Author Archives: kjeyaretnam
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 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.
An open letter to the Wall Street Journal last week in response to Singapore’s Consulate-General in Hong Kong’s, Jacky Foo’s, predictable response to Chee Soon Juan’s Op-Ed for WSJ “A New Vision for Singapore” dated 27 November 2014.
Mr Foo says Mr Chee is not interested in facts and accuses him of being dishonest. It is Mr Foo who is not interested in facts and is dishonest. He tries to pull the wool over your readers’ eyes by pretending that Singapore is a democracy and that elections are free and fair. It is ironic that he writes from Hong Kong where the students well understand that holding elections has nothing to do with democracy. Free and fair elections require a number of conditions including a free media, an independent Elections Commission, the Government not using state resources to bribe or intimidate voters nor being able to harass and bar political opponents through defamation suits or fake charges. Mr Chee may not have won an election but he has been prevented from standing since 2001 after being made a bankrupt. My father, J B Jeyaretnam, won election to Parliament in 1981 but was deprived of his seat in 1986 after what the UK Privy Council described as “a grievous miscarriage of justice.” Again in 2001 just before an election JBJ was removed from Parliament and prevented from standing before he passed away in 2008, this time after being bankrupted by defamation suits.
Mr Foo claims that inequality has increased in all countries, not just Singapore. However he dishonestly fails to point out that Singapore’s income inequality after taxes and transfers is the highest in the OECD, and significantly higher than in the US. Education is not free and not compulsory after primary. Special needs children are often excluded because the Government does not fund enough places for them. Singaporeans also have to pay for medical care not only out of their own savings but out of their relatives’ savings before they qualify for assistance. There is about $60 billion sitting unused in Singaporeans’ CPF Medisave accounts because of the stringent restrictions on how it can be used.
As for being able to purchase a two-room flat if you earn $1,000 a month this may be a theoretical possibility but this relies on the wage earner never falling ill or becoming unemployed. It is grossly irresponsible of the Government to push people who cannot afford it to buy a flat and reminiscent of the worst excesses of the sub-prime crisis in the US. This arises because the Government has so many conflicts of interest as the owner of the land, property developer, house builder and financier. As a result it has a vested interest in stoking asset price inflation. Mr Foo is proud that the Government claims to have created an average of $200,000 of housing equity per household (which may include many more working adults than a typical Western household) in the bottom 20% of the income distribution. However this could easily vanish and become negative if the housing bubble was to burst.
People at this income level in most countries in the OECD would get free or heavily subsidised rental housing in any case. This is what the Government should be doing not pushing low-income families to take on financial commitments that they are unlikel In any case owning an HDB is not true home ownership. It is merely a 99 -year leasehold at the end of which the apartment reverts to the Government as freeholder. “Owners” can be forced to move any time the Government sees a profitable redevelopment opportunity.
As for Mr Foo’s claims that the bottom 20% of households have seen a 10% rise in real incomes over the last decade, this statistic is based on real income per household member. This is misleading as there are a number of reasons, such as a falling number of non-working dependents per household, why this could rise without there being a rise in real wages per working member. Also more household members could be forced to work or there may be an increase in working hours without any rise or even a decline in real wages per hour In addition the Government’s consumer price index uses a way of calculating housing costs grossly understates their rise.
Mr Foo says that GLCs only account for 10% of the economy. He bases this on a 2001 study that uses figures dating back to 1998. This pegged the share of GLCs at 13% Even if we accept that this is correct, deducting the share of foreign companies at 42% would still mean that GLCs controlled nearly 22% of the domestic economy. The Government also owns 80% of the land. While SMEs may make up the rest of the domestic economy most of them will be dependent in one way or another on either sales to GLCs or services provided by GLCs. The Government runs a surplus of at least $30 billion a year, which is close to 10% of GDP.
While Dr Chee is along the right lines he cedes too much of the economic argument to the PAP. Our GDP per capita may be slightly ahead of the US but it is only about half that of Norway or Luxembourg. A more appropriate comparison is GDP per hour worked or productivity. On this measure Singapore, whose workers work much longer hours than the US and Europe, does not do so well. Its GDP per hour worked is only about 60% of the US level. Our impressive economic growth rate has been fuelled by imports of cheap labour and not by productivity gains. In fact productivity has not grown at all since 2007. The Soviet Union’s growth rate was similarly impressive in the 1950s and 1960s.
