Sunday, April 29, 2012

A successful surgery but the patient died—our immigration policy

When challenged on the uncontrolled influx of foreign nationals into our workforce, the then SM Goh Chok Tong counter-argued with the logic of "who is going to build your HDB flats?", habitually ducking our genuine concerns by using the lowest paid foreign workers to represent the entire foreign workforce, which in fact involves a range of skills and price levels. But he specifically picked the lowest paid group and finger pointed at Singaporeans’ shunning of these jobs that resulted in the vacuum of certain job industries.

He conveniently overlooked at the existing group of foreign workers, labelled ambiguously as “foreign talents”. While justifiable to recruit foreign talents with exclusive expertise to supplement our economy in areas which local labour market is lacking and thus the expat remuneration, there is also a huge import of foreigners with “expertise” commonly found in our labour markets. They are being recruited into our service industries or taking up PMET jobs at a cheaper rate. These are not the jobs which locals shun.

The recent release of population paper [here]  is another blame cast on Singaporeans for having low fertility, and therefore strangling our economy with an aged population. Excuses after excuses used to silence people on the issue of influx of foreigners. Singaporeans get blamed for being choosey with work and pay and not procreating sufficiently for the economy.

In short, policy makers are bent on bringing in more immigrants.

But who gets the actual benefits?

We have been hammered until concussed of the notion that foreign workers/talents benefit us. So let us start by discussing those unskilled and low-pay workers who GCT mentioned.  However, we should ask: who benefits most from these lowly/obscenely-paid workers? Or rephrasing the same question in another way: who suffers most in the absence of these workers?

On our foreign construction workers, GCT was right in saying that they build hostels, HDB flats and private properties for us. But he did not mention that these workers received pittance, some as little as $450 or $600 [here]here ] for the physically demanding and high risks nature of the job that they take up. It will not be unreasonable for Singaporeans to “shun” such pay-rate that could not cover the basic living needs, and forget about raising a family with that amount by today’s cost of living. However, such obscenely low pay helps to keep the building cost very, very low.

This cost-saving amount, when truly reflected in the selling price of our HDB flats and private properties, does benefit locals directly.

Nevertheless, as the spiralling price of our HDB flats (Fig. 1) demonstrates, very little of that amount exploited from foreign workers is passed on to the buyers. The price of HDB flats defied the true forces of a free market and stubbornly refused to come down even during times of over-supply.      

Average Price (New flats)
5 room
$30 000
5 room
$110 000
5 room
$230 000
5 room
$290 000
In 2010
5 room
$448 700
Fig. 1 (Source: Asia-Pacific Housing Journal, Pg 70 - 71)

In the last 4 decades, the average price for a 5 room flat jumped almost 14 times. Between 1990s and 2010, the price doubled--a shocking difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars in absolute amount. Are the wages of construction workers been increased proportionately to the rising price of our HDB flats in the last few decades?

In reality, like any low paid jobs across Singapore, wages for construction workers have been stagnant or have fallen in real terms.

Of course, manpower is only one of the construction costs. Building materials are needed too. Again, are material costs growing at the same rate as the housing price? I remain unconvinced by the extent of rising building costs when the increasing number of small developers joining the fray of developing private properties in recent years resembles a mad gold rush. It goes to show that the yields from property markets are very substantial despite rising building costs.

HDB itself is already gaining in two means, first through sale of land lease; then the stamp duty for the flats. Both are increasing in absolute amount when housing price rises. And both are borne by local buyers.  

Low pay foreign workers and Singaporeans who absorbed the purchase price of new HDB flats are merely the two-part mechanism in generating profits for HDB, private developers and property owners. These workers do not benefit the general public.

Decades of wild public housing prices demonstrate a seemingly lack of will in our policy makers in curbing housing prices. Afterall, our policy makers are supposedly the crème of the batch and they could easily turn things round. But they did not. Unless they have their interests at stake if housing prices are low. Singapore is now ranked the 4th hottest real estate [Here] globally. Tokyo and London could not even make it to the top 10. Implying the lucrative gains for those who could have a share in our local property market will stand to gain. Those whose “livelihoods” are linked directly or indirectly to the property market. Not forgetting the property owners. And the only way to prolong such gains in the property market is to create excessive demand, for instance, inflating the population.

With or without foreign workers, Singaporeans will have to pay an increasing price for HDB flats in the future anyway. Prices simply will not come down.

Think again, who are the ultimate winners at the expense of this group of foreign workers? And who will stand to lose more (millions) without them? As we know, no amount of money will suffice for profit-driven organizations and the greedy rich. A million dollar profit less could bring drastic change to some people’s lifestyle.

Ambiguous group of talents

Moving on from low pay foreign workers to the ambiguous group of “foreign talents”. This is the group which is infiltrating into industries which are not shunned by locals, posing direct competition to our workers with their cheaper price.

