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Your Next Clever PAP MP

“Half the leadership team has already emerged. In the last general election, we brought in many new people, including a few ministers,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said. “In the next election, we hope to bring in another batch of new people, including candidates who can be office-holders.”

The writer does not know much who or what has “emerged” given the underwhelming work from the team. No doubt those new candidates who can be office holders will again be the bestest and cleverest specimens right out of meritocracy. Just like the new batch in 2011. Definitely more brain power for more analysis, more debates, more discussions resulting in crafting of ever more intelligent, far-sighted, meritocratic, progressive, prudent, sustainable, self-reliant, socially inclusive (multiple choice, all may be right or wrong) initiatives, strategies and policies. So much at the service of ungrateful citizens.

In the world of politics, clever people are a dime a dozen; the PAP lot are hardly any different from their counterparts in the liberal democracies in the brain department. But the trouble is; politics and in particular political leadership is rarely about intellect or even hard work (Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan would famously fail on both counts). It is all about political judgement and political acumen, qualities which are unquantifiable in empirical terms, cannot be taught and needs to be developed from a sense of the ground and a feel of the wind by being tested in the political gladiatorial arena.

As usual those new candidates-office holders will expect a comfortable ride on the coattails of a heavily tilted election system. Citizens will get more of those like the incumbents who think it politically sensible to boast of an $8 heart bypass, to moan over a cut in their absurdly fabulous remuneration or to try to (dis-)connect with the masses over a $10 XO sauce char kway teow. Or who thinks he or she is a member of the natural aristocracy in this day and age.

The newbies will have to prove themselves to colleagues which, this being Singapore is not the same as proving themselves to the citizens. There will be debates, analysis and decisions over such things as “key performance indicators” or “optimal feasibility” the stuff of business schools, corporate boardrooms and post graduate public policy courses, with nary a regard that whatever is optimal to the government, in context of PAP ideology is the same as optimal to citizens. How else, did Singapore achieved long term fiscal sustainability at such a terrible cost in social inequality and in retirement and healthcare inadequacy? How about the Population White Paper? Wealth and international accolades to the government, all the while MBAs are driving taxis and over 25% of households are socially excluded by relative poverty.

A cabinet of clever people without a good sense of political judgement and a good feel for the lives of ordinary citizens will excuse any misjudgement or misconception of policy outcomes, any short or long term consequences of policy choices, no matter how irreversible, catastrophic or plain political idiocy so long as they satisfy themselves their decisions are backed by clever, in-depth, intelligent, scholarly, exhaustive (again multiple choice all may be right or wrong) analysis derived from the PAP’s peculiar “Hard Truths”.

So when your PAP MP-candidate comes around to meet you, do know that you may be voting an undoubtedly clever person, a fount of wisdom and great ideas who becomes a nodding donkey in Parliament. In politics where human emotions reign, social conundrums do not fall neatly as one wishes and political delusions just around the corner that is no better than voting an alternative candidate or a sensible next door neighbor with their hearts in the right place.

Chris Kuan

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It’s The Aristocrats, Stupid!

Introduction
The GE 1991 saw PAP ‘lost an unprecedented four seats, the biggest number since the 1963 GE, and its share of votes fell for the third consecutive time since 1984.’ It was Goh Chok Tong’s first GE as PAP Sec-Gen. He planned and executed the GE strategy, not the Old Guards.

If my memory serves me right, at the post-election press conference, Goh’s glum attribution of “the loss to his open and consultative style of government and pledged to re-evaluate his style” was soon forgotten. But not LKY’s pointed assessment of the conduct of the GE itself. He ascribed the outcome to a lack of focus, of not setting the agenda, letting the Opposition take advantage of it.

Since then, PAP has taken the lesson to heart. They know that, with the #153-ranked mainstream media complicit and at its bidding, setting the agenda means controlling the election discussion topics. According to the Agenda-setting Theory, with the MSM reporting on PAP’s preferred topics/issues more often and prominently, voters will view those as more important. PAP can then focus on where their strengths lie and force the Opposition into defensive mode. And no election can be won with even the best defence.

So, what is PAP’s strategy message-wise for GE 2015?

PAP’s Election Agenda
After a dismal GE2011 performance, worse than GE 1991, Sec-Gen Lee is more desperate than reckless or bold in his kiasu-ness (fear of losing). He has set up the Workers’ Party AHPETC’s (town council) alleged failures months beforehand in order to cast doubt, if not fear, in voters’ minds in the hope of swinging votes to PAP’s candidates.

He frames the GE fight solely as a ‘local, local’ issue. This makes good strategic sense since at the national level, performance-wise, PAP has more to cry than crow about. Whereas at the international, Singaporeans generally couldn’t care less when voting their MPs.

What has PAP revealed since the constituency layout announcement?

We hear first from PAP’s Chairman. “Khaw Boon Wan had said on Saturday that candidates for the PAP can be expected to set out their plans for their constituencies very soon.”
(link)

Then their GE Organizing Secretary. Ng Eng Hen characterized the election as choosing someone “who decides how your estate improves and the lives of you and your children.” (link)

Finally, Minister Stumblebum, a.k.a. Paper General ‘Kee Chiu’ chimed in, “Your hearts must be pure. You must be here because you want to take care of residents and improve their lives.”

Putting all the 3 prominently-reported-by-MSM revelations together; ‘plans for…constituencies…your estate improves and the lives of you and your children…take care of residents.” In short, their rally cry is ‘It’s Your Estate, Stupid!’

Opposition Agenda?
As mentioned earlier, at the national level, PAP has more to cry than crow about. Therein lies how the Opposition must hammer home its own agenda for this GE. What can that be?

Which are the few crucial elephants in the room amongst all the elephants (white ones) that PAP has created? I suggest 3 broad categories;

1. Population Influx (affecting Jobs, Housing, Transport)
2. Retirement Inadequacy
3. Cost-fo-living expenses (Healthcare, Education, Daily expenditure)

It is absolutely crucial to think up a tagline that accurately represents the crucial issues and that voters can easily recall. To reach out to those mis-/mal-informed citizens who still feel they owe it to vote the PAP, we need to differentiate the new, mostly paper-generals-and-civil-servants-turn-politicians from the PAP Old Guards who understood and could identify with heartlanders and true-blue Singaporeans. Previously, all of us were ‘we-the-citizens-of-Singapore’ with no class distinction or demarcation.

How do we weave those components into a memorable slogan? Surprisingly, PAP Sec-Gen himself lends us a hand.

It’s the Aristocrats, stupid!”
Aristocrats and Aristocracy were non-existent and words, unheard of in the last 50 years of Singapore’s history. Don’t believe? You can google Straits Times past issues.

Then, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Lee Hsien Loong himself chose to reveal the true thoughts in the deep recesses of his mind all these 30 years he was in the cabinet.

“You want people to stand up, not scrape and bow. But if you don’t have a certain natural aristocracy in the system, people who are respected because they have earned that and we level everything down to the lowest common denominator, then I think society will lose out.” PM Lee

His is an ‘Aristocrat-government’ with ministers, MPs and top civil servants who are Singapore’s very own Nobility; our unnamed but obvious Dukes, Barons, Duchess and Dames, judging by, we shall see, their acts and words.

Aristocrats need not worry about foreigners or barbarians at the gate; about finding or losing jobs, about high street prices for HDB flats. Indeed, about having to bow with fellow and foreign commuters and scrape for a seat. Or take 6 years to pay for a COE. Until now, to PM Lee, foreigner influx is just a “numbers” game, “it all adds up”. But with GE coming, he changes his tune to, “I can understand Singaporeans’ anxieties…”

Aristocrats need not worry about retirement, or retirement adequacy. Either they earn salaries that are the highest in the world by a long shot. Or their spouses are legally employed and paid amounts that are state secrets. They do not even need to retire to fly Raffles Class to France to learn French cooking, oui?

Aristocrats need not worry how high the sky prices can reach for our cost-of-living. One of their very own aristocrats expressed it best, ‘My heart bypass costs S$8.’ And, conversant of Chinese fables and Japanese samurai custom of hara-kiri, he indirectly disparaged the money citizens have to scrape to see our own children thro’ university with his, ‘You own a degree, but so what? That you can’t eat it.’

So, ‘It’s the Aristocrats, stupid!’ appears to hit the spot for GE 2015. It draws the line whence for us “commoners” to view the gulf between us and them, The Aristocrats. Thanks a million, His Grace, Lord Lee Hsien Loong for your assistance.

Conclusion
With PAP’s financial and organizational resources and foul means (via MSM), there is little hope of directly challenging the Agenda-setting means of the PAP. But there is hope yet.

There is Social Media! Hallujah!

All fair-minded websites, Facebook, Tweeter accounts, Blogs etc etc must bring their presence to bear to help report what MSM will not. I’m certain there are many more than those obviously set up by PAP to advance their own narratives. Therein lies our strength in number.

Now, the million $$$ question…Will all the Opposition Parties now unite to at least rise to this small but urgent and strategically-important need to speak with One Voice the slogan to counter PAP’s agenda-setting initiative?

Altogether now, Oppo Parties, “It’s the Aristocrats, stupid!” Yes?

Law Kim Hwee


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PAP’s Cognitive Problems

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. One of the ways to reduce dissonance is to ignore or deny any information that conflicts with existing beliefs.

So, in a political environment inhabited by yes-men, a subservient media and a lack of competition from alternatives, the PAP elites had indeed follow this path of least resistance in dealing with their own cognitive dissonance. They prefer to ignore or deny any conflicting information than to examine and to test their ideological beliefs.

Lee Hsien Loong’s Economic Record
No one should be surprised the Prime Minister in his speech at the Asia Public Lecture Series on 30th June 2015(http://www.pmo.gov.sg/mediacentre/transcript-prime-minister-lee-hsien-loongs-speech-ho-rih-hwa-leadership-asia-public) spoke of the great economic achievements. Real GDP per capita grew 13 times and sustained high growth year by year. Singaporeans lived in better homes and have more choices. Certainly not a bit of praise for having managed to grow the economy despite the global financial crisis, by having “our population topped by foreign workers”.

