Posts Tagged ‘Heng Swee Keat’

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.


  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.


  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.

Great grad dreams

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 10, 2014 at 1:19 am

I’ve met several parents over time who have sent their children abroad to study for a degree. And there have been times that I’ve been taken aback at the course of study. Like criminology, art history, media studies, psychology or sociology. I wondered if this was because they were “sexy’’ subjects. I don’t hear so much of those who take up “hard’’ subjects, like engineering. Of course, I hear of plenty who study law abroad, now a headache of the Law minister who wonders if the Singapore Bar would be big enough to accommodate them.

Going by what MPs say in Parliament, there are many different kinds of parents:

  1. Those who think a degree of any kind would lead to a good job and would therefore fork out big money to get their students into a university abroad, especially if they can’t get into a university here.
  2. Those who want to pigeon hole their children into degree courses that they think would bring in big money for their children in their adulthood. They want to set them up “for life’’.
  3. Those who let their children pursue their “dreams’’ regardless of whether they have the aptitude or can fit into the economy here later. They proudly proclaim that they let their children be, even if their children are really mistaking infatuation for passion.

I pity Education minister Heng Swee Keat who seemed to be contorting himself to explain that he wasn’t dissing the worth of a degree.

“Qualifications matter, but they must be the right qualifications and of the right standard for what we want to do,” he said, citing doctors, nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists as examples of occupations that require professional qualifications. “But not all qualifications matter — not if they do not help us build the right skills for what we want to do,” he added.

At the risk of over- summarising, I think he was also trying to say that even a diploma could be as “good’’ if it means the diploma holder has the depth of skills that the course required of him.

He’s in a bit of a bind because his predecessor had already stated that all primary school teachers will be degree-holders from next year. The assumption is that grad teachers will have a stronger mastery of content and pedagogy. So now Mr Heng has to say he will continue to hire non-grads who have the aptitude and passion. Nothing was said about whether they can master “content and pedagogy’’.

In fact, Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing sounded a bit gleeful (sorry!) when he said that early childhood educators – the people under his domain – don’t need degrees. Just like our parents didn’t need degrees to bring us up.  

Actually it’s all back to what the education system is all about. Mr Heng said it was about the quest for skills rather than paper qualifications. I think he should be blunt and say that it is about churning out people who can fit into the economy.

That’s what it’s about isn’t it even if it isn’t politically correct to say so? People can’t expect that the economy in future will accommodate jobs of all kinds or even the number of jobs in a particular profession. (Hence, lawyers being pushed into doing criminal and family law instead of “big money’’ law). I can sort of imagine bureaucrats toting up numbers of workers needed to fill different sectors in the short, medium and long-term and collaborating with the university, polytechnic and technical institutes of the number of places for courses every year.

The difference is that instead of setting up a three-tier structure with the technical institutes at the bottom, then the polytechnics and universities stacked on top, the push is now to see them all as parallel structures with the formerly bottom two rungs supplemented by workplace training and extensive skills to reach the level of university graduates. So Singapore doesn’t want just an ITE grad, it wants an extremely skilled ITE graduate with the opportunity to catch up with their university peers later in life.

Now, whether that will work or not is something, to use that trite phrase, “time will tell’’.

So now, we are deluged with media reports of ITE/poly students who did well. Actually, we should also be exposed to the other side: graduates with esoteric degrees who discover that they can’t advance as far as they want. In fact, MPs are already saying that more grads than non-grads go to their Meet-the-People sessions looking for jobs. I can just imagine what these disappointed people are thinking: “I am a grad, and I still have no job’’. And then going to Hong Lim Park to claim that foreigners were taking their jobs…


Everything is so inter-connected.

A good school conversation among parents

In News Reports on March 8, 2014 at 12:47 am

Yesterday in Parliament, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat elaborated on what he meant by a “good” school: “Is it right to judge a school with more than 1,000 students, as ‘good’ or ‘not good’, on the basis of whether it can produce identical academic grades as another school?” “‘Every school a good school’ does not mean every school (is) the same school; it does mean every school (is) good in its own way.”

