22 October 2015

A Walk In The Haze

Monday (19 October) was an evening to remember.

My friends and I attended a function in the western part of Singapore. When we entered the air-conditioned room, the latest (i.e., 7 pm) 24-hour PSI (west) was 125, the 3-hour PSI was 77 and the 1-hour PM2.5 (west) was 48 micrograms per cubic metre (equivalent to a 1-hour PSI of 91).

When the function ended two hours later, we found the air outdoors thick with haze.

16 October 2015

NEA's Stubborn Refusal To Publish 1-Hour PSI

National Environmental Agency ("NEA") has rejected calls to publish the 1-hour PSI, explaining as follows:

"Since April [2014], the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), three-hour PSI and one-hour PM2.5 concentrations have been published hourly, on the hour, on the NEA website ….

The scale used to convert PM2.5 concentrations to the PSI has been derived based on health studies of exposure over a 24-hour period. This is why the NEA uses the 24-hour average concentrations to compute the PSI.

25 September 2015

GE 2015: How Mainstream Media Helped PAP

The mainstream media played an important role in People's Action Party's landslide win GE 2015.

Publicity for Government Programmes

In the weeks or months before GE 2015, Channel News Asia set aside about five minutes after its nightly news programme to explain what the Government had done in respect of:

▪ MediShield Life: how it makes hospitalisation more affordable than non-mandatory MediShield
▪ CPF LIFE: how its annuities provide retirees with a cash payout for life
▪ HDB flats: how they are supposedly more affordable

While there's nothing wrong with the mainstream media's explaining Government policies and programmes, MediaCorp (Channel News Asia's parent) seemed to think that viewers need to be told again and again over several weeks.

Coincidentally, the broadcasts seemed to have ceased shortly after polling day!

The Value of 1-hour PM2.5

The haze is back.

We have been advised to check the 24-hour PSI.

But take a look at the 24-hour PSI compared to the 1-hour PSI (based on the 1-hour PM2.5 pollutant concentrations) for the west region for the 48 hours starting 1 am 23 September 2015:

18 September 2015

Trumpeting The Distribution Of Masks

Channel News Asia reported on 15 September that the People’s Action Party ("PAP") team which contested and lost in Aljunied GRC in GE 2015 distributed masks to residents, especially the under-privileged.

Mr Victor Lye, chairman of the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Citizens' Consultative Committee, said: "Originally, we were going to do our thank you to our residents, but we noted the haze situation getting worse. In fact this morning, we found out it might be quite bad this evening.

"Thank goodness for the rain in the afternoon, but before the rains came, we felt that between saying thank you to people and doing what we believe in [pause] we decided to do what we believe. So we decided to go to our own divisions and take care of the people."

14 September 2015

GE 2015: Thank You Singaporeans ...

Thank you, the following people in GE 2015:

▪ The 677,238 voters, or 30.1 per cent of the total valid vote cast, who kept faith with the Opposition.

▪ Some of the 47,315 voters, or 2.1 per cent of the total vote cast, who caused their vote to be rejected, assuming that they couldn't bring themselves to vote for either the Opposition or PAP. Their action denied PAP of the bragging rights to a possibly even higher percentage vote.

09 September 2015

Social Media Messages Say Vote PAP

Over the past few days, many of us would have received messages from friends and acquaintances warning us to think carefully before voting for the opposition this GE 2015.

Here are some of them, and my thoughts.

WP's Hidden LGBT Agenda

The unnamed writer, who is a member of a religious group, points to WP's manifesto and infers or concludes from paragraph 4 of Section 5.3 Responsible Public Sphere that it has a hidden LGBT agenda.

4. Independent Body for Arts Licensing. We propose an independent body with representation from the arts community should be set up to oversee arts licensing. We should create a vibrant infrastructure under which proper support and a more conducive environment be provided for the arts to flourish with minimal state interference and direction.

