Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Dumber dumbest

There has been no shortage of bad news lately. But few can beat the two big items hogging the headlines last week. These were the takeover of the Thailand’s main Suvarnabhumi airport by the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) hooligans and the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Have you noticed some common traits, albeit to different degrees, between these two groups of people?

1) Both were so fixated on their own grievances and purported injustices that they did not spare a thought on the pain and suffering they inflicted other innocent parties. In fact they don’t seem to mind the disrepute that their actions brought on their own country, in the case of the Thais, and their own religion in the case of the Mumbai terrorists.

2) “The end justifies the means” seems to be their overriding concern. But alas, if they would only look at the long term implications of their actions, they would see that they only served to thwart whatever long term aim they were harbouring.

3) They were all pawns being manipulated by higher hands; evil forces which have no qualms about sacrificing them.

Like other bloggers, I absolutely condemn the Mumbai terrorists for their cruel disregard for innocent lives. But I also feel pity for them. They thought they were serving God and their sacrifices would win them a place in paradise. But what a big disappointment it is going to be when they awake to find themselves in hell instead. They will have all eternity to regret their actions. Indeed there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Why are they so happy?

Yesterday was an historic day. Barack Obama became the first African-American to be elected to the White House. The scenes of jubilation reminded me of the time when US troops invaded Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled.

I ask myself. Could some of the happiness of the American people be due not so much to Obama’s having defeated his Republican rival John McCain, but that somehow these people have mistakenly seen this as a toppling of the immensely unpopular George Bush?

Related posts - Wrong move

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Palin Effect

Lately we have been hearing a lot about the Bradley effect. Supporters of popular US presidential candidate Barrack Obama are worried that in even though all the polls showed Obama to be ahead of his Republican rival John McCain, he may still lose due to the Bradley effect.

I think McCain’s supporters should also worry about what I call the Palin effect. Although many of them fiercely support her, on the actually polling day, it might suddenly dawn on them that there is a very real chance that the 72-year old John McCain may not survive his full term in office if he wins, and then, horror of horrors, Sarah Palin will take over as president of the United States of America.

Monday, October 27, 2008

PM did not address the real issue

Our prime minister has finally spoken on the issue concerning the Lehman structured products. But sadly, he did not address the real issue. Word for word, this is what PM Lee Hsien Loong said according to this report:

“I think this is a very difficult and not satisfactory way to do things in the long run because:

First of all, the government should not be making decisions for individuals. Individuals should have the right to decide for themselves ……

Secondly, the government is not in a position to guarantee what is safe and what is not safe because there is nothing that is 100% safe.”

(The reporter speaking) “PM Lee said that the government’s role is to ensure that the financial system runs smoothly and fairly; not to guarantee the outcome, but to make sure that its people know what they are doing.”

I completely agree with everything the prime minister has said. But that is not the real issue with the present problem is it? The real questions which Singaporeans (at least this one) are asking is this:

1) Shouldn’t the government be alert to what is going on in the financial world; that large numbers of highly-risky products are being sold aggressively and in a not entirely honest manner to old, uneducated and thus highly vulnerable members of the public?

2) If the government is aware, shouldn’t it have the foresight to anticipate today’s ‘fiasco’? I recall that every time a top leader of this country argues for the high salaries of ministers and civil servants, they quote this ability to foresee trouble and take preventive action as one of the qualities that Singaporeans are getting in the bargain. The alternative is to suffer much costlier consequences, such as seeing the economy falter and our hard-earned savings and assets dwindle overnight; which seems to be exactly what is happening here.

3) When products that are harmful to the public are being sold to thousands of unsuspecting citizens, isn’t it the duty of the government to step in and put a stop, as what the AVA has done in the case of the melamine-tainted milk products from China?

Monday, October 20, 2008

We need a watchdog to watch the watchdogs

What SM Goh Chok Tong refers to as ‘The Lehman fiasco’ and the Straits Times calls ‘The Lehman Debacle’ has hoarded the newspaper headlines lately. I think a more appropriate label is The Lehman Tragedy. The Great Mas Selamat Escape we can call a ‘fiasco’ (meaning an event that is completely unsuccessful, in a way that is very embarrassing or disappointing) or ‘debacle’ (meaning an event or situation that is a complete failure because plans have failed). But this one is far more serious and far-reaching in its effect on the lives of Singaporeans, nearly ten thousand of them.

