Friday, May 29, 2009

Singapore's electoral reform- Great but ...

Hi Friends,

The following letter was published in today's Straits Times Forum page.

Although some of the points seemed suspiciously similar to Sylvia's speech, please note that the letter was submittted on the night of 27th May but Sylvia spoke after that. Maybe we have telepathy?


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

The published letter (29.5.09) ST Forum

YESTERDAY'S report, 'Parliament to get more diverse voices', left me pleasantly surprised by the wide range of changes to the electoral system announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament on Wednesday.

Although some may construe this as an ingenious gambit by the establishment to liberalise Singapore's political system with little risk to People's Action Party (PAP) dominance, the neutrals will deem it otherwise.

Most Singaporeans will see this as a magnanimous gesture by PM Lee to increase representation by non-PAP MPs to at least 10 per cent (nine opposition members), or 20 per cent if Nominated MPs are included.

This is a tacit recognition that we are all Singaporeans, whoever we vote for, and that a diversity of views is a strength and not a weakness.

To reduce scepticism further, I suggest the following:

  • Set up an independent Electoral Commission comprising prominent Singaporeans, because the electoral system must not only be fair but must also be seen to be fair.
  • Boundary changes should be made at least a year before any election to allow interested parties to work the ground.
  • Avoid sheltering new PAP candidates in group representation constituencies as the heat of electoral battle is a prerequisite for any politician. Those without the stomach for a contest may not have the right stuff sought by the electorate.
  • Instead of non-elected NMPs, consider substituting non-partisan independent candidates who are nominated by interest groups like the present six groups: business and industry; the professions; labour movement; social and community organisations; media, arts and sports; and tertiary education institutions; plus the newly mooted 'people sector'.
    Two to three prospective candidates from each group should be shortlisted by a panel and the nine independent candidates should seek the electorate's vote on polling day. Such a format is better than the present NMP scheme, which lacks the people's mandate.
  • Further liberalise the right of peaceful demonstration. We need more Singaporeans who are passionate about a wide range of issues and who are not afraid to show it.
Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Burma: Peace virgil for Aung San Suu Kyi

Hi Friends,

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Edmund Burke Irish orator, philosopher, & politician (1729 - 1797)

I have used Burke’s quotation more than a few times in my posts about Burma’s actions against its own people and against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I still feel that its use is appropriate as the regime remains intransigient and despotic.

I have written so many posts about Burma that one may be forgiven if one thinks I have a personal “ axe to grind” with its rulers. I have neither family nor commercial ties with Burma. In fact the nearest I have been to Burma was probably Chiang Mai or Bangkok.

The only Burmese I know are humble hardworking folks, including competent operating theatre nurses, helpful IT engineers who solve my computer problems and the amiable doctors whom I meet at regional medical conferences. I know many who actually become solid Singapore citizens who add positively to our so-called hardworking “Asian” work-ethics.

Gerald Giam had eloquently written recently to the ST Forum and I shall also link his blog-post about the recent events regarding Daw Aung and the Burmese regime. Read here
I have posted extensively about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese regime over the past few years and I shall just link it for those who want to read them.

1. Does Myanmar deserve ASEAN? July 13 2006
2. Aung San Suu Kyi: Yet another year in detention! May 26, 2007
3. Myanmar's brave Buddhist clergy and personal thoughts on peaceful protest September 24, 2007
4. Burma’s despotic regime has crossed the line September 27, 2007

5. Myanmar needs our support… but the silence is deafening. September 25, 2007
6. ASEAN's rebuke of Burma welcomed but more action needed September 29, 2007
7. Havel, Walesa and Tutu:Living proof that evil does not always triumph September 30, 2007
8. Why No Singaporean question and no Singaporean marches. October 10, 2007

9. Burma: Time for healing November 10, 2007
10. Burma fools the world (again) February 20, 2008
11.Burma's cyclone disaster: Time for unconditional giving May 06, 2008
12. Burma’s xenophobic actions leave me almost speechless! May 09, 2008
13. ASEAN, please expel Burma May 19, 2008

14. Burma continues crackdown while the world looks the other way November 20, 2008
15. Action from UN needed for Burma and Zimbabwe! December 04, 2008

I fervently support Singapore and ASEAN doing more for Daw Aung.

Hence I was very disappointed that we had gone out of the way to welcome a Burmese leader here recently and even naming an orchid after him. I think it would have been understandable if we had extended per functionary diplomatic courtesies but there was no need to bend backwards ( or in this case “bend forward”) for them. Why so "pal-ly" with a pariah of the world?

I strongly support the Peace Virgil for Aung San Suu Kyi organised by Maruah (Singapore Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. ) to be held at 5.30pm on May 31 at Speakers’ Corner.

I hope all Singaporeans, even those who classify themselves as “non-political” will see that this is a non-partisan cause that all who love peace can support.

