Singapore Media Watch

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Your Views: NNI to include unrealised loss (eg Shin Corp?) - Straits Times (29 Nov 2006) - Govt hasn't decided if GST hike will be in phases

The above quotes are taken from The Straits Times of 29 Nov 2006, "Govt hasn't decided if GST hike will be in phases".

While well intended to give the incumbent government more options to dip into the reserves, a poorly-defined change to the Constitution to allow only realised capital gains from past reserves can be a double-edged sword.

Let me illustrate: Take the example of the government's investments in Shin Corp via Temasek Holdings. If the government takes a prudent approach to mark-to-market the unrealised loss on the investment (probably in the billions now), such a conservative approach will give a better picture of the true "Net" Capital gain/loss position (including unrealised loss) of its investments.

However, if the government chose to take only the realised gains into the equation, this will mask the "true" net position since theoretically, the incumbent government can (and will) defer divesting the loss-making investments in order to dip into the reserves.

Therefore, to prevent a situation where a "rogue" government in the future can take full advantage of the above scenario in order to circumvent the loopholes, may I suggest any redefinition of "Net Investment Income" to include mark-to-market unrealised loss on investments in addition to realised capital gains.

(Note: It is ironic that the incumbent government is trying to tweek the Constitution to allow it to have wider scope to dip into the reserves (the people's money) by redefining the Net Investment Income while at the same time, it does not allow the citizens (CPF members) to dip into the capital gains on their CPF investments for withdrawal - they can't touch their very own money!!!)

As an aside, I find SM Goh's comments "We don't try to mislead the people" amusing. Wouldn't it have been even more upfront if this initiative to help the lower-income group (the justification for the GST hike) were part of the PAP's manifesto and was made an election issue? Surely such a noble gesture would have gone down well with the electorate? No?


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Your Views: How will GIC/Temasek/CPF members' returns compare with Google shares 10 - 20 years from today, 28 Nov 2006?

Recently, Temasek claimed they achieved annualised returns of some 18% p.a over 30 years while GIC claimed returns of some 8 - 9% p.a. over 25 years. However, CPF members' funds have been getting a paltry 1 to 2% p.a.and are now earning 2.5% p.a. on the Ordinary Account.

To illustrate how bad the returns are, I shall venture into buying Google shares today (28 Nov 2006) at the price of about US$485 per share.

With S$100,000, I will get 133 Google shares.

(I would have bought another 133 Google shares (amounting to S$100,000 of my CPF funds tied up with the CPF Board) if this were allowed, but unfortunately, this is not to be even if it is my very own money!)

Nonetheless, I have used cash to purchase the shares and we'll see how it will perform over the next 10 - 20 years since my investment horizon is long term, just like our very own GIC and/or Temasek.

I shall keep track of my investment and provide yearly updates to compare this investment with the 2.5% p.a. (or whatever the CPF Board pays periodically) to see how poorly CPF members are getting in returns on their investments.

If you look at Google, there are many similarities with Singapore:

1. Both aim to attract the best brains around;

2. Both are dealing with US$ billions of shareholder/stakeholder money: Google's valuation is in hundreds of billions US$, as is S'pore's reserves.

The major similarities may end here but there are major differences too:

a. Google's revenue base is global while Singapore's is still primarily local;

b. Google's potential shareholder base is in the billions while S'pore's is only 4m;

c. Google is the future while S'pore's old school.

d. Google's staff strength is lean but value-added (many PhDs) while S'pore's full of fat

e. Google's scholars and staff are enpowered, hence a thriving innovative culture (necessary in this rapidly changing world) while Singapore's system stifles innovation and creativity, turning its scholars into good administrators but lousy innovators.

...and the list goes on.....

Now you understand why I place my bet on Google?

Let's see where we are in 10 or even 20 years' time!


Monday, November 27, 2006

Editorial Review: GST Petitions losing momentum. Was it expected ?

A 2 week online drive to petition against the rise of GST failed to generate any public awareness or impact as expected. As of today, the two petitions and have garnered a combined total of only 3,100 votes.

When the GST hike was first announced by PM Lee Hsien Loong, it caused a furore amongst the online community of Singapore. Many netizens condemn the government's decision and were quick to voice their disapproval and unhappiness on internet forums.

An online petition was started to galvanize Singaporeans into action in the hope that a strong reaction from the populace will deter the government from implementing the unpopular hike. Many were optimistic that this marked the beginning of a grassroots movement to counter the establisment.

The petition received over 2000 signatures in a short week, still it lacked far behind the 30,000 gathered in 3 days in support of Mr T T Durai's resignation from the NKF 2 years ago in the aftermath of the NKF scandal.

What exactly went wrong ? Can internet grumblings ever be translated into political will and affirmative action in real life? Two crucial elements are seriously lacking here which will prove to be a stumbling block for similar drives in the future: a credible leader and support of the press.

Though the internet is dominated by vocal anti-government critics, these remain only a visible minority amongst Singapore netizens. A survey published by the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA), the survey showed half of all teens between 15 and 19 are on the Internet, blogging or podcasting. It meant about 120,000 of these teens take part in web activities. The miserly support for the online petitions showed that the silent majority are either not supportive or are unwilling to be involved out of fear of the authorities.

Without a credible leader of a certain stature to rally the netizens whom are mostly nameless nicks whose identities are a mystery to one another, this collective outpouring of grievances and frustrations will always be a mere cathartic release serving no useful purpose.

The mainstream media has also been cautious to shine away from reporting on anti-government sentiments prevalent on the internet, choosing instead to report on trivial matters unrelated to public governance. Even if the press did report the online petitions, it is doubtful if older, conservative Singaporeans who are alien to the internet, will jump into the fray.

Therefore it is perhaps premature to overestimate the political significance of the internet. While it is true that the internet has the potential to promote and increase the political awareness of Singaporeans, it still lacks a leader and an organization to harness its energy.

Taiwan has Shi Ming Teh, Malaysia has Tian Chua, Thailand has Sondhi Limthongkul and Myanmar has Aung San Suu Kyi. Who does Singapore have?

Maybe that is why the government has seen no need to engage the internet so far, for it has already been dismissed and vilified by the media as lacking credibility and truth. On the contrary, it may even serve their agenda by providing a small space for disgruntled citizens to express their bottled-up frustrations in peaceful and controlled manner without disrupting the rest of society.

Your Views: Why are billions of vehicle taxes collected not used to improve S'pore's public transport system?

I fully agree with the letter writer (ST 27 Nov, "Much to learn from HK public transport system" - see attached) as I have been to Hong Kong myself, so I am in a position to compare the public transport systems of both countries.

I am particularly impressed by the frequency of the trains there (very short waiting time when compared to our MRT/NEL trains) and the useful computerised information on destinations/next stops etc as highlighted in the letter.

Singapore's system is capable of matching HK's efficient system but my conclusion is that the government is not willing or prepared to spend the millions to upgrade them. As a motorist, we pay the highest taxes (PARF, COE, road tax, ERP, etc.) in the world, enabling the government to generate billions of taxes every year.

Where are these taxes and how are they used to improve the public transport systems, including the buses and MRT system, not just the roads?If the public transport is not up to scratch, why should motorists be made to pay such high taxes?


