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Posts Tagged ‘foreign workers’

When vocal minority meets silent majority

In Politics, Society on April 3, 2015 at 8:00 am

A discussion between Vee Meng (vocal minority) and Si Meng (silent majority)

VM: “….what did say? ’’

SM: “…erm…what? Didn’t say anything…Eating my prata lah….’’

VM: “You haven’t been listening? That’s the trouble with people like you…so contented with your lot! Can’t you see so many things are wrong here? People can’t say what they want! The media is muzzled! We rank so low on human rights watch! We just care about money, money, money! Everything here is geared for the rich people, big business. We, the ordinary citizens of Singapore, are being trampled on and we don’t even know it!’’

SM: “That bad ah…I thought we’re always Number 1? You want to share another prata?’’

VM: “You should read more, especially what people are saying on the Internet. Then you’ll realise that this is not paradise and why people are buying homes in Johor and even, get this, staying there for their retirement!’’

SM: “Ya, I bought a place in Iskandar for investment and got burnt… Did you read about property prices here coming down? Shiok! I want to buy a new place, but then my old place now too cheap to sell….’’

VM: “Can you don’t just think about yourself? Think about single mothers who don’t get much help! Think about the old lady who collects cardboard and the old man who works at McDonalds! They should be enjoying their retirement! What kind of society are we becoming?’’

SM: “What? They didn’t join CHAS ah? Very good. Very cheap. My parents even better. Just wave PG card and get discounts everywhere… I hope cheng hu PG me when I turn 65.

VM: “My dear, dear Si Meng, you’re not connecting with me…I give up on you…You are the sort of people who just go with the flow, comfortable with your job, your HDB flat, your car…your little life…apathetic and couldn’t care less…’’

SM (slightly distressed): “Okay, okay. Of course, got some things wrong here lah. Like, I wish PSLE not so hard because paying for my children’s tuition is killing me.

VM: “Ah good. Something we agree on at last… We have a crazy education system that is driving parents nuts. Your children no longer have a childhood because they have to start running the rat race since kindergarten. Every school is a good school? Pah! It’s a myth! Even ministers don’t send their children to neighbourhood schools. The system just wants to churn out people for the economy. This ITE/poly thing…what master craftsman they want to produce? This place simply can’t afford to have more graduates so they want people to be happy to become master craftsman. We’re just digits in this economy, nuts and bolts to make the machinery run. Just soul-less people.’’

SM: “Eh? So cheem. I just want my children to get As and get good jobs.  Just don’t become cleaner or road sweeper.’’

VM (sarcastic): They won’t. Most of the jobs taken up by foreign workers already…

SM: “Oh ya. I also don’t like so many foreign workers around. Too crowded here already. They don’t even clean or sweep properly…

VM: “Talking about foreign workers….you agree with me that we must treat them well, right? You know their employers make them eat stale food? I still don’t think their living conditions are as good as the cheng hu say, never mind the new rules. We must treat these people better…and not subscribe to the capitalist demands of businesses who just want to profit from their sweat and blood.

SM: “Eh, my maid get day off every Sunday…’’

VM (in full flow):  “And look at the abuse of power. The ISA is still around. People are getting sued. Some kid rants on YouTube and cheng hu takes him to court! Just because he dissed Lee Kuan Yew! He’s non-conformist, like me! We should counsel people like him, not use the law on him!

SM: “Ya…his parents should just cane him…so boh tua, boh suay….”

VM (ignoring SM): “Have you seen what the Western media are saying about Singapore? All these controls on society. We always have some campaign or other. Laws against littering, graffiti and now this public drinking ban. We can’t even buy chewing gum here!’’

SM (placatory) : “You want chewing gum ah? I brought some from Malaysia. Before GST.’’ (passes chewing gum)

VM (making big show of chewing gum as an act of rebellion): I am thinking of starting a petition and get all the civil society types to sign. Maybe I’ll even book a slot at Hong Lim Park and get people to speak up. You should come along and see what this is all about…A good education.’’

SM: “Saturday? Not free lah. Got errands to run, send kids for enrichment class, dinner with in-laws…where got time?’’

VM (desperate): “Not even to ask for your CPF to back?’’

SM (lights up) : “Ya! Ya! I want my CPF! What age again we get it back? Can’t remember…When are we supposed to get GST rebate ah? And this Singapore Savings Bond thing…good to buy or not?’’

VM (shakes head): “I give up on you…You should be ashamed to call yourself Singaporean. Like sheep. Please don’t tell me you’re one of those fellows who queued 10 hours to go past the old man’s casket? Do you even know why you’re honouring him? Have you thought about PAP hegemony, repression, Operation Cold Store (no, not Cold Storage) and the Marxist conspiracy? Don’t you recall all that gerrymandering, political bullying and how the opposition always gets screwed? I know we should respect the dead but are you trying to turn him into a cult figure?’’

SM: “Aiyah…I…. queued… because…he…is…Lee Kuan Yew. Good enough reason for me. Eh, can you don’t talk so much or not? Tiring to hear..And where is that prata? Still haven’t come yet?!! What kind of service is this???’”

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Over-REACHing

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 31, 2015 at 7:45 am

If the G’s REACH people had rung me to ask about the Liquor Control legislation, I would have answered this way:

  1. No, I do not support the restrictions.
  2. No, the restrictions, if imposed, would not affect my lifestyle.
  3. Then comes the third question: Whether I consider public drunkenness a serious problem that has to be countered. I would have said yes…Because on PRINCIPLE, I would have to agree. But then I would have stopped to ask: You mean public drunkenness here? Now? Is it a serious problem? This country with the lowest alcohol consumption in the world? Seriously?

So we finally get to hear some statistics about public drunkenness – at the second reading of the Bill. Just about the last chance for anyone, or rather only MPs, to reflect on them and ask questions.

