Saturday, November 25, 2006

Unemployment Is Good

Chua Mui Hoong’s recent article in the Straits Times (Review, 24 Nov 2006) contains a spirited defence of the various fee hikes instituted by the government since this past general election: June-electricity tariffs up by 2.3 per cent; July-taxi fares went up, flag-down fare increased by $0.10 cents to $2.50, peak hour surcharge increased from $1.00 to $2.00; August-Electronic Road Pricing fees at 6 key expressway gantries raised; October-bus and train fares go up by 1 to 3 cents; December-local postage go up 9%; Next year-GST to go up from 5% to 7%.
Her basic argument is as follows:
“If price hikes were severe after elections, then inflation rate should go up a year after elections. But the data show otherwise. Since 1980, the inflation rate has consistently gone down one year after all elections.”
The article considers the history of fee hikes after each general election, and attempts to refute the politically “seductive argument” put forward by “cynics” to the effect that fee hikes have always been the consequence of PAP win at the polls. It is also notable her statistics also show that as unemployment goes up, inflation goes down. Ergo, unemployment is good for the economy.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Man Who Loves Singapore

This is what a Finn by the name of Mika Sampovaara wrote that was published by the Straits Times on Saturday, November 18, 2006:

He left welfare state to come to Singapore

I would like to commend Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for sticking to the Singaporean economic model.

I read with interest his views regarding Scandinavian welfare states. I am from one of them: Finland.

While it is true that there is more 'welfare' in Scandinavia, it comes at a price. Public spending in my country stands at 25 per cent of GDP, twice that of Singapore.

The government in Finland spends vast amounts of money on free health care and education, nearly twice the 8 per cent of GDP spent in Singapore. Having been to Changi hospital I can say that health care here is no worse than in my country and the charges are very reasonable. My point is it doesn't have to be free.

It's a question of choice and pricing. The public sector typically does not run the most efficient services, because the services are non-competitive.

Singapore runs a tighter ship, because it's only partially subsidised. Compulsory savings schemes for health care and pensions are a far better way. So is taxing consumption over income.

Many people in my country give up half or more of their gross incomes to finance the almighty welfare state. This serves to promote equality of sorts and creates a vast middle class. It also stifles entrepreneurism and leads to voluntary unemployment. The cost of living is higher too, with GST at 22 per cent.

I disagreed with the crushing taxes in my country. It is for this reason that I came to Singapore, and was happy to give up the benefits I had paid for over the years.

Long live the Singaporean model.

Mika Sampovaara

So who is this Mika? Apparently, he is a derivatives trader. Want to know more? Read this news extract:

Owner allegedly attacked after her pet dashed into man's path
By Chong Chee Kin

"Her dog crossed his path and it may cost him an arm and a leg for lashing out - not at the dog but its owner. Mika Johannes Sampovaara is accused of attacking Madam Mindy Tan Lay Eng outside her home in Roseburn Avenue in Siglap.

Her golden retriever apparently ran out of the house and into his path while he was out walking his dog at about 8pm on Feb 4 last year.

The 35-year-old permanent resident of Finnish descent then allegedly punched Madam Tan around her left eye, drawing blood at her eyelid. Next, he allegedly shoved her hard on her shoulder, causing her to fall to the ground. He could go to jail for that. Instead, he is offering her $38,000 as compensation and an apology.

But she wants more: $50,000.

No mention was made in court yesterday of what exactly provoked the alleged assault, or if her dog attacked him.

Sampovaara faces two charges - causing hurt to Madam Tan, and using criminal force on her.

Yesterday, his lawyer, Mr Godwin Campos, asked District Judge F.G. Remedios for more time to let his client 'negotiate' with Madam Tan. Sampovaara wanted to compound the offences by offering $38,000 compensation and an apology to Madam Tan. Compounding an offence involves paying compensation or apologising to the alleged victim, to consider withdrawing the charge. If the alleged victim is agreeable, the prosecution can apply to the court to withdraw the charge. If the judge grants the application, it amounts to an acquittal.

In this case, the judge agreed to give more time for negotiations though he noted the case has been before the court for a while. Sampovaara was charged in July 2005.

The judge adjourned the hearing for three weeks until Feb 2 2006 after Madam Tan's lawyer, Mr Anand Nalachandran, who was holding a watching brief, did not raise any objections to the request. If convicted, Sampovaara could be fined $1,000 and jailed up to one year."