I will be there and I will be in Yellow!

Peace to Burma. Justice for all.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

About Temasek and the bike

Hi Friends,

I cannot resist a dig at Temasek.

This rant is perhaps born out of a need to vent out my anger and frustration. What happened at Temasek is akin to what happened to me the past week.

I felt a sudden need to buy a bicycle.

Don’t ask me why, I just needed one. Actually it is a little more complicated than that. My son T wanted a bike and after doing research about bikes for him, I decided I needed a bike too! (Long story- I would get a bike, he will try it out and if he likes it he can keep it or if not I will buy another. And I get to keep this one)

Anyway, after checking with 2 of my triathlon doctor colleagues and perusing through Spin Asia mag (which I found out after zipping in and out of 6 petrol kiosks, is available only from Esso/Mobil) and clicking through numerous websites trying to shave off a few dollars here and there before I decided on the perfect bike ( for me).

Something which is good- but cheap.

What has all this to do with Temasek, you ask?

Well, whilst reversing out from a driveway, I snapped the left wing mirror of my car on a pillar. My usual precise maneuver of extending and retracting the motorized mirror while negotiating the 4-6 cm gap between the pillar and car did not work this time. Perhaps the news about Temasek was on the radio, or maybe I was still thinking about the Pink Dot- but I really can’t remember.

But those who live in the north-east would no doubt know how I felt last Saturday morning because you would have heard a loud bawling and howling followed by a string of unprintable vernacular curses.

It wasn’t that I found out from Mike, the workshop boss, that the wing mirror module from this Bavarian manufacturer would cost $1000. Mike even assured me that I was lucky that I called him as the authorized workshop would charge even more. Lucky me!

It was not about the 1K (really) –but it was that I scrimped ( or schemed) and saved (ok- slightly dramatic but you know what I mean already) in order to save a few dollars to get my perfect bike and bam wham thank you ma'am- I had to pay much more for something which no one would even notice!

So Temasek is up to its contrarian investment strategy again! Whilst common folks like us schemed ( or scrimped) and saved to either
a) make ends meet, or
b) save for a rainy day, or
c) spoil ourselves because we deserve a little luxury now and then,

Temasek loses a chunk of our life-savings. Again.

The CNBC guy said Temasek was stupid and had done it again (not verbatim but something to the effect).
Addendum : CNBC's Foster said“A $4.6 billion loss on a $5.9 billion dollar investment. TPG lost $2 billion really quickly on Washington Mutual, but this one guys, is right up up there, as one of the worst investment during this period for one single investment fund.”
Why can't she just sit on her hands these next few months! Why can't she just go on leave till her next project? Why?
Buy high- Sell Low! Brilliant!

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

PS: I bought a cheap and good bike.
I paid my 1 K tuition fee on how not to reverse a car into a pillar
MSM actually printed 2 letters essentially saying what I wanted to say but failed to.

Letters from MSM

1.Denis Distant
ST Forum Page 18.5.09

Temasek must set example on transparency

I REFER to last Saturday's column, 'Temasek should clear the air', on the massive loss arising from Temasek Holdings' sale of its stake in Bank of America (BoA).
Temasek is neither a private equity fund nor a hedge fund, but it handles billions of dollars which belong to Singaporeans.

BoA's share price ranged between US$2.53 and US$14.81 during the period Jan 2 to March 31, when the sale is believed to have been made. This makes it well-nigh impossible to guess the size of the loss, except that it must be in billions of dollars.

After being told that the investments were for the long term - when the markets in the United States crashed after Temasek had invested heavily in US financial stocks - Singaporeans expect Temasek to explain the timing of the sale and the reasons for it. Do the reasons relate specifically to BoA or generally to the US stock market? Surely it cannot be due to diversifying the geographical distribution of future investments.

Temasek must give the lead and be transparent if other listed companies on the Singapore Exchange are expected to do so.
Denis Distant

2.Conrad Raj (Today 18.5.09)

What happened to your ‘long-term’ view?
Temasek ought to clear the air on sale of BofA stake and investment in ABC Learning

