Author Archives: kjeyaretnam
The Budget Statement is only a few hours away. The Government-controlled and-owned media is full of speculation about the “goodies” that Singaporeans can look forward to. The Straits Times estimates that Government surpluses since 2011 have totalled $10-12 billion though it doubts that all or even most of this sum will be spent. Predictions for the use of all or part of this money include enhanced support for seniors, an SG50 bonus payout across the board, an extension of the Productivity and Innovation Credit (though even the Government media admit it has not worked) and tax reliefs rather than tax rebates.
Reform Party has since 2009 argued that the Government’s Budget presentation is deeply misleading and presents a wildly inaccurate picture of the resources available for extra spending or tax cuts. We begin by looking at the potential resources available and following the Norwegian model suggest that a fixed percentage of the total value of assets under management be made available for current spending. We then build on our previous proposals as to where the additional money should be allocated.
Government Resources and the Medium Term Spending Framework
The $10-12 billion total surpluses given by the ST are based on the format given in the Budget presentation, which excludes returns on reserves accumulated before the current Parliament. However we see no justification for this exclusion even if current legislation prohibits spending out of past reserves without the President’s approval. This is a basic lack of transparency and accountability which the PAP have never addressed.
In order to gain a true picture of the Government’s finances, we need to use the IMF framework, which includes interest and investment income on past reserves as well as realised capital gains on assets sold. This can be found tucked away in the Monthly and Yearly Digest of Statistics. Surprisingly no one in Parliament has mentioned this. In our response to Budget 2012, Reform Party set out the IMF framework for the Budget and demanded to know why the PAP do not follow this method
This is the table of accumulated surpluses on the IMF framework since 1999:
Using the IMF framework, which presents a much more accurate picture of the Government’s finances, we have accumulated about $258 billion in surpluses since 1999. If these were handed out to Singapore citizens we would all be approximately $80,000 richer. The real surplus over the last few years has been of the order of $30-40 billion per annum though we are missing the figures for 2013 and 2014. These figures include the returns of the Sovereign Wealth Funds run by Temasek and GIC, as well as the reserves managed by MAS and the revenue from land sales.
Reform believes that these surpluses belong to the people and are the fruit of many years of austerity during which our citizens have been forced by the PAP to go without many of the basic benefits that citizens of other rich countries enjoy, such as free education, health care, a state old age pension, and help for families with children and the disabled. We have proposed the drastic but simple solution of returning control over these accumulated surpluses by privatizing Temasek and GIC and distributing shares to Singaporeans. This was part of our Election Manifesto in 2011.
However this may be impractical in the short term. Therefore drawing on the Norwegian model we propose that every year a certain percentage of the assets managed by Temasek and GIC be added to current spending. Norway has one of the world’s biggest Sovereign Wealth Funds, the Norwegian Pension Fund, which was set up to manage revenues from its oil wealth not extracted through mindless austerity from its citizens as in the Singapore model. In Norway this is currently 4% of total assets, which represents a target real rate of return after inflation.
Every year the Government is required to produce a Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SAL) which is unfortunately two years out of date. According to the last published SAL for the year ended 31st March 2013 (which has mysteriously disappeared from the Budget website) total assets amounted to about $800 billion. However many of the assets managed by GIC are matched by liabilities to CPF holders so the net assets amount to roughly $360 billion. However it is not clear whether this includes Temasek’s $223 billion of assets. GIC should be able to make more than the assumed average 3.5% the Government pays on CPF balances but conservatively we assume that 4% of net assets can safely be spent every year without diminishing the real value of the net assets belonging to the Singaporean people. Therefore,
Total Funds Available on $360 billion = 4% x 360 = $14.4 billion
Total Funds Available on $583 billion = 4% x 583 = $ 23.3 billion
So we can safely spend between $14 billion and $23 billion extra per year without diminishing the real value of the people’s assets.
The Government already claims to allocate up to half the Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC) from our surplus assets to the Budget. This amounted to some $8 billion in the last Budget. However as we explained in “Smoke and Mirrors in the Government’s Accounts”, “How to Make A Surplus Disappear without Anyone Noticing”, and “Budget 2014: A Very Generous Amount of Wool Pulled over Your Eyes” this is not real spending since the Finance Minister always transfers the money to an unaccountable fund. In 2014 there was much fanfare about the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, which was funded by that year’s NIRC. However actual spending was estimated to be only some $400 million per annum (in 2014 only $230 million).
Reform Party proposes to increase current spending by at least $14 billion per annum and potentially more than $20 billion per annum once we get transparency on the total size of the Government’s assets. By spending we mean actual spending rather than a fictitious transfer by which the PAP shuffle money between accounts without any actual outflow. We can do this without raising taxes or cutting defence spending.
We set out below our spending priorities.
Reform Party’s Spending Proposals
- A Basic Old Age Pension
In our press release entitled “CPF Needs Radical Reform Not Cosmetic Changes”, we proposed that the Government fund a basic old age pension for our seniors of $500 per month over and above CPF balances up to the Minimum Sum. We costed this at less than $3 billion per annum even if this was extended to everyone currently over the age of 65. If it were only given to those on low incomes the cost would be considerably lower. We assume for the purposes of this exercise that a more targeted pension would cost less than $2 billion per annum.
- Higher Health Spending
We would allocate another $6 billion to Health expenditures. This would take spending in the current year, projected to reach $8 billion this year, to $12 billion, reaching the Government’s target for 2020 five years early.
Reform Party is in the process of reviewing our current health system with a view to combining Medishield Life, Medisave and Medisave into a unified system that would provide universal and comprehensive health insurance, including full coverage of pre-existing conditions without additional cost and ensuring that no Singaporean should live in fear of being bankrupted because they have reached their insurance limit and exhausted their Medisave funds. We shall release more details shortly.
- Family Credit
In order to help low-income families with children and as a step towards reversing our current low birth rate Reform Party proposes to institute a system of payments to families with children. We propose initially a payment of $300 per month for each child below the age of 18. Based on estimated numbers of around 800,000 children of Singapore citizens the total cost would be around $3 billion though this could be lowered considerably by restricting it to families on median incomes or less.
- Higher Spending on Education
Reform Party proposes to allocate an additional $2 billion to education spending to help pupils from low-income families, increase teaching hours, abolish fees for education, reduce class sizes and improve teaching standards. We believe that while our overall standard of educational attainment is satisfactory, this masks considerable variations between elite schools and the rest. In addition parents are required to spend considerable amounts on tuition, which should not be necessary.
Total Cost of Reform Party’s Proposals
The total cost of these proposals is $14 billion. Based on the PAP Government’s own figures, we believe this additional expenditure is both prudent and easily affordable.
We consider it to be an investment that will pay dividends in the medium to long term by increasing the productivity and quality of our future workforce. It will also help to reorient the economy more towards domestic consumption and become less dependent on exports. Finally we expect a significant portion of the cost to be recouped through higher tax receipts from higher domestic incomes and expenditures.
Over the last few days PAP Ministers and MPs have lined up in Parliament to attack the WP for its lack of transparency and accountability in running AHPETC. As I said on my Facebook page, it’s about $6.6 million of Aljunied residents’ money versus $800+ billion of Singaporeans assets in GIC, Temasek, MAS and who knows how many other entities. That’s less than 0.001%.
Where does the bigger problem lie with accountability and transparency?
I will remind you of what Khaw Boon Wan (KBW) said during Wednesday’s debate:
“The Town Council also did not “adequately manage the conflicts of interests of related parties arising from ownership interests of its key officers,” said Mr Khaw. “It was very convenient. Husband issued payment voucher, wife issued payment.”
Yes, Khaw really did bring up husbands and wives in a debate on conflicts of interest. The phrase: The pot calling the kettle black, does not even begin to cover this.
I wonder whether the PAP appreciates the hypocrisy in attacking the WP over transparency and accountability. While not wishing to minimise the conflicts of interest of AHPETC, the consequences are fairly small compared to the glaring conflict of interest in which the PM’s wife (Ho Ching) runs one SWF (Temasek) while Lee Hsien Loong is the Chairman of the other (GIC). Lee Hsien Loong as the head of the Cabinet and the PM had ultimate authority to approve the appointment of his wife. As a result the PM and his wife control over $800 billion of assets.