In a kopitiam somewhere, three fathers – Chin Chia Swee, Liak Bok Kiu and Heng Ah Keat – sat down to talk about their sons’ future.

Chin: Eh, my son got into a good school (name of school)

Liak:  Wah. So good. Your son must be a good student.

Chin (with false modesty): Not bad lah…Your son how?

Liak:  My son’s marks not so good. He got into (name of school).

Chin: Good grief! Have to be careful. Bad school. I mean…full of bad boys. Pai kia types. Heng, your son how?

Heng: My son’s marks not so good but he got into (name of school). Neighbourhood school. Thank goodness…heng ah…

Chin (condescension all over): Not bad. Not bad. School good in anything or not?

Heng:  Seems to be good in sports. So, my son is actually in a good school, good in sports.

Chin (with a sniff): Of course, of course, if your son can become a national runner….very good.

Liak: Actually my son’s school is also a good school. It just has bad boys. But it might be a good school too because he will learn how to fight and become… how you say… resilient.

Chin: Liak, don’t dream lah. Your son will end up in ITE. Not so good.

Liak (defensive) : But ITE is also very good school. Learn a lot of things. Very hands on. It’s not the end. Eh, Chin, just because your son is in a good school doesn’t mean my son is in a bad school.

Heng: Why anyone care what school? So long as my son is a good boy. Chin, you spoil your son so much it doesn’t matter if he in a good school…

Chin (defensive) : Oi! My son is a good boy, good student, in a good school. Beat that! He will grow up to be a very good man! Liak’s son will grow up very bad!

Liak (angry): Why you talk bad about my son? Why we talking about good, bad or so-so? And what’s so good about your son anyway? 

Heng (troubled): Actually, let’s agree that our sons are all  good. Don’t quarrel anymore.

Liak (calming down): Good call.

 Chin (upset): For goodness sake! I tell you my son is in a GOOD SCHOOL!

Liak (all het up): Shaddup lah! It’s just a good school, not the best school! Not even top school!

(And so the quarrel went on…Chin and Liak started hurling cups of hot kopi and teh-o at each other but ended up scalding Heng, who was trying to mediate. A low-ranking police officer rang for the SOC which arrived in double-quick time to disperse the trio. No shots were fired. A committee of inquiry later showed that the trio were NOT drunk. In the meantime, their sons went to school.) 

Questions AFTER answers in Parliament

In News Reports on February 18, 2014 at 12:10 am

So many questions in Parliament, and what I mean is, these are AFTER answers have been given.

That mess over school funding

You’ve got to read both ST and TODAY to figure out the confusion over whether six independent schools had their funding cut, or just four (see earlier post Clueless about Schools). It seems the ST based its earlier figure “six’’ on the number of schools which have both the Gifted Education Programme and the Integrated Programme. Now, seven schools offered this, but one, Dunman, is not an independent school. That makes six. And it IS true that the schools had their GEP portion cut.

ST’s mistake was to only focus on independent schools with GEP and IP, when there seemed to have been under funding formula that covered ALL independent schools which resulted in just four being worse off and six actually having more money in the kitty.

The strange thing is, no one seemed to have asked about that new funding formula for independent schools. Seems the House was satisfied with Education Minister Heng Swee Keat’s answer that funding is not a zero-sum game: that the Education ministry doesn’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul.

That mess over the checkpoint breach

Oops! It should have been called a border intrusion, not a mere immigration breach. This was why the so-called public alert to detect the Malaysian car was a “low level’’ alert, rather than a “high level’’ alert to the police when the red car scooted into Singapore. That would have meant road blocks set up etc. (See earlier blog post Shame on the Home Team).

