2econdsight

"to rescue truth from beauty and meaning from belief"


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The Parable of Amos Yee

Many commentators have assigned the most sinister of pre-planned intentions by the government against Amos Yee. The operative word being ‘pre-planned’.

One popular conspiracy theory in the early stage was how Vincent Law was first seen as a smack at PAP but somehow became one of those roped in to help put Amos in his place. The about-turn was founded on Amos’ unverified claim of Vincent’s apparent ulterior motive to explore spiritual issues with him.

Then, as the wheel turned, the current popular theory has to do with the science of psychiatry and how psychiatric treatment appears to be the original weapon of choice to serve PM Lee’s aim to suppress Amos’ free-spirited criticism of his father’s official legacy. Such commentators appeared to have either not read or conveniently ignored past reports where psychiatry assessment was standard operating procedures. Pre-Dr Winslow’ report, no one wrote anything about psychiatry.

So, while most daft Singaporeans (aka PAP supporters) silently approve of the general treatment being meted out to poor Amos, smart Singaporeans (or PAP detractors) appear to change the emphasis in their conspiracy theory with each new development while keeping closely to a clear intent on PAP’s part to ‘kill Amos the chicken to teach other monkeys a lesson’.

One wonders what’s going to be the next new thing to write about as the trial and tribulation of poor Amos progresses.

System Failure
There is a simpler explanation not only to what has happened – but also whatever is likely to happen if the saga continues on its current trajectory of ‘let the law take its course’.

It’s called system failure.

To allege that PM Lee has it all figured out how to deal with Amos even before or immediately after his uploaded video is to give LHL more credit in foresight than he deserves. In fact, it’s easy to see how lacking he is in 20/20 foresight by the end of this article.

The Singapore social and legal system is designed to deal with ‘normal’ criminal situations. A system tested effective (thus far) to manage the gamut of crimes that are familiar to our ordered society. It is a system that has not and cannot handle an event, a free-spirit or an outlier like Amos Yee.

As such, what has happened so far is that everyone who is working for and within the system is just doing the assigned duties expected of his role. So, the over-zealous citizens who first reported Amos’ ‘crime’ triggered the police to act on the complaint. The system then required the investigating officer and his superiors in the SPF to duly make the case from ‘evidence’ adduced. This then passed on to the AGC and public prosecutor assigned to the case to file the charges. The judge assigned to preside over the case did not and cannot view her job to include questioning the very existence of the statues relevant to the case in her court but merely to interpret them. That process and unquestioning compliance to one’s job within the system continued with the prison wardens and psychiatrists and everyone else handling the paperwork, including Amos meal preferences.

Everyone just goes about doing their job, collecting their salaries in order to pay their daily expensive bills and mortgages; making sure that they do not lose their jobs. Even if some (mostly) civil servants did raise questions, they preferred to keep matters to themselves instead of risking their rice bowls.

Leadership Failure
How can it pay to raise that possibility when your political masters have already called Amos ‘a parent’s nightmare’? Or the kindest words were that of the Law Minister saying, ‘Amos’ age is a factor for the courts to consider’ – but dropping the charges? Fat hope.

Therefore, it is rather clear that everyone, including all our ministers, are just playing along with the safe retort that the law must take its course. Not one single minister has appeared to have publicly come forward to stop the whole charade that warranted the UNHCR pleading on Amos’ behalf. How true LHL’s confession of a lack of 20/20 foresight now that he is self-inflicting damage to the good name of Singapore.

We elect leaders not only to manage economic, financial or social crises. We need leaders who are able to step in judiciously and quickly to compensate for when the systems in place cannot handle storms in a teacup that nevertheless can stir up serious harm to Singapore’s reputation and what we stand for – in this case, how we treat our young who are testing the limits of our culture, our laws to suit their generation.

A Few Good Men
PM Lee’s complete silence since the UNHCR’s 22 Jun appeal for Amos suggests that he wants to be seen to let the law run its course.

But it cannot be that his cabinet has not discussed the development robustly. Is it too late for Singapore? Will the hawks in the cabinet continue to insist on wielding the big stick on small man-child Amos?

I think it is time for Tharman, with his claimed attraction to the softer sides of democracy, Shanmugam, with his training and practice of the finer points of justice in action, and those ministers who profess the Christian faith to throw down the gauntlet and do a Dhanabalan.

Dhanabalan resigned from cabinet when LKY decided to prosecute the Marxist Conspiracy. He stood up for his personal beliefs and moral principles rather than be identified with a decision he objected to. I urge those ministers who disagree with the way the Amos Yee saga is being played out to stand up and be counted. They should not only offer to resign from cabinet but also to decide that they would no longer want to stand for the GE so as not to be linked erroneously to the fundamental issue of how we should treat our young who may not always share or express their views the way we are comfortable with.

