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Brexit & Trump = Capitalism & Meritocracy at a Crossroad

At first glance, readers would likely think that I have missed something. Isn’t democracy (also) at a crossroad?

Definitely not.

The campaigning/electioneering and voting went like clockwork, only more exciting than usual. Protests against both outcomes further confirmed that democracy lives! Weren’t the protesters dumb? Really, were the outcomes different, would they accept if those who voted otherwise demanded a re-vote? Ahh, never mind. Bremain’ and ‘Not My President’ were just free people throwing a tantrum. They say what democracy is much about…let’s just hope non-violence prevails.

Friends who engaged me pre-Brexit knew that I supported Brexit. But with Trump, while I didn’t buy his message or method, I wished him to win. I expected neither to win but am glad to be proven wrong!

Here’s why.

CAPITALISM
Experts point to 14th century agrarian Britain as the origins of capitalism. It got a spurt from “16th century merchants and small urban workshops“(Marx). Then it went “international” with “the geographic exploration of the foreign lands by merchant traders, especially from England” in the 18th century. The Industrial Revolution then gave it further impetus with assembly lines and mass production. Today, modern capitalism birthed us a web of Free Trade Agreements and globalization that have touched almost every corner of the inhabited earth.

The history and evolving characteristics of capitalism are complex. At the risk of oversimplification, I discuss only 2 key features.

First, renowned Hungarian economist, Dr János Kornai makes the obvious but seldom highlighted observation that, vis-a-vis socialism, the distinctive “virtue of capitalism is its innovative and dynamic nature”. In a list of more than 100 “revolutionary innovations” (the criterion being its “relevance for large groups of users, well-known to the majority of people, and not only to small groups of experts”) only one product, surprise!, synthetic rubber, was a Russian innovation. The rest; from Band-aid in 1921 to ballpoint pen to black box (for airplane) to microprocessor to the Walkman to e-commerce and to Youtube in 2005 all originated from capitalist countries. (Dynamism, Rivalry & The Surplus Economy 2013 and Innovation & Dynamism)

Capitalism’s dynamism brings with it a surplus in goods and services. To illustrate; when the Berlin Wall fell in Nov 1989, Dr Kornai, even as a professor, had to wait 6 years for his Skoda. But not American Joe Everyman; he could casually walk into a showroom, flashed his cash and drove off his Ford (sorry, Singapore Ah Tan could only dream about it in whether in 1989 or 2016). Surplus along with credit availability under capitalism imply affordability if not low prices, benefiting all.

Second, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” sparked a “broad and energetic debate on…: the outlook for global inequality“. Piketty documents and analyses how wealth has waxed and waned from the 18th century, its concentration or distribution being disrupted by the 2 World Wars. With copious data, he demonstrates that wealth is reasserting itself – with globalization and tech innovation as the backdrop. Oxfam’s research makes a similar but startling observation: the wealth of 1% is more than the other 99% of us. Likewise, Forbes 400 richest owned only US$93 bil in 1982 but topped US$2.3 tril in 2014 (+2473%) even as median household income rose a meagre +180%.

Piketty warns the soaring wealth inequality will mean instability down the road. Apposing that with Kornai’s capitalistic surplus, the world saw the rise of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Why should we be surprised then by Brexit & Trump? Without diminishing the impact of other issues (immigration, security etc), Brexit and Trump built on the momentum of OWS’ cries of dissatisfaction and disaffection in a world gone not right. The rich are getting disproportionally richer while the middle and low incomers are given a raw deal with growing FTAs and globalization.

That message could only have been heard with a true democracy in action.

So, despite leading humanity’s progress with innovations, the Brits and Americans are telling their ruling elites – and the world – STOP!

Why? Meritocracy, perhaps?

MERITOCRACY
Meritocracy emerged with China’s system of government in 6th century BC. Whilst some form of meritocracy was practised in government appointments in US from 1883, modern 20th-century meritocracy was signposted by Michael Young who coined the term.

With meritocracy widely practised in government, business and academia particularly in the last 50 years, the meritocratic elites running the show are quick to claim credit for the good in today’s world while disclaiming any responsibility for the ills or malfunctions therefrom. They either tacitly or ostentatiously assert that “all those not on TV only have themselves to blame”. Should that surprise us?

