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New M$20 Road Charge: The Low-down

160714 Road Charge

I have been openly critical of Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan. But with Malaysia’s impending M$20 ‘Road Charge’, I fully support and praise his decision to “match it in some form“. Proviso: I have a personal interest in this; my wife and I drive to JB (often, to stretch our grocery dollars & food hunt) as well as KL (occasionally).

Why then support a move that will cost me more?

Simple: Oppose government policies I may but when other countries seek to exploit us, our duty is to stand on the side of our Singapore. Higher cost becomes secondary.

How did Malaysia come to finally, finally pull this trigger? In a word, GREED.

But first, there are two important factors, without which, greed might have taken a back seat to the commercial interests of Malaysian retail and tourist business owners whose support the Malaysian government need badly to oil their political and personal interests. Or, for that matter, both governments’ hollow expressed desire to increase, improve people-to-people contact.

1. Smiling Tigers
Here’s ex-Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore Datuk Parameswaran urging Malaysia to match Singapore’s new VEP on every SG car entering Malaysia:

“I think the notion that Singaporeans will shun Johor if a levy is imposed no longer holds water. Things have changed in recent years as many Singaporeans have bought property here, and are commuting between both countries daily.” (quoted in Star Aug 2014, hyperlink lost)

Such a statement may be par for the course with the usual politician. But an ex-high commissioner? We would think he’d try to help his country understand a neighbour better –  the better to build up government-to-government and people-to-people relationships. But no, not Datuk Parameswaran. He’s right in front pushing his government to exploit Singaporeans.

2. Toothless Lions
Singapore is known for no protests allowed. Our northern neighbours, nay the whole world, could see, have seen how we-the-citizens are such docile, submissive, almost spineless creatures. Too afraid, almost beaten to a pulp by repressive laws and ruthless lawsuits.

All PAP leaders need to do is to give cursory explanations, no need to convince anyone, then sign a tax or whatever into law. And Singaporeans will simply fall in line – no ifs, no buts, no protests.

Is it any wonder that Malaysian politicians rub their hands in glee at the PAP-given opportunities aplenty to extract money for their country and for themselves. After all, LKY’s “what’s wrong with collecting more money” has not only never been challenged but his idea has been systematically hijacked by LKY-wannabe ministers and civil elites into a key article of faith across all ministries. Pay-And-Pay!

But herein lies the paradox of his declaration: Carried out judiciously, it’s good for a government’s legit revenues. But practised across most if not all ministries, what Singaporeans end up with is that we live and work mostly to Pay-And-Pay into government’s coffers (via public services and GLCs…with some unknown amounts leaking into Temasek Holdings’ top management, as bonuses for rent-seeking us their captive customers).

Similarly, with a “no protest please, we are Singaporeans”, helped by state-controlled media, the unintended consequence or paradox is you end up not allowing Singaporeans, human beings, to vent our collective emotions, sense of injustice, anger against exploitation etc – in the moment, not just rationally at general elections.

The Truth Behind The M$6,90 x 2 Tolls
Does anyone recall the initial hooha when Malaysia implemented the RM$6.90 per way toll on 27 Jul 2014? Who protested? It was the Malaysian transport companies that loudly protested and blocked the Causeway – for a day. Where were Singaporeans? Were there any significant discussions in the media, let alone physical protests? Parliamentary debates? – what a joke, Zero. Zilch. Kosong. Read here for more info.

What then happened to the Malaysian protests? Here’s my guess. Behind closed doors, their government explained to the Malaysian protestors (mainly Chinese-owned business interests), “Look, 90% of the vehicles are from Singapore side. We collect the money from their wallets. Johoreans then get to use the EDL (Eastern Dispersal Link) – for FREE. What do you think, Mr Chinese businessmen?”

Since then, that M$6.90 toll has yielded an estimated minimum o f M$110,00/day for the Malaysian government, manna from heaven with just a stroke of their pen. That’s M$40mil out of mostly Singaporeans’ pockets! Of course, it also means LTA pocketing additional S$15.8mil/year, also out of Singaporeans’ discretionary income. (based on my own estimated average of 8000 cars/day).

The Truth Behind The New M$20 Road Charge
GREED, in and of itself, cannot succeed if the exploited party refuses to co-operate or are not as daft and easily conned. Or docile. Or submissive. And spineless, not exposed to unite in protest.

Unfortunately, the observation that Singaporeans are Toothless Lions (citizenry) that cannot even roar, let alone bite or fight back against our northern Smiling Tigers (politicians/civil servants) has been reinforced by the success seen in the M$6.90/way charge implemented since Aug 2014. Traffic went back to normal after the initial drop.

The bottomline is: Voiceless, docile, submissive and spineless Singaporeans will again help fill up Malaysia’s state coffers to the tune of another M$M160,000 (assume 8000 cars unchanged) every day till kingdom cometh! That also means another S$7.80/car/day (=S$62,400/day total = S$22.77mil/year) into LTA coffers. In total, another S$40mil out of Singaporeans’ discretionary income.

