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Moral authority

January 17, 2012 2 comments

I had a fun time reading and watching some of the parliament speeches, some of which makes me think real hard. Not about the reason high pay is required, because I don’t see a point in bringing up a topic to discuss when there’s nothing to discuss anyway.

The PM had already said that the government (or rather, himself) decided to accept the wage proposal created by a committee formed by himself and that the ‘whip’ will not be removed, meaning the majority PAP controlled parliament can only approve the proposal as well.  It’s akin to a school headmaster asking his fellow teachers to grade him for his performance but he can choose to approve whether that grade is acceptable. In other words, the PM grades himself. What I am really concern about is the capability and logic thinking skills of the various ‘talents’ the PAP government had ushered into the highest decision body in Singapore.

There is this unknown MP who calculates that an estimated 3.5 million Singaporeans pay only $1 each for the Prime Minister, and the PM is ‘kind enough’ to ‘sacrifice’ a hefty discount to take ‘only’ $2.2 million a year. I laughed. Going by that logic, the US President should be paid $300 million, the Indian PM should be paid $1.2 billion, and the Chinese Premier should expect $1.3 billion. That would mean every single head of state in the developed world is seriously underpaid. I smell a wisp of chao-tar curry in the air. Too much curry powder was added and the flame was overwhelming.

Another unknown MP re-paraphrase what the Deputy PM Teo Chee Heng had mentioned, about ‘not being fair’ to compare the salaries of other countries as other head of states enjoy hidden perks like housing, free air ticket, and (he emphasized the words) “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera”. If there are so many et ceteras, why couldn’t the MP simply list the figures down clearly? The emphasizes of et cetra without a concrete figure is vague and ambiguous. If you have the figures, back it up. If not, it’s empty speech.

One female MP talks about being unfair to measure politician salaries base on civil service salaries given the larger responsibilities and more important decision making politicians face. If salary is a measurement of responsibility, it would mean managing a $220 billion economy with a population of 5 million is more complicated and difficult than managing a $15 trillion economy with a population of 300 million, never mind the other factors such as natural disasters and strong labor unions when we compare Singapore and USA.

The fact that only 1 PAP MP Ms Denis Phua raised concerns about the revised salary structure reeks of Group Think and reluctance to challenge the decisions made by the PM within the PAP–the very idea of nonexistence of impartiality in a dominating PAP parliament. The PM said that it is still possible to have healthy debates in a PAP dominated parliament during the last General Election. Obviously, it’s not true. All in all, it sent a shiver down my spine to think that these are the so called ‘talents’ that the PAP is pursuing to lead the country.

The PM mentioned that Singapore is extraordinary. Yes, we are extraordinarily open to foreigners. We are extraordinarily friendly to various corporations. And we pay our political leaders extraordinarily well. While self-praising themselves as extraordinary elites and insinuating that without the PAP, Singapore will deteriorate, the deterioration process has already started proven from the recent problems haunting the country. The many years of self-serving elitism had eschewed on whatever remaining moral the old PAP had build up. The new PAP is an obsessed financier that place a price tag on everything, mix with his own people, benchmark his performance on growing the bank account even if it means structuring products that would cause harm to his clients as long as his own profits increase, and measure his capability in dollars and zeros. In the logic of PAP, a high pay equates to talent and vice versa.

If the logic is true, is it not only fair for Singaporeans to have extraordinary expectations? So why aren’t Singaporeans enjoying an extraordinary life? In fact, I don’t think that Singaporeans have an extraordinary expectation of their government. I remembered a time when most Singaporeans are contented about the PAP government until the foreigners, transportation, housing and cost of living issues started brewing in the beginning of the new millennium.