Chris Hayes, in “Twilight of The Elites – America After Meritocracy”, observes how meritocracy over the decades in America is failing her people:-

  • Institutions designed to reward merit are being gamed by the privileged, who create a self-perpetuating elite. The most familiar example concerns admission to prestigious schools via admissions tests…a level playing field. (But) thanks to test prep, the rich get lots of time to practice on it, while even smart poor kids don’t.
  • More broadly, inequality begets more inequality. “Those who climb up the ladder will always find a way to pull it up after them, or to selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies and kin to scramble up.” Thus the astonishingly outsized gains seen at the very top of American society.
  • The intense competition inherent in meritocracy creates powerful incentives to cheat, and encourages the attitude that whatever you do in pursuit of dominance is fine as long as you profit or win. (Hence) Enron traders who broke the law weren’t punished if they were making money. And in Major League Baseball, everyone pretended that steroids weren’t around.
  • When elites break the rules they aren’t punished like regular people. They’re bailed out of trouble, or spared criminal prosecution for their lawlessness.
  • There is too much social distance separating the people in charge with the folks subject to their decisions. Thus (meritocracy produced) Catholic bishops who sympathized more with molesting priests than their victims, Senators who send men from a class they rarely encounter to fight the wars they approve, and the disaster planners who couldn’t conceive of how the timing of Hurricane Katrina at the end of the month would affect the ability of poor residents to evacuate.(The above abridged summary is from The Atlantic. Sounds familiar to the Singapore story?)

Meritocracy, at its most basic, believes it can and seeks to rank “intelligent people in order from most to least smart, and that the right person for a job is always the one deemed smartest.” But Hayes argues that “while smartness is necessary for competent elites, it is far from sufficient: wisdom, judgment, empathy, and ethical rigor are all as important, even if those traits are far less valued.”

Hence, we see the elites’ solutions to the 2008 financial crisis producing outcomes mostly favouring the elites’ own and their cheque-writers – never mind that none of those responsible for the crisis were “bailed out or spared criminal prosecution for their lawlessness.

CONCLUSION
Puttng together Kornai’s, Piketty’s and Hayes’ key observations, we get the picture of a world created by the meritocratic elites who have “grabbed all they can, canned all they grabbed, sat on the can” and for those not on TV, well, in Singapore lingo, “you die your business”.

With capitalism globalized, other than fresh oxygen in shorter supply, almost everything else is in surplus capacity and supply. Yet, Mr Everyman v.2016 is struggling to meet mortgage payments, banks circle like vultures ever ready to pounce on repossession while the threat of losing his job hangs over him like a cold dark cloud that he can never rise above.

So, in effect, the less rich British and Americans gifted us Brexit and Trump.

I support Brexit and Trump’s election also because both countries probably have the best institutional checks and balances in place such that doomsday scenarios of detractors will be just that, scenarios. Both, too, have the people in place to force a more meaningful discussion to address and redress the excesses of meritocracy and capitalism.

But while I think that Brexit and Trump bring us to a crossroad, that merely gives us pause to join in the needed conversation. Changes will be small, slow, sashaying and slaloming.

Still, it’s an opportunity.

So, raise your countenance. Speak up – right here in Singapore! Vote wisely the next GE.

No, take a stand at the next Presidential Election 2017.

Law Kim Hwee


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Ministerial Promotions: What Lee Kuan Yew Preached vs How Lee Hsien Loong Practises

I never cease to be amazed at how fast novice PAP MPs are appointed ministers and their promotions confirmed. A whatsapp message sums it up, ‘Do nothing and can get promotion. I oso want .’

PAP’s leadership renewal is conspicuously planned so ‘that Singapore…continue to have honest and capable leaders’ (Lee Hsien Loong) or ‘the best people in government’ (Goh Chok Tong). Or leaders who will not ‘succumb to corruption’ (LKY).

Carrie Gracie, BBC, reports, ‘to steel its…members against temptation‘ or corruption, Xi JinPing (by LKY’s assessment, ‘a man of great breathe…in the Nelson Mandela class of persons‘) started revolutionary tours for its key cadres. The PAP, however, prefer a shortcut, paying the highest salaries of any government worldwide.

Here’s how LKY sold to Singaporeans the key intent for the high salaries:

So it was an unending quest for the right man to put in the job. It takes years for a person to be tried and tested as a minister, and to develop the judgement and touch……

Let me point out how long it takes to get a MP to learn to be a minister and have the public recognise him as such, especially when he is not a natural crowd puller or a mobiliser. There are two kinds…of ministers in Singapore – the doer and the mobiliser…..

People need time to gauge and assess who has what qualities and is best suited for what jobs that can make Singapore grow and thrive…..LKY, 30/6/2000, Parliament

How do fresh-face Ong & Ng along with Chan Chun Sing and Tan Chuan-Jin – all entered parliament under the coattails GRC system, without ever having to fight man-to-man for their seats, let alone suitability for high office – measure up under LKY’s need for developing time-tested, ‘people-gauged/assessed’ ministers?

