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Dear Dr Tan 

It has been four months since the 28 July, SDP-initiated discussion to form a new opposition coalition. But there appears to be no progress since. If our past is prologue, the formation of any alliance is dead in the water. The 2001 Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) made no meaningful headway with only Mr Chiam See Tong retaining his pre-SDA Potong Pasir seat while SDA’s chairman Desmond Lim set the “record for the lowest percentage garnered in an election since Singapore’s independence” or 168 votes (0.57%)


There’s already a very well-written analysis of why the “coalition of convenience will not make minor opposition parties electable”. https://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2018/08/15/coalition-of-convenience-will-not-make-minor-opposition-parties-electable/ 

I would like to add my observations.

Everyone wants to be secretary-general

…and not necessarily in the better interest of Singaporeans or the opposition cause. It’s mostly just to have a frontseat at the table. My GE2015 experiene suggested to me that most opposition parties have less than 100 members each and even lesser than 20 who are active.

 Consider; and one must wonder why, after being graciously accepted in April 2011 to contest under SDP in GE 2011 in May, some candidates would then decide to quit SDP to form anothernew political party. Or, what is one to make of another secretary-general-wannabe pledging “total commitment to the coalition” when there was no evidence of he ever seeking to work within existing, alternative parties? Instead he hastily formed another party after resigning from one.

Fence-sitting voters, prepared to give the opposition a chance, are not that dumb not to see through the charade.

 Self over Cause?

Some had fought the opposition cause for many elections. Now, they appear to think that voters owe it to them to elect them into parliament – all because they had fought this long and paid a high personal price doing it. Persistence is neither reason nor justification to insist on taking leadership positions when the electorate has apparently made clear through the ballot box as many times that they just had not measured up to expectations – or came with too many historical baggage.

This is especially true if one cannot even secure 40% votes in a by-election. Yes, a by-election where voters are already “assured” of a PAP government and are more inclined to vote in an opposition MP! Isn’t it painfully clear why Bt Batok voters were so reluctant to tip that opposition candidate over into parliament when the understandable concern of a voting a non-PAP government was non-extant?

No, sir. Your time as party leader is up. Please, for Singapore’s sake, let your cause that you have invested in, outlast, outlive you. Thank you for your service. It’s past time that someone else takes the baton and you play a less glamorous but no-less vital supporting role – if you are truly vested in the good of Singaporeans and Singapore.

 Opposition Party? What Party?

The Workers’ Party and SDP excepted, many of the other opposition parties’ candidate-support structures were a joke compared to what they were up against i.e. the well-oiled, well-funded PAP monster election machinery. Many so-called opposition parties come with a sec-gen and just a handful of members (active? non-active?) that you can count on one, maybe two hands.

Therefore, in light of all the above realities, Dr Tan, you won’t be losing very much, if at all, not to head any coalition. You are wise to have withheld acceptance to lead a non-starter of a coalition. 

Now, what?

Unless the Workers Party is prepared to carve a role for you in the coalition or their party (very unlikely), you are much better off on your own, with a clean slate. Trying to insert yourself into the mishmash of opposition parties meansfinding the lowest common denominator amongst all the sec-gens – a hopeless proposition against the PAP’s overwhelmingly successful 12 x GE juggernaut. why not capitalize on the strength of your own name andreputation amongst voters? Choose a path forward – and if anyone wishes to ride with you, well, youand not those sec-gens decide the goal, direction and terms of theride.

The urgency and the goal is to create a focal point for the groundswell of voters questioning the competence of PAP’s current slate of leaders and the PAP’s old, albeit past successful policies (housing as assets, inadequacies of CPF for health and retirement, cost of living etc) which are nowshowing up but which the PAP continueto fudge and fortify, never admitting to being mistaken or wrong.Time is critical to draw in more voters on the peripheral into that groundswell.

Forget unitingthe opposition. Instead, Dr Tan, please seek to coalesce and unite the people’s anger, frustrations, cries, disbeliefs – and surely, the other opposition parties willfall in place – if they want to stay relevant toand true tothe cause of building a stronger, more inclusive Singapore. 

