Thursday, November 26, 2009

Vote for Change - The Lost Generation

I have been reading the TOC article and comments on the projection that born and bred Singaporeans may become the minority in our own land and this slogan "Vote For Change" keeps repeating on the various comments.

This slogan is repeated because many of the readers of TOC feels that the PAP's FT policy that opens the floodgate indiscriminately for foreigners to come into Singapore to work and suppress our wages are causing harm to the place. We have one of the most liberal emigration policy in the world. No other countries in the world open up their doors as wide open as ours.

One may argue that these are just emotional outbursts that only happen in the cyber world. However my recent experience on the ground indicate otherwise. Singaporeans from all walks of life, regardless of race and religion, have come up to me and complain about "foreigners" taking away their jobs. Even the coffeeshop auntie whisper to me how angry she is that some cheap foreign labor have been taking away jobs from Singaporeans like her. The underlying emotional pressures cannot be underestimated.

However, what is the thing exactly that we want to change? Prior to GE 2006, just before the Workers' Party published their manifesto, some of us were thinking of a catchy slogan for the manifesto which will become the theme of our main campaign during the elections. My wife and I have dealt with the theme of "CHANGE". After much discussion and deliberation, the theme "Change" though looks attractive and sound catchy, we decided that Singaporeans are not ready to stomach such "drastic" movement.

On hindsight, although the Workers' Party manifesto did bring up good policy views, but it just falls short of providing much revolutionary ideas that could be termed as "fundamental change" to the present socio-political-economic system. Most of the ideas were about tweaking the present system, though some of the ideas would mean a total revamp of policy directions. Thus in the end, I would have to agree to the slogan "You have the Choice" instead.

There are many dimensions to the concept of Change. As I have stated in my earlier postings, the fundamental pillars of a nation consist of Social, Economics, Culture and Politics. If anyone wants to call out for fundamental change to Singapore's development path, he will have to provide a central idea or ideology or Core Values as the fundamental guiding principles to deal with all the four pillars of this nation.

My personal political belief is Democratic Socialism and it has been the guiding principle for me in molding my policy views over a wide spectrum of issues. Although some would argue PAP is also founded on the ideology of Democratic Socialism but I would say that they have discarded such idealism long time ago. From my perspective, they are moving towards Ultra-capitalism instead. Thus, if I am going to use the concept of "Change", I would urge voters to Vote for Change, from the ultra-capitalism to the ideology of Democratic Socialism. However, in modern context, I was told that people no longer care about political ideologies any more.

Thus, I was quite puzzled about the "Change" that some Singaporeans are yearning for. Exactly what kind of changes are they talking about? From the TOC article and comments, it seems that the people there are hoping to change the FT policy so to eradicate the social-economic problems that comes with it. Or to change the ways that the whole government works? Changing the power structure within the parliament so that the ruling party would become more responsive, responsible and accountable to the people's wish?

If that is the case, we will be seeking bigger change than just voting more opposition members into parliament. The whole political system has to be revamped. I would champaign for a proportionate representation system for Singapore so that minority voices would not be ignored altogether in the process of policy and legislative parliamentary debates.

Changes that would bring more accountability and transparency within the government is a big theme that needs great courage from the voters to vote towards such transformation. Such changes are indeed necessary but to me, insufficient in terms of a total review of our national policy directions. But maybe our concerns back in 2005 is still valid, Singaporeans may accept certain pace of change but not a drastic one.

Interesting enough, this call for "Vote for Change" is initiated by somebody that would most probably call themselves "The Lost Generation". It is a simple term but invokes great depth of thinking.

Why "Lost"? The fear of being the minority in our own homeland may constitute to such label. We are lost because we have been overwhelmed by foreigners in our land. We are lost because we are helpless when job advertisement in our very own land actually discriminated against us, all of us Singaporeans, when they state categorically that only foreigners need to apply. Best of all, there is no law or rules that our elected government could apply and do something about it. We are lost in bewilderment when the minister in charge of labour would make the wild call for "Cheap, faster, better" workers while the ministers themselves would constantly justify why they need to be paid the MOST EXPENSIVE salaries in the world as ministers.

We are lost when the problems that foreign labour brought upon us as in cheap labour substitution and inflated HDB prices are not dealt with properly but on the other hand the government is more concern about Singaporeans not welcoming and integrating well with these foreigners in our homeland. It is strange when some of these foreign labour could not speak our "common language" Singlish/English while serving us in hawker centres and coffeeshops but instead, the burden of integration actually lies with us. We are lost when the government takes more care to the businesses instead of its people. GST increased just to reduce corporate taxes. Opening the floodgate for foreigners so that businesses could have cheaper labour substitutes.

Personally I am not all that anti-foreigners. But the situation becomes so absurd when the ruling party allows indiscriminately foreigners to flood our land with disregard to the fact that our infrastructure, public transport, healthcare, housing and public space could hardly cope with such influx. The problem does not lie with the foreigners but the government of the day. It is the ruling party who have open the floodgates and they should be made accountable for all the problems that are generated by this policy decision.

I guess the most important factor that created the Lost generation is the feeling of betrayal by the government with the series of policies that do not take care of them.

Vote for Change....and Accountability.

Goh Meng Seng

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kelvin Teo's interview

Kelvin Teo, the main ex-writer of Kent Ridge Common, has requested to interview me and I gladly obliged. The following is the link to the full interview.

I will reproduce the interview here:

Kelvin: How did your previous experiences especially during your student days and all that prompted you to step into politics?

GMS:Before answering this question, a quick introduction to my background. I was born in the era of “White Terror” whereby even a whisper of discontentment of the ruling party PAP would be sternly cautioned by the elders. That was the reality in 1970s whereby the ruthless detention of political opponents by PAP was met with fear and apprehension. Anyone who dare to include phrases or words which could suggest links to communist literature will be called up by ISD for coffee or face detention ultimately. Singapore, the jewel city of Southeast Asia Cultural Renaissance has turned into a total cultural desert overnight.

My late father used to be a member of an opposition party, United Front. Although he didn’t have much formal education but his upright character and political views have tremendous influence on my youthful mind. I used to read the Chinese newspapers with him. Back then, there was still Nanyang Shangbao which was more independent and critical about the ruling party before it was forced into merger with Xinzhou daily and under total control of the government. My father was pretty critical about some of the policies and political repression that the ruling party exercised back then. The impact of the forced closure of Nanyang University and merger of the Chinese newspapers still lingers in my mind up till this day.

I received my secondary school education in a SAP school, River Valley High. I was the Chairman of the Student Council for a period of time. The life in a SAP school made me feel a little uneasy as it was not totally “real” as compared with the world outside. I realized that there wasn’t any Malays or Indians in our school. This is unhealthy and I began to wonder if we should provide First Language education for Malay as well as Tamil so that the SAP school could have a better racial mix.

My education in River Valley High also molded my socialist mindset. The study of modern Chinese literature provided me a good foundation in understanding social justice/injustice, exploitation of the feudal system on the peasants and what it means to fight for justice, fairness and a society that value equality, freedom and human rights.

I received my training in Economics from Hwa Chong Junior College and subsequently, the National University of Singapore. My study in NUS was especially valuable as it provided me the opportunity to have a more critical mind in examining many of the past and contemporary policies made at that time. It happened that most of the controversial policies were made in the 1990s, from the implementation of GST, COE, assets enhancement (which resulted in the rise of HDB pricing) to ERP. My training back then equipped me with better understanding of the rational as well as the flaws behind these policies.

I also participated actively in the digital forums of the University intranet bulletin board, focusing on social and economic issues. Such participation in public discussion was extended beyond my varsity days when internet became available to Singaporeans after 1995. Prior to my actual participation in opposition politics in 2001, I have always regarded myself as a social armchair critic who took some time off from my business venture to participate in some social charity work on the ground.

My disagreement on the many social-economic policies implemented by the PAP came to a critical point in 1997 when PAP insisted in using HDB upgrading as the basis of pork barrel politics during the 1997 General Elections. That was actually the last straw that pushed me to consider seriously about either making a change to the whole political culture and system or just to emigrate to some other place instead. The basic sense of justice and fairness began to develop to a greater level of dissatisfaction of the various politicking tactics utilized by the PAP to silence or disable its political opponents.

The disagreement with the various social-economic policies coupled with the dissatisfaction with PAP’s disgusting politicking are the two main factors that eventually made me cross the line to join opposition party in 2001, right in the midst of the General Elections. Such disagreement and dissatisfaction are strongly influenced by my upbringing and learning in my earlier life.

Kelvin: You have a dream which is and I quote:”To build a true alternative in Singapore”. What inspired you to come up with this vision and how did you arrive upon it?

GMS:I have been through the era of great political suppression in the 1970s and 1980s. I have seen through all the flaws and merits of the ultra-capitalist-based policies made in the 1990s and the new century. The ironic thing is that although I despise the political oppression of the 1970s and 1980s, however, to a certain extent, I do appreciate the level of socialist idealism embedded in the social-economic policies formulated back then.

The PAP has once founded its principle of governance based on Democratic Socialism but it has totally discarded its fundamental political ideology along the way. While it always tries to sell its policies to Singaporeans with twisted logic and sweetening tongues, the actual impact and full implications of all these policies are not well deliberated at all in the public sphere. This could only happen in the past where total monopoly of power and the media allow it to be the dominant opinion maker in Singapore. The rapid development of the internet has diluted PAP’s influence and dominance in public political discourse.

We need an alternative set of thinking and policies to counteract PAP’s twisted policy rationale. For example, while PAP claims that GST is good as it broadens the tax base, but the trade off will always be unfair taxation on the lower strata of the income group. Most countries that implement value-added tax would have a system with adequate social welfare for its socially and economically disadvantaged people. This is never the case in Singapore in which GST is implemented simply for a broader revenue base for the government so that it could afford to lower tax for the corporate and higher income groups.

Such a twisted policy direction was hardly questioned because most Singaporeans are made to believe that in order to keep MNCs happy and continue to invest in Singapore, our poor lower income group should be sacrificed and taxed.

There are many similar examples in other policies like FT (Foreign Talent), ERP, COE, HDB, Healthcare and even CPF which need greater critical examination. The killing always lies in the details which twisted and tilted these policies against the basic economic rationale and interests of Singaporeans.

The true alternative will only be possible if and only if we have a strong vision and political belief in social justice, fairness, equality as well as respect for human dignity and fundamental human rights. We as a society and a nation must realize that happiness and well being of the people are not solely derived from materialism and economic well-being. Besides, GDP growth alone may not benefit all Singaporeans if the system here does not distribute the fruits of such growth in a fairer way.

Thus, the True Alternative I am talking about is the alternative guiding principles in governance and policy making. The most fundamental difference in this True Alternative versus the current PAP’s behavior is that we should not treat Singapore as a corporation. The government should not behave like a profit-oriented management team of a corporation. The role of a government is not about making how much “profit” in terms of budget surpluses. The role of governance is to provide a fair and level playing field for all, to manage the inherent unequal distribution of wealth and income within the system and to provide the various public goods which will enhance the development of economic activities and welfare of the people.

Kelvin: What challenges from within the opposition camp and elsewhere did you encounter as you attempt to make your dream of building a true alternative come true?

GMS:Due to the decades of dominance of the mass media by PAP, it seems that the PAP has entrenched its set of core values into Singaporeans at large. Even many opposition members have been made to believe in certain PAP’s twisted political rationale unknowingly, so much so that we are unable to “think out of the box” that the PAP has created for everybody.

The main challenge is to convince the people that certain PAP’s logic is flawed. For example, the PAP’s logic of pleasing MNCs and doing whatever it can to get them to stay in Singapore so that they could provide jobs for Singaporeans. Only by doing so, we could continue to depend on exporting goods and services to make a living. We have seldom questioned such logic and correlations between MNCs, export and jobs. The truth is, while other countries like Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong would similarly depend on export as a source of growth and provision of jobs, they have lesser dependency on MNCs as the main job providers. On the contrary, many of the companies in these places have developed into main contract manufacturers instead of just reaming as support industries for the MNC factories. While Taiwanese firms are able to manufacture their own brands of computer motherboards apart from contract manufacturing for big brand names, most Singapore companies are still just providing metal casting and molding services to hard disk manufacturers.

