Thursday, December 13, 2012

Palmergate: Of politics and sex scandals 2012

Barely 10 months has passed since Yaw Shin Leong was expelled from the Workers' Party over his personal indiscretions and it seems that another MP has fallen prey to sexual temptations - this time from the ruling party. Michael Palmer, Speaker of Parliament and MP for Punggol-East SMC, has tendered his resignation from the PAP over "improper conduct" with a former employee of the People's Association.

PAP to dance to its own tune?

In some way, Yaw's affair has set a precedence for things to come and all eyes will now be on the Prime Minister and his party to see how they will manage their way out of this political calamity. This is especially so since the PAP had been very quick and vocal in criticizing the WP for letting its Hougang constituents down and for the lack of transparency and accountability in the way it handled the fiasco. Little would the PAP expect that the tables will be turned on them months later, and that they would have to hold themselves to the same standards imposed upon the WP.

To their credit, Palmer has taken responsibility over his indiscretion with his resignation and the PAP appears to be in control of the situation by nipping it in the bud with a swift response. This is a stark contrast to how Yaw refused to admit his blunder and the temporary lapse of accountability by the WP before it decided to take action against Yaw.

Yet, it remains to be seen if the PAP will continue to walk the talk and reclaim political ground lost in the last by-elections. As it is, Low Thia Khiang's reactions to Palmer's affair has been nothing but fair and distinguished, and this strategy of political magnanimity will not only make PAP's reactions to Yaw's affair appear as petty attacks, but more importantly allow WP to claim the moral high-ground.

On the prospect of another by-election

Besides looking to see if the PAP would dance to its own tune, Singaporeans will also want to know if the PM will call for a by-election in Punggol-East SMC, and if so, when. While the judiciary had recently clarified that the PM has the unfettered discretion over the decision of a by-election, it will not reflect well on him should he decide against it or postpone it indefinitely. On the other hand, this prospect of another by-election would mean that Singapore would have undergone 4 election processes in 2 years, each within months of each other. Election fatigue and unresolved issues such as transportation, housing and an increasingly foreign population would mean that the PM would have to play his cards very carefully if he hopes to win the game.

Calls for a by-election have already been made by opposition parties (WP, SPP, RP, SDP) and Singaporeans, both itching once again to exercise their democratic rights to vote. The ball is now in your court, Prime Minister.

On the relationship between the PAP and PA

Despite the official rhetoric that the PA is a non-partisan organisation, it is commonly perceived by Singaporeans to serve the political interests of the PAP, and it is not hard to see why. From the denied use of community facilities by opposition parties, to the clandestine affair between a PAP MP and a PA employee, the PAP appears to be figuratively and literally in bed with the PA. This impression that the PAP abuses its position and authority to gain political mileage at the grassroots level not only goes against its pillars of intergrity, accountability and transparency, but could even go as far as to augment Singaporeans' support for the opposition parties with their underdog status. As such, it would be prudent for the PAP to maintain its distance from the PA, or at least be perceived to be so.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Teo Soh Lung's Dysfunctional 8

For a single-issue group that names itself after an outdated troubleshooting key, Teo Soh Lung et al. do not seem to be doing much introspection to deal with the ghosts of their past and to find closure to live in the present. It is sad to see that after 25 years, Teo Soh Lung is still sticking her finger into every major issue pie and contaminating it with the germs of Operation Spectrum.

When members of the Law Society tried to censure M Ravi as mad and incompetent as a lawyer, she brought up her arrest under the ISA. During Hari Raya, she talked about ISA detentions. When James Minchin was barred from entering Singapore, she talked about ISD intimidation. During the criticism of ST's racism and racial profiling, she talked about ISA detainees demonised.

On the recent SMRT bus strikes.

While it is commendable of the various NGOs to stand up against the exploitation of migrant workers by profiteering corporations, those with links to the government even, Teo Soh Lung should refrain from getting involved due to her political baggage that she brings to SDP's table.

This whole episode is reminiscent of past events that led to Operation Spectrum. Disgruntled migrant workers, check. Political voice, check. All that is left is the appearance of a hidden hand or foreign intervention, which will give the government the perfect excuse to clamp down on the NGOs and political parties associated with it.

Deja vu anyone?

On the Catholic Church and the Archbishop.

