Friday, July 5, 2013

"Peter Png's" Reply to a slam on Singapore's Labour by China

Have a read at this article and then this person's comments.

"Thank you for this article. Let me address this article in perspective.
There are several hundreds of thousands of Chinese nationals working or living in Singapore. Some have taken up Singapore citizenship. This speaks a lot for a tiny city state punching above its weight.
It is true the Singapore authorities adopted a zero tolerance approach when the disruption of essential services is concerned. Imagine these situations: nurses and doctors going on strike during an epidemic; bus and train workers going on strike during big national events or school examinations; other transport workers going slow in a concerted effort, clogging up roads and expressways with their lorries and big vehicles and many others. This is one of the many reasons why Singapore has remained a choice country for Foreign Direct Investment even though it is a small city state devoid of natural resources.
1) The Chinese worker interviewed as an “aggrieved” party. How objective can his views be?
2) In terms of living conditions, the dormitory the Chinese workers live in is shared by hundreds of workers from other countries as well? How was it that only a handful complained of the living conditions? If bed-bugs were a constant menace, how was it that the rest of the workers living in the same dormitory did not complain? I certainly reckon that hygiene is a personal responsibility.
3) Singapore is in dire need of good and hardworking foreign workers to do the jobs many Singaporeans shun. Employers, in engaging these foreign workers have also spent a lot of time and money teaching and training them in their jobs. The experiences gained by these workers after years of training are valuable assets to the employers. Why should the employers then want to cancel work permit without good reasons? In fact, many good and hardworking Chinese nationals were given the 2nd 2-year contract after their 1st 2-year contract.

4) Was he made a scapegoat? No. A thorough investigation was made by the police Had the authorities taken a sterner approach, more would have been punished. In fact, only 6 were singled out as those who called and led the illegal strike. These 6 were jailed and deported after their released from prison. 29 workers who also took part in the strike were spared jail sentence and deported. The rest of the workers were warned and allowed to continue working in Singapore.
5) It is indeed sad that many Chinese nationals have to pay 30,000 RMB to the employment agencies in China for overseas employment placements. However, these agencies are set up by Chinese business people who see it as a good business venture. It is definitely not the fault of Singapore employers if the Chinese
business people chose to ‘milk’ their own country men.
6) Also, the Chinese Embassy in Singapore was kept abreast of the entire episode. If something is amiss, certainly it would
have voiced its concern.
7) The next question is should all drivers regardless of skills and experience be paid the same amount of salary? Of course not. For example, the Malaysian drivers can speak English, Chinese, Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese etc what are quite
commonly spoken in Singapore. Chinese PRC drivers tend to speak only Chinese and a little English. Furthermore, the Malaysian drivers do not have free accomodation and transport allowance. The Chinese PRC drivers are given free housing in dormitories and are ferried to and from workplace and the dormitories. These costs can come up to a few hundred dollars a month.
8) Why did the company change the working hours? It is because many drivers are clocking too many hours of overtime. While this is good for the drivers, it is bad for their health and it is also not a good practice. Yes, every worker wants to earn overtime. Given the choice, most would want to do the 8 hour normal hours and clock 10 hours of overtime 7 days a week. Such an
arrangement will definitely help good and hardworking ones make a lot of money. The problem is these workers are already clocking a lot of overtime. Also, please do not forget they are bus drivers and they need enough rest in order to control the steering wheels. Many precious lives are in their hands when they are on the road.
9) And he too complained that because of the different working hours, they could not get enough sleep when their roommates walked in and out of the rooms while they were sleeping. This got very much to do with the drivers themselves being more thoughtful and considerate for the co-workers and country men. Furthermore, If he does not get enough sleep and still want to clock extra hours of overtime, isn't he a walking time bomb, especially when he is a driver? Hundreds of lives on the bus are in his hands when he is on the road.

