Monday, May 29, 2006

Reflections on the "No NS Deferment" saga

Last week, Mindef has the final say on this issue by rejecting the deferment appeal of Ike. A lot has already been discussed on this topic, in forums, newspapers and blogs and seriously, i feel that all the views for and against the deferment are valid to a certain extent and there is really no perfect solution to this matter.

I am for the deferment of Ike but i can't help but feel that our opinions doesn't matter in the larger scheme of things. Naturally, Mindef made the "right" decision of rejecting the deferment on the basis of equality for all NS eligible males,
otherwise the floodgates will be open and it will be embroiled in greater controversy. This is also an important decision where troop morale is concerned, so they have made their call.

Nevertheless, has the NS system been fair all along or will it be fair in the future with this decision? I don't think so. In the good old days, Mindef granted deferments to PSC scholars, medical students and certain sportsmen so long as the letters of recommendations are strong enough. So the deferment of those people then was fair while now a budding musician's case is deemed to be important enough to shake the foundations of the institution?

If Melvyn Tan's case was not reported last year and subsequently received the bad press, will Mindef have reviewed its deferment policy and now rejected Ike's case? Isn't this more of a wayang (for show) to the people to show that Mindef is impartial? I still remeber the saying 'you can do anything in NS, just don't get caught'. Similarly, inequalities in the system will be allowed to continue so long as nobody make noise. The sacrifice of Ike's case is more of an appeasement to the outcry last year than Mindef's desire to be impartial to all NS men.

People who call for all to suffer, sorry serve, is not really a call for loyalty (though a small number may be). It is more a communist thinking, where everybody must be equal, regardless of circumstances. If the worry is that Ike may not come back to serve, then how about the scholars who were granted the privilege? The government invested resources in these "future leaders" but it cannot even control the number of bond-breakers (except to publicise their names and embarassing them), how can they control the scholars who chose not to come back and serve their NS? They have seen greener pastures and a brighter future outside of Singapore and they will be foolhardy to come back here and waste the 2 years. That is so much for equality.

By the way, I think it is better if those scholars who do not want to come back and serve to stay put; if they come back, they are bound to be high-ranking officers and one can only imagine the consequences of these scholars leading the troops into the battlefield. Fighting on the battlefield is a matter of life and death and entire troops can perish based on the character of the leaders. If you do not have the passion, no amount of legislation, arm-twisting or monetary rewards will save the nation. No point forcing people to serve or rejecting deferments, serving the country is based on integrity, trust and a sense of belonging. If there is distrust now, then it is also not safe to trust the citizens on the battlefield.

If Mindef is so intent on ensuring that all of us have a more or less equal footing in terms of education, then make sure NOBODY gets deferment, certainly not making leeway according to the nation's needs.
We already have enough of double standards ( i am not even going to elaborate about the white horse system within NS, that will be for another day). All of us have parents who are concerned about us and when parents entrust their kids to Mindef, they expect their kids to be treated equally (regardless of whether you are a prince or peasant) and to return safely from the training. No special treatment or privileges should be granted to anybody.

According to Mindef's latest statements, they will make concessions only for very exceptional cases. Well, Mindef has claimed the moral high ground of equality but the people will be scrutinising even harder from now on, and we will be keen to know who gets the next deferment and how special is that person going to be.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

"Fixing" the Negative Internet Part I

24 May 2006
'Today' newspaper

PAP must address 'negative Internet'
by Derrick A Paulo

She was a new face representing the People's Action Party, but when Ms Denise Phua surfed the Internet during the recent General Election, the tone of the postings stunned her.

They were overwhelmingly slanted against the ruling party.

"I know that something has gone wrong when more than 85 per cent (of the traffic) writes negatively about the PAP," she said at a post-mortem of the GE organised last night by the National University of Singapore Society.

"This is something that the PAP would do well to take into account ... and to manage this channel of communication," she added.

Ms Phua stressed that she was not dismissing the views posted on the Internet nor even disagreeing with them. Her concern was more that the coverage was not balanced.