Contrasting voices: The Internet and old media speak in conflicting languages, neither of them credibly yet.

Seah Chiang Nee

Nov 26, 2006

IN the real world, the economy is humming strongly, more jobs are being created than at anytime in the last 10 years, the stock market is near record high and so are high-end properties.The Singapore dollar has strengthened to around S$1.55 to the US dollar on speculation that economic growth would quicken, thus encouraging investors to put more funds in the city-state.

The sanguine mood is reflected on the streets. With the school holidays on, the crowds are out in force. At night, it is virtually impossible to get a cab in the city centre without prior booking.
Restaurants and shopping malls are full, and people are spending ahead of a hike in Goods and Services Tax from 5% to 7% next April.

Year-end festivals are a month away but a fairyland of lights already covers the kilometres stretching from Orchard Road and Bras Basah Road to Marina Bay.

While the mood is upbeat, the Internet world, however, is painting a very different picture. Here, the talk is of continued weakness, rising unemployment and people committing suicide. (Read more...)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Singapore ranked 84th on The Economist's Democracy Index

The Economist(UK) ranks Singapore 84th among 167 countries in a new Democracy Index. The index was developed by The Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Singapore listed as hybrid regime (mixture of authoritarian and democratic elements) and ranks well below Finland(6), Malaysia(81) , Hong Kong(75), Taiwan(32), Indonesia(65) .

The index looks at 60 indicators across the five categories of electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture .

Overall, The Economist considers having free and fair competitive elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom as a basic requirement for its definition of Democracy.

Click here for the full report by The Economist.

Your Views: Are there more Durais and Matthew Tans ?

I note with sadness of another CBT case involving a prominent Singapore with a position of trust. This follows the infamous NKF case involving another person of trust.

There are 2 major issues of concern to Singaporeans:

1. I hope it is not endemic in how things are run at public institutions (including GLCs and charities etc..) which are helmed by "people of trust" when checks and balances are compromised because of these "prominent people of trust" running the show.

Of more concern are the entities entrusted with Singaporeans' hard-earned reserves like Temasek and GIC. Are there sufficient checks and balances in place to prevent such incidents, especially since transparency and accountability issues are frequently brought up in these entities?

2. I note the significance of the year 2003 in Mr Mathew Tan's case: he started his crime in February 2003 and he also joined the Teck Ghee CCC in 2003 (see attached article in the Today newspaper of 22 Nov below).


a. What were his motivations for joining the CCC (even choosing the Prime Minister's constituency, no less)? Was he "invited" to join or did he volunteer himself? (This had wider implications on how these volunteers are recruited by the CCCs).

b. Do the CCCs have a screening process sophisticated enough to ensure those volunteering their services are doing it for truly altruistic reasons?c. I understand the People's Association has annual budgets in excess of $100 million (taxpayers' money). Correct me if I am wrong but do these CCCs' fundings come from the multi-million PA funds?

Are there sufficient checks and balances in how these CCCs are run?At the end of the day, Singaporeans will like to be assued that there are no more Durais and Mathew Tans within these public entities managing taxpayers' money.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Temasek fallout: Singapore hopes relations will heal - The Nation

The Nation
22 November 2006

Executive expresses surprise Shin Corp deal damaged city-state's image

Amid rising tension between Singapore and Thailand over Temasek Holdings' buying into Shin Corp, an informed financial source from a large Singaporean institution still hopes that both sides can clear up "these misunderstandings" to restore public friendship.

However, the institutional investor believes that Thai politics is the risk for foreign investors in the short-to-medium term.

The executive with a major institutional investor told The Nation last week he was surprised the Temasek-Shin deal had damaged Singapore's image in Thailand.

His company has a long history of relationships with both the private and public sector in Thailand. However, it is a low-profile portfolio investor and is unlikely to take a controlling or even too concentrated a stake in any Thai equity.

"We were actively involved in cooperating with both the banks and the government in helping Thailand in our own small way to recover from the last Asian financial crisis," said the source, who asked not to be named. (Read more...)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Workers' Party: Storm in a teacup

Its newcomers can't escape this lesson: Politics is about staying the course for years, however tough.

By Seah Chiang Nee.Nov 19, 2006

IN the past 40 years, Singapore has produced a good number of bankers, engineers and scholars, etc, but fewer career politicians than other developed nations.

With few exceptions, representatives of the People’s Action Party (PAP) are co-opted from outside the party rather than the best being allowed to come from the ranks.

The politician in most of them somehow never quite emerged from their years of Parliament experience; most remain technocrats and problem solvers.

The fledgling opposition parties are no different. Only a few leaders are battle-hardened, the rest being newcomers who move straight from the professions or business to stand in elections.
As a result, the majority of Singapore’s politicians lack campaign or debating skills or political acumen.

That’s the way politics was designed here. Lee Kuan Yew had long steered the country away from “debate” politics either in or out of Parliament.

There’s another reason. Few citizens are interested in entering – or even discussing – politics, and those who join parties nowadays are mostly young, inexperienced people with questionable staying power.

Recently, the lack of experience has told on the largest opposition party, Workers Party (WP), at a time when its fortunes are looking up after years of struggle. (Read more...)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Your views: NS stint may hinder job prospects for S'poreans

I understand the frustration of the letter writer, Sylvester Lim Teck Hee, in today's Straits Times, "NS stint may hinder job prospects for S'poreans" (ST, 20 Nov). I
can fully empathise with him as I have relatives and friends or their sons facing similar predicament.

Increasingly, citizens are facing stiff competition for jobs locally with globalization but
ironically, they are disadvantaged if they are males with reservist obligations.

Correct me if I am wrong, but if they happen to work overseas, they will not be subject
to the yearly in-camp training. However, in their country of birth, instead of "home ground" advantage (in soccer lingo), they are instead disadvantaged when compared to foreigners/PRs without such yearly reservist obligations that are becoming "disruptive" in the eyes of employers, like Mr Sylvester Lim himself.

First, these male citizens will "lose" 2 years of their most productive lives undergoing national service (NS), but that's not all as highlighted by Mr Lim's letter.

Is it any wonder then why nearly all of these NS-eligible males are against serving NS (with the possible exceptions of "white horses"?). The letter writer highlights one aspect of NSmen's obligations many overlook: the years of reservist training after their 2-year full-time NS obligations.

Many Singaporean males will face the same problems Mr Lim highlights - foreginers/PRs have the edge when compared to the reservist-obliged: no disruption/loss of productivity, lower pay, etc.., resourcefulness and hard work being equal. Any practical businessman/employer will have no problem whom to employ, Mr Lim notwithstanding.

Perhaps we can look at some of the other countries\' NS models we can adapt? I know of young Frenchmen doing their so-called "national service" by being posted here as trainees in the French bank Societe Generale\'s ("SG") branch here. I am not sure what salaries/packages they were entitled but one thing I am sure is that they did not get the miserly S$300 per month salary as a recruit in the Singapore Armed Forces, whether he is a graduate or not.

At least, these French national servicemen ended up with some very valuable experience while doing their NS. What about our very own NSmen? They are more like slaves, or maids in present Singapore who earn more than these NSmen, if you ask my opinion.

At least these maids can pick up some valuable experience or savings when they finish their 2-year contract and put them to good use when they return to their homeland. NSmen? Nothing to crow about but what's worse, more "slavery" years doing reservist training.