DPM Teo Chee Hean said the ICA officer at the first checkpoint for passports took two and a half minutes to sound the alarm after consulting the supervisor. The auxillary police officer at the car booth check didn’t sound the alarm either and he does “not know why’’ – sheesh, how come the DPM doesn’t know why when a thorough investigation was supposed to have been conducted? But he did say that APOs are trained, just as ICA officers are trained, when questions were raised about such security outsourcing.

A more interesting question posed was whether the seriousness of the breach was deliberated “scaled down’’. There wasn’t much of an answer beyond how it was a “mistake’’ on the part of the ground commanders to do so. Hmm, perhaps because they don’t want to make waves? Or because they have been so successful in stopping previous breaches (what were they like anyway – involved tailgating one car through the barriers?) that they didn’t know what to do when something happens?

There was a comment about relying more on technology than on human instincts to prevent such things from happening. Donno if this is good or bad. It might prevent errors but will only blunt the human instinct further no?

That mess over train stoppages  

DPM Teo would only say the errant officers had been disciplined or deployed. The commissioners of both ICA and the Police (who haven’t said a thing about the whole saga) have been given a talking-to. No heads will roll presumably and neither will they roll at the transport operators’ sector. Transport minister Lui Tuck Yew said he was less interested in heads rolling than heads fixed on doing the job well. In any case, it was the boards of the companies (now exhorted to have more engineers among members) to decide on whether to keep the CEO’s head on or off.

In fact, those heads will probably be aching now that the penalties for stoppages have gone beyond one million dollars, if 10 per cent of annual revenue per line is higher. That would be in the millions. ST gave an estimate of $49 million in penalties for the North-South and East-West lines should there be a large scale breakdown. It is not clear why it picked the double lines as an example. What would it have been for each line, or the Circle line?

That mess over HPB FAQs

This wasn’t mentioned in Parliament but in a written reply to an MP’s questions on why the Health Promotion Board’s FAQs said that homosexual relations were not much different from heterosexual ones. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stood by HPB’s side to rieterated that the FAQs were meant to give advice to young people and their parents from a public health perspective.

He said that the statement singled out by the MP should be read together with what followed. That relationships required commitment by two people, and that it is possible to remain faithful to one’s partner regardless of sexual orientation. So the public health message is: Don’t have multiple partners or you’ll contract all kinds of diseases and spread them.

Hm. You wonder then if the FAQs could have been re-written to reflect the “public health perspective’’ more clearly.   


The night before school…

In News Reports on January 2, 2014 at 2:45 am

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat had some wise words for students and teachers to kick off the school year in his Facebook page. Parents also had some wise words with their kids last night.

What the Education Minister said:

It is the first day of school tomorrow. For many of us in education, there is nothing like that first-day look on the children’s faces – it is one of pure wonder and eagerness to learn. 

What the Singapore parent said:

Ah Boy and Ah Girl ah, tomorrow start school again. Don’t be scared okay? Stop crying! You’ve played enough already during holidays! Tomorrow, I make you half-boiled egg and you take essence of chicken to school. I don’t care if you don’t like eggs, just swallow can already

Education minister:

I know it can be a day of anxiety for parents who worry if your little ones will be able to cope on their own, or if they will enjoy their lessons. But even for the most anxious parents amongst us, it is also a day of pride and hope. On my children’s first days at school, when I saw all their new schoolmates, chattering with excitement, I felt a strong sense of promise. I thought, they will learn many new things, they will discover their strengths and passions, and they can reach for their dreams. 

Singapore parent:

Actually, Mommy and Daddy very worried about you two. When you cannot catch up in class or don’t understand what teacher say, must tell Mommy and Daddy. We get you tuition teacher. You make us proud of you hor and don’t let the next door neighbour see us no up. School is actually very exciting. You know our schools got very good PISA scores? PISA! PISA! Not pizza. Too late at night to call for pizza! Put down the handphone! Mommy and Daddy want to talk to you! Listen! (cools down…) You will make many new friends in school. Study together but keep away from the bad boys and girls, okay? Ah Boy, if anyone bullies you, hit back. You are strong. Ah Girl, you must go tell teacher, don’t just cry in the toilet like Mommy last time. Must have passion. P-A-S-S-I-O-N. Spell it properly! And don’t day dream in class. You hear me, Ah Boy?

