Friday, December 28, 2012

An unwholesome display of opposition disunity

The unwholesome display of opposition disunity in the Punggol East by-election, if it is held, does not augur well for opposition politics. The ground has been working well for the opposition, if it
is united, to decimate the PAP not only in Punggol East by election but also in GE 2016. The unfortunate emergence of four opposition parties to want to contest the possible Punggol East by-election throws pro-opposition voters' confidence to the winds.

The latest to declare its intention to contest the by-election is the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). The others are the Workers' party (WP), the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) and the Reform Party (RP). The National Solidarity Party (NSP) has shown remarkable spirit of opposition unity in declaring its intention not to contest. If the SDP, SDA and RP could follow the selfless example of NSP and withdraw their intention to contest, it will be a good omen and a great day for opposition unity. WP is the natural choice to contest the by-election by virtue of the fact that it contested in the Punggol East SMC in GE 2011 as the main opposition party. Desmond Lim who contested in the ward as a SDA candidate was just a spoiler. In any case, he only managed to secure 4.5 per cent of the votes cast and lost his deposit.

Dr Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of SDP, tried glibly to explain, when asked if SDP's move would dilute the opposition vote, that it was targeting citizens who normally vote for the PAP but have since "lost their trust in it". "Our target is to win over from the people who are fed up", he added. Dr Chee cannot be so naive as to believe that people who are fed up with the PAP  would cast their votes for the SDP and not the other opposition parties also contesting. If anything, by virtue of its standing in GE 2011, WP is likely to be the party to attract these disaffected PAP votes. By no stretch of imagination can SDP claim to be more attractive than the WP to the pro-opposition voters.WP already has eight MPs (six elected) in Parliament.

Punggol East by-election is the touchstone of the waning influence of the PAP in Singapore politics and is likely to be the precursor of the decimation of the PAP's apparently impregnable position in Parliament and in the government in GE 2016. Of course, the ultimate aim of the opposition is the dislodgement of the PAP Government but that may be beyond realisation in GE 2016. So it is of utmost importance for the opposition parties to close ranks and show unassailable unity in denying victory to the PAP in the Punggol East by-election so that it cannot claim that opposition unity is a myth. Also a PAP victory will show the opposition's and discerning Singaporeans' claim that the PAP Government has lost the people's confidence because of its undemocratic policies, especially on immigration, foreign workers and foreign talents, is without foundation.

And how can this be achieved with four opposition parties vying each other for the Punggol East ward. As has been mentioned, WP is the natural choice for the contest and the other three opposition parties (the SDP, SDA and RP) should transcend self-interest and show expemplary unity in the public interest, especially voters who want to see a complete absence of political arrogance of PAP leaders. On the other hand, Singaporeans will view with abhorence any intransigence in the stand of opposition parties towards opposition unity.  In view of the apparent reluctance of PM Lee Hsien Loong to call a by-election in Punggol East, it will be some time before we will be able to see a by-election there. There is plenty of time for the opposition parties to carry out an introspection of their erroneous stand, As one commentator puts it:"a six-cornered fight will only hand Punggol East to the PAP on a silver platter".

Remember the authoritative saying : Unity is strength.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Quo Vadis Desmond Kuek

Smart alec SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek no longer surprises Singaporeans with his antics, the latest of which he springs on the public as a Christmas present by bringing in four former high-ranking SAF officers. They were among eight key managers hired by Kuek "to steer the beleagured transport operator back on track".

The first impression that comes smack on the public's mind is where Desmond Kuek, a former SAF lieutenant-general, is trying to lead the SMRT. Is he trying to turn SMRT into another entity of the SAF? Surely to run the SMRT efficiently, you do not depend on former army officers whose expertise is alien to running a bus or underground train service. One cannot but view with cynicism when Kuek indicated that more would be coming soon.

There is hardly any precedent in the commercial world that army men were brought in to run the business, so this gambit by Desmond Kuek is quite mind-boggling. Is he trying to show skeptical Singaporeans that he could run the SMRT in the same way that he was running the SAF as the chief of defence force? Kuek could run the SAF strictly in enforcing military discipline but if he tries to do that to the civilian staff of SMRT he is likely to get a rude shock.

As for non-technical staff, has Desmond Kuek explored the extensive employment market before resorting to recruiting ex-army personnel? He will be surprised with the quantity and quality of suitable talents who abound in the open market. As for technical staff, does Kuek think that ex-army engineers possess more superior expertise than the abounding talents available in the open market? Has he explored this invaluable source before falling back on ex-army engineers? When talented personnel are abounding in the open market, it does not seem logical that one has to fall back on cronies in the SAF as a first preference.

It is not uncommon that cronyism plays a part when a politician becomes a head of government and appoints his cronies to important positions in government or associated concerns.This may not be the case in Singapore but there is no shortage of such examples in some developing countries. This not a reflection on Desmond Kuek but could cronyism be a factor in the recruitment of the ex-SAF officers? Hopefully not, but this does not preclude the public from the possibility of entertaining such an idea.

To be fair to Desmond Kuek, his desire to restore the standard and efficiency of SMRT cannot but be genuine and sincere. Only his methods appear to come under public scrutiny like the recruitment of the ex-army personnel. One illuminating quality of an eminent honcho is his ability to cut losses and improve on them at the first opportunity. Whether Desmond Kuek acquits himself well in this respect is something the public will watch closely. In this connection an appropriate Chinese saying is relevant: To repair the pen after the sheep have escaped is not too late (亡羊补牢,未为晚矣)。

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Punggol East - The Touchstone of PAP's Waning Star

It's a bolt from the blue. The shocking news of the sudden resignation of Parliamentary Speaker Michael Palmer as Speaker as well as MP of Punggol East SMC and PAP member over an extra-marital affair caught many, if not almost all, Singaporeans by surprise. With his exemplary public image, he is the least likely politician, in the public's mind, expected to be implicated in such a scandal. Let's hope Singaporeans will be magnanimous enough to give Michael Palmer and his unfortunate family the peace and privacy to rebuild their lives.

As a corollary of the sudden resignation of Michael Palmer as MP of Punggol East SMC, the question uppermost in people's mind is the holding of a by-election in the Punggol East seat vacated by Palmer. PM Lee Hsien Loong is now besieged by a dilemma over the question of whether  it is wise to call a by-election and how long it can be delayed. In the GE 2011, Michael Palmer as the PAP candidate won by 54.5 per cent of the votes. The Workers' Party candidate Lee Li Lian lost by obtaining a credible 41 per cent of the votes. It was a three-cornered contest and the Singapore Democratic Alliance candidate Desmond Lim only managed to garner 4.5 per cent and lost his deposit.

The options for the PAP are limited in view of the present political mood of the voters in Punggol East, or in any other SMC or GRC for that matter, which is now complicated by the Michael Palmer scandal. The PAP's margin of victory in Punggol East in the last election was not of such magnitude that it could not be surmounted by a WP candidate in a by-election in the present political atmosphere. So PM Lee is confronted with the onerous task of having to make a decision which could have repercussions one way or the other.

If he decides to go ahead with a by-election in Punggol East, whether in the near future or at a much later date, the chances of a PAP waterloo are predictable. A PAP defeat will have grave consequences to the so-called invincible reputation of the PAP as a political force. This will have a harmful knock-on effect on the prospects of the PAP in GE 2016. In any case, as things go now, the combined opposition, if united, can be expected to make a colossal dent on the veneer of PAP's political invincibility in GE 2016. They may be able, with political determination and unity, hopefully dislodge the PAP from power, failing which they will be able at least to capture a few more GRCs in GE 2016. The PAP can choose to remain complacent at its peril.