We have to convince our people to walk out of PAP’s version of logic and examine critically what other alternatives we could have instead. But this is a very tedious and challenging process. Opposition parties are mostly not sufficiently confident enough to challenge the PAP on this front because they lack strong understanding and learning of various options of economic development models. On the other hand, opposition parties also lack strong understanding and learning of various political ideologies. You could hardly find any consistency and clarity in terms of political ideologies from the various opposition parties. There isn’t a habit to develop strong core values in terms of social-economic perspectives. We will need to spend some effort in developing our set of core values and political beliefs other than depending on the simple common “anti-PAP” rhetoric to stay relevant.

Kelvin: If in the near future, the PAP government is suddenly replaced in a ‘freak election’, do you think there will be people who will be able to step up to the plate and ably run the Singapore ship?

GMS: If the PAP really loses power in any election, then it would not be a ‘freak election’. It would actually mean that the social-economic conditions have deteriorated to such a bad state that Singaporeans have finally decided that enough is enough. The talk of ‘freak election’ is just a mere scare tactic.

I predict that in a transitional period to full democratic development, there will be a time where none of the political parties could win more than 50% of the seats to become the government straight away. A coalition government will have to be formed. The PAP may become the biggest party in the coalition government. There will be a period of stable transition into a real multi-party democracy if that happens.

If the opposition parties decide to form the coalition government without involving PAP in the process, I am confident that the civil service could continue to be the backbone of the government while the new cabinet formed by the coalition could provide new directions and guidance for the whole government.

In a proper democratic setup, the ministers are elected guardians of the government who will set the agenda and directions for the civil service to carry out their duties. The ministers are empowered by the people to carry out whatever visions, agenda or plans that they have put up during elections to convince the voters to vote them in. Although the present opposition parties may have different beliefs or agendas, I believe that a consensus could be achieved if a coalition government is to be formed.

What is your opinion of Singapore’s economic growth during the early years and if the current economic model for growth is sustainable in future?

GMS: The two major sources of economic growth could come from injection either of capital or labor or both. Singapore’s economic growth during the early years of nation building is fueled by influx of capital, particularly foreign investments brought in by MNCs. The chief economic architect Dr. Goh Keng Swee has designed the system such that industrialization is supported by building up our free trade port which we are naturally endowed with, i.e. our strategic geographic locality and deep sea port.

However, the over reliance on MNC investment has resulted in the inability of Singapore to stand on its own feet in terms of manufacturing. It also resulted in negative total factor productivity as our high saving rates was not met with efficient use of funding in production and investments. Unlike the other 3 Asian Tigers (especially Taiwan and Korea), Singapore was less successful in developing our contract manufacturing base but instead, we developed more into supporting industries for the big MNCs.

While Singapore produced big international brand names like Seagate hard disks with all the advanced supporting industry in metal casting and molding, we were unable to develop our own brand names unlike Taiwan (ASUS, ACER, Biostar, Gigabyte etc) or Korea (LG, Samsung, Hyundai, etc). Taiwan and Korea started with contract manufacturing for big Western brand names but eventually developed their own end products. Singapore took the other approach by inviting foreign MNCs to set up their factories here while our local companies begin to develop into supporting industries for these MNCs.

Such a model may have worked for the two decades from the 1970s to 1980s, but it couldn’t possibly sustain when other cheaper production bases like Malaysia, Thailand, China and even Vietnam evolved. While the Taiwanese or Korean companies could just build new factories in these places and continue production of their goods under the same branding, Singapore’s companies within the supporting industries will face more difficulties in following the MNCs to set up shops in other countries.

In terms of educational comparison between the workforce among the 4 Asian Tigers, Singapore was known to have the least educated workforce as compared with the other 3 Asian Tigers. This was in spite of our efforts to build up more polytechnics back then. The situation was worsen when Nantah was forcefully closed down, leaving NUS as the only university left for the 1980s. Surprisingly, the PAP argued that we only needed one University for Singapore. It was a big mistake. Taiwan, Korea and even Hong Kong were trying to set up more universities, Singapore ended up doing the reverse. Eventually, the PAP realized its mistake and started to re-open the university as NTU years later. The PAP also started to open more universities later in the 1990s.

Although we tried very hard to play catch up in building up a credible and more educated workforce, the years lost due to PAP’s shortsightedness result in a gap in the educational level of our workforce when compared with other prospering countries in Asia. In the early 1990s, the PAP finally have to fill up this gap by opening the floodgate to foreigners to work in Singapore. They were termed as “Foreign Talents”.

We have moved on from a capital-intensive driven growth to a labor-intensive driven growth. This basically means that our GDP growth is driven by the rapid injection of foreign labour coupled with continuity in attracting foreign investment by MNCs. Foreign labor ratio started to balloon from the 1990s till the new century.

Is such a model of economic growth beneficial to Singaporeans? The initial influx of foreign labor was basically to close the gap of the lack of talents in certain areas. However, as it developed, the enormous influx of foreign workers have basically covered the whole spectrum of the workforce, from the lowest wage jobs, factory workers, technicians, skilled workers to middle management, engineers to top management. It has become a source of wage suppression for all Singaporeans as well as cheap labour substitute for almost all level of jobs.

One good indicator is that in spite of high GDP growth, income per capita for the middle and lower class Singaporeans income earners was lagging behind the growth rate. This means that the huge influx of foreigners and capital were the sources of our economic growth but it does not necessarily benefit the local work force. Foreign MNCs came here to set up factories, employing mostly cheap foreign workers. They will definitely contribute to the economic figures but Singaporeans will enjoy smaller of that economic pie of growth.

Such a model of growth is unsustainable in the long run as it would create permanent and structural unemployment or under-employment for the local citizens. We are beginning to see some of the effects whereby local ex-senior managers end up driving a taxi. This is basically under-employment which the cheaper foreign workers created a mismatch of employment versus skills/qualification for local citizens as the result of the substitution effect.

Kelvin: What will be the most significant economic/bread and butter issue that will crop up during the next elections?

GMS:The high influx of foreign workers which displace local employees, crowding out public space, putting pressure on basic infrastructure like public transport and pushing up prices of public housing. This issue will be the main critical one for PAP. The PAP has to answer all the questions on their policy of opening the floodgate for foreign workers which has created a whole list of social-economic problems.