Last year, there were 47 cases of rioting linked to the consumption of liquor. There were also 115 cases of serious hurt, which were related to drinking. These cases included stabbing, cutting using dangerous weapons, and inflicting severe bodily pain. Nine in 10 occurred after 10.30pm.

Please let me hiccup a few times.

Hic! The rrreview over liquor consumption was started in 2012, and brought into focus after the Little India riot the next year. And all this while, public consultation was going on without the benefit of some numbers to ascertain the seriousness of the problem? What kind of rrrreeeeview is this? Hic!

Hic! We don’t know if these rioters and slashers were all drinking takeway beer after 10.30pm or had emerged sloshed from a licensed premises or got booted out by bouncers onto the public space. But, hey, hic!, So what rrrrright? All the crimes were committed after 10.30pm. Therefore it makes sense to make sure all “public’’ drrrrinking – whether or not it becomes public “drrrrunkenness’’ – stops at 10.30pm….

I have been trying to find the overall statistics on rioting and can only refer to an ST report, released on Thursday, the day before Parliament approved the Liquor Control Bill, saying that rioting involving youths had gone up from 283 arrested the year before to 322 last year. Please note that these riots involved only youths who may or may not be old enough to drink.

So what’s the BIG, national statistic?

I know what some people will think: Why am I nit-picking? Isn’t enough that people are hurt after some people had one too many? Didn’t you hear all those MPs going on and on about the pee, the vomit and the noise? You are in no position to speak because you don’t live in those places where there is public drunkenness.

Really? If it were me, I would be calling the cops all the time and insist that they do their job instead of asking for an omnibus law that affects everyone. My question would be: “Why aren’t the cops doing anything???!’’ Not: “We need yet another law.’’

So I hear this from a lawyer-MP who said that “of course’’ the law is a curb on personal liberties. But the “right to drink where and when you want is not a fundamental liberty’’ if it affects the public interest.

Because it IS a curb on personal liberties, this requires us to be rather more circumspect in imposing the law. This is not like a quarantine order to confine people in their homes to stop the spread of infectious disease. In fact, while others in developed countries might balk against such orders, we’ve shown ourselves pragmatic enough to deny ourselves freedom as was the case during Sars. That was a BIG problem that should be solved. The citizens here agreed.

Then you have the G saying this: “When does the Bill stop being blunt and over-reaching, and when does it start being comprehensive and effective? We can have a lot of rhetorical flourishes and pose interesting questions, but at the end of the day, we need to make a decision, and that decision applies not just to general principles, but also to specific steps that need to be taken on the ground.”

I really think that was not a nice thing to say. Rhetorical flourishes and interesting questions? When it comes to fundamental rights, the questions are merely “interesting’’? Or is the word “academic’’? I suppose the subtext is that this is merely the concern of liberal loonies who put Western ideals of fundamental freedoms above the heartlanders’ law and order concerns.

By the way, hic,,..I am not a liberal loonie, I am a member of the hic! HIC!.. intelligentsia – a term which is practically un-used in Singapore. And it is normal everywhere that the much despised intelligentsia would raise such uncomfortable questions especially if it touches on the extent of State power

As for that REACH survey. So the G denys that it governs by polls, never mind its feedback arm had the poll done. I guess it had to be done to counteract the ST online poll which had more people against the restrictions. The REACH poll, which is “scientific’’, mind you, showed otherwise. In fact, you have the usual suspects saying that the online views are just those of a vocal minority while the REACH poll is a REAL reflection of public sentiment.

I am really quite sick and tired of such dismissals of contrarian views. The G should give us the FACTS, not the views. And give us the FACTS early, not at the last minute.

Isn’t the key question this: Is the state of public drunkenness such that it is beyond the ability of the police to cope? Are there not enough specific laws in place to handle this?

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I cannot help but recall how the Little India Commission of Inquiry had repeatedly asked for statistics on public drunkenness in the area and whether the Miscellaneous Offences Act was being enforced against those public drunks who became a nuisance. These statistics were given out then: 60 arrests in 2013 and 27 in 2012. Then nothing heard.

If rioting cases fuelled by drinking had gone up over the years, I certainly didn’t know this despite being an avid follower of local developments in the media. The only time liquor became a problem was the Little India riot, which left the police black-and-blue in the face.

MPs of affected resident say it is about giving back the residents their “space’’. I don’t suppose affected residents think that getting back their “space’’ also means restricting their own and that of other people? Why aren’t they asking where the law is during those times? All those cameras everywhere and it can’t be used to direct officers to clear drunken loiterers or put them behind bars under the Miscellaneous Offences Act?

Then comes this cop-out from the G: Let’s not worry because the law is really about nabbing the really very bad drunks. The police won’t bother to strip search you (even though they can) or break up your beach barbeque (but please get a permit) or arrest you because you were drinking a can of beer at 11pm (but please bin it when told to) In other words, light touch. Or another decorative piece in the law that will be utilised with utmost discretion by the executive. Which sort of begs the question of why the law is there in the first place.

Also there is this crazy point about how the definition of workers’ dormitories as “public places’’ is really just a “technical’’ thing to conform to another piece of legislation. Pttfff…Dismissed.

Sheesh. Shouldn’t we be more careful about protecting ourselves against over-reach by the G? Or should we laugh it away in a drunken fit? Maybe we should say: For more than 20 years, we’ve always had no problems with the G abusing any process. We assume that everything is done according to our expectations. Now this (fill in the blanks) has happened. But never mind, we can always unwind the process. Let’s drink to that!

But now that the Bill is LAW, I can only suggest this for licensed premises to consider: Please start your happy hour earlier.

Over-protecting the people

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 21, 2015 at 3:12 am

The proposed alcohol curbs don’t affect me; I’m usually in bed by 10.30pm. And I drink on licensed premises anyway. My days of drinking on the beach staring at the stars are long over. As for take-away alcohol, nothing prevents anyone from buying it earlier and stocking up at home as the Home Affairs ministry put it: “members of the public can continue to consume liquor at home during the restricted hours’’. Sheesh. You would have thought such a statement was un-necessary. Surely, no one thinks the State can start imposing on what we can do or cannot do in the confines of our home? Then again, foreign worker dorms have been designated as “public spaces’’…

Never mind all that.

