Monday, July 31, 2006

Singapore gays prepare to show their IndigNation

Sunday July 30, 11:48 AM (AFP)

Singapore's gay community is about to show some IndigNation.

The city-state's gay and lesbian community begins its second annual pride festival on Tuesday in the face of what organizers describe as continued discrimination.

Scheduled around Singapore's independence day on August 9, the month-long IndigNation 2006 will include poetry recitals, art exhibitions, sessions in which gays share their experiences, as well as parties at "gay-friendly" establishments, organizers said.

"IndigNation is the gay and lesbian pride season in Singapore, reaffirming our participation in the intellectual and cultural life of this country, reminding all that we are as much a part of Singapore as anyone else," organizers said on the festival website.

They complained that "the state still gives short shrift" to the gay community.

"Through law, administrative policies, censorship and homophobic remarks by ministers, Singapore continues to discriminate against some of its most productive citizens."

Homosexual acts are still outlawed in Singapore under laws dating back to British colonial days, despite the city-state's being one of Asia's most advanced economies.

Singapore's penal code states that anyone who "voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals," is liable to a possible life prison term and a fine.

Organizers said IndigNation evolved last year after the government banned an annual beach party organised by gay portal The party moved to the Thai resort island of Phuket in November.

Singapore's ban on the party came three months after Senior Minister of State for Health Balaji Sadasivan said the festival may be behind a sharp rise in the number of new HIV infections in Singapore.

He said an epidemiologist had suggested that the party "allows gays from high prevalence societies to fraternise with local gay men, seeding the infection in the local community."

The IndigNation festival hopes to challenge the state's definition of Singaporean identity which has no room for gays and lesbians, said prominent gay rights activist Alex Au, an organizer of the event.

As Singapore celebrates its 41st anniversary, "we have our contesting ideas of what a nation should be as well, and it includes people who have been marginalised and criminalised by the state," he said.

On the festival's first day, Au will host a discussion about the May general election and its impact on gays. The ruling People's Action Party won the ballot, maintaining its 47-year hold on power.

Local playwright Russell Heng, an IndigNation organizer and founding member of gay advocacy group People Like Us (PLU), says one of the festival's aims is to raise public awareness about the homosexual community's contribution to society.

"There is a tremendous amount of energy and creativity among gays and lesbians," Heng said.

"The pity is that Singapore doesn't realise the contribution made by gay and lesbian Singaporeans unless one organizes a festival like this to showcase it," he said.

Au said the government has a contradictory attitude toward gays.

While homosexual acts are outlawed, gay pubs and saunas are largely tolerated but advocacy groups including PLU have repeatedly been denied official registration.

"You get these inconsistent actions and decisions... it's just gone very cloudy. They are not making a stand," Au said.

Singapore has a population of about 4.4 million but it is unclear how many of those are gay.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the Foreign Correspondents Association last year that Singapore must evolve into a more "inclusive" society.

But gay-pride parades will not work in the city-state "because I think it would be offensive to a large number of Singaporeans and it will be very divisive," he said.

"I don't think we are homophobic."

Well, looks like the local gays and lesbians are also a planning a grand celebration of our National Day with a 'pride festival' termed as IndigNation. Dunno if Balaji (Senior Minister of State for Health) will come out and slam them again for increasing the number of HIV infections?

It would be interesting to see the government's response to this gay festival. Although PM Lee says that "Singapore must evolve into a more inclusive society", i don't think he has planned to include gays and lesbians but with Singapore already setting up casinos, there is really no reason why there should be any discrimination against these groups since the government has lost the moral high ground.

Given Singapore's conservative society, i can't see the government relaxing the regulations on gays and lesbians any time soon. In fact, i believe the only way they are going to do that is if they kena a scandal and one of the cabinet ministers or MPs come out of the closet and declare themselves as gays, then in order to "save face", they may say that gays and lesbians contribute a lot to the society, and they should be accepted in the civil service as well as be given more leeway :-P

Sunday, July 30, 2006

An Eye For Talent

Yep, let's take a short break from the boring political commentaries.

Hmm, good old Benitez sizing up the situation. Must be enjoying it...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

SMRT plans fare hikes for its bus, MRT, LRT services

SMRT Corporation is planning to raise fares for its bus, MRT and LRT services.

It will apply for a fare adjustment by the August 1 deadline set by the Public Transport Council.