Policy makers have turned the floodgate from low pay workers to this group of “talents”, with the hidden agenda of trimming operation costs while boosting net profits for businesses. Local wages will be shredded by these foreign “talents” eventually. It will not be long before these jobs, previously held by local workers, will also be “shunned” by choosey Singaporeans and we will be made the scapegoat again for the justification to invite another wave of “foreign talents”.

These “talents” detrimental to local workers, however, are beneficial to small-medium enterprises (SMEs) and multi-national companies (MNCs).

MNCs’ addiction on foreign labour

When these foreign “talents” begin seeping into the MNCs arena, the purpose of MNCs’ presence comes into question. MNCs are wooed to Singapore with the intention of creating job opportunities and skills transfers to local labour.

Between 1994 and 2010, Singapore offered a total slash of 10% corporate tax rate (Fig. 2). In 1994, a GST of 3% was introduced when corporate tax rate was reduced by the same percentage. Through the years, while corporate tax rate dives, our GST rate hikes. Loss of revenue from corporate tax needs to be compensated. And the compensation comes from the people.

MNCs tap on our political stability and strategic position to the region, and are enjoying growing tax relief since the 90s. In other words, people are subsidizing the presence of MNCs in Singapore.  

Corporate tax rate
                       Fig. 2 (Source:

To rub salt into the wounds, when MNCs begins its addiction on cheaper foreign “talents” who are imported in abundance by our policy makers, and start shunning local workers, skills transfers come to a halt. The sole function of MNCs is only to boost the economy, ie. the GDP figures. For that purpose only. Does that benefit local workers?

And our policy makers allow that to take place. By feeding MNCs and SMEs with cheap foreign labour instead of reducing the rental charge to help trimming operation costs. Rental charge forms a substantial portion of the operation costs. Government could choose to earn less in its coffers in exchange of protecting the wages of our citizens to meeting rising living costs. This is just not the case. Policy makers choose instead, the mechanism to depress our local wages to support businesses.

Cheapening local labour price remains the only brilliant solution available, in the name of growing our economy, preventing an aged population, improving our global competitiveness.

It points to one fact. The interests/benefits of our citizens are not at the core of immigration policy. Welfare of the people is mindlessly battered for the attainment of GDP and profits confined to a specific group of people.

An uncompassionate surgeon

Growing our economy but not growing our people.

Likened to a surgery whereby the patient died in the process. Surgery is deemed successful. Surgeon was applauded and rewarded handsomely for his work done. The death of his patient is no bother to the surgeon at all. The surgery is all that the surgeon cares.

The broken record of how foreign workers/talents will benefit us is played incessantly.

But we are left to see the benefits of foreign workers/talents restrict to only a specific group of people. The only group of Singaporeans who will hardly stand to gain is the average Joe with no access to exclusive transport and facilities, and to endure sharing infrastructure, housing, education, medical and public facilities with more foreign nationals at a higher cost. As proven, higher ridership of MRT trains did not bring about cheaper fares but higher fares instead.

The majority of the locals are made to pay a higher price for the large influx of people where the bulk of the benefits go into someone else’s pockets.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012












Sunday, April 15, 2012


There was a styrofoam box lying on the third lane near the kerb, two metres away from the traffic lights.

A car was coming to a halt in front of the traffic lights but the box was obstructing its path.

An Indian passer-by witnessed the situation and without further ado, went forward, picked up the box, left it on the grass and went away. The driver could thus stop his car in front of the traffic lights. However, the Indian left without giving a chance for the driver to thank him for his selfless gesture.

In the world of righteous conviction, there is no need for the existence of I, me, mine or myself but others. You don't even wait for any external acknowledgement for doing something which you believe in. Even in the most trivial matters such as picking a box away from the road or giving pedestrians a lift to the main road. You need no gratitude from the person who benefits from your gesture to ascertain what you did was right.

And for those who mouth the word "sacrifices" easily to draw attention for what they did and drumming for acknowledgement for the amount of effort that they put into something, are the very people without any convictions. Thus external materials, such as monetary rewards, do matter to them very, very, very much.

I miss my President Tony Tan

Dear Mr President, I miss you very much. It’s true.

It has been a long year since last May 2011—many incidents, many were unfortunately unpleasant and unnecessary, have unfolded themselves after our fate is sealed with the outcome of the election.

And it is through these unfortunate events that I miss your voice the most. For it hasn’t been that long since you mentioned putting Singaporeans first during your presidency campaign.

For the events that took place in the aftermath of the May election, I understand that you were not in the position yet, to speak as a representation of us.