My problem with the restrictions on boozing that are making its way in Parliament is simply this: Are they even necessary? So, they have come in the aftermath of the Little India riot because alcohol was a “contributory’’ factor. We had thought that too many liquor licences had been given out to retailers over there – so a cap on such licences looks reasonable. But we were then told that other areas, such as Chinatown, had even more such licences. Restricting the number of licences would have been good enough surely? Just make sure there is no such ready – and cheap – supply. Instead, the whole population have now been told that they can’t buy takeaway liquor after 10.30pm and can’t drink in public areas during “restricted hours’’.

The penalties for infringements: a fine of up to S$1,000 for a first-time offender, while jail of up to three months and a fine not exceeding S$2,000 can be imposed on repeat offenders.

The promise from the G is that it will be “flexible’’.  Just dispose of that beer can if you are caught with it in public; nothing will happen to you.  If there is one thing I do not like about some of our laws – it is the amount of discretion it gives to the executive arm to enforce…

So the G has come up with two ways to convince people that the legislation is okay.

  1. It has the support of the people, or at least most of the 1,200 people it consulted. I sure hope they do not comprise mainly the residents of Little India and Geylang.
  2. The proposed rules are less draconian than those in other countries, including the developed countries. (Except that most of the laws do not blanket a whole country. And I don’t know the historical circumstances which led to their rules in the first place.)

People have been asking for more convincing evidence that the legislation is needed. It is not a question of people wanting to drink till they are light-headed or stoned out of their minds, but that new laws that affect the public must be grounded in something more solid than a poll of 1,200 people.

I recall the Little India Commission of Inquiry which kept asking if police enforced the Miscellaneous Offences Act. Particularly this section: Any person who is found drunk and incapable of taking care of himself, in any public road or in any public place or place of public amusement or resort, or in the immediate vicinity of any court or of any public office or police station or place of worship, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months.

So there is a law already in place dealing with drunkenness. Thing is, has it been enforced? How many people have we thrown into the brink to sleep it off? Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Ho See Ying, the Commanding Officer of Rochor Neighbourhood Centre, told the COI that there were 60 arrests made last year and 27 arrests in 2012. That is only for the area. Do you think the figure is too big or quite small? Surely, the Home Affairs ministry can give the full statistics island-wide? We have yet to hear the numbers. Have the cops used this scalpel? Why wield a sledgehammer when you already have a specific weapon dealing with drunken behaviour?

I can’t help but think that some people wanted things all neat and tidy. So bits and pieces of legislation scattered in the books relating to alcohol have all been grouped under this Liquor Control Bill. I sure hope the people’s representatives would do a better job of asking about the need for this Bill during the second reading.

I also happen to agree with NGOs on another part of the Bill which designates the foreign worker dorms as a “public space’’. That is, the liquor restrictions would apply. Surely, the dorm operators know how to come up with their own rules? Do we need the law to enter into such private spaces? Or are we saying that foreign workers have no right to privacy at all?

Then there is the other law covering foreign workers in their dormitories. MSM seemed to have focused on how they are intended to make the workers’ living conditions better with a Commissioner empowered to look after their needs. Yup. Wonderful. Great. But there is also this part which I read in TODAY: The Commissioner will also have the power to order operators to restrict the entry and exit of dorm residents if there is a serious health threat or risk, or if there is a risk that incidents outside and within Singapore — including civil unrest, hostilities, war, and elections — could generate ill-will or hostilities among or between residents.

My goodness! Isn’t this rather too broad and sweeping? If there is a hotly contested election in say, Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi workers will be confined to their dorms? Or if ethnic groups in China start fighting each other, we’re afraid that the Chinese workers will start an altercation with locals here? Bear in mind that the foreign workers do indeed come from countries which aren’t as politically stable and sedate as Singapore…I guess the response from the State will be that it will be “flexible’’ and not resort to such measures willy-nilly. That is, can we please place more trust in executive “discretion’’.

I read about the MPs going on about why the smaller dorms aren’t covered by the law which is only effective against those with 1,000 beds or more. I wish they didn’t put cart before horse. Shouldn’t the Bill itself be scrutinized properly before we even start asking for an extension? Or do we treat foreign workers as a different species altogether because we want to put Singaporeans first?

Again, I view both pieces of legislation as “convenient’’ for the State rather than necessary for the people. So what if Parliament has to be convened time and again for the G to ask for specific temporary powers to maintain law and order, such as the Public Order Bill? Too messy and time-consuming? But that’s democracy isn’t it?

The Government is there to protect the people but I think sometimes, we also need to ask if getting too much “protection’’ is a good thing for us, the people.

More jobs, higher wages, more pain?

In Money, News Reports on September 16, 2014 at 3:03 am

I suppose we should be happy with the half-year manpower report that was published in MSM today. Wages are going up – because employers can’t hire as many foreigners as before. Real median wage went up 4.6 per cent last year, and is likely to go up further. (Nope, got no updated half-year figures on income.)

I guess employers have no choice but to raise wages to attract locals to work. There are 63,900 jobs going a-begging as of June. So more jobs, higher pay for locals, as ST trumpeted today. But there’s a cautionary note that ST sounded as well, backed up by experts and economists.

What if employers just passed on the increased manpower cost to consumers? So, everything cancels out and real income growth, said one economist, will be “muted’’.  And it looks like this might well happen given how productivity is going down. It’s gone into “negative territory’’ or to put it simply, people are actually doing/producing less than before in the second quarter. It’s -1.3.

You can blame the construction sector. It’s the biggest drag on productivity. (I sort of wonder if this is because the construction sector is skimping on employment of foreign workers because of higher levies they have to pay. And if lack of labour is also a reason for more people dying on worksites.)