If these ministers will challenge PM Lee, then there is hope yet for Singapore and our young ones. PM Lee, I think, will only understand the language of threat, sadly so.

How will the parable end? Does Singapore have a few good men?

Law Kim Hwee

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GIC Harvests Risk Premiums. Government Harvests CPF 

Malaysia’s EPF recently announced its latest dividend is 6.75%, which is over 3% higher
than those CPF received from the government. But this is not because EPF’s
investment performance is vastly superior to GIC. It is really all about who gets the
investment risk premium which a long term investor like EPF and GIC, to use the words
of the latter’s CIO Lim Chow Kiat, harvested from investing in risk assets.
What is the Risk Premium?

In simple term, the risk premium is the extra returns earned from investing in risky
assets over the risk-free rate which in practice refer to the government bond yield since
it is the safest instrument from the risk of default (but does not give assurance that the
risk free rate is enough to protect against other risks such as increases in cost of living).

It is compensation for tolerating risks. Here are 2 hypothetical investments

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Accountability & Parliamentary Oversight Of Sovereign Wealth Fund

The purpose of this short discussion is to contrast the practice of and need for accountability and transparency in regard to Norway’s and Singapore’s sovereign funds.

Introduction
Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) made international news last week.

The Guardian, 28 May 2015 initially reported that a bipartisan parliamentary committee had deliberated and decided to recommend that GPFG “should sell stakes in firms that generate more than 30% of their output or revenues from coal-related activities.”

A week later, NYT, 5 Jun 2015,“Parliament voted Friday to order the fund to shift its holdings out of billions of dollars of stock in companies whose businesses rely at least 30 percent on coal. A committee vote last week made Friday’s decision all but a formality; it will take effect next year.”

Google search shows up SG’s MSM last reported on GPFG, Mar 2015, to ensure Singaporeans are informed that the “world’s biggest sovereign fund eyes S’pore property”. But, as of 7 Jun, our #153-ranked MSM is surprisingly silent on the latest GPFG’s development. Why?

Perhaps, climate change is not a top Singaporean concern even if, with sea levels rising, parts of our coastline may be submerged. So, local editors may deem the latest news less relevant to us.

But I suspect there are other reasons why it was not reported. Let’s see what those may be.

How Norway GPFG & Temasek Holdings Operate
The GPFG is technically owned by Norway’s Ministry of Finance “on behalf of the Norwegian people.”

Its governance structure has the Norwegian Parliament setting the legal framework (Government Pension Fund Act), delegating the fund management to the Ministry of Finance then delegated the operational aspects to the Norwegian Central Bank which in turn appointed their Investment Management arm to run GPFG. GPFG managers then have a free hand within a given investment mandate to pursue opportunities without undue interferences.

GPFG’s website has only 5 headings. Since ALL the money belongs to the 5mil Norwegians, “TRANSPARENCY” is included as one of the headings to assure ordinary citizens that their pensions are not placed in an opaque Black Hole. Here’s the manager’s commitment.

We manage the fund on behalf of the Norwegian people – both current and future generations. We are dependent on confidence to achieve our mission, so we aim to be a professional, transparent and responsible investment manager. However, there are some topics we cannot inform about – matters that others should discuss, and information that is market sensitive. Otherwise, our goal is for the people of Norway and others to be able to find all the information they need about the fund and its investments.

Contrast GPFG’s unambiguous, no-nonsense, zen-like presentation with Temasek’s ‘more-is-less’ website with its colourful bells-and-whistles intro page. And, its ‘governance framework’ and ‘commercial discipline’;

Our governance framework emphasises substance over form, and long term over short term, and put institution over self. It provides for accountability and a robust balance between empowerment and compliance.
We espouse the principles of commercial discipline, built on our set of MERITT values, namely: meritocracy, excellence, respect, integrity, teamwork and trust.

Can someone please show/demonstrate with examples what it means to Citizen 2cents how “meritocracy, excellence, respect, integrity, teamwork and trust” have to do with investing my money to ensure my retirement adequacy?

Next, The CEO, Mr Yngve Slyngstad, holds 4 Masters in Law, Economics, Biz Mgt & Political Science and, yes, had much more than 10 years in investment and equity management prior to his CEO appointment 1 Jan 2008. He is supported by a team with impressive and role-relevant backgrounds. Click to discover the detailed information of each key executive.

Contrast this with, for starters (leaving out GIC & MAS for now), Temasek Holdings (TH). A quick scan shows up at least 5 top managers previously from Singapore Technologies (& subsidiaries). TH CEO cut her teeth in Singapore Technologies (ST) and a President came also from ST, also from a tech, not an investment, environment. Additionally, there’s an apparent preference for country managers with connections or “guanxi” in their home markets.

