Monday, April 18, 2011

SDP unveils 2 potential candidates, confirms contest in 3 constituencies

Apr 18, 2011
By Qiuyi Tan, TODAY

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) unveiled another two potential candidates for the coming General Election during a walkabout yesterday, as it confirmed three of the constituencies it plans to contest.

Introduced to residents at Ghim Moh Market alongside other SDP members yesterday was Ms Teo Soh Lung, 62, who was detained by the Internal Security Department in May and June 1987, on suspicion of being involved in a Marxist conspiracy.

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan also introduced a new face, Ms Michelle Lee, 35, to residents alongside the party's assistant secretary-general John Tan, assistant treasurer Vincent Wijeysingha and former Workers' Party candidate James Gomez.

The party has not officially announced its slate for the GE but Dr Chee confirmed that the party will "definitely" contest Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and the Bukit Panjang and Yuhua SMCs. It is working on a fourth constituency to be revealed at an appropriate time.

Of its candidates, Dr Chee said they are well prepared and "more than capable of taking over from the PAP (People's Action Party) team".

He said: "This election is going to be very different. Our candidates are all going to be very highly-qualified professionals, but I want you to look beyond that.

"Because you look into their hearts, that is where the service comes in. But you won't find them lacking in any shape or form when it comes to their credentials, their competence as compared with the PAP team."

On the National Solidarity Party's decision to not stand in Yuhua in the spirit of Opposition unity, Dr Chee said this was in line with SDP's withdrawal from Whampoa SMC.

The SDP team, numbering more than 30 supporters and members yesterday, also visited Yuhua Village Market and Bukit Timah Food Centre.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Race Issues in Singapore: Is the HDB Ethnic Quota becoming a farce?

February 17, 2011, The Online Citizen

By Lisa Li

It was a passionate open discussion and debate on race issues that lasted for more than 3 hours, and continued over dinner at a coffee shop nearby.

“David Marshall–a Jew–was our elected Chief Minister in 1955, in the middle of Malay States! How come now Lee Kuan Yew says Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese as our Prime Minister?” Lawyer M. Ravi asked the roomful of people, rhetorically.

Yes, there were the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950, between Malays and European/ Eurasian communities. Yes, there were riots in the 1960s between Chinese and Malays.

Yet, anecdotally, so many of us remember the 1950s, 60s and 70s as a time when our parents and grandparents lived and mingled with different races, spoke each other’s languages, and celebrated each other’s festivals–all without nudging from government regulations. The question we came back to repeatedly was: What went wrong in the last 20 years?

This is not to paint a completely gloomy picture. A forum participant pointed out that when she was travelling with friends, a foreigner correctly identified them as Singaporeans, because “Indian and Chinese travelling together… must be from Singapore!” This peaceful multicultural life has indeed been the experience for many of us as well, and it should not be taken for granted.

HDB’s Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP)


One issue that many forum participants spoke about was HDB’s Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) of ethnic quotas for public housing, a policy implemented in 1989 ‘to promote racial integration and harmony‘.

Some, like NSP Secretary-General Goh Meng Seng, felt that the ethnic quotas for public housing should remain. He cited his own experience in a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school, which tends to be all-Chinese, and pointed out that racial enclaves of any sort could lead to stereotyping and division.

A teacher by the name of Sean also supported the ethnic quotas. He shared that when his students were given a choice to form their own groups, his students tended to gravitate toward their own race. With this parallel, he felt that people would tend to gravitate toward their race in housing. The forming of racial enclaves, in his opinion, would be detrimental to Singapore’s harmony.

Modification of the EIP?

However, Sean also suggested that the categories and quotas be re-examined and modified. The current HDB quota system has three categories: ‘Malay’, ‘Chinese’ and ‘Indian and Others’, so one modification could be to create another category for ‘Others’ instead of subjecting ‘Indian’ and ‘Others’ to the same quota.

It is worth noting that these HDB ethnic quotas were revised on 5 March 2010, yet they do not seem aligned with our current racial mix. The maximum ethnic limit in the neighbourhood for Chinese and Malay residents is approximately 10 percent higher than their actual percentage in Singapore’s resident population (2010), while the maximum ethnic limit for ‘Indians and Others’ is 0.5 percent less than the actual percentage in resident population (2010).