Kelvin: What changes in other areas besides economics such as healthcare, housing, education, environment, defense, etc, would you like to see in the next few years and beyond?

GMS:I would like to see a faster pace of democratic development of the political system into a proportionate representation system and implementation of a comprehensive social welfare system for the social-economically disadvantaged. No doubt that Singapore has progressed over the 50 years of PAP rule, but we are at the crossroads of disconnecting the monopoly of power by PAP from the future progress of Singapore. Singaporeans have progressed in terms of educational level and exposures to the outside world. They will no longer take PAP’s words as the only true words of the wise. They will constantly make comparisons with other successful economies which have better progress in democracy with Singapore. There are also successful economies which have implemented a certain level of comprehensive social welfare system as well.

On top of that, I would like to see a more progressive society with various Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) developing. Such NGOs may play a crucial in developing a fairer platform and system for Singaporeans. Particularly, I wish to see the setting up of the Equal Opportunity Commission as well as Human Rights Commission to ensure that discriminatory practices as well as human rights abuses are being minimized or totally eradicated.

Kelvin: What specific lessons can we implement from the policy successes (e.g. healthcare, economics, trade) of other nations that can also benefit us in the future?

GMS: I am particularly interested in the Nordic countries’ educational system, particularly Finland and Sweden. They have put tremendous efforts into the “real” education of their people, instead of a production line system of chunking out graduates to match the targeted industries that the government wanted to enhance on. Real education provides a series of diversified disciplines which develop and nurture the human talents instead of pre-determining what the human should be molded into.

On the healthcare front, the wide coverage of the Canadian and Taiwanese healthcare insurance systems is something we need to take a second look into. The ability of the Canadians to lower prices of drugs by putting pressures on drug companies with bulk purchasing is something we could learn from. The national finance of research effort within the medical field may also lower future drug costs to consumers.

The Hong Kong system is an interesting one to examine closely. It is basically a capitalist financial center which practises socialist economic re-distribution by means of extensive social welfare schemes. There are many things we could learn from the Hong Kong experiences in balancing the interests of the businesses (capitalists) and the workers.

Kelvin: Your party will be adopting a “minister-specific” strategy, which involves addressing particular policies drawn up by a minister and his ministry. Is the party coming up with the equivalent of a shadow cabinet whereby a particular member will shadow a particular minister he is contesting? What in your opinion are the potential benefits and drawbacks of this strategy?

GMS:No. Even though we are adopting the “minister-specific” strategy, we are still far from contesting all seats, particularly all the GRCs. However, this method will allow serious opposition candidates to learn the rope of policy analysis. We are just on the development path of a more mature democracy whereby political players will have to develop themselves personally on matters of public interests, i.e. policy analysis debates. Hopefully, in 10 years time, we will be able to groom more people, enough people to form a shadow cabinet after we win more seats in parliament.

There are great benefits from this strategy as it brings the contest into its proper context. Voters are voting for legislators in parliament, not just local estate managers. The PAP has successfully confused Singaporeans about the real meaning of General Elections with the Town Council concepts.

Most countries have two-tier elections in which they elect the local Town Councilors apart from their legislators in parliament or Congress. But in Singapore, the PAP wants to avoid the focus of General Elections to be set on National Policies which affect everybody so much so that they will always divert voters’ attention from the real issues created by their policies towards how good opposition members are in managing their HDB flats (scare cry about rubbish building up in their cutes) or attacking individual opposition candidates, making a mountain out of a molehill and flood the mass media with constant bombardment on opposition candidates’ characters. Real policy issues are rarely debated during General Elections in Singapore for the past 2 decades.

The PAP has lost a couple of seats back in 1984 when the policy issue of granting graduate mothers special privileges caused a social uproar. Thus, from then on, policy issues have been avoided for subsequent elections. Future elections proceeded as followed: 1988, concerted attacks on Francis Seow, 1991, attacks on Jufrie , 1997 attacks on Tang Liang Hong and introduction of pork barrel politics of HDB upgrading, 2001 attacks on Dr. Chee Soon Chuan, 2006 attacks on James Gomez. There is systematic evidence that the PAP has tried to avoid serious policy debates during elections so that they would not become the focus of public discontent. They have somehow managed to successfully divert the focus of Singaporeans during elections to the management of Town Councils, priority of HDB upgrading as well as personal character attacks on individual opposition members. It is about time that we have to bring Singaporeans back to the serious issue of legislation of laws and policies during elections.

What is lacking from our system is extraction of accountability from the PAP government. Ministers hide behind the notion of “collective leadership and responsibility” to avoid taking rap from unpopular or even bad policies made under their charge. Collective responsibility must not mean nobody’s responsibility. Since the policies are executed and carried out by the ministers, the ministers should be the first to be made accountable for these policies.

This strategy, if accepted and worked for this coming elections, will have far-fetching implications on the policy making process. Ministers will take Singaporeans’ interests into more serious considerations before they agree to implement any policies (made under the pretext or influence of collective leadership). This will be the most important impact of this strategy.

However, after two decades of “noise” during elections, voters and opposition members may no longer be proficient and sharp in their analysis of various policies. Adopting such a strategy may put us in an awkward position if we are not proficient enough to provide convincing alternative policy views. In another words, it will expose our own shortcomings during elections. This is especially so when we do not have full statistical data to do indepth policy analysis. Having said that, this is a necessary painful path that we need to take in order for all of us, both voters and opposition members, to grow together for the betterment and advancement of our democracy.

My main concern is that Singaporeans may not be used to such an approach to general elections. Some Singaporeans may be used to looking at short-term benefits of HDB upgrading and carrots hung by the PAP, and disregarding the importance of extracting accountability from PAP ministers for their policies under their charge. It will only take the fall of one PAP minister on the context of unpopular policies made by his ministry to send chilling influences to other PAP ministers to sit up and take Singaporeans’ views, sentiments and interests seriously. But it will take tremendous courage for many voters in a GRC just to do what is right for Singapore.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The extend of influx of Foreigners

This is SERIOUSLY interesting. Figures hiding behind statistics!

Ok, there are average 46,300 PR approved each year with 2,200 renouncing their PR same period of 9 years. Meaning, each year, there are about an increase of 44,100 PR.

9 years (from 2000 to 2008 inclusive of 2000 & 2008) of 44,100 = 396900!