10) We have to note that the Chinese nationals drivers are not excluded from the wage increments because they are Chinese nationals, but because they have signed a contract of service which clearly stipulated their remunerations.
11) An interest thing to note was the government
referred to the 27th November industrial action as an illegal strike but made no mention about the one on 26th November. Thus, it is now quite certain that had all the workers gone back to work after the 26th November 2012 meeting with the officials from the Manpower Ministry, the union leaders, officials from the SMRT and the drivers, the entire episode would have been a non-episode. Those who went back to work after the meeting were let off with a warning. Of those who went ahead with their strike on the 27th November, many were also let off with a warning, 29 were given a warning and deported, 6 were jailed and deported upon their release from prison.
12)) The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in Singapore takes
a keen interest in the welfare and the well-being of foreign workers. Their doors are always open to reasonable and logical complaints. Even if workers are not union members, they can always seek help at MOM. Are the drivers too preoccupied with overtime and do not have time to go and see the officials at MOM to voice their concerns?
13) It is not true that foreign workers are not allowed to join unions. For most, the reason why they did not join was chiefly because they thought they were not here on a permanent basis and did not see the need to pay the union dues every month. They failed to see the benefits of joining the union then. After this episode, many foreign bus drivers joined the National Transport Workers Union after realizing the benefits of joining the union.

14) However it is true that foreign workers are not
allowed to be office bearers in unions. It is definitely not to the union benefits to have a foreign worker as an office bearer when majority of its members are Singaporeans.
15) As for the contract of employment, it was
supposed to be handled by the employment agencies in China. Why did the Chinese drivers
not request for a Chinese worded contract when they signed up with the employment agencies in China? Do they now know their contractual rights in China? How they signed an English contract
without comprehending the details is really beyond my comprehension.
16) Are strikes illegal in Singapore? No. There
are not. There are, however certain procedures to be complied with before workers can resort to such industrial actions.
17) Finally, please note that the National Trade
Union Congress is the sole national trade union centre in Singapore with 61 affiliated unions and 1 taxi association. It is not a State-Controlled Body. The union chief or the secretary general is
democratically elected by all the 61 union in the congress. He also holds a position in the Government Cabinet because NTUC as well as the Singapore Government believes
strongly in Tripartism – a cordial working relationship between the Government,
the Unions and the Employers. Tripartism is one of the reason why Singapore flourished even though it is a small city state with virtually nothing other than good people, good economics and a good government. This point was well noted by ILO when it sent a mission to study the Tripartism model in Singapore in 2010. Please refer to this report:"

Monday, July 1, 2013

Imaginary Diary of an Ang Moh in Singapore

(this is just creative licence... true or not, up to you to believe :P )

9am: Wake up. I’m sooo hungover. Maybe I shouldn’t have said yes to that last drink at dblO. I definitely shouldn’t have said yes to that trip to O Towers. I always get into fights there and end up missing all the fun. Oh well, might as well enjoy while I’m young, right?

10:15am: Still haven’t left for work. Screw it, the interns can cover for me. That’s what they’re paid for aren’t they? And they’re so shy they won’t even dare say anything when I get there. Oh, the things I get away with in this country!

11am: Got to the office right on time, just as the boss was looking for me. Not sure if he noticed I was late. I’ll need to take him out for drinks one of these days to get back on his good side. Good thing he’s a Westerner like me, makes it much easier to find a common ground! 

12pm: Just enough time to check Facebook and watch a couple of videos before heading out for lunch. Not sure what I’ll have today. No way I’m going to that dirty hawker centre. I still don’t get how locals can eat that greasy food. Salad it is!

12:15pm: Managed to avoid going to lunch with my Singaporean colleagues. They’d probably bore me with some stupid Korean drama I’ve never heard about or with their high score on Candy Crush. Ugh.

1:30pm: Perfect. The lunch rush hour crowd is gone. I really can’t stand being shoved around while trying to enjoy my meal. Doesn’t anyone appreciate meals in this country? Whatever happened to sitting down and actually enjoying your food instead of shoving it down your throat and congratulating yourself on how cheap it was?

1:35pm: Oh look at that. This lady thinks her tissue packet entitles her to this seat. Too bad she doesn’t know my favourite past time is taking the packet and then pretending I don’t know what happened to it. If there weren’t so many cameras around I’d probably take some of the cell phones and access cards people leave on tables. Just to teach them a lesson.

