Friday, July 26, 2013

Corruption, Embezzlement and Cleaning Up the Civil Service

Yet another case of wrongdoing for personal gain in the civil service. CPIB chief Eric Tan did the right thing by humbly apologising for the actions of his officer but that is not enough for a public tired of cases of fallen civil servants abusing their authority.

CPIB has been busy. Ng Boon Gay was acquited although his name was dragged in the mud before cleared of co being corruption. Former SCDF chief Peter Lim was sentenced to 6 month jail for his sex for contracts scandal. NUS lecturer Tey Tsun Hang went to prison for 5 months for his sex for grades scandal. Earlier this year, an assistant director in MDA was cooperating with CPIB as he was accused of asking for bribes from those who applied for grants from MDA.

Now, an assistant director in the CPIB is charged with criminal breach of trust as he pocketed $1.7 million, with about $240,000 of it gambled away at MBS. The amount is huge by most standards, albeit the highest amount of money embezzled by tainted civil servants was $12 million by 2 SLA staff who were sentenced in 2010 to 22 and 15 years.

Whistle-Blowing and the Press

The fallen were all exposed because of whistle-blowers within their own circles as nobody watches the watchers, and the watchers have to watch each other. In the absence of another institution to watch over them, they naturally had to resort to whistle-blowing. At least some in the public service can be depended on their moral courage to name fellow colleagues who stole from taxpayers for their own selfish ends. Although cynically, their colleagues did not expose those charged with corruption or fraud entirely because for the good of the public, but perhaps for personal ambition or grievances.

The media did not cover it up, although it could have because of its comfortable relationship with the government. That is a positive sign. The public have to know that civil servants are not above the law, especially those who chase after people who dabbled in corrupt actions, fraud and other financial wrongdoings. Edwin Yeo's case is handled by the CAD and there would be some in CAD who think this is karma as CPIB was the one that took down CAD head Glenn Knight for corruption in 1991.

High Pay to Prevent Corruption?

The rationale for paying competitive or high salaries to politicians and others in the public sector to minimise corruption, arose after cases like former minister Teh Cheang Wan who was investigated in 1986 for taking bribes of $800,000 from property developers and former minister of state Wee Toon Boon's downfall in 1975 for taking bribes also of about $800,000.  However this rationale has to be reviewed. It sounds right but yet these cases showed that those in public service can still be swayed from the path of integrity and honesty, high pay or not.

The public service's reputation is at the crossroads, and our faith in politicians and civil servants is wavering. If by 2016 there are insufficient measures to reassure us that the present government is doing something about the integrity of the public sector, notwithstanding that the loss of trust in those in power are the result of the actions of a few black sheep, people would vote accordingly to show their confidence, or lack  of.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Balakrishnan and Pritam: High Noon Showdown Anticlimax

As it turned out, it was not the expected high stakes gun battle and WP chief Low Thia Khiang dismissed it all as a misunderstanding. Whatever it was, there is still no smoke without fire and the hawkers were upset, this time not with the PAP but with WP.

The PAP saw their chance over WP's callous handling of the hawkers and seized it to corner WP. Sylvia Lim or Low Thia Khiang who have distinguished themselves as honourable and worthy opposition since GE 2006 were not WP's weak link, but the other WP member involved in the AHPETC saga - Pritam Singh, Vice Chair of AHPETC.

Shutting Up Rather than Speaking Up

Minister Balakrishnan had thrown the gauntlet on the floor last month that the new WP MP, Pritam Singh, lied that AHPETC did not ask the hawkers to pay more for the scaffolding during a cleaning of hawker centres blocks 511 and 538. Pritam Singh denied the serious charge of dishonesty then, although he failed to rebut the minister in parliament during the latest seating. The question of being sued by the PAP was not a Damocles Sword over Pritam 's head as MPs could speak candidly and bluntly in parliament because of their parliamentary privilege and immunity.

Hence, MP Pritam had a chance for a robust populist debate with Minister Balakrishnan but he surprisingly chose not to do so. Since Pritam is an articulate speaker, his decision to remain silent shouted volumes. The political retreat meant that Pritam wanted to cut his losses, perhaps strongly advised by the shrewd experienced WP general Low Thia Khiang that it was better to shut up then speak up and confirm dishonesty.

Pritam Strike Two

This is not the first time that Pritam showed signs of being less than honest. Previously, he plagiarised his 2012 parliamentary speech on ombudsman almost lock, stock and barrel from a blogger. The former ISEAS researcher and King's College MA graduate who should have known better made neither attribution nor reference that he used somebody's ideas and words until he was confronted by DPM Teo Chee Hean in parliament. MP Pritam tried to recover by then but it was too little too late and any decent university graduate would have been drilled that plagiarism was theft, a theft of ideas and intellect.