It was unfortunate that the Catholic Church was implicated in the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy and deeply regrettable that in 2012, was used as a pawn by Function 8 in their game with the government. Whilst the bitterness and resentment harboured by the ex-detainees towards the government is understandable, it is simply disingenuous to drag the Archbishop through the political mud again, for personal politics.

If you have a grudge to bear against the government, take it up with them mano-a-mano and leave the Church out of it. Religion and politics should not intertwine in a secular society over secular issues, period.

On Terrorism and the ISA.

It is one thing to champion for the repeal of the ISA, but it is a completely different thing to champion against the ISA because it deprives potential terrorists of their freedom without any evidence against them to show for in open court. It is unfathomable how Teo Soh Lung, in good faith, is able to speak on behalf of terrorists.

According to her, the whole JI is but a figment of the government's imagination. JI members such as Mas Selamat, Abd Rahim bin Abdul Rahman and Husaini bin Ismail who fled Singapore are "political exiles" who were accused of "serious unproven claims that will affect the men's careers and status in society" and "their arrests serves as a reminder to all political exiles that returning to Singapore may cost them their freedom no matter how long their exile is." In her blindness and baggage, terrorists on the run are political exiles. If this example does not show that she has lost it, I don't know what else can.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Strike and an Industrial Relations' Awakening

This strike is historical. The 5 bus drivers who were charged for an illegal strike and 29 other colleagues who were repatriated did not expect they would be penalised for voicing their dissatisfaction and going on a "strike". A word that was not uttered in the media in the first day, as if by not calling it a strike it would make it disappear and deny its existence,

Calling a Strike a Strike and the Consequences

However, calling it a "strike" would had implications on insurance claims if any, read AXA's argument of  "collision" vs "accident" in the Ferrari case, and the type of legal action against those who went on strike. As it turned out, once it was sealed as an illegal strike since the workers did not give their employer 14 days notice, those who went on strike had their legal fate sealed. It was not malingering, it was a strike.

The 14-days notice is a fair brinkmanship warning and gradual escalation of the stakes before workers down tools, or in this case, hands of the wheel and foot off the pedals. SMRT management would have started serious negotiations or called the drivers' bluff. As those SMRT bus drivers were not union members as reported, it was still unlikely that SMRT would have taken any strike threat seriously anyway. The SMRT bus drivers painted themselves into a corner whether their grounds for complaints were valid or not because their action was illegal and they were not part of a union.

Singaporean First is a Laudable Policy

In the end, SMRT adopted a Singaporean First employment practice by paying locals more and that is too be lauded. Putting locals first before others is not exploitation. Should foreigners be paid just as much? The general sentiment from the public about foreigners in recent times is that they should not, so SMRT should not be blamed for its profit-centric-nationalistic policy mix and should continue this salary discrimination as long as their SMRT foreign workers rely on SMRT quarters and other facilities as part of their contract. If these disgruntled workers don't like it they can quit, not strike.

A Sharing of Blame - Drivers and SMRT

Were the SMRT bus drivers' concerns e.g. living conditions, valid? SMRT by their without prejudice admission that they should have engaged their bus drivers more and earlier, says plenty. SMRT is not without culpability in the strike and they were just as responsible, albeit indirectly, in the bus service disruptions on 26th November. The extent of the route disruption was not divulged by SMRT but that only 29 were deported, it meant that 29 was a number SMRT was comfortable with deporting and anymore would be severe disruption of bus services. Whether SMRT was more culpable than the bus drivers - legally no, contractually no, ethically maybe depending if you are more a xenophobe or a bystander with no stake in SMRT shares. Nonetheless, there should be zero tolerance on illegal strikes like this SMRT strike as this is a bad signal to investors and businesses.

Deterring Strikes (and Lockouts)

As Singapore continues to need foreigners in the various service and industrial sectors, and as the first strike was struck last week, the industrial relations map of Singapore is changing. There have been many complaints of exploitation by construction companies of its foreign workforce and cases of PRC workers protesting outside MOM, as they are not unionised, are not rare. News of this feat by the SMRT bus drivers and regardless that some were rightly arrested and deported, would have settled into the psyche of foreign workers here. The seeds of strike as a disruptive bargaining tool and even its antithesis, a lockout, are being sown unless the authorities can send a strong enough deterrence to both workers and employers to behave. LTA and the court would have to be tough on both SMRT and the 5 arrested if they want to show that illegal strikes are not tolerated.