3pm: Back to the office. Oh, great. Someone had some of those stinky garlic fish head soup thingies that stink up the place. Thanks for that!

3:14pm: I need a nap. Maybe if I lock myself in the toilet I can catch a few minutes of peace and quiet. Oh, actually no. Those toilets are always disgusting. I’ll never understand why people here still haven’t gotten the simple concept of the non-squatting toilet…

3:30pm: Got a series of texts from that girl I met the other night. I kind of like her. Even if one of my friends told me she was probably someone’s maid. Maybe I should just blow her off. When did I get so superficial? Oh, yeah, the day I moved here.

4:30pm: Just what I needed. A meeting about a meeting we should have next week. For a country that prides itself on its efficiency they sure love talking about doing things and never actually doing them. Maybe that’s how I’ve managed to get a great career here.

4:43pm: The boss isn’t looking too happy. If he asks me about that report I’ll just blame someone else. After all, it’s my Foreign Talent word against someone else’s, right?

5pm: Need to leave this stuffy office. Fast. What is it with Singapore and the aircon at full blast? Would it kill them to open a window once in a while? When did they become so scared of fresh air and natural sunlight?

5:15pm: What a surprise. Not a taxi in sight. I sincerely don’t understand how a city so proud of its technological advancements can get to a standstill as soon as it rains a bit too much. They’d probably drown if they spent just one month in my hometown where a rainy day is the norm!

5:30pm: Finally, a cab! Oh, great. He drives like a maniac. Hope my salad doesn’t make a comeback…

5:36pm: Sorry Uncle, I only have this 50 dollar bill. What, you don’t like it? Well too bad. ATMs only give out 50 dollar bills, maybe you should have anticipated that instead of making me feel like I’ve intentionally inconvenienced you.

6pm: Home sweet home. What a day! Time to hit the condo’s gym. Or maybe go for a swim? Whichever it is, I need to work on my body if I want to stay popular with all the exotic ladies in this country.

6:30pm: Skipped the gym, went straight to the casino. Nothing like a thick wallet to attract the ladies!

9pm: Made it back home, slightly tipsy and a little richer. What a sweet, sweet life. Girls, gambling, and carefree fun. 

That’s my Singapore.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Idiot's guide to 2.5m saga

Clean two hawker centres - so complicated meh? But its like a korean drama for past two weeks, AHPETC vs hawkers vs NEA. 

So what's story? We decided to pay the hawker centres a visit and ask penetrating questions like "What happened ah?" 

So here's a simple version. 

Hawker centre 1 close for 5 days, but when hawkers came back, they realized the AHPETC only wash the floor and never clean the ceiling.  Damn angry, lost income for 5 days for nothing.  How can? 

3 months later, hawker centre 2 which is due to close for 5 days cleaning, is increasingly anxious -"Will I also kena?"   They talk to AHPETC, who told them "This one not my pasa, anything above 2.5m, look for NEA."  Now hawkers lagi angry.

Then newspapers expose the story.  Angry hawkers wrote petitions and say the ceiling must be cleaned - and free of charge, like last time. 

After story come out,  NEA issued notice to AHPETC that must clean.  AHPETC said they would clean and FOC to hawkers.  Everything solved (more or less)!

But like every Singaporean school teacher and army sergeant, we want to ask – whose fault is this? 

NEA said AHPETC’s fault.  Every town council in Singapore also know it's their job to clean the ceiling, and they already collect money from hawkers every month so cannot charge anymore for cleaning ceiling.

AHPETC said NEA’s fault.  Pritam Singh produced letter from NEA saying that hawkers would settle the scaffoldings.   Since scaffoldings not set up by hawkers, cleaners cannot climb to the ceiling, so they never clean the ceiling of hawker centre 1.

NEA said the letter was referring to the cover of the stalls, not scaffoldings for climbing.  

NEA said AHPETC not truthful.  AHPETC said NEA politicizing.  

