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Mr Lui should just shut up

December 14, 2012 8 comments

That is my kind advice. Repeated attempts to explain something that sounds wrong only made it sound even worse.

If raising fares also meant improving service standards, can the Minister of Transport explain how is it that service levels continue to deteriorate after all these years of fare increase? Since past increment in fares actually translate into worsening service standards, history obviously shows that a rise in fares will not improve service standards. Service standard is also not simply achieved by paying bus captains more. It is a combination of reasonable fares, timeliness of buses, training, bus captain’s personal service, efficient planning of bus routes etc.

If the minister is concern about ‘keeping transport operators commercially viable’, he need not worry. SMRT and SBS continue to earn great profits and even manage to generously give out dividends to shareholders after a year of breakdowns and accidents; thanks to it’s monopolistic position and PAP’s generous transfer of $1.1 billion from the tax payers’ pockets (that could have been used for public projects) to capital owners, investors and of course, the bulk of which goes to Temasek Holdings. And can someone remind Cambridge educated Mr Lui commercially viable does not equate huge profits (with the cheek to hand out dividends after a government bail out)?

Then Mr Lui goes on to say that having leaving the public transport operator privatized would meant more efficiency and depend less on tax-payers’ money. Is it any more efficient now? Has it not also depended on tax payers’ money? So despite government subsiding the public has to pay even more? Ever heard of double taxation? Is there any difference in money coming directly from the tax payers’ pockets and indirectly as subsidy from the government? Either way it’s financed by the public. The only nightmare is taxpayers are paying it BOTH ways. How is the current situation of the government subsidizing $1,100,000,000.00 any different from being nationalized?

What this smart minister said doesn’t seem to make much sense: “He said taking the populist approach of avoiding fare increases completely and pushing it onto public transport operators will give the operators no incentive to be efficient and provide better service for commuters.” In order to survive, the operators have to think of other ways if fares are not increased. Sometimes creative ways. Sometimes it may simply be a reduction in costs in other aspects, such as drop out some useless board of directors (see link, and think for yourself how has that entourage of government linked personnel contributed anything constructive in ensuring the past failures did not happen) and use that millions in director fees saved to increase the pay of the bus captains. I’ll tell you what would not give the operators any incentive to improve standards–Government guarantee of survival and profitability. Not just being ‘commercially viable’, but ‘huge profits’. Being a monopoly in train transport and free money from the government going into the billions, why should SMRT has the motivation or incentive to become better?

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And let the troubles roll

December 12, 2012 2 comments

The SMRT saga continues and all I see are denials and denials and denials. Where are the transparency and conversation the government sought to have? Where are the substances in all these conversation?

Touching down back to this sunny (or rather, rainy) island, the first thing the taxi driver yanked about is the failure of SMRT. Never mind that the recent sagas had created a deep distrust in the government handling of a private transport operator that had conflicting invested interest by the government itself, the transport minister goes on to showcase his EQ deficiency and insensitiveness in announcing the need to raise fares in order for SMRT to offer higher pay to attract Singaporeans to work as drivers.

And to the great embarrassment to any citizen of this ‘fine’ country, we have $15,000 a month MPs (see link) who are incapable of stringing logical answers and statements, flabbergasting in a stammer of nonsensical and heavily Singlish flavored replies that speaks zero confidence, absence of factual evidence, and simply devoid of intelligence. One can easily sense the great denial going on. When you can’t convince, you try to confuse, even though that’s a rather bad job done. I would rather hire Sarah Paulin as an MP. At least she knows the simple logic of Russia and Alaska being pretty near one another. How on earth did the great PAP ended up with minions like these?

Firstly, SMRT got someone who had not a single day experience in transport management to head a major transport company that offers public bus services. How is that risk assessed or approved is anyone’s guess. A few years down the road, it became obvious that Singapore Mass Rapid Transport is turning into SuperMaRkeT Inc with all that focus on retail rather than the core business in transport. Sure, revenue increased, which is a good thing for shareholders, notwithstanding that fares were still being raised in the face of “ever increasing cost in fuel and wages” despite increasing profits. Consequentially, failures of the train system came one after another, another after another.

The answer provided by the Ministry of Transport, which seems to have been sleeping on for years, is to spend more tax payer’s money in creating some random council to assist an entire ministry in solving SMRT’s problem. Why then do we even need a ministry for in the first place? Are all these people working in the ministry so useless they have to get additional resources to remedy something that they should be overseeing all this while? Lawyer fees were incurred, effort and thousands of hours later, it simply culminated in a muffed blaming game; in the hope of boomeranging the responsibility on the already guilty transport operator away from the government.  What I see is simply a show, a boring show by script writers who slaved away in MediaCorp’s cubicle box paid for by tax payers.

Turning back to an ex-military 3-star general to solve the current issue signified the depth of buried head the government had. Further stepping up on the bureaucracy ladder, this ex-general intend to rope in his soon-to-be-retired colleagues in the military. Isn’t it funny yet somehow familiar at how the military becomes the magic pill that “should” set things right. It’s simply a matter of going back to how things used to work before all that drama. Since things were fine headed by an ex-military honcho in the past, it must work in today’s time right? I’m baffled by the simplicity solution the government sought to create.  Anyone who had experience in the military will know that it is not the most efficient organization around. Appointing people who used to direct tanks and heavy vehicles to manage a nation-wide transport system isn’t really the wisest thing if you ask me. To be fair, time should reveal how capable our military is.

While the government stands by the view that public transport operators should be left privatized in order to achieve ‘efficiency’, they are slapping themselves in their face by indirectly admitting that the government, as a public serving body, is not efficient. Well, that’s pretty obvious going by the waste of tax payer’s money in the recent Procurement saga where there’s no logistical expert, no due diligence and no controls on spending money on the various ministries and statutory boards. How privatize is SMRT in the first place when the government is free to insert their own people as and when it deemed necessary? If simply being privatized equates efficiency and profitability, maybe the ministers, with their highly decorated accolades and degrees from prestigious universities care to explain the reason SMRT failed, or any other privatized firms such as the major banks failures in recent years.

Although “privatized”, the government goes on to use $1.1 billion of tax payer’s money to assist these transport operators to upgrade their infrastructure and procure new vehicles. $1.1 billion, that’s 1,100 million. It’s not a small figure mind you. It is equivalent to more than 8 years SMRT’s profit. How is such a huge amount approved so easily and so fast amazed me. All the more amazing when the PAP has always been reluctant to spend even an additional couple of millions more on healthcare and aid for the unfortunate.

In another showcase of efficiency, or rather, the lack of thorough debate and discussion with a fast approval in Parliament, the citizens of this island state are coerced to bail out a company that feeds profits to the government. In theory, privatized companies do perform better as they have a bottom line to take care of. By taking away that urgency to take care of bottom line, the government is signaling that SMRT will be guaranteed survival. Well, not only survival, the government goes an extra length to signify their willingness to guarantee profitability, even at the expense of the real shareholders—the citizens funding the entire infrastructure upgrade and bus procurement. The issue is not a matter of market failure and treating it with a useless tagline of ‘privatization’ when it is in essence heavily subsidized by public funds. The real issue is a Principle-agent problem, exacerbated by common interests between the government’s investment arm and the problematic company in question.  In essence, tax payers are paying for their own buses and bus captains and paying on top of it extra premium to ensure shareholders (ie Temasek Holdings) get their fatty pay check and bonuses. What choices do the common man and woman down the street has?

P.S. At the time PAP experienced WP’s episode of ‘unfaithful MPs’, we see Low Thai Kiang reacting to crafty interview questions (read between the lines how those questions posed are designed to bait certain answers) with ease and style. Why can’t the PAP ever learn their PR skills?

It’s never their fault

July 21, 2012 4 comments

I haven’t been writing much due to work commitments. But after a long day at work on a weekend, the last thing I wish to read is news like this:

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Source: Channelnewsasia

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has cautioned Singaporeans to pay attention to new fault lines that have appeared between new citizens and native Singaporeans.