Nowhere, for example, was it mentioned that this particular GE was not a snap poll or that the Opposition had the freedom to hold rallies of its own. But given the fact that cyber-traffic goes out to the world, Ms Phua felt that a foreigner reading about elections in Singapore would only have a chance to hear one side of the story ­ that too, a somewhat skewed one.

Again, she mentioned that her party would do well to think about this medium.

One member of the audience pointed out that if the Internet was skewed in one direction then, surely, the local media had gone in the other direction, giving far more coverage to the ruling party.

Perhaps, rebutted Ms Phua, this was on account of the fact that the PAP had fielded far more candidates in the GE than the Opposition ­ and the coverage was a reflection of that.

Dr Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, objected not merely to the extent of coverage that his party had received in the media, but also to the tone of it. He said that even the photographs of his party's candidates used in local newspapers were "not flattering". Someone from the audience mentioned that Dr Chee sounded more "reasonable" than the image he had formed of him. "That is because what you read about me is a relentless campaign of character assassination," said Dr Chee.

A member of the audience observed that the local media, during the recent GE, had been more balanced than in the past.

Another issue that cropped up related to voting secrecy. Mr Perry Tong from the Workers' Party acknowledged that he had no doubt whatsoever that the vote was secret and it was "as good as impossible" for someone to find out how an individual had voted.

Political scientist Dr Ho Khai Leong then said he was surprised that the Opposition had not used this fact to their advantage to persuade more people to vote for them.

But Dr Chee said the fears did exist.

"And even if people's fears are irrational, you still have to address them," he added.

As a fellow blogger, i am really moved to write something on this article after reading it. The issue here does not just concern individual bloggers but the future direction which the country is going to take.

Dr Lee Boon Yang and his ministry (MICA) were entrusted after the elections with the task of studying the effects of the internet on the elections. That was already a clear signal by the government to move into this arena and rein in the negative views so it comes as no surprise to me that a rookie has now also picked up the line and argue for tighter control.

I do not want to speculate on the reasons for Denise Phua's speech, whether she really feels this way or she is trying to be politically correct or she just want to impress her bosses. If she has fast-tracked her fledging career with these remarks, i congratulate her (but that is not my concern here). Her remarks have caused a widespread anger among bloggers simply because to "manage this channel of communication" is just a nice way of saying censorship.

Pray tell, how are you going to manage our views? By legislating bloggers to apply for licenses on political content or setting up a task force to review all posts in blogs and forums? Isn't that a waste of time and taxpayers' money when there are other more pressing issues like education, medical, economy, aging population, rich-poor divide, etc. to deal with? The government laments Singaporeans political apathy and calls for us to step forward and participate actively in the remaking of the nation. That is what Singaporeans have been doing in forums, feedback sessions, meet the MPs sessions, and now blogs.

Why can't the government keep an open mind and put its heart and soul into listening to these views, treating them as valuable feedback instead of anti-PAP messages? Is it that the government can only adopt the views of professionals, academics, world-class consultants while the views of heartlanders are pushed aside? During the election, PM Lee says it is okay to put up white elephants to make a point even if the Home Minister is not agreeable to it. Yet it cannot tolerate alternative views from bloggers. This is sending mixed signals to foreigners and locals to the true nature of the government, are we heading for a more open and consultative leadership or regressing to a repressive style?

By the way, if the government is intent on controlling the internet's activities, why haven't the government put a stop to more harmful and deviant materials like pornography, gambling and other adult contents on the web? Yet it is willing to expend the time and resources to keep track of bloggers and read between the lines of our views for any seditious or treacherous content.

By controlling bloggers, the government is preparing itself to gain international recognition but for the wrong reasons. Foreigners are again going to pity and mock at the plight of Singaporeans and this whole episode will just be more fodder for their attacks on the government. Well done, PAP!!

More to add later.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Reflections after the Elections - Part III

The elections over and the price hikes issues which were cautiously avoided by the PAP, have now turned into a reality. It is disappointing that the PAP did not want us to be 'worried' during the elections and did not explore these issues at length but instead choose to dwell on James Gomez's character and upgrading. Why not thrash out these bread-and-butter concerns and if the people still vote overwhelmingly, the mandate is even stronger for the PAP because Singaporeans have understood the issues at hand, how the PAP is going to solve the problems as well as the preparation for future challenges.