MediShield Life: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

MediShield Life, the compulsory universal hospitalisation insurance scheme that the Government will be introducing later this year unfairly forces some members to help pay the premiums of other members.

Pre-Existing Conditions

People who are excluded from MediShield will be included under MediShield Life.

Individuals with pre-existing conditions will pay an additional 30 per cent of the standard premiums for the first ten years, after which they will pay the standard premiums.

Eight Reasons To Vote For Opposition

1. The PAP will be returned to power because the quality of some of the opposition parties' electoral platforms likely puts their candidates at a disadvantage. So if we vote for credible candidates of credible opposition parties, there is no possibility that the PAP will win less than a majority of seats in Parliament.

2. The PAP tells us to vote for its candidates because we need leaders for the future. It is not less important that Singapore needs to groom good opposition MPs from among whom will emerge leaders of the future to form an alternative government when the PAP fails. Singapore will be in serious trouble if there is no political party in Parliament that can form an effective alternative government when the PAP fails. Without putting in place an effective opposition and giving it the opportunity to develop and gain experience, Singaporeans will be at the mercy of the PAP.

08 September 2015

Reflections On PAP's GE Statements

How should we respond to some of the statements made by the PAP during GE 2015?

The Government has delivered on all its promises to improve our lives. (Lee Hsien Loong)

PM Lee said in his swearing-in ceremony on 21 May 2011:

"I pledge to work together with all Singaporeans to create a just and fair society, which gives all citizens the best start in life, and leaves no one behind. A Singapore which is open to the world yet puts Singaporeans first. A Singapore which excites our young and respects our old. A society that nurtures and inspires the human spirit, beyond material success. Rich or poor, young or old, men or women, Singapore is our home. Here we all belong. Here we can work together for the common good, and share our pride in being Singaporeans."

Has the PAP Government delivered on all (PM Lee's word) its promises to improve our lives?

07 September 2015

Immigration Fairy Tales

Population and immigration is one of the hot topics during GE 2015, as it was during GE 2011. Here is a critique of the Government's views.

We were once immigrants and Singapore continues to be an immigrant society. The spirit of openness and diversity is an integral part of our identity. If not for the major migratory shifts in our earlier years, Singapore would not be what it is today. Our being an open society then helped shape the Singaporean core, ethos and values that make our country what it is today.

That we were once immigrants is irrelevant today. Firstly, we were a colony previously. Secondly, our population density is very high now.

Whose view is it that Singapore continues to be an immigrant society — the Government's?

04 September 2015

Should MPs Be So Busy?

Members of Parliament, especially those from the ruling People's Action Party, are very busy people.

Duties of MP
The primary duty of an MP is to represent the people in Parliament to discuss government policy, proposed legislation and current issues.

Opposition MPs have an additional duty: to examine and challenge the work of the government. While PAP MPs do speak up on some issues, it is not often that they challenge the core principles of key government policies. Opposition MPs have to deeply scrutinise government policies and because they are currently greatly outnumbered in Parliament, they cannot expect fellow opposition MPs to carry their load for them.

03 September 2015

The Irrelevance Of AHPETC In GE 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had this to say about The Workers' Party and its management of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council ("AHPETC"):

"The way we've designed the system to make town councils the responsibility of elected MPs, so that people who want think they can form the next government can prove they're capable of administering a town council.

That's what some other countries do, too. For example in France, where those elected are simultaneously local and national politicians.

I think AHPETC has got serious issues. Questions of governance, viability, propriety. More facts have come out over last few days that The Workers’ Party will have to address and explain. It's regrettable that they haven't been addressed satisfactorily up to now. I think it's something voters will notice."

02 September 2015

PAP Nomads, Quitters, Stayers and Over-Stayers

Candidates fielded by the ruling People's Action Party in Singapore's Parliamentary elections generally fall in the following categories.

The Nomads
Nomads are candidates who contested, lost to opposition candidates and then moved to another constituency in a subsequent parliamentary election.

