Saturday, January 30, 2010
“We’ve grown in the last five years by just importing labour. Now, the people feel uncomfortable, there are too many foreigners. Trains are overcrowded with foreigners, buses too, property prices have gone up because foreigners with permanent residence are buying into the market. ” - MM Lee 28 Jan 2010 Straits Times
This is in complete contradiction to Minister Shanmugam who had made the following statement just a few days earlier:
"The first misconception is that somehow there are five million people and that's putting pressure on all of us. It doesn't.'Of the five million, 3.2 million are citizens and roughly 500,000 are permanent residents (PRs). The remaining 1.3 million are here on temporary work permits and they 'impose no burden' on the public housing system" - Minister Shanmugam.
While small, this victory shows what Singaporeans can achieve if we stand together and speak with one voice. It of course remains to be seen if MM Lee’s statements will translate to concrete policy changes or if this is just nice sounding pre-election rhetoric.
If you play Texas Hold’Em, you will recognise that MM Lee has done the equivalent of folding the PAP’s hands as it was increasingly obvious that they were “bluffing”. While they would now most certainly like to “move on”, let us continue to examine the impact of the FT policy on key public services and road conditions.
In this last article on transportation, let us examine the impact of immigration on car and taxi use.
From 2003 to 2008, the total population increased by 17.6%. The car population increased by an astounding 35.1% !!! The taxi population increased by 25.4% !!! The road network however increased by only 5.1%.
It seems that the only public transportation that has increased far beyond the population growth is the taxi population! This may be a good sign for taxi companies like NTUC Comfort but it may reflect something else on our economy itself. It means that there are more Singaporeans losing their professional jobs and they eventually switch to driving a taxi for their livelihood. This is validated by the various news report about how an A-Star researcher ended up driving a taxi. Many of these NEW taxi drivers are mostly middle age people who are highly educated and qualified in their previous jobs. There are mangers, engineers etc and yes, I have met some of them before.
This reflect a serious problem of another dimension of the influx of foreign workers. These Singaporeans who were forced to drive taxi when they are substituted and displaced by cheaper foreign workers are basically “underemployed”. It means that the resources that our nation has put in the development of these people are being wasted altogether!
On the other hand, this table helps explain why in spite increasing ERP charges, our roads are increasingly congested. Instead of increasing the car population at a sustainable rate, LTA appears to have adopted a revenue maximization model of issuing large numbers of COEs in excess of their road building program. The increased car population causes congestion. LTA then proceeds to increase ERP charges to “ease congestion”.
As noted by MM Lee, the primary reason for why trains and buses have become more crowded is because of population growth. Like Singaporeans, PRs and other middle income foreigners need to get to work too. The increase in the car and taxi population is however greatly in excess of the population growth rate of 17.6%. The likely reason for this is because of a “substitution effect”. This “substitution effect” was first proposed by a commentator in Lucky’s blog. This commentator had suggested that perhaps the MRT was getting more crowded because more people were switching to use the MRT.
The table above and the table on SBS bus ridership contradicts this hypothesis. Instead it would appear that because public transport in Singapore has become cramped and uncomfortable, people are switching to use cars and taxis. This applies to both Singaporeans and middle income foreigners. The magnitude of the switch in the face of repeated increases in COE, ERP and taxi fares is testament to just how badly the Singapore public transport system has been degraded. I was not the first to spot this trend. Lucky first wrote about it here.
The whole series of charts and analysis I have done so far contradicts the Ministry of Transport that they are aiming to increase public transport usage by converting those car owners to utilize public transport. The ministry has aimed to increase rail network and train services to achieve that. However, contrary to the ministry wishful thinking, it seems that the public transport system has reached an unbearable point that more and more people are switching to owning private cars.
The provision of comfortable, effective public transportation is a responsibility of all good governments. The central guiding principle should be serving the transport needs of the people first and profits second. Unfortunately the current Transport Transport Minister， M Raymond Lim, seems to be putting profits first and the transport needs of the people a very distant second.
Goh Meng Seng
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Predictably, the analysis has been criticized as being “simplistic”. However, in Singapore’s context, statistics and data are very hard to come by when the whole establishment mindset is to provide as little information as possible to the people. Even academia has problem in getting proper and relevant data or statistical breakdown. However simplistic data does not mean that it will necessarily give false conclusions. In fact, it gives more powerful demonstration of the relevant correlations between the data sets, backed by daily observations in reality.
Besides, SMRT publishes strange and confusing performance statistics. For example, in its earlier annual reports, it included important data that states the cost and profit of providing service to each passenger. Intriguingly, such statistics are missing now. Maybe it is the fear of people like us to use such statistics to show how SMRT has been profiting from its demand on fare increases.
On the other hand, often the statistics provided by them can lead to strange conclusions. For example one commentator in Lucky’s blog came to the very strange conclusion that on average, our MRT is half empty. I have done my sampling recently, taking the train OFF peak hour and I did a count on the number of people in the carriages. There are 50 seats in a carriage (6 rows of 7 seats plus 4 rows of 2 seats at the corners). All seats were taken and there are definitely more than 70 or 80 people standing. That will be about at least 120 people in the carriage. It is not "very cramp" but it sure feels crowded.
This would seem to be very strange to the thousands of less fortunate Singaporeans who have to endure a cramped and uncomfortable MRT ride every day. For those who are interested to look at SMRT’s kinky KPIs, please check out here.