Mr. Lee is no doubt sincere in what he said. The trouble comes from his unchanged belief in the strategy of pushing economic growth at all costs. The same strategy of his father even if the nation had changed profoundly.
Nowhere in his speech did he note the consequences of such a singular, myopic approach to managing the economy. He did not say it is same intensive use of labour which uses a lot of foreign workers now that the local work force has been exhausted and of capital by holding down the rate of return on savings.

Not a single word the fiscal “prudence” that underpins the macro-economic policies had depleted household savings in favour of the government due to low returns on savings and to the sale of public housing at elevated prices, a consequence of those foreign workers flooding into the economy as a result of those very same strategies. Barely an acknowledgment of the significant inequality resulting from economic outcomes disproportionately tilted against wage earners by his strategies.

He spoke of the sharp declines in the Total Fertility Rate as if it is isolated from everything else. He did not say those long working hours demanded of the population, those lack of social transfers and those fiscal policies caused stress, risks and uncertainties which result in the TFR to plummet.

The preceding segment said enough of Mr. Lee taking the path of least resistance when confronted by the cognitive dissonance of his macro-economic policies and their consequences. Separately, he would claim the PAP “have Singaporean’s interests at heart when taking in FTs”. Whether that statement is true or not depends on Singaporeans’ perception and experience of the FT influx, not Mr. Lee’s own. What can one think when that influx meant wages are held down, infrastructure is stressed, house prices soared and unfair competition for jobs? In a classic example of dissonance reduction by path of least resistance, Mr. Lee chose to believe the economic interest of his FT policy is the same economic interests of wage-earning Singaporeans.

Khaw Boon Wan’s Speculation and Tan Chuan-Jin’s Elderly Independence
Think the Prime Minister is the only one susceptible to cognitive problems? Let us skip Khaw Boon Wan, the Minister for National Development who chose to believe there is no speculation involved in the high prices paid for coffeeshops than to consider, as any GCE “A” Level economics student would, that the accumulation of coffeeshops by investor groups remove fair competition leading to higher food prices.

For cognitive dissonance, perhaps even delusion, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin might arguably have outdone his boss but not by much. Instead of confronting the reality that the elderly cardboard collectors were so impoverished that they have to eke out a living on $10 a day, Mr. Tan rather preferred to believe that some treat it as a form of exercise and they remain independent, not having to ask their families for help.
Those elderly card collectors may have no wish to hand their impoverishment from their generation to the next. In their quiet ways, these elderly have denigrated the PAP’s belief in self-reliance, a cornerstone of its governing ideology which eschew social spending and which forces families to further deplete their already weak household savings to take care of the elderly when the state ought to step in. That is not even considering such inter-generation inequities works against social mobility. Instead of confronting the moral bankruptcy of the beliefs systems to which he adhered, Mr. Tan choose to delude himself by assuming self-reliance works because these elderly cardboard collectors remained independent.

Conclusion
Communism too had its own belief systems, the “historical and scientific truth” of its Marxist-Leninist ideology. The Politburo even had the Chief Theoretician to guide policy making within the ideological markers. If these beliefs conflicted with realities, well the realities would have to be altered to conform to the beliefs. Absolute power allowed them to do so.

Similarly, the PAP’s ideological beliefs cannot be altered, it seems, by realities. In a political system in which they too hold absolute power, the elites rather too easily prefer to shape realities to those beliefs than the more necessary resolution of their cognitive problems by challenging those beliefs. The best however is to prevent anyone from absolute power.

Chris Kuan


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Opposition Unity: A Thought Experiment

Background
It must be clearly understood that Opposition Unity (OU), an elusive dream in SG’s short 50-year electoral history, is not an end in itself. It must not be. Voters will not be fooled. What’s the point if it’s only for show – without a clear, measureable goal?

My proposal of a form of OU is specific to the impending GE and is premised on a cold, calculating consideration and based on 2 premises.

One, it is unrealistic to vote PAP into insignificance. It will not happen for sometime yet. Even then, what’s the point? Everyone, including those we disagree with has a right to vote PAP.

Two, Lee Hsien Loong, as both Sec-Gen of PAP and current PM of the elected government has had more than 3 decades to show us his true character, capabilities and capacity for change. Additionally, given his pedigree and his recent questionable display of leadership (rescinding on publicly announcing the EBRC formation, asserting his own natural ‘aristocracy’, once-in-30-year SMRT breakdown and substandard public housing outcry without anyone of his aristocratic members being held to account whatsoever), He is clearly not the man to continue to lead Singapore. Or change the PAP beast LKY has built.

We have only 2 legal ways to change the current trajectory of where our Singapore is headed. One is to vote out the PAP, which we have discounted as unlikely to happen. The second is to force on PAP itself, beginning with their top dog, to make changes that we detractors – and even some PAP supporters – have been clamouring for.

As voting PAP into a parliamentary minority cannot be guaranteed, I therefore propose the secondary strategy of forcing upon PAP a radical change in its current leadership by combining Opposition resources to give PAP’s Sec-gen the proverbial ‘bloody nose’. In other words, Opposition parties should all unite for the singular and clear but limited goal of causing the worst possible electoral damage to candidate Lee Hsien Loong.