The SMRT Corporation says its total operating costs have ballooned by 20% this year because of the increase in diesel prices.

The fare hike will follow the PTC's formula of a maximum increase of 1.7%, which translates to a rise of one or two cents, if approved.

SMRT President and CEO Saw Phaik Hwa says that its proposed fare hike will not be sufficient to mitigate rising diesel costs.

It however supports the government's call for smaller and regular fare increases. - CNA/ir

By now, i believe a lot of heartlanders are resigned, if not indignant, to the increases that are lining up one after another. Surely, this is not the last. Mr Brown brought up the price hikes issue in a satirical manner but was shot down by the government for being unconstructive and adding to the sense of cynicism and despondency. A bit too heavy-handed, i think.

I am loathed to beat a dead horse but i can't help it. They conveniently pushed the price hikes to the global crude oil problem which is undeniably true, BUT can the transport fares be decreased once the crude oil goes back to their original level? Hopefully, some MP can raise this question in Parliament for the people but sadly our MPs' do not like to risk the ire of cabinet ministers or they do not have propensity for debates.

There is something i hold fundamentally which is that price increases must be commensurate with the service provided. However, has overall service improved with the yearly increases? If yes, go ahead but if not, don't consumers have a right to request better service from them since we are contributing to their fat bonuses and glowing yearly reports? I have not even commented on the NEL farce a few days back as they already had their fill of embarrassment and i shall not pour scorn on their woe at this point of time.

SMRT also claimed that the proposed fare hike will not be sufficient to mitigate rising diesel costs so can i assume safely that next year, there will be another price hike to help them catch up on lost profits? Oops, better don't jump the gun, even if we see it coming, we still got to wait for the official announcements, lest we add on to the "sense of despondency".

The government is happily ignorant of the hardships of its citizens but don't worry this will not be the last straw that break the camel's back. We still can tahan a few more increases but the cost of living is really testing our limits and sooner or later, a lot of people are going to be quitters rather than stayers in Singapore.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

SingTel CEO Lee Hsien Yang resigns

Reuters - The chief executive of Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. , whose brother is the country's Prime Minister, surprised investors by announcing he would resign from Southeast Asia's biggest phone company.

Lee Hsien Yang, 48, who announced the decision on Friday after the stock market had closed, said he would stay on until SingTel had found a replacement. He gave no reason for leaving.

"It's certainly surprising, it's not something they've been telegraphing," said Hugh Young, managing director at Aberdeen Asset Management in Singapore.

He added "an emotional, knee-jerk reaction downward would be possible" in SingTel's share price when the stock market opens.

Lee, 48, is a member of Singapore's leading political family. His father, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, still holds a cabinet position as Minister Mentor, while his elder brother, Lee Hsien Loong, is the country's Prime Minister.

Temasek Holdings [TEM.UL] -- the Singapore state investment firm which has a 54 percent stake in SingTel -- is run by the Prime Minister's wife, Ho Ching.

Fund managers and analysts dismissed suggestions that Lee's decision would herald a period of uncertainty for SingTel.

"There's unlikely to be any uncertainty going forward -- SingTel is a professionally run company, and with such companies, there is always a succession plan in place, and it's hard for one person's departure to have such a huge impact," said Bowen Phua, an analyst at DBS Vickers Securities.

Potential successors could include Allen Lew, the chief executive of SingTel's Singapore operations, and Chua Sock Koong, the chief financial officer and chief executive of its international businesses, Phua said.

"SingTel could get a professional guy from outside, but I think Allen is one of the most ideal internal candidates due to his experience in Australia and Thailand," Phua added.

Lew, 51, was appointed to his current position in February. Before that, he was the chief operating officer of SingTel's Thai mobile associate, Advanced Info Service Plc. , and managing director of the consumer division Australian unit Optus.


Lee Hsien Yang has been chief executive officer of Singapore's largest listed firm since May 1995. The company said he would continue in his role as chief executive officer until a replacement had been found.

Lee told a press conference he did not have a specific reason for wanting to step down.

"It's really hard to find a reason. At some point in time you decide that you have been in a role for some time and you would want to look for change, and 12 years is a very long time for a tenure of any CEO," he told a media briefing.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my role, it's been both challenging and great fun."

He added now was "as good a time as any" for him to step down. "I have always indicated to the board that I will not be here forever. There's now a strong management team in place, and given the strength of the company today, we would have both the options of credible internal candidates as well as serious external candidates who may be interested."