Nevertheless, you were sworn into office in September. Few months later, 3 MRT disruptions that took place in December 2011, all within a span of 4 days, affecting more than 200 000 commuters during peak hours and these are the people who rely solely on the trains for their daily commute to work. They are not what Saw Phiak Hwa, former SMRT CEO has described, who have a choice to whether or not to board the trains. Commuters who could not indulge in a private car like you do but compelled to board the trains regardless of the state and the reliability of the trains.

While a trapped passenger broke glass panes for vital ventilation in the train carriage, stranded passengers ploughing through the dark tunnel to see the light at the end of it and wasting precious family time after work trying to find alternative means to get home safely…..disappointingly, as our elected president, your voice did not come through for your people.   

You were on an official visit to the UK at that point of time to reach out for fellow overseas Singaporeans, and even though it is true that there is nothing you could actually offer to salvage the situation, however, the least you could do, as the highest head of our nation, even though the prescribed president role is ceremonious, it is neither against the constitution to use the voice in you when you have one, to express your empathy, sympathy and concern towards the grievances of your people at such times.

Your silence during such time is therefore appalling.

While appreciating the fact that you took time to grace the 2012 Countdown Event at Marina Bay and without any doubt, one should always live forward in hope, it is unfortunately a little less joyous for the fact that the hot button issues that were strongly voiced out during the May election campaign on rising living-housing-medical costs and most importantly, our immigration policy, resurfaced promptly after the election in May 2011.

CPF minimum sum was raised to $131 000 in July, electricity tariffs increase followed suit in the same month, followed by public transport and taxi fare hike in Oct and Dec respectively.

On immigration policy, it ticks like a time-bomb, as various leaders dropped hints directly or indirectly, one to the extent of blaming tertiary educated women for reluctance to start family as the underlying reason for the need of big influx of immigration. We can be certain that EVEN more foreign workers will still be washed to our shores despite our strong protests last May.

These issues that will impact the future of our nation and people gave few reasons for us to remain hopeful for our future beyond 2011.

Singaporeans first, was what you emphasized during your campaign.

How would the tsunamis wave of foreign workers at all levels, convince Singaporeans that they are being prioritized in their very own homelands? Despite threats or repeated chants from current ministers and former ones, of the dire need of foreign workers, without which our nation and economy will be doomed, people feel otherwise on the grounds.

I remain unconvinced that you can choose to be silent, again, on this “life-threatening” issue for Singaporeans, in terms of jobs, housing and education competition.

In Mar 2012, a Chinese scholar whose 8 years of education are funded by our taxes, labelled Singaporeans as dogs in public. It was only just revealed in the Parliament before this incident took place, that each of such scholarship worth of $176 000 EACH YEAR is borne by taxpayers. Alarmingly, 2000 of these scholarships are given out each year. Each scholarship granted to an overseas student deprives a scholarship for our local students. Whether local students are up to the standard of the scholarships is one matter, but the fact is that one of these locally-sponsored foreign scholars, took to openly humiliating his host country, showing nothing but contempt and ingratitude of the monies that were invested in him, out of our pockets.

Not sure if you are aware of the bottled up resentment of this preferential treatment towards foreign students over local ones. It would be reassuring if we could hear you saying “Singaporean First” again on this matter.  

But you chose silence again during a time when people seek reassurance that they will not be marginalized by foreigners. It is a wonder again, what is meant by your definition of Singaporeans First.
I know you have to allocate your limited time for gracing various ceremonies, as well as the installation as the new Chief Scout, holding receptions for foreign dignitaries, making speeches and holding tea sessions and while not trivializing your positive influence in these involvements, for I firmly believe that being appointed as the Chief Scout is of equal importance as addressing our sentiments on disproportionate investment of our resources on foreign students/workers.

It would not be too difficult to squeeze a little time out of your busy schedule for your people, to address our concerns of the issues on the grounds that impact us personally and individually even though these may appear trivial to you, for a person who is granted a life-long social security that is made only available to the few privileged political holders and certain group of civil servants, may not be truly grasp the worries of the common civilians like us, on our uncertain future against the backdrop of the never-ending influx of immigrants and stubborn rising living costs.  

In short, I miss your voice.

Hougang SMC lost its MP in February 2012 and its seat has since then been vacant for almost two months. Whether you agree or disagree on the conduct of Hougang’s former MP is a non-issue over here, as a non-partisan president, your first and foremost concern should be the welfare of Hougang’s 25 000 residents. Did you or could you have a word with our PM to prompt him to move on swiftly with the by-election? If he could move on with Wong Kan Seng’s failure of keeping Mas Selamat in prison, he could likewise do the same with Hougang. Afterall, PM has the welfare of our people at heart.

Could you lend us your voice on this matter?

I miss you so much. For your silence is indeed excruciating.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hypocrisy’s name is George Yeo.

Said George Yeo, many people had lost “faith in the government” (25 Mar 2012, Yahoo! News).

But he was part of that ruling political party at the helm of that government before 7 May 2011. As a MP and as well as a minister.