If a PAP MP had stolen ideas for his or her parliamentary speech, or had fudged about asking hawkers to pay up for cleaning the hawker centres, the public would be have chastised his or her dishonesty. The public should also exact similar standards of honesty on all MPs, PAP or WP. There is still some time till GE 2016 and all eyes are on Pritam if he would disappoint WP supporters the third time.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Commentary, A Late Night Phone Call and A Fracas

Eric Ellis is a left thinking journalist, no insult intended to the Mid-East news icon, a Robert Fisk-wannabe in his agenda-driven journalism. Like Fisk, he never intended to be objective, just to achieve his objective of changing readers' views to his. Eric is an Australian and has criticised the European monarchies as spongers and deadweights in European democracies rather than understanding them as cultural-historical anchors. In his compliments to Der Speigel, he liked the German publication's scrutiny of the rich and powerful, taking the successful down a peg or too at every opportunity. He rejoiced when Murdoch's media empire took a hit over the UK phone hacking scandal as Murdoch's right-leaning media was too industrialist and capitalist to his liking and stood tall at the opposite end of his political view.

An Australian Outsider View

Eric has a typical outsider white man's burden over Singapore's development path - from criticising Singapore's zero-tolerance capital punishment policy for drug mules like Australian citizen Nguyen Tuong Van, to Singapore's ties with fellow ASEAN neighbour Myanmar, to his xenophobia of Singapore Inc buying up of overseas assets including Australia's. His latest rant was on Law Minister Shanmugam, with a slightly racist quip coming from the Australian, "K. Shanmugam, as he’s less tongue-twistingly known".


This set off a series of events. Shanmugam saw that Eric crossed the line. The Australian had made defamatory comments about Shanmugam and his involvement in companies in Indonesia that caused the recent haze problem.  Eric's article was circulated by the usual suspects in the Internet who jump at any news real or false to sling mud at the government. Shanmugam then called Remy Choo Zheng Xi about the matter as the TOC blogger-Peter Low lawyer-WP activist was a key broker in the Internet community.

Kirsten Han blogged about the late night call after hearing it from Remy and packaged the call story as a minister bullying a blogger because such stories sell. Kirsten's agenda was unsurprising as she is among those locals who are against the death penalty, support an earlier Western-led disengagement of Myanmar and continued isolation of an ASEAN neighbour, someone who bought Eric's political views in bulk. Unfortunately for Kirsten this time, as Shanmugam and Remy have come out in the open to put into context the phone call, Kirsten's version of the event was inaccurate if not even fabricated to spread fear among her readers that the government was going to crack down hard on Remy and others.

The Last Laugh

Eric must be grinning right now - in one stroke, he made Shanmugam, Remy and Kirsten all look bad.

Friday, June 28, 2013

All the President's Hecklers

So Andrew Loh hurled some vulgarities at the President and has since apologised after public pressure, "The words I used were harsh and insulting, and the sentiments I expressed about the President unfair and untrue."

What made the former WP member, former TOC editor, and current Yahoo writer lapse into an uncouth lout is a big mystery. Maybe problems in his personal life, a bad brush with a neighbour or something equally mundane that happens to all of us. However, as a public figure and activist-journalist, while he added colour to his character, he wasted away his public image by being a foul-mouth monkey and reverted to his crass peasantmonky days in Sammyboy.

Common though for people to be angry and even swear and curse, to swear and curse in public knowing that his rant would spread in the Internet is poor judgement, class and control. Andrew Loh should have been wiser than Rueben Wang, the SAJC student who thought it was cool to swear at DPM Teo Chee Hean. Or more savvy than YPAP member Cheo Ming Shen.  

Maybe that is what Andrew really wanted with Free My Internet in which he was a key party of, to freely verbally and vulgarly abuse anyone.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Cleaning Up Hawker Centres WP Style

When WP took over a GRC in 2011, there was optimism that they can do a better job with economies of scale. People were already tired of PAP-run town councils that had frills in landscaping and decoration in the estates that ultimately drove up operational and thus conservancy costs. By all accounts from the latest news, WP is no better if not worse in keeping costs down.

A Misstep in Who Foots the Bill

In the latest battle of who can run town councils after better, fairer and cheaper after AIM and FMSS, WP is again under the spotlight as it passed the cost of cleaning the roof and ceiling of hawker centres to the hawkers instead of absorbing them as was in the past practice under the PAP.

NEA, who acted after the WP GRC stallholders complained, said that it was the responsibility of Aljunied-Hougang-Punngol East town council to pick the tab as hawker centres were common area, and not pass the buck to the stallholders.

So soon after the FMSS-AIM saga,WP is again not doing too well in this tit-for-tat on who can run the show better. WP's popular folk image is that it is very grassroot-oriented and not distant from the ground, unlike the PAP who has forgotten its roots, as the coffeeshop talk goes.

From Spotless Hawker Centres to Spotless WP

However, by asking the humble and ubiquitous stallholders to pay for the cleaning of some of the common areas is a departure from the blue-collar worker empathy of the WP. WP is already trying to recover and stated that cleaning of the ceiling and support beams of the hawker centres was not due and there was miscommunication about hawkers footing the bill. Too little too late. This shoulder-shrugging and focus on semantics is typical of the PAP and goes to show the WP might not be  as spotless as they made themselves out to be.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Town Council Finger Pointing

Town council management, what is really at stake? The debate has not seriously ventured into what town councils should be by the PAP or WP but lingered on who is more improper. If that is the debate, WP has lost more ground than PAP. WP's press statement on Thursday had a table for "discerning members of the public" on the distinction between AIM and FMSS. WP also issued a challenge that a report can be made to CPIB if there was WP wrongdoing in its management of the WP town council. Thus, at stake are WP's corporate governance and WP's reputation, and WP is not scoring in its report book.

