Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Open Letter to ST Readers Editor

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 21, 2014 at 12:42 am

I am writing to convey my great disappointment over ST’s reporting of the online protests against the holding of the Philippines Independence Day celebrations.

In your first report, you said:
The Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS), a group of Filipino volunteers, put up a post on Facebook about the event last weekend and drew fire almost immediately. Negative comments from Singaporeans flooded in, with Facebook page “Say ‘No’ to an overpopulated Singapore” urging locals to protest on the PIDCS page.
The page, which has 26,000 “likes”, is against the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day here and said that festivities should be confined to the Philippine Embassy compound.

This is inaccurate. The 26,000 “likes’’ are for the page itself, which was set up a few years ago and has a wide variety of posts including those not associated with foreigners. The post calling for the protest amounted to some 300-plus “likes’’.

This mis-reporting has caused consternation as it implied that 26,000 citizens or so support the protests – which is not true. For a subject that is potentially explosive, I believe it behoved ST to be extra vigilant in the accuracy of the information it publishes.

There was no correction nor clarification, which would be important for readers who read only your august newspaper. Nor was there an attempt to set the record straight in your next article on the protest organisers receiving threats. Or in subsequent articles and in your editorial.

In your Sunday Times article, Filipino group heartened by support, you chose again not to correct the misimpression. You quoted selectively from Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin’s Facebook post, focusing only on his point that xenophobia should not be tolerated.

You ignored this point: “That there are xenophobes wasn’t the surprising part since there are these sad elements in any society. It was the reported 26,000 ‘likes’ for the page … that raised my brows. As it turned out, the reporting was inaccurate.”

Likewise, you quoted selectively from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Facebook page on this issue, neglecting to incorporate this line: “Fortunately, it was the work of a few trolls.’’

It would seem that ST has gone to great lengths to sweep its mistake under the carpet, an ignominious thing to do for a newspaper which prides itself on accuracy. For ST-only readers, the 26,000 figure is what will stick in their minds, tarring the online community as a bunch of rabid xenophobes. Foreigners who read ST only would also come away with the impression that Singapore is on the verging of losing its sanity over the immigration issue.

In her column on April 19, your writer Ms Chua Mui Hoong used the online protests as a launch pad to discuss whether such online views are representative of Singapore society at large. She too made no mention of ST’s mistake of exaggerating the protest numbers although she did say this: From all acounts, that anger seems to be an over-reaction from a segment of Singaporeans against a perfectly pleasant, legitimate event. Many others spoke up against such anti-foreigner sentiments.

She also said: Unlike blogs in English which delight in ripping off mainstream media’s reports, Chinese language bloggers used mainstream media reports as sources of information, not as fodder for criticism.

I would like to point out that this is precisely why ST should be careful with its news reports – because the mainstream media is used as a source of information. This means that when it is inaccurate, it must brace itself for criticism, acknowledge its failings and not dismiss the comments of those, whom as Ms Chua put it, “delight in ripping off’’ its reports.

Ms Chua concluded: So it’s never a good idea to generalise from a group of angry netizens to Singapore society at large.

I agree. And it would help if ST was more careful in its reporting and upfront about its mistakes instead of adding to the misperception.


A mid-term report

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 19, 2014 at 3:55 am

ST pulled out its big guns to mull over a mid-term report on Singaporean’s satisfaction with the G. They dissected the views on health, transport and housing and expanded on what they saw as middle class angst over the state of affairs here.

The survey results were generally favourable to the G, noting higher levels of satisfaction over its attempts to fix the housing, healthcare needs of citizens and to alleviate the plight of the old and the poor. Post-2011 GE – and the G seems to have taken into account the woes of the populace. Yet as commentator after commentator pointed out, the disaffected will still say that the measures were too little, too late and the problems were wrought by bad policies, which behoved the G to rectify anyway. Some will point to the small sample size of 500. But students of statistics will allow that a sample, if scientifically picked and polled, would suffice as a more-or-less accurate gauge of sentiment. Far better than the usual street poll, at least…  

In any case, I’d wager anything for comments to surface that the survey was a white-wash, initiated by a pro-G media mouthpiece which sought to present the survey results as the voice of silent majority.

Frankly, I’m not too surprised at the results. Bread-and-butter issues have always been foremost in the Singaporean mindset. People are happy that the problem of affordable housing seems to have been fixed and moves are being made to provide for universal healthcare. Social policies in recent years have been geared towards alleviating the plight of the poor, aided by the G’s constant reminders of the amount of money, subsidies and benefits that go to the group. The Pioneer Generation Package is appreciated. The need to provide medical cover for those who pre-date the CPF scheme and Medisave has been thoroughly welcomed, although experts have noted that the devil is in the details.  

Give us the good life – that’s what we want.

We also want lower COE prices and a train system that doesn’t break down. That’s the biggest bugbear of those surveyed. The G is having difficulty on this front, and no wonder. In housing, it has the levers of HDB and land sales as well as the power to restrict or expand lending through MAS regulations. Its network of polyclinics and public hospitals as well as controls over CPF and Medisave also work as healthcare financing instruments. In transport, besides the Land Transport Authority,road-building and infrastructure, public transport is really in private hands and private enterprises are wily enough to get round private transport curbs. Hence the luckless Mr Lui Tuck Yew.

