28 January 2011

Australian Reconstruction Levy to be Borne by the Affluent

The Australian government announced its response to the estimated $5.6 billion cost of rebuilding flood-affected regions.

Funding will come from the following proposed sources:
  • A$2.8 billion in spending cuts, including removing industry assistance and cutting back other green programmes and making other cuts.
  • A$1.0 billion in delaying some infrastructure projects.
  • A$1.8 billion through a one-year levy on people earning over A$50,000.

The levy will be structured as follows:
  • Taxable income below A$50,000: exempt.
  • Portion of taxable income between A$50,000 and A$100,000: 0.5 per cent.
  • Portion of taxable income above A$100,000: 1.0 per cent.

Anyone affected by the floods is exempt.

The levy will wipe out more than half the tax cuts received in 2010-11 by anyone earning over A$100,000.

The burden of the levy (if approved by parliament) will fall on the affluent and the middle class.

There are no plans to raise the Goods and Services Tax.  Otherwise, even the poor have to pay the levy.

The median wage is estimated to exceed A$50,000.  The average full-time adult ordinary earnings in August 2010 were A$1,259.40 a week (reference: Australian Bureau of Statistics), or approximately A$65,600.

27 January 2011

Government Policies and the Procreation Goal

Singapore's present prosperity masks its grim future if we are not producing enough citizen babies.

We tell ourselves that permanent residents make up for the shortfall, but the reality is that they don't because they are not citizens and this is not their home.  Few permanent residents will defend Singapore; forcing them to do national service may soothe citizen unhappiness but may deceive the SAF into believing it has more manpower than it can actually muster.

New residents bring new issues.  Is immigration about the economy or nation building?  The speed and scale of recent immigrant arrivals threaten to radically alter the character of our nation due to its smallness and compactness.  Furthermore, selecting immigrants based on "desired" qualities deprives us of natural diversity in the population that may haunt us later.

Perhaps, the availability of foreigners has prevented us from going all out to solve the problem.

Perhaps too, over-crowding from wave after wave of foreigners has exacerbated our procreation woes.

The emphasis on economic growth and productivity and the free-for-all competition for jobs have led to an almost single-minded focus on career advancement and wealth accumulation, and an aversion to opportunity cost.

Some families wonder if they have enough money to live, let alone have children.

When our Malay and immigrant communities follow our Chinese and Indian communities in under-procreating, it's clear that increasingly fewer people care about child-bearing or children, or want their children to grow up in such conditions.

We should ask ourselves whether modest sustainable economic growth that provides enough jobs for our people is not better.

Next, many existing government policies may make sense on a standalone basis, but seem disconnected from encouraging procreation.  How many ministries or statutory boards even consider this in their mission statement?

There should be a government-wide review of policies and regulations, with the aim to eliminating those that stymie procreation.

For example, build HDB flats in anticipation of demand so that newly married couples can get their homes almost immediately.  Allow newly married couples whose salaries exceed HDB's income ceiling to rent HDB flats for a predetermined duration (eg five years), with the option to buy them if they produce children.  Price new HDB flats at cost plus a small margin, instead of market minus a subsidy.

Remove all pre-conditions for assisted reproduction.

When appraising pregnant civil servants, make allowance for their possibly being less productive at work.  If supervisors don't get the message, counsel, reprimand, demote or sack them.

Reconsider minimum wage legislation.  Alternatively, substantially raise Workfare payouts and raise the cash component.

Scrap child tax relief, which is income dependent.  Instead, give every child a generous annual allowance, in cash.

Remove GST on essential items.

Change the primary school admission priority to favour larger families.

Further review the education policy on mother tongue.

If we really want more babies, put procreation as a core do-or-die mission and plan everything else around it.  Prosperity lacks meaning if there are few citizens eventually to enjoy it.

26 January 2011

The Lowest Income Tax Brackets Should Remain

PricewaterhouseCoopers Singapore hopes that the Singapore government will remove its bottom two income tax brackets of 3.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent, according to a Business Times report entitled "Hopes Rise For Budget To Bring Down Tax, Costs" (25 January 2011).

The marginal tax rate for residents of 3.5 per cent applies to chargeable income between $20,001 and $30,000, and 5.5 per cent applies to chargeable income between $30,001 and $40,000.

This suggestion, if adopted, is said to benefit lower-income earners while reducing the government's tax administration costs.  However, in light of Singapore's very simple and straightforward tax code, especially for those who don't earn much, the tax administration costs are minuscule.

What happens if the government removes the bottom two tax brackets?