CONRAD RAJeditor-at-large

THE question on most observers’ lips following the disclosure of the sale of Temasek Holdings’ 3-per-cent stake in the Bank of America (BofA) must be: Whatever happened to the sovereign wealth fund’s (SWF) strategy of taking a long-term view of its investments?
After all, it has been drummed into us almost ad nauseam that both Temasek and its cousin, the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), invest for the long term with a time horizon that could stretch for as long as 50 years.
In fact, this was reiterated at a grassroots meeting on Saturday night by Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam when he said the Government takes an overall and long-term view of its investments by state-owned vehicles like Temasek and GIC.
“We track, engage and evaluate the performance. But we don’t just look at six months or one year,” he was reported to have said.
And in a recent speech to the Junior Pyramid Club, Temasek’s chief executive officer Ho Ching talked about the SWF’s investment policy with reference to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who has said that our investment decisions are for least one, two decades.
“Likewise, we invest with the appetite of a young 35-year-old (the age whenMr Lee became Singapore’s first Prime Minister) for growth and risk-taking.
“At the same time, we also share his thoughtful conservatism to plan and provide for his children’s needs for another 10 to 20 years, while he invests to build his rainy day and retirement kitty with a 30- to 50-year horizon.”
No doubt it wasn’t a conscious decision by Temasek to invest in BofA. The investment agency had actually bought an initial US$5-billion ($7.4-billion) stake in investment banking giant Merrill Lynch in Dec 2007 and added another US$1 billion last July to become Merrill’s single largest shareholder with a 13.7-per-cent stake. Following the purchase of Merrill by BofA, Temasek’s stake was converted into 189 million shares of BofA or a 3-per-cent stake.
Obviously, Temasek didn’t think much of the long-term future of BofA andhence its disposal of those shares at a whopping loss of between US$2.8 billion and US$4.7 billion, depending on when the BofA shares were sold. BofA shares traded between US$2.53 and US$14.81 in the first quarter of this year.
Many question the timing of the sale, especially when the price of banking and other financial stocks appear to be on the rise.
Surely, in the wake of its huge 30-per-cent-or-more decline in the value of its investments and some bad investment decisions like its $400-million loss in Australia’s ABC Learning, there must be some accountability on the part of Temasek.
While Temasek points out in its 2008 review that “good governance in and of itself does not deliver value”, it also notes that “good governance can help assure the sustainability of an institution beyond the contributions of any individual or team”.
Well, good governance requires a good deal of transparency. How can it demand transparency from its subsidiaries and other companies, if Temasek itself remains reticent? And why do we have to learn about its investments or disposals from news reports abroad?
As stakeholders, we should have some insight into the investment decisions of our SWFs. What was the thinking behind the disposal of the BofA shares? Is Temasek changing its investment policy?
It can’t be because Temasek could not have a direct impact in the running of BofA as it held a mere 3-per-cent stake in the American banking behemoth, unlike in the case of Merrill, where it was the single largest shareholder with an almost 14-per-cent stake.
But, then again, Temasek has been a passive investor in other companies, especially overseas, including in other banks.
Or is Temasek clearing the deck for CEO-designate and former BHP Billiton CEO Charles “Chip” Goodyear so that he starts with a clean sheet when he formally takes over from Madam Ho Ching in October?
Or as a posting on the Financial Times suggested, the folks at Temasek are “trying to get the house in order” and “they’re not buying the green shoots hype” out of the US.
Or is this part of Madam Ho’s revised investment strategy where Temasek will invest 10 per cent of its assets in emerging markets, 20 per cent in developed economies, 30 per cent in Singapore and 40 per cent in the rest of Asia outside of Japan?
For sure, Temasek has come a long way since its inception in June of 1974 with an “eclectic mix of some 35 investments valued at about $354 million” into Singapore’s second-largest corporate entity, which despite a 31-per-cent fall from end-March 2008, still was worth some $127 billion as at end November.
But some clearing of the air on things like the sale of the BofA stake and its ill-fated investment in ABC Learning will help restore some confidence in our Temasek.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pink Dot- It is your Right, but is it Smart?

Hi Friends,

I am liberal minded and I am happy with the triumph of secularism over intolerance in the recent AWARE EGM. Singapore is a secular state and no single religion should be allowed to impose its values on the rest- no matter how well intended this was. For me, tolerance and inclusivity is the only way to go.

Silent conservative majority awakened

However, many of you must have realised by now, how afraid the conservative majority are of the Gay lobby. These conservatives are not just the fundamentalist Christians, but include Muslims, Hindus and atheists. That the seeds of Homosexuality may actually reside in the human genes do not cut any ice with them. Most conservatives believe that Nurture also plays a role together with Nature in the emergence of homosexuality. No use telling them about gay animals in nature, or about objective scientific research etc.

They are not listening.

Some of them do accept that there are others around them who are gay or that other people’s kids are gay, but they will find it hard to accept their own children being gay.

What a liberal (like me )feels

Before I get flamed by the gay lobby, please know that this is not how I feel but what I observe around me.

For me, what you do behind closed doors is none of my business. I believe in the liberalism as espoused by John Stuart Mills. Gays should enjoy the same benefits as hetero-sexual Singaporeans. They pay tax too!

As gays are over-represented in the creative arts (maybe one day the “gay” gene would be found linked to “creative” gene?) and for Singapore to buzz like New York and Paris, gays should not just be tolerated in Singapore’s entertainment or creative industry but be encouraged to thrive. They will do this only in a Singapore where they do not feel ostracised.

Aware EGM and Laws of Physics

Newton’s Third Law of Physics says “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction”.

