Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Comic Utterrance of a Senior Minister

SM Goh Chok Tong had asked, quite comically, how many had followed the tragic events in Japan with the tsunami ... and then put into context our floods in Singapore against that kind of disaster. He said:"I am not saying we shouldn't do anything about the flood. But the amount of noise you made with just sporadic flood compared to the Japanese. I saw them on TV. Very stoic looking. You don't see them crying. This has happened, just get on, that's the kind of spirit you want to have and you call it nation building."

Bravo SM Goh, coming from a minister drawing millions of dollars of obscene pay, about five times the modest pay of a Japanese minister. The Japanese are stoic looking in such a gigantic disaster because they have decent ministers who do not pay themselves outrageously from taxpayers' money, and yet are efficient in solving the people's problems. The way the Japanese ministers, led by their prime minister, in bringing succour to the devastated population in this tsunami disaster against colossal logistical odds can engender the kind of stoic look extolled by SM Goh.

Any why cannot the fastidious Singaporeans exibit that kind of spirit? Take the Enviroment Minister, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, for example. He draws a salary four to five times that of a Japanese minister and during the Orchard Road deluge, he made himself scarce leaving the flustered shop-keepers and traders to fend for themselves fighting the flood resulting in thousands, if not millions, of dollars in loss or damage to property. Dr Yaacob was also the prophet to say that such flood occurred once in fifty years. So how can Singaporeans be stoic looking like the Japanese when our ministers' dedication is seen to be so inferior to the Japanese, in spite of our ministers' astronomical pay. So it is necessary for Singaporeans to make appropriate noises from time to time to jolt our ministers out of their apparent lethargy or complacency.

The ministers' astronomical pay should be a sore point with Singaporeans and opposition parties should exploit it in their election campaigns. To add to the insult, the ministers are paying themselves eight months' bonus. Singaporeans should be made aware of the preposterous situation where the PAP government pay their ministers outrageous increases or bonuses whenever they feel that they could justify such largesse to themselves. However hard they try to justify their astronomical pay, not all Singaporeans are convinced of their fallacious arguments. So opposition parties must not fall into the trap that this is a fait accompli and not worthy of highlighting in their hustings.

Talking of opposition unity, the proposed slate of candidates of the National Solidarity Party (NSP) for the Moulmein-Kallang GRC could be said to be of excellent material capable of capturing this GRC, nothwithstanding whatever calibre of the candidates that the PAP will put up. Workers' Party (WP) which is also keenly eyeing this GRC, should, in the bigger interest of opposition unity, give way in a gentlemenly manner to the NSP to contest this GRC. If NSP captures this GRC, it will reflect sublimely to the camaraderie spirit of the WP which will win it the respect of the electorate.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is MM Lee's Induced Correction Sincere?

It seems an eternity for the hubristic MM Kee Kuan Yew to come out with a long-awaited and probably much-induced statement to say that "he stands corrected" vis-a-vis his disparaging remarks about the Malay-Muslims, but without an apology. It begs the question whether he is sincere in his pretentious utterance or that he is not convinced that he had erred in his disparaging remarks. There can be no question that he has shown humility as it is not in the character of this arrogant man to show humility. Madam Halimah Yacob can be excused for showing effusive response to MM Lee's utterance because she belongs to the PAP hierarchy and could not afford to dissent, much less to disparage. The chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) merely welcomed the news with the qualification that this retraction was necessary since the community had prior to this not heard from MM even after the clarification made by PM.

There is however no reaction from the Malay ground. Either the MSM has considered it prudent not to highlight any unfavourable reaction from the Malay ground or the Malay ground reserves making any reaction prominent for the time being. There are good reasons for it to remain silent. There is an appropriate Chinese saying for this reaction: Dare to be angry but dare not speak out. (敢怒而不敢言). They may be biding their time till election day.

What do Singaporeans think of the sincerity 0f MM Lee in his statement:"I stand corrected"? Any rational person will wonder why it has taken this demigod so long to show his remorse on a matter of racial denigration of the Maly-Muslims of his own making. The Prime Minister (MM Lee's son) spelt out the Government's views on the matter on January 30. More than a month has elapsed since and MM Lee could not have suffered a mental thrombosis in the meantime not to realise that it is essential in order to show sincerity he has to be prompt in his remorsefulness. Any delay, not to mention such inordinate delay in his case, will render his sincerity a suspect. Therefore, what Singaporeans think of the sincerity of MM Lee on this matter can no longer be a mystery but whether they want to be vocal about it is another matter.

As explained earlier, the Malay ground on MM Lee's sincerity is latent but the AMP's reaction could give an indication of the Malay ground feelings. The opposition parties can bear this in mind in their hustings in the coming General Election. Workers' Party cannot easily forget that it was the Malay vote that tilted the balance against it in the Aljunied GRC in the last general election thus depriving it of a signal victory. So opposition parties ignore the Malay vote at their peril and the Malay ground may be just right for them to win over provided they work diligently and sincerely to convince them. So far opposition parties have not shown complete unity in their distribution of constituencies to be contested and they could be defeated even before they could make the first step if they do not consolidate their position.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Oppressive Goods and Services Tax (GST)

The well-heeled may take the 7% GST in their stride, but it is certainly a burden to the low-income group. It is so all-embracing there is hardly any service, government or otherwise, that one is exempt from paying GST. The Finance Minister claimed in his tendentious Parliamentary speech that the low-income group paying GST comprised the bottom 60 per cent of households which contribute just 16 per cent of Singapore's GST revenue. Be that as it may, the fact remains that they are burdened with the oppressive GST.

The Minister asserted that what the low-income group will receive from the Government budget pay-outs will more than offset what they pay in GST. How long can this largesse last and this low-income group will go back to square one once government's hand-out is exhausted. Can you imagine that if you go to a restaurant where there is no service charge or where the service charge is 5 per cent, you will find that you are faced with an absurd bill for GST which is more than the service charge?

The opposition MP Mr. Low Thia Khiang has hit the nail on the head when he asserted in Parliament that the Government uses the GST as a panacea to everything. However strenously the Finance Minister tried to dismiss it offhand, there is no denying that Mr. Low's assertion is viewed with credibility by a significant section of the electorate. And his proposal of a two per cent cut in the GST cannot be an election gimmick and is without doubt very popular with the population, citizens or non-citizens, rich and poor, and even PAP members and supporters. So how can a credible Government not pay heed to a popular wish of the population and continue obstinately to expect their approbation as a matter of course. Worst still, there are talks in town that to aggravate the people's burden, the PAP Government is going to raise the GST to 10 per cent after the general election.

Although the GST is not a major issue, it is significant enough for the opposition parties to highlight it in their hustings. The poorer section of the electorate will certainly be enamoured of the not illogical opposition arguments against the GST. Even the middle class and the rich will readily lend their ears to the opposition stand on this absorbing subject. The Government's stand on this issue has been expounded ad nauseam and there is unlikely to be any new line of argument in their defence.

Our country is Singapore and what other countries do with their GSTs are irrelevant because their polities are different and any comparison is untenable. The PAP Government is kiasu in thinking that acceptance of Mr.Low Thia Khiang's proposal of 2 per cent cut in the GST is conceding a political advantage to the opposition. The PAP will still be returned to power, perhaps with a reduced percentage, in the coming general election and the opposition parties will be able to capture one or two GRCs if they show unity. This is Singapore's political reality and no amount of political play will be able to change this chessboard.