Monday, November 12, 2012

PAP Turfing Out Foreigners, Exit James Minchin

Well, that is the government's argument and let's see.

The Home Affairs Ministry's Excuses

According to the PAP, an Australian clergyman was turfed out of Singapore for interfering in domestic politics. This Anglican priest from Christ Church St Kilda in Melbourne, James Minchin, has irritated the pensive PAP way before in his book on former PM Lee Kuan Yew, No Man is an Island, where he resented the myth of the philosopher-king who led Singapore from 1965 until 1990.

In the SDP video Let's Talk, SDP interviewed Father James Minchin and he also makes no pretense that he is a political and social activist. Stressing his moral authority as a priest, James Minchin also made it a point to wear his white priest collar and black shirt. So there is no smoke without fire in the PAP being irritated with him subtly using religion to assert, and his affinity with SDP.

The Ministry of Home Affairs elaborated in its statement on barring the priest from entering Singapore that Father James Minchin came last year and shared openly his view that the law was corrupted and the clergy's integrity and independence questionable.

Hypocrisy, SDP-PAP and Politics as Usual

Was Father James Minchin interfering in Singapore's politics as the government claimed he was? He certainly is no apologist for the PAP government and the injustices he saw e.g. he said in the SDP Let's Talk about the government selling power generation to foreign investors, "for the government to allow foreign forces whether from the east or west, market forces to come in and control key sectors of the economy, key sectors of the social fabric, seems to me to be quite counter to the whole sovereignty of Singapore shaping its own future."

There is double hypocrisy here by both the PAP and Father James Minchin. The PAP allowed foreign investors into the economy but not foreign observers into Singapore saying what they think about Lee Kuan Yew's politics. On the other hand, Father James Minchin complained about foreign investors undermining the economic sovereignty of Singapore but not foreign observers like himself talking about social injustice in Singapore and undermining its political sovereignty.

However, the simplest reason obvious to all on why Father James Minchin was abruptly made to fly back to Australia was not because he was complaining about the PAP as there are hordes of foreigners who do that e.g. the foreign talent academics in the local universities. The reason was because he was allied with the SDP while he was complaining about the PAP. If it were not for his SDP links as can be seen by the backing loud calls of injustice by SDP members criticising Father James Minchin's persona non grata status, the Anglican priest would have been unmolested and left alone.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Road Ahead for Public (Mini)Buses

SMRT was fined $100 for overloading one of its buses in the Woodlands-Choa Chu Kang route. Granted safety is paramount and overcrowding of a bus is a safety concern. However, the underlying problem is that there were probably not enough buses during peak hours - an unfortunate combination of demand greater than supply during busy times, and supply greater than demand during non-peak hours. The easy answer is for private minibuses to fill in routes and times when there is demand for it.

Going Full Circle

Before 1970, there were 10 bus companies. These underwent M&A until SBS was formed in 1973. In 1982, TIBS joined the network and these two companies complemented rather than competed with one another. This cosy relationship has survived until now and even replicated in how the MRT is run in the NS, EW and NE lines for example. Again, on paper and on the roads, there is room for minibuses to zip around on Singapore's roads again especially as feeder buses in industrial and housing estates, as well as the main housing estates to city lines. The old CSS yellow buses which had cheaper fares than SBS and under NTUC, scrapped its fleet in the late 1980s as MRT rolled out into residential areas. However, with increased population, cost of private cars, inadequacy of the current train and bus capacities, it is time to rethink now the entry of small-medium-sized bus companies.

The Hong Kong Story

The Hong Kong example was recently mentioned to compare how Singapore can do different and better. In Hong Kong, there are five bigger companies and the red and green minibuses that ply the back streets and far flung places. Safety is an issue as minibuses are more aggressive in fare collection as they could be self-employed like taxi-drivers, but with Singapore's track record of regulation and enforcement, safety is typically not a worry for public transport passengers.

The Experimental Role of Town Councils and Minibuses

The fact is that public bus transport system in Singapore can be improved and the best experiment is to re-introduce more niche or specific route players into the networks to compete with the heavyweights. Town councils should be allowed to easily run their own ferries for within their GRC or SMC if they are up to it for a start, and WP in Aljunied or PAP in Ang Mo Kio can set the pace as trailblazers in locally running minibuses that drop and pick up in larger car parks or under the blocks even, competing with the feeder bus services by SBS which are probably unprofitable because of the way it is run.