Here’s How

I reiterate that it’s a focused effort but one aimed exactly where it’s designed to work. Now, the thought experiment…

Imagine a team of candidates selected and formed to stand in the GRC where PM Lee helms his team (currently, AMK GRC). Imagine who the candidates are. The team will consist of candidates, one each drawn from the key Opposition Parties.

Now, imagine, all the resources of not one but all those Opposition Parties coming together, combined and co-ordinated to create the max impact during the 9 days of campaigning. Would that not be as strong as that of the PAP’s election machinery? Would that not be a show of OU – unambiguous, clear and focused to give Lee Hsien Loong a proverbial ‘bloody nose’?

Imagine further, on different but each night of the election rally, the Sec-gen of say, WP, SDP, SPP or SFP or RP stepping forward to appeal to the crowd, the voters, “We, so-and-so Party, call upon all our members and supporters in (assume) AMK GRC to put aside any disagreements and vote for our OU team of candidates. We’ll ensure that we act together in concert to serve AMK residents in unity and to your best interests. AMK voters, you hold in your hands the very key to effect changes for the rest of Singaporeans more than any other constituency. Your vote will send a message that PAP must change! That Singapore is ready to change!”

Don’t stop. Imagine more. On the last rally prior to going to the polls, ALL Sec-gens of the participating parties sit on stage and then rise up to a rousing show of unity of purpose – Vote Out Lee Hsien Loong for the change Singapore needs to begin, not 1, 3 or 5 years later, but NOW!

Before discussing the possible election outcomes, just imagine for a moment the impact of the formation of such an OU team. How would the PAP respond to such an unexpected turn of event and strategic threat? Can you imagine how Lee Hsien Loong, as leader of PAP, will be feeling from this astonishing development of calling his very existential value to his party into question? May it not pile the pressures on his party to try to ‘ensure’ their Sec-gen’s victory – by means foul or fair? Would the international press not be sending hoards to help ensure that no ballot boxes are found discarded and unaccounted for when they see possible electoral history in the making?

Imagine the morale of Opposition voters across Singapore when they all converge at Opposition rallies on their own while PAP offers bus rides and chicken rice to entice theirs. Imagine how fence-sitters and marginal supporters beginning to view the election from a different angle; that LHL’s use-by date is nigh and change can also be achieved via a different avenue. Imagine PAP supporters’ fear of defeat of their Sec-gen staring down their faces.


Possible Outcomes

1. If LHL wins, what would the opposition lose in this act of OU? Nothing.
2. If LHL wins by a much smaller margin, the message of great discontent with his ways and leadership cannot be lost on Singaporeans and the world at large even if it is lost on the PAP. Singaporeans will look at LHL & PAP differently. World leaders will know that LHL is but a lame duck, hanging on to power by a thread.
3. If LHL’s victory margin in much less than that of his DY PMs or Ministers, PAP must soul-search themselves if they have a dud on their hands. Perhaps, against all expectations of his own ‘natural aristocracy’ roots, even LHL wakes up in time to be humble (something Tharman has repeated over and over in recent public encounters) and steps down.

No need to discuss the even-if improbable outcome of LHL being kicked out of his million$ job. The advantages are writ large: there is nothing to lose.

Conclusion
Aside from the less demanding terms of creating such an OU act of coming together to contest against PM Lee, here are some other benefits accruing to the Opposition.

– It sets the stage for a more amiable atmosphere to discuss how to avoid 3-corner fights for the rest of the other constituencies.
– It releases candidates from parties to contest elsewhere with a better chance of winning instead of the more probable outcome of losing 3, 4 Opposition party candidates against PM Lee team.
– The smaller, less demanding start with such a step towards some form of OU augurs well for Singapore politics against a PAP mammoth formed through exploitation of state resources and taxpayers’ money for private, political party gains.

…just to name a few benefits.

Readers will be able to imagine even more positive possibilities for Opposition Parties and, indeed, for Singapore.

Is it not obvious that there is nothing to lose but, without exaggeration, EVERYTHING to gain with such a show of limited OU this coming GE?

Still, let’s not be under any illusion that getting the Opposition Parties together is easy.

Regardless, if you agree with the thought experiment, please give your comments or suggestion to refine the approach further so that we can have a basis for Opposition Parties to negotiate with.

Time is short.
Change we Must.
End PAP’s dominance.


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Time To Start Their Heads Rolling…

For a cack-handed response to so far the mother of all disruptions, one can hardly do any worse than SMRT CEO, former Lieutenant General Desmond Kuek who, in reply to reporters’ questions as to why the problems were not identified earlier, said that because the MRT system is old, even with intensified maintenance, it was impossible to find out all the inherent problems.

Is not the need to invest to update and to renew an “old” system a foremost requirement for a transportation company?

But the cack-handedness did not stop just with Mr. Kuek. The CEO of the Land Transport Authority, SMRT’s principal regulator, former Rear-Admiral Chew Meng Leng, was silent as to the regulatory framework which ought to require the PTO (Public Transport Operator) make sufficient investment to ensure the chance of such severe disruptions would have been minimal.