This tragedy has highlighted a big problem in our country. The watchdogs in whom we have so much faith have been caught napping time and again. It appears we need another watchdog to watch over our overpaid, over-complacent watchdogs.

Just look at this headline. MAS (The Monetary Authority of Singapore) views mis-selling seriously. If so, why do you wait till now, after much damage has been done before you start to take action? Who needs watchdogs that only start barking when the burglar has long escaped with the loot?

To matters worse, their response to citizens’ cries has also been found wanting. According to a Today article of 18 October, Mr Tan Kin Lian lamented thus;

“Singapore investors had to make complaints with the financial institutions which sold the products to them, which resulted in some of them being challenged or ridiculed in some cases. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority adopted a better approach. They set up a hotline and service centre and employed 100 people to record the complaints and investigate the case where there was evidence of mis-selling.”

How disappointing. All along we thought that in this country we have the best talents that money can buy serving in the government and civil service.

And yet another watchdog has only just woken. Take a look at this other headline, also from the Straits Times:

As usual our MPs only start to raise issues in parliament long after the problem has been widely publicized in the media or the internet. Isn’t this a case of closing the barn door after the horses have bolted?

Here are a few more issues that I am watching to see if our watchdogs are going to take action before disaster strikes again.

Problem no. 1 - The scams by housing and education agents.

These crooks prey on innocent and ignorant foreign workers and students. The foreign workers thought that Singapore was an ‘honest’ country where people are all law-abiding. They hand over their hard-earned savings to unscrupulous agents who promise to find them jobs and lodging. But once they come into this country, they find themselves stranded; without jobs, without a shelter over their heads. And to make matters worse, the authorities show no sympathy to their plight. Some are arrested, imprisoned and caned and then unceremoniously kicked out of our country.

Likewise, many foreign students have been conned into paying their parents’ hard-earned savings to housing agents who make lots of promises and then disappear with their money.

If our government does not do something about these two problems soon, we are going to find ourselves being branded a country of crooks by some international newspapers or rating agencies. At that time, you can be sure that our authorities will start to make a lot of loud protest and write long letters accusing our detractors of biased-reporting or ignorance. Why don’t you act now?

Problem no. 2 - Heavy vehicles that that are driven like Formua 1 cars on our expressways.

So many complaints have been raised by ordinary citizens in the newspapers and blogs about these drivers from hell with their dangerous cargoes. Other than a few standard letters to the press claiming to take ‘a serious view’ of the problem and citing some statistics, nothing much seems to be done. Everyday, our lives and property are still being threatened by these road bullies. I guess we have to resign ourselves to the fact that we need a major accident like this one before the government will act take real action.

Again I ask. What is the use of having watchdogs that do not watch? We have one that is supposed to watch the transport operators. Yet we see these monopolies increasing their fares on a regular basis as if it is a law of nature; and totally oblivious to the cries of the public. And then they have the cheek to report record profits every year, and no doubt reward themselves with fat bonuses.

And then there is the one that is supposed to watch over the Singapore Power, another monopoly. Everyday we read of falling oil and petrol prices and what do they do? They increase electricity prices by a unbelievable 21% this month. Oh you peasants do not understand the intricacies of energy pricing. Yeah sure we don’t; just as those aunties and uncles who lost their life savings do not understand the intricacies of mini-bonds and high notes or what have you. What I do know is that the petrol companies have been reducing their prices repeatedly these past few weeks. When, I would like to know, is the Singapore Power, and the transport companies going to reduce their prices. Can the watchdogs assure us that when the time finally comes to reduce the prices, it will be done in a fair manner?

Why? What is the root cause of this problem? The answer is simple. The people are lazy and gullible. They leave everything to the government, reasoning that since we have the highest paid and most highly rated leaders at the wheel, we can safely leave them alone to do their jobs. Unfortunately, as recent events have shown, these watchdogs have become complacent. They keep praising themselves to justify their high salaries. But nobody seems to notice that many of the highly paid executives from financial institutions, against which our leaders have benchmarked their salaries, are now branded as incompetent and greedy by one and all.