Apart from town council starting local, operators from the Singapore School Transport Association can be the ready fleet to draw from especially during the school holiday periods to experiment in the minibus network concept. If the project takes off, then there is push for SME bus companies to operate and expand into 365 days and more routes. Easier said than done as there are probably regulations about SME private operators, but something that should be included in the so-called ongoing national conversation if there is public, commercial and government interest in improving public transportation..

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Between a Neighbour and Man's Best Friend

As a dog lover, there is nothing more upsetting then the wilful neglect of man’s best friend. All too often, people decide to buy a dog on a whim without realising the lifelong commitment, love and sacrifice it involves. Dog ownership is a decision that warrants careful consideration as the responsibilities transcend beyond the new owner. Like it or not, the new owner’s entire family and proximate community are inadvertently affected.

HDB and Backyard Pounds

The biggest challenge that organisations such as the SPCA and SOSD face is the abandonment of dogs by irresponsible pet owners. The first line of defence in battling the issue of strays is to educate potential dog owners of the importance of buying dogs at licensed and reputable pet shops. A recent stomp article on 17 September, “Are HDB residents allowed to breed dogs in their flats for sale?”, highlights errant behaviours that must be addressed swiftly and unequivocally. The authorities have to come down hard on ‘backyard’, unlicensed breeders to ensure that the important steps of sterilisation and microchipping are taken.

Small HDB Flats and Big Dogs

Other worrying trends of dog ownership in HDB flats is the size of the dogs in HDB flats. Many HDB dwellers have over the years, pressured HDB to relax the guidelines on keeping big dogs in flats; some choosing to quietly flout these rules all together. With shrinking HDB flats and public spaces, the rearing of large breeds in ever more confined spaces is contributing factor to dog abandonment when the novelty of puppies wears off.  Also, I'm not too sure if it is cruel to the dog to keep a bigger sized dog like a labrador in our pigeon-hole HDB flats.

Responsible Dog Owners and Neighbours who Don't Like Dogs

Living in HDB flats is about give and take with the neighbours and the balance can be upset if residents have a noisy or fierce dog, or worse for neighbours intolerant of canines, more than one dog. I cite the case of Mr Tan Cheng Chu in the Singapolitics article “Minister intervenes in bid to let dying man keep his dogs”. I applaud the efforts of Law Minister Shanmugan and the SOSD to check on the well-being of Silver and Rover, and to offer to mediate with Mr Tan’s neighbours, although the law is on the side of those neighbours who complained probably because they had a history with Mr Tan.

While it would pain me to see Mr Tan being forced to part with one of his dogs, I would like to see the original owner of the dog, Mr Tan’s daughter, step forward to take responsibility for the dog she bought and had left at her father's place after she moved out. She is the solution to the mess assuming that HDB is afraid to create a precedent of a stop-at-one dog policy - keep her Rover at her house and bring over and take him home at the start and end of everyday. Just like how parents leave their children at their parents' home during the day for childcare. It is the least she can do as a filial daughter to help her cancer-stricken dying father and appease neighbours who need not put up with supposed noisy dogs at night.

If not, with Mr Tan’s critical condition, I fear that in not too long, both 3-year old Silver and 7-year old Rover will be stepping through the kennel doors of SPCA.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Archbishop Letters

This whole episode of the Archbishop’s mysterious letters to Function 8 is very amusing.

It starts with, of all people, Alex Au, a well-known gay rights activist who publishes a blog post claiming that his source had informed him that many months back, the Archbishop sent Function 8 an unsolicited letter, giving them moral support.  Function 8 then wanted to use this letter in a Hong Lim Park event to say that finally the Church or God has forgiven them for their “sins” in the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy. The Archbishop than retracts the letter, supposedly after having lunch with the DPM and here, according to the great “source” of Alex Au,  the Archbishop was arm-twisted to do so.


Then the Archbishop puts out another statement saying that he retracted the letter on his free will after realising that the letter was going to be read out loud and the political implications of the letter being that it will disrupt social harmony.  Alex Au then says that Archbishop is basically lying and insinuate again that he is pressured by some shadowy government force to come out with statement (yes another tip-off from his great source).  The problem with claiming everything has a conspiracy behind it is that it gets a bit stale after a while.  It’s a never-ending spiral; which is why probably the government never wants to give the Marxist people a new hearing; because if the independent panel finds that the Marxist people were guilty as charged … guess what? Yes ….. conspiracy again.