“What’s wrong with collecting more money?” INDEED!

So, Why Support LTA’s Policy?
In the face of exploitation that benefits other governments and in the absence of any meaningful, effective way to register our unhappiness to Malaysia, we must stand together to try to make the latter’s greed backfire on themselves.

Aside from the soundness of Khaw’s “long-standing policy is to ensure Malaysia takes into consideration Singapore’s response whenever it plans to raise tolls”, the likely impact of a much higher toll will, hopefully, result in a drastic and more lasting drop in Singaporeans’ spending in Johore – to the detriment of the commercial interests (mainly Chinese & Indians but also Malay), other tax & fee payable by same and, over time trickle down to noticeable job loss affecting the livelihood of their citizens of all races. Perhaps, then an impact on the ballot boxes in Johore will result.

It’s a longer route to make Singaporeans’ voices and interests heard across the Causeway. But what else can we do?

Oh, boycott Johore? That’s a dead-in-the-water option where Singaporeans are concerned. Apart from our pathetic lack of will and practice to rise up collectively in a meaningful, physical but non-violent way, we are kiasu to the core, remember? Individual self-interest is paramount…let someone else take the lead. How I wish to be proven wrong!

Conclusion
So, bring on the additional toll, LTA, to match Malaysia’s money grab. You have a supporter in me this instance.

But, if I may postulate from the situation described above, stretch the argument a little further, what the neighbours observe of we-the-citizens is a real worry. Never mind if SG has the latest weaponry and strong economics, the people are toothless, docile, submissive and spineless to stand up for themselves. Their politicians have got the daft citizenry, like a “young apprentice caught between the Scylla and Charibdes” and wrapped around their little fingers.

How is the attribute good for Singapore’s defence and survival when the unexpected crisis comes? Can our elected leaders (oh, so many decorated military generals who never fought a war but demonstrated how good they are at selling off NOL, not able to resolve train issues, skipping from ministries to ministries without any concrete results to show for their geniuses) rally us to be united? How?

Can we reasonably expect Singaporeans will rise up in unison at external threats when a people has never learned how to organize themselves spontaneously and willfully? Especially when there’s palpable disquiet about our sons having to serve NS while foreigners and their sons steal a 2-year march in our sons’ career?

Perhaps, that’s something for us all to ponder over. As I say, it may be a stretch to link the no-protest-allowed issue with our ability to unite meaningfully and spontaneously. But there’s always “the law of unintended consequences”. Or, as I see it, there’s always a weakness in a strength – usually hidden and revealed only too late.

Law Kim Hwee

 

 

 

 

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Defective Trains: The Sagely One Speaks

Many Singaporeans must have heaved a sign of deep relief when Khaw Boon Wan finally
put on his safety helmet to show up at Bishan MRT Depot. After all, there was a report that
Singaporeans prepare for worst as Khaw Boon Wan still missing 2 days after defective MRT trains made public.”

The Sagely One (remember his ‘Butterfly Lovers’ explanation of the Sengkang Columbarium sage – his then HDB officers had assumed, yes assumed the winner of a tender to be affiliated to a religious organization), must have been meditating at Mount Silent prior to showing up. It seems the time spent invisible and incommunicado was worth it for us as he didn’t disappoint with his words of wisdom to explain why LTA’s and his transport ministry’s hands were forced on the issue of our defective trains.

Undue Panic

Declaring that trains were being returned to China for repairs due to hairline cracks could have caused undue panic, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said at the Bishan Depot on Tuesday (Jul 12).

Mr Khaw said that going public for something that was “not a major event” might have caused unnecessary panic to the layman, noting that to engineers, not all cracks are the same.

Any “undue panic” he speaks about can only originate from Singapore citizens since he’s asserted that the defects were “not a major event”. As the saga continues to unfold and we sort among the stories we are told, to Khaw’s latest spin, here’s the question that’s hard for us to hold:

So, does that mean that we, the citizens of Singapore, after 50 years of the PAP education in school and exposure to realities and reporting, mostly through our mainstream media (ST, Mediacorp), are not able to even differentiate between a major or minor event? Between the truth or otherwise of the nature of the trains’ defects? That we are such a panicky people – all these after 50 years of nation-building (plus the million$ just expended in 2015 to celebrate and remind ourselves of how far we have come?

Really?

The Sagely One has to decide if his explanation is a valid one and, if so, what it says about us, the citizens of Singapore under PAP for 50 unbroken years.

Everyone Loves A Conspiracy Theory
…and Khaw obliges.

Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, linked the news — broken by Hong Kong’s FactWire news agency — to factions in the city with an anti-China political agenda. Having read various analyses on the controversy, Mr Khaw said: “We are caught in a crossfire and there are factions in Hong Kong who wanted to cause some difficulties for mainland China. I have no inside information on whether that is true or not, but it’s possible.”

“Unfortunately, we become a convenient bullet and collateral damage.”

What does it tell when Khaw would actually, deliberately spill the above lines for we the citizens of Singapore, his audience? What does he take us for? Does it not show just how this Foreign-Talent Minister (unlike ex-Ceylonese Mr S Rajaratnam, ex-Malaysians Mr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Toh Chin Chye, Mr Ong Pang Boon, Mr Hon Sui Sen) view us Singaporeans – with contempt?

Even though I know who I voted for, I truly believe that Democracy is the worst system there is, except for the rest – I therefore accept that we the citizens of Singapore deserve the government leaders we have collectively elected in Sep 2015.

With such senior leadership, I think some critical change should not be very far ahead for Singaporeans. Unless, of course…

Law Kim Hwee

PS: Mr Tharman, you around? Please help us understand how your colleague Khaw’s explanation fits into your ‘discuss things openly, tell people the truth‘ approach to politics and leadership?

 

 

 


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Defective Trains: “Discuss Things Openly, Tell People The Truth”

Unlike most articles taking SMRT, LTA and MOT to task, I want to address the transport issue to Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam personally. He’s not the minister responsible. So, why him?

For one, I have plenty of respect for Thar-‘man’. He is probably the most qualified and proven minister in his job. He’s respected internationally not just domestically like so many self-vaunted ministers/ex-ministers who could only land jobs in GLCs but not MNCs once out of their million$ posts.

Another reason: as a Singaporean of Indian descent, he has it in him a natural openness to debate, talk over issues. Noble laureate Amartya Sen did not author ‘The Argumentative Indian‘ for no reason. The Indians were philosophers long before the Greek or the Chinese ones appeared as embryos.

And, of course, Mr Tharman was the person who preached, ‘Discuss things openly, tell people the truth.’

In truth, he also famously told Singaporeans that their right to know stops if he simply says so: “People do want to know, there is curiosity, it is a matter of public interest. That is not sufficient reason to disclose information. It is not sufficient that there be curiosity and interest that you want to disclose information…it serves no strategic purpose,‘ he said in Parliament over the Charles Goodyear ‘resignation’ even before he started work at Temasek in 2009. Remember that one? As citizens, we had no ‘strategic interest’ to know something that affected the management of OUR hard-earned CPF money! Walau!

So, now, Mr Tharman, surely the very safety of high-speed train commuters are a paramount concern to you. Surely, there is curiosity, public interest to understand why it took a foreign investigative team to uncover the defective trains before LRT and MOT came out with such well-prepared explanations. Surely, surely, we wish to know, nay, we must know what exactly happened, the works! LTA processes, the chain of events unfolding, the negotiations etc to understand what if any cover-ups for complacency (?), for incompetence (??), for possible corruption (???) might have occurred?

Whilst the minister of transport has direct responsibility, you as DPM, you who preach open discussion and telling the truth, surely you must demand answers for us voters and citizens.

How about it, Mr Tharman? Will you see to it that you practise what you preach, ‘discuss things openly, tell people the truth’? How about starting with these 2 questions:

1. If the defects were not ‘safety-critical’, why was it not discussed openly, told truthfully to us until LTA’s hand was forced by the report of foreign investigative journalists?

2. How is it ‘the appropriate thing to do’ and ‘value for our money’ to settle for rectification instead of new replacements for new trains delivered defective? You mean LTA negotiated such pathetic terms when signing the purchase order? How come?

 

But I wonder if a minister, junior to you, who preached the need to not cultivate ‘a blame culture’ may prevail over your sermon? Perhaps, it’ll be the cabinet’s collective decision to continue to fudge things up, to protect the cronies and fellow PAP-supporting civil service elites. Because, in protecting your underlings, PAP protect its own complacency and incompetence.

8 lives were lost in the Hep C mistake at the SGH. No one was brought to account openly and truthfully – all in the name of avoiding a blame culture. No life has been yet lost – yet – due to the defective trains. So, chances are dim that citizens will see the train fiasco ‘discussed openly, told the (whole) truth’. What’s more, the families of the 8 lives lost must have been paid off so obscenely with taxpayers’ money that they preferred to remain quiet instead of commencing a class action against those guilty of killing their loved ones. And, of course, the Health Minister never offered to resign.

Hence, the prognosis to ‘discuss things openly, tell people the truth’ is not good.

 

How many deaths do we need before we ‘discuss things openly, tell people the truth’? If a non safety-critical issue is being covered up, would we not inevitably develop a culture of more and worse cover ups…all in the name of avoiding a blame culture.

 

Mr Tharman, how does it feel to be a minister in a cabinet with such moral leadership values, of such distinction?

 

Law Kim Hwee