We are not told how much Ho Ching earns as CEO of Temasek, though the fact that her husband is in a position to influence the terms of her employment and remuneration must be a serious conflict of interest that should be covered by the same disclosure requirements as related party transactions. Certainly she probably earns considerably more per annum than the $6.4 million that WP are accused of overpaying to FMSS. We also do not know whether Lee Hsien Loong is paid anything for serving as Chairman of GIC or Tharman is paid for being the Chairman of MAS.
Shanmugam weighed in to say that the MA fees had been inflated to benefit FMSS by some $6.6 million over the past four years:
“The rhetoric from the Workers’ Party is always about helping the poor man. The reality is that the Workers’ Party took money from the man in the street to give to their friends in FMSS,”
Again the mind boggles at the lack of capacity of the PAP for self-reflection on the irony of what they are saying. We all know that Temasek has sustained serious losses before now. How much have the returns of Temasek and GIC been inflated over the years by ripping off CPF account holders and paying them a below-market rate of interest? How much has Temasek gained by gifts from the Treasury of assets below their fair market value on which the managers were able to make enormous revaluation gains when they were listed or sold? SingTel and Singapore Airlines spring to mind. This still goes on. Changi Airport Group was transferred to Temasek at a valuation of $3 billion a few years back when its true valuation is probably closer to $20 billion now. Read the TOC article on Ho Ching’s losses here: http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2009/07/breaking-news-40-billion-losses-by-temasek-holdings/
Hari Kumar was not slow to add his criticism:
Mr Nair said that it’s not that the AGO did not note any criminal activity, but that the AGO does not know if there was because of the state of AHPETC’s records.
We have not seen any evidence of outright corruption in Temasek and GIC but we would not know anyway because of the complete lack of transparency. Parliament does not even question the fake Budget presentation which is used to hide the Government’s obscene surpluses, running at about $30 billion a year, and fend off any pressure for higher spending on social programmes.
On Friday KBW outdid his previous performance with the words:
“Where the water is murky, it’s easier to fish. Opacity creates opportunity for crooks to make money.”
Talking about murky water is especially ironic given that Muddy Waters, an American short-seller that specialises in ferreting out companies committing fraud or hiding their true financial position, said that Olam was likely to go bust because of its heavy debt load and lack of positive cash flow. Inexplicably and inexcusably, Ho Ching chose to buy out the major shareholders of Olam by making an offer above the market price rather than wait for the company to fail and buy it out of bankruptcy with an offer to debt holders. I blogged about it in March 2014
And here is one of the many stories on it covering Muddy Water’s analysis. http://www.cnbc.com/id/100272657#.
The PAP manage our reserves in a totally opaque way. Yet the PAP wants us to believe that they are immune from what history has shown to be true time and again. Opacity and lack of accountability breed mismanagement and at worst, corruption.
These are the real conflicts of interest that pass almost unnoticed and yet are of far greater consequence to Singaporeans than a mere few million dollars in overpayments:
- The conflict between paying you a fair rate of return on your CPF savings and exploiting you as a cheap source of funding for GIC so it can make higher returns.
- The moral hazard which encourages Temasek and GIC to take higher risks because they know that the Singapore taxpayer and CPF holder will bail them out. Also if Ho Ching can never lose her job, she is incentivized to take maximum risks as she will then get a higher bonus with no downside if she loses money.
- The conflict between the Government’s role as owner of most of the land and desire to make a profit and its role in providing low-cost social housing
- The conflict between the Government’s monopoly control of many domestic industries and ensuring a competitive environment so that you get lower prices
- The conflict between the Government’s desire to grow the economy and revenues through the import of cheap labour and driving down wages and improving the real earnings of mid- to low-income Singaporeans.
- The conflict between the role of an Opposition MP as a check on the Government and a proposer of alternative policies and the job of running the TC. MPs should not be estate managers, which requires people with specialized training. One of the reforms I want to see is elected TCs and MPs free to concentrate on their proper role.
We should not lose focus on what this attack is really about. We must resist the PAP’s attempt to turn MPs into mere town council managers. By putting the WP on the defensive over their failings in corporate governance the real aim of the PAP is to deter the Opposition from carrying out their proper function, which is to force the Government to be transparent and accountable and govern in accordance with the people’s wishes.
We must keep out focus on what really counts and that is transparency. It is transparency that comes first and every other improvement we want to see in our society, whether freedom, justice, compassion or a more equitable share in our Nation’s wealth, flows from that. We must keep up the pressure to demand that our government supplies transparency. On the other hand, should they continue to give us only muddy waters, then we will have to make use of secrecy, the secrecy of the ballot in the coming GE.
Did you know that on January 27th the value of the Singapore Dollar dropped by the greatest amount in a single day since 2010?
A few days ago the financial press globally were startled into reporting that our currency had suddenly depreciated. Yesterday MAS put up a belated official announcement explaining that it had been a deliberate policy move.
I’d like to take a closer look at this monetary easing and show you why it will lead to Singaporeans getting shortchanged unless it is accompanied by fiscal easing and how ultimately disastrous the PAP policy of relying on exports and overseas investment is. I will show how it links to immigration policy, forced CPF savings. health care and so on. I will demonstrate that the only solution is to re-balance the economy towards domestic consumption.
What is monetary easing good for?
Monetary easing, often referred to as quantitative easing, or QE (as the policy of monetizing government debt and other financial assets through open-market purchases by the central bank is called) has been billed as a tool to fight deflation. For the purposes of this post you will have to accept that deflation is a bad thing and to be avoided. If you want to know more or disagree just drop me a comment and I will be happy to respond.
For this post I am also making the assumption that we only avoided a double dip recession because our government went backwards and retrospectively amended earlier figures downwards so that the drop was not so pronounced and technically we avoided a recession. But it is only technical and we are in recession to all intents and purposes or constantly on the verge of recession. The CPI ( consumer Price Index) here did in fact decrease by 0.2% in December compared to a year ago so MAS has good reason to be concerned
Why did MAS take the step of Monetary Easing ?
Naturally financial analysts have focused on the move by MAS as part of a strategy to fight deflation. This is the same reason given by the Japanese and European central banks on why they embarked on massive monetary easing.
The MAS’s own announcement states the reason is an attempt to slow the Singapore dollar’s appreciation against a basket of currencies. So everyone agrees that MAS has got us into monetary easing in order to fight deflation. In fact our currency immediately responded to the QE by dropping roughly 1.5% against the US dollar and is expected to fall further. We will know more on Monday.
So if our currency is dropping what’s wrong with Monetary easing?
Because monetary easing on its own is unlikely to be effective except insofar as it weakens your currency and boosts exports. The problem is that QE needs to be accompanied by a more expansionary fiscal policy aimed at boosting domestic demand. As you depress the currency value on one side of the equation you must balance it by pumping up the domestic demand on the other. Back in the 1930s Keynes already said that a monetary policy easing unaccompanied by fiscal measures was unlikely to be effective in stimulating demand and getting an economy out of recession. Also you cannot keep your currency depressed for ever without incurring costs which mount over time.
Why are people talking about Currency Wars?
By deciding it can no longer sit back and let other exporters like Germany and Japan gain a trade advantage by depreciating their currency MAS has joined the currency wars. Make no mistake, the latest rounds of QE, accompanied in Japan by tax increases and in Europe by German demands for similar measures in other Eurozone countries, are not really about increasing domestic demand,no matter what they claim. They are called currency wars because it’s about the battle over the export market. It is a move by the countries involved to gain an unfair competitive advantage by making their export goods cheaper. It’s just an old-style currency manipulation exercise aimed at beating export competitors (South Korea and China) and gaining a bigger share of the US market, which is the only one still growing. For now.