Someone made a comment a couple of days ago on my public Facebook profile Kenneth Jeyaretnam TeamRP:
Kenneth, just checking your opinion on this. Japan’s economy is doing badly, and this is partly due to their aging population and low birth rate.
do u think that if the Sg government did not do anything do bring foreigners here, that we would end up like japan?
Falling birth rates with an economy in recession?
And also, in your opinion, how can Japan get out of this mess that they are in?
I decided replying on Facebook would be too long so decided to make it the subject of a blog.
Are Japan’s problems due to their ageing population and low birth rate?
No not really. Japan’s immediate problem is deflation where prices are falling and the real value of debt increases.
Interest rates cannot fall below zero so as prices decline, the real interest rate rises and the cost of servicing that debt rises.
This leads people to consume less and firms to invest less while trying to save more to meet the higher cost of servicing the debt. Lower consumption and investment leads firms to cut prices and try to cut wages.
This quickly becomes a vicious spiral.
Japan may have a future problem with an aging population and low birth rate but technological advances in robotics and software will lead to accelerating productivity growth that will offset this. Advances in medicine will lead to an increase in lifespans and the quality of life. This will increase the number of years people can work and be economically productive, probably quite substantially.
How did Japan get into this situation in the first place?
Japan got to this point because it relied too much on net exports and investment, rather than domestic demand, to drive growth. Its corporations hugely over-invested in a narrow range of industries, induced by subsidies and non-tariff barriers. Demand for the country’s products stagnated and as China and the rest of Asia opened up to foreign investment Japanese corporations either transferred production to Asia or were forced out of business. The persistent current account surpluses pushed the yen up despite attempts by successive governments to manipulate the exchange rate. Japan fell into a deflationary spiral as faced with the loss of competitiveness and a lack of demand at home, domestic manufacturers cut prices and wages.
While there were endless stimulus packages during the 1990s and 2000s, with a vast number of infamous pork-barrel infrastructure projects, none of the stimulus packages was sufficiently large to reverse falling prices once deflation had set in. Moreover they were often accompanied by taxation increases which largely negated the effects of the additional spending. Saddled with overcapacity, the corporate sector failed to invest and the Government failed to mop up the excess savings. Ultimately it only succeeded in increasing the debt to GDP ratio.
What is the solution to Japan’s problems?
Japan needs to break the deflationary spiral and push the inflation rate up to erode the real value of debt. This has to be done through a combination of monetary and fiscal policy.
In what has come to be known as Abenomics, the Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe, has leaned on the Bank of Japan to undertake a massive easing of monetary policy and expansion of the money supply. This is several times larger as a proportion of GDP than the monetary easing in the US by the Federal Reserve after the financial crisis of 2008.
However, monetary policy easing has not been accompanied by any easing of fiscal policy. This has in fact been tightened with a rise in the sales tax in April and another rise due by October 2015 (though this may be postponed in light of the poor GDP figures).
Without fiscal policy easing Japan’s monetary easing just looks like another in a long line of Japanese attempts to gain a competitive advantage through currency depreciation. The yen has fallen some 45% since its high point in 2012 of around 80 yen to the dollar. While it may bring temporary gains to Japanese exporters other big exporters like China, South Korean and Germany are unlikely to tolerate it for long. In fact all these countries have moved to depreciate their currencies (in Germany’s case the European Central Bank has eased policy to push down the euro) in an attempt to divert some of the US’s demand growth to their own products. This is unlikely to be successful for long and indeed there are already signs that US growth is stalling.
The conventional view is that Japan cannot afford to embark on a fiscal easing because its Government debt to GDP ratio is one of the highest in the world. Gross debt is over 230% of GDP though this comes down considerably, to about 134% of GDP, when debt instruments such as securities and loans held by the Japanese Government are included. However, all Japanese Government debt is denominated in yen and Japanese residents hold 90%, so it is difficult to see why the Japanese Government would be unable to repay the debt. Ultimately they could just monetize the debt by printing money or borrowing from the banks. Critics might complain that this would be inflationary but Japan’s economic woes stem from deflation in the first place. A rise in inflation to erode the real value of debt is just what is needed in the first place.
How is Singapore like Japan?
Singapore is likely to have the same problem as Japan in the future but not because of a falling birth rate. The PAP Government has aggressively moved to boost the economically active segment of the population and counteract the falling birth rate (which they are responsible for) by allowing in so many foreign workers at all levels. At least for the time being we do not face the problem of a large number of retirees supported by a shrinking working population. However this has merely shifted the problem to the future since Singapore’s population cannot continue to grow to infinity. But I have argued above that this is likely to be a non-problem anyway as productivity, lifespans and working lives expand, probably quite dramatically.