Thus I say we need a watchdog to watch the watchdogs. But who can fulfill this role? We can’t depend of civic-minded individuals like Mr Tan Kin Lian. There are just too few of such heroes around.

How about the opposition parties? I say they are even worse. They are not napping. They are hibernating! But unlike their counterparts in the animal kingdom, these guys do not hibernate for just a season but for 4 years; waking up only when election time comes around.

So we have to rely on ourselves. And the only weapon we have at our disposal is the internet.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I don’t support Singapore's F1 night race

Recently Singapore hosted the world’s first night Formula One Grand Prix. Many of my friends were so excited about it. I am happy that they had a good time.

The event was hailed as a big success and everybody, including our prime minister was ecstatic that Singapore not only got itself noticed by millions of television viewers worldwide, but had our reputation as a super-efficient city confirmed by many visitors who rightly proclaimed that “only Singapore could have pulled this off.”

Personally, I don’t support the F1 and did not even watch the race on TV. Somehow in this age of universal distress over global warming and dwindling energy resources, I find it difficult to get excited over a bunch of petrol-guzzling machines speeding round and round an arena lit up by artificial lights till “it was like day”, and getting nowhere.

But I did not want to be a spoilsport and thus chose to blog about it after the event is long over.

** CC Photo byFlickr member bernardoh

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Of DSLRS, Printers and COEs

The recent edition of Digital Life carried a series of articles about the rapid fall in prices of digital SLR cameras in recent years. As a result sales have gone up tremendously. Whilst these articles loudly extol the wonders of DSLRs, they left out one important detail. Without lenses, the potential of these gadgets are severely limited. Neither did they mention that prices of lenses remain high, often costing more than the camera body and a basic kit lens. The manufacturers certainly know that with more and more photographers switching to DSLR, it is only a matter of time before sales of lenses will rise correspondingly.

Such sales strategy is also adopted by manufacturers of printers, Better and yet cheaper printers are being introduced regularly. But do you see the price of printer cartridges and toners coming down? The answer again of course is no.

Now what has these got to do with car COEs in Singapore you ask?

Don’t you see the car population increasing rapidly in Singapore in recent years. Our government has been so kind to us motorists who simply love to own cars. Instead of reducing the number of cars on the road, they have been releasing more and more COEs causing the prices to come down and Singaporeans rushing to the car show rooms.

Now with so many cars on the road, and complaints of traffic congestion everywhere, the government is justified to increase the number of ERP gantries. Consequently the ERP system is fast living up to its name of making "Every Road Pay". Certainly after forking out thousands of dollars for your precious car you are not going to leave it in your car park are you? So we simply Pay and Pay. Some pay once a day, some twice a day and some even twice within 5 minutes, as I did the other day when I drove into town via the CTE exiting at Merchant Road and then turning into Hill Street as I have been accustomed to doing.

And with more cars on the road, and ever skyrocketing oil prices, do you see the government reducing the fuel taxes? No way! was the reply when some naive Singaporeans actually made the suggestion.

Yes, the prime minister is right. Our government is not stupid.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Our government is not stupid

Of course our government is not stupid. In fact they are brilliant – especially when it comes to collecting money from us.

A financial guru once said (I wish I had read this when I was younger) that the best way to earn a high income is to build pipes that bring in money on a continuous basis and not carry them individually by buckets. This is exactly what our government does with unmatched skill. They build lots of small pipes which collect money from us on a daily basis; GST, ERP, COEs, fuel taxes, causeway toll charges etc. etc. etc. Then they put aside some in a bucket and give it back to us once in a while and the figure appears so generous, $3 billion! Contrary to what the prime minister said last night about not publicizing that enough, the ministers and the newspapers never tire of talking about it. What Jack Neo joked about in his movie Money No Enough 2 is common knowledge and all over the internet.

Another feature of our government’s money-collecting technique that is simply brilliant when compared to, say our neighbour up north, is that they collect our money even before we spend it. Let’s take the example of the cash card. All of us have at least two of them. Before you use it, your money has already been collected. If you are so careless as to lose one ..… too bad. If you forget to insert one into your IU when you drive under an ERP gantry ….. again too bad.

