Friday, October 26, 2012

Lee Hsien Loong blames broken families for housing woes.

His first class honours in Maths in Trinity College seems of little help in sharpening his logical thinking. Lee Hsien Loong again plays the blame game. According to his logic, a lot of our current housing woes are caused by broken families. [Link]

His solution is: “…ultimately the family members have to work things out themselves, and ideally avoid breaking up in the first place.  

But we do not live in an ideal world. He seems to forget about that.

By his understanding, to avoid housing problems, all Singaporeans have to by hook or by crook maintain their family structure. Such twisted logic sheds some light to the rationale behind the housing policy on singles where they are prohibited from purchasing new HDB flats because of their “defiance” to the traditional family structure. Therefore, singles are supposed to marry someone of the opposite gender to gain access to new HDB flats, well, by hook or by crook. With that policy in place for decades, the number of singles is still persistently on the rise.  

Mr Lee doesn’t seem to realize that no one breaks up a family for past time leisure. For many, that has to be the last resort. And when family has to be broken up, whether due to third party, financial pressure or terminal illness, housing policy should not ostracize these already unfortunate people. Or put it the other way round, housing policy should not be the reason for a family to stay together, and neither should it be the reason for a single to marry the next person who comes along in the street. Sometimes, it is a healthier option to break up a family than to endure the mental torture and misery of keeping it which might in turn lead to more disastrous consequence. Moreover, policy should serve to facilitate the people, to benefit the people and not employed as a social engineering tool that does little to achieve the intended objective in the first place.

Whether a divorcee, a widow/er or a single, they should have the rights to the access of cheaper new HDB flats and not to be further penalized for their circumstances, whether it is a choice or not. We are not talking about entitling them with free housing over here. These people are paying for their abodes but why should they be discriminated and subject to higher price tag for a roof over their heads?

Breaking up families is mentally, emotionally and financially stressful for all individuals involved. The housing policy only further rubs chilli into the wounds and creates further wreckages, especially for families with children involved. And given such stringent housing policy, there is still a significant number of people who “choose” to break up their families and “choose” to deal with imminent homelessness than to live together, it is an evidence to prove that some things are beyond any hope of remedy. And precisely it is the very last choice to be taken, housing policy should avoid further exacerbating their plights.

The most amazing thing is, being the PM of our country, being the leader of our country and people, instead of re-looking at the unrealistic, uncompassionate and out-dated housing policy and feeding in with more humanity and compassion, LHL swiftly blames his citizens for causing him problems. His lack of logic is one thing (that could be trained), his lack of compassion, empathy and breadth of mind as the head of our country piques me the most.

Yes, if only everything in this world is perfect, then his job would be easy. But there again, we won’t need him in the first place. And to pay him an astronomical salary to keep him there.

The only possible explanation for LHL’s twisted logic, being such a clever man as he is, is that he cannot think of a better means to hide the truth. The truth being, he and his gang will not solve our housing problems as that would be detrimental to their own deep pockets. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The losers. The Aljunied PAP team.

Failure is not to fall down; it is to remain there when you have fallen.

Finally this Sept, Ong Ye Kung decided to bow out of the political arena after his first and only political loss in Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Elections. His initial calculations probably didn’t work as planned as no GRC had ever fallen into the hands of the alternative parties before in Singapore’s history. Like many other current Cabinet ministers such as the likes of Teo Chee Hean, Chan Chung Sing, Heng Swee Keat who were parachuted into the Cabinet without having to stand on his own feet for elections, he too could have ridden on the backs of the GRC system to sail straight into Parliament. He could easily have been the future minister. And laps of luxury will await him thereafter.

Thanks to the GRC system which exposes opportunists on both political camps, PAP or the alternative parties.

The PAP ship that was sent to contest Aljunied GRC sank pathetically. Not because of the defeated outcome but by the way the candidates lost. The seconds the ship sank, those on board, including two heavy-weighted ministers, scurried out of the political arena literally like mice fleeing a sinking ship. And it only takes a single loss to bare the opportunistic quality, the little passion and the hardly-there political will against adversity of these candidates who were touted to be crème of the crop hand-picked by PAP. Only one GRC fell this far and already, the entire PAP team of incumbent and rookies exited out of politics, unwilling to make an extra effort to regain the GRC which they have lost.