Back to this story … Function 8 and then Maruah (yes it’s that confusing) comes out with statements attacking the Archbishop over this letter and even MHA gets into this statement war by defending the Archbishop and saying that all these people are disrespectful to him.  Alex Au goes on a roll chronicling all these statements and basically attacking the Church for caving in to Government pressure.


Even if we ignore the fact that Alex may have some grievances against the Church, he is the champion of LGBT rights in Singapore after all, and the Church whether Catholic or Protestant is not exactly very gay-friendly; the fact remains: who is this great source of his?

From Function 8? Maybe and probably but then how would a source from Function 8 know so much of the Archbishop and his lunch meetings even?  A source from the Church? Maybe, but than why would a source from a Church want to do this?  How about this possibility? A source that is both close to Function 8 and to the Church?  Whisperings in the Church have more or less already narrowed down who could be this great source.

The problem with Alex is that no matter how hard he tries; he cannot be really objective.  And probably his “source” knows that too.  So in the end, who to believe?  The real story is always the simplest, maybe the Archbishop blindly signed on a letter given to him by this Alex Au “source”, found out that it is a problematic letter and got it withdrawn with or without government arm-twisting.  The “source” and Function 8 got angry and found someone who is willing to be their champion.  And it so happens to be Alex Au.  

Splinter in Your Eye, Log in Mine

This quote by Alex Au is golden: “, “I also stand firm, like the great majority of Singaporeans, against any attempt to mix religion with politics, which agenda partly explains why the new guard at AWARE have to resort  to stealth  

He should really be careful and aware that stealth is not monopolized by government only; maybe stealth is also being used by this great “source” of his.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dr Chee's Bankruptcy

Dr Chee Soon Juan will have his bankruptcy annulled if he can come out with $30,000 from book sales or donations. There can finally be closure for the SDP sec-gen in this case that began in 2001 when the SDP leader shouted at then PM Goh Chok Tong during the 2001 GE, about money lent to Indonesia. According to the PAP lawyers, Dr Chee had questioned their integrity during the hustings, and was thus sued for defamation.

As he lost, Dr Chee owed former PM Goh and former PM Lee $500,000 in damages ($200,000 to Singapore's first PM and $300,000 to the country's second PM) Recently, Dr Chee had made an offer of $30,000 instead to move on and the two former PMs accepted it. This paves the way for Dr Chee to stand in the next GE, assuming that he does not give the PAP another opportunity for him to be sued for defamation.

This is a surprising new twist to the plot as Dr Chee probably did not expect the PAP stalwarts to accept his offer. If he knew that it would have been so easy, he might have dangled it before GE 2011 so that there was a chance he could compete in that, in retrospect, watershed election. Furthermore, if the PAP had rejected his offer of composition then, he and SDP could have easily depicted it as PAP fearing to fairly face Dr Chee as a candidate during the GE.

Can $30,000 be Raised Easily and Quickly?

As it is, if Dr Chee can raise his $30,000, it would show that SDP still has some support left despite its the rise of WP as the leading opposition party. The reverse is also true. If Dr Chee takes too long to find the funds, it would mean he and his party are not popular enough.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The National Conversation and the Education Sector

With the National Conversation, the National Day Rally this year was a significant milestone in government nation-building speeches.

"So I asked Heng Swee Keat to lead a national conversation on Our Singapore to define what sort of country we want and how we can achieve it. So please join in this national effort, think seriously about our future, contribute your ideas, work together to make it happen. In a rapidly changing world, Singapore must keep on improving because if we stand still, we’re going to fall behind."
PM Lee Hsien Loong

The word "national conversation" was mentioned only once in his entire speech but it became the buzzword of the month, something like an "open and inclusive society" was in the period after PM Lee's swearing-in speech in 2004. Twelve years on and still that phrase rings loud and true in questioning whether the PAP consulted in policies in the Casinos, CPF or COE (they do, just a matter of extent and whom).

Coincidence or not that the National Conversation is headed by the Education Minister, among the most significant policy changes to be introduced are in Education. The other signs of Education leading the national conversation were that Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and Senior Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong also spoke at the Rally as part of a new Rally tradition, paving the way for PM Lee's Rally speech. 