Natural aristocrats don’t sack each other?

Inevitably, there were calls for the dismissal of Messrs. Kuek and Chew and even the Transport Minister another former Rear Admiral Liu Tuck Yew, who presided over a litany of issues over trains, buses and taxis. Meanwhile, away from the spotlight, NOL helmed by former Lieutenant General Ng Yat Chung continues to flounder in the high seas.

Last week Deutsche Bank co-CEOs Juergen Fritschen and Anshu Jain announced their resignations as their positions had become untenable when shareholders holding 39%, yes just 39% of the bank’s capital voted against the management board over their own cack-handed handling of a very difficult strategy review. Five CEOs of global banks had lost their jobs this year. Will the axe fall on Messrs. Kuek, Chew, Liu and Ng or will they opt for the honourable ritual of falling on their own swords? But unlike Herr Fritschen and Mr. Jain untenable their positions are not and that have little to do with talent or performance.

The difference? Messrs. Kuek, Chew, Liu and Ng are the box standard for membership of that certain “natural aristocracy” preferred by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a recent speech at the LKYSPP if that is meant by kinship not of blood but of shared background of scholarship, career escalators or connectedness to the nexus between government, civil service and state directed enterprises, preferably all of the afore-mentioned. They are deemed to have the “right stuff” to rule and to lead even if this is rested on a set of examination results and unseemly rapid promotions. That is those who has no need “to scrape and to bow” according to the Prime Minister. One should then not be so surprised by the all-round cack-handed performance.

Much like the “inbred losers”, the modern British derogative term for the old European aristocracy, it may be bad manners and may besmirch one’s own reputation to sack one’s own peers or be sacked by them. Or worse it might invite unwelcome but necessary heightened scrutiny over performance and accountability over one’s actions, the sort of things that seem meant for the lower order of beings.

The Invisible hand of Temasek?

NOL’s Boss, Lieutenant-General (NS) Ng Yat Chung

Here is a thought, controversial or not depending on one’s disposition; is the delivery of dividends to majority shareholder, Temasek Holdings, the paramount concern over all else including the need for sufficient investments to minimize the serial disruptions?

Back in January this year, Standard Chartered Bank CEO Peter Sands was ousted and Chairman John Peace to leave in 2016, according to the Financial Times, after a period of pressure from Temasek who owned 17.2% of the bank acting in concert with Aberdeen Asset Management. It is far easier to axe the CEOs of 54.5% owned SMRT and 66.9% owned NOL. But Sands and Peace are not in the same club as Kuek and Ng it seems. Again had SMRT and NOL not been majority owned by Temasek, would shareholders especially the activist sort, allowed their companies to be helmed by CEOs who had zero private sector experience? The answer is no. Best man for the job really?

One may think that when the Prime Minister spoke about a natural aristocracy, he may be pining for a bygone age. But if by that term is meant a class of people to whom the 2 generals and 2 admirals count as their peers, then it is plain that academic qualifications and connectedness are nothing without being tested, scrutinised and made accountable. The natural aristocracy is no way to future proof the nation.

Chris Kuan


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4 Heads Rolling vs 4 Heads Remaining 

For those of us, in increasing numbers one hopes, who have cut off our ST subscriptions in favour of higher-rated Reporters Sans Borders news sources, we would have read of 4 prominent C-suite employees who lost their jobs this week.

 

First World Accountability: Off With Their Heads!
The first on the list are Deutsche Bank (DB) co-CEOs Anshu Jain, a longtime investment-banking executive, stepping down at the end of June and Jürgen Fitschen, who plans to next May. (link) To be fair, both are leaving honourably and not giving marching orders.

The reasons for taking, some would say, the hara-kiri step is reportedly shareholders’ unrest over the bank’s strategy. Also, DB has been hit by various penalties, including a £1.7bn fine over the Libor scandal. Also noteworthy, during their three years tenure, DB’s shares have underperformed against Germany’s Dax index. (link)

DB vs DAX

Next, CEO Mr Antony Jenkins. Barclays’ Chairman, Mr McFarlane, applauded Mr Jenkins’ role in steering Barclays through the aftermath of the financial crisis, and through the fallout of Barclays’ management shakeup three years ago. But he also said that Mr Jenkins’ skill set had been suitable when he took the top post, but that the firm’s needs had changed. (link)

Mr Jenkins had performed credibly. Barclays share price tracks that of the FTSE. Furthermore, he had honourably waived his annual bonus for 2013 – as he did in 2012. His was a deliberate choosing in favour of staking his fortunes with his own publicly-measured performance via 1.9m shares in 2014.

Still, he is not spared his job when the board considers his use-by date.

Barclays' share price performance vs others & FTSE

A civil servant rounds up our hit list. Baltimore’s mayor sacks the city’s police chief, Anthony Batts, saying his leadership had become a distraction from fighting a “crime surge”. This, 3 months after riots hit the city in April when Freddie Gray, a black man, died after suffering injuries in police custody. Six officers were charged. Mayor Rawlings-Blake says Mr Batts had “served this city with distinction” since becoming police chief in October 2012. But the city has seen a sharp increase in violence since April, with 155 homicides this year, a 48% increase over the same period last year. (link)

Singapore Accountability: In Status Quo (ISQ)
(Recently blessed with a temp job as a data entry clerk assisting psychiatrists in a local institution, I learn a new abbreviation, ISQ, Latin equivalent of ‘no change’, refering to medical prescriptions.)