Speaking at Teck Ghee Community Club’s racial harmony celebrations, Mr Lee said new citizens may be ethnically similar, but fault lines may develop as the new citizens have different norms, habits and attitudes.

So he said Singaporeans must watch out for instances of social friction, especially online.

Mr Lee said new citizens and those born in Singapore must work together to ensure that differences do not affect social stability.

“The new arrivals – to embrace the Singapore values and norms and try and fit in as Singaporeans. And Singaporeans – to encourage the new ones to integrate, to help the new ones to fit in.”

In his speech, PM Lee reminded Singaporeans the reason for racial harmony celebrations.

He cited the two racial riots of 1964 when Singapore was part of the Federation of Malaysia. The riots left more than 30 dead, 500 injured and thousands arrested.

Looking back, Mr Lee said Singapore has come a long way but challenges remain.

He pointed out that the ease of joining online communities amplifies intolerant views as people are less restrained in cyberspace.

Mr Lee said the peace that Singapore now enjoys did not happen by chance, but by pure effort and deliberate policies.

These include ensuring equality, meritocracy and setting up institutions like the Presidential Council for Minority Rights and the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony to protect those groups’ interests.

And it’s important to continue to do so.

PM Lee said: “In normal times, we get along well together, but when there’s a crisis for example, if there’s a terrorist attack, then even though we’re under pressure, stay together and we don’t pull apart.”

So as the population becomes more diverse, Singaporeans will have to work harder at keeping social cohesion.

Mr Lee added, that perhaps Singaporeans can start today.

“Today of course, is the first day of Ramadan, and we wish our Muslim friends a happy fasting month and I hope you’ll accept your Muslim friends’ invitation to visit them during the month of Ramadan, if they invite you to break fast with them, take the opportunity to invite them for dinner the next time if you can,” he said.

And bit-by-bit, he said, this will keep the Singapore society harmonious.

– CNA/ck

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The issue between Singaporeans and foreigners is not a race issue in my opinion. It is simply locals versus aliens. And this is a result of the PAP government’s blatant disregard for population control. So much so that a party that is never known for acknowledging their own wrong doings (except in dire circumstances such as election; and even regarding the MRT breakdown issues, the government fell short of admitting their oversight) was forced to gave explanations to the citizens.

Can one say one is racist if a Singaporean Chinese does not see eye to eye with a China Chinese? How can a Indian (Singaporean) be racist against another Indian (from India)? While the issue today is similar, it is of a different context. Lumping it into a racial issue that happened in 1964 is misleading and irresponsible.

In addition, while I admit online views tend to be raw with less careful selection of words, maybe the PAP government should reflect whether that is the doing of suppressed freedom of speech and a state controlled media. And maybe they should reflect on their own policy making capabilities. In the 80s, they blame Singaporeans for having too many kids and implemented the stop at 2 policy. When the policy became so successful, they blame Singaporeans for not having enough kids and created policies that disadvantaged singles. Now that incentives doesn’t seem to work (much to the dismay of the government who seems to think money would work wonders going by how their policies are always created around monetary incentives and punishments), they bring in so many foreigners and are pushing the responsibility of social harmony to the locals.

P.S.: I wish to find time to write about the seemingly circus show displayed by the so-called Public Transportation Council. And the entire tai-ji-ing of responsibilities around as a show of display — a smoke screen ‘proof’ the government is doing something even though it amounts to nothing except using tax payers money to assist the closely government linked companies to help themselves (yeah, it is actually circular logic). It baffled me to see a government creating councils out of thin air (from the same pool of people who had connections or had a hand in the various government agencies) whenever there are any problems to ”investigate, judge and help” agencies that is supposed to be the one doing the job of regulation and governance.

When aliens got too many

April 28, 2012 Leave a comment

To be fair, I wouldn’t know if this post is posted deliberately. After all, in this social media society, it’s pretty easy to raise tensions. And I am sure this post had made it’s round in Facebook, TR, TOC and other social media platform , and you have most probably read it:

Apparently, this pinoy loves Tamil shows

Talk about complaining, this pinoy has surpassed the average Singaporeans! A talent indeed.