Non Residents amount to 1.253m with a another total of 533,000 PR.

It practically means that prior to year 2000, there were only 136100 PR and the number actually increase almost 300% within that 9 years!

For 35 years of Nation building, we only have 136100 PR. But within 9 years, we have an increase of over 300%?

Now you know why HDB flats are so expensive right now.

Goh Meng Seng

News from Asiaone

Two-thirds of PR applications successful

Mon, Nov 23, 2009

An average of 46,300 people are granted Singaporean permanent resident (PR) status every year for the past eight years, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Mr Wong Kan Seng said in Parliament today.

In his reply to Mr Chiam See Tong's question about the number of PR applications received, granted and PR statuses renounced, Mr Wong said that PR applications have been increasing steadily in recent years.

From 2000 to 2008, an average of 74,500 applications for permanent residency were submitted by foreigners each year. Of these, an average of 46,300 applications were successful.

An average of 2,200 also renounced their PR status each year during the same period.

Mr Wong said that the increase in number of people granted PR was due to two factors, namely a strong economy and the need to augment Singapore's population.

A booming economy growth of 6 per cent to 8 percent between 2004 and 2007 meant that Singapore required more foreigners to work here. Most did not intend to stay long term, but "a good many" are well-qualified, skilled personnel who decided to stay longer and applied for PR.

Singapore's low fertility rate also meant that the country would age rapidly and start to decline by 2020 if the country closes its doors to foreigners. This would increase the burden of Singaporeans and the country's competitiveness would decrease.

Mr Wong also said that the Government recognizes that Singaporeans feel anxious about the large inflow of foreigners in recent years.

Singaporeans should not think that all foreigners here are PRs, he said. A large portion of foreigners are here on short-term passes, with 1,253,000 non-residents in Singapore as compared to 533,000 PRs.

While Singapore needs the continuing inflow of immigrants into the country, Mr Wong said that the government is mindful of the concerns of Singaporeans.

Monday, November 23, 2009

NSP new election strategy of monitoring ministers' policies

The following is the translation of the Zaobao article:

NSP new election strategy of monitoring ministers' policies.


Yew Lun Tian reports

The National Solidarity Party will be applying a new strategy in the coming general elections. It plans to take on the policy made by the PAP ministers anchoring the respective GRCs.

In respond to our queries, the leader of NSP Tampines team Mr. Goh Meng Seng told us, “This is to enhance the accountability of this government. When the ministers are formulating their policies, they should take the people's interests into serious considerations and be accountable for their policies. If the policies are bad, then they should step down.”

He revealed that NSP has decided to use the GRC minister-specify strategy for campaigning, monitoring and tracking closely the various policies made by the respective ministers after holding internal election seminars since August.

“The PAP government has always stressed about collective leadership and responsibility but most of the time it would mean that nobody will be accountable for the policies made. Since the ministers are just executing the will of the leadership, thus they won't be afraid of taking the rap if anything goes wrong.”

This is why they believe that the strategy of monitoring the ministers closely could create impact on the process of policy making by the government, letting the ministers know that voters want them to be responsible and accountable for the policies made under their charge.

When contacted, the President of NSP said, “We will focus on the policies made by the respective ministers but we will not rule out campaigning on National policy issues or local constituency issues as well.”

This party has announced plans to contest Tampines, Jurong and Jalan Besar GRCs, along with with Yio Chu Kang, Yishun Central and MacPherson SMCs in the next elections. Central Executive Member Teo Chai Chen and Yip Yew Weng have expressed interests to contest Yishun Central and Yio Chu Kang respectively.

Although there are no mention of the possible election dates yet, NSP has already made preparations and deploy ed their teams accordingly. Take the Tampines team for example, it is basically formed with candidates ready to contest. Mr. Goh Meng Seng did not reveal much details about the other candidates except that they encompass all age groups and some are working overseas.

He also pointed out that ever since NSP left SDA, it needs to attract more minority candidates to form the GRC teams. During the 2006 GE, NSP contested under the SDA banner and it could combine resources and collaborated with minority candidates from other component parties like PKMS to form up their GRC teams.

Most political parties will normally hold their cards close to their chests and reluctant to reveal their election plans until the final countdown. Will NSP lose out by revealing their intent of contests in various places and election strategy so early? Mr. Goh expressed confidence in doing so.

He said that even if the ruling party carry out preventive measures like hastening the progress of lift upgrading, the fundamental problem pertinent to the high inflated prices of public housing will still remain.

Mr. Goh believes that the government should not use the resale price of old HDB flats as the basis to determine the prices of the new flats because the amenities of the matured estate will definitely be more pricey.

“Unless the government change their policies to allow citizens to own two flats, else the paper capital gain generated by the rising HDB price is superficial and will not bring actual benefits to the people.”

早报- 团结党新竞选策略 将紧盯部长所推行政策

团结党新竞选策略  将紧盯部长所推行政策


游润恬 报道














我们会把焦点放在个别部长所制定的政策,不过也不排除把全国性政策或个别选区的课题当成竞选议题。        ——团结党主席张培源

Saturday, November 21, 2009

TOC: Mah’s explanation does not square with HDB’s annual report

Mah’s explanation does not square with HDB’s annual report

Friday, 20 November 2009, 3:03 pm | 1,401 views

Leong Sze Hian

Number of flats sold declined, contradicting Mah’s explanation on reasons for HDB’s S$2 billion deficit.

On 7 November, the Minister for National Development, Mr Mah Bow Tan, explained why the Housing and Development Board has incurred a S$2 billion loss this year. The loss is twice that of the previous year. According to Channelnewasia, Mr Mah said:

“It is making a loss and the government gives it grants every year to cover the losses, mainly because we’re giving subsidies to people to buy flats to make flats affordable to first timers. That is why we’re making a loss.”

The report went on:

“Mr Mah said the HBD makes a loss each time it gives out subsidies to first-timer home buyers, and when it sells flats lower than their cost price. The reason for the high deficit was because more flats were offered for sale last year, compared to the year before”.

Mr Mah’s remarks seem to contradict the statistics provided in the HDB’s latest annual report.

According to the annual report, HDB revealed that “the number of flats sold under the home ownership scheme this year was 4,738, which was 7,253 less than last year”.

