side in Parliament that they were only answerable to residents – because residents couldn’t be bothered? I would be surprised if residents think that all is okay in their town council. At the very least, they should get a full accounting of how the town council intends to pull up its socks. Residents don’t need to be PAP or WP supporters to ask questions of their elected representatives. They would simply be exercising their rights as citizens.

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