01 September 2015

Paying Friends Richly

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan keeps harping on the matter of the fees paid by Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council ("AHPETC") to its erstwhile managing agent, FM Solutions and Services Pte Ltd ("FMSS").

AHPETC is managed by The Workers' Party ("WP").

Mr Khaw alleges that the managing agent's fees paid by AHPETC to FMSS are "very rich". He questions the "motive" for such an arrangement and asks, "The point is why are they making such an arrangement to reward their supporters and friends. All I know is the outcome is a very sad one for the Aljunied residents. They end up losing money because the town council was rewarding their friends excessively, from our point of view."[1]

27 August 2015

Lee Kuan Yew's Role In GE 2015?

Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's death in March was followed by a week of national mourning during which national television and the mainstream newspapers focused on his contributions to Singapore, and showed scenes of the public paying their respects to him and the state funeral.

Even after the state funeral, the mainstream newspapers continued to remind us of Mr Lee's contributions with various articles (some of which were published before the state funeral).

25 August 2015

Let Outstanding New Candidates Prove Themselves In SMCs

The People's Action Party has unveiled a number of candidates whom it will field in GE 2015.

Some of them have seemingly impeccable credentials. Like Ng Chee Meng and Melvin Yong.

Mr Ng was Chief of Defence in the SAF until his retirement earlier this month. He held the rank of lieutenant-general. He will be contesting GE 2015 in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, which is anchored by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

Mr Yong was an assistant commissioner of police. He will be contesting GE 2015 in Tanjong Pagar GRC, which is anchored by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing.

21 August 2015

Steve Chia's and NSP's MacPherson Misadventure

National Solidarity Party's decision to contest GE 2015 in MacPherson SMC came as a surprise.

NSP's central executive committee had previously decided to leave it to The Workers' Party to fight the ruling People's Action Party in MacPherson SMC.

NSP President Sebastian Teo said that he initially thought that NSP should avoid three-cornered fights and should not contest in MacPherson. However, it changed its position on MacPherson after lengthy deliberations because it wanted to "keep faith with [its] supporters" and CEC member Steve Chia requested to contest there. In recent weeks, it seems that NSP leaders had received feedback and pledges of support from many residents in MacPherson.

20 August 2015

Unmodified Audit No Assurance Gov't Didn't Spend More Than Necessary

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam told Parliament on Monday that the Auditor-General's Office gave an unmodified audit opinion on the Government's financial statements and it meant that the financial accounts of all the government departments were reliable and public funds were properly accounted for[1].

Maybe, but maybe not.

19 August 2015

Tan Lam Siong: Hoping To Reap Where He Has Not Sown?

National Solidarity Party's former Secretary-General Tan Lam Siong has expressed his interest in contesting GE 2015 in Potong Pasir SMC as an independent.

Potong Pasir SMC is currently held by People's Action Party's Sitoh Yih Pin, who narrowly wrested it with 7,992 votes from Singapore Progressive Party's Lina Chiam (Loh Woon Lee Lina) who had 7,878 votes in GE 2011. His winning margin of 114 votes was less than the 242 rejected votes (as announced on polling day).

Why Potong Pasir
Why did Mr Tan choose to stand in Potong Pasir?

14 August 2015

Lui Tuck Yew: Sacrifice Or Sacrificed?

When the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee recommended that Moulmein-Kallang GRC be dissolved and absorbed by neighbouring GRCs, some people wondered whether it had anything to do with the fact that Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew is one of Moulmein-Kallang GRC's Members of Parliament.

The transport portfolio is one of the hottest political portfolios, as the public remains dissatisfied with the state of the public transport.

But dissolving Moulmein-Kallang GRC doesn't solve anything because Mr Lui has to stand in another GRC or SMC, and dissatisfaction with public transport will likely follow Mr Lui wherever he goes.

Besides, the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee is supposed to be politically neutral.

12 August 2015

With MediShield Life, It Doesn't Pay To Die At Age 65

Pay more now so that you pay less in the future.

