Saturday, July 20, 2013

Nationalisation of the Transport Industry

The priority of a privatised transport industry, as in a commercial enterprise, is profits for the shareholders and service to the commuters is by necessity of secondary importance. So maintenance of the service becomes circumscribed by the profit bottom line and is it surprising that we get frequent breakdowns of train services much to the inconvenience of the hapless commuters who had to scramble by other means to get to their work? And many of the commuters are from the lower-income group and the regularity of the breakdowns has caused a numbness in their mental feelings to the extent that any miraculous remedy from the Government is a pipe-dream under the present privatised system. Of course, those who are affluent enough to own cars are not concerned with the frequent train breakdowns but they are a small number of the privileged class compared with the massive commuters.

A typical example of the ineptitude of the Government in this connection was the questionable appointment of Ms Saw Phaik Hwa as the chief executive officer of SMRT in December 2002. She had neither the expertise nor the experience of managing a transport system of such magnitude and it needed little intelligence to discover that she had made a great mess out of it. Her working experience was mainly in the retail business and indeed, despite her lack of expertise, she had surprisingly managed to deliver impressive profits to the company, but would appear not from managing the train and bus services. She was awarded hundreds of thousand of performance shares which were rightly forfeited after her resignation in January 2012 following two major rail breakdowns in December 2011. Her eminent successor, ex Lt-general Desmond Kuek, who took the helm on October 1 last year, is not seen to have fared better in the management of SMRT, apart from packing its management with his army cronies making it appear as an offshoot of the Ministry of Defence. Like his infamous predecessor, Desmond Kuek, with solely a military background,  lacks the expertise and experience for the running of a rail and bus system and may finally end up with a mediocre performance.

The case for the nationalisation of the transport system is a cogent one. First and foremost, it is not run solely for the profits of shareholders to the disadvantage of commuters, especially the middle and lower income earners for whom public transport is a crucial means of their livelihood, As a government-run enterprise, it should be more efficient in its management and maintenance, which could cut down on frequent rail breakdowns and the less frequent unexpected industrial action by bus workers. Because it is non-profit orientated, the nationalised system will present less demand for the increase of transport fares from time to time, a welcome relief to the impoverished commuters. Just look at the countries with nationalised transport systems like Germany and France to see how efficient and trouble-free the way it is run with a contented commuting public, is it not time the cocooned PAP Government should seriously consider the much-awaited nationalisation of the transport system to alleviate the anguish of the long-suffering Singapore commuters? If the PAP wallahs are thinking of redeeming themselves by service to the public, this will offer them a golden opportunity for them to show their worth.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Antics of PM Lee and Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan

PM Lee Hsien Loong must have calculated that his broadside on 12 July against the Workers' Party (WP) and its secretary-general Low Thia Khiang following the pompous blustering speech by Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament on 9 July would be certain to bring public wrath against the WP with consequent loss of public  confidence. In the present political climate, little does PM Lee realise that his words no longer command the public respect and his bluster of lack of integrity and honesty  against WP MPs Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr. Pritam Singh cuts no ice with the public. People were wondering why the prime minister and his million-dollar cabinet members should be concerned with a mundane hawker centre cleaning dispute which to all intents and purposes had been settled when they should quite rightly be looking into national issues in order to justify their colossal salaries.

This is not unlike a disguised form of witch hunting. First Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr. Pritam Singh were accused of making false and untruthful statements which could not be verified conclusively even with so-called iron clad documentary evidence. Then out of nowhere Mr. Pritam Singh was accused of plagiarism by PM Lee for passing off an Internet article "word for word" as his own in a parliamentary speech. Mr. Pritam had the permission of the author to use the Internet article and how on earth could PM Lee in his right mind have made such a terrible blunder? Is it not fair that Mr. Pritam Singh should expect an apology for having been put to such unnecessary distress?

The issue of WP AHPETC hawker centre cleaning row has been transformed into a mountain from a molehill and it should be clear to PM Lee and his cabinet colleagues that it would not be to their advantage to continue to harass the WP on it. Public opinion on this matter is evenly distributed  on both sides. So it will be wise, albeit painful, for PM Lee to let the matter rest for the time being.

It shows the mediocre calibre of a politician when he says: politics is a contest for power. So Dr. Balakrishnan is in politics for the sole purpose of contesting for power and not for the purpose of serving the people. If his political doctrine is representative of all PAP ministers and MPs, do you not think that Singaporeans who have all along been asserting that PAP ministers  are self-serving who are in politics for the money are correct in their assessment? The PAP ministers are paying themselves astronomical (many call it obscene) salaries from taxpayers' money and have the impudence to call this as service to the people. Where in other parts of the world can one find a prime minister drawing a salary four or five times that of the American President? And is Singapore bigger than America with its prime minister being more important and holding greater responsibility than the American President? When GE 2016 comes along, Singaporeans should know what to do and opposition parties should, besides other bigger issues, capitalise on these two issues of politics is not for serving the people but contest for power and ministerial salaries in the election campaign.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Comical Display Of Pomposity

 His reputation has been on the wane because of his lacklustre performance as a minister and the Workers' Party AHPETC hawker-centre cleaning row had presented the pompous Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan with the rare opportunity of giving a comical display of pomposity with a so-called eloquent castigation of the Workers' Party (WP) in Parliament. The WP MPs Ms Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh were apparently caught unprepared for Dr. Balakrishnan's onslaught and did not make a creditable effort in demolishing his accusations. So one can see the smugness on the conceited Dr. Balakrishnan's face as he finished off his pompous speech with what he believed to be a coup de grace.

Dr. Balakrishnan is decidedly aiming to score a political point on the unsuspecting Workers' Party in order to redeem his flagging political fortune in time for GE 2016. He belaboured ad nauseam on the so-called mistake of the WP Property Manager to require hawkers to pay for the  cleaning of the hawker centre which in the end remained unproven because documents he produced  in Parliament to prove his case remained inconclusive. Ms Sylvia Lim, Chairman of AHPETC, was able to make a robust denial of the allegation. But Dr. Balakrishnan was bent to make a capital out of the saga and summoned up his Dutch courage to make a pompous display of his oratorical skills to support his case which indeed captured the imagination and interest of both those inside and outside of Parliament. He had indeed prided himself of having performed magnificently to dent the reputation of the Workers' Party and score a political point for the PAP. But little does Dr. Balakrishnan realise that his political ranting against the Workers' Party could have the opposite effect of drawing public sympathy for WP. Some would view his so-called oratory as bluster, especially when he ended his speech by calling on the WP secretary-general to investigate further into the hawker-centre cleaning row and branding WP officials as false and untruthful.

Dr. Balakrishnan asserted that the issue was about integrity and clean politics. The WP secretary-general countered quite rightly that it was not a problem of integrity but pure and simple market cleaning. Mr. Low Thia Khiang also brushed off Dr. Balakrishnan's call for him to further investigate  the issue. Whether this episode will enhance the political standing of Dr. Balakrishnan in the eyes of the public is open to interpretation. As mentioned earlier, he has not been very impressive in his ministerial performance and is in need of an opportunity to show his talent. He saw the WP AHPETC hawker-centre cleaning row as the opportunity he had been waiting for and he promptly jumped on it. He did not disappoint his political master and can be certain of his candidature in GE 2016 but whether he can convince his electorate to return his GRC team is another matter considering the fluidity of the political situation in GE 2016.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Continuing Spectre of Dr. Yaacob's Licensing Rules Saga

The fact that the draconian new licensing scheme for online news sites was foisted on the Internet public with hardly any notice, much less any consultation with the concerned public or debate in Parliament does not bear the hallmark of a government that is confident of clinching GE 2016 or   people-oriented. Very craftily, Dr.Yaacob Ibrahim presented ten news websites which included seven Singapore Press Holdings sites, two Mediacorp sites and Yahoo Singapore which required licensing from 1st June and pledged that other Internet users or bloggers would be free to continue to criticise the government without fear of governmental restrictions, unless racial and religious issues were involved. The PAP Government hopes that in this way it will be able to pull a wool over the public's eyes and deflect any agitation from the Internet public against the licensing scheme.

The groundswell of resistance against the scheme was something which the PAP Government may or may not have expected and Dr. Yaacob  became the PAP hatchet man to try to manage damage control. The bloggers formed a "Free the Internet" movement to spearhead and co-ordinate action to pressurise the Government to rescind the licensing scheme which is regarded as a sinister move by the Government to clamp down on dissent. On this Dr. Yaacob and the Media Development Authority (MDA) are seen to be  strenously working to try to assure the Internet public that the Government has no such intention but the bloggers remained adamant and would accept nothing short of rescinding the sinister scheme.

The resistance to the licensing scheme does not confine to local bloggers and has attracted world-wide concern which should give the Internet public a well-deserved fillip to their movement. The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) -comprising Internet giants Facebook, Google, eBay, Yahoo  and Salesforce - has entered the fray and has written to the Singapore Government questioning, among other things, in particular the clause which empowers  the Singapore authorities to ask a licensed news website to take down an article within 24 hours.

The United States government has also weighed in on the issue with the State Department saying that it was "deeply concerned" by the "restrictive policy requiring the licensing of news websites. The State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said: we urge Singapore to ensure freedom of expression is protected in accordance with its international obligations and commitments. Later when asked for response to Ms Psaki's general comments, the Straits Times was referred to what Dr. Yaacob had said in Parliament in response to concerns on the rules raised by MPs. As expected, Dr. Yaacob had nothing new to offer but simply repeated with a deadpan face like a parrot the hackneyed statement that the licensing of online news sites is meant to ensure responsibility among news providers and bring  greater regulatory parity across various media platforms. He also repeatedly assured that the new rules will not stifle  creativity or freedom of speech on the Internet.

It is doubtful if such monotonous and meaningless utterances will go down well with the Internet public. The bloggers are a determined lot and the fight for justice will go on relentlessly until one party yields to the other. The PAP Government is, as the Chinese saying goes, "Riding a tiger and difficult to get off" (騎虎難下)