So whose fault? We say: 

First, scaffolds is scaffolds, cover is cover.  If NEA really write like that, AHPETC sure misinterpret what.

Second, even if really miscomm, hawker centre 1 close for 5 days and nobody clean ceiling, how come nobody scream ‘Ooi, what's going on??!!".  Actually the hawkers got scream but AHPETC never do anything to solve the problem.  And after 3 months, same thing going to happen to hawker centre 2 and still no solution from AHPETC other than - above 2.5m not my pasa. 


  • NEA cannot write.
  • AHPETC know got problem but act blur
  • Hawkers got balls. I salute them.
  • Lesson learnt – politics or not, we need to work together. Especially with more and more opposition-run TCs around.  Next time may have AHPEAMKPRECMKNSJEHBPTP Town Council.

But one thing still puzzles us. AHPETC said they never ask hawkers to pay for cleaning the ceiling.  hawkers told us they did. But they rejected because they never had to pay before. 

Korean drama deepens.. One thing I know for sure, all the hawker aunty uncles I know earn a hard living, every dollar counts for them.. So I doubt they were lying.. So AHPETC, urm, I think you should prove yourself lah.."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Truth about our wages?

This article was delivered by "Pearlie".
Dear Roy Sexie Spider,
You had me thinking that you were a fantastic and credible writer with an incredible economics background. I almost fell into your spider web. Lucky for me and many ignorant and oblivious Singaporeans out there, we have some brains and we used it to uncover the REAL TRUTH of wages. You named your article, “The Truth about Our Wages Revealed”? You lied. BIG TIME. Know what? I am able to tolerate plenty of nonsense online but this is not one of them. Not when you claim to blog about the truth. Not when you used your “intelligence” and “intimidating” charts to deceive the public. Sorry but I need to whack you on this. Watch me. 
--> (Chart 1 on 
So, you mentioned that The Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) School of Public Policy had disputed Singapore’s ranking in the UBS report AND YOU STOPPED AT THERE?? If you were sincere about revealing the truth, why didn’t you go the extra mile to inform and educate readers like us on WHY UBS figures were disputed by LKY School of Public Policy? Didn’t see a need to because it wouldn’t have worked towards your favor? Let me help you.
According to LKY School of Public Policy’s comments on the UBS report, UBS used a number of simplifying assumptions and standardisations. It stated, “Comparisons across cities were made from New York to Manila, Nairobi to Singapore, regardless of their employment situation, occupational profiles and consumption structure.”
UBS report understated wages in Singapore. They assumed our percentage of PMETs in 2009 was 9% when our actual percentage was 54%!! This was not mentioned in the UBS report and was revealed only when LKY School of Public Policy requested for it!!

(Para 7 on 

Mr. Spider, if you were aware that the figures in the UBS report were based on wrong assumptions, why did you close two eyes and use these figures? Oh, because it is ok to mislead your readers? Wow! And, I thought a responsible blogger would be transparent in his reporting. Aha! What a sneaky spider!   

--> Mr. Spider, your chart showed that Singapore’s hourly direct pay for time worked in Manufacturing in 2010 is US$12.68. Hey, I thought that was real! But guess what I found?

Asiaone reported on 25 December, 2011 that the hourly earnings of manufacturing workers in Singapore was US$19.10!!! How come it was different from what was shown in your blog? I thought that perhaps, Asiaone made a mistake. So I went to check against the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. Guess what I found??

It also stated US$19.10!!!
You tweaked the figure and misled the public. I can’t even be bothered to refute your other charts. You can’t even project the truth in your first few charts. Why would you, in the right mind, put out the truth in the rest of your article when you can distort it to support your angst against the Government? Today, I am fully convinced that alternative media cannot be trusted. It’s no surprise that I found this online:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

MDA and the credibility of "alternative media"

Is the MDA making a mountain out of a molehill? 

I don't think they have anything to worry about to be honest. Do you actually trust sites like Temasek Review, The Online Citizen, The Real Singapore, EDMW and the like? 

I have here stats that show the amount of trust that Singaporeans dedicate to online news content. This study was said to be conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies in an effort to understand consumption online.

