Sunday, September 16, 2012

Making an enemy out of its citizens (II) On singles.

Ironically, I have been living peacefully with the social policy on the singles until recently when Lee Hsien Loong finally granted his “amnesty” on the sinful singles this Sep during his National Day Rally (NDP).

Prior to that, citizens who are single are banned from direct buying of HBD flats and are also subject to age limit, flat size limit, as well as the location of the flat purchased from the resale market during my early days of being single. Although the fairness and effectiveness of such policy is highly questionable, I managed to coerce myself into accepting the “bigger” picture of a policy embedded with family-oriented value in promoting marriage and procreation.

Rules have relaxed since then but the policy of barring singles’ access to new flat remains until this NDP. Singles are at last allowed access to new HDB public flats though tagged with certain restrictions to be released in due time for sure.

The new opening for singles soon drew responses from those who have direct interest in the new public flats and resale flats (this group of people comprising our very own citizens, new citizens and PRs) and it is such comments made by such people that I feel indignant about.

Opinions are that singles:
1) Waste precious land space by living alone in a flat
(disclaimer: in a land-scarce country which could afford tens of golf courses dedicated to a small group of people at the tip of hierarchy seems more justifiable than the needs of ordinary citizens; also, the continual release of land parcels for private housing development seems to contradict the land scarce claim)

2) Create more demand on the existing new flats and result in even longer wait for for existing applicants
(disclaimer: who is in control of the supply? Size of demand is relative to the size of supply.)

3) Cause an increase in the pricing of new flats due to limited supply
(disclaimer: who is in control of the supply? Size of demand is relative to the size of supply.)

Them and Us

It is also at this juncture came my realization of how divisive such policy is, introduced by those haughty-mighty and self-proclaimed wiser-than-all policy makers, in discriminating a segment of our citizens and consequently creating an enemy among citizens. In this case, pitting married citizens (as well as new citizens and PRs) against single citizens.

Undeniably, self-interests underlie the principle of those who are against the idea of singles owning a new flat, disregarding the social and economic contribution made by the singles towards this nation which I will further elaborate in the later part of this post. This group of people, inevitably present in anywhere of the world, who will self righteously place their self interests at the expense of others. But more even detrimental is the divisiveness of this housing policy that demarcates the citizens into you and me, the married and the single. A policy, and one of the many, that “encourages” people to see others differently despite the emphasis of the need to be “as one united people” in our pledge.

On the effectiveness of this housing policy, it does not serve its purpose in encouraging marriage but instead penalize singles and ostracize them who are as much the citizens of this country as the married ones. Especially for the male singles who have served their mandatory NS for two and a half years (during my era). It sends a clear message that our male single citizens are of less worth than that of a PR couple who gets to enjoy absolute liberty in buying a resale flat of any size and location.

One can rationalize such policy and convince oneself into the acceptance of such policy for the sake of social engineering. But on the moral grounds of justice and equality, it remains outrageously discriminative and undignified.

I have heard no complaint about the discriminative policy on the singles from any of my friends who are singles, not even from male singles. For they who have served the NS seem even more receptive towards the policy ban on singles than I was.

Singles have been penalized explicitly in the housing policy but have remained reticent against the policy. Yet, the removal of the ban on singles’ access to new flats immediately exposed the perception of some where singles are regarded as liabilities to the society and therefore should continue to subject to the deprivation of a new HDB flat, despite their contributions in their own way.

My purpose is not here to highlight or boast the contributions of the singles but to give acknowledgement to their contributions. In fact, no contributions made from any citizen in any way should be belittled.

Generally speaking, singles pay taxes (not an issue of whether singles or married ones are paying more), economically and socially supporting their own families when other married siblings live away from parents and as well as lending support to married colleagues at work. Actual scenarios vary according to individuals and different work industries. A single at work might receive more support from his married colleagues than vice verse. Or that married children living away from parents will contribute more financially and time to their parents than the single sibling living with parents.

However, on a general view and economically speaking, for the same salary that a single and each spouse of a married couple with children draw, there are higher chances of singles paying taxes or more taxes as they do not enjoy any child rebates.

At work place, married couples are given child care leave, maternity leave for women on top of their sick leave. Such child care leave and maternity leave are shouldered by other married and single colleagues. I am not looking at work efficiency whereby some employees can produce more work in fewer work days or employees working on their leave but in terms of official job benefits where singles are entitled less off days and are therefore required to work more days. For some work places, such as my previous work place, there are times where mothers with children are given privileges whereby singles like me are expected to cover for them for after work hours or given more time-consuming tasks at no extra monetary compensation. It was regarded as a form of duty. Again, this should not be interpreted as a form of complaint against married mothers but to point out that singles’ contribution, in some cases, towards family values.

Singles do not procreate any economic digits towards the contribution of our nation's GDP, nonetheless, it should neither be a sin for not doing so.

