Thursday, June 29, 2006

Pushing the boundaries and seeking OB markers

From anonymous:
“No Doc,I hope you can show Singaporeans that we can agree to disagree with the government without harming our own prospects in any form.Show Singaporeans we can win by the book.Show PAP how is it like to win by the book which PAP will not do.Show everyone Singapore has room for civilised disagreements and rebellion.Hopefully, Singaporeans by looking at you will wake up somehow and stop fearing nothingness.”

Dear friends and fellow travellors ( of this long journey),

The above comment and many more like it has prompted me to write this.

I, as a private citizen of this nation called Singapore, feel that all of us have the right to discuss issues which we feel are crucial to our present and future well-being.

My colleagues had asked me many times, " What is your motivation for writing ( to the press)?" I suspect some of them actually want to say, " What is your ulterior motive?" but were too polite. One of them actually answered the question for me when he said, " Ah, you actually think you can change things?". I was too ashamed to admit it but in a stupid naive way, I probably do think that some good will come of this !

On the other hand, I do sometimes feel that maybe it is an exercise in futility as day after day, our intelligence and sense of integrity get insulted by more and more ridiculous pronouncements from them. Upgrading carrot ok! GRC is to attract PAP candidates! Are they just toying with us? Am I being used by them as a "showcase" that dissent is tolerated?

Sometimes I do wonder how much more we can endure?

But then occasionally I see letters in the forum pages from prominent members of the community ( ya, but not often enough ), who disagree with the inequality in the political arena. I get encouraged that mine is not a lone voice in the wilderness, shouting into the wind like a madman!

There are many other similar "madmen" who feel just as insensed as I about these issues. The friends I meet daily ( including patients) express to me their outrage about the methods of the establisments! I am not alone, they are telling me!

So here I go on, pushing the boundaries about how far our society should go about tearing down walls of inequality and injustice. BUT ALL WITHIN THE LAW. Laws are made by parliaments and parliaments are elected by people! Yes, sometimes people do silly things! ( like electing people who make laws that the people don't want)

No one knows where the boundaries or the OB ( golf term for Out of Bounds) markers are ( not even them!). I guess you will know when I am put inside !( I will try to pull back before it is too late- ha ha!).

While all of us have some fears,it would be much easier and we can make a stronger case for more liberalisation, if we stand up and say, I, Mr. Tan Ah Kow ( or whatever name), write ( to whatever forum) that I agree or disagree on this ( or that) and my reasons are ...

Anonymous letters are not good for this. There is no credibilty ( although my anon friends obviously have substance from the way they write). Perhaps after hearing more brave voices will they sit up and realise that even the pro-establisment types are no longer pro-establishment!

Just do it. Write on!

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

GRC: The Whole Truth Finally

Dear friends,

Now finally the truth is out about the GRC's actual roles.

It is a shame that PAP is unable to attract candidates based on ideology and idealism . So no one will sacrifice anything for the nation?

In stark contrast we see the people in the other political parties who have passion and enthusiasm. Although they have nothing to gain, they continue on, year after year, motivated only by the notion that what they are doing is right!

Unfortunately their efforts may not amount to anything concrete as their desire to serve the nation would be obstructed by the ruling establishment who are in control of the government machinery and the nation's purse-strings and would very likely use all manners of rules and regulations ( albeit legally) to prevent them from attaining their aims of social justice and true unfettered democracy.

The PAP is saying in our face, we are using the GRC to our advantage; we use government monies to get PAP votes etc. We can do it and have done it. You can do nothing about it!

Let me quote from Professor Linda Lim ( see post below : Singapore, Place or nation?)
who said, “In the same manner, it is when I enter public service even though it pays a fraction of what I could earn in the private sector, that I can claim to be primarily interested in the public good and national welfare and to have a passion for public service.”


Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

Straits Times June 27, 2006
GRCs make it easier to find top talent: SM
Without good chance of winning at polls, they might not be willing to risk careers for politics
By Li Xueying

SENIOR Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday gave a new take on the role of Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) in Singapore politics.

Their role is not just to ensure minorities are adequately represented in Parliament, he said. They also contribute to Singapore's political stability, by 'helping us to recruit younger and capable candidates with the potential to become ministers'.

'Without some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, many able and successful young Singaporeans may not risk their careers to join politics,' Mr Goh said at an event marking the appointment of members to the South East Community Development Council (CDC).

'Why should they when they are on the way up in the civil service, the SAF, and in the professions or the corporate world?

'But he was quick to add that GRCs themselves do not guarantee victory.

'A minister wins only because he has won the people's trust and the Government has delivered good results for the people. If a minister performed poorly, it could result in his losing the GRC to an opposing team with a strong leader,' he said, in what appears to be an oblique reference to comments made against GRCs in the general election held this May.

Since GRCs were introduced in 1988, critics and the opposition have attacked them, saying they allow rookie People's Action Party (PAP) candidates to get into Parliament on the coat tails of heavyweight candidates in their team.

Also, they do not lend themselves to a level playing field, they add, as the opposition struggles to find the specified minority-race candidates.

Mr Goh carried four new faces into Parliament in the six-man Marine Parade GRC team, which was unchallenged at the 2006 polls.

(The rest of article truncated)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Anonymous bloggers and pseudonyms

Dear friends,
I refer to the recent debate about anonymous bloggers and would like to express my opinion not just about blogging but also about providing “feedback” in general.

Netizens who post anonymously (even with pseudonyms) do so for various reasons:-

1. Some have to
Their employers (eg civil service or just plain illiberal bosses) do not allow employees to post matters which may be interpreted as being anti-establishment. In any case, it would be unprofessional for any of us to ventilate publicly confidential matters relating to our firms or professions.

2. Some want to
Some feel (erroneously) that anonymity allows them the liberty to publish just about anything without having to tediously back up their assertions with facts or proof. Most of us who read these would be foolhardy to take them more seriously than to say, a coffee-shop gossip.

3. Perceived fear (irregardless of whether real or not)
Unfortunately there are some who fear that any opinion - even if credible and valid, so long as it goes against the grain of “political correctness”, is not welcome by the authorities and will be responded to with the sledgehammer. Their perception that we are some sort of a “quasi-police state “somehow seems more than a paranoia to them. Hence, everything is a conspiracy to “fix” them. Sometimes these perceived fears are understandable.

Although I sympathise with the first group ( ie those that had to be anonymous), I feel that with “globalization”, the authorities will have no choice but to loosen the grip of what I consider an overly paternalistic “nanny-state”. The only question is not if but when.

I have also observed that when the newspapers’ forum pages discontinued the practice of allowing pseudonyms (many years back), the quality of letters increased noticeably. No writer wants to look the fool making unsubstantiated allegations without proof!

My hope is that more would stand up to be counted with sincere but candid opinions, irrespective of where one stands on our nation’s issues. If we do not speak out from the heart, the establishment may end up hearing what they want to hear due to “selective retention” and that would not be good for all of us.

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

(The above was printed in Straits Times forum page 28 June 06)

I have attached related letters ( from the ST online forum pages ) below

Letter No. 1.
June 22, 2006SITNews:
Bloggers should have the conviction to stand behind any statements they make and not hide under the cloak of anonymity

I refer to the report, 'Divided views over police checks on blogger' (The Sunday Times, June 18).
Personally, I have developed a great distaste and distrust of bloggers who post anonymously or use pseudonyms to disguise their identities. I can understand that sometimes anonymous postings are unavoidable. However, when postings on the Internet are seditious or have a tendency to deliberately wound the religious feelings of any person, the perpetrator of the posting should have the full weight of the law brought to bear on him or her.
It appears to be the norm for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms to blame, insult and rant out against the Government or individuals believing that their postings can better the political process or current events concerning Singapore. Netizens have no legal or constitutional right to condemn the whistle blower who brought blogger Char's blasphemous posting of pictures of Jesus Christ on the Internet to the attention of the police. The conduct of netizens is similar to that of cyber terrorists since netizens have unashamedly condoned the seditious posting of Char, which could have sparked off strong reaction as did the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper in February this year. Fortunately, Char's blasphemous and seditious posting happened in Singapore, a country of tolerance. I am certain that if this letter is published in The Straits Times, netizens and other cyber-terrorists will have a field day posting all kinds of nasty or defamatory remarks against me. They will do so anonymously or using pseudonyms. To these cyber-terrorists I say, 'Be brave and don't hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms'.
They should have the conviction to stand behind any statements they make. If they do not have the confidence and passion to put their names beside their statements, I am sure that all right-thinking people cannot take them seriously. It appears to be the current trend for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity to act irresponsibly by ranting and musing about current events. If their ratings and musings do not cross the line of fair comment, they are free to do as they please. However, for bloggers who choose to post seditious and inflammatory comments that could cause anarchy by damaging the fabric of religious and racial harmony; they should be dealt with vigorously under the law. Cases of this nature should not be dealt with by the Community Court where the punishment meted out could be probation and performing a number of hours doing community service. They deserve a more deterrent punishment. I hope that I do not sound 'sub-judice', but I hope that blogger Char receives his just deserts for his blasphemous and seditious posting.
Lionel De Souza


Letter No. 2

June 24, 2006SITNews: Not true to say bloggers hide under cloak of anonymity to rant against govt

We refer to the letter 'Bloggers should have the conviction to stand behind any statements they make and not hide under the cloak of anonymity' by Lionel de Souza (ST, June 22). We believe that Mr de Souza's claim that bloggers usually hide under the cloak to rant against the government and others is seriously misguided.
Most bloggers reveal their real identities, as we can see from people such as Mr Lee Kin Mun (mrbrown) and Mr Benjamin Lee (Mr Mayagi).
Bloggers' critical commentaries that are logical and backed by facts play a part to better shape our country politically, as we can see from Gayle Goh's (i-speak) recent postings that prompted Mr Bilahari Kausikan, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to respond.
Despite the use of pseudonyms by some bloggers, views that are coherent and sound have been considered by the media, as The Straits Times did for Mr Wang's views in the original report 'Divided views over police checks on blogger' (The Sunday Times, June 18).
Furthermore, blogging with anonymity does not guarantee that the bloggers cannot be traced, as we saw the identification and conviction of three bloggers last year for flouting the Sedition Act.
It is a great misjustice to tar the entire group of netizens as cyber-terrorists just because of the acts of a few, and it is unfortunate for Mr de Souza to make further sweeping statements that bloggers will go all out to disparage him online. Mr de Souza's hasty conclusions on Char's actions and his advocacy for more punishment is very distrubting to us.
It should be noted that he is only being investigated by the police for the alleged cartoons and has not been charged with breaching the Sedition Act.
Everyone has the right to scrutinise the whistle-blowers' actions and see for himself whether his actions are indeed justified. We wonder if Mr de Souza has viewed the four cartoons in question before making a such strong conviction that Char is guilty of sedition and blasphemy.
We would like to express disappointment on the publication of such prejudiced views. We are sure that readers and netizens are right-minded enough to decide for themselves whether to take Mr de Souza's opinions seriously.
Kua Keat Hou
Hee En Hua

Monday, June 19, 2006

Singapore: Place or nation? or does it matter?

Dear friends,
I am gravely troubled by Professor Linda Lim’s commentary (ST 19 June 06 Singapore: Place or nation?) not because of its brutal candor but because much of what she says is valid. If her insightful pronouncement is even remotely true, then a serious reappraisal of many national policies is surely long overdue.

As Singapore’s stakeholders, it is right that we ponder on some serious questions which her commentary has generated.

Is the state’s overpowering economic role “crowding out” our SME’s? Is there more that can be done to help any of our budding entrepreneurs?

How do we ensure that foreign talents really add value to us and not just take away much needed jobs? Have firms abused the policy to hire cheap workers from around the region at the expense of our own unemployed?

It is a no-brainer that most firms, if faced with a choice of employing a Singaporean or a worker from the region for half to 2/3 the Singaporean’s rate, will hire the latter! Where does that leave the less educated older retrenched Singaporean? Left on the shelf again after being unfairly accused of being “fussy” or being “unrealistic!”

It is probably the government’s hope that some of the more highly qualified foreigners would sink roots here and become useful contributing citizens and help compensate for our feeble procreation rate. It is understandable that many will use Singapore merely as a “stepping stone” en route to the promised-land in the West. I guess even if a few good ones remain, it is worth the trouble? As the Hokkien saying goes, “If there is no fish, prawns will do!” That is the new reality? We are, as economists say, “price-takers”.

Forging a Singapore identity will then be that much harder as these new Singaporeans may just as quickly leave when another place offers them superior opportunities.

Regarding nationhood, the professor’s “na├»ve” idealism showed when she said, “It is when I stick around when a place cannot guarantee me a good life, or I am concerned with the welfare of others in that place, and try to improve things even at a risk to my own good life (say, I join the political opposition), that I can say I am of the nation, and not just the place.