Despite all that explanation, the PM and Deputy PM’s reasoning are flawed. Singapore is a larger entity than the PAP. The PM’s reasoning simply means that the PAP is unable to find talents without paying top dollar. It does not mean that Singapore is unable to find talents without paying top dollar. It is important that we are conscious that the PAP might not govern Singapore forever. The fact that we have Chen Show Mao, a Harvard grad and Rhodes Scholar to give up a top paying job as a partner of a top lawyer firm renowned world-wide to take up a MP position in the opposition camp, is the perfect example of what a real sacrifice should be. Not those calculative ‘sacrifices’ espoused by unproven, mostly ex-civil servants or ex-top management of government-linked companies that only managed to hop on the coat tails of PAP into parliament.

I view the discussion of the ministerial salary as a valuable chance for the PAP government to regain whatever credibility they have lost over the last few years. What I witnessed is reluctance to go for bold changes and speeches that makes me question the capabilities and real reason for joining politics of the various ‘elected’ MPs and ministers of the ruling party. It seems that the PAP is not only extraordinarily generous in rewarding themselves, they are also extraordinary in one aspect: the lack of moral authority.

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Money Issues

January 5, 2012 4 comments

So the recent proposal of salary amendment was released and obviously many people aren’t satisfied about it. Personally, I don’t find the cut satisfactory when using an international benchmark (comparing vis-a-vis the responsibility by leaders of other countries) but the results are pretty much within expectation. A drastic cut would literally cut away at whatever harmony and morale left in the PAP government, and an internal disintegration would be worse than leaving a portion of citizens being unsatisfied. After all, they still have 4 more years to prove their worth.

In addition, there is not much margin left to cut considering that the top management of Government-Linked-Companies are already earning a very high salary. It doesn’t make sense for the CEO of SMRT or Singtel to earn more than a minister (at least in PAP logic, although CEO of Keppel group seemed to be paid more than a minister in a good year when bonus and options are included). In fact, the entire pay structure of top civil servants would prevent a humongous cut from happening since our permanent secretary alone (and I haven’t add in the bonuses) earns more than the U.S. president. In a way, it’s like a domino. If you want a truly significant reduction, it would mean slicing all the way down to the civil servants, which is actually a bad thing if you ask me.

However, I must say that the salary cut is a good step towards a more democratic society, where an increasingly vociferous population is snatching back power monopolized by the government. The only issue I have is the ridiculous bonus scheme. Even if the new proposal is adopted, the maximum bonus is still more than 14 months–a scheme that is so rare in the private sector. In typical oxymoron fashion, the government benchmark their pay to the (top earners of the) private sector but devised a bonus scheme that is out of this world (the current scheme allows bonus up to more than 24 months). The proposed benchmark based on 4 factors sounds valid but there is a deeper sinister meaning:

  1. GDP growth—ok, so GDP growth still plays a part
  2. Unemployment rate—since S’pore’s unemployment rate is forever so low (since the 80s!), GDP still plays the major part. Why do you think there are so many foreigners? The country’s problem is not enough workers, not not enough jobs. For this, I commended the government for doing such a great job in pulling in companies to set up businesses in Singapore (that policies is almost crafted solely to meet business owners/ MNCs’ needs)
  3. Median Income of TOP 1000 Singaporeans income earners—bias policy might be created to favor this elite group. We already see the chairman of the Real Estate Developer Association of Singapore to have the cheek to warn (and threaten) an economic downturn and asset devaluation due to new property cooling measures. And again, it’s about pushing through the GDP express train so that the top earners would benefit. I foresee greater income disparity.
  4. Real growth in bottom 20% of income earners—This sounds politically right. But basically, all you need to do is to increase foreign workers levy which makes it more expensive to hire cheaper foreign labor, score some political point for correcting a policy that Singaporeans don’t like, and indirectly force some companies to pay a higher pay to Singaporeans. Or, the government can simply introduce minimum wage policy, score more political points and raise the bottom earners by a few dollars. At such low salary, any increment would be significant. When you are earning $800 a month, a $50 increment would translate to 6.25% jump in income.

