30 December 2013

Little India Riot — Dealing With Rioters And Others

The migrant workers who were "involved" in the 8 December riot in Little India were placed in three groups by the police.[1]

Group One Charged
This group comprised persons who, based on police investigations, were found to be "actively involved in the violence, and who had damaged property, defied police orders or incited others to do so". These individuals have been formally charged in court.

This may be understood to mean that the persons were alleged to have:
▪ Actively involved in the violence, and
▪ Damaged property or defied police orders or incited others to do so.

20 December 2013

Riot Aftermath — Little India Recalibrated And Migrant Drinkers' Coming Quandary

When Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew wrote:

"[I]t was clear how much quieter the place had become [one evening on the weekend following the 8 December riot].
 
...

The measures that MHA [Ministry of Home Affairs] imposed on a temporary basis have helped to restore a sense of calm and order to the place. Going forward, we will have to tweak these measures so that, for everyone involved, Little India does become a better PLACE (Police presence enhanced, Less Alcohol and Congestion, Enforcement tightened)."

I suspected that weekends in Little India would not be allowed to be the same again.

Mr Lui, who is also a Member of Parliament for Moulmein-Kallang GRC of which Little India is a part, foresees that the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry will help the Government reach "a more appropriate, steady state" in Little India, and possibly in other areas where foreign workers congregate in large numbers.

17 December 2013

Little India Riot — Was Response Consistent With Words?

The Government's statements about the 8 December riot in Little India

▪ The riot was an isolated incident.

▪ The riot was spontaneous and arose from the unlawful actions of an unruly mob reacting to a fatal traffic accident.

▪ The Government had not seen any evidence of pent-up tensions among foreign workers resulting from existing employment and workplace issues erupting.

▪ There were some signs that alcohol was a factor.


13 December 2013

Riot's Silver Lining

By now, almost everyone in Singapore and some people in India would have heard or read about the riot by 400 plus people in Little India last Sunday.

A number of policemen and ambulance personnel were injured. Police cars and an ambulance were torched. 31 alleged rioters have been charged.

The country's tranquillity has been shattered, its carefully nurtured reputation tarnished.

Was there a silver lining in the riot?

06 December 2013

The Case For Online Anonymity

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says that laws are needed to combat the growing problem of cyber-bullying and other forms of Internet harassment, particularly as the young are especially vulnerable and may end up depressed or suicidal. There is also the phenomenon of trolls setting out just to disrupt proper, constructive discussions by hurling abuse and stirring hate.[1]

Such behaviour is totally unacceptable face-to-face, and should be totally unacceptable online too. "We" must fight back against trolling and provide a safe, responsible online environment which promotes constructive participation.[1]

Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam says that the online environment, like the physical sphere, needs laws to curb harassment of people to such an extent that they commit suicide, cyber-bullying and putting out falsehoods which have no basis.[2]

Clearly, cyber-bullying and other forms of harassment, trolling and outright lies are despicable acts.
 
But do they justify disallowing anonymous comments completely? Is there a case for Internet anonymity?

28 November 2013

No Real Friends

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was upset when it was revealed that Australia had listened in on his telephone calls.

He ordered military and people-smuggling cooperation with Australia to be frozen and down-graded relations with Australia.

Both Mr Yudhoyono and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marty Natalegawa have explicitly denied that Indonesia taps the telephone calls of its "friends", describing such behaviour as illegal and immoral.

26 November 2013

No Room For Anonymous

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that laws were needed to combat the "growing problem" of cyber bullying and other forms of Internet harassment, and trolls which set out to disrupt proper, constructive discussions by hurling abuse and stirring hate.

He said that "we" must fight back against trolling and provide a safe, responsible online environment which promotes constructive participation.

Over time, a framework must be developed to take full advantage of the new media. This will widen the space for constructive discourse and participation among Singaporeans, allow different perspectives to surface — not just those of a vocal minority — and protect responsible users from those who abuse cyberspace, especially anonymously.

Accordingly — although it is not entirely clear how Mr Lee's reasoning set out in the preceding paragraphs leads to this conclusion — the Government's feedback channel REACH will soon require users to log in.

21 November 2013

Poverty (Line) Shy

A friend lost his wallet overseas not too long ago. When he went to report the loss at a police station there, he sensed that the police were framing their questions in a way that he had almost no choice but to say that he had dropped or misplaced his wallet, rather than that he was pick-pocketed. No crime committed. No incremental crime statistic.

So perhaps that is similar to the Government's reluctance to set an official poverty line.

Although the State does provide some people with financial assistance, so long as there is no official poverty line, there may exist a divergence between unofficial or perceived poverty and official poverty (somewhat akin to the divergence between thinking of oneself as being unemployed and being considered by statisticians to be unemployed).

What are the reasons why an official poverty line should or should not be set?

14 November 2013

National Service — Enough Recognition?

When national service started in 1967, young Singapore citizens simply served.

They grumbled, of course. No one really wanted to spend up to 3 years of his youth serving in the military. Yet no one sought appreciation or recognition for his service.

If almost all males — about half the population and excluding those whose physical or mental condition precludes their participation — serve NS, and if females are traditionally excluded from conscription, why then is the cry for recognition growing stronger?