Channel NewsAsia later reported that Sammpovaara got off with a $1000 fine. Tan may take a civil suit against Sampovaara for the injuries she suffered.

Coincidence? At least one interneter thinks not. "I dont think anybody ever said Singapore is not a paradise for high income high net worth individuals, especially foreigners who eat here, shit here, punch people here and get away with light sentence. Somehow, I dont think he gave up his Finnish citizenship, and probably intends to return to Finland after he is done milking Singapore. What a hypocrite."

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Difference In Perspective

Many woes 'which may get worse'
Straits Times, 16 Nov 2006

The Chairman of a group of Muslim professions see a gloomy future for his community, saying that all signs point to a worsening situation over time. And what is needed, said Mr Imram Mohamed from the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), is a mindset change or the community will continue to be beset by its many problems.

A disproportionately high number of Malay-Muslims are in drug inhabilitation centres and prisons, as well as in the low-income group. Youth delinquency, promiscuity and teen pregnancy are prevalent. The community's educational achievements lag behind those of others, especially at higher levels.
"All indications are, the situation will get worse over time," Mr Imran told about 500 people at a dinner to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his self-help group. "It is crucial that this trend be reversed if we are not to end up as a largely under-classed community, having to depend on handouts from others."

AMP was formed in 1991 by a group of Malay-Muslim professionals who wanted to contribute to the community independently of government-led efforts. It runs, among others, a range of social assistance and worker training programmes, and has been working closely with Mendaki to solve the community's problems.
However, Mr Imran, a retired airline executive and former Nominated Member of Parliament, seems disappointed with the progress made.

"Our community has not responded well to the new economy and is not poised to meet the challenges of globalisation and stiff comepetition," he said, describing the Malay-Muslims' socio-economic situation as "far from satisfactory".
Mr Imram, however, acknowledged that AMP staff and volunteers, Malay-Muslim MPs and other community organisations have contributed to help the needy. Many in his community enjoy the tangible benefits from Singapore's prosperity, he said. Also, the community cooperates closely with political leaders. "The positive outlook, however, stops there," he added.

He suggested two ways to lift the community from the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
One, the Government could work with employers and unions to lift the wages or low-income workers.
Two,the community itself has to undergo a mindset change. AMP believes the prevalent mindset, which promotes mediocrity, is the main obstacle to success, said Mr Imram.

Malay-Muslims must believe "that it is as important to do well in this life as in the next," he said, calling on Malay-Muslim organisations and religious teachers to help push this view.

The impact on their guest of honour was not lost.

The presence of a Malay-Muslim professional class is "living proof" of the community's capabilities, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Balakrishnan made the off-the-cuff response to the AMP chairman Imram Mohamed.

The minister had prepared a speech for the AMP anniversary celebration. But after listening to Mr Imram, he put it aside and said: "Let me respond not as a minister, let me respond... as a brother or as a cousin who I hope understands some of your anxieties but also has your interests at heart."
Describing Mr Imram's speech as "sincere,heartfelt", he said it referred to "real problems and real challenges facing the Malay-Muslim community."

The minister did not agree with Mr Imram's point that lower-income workers should be cushioned from the impact of globalisaion and foreign workers, by being given higher wages. Protecting them from competition would not solve the problems they faced, he said. "The long term solution remains more education and creating more professionals."

Balakrishnan also said that another way to get ahead is for Malay-Muslim Singaporeans to participate fully in all opportunities available to them. "In order for a minority community to do well in a multiracial, globalised environment, we need to engage with the other communities and we need to integrate with the mainstream of social life."

Friday, November 03, 2006

On Handling The Brutal Truth

Original article printed in "TODAY", 3 Nov 2003, by Val Chua:

Emotions ran high on a balmy Sunday night as the normally stoic Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew nearly broke down while recounting the ordeal his wife went through in London recently.

The troubles that the couple faced - including joining a queue in a free hospital - when Mrs Lee was hit by stroke two Sundays ago, revealed how differently two systems worked.

"I cannot tell you how restless and unhappy we felt," he said at a community event in Jalan Bukit Merah yesterday.

"We run a (healthcare) system where you have to co-pay ... but you get the attention. There, no attention, just join the queue," he said grimly.