Firstly, the number of taxpayers will shrink further.  If the suggestion had been implemented in Year of Assessment 2009 (the latest data available), the number of resident taxpayers would have shrunk from 1.0 million to 0.7 million..

Secondly, it will not benefit the approximately two-thirds of employed residents who already don't earn enough to pay any income tax.

Thirdly, all taxpayers benefit, not just those whose chargeable income is $40,000 and below, because the first $40,000 of chargeable income will not be taxable.  Anyone whose chargeable income is more than $40,000 will see his income tax reduced by $900.

Fourthly, the new scale of personal tax rates will start at 8.5 per cent and end at 20.0 per cent.  It is likely that these rates will be adjusted downwards, if not immediately, then in subsequent years.

Fifthly, if this suggestion had been implemented in Year of Assessment 2009, income tax collected from tax residents would have been reduced by $0.7 billion, from $5.9 billion to $5.2 billion.

What if more tax revenue is needed in the future?  It is unlikely that the income tax rates that have been cut or removed will be restored.  What is more likely is that the GST rate will be increased.  With GST, everyone, including those who have little or no income, pays part of the tax collected.

25 January 2011

Investment Commitments In Singapore

In its report entitled "EDB Year 2010 In Review" released on 24 January 2011, Economic Development Board said:
EDB's 2010 investment commitments set new records for total business spending... and number of skilled jobs created.  In addition, fixed asset investments... exceeded forecasts while the value-added... per annum contributed by these projects, ranks as the second highest on record.
[Total business spending — annual operating expenditure, which consists mainly of wages, depreciation and rental] reached S$8.6 billion.  [Fixed asset investment], at S$12.9 billion, also represents a record year...  When the projects committed in 2010 are fully implemented, they will create a record number of 21,300 new skilled jobs and contribute S$14.4 billion in value-added per annum.
Several people took this statement to mean that fixed asset investment in 2010 was S$12.9 billion, total business spending associated with these projects was S$8.6 billion etc.

It is likely that what Economic Development Board meant was that, in 2010, it secured commitments from companies to invest in projects in Singapore.  The fixed asset investment of the projects was committed to be S$12.9 billion.  The total business spending of the projects was estimated to be S$8.6 billion.

An investment commitment is not an actual investment, however.

Many projects take a number of years to be fully implemented.

Some projects may not be implemented in the form or scale that the companies envisaged in 2010, or may not be implemented at all.

18 January 2011

Switching To Current-Year Basis Of Tax Assessment: Who Benefits?

As budget time approaches, tax consultants and economists are reviving the suggestion to switch from the preceding-year basis of income tax assessment to the current-year basis of income tax assessment.

Features of the preceding-year basis

Tax is assessed and paid in the year next following the year in which the income is earned.  For example, income earned in calendar 2009 is assessed and paid in 2010.

It allows taxpayers to defer paying tax for one year.

It is less difficult and less costly for taxpayers, especially when the business climate is volatile.

It is claimed to be particularly hard on the newly retrenched and those who have just suffered pay cuts.  However, this is not an inherent defect of the preceding-year basis.  It is due to some people's aversion to thinking about their tax liability.  Therefore they do not, or do not adequately, set aside funds for tax on their income as they earn it; they prefer to pay the current year's tax with next year's income.  Thus, they encounter difficulties when they are retrenched, suffer pay cuts or retire.

Features of the current-year basis

Tax is paid in the year in which the income is earned.  For example, income earned in calendar 2009 is assessed and paid in 2009.  Since the actual income earned in any year is not known until the end of that year, the tax assessment is not finalised until the following year; however, much of the tax would have been paid during the year.

It offers macroeconomic benefits, with income tax being an automatic economic stabiliser.

It is being used by many countries.

It increases compliance costs.

What happens when a country switches from preceding-year basis to current-year basis?

When a country switches from a preceding-year basis of assessment to a current-year basis of assessment, the country will collect two years' worth of taxes in a single year (the transition year).

Individuals will claim that they have difficulty paying two years' taxes in a single year, although (as explained above), they themselves created the difficulty.  They should have set aside funds for taxes on income as it is earned, instead looking to the following year's income for funds to pay the preceding year's tax.

A possible solution may be to allow individuals to stagger the preceding year's tax over a period of, for example, five years.

Another solution may be to waive the preceding year's tax.  As countries operate on the basis (or assumption) of carrying on forever, the cost to the country is negligible.