  • Government and mainstream sites are still the most reliable, credible of the lot and still the more trusted.
  • 2/3 of Singaporeans don't care about online opinion
  • Only 4% of Singaporeans think that what else they read on TOC etc may be true…
  • Singaporeans are aware of these sites but do not find them credible at all.

It is with little wonder that these sites are not credible. They act on a whim. They have dubious authors. They react too quickly to rumours and hot tips.

(From "The Real Singapore" - are they just anti- everything?)

Take for example this one:

Apparently rumours were planted to sites like Public House, EDMW, TRS etc. They immediately reacted, albeit too enthusiastically and fell for a trap. Once the air was cleared, they had little choice but to retract their statements.

Their accuracy is also questionable - look at their desire to paint this country in the worst light possible. If they say that the Straits Times is too positive, then they become the reverse of the Straits Times - way too negative.

Everything can be faked on the internet: articles, opinions, photographs, videos. Don't forget the amount of computing technology we have today gives us so much power to do whatever we want to make imaginations come to life.

It takes only a couple of hundred people to make it seem as if the entire population of Singapore is rocking a boat.

It is a voice sure…but it is YOUR voice? 

Think about it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

SDP supporter Kirsten Han: "Foreigner in a foreign country where innocents get no second chance" - a reaction

Journalism & film student Kirsten Han recently took on Joseph Stiglitz the Nobel Laureate for Economics. Responding to Stiglitz's New York Times op-ed, Kirsten slammed the Singapore system in an article published on

She quoted speculation by academic Christopher Balding, alleging that Singapore's CPF retirement fund is being used to fund sovereign wealth investments. If that were true, we'd expect speculators to be attacking the Singapore dollar like George Soros did to the British Pound in 1997. This hasn't happened. In fact Singapore is one of the few countries still having AAA credit rating, ahead of the USA and France.

Kirsten has problems with foreigners in Singapore, saying they push down wages. Although she forgets to mention that Singapore's reverse income tax (WorkFare) helps moderate the Gini coefficient. She says the Singapore political leadership opposes minimum wage but she doesn't seem to recall Singapore's fiscal transfers for wage support. Surely a journalist's eye would not intentionally miss these details?

She also has strong views on Singapore's death penalty for drug traffickers. She believes in "Second Chances".

Kirsten is a British Chevening Scholar receiving UK public funds from the UK Government. From the viewpoint of UK citizens, she is a foreigner taking UK taxpayers' money which could have gone to support UK students and UK workers. How does it all add up?

Studying journalism in Cardiff University, Kirsten has many opportunities to see the ground in the UK -- not the tourist life of a foreign student but the real-life outcomes of British government policy and spending. Broken families who can't find jobs because of a British minimum wage which looks good but doesn't empower workers. Children who cut their feet on HIV-infected needles left by drug addicts, in turn fuelled by drug traffickers who know Britain is soft on crime. Young men knifed and gunned down in the streets because of drug gangs and drug money. They never got a Second Chance.

One might not agree completely with Joseph Stiglitz's outsider view of Singapore, but at least he has looked beyond his hometown for additional perspectives. Kirsten could at least do a little of the same before sticking it to Stiglitz. There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in Kirsten Han's philosophy.

Friday, February 1, 2013

6.9 million in Singapore - how to fit?

These days, I can’t go through my Facebook newsfeed without being assailed by chatter about the recently released Population White Paper. For the most part, sentiment has been “6.9 million?!?!? @#$*^%”… or something to that effect. I think to myself that “6.9 million sure does sounds like a lot of people” but I believe in getting your facts right and hearing both sides of the story before jumping on the “anti-population growth” bandwagon – which actually seems to be an anti-government one rather than looking at the issue on hand. But that’s another story for another day.

