Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister’

Where’s my hearing aid?

In News Reports, Politics on January 17, 2015 at 3:55 am

I read the Prime Minister’s interview with local media several times and have concluded that what he said was pretty much what he’s been saying all along, like how we should be happy with a 2 to 3 per cent economic growth rate and how low productivity is a worrying thing.

He should have added, methinks, that we should be happy with a slower growth rate because indications are that we, the people, want it that way to have less of a pressure-cooker society….except that most people also expect that standard of living will go up exponentially as it did over all these years…

What I cannot understand is the extent of cynicism his comments are attracting online. His words are viewed with distrust, and people question his sincerity. Surely the proof of the pudding is in the eating? Actions speak louder than words?

Too many people are content to lay their dissatisfaction with anything at the G’s door, and I don’t just mean the online denizens. Like cost of living, like children having to study too hard, like every fee we have to pay. No one credits it for bringing down housing prices, for tweaking the education system to add non-academic portions, for bigger grants, subsidies and credits for struggling businesses, lower income households or the elderly.

One thing which caught my eye was what he said was his biggest regret: that the G didn’t ramp up infrastructure faster to fit the burgeoning population. He’s said it before and even said sorry, but it seems some people simply won’t let him forget it.

So the comments on G ineptitude and incompetence continue. I find it a trifle unfair. That’s because over the past three years, the G has been in overdrive in its efforts to ramp up its infrastructure, whether in housing or transport. The Population White Paper with its much-maligned 6.9 million planning parameter is still a looming spectre, despite a smaller inflow of foreign labour (which businesses are unhappy about) and a sort of cap on the number of new citizens each year.

“We do not want 6.9 million as a target but I want to have infrastructure… I want to get myself ready. If unexpected things happen, I can be prepared,” Mr Lee Hsien Loong said. “That is the attitude which the Government needs even more, and so does the population. And when things turn out not quite right, well, we accept that that is the way the world is.”

I have no idea what are the “unexpected things’’ he expects could happen, perhaps the happy situation when Singaporeans decide to procreate in greater numbers? In any case, I can see the point in planning for more, even if the numbers prove to be fewer. Hey, there will be more room everywhere for everyone!

I’ve always maintained that the lax foreign worker policy of the past was the G’s biggest mistake. But it is more important to try to get to the root of the problem: How is it that the G didn’t see it coming? It’s like the leaders are so blind, so deaf or so dumb to the rising complaints over the years – or are somehow immune to the changes which affect the rest of the populace. This is not a Black Swan event. You can see it coming from a mile off…

The way the PM put it, it looked like this was somehow a bean-counting error.   “We have to plan in future less conservatively and try to be less precise in our prognostications,’’ he said. “At the time we thought we were doing the right thing – pacing it, measuring it out, building it when we needed it and not spending resources until we needed to spend them.”

Some people have posited that this is the outcome of a G which has been so long in power and has been so right in most of its decisions that it cannot conceive itself to be wrong. There is a kind of in-built confirmation bias. You also wonder who the greatest influences on government policy are – what are its grassroots people saying to the leaders? The things they want to hear? Or inconvenient truths?

Maybe those who grumble that the G “never listens’’ is right. At least on that score. And that it took an election result to jolt its hearing aid into place.

Now is the time to ask ourselves if, to use that lecturing phrase, it has “learnt its lesson’’. We should assess this based on what it has done over the past three years and whether we think there has been a new approach towards policymaking, one that takes into account not just what it thinks the people need, but also what they want.

People still say that the G “never listens to the people’’, but is it also vice versa? The G can try convincing people that policies must be based on the greatest good for the greatest number, and is best for the long-term future that they may not live to see. How many people, especially those affected adversely, can grasp this? Are they even listening?

One reason I can give for the people’s “deafness’’: that old ministerial salaries issue. I have said before that I consider it a slow poison which destroys the relationship between the government and the government governed and reduces it to a business contract, rather than the social compact it should be. It is the ultimate, un-arguable line: We pay you so much, you should get things right, in fact, perfect.

No mercy, no quarter given.