She also said, “In the same manner, it is when I enter public service even though it pays a fraction of what I could earn in the private sector, that I can claim to be primarily interested in the public good and national welfare and to have a passion for public service.”

Or should we all just be philosophical about the whole thing and consider Singapore’s existence as just a temporary blip in time-space continuum and agree with Rousseau who said,” If Sparta and Rome perished, what State can hope to endure for ever?

On a more serious note, Prof. Lim has done us a favour as it is because she is sufficiently detached from us that she is able to provide an objective bird’s eye view of where we are heading towards. Her commentary will either strike a chord or touch a raw nerve, but it cannot be ignored or wished away.


Happy pondering!

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

I attach Professor Linda Lim's commentary for your reference:

Singapore: Place or nation?
What makes a country a home? Is it emotional ties or purely economic self-interest?
By Linda Lim, For The Straits Times Jun 19, 2006
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE'S economic development has never relied on its being a nation. First a colonial port where immigrant merchants and labour served the needs of the British empire, after independence in 1965 its economic policy still located the city-state within the regional trade and global production networks of foreign corporations.
Unlike Asia's other export-oriented 'developmental states' - Japan, South Korea and Taiwan - Singapore did not actively nurture or encourage a local capitalist class. Foreign and state enterprises were favoured, so 'national champion' outfits such as Toyota, Samsung and Acer never developed.
Instead, Singapore has always been a 'global city' - a place where parts and people are imported to produce goods and services that are exported to foreign consumers.
To be sure, given its size constraints, the strategy of being a niche player in multinationals' global value chains is quite defensible, even if other small countries - such as Switzerland, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand - have managed to grow locally owned global companies.
However, in Singapore, it is not market actors but the state that targets particular niches in global value chains, filling them overwhelmingly with subsidiaries of foreign enterprises. State policy has shaped local resources - labour, land, infrastructure, housing, fiscal regimes and cultural amenities - to provide a competitive place for particular foreign economic entities to locate.
The standard justification for state intervention in an economy is 'market failure' - where resources are not efficiently allocated because of the divergence of private and social costs and benefits.
In health, education and infrastructure, for example, society's net gain from an investment is greater than the private return to the individual, resulting in under-investment if left to market forces.
Market failure is common in developing countries but, as they develop, so do markets. State intervention then becomes less necessary. Yet the Singapore state has kept its developmental role and control of the economy way past the stage at which a market-believer would expect it to 'wither away'.

Active targeting

IT DOES not merely enhance productivity through social investments, but also determines the sectoral allocation of resources by shaping relative resource endowments and moulding competitive advantage in certain industries.
Thus state policy has targeted the development of specific 'clusters' in which Singapore does not have the requisite local resources, markets or leading companies.
In the capital- and talent-intensive field of the life sciences, foreign talent is imported (sometimes by paying above-world-market rates), and capital subsidies provided to foreign firms, to produce medical breakthroughs for global consumers.
This might make Singapore a profitable place for parts of the life sciences' global value chain to locate. But it is not clear where Singapore the nation benefits, since the jobs, profits and goods are produced overwhelmingly by and for foreigners. In this case, the Singapore state may be seen as acting as a steward of the interests of non-Singaporeans.
Foreign and local economic interests may be complementary. But if the state did not attract, steer and push resources in the direction of the life sciences, resources would be allocated to other sectors by local entrepreneurs. In a market economy, every investment choice, private or public, has an opportunity cost against which its economic benefit must be evaluated.
The Singapore state's penchant for 'picking winners' reflects its continued adherence to the last generation's successful industrial policy, and its distrust of markets and local private entrepreneurs as drivers of the economy, and possibly also as alternative leaders of a more pluralistic political and social system.

