Thursday, April 29, 2010

Labour Day Picnic @ Speakers Corner

The image  “”  cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Dear friends and fellow workers of Singapore, do keep your schedule this coming Saturday the 1st of May free!

“Why?” Some of you may ask? Because its Labour day, a day to express our gratitude and thanks for the backbone of the world’s economy, her workers!

Come join us at Speaker’s Corner this coming Labour Day and express solidarity with all workers of the world on this day!

Look out for a fun-filled afternoon complete with a picnic, speeches and even a sing along session! You will also get to write down your wishes for this Labour Day.

Bring along your family and friends, some food and drinks, your mat, an umbrella and some writing materials.

We will finish the event with a group photo taking session. See you there!

Here are the details of the event:

Location: Speakers’ Corner, Hong Lim Park
Nearest MRT: Clarke Quay (NEL), Exit “A”
Time: 4 to 6 pm

You can also visit our event page on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An Opinion about Singaporean Business Culture

Seelan: Since the Singapore Angle group blog has officially stopped operation, I thought it would be good for my blog to "archive" some of their more interesting articles. These reposts will be useful to highlight some of the good pieces they've contributed to the Singapore blogosphere and in case the site goes down someday as well.

An Opinion about Singaporean Business Culture
Singapore Angle back, I was in Shanghai on a conference. During that trip, I asked a Singaporean friend (who has been working there for at least two years) to tell me more about the business culture and what are the rising industries there. He told me that the Singaporeans are better in the education sector as compared to the other sectors in Shanghai. In his opinion, Singaporean business men did not do so well against businesses from Hong Kong and Taiwan, particularly the food and beverages industry.

He offered an explanation on why this is so. Most Singaporean business men (and there may be exceptions) tend to work on free market principles rather than relationships. What does that mean? The Singaporean business men do not care whether they are collaborating with other Singaporeans and believe that they extract the best value by going for the lowest costs and maximum return.

Some calls this pragmatism and the principle of free market. In case of business men from Hong Kong and Taiwan, they tend to work with their fellow country men to maximize their winning chances. Some calls this trust or relationships. As a result, Singaporean business men lose out in some major industries in China. Of course, there is no right and wrong to how one should do business and I am not in any position to criticize anyone's way of doing business.

Somehow, it offered me some perspective as to why some Singaporean businesses have difficulties on gaining a foothold in other countries. My sense is that a lot of that stems from our culture. Singaporeans grew up with a meritocratic system where people are concerned with their own grades. I can substantiate with my experiences talking to students from schools.

When you are in a secondary school and junior college, the immediate response from contributing to community projects will be "Does it help my ECA or increase my chances in getting into universities?" The reward incentive comes first before the objective. Hence it may rub people the wrong way.

Second, Singaporeans place a value on brand rather than relationships. They prefer to work with a credible and big company than with a small and upcoming company. The same goes for the way how people employ in Singapore at one point of time: some business men employ cheaper Indian and Chinese engineers as compare to the Singaporean counterparts.

The same attitude is translated into the way which they do businesses. So, as a result of our cultural upbringing, the pragmatism shaped a different business culture unlike those of Japan, Korea, India, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, where they tend to work with their own fellowmen. Ultimately, whether you are doing businesses in the east and west, credibility and trust are important attributes to successful businesses.

Singaporeans tend to work on credibility but not so much on trust. It may be useful to bear that relationships (in the theme of trust) may actually help to create a win-win situation.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

MPs views ahead of parliamentary debate full of hot air

By Ravi Philemon, April 24

Member of Parliament (MP) Zaqy Mohamad reportedly said, “People elected who are accountable to their residents think differently because at the end of the day, you know you have to answer to someone”, when responding to The Straits Times for their article “Parliament set to debate political changes”.

Mr Mohamad seems to say the exact opposite of what another People’s Action Party (PAP) MP for Tampines expressed in his column for Today. In it, the MP said, that he chose to do what is right over what was expected of him by the people who elected him.

And by saying he hopes that parliamentary debates will remain constructive (with the inclusion of more NCMPs (Non Constituency Member of Parliament) if the amendment to the constitution is passed) without just generating a lot of noise, Mr Mohamad seem to be expressing his fear of more opposing voices in parliament.