It’s not an issue that can be shoved under the carpet. Opposition parties have come up with different numbers although they too can be questioned for plucking numbers out of thin air. But the G isn’t engaging them on the issue. I think it’s time to slaughter this sacred cow, dismember its parts and see how we can put it together in a way that is palatable to most citizens. Surely, there are more minds that can be engaged on this? Is this really too hard to do? Impossible? If so, the G must keep convincing people on the principles behind the salaries they earn – which it must know by now is not well-accepted…

At the bottom of it all, this is the people’s biggest beef – and the reason most people have placed their hands over their ears.

So how?


For the love of Mandarin….drama serials

In News Reports, Politics, Society, Writing on July 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm

For the past three years, I have been watching Chinese drama serials almost every day. I started because I had a vague notion of wanting to work in China and thought that I had better brush up on my secondary school level grasp of the language, especially its spoken form.
I can now say that I can craft imperial decrees with the right amount of gravitas and converse fairly fluently, almost like water, on any period of Chinese history pre-1900. I would be even better in a court of law presided by Justice Bao and any magistrate with a peacock feather in his hat. You should watch my rendition of a wronged victim who is asking for her life to be spared.
It was a tough remedial lesson for me when I started because I chose the China-produced Three Kingdoms series as a starting point with its extremely fine, poetic language and four letter words that every student of the language knows is an abbreviation for something far deeper. Plus, there were no English subtitles.
But it got me going on to a eunuch’s sea voyage, court intrigues, magisterial incompetence and plenty of bloody wars and sword-fighting battles that involved demi-gods and semi-devils. After a few months, I no longer needed English sub-titles but I still needed the Chinese subtitles to follow the dialogue.
When I started, I made a pact with my DVD vendor that I would only speak to her in Mandarin while I was in her shop. We continued the charade for more than a year until her shop closed down. In the meantime, I got to know the vendor of almost every DVD shop that hawks Chinese drama serials in the east, whether it be TS Laser, Blue Max, Poh Kim or Veego.
I am now the proud owner of several hundred drama serials and have to trawl shops like Canton Video for really old serials in VCD format because China cannot keep pace with my demand for period drama.
I didn’t grow up loving the Chinese language. Learning it was a mighty chore as no one in my family spoke Mandarin. I thought in English and spoke in Mandarin, which can be hilarious because of mixed syntax and sentence construction. Still, I scored relatively well in examinations, mainly because of rote-learning.
Now I am listening to Chinese dialogue or reading the Chinese subtitles that fly past my television screen every day. I am also devouring books on Chinese history – the English translations.
I have learnt to love the language, especially the construction of four-letter or rather, four-character, phrases that mean so much more than they seem and the use of homonyms as riddles. I still cannot grasp Tang poetry or the more philosophical works, but I think it is good enough that I know of them.
For me, historical dramas are best because they serve so many objectives – purity of language, Chinese cultural values and of course, a bit of history even if it is more fiction than fact. My mother was flummoxed when I offered to serve her her meal personally, because it was an expression of filial piety, much like the patriotic general Yue Fei washing his mother’s feet. I see how examinations play such a big role in gathering mandarins for the use of the state, or rather, the kingdom. Missing the examinations meant a wait of several years, making top scholar brought pride to the village and those who didn’t excel went on to lesser court posts.
I see so many parallels with the Singapore system. But I also see how corruption and venality can destroy a kingdom and how even the most enlightened ruler needed a coterie of good and unselfish advisers.
There is, of course, the dark side of Chinese history, with its numerous patricides and fratricides committed in the struggle for power. I think I have seen enough torture methods to declare that the worst that anyone can ever experienced is to have his eyes gouged out, tongue cut and all four limbs chopped off and be left alive to root around like a pig. At least, that is what a deranged empress did to a concubine.
The great failing of my pursuit of the language is that I decline absolutely to watch anything “modern’’. I don’t know, therefore, the equivalent Mandarin terms for technological gadgets and everyday working life. When I am asked why, I give the very unsatisfactory but nevertheless truthful reply that I like looking at fancy costumes.
Several times, vendors have also offered me Hongkong-produced period dramas to watch but I always end up a little disappointed at the quality of the Mandarin dubbing. The language is not as refined as those produced by the Chinese even though the plot might be superior. I was told I should listen to the original Cantonese version and then read the Chinese subtitles but I believe that would put too much pressure on my ability to hone the language.
The Speak Mandarin campaign is now in its 35th year and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on Singaporeans to stick with Mandarin despite the increasing calls to return to the use of dialects. There is room for dialects but not as a replacement for Mandarin. I agree. It would be so much more difficult for me to have to grasp the variations of the language. Then again, I am not Chinese and do not know what the loss of a dialect means to dialect-speakers.
What I know is this: I have chafed against having to learn this complicated language all my life but am now grateful that I had mastered the basics in school. I know the meaning now of learning a language so as to “open a new window’’ on the world.
It is not an empty phrase.