Socially speaking, for singles who could not afford or who choose not to buy a resale flat will have to live with his or her parents. In cases where married siblings move away from parents, siblings who are single are then 'thrust' upon more responsibilities in taking care of the parents who they live with. Caring for them spiritually and financially too, depending on the relative financial status of the single compared to married children. Therefore, there is a portion of singles who contribute in terms of time, companionship and money towards their own families. Singles are not what the policy made them out to be detrimental to our family values.

Therefore, it is absurd and unfair to penalize singles in terms of flat ownership based on their failure to comply to marriage due to their life choices or forced circumstances for the sole sake of social engineering where the effectiveness of such a policy is questionable to begin with.

Effective tool for promoting marriage?

How would barring singles from direct purchase of new flat encourage marriage among them? Are policy makers implying that people should marry for the sake of getting a new flat and that people who do not conform to marrying for flats will be penalized? I am not advocating childless couples to be penalized but if the principle of penalizing singles is to encourage marriages which ultimately aims at procreation, then that same principle should apply to childless couples too, who arguably have the right to choose their lifestyle or who might subject to forced circumstances too. For raising a child and marriage are both a life long task and a life-long relationship. It is really up to individuals to choose their own paths. Policies could be used to mould certain behaviour or to achieve certain outcome but they should not be used to penalize on a specific group of citizens in a criminal way. We are not dealing with macro or micro economic principle over here but human lives.

I have never queried much into this policy and could live with family-oriented values as the norm. On hindsight, I realized I have been brainwashed into the acceptance of such blatant housing policy at the expense of another group of our citizens. And now to discover how despicable and myopic it is to discriminate our own citizens, categorizing them, labelling them according to short term needs and results determined by policy makers who now seem to reverse or contradict life-affecting policy as and when they deem (eg. the stop at 2 policy, bilingual policy). The worst of all is the subtle attempt to normalize an unfair policy on a group of citizens that would inevitably give rise to conflicts of interests among other groups of citizens.

After what all is said, housing should not be used as a social engineering tool and should neither be used to split our citizens.

Making an enemy out of its citizens (I) On Foreigners.

Policy makers sieve through the genuine concerns and unhappiness of our citizens on the erratic foreign immigration policy and conveniently distort them into a xenophobic labelling.

Anyone who makes an emotional comment against the favour of foreigners over here runs the risk of being branded as xenophobia.

This is the tactic.

Of creating an enemy with its citizens--any sign of unsupportive gestures from citizens towards a policy even if it is detrimental to the citizens, the first thing policy makers do is to grab a gun and point at their citizens. Highlighting the cause of huge foreign influx as a consequence of our citizens' low fertility rate or laziness or mediocrity at work or what so ever, Lee Hsien Loong and his whole lorry of ministers synchronize to the perfection in performing that task of gun pointing at their very own citizens (Shanmugam, PAP, TCH, LKY, LKY).

Never mind the fact that you have been verbally abused for nine times and have stayed rational all those times. At the tenth time, you let your own emotions get the better of you and lashed out at the perpetuator but were caught red-handed. You have been emotional and therefore irrational. You are at fault. The perpetuator preserves his/her innocence.

That was the first step before proceeding to create an enemy among its citizens.

Citizens' disgust of our immigration policy has remained persistent and still, policy makers have little intention of reversing the policy. Policy makers responded by picking on a group of citizens who refused to pay compliments, whether justifiable or not, to the undesirable public behaviour and the unfair competition of some foreign nationals living here, effectively embarrassing the policy makers who invited the bulk of such foreign nationals over here. Denounce these citizens with the xenophobia label and rally the rest of the citizens to censor them. (Grace Fu, Sim Ann)

Cleverly directing the attention of all audience onto the superficiality of an immigration problem instead of looking at the root cause, policy makers thus averted attention and relieve themselves the immediate need to tackle the problem. Xenophobia became the immigration problem, rather than the consequence of a poorly calibrated immigration policy.

The beauty of such tactic is that, policy makers create an enemy among its citizens and encourage an internal fight. Some call that divide and rule. By creating a cat fight among citizens will help distract the genuine problem. Simultaneously, more foreigners of dubious backgrounds and doubtful quality will be herded onto our land.

The trend of such irresponsible use of xenophobia label is developing to a stage whereby any negative comment of a foreign national in any situation could constitute xenophobia. On the other hand, foreign nationals are granted immunity in criticism or insults directed at our citizens. No MP or minister has ever actively stepped out in reprimanding any foreign national on such behaviour whilst retaliation of such from the citizens would only invite a xenophobia slap on the face.

The English language--The sacred cow for citizens

During my student era, the English language was the sacred cow in our education system. As a lingua franca to our multi-ethnic society, its importance to our social cohesion is indisputable. Nevertheless, our education system went over board in placing the English language on the pedestal, that it was the determinant to one's academic progression (mother tongue language is another similar subject which was attached with political agenda but it will not be the focus of discussion in this entry) Meaning that if you were to fail your English at an internal school exam, you will have to repeat your academic year even despite scoring all the stars for the rest of your subjects.

The English language was not just a mere tool in fostering a social cohesion to our then population whereby I was already the second generation of our immigrant society, but served concurrently as a political tool in cementing the power of the English-speaking elite as oppositional to the Mandarin- or other ethnic language- speaking elites.