We cannot rely on US growth. If all these countries depreciate their currencies and get a bigger share of US exports they actually detract from US growth because they are not importing equal amounts from the US. By pushing exports over imports they accumulate reserves, the bulk of which are invested in low-yielding Government securities, which become worth less and less over time. These wars are actually subtracting from US growth (which the Americans are unlikely to tolerate indefinitely) and exerting a deflationary impact on the rest of the world. Ultimately the US has the option of going bust (though more a theoretical possibility than an actual one) or imposing negative yields on foreign holdings of its currency like Switzerland. All those countries with a claim on them via Treasury bonds in the reserves will be royally shot in the foot.
What do you mean by fiscal easing?
When I say fiscal easing I mean moves to boost domestic consumption, that is spending more or collecting less by cutting taxes.
The PAP have a mercantilist mindset. Running a big current account surplus and accumulating reserves is part of the mercantilist mindset that also sees exports as good and imports as bad. To the mercantilist, there can never be too much investment and the less domestic consumption there is the better. Since the 1970s there has been a huge drag on world growth caused by the desire of mercantilist nations to run big current account surpluses and accumulate reserves. First it was Japan in the 1980s and then South Korea and China, particularly after the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Germany also has a mercantilist mindset. In the past the PAP has expressed views that there is no point in increasing domestic consumption, as it will all be spent on imports.
As I said before if everyone together tries to reduce domestic demand and increase exports simultaneously the end-result will be a worldwide slump. The result of a much bigger accumulation of reserves is that the returns from these reserves over the long run fall to such a low-level that it would have been better if the surplus countries had spent it on consumption in the first place. Add in the fact that we are probably poised on the cusp of an era of accelerating productivity growth with automation and artificial intelligence and a strategy of hoarding reserves in ever-increasing amounts for a “rainy day” that never comes makes no economic sense.
How is this relevant to the Singapore context?
The immediate effect of our currency depreciation will be to make overseas travel or study less attractive in particular to the US and imported goods may become more expensive such as the costs of fuel but Singapore and Singapore housing in particular will start to look very attractive to overseas investors.
Many of the PAP’s economic policies are aimed at running a large current account surplus and accumulating reserves. The Government runs a budget surplus (on the correct IMF format and not the misleading one presented to Parliament as part of the annual Budget farce) of about 8-10% of GDP. That is very large indeed and means that the reserves are rising by about 10% every year.
The QE is abetted by other policies to achieve the mercantilist goals. Of course there is the open-door policy on cheap foreign labour which makes our exports extra-competitive. At the same time this reduces Singaporeans’ wages which cuts domestic consumption. A forced savings scheme, CPF, cuts consumption even further and recycles our savings into foreign currency via Temasek, GIC and MAS to assist in keeping the Singapore dollar undervalued. The end-result of these policies is that Singapore runs a current account surplus of around 20% of GDP and continues to rapidly accumulate foreign reserves
At our stage of development such a high rate of savings is unnecessary and means we forego a higher level of consumption. Taxes on the middle and lower classes and prices for a range of products that we are forced to buy from government monopolies are higher than they should be. Spending on health, education, children and the elderly is kept down despite the fact that the first three items at least would yield higher rates of return than our SWFs are able to generate on our foreign reserves. (I have since 2012 questioned the returns that Temasek and GIC are achieving and some of my many articles are listed via links at the bottom).
What can be done instead of QE?
The Government could allow the Singapore dollar to appreciate thus cutting the cost of imported goods and raising the real value of our wages. If the Statistics Department measure of overall unemployment at 2% and citizen unemployment at 2.9% is accurate then the economy is operating at full capacity. By keeping the Singapore dollar artificially undervalued the PAP Government are acting contrary to their stated policy of encouraging Singaporean manufacturers and producers to raise productivity and move up the value chain to higher value-added products. Decreasing the currency by QE is actually subsidising producers discouraging productivity and imposing a forced real wage cut. This is the clearest sign that despite the lip service paid to productivity the PAP Government is returning to the only growth strategy it understands and finds easy to implement: low value-added service and manufacturing industries based on cheap foreign labour.
The Government should also loosen the fiscal austerity that it has practised for so long and spend more on domestic programmes like health, education, families and the elderly. At the moment the Net Investment Returns Contribution which is supposed to be used for current spending is instead saved in a round-tripping charade which I have called “Smoke and Mirrors in the Government’s Accounts”. We can spend at least another $10 billion a year on social programmes without denting the reserves if the Government is being honest about GIC’s and Temasek’s returns.
As for housing I have often warned here of the dangers of a housing bubble when everyone gets excited over the rising value of their property. Government measures to cool the market did just that and now this latest currency depreciation move will reverse that and prices will go up again.
There is one other possible reason why the Government has chosen the path of currency depreciation. It has to do with our secretive Sovereign Wealth Funds with Temasek headed by the Prime Minister’s wife whilst he himself heads up the board of GIC. Depreciating the Singapore dollar would very effectively offset losses or bolster returns generated from the assets of our SWFs invested in foreign currencies. The last public Statement of Assets and Liabilities at 31 March 2013 showed total Government assets net of cash held with MAS of around $650 billion. All of GIC’s assets are external so currency depreciation will have the automatic effect of increasing returns denominated in Singapore dollars. The same goes for Temasek. Even the value of their holdings in Singapore equities will also go up if the Singapore dollar depreciates depending on how much the companies export. The Singapore dollar has already fallen by some 8% since June 2014 which will artificially boost the returns achieved by Temasek, GIC and MAS when translated back into Singapore dollars. We do not know how Ho Ching is paid but it seems safe to assume that higher returns will result in her receiving a higher bonus.
So not only is the PAP Government cutting the value of your wages by an unnecessary and counterproductive currency depreciation. It is cutting the value of your CPF savings too. This demonstrates, as I have always said, that the risks of Temasek and GIC will not be borne by the managers, including the PM’s wife. They will instead be borne by Singaporean CPF holders and taxpayers.
Yes, I got pretty angry on so many levels when I read the latest outrageous attempt by our PM LHL and ESM Goh with reference to the 2015 Laneway Festival at the Meadow at Gardens by the Bay.
Level 1 : Let’s start with just the plain offensiveness of it. Goh said, “Our reputation as one of the world’s cleanest cities is going down the rubbish chute. It looks like a case of ‘monkeys see, monkeys do’.” Goh went on to say “Without foreign workers, Singapore is likely to become a ‘garbage city’. Cleanliness is a character thing. It shows who you really are. “
I find it deeply offensive that our public servants, paid enormous salaries out of our taxes, should criticise their employers ( that’s you and me) in this manner. They are public servants. They owe us their livelihood. Goh went as far as calling us monkeys, which carries racist overtones. Of course the real instance of “monkey see monkey do”, to borrow that horribly offensive and demeaning phrase, is that Goh was just seeing his master spouting off and copying him.
PM Lee kicked it off by posting a picture on his Facebook page showing the litter which he said, “13,000 festival goers left behind” He contrasted this with what he said were the actions of the Myanmar sports fans in picking up litter at the National Stadium after their team lost to Singapore last November. He put up two pictures to illustrate his point, one of the litter and another picture which supposedly showed a Myanmar fan picking up litter after his team’s game.
Offensive because Lee, who never had a real job in his life and has always been in the public sector and has never travelled on public transport, actually thinks he can talk down to us as though he were our parent and we the stupid children. I can tell you now that a father shaming his child into good behaviour by comparing him unfavourably to his peers ( “You are disgusting, why can’t you be more like Winston?” ) is an emotionally abusive father and storing up self esteem issues for his child in later life.
Level 2: Let’s look at that third world comparison. Why do we continue to pay for a Government that lords it over us and runs us down compared to a third-world country like Myanmar? How dare Lee Hsien Loong say that Singaporeans are not as good as the Burmese? If that is the way he feels then he should move there and stand for election. I am sure the Burmese junta would love to have him on board. After all, the Burmese leaders have been keeping their ill-gotten gains here for years because they can benefit from banking secrecy and a low level of scrutiny. I’m sure LHL wants to flatter them. I’ve actually seen a protest held in front of the Burmese Embassy in London by Burmese exiles and I can tell you that they didn’t pick up their litter
However take a closer look at the picture ( top of page) that LHL posted up as supposedly a Myanmar fan. I believe the picture shows a paid stadium cleaner (whether from Myanmar or not) since the person is wearing latex gloves and clutching a huge garbage bag. I’ve never seen a fan go to a match wearing disposable latex gloves and I’ve been to some pretty rough games. That would be more American psycho than American soccer. Is Lee Hsien Loong trying to pull the wool over our eyes?