A broader common goal for all non-PAP forces is to deny the PAP their 2/3 pariliamentary majority. While the next GE objectiveis for you to win aGRC, if not two. If you are able to do that – and surely it can be done! – then with 3 to 10 MPs under youand together with WP and others, Singaporeans will see that the PAP can no longer run this place like it belongs to their party – or their father– like changing the Constitution to put their preferred Indian-Malay or Malay-Indian? candidate as President.

From gaining 1/3 of parliamentary seats, the momentum towards change will then be more doable. And, perhaps, an opposition alliance in the GE after the next will be a viable option, not a pipe dream. We owe it to Singaporeans to do that.

What’s next?

This is where our election history informs us.

Mr Chiam and Mr Low all won their parliamentary seats only after walking and working the grounds week-in, week-out. This is perhapsthe only proven way to win voters hearts and minds. No webcast, no newsletter, no FB posts can substitute for walking and working the ground in person. That’s the S$5000/- lesson I learnt in GE 2015.

Hence,the next step will be to identify the GRCs or SMCs to contest in. But we also know that the PAP are dirty – filthy actually – political practitioners, always ready to gerrymander to their advantage. That is a given that we will live with it. But if we go on the walkabouts single-mindedly, deliberately, regularly, humbly and gerrymandering occurs the next GE, voters will have another reason to carefully consider how they have been manipulated – and hence vote even more wisely.

Once the GRCs/SMCs are identified, the hard work begins.

And next?

You will need a competent and totally-committed campaign manager from the very start. He hasto give shape and sharpness to your campaign. He will have to plan, execute and also instill discipline to your team – the way the Ng Eng Hen did in GE2015. 


In your legal battle on the presidential election, you were right to decide to spend your own money to engage aQueen’s Counsel. But in your Facebook, I suggested that to bolster the psychological winds behind yourcause, you should nonetheless appeal to Singaporeans to contribute money to the legal effort. Butyou should guarantee that whatever money Singaporeans contribute will NOT be used to pay for your activities and instead given to charity. All contributions received will be professionally and transparently audited by an established auditor.

Imagine if you had raised S$100,000 from 100,000, 200,000 or moreSingaporeans then! That would send a message to the PAP – and to Singaporeans, too, wouldn’t it?


My 2cents’ worth of appeal and ideas can surely be refined and reinforced. But I sincerely hope you will give it your careful considerations. 

LAW Kim Hwee


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SMRT CEO Neo: Stating A Fact To Hide A Truth

I do commend Neo Kian Hong’s decision to ditch his car and not buy a new one “because it is more useful for me to take the MRT to understand the issues and take our company’s assets like our taxis and buses”. Early in my corporate life, my MD introduced me to the concept of “management by walking/wandering around” (MBWA). And, along the way, I also learned “the map is not the territory”, which I used to remind myself that the data or information landing on my desk gave but a model of what was actually happening on the ground – which may or may not be the same thing.
Aside from the obvious criticisms of the PAP government (via Temasek Holdings helmed by Mrs Lee Hsien Loong) using GLCs to reward, to reinforce loyalty of their own elites (mostly, ex-generals or PAP apparatchiki, ex-ministers) with an iron rice bowl in businesses that some are only remotely qualified, at SMRT, there was little doubt that ex-CEO Desmond Kuek was mostly managing behind his desk with statistics, charts, reports and boardroom meetings. Not a bad stint Kuek had with more than an estimated S$10 mil for his near-six year tenure, considering that the first (?) SMRT deaths of two employees under his watch. Peasant lives are cheap in Singapore.
Regardless, new honcho Neo should be applauded for getting his butt off his CEO chair – and personal car – to try his hand at MBWA and travelling from point A to point B using SMRT’s assets (buses, taxis and trains).
I personally wish him good luck in his role.
But, by the way, Mr Neo, we all know that CEOs of a company the size of SMRT are entitled to and given a luxury car at his disposal and personal use – driver included.
So, unless you come forward to say that you are declining the use of the company car, you are merely stating a fact about your personal car ownership but hoping to hide the truththat you see an opportunity to save on the horrendous cost of car ownership in Singapore while trying to impress or mislead your audience.
Fake news?
Or just another bird of the same feather doing the PAP leaders’ and elites’ penchant for speaking facts while hiding truths? Remember, the factually-correct but truthfully-distracting “there are no dead poor in Singapore” assertion?
Anyway, “Good luck, Mr Neo! Thank you so much for your paid-‘volunteering’ for the SMRT job.” Khaw Boon Wan will have your back, you can count on it!

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We Will Be What They Read…

Ahead of National Reading Day, 28 July, eight 4G ministers were interviewed on their current reading. No prizes for guessing how our image-conscious ministers would use the opportunity to burnish their credentials to show how they are atop their game to be your leaders – even with the books they are now reading. If only the first prize number for Saturday’s 4D draw was that predictable.

Vivian Balakrishnan, Foreign Affairs,
– Skin In The Game: Hidden Asymmetries In Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a non-fiction book about risk and reward.

Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth,
– Thank You For Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman, about major trends affecting the world today and how we can thrive in this age of accelerations.
– World Order by Henry Kissinger. “I had many ‘aha!’ moments when reading World Order, especially in understanding the psyche of nations through his interpretation of history.”
– Quest For Chinese Culture by Yu Qiuyu. Yu compares and contrasts different philosophers, such as Confucius, Mencius and Laozi, using simple and easy-to-read language.
– The Okinawa Program: How The World’s Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health – And How You Can Too by Bradley J. Willcox, D. Craig Willcox and Makoto Suzuki.

Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources
– The Way Of The Strangers: Encounters With The Islamic State by Graeme Wood.

Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education
– Homo Deus: A Brief History Of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, which is a sequel to Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind.

Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Trade and Industry
– The China Questions: Critical Insights Into A Rising Power, edited by Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi, a collection of essays by 36 experts on China.

S. Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information
– Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth And Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, a look at how people make decisions;
– Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy Of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari, about the 1947 partition of India;
– The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice From The Silence Of Autism by Naoki Higashida, written by a 13-year-old Japanese boy with severe autism spectrum disorder and translated into English in 2013 by Keiko Yoshida and her husband, author David Mitchell.

Ng Chee Meng, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office and Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress
– The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo,
– Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari,
– National Day Rally Speeches by National Archives of Singapore.

Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance
– Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics Of Artificial Intelligence by Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb.

Take note: they are almost all focused mostly if not only on reading social sciences books. NARY A SINGLE FICTION BOOK, or any of a pure humanity subject.

It is a self-evident truth that our choice of books informs and forms our view of the world.

So, while both “Humanities and social sciences deal with human aspects like politics, law, linguistics, economics, and psychology, one major difference between the two is that humanities involve a more critical and analytical approach whereas social sciences deal with more of a scientific approach.

And, for all the PAP’s yak-yak about inequality and the need to “level up” ad nauseam, zero out of eight 4G ministers are reading up on research work or ideas to actually help walk their talk.

So, my dear younger fellow Singaporeans, you can pretty much expect that we will live in a Singapore governed with little soul or spirit but more of science and schema. Lots lots of head, little or no heart for our people.

Brace yourselves and…

“Watch the days, make your plans
Change in ways, your lives demand….” Read widely. Vote wisely.

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Leadership Planning ll: The Best-laid Plans of Mice and Men…

It bears repeating: One, the leadership of PAP should and must not be conflated with Singapore’s leadership and two, Singaporeans deserve the leaders and leadership we elect.

Consider this famous (mis)quote, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America”? (Charles E Wilson, President GM, 15-16 Jan 1958). Read how the quote came to be here. Misquote or not, therein lies a lesson for Singaporeans fed on a constant diet of PAP propaganda that, without the PAP, Singapore will sink.

The PAP prides itself in having a proven leadership succession process. Though the plan and process are public knowledge, the procedure is opaque to Singaporeans. Under Lee Hsien Loong, that plan is now in kilter, But the PAP will never admit their plan is out of whack. Check out this video to see how PAP’s sec-gen tries to worm his way out of his failing self-declared “urgent task…(that) we don’t have the time to lose” when asked.

So, here we find ourselves, our elected political party making promises of a smooth transition but failing to deliver on time. Are their pride and sticking to party-focused procedures more important than what’s best for Singapore and Singaporeans? What’s good for PAP is good for Singapore?

Singaporeans are not the only ones expecting the well-executed transition promised. Foreign investors’ expectations, too, must be considered.

WHY should the ship of Singapore be hostage to a political party’s internal succession formula with its fixed, perhaps outdated, methodology?

Without saying too much about the international stature (if any, to speak of) of the 3 potential PMs-in-waiting (Heng SK, Chan CS, Ong YK), that there is no consensus amongst their peers is evidence that even within the party, confidence in any one of them to lead is lacking. Aside from the probable (unseen) squabbles within the PAP senior cabal over personal preferred choices, the three’s own 4G colleagues are also clueless even after sizing each out up since GE2006.

Perhaps, the conundrum is fully understandable when we consider each candidate’s pitiful  dearth of meaningful, quantifiable performance:

Heng SK helmed the ministry of education – can anyone name any change he made that resonate with meaningful impact on our children’s education? How about as minister of finance?

Chan CS – acting minister for community development, youth & sports (17 months), 2nd minster for defence (19 months), minister for social & family development (20 months), sec-gen NTUC (34 months to date); pray tell the defining achievements Ah Chan brought in his musical chair act.

Ong YK – who couldn’t win over voters on his first 2011 try under George Yeo’s coattail, then, instead of working the Aljunied ground, ran off to comfortably bide his time as director of strategy, Keppel Corp (2013-2015), and succeeded only in his second under-the-coattail GRC attempt in GE2015…a ‘leader’ who couldn’t even win his MP seat on his own or his first attempt and needed a safer GRC to sneak in as MP…a leader? a PM choice?

Enough said.

We have shown that PAP’s succession plan is either fake or has failed. Now, we assess the 3 PMs-in-waiting to be neither proven nor adequately, let alone well-prepared enough to inspire confidence with Singaporeans or foreigners.

So, wither Singapore?

No need to regret how we voted our way here. Let’s play the cards we are dealt.

First, let us make it clear to PAP that what worked before is no guarantee to work now.
The times have changed. It’s not 1990 or 2004. And the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Sticking to PAP’s fixed plan now is surely, demonstrably unwise.

It is time PAP leaders act on their own lecture to citizens on “change”, getting a “new mindset”.

Second, let’s demand for Tharman Shanmugaratnam to be our next PM. Here are just 3 reasons why Tharman is the man-of-the-hour for Singapore.

* Nobody, including Lee Hsien Loong, has the same proven record as him on the international stage. He stands as the only leader who is recognised and respected for his expertise enough to chair (or chaired) G20 Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance (2017- ), the Group of Thirty (2017- ) and the IMF Committee (2011-15).

A recognised and accepted ‘brandname’ to inspire continued confidence in Singapore. Look, even GCT got no invitation from the likes of Total, Daimler-Chrysler, JP Morgan (which had LKY on as advisor).

*  He has the breath, depth and proven track record of ministerial experience across diverse portfolios over a 16-year period. None of the potential PMs-in-waiting even come close.

* And, most important to my mind, he has explicitly stated that he is not interested to be PM. Who knows what lurk behind those 3 in the running to be PM? None of whom denies he’s interested in (if not secretly gunning for) the power and prestige the office brings.

So what if Tharman as PM is outside PAP’s playbook? Let’s remember, what’s good for PAP is not necessarily good for Singapore and Singaporeans.

How does it matter that “the ruling party is operating under the assumption that majority Chinese Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese premier“? Remember PE2017, despite the clear signs that not just the Indians but majority Chinese and even a sizeable Malay voter block were not sold on a Malay President except on merits, LHL used his PM office – and the Parliament – to expend tremendous capital and ultra-ordinary urgency to push for a Malay (minority) Executive President.

Now, we should ask him, “Is the PM’s position more critical to Singapore’s wellbeing than that of President?” If so, what is stopping him from doing the same for a minority Indian Prime Minister. Isn’t that being racist?

And come on, Tharman is 1000%, yes 1000%, more credible and up to the job than Halimah! Besides, there is absolutely no question of Tharman even remotely thought by voters to be attracted to an increase in his salary!

Singaporeans must do more than respond to a Yahoo survey.  Let’s assert our constitutional right to agitate for Tharman as Singapore PM #4.

As for Tharman’s personal disposition and disinterest to be PM…? Well, Mr Shanmugaratnam, Singapore NEEDS YOU NOW!

Destiny calls.


(Epilogue: Some will say Teo Chee Hean has qualifications similar to Tharman. Well, domestically yes. But internationally, not by a mile. And, let’s be blunt about it, if Teo is elevated over Tharman, wouldn’t that mean PAP really, really is racist?)
Law Kim Hwee


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Leadership Planning l: A Fake Or Failed PAP Loong-In-The-Tooth Promise

Let us keep in mind two truths; one, PAP leadership should and must not be conflated with Singapore leadership and two, Singaporeans deserve the leaders and leadership we elect.

It was the first generation PAP leaders (not just LKY himself alone) who realized the critical importance of early leadership renewal to Singapore. To a large extent – and to all their credit, including Mr Toh Chin Chai (who objected to the pace of leadership renewal) – they showed they were able to attract a diverse 2nd generation of potential leaders compared to the mostly SAF ones Singaporeans now live with.

Fast forward to the day, 13 Aug 2004, when Lee Hsien Loong was sworn in as PM. This was what he promised Singaporeans:

21 Hence, leadership succession will be one of my top priorities. We must continue to search for younger Singaporeans in their early 30s and 40s to rejuvenate the team, to inject new perspectives and to prepare for leadership succession at all levels – ministers, MPs, at the grassroots, in the trade unions

Make no mistake of the significance. That “leadership succession” commitment was the first he mentioned in his speech after all the introductory remarks.

Then, as if to convince Singaporeans further, he restated the his intention days later at his first National Rally, 22 Aug 2004.

Political self-renewal is critical to Singapore.  Chok Tong started talent-scouting before he became PM…And I’ve got to do the same.

But sadly, after the “top priority” was paid its lip service, he conveniently forgot about it for the next 13 years in all his major speeches…except when it suited his PAP immediate goals to gain votes during election time in order to continue PAP’s dominance of parliament.

Sadder still, no MPs, no grassroots leaders nor anyone in trade unions – and least of all, the Straits Times (ST) – say anything to hold Lee Hsien Loong to account for his “top priority” commitment. The latter reports only on the issue what they appear to be instructed to report to Singaporeans. Incredibly, ST editors and writers spin the issue in a way that is almost entirely positive:

Picking SG’s next PM: The 4G16 has shown its hand and it is good
4G ministers are a serious-minded and cohesive team

More than that, to try to cover up for the fake or failed loong-in-the-tooth promise, ST even offers as an “insight” (how else to characterize the propaganda since it is their ‘Insight Editor’ who wrote it?) for Singaporeans as a fall-back plan,

Should PM Lee Hsien Loong lead beyond 70?

Or are there some unknown, unknowable or unmentionable motivations for PM Lee to continue for longer? Our guess is as good as…well, ‘it’s already happened, let’s move on’.

So, how did the PAP end up with a break to their vaunted and oft-tooted boast and promise of ensuring PAP-type continuity for Singaporeans? Maybe, Goh Chok Tong is getting a taste of his own silly, ineffectual “ownself-check-ownself” prescription, evidenced by his need to nudge the issue.

Regardless all the charade that is played out, broadcast entirely by PAP-controlled media to paper over the failure, what are the possible explanations?

One, Lee Hsien Loong, for all his initial claims of leadership renewal as a “top priority”,  has been overwhelmed by other matters that crossed his path.

Two, he must understand how important and helpful it is to put in place a successor on a long runway as preparation to take over from him. He himself was given no less than 17 years full cabinet experience across various ministries. Why would he deny his potential successor that exposure and benefit? For fear that the latter will outshine his performance as PM?

Three, his leadership style and performance could not win over the many potential successors (with track records other than in the SAF or civil service) who we will never know.

Four, could it be possible that Lee Hsien Loong wants to cling on to his premier position for reasons best known to himself?

Or a combination of some or all the above possibilities to explain the failure. Objectively speaking, it is a FAILURE if and when you set out a goal but do not achieve it. If not, it is a FAKE commitment all along. In which case, it is a success since you manage to achieve your hidden agenda under the cover of the stated goal.

Thinking Singaporeans may wish to hold the PAP they have elected to account on this leadership renewal planning commitment, which was used to gain their votes and ask, “Is that a fake or failed loong-in-the-tooth promise?”

Law Kim Hwee
a.k.a. 2cents




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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.

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 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.

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


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?


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)?

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.


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