If you look closely, the essence of the policy doesn’t change. It is still about the economy. It is still mainly about money. Point 2 is easily achieved going by the current low Singaporean population and the low replacement rate. Point 4 can be easily achieved too. And point 1 and 2 is solely on driving the economic train. In fact, points 1,2 & 3 go hand in hand together. You can’t get one without the other two. While I admit economic growth is important, the idealistic me would rather see benchmarks such as improving health-care (made even more important in an aging society) and public goods such as transportation (yes, I definitely feel that a ‘nationalized’ bus and train service is still the responsibility of LTA. If not, why would we even need a minister of transport?) and housing (a major problem). How about replacing point 2 & 3 with population control (measurable), waiting time of public transportation (measurable), and waiting time to get and affordability of a HDB flat (also measurable) since such factors directly affect most Singaporeans?

In the meantime, we yet see another minister who just could not keep her mouth shut and start spouting stupid comments. Grace Fu, in yet another ungraceful ‘PAP-style-I am misinterpreted’ episode (see here) could do better to keep her opinion to herself. Why would she comment that pay is not a major factor when at the same time insinuate a lower pay scale would mean a lower standard of living? On the other hand, maybe I should commend her on her honesty and bravery for not deleting the post (or maybe she realized netizens would have screen saved it any way).

This is not the first time we have seen how politically ‘unsavvy’ PAP candidates are…maybe they need EQ lessons, provided they have some emotional quotient left in their brain.

P.S. I wasted a few minutes of my life reading through the recent post by Tin Pei Ling. In a new year, I was hoping for some improvement. Yet, I see another noble-sounding post that didn’t add value to my time spent. And while more than 80% of the essay is about what is already being done and how the ‘Community’ is helping and ‘reaching out’ to the public, the last paragraph talks about not depending on the government. Isn’t it an irony? An MP of the ruling government asking the public not to depend on the government while taking in $190,000 a year.

Listening, a skill the PAP needs to learn

July 4, 2011 2 comments

I am reposting this article from TOC. It’s a completely honest piece of work and it speaks much of how I feel too. I have mentioned in my earlier post that I do not think much  of MG (NS) Chan Chun Sing. While he came from a humble background, much of his humility had been corrupted by his smooth sailing life as a top-down speaking, high earning and powerful army high flier and politician.

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Dear MG (NS) Chan

I was one of the audience who attended the dialogue held yesterday by the YPAP and I am writing this letter directly to you to address some of the points that you have raised as it is obvious that you do not bother to read views on the Internet at all. They may sound rudely raw, but these are my most honest comments to you as a Minister in the government of the day.

May I ask if you know the meaning of a Dialogue? Is it either that you didn’t bother to check up the agenda of the session or you innocently do not know the meaning of a dialogue? For even your fellow comrades Abner Koh and Teo Ser Luck agree (after speaking to them), this one-way talking down session you conducted is certainly not one. Your presumptuous arrogance says you know it all and though your fanciful analogies make good laughing entertainment, they are disconnected and incomparable to whatever point you put across.

We are not there to listen to your whinings of how unconstructive the online media is or your aspirations as a politician or the PAP’s manner of governance. That was not a Dialogue I attended yesterday, it was a Lecture. We were there to listen, not interact. If you feel like giving a speech or a lecture, please conduct one at the Speakers’ Corner. The 2 hour one-man session is at best an irritating off-topic load of hot air. Your moderator Abner Koh looks like a stupid young lieutenant standing by you waiting on you by the stage. To give you due credit, you did put in some convincing one-liners but judging from what the PAP has done in the past 10 years, it is at best unsubstantiated political doublespeak to support PAP’s agenda.

Demonizing the New Media

“How many of you are proud of the discussions we have on the Internet these days? Raise up your hands (Kee Chiu)”

Excellent question, you have fully utilized the shyness of the general audience to prove your flawed perception that the quality of New Media’s discussions we have today is shameful and not worth taking a second look at. If your purpose is to run down people and have pro-government views praising your every move, please do it on the Straits Times. You called for the audience to reclaim their space. What do you mean by “reclaiming” their space? The Internet is nobody’s space and nobody is interested in being a government mouthpiece (unless of course you pay somebody to do it).

