2econdsight

"to rescue truth from beauty and meaning from belief"


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Budget 2015: Prudent Pragmatism Fully Clothed To Hide A Heart Of Glass…

An overwhelming majority of commentaries focus on components of the budget and, for pundits featured in mainstream media, the bigger picture of where the budget aims or hopes to take Singapore ‘to the next stage’.

One of the few discussing the true political as opposed to the governance motivations is Budget 2015: The Colour of Money. In essence, the said writer cuts thro’ the bull to point out that ‘except for those citizens who are well off and most likely PAP voters, the rest will become increasingly dependent on PAP’s largesse as they grow old.  Hence the focus on such things as the Pioneer Generation Package and the Silver Support Scheme but nothing to improve CPF rates of returns and as importantly to provide non-discriminatory social entitlements for citizens despite having their household finances depleted by government policies of extracting revenues and returns.’

To me, the twist of the knife in the above salient observation is that ‘PAP’s largesse’ is not done with PAP’s money. Be not mistaken, neither is the money rich taxpayers’ or corporations’. The legal contract is that everyone agreeing to operate and pay taxes in Singapore means that all tax revenues belong to all the citizens of Singapore. Most definitely, the S$60 bil revenue and NIRC amount do not belong to the People’s Action Party or, for that matter, any other party.

So, why should we leave it to PAP’s say-so how the money is to be deployed? Are Singaporeans helplessly resigned to PAP teasing us into addiction to ‘PAP’s largesse as (we) grow old’? Will PAP succeed to update Marx’s observation to show that ‘budget money is the opium of us ordinary Singaporeans’?

If daft Singaporeans are still unconvinced of PAP’s insidious and covert motives in every move they make and every step they take, let me point to what they also do off-Budget time. Our parents could with non-Herculean efforts afford to pay for our 2-, 3- & 4- room HDB flats right up to the 80’s on their own steam. But, the PAP Sec-gen proudly announced during his 2013 National Day Rally (off-Budget, right?) new Special Housing Grants (SHG) for more HDB buyers. SHG (fr Jul 2013 sales launch) is itself an enhancement to the Additional Housing Grant (since 6 Feb 2009).

It means that, for all the razzmatazz of dizzying GDP growths during Goh CT’s & Lee HL’s leadership, our public housing prices went from broadly affordable to unaffordable for our mid and low income fellow citizens.

When I first heard the clueless PM saying, ‘I will make sure every Singaporean family who is working can afford their home’, I shook my head in sad wonder at his proud posture. The irony of his claim is just lost on him. Hello, if you have done a great job as Lim Kim San did for my parents who bought a 3-room HDB flat at Beach Road WITHOUT A SINGLE CENT OF GRANT, you should go hang your head in shame at your abject failure. Or is that your astonishing success in making the current and future generations more dependent on ‘PAP’s largesse’ such that your sole objective to perpetuate PAP’s reign is, well, enhanced?
If the current PAP leadership is hellbent on making addicts of us to their manipulative use of our national revenues, we must surely put a stop to the process instead of leaving our children to suffer or to undo their wrong against us/them. Whilst we cannot directly influence the Budget design, we can surely sack them as ministers.

My own analysis of Budget 2015 surfaces another reason why we should vote PAP out of power and not just deny them a simple, let alone a 2/3 majority. Beyond manipulation, I look for clues of who they really are. The evidence suggests a current leadership completely lacking in empathy with Ali, Anil and Ang.

The $0.20/litre petrol duty increase effective immediately shows PAP’s IQ in top form. The numbers add up neatly, the reasons appear reasonable. State-owned radio DJs were even roped in to help nudge call-in listeners towards agreeing with the move.

To me, the estimated $177mil to be raked in simply shows a government that has little or no EQ. For Ali, Anil and Ang, the recent spectacular fall in crude oil prices, even if translated into only miserable instead of the pronounced discounts we see in Malaysia, is like an unexpected if short rain shower to cool, cleanse our sweat-drenched faces, dust-sticky bodies and grime-caked feet. We are the ones who cannot afford the exclusive spas or jet-streamed tubs after another easy day in the aircon company-paid cars and gleaning offices. So, some little bits of relief are a welcome diversion to be grateful of and for. Crumbs for us little people.

But, no. Million$ ministers and policy wonks have to take away that light drizzle of cool relief.

To confirm that this is not a one-off, Budget day anomaly, let me point to how the PAP Sec-gen himself view the unaffordable HDB flat that he has created and given you grants for. Our HDB flat is not a possession that we Asians naturally like to think of and view as to bequeath to ours when we depart. Nope. It’s an asset with value that we should ‘unlock to fund our non-productive years’. So, over the years, starting from 2009, PAP has ‘helpfully’, right up to another off-Budget occasion NDR in 2014, enhanced the Lease-&-Buyback-Scheme.

For those not born talented, we only have ourselves to blame being born in this Casino Nation.

Concluding, do not the evidence here presented show us a PAP leadership that takes our money (far too much), manipulates its use to perpetuate their Party’s hold on power (primarily to benefit themselves and their own)? Not only that, are they not a bunch of leaders who are totally out-of-touch with how the average Singaporean lives and feels day-in-day-out?

Vote Them Out – Singaporeans, please!

2cents


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If 2cents, Not Goh Meng Seng, Were PM

At the risk of appearing to be ‘bo tua bo soa’ (disrespectful), I’d like to give Goh Meng Seng a run for his imaginary if-I-am-PM-of-Singapore…eh…somniloquy.

Please pardon my presumptuousness for doing so. Though a GE veteran, the man himself admits that ‘most probably (he) will not be PM of Singapore in (his) lifetime’. He also appears to have more detractors than devotees judging by the comments on his thoughts.

Let’s look first at both the form and substance of his ramblings.

Form-wise, he starts well with ‘the top priority is to CHANGE the system of governance before we can talk about individual policy changes’. It’s clear, simple and focused on just one top priority.

Unfortunately, he goes on to do exactly the opposite – with ‘5 things’ instead of just one, finally ending up with, per my last count, 8 or 9 different actions which are piecemeal changes and mostly unrelated to ‘the system of governance’. Does anyone recall what’s included in his 5-thing do list?

Substance-wise, stripped to their bare bones, his ideas are similar to many hundreds or thousands of ideas in the bucket wish-list of those clamouring for changes. Speaking as an Everyman, I say this with due respect to Mr Goh, his thoughts and ideas are not quite macro, PM-material.

Still, as Everyman, I too have the privilege to ask myself what I’d do if I were PM of my country. So, please indulge me in my soliloquy.

Basic Consideration
About the only certainty the next GE will uncover will be a highly, highly polarized electorate (thanks to current PAP’s self-serving, hubristic quest to hold on to power under the guise of serving the people). Hence, it is imperative for the next PM to first secure some form of national stability early in his tenure. This will allow all citizens to further discuss how to reach some consensus on key issues before moving on therefrom instead of wandering in a state of uncertainty or chaos, even.
It’d be a grave leadership mistake to replicate PAP’s tendency to ride roughshod over the concerns of voters who voted their candidates into parliament, even if these remain in the minority. Decisiveness absent consensus impresses no one, in and out of Singapore. Outsiders will know that Singapore cannot go far without finding some common grounds before proceeding.

Therefore, any PM wishing to wrought real change in Singapore must appraise the fractured and fractious state of the people he will be leading for the next 5 years – or he’d likely find himself the subject of many a night of long knives. And no investor would want to sink new or more funds.

Real Change
Other than the basic need for stability, what else must inform and form PM 2cents’ Must-do list?

Honestly recognizing the good from the bad that PAP has done. Hence, no throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Further, observe the word choice, ‘real change’, not ‘changes’. Any word or action from the PM office carries both substantial and symbolic significance. Therefore, the PM will do well to harness the power of his office with actions and acts that set the stage for a sea-change in our mindset. To aim for that real change that foments and ferments not just the large but also the million tiny changes down the line in the government, the civil service, business and society at large.