How many of such undesirable weak-willed, passionless candidates sneaked into our Parliament and Cabinet through the GRC system? Among the 80 odd candidates, only Sitoh Yih Pin persisted for three elections before he finally won over Potong Pasir residents. On the contrary, I have seen more defeated opposition members coming back in subsequent elections. Chiam See Tong is one good example. Sylvia Lim won in her second contest.

At their first taste of loss, George Yeo, Lim Hwee Hua and Zainal Abidin “retired”, more aptly fled, from politics immediately after the election. George Yeo and Lim, both ministers, who spent 23 years and 13 years respectively in politics, suffered the only loss in their political career in Aljunied in 2011. Coincidentally, both had never stood in any elections in a single ward fighting their own political battle for survival. As seen in this classic Aljunied example, GRC has always been the short cut to politics for PAP rookies until 2011.

Their hasty departure speaks volume of the need of guaranteed political power and monetary rewards for them to “commit” to the politics of Singapore. This explains the forlorn state of the PAP Aljunied team and best expressed by George Yeo:

“I thought if there wasn’t something that I could change, because it wasn’t something about me, maybe it was time to open a new chapter of my life.”-- George Yeo, Oct 2012.

And ironically, these are the talented people who Lee Hsien Loong is trying to thrust upon the people and they fall within LHL’s definition of “good candidates”. If justice, inevitably will always have to be fought for, or moral values need to be upheld, we will have to wait till the sun rises from the west before George Yeo and the likes will lift a finger to change.  

“And you must always be part of the larger flow. If you want to fight the flow, you will be very tired. It is always important to know where the big flows are and to move to the big flows, then you can do a lot of things.” George Yeo, Oct 2012.

And such materialistic “leaders” simply contrasts and accentuates the strength and commitment demonstrated by the alternative parties. J. B. Jeyaretnam’s name came into my mind. Twice thrown out of Parliament and was still fighting his political battle till his last breath; Chee Soon Juan has been in and out of prison for his political ideals and is still fighting till this day; Chiam See Tong won his first victory after two defeats and is still continuing his political path after his last defeat in 2011 despite his age and health. And these “losers” as labelled by the PAP incumbents, swam against the tidal currents for what they believed in, against all adversities to uphold their beliefs so as to change the larger flow of voters. Each time, they failed and persevered.

JBJ stood tall in his entire political life even though he passed on without a single seat in Parliament; even though he was crushed repeatedly by libel suits that dented his political career, JBJ always come back from where he has fallen. Time after time. Till the age of 82 when he drew his last breath. And during an era where the fear of associating with the opposition was still very real. JBJ swam against the huge currents and that spirit alone dwarfed all the candidates of the Aljunied team piled up together. Yes, to fight against the flow is tiring, as George Yeo has mentioned, and thus not many mundane figures could do that. JBJ has his own career before his political attempt, he has his own family too, not much difference from George Yeo or Lim Hwee Hua. But JBJ rises many levels above the PAP premium cadets with the beliefs that he has held and choose to uphold. Beliefs, larger than any amount of monetary rewards and yet, is the most powerful motivational drive that gives strength to a crestfallen being. Where self sacrifices are nothing to be mentioned. Because those beliefs were not meant to be self-beneficial to start with but to benefit the masses out there.

Failures are definitely the names for those who could not stand the test of time.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

This must be my hate speech

If xenophobia is the word for the hatred of foreigners, what is the equivalent word for the hatred of original citizens?

Yes, I must be a snob.

I simply cannot suppress my increasing disgust at the bulk of foreign nationals, especially those coming from an ancient civilization from the north of Asia who exhibit poor personal hygiene such as trimming nails, spitting, littering, urinating in the public and even lower civic-mindedness than our peoples in terms of giving up seats on public transport, giving priority to alighting passengers on trains, standing on the left on escalators..... well, every ugly social behaviour exhibited by our own peoples that were denounced as ungracious by our own politicians and people in the past decades are now exhibited by foreign nationals. And in greater scale. The overwhelming presence of foreign nationals presented new forms of undesirable social behaviour and thus “contributed” more vibrancy to our island-nation.

I realize the likes of Baey Kim Yam and Sim Ann would chastise me for not reflecting on my own disgust or for making hate speech or being xenophobia on our foreign nationals even though my own observations conclude a higher proportion of poor behaviour and ungraciousness manifested by our darling foreign nationals than locals. And because it is a personal observation, I understand its validity and factual value are deemed inferior to official statistics/surveys despite the latter are often being skewed conveniently to prove a point and therefore diminishing the value of truth much more than individuals’ observations. 