When it comes to conceptualising policies, this really is a good government, aided by a very able civil service (MDA excepted). Increasingly, a soft touch is being applied to them, which we will probably see more of when Parliament re-opens.

As for the not-as-satisfied middle class and mid-age group, their sentiments have been variously described as conforming to a traditional U-shape for happiness (because this is the segment everywhere which has to deal with the bread and butter issues with car, house, children to support). Or explained as high expectations of an even better life than what they now have.

Now, the G can fix policies to give more people a fair shake, but raising the tide to lift all boats will be a far tougher issue at a time when people are unhappy about life’s stresses and the influx of foreigners needed to fuel the economy.   

How will this translate into votes come election time? There is a chart in the bowels of ST which could shed light. It does not refer to policy issues, but how survey respondents pick their MPs .

Of six factors, national policies and their impact on the individual were rated as “important’’ or “very important’’ for 86 per cent of them; or a mean of 4.1 on a scale of 1 to 5. This bodes well for the G, except that other contrary factors are also at work, such as how about 80 per cent think it “important’’ or “very important” to have checks and balances on the G, especially among the vast swathe of 21 to 54 year olds, and the higher-income. Indeed, a high 35 per cent viewed this as “very important’’. Expressed in terms of averages, this factor scored 4.11.  

There is another statistic: 29 per cent viewed the need for alternative views in Parliament as “very important’’; the same proportion as those who placed such a premium on local constituency issues. The score for alternative views is 4.05. For local issues, 4.02.  

The other two factors are the candidate’s attributes (4.11) and party (4.09).

I wish the survey had ranked the factors as well, so that we know which the people placed the greatest weight on.

Statistics can of course be interpreted any which way. But it is absolutely clear that the People’s Action Party will never go back to the days of a one-party Parliament however it satisfies the people policy-wise. Despite innovations like the Nominated MP scheme, the people’s aspirations for a more diverse Parliament have not been assuaged. In fact, it might have raised expectations instead. You can also expect that some will attribute the G’s performance to the presence of more opposition MPs and the rude awakening call it was administered at the last GE. In fact, it might lead some to think that more opposition would bring about better government.

Of course, the reverse could happen. Those who voted against the current G might feel that it has seen the “error of its ways’’ or the benefits of social policy are felt widely enough for more people to feel that the G has done right – and will continue to do right – by them.  

How the G does in the rest of parliamentary term will be critical. Can it consolidate its gains and ride the 50th anniversary feel-good tide?  Can it “fix’’ the current pre-occupation of residents – rising cost of living?

Truth be told, I am a little uncomfortable with its shift towards more “social’’ governance. Methinks it would lead to greater expectations on the part of the people and invite a greater role for the G in the people’s lives.

But it is so very important to satisfy the people, isn’t it?



A buay song year

In News Reports on December 31, 2013 at 3:10 am

I was reading the Christmas bonus issue of the Economist on the plane home and an article about the French got me thinking. The magazine described the sense of malaise, ennui and negativity that pervades the French people. Everybody was fashionably downcast it seemed. I couldn’t tell whether the magazine was taking the mickey out of the French or dead serious. After all, the headline was Bleak is chic. It coined a new word: “ miserablism’’.

I wondered if some phrase or word would fit Singapore’s sense and sensibility in the year 2013. After an intensely intellectual conversation with my brother, we declared that the right word/s were buay song. The year of discontent? Naah. Too cheem. Just buay song.

Singaporeans seem very buay song over everything this year. What is it? A simmering resentment? A mass of confusion? Too many things happening in this country? Too many voices competing for attention? Disillusionment with the present? Discouraged about the future?

The year opened with the hated 6.9million population figure and unprecedented protests as people tried to wrap their heads over how to fit the figure here. Everything that was bottled up boiled over. Resentment over crowded infrastructure, rising car and property prices and the sneaking feeling that foreigners here were eating our lunch instead of helping us make it.

Other sneaking feelings: That the elites were perpetuating themselves and their progeny through the education system’’; That somebody somewhere was getting ahead of the individual-me  – unfairly – in the meritocratic system; That we actually have poor people.

Telco and transport glitches didn’t help. Neither did the visit of the haze. No wonder tempers frayed. Suddenly it seemed that wonderfully efficient Singapore was breaking down although frankly, we couldn’t have done anything about the haze except distribute masks.

If we thought having an unprecedented illegal strike by the Chinese bus drivers last year was a shock to the Singapore system, the Little India riot shook us to the core.  Foreign imports bring more than just bodies to the economy. These are people schooled and acculturated differently in their home countries. They didn’t belong here.