I believe that from now on, SMRT will do away with certain data (i.e. occupancy rate) or even the whole segment of these data in its future reports so that people like us will not use these “against” it. As long as there is no regulation or law to demand public transport companies to provide certain crucial data for analysis to safe guard public interests, such blatant abuse of statistics and data will carry on. They will just show you things that will make them look good.
Anyway, after having examined SMRT, the next obvious focus of attention would be SBS Transit and the Singapore bus system. Unlike SMRT which publishes strange and confusing statistics, SBS Transit has a policy being economical with their numbers and telling people as little as possible. The following is the url link to their latest performance KPI . Instead of providing meaningful numbers, they present a PASS/FAIL table whose sole objective appears to be to drive home the message that they overwhelmingly PASS.
Fortunately with a little bit of effort by my researcher, it is possible to produce a table that is similar to the previous SMRT table.
|Year||Number of bus||Annual Ridership||Profit||Total Population||Resident Population|
Total Population and Resident Population from Table 3.1 Yearbook of Statistics 2009
SBS Transit Statistics from SBS Transit Annual Report 2004 to 2008
** Fare Adjustment
Bus Fleet change (2005 to 2008) 6.5%
Increase in ridership (2005 to 2008)12.3%
When I first saw the table, I was somewhat puzzled. From 2004 to 2005, there was a huge surge in the size of the SBS bus fleet (12.5%). This is as compared to 2005 to 2008 when the SBS bus fleet increased by only 6.5%. Further research revealed why. For those who remember, SBS Transit pushed through a very huge and unpopular bus fare increase in 2004/2005. The SBS Chairman was so pleased that the Transport Minister sided with SBS rather than Singaporean bus commuters (who voted for him !) that he gave the following self-serving speech at the 2005 SBS Transit AGM.
As there have been no major fare increases since 2005, the SBS bus fleet has therefore grown by only 6.5%. For the same period, ridership on SBS buses increased by 12.3%. This increase in SBS ridership is very closely linked to population growth. From 2005 to 2008, Total Population grew by 13.4%.
It would appear that unless SBS Transit is allowed another major fare increase, the SBS bus fleet will NOT be increased to keep pace with ridership and population growth. We can therefore expect SBS buses to become increasingly more crowded until SBS presents their next demand for more money.
Looking at the earnings after tax, it can be seen that the SBS Transit senior management team has not been as good as driving profit as SMRT. Unlike SMRT whose profit increased from $72.1 mil to $149.9 mil (by cramming as many people as possible into their trains), SBS Transit’s profit after tax has remained fairly constant from 2004 to 2008.
It would be good if SBS Transit can provide more details for why SBS Transit’s profit numbers are so poor as compared to SMRT. I have not been able to discern the reason from their annual general reports.
One possibility is that SBS Transit has been involved in a number of high profile projects which failed. For example, we have TV Mobile which ceased as of 31 Dec 2009. It is unknown how much SBS Transit lost as a result of that unsuccessful program. If the money had not been spent on this project, how many more buses could SBS Transit have operated to improve the public transport system? Of course, the most common excuse will be blamed on “high oil price” which is not very convincing for the drop of almost 20% of profit from 2007 to 2008.
Aside from failed projects, SBS Transit also likes to invest in expensive high tech toys. A good example of this is the IRIS system which was highlighted prominently as a success in the 2008 Annual General Report. It is unknown how much SBS Transit spent on IRIS and how much is spent annually to maintain the system. However instead of spending millions to tell people when the next bus will be coming, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend those millions to increase the bus fleet so that the next bus comes faster?
Goh Meng Seng
Saturday, January 23, 2010
The following is a Table compiled to show the contrast of population growth vs MRT development.
|SMRT Total Number of Passenger Trips (Million)||SMRT Car Kilometres Operated (Million)||SMRT Average Operating Car Occupancy||Total Population||Resident Population|
| 2009* || 510.2 || 85.2 || 73 || ------ || ------ |
Total Population and Resident Population from Table 3.1 of the Yearbook of Statistics 2009
MRT Statistics from SMRT Annual Report 2007/2008
From the table above, we can gather the following facts (from 2003 to 2008 as the population figures for 2009 is not available yet):
Total Population Growth 17.6%
Resident Population Growth 8.2%
SMRT Total Number of Passenger Trips (Million) Growth 19.0%
SMRT Car Kilometres Operated (Million) Growth -13.0%
SMRT Average Operating Car Occupancy Rate Growth 35%
What do the above statistics tell us?
It is quite puzzling to me actually. The public transport companies like SMRT has been increasing their fares for the past 7 years but it seems that their service standards have dropped with respect to the population growth.
It is very disturbing to note that while demand on MRT has increased steadily for the pass 7 years (We are unable to get the 2009 figures for population growth yet) in tandem with the increase in population growth, SMRT has actually DECREASE their train service frequencies by as much as 13%!
An increase of 19% of demand couple with a decrease in supply of 13% will naturally result in packing the MRT cabins with more people! This is reflected in the increase of occupancy rate from 56 persons in a carriage to 76!
It means that on average, Singaporeans will find the MRT 35% more crowded than 2003! I guess the LTA is sleeping on this development while agreeing to PTC and public transport companies' demand in increasing their fares!
I hope this is not another "Caught Off Guard" situation for the Ministry of Transport as it is for Ministry of National Development. Someone up there have to be accountable for mismanaging the whole situation for Singapore.
WP NCMP Sylvia Lim has categorically questioned the PAP government on whether they are doing enough to cater to their aggressive FT policy which has artificially increase the population by 17.6% from 2003 to 2008.