One may argue that it is not the government's fault that oil prices and commodities have spinned out of control and the government should not be subsidizing or absorbing all the hikes. From the economics point of view, that is true, as we do not want the budget to go into deficits year after year. That would be a vicious cycle which will eventually destroy the competitiveness of the country and bankrupt our reserves.

Having said that, what then should the government be doing to alleviate the hardships and sufferings of Singaporeans, especially the heartlanders. We gave you the vote, a strong mandate, to lead us, if not to prosperity, at least out of the doldrums. The rosy economic outlook has not been felt on the ground, all the percentages (5%,6%, whatever) is the macro side of the story. By and large, our salaries are still stagnant and CPF cuts have not been restored while prices have gone up. So what has the good news got to do with us, our purchasing power has remained the same, if not already diminished.

If the government is to adopt the strategy of increasing prices just to cope with the problems, then anybody can be the government. You seriously don't need scholars or the elites. We can simply vote in a road-sweeper into the government, if he faces problems, well all he needs to do is pass down the message that prices will be increasing. We expect more from the government than this.

We keep hearing from the government that we are not realistic, we need to manage our expectations, not be choosy, don't price ourselves out of the market, be competitive, productive, if no businesses we stay here and rot.....

All well said and certainly true. But does the government really understand what Singaporeans are going through at the moment. I for one can't see a prosperous future in Singapore. We keep on working with a constant salary (kena capped, cannot increase anymore) but prices keep going up, so year after year, we end up with lesser and lesser purchasing power, yet the government still pushes for world-class infrastructure and systems, which further increase prices. What then is the point of working and what is the future for our kids in Singapore if we as parents today are struggling to make ends meet?

In the past, our parents are not so well-educated, so hopefully a good education will make a better life for us and that is what they have done painstakingly by giving us the best education we can have. Now, we have the good education but things doesn't seem that much better and i fear what will happen to the fourth generation because now a lot of graduates are feeling the heat, so where does that leave our kids? We can only hope to put them through masters and doctorates to distinguish themselves, but that is no guarantee of success as we can't predict what will happen then but it definitely will put financial strain on us (an ordinary university degree is already rising and one cah only imagine how much it cost ten years later)

The crux of the matter is the rising education prices but yet education is no longer the answer. It will no longer be THE guarantee of jobs or success in life (with globalisation and talents aplenty). What then is the government going to do about this? We need the answers, not the inquiry into what kind of person Gomez is or how much money is going be budgeted for upgrading. While the government is finding the answers, we will tolerate with the daily announcements of price hikes.

I was once an avid supporter of PAP and its policies while in my schooling days but after working for some years, my mindset has changed. I believe there are many more people like me and the PAP should reflect on its policies and see where it has gone wrong. We are the heartlanders but with more education than our fathers, so why has this segment of people switched camp and no longer in support of the government's policies. The PAP should have already have a feel of the feeling of these people through the interaction between MM Lee and the journalists (though i feel that it may have got a bit out of hand).

The PAP has till the next election to work out the solutions. In five years time, the people will be out to judge again and this time, the votes will speak differently if the end result is that all prices go up but citizens lives have not changed for the better and gone for worse.

I have some more to add but for now, that will be all. See y'all soon.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Increase in transport charges - Part II

No i am harping on this topic, just forgot to add some points in the first post.

I think the best way out is not nationalisation but for the government to introduce more players into the field to let market economics keep the situation in check. The government has done a pretty good job with the telecommunications sector and it has been really good for consumers with the competition (kudos for the whoever made the decision years ago). The bus sector should be further liberalised to give people a wider choice (i mean taxis licenses were given out in the last couple of years why not the bus licenses).

The new entries could focus on a different market by offering the budget buses, which is without all the frills while SBS and SMRT can focus on the premiere services. One thing we have to study is why the budget airlines are wildly successful when they first pop out on the scene. Ryanair was a good example. They started out in Europe which is a developed country and the fact is that there are plenty of people who just want the basic services and not all the add-ons (definitely enough for Ryanair to pose a strong challenge to established counterparts)

There is nothing to be ashamed of in taking budget flights or buses and it doesn't mean Singaporeans are cheapstake, the people from developed nations also want cheap things (China products are also gaining in popularity there for their cheap prices). Why must we pursue so strongly a world-class system, the trend now is to move into the budget market, so give consumers a choice.

By applying market economics into the picture, the government saves itself a lot of explanation and the PTC can be 'more relaxed' and the bus companies would think twice about any price hikes and go out to improve its serivces, instead of the present 'take it or leave it' attutude.

Right, that is all i have say, for the time being.

Champions League Finals

What a topsy-turvy match! Barcelona ends up the winner against Arsenal with a scoreline of 2 - 1. Samuel Eto'o (76) and Juliano Belleti (80) scored for Barcelona while Sol Campbell (37) scored the only goal for Arsenal.

Arsenal was down to ten men in the 18th minute with Jens Lehmann fouling Eto'o just outside the penalty area. The referee should have given advantage play then as Barcelona scored despite the foul. But he flashed the red card and gave a free kick instead (correct lah, since the foul was just outside the box). Almunia came on and Pires was taken out. Barcelona must have rued the disallowed goal as it did not score from the freekick.

Despite being down to ten men, Barcelona did not really threaten the defence of Arsenal even if they created a lot of chances. In fact, Arsenal looked more threatening when they counter-attacked and Henry has the ball. In the 37th minute, against the run of play, Arsenal scored with Sol Campbell heading in the ball from Henry's freekick (classic header and a powerful one, hopes it gives Campbell confidence for the World Cup).

The goal settled Arsenal's nerves and they showed championship form with fluent passing and movement. Barcelona poured forward and Ronaldinho tried his very best to work his magic but Arsenal's defence held on. Arsenal was even able to counter attack and cause a few problems to Barcelona on several occasions.

The more they played, the more it seems like a lost cause and a bad day for Ronaldino and Barcelona as they looked bereft of ideas to break Arsenal's defence. I think the turning point was when Henrik Larsson came on for van Bommel as Barcelona decided to go all out. In the 76th minute, Eto'o cut in from the left flank and collected a flick from Larsson and squeezed a goal into the tiny gap at Alumia's near post.

Barcelona's confidence came back and Arsenal was still reeling from the first goal when the second was scored shortly. Five minutes later, again from Larsson's feet, subsitute Belleti latched on to the ball and scored from a impossible angle. I will say this is really a freak goal but it didn't matter. Barcelona is the new champion!!

They are rightly crowned the king of Europe as they shown consistency in winning their domestic title (with almost the same result as last year), have shown a flair in playing attacking football and really a joy to watch in full flow, especially the magic of Ronaldinho. It was a waste for Arsenal as they have come so close. Previously they have made so many attempts on the title, this year they are able to come all the way to the Finals, but it was not to be. But they have a chance to make it again next year and hopefully, they have broken their curse of being kicked out before reaching the semi-finals.

Increase in Transport Fares

First, let me apologise for not updating over the last couple of days. In fact, i have gone over to a forum to better understand the sentiments people have for this topic. And the reactions range from indifference("elections over, to be expected") to anger ("me causing unnecessary unhappiness") and to people in support of my views. All in good order, that is a free forum and people can air their views as they like.

A lot of the views have set me thinking, which i will elaborate later. The main thing is i have decided not to make any more posts on that topic, in respect of the forum and the members. Why? Because i do not want my views to dominate the discussion and that topic ends up a mud-slinging battle between 2 or 3 characters. The tit-for-tat responses will only result in me hogging the thread and other people's views are clouded out. That is not healthy and i do not desire to take centrestage or impose my views on anybody. What i have to say have more or less already been said and people are free to decide for themselves.

For the benefit of readers who are not aware, i was posed with a few interesting questions. Firstly do i advocate the nationalisation of bus services. No, i do not but is this so important in the first place? Does it mean that the bus service has to be run by the government and as taxpayers then do we have the right to raise issue with the fare increases? As users of the transport system, don't we have the right to ask the corporations of the questions on the policies which affect us? Let's face this question and answer it truthfully, what is the role of a public transport system?

State run enterprises is the not the way to go. You lose the motivation to innovate, be productive and cost effective since the state is looking out for you. Even now, this is a partially nationalised condition (as one member rightly pointed out) since there is no competition and they do not really need to rack their brains on the cost-savings measures. If the need arise, just press the button "Increase fares" and the problems are solved.

I can't blame people for being indifferent, after discussion of this topic, i too am tempted to be indifferent. What to do, just take it as it is. There is nothing we can change. But seriously, if Singaporeans are no longer concerned about issues which should concern us, then the future is bleak. If we are not even concerned about our own things, how can we be bothered with the nation?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Reflections after the Elections - Part II

Hi, guys, i am back. Give me a moment to recollect my thoughts....

Ok, Gomezgate and upgrading overshadowing the important issues. Well, i do not know what the foreign observers will make of our election. Some of the bigger topics were not fully debated. Nobody brought up the NKF issue. For the benefit of those who do not know, Mr Durai, the CEO of NKF had misappropriated the donation funds to fatten his own wallet and that of the directors; money was paid out for unfulfilled contracts, lavish expenses were paid out of the NKF fund, including the court fees for suing a guy who had accussed him...., (there seems to be more but i can't recall so much).

I know this is a particularly sensitive issue, situation not helped by Chee Soon Juan who has to make those claims that the government was fully aware and abetting the misdeed. (please lah, I mean you got a doctorate, so you should know how to research and substantiate your claim, we "uneducated" people don't know how to research but will hail you as a hero if you can find any evidence, not make baseless comments).

Well, thanks to Dr Chee, this topic was "out of bounds" to the opposition. Nevertheless, a proper debate can and should be conducted during the election. Much of the fury, shock and disbelief had dissipated as time heal all wounds. The NKF interim management
getting the accounts back in order, the Health Minister facing the scandal and explaining to the public instead of avoiding it as well as the prosecutor who has decided to bring Mr Durai to court have more or less put faith back into the system.

However, Singaporeans want to know why such a thing has been allowed to happen and what are the future checks and balances in place to prevent charity organizations from pulling off the same trick. The whole scandal happened right under the nose of the government, i mean NKF is such a high profile organization and has always got the support from government offcials at major functions. Because of this association, it gives the NKF management a sense of legitimacy, authority and impregnability from inquiring eyes of the media and public (sorry i have to say this).

If the NKF fiasco can happen, then what about the other government or semi-government organizations where public funds are involved? I am not advocating that all the reserves be returned back to Singaporeans as that would be a sure recipe for disaster but we want accountability and transparency. Be it donation funds or public funds, the public have a right to know that there is no misuse. (So far, the issue of NKF has not shaken my confidence in the integrity of the government, it will have to take a real big scandal to do that). By the way, since the PAP is so concerned with "dishonesty" and "liar" which i think Durai fits the description, what will be the outcome of the Durai case, hmm....

Oops, time flies, i will continue again tommorrow. See y'all soon.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers out there!

You know what, i really have a deep respect for mothers and i feel that a mother's love for her child is really great simply because it is totally unconditional. They do not expect anything in return for the efforts they have given to their children and the family. When you are young, you just don't appreciate this and take everything for granted but as you get older and take stock of your life, you repent on the recklessness of youth and regret the agonies and heartaches your waywardness had caused (those were the days...).

Anyway, I brought my family out for lunch at a seafood restaurant (on the East side), and it was totally packed. Good thing we booked our table two weeks in advance. The meal really burned a hole in my pocket but the food was nice and the main thing was of course that my mother enjoyed it. She didn't want to go initially as she feels that all the hype from the media and advertisers had commercialized Mother's Day and she didn't want to waste hard-earned money. I agree but since it is once a year kind of thing, i told her that it is okay and also that i am doing my part to boost our economy by paying all these jacked-up prices.

Can you imagine what will happen if everybody stay at home and there is zero spending for these businesses after all the advertisements, the economy will lose steam, maybe Depression will be round the corner (don't think the government can handle that).

So that is our little celebration for Mother's Day. Hmm, i happen to be quite free today, maybe i will update more on my reflections of the elections later in the night.

Later,
Marcus

Friday, May 12, 2006

Reflections after the Elections - Part I

It is a week since the General Elections and whatever excitement, passions or conflicts evoked during the 9 days of campaigning have simmered down as people went about their normal tasks. It is a good time for us to do some analysis and probably some soul-searching on what the election is all about and what the future holds for us.

To be frank, i am disappointed that the main focus of the election (until 2 days before voting) was on James Gomez and the slew of upgrading plans being dished out. First on Gomez, I have seen the video (it is impossible to miss unless you do not watch tv), and it clearly shows that Gomez did not hand in the minority form. I do not want to speculate on the reasons but if there is anything more sinister, then it is something which should be frowned upon. This may seem to be a pro-PAP stance but i believe in calling it like it is; if there are any underhand methods being employed, it diminishes the whole election and the participants involved. Victory is only sweet and to be savoured after a hard battle and overcoming impossible odds (as in the case of Chiam See Tong).

So we should not judge whether the act was due to distraction or criminal intent, that is something for the police to investigate. However the latest news today is that the Attorney General have decided not to press any charges against Gomez (as he had cooperated fully and has a clean record) but instead let him off with a "stern warning". This may not be the end of the story though, as MM Lee is still calling him a liar and dishonest guy so we will have to see how the situation pans out.

The next issue here is the upgrading plans. Chiam See Tong mentioned that it is a "divisive" action by the PAP. While i won't go so far as to use the word divisive, i do feel unhappy that whenever the going gets tough for the PAP, they start announcing UPGRADING PACKAGES for the residents. This shouldn't be the case and is an affront to the characters of us citizens, especially the heartlanders. Upgrading is something which any self-respecting government should do, otherwise what will our foreign friends think of the run-down estates in a world-class city? That the government is not doing anything or mismanaging the country?

I also find the PAP line of "someone has to come first" a bit old. Let's not forget that all of us have a role to play in Singapore's future and we pay our due taxes. Why must there be a distinction where PAP wards come first and opposition wards come last? Shouldn't the basis of upgrading be on the age of the estates and demographics and NOT political affiliations?

If we give the government the mandate, is it because of the upgrading or because we agree with the policies implemented (or to be implemented) and we know the country is in safe hands? If it is the former, then we are a 'poor' nation and society because we have given up on the intellectual aspects in exchange for materialistic benefits. The unfortunate thing is the government has a hand in cultivating this undesirable trait in Singaporeans.
(Luckily, as the election results in opposition wards show, Singaporeans have integrity and loyalty and are not so easily bowled over by the overwhelming "million-dollar" goodies).

I would really like to see the government keeping to its promise of upgrading the opposition wards. For several reasons. Firstly, it is not right to 'punish' the residents who voted for the opposition as they are just exercising their right to vote and make a choice between the candidates. Secondly, the government is likely to gain popular votes, especially in the opposition wards as they have shown themselves to be magnanimous
. By now, it should already be obvious that Singaporeans are smart voters (as quoted from SM Goh), so if the PAP has done good things for the people, we know and we will be the final judge on its performance.

Well, sorry guys, i have spent too much time here. I will update more of my thoughts at a later date (i am a slow typist). Stay tuned....

Have a nice day.
Marcus.

Welcome to Singapore Heartlander

Hi, everybody,

Welcome to my personal blog. This blog serves as my journal where i can record interesting events which happen to me or around me. When i write, it also helps me put in focus past events and set out my future plans. Occasionally, I will share with my readers some interesting articles which i have come across and add some commentary, so this blog will not be just the mundane me and the daily doom-and gloom news.

To a very large extent, this blog involves my personal thoughts and opinions which i am initially reluctant to divulge as my conservative upbringing has always been to keep our opinions to ourselves. Nevertheless, i have seen a few blogs on the web and i feel that they are of a high quality, witty and well-researched. With the advent of the internet, we are now able to speak freely on issues which are dear to our heart so long as we keep to the basic tenets (no post containing racism, religion, hatred, libel, pornography and other adult contents). This has always been my policy in my online activities and will set the tone for my blog.

Well, that is about all for today. I will make my proper post tomorrow.

Have a nice day.