I heeded Mr Baey’s advice and reflected dutifully to avoid being accused of being divisive and precisely I did reflect that I eventually refuse to hide my appalling disgust at some foreign nationals. Reflection is futile, I do realize that. For what underscores Mr Baey’s advice of self-reflection is not about self reflection itself but a plot to restrain citizens from painting the foreign nationals in bad colours even if those were their genuine colours. These days, the word “foreigner” has become a forbidden word for citizens like me. Negative comments are immediately framed as a xenophobic gesture. Ugly Singaporeans is not an unspoken secret and I hate our ugly behaviour as well. Contrary to Mr Baey’s advice, Singaporeans have explicitly reprimanded ourselves on our poor hygiene (think of our toilets and flushing of toilets) and severe lack of civi-mindedness. Politicians even went further to introduce a series of hard and soft approaches in the forms of fines, corrective work and courtesy campaigns over the last two decades in cultivating a more gracious society. It was then. We were lectured in the 80s and 90s by our politicians about our ungraciousness, therefore the urge of a gracious society helmed by then PM Goh Chok Tong. Politicians were determined to "re-educate" our people. It was a positive move imo.

And because of the constant reminders and penalties meted out for failing to adhere to gracious behaviour over the decades, we begin to see glimpses of GCT’s gracious society. Even bad habits such as spitting, a distinctive trait among our ethnic chinese men has become a disappearing "trait" until it was re-ignited in recent years by the whole load of a specific group of foreign nationals with die-hard spitting habit across gender and age were unloaded onto our island.

By 2012, we have witnessed a play back of the ungraciousness and poor personal hygiene in the public that we used to “endure” and shockingly, new forms of ungraciousness appear fast and furious too. Contributed by foreign nationals. Supermarket trolleys discarded at HDB void decks, supermarket trolleys pushed onto shuttle buses, test-eating fruit in supermarkets .….are adding on to the traditional list of the unbecoming Singaporeans, and when the term “foreigner” is banned, all these undesirable traits are then conveniently or cunningly classified under Singaporeans' behaviour. Littering, spitting, jumping queue are on the growth again.

The distinction between citizens and foreign nationals (new citizens, PRs or foreign workers/talents) is needed, not for the purpose of promoting xenophobia, but to highlight (1) the growing trend of undesirable social behaviour (a frequent tourist to our island has written to our papers on finding more litter than 5 years ago) as the consequence of over-expansion of population; and (2) the justification of Singaporeans shouldering the accusation of a dirtier nation, appalling personal hygiene, more ungracious people when in actual fact, the no. of Singaporeans is dwindling against an increasing proportion of foreign nationals where 18 000 – 20 000 citizenships were given out in recent years.

Yes, Sim Ann, this is my hate-speech--I detest+hate+abhor poor hygiene manners and inconsiderate behaviour manifested in the public sphere regardless of the nationality of the offender. Nevertheless, it irks me more to find foreign nationals for exhibiting such manners because:

(1) Within my sphere of living space, I come across proportionately more ungracious foreign nationals than locals.

(2) The gradual improvement (nevertheless, there’s still more room for improvement) in our graciousness is promptly undermined by some foreign nationals.

(3) The proportion of foreign nationals* are growing whilst original Singaporeans (excluding the new citizens please) are proportionately shrinking.   

* My definition of foreign nationals differ from that of the politicians. Foreign nationals should comprise new citizens who were originally immigrants + PRs + foreign workers and talents.

Total population in Singapore=5.31 million @ Sep 2012
Citizens (original + new)
Non-resident population (people on various employment passes)

3.285 million
0.533 million
1.5 million

3.27 million citizens

Original citizens
New citizens

18 000 – 20 000 citizenships given out each year in recent years.
2005 -- 2010, Singapore added between 17,334 and 20,513 new citizens to the population each year. In 2011, the number dropped to 15,777. (The Straits Times - 8 July 2012)

Taking the conservative no. of 17 334 for the intake between 2005 – 2010 alone would give rise to more than 100 000 new citizens.

I exclude these new citizens from the original citizens’ co-hort as they are generally immigrants from foreign countries with their own social behaviour and have been exempted those years of “rigorous education” of social behaviour as the original citizens. With the unabated intake of new citizens, PRs and foreign people, we, the “original” citizens (the definition itself is vague, I know) are already fast becoming the minority in our own country before the official statistics would admit.