Yet, the PAP has continued to sleep on this important issue. We have seen how Ministry of National Development under Mah Bow Tan has totally mismanaged the housing needs in view of the expected increase of housing demand due to influx of FT. Now it seems that the Ministry of Transport has also totally mismanaged the transportation sector.
There is no silly excuse of "Caught Off Guard" as the opposition party has already raised the alarm as early as 2006! Singaporeans have to see clearly that we are paying TOP WORLD CLASS salaries for these ministers but yet, we are having them mismanaging the situation here.
The Ministry of Transport and LTA are only concerned about setting up more ERPs all over Singapore because that is the SACRED CASH COWS that will make money. Who cares about the general welfare of Singaporeans in squeezing in MRTs and Buses (yes, I believe we can show the same inadequacy if we build the statistical table for buses) everyday due to their mismanagement. The Ministers have hardly experience the frustrations of normal Singaporeans who take public transport daily. The MRT train frequency is really third world standards!
It is about time Singaporeans should give PAP the wake up call! Vote the respective ministers out, give a clear signal to the PAP government that we want accountability!
We want ministers who put Singaporeans' welfare as their top priority, not how much money their ministries could save or make as their top priorities.
If the above analysis is not convincing enough for you, then please take a look at the following table:
|SMRT Total Number of Passenger Trips (Million)||SMRT Car Kilometres Operated (Million)||SMRT Average Operating Car Occupancy (Person)||SMRT Profit after tax and minority interest (S$ Mil)|
For the period from 2003 to 2008, SMRT profits have increased 107.9% from $72.1m to $149.9m!
What does this mean. There is an increase in demand, increase in fare but SMRT continues to reduce supply by a drastic reduction in 2004. While the demand continues to increase, it suppressed the corresponding supply while continued its demand of fare increase. The so call "improve in services" is just lip service. Service standards has dropped while SMRT just let the trains get more cramp!
LTA under the Ministry of Transport, kept both of its eyes closed for all this while! This is totally unacceptable for a world class government with top pay! It seems that our PAP government only takes good care of corporate profits while neglecting the welfare of Singaporeans, allowing them to be reaped off by suffering sub standard services with increased prices.
Do we continue to let them be or give them a wake up call? The choice is yours.
Goh Meng Seng
* I have added the figures of the SMRT side without the figures of population data here. The increase in the car operated per kilometer is partly due to the opening of circle line. This means that frequency of trains in other older lines might not have improved at all. Besides, this is offset by the increase in the demand, partly due to the increase in population (estimated about 3% plus if total population is to reach 4.99 million). As the result, the occupancy rate is just about the same. This result doesn't change the main point that since 2003, the trains are getting very cramped, about 35% cramped.
Monday, January 18, 2010
When the National Parks Board (NParks) relaxed camping rules in December 2004, it cited the popularity of the activity among Singaporeans as a reason. Campers would no longer be required to obtain camping permits. "With the relaxation of this rule, we hope more families and friends can enjoy camping in our parks,” Dr Leong Chee Chiew, NParks Chief Operating Officer, said then. “This is part of NParks' ongoing efforts to enhance parks users' experiences, and bring more people into our parks". NParks said between January and October that year, it received 10,000 applications for camping permits.
Well, the relaxed rules lasted about 5 years.
There were 12,000 campers in 2008 who used the various parks in Singapore. In March 2009, the permit system was reintroduced because of, ironically, the popularity of camping among Singaporeans. Among the new stipulations, camping days were limited to just 8 days within a one-month period. Campers can only camp for a consecutive 5-day period within a month.
The jump in permit applications in 2008/2009 perhaps coincides with the economic downturn. One of the consequences of the economic malaise was the number of people who defaulted on servicing their mortgage loans from the HDB or the banks. In a report in January 2009, the Sunday Times said “such defaults have climbed from 5 per cent to 8 per cent of all HDB home loans.” In total, some 33,000 households were in arrears for more than three months. This means one in 12 borrowers are in default, a rise from one in 20 previously. Members of Parliament have also confirmed seeing more of such cases at their Meet-The-People sessions.
So, what happens when one is unable to service the loan?
Aisha (not her real name) and her husband have been bracing the outdoors camped out at Sembawang Park for several months. They had been living with Aisha’s mother until September 2009. When the family could no longer pay the loans, they had to sell the flat, otherwise it would be repossessed by the HDB. Unfortunately for them, the flat was sold at a lower price than when they first bought it. When her mother applied for a rental flat from the HDB, she was told that she could not as the rules say she had to wait 30 months as she has just sold off her flat. In any case, even if she qualified, she would have to wait anything from 5.5 months to as long as 19 months, according to the HDB website, before one would be available for her.
So, where does she go in the meantime?
As for Aisha herself, who is seven-months pregnant, she had sought help from MCYS previously. The officer that she met, we’re told, suggested that she put up at a hotel in Geylang instead because “it is cheaper”.
It is believed that there is only one home for the homeless in Singapore, run by New Hope Community Services. We understand that it is already at full capacity. The homeless have no choice but to sleep out in the open, at parks and void decks.
Yet, it seems that even this is not allowed.
When the raid on the homeless took place on Saturday, it was obvious that it was a poorly-coordinated and desperate attempt at ridding the park of the homeless campers. The police, which came with officers from MCYS and NParks, and with their patrol lights flashing, started ordering the campers to dismantle their tents and also issued summons for infringements of camping rules.
The authorities must have known about the situation at Sembawang Park for months. If they did not, one would have to question their competency. Would it not have been better then for the authorities to visit the place quietly, speak with the homeless, find out about their plight and help them, rather than come in such an intimidating fashion? It makes one question if the aim was to truly help the homeless or simply to intimidate them or haul them away into oblivion. After all, why issue summons and bring the police along?
And when the homeless families were taken to a facility at Angsana Home, which is located just beside the Institute of Mental Health, they were not allowed to leave the premises at any time.
By what authority were they so illegally restrained and confined?
Does that sound like “helping” the homeless?
And the authorities had no idea where to house the campers, besides telling TOC that they hope to find some voluntary welfare organizations to take them in.
Yet, the issue here is a bigger and more important one – that of the affordability of public housing. With more and more people defaulting on their mortgage loans, and prices of flats reaching ridiculous ranges, how many more people will be driven to homelessness? Already, the Minister for National Development has tacitly recognized the problem by announcing that his ministry would be building 7,500 more one and two-room flats over the next three years for the public housing rental scheme. This is in addition to the 42,000 current public rental flats, bringing the total to almost 50,000.
Would an additional 7,500 rental flats over the next three years be enough? Given that the waiting period and the waiting list itself are so long, one would question if this is adequate.
Where do the homeless sleep in the meantime?
Thus, the authorities, particularly those from NParks and MCYS, should be more understanding and merciful with regards to homeless campers. These homeless have nowhere else to go.
Ironically, just beside Sembawang Park, a new housing development – Watercove Ville - is being built, boasting beachfront living for those who can afford it.
In the meantime, the homeless have to tread carefully, in case another posse of authorities come a-helping, with the police in tow – lights flashing and all.
Read also TOC's report on the raid on the homeless at Sembawang Park on Saturday night by MCYS, NParks and the police.
They have been camped out there for months, but no one from the government agencies seem to have known about them – perhaps until The Online Citizen’s report on 13 January.
TOC had reported that some 15 homeless families were camped out in tents at Sembawang Park.
Three days after TOC’s revelation, on 16 January, Saturday, at around 10pm, officers from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), and NParks, together with some 10 policemen, swooped down on the park.
When TOC arrived at the scene at about 10.50pm, there were two police cars and a pick-up van. Some of the homeless were seen dismantling their tents. When queried about why they were being asked to do so, the NParks officers said the campers had broken “rules and regulations”, even though most of them still had valid camping permits. The summons referred to Section 9(1)(a) of the Parks and Trees Regulation Act 2005 which makes it an offence to conduct a barbeque without a permit, among other things. The camping permit does not include permission to barbeque, apparently.
The officers insisted repeatedly that this writer identified those among the campers who were homeless and that their names and particulars be given to the officers. This writer declined to do so.
TOC then asked if there were any representatives from MCYS. A female officer stepped forward. On being questioned, she would only say that those who were homeless would be brought to an “institution”. When TOC probed further on what this “institution” is, she disclosed that she was referring to Angsana Home, located at Buangkok Green, next to the Institute of Mental Health.
The home is part of Pelangi Village, a purpose-built Social Welfare Complex and houses the elderly destitute and ex-drug addicts.
TOC understands from the campers that Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, minister in charge of MCYS, had visited the camping site last Thursday afternoon. In the evening of the same day, two of the families were told to pack up and were then effectively carted off to Angsana Home. When they arrived at the home, they had to pass through a security gate which could only be unlocked with a pass by one of the attending officers, who claimed to be from MCYS. Once they were brought to the room where they would stay, they were told that they could not leave the premises. To do so, they would have to make a request.
According to one of the families, when they requested for food, they were given two pieces of roti prata to be shared among the family of six persons. The mattresses they were provided were also in bad condition. Some of them had rashes the next morning after having slept on them.
Two of those locked in had to go to work in the morning and asked to be let out of the premises. Their request was denied. Eventually, one of them told TOC she lost her job because she was unable to show up for work. When TOC asked the officer about this, she said she “guarantees” that those who needed to go to work would be allowed to. Still, TOC told her, it isn’t quite right for the authorities to forceably keep these people behind locked gates and to confine them. After all, they have not committed any offence, neither are they criminals who deserved to be locked up. Further, the homeless do not seem to have been given a choice of deciding whether they wanted to be housed at Angsana Home.
According to the lady from MCYS, the stay at Angsana would be a temporary one, until MCYS finds a place for them. She said it would be “for a day or two”.
It is hard to persuade people you want to help with such complete lack of coordination and heavy-handedness, TOC told her. Not with police cars with lights flashing, officers from the government ordering tents to be dismantled and summons being issued. We suggested that there were two choices – one, the campers would be allowed to stay for another day or two while MCYS looked for a proper housing option for them; or two, if they were to be housed temporarily at Angsana, they have to be assured of freedom of movement. By this time, a senior female officer had taken over the discussion.
She agreed to let the campers stay at Sembawang Park until Monday, 18 January, when six of the campers will meet with her at the MCYS office for further discussions to resolve the situation. She said she will push for the HDB to issue “interim flats” to the campers in the meantime, or to see if any Voluntary Welfare Organisation could take them in temporarily.
TOC spoke to some of the homeless about a week earlier and we understand that some of them had applied for rental flats with the HDB. However, their applications were rejected for various reasons. Some have also paid repeated visits to the HDB to apply for these flats.
When asked where these homeless people would go if they were chased away, a senior officer from NParks said, “We will help.” One of the campers retorted, “By putting us in Angsana?” The officer looked away and replied, “That is the help.”
TOC understands that a summon for overstaying could mean a $200 fine, something which the homeless can hardly afford. Campers are only allowed to camp for a maximum of eight days in a month, with consecutive-days camping fixed at a maximum of five days.
