Sunday, November 04, 2012

Still getting used to Singapore's "New Normal"

Dear Friends,

Matters of the real world had prevented me from blogging recently- hence the extended hiatus.

Much has changed and although hardcore cynics will disagree, it is quite clear to me that there is a new normal in Singapore.

Younger political leaders have been given the reins of new ministries but it remains to be seen whether they will be able to implement policies that will placate the restless population who are disenfranchised and still blame the government for effects of the “growth at all cost” policies of previous years.

Break-downs of public amenities such as the MRT-partly the end-result of sub-standard maintenance regimes have increasingly caused government-linked companies to be put under close scrutiny and even forced changes in personnel and attitudes. Laissez faire capitalism could be a thing of the past.

The legal system also seems to be exerting its independence from the executive branch of the government – something that skeptics like me did not expect. Of course conspiracy theorists will continue to assert opinions that in the wider scheme of things, there is still no true independence of the judiciary. Let me state here that when I see a pink elephant -with a trunk and huge legs and and large smelly body and it’s pink, I will acknowledge a pink elephant rather than a mouse in disguise.

I am glad that we have judges like Judge Pillai who are willing to use common sense ( and a sharp legal mind) to make rulings that benefit Singapore in the long run. I also acknowledge lawyer M Ravi and Mdm Vellama Marie Muthu for doing all of Singapore a great service. ( see Link here)

Thank you Judge, Ravi and Mdm V.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Reflections on National Day and Nurses' Day

Reflections on Singapore’s National Day and Nurses’ Day : Strength in diversity

It is timely and poignant to reflect about National Day (9th Aug)  and Nurses’ Day (1st Aug) together as these are, to me, inextricably inter-twined.

I sense disparate forces and interests threatening to tear the Singapore fabric apart at the seams even as we debate immigration policies and it may be useful to look at the nurses in our hospitals for an analogy.

Nurses’ Day

In all public and private hospitals, although there is a core of Singaporean-born nurses, it is no exaggeration to say that without foreign born nurses (many of whom have taken up Singapore citizenship), it is impossible to maintain the high standard of care that many of us have taken for granted.

Nurses (local and foreign-born) are unheralded heroes that ensure doctors’ orders are carried out to the exact schedule and dosage; they are the first to alert doctors when your pulse or skin tone signals an impending complication; their warm touch assure you when you lay on the trolley on the way to the operating suite and their caring eyes tell you that you are not alone when you are battling your way back to health.

It matters less that these nurses speak Queen’s English (none do) or versions laced with Singlish, Tagalog, Burmese or  Putonghua but more that they conduct themselves as professionals as befit modern-day Florence Nightingales.

National Day

Even as Singapore celebrates its 47th year of nationhood, let us not forget that Singaporeans are not all born in Singapore. In the early years, Singaporeans hailed from British Malaya, India and Ceylon and China. (My late father was from China and my mother is a Chinese born in Hawaii). More recent naturalized Singaporeans have also come from our other ASEAN neighbors.

Even as Singapore rolls back its open-door immigration policy in response to electoral setbacks to the ruling party, let us remember those foreigners who have chosen to stay, who have decided to be one of “us” by putting their shoulders to the wheel. They should not be made to feel ostracized or that they are the cause of all of Singapore’s woes.

All Singaporeans should have the generosity of heart to help them integrate just as many of our forefathers have been helped.

Just as foreign-born nurses have been a blessing for our healthcare system, diversity of Singaporeans should be viewed in a positive light and welcomed.

Integration will take time and may even be painful, more so for these foreigners who live and work amongst us, often in fear.  

