"to rescue truth from beauty and meaning from belief"


Masagos Zulkifli: Professing To Be Wise…

As a matter of habit, I try not to tread into the area of religion or religious beliefs, where they impact on society at large. One can never tell when the government chooses to interpret with ISA lenses and throw one into detention without trial.

But this morning, reading Today’s front-page report of “Masagos ‘saddened’ by those who defend massacre”, I just couldn’t see how the Right Honourable Minister Masagos’ words, who was recently appointed to also help the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, would serve the purported purpose of his uttering, that “Muslims should take action to uphold the good”.

To avoid being accused of taking his words out of context, I read (6:30 pm, 16 Nov) his entire Facebook post (status: 10:39 yesterday. Edited).

Here, the part of his statement that bothers me:

“In not condemning acts that are themselves anti Islam we confuse ourselves what it means to be the witness of the religion of peace against becoming a people who must pay every misdeed with killings and damage.” (bold, italic and underlined, mine for emphasis)

What I do not understand:

In questioning those who ‘defend the massacre’, he accepted and took wholesale the very basis of why those defenders or apologists acted the way they did.

In other words, the Minister is saying that whatever the West has done in Palestine, Iraq and Syria are ‘misdeeds’.

How does characterizing what the Americans and Europeans have done in the Middle East as ‘misdeeds’ help Muslims to better ‘uphold the good’? Except, perhaps, in feeling a snug sense of self-righteousness (or holiness?) to ‘forgive’ the miscreants of those ‘misdeeds’?

Let’s be very clear, ISIS has never once proclaimed the Palestinian cause as part of their mission. The recent morphosis of ISIS’ is explicitly to create the ‘caliphate’. What does the Minister have to say about why Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UAE, Muslim countries all, are also bombing Syria and Iraq? Are these fellow Muslims also guilty of ‘misdeeds’?

Also, why the Minister’s deafening silence in not uttering any direct condemnation against the ISIS or perpetrators of the Paris massacre himself but merely alluding to them?


The first place to start in any conflict is to ask, “Does the fault arise from within ourselves, not outside of us?”

Would Masagos do better to walk his brothers and sisters through questions such as;

Why did it have to be ‘the West’ that commenced actions against Iraq? Did the Muslim countries’ own lack of action against Iraq mean that they approved of, or at least not disapproved, what Saddam Hussein was doing then, what ISIS is doing now in Iraq?

Likewise, in Syria, what pushed the West to take the lead against the ISIS’ atrocities in their goal to create the Caliphate? Did the Arab nations’ original torpor suggest a hidden acquiescence of ISIS’ Caliphate goal? And the practice of crucifixion, beheading innocents and kidnapping as a fund-raising exercise?

How about these related questions to focus the Muslim mind; Why are the majority of the 3 mil Syrian refugees opting recently to flee to non-Muslim, infidel Europe instead of their fellow believers’ territories? Other than the countries abutting Syria and Iraq, why is it that even Canada and USA, separated by the huge Atlantic ocean, are opening their doors while 50+ Muslim countries elsewhere on planet Earth keep their doors unopen?
Back to what triggered my unease. Is Minister Masagos’ position, that it is “the West that have caused the eternal misery of the Palestinians and the war victims of Iraq and Syria”, the position his PAP government on the issue?

How does such a position help our fellow Singaporean Muslim compatriots understand what is happening out there – and, yes, help support the religious harmony amongst Singaporeans, the majority of whom have elected a government that is supportive of how ‘the West’ is dealing with the ISIS threat?


We Singaporeans deserve a clarification, do we not?


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A Moneyed But Miserly Singapore

Do you ever notice that when it comes to the pursuit of money and any other will-contribute-to-money-making-related accolades, the PAP government and its controlled State Media are always waving the flag prominently? Think Most Competitive Index, BERI’s Best Investment Destination, Most Transparent Country (…only insofar as related to business), Students’ PISA score Math Score etc.

Everything, it seems is about “money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s world”. It’s little wonder that on a per capita GDP basis, we out-ran every other country in the world in terms of improvement in ranking the last 50 years.