But hey, most of us are NOT in construction so wages shouldn’t be affected, right? Except that the services sector isn’t doing too well on the productivity front as well – and this is the sector that is facing a foreign labour squeeze in numbers. You wonder where the hotels and malls that will be opening will get their workers…They just have to pay more to get the fussy locals to work then?  Higher and higher wages, and higher and higher cost of living. What’s the point of holding more money if it buys you the same amount of stuff as before?

What if employers simply cannot find workers despite offering higher pay? They can do a few things – re-locate, bug the G for more foreign workers or fold.

MOM said in its statement: “The manpower-lean environment will continue to be a feature of the Singapore economy. As the economy restructures, some consolidation and exit of less productive businesses is expected.”

We’ve been hearing so much about wages that I wish we had a handle on how our employers are holding up, like how many had to “exit’’ less productive businesses. It will be good to look at bankruptcy figures to find out how SMEs are faring. Is this rate increasing? It should be, given that economic restructuring does mean that companies would have to “consolidate’’ or “exit’’. If so, retrenchment figures should go up too. But a total of 2,410 workers were laid off in the second quarter of this year, lower than the 3,110 workers who were retrenched in the previous quarter. What does this mean? Are we over the worst?

Experts interviewed by ST don’t seem to think so.

They noted that the authorities tightened foreign worker hiring policies with the aim of forcing firms to work more efficiently. But the reverse has happened in some companies. It quoted Singapore Business Federation’s chief operating officer Victor Tay as saying that a lack of workers has pushed some firms to focus on day-to-day operations instead of planning ahead to raise productivity.

In other words, some companies are too busy trying to keep head above water to think long-term.

ST also quoted Mr Victor Mills, chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, as saying that curbs on employment pass renewals have led to the rejection of “talented, committed and productive’’ foreign employees who could have helped raised productivity levels.

Hmm…they weren’t replaced by locals? Or the locals not as good?

Only 11,000 or so foreigners were hired in the first this year, mainly for construction. And this is half the number the year before. The labour market report, however, didn’t break down the figure into employment or S pass or work permit holders.

I think the people who wanted fewer foreigners here have got their wish. Except that now, we’ve got to persuade Singaporeans to do the jobs that foreigners used to do – for the pay that they did. Or if we want to make even more money, we simply have got to be better (read: productive) than the foreign workers were.

It’s time to make productivity sexy.

The challenge of writing an assessment

In News Reports, Politics, Sports, Writing on August 12, 2014 at 2:07 am

I guess not many people realise that today marks the 10th anniversary of PM Lee at the helm of Government. Well, The Straits Times remembered and has a long essay assessing the Lee decade. It is a fine balance of he did this, but…he didn’t do this, still…
And it starts off by using the catch-all word “challenging’’ to describe the PM’s first decade.

Sigh. It’s a safe word, of course. Challenging can mean anything. You always rise up to challenges, you never merely solve problems. Challenges mean tough times, but not so tough as to not be able to overcome them. A challenge is like a dare. It evokes courage.

It must have been a challenge to write this piece. You have to give credit where credit is due and not over rah-rah such that the article becomes sycophantic. Every action should have a reaction. The piece must be very clearly analytical, with no biases that are detectable.

So the article goes this way….(excerpts are in italics)

GOOD…Leading Singapore relatively unscathed through the global financial crisis was cited by several observers as among Mr Lee’s top achievements in the decade. (Annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaged 6.3 per cent from 2004 to last year. GDP per capita went up from $46,320 to $69,050 from 2004 to last year)

BUT…The global buzz also comes at a price – cohesiveness.

STILL…. One of the signal achievements of Mr Lee’s Government is the move to bridge inequality by raising the tranche of subsidies for the lower- and middle-income group in all areas: from an income supplement for low-wage workers to grants for housing to subsidies in health care and childcare.

THEREFORE… By last year, the Gini coefficient was back down, to 0.463. After government transfers and assistance, it was 0.412. (Major re-ordering of the social compact)

BUT…. Trouble is, many Singaporeans do not see it that way, as they grapple with rising housing costs and feel the heat of competition for jobs. Instead, anxieties on overcrowding abound. Over the past decade, the population went up too fast, before transport and housing infrastructure could cope. Some observers consider this the greatest policy failure of the last decade. How did a government that prides itself on keeping close tabs on numbers allow an influx of foreigners beyond the housing and transport infrastructure’s capacity to cope?

STILL…. Mr Lee himself did not shirk this responsibility. In the heat of GE 2011, he surprised many when he apologised to the people of Singapore for the mistakes made, in an election rally at Boat Quay. That public mea culpa and events after GE 2011 raised widespread expectations of political change. (Which are in the form of nips and tucks, such as liberalising the use of Speaker’s Corner)

ALSO…he stopped doing some things. He sought to be seen to be fair when he called for polls, reducing the surprise element in timing them. Nor were there wholesale changes to electoral boundaries. He stopped using estate upgrading as electoral carrots. In GE 2011, opposition candidates’ views, not their personal character, were attacked. In choosing fair election campaigns, and in refraining from browbeating opposition candidates, Mr Lee made it less risky for people to enter the opposition fray. Hence, more opposition members got in.

BUT… Mr Lee stopped short of fundamental reforms to the electoral system that some sought, ignoring calls for an independent election commission, for example.

ALSO… still very much top-down/command and control approach, like the Population White Paper introduction. (Backed by an opinion from a commentator, that is, not writer’s words)

WRITER’S FINAL ANALYSIS… What is one to make overall of Mr Lee’s roller-coaster decade? One can take the optimistic view and say Singapore has weathered crises remarkably well and remained intact as a society, despite the train breakdowns, the Little India riot of last December, a bus drivers’ strike, and the sex and corruption scandals. Critics might say there are signs of a ship that is cruising, or even adrift, tossed about by the global winds of change. I would say that the truth as usual lies in between.