We asked if the authorities would consider waiving the fines from the summons issued to the homeless campers. The MCYS senior officer said she would speak to NParks as, she said, it was not in her power to decide.
It was almost midnight before the situation was finally resolved – at least for now. Only five out of the 20 or so tents were left standing – and none of the homeless was carted off to Angsana Home.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
I have been writing a lot on HDB policies and the ills of it recently basically because I am keeping up the pressure on the Minister of National Development to do something about it.
Mr. Mah Bow Tan has been very hardworking recently. I should say that he has made his utmost efforts recently to appear in Main Stream Media (MSM) to explain his HDB pricing policy is still "affordable".
Mr. Leong Sze Hian of TOC (The Online Citizen) has written quite a number of comments and queries on HDB policy. He has made many valid points and HDB has so far unable to provide satisfactory answers to all the questions raised so far.
According to Mr. Mah Bow Tan and his statutory board HDB, HDB flats are still "affordable", citing the "fact" that most Singaporeans are using less than 30% of their income for their HDB mortgage payment.
However, I should point out here that the Minister and his people have missed the point totally. They have based their "affordability" argument on a mortgage of 30 years. When I bought my HDB flat, I have tried to choose to go a mortgage of 15 years instead of 25 years. We settled for a 20 year mortgage instead.
My reason for a shorter mortgage is that the longer mortgage you have, the more interests you pay. And the increase of interests is not linear but rather compounded. Furthermore, imagine if you buy your flat at the average age of 27, if you go for 30 years of mortgage, it would mean that you could only pay off your mortgage at the age of 57! And if you use all your money in CPF to pay the mortgage, you will have no money for your retirement!
So what happen if you don't have enough savings for your retirement? In fact, the problem of insufficient retirement financing is surfacing slowly. The extend of the problem will explode in the next two decades when 3 generations of Singaporeans have spent all their money in financing their mortgage (for 3 decades) and have nothing left for retirement at all.
Now PAP government will tell you that oh, you can actually do a reverse mortgage of your flat! How nice of that, right? But it would mean that after slogging for 30 years, you will have nothing left to leave for your children!
In fact, the kind of "precision mathematics" that the PAP government has laid out for most Singaporeans is that most of us will be enslaved by the whole system! You will be slave to your HDB mortgage for all your working life and please make sure that you don't lose your job during this 30 years period else you will be living like those campers at Sembawang Park, Changi Beach, East Coast Park... without a roof over your head. But the best thing is this, even if you managed to pay off your mortgage for the 30 years of your productive life, you will be left with nothing for retirement!
Thus, the PAP government will OFFER you to reverse mortgage your HDB flat! Meaning that you have paid hefty interests (believe me, the total amount of interests you are paying may even be 50% of the loan if you loan from banks!) in paying for your HDB flats, you will end up selling it away cheap cheap to the government or banks! And if you die early, the government of bank will have the last laugh in taking your whole flat without paying anything further!
It means that, we will practically become SLAVES of our HDB mortgage! I would advise my young readers that if you are looking for a flat, make sure that you could pay off your mortgage in 15 years at your comfort zone... preferably 25% of your total household income. At the very worst, take only 20 years of mortgage and nothing more than that. If you can't, you better consider other alternatives. Don't be enslaved by this system, this myth of "affordability".
I will continue to fight the PAP, urging people of Tampines to vote Mah Bow Tan out, to send a strong signal to PAP that we do not want to be enslaved by the very system that they have built. We don't want our children to pay crazy prices for just a PUBLIC HOUSING which will in the end enslave them for the rest of their lives. We want to tell the PAP government that they could no longer fool us with such flawed argument and mathematical calculations. Most importantly, we want change to the way on how our lives are being governed.
Goh Meng Seng
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Andrew has revealed that MCYS has acted to get the pregnant woman under a roof since TOC writers and social activists visited the Sembawang Park campsite. However, the main issue of housing is yet to be resolved.
I am going to keep the pressure on the Minister of National Development high up as long as his ministry cannot provide a solution to these people as well as other homeless people camping around Singapore in tents. I am contemplating to make a video of these campers and keep campaigning for BASIC HOUSING RIGHTS for Singaporeans.
Let's see whether Mr. Mah Bow Tan's ministry does anything about this issue.
Goh Meng Seng
After the General Elections in 2006, the newly-formed P65 Members of Parliament from the People’s Action Party (PAP) were the speakers at a public forum. It was organized by the PAP’s Youth Wing. There were three MPs there – namely Teo Ser Luck, Zaqy Mohamad and Michael Palmer, all freshly-minted young MPs.
During the Q&A, I asked about the poor in Singapore and how the grassroots were not doing enough to help them. I sarcastically remarked that these organizations were more interested in karaoke-ing than in helping the poor. I mentioned karaoke because there were news reports at that time about the Community Clubs having these sessions which were loud enough to bother residents. Why were the organizations spending precious resources in singing? Why were these not used to help the poor instead?
MP Michael Palmer took issue with what what I said and rebutted my remarks. No surprise there, of course. While the grassroots are independent of any political parties (well, they’re meant to be anyway), PAP MPs, who’re appointed as grassroots “advisers”, are expected to defend these organizations.
Yet, one wonders what these very same MPs, such as Michael Palmer, would say if he visited Sembawang Park. There, families of all types are camping out not because they love the ourdoors but because they have nowhere else to go. Their stories vary – from being kicked out by relatives whom they had disputes with, to defaulting on their HDB or bank mortgage loans. And they are not an overnight phenomena. In fact, many of them have been camping out in tents there for months.