In no order of priority and some of the most relevant details, here’s our Singapore list of 4 C-suite honchos who continue to enjoy the fats of their million$ salaries and undisclosed perks – while by the normal First World metrics, underperforming.

Mr Ng Yat Chung , CEO, NOL, since Oct 2011
– Prior to joining NOL, Mr Ng was a Senior Managing Director at Temasek.
– Under NOL share price has hovered around the S$1 mark (link) , reported losses in every of the last 3 FY and still reporting losses in the latest quarter. Maersk share price, on the other hand, double from Oct 2011 to Mar 2015 before trading at about +55% gain from Oct 2011. (link)
*ex-Chief of Defence Force.

Mr Desmond Kuek, (need we state his job title?)
– Given SMRT’s spectacular 7-7-7 (7 July 7pm) ‘once-in-50-year’ occurrence, dual NS & EW lines breakdown, no need to discuss his performance since he answered the patriotic call of his minister to helm SMRT on 1 Oct 2012.
*ex-Chief of Defence Force.
Mr Liu Tuck Yew, Minister of Transport since 21 May 2011
– No need to discuss details and performance.
– Interesting to note: Apparently his ex-Brigader General boss, PM Lee, assessed that he did well in Transport, very well actually and possessing the energy, time for the additional workload of 2nd Defence Minister in Apr 2015.
*ex-Chief of Navy

Mr Chew Meng Leong, CEO, LTA since 1 Oct 2014.
– Prior immediate appointment, CEO PUB.
– Interest to note: Beside leading LTA to oversee SMRT, his LTA has been busier thinking up 60 more CCTV locations to catch those who park illegally. (link) And CCTVs at bus stops to assess crowd levels to enable timely measures such as schedule adjustments. (link) Mr Chew has obviously forgotten the dumb onboard cameras SBS installed to ‘catch’ bus lane offenders, only to dump same later. Now, with bus stop cameras, LTA has to pay for dedicated equipment & and staff to monitor the cameras. Here’s a simple alternative idea; just instruct bus drivers and stranded passengers to call an existing hotline to report instances of sardine-packed bus services, real time? Higher productivity, faster response instead of taxpayers footing expensive cameras, system and needless manpower.
*ex-Chief of Navy.

Conclusion
The reason for all these IRON RICE BOWL appointments are varied. But it is easy to trace that not since Lim Chee Onn was brought to the cleaners and bumped off his ministerial and NTUC Sec-Gen appointment by LKY in 1983 has there been a similar accounting for failures at the highest levels of Singapore leadership. Consider the thinking behind PM’s response to the escape of our very own worldclass terrorist-son, Mas Selamat; “This was a lapse. What to do. It’s happened…” (Apr2008) No C-suite heads rolled. That must be the reference mark of the slow-forming culture of post-LKY Singapore-style accountability for public servants. But then some have also suggested that LKY changed his own high standards of public accountability over time…

A second common thread would be either PAP or Temasek in control of these plumb appointments such that no private citizens or group can effect any change whatsoever –except when it serves PAP or Temasek to do so.

But let’s all be positive. There is a silver lining in our Siingapore-style accountability. Perhaps, talents and honourable men like Mr Jain, Mr Fitschen, Mr Jenkins and Mr Batts will apply to Singapore jobs as Foreign Talents on E-passes if they prefer a more secured job without the prospect of an embarrassing exit.

Will that happen? Or is it more likely that 2nd, 3rd, no, or, O wow! fake grade Foreign Talents have been, still are and will continue making a beeline to Singapore to, in the PM own words, ‘help create good jobs for Singaporeans’, when all about him is evidence that more PMETs who need those good jobs are losing our pants?

Law Kim Hwee


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PM Lee: 10-Year Outlook – The Economy Is A Big Problem

The Problem Diagnosed
On a 10-year horizon, PM Lee thinks ‘the economy is a big problem’.

He says

‘we have to find a way to continue to grow in order that we can improve our people’s lives; because our workers aspire to earn higher wages, so our economy needs to create more and better jobs and collectively we have got to perform at a higher level – more efficient, more productive, more rewarding for our people.

How?

First, either you get productivity, you do better and perform better; or second you get the workforce to grow…more workers.

For productivity, he reasons that

“In this most recent decade the productivity growth has come down. This has been a very unstable decade because we have had the global financial crisis…many uncertainties in the world. But we have managed to grow with our own population topped up with foreign workers.”

In effect, he’s saying we should praise him for achieving growth, not blame him for the near-fatal FT overdose.

But he appears less than honest in his claim.

His chart shows in the 3 decades from 1984, productivity fell from 5.2% then 2.6% all the way down to 0.7% i.e. a jaw-dropping 86% drop during the 10 years he sat on the premier throne. In order not to look too bad, he projects a 2% productivity growth from 2014-2020. How neat and nice.