Level 3: Only Blaming Singaporean festival goers. His vitriol is clearly aimed at Singaporeans despite the fact that the Laneway music festival was largely attended by expats and foreign talent. The PM should get his facts right before he opens his mouth. How could he make such a basic mistake and wrongly blame us? In any case Singapore is more than 50% non-Singaporean already. Why are we to blame for the mess? I suppose the tickets to have been about S$150 each. Does he think the average Singaporean youngster can afford that?
Level 4: Not blaming the organisers. If you hold an event in Hong Lim Park, say a protest about CPF and you make a public nuisance then you can get arrested. You may even be fined so much that you are banned from being eligible to stand for election to public office. As we have established that it most likely wasn’t ordinary Singaporeans responsible who should have taken the garbage out? NEA would surely fine you for littering anywhere else.
I did a bit of research into the background of the Laneway music festival and the venue. Laneway music festival is a private, for-profit business that organises rock festivals in several Australian and North American cities besides Singapore. They sold out all the 13,000 tickets for the event at Gardens by the Bay. The ticket price is S$160 for one and S$150 in bundles. As all 13,000 tickets sold here, that would mean the organisers earned gross revenues of several million from ticket sales, merchandising and F&B sales.
The venue was rented from Gardens By The Bay, which is a charity set up by the Government. Why were the Laneway Festival organisers not required under the terms of their contract with Gardens By The Bay to pay for the clean-up afterwards? They made a tidy profit, no pun intended so could afford a small army of cleaners. Can you imagine any other public amenity being rented out to a foreign corporate to make a huge profit with no responsibility for upkeep, damage or litter ? The photo of the mess and especially the discarded plastic looks like a public nuisance to me. If we citizens hire a venue for a birthday party we have to clean it up before handing it back, unless cleaning is included in the venue hire fee. We certainly don’t put up on Facebook the next day that our guests were disgusting.
Normally at these events the organisers get on stage and make a closing announcement along the lines of, “don’t make too much noise when you leave and please take you rubbish with you.” They could have even given out or supplied plastic bags. In fact Laneway have a whole list of rules about what you can bring and they ban umbrellas but allow and encourage plastic ponchos. It would have been so easy to include in these rules, “Make sure to take your poncho home with you or we will fine you.” Here are the rules”
“Things not to bring
The following items are prohibited:
Skateboards, scooters, rollerblades, bicycles
Milk or bread crates or metal cans or containers
Chairs (folding, portable, camping) or any other furniture
Anything studded or spiked (belts, wristbands, etc) or large chains
Club patches and jackets
Weapons of any kind (poles, rackets, “selfie sticks”, sticks including potential missiles)
Flares, Fireworks or Sparklers
Sound or video recorders or professional cameras (with removable lens)(small still cameras are allowed)
Laser lights or laser pens
Umbrellas (bring a plastic poncho or raincoat instead)
Dogs or other pets (service dogs excepted)
Fires and open flames of any kind
Eskies, coolers or chilly bins
Any other items deemed dangerous or potentially disruptive by Laneway in its discretion”
Again how dare the PM balme us and not the organisers
Right now Laneway should be getting hit with a penalty for not cleaning up.
Or maybe Laneway were not required to clean up. Maybe Gardens By The Bay, management team forgot to stipulate that or maybe they themselves are responsible for cleaning. Maybe they thought the rubbish from 13,000 party goers would dissolve into thin air. So who is this incompetent team that manages Gardens By The Bay. The directors are mostly civil servants including the CEO of the People’s Association and an ex-NMP. In an ironic twist of fate they include the CEO of NParks.
The team needs to be fired and replaced for leaving such a health hazard. Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui will likely be barred from running for Parliament if they are fined $2,000 for alleged public nuisance or breach of NParks regulations. If it is true that the Directors and management of Gardens By The Bay failed to organise cleaning, then they should have similar sanctions applied to them.
Do the guests at the F1 night race have to pick up the rubbish? I would also be interested in looking at the accounts for the festival. Like the F1, does it result in a net loss for Singaporeans? Did the Tourist Board give Laneway the venue for free?
Someone is responsible for that mess, literally. NEA should sort out who it is. Then the son and the holy Goh should apologise to us.
5: Politicking. I am angry that they both use this mess to make apolitical point. Notice how Goh warns us that we need foreigners to clean up our mess for us. It is all part of the PAP’s campaign to belittle Singaporeans compared to foreigners in an effort to foster insecurity and to keep Singaporeans distracted by anti-foreigner sentiment rather than focusing on what should be the real cause of our anger, the PAP’s policies. It is also a great big fat excuse for giving us yet another reason for why the population needs to keep increasing. It makes me furious that they are both of them leaping on any excuse to ram that message home even using false information and misleading photos. If Idid that Hri Kumar would be going berserk, calling me a liar.
If this is about foreigners being such good cleaners then please explain those rats in our HDB blocks.
Well that is just me and you will say I am biased so let’s take a look at what the netizens have been saying on LHL and Goh’s Facebook walls and give them the final word.
Here is Kendo Lee agreeing that we need looser immigration policies.
Here is a foreign talent Thom Bush explaining how foreigners are only dirty because locals were dirty first. He also has the audacity to tell us to go somewhere else if we cannot keep our city clean.
And here Calvin Pillai predicts how the election is going to work out
I am grateful for the following question left in my comments:
Kenneth, if Roy wishes to contest a future election under your party flag, will you accept him? Or will this “extraordinary Singaporean”, IMO a potential time bomb and a liability for any party, suddenly not be so extraordinary anymore?
As it required a thoughtful answer and more space I answer it here.
The short answer is Yes. Feel free to skip the longer rationale.
BTW this is not my Reform Party blog so I don’t answer here as a politician but as an economist. That question also requires me to speculate as Roy will no doubt get fined and banned from standing and it would depend on who he is 5-10 years from now and what he does in-between so I can’t comment on future elections.
I’m sure he will continue to be extraordinary,though. The only ticking time bomb I see is LHL himself and his wife’s continued role as head of our SWF. This kind of situation and the whole PAP set up has reached the end of its shelf life.
So all other things being equal yes, Roy in very broad strokes, would be welcome.
In reality it wouldn’t be my decision within the Party. Reform is not a fiefdom it doesn’t have Cadres and a system where only a few get to vote. It is set up as a representative democracy and decisions as to whether or not a person is approved after probation are not mine to make.
That is not to say that I don’t get annoyed that Roy makes many basic errors with statistics, methodology and even giving wrong figures. Kirsten Han dealt with this is in a news article she wrote where she explained why I support Roy even though I don’t always agree with him. He has the broad brush strokes right and the heart. I could supply the maths and the economics. Then again so many commentators do get the figures and methodology wrong. As for the PAP, as my breakdown of the budget shows, they cannot add up but that may be deliberate misdirection rather than basic incompetence. I prefer to think it is both.
Do you not realise that unaccountable governments are the ticking time bombs? Do you not understand the danger in not having an early warning system and a lack of oversight that can allow anything, including hidden losses, to fester? Can you point me to any set of figures or accounts that shows conclusively where our money is allocated within our Sovereign Wealth Funds and in what quantities? The Norwegian people can.
Certainly most recently Roy has been writing as though he has nothing to lose as he is under great pressure but after all Roy was always just asking for his elected representatives to be accountable to the people who elected them. Nothing wrong with that.
The only liability I would envisage for our Party is that we exist to form an alternative government and Roy seems rather too fond of the current government.That’s a cultural clash. I’m not convinced he is truly committed to voting all the PAP out and he may be one of the many who mistakenly believe the PAP government can be persuaded to work with them and respond to citizen pressure.