Children, infants, teenagers, braving the rain and the sun, the unpredictable weather.
Many have applied to the HDB for rental flats but have been rejected, for various reasons. In the end, this dogged adherence to HDB rules by civil servants have resulted in a ridiculous situation where even a seven-months pregnant woman has to endure camping out at Sembawang Park.
“We’re not looking for pity,” she tells me. “We only want a roof over our heads for our children,” she confides as her eyes well up and tears start to fall. Her other two children runs around, oblivious to the predicament their parents are going through. She had skipped her doctor’s appointment because she says her husband needs the money to go to work. She does not know how she us going to afford the hospital bill when she finally has to deliver her third child.
Minister for National Development, Mr Mah Bow Tan, was kind of proud to announce recently that two blocks of flats in Toa Payoh would be reserved for another group of people who would otherwise be homeless as well – the foreign workers.
It makes one wonder where the minister’s priorities are and if he is aware that there are homeless Singaporeans struggling to keep their heads above water, and their sanity at the same time.
The situation in Sembawang Park – where as many as 15 families are camped out – has been so for months, as I previously mentioned. One would therefore have to wonder several things:
1. What has the MP there done about it? Why, apparently, has he not done anything?
2. What have the grassroots organizations there been doing? Surely, they’re aware of the situation. I’ve seen them, the GROs, hold big events there on weekends, some involving as many as a thousand people.
3. What about the MCYS? Surely, being the ministry in charge of helping the less fortunate, it must have known about the situation for a while?
It is ridiculous, to me, that so many families should endure living in such a way at the park when they could easily be helped. For example, when we highlighted the plight of the pregnant lady, officers from the MCYS immediately put her up at a shelter and promised to expedite her request for a rental flat.
Why did it take our intervention before the ministry took action? Was it because they were afraid that The Online Citizen would expose the situation?
Yet, Sembawang Park is not the only park where the homeless camp out. We understand there are similar homeless people at East Coast Park, Serangoon Park and elsewhere.
If we can build dormitories for foreign workers, or reserve blocks of flats for them to stay, why can’t we do the same for homeless Singaporeans?
With property prices reaching ridiculous heights and the cost of living not letting up, it is no wonder that we are seeing more homeless Singaporeans.
What would be even more sad is if the government retracked the rules and disallowed camping at the parks – just as it disallowed begging in S’pore in the 80s. Perhaps this will then allow it to boast that there are no poor or homeless people in Singapore. I would not put it beyond the government to change the rules. It has already been changed once – from unlimited camping periods to the present rule which states that one can only camp at a designated area in a park for a maximum of 8 days each month. Once your 8 days are up, you'd be asked to leave - or pay a S$200 fine, which some homeless people, poor as they are, were told to when they "over-stayed".
One only hopes that the government will do what is more substantive – to find long term housing for those who can no longer afford public housing – rather than be more concerned about superficialities such as presenting an impression or image to the world that Singapore is so clean and prosperous that even the genuine poor and homeless are not seen in public.
For now, my advice to those in government or the grassroots organisations and the MPS is this : Get off your butt and get down to Sembawang Park! No Singaporean should live like this!
And yes, you might wanna give the karaoke-ing a rest too!
Monday, January 11, 2010
While HDB is busy taking care of FOREIGN WORKERS employed by PRIVATE CASINO OPERATORS, our OWN CITIZENS are forced to live in tents without a roof over their heads! We have to vote Mah Bow Tan out to send a strong signal to the PAP government that Citizens should be the government's priority!
The following article is written by Joshua Chiang on their visit to Sembawang Park. This will become my main election issue against Mah Bow Tan if their housing problems are not solved by then.
The campsite had a holiday feel to it. Clothes hung on makeshift clothes-line. Small stoves and barbeque pits occupy the floor around the park shelter. There were fishing rods, crab traps, guitars, styrofoam boxes, unwashed plates and utensils as well. At one of the shelter, there was even a table on which were two containers of syrup. People - mostly Malays - sat in the shelter, chatting, laughing. A couple arrived with their kid pushing a small shopping cart of groceries. I counted 23 tents pitched on a grass patch about 50 meters long. The kampung spirit certainly lived on in these people, one would assume.
Except that most of them would rather not be here at Sembawang Park. They were here because they had nowhere else to go. You could say they are homeless, but you would be wrong. The homeless do not exist in Singapore. They are merely 'temporarily displaced'.
Andrew and I spoke to a couple seated inside one of the shelters. The male - his name is Zazali - had a place to stay, but he came on weekends to see his friends staying here. He was a very friendly chap, but as he spoke about the people living here (he claimed there were about 15 households), you could sense the frustration in his voice.
When it rains, he said, the tents became flooded, even with the extra layer of canvas on top of almost every single one of them. (Next time you want to know if the campers are merely here for a day or two, or much longer, look at their tents). So what happened to the people inside the tents? I asked. They come to the shelter, Zazali replied.
I looked around at the open shelter and asked how would it stop them from getting wet in a heavy storm. "Like this," said Zazali standing behind one of the pillars.
"And when there's a strong wind, everything fly," he continued, gesturing at the items around him. "Everything."
I imagined a whole family huddled behind one such pillars, most likely with a huge plastic sheet wrapped around them, pelted by the rain with the wind billowing around them, and wondered how anyone could live like for months at a stretch.
But apparently they did.