First of all, everyone needs to take a chill pill. The Population White Paper is in no way something that is set in stone but rather – in their own words – a roadmap “that puts us on possible population trajectories”. Unless you can point out to me where in the Marriam-Webster dictionary (pretty much the authority in the English language) does the word “possible” equate to “definite” or “certain”. In addition, the paper is making projections rather far into the future. Honestly, the world may not even be around in 2030 #justsaying so all the heated debates we have now may still not be able to accurately pinpoint if the Population White Paper’s recommendations will be beneficial or “not as beneficial” as previously thought. Why waste time and effort poking holes at just one of the myriad alternate possibilities . As long as the Population Paper is re-evaluated and calibrated every few years with the input from Singaporeans, I am willing to give it a chance and when the time comes to evaluate its effectiveness, I would not hold my tongue.

That said, I read a disturbing and misleading article put up by the SDP and I wanted to point out some mis-conceptions that they proliferated. Below is their article which I have dissected and you can decide for yourself.

1) “The Government cites three pillars on which its policy rests: (1) maintain a strong Singaporean core, (2) create good jobs for Singaporeans, and (3) provide Singaporeans a higher quality of life. 
These pillars were used to defend its policy of increasing the population to the current level of 5.3 million. The results have been unsuccessful.

A strong Singaporean core

According to the World Bank, in 2010 the emigrant population in Singapore was 6.1 percent of the total population of about 5 million people which is about 10 percent of native-born Singaporeans. Skilled tertiary-educated Singaporeans were leaving at a rate of 15.2 percent. The figure was higher for medical doctors at 15.5 percent.

A survey conducted by Mindshare in 2012 found that 56 percent of the 2,000 Singaporeans polled agreed or strongly agreed that, "given a choice, I would like to migrate". Between 2000 and 2010, an average of 1,000 Singaporeans renounced their citizenship every year.

The PAP's population policy has not succeeded in maintaining a strong Singaporean core with the current population mix of 38 percent foreigners in our population. Achieving this objective by increasing the population to 7 million with nearly 50 percent made up of foreigners is unlikely to be successful.”
In all the articles I have read about the Mindshare survey, none have made a mention of the sample demographics or the methodology used. This makes it a figure that isn't quite so credible.  When compared with the percentage that actually emigrate, this figure seems many times over-inflated so I’m not sure whether it’s that accurate a statistic to use to substantiate. In my own life, they have been many times that I thought of emigrating to another country just because and if we are honest about it, many of us admit to a "grass is greener on the other side" mentality when we face hardships.

Ultimately, the issue on hand is not our emigration rate but rather changing mindsets that support a good work-life balance and starting a family. Many friends whom I have spoken to think starting a family and having “a life” is important and are gradually taking steps towards that direction – choosing to leave work to spend time with the family, taking a lower paying job that affords them time to better interact with their children etc. I believe that this is the only way we can have a sustainable and strong Singaporean core, and not to have to rely on foreign immigrants.   

2) "Creating good jobs

The second reason of creating good jobs is not convincing. According to a survey conducted by the International Labor Organization (ILO), Singaporeans work the longest hours among 12 countries surveyed. The same study reported that at the same time our real incomes have declined.

Singaporean workers are one of the unhappiest in the world. In a survey of 14 economies, Singaporean workers were found to enjoy going to work the least, are the least loyal to their employers and have the least supportive workplaces. Only 19 percent of those polled look forward to their work each day; the global average is 30 percent."

Again, working long hours does not necessarily mean a job is "bad". Granted, Singapore is a country where there can be a significant amount of stress due to a culture of excellence has been so ingrained in us. But it is a mindset that we ourselves must want to change. A survey released by AsiaOne yesterday showed that a significant 60% of those surveyed chose career progression before work-life balance and you know what they say - as you make your bed, so you must lie it in.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel - with more emphasis being placed on work-life balance, a gradual shift in mindsets and cultural norms would be able to ensure we have more fulfilled and happier employees. With a 4.4% jump in job vacancies in the last quarter of 2012 and a whopping 129,600 new positions created in 2012 alone, it's clearly an employees market and the onus is on each and every worker to grab better opportunities. I earnestly hope that employers in Singapore will also recognise that more satisfied and happier workers will also bump up productivity and  decrease the time and money wasted with a high employee turnover. This would only spell a win-win situation for all.