Not only do they not earn valuable experience relevant to the working world, their reservist obligations are actually hampering their careers!! It is high time the government reviews Singapore's NS Act to ensure it keeps up with the times.

Possible considerations include:

1. Shorten the 2-year full time NS?

2. Shorten the reservist cycle?

3. Or even a professional army? I am sure there is no shortage of takers from China and or India with promise of PRs /citizenship, even if the pay is low by Singapore's standards but high or acceptable for them? Or even our own citizens if the pay is commensurate with the private sector?

4. Revise salaries to be commensurate with the private sector (eg Poly grads to be paid salaries their female cohorts earn?) with "additional" budget from the increased salaries to be partly funded by a progressive "security tax" where the rich and better off residents pay higher tax since they have vested interest that Singapore remains safe and secure, such security provided by our NSmen? (Credit to suggestions taken from Mr Wang and other forummers in Sammyboy Coffee Shop Talk).

Alternatively, a combination of the above may result in shorter NS cycles for the citizens (perhaps the 6 months for basic training like Malaysia's model) or whatever.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Is internal split within Workers' Party more important than Temasek's problems in Thailand?

We are astonished that The Straits Times has published 3 articles on the recent political infighting in The Workers' Party (WP) in the span of 5 days:

Sunday Times November 12 Sunday

What's the story ? The Workers' Party was recently hit by the resignation of two senior members. Does it hint of trouble in the party? Peh Shing Huei and Ken Kwek investigate.

Straits Times November 10 Friday

Workers' Party hit by another resignation Rising star opposed to new party curbs on Internet postings Straits Times By Peh Shing Huei and Ken Kwek

Straits Times November 8 Wednesday

Senior WP member quits over Net fracas By Peh Shing Huei and Ken Kwek

When did the WP become the darling of the Singapore Media? With all due respect to WP, it is only a small political party with 2 seats in Parliament and does not deserve the disproportionate time and space allocated to it by the Straits times.

To make it more puzzling, Straits Times actually dedicated 2 prominent journalists in Ken Kwek and Peh Shing Huei to cover the WP debacle. We don't see them "investigating" with zeal the Temasek-Shin corp deal or the Wee Shu Kim saga.

As an institution and pillar of Singapore, the media has a responsibility to keep citizens well informed and updated about the nation's affairs instead of persistently avoiding important sensitive issues and diverting attention to an opposition party's internal affairs.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Singapore and Thailand face showdown after Temasek deal - IHT

16 November 2006

By Wayne Arnold
International Herald Tribune

Bangkok insists phone deal broke law

SINGAPORE: They have been careful to appear cordial, but in the polite language of Asian diplomacy, a stubborn standoff has emerged between Thailand and Singapore over how to handle Singapore's purchase of the communications assets of the deposed prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and a legal confrontation between them is looming.

The trouble between the two Southeast Asian neighbors began in January, when Singapore's investment arm, Temasek Holdings, purchased a controlling stake in Thailand's dominant phone company, Shin, for $1.9 billion. That stoked public protests in Thailand over foreign ownership of a national champion and the Thaksin family's tax- free windfall - adding to complaints alleging corruption that culminated in the September coup.

With Thaksin in exile, both governments have emphasized that their relations are on track. Yet the two are now at loggerheads over Shin. (Read more...)

Your views: 2 China-born Singapore government scholarship holders with history of conviction given PRs

17 Nov 2006

I read with much concern about the conviction of the 2 China-born Singapore Permanent Residents (PRs) on government (MOE) scholarships for beating up a fellow student last year. ("Campus jealousy: Two fined $1,000 for beating up fellow student", ST 17, Nov).

The facts as presented are:

1. Both are China-born nationals with S'pore government scholarships.

2. The incident happened in April 2005.

3. They received their PRs in 2006.4. One is now an engineer and the other an entrepreneur.

The questions I'd like the government to answer are:a. How did they manage to get their PRs this year when they already had a criminal record for the crime commited in April last year? -

Has our Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) lowered their standards that even criminals are now given PRs? - What are the criteria when granting PRs? - How many PRs out there with criminal records? - Are there checks in place to ensure those given PRs and citizenships are of good standing without any criminal records?b. How are government scholarships awarded?

The case shows even foreigners of dubious character are given scholarships, at the expense of citizens. This is ridiculous!.

The report does not indicate if these scholarship holders are bonded to the MOE (it doesn't seem so in the case of the entrepreneur). - Does this mean the scholarships are unconditional? - Is the engineer working in MOE or another stat board/GLC? - If so, how did he land that job when he has a criminal record?(Note: I assume the government has a central database linking the various ministries, stat boards, GLCs, so effectively, these 2 PRs' criminal records are available for access at these government bodies).


Friday, November 17, 2006

Your views: To PM Lee: The needy will hold you to it to re-distribute some $1.6b yearly from GST hike

Attached is copy of news article of 13 Nov 2006 taken from CNA on the primary justification for the GST to be increased from 5% to 7%.

(Read )

I note the noble efforts of the PAP government to "help the lower income group".

However, I sincerely hope that it is not just NATO ("No Action Talk Only") in the government's sincerity to help this lot.

To show its sincerity in walking the talk, I would expect to see the following in the coming years (actually, should be annually as a matter of fact) on how these lower income group are to be helped:

1. First, project how much will be generated with the GST increase - eg the 2% rise will generate an increase of some $1.6 billion to be distributed to this lower income group that needs help (assuming annual GST of $4b before the increase?);

2. Next, identify who are these citizens who need help (eg. those earning below $1000 per month or households having total income less than $2000 per month?);

3. How many of these are there? (eg if the bottom 20% households earn less than $2000 pm, then there should be about 200,000 eligible households that qualify if there are some 1,000,000 households in total);

4. Based on the above, a simplistic calculation will mean each household will receive some $8,000 per year ($1,600,000,000 divided by 200,000 households).

(Note: These figures are for illustration only as the government is in a better position to come up with the exact figures on how the resultant 2% GST increase will be distributed back to the needy.)

Remember, the government must be transparent on how the increased GST is to be spent to help the lower income group (as its justification for the increase) as I believe most of the affected Singaporeans have no problem in extending help to the needy.

And remember that this must be an on-going annual exercise unless the GST is reduced back to 5% in the future (which I honestly believe will not happen).


Thailand sets up special panel to prove Temasek-Shin deal - AFP

16 November 2006

Thai police have said a special panel will next week begin looking at possible violations of foreign ownership laws in the purchase of Thai telecom Shin Corp by Singapore's Temasek Holdings.

The new police panel will examine a Commerce Ministry review of the purchase, which found that Temasek may have violated rules that limit foreign companies to holding 49 percent of telecoms."

The team will have its first meeting next week to see what information we have received and who was involved in the case," said police Major General Vichien Singpreecha, who heads the panel."

Our officials are looking at the details of the allegations without any (political) pressure," he told AFP.The case could force Temasek to shed some of its stake in company, and is loaded with political and economic consequences for Thailand.

Shin Corp was founded by deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless coup on September 19. (Read more...)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Your Views: Calling all Singaporeans for more suggestions on the proposed GST hike and more help for the needy

The Prime Minister announced in Parliament on 13 November that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) may be increased to 7 percent, up from 5 percent presently. Mr Lee said the hike is necessary to finance the enhanced social safety nets, which are needed to help the lower income group.