Plain-speaking or pain-speaking?

In News Reports on June 20, 2014 at 12:58 am

This is a public service announcement:

With regard to the Prime Minister’s recent FaceBook post on the need for plain speaking to further enhance and better improve the public’s understanding of Government policies, I intend to facilitate efforts by devoting a section of Bertha Harian to an intensive critique of public service pronouncements. This is part of an on-going move to bolster an active citizenry which must have access to full facts to reach conclusions without prejudice in a non-partisan manner in a society where constructive politics should be the norm.

In other words, I’m gonna try to do some idiot-proofing…starting with MOE’s reply in ST Forum page..

WE THANK Mr Neo Lin Chen for his feedback and the opportunity to clarify the matter (“Who sets P1 priority eligibility criteria?”; last Saturday) .

(Usual start to any kind of letter. Note that it is always good to “thank’’ people rather than use “We REFER’’ – more personal lah.)

The Ministry of Education (MOE) sets the Primary 1 (P1) Registration Framework.  (This is answer to the original letter’s headline – very straightforward…but what the heck is “framework’’?)

The framework takes into account the diverse interests and needs of parents and their children, and reflects a careful balance of various considerations, including siblings already studying in the school, parental or clan ties with the school, parent volunteer work, community involvement and proximity to the school.

(Urrrrrghhh….a framework means “everything’’ – note that this is the list of phases in the registration process with nice words such as “takes into account’’ and “a careful balance’’. Would you know what a careful balance entails? The word “framework’’ can be used for any, any thing…Singapore tax framework, funding framework, manpower framework. It’s an empty, meaningless word unless you really give full details of the framework.)  

While MOE sets the P1 Registration Framework and policies, the relevant organisations have to endorse their respective members (such as community leaders, parent volunteers, clan/church members) for eligibility to register under the various registration phases.

(How does this answer the letter-writer’s question on who sets the eligibility criteria? So MOE has a “framework’’ and does this also mean it sets eligibility criteria BEFORE the groups endorse it? Or do the groups set their OWN eligibility criteria and ALSO endorse it? Because if so, I can always tweak criteria any time to suit anyone. Do I have to send the eligibility criteria to MOE to vet?)

The People’s Association has recently changed the criteria for endorsing its active community leaders to be eligible for the P1 Phase 2B registration, which will take effect from the 2016 P1 Registration Exercise.

(Re-write: The People’s Association has recently changed the eligibility criteria giving community leaders preference in primary school registration for their children. This will start from 2016. NOTE: would be good to say what the change is so readers have full information)

MOE has no objection to these changes.

(Does this mean MOE looked at PA’s criteria first and hence has “no objections? What about other groups like clan ties? If I were a clan/church leader and have a kid going into P1, I’ll tweak the rules to fit my kid…As for parental involvement, the school sets its own rules? NOTE: I am not saying schools shouldn’t have autonomy but the MOE should really answer the question on who sets eligibility criteria fully. So far, all I get is a “framework’’ and the rest about who sets criteria is really fuzzy)

To ensure open access (urrrgh. Ugly phrase) to all primary schools, MOE will be reserving 40 places for those without prior connection with the school before the start of this year’s P1 Registration Exercise.

(So is 40 places a change? An improvement?What percentage of Phase 2B does this form?)