Well, someone who had a ringside view already drew a conclusion about the effectiveness of high pay policy.

“…it started going downhill when we started to raise ministers’ salaries, not even pegging them to the national salary but aligning them with the top 10…” Ngiam Tong Dow, ex-civil servant.

Let’s not take Ngiam’s word for it. Let’s look closer at the evidence before us.

Chan Chun Sing
Can anyone name one policy that Chan enacted in all the 4 ministries he helmed since May 2011, namely; Community Development, Youth & Sports, Defence (2nd minister), Social and Family Development, sec-gen of NTUC & minister in PMO that has had a measurable positive impact on our lives?

To be fair, my search into the current article making the rounds about ‘105,000 households get little food’ finds no such study. The ‘105,000 households earning S$1500/month’ is taken from Singstats’ ‘Key Household Income Trends 2012’ but not linked to they ‘getting little food’.

Be that as it may, Chan’s catchy ‘kuih lapis’ policy of tackling poverty has been 3 years in its execution (since Nov 2013).

The result? No one knows. No one knows because despite the government’s complete access to data plain refuses to publicly engage us, feigning ignorance. Or is it because the results do not measure up to expectations?

Truth is, Chan’s boss set no quantifiable goals to speak of in the first place.

Nonetheless, Chan keeps ascending the cabinet ladder – without any measurable achievements to show for.

Tan Chuan-Jin
Same question. What’s one policy that Tan enacted or helped implement since making minister at MOM and, currently, Ministry of Social & Family Development?

As manpower minister, Tan gave us the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) (公平考量框架). Anyone remember what the FCF is about? If you have the time, read link.

Any quantifiable outcomes since implementing FCF and JobsBank in Aug 2014 with much fanfare? Yes! an increase in PMETs unemployed and for longer periods, too – while evermore foreigners slipped through on EP & S-Passes!

It’s gotten so bad that in a recent 3-4 days, 4 ministers, PM Lee included, came out to loud-speak that there are 70,000 vacancies with 30,000 more in healthcare alone in the next 5 years. And PM’s lame ‘we are pursuing all the right strategies, and I am confident that, given time, they will work’.

Similarly, Tan’s boss set no numbers for him to be gauged/assessed under the FCF. After spending 369 days at MOM and pocketing S$1.3mil, he moves to a new ministry – all without having any measurable achievements to show for.

Ong Ye Kung
Same question, any policy or change he enacted as education minister since 1 Oct 2015 to show for?

The man makes grand-sounding speeches. His maiden parliamentary speech is about ‘faster legs, stronger hearts, wiser minds‘. He secured that speaking opportunity only because he couldn’t get into parliament against the Workers’ Party in Aljunied and had to be sundered therefrom to another safer PAP GRC. Ong slipped into parliament under Shanmugan’s coattail.

How does his speech meet LKY’s “do not try to impress by big words – impress by the clarity of your ideas. Then I am impressed”?

His speech is long on the big markets of China, India and Africa but short on originality and practicality. He proclaims, ‘Today China drives the value chain. We must look at China now as a tremendous business and consumer market, and learn to tap into it.’

Yeah, sure.

I knew that from visiting China in 1996. Tried to interest my Swiss bosses, subsequently, my Dutch ones to invest in a production plant (both no go), then ‘downgraded’ to a more palatable central warehouse (succeeded). Workable, specific ideas. Not the hifalutin strategy spout by a still wet-behind-the-ear acting minister. Judging by the wrath we now face from China re the South China Sea, was his boss listening?

So, what did Ong achieve (not merely do) in measurable KPIs the 395 days he ‘acted’ as education minister (high edu & skills) with his S$1.3mil pay?

Ng Chee Meng
Final same question, any single policy or change he enacted as education minister (schools) since 1 Oct 2015?

Zilch.

As a father of 2 sons, I couldn’t fathom the pathetic parliamentary statement he made to explain young Benjamin Lim’s death after his police interrogation. What if it had happened to one of his own daughters?

Ng took the same chicken parliamentary route as all his other ministerial-material 4G colleagues, behind the coattail of another minister. I often wonder what other ASEAN ministers and MPs think about him – and of Singapore. Here, Singapore’s Chief of Defence Force, a lieutenant-general who boasted about the SAF’s ‘one-shot-one-kill’ capability but too chicken to battle one-on-one with an opposition candidate! Then after 395 days of speeches, his boss made him full minister!

But Singaporeans should be even more worried: Ng batted not an eyelid when he claimed his entering politics is ‘giving back to society’, paying back his ‘indebtedness’.

Yeah, sure.