We netizens write for an altruistic cause, serving no personal agendas and solely for the nation’s interest (Temasek Review Emeritus almost closed down this July without the $30 000 fundings it raised). Compared to the mainstream media, the New Media is just in their cause and a true Singaporean avenue for Singaporeans by Singaporeans. Teo Ser Luck told me the mainstream media have improved, yes I agree they have, but not to the standards of calling themselves “balanced” and “objective”. Without the rise of popular socio-civic websites and blogs, would the mainstream media have improved?

The PAP only realize the power of the New Media when independent socio-civic website  Temasek Review Emeritus managed to send a team into Ang Mo Kio GRC by raising $32 000 in a night over Facebook. You can continue to sideline existing netizens and deem us as an online community of daft Singaporean noises, or work with us. It is your choice.

I-know-best

Your condescending attitude towards Singaporeans’ alternative voices in the “dialogue” is putting off. We do not have to be reminded that something is in place for a purpose in the first place, and we are not calling for ALL policies to be changed overnight. Your shallow statements display how narrow-minded and ignorant you are of netizens who are already engaging in high level reasonable discussions that you are calling for. When you speak about fundamentals of Singapore, I wonder if you yourself know of Singapore 101 yourself.

You speak like as if that only the PAP has a monopoly of ideas and in-depth understanding of our society. If this has been so, would we see such deepening political division of our people? Is there any notion that only you as a PAP Elite Million Dollar Minister understand that we Singaporeans can never fathom? Your military experience has proven irrelevant to political leadership and you simply can’t lead without a disciplinary law the like of a SAF Act. We are not soldiers who will abide your every biddings and we citizens do not owe you, the government a living.

This is my very objective article I have promised Teo Ser Luck and I look forward to you conducting a real dialogue and please, for once, shut up and listen. You are not a consultant and we are not consulting you. Rather, you hold this dialogue because you are consulting us, the people, not the other way round. A dialogue is an exchange between 2 party of different interests. If you think a dialogue is a waste of time, don’t attend one. We don’t need you in any way. You deem yourself a man of practicality, but your delivery failed to achieve PAP’s self-proclamation of engaging and listening to the people. Or is listening to the citizens impractical? I urge you to learn more from Khaw Boon Wah who is working 24/7 working his head off to taking real tangible actions in implementations. Tharman, even though uncovered, has silently tightened up the foreign labor employment to create more jobs for locals. Even Lui Tuck Yew bothered to wayang by having his photos taken on buses and trains (it would be absurd if you don’t realize anyone taking a photo of you hahah) when transport fares are still going up and our public transport is still as crowded.

Your Ministry today, has made no changes for the underprivileged and sports. What have you done for the Community? We still see plenty of Singaporean elderly begging on the streets everywhere and scavenging rubbish for a living. Foreigners integration is still a problem even after the government throw $10 Million dollars at it (I am not asking you to throw more money at it, throwing money don’t solve problems). What have you done for the Youths? Most have become an apathetic lot and resigned to fate under the government(perhaps this has all along been your agenda?) Facing bleak employment prospects, rising cost of living, diminishing quality of life, an impossible retirement and other social insecurities, how can you blame Youths for being anti-PAP on the Internet?

What have you done for Sports? Your underperforming and overpaid Foreigners sports “talents” are not winning medals and our locals sports talents are not invested into. Singaporeans are still disinterested in sports of any kind, except soccer – not the S-League that is full of foreign player jokers of course. With this starry performance in the past 5 weeks, you are not fit to be a MCYS Minister and please scram back to the army talking down NSFs and Reservists. As your PAP comrade Lim Wee Kiak put it, you need not listen to me as I do not earn a million dollars and I don’t even have a single bit of dignity discussing policies with you.