Likewise for our car park coupons. Most of us have at least $30 to $50 worth of coupons sitting in our glove compartments. If you are so careless as to accidentally tear off the wrong tab for the year or month ..… too bad. If you underestimate the amount of the time you need to park ….. again too bad. The ever-efficient and friendly parking wardens will come along and issue you a surcharge. If you overestimate the time you need to park your car and tear 1-hour coupon when you need only to spend say, 35 minutes ..… too bad. You cannot even sell the remaining 40 cents to the next driver. In this aspect, I must say that the Malaysian authorities are really dumb compared to ours. In many Malaysian towns, they still use the primitive coin-operated parking meter system. Any unused time can actually be utilized by the next driver.

So the PM as usual is right. The government is not stupid. MP for Hong Kah, Ms Amy Khor puts it best (when commenting on 2007 budget surplus of $6.47 billion):

“It is this far-sightedness and prudence, as well as the many timely and astute policies implemented, that have played a major role in bringing about such a large surplus.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Our Angsana mentality

Last Sunday, I stumbled upon a very insightful documentary on Arts Central. Entitled, Singapore Standard Time, it was one of those low profile, low budget, local productions. And typical of the Singaporean, “local ginger not hot” (本地姜不辣) mentality, Media Corp hardly gave it any publicity. In fact, as you can see from the TV programme that appeared in the Sunday Times, this documentary wasn’t even announced to the public. I think they just decided to insert it to fill the empty time slot after the movie, Cages, ended. What a contrast from the huge publicity that Channel News Asia gives to its expensive, imported Documentary of the Week shows like this one and this one.

Produced by Lo Hwei Shan and Directed by Joycelyn Khoo, this documentary takes a good hard look at Singaporeans’ obsession with instant results; or what I would call, The Angsana Mentality. Featuring interviews with a number of Singaporeans including Dr Wee Yeow Chin, a botanist, Dr Woffles Wu, a cosmetic surgeon and Ivan Heng, a famous theatre director and playwright, it “explores the ways speed has taken root in Singaporean culture. Driven by an ethos of efficiency and instant gratification, we have taken speed to unique heights, from setting the world record for the world's fastest SMS text message, to the patented 20-minute facelift.” (quoted from the synopsis at this website)

Dr Wee, the botanist, for example spoke about our Garden City campaign and how we planted lots of trees propagated by stem-cuttings to provide ‘instant trees’ for our roads and parks. Another gentleman, an aquarium owner spoke about the craze for luohan fish at one time, because many superstitious Singaporeans wanted to look for numbers on the fish’s body to ‘buy 4D’ and acquire instant wealth. Yet another interview was with a businessman who had developed an ‘instant’ Hainanese chicken rice package for sale to tourists. The final interview was with Ivan Heng. He lamented the decline of interest among students for literature in our schools; possibly because it was a difficult subject to score an A in; and if I may add, of little value in ‘pragmatic’ Singapore.

I find botanist, Dr Wee’s narration of how we transformed Singapore into a garden city in 40 short years most telling. Initially, we planted a lot of Angsana trees to provide instant shade and greenery to our roads and parks. But it was soon discovered that Angsanas were prone to branch breakage, especially during heavy storms, and infection by a fungal disease known as the "Angsana Wilt", which has killed many of the trees. They were later replaced by sturdier trees like the Raintree. He also explained why trees grown from stem cuttings were not as resilient as those grown from seedlings. A tree planted from seedling develops vertical roots which are anchored deep in the ground. In contrast, a tree grown from stem cutting develops roots that spread out sideways and thus could not provide as strong an anchor. But the latter provides fast results.

Coincidentally, over at Channel 5, they were airing the daily news roundup of the ongoing Beijing Olympic Games. As Singaporeans well know, this year we are keeping our fingers crossed that our athletes will finally bring back a medal. Our hopes rest on a handful of mostly foreign sports talents like Li Jiawei and Tao Li. I cannot resist drawing a comparison between these foreign imports and Dr Wee’s stem-cut trees.

In recent years, our government has been going all out to woo foreign talents to come to our shores. We offer them lots of attractive incentives and hope that at least some of them would settle down and ‘sink their roots’ on Singapore soil. Would they form deep roots like us local ‘sons of the soil’ who are born and bred and served our national service here? I hope so.