Then there was the mechanism that threaded everything. And for the first time, it wasn’t the G. It was social media or variously described as the Internet beast. It had a presence in everything. It initiated. It rejoiced. It informed. It thrashed, amplified and distorted. It did both good and bad. For the voiceless or those too scared to put up their hand, it was a release valve allowing for ventilation and vitriol. For those with opinions, it was space for both cranks and geniuses.

It was also a place for the buay song to kpkb as the PM so eloquently put it. But I daresay that other non social media users felt pretty buay song too. Of course, now you will ask for evidence. I don’t have any although the G will probably have plenty of surveys that say differently.  If there is a “buay song’’ result, I wouldn’t make it public if I were the G.  In fact, the common retort is that the buay song quotient on the Net is no reflection of offline sentiment. I am not so sure.

It was also a year that the G moved fast. More flats. New rules on lending, transport fares. Changes to Primary One registration. Embarking on a scheme of universal health insurance although that is what it would not choose to call it. And of course, clumsily patching together rules to regulate online conduct if not content.

The poor G is in a conundrum – if it gives in, it is accused of pandering; if it doesn’t, it is accused of being arrogant.

Should we really have been so buay song in the past year? There are bright spots and things to look forward to after all, like the Sports Hub’s completion and the URA Masterplan which evoked a grand vision for Singapore. There was one big bright moment methinks, such as the Our Singapore Conversation. We discussed the trade-offs we have to make to move ahead from the status quo. There is the promise that conclusions will be incorporated into policy. We have seen a couple – a move to the left on welfare and a nuanced notion of meritocracy.

Even then, it is in the Singapore nature to whine. Still very buay song.

You would have expected the opposition to capitalise on the buay song-ness of Singaporeans especially since it won the Punggol East byelection but the Workers’ Party has been a damp squip. Other parties are relegated to online statements and forums although this probably more activity than we have seen in a long time from them. Not just at the G, plenty of people are buay song about the opposition too.

It looked like everything went wrong in 2013 and needed patching. Did it?

I have just come back from Lombok, a thoroughly laid back place where the Ferrari is a horse and carriage. I was thinking it was not a bad place to spend a month out of every year just vegetating. Then again, I can afford to do that because I am a middle class Singaporean holding on to a strong currency. A beneficiary of a system (now broke?) that allows me to even consider something like that.  

At Changi,  I get a thrill when the immigration check-in machine welcomes me home by name. I hear Singaporean voices. I see the Christmas decorations lining the route to and from the airport. I marvel at the green spaces and parks I pass by, the tall HDB buildings and the hustle and bustle of people and cars.

Of course, I also read about the jams on the MCE. And people unhappy with the DNC exemption moves. And I think to myself, if this is all the news there is in Singapore, the place can’t be too bad.

Perhaps, we have unreasonable expectations of ourselves and everyone else. We want improvements by leaps and bounds. We want First World comfort at Third World prices.  We want a say and don’t like being contradicted, especially by the G. Maybe we’re just unreasonable people.

Or maybe I’m the unreasonable one. Just buay song.

In any case, I am glad to see the back of 2013. Happy New Year everyone!



The “other” Singapore

In Politics, Reading, Society on March 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal about Singapore – and it’s a place I don’t recognise. It is about glitzy nightclubs, private jets, fast cars, high fashion and high-life. It talks about beautiful people togged up in clothes and shoes with names I can’t pronounce. About people who jet into Singapore to play and foreigners who decide the little red dot is the best place to park their money.

It’s about a lifestyle that isn’t reported for local consumption. It sounds like Vegas, but it is actually buttoned-down Singapore. My eyes go wider than wide when I weave through the article. Singapore has a nightclub at Marina Bay Sands which is just a year old, but Pangaea (how do you pronounce this anyway?) is now considered the most profitable club in the world with revenues of more than $100,000 per night in recent months.

It’s also one of the most expensive clubs, with tables costing as much as $15,000, with the uber-rich regularly chalking up six-figures. The jet-set of the world jet in on really serious jets, including n A380 which was converted to include a pool and basketball court, according to its owner, Michael Ault, a blue-blooded pedigreed American who moved from Manhattan to Singapore three years ago.

So many of the world’s rich and famous have moved here, as permanent residents or new citizens. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. Australian mining tycoon Nathan Tinkler. India telco tycoon Bhupendra Kumar Modi. New Zealand billionaire Richard Chandler. US investor Jim Rogers, who set up shop there in 2007. Indonesian-born millionaire Frank Cintamani. According to the article, Gina Rinehart, one of the world’s richest women, slapped down $46.3 million for a pair of Singapore condominium units last year. Gosh! And we gasp at $1m price tag for an executive condo!

I suppose we have always known that some of the rich and famous have moved here, (remember the fuss when Gong Li became a citizen?) but they were never put under the spotlight as a collective group. This is probably one of the advantages of re-locating to Singapore. Celebrities, billionaires and luminaries are left alone to do as they please; no paparazzi, no protestors, in a place where it is safe to park their money, pay low taxes, with order strictly enforced. (I wonder if they had to go through a Singapore Citizenship Journey, visiting places of civic interest and attend a block party. Whether their children had to do national service.)