Given that the population of ‘Others’ has increased from 46,400 (1.4 percent) in 2000 to 125,800 people (3.3 percent) in 2010, shouldn’t the HDB’s ethnic quotas and categories kept pace with this trend in Singapore’s racial mix?

Another suggestion by a forum participant was to keep the concept of ethnic quota, but to relax it further. He asked: If we can allow blocks to have 80 percent Chinese and 20 percent Indian occupants (as a loose estimate), why not allow blocks to have 80 percent Indian and 20 percent Chinese occupants? This would loosen the quota to give people more choice of housing, while still preventing the formation of racial enclaves.

Mr Alsagoff, another forum participant, questioned the assumption that the removal of ethnic quotas would result in the formation of racial enclaves.

He explained that in the past, many Malays congregated in Geylang Serai due to their work on Alsagoff plantations. His view was that most people tended to choose their housing location based on economic reasons, that is, the location of their work or housing prices, not necessarily because they wanted to live with people of the same race.

EIP: The creation of differential pricing based on race

For a quick look at the current EIP situation, The Online Citizen spoke to two recent buyers of HDB flats.

A few years ago, Tay Jin En was browsing for flats in a particular district that had reached the Chinese quota. Based on information from her housing agent, she recalls that “Malays [were] selling at valuation price because they could only sell to other Malays” but “Chinese sellers who freed up the Chinese quota could set almost any price they wanted”. As a result, some of these Chinese-owned flats were priced at $80,000 over valuation.

K, an Indian Singaporean, is also a recent flat buyer. The district she preferred had not reached the quota limit for ‘Indian and Others’, so she was able to select from buyers of different races. She felt that the buying market was to her advantage because non-Chinese flats tended to be cheaper. However, she acknowledged that if the Chinese quota limit was reached, she would have to be patient in order to find an Indian buyer for her flat.

The implicit problem here is if buyers do not have the patience for this, for example in cases where flat owners default on mortgage payments. Those caught in such financial difficulties are forced to either quickly sell it on the open market (subject to ethnic quota restrictions) or have their flats seized by HDB at 90 percent of the market valuation price.

Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Mohamad Maliki Osman

When questioned about this in Parliament by Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan, Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Mohamad Maliki Osman asserted that “sellers who are affected by the EIP limits should have no problem finding buyers from the eligible ethnic groups as long as they are realistic in setting their asking price… There are sellers who are affected by EIP restrictions, who are able to sell at…even $30,000 above market valuation.”(Click here for the Parliamentary exchange)

The PAP government’s unwillingness to admit that EIP can negatively affect public housing prices based on race merely sweeps it under the carpet. At the very least, they need to admit that some Singapore do suffer under these race-based policies in order to genuinely discuss how to minimize these problems.

Moving beyond racial divisions

Another feature of Singapore today would be the increasing number of inter-ethnic marriages. In 2010 (based on records from the Women’s Charter and the Muslim Law Act), there were 4,928 inter-ethnic marriages, that is, 20 percent of the total number of marriages for the year.

Perhaps in response to this trend, it was announced in January 2010 that a child of mixed heritage would be allowed to take on either a double-barrelled race, the father’s race, or the mother’s race. However, in cases where two people with double-barrelled race classifications marry, they will have to choose two of the four races to be declared as their child’s race.

To add on to this over-simplification of race, the current HDB EIP Policy states that “only the first race component of a double-barrelled race will be used. For example, for an individual with double-barrelled race of “Indian-Chinese”, only Indian will be used.”

Does it make sense for a Singaporean child who, having a Malay-Eurasian father and a Dutch-Chinese mother, is officially classified as Malay-Dutch, and therefore is subjected to HDB’s ‘Malay’ quota and all its restrictions in the name of preventing racial enclaves?

As Singapore becomes increasingly racially ambiguous and cosmopolitan, is our classification of race and ethnic quota for housing slowly but surely becoming a farce?

And given Singaporeans’ general mobility in this geographically small island, are we really in danger of forming racial enclaves, lacking in understanding and friendship with other races whom we interact with on a daily basis in school, at work, and everywhere else?

This article is the second part in a two-part article about Race Issues in Singapore. The first part was about the need for great discussion of race, based on reports by Dr James Gomez (presented on 12 February) and UN Rapporteur Mr Githu Muigai.

This article was written after conversation with Mr Alsagoff, Sean, Rakesh, Sha Najak, Nina Chabra and Roderick.

Friday, April 8, 2011

We are here to serve

06 April 2011
By Dr Vincent Wijeysingha

On Saturday last, I participated in a television forum that enabled some of the opposition parties to showcase our policy programme and to debate the governing party on its record.

That the PAP needed to send a full minister to represent it and another party member is testament to the crisis of confidence it is facing and its deep unease over its own policies.

No doubt including the SDP in that programme was the result of our highlighting from this website the now glaring attempt by the governing party to keep the SDP from engaging with the people of Singapore.

The advent of the Internet means that the old-fashioned policy of censoring its opponents is no longer tenable.

The long decline

Why do I bring this up? Because if we are to understand the challenges facing the PAP, and therefore the real dangers of it continuing unchallenged in Parliament, we should look at some history.

When Mr Lee Kuan Yew entered politics, he gathered around him a group of highly effective men. People like Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S Rajaratnam, and Dr Toh Chin Chye.

These men were his equals, and in many ways, his betters because they were able to think through and implement policies that endured while he was their front man, selling their philosophy - and silencing their opponents.

In the mid-eighties, all the old guard started their exit from government leaving him in sole charge of a new group of younger ministers.

That has now left us with a Cabinet that is not even able to take action on mundane matters such as flooding, the rate of inflation, the social effects of the immigration policy, the galloping cost of living, or even to propose alternative solutions and creative approaches to the economic problems of our time.

Why? Because in positing himself as the sole arbiter of policy in the PAP, Mr Lee disabled the capacity of his younger colleagues to think for themselves. Witness Mr Yaacob’s response to the floods last year; Mr Wong Kan Seng blaming everybody else for the escape of Mas Selamat; Mr Tharman’s Budgets of recent years, destitute of anything but to throw money at old problems; Dr Balakrishnan’s failure to spend within the YOG budget (not to mention his arrogant parliamentary statements on raising Public Assistance for the poorest of our poor) and the inability of the Cabinet as a whole to control Mr Lee’s misguided statements about the Malay community.

Sometime last year, Mr Lee lamented the failure of the bilingual education policy. Numerous teachers I have spoken to on the ground have told me that they could have offered that same appraisal 15 years ago. Apparently, in Singapore, no policy is assessed until Mr Lee searches his soul.

The top-down approach he inculcated at all levels of the administration and public life has started the rot. Few in the public sphere has the capacity to face the problems we are now experiencing. No one has the capacity to speak up. The only leader of any substance in the PAP, Mr Lee is now a man literally without peer.

The way forward

Enter the SDP. Over the last 20 years, Dr Chee Soon Juan and his hardworking colleagues, with whom I now have the privilege to serve, have built up a coherent philosophy and policy framework, contained principally in our two key documents, alternative economic programme, It’s About You: Prosperity and Progress for Every Singaporean, and financial policy, Empowering The Nation: Shadow Budget 2011.

Our philosophy is contained in three simple words: Competence, Constructiveness, Compassion.

The CNA forum allowed me to offer the people of Singapore our vision. If I performed at all well, and may I thank those who have kindly complimented me, it is because, to quote Isaac Newton, I have stood on the shoulders of giants.

I have also tried to speak on behalf of the less fortunate, whom the SDP has never ceased to place at the centre of its philosophy. If I was at all coherent, it is because our party is coherent.

I am first and foremost, not a leader. Neither is the SDP. We aspire to serve. The electorate leads. You say where you wish our community to go. You tell us the kind of society you want.

And utilising the expertise that we bring from our professional lives and the research that is a hallmark of the SDP way, we propose and facilitate the resources and structures that will get us there.

In the wake of last Saturday’s forum, I ask you, my fellow Singaporeans, to help the SDP to help you. You can contribute in so many ways: work behind the scenes on logistics, do research and data collection, make available your vehicles for the many errands we have to make.

And you can donate money to fund our posters, leaflets, transport and rally equipment. Chee Siok Chin and I made this video last week. But it bears repeating. Standing for elections costs a lot of money.

In 1994, the British Labour Party lost its respected leader, Mr John Smith, to heart disease. May I quote from Mr Smith, who once said, “The opportunity to serve our country, that is all we ask.”

I ask you to join us for this election campaign. Singapore deserves our service.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

It's About You, not PAP

6 APRIL 2011, Singapore Democrats
By Dr James Gomez

This general elections, It's About You - the Singaporean voters, your families and what we can do to alleviate the economic hardships caused by PAP`s bad policies. Instead, the PAP is making this election all about itself.

For days on end we are hearing that this election is about PAP`s “self-renewal”, “4G leaders”, its new candidates, its line up of candidates in GRCs and its long term survival as the ruling party.

We have heard nothing specific about policies the PAP will introduce to reduce the suffering it has caused to the people of Singapore.

Hardships caused by PAP`s bad policies that have led Singaporeans to suffer rising costs of living, overcrowding by large number of foreigners and depressed wages for Singaporeans.

The only worker`s organization, NTUC, through its partnership with the PAP is no longer an effective organization for workers` interests.

The NTUC has metamorphosed into a political tool of the PAP to recruit, employ and deploy its election candidates.

The PAP is talking itself up, its candidates and its long term survival this elections, but we have heard nothing about the PAP`s election manifesto and its programs to elevate the suffering of Singaporeans.

For too long we have let the PAP make Singapore elections all about itself. And as a result, it has ignored the people and the policies needed to improve their current conditions.

A compliant media that reports the PAP propaganda and does not question this jarring absence of policies for the people only highlights the fact that the elections is all about the PAP.

The SDP's policies, on the other hand, are people policies because Singaporeans are important. That’s why we entitled our economic manifesto It's About You. It's about the people of Singapore and your families.

And we will be speaking up for you.

James Gomez is an academic at an Australian university. He is back in Singapore and will work full-time on the SDP's election campaign.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

No real change as Burma swaps military rule for civilian parliament

31 March 2011, CSW

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has warned that although Burma’s State Peace and Development Council has been officially disbanded, there is no prospect of true democratic reform for the country.

As part of the changes that followed the sham elections of November 2010, a new civilian parliament was sworn in yesterday, ostensibly completing the transition from a military dictatorship to a civilian administration. In addition, Burma’s dictator Than Shwe has been replaced by General Min Aung Hlaing as head of the armed forces, and former Prime Minister Thein Sein was sworn in as President of Burma.

Despite being touted as the first step on the road to democracy, Burma’s first elections in over 20 years were marred by reports of harassment, intimidation, violence and arrests in several of Burma’s ethnic states, both on polling day and in the days afterwards,. New electoral rules excluded pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from participating, and resulted in her party, the National League for Democracy, being banned. Shortly after polling began, fighting between the Burma Army and a faction of the pro-junta Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) resulted in tens of thousands of refugees fleeing across the border into Thailand.

Political parties affiliated to the military regime won the majority of seats. Under the new constitution, the military is guaranteed 25 per cent of the parliamentary seats and immunity for past, present and future crimes. It also offers no meaningful autonomy for ethnic nationalities and no genuine protection for human rights.

CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said, "There is no real change in Burma at all. The process which the regime has completed is a cosmetic change, but the brutal military dictatorship remains in power. A few changes of personnel and clothing, from military uniform to civilian suits, does not represent real reform.

The international community must unite in sending the regime a strong message, that if it wants the legitimacy and credibility it desires, it must make meaningful changes: release all political prisoners, end attacks on ethnic civilians, and enter into dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy movement and the ethnic nationalities. Sanctions must be maintained until there are meaningful signs of genuine progress, and the UN should investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes through a commission of inquiry. Only then can there be true accountability and an end to impunity."