A contradiction

THE official encouragement of entrepreneurship is based on a contradiction, since individual initiative and risk-taking in response to market forces are the essence of private entrepreneurship, not government exhortations, training and incentives. Both entrepreneurship and creativity spring from social conditions and an economic policy environment very different from the top-down control model found in Singapore.
The economic primacy of place over nation is reflected in the government's recent decision to allow international gaming companies to establish casinos in Singapore. Responding to local objections based on 'values' as well as economic concerns, the government argued that casinos would not undermine Singapore society because Singaporeans would not be involved in the business as consumers but only as workers - though we may expect casino employees to be disproportionately foreign.
Singapore, in short, is to be a place where foreign profits are earned from foreign customers served disproportionately by foreign workers, and it is only the disentanglement of place from nation that makes the casino enterprise justifiable, given national objections. Such disentanglement may be considered inevitable given contemporary globalisation trends, the diminution of nationalism globally and Singapore's small size.
A state-directed foreign-dependent place-based economic development strategy could also yield higher income and non-monetary returns to nationals than market-determined local-entrepreneur-led nation-based activities.
But there are also economic risks and potential losses associated with defining Singapore merely as a place in competition with other places around the world. It exposes us to US columnist Tom Friedman's 'flat world' - ultimately a cost-based contest we cannot win - rather than building the particular competencies and strategies based on difference rather than sameness that strategy professors believe allow premium incomes to be earned by taking advantage of the world's roundness, rather than surrendering to its flatness.
For Singapore, this would mean 'market positioning' as a regional rather than a global city, exploiting location-specific advantages and limited regional competition, versus replicating the amenities of multiplying other 'global cities' such as London, New York or Shanghai.
Place-based economic development also has implications for Singapore as a nation. Most of the foreign workers who constitute a large part of Singapore's workforce are lower-skilled so will not be given the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. For them, Singapore is merely a place, not a nation.
The situation at the upper, more-educated, skilled and higher-income levels of the labour force is of more interest to the nation since it tends to be elites who lead nations and define nationhood.

Stepping stone

THE government's 'foreign talent' policy resonates with our own immigrant history and, by shifting our comparative advantage towards more highly skilled activities, is complementary, as well as competitive, with local talent. But compared with the United States, which has a similar history and policy, immigrants form a much larger proportion of the labour force here and are particularly highly represented at its upper echelons.
My own experience with Chinese and Indian nationals who studied in Singapore's universities, often on Singapore government scholarships, worked here for a few years, then went to the US to pursue their MBAs, suggests that most use the place as a stepping stone to the American job market. They tell me it is easier to get into a top American MBA programme, and to get a US visa, if they apply from Singapore than from their home countries. In the US, they tend to identify much more with students from their countries of origin, than with Singaporeans.
Economically, the circular flow of talent may benefit the economy by enhancing its flexibility. But politically and socially it may be a problem.
The nation, after all, is a political entity, and its ability to survive as such is already undermined in an era when globalisation allows economic survival and prosperity to occur with the bypassing of the national authorities in an increasingly 'borderless' world.
Today, in Singapore, place and nation increasingly do not coincide: Many of those in the place are not of the nation, and many of the nation are not to be found in the place.
What then constitutes the nation if it is to be more than an aggregation of the temporary or permanent residents of a place?
As elsewhere, there are different ways of 'being Singaporean', though much of our pre-nation-state identity was erased - most notably through language policy - to forge a 'new' national identity that would not conflict with survival and prosperity in a globalised world or encourage challenge to established domestic political authority.
National identity has been reshaped to serve economic and political goals, with the state itself becoming the determinant and arbiter of acceptable ethnic identities and their expressions, such as the enforced diminution of the Malay heritage of Peranakan Chinese and of the dialect heritage of the majority non-Mandarin-speaking Chinese.
If what makes a nation is its collective memory and shared values, it is difficult to find the nation in a place where memory has been erased or reconstructed and values pared to emphasise only social stability and material prosperity.
Fearful of the emergence of alternate centres of power, the Singapore state has pre-empted local private initiative in civil society as well as the economy, precluding the independent political involvement which engages and defines the citizens of nations but is typically denied foreigners, making them easier to control and, thus perhaps, the preferred inhabitants of the place.
A high-performing paternalistic state which engenders passive dependence and apathy on the part of contented - or fearful - citizens is perhaps a greater threat to nationhood than an under-performing state which permits and provokes active civic and political participation.
A nation cannot exist in a political vacuum and, as in any organisation, the empowerment of stakeholders is necessary to engender the 'sense of ownership' that can elicit the best performance from citizens as well as foreign talent.
As parents and teachers, we know that the best way to develop our children and students is to let them 'own' projects and make their own mistakes while 'learning-by-doing', even though we may be more efficient at doing things than they are.
A 'global city' implies 'global citizens' like our immigrant ancestors, distinguished by their willingness and ability to move and change nationality in response to the ever-shifting competitive attractions of other places. A 'global city' also requires leadership by a cosmopolitan elite able to navigate the complexities of a global economy, further legitimating continued political control by the members of such an elite. We may even end up with a situation where Singaporean 'heartlanders', emotionally committed to their birthplace and relatively immobile in the global job market, are ruled by potentially footloose 'foreign talent', while members of the Singapore-born elite, raised to be 'global', depart for foreign shores.