Singapore’s problem is that like Japan, it relies largely on adding more inputs to create output rather increasing the productivity of these inputs. This was pointed out, by Krugman and others, in the 1990s when comparing the performance of the Asian “tiger” economies, including Singapore. I have often drawn attention in the past to Singapore’s poor productivity growth and that the PAP government has taken the easy route to impress foreigners and grow the economy merely by adding more low-cost workers.
Our economic growth is also extremely unbalanced, like Japan’s in the past and China or Germany now. Singapore runs a huge current account surplus of close to 20% of GDP that is much bigger than either Germany’s or China’s, which are often cited as examples of countries adopting selfish economic policies. Consumption is only about 40% of GDP so investment and net exports comprise about 60% of the economy. This cannot continue indefinitely without the rate of return on new investment falling so low as to be unattractive. The PAP Government have tried to stop this happening by opening the floodgates to cheap and easily exploitable foreign labour but we must be reaching the end of the road here despite the Government’s plans for a 7 million population and their barely concealed desire to increase that target to 10 million or more as soon as they think they can get away with it.
A major part of the problem with our unbalanced and unsustainable economic growth is that the PAP Government runs a surplus of about 10% of GDP and together with our forced savings in CPF this is recycled into the purchase of foreign financial assets that earn low or negative returns in S$ rather than being spent on consumption .
What could send Singapore into a deflationary spiral?
Already demand for Singapore’s exports is slowing amid the global economic slowdown and the economy is on the brink of recession. Unemployment is rising particularly among graduates who are forced to take lower-paying jobs. A property slump abroad could quickly translate into falling property prices here. Since inflation is domestically generated and is mainly caused by the rising cost of land and rents a property price slump could quickly lead to a scenario where prices are falling. This could lead to the same kind of deflationary spiral we have seen in Japan and that Europe is on the brink of falling into.
You might think that this cannot happen because the PAP Government has a lot of room to cut taxes and spend more because of the huge Government and current account surpluses. However much of the Government surplus is income from foreign financial assets. A slump in asset prices and in foreign currencies could cut the value of this income and leave a shortfall in the amounts necessary to repay CPF account holders. We already suspect that something like this has happened and that the value of our reserves has been eroded due to mismanagement. The Government does nothing to dispel these rumours by its desperate desire to hang on to our CPF savings and prevent withdrawals. The PAP is also so desperate that they have revived the defamation weapon and use of illegal assembly laws just in order to try to silence a group of young people who never looked very threatening to start with.
A “Tails They Win, Heads You Lose” Scenario
Ultimately though, even if the kind of scenario outlined above unfolds, the PAP Government can allow the S$ to depreciate and print money to pay off CPF holders. This should prevent us falling into the kind of deflationary spiral that afflicts Japan. However any such action, even if viewed as a lesser evil, would be expropriation from Singaporeans who have not been given any choice in whether they wish to lend money to the PAP Government for overseas speculation.
We have been left holding the risk with no share in the rewards. To the PAP leaders and the heads of Temasek and GIC Singapore is just a gigantic hedge fund that owns a valuable asset which unfortunately comes with a liability of three million native inhabitants. By electing them to office with no checks on their power, Singaporeans have granted the PAP a free option. This is why I call it a “Heads They Win, Tails You Lose Scenario”.
Yesterday I wrote about why the general Singaporean public paying for foreign workers’ medical care was a bad idea. If companies are allowed to get away without providing adequate medical coverage for their foreign workers this would effectively be a subsidy to those employers to employ foreign workers rather than Singaporeans.
Today I read about the proposals from the Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree, a luxury hotels and resorts group, Ho Kwon Ping.
Who is Ho Kwon Ping?
Mr Ho was detained in the 1970s for writing critical articles about the PAP Government. During his imprisonment, according to an interview he gave to the BBC, he had a conversion realising that he wasn’t Nelson Mandela. Purely coincidentally he became very rich but after assuming the leadership of the family business and purely coincidentally he has become a vocal supporter of the PAP.
What is his proposal?
Ho advocates converting the foreign workers’ levy into a deferred savings account akin to CPF, which the foreign worker would be able to withdraw when he left Singapore.
What is the Foreign Worker’s Levy?
This is a sum paid to the government by the employer. At the moment the foreign worker levy acts as a tax on the use of foreign labour. It should make foreign workers more expensive to employ and thus encourage employers to substitute Singaporeans.