I have argued before that our foreign talent policy is in fact quite short-sighted. After watching Singapore Standard Time, I understand that our leaders too are suffering from the Angsana mentality. Such a mentality is best exemplified by former prime minister Goh Chok Tong’s famous 1998 National Day Rally Speech where he openly declared that with the help of foreign talents, Singapore is going to qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals. He thought that by waving the mighty Sing Dollar, the likes of Zinedine Zidane would flock to our shores.

I can think of many other examples of such Angsana mentality. One of them is our abortion law. In 1970, we decided to legalise abortion because we were afraid that Singapore would have a population explosion. Now we are contemplating ‘unlegalising’ abortion because we facing a ‘shortfall’ of babies. It is really laughable if it weren’t so tragic. While other societies agonise over the moral dilemma of taking innocent lives, here in ‘pragmatic’ Singapore, we debate about baby shortfalls and low yields of our women’s wombs.

Another example is our language policy. At one time, we were worried that Singaporean’s standard of Mandarin was too low. Dialects was singled out as the chief culprit. Overnight they banned Cantonese tv programmes and movies. Overnight, they changed the names of our towns into hideous hanyu pinyin names like Hougang, Yishun, Bishan and Zhujiao. Suddenly, all our deep-rooted heritage like Chua Chu Kang, Pek San Teng, Nee Soon and Tekka were excavated and incinerated.

Anyway, the documentary ended on a slightly optimistic note with both Dr Wee and Ivan Heng acknowledging that our Angsana-land is a miracle of sorts. "Which country in the world can go from third world to first world in 40 years?" asked Ivan Heng. "And which country can turn a third world slum into a beautiful garden city simply because one man willed it?" asked Dr Wee?

Still I hope we never have a Katrina or a Nargis to test those roots.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Aren’t I clever?

A rich man bought a house with a large beautiful garden. Against the advice of his friends and neighbours, he decided to chop down all the fruit trees and shrubs and get rid of the pots of flowers which the previous owner had painstakingly planted over the years. What practical value have trees and flowers? What this house needs is a car park for my many cars as well as those of my visitors.

But it is such a waste, argued his neighbours; all the beautiful flowers gone just like that. The birds and insects will not visit your home anymore. Still the rich man went ahead with his plan and replaced the garden with what he thought was a beautiful tiled car park. Aren’t I clever, thought the man as he surveyed his spanking new car park.

Five years went by and suddenly the man realized that his house was rather bare; and hot, and uncomfortable. And many visitors had stopped coming. And so he hired an expensive landscaping consultant to advise him on how to improve his home. What your home needs is a big garden with lots of fruit trees and flowers to provide shade and attract insects and birds to you house.

Thus the man decided to build a big garden to beautify his house. And as he looked at the beautiful plans drawn up by his expensive consultant, he thought to himself; "Aren't I clever to come up with this brilliant idea?"

Monday, July 14, 2008

To everything there is a season

Wise king Solomon was absolutely right. "To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."

And just before sentencing a 20-year old boy, who doesn't even qualify to vote or watch RA movies in Singapore, to 9 years in jail and 18 strokes of the cane is not the time to be quoting Ecclesiastes. In fact, I think it is downright cruel. I hardly think that he will be thinking that our God is love when the cane lands on his bare flesh.
If your heart really goes out to the boy, for the the injustices and disadvantages that he has suffered in his life, you should have tempered judgment with compassion and mercy.

There's a time for quoting scriptures, but just before dropping a bombshell like this is not one of them.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Please do not mock the God you profess to worship

Did you see this article in today’s Straits Times? It’s an abridged version of the full report in the Los Angeles Times.

“A cathedral is an odd place for a coming-out party”, began the article. “But not, as it turns out, if you are a former prime minister of Britain and you are preparing to tell the world that God was one of your senior advisors during your 10 years in power.”

I say the house of God is indeed a strange place to mock the God you profess to worship. Just look at this line from the ST report:

“Mr Blair’s aides have long said that his policies on intervention in Iraq, Kosovo and Sierra Leone were motivated not by practicalities or, even in the case of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, fear of weapons of mass destruction so much as a profound sense that they were the “right” things to do.”