WP's Corporate Governance in Question

By boldly comparing itself with PAP's AIM, and "WP has no interest; directors and shareholders are not WP members" in FMSS, WP attempted to canter away on its blue horse waving victoriously into the sunset. What instead happened is that WP implied they gave fat town council business contracts to its supporters either as reward or incentive for giving support to WP. This is tantamount to a tit for tat transaction, which is part of legitimate networking in the business world, however, legal but borderline unethical in town council corporate governance. Particularly damaging for WP's supposedly impeccable integrity if FMSS' subcontractors are also WP supporters or WP members, and there is a pattern of self-serving business lobby and WP patronage.

Hence, there is the danger of town councils being arms and legs of any political party, be it PAP or WP. It is not in the public interests in the long term as what the MND review stressed. WP and its FMSS are solid proof that it is no better than the PAP and its AIM. Turning the tables back on WP, what scorched earth policy has WP built into its FMSS now in the event Aljunied returned to PAP rule? Aljunied GRC residents should be interested to know as they would be the ones affected the most and 2016 is not that long away.

Discerning Members of the Public and WP's Diminished Reputation

WP challenged members of the public and the PAP to make a police report if there is any WP wrongdoing. PAP then challenged that WP should sue if there was any defamation that WP was wronged. In the end, stalemate although WP has more to lose than the PAP in this ongoing debate. WP's reputation of a clean upcoming party with First World Parliament aspirations, its promise to voters that got it Aljunied and Punggol, is seriously being tainted in the eyes of the "discerning members of the public" who are neither sitting with the PAP or WP.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

People in Town Council Glass Houses: AIM at FMSS

Minister Khaw Boon Wan in parliament hit back at WP, and he did it by bringing up FM Solutions and Services (FMSS). His point was to drive home the idea that town councils are inherently political and WP is no different because FMSS is no more transparent than AIM, and no more apolitical than AIM.

FMSS is WP's Political Embarrassment

FMSS was incorporated in May 2011 by Hougang Town Council staff How Weng Fan and her husband, Danny Loh. How Weng Fan and Danny Loh's history with the WP went back for some time. Both were WP supporters who vouched on nomination day for the WP Ang Mo Kio GRC "suicide team" candidates of Abdul Salim Bin Harun, Gopal Krishnan, Glenda Han, Lee Wai Leng, Melvin Tan and Yaw Shin Leong. Danny Loh and his wife might even be WP members, but it does not matter whether they are or not as they are not apolitical anyway.

Unlike AIM it was not a $2 company, but had a paid up capital of $500,000. The problem with FMSS was that it got the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council contract without tender, and thus might not be the best in the market for the residents of Aljunied-Hougang. AIM was an inconvenient embarrassment when it was found out by WP. But now FMSS is WP's irritating embarrassment when it was dug out by PAP.

An Apolitical Town Council is Possible

Objectively, with AIM and FMSS, two wrongs don't make a right. Town councils are political as AIM and FMSS showed but can they be apolitical, or to what degree they can be apolitical?

The conventional thinking is that town councils are political instruments that cut both ways. If they are good, they win votes. If they are bad and it is so easy to displease voters, they lose votes. That double-edged sword is an inevitable part of politics, unless HDB takes over and resumes its pre-1989 role. Why not, if not HDB then something else existing or new, to make town councils apolitical as best as they can because that is what people want? That idea is not alien as in a democracy, the civil service still runs even if one party comes into power and the other vacates. Why not a town council?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Quotes and Quotes Out of Context in Politics

Quotes from politicians or celebrities have a life of its own e.g. "I can see Russia from my house" supposedly from Sarah Palin.

The world of politics is about making catch phrases, good soundbites, and to misquote or better, quote out of context what your adversary said. In social media, bad quotes and quotes out of context can get circulated faster and further. As MP Zainudin found out recently after his quote from Terry Goodkind, the same Terry Goodkind behind the story about Confessors, Richard Cypher and epic fantasy.

The quote in full,

The offending quote in particular, "gang rape is after all democracy in action", which was attributed to Zainudin by the time it spread rather than Terry Goodkind, and repeated everywhere without the entire quote from Terry Goodkind.

Taking Out of Context is an Old Trick

Obviously PAP critics took it out of context which is the way politics happen. Certainly, the simple social media crowd who mostly shoot before they think wanted Zainudin's reputation gang raped figuratively. However, for NCMP Lina Chiam to opportunistically weigh in without thinking, looking at her airhead reputation, again shows that she can shoot herself in her foot all by herself. For that matter, only SPP foolishly raised its hand in protest while the other parties like SDP, NSP or WP wisely knew that it was a low blow to strike that would boomerang back.