See? Told you it would be a challenge to write the piece….

The news in numbers

In News Reports on March 19, 2014 at 12:56 am

Some interesting statistics in the media today…

a)     200 to 300 “abandoned’’ foreign workers a day.

 

That’s the number of people NGO TWC2 said patronised its “soup kitchen’’ every day. These are the workers who are waiting to go home but can’t because they have some outstanding issues to settle. The Manpower Ministry official at yesterday’s Little India COI seemed pretty ticked off at the use of the word “abandoned’’, maintaining that it was the job of employers to take care of them, or MOM will step in if the worker asked for help. That looks “good on paper’’, said COI’s GP Selvam. And a “soup kitchen’’ in Singapore? Shades of the Great Depression…! What sort of image does this give Singapore, the retired judge mused. Anyway, MOM said it would get in touch with TWC2

 

b)    1 million low-wage foreign workers, including maids

 

Again, a figure cited by TWC2. Well, you know what the G is like with “definitions’’ that have to do with income. MOM said there is no definition of a “low wage’’ worker. BUT there are 770,000 work permit holders who earn less than $2,200 a month. The MOM official didn’t give the number of maids. So if you define work permit holders as low wage, and add the number of maids, TWC2 might well be right – or maybe had even under-estimated the figure. What’s interesting is that MOM specified that about 370,000 of these work permit holders are Malaysians. What does this mean? So they don’t count as “foreigners’’?

 

c)     23 cases of foreign workers who told ICA that they were being forcibly repatriated by employers even though they have cases pending. MOM has “dealt’’ with them, the official told COI. Question: So what happened to these employers?

  

d)    6 times he spat

 

Remember the video of the guy at a bus interchange spitting at some woman? He’s in court now and totally unrepentant about his behaviour. If she was a guy, he would have whacked her six times instead of merely spitting on her…But he didn’t because he is NOT a bully. That’s the rubbish he spewed in court. Reason for sputum: She called him an idiot and insulted his mother, he said. Therefore he spat. Does anyone feel like punching him?

 

e)     80 Singaporeans and PRs arrested here between 2009 and last year for consuming drugs overseas.

 

That’s the “provisional’’ figure the Central Narcotics Bureau trotted out in the wake of Singaporeans having too much of a high at rock concerts in Malaysia and Indonesia.  Thing is, why is CNB aggregating the figures this way? Looks like with the proliferation of rock concerts, more checks should be done on people coming home so that a clear warning is given to them not to get too ecstatic abroad?

 

f)      100 kg

 

That’s the weight of a polytechnic student who attempted a handspring during cheerleading practice, fell and later died. Two “spotters’’ or teammates who help to support the stunt are now testifying in coroner’s court. Ask you guys: Is there such a thing as weight limitation on handsprings? Can it be done even if you are heavy?      

Meanwhile…in Singapore

In News Reports on March 17, 2014 at 3:13 am

While we are all trying to decipher the mystery of the missing plane…(I wonder how many times we are going to hear about the mystery “deepening’’ and the search “widening’’) let’s turn our attention back to our own backyard….

So…AHEM…

If there’s an interesting “local’’ story, it’s in ST today about how maids getting a mandatory day off means that our Sundays are getting crowded, especially at Lucky Plaza and City Plaza. ST didn’t say how many foreign maids there are here in total, but I gather they are in the one hundred thousand? So add this to the foreign worker population and you wonder if there is enough standing room in Singapore’s public areas…

Looks like the COI could do us all a favour by not just looking at Little India but the whole question of where foreign workers plus foreign maids go to on their day off and what is there for them to do that wouldn’t get people here feeling squeezed out of their own country on weekends.

It is, as I said before, a “small’’ country problem.  Also a “rich’’ country problem…

I’ve been reading about the COI and there were some interesting facets such as:

  1. The NGOs think the police and auxillary police are too tough on the workers and don’t give them “face’’ but the residents and shopkeepers think they are too “soft’’ and give the workers too much face. The truth is …out there? Or somewhere in-between?
  2. That the 9pm cut-off time for buses to ferry foreign workers out of Little India means that more of them are being left behind. So they take public transport back to their dorms. I wonder if SMRT and SBS staff are having to deal with drunken or unruly passengers, or are they simply glad for more passengers…?
  3. That the female “timekeeper’’ in the Little India riot has a very “loud’’ voice which is needed to get the foreign workers to board orderly and might not necessarily have been rude, although there are witnesses who say so. Poor woman. She’s the lightning rod?
  4. That the foreign workers that night thought their compatriot was merely injured and pinned down by the back wheel of the bus when cameras showed that he had actually been rolled over by the front wheel and ended at the back wheel. So a mis-communication that led the foreign workers to think the authorities were being callous?
  5. That shopkeepers are veering between being happy to have fewer “incidents’’ to deal with and being unhappy that business has come down.
  6.  That there is great animosity between the Bangladeshis and the Indians.
  7.  That 80 per cent of the shops are supposedly owned and run by foreigners. Said by a shopkeeper; dunno if it’s a fact.
  8. That there is a place called Kodai Canteen that is real popular among foreign workers because it’s like a beer garden. The owner/operator is taking the stand today.
  9. That if foreign workers can’t get Kingfisher or Knockout beer, they buy Baron’s brew.

This COI is really interesting for the stuff that comes out…    

Little India COI: Mr VW takes the stand

In News Reports on March 13, 2014 at 6:50 am

It wasn’t just the hazy morning which drove me to the air-conditioned COI courtroom.  It was the fact that Vincent Wijeysingha would be giving evidence. Now this is the man who complained about the Attorney-General’s Office being appointed to lead evidence. His thesis: How can the G’s lawyer be independent enough to lead evidence at a hearing which might hurt the G?

So there I was at Court 13, expecting fireworks. What will Vincent W say? Will he be given a fair shake?