Isn’t that a good thing?
Unfortunately, as I have pointed out repeatedly, if the supply of foreign labour is inelastic ( which means that even if their salaries are cut the amount of labour supplied does not fall by very much ) the levy could act merely to drive down wages for foreign workers while the gross cost to the employer (wage plus levy) remains unchanged. In this case the government is benefitting from the levy but the foreign workers are worse off. Most importantly Singaporeans are even worse off as no new jobs have been created for Singaporeans.
So the Foreign workers levy doesn’t help Singaporeans and is ineffective.
So isn’t Ho’s proposal an improvement?
Ho’s proposal is to convert the levy into a deferred savings account for the foreign workers. The same problems apply.
- Employers can theoretically reduce their foreign workers’ direct pay by up to the full amount of the deferred savings because these workers will be able to access their savings when they return to their home country.
- Given foreign workers’ weak bargaining power it is likely that employers will be able to cut their direct pay substantially.
- Ho’s proposal thus amounts effectively to a removal of the tax on foreign labour.
- Employers are likely to respond by employing MORE foreign labour and cutting back on their usage of Singaporeans as far as they are able.
Why is that self -serving?
While the number of Mr Ho’s employees in Singapore appears to be small, he speaks clearly with the economic interests of employers in mind and not Singaporean workers or even foreign workers.
What’s your solution?
- A better solution would be to have a minimum wage that was mandatory for all workers, both local and foreign.
- This would remove the ability of employers to drive down foreign workers’ wages to the detriment of Singaporeans competing with them for jobs.
- The levy could then be converted into a CPF account for foreign workers or retained as a tax on foreign labour.
My preference would be to have a cap on the overall number of foreign workers and then auction the entitlements to the highest bidders. This would ensure that foreign workers were allocated to where they would be most productive while controlling the overall levels. The cap could be adjusted up and down to keep wage growth in line with productivity growth.
Unfortunately judging by the comments on my Facebook page many employers are unhappy that the Government is not subsidising them more to take on foreign workers and making it easier for them to employ foreigners. This will always be so as far as employers are concerned. Labour can never be cheap enough. Slave owners in the American South worried that if slavery was abolished labour would become too expensive to allow them to profitably grow cotton and other crops.
Lets hope that Singaporeans are not too naïve to see through the arguments of special interest groups that appear to have altruistic motives but are actually trying to gain a commercial advantage.
I’m going to upset a lot of people here and come across as a heartless B*****d but here goes! There is a “heart warming” story out on Channel News Asia and Today concerning a Bangladeshi work pass employee who was discovered to have a brain tumour. The man was brought over from Bangladesh two months ago to work as a construction supervisor for Singaporean firm Archetype Pte Ltd., a group of six companies in the construction Industry. According to the story, Archetype’s medical insurance policy only provided the minimum medical cover for its foreign workers of $15,000. This has already been exhausted after Mr Shah’s three-day stay in intensive care. Archetype had not covered themselves with any extra critical care or serious illness plan for their employees.
A MOM spokesperson is reported as confirming that all employers are liable for their work pass holders’ medical care whether it is work related or not and presumably whether they have insurance for it or not..
I would not wish brain cancer on anyone and I have the deepest sympathy for the unfortunate Mr Shah and his fiancée back in Bangladesh. However there are several things that I find outrageous about this episode. I am going to go against the tide of public opinion here but I wonder why we are so naïve.
Why are companies allowed to bring over foreign workers without adequate insurance? MOM only requires employers of work permit holders to buy $15,000 of medical insurance. This is nothing if a worker suffers a serious illness or accident. MOM then allows companies to send the workers home where their condition allows it whereupon the companies have no further obligation for medical care.
Companies should be made to provide critical illness cover. Singaporeans are made to contribute to Medisave and Medishield to pay for their future medical expenses. The amounts contributed by Singaporeans are considerably in excess of Singaporeans’ current medical needs as evidenced by the huge surplus in Medisave and Medishield.
This means that Singaporeans’ wages have to be higher to compensate them for these additional costs. Foreign workers, already have much lower wage costs than Singaporean workers. Bangladeshi workers are probably the lowest paid in the world. Certainly Singaporean construction firms are finding Malaysians and Indonesians less exploitable and have now turned to Bangladeshis.
As I always say without a minimum wage employers can just keep turning to poorer and poorer countries. Real wages will continue to drop and Singaporeans will be continuously undercut.