Education minister:

Like every parent and every teacher, I want every child to succeed. All of us at MOE and in our schools are dedicated to giving our children a broad and deep educational foundation that prepares them for a lifelong journey of life and learning. We look forward to doing this with the active partnership of parents and anyone who cares about the future of our children. Let’s work together to support Every Student to be an Engaged Learner. Let’s give them the knowledge, skills and values that will help them succeed in life and be good people. And let’s remember to give them the love and encouragement to enjoy these learning years. One day, our little ones will have the same pleasure of sending their children to the first day of school. When that day comes, I hope they will remember their own first days with joy.

Singapore parent:

You know Mommy and Daddy want both of you to get good marks so when you grow up, you can become doctor or lawyer. If you don’t, we will complain to your principal and teacher. You can play but  cannot play too much okay? Ah Boy, this is your PSLE year and they already change the test. So must study hard, hard. Ah Girl, no more Cartoon Network channel for you. You big girl already. Ah Boy! STOP PLAYING WITH MY IPAD! Thwack! You just wait…next time you have children, you will know how hard to be parents…

Education minister:

Students who are coming back to another year of school – you are older now and the younger ones will look up to you. Keep doing your best in school and at home, and remember to be helpful to your parents, your teachers and your friends in school. 

Singapore parent:

Ah Boy, you already so tall and big boy already. You must look after your mei mei. Don’t let her get bullied and make sure she eat properly at recess time. This year, must try hard to get better marks. You must be polite and nice to teacher, so she won’t complain to us so much about you and also pang chan you a bit.

Education minister:

Teachers and school staff, hope you had a restful, refreshing break. Welcome back, I wish you a great new year of filling and shaping young minds. I look forward to working with everyone in this new school year to prepare our children for fulfilling and happy lives.

Singapore parent:

Now switch off light! Go sleep! Mommy and Daddy also got to work tomorrow!

A non-conversation

In News Reports, Politics, Society on February 1, 2013 at 3:47 am

Hah. So Singapore will grow in size after all to hold our huddled masses. Although looking at the map on ST’s page 1, you wouldn’t have a clue as to what was going on? What in heaven’s name is that? A map of a bigger Singapore? If so, which parts? Seems a waste of space to me – just a cut-off of Singapore with pictures superimposed on it.

Back to the point:
You know, there are a few things which stood out for me in today’s extensive reports of land use, but they have nothing to do with the proposals. It’s a lot to process…

I am referring to what some ministers said:

DPM Teo Chee Hean: “Let me be clear, the White Paper focuses on the interests and benefits of Singaporeans.’’

Hmm….I should certainly hope so. I wonder if DPM Teo realises how he comes across…In my view, he sounds pissed. At the way people don’t seem to understand the rationale for the White Paper? That we’re not sure that the G has done its best to balance the no-immigrant camp and the more-immigrant camp scenarios?

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan: “Please don’t worry.’’

Thank you very much for the assurance but, of course, we worry. We should. We shouldn’t be expecting the G to do all our worrying for us. We want to be assured that we are in good hands, and raise questions and concerns.
There are other reports too which made me wonder what was going on.

PMO Minister Lim Swee Say: “Just imagine if 10 years ago, we had a Singapore Conversation to talk about one day 10 years from then… population may reach 5.4 million, then start to put in place infrastructure, housing, MRT. Today, we will be much better off, isn’t it?”

Aaah…so the Singapore Conversation is about this? As expected, the report in ST showed that the focus of participants was on the population report. You know what? Why wasn’t it a Green Paper, which is meant for public consultation and therefore can be the subject of the Singapore Conversation? Why is it a White Paper, which is a firmer indication of what is to come?