From a macroeconomic perspective, waiving one year's tax seems right.  Otherwise, if individuals pay tax on the current year's income plus part or the whole of the preceding year's tax in one year, the government's budget surplus will swell and it will drain liquidity from the system.

Obviously, the high income earners salivate at the possible waiver of part or the whole of the preceding year's tax.

But the employed who do not earn enough to pay any income tax, housewives and retirees will not benefit.

16 January 2011

Giving Budget Goodies? Focus On The Disadvantaged

The government plans to share the good budget surplus in its current fiscal year that ends on 31 March 2011.

When the budget surplus is shared with citizens, the primary focus should be on giving more generous assistance to more categories of people at the lower end of the income spectrum and others who are disadvantaged.

Who are the disadvantaged among us?  The following are some examples.

One-fifth of all employed residents (or 400,100) earn less than the ultra low wage of $1,200 a month.  These include 262,700 engaged in full-time employment and the majority of the 86,600 under-employed (persons working part-time for economic reasons, not by choice). [1]

19.5 per cent of resident households in three-room or smaller HDB flats do not have any working members, compared to only 5.5 per cent of resident households in larger HDB flats. [2][3]

Single parents of approximately 550 children born every year are denied some forms of financial assistance available to married parents.  Yet, they are as Singaporean as other families. [4]

Fewer than 0.2 per cent of the approximately 18,000 autistic individuals aged 19 years and older receive help at specialised centres. [5]

There are others.

The remainder of the budget surplus should be held in reserve so that the GST rate will not need to be increased in the foreseeable future.

Already, the government intends to defray the $1 billion cost of upgrading of the MRT signalling system [6].  It seems illogical to ignore the more than $1.6 billion Land Transport Authority collected from the reduced supply of Certificates of Entitlement in 2010, inasmuch as both are interconnected pieces of the overall land transportation solution.

Next, the government has said that Singapore should start building up its reserves again, make good what was spent last year (such as the $4.5 billion Jobs Credit Scheme) and a little bit more, and put a little aside in good years [7].  The best time to do this is when there is a huge budget surplus, especially when some of the surplus is derived from tax on the Jobs Credit in the hands of the recipients.

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Notes:

1.  Singapore Workforce, 2010.

2.  Key Household Income Trends, 2009.

3.  Population Trends, 2010.

4.  "Get Real: Single By Choice", Channel News Asia, 27 December 2010.

5.  "Get Real: My Not So Sweet 21", Channel News Asia, 6 December 2010.

6.  "A 'better' way to manage PRs: SM Goh", TODAY, 7 September 2010.

7.  Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the May Day Rally 2010, 1 May 2010.

15 January 2011

Top Income Tax Rates Should Not Be Reduced

Some people have suggested that the top income tax rates be lowered in light of the expected strong budget revenues.

The government should reject them.

Firstly, with GST, the tax differential across the income spectrum has narrowed.

A person whose chargeable income is below $20,000 pays no income tax, yet has an effective tax rate of 7.0 per cent by virtue of GST if he spends all he earns.

Retirees find their savings increasingly shrunk by increasingly higher GST rates, but derive no benefit from the lower income tax rates that often accompany GST increases, nor lasting benefit from occasional offsets.

A person with a chargeable income of $0.5 million has an effective tax rate of 19.2 per cent after GST if he spends half his chargeable income domestically.

Secondly, the affluent benefit from the removal of estate duty and tax on most interest income and income distribution from REITs and business trusts.

Thirdly, those who did well in 2010 have already been rewarded with salary increases and bonuses. They are also better positioned to deal with inflation.

Fourthly, the current income tax structure will not deter talented people from coming or staying.  They will come or stay, provided there are suitable jobs, and living conditions are conducive.  Furthermore, lowering income tax here simply transfers tax revenues from Singapore to those countries which tax worldwide income of its people.

Fifthly, a budget surplus in any year is not sufficient reason to lower income tax rates.  Reversing course (that is, increasing income tax rates) in the future is unpopular and requires exceptional political will.  If the budget surplus is projected to persist far into the forseeable future, the government should review its revenues and expenses.  Perhaps, the budget surplus is the result of its not spending enough, especially on the disadvantaged.

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The title of this post, previously "Top Income Tax Rates Should Remain", was changed in order that it does not give the impression that it contradicts a later post entitled "Top Income Tax Rates Should Be Raised".  The arguments herein were not changed.

14 January 2011

Arguments Against Minimum Wage Miss The Point

A minimum wage may affect the ability of lower skilled workers to secure a job because employers will be reluctant to employ them if the minimum wage is higher than the value of what they can contribute.  These workers will be denied the chance to work for a lower wage that reflects their skills and ability, even if they wish to.