The repercussion caused by the refusal to call a by-election by PM Lee will be more likely to invite wide-spread animosity from the opposition parties and the public. The intense public opposition in connection with the procrastination by PM Lee to hold the Hougang by-election recently is but an example of what PM Lee can expect if he should be imprudent enough to call off the Punggol East by- election. Already opposition parties and members of the public have called on PM Lee to hold a by-election in the Punggol East SMC without delay. Any unnecessary delay by PM Lee will render him to the accusation of political deviousness and invite the intensification of public dissatisfaction. In the end he may have to give in to overwhelming public pressure and call the by-election. It's politically untenable to refuse Parliamentary representation to voters of Punggol East SMC.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Nationalisation of the transport industry

In view of the complexity of the public transport problem, the most baffling question in the mind of the public is why the PAP Government is apathetic, if not aversed, to the idea of nationalisation of the transport industry. The recent so-called illegal strike by SMRT PRC bus drivers and the proposed bus fare increase next year to pay for wage increase of bus drivers announced by the Transport Minister have emphasised the need for the government to pay urgent attention to the idea of nationalisation.

The transport industry as is constituted now is run by two private transport enterprises - the SMRT and the SBS Transit - oriented to the accumulation of profits to the shareholders as the first priority. So the interest of public commuters has to be relegated to that of secondary importance and has to suffer as a result. The frequent fare increases in the past can be said to be a significant burden on the lower-income workers who make up the majority of the commuters.It is hardly a surprise that a chorus of protests was raised by the commuters and opposition parties when the insensitive Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew had the temerity to propose raising bus fares to pay for proposed wage increases for bus drivers amid slowing economy and high inflation with the bus service standards remaining unsatisfactory. They argue that wage increases of bus drivers should be paid from the huge profits of the two transport enterprises.

The Workers' Party is known to have advocated the nationalisation of the transport industry but somehow it is keeping a low profile on this subject. It is however unlikely that it has changed its stand. Singapore is one of the few countries in the world where the transport industry is not nationalised. So far the PAP Government has remained uncommitted on this topic but on the other hand it has not given any cogent argument against it. The time has come when the government will have to make a decision whether or not to nationalise the transport industry.

A government-run transport industry will unquestionably give priority to commuters' interest and cannot be profit-oriented like a private enterprise. It can be run more efficiently and commuters, especially the lower-income workers, will be spared the agony of frequent fare increases as is the present case with SMRT and SBS-Transit which are profit-oriented. The running cost will be tightly monitored and audited and one thing certain  is that commuters will not be made to pay fare hikes in order to pay for wage increases of bus drivers. Where the transport service is not run to make profits for its shareholders, the commuters will be the main beneficiaries.

It is unlikely that bus drivers' grievances of the kind that resulted in the illegal strike by 171 SMRT PRC bus drivers will be allowed to fester to such an intractable strike situation in a nationalised transport enterprise. The political benefits of a nationalised transport industry, among others, will be a more contented community of commuters and more satisfactory bus service standards. The commuters will be more contented as they will not be subjected to erratic fare hikes and will enjoy satisfactory service standards.The PAP Government should be prudent enough by now to give serious consideration to the introduction of nationalisation of the transport industry before any unforseeable intractable deterioration of the service.The unpopular intended fare hike next year will be but one example of commuters' dissatisfaction.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The aftermath of the SMRT PRC bus drivers' illegal strike

If nothing else, the recent SMRT  PRC bus drivers' illegal strike has jerked the PAP leadership out of their complacency with respect to Singapore's perpetual industrial harmony. The government minister concerned with the handling of the strike is trying to put up a brave front that the government had effectively dealt with the strikers with no concomitant repercussions.

The illegal strike has unquestionably caused alarm in the normally tranquil mind of the public that an illegal strike could have happened in the PAP much-vaunted paradise of industrial harmony that is Singapore. Many wondered why the government could not have described it as an illegal strike at the outset and much effort is now made to dispel this so-called misconception by a laboured explanation it had to be circumspect in examining the facts before calling it an illegal strike. Whether this is convincing is probably considered not important by the government. Is there any precedent of such circumspection in the past, one may ask?

The question uppermost in the mind of the public is how the PAP Government could have been caught with its pants down by this illegal strike. Was there no premonition of the PRC bus drivers' grievances that could have alerted the authorities of this impending strike action? There is a Chinese saying: The ice hardened to three feet is not the result of just one day of cold (冰凍三尺,非一日之寒). It means that the PRC bus drivers' grievances had been festering for quite some time. The workers had written to the SMRT management but drew no response. They had also written to the NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say for help but apparently their appeal fell on deal ears; could be because they were non-unionised workers.

The strike was obviously not carried out on the spur of the moment and it became illegal because the workers did not give fourteen days' notice , as required under the law for workers of essential services. They were clearly ignorant of the law but that was no excuse as far as the PAP Government was concerned. The fallout from this illegal strike could be considerable depending on how one looks at it. That it has caused an adverse effect on the reputation of industrial harmony of the PAP Government is not in dispute. The Government cannot afford to have another strike of this nature without affecting investors' confidence.  The last strike occurred twenty six years ago.

The illegal strike has caused the influential  Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) to be "distressed and concerned". The SNEF saw it necessary to issue an advisory to  its members comprising 20,000 companies to review procedures for dealing with workers' grievances, whether unforseen or otherwise, so as not to be caught in an untenable strike situation. The Government could not be unaware that this illegal strike could provide an unconscious stimulus to the large colony of foreign workers that they could, where they consider appropriate, seek a more equitable return for their labour. There is a danger that the Government's industrial harmony dream may disintegrate, hence the Government's exhortations to employers to address workers' grievances  before they deteriorate  The motto should ideally be "industrial peace with justice".

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Is Desmond Kuek a responsible SMRT CEO?

Whilst SMRT was inundated by a sudden illegal strike by 171 PRC bus drivers on Monday 26 November, the smart alec SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek was merrily pampering himself on his vacation in the United States. How he could obtain leave hardly two months after assuming duty as CEO in SMRT is mind-boggling. If responsibility is a trait in his character, it does not seem to be evident. It was no ordinary strike and government minister and SMRT senior management staff were involved with dealing with this complex situation. Since this was a strike of great gravity, was it not incumbent upon the CEO to cut short his vacation in the US and return immediately to Singapore to assume overall control of the strike instead of leaving such an important responsibility to his senior management to handle?

And could it not have been more comical and irresponsible that this smart alec Desmond Kuek saw it fit to return to Singapore on 30 November after the tumult arising from the illegal strike had been subdued? He said that although he was on leave in the United States, he was in constant contact with his senior management during the illegal  strike. His involvement was almost "in real time". He was constantly updated and made decisions collectively with his management team, he said. Could there have been a bigger joker than this man Desmond Kuek to expect discerning Singaporeans to believe his fallacious argument that his remote communication with his senior management staff to deal with the PRC bus drivers' strike is the same as being on the spot himself to direct operations as a CEO? Would it not have been the acme of irresponsibility? Mr Kuek should have his head examined for lack of sanity. He should have come out with something more genuine for Singaporeans to accept his sincerity.