This gives the impression that Tony Blair had some kind of divine mandate to invade Iraq. Did your ‘advisor’ tell you to go along with that ‘worse than fierce tiger’ war monger, to invade Iraq under the pretext of getting rid of weapons of mass destruction; knowing full well that Saddam Hussein did not have such weapons?

Did your advisor tell you to ‘sex up’ a dossier on Iraq's weapons capability in order to justify this war which led to death and misery for thousands; when UN inspectors have declared repeatedly that they found no evidence that Iraq had any such weapons?

Did He tell you to switch from a war to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction to a ‘war on terror’ after you could not find any ‘smoking gun’; again despite having no evidence whatsoever that Saddam Hussein supported terrorists?

The report also said;

“In secular Europe, where religiosity tends to be viewed with suspicion, Mr Blair said he kept his belief long under wraps for fear of being dismissed as a “nutter”.

“In our culture, to admit to having faith leads to a whole series of suppositions, none of which are very helpful to the practicing politician.”

Didn’t your advisor tell you about this stern warning which Jesus Christ issued in Gospel of Matthew, (chapter 10: 32, 33)

“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The minister should resign

In his speech to parliament last Monday concerning the escape of suspected JI terrorist Mas Selamat, DPM Wong Kan Seng said;

“A window that should have been grilled but was not; guards who should have maintained line of sight of the detainee …….. – these all point to a slackening in internal vigilance and supervision. Complacency for whatever reason, be it fatigue given the protracted security operations by ISD since 2001 or routinisation over time, had crept in the operating culture at WRDC.”

Personally, I am rather disappointed that the Committee of Inquiry into the Mas Selamat escape only looked at the simple matters like the physical lapses (the famous ungrilled window, the low fences etc), the human lapses (the guards’ negligence etc) and did not probe deeper into the “whatever reason(s)” mentioned by the minister.

DPM Wong says that complacency crept into the operating culture of the WRDC? I don’t think organizations per se can become complacent. It is the people running these organizations that become complacent and I would like to offer some reasons for how this could have happened.

1) Young men with brilliant academic qualifications but little front line experience are put in charge of huge complex organizations. Such leaders are good in strategic planning but tend to underestimate the importance of operational details. They are easily lulled into thinking that everything is fine in the front lines.

2) Leaders have been over-praised by other leaders who over-praise themselves. Even when things go wrong, they continue to pat themselves on the back. They should learn to be humble.

3) Leaders accept accolades for achievements but refuse to take the blame when things go wrong. Only frontline managers are disciplined for disasters in the organisation. This results in low morale of the staff in the lower rungs of the organisation.

4) They earn astronomical salaries and still tell themselves they could be earning even more if they were working in the private sector.

I did a search on Googe on the topic Organisational Culture and Leadership and found that most management gurus assign a strong link between the two. As such I think the leaders, starting with the DPM Wong Kan Seng should accept the responsibility for the complacency that had ‘crept into the culture’ as he put it, and resign.

I am reminded of the movie Titanic. The main reason for the disaster was the complacency of the captain and his crew. As such when the ship sank, he refused to be rescued and chose to go down with it. Likewise, DPM Wong should resign to accept responsibility for the failure of his ministry.

And if all the above is not sufficient reason for the minister to resign, another one just surfaced on today’s front page of the Straits Times. An accident involving a school mini-bus resulted in one kid being killed and another seriously injured. How often have you seen these mini-buses and vans, carrying young children without seat belts speeding recklessly through our housing estates and wondered to yourself, “Where are our traffic police when we need them?” Likewise, how often have you seen lorries overtaking buses overtaking other lorries on our busy expressways and asked yourself the same question. At such times, I ask myself; "Aren't our leaders drivers too?" (to borrow a line from a petrol advertisement).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Public responsibility

When Parliament seats on Monday, Singaporeans will get answers to many of the questions about the Mas Selamat escape; so says a report in Today.

Members of parliament have filed several questions. But looking at the questions, we can clearly see that the opposition MPs are only interested in pointing fingers and apportioning blame. Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir) for example, wants to know how the escape occurred. Low Thia Kiang (Hougang) asks for an update on the manhunt, the estimated expenditure on it and whether investor confidence and Singapore’s reputation have been affected. And non-constituency MP, Sylvia Lim’s question is downright mischievous. She wants the PM to explain the Government’s approach to taking responsibility for such major lapses.