Turns out to be quite a chummy affair, with Mr W and chairman GP Selvam exchanging information on riots elsewhere from way back when. Mr W, representing Workfair, didn’t get to expand on the sociological aspects on the anatomy of a riot; he was very nicely told by Mr Selvam to get to the first term of reference on the factors and circumstances leading to THIS riot in Little India. But he did get to elaborate quite a bit on how he thought the COI should take a “macro’’ look at the state of the transient foreign worker and how there was a “whole suite’’ of factors that contribute to the foreign workers’ mindset of their lot here (not good) and how anything – not just drink – could have triggered the riot.

Anyway, his case goes something like this:

Although some improvements were made to the lot of the foreign workers (he didn’t specify what) after the SMRT strike of 2012, they don’t seem to be adequate. There are still complaints.  Those who come to work here already face an uncertain future: they are in hock to their agents back home and they are at risk of being repatriated “at will’’ by employers who only have to go online to do so.

There are repatriation companies which will hijack and kidnap workers singled out by employers and escort them to the airport to be sent home, he said. Complaints to Manpower ministry did not work, he added, and one senior official had even described these repatriation experts as a “useful social service”. (Seems that some arrangements have been worked out with MOM in which a foreign worker who has a case pending could alert the immigration authorities) 

While the foreign workers are here, they don’t have many social amenities they can utilise. Then there was the way the Little India authorities in the form of the town council and MPs want the problem of over-crowding handled. Police tell the workers to shift from where ever  they are deemed loitering. So they do, moving from place to place to place all within Little India. This was just a movement of people , not a long term solution to the problem of crowding unless, he jibed, they were moved to the neighbouring Tanjong Pagar or to Bukit Timah.

Plus the way the police behaved towards them leaves “much to be desired’’ (He cited one anecdote of how he had witnessed a policeman deal with a foreign worker who said he had lost his handphone. The policeman seemed to be accusing the worker of “stealing’’ it) . Then there were the drivers and timekeepers of the buses that ferry them: “harsh and heavy-handed’’.

And what about alcohol?

The prosecutor who led evidence and the COI tried several times to clarify if he thought alcohol was a factor. Here, Mr W tried to hold his ground. Somewhat wobbly ground, if I may say so. He wants the COI not to subscribe to the “alcohol’’ thesis just because (or is it even though?) the Prime Minister and other ministers had weighed in on this. There was no “forensic’’ evidence that the rioters were drunk (the prosecutor said that you might not need a blood test to tell) and if drinking was a problem, it was a lot worst in Boat and Clarke Quays.

Then he got into a bit of a tangle when he said that behaviour cited by residents might not be the outcome of drink. Here’s where COI member Andrew Chua tried to get him to say if he thought vomiting (bad behaviour) was a result of too much drink. Mr W said his job wasn’t to disprove this but for those who say so, such as the PM,  to prove.

Woah.

The COI made it clear that it can’t rule out any factor and that alcohol was just one of them. In fact, Mr Selvam went further – drinking per se isn’t a problem but public intoxication is. Here’s where Mr Selvam said something interesting: Rather than control the supply of alcohol (via liquor licences for example), the demand for alcohol can also be controlled by making use of the law on public intoxication.  This would make clear that bad behaviour in public while in a drunken stupor is what is frowned upon. And using the Miscellaneous Act against such behaviour would naturally control the demand.

This isn’t the first time the Act has been raised by the COI and I keep wondering why the Attorney-General’s Office has not been able to give any statistics on this offence. Maybe because there haven’t been any? If so, then Mr W would be right in his retort that the police haven’t been doing their job.     

He had one and a half hours with the COI and given quite a bit of latitude to range over and beyond the terms of reference, something which he acknowledged as well. In fact, the session ended with the COI asking him if he had been given a fair hearing and whether he still stuck by his earlier objections of having the AGC lead evidence.

He held the line: He was still against having the G’s lawyer lead evidence in a hearing that could make the G look bad. Not that he thought the lawyers or the COI members lacked integrity but because there must be “a semblance of fairness and transparency’’. It was quite entertaining watching the black-suited lawyers shift in the chairs when this dialogue was going on…

Anyway, there were two instances which made my eyebrows hit my hairline.

First, his contention that there was an element of racism in the treatment of foreign workers: The stereotype that Indians get drunk easily and are “sexually voracious’’. That was why the town council only targeted South Asians and wanted them to move away from void decks. That was also why “alcohol’’ became a prominent feature post-riot.

He’s making some assumptions of course, but he is saying in public what is usually left unsaid. No one wants to look racist or even mention the word.

Second, like the other NGOs which have given evidence, he is asking for better treatment for foreign workers on as many fronts as possible – or at least a mindset shift towards them. Past comments on foreign workers from the PM and MP Yeo Guat Kwang who set up the Migrant Workers’ Centre, he said, only serve to reinforce people’s attitudes towards foreign workers as “transients’’ who are here just to serve Singapore’s economic needs.

This is going to be hard to do.

The fact is that foreign workers ARE transients or they would be permanent residents. And they ARE here to make up for a shortfall in manpower. To say otherwise would lead to a set of other complaints from Singaporeans who are already chafing about sharing space with them, whether they are drunk or not.

It does NOT mean, however, that we should treat them like dirt or ignore their human rights. But those rights have to be set in the context of why they are here and the nature of their relationship with this country. Maybe they should be known as “guest workers’’ rather than foreign or transient workers which over time seemed to have gained a derogatory connotation. As guests, they can choose to come and they can choose to go and we will treat them right while they are here. But as the owner of the house, we can also make sure they do not wreck the place and show them the door if they do.  

Maybe that could be the start of a shift in societal attitudes that would satisfy both the NGOs and employers. The rest would depend on our consciences.   

 

    

Little India COI: Our Protocol Police

In News Reports on March 5, 2014 at 1:24 am

I will do my best here not to lose my temper. It’s going to be very hard because it had reached boiling point even before I got on to reading the second newspaper.