Giving back to society = giving up S$300k-S$400k SAF job and taking up PAP-guaranteed’s 3-4X higher S$1.3 mil minister’s salary apid by taxpayers? Perhaps, we peasants understand not the math behind the brains of a president scholar and top general. But he’s setting a fine example on how to give back to society for our youth, indeed.

So, what did Ng achieve (not merely do) in measurable KPIs the 395 days he ‘acted’ as education minister (schools) on his S$1.3mil pay (excl bonus)?

Conclusion
Have Singaporeans been given the time to gauge, assess Ah Chan, Ah Tan, Ah Ong & Ah Ng against LKY’s time-testing aim, ‘it takes years for a person to be tried and tested as a minister…people need time to gauge and assess who has what qualities and is best suited for what jobs that can make Singapore grow and thrive’?

Did PM Lee do a thorough job assessing, gauging them – against LKY’s timeline and standards?

Rather obvious, isn’t it?

Sadly, we observe a pattern of leadership behaviour, a habit; the love for shortcuts, taking the easy, fastest way out. Refusing to grow our own timber. With GDP, PM Lee is addicted to the shortcut of importing Foreign Talents (carrying on from Goh Chok Tong’s legacy) and adding labour instead of being a doer or a mobilizer to convince, coerce our local SMEs – and our GLCs+TLCs – to increase productivity the last 20, 30 years.

Likewise, instead of fulfilling his promise of ‘leadership succession will be one of my top priorities‘ when swearing in as PM#3 on 13/8/2004, he’s rushing a shortcut to give the false impression of offering enough candidates to succeed him. He’s denied others even half the 20-year apprenticeship he enjoyed.

But even more worrisome is a trend shaping up underneath the surface of these fast-track, undeserved promotions. If the 4 ministers’ career trajectories are an indication, then Singaporeans must begin to be afraid. Be very afraid.

It may mean that the high salary system that LKY has instituted are attracting unproven politicians who are guaranteed salary increases of up to 4 times or more of their last drawn salary. Singaporeans already have a taste of something similar at NOL, SMRT, Singapore Police, LTA, Temasek Holdings etc.

Beside the salary, it’s a surefire career choice where your promotion is guaranteed without the need to show measurable KPIs.

Even more, it’s an iron-rice-bowl job – doesn’t matter if a world’s most dangerous terrorist escape or 8 Singaporeans die illegally of Hep C infection under your watch, your job is secured and salary intact!

All you need is unfailing party loyalty.

Is Samuel Huntington right after all, “The honesty and efficiency that Senior Minister Lee has brought to Singapore are likely to follow him to his grave“? We may not perceive that yet, being too close to the unfolding but very subtle deterioration.

Or will LKY have the last word?

Time will prove that I am right that Ministers should be paid 2/3 of their private sector counterparts’ salaries of two years ago. This is the way to ensure that our government and system stay clean and honest, with able and dedicated men, who can stay in office for several terms…..

If salaries pegged to the market do not work, then not much will be lost, except a few million dollars. Singapore can always go back to the old system of paying Ministers much lower than the market rate, and hoping for the best.” LKY. 19 July 96

…but only if Singaporeans heed his advice to jettison the system. Regardless, don’t hold your breath. 69.9% voters (now, minus Dr Lee Wei Lin) think things are honky dory under PAP & Lee Hsien Loong.

2016-11-02-photo-00000004

If you happen to be one of the children of any of the 4 ministers reading this, please ask your pa if he ever search his heart as each day departs.

Law Kim Hwee


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Unemployed PMETs: The Political Art of Selective Quantification & Info-Sharing

No one can fail but be greatly impressed when a minister is in a position to tell the whole world the quantifiable numbers of jobs that his government is creating. Or already created.

A newly-minted 4G acting minister, in ‘acting’ his part, tells us “where available jobs are or will be created in coming years:

  • 30,000 IT professionals
  • 3,000 more jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) in precision engineering
  • 1,000 rail engineers;
  • At least 1,200 professionals for finance, mostly in IT and compliance
  • 4,000 early childhood educators”

And, for good measure, there are “some 70,000 vacancies in National Jobs Bank” currently.

The screenshot below, taken on 25 Oct, 1925 hrs shows a grand total of 37,323 jobs. About half of what the minister claims. Integrity and accuracy are important. But, well, let’s not quibble over only a very small exaggeration, shall we? After all, the minister is just being true to his calling; exaggerating what makes him look good, minimizing or hiding the bad.

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-7-25-31-pm

Oh yes, someone helpfully points out that among the claimed “70,000 vacancies” there’s one that is specifically reserved for Thai nationals. How many more vacancies could there be that are ‘reserved’ for non-Singaporeans – not so carelessly revealed but confidentially hidden?