Listening and then Acting

With complaints of shortage and even substandard preschools becoming a national concern and that children are not prepared enough for Primary One, the Education ministry would look into the preschool sector. They would not nationalise it, but would watch and nudge closely, giving the sector and its schools some quality control. PCF already is striving to have its 330 childcare and kindergartens accredited by SPARK (Singapore Pre-school Accreditation Framework). There would even be a statutory board overlooking the preschool sector. 

The contradiction inherent in the government sticking its nose into the preschool sector is that it would make schools more academic and as the foundation for primary school. Inevitably this would make preschool stressful. Furthermore, PCF and NTUC are the anchors already. With the talk of more preschool anchors in the industry and setting of academic standards, would that pave the way for more GLC ventures in the preschool sector at the expense of the SMEs or religious-run centres who are into preschool as play and character building? Beware of what you wish for from the government in this "national" conversation.

Talking and Listening to the Silent or the Shouters

So despite the "national conversation", not everyone can be pleased. Some wanted more government interest in the preschool sector, while others resented the intrusion, all for various valid reasons. The government listened but who did it talk and listen to in the end? What is the national conversation all about? The government listening to those who lobbied the best, shouted the loudest regardless if the interests they represented were really representative of the "national" or not.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Can Meritocracy and Equality co-exist?

Lim Chong Yah’s “shock therapy” proposal has kick-started a much needed rethink on economic restructuring.

(There has been speculation, with family link even, that the impetus for this rethink might have be a deliberate strategy anointed by the highest levels of government.)

It would be easy to blame the media’s tendency to portray life at either end of the scale – because after all, who wants to reach about Mr and Mrs Average Tan just comfortably getting by in their 4-room HDB flat? – as having given rise to perceptions of increasing income disparities.  

However, these are not just perceptions, but a reality that is statistically supported by a widening Gini coefficient.  Our pledged national goal of building a society based inter alia on equality has indeed been slipping away this past few years. 

This is the thing.  Singapore has long been positioned as a meritocracy.  At the same time, we also want to build a society based on equality.  Can the two co-exist?

Meritocracy, in a nutshell, means that the people get chosen for jobs based on their own merits.  In the context of filling jobs, merits could include professional qualifications, inherent abilities/skills/traits or ability to work certain hours.

Pay is decided by a combination of factors – productivity is one factor, but the level of training/investment required and demand/supply for the said abilities/skills are also determinants of one’s income. Consequently, some jobs pay more than others. 

And because people have different abilities and take on different roles, a meritocratic society is inherently an unequal society. 

This said, an unequal nation is an unstable nation, and the government should take decisive action to curb this growing divide.  I would suggest 3 basic steps – they are by no means new, but IMHO, will have to be applied in larger doses if we are serious about our economic restructuring efforts.

1. Abolition/reduction of GST, which places a disproportionate taxes on the lower income; instead, introduce more progressive taxes on income (including passive/investment income).

2. Increase/extend education subsidies to all citizens who qualify for local universities/polytechnics/ITE colleges– to ensure those with the ability will have to educational opportunities to break out of the poverty trap.   Continuing Education for Singaporean adults should also be heavily subsidised. 

3. In specific industries/sectors which have retrenched/unemployed Singaporeans, introduce (higher) levies for hiring foreign workers, such that the cost of hiring a foreign worker would be the same as hiring a local worker.  This would have the impact of either (a) increasing productivity and/or (b) setting “minimum wage” for local workers in that industry.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Political Shenanigans in Hougang Never Ends

Singaporeans and those watching Singapore politics are being treated to a merry parade of shenanigans since the start of the year, all related to the state of WP dominance in Hougang.

WP-Bashing Media and the Opening Move

TRE, which gives a bad name to Internet voices with its brand of trash journalism from its anti-WP Wayang Party days to its anti-PAP TR days, started the ball rolling with its rumours about Yaw Shin Leong's extra-marital affairs. Yaw defiantly remained reticent. The newspapers, nation building as always, dragged on coverage of the affair for weeks and focused on Yaw Shin Leong's personal indiscretion and spun it as a question of political integrity, giving PAP the advantage as always. Shenanigan #1.