In fact your question is the hypothetical equivalent of asking me whether I would accept JBJ to contest an election under our Party flag with his criminal record and recently paid off bankruptcy. Or whether I would accept Dr Chee. Both could have been called ticking time bombs and liabilities. Both like Roy subjected to the most extreme and concerted character assassinations and smear campaigns. Something I am no stranger to either.
No offence to you but I am not sure why people persist in asking me questions such as yours as though they cannot read the writing on the box or as though they think I write and do what I do for some kind of stage effect? Do they think I sit on a fence, wait to see which way the tide is turning and then leap? Do they maybe imagine that as an economist who espouses feee market principles rather than the usual marxist/socialist ones that I must also be far right wing and authoritarian or opportunist?
I am sure I am seen as a ticking time bomb and a liability but over time we have seen how the PAP are being forced to pick up my ideas and implement them one at a time.
Those who demand accountability and point out discrepancies and conflicts of interest should not be seen as ticking time bombs. Rather they should be regarded as sniffer dogs who find the time bombs and assorted nasties that might lurk underneath the gleaming facade. In the time-honoured manner of authoritarian governments the PAP and PM Lee seek to deflect the tough questions and make the issue about the sniffer dogs rather than the lack of accountability. Unfortunately Singaporeans have been so brainwashed by fifty years of indoctrination and the systematic demolition of those who stand up to demand answers that they allow those in power to escape scrutiny by this reversal. Roy and others like him become the potential time bombs and not our whole secretive and unaccountable setup riddled as it is with serious conflicts of interest.
The basic premise of this blog is and always will be, that freedom is actually good for the economy and that liberal policies not authoritarian ones are the best way forward for a better standard of living for everyone. You can’t uncouple the freedom from the prosperity equation. People like Roy are hugely beneficial to our society’s progress and not detrimental.
I write that as a liberal and as an economist.
Many of you will have seen Roy’s latest blog piece by now. You will also have seen a letter put together by some concerned supporters including me that was published in the Asian Sentinel and later by TOC. I was particularly struck by Roy’s reference in that blog to the S$2,000 fine that stops a Singaporean from standing for election for 5 years and his mention of the S$8,000,000 suit and being an ordinary Singaporean.
Being a couple of decades older than Roy and being related to one of our historical law suit defendants allows me to add some personal insight into those proceedings and their results. I will also explain my reasons for continuing to support Roy, why he should not lose faith and why you all, previously so numerous in your support, should not now be silent.
Right now Roy has become his own sideshow and a distraction from his own message. None of that is his fault of course. This is the way the PAP machine works and is typical of the way in which the PAP undermines its opponents and silences dissent. Truly it’s not healthy for any society to have no debate or dissenting counter view.
Let’s not get distracted from the key issues. The one big, basic question has still not been answered. Why is the CPF minimum sum being raised? The one big fear that is not being dispelled is the fear that the minimum sum has been raised because GIC and/or Temasek has lost money and the government needs to get the money from somewhere else.
In fact this use of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, as we see with Lee junior versus Roy, will only increase that fear. Or it should at least increase our suspicions. As I always say if there is nothing to hide then throw open the books for inspection! It comes down to trust between the people and the government which is at an all time low. Instead of taking steps to rebuild that trust our PM has sued a blogger. Don’t get distracted. See what is really happening here, what is really at stake?
The fact is that the issue of Temasek Holdings investing or managing CPF money has not been satisfactorily explained. Temasek say they don’t do it. This is simply sophistry. It is half a lie and wholly economical with the truth. Money that the government receives from CPF savings goes to GIC and the profits that GIC earns investing those funds, swells government surpluses, enabling the government to inject more capital into Temasek. Furthermore Temasek’s own internal rates of return – that it is supposed to earn on new investment will no doubt be related to CPF interest rates. Like everything else we have no disclosure on this but trust me, this is how it is done.
The irony is that Roy was not even, judging from his earlier writing and blogs, that strong an opponent of the government/PAP. (Well he wasn’t before all this) Let me explain. He was an opponent of the way CPF returns to the citizens had to fight with GIC’s and Temasek’s need to make profits. So if more money was paid out then GIC’s track record went down. If less was paid back to us then GIC made a bigger profit. He objected to the system that allowed this conflict, as he quite rightly saw it..
If you read his blogs, watch his videos, went to hear him speak, he was more often to be found talking in terms of campaigning for the government to reform the system, asking the government to be more fair, asking the government to put the people as a priority, not the profits of Temasek and GIC. In fact when you look at Roy’s speeches and writings it is very much about the government. For goodness sake the Facebook page attached to his blog is called I want the people and the government and people to work together for Singapore’s future. .. https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-want-the-government-and-people-to-work-together-for-Singapores-future/185331834935656
At the same time, clearly Roy is a supporter of our way of life and society here in Singapore and not a revolutionary. His biggest failure was in believing that asking for the government to reform and provide some transparency was a perfectly reasonable request.
This makes his approach very different to mine. I don’t believe that asking the PAP to change is the way to go. I want the PAP voted out and the structures put in place that will ensure strict rule of law, protections, oversight, accountability, transparency so that democracy AND prosperity can flourish and so that the people prevail no matter what colour shirt sits in the house.
A true opponent would be campaigning to change the government not ask it to reform or improve in response to citizen concerns so why did Roy become Public Enemy Number One? Roy just wanted you all to make a bit more noise about where your money went, how it was used, what GIC’s and Temasek’s profits were, MPs’ inclusion on boards and the PM as head of GIC and his wife as head of Temasek.
I do firmly believe that the PM has been incredibly foolish and ill-advised in making an example out of Roy. Whatever the outcome it will come back to bite him in the next GE. We owe it to ourselves now, not to Roy, but to ourselves, to not let ourselves be distracted by the defamation circus. We owe it to ourselves not to be scared off. If in fact Roy is sued out of existence, which I hope doesn’t happen, then we owe it to ourselves to pick up his voice and carry it on where he left off.
Roy mentions the fine over S$2,000 that would prevent a Singaporean from standing for election. The ban is not life long but for 5 years. Roy, we are all thinking, is still young. Actually it is to all practical purposes a 10 year ban. I feel that Roy can learn a lot from JBJ’s example. In particular my father never gave up and never left his beloved country. I remember an Economist article said of my father, “whereas others prefer to speak from the safety and comfort of exile, Jeyaretnam stands his ground, as solid and immoveable as his name.”
I was forced into a form of exile as a young graduate much against my will. I was always extremely unhappy to be away from home and from my mum, who died whilst I was serving NS and then from my Dad and my wider family. I was not even a real exile just persona non grata who couldn’t even get a job interview in Singapore let alone work there, as part of a process of punishing the eldest son of JBJ. I at least could fly back to Singapore whenever I wanted and my dad was, even as a bankrupt, always able to travel and visit me and join us on family holidays. We had some fantastic time together. More importantly I have seen the devastating effect that being a exile from the PAP’s Singapore has had on the Singaporeans around me when I lived in London. Each one not able to return home, especially now that their parents are elderly and suffering. Poor gentle Francis Khoo- finally only able to return to his homeland in an urn . No, being an exile is not an easy option.
My late father J B Jeyaretnam was fined an amount to keep him from standing for election and just as the 5 years elapsed the PAP called a snap election before he could become eligible. They then took a full 6 years to the next election so almost 11 years but he still didn’t give up. The cycle after that he stood and no doubt he would have been a full MP if not for the Polling Booth-Magic-Teleportation-Paradox ruling. Still he became an NCMP. Roy is a young man still, flexible enough to enter a different career path, educated, with family here who can support him. He should not give up on plans for standing. One of the first things I was told back in 2009 by the venerable Mr Chiam was to expect it to take three election cycles for an impact to be felt. Singaporeans appreciate consistency, dedication and perseverance.
Now let us turn to Roy’s mention of defamation as a tool for quashing dissent. Something I am also all too familiar with. His previous blog entry is a vlog interview - here- he talks about the ISA being used as a tool for rounding up dissenting voices but Roy’s view is that after international media attention after 1987 the government was too embarrassed to use it again. Whatever the reason, defamation suits are clearly the preferred weapon of repression, more insidious and difficult to criticise.