Regardless, same day, different event, his 3G ministerial colleague also spills out another huge figure: “Singapore will need 30,000 more healthcare workers in five years”. WOW!
There are “ample good jobs for Singaporeans” indeed.

 

Isn’t it amazing that our ministers could pull numbers out of their hats – when and where they choose to do so?

Does that not mean that we have the systems in place to track numbers when and where we deem important or relevant enough?

Does this not beg the question, how many Singaporean PMETs who are unemployed and who remained unemployed for x months are there? But we have never once heard any minister, any minister at all ever mention the quantified number of unemployed Singaporean PMETs. Never!

Does that mean that they are not keeping track of the number? MOM reported last Feb that “four in 10 vacancies, were for PMET jobs”, so is 40% not significant enough to track?

Obviously not.

Actually, there is a rather simple way about it without getting PMETs to register with MOM. Wouldn’t the sudden and prolonged CPF contributions of members with above, say, S$3000/month salary be a good indication of an unemployed Singaporean PMET? In fact, not only the number of unemployed PMETs but also for how long their CPF accounts have not been credited.

So, are the statistics a state secret? Or they have been hidden, obfuscated, not discussed for political exigencies?

Whatever the true reason(s), Peter Drucker has this to say that is relevant to the ministers’ action or lack thereof.

Image result for drucker you cannot improve what you cannot measure

I think and believe that Mr Goh Keng Swee would have done things quite differently.

But to all my fellow unemployed PMETs with mortgages to service, children to feed, school fees to pay – and increased Medishield Life premiums to be auto-deducted from what’s left of our CPF money – let’s not complain, alright? After all, we gave 69.9% approval for the job that the government has done.

Every nation gets the government it deserves. Vote wisely the next time.

Law Kim Hwee

 

 

 

 


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Sex & The Minister

I address this blog to my fellow younger citizens, Singaporeans of my children’s generation, born in the 1990’s. “Sex in small places” concerns them. Beyond the funny responses and factual criticisms is a bigger issue at stake – the mindset of the ministers they vote for, whose thinking will influence their future, their lives. It’s much more than just sex and is surely no small matter.

Josephine Teo had all the time in the world to reply to the “question on whether young people are not getting their flats early enough to have children.” But

with a straight face, Mrs Teo declared: “You need a very small space to have sex.”

She cannot try to wiggle her way out by claiming that her reported words “might not have captured everything in the way I intended.” And, now, wants to switch to “an honest conversation on how, as a society, we can get ready for Millennial family.”

Unless, of course, she’s (Alice in Wonderland) Humpty Dumpty, “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Nope. ‘You need a very small space to have sex’ is basic
subject-verb-object English with simple words whose meaning is clear enough.

So, no, no, no. Don’t change the subject. Cannot!

Aside from the avalanche of responses directly engaging her “sex in small spaces”, the more relevant question, the mindset issue is, “What informs such a cheeky, cavalier, condescending reply from a senior minister?” Or, what guides her to reply with the words she did?

To uncover what’s behind her reply, we just need to ask her a simple question:

“Would Josephine Teo tell that to her own three children, would she?”

It’s highly unlikely, if not rather obvious, that as a mother, she would not tell that to her own children. So, why is she dishing out such advice to our millennial citizens?

Because “sex in small places” applies and is good enough for little people, for peasants. The retort is similar in vein to another minister asking, “Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?” It’s pompous and patronizing. But it’s how an ‘actsy-borak’ airhead would talk to those she considers to be beneath her station in life, simpletons, peasants.

So, “sex in small places” reveals a mindset that thinks…

While our children have sex;
They, the elites’ offspring, well, they make love.
While our children must make do with a very small area;
They, their elites’ offspring get a new condo with their S$mil salary in a year.
While our children have to put up in their parents’ HDB 4-roomer;
They, their elites’ offspring are gifted a new wing in their bungalow.
And while to us they preach the virtues of self-reliance;
They, the elites, well, they get to practise self-actualization.

My fellow younger citizens, you and your lives are no more than a problem for the PAP ministers to solve, to social-experiment. You are a digit, a number in their statistics game, another brick in the wall.

You can either believe Josephine’s euphemistic, soothing doublespeak, “In this day and age, it is not possible for us to say that you are somehow bad, you are not doing your part for society”. Or, you can put the pieces of how she and her colleagues have been talking down to, patronizing us on various matters to form the consistent picture of who they really are, what they think of us. They reveal their true selves unconsciously, inadvertently, unintentionally by how they answer to our concerns. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks
.
The truth, my young friends, is they want to mould you into happy idiots….