The first sign of trouble was that there was no private hospital with CT scan facility at night in London, he told residents and community leaders.

So, Mrs Lee had to go to the NHS hospital nearest to the Four Seasons Hotel where they were staying - a free facility called the Royal London Hospital - and join the queue.

"We waited 45 minutes for the ambulance for a 10-minute drive," said Mr Lee in his first public appearance since the couple returned on Friday.

"In Singapore, within half-an-hour, you would be in SGH (Singapore General Hospital), TTSH (Tan Tock Seng Hospital) ... and within one-and-a-half to two hours flat, you'd know what went wrong."

When Mrs Lee reached The Royal London Hospital at 12.30am, it happened to have three cardiac arrest patients.

Mr Lee was told his wife's brain problem was "not as important" as the cardiac arrest cases, he recounted solemnly. She would have had to wait till 8am the next morning for her CT brain scan if 10 Downing Street had not intervened to get her early attention. High Commissioner Michael Teo had sought help from 10 Downing Street at 2am on Sunday and she received treatment at 3.30am on the night itself.

"Once upon a time, it was a wonderful hospital. But after 40 plus years ... the system cannot deliver. There's no connection between those in the system and the patients," he said.

But it's the way free healthcare systems work, he added, noting that Singapore must not go down that path, even though there are calls for free C class wards in public hospitals here.

"It's how the system works ... They did not discriminate against us," he noted of his London experience.

This contrasted sharply with how quickly Singaporeans - including national carrier Singapore Airlines - reacted to the situation.

Even though doctors initially advised that Mrs Lee stay put in London for three weeks, Mr Lee decided fly her back once her condition stabilised.

And then there was the big worry that she would get a spasm onboard, he recounted.

But he needn't have worried. Within 48 hours, SIA had fitted out SQ321 with medical support of oxygen tanks and other fixtures for a drip.

"No other airline would have done this," Mr Lee said, looking visibly touched.

On board were also two Intensive Care nurses from Changi General Hospital, two doctors, as well as officials from SIA who made sure all the equipment worked.

"Everyone knows his job," said Mr Lee. "Within 12 to 13 hours, we'd reached Changi Airport. It was a big relief," he said. "Twelve to 13 hours. Your heart stops beating sometimes. We landed at Changi Airport. Great relief. I had my granddaughter (Li Xiuqi) with me. She is very fond of her grandmother. She was so relieved."

Mrs Lee was whisked off in an ambulance to Singapore General Hospital, where she is recovering.

"I think this experience has changed my granddaughter's view of Singapore," Mr Lee said.

The overseas ordeal has made him even more assured that Singapore has what it takes to succeed, despite the downturn. "It's how we respond in an emergency that determines how we fight back. And I have enormous confidence that we can fight back."

The Singapore system - with its efficiency and fighting spirit - must be kept, he said.

"You slacken, you choose the easy way, and you'd be finished," he said.

Choking back tears, he added: "I have immense confidence that in an emergency, our people respond ... If we can do that, we can succeed."

Here's the internet version of the aftermath making its rounds, after news broke today that Editor Mano Sabnani has been axed:

LKY's press secretary summoned Shaun Seow, Mano Sabnani, Rahul Singh, Bachchan Singh and Val Chua for a dressing down at the Istana. He chided the newspaper for running provocative stories that are out of bounds.

TODAY was asked to explain what service it does to the nation and why it shouldn't be closed down. Mediacorp was ordered to supervise TODAY more closely or it will be punished too. Also, all reports on local news must be written by locals, no foreigners allowed.

The chief editor, Mano Sabnani, was demoted. He still held the title, but he must from then on report to Shaun Seow, CEO Mediacorp Channel News Asia. Shaun was previously in the news when his wife Zahara Latif poured boiling water on her maid and pushed her down a flight of stairs. Zahara paid a huge sum to the maid and pleaded mental unsoundness and got off with a light sentence. Others were less fortunate.

The deputy editor Rahul was demoted to night desk to be together with the other night editor Bachchan Singh.

The reporter Val Chua changed to writing advertising features for DBS and other banks. Her press pass was withdrawn and she could no longer report news. She kept her job and thence reported directly to an old ex-Reuters editor hired in September by TODAY to consolidate operations.

TODAY was told it had crossed the line and the media license will be withdrawn if it writes in such a way as to provoke bad feelings which may lead to public unhappiness.