3) "Higher quality of life

The Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) of Singaporeans workers is one of the weakest. A UBS survey showed that Singaporeans’ PPP was 39.9 compared to Zurich (106.9), Sydney (95.9), Luxembourg (95.4), Tokyo (82.2), Auckland (68.9), Taipei (58.9), Hong Kong (58.1) and Seoul (57.4).

According to a worldwide Gallup poll, Singaporeans were found to be the unhappiest people. We were even unhappier than Iraqis, Afghans and Haitians. In the Happy Planet Index, we polled a dismal 90th out of 151 countries surveyed.

There are no justifiable reasons for the PAP to raise the population by such a large number in such a short span of time. The population explosion will cause further economic, social and psychological stress for the people, as well as add to national security implications.

For the sake of a safe and secure Singapore, the Government must rethink its population policy. There are alternative measures which can achieve prosperity and happiness without resorting to such an unsustainable programme. The SDP will offer these alternatives in a population and immigration paper which will be released in the near future."
I want to point out that this might have been completely mis-read. In the Population White Paper, the third portion relates to a "higher quality living environment" and delineates how it would be done by investing in infrastructure, quality urban spaces and innovative technologies for optimising space. In addition, they have plotted the land use plan to support this growth by mapping out 700,000 new homes to be built by 2030, further development for outlying areas, reclaiming more land and buffing up the public transport system such that 80% of homes will be within 10-mins walk to the MRT. I personally have some reservations about how this is going to squeeze into what I deem a still-very-tiny island and I cannot imagine Orchard Road more crowded than it currently is. So while I remain unconvinced about this, I will bide my time and see how things pan out.

Ultimately, I understand that we need a foreign influx to keep the economy growing and support our ageing population yet at the same time, I am not looking forward to bearing the brunt of having a decreased personal space and overcrowding. Because Singapore’s population woes are so complex, I foresee that the population policies would require multiple stages of refinements with input from a vast majority before achieving their intended effect without alienating and causing undue unhappiness to those who call this island home.

 And while we figure that out together as Singaporeans, I urge everyone not to get caught up in the moment but to see how best you can contribute constructively to a discussion. And if all else fails, a least start by doing your national duty - and yes, by that I meant make babies!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

WP's Political Strategy of fence sitting

Most first world parliaments have opposition parties fighting with their incumbents to rule and govern their country. Singapore has a very unique opposition that has been elected into parliament, but yet not aspiring to rule.The Worker's Party (WP) leader, Low Thia Khiang (LTK) says that his role in government is to keep "checks & balances": to be the co-driver, and slap the driver if he falls asleep.

Being in power since independence in 1965 makes it easy to find something the People's Action Party (PAP) government has done wrong. After all nobody is perfect, no matter how hard you work in the span of 50+ years, there will definitely be mistakes that have been made. Because the PAP is not perfect, LTK's WP promised to be the voice of the people. He called for Singaporeans who were unhappy with the government in any way to vote WP to bring about change. Once inside parliament, a first world opposition would provide alternatives to the status quo.

 UK Parliament's opposition MPs would come up with a shadow budget with an alternative way to use the taxpayer's money. They would appoint shadow ministers to provide alternative policies that can challenge the status quo. The WP have done none of the above. Why doesn't the WP practice what first world oppositions do when they claim to be pursuing a first world parliament?

The WP's excuse is that they are in parliament to provide "checks & balances" and not oppose for the sake of opposing. Upon further analysis, I realise that the truth is that WP is employing a political strategy of fence sitting, which is detrimental to the democratic process.

In this article i will explain the political strategy of fence-sitting and how it benefits the WP.