That is the promise of the pre-funding feature that will be incorporated in MediShield Life.

The Government's reasoning is twofold:

03 August 2015

Yaacob Was Wrong: Malays Not Majority in Malaysia Before Singapore's Expulsion

When Singapore was expelled from Malaysia, the Malays in Singapore went overnight from being part of a majority community in Malaysia (before 9 August 1965) to a minority community in Singapore (from 9 August 1965 onward), according to Minister in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim[1].

Dr Yaacob should have checked his facts.

31 July 2015

MediShield — Membership Has Disadvantages

When MediShield Life is introduced later this year, it will provide all citizens and permanent residents with hospitalisation insurance, including people with pre-existing conditions.

Existing MediShield Members

When MediShield was introduced in 1990, many people decided not to opt out even though their employers provided them with hospitalisation insurance that was more comprehensive than that under MediShield.

In other words, they had overlapping hospitalisation insurance coverage.

Since they can make a claim for hospitalisation expense against one policy only, they typically claimed against the hospitalisation insurance provided by their employers, rather than MediShield.

Were they silly, throwing away their hard earned money by paying MediShield premiums but not making claims against MediShield?

27 July 2015

Redrawing Electoral Boundaries: The Singapore Experience

The Report of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee 2015 was released to the public last Friday. The Committee comprised five public servants.


The first thing that struck me when I read the report was its opacity.

Two weeks ago, NCMP Yee Jenn Jong asked in Parliament[1]:

[T]he completeness of the EBRC report seems to have been shrinking from the 1960s and the early 1970s. So, will the Prime Minister direct the Committee to provide better justifications for the changes because many of these changes do not seem to make sense to political observers and to the residents? Can the minutes of meetings of the EBRC be published so that they will be open for all to understand the decisions that have been made?

20 July 2015

Perils Of Trans Pacific Partnership (And Other FTAs)

Why Free Trade
The total output of a group of countries is greatest when the output of each good is produced by the country that has the lowest opportunity cost (i.e., comparative advantage). Conversely, if a good is produced by a country that can be produced by another country at a lower opportunity cost, the first country is giving up more than necessary.

Even if any one country can produce more of every good with the same resources than the other countries (i.e., absolute advantage), all countries can still gain from reallocation of resources, specialisation and trade provided the relative cost of producing the goods differs among the countries.

Specialisation and freer trade are supposed to lead to lower prices and higher consumption.

So why has the World Trade Organisation not been able to conclude negotiations on the Doha Development Round after more than a decade? Nor 12 Asia-Pacific countries[1] on the Trans-Pacific Partnership ("TPP")?

13 July 2015

LKY Reads Proclamation Of Independence

This coming National Day morning, Singapore residents will hear the voice of their country's first prime minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, reading the Proclamation of Independence, according to the People's Association ("PA")[1].

The recording will be played on all local TV and radio channels and heard at National Day observance ceremonies organised by PA's grassroots organisations.

PA Chief Executive Director Ang Hak Seng said, "The reading of this Proclamation by our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew will remind us of the core values that our pioneers embodied, such as community resilience, racial harmony, determination to overcome the odds and placing community above."

23 June 2015

Public Transport Fund Has More Money Than Needy Households

700,000 seniors (citizens and permanent residents) were recently given the SG50 Seniors Public Transport Vouchers.

The $50 vouchers were funded by the Public Transport Fund, which in turn is funded by contributions by the Government and the two public transport operators ("PTOs"), SBS Transit and SMRT.[1]

Was it right, or even appropriate, for the Government to use the Public Transport Fund for this purpose?

12 June 2015

Opposition MPs — More Are Better

When asked recently to comment on the progress made by the opposition, which now has more members in Parliament, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said:

"If we have an opposition which is responsible, which raises serious issues which concern the country, which offers real alternatives to the population and which then debates the hard choices which the country has to make.