According to its section titled “Key statistics”, the “demand for flats” was 9,870 Home Ownership flats for 2008/2009, compared to 12,449 for 2007/2008; and the “Building statistics – Dwelling units” was 3,154 in 2008 compared to 5,063 in 2007.

All these numbers show that the number of flats sold have declined, rather than increased.

The number of flats sold under the home ownership scheme declined by 60 per cent, “Demand for flats” declined by 21 per cent, and “Building statistics – Dwelling units” declined by 38 per cent, for the last year.

So, how is it possible then that “the reason for the high deficit ($2 billion) was because more flats were offered for sale last year, compared to the year before”, when the HDB statistics show that flats’ building, demand and sales, all declined substantially last year compared to the year before?

Can the Minister clarify his statement on the reasons for the doubling of the deficit from $1 billion to $2 billion for the last year?

As for Mr Mah’s assurance that HDB “sells flats lower than their cost price”, the HDB has not disclosed the breakdown of the cost of building flats, despite letters to newspaper forums requesting for this information, almost every year.

The last time this information was disclosed was in 1981, when the then National Development Minister Mr Teh Cheang Wan, disclosed the land and construction cost, as well as the subsidy and selling price, of the various flat types in six districts.

For example, a three-room flat in the central core region, cost $53,700 to construct and incurred a land cost of $40,000, and sold for $57,100.


Picture from Straits Times.

Parliament will sit at 1.30 pm on Monday, 23 November. The following are some of the questions tabled for the Ministry of National Development:

Mr Chiam See Tong: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) what it costs the government to build a 3-room, 4-room and 5-room HDB flat; (b) what is the profit margin which HDB adds to the cost for each of these categories of flats when it sells them to the public; and (c) whether HDB bases the selling price of flats on the prevailing market price of these flats.

Er Lee Bee Wah: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) how many new Build-To-Order flats are presently available for selection; and (b) how do the supply and demand factors influence the cost of these flats.

Mdm Cynthia Phua: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) what is the projected supply and demand of HDB flats in the next 5 years; (b) what are the parameters that are taken into account in the projection of the supply and demand of flats; (c) whether the Ministry has considered an annual buffer number of ready flats and, if so, what is the number and the parameters in arriving at that number; and (d) what measures will the Ministry consider in ensuring that first-timers get a new HDB flat within 3 years.

Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim: To ask the Minister for National Development what is the current waiting time and the number/percentage of couples applying for new HDB flats under the Fiance/Fiancee Scheme.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) what is the total number of permanent residents (PRs) who own HDB flats and the distribution pattern of PRs in the various public housing estates; (b) whether his Ministry will ensure that there is a good mix of PRs in the various housing estates to encourage better integration with Singaporeans; and (c) whether his Ministry will consider expanding the current policy on racial mix for HDB flats to include PRs.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) how many HDB tenants have been evicted from HDB rental flats for the past 12 months due to illegal sub-letting or inability to pay rental; and (b) what are HDB’s plans to provide alternative housing for such evicted tenants if they are unable to find alternative accommodation.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan: To ask the Minister for National Development whether his Ministry will review the household income ceiling for rental flats to take into account inflation and the increased cost of living, before pegging rental rates at 30% or 50% of the market rate.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weather Information in complacent Singapore

Having spent a great part of my time in foreign land, I am used to very detailed weather forecast provided in other places. They have weather alerts such as color codes for typhoons and rain.

For example, if the rain that flooded Bukit Timah is to happen in Hong Kong, it will be Black Rain Alert. It would mean that schools will be closed and students will not be required to travel to school at all. The Alerts will be broadcast by the mass media.

There are times when the Hong Kong Observatory did not make timely and accurate warnings, the community and the mass media would have criticized the authority for the mistake made. This is because adverse weather may result in floods, strong winds and storms that could endanger lives, especially those elderly and young children. You can take a look at the various warnings that the Hong Kong Observatory would issue here.

The Alerts include very hot weather warning because many elderly cannot take heat. It also warns those who are outdoors to take extra precautions during hot weather (normally 33 degrees and above). The system of information provision in Hong Kong is geared towards public safety and interests.

Maybe the authorities in Singapore do not think that weather information or adverse weather alerts are important to public safety. However, if the information about the heavy rain is announced along with the relevant alerts that warrant the closure of schools, those students who were trapped in the flood at Bukit Timah would not need to risk their lives walking in the flood. Furthermore, it would help to alert the elderly not to step out of their houses during this period.

Are we becoming complacent? Or just that our government is so used to the way they manage information? Or that our government simply don't take citizens' interests at heart?

Some may take such issue as "small issue". It is just weather information, no big deal. But the truth is, our government has been keeping a lot of information out of citizens' reach. Every information seems to be "national secrets". The PAP government has been calling out about "Open Society" for so long but yet it seems that the way they handle information is rather opaque. Most of the time, Singaporeans have to rely on foreign sources to tell us how much GIC and Temasek made or lost instead of our very own government.

From the look at the way they manage weather information, we could see the same attitude or simply worse attitude. It simply shows that they do not really have public interests at heart, even though they have been crying out National security and public interests in defense of secrecy of many vital information.

I guess it has to be our fault, the citizens' fault again. If we read the newspaper reports here in Singapore about the floods, they will just exclaim this is an extraordinary flood, worst situation in 50 years, caused by high tide and heavy rain etc etc. But no Singaporeans, no reporters have ever question whether the government could do better in providing adequate information and warnings to avoid citizens risking their lives in the flood. Whether the government should send out early warnings and have schools closure, cancel classes and asking schools to disallow students to travel back home if they were already in school...etc.

No, nothing was mentioned about the responsibility of the government in providing timely warnings. Just reports on how students were seen traveling through floods and some fallen into drains etc. Just excuses about why PUB should not be blamed for the flood as they have done so much drainage work in the past. Every reports you read is about why the government is not to be blamed for the flood but never about how things could be managed better.

This is in sharp contrast to a place with true freedom of speech and expression like Hong Kong. If this happens in Hong Kong, all the commentators in radio talk shows will start criticizing the Hong Kong authorities for not taking precautionary actions and giving the right alert warning. Hong Kong reporters will start to question about the relevant authorities in their efforts of improving the drainage system. The Hong Kong Observatory would have come out and apologized for not giving the right alert warning. The government authorities will start to respond to the queries on the drainage improvement works...