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who heads the Singapore Conversation team, was also at the same event as Mr Lim. Rather intriguingly, he said the Singapore conversation should not stop despite the White Paper. There was “value in having both of them in parallel, he added, though he did not elaborate’’. Good on ST to point this out.

So could he please elaborate? Because why is he having a conversation with the rest of us when some directions have been set for the country in the White Paper? No way, we can change directions now right? I mean, all that work by civil servants will go to waste.

You know what. Actually I think we should be thankful to have such a meticulous and hardworking Government. It is quite wonderful to see how the different agencies have come together to put up a package that encompasses so much, whether green spaces for parks, more homes, transport, creating a babydom, more living space through reclamation, more university places…

I think an earlier generation would probably sit back and let the Government do all the thinking and work everything out for us. But times, they are a-changing. People will be obsessed with headline figures, yes, but I can bet that many are poring over the details or even coming up with radical ways of solving the population dilemma, like fining every couple who don’t want children to help pay for those who do!

This is why the timing of the Population report in the midst of an on-going Singapore Conversation is so disconcerting to me. The Government wants to be efficient in making projections, yet make a show of consulting the people? Those projections must also be based on Singaporeans’ values and attitudes, for example, towards foreigners, meritocracy, work stress.

What is our Singapore Conversation going to be about now?

Partying in Punggol East

In News Reports, Politics on January 21, 2013 at 4:18 am

It’s been a busy political weekend. Hands have been shaken. Fliers distributed. Speeches made. Now, what can anyone make of this? Has there been a “joining of issues’’? Are there new promises/pledges? Is this a national or a local election?

It’s local.

That’s because every candidate is talking about making Punggol East a better place to live in. So, more childcare places, more bus services, one more coffeeshop, quicker completion of Rivervale Plaza. PAP’s Koh Poh Koon has also thrown in facilities for the elderly and a covered linkway. You would think those 30,000 voters are living in slums the way physical upgrading is being promised…

If the constituents really want those things, I guess they should vote for the person whose party is in power. Really. Let’s be frank. It’s the PAP which can get stuff done faster, simply because it holds the reins on everything and has the pushing power. Not to mention a grassroots network which remains intact whichever party represents the ward. This is the problem – or advantage – of BIG government.

The opposition has offered some carrots too, along the same lines as the PAP. But you know what? Quite a lot would depend on whether the G machinery would crank along with their wish list.

On the local front, what REALLY can the opposition promise? I suppose it will have to do with town council operations then. The Workers’ Party can at least say that it has the experience. So far, the Reform Party and SDA seems to be offering a portion of their MP allowance! But what can an opposition-run town council do that a PAP-run town council can’t or won’t? How different is the WP town council from the PAP town council – besides being behind in the collection of arrears? By the way, this “defect’’ can be viewed as being compassionate/kind or tardy/inefficient. I am not even touching AIM – in fact, no one is!

I suppose it’s tough now to assess how the PAP runs the Punggol East ward per se, since the town council covers a far bigger area than just Punggol East. But it would be good to know that the opposition has looked over its books and can offer some concrete suggestions knowing what sort of money or manpower the town council has.

Hmm…lower service and conservancy fees? More frequent cleaning of open spaces? More hiring of those within the constituency? Price checks on products/food being sold in the area? A subsidy for the elderly who cannot afford basic products? Tie-ups with NGOs and charities? Because the opposition is by definition not the Government, it should have on its side a whole bunch of supporting characters/organisations who are willing to lend a hand on the local front. I haven’t heard of any.

As an aside, this whole “who will harder for you’’ is getting quite funny. So the PAP wants the vote so the WP will work harder; and vice versa. Then there is the “we will work hard for you anyway, regardless of…’’ sort of campaign theme. I have got to say that on this “work harder’’ front, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat should know that you always need competition to spur you to do better. Ask any student.

Likewise, PM Lee Hsien Loong speaking about the by-election effect, talks about how constituents shouldn’t have this idea that they would have BOTH the PAP and an opposition politician working the ward if they went for the opposition. I suppose that was one of the original attractions of the by-election effect.