It’s so difficult to re-write this plainly because the CONTENT isn’t plain to me. Verdict: Fail


The big Little India clean-up

In News Reports on December 9, 2013 at 11:38 pm

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Just testing.

I’m back.

Crazy huh?

After trying to get readers of this blog to move over to Breakfast Network, I’m now trying to get everyone back here…What’s the difference you say? Well, when I blog, I can get “personal’’. I tried to write differently for BN, adopting a more business-like, professional-sounding tone. Now I am going to be entirely MYSELF! Yeehaaaar.

So what’s the news today?

Well, if you are thinking of going drinking in Little India this weekend, don’t. No alcohol will be served – or sold over the counter. It’s an expected move by the G, after it proposed curbs on alcohol sales hours and the establishment of no-alcohol zones last week. The G twisted itself into knots trying not to pre-empt the police investigations into Sunday’s riots by saying that alcohol could be’ a “contributory factor’’ leading to the riot on Sunday night. What it made clear was that the 33 year old Indian national who died after being knocked down by a private bus was stone drunk. As for the 400 others, or 27 arrested….

The intoxicated man had boarded the bus and dropped his pants when he was told to get off. When he did, he was knocked down somehow and pinned under the bus. Not decapitated, as some people have been saying. That was when all hell broke loose.

So is the G doing a knee-jerk by banning alcohol? It’s only for this weekend though, before it finalises what it wants to do about alcohol sales. The G and MPs for the area said too many liquor licences have been given out to the shopkeepers in the area. No number was specified and you would have thought someone in the liquor licensing department had been keeping count…

It seems, however, that Little India has been a messy, chaotic space for some time, going by what residents there say. One resident penned a letter published in TODAY citing the number of times news reports have surfaced about the state of the area on weekends, with jaywalking and jammed-up roads. Some 20 private buses would unload foreign workers there on weekends – and park along the roads as well. It’s like a weekend excursion: from dorm to Little India, and back to dorm. It seems that the G response has been to step up policing, checking for identification and so forth.

So should the G have acted earlier in response to residents’ grumblings and foreseen that a powder keg was in the making? If it did and tried to impose curbs on activity, it would have been attacked for high-handed treatment of those who do hard labour in Singapore.  Residents might chafe, but for others, Little India is neither chaotic nor messy. It is spontaneous and exotic. It bustles with a different sort of life every weekend, not at all like other parts of Singapore. And that is because it is brimming over with foreigners of a different culture. Can you imagine Singaporeans dancing in the streets unless they are specifically allowed to, like the South Asians did on Deepavali?   

Maybe the announcement of an impending alcohol ban or the constant police checks are what got their backs up. Others point to different cultural attitudes towards authority. Singaporeans are respectful towards those in uniform, and wouldn’t dream of hurling dustbins at them, much less pelting them when they are trying to rescue someone. They might brawl in coffeeshops after several beers and even resist arrest, but you won’t get others joining in the fray against the cops.

So is an alcohol ban of sorts in Little India going to help? It will be a “contributory factor’’ in the pursuit of peace, methinks.

The Prime Minister has convened a committee of inquiry to look into “ the factors that led to the incident and how the incident was handled on the ground’’. “It will also review the current measures to manage areas where foreign workers congregate, whether they are adequate and how they can be improved.’’

It seems that the G is looking at the riot as a pure law and order issue. Presumably, the “factors’’ are immediate factors and the “measures’’ are intended to ensure safety and public order. So no deep probing on possible root causes? A very self-contained probe?

What I know is that I got angry reading The New Paper which has the best on-the-ground coverage of all the English language newspapers. It had an interview and a picture of the female bus co-ordinator who was attacked. The 38 year old  had a wound on the left side of her forehead, her left eye was swollen and her limbs bruised. The poor woman was trapped on the bus with the driver as rioters smashed windscreens and ripped off  whatever they could. Six policemen later escorted them to safety.

Then there was the account of a resident who had a bird’s eye view of what was happening and gave a blow-by-blow account of how the riot unfolded. How the police couldn’t hold back the rioters and disappeared into a fire engine which sped off, along with an ambulance. How rioters flipped a police car against an ambulance and paramedics opened the back door to flee. How they cheered and danced around a burning police bike.A TNP photojournalist was almost attacked. Restaurants pulled down their shutters, with diners still inside. Shopkeepers had their goods used as missiles.   