3 Things on Must-Do List to Real Change
Recognizing the importance of form, here are my 3 specific, simple and single-minded actions.
First on the list: To achieve initial stability via continuity. Gather all the heads and managers of the Civil Service for a heart-to-heart talk. I’ll tell them in no uncertain terms, the country is now at an historic turning point in the next stage of Singapore’s progress. But we have history to guide us. The PAP, clinching power in 1959, had the good fortune of a British-bequeathed competent civil service to hold the fort while greenhorn politician-leaders find their footing. So, come 2016/7, civil servants must replicate the pivotal role that enabled the then government and people to successfully negotiate and transit to a new era.

Listen up. You have 2 immediate critical tasks. One, to ensure stability through continuity; you banish politics from all your daily work either for or against my government. You work without fear or favour. Two, you speak up to the ministers your true view of all policies past, present or future, make your objective recommendations and once decided by your minister, execute each and every policy, again, without fear or favour.

I’ll meet you again in 3, 6 months to discuss if you continue or you are replaced.

Second, I will call up the head honchos of a handful of PAP-government appointees.

Resign.
Your positions are no longer tenable.

There shall be no witch-hunt, only full audits of the organizations from inception to 2015/6 will be done. Not just for their current tenures. Citizens want to, must know where all our money is exactly. It is my sacred duty that Singaporeans be not robbed or denied our rightful possessions by those, in and out of Singapore, taking advantage of our transition.

Henceforth, Singapore Inc must work on the basis of competence and meritocracy at all levels, not “meritoguanxi”. Accountability with transparency is what citizens demand.

Third and last, I’ll be ready to speak to the nation. I only have a simple message for our never-before so polarized citizenry.

We, the citizens of Singapore,

pledge ourselves as one united people,

regardless of race, language or religion,

to build a democratic society

based on justice and equality

so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and

progress for our nation.

Period.

Citizens whose support will be hugely critical to Singapore’s successful transition will easily recall the 3 simple-to-recall, single-minded items. Each has a role to play each day, in what’s said and done in each encounter with those they meet. Collectively, we’ll forge a way ahead.

I think I should get a better shot at premiership than Goh Meng Seng whose credibility appears in tatters despite his more seasoned political participation. 2cents’ credibility is still at neutral. As long as that credibility does not stray into negative territory while building up the positive, I’ll be in the running. And, isn’t my PM do-list much more bang for the buck than his?

And, hey, without any political base or baggage, I am no threat to any of the Indian Chiefs helming all the other political parties, PAP included.

So, how about ‘2cents-4-PM?

2cents

PS: Oh, an afterthought. I think I really have to do this somewhat ‘beneath-PM-status itsy-bitsy thing. But, nonetheless, for its symbolic significance (and my greatest pleasure): Fire Warren Fernandez from the Straits Times. He’ll find a nice opening as the cover face of Mad Magazine
Richard Wan, you reading this?  I have a new job for you.


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AHPETC-gate: Here’s My S$1000/- Loan To Serve Your Residents

To understand PAP true intentions with AHPETC-gate, the best approach is to look at what their big guns, the ministers, have said thus far.

Representing the legal angle, the stern-looking Law Minister Sham specifically characterized AHPETC actions and management to be ‘unlawful’. This is staking PAP’s high legal grounds. The intention is to appeal to the segment of voters who consider the rule of law a major pillar in governance.

Representing the face of a caring, selfless, citizen-focused government, the boyish Education Minister, with not much of a commanding presence given his height deficit, came out on one of his rare occasions to speak on non-education issues. Speaking rather softly, almost mother-like tones, he put ‘residents’ interest’ front and centre of the issue. “Mr Heng wrapped up his speech by stressing that this motion is not about partisan politics and pointing out the many failings and questionable practices of WP, but it is about electing MPs with integrity, a deep sense of responsibility and taking the trust of people seriously. (link)

Finally, we have the grandiloquent sound (I do not say ‘voice’) of morality in the form of a sagely National Development Minister Khaw. He was ‘sadder’ listening to WP MPs’ ‘political, arrogant, evasive etc’. (One wonders why ‘hypocritical’ didn’t cross his pure, enlightened mind.) He even pontificated, with a straight face, ““I am also a very religious man. So, where possible, I try to help. Whoever. Doesn’t matter. …If you are honest, you are clean, I would do my best to help you.”

Khaw’s Ministry of National Development will follow thro’ with 3 items, namely;

(a) AHPETC to remedy the problems – To submit an unqualified set of their FY2013 financial statements to MND by 30 Jun this year, and FY2014 financial reports by 31 Aug this year. – To deal decisively with the gross incompetence of its MA.

(b) MND to suspend the S&CC Grants MND has withheld this year, FY2014 S&CC grant from the AHPETC worth about $7mil.

(c) MND to amend the TCs Act

My sole intention of this article is to address the suspension of the $7mil S&CC grant. Here’s how we, firm believers in ending PAP’s dominance, should put our money where our mouths are.

I am NOT, or ever was, a member of Workers’ Party. Many TRE readers here may recall that I’m unemployed (now, a month short of 40). I have still 3 children 20 – 25, still studying with a mortgage to service.

In short, I am doing this not without some effort and pain to my dwindling funds. I would like to offer S$1000/- as an interest-free loan to AHPETC and call upon ALL true blue Singaporeans, regardless your support of political parties, to join me to do likewise. Regardless the reasons for WP’s failure, inexperience or neglect in this episode, let us all come together and show the hypocritical PAP ministers what it really means to ‘pledge ourselves as one united people’.

Let us show our concerns for AHPETC residents, whether they voted PAP or WP. They should not be penalized by a Town Council system that is in practice anything but apolitical.

The money we put at AHPETC’s disposal will be strictly a loan albeit without interest. And full payment must be made within 7 working days upon receiving the S&CC grants from MND. Workers Party,

I now throw the ball into your court. Set up the mechanics for the collection and proper recording of our money that we are loaning to AHPETC.

…and, if I were a Workers Party MP, I would hang my head in shame not to have thought of this idea to use your considerable income as a stop-gap loan for use by the Town Council while failing to give PAP no reason to fault AHPETC. Time for you, Mr Low, Ms Lim, Mr Manap, Mr Chen & Mr Singh to put your money where your mouths are, offer loans to AHPETC so that your residents do not suffer any drop in the quality of municipal services.

To fellow citizens who believe in my proposal, you can be assured that your loan is 100% safe and will be fully returned. MND cannot not pay AHPETC, only delay its payment.

See what geniuses the cabinet of 5 generals are – handing us all a golden, cost-free opportunity to demonstrate our disgust with their hypocrisy and political fixing and punishing citizens as collateral damage instead of selflessly serving us.

2cents


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AHPETC-gate: PAP to HDB Voters, “Here’s Why You Should Vote Us Out !”

My initial concerns when the saga made front-page and 3, 4 full pages of news were that Workers’ Party (WP) had walked right into PAP’s trap and it’s a serious blow to the Opposition electability in general.

How could WP, having won the first-ever GRC in S’pore’s electoral history, not be aware – and fully cognizant all the time of the consequences – that a vindictive PAP has its finger on the trigger to call out any sign of incompetence and/or wrongdoing? Also, absent in social media is the obvious but unspoken reality that some non-WP supporters are thinking, serve the ‘Wayang Party’ right for their arrogance and silence on other issues that opposition supporters are vocal about. WP should not take their support for granted.

And whilst die-hard opposition supporters will spin PAP’s spin to fit their own preferred view of the episode, the more important consideration is, “What’s the likely impact on FMMs (fence-sitters, marginal supporters, mal/mis-informed voters)?” It bears repeating and repeating that FMMs are where the next GE will be won or lost. Not the ‘kpkb’ opposition supporters nor the PAP IBs.

PAP’s Strategy
Allotting 2 parliamentary days to debate AHPETC-gate and deploying 3 ministerial guns, not to mention the #153-ranked mainstream media going to town with the happy news of WP’s ‘unlawful’ behaviour, suggest how pleased PAP must be with this staged public flogging.

(As an aside, I have been waiting for this opportunity to test Law Minister Sham’s own assertion of non-defamation to label him a ‘fool’. Hence, I say he’s a ‘fool’ or at least foolish to accuse WP of ‘unlawfulness’. If he so thinks, then send in the CPIB. Otherwise, we call your bluff, Minister of Law, sir.)

PAP thought they landed themselves a freebie to ‘fix’ WP. In one fell swoop, WP, the GRC-intruder and strongest Opposition party of the day, have done themselves in. As such, ‘kiasu, kiasi’ Singaporeans will think twice about electing more opposition MPs who are deemed financially and operationally incompetent to handle estate management issues that affect voters’ daily lives.

No surprise, PAP went for the jugular.

PAP’s Blindside
It’s been said too often how ‘crisis’ written in Chinese brushstrokes refer to ‘danger’ & ‘opportunity’ combined. But so it is. In PAP’s current offensive, Opposition parties find themselves with free ammo, critical to their GE campaign…I see Minister Stumblebum’s (Chan Chun Seng) paw prints all over this half-baked ‘strategy’?

The following should be judiciously used at the next GE rallies – by ALL opposition parties and in unison of purpose.

#1
Two questions to ask HDB voters.

If voters (and not the PAP) paid for the computer software for use by a PAP Town Council, is it legal that when PAP loses a seat in an election, that same software is ‘owned’ by and therefore can be taken away by the defeated party?
Why should HDB households be made to pay for the incoming Town Council’s ‘new’ software when they own the existing, functioning one?

Voters should sue PAP for withholding, or thief, of intellectual property.

#2
Rally slogans for next election. “Depoliticise Estate Management!” or “Return Estate Management to HDB – for a cheaper, better and uninterrupted living environment”
Turn the tables on PAP. Using the AHPETC-gate snafu, to ask the voters, “Why should your daily, municipal concerns be under threat of disruption with a change in your MP?”

In the same way that a school located in an Opposition ward remains firmly under the management and direction of the Ministry of Education or the safety of our woman, child and man under the Singapore Police Force (Ministry of Home Affairs), so it should be with estate management.

Vote in enough Opposition MPs to sponsor the first bill in the new parliament, ‘That all HDB estate management should be reverted to HDB as it was prior to the Town Council Act such that citizens daily lives are not needlessly affected by a change in their MPs, reduced costs from economy of scale can be enjoyed and opportunities for potential smaller acts of corrupt practices currently spread over many Town Council tenders can be eliminated.

Opposition parties all, here’s your chance to turn AHPETC-gate as a unifying strategic move come next GE.

2cents blogs @2econdsight.wordpress.com


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Temasek is high risk according to S&P – may lose AAA

This gets a little technical but important, so the writer begs readers’ indulgence. This report (www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-05/temasek-says-singapore-not-greece-in-s-p-critique-asean-credit highlighted what appears to be a spat between Temasek and the rating agency
Standard & Poor (S&P) over the latter’s decision to introduce Standalone Rating to Investment holding companies (IHC).  The contention is the Standalone Rating has placed Temasek in the 
same category as risky propositions such as Greece and Jamaica
What is Standalone Rating? 
Standalone credit ratings are not new and had been introduced mostly due to the prevalence of 
financial institutions fully or majority owned by national, state or municipal governments who enjoyed 
high credit rating. Standalone ratings rate entities entirely on their own merit without the support 
implied by being owned by another with a strong credit rating.
 
In the case of Temasek, it enjoyed a AAA-rating because it is owned by the Republic of Singapore which 
is rated AAA. Standalone rating meant Temasek is rated on its own merit without the support implied by 
being owned by the Republic. 

Temasek’s
 problem is Asset Liquidity 
Suffice to say by lumping Temasek with the likes of Greece and Jamaica, S&P is saying it is
“a moderately high risk” entity without the implicit support of the Republic.
 
The crux of the matter is Asset Liquidity: the ease of disposing large shareholdings and 
this is based on 30 year history of stock price swings in Temasek’s key geographical markets.  
S&P categorized Singapore in the thrid of four baskets, similar to HK. This is not to say Singapore stock market comprised a lot of risky companies but that the market 
lacks depth and thus more volatile and risky.  Selling a $100m block of shares is an entirely 
different proposition from selling a $10b block, the latter would have move the price substantially 
in such a market, resulting in losses. This is the fundamental issue of asset liquidity. 
The fact that Temasek holds huge controlling blocks of shares exacerbates the risk of asset liquidity. 
Further, it is not helped that only 24% of its assets are invested in the deep markets of 
Europe, North America and Australasia. 
This is not to say Temasek is a bad credit but that its position rests entirely on, using 
S&P’s words, “the extreme likelihood of extraordinary support from the government.” 
As such the Standalone Rating puts Temasek’s risk profile in its proper context and on more 
transparent basis. 
Is S&P being picky? 

Perhaps but it should.  The elephant in the room in global markets today is that very issue of asset 
liquidity. The curbs and punitive capital requirements imposed on banks have reduced asset liquidity as 
they can no longer act as intermediaries in block sale to the extend they used to. 

Implicit AAA encourages risky behavior 
Implicit AAA rating has a known tendency to encourage risky behavior because the AAA rating is 
inferred by the strong credit of the owner and not earned by the entity itself. That is to say Temasek did 
not earn that AAA rating – it is inferred by the Republic. As it is not earned, Temasek has the 
opportunity to engage in risky behavior since relying on the Republic’s rating, it need not manage to the 
strict standards of the rating. It is one of the reasons that Standalone Ratings were introduced some 15 
years ago.

Conclusion
 
According to procedure, S&P has notified and sought feedback from companies affected by 
the changes. Hence, Temasek’s response. However there are a couple of points for the layman. 
First social media bloggers’ allusions to high risk behavior by Temasek may appear disjointed, 
nit picking and less than the standards demanded by the professionals but they are not wrong. 
S&P has lent credence to them. 

Second, 
Temasek’s protestations laid bare the dichotomy between what the government and what S&P 
(and perhaps the world) thinks of Singapore as a financial centre. At root it is about the reputation. To 
think as the government has implied through Temasek’s responses that Singapore should be on par with 
the truly great financial centers, especially in light of the recent technical disruptions and penny stock 
fiasco, seems the height of hubris. 
 
Chris K


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BASIC IDEA #2: Enact a Basic Subsiste­nce Allowance For Above 65

Basic Idea #1 takes care of our youth by suggesting to give them back their right to conceive the kind of future they think, dream possible.

Turn we must now to what we can do for our seniors. They represent a place and a time that most of us will find ourselves someday.
­­­
But raised as we have been under the incessant propaganda of the merits of ‘self-reliance’ the last 50 years– to almost all exclusion of the merits of doing common good or at least to do no evil through indifference or inaction – we first need to choose with great care the words we use to discuss this idea. With leaders and 60.1% of supporters only too happy to prematurely kill any new ideas by attaching terms like ‘raiding the reserves’, ‘burden to/balanced budget’ and most recently, ‘an auction in the elections’ etc without analysing each idea on its own merits, we cannot be too careful.

Therefore, I shall neither use the ‘p’ nor ‘w’ nor ‘e’ words (pension, welfare, entitlement) words. All are anathema to any sensible consideration with the PAP in power. Hence, I suggest ‘Basic Subsistence Allowance’ (BSA). It is what it is and should be; a basic allowance to help recipients subsist. One that cannot be construed to demotivate hard work, savings – or even self-reliance.
But one that is a critical welcome for the relief to those truly struggling day-in, day-out.

Enough has been said about our CPF inadequacies and some commentators have already put forward a basic state pension plan. But next to nothing have been taken up by the powers there be. This is typical of the state-controlled environment we live in. With the 24/7 news cycle, there’ll always be another new news to occupy the short attention span of citizens. Hence, the best move to avoid a topic is to deny it air and eyeball time.

So, any Basic Idea that hope to find traction will have to first overcome the 2 basic obstacles in its way, namely; the default psychological distaste for any talk of pension/welfare and the (reasonable/valid) concern of a large number of citizens whether an idea’s viable or affordable.

Many Western countries with state pension systems face chronic deficits. Looking East, Japan and S Korea are also going through reforms. Taiwan’s route from 1950 towards a pension system can serve to inform us in our quest as well. The lesson appears to be that projected payouts will overburden Taiwan’s treasury even with a monthly amount of just NT$3000 (S$130/-). Therefore, whilst legitimate, the concerns of viability cannot and must not be an excuse NOT to even consider a state-funded allowance.

As such, the overriding consideration, to my mind, is to first get over the very idea of enacting a state-funded subsistence allowance. Let’s first cross the bridge, start conservatively, take the next decade or so to study all the effects that arise from its implementation. With sufficient empirical data of how BSA has worked we can analyse and make the needed adjustments to serve its intended aim.

 

I therefore propose a BSA of S$200/month for every Singaporean reaching 65 years of age. Applying Occam’s Razor to keep it simple, the only condition being every BSA beneficiary must have been a Singapore Citizen for at least 20 or 25 years, regardless of current income or asset status. This is to eliminate freeloading new citizens.

2014 population figures show 11.2% (431,601) of local residents are 65 and above. Assuming 14% PRs, the cost to the treasury will be,

371200 x S$2400/yr = S$891mil/yr

or 11% of the NIRC’s S$8.1bil set aside for the PGP in 2014. Or it’s only a small 7.4% change curved from Mindef’s 2014 monstrous S$12.18bil budget. I mean, where’s the logic to over-secure our land for Singaporeans when a chunk of our own flesh & blood have to live with less?

On current projections, by 2025, the 65+ cohort will net increase to about 500,000 persons. With a non inflation-adjusted S$2400/yr, then BSA will cost S$1.2bil/year, 1/10th what’s spent on fancy planes etc. By then we’ll have a decade of data to analyse for the idea’s viability, effects and how we can improve on it.

Readers will have plenty to suggest or modify the amount, its qualifying terms etc. That’s great; we maximise our combined wisdom. For e.g. how about supplementing the meagre S$200/month with a variable component that leaves the government to decide on with each annual budget, depending on how the country has performed economically. Or to celebrate SG’s milestone (hugely important in solidifying a country’s sense of belongingness.)

Remember, our overriding consideration of the S$200/month Basic Subsistence Allowance, arrived at it with limited info and data analysis, is to find a small enough but budgetary-viable allowance amount to get better-off Singaporeans and the stingy-with-our-elders government used to the idea and learn that any society worth its name and any moral government worth its salt must do some transferring of national wealth to the old and needy amongst us. Such a basic responsibility cannot and must not be used by the government of the day as a vote-buying instrument – ever!

2cents


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The Acts and Art of Manipulation

Beauty is truthtruth beauty,—that is all.” Keats

As a minister given almost a month to anticipate and prepare for a certain scenario, how would you go about it?

That is the pertinent question Singapore citizens need ask in order to uncover, as it were, the aim behind Minister Khaw’s beautiful performance on 29 Jan in Parliament. It was a successful performance – judging by the million or more written and discussed words in the days since. And, even more successful to his and Party’s intent, if one notices the turn in focus of what’s written/printed.

Essentially, the focus of ‘Fernvalegate’ has now become only a matter of a failure in the tender process and execution.

Here is my 2cents’ worth to try to ‘rescue truth from beauty’.

To see through the true intent of Khaw’s parliamentary reply, we must first know 2 fundamentals underpinning his action and the reply.
One, the substance of the reply must be informed by the need of the situation. How ‘Fernvalegate’ has played out thus far against the current imperatives of his Party working under the pressure of time to the next GE and in a climate unfavourable to PAP. Forget not that Khaw is first and foremost Comrade Chairman, PAP.

Two, it is a well-known fact that seasoned politicians practise the act of manipulation to a fine art – to secure and stay in power. They do whatever it takes to increase their chances at the ballot box….Never mind what the people think.

Therefore, we cannot be too far wrong to sieve Khaw’s performance through the 2 aforesaid filters. Firstly, there’s little doubt that the Fernvalers’ unexpected rage, PAP MP Lam’s vote-endangering performance and the accompanying flare-up in cyberspace dictated PAP’s need to minimize political damage. Secondly, containing that fallout can only be achieved through reclaiming the narrative.

Singaporeans are damnably daft if they suppose that PAP’s governance extends to honesty in playing the political game.

We examine Khaw’s reply.

Here we first need to go back to how Fernvalegate took off. The key complaint of the buyers is ‘the non-disclosure of material information in the promotion and sale of Fernvale apartments”. With regard to the commercial columbarium, “the reason why so many of us were caught off guard is because we have placed so much trust in a government statutory board. We have expected HDB to be transparent, open and more forthcoming with important information. We didn’t expect a reputable and biggest developer of properties like HDB would hide critical material information under ultra fine prints and vague uncertain phrases (eg. “may include”) coupled with disclaimers.