This facebook comment is waiting to be criticized, especially at such heightened tensions between true blue Singaporeans and aliens. But then again, I have witnessed foreigners (not only among the Pinoy communities I have to stress) who had displayed similar attitudes as Angelo.

It is natural for people such as Angelo to feel threatened by the growing vociferous Singaporeans. At the same time, I think it is callous and insensitive for a foreigner (treated even so for new citizens) to overplay their importance. From another post, I have indicated how under appreciated Singaporeans are and how the government is not helping, but are actually worsening the notion that foreign talents are extremely important to the nation. The corollary is even foreigners are perpetually believing in their own self-importance and superiority over citizens of the country they are working in. In my opinion, the ‘talent’ word should simply be scraped. But doing so will blunt the PAP’s assertion that more foreign workers are required.

In a short 10 years since the policy of opening the flood gates to foreigners, the aliens have changed from a position of being silent on local politics to one that tried to lecture Singaporeans to welcome aliens like themselves (and applauding the PAP government that allowed them to enter Singapore) as they grow from a few thousands to millions. Never mind that they left their own country and are unwelcoming of Singapore’s culture evidenced by their unwillingness to assimilate thanks to their growing numbers.

For me, it is a very sad thing. The Singapore culture, which the PAP government doesn’t seem to understand nor recognize (since the ex-president actually commented before that there is no Singaporean culture), is slowly dissolving. As a young nation, it has taken many decades for the 4 major races to assimilate to one another creating the by-product of Singlish with the smattering of different dialects and languages in a communication tool that is unique in this world (Malaysia comes close although Malay is still the dominant language).

What the government has done is essentially destroying the social fabric in exchange of cheap economic growth driven by solely labor input. The argument of the importance of economic growth will always be correct since it’s simply about rising numbers. But is building a nation only about the economy? Even though I am economically trained, I choose to look at problems from the normative point of view. Singapore is a country, not just a city. Without a doubt, the PAP government is one that is without a soul. They only recognize numbers, symbols that mean tangible calculation. It is extremely difficult for them to understand things that cannot be seen. What they failed to recognize, is the intangible cost of social disruption and the rising daily social tension cost between the local and the aliens.

HDB flats: Public housing left to private market forces. SBS: Private company funded by public funds

February 22, 2012 9 comments

Competition

I mentioned earlier that the McKinsey study also mentioned the term perfect competition as one of the key to improve productivity. The fundamental idea is also simple. Under a perfect competition environment, companies are forced to outdo one another to survive. Inefficient and ineffective companies are naturally displaced by stronger opponents who could generate more output at the same or even lower input. A stronger company would also most likely mean a more productive company. More importantly, consumers get to enjoy a better quality and/or lower cost product. In essence, a competitive environment is important for productivity to thrive.

Singapore has been a great place to do business. There are many rules and regulations that build a strong system that allows businesses to compete freely. Yet, we see that such regulations are selectively applied. One industry stands out in terms of controversy and complexity when we tried to apply the word competition–None other than the transportation sector.

Many Singaporeans, including myself, were peeved when we were told that the government is co-funding $1.1 billion to help so called privatized bus companies procure buses. Many questioned the reason for the government to use public funds to assist private companies. While the intention is good, to improve the current crunch on public transport, it is not unreasonable to question whether such direct assistance is appropriate.

By co-funding, it is akin to a direct transfer of $1.1 billion worth of assets (to be depreciated over many years) to SBS/ SMRT. These are valuable resources that can generate a lot more income for ComfortDelgro and SMRT. For people who are unaware, SBS is mostly owned by ComfortDelgro, and the majority shareholder of both ComfortDelgro and SMRT happens to be Temasek Holdings. If the government insists that it is best to let the companies go private and operate in a free market, why did the government decided to interfere?

Public funds go into private companies to generate more income for shareholders. The balance sheet of the transport companies got a boost and in time to come, the assets will generate more income to the profit and loss statements. Shareholders (including the government) of the transportation companies rejoiced. In the meantime, the commoners down the street did not reap any benefit from this capital injection. One can argue that the people benefit from lower waiting time for buses. However, there is also the possibility of slower traveling buses since the roads are already so congested. Simply adding more buses onto the road do not seem like the wisest move I would expect from the legion of scholars within the Civil Service.  The opportunity cost of such a huge amount of money is almost limitless.