He conveniently left unsaid the major 80’s recessions and difficulties due to Paul Volcker’s stubborn but correct, seemingly over-done medicine of up to 20% Fed rates to tame the oil shock-induced inflation of the 70’s. The Asia Financial Crisis, 9-11 attack and SARS hit us from 1994-2004.

So, despite the ‘very unstable…many uncertainties’ of 1984 to 2004, we still achieved 5.2% & 2.6%. And despite being paid millions, his administration opted for the easy, orgasmic ‘open-leg’ FT policy to grow the economy like the Russians did during the Cold War – adding cheap labour – while almost killing productivity.

When the ill-effects from a foreigner overdose translated into the lowest GE support for PAP in 50 years, the proper and decisive thing to do is to stop the overflow altogether – at least for a duration. Did Volcker fear he might ‘overdo the medicine’ which, by the way, lasted only a few years and set the ‘table for for the long economic expansions of the 1980s and 1990s’? (link + link) Even an ‘angmoh’ Central Banker understood ‘长痛不如短痛’. Instead, 9 months after the 2011 GE, Lee ramped his top-up-6.9mil-with-foreigners plan down our throat!

Nonetheless, he now claims with a straight face (while hiding a crooked heart?),

“I fully understand Singaporeans who are anxious about the influx of foreign workers…on housing…on public transport, the competition for jobs…But while we slow down, we have to do it in a measured and a balanced way because you do not want to overdo the medicine. You do not want to cause our companies to shut down, particularly you do not want to cause hardship to our SMEs which employ many Singaporeans…to cause our own workers to lose their jobs.”

He is delusional to believe that he ‘fully understand(s)’ our level of anxiety. He has fallen hook, line and sinker (as did his papa) for the narrative advanced by the SME bosses and sycophant, overpaid GLC managers that Singaporeans are choosy, want high wages, incompetent etc. Truth is, no private boss putting his own money into for-profit businesses considers it his National Service to employ Singaporeans. Neither do hired managers or foreign head-hunters care for anything more than to meet their annual department budgetary figures.

Through it all, PMETs who have lost their jobs are completely unheard, unrepresented. Our unemployment statistics mask the reality because, unlike in the West, where someone who loses his job would register his status with the govt to obtain unemployment benefits. His jobless status and duration are captured. But not here in SG where we have zero unemployment benefits. Our govt is clueless how bad the situation is for above-40 PMETs, jobless for 6 months or more.

Not only is he delusional, his FT policy has failed on 2 fronts. Firstly, the FT overdose contains an unknown number of fake degree holders, an issue he has refused to address head-on. Secondly, instead of cutting off the overdose decisively – at least temporarily – our PMETs continue to lose jobs to foreigners…albeit at a slower pace! For some of us, our jobs and lives are only collateral damage in his relentless pursuit of GDP growth at all costs whilst pocketing S$3mil yearly and feeding the greed of already-rich bosses.

SkillsFuture – A Solution Based on Lack of Vision and Imagination
After his less-than truthful, self-serving defence of his economic stewardship, PM Lee then focuses on productivity growth.

He cites 2 examples; PSA investing in technology such that a ‘crane operator’ can now operate 5 instead of just 1 crane at a time and banks using data electronically to better assess potential borrowers instead of a relying on a loan officer .

With his superficial analysis, PM confidently concludes that, ‘Alright, everybody, the solution is ‘to stay ahead of the curve, prepare our workers for the future economy.’ And, the brilliant practical solution?

“That is why we launched SkillsFuture as a national movement.”

The emphasis being on skills; To

“prepare our workers and businesses for the future economy…our people will always have the opportunities to develop to the fullest with training available at every stage of your lives…You have to learn new skills…to do new jobs. Then when the world changes, we are prepared and we are able to change with it.”

Let’s look deeper at his PSA crane operator and bank loan officer examples again, with eyes different from his ministers and civil servants. Yes, skills to use technology to drive productivity is a no-brainer. But the real prize – the creation of not just high-value jobs but of WEALTH – is in the design and production of the original software to control the cranes, to analyze borrowers data! Not the better-skilled operator or another back-end bank job!

SkillsFuture is itself an oxymoron. How can one skill up for a future when one does not, cannot know the specific skills needed for that future still unknown? But it makes sense to position our Singapore to be nearer to or where any future new product, service or process has the best chance of being created. Proximity confers the advantage of understanding and supplying the skills needed to launch or support new businesses, products, services.

Besides, our own experience has shown that skills alone offers but a temporal advantage. Just recall how China and our ASEAN neighbours, with their lower land, ops costs, skilled manpower, supporting services, snatched the disc drive business from skilled Singaporeans’ hands and then completely sidelined Singapore from Apple’s current supplier chain ecosystem?

Furthermore, technological advancements and best practices will ensure that machineries will be designed to be idiot-proof such that even a lesser-educated person can be trained to operate them to achieve AQL (acceptable quality levels). Case in point; ‘skilled burger flippers and french fry-ers’ skillfully flipping and frying with idiot-proof designed kitchen equipment. It’s the same logic in manufacturing and service industries. The critical difference lies in the knowledge the skilled worker possesses –  understanding and then responding independently to unexpected events. Hence, for higher and enduring value-added, knowledge trumps skills.