Would it not be ludricrous for CEO Desmond Kuek to be concerned now with trying to retrieve the situation by visiting the workers' dormitories, bus depots and talking to the PRC bus drivers when the strike situation has been brought under control, not through his efforts? Four strikers have been charged in court, and probably one more. 29 PRC bus drivers are to be repatriated to China and they will be paid including ex gratia bonuses on a pro rated basis. The Chinese Embassy, on behalf of the Chinese Government, has been showing great concern over the proper treatment of its nationals by the Singapore Government. And Chinese netizens, who are quite a force to be reckoned with, have gone viral with their accusations of discriminatory treatment of the PRC bus drivers by the Singapore Government. Only the Chinese mainstream media has not yet shown its aggressiveness. So whether CEO Desmond Kuek is politically sensitive to the whole PRC bus drivers' problem is yet to be seen. So far his performance is anything but reassuring. He must buck up if he is to gain the confidence of discerning Singaporeans. If he had displayed the same no-show performance in a military situation when he was chief of the defence force, he would not have got away so easily

The situation in SMRT has now almost returned to normal and CEO Desmond Kuek should find it to his career interest to take prompt action to ameliorate the living and working conditions of the PRC bus drivers so that there will not be a repetition of the unhappy illegal strike.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An illegal strike or "wage dispute"?

The PAP Government was probably caught with its pants down when 171 (originally quoted as 102) PRC bus drivers of SMRT suddenly refused en masse to turn up for work on Monday 25 November because they were unhappy with their wages.The Government demurred in calling it an  illegal strike immediately obviously because the drivers involved are from China, a country with which the PAP leaders are ingratiating themselves and a country not to be trifled with because of its greatness. The irony is that if the drivers involved were Singaporeans, the Government would not have batted an eyelid in using the knuckleduster and arresting them for illegal strike. So when the Ministry of Manpower was told about the "SMRT situation", it avoided branding it an illegal strike and merely said that it takes "the workers' actions very seriously".

The intrepid Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin probably could not find peace of mind thniking hard how to present the drivers' action as an illegal strike without repercussions, especially from China. So it was not surprising that he finally summoned up enough courage, after no doubt consultation with his political master the prime minister, to describe the drivers' action as an illegal strike. The Government said that the drivers would be dealt with, if found guilty. It is not hard to see that the Acting Minister's explanation of not calling the drivers' action at the outset as illegal strike lacks conviction.

The China factor is undoubtedly the most important consideration in the PAP Government's deliberations in how to handle this illegal strike by PRC drivers .Netizens in China are out in full force accusing the Singapore Government of discriminating against PRC workers. And China has asked Singapore to safeguard the rights and interests of  Chinese workers according to local laws. The Chinese mainstream media are probably holding back comments waiting for a cue from the Chinese Government. So that should be sufficient premonition for the PAP Government to take note on how to deal with the PRC drivers without incurring the wrath of Great China.

Anybody can see that PAP leaders hold China in great awe and are leaning backwards to please it. In fact, very few countries in the world do not view China's greatness with awe, even the Americans. Singapore has substantial investments in China and it is in Singapore's interest not to disturb the equilibrium. China is known to be magnanimous at times but it is also not unknown to take umbrage at the slightest agitation. So PAP Government will have the unenviable task of handling this PRC drivers' illegal strike gingerly so as not to give the slightest offence to its benefactor, both politically and economically.

Let's examine what the PAP Government can or will probably do. Imprisonment is out of the question but Singapore workers in similar circumstances may not escape imprisonment. Dismissal and expulsion from Singapore are also taboo as this is likely to incur the ire of China. So the only option left is a fine, if found guilty. Perhaps a nominal fine, a slap on the wrist, to indicate closure of an unpalatable episode and, more importantly, to pacify China.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Is this the desperate face of a floundering Government?

There is a Chinese saying:When a person is about to die, his or her words are kind (人之将死,其言也善)。One cannot help having the impression that this is an apt description of the antics of PM Lee Hsien Loong when he was addressing some 500 PAP activists at the Party Seminar at the Lasalle College of the Arts on Saturday 24 November. The fact that there is a necessity to galvanise PAP activists into vigorous action at this time is a clear indication that the PAP leadership realise that the gound is anything but favourable to the party.

Of course, PM Lee did not find it tedious to reiterate what he has been exhorting PAP activists that it is their responsibility to lead their discussions on the party's ideals, ideas and policies together with the people in order to persuade them to see things more in the way they do. They did not allow the opportunity to slip by to engage in the party's own version of the national conversation exercise.As loyal PAP members they are duty-bound to give credibility to the so-called national conversation,,ridiculed by considerable percentage of the public as more of the nature of a farce.Well, the PAP has no alternative without the loss of face but to continue this quite unpopular exercise regardless of the disdain it attracts.

The PAP leadership realise that they are facing the predicament of a declining confidence of a discerning electorate in the next General Election in 2016. So they are now placed in a position where they have to stretch their so-called ingenuity to introduce so-called pro-people measures ro salvage  a desparate situation. But in the course of their flap, they could also be excused for foisting such a grotesque innovation as the National Conversation.

The issue that will loom large in the electors' calculus in GE 2016 will be the astronomical ministerial salary which the PAP leaders will find hard to wish away.PM Lee could not find competently qualified ministerial candidates from the private sector willing to join the party, so it would seem that any Tom, Dick and Harry from the SAF would be roped in to make up the deficit to enjoy the unprecedented whopping millions of dollars annual salary. It is mind-boggling how an army major or brigadier general can be considered a natural or automatic choice to substitute as a minister. It seems to be a standard or routine that when the prime minister cannot find any suitable candidate from the private sector willing to stand as PAP candidate, he will promptly bring in an army man as a substitute.

That is why the emphasis in on opposition unity to face the PAP in GE 2016. The whopping ministerial salary may not be the main issue but it will be a plus in favour of the opposition parties in their election campaign to show that most PAP ministers are self-serving politicians who are in the game for the taxpayers' money. For a small country like Singapore, the PM and PAP ministers are the highest paid ministers in the world, even more than what the American President is getting. Is PM Lee trying to show that he has a heavier responsibility than the American President whose responsibility covers the whole world? Singapore's electorate are getting more sophisticated and should, by discernment, be more receptive to the opposition campaign

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Paramountcy of Opposition Unity

The question of opposition unity is an indispensable element in facing the PAP in GE2016. In the last General Election in GE2011 there was a three-cornered contest in the Punggol East SMC. Ii was a straight fight between PAP and the opposition in all the other constituencies which showed a credible unity among the opposition. In GE2016 there should not be any three-cornered contest to show complete unity among the opposition. 

The possible entry of Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party, into the fray in 2016 will be a welcome development since his bankruptcy has been annulled leaving him free to stand in elections again. That he has stressed the importance of opposition unity in the next GE in 2016 is a timely reminder to opposition parties to sink whatever differences they may have in the larger interest of the public, the electorate sympathetic to them.

It is mind-boggling if there cannot be complete unity in the opposition camp in facing the PAP in GE2016. The present prognosis of the political situation is assessed to be in favour of the opposition because of the iniquities of the PAP policies and the opposition parties should not overlook this golden opportunity to nurture this favourable development to their political advantage when GE2016 comes around.This has not escaped the attention of the PAP leadership who are working strenously  to try to salvage the unfavourable situation by introducing such novelties as the National Conversation in order to appease the Singaporeans' wrath.