By allowing companies to employ workers without adequate medical coverage, the PAP Government is just subsidising companies, many of which are foreign-owned, at the expense of Singaporean employees. If companies had to pay the same costs for a foreign employee as a Singaporean one then perhaps they would hire more Singaporeans.
Artificially subsidising the construction industry as I have described is also another way that the PAP Government boosts GDP growth by encouraging the excessive tearing down and construction of new buildings compared to other advanced countries. This contributes little to the welfare of citizens since most of those employed are foreigners. Certainly the constant upheaval and noise 7 days a week for SMRT projects is a cause of much stress. GDP calculations do not take account of the cost of traffic and public transport delays caused by the constant construction.
Why are Singaporeans, who are already disadvantaged by the subsidies given to these companies, being asked to contribute to help this company evade its legal and moral obligations and perpetuate a system that stacks the odds against them in the employment market? It is disappointing to see comments on Facebook like “The company deserves a medal”. Why?
The company and its directors and shareholders have not dug into their own pockets to help Mr Shah. They are expecting you to do so. Their profits however are not being shared with you but staying in their pockets. The crowd sourced campaign fund is in the company’s name not in that of the poor man himself or his family.
Archetype approached Jolovan Wham from HOME for help in raising money. Jolovan is quoted as saying “Mr Alam’s case raises the question of whether the medical coverage provided to work permit holders is comprehensive enough. This is definitely something we need to look into again. “ He is right but it is not just about protecting foreign workers. Eliminating unfair subsidies and bringing costs for foreign workers up to the level of local ones will save jobs for Singaporeans . Presently 18% of our population is comprised of foreign workers.
It appears that HOME are raising funds on their portal. It would have been more appropriate for HOME alone to run the donations campaign as a registered Charity. That is something I could buy into. Even if treating this as a hard luck case masks the rotten system at heart and the wrong people are being asked to contribute.
The employer has also set up an Indiegogo fund but I’m not even sure it is legal to use Indiegogo to raise funds when MOM puts a legal obligation on the employer to meet the costs. It smacks of scam. How can we be sure that the money raised is all going to Mr Shah’s treatment? Singapore hospitals are profit centres and presumably the same treatment in Singapore will be much more than in India or Bangladesh.
What is there to stop companies in future from trying to raise money from good-hearted and naïve Singaporeans to save themselves the costs of repatriation and so that they do not have to bear the cost of locating and employing another worker.
While I hope that Mr Shah receives the best treatment, Singaporeans should not be taken in by a system that exploits foreign workers and undercuts their own employment conditions.
Crowd source funding looks like a magic formula for whisking up money from thin air but it Is not the answer to everything. This is a classic example of how the excitement of a new media campaign has completely covered up the real issues.
- We need to stop subsidising employers to hire from overseas
- We need to preserve employment for Singaporeans.
- We need to make it more difficult for employers to exploit workers from poorer nations
- We need to keep reminding ourselves that our GDP growth is falsely inflated by subsidies for activities that do not contribute to our welfare.
- We need to understand that our abysmal productivity record stems from these abuses.
While Singaporeans may long ago have lost their admiration and affection for Lee Kuan Yew and the Lee family, though not their fear, there is one constituency where LKY’s reputation seems undiminished. This is of course with foreigners and particularly Western think tanks and academics. The Western media may have been cowed by fear of defamation suits or the loss of advertising revenues but it has always been a mystery why Western think tanks and NGOs are always ready to sing the praises of the PAP government or LKY’s wise foresight.
Among the myths that are endlessly repeated are that Singapore was a mangrove swamp before the genius of LKY transformed it or that Singapore is a barren rock devoid of natural resources. Like citizens of a communist country Singaporeans find this endless repetition of lies and propaganda offensive. In response to LKY being called the “founding father” of Singapore in the book “Hard Truths”, one netizen’s response was to say that LKY was not his father and how dare he call himself founding father.
One reason for this naivety on the part of foreigners may just be the very skilful marketing and hype done by the PAP Government and ignorance on the part of Western pundits. Nevertheless, I have always wondered how the PAP Government ensures that they are rarely criticised by Western media and think tanks.
Sometimes the people peddling the myths have never even visited Singapore or looked for a counter factual. It is sheer ignorance that allows a Nobel Prize-winning economist like Stiglitz to write a shockingly ill-informed pieces like this and then ignore my rebuttal. Then it turned out that he had written his piece based on conversations and impressions of his Singaporean students in the US. No doubt they were government-funded scholars.