Nonetheless, Zainudin is not without blame, despite his damage control and reasonable explanation and he is naive to put such thought-provoking quotes out there without some qualifier like "what do you think" to give himself an escape route, which he needed one now. The PAP should have learnt about the social media's angry simple crowd - Tin Pei Ling's infamous photo with her Kate Spade bag should have been an important lesson. Innocuous personally, but can be twisted out of context politically.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Gilbert's May Day Protest

Pop-up protestor Gilbert Goh is planning a sequel protest on May Day to redeem himself and show that he is not a xenophobic activist. His main speakers so far are Tan Jee Say, Vincent Wijeysingha, Leong Sze Hian and Nizam Ismail. M Ravi, F8 and Jolovan Wham also said they wanted to speak in Part Two. This is a motley crew of activists and politicians who are again using using this event to rant on their pet topics.  I can imagine what their speeches would be like.

Tan Jee Say: No to 6.9 million! I was a former presidential candidate and was trashed soundly. I was so hard up to be president despite my flop attempt losing out to the other Tans, except that NTUC Tan, that I rented an office at expensive Dhoby Ghaut area to be my shadow Istana, close to the real Istana a few hundred metres away. Even though it made me seem a megalomaniac. Even though it was really expensive that I was almost evicted because I could not afford the District 10 office space when a more humble Aljunied office would do just as nicely. Even though it showed that I could not manage my own finances let alone be the custodian of Singapore's reserves. So remember, No to 6.9 million!

Leong Sze Hian: No to 6.9 million! I am a super financial expert, take a look at my credentials that I must brag about. You know that I have at least 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors and 13 professional certificates right?. It is not that I am insecure and like the PAP I must always remind people about my sakti qualifications. The reason is because I know you people the public only think qualifications is important and I don't want to be like other activists or opposition politicians boh tak chek. You don't believe you ask Jolovan. His PSLE only 212, he himself proudly said so before in ST interview. If I were him I would keep quiet. OK please buy my book at the counter behind you and attend my paid talks next month, No to 6.9 million!

Vincent Wijeysingha: No to 6.9 million! I am openly gay, from SDP, and will take-over that hopeless Dr Chee Soon Juan in SDP who was luckily clever enough to shut up during the last GE. I also almost wanted to run back to England when Dr Chee dared to tell WP that SDP and WP can have a sham alliance for the Punggol BE where WP takes all the shit and we take all the glam. Also, my English is very good but not with a fake ang moh accent like the other Indian in opposition politics, Kenneth the embarrassing son of JBJ. Please vote for me and SDP in 2016. I promise SDP would kick out all the foreigners, including the ones who rented your HDB flat or condo. No to 6.9 million!

Jolovan Wham: No to 6.9 million! I love foreigners and some of you might have heard from rumours, one of the speakers here too. So if I love foreign workers, by being here, that means this event is not anti-foreigner. Recently I helped the SMRT bus drivers who went on strike. The Tiongs, I mean PRC nationals, do not deserve to be treated as second class citizens and should be paid as much as Singaporeans. So SBS and SMRT, please increase their wages and therefore bus and train fares. No to 6.9 million!

Nizam Ismail: No to 6.9 million! You don't know me, but you can Google my name anyway now. No to 6.9 million!

M Ravi: No to 6.9 million! I promise I won't have another mental breakdown now and burst into song and dance like the last time I was at Speakers' Corner, as I took my pills earlier. If I don't take them I might go a little teeny weeny mad like when I shouted in a mosque and a temple on different occasions. I think very few people want me to be their lawyer anymore as I make the case worse for them when I'm their lawyer because of my illness. People, including fellow gays fighting 377A, now rather go to Peter Low! That lawyer is stealing my business! No to 6.9 million!

Teo Soh Lung: No to ISA, ISD, MHA and PAP! Any chance for me to complain about ISD, ISA, MHA and PAP, I take! I support all those detained under ISA by ISD - the communists in the 50-70s, my fellow Marxist Conspiracy comrades from 1987 and all my jihad brothers detained in recent years for terrorism! I only know how to complain about ISD, ISA, MHA and PAP, and spot the PAP spies among you. You, you and you there in the crowd! The one using handphone to take pictures of the crowd. Don't bluff I know it is not for Facebook and you are ISD spy! OK OK Gilbert glaring at me now for digressing, No to 6.9 million!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Disabled Drivers and Caregivers: Safe from New Car Loan Rules

Despite the rightful rage at the government for introducing the new car MAS loan rules that car buyers must have a cash down payment of 50% or 60% depending on the OMV of the car, and that the max loan tenure is 5 years instead of the current 10 years, there was some reasoned restraint in this new car tax.

Some Thoughtfulness and Exemption

Finance MinisterTharman Shanmugaratnam assured that the new loan rules are a temporary measure and would be reviewed in time to affect demand, and also that disabled drivers and their caregivers would be exempted from this onerous MAS policy to ostensibly restrict the number of cars on the road. The COE policy has obviously failed to deter people from buying cars.