This should never happen again. Ever.

So I say: Dear G, do whatever it takes.



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.

Missing in MSM

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 29, 2013 at 12:16 am

The Prime Minister said many things at the IPS Perspective Conference but somehow the MSM didn’t pick up the stuff that would have interested the online community. Okay, I have to be fair…I am talking about the ST.

Today picked up his point about Section 377a and how he seems to be leaning towards maintaining the status quo, that is, homosexual sex remains criminalised. I wonder why this wasn’t published in ST? Because the PM might have run foul of subjudice rules that the Attorney-General’s Chambers had just reminded everyone of? A protective measure? If so, Today didn’t get the message.

The PM didn’t unilaterally raise the topic, but was answering two questions that were very finely crafted in my opinion. First, was how a secular state could reconcile itself with having an old archaic law that discriminates against a group of people. The second, by NMP Janice Koh, was whether Singapore had the space to discuss issues that were potentially polarising. Looks like Section 377a is on the PM’s mind since he didn’t side-step the issue.

But, hey, I certainly hope the Judiciary will not be influenced by what the Executive has said on the issue, the top executive, some more! Methinks the PM should have held his peace, like all of us have been told to do.

Citing the example of gay rights, Mr Lee said: “These are not issues that we can settle one way or the other, and it’s really best for us just to leave them be, and just agree to disagree. I think that’s the way Singapore will be for a long time.”
He added that the “conservative roots” in society do not want to see the social landscape change.

Another point that has the online community buzzing but which I saw no sign of in MSM were his comments on new media: “We don’t believe the community in the social space, especially online, moderates itself. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.

“You have views going to extremes and when people respond to their views, they may respond in an extreme way, and when people decide to disapprove of something which was inappropriate, the disapproval can also happen in an extreme way.’’

“It’s in the nature of the medium, the way the interactions work and that’s the reason why we think it cannot be completely left by itself.”

I don’t know what the context of his comments were since this is a just a quote that has been going round online – and which I hope is accurate. For context, I usually rely on MSM given that they have paid professionals who would have known that context is important. But, hey, they’ve left it out entirely! How can?

You can bet that the online community is buzzing about an upcoming clampdown… An online naming law?

The effect of this by-election

In News Reports, Politics on January 26, 2013 at 4:26 pm

There are only two things that will get ordinary Singaporeans to cheer – and that’s when Singapore wins a significant soccer match and when the Opposition wins an election. And so it was… just now. And I am not even talking about those at the counting centre or those who are die-hard supporters of the hammer. I gather it was quite noisy in Hougang.

Truth to tell, I thought the PAP would win. So much had been made of local issues – and if the constituents really thought that way, they would plump for the person who had the backing of the Government. This was also not Hougang, but a PAP ward for what it seems forever and ex-MP Michael Palmer was said to have been pretty good at working the ground. But it seems the voters thought: a) The WP can do the job in the ward as well too b) The PAP deserves a “slap” c) Singapore needs a plural Government d) We remember Lee Li Lian; we don’t know Koh Poh Koon e) Those national packages will be delivered anyway however we vote.

Any one of the five or a combination?

Now I suppose much will be made of the by-election “effect”. That the people want the PAP in power, but a by-election was a good chance to put in a new voice. The WP campaigned that way although I thought that it was only at its final rally that it got its act together to push the PAP back on the defensive. I thought it should have used its First World Parliament slogan. I thought it should have taken aim at AIMgate earlier in the campaign.

In fact, I thought the “hammering” that the WP got, at least online and from certain opposition quarters, for being so “conciliatory” towards the G – telling people that the policies need to mature and that it sometimes works with the G behind close doors, would not do it good. I thought Ms Lee was a bit of a damp squib, who would counteract the strong support from the WP leadership. I wondered if if those jibes about the WP being “arrogant” would work.

On all fronts, I thought wrong. And I congratulate the WP.

The BE result showed that voters considered the WP the dominant opposition party. A multi-cornered fight diluting the opposition vote? Nah. The disarray among the opposition ranks turning voters to the PAP side. No too. Now, what if the Singapore Democratic Party contested? How would the vote go? I almost wish it did, just so to hear from the voters on how they rate the SDP. My heart, though, really goes out to Singapore Democratic Alliance’s Desmond Lim. Just half a per cent, even less than the 4 per cent the last time round.

So what now? DPM Teo Chee Hean, anchor minister in that part of Singapore, looked so drawn and haggard. Both he and the PM did the courteous thing, thanking supporters and congratulating the victors. The voters have made their choice, they said. I was expecting something more…”and they would have to live with it…”…But no. I don’t know how Dr Koh feels. He must have realised it was risky never mind the Punggol boy- made – good tag. And never mind what I think was a tight campaign by the PAP, with quick counters after WP rallies and no mis-thought retorts and mis-timed attacks. I say he is a brave man. The thing is, the PAP says he will be fielded in future elections. And people will remember if he is NOT fielded in Punggol East again but in a safe GRC.

The PM wants attention back on national issues. Yes. The BE is out of the way. We should get back to national issues. Now with a bigger presence in Parliament, WP will have to live up to its words and act as a check. Or show the “value of political competition”, as Sylvia Lim said. Even if the WP does not have its own transport masterplan or marriage and parenthood package, the hope is that it will critique thoroughly those policies that have been just announced. Also, that it will get to the bottom of AIMgate – which it had provoked. In my view, it should come up with its own proposal on the “fundamental nature” of town councils, which is being studied by the National Development ministry. This it should do, now that it has even more town councils under its charge.

Anyway, the WP seems to have planned ahead, announcing date and venue of Ms Lee’s first Meet-the-People session. It is looking way ahead too, introducing four new faces (almost PAP-like I must say) at its last rally. It looks good to stay ahead of the rest of the opposition pack, although I am sure there will be some debate on whether olive branches should be held out to the other political parties.

The more difficult “thinking” will have to be done within the PAP though. It cannot simply content itself that this was just a by-election, and an opposition win was to be expected. I doubt that it will be complacent. I wonder now what new strategy will be formulated, whether in Parliament or in image. Its much vaunted “new normal” after the last GE doesn’t seem to have sunk in. Will it by the next GE? Or not at all. If so, the by-election effect might well sweep the general election.

You know what? There is someone I wish we could hear from. Former PM Lee Kuan Yew. What is he thinking I wonder. That the vote of the people is a terrible thing, as he once said?

Clever tactics

In News Reports, Politics on January 23, 2013 at 12:02 am

Reading the news reports on the by-election, it seems Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang is in a bit of a fix. I had wondered why he chose to “thank’’ PM Lee Hsien Loong for his comments over the weekend that the WP hadn’t been able to make much headway in Parliament with its own policy proposals.

At last night’s rally, he clarified that it was because the PM had reminded “all of us that the Workers’ Party is still not large enough to have the resources to make alternative policies’’.
“In the Westminster parliamentary system, an alternative government must be complete with a shadow cabinet and ample resources for policy research to verify and propose alternative policies. Currently, we have a small group of professionals and academics working behind the scenes to help MPs scrutinise government policies. But expecting a party with 6 elected MPs to form an alternative government is premature and unrealistic.’’

So that’s why you need one more WP member in Parliament, he reasoned. Clever twist.

The PAP seems intent on making sure everyone knows that the WP “got no ideas’’, much less the ability to form a government. But the second part about being in Parliament is about raising relevant questions. Mr Low cited his MPs who spoke up and on what issues. But in this instance, the WP will be better off giving statistics of PAP MPs who did not speak or made only minimal contributions in Parliament in the check-and-balance role. And the proportion (not number) of questions and interventions WP made in Parliament compared to the much more sizeable PAP.

If there is someone Mr Low should thank, methinks its SDA’s Desmond Lim who elevated WP to a “dominant’’ party in his self-styled online rally. He spoke about how there were only “two’’ voices in Parliament. (Gosh! I would have thought that in a shouting match, the WP would be drowned out by the PAP chorus). Of course, Mr Lim didn’t mean it to be complimentary. It was more like the WP was singing at the same pitch as the PAP (that’s my interpretation, btw) and not performing the “checking’’ function.