If they do that, whether they have one member, whether they have ten members, they are good opposition. If they don’t do that, you may have 20, 30 members, you are not being responsible. So, I would not go on the numbers. I would go on the substance of the debate."[1]

20 May 2015

The Absurdity Of Giving Half Of Conservancy And Service Fee Grants

According to the Ministry of National Development ("MND"), all town councils are entitled to grants-in-aid (also known as the conservancy and service fee operating grants)[1].

MND has, however, withheld the grants-in-aid to Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council ("AHPETC") for the financial years ended 31 March 2014 and 2015 because MND considered it to be unconscionable to give the grants-in-aid, which are public moneys, without proper safeguards, inasmuch as AHPETC's audited financial statements were qualified[2].

Notwithstanding that and in response to AHPETC Chairperson Sylvia Lim’s appeal, MND offered to disburse half of the grants-in-aid provided AHPETC comply with the law[3].

08 May 2015

Technically Insolvent Town Councils

For the purposes of enabling the town councils to carry out their functions under the Town Councils Act and any other Act of Parliament, the Ministry of National Development ("MND") from time to time makes grants-in-aid to the town councils. Such grants-in-aid (also referred to as conservancy and service fee operating grants or government grants) enable the town councils to subsidise the service and conservancy fees for residents living in 4-room and smaller flats.

What would happen if MND were to withhold the conservancy and service fee grants to a town council, just like it had done to Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council for financial years 2014 and 2015.

Let's see.

08 April 2015

The Credit For Singapore's Success

During the past fortnight, many accolades were heaped on the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister, who died on 23 March.

Many of the accolades ignored the contributions of others who contributed to the Singapore success story.

Who were some of these people?

20 March 2015

Is Public Housing Really Affordable?

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan tried very hard to persuade us that public housing is more affordable now than it has been in recent years[1].

23 February 2015

PAP vs. WP AHPETC Audit Circus

Member of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair said, in conjunction with the debate in Parliament on Auditor-General's Office's Audit of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, that the people he discussed the matter with kept telling him not to attack The Workers' Party ("WP") because they will only get more sympathy. But he couldn't get his head around that.

He should have heeded their advice and cautioned his colleagues to refrain from going overboard.

Town Council Management System
The decision by the town councils managed by the People's Action Party ("PAP") to sell their town council management systems ("TCMS") to PAP-owned Action Information Management Pte Ltd ("AIM") in 2010 and immediately lease it back is the source of many of the difficulties faced by AHPETC that were highlighted in AGO's report.

This is because the lease allowed AIM to terminate the contract with any town council by giving that town council one month's notice in the event of material changes to the membership, or to the scope and duties, such as changes to the boundaries, of that town council.

When WP took over Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, it had to rapidly upscale and improve the TCMS it used in Hougang. But it was difficult.

13 February 2015

Government Silent About Disamenities Of Pre-Funding MediShield Life

At Singapore Perspectives 2015, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean repeated his Government's oft-mentioned selling pitch on pre-funding MediShield Life premiums[1]:

When MediShield is not compulsory, each age group pays the premium appropriate for its medical costs because otherwise they would opt out when they are young when they have to pay more (because of pre-funding) and opt in at an older age (when the pre-funded moneys are drawn down to reduce the premium appropriate for their medical costs at that older age).

But we have made MediShield Life compulsory. Then you do inter-generational transfers for yourself by paying a higher premium than is appropriate for your age group when you are young. This makes sense because when you are young, you have earning capacity, you have excess / surplus and you can pay more than the premium appropriate for the age group. Instead of a slope that looks like this, the premiums rise more gradually because you pay more when you are young and you pay less when you are older.

As his Press Secretary explained in a letter to The Straits Times[2]:

"If premiums were set solely based on the health risks and consumption at each age, they will rise very steeply with age. Hence, we sought to distribute the premiums more evenly over the insured's lifetime and moderate what he has to pay in old age.