In my opinion, the government should loan out the $1.1 billion instead of simply giving it away. After all, we are talking about healthy privatized transportation companies. From the media release by ComfortDelgro, full year revenue in 2011 increased by 6.4% to reach $3.41 billion, and net profit increased by 3.1% to $235.6 million. The Singapore taxi operations increased 7.6% to $748.7 million due to higher rental income from a larger fleet and increase in new replacement taxis. Bus revenue also increased 3.1% to $566.1 million as average daily ridership grew by 6%.

All these figures are respectable numbers. As such, I don’t see the rational to give these privatized companies such a huge amount of money for free. With more bus comes greater operating cost. Will the transport companies then again cite operating cost increase to justify their fee hike? If the money is to be loaned to the companies with interest, the returns from the loan can be put to better use that benefit the general public.

It seems that a government backed monopolistic position of SBS and SMRT has left the companies inefficient, inflexible and ineffective. Many people quoted Hong Kong and Taiwan, where the public transportation system seems to function better and smoother than Singapore even though the fares are lower despite the fact that the companies are nationalized (and they survive). With the government supporting these companies as the largest shareholder and even allow capital transfer easily from the country’s treasury, it is not difficult to see why our transportation companies had ballooned into a rigid, lurid semi-government agency that only serves the interest of the selected few. While the Worker’s Party Yaw Shin Leong incident was shamelessly trumpeted on local media in recent times, the media seems to be pretty quiet on this blatant transfer of public funds from one pocket to another, which to me is a more serious issue.

Government-linked companies like Singapore Airlines, Changi Airport and Keppel Corporations continue to do well amid intense competition from foreign companies, suggesting that free competition is good and government intervention is not required. The issue is straightforward. If the government wants to intervene with public funds, SBS and SMRT should be nationalized. If the companies remain as private entities, public funds should not be used.

Merry Christmas everybody!

December 24, 2011 Leave a comment

I just came back from holidays and was astonished at the kind of damage the PAP (or government-linked, however you wish to call it) has digged for themselves this christmas. Firstly, I would like to suggest to PAP/ pro-PAP members to stop more defensive moves that seems to create a larger hole. PUB’s classification of a flash flood as ‘ponding’ is uncalled for. A flood is a flood. Damage is done, shop owners are unhappy about monetary losses and public is unhappy to see their favorite shopping street ‘ponded’ again. Concrete actions are needed to solve the problem and they can stop playing with the English dictionary. And why are plans to widen the canals only be implemented next year? Where is the urgency since the flooding of Orchard Road SIX months ago??? Probably the top management at PUB are having fun clearing their leave after getting their fat bonuses.

MP Seng’s recent note to push the blame to TOC is also uncalled for. His own pathetic little speech with poor use of English (and yes, he was telling people that broken english is ok) language sparks a chain of youtube videos and complaints before TOC started publishing an article (sure, it’s bias, but what do you expect from a media that tends to be more bias against government controlled media? I also admit in my first post that my blog tend to be bias against the government for very obvious reasons). Such an article posted on Facebook (rather than coming on bravely on national TV) is not only cowardy but also speaks volume about his sincerity in apologizing for this episode. More importantly, it seems to insinuate utterly poor communication skills of the authorities.

So much for a ‘world class’ government.

Price up, up, up

December 5, 2011 4 comments

Is there any reason why nobody is feeling they have gained anything from the so called economic growth?

Just today, ComfortDelgro announced a ridiculous increase in taxi fares to ‘cater to higher demand’, just weeks after a price revision by SMRT and a report stating that transportation and accommodation are the two main drivers of inflation in Singapore. While I am not against price increase, the magnitude of increase this time round is jaw dropping.

As a summary, most prices (per unit, whether in minutes or meters) increased from almost 4% to 22%. Current booking of Limousine increased from $8 to $10 while advanced booking of limousine increased from $16 to $18.