WP's Losing Silence and Winning Gambit

The Hougang MP's personal crisis exposed WP's management crisis. WP had atrocious public relations management and initially also chose to remain silent, pretending the matter did not exist, a classic PAP  style to stick its head in the sand. WP backed their Hougang MP, as they should until eventually, as news of Yaw Shin Leong's other extra-marital affairs popped up, the WP leaders realised that their Hougang MP was a political liability, and expelled him. Plunging Hougang into a by-election state in a political gambit which they were likely to win. Something like what the PAP did in the Marine Parade in 1992 where the by-election was just peacock posturing. Shenanigan #2.

PAP's Delay Tactic

The PAP obviously was fixed good as they preferred that Yaw Shin Leong remained as the MP and would be crippled with public doubts of his integrity. However, Low Thia Khiang and his fellow stewards of WP brilliantly sacrificed their knight and his hooks. WP knew that in any by-election in the post-GE mood where the PAP still has not solved the people's problems despite the pre-GE promises, and that Hougang is a WP stronghold since 1991, WP would win the by-election. PAP thus wanted to delay holding the by-election as long as they could to wear out the Aljunied GRC WP MPs who are taking turns to oversee Hougang as it is without an MP. The PAP planned that as Hougang turned into a neglected slum, the margin of PAP's loss in the coming Hougang by-election would be smaller than the loss in GE 2011. Shenanigan #3.

Ravi's Pawn

Seeing a chance to stir the controversy, M Ravi, the mad lawyer which even SDP has smartly kept a distance from in recent years, managed to "persuade" a presumably uneducated cleaner and Hougang resident, Vellama D/O Marie Muthu, to file a court application that the PM should convene a by-election within 3 months of Yaw Shin Leong's disqualification as a Hougang MP. Without a doubt, Vellama was probably Ravi's pawn to sting the PAP about the delay in a Hougang by-election. She is a cleaner who earns $300 a month, has 2 children and an alcoholic husband - an unlikely profile of a keen observer of politics who would file a court application. Ravi could have tried hard to pick a better stand-in. Maybe nobody else wanted to be associated with him. Shenanigan #4.

More Tomfoolery to Come

The parade of shenanigans is not over yet and we can expect more entertainment soon enough. From internet voices like TRE or TOC, from WP or PAP, from another party, the possibilities of tomfoolery are almost endless. I expect one other shenanigan would Tan Jee Say really taking part in the Hougang by-election when the beginning of the end game comes.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Another Old Guard Gone

PM Lee Hsien Loong himself admitted, "Without Dr Toh and his fellow Old Guard, this modern, prosperous metropolis that we now take for normal would not exist,".

Dr Toh Chin Chye is another selfless passionate Old Guard who has left Singaporeans and was laid to rest yesterday. According to many positive eulogies and seldom we hear of critical eulogies as people often don't disrespect the dead, he was a man with a sharp mind and tongue. Dr Toh was primarily lionised as a founding leader of PAP and also Singapore by default because of PAP's close ties with Singapore's independence.

In short, Dr Toh kicked out the leftists in the PAP, was PAP chairman from 1954 to 1981, was a former DPM and spent 22 years as a cabinet minister. Nonetheless, the late Lim Chin Siong, another co-founder of the PAP who fell on the different side of the fence later on, would have had different colourful insights to Dr Toh's role in nation-building.

Good bye Dr Toh, and thank you.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Promising MP and Civil Servants - From Sex to Scandals to Stupidity

Singaporeans were treated to sensationalism, sex and scandals over the Lunar New Year. First, there were rumours of WP Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong going around the Internet, initiated by Temasek Review Emeritus, formerly known as Temasek Review. However, the name change did not change its sensationalistic tabloid style and agenda. Then Wanbao, the print cousin of TRE, ran news about the heads of the SCDF and CNB being investigated by the CPIB for corruption.

Supposed Scoundrels at Every Corner

More bits of the puzzle trickled out since then. MP Yaw Shin Leong chose not to comment on his supposed affair with a fellow female WP member who is also married. The WP also refused to comment on the rumoured Hougang MP's extra-marital affair and speculation is rife that this is tantamount to a confession of guilt. Reminds me of the Foo Mee Har allegations during her GE campaigning and that her refusal to sue or comment meant her flings were true. SCDF commissioner Peter Lim and CNB director Ng Boon Gay were involved with an unnamed IT executive and the cases appeared more to be about improper sexual relationships with women although speculation is still rampant on the details.