Biodiversity

VIEWING Singapore as a 'place' versus a 'nation' affects public policy. For example, Nature Society president Geh Min has noted that viewing Singapore as a city results in its physical environment being managed by urban planners and our land resources treated as real estate, defined by their globally determined commercial market value. Open spaces are seen as having value only as manicured parks, improving the urban quality of life.
Considering Singapore as a nation, however, would result in its physical territory, including the biodiversity represented in wild areas, being valued as a national treasure and birthright. Wild lands might then be preserved in their natural state for their emotive and affective appeal for nationals.
In education, Singapore the place and global city would overweight technical training of commercial value in subordinate parts of global value chains, and underweight the study of Singapore history, languages and literature which, like its security and economic future, are inextricably linked with those of its South-east Asian neighbours.
Singaporean scholarship students in the US have told me that they are often embarrassed that they do not know enough about their country and its neighbourhood to answer the questions of interested Americans.
Many Singaporeans see 'no use' in learning or thinking about our own past or present, while foreign faculty in local universities shy away from doing research on Singapore that might be construed as 'controversial' or critical of the imagined local conventional wisdom.
A place 'unknown' to its own privileged and educated youth, and which fades away in teaching and research, risks disappearing as a nation.
I believe that national identity must have an irrational and not just an economically rational component, coming from emotional ties rather than pragmatic self-interest.
If I choose to become a member of a nation because it gives me a good job and lifestyle, I am really interested in that nation only as a place, and it makes sense if one day I leave it for another place which can offer me superior conditions and opportunities.
It is when I stick around when a place cannot guarantee me a good life, or I am concerned with the welfare of others in that place, and try to improve things even at a risk to my own good life (say, I join the political opposition), that I can say I am of the nation, and not just the place.
In the same manner, it is when I enter public service even though it pays a fraction of what I could earn in the private sector, that I can claim to be primarily interested in the public good and national welfare and to have a passion for public service.
A recent audience of Singaporean students at an Ivy League university nearly all raised their hands when I asked if they were 'afraid of failure'. But tolerance of risk and acceptance of failure are required for political democracy, business entrepreneurship, knowledge creation and scientific discovery.
If 'fear of failure' among the young elite of a place as successful as Singapore comes from a culture created by a strong state (since it is not present in ethnic Chinese communities elsewhere), this may undermine the nation, and possibly even the economy of the place itself.

The writer, a Singaporean, is professor of strategy at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and director of the Centre for South-east Asian Studies, University of Michigan.This article is adapted from a talk given at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies on June 8.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Upgrading as carrot: expect more of the same

Mr.Mah Bow Tan (Straits Times 17 June 2006)
Upgrading is a unique programme by Govt


I REFER to the commentary by Ms Chua Mui Hoong and the letters from Mr Basant Kapur, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Yee Jenn Jong on the upgrading programme for public-housing estates (ST, June 13 and 16).
The writers argued that the Government has a fiduciary obligation to act on behalf of all Singaporeans who pay taxes and serve national service. I agree. Indeed, the Government has provided all Singaporeans with good and affordable health care, subsidised public housing, equal opportunity to receive a good education, and much more.
However, the upgrading of our older public-housing estates is over and above these basic obligations of the Government. It is funded out of Budget surpluses generated by the PAP Government. No other government in the world has anything similar, in terms of scale and commitment.
The PAP presented upgrading as one of its key programmes during the election. It asked for the people's support in order to carry out these programmes. Having received a clear mandate, the Government will now fulfil its promise to the people.
Upgrading is a national programme that will be implemented in all constituencies. But we cannot avoid prioritising upgrading, due to limited resources. It is not a question of generosity or otherwise by the Government, as Mr Yee suggested. Between PAP and opposition constituencies, other things being equal, PAP constituencies will go first, as the Government had made clear before the election. Ms Lim herself noted that no one living in an opposition ward expects special treatment, i.e. to jump ahead of PAP wards.
Ms Lim stated that election campaigns should be fought over long-term national policies which affect Singaporeans' lives deeply. Again, I agree. Unfortunately, during the election Ms Lim did not ask voters to think deeply about long-term national policies and support the Workers' Party because it offered better policies than the PAP. Instead, she told them to go ahead and vote opposition, even if they wanted a PAP Government and its policies, because they could safely assume that the PAP would win, anyway. If enough Singaporeans had taken her advice, the opposition parties would have ended up governing Singapore, even though at least two thirds of Singaporeans preferred a PAP Government.
Hence, the need for the HDB upgrading-priority policy, so that Singaporeans' votes will make a difference to their own lives in HDB estates, as well as decide which party will govern Singapore. Only then can our system of democracy work. Only then can we stay together, and move ahead.
Mah Bow TanMinister for National Development