The PAP MP, Mr Teo Ho Pin (Bukit Panjang), chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, on the other hand is much more responsible. He is not interested in pointing fingers. He is more concerned with bigger issues like how to ease traffic congestion at the land checkpoints. Above all, he wants the PM to address the vital issue of public responsibility. Dr Teo said: “Hopefully he will touch on the idea that public responsibility is important. The Government could not be responsibility for everything.”

How magnanimous. How noble. I am almost moved to tears.

The answer to Ms Lim’s irresponsible question is obvious isn’t it? In fact, simply looking at the noble PAP MP’s questions will give you the answer.

First of all, let me tell you who is NOT responsible. The government is not responsible; at least not the ministers and top civil servants. Just look at all the past disasters that happened in Singapore. Was the minister or the perm sec of the National Development ministry responsible for the Nicoll Highway collapse of April 2004? Was the minister for defence or the army chief responsible for the ‘accidental drowning’ of 2SG Hu Enhuai 2003?

Who then is responsible? Answer: the Singaporean public. Their bo-chap attitude of leaving everything to the government is responsible not only for the escape of Mas Selamat, but also for his ability to evade capture for two whole months. How is it possible for one man to escape the huge dragnet put up by our army and police on such a tiny island? Obviously he must have help from many friends. If the public had been more vigilant, these friends would have been identified and apprehended long ago.

My answer to Singaporeans is this. Ask not what your government can do for you; but ask what have you been doing for the government.

Related post.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Badawi is only 20% to blame

One of the happiest persons in Malaysia today must be Mahathir Mohammed. He could not wait to call a press conference to condemn his successor Abdullah Badawi for the dismal performance of the Barisan Nasional at last Saturday’s general elections. Looking like a delighted kid who has just received his favourite toy, he gleefully pointed out that since Badawi had been given 100% credit for BN’s outstanding performance at the last election in 2004, he should now shoulder 100% of the blame.

I would disagree with that assessment. I think Badawi should only receive 20% of the credit in 2004 and 20% of the blame this time. In both occasions, 80% of the creditor/blame goes to Mahathir. Why do I say that?

Ask yourself. What is the main cause of BN’s poor performance? The newspapers have gone into great detail on that. In a nutshell, the people are fed up with the BN’s mismanagement and wanted change. And this desire for change was already very strong in 2004. Hence they were hopeful that Badawi, being quite different in character and temperament from Dr M would bring about that change. Unfortunately they were disappointed. And so now, they are willing to give the opposition a try.

Let’s take a closer look at just a couple of these causes of discontent among Malaysians.

1) Corruption, nepotism and money politics. Did these come about only during the past four years under Badawi’s leadership? Obviously not. They flourished during the Mahathir era. Remember that famous Lingam video? Who was PM at that time? Badawi’s failure was only his inability to deliver on his promises to solve these deep-rooted problems. So I ask you - can Badawi take 100% of the ‘credit’?

2) Marginalization of the Chinese and Indians arising from the NEP (New Economic Policies) which led to exodus of large numbers of talented Chinese and Indians. Again did this arise during Badawi’s term?

3) Crime and social problems. Remember the time when Lee Kuan Yew caused an uproar in the Malaysian papers when he commented that Johor Bahru was crime-infested? Was that during Badawi’s or Mahathir’s rule?

4) Finally, there is the so-called Anwar factor. This one is fact is 100% caused by Mahathir’s petty feud with his apparent successor. Badawi was simply the innocent bystander. His only fault is that he was not as ruthless as his predecessor in finishing off Anwar by dishonest means.

The above are just a few of the many problems that caused the ‘defeat’ of BN. All these problems were deeply entrenched when Badawi took over the reigns from Mahathir. As I said before, here:

冰冻三尺 非一日之寒; or A three –feet layer of ice did not result from a single day of chill.

Conclusion: Mahathir should not be so quick to point fingers at his successor. You know what they say about pointing fingers. One finger is pointed at Badawi, 4 are pointed at himself. That’s why I say Badawi is only 20% to blame.