I’m going to find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we’ll fill in the missing colors
In each other’s paint-by-number dreams
And then we’ll put our dark glasses on
Have ‘sex in small places’* until our strength is gone
And when the morning light comes streaming in
We’ll get up and do it again
Get it up again

I’m going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Though true love could have been a contender
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the Pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender
…Jackson Browne, 1976, (* with apologies)

So, Josephine, would you tell your own children, your colleagues’ children, “You need a very small space to have sex”? Would you? If not, why say that to our children?

Law Kim Hwee


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The Truth Behind The Beauty of Tharman (Part 2/2)

We next analyze Tharman’s response to being the next PM of choice in a survey. One that had Singaporeans across all social strata eating out of his hand.  One that serves only to re-confirm why their overwhelming choice (55% vs Teo CH’s 17%) is not misplaced.

Just to be absolutely clear, because I know there’s this talk going around … I’m not the man for PM, I say that categorically. It’s not me. I know myself, I know what I can do and it’s not me. I’m good at policy-making, good at advising my younger colleagues and supporting the PM, not being the PM. That’s not my ambition and that’s not me.

Whoever’s the next Prime Minister will be part of this team culture. He or she would be first amongst equals, first among equals in a team. We each find a way to contribute to Singapore, that matches our strengths, and we each contribute to a strong team. (28 Sep 2016)

A proven leader, an intellectual respected and recognized internationally, not just domestically, speaking such humble words. A rarity, indeed.

Now, we analyze not to ascribe negative implications but to try to uncover, to understand better the possible truths behind the beauty of his utterance.

In search of higher honour
Perhaps, Tharman is wise to these words, “But when you are invited (to a wedding feast), take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.”

He knows that the Blackbox survey outcome is inviting. But it is not the official ‘invitation’ – not yet.

Teasing out peer support
Perhaps, he takes a leaf from Dr Mahathir’s masterful performance at the UMNO 22/06/02 AGM. For those not familiar, read this or watch this. Not as dramatic, but the desired effect of such public an announcement (his ‘I’m not the man for PM’ vs Dr M’s ‘I’m resigning all party posts, as PM etc’) cannot but serve to create some needed theatre, the more to deepen the favourable impression.

Ruling himself out, Tharman positions himself to gain from creating the conditions whereby if he is ‘forced to be‘ PM (his words on 4 Jul 2015 broadcast to an international audience, no less), then those who ‘force’ his change of mind (similar to Mahathir being pleaded to rescind his decision) will have to back that up to support him loyally. Brilliant!

Disarming the competitors, charming the market
Perhaps, Tharman knows, sees, senses subtleties within the cabinet. Or who knows what’s whispered behind closed doors? Who can vouch for the cabinet members’ absence of secret ambitions? As the clock goes tick-tock-tick-tock;  it can only encourage outsize ambitions or narcissistic ones in disguise, no?

How better to disarm potential competitors to the crown while charming the populace than to so publicly volunteer one’s disinterest to be ‘first among equals’. All the more potent a maneuver when none from the crop of mostly GRC-parachuted paper generals appears to be his equal.

Consider the polled ‘first choice ‘ paper general to be PM (9% vs Tharman’s 55%); he’s helmed 4 ministries since May 2011, namely; Community Development, Youth & Sports, Defence (2nd minister), Social and Family Development, sec-gen of NTUC & minister in PMO i.e. merely 17, 19, 20, 12 and 13 months respectively in each post – what has he got to show for pocketing >3X his previous Army Chief salary during those tenures? No surprise that pmo.gov.sg displays only his CV of appointments, but nothing on quantifiable achievements.

Dispelling suspicions, maintaining the peace
Perhaps, as the far-and-away favourite, keeping quiet is not an option for Tharman. It raises too many suspicions, emotions among colleagues.

So, in the Singapore context, it isn’t too far-fetched to think that someone has to plant (assign) both the reporter and the particular questions for Tharman to, well, clear the air.

Isn’t it curious that, when his boss isn’t the issue, he took pains to remark, “he’s extremely highly regarded, not just domestically but internationally.”

Creating higher entry barrier for Opposition
Perhaps, by weaving ‘team culture’ into his explanation, Tharman deliberately condenses the PAP history, stories, heroic figures (Goh Keng Swee & Rajaratnam) and values and beliefs in the best possible light. The unspoken goal: to further exaggerate and entrench the cultural elements (4 of the 6 identified by Deal and Kennedy, 1982) of the better characteristics of PAP’S leadership model in the minds of citizens.

Against the backdrop of his approval ratings, his intonation of PAP ‘team culture’ raises the bar for the Opposition in the minds of his audience.