Wishing all a Happy National Day,

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The curious case of the Sticker Lady: Exercise discretion please

Dear Friends,
I wrote to the Mainstream Media's forum page for the authorities to exercise discretion in the case of the "Sticker Lady" who has been identified as S Lo. ( Printed in Straits Times  Forum here)
Let us hope the men in blue and their masters will lighten up and see the humour in all this.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Letter to the Editor

6th June 2012
Dear Editor,

I refer to the arrest of the 25 year-old woman who allegedly painted the words “My grandfather road” on several roads as well as affixed stickers printed with catchy captions at strategic locations such as pedestrian crossings. The latter action earned her the moniker of “the sticker lady” in cyberspace.

Although Singapore is well-known as a nation that does not tolerate vandalism eg Michael Fay case, I appeal for the authorities to exercise discretion in this case for the following reasons,

1. The stickers were creative attempts at humor that is sadly lacking in Singapore society. Frankly, how can anyone read “Press until shiok” or “Press once can already” and not laugh?
2. I do not know “the sticker lady” personally, but I do not think there is ill intention or that she was trying to instigate public disorder. Only the most paranoiac and insecure public official will draw such a conclusion.
3. If she is prosecuted to the full extent of the law, an unintended signal would be sent that there is no place in this little red dot for the unconventional and quirky and then we can truly forget about aspiring to be the Paris or New York of the East.

I would have thought that at most after interviewing her and confirming that she is indeed not part of any wider conspiracy to undermine Singapore’s security, she should be given a warning. Or perhaps MCYS, under acting Minister Chan Chun Seng, can liase with her and other like-minded creative Singaporeans to participate in the next street-art graffiti event.

A positive outcome is that we now know that there are indeed creative Singaporeans who just need an avenue (pun unintended) to express themselves. There is hope yet for Singapore’s art scene.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Saturday, April 28, 2012

8th maid falls to death in less than 4 months: Action needed now!

Dear Friends,

Another Indonesian maid has  fallen to her death whilst cleaning her employer’s dirty windows! (click here)

This is the eighth death this year!

When I wrote the previous blog post ( here)  which was printed ( albeit with some amendments at the ST Forum) (here),  I thought silently to myself that I was perhaps overdramatic and had over-exaggerated the scale of the problem.

But apparently not. Those 7 deaths had not been dramatic enough and more will die needlessly.

If  our dear authorities will just continue to sit on its hands, tweedle its thumbs and do nothing , I am going to suggest that maids’ home embassies ie Embassies of the Republic of Indonesia and The Phillippines  should insist that their nationals not be put in harm’s way and die for a speck of dirt on the window!

MOM, HDB and MND- do more than just talk!

Your talk about educating the maids and their employers is not effective as the maids are unable to reject pressures from employers who hold the purse strings. Furthermore, the news about these deaths are not passed down to the people that matters i.e the maids and the elderly folks, the people who are at home when the maids are doing the cleaning. The maids and elderly folks do NOT read the Straits Times or the LianHeZaoBao!

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stop the epidemic of falling maids now!

Dear Friends,
I just read the Straits Times and realised Minister of State ( Community Development, Youth and Sports) has advocated the same thing!
For the records, I had submitted the letter below to the Forum over the weekend before Mdm Halimah said anything about this. It does not matter-just stop the carnage!
Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

The letter to the Forum pages
Addendum (26.4.12): My letter printed in the ST Forum ( with some editing) here .
Dear Editor

Stop the epidemic of falling maids now!
There is an epidemic of falling maids!

Seven foreign domestic workers (FDWs) have died in less than 4 months of this year (2012) alone, mostly after falling from heights whilst cleaning windows.

These women, many from remote villages in Indonesia or the Philippines, work for meager wages so that at the end of their contracts, their families can have a chance of escaping the poverty trap back home.

However the 7 this year and numerous others in previous years, have sacrificed their lives needlessly for some speck of dirt on their employers’ glass windows.

It is obvious to most that Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) actions have fallen on deaf ears and have been ineffective so far.

Drastic problems require drastic and sometimes seemingly ridiculous solutions.

I propose the following short and long-term solutions.