Seems a lot of firepower is being directed at the WP. Ex-members are speaking up online about past squabbles etc. Mr Low has had to go on the defensive and rebut charges of being “arrogant’’. Odd, I thought that was a label more commonly attached to the PAP.

You have got to admire the PAP in this regard. Unless it had all its MPs sign some binding non-disclosure contract, its ex-MPs generally stay silent – and even run PAP companies. They help out in party HQ or in other ways on the ground. They don’t deride the party. If they do, they go the whole hog – and run for President!!! (Sorry, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, couldn’t resist it)

The PAP also seems to have a “tighter’’ campaign, going with “the man with a plan’’ when it comments on the BE. It’s letting its “national’’ campaign be represented in the announcements on train expansion, property and baby boosters . Clever people.

Staying safe in Punggol East

In News Reports, Politics on January 22, 2013 at 7:18 am

First, a confession. I am relying mainly on MSM news reports and my FB feeds to get news of the by-election. I read so much about the candidates offering practically their lives to get elected. I know so much about their backgrounds. I know what they want to do for those lucky Punggol East people. I suppose this is what a by-election is about.

But I wonder about why no one is talking about the big stuff or impending big stuff. I don’t mean the usual complaints about high transport, health and housing costs but the stuff that people are talking about and want to hear about. And I don’t mean general stuff like whether we need more opposition voices in Parliament. (BTW, I thought SDA’s Desmond Lim paid a huge tribute to the Workers’ Party by calling it a dominant party. He wants to be the third voice in a two-voice Parliament. Diversity of views, I suppose.)

Anyway, here is my own list of “missing’’ issues:

a. Why is no one talking about AIM, that PAP-run company that does the town councils’ books? Is everyone waiting for the National Development ministry to finish its report – and then comment? Is it the worry about incomplete information which might get them into trouble? I know WP withdrew its motion and I praised the move. But you know, I think any political party can speak about the subject at a time of election – especially whether town councils are “political’’ associations. And give its own take about the “fundamental nature’’ of town councils which even the PM wants studied.

b. No one is really getting into Palmergate, at least not the way Yaw Shin Leong’s character was dissected in the Hougang BE. Maybe because he’s too popular with residents to be raised as an issue? Then what about the more general qualities expected of a political representative? I mean, the seat fell vacant because of his indiscretion. So how come there’s no comment on it?

c. The immigrant issue. I suppose more childcare centres, covered linkways and bus services are “safe’’ topics. But what about this nagging, niggling problem we have about the foreigners in our midst? Companies say they are suffering because of the squeeze on foreign labour, NGOs think that the G doesn’t treat foreign workers right. And some of the comments being heard are outright xenophobic or racist. We still need foriegners, never mind the $2billion Population package announced yesterday that won’t have us replacing ourselves any time soon. So where do the parties stand on the immigration issue? Too hot a topic?

d. Then there are the constitutional challenges coming up pretty soon, such as on the PM’s right to call or not call a by-election, which must surely be something parties can take a stand on? Or is it because they think they might run foul of the court? Surely, this is something that also falls within the political arena?

e. Now, there’s a row between pro-Section 377a and anti-Section 377a on the criminalisation of homosexual acts. I hope the politicians are not so busy campaigning that they do not notice the heightened tensions and some hysteria online. Religion is getting political. What a dangerous mix which I thought the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act was designed to separate…or am I wrong? Questions are coming up on freedom of expression – both pro-gay and anti-gay. Politicians are being courted to take sides. So many issues here …or is this considered too explosive a mix to bring to the public’s attention? Maybe, again, everyone is waiting again for the court to rule.

Anyway, that’s just my one cent worth. Maybe what the voters really really want to know is exactly when (give exact date please) Rivervale Plaza will be fully ready.

Partying in Punggol East

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

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

It’s local.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, it’s also national.

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

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

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

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

Anyway, Polling Day is Jan 26.

A lot can happen between now and then.