Rosie’s gang usurped (Action) Aware and suffered a backlash (Reaction) from Gay lobby/secularists/liberals/anti-Fundies etc.

People like me (?PLME) who are non-gay, non-anti-gay as distinguished from Gay lobby like People like Us (PLUS) are put in a difficult position.

For the longest time (since the EGM-seems like eternity), we defended against conservative barbs why the passionate and rowdy EGM was the result of Josie’s (and gang) actions ( eg turning off mikes) at the event and how the pent-up emotions of secularists needed to let off steam.

We defended the CSE and why being neutral is not necessarily bad and how the confidential instructors’ guidelines should have remained so and how choices about homosexuality and anal and pre-marital sex were something each person should decide for himself/herself. Of course until these teens reach majority ( 21 years), each family still has the right to impose its values on these kids.

Now PLME are expected to celebrate together with LGBT at the Pink Dot (click here )?

Conservatives are nursing wounds- not smart to push them too far

Sure, Gays ( and secularists/liberals/anti-Fundies) had a great victory at the EGM. The sacking of the Josie’s gang stopped anti-secularists in their tracks.

No groups who are essentially One Trick Ponies ( in this case Anti-Gay) will ever attempt hijacking national organisations again.

By organising the Pink Dot event (which is no different from Gay Pride parades in major western cities) so close at the heel of the conservatives’ defeat at the EGM shows a certain amount of insensitivity on the part of the Gay lobby.

Gays may retort that they had been on the wrong end of the stick for so long that it is time others cared about how they felt instead of the other way around.

My honest opinion is that this Pink Dot will confirm once and for all in the minds of the conservatives that they had been right all along. That given an inch, Gays would want a mile; That old Aware was hijacked by Gay lobby; That CSE was Gay’s infiltration of schools for indoctrination of their agenda;

That PLME ( People-like-Me) who are non-gay, non anti-gay liberals are stupid and are wrong to sit on the fence.

I have no doubt, it is legal and well-within your right to hold the Pink Dot at the Hong Lim Park ( so long as no foreigners present/ no religious or racial talks etc) but is it Smart?

Do not be surprised that the conservatives become stronger after Pink Dot or other such events. Can't you already hear the "I told you so's" ?

Newton’s Third Law of Physics says “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction”.

If forced to act, where do you think the government will lend its support?

No brainer. Where the votes are!

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Friday, May 01, 2009

AWARE- Appeal for cool heads and compromise

AWARE: Appeal for cool heads and compromise ( Unpublished letter to the Forum editor)

Dear Editor,

I read with concern of how the recent AWARE AGM had led to the emergence of two groups of Singaporeans who are now set on an apparent collision course.

This is not just any ordinary boardroom tussle where the losers nurse bruised egos and live to fight another day. The stakes are much higher. Everyone stands to lose.

In this fight , battle-lines are already drawn and allegedly, God’s name is even invoked amidst warning that He does not want “our nation crossing that line”.

Singapore has been fortunate to have racial and religious harmony for the past decades. This should not be taken for granted for we have seen with our own eyes in regions as close as Indonesia and as far as the Baltics, how religion, when stirred by provocateurs, had become the root cause of hatred instead of love; strife instead of harmony.

In those places, it did not take much to spark off hatred and mistrust amongst previously peace-loving neighbourhoods. Communities, many with families of different faiths living side by side for generations, were torn apart and like poor Humpty Dumpty, can never be put “back together again”.

Hence I totally agree with Minister Vivian Balakrishnan that religion must be kept out of this debate and that a “rainbow coalition” is needed in order for AWARE to work effectively.

May I humbly suggest:

1.Some of New AWARE ex-co members should voluntarily step down to make way for a more inclusive “rainbow coalition” ex-co. In order to allay fears that this is a “church-based” conspiracy, no more than 2 members should be from the same church.

2.New ex-co members, preferably from racial minorities and of different faiths should be co-opted.

3. The Old AWARE should now know that there is a substantial group of people who are conservative and who are suspicious of any attempts at sexual liberalizations, even if these are well-intended. Old AWARE might consider working with the “rainbow coalition” ex-co by being co-opted.

It is apparent to most of us that there are many parents who are not comfortable with or are misinformed about Old AWARE’s work in the schools. Parents need more information if they are to wholeheartedly support this work.

4.As a gesture of goodwill, Old AWARE should retract the “motion of no confidence” in order to give this new “rainbow coalition” time to work.

I hope that cool heads will prevail for the sake of our nation, a nation that all of us love and treasure.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Addendum (4.5.09): At EOGM ( 2nd May 09)- The NEW AWARE ( led by Josie Lau) lost a vote of no-confidence by a ratio of 2:1 and resigned. New committee headed mainly be Old-guards retook control of AWARE.

NB: Letter sent to Forum Page Editor- Not published.