Short-term solutions:
1.  Immediate ban on cleaning of the outside of windows in all apartments/flats by maids. Flouting of this ban should attract stiff penalties.
2.  HDB (Town councils) or Management corporations ( for private apartments) will make arrangement for professional window cleaners, who are equipped with “gandolas” etc, to clean these windows for a small fee per household. 
Long-term solutions:
1.  Developers (of private and public housing projects) should be incentivized to install windows that can be pivoted so that no-one needs to stretch precariously to clean any parts of windows.
2.   The hanging of clothes on bamboo poles outside the apartments should finally be done away with (as in most private apartments now where laundries are hung at designated washing areas inside). These are unsightly and ,of course, dangerous.

Some cynics will say that a handful of deaths (out of about 150000 FDW’s) is statistically not really alarming and to inconvenience many households just to save a few lives may not be logical.

However, I feel that this is a small price for all of us to pay as even one unnecessary FDW death is one death too many.

MOM, MND and HDB please do something about it now.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"That used to be us" -Why I speak out against excessive bureaucracy

Dear Friends,

Bureaucracy could be useful when there is chaos and it  helps bring order to how society works.

However too much of it could adversely affect our competitiveness and increase cost of service delivery ( in my case for healthcare).

Straits Times Health journalist Salma Khalik (Has HSA bitten off more than it can chew? click here)
 has very succinctly encapsulated why I am particularly disturbed by excessive regulation.
To put things in perspective, not every doctor agrees with my views about this issue.

Blogger gigamole ( whom I presume is a female doctor) (click here)  thinks what HSA does is right and that some doctors ( and journalists who have their own agenda) are giving HSA a hard time that it does’t deserve. Anyway, to each her own.

In fact, the medical community is very small and we know each other. I know Prof John Lim ( CEO HSA) well and bears him no ill-will. Prof John Wong is also an eminent doctor and is a friend of a friend etc. I wish I could just close my eyes and everything will sort itself out but the world does not work like that, sigh!

The letter that I wrote to the forum ( yah- it was only published in the online version  only,sob!) partly reveals why I feel that if I keep quiet about this matter, Singapore is the worse for it . Okay- there is a narcissist somewhere inside me trying to break out.

Here goes

The original letter and the letter published in ST Forum (click here)

If we allow bureaucracy to stifle our competitiveness, we might only be able to say “That used to be us”

Dear Editor,

Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman and world-renowned foreign affair expert Michael Mandebaum, wrote a book entitled “That used to be us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back”. The title was actually quoted from President Barack Obama who when comparing advances in China and Singapore to those in America remarked, “ That used to be us”.

Singapore is mentioned favorably several times in this must-read book for all America-watchers.

I have on several occasions (perhaps more than I should), boasted to many foreign friends that Singapore works due to its emphasis on efficiency and minimised bureaucracy. I would cite how I had literally gone to the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority and collected my new passport in less than 10 minutes flat and that when the Singapore Power technician has an appointment to turn on the water/utilities, he keeps the time (give or take half hour). This usually holds true for many corporate entities also.

Coincidentally, I was sharing with someone not too long ago that in my chosen profession of Medicine, we are always at the cutting edge and almost always the first to be able to use medical devices, often ahead of most parts of Asia and even Australasia. Granted, it is not always advantageous to be early adopters, but my experience has been that if these devices are cleared by major overseas agencies, such as FDA and Europe’s CE, safety is almost always assured.

Hence, when my doctor friends discovered that this would no longer be possible, we had no choice but to feedback to the proper authorities. Many of us sincerely feel that unless HSA is willing to make substantial changes to the way it functions, Singapore, not just the medical profession, would be the loser.

Are we willing to exchange efficiency for bureaucracy?

We are renowned for our nimbleness and ability to adapt at a moment’s notice, can we afford to behave like a super-tanker that takes miles to turn around?

Over the past decades, our healthcare system had been built painstakingly with the support of the manufacturers and distributors of medical devices, it would be a real pity if all we can do is to say some time in the future, “That used to be us!”, when we see neighboring healthcare systems overtake us, one by one.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Doctors like me are upset about HSA's medical device regulation... why?