The economic value of a worker's contribution is subjective.

Without access to an alternative liberal supply of low-wage foreign workers, a company has to either (i) be more productive using fewer workers, or (ii) employ the requisite number of workers and pay them at least the minimum wage.

If a company cannot afford to employ workers at the minimum wage, it is likely that its business is low value added.  In that case, it may be better off operating elsewhere.


Companies that are unable to pass on the additional wage cost (if and when a minimum wage law is passed) may become uncompetitive and decide to move out of Singapore, taking away jobs from Singaporeans.

By the very nature of their business, some companies — such as those providing retailing, catering, public transport, cleaning, refuse disposal and security in Singapore — must necessarily operate in Singapore.

Moreover, since Singapore is experiencing full employment and needs to import hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, it may not be an entirely bad idea if some companies exit the economy or the country, especially if they survive here only by virtue of their paying their workers low wages.


If companies decide to move out of Singapore, our GDP may suffer.

The main objective of economic growth is to provide employment for a country's citizens, rather than growth for growth's sake or for the empty honour of being the fastest growing economy, or growth to generate and accumulate large budget surpluses.  Singapore already generates so much demand for workers that companies need to import hordes of foreign workers.  These foreign workers are not invisible; they need almost instant housing, roads, healthcare facilities, recreation facilities, shops, eating places, schools, prisons etc.  In addition, various government departments need to set up or to be beefed up to manage them.  Slower, sustainable economic growth, with a reduced dependence on foreign workers, may be good for the country and its people.


Singapore should be concerned about competition from countries such as China and India, with their bountiful talent, improving educational standards, research and development spending, and cheaper infrastructure and labour.

Certainly Singapore should be concerned about competition from other countries.  While we cannot compete on cost alone, much can be done to reduce the various costs of doing business.  Yet this does not mean that a minimum wage should not be legislated to protect those who earn very little and who probably have very little bargaining power.  How this affects overall competitiveness, if at all, depends on the level at which the minimum wage is set and the labour intensity of the individual company or industry.


The way to narrow a widening income gap is by raising the skills and the productivity of the workforce, not by setting a minimum wage.

Setting a minimum wage does not preclude improving the skills or the productivity of the resident workforce.  They are not mutually exclusive.  Indeed, each person should upgrade his skills and his productivity to the extent possible.


Singapore has Workfare Income Supplement to supplement the wages of low-wage workers.

Workfare Income Supplement, or WIS, is funded out of taxes.  This means that tax payers are supplementing wages that companies should be paying their workers.

To qualify for WIS, a citizen has to satisfy the following conditions: (a) earn not more than $1,700 a month (including overtime pay and bonuses); (b) be aged 35 years and older; (c) live in a property with an annual value not exceeding $11,000; (d) worked at least six months during the work year (or at least three months out of any six-month period during the work year to receive half payment).

One advantage of WIS is that, unlike a minimum wage, it is available to the self-employed.  However, they must declare their net trade income from work done during the year and make the relevant contributions to their Medisave accounts.

WIS paid to a worker depends on his age and monthly salary.  The highest WIS a person in the 45-54 year age group will receive is $1,400 per year ($400 in cash and $1,000 credited to his CPF account) if he is an employee or $933 per year (non-cash, with the entire amount credited to his Medisave account) if he is self-employed.

WIS creates a dependency on the government.


A minimum wage law usually co-exists with an unemployment benefits scheme.

Not all minimum wage regimes co-exist with an unemployment benefits scheme, nor is it necessary to do so.  In any event, Singapore's circumstances may be different.


Minimum wage legislation can be a distraction from doing what is necessary to ensure that Singapore stays competitive enough to attract enough investment and talent to generate full employment.

Anything can be a distraction, but nothing need be.  As stated above, setting a minimum wage does not preclude taking steps to improve the skills or the productivity of the workforce.


A minimum wage system may lead to constant disagreement over the level of the minimum wage, and this may be harmful to tripartite relations (i.e. among the government, trade unions and employers).

Any disagreement over the level of the minimum wage necessarily involves two or more parties.  Any one or more of them may be unreasonable.  It is incomprehensible why workers but not the other tripartite parties should bear the burden of maintaining harmonious tripartite relations.


It may take years to reach agreement on the level of the minimum wage each time it needs to be reviewed.  By that time, it may no longer be relevant.

This is hypothetical inasmuch as wage negotiations between employers and trade unions in Singapore have not been protracted in the past.

Alternatively, the minimum wage may be set by the National Wages Council at its annual deliberations.


The minimum wage will become the maximum wage for low wage workers.  With a minimum wage situation, low wage workers may not receive salary increments.

A worker who commands a salary less than the minimum wage will only be too happy if the minimum wage is his maximum wage.  If he proves himself later, there is no reason for his salary not to exceed the minimum wage, if not at the company he has been working at, then at another company.

Many low wage workers in Singapore probably do not receive annual salary increments or bonuses presently.  With minimum wage legislation, low wage workers have some bargaining power and mobility.

The minimum wage must be reviewed and adjusted regularly in order to remain relevant.  It should be adjusted for inflation.


The minimum wage issue is being politicised.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines politics as the art or science of government or of guiding or influencing government policy.  Inasmuch as wages are very important to low wage citizens — people that a government is elected to serve — wages are necessarily political in nature.


Setting a minimum wage may lead to higher prices of goods and services domestically.

If a minimum wage law is passed, it does not follow that any resulting wage increases must be passed onto individuals or other businesses buying the goods or services.

No one — whether an individual or a business — wants to pay higher prices for goods and services that he consumes.  But, if this means paying all workers at least a minimum wage, many if not most people are prepared to accept higher prices, if they can be justified.


A minimum wage law will not help mid-skilled workers.

A minimum wage law is a law setting out the minimum wage.  It is a single minimum wage.  It does not set out a minimum wage for each category or sub-category of worker.  It is not intended for mid-skilled workers.


The arguments for or against implementing a minimum wage regime need a reference to what the minimum wage should be.  If set too high, the arguments against a minimum wage become more valid.  If set too low, it may lose its relevance.  The minimum wage should be a realistic wage that allows a worker to have a decent standard of living, but not much higher.  It will give hope of a better life to the lower wage earners and their families.

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This is an update of the post that was previously published on 20 November 2010.

Queen Makes Private Donation To Relief Effort

Britain's Queen Elizabeth sent her sincere sympathies to the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the widespread floods in Queensland, Australia.

Buckingham Palace said the Queen made a private donation to relief efforts for the floods.  The amount of her donation was not disclosed.

Few heads of state seem to make, or have made, private donations to relief efforts or charity.

How Public Debate Should Be Conducted

Edited excerpts from President Barrack Obama's speech on 12 January 2011 in memory of those killed or wounded at Tucson, Arizona, on 8 January 2011


When a tragedy strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations — to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless.  Already we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems.  Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized — at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do —  it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

What we can't do is use this as one more occasion to turn on one another.  Let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.  Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

Sudden loss also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us.  We may ask ourselves if we've shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives.  Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order.  We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame - but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions, is what is required.

If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness.

Let's remember only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation.  We can question each other's ideas without questioning each other's love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

12 January 2011

The Plight Of The Haitians

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians lost their lives and millions lost their homes in an earthquake that flattened much of the capital Port-Au-Prince in January 2010.

The international community pledged US$12 billion to help rebuild Haiti.  Of the US$2 billion that was supposed to arrive in 2010, only US$1.3 billion actually arrived.

Piles of rubble clog the streets.  At the current rate, some have estimated that it will take 20 years simply to clean up the mess.  Nearly a million people still live in about 1,300 makeshift refugee camps, which are beginning to look permanent.

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was already the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  Some people hoped that the earthquake would offer the country the opportunity for a new beginning.  One year on, it seems that nothing has changed, or will change.

Perhaps, we should not be surprised.

Why Study Which Pathogens Are Air-Borne?

According to a media report ("How Much Distance Can Your Sneeze And Cough Cover?", TODAY, 11 January 2011), some scientists in Singapore are trying to find out how airborne transmission of flu viruses takes place, if at all.

By observing the spray of minute liquid droplets when a person coughs, sneezes, laughs or talks, they hope to formulate better guidelines for infection control.

Infection control teams need to know which pathogens, if any, are airborne and the relative significance of this route is compared to other routes, such as direct contact, according to team leader Mr Julian Tang, a virologist and consultant at the National University Hospital.

Is this study necessary?

It is common knowledge, and common sense, for a person who is sick to isolate himself to the extent possible or wear a face mask otherwise.

It is common knowledge, and common sense, for other people to avoid contact with sick people to the extent possible and wash their hands thoroughly with soap before touching their own mouths, eyes or noses, or eating.

Besides, unless the study proves that all pathogens are either airborne or not airborne, the general public will continue to adopt the same precautions as they do now because no one knows what pathogens are in the air when someone else coughs, sneezes, laughs or talks.