There are plans to increase the grant to the needy to buy their first home, as well as to give them more "workfare" bonuses as an incentive to stay employed, and it will come with a package which will more than offset its impact on the poor.

Since May, there has been increases in chronological order, electricity, taxi fares, electronic road pricing (ERP), food and beverage prices due to the higher rentals of upgraded food centres, university fees, development charge for non-landed residential sites, bus and MRT fares, HDB 1-room and 2-room rentals, etc.

GST is a regressive tax because it generally affects the lower-income more than the higher-income. As income tax rates have been reduced gradually since the introduction of GST, the higher-income has also in a sense benefited more on a relative basis.

Instead of just increasing GST, I would like to suggest that we explore the possibility of taxing the higher-income more, as well as other cost-cutting measures like reducing the number of scholarships for foreigners. We could also consider waiving GST for basic necessities like food, utilities, public transport, medical fees, etc, like some other countries.

Past experience indicates that most businesses may just pass on the GST increase to consumers, often times disproportionately more than the actual increase.
"A package which will more than offset its impact on the poor" may lead to those who are marginally above the poverty level to be in a way "squeezed more" in relative terms.

Our experience with the New Singapore Shares (NSS), Economic Restructuring Shares (ERS), etc, has shown us that there may be leakages in the system in that tens of thousands may not get the help that was designed to help them most, because they failed to register by the datelines imposed.

Increasing GST may also affect Singapore's competitiveness internationally, as our current costs are already much higher that our neighbouring countries.

I suggest that a comprehensive study and review be conducted to examine the extent to which GST and its increases, may have contributed to the widening income gap. In so doing, we may avoid the fine balance of increasing the probable cause of the problem which we are trying to address, which may further aggravate the problem.

This is reflected in the Department of Statistics' (DOS) General Household Survey 2005 (GHS) that about 40 per cent of households had declining incomes (inclusive of the bottom 10 per cent of households which had no income from work, presumably most of which are retiree households) after adjusting for inflation from 2000 to 2005, and the DOS Household Expenditure Survey 2003's (HES) data that about 40 per cent of households had a deficit in their monthly income-expenditure.

We could also try to explore other resources that Singapore has to help the poor, such as our US$132 (S$205) billion foreign reserves which has been ranked number one in the world on a per capita basis. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) World Economic Outlook Database September 2006, Singapore is ranked number one in the world for current account balance in percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio. Singapore's ratio of 28.5 in 2006, is more than double the second ranked country, Switzerland's ratio of 13.3.

I believe the additional revenue from the two per cent GST increase is estimated to be less than $2 billion. This year, Temasek's paper losses in Shin Corp is already estimated to be over $1 billion and SingTel's SingTel Optus estimated expected write-down is about $8 billion. We could try to re-examine how our Government-linked Companies (GLCs) invest, particularly overseas, with a view to learning from the experience and the lessons, so that in future,we do not in just one year, have a paper loss that may be more than four times the annual increase in revenue from the GST increase.

The Government Investment Corporation (GIC) had returns of 8.2 per cent per annum for the last 25 years, and Temasek had returns of 18 per cent per annum for the last 32 years. With about $205 billion of foreign reserves, if just one per cent of the GIC and temasek's average annual returns is used to help the needy, there may be no need to increase GST, or a lower increase.

As to "plans to increase the grant to the needy to buy their first home", the lower-income may generally have a higher probability of encountering financial difficulty at some point in a typical 30-year mortgage, and thus risk losing their homes and CPF.

Some of the measures to help the needy, may unintentionally end up creating other problems for them.

Leong Sze Hian

Collation of all online petitions on GST hike

To all Singaporeans,

The Singapore Media Watch has posted 2 petition links on our blog on the right hand column

Please email us if there are any more new petitions set up.

As URLs posted on internet forums are not easily visible and may disappeared from view as days pass by, we believe collating the links on one central website will make public viewing easier.

Please forward our blog to your friends and email us your views on the GST hike. We will publish it asap as long it contains no vulgarities or personal attacks against anybody.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Online petition: Say NO to GST Hike

Contrary of what reported on the media, the proposed GST hike from the current 5% to 7% (read: here) was vehemently opposed by the online community in Singapore.

Far from being muted and restrained, Singaporeans from all walks of life have registered their unhappiness on internet forums.

A petition was set up by an anonymous netizen to protest against the hike:

Tell us what you think about the proposed GST hikes here.

Temasek in Thailand: Stumbling from one mishap to another - Bangkok Post

Thitinan Pongsudhirak
Bangkok Post
13 Nov 06

In view of their scandalous dealings with deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family, senior Singaporean officials are remarkably defiant.

Instead of owning up to their complicity in hastening Mr Thaksin's demise and contributing to Thailand's long and costly political crisis, both Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew remain adamant that Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government-owned holding company that purchased the Shinawatras' 49.3% stake in Shin Corp last January to the tune of 73.3 billion baht, is a run-of-the-mill business enterprise that made a sound investment decision.

Never mind that Temasek's decision to let Mr Thaksin and his family cash out of Shin Corp sparked protracted protests in Bangkok that culminated with the military coup and Mr Thaksin's ouster on Sept 19.

Never mind that the executive director and CEO of Temasek is Prime Minister Lee's wife, Madam Ho Ching, who has more or less kept out of the limelight in favour of her husband and father-in-law.

As if to heap insult on top of injury, Prime Minister Lee stated in a speech to the Asian-European Editors Forum on Oct 6 that the Thai putsch was a setback for the country's democratic system.

Justifying his view on Mr Thaksin's electoral prowess, Mr Lee completely missed the essence of the Thai crisis. It was Mr Thaksin's erosion of legitimacy on a long trail of constitutional violations, corruption and abuse of power that led to his downfall.

Elections without accountability and checks-and-balances under Mr Thaksin's Thailand were necessary but not sufficient for acceptable democratic rule.Minister Mentor Lee followed his son's remark with the insistence that the Temasek-Shin Corp transaction was completely above board.

Both father and son did what Mr Thaksin would have done. They insisted on what is legal on paper but illegitimate and possibly illegal in practice. On the one hand, Temasek is ostensibly an independent company that bought Shin Corp, nominally owned by the Shinawatra children, not Mr Thaksin himself.

On the other, Temasek is owned by the Singaporean government and directed by the prime minister's spouse, and Shin Corp was ultimately owned and governed by Mr Thaksin, despite the absence of his signature on paper.

To finalise the deal, Temasek set up a front operation through Kularbkaew, a nominally majority Thai-owned company that bought Shin Corp with loans from Temasek, a circumvention of local foreign business law and its foreign shareholding limit of 49%.

Such legalistic manoeuvres were Thaksinesque, manipulating the spirit of the law, rules and regulations. Temasek's actions have caused ripples through the foreign investor community in Thailand, and have posed a conundrum for Thai policy makers, who have long been lenient with the enforcement of the Foreign Business Act.

Official investigations on nominee shareholding have opened a can of worms that could prove detrimental both to foreign investment and to the Thai economy unless an acceptable compromise that imposes punitive measures on Shin Corp without adversely affecting foreign companies across the board can be found.