The exemption that disabled drivers and their caregivers should not be penalised is a welcomed caveat to the policy. However, it is the details that matter. Presumably the conditions for the special lifting of the loan rules would be based on whether the car buyer has a Class 1 or Class 2 parking label according to the Centre for Enabled Living.  Class 1 is for people who are medically certified as having physical disabilities to park at the disabled drivers lot. Class 2 is for caregivers and those who drive someone who is relatively immobile, and technically it allows for people to park the car at the disabled lot for up to one hour only.

However, there are frequent instances when the Class 2 label is abused e.g. parking beyond the one hour, did not ferry any disabled passenger but yet parked in the disabled lot. Similarly, people would try to work around this MAS loan rules by claiming to be caregivers and getting loan and tax breaks. This is possible as a Class 2 label can be spread up to 3 cars per label i.e. 3 cars exempted from the new loan rules?

So-Called Altruism Questioned

This begs the question. If the government was really generous about disabled drivers and their caregiver-drivers based on allowing them to be spared the new MAS rules, should these groups of people have been exempted from the COE policy at the onset?

Ignoring the technicalities of who is a disabled driver and who is a caregiver-driver and how many cars can be exempted per disabled person, it is obvious these people have a bigger right to own cars more than anyone else. Since the numbers are small, these people need their cars, and as a show of a caring government, all this while, why do disabled drivers surely, and their caregiver-drivers, need to bid and pay for an increasingly exorbitant COE?

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

By George! Media Lobbying, Transparency and NTU's Tenure System

Lobbying is part of the democratic process to advocate a view and to challenge another view. Those with more resources and networks would find it easier to rally each other to support each other in a you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-your-back exchange of favours.

Drumming Up Support for Cherian

When NTU decided not to give Cherian George his tenure in NTU, Cherian's friends and networks got into action. They even produced a petition filled with academic and other luminaries to lobby that their friend deserves job security, as that is what a tenure is in essence. How many of those academics were also striving to get tenure and wanted to use Cherian's case to set a precedent that lobbying and petition for job secuirty works, is a big guess. NTU was however taciturn about why Cherian did not get his tenure citing that it was rightly confidential employer-employee information and were quietly afraid that other academics would rightly learn how to game the outdated tenure system. The lack of transparency on the part of NTU did not help NTU.

There were as a result engineered conspiracy theories from Cherian's friends that Cherian was denied his tenure because he was outspoken in his political views. Is he really that controversially outspoken? If anything and to be indulged in conspiracies, Cherian is in the PAP's books given his employment, wife and wife's background. Naturally Cherian's friends and supporters did not publicly question the former journalist's intellectual rigour as an academic in NTU which prized quantitative and positivist traditions given its engineering research slant. That is not what friends do, but what his former colleague did to set events in context. Courageously even, as nobody wanted to seen as remotely critical of Cherian's situation and going against the tide.

Cherian's Little Elves in Yahoo

Cherian's supporters which includes former students trained and savvy in the use of media, used the media to drum up support for their friend. Yahoo is one of those closely following Cherian's plight and the curious would Google that the Yahoo writers Elizabeth Soh and Shah Salimat were NTU mass comm students and in all likelihood former students and friends of Cherian. Doing their part as writers for the online media giant Yahoo, standing on the chair, "O captain my captain".

Elizabeth Soh in Yahoo

Shah Salimat in Yahoo

Hence, the whole lobby is an extended new media class on what the media can do and should do in lobbying. Cherian's case was reported as a scoop notwithstanding that many academics failed to get their tenure for various personal or office reasons. It helped that Cherian's network was willing and his friends and supporters were in the media to keep support up for Cherian, including a petition and open letter to make NTU open up. In many ways it is like how ST works to play up support for the PAP, this time the table is turned the other way. Control of the media is important in lobbying and engineering support. Ask Gina Rinehart about her Fairfax media ambitions.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Curious Case of Cherian George – Calibrated Coercion or Retardation?

The indelible mark that Dr Cherian George has contributed to socio-political vernacular is his ‘calibrated coercion’ treatise:

“Calibrated coercion provides journalists with periodic reminders of just who is boss, but also enough leeway to persuade enough of them that there is still a place in Singapore for the professional practice of journalism, and that the space is expanding.”

With a sour dose of irony, or perhaps poetic justice, Cherian would feel he is now a victim of this calibrated form of hegemony bearing directly towards his head. While presumably being denied his tenure as a sign of reminding him “who is boss” he continues to serve as the Director of the Temasek Foundation - NTU Asia Journalism Fellowship, and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Policy Studies at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. From what I understand, he was also recently promoted to the post of Associate Professor recently.

So is there really a case for student uproar and just how victimized is he really?

With a deluge of exciting university program collaborations, open universities, web-based publications tools and social media connectivity, how would the denial of tenure, prevent someone as purportedly brilliant and well-regarded as Dr Cherian George, from finding alternative career options, outside of the very sphere of political power and influence that he so loathes with a passion?

Cherian will probably be the first to disagree with me.