But when it comes to areas related to the human spirit…tsk tsk tsk. After all, man does not live by bread alone. Aside from the pathetic ranking by Reporters Without Borders and the even more pathetically-defensive spin by our PAP PM himself (“I have given up on that. I do not take them seriously. They put us somewhere around Zimbabwe, I said, so be it.”), here’s another index that we Singaporeans seldom read about in the State Media all these years: World Giving Index. No surprise since SG has been way down there in the index – until now, that is. Again, no surprise since there appears to be some commendable move up the ranks in 2015, giving the State Media a chance to spin it the way Singaporeans need to read only the right stuff. You can read it here and here.

Please do not stop at just reading the spin. Below is an alternate view arguing why Singaporeans should question the very edifice upon which we have been led to live our only one earthly life here under the strongly re-elected PAP government. You can trust Chris Kuan to give the matter an incisive take that no State-sanctioned editor or reporter can or will…

Here is something Singapore is not ranked Top 10. The Charities Aid Foundation’s World Giving Index ranks the world’s most charitable nations. The researchers based the index on three forms of giving: financial, help given to strangers and time spent volunteering. The fieldwork is conducted by the research firm Gallup as part of its World Poll initiative. The 2015 index is as follows;

1.     Myanmar 8. Sri Lanka 15. Norway 22. Indonesia 29. Puerto Rico
2.     USA 9. Ireland 16. Guatemala 23. Austria 30. N. Cyprus
3.     New Zealand 10. Malaysia 17. Bhutan 24. Kuwait 31. Finland
4.     Canada 11. Kenya 18. Kyrgyzstan 25. Liberia 32. Iran
5.     Australia 12. Malta 19. Thailand 26. Hong Kong 33. Luxembourg
6.     UK 13. Bahrain 20. Germany 27. Uzbekistan 34. Singapore
7.     Netherlands 14. UAE 21. Jamaica 28. Sweden 35. Taiwan


Singapore comes in at a relatively low 34 given that it is one of the world’s wealthiest economy, ranked No.3 both by the IMF under its projected data estimates and by the World Bank based on actual data averaged over the past 3 years.

National Wealth and High Taxes not constraints

18 Third World are ranked higher than Singapore including the closest neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia. So is Hong Kong which is often compared to Singapore. The report infers that countries with high Buddhist or Muslim observances are more inclined to be charitable.

15 of the most advanced nations are ranked ahead of Singapore, all of whom have substantially higher taxes. High taxes which reduce disposal income do not appear to constrain charitable behavior. Of particular note is that the English speaking nations (USA, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, UK) are among the 6 most charitable. The report attributed this to their particularly strong civil society whereas wealthy nations with strong state welfare such as France and Italy tends to have lower levels of giving since there is a much greater expectation of state intervention.

Et tu Singapore?

High density of wealth and low taxes ought to imply Singapore should rank much higher than a relatively paltry 34. That it is not, suggests that civil society is weak and that Singaporeans are not particularly inclined to be charitable even though the tax and financial transfer policies significantly favours accumulation of wealth, e.g. the relatively low caps on CPF contribution provides higher investable income which is then favoured by tax free interest and dividends, and by the abolition of estate duties.

But more to the point why are Singaporeans less inclined to be charitable to the society or the nation to whom they belong? That perhaps has a lot to do with the observed behavior of Singaporeans taking on the characteristic of the authoritarian government that has ruled the nation since independence.

The government has accumulated enormous surpluses over the past 50 years and the nation has vast financial resources. Yet it provided not only few social entitlements to the citizens but also makes it difficult to gain access to these entitlements, e.g. making elderly citizens use their children’s CPF for healthcare before accessing state assistance. Therefore many see the government as having an uncharitable “you die your business” attitude. As such it should be unsurprising that Singaporeans in turn are not inclined to be charitable.

Reinforcing this mindset, one further needs to consider the corrosive effect of overplaying the “self-reliant” and “meritocracy” ideology. In Singapore if one is poor or disadvantaged, one can be seen as being somehow deficient in “self reliance” and in “merit”, almost like having a sickness. There is no place for exogenous factors such as fate or accidents that can cause one to fall by the wayside or being born in the wrong socio-economic strata that cause one to be disadvantaged. So one cannot expect help while advocates of a fairer society and assistance for the needy are labelled “champagne socialists” or worst even “communists”.

