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