Firstly, he would take issue with my clumsy and ill formed sentence above.  Secondly, he would likely argue that it is precisely the fact that he is brilliant and well-regarded, that not to receive his tenure is a travesty in itself; never mind the innuendo that he was ‘fixed’ for his political views and he cannot get an iron rice bowl job. And thirdly, what world would we live in, if the Rosa Parks and Nelson Mendelas of history chose to take the paths always followed?

On the flipside, one could argue that tenure-ship is an archaic and elitist practice that rewards academic exploitation and research paper production over academic teaching and the furtherance of all-rounded academic excellence. Any tertiary student that has ‘co-authored’ research work will understand fully what I mean. And with national sensibility moving away from privileged entitlements such as Ministerial pensions and exorbitant private sector bonus, can we really continue to argue the case for guaranteeing someone a job for life?

At times, I start to feel that we as citizens of the Internet are being victims of ‘calibrated retardation’. Having violently broken out from years of brain-washing by the Mainstream Media and a paternal state, we have become vicious cyber judges and juries. Calibrated with just a touch of retardation, and feed with sufficient promptings, we are easily mobilised into supporting any cause that allows us to show our government, just “who really is the boss”; whilst allowing just enough leeway to persuade the powers up there that their good work will not go unnoticed.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Transitioning 6.9 into a Political Mass Orgy

So, after organising many unavailing gatherings in the name of the unemployed, Gilbert Goh has finally managed to pull off a successful event at Hong Lim Park despite shooting himself in the foot with a patronising summary of foreigner stereotypes. That was ironic, considering the event was supposed to be gathering of Singaporeans against the government's liberal immigration policies, not actually against foreigners themselves. I guess Gilbert missed the homing pigeon's message to "hate the PAP-yer, not the game" since the crowd appeared to relish in the delight of slamming the PAP. Perhaps he got too caught up with all the media attention, perhaps he is a closet xenophobe, but I digress.

With so much angst over the white paper, the huge crowd turn-out ,in hindsight, does not seem all that surprising. But it seems that the opposition parties (in particular SDP and NSP) caught that on early, and being the opportunistic vultures that they are, rode on the wave of Singaporeans' discontent for political mileage.

First, notice the number of speakers who are or were, associated with opposition politics. Mind you, these are not novices but heavyweight personalities such as Vincent Wijeysingha and Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss (I am loathe to include Tan Jee Say in the mix, although he did seem popular with the crowd). Take notice too of SDP-affiliated personalities amongst the crowd - former ISA detainees, left-leaning civil rights activists and NGO representatives. Second, I found it too much of a coincidence that the SDP had launched their own population and immigration policy paper just a couple of days before the event at Hong Lim. On top of that, Wijeysingha had opened his speech at the event promoting SDP's policy paper. He even took pains to mention NSP's own "robust" alternative policy report to reporters at the post-event press conference, though it was strange that he left out WP's proposals.

Considering the huge media coverage, especially from the foreign press, accorded to the event, it was smart of the SDP to leverage on the event to raise its political profile both locally and internationally. NSP resources went into the event presumably as Gilbert was or is NSP while SDP went along for a free ride. SDP recently preached about opposition unity like its generous offer of a SDP MP in parliament if it took part with WP in the Punggol election and won, and WP can administer the SMC chores, also has a protest culture and wants to portray itself as the leader of the opposition to the foreign press. Thus, the event fitted nicely with SDP's image.

In my opinion, it was SDP that benefited the most from the event, unfortunately at the expense of Gilbert and those who attended it. A pity for Gilbert as he was the one who had tirelessly initiated and organised the event. A pity for the crowd who naively thought they were part of a landmark occasion where 4,000 brave Singaporeans stood up for themselves, when they were in fact pawns in SDP's game of political chess.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Engineering of Criticisms and an "Open" Debate in the White Paper

The beating of the drum by the former establishment cadres started again. This time, it is a criticism of the White Paper on population, a convincing criticism no doubt if one wants to be uncritical of what is being laid out in front of us, and not guessing about what is not laid out instead.

Donald Low, Senior Fellow and Assistant Dean (Research Centres) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, formerly from the Public Service Division and from the Ministry of Finance, said that he would fail the White Paper if it was a student work handed to him for marking as it lacked scholarship and academic rigour. A fellow government scholar and former government colleague, Yeoh Lam Keong, dismissed the paper as sociologically and politically naive. Lam Keong who was, this is priceless, GIC Director of Economics and Strategy and Chief Economist from October 2000 to June 2011. Anyone vaguely following GIC and Temasek's lacklustre record in the 2000s would know that these sovereign funds lost money for Singapore in the public's eyes despte what the ministry of finance and its GIC and Temasek bedfellows said. They lost our taxpayers and CPF money even some might speculate.

There are Criticisms and there are Criticisms

So Donald and Lam Keong have this image of former establishment scholars and inner circle management who have even turned around on their former employers. Lam Keong even has an image of a HDB man, humble and frugal. But if he stood as a PAP MP, we would scoff his contrived humble background instead. Donald and Lam Keong are now in think-thanks backed by the government - IPS and the LKY school. How independent is their criticism in the grand scheme of things? Then we look at the criticisms, they are actually obvious and echo what we already think that the White Paper is a superficial coffee table book, nothing new, nothing really critical, and nothing really damaging of the White Paper. Excuse my cynicism, if they were academics out to damage the White Paper seriously, why no facts and figures on how businesses would benefit or not benefit from the increase or decrease of foreigners, as that is the main slant in the importance of GDP growth in the White Paper. They are thought leaders from the ministry of finance and GIC after all.