When the insured is younger and in his prime working years, he 'pre-pays' part of the higher old-age premiums that are payable when he is older and no longer working. With this 'pre-payment', the premium he pays when he becomes older will be less than the actual insurance cost for that age group."

In an earlier article Government Says Pre-Funding Medishield Life Is A New Feature. Really?, I explained that, contrary to what Mr Teo claims, pre-funding is not new; MediShield premiums already have a pre-funding component. However, pre-funding has many disamenities, which the Government doesn't talk about, and should be discontinued. I'll refer to the pre-funding arrangement as the Pre-funding Alternative.

10 February 2015

Government Says Pre-Funding MediShield Life Is A New Feature. Really?

At Singapore Perspectives 2015, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean repeated his Government's oft-mentioned selling pitch on pre-funding MediShield Life premiums:

I think quite a number of the health care systems in the world do inter-generational transfers in a rather irresponsible way because they tax the next generation to spend on the health care of the previous generation anonymously without any mutual obligation directly to each other.

In the design of MediShield Life, we try to avoid inter-generational transfers.

27 January 2015

PM Lee's Delusions About Opposition Parties

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke with some journalists recently.

This is what he said about the (current) opposition parties.

Voting for the Best Candidate

"My vision is that when voters go and vote, you vote for the best person who can represent you. Because if you don't vote for the person who can [best] represent you, then the person you vote for may end up representing you and God help you."

20 January 2015

Does PM Lee Understand Citizens' Unhappiness With Immigration?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke with some journalists recently.

This is what he said about immigration.

"I think there was a strong emotional reaction when we put out the [Population] White Paper. In retrospect, if we had had a bit more time to prepare the ground to explain it, to soft sell and prepare people to understand what it is which is the issue and what we are trying to do. We should have done that, but that's water under the bridge."

19 January 2015

Transparency and Temasek

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee Ti-seng recently claimed that Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, which is run by The Workers' Party, is not transparent.

How transparent is Temasek?

Temasek boasts a total shareholder return ("TSR") of 16 per cent since inception (i.e., 25 June 1974) and 6 per cent over the past 20 years[1][2]. We can estimate its TSR for the first 20 years[3] since inception (i.e., 1974-1994) as approximately 27 per cent (or, more precisely, between 25.4 per cent and 28.8 per cent)[4].

16 January 2015

Transparency and Energy Market Authority / SP Services

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee Ti-seng recently claimed that Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, which is run by The Workers' Party, was not transparent.

Is Energy Market Authority ("EMA") transparent?

EMA, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, sets the guidelines for, and approves, the non-contestable electricity tariffs. Households and small businesses are the main non-contestable consumers of low tension electric power.

SP Services Ltd, the market support services licensee, provides metering and billing services to the electricity market. Its ultimate parent company is Temasek Holdings.

15 January 2015

Transparency and People's Association

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee Ti-seng recently claimed that Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, which is run by The Workers' Party, was not transparent.

Is People's Association transparent?

Extract from independent auditors' report for the year ended 31 March 2011:

"Basis of Adverse Opinion

… the financial statements of the Association [i.e., People's Association] do not include the financial statements of the Grassroots Organisations ("GRO") for the financial year ended 31 March 2011. This does not comply with the principles of SB-FRS 27 — Consolidated and Separate Financial Statements that requires the inclusion of all entities controlled by the Association in its financial statements. As at 31 March 2011, there are in total 1,803 GROs not consolidated in the financial statements of the Association. Currently, no audited financial information of the GROs prepared in accordance with SB-FRS are available and hence we do not have sufficient information to assess the financial impact to the financial statements of the Association arising from the non-inclusion of the financial statements of the GROs.

05 January 2015

Much Ado About Jubilee Babies

The Jubilee Year of Singapore's independence has arrived.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu Hai Yien personally presented the SG50 Baby Jubilee Gift to the parents of the first baby born in 2015, with the media in attendance.