The Workers' Party with the largest number of opposition MPs in Parliament is naturally looked upon as proactively providing the lead in co-ordinating the various opposition parties into a solid united front in facing the PAP in GE2016.The next GE is not too far off and now is the right time to start to work the ground so that nothing will go amiss before GE2016. It is hoped that in order to replace the so-called formidable PAP Government in the next General Election or at least to capture a considerable number of GRCs, which is not impossible in the current political climate, opposition parties, especailly the Workers' Party, will transcend their parochial interest for the more noble altruistic political objective.

Opposition parties cannot fail to observe the universal dissatisfaction of Singaporeans against the iniquitous policies of the PAP and should, if not capitalise on them, at least play them up to their own advantage. Workers' Party surprisingly has not been very vocal in this respect; so it will have to buck up if it wants to retain the  voters' confidence in its performance. In order to divert Singaporeans' attention from PAP iniquities, PM Lee Hsien Loong flexes his external muscles by his narcissistic performance on the regional stage like the recent ASEAN Summit. Could it not be compared to the similarity of a death-throe?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is the Workers' Party keeping a low profile?

This is the question which is uppermost in the people's mind, especially Workers' Party (WP) supporters.The Party was so prominent and active during the last General Election that it was no surprise when it swept like a tropical storm  the redoubtable PAP team from the keenly- contested Aljunied GRC.The Party continued to show its prowess in capturing the Hougang SMC in a subsequent by-election. Since then and of late, the Party seems to be resting on its laurels and is seldom heard of on the internet, much less in the PAP-controlled mainstream media.

So much was expected of the Party's star MP Chen Show Mao that apart from a recent charitable distribution of mobility aids to senior citizens of his Paya Lebar ward which was given publicity by pro-opposition websites but, as expected, ignored by the MSM, we do not see much of the display of his formidable talent which contrbuted greatly to the defeat of the reputable PAP team in Aljunied GRC in the last GE.In fact, he has been so quiet that his supporters could be excused for not noticing his existence.

Quite rightly, the WP cannot expect the MSM to give it the kind of publicity that they accord to PAP ministers and MPs. But then the social media has been quite generous in giving publicity to its activities as often as they occurred. In fact the social media has been giving wide publicity to activities of opposition parties as a matter of routine. However, there has been lesser reporting of WP activities by the social media of late, especially since the GE and Hougang by-election, probably because there was little activity to report.

The WP is being looked upon as the vanguard of opposition parties, as it has the largest number of MPs in Parliament, by progressive Singaporeans who want to see a sea-change in the PAP-dominated political landscape of Singapore. The scarcity of WP activities is hardly conducive to its leadership role to bring about this transformation  GE2016 is not too far off and now, which is as good as any time, is the right moment for the WP and other opposition parties to work the ground earnestly to make a real impact on the electorate in order to replace the PAP government, if possible, but nevertheless to at least capture a few more GRCs in the next General Election in 2016. Like the well-known Chinese saying:The gale of wind sweeps away the fallen leaves (狂风扫落叶), together they can sweep away the arrogant, if not decadent, PAP.

The prerequisite to such a magnificent political objective is unity among the opposition parties to face the formidable electoral  machinery of the PAP. It is a gigantic but not an impossible task for the opposition parties,  but first they, especially the WP, must sink whatever political differences they may have in the larger interest of the public sympathetic to them  to forge an indispensible united front against the PAP in the next GE in order to break its political dominance. Up to now the prognosis is favourable to the opposition and the WP and other opposition parties should not let this golden opportunity slip through their fingers. They should double their effort to ensure and improve the favourable prognosis when GE 2016 comes around.

WP may not agree with the assessment that it is not politically vigorous of late but it is hoped that WP will take it in the spirit in which it is made to spur it out of any complacency.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Consummate Joker

Dr Tony Tan won the presidential election by a razor-edge 35.20 per cent of the votes narrowly beating Dr Tan Cheng Bok. Morally, though not stated in the Constitution, there should have been a run-off between these two candidate as neither managed to obtain an absolute majority in the first round. It would have frightened the shit out of the PAP leaders as it was obvious that their pet candidate Dr Tony Tan would not have stood an earthly chance against the more popular Dr Tan Cheng Bok in a run-off. So Dr Tony Tan managed to emerge the winner  by the slimmest of margin in the first past the post system of the Westminister model. An obsequious supporter had described his victory as an overwhelming mandate which is the acme of ludricrousness.

At best Dr Tony Tan can claim to represent only 35.20 per cent of the electorate as a minority president and could hardly claim to have a mandate  in the strict sense of the word.He can be said to be a lame-duck president as if a referendum is taken an overwhelming majority would have repudiated him. The PAP has happily inherited him as he is their pet candidate and so we are stuck with the comical spectacle of a minority president performing the presidential functions of the State. Of course the precarious President Tony Tan could not afford to show any queasiness in performing his official functions as this would have given the game away. Outwardly, he receives the proper respect from foreign dignitaries but whether they harbour any belittling feeling would be an interesting point as they may find it a unique experience interacting with a minority president.

Dr Tony Tan has so far not shown that he has the making of a people's president in the manner of the late President Wee Kim Wee. In fact he seems to be living under the shadow of former President SR Nathan, who was himself not an illustrious president. When asked by reporters what was his achievement in his first year as president, the joker President Tony Tan showed incredible naivety to say comically that watching the Olympic in London was his best achievement so far. Can one imagine paying a president millions of dollars a year from the taxpayers' money to watch Olympic in London and to top it all he claims this to be his best achievement in his first year in office. This is a typical example of the wanton wastage of the taxpayers' money and by a minority president. Former President SR Nathan, who was not a minority president, would have shown more prudence and commen sense than the minority President Tony Tan in matters of propriety..

With all his political experience, it would not be a surprise if President Tony Tan would make further gaffes like his political master Lee Kuan Yew. Even without his gaffes,his chances of re-election as president, if he stands again after his present term expires, would be as dark as a photographer's dark room. He would not stand an earthly chance next time when he faces a more popular candidate like Dr Tan Cheng Bok. He may see the writing on the wall and may quietly fall into oblivion.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Is the National Conversation a charade or parody?

There has been so much publicity about the over-hyped National Conversation, a brainchild of PM Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally, that there is a danger that it is bordering on the ad nauseam. The reason is that the Committee spearheading the National Conversation is so heavily loaded with PAP political office holders, headed by Minister Heng Swee Kiat, that it gives the unmistakable impression that it is just a PAP government show to appease the rising anger of the electorate over a litany of unpopular PAP policies among which unrestrained immigration and import of foreign talents take prominence. The PAP wallahs vowed blindly that the National Conversation must be as inclusive as possible but only that they gave a lie to the word inclusive because no opposition representatives or bloggers were appointed to the Committee. The Acting Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who is on the Committee, gave a far-fetched excuse that the National Conversation was not meant to be "partisan". Only PAP supporters will believe him.

How can it be called a National Conversation when an important and essential segment of the society such as the opposition parties and bloggers is excluded? Would it not be a misnomer? With the Committee heavily planted with PAP political office holders, would it not be reasonable for the non pro-PAP public to view this as a "wayang kulit" (Indonesian puppet show) and that whatever decision taken by the National Conversation is a foregone conclusion of pseudo support of unpopular PAP government policies?