GPFG appears to have only Norwegians in their top ranks whereas, perhaps one-third of Temasek’s are Foreign Talent (no prizes for guessing the make-up at GIC). Note: GPFG manages 4X what Temasek does, each country has about 5 mil population while Norway’s GDP is US$512bil vs Singapore’s US$298 (2014). Are we missing something here?

What The PAP Govt-Controlled Press Will Not Have You Thinking
Back to SG MSM not reporting on Norway’s divestment decision.

Any report at all will be incomplete without revealing how the GPFG ended up having to act on the divestment decision.

Norwegians and their government (doesn’t matter the parties in power) take their money and investments very seriously. Aside from wishing to demonstrate their adherence to ‘ethical investment principles’ on issues dear to their hearts, every Norwegian is engaged (via their MPs or writing/speaking to ministers directly – no need for National Conversation or Hong Lim Park protest) to knowingly ensure that their pensions are adequate to meet retirement costs and expectations.

Singaporeans should, too, don’t you think?.

Through all these, Norway’s Parliament has the ultimate say and oversight of the GPFG. Regular reports are also made by the fund managers to the Ministry of Finance with voluminous but relevant details – down to the cost of management costs/fees (for FY2014, management fee including bonuses = 0.06% of fund value).

Now, why should Singaporeans be denied the ultimate say and oversight of our CPF and other assets or money owned by our government on OUR behalf?

This question is especially relevant – urgent even – since we are as educated as the Norwegians, our living costs have shot through the roof – and, indeed, our retirement funds thus far are manifestly inadequate after 50 continuous years under the governance model set up and operated solely by the PAP-dominated government…without real Parliamentary accountability and oversight.

It is ridiculous and stinks of abusive arrogance to be dismissively told, when pressed for info, that ‘it is not in your strategic interest to know’.

Whether you are a diehard or marginal PAP supporter or not a fan of the present government, whether you have enough retirement funds or not, whether you are just starting out in life or already retired – it is YOUR MONEY and RETIREMENT that each of us has to content with – WE MUST THEREFORE KNOW and BE IN ULTIMATE CONTROL of our money held by the government (PAP or not) and invested by paid managers.

Do we have to wait till a Nick Leeson shows up, loses a chunk of our money before we realize and decide that just the same few directors who sit in the cabinet, in the MAS and related entities board of directors are too secretive or suffering groupthink to be able to objectively raise a red flag in good time to protect YOUR MONEY & MINE?

Change we Must. End PAP’s dominance.

Law Kim Hwee aka 2cents


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PAP Trampoline = Precarious And Perpetual Tightrope…for Singaporeans

In his 17 May FB post, LHL highlighted how

“DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam spoke of the Singapore ‘trampoline’…how we got here over the last 50 years, how we learnt and adapted from other countries, and how our social safety nets (e.g. HDB home ownership) encourage people to help themselves…we mustn’t be afraid to find our own way forward, and to defend policies and values which work well in Singapore.”

As of today, 30 May 2015, there are 224 comments, almost every one complimentary of DPM’s performance, some insanely so and in particular the ‘trampoline’ remark.

Background
Let me state upfront my admiration and respect for Mr Tharman. He has a steady hand (however disagreeable I may find some of his policies) and, having spoken and corresponded with him, I feel that he’s a sincere person but constrained on many matters by the party he’s pledged personal allegiance to.

Now, here’s how the soundbite developed.

“…there are ways in which an active govt can intervene in to support social mobility, to develop opp and to take care of the old which doesn’t undermine personal and family responsibility. And that’s the compact we are trying to achieve. ….we’re achieving a paradox of active government support for personal responsibility, rather than active government support to take over personal responsibility or community responsibility. “ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpwPciW74b8 – fr 21:45min

Tharman was replying to Sackur’s question about the sustainability of the SG govt’s outsize role and massive state intervention in the SG economy. Sackcur then asked if he believed in the concept of a safety net. Tharman responded with ‘I believe in the concept of support for you taking up opportunities’.

Sackur persisted, “Does Singapore believe in the notion of a safety net for those who fall between the cracks of a successful economy?” To which, Tharman retorted, ‘I believe in the notion of a trampoline.’

The audience responded with polite, not wild, applause and Tharman kept his left hand slightly up in abeyance, looking somewhat snuggly into Sackur’s eyes, as if savouring his own takeaway soundbite moment.

Separating Truth From Beauty
Let’s examine Tharman’s seemingly brilliant ‘trampoline’ retort to try ‘to rescue truth from beauty and meaning from belief’.

The obvious truth is that Tharman did not answer Sackur’s question.

And if he, PM Lee and all those doe-eyed supporters (incl, one accomplished local musician who commented on LHL FB) thought that he socked it to Sackur, they could not be more wrong. Sackur referred specifically to ‘a safety net for those who fall between the cracks of a successful economy?

How, dear DPM, do you place a ‘trampoline’ ‘between the cracks’ in the first place?

When our less fortunate Singaporeans, including those amongst us who are born with infirmities, physical, mental, emotional or cognitive defects or family circumstances that serve to invariably bind us in with less to get by, the most basic of help needed is indeed, first and foremost, a safety net to see such citizens through another day.

Those who ‘fall between the cracks of a successful economy’ include also our blue-collar compatriots, clearly unable to survive with the barest of minimum wage to get by 3 meals daily.

Well, Sackur may not know that PM Lee dismissed the need for a poverty line (as if, without one, Singapore will then not have the poor amongst us) while pushing for a fanciful ‘kueh lapis’ approach. When what needy citizens require are basic necessities plain rice, congee and bread, our scholar, elitist leaders prefer instead to patronize us with talk of ‘kueh lapis’, a luxury item not within our reach. Now, instead of a simple safety net, they try to impress us, insult us with a trampoline.

Separating Meaning From Belief
If we ask ISIS members what’s their belief, what they believe in. They’ll answer, ‘We believe in the establishment of an Islamic State covering parts of Iraq and Syria.’ But what is the meaning, what does that belief mean in practical terms? The answer, ‘“America and its allies won’t approve of an Islamic State and will do their best to prevent it. Therefore, the way to establishing one must be paved with skulls and blood.’

Don’t stop when people tell you what they believe in. Ask, what is the meaning of your belief translated into practical terms.

We put Tharman’s belief to the ‘meaning’ test.

Aside from help for study and work, he elaborated

“…we are very generous in our grants for home ownership, which is why we have 90 per cent home ownership and, among the low-income population, more than 80 per cent own their homes — it transforms culture.….it’s about keeping alive a culture where I feel proud that I own my home and I earn my own success through my job. I feel proud that I’m raising my family. And keeping that culture going is what keeps a society vibrant.” (ref also PM Lee’s FB, ‘our social safety nets e.g. HDB home ownership)

Let’s quickly dispatch Tharman’s claim about help for study and work. What kind of help with study when his government shows more interest to spend millions to educate foreigners for free while forcing our own into pricer overseas alternative due to reduced intake for citizens and constantly increasing our children’s tertiary tuition fees for those admitted?

And for those willing to take up a job, do we really need policies that force us to compete with the almost unlimited, continuous global competition of manual, skilled and knowledge workers? To the tune of 60,000 FT per year in recent years? If it’s so darn good a culture that keeps our society vibrant, why not allow foreigners into top civil service and political offices instead of saving those S$mil jobs for themselves?

Finally, housing. Let me illustrate the emptiness of his boast, ‘it’s about keeping alive a culture where I feel proud that I own my home and I earn my own success through my job’, with a typical and representative example. My pa bought his 3-room flat in the open market in mid-70’s, costing S$17k. He was a ‘mee-chiang-kueh’ hawker and my ma an office help. While raising my younger sis and I, they were able to pay off the loan within 8 years.

They needed no grants. They were proud to have been able to do so. That was the ‘culture’ – then.

Now, those who aspire to a 3-room HDB can count on the PAP government’s faux largesse of Additional CPF Housing Grant (fr 6 Feb 2009 up to max $40k) and Special CPF Housing Grant (fr July 2013 sales launch up to max $20k).

I have 2 pertinent questions for DPM Tharman.

1. Whereas our parents could achieve HDB ownership without subsidy, our better educated children now need not one but two subsidies – Is this ‘progress’ and new culture not ironic?

2. Which culture, pray tell, is worth propagating – your new culture of greater dependence on government handouts for a basic roof over our low-to-middle income earners’ heads or the one that your PAP ancestors achieved for our parents?

And to add insult to grievious injury, if my HDB-owner parents (91 and 76) savings are insufficient, you now force (‘encourage’ is bull) them to either move out from where they would have lived half their lives or to live with a rent-paying stranger in order to fund their retirement.

How heartless can this government be?

PAP‘s Trampoline = Citizens On A Precarious And Perpetual Tightrope
If indeed we are provided with a trampoline, it is but for us lower and middle-income citizens to serve as bouncing-up-and-down digits in PAP elitist’s social engineering experiments so that PAP leaders may enjoy the accolades of a worldwide audience duped into believing what talents they are in creating a so-claimed ‘successful economy’ with limited resources.

The truth then, my fellow citizens, behind the beauty and the meaning of the PAP’s belief in the notion of a trampoline is: PAP want us all to be precariously balancing – ceaselessly, day-in, day-out – atop a tightrope from cradle to hearse even as they bask in the limelight of worldwide approbation.

And, that includes you, dear Ms/Mr PAP Supporter.

It's all about GDP growth at all costs.....

See, it’s all about GDP growth @ all costs…and see also, they even have a Foreign Talent to help with the tightrope

Change we Must.

End PAP’s dominance.

Law Kim Hwee aka 2cents