I guess we should be glad that we are such a playground, an Asian Monaco. Hopefully, these rich people-turned-PRs, or PRs- turned-new citizens will leave some business or money behind to filter to the rest of us. That they wouldn’t keep to themselves, but would put what they can into a country that provides them with better comforts than their own home country. Wealth-X, a private consultancy that provides intelligence on the world’s uber-rich, estimates some 1,400 ultra-high-net-worth individuals now hold more than $160 billion of wealth in Singapore, reported WSJ.

I mean, there should be a price of entry.
How did they get through the gates in the first place? Up to last year, there was a programme that allowed wealthy foreigners to “fast track” their permanent residency if they kept at least $8.1 million in assets in the city-state for five years. Investors who plan to dedicate a few million to help companies in Singapore grow are still welcomed, according to WSJ. So some big money has to be sunk here first, and hopefully, jobs created.

Do I sound envious? I am – and I don’t quite know why.
Part of the reason is probably that that sort of lifestyle is out of my reach, like I am on the outside of a fish tank looking in. Another part could be a sense that we are building a city for “other’’ people to live, work and play in. Could such PRs and new citizens ever become part of the Singapore core?

This is not to say that as a country, we have not done well for ourselves. WSJ reported that one in six homes has disposable private wealth of at least $1 million, excluding property, business and luxury goods. Add in property, with Singapore real estate among the most expensive in the world, and this number would be even higher. Now, that must include quite a few citizens, I should think. Singapore also now has the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world at $56,532.

Then I think about the debate we are having about the way we should go. All that talk about income inequality (second highest in the world), social safety nets and the need for an inclusive society. We talk about $50 pay increments, jammed roads, trains breaking down, unaffordable cars and the salaries of cleaners and drivers. We live in HDB, travel by MRT, shop at NTUC. We have a sandwich class.
WSJ reported Garry Rodan, a fellow at the Asia Research Center at Murdoch University as saying that the rich in Singapore now find themselves with “new avenues to display their wealth,” while “aged Singaporeans with grossly inadequate savings can be seen on the streets collecting plastic bottles for recycling.”
Ouch! That hurt.

Sometimes I think it’s good that the rich keep to themselves, ring-fenced by high entrance fees. That we see only their cars; 449 Ferraris now and 469 Maseratis.

Now, they should make sure they do not crash them – and stay invisible.

Read for
– So you don’t give a sh** about Lit
– A young Malay’s view on racial strait-jacketing

Mr Sitoh, say it like this lah

In News Reports, Politics on March 7, 2013 at 4:36 am

The Straits Times today honoured PAP Sitoh Yih Pin by excerpting his speech in Parliament for its Speech of the Day column. Mr Sitoh spoke about trust between the government and the government. Interesting. A few days ago, ST carried a report on the level of trust between the parties. While Singaporeans trust the G as an institution, they don’t trust the leaders when it comes to breaking bad news. Mr Sitoh didn’t mention the survey carried out by public relations firm Edelman, by the way. My guess is that he probably read the findings.

Anyway, he said the G should be courageous enough to tell the truth, even if it is unpleasant. No one can quarrel with that. Straight talk is always appreciated. Methinks it can be more hard hitting. So I will list his six hard truths – and with tongue half in cheek, rewrite them – and respond to them.

1. We will increase the number of places in universities and polytechnics and 60 per cent of Singaporeans will become PMETs, but some graduates will never stay in private housing or own a car. This is because 85 per cent of housing are HDB flats and only one-third of families have a car presently and these numbers will not change drastically.

Re-written: Hey, I know most of you young people are going to be university graduates, but face it, just because you have a degree, doesn’t mean you get to stay in a bungalow and drive a Ferrari. I mean, for every one of you, there are five others with your qualifications. How to give all a bungalow and a Ferrari? Remember that 85 per cent of people live in HDB flats and one in three families have a car now.

Response: Orh ok. Then I study for what? At least, can make the HDB flat bigger or nicer? And make sure the HDB price is not the price of a bungalow or private property? I don’t need a Ferrari. I don’t mind taking public transport. I hope by the time I start work, the trains and the buses are running properly. I mean, have you seen how jam-packed it is at peak hour? I can’t even get to school on time some days.

2. This country needs to continue to be run as a meritocracy. There is no other feasible alternative. The best will get more. One may rightly question the norms of meritocracy, as in what makes a person more meritorious? One may even ask why there are so many brand-name schools in the more affluent areas in Singapore and not in the new HDB estates. And in the harsh reality of meritocracy, we also expect the meritorious to do what is necessary for meritocracy to remain relevant – they must contribute more than others to the betterment of the society and maximise welfare for everyone living and working in Singapore. Meritocracy cannot be “take and take” by the best and the ablest without any obligation to serve and contribute.