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A Singaporean Economic Digit.

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Pte (NS) Alex Tan Zhixiang

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The PAP needs to learn to listen instead of expecting the new modern citizens to listen to them. New media is changing everything. If they think that is ‘dialogue’, I don’t see many more good years for them in the coming elections.

Uncle Tony will be Singapore’s next President

July 3, 2011 4 comments

As expected, George Yeo gave way for Uncle Tony in the running for President and Nathan is sick of being an old puppet. I don’t know about you but I honestly think that if George Yeo is to run, his chance of winning is higher than Uncle Tony. George Yeo is well liked and he had earned sympathy points during the last GE. Uncle Tony, on the other hand, is only known as one of the silver hair old guards, highly loyal and strategically placed in SPH (which is supposedly the ‘national security and media control’ in disguise), rarely seen in the spotlight.

How many of you actually believe that Uncle Tony will be impartial? While the PAP insist that they have yet to endorse any candidate and Tony Tan is running as an independent candidate, the recent waves of praise from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long, various MPs (many whom I have never heard of their names anyway) and tonnes of ‘advertisements’ from the local media is nothing short of an official endorsement by the PAP government. Uncle Tony is PAP’s god-given. He is ONE OF THEM. Non-confrontational (since I reckon he is one of the old guards that formulate the current imperialistic system anyway) and a typical PAP leader.

All of us knows that the president of Singapore is nothing but a puppet figure. If the PAP is really keen on the idea that the President post is created to protect the country’s reserves, they should allow an independent figure, independent from PAP, to stand as President. What check is there on the PAP government if the president is one of their minions? You mean the check is only applicable to NON-PAP governments? In my opinion, the presidency is yet another scheme that should be discarded. What use is a puppet president with $3 million of tax payer’s money wasted and only appears to do charities, handshakes and parade around the stadium every national day celebration?

The idea that the next government might waste hard earned reserves by the previous government (referring to the PAP themselves) is to chastise voters as idiots who can’t make a rational choice of their preferred government. Why is only the PAP government allowed to play around with the reserves, wasting it on losses in investments and all profits never made their way back to the budget to assist Singaporeans???? The fact that the PAP is reluctant to disclose the reserves is not so much of a national security issue. It is more of a PAP-security issue as they do not want their ugly losses and wastage disclosed to the public. What a shame. This presidency episode is making me view the PAP with much more negativity.

What happens when you tried to outsource a high demand product – Property

June 18, 2011 2 comments

I can never understand why would the government want to outsource a PUBLIC housing to a PRIVATE company that would later price the public housing to PRIVATE market prices. So instead of a ‘market rate’ for only resale flats, we now have market rate for NEW public housing. What’s the point of offering ‘better fitted furnishings’ when it comes at such a high price?

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Source: http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_680819.html

$880,000: Priciest HDB flats launched in Tampines

THE priciest-ever new HDB flats went up for sale yesterday under a Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) development launched in Tampines.

The most expensive five-room flats at Centrale 8 by developer Sim Lian will set buyers back a cool $880,000.

That works out to a whopping $750 per square foot – a price tag more often seen on suburban condominiums.

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said he did a double take when he first heard about the prices.

‘No doubt it’s in Tampines, which is a mature estate with many good things going for it, but it is still extremely high for a public housing flat,’ he said.

DBSS flats are public housing units designed and built by private-sector developers and they typically come with more luxurious fittings.

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Just because you add in a few ‘luxurious fittings’ doesn’t substantial the $880,000 price tag on a PUBLIC housing that is essentially owned by HDB! This is what happen when you naively think that that it’s fine to let a private company handle a public project and let it charge whatever price it deemed necessary to get some ‘reasonable’ return. A 5-room BTO in Yishun doesn’t cost more than $450-500,000. The nearby DBSS in the exact same area as Centrale 8 cost somewhere from $3-550,000 for a new 5-room flat a few years ago. And here you have a DBSS in Tampines costing almost twice of that. If even a PropNex chief executive couldn’t believe his ears and eyes upon knowing the price tag, there MUST be something wrong with such pricing.