But I doubt that voters are thinking in those terms – of having two nannies. It’s more of having their cake and eating it – PAP in power, opposition in Parliament. Now, whether those 30,000 voters feel this way would depend on whether they think their ward would suffer “physically’’ if they went for the opposition. I haven’t heard any threats yet from the PAP about withdrawing services (Let me reiterate, I am not talking about AIM here)

Therefore, it’s also national.

And it’s getting pretty strange. You can see how far the Workers’ Party have come from the JBJ days. The Reform Party, helmed by JBJ’s son, is actually the old Workers’ Party. You have Low Thia Khiang practically speaking on the PAP Government’s behalf – exhorting the people to give the G time for policies to change and bear fruit, even as the WP keeps a close watch on it. I gather die-hard opposition supporters aren’t too happy with it. What WP thinks is a moderate, conciliatory stand is being taken as, well, “PAP lite’’.

Again, as I said in an earlier post, I wish the opposition would give its parliamentary record to the people. I am not even asking for a restatement of policy positions, but what it did in its “watcher’’ role. We need to know if they are effective watchdogs or just there to sit pretty. We’re not forgetting those former Singapore Democratic Party MPs of the past, who said nary a word and if they did, didn’t make much sense.

Anyway, the G has been rolling out stuff pretty quickly. Like an expanded rail network for which it hasn’t done any engineering studies – and therefore cannot tell you what it will cost. Then so many flats are coming up to woo people who want to own one plus cooling measures that no one is sure will work or not.

In the meantime, things are breaking down – the NEL stoppage on Nomination Day, the M1 cellphone system conking out… Not the G’s fault, but contributing to a certain sourness on the ground. Plus, the price of fish maw and abalone is ridiculous! How to celebrate Chinese New Year like that?

Anyway, Polling Day is Jan 26.

A lot can happen between now and then.

A muted conversation

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 10, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I think the national conversation is getting off to a bad start.
First, did Mr Heng Swee Keat mis-speak when he said, with utmost irony if unintended, that bloggers and Opposition politicians aren’t included in his committee because it was NOT a partisan exercise? And did fellow minister Tan Chuan Jin really clear the air when he told TOC that Mr Heng meant the opposite, implying that his quote was taken out of context? Seems to me that the list of members of the committee is a fact, and Mr Heng himself should do the clarification in the mainstream media where he was reported saying those strange words.
Second, we’re not just hearing from Mr Heng but the PM as well on how the national conversation is not about culling sacred cows. Seems a climb down from what Mr Heng had said earlier. (See earlier blog post on Cows to the slaughter). It certainly seems “prudent’’ for the G to do so, or it might as well be stationed in an abattoir…The problem is, the box, once opened, can’t be shut simply because someone says so. Especially when Mr Heng’s committee isn’t pre-determining the agenda for the moment. This DOES mean cows will be offered up for sacrifice because that will be nature of the conversation – at least in the beginning.
I take to heart what PM said about lifting stones and putting them back in place if they fit better there. So no stone left unturned – I take it to mean that we can at least TALK about cows and bulls – and there won’t be an attempt to restrict the conversation. After all, if the national conversation is for slaying a couple of cows, I don’t see why the G should say no. This is a political exercise; a fight for the best ideas. If the G cannot persuade the majority to its point of view – and keep the cow – then the cow should be killed. To not do so would be to hold the national conversation in contempt. Or to think that superior ideas or values belong only to the realm of the elected (oops, sorry! Opp MPs not counted) and not the electors.
Sheesh. What did I just say? I can just picture someone saying that those in favour of slaughter should join a political party and fight in the political realm. I hope I won’t have to hear this line from anyone. It’s been levelled so often in the past that I keep wondering if we have given our brains away along with our vote and can only utilise them once every four or five years.
Go read Today. Academic Eugene Tan has a good article on his concerns. More importantly, he referred to PM’s injunction that the national conversation cannot undermine the core values such as meritocracy, multi-racialism and financial prudence. The PM added that “within these broad principles, we should review what needs to change and where we should act more boldly”.