As a MP, Mr Mohamad should know that the Speaker of Parliament is appointed precisely for that; to make sure that debates remain constructive and not degenerate into ‘just a lot of noise’?

PAP MP Mdm Ho Geok Choo is another person who is worried about more opposing voices in parliament. She thinks that those who use the ‘back door’ to enter parliament, might be disruptive.

Mdm Ho seems to have conveniently forgotten that her West Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC) saw walkovers in the last two General Elections in 2001, as well as in 2006. Did she enter parliament via another ‘back door’?

Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Calvin Cheng, the other person who opposes the move to have more opposing voices in parliament, says that “if opposition MPs are to enter parliament, it should be on their own merit, through a popular mandate by the people”.

Mr Cheng has surely contradicted himself, for if one uses his reasoning, not only the opposition MPs, but all MPs, including the NMPs should enter parliament ‘on their own merit, through a popular mandate by the people’.

Mr Cheng also says that parliament does not need ‘opposition for the sake of opposition’. But, is that not why the NMP scheme was introduced in the early 1990s in the first place?

Whether one is for or against the NCMP and/or NMP schemes, one can easily deduce that the comments by Mr Mohamad, Mdm Ho and Mr Cheng, comes across not as constructive criticisms but as ‘a lot of noise’ and as self-contradicting viewpoints.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I wish I could find the time to blog more often

Yes, that's all I have to say in this post. A humble apology to everyone who reads my blog, I've been trying to post an article up every week.

At the very least, I hope that you can find it useful to read through my archives and visit the other blogs I link to on the right.

You can also add me on Facebook, where I share some of my views and alternative information on a daily basis:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sham elections and the fear of voting for the opposition

Extracted from Wiki on Sham elections with my thoughts below.

A show election, also known as a sham election or rubber stamp election, is an election that is held purely for show, that is, without any significant political purpose. Show elections are a common event in dictatorial regimes that still feel the need to establish some element of public legitimacy.

Results predictably show nearly 100% voter turnout and nearly 100% support for the prescribed (often the only) list of candidates or for referendums that favor the political party in power. A predetermined conclusion is always established by the regime, either through suppression of the opposition, coercion of voters, vote rigging, forged number of "votes received", or some combination of these.

Ballots in a show election may contain only one "yes" option. In case of a simple "yes or no" question, people who pick "no" are often persecuted, thus making the "yes" choice the only option. People who voted in the election of the People's Parliaments in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1940 received stamps in their passport. Those who did not have the stamp were persecuted as the "enemy of the people".

(Seelan: Though there is no well documented case of someone being persecuted specifically because they voted for the opposition, I personally know dozens of Singaporeans who vote for the PAP out of fear.

People working in GLCs and the civil service also frequently tell me that they have "no choice" but to vote for the PAP because they assume that their jobs and promotions depend on it. Even senior officials in the Singapore Armed Forces say such things to their subordinates as if its the truth -- so is it?

Former PM Goh Chok Tong's warning to voters that wards which did not vote for PAP would be placed last in line for HDB upgrading doesn't help alleviate peoples fears either. "In 20, 30 years' time, the whole of Singapore will be bustling away, and your estate, through your own choice, will be left behind. They become slums," said Mr Goh.

Even with the severe lack of a level playing field and the situation where half the electorate doesn't get to vote, the PAP got only 66% of the contested seats in the previous 2006 elections. What would the percentage of votes for the PAP be if the elections were free and fair and the entire population got to vote without an overarching sense of fear?)

In some cases, show elections can backfire against the party in power, especially if the regime believe they are popular enough to win without coercion or fraud, e.g., in the Burmese general election, 1990 or in the case of a referendum, the plebiscite in Chile to determine whether to let Augusto Pinochet remain in power.

Related reading:
Singapore is not an electoral democracy (Freedom House)
Truth About Elections (Singapore Democratic Party)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Protecting minorities and their rights in Singapore

By Charles Tan

I find some opposition parties and politicians in Singapore generally reluctant to comment or speak up on minorities issues. While minorities may traditionally be drawn along religious or racial lines, this narrow definition overlooks other neglected groups or communities in the country.