Ultimately, the ones who gains are Sim Lian and the government. Those who end up buying the most expensive units in Centrale 8 (what a stupid name anyway, like Tampines Central or Junction 8 or something) end up paying excessive consumer surplus and saddled in more debts. Not for a private property. But for a public flat. While the location is attractive, the ROI is not. You are better off buying some $300-400,000 5-room flat in some other places and sell it at the market rate of $5-600,000 a few years down the road. Saying that, I must reiterate that most people who stay in public housing do not usually speculate on their property for investment and would stay for a long time.

Even Pinnacle at Duxton, the mother of all DBSS and a much better location than Centrale 8, wasn’t priced at that range when it was first built. The danger is with the impending raise in income ceiling for flats, demand will increase. The current supply crunch will also almost guarantee the Centrale 8 would be snapped up regardless of the crazy prices. The real danger, however, is the price point would be increased for future DBSS projects.

Once again, you have the most ridiculous project undergone under the Minister of National Development’s ward.

George Yeo not running for President

June 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Why am I not surprised to hear this news. For one, that’s an older bird called Tony Tan who might be running for presidency. For another, being a minister means George Yeo fully understands what a symbolic presidency status means in this country and the limitations to his freedom if he ever jumped into this highly lucrative job.

Categories: PAP candidates

Slower Economic growth = Lower starting pay for Singaporeans?

May 30, 2011 1 comment

I saw this post on TR where our new Minister of National Development stated:

Speaking during a youth forum held at Woodlands Community Club yesterday, Mr Khaw was asked by some in the audience about the large numbers of foreigners in Singapore to which he replied:

“We thought (taking foreigners in) was important to bring wages to people’s pockets, so that we can grow as fast as we can… (and) catch up with other countries. But now, we get the message that ‘we don’t want so much growth, that we are prepared to accept slower growth’”

“It actually affects the youth immediately, because when you slow down growth, it means that job opportunities also come down (and) starting pay also comes down”.

I did not verify this statement but I think it’s mostly accurate. But does slower economic growth = lower starting pay? I think this is a ridiculous statement. In labor economics, pay rate is determined by (what else?) labor supply and demand. Of course, as mentioned in one of my earlier posts, there are also other factors that come into play. For an open economy, an influx of cheaper labor force is known to force down pay rates as labor supply increased (and these cheaper labor force is willing to take on a lower pay rate than locals). Having a slower economic GROWTH, as long as it is still growing, does not mean lower starting pay. Having economic growth also means inflationary pressure. So even if real wage does not increase, nominal wage increase is very likely. Going by this logic, if the government opens the flood gates to allow in similarly skilled foreign workers that could easily substitute local fresh graduates, discounting the fact that there are laws in place to prevent blatant hiring of foreigners, it is still possible to see lower starting pay for Singaporeans despite higher economic growth fueled by all that extra foreign professionals.

If you are trained in a highly niche area and in high demand, such as doctors, your starting pay will not go down. But if you are displaced by technology or cheaper labor force, that is a different story. Price has this special characteristic of being sticky. When is the last time you see things actually becoming cheaper as the economy grows? Decreasing wages in a growing economy is counter-intuitive and it is not possible. Why would a worker be willing to accept lower wages and bonus if the company is earning more in an expansionary economy?

I view such statements with much discontent as it was cunningly delivered in a threatening tone. Mr Khaw is basically threatening: Support pro-foreigner policy or be prepared to suffer in your take home pay. When, when, when, when, when will the PAP ever really understand that money is not everything and the REAL REASONS for demanding slower influx of foreigners by Singaporeans?

Categories: PAP candidates