Sunday Times 8th April 2012


They have met privately, written to their professional bodies, blogged, and gathered to tell the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) what they think of the tightened regulation of medical devices in force here since the beginning of the year.

The bottom line is that private specialist doctors think it takes too long, costs too much and requires far too much paperwork to get medical devices cleared for use.

Despite meetings with HSA officials, including one with about 50 at Gleneagles Hospital last month, the doctors say their difficulties have not yet been resolved.

Their work has been affected, because some doctors have run out of supplies of some items their patients need.

Read digital version here ( must pay- I think) or buy the Sunday Times.

Dear Friends,

I have blogged about this issue here

Straits Times/Sunday Times health correspondent,Salma Khalik, interviewed me for the above story.

Despite advice to the contrary, I feel that many reporters working in Singapore’s “controlled” environment try to do the “right thing” and airing the doctors’ point of view over the Mainstream media (MSM) will ultimately help our patients. Of course, we know Singapore’s SPH and Mediacorps is a duopoly of mega-proportions and this decision is made on political grounds (as the PAP believes a fully independent media is not conducive to their type of rule -to put it mildly).

If you read the whole article ( sorry- I only have the free and hence incomplete version), the HSA says it is trying to engage the doctors. I am wary of engaging them now as I do not want a “half-measure” solution that only postpones the problem while our SME vendors are dying day by day ( like a death of a thousand cuts).

With my hand on heart, I sincerely feel that wrong policies should be rescinded or at least severely altered. That means in the least,medial devices that have been cleared by USA’s FDA need not need registration and the doctors or vendors bear responsibility when we use them. Period.

Let us get the entrepreneurship amongst the vendors going again… for the sakes of all our patients.


Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Thursday, February 16, 2012

No By-election = Hougang Singaporeans not important?

Not having a timely by-election sends a negative message to Hougang residents

Author's note (19.2.12): This letter was published in Straits Times Forum ( Online) here

Dear Editor,
All of Singapore is acutely aware of the vacant seat in Hougang now that Mr. Yaw Shin Leong (formerly of WP) is no longer its elected MP. Although the law states that a by-election must be held when an MP has vacated his seat, it does not spell out when the Prime Minister must call the by-election.
However experts on constitutional law say that if no timeframe is stipulated, it should be interpreted as “ with all convenient speed” and SMU assistant law professor (Nominated MP) Eugene Tan, has quoted “three months” as a reasonable period.

Unfortunately on several occasions including two in 1986, single seats were left vacant for close to 2 years and by-elections were not held and replacement MP’s were elected only in the next general elections!

All of us understand that there are always important matters of state that require our politicians’ full attention. It will be the national   budget this week; the MRT inquiry in March or the Greek crisis and of course the US Presidential elections in November.

But how about Hougang’s residents?

Not to have a by-election in a timely manner or worse, not having an election till the next GE (possibly in 4 years’ time) would not just seem to disingenuously breach the spirit of the by-election act but will also signal to Hougang residents that their right to have an elected MP speak up for them in Parliament is unimportant. It is to take 23000 Singaporeans for granted!

We need assurance that a by-election for the vacant seat in Hougang SMC would be held at the soonest possible time after our very important budget.

Best wishes,
Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Woodlands "not in my backyard" syndrome and how politicians should overcome this together

Author's note: Edited letter printed in Voices ( Today newspaper 11.2.12 here)
Dear Editor,
I refer to the negative reactions of some HDB residents when they found out that eldercare centres were slated to be built in the void decks of 2 blocks in Woodlands Street 83.( Click here)
Among reasons to support their petition to their MP included concern that the flats will drop in value and that it would be inauspicious when there are more deaths in the estate!
Ugly examples of “not in my backyard" syndrome
This troubling phenomenon is the often mentioned “not in my backyard” syndrome where Singaporeans will publicly welcome community amenities such as hospitals unless it is to be located in their community.
We saw this in Serangoon Gardens when the government wanted to build proper dormitories for foreign workers only to face vociferous protests from residents there.
These Singaporeans recognize that foreign workers are needed for our economy and that the older generation had made significant contributions in Singapore’s success, but nonetheless, prefer that these groups of people be kept out of sight, hidden somewhere else.
Politicians should discard partisanship to support the common good
Sound community initiatives such as the eldercare centres would risk being shelved due to the parochial reactions of some Woodlands resident unless politicians from both sides of the political divide openly support them.
These protesting residents often use the threat of their vote as a lever (like a child who tries to play one parent against the other) but if all major political parties openly state their support for such initiatives, such essential facilities for our elderly will not be discarded.  
Skeptics will say that politics in Singapore would never allow non-partisanship and may (with some justification) point to instances when sound policies such as the WP’s Sylvia Lim’s attempt at introducing “Happiness Index” was shot down by PAP MP’s in a very partisan manner. I also sadly recall Ex-MP Chiam See Tong’s suggestion for smaller classes for more effective schooling being dismembered and ignored for the very same reason ( partisanship).
I am an optimist and hope for a new political norm where policies and initiatives are supported or rejected by politicians on their merits alone. And nothing else.
Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Singaporeans do not accept politicians' revised pay - blame it on PAP and Gini

Dear Editor,

I feel some discomfort to see the government metaphorically pulling its hairs trying to understand why Singaporeans are still unhappy despite its offer to reduce ministers’ salaries to what it thought was by a significant percentage.

Parliament’s acceptance of this new pay package has not gained traction with the typical Singaporean who lives in the HDB heartlands as despite these cuts, Singapore’s ministers are still the world’s highest paid politicians by a wide margin.

I will just suggest two factors that account for this disconnect- the first one being created by the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the second due to how our world is structured.

1.PAP’s inability to attract the talented to its cause

The PAP as a political movement is not attractive to any idealistic Singaporean who views public service as an honor ala the concept of “Noblesse oblige”. (David Marshall on Noblesse oblige)

“Noblesse oblige” literally means nobility as an obligation and points to benevolent, honorable behavior considered to be the responsibility of persons of high birth or rank. In our context, it means our ablest must feel the privilege to serve. In any group, the ablest automatically steps forward to lead. It is expected. Period.

Unless the group has become dysfunctional with little sense of identity.

Hence PAP’s problem (and its solution with high salaries) has now become Singapore’s problem. Other political parties such as the Worker’s Party have little difficulty attracting talents even before it became fashionable to be associated with non-PAP parties. 

Expecting Singaporeans to accept PAP's logic is like trying to put square pegs into round holes!

2. Gini coefficient and the unfair world.

Bill Gates said in a speech at a high school that the first of 11 things they will not learn in school is 

“Life is not fair- get used to it!” (Bill Gates link)

The Gini coefficient is named after Italian statistician Corrado Gini, and measures the income distribution across a country and often used as gauge of the income gap. (Gini coefficient link)

The United Nation Development Program published an unflattering report that ranked us second only to Hong Kong in terms of income inequality ( see link here
 ) .

No matter if we blame globalization or our open economy, the fact remains our poorest and our richest might as well be living on different planets.

Unfortunately, the
Committee to Review Ministerial Salaries has referenced the top 1000 highest paid Singaporeans (albeit with some discount) for our leaders’ salaries.

Hence the remunerations, even after the review, remain unfathomable to many middle and lower income Singaporeans. Why does any Singaporean require so much before he can be coerced to serve his fellow citizens?

A colleague has very succinctly summarized our political reality-

“The government’s moral authority is inversely proportional to the ministers’ salaries.”

The dice has been cast, and the PAP dominated parliament has accepted the review, we should just leave it to the political parties to win over our hearts and minds.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan