2econdsight

"to rescue truth from beauty and meaning from belief"


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Japanese lessons for Singapore politics

Shinzo (Abe) and (Lee) Hsien Loong should be able to instinctively understand each other. Both are “bon bon botchan” – Japanese colloquial for a man born with a silver spoon. Shinzo’s granddaddy was Nobusuke Kishi, two terms at the top job. We all know Hsien Loong’s own pedigree.

Their political parties; the Liberal Democratic Party and the PAP are also remarkably alike. Both were credited with economic success, with the PAP following the Japanese capital and labour intensive growth model. They have cosy relationships with business and the civil service. Both are socially conservative. Most of all both have the luxury of facing a disparate opposition.

Opposition Disunity

The LDP domination of Japanese politics ought to have ended by ineptitude and the inability to give up past economic sacred cows. That it did only in 2 terms is entirely the result of too many parties of various persuasions with factions splitting from the LDP forming yet more parties.

The LDP lost the majority in 1994 but the governing alliance of six parties fell because off infighting between the socialists and the conservatives. In 2009, the Democratic Party of Japan, more a coalition than a party, came to power. Despite widely regarded popular and progressive initiatives, the DPJ government fell after a term beset with internal conflicts among factions organised along old party allegiances.

Abe’s Three Arrows

Abe led the LDP comeback with a 2012 landslide election victory. Rightly focussing on ending deflation, he launched his “Abenomics” 3 arrows

– Quantitative easing by the Bank of Japan
– Government spending
– Structural Reforms
The trouble is; outside the circle of economic advisors, the LDP dinosaurs did not understand the first arrow, loved the second arrow (more pork for the vested interest) and hated the third arrow (reforms going against the vested interests). The first two arrows were fired but Abe failed on the third. As such, the benefits had mostly accrued to the big corporations and the rich.

Therefore the recent snap election was needed for a fresh mandate to shoot the 3rd arrow and push through unpopular constitutional and legislative changes. This point to the uncomfortable truth that LDP politics moved further right than the average Japanese voter wanted. 50% of voters did not like these changes but nevertheless kept faith with the economic program. That Abe received yet another landslide victory again spoke much of opposition disunity: no alternative party was anywhere big enough to contest every seat and yet the parties did not combine in a coalition to present an alternative to the LDP.

Et tu Singapore?

And you too, Singapore? Indeed.

– Contrary to ST editor Han Fook Kwang’s naive expectations, a dominant political party cannot renew itself easily. The failure of the 3rd arrow shows the LDP is still beholden to politics of old and its vested interests. The PAP has its own vested interest and reluctant to give up its own economic sacred cows, namely the same old capital and labour intensive model repackaged as Growth Maximisation.
– A disparate opposition landscape of so many parties is a gift to a dominant party like the LDP and the PAP. The crying shame in Singapore is that the PAP is so far right of centre that by necessity, unlike in Japan, there are not many political or philosophical differences that there should be up to 7-8 opposition parties.
– The LDP has shown that its dominance allowed it to govern as if the voters’ worries over constitutional changes do not matter. Likewise the PAP ruled as if the 40% opposition voters can be ignored. Therefore, the national interest is best served by competitive politics; there should be no more than 3 parties and they ought to agree to a coalition ahead of elections to put a viable alternative in front of voters. Without such an alternative it is an easy home run for the PAP, just like for the LDP. The DPJ is lesson that opposition parties need to combine to be relevant but also a warning that popular policies cannot survive party disunity.
– Economics and finance are the ultimate weapons of political battle. Liberal ideals of freedom and rights are highly laudable and essential but are by themselves not enough. As the Japanese election showed, it is the economic program that is paramount. There it meant ending deflation, in Singapore it is sharing the economic pie far more equitably than the PAP had done. In nearly every true democracy, it is the effect of tax, spend and investment policies on sharing the economic pie where the greatest battles are fought.
– Therefore it is essential that alternative budgets and spending plans are put in front of voters and they are informed of policy trade-offs and indeed different ways of achieving socio-economic objectives. The failure of sadly even the Parliamentary opposition like the Japanese opposition to present such a critical item in the political agenda is a dereliction of duty in the democratic process.
Because of the GRCs, the PAP cabinet is full not of real politicians but of technocratic elites who are not used to persuading and selling their policies. Such policies may be optimal for such a technocratic government but whether they are politically feasible is an entirely different issue. Therein lay the PAP weakness. Given the large number of generals and admirals in the cabinet, it is worthwhile to quote Helmuth Graf von Moltke the Elder, the military architect of the 19th century wars of German unification

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

In order that the best laid PAP technocratic election plans do not survive contact with voter realities, the opposition first needs to buck up.

Chris K

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The Peter Principle & PAP60 Leaders

“In a hierarchically structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence.” Dr Laurence Peter

Dr Peter, a noted Canadian psychologist with a great sense of humour, co-authored with Raymond Hull, creative playwright, ‘The Peter Principle’ in 1969.

The Peter Principle is a basic law in organizational behaviour or management. Most people find it valid where they work. Does Peter Principle still apply 50 years after it was first discussed and 13000 km whence it orginated – in a cadre-based political hierachy wielding uninterrupted power for 50 years?

Evidence From PAP Leaders’ Actions & Activities
PAP (and supporters) would like to think that the increased complaints about their incompetence arise mostly from the availability of social media and a rising vocal electorate than the truth of their observations. Empirical evidence and the sheer number of complaints compared to PAP’s earlier reign, say pre-1990’s, would show that their instances and gravity suggest a serious competency deficit, the complexities of life today notwithstanding. Maybe they can’t handle 2,000,000 foreigners?

Everyone knows the complaints. But a brief note on some cover-up techniques favoured by those who’s reached their level of incompetence to appear “busy” working is entertaining. For e.g.;

  • Perpetual Preparation
    …such as initiating ‘National Conversation’, Skillsfuture Council etc – and touting ‘visions’ time and again.
  • Side Issue Specialization
    …the MSO (Municipal Services Office) fits this…amazing, a municipal office housed under the world’s highest-paid PM auspicious office.
  • Image Replaces Performance
    …after 30 years in office, PM Lee finally demonstrated that he knows how to queue for his chicken; many of his minion ministers & MPs pick up the hint (washing cars etc). But some MPs prefer bringing their gang on study vacation to Taiwan. What happened to “gotong royong’, which actually meant something to citizens and MPs had to roll up their sleeves?

Indications From Words
A 60th Anniversary is no mean thing. It transits from ‘Gold’ to a ‘Diamond’ celebration. It is all the more hugely pregnant given Singapore’s 50th National Day and an inpending GE.

PAP Sec-Gen may only have this last chance to rally his troops. So, “Did this ex-SAF general do an effective job?”

We analyze the highlights of his full speech as reported in the press; specifically, the 2 major soundbites.
<lightning-volume.s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/Speech_By_SecGenLHL_PartyRally2014.pdf>

  1. PAP’s Vision For Singapore
  • We will build a Nation of Opportunity
  • We will uphold a Fair and Just Society
  • We will nurture a Democracy of Deeds

From a communication principle perspective and in the context of the current skeptical and increased hostile state of the national audience, unless you are lecturing a philosophy class, you don’t want to be raising more questions than giving answers when speaking of their future. More so, if you have been the one governing – unfettered, not 5, 15 but 50 years.

Simply put, any thinking citizen other than PAP’s own sycophants, will be asking questions in response to such a ‘vision’;

  • ‘You mean to say, after 50 years of uniterrupted PAP dominant reign, you have not a Nation of Opportunity to show for? Or we did, but then lost it?
  • ‘Does that mean PAP has not upheld or succeeded in shaping a Fair and Just Society after half-a-century of controlling the national narrative?’ Or you did, but then lost it?
  • ‘Oh, for 50 years, the PAP has not nurtured an active citizenry except those active in PAP-sanctioned organizations/activities with their own agendas/interests and, now, you want us to participate? So that, maybe, we can share in the blame for failures going forward?’ Or are you now trying to undo your ‘Democracy of Misdeeds’?

The crux in the current failing situation for PAP lies in what PAP has done wrongly, or right but not quite enough to serve new realities. You don’t need a vision thing to impress us, or bluff yourself and yours. The simple workplan message instead of a fuzzy vision is: stop the wrong and do more of the right-but-not-far-enough.

  1. First World Government

“It will be about whether we continue to have a First World Government, not about a so-called
First World Parliament.”

We could hear party members’ loud applause. Quite a feat, the headline-grabbing, one-liner to counter WP’s 2011 GE tantalizing tagline. Imagine a snug feeling coming over the Sec-Gen when he first formed the words…complete with the warm snuggle from behind his chair by his Significant Other in their bedroom when he went, ‘Eureka! Now, I sock it to those son-of-a-gun!’

So, what’s not right about the ‘First World Parliament’ rejoinder? Two reasons.

One, ours is a parliamentary system. The government or cabinet is drawn from elected MPs, not directly by voters. If the MPs on either side of the aisle are not First World quality, how can the government be? Proof? Look no further at their performance since, 1990, 2000.

Two, to understand more, we must look to what First World Governments look like in reality.

Starting with Switzerland since PAP claim we are already there. (“We sought a standard of living equal to that of the Swiss in 1984, by 1999. Our achievements surpassed our expectations. In fact, by 1994, , our GDP per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms had already exceeded that of the Swiss in 1984.” Goh Chok Tong <http://www.news.gov.sg/public/sgpc/en/media_releases/agencies/micacsd/speech/S-20091105-1>)
The Swiss Executive Branch is the Federal Council with 7 members and “the four strongest parties are represented in the council…Federal Councillors are much more accessible than their equivalents in most countries. The Swiss are used to seeing them travelling around by tram or in the train just like anyone else – much to the amazement of many foreign security officials accompanying leaders on state visits. People can talk to them without being hustled away by security guards.”

The British Govt.
It’s well-known that the Conservatives are in power with its coalition Liberal Democrats.

And the Germans?
Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union and centre-left Social Democrats make up the current government. In fact, Angela (or almost all post-war Chancellors) would never have made it without coalition partners. If Germany could outperform others economically even when all around them were actual war enemies twice over, how can SG be worst off in SE East where neighbours have never gone to war – and we have a $trillion reserves?

Japan has had coalition instead of just LDP governments since 1994. Note: The LDP takes credit for making ‘Japan as #1’ as much as building up the ‘bubble economy’ that burst the Nikkei Index in 1990 sending Japan into the deflationary spirals it has not recovered from the last 24 years. Does LDP’s governance protend PAP’s own demise?

Almost all First World countries are governed by coalition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalition_government). USA with a non-parliamentary system, has a Republican-controlled House and Senate but a Democrat Obama as President. Rarely, and usually only briefly, was it when all branches of govt were controlled by either Republicans or Democrats. (None is claiming that coalition government is perfect, just the norm.)
So, why would the Sec-Gen deliberately stir up a hornet’s nest, bragging First World Government when that raises questions and comparisons that you want to avoid? And he does that at his Party’s auspicious 60 th anniversary?
PM Lee did a good job or Peter Principle re-validated?

(Will his Significant Other now kick his crotch since we uncover a view different from what both of them anticipated. Regardless, I think Sec-Gen Lee has improved on the quality of his jokes – making himself the fool instead of at the expense of Shanghaineses and Beijingers).
2cents


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KISHORE’S ENCORE: BIG OR BULL

Not Telling It Like It Is

Reading Kishore’s Big Idea series I remain unsure whether to pity him; ensconced in his ivory towers, pontificating to himself, his fellow privileged clique or for the government-controlled Straits Times captive daft audience. Or thank him for courageously revealing himself to thinking Singaporeans as the Chief Jester that he is in PAP’s court…albeit, a million$-salaried one.

Still, if one reads between the lines, his articulations may also be part of an emerging chorus of civic leaders – mostly beholden to the PAP government for their salaries – talking cryptically. Delivering hidden, needed messages to their political masters without saying so outright. Either they fear being chastised to enter politics or shut-the-heck-up – or their wives are grabbing their tails to rein in their mouths (and the paychecks). Both reasons, probably.

Consider, in urging Singaporeans to ‘laugh more’, Kishore writes of how M’sia ex-PM Mahathir’s “stature was in no way diminished by the cartoons Lat drew of him…Indeed, they may even have enhanced Dr Mahathir’s national stature”, only to make a hasty retreat that “Singapore is clearly not ready yet for a serious political cartoonist”. He then lamely finger-points his other non-politician elitists as targets who “would not object to being lampooned once in a while”. Nice friend, this Kishore.

To sail so close to the wind with the Mahathir example only to change course pronto reveals not for want of belief that he retreated. Kishore lacks the balls to tell it like it is. So here, let me oblige him what he denies himself, “Singapore is clearly ready for not ‘a’ but an ‘army’ of political cartoonists, serious or otherwise. It’s thin-skinned politicians who are the cry babies. Period.” Local satirist talents in alternative media already exist in hordes. Have Kishore and his intellectual clique not read or are they afraid to lose their jobs if caught actively seek out dissenting viewpoints?

                                                    

Discrediting Himself, eh, Big Time
But I digress.

His 2-word summation, ‘Love Singapore’, comes across almost anticlimactic, especially after touting his ideas to be ‘Big’ ones. 11 Jan, Kishore was cocksure that “it is an undeniable fact that, since its independence in 1965, Singapore has been one of the most successful societies in human history. His kick-off column asserts that “To move forward in the next 50 years, Singapore will have to think of new equivalents. The country cannot live on the intellectual capital of the past forever.”
The Big Ideas need not be original ideas. They could be old ideas which may be appropriate for our times.” <http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/2014-the-year-big-ideas-20140111#sthash.qV9iJw8u.dpuf&gt;

Now, after discussing 10 Big Ideas through 2014, instead of the expected Big Bang finale, he whimpers a conclusion to “Love Singapore” via “three practical deeds we can do to demonstrate our love so as to replicate her past 50-year success. All three deeds begin with the letter ‘L’: litter not, laugh a lot, and live the pledge”. Somehow, the ‘L’ remains me of ‘lucre’ – and LKY’s “what’s wrong with collecting more money.”

Anyway, while Mr Thinker philosophizes the 3Ls as acts of love, We the Citizens see the 3Ls as symptomatic of the existential challenges forced upon us in the last 20 years arising from asset enhancement, foreigners-first policies in mindless, greedy pursuit of GDP glory…plus $mil salaries.

So, just when readers are warming up to expect some ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ truthfulness about our littering and lack of laughter, Mr Thinker (one of UK Prospect’s 2014 top 50 world thinkers) appears to take complete leave of his brains to do a volte-face. After admitting that “many of the (less successful) Asean countries are happier than Singapore” he goes, “It would be foolish to try to analyse the deeper sources of our relative unhappiness in a brief article like this”. Huh?

Isn’t it actually more foolish to proceed to say that ‘laughing with each other’ can unbundle our happiness conundrum while cavalierly blaming our ‘lack of space’ to be the main cause.

Treating his audience so can only suggest to us that Mr Thinker is either intellectually dishonest or patronizing us daft citizens or, as already stated, worships his salary (or wife) more than his own self-esteem. Or all three. Or he lives in fear?

Come on, Mr Thinker, spit it out!
No Balls To Spit Out, He Invariably Splils Out.
Regardless, by juxtaposing Singapore’s 50-year success with Singaporeans’ littering habits, lack of laughter and lapse in living the Pledge, Kishore has exposed his political masters’ abject failure in building the critical, higher values that separate us humans from mere animals – while gelling us as ‘one united people’. The outstanding success of Singapore Inc appears to make, by Kishore’s own 3-L measures, zoo exhibits of us all (literally littering our shit about our cages, all unhappy in our cramped country hurling towards 6.9 mil people and going, huh, what pledge?).

Or has he intentionally but cryptically, after 12 months, shown a signal, a glimpse of the Singapore ground reality to his PAP masters, hoping that ‘now (they) see in a mirror dimly, but then face-to-face’ sooner – the “deeper sources of our relative unhappiness”.


But will it be all too late for We the Citizens and our beloved Singapore on the current trajectory? The trajectory of our political leaders fiddling while Singapore lives slow-burn…and, sadly if not damnably, civic leader-kittens such as Kishore purrs like overfed, fattened, domesticated felines feasting from the cornucopia of citizens’ tax money at the table of their hubristic emperors.

Game On?
LeeKuanYew did suggest to HK Civil/Civic Leaders to come together to confront China to negotiate for HongKongers their best interests when China reclaimed HK circa 1997. We cannot but plead with Civic and Civil Leaders to form a united front to tell the PAP, “thus far and no further will you come, here your proud waves” of repressive economic doctrines and shameless worship of mammoth MUST STOP!


The days are long but time is short for ye geriatrics, your lights are a’dimming. Nothing survives but the way we live our lives.

Influence is a terrible thing to waste.

Kishore, are you wise and man enough to rally your so-called Singapore’s ‘leading lights’, to unite to tell it like it is to the politicians that Change we Must…that Diversity beats Dominance, itself not an original Big Idea but one “appropriate for our times”?

Or, do we label you an ‘L’ – as in a ‘Lost’ cause?

2cents

(Readers may wish to read Kishore’s concluding article to see for themselves how ironic, if not cryptic, his words can be…if only the PAP is not trying to discover new landscapes but see with new eyes. http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/columns/story/the-final-big-idea-love-singapore-20141213


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Attractive CPF Returns or IPS Naivety?

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) research on CPF returns reported by the Straits Times on 9 December 2014 makes an interesting read. That is if research shaped to please the government is your cup of tea. It makes the following claims

  • Within the CPF, the Ordinary Account currently gives a guaranteed interest of 2.5 or 3.5% for balances up to $20,000. This is significantly higher than deposit rates offered by the banks.
  • Over the next 20 years, CPF could generate 5.7 per cent a year, IPS said. This is based on certain assumptions such as rising interest rates.

And what are those assumptions? The writer rebuts them later in the article.

CPF a bank deposit?

The IPS ought to know the ability to withdraw from the Ordinary Account for mortgage payments and education does not make it equivalent to a bank deposit especially since one is required to return the withdrawn funds. Savings contributed into the OA is equivalent to a 10 year bond, not a 1 year bank deposit. The 1.4% the research stated as additional return over bank deposit is sheer nonsense. The OA rate should be compared to the 10 year bond yield.

Real Rates of Return

But of course nominal interest rates does not mean much without accounting for inflation, a surprising omission by the IPS. Here are the average real yields over the past 10 years using 10 year bond yields compared to the OA rate, both adjusted by inflation. Please note that peers had lower rates of GDP growth. This paints CPF’s real OA rate of return in even worst light given the strong GDP growth over the period.

Figure Comparative Real Rate of Return

Returns rise to 5.7% but…….

The most fallacious part of the research was the claim that returns could rise to 5.7% based on certain assumptions. So let us take them apart.

“Singapore and global inflation to remain modest over time at about 2.5 per cent. Singapore cash rates, or short-term deposit rates, to increase to 4 per cent over 10 years, from current near-zero levels.”

Currently inflation is at 2.5% but interest rates are close to zero. This is obviously abnormal, caused by the MAS’ exchange rate policy importing low interest rates from the West, resulting in elevated cost of living and runaway real estate prices. A normalisation of interest rates can be expected but deposit rates can rise to the inflation rate or marginally higher at best. For deposit rates to rise to 4% as it is assumed, then inflation is expected to rise to at least 3.5%. So this assumption is wrong. If deposit rate is at 4% inflation is going to be higher than 2.5%.

“Singapore Government bond yields to increase to 5.3% over 10 years, from current 2.2%”

Like deposit rates, bond yields cannot rise to 5.3% if inflation “remain modest over time at about 2.5%”. A rise in bond yields like the rise in deposit rates signal an expectation that inflation will increase from 2.5%. However, even if bond yields are to rise to 5.3% on expectation of higher inflation, there is no guarantee that CPF rates will adjust to 5.7% as the research over-optimistically forecasts. Out of the past 18 years, only in 4 years was the OA Rate higher than 10 year bond yields, observed from the chart below.

Figure 10y Bond Yields minus OA Rate

The government adjust CPF rates at its sole discretion. It likes to tell the public when OA rates are higher than bond yields but remained silent when OA rates had mostly been below bond yields. Therefore, the IPS may assume 10year bond yield rise to 5.3% but that does not mean the government will adjust CPF rates to match the rise in bond yields.

CPF Returns are political

The deepest flaw in the IPS research is that it failed to consider the political risk of CPF rates being set by government administrative fiat. Politics ensured CPF returns are unlikely to deliver as the IPS expected. This is because the government administrative fiat over CPF rates is the tool of financial repression, sending excess returns earned by GIC and MAS into the SG reserves. That alone should make any thinking person wary of such rosy forecasts. The political equation is the reason why CPF is far from a risk-free investment.

Chris K

* Chris K holds a senior position in a global financial centre bigger than Singapore. He writes mostly on economic and financial matters to highlight misconceptions of economic policy in Singapore.

BK:
For me, the main problem for the IPS research is that they have deliberately obfuscate the function of the CPF, which is retirement adequacy. If CPF is about how good a car is, why this Singapore car is so good, what they have done is limited the discussion to the headlights. As though headlights itself define a car. They talked in and out of the headlights, circumference and diameter, how comparatively beautiful it is, yet, when the car starts it stalls.

It was a non starter to begin. The CPF conundrum overlaps the philosophy of economics, politics and the social. It is more than rates. It is how CPF cannot cope with retirement adequacy.

This government is unable to communicate. If the government cannot communicate honestly, the trust gap gets wider. If a government cannot communicate it fails.

I remember a story I read. The Smokejumpers are elite wildland firefighters. They are parachuted into the wild fire to try to prevent it moving into the suburbia. In fact, the smokejumpers is the forerunner of the parachute regiments of WW2.

During one of these wildfires, a group of them were surrounded as the wind conspired against them. The leader who was disliked and distrusted told them to dig and then unfurled their foil-lined, heat-resistant tarps and to cover themselves- “deploying the shelter”. But because they didnt trust him they disregard him. He, the leader was the only one that lived.

“Deploying the shelter” is a last ditched effort to save themselves. And even then you may not survive.

It doesnt matter if you are right. If you are distrusted you endanger the lives of your people. The political risk that @ Chris K talked about is alot more real than it seems. In a ‘trust gap’ situation, administrative fiat is dictatorial, and with political polarization, social chasms will deteriorate further.

Nations like sports team, dont just run on economics, it runs on morale, trust and social cohesion.

 

 


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AHPETC ARREARS: While Politicians Play, The People Get Played Out

It is a sad indictment of Singapore’s petty politics, petty leadership and, indeed, petty leaders how the AHPETC saga is currently unfolding. The 2 parties on either side of the war of words are both guilty of acting in a detestable manner, chiefly playing to their own supporters while hoping to sway the FMMs (fence-sitters, marginal supporters and mal/mis-informed voters) with their pathetic arguments worthy of the worst of a Greek tragedy. Only, in this AHPETC episode, the protagonist is We the Citizens who end up paying good money for useless deeds of the 2 actors who unashamedly claim to be serving our better interests.

Exaggeration?

People, please, have Singapore and Singaporeans not got better and more important things to do than be fed with such mundane a municipal issue daily for this long?

Tell me, PM Lee, you who complain of Singaporeans not seeing beyond the immediate, the local and missing out on the international issues of import, how does employing 2 million-$ ministers (Lawrence Wong & Desmond Lee) remedy your complaint? And, yes, like many I’d also like to know what you and your ministers actually did when PAP Town Councils lost millions in 2008/9 after the Lehmann debacle compared to the AHPETC ‘deficit of $734,000 in the 2012 financial year’ and your deployment of all the big artilleries, including the PAP-controlled mainstream media to play down one and play up the other to your own shameless political advantage?

First World Government in action?

And, pray tell me, Chairwoman Sylvia, how are all your fine legalistic semantics and arguments proof of your party’s idea of First World Parliamentarians in action? Honestly, unless you can come up with a good reason or two, I am actually appalled your party could only blurt out, ‘we are looking into the arrears data, and will respond to the query on the financial and arrears situation in due course’. Not once, not twice but several times. Does it not beg the question what with WP’s credibility at stake, you can’t, don’t want to get additional resources to come up with a credible answer pronto, if not settle the issue and clear any doubts? Pathetic.

Hello, even when yours truly was managing my annual expense budget of less than S$1 million p.a., I have already in place on a quarterly, if not monthly, basis small signposts to flag potential concerns or complications that my boss will want an explanation, if not a resolution to – yeah, BEFORE the issue is raised to me. And here WP is, only ‘looking into the arrears data’ when called to account and after giving your greatest political foes all the right reasons to kick you in the teeth?

First World parliamentarians in action?

Through it all, is this the kind of petty politics that We the Citizens can expect of our disgusting politicians, both of whom have the cheek to tell us they are First World calibre politicians?

Is this the kind of leadership to take the Little Red Dot to greater heights in the face of all the Big Black Blots in our neighbourhood waiting to see us fail?

Is this the kind of leaders to whom we can turn in crises who appear not to understand how their pettiness to score brownie points are making fools of We the Citizens and the nation?

People, while it may make for good fodder for our cheap entertainment if not diversion, even as our politicians play and get paid, We the Citizens and our better interests are the ones who are being played out while paying for their unproductive, yes, bullshit.

Get over your detestable performances, you politicians! Do the real work for what we pay you to do!

And, yes, People, demand MORE, much more of them politicians for our hard-earned money! 2cents


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Unforeseen Outcomes of Land, Housing & CPF policies

Comments from Chris K’s first instalment, ‘Raiding The Lost Ark’ http://www.tremeritus.com/2014/12/01/temple-of-doom-raiding-the-lost-ark/  further demonstrate how the government combined its dominant ownership of scarce land resources and the use of the CPF funds to essentially make paupers of a large segment of Singaporeans. This is seen in the high proportion of Singaporeans’ income committed to mortgage payments and insufficient retirement funding.

Using IMF records to show what the government has never reported to citizens, Chris revealed the government’s continued and massive reserves accumulation of mind-boggling proportions: “$1.62 cash surplus for every $1.00 of GDP growth” (fr 1990 to 2012).

That revelation begs the question, how is that spectacular performance possible? How done? Are Singaporeans so blessed with supernatural political leadership, talents?

Adulteration of a good thing

@BK provided the historical background.

“Ngiam Tong Dow was responsible for drafting of the Land Acquisition Act for Goh Keng Swee the then Finance Minister. He said that the core principle of the Act was that land could only be acquired for a clear public purpose: infrastructure, roads, expressways, industrial estates, hospitals, schools and ‘Low Cost HDBs.’

He then warned that the Act could be abused and degenerate into expropriation.

Has the Singapore Land Acquisition Act lived up to its purpose of ‘Low Cost HDB’ and public good? And how does this contrast with the Asset Enhancement Policy of PAP.”

The spectacular feat appears to result from the adulteration of the Land Acquisition laws original intent that benefitted citizens via less-than 3X annual salary affordability of public housing to one that is almost purely rent-seeking. Worse, in the name of self-reliance and fiscal prudence, the PAP-controlled parliaments piled on the burdens to our shoulders by extracting more money from our CPF savings via low, inflation-deficit interest rates, deceptively-named compulsory Medisave, Medishield and Retirement Accounts.

Chris pointedly summarized the outcome as “government rich, people poor”.

Repentance is not In PAP’s DNA

To be fair, policy-formation and execution are no strolls in the park – and the map is not the territory. However rational, attractive or effective a policy appears on paper and however positive the outcomes originally projected and to be measured, there will always be outcomes that have originally not been projected or considered for measurement.

We must acknowledge the original PAP leadership’s sincerity in achieving for We the Citizens the less-than 3 times annual salary costs of HDB flats pre-1990. Unfortunately, the good done unravelled post-1990, when Goh Chok Tong took over the premiership, he formally entrenched 2 policies, namely; asset enhancement (AE) and foreign talent (FT) acquisition.

@BK further posed the question,

“When the surplus generated by our government is primarily from land sales, which is really a rent-seeking activity, how much of its philosophy then coalesce about such a scheme? Is this philosophy part of the economic policy that induces uncontrolled FTs influx?”

In other words, is welcoming more foreigners under the guise of global competition for and attraction of talent meant not just to grow GDP the easier way (addition of manpower instead of the more time/resource-consuming, difficult route improving productivity) but also to fill up the government’s coffers since more headcounts mean increased demand for housing – at higher prices given SG’s paltry 770 sq km real estate? This has, of course, been marketed to us as AE.

Even LKY himself spoke of AE in glowing terms, comparing HDB prices with apartments in KL, telling his Tg Pagar voters not to sell their flats (without talking about how then the daft voters are to finance their retirement). He also conveniently left out how their as-daft future generations are going to buy their flats priced stratospherically to feed government’s coffers.

Unless purposefully blind, after more than 3 decades of AE and FT policies, the unprojected and unintended outcomes in the form of over-priced, unaffordable HDB pricing and insufficient retirement savings for a significant segment of We the Citizens are now staring us all in our faces.

With outcomes as serious as these two, the government still insist the AE & FT policies that make them look good at the expense of a significant number of citizens are not fundamentally flawed. How’s that? Well, no one has admitted to the flaws despite the PAP Sec-Gen’s self-righteously, shamelessly claiming,

The PAP is also a party that, when faced with problems, acknowledges them publicly and deals with them. We owe a responsibility to the people – to be honest, to be transparent, to be accountable.

Is a solution possible?

In the absence of honest, transparent, accountable – and humble – leadership to address the deficiencies already showing up for years and projected to get worse, it’s left to us to try to inform fellow citizens who are not yet convinced of those flaws for whatever reasons.

We must show and convince the unbelievers, mostly economically better-off ones and those seized by fears of change, that as a result of the PAP’s mismanagement and hubris, a painful period of adjustment cannot be avoided. The better-off ones have valid concerns about any kind of ‘wealth transfer’ or ‘soaking up the rich’ to repair the socioeconomic damage.

Given our arguments that the country’s surplus is humongous, the answer must then lie in the same humongous pile sitting as our reserves. A quantified solution such that the reserves must now be drawn on for this rainy day that it is intended for. We must show up PAP’s fear-inducing higher taxes option as a non-solution, one patently false.

If we can prove that, then the current PAP leadership will be exposed as either incompetent, not quite up to the job – or plain liars. Chris promised that he would come up with the numbers (as much as can be reasonably estimated from IMF reports) to propose a basic state pension that is affordable to alleviate our retirement shortfalls – without raiding the CPF Ark.

We shall soon see. Meantime, others with such understanding of the macro picture should speak up.

2cents