If you want to know what DAC Lu Yeow Lim, the ground commander at the Little India riot, did wrong (or did not do – which was the case) go buy TNP. It has usefully put out the headlines that display the man’s lack of ….ooops.

Revising this…He is a real law and order man, adheres to rules and protocols strictly, monitors situation as befits a commander shielded by a phalanx of bodyguards and decides do nothing because he didn’t want anyone hurt. Very nice. Never mind if police cars burn, property is less important than lives…So burn, baby, burn….

See? I told you it was going to be hard to keep my temper in check.

Anyway, TNP gave headlines to displayed the COI’s near-contempt (my words) for the man’s actions/inaction. This is my version based on ST, TNP and TODAY.

He didn’t know what was happening – That’s because when he got there, in civvies, he was at the wrong place. Not where the police cars were burning in Kerbau Road. He couldn’t see the scene from his spot at Hampshire Road. He had rushed out to the scene without changing into his uniform because he would wasted five minutes. The COI said a uniform would at least have marked him out to rioters as a figure of authority. Five minutes spent on a uniform was way longer than the half hour he had standing around in his civvies doing nothing at the scene.

Well, never mind that he was in “disguise’’. He said his officers recognised him and the rioters seemed to know who he was because whenever he moved out from behind his officers, he was pelted.

But the killer line is this: Police protocol dictates that commander can’t get into the heat of action. What if the commander got hurt? Who would lead then? But nobody’s asking you to get into the middle of it all, what about walking round the periphery, asked the COI. And what about ASP Jonathan Tang, the first responder, who was moving around all the time?

 This mere female sure hopes the SAF has different protocols.  

He didn’t know how many men he had – From what he could tell from where he was at – and where he stayed put – he had about eight men or so. Not the 100 plus that the COI, with video and the benefit of hindsight after three months of investigation, said was there, he retorted. Phone lines were jammed. He couldn’t get a handle on his manpower.

 Clearly, he was trying to say that HE was the ground commander. This was what HE saw and judged. As far as HE was concerned, he was out-numbered and any action would have led to a greater reaction on the part of the rioters.

He didn’t take any action – Well, he wasn’t “drinking coffee’’ either, he said. He decided to “hold the ground’’ and even, get this, stopped two of his men who wanted to stop the rioters from burning a police car right in front of them, because he didn’t want to antagonise rioters. And, get this, there are protocols in place that “deadly force’’ can be used to protect property, but there was no provision for burning vehicles! In any case, his “moral’’ position was to place the lives of human beings above the protection of property.

He read the crowd wrongly –  He said the crowd was aggressive (although how he assessed this was in contradiction to his statements that he couldn’t see the burning going on in Kerbau Road from where he was).  What if they surrounded him and his men and wrested their guns from them and started firing? What if some people got killed? Then he would be barracked for quite a different COI.

Seems he thinks police inaction was the way to handle the rioters so as not to escalate things. So he waited for the SOC to arrive as he “held the ground’’ rather than do a Charge of the Light Brigade. But the COI thinks that some action, even by a few good men, would have done much to quell the rioters who were instead emboldened into engaging in further violence. What about the lone cop, Sgt Fadli, who charged the crowd three times, the COI asked. Each time he charged, the crowd got smaller. DAC Lu noted that he didn’t make any arrests, so what’s the point?  Aiyoyo.

So what light did yesterday’s COI shed on what happened that night?

Well, it seems that drinking was only a contributory factor in the violence. Police inaction had to bear some/much of the blame too.

Looks like there is a difference in strategic thinking on what sort of action should or could be taken in such a scenario.   

From the way DAC Lu responded (wished he was as feisty with the rioters as he was with the COI…), he seemed to think that COI was out to “get him’’ and had the unfair advantage of video footage and three months’ worth of investigation although he had abided by protocol (Is wearing civvies also protocol I wonder) Also, he seemed to think that everyone with a view should realise that they were NOT there, not in that responsible position of having to make judgment calls that might endanger lives.

Okay, I am just speculating here.

Maybe some new protocols have to be written. Or maybe the police should throw away the Book of Police Protocols since it appeared to be more a “limiting’’ and restrictive tool than one which allowed the employment of initiative and common sense!

Like how DAC Lu said he had to get “clearance’’ from the Acting Commissioner if he wanted to use tear gas, under current protocol.  

Like how DAC Koh Wei Keong, who was in charge of SOC that night, said the call for help came from a “low ranking’’ (my words) officer when protocol dictates that it should come from “higher up’’ . He spent 10 minutes calling around to ascertain if the SOC was really needed at what seemed to be a crowd at a traffic accident site.

Well, even if the police didn’t “react’’ fast enough, they weren’t good enough at the “preventive’’ front either. Little India was brimful of foreign workers every weekend, most of whom were infused with alcohol, the COI said. It was a powder keg waiting to explode. But it seemed that the serious crime incidents had come down over the years so Little India wasn’t a “priority’’ for the cops. Quite odd. Residents have been complaining for years about the situation but the police prefer to rely on statistics…  

I read the news reports of yesterday’s COI and I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. But, seriously, what’s with our men in blue? If you’re a policeman, act like one, for crying out loud…

What’s for breakfast in 2014

In News Reports on January 1, 2014 at 2:04 am

The year 2014 looks set to be interesting for Singapore, going by just a couple of lines in the Prime Minister’s New Year Day message last night. He is going to prorogue Parliament after the Budget session in March and come up with a new agenda for the rest of the parliamentary term which will end in 2016.

Here’s hoping that in July, the G will pull together all the threads of the “new way forward’’ that the PM has espoused and that it shows clearly in each ministry’s statement on what it will do for the rest of the term. What I’d like to see: That the sentiments expressed in the Our Singapore Conversation have been incorporated into policy directions.

Doubtless, the G is positioning itself for the next general election and is laying the groundwork early.