My comments: The cynics on both sides have won! The line has been drawn in the sand.
I was hoping that there would be some sort of "healing" after the GE and that we can genuinely move ahead as a nation regardless of how we voted. I was not insincere when I credited the PM for wanting to come together as one people and moving on and "making things happen".( can't find the exact quotation- too early in the day and brain not functioning)
I guess cynics have a right to say, " I TOLD YOU SO!"
Is there no hope that this government can ever rise above the level of parochial divisive politics?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Shocking! …yet not unexpected? “Upgrading for all wards, BUT PAP ONES FIRST”

Upgrading for all wards, but PAP ones first (Sunday Times 11th June 2006)
By

NATIONAL Development Minister Mah Bow Tan has come out to clear the air on the upgrading of opposition wards, saying that their lifts will be upgraded by 2015 at the latest, but PAP wards will still get priority.
His comments will surprise those who thought that the policy of upgrading PAP wards first was ripe for change, after the ruling party failed to win back Hougang and Potong Pasir at the recent polls despite offering $180 million in improvement works for the two ageing estates.
After the election results on May 7, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the People's Action Party (PAP) would have to review its strategy in the opposition wards.
But in an interview with The Sunday Times on Friday, Mr Mah made it clear that this review would not affect the policy of giving lift upgrading priority to PAP wards. 'There is no change, that policy still remains. We've looked at it and we believe that that is still something we have to do,' he said.
Giving PAP wards priority does not mean that the Government intends to deprive opposition wards of upgrading, he added, although this point might have been lost in 'the heat and the noise of the elections'.
The Government has pledged that by 2015, all HDB blocks will have lifts that stop on every floor, with the exception of a small number of blocks whose designs make such works too costly.
Mr Mah said this includes blocks in opposition wards.
'We intend to honour this commitment, 2015, all eligible blocks will have their lifts upgraded,' he said.
The ramping up of the lift upgrading programme means a close to two-fold increase in the national upgrading budget over the next few years, to between $500 million and $600 million per financial year.
About 130 blocks in Hougang and Potong Pasir are eligible for improved lifts but they are not the oldest blocks to have gone without upgrading.
Mr Mah said about 800 blocks in PAP wards are as old or older and have not been upgraded at all. They are located in areas such as Queenstown, Bukit Merah, Tiong Bahru, Marine Parade, Serangoon, Woodlands, Marsiling, Yishun and Kampung Ubi.
'I can't put the opposition blocks at the head of the queue, ahead of these 800. Surely not,' he said.
To select precincts for upgrading, the ministry uses three criteria: the age of the blocks, the geographical spread to ensure upgrading is not concentrated in only a few constituencies and support for the Government.
While acknowledging that many thought it unfair to link votes to upgrading, Mr Mah defended the policy as 'not unreasonable'.
He said the massive and costly upgrading programme was only possible because of the Government's policies, which generated economic growth and the Budget surpluses needed to fund it.
And these policies could only be implemented if the Government received the people's mandate.
'We really need to be fair to the people who voted for the PAP candidate. Upgrading has been a major election platform for the PAP and those who support the PAP candidate expect their MPs to deliver on their promises.'
lydia@sph.com.sg


Comments:
I cannot recall who said,” The more things change, the more they remain ..the same!”
Did we ( or I ) expect something different and better from the authorities? Is that why I am disappointed that the PAP’s policy towards using upgrading as a carrot remains unchanged? I am flabbergasted and lost for words. That is why I will refrain from any more comments (on this issue) at this moment lest I say something I will regret later.

Have a nice weekend everyone. Condolences to football widows and orphans! For the rest of us (fans and gamblers), good luck!