1) Escape from decisions that angers one side of the fence to please the other
One fact of life is that you can't make everybody happy. By saying they are only in parliament to check the PAP, the WP do not have to make a stand on one side of the fence while offending the other. Let's take immigration for an example since it was a major gripe which propelled the WP into parliament. Many people voted against the PAP because of their xenophobia. Nicole Seah from NSP even commented that there were so many foreigners in Singapore that she felt like she was in a different country when she was taking the MRT. There were many claims of foreigners taking away Singaporean's jobs. So one would presume that the WP once being elected into parliament would stand up to limit or even stop immigration, right? Wrong. The WP never made a stand on immigration, for or against. "Checks & Balances" only requires them to point out the problem but conveniently avoid providing a solution. "Checks & Balances" or fence-sitting is a convenient way to take advantage of unhappiness from 2 sides of the fence. Making a stand to allow immigration is good for businesses to sustain the workforce in the midst of a shrinking TFR and economy. However, immigration also creates xenophobia. Singaporeans do not want to have illegal aliens taking up their MRT seats or their jobs. On the other hand, restricting immigration appeases the xenophobic population. They have more space on the trains, lesser uncouth foreigners. But by doing so, they anger business owners who cannot find workers to do jobs Singaporeans do not want to do, increases their labour costs and we will not be able to mitigate the negative effects of a shrinking workforce and economy. Making a stand on immigration, either to restrict or allow, will definitely anger one side of the population. Another example is property prices. There are many complaints that high property prices are making it harder for newly-married couples to own homes. There are even allegations that the influx of foreigners are driving up property prices, increasing the feeling of xenophobia. Prices of bare land is controlled by the URA, why don't the WP force the government into a motion to either increase or decrease the prices of property? The reality is regardless of whether property prices rise or fall, there will always be winners and losers. Rising property prices benefit the retired and elderly who have put their life savings into their HDB flat. They can downgrade from a 5 Rm to 4 Rm or 4 Rm to 3 Rm flat and take a big payout in the Cash-over-Valuation. Property agents also benefit from a buoyant property market. They will definitely not complain about rising property prices as higher prices gives them more commission. If the WP stands for lowering property prices, it makes it easier for newly-married couples to own homes. But, on the flipside, middle aged workers will be putting their CPF monies into an asset that does not appreciate and is losing its value. Property agents will lose commissions and the WP will lose the votes of these Singaporeans. Saying that WP is only "Checks & Balances" allows the WP to garner the votes from both sides of the fence. When in fact both side's objectives and needs are exactly opposite of each other.

2) Turns everyone and anyone that is not satisfied with anything and everything against the incumbent
This statement speaks for itself. You really cannot make everyone happy. As human beings, we are always never satisfied with whatever we have. By sitting on the fence, the WP is effectively getting votes from anyone and everyone that is unhappy about anything, directing their anger at the incumbent. As long as you wake up on the wrong side of the bed and are having a bad day, you can always find something to blame the government for and consequentially support the WP.

3) Hides the WP's greatest weakness
 Lastly, sitting on the fence allows the WP to hide its greatest weakness. That it cannot solve any of the problems that Singaporeans are sending them into parliament for. The last time they tried to propose an alternative was during the ministerial salary debate. A big part of their GE2011 attacks on the incumbent was that the PAP ministers were over-paid. An alternative pay-scale was proposed by the WP based on the civil servant's MX-9 structure, but the alternative turned out to give the ministers an even higher salary than the status quo. "WP: Don't take by-election result as a sign of future trends." - Low Thia Khiang (ST 27th Jan 2013) What the WP is trying to say is that they are not ready to solve the problems Singaporeans are facing. When the reason they voted him in the first place is for these same problems to be solved. Fence sitting exempts the WP from any accountability because since they do nothing, there is nothing to account for. LTK is an astute politician. His use of the words "checks and balances" on the government has allowed him to rise to greater power without solving any of the problems people are facing today. At the end of the day, LTK knows that if the PAP cannot solve any of Singapore's problems, neither can the WP. The "checks & balances" strategy is against the notion of a first world parliament.

WP is going against the fundamental tenet of democracy where the opposition provides an alternative to the status quo while the people choose what they feel is best for them. Many believe that PAP's falling popularity is due to being not as competent as before. But one cannot ignore that a big part of WP's success is its ingenious strategy of "checks & balances", that allows them to promise Singaporeans everything but yet promising them nothing at all.