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Posts Tagged ‘Parliament’

Honouring LKY

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 11, 2015 at 2:57 am

On Monday, some very important questions will be asked about how we should honour the memory of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Now, I am NOT being sarcastic because I DO think something should be done to keep him or at least his thoughts alive beyond merely ensuring re-prints of all his books. So the MPs have come up three suggestions which I suppose will generate a bit of debate given how everyone has something to say….(I’m just going by my FaceBook wall)

The three:

1. Have his face imprinted on coins and dollar notes.

I like this idea.

After all, given that we have our first President’s face on dollar notes…why not? It’s something that our currency board can do quite easily and I rather like some variety of faces on my dollar notes…. And Mr Lee himself never said no. He was against monuments built for him and I suppose that would mean statues and busts. He wouldn’t be against being in the hands of bankers or fishmongers would he? He was a man of the people and everyone would have a bit/a lot of him in their wallets…He was concerned about economic development and our Singapore dollar is super-strong, a reflection of the man as well.

Of course, those who don’t like him might want to deface their notes. But that’s their lookout. If defaced so much that it is no longer accepted as legal tender, too bad…That will teach people to be careful with their money! Hey, that’s another LKY maxim!

2. Re-name Changi Airport after him

Not a popular choice it seems even though he was the man who moved the airport from Paya Lebar to Changi. And SIA pilots are sure to remember the man who thumped them and threatened to replace all of them! There are plenty of precedents abroad. Charles de Gaulle airport in France, JFK in the US. Better, methinks, than Ho Chi Minh city?

People will have to get used to saying “I have to get to LKY tonight’’, “Planes delayed at LKY’’ and “Did you get any duty-free booze at LKY?’’ But we Singaporeans can get used to anything….One argument in favour: Besides Singaporeans, foreigners will be forced to be educated on the legacy of LKY as well…His name will be remembered forever, far and wide. Hurray! The Singapore dollar, on the hand, is only circulated on this tiny red dot.

So why unpopular? Methinks people rather like the term “Changi’’, more than the LKY name for the airport. I like Changi too…It is so Singaporean. And we don’t need to ape the ways of foreign countries do we?

3. Have a Founder’s Day for him

Quite a popular choice, since it’s likely to be public holiday. So should it be on the day of his death, March 23? Or his birthday, Sept 16? Some people, however, think it should be a PLURAL Founders’ Day – for all the first-generation leaders since he wasn’t the sole architect of Singapore.

I’m not sure about this since he would probably tell us to “stop this nonsense and go back to work’’. Also, what would we DO on Founder’s (singular) Day? Re-play old broadcasts and enact scenes from LKY’s past? Have mass readings of his books? Hold an LKY festival? Or should the day simply be a day that’s marked on the calendar like Teachers’ Day, Racial Harmony Day, Total Defence Day or Youth Day? That is, no public holiday…but the school children will have to do something…?

As you can tell, I am personally not in favour of this. I am also not in favour of preserving his Oxley Road home given that it is the family’s wish to have it demolished. We should respect their wishes.

Monday’s sitting is sure gonna be interesting…

PS. Actually why don’t we name a battleship after him? And I don’t mean steamboat.

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The G spot – on PIC

In Money, News Reports on March 3, 2015 at 4:49 am

Some people want it to be permanent. Some want it tracked more closely to prevent abuse. Some people think it hasn’t achieved its aim at all. I’m talking about PIC or the Productivity and Innovation Credit introduced in 2011. Actually, it looks like a windfall for companies which want to restructure or innovate.

Who doesn’t want a 400% tax deduction or 60% cash payment on up to $400,000 expenditure per year? All you need is to spend some money on IT and automation equipment, employee training, intellectual property, R&D, and design projects. In fact, a whole consulting business sprouted up advising businesses on how to make PIC claims.

Then, in 2013, the G boosted PIC by raising the expenditure limit to $600,000. It also announced the PIC Bonus scheme gave businesses a dollar-for-dollar matching cash bonus for year of assesment 2013 to 2015, subject to an overall cap of $15,000. The G announced in Budget 2015 that PIC Bonus is no more.

So how much has been claimed by businesses? One figure reported was $1.8b as of August last year. Last year, 54,000 companies made PIC claims. Construction businesses were big claimants, but the sector achieved productivity improvements of only 0.8 per cent annually from 2009 to 2013.