Why should we care?  Because the study costs $1.08 million and is funded by the National Medical Research Council of Singapore.

07 January 2011

Testing For HIV

In-patients aged at least 21 years at the six public hospitals in Singapore can opt to be tested for HIV.

134,557 in-patients were eligible for testing in 2009.  82 per cent, or 110,421, opted out.

24,136 in-patients opted to be tested.  0.2 per cent, or 50, were found to be HIV positive.  They accounted for 10.8 per cent of the 463 new HIV positive cases in 2009.

Minister for Health Khaw Boon Wan would like to see more in-patients being tested.  More than half of the new HIV cases in Singapore are diagnosed only when the infection has reached an advanced stage, preventing them from receiving earlier treatment which could improve their health outcomes.

Why aren't more in-patients opting to be tested?

Firstly, people fear being stigmatised by family and friends if they are found to be HIV positive.  Although the test results are disclosed to the patient and doctors only, positive results must be reported to the Ministry of Health.

At the seven clinics that offer anonymous HIV tests, 7,762 tests were carried out in the first ten months of 2010 (some may be repeat tests).

Secondly, the test costs between $6 and $30, depending on the ward class of the in-patient.  Since the test is not free, how many people will opt for the test if they have no reason to believe that they are at risk?

The 463 new cases in 2009 represented a rate of 124 per million population.  Assuming the same incidence among the in-patients who opted for the test, there should have been only three new cases among them, far fewer than the 50 actual cases.

Alternatively, if we assume that there were no HIV cases among the in-patients who opted out of the HIV test, the incidence of 50 cases among 134,557 in-patients translates into 1,387 new cases in the general population, or three times as many as the 463 actual cases.

These seem to indicate that there are many undiagnosed HIV positive individuals out there.

While the Ministry of Health should encourage more people to undergo the HIV tests, there is no particular reason to focus on in-patients; there is no known correlation between their being warded and their being HIV positive.

It may be instructive if the Ministry of Health could find out from the 50 in-patients who were tested positive why they did not go for anonymous testing prior to being warded.  Did they not suspect that they were at risk?

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Notes:

"Over 80% Of In-patients Reject HIV Screening", The Straits Times, 5 December 2010.

"Characteristics Of New Cases Of HIV Infection Reported In First Six Months Of 2010", Ministry of Health, 28 November 2010.

05 January 2011

Suicides And Attempted Suicides


Under Section 309 of the Penal Code, a person who attempts to commit suicide, or does anything towards the attempt, may be jailed for a year, fined, or both.

In 2007, there were 374 suicides.  In addition, 706 people were arrested for attempting suicide, and 11 were charged in court.

In 2008, there were 364 suicides.  In addition, 821 people were arrested for attempting suicide, and eight were charged in court.

In 2009, there were 401 suicides.  In addition, 842 people were arrested for attempting suicide, and nine were charged in court.

In the first eleven months of 2010, there were 188 suicides (provisional).  729 deaths were unclassified.

In the first six months of 2010, 391 people were arrested for attempting suicide.

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Notes:

"Punishing For Suicide Bids: Does It Work?", The Straits Times, 15 December 2010.

Yearbook Of Statistics 2010, Department Of Statistics.

Singapore Demographic Bulletin, November 2010.

03 January 2011

The Plight Of Accidental Single Parents

When an unmarried woman (who may be single, divorced or widowed) finds herself pregnant but does not wish to marry the biological father of the baby she is carrying, she can allow the pregnancy to progress and raise the baby.

There were 495 children born to accidental single parents in 2005.  In each of the past three years, the number has averaged 550 (Get Real: Single By Choice, Channel News Asia, 27 December 2010).

Such single mothers are denied certain financial entitlements that are otherwise available to married mothers.

The government's rationale is that the family unit as a key pillar of society and it does not want to be seen encouraging single motherhood.

Many people consider the sexual behaviour that led to such women becoming accidental single mothers as morally incorrect.

It is very unlikely that any one of the accidental single mothers wanted to conceive a baby in the first place.  Once the baby is conceived, however, the woman has to make a choice — become a single mother or abort the foetus.  For many people, abortion is morally wrong, even though it is legal during the first trimester.

Should society punish these women for choosing to be accidental single mothers — that is, for choosing not to abort their babies after they became pregnant accidentally?

These single mothers and their children are as Singaporean as other families.

If society chooses not to treat them inclusively, these children may grow up to form the future underclass.