Well, this is just Singapore. The tightly controlled SPH and Mediacorps will not question their bosses up there, would there? However, I am kind of disappointed that no Singaporeans on the net have raised questions on whether the government should have ordered the schools to cancel the classes and adverse warnings cum advice should be issued over the media prior to the floods.

Singapore has spent huge sum of money on many world class weather forecast systems. I believe they could at least provide warnings 3 hours in advanced for adverse weather condition, if not earlier. The problem is that they have not set up the proper alert warning system in place to cope with erratic weather conditions.

I have heard over the radio while driving about the possibility of floods about half an hour before the heavy rain came. Well, but how severe is the conditions? The mere mention of the possibility of floods is just not enough. We need to know whether it is just heavy rain or very very heavy rain. Should our children go to school? or return from school under such heavy rain?

I hope the NEA should take my criticism and suggestion seriously. Weather forecast alone is just not enough. You have to make proper judgment and issue relevant alert warnings to the people for them to take necessary precautions or even enforce closure of kindergartens and schools in Singapore whenever it is needed. Even for hot weather forecast, a certain alert level will enforce warnings to schools to cancel most outdoor activities and such warnings would be useful for many people, like the army, in taking adequate precautions to avoid heat injuries. In Singapore, proper lightning alerts should be issued to warn Singaporeans about staying in open areas. Such lightning warning would be useful for those construction workers whom may work in places without proper lightning protection.

There are so many areas that NEA's Meteorological Services could improve upon the way they provide crucial weather information to the public. I hope they would seriously look into this suggestion of mine for the sake of REAL PUBLIC INTERESTS.

Goh Meng Seng













● 王昌伟





  李资政经常以他学习华文的经历作为例子,说明一个人不可能同时精通两种语言,那我也想谈谈自己学习双语的经历。我的华文程度和李资政的英文程度一样,都达到母语(native language)的水平,但我相信我的英文程度应该比李资政的华文程度高。虽然不管是口语还是书面语,我的英文还存在瑕疵,但在日常的沟通之外,我还能用英语授课,能用英语发表演讲和与西方学者讨论高深的学问,也能用英文出版学术专著。













Saturday, November 14, 2009



提出"民主"是"好东西"还是"坏东西"这种问题,自然不能说有错,但总觉得有些" 文不对题"。因为"民主"并不是"好"或"坏"、"有用"或"没用"的问题,它是我们生命的一种渴望,一种需求。正如吃、喝、拉、撒、睡,正如人的"七情六欲",你说它们"好"还是"坏","有用"还是"没用"?我们需要它们,是我们的生命离不开它们,一旦离开,生命就要受到致命的阻遏。反过来也可以说,如果不是我们的生命需要它,它就是再"好"、再"有用"也与我们不相干。




" 民主,就是手上有一本护照,随时可以出国,不怕政府刁难;民主就是养了孩子知道他们可以凭自己本事上大学,不需要有特权;民主就是发表了任何意见不怕有人秋后算账;民主就是权利被侵犯的时候可以理直气壮地讨回,不管你是什么阶级什么身份;民主就是,不必效忠任何党,不必讨好任何人,也可以堂堂正正地过日子;民主就是到处有书店,没有任何禁书而且读书人写书人到处都是;民主就是打开电视不必忍受主播道德凛然地说谎;民主就是不必为了保护孩子而训练他从小习惯谎言;民主就是享受各种自由而且知道那自由不会突然被拿走,因为它不是赐予的。"

所以,民主并非只是选举投票,只是少数服从多数,只是" 好东西"、"坏东西"的问题,"它是生活方式,是思维方式,是你每天呼吸的空气、举手投足的修养、个人回转的空间"(见龙应台《为台湾民主辩护--与华人世界对话》),是你觉悟的个体生命一刻也离不开的生命需要。这也可说是民主的"实质"。当然可以研究实现它的各种途径(包括程序正义的问题),但这种"实质",却是个大前提。这个大前提,你如果有兴趣特别想分解一下,也可以看到,这里其实就是自由、人权、平等、多元、法治。于是我们又可以说,民主与这些具有核心意义的价值是紧密相连、不可分割的,说到家它就是这些价值在体制上、制度上、方式方法上的体现。即如阿克顿勋爵所说:"人类社会为什么需要民主?因为民主意味着让人民大众享有自由。"脱离这些价值谈"民主",必定越谈越不得要领,甚至走到民主精神的反面去。

中国1950年代到1970 年代的30年间,尽管用"阶级论"解构"民主",把"民主"与"资产阶级"连结在一起,并以"无产阶级民主"的革命实践取而代之,但"粉碎四人帮"和进入改革开放的"新时期"以后,人们还是义无反顾地把自己的要求与"五四"曾经高扬的"民主"大旗联系起来。这时,我还可以说,因为几十年"断裂"的缘故,有关"民主"的真义,国人还是"不甚了了",有关"民主"的理论更是思想上的空白,但有一点他们是再清楚不过:他们要过一种生活,这生活就是为了活命,他们要一点生产上的自主权(可以想一下,1978年12月安徽凤阳县小岗生产队20名农民为"包产到户"所按下的血手印);这生活就是不会因为"出身"而被剥夺生活基本的权利,不会因为有一点个性和独特性,就被作为"资产阶级"加以批判,因为发表一点意见和观点,就沦为"阶下囚"乃至付出生命的代价,因为读书、求知就被扣上"白专"的帽子,因为做学问、有学识,就成为"资产阶级反动学术权威";这生活就是偌大中国不要一个人说了算,天是一个人的天,地是一个人的地,十几亿人的生命和生活由一个人来操纵,连"共和国主席"都无以自保,死于非命;这生活就是我们至少能活得像个人样,不至于唯唯诺诺、战战兢兢,整日生活在不知什么时候就会有"群众"以"革命的名义"光顾你的家庭,抄毁你的书籍,拉你到批斗现场,给你戴上"牛鬼蛇神"的帽子,把你驱逐到"牛棚",流放到举目无亲的地方,经受"炼狱"之苦�目志逯校??