Somehow living like that had become the norm for them. Every eight days, they would go to the nearby AXN machine to re-book the use of the grass patch for their tents. (Legally no-one can camp at the place for more than eight days a month, but they somehow managed to get around it by getting their friends or older family members to take turns registering) But there were a few who had smaller networks of friends and family members, and they were fined up to $200 when they couldn't re-book the turf.
They showered and washed their laundry and dishes, and got their drinking water at the nearby toilet.
"At least here, it is free," Zazali noted. "At East Coast (Park) you pay 20 cents per entry."
They cook their meals on portable gas stoves. Sometimes visitors would offer them their leftover barbecued food.
Didn't any organizations come to donate stuff, I asked. He shook his head. It appeared that the only people who visited them were the park rangers. And it was usually to ask to see their permits.
We were joined briefly by a young teenage boy who introduced himself as Sulaiman. His family of five - minus his father - had been staying here for four months ever since their uncle decided not to shelter them. His mother was in her 40s. Until recently, she was the only one in the family working. His eldest brother, who was sleeping in one of the tents, just found a job in the shipyard nearby.
They had tried applying for one of the HDB rental flats but were told the waiting period was 13 months (and even then it was on a case-by-case basis, and also subject to an income-cap regulation). They were told the same thing when they approached their MP, or more accurately, the MP's assistant.
I forgot to ask if they had tried the open market (after all, if two people were working, they should be able to afford to pay the rental of $500 a month - which is the usual rate now), but I guessed having helped a friend find a room to rent before, most landlords would not want a family of five to share a room when they could offer the same room to a single person who is bound to be less of a hassle)
We found out later that Sulaiman and his siblings had stopped schooling. Whatever the reason, we made a mental note to find out more when we return. Poverty should not be an excuse for stopping people from getting a decent education if they want to. (We also found out much to our astonishment that Yanni - the girl with Zazali- had been suspended from school for seven months - an awfully long time for whatever offenses she had committed)
"You go talk to them ," Zazali said, looking in the direction of the tents . "They get to know you more, then you will see them cry sometimes."
Pretty soon it was time to leave. We shook hands and gave our word that we would highlight this issue in whatever ways we can.
"Thank you for listening," was Yanni's parting words. I felt the urge to tell her that many times that was all we could do, but held back. I guessed she knew as much. But at the same time, that was what the tent people needed at the very least. For someone to listen. For people to know.
On our way out, we passed by a piece of land designated for the building of eighty houses. There is little doubt that there would be a mad rush for these units when they're completed, even if each unit costs two millions. After all, it is next to a beautiful park, and faces the sea. If you're lucky, your house might be the one getting the best view of the rising sun at dawn.
There is little doubt too that the tent people would trade all these for somewhere they can sleep without getting wet whenever it rains.
(you can join this group to see more photos, or if you know people with similar stories to share http://www.facebook.com/#/group.php?gid=243022663629&ref=ts)
Thursday, January 07, 2010
有人说懂得英文，世界所有政要的名字都能够一目了然，而不必像中文那样，一地有一地的翻译。他这样说的时候，大概心中只有欧美，或者更准确地说是雅利安语系的 christian names 吧，亚洲、非洲的名字一样也是不了啊， “Ai Iijima”还不如“饭岛爱”更为人所知。
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
5th of Jan is the birthday of the belated democratic fighter, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaratnam, better known as JBJ. I attended the commemoration gathering at Hong Lim Park this evening and gave a short speech.
My speech revolves around the theme, JBJ is the Icon of my generation, the lost generation. Why lost generation?
I am coming to 40 year old, born in 1970. My childhood was spent in the era of White Terror. Throughout my first 10 years of living, I have been "indoctrinated with fear" by my parents and elders. Whenever I talked bad about the government, they would just try to shut me up, warning me "The MATA (policemen) will come after you!"
It is no wonder my generation of peers are generally politically apathetic and will even shun me if they or their spouses work in GLC, GIC, Temasek or the civil service. There are many opposition members who are in the 20s, 35 below, 50s, 60s and even 70s, but very few at the age of 37 to 40 now.
When I attended TOC's 2009 year end event last week, I was very impressed with the relatively huge turn out who are mostly in their 20s and early 30s. Some are older, 45 and above but I find very few who are of my own age. It hits me that my generation is burdened by the indoctrination of fear that we received during our impressionable youth. The young ones who are born in the 1980s are hardly brought up with fear deliberately instilled in them.
However, their youthfulness would also mean that they may not really know JBJ as the icon of my generation. JBJ won his as well as opposition's FIRST electoral battle in 1981's by elections after one and a half decade of PAP's monopoly of power. But that was a quiet victory to the general public because the victory was not telecast live on TV.
JBJ did it again in the subsequent General Election in 1984. I believe those in their 20s now would not understand fully what it means to be a REAL VICTORY against all odds. When JBJ's victory was announced on TV, there were screaming and cheering breaking through the night in the area where I stay. He was the man that has broken the silence of the fearful generation.
JBJ has broken the monopoly of PAP and put a dent in PAP's myth of invincibility. This happened in an era of white terror where the majority of Singaporeans were living in fear exerted by the PAP's ruthless demolition and massive detention without trial of its political opponents. PAP's hatred of JBJ arises from the fact that he was the one who have broken that big egoistic myth of political invincibility in polling. But to many of us of this lost generation, he is the LIGHT to our blind fear. He has shown us that it is totally possible to win against all odds, against the ruthless tyranny of monopoly rule.
JBJ has forced the ruling party, in their very own fear of losing more seats, to start changing the electoral rules so to prolong their monopoly of power. Even change the Constitution to disallow legal appeals to the Privy Councils when JBJ won his case against the PAP government when he appealed in Privy Councils. ironically, it was PAP's fear of losing any seats to JBJ that made them did so many things which disgust many people like me.