He wrote:

While the core values are critical to our well-being, surely the conversation must be open to examining how those values can be refined and tweaked to serve us better? If we assume that the core values as they are being practised cannot be improved, then this imposes a severe inherent limitation. Take, for example, meritocracy. Given the likelihood of persistent and significant income inequalities in Singapore for the foreseeable future, our system of meritocracy can potentially be divisive if it results in a permanent underclass. So, while we insist on meritocracy as a cardinal organising principle of our multiracial society, how we practise it is crucial in the final analysis.
So long as a minority genuinely believes that the meritocratic system makes it difficult for them to progress, even if the majority of Singaporeans think otherwise, cohesion would be undermined.
I am a great believer in meritocracy but as I said in an earlier post, its de-merits are also becoming more evident. I will defend it, and repudiate its bad points, such as a sense of entitlement and a “self-serving nature’’. The whole issue might deserve a fresh airing, so that detractors can be persuaded that it is, like democracy, the least bad way of living your life. And ways can be found to limit its bad effects, along with a societal understanding that being meritorious is without merit if it is not couple with humility and generosity.
So how “inclusive’’ should this national conversation be? Today reported opposition politicians being upset at being left out of the committee. And some want to distance themselves from the process. I suppose Mr Heng’s idea of being “inclusive’’ seems to be “not at the top level old chap, but maybe down the line, speak to us, we’ll call you…like we would anybody else’’. While I am at it, I take great objection to bloggers being lumped into the “alternative views’’ camp along with the opposition. Some bits of the G, I like, some I don’t. Ditto, the opposition. I cannot speak for all bloggers but this blogger merely has VIEWS, which could be mainstream, alternative or even radical. Should anyone writing online who has a view be considered “alternative”? Can we stop boxing up people so conveniently? It does no good to draw lines among the people.
In any case, I think the G missed a great chance at showing a bigness of heart. Sure, I know no political party will want the profile of another party raised but this national conversation was supposed to be different! The fact is, the G has raised expectations – not the people. Online, views abound. Impatient views, rational and irrational, yes. And it has taken weeks for some sort of structure to be made public. Slow, going by the standards of the G.
And now it should do something about rescuing some public confidence. Mine has been a bit dented.

A conversation going nowhere

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 7, 2012 at 11:54 am

I had a look at the National Conversation page that Mr Heng Swee Keat put up inviting all and sundry to say what sort of Singapore they want to live in. But besides having it written in four languages, I don’t see anything new in what he said. But never mind that. There should at least be a structure on how this conversation is going to take place. I can already see frustration building up. Some netizens are already asking for some kind of structure – by policy perhaps? As it is, so many posts are building up on a wide range of topics but there’s little follow-through. Not much in terms of reaction from fellow netizens and none from the G. In any case, who is taking part in this conversation? Is this a conversation between Government and people? Or people-to-people? Or is someone waiting to see what will happen “organically’’? Is someone taking notes so that at the end of the 1,000th post, we’ll know what are the top issues etc. If that’s the case, pay for a scientific survey!
Seriously, it’s about time Mr Heng and his team (whoever they are) get down to telling us HOW this conversation will take place instead of simply suggesting “dialogue’’ and “forums’’. We’ve been dialogueing and forum-ing for quite some time. I think people are actually quite excited at the prospect of engaging in the conversation – but if there’s no sign of some coherent structure, it’s gonna flag.
The last time something like this happen, Remaking Singapore, topics were put in terms of trade offs – like how to deal with the expectations of the young and needs of the old. That was a good way, except that it was confined to just some hundreds of people invited to form committees etc.
I believe the population unit’s current discussion on population policy is framed in terms of trade offs as well. Perhaps, different FB pages could be spun off so we have a more constructive way of engaging each other, and with the Government. How civil servants can help is to provide background information along the way at certain points of the conversation so that it can be informed.
How about it, Mr Heng?