As an aside, I think the opposition should thank Mahathir for their victories. Just imagine. If Dr M hadn’t so ruthlessly dealt with his previous deputy, would today’s results be possible. If Anwar had succeeded Dr M, he certainly would have continued the BN’s policies; only he wouldn’t be as easy to handle as Badawi. As it turns out, Anwar is now forced to work with the opposition parties and court the Chinese and Indian voters, and win over some disgruntled Malays.

A final word caution to my Chinese and Indian friends – watch Anwar carefully. There is a Cantonese saying; kor kew chou pan. After crossing the bridge, remove the plank.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Top 5 Gahmen Boo Boos

I have always had strong faith in the effectiveness of our government. I have always felt proud when I hear foreigners sing praises of how well Singapore is governed (Example here). I even support, in principle at least, the high salaries of our top civil servants and ministers.

But lately, that faith has been shaken by some events which I never expect to happen in a small and first-world country like ours.

1) The drowning of 2SG Hu Enhuai during so-called Combat Survival Training in August, 2003. (Tortured to death would be a more accurate description)

2) The Nicoll Highway Collapse of April 2004.

3) The NKF (National Kidney Foundation) fiasco of 2005.

4) The great Budget Surplus of 2007. After forecasting a deficit $0.7 billion and increasing the GST by 2% points, they tell us we actually had a surplus of $6.47 billion.

5) ‘The Great Escape’ of the suspected Jemaah Islamiah terrorist, Mas Selamat Kastari from police custody yesterday.

Which would you vote as the biggest blunder of all?

I would vote No. 2 because human lives were lost and destroyed; and ample signs of the impending disaster were ignored by those in charge.

But No.1 is the one that makes me most angry because of the sheer negligence and arrogance of the leaders involved.

Thus I am deeply disappointed to read remarks like these being made in parliament a couple of days ago.

“It is this far-sightedness and prudence, as well as the many timely and astute policies implemented, that have played a major role in bringing about such a large surplus.” Hong Kah MP Amy Khor

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wrong move

It was reported yesterday that former US President Bush has endorsed John McCain as the Republican Party's nominee for the next US president. McCain was apparently quite happy.

After Bush spoke, McCain said that his endorsement would "help me enormously in the process of uniting our party and moving forward." (CNN)

I wouldn’t be so happy if I were McCain. Right now Americans are sick to the core with the mess created by Bush Junior during his 7 years in office. They are desperately looking for change. Thus anyone who wants to be the next president should be fleeing in the opposite direction from anything to do with the ‘worse than fierce tiger.

In Singapore we had a similar situation in the last election. The PAP was desperate to win over Potong Pasir from Chiam See Tong. And so they brought in the big gun – or so they thought, in the person of former prime minister Goh Chok Tong to endorse their candidate, whose name I cannot even recall. Goh Chok Tong even threw in lots of goodies in the form of lift upgrading and that sort of stuff to entice Potong Pasir voters, assuming that Singaporean are kiasu and cannot resist goodies.

PAP as we know, lost, and I doubt Potong Pasir residents ever saw Goh Chok Tong again.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Oops we did it again!

The last time they arrested a Christian couple from America for ‘close proximity’.

This time they want to keep the body of a Chinese who had already converted to Christianity. Apparently she had consulted a Malay Muslim faith healer who tried to convert her to Islam.

I wonder if they are big fans of Britney Spears.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

UMNO Leaders not sensitive

Many UMNO leaders were fond of accusing people of other races and religions of being ‘insensitive’. This was especially so during the Mahathir era when Singapore leaders and newspapers were frequently taken to task for the supposedly 'insensitive' comments they made or printed.

But judging from some of the news coming from up north, I would say that the UMNO leaders themselves are guilty of being insensitive. Let’s take the latest controversy on the use of the word ‘Allah’ for God in the Malay Bible. (By the way, I wonder if Malaysian Muslims know that the Bible has been around for a much longer time than the Quran)

Mr Abdullah Zin, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s department, and de facto minister for Islamic affairs, told reporters on Thursday that the Cabinet is of the view that "Allah" refers to the Muslim God and can only be used by Muslims, who comprise about 60 percent of Malaysia's population. He said:

"The use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims in the country,"

I think the minister could have been more sensitive and said this instead:

"Non-Muslims should not use the word 'Allah' because it may create confusion among non-Malays everywhere."

Most non-Malays like me tend to associate the word Allah with Islam.