There several reasons.

28 October 2013

National Service Not For Women

Some male Singaporeans believe that female Singaporeans should be made to serve national service.

Should women serve NS?

The Case For NS For Women
Women want gender equality. There is no better way to achieve this than for women to serve NS.

Women should help defend Singapore:

▪ They are citizens.

▪ They account for about half the citizen population.

▪ They enjoy Singapore's peace and security provided by the SAF.

▪ The SAF is a citizen military force.

21 October 2013

National Service Not For Permanent Residents

Many Singapore citizens believe that permanent residents — not just second generation permanent residents but also younger first generation permanent residents — should be made to serve national service.

Should permanent residents serve NS?

The Case For NS For Permanent Residents
Permanent residents should help defend Singapore:

▪ They enjoy many of privileges, or privileges almost as good as those, usually reserved for citizens.
 
▪ They enjoy the peace and security provided by the SAF, and the large majority of the SAF's personnel are NSmen or NSF.
 
▪ The number of permanent residents has increased to the point where one in six residents as at June 2013 are permanent residents.
 

10 October 2013

Penalising Public Service Providers

Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore recently imposed a penalty of $1.5 million on M1 Limited for breaching the Code of Practice for Telecommunication Service Resiliency in that it failed to provide resilient mobile telephone services, which resulted in the disruption of M1's 2G and 3G mobile telephone services in January.

Some 250,000 M1 users were affected by the service disruption, which lasted several days.

M1 failed to ensure good electrical installation practices when carrying out power termination during upgrading works at one of its network operation centres, a key telecom infrastructure node housing essential network equipment, according to IDA. Sparks and smoke activated the gas suppression system, which set off a water sprinkler, resulting in the failure a mobile network switch.

IDA assessed that M1 had not carried out adequate risk assessment on the upgrading works. It did not exercise due care and diligence in ensuring sufficient safeguards to minimise the risks posed to its equipment and operations. It did not have sufficiently rigorous control and supervision of the upgrading process, despite the works being carried out at a key infrastructure node housing sensitive telecoms equipment.

02 October 2013

Quotes of the Month — August / September 2013

MediShield Life
The impact of higher MediShield premiums [after the revamp to become MediShield Life] will be studied carefully to ensure that every Singaporean can afford them.

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong

 
MediShield Life
Well ultimately the government doesn't have money which is from heaven or from own sources. Government's money really is people's money and eventually all the money has to come from taxes or some other revenues from COEs or maid levies or whatever. So that is one of the reasons why we have to think very carefully before we decide to move, to start new social programmes, to spend more. But we have made the calculations, I think what we have announced we can afford.

27 September 2013

Chasing FIFA Youth World Cup Dream

Football Association of Singapore president Zainudin Nordin is dreaming of staging the FIFA U-17 or U-20 World Cup in Singapore in 2019.

Mr Zainudin's rationale[1]:

"If we are serious about youth development, I think we need to go for the tournament that is worthy of exciting our young. And that tournament cannot be less than the Youth World Cup.

"We can always aim for Asian Football Confederation or ASEAN Football Federation competitions. But the Youth World Cup is the pinnacle.

"It will leave a long-lasting impression on our young, and they will be excited that football is something they want to look at seriously."
 

16 September 2013

Chua Mui Hoong's "A Legislature That Is National, Not Partisan" Annotated

The Straits Times's opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong penned a piece entitled A Legislature That Is National, Not Partisan.

She asked, "Would the opposition here back a PM that in the House as Republicans have backed Obama?"

Below, I've annotated selected portions of her op-ed (in bold and italics).

President Barack Obama could use his power as commander in chief to order military action against Syria. Instead, he is turning to Congress for support, despite knowing how hard-going it will be.

.....

In going back to the elected representatives of the people, [US president Barack Obama and British prime minister David Cameron] were no doubt swayed by a complex calculus of domestic political considerations, underlined by concerns about public support and international image.

At their heart, the decisions also show a commitment to democracy and stem from a respect for the people's voted representatives.

Ms Chua is contradicting herself. If President Obama, who has the authority to order military strikes on Syria, is turning to Congress for support, that is not a commitment to democracy. He is, as Ms Chua points out, looking for support.

13 September 2013

Reflections On Ng Ser Miang's Bid For IOC President

The recent International Olympic Committee proceedings in Buenos Aires received considerable coverage by MediaCorp.

What did the proceedings involve?

▪ Choosing the host city for the 2020 Games from among Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul.

▪ Choosing from among wrestling, squash and baseball which sport should be added to the 2020 and 2024 Games.

▪ Electing new members.

▪ Electing IOC executive board members.

▪ Electing IOC president.

I believe many Singaporeans had, at most, a passing interest in the outcome of the proceedings.

05 September 2013

Pitfalls of Front Loading MediShield Life

MediShield premiums increase as the insured person grows older (or more precisely, as he or she moves from a younger age band to an older age band).

Some younger people seem attracted to the idea of front loading (also known as pre-funding) his MediShield, according to media reports.