So there we have it. Sex and scandals. Where does the stupidity come in? Some might point to MP Yaw Shin Leong for being stupid to be involved in an extra-marital affair with someone from his party, assuming the rumours are true, jeopardising his personal and political life at one shot. There would be others who would say the SCDF and CNB heads were stupid to get sexually involved with a contractor.

However, the stupidity does not rest fully with MP Yaw Shin Leong, former SCDF chief Peter Lim or former CNB head Ng Boon Gay. The highest burden of stupidity lies with the people who jumped to clouded conclusions.

Setting the Records Straight

While it looked like MP Yaw Shin Leong had an extra-marital affair based on his reaction, what does it matter if he did? That is his personal life and however troubled it may be for his family, it does not necessarily impede his integrity as a politician or his party's effectiveness. Clinton was still a popular and relatively effective president despite being blown, and his ECA with an intern blown. Singaporeans should just learn to be mature and not be confused by revelations out to undermine Yaw Shin Leong's political ambitions. Under no circumstances should the thought of him stepping down and a by-election be entertained.

Similarly, many jumped to the conclusions that Ng Boon Gay and Peter Lim embezzled money and are CPIB's biggest aces since Teh Cheang Wan, Phey Yew Kok or Glenn Knight. Investigations are still in progress and there is no confirmation of taking bribes. Also while some jumped to the argument that it shows Singapore is full of corrupt civil servants, the very show that CPIB would catch big fish heads in MHA means that there is zero tolerance for any imagined or genuine corruption even.

This Lunar New Year variety show of sex and scandals just reminds us that we should be aware of the yapping jackals inside and outside the Internet.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Symbolism in Slashing Salaries and Lengthening Legitimacy

The obvious sign that the PAP government is worried about the weakening social contract with the voters is the commitment to take up the recommendations of the salary review committee

Make no mistake that the slashing of the salary is not a small amount, although the revised salary is still astronomical by any standard for any honest politician. According to The Guardian, despite the populist pay cut, PM Lee's pay is still three times that of Hong Kong chief executive, Donald Tsang, the world's next highest paid political leader in the world.

Slashing Pay by a Third and More

With the review, entry-level MR4 ministers, would get a 37% pay cut to about $935,000 to $1,100,00 if they just started off, while the PM would get a similar proportionate cut of 36% to $2,200,000. The formula for this distinction is that the PM's salary is pegged at twice the MR4 salary. MR3 ministers get the biggest cut of 39% in their salaries. However, the pay cut for higher grade ministers is generally less significant in comparison e.g. 35% cut for MR2, 33% cut for MR1 and 31% cut for DPM. The President, however, would get a more substantial pay cut of 51% to $1,540,000.

Also, contrary to what Leong Sze Hian in TOC wrote that the pay cut excludes bonuses to be paid, the Review Committee stated that after the recommended pay cut, ministers' salary for the entry MR4 grade with maximum bonuses of 7 months thrown in would reach $1,100,000 as the limit. Overall, the symbolism for the pay cut is there on the wall for all to see except the blind or the blindly anti-PAP. The symbolism of a deep cut of a about more than a third of the salary is a powerful one. A 30% cut is a potent attempt at reinventing quick legitimacy and to any rational observer it is not tokenism. Tokenism is when the salary is cut 3%. Would you the reader personally feel that it is a big deal if your salary is cut 30%?

Regaining Popularity

The salary slashing is sufficient symbolically as a first step towards a new social contract to the moderate observer. However it is expected that it is never enough for the hardcore PAP critic.

The slashing of the salaries is a good gesture, a shrewd move to show that the PAP is bothered to try forging a new social contract. It is weaved as part of the earlier populist package where rightly unpopular ministers like Raymond Lim, Wong Kan Seng and Mah Bow Tan were asked to step down even though they won their seats in the last GE. Similarly, the PAP need not have bothered to slash their salaries now, so soon after the GE and so far away from the next GE to score points. Yet, they did, to invest in political capital.

For both the PAP apologists and cynics, the timing of the commendable step towards a pay reduction actually shows that the PAP wants to listen, please and make amends, for now. Still, while appreciated, a hefty pay cut alone does not restore fully the PAP's legitimacy in our eyes. It was never really a matter of how much they pocketed, but what they did or didn't do in the context of the amount they earned.