While peak hour surcharge decreased from 35% to 25%, the hours extended from 7am-9am from Mon-Fri and 5pm-8pm from Mon-Sat to a ridiculous 6am-9am (excluding public holidays) and 6pm to MIDNIGHT Mon-Sun including public holidays. How on earth is 6am considered peak period baffles me. On the other hand, we have ministers asking the citizens to travel to work earlier (and gave some cents off your transport cost). If 6am is considered peak, I don’t know what is non-peak. It’s totally ridiculous.

Do you know what that means? It means you’ll forever be paying ‘premium prices’ from 6pm to 9am the following day. From 6pm to midnight, you have to pay 25% more. From midnight to 5:59am, you have to pay midnight surcharge of 50%. From 6am to 9am, you have to pay 25% more again. So according to ComfortDelgro, peak hours (including midnight demand) forms 15 hours a day.

The removal of holiday surcharge of the pathetic $1 is a joke.

The ComfortDelgro group is taking advantage of their monopolistic position to push prices up, and given their close connection to the government, we have the ‘National Taxi Association’ URGING other taxi companies to follow suit. Well, given that the big boy is taking the lead, other smaller taxi companies would just have to follow suit. The last thing I want to know is ComfortDelgro is increasing their rent to the taxi drivers (and probably quote the increasingly expensive COE and oil price (like when is oil price not a reason right?) as a reason).

The often used excuse is diesel oil price is increasing and the taxi group is ‘doing their part’ to ‘help’ the taxi drivers cope with the rising cost. While it’s true that diesel oil price is increasing, crude oil (the main factor affecting diesel) is no where near the price levels back in 2007 (the so called last price adjustment). The economic outlook is pretty dim given all the US and Europe financial problems. And the company has strategically opted to increase prices before you feel your wallet shrinking. If the company is sincere in helping the taxi drivers, why don’t they lower their obscene rental rates?

Who are the losers? Consumers of course. With local transportation fully monopolized by government linked companies, consumers don’t have much of a choice. What is made even worse is the sub-par trains and bus services we have that is overwhelmed by the increasing population. While SBS and SMRT loves to self-praise themselves as world class, they are not comparable to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. Even the taxi drivers might end up losing as the higher price will kill off more demand which might leads to lower pick up rates.

Every price is going up, up, up in Singapore. Officials say inflation is 5%. Do you feel it’s 5%? Property tax just went up because housing valuation is increasing. What causes housing valuation to shoot over the roof? Poor housing policy handling by the PAP government, and opening the flood gates to foreigners into the country and allowing them to enter the HDB market; subsidized housing originally planned for Singaporeans. So now Singaporeans are paying the price for such failed policy (admitted by the PAP themselves that they have failed in this area) while paying the ministers such high salaries?

While the government claims that a higher population will make Singapore better off, what we see is an entirely different picture. We see tonnes of problems caused mainly by increased demand for goods and increased land demand thanks to the liberal population policy. We only see increased cost of living especially in housing and transportation, deteriorating infrastructure as the increasing population continues to overwhelm, marginal increase in salary that ends up mostly eaten away by inflation, decreased quality of life due to alarmingly shrinking flats (while some lame academic high post officer from HDB claims that personal space is larger due to smaller household size, it doesn’t make any sense since a larger household can simply buy 5-rooms flats instead of 4-rooms. Personal space and utility of a larger living space is not correlated), suppressed salary for the unskilled and uneducated due to cheaper labor from poorer countries made worse by the lack of minimum wage laws and uncontrolled population policy, distortion of the social fabric…..I can go on and on.

What one obvious benefit of a liberal population policy is: more tax money being collected by the government. However, I have yet to see any being used significantly in pressing problems such as the poor, disabled and elderly. All these, while hearing billions of losses from Temasek and GIC.

To the authorities if you ever read this post, are you ever ashamed of yourselves? How the heck did you manage to sleep soundly at night? Oh, I forgot, you are too busy counting your money in the bank to take notice. And when is the Salary Review Committee announcing the ministers’ salary review again? The last time I heard the committee’s second meeting is scheduled in year 2016.