If PIC is intended to spur productivity, it doesn’t seem to have worked. Labour productivity, which measures the amount that each worker produces, grew by 11.6% in 2010. Then it started falling: by 2.2% in 2011, then by 1.4% in 2012 and fell a further 0.2% in 2013. Last year, labour productivity rose by 0.8% in the first quarter, and then fell by 1.4% and 0.8% in the next two quarters. (Of course, the flip side is that the figures might have been worse without PIC)

One academic who looked at data from the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras), which administers PIC, thinks that only about 3 per cent of PIC claims are related to innovation, such as licensing and registration of intellectual property rights, and investments in design or R&D.

So what have businesses been doing with the money? Buying handphones for all its employees? Buying machines which don’t seem either to have cut labour numbers or at least make them more productive? I can foresee the G saying that no one can draw a straight line between PIC and productivity and there are many other support structures that would have a role. Even people agree, that is not a reason not to give a sectoral breakdown of PIC claimants.

The tax claims or rather, the cash payouts, make it a magnet for abuse. Three companies have been hauled up to court for  making fraudulent claims. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that abuse is rather more widespread than that.

Here’s another point from a poster regarding PIC eligibility rules, which say employers have to declare that they have at least three Singaporean employees:   Most have conveniently picked their relatives, neighbours, Tom Dick and Harry. But, there is no corresponding productivity increase ! Can MOF publish how many companies who used the PIC are actually profitable and productivity has gone up ?

While the PIC Bonus scheme has ended, PIC will go on till 2018. Clearly, people expect a more robust monitoring of PIC.

Here’s what another poster said about productivity. I think he makes eminent sense which is why I am producing it in full. I hope an MP takes up the point although I wonder how the G can coerce companies into sharing productivity gains. Isn’t this something for the National Wages Council and the NTUC?

One reason why productivity is not gaining speed is the overtime pay structure of low wage/ workers. As productivity is at the expense of overtime, low wage workers will not embrace productivity as it will mean substantial cut in their monthly take home salaries. Unless we make changes to the labor law to revamp the overtime pay structure, workers who are entitled to over time pay will have no incentives to improve their productivity. 

So my question to the G: how can we strike a balance between over time pay and productivity at the same time if the workers are not rewarded for productivity? Workers’ goals are short term, they will not look at the long term competitiveness of companies for achieving better productivity. Workers care more about their takehome salaries with overtime allowances to ensure that they have enough cash to pay their bills. Not many companies would share their productivity gains with their workers as the companies need to invest in capital expenditure to buy more machines and the companies need the productivity savings to justify the return of investment.

Finally, to all MPs, here’s to a fruitful debate in Parliament!

The G spot – on education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looks a case for ….the Auditor-General?

—————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT BATCH: On town councils/HDB/estate planning

The Budget – and my two cents worth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for what’s not anticipated:

At the low end:

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

At the high end:

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

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

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

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

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

Relating to the related third parties

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

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

Like,

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

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

Like,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow’s pre-CNY fireworks

In Money, News Reports, Politics on February 11, 2015 at 2:42 am

I wish I could be in Parliament tomorrow to watch the fireworks. So the National Development Minister will be moving a motion to discuss the governance of town councils, in the wake of a pretty damning audit of the Workers’ Party town council’s finances conducted by the Auditor-General’s Office.

I have been wondering why the AGO was taking so long to make its audit public since it got the job from the Finance Minister early last year. Now, I know why. Seems plenty of time, energy and manpower was needed to locate the mountain of documents, match figures and get answers from various parties involved in the management of Aljunied GRC, Hougang and Punggol East. And it seems that that still wasn’t enough…

The motion itself looks pretty innocuous, at least the first part, about upholding standards of governance and the like, and to express “concern’’ over the AGO’s report. The second limb, about getting MPs’ support for stiffer penalties for those in charge, seems to indicate that the G already has some kind of legislation in the works to tighten up the Town Council Act. Which again makes me ask: Whatever happened to the town council review that Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan was supposed to lead?

In any case, the ST reported that the National Development Minister can only intervene in a failing town council “only when a certain threshold is crossed’’. It didn’t say what. But there is this in the Town Council Act on the occasions when the Minister can appoint someone to work in the town council:

(a) that a Town Council has failed to keep or maintain any part of the common property of any residential or commercial property in the housing estates of the Board within the Town in a state of good and serviceable repair or in a proper and clean condition; or

(b) that any duty of a Town Council must be carried out urgently in order to remove any imminent danger to the health or safety of residents of the housing estates of the Board within the Town.