In Singapore, there certainly exists varied minority groups that are still unfairly portrayed and cast into stereotypes. Their welfare has been neglected by the PAP Government and their presence ignored by the media. They include (but are not limited to):

a. racial or religious minorities,
b. homeless people,
c. sexual minorities,
d. poorly paid and low-skilled migrant workers.

One possible reason that the Opposition has stayed silent on minority issues is its focus on the "mainstream majority". By positioning itself as a "middle of the road" opposition and appealing to the "average man on the street", it believes this stance will strike a chord with most voters.

While this may appear to be a tactical and viable electoral strategy, it is troubling and short-sighted in many respects. By tiptoeing and failing to address concerns of minorities, opposition parties make three erroneous assumptions:

One, that the majority may be reluctant to cast its vote based on minority issues. Or the opposition may believe that Singaporeans are threatened by these issues. This fear can be attributed to the success of the PAP in depoliticising society. Laws prohibiting critical debates on racial and religious issues also play a part in stifling debate and dissent.

For example, the PAP's rhetoric is that gays and lesbians are not deserving of equal rights or that according them such rights would invite public backlash. Yet, in not taking a stand on minority rights, opposition parties fail in discovering how people feel about minority issues. They also squander away an opportunity to educate the public on these concerns.

Two, that focusing on minority concerns will dilute the message, or messages, intended for the mainstream majority or that such a focus would divert public attention away from pressing socio-economic issues. While this reasoning appears reasonable, it places an unwarranted emphasis and belief that the general population will only vote on issues that intimately affect them.

This perception does not take into consideration the fact that the electorate's outlook may be influenced by their sense of empathy for others. It fails to account for voters' sense of justice or compassion.

It must be remembered that majorities do not live in isolation, away from minorities. Most people have come into contact, or are likely to know, someone in a minority group.

Three, that opposition parties stand a better chance of being elected into parliament by representing only the middle ground. It also gives them a more authoritative voice since the middle ground is symbolic of the whole. This positioning however defeats the purpose of the opposition which acts as a check and balance against PAP.

Since minorities are discriminated against, it is also their rights which needs most protection. Therefore, speaking up for minorities becomes a matter of principle.

There are practical and ethical reasons for opposition politicians to be more assertive in voicing minority issues. To take a safer middle path is to play into the prejudices concocted by the PAP. An opposition that alienates and abandon those who need most protection from the state and predatory market forces is to consciously relinquish its responsibilities.

Charles Tan is a member and the ex-president of the Young Democrats. He is presently studying in Australia.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why do we need so many PAP strawberries MPs in Parliament?

Source: Temasek Review

The recent parliamentary “debates” showcased the utter stupidity, incompetence and impotence of the PAP MPs to the whole of Singapore such that even the spin doctors of the Straits Times are having a hard time trying to polish up their embattled public image.

When Singaporeans are fretting over increased competition from foreign workers, increased cost of living, sky-rocketing HDB flat prices, an uncertain future and dwindling CPF savings, PAP MPs are busy scratching the backs of one another in Parliament on hairdos, triumph bras, frog tales, food museums and more ways to make the foreigners happy in Singapore!

Some are caught sleeping on camera like the Minister in charge of productivity Teo Chee Hean and of all people, the Speaker of Parliament Mr Abdullah Tarmugi himself.

One reader who attended the parliamentary proceedings last week wrote:

“I attended the parliamentary proceedings last Tuesday. The speaker was too rigid in the time allocation for the various ministries and as a result limited the follow-up exchanges between the MPs and ministers. The Speaker Abdullah Tarmugi was very sleepy on that day.. and had to be woken up by the clerk after Hawazi Daipi (Parliamentary Secretary for MOH) finished his reply! He took some time to realise where he was and to choose the MPs for the follow-up questions.”

No wonder there are no more LIVE coverage of parliamentary “debates” and the speeches are all scripted and prepared beforehand. The MPs send their questions to the various ministers who will prepare the answers to be read out during parliament. Even secondary school students can do better than them.

Why not do away with the “wayang” and have the ministers replied directly to the MPs in writing then? That will save Singapore taxpayers quite alot of money.

For a small country of 5 million people or 3.6 million citizens, Singapore has an unusually large number of MPs or 1 MP per 42,857 citizens.

Do we really need so many MPs? Let us compare the size of our parliament with other Asian democracies:

1. Malaysia:

Number of elected MPs: 222 in Dewan Rakyat

Population (2009): 27 million.