And so, perhaps, the truth…
Beyond his expressed disinterest to the Premiership, the subtle possibilities of his smooth-spoken, carefully-weaved words are many. In short: Here is a man gifted and politically deft; skills he can deploy and employ to either prioritize his own, his party’s or the nation’s interests. The question is, “What is the man’s true intent?”

Let’s be reminded that it was Tharman who announced in Apr 2013, that the cabinet is now more left-of-centre, “focused on upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk too“. Trumpeting such a fundamental change by the PAP cannot be accidental but planned. And only someone in the vanguard of the change in thinking could be the appointed herald. Just how radical a change? Look no further than Apr 2007; Balakrishnan sarcastically asking ‘Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?’, reacting to an MP’s plead for a few dollars more for the poor,.

But singing the praises of PAP’s leadership change process, Tharman also calls it ‘succession‘. Succession happens only in Communist China, Cuba and North Korea. Does that hint of his covert ideological bent to perpetuate the dominance of the PAP’s rule?

Is he playing his ‘joker’ card in a very well-hidden, complex and conv0luted intra-party game to commandeer the left-of-centre thinking a little further left so as to serve, to truly serve our low-income and elderly? And while he’s at it, to repair the extensive and substantive damage done by the GDP-growth-at-all-cost-cum-FT-policies  and also lighten our high housing/cost-of-living and citizens’ over-taxed burdens?

Hence, the truth is that in Tharman holds both the hope of we-the-citizens for a re-imagined, gentler, kinder Singapore and the nightmare of the worst of the PAP’s insatiable desire for political dominance to carry on their cold, calculating GDP-growth-at-all-cost and ‘Singapore is for everybody’ policies to the detriment of we-the-citizens’ unity as a nation.

For now, both truths are only possibilities. Which will prevail. Only Tharman knows. While we can only hope.

But while we hope, let the preferred PM-to-be know that we are stuffed with DNA from our parents and grandparents who conquered the odds to build the Singapore we now have. We got the verve, the spirit in us all to reshape our lives to be truer and closer to our pledge to “achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation” –  not ‘for everyone’ or just ‘for rich citizens, rich foreigners’ but ‘for we-the-citzens’ who recite the Singapore Pledge from our hearts since Primary One.

We’ll rally around him.

Is Tharman up to the challenge?

Law Kim Hwee


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The Truth Behind The Beauty Of Tharman (Part 1)

Given the current, overwhelming approbations and adoration, even, in both social and mainstream media for PAP Elder-cum-Dy PM Tharman, it is with a truckload of trepidation that I approach my blog today….

Let me begin by stating clearly that I admire Mr Tharman for all the same reasons that the majority of we-the-citizens-of-Singapore do. I was lucky enough to have met him personally on 10 Mar 2013 at Taman Jurong Hawker Centre. He extended and followed-up  his words of assistance in my job hunt, emailing me a few times. He’s the real deal.

We all recall his admonition to SDP Chee to ‘discuss things openly, tell people the truth‘.
But I am of the view that Tharman doesn’t practise what he preaches – most of the time. Neither with discussing things openly (remember the smack-down in parliament, ‘no strategic purpose‘ for us to know about what went wrong at Temasek with Goodyear) nor, most certainly, with telling the truth, but only selected facts or half-truths.

So, what then the truth behind this beauty of a party elder, a statesman?

To find out, let’s first ‘discuss things openly, tell people the truth’ about our retirement adequacy via our CPF scheme. Tharman claims ‘the CPF system provides a level of retirement adequacy comparable, if not superior, to other pension systems once you take into account the savings that are locked in one’s housing‘.

Scratch deeper and Tharman’s assertion comes up troubling when we consider;

*One’s housing price appreciation must continue to beat inflation between the times of purchase and unlocking. Put differently, for such an retirement plan to work, our children or grandchildren must shoulder the ever-widening gap between house value appreciaction and real inflation. A house of cards, a Ponzi-sque scheme? Perversely, in between, Singaporeans end up funding PRs who buy our HDB units, cash out and retire comfortably in China, India, Malaysia, Philippines.

*HDB statistics show that 117,225, 241,343, 309,007, 256,913 & 85,070 ‘dwelling units’ were built in ’61-’70, ’71-80, ’81-’90, ’91-2000 & 2001-10 respectively. The leasehold balance of the units will continue to age  – and their values will correspondingly depreciate.
What then for 2,3 generations of daft ones believing in ‘unlocking’ a sure-bet basic roof over one’s head?

*What if, like the situation that is unfolding before our very eyes today, one happens to ‘retire’ and need to unlock one’s housing – only to face a real estate market in decline with falling prices? And, of course, with Murphy’s Law, that usually happens with one losing one’s job as well.