Re-written: Man, you tell me lah, what to replace meritocracy with? If you work hard, you can get far and you get rewarded. That’s how it’s always been here. I think, I’m not sure, I mean… you go figure why the brand name schools are in rich people’s neighbourhood. But just because you are among the best, it doesn’t mean you think you are entitled to all good things in life. So give more of your time to the community, more of your money, more of your whatever…

Response: I can take meritocracy lah. But now I live in an HDB estate, and went to the school near my home. That school ah can’t be compared to the brand name ones, which got swanky buildings and smarter teachers. So these people don’t start from the same line as me, and therefore, can probably run faster and further from me. I get left behind how? Of course, if I become a doctor or lawyer, I definitely will do more for the HDB people, like give free legal advice or free medicine. (Even if I don’t, how can you tell?)

3. Even if we increase our total fertility rate to 2.1 in 2013 suddenly, we will need to import labour to care for the elderly over the next 20 years. The babies born now or in the near future will not be ready to look after the 900,000 baby boomers retiring over the next 20 years.

Re-written: You know, even if every couple have two children from now, we still won’t have enough people to take care of the old. People like your parents, you know how many there will be over 20 years – 900,000! So can stop grumbling about foreign workers and nurses and care-givers or not? You think you can take of so many people by yourself?

Response: You think my parents are what kind of people? They are educated, got degree, got savings, got medical insurance. They know how to keep healthy. Anyway, are you trying to scare me with 900,000 old people? For all you know, they will move to Johor or somewhere not so expensive. They are already complaining its crowded here.

4. Our public hospitals will continue to give good care that is accessible and affordable to all. But we will have to continue to have waiting times and the latest high-tech expensive care options will not be available to all.
Ultimately, health care is a trade-off between affordability, accessibility and quality. Usually, quality in terms of expensive care is of a lower priority, although we will not compromise patient safety. This is true for most developed countries in the world.

Re-written: When you get sick and go to hospital, you know you can pay your bill. Really! Believe me! Okay, so you have to wait a bit to see a doctor, and maybe that expensive drug or machine cannot use Medisave to pay for. But what to do? Everywhere else, the same.

Response: Touch wood! I don’t want to get sick at all. And are you sure I can still pay for medical bills when I get older? I don’t think the Medisave is mine. I mean, it’s mine but I can’t use the money for some things unless the Government says so. I suppose I can buy a lot of health insurance policies or just go somewhere else where it is cheaper to get the drug or medical treatment. Wait a minute! What if I can’t afford the drug? I will probably die? Cannot be.

5. We will make our public transport reliable again and increase capacity. But COEs may never go back to the days of old again. There are limits to our car population just as there are limits to our human population.

Re-written: Face it, kid. You might not even be able to buy the COE, much less the car. You think you can turn back the clock and get $1,000 COE? Fat hope! Anyway, can you imagine how crowded the roads will be? You might as well take public transport. Don’t worry it won’t have so many breakdowns and you will be able to breathe on the bus and train.

Response: You sure bus and train fares will still be cheap? I mean, someone has to pay for the drivers and all that right? COE? Huh, already given up hope.

6. We will limit the influx of foreign labour to Singapore, but we cannot shield our workers from competition. The reality is that our workers will still be competing day and night, 24/7 with workers in China, India or Indonesia

Re-written: We heard you. So we’re going to scale back getting foreign workers in. But, you know what? Don’t think just because there will not be so many of them here, you can sit back and relax and collect your pay cheque every month. Don’t forget that the Chinese, Indians and Indonesians are working very hard in their own countries. If they make your company go bankrupt, then what you do?

Response: Yah lah. Yah lah. How many times you must repeat this?

Go to for the New Normal Labour Market, What’s all this about giving transport operators money and the very minimal explanation against a minimum wage scheme

A Singaporean in Johor

In Money, News Reports, Politics, Society on February 19, 2013 at 11:56 pm

When I grow old(er), I will move to…Johor! I mean, have you seen the stuff that’s coming up in Iskandar region? More importantly, did you read about what those homes could be priced at?
Go buy BT.

There is this place called the Oasis, a 147-unit development of premium strata residences consisting of studie, 1, 2 and 2+1 bedroom units. Priced at RM700 – 800 psf, a 500 -1,000 sqf studio could cost RM350,000 – 800,000. (Hmm…what’s the price of a COE?)

Oh! Oh! And then there is this other place called Avira, with bungalow, terrace houses, semi-ds, condo units and service apartments. A double-story terrace house of 2,200 sqf will cost RM924,000. RM is Malaysian ringgit for those who are really, really blur. Go get your own calculator and work out the exchange rate.

Okay, I know there are plenty of Singaporeans with homes next door but these places come with a Singapore stamp. Temasek Holdings has sunk a foot in these developments. Other Singapore developers are also in the fray. Plus these places seem designed for people like me – I almost make the grade as a post-war baby boomer. Living there means being surrounded by what is known as “wellness’’ amenities plus plenty of hospitals with familiar Singapore names.(I THINK can use Medisave there.)

The announcements by the two Prime Ministers of Singapore and Malaysia look like the best news in recent time. For both leaders, it’s probably great timing. Malaysia has a general election due by middle of the year. Singapore is screaming about lack of space. So Johor is …our hinterland? I will do my patriotic duty and move over so as not to be a burden on the state, dependent on the ever small-group of younger Singaporeans and a strain on our infrastructure.

Go further up by fast-speed rail and KL is… our playground? I think plenty of people are excited by this prospect. I know the costs haven’t been worked out, but I sure hope the ticket is less than the price of admission into Gardens by the Bay.

But wait a minute. What if the Malaysians decide to treat foreigners differently? You know, levy higher charges on non-Malaysians in healthcare? Or impose a national service tax of sorts because we are leeching on their resources? Or complain that we are raising property prices and the price of everything else? Cannot be right? What if Malaysians say they should have first dibs who gets to stay there? I suppose I’ll have to pay some additional stamp duty to own a property. You think I can get part-time employment there? Or is there a levy/quota?

Oh wait. What if the rules change?

I also read in BT that there will be an “airport city’’ around Senai. Hmm…so if I live around there, I go Senai for my travels? Wouldn’t this be competition to our own Changi airport? I am real proud of Changi, so I guess I’ll travel back into Singapore so that Changi can keep boasting about its arrival/departure figures.

But why I am pouring cold water over such news? I shouldn’t. At the very least, it shows that bilateral relations are blossoming. I don’t have to read about the haggling over water prices or railway land or a crooked bridge to replace the Causeway although I’m quite intrigued about the “third link’’ that’s proposed.

I also hope Mr Najib stays in power because I don’t know how a new leadership would act. New broom, you know, sweeps clean and we might just be some dust in the corner.

And as non-citizens, we wouldn’t have any speaking rights no matter if Temasek or Capitaland has a say in Iskandar. Hmm… I sound like a foreigner.

Maybe I should stay at home. At least I have voting rights, even if whatever I say isn’t loud enough to be heard.

Dis-located by re-location

In Money, News Reports, Politics, Society on February 13, 2013 at 1:21 am

Now the Restaurant Association of Singapore has joined the chorus of business groups screaming blue murder. They are all saying that businesses will be killed if the foreign worker tap is further tightened. I guess they have their eyes on the middle of the year when levies and quotas are supposed to be changed, never mind that they had time to prepare for this.

Those comments by business groups are hard to connect with if you’re not in business yourself. But restaurants? “Consumers can expect higher food prices without a concomitant increase in quality and service standards due to lack of manpower. In fact, quality and service may decline,” the restaurant people said. (I now invite snickering…you mean quality and service so good now ah?)

Back to being serious. The media have reported time and again about traditional favorite eating places which have closed down, and great foodies that we are, I am sure there is some sighing. I am already disconcerted by Filipinas greeting me in Mandarin at Chinese restaurants. Now the restaurant people are suggesting that foreign students be allowed to work part-time as well. Looks like I will have to get used to a blonde, blue eyed Caucasian reciting the names of Japanese dishes? Ah well, so long as the food is good, even if the ambience is not authentic…

I think we can connect with the restaurant people because we can feel and see the impact of the foreign worker crunch on them. But it’s more difficult when businesses say that they will have to start moving out of Singapore ecetera. So they move lock, stock and barrel – and with them all the jobs, investments and tax revenues we could have collected? Has anyone calculated the impact of such moves if say half of our SMEs and MNCs pull out?

Then again, I read in BT of an OCBC banker saying that most SMEs already have operations abroad. But they base their headquarters at home. What does that mean? SMEs which relocate some but not all of their operations abroad is a good thing? I mean, if they are re-locating because of cheaper labour, that’s okay so long as the money comes back no? And if MNCs which need cheap labour go abroad, that’s also okay no? So long as they do their higher-level stuff here and employ higher-level people?

I have a feeling that I might have over-simplified matters. But I think someone needs to tell non-business people like me what the impact really translates to in real terms instead of scaring everybody with this catch-all “We will have to re-locate’’ mantra. I read in ST today about Japanese firms coming here, mainly services. Legal and advertising. And how more of them are doing so. That looks like a good thing no? So they are not big-name manufacturing types hiring in the hundreds…but that’s not what we are looking for right? So do the entry of such firms out-weigh those who are exiting? This is economic restructuring right, just like the Population White Paper said?

I am getting thoroughly confused. But never mind. I am sure brighter minds will sort out the numbers and the economics.

Then I read about how we are short of bus drivers and ambulance drivers. Oh. So need more foreigners then.

I also read about cabbies saying they can’t get relief drivers easily, even though there is a big pool of them. I think cab-driving is about the only protected Singaporean occupation. You know, I can accept a blonde, blue-eyed Caucasian serving me in a Japanese restaurant, but I will scream blue murder at any disruption to my cabbing experience. I will feel thoroughly dis-located.

This is hard for me to say but, yes, I will pay more to keep a Singaporean at the wheel. Why? Because the confines of a taxi is just about the only place that hasn’t been invaded by the foreign and the unfamiliar.

How close to the core?