To be sure, Shin Corp comprises tainted assets based on state concessions Mr Thaksin carved out unscrupulously, ranging from a mobile phone service and a television station to a satellite operation. That Shin Corp's paper wealth more than trebled during Mr Thaksin's rule was critical in laying the basis for the anti-Thaksin demonstrations.

His political power increased his commercial wealth with the benefit of blatant conflicts of interest.The political fallout from Temasek's Shin Corp investment decision has been profound. It led indirectly to the fall of a Thai government.

For the Lee family to feign ignorance and maintain their self-righteous high ground is disingenuous. It does a disservice to Temasek's intention to navigate a way out of the commercial quagmire. The company has belatedly established an office in Bangkok, presumably to undertake a public relations drive and mount a legal rearguard action to protect its interests.

Without Mr Thaksin at the top, Shin Corp's share price has gone into a tailspin. The prospects of Shin Corp companies are utterly murky.More importantly, the Temasek affair has put Thai-Singaporean relations at risk.

Despite his setback remark on Thai democracy and his insistence of Temasek's innocence, PM Lee has seen fit to raise the issue with Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont in their personal meeting. Gen Surayud rightly assigned the Temasek-Shin Corp case to the Thai judicial process.

Without assistance from the Surayud government, Thai law will have the final say.Thai-Singaporean relations at the government level, of course, will continue unimpeded by the Shin Corp scandal. What is at stake for Singapore is the general sentiment among the Thai people towards the island state.

If Singapore's leaders want to repair the damage caused by Temasek's misadventure, they should begin by owning up to how the Shin Corp deal impacted the Thai body politic. However reluctant, words of regret are needed to mend relations and restore Singapore's reputation in local eyes.

Indeed, if the Temasek-Shin Corp deal was completely above board, as PM Lee maintains, Singapore officials would not have to repeatedly insist that it was completely above board.

The writer is director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Surayud to Singapore amid Shin saga - Bangkok Post

11 November 2006

(dpa) - Thailand's military-appointed prime minister departed Thursday for a one-day visit to Brunei and Singapore, with the latter expected to be the tenser of the two whistle-stops. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont was scheduled to meet Thursday morning with Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah before flying on to Singapore where he will meet with President SR Nathan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

While the stopovers are in keeping with regional diplomatic etiquette - newly appointed leaders of member countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) try to prioritise state visits to the grouping - Surayud's Singapore swing promises to be more than just a pleasantry.

It comes at a time of rising Thai-Singapore tensions over the January 23, 2006, purchase of Shin Corp - the business conglomerate of the family of former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra - by Temasek Holdings of Singapore.

The $1.9 billion sale raised serious questions about Thaksin's legitimacy as a national leader and accusations of "policy corruption," if not outright cheating on taxes. (Read more...)

Singapore to tighten curbs on free speech - Financial Times

By John Burton in Singapore
Published: November 10 2006 01:19 Last updated: November 10 2006 01:19

Singapore is proposing to tighten laws governing the internet and public gatherings as part of an overhaul of the city-state’s penal code.

The changes would give the government broader statutory authority to prosecute offenders and to punish them with higher fines, in spite of promises by Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, to promote an “open society”.

Singapore has some of the world’s toughest restrictions on free speech and assembly. The issue received international attention during the recent International Monetary Fund/World Bank annual meeting. Singapore banned outdoor protests and some accredited representatives of non-governmental organisations were barred from entering.

Reporters Without Borders recently ranked Singapore 146th out of 167 countries surveyed for press freedom. (Read more...)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Forum review: what's hot and what's not

Young PAP Forum

Are some Singaporeans ungratefu about what the PAP....

With the furore over the Wee Siew Min saga abating, a forumer started a thread on whether Singaporeans have forgotten the contributions the PAP has made to Singapore over the past 4 decades. This has garnered 132 replies so far

Sammyboy Delphi Forum

Latest: Goh Meng Seng resigns from WP

An online squabble between forumers and WP (Workers' Party) members claimed its first casualty when Mr Goh Meng Seng took responsibility for the fracas and resigned from the WP.

In an interview with Straits Times on 8 November, Mr Goh said he has quitted the party to be accountable for Internet postings he said had tarnished the WP's reputation.

Not surprisingly, his resignation sparked off a thread in the Sammyboyforum where the alleged postings were made, garnering 228 replies so far.

Roundup of regional news - 9 November 2006

International Herald Tribune

Time 'right' for change, Bush says

WASHINGTON: Faced with the collapse of his Republican majority in Congress, President Bush responded swiftly Wednesday by announcing the departure of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and vowing to work with Democrats "to find common ground" on the war in Iraq and domestic issues.

With Democrats having recaptured the House and control of the Senate hinging on the outcome of a single unsettled contest in Virginia, Bush, sounding alternately testy and conciliatory at a White House news conference, said he was "obviously disappointed." He portrayed the results as a cumulative "thumpin' " of Republicans, and conceded that as head of the party, he bore some responsibility. (Read more...)


Two Thai mobile firms fight to cut payments

BANGKOK, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Thailand's number two and three mobile phone firms said on Thursday they had joined forces to seek change in the way they pay revenues to state firms that made them less competitive than rival Advanced Info Service .

Second-ranked Total Access Communication (TAC) and number three True Move PCL told a joint news conference AIS, which has more than 50 percent of the mobile phone market, had lower operating costs than them.

"It's time for both of us to raise our voice," TAC chief executive Sigve Brekke said. "We are pointing out that AIS has enjoyed a lot of advantages."

They have filed a letter of complaint to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) regulator and asked the Information, Communications and Technology Ministry to investigate and help create fair competition. (Read more...)

In Focus: Objective Journalism and its role in society (Final)

How objective journalism can fail to reveal the truth
Kirk Caraway, February 20, 2005

When President George W. Bush came out with his 2006 budget recently, it received a lot of attention in the press. Too bad that most of it missed the most obvious problem with it.

While stating the budget was in line with his commitment to cut the deficit in half by 2009, Bush failed to mention the three items that weren't in the budget.

First, there is the cost the war in Iraq. Next up, we have the $1 trillion (at least) price tag to privatize Social Security.

And lastly, there is the continuation of the tax cuts, which are set to expire, but that Bush said he wants to make permanent.

In other words, this budget isn't very truthful. In fact, deceptive is about the nicest description you can use for it. (Read more...)

Temasek's folly: Alarm over AIS 'bonus' of Bt80 bn - The Nation

Questions raised as to why TOT cut revenue repayment of Shin's cash-cow

Temasek Holdings of Singapore will suffer a further setback to its inroads here if the Assets Examination Committee takes on leading cellular firm Advanced Info Service Plc (AIS) for allegedly benefiting from policy corruption by the state-owned TOT Plc that could cost Thailand more than Bt80 billion.

Korn Chatikavanij, deputy secretary-general of the Democrat Party, and Chienchuang Kalayanamit, executive director of Stern Stewart (Thailand) Co, have separately assessed the loss to TOT which it would sustain through to 2015 when the concession to AIS ends.

AIS is the money-spinner in the Shin Group, founded by ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family.