This is exactly what I said when I wrote to the WSJ decrying the use of defamation suits to silence opposition. At great expense to you my dear readers and tax payers, a civil servant was hired to rebut me with a letter that the WSJ was forced to print or lose their distribution rights. That civil servant besides being a moron who couldn’t get his spelling right, was wrong of course. He later sent in a secretly edited version to replace his first idiotic response. Still wrong. I put both his letters on my blog with my letter. Did I get sued? No. I told the truth.
However, as soon as that imbecile civil servant who owes his salary to us, wrote his letter to WSJ, the State Media machine went mad, printing that I was wrong quoting him, etc etc. Almost instantaneously every blog, new media outlet pulled my letter without asking my opinion or even giving anyone a chance to say: actually, hold on.. Kenneth is right you know. Self censorship is not a strong enough term to describe this phenomenon. This extreme caution borne of fear .
It is every Singaporean running to hide under the table as soon as the PAP yells a little.
FYI-The legal blogger Article 14 explains why I was right and is included in sources at the back.
So we have established that defamation suits have replaced the ISA as the new tool for quashing dissent. Each time the PAP twists the screw of repression and tightens up their control they get a bit smarter. That should mean that the new tool of defamation is more finely tuned, more effective and something that we Singaporeans should be more afraid of… right?
No. Be afraid but thanks to Roy, not that afraid.
First of all the Lee family, the government ministers, MPs to be and various worthies have overused this tool. In this joined up and wired world nations such as ours, relying on multiple free trade agreements with democracies, cannot continue to use such draconian methods without embarrassing themselves.
Secondly Roy is not an ordinary Singaporean. I don’t know why he says he is. Maybe he means he is non-partisan, not with a Party. Whatever the reason Roy is in fact an extraordinary Singaporean and I hope he was just being humble. He makes some claims for landmark cases but the true landmark in Singapore’s history will be that S$100,000 dollars that he raised, seemingly effortlessly. Defamation is civil. It is not similar to political donations in that Roy can raise money from anywhere in the world.
I remember, I watched in absolute amazement as that sum went up and up and up. Previously when deciding whether to appeal the IMF case against the government or not, I threw it to the public and said if I could raise enough for my fixed costs, I would take it as a sign and proceed. I raised S$10,000 and was pretty pleased with that and stopped it there. I took the losses on myself and the Government’s legal costs as I felt that was right but at least I raised enough from the public to pay my lawyer and the filing fees.
But even with that happy experience I was astonished by the money Roy raised. Yes I am banging on about it because it is very exciting to me. You see the PAP had to stop using the ISA and switched to defamation suits. But if those sued raise money so effortlessly then the whole bloody circus become neutralised. It reminds me of the way hippies put flowers down the barrels of rifles back in the 60’s. When MM Lee is not threatening his opponents with knuckle dusters he has always made it clear that he favours hitting people where it really hurts, in their pockets. Raising money online takes the pain away and is the virtual equivalent of ten new heroes rising up for every one that is cut down.
I am sure that Roy is very anxious right now. He talks about a suit of S$8,000,000 that was awarded against Tang Liang Hong. But let’s not be flexible with the truth here or re-write history. Tang left the country, didn’t appear in court and that punitive amount was awarded by summary judgement in his absence. Tang was my father’s running mate and so that whole JBJ vendetta thing also took a role. Also one of the key reasons for Tang leaving was that his wife, terrified by death threats, begged him to. I don’t think it will come to that. Yes the venue seems to suggest S$250,000 but that would be extraordinary. How can the PM prove that amount of damage to his reputation? Has his earning capacity suffered? Of course I remember George Carman Q.C. asking Goh Chok Tong on the witness stand, when he sued my father over the police reports, whether he had suffered any damage and Goh being forced to agree that he had not. The first judge, Rajendran, only awarded Goh $20,000 but Goh appealed and was able to find a more sympathetic judge who raised the damages to $100,000. But that is still a whole lot less than $250,000.
Truly it would be incredible if Roy was to take whatever amount the judge sees fit to determine and to dedicate himself to raising it online. What a hero he would be. Then he could use terms like “Landmark” and no one would deny him. None of these internet options were available to my father who instead took great delight in embarrassing the PAP by selling books on the street (a hawker’s privilege allowed to those with no income). Roy can learn from the perseverance of those who have gone before him-the Lion of Anson, Dr Chee and others- but benefit from the modern tools of the 21st Century.
If he cannot raise the whole amount online then he can file for bankruptcy and come up with a payments schedule plan agreeable to the AG, take up a new position and come back to public life when the ban is lifted and bankruptcy paid off. There is no shame in being taken down by the PAP and being smart enough to come back at them. Bankruptcy is not such an awful fate for a young man who can raise money on the internet particularly considering that in the US most successful entrepreneurs have gone bankrupt at least once.
Roy is by every measure an extraordinary Singaporean. His blog readership is extraordinary. His ability to raise money on the internet is extraordinary. In the coming GE, CPF and the minimum sum will be at the top of every Party’s agenda and that is extraordinary.
Finally Roy mentions the trouble he is having finding a meaningful relationship . He can learn a thing or two from JBJ on that score too. Many a time I was somewhere eating a meal out with my father when an attractive woman my age would approach us. To devastating effect on my self-esteem that was invariably coming over to hit on my Dad. ( I hasten to add this is when I was single). Notoriety can work both ways for attracting a partner.
Did I mention the key issue is still unanswered? Why is the Central Provident Fund Minimum Sum being raised and why can’t we take out money out when we like after 55? Why GIC and Temasek make money (if that is what they are doing) from using our captive savings and paying us a non-market interest rate? Roy has done us all a favour. He got so close to showing us how to demand accountability and stand up for our rights. If each Singaporean can in her or his own way be a little extraordinary now in support of our right to demand accountability of our government then together we can help him finish the job and prove that the pap is just a paper tiger into the bargain.
I want to explain why I have changed my profile picture on Facebook and put up the thumbnail you see above.
Yesterday I changed the profile picture for my “Kenneth Jeyaretnam TeamRP ” Facebook profile to one of the cartoons that got Leslie Chew arrested and investigated for sedition in 2013. Leslie Chew draws and produces “Demon-cratic”. He was arrested and detained in lockup for 46 hours. After lockup they made him report for bail multiple times over the next 3 months, whilst detaining his passport. This effectively put him under island arrest as he was unable to return to his home in JB, Malaysia. After that period he was released and was not charged. However contempt of court charges were then filed in court
The only response to an attack on cartoonists is more cartoons. Luckily I had a screen grab of the offending article and so I have put it back up on my Facebook profile.
I argued in my blog post (“Singapore: No Bullet was Fired in the Harming of Our Cartoonist”) two days ago that authoritarian governments like Singapore were only different in degree of violence from the terrorists who killed the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo. The Lee family and the PAP do not need to resort to crude tactics like murder in order to intimidate the Singaporean people and prevent them asking awkward questions.
When a blogger, a cartoonist, a comedian, a social media commentator, is taken in for questioning in Singapore the suspect article or picture is removed by everyone who had previously shared it so quickly the resultant vacuum could physically suck you in. It is removed at the first hint before any charges are laid or the article is proven to be defamatory or seditious (not that anyone is sure what sedition is.) The mere fear that it might be is enough to get the whole country hitting the delete button.
Is this self censorship? No, it’s self-preservation – borne out of fear. If your father is a violent man who frequently hits you over the head, you learn to keep quiet, your head bowed, you hunch down. Not out of deference to your father or respect or for the sake of the family’s income but because you don’t want your head caved in.
So it is with the Lee family and their minions. We don’t behave because we have agreed a pact of obedience in return for a high standard of living which is what the West believes. We keep quiet because we don’t want to end up denied a place at a school or a university or employment, be audited, be sued into bankruptcy, be detained with no charge or even be jailed.