SingTel chairman Chumpol NamLamlieng said the board had only just started the process of searching for his successor.

"At the moment there is no time frame specified for this but we would take a thorough look at candidates internally and externally," he added.

Lee said he had not thought about what he wanted to do next. "At this point in time, I have neither solicited nor received any offers."

But politics was out. "I've said many times before that I do not think politics is something I am suited for. I have no great interest to pursue a career in politics," he added.

Lee joined SingTel in April 1994 as Executive Vice President of Local Services and took over at the helm a year later.

SingTel shares, which made their debut on the local bourse on Nov. 1, 1993, have traded below the price of S$3.60 at which they were sold to institutional investors for over six years. The stock closed at S$2.47 on Friday.

The company, with a market cap of $26 billion, paid Lee S$2.22 million in cash in the last financial year to March 31 -- representing an increase of 4.2 percent.

Facing a small home market of just 4.4 million people, where over nine out of 10 individuals own a mobile phone, SingTel has spent S$17 billion ($10 billion) in recent years buying operators in high-growth Asian nations with fewer cellphone users, and in the bigger Australian market.

It now derives about 75 percent of revenues and two-thirds of pre-tax earnings from operations outside Singapore.

SingTel owns 21.5 percent of AIS, 30.8 percent of India's Bharti Group , 44.6 percent of Globe Telecom Inc. in the Philippines, 35 percent of Indonesia's PT Telkomsel , and 45 percent of Pacific Bangladesh Telecom Ltd.

This really was a shock for many people as it came totally out of the blue. Could he be moving to Temasek or the GIC? Or did he foresee that SingTel has scaled the peak and now is the right time to step down? Political role next? Illness? Migrating overseas?

There are thousand and one possiblities but they are all speculations. He has not divulged much except to say that 12 years is a long tenure for any CEO and now is as good a time as any to hand over the reins. Well, if he wants, i believe that any of the statutory boards will be able to accomodate him anytime but definitely he should be moving into a bigger role as we are after all "short of talents" in Singapore and the "All L**" family are all talented people...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Just some thoughts

Thought i will just share this pic which my friend send me a few days back. I had a good laugh when i saw it; haha... that little bugger, where is he looking? Anyway, no harm, maybe he is still breastfeeding or is just curious.

But seriously, girls these days are getting more and more liberated. Take a walk down Orchard Rd or Bugis and you see girls wearing skimpy outfits and the 'in' thing right now is no longer exposing the cleavage, it is also about showing the a** crack and the G-strings. I have no problems with that, for guys, it is good for the heart and blood circulation but i definitely would not allow my daughter to flaunt herself in this manner.

Where are all the parents by the way, are they aware of the children's attire or they approve of it? The situation can only get worse as we are exposed to more and more of the Western culture. When we read in the newspapers about teenage sex and rising abortion cases (kissing and holding hands at playgrounds, MRT, void decks are considered normal already), we really have to ask ourselves whether our education is a failure and have we done enough to impart life lessons of responsibilties to the children.

It has been a few years now since the govt encouraged sex education in schools but is it a success, well, Tharman would be in a better position to answer this question...

Monday, July 17, 2006

A World Cup Joke - Theo Walcott

A friend of mine sent me this joke and i found it VERY amusing. You may not catch the joke if you are not a soccer fan. Here it goes:

What I did in the Summer -Theo Walcott

I went to a place called Germany with my Uncle Sven and some other grown
up's. It is a country in Europe where a bad man called Adolf used to
live with his nazties, he does not live there anymore, Uncle Owen does
live there, and the grown up's say I cant talk about the bad man as it
will make Uncle Owen cry if I do. In Germany there are lots of castles
and some mountains. We are staying in a place called Baden Baden that's
a silly name, Uncle Frank has the same name as his dad, that's silly
too, his mum must get their underpants mixed up all the time.

On the aeroplane Uncle Sol sat next to me, he got me some toffee and
wants to be my friend, he works at the place where I do my YTS, so does
Uncle Freddy but him and Uncle Sol are not best friends anymore.

Uncle Owen met us at the airport, he talks foreign, Uncle Wayne, Uncle
Steven and Uncle David also talk funny, my mum says Uncle David talks
like Orville, he is a duck, Uncle Sol say's uncle David wears dresses
and knickers, and asked me if I had ever worn them. Uncle Sol got me
some pop.

In Germany the grown ups are going to play football, my grandad says we
beat them in the olden days before my mum was born. That is a long time

While the grown up's went to play football so I went shopping with
Auntie Vicky and some other girls she bought me a big ice cream and got
herself a little one but she said she was full before she had eaten any
and threw it away. She bought lots of shoes and handbags and let me play
with Brooklyn. She say's she used to be in a pop band and sang me one of
her songs, I think she was telling fibs.

I told Uncle Sol about my day out with Vicky and he sulked, then he
bought me an even bigger ice cream with lots of hundred's and thousands
on it.

All the other grown up's have a girlfriend except Uncle Sol so he plays
with me while they go out. Uncle Sven says I must keep Uncle Sol happy,
that's why I got taken on holiday.

The grown up's went to play Football against somebody called Sweden,
Uncle Sol was crying as Uncle Freddy played for them and would not talk
to him. Uncle Sol bought me lots of toffee today and some crisps. Uncle
Sven is from Sweden and I heard him on the phone to their boss last
night. Uncle Michael hurt his knee and had to go home to his mum for a
plaster. Uncle Peter is a giant, a proper giant like you see in books,
he is rubbish at football though.

Uncle Wayne had a sore toe at the start of out holiday but it got better
so they let him play football. Uncle Sol got me a present but I do not
like it. He says all Germans wear leather underpants and I should while
we are here, they are too tight for me.

All the grown up's started to call Uncle Wayne a potato head who stood
on somebodys spuds. He got shouted at by the referee. They are all
saying that we have to go home now. Uncle Sol was crying again and I had
to sit on his knee to make him stop. He had his mobile phone in his
pocket, I think. And it weren't one of those new small phones, it was
proper big.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Foreign worker levy raised by 50 per cent

Singapore's Manpower Ministry has announced changes to its foreign worker policy, to moderate its demand.Among them, an increase in the foreign worker levy for skilled workers.But the Manpower Ministry is also taking steps to ensure that companies don't suffer due to a shortage of workers, especially in the services sector.

The foreign worker levy was cut in 1998 and 1999 to help businesses tide over difficult economic conditions at that time, but Singapore's sustained growth over the past few years created a record number of jobs last year with 63,500 jobs going to locals.At the same time the number of foreign worker permit holders also stood at its highest - 43,000 - since 1997.So to moderate the demand for foreign workers, the levy for skilled foreign workers will go up from the current $100 to $150 from January next year.

Manpower Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen said this would ensure businesses bringing in foreign workers were careful in ensuring that the numbers also increase productivity."I don't think it is healthy for businesses to bring in larger numbers with no controls and this is a partial restoration of the levy cut and fairly consistent with the strong demand we saw last year for foreign workers."This also reduces the wage disparity between foreign and local workers; in other words if wages for local workers increase because of demand and your levy stays the same, then the gap between the wages for locals and what employer are paying actually widens.

This will 'incentivise' them to have a greater demand for foreign workers and that's one reason we are partially restoring the foreign worker levy to make sure the gap is maintained, it doesn't widen," said Dr Ng.But the Manpower Minister said some businesses had also given feedback that the tight labour market has in some instances restricted their potential to grow and meet new orders. They have had to reject orders as they could not find enough workers to expand.

To make it more flexible, the Ministry will also adjust some measures in its foreign worker controls.These include increasing the quota for the S pass category from five to ten percent in October, and raising the dependency ceiling cap for hiring foreign workers in the services industry, but at a higher levy from January next year. Dr Ng made the announcement after touring the Vivocity job fair at the Harbourfront Centre.Vivocity, which will have retail, lifestyle and food outlets is due to open in October with 7,000 jobs available. - CNA /dt

Well done, another increase... This time, it is to increase productivity and control the number of foreign workers in Singapore. Whether the employment rate of locals will increase correspondingly with this latest change is still uncertain. Nevertheless, it is a welcome move to protect the interests of the locals who are competing for the same jobs but may request higher salaries than the foreign counterparts due to the standard of living here.

It is ridiculous to expect Singaporeans to take the same pay as the foreigners as we have commitments like housing, insurance, car loans, children's education to consider while the foreigners do not have such worries in Singapore and can save up the bulk of their money and remit it back. And the exchange rate is so much better, as much as 5-10 times better back in their homeland, so is it a wonder that they are working twice or thrice as hard as Singaporeans??

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Increases in Taxi Fares

Fare increases again; this time under the pretext of helping taxi-drivers cope with increase in fuel cost. After the elections, increase in cost of living is as sure as night and day. It is no wonder that more and more Singaporeans, especially heartlanders are getting disillusioned with life in Singapore. The mounting bills are making life unbearable here and one day, something's got to give.

It is really difficult to identify with the nation-building effort when we look at all the price increases and they are nothing more than efforts to sustain profitability. The latest general survey shows that average household incomes are up and people are making more money. More jobs have also been created. Is it all so rosy here in Singapore? If yes, then i must be mistaken for seeing faces of incredulity when people read the news rather than cheers and adulation for the government.

The reason for giving us all these good news is to be a percusor to the rising bills we have to pay. As they say, the government is now going to take back what they handed out in Progress Package PLUS interest. The view from heartlanders is that the money (our money) given to us in the PP is not peanuts, it is akin to taking a piece of flesh from the govt and they will be taken back very soon (to balance the budget) while the high pay of the ministers and civil servants is "peanuts" and does not impact the budget.

The rationale for the increase in taxi fares is highly questionable, will taxi-drivers really benefit? If yes, i have no qualms about the issue but sadly that is not the case. Firstly, If the concern is the welfare of taxi-drivers, why can't the taxi companies decrease the rentals and help them tide over this difficult period? Oops, am i stating the obvious here, surely the interest and profit of the organization cannot be sacrificed for the taxi-drivers, there would be a serious fallout to the bonus packages and salaries of these directors. Secondly, if fare increase is unavoidable, then is there any chance of it being adjusted downwards when fuel cost return to their normal level? No chance again, sad to say. It is all about profits, profits, profits,.... and it is made all the more disgusting when they use the taxi-drivers' plight to cover up the true intentions.

If anybody is still unclear about the intentions, it was reported in the news recently that after the increase of taxi-fares,the taxi rental fees are going to increase as well. So, pray tell, where is the help for taxi-drivers???? Who is the real beneficiary of these increases at the end of the day???? Here is also a statement from Comfort which will be pleasing to shareholders: 'Comfort delgro's taxi- derived earnings make up the single biggest contribution to its bottom line. The group made $200 million in net profit last year - a repeat of 2004 's performance despite higher fuel costs.'

Despite higher fuel cost, they maintained the profit margin. Well done!! Taxi-drivers slog like hell all day and night to rack up profits for these blood-suckers. A lot of taxi-drivers whom i have come across have expressed their difficulties in making ends meet and they have to dig into their savings at times to pay the rentals. The bottomline is this, unlike the past where a taxi-driver can be the sole breadwinner for the family, it is nearly impossible to do that today. The government is even praising the old generation of taxi-drivers who keep on driving and they want to increase the retirement age, what a nice spin to the reality. They drive because they have no choice, either they need to support themselves or they still need to resolve the education fees of their children.

A lot of taxi-drivers are contemplating the decision to return back the taxis as the burden is too much to handle. If these old "money-making machines" no longer provide their service and the younger generation do not want to drive, then the taxi-companies will be in trouble. Never mind lah, the government can just get foreign labour to come in or just put pressure on the youngsters and tell them not to be choosy (ignoring the fact that a lot of these youngsters may be poly or university grads).

On the consumer side, there is also no clear benefit to the fare increases. The problem of long waiting time for taxis is ever present and the service is not much better either. The government talks about measures for heartware, to reconnect Singaporeans but all this is pure wayang and it smacks of hypocriscy when you are squeezing heartlanders from all angles while talking about caring and concern.

The festering of disillusionment and discontent will continue and it will be reflected in the elections one day. The swelling of ranks in the Worker's Party is already a strong indication as slowly but surely, they are gaining the support of Singaporeans and their step by step approach is the right way forward. The young voters are more educated and will not be easily bought over by the rhetorics of the government. The government has surrounded itself with scholars and elites and want to convince us that the future of Singapore is safe only in the hands of the best brains. However, if these talents can only increase prices all round to solve whatever problems they had, then the plan is not impressive.

Singapore Heartlander has to say this one more time, you don't need a scholar to implement price increases, a road sweeper will do and he will not need a hefty salary. By the way, taxi fares will not be the last of the price increases, more should be on the way, afterall we are earning more already, why worry...