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Singapore Squash: Time to recreate our past glory

Singapore Squash to introduce sport to primary schools By Patwant Singh, Channel NewsAsia


Singapore squash, a powerhouse in the region two decades ago, wants to make a comeback. Targeting the youth is one way to get the sport swinging again, and Singapore's hosting of the 1st Asian Junior Individual Squash Championship is timely. 96 participants from eight countries are here to compete. Singapore is fielding some promising youngsters, for both the Under-15 and Under-19 categories. The event was made possible with some generous sponsors, but the sport needs more. Teo Ser Luck, Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, said: "As a Ministry, we need to work very closely with SSC as well as the NSAs like Squash (Singapore Squash Rackets Association), in order to find out what exactly they need so that we can revive the sport of squash. We have the potential to be world beaters in this sport. We have been there before - sixth in the world in our heyday - and maybe it's time to bring back the good old days." The Singapore Squash Rackets Association hopes to do so by reaching out to the very young. Mini squash for primary schools will be introduced next year. Desmond Hill, president of the Singapore Squash Rackets Association, said: "We are actually drawing the scheme from one that was done by Hong Kong Squash Association. They have got a very successful junior development programme and I think we can learn from them." Using portable courts, mini squash can be set up anywhere in the school. The idea is to make it fun for the kids. Four schools will be targeted during the roadshows in October. - CNA/ir

S C Huang: I recall the days when local squash icons like Zainal Abidin, Peter Hill,Steward Ballard,Jeremy Yeo dominated the squash headlines not just in Singapore but all around the region. If my memory serves me right, we were second only to Pakistan in Asia. Who can forget their Jehangir Khan and Jenshar Khan?
In those days, all and sundry would swarm to the squash courts after school ( or in lieu of school- ha ha) and I even sneaked into SICC masquerading as a sibling of a classmate whose father was a member there. Such was our desperation to hit the ball!
Just as inexplicably, the craze faded about a decade later and the squash courts in the clubs and condos were quickly converted for other sports ( eg pingpong).
The Malaysian kids then became better and hungrier for success and the rest , as they say, is history. Now they have a lady's world champion in Nicole David.
I hope that Mr. Hill ( Peter's father izit?) can rekindle the interest and make us a "squashing" champion again. We need some heroes! Good Luck

Monday, June 05, 2006

About the Institute of Policy Studies’ post-GE survey and what’s next

The Institute of Policy Study post-election survey has confirmed what I have long suspected.
It is that I am indeed part of an overwhelming majority who feel that “fairness of government policy” and the desire for “checks and balances” are important. I can safely say now that mine are the views of a typical Singaporean and not those of the “radical English-educated intelligentsia” as previously thought. We are not a minority that can be ignored on the excuse that we are a lunatic fringe.

We want fairness and different views
According to the survey more than 80% of respondents felt that “Fairness of government policy”, “Need for different views in Parliament”, “Need (for) checks and balances in Parliament” were essential to them in the recent polls. They indicated that these were "very important" or "important" to them.
http://www.ips.org.sg/pub/Gillian%20Koh_Post%20Election%20Survey_020606.pdf

Don't use upgrading as a carrot
In this same survey, “Upgrading” was considered unimportant as an influence for the way they voted as only 30% indicated it as "very important" or "important". The findings clearly show that to use “upgrading” as a carrot is insulting to Singaporeans in general and the voters in Hougang and Potong Pasir in particular. This tactic should be dead and finally buried.

Be fair to Hougang/Potong Pasir: provide funds
It is my sincere hope that the authorities will honor the wishes of the electorates in these two constituencies. Funds should be made available to them for upgrading on an objective “needs-basis”. As mentioned by many ad nauseam, the voters of Hougang and PP pay the same tax as everyone else and should thus be treated fairly. Also,it would not do to have any eye-sores or slums in our midst in view of impending exciting developments such as the Integrated Resorts.

The MP's should be grassroot advisors
Low Thia Kiang and Chiam See Tong, as rightfully elected MP’s should be appointed advisors to the grassroot organizations which are, after all, supposedly “apolitical” and funded from the national coffers. Any grassroot leaders who find it detestable and odious to serve a non-PAP MP have the right to resign,of course. There is no compulsion and it is voluntary, even if it is to serve the people.

Conclusion
The route to an open and responsible democracy will not necessarily be smooth but will definitely be a journey worth attempting.

S C Huang

(an extract of this article has been published in the forum section of The Straits Times 6th June 2006 as "Give opposition MP's and wards their dues")