In News Reports, Society on February 12, 2013 at 2:49 am

Have you ever seen a picture of Fandi Ahmad’s five children? They are pictured in TNP today and they are so beautiful, a product of a cosmopolitan couple, a Singapore son and a South African model. Go buy TNP.
I think there will be more such good looking people in Singapore, with the rise of mixed marriages. I wonder how long though these children with one parent with a foot in another country will stay.

I say this because the two oldest boys, at just 13 and 15, are already calculating their chances about making it big on the soccer stage.

“We are born in Singapore and we will definitely consider playing for Singapore, but we will have to decide what is the best decision for us to move as far as we can in our football career.’’ Such heavy words from a 13 year old!

Their mother, Wendy Jacobs, was blunt: “How far can you go in football in Singapore? How far can you go in South Africa?
“And you must start and decide young, whether you want to try and succeed in Europe early because you can’t just got from a 25-year old playing in the S League to saying “I want to play for Barcelona’.’’
Ouch. Did the footballing authorities here read that?

As for doing their National Service, the boys declined comment. Very prudent. Yes, serving the stint would mean a break in their footballing development. Fandi did his NS, and chose to sacrifice playing for Ajax in Holland. But he expects the boys to make their choices.
I don’t know what I expected. That the sons of the Singapore son will say unreservedly that they will don the green uniform when the country calls on them to do their national duty? I think I somewhat expected that. I’m sure though that there are ways around this. Like serve NS later; ask for a deferment or whatever it is that men do to postpone the stint.

Then I read again and I find that they are not the typical Singaporean family. The parents are willing to let them stop school to further their footballing chances. Stop school? Wow! How many Singapore families would let their young ones do that to chase their dreams?

Ms Jacobs admitted that as a parent, it wasn’t a “good thing’’ to say, but school doesn’t have to be in a classroom and lessons can be conducted at any time, he argued.
Football, like childbearing I suppose, has a time limit. Past 40 and you’re past it most of the time.

I read further and find that the children don’t even list the typical Singapore fare as their favourite food. Only one child said chicken rice. The other four listed Western, mainly Italian dishes, as their faves. (Is broccoli stew Italian?)

More such families will appear – and maybe disappear – in future here. This is a global city, with arms open to new talent who can add to the Singapore core. They probably won’t talk like us, eat like us or even live like us. But Fandi’s children surely qualify as Singapore born and bred…

If we keep to too tight a definition of the Singapore core, we might be disappointed. Better a vague concept that embraces the vision and ambitions of our young people to further their dreams on the world stage. I say, go and make a name for yourself and your country.
But come back when this little red dot is in trouble okay? Or come back when you are strong enough to help others who are not as fortunate as you to grow (like building the S League into something more than what it is now).

Keep that red passport and pink IC. There are too few of us already.

Doubt on Day 5

In News Reports, Politics on February 11, 2013 at 6:34 am

Do you realise the Prime Minister likes talking in threes? I don’t mean three languages like he did in Parliament.

– He set three groups apart for special consideration (old, young and poor),
– He set out three issues that arise from the population conundrum (baby numbers, identity building and economic consideration)
– He gave three ways to make Singaporeans feel special (they are in the majority, they are better treated than others, they will be given the chance to upgrade and get good jobs)
– He pointed out three issues for further discussion (how to get Singaporeans to marry and have babies, how to restructure the economy while keeping it vibrant, how to keep Singapore’s identity strong while keeping the country open)

Well, that looks clear enough although I wish he was reported in threes, which would have made reading the whole of words in the media more simple. So did he or did he not “cast aside’’ the 6.9m population projection as BT put it? None of the other media said it that way, except BT. Rather, they focused on the 2020 review that is to come. Well, I think it’s good to kill this divisive figure, whether it’s a target, a projection, a planning parameter or whatever. I wish the PM would be more precise about this – so that we could put the figure to rest.

Threading through the speech was an unsaid acknowledgment that the G had miscalculated – again. This time, over the way it sold the White Paper. Much ink has been spilled on the way the G looks only at numbers and hasn’t felt the pulse of the people well enough to realise that the White Paper would rouse such resentment. It is, in fact, the first time I can ever recall that the G making such a mis-step, a terrible mis-step, since it had already admitted that it did not realise how much resentment the people would feel over the recent influx of foreigners straining the infrastructure. It was then actually a mis-step on top of a mis-step.

So did the PM manage to paper over or patch up the differences over the White Paper? Did he manage to persuade the people to get over the emotional hump posed by the 6.9m figure as ST commentator Chua Mui Hoong put it? Did he manage to at least repair the bridge between the government and the governed, and make a start at restoring public confidence in the G’s ability to solve problems, as ex-ST editor Han Fook Kwang put it in The Sunday Times?

I wish I was in Parliament to listen to the proceedings as it seemed that even the PAP MPs seem to have caught on to the Us-versus-the G rhetoric so much so that MP Denise Phua has to call on all to stop the G-bashing already. I liked what she said, that the MPs will work harder but that the only promise that can’t be made was to “turn our cheek every time we are being slapped’’.