There are two main front loading arrangements:

▪ The premium remains constant, possibly in real dollar i.e., inflation adjusted terms, throughout the person's lifetime, subject to adjustments from time to time to ensure that MediShield Life remains financially sound.

▪ The premium increases as an individual ages, but at a slower rate than if it had been based on age alone.

Both arrangements appear to be driven by two concepts[1]:

▪ A younger person can afford to pay more than the low premium he is paying presently, especially if he is working, but he may not be able to afford the high premiums when he is older. So, in a sense, pay more now in return for paying not so much in the future.

▪ Younger people should subsidise the MediShield Life premiums of the elderly, to show gratitude to them for their contributions.

Some older people are naturally very excited about the possibility of younger people subsidising their MediShield Life premiums. That is, until they realise that their children and their children's children may be the ones bearing the financial burden.

What are the pitfalls of front loading MediShield Life?

30 August 2013

Saying No To Higher Taxes To Fund NDR 2013 Plans

After listening to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech 2013, many people would have come to the uneasy conclusion that a tax increase in on the cards, and it would most likely be an increase in the GST rate, given the PAP Government's aversion to increasing personal or corporate income tax rates.

However, some of the planned programmes need not be funded by taxation.

21 August 2013

MediShield Life — Painting Roses Without Thorns

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced changes to MediShield, which will be renamed MediShield Life, at the National Day Rally:

▪ Coverage will be for life, instead of up to 90 years now.

▪ Coverage will be universal and will include those who have dropped out and those with pre-existing illnesses.

▪ Coverage will be higher for large hospital bills.

▪ Coverage will be compulsory.

All these are nice. But, as PM Lee warned, "It may cost you a bit more, but it can be done."

Isn't it rather premature to announce the proposed changes without having already looked into the most important aspect — cost?

20 August 2013

PSLE — Does Blurring the Difference Make Any Difference?

Instead of getting T-scores in the future, PSLE students will receive grades in bands, such as those used in the O and A level examinations.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the issue of how a one-point difference in T-score may make a difference to a student's secondary school posting.  It is a distinction which is meaningless, too fine to make.

The change will reduce excessive competition to chase that last point — an A* is still an A*, whether one scores 91 marks or 99 marks, he said.
 
PM Lee's reasoning is flawed.
 

01 August 2013

Quotes of the Month — July 2013

Integrity in Politics
Good politics is first and foremost about integrity... people who can be trusted to uphold the public interest, to speak the truth even when it is inconvenient, and to admit mistakes when things go wrong...  [Otherwise] we cannot trust him or her to safeguard public funds, to put public interest ahead of personal gain, or to make decisions affecting the well-being and security of Singaporeans.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
 
Politics is a contest for power.  But you know the key principle when you have power is: don't take advantage of people under your charge and always be honest and upfront with your people.  When a mistake is made, just come clean and say so.  But don't cover up.  That's why I have not let this go, because... it is about clean politics and I appeal to you [Member of Parliament Low Thia Khiang] do a thorough investigation of what's gone on and what's gone wrong in your town council and put it right, set it right.
 
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan

30 July 2013

Corruption and Financial Crimes in Public Service

After a spate of high-profile cheating and corruption cases involving civil servants, the Prime Minister's Office commissioned a study by Commercial Affairs Department ("CAD") and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau ("CPIB") of public officers over the past five years.

The following are my comments on some of the findings, as reported by the local media.

Most cases of corruption and financial crimes within the civil service involved junior front-line officers.

It is rather evident that most cases of corruption and financial crimes will involve junior, rather than mid-level or senior, officers.  The manpower structure of most, if not all, civil service agencies is like pyramids, with junior officers outnumbering mid-level officers, and both outnumbering senior officers.

19 July 2013

Lapses In Procurement

We were recently reminded that Aljunied-Hougang Town Council ("AHTC") had appointed FM Solutions and Services Pte Ltd ("FMSS"), a company owned and run by close The Workers’ Party supporters, to manage AHTC in 2011, without tender and at a much higher price than the prevailing rate.
 
AHTC's explanation was that it appointed FMSS as its managing agent ("MA") for a period of one year from 15 July 2011 because it was directed to take over the management of the TC by 1 August 2011 and it had agreed to release Aljunied TC's incumbent MA from its contractual obligations.  Given the tight deadline and not wanting to disrupt TC services, AHTC decided not to call a tender for MA services for the transition period and instead engaged a qualified service provider who could commence work immediately.[2][3]

If AHTC had failed in its procurement of MA services in 2011, it was not alone.  The Auditor-General's report for FY2012/13 revealed lapses in the Government's procurement.[4]
 

16 July 2013

Cleaning of Food Centres vs. TCMS Sale and Leaseback — A Critical Comparison

It is timely to compare Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council's handling of the cleaning of the high areas at Blk 538 Bedok North Street 3 with the sale and leaseback of the town council management system by the 14 PAP-managed town councils with Action Information Management Pte Ltd in 2010.

CLEANING OF HIGH AREAS

Evidence
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan's dossier of evidence[1], which he presented in Parliament, was a collection of self-serving documents, including the following:

11 July 2013

Balakrishnan vs. AHPETC — Cleaning of High Areas at Food Centres Part III

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan ignored the advice of "many well-intended people" not to pursue the matter of the alleged additional cost of cleaning of high areas at two food centres in Bedok.

It was too mundane, and people wanted to move on.  But he felt a duty to bring up the matter yet again, because it meant more than clean ceilings to him.

Mr Balakrishnan said that the rules for town councils to pay for the annual cleaning of food centres had been established for a decade.

Who Should Pay?
It is reasonable to expect that the cost of the annual cleaning of food centres is, or should have been, taken into account when determining the quantum of monthly conservancy fees that the stall holders operating at the food centres should pay.

03 July 2013

Singapore's SIBOR Scandal

On 14 June, The Monetary Authority of Singapore ("MAS") announced that it had completed a year-long review of the processes relating to submissions of benchmarks[1] by banks in Singapore.[2]

The review covered the Singapore dollar interest rate benchmarks — the Singapore Interbank Offered Rates ("SIBOR", the less well-known cousin of LIBOR, see below) and swap offered rates ("SOR") — and foreign exchange ("FX") spot benchmarks ("FX Benchmarks") used to settle non-deliverable forward FX contracts, between 2007 and 2011.
 
Based on its findings, MAS censured 20 banks and directed them to address their deficiencies in governance, risk management, internal controls, and surveillance systems, relating to these processes.  The banks were ordered to set aside additional statutory reserves with MAS at zero interest for one year.
 

27 June 2013

Pollutant Standards Index — Facts, Opinions and Dangerous Misperceptions

Singapore's National Environment Agency ("NEA") uses the Pollutant Standards Index ("PSI") together with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards developed by US Environmental Protection Agency.

As the haze in Singapore started to worsen, NEA published the 3-hour PSI readings from 6 a.m. to midnight and the 24-hour pollutant concentrations three times daily.

How PSI Is Computed
PSI is determined from the concentrations of the following five pollutants (measured in micrograms per cubic metre): respirable particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide.  The concentration of each pollutant is then converted to a PSI sub-index ranging from 0 to 500.[1]

24 June 2013

Distributing N95 Masks Public Relations Exercise

When the Government announced that it would be distributing one million N95 face masks free to 200,000 lower-income and other vulnerable households, many people thought that it would be a low-key administrative effort.

It turned out to be otherwise.

MediaCorp TV showed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a town hall meeting to discuss the haze issue with residents before going around a block of rental flats with his entourage to distribute the face masks on 23 June.

20 June 2013

What Singapore And Malaysia Must Do To Stop Haze

The Haze Situation
The 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index ("PSI") reached 371 — considered to be hazardous — at 1 p.m. on 20 June 2013, the highest level ever recorded in Singapore.

According to National Environment Agency, weather conditions in the region have become drier recently and 187 hot spots were observed over Indonesia's central Sumatra on 18 June 2013.  The smoke haze from fires such as these have affected Singapore and peninsula Malaysia since 13 June 2013.

Correction.  The smoke haze from Indonesia has affected Singapore and peninsula Malaysia for almost two decades.

13 June 2013

Balakrishnan, NEA, One (or More) Stall-Holders vs AHPETC — Cleaning High Areas at Food Centres Part II

One would have thought that a simple matter such as the provision of scaffolding for cleaning the high areas at blocks 511 and 538 Bedok North Street 3 could have been resolved rather easily.

But it seems to be quite resistant to common sense resolution.

Invitation To Quote
National Environment Agency ("NEA") released a copy of a quotation dated 19 February 2013 from ATL Maintenance Pte Ltd to Blk 538 Market Association for high-rise cleaning of the entire premises, from 4 March to 8 March 2013, at block 538 Bedok North Street 3.[1]  It included, among other things, the provision of scaffolding by ATL Maintenance.

07 June 2013

Teo Ho Pin On Mosquito Breeding

Sembawang-Nee Soon Town Council was fined $200 after National Environment Agency found 14 mosquito larvae in the water tanks on the rooftops of blocks 896C and 899A in Woodlands.[1]

Is The Water Safe For Consumption
As the mosquito larvae were found in the water tanks, it raises the question as to whether water drawn from those water tanks was safe for consumption without prior boiling.

Neither NEA nor Public Utilities Board, the national water agency, appears to have any press releases on their websites regarding this matter.
 
Teo Ho Pin's Comments
Coordinating Chairman for PAP-managed town councils and Member of Parliament Teo Ho Pin said, "Water tanks have got many areas which are difficult to access for normal inspection and become very challenging.  You have breeding in some of these places because the birds actually bring leaves and twigs and choke our rooftop drains and it is quite difficult to inspect rooftops every day."[1]
 

06 June 2013

Fare Review Mechanism Report Delayed Yet Again

Fare Review Mechanism Committee ("FRMC"), which was supposed to submit its report to the Government this month, will now need another few more months to complete its report.

What's happening?

05 June 2013

Do Singaporeans Believe What The Government Says?

Recent events appear to indicate that many Singaporeans do not believe what the Government tells them.

Media Development Authority announced on 28 May 2013 that any online news site that reports regularly on issues relating to Singapore and has significant reach among readers in Singapore would require an individual licence from 1 June.

Broadcasting (Class Licence)(Amendment) Notification 2013 was gazetted the following day.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim and MDA took pains to assure netizens and the general public that:

31 May 2013

SEA Games Won't Exceed Budget, But We Won't Tell You The Budget

Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee executive chairman Lim Teck Yin expressed confidence that the budget for 2015 SEA Games would not be exceeded.

With the benefit of inaugural Youth Olympic Games, which were held in Singapore in 2010, the committee knows what it is getting for each dollar.
 

30 May 2013

Regulating Online News Sites — Losing The Online War

Any online news sites that, over a period of two months, (i) reports an average of at least one article per week on any programme (whether or not presenter-based and whether or not provided by a third party) containing any news, intelligence, report of occurrence, or any matter of public interest, about any social, economic, political, cultural, artistic, sporting, scientific or any other aspect of Singapore in any language (whether paid or free and whether or not at regular intervals), and (ii) is visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month will require an individual licence from Media Development Authority ("MDA").

Online news sites are currently automatically class-licensed under the Broadcasting Act.  From 1 June, when MDA assesses that a site meets the criteria to be individually licensed, MDA will issue a formal notification to the site.  Licensed online new sites have to post a performance bond of $50,000 and have to comply with MDA’s directions within 24 hours to remove content that is considered to be in breach of content standards.

Thinking Within The Box

28 May 2013

NEA, Stall-Holders vs AHPETC — Cleaning High Areas at Food Centres

Stall-holders at food centres at blocks 511 and 538 Bedok North Street 3 were displeased after they were informed by Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council ("AHPETC") that they had to pay for the scaffolding needed to facilitate the semi-annual washing of ceilings and exhause ducts of the market and food centres.  Previously, the scaffolding was provided by the cleaning contractor.

According to AHPETC, the scaffolding was to have been provided for cleaning the high areas.  However, on the day of the cleaning, there was no scaffolding, so the cleaners could only clean the reachable areas but not the ceiling or exhaust ducts.

Stall-holders at the food centre at block 511 were informed that they had to pay extra to have the ceilings and exhaust ducts washed because AHPETC's cleaners did not cover areas that were more than 2.5 metres from the ground.

23 May 2013

Civil Servants Should Be Politically Neutral

Sometimes, civil servants don't know how to remain politically neutral, or at least to be seen to be politically neutral.

In the 13 May 2013 Parliamentary debate on the sale and leaseback of the town council management system owned by 14 People's Action Party-managed town councils ("TCs") to PAP-owned Action Information Management Pte Ltd, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said:
 
"I am glad that several WP [The Workers' Party] members like Sylvia Lim, made comments expressing concerns about financial prudence and the need to ensure that TCs minimise costs in the interests of their residents.  Well... so do we, although frankly how the PAP and the WP does (sic) it may be different.  For instance, in Aljunied, the management agency rate which FMSS [FM Solutions and Services Pte Ltd] charged Aljunied-Hougang residents, we found, is 20 per cent higher than the rate charged by the former Aljunied TC’s managing agent when he was under [PAP's] Mr George Yeo.  To be precise, when it was under George Yeo, the rate was $6.51 per unit per month.  Now, it is $7.87 in FY2011 — the first contract — and then it went up to $8.04 per unit per month in FY2012.  In fact, the FMSS rate is more than 50 per cent higher than the rate for Tampines TC, which is of similar size.  Tampines TC’s rate was about $5.15 per month per unit.  In fact, it came down a little bit to $4.99 last year.  I assume the residents living in Aljunied are aware of these and find them acceptable."

14 May 2013

TCMS — Standard Or Customised Software?

The exchange of words between Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim and Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan in Parliament on 13 May 2013 was a revelation.

When the 14 PAP-managed town councils ("TCs") sold the town council management system ("TCMS") that was jointly owned by the 14 towns to PAP-owned Action Information Management Pte Ltd ("AIM") in 2010 and immediately leased it back, the lease contracts contained a provision allowing AIM to terminate the contract with any TC by giving that TC a notice period of one month in the event of material changes to the membership, or to the scope and duties, such as changes to the boundaries, of that TC.

Ms Lim asked whether Mr Khaw considered the one-month termination clause in respect of the TCMS — a critical IT system used by the TC — was reasonable and would not jeopardise the continuity of services to residents of any affected town.

06 May 2013

MND Town Council Review Report — Reflections

Ministry of National Development released its Town Council Review Report on 3 May 2013.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong directed Ministry of National Development on 8 January 2013 to review the sale and leaseback of the town council management software ("TCMS") between the PAP Town Councils and Action Information Management Pte Ltd in 2010.
 
MND was to review the transaction fully and its context, and satisfy itself that public funds were safeguarded and residents’ interests were not compromised.

11 April 2013

Impact of Regulation and Competition on Electricity Tariff (Then and Now)

Energy Market Authority recently commented on the relationship between low tension electricity tariffs and fuel prices.[1]

"Since the electricity market was liberalised in April 2001, the EMA has applied both regulation and market competition to incentivise the industry to reduce costs and achieve higher efficiencies.

"While inflation from 2001 to this year has exceeded 30 per cent cumulatively, grid charges have fallen by 14 per cent.  In addition, electricity tariffs have increased by 34 per cent during that period, compared with a 220 per cent increase in fuel prices.

"As fuel costs make up more than half of the tariff, a 220 per cent rise in fuel prices would translate into the tariff increasing by more than 100 per cent if there were no efficiency gains from regulation and market competition."

04 April 2013

Foreign Spouses — Does Citizenship Have Privileges?

There were 6,853 marriages in Singapore in 2011 between a citizen and a non-resident, or 31 per cent of the 22,013 marriages in which at least one party was a citizen.[1]

Foreign spouses of Singapore citizens must apply for Long-Term Visit Passes ("LTVP") or Long-Term Visit Passes Plus ("LTVP+") to stay in Singapore.

As at 31 December 2012, there were 11,736 foreign spouses of Singapore citizens who were on LTVPs, including LTVP+.  30 per cent had stayed in Singapore for less than one year, 19 per cent had stayed for between one year and two years, 14 per cent had stayed for between two years and three years and 37 per cent had stayed for more than three years.[2]

27 March 2013

Water Conservation — Is Singapore Doing Enough?

Singapore's per capita daily domestic water consumption was 152 litres in 2011, down from 165 litres in 2003.  Public Utilities Board's target is to lower it to 147 litres by 2020 and 140 litres by 2030.

In comparison, cities like Hamburg (Germany) and Barcelona (Spain) hope to see their per capita daily domestic water consumption fall below 100 litres by 2015, according to Prof Asit Biswas and Dr Cecilia Tortajada.[1]

So, is Singapore doing enough to reduce its water consumption?

20 March 2013

Shane Todd's Death — US Senators' Naïveté

Background
On 24 June 2012, the body of Shane Todd, an electronics engineer from the US, was found hanging in his apartment in Singapore.  Police said it was suicide, but Mr Todd's parents believe he was murdered and want to know if a project he was working on had anything to do with his death.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam, who was on a previously scheduled trip to the US to meet Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder, met US senator Max Baucus of Montana, where the Todds live, at Mr Baucus's request.  Mr Shanmugam pledged to share evidence with US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Baucus-Tester Amendment
Mr Baucus and his fellow senator Jon Tester then introduced the following amendment to the Continuing Resolution to fund the US government that is being debated:

11 March 2013

Car Loan Restrictions — Protecting Whom?

Monetary Authority of Singapore recently announced that loans for non-commercial motor vehicles would be restricted.  Loans will be capped at 60 per cent of the open market value (or OMV) of the motor vehicle where the OMV is less than $20,000, and at 50 per cent where the OMV is $20,000 or more.  In addition, the tenure of the loans will be capped at 5 years.[1]

According to media reports, financial institutions that are not regulated by MAS fall outside of the ambit of this ruling and MAS is working with other Government agencies to close the loophole.  These non-regulated financial institutions have to comply with the ruling if they obtain credit facilities from regulated financial institutions.[2]

Protecting the Buyers
MAS says that the financing restrictions are necessary to encourage financial prudence among buyers of motor vehicles.  In the current prolonged environment of very low interest rates, there is greater risk of buyers over-extending themselves on motor vehicles.[1]

07 March 2013

Public Transport Fare Review: Concessions, Concessions, Concessions

According to media reports, Fare Review Mechanism Committee chairman Richard Magnus said that the committee was considering, among other things, the following:

▪ A monthly travel pass for adults to help cap the monthly public transport expenses for average-income households or individuals.

▪ Concession fares for children who are taller than 0.9 metres but not yet in primary school and do not qualify for free travel.

▪ Concession fares for the disabled.

▪ Concession fares for polytechnic students.

▪ Concession fares for low-income earners.

03 March 2013

Policy Contradiction — Property Tax Concession for Unoccupied Properties

Property tax is a tax on the ownership of property.  It is not an income tax which taxes the rental income received by a property owner.  It is payable by all property owners on the properties owned by them, regardless of whether the properties are let out, owner-occupied or left vacant by them.  As long as a person owns a property, he or she is required to pay property tax.[1]

Contradiction
Notwithstanding the above, Section 8 of the Property Tax Act (Cap. 254) provides that where property tax has been paid under the provisions of the Act in respect of any building, the Comptroller shall refund a part of the tax proportionate to any period of not less than 30 days or a calendar month during which the building is unoccupied, provided that no refund will be allowed unless —

17 February 2013

Uncounted Babies and Total Fertility Rate's Incomplete Picture of Procreation Statistics

Singapore is a rather unique country in many ways.

One unique aspect is the significant levels of cross-border population inflow.  It grants of tens of thousands of permanent residency a year.  Significant numbers of residents marry non-residents.

In the light of these, does the total fertility rate truly reflect the country's fertility rate?

Total Fertility Rate Defined
Total fertility rate is defined as the average number of live births each woman would have during her reproductive years if she were to experience the age-specific fertility rates prevailing during the period.[1]  It is expressed as number of children per woman.

TFR takes the number of children born to women in a given year to represent the number of children they will give birth to by the end of their reproductive years.[2]

12 February 2013

Population White Paper 2013 — The Real Objectives

Population White Paper 2013 — A Sustainable Population For A Dynamic Singapore was released on 29 January.  It was followed by Land Use Plan To Support Singapore's Future Population — A High Quality Living Environment For All Singaporeans on 31 January.  Both were debated in Parliament from 4 February to 8 February, and endorsed by Parliament in a 77-13-1 vote.

Inasmuch as Population White Paper 2013 is, as Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said, the population road map to address the country's population challenge, it is surprising that the Government gave the Opposition and Nominated Members of Parliament less than a week to digest and debate the important issues therein.


Perhaps, the Government believed that the Opposition MPs had already more or less reached a position on this matter.


Perhaps, the Government knew that, regardless of whatever the Opposition and Nominated MPs and the public had to say on this matter, the Government had enough votes in Parliament to ensure that the motions would be endorsed if it did not lift the whip (it didn't, of course).


No Need For Population White Paper

There was no need for Population White Paper 2013 because there is nothing in the law that restrains the Government from allowing foreign worker inflow or the granting of citizenship or permanent residence.  Neither is there anything in the law that restrains the Government from spending on infrastructure, apart from the requirement that it obtain the President's consent for spending past reserves.

So what were the purposes of the White Paper?


08 February 2013

Half-Hearted Baby Steps And The Procreation Dilemma

Will the fourth edition of the recently released Marriage and Parenthood Package raise the alarming low total fertility rate in Singapore?

New Housing Schemes
First-timer married couples with at least one citizen child below the age of 16 years will be given priority in the allocation of new HDB flats by having "a proportion" of flats set aside for them, and will be allowed to rent flats from HDB at "affordable rentals" while awaiting the completion of their flats.

It is difficult to see how these schemes address the low citizen fertility rate.

Many couples want to own their homes before having children. Waiting for their new HDB flats to be ready means delaying the arrival of their first child by up to five years.

07 February 2013

Businesses And The Foreign Worker Bubble

Few people were surprised when Singapore Business Federation, in its Position Paper on Population, expressed dismay at the slowdown in immigrant labour in Population White Paper 2013 — A Sustainable Population For A Dynamic Singapore.

SBF's CEO Ho Meng Kit said:
The reduction in workforce growth has very serious consequences for businesses.  Some Singaporeans do not realise its impact but are seized with the prospect of an over-crowded island with 6.9 million people.  We must explain to Singaporeans that many businesses will be in jeopardy if they cannot adjust to this demographic tsunami that will hit us.  If businesses go under, jobs will be lost, Singaporeans will be affected.  If businesses cannot raise productivity and sustain profits, they cannot afford to pay Singaporeans higher salaries.  The population projections in the Population White Paper are already tough for companies.  It is unthinkable if Singaporeans choose to further limit immigration and the number of foreign workers.  This will damage our competitiveness and Singapore will lose its shine.  We do not want to see our children working overseas because there are no more good opportunities here.

04 February 2013

Why 6.9 Million May Not Be The Worse-Case Scenario

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said that the Government's population estimate of 6.9 million by 2030 was just an estimate, not a forecast nor a target.  It was a number that the Government arrived at, based on assumptions of productivity and workforce growth rates[1].

He added that, for planning purposes, it was safer to take the more aggressive projection — the worst-case scenario — and plan infrastructural needs accordingly so that the Government would not be caught under-providing, as was the situation at the moment.

He hoped Singapore's population would not reach 6.9 million by 2030, but would be much lower.

While Mr Khaw, as Minister for National Development, might hope that the population would not reach 6.9 million by 2030, are there any situations in which the Government might hope that the population would reach 6.9 million by 2030 and 6.9 million might not be the worst-case scenario?

29 January 2013

RP's and SDA's Waterloo at Punggol East: Implications

Several political parties and independent individuals salivated at the prospect of contesting the Punggol East by-election.

But many people said that the by-election should be left to People's Action Party and The Workers' Party to contest.

Singapore Democratic Party heeded the call.  So did the two independent individuals.

But The Reform Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance did not, and went ahead to contest.

In the end, RP received 353 votes and SDA received 168 votes, representing 1.20 per cent and 0.57 per cent, respectively, of the valid vote cast.  Both performed abysmally and lost their electoral deposits.

28 January 2013

MediaCorp and Punggol East By-Election Finale

Friday, 25 January was the day preceding the Punggol East by-election.  As canvassing was prohibited on that day and on polling day, what was said by the contesting political parties up to 11:59 p.m. on 24 January was the last word.  It was left to the media to present their reports.

Let's see what happened.

TODAY
TODAY published a generous coverage of People's Action Party's by-election campaign in the first three (non-advertisement) pages on 25 January with the following headlines:
▪ PAP has always worked to improve S'poreans' lives: PM Lee
▪ Coming up: more sheltered linkways for commuters[1]
▪ PAP upholding its purpose, objectives and integrity: PM
▪ I want to stand up and be counted, says PAP's Koh

24 January 2013

So Many Government Schemes Announced

It's not often that the Government announces so many schemes, initiatives or measures in so short a span of time as in the past fortnight.

8 January  Ministry of National Development instructed to review the sale and leaseback of PAP-managed town councils' management software with Action Information Management.