I have a classmate and relative who passed all their subjects apart from English at O level and were forced onto the path of polytechnic. In fact, my classmate had better grades than me in most of the subjects failing only English. I felt weird. Because of the fact that she was an academically better student than me and she scored A for the other English-medium subjects, proving that she has sufficient knowledge of English to achieve good grades and that should suffice.

I could rumble on for ages on this subject. Nevertheless, the question that I would like to raise is that, with such immense importance placed on this language on its own citizens, why is it now otherwise for a certain group of foreign nationals (termed foreign talents by the policy makers) working on our island? In other words, why are advantages and privileges thrown at this group of foreigners whereby the command of English language is not even a pre-requisite to their jobs when English language is our education medium, our working and social language?

My high school classmate came into my mind. She was penalized for the failure of mastering the English language and took a different educational path from me. No doubt polytechnic students still stand chances of pursuing an university education in our local institutions, there is a limitation to the number of students allowed. However, given her excellent overall results, why was she subject to such?

And yet the expectations on our citizens to help out these foreign nationals with their limited or virtually non-existent English language at their work places, inconveniencing customers and co-workers, and at the same time, their very presence pose a direct challenge to our local wages. It makes no sense to me as these foreigners bring no additional benefits to the quality of our lives and in fact on the contrary and to the extent of being detrimental to our own citizens, but more monetary benefits for business owners, property owners and MNCs where a large proportion of employees are foreigners anyway. Ultimately, policy makers stand to gain and therefore explain their irresponsible act of urging citizens to embrace foreign influx.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

2012 Net profits for SMRT to smile and more Squeeze for the commuters

An inverse relation between the SMRT and the commuters

If we are old enough to remember our train rides in 2002, it might not be perfect but the current frequency of halts and scale of breakdowns were unheard of. And definitely the squeeze on the trains then pale in comparison to the current kind of squashed commuting experience. I still remember that train rides were always cold and air conditioning was far too luxurious. Nowadays, I understand what it is like to be perspiring on the train and enjoying all kinds of body odour (inevitable but inevitably unpleasant too). Nobody remembers though that the earnings per share for SMRT then (in 2002) was only 3.8 cents and that its net profits were only 56. 8 million. Both its EPS and net profits grew as relentlessly as the fall of travel quality for commuters over the decade since then.

2012 SMRT Net Profits
All are rosy for SMRT despite experiencing a greater “hardship” for their FY 2012, “suffering” a 25.6% drop in their net profits. Fortunately, SMRT still gets to bag in a net profit of 119.1 million Singapore dollars although it might lament at their previous good reap of 160.1 million net profits in FY 2011. Earnings per share took a dip to 7.9 from its previous 10.6 cents. Nevertheless, it is still twice of that amount in 2002 (Earnings per share was only 3.8 cents in 2002) given the much smaller ridership (and higher level of comfort for the commuters then).  

Between FY 2011 and FY 2012, what has changed for the commuters?

First a price hike in Sep 2011 followed by two major train breakdowns in Dec 2011. To the commuters’ dismay, the drama didn’t stop just right there. They full bloomed into all kinds of breakdowns or train halts on all lines, regardless of the age of line in use and even the mode does not matter. LRT broke down too. Train halts became a common affair and will be a miracle if it didn’t, all the way up to this day.

Committee of inquiry (COI) for the Dec breakdowns was conducted, where LTA and SMRT both share the costs, and ultimately borne entirely by the taxpayers again. The portion which the SMRT forked out will be eventually compensated indirectly by the commuters-cum-taxpayers anyway through price hike.

As for travelling experience, it is definitely an enhancement of smells. Daily ridership for SMRT has gone up by 130, 000 (8.1%). The physical squeeze during peak period is very real, not just some noises on the ground, as 3 more commuters are added to the already space-constraint car, totalling a number of 191 commuters in a single car smelling each others’ armpit.

Or commuters could choose to relax slightly by travelling off peak period, as the average no. of passengers in a car fell from 70.6 to 66.2. Some might have to make a squeeze on their time by travelling to work super early or travelling home super late to enjoy that limited luxury of space on a SMRT car.

Between FY 2011 and FY 2012, what has changed for SMRT?

The CEO has changed from a woman from retails to a man from the army. Not necessarily an indication of change in ingredients for brewing the soup. I wouldn't expect any change if a rooster instead of a hen is employed to plough the farmlands.

Being fined for 2 million for its poor quality of service. SMRT will bide its time in recovering that same amount somehow, if not more.

Smaller net profits for SMRT but the blissful realization that it has privileges in gaming the local public transport system here. Its profits will be first buffered by the taxpayers’ fund (starting with some 1 billion already) for the purchase of trains and therefore less capital cost, meaning greater profit margins! Then Public Transport Council will also chip in some form of help by never failing to agree to SMRT’s price hike for whatever reasons cited.

SMRT could continue to squeeze more cents from the commuters and more dollars from public funds.