And because of the fast-changing demography between local citizens and foreign nationals, poor social bahviour among some foreign nationals is not a matter of a few black sheep, given their large numbers. Compounded by the poor social behaviour from our very own citizens, our civilization is going backward in greater scale and depths. Mr Baey and Ms Sim might not notice this changing trend as they live miles and centuries away from mundane places, such as our HDB flats and public transport where there is large presence of foreign nationals. Both would find life in Singapore the same as it was a decade ago.

Foreign labour has helped our country to fast forward into the advanced nations thru GDP figures and image-enhancing buildings/hardware and simultaneously, they are also lending us a hand to fast track into the uncivilized worlds.

How many foreign nationals (NC, PRs, FW/FT) can original Singaporeans embrace given the large presence of foreign nationals? It took us decades to re-educate our then small population of 3.5 million in the mid-90s and we are now looking at 5 million and are still going on to 6 million or so (Lee Hsien Loong said so). And please refrain from asking Singaporeans to embrace the foreign nationals. With the dwindling number of Singaporeans, we just do not have enough hands to do so.

Mr Baey and Ms Sim have been very concerned about hate speech and xenophobic comments demonstrated against foreign nationals. Their usage of hate speech or xenophobia are just mere distraction to the issue of holding double standards for original citizens and foreign nationals. If our ungracious behaviour back then irked the predecessors of Baey Kim Yam and Sim Ann, then why the silence now on the ungracious behaviour of the foreign nationals?

If xenophobia is the word for the hatred of foreigners, what is the equivalent word for the hatred of original citizens?

Singaporeans' and ministers' expectations on inflation

Lee Hsien Loong blames Singaporeans again for inflationary concerns.

A lot of Singaporeans feel they must have the latest and best. And that adds to the pressure of why you feel qian bu gou yong – money no enough.” – PM Lee Hsien Loong

According to him, it is not that the prices of goods have gone up but that Singaporeans' expectations have. With that, he cunningly swept the concerns of inflationary pressures under his extraordinary thick carpet.

“Expectations, buying things which you didn't use to buy, I think are a big part of why people feel housing costs (and the) cost of living have gone up.”  he said. So inflationary pressure is purely an individual’s sentiment.

No qualms about his intelligence when he exploits humans' insatiable greed for the intention to confuse the issues between desires and inflation where each are actually independent of each other. Insatiable greed is the intrinsic traits of us humans. It is true that in this day and age, we have lots of electronic gadgets which my parents' generation never had; not wrong to say either that I would want to possess infinite number of materials; and neither can LHL hide the fact that that the cost of basic goods in my parents' generation are comparatively more affordable in proportion to their salaries (my father was the only breadwinner) than it is for our current generation. Housing, education, healthcare and transport are the basic goods to start quality life. And these are the four areas which will impact the current generation more than previous generations.

Let us take a look at the pricing of HDB 4-room flats as a benchmark. Housing is a basic need for young couples to start families and 4 room flat should be reasonably spacious for young families.

On housing,

Between 1970s to 2010s, the jump in price of a 4 room flat is 18 times. I couldn’t find concrete figures for a fresh graduate in the 1970s but I do have the average graduate pay in 2012, that is, $2 678. Even without the exact figures for the 1970s, anyone could guess that current fresh graduate couldn’t be earning 18 times more than a graduate in the 70s could earn. And for non-graduates whose starting pay is lower than graduates’, HDB flats inflation is even greater for them. This is not a result of individuals’ higher expectations. It is a fact.  

Let's put it this way. Even if I give up purchasing ten iPads in the next twenty years till my retirement time, would that amount of savings suffice for my parents’ and my own medical costs by then after taken into account of future inflation rate of healthcare at the current rate? Is LHL implying that if young people were to give up their iPads, hairdos, their caviar, they would in turn “feel” BTO flats affordable?

A 4-room standard flat at Sengkang is priced at $ 225 000 (without grant) at Sep 2011. 8 months later, at May 2012, a 4-room standard flat at Sengkang started at $275 000, an increase of $50 000 compared to Sep 2011. 

You simply cannot save an amount of $50 000 in 8 months with a fresh graduate’s average pay, even if it means saving up every cent of that disposable income. Giving up ipads, hairdos, fine dining are futile in curbing the increasing price of HDB flats.

Desires do not result in inflation. And neither could void of desires curb inflation.

Given the inflation rate, putting aside the entire disposable income is hardly able to cushion the pricing of flats. What about the other two basic goods for families: medical and education. For some families, a single generation is taking care of the medical costs for two generations: a couple taking care of their elderly parents who have little CPF savings and their own future healthcare cost.