10 January  Train operators to be subject to stiffer penalties and held to more stringent standards.

11 January  Measures to cool the private and public housing markets.

14 January  Singles to be allowed to buy new HDB flats for owner-occupation.

20 January 2013

Why Punggol East By-Election Couldn't Wait

Many people thought that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong would take his time before calling a by-election for Punggol East following the resignation of Mr Michael Palmer on 12 December 2012.

After all, he had pointed out that the Government was focused on several national issues and preparing for Budget 2013.

Whilst acknowledging that the Constitution did not require a by-election to be called within any fixed time frame, he said that he would make his decision based on what was best for the constituents of Punggol East and the country.

Many people were therefore surprised when the writ of election for Punggol East was issued on 9 January 2013.

Some commentators praised PM Lee's political astuteness as a snap by-election gave the opposition parties little time to discuss how to avoid a multi-cornered contest that could favour the ruling People's Action Party and to prepare for the contest.

But were there other reasons for the timing of the by-election?

15 January 2013

Punggol East By-Election — The Power Of No

Many people have expressed their disappointment, frustration and anger that more than one opposition party plan to contest the Punggol East by-election, and the futility of their plans (if put into action) and the negative implications, both immediate and in the medium term, for these opposition parties.  But Singapore Democratic Party, The Reform Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance seem hell bent on contesting in Punggol East — a constituency in which The Workers' Party received 41.0 per cent of the valid vote at GE2011 — and, in the process, turn the possible capture of another Parliamentary seat from People's Action Party into an almost certain lost cause.  Sadly, they have lost their focus and lost their way.

With one day to go before Nomination Day, what can be done?

By now, anyone who plans to contest the Punggol East by-election would already have received his political donation certificate.

Anyone who has not received his political donation certificate will not be able to contest.

Singapore Democratic Party Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan cannot contest this by-election.  The public thinks that the following are potential SDP candidates: Dr Paul Tambyah, Dr Vincent Wijeysingha and Dr Ang Yong Guan.

If Dr Chee will not yield to common sense to avoid a multi-cornered contest, perhaps Dr Tambyah, Dr Wijeysingha and Dr Ang — assuming they have received their political donations certificates — will assess the situation sensibly and wisely and decline to contest.  At this juncture, there is nothing that Dr Chee or SDP can do if none of these gentlemen are prepared to inflict untold damage to SDP and the opposition's cause.

Having made their decision, Dr Tambyah, Dr Wijeysingha and Dr Ang should talk to The Reform Party's Kenneth Jeyaretnam and convince him not to submit his nomination papers.

If they succeed, they should similarly talk to Singapore Democratic Alliance's Desmond Lim, Mr Ooi Boon Ewe and Mr Zeng Guoyuan.

---------------
Note

1. This article was updated.

2. SDP Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan announced on 15 January afternoon that SDP would not contest the Punggol East by-election.  It was heeding the voice of the people who were concerned that a multi-cornered fight would dilute the vote of the opposition.  (Channel NewsAsia 15 Jan 2013 1620 hrs)

14 January 2013

Punggol East By-Election — Losing The Battle And The War

When Michael Palmer resigned his Parliamentary seat of Punggol East, various opposition parties salivated at the prospect of contesting the by-election and perhaps capturing the seat.

Any politician worth his salt has to be optimistic, of course.

But he or she should also be realistic.

It is almost certain that People's Action Party will win in a multi-cornered by-election.

This leads to the question: which opposition party should contest the by-election?

Every interested opposition party will have its slew of reasons why it is the right or best party to contest.

Democracy is about giving the people a choice.

We (the respective opposition parties) have good candidates.

We have the best chance of winning.

We have good, sound policies.

The Workers' Party is too bland; we will spice up Parliamentary debates.

WP already has several Members of Parliament, and it should give us an opportunity to have at least one Member of Parliament.

If WP wins the by-election, it will have another Member of Parliament and very soon people will consider it to be the lead opposition party (a role that we want for ourselves until we form the government, but we can't say this to anyone).  If both we and WP contest, PAP will almost certainly retain Punggol East (we can't win other than in a straight fight but this will not happen, and we can't say this to anyone).

But these opposition parties are deceiving themselves, and they know it.

And they have lost sight of their number one objective.

09 January 2013

Town Councils and AIM — From ReAiming to Review

When the bureaucrats at Ministry of National Development noted that Aljunied-Hougang Town Council had yet to submit its auditors’ Management Letter — a material factor in grading the town council's corporate governance — little did they realise that they would open a Pandora's box.

Apart from the two main players — AHTC chairman Sylvia Lim and coordinating chairman for 14 PAP town councils Teo Ho Pin — how did the politicians respond to the ensuing political furore?

Grace Fu: Wrong Focus
Weeks into the saga, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu said that the people who were questioning the sale and leaseback of the town council management system between the 14 People's Action Party-managed town councils and Action Information Management Pte Ltd (a dormant $2 PAP company) were hoping that the public would forget how the saga started — Ministry of National Development's Fourth Town Council Management Report which gave AHTC a "red" for service and conservancy charges arrears management and "pending" for corporate governance[1][2].