Then, George Yeo again, urged politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties to work together with people's interest at heart and “link the hearts together, broaden our minds.”(25 Mar 2012, Yahoo! News)

Well, now he, a former minister, as an onlooker of the political arena, his observations and beliefs seem to be steering conveniently in the opposite direction to where he was heading when he was still in the political game.

With people’s interest, he said. It sends chills down my spine. Of the type of interest that he meant.

He was the one who floated the idea of building casinos on our island. And being a Christian himself. That itself is contradictory to his call for casinos.

When a multi-million-dollar-political leader resorts to envisioning casinos as the ultimate “job generator” for the future of his people and nation, then it is no wonder that such “vision” (if you could call it that), such future (if there is any left) and such political party would result in the loss of faith in the people. No doubt of the job creation ability of casinos, nevertheless, when viewed from a social and economic vantage, it is neither a sustainable nor healthy growth for our people and nation. 

This casino-quick-fix solution for jobs creation issues exposes the calibre of George Yeo, one of the “rare pool” of talents whom we were forced to pay premium to keep in our Cabinet, and also the exact meaning of people’s interest in this former minister’s mind.  

People’s interest was seriously compromised over the last and a half decade and the extent of it extends to our future generations: our immigration policy, HDB’s escalating price, over-stretched healthcare infrastructure and rising costs, and untamed inflation. What were his thoughts and his take on these issues during Parliament seatings if he had people’s interest at heart?

He definitely saw the big money that floods in with the arrival of casinos. As well as the increasing profits for companies generated at the expense of cheaper foreign labour import and the stagnancy or depression of wages for our local labour as a result. Not forgetting the yields from HDB’s forever affordable but escalating price…….the hot money into properties and the profits reaped benefits not for the average Singaporeans but for those sitting on the tip of the hierarchy.

Given his power and the position, had he then, push for better policies with people’s interest at heart, or speak out against poor policies to salvage the gradual erosion of people’s faith in the ruling party? As an MP, he had the chance to leave his ivory tower once a week to touch the pulse on the grounds to witness the effects of some of the policies. He could speak out on behalf of Singaporeans’ concerns during Parliament. No one said that it would be easy. At least, he could try. For being paid the amount he was paid.

It is easier to turn around and point at his former comrades of their mistakes now since he is no longer a part of them. So much easier. At least his life pension is secured now and no one can take it away from him for upsetting his former team.

George Yeo’s call for unison between the incumbent and the opposition parties takes a sudden reversal to the usual heavy-handedness used on the opposition members in the past, riddled with defamation lawsuits and ridicule.

It makes one ponder why the sudden need to “link” the hearts between the ruling party and the opposition parties, only after his recent defeat in the election.

Did he speak out for elected members of the opposition who were consistently ridiculed during Parliament debates and the defamation lawsuits that took place in the last two decades?? In 2004, all MPs of the opposition parties voiced out against casinos (WP’s Low Thia Khiang, SPP’s Chiam See Tong, NSP’s Steve Chia). Did he “link the hearts and broaden minds” back then?

Did he attempt to listen to the voices on the grounds then?

Could he?

“REMEMBER your place in society before you engage in political debate. Debate cannot degenerate into a free-for-all where no distinction is made between the senior and junior party, or what the Hokkiens describe as "boh tua, boh suay" (没大没小). You must make distinctions - what is high, what is low, what is above, what is below - and then within this, we can have a debate, we can have a discussion.” (19 February 1994, The Straits Times)

He forgot his place in society in the 1990s. Clean forgotten that he should play the role of people’s servant, not the other way round of demanding absolute “obedience” to unchecked authority. In 2011 May election, he was jostled out of his political comfort zone only to wake up miraculously to view people as humans instead of a mechanism.

He made a clear distinction in the 90s between the high and the low, dividing the nation purposefully into different classes. Within these classes, only a certain privileged group is granted the absolute power and the authority to speak and act. Such values continue way into the 21st century where his “advice” for his people on casinos betrayed his elitism views again:

We don't want the man going there (referring to the casinos) after work or the housewife going there when she's free in the afternoon. So there must be controls on who can gain access to the casino. And if you are not of a certain economic class, you should not even think of going there. You should confine yourself to 4D, Toto or horse racing. (CNA March 17 2004)

Again, what is low remains low, and shouldn’t associate with the high. Don’t ever forget your place in society.

Mindset and values of a person change very little over time. Especially having to breathe and live by the same mindset and values for decades for the sake of protecting one’s own interests and never mind that these mindsets and values could never subject to open challenges and questioning. George Yeo’s abrupt revelation of people’s “loss of faith” and the sudden awakening to the collaboration with the alternative political parties reek only of pretence, pretence and pretence only.   

There is only one word apt for George Yeo. “Hypocrisy” it is.