Or John Kampfner, a clever and good man whom I have met and author of “Freedom for Sale” an important book, who did at least visit Singapore. He always stayed with elite Singaporean friends in condos and landed houses. He wrote a chapter praising the miracle of Singapore’s public housing while never having visited an HDB block.
But how does Singapore, with its state control over most sectors of the economy, manage to come top of indices of economic freedom compiled by right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation? Thanks to a New York Times (NYT) article the mystery is solved. Ignorance is not the answer here. Money, it seems, buys an awful lot of influence.
This is evident from the way Lee Kuan Yew, who recently celebrated his 91st birthday, he was showered with the predictable awards from a number of international organisations. The Atlantic Council, which “promotes constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs based on the Atlantic Community’s central role in meeting global challenges.”, on Sunday gave Lee Kuan Yew its Global Citizen Award. Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, who is the same age as LKY, paid tribute to him while our Foreign Minister, Shanmugam, was on hand with a gushing tribute, “This is an age where words like ‘outstanding’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘great’ are overused to describe leaders. But few will challenge that Mr Lee deserves to be described in those terms and more.”
A few months ago the Brookings Institution, a leading American think tank, which is often critical of US economic policy but usually has nothing but praise for Singapore’s Government, established a Lee Kuan Yew Chair in South East Asian studies (see link).
Lee Kuan Yew is not the only member of the Lee family to receive an award this year. In June 2014 his daughter-in-law and the PM’s wife, Ho Ching, received the Asian Business Leaders Award from the trustees of Asia House, a London-based “centre of expertise on Asia”.
To quote from the press statement, “The annual award recognises individuals who embody the ‘Servant Leader’ – economic success and professional excellence accompanied by moral leadership and service to society, Ms Ho Ching was selected to receive this year’s award because of her impressive business credentials and her significant efforts to inspire a commitment in others to improving society.”
The State Media and the PAP Government would like you to believe that these awards were just a recognition of the individuals’ achievements and talents.
However the New York Times recently carried an article exposing the substantial amounts given to several US-based think tanks, including the Atlantic Council and the Brookings Institution, by foreign government donors (see link). I was not surprised to learn in the same article that the PAP Government had given money to at least two US think tanks, the Atlantic Council (which gave LKY the Global Citizen Award) and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
To quote the NY Times, “The think tanks do not disclose the terms of the agreements they have reached with foreign governments. And they have not registered with the United States government as representatives of the donor countries, an omission that appears, in some cases, to be a violation of federal law, according to several legal specialists who examined the agreements at the request of The Times.” The law in question is the Foreign Agent Registration Act which was passed in 1938 to combat a propaganda campaign by Nazi Germany.
In many cases, according to the NY Times, these donations come with expectations that the think tanks will promote the interests of their foreign donors, particularly in lobbying the US Government. In at least one instance the head of a think tank set up by the Atlantic Council, the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, was removed because she put forward views to the US Congress which were opposed to those of the donor that had paid for the new centre. As the NY Times says. “Sometimes the foreign donors move aggressively to stifle views contrary to their own” and they quote another scholar in a phrase chillingly reminiscent of Singapore, “It is the self-censorship that really affects us over time”.
The PAP Government’s donations to the Atlantic Council and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies not only appear to have secured Lee Kuan Yew the Global Citizen Award. They also ensure that these think tanks are unlikely to criticise them.
Likewise, presumably the PAP Government and/or the Lee family get to appoint the holder of the Lee Kuan Yew Chair at Brookings. In addition the money paid to Brookings would make them reluctant to criticise an important actual and potential future donor. The first appointee, Joseph Chinyong Liow, is currently professor of comparative and international politics and associate dean in the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
The list of donors who contributed to the setting up of the LKY Chair also makes for interesting reading. Brookings says “generous contributions have been made by Ray and Barbara Dalio, Chevron, Hotel Properties Limited, Keppel Group, Robert Ng and Philip Ng, Sembcorp Industries Ltd., Edwin Soeryadjaya, STEngineering, and The Starr Foundation.” No information was given about the relative amounts contributed.
Ray Dalio is the owner and CEO of Bridgewater Associates which claims to be the world’s biggest hedge fund. According to this 2011 article in the New Yorker, a quarter of Bridgewater’s capital comes from sovereign wealth funds like GIC. In 2013 Dalio earned $700 million according to Forbes so our investments contribute to his and his wife’s earnings through the fees Bridgewater charges. There is thus a direct conflict of interest since LHL is the Chairman of GIC as his father was previously. In effect, Singapore’s CPF holders are paying indirectly for the setting up of a chair in LKY’s name without their approval being asked.