On Tuesday, Chienchuang submitted a statement to Kaewsan Atibodhi, secretary of the Assets Examination Committee (AEC), asking for a full investigation into the AIS concession, as revised under the Thaksin government. The appeal claimed that the relaxed payment terms would cost TOT more than Bt80 billion in lost revenue. (Read more...)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Your Views: Parliament to convene Commission of Inquiry on Shin purchase?

8 Nov 2006

I would like to ask if it is appropriate for the Parliament to convene a Commission of Inquiry into the whole Shin Corp transaction to get to the bottom of it all, and if so, how can such be initiated? Can the public initiate it or must it be initiated by MPs/NCMP?

Since this Temasek transaction involves both huge potential losses of citizens' hard-earned money (in billions) and newspapers' allegations of breaches and so on, shouldn't it be equally important for such citizens' concerns be cleared through the democratic Parliamentary process?

If it can only be initiated by MPs, then I would urge the Opposition MPs/NCMP to initiate one since I would not expect the PAP MPs to do it.

If it can be done, I would like Temasek's Chairman and ex-minister/MP, Mr S Dhanabalan, its CEO, Mdm Ho Ching (wife of PM Lee), and the then MD of Temasek involved in the transaction, Mr S Iswaran (now promoted to Minister of State and MP) to be called in for cross examination.

Thank you for your kind consideration.


Your views: Gencos making all the profits ?

7 Nov 2006

I refer to the letter in today's Straits Times, "Singapore Power's tariffs don't reflect market forces".Through one of the greatest accounting acts of the government, it has claimed that HDB has been generating deficits in its books due to the subsidies given to purchasers under its Home Ownership scheme.

But if you look at the whole value chain, the profits are actually accounted for in the Land authority's (ie. government's) books (SLA) - the government acquires the land cheaply and then "sells" it to HDB at the market rate, hence the subsidy from HDB when they are eventually sold to homeowners at a price of "market price less subsidy".

Left hand (HDB) makes loss while Right hand (SLA) makes profit. The net results is probably a tidy profit for the government as the land was probably compulsorily acquired on the cheap during the early years of national development.

As in the case of HDB and the SLA, Singapore Power (SP) works in the same "Left-hand-right-hand" principle: Left hand (SP) reputedly "subsidizing" the citizens while the Right hand (the power generating companies - gencos - like Power Seraya etc) making the profits, obscene profits, in preparation for their eventual IPOs.

The moral of the story: look at the whole value chain and not only SP in isolation. Therefore, how much profits are the gencos making every year? How do they pass on the savings when energy prices drop?


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

'Enemies of the internet named' - BBC

BBC News 7 November 2006

A list of 13 "enemies of the internet" has been released by human rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

For the first time, Egypt has been added to the list while Nepal, Libya and the Maldives have all been removed.

The list consists of countries that RSF believes are suppressing freedom of expression on the internet.

The civil liberties pressure group has organised a 24-hour protest, inviting web users to vote for the worst offending countries. (Read more...)

Singapore defends financial secrecy - Financial Times

By John Burton in Singapore
Published: November 6 2006 01:25

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's elder statesman, has defended the secrecy of the government's powerful investment agencies in spite of demands that they become more accountable in the wake of Temasek Holdings' troubled takeover of Shin Corp, the Thai telecoms group.

“To the outside world, curious to know the inner workings of Temasek, of the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore, it's unnecessary secrecy. But we have reasons for that. Some we're prepared to disclose, some we're not,” he said.

Temasek and GIC are estimated to control more than $200bn (€157bn, £105bn) in assets and they have emerged among the biggest investors in Asia. (Read more...)

Govt to seek iTV fine of Bt 94bn - The Nation

PM's Office to submit all documentation to attorney-general within two weeks

The Prime Minister's Office will submit to the attorney-general within two weeks documentation of its dispute with iTV Plc. It seeks more than Bt94 billion from the broadcaster.

PM's Office permanent secretary Julayuth Hiranyawisit said yesterday a panel overseeing the concession contract calculated total fines, plus interest, were now Bt94.06 billion.

"It has been nearly six months since the Attorney General's Office advised us to file for compensation. Now, we will submit documents to that office and to PM's Office Minister Khunying Dhipavadee Meksawan for acknowledgement," Julayuth said. (Read more...)

5th least corrupt country - TODAY

5th least corrupt country

Singapore is the fifth least corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.

It measures perceived levels of public sector corruption in 163 countries.

On a scale of 0 to 10, Singapore's score was 9.4, compared to 9.6 for Finland and Iceland, the two countries perceived to be the least corrupt. — 938LIVE

Ranked 12th in Bribe Payers Index

However, in another ranking conducted by Transparency International, Singapore did not fare that well.

Here's the review:

"In Asia, strong domestic anti-corruption measures at home are not consistently translating into responsible business practices abroad, especially for Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. They are assessed significantly worse by respondents from non-OECD countries – the same divide is evident for the United Arab Emirates – indicating a sharp double standard in business practices. "

(Read more...)

Roundup of regional news - 6 November 2006

International Herald Tribune

Helping a city keep spic and spam

'Garbage bin! Garbage bin!" The men with shotguns tumbled from the Land Rover in a crouch and trotted along beside it like marines taking cover behind a Humvee.

"Don't let them see your gun, they know about guns!" whispered the leader, Dennis Lim, a 20-year veteran of this kind of thing. (Read more...)

Taipei Times

Chen apologizes, skirts explanation

Although apologizing for harming the nation's image, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) refused to concede ground to his critics, but he offered few new insights into an alleged corruption scandal involving him, his wife and three top aides.

In a televised address carried live on the nation's news stations, the president gave a lengthy speech in which he defended his conduct, saying he had done nothing wrong.

The scandal rocked the political establishment when first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) and three presidential aides were indicted on Friday for various charges related to corruption, with prosecutors saying they had also collected enough evidence to bring charges against Chen. However, the president enjoys legal immunity to prosecution while in office. (Read more...)

Monday, November 06, 2006

A hospital stay and a glimpse of Singapore -

It tells a lot about people's pain and stoicism, family bond and society's changes

By Seah Chiang Nee
Nov 5, 2006

Every stay I have had in a hospital here – believe me, there have been quite a few in the past 25 years – has been a lesson for me about life.

It's like opening the window to a changing society and allows me to catch a glimpse of Singaporeans’ pain and stoicism, as well as family ties, ethnic bonds and human care.

Recently, I spent three days at the Singapore General Hospital for a colonoscopy and treatment for a colon infection, and the experience was no difference.

(For the uninitiated Malaysian, the SGH is the largest hospital here where, sooner or later, every Singaporean or a friend or relative – and quite a few foreigners, too – will spend time in.)

As I lay on my bed in ‘C’ ward, I had another opportunity to watch, in-between my antibiotic drips, some of my fellow patients and the scores of visitors who came to see them.

When you're staring at the ceiling for most of the day, you have a lot of time to watch, listen and reflect about the ordinary folks around you.

As with scores of previous stays, I have accumulated an impression about the changes in our society. (Read more...)

This was published in The Sunday Star on Nov 5, 2006
Mr Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and owner of the award-winning political website ""

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Roundup of regional news - 5 November 2006

Taipei Times

DPP legislators silent on indictment

Weighed down by the indictment of first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) for alleged corruption, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters and caucus yesterday remained quiet and appeared to be in low spirits.