Healthy Cynicism

Hence, are they just planted criticisms to steer the debate and institutionalised dissent that Donald himself talked about recently? Just like we know that the media pretends to be objective but are really pro-establishment, we have forgotten that the local think-tanks are pro-establishment in the end although they appear to be independent. Some argue that those formerly from the establishment and left have the greatest insights into the machinery and are thus more credible. Maybe. However, have they ever left the establishment? We will never know.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Seeing red over White Paper on Population

A 76-page coffee table book. That's how I would describe the latest White Paper. After 11 months of research, planning, and feedback from 2,500 Singaporeans, the National Population and Talent Division has nothing to show for - at least nothing that we don't already know. Just 2 weeks prior, DBS Vickers had pre-empted the paper by predicting that the population target will be raised to 7 million. By now, we are all too familiar with the usual government rhetoric on the necessity of foreigners to make up for our falling fertility rate, and most of us accept that. What we really want to know is how the government is going to walk the tight rope between the increase in alien population and the scarce resources that our small island can afford. 

Maintaining a Strong Singaporean core

At the heart of a strong Singaporean core, is a strong Singaporean identity. Yet, it is hard to see how Singaporeans will form the core when they are projected to make up only half of the 6.9 million people squeezed in a little red dot in 2030. The trend of a declining TFR will also likely continue due to other intangible socio-economic aspirations despite monetary incentives dangled at married couples. Will this mean a possible dilution of the Singapore identity? Salt is further added to this gaping wound when the paper offers nothing more than a standard textbook solution to address the assimilation of naturalized citizens into Singapore. With all the brains from top scholars in the admin service, surely they can come up with more than just videos, booklets, and courses to integrate foreigners into the cultural norms and practices of the country?

Maintaining Good Opportunities for Singaporeans

Economic growth appears to be the main impetus behind the increase in population. However, the government has to balance the task of economic development with its social development. Just as how it would be difficult to plan and have children without a stable income, it seems equally difficult to plan and have children if people are treated as economic digits.

Maintaining a High Quality Living Environment

While it is heartening to know that plans have been made to upgrade Singapore's hardware, it unfortunately left out her software. Indeed, it is puzzling that the paper did not include a section on how the projected change in population numbers will affect the socio-political landscape in Singapore. Issues such as national security, law and order, nationality-race tensions and environment impact how we go about our daily lives. Already we are experiencing more cases of nationality prejudice (e.g. Chinese nationals vs Chinese Singaporeans), crime and strikes involving foreigners (e.g. SMRT strike by Chinese bus drivers), what more is to come in the future?

White Paper or Blank Paper?

After all that has been said and done by the government, it seems that the White Paper on Population raised more questions than it answers. Or perhaps it was poorly put together coupled with poor timing (riding on the burdened back of Lee Hsien Loong and his lack of 20/20 foresight). Either way, the paper did not go down well with Singaporeans and expectedly so. The government has to buck up on its policies and PR campaign if it wants to regain the trust and respect of its electorate.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

BE2013: The Politics of the Underdog

The Punggol East by-election is proving to be a very interesting match to watch. Four parties have thrown their names into the electoral hat, but all eyes seem only to be focused on the tight race between the incumbent party's candidate Koh Poh Koon and contender Lee Li Lian from the Workers' Party. While Koh was unveiled as a fresh face of the PAP, Lee had previously contested in Punggol East during the 2011 General Elections.

David vs Goliath?

Opposition parties in Singapore are often perceived as the underdogs in a political arena dominated by the PAP. The tendency to root for the opposition stem not only from the perceived ineffectiveness and arrogance of the PAP, but also from the disadvantaged position that the opposition is placed in due to their lack of resources (e.g. funds, manpower) to compete on the same playing field with the PAP.

During the 2011 General Elections, when the WP successfully wrestled Aljunied GRC from the hands of the PAP, many saw it as a feat akin to David's defeat over Goliath. Yet two years on, some people are asking if David is slowly turning into another Goliath.

Turn of the Tide?

With 8 seats in parliament, many are questioning the passive role that the WP has taken in Parliament, and whether they could have done more to champion contentious issues such as LGBT rights and the repeal of section 377A of the penal code.

In addition, many did not take kindly to WP's stance on opposition unity, as Low Thia Khiang clarified that the WP will walk its own road because "uniting all the opposition parties is an unrealistic vision and an impossible dream". WP's reluctance to work with other opposition parties means that it will not shy away from future multi-cornered fights, as seen in the Punggol East by-elections, and this could potentially upset and sow discord with other opposition parties as well.