Anyway, with tongue only half in cheek, here’s my take on what’s cooking in 2014. Enjoy with a pinch of salt, because I’ve already sugared and spiced it up.

Burnt toast and pineapple tarts with sour milk

He’s already burnt himself, the CPIB man who has pleaded guilty of mis-appropriating $1.7m from the G. Wish Edwin Yeo didn’t so that we can hear a lot more about how he filched the money. In case you don’t know, what we’ll get to read is a statement of facts put up by the prosecution, which won’t be challenged since he isn’t claiming trial. That’s usually quite bald. If there was an inquiry done in-house, we probably won’t hear much about it. There’s hope in learning a bit more when he puts up his mitigation plea for a more lenient sentence, although he will probably wax on about his gambling addiction and give the anti-gambling crowd another reason to say that casinos are baaaad.

But there’s still more than 10,000 of boxes of pineapple tarts to look forward to, which foreign service officer Lim Cheng Hoe ordered for ministerial trips. Except that he only bought 2,200 boxes.  It’s likely he’s going to plead guilty too of cheating the ministry of almost $90,000 but you sort of wonder what other delicacies go into a minister’s diplomatic bag when he’s goes courting abroad. Does it include kueh lapis? Or is that not part of protocol?

No word yet on how he will plead but it’s pretty shocking to have a cop accused of murdering a father and son pair. The Kovan case, which had the media chasing its tail over a fat 50-something  year old suspect, came to roost on a nice-looking 34 year old senior staff sergeant who had earlier (official) dealings with the elder victim. We can probably handle burnt toast or un-baked pineapple tarts but a double murder on the part of a cop is too difficult to swallow. If Iskandar Rahmat is indeed guilty, it’s not good enough to lock him away and throw away the key. He should hang.

Porridge

Take your pick: bubur ayam, fish porridge or Crystal Jade style pei tan chok? Whatever makes it easy for old people to chew and swallow. Here’s waiting to see what will be served up on the Pioneer Generation Package, Singapore’s reward for the generation which has slogged it out here. Ingredients will definitely include something on healthcare financing – free ward upgrade? Or free dentures? Or free reading glasses? Maybe a bigger portion of shares/dividends of a GLC? Let’s hope the package isn’t delineated or means-tested by household income or house type or you can bet that there will be some flinging and not just banging of pots and pans. This looks though like something the G really wants to give out to the generation which has been its keenest supporters. So the bet is that it won’t be watery gruel of the Oliver Twist variety

Nasi lemak

How more lemak can you get? A big church, a preacher’s wife with sights on Hollywood, an Indonesian tycoon and an accounting tangle so complicated you’d need a chopper to cleave through. The City Harvest trial continues but it’s no church versus state clash, it’s about the diversion of dirty lucre. No ikan bilis sum either: more than $50million of church funds involved. As for the sambal, that’s provided by Serina Wee whom Netizens are going nuts over.     

Indian rojak

Not intending to be racist or anything but Chinese style rojak simply doesn’t fit the story of the Little India riot and its aftermath. Here’s looking at what the Committee of Inquiry will say about the cause of the riot and how it was handled by the authorities. It’s going to be contentious because many issues are involved besides the fact the rioters broke the law. What sparked it? Alcohol-inflamed emotions over the death of a compatriot on the road? Were there some rioters who were more culpable than others? Then comes the question of whether bigger concerns were at play – such as treatment of foreign workers here, allegations of police brutality, the rules regarding repatriation. Don’t forget that there will be a trial(s) and it’s clear that some of the accused, including a tourist, aren’t going to roll over and play dead. Expect plenty of gravy.  

Scrambled eggs

Anonymity didn’t bring any comfort or consolation to the hackers who wanted to do a Guy Fawkes and disrupt the country’s infrastructure. So James Raj Arokiasamy and other hackers who disrupted the websites of organisations like the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ang Mo Kio Town Council have been hauled to court. One said he did so because his fingers were “itchy’’. The trials will be a thing to watch as James Raj is being defended by the inimitable M Ravi. Watch also for offline curbs on online activity, with coming laws on harassment. Rather than serve eggs sunny-side up, poached or hard boiled with individual pieces of legislation scattered through the rule books, the G has decided to scramble them and serve it as some kind of omnibus legislation against any sort of harassment, whether cyber bullying or stalking. Another dish of scrambled eggs to be served up: changes to the Broadcasting Act – to make sure that online news is the same as offline offerings – that is, all should taste the same.

Oodles of noodles

Hawker variety or spaghetti? The roads look like a tangled mess and in some places, all starched up. So we wait for Monday to see if the Marina Coastal Expressway is what it’s cracked up to be – a quick journey. Or will motorists be throwing up their breakfast in their cars as they figure how to navigate their way to work. Besides the roads, you can bet commuters are crossing their fingers that transport operators can keep the trains going without stopping. They’ve been hard at work replacing old infrastructure but do keep an eye on the new Circle line hor. Terrible to break down after PM opened it. And what’s with the fare increase eh? It’s like introducing chilli padi to the dish. Very hiam.

Essence of chicken

Every parent’s favourite tonic for their kids. They will need it themselves when Primary One registration comes along with new rules that will open up spaces in “better’’ schools (since every school is a good school). Then there are changes to the PSLE scoring system as well. No more T-scores???? How like that? So there will be two sets of confused if not howling parents, those with kids about to enter the school system and those who want their 12 year olds to go to RI or RGS. Prediction: More eyeballs on the kiasuparents forum.

Fruit, yoghurt and all that’s good

And this healthy dish is NOT an optional item on the breakfast menu. Which is why everyone had better pay attention to moves to introduce Medishield Life, which will cover everyone’s health needs. Better have a say in how much premiums you have to pay at various stages of your life and how much cover you will get when you get sick. Confused even at the present situation? Get a crash course in the 3Ms and check what health insurance you already hold. Healthy food is hard to swallow – but you know it’s good for you.