A significant proportion of the population are foreigners. This also strongly suggest that Foreign Talents who flocked to Singapore for high salaries, are not inclined to contribute to the very society that welcome and gave them the opportunity in the first place. But then why should they? Especially when they perceived the government and the citizens themselves as not particularly charitable despite the reputed wealth.

Concluding, one of the universal recommendation from the CAF is to

promote civil society as an independent voice in public life and respect the right of not-for-profit organisations to campaign”

In this, perhaps one can see how far Singapore needs go to become a conscientious nation. The means are there but the spirit and the will not.

Chris Kuan


Standard Chartered Bank from Worse to “Worserer” for Temasek

Our friend, Chris Kuan, appears to have disappeared off the radar screen along with and about the time Richard Wan quit as TRE editor. Well, not to disappoint, he has written a commentary on the recent Standard Chartered Bank’s STG3.3 bil (S$7.1 bil) rights issue.

Isn’t it inexplicable that with Temasek Holdings (TH) playing with our CPF (and other monies belonging to Singapore and Singaporeans) nary a commentary on the rights issue’s implications is published when TH holds a 17.2% stake in SCB?

I guess 70% of voters trust the PAP so blindly, there’s no need for any transparency or accountability of our monies. Read on to understand why you, citizen, should be concerned, very concerned….


That must be painful for Temasek Holdings what happened to its 17.2% stake in Standard Chartered Bank. After earlier this year announcing a “new” strategy of reducing costs and risk weighted assets, which in plain speak means getting rid of loans, securities and businesses that are under-performing or no longer desired. After months of denying the need to raise capital to shore up its balance sheet, the CEO Bill Winters made a U-turn on Tuesday, announcing the bank indeed need to raise capital through a US$ 5.1b rights issue.

Its shares promptly fell 9% on the day, recovering a little at the close of business. In 1 year, the shares had fallen by more than 30% and in 5 years by nearly 65%. All in GBP terms so take note that GBP is still weaker to the SGD by around 25% from 7-10 years ago when Temasek first build its stake. As one Top 10 shareholder said

“It has been a hugely painful ride”.

Certainly, Temasek as a major shareholder would have been sounded out for this change of heart at the top of the bank. Almost certainly Temasek would have, in local parlance, “kow pei kow bu” but in this day and age, regulators rule the day. Those are UK regulators not Singapore’s own do-it-all MAS.

What does it mean for Temasek? Do nothing and its shareholding gets diluted. Maintain its current shareholding of 17.2% means having to divvy up US$877m for the right issue. Throwing in good money after bad? Mind you Standard Chartered has already scrapped its final dividend this year to shore up its capital. However even so, with the dividend cut, the reduction of costs and risk weighted assets and the rights issue, Standard Chartered’s return on equity expects to rise to only 8% in 2018 and 10% in 2020, extremely little for shareholders to get excited when in comparison UBS has already reach 15% this year. Didn’t another of our SWF sold UBS?

What gives for Temasek to hold on? A reluctance to admit it overstayed its investment? Or is it some kind of grand strategy of building an Asian champion by merging Standard Chartered with DBS? If the latter, Singaporeans should be afraid, be very afraid because the Singapore Government will be the lender of last resort since it is rather inconceivable for the government to allow DBS to be domiciled elsewhere. That ultimately means taxpayers bailing out the bank if it gets into trouble with losses even if these occur in other countries.

And those halcyon days of March when in its annual review Temasek announced a 19% rate of return from last year, seems a distant past. What with this Standard Chartered debacle on top of the meltdown in China.

Temasek prides itself a long term investor. An investor who can be patient and wait a long time for superior value to be realized. Or so the narrative went. Of course, the narrative did not say the same investor can also wait a long time for value to be destroyed. As Keynes said,

“In the long run we are all dead”.

Now, would not all those monies better spent investing in better lives for Singaporeans in order to build social capital rather than investing in ever more financial assets in the never ending chase for diminishing returns?