*Aside from the cold, hard numbers, forcing, coercing or enticing retirees to sell off, rent out one’s ‘home’ where privacy and dignity should be the least one’s left to ask of this life – how’s that for a sense of humanity for fellow we-the-citizens who are less naturally-endowed, less talented to earn more than enough to survive when able-bodied? A heart-of-stone approach to governing?

 

While I acknowledge the arguments that Yeoh Lam Keong advances for improvements to the 3 pillars to ‘fill up’ our retirement nest, I find it disappointing that the issue of ‘leaks’ from that nest via rent-seeking prices on our public housing is not categorically dealt with at all.

The above factual and situational scenarios I have listed are by not means exhaustive. There are many other unforeseen and unforeseeable developments. Developments that will sink Tharman’s assertion, nay, boast that the PAP’s continuously-managed-for-60 years CPF is built on false hope and Ponzi-like foundations, at least for the less capable ones amongst we-the-citizens.
Will the real Tharman please ‘discuss things openly, tell people the truth’?

In our next post, we try to understand the truth behind Tharman’s modest response to calls for his premiership.

Law Kim Hwee


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Minority President: The Truth Behind The Beauty of Symbolism

Let’s try to ‘rescue truth from beauty’….

Truth vs Beauty

“It is a very necessary symbolism of what we are as a multiracial society – what Singapore means, stands for and what we aspire to be.” PM Lee Hsien Loong

The beauty of a symbolic minority-race Singapore President, albeit an elected one, is that those of the majority race can say with a straight face that the tyranny of the ethnic majority does not exist in Singapore.

But the truth is that the Malays, in particular, continue to be discriminated against in the military, the civil service and select cabinet portfolios – after half a century as an independent Singapore.

Likewise, and perhaps sadder still, the truth is that the Singapore female, at a 1.036 ratio higher than male, continues to be overwhelmingly under-represented in the top echelons of the cabinet, among MPs and the civil service – after half a century of universal education for all regardless of sex.

Do the above racial and gender (factual) situations not deserve the same ‘very necessary symbolism of what we are as a multiracial society’, Mr Prime Minister?

Symbolism With Substance
Symbolism taken to its progressive, logical end can only mean proportional representation across racial and gender lines and across all offices. That, however, is neither a realistic nor a wise approach given the self-evident differences in human beings, as much as the similarities we all share. Whilst proportionality ensures all categories of people have a seat at the table, society may not be prepared to pay the price of a slower and, probably, lower average rate of material progress.

PM himself admits ‘the head of state represents all Singaporeans‘ – more a figurehead than an elected office bearer – with nothing much needed to show for. Hence, would not the ‘very necessary symbolism’ that the PM so believes in be truly better served with symbolism in offices of true substance – where the office bearer or appointee gets the opportunity to show her/his leadership competence in the military, civil service and cabinet?

What’s more, what does it mean to claim, ‘yes, this is my country. Someone like me can become the head of state, can represent the country‘ when only the daft ones will not know that that Malay, Indian or Eurasian President is only there because it is her/his turn to occupy the Istana as a mere symbol of multi-racialism?

Symbolism vs Tokenism vs…Puppetism
To get a clearer understanding, we look up any reputable dictionary to understand what ‘symbolism’ and, its very close synonym, ‘tokenism’ mean.

sym·bol·ism

n.1. The practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships.

to·ken·ism

n.1. The policy of making only a perfunctory effort or symbolic gesture toward the accomplishment of a goal, such as racial integration.

As can be seen, what PM Lee tries to sell to us is for the minority-race President to ‘attribute symbolic meanings or significance’ to our belief in multi-racialism. But, isn’t it clearer still that, since he is not interested whatsoever in addressing the as-very-necessary racial and gender symbolism in the military, civil service and cabinet, what Singaporeans, especially the aggrieved minorities are being shortchanged with ‘tokenism’ i.e. ‘making only perfunctory effort or symbolic gesture’ towards multi-racialism?

The analysis leads us inevitably to the truth behind the beauty of a tokenism devised and disguised as ‘a very necessary symbolism‘. One designed to advance the PAP imperative for puppetism in order to serve its party dominance in Singapore. in order that they, the natural aristocrats, can ‘decide what is right. Never mind what the people think‘. Never mind what the elected President thinks.

The ultimate survival of Singapore is secondary to that imperative of PAP dominance. Thus, expect a superficial, wayang-like parliamentary debate where PM Lee will ‘persuade you that it is something that we should do and which is good for Singapore’.

If he truly believes in the strength of his argument, he’d put the proposed amendments to a referendum. Tetapi Perdana Menteri tidak mempunyai bola, methinks.