Something also has to be said about the poor conduct of WP supporters. The increasing popularity of the party seems to be getting into the heads of its supporters as they are emboldened into making gratuitous insults not only at the PAP but other opposition parties as well. During nomination day, nasty jeers were directed at SDA's Desmond Lim from the WP crowd despite party members' attempts to restrain them. While it may be impossible to stop all taunts, perhaps party leaders could have done more to speak out against such bad behaviour as it not only reflects badly on the supporters, but on the party as well.

Underdog No More?

Stringing together the perceived ineffectiveness of the WP in parliament, its status as a lone ranger among opposition parties, and the perceived arrogance of its supporters, it is not hard to see why WP's status as the underdog is under threat. This is especially so when it is compared to other parties with less political capital (e.g. SDP, SDA, NSP etc). For them, they will now not only have to compete against one Goliath, but two.

But for now, the WP will still be perceived by most Singaporeans as the underdog against the PAP. Yet, it remains to be seen if it will continue to enjoy the support of Singaporeans if it allows itself to be overwhelmed by its own success and arrogance.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What is a By-Election?

It had to happen after all.  Despite all the friendly handshakes, all the calls for dignified campaigning, the big AIM bonfire has been lit; it is like that pent-up pee finally gushing over and every one of us in the online world put our hands up in glee.

Such a devilishly Machiavellian tactic, to hit the AIM button looks like an election tactic right out from the good ol LKY days.  Bu this time, surprisingly, it came from the men in blue, and for that matter, that woman in blue, Sylvia Lim.

Before we all start popping our champagnes and seeing visions of an unraveling of the PAP government in Punggol East, let me sound a word of caution, because hopes held too high means a harder fall and bump into reality.

This AIM issue is fundamentally a political card.  It is a pretty damn useful card.  And with all useful cards, you only play it when it is necessary.  Sometimes you play it with a flourish, as the final climax to secure your win.  Other times you use it, because if not, you are assured of defeat.

So what scenario was it that prompted Sylvia to use the AIM card last night?  To win with a flourish or to avoid a sure defeat?  My guess is inclined towards the more pessimistic scenario.  The WP must have sensed that the ground is not moving their way fast enough. A by-election is not like a GE, it is easier to sense the mood of the constituency, all eyes and ears are zoomed into one small finite space.  Within the first few days of campaigning, the instincts can tell you whether you stand a chance.  And it appears that the vibes for the WP is not too good; hence the decision to use this card. Pure politics as it is supposed to be.

So while we all go into the now almost ritualistic online adulation for WP and derision of the PAP, let us not get maimed by this false euphoria because the Punggol East resident is not the cyberspace.  They want covered walkways, more neighbourhood shopping centres, better LRT connections and so forth.  This is a by-election after all.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Civil Servants, Public Servants, Public Servants for Purpose of Penal Code

A recent discussion on town council staff as public servants "for purpose of the penal code" opened questions on whether a town council is a government, political or even a corporate organisation.

"Public servants for purposes of Penal Code
56.  All members, officers and employees of a Town Council and all employees of its managing agent shall be deemed to be public servants for the purposes of the Penal Code (Cap. 224)."

Town Council Staff are Not Public Servants...

The above quote was circulated about that town councils and their members are not political associations but a public service and made up of public servants. However, the caveat "for the purposes of the Penal Code" is a curious one. The loud qualifier, a caveat, is clear to all  is that there are situations when the town council staff or member is not regarded as a public servant. Town council staff are not categorically public servants unless to an unschooled person in English which are surprisingly legion in the Internet. If town council staff are categorically public servants, the Act would have just been,

"56.  All members, officers and employees of a Town Council and all employees of its managing agent shall be deemed to be public servants"

So when is a town council staff a public servant and when he is not, and similarly as a result, are town councils categorically public service organs, or not and actually political organs as Baey Yam Keng said? The safe answer is that it all depends.

Other Cases of "Limited" Public Servants in Acts

This caveat appeared in other Acts besides the Town Councils Act. It also appeared as a common caveat for the particular staff in the Building and Construction Authority Act, the National Heritage Board Act, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority Act, and even the Commercial and Industrial Security Corporation Act. So the idea of public servants covered those in the statutory boards, but also CISCO security guards. CISCO is a commercial company so how can they be public servants in the sense we understand.

Unless "for the purpose of Penal Code" means they, Town Council, CICSO, BCA etc have the power of public servants and can exercise powers of enforcement under Penal Code?

Public and Civil Servants More than Semantics

What then are public servants and are they the same as civil servants? There is confusing conflation of civil and public servants in everyday use of the terms. Even in the UK civil service, there is confusing employment and political distinction between those in Her Majesty's Service as civil servants, and other public servants like politicians. The military are traditionally not part of the civil service, and also not the public service. The BBC is seen as a public service company and funded by the UK government, but its staff are neither civil servants nor public servants.

In the Singapore context, civil servants and the civil service are public servants and part of the public service. But public servants and the public service do not only refer to the government, but to statutory boards as well. The confusion is compounded when civil servants are managed by a government department called the Public Services Division, rather than called the Civil Service Division.

If anybody can explain this semantics labyrinth of civil and public servants, please have a go.