We believe that if there were information which could help HDB to fetch a better price for the BTOs (eg. Mall, LRT stations, amenities etc), HDB would surely have put them up prominently and affirmatively. We expect HDB to do likewise for information (eg. Columbarium) that may make the flats less attractive to most buye­­rs and thus, fetch lower prices for HDB.

But Khaw disregarded that critical objection (omission of material fact). In short, Khaw evaded it.
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Next, to MP’s queries, Khaw appeared to admit neglect by his managers in the tender evaluation. His HDB subordinates have ‘assumed’ (wrongly) that tenderers will abide by the rules…Really? Are angels running businesses in a growing industry (increasingly elderly population with money to burn upon death) whose first concerns are sticking to rules not profit maximization? As much as rent-seeking by a HDB operating under PAP’s mantra, ‘What’s wrong with collecting more money’ primarily concerned to serve citizens’ interests? Any savvy company would see thro’ HDB’s habit of awarding to the highest bids (Khaw admitted as much), and obliged accordingly. If rent-seeking is not habitual, LifeCorp might have risked a lower bid with a superior USP (unique selling proposition) to ace the tender.

Sounding almost contrite with sincerity or sincere with contrition, Khaw appeared to excuse his ministry since “for 20-odd years, we would never have thought that a for-profit company would participate in a non-profit making venture”  (echoes of a ‘50-year flood event’?). So, will any head(s) roll? That decision hinges on the threat of vote loss from fence-sitters vs loss of compliant civil servants’ votes (for severing the unwritten rule that no minister’s/civil servant’s ever need to roll for mistakes of any kind).

Regardless, Khaw diverted our attention with a masterstroke of acknowledging a shortcoming – but searing his Party’s preferred narrative for Fernvalegate.

Further, to doubly ensure success, he threw in poetic license. A virtuoso performance, almost. In the august chambers on 29 Jan, Parliament House, the mention of butterflies and lovers would be like pearls of wisdom sprouting from a sage to an expectant audience. ‘Butterfly Lovers’ by the Fan Dai, is not a classic if the story will not stir one’s soul. But Fan Dai would likely turn in his grave to hear/read that his tender, tragic story of a love unfulfilled being used as a tool to frivolously explain away a grave error in governance. All par for the course to mislead citizens towards an ignoble political end.

Judging by the many commentaries and comics based on his Butterfly comparison, Khaw can be justly proud of his attempt to distract citizens from Fernvalers’ main beef with a beauty of a prose.

So, people, be not daft. Social media editors, be not duped. Readers and commentators, be not deceived. The tender process snafu and the beauty of Butterfly Lovers are but diversion and distraction to help in the evasion of Fernvale citizens’ core concern. PAP’s HDB must answer for their wilful withholding of material information in selling a roof over and for our heads as much as they nee­d to answer for their human error or complacency in the tender.

On the face of it, PAP Chairman claimed empathy with Fernvalers. But actually, he was directing his Party’s preferred narrative that Fernvalers suffer from a selfish, NIMBY mentality instead of directly addressing the issue of contractual transparency between a government ministry and the very citizens it is committed and claims to serve.

The art of manipulation via 3 acts; evade, divert, distract. That’s the truth behind the beauty.

Fernvalers, please speak up! Reclaim your narrative and your demand! We are all ears – and all the way with you!

2cents
Footnote: How Khaw sidestepped the critical question. See more at: <http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/housing/story/sengkang-columbarium-khaw-boon-wan-takes-questions-mps-20150129#sthash.i75Wv9n0.dpuf&gt;

MP Zaqy Mohamad’s (CCK GRC): On the issue of transparency, one of the sticking points from many of the residents or potential buyers of these flats was that the columbarium was seen to be a fine print. So moving forward, from a URA perspective or sales perspective, how does HDB plan to change this practice?
Mr Khaw: In this instance, there was no question of lack of transparency. The site was clearly marked as a temple. And in fact, for completeness, the HDB put in a footnote to indicate there may be a columbarium because we cannot assume that the temple will build a columbarium.…But I think the unhappiness of the residents over the last few weeks was that they thought we were going to allow a commercial columbarium to be built – and this is quite a different creature from an incidental columbarium service.