Recently, an ardent activist has written a missive to Minister Heng Swee Kiat giving a long list of PAP misdeeds of a autocratic nature to ensure its dominance in politics. For instance, he wants the GRC to be reduced from the mega five or six-man team to a three-man team to give the opposition a better chance to compete. He wants the removal of former PAP ministers from helming the Singapore Press Holdings to remove political control of the press. The astronimical ministerial salary is another issue. A run-off for presidential election should tbere be no candidate with an absolute majority in the first round. These are just a few examples of the long list of demands and apparently Minister Heng has given a reply to the author which however has not been seen in public.The reply should be of interest to the public because it shows the sincerity or otherwise of the PAP government in looking after the interests of the people. Minister Heng will be doing a service to the public if he publishes his reply on his facebook or other website for the public to consider. The long list of demands of the author is quite intimidating to the PAP which could put the minister in a dilemma and stretch his ingenuity to the liimit to respond adequately.

The National Conversation will at best be an exercise in futility because of exclusion of important segments of the society. Aborting it is out of the question because of the loss of face to the Government, in particular to PM Lee Hsien Loong, so the "wayang" will go on regardless. Minister Heng will have an unenviable task of bringing some semblance of authenticity to the over-hyped National Conversation so as not to let down the sanguine PM Lee.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Aspect of the CPIB Arrogant, Uncivil?

Of late there has been considerable hype about the CPIB's prowess whether for the right or wrong reason which may be subjective. As a climax to its distinctive accomplishments, the CPIB held its 60th Anniversary Celebration at the Istana on 18 September and the guests of honour included PM Lee Hsien Loong, ESM Goh Chok Tong and former MM Lee Kuan Yew. Invited guests included former CPIB directors but for some strange reason the current director Eric Tan saw it as "prudent" to withhold invitation to me probably because of the likely presence of Lee Kuan Yew at the celebration, although I was a former director, the first non expatriat after independence. I only read about my exclusion from the celebration from the Straits Times report on 10 September on the celebration.

I was not at all surprised at my exclusion but I was particularly angry that the insensitive Director Eric Tan had not the courtesy to inform me beforehand that I could not be invited to the celebration and that I had to learn of it from the press.True my disgust of the hubristic Lee Kuan Yew could make my presence at the celebration a big embarrassment to him. So I wrote to the uncouth Director Eric Tan on 19 September, which is reproduced below for easy reference,to voice my resentment at his lack of civility in dealing with the matter:

"Dear Mr. Tan,
         First, congratulations on a successful 60th Anniversary celebration of CPIB.
         I was not surprised but extremely disappointed that you had, whether wittingly or unwittingly, excluded me from your invitation of former CPIB directors to your glitteringly celebration. I was CPIB director from 1968 to 1971.You may have been put in an invidious position, and I symphatised with you, to have to make that unkind decision because of your awareness of my not infrequent castigations of the highfalutin Lee Kuan Yew in my blog. My presence at the anniversary celebration would have caused not inconsiderable embarrassment to that demigod. Ido not wish to discuss my reasons for my utter disgust of this man.
          Instead of reading it in the press, would it not have been more gracious of you to have the courtesy to inform me beforehand of your well-advised decision of not inviting me to the celebration because of possible embarrassment to Lee Kuan Yew? As my health condition would not have allowed me, I would have politely declined the invitation.Do you think you are doing me justice by having the press reproting my exclusion from the celebration.?
          I do not have any grudge with you. I only hope that you will show more consideration to me if there is any such misunderstanding in future."

Any right-thinking person will agree that my aggrieved letter calls for an explanation from the enlightened CPIB director. Is it arrogance or lack of civility or a combination of both that prompted the intransigent behaviour of Director Eric Tan in not replying to a former director and a former colleague? Could recent publicity about the CPIB have gone into his head? By extension, could this  arrogant behaviour be extended to the general public? The answer will be an eye-opener.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Straits Times Conundrum

Since when has it been acknowledged that The Straits Times is a neutral paper which is conscientiously objective in its reporting on the opposition, especially during the hustings. The paper is strictly under the control of the Singapore Press Holdings whose chairman is a former minister of the Government, a spin doctor anyway one looks at it.So how can one run away from the impression that the mainstream media (MSM) is an all embracing propaganda organ of the PAP Government, of which The Straits Times is a prominent member. The paper is so accommodating that any letter to its forum page critical of the Government politically is unceremonously consigned to the trash can.

In its editorial under the guise of "Opinion" entitled "Fallout from the Hougang showdown" today (29 May) the Straits Times attempts to wriggle out of the Workers' Party (WP) secretary-general Low Thia Khiang's charges that the mainstream media was used as a "political tool" by the ruling People's Action Party. It tries to dismiss them as unwarranted and unfounded designed for political effect. Can the Straits Times honestly say that it had not slanted its reporting on the Hougang hustings to portray the WP in an unfavourable light? Mr Low had taken the trouble to show the slanting of certain reports both in the Straits Times and the Lianhe Zaobao to belittle the WP. Photographs were juxtaposed in  such a way to show the WP in a comical situation.

There is no doubt that the PAP campaign in the Hougang by-election was aided and abetted by the mainstream media, especially the Straits Times, the PAP Government's propaganda organ, despite its vehement disavowal. But it did not reckon with the indomitable spirits of Hougang voters who were not only not swayed by the MSM onslaught but were steadfast in their loyalty to the Workers' Party.

There is a lesson to be learnt by the MSM from their questionable reporting of the Hougang hustings. They may owe allegiance to their political masters but the wheels of history only move forward and Singaporeans are getting more discerning in their political surroundings. So the MSM should be more circumspect when dishing out PAP propaganda to the public. Since the disappointing performance of the PAP in the last General Election in May 2011, PAP leaders have introduced a "new normal" in Singapore politics. But the Hougang by-election fiasco has shown that the PAP performance since the GE in May 2011 has not met the expectations of the electorate. PM Lee Hsien Loong may argue that Hougang may not be an ideal comparison. But he may not have reckoned with the indomitable Hougang spirits which could be like a small spark lighting up a prairie fire. While the PAP may try to do its darnedest to stop this political tsunami from inundating them, the opposition on the other hand will not remain idle in matching the might of the PAP. The prognosis is that a few more GRCs may fall into the hands of the opposition in the GE in 2016.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Significance of the Hougang by-election results

Even long before the Hougang by-election was called, it was a foregone conclusion that the PAP would be defeated and could be by a bigger margin than in the General Election (GE) in May 2011. And so the PAP candidate Desmond Choo went into the fray as something of an underdog. He had some of the PAP big guns, prominant among whom was DPM Teo Chee Hean, giving him sterling support in his campaign in the vain hope of turning the tables on the Workers' Party (WP) candidate. Even PM Lee Hsien Loong came out to canvass votes for Desmond Choo.

Despite all their eloquence in appealing to the Hougang voters to vote for the PAP candidate for an improvement in their livelihood, it became obvious that their blandishments had had little or no effect on majority of the voters.Even the strenous efforts by DPM Teo Chee Hean to discredit the character of WP candidate Png Eng Huat failed to strike home the effect.When the by-election results were announced officially , Desmond Choo only managed to gather 37.9 per cent of the votes. This is slightly better than the 35.9 per cent he obtained at the GE in May 2011 if it could be of any credit or encouragement to him. Of course the PAP leaders could not show disappointment to the detriment of their standing and they had willy-nilly to put up a bold front that it was an improvement of Hougang voters' support.