When approached by the press in the Legislature yesterday morning, DPP Legislator Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) left his office without giving his opinions.

Former DPP Legislator Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康), known for his outspokenness, said in a phone interview that a consensus was reached in a Friday night meeting that DPP members would not accept media interviews on the matter.

DPP Legislator Lee Wen-chung (李文忠) also refused to comment on the indictment or on details of the meeting when quizzed by members of the press over the telephone. (Read more...)

The Star

Giant step to boost growth

JOHOR BARU: More than RM17bil is expected to be initially pumped into the 2,217sq km project, which is 2.5 times the size of Singapore and 48 times that of Putrajaya.
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said it was Malaysia’s vision to make the region the new international address for business, investment, leisure and culture and to showcase all that the nation could be.

“Not only will this ambitious effort benefit the people of Johor, it will also bring great returns to all Malaysians,” he said in his speech at the launch of the SJER by Johor's Sultan Iskandar Ibni Almarhum Sultan Ismail. (Read more...)

In Focus: Objective Journalism and its role in society (Part 3)

Rethinking Objective Journalism

By Brent Cunningham, Columbia Journalism Review. Posted July 9, 2003.

In his Mar. 6 press conference, in which he laid out his reasons for the coming war, President Bush mentioned al Qaeda or the attacks of Sept. 11 fourteen times in fifty-two minutes. No one challenged him on it, despite the fact that the CIA had questioned the Iraq-al Qaeda connection, and that there has never been solid evidence marshaled to support the idea that Iraq was involved in the attacks of 9/11.

When Bush proposed his $726 billion tax cut in January, his sales pitch on the plan's centerpiece -- undoing the "double-taxation" on dividend earnings -- was that "It's unfair to tax money twice." Over the next two months, the tax plan was picked over in hundreds of articles and broadcasts, yet a Nexis database search turned up few news stories (notably, one by Donald Barlett and James Steele in Time on Jan. 27, and another by Daniel Altman in the business section of The New York Times on Jan. 21) that explained in detail what was misleading about the president's pitch: in fact, there is plenty of income that is doubly, triply, or even quadruply taxed; and these other taxes affect many more people than the sliver who would benefit from the dividend tax cut.

Before the fighting started in Iraq, in the dozens of articles and broadcasts that addressed the potential aftermath of a war, much was written and said about the maneuverings of the Iraqi exile community, the shape of a postwar government, and the cost and duration and troop numbers. Important subjects all. But few of those stories, dating from late last summer, delved deeply into the numerous and plausible complications of the aftermath. (Read more...)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Roundup of regional news - 3 November 2006

International Herald Tribune

Taiwan's first lady indicted on corruption charges

TAIPEI, Taiwan: Prosecutors in Taiwan said Friday they have enough evidence to indict President Chen Shui-bian on corruption charges in connection with his handling of a secret diplomatic fund, significantly adding to pressures on Chen to resign.

The announcement by Chang Wen-cheng of the Taiwan High Prosecutors' Office came after a monthslong probe of how the presidential office handled the fund, which is used to sustain Taiwanese diplomatic efforts abroad.

Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, and three former presidential aides were indicted in connection with the handling of the fund on charges of embezzlement, forgery of documents and perjury, Chang said.

He said that between 2002 and 2006, Wu took possession of 14.8 million New Taiwan dollars (US$450,000; €350,000) in fund expenses not covered by receipts. (Read more...)

Financial Times

Taiwan’s president Chen named graft suspect

Taiwanese prosecutors on Friday declared President Chen Shui-bian a suspect in a corruption case as they said they had indicted his wife, Wu Shu-chen, on charges of graft.

Mr Chen, who has 20 months left on his current term in office and cannot be prosecuted while serving as president, is accused of obtaining “illegal financial gains” through his office, prosecutors told reporters.

The president could face charges once his term ends in 2008 or before then if he is forced out of office. He has been the subject of a vast and persistent protests in recent months calling for him to step down over a string of scandals to hit both his office and his family.

The main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) on Friday called for Mr Chen to step down and security forces were erecting barricades in the streets of Taipei in preparation for possible protests. (Read more...)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Media Watch: A more open house - TODAY

Lift the Whip more often and let MPs speak from the heart

Wayne Soon

A healthy democracy not only hinges on an active citizenry or a competent and responsive Cabinet, but also on the diversity of voices in Parliament.

In the months after the convening of the 10th Parliament in 2001, Singaporeans saw a livelier Parliament than usual with the then Prime Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong, promising more opportunities to lift the party Whip on parliamentary Bills and motions, so as to foster more open debates.

This was to dispel the notion of People's Action Party (PAP) MPs as compliant and uncritical party followers, as well as to strengthen the belief that open and constructive debate can improve the formulation and implementation of public policy.

Mr Goh's announcement sent a strong signal that MPs — especially new ones — could speak up freely to question public policies. Backbenchers and junior Ministers, such as Ms Irene Ng, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Dr Amy Khor, Mr Heng Chee How and Mr Tan Soo Khoon among many others, took up the challenge, raising numerous issues and proposing policy alternatives.

Topics tackled ranged from National Service and education reforms, to the tweaking of the Central Provident Fund and the Nominated MP (NMP) scheme. Some of these new, active MPs took advantage of the more open House by sharpening their thinking and rhetorical skills in the debate on policies; a number went on to become ministers and respected backbenchers in their own right.

All things being equal, the knowledge that the Whip will be lifted fosters vibrant debates, even if some feel the conclusion is a foregone one.

Lifting the Whip more frequently would allow the new MPs and ministers to be tested on their ability to forge consensus in the making of public policies. It would aid ministers to be more persuasive in rallying their fellow MPs and, by extension, the public, by sharpening the rationalising of unpopular policies. (Read more...)

Our Review

Based on the author's optimism of the ability of PAP backbenchers to provide meaningful debate on public policies and the many examples he has raised, an outsider may be forgiven for believing that an alternative voice from an oppositioin party is not necessary in Singapore.

After all, what role can 2 miserable opposition MPs in Parliament play when there are so many new, independent and most importantly, critical PAP MPs who are willing to jump into the baptism of fire in politics and speak out openly against their Party?

This article has effectively negate the importance and need of having a strong opposition party in Singapore to provide check and balance and at the same time vindicated the flaws inherent in our Parliament where there are only 2 opposition voices compared to 82 PAP MPs.

Undue emphasis was placed instead on frivolous matters like the lifting of the Party Whip to allow members to "foster debate, even though the conclusion is a foregone one". Isn't parliamentary debate a means to reach a broad consensus on critical national issues concerning the lives of ordinary Singaporeans?

If the government has already decided on a course of action pertaining to a policy, why should a Parliament be convened to "discuss" it at all? Shouldn't the debate taken place among the MPs before putting it to the vote in order to reach a decision?

Party Whip: a whip of necessity or convenience?

In 2oo1, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong promised to lift the party whip more often to foster active debate in Singapore. Undoubtedly, this was an astute political move to neutralized critics who bemoan the let of policy discussion in Parliament and to assauge partially the wishes of Singaporeans to have more alternative voices in Parliament to pre-empt the PAP from having a "one-way ticket" in drafting and passing of bills.