On our expectations on our public transport, we were in fact encouraged to believe that we have the best system in the world. It is not unreasonable then to expect the best. However, the fares rise inevitably, accompanied by a drastic fall in quality level. Think of comfort and reliability. On private vehicles, increasing number of vehicles give rise to more traffic congestions and ERP does little or nothing at all to resolve that matter.

On the other spectrum, let us take a look at the expectations of our ministers, people who are supposedly to be making huge sacrifices stepping into our political arena. The inflation of our ministerial salaries surpass the rate of inflation of our HDB flats:

Pay of ministers in 1970, $2 500 - $4 500 per month, approx. $30 000 – $55 000 each year. By 2012, ministers are paid $ 916 000 each month, totaling $ 1.1million in a year. That is 20 times the amount in 1970. 

The inflation of our HDB flats dwarfed that of our ministerial salaries inflation.

Apply LHL’s logic of high expectation,  ministers’ size of expectation is comparable to that of the planet Jupiter since the size of their salaries have been ballooned 20 times in thirty years. Therefore, it is little surprise to hear Grace Foo crying out in agony for her pay cut. 
The message which LHL is driving at is that expectations are reserved only for the ministers and elites, citizens are not entitled to have any of it. Simply put, give up hopes on his political party in resolving soaring prices on our basic goods.

Monday, October 01, 2012

From The Next Lap to National Conversation

I was browsing through the book “The Next Lap”, published in 1991 by The Government of Singapore, which was when Goh Chok Tong was at helm, and noted several discrepancies in what happened to Singapore between what was planned in the 1990s and the reality on the grounds 20 years after its publication.

1Projected population of 4 million people in 1991 for the next 20 – 30 years
In 1991, our population was projected for 4 million people, 50% more than the then population of 3.1 million (Source: Singapore Department of Statistics). In “The Next Lap”, it was stated that “...we can comfortably house 4 million people, 50 per cent more than now, and still improve our quality of life.” (pg 24 in The Next Lap).

Twenty years later, our population stands at 5.3 million, a 1.3 million people in excess. The 4 million population target is a huge contradiction to Lee Hsien Loong’s current vision of “6 million or so” for the future and “6 million or so” is a 100 % increase of our population in 1991.

Interestingly, it was perceived in 1991 that 4 million people allowed possible improvement of quality of life. This vision did not materialize as our current 5.3 million population has already slashed our quality in terms of infrastructure. It is terrifying to think of the damage with a further 2 million people as Lee Hsien Loong’s “6 million or so” might translate into 6.9 million people.

Other than the reduced quality of living, it also evidenced the short-sightedness of our government on our population growth. 20 years down the road, the 1991 vision of 4 million was retracted and in place is a projection of “6 million or so” people, exposing the little idea that our government, led by the same political party for 50 years, has. They have no concrete idea on the size of the population needed to beef up their insatiable GDP figures and profit margins.

(2) MRT system planned for 4 million population
The population mishap proves that all existing infrastructure was meant to cater for a population of 4 million. Today, our population stands at 5.3 and it is still growing towards 6 million or so.  

Our MRT system in 1991 was thus planned for 4 million. The 5 million population in 2011 has already strained our MRT system leading to the massive break down in 2011. Current public transport is still struggling. It is still to be seen how it would cope with a 6 million population, and not taking into account the additional one million tourists (Singapore received 13 million tourists in 2011) and growing medical tourists on our island each month. We have to think of the no. of cars on the road and the amount of pollution caused as they constitute part of quality life.

Although reactionary measures such as another hospital, more BTO flats and public transport fleet are on the way, it only serves to bare the ill-thought vision back in 1991. It gives me little confidence of the vision which Lee Hsien Loong is crafting now.

 “The Next Lap” was a written outline of a “programme to make Singapore more prosperous, gracious and interesting over the next 20 to 30 years” (quoted from the The Next Lap, Foreword--Beyond 1999, Pg 13). In a nutshell, “The Next Lap” was a vision of Goh Chok Tong’s Singapore in 20 – 30 years’ time. It is interesting to note the discrepancies between his vision then and what actually took place 20 years later. It is even more significant at a juncture when our country is in the stage of crafting a new vision, led by PM Lee Hsien Loong through the tool of National Conversation.

Would the vision of “6 million or so” population be switched to a target of 8 million or so five years down the road?