MP to citizen ratio: 1 per 121,621

Monthly allowance of MP: S$2,500

2. Japan:

Number of MPs: 480 in House of Representatives

Population: 127 million.

MP to citizen ratio: 1 per 264,583

3. South Korea:

Number of MPs: 290 in National Assembly

Population: 49.5 million.

MP to citizen ratio: 1 per 170,689

4. Republic of China (Taiwan)

Number of MPs: 113 in Legislative Yuan

Population: 22.9 million.

MP to citizen ratio: 1 per 202,654

5. Thailand

Number of MPs: 480 in National Assembly

Population: 62 million

MP to citizen ratio: 1 per 129,167

6. Indonesia

Number of MPs: 690 in People’s Consultative Assembly

Population: 238 million

MP to citizen ratio: 1 per 344,928

[Source: Wikipedia]

As we can see from the above estimated figures, Singapore has the highest MP to citizen ratio among democratic states in Asia.

Why do we need so many MPs to govern a small island only 700 plus square kilometers in size with only 3.6 million citizens?

If we apply the MP to citizen ratio of Malaysia here, only 30 MPs are needed in Singapore.

Our MPs are doing less work than MPs of other countries and yet they are more highly paid. Are they less capable and efficient than their counterparts elsewhere?

PAP MPs are getting the best deal in the world for the following reasons:

1. They are paid $13,000 for a part-time job on top of their full-time jobs and multiple directorships on the boards of various companies. The monthly median salary of an average Singaporean is only $2,600 in 2009.

2. Other than the weekly Meet-the-People sessions which they frequently delegate to grassroots leaders to manage, PAP MPs do not have to travel very often or far to meet their constituents. Lim Kit Siang, the Malaysian MP for Ipoh has to deal with a population of nearly 100,000 on top of commuting frequently between Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Penang where he lives.

3. The ministers and MPs of other democracies are often grilled by the opposition lawmakers to the extent that fights even break out sometimes. There is literally no opposition in Parliament to challenge the PAP MPs who are so bored that they are often caught yawning or sleeping in Parliament after apple-polishing one another! It was reported that one former PAP MP Davinder Singh made less than 10 speeches during his 18 years in Parliament!

Since the PAP MPs keep exhorting Singaporeans to be “cheaper, faster and better”, why can’t they walk their talk and show us how to be “cheaper, faster and better” themselves first?

We propose that the number of seats in Parliament to be halved from the present 84 to 42 and the monthly allowance of MPs to be decreased by more than 75 percent to $3,000.

At present, the MP allowances cost Singaporeans $1,092,000 million dollars monthly.

Under our proposed scheme, it will cost only $126,000 which will save us $966,000 monthly or $11.6 million dollars a year.

The extra savings can then be channeled to the Public Assistance (PA) scheme to increase its monthly allowance and coverage to help more needy and destitute Singaporeans.

MPs are supposed to serve the interests of the people and to speak up for them in Parliament. They should not make a profit or living out of it, not when their allowances are funded by taxpayers’ monies.

The PAP needs to use such high pay to entice talented people to join them because few Singaporeans are interested to be involved in politics due to the repressive political climate in Singapore.

Under a completely open, fair and liberal political system, there will be no shortage of capable Singaporeans stepping forward to volunteer their services to the nation. No real talented person or leader will be keen to become a “yes-man” in service of the PAP regime.

Without any genuine debates in Parliament, the Singapore parliamentary system is becoming a farce and laughing stock to the rest of the world.

The major policy decisions are often made behind closed doors by senior leaders of the PAP after which they are put to a vote in Parliament which will always go through since PAP controls 82 out of 84 seats.

It is therefore apt to describe Singapore’s Parliament as a rubber-stamped Parliament which makes one wonder if we are living in a modern democracy or an one-party totalitarian state.

Singaporeans have been paying for this grand “wayang” for the last 50 years. Are you still willling to put up with it in the future?