" 我站在人群里,默默地读完了它,走出来。接着又回到人群起始的一头,再次从第一个字开始。天昏暗下来,人越聚越紧。有人划着了火柴,这边的一枝熄了,那边的一枝燃起来(那时的火柴是凭票限量供应的)。一个女孩一手扶着一位老者,一手举着手电筒,一个字一个字念给半盲的老者听。人群慢慢挪动。离开人群的时候,我才知道下雨了,深秋的冷雨,细细地斜飘着。"


筱敏是把读到那张大字报的一天,视为自己的"成年礼" 的。我想,"五四"的"民主"对中国人来说,可能实际上只有相当有限的"启蒙"意义,真正使中国人成长起来的还是"不民主"的痛苦。经历了种种"不民主" 的苦痛和折磨,人们才会切实明白,民主其实不是别的东西,它就是我们生命的尊严。



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The effectiveness of NSmen system

I have just come back from 3 weeks of overseas reservist training in Australia, well known code named "Ex Wallaby".

Many people wonder why am I in reservist training when I am already 39? Well, I just have bad news for officers: all officers have to serve up to 50 year old, unlike NCOs and other ranks who will have their National Service "terminated" after 10 years of service (7 high key with 3 low key) or retired into MR (main reserve) once they reach 45 year old.

Yes, I was told that Officers are to serve up till 50 year old instead of the usual "7 high key 3 low key" as announced months ago. They have made a mistake in making that announcement without stating that officers will have to serve longer.

I don't mind serving my National Service (well, it would be great if there isn't any IPPT for old bones like me! ;)) but it seems that something is not very right in terms of cost and benefits along with its effectiveness.

I met a "store man" who is actually a GM of a MNC based in Singapore. It is interesting to note that SAF is paying thousands of dollars (I guess his pay is at least $8K or above) just to get a "store man" to serve in the unit. Well, that is not all. Although SAF paid him thousands to become a store man, he could have contributed more as a GM to the economy for the 3 weeks. This opportunity cost of lost productivity is really difficult to be accounted for.

It is very difficult to expect reservist unit to achieve professional proficiency as a fighting force when they only train at most once a year. We do have very good helpful trainers to guide us along throughout these 3 weeks but how much of such experiences could be registered and pass down for future training? Especially so when the turn around time and disruption of personnel is pretty high in a reservist unit. Simple things like setting up tents and field craft have to be taught all over again for each and every in camp training, not to mention important skills and strategic concept of military planning for officers.

While we have various aide memoir, SOPs and trainers' guidance to depend on, it will really take time for officers and men to digest, master and execute properly. Besides, there are quite a lot of constrains during the exercise, from inadequate equipping, staffing to cancellation of some drills which really undermined our training objectives and purpose.

I am not saying that our unit is not performing well. In fact, our unit is performing pretty well in spite of the many constrains we faced during the whole 3 weeks. I have overheard NSF boys conversation commenting about how "on the ball" our reservist NSmen are which is way beyond their expectation. They thought NSmen are just demoralized old soldiers who could do much less in training but we proved them wrong. We have a good core of officers and NCOs to take the training seriously and making it as good as they could with various constrains. In some instances, we are more serious and on the ball than the NSF in training, poking them for many responses to make the exercise more real. However, having said that, we could not achieve higher proficiency as compared to any regular trained army although the cost of having us to train is very much higher.

Although I do not have the exact figures but I think the cost of getting NSmen to come back for training for whole year round would be tens of millions if not hundreds of millions or even billion. Would it not be more cost effective as well as more proficient to use these money to build a couple of divisions of regular, professional army instead?

Singapore has the highest defense expenditure, in terms of total amount as well as percentage of our GDP in this region. Such spending would have crowded out other expenditures like Healthcare, Education or even social welfare spending.

Defense budget is always regarded as "sacred" as the emphasis on defense is always portrayed as the utmost top priority for the Nation. The attitude of "no question ask" is eminent for the past decades even when it escalated throughout the years. Defense spending has long become the top item in our annual budget and intriguingly, nobody seems to be interested in questioning the rational behind the ballooning budget year after year.

Could we achieve more productive, proficiency and effective defense with less money? We could if we stop paying thousands of dollars for just a store man. The whole concept of NSmen system will have to be modified or even changed radically.

We could have maintained a professional army of 2 or even 3 Divisions with supplements from Voluntary corps and even paramilitary divisions via the 2 years National Service system. We could have trained enough drivers, technically skilled soldiers from the early days of 2 years NS. From the cohort, those who are willing to become part of the regular army will form the 2 Divisions of regular Guards while NS officers and NCOs could opt to become part of the Volunteer Corps that will train regularly with the professional army just like what we are doing right now as NSmen. This will close the loop of first tier reserves for the regular army and they could well become the leaders of the paramilitary force formed by the bulk of other ranks in time of war.

The paramilitary force could well be called up for refresher courses 3 (for combat troopers) or 5 years apart. This will minimize cost, be it real or opportunity costs to the Nation's economy in terms of productivity lost. It will also minimize unnecessary disruptions to Singaporeans' livelihood.

War does not occur suddenly in modern times. There will always be a build up time for war to occur, most probably 6 to 12 months lead time. If there is such urgency in the situation of eminent threat of war, paramilitary groups could be called up more advanced training schedule to equip them with refresher program and crush course on handling of new military equipment and such. Stretching over a period of 6 months would be sufficient enough for war preparations.

This three tier defense setup would have saved a lot of resources with certain level of assurance of proficiency in the first contact forces i.e. the 2 Divisions of regular professional army. These forces are back up by the Volunteer Corps which are capable to lead the paramilitary forces into war if necessary.

To maintain a highly proficient army based largely on conscripts is never easy. The problem will be expounded when this is done in a prolonged manner without real threat of war eminent. We are unlike Israel or Taiwan which face clear and present danger of war each other day. Even for Taiwan which is technically at war with PRC, it has cut down its conscription. The besiege mentality of Singapore must change to make ways for better utilization of resources.

There are many other ways to moderate our defense spending and I believe there may be people with more creative, effective and efficient plans to help us in this without compromising on our safety. What I am stating here is just my thoughts of changing our defense strategy and structure after attending 3 weeks of overseas training. It may not be a perfect plan but I hope it could get people start thinking about containing our defense spending, wastage of productivity and manpower etc.

Goh Meng Seng