Mr Goh outlined his "vision" clearly in a Straits Times interview: "I would want to form an alternative policies group in Parliament, comprising 20 PAP MPs. These 20 PAP MPs will be free to vote in accordance with what they think of a particular policy. In other words, the whip for them will be lifted."

However, an astounding reverse was made 2 years later following a strong rebuttal by PM Goh to PAP backbencher Amy Khor's use of the word "betrayal" in decrying the government's refusal to restore the CPF cuts:

"If you sing Jailhouse Rock with your electric guitar when others are playing Beethoven, you are out of order. The whip must be used on you."

Ultimately, there are no strict guidelines governing the use of the party whip and it is entirely dependent on the Prime Minister's discretion. The party whip will be used on important matters where the party's stance overrides all individuals' concernes and misgivings such as the recent decision to allow casinos to be set up in Singapore while it can be lifted for minor issues to be debated so as to "dispel the notion that PAP MPs are compliant and uncritical followers."

Which comes first: the party or constituents?

MPs represent the residents of their constituency. They are expected and required to safeguard their interests and speaking out for them in the Parliament. They are the voice of the common people whose views are seldom sought out or considered in the formulation and implementation of public policies affecting their daily lives.

When there is a conflict in interestbetween the party's stance and the people's wishes, which side will the PAP MP stand on? PAP MPs are required to vote strictly according to the Party's line and not to their own personal preferences. In the end, in spite of the "diversity" of voices present, there can only be one view, one choice and one decision.

With an overwhelming majority in Parliament, there is no check on the ruling party's executive power. Needless to say, PAP MPs who are bound by their party protocol will abide by their party and therefore however "fierce" and "passionate" their intra-party debates may be, it is merely a facade with no real substance or impact.


Before Parliament convened today, we already have a taste of what to expect from our new PAP MPs. In interviews conducted by the mainstream media on various days, they have given us a hint on what they are likely to say in Parliament.

Ms Denise Phua wants more help from the government for mentally challenged children, Dr Lim Wee Kiat will highlight the "ungraciousness" of Singaporeans and Mr Sam Tan hopes the government will pay more attention to the poor and needy.

All these are important communal local issues that Singaporeans are concerned with, but of more interest are national issues such as the government's handling of the foreign media during the IMF/WB meetings in September and the Temasek-Shin corp saga. Will any of the new PAP MPs bring these sensitive topics up for discussion?

Diversity of voices doesn't mean alternative voices

Is it a misunderstanding that the first sentence in the article on "diversity of voices" has led ironically to the discussion being focused on its replacement by "alternative intra-party voices"?

Diversity of voices can never be the real alternative voices Singaporeans yearn for if there is only one political party calling the shots in Parliament.

Alternative voices that truly foster vibrant debate in policy-making can only be provided by a multitude of political parties, each representing the interests of their electorate.

The PAP is only interested in paying lip-service to the people in order to score political points, as illustrated by SM Goh's words:

"To us, alternative voice doesn't mean alternative voice in Parliament. Therefore alternative voices can be heard and will be heard outside of Parliament. We must do it outside of Parliament, inside of Parliament is only one, two voices at the most."

With only one or two "alternative" voices allowed in Parliament, it is more economical and time-saving not to have any Parliamentary debates altogether.

Your views: MDA's statement misleading and insensitive

jjI refer to media reports on Starhub Cable Vision being fined by the Media Development Authority (MDA) for showing footage of lesbian sex and bondage on Zone Reality Channel's reality series Cheaters.

I take issue with the callous and misleading language used by the Media Development Authority, an act which would perpetuate discrimination against lesbians, who are already marginalised in Singapore.

This is what the MDA wrote in its press release on the 23rd of October about the programme:

"It contained footages of a woman engaging in lesbian sex acts with another woman. While pixilation was used during the sex scenes, it was still obvious to viewers that the women were naked and engaging in unnatural sex acts.

The programme also showed the woman tied to a bed in a bondage session with two other women. The visuals were deemed to be sexually suggestive and offensive to good taste and decency.

The programme also promotes lesbianism as a lifestyle, which breaches the Programme Code. The woman manages to get her boyfriend to accept her lifestyle and to invite other people to engage in threesomes with them."

I do not condone or condemn the programme in question. But I am appalled by the way the MDA sinisterly equates a "lesbian lifestyle" with having both men and women engaged in mixed-sex threesomes.

It shows a complete lack of understanding on the sexual dynamics of certain heterosexual couples, some of whom identify as heterosexual - not homosexual - but choose to engage in
this alternative sexual arrangement.

More dangerously, it assumes that all lesbians engage in threesomes - with the opposite sex to boot - and this is part of their lifestyle.

This presumption is particularly offensive because many lesbians - just like heterosexual couples - form long-term monogamous unions even though they are not allowed marry under the law.

Bondage is not part of this so-called "lesbian lifestyle"; it is merely a sexual preference that certain people choose to engage in. Someone reading certain local women's magazines would be dazzled by the array of sex acts - including bondage acts - that their readers are being taught to perform on their male partners. Should we then, based on this, say that bondage is part
of the heterosexual lifestyle too?

While the MDA is entitled to police what it deems to be sexually explicit programmes on TV, it owes Singaporeans far greater sensitivity in its use of the language. An inclusive Singapore is a Singapore that is aware of, and sensitive to the needs of all its minorities.

Many lesbian women in Singapore already have a tough time trying to undo years of damage brought on by a society that constantly told them it was wrong to love another woman. It would be a great shame if the Government perpetuates such homophobia by misrepresenting the lifestyles of this sexual minority.

Ms. Eileena Lee Wann Yuen

Regional news roundup - 1 Nov 2006

Asean hails the benefits of friendship with China

HONG KONG: From the announcements of a $25 billion contract to import liquefied natural gas from Malaysia to a $1 billion investment in a Philippines nickel mine, China this week has been flaunting its growing economic and political might with its near neighbors in Asia.

And Southeast Asian leaders, who gathered in China on Monday and Tuesday to mark 15 years of close relations between their region and its economic giant, have been scrambling to secure investment and trade deals, and to praise Beijing's largesse.

The rhetoric of the 10 leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations is that China's rise presents a historic economic opportunity rather than a security threat. Chinese and Southeast Asian leaders at the China- Asean Business and Investment Summit spoke effusively of a relationship based on "mutual trust in politics and economic integration." (Read more...)

Outrage sparked by "Wedding of the Year" video

Burma's wedding of the year took place in July, but it's again the talk of the town—following the release of video footage showing the marriage of Senior Gen Than Shwe's daughter with an army major in a ceremony that has angered many because of its over-the-top opulence, according to the Chiangmai-based Irawaddy magazine.

"People were shocked to see the extravagance of the wedding," said a reporter with a Rangoon local journal. "They're asking themselves where the money came from in a country that ranks as one of the world's poorest."

"People are just outraged," said the editor of a business weekly. Viewers were offended not only by the extravagance of the event, where Thandar Shwe and her bridegroom, Maj Zaw Phyo Win, a deputy director at the Ministry of Commerce, were showered with expensive gifts, including luxury cars, houses and jewellery, but also by its crass lack of good taste.

The total value of the wedding gifts was said to be a staggering US$50 million (Bt1.8 billion). Read more...