Does the PM not know that In the last 50 years and going forward, tech innovation and entrepreneurial daring accounted for more of the new businesses and new jobs created across all economies?

For high-paying jobs, brand-new businesses – think Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Google (upstaging Yahoo, itself a disruptor new job-creator), Facebook, LinkedIn, Virgin Group, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines/Air Asia, Priceline/Booking.com, Amazon and the like. All are founded on knowledge, not skills.

As for serial new job creators, think SMEs. Studies after studies have shown that SMEs account for the fastest and the most new job creation.(link + link + link)


The Alternative Solution: Create Wealth, Not Just Jobs

Knowledge and entrepreneurial daring, not skills, are what drive the growth of new businesses, creating wealth for society along with new jobs. We must think big, think different. Think businesses and jobs that were non-existent 20, 30 years ago.

In the turbulent 60’s, no one else in Asia but the original PAP leaders thought up, imagined a First World oasis in a Third World neighbourhood.  Achieved by being spectacularly efficient to attract MNCs to locate here when conventional wisdom then could only see import substitution. Sadly, PAP successors cannot see beyond their noses to imagine a new ecosystem by jettisoning controls of info, views and ideas. They refused to see the imperative to cast off fears of being watched, ridiculed or fixed. Instead of efficiency, we now have to be spectacularly effective in, encouraging, creating new ventures and adventures in innovation and invention. With globalization here to stay, we need to imagine, reinvent SG to be the first Neo-First World City, one ready for the 22nd century.

To seed entrepreneurial daring, we must bring down the costs of starting a business, particularly land, rental costs and all kinds of statutory fees and charges.

SkillsFuture plays but a lesser complementary role to the focused, holistic and sustained effort Singapore needs to unleash our energies, resources to begin creating that ecosystem to sprout new wealth, jobs from new products, services and business ideas. Aiming for and achieving such an outcome will leapfrog us far ahead of our competitors. Succeeding in SkillFuture can only give Singapore a step ahead in the curve, if at all. But far superior than staying ‘ahead of the curve’ is to identify and create the next ‘new curve’ – and the one after. New curves that our neighbours and those with land and headcount advantages cannot easily replicate.

Look at it another way. Innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs are the ones closest to their ideas and needs. Employees and workers are the ones closest to and most concerned personally to be able to catch the new wave of skills needed to stay employed. The right thing then is to leave it to these 2 groups to identify and secure their own skillset requirements. Not rely on civil servants sitting behind their screens analyzing time-lapsed data collected to then approve skill-acquisition programmes for subsidy.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for laggard learners to acquire skills. But by the time that happens, employers will be looking to achieve efficiency to price-compete more than to command a price premium of their no-so new products and services. If so, where’s our competitive advantage given our limited land and headcount?

Conclusion
SkillsFuture as a national movement is therefore misplaced, one perpetually late in the game of new product, service, process curve. Yes, it can complement and support employers who can act faster and citizen-employees who can respond independently quicker to acquire skills needed for new ventures. The govt should not try to lead in ‘skilling up’ Singaporeans. Instead, its job lies in giving our children an education that instill in them the lifelong hunger and joy to ‘learn, unlearn and relearn’ (Toffler) at every stage of their lives.

THE new national movement that’s truly needed to redefine Singapore, not just for the next 10 years but beyond, is to create an ecosystem to raise and attract innovators and entrepreneurs with daring to spawn new industries and new jobs constantly for Singaporeans. We achieve that by focusing on knowledge acquisition and sharing across the entire spectrum of the voiced, written, printed and broadcast word, views, ideas in all areas of our lives much more freely than currently allowed. Next, on the practical side, where tax holidays were first conceived to attract MNCs to relocate here, we must now think what ‘show-me-the-money’ schemes are needed to attract pre-start-ups to want to congregate here.

Now, take a long hard look and a longer harder think still at the cabinet or potential PAP leaders. Which one of them have uttered words and discuss ideas to reveal that he/she is an innovative, imaginative leader? Futurist-thinker? Any dreamer at all in PAP?

It is no wonder that as realists and pragmatists, they can only come up with an ill-conceived SkillsFuture when what we truly need to leapfrog Singapore into mid-21st century and beyond is actually a visionary  ImagiNation+ as our new national movement!

I suggest and call on Singaporeans that…

We imagine a different Singapore future
A neo-First World Lion City of our mind
The proverbial City on the hill
A solar-powered post-post-LED lamp for all time

We imagine a Lion City made for the 22nd century
Where children’s minds roam free
Where our elderly are happy as can be
Where women and men flourish with spirit free

We imagine a Lion City without the weak unloved
Where our rich support our lesser ones
Where We are One United People truly
Where every citizen’s heart for his brother is warm

We imagine a future
One our eyes cannot now see
We imagine a future
Without the PAP   🙂

I beg to differ with PM Lee; 10 years, the PAP is our BIGGER problem, not the economy.

Law Kim Hwee