In fact, the G has been subjected to quite a bit of “slapping’’ and it has been turning the other cheek. It’s very un-PAP like. The apologies, the clarifications by ministers no less…but I don’t think they assuaged the population. In fact, it only whets the appetite for more. I feel sorry for the G and actually wonder if the PAP would be able to persuade more people to join its fold, so unpopular it has become. I have to say this: the PAP G is looking soft, and I don’t like it. And those who have always liked a tough G – and that could be a big group – might be wondering at our wavering politicians.

Or maybe I have got it all wrong. There are still plenty of people who are firmly behind the PAP. Maybe, in their heart of hearts, even those who are pro-opposition will admit that there isn’t any other group with the ability to take its place in Government. Even the Workers’ Party doesn’t think it can do the job. At least not yet.

But what’s the bet that even if the PAP delivers on its promises to strengthen and expand the infrastructure in the next few years, that the people’s anger will abate? That the trust that has been forged between the older generation and the older leaders would be replicated among the younger set?

Politics is an emotional thing and come 2016, what will happen? Will a political tsunami accompany the silver one?

I dread to think.

Directions on Day 3

In News Reports, Politics on February 7, 2013 at 1:16 am

Two weeks ago, I was quizzed by undergraduates doing seminar series on biomedicine about the Government’s handling of the Sars crisis in 2003. Did its efforts go against the need to protect civil liberties? Did it go too far? I replied that civil liberties wasn’t much of an issue with Singaporeans who were facing the prospect of being wiped out by an infectious disease. Sure, there were quarantine orders and penalties for flouting them and plenty of rules and guidelines and tourist “suspects’’ being herded into government chalets, and I added: “You know, I don’t think we really cared.’’

I told the students that in such a crisis, the people expected leadership, strong leadership. We were grateful to be told what to do.
That was my take anyway.

I was reminded of my experience of Sars when Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong raised it in Parliament as an occasion when the government and the governed acted as one. Now, we are told that we are facing yet another crisis – a population crisis that could explode our infrastructure and implode our economy. We are looking at the figures and dissecting every paragraph – but you know what? We can’t see the crisis because it isn’t here yet.

(And it doesn’t help to have dark scary scenarios – emptied villages in Japan – painted to help us imagine the crisis. Why couldn’t Lee Yi Shyan put up positive more positive examples of villages which overcame the population dilution? Why has no one brought up examples of Canada’s population White Paper or Japan’s White Paper for reference on how other countries try to solve their demographic problems?)

The debate on the White Paper is an occasion for strong leadership, but it is also a good time for the leaders to get the followers on board because they want to, and not because they have to. It is a unique time for a broad consensus to be forged between the government and the governed – yet it looked to be in danger of being fractured because of the focus on a few things.

When old war horses get up to speak in Parliament, I always find them worth listening to (although some will say that the PAP must be desperate if old warriors had to be brought in from “semi-retirement’’.

A consistent thread in both Mr Goh and Mr Mah Bow Tan speeches seem to be: Let’s not get too fixated by that 6.9 million number and proportions of locals and foreigners. In fact, Mr Goh said he was personally not comfortable with the figure. (His predecessor, by the way, said much the same thing about a lower population number a few years ago)

Mr Goh also said: “What the optimal, stable and long-term population should be is a legitimate question, an important question. What the proportion of citizens and foreigners should be is another important question to resolve.
“But this is not the time for us to resolve this. We should debate this in the future.’’

Now, that is a very useful thing to heed. I mean, what are now discussing? Whether projected population should be 6.9m or 5.9m. Whether productivity can go beyond 2 per cent. Whether 15,000 new citizens every year is ok. Whether we can have a higher TFR. Looks like we are competing in some Mathematics Olympiad….

Mr Goh brought it back to three points:
a. Whether we can agree that we should grow slower economically. And, I suppose, to also realise what slower growth would mean in real terms after the grow at all cost stress in the past.

b. Whether we should have a calibrated slow down in the expansion of foreign workers. Which, I gather, is to see if some sort of middle ground can be found between the screaming employers and the huddled masses and to come to terms on what sort of foreign workers we should bring in.

c. Whether we should be expanding the infrastructure and housing programmes to meet needs. I think this is a no-brainer. Of course we will agree, except that we will also have to think about the loss of green spaces and how this should be financed.

I think the three points is a good way to get our minds off specific numbers. It will lead to an agreement on principles and strategy rather than a quarrel over tactics. (I wonder though why he didn’t raise a fourth: Do we agree that every effort must be made to get Singaporeans to reproduce themselves.)

Mr Mah, on the other hand, injected a dose of realism into the debate. Face it, not many of us like this idea that we are just inputs for a GDP growth figure, but the money must come from somewhere to finance our standard of living.
From three days of debate, it seems that MPs want to see something done now to fix the problems we have now, before the people would put their faith in the G for the future.

You know, maybe the G shouldn’t have released the report and just quietly ramp up the infrastructure…That population target/projection can be classified as an official secret. We go with central planning. No discussion.

I say this in full expectation of being flamed and derided: Let’s not be too hard on the G.