Keppel Corp, Sembcorp Industries Ltd and STEngineering are all GLCs and partly or wholly owned by Temasek Holdings which is of course headed by the PM’s wife and LKY’s daughter-in-law.
Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) was the company that was infamous in 1995 when it was discovered to have given discounts on properties in developments like Nassim Jade to LKY, LHL and many other members of the Lee family without seeking shareholder approval. Though PM Goh declined to refer this to CPIB, wrongly in my view, the fact that the individuals paid back the discounts was an admission that they should not have received them, particularly given the Government’s control over land sales.
As the Government owns 80% of the land in Singapore, it would be fair to say that all property developers are dependent on the Government. In fact the Economist in its survey of crony capitalism in March 2014 ranked Singapore as fifth, largely due to the concentration of its billionaires in areas like property where government support or subsidies are essential.
Robert and Philip Ng top the Forbes list of the 50 richest Singaporeans. Their wealth stems from property like Ong Beng Seng at HPL. Thus exactly the same conflicts of interest apply as with HPL. In fact Robert Ng sits on the board of Temasek.
Ho Ching’s award from Asia House is also just as dubious as her father-in-law’s award from the Atlantic Council. Since she is a civil servant (albeit one with multi-million dollar remuneration) she would naturally be expected to embody the ideals of “Servant Leader”. How also can she be said to have impressive business credentials. Unlike some of the other recipients she has not built a business from scratch. In fact she has never worked in the private sector. She was appointed head of Temasek by the PAP Government of which her husband is the head. Her father-in-law, LKY, is on the International Advisory Council of Asia House. The Council also includes several representatives from the founding stakeholders of Asia House, HSBC, Prudential and Standard Chartered. They all have significant business interests in Singapore while Temasek owns nearly 20% of Standard Chartered.
The revelations from the NY Times are an eye-opener. They shed light on the extraordinary thoroughness of the PAP’s influence-buying strategy and the lengths the PAP will go to, using taxpayers’ money, to get a favourable rating, even if it means sowing misinformation and rewriting history. It is particularly hypocritical that the PAP should give our money to US think tanks with a view to influencing government policy when they are always warning foreigners not to interfere in Singapore politics and ban Singaporean NGOs designated “political” from receiving foreign funding.
Next time when you read that a prestigious and independent institution has placed Singapore at the top of some global ranking or given its leaders an award you will be asking yourself, “How much of our tax payers money did they receive?”
I am sure the case of Dr Susan Lim is still in many people’s minds. She was the doctor taken to court by the SMC for overcharging the Brunei royal family and suspended from practice for three years. The courts found her guilty and after her appeal failed they awarded costs against her. This means that not only did she have to pay her own lawyers but also the SMC’s lawyers’ costs.
Acting for the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in the case against Dr Lim were a team led by Alvin Yeo, Senior Counsel and PAP MP for Chua Chu Kang (CCK) GRC, and lawyers Melanie Ho and Lim Wei Lee. They submitted their bill to Dr Lim for payment and in one of life’s exquisite ironies Dr Lim herself found that she herself had been grossly overcharged by the MP and his team. Her husband objected to Yeo’s bill and had it sent back to the court to be “taxed” which is the process whereby the Registrar of the Supreme Court scrutinises the bill.
A few days ago I read here that the Supreme Court ordered that Alvin Yeo’s bill be reduced from $1.33 million to $317,000. That is they found the correct amount to be charged was 25% of the original submitted. In other words Alvin Yeo and the team he led had overcharged by a staggering 300%.
Lawyers, let alone a Senior Counsel and an MP such as Yeo of whom higher standards are expected, who overcharge their clients by that multiple, frequently face disciplinary action and either a large fine or even a suspension from practice. The judges in previous disciplinary tribunals have made it clear that sanctions include the power to strike off. So what disciplinary action has the Honourable MP and Senior Counsel faced? At the time of writing this I can find no evidence that any disciplinary action against Yeo and his team is scheduled.
There have been several precedents where the consequences have been severe. For example, in 2011 lawyer, Andre Arul was found guilty of overcharging his client by a multiple of approximately 200% and fined $50,000. In addition costs were awarded against him by a Court of Three Judges (including the then CJ, Chan Sek Kheong, of the teleportation into the polling booth controversy in Cheng San in 1997.) You can read the judgement here Law Society of Singapore v Andre Ravindran Saravanapavan Arul  SGHC 224. The judgement also mentioned three other cases where lawyers were suspended from practice for between three and six months.
In the case of Low Yong Sen, the amount overcharged, which took the form of inflated disbursements for items like stationery and photocopying , was found to be less than $3,000. However the lawyer in question was suspended for six months.
As it was Dr Lim who had asked for the SMC’s costs to be taxed, it is not clear whether SMC will in turn make a complaint to the Law Society about their bill or whether they will just pay the difference between what the court said was a fair amount and the full amount of Wong Partnership’s ( Yeo’s firm) bill.
Even if the SMC are reluctant to make a complaint against a PAP MP Sections 85(2) and (3) of the LPA allow the Council of the Law Society or a Supreme Court Judge to refer the matter to the Inquiry Committee or, in the case of a Supreme Court Judge, to appoint a Disciplinary Committee directly.
I for one will be watching closely to see if the CJ or the Law Society takes any action or if Alvin Yeo is let off the hook. If he is, then this would appear to be evidence of discriminatory treatment given the penalty meted out to Andre Arul and the other lawyers. The margin of overcharging (300%) was significantly greater in Alvin Yeo’s case than in Andre Arul’s (200%).
Even if no disciplinary proceedings are initiated, I do not see how Alvin Yeo can continue as an MP. I do not see how Alvin Yeo can keep his seat if he is found guilty of gross overcharging and is either fined, censured or suspended from practice. The law makes it clear that the penalties in these cases are for damaging the integrity of the profession.
For a politician Integrity is also paramount. I would like to draw your attention to one item on the overcharging that I found striking. Stuck amongst the high figures charged for days in court, up to $100,000 per hour on the last statement, was an item for ring binders. Ring binders which SMC’s lawyers had priced at $6 per unit for Dr Lim to pay were cut to $2.50 per unit after the court found it had used the cheaper version in past hearings. Who overcharges for Ring Binders? The mind boggles that there was not even one item so small that they could not see an opportunity for a mark up of over 200%.
Those with a keen interest in the politics of office stationery will remember that Dr Chee was fired from his job at NUS for overcharging for photocopying and taxi fares. I remember the amount he was found to have overcharged for taxi-fares was less than $10. Compare that to Alvin Yeo’s charges..
Maybe the PAP should upgrade Dr Koh’s “everyone owns two cars” to “everyone earns $100,000 an hour”.
Alvin Yeo should resign immediately paving the way for a by-election in CCK. After the Appeal Court’s decision in the case of Madam Vellama, the PM is required to hold a by-election within a reasonable period of time, though that judgement only applied in the case of an SMC. I do not know whether it would be possible to file an action in the High Court to attempt to extend that judgement to GRCs and, if so, whether an action would have any chance of success.
While Alvin Yeo’s conduct is shocking, I am not surprised at the low standards set by PAP MPs and their seemingly insatiable greed. Just as the Communist Party in China has allowed its top officials to accumulate vast wealth to buy their complicity and head off any democratic challenges (see here), so the PAP’s philosophy has been one of vastly overpaying Ministers to ensure that they remain loyal to the leadership and are prepared to ignore whatever principles they may once have had.
The PAP’s philosophy that you go into government to get rich extends to its MPs, most of whom hold lucrative primary jobs, like Alvin Yeo, Janil Puthucheary, Hari Nair, Lim Wee Kiat, and Vikram Nair. For them being an MP is merely a (very) part-time role. They are enabled to do so by the fact Parliament is little more than a rubber stamp, which works the shortest hours of any legislature while paying its representatives one of the highest allowances (tax-free as well!).
In fact Eugene Tan, a former NMP, in the last Parliamentary sitting drew attention to how poorly attended Parliament was when he had to point out to the Deputy Speaker, Halimah Yaacob, that there were not even enough MPs to constitute the necessary quorum to pass a Bill.
My first thought when I read about the Susan Lim case, was that the Brunei royal family, who are rumoured to be worth at least US$20 billion, should be able to look after themselves. They could have sued Susan Lim themselves or refused to pay her excessive bills. However Brunei and its royal family are of course extremely important clients of Singapore. One of the SMC’s objectives in bringing the action against Dr Lim presumably was to show wealthy foreigners that Singapore was a safe and reliable place to live and seek medical treatment in and that we uphold the highest standards of professional integrity. In that case this is more than just irony. It is an attempt to reassure Brunei that has disastrously backfired giving the impression that Singapore is rife with rogue professionals lacking integrity. Unless the full force of disciplinary action is now directed at Alvin Yeo our reputation will be in tatters.