Going by the annual audit reports of town council work, the estate that the WP runs doesn’t seemed to have reached such a state in which rubbish has been piled up storeys high in the chutes or the lifts are death traps…

BT reported that only three offences attract fines under the Town Councils Act: the wilful withholding of information from an auditor, the misuse of council funds and contraventions of the rules of the lift-upgrading programme. The first offence attracts a fine of up to S$1,000; the other two offences have maximum fines of S$5,000. Nothing is said though about being able to compel town councils to submit information. That’s why the WP Town Council was able to keep the data on service and conservancy fee arrears to itself for a couple of years….

The premise, I believe, is that the town councils are supposed to be directly accountable to their residents.

Looks like we have been nurturing a strange animal. Town councils were set up to decentralize management of estates and link the people’s vote to the ability of candidates to run their surrounding environs.

I can’t help but think that the Act was formulated on the basis that the People’s Action Party will always be in power, hence the limited controls over the town council MPs. Or maybe, the legislators then believed that voters would take a more active part in the work of TCs to exercise oversight – remember how there was so much talk about getting residents to sit on committees etc and have town hall meetings? Much like the way private estates are run?

I don’t think this is happening. As an activist grassroots experiment, my guess is that it never took off. Instead, we now see the MPs as people we hired on a four or five year contract which we can renew or terminate. The question now is whether four or five years in between elections is too long (or too short) a time to let town councils decay to the point when it has an impact on residents’ lives – and on their vote.

Evidently, the G and other experts think more oversight is needed. And it would probably be put in the hands of the National Development ministry.

BT reported NUS Business School associate professor Mak Yuen Teen as saying that clearer and stronger penalties for non-compliance is only half the equation; the independence of the enforcement body must be scrutinised too.

He said: “We currently have a convoluted governance arrangement (for) town councils. With MND supervising the town councils, it’s a bit like how people say the SGX (Singapore Exchange) has a conflict of interest in regulating listed companies … If we do strengthen the legislative framework (of the Town Councils Act), the independence of enforcement becomes very important.”

Associate Professor Lan Luh Luh at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School and Faculty of Law was also quoted: “I don’t think passing (a more stringent) Act is very difficult – the difficulty is in finding a legitimate, independent body to control the town councils. Which organ should oversee the town council because of its political nature? If it’s any ministry, it would be a bit odd because (these are helmed) by the ruling party. I think that’s the key thing that has to be resolved.”

Yup, the town council is a political animal. The G might swear that it is the G, and not the PAP, and that it has a duty to safeguard the interests of residents regardless of their political inclinations. But you can bet that more G intervention would lead to charges that it was intervening in places where it had no business to be.

In fact, one view could be this: Residents have to live with the consequences of their vote. One day, they will wake up and find their rubbish hasn’t been collected and lifts can’t work because they haven’t been thinking very much over the way their town council is managing their finances. Serve them right! This was a warning in the past remember?

The other view is that the country is too small a place to let things deteriorate to such a stage for even one GRC and two single-seat wards with thousands of households. Just think of the “cleaning up’’ that will have to be done by whoever takes power next. Better to over-protect the residents even if they don’t care.

One issue that deserves focus during tomorrow’s session is the business of double-hatting. A husband-and-wife team seem to have pretty much full rein over the finances because they are both managing agents and office-bearers. Some have pointed out that managing agents in PAP town councils are also office-holders in the councils. But it seems that these people are employees and not owners, as in the case of the WP TC. Nor do these employees have the kind of authority as the duo in terms of authorizing payments – to themselves.

The WP has said it is well aware of the double-hatting and it wasn’t as though something surreptitious was going on. But it does seem to me that some demarcation should be drawn so that all transactions are clearly above-board.

The AGO has not said anything about whether it uncovered dishonesty or criminal behavior (which might lead to CPIB or CAD investigations). In fact, it keeps telling the WP that it can’t tell based on its audit. But the way the WP TC works and its shoddy practices surely invites dishonesty or, at the very least, loss of funds through negligence.

I know nothing about auditing but there is something I really like to know which hasn’t been explained. How in heaven’s name did an operating surplus of $3.3million in 2010 become an operating deficit of $734,000 in two years?

Are these figures correct?

Over-REACHing

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

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

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

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

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

Please let me hiccup a few times.

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

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

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

So what’s the BIG, national statistic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over-protecting the people

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

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

Never mind all that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gentlewarriors or gender warfare?

In News Reports, Politics on August 5, 2014 at 10:08 am

If Ms Ivy Singh-Lim was making a pitch to women to join her Gentlewarrior’s Party, I’m afraid it wasn’t a very good one. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m referring to her interview in The New Paper yesterday for an all-women political party. She complains about the dearth of females in leadership roles. She says that few women enter politics because all women are honest (and I suppose the men who do, aren’t?) Her campaign is to get rid of dishonest people, including dishonest men (who?) and stupid women (who?)

Like the Workers’ Party now (my words), she doesn’t intend to “overtake the PAP’’ but to inject good values such as courage and fairness into the system. But this is not to say that the entire system is bad (her words).

I’m not sure that makes up much of a manifesto even though the intention is noble. Can anyone object to having an honest, courageous and fair-minded political party in the political system? Frankly, all political parties would say that they, too, stood for those values. Even if they comprised only men.

In my much younger days, the paucity of female representation in Parliament had always been a sore point. It said to me: Women are not good enough for politics or the PAP, at least, seemed to think so going by the scarcity of women candidates. When the PAP set up its Women’s Wing, I was both glad and sad. Glad that women were recognised but sad that the wing was more concerned about the welfare of housewives and less-educated women. It looked like a vote-getting campaign rather than an attempt to get women involved in “high’’ politics. It was so good therefore to have Dr Aline Wong and Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon break the gender barrier and give Parliament some much needed colour!
If today, in 2014, there was no woman MP in Parliament, I would think Ms Lim has a good idea about forcing open the Parliament doors. But now, I can’t even recall the number of woman MPs in the Cabinet, much less in Parliament!

Maybe we should not look at numbers but in terms of issues that affect women. Are there woman-only issues that need to be fielded in Parliament that have not been given enough attention? Is there a need for a “woman’s’’ view of issues, if there is such a thing?
Therefore, I got to thinking where a woman’s input would be valuable:

a. Single mothers. Small constituency but probably growing. While there is some relaxation of rules for them on HDB housing, there is always, “room for improvement’’. I believe maternity benefits are a sore point.

b. Views on National Service. Maybe a woman’s voice on all these perks for NSmen and the role of women in the nation’s defence.

c. Women’s Charter. This is going to be tweaked especially on the maintenance front. Ex-wives will not automatically get maintenance from their ex-husbands, it is being proposed. You think a male would object?

d. Female medical issues. There might be gynae-MPs but no one knows a female body better than a female…Just ask the women in the Breast Cancer Foundation.

e. Procreation and abortion issues. Definitely a female occupation.

f. Work-life balance, the role of woman in the household and the monetary value of being a housewife. Or is this politically incorrect given that married women are being called to go back into the workforce?

g. Breaking the glass barrier in the boardroom. But how? We don’t want to go the quota way do we?

h. Spousal abuse, marital rape, sexual harassment in the workplace…

Gosh! I didn’t realise I could come up with such a list! Really!

But it seems to me that any political party worth its salt should be able to add value to discussion on the above. The issues have all been broached in some way or other although not in a concerted manner with the word, female, underlined.
Of course, Gentlewarriors may want to go the way of AWARE with a more aggressive stance on the rights of women. Then it will risk alienating the men, especially those who keep pointing at how they are always at risk of women crying molest and faking their age for sex…. And there will be the misogynists who make wisecracks about women having PMS or undergoing menopause and are hence, unable to make good judgment calls…And there is AWARE itself. It’s already doing a pretty good job of making itself heard.

I don’t think there is a need for an all-woman party even if I believe all women are honest, like Ms Lim does. At the moment, I think political parties know full well the need to respond to women’s specific areas of interest if they want to get elected.
As for an all-women party candidate getting the vote, I’m not sure. Unlike political parties which can hold on to ideological positions, what would be that of Gentlewarriors? The protection and promotion of women in Singapore? What’s next? The protection and promotion of men in Singapore? Enough. We are already a mosaic of different religions, races, cultures and ideological standpoints. No need for another dividing line.

In any case, Gentlewarrior or not, I can fight as well as any man. What say you ladies?

Little India COI: And now that it’s over…

In News Reports, Politics on July 8, 2014 at 3:14 am

I don’t know whether it’s coincidence or not, but did you realise that yet another Little India rioter was sentenced to jail and cane yesterday, on the same day that Parliament discussed the COI findings on the riot?

The Indian national was jailed two and a half years and to be caned three strokes, and is the third to plead guilty to “active’’ rioting. That is, he wasn’t one of those bystanders who merely threatened the cops. He took part in throwing missiles, including a rubbish bin, setting fire to the bus and, yes, he was one of those who danced round a burning police motorbike. I guess that’s the power of video? Or was it eye-witness testimony? The ST news report didn’t make clear.

(In any case, you might want to know the number of police cameras have been DOUBLED to 250 in Little India since the riot night with another 88 to be installed by the end of next year. So everyone had better think twice before doing funny stuff, like dropping your pants for a pee.)