Read also:

1. Why PAP MPs are no more but a “wayang” in Parliament

2. 10 most unforgettable quotes by PAP MPs in the recent parliamentary debates

3. PAP MPs complain that recent parliamentary “debates” are too fast

Friday, April 2, 2010

Reporters Without Borders open letter to Prime Minister of Singapore

Open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
RSF, 25 Mar 2010

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister’s Office
Orchard Road
Singapore 238823

Paris, 25 March 2010

Dear Prime Minister,

A foreign news organisation has yet again been forced to apologise to you and your father and pay you a large sum of money for publishing an article you did not like. This time it is the New York Times Co. that is a victim of this double punishment because of a compliant judicial system that always rules in favour of you and your family in all the lawsuits you bring against foreign news media.

Before the New York Times Co., you succeeded in punishing the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER),, The Economist, International Herald Tribune and Asian Wall Street Journal for their coverage of the political and economic situation in your country.

Threatened by a trial, the New York Times Co. apologised to you and your father, Lee Kuan Yew, for the article “All in the Family,” written by Philip Bowring and published in the 15 February issue of the International Herald Tribune. As well as an apology, this US media company had to pay 114,000 US dollars in damages.

Your lawyer, Davinder Singh, said Bowring’s article violated an “agreement” between your family and the International Herald Tribune, which was sentenced in 1994 to pay a large sum in damages for an article entitled “The claims about Asian values don’t usually bear scrutiny.”

The now defunct Far Eastern Economic Review agreed last November, after a long legal wrangle, to pay you and your father 290,000 US dollars in damages. Despite a lack of evidence, Singaporean judges ruled in favour of your family both in the original trial and on appeal without a thought for media freedom.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the judicial harassment which you and your father have practiced for years in order to prevent foreign news media from taking too close an interest in how you run your country. It does serious and lasting harm to press freedom in Singapore.

Your government has repeatedly displayed a disturbing inability to tolerate foreign journalists. Last October, for example, Benjamin Bland, a British freelancer who strings for The Economist and The Daily Telegraph, was denied a visa and permission to cover an APEC summit in Singapore. “I was forced to leave Singapore after the government refused to renew my work visa without any explanation,” Bland told Reporters Without Borders.

But the censorship has above all affected local media and local artistic production. In October 2009, for example, the ministry of information, communication and arts upheld a ban on a documentary by Singaporean filmmaker Martyn See about government opponent Said Zahari. Watch the video here.

In response to the publication of the Reporters Without Borders 2009 press freedom index, in which Singapore was ranked 133rd out of 175 countries, your law minister, K. Shanmugam, described it as “absurd” and “disconnected from reality.”

Unfortunately, the facts show that we are right.

In the six years since you became prime minister and said you favoured an “open” society, we have seen very few improvements in the situation of free speech.

We therefore think your government should take the following measures as a matter of urgency:

  1. Put a stop to the libel actions which you and your relatives have been bringing against Singaporean and foreign media that cover Singaporean developments in an independent manner. As the UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression recently said, the prime minister, his minister and high officials must refrain from suing journalists over their articles and comments.
  2. Amend the criminal code so as to abolish prison sentences for press offences.
  3. Amend the press law, especially the articles concerning the granting of publication licences. The current restrictions are preventing the emergence of independent media. The film law should also be relaxed.
  4. Reform the national security law so as to abolish administrative detention, which allows the authorities to imprison people because of what they think.
  5. Reform the Media Development Authority so that it is no longer able to censor and can solely make recommendations about TV programmes and films.
  6. Allow government opponents and civil society representatives unrestricted access to the public media.
  7. Guarantee the editorial independence of all the media owned by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and Media Corporation of Singapore (Mediacorp).
  8. Transfer the money that your family has obtained in damages from foreign and Singaporean news media to a support fund for imprisoned journalists that Reporters Without Borders proposes to set up.

We regret that you, the members of your government and your father keep citing the need to guarantee Singapore’s stability as grounds for controlling the media and maintaining its draconian laws. Countries that show the most respect for press freedom, such as Finland and Norway, are peaceful and prosperous democracies. Freedom of expression is not a source of political unrest. Quite the contrary.

You have perpetuated your father’s legacy by continuing to harass and intimidate news media. As a result, aside from a few websites specialising in Singapore, no news outlet can publish independent news and information about issues affecting the political situation in your country.

We would be very honoured to be able to meet with you in order to talk about our observations and our proposals for guaranteeing press freedom in Singapore in person.


Jean-Fran├žois Julliard