Meritocracy’s demerits

In News Reports, Politics, Society on August 28, 2012 at 7:19 am

This is the one big value I would fight to keep: Meritocracy. It is the one big reason this kampong girl is now a well-educated, financially-independent woman. No matter what the background, you study hard, work hard, live honestly – and you will be recognised and rewarded. You will get somewhere. Now meritocracy is getting a bad name.

Mr Heng Swee Keat put it this way: Extreme meritocracy and competition can lead to a winner-take-all society, with the winners thinking little of others. We need to restore a balance to hard-nosed material pragmatism. As Gandhi put it, we must not have commerce without morality, science without humanity and knowledge without character.

Last week, I was at the Inter-JC Current Affairs Quiz hoping against hope that Raffles Institution would NOT win the competition. It did. Sheesh. The only consolation is that the team won by one point. Hwa Chong was second. I was rooting instead for River Valley High, for no other reason than I did not want the usual suspects to sweep the podium. Why can’t we have an “underdog wins’’ story? Why the usual story of an already good school taking the prize? Why oh why couldn’t the competition be fixed?????!

Yup. Not very meritocratic of me.

But I am not alone in feeling this way. Call it envy but I bet a lot of students and parents want a different story to emerge, a story that will give hope to not-so-smart.  I have seen teams from good schools being shunned by other teams. I have watched as other schools gang up or have an informal pact not to let “that one’’ win. Is this competition? Is this about setting the bar high? Or is it resentment?

I have also watched how supposed ‘’scholars’’ group together, speaking a different language about the foreign schools they’ve been too. How others get pissed off at what they perceive as attempts to keep them on the outside. Not enough sensitivity? Or being too sensitive? I have heard the usual talk about how scholars have it easier ; career path laid out. I have the heard the talk from the smart ones too: that they SHOULD be given the breaks.

I don’t think anyone would deny that our smartest students have the brains. But it is no longer the case that we admire them because they  do well by dint of their own hard work. We grumble that they are exam-smart, not street-smart. From the sides of our mouth, we mutter about family connections, father is a doctor, mother is a lawyer, got into a good school, money for tuition etc. And because they somehow seem to congregate in some places, whether by choice or design, the word “elite’’ is used to describe the tribe. Bad word, that.

That is why no matter how hard the PM pleads with parents not to “over-teach’’ their young ones, they are not going to listen. No matter how much they resent the elite, they want their children to belong in those circles. I believe that this pressure on parents to make sure their kids lead a better life than they do is probably a factor in their calculations on whether to have one or two more. They do not want the Singapore story to end with them. They want their children to continue the story. But how?

Because we are such pragmatic people, we do the stuff that would be good for ourselves, sometimes stepping on people along the way. Pragmatism trumps principle. We calculate our worth by the cars we drive, the house we live in, the holidays we take. And smart people talk to smart people, smug in the notion that because they are smart, it is society which owes them and not the other way around.

Maybe we should start thinking about teaching humility. Disband the smart ones and put them among the rest. Break the systems that have been designed to supposedly make sure they can push each other to their limits. I don’t doubt that we will still continue to win prizes at the international level. And even if we don’t, it might not be too bad a price to pay if we build smart people with character and with empathy.

Yes, I know there is this CIP programme where students go visit the old, the sick etc. And while it’s good experience, it’s too programmed. So, you are young and healthy and these are the old, sick, infirm. We’re boxing people. Might be better simply to have students from different schools mix around with each other. . The bright ones must realise they have peers who lead different lives from them and have different needs.    Meritocracy should remain the avenue for social mobility. But people with “merit’’ should not be blind to their own de-merits and the merits of others who are less favoured.

I know the call has always been that the brightest must give back, and how they have an obligation to the society and the system. I am not comfortable with this approach, reducing the need to be nice/kind/charitable to an obligation or duty.

At the end of the day, it’s just about being a decent human being.