ST didn’t make clear either where he was alcohol-fuelled. All it said was that he had been chatting with a friend and remitting money before he decided to go liven up the events of the night. He makes No. 14 of the 25 rioters charged. It’s good to know that key players have been brought to book, although so far, there’s only been three charged with actively taking part in the riot.

I really wish the news reports said more, like what possessed him to do the things he did. Was that reported in court? Or maybe not since he pleaded guilty? Or were there any mitigating factors that the lawyers put up? I presume he assigned a lawyer. It would have been first-hand testimony, putting flesh and blood on the COI report which said that the accident that happened was the cause of the riot, which was aggravated by alcohol consumption and nought to do with living or working conditions here.

In fact, the three-member COI has “disappeared’’. No press conference to address queries. No interviews. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of the inquiry, which has the status of a court? You don’t have judges explaining their judgment, so it is the case here? Pity.

What we have instead is DPM Teo Chee Hean delivering a ministerial statement in response to the COI report and MPs questioning him. I have stuck my neck out to say that the COI report was pretty lame when it came to criticising the police effort that night. And now, DPM Teo has stuck his neck out to say that he thought the cops did okay. He quoted liberally from the COI report which commended those who arrived first on the scene and while he noted the COI saying that the police could have done better in the later stage when the rioters went on a rampage, he said “the commanders and officers that night did the best they could in the circumstances they faced, with the information that they had on hand’’. The COI, he said, arrived at its assessment based on a reconstruction of all available information collected after the riot by a team of investigators.

“It is not always possible to take the analyses done after the fact, and substitute them for the judgement that the commanders and officers had to make on the ground that night. We will not be able to know definitively what the outcome would be if a different course of action had been taken during this phase, given the emotional crowd which was volatile and prone to misperceptions.’’

TODAY had a bit extra on what he said about Tanglin Division Commander Lu Yeow Lim, the ranking officer who decided to “hold the position’’ that night. PAP MP Vikram Nair had asked if action will be taken against him. Mr Teo’s reply: “I have evaluated the actions of the commander and the officers that night, and I do not find them wanting.”
On the matter of DAC Lu, it’s best to read TNP, which had Mr Teo saying that the police on the scene that night did not “have the benefit of hindsight’’. If DAC Lu had adopted an “interventionist’’ approach, that is, taken some action instead of waiting for riot police to arrive, no one could have predicted if things could get better or worse.

This appears to be one key area in which the G disagrees with the COI which thought that there were “lapses’’ in this particular stage of the riot that night and that DAC Lu could have taken “more positive action’’. The COI noted that most of the destruction happened while police were waiting for the Special Operations Command to arrive.
But why split hairs over what has happened, you say? So long as measures are in place to prevent a repeat occurrence – whether of the riot or any police lapses.

DPM Teo cited a list of measures, including beefing up the SOC and points to how there’s a manpower shortage everywhere so simply “asking’’ for manpower like the Police Commissioner had done, is not going to solve the problem although “there is no problem asking’’ .

Oh dear.

Anyway, the SOC will get 300 more frontline officers to get the number up to 600. I wonder if there ever is an ideal riot police to people ratio or even normal police to people ratio. While the force has been beefed up over the years, the ratio is way below other cities but there appears to be no mention of this Parliament going by the news reports. It strikes me that while there’s a shortage of manpower everywhere, including in the private sector, it is for the G to prioritise where new manpower should go to. And to pay them well. What’s also puzzling is how there seems to be no mention of auxillary police officers, who also played a critical role in the riot. Did no one ask about this aspect of beefing up the police force?

BTW, there was an interesting question by WP Sylvia Lim who suggested that the G allow “peaceful’’ demonstrations in certain areas. DPM Teo’s reply was described as “amused’’ by ST. But reading TODAY’s excerpt of the exchange, I thought he was pretty short with her: “Perhaps Ms Lim might want to go one step further and say allow the protests to get out of hand so that they get a little bit more practice? Why not? Since we want to give them practice?’’ In any case, there were enough large-scale events for the police to “practise’’. That’s true. They just need to go to Hong Lim Park every weekend or so…

Frankly, Ms Lim’s suggestion goes against the Singapore DNA for peace and stability. We might as well stage a mock riot with missile somewhere and see how the police deal with it – and this is something I’m sure they already do.

So, are we closing the chapter on the Little India riot? There’s still the public consultation going on on the sale and consumption of alcohol and also some more rioters left to be brought before the courts.

I see the Little India riot as our police force’ “baptism of fire’’. I wish our men and women in blue well. You might want to consider this point: You have a minister who defended you. Good for you. Now, methinks it is time for all of us to get behind you too.