The WP candidate Png Eng Huat was obviously riding on the strong personal loyalty of Hougang voters to their former MP Low Thia Khiang and emerged as the winning candidate with a convincing 62.1 per cent of the votes. It was a slight dip from the 64.8 per cent obtained by former MP Yaw Shin Leong in the GE in May 2011 and this was played up by WP detractors. In fact, a bigger margin of victory was expected but that it did not materialise could be a credit to the vigorous campaign put up by the PAP whiich is their only consolation in defeat.

PAP big guns took pain to emphasise when the by-election was called that this was a local election strictly about choosing the MP who can best help its residents solve their problems and not a national referendum. Knowing that the final result will be against them, they had followed strictly in their campaign as a local election and avoided falling into the trap of being pursued as a national issue. On the other hand, WP leaders drummed on the emphasis that Hougang by-election was a national issue.

The PAP may find to its discomfort that this is not the end of the matter.Right-thinking Singaporeans, especially Hougang voters who voted for the WP candidate, will regard the result of the Hougang by-election as a referendum on the performance of the PAP since the GE in May 2011.PAP leaders can pooh-pooh this phenomenon at their peril because they will regret it when the next general election comes along in 2016 and Singapore voters show their wrath. The PAP Government may not face the danger of falling, but opposition, not necessarily WP alone, making inroads into a few more GRCs may be the order of the day. Hougang voters may be local in character but their indomitable spirits are alive and will spread to other constituencies.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A much- diffident PAP in Hougang by-election

The general public perception was that it was going to be a prolonged wait for the Hougang by-election to take place given the enigmatic attitude of PM Lee Hsien Loong on the subject. It could have been a divine awakening on his part that prompted him to make the much-awaited announcement of a by-election in Hougang SMC. President Tony Tan Keng Yam issued a writ of election on 9 May setting Nomination Day for 16 May and Polling Day on 26 May. That PM Lee's sudden change of heart caught the public by surprise is not an exaggeration. There could be considerable speculations on his change of heart but foremost is probably a sense of realisation that putting off the by-election sine die is not in the long term interest of the PAP politically.The possibility of the court action brought by Madam Vellama Marie Muthu, a Hougang voter, challenging his "unfettered" discretion being ended up in his disfavour could not be ruled out.

This by-election announcement is indeed a welcoming piece of news to Singaporeans, especially Hougang voters. The PAP and Workers' Party (WP) lost no time in introducing their respective candidates for the by-election. Three opposition parties have declared that they will stay away from the hustings, virtually making it a straight fight between the PAP and WP. PAP's candidate is 34 year-old Desmond Choo, a deputy director at NTUC Industrial Relations Unit. WP's candidate is 50 year-old Png Eng Huat, a businessman.

Mr Low Thia Khiang, WP secretary-general, as a former MP of Hougang SMC had been nurturing the Hougang constituency for the past twenty years to make it into a WP stronghold. Therefore Desmond Choo faces an uphill, if not impossible, task in trying to wrest the Hougang SMC from WP. As if to pre-empt any attempt by the opposition or other interested parties to equate this by-election as a referendum on the performance of the PAP since the General Election in May 2011, DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam stressed at his press conference on 10 May to introduce Desmond Choo that this by-election is a local election strictly about choosing the MP who can help its residents solve their problems. As if by collusion a PAP spin doctor in the Straits Times wrote a commentary under the title: Poll is not a referendum on either PAP or WP. She asked the question whether Hougang is just a local election and answered by saying it is certainly not a national referendum on the performance on either PAP or WP. Earlier she had said it is not a referendum on the performance of the PAP since May 2011.

It is not difficult to understand why DPM Tharman and the Straits Times Review Editor went to some length to emphasise that the Hougang by-election as a local election and not a national referendum. The former WP MP Yaw Shin Leong won the Hougang seat by a wide margin of 64.8 per cent of the votes in the GE in May2011 and the general feeling among Singaporeans is that the PAP may lose by a bigger margin. Hougang voters' anger over PM Lee's procrastination in holding the by-election may be a relevant factor. Whatever DPM Tharman and the Straits Times may assert to the contrary there is nothing to prevent Hougang voters who vote for the WP candidate and other right-thinking Singaporeans to regard the by-election result as a national referendum on the performance of the PAP since May 2011.This should not distress the PAP unduly because in the unlikly event that the PAP candidate secures victory against the general trend of opinion, this will in turn become a referendum on their good performance.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

An Ominous Internet Omen

Since the advent of the internet, it can be said that it has been a bane to the PAP Government. The mainstream media (MSM) has been monopolised by the PAP as its propaganda organ and the social media becomes a valuable alternative source of information to the public to counter the inimical effect of one-sided MSM news dissemination.It is quite natural for the PAP wallahs to view this phenomenon as alarming and to rack their brains to try to find an acceptable excuse to regulate the intractable netizens. They have not forgotten their ignoble defeat in Aljunied GRC in the last general election in which the netizens played no small part.

It falls on Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, the unenviable task of finding a solution to this hot potato. This is  tricky problem involving the freedom of speech and the minister dealing with it must be one with exceptional ingenuity. So far Dr Yaacob has been sounding out through the MSM his idea of a code of conduct to be administered by the internet community itself. The public reaction was not very encouraging as the internet community is very much against any form of governmental control, much less a code of conduct for the internet.

Not to be discouraged by this minor setback, obviously at the direction of the minister, the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) held a closed door conference on Thursday on the proposed code of conduct for the internet.The event was attended by officers from various ministries, MDA, academics, bloggers and observers from the media. As expected the bloggers were quite adamant in their stand and told the Government that they should grow a thick skin and leave the internet alone.Dr Yaacob was advised to give the suggestion for a code of conduct a rest.

Does that put paid to Dr Yaacob's persistent effort in proposing a code of conduct for the internet? Only time will tell but it is not likely that the PAP Government will allow him to beat a retreat if not for anything maybe because of a possible loss of face.The occasional aberrations of some exuberant netizens in making racist comments, young women prostituting themselves online, cyber bullying and the spreading of falsehoods are considered a minuscule problem in the internet world not beyond the ability of the competent authority to handle.

Quite rightly the internet community is hardly convinced that this minority of misdemeanants could constitute such a major security problem as to require the introduction of a code of conduct for the internet.The Government may not agree with this assessment but where do we go from here? Would it not be prudent for the Government to allow the status quo to continue until such time when the situation warrants it to be reviewed?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Is the underage prostitute saga a magnificient diversion?

The unprecedented unwholesome publicity given by the press on the number of individuals, some of notable social standing, involved in the sexual liaison with an underage prostitute is mind-boggling. This is just a simple case of sex with an underage girl and the way the press, especially the Straits Times, went to town to humiliate the unfortunate perpetrators of the sexual indiscretions is beyond any realm of decency or a person's propriety. To treat this as if it is an important murder case is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary citizen.

This development gives rise to the speculation whether all this unwholesome publicity on the underage prostitute saga is not a ruse by the PAP Government to divert attention from Professor Lim Chong Yah's shock therapy controversy, the SMRT debacle on which a Committee of Inquiry is ongoing and the unresolved corruption case against the former Commissioner of the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the former Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau which has remained dormant after intensive publicity. It would be extremely unfair to these two senior officers if in the end nothing more serious than a departmental disciplinary action is taken for some kind of misconduct after the massive adverse publicity against them.

The normally equable Professor Lim Chong Yah is best known as a former chairman of the National Wages Council. So he came out suddenly with a proposal which, among other things, seeks to increase the wages of workers drawing $l500 or less a month by 50 per cent over three years and a freezing of wages of those earning $l5,000 a month. It was a radical proposal readily welcomed by the lower-wage workers but that it took the Government completely by surprise is putting it mildly.The scramble for a suitable answer by Government ministers and members to Professor Lim Chong Yah's awkward proposal shows the degree of dismay it has caused.

The SMRT debacle is another topic which is causing extreme distress to the Government if you do not disregard the massive public anger that this has caused. The Committee of Inquiry that is going on has shown how incredibly inadequate the SMRT staff were in dealing with emergency situations caused by service disruptions resulting in massive commuter chaos.As long as it sits, the COI will continue to throw up the incredible inadequacies of the SMRT staff which in turn is a reflection of the complacency of the SMRT management.

Could there be any truth in the speculation that the underage prostitute saga is played up excessively to divert attention from Professor Lim Chong Yah's controversy, the alleged corruption case against the two senior government officers and the COI on the SMRT debacle? It may seem far-fetched but it boils down to whether or not one believes in it or if there is a need for it.Anyway, it will be an exercise in futility.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Judiciary Conundrum

`The judiciary has always given the noble impression that it has acted with impartiality. But there were times when the public could not be blamed when it doubted its independence when PAP leaders, especially the former MM Lee Kuan Yew, were involved in defamatory litigations. But it could be said that it was a matter of perception by some members of the public and may not really reflect the intrinsic quality of the judiciary.

Be that as it may, the recent judicial decision of an appeal court presided by Justice Choo Han Teck has caused considerable apprehension to the public. Justice Choo was hearing the appeal of the hit and run killer driver Ms Lim Hong Eng who is the Executive Editor of the Shin Ming Daily News. Ms Lim had been sentenced to a jail term of 1 1/2 years by a lower court for negligently driving while using her hand phone and subsequently running a red light and striking a motorcyclist and his passenger. The passenger died while the motorcyclist suffered serious injuries.

Justice Choo decided to uphold the lower court's conviction but reduce the sentence. Ms Lim's lawyer Mr Subhas Anandan suggested a "high fine" instead of jail term. Justice Choo apparently agreed and changed the sentence to one day's jail and a fine totalling $12,000 over the two charges. It was only discovered later by Mr Anandan and the prosecutor that on the second charge of which a $10,000 fine had been levied, the statute in the particular law had no provision for a fine but only provision for a jail term.

Justice Choo had no choice but to remove the $10,000 fine. However, he did not substitute that with any added jail time claiming that "in the circumstances it will not be right to increase the custodial sentence to the detriment of the accused". And he added that this was a one-off case not to be used as a sentencing precedent. The end result is that Ms Lim was jailed for one day and fined $2000, an absurdly light sentence for taking the life of someone through negligent driving.

Is this what one would call a fair administration of justice? A one day jail and $2000 fine for causing the death of a person through using a hand phone and running a red light. To put it mildly, the public would be abhorred by the light sentence for such a serious offence. What was most puzzling was that the prosecution appeared not to have put up any opposition to the light sentence. Why did he not point out to the judge that a fine was inappropriate for this statute?

How could this be a one-off case is hard to comprehend. There is nothing to prevent aspiring lawyers to quote this as a precendent in the defence of their clients in similiar cases. This has unwittingly opened a Pandora's box and has not convinced the public of the imprtiality of the judiciary.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hand of Justice must be seen to prevail wisely

The PAP Government is not unknown to be wont to ride roughshod over opposition's entreties on matters of public interest and in this case the opposition's (and the public especially Hougang voters') request for a reasonably early date for the Hougang by-election occasioned by the vacation of the Parliamentary seat by its erstwhile MP Yaw Shin Leong. The apparent prevarication of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in stating that he intends to call a by-election but has not yet decided on the timing of the by-election on which he claims he has constitutionally the discretion to decide is not conveying the right kind of confidence to Singaporeans. This is probably furthest from his mind and it looks like he will procrastinate holding the by-election as long as he possibly can notwithstanding any outcry or clamour from the public.

As fate would have it, along came a political nonentity in the person of Hougang resident Madam Vellama Marie Muthu to get the courts to order the Prime Minister to hold a by-election in Hougang SMC within three months or a "reasonable time". Overnight she became a sensation and a cynosure of all eyes for her gallantry in challenging the august Prime Minister in a court of law to restore the political rights of Singapore electors where other more reputable Singaporeans fear to tread. As if by divine arrangement, a pugnacious lawyer in the person of Mr M. Ravi volunteered to take up Madam Vallama's lawsuit, most likely on a pro=bono basis. Mr Ravi is well-known for his pro-bono work, especially his famous case of trying to save a convicted drug offender from the gallows. He is well-known for his fearless advocacy before formidable judges.

Madam Vellama's application was argued in the High Court on 30-3-12 before Justice Philip Pillai between Mr M. Ravi and Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC). AGC lawyers argued that Madam Vellama's bid to get the courts to order the Prime Minister to hold a by-election in her ward within three months is "fatally flawed". The application is "wholly misconceived" and "legally unsustainable and unarguable in law and fact". AGC sought to strike out the the application. Among the arguments by the AGC lawyers is that the request for a mandatory order is "misconceived" and is inconsistent with the principle of the separation of the judiciary and the executive arm of the government. They asserted that the plaintiff would have the court usurp the power of the Prime Minister to decide when to call a by-election and usurp the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution. Mr Ravi had based his argument on Section 52 of the Interpretation Act, which states that if no time limit is prescribed for an act, it should be done "with all convenient speed".

Despite the apparent forceful arguments of AGC lawyers to strike out Madam Vellama's application, the presiding judge very judiciously reserved judgement but no date was given for the next hearing. The court has to decide on whether to grant leave for Madam Vellama's application for the mandatory order before it can be heard in open court.

Whatever the judge decides will have far-reaching implications. Heavy is the head that now has to decide on a very delicate question after considering all the pros and cons of the arguments of both sides and the overall picture of Singapore politics. Ideally, if the judge can make a decision which can appease both the Singapore electors and the Government. Some people may say that public interest should take the priority.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Hougang By-election Conundrum

The Hougang by-election conundrum has been capturing the attention of perceptive Singaporeans for some time, if not for anything, at least for the antics of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to see how long he is going to hold out in calling for a by-election in Hougang SMC which has become vacant as a result of the expulsion of the Workers' Party MP Yaw Shin Leong by the WP for extra-marital affairs. By right the by-election should be called as soon as possible within a three-month period, but it is not surprising to discerning Singaporeans that PM Lee saw it fit to put it on hold sine die. He said he would take into account all relevant factors and these include Hougang residents' well-being, issues on the national agenda and the international backdrop that "affects our prosperity and security".

Let's examine to see if PM Lee is not saying all these things with a tongue-in-cheek to try to justify his untenable arguments to put off sine die the holding of the Hougang by-election which he fears would be a Waterloo to the PAP. It is axiomatic that Hougang residents' well-being will be served if an MP is elected in the by-election to represent them. At present they are under-represented in Parliament. What kind of issues can there be on the national agenda that could not comfortably accommodate the holding of an important by-election? By no stretch of imagination can the international backdrop that "affects our prosperity and security" have the significance of dissuading us to hold a by-election, except to use it by the powers that be as a plausible pretence.

The consensus among discerning Singaporeans is that PM Lee and his ministers lack credible confidence in winning the Hougang SMC in a by-election under the present circumstances against a WP candidate. The former Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang has made sure, through his years of nurturing the constituency, that it will be a safe seat for a WP candidate. The adoption of a "New Normal" in Singapore politics by the PAP following their poor showing in the last General Election in 2011 has not enhanced the reputation of the PAP in the eyes of discerning Singaporeans, So the PAP leaders, especially PM Lee, are worried sick that a Hougang by-election will not only be a reprise of the PAP debacle in the Hougang SMC in the last GE but worse still if the margin of defeat is increased which is not impossible considering the unhappiness of the Hougang electors who are obviously pissed off with the antics of PM Lee in delaying the by-election. PM Lee may be under the illusion that he is adored by all Singaporeans, especially the Hougang residents. This inglorious defeat, if it happens, may possibly be regarded as a referendum of disapprobation of the PAP by discerning Singaporeans. PM Lee will ignore this development at his peril.

The lesson to be learnt in all this is that the more PM Lee procrastinates in calling for a Hougang by-election the greater will be the repercussion.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Stand-up Comedian

A stand-up comedian performs by standing before an audience and telling jokes putting his audience in stitches. Whether the comical performance of Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing (aka Kee Chiu in social media) of Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports at his ministerial community visit to Jurong Spring Ward in Jurong GRC resembles that of a stand-up comedian is not difficult to imagine. Let's examine what he said about ministers' pay at this gathering. Pay is not an issue for the team in government when asked whether the expected pay cut in ministerial pay would make ministers less motivated. He does not think they come here for the money but to provide a better life for the next generation. One of the reasons he stepped forward was because he knew he was joining a team that was not here for the money. The key is to find the right balance and money should not be the one factor to attract them which also should not be the bugbear to deter them.

Well said but perhaps with tongue-in-cheek. Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing was in fact trying to say that PAP ministers, including himself, are selfless politicians dedicated to the service of the people not because of the money and certainly without any thought of ennriching themselves. If they become multi-millionaires in the process, this is a just reward that Singapore taxpayers owe them for their so-called dedicated selfless service to the people. They are such talented and indispensable species that they consider their salaries must be commensurate with the top earners in the private sector. Their profession of selfless service to the people must be taken with a large pinch of salt. So Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing could be expected to speak with tongue-in-cheek to defend an untenable position. Perhaps the recent Straits Times crystal ball gazing that he could be the future prime minister could have caused a little swollen-headed on his part for him to rant about PAP ministers' selfless service.

An article on 22 July 2011 on this website titled "Are the 3rd generation PAP leaders really not self-serving?" (still available on this website) extolled the first generation PAP leaders like Dr Goh Keng Swee and S. Rajaratnam who really served the people without thought of money drawing modest salaries. Lee Kuan Yew led by example as the then prime minister but he later degenerated into a mercenary politician. In fact he was instrumental together with the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for the introducation of the present astronomical pay for the ministers in 1994. The point is if the first generation PAP ministers could be so noble and selfless in serving the people without enriching themselves with taxpayers' money, why is it so difficult for the third generation of PAP ministers to follow the selfless example?

True, PM Lee Hsian Loong has shown some compunction and tried to mitigate the people's wrath by appointing a Ministerial Salary Review Committee to look into ministers' salaries and recommend suitable cuts. People say this is just a wayang because the Committee's recommendations for cuts are not deep enough to satisfy the people and can best described as cosmetic. The recommended annual salary for the prime minister is still set very high at $2.2 million which is five times the annual salary of US$400,000 of the American President Barack Obama. The recommended annual salary for a junior minister is set at $1.1 million which is more than two times the annual pay of the American President. Presumably, the comical Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing will be getting this amount and it will take a lot to convince the people that he is not in it for the money. Anyway, ministerial salaries will once again certainly be a hot button topic in the 2016 General Election.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Serving the People or Self-serving?

PAP leaders are the first to assert vehemently that they are in politics to serve the people. But are they really or is it because of the astronomical salaries they pay themselves out of taxpayers' money? They can holler till the cows come home but few, if any, of the politically-conscious Singaporeans will swallow that they are in it for altruistic reasons.But then they can come round to say that majority of Singaporeans have returned them to government at every election. That seems to be a conundrum as in the last General Election (GE) in May last year 60.1 per cent of the electorate who cast their votes voted for the PAP. This was despite the massive disillusionment about the PAP in the run-up to the last election. The erratic mood of the electorate had even stumped the predictability of the psychologists. But the next GE in 2016 may see a greater watershed performance by the opposition parties, especially the Workers' Party (WP) .

When the Ministerial Salary Review Committee under Mr Gerard Ee was formed after the GE, the initial response of discerning Singaporeans was one of scepticism that it could really recommend drastic cuts of ministerial salaries considering the composition of the Committee. "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" which saying aptly sums up what the Review Committee could do or was willing to do. With due respect to them, if they recommend too drastic a cut of the ministerial salaries they probably fear that they will incur the wraths, if not displeasures, of the PAP wallahs. It will be less onerous facing the wraths and displeasures of the ordinary Singaporeans.

Can Mr Gerard Ee and his committee honestly say that the recommended annual salary of $2.2m for the Prime Minister, which is five times the annual pay of US$400,000 of Mr Barack Obama, the American President, is a fair charge to the Singapore taxpayers? Or the recommended $1.1m for the junior minister, which is more than two times the annual salary of the American President? The accusation that the ministerial salary revision is merely a perfunctory cosmetic exercise of the Ministerial Salary Review Committee is never too far-fetched. To all intents and purposes this is now a fait accompli and since the recommendations have been accepted by the Prime Minister and his government, there is virtually nothing that the disgruntled Singaporeans can do now to reverse the process except to wait patiently for the next election in 2016 to show their dissatisfaction. The ministerial salaries will once again be a festering topic in the next GE.

Singaporeans are not unfamiliar with the highfalutin figure of Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of state in the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts and the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources. Apart from being highfalutin, she appears to be also narcissistic. She was reported to have audaciously said that when she entered politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor for her. The more considerations for her were the loss of privacy and personal time, public scrutiny and career disruption. She further said:"I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. So it is with this recent pay cut. If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one considering political office."

It was not surprising that her adverse comments swiftly went viral and there were around 1000 critical comments from netizens. She tried to salvage the situation by claiming that she had been misunderstood. There is a Chinese saying: When a word is spoken even a four-horse carriage finds it difficult to chase.(一言既出,驷马难追).

Ms Grace Fu has not proven herself to be exceptionally outstanding in her work. If anything , she comes across to the public as a run-of-the-mill type and not any talent to be crowed about. She should consider herself extremely fortunate to be appointed a senior minister of state and should not behave like a spoilt child just because of a minor pay cut. Considering the humongous salary she enjoys, if she has any compunction she should be serving the people and not be self-serving. A very good example for her to emulate is the inimitable selfless Workers' Party MP Mr Chen Show Mao who gave up a lucrative profession to serve the people of Singapore as an MP. He is what I would call a true patriot. Mr Chen Show Mao is not only an exemplar for Ms Grace Fu to follow but for the whole PAP leadership as well.

Finally, Ms Grace Fu could gracefully choose to go back to her former profession if she thinks that it would satisfy her ego.