I saw this happen over an article I wrote here on my blog about the whereabouts of our national reserves. Ironically the blog article itself went missing! The then editor of The Online Citizen Kumaran Pillai had initially reproduced my article on TOC but soon after I was alerted by a friend to the fact that it had disappeared. I called up Pillai who told me what I thought was an extraordinary story – that Temasek’s lawyer had called an editor at TOC and requested that it be taken down.
Naturally I was very angry. No charges had been laid. I hadn’t been arrested. No-one had contacted me the author and so I had been denied the opportunity to defend my piece. And although TOC killed it, the very same article remained published in full public view on my blog here although as described everyone else deleted it faster than you could say Lee dynasty.
Pillai had no doubt behaved with a lack of decency and courtesy by pulling it without letting me know and was also in breach of the rather generous copyright permission that I allow for reproduction of my articles. I also thought he made up the wild story about the Prime Minister’s wife’s lawyers. However a few months later news broke that Remy Choo, one of the founders of TOC, did indeed make his ear available to the Law (or lack thereof) Minister, Shanmugam, having dinner with him and meeting him – so Pillai’s mad tale began to seem credible. (Shanmugam had himself recently sued a blogger Alex Au over comments about Shanmugam’s divorce)
Pillai then changed tack and used social media to smear and defame me saying that my article was defamatory but was not actually able to say where or why. He was just trying to save his own skin by then. In return I said that if it was defamatory then I would surely be sued for defamation. I never have been. So, my version of the reserves story remains unchallenged even if covered with a cloak of invisibility.
This is how clever authoritarian repression works. Not by a masked jihadist with a machine gun but by greased wheels and oiled whispers and a media blackout through exercised control.
So I have taken Leslie Chew’s cartoon out of my archives and republished it. Here and on Facebook. On Facebook it has attracted some debate and discussion but nothing overly offensive or racist. Now, it stands to reason that if I am not arrested for sedition as Leslie was for that cartoon, then Leslie Chew was unreasonably harassed by an authoritarian government and leading family bent on repressing dissent, plurality of opinion and freedom of expression.
All over the world people are using the#jesuischarlie and #CharlieHebdo in solidarity with the massacred cartoonists. All over the world cartoonists are responding with more cartoons refusing to be repressed or frightened and drawing offensive cartoons making it one of the most used hash tags ever in the history of Twitter.
Singapore is a tiny red dot on the world map and fortunately we see very little terror related violence. For that reason I think that Je Suis Leslie Chew is a more fitting tribute from us and I have changed my thumbnail picture accordingly. Please do adopt it or share it if you would like to stand up against repression.The French are standing against armed murderers. You are only being asked to stand up against some ultimately toothless,bullying bureaucrats.
Finally if you’d like to know where our reserves are please read here.
This is the cartoon Leslie was arrested for.
I have been warning for the past five years about the effect of an open-door foreign worker policy in depressing the wages of native Singaporean workers and in particular low-income workers. I have pointed out both in Reform Party press releases such as our yearly Budget analysis- see here for 2014- which is never printed or quoted in the Singapore State Media, and in my blog, Rethinking the Rice Bowl, (ditto) that the PAP have had one economic model for fifty years for achieving growth which is to add more labour inputs rather than increase productivity.
The sausage making machine
In 2013, in response to a comment by the former NMP Eugene Tan that took the title of my previous article, I wrote “When Immigration Stops Being the Elephant in the Room and Becomes the Great White Shark in Your Parliament”:
The PAP government knows only one economic model. That model which I first pointed out and which these days is explained back to me by taxi drivers is this. It is a sausage-making machine. You feed in additional inputs of labour at one end of the sausage machine to produce additional units of output, or GDP, at the other. In between there is no rise in underlying productivity. Despite a Budget devoted to productivity in 2010 and Tharman’s promise to raise productivity growth to 2-3% per annum and real incomes by 30% by 2020,the facts show that productivity growth was -2% in 2011 and 0% in 2012. That’s a clear sign for you. Wake up!
A Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman exposed this same model in the 1990s when he debunked the Asian economic miracle and that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1990. This is a basic model of economic development that has been around since 1954 when Arthur Lewis first propounded it (“Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour”). Sooner or later this model just runs out of steam or collapses because there is no innovation. The PAP have just put off the day of reckoning by opening the floodgates to cheaper and cheaper labour supplies from the developing countries of Asia…
The PAP government is the principal owner of land and capital. By transferring resources from us the workers to themselves, facilitated by the role of immigration in depressing wages and pushing up land prices, that wealth stays out of our hands. Make no mistake, in the last 50 years that wealth could have been used to develop a strong middle, each generation better off than the one before, free universal education, joined up health care, a professional paid army, benefits for the most needy.
Stagnation of median real wages
in 2011, in an article entitled “Immigration is the Elephant in the Room”, where I criticised a discussion on the causes of rising inequality and the stagnation of median real wages by the chief economists at GIC and Resorts World Sentosa I wrote:
However they fail to mention the elephant in the room, which is immigration policy or the lack thereof. Undoubtedly the government’s determination to allow our wages to be determined by those in the poorest economies in Asia has played a major part in depressing real wages, particularly for the lower-skilled workers. Not only was there very little restriction on foreign labour, and no restriction at all for those earning more than $2,500 a month, but there appears to have been lax enforcement of what rules there were and ample loopholes. This has been demonstrated by a recent case where an employer was jailed for putting phantom Singaporean workers on his payroll to allow him to bring in more foreign Work Permit holders…
What we have in Singapore is a situation where the wages of those who can be replaced by cheap foreign labour have been held back or in many cases cut. Even those with higher-level skills have undoubtedly been held back by competition from third-world graduates from India, China and the Philippines, even Eastern Europe. Worryingly there are clear indications that advances in software and machine intelligence are starting to make redundant even highly-paid white-collar jobs in areas such as law and financial services that were hitherto relatively protected from foreign competition. But this government’s open door policy to foreign labour has been the main cause of rising inequality in Singapore.
Opening the Floodgates
In 2013 I wrote an article entitled “Singapore’s Economic and Immigration Policies are Insane” in which I said:
In the 1990s Singapore began to open the floodgates to the import of labour from Asian low-income countries, nearly doubling our population. As I keep telling you, this has resulted in real wage stagnation for the bulk of the working population and declines for those in the bottom quartile. Particularly because our work force isn’t protected by a minimum wage so wages can keep getting lower and we enjoy minimal labour protections.
Given my previous extensive writings on the PAP Government’s use of immigration to depress wages and boost profits, I had a strong sense of déjà vu when I received an email from Tan Jee Say yesterday. This contained an account of the conversations he had with his professors at Harvard about the economic effects of immigration. He quotes George Borjas, a labour economist and one who has warned about the consequences of large-scale unskilled immigration into the US, as saying:
There are gainers and losers of a country’s immigration policy. Gainers are the users of immigrant labour namely, employers and consumers. Losers are native workers who compete with the immigrants.”
I can understand why it is tempting for Tan Jee Say to be swayed by the opinions of foreign professors as he is currently at Harvard and in close contact with them. After all he was PM Goh’s Principal Private Secretary for a long time and the PAP have always taken their ideas from academics overseas. But I think it is a mistake and even shows signs of a Singaporean inferiority complex. We do not need foreign professors to tell us what our home grown pundits have been saying- in my case for years. I would prefer that Singaporeans started to think for themselves rather than act as sponges for outside influences. It is also dangerous because the US economy is so different to ours.
In the article Borjas repeats what I have said previously on many occasions. A frequent argument in favour of immigration, and one used by the PAP, is that immigrants do jobs that native workers shun. However as Borjas rightly points out the main reason why native workers no longer want to do those jobs is because the competition from immigrant workers has reduced wages in those occupations to levels where they are no longer attractive. This has happened to a large extent in Singapore. In many occupations such as construction, cleaning and food services it is cheaper to substitute lower-skilled and less productive foreign labour rather than invest money in automation and continue to employ more productive but more costly Singaporean workers. Our low productivity is a direct consequence of the easy availability of low-cost foreign labour.
While there are some analogies with the US, the Singapore situation is very different. The US has abundant land and is on many measures extremely underpopulated while Singapore is the second most densely populated country in the world (after Monaco). US workers enjoy the protection of a minimum wage and a probably too restrictive immigration policy. While the proportion of immigrants in the US population is around 12% as compared to a proportion of 40% foreigners in Singapore, the US figure includes new citizens whereas new citizens are excluded from the Singapore figure. Excluding PRs and new citizens from the residents figure would undoubtedly take the proportion of foreigners in the employed labour force in Singapore to well above 50%.
Borjas says that the US minimum wage, which is set on a state-by-state basis, is too low to protect low-wage American workers. However that is still a big improvement over Singapore which has no minimum wage and no real protections for employees against being sacked and replaced by cheaper foreign labour. While Tan Jee Say is on the right track in calling for priority for Singaporeans in hiring this is not sufficient. Reform Party have called for a cap on the total number of foreign workers rather than the current situation where there is practically no upper bound on the number who can come in under the Employment Pass system. We want to replace the foreign worker levy with an auction that will ensure that more of the producer surplus from being able to employ cheap foreign labour is retained by the government and used for the benefit of Singaporean workers. The cap can be raised or lowered in line with economic conditions and to keep wage growth in line with productivity growth.
While it is good to see that some of the most prominent US academics in this field arrive at the same conclusions that I have, it is slightly disappointing to see that Tan Jee Say feels that the analysis of foreigners is more likely to impress Singaporeans than the same conclusions arrived at by a Singaporean economist. Until we can shake off this inferiority complex which has been inculcated by the PAP our people will never receive their just reward in the marketplace irrespective of government policy.
Yesterday’s attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has been seen quite rightly as an assault on the fundamental values of liberal democracy and freedom of expression. The attackers claimed to be avenging the Prophet Mohammed but this attack was not about Islam. Instead it was all about intimidating us from expressing our views and our beliefs where they are something that the attackers do not like.
Watching commentators across the globe condemn the brutal murder of these eight cartoonists and seeing the huge crowds that rushed out to stand vigil not just in Paris but in London and elsewhere, I couldn’t help but think of our political cartoonist Leslie Chew banned films from local filmmakers such as Martyn See, Mirabelle Ang, and Tan Pin Pin, as well as imprisoned septuagenarian author Alan Shadrake and embattled human rights lawyer M Ravi.
No bullet was ever fired in this war on freedom, no one was disappeared in the night (although thousands have fled the scene) but the Lee family and their government have just as surely slaughtered freedom of expression in Singapore as any terrorist with an AK 47. In fact they have the whole nation cowed in fear, living on land the government owns, forcibly contributing tax dollars to secretive funds the Lee family manages and the Western Press is dead, bowed or complicit.
Anyone who thinks it is a faceless bureaucracy or a board of censors making these decisions should read here:http://theindependent.sg/blog/2013/10/07/how-lky-changed-my-life/
While murder is an extreme way of achieving these goals the terrorists differ only in degree and the power at their disposal from the world’s authoritarian governments that give themselves the right to control what we can read or say. Authoritarian governments globally have not shied away from murdering journalists and those who ask inconvenient questions, whether it is Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Egypt or countless other countries throughout the world. In other countries journalists, cartoonists, bloggers and ordinary people are imprisoned or sued by regimes that dislike what they say or in the name of religious dogma. Examples include the use of lese-majeste laws in Thailand, blasphemy laws in Pakistan or criminal defamation and sedition laws in South Korea or Malaysia.
We can expect the PAP ministers to condemn the attacks today as barbaric and an assault on civilized values. But the PAP Government and the Lee family have achieved a degree of control over what can be said in Singapore that would be the envy of many authoritarian regimes and of the terrorists who committed the atrocities today.
Since they came into power the PAP and the Lee family have sought by all the means at their disposal (and they control all the means) to control the press and ensure that people are intimidated or prevented from criticising them.
I remember a cartoon from the 1970s published in the Singapore Herald, a short-lived and solitary experiment in independent media that soon incurred the wrath of Lee Kuan Yew and was shut down. The cartoon showed Lee Kuan Yew in a tank crushing a baby. The baby was labelled something like “A Free Press”. After that the PAP made sure that no one could read any views other than those they allowed in their State-owned or –controlled media. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act followed soon afterwards ensuring that the Government has a veto over the ownership and appointment of the editorial staff of every newspaper. Though this was not even necessary in the case of broadcast media and many print titles, which were all controlled by Temasek.
Seriously who needs to send their zealots to Syria to train with ISIS when they can learn everything they need to know here.
The foreign press has been intimidated into silence by defamation suits and threats to restrict their circulation in Singapore. The Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Economist are just a few of the publications that were sued for saying things that are said every day about politicians and institutions in the West.
When Western governments speak out now about the need to send a strong signal to Islamic extremists that the West will not be intimidated into silence I can only recall the spineless way they failed to support their media in their battles with the authoritarian regime in Singapore and have these restrictions declared a breach of Singapore’s obligations under bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. With the lack of support pretty soon most publications found it expedient to regurgitate the PAP’s version of history. These include the myth that Singapore was a mangrove swamp before Lee Kuan Yew transformed it or that Singaporeans have willingly sacrificed their freedom for the promise of prosperity.
The use of defamation laws, detention without trial and politically motivated prosecutions on bogus charges have been successfully used in parallel to create a climate of fear and stop Singaporeans from speaking up. A trumped-up charge was used to remove my father from Parliament because Lee Kuan Yew was unable to answer his questions. Subsequently he was sued into bankruptcy to prevent him from standing again or even speaking at election rallies. He became a virtual non-person just like dissidents under the Soviet regime which was condemned so forcefully by the West.
The climate of fear and self-censorship is still as strong as ever despite the PAP pretence that there has been liberalization.
Dr Chee was silenced. The ReformParty suffered a media black out during GE 2011 ( but still they won a greater share of the national vote than SPP for example). I am banned from attending debates and talks at our national universities and one university even attempted to prevent me from being in the audience. Of course Hri Kumar tried to keep me out of a consultation on CPF, dodged my questions and then resorted to lying and smearing me. Mr Chiam was himself the victim of vicious smears as all opponents of the Lees have been. Leslie Chew, the cartoonist, was arrested and held in jail without bail for an extended period. Academic Cherian George is this week finding out for himself that there is no such thing as being a mild opponent of the regime as he experiences the same backlash we have all suffered.
My own family (and I) were subjected to maybe some of the most extreme versions of this- threats of rape, violence and even death in an attempt to silence me and crush plurality of thought. This off the scale attack on a politician’s family members was aided and abetted by both Government and alternative media and the silent complicity of the other political parties.
What is most depressing is that, in contrast to the spontaneous rallies that have erupted in France and elsewhere in response to the murders of the journalists, Singaporeans have been mostly silent just as they were over what happened to JBJ or the alleged Marxist conspirators.
It is a blot on Western values that authoritarian regimes like Singapore are not only tolerated but held up as shining examples for democracies to emulate. Only Jim Sleeper got this right when he so vehemently and intelligently objected to the liberal values of Yale being compromised through setting up an offshoot in authoritarian Singapore.
It is pure hypocrisy if the reaction to this barbaric attack is just about combatting the threat from Islamic extremism and does not grasp the wider lesson about standing up everywhere for universal values like democracy and freedom of expression.
Just now on CNN Bruce Shapiro editor of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University in New York spoke about the attack which he categorised as an attack on journalism:
” People are united in saying this is an attack on journalism. We as journalists now are saying ‘we are all Charlie Hebdo’. This is part of a global pattern of using journalists as a capillary system for fear and terror. Whether it is terrorists in Paris, whether it is ISIS in Syria, whether it is Narco gangs or politicians who have assassinated journalists in Mexico, in every case it is about seeing the only value of journalism as a corpse to spread fear… and that I think is at the heart of this. Are we going to stand up in general in the memory of great cartoonists but not stand up for the value of independent journalism and value of satire in democracy. That’s what’s at stake here, democracy.”
As Martin Luther King said, ” In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends. There is little doubt that democracy, plurality of thought and freedom of expression would have great difficulty finding a friend in Singapore.