22 December 2006
18 December 2006
Along the way, we stopped by an McDonalds outlet for breakfast. Then just a few doors away, I noticed this shop:
Isn't that funny? This being a country where the government tells us that people are supposedly so conservative that we need laws that impose life imprisonment on gays.
14 December 2006
ST Dec 13, 2006
Feedback focuses on sex laws
Marital rape law reforms inadequate, say some; continued outlawing of gay sex also questioned
By Ben Nadarajan
THE private lives of Singaporeans appear to be the main concern among those who responded to the Government's call for feedback to last month's proposed changes to the Penal Code.
After a month-long feedback period which ended on Saturday, the Home Affairs Ministry received 252 responses from individuals, groups and some lawyers.
Most of the comments touched on the country's controversial sex laws, especially marital rape and gay sex.
Another hot topic was the continued outlawing of gay sex, with at least four groups raising the matter.
The Free Community Church, which supports homosexuality, said this was 'not reflective of the moral values of today's Singapore'.
Aware also weighed in with its support to scrap section 377 (A) - the part of the Penal Code which bans acts of 'gross indecency' between men.
Calling this law an 'unwarranted intrusion' into private lives, Aware said the police should be spending time on more pressing matters than enforcing anti-gay sex laws.
The Free Community Church - which has under 100 members - also argued that singling out a certain group in society was unconstitutional as everyone should be equal before the law.
The ministry explained last month that society, especially religious groups, was not ready to tolerate gay sex.
The government often likes to say that things must be just so in Singapore, because we are a multi-racial, multi-religious society, and we shouldn't offend each other's sensitivities. However, as I've pointed out on many occasions, Singapore is not any more multi-racial or multi-religious than your average big modern city - for example, London, New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Jakarta or Bangkok.
Yet in none of these cities (or their respective countries) is homosexual intercourse between two consenting adults punishable with life imprisonment.
Unlike in Singapore.
The Singapore government is making religious believers in Singapore look like obsessive extremist fanatics. This is not true. Therefore what the Singapore government is doing is just not right.
Technorati: Singapore; religion; gay rights.
12 December 2006
... buy all your groceries at Carrefour, and get a 5% rebate. And it will be as if the new GST increase never happened at all. Also, apply for the Citibank SMRT Visa Platinum Card:
....... which works like an ez-link card. Earn up to 2% rebate as you tap and go at MRT stations. For your other credit card expenditure, you earn rebates redeemable for free SMRT rides.
(It did occur to me that the number of people who qualify for platinum cards and regularly take MRT may be relatively small. The government did recently say that it wants to encourage more Singaporeans to use public transport - I wonder whether this had something to do with SMRT tying up to Citibank to launch this new credit / ez-link card ).
Technorati: Singapore; public transport; credit cards.
09 December 2006
ST Dec 8, 2006
Oversized condoms a headache for many Indian men
NEW DELHI - Condoms designed to meet international size specifications are too big for many Indian men as their penises fall short of what manufacturers had anticipated, an Indian study has found.
The Indian Council of Medical Research, a leading state-run centre, said its initial findings from a two-year study showed 60 per cent of men in the financial capital Mumbai had penises about 2.4cm shorter than those condoms catered for.
For a further 30 per cent, the difference was at least 5cm. A poor fit meant the prophylactics often didn't do the job they were bought for, and led to some tearing or slipping off during use.
'One of the reasons for a failure of up to 20 per cent (of condoms) is the association of the size of the condom to the erect penis,' the council's Dr Chander Puri said, adding another reason was couples often put them on in a hurry.
He said many men in India, which has the world's highest HIV positive caseload, were too shy to ask for condoms.
'We need more vending machines for condoms of different sizes so people can pick a condom with confidence that is suited to their needs,' he said.
The Times of India reported the ICMR survey had studied 1,400 men between 18-50 years of age in cities like Mumbai and New Delhi as well as in rural areas in a report. It entitled its story 'Indian men don't measure up'. -- REUTERS
After a quick check on the Internet, I have ascertained that it is hardly a problem unique to India. It seems to happen all over the world - men struggle with condoms that are either too big or too small. I guess the nature of the product is that it has to fit very well - there isn't much much margin for error.
Technorati: India; condoms.
06 December 2006
ST Dec 4, 2006
Singaporeans 'always come first'
By Zakir Hussain
THE first responsibility of the Government is to Singaporeans, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, when he announced plans to charge non-citizens more for education and health care.
He told some 1,000 People's Action Party cadres at the party's conference that 'while we have non-Singaporeans here, citizens always come first.'
Education and health are two areas in which the Government has not made a clear distinction between citizens, permanent residents and foreigners, Mr Lee added.
This will change, he declared.
In education, non-citizens will be charged higher fees, but the charges would not be set so high as to drive away foreign students.
Tuition fees for foreigners at universities and polytechnics here, for instance, are now 10 per cent above what Singaporeans and PRs pay.
As for health care, PRs will be charged more, while foreign workers are going to pay the full amount and their employers will need to buy medical insurance to protect them.
The Education and Health ministries will make these adjustments in the next few months, Mr Lee said.
'We have to treat visitors well, too, but citizens have to be treated better,' he added.
'Citizens come first in our priorities, in our thinking.'
Technorati: Singapore; politics.
29 November 2006
It must be fun being a minister. Because unlike the rest of Singapore, you'll never have a bad year.
ST Nov 29, 2006
Ministerial pay 'lags behind benchmark'
But decision on whether to relook salaries rests with PM, says SM Goh
By Sue-Ann Chia
BRATISLAVA (SLOVAKIA) - MINISTERS' salaries are pegged to that of the private sector, but they still lag behind the benchmark.
It is therefore likely that when civil service pay is reviewed, ministers' salaries will also be looked at, said Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday.
Last week, the Government indicated that salaries of civil servants are likely to go up as it must keep its wages competitive to recruit and retain talent in a tightening labour market.
At an interview yesterday wrapping up his visit to Europe, Mr Goh was asked about the likelihood of the pay increase, including for ministers.
He replied: 'Since the year 2000, six years have gone by with very good growth rates in some of the years, so it's time to have a look at the salary of the civil service as a whole, including the salary of the ministers.'
Right now, he said, ministers' pay packets are at 50 per cent of the benchmark, when they should be at two-thirds level.
According to the formula agreed upon for over a decade now, ministerial pay is benchmarked to the salaries of the top earners in six chosen professions. It is set at two-thirds the median income of the top eight earners in each of these six professions - that is, the pay of the individual at the mid-point of the list.
What do I mean? Well, let's say a cardiosurgeon in Singapore does very well in his career this year, makes a lot of money and is the top-earning cardiosurgeon this year.
Next year he may not do so well. Maybe he will have fewer patients. Or perhaps he just won't have so many complicated cases, so he has to charge less for doing simpler surgeries. Consequently, he will earn much less.
That's life. Some years are good, some years are not so good.
Ministers, however, have no such problem. Their salary is pegged to whoever is earning most, in a given year. When our top cardiosurgeon is earning a lot, the ministers will peg their salaries to him. When our top cardiosurgeon has a bad year, the ministers will just drop him out of the list.
They will then peg their salaries to some other doctor for whom 2007 does turn out to be a great year (eg the most successful neurosurgeon or oncologist in Singapore, for example).
Don't you just love the subtle phrasing in the following paragraph:
According to the formula agreed upon for over a decade now, ministerial pay is benchmarked to the salaries of the top earners in six chosen professions.
Heheh. Agreed upon by whom? The people of Singapore? The Opposition MPs? The NMPs? Or just between Lee Kuan Yew and his merry men in white?
Technorati: Singapore; politics.
27 November 2006
ST Nov 27, 2006
It's not the money that counts but the parenting
I REFER to YouthInk's discussion on family ties (ST, Nov 13).
I applaud Ng Chuin Song's philosophy that leaving kids in the hands of care-givers is unfair. This shows that she would be a responsible parent.
Hui Min wants to 'provide the best' for her children - she wants the assurance of a good balance between time and money before she 'can be convinced' to start a family.
I want to tell Hui Min that the best person to provide this assurance is herself. She is spot on in pointing out that 'it all boils down to the lifestyle we choose'.
We can spend all our lives chasing material luxuries - pursuing a Dink (double income, no kids) lifestyle in the fast lane - and end up lonely in our old age, regretting bitterly about the decision not to have kids.
Our parents raised large families on small, single incomes - but we turned out pretty okay, didn't we?
I want to assure Hui Min that not being able to afford 'musical or sporting activities' for the children does not make one a bad parent.
Think of parents who are too busy with material pursuits, and have no time for their children. Is that what kids want?
Being constantly chauffeured from school to tuition and enrichment classes?
Wouldn't they prefer to return from school to a home warmed by mum's presence?
Many well-educated women lament that their education is wasted because they have become stay-at-home mums.
But that is shallow thinking: Employment is not the ultimate goal of education.
The most important aspect of education is character building and value inculcation, which is so important for bringing up kids.
We need to be good role models for our children, and we need to impart good values to them.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with the woman holding the domestic fort while the man concentrates whole-heartedly on his career.
If he is successful, financial stability will be assured and the kids will also be well taken care of with mum around.
And don't wait until the children become older; research shows that a child's intelligence is largely set by the age of five.
Tan Chor Hoong
Mother of three children aged 12, 15 and 18
My wife has agreed, provided that I also learn to cook.
Technorati: Singapore; family.
Nov 27, 2006
Not heroin, so not harmful? That's warped logic
By Yusuf Abdol Hamid
DRUG abuse has traditionally been associated with the riff-raff of society.
Their poison of choice was primarily heroin, whose predecessor opium almost
destroyed entire generations in 19th century Asia.
Heroin has a reputation of being a 'hard drug' which ruins lives and earns its abusers long prison terms, and even the death sentence.
With Singapore's focused fight against the malaise, it comes as no surprise that there has been a steady decline in the number of heroin abusers.
Ironically, this has led to the impression among youths that drugs such as Ecstasy, ketamine and Ice are not dangerous. These drugs are not heroin, after all.
As a result, young people who take these 'party' drugs are often in denial of their addictions.
And the ease with which they obtain these substances puts a question mark over our supposedly tight border security.
They claim to smuggle them in from Malaysia, or purchase them in clandestine deals in alleyways and void decks.
So we should not be misled into thinking that the fight against drugs has been won.
A few battles may have gone our way, but the war is still as intense as ever.
Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng hit the nail on the head recently when he expressed his concern over the rise in the use of synthetic drugs.
Last year, 629 arrests were made in relation to synthetic drug use. The figure was almost 10 times the number of heroin abusers caught in the same period.
Some time ago, I was taken aback when a polytechnic classmate asked me over lunch: 'What happened just now during the lecture?'
Having seen her sitting directly in front of me in class, I thought that she was joking.
The sad truth is that she was high on a depressant known as '5', warping her sense of time and giving her no recollection of the entire lecture.
It will take a huge effort, larger in scale than the campaign to counter heroin addiction in the 1970s, to rein in the ever-increasing abuse of synthetic drugs today.
The current anti-drug abuse campaigns are too general in scope and should instead focus more on the danger of synthetic drugs, since they are now much more widely abused than heroin.
Some youths, I am told, are blissfully unaware of the dangers of synthetic drugs - just like marijuana smokers who consistently reject the notion that cannabis contains high levels of cancer-causing carcinogens.
An acquaintance once related to me how he managed to muster the will to quit his dependency on Ice only after attending the funeral of a friend who had died from an overdose.
I hope it will not take more such stories to shake other abusers out of
Fact 2 - Alcohol is a much more dangerous drug than cannabis.
Fact 3 - Cigarettes and alcohol are more dangerous than Ecstasy, LSD and cannabis. Click here to see.
Why then is alcohol and cigarettes legal in Singapore, when cannabis and Ecstasy are not?
Aiyah, I'm tired, so I leave it to you guys to discuss. Anyway, I mostly drink plain water and fruit juice, and I hardly ever even take a Panadol. The first and last cigarette I ever smoked was when I was eight (and I'm still angry with my grandmother for making me try that).
Technorati: Singapore; drugs; health.
24 November 2006
Well, life is unfair. But try to stay positive. If life is unfair, it means that sometimes very good things might happen in your life that you've done absolutely nothing to deserve.
40 percent feel discrimination
A new survey found that 40 percent of Norwegians feel that they have experienced discrimination when seeking work, one of the best results in the 28 nation study.
The survey by manpower company Kelly Services rated Sweden as the worst in terms of job discrimination, with nearly 100 percent of respondents saying they felt they had been unfairly treated in the past five years because of either race, age, gender or disability.
After Sweden came Thailand, Singapore, Hungary, India and Italy.
The countries where the least job discrimination was felt ranked Luxembourg as best, followed by Denmark, Hong Kong and Great Britain.
Norway did rather well, finishing 24th out of the 28 nations studied, despite having about 40 percent of 1,400 polled saying they had experienced employment discrimination in the past five years.
The most commonly given reason for job discrimination in Norway was age (22 percent), followed by gender (8 percent), race (4 percent) and disability (2 percent). Men felt more victimized than women, by 43 percent to 37 percent.
It's interesting to note that there seems to be no correlation between the level of unfair discrimination in a country, and its level of democracy. The above study shows that where jobs are concerned, Sweden and Singapore are the world's most unfairly discriminatory countries. This other study says that Sweden is the world's most democratic nation, while Singapore is ranked dismally (84th place).
Thus like Sweden, you can be very democratic, yet very discriminatory. Or you can be like Singapore - very undemocratic, and very discriminatory.
Technorati: Singapore; jobs; discrimination.
ST Forum Nov 24, 2006
Play poker as a career? Fat chance
THE media attention given to the recent poker tournament held here and glamorising of poker playing as a profession are total unnecessary.
It gave many, especially the young, the false impression and hope that they could make money by playing poker well.
To say that playing poker is a skill and not a gamble is definitely not the whole truth. As the players have no control over what cards they get, it is still a game of chance. Skill, if any, comes with practice and, not surprisingly, at a heavy price.
Let it be said that for every 'successful' poker player, there are thousands of unsuccessful ones, adding to our social burden of broken families and bankruptcies. The media should have pointed out the fallacy of poker playing as a career - for most people.
Angela Lee Soon Lee (Mdm)
23 November 2006
Yawning Bread has just written an essay entitled "The Niqab and the Freedom of Religion - is there any logical reason why people speak of the freedom of religion?".
It is written in typical Yawning Bread style - articulate, intelligent and very well-reasoned. Nevertheless it takes a certain degree of courage to write it (even though most of his examples are taken from outside Singapore). For the essay addresses a topic that is quite taboo in Singapore - religion.
Jus think Sedition Act; Internal Security Act; Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act; and the Penal Code. There are probably one dozen different ways you could get arrested or detained in Singapore, for talking about religion in the "wrong" way.
We like to say that there is religious harmony in Singapore. Actually, that depends on your understanding of the word "harmony".
I would not say that there is religious "harmony" in Singapore. I would say that there is religious tolerance. In Singapore, there is undeniably a high degree of mutual religious tolerance, instilled by the efforts of the Singapore government.
Those efforts work on this basic principle - if you offend someone else's religion, you're gonna get it from the government.
Thus there is mutual tolerance. Not harmony. There is the absence of inter-religious violence, but not the presence of inter-religious understanding. Can we make that further leap? It would be a great achievement indeed.
ST Nov 22, 2006
Singapore may host world interfaith dialogue, says SM
SENIOR Minister Goh Chok Tong wants Singapore to be a venue for interfaith dialogue, bringing religious leaders together to promote greater understanding of each other's faith.
Mr Goh raised the issue of such a meeting with the Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who was 'very supportive' of the idea when they met in Rome on Monday.
'I suggested that since this is a troubled world, we should think of organising an interfaith dialogue in Singapore,' Mr Goh told Singapore media after the half-hour meeting.
Standing just outside the Vatican's St Peter's Square, he said Singapore is an ideal venue for such a meeting late next year or in early 2008 as it is a multi-religious society where people live in harmony.
'If we can have interfaith dialogue initiated by Singapore, the Vatican, plus a few other heads of religion, then we can contribute to a better understanding between people of different religions,' he added.
Singapore has been spreading the word of wanting to host an interfaith dialogue, an idea that Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo surfaced a few months ago.
In his ministry's addendum to the President's address at the opening of Parliament earlier this month, Mr Yeo said Singapore is committed to promoting interfaith dialogue in the coming years.
Technorati: Singapore; religion.
21 November 2006
According to PM Lee, the GST hike will enable the the government to do more to help poor Singaporeans. This implies that without the GST hike, the government is unable to help poor Singaporeans. I don't believe this.
But anyway, if the government does really fulfil its promise to help poor Singaporeans, then I think that the GST hike is a good thing. The real question, as I see it, is whether the government will do as promised.
Am I too cynical? You'll have to pardon me. As an example of the establishment's mindset, take a look at this:
ST Nov 21, 2006
Foreigners get 4 in 10 bursaries given by NUS this year
But S'pore students come first, it says in response to some rumblings
By Education Correspondent, Sandra Davie
FOUR in 10 bursaries awarded by the National University of Singapore (NUS) this year went to foreigners, a move by the university to signal that it embraces talented students from anywhere.
But Singapore students will be catered for first, before the funds go out to foreign students.
The NUS financial aid office has offered 1,500 bursaries so far this year, with 60 per cent, or 900, going to Singaporeans. No local applicant who met the eligibility criterion of per capita monthly household income of up to $900 was turned away.
They were awarded bursaries ranging from $1,000 to $2,000.
Foreigners who could show proof of hardship took the rest of the bursaries, with each getting about $300 less than their local counterparts.
The move by NUS has led to rumblings among some alumni, students and parents, who called The Straits Times to complain about what they see as an 'inappropriately large number of bursaries' going to foreigners.
Their beef is that the bursaries are funded out of the NUS budget, which comes from taxpayers, and alumni contributions, which come mostly from Singaporeans, so why should so much of it go to foreigners, they ask.
Yet the government tells you that to be able to help poor Singaporeans, it needs to raise your GST. How cheeky.
What does NUS have to say in its own defence?
Whatever. You can bet your bottom cent that Mr Wang isn't ever going to donate a cent to his beloved alma mater NUS. Why should I? Even if I had a burning desire to help foreigners, I'd rather donate my money to Cambodian orphans, or Indonesian tsunami victims, or Afghan earthquake survivors.
When asked to comment, NUS reiterated that local students are given priority for bursaries, noting that all Singapore applicants who applied received them.
Foreign students also get less than locals, it said.
NUS vice-provost Lily Kong said its bursary scheme is in line with the university's commitment to ensure that no student is denied a university education due to financial difficulty.
Why should I instead use my money to help a foreigner get his degree in NUS?
Some foreigners who really need your help.
Technorati: Singapore; NUS; education.
20 November 2006
See article below - here is a recurring problem that will grow worse and worse over the years, as the number of PRs, foreigners and adults-turned-new-citizens steadily grows in Singapore.
The writer is wrong to think that only small companies may tend to avoid hiring Singaporean men. The same problem would exist for any job where the individual performs a specialised function such that it isn't easy for someone else to just step in halfway and take over for two or three weeks.
I myself was once asked point-blank at a job interview what kind of SAF vocation I had, how often I would be called up each year, and for how long etc. Fortunately I am blessed with a congenital heart disorder and need not do reservist duties any more.
ST Nov 20, 2006
NS stint may hinder job prospects for S'poreans
WHEN I started business in the motor trade a couple of years ago, I was surprised that many companies are reluctant to employ Singaporeans for several reasons. One of the main ones is that most male Singaporeans have to serve two to three weeks' reservist training every year.
As a Singaporean, I understandably want to support my own people and give our men an opportunity. So my company went against the grain by employing one permanent resident and one Singaporean where most other companies go with PRs.
Both were equally hard working and resourceful. However, the Singaporean had in-camp training and when he failed his individual physical proficiency test (IPPT), he had to go for further training which meant that he had to leave work early. No such thing with PRs.
Although the Government reimburse the employee during reservist training, a company employs someone because of his contribution to its profitability. Does the Government take loss of business into consideration?
Small companies do not have the financial strength to bear the loss. Does this mean male Singaporeans can work only in large companies?
Technorati: Singapore; national service.
Actually I wonder why young Singaporeans are being singled out in particular. After all, Singaporeans in just about every age group are emigrating. This article, written in 2005, cites various sources and tells us that:
* Every year, 6,000 to 7,000 Singaporeans leave to settle down overseas, including many professionals. This is 15% of today's annual births, probably the highest proportion in the world.On a separate note, I do not really believe that the government is really concerned about the high emigration rate, as long as it is able to continue attracting sufficient numbers of foreigners to Singapore.
* One survey has put Singapore's average outflow at 26.11 migrants per 1,000 citizens, the second highest in the world - next only to East Timor (51.07).
* Nearly half of all Singaporeans do not think they need to be a resident to be emotionally rooted to the country.
* Six out of 10 undergraduates said they wanted to go abroad to live or work mostly for better economic and job prospects, and enjoy a higher quality of life with less stress.
* An ACNielsen poll showed 21% of Singaporeans, mainly professionals, were considering emigration, half opting for Australia and New Zealand.
* Between 100,000 and 150,000 Singaporeans are studying, working or in business in foreign countries; leaders fear that many of them will not return.
Technorati: Singapore; emigration.
19 November 2006
Firstly, the range of topics will be wider. Basically I'll just blog about anything I feel like. I won't be sticking just to social, economic, political and legal issues in Singapore.
Secondly, irrelevant comments will simply be deleted. Also, please don't cut & paste entire articles from elsewhere into my comment section. Just leave a hyperlink. I hate clutter.
Thirdly, since I get so much traffic, I shall put it to good use by giving more publicity to worthy causes and charitable events. So if you're organising something, feel free to drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
17 November 2006
Palmer refers to scientific discoveries about human brain development. The quality and quantity of stimulation that a child receives in the first six years of his life will play a huge factor in determining his mental capabilities ... for the rest of his life.
This has got to do with the actual physical growth of the brain (neurons, dendrites, synapses and so on) which is influenced by the external stimulation. Past the age of six, the brain has done most of its growing, and the possibility of further huge gains in mental processing capabilities become much more limited.
Palmer therefore argues for the Singapore government to place more emphasis on pre-school education.
The topic is close to my heart because I am a daddy of two young children. In fact, ever since I became a father, child development and psychology has become one of my pet topics.
The scientific discoveries are nothing new, and are furthermore a continual work-in-progress. Gaps and unknowns are still being researched. But overall it is fair to say that the first six years of the child's life really matter a lot, in determining his ultimate capabilities.
Palmer's post on P65 attracted a worried comment from one concerned citizen. An excerpt:
Dear Mr Palmer,I absolutely empathise with the sentiments of the above post. However, I also absolutely disagree with its substance. Let me explain.
I feel strongly that putting more emphasis on pre-school education will be detrimental to our nation. Yes, perhaps children do benefit from an early education, but I think that you are neglecting several consequences that will arise should your suggestions be put in place. First and foremost, Singapore is a competitive culture. We have seen this time and again when parents pressure their children to get into a good school by attaining high scores in their exams. This pressure starts at the Primary level, where parents already compete with each other to get their children into prestigious schools. Put more emphasis on pre-school education, and you will see the pressure on children jump to an all time high .....
It is a tragedy that Singaporean school children are so pressured already; but it is a necessary evil. Already, children commit suicide because of stress-related problems. Let us not impose these pressures on the young until they are truly ready. Please, let children be children. No good can come, in my humble opinion, of turning them into competitive academic machines.
What should a quality preschool education be like? If you go by what the scientific discoveries tell you, it should be fun. It should be enjoyable. Kids should love it.
If they don't, then it isn't a quality education. Why? Because little children learn through play. That's how you engage their higher cognitive centres. If they feel stressed or frightened, that means they're operating from the reptilian cortex (the part of the brain that generates the "fight-or-flight" response to danger). And that's simply not where we need the brain growth to be.
In other words, if your little kids feel stressed in class, then the teacher sucks. And your kids aren't getting a quality preschool education. Quality learning only happens when the kids are having fun.
That's why in a quality preschool, you expect no homework. Your kids want to go to school. The classroom has toys, posters, art materials, musical instruments - and plenty of space for the kids to run around. The kids learn not by sitting down and memorising, but through drama, games, singing, dancing, art & craft, group play and hands-on experiments. The teachers are caring, humorous and smiling.
Lessons are designed to engage several of the multiple intelligences at a time. The environment is not competitive, because nothing is graded, nothing is given an A or B or F. Every lesson is designed to be its own reward. Everything should be fun.
So I hope that the Singapore government will promote quality preschool education. We need many, many more trained preschool teachers who know what quality is all about. Precisely because Singapore is already too competitive. We need to stop the current education system from destroying our little kids' natural curiosity and love for learning. We want things to be fun.
Technorati: Singapore; education.
ST Forum Nov 17, 2006The letter doesn't say exactly what AIA product Mr Ishwaran bought. But Mr Wang can hazard a few guesses as to what might have happened here. Here goes:
50% less returns from investment
IN NOVEMBER 2002 I invested $10,000 in an AIA investment scheme for five years, using funds from my CPF Special Account.
Recently, AIA informed me that, as of this month, the amount earned on the investment after four years is $800-plus.
I wonder how much the company will pay me on maturity next November - maybe another $200 more.
The CPF Special Account pays 4 per cent interest and had I not taken out my funds I would have earned $2,000 in five years.
On the other hand, AIA will pay me only about $1,000. When the account was opened, I was given to understand that the returns would be about 6 per cent.
If I close the account now, I may incur a penalty.
There should be rigorous checks and controls on companies seeking to tap CPF members' Special Account funds.
Firstly, Mr Ishwaran thought he invested $10,000. Actually, he probably invested less than that. $10,000 was deducted from his CPF account, but a good chunk of it went to the insurance agent's pocket, as commission.
Another chunk of the $10,000 went towards paying the pure premium for his life insurance. In other words, AIA had promised to pay him $X if he dies anytime between 2002 to 2007. In return for this promise, Ishwaran has to pay AIA.
A third portion of his $10,0000 went to his agent bank. When you wish to invest your CPF money, you need to open an account with either DBS, OCBC or UOB. Then whenever you do something (like buy into an AIA investment scheme with your CPF Special Account money), the agent bank charges a fee.
After deducting these three payments, we see that Ishwaran actually invested quite a lot less than $10,000. So he really can't expect such high returns.
Poor Mr Ishwaran. If only he'd understood all that, before he invested.
More generally - the money in your CPF Special Account earns 4% per annum. This is a good return, considering that the return is guaranteed, by none other than the government of Singapore (a triple-A rated entity). In the financial world, this kind of investment is considered "risk-free".
If you choose to invest your CPF Special Account money elsewhere, you could possibly get returns high than 4%. On the other hand, you also have to take the risk not just of earning less than 4% (which is what happened to Mr Ishwaran), but of losing part of your principal sum. For most people, I would say that the sensible thing to do is leave your money in your CPF Special Account.
Bear in mind that every sensible investment portfolio needs some diversification. That simply means that you invest in different things, some of which carry lower risks and lower potential returns, and some of which carry higher risks and higher potential returns.
Therefore even if you consider 4% low, you can nevertheless leave your CPF Special Account money alone and think of it as the "low risk" portion of your overall portfolio. You can then allocate a greater part of your non-CPF investment towards riskier investments (such as equities).
Personally I think that 4% is great for a risk-free investment.
See also Mr Wang's recent other post about insurance.
Some people like to use their CPF OA and SA to buy insurance because it's money they can't otherwise use anyway. This is rather naive thinking (unless you need insurance and you really can't afford to pay for it with your own cash). Your CPF isn't doing nothing. It's growing and it's meant for your retirement.
I want to reiterate my view that insurance and investment generally are a poor mix. Treat them separately. Buy insurance for protection's sake; invest the rest to make money. Mr Ishwaran can still achieve outstanding profits on his AIA product; however to do that, he has to die immediately. I don't think he would like that.
Technorati: Singapore; financial planning .
ST Online Forum, Nov 17, 2006
MP's remarks about 'complaining' S'poreans are unfair
I agree fully with the views expressed by Mr Benny Tan Seng Hee and Mr Wang Tiancheng, who reacted to Dr Mohd Maliki Osman's statement that Singapore is becoming a nation of problem-identifiers, not problem-solvers.
As an ordinary Singapore citizen, I would like to state that words cannot describe my disappointment with Dr Maliki.
I would take this opportunity to raise some questions and seek further clarifications on his statements in Parliament.
Isn't it ironic that Dr Maliki, an MP and community leader who was elected by Singaporeans who believe and have trust in his abilities to serve them, complain about Singaporeans' complaints?
I hope that it is not a sign that the MP is getting sidetracked from the tasks at hand by making statements and raising issues which do not significantly benefit anyone.
Exactly what is wrong with Singaporeans requesting assistance from the authorities when there is a problem?
Isn't this the most logical and civilised thing to do? Dr Maliki cited an example of residents calling their town councils when the lift landings are dirty. Is it wrong for residents who contribute monthly to the conservancy and maintenance costs of the estate to do so?
I strongly disagree with the statement that by 'giving feedback' to government agencies, many adults are bad role models for their children.
Filing complaints or 'giving feedback' is a legal and peaceful means of seeking redress, change and improvements.
This process educates the young to respect the nation's laws and raises awareness on the proper channels that are available to citizens. This will also provide them with the assurance that their views will not go unheard.
Dr Maliki's labelling of Singaporeans as 'problem identifiers' and 'problem referrers' is condescending, unfair and uncalled for. As far as I'm concerned, these negative labels have the potential to cause many Singaporeans to be upset, especially those who have voted for him to represent them in Parliament.
With all due respect, Dr Maliki should realise that delivering promises and staying focused on serving the needs of Singaporeans, regardless of how big or small the issue is, is part and parcel of his challenges as an elected Member of Parliament.
I invite Dr Maliki to clarify and explain his statements.
Mohammad Fahmi Bin Ahmad Abu Bakar
Technorati: Singapore; Parliament.
Backgrounders: The earlier story..
14 November 2006
ST Nov 14, 2006I love the way PM Lee makes it sound as if he and Mah are coming up with some grand innovative ideas all on their own. The truth is that reverse mortgages are not a new invention. They just haven't happened in Singapore, that's all.
Ageing profile is coming 'tidal wave', but Govt is prepared
By Sue-Ann Chia
LIKENING the issue of an ageing population to a tidal wave poised to hit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Government was preparing for its effects.
It will, for instance, look into helping older Singaporeans unlock the value of their assets, such as homes, so that they will have income in their golden years.
The question was how to unlock the value so they would still have a home - perhaps a smaller one, or on a shorter lease - but convert that value into a steady stream of income that can see them into their old age.
This was something that there were various ideas on, he said, adding that National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan was looking into them.
Mr Lee painted a picture of the changing population profile when he responded to issues which MPs had raised in four days of debate on the President's Address at the opening of Parliament.In Singapore, this scenario isn't anywhere as scary as it would be, say, in most other developed countries. The main difference is that in most other developed countries, the government is committed to providing pensions, subsidised healthcare, social welfare etc for its senior citizens. As the number of senior citizens increases, it becomes difficult to fund the social welfare system.
Mr Lee said there were 112,000 elderly Singaporeans aged 65 and above in 1980 - about the same number of residents as Toa Payoh town.
Last year, this number more than doubled - to 291,000 or 2.5 times the number of people in Toa Payoh.
In 2020, there would be 575,000 people aged 65 and above - a number enough to cover five Toa Payoh estates.
'This is a tidal wave which is coming towards us,' he said as he also cited what it meant for the ratio of elderly people to those of working age.
This ratio was 1:14 in 1980, meaning that for every elderly person here, there were 14 others who were of working age. But the ratio was 1:9 last year, and will narrow to 1:5 by 2020.
In Singapore, there's no welfare system, so the ageing population does not pose such a big challenge for the government. Of course, as the population ages, more voters will belong to the senior citizen category. Then again, most Singaporeans never get to vote anyway, so the PAP will continue to hold all the many uncontested seats in Parliament.
The Government will take a more concerted effort to tackle the problems arising from Singapore's silvering society. And leading this task will be Mr Lim Boon Heng, who has a keen interest in the ageing issue.
Mr Lim - who steps down as NTUC secretary-general at the end of the year - will continue as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and oversee ageing issues on behalf of the Prime Minister.
I think they used to call Mr Lim the Minister Without Portfolio - perhaps they still do. I too would love to earn more than a million dollars a year while being responsible for nothing in particular.
But Mr Lee reminded the House that the Government had already been addressing some of the issues associated with ageing.All of these are terrible examples. Okay, let's see.
There has been the lift-upgrading programme to have lifts stop on every floor; the Maintenance of Parents Act which ensures children support their parents; and various committees looking into ageing issues and helping older Singaporeans work longer.
Lift upgrading programme ... Well, I don't have to mention Hougang and Potong Pasir, do I. They each have a very significant senior citizen population, don't they. Their lifts aren't getting upgraded, are they. You know why, don't you.
Maintenance of Parents Act ... Ironically, this piece of legislation wasn't proposed by any PAP Member of Parliament. For that matter, it wasn't proposed by any Opposition member. It was proposed by a Nominated Member of Parliament - Professor Walter Woon. Another irony - it was the previous GST rate hike that inspired Walter to come up with this idea. He was worried that the hike would make things financially difficult for senior citizens.
And now ... the government is about to raise GST again.
I'm also amused to see PM Lee say that "helping older Singaporeans work longer" is one of the ways by which the government is tackling the aging population challenge. Why am I amused? Read my old post here. An excerpt:
Frankly I am not very sure what is the significance of the government raising or not raising the retirement age.In other words, old folks will work if they have no choice.
If you need the money, you will want to work. If you like to work, you will also want to work. If you don't need the money and don't like to work, then you won't work.
All of the above holds true, whether you are 45 or 62 or 75 years old.
As for employers, they will employ or offer to employ whoever they think they need, at whatever cost they think they can afford, and at whatever salary they think the employee is worth.
That also holds true - whether the employee is 45 or 62 or 75 years old."
Back to the Straits Times article:
Their financial security has also not been neglected.Well, once again you can read my old post about the poor owning a "significant asset" in their own home. Sure, it's significant. And when they sell their own, they will also be significantly homeless.
Singaporeans had the Central Provident Fund (CPF), for instance. 'We've built up their CPF, we've put aside substantial savings, we've allowed Singaporeans to invest these savings in housing and house property values have appreciated for many Singaporeans,' he noted.
Even the poorest 20 per cent of the population have, in their home, a 'significant' asset: about $138,000 worth of equity.
'Overall, in terms of financial adequacy of our old folks, we have a good system based on individual savings and home ownership,' Mr Lee said. 'It ensures that most Singaporeans have put aside enough savings for their old age.'
There will be a few who will not have enough due to lack of regular work, illness or misfortune which is beyond their control, he noted.
'The Government will do more to help them and will help them to do more to help themselves, as we have been doing,' he promised.
Technorati: Singapore; Parliament
11 November 2006
Business Times - 11 Nov 2006Okay, let's see what's happening. Essentially the divide between rich and poor is growing wider and wider in Singapore. And some Singaporeans are getting left far, far behind.
YESTERDAY IN PARLIAMENT
'Many helping hands' the way to go: Vivian
He says the reason for this model is to get the right people to do the job
By WEE LI-EN
THE 'many helping hands' approach to taking care of people in need is a good model despite its flaws, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament yesterday.
Although there are problems with the model, detractors should be very careful about 'slaying that sacred cow of many helping hands', he said. 'You might actually slay the cow which is producing the milk of human kindness.'
On Wednesday, Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua said the 'many helping hands' approach can result in 'wrong helping hands syndrome'. She questioned the reliance on volunteers to provide key services in voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), saying the roles of state, VWOs and people need to be defined correctly.
But Dr Balakrishnan, who is the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, said yesterday the reason Singapore has such a model is to get the right people to do the job.
'You want commitment, you want passion, you want dedication, you want people whose hearts and minds are truly resonating in sync with the people they are trying to help. Hearts and minds like that cannot be bought, cannot be employed,' he said. 'What we need then is to get the right model and to get the relationships right.'
Dr Balakrishnan said his ministry will confine itself to the 'big picture' to identify needs and find out what VWOs need, while maintaining a co-funding and a co-helping model. This model does not require a big bureaucracy to check on VWOs because, if they raise half of every dollar they spend, it can be assumed that most of the time the money will be spent honestly and prudently, he said.
Dr Balakrishnan also said the community development councils (CDCs) will develop 'comcare local networks' through which all stakeholders in an area can share information, collaborate on joint projects and help look after people in their fold. 'Basically, what we want to ensure is that there will be no wrong door, no wrong hands and nobody slips between hands,' he said.
What's the government's proposed solution? Basically their idea is to encourage the people to help the people (God forbid that the government actually be expected to help the people). In other words, the government has decided to rely on charitable organisations, NGOs, voluntary welfare organisations and the like.
And from recent government pronouncements, it seems that the government is expecting these organisations to do something quick, in a very big way.
I am very skeptical of this model. I don't think it can work in Singapore. In fact I think that failure would be likely in most other countries as well, but particularly likely in Singapore.
We simply don't have the culture and the mindset for this. Just look at our PAP leaders. They stand up in Parliament and without any shame, they loudly say that if we don't pay them the world's highest ministerial salaries, they will quit for the private sector. Either that, or they will feel compelled to become corrupt and start robbing the nation's coffers.
Like it or not, the PAP has been in overwhelming power for decades. Their mindset necessarily reflects something about the mindset of the people. Face it, folks - we're a selfish people. Just like our leaders, we're competitive, pragmatic, kiasu and greedy. The vast majority of us are not going to waste our time on charity work.
Years ago, we even scrapped subjects like Bible Knowledge and Buddhist Studies from our school syllabus, because they were economically useless subjects. Now suddenly we expect Singaporeans to brim with love, kindness and charitable instincts?
We're so hard-headed that many of our schools even scrapped Literature from the syllabus because statistics show that it is harder to score an A in Literature. Now Dr Vivian poetically refers to "the milk of human kindness" in his speech, but I bet most young Singaporeans don't even know that the line came from Shakespeare's Macbeth.
The other thing is that Dr Vivian is basically calling on the VWOs to be much more active, and pro-active, than they've ever been before. He's asking VWOs to step up their efforts in a massive way. But Singapore is not a place where civil society organisations thrive. This nation does not like people with a sense of mission. It's often suspicious of people who even have an opinion (remember that proposal to license all bloggers?). If you wanted to hold a public charity event for the blind and homeless, you'd have to get police approval.
That's how this nation has been, for a long time. Consequently most Singaporeans have been conditioned to think and behave in a certain manner. That manner is just not consistent with mass voluntarism. No, we do not brim with the milk of human kindness. Unless it can help us to score an A, but then we already scrapped Literature.
Besides, there won't be that many old, poor Singaporeans to care for. The government already has plans to export them.
Ask not what your country can do for you ...How cheeky the PAP government has become. The ministers pay themselves the world's highest ministerial salaries .... and now the government dares to complain that Singaporeans complain about dirty lift landings or mosquitoes.
MPs decry whinging Singaporeans, call for soul searching
TODAY Friday • November 10, 2006
Leong Wee Keat
INSTEAD of harping on what the Government can do to bridge the social divide, the spotlight in Parliament yesterday fell on Singaporeans. And there were some home truths told, too.
"A nation of complainers" and "a society increasingly reliant on the Government for help" were among the sadder — and harsher — labels mentioned. Member of Parliament for Sembawang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman started the ball rolling when he called for "reflection and soul searching" among Singaporeans.
Dr Maliki noted Singaporeans had become increasing reliant on an "efficient system" that handles issues on the municipal and national level. He said: "When the lift landing of our flat is not clean … we call the town council; when there are mosquitoes in the neighbourhood, we call the NEA (National Environment Agency) … if things don't improve, we go to our MPs or tell the media."
Mind you, this is the SAME government that will fine you if you're caught littering at your lift landing or with a pail of stagnant, potentially mosquito-breeding water in your home.
While not advocating that the Government be taken out of the "equation", Dr Maliki hopes to see that the "responsibility to make the society work rests not only on those in the chamber", but also on "the collective interlocking hands of four million Singaporeans". For example, he wanted Singaporeans to reflect on what they, and not the Government, had done to strengthen resilience within their own families.Huh? As far as I can see, the government has done absolutely nothing to "strengthen the resilience" in my family. If they have ever done anything of that kind - maybe my MPs secretly prayed for the spiritual and psychological well-being of my children? - I'm really not aware of it.
Can anyone reading my blog please tell me how the government has "strengthened the resilence" of your family?
MP for Marine Parade GRC Lim Biow Chuan called on Singaporeans to be more gracious and compassionate and said Singapore is fast becoming a nation of complainers. While the Government can set the tone, he urged Singaporeans to be "encouragers" — not only in encouraging fellow citizens, but also pushing the society to be an inclusive and cohesive one.Just listen to these MPs. They get $8,000 or $10,000 per month, all taxpayers' money, for being Members of Parliament. And when they go to Parliament, they spend their precious time complaining about Singaporeans .... engaging in wiffly-waffly musings on questions like "What makes a country great?" .... and talking about their weekends and their running clubs.
MP for Marine Parade GRC Lim Biow Chuan called on Singaporeans to be more gracious and compassionate and said Singapore is fast becoming a nation of complainers. While the Government can set the tone, he urged Singaporeans to be "encouragers" — not only in encouraging fellow citizens, but also pushing the society to be an inclusive and cohesive one. "What makes a country great? It is not just the laws … the efficiency or the beautiful buildings but the people that make it great," Mr Lim said. East Coast GRC MP Ms Jessica Tan urged Singaporeans and the Government to also provide an environment where "people can run their own race". Using the example of a weekend running club, which she is a member of, Ms Tan said the encouragement from each other helps members to complete their runs. Likewise, she hoped that such encouragement would make "the journey much better" for all Singaporeans.
For goodness sakes, please use your time in Parliament more constructively. Where are your constructive suggestions on real, concrete issues? If you have nothing better to say, you'd better hurry off and practise for your hip hop dance performance in February.
Technorati: Singapore; Parliament; politics.
ST Nov 11, 2006You don't need to be an expert like Christopher Tan. All you need is buy a basic book on personal financial planning and you will quickly understand that the advice "buy term, invest the rest" is good advice for most people. Not all people, but most people.
Many S'poreans don't have the right insurance cover
A third of those surveyed can't tell what is sufficient level of protection
By Finance Correspondent, Lorna Tan
ALMOST nine out of 10 Singaporeans have an insurance policy but many of them remain grossly underinsured when hard times hit because they have not bought the right policy.
A recent survey by the Life Insurance Association (LIA) found that 35 per cent of 514 respondents had no clue about what constituted a sufficient level of cover.
The most popular policies in Singapore have long been whole life and endowment plans. They have costly premiums but offer some insurance protection and potentially bumper payouts.
The high premiums, however, tempt many people to settle for a lower level of insurance cover that in many cases is inadequate.
According to the July survey, which covers households with a monthly income of at least $3,000, 73 per cent of respondents bought whole life policies, while 59 per cent have endowment plans.
LIA figures also show that the average death payout this year has been just $39,700.
And the average claim payout - anything from policy maturities, death and critical illness to total and permanent disability - was a mere $29,000.
Experts like Mr Christopher Tan, chief executive of financial advisory firm Providend, believe that many people would be better off investing in more traditional term life plans.
These offer pure insurance protection but have no savings element, which means there is no payout when the policy expires or is surrendered.
To give an idea of costs, a 20-year term plan with a sum insured of $100,000 costs $391 a year for a 35-year-old non-smoking male.This is one important reason why we all need self-education on how to manage our own money matters. Financial advisers and insurance agents, first and foremost, sell you products and policies that are good for themselves. That's often not the same as what's good for you.
This is much lower than the annual premiums of $1,990 for a whole life policy and $4,559 for a 20-year endowment plan.
LIA deputy president Mark O'Dell recommended term plans, with their high protection at a relatively lower cost, as 'the most affordable way for families with dependants to close the protection gap'.
Yet these plans are not big sellers here and one reason, said Mr Tan, is that agents reap higher commissions selling whole life and endowment plans.
He said: 'At the end of the day, if the main compensation is commissions, there is a high chance that whatever product is sold depends on the commissions derived.'
The LIA cited another reason. 'Singaporeans, like many people in Asia, like combining protection with investments, knowing that there will be a cash value when a policy matures,' said LIA president Jason Sadler.Well, let me perform my public-service good deed for the day and explain a couple of things.
Suppose you want life insurance, so as to protect your loved ones from financial disaster should you unexpectedly die. At the same time, you also want to invest your money. So you buy some kind of investment-linked policy which achieves both objectives at the same time. Your insurance agent collects a big commission and both of you are happy.
In practice, this is usually not the optimal approach for you (although your agent will be happy). In most cases, the better approach for you is to buy term life insurance and separately invest your money.
Term life insurance is basically a kind of insurance where you pay a small premium every month for a very large payout if you die. You usually cannot buy term life insurance beyond the age of 65. If you don't die by then, you don't ever get any money back.
If/when you pass the age of 65, chances are that your dependants are not very dependent on you. Your kids will probably be grown up. By then you will also hopefully have built up your savings and you can pass it all to your beloved spouse after you're dead.
The monthly premium for term life insurance is very cheap, compared to, say a endowment plan or a whole life policy. Thus for most people, buying term and investing the rest works better. That way, you get a lot more protection. You also get an excellent chance of achieving better investment returns in the long run.
That's because the nature of many endowment plans is that they have to be very conservative about how they invest your money. Low risk translates into low returns, which is unfortunate because these plans run on for years and years. With a long timespan, people should logically take higher risks - another basic financial concept.
Of course, I've assumed above that you are willing to put in some effort to learn how to invest your money elsewhere in a sensible way.
Moving on. Now here comes a little bit of
But to have sufficient protection, he said the 'international rule of thumb' for insurance cover for an individual should be at least 10 times his annual earnings.Whenever you hear any piece of advice about anything concerning money, first ask yourself - what is the source of this piece of advice, and what agenda would this source have?
The international rule of thumb for insurance is that you should have "at least 10 times his annual earnings" - so we're told. This "rule of thumb" is created by insurance companies, whose agenda is to sell you insurance. That's how they make money. So you can be quite confident that their rule of thumb has probably been heavily overstated.
Firstly let me explain the rationale behind this rule of thumb. Suppose you are the sole breadwinner of your family and you earn $5,000 a month or $60,000 a year. Then you die. The idea is that your insurance payout should be sufficient to allow your family to sustain approximately the same lifestyle for the next 10 years. That will give them plenty of "cushion" to adjust to your untimely demise. So the insurance agent will say that you need to have $60,000 x 10 = $600,000 worth of coverage.
Now, as you can see, there is some "rationale" behind the rule of thumb. On the other hand, it also glosses over many variables, which are collectively so significant that I, for one, think that the rule of thumb is largely useless.
Firstly, if you were earning $5,000 a month today, you wouldn't have spent it all on your family anyway. Suppose in fact that on average, you had been spending $1,500 a month on yourself (food, transport, clothes, entertainment). Well, when you're dead, you don't need any more food, transport clothes or entertainment. In fact you've been sustaining your family on only $5,000 - $1,500 = $3,500 a month, or $42,000 a year. Reapplying the adjusted rule of thumb, you only need $42,000 x 10 = $420,000, not $600,000 worth of coverage.
Secondly, receiving the full sum of $420,000 immediately upon your death is very different from receiving $3,500 a month, 12 months a year, over 10 years. Don't forget the time value of money. The immediate $420,000 is much more valuable. If what you want is for your family to receive the equivalent of $3,500 every month for the next 120 months after your death, and you therefore proceed to pay for the right to immediately receive $420,000 upon death, you are basically overpaying.
Thirdly, consider the hypothetical Mr Jin Jia Kiam and Mr Ai Kai Lui, both of whom are about the same age, currently earning $5,000 a month and spending $3,500 a month on their respective families (one wife and two young kids each). Suppose both men die. Mr Jin dies leaving $300,000 in his bank and investment accounts. Mr Ai dies leaving $300,000 in credit card and loan shark debts. Obviously, they leave their families in very different financial circumstances. Thus what constitutes adequate insurance coverage would be very different for Mr Jin and Mr Ai. Since individuals can be vastly different in their financial circumstances even though they earn the same salary, the "10 times annual earnings" insurance rule of thumb is quite useless.
Fourthly, even if you had not died at that critical moment, your salary would not have remained the same (at $5,000) for the next 120 months anyway. Do you actually know anyone whose salary has actually stayed the same for the past 120 months?
I could give more examples, but by now you get the point. I'll say it again - there are so many significant variables that this insurance rule of thumb is pretty much useless. What people need is some basic level of financial understanding, so that they can consider the variables in their own individual lives, and plan accordingly. The rule of thumb SUCKS. And everyone should educate themselves on how to manage their own financial matters.
Technorati: ; insurance; financial planning.
09 November 2006
Thursday November 9, 12:17 AMThis seems rather disappointing. It appears that the government is going to leave all the laws in the Penal Code on sexual offences exactly as they are. I think this is terrible because Singapore's laws on sexual offences are abundant with illogical, contradictory and/or archaic ideas.
Govt to introduce laws on 19 new offences, expand scope of existing offences
SINGAPORE : The Home Affairs Ministry is planning to introduce legislation on 19 new offences and expand the scope of 19 existing offences in the Penal Code.
Some of these changes are to keep abreast of technological changes which have taken place in the last two decades, such as the internet and mobile phones.
And with these technological changes, there had been new issues and offences by those who abused or used them to commit crime.
Currently these acts are not covered or prosecuted under related provisions in the Penal Code which do not specifically address these offences.
The last major review of the Penal Code - Singapore's primary criminal legislation - was made in 1984 when mandatory minimum sentences were imposed for offences such as robbery and rape.
Since then, times have changed and some are making use of electronic medium like the internet and mobile phones to commit crimes.
And several of the proposed new laws will aim to help police tackle crimes like credit-card fraud more effectively.
The Ministry proposes to introduce a new law - Section 473B - to prosecute fraudsters who make, or possess equipment used to forge credit cards.
The new laws will also help police deal with internet or mobile phone scams which target Singaporeans, even if the scams are executed outside of Singapore.
Following the case of racist bloggers who were charged under the Sedition Act, the Ministry is now proposing to expand a law under the Penal Code.
Currently, under Section 298, it is an offence to say words meant to wound religious feelings.
The Ministry recommends this to be expanded to cover wounding of racial feelings as well.
This way, prosecutors will have the option of charging offenders under the Penal Code or the Sedition Act.
There are also plans to enact a new offence which covers an action that is likely to cause racial or religious disharmony, or promote enmity on grounds of race or religion.
The law on 'unlawful assembly' will also be clarified. The Ministry is proposing that if five or more people gather with a common intention to commit a crime, they can be charged with 'unlawful assembly' even if the gathering does not disturb public tranquility.
"The whole idea is to be able to intervene earlier rather than wait for the crime to take place. What this unlawful assembly is dealing with is large numbers. There's always a sense that more people are more dangerous. And if you have many people, five or more, gathered together with the common objective of committing some crime, the police can take action sooner rather than later," says Associate Professor Kumaralingam Amirthalingam from the Faculty of Law at NUS.
On cheating, it is proposed that the law be expanded to make a culprit liable even if he does not carry out the act himself and appoints an agent to do it for him. - CNA /ls
Oral sex between consenting adults is still a criminal offence (even though 7-Eleven sells strawberry-flavored condoms). Husbands who force themselves on their wives still have 100% immunity from a rape charge. Consensual sex between two men is still punishable to the same maximum extent as attempted murder (that is, with life imprisonment). If a man forcibly penetrates a woman's vagina, he must be caned, but if he forcibly penetrates her anus, he cannot be caned. If a man rapes a girl, he shall be caned, but if a man rapes a boy, he cannot be caned.
These are some of the stupidities in the Penal Code which the government still permits to exist.
Technorati: Singapore; law
08 November 2006
Business Times - 08 Nov 2006And all that Indonesian money ... is it clean?
22% of residential property deals are with foreign buyers
By ARTHUR SIM
(SINGAPORE) Foreign buyers now account for 22 per cent of all residential property transactions here - an increase of 24 per cent from a year ago.
According to a report by Savills Singapore, 22 per cent or 3,143 of the 14,286 homes sold in the first nine months of the year were bought by foreigners. And the full-year figure is likely to be a record high, says Savills' director of marketing and business development, Ku Swee Yong.
The report does not break down foreign buyers into nationalities - but Mr Ku says Indonesians and Malaysians account for most of the transactions. Malaysians favour mid-market homes, while Indonesians are inclined to target the top end.
Technorati: Singapore; Indonesia; money laundering.
07 November 2006
ST Nov 7, 2006
Court orders transcript, images on Net removed
By Ken Kwek
SINGAPORE Democratic Party (SDP) supporter Yap Keng Ho has posted online a transcript and still images from police video clips showing him and two others allegedly speaking in public without a permit.
He may be held in contempt of court for the act, District Judge Eddy Tham told him yesterday on the eighth day of a trial involving Yap, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan and party member Gandhi Ambalam.
The trio are on trial for speaking in public without a permit.
Last week, they had received DVD copies and a transcript of the video recording, both of which had been submitted as evidence by the prosecution.
Judge Tham told Yap that by posting the information online, he may have illegally made a public comment on the case while it was still sub judice, or before the courts.
He asked Yap to remove the information from the blog and also warned Chee and Yap not to put online the copies of video and transcript they had.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Lee Lit Cheng had earlier objected to Yap's action, saying that it went against the court's ruling that the trio could use the DVDs only to prepare for their defence and 'not for other uses'.
Yap argued that since the original had been screened in open court before the public and media last week, it should also be made available to the public for the sake of transparency.
Chee asked the judge to clarify whether the action was definitely unlawful as he too had been thinking of putting the information online as part of the preparation of his defence.
Judge Tham said he could not make a ruling before hearing arguments from both the prosecution and defence.
The trial continues today.
This is interesting. Firstly I wonder whether the judge actually did order Yap to remove the transcript and images. That's what the ST headline tells us, but the ST article tells a slightly different story.
The actual article merely says that the judge has told Yap that he may be held in contempt for doing such a thing. There is a distinction here, although I think it's one that matters more to lawyers than non-lawyers (like Ken Kwek, the journalist).
Can an accused person (or a witness) post evidence from a court case on the Internet? As a general principle, criminal trials are held in open court. It means that members of the public are free to walk into court to witness the trial.
In other words, anyone could very well have come to court to watch the video as it was being screened there. Since that is the case, it doesn't seem to me to be unfair or harmful for the video to be posted on the Internet.
The video is really just a piece of evidence, just like oral testimony from a witness. A video may show Chee making a speech about XYZ in a public place and several hundred people in the audience". Similarly, a witness may come to court and say, "I saw Chee making a speech about XYZ in a public place and several hundred people in the audience."
After testifying in court, the witness leaves and is generally free to tell the whole world what he said in court (subject to a few limited exceptions). In other words, he's free to transmit his testimony (or evidence) to the whole world. It seems to me that the video should also be similarly transmittable.
In some situations, the court can order certain kinds of evidence not to be made public. For example, the court may order the press not to reveal the name of the victim of a sexual offence. In a counterfeiting case, the court may also order the expert's evidence on how counterfeit currency notes are made or detected to be heard "in camera" - the technical term for prohibiting public disclosure - because we don't want the whole world to learn how to make counterfeit notes.
None of those kinds of exceptions seem to apply in the present case.
Turning to the point about contempt of court. The most common examples of contempt would be:
(a) the person deliberately defying a court order (however, as I had said, the above article is not altogether clear as to whether the court had actually made any order, and if so, what is the basis for such order);
(b) the person being very rude, disrespectful or disruptive in the course of proceedings in court.
There is a third species of contempt of court. It relates to the "publication of material deemed likely to jeopardize a fair trial". Here are some (not all) of the conditions that generally must be met, before we can say that such contempt has occurred:
1. the publication has a real and definite tendency, as a matter of practical reality, to interfere with the due administration of justice in specific legal proceedings,
2. the publication prejudges the issues to be decided in those proceedings;
3. at the time of publication, the relevant legal proceedings were current or pending;
4. the severity of possible prejudice to the administration of justice is not outweighed by the public interest in freedom of discussion of matters of public importance which form the subject of the publication; and
5. the publication is not a fair and accurate report of proceedings in open court.
It seems to me that it will be very difficult in our present case to say that Yap has committed this species of contempt. One reason is that Yap is merely publishing the prosecution's evidence, which the prosecution itself had already adduced in open court.
The fact that the court had allowed such evidence to be admitted, showing that the court considers it to be relevant. The fact that Yap is not publishing his own material, but material that comes from the prosecution, makes it just about impossible to say that the publication unfairly prejudices the prosecution's case.
Those are the technicalities. But as I conclude, I'd still like to remind everyone to take two steps back and not miss the trees for the wood.
The whole point of the video is still to prove that Chee Soon Juan and friends were making a public speech at a particular time and place on a particular date.
Now, hands up, those of you who think that Chee in fact didn't make that speech.
04 November 2006
ST Nov 4, 2006Heheheh. Why is Mr Wang laughing? Because MM Lee's remarks reminded Mr Wang of one of his old posts.
Tougher to get leaders to stay in govt for long
They need 10-20 years to master art of govt, but private sector a strong draw, says MM
By Sue-Ann Chia
MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew believes it will be increasingly difficult to expect political leaders to stay in office for long, given the attractions of the private sector.
But without good leaders stepping forward, Singapore will falter, he warned.
'So, I'm hoping that while we may not get them to stay for long terms like I have done - my whole life... since 1955, that's a good 51 years - at least you're going to stay for 10, 20 years because you need two to three terms to really master the art of government.'
MM Lee was speaking to about 300 faculty staff and students from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy during a one-hour dialogue which centred on the issue of good governance.
Those who asked questions hailed from countries such as China, India and Kazakhstan.
MM Lee's remarks on the tenure of political leaders here was in response to a Singaporean who asked if Singapore would consider having foreigners take on important positions in the public sector.
'It is not possible to hire a foreign talent to run this country,' he replied. 'You must have the passion, you must have the commitment, you must share the dreams of your people.'
On a separate note, it's interesting to note that MM Lee used the phrase "foreign talent" here, where PM Lee appeared to have consciously dropped it during his NDP rally speech in favour of "immigrants" and "foreigners".
There are two ways to interpret PM Lee's refusal to use the old phrase "foreign talent" (and they're not mutually exclusive).
The first interpretation is that PM Lee wanted to avoid creating the usual dissatisfactions that Singaporeans often have, when they observe that many of the "foreign talents" in Singapore don't seem particularly talented. The continual use of the phrase "foreign talent" can alienate the masses because there is some implicit suggestion that locals are not as talented.
The second interpretation is that PM Lee hoped that by using the word "immigrants", he could win more Singaporeans over to his foreign talent policy and convince Singaporeans that these foreigners love Singapore and are here to stay and contribute. After all, the large majority of Singaporeans had an immigrant background as well.
What about MM Lee using the phrase "foreign talent" then - how do we interpret that?
Well, firstly, this was in the context of who should run the country. In his mind, it was a given that the person should of course be a "talent".
Secondly, maybe he never agreed with his son dropping the phrase "foreign talent". Mind you, it was MM Lee himself who popularised the term "foreign talent" in the late 1990s. It was a key MM Lee idea that the foreigners we were going to attract were indeed going to be outstandingly talented and just by standing here on Singapore soil, were going to generate a great number of jobs for less-talented Singaporeans.
Thirdly, maybe MM Lee just blurted the phrase without thinking or caring too much about it.
Ah, the dangers of over-reading things.
Technorati: Singapore; politics; foreign talent.
ST Nov 4, 2006The old 5 C's was a very neat description of Singaporeans' aspirations. The new 5 C's ... I dunno. They sound like an attempt by a semi-desperate ST writer to organise a very broad-ranging discussion into a coherent article. These new 5 C's are a bunch of wiffy-waffly abstract nouns and they aren't going to find any permanent place in the collective Singapore lingo.
Singapore Dreaming: The other 5Cs
Cash, credit card, car, condo, country club. Cliched. Li Xueying, Goh Chin Lian and Keith Lin speak to MPs and observers about the President's Address at the opening of Parliament this week and conclude that it contains the new Five Cs that should matter to concerned Singaporeans.
Taking off from the President's Address, Insight ventures a new take on the Five Cs that ought to matter just as much in the coming years.
FIRST, Singapore needs to survive. How to ensure that it never drops out in a perennial race, not just against other economies, but also can triumph over the vagaries of globalisation?
In his address, Mr Nathan enumerated some factors: a stable political climate, a strong tripartite partnership, the need to embrace talent, both local and foreign, and an outstanding public service.
Beyond these, there is also the need to look ahead and see what can be done to invest in the future: to transform the education system, invest in research and development (R&D), wire up Singapore and so on.
What is key, says Hong Kah GRC MP Alvin Yeo, is the education system.
'Beyond the accumulation of knowledge, we need to encourage and enhance our students' abilities to challenge, question and innovate,' he says.
For instance, the technologies that will be relevant when they start work might not even have been invented yet, he adds.
'As such, it is vital that our people be able to adapt to whatever is relevant in their day, and innovate to find solutions to problems that did not exist when they were in school.'
The re-education of middle-aged Singaporeans is another issue that needs to be examined, says Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa.
As for whether the promise of R&D will bear fruit and benefit the ordinary Singaporean, Mr Yeo says: 'Daunting though it may seem for a small country like Singapore to try to be an R&D hub, I feel we really have no choice.
'What we can do is to try and spot niches and growth areas to focus on, and thereby not spread our R&D personnel and dollars too thin.'
But ultimately, says economist Song Seng Wun, it is not about whether enough is being done to keep Singapore competitive.
'That's not the issue. Rather, in the fluid landscape that we're in today, what we should aim to have is the ability to change our policies quickly should circumstances require.'
For now, the Government is doing quite well in seizing opportunities, driven by a 'very strong kiasu/kiasi factor' or a scared to lose/scared to die attitude, says Mr Song.
He cites as example the decision to build integrated resorts. 'From no casino, to two, and now perhaps more. And that reflects the reality of the new world, that nothing is really cast in stone.'
All these must be done, and done now, says Mr Liang, especially now that Singapore is going through an upturn.
He echoes the point made by Mr Nathan, who said: 'When conditions are favourable, as they are now, we must grow as fast as we can. Then, even when conditions are tough, we can weather the storm and help those in need.'
This will mean certain trade-offs.
To get the fastest growth possible, the Government will have to embrace globalisation and foster an environment conducive to global investors, such as lower taxes and an open economy able to absorb talent from anywhere.
Such an approach may well lead further to a growing income disparity, says Mr Song.
'As much as the burgeoning economy creates many more opportunities and people become wealthier, those in the lower-income bracket will not see the same kind of opportunities.'
THEY turn up at the Meet-the-People sessions with a stack of unpaid utilities, medical and conservancy bills. They have outstanding payments for housing loans. They have school-going children. They are jobless.
And after being helped, they return again with their problems.
While the number of such cases has not grown much, and has even fallen in some constituencies, say MPs, steps should be taken now in anticipation that the social divide will widen.
Sociologist Tan Ern Ser notes that the Gini coefficient - a measure of income inequality - has grown from 0.49 to 0.52 in the past five years.
The key, say MPs and political watchers, is in striking the balance between helping the needy and having them take responsibility for themselves.
It would not do for Singapore to implement European countries' welfare schemes which erode people's motivation to work and have to be financed with high tax rates.
MP Cedric Foo believes education is the better answer, a conclusion he came to after encounters with needy constituents in his West Coast GRC.
In between listening to the parents' woes and doling out lollipops to the children, he observes the youngsters. 'I can tell they are very bright, but clearly they are disadvantaged by their background.'
That prompted his Citizens Consultative Committee to start a learning club a year ago. About 40 primary school children learn English and mathematics for a nominal fee - or none if they are poor.
Mr Foo hopes to expand the club to cover non-academic subjects like leadership at the Outward Bound School or even ice-skating.
'If we don't invest in these children, it's a problem waiting to happen 10 to 20 years down the road.'
Mr Seng Han Thong, an assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, has his eye on helping older workers. The Yio Chu Kang MP meets residents who are sole breadwinners and have lost their jobs. Worse still, they have little or no savings.
The Government may need to consider more grants like the ComCare Fund to help such people who do not have the right skills for the jobs available to tide over difficult times, he says.
'The challenge is how to help fellow Singaporeans who are going through the low points of their life, to be able to stand on their own and start a new life again.'
Mr Seng believes the help should be comprehensive - from giving temporary financial aid to meet immediate needs, to training for a job.
He recalls meeting a jobless man in his mid-50s some months ago. Mr Seng suggested he try to be a cabby. But the man had to overcome several hurdles: He could not apply for a vocational licence to drive a taxi because of outstanding payments for his Medisave account; he had problems passing his taxi examinations; he had his electricity at home cut because he had no job.
And when he was ready to drive a taxi, he needed to open a Giro account, but had no money to open one.
The MP found help for him through various channels, from the grassroots' welfare fund to the Taxi Academy, which worked with a taxi company to help him.
'We did it because we assessed that he had the will to move on.'
Another group that will need attention is the elderly, as the number of Singaporeans aged 65 years and above is set to double in 15 years.
Mr Phua Kok Tee, the chief executive officer of the Singapore Action Group of Elders, thinks it is important to recognise that while some elderly people may need help, others can care for themselves and should be encouraged to be active and to work.
This requires the authorities to make the environment accessible, from the HDB flat, to the ground floor, to the bus stop and the shopping mall. It means public transport operators should introduce wheelchair-friendly buses more quickly.
It also means employers need to understand that the elderly can still contribute with their skills and experience if given the chance. 'I would like to see many of our elderly take care of themselves and be independent,' he says.
THE Government may be able to help the lower-income and older Singaporeans. But a society without compassion among individuals is an unhealthy and un`stable one, say commentators.
In his Address, Mr Nathan spoke of many helping hands and reminded better-off Singaporeans of their responsibility to help their less successful fellow citizens.
How? Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Sam Tan, the executive director of the Chinese Development Assistance Council, thinks the Government can lend a hand to encourage more helping hands.
This could be through measures such as granting voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) the required status to collect tax-exempt donations, or continuing double tax deductions for charitable donations.
Ms Jennifer Yee, executive director of welfare group Lions Befrienders, believes the many helping hands approach also requires voluntary welfare groups to cooperate rather than compete for funds and volunteers.
'VWOs have to adopt the common mindset that it is our beneficiaries who should be uppermost in our minds.'
Singaporeans themselves are getting involved. A National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre survey found that 15.5 per cent of residents here took part in at least one volunteer activity in the past year. It was 15.2 per cent in 2004.
Ms Yee holds the view that volunteers need incentives. 'You need to give them something tangible... like something they can learn and put on their CVs or that can enlarge their social contacts.'
MacPherson MP Matthias Yao sees it differently. 'We discovered there is no need for incentives. When they are needed, we are asking for more than what the person is willing to commit. If we ask for something within what they are able, they can be quite charitable.'
Rather than ask for huge, long-term commitments, the way to go is to start small, he says.
WITH a new generation coming to the fore, Singapore will require a 'new social and political compact', said Mr Nathan.
The better-educated and Internet-savvy post-65 generation will 'need avenues to try out their ideas and fulfil their ambitions'. The most successful ones must learn to identify with their fellow citizens, and lend a hand to those in need.
'We must also deepen the sense of mission in this new generation, and provide them more opportunities to take responsibility for our country and build our future together,' he said.
What exactly is this new compact? And how is it different from the compact formed from the past?
Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Jeanne Conceicao says: 'The post-65ers need to work on being more responsible. But what about the Government and other groups? How do they figure in the 'new social and political compact'?
'To many of the post-65ers, greater responsibilities come with greater rights and demands... Is the Government prepared to loosen its controls regardless?'
MP Alvin Yeo agrees that younger Singaporeans will be looking for other things beyond bread-and-butter issues.
'Additionally, they are concerned with the more intangible aspects of society, like freedom of expression, a more vibrant cultural and entertainment scene and availability of choices, including of government!'
Adds Hong Kah GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad: 'The P65 generation will certainly bring changes in the thinking, perspectives, priorities and even values in our community. I think we will see a gradual shift in the way the community expects the country to be run, how the Government engages it, how caring we become as a society and how we cope with the dynamic economy.'
Forging this new compact will be a two-way process, adds Mr Yeo.
'What the Government needs to do is to engage the younger generation on the issues that are important to them, while seeking to retain the benefits of existing institutions and policies which remain relevant today. In the process, both will change.'
Even as expectations of what each side must do change, one basic aspect of the compact will not change: There must be trust.
AS PRESIDENT Nathan noted, Singapore is at another turning point. It has to decide how to move forward as a society, in what direction and at what pace, and how to manage any dislocations that result.
The 11th Parliament with its 84 MPs will play a major role in shaping those choices. As Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Swee Say tells Insight: 'The fast pace of globalisation will only get faster. It is bound to lead to very unequal outcomes across economies and societies...
'We must take more care of each other and prepare ourselves for greater global shocks. We must get it right the next five years so that the future Singapore can continue to be one of the most peaceful, stable and cohesive societies in the world.'