Notably, the introduction of pork barrel politics of HDB upgrading in 1997 and the amendment of the GRC system to further expand them in sizes, contradicting the very principle of "appropriate minority representation" that the GRC was first argued for implementation. As a voter of Cheng San GRC which was contested by JBJ's team, I was literally held hostage by the PAP with the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong threatening us that there will be no HDB upgrading for us if we do not vote for PAP. Our rubbish chutes will pile up. We will have last priority even in lift rescue services as compared to other PAP wards.
JBJ's team attracted ALL the heavy weights ministers from PAP to contest in Cheng San GRC. PM Goh personally declared that he was putting his reputation and stake into the fight in Cheng San. Then the SM Lee Kuan Yew stepped in, followed by his Son. It was then, my political awakening was invoked thoroughly.
All these events that happened against JBJ have made me realized that as long as PAP is in power, it will forever, for its own political self interests, hold Singaporeans hostage with whatever "weapons" they have when it comes to voting. They will continue to instill fear in Singaporeans by holding us hostage. They will continue to disregard the basic fundamental political rights of Singaporeans.
The most important question that I have asked myself is, do I want my children and future generations continue to live in the very fear that my generation has lived through? Do I want them to continue to be held hostage by such self-serving ruling party? Always have that invisible hand that will always be on their throats, threaten to strangle them if they do not vote for them? Or just choke them to silence? Absolute not. There are only two options left for me if I do not want that to happen. Either I save enough money and emigrate out of this place or I stay back to fight to effect change to this political system, all for my future generations. I decided to stay back and fight for change eventually.
I have lent my torchlight to the speakers who speak tonight for reading their scripts. This very torchlight has the privilege of shining through every words of tribute that the speakers have made. JBJ was and forever will be the torchlight of my fearful generation.
JBJ might have left us but his undaunted fighting spirit to change Singapore has not died. We should continue to fight for change, not merely from the electoral battles, but also to effect change to the general mindset of Singaporeans. Fight for the Change of the mindset of my Lost Generation as well as your generation. WE SHOULD NOT ALLOW OURSELVES AND OUR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO BE HELD HOSTAGE BY THE PAP! We should liberate ourselves from the knuckle dusters and fear created by the PAP. The only way is to break their monopoly of power which will break their arrogance into humility.
I hope, with the torch that shines on everybody that is present tonight, we could carry on the legacy that is left by JBJ. Not everyone will choose the path of front line politics but everyone could do their part in talking to their peers, their families and friends about the need to change our sterile mindset in order to liberate ourselves from PAP's ransom seeking.
I also hope that all my readers would do the same. For the sake of ourselves and our future generations, we should start asking ourselves whether we want our children to continue living in the very political fear that we have gone through.
My generation has lost the opportunity to really appreciate the democratic light that JBJ has shed on us. But I hope the younger generations which have experienced less indoctrination of political fear in their lifetime, would continue to effect the change that JBJ has worked so hard in his whole life to initiate.
The future lies in our hands.
Goh Meng Seng
Monday, January 04, 2010
Monday, 4 January 2010, 10:50 am | 151 views
The following is a letter to the Today newspaper by Mr See Leong Kit which was “rejected for publication.”
Your report “Asset that keeps growing” (TODAY Dec 30) highlighted Minister Mah Bow Tan’s simplistic and optimistic view that HDB flat values will always go up.
Home prices in Singapore have become “ridiculously-high” for private property and “sky-high” for HDB flats.
Is it financially prudent for our young couples to start their marriage saddled with huge housing debts for something as basic as a roof over their heads?
The broader issue is that land-scarce Singapore must have proper policies to promote an “orderly” property market that is sustainable by economic growth, real demand and especially rising incomes. Such a market with gradual capital appreciation will benefit many Singaporeans from successive generations.
Whereas a “speculative” property market of sky-high prices is largely driven by speculators out to make a quick buck by “flipping a property”. But when the Property Bubble finally burst, both speculators and genuine home owners will be hurt by rapidly falling property values.
During our 1994 Property Bull Run, prices of both private and HDB properties were rising at 30% per annum for three years in a row. But since when has our economy as well as our salaries grow at such a phenomenal rate?
Our 2007 Property Bull Run lasted only nine months, cut short by the US sub-prime housing bubble turning into a Global Financial Crisis that brought recession and job losses to Singapore. But during that nine months, average freehold property value in our East Coast area doubled from $700 psf to $1400 psf.
A property may be “an asset that can be monetised”, but it can also end up as a millstone around one’s neck. High property prices will affect the average Singaporean as follows:
> As a home-buyer. Is it wise to sink so much of your hard-earned monies in a brick-and-cement house with little left over for your children’s upbringing, your own healthcare and retirement needs in old age?
> As an employee. If your employer has to pay high office rent out of its operating budget, can it afford to pay you a better salary,increment and bonus?
> As a consumer. If a shopkeeper or supermarket operator has to pay high commercial rent, will it not charge you higher prices for goods and services?
Finally, two pertinent questions for HDB flat-owners:
Are there not more important things in life, such as good health, close family ties and well brought-up children than this materialistic addiction to “HDB Upgrading Carrots” and “my HDB flat is worth a lot”?
Should you die suddenly from an accident or heart attack, can you take your high-valuation upgraded HDB flat along with you to the next world?
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作者:冀居·谢 10:12am 04/01/2010
Sunday, January 03, 2010