Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Electoral Boundaries Review Committee- Must be seen to be fair

Hi friends,
I believe in level playing fields.
I also believe that the referee and other match officials should be neutral and not be affiliated to any of the contending sports teams playing in any competition.
Hence my letter below.
Another futile attempt to extract fairness from the incumbent?
My philosophy has always been "You never know until you have tried"

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

The Letter to forum editor

Dear Editor,

Singapore must have the next general elections (GE) on or before February 2012.

Bone of contention: Boundaries of electoral wards

A major bone of contention in many of our past GE’s had been the manner in which the boundaries of constituencies were often awkwardly redrawn (eg Braddell Heights becoming part of Marine Parade GRC) and how these changes were then presented to the political parties and the electorate only a few days or weeks before nomination day.

This reshaping of electoral wards (known as gerrymandering if this is deemed to benefit incumbent parties) and the short time interval was said to disadvantage opposition political parties as this leaves them little time to work the ground effectively.

Incidentally, “gerrymandering” (click here) was coined after Governor Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts politician who in 1812, changed the electoral districts in the Boston area to benefit his own party. Unfortunately, he did not realise that the resultant shape of the districts looked like a lizard-like salamander. (see above Picture of Boston after gerrymandering)

Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC): not transparent enough

The perception on the ground is that the work of our Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC), whose Terms of Reference include recommending new constituencies and boundaries, taking into account significant demographic changes, is not transparent enough.

The EBRC reports directly to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and also consists mainly of civil servants or employees of state-related companies. Questions of whether there are “conflict of interest” issues in such an arrangement will always arise whenever boundary changes occur that seem to penalise the opposition, such as when two GRC’s which were close calls for the PAP ie Cheng San and Eunos, coincidentally vanished from electoral maps.

To reduce skepticism, may I suggest that the EBRC:
• include representations from political parties, as it was in 1958 when dissenting members were able to publish a minority report
• explain in detail why changes are made
• report to a non-political body eg the President or other prominent Singaporean

In this way, our future GE’s will not only be fair, but also seen to be fair.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Appeal for Minimum Wage- Tommy Koh & You & I

Letter to Newspaper Forum Editor (published 22.9.2010 here)

15 September, 2010

Dear editor,

I follow with interest the debate in the media about the pros and cons of implementing a minimum wage policy for Singapore’s workers. This is especially so as Professor Tommy Koh, who is revered by citizens from both sides of the political divide, has weighed in in favour of it “as it will improve the lot of Singaporeans in low-paying jobs”

In a media event, Professor Koh alluded to the lowest 20 per cent of our workers, whose median income-a recent study showed, has remained stagnant or even decreased over the last decade, partly due to the influx of cheap foreign labor.

Prof Koh also mentioned that the Gini coefficient ,named after Italian statistician Corrado Gini, and often used as gauge of the income gap as it measures the income distribution across a country, had regressed from 0.436 to 0.478 over the 20 years (0 implying perfect equality and 1 extreme inequality).

In fact, the United Nation Development Program published an unflattering report last year that ranked us second only to Hong Kong in terms of income inequality ( see . Now that Hong Kong has jumped onto the minimum wage band-wagon, I dread the day when Singapore would inherit the position as the economy with the most inequitable income distribution.

Many government leaders have mentioned that apart from policies affecting religion and race, there are few sacred cows.

Many feel that the present help-schemes such as the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme (WIS) are not sufficient. For example,the WIS distributes cash : CPF in ratio of 1:2.5 which may not be very useful for workers who are strapped for money.

Hence I hope that our leaders would not be so dogmatic and reject the minimum wage policy in a knee jerk fashion but consider if it is time to relook at this option again. Otherwise, our GDP growth rates would just be meaningless numbers to our urban poor who are beginning to think that the world is passing them by as they start to feel that they have become strangers in their own land.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan