Author Archives: kjeyaretnam
A copy of a letter sent to Temasek Holdings urging them to invest in Nigerian energy company Six Energy has fallen into my hands. I share it with you. (Warning! I have no way of confirming that this letter was really sent or received. It may even be a parody. Judge for yourself.)
Agabi and Associates.
Solicitors and Advocates for Six Energy.
5th floor, Kelong House.
To the Honorable Madam Ho
Re: Strictly Confidential and Urgent Business Opportunity.
Dear Madam Ho (wife of glorious Prime Minster of the fully Democratic Republic of Singapore, the Honorable Mr PM LEE)
I am the representative of the Nigerian energy company ‘Six Energy’. In Nigeria we have long admired you as a market guru seemingly able to seize every and any opportunity to make money. We are mesmeric by the incredible track record of the company, Temasek Holdings, which effortlessly has made annualized returns of 16% since inception.
Even when your countrymen discovered that you had made elementary mistakes during the financial crisis of 2008 this did not end of your career as in a lesser fund manager. Truly your esteem is such that the Government of your country, headed by your illustrious husband, had sufficient faith in your abilities, to confirm his appointment of you as CEO.
Please permit me to make your acquaintance in so informal a manner. This is necessitated by my urgent need to reach a dependable and trust wordy foreign partner. I am in a position to uplift your esteem even higher and present Temasek Holdings with an unbeatable business offer.
You must have heard over the media reports and the Internet of various huge sums of money invested in our company by such elite organisations as the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group of companies (see link).
We know you are not a charity despite the fact that Singaporeans sometimes may be forgiven for thinking you are, even if most of your charity work benefits foreigners. We know that Temasek’s principal aim is to make money for its shareholder, the Government of Singapore. We agree with you that this money would be wasted on Singaporeans who are a weak and whining lot, unappreciative of all that you, your husband and your father-in-law, may he live forever, have done for them. We know that without his guiding genius your esteemed country would just be another disgusting mangrove swamp, like much of our coastline after the Western oil companies started pumping oil.
We therefore humbly beseech you for a small investment, nothing too big for an esteemed and magnificent company of your stature cannot handle. S$200 million should be suffice for now though we may kindly call upon your esteemedness for further and larger amounts in the future. This money will be part of a total fundraising of over S$300 million in new equity capital (alas we do not know where the money we raised before has gone!) and will be invested with most care and utmost diligence in development of our growing portfolio of energy assets in Nigeria.
You may be concerned that all the other participants in our fundraising are there with charitable objectives, to reduce poverty and create prosperity in Africa. You may be worried that the International Finance Corporation, which will be a junior partner in the investment, is principally concerned with ending extreme poverty and creating shared prosperity rather than making money for its shareholder. This may suggest to you that investing in Six Energy would not meet the investment criteria of Temasek Holdings . Don’t worry this just means that there will be more money for you.
Madam Ho, you may ask yourself why your exaltedness should be investing your country’s citizens’ precious money in a Nigerian energy company when the only other investor is a multilateral institution who is not there to make money. After all your countrymen and women may ask what you know about Nigeria or about investment in Africa. They may be concerned at the risk that those evil rascals and thorough bad fellows, Boko Haram, are getting stronger on a daily basis and that our army appears powerless to stop them.
Tell these ungrateful wretches to be no concerned. Kidnapping a few schoolgirls and bombing our capital is much different from attacking a well protected first class company like ours. In case you have trouble with your investment committee, we have prepared many sets of cashflow statements to show you the huge IRRs that your investment will be sure to earn. Just do not ask us to pay you any dividends. Or if we do pay you a dividend please be advised that instantaneously you must invest that back into new shares. We know that this will not shock you as Temasek and your sister company GIC have used a similar scam to avoid paying any money to their shareholder for years.
We know your immense appetite for foolhardiness and high risk which has been demonstrated by your decision to double down on your investment in another company, Olam, which has extensive interests in Nigeria. In such case we truly can appreciate the immense generosity and kindness of your benevolent leadership towards the management and shareholders of that company which rescued them from bankruptcy without them having to lose any of the huge wealth and large properties they had accumulated. We also truly thank the good people of Singapore for going without basic health care or even free education so that others in our countries can be helped. In particular the recent generosity of their Government which put another $5 billion in surpluses extracted from your people into your esteemed organisation is to be highly commended. Even some of our Illustrious former Presidents, like Mr Abacha, clearly have a lot to learn.
Though we have neither seen nor met each other, the information we gathered from an associate who has worked in your country has encouraged and convinced us that with your sincere assistance, this transaction will be properly handled with modesty and honesty to a huge success within two weeks.
Please note that we have strong and reliable connections at the Central Bank Of Nigeria and other Government Parastatals and we hear that you have also banking secrecy in Singapore and do not engage in public disclosure of Temasek deal details, hence assistance in this regards, would not be a problem. Indeed Madam, you will be absolutely right when you say that this project is risk free and viable for you (although possibly not so good for your citizens). If you are capable and willing to assist, contact me at once via email with following details:
1.Your Full Name, Company’s Name, Address, Telephone and Fax Numbers. 2.Your Bank Name, Address. Telephone and Fax Number. 3.Your Bank Account Number and Beneficiary Name – You must be the signatory.
Rest assured that the modalities I have resolved to finalize the entire project guarantees our safety and the successful transfer of the funds.
Kindly contact me as soon as possible, whether or not you are interested in this deal, so that whereby you are not interested, it would give us more room to scout for another partner. But if you are interested, kindly contact me via above email, telephone or fax, so that we can swing into action, as time is not on our part.
I wait in anticipation of your fullest co-operation.
P.S. Also this transaction demands absolute confidentiality which our associate in your country tells us is Temaask Holding’s strong point. We also understand that your husband’s government is also not strong on transparency. Nevertheless, on no condition must you disclose it to anybody irrespective of your relation with the person. In particular do not discuss this with that horrible fellow Vikram Nair who has spread bad words about Nigerian financial schemes in your country.
Thank you and God Bless.
Best Regards, MR DAN AGABE.
I read the news today that Rebecca Loh, the woman who pushed her disabled nine-year-old son out of a window, would plead guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Though she was diagnosed as suffering from post-schizophrenic depression at the time and has a history of schizophrenic illness, IMH still judged her fit to stand.
We need answers to the following questions:
- Why was Rebecca left to fend for herself with a nine-year old son who suffered from osteoporosis and numerous other debilitating conditions? The report says that she did not intend to kill her son only wanted him injured so that he would be taken to a home.
- Was there a social worker assigned to her case by MSF?
- As she had a history of schizophrenia and police had been called to her mother’s flat on several occasions when she had beaten and strangled her mother, why was the child not put on an “At Risk” register as in other countries like the UK? She had also been arrested for threatening a stall holder with a chopper in 2011.
- What help did the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) provide? Rebecca should have been entitled to close to $1000 a month from Public Assistance as her mother was earning below $1700 a month. Perhaps because she lived with her mother MSF deemed her ineligible for assistance? When foreigners write about our Government being stingy they assume that the levels of assistance they promise to provide are in fact provided. However they are not aware that this is frequently not the case. Our bureaucracy seems especially skilled at denying those in need the help to which they are entitled
- Why do we not provide Special Assistants to disabled children like Rebecca’s son so that they are able to attend school? Again this would be the case in most first world countries. Her son’s disabilities were physical not mental.
Unfortunately the questions will not be answered now that Rebecca has pleaded guilty. In other advanced countries there would be outcries against the social workers and the Ministry responsible for letting this happen. The role of MSF and the social workers (if any) has not been examined. An incident like this would also normally lead to changes in policy to ensure that this does not happen again. There would be a public inquiry. Yet this has been quietly brushed under the carpet.
Lee Kuan Yew after all is well known to be a supporter of eugenics and his philosophy is embodied in such policies as providing financial incentives to poor women and single mother “who keep their families small” with free family planning through the HOPE scheme..
Recently we have been working to help another woman in a similar situation to Rebecca Loh. I first met Madam S while conducting block visits with my volunteers in Radin Mas. Since the 1980s she has been the sole carer and provider for her son who suffered severe brain injuries as the result of a hit-and-run car accident. Her son was seven when he was injured but now is in his mid-thirties. As a result of his injuries he has a range of disabilities, both physical and mental, is an epileptic and unable to work.
The driver of the vehicle was never caught and it is not clear what compensation Madam S received, if any, from the special fund set up by insurers to compensate the victims of hit-and-run accidents. Madam S has been unable to work for years as she has to look after her son full-time and is in any case too old to work now.
At the time I first met her she seemed quite cheerful despite her sad story and hard life challenges. She asked to have a photo taken with me and I gave her my contact details to get a copy of that photo. A few days ago she phoned me to say that her situation had deteriorated and she was feeling quite desperate. She was particularly concerned that had no money to buy food or new clothes for Hari Raya. She had been suffering from asthma attacks which really needed hospitalization but this was a luxury she could not afford as she had full-time care of her son.
When I saw her she seemed in a very bad way and far from the happy smiling woman of the first photo. I asked her whether she was getting help from CDC and she said no. I pointed out that she should be getting around $800 a month from Public Assistance She has been to see her MP but he does not seem to have been able to help her. She has also approached MUIS but said that MUIS were unable to give her much help.
This is where our team of volunteers and members came in aided by the power of the internet where we put out a call for help. .Thanks to our great team of volunteers and public response, we were able to put Madam S. in touch with a lovely woman called Zarina who runs a charity called 3R Sincerely and Giving. I will quote from her Facebook post:
“Just for info, I’m the admin from 3R Sincerely & Giving. We are just a small outfit currently assisting needy family and adopting few families with long-term need. We are self funding as such we won’t be able to extend large monetary to any one family. At most we can give her $200 per month till more permanent solution is found. We also do a monthly visits to our adopted family more like a befriender programme. Sometimes, we rope in their neighbors to keep an eye on them and beep us if there’s a need.
Admittedly, we are rather stretch as we have only a small team doing the errands and currently very involve in our Ramadan Charity Drive.”
Zarina has already been to see her and has given her some NTUC vouchers and a set of baju kurung for Hari Raya. Some of our volunteers, though not by any means well off, have also made personal donations. They will follow up with MUIS to see what help she is getting.
As for me, I will pick up her case to see why she is not getting Public Assistance. I will follow up on that with CDC and the Family Service Centre. I understand that CDC stopped helping her some time ago and Madam S. has shown me a letter from CDC over a year ago promising to look into her case. Till now nothing has been done. If this is correct, then that is absolutely unacceptable but unfortunately I frequently see these cases where people fall through the cracks and paperwork gets lost. I have been helping an elderly gentleman again in Radin Mas in a wheel chair to liaise with AIC in order to get him a mobility scooter. After a few months when there had been no progress I chased them up and it turned out they had lost his contact details. They asked me to go and visit him and tell him they were trying to contact him. Often those who are most in need are worn down by the paperwork and the necessity of chasing people up by phone. If they are carers as Madam S is then visits to these offices are almost impossible.
Towards a longer term solution I will try to establish whether Madam S did receive compensation from the insurance fund for her son’s accident and if not whether it is still possible to apply.
The charity is now also working with her to try to persuade her to let them clear out her living space and give it a lick of paint.
So even if our Government, which runs a surplus of over $30 billion a year, is unwilling to help its own citizens, it is good to know that people like Zarina and our volunteers, with hearts of gold, are prepared to step in and help even though the resources at their disposal are modest.
It would be too easy to contrast this case with Rebecca Loh, who appears to have had no resources or charity network to call upon,because Rebecca’s case is one of mental illness, schizophrenia. As such I have been told by charities that they would not have worked with her as they are not professionally trained. This make it even more unbelievable that Rebecca was deemed fit to take care of her son, day in day out without any respite.
We need to ask what is the purpose of Government? Why do we elect one that wriggles out of even the most basic responsibilities to care for its people? Why does the Government need excess assets of $400 billion and to force us to save so much through CPF? As the Government runs a real Budget surplus of $30 billion a year why can in not afford to help the citizens who fall through the cracks?
More importantly as it is our money can we not afford to help these citizens. I would like to make it clear here that form an economist’s point of view I am not a big fan of the Nanny State or the Welfare State model. Even the Swedes are no longer fans of the Scandinavian model , putting back their retirement age at which they can draw their generous pensions. So I am not suggesting we use this surplus to fund a full welfare state and a dependency culture. If I could sum up my philosophy it would be that I believe in less STATE and more WELFARE, rather than a welfare state. My reading of the Government’s figures shows that we can afford to be more generous with welfare neither needing to raise taxes or cut spending elsewhere.
Certainly on an individual and small group level this case above shows that Singaporeans are caring generous and compassionate. How strange then that our government so poorly reflects the citizens on the ground being heartless, stingy and uncaring.
I dedicate this article to all the volunteers in charities or individually who devote themselves to helping in our communities and catching those in need before they slip through the cracks. Thank you. You make a difference.
#RETURNOURCPF – MEDISHIELD LIFE PROTEST 12
JULY, HONGLIM PARK
In June 2014, the enhanced benefits for MediShield Life were announced.
It was stated that there will be substantial increases in benefits for MediShield Life that will cover all Singaporeans for large hospital bills.
At a time when Singapore is ranked as the most expensive place to live in the world, where Singaporeans yet continue to receive the lowest wages among the high-income countries, CPF is akin to an additional tax on our income.
On 7 June 2014, Singapore had its first CPF protest against the increase of the minimum sum as an estimated only 1 in 8 Singaporeans who reach age 55 were able to meet the CPF Minimum Sum and MediSave Minimum Sum entirely in cash from their CPF accounts.
There is no transparency and accountability towards how the government is using our CPF monies or the returns derived from CPF funds, all these despite MPs calling for higher rates, improvements to our CPF system practically every year.
From a cash flow perspective, the Government is still not spending a single cent on healthcare because MediSave contributions in a year continue to exceed all withdrawals including government healthcare spending.
Being a Singaporean, I’m concerned about my future and have decided to invite all political parties that took part in GE2011 to hear their views regarding my concerns.
As such, this event aims to highlight the inadequate measures in place to protect the healthcare needs of Singaporeans.
Date: Saturday 12 July 2014
Time: 4.00pm – 6.00pm
Venue: Hong Lim Park – Speaker’s Corner
4.00pm – 4.15pm Mr. Tan Kin Lian, former presidential candidate
4.15pm – 4.30pm A political party
4.30pm – 4.45pm RP Secretary-General Kenneth Jeyaretnam
4.45pm – 5.00pm SDP Treasurer Chong Wai Fung
5.00pm – 5.15pm Mr. Vincent Wijeysingha
5.15pm – 5.30pm Mr. Leong Sze Hian
5.30pm – 5.45pm Ms. Han Hui Hui
5.45pm – 6.00pm Mr. Roy Ngerng
6.00pm – 6.30pm Questions & Answers
To find out more about the event, you can go to the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/251518938371663
Han Hui Hui
I was quite shaken by my trip to Parliament yesterday to watch the CPF “debate” . There wasn’t really any debate at all. Our Finance Minister, Tharman made a speech that was full of irrelevancies and gaffes and what he did admit to worried me considerably. I sat in the spectators gallery where it was noticeable that the MIW were MIA . Thank goodness that Eugene Tan is there to remind the Speaker and Deputy Speaker how parliament works. Even some WP MPs were missing and came in an hour after the debate had started. No one picked up on anything that Tharman said and he was given an easy ride for his monologues. This is why I have put “debate” in quotation marks.
Plenty of questions were asked about CPF such as.
- Whether members could be given an early warning as they approached 55 that their money would be locked up and could no longer be used for housing?
- Could special consideration be given to allowing those with balances below the Minimum Sum to use part of it to service their housing loans?
- What is the average amount used for housing as a percentage of CPF Ordinary Accounts of members aged 55 and above?
- How many Singaporeans who turn 55 are inactive members?
But these were all questions about the mechanism of the system and accepting it as PAP presented it. No one asked the questions uppermost in our minds at the moment: Why does the Government need to hang on to our money at 55 if it is making such colossal surpluses amounting to some $30-35 billion a year?
Why does it keep increasing the Minimum Sum?
Is GIC losing money?
And all of this leads the people to wonder, “is GIC is even possibly insolvent?”
The closest that any questions came to touching on the issues we all want answered were asked by Gerald Giam and Low Thia Kiang and I congratulate them for asking. Gerald Giam asked how many years in the last 20 years GIC had been unable to pay the interest on the Special Singapore Government Secutities (SSGS), what were the returns on GIC’s portfolio after accounting for interest in each of the last 20 years and what extraordinary measures were taken if that was the case. All good questions.
When Low Thia Kiang’s turn came he said that as CPF members’ balances were substantial at $300 billion why were CPF members’ balances not separated and managed separately from GIC. An eminently sensible question.
I will restate here what Tharman said yesterday as a reminder of the convoluted and opaque route by which our CPF monies are invested. All CPF members’ balances are deposited with the MAS. They are then used to buy SSGS that are matched to the interest rates that CPF pays on Ordinary and Special Accounts. The money from the SSGS is then managed by GIC together with the Government’s other assets.
I found Tharman’s answers to Low’s and Giam’s questions to be evasive and even nonsensical but with the advantage of observing from the gallery I could spot that he also made some revealing and worrying admissions.
These are some of the assertions and answers that Tharman made that set off alarm bells in the minds of anyone who knows anything about how the investment process should work and about transparency. For example, If I was an investor doing due diligence I would run a million miles rather than invest my funds in GIC.
Tharman said :CPF is an absolutely safe investment since it invests in securities issued by the Singapore Government, one of the few countries left in the world that is still rated AAA
AAA rated! That is an interesting admission. You may remember that after I visited his CPF forum Hri Kumar went to his Facebook page and denied that he had ever said that CPF was a AAA investment. Let’s ignore Kumar as an ignoramus because, according to Tharman, CPF is safe because it lends to the Government. which is AAA rated.
However the Government then takes our CPF money and pools it with the Government’s net assets. The total is then managed by GIC. GIC is able to take a lot more risk than CPF would be able to as a stand-alone entity because it has the government’s net assets to act as a buffer.
The level of security would depend on the size of the buffer and the riskiness of the assets. In the financial crisis of 2007-2008, having a large buffer of subprime mortgages which had to default before they lost money, did not help the holders of AAA rated Collateralized Mortgage Obligations. The downtown in the housing market was so severe that even the AAA rated securities ended up worthless.
In the same way if we lend our money to the Government and it then uses it to invest or speculate in risky assets then this could happen to our CPF. It is like depositing your money with what you thought was a very conservative, low risk financial institution and then discovering that the conservative low risk institution you chose was in fact giving your money to a high risk player to gamble with.
But it is not even like that for us Singaporeans is it.? As a private investor you would have a choice at least over where you put your money and how much risk you wanted. You could move it around if you were not happy with where it was invested. Most importantly you could demand absolute transparency, a full explanation of the risk profile and investment rationale and methodology of the fund managers. if you even suspected smoke and mirrors or just did not like the manager’s face you would be free to go somewhere else with your pension fund.
Some might say that you can diversify your risk through the CPF Investment Scheme. You have the option of investing up to $60,000 of your CPF money in a number of options including unit trusts and shares. However, as the investment is made through CPF, your money is still at risk if CPF becomes insolvent.
In 2008 highly rated banks and institutions almost went bust and had to be rescued by governments worldwide because they had used their depositors’ money to invest in highly risky assets. Citibank, UBS, Bank of America, RBS, Lloyds, and AIG are just some of the institutions that had to be rescued by their countries’ taxpayers.
Please note that AIG used to be rated AAA while the others were either AA or AA+. These institutions were investing in or guaranteeing supposedly AAA financial instruments (like sub-prime collaterized mortgage obligations) that ended up worthless. Temasek and/or GIC had significant stakes in some of these institutions.
Can you see why I am worried?
Tharman said that our CPF assets can be put into a larger porfolio that takes more risk because the Government’s net assets act as a buffer. How big a buffer do the Government’s net assets represent before we are at risk of losing our CPF money if GIC squanders the funds it is given through poor investments? I will not go into detail here and will publish my calculations as a separate note. However if the Statement of the Government’s Assets and Liabilities issued every year as part of the Budget is accurate and includes Temasek as well, then there may not be any buffer left.
Can you see why I am worried?
In fact the Government will already need to dig into the cash reserves it holds with MAS or force Temasek to sell assets in order to pay back CPF holders. If GIC loses money then the Government will have to raise taxes or print money.
Can you see why I am worried?
If Temasek’s assets are not included in the Statement (which would surely be a breach of the Constitution since both Temasek and MAS are Government-owned corporations just like GIC) then there may be a buffer of up to 30% of total assets within GIC before the Government has to make up the shortfall from other sources. This is still not reassuring as a downturn in global markets of the severity of 2008 could easily cause equity, bond and real estate values to decline by 30%. The Government has a large net cash reserve of some $140 billion but it would need to keep a large part of this with the MAS to fund their operations. MAS is not allowed under the Constitution to lend money to the Government which would amount to printing money.
Can you see why I am worried?
Tharman made some comment about GIC’s higher returns benefiting all of us. Really? What benefit do Singaporeans get if GIC is able to achieve higher returns than the Government pays on CPF by taking more risk? We have yet to receive any benefit from enduring years of austerity and low rates of return on our forced savings. The so-called Net Investment Returns Contribution is a scam since it does not represent actual spending but only a shuffling of money from one account to another. This is the question that Hari Kumar dodged at his forum and condescendingly said “we’re dealing with the real world here”. What real world is that, Mr. Kumar? One in which the PAP government continually pulls the wool over the eyes of its citizens.
So despite Tharman’s reassurances we can say that our CPF is only AAA because the Government (which means Singaporean taxpayers) are guaranteeing it. This explains why the Government keeps on harping on the need for taxes to rise.
Can you see why I am worried?
It appears that our Budget Cash Surplus has fallen off a cliff. The Budget Cash Surplus for FY2012, which was shown as $36.1 billion a year ago, is now stated as $25.3 billion in the latest Monthly Digest of Statistics (MDS). I am indebted to Leong Sze Hian, who published an article in TRS yesterday pointing out this discrepancy as this gives me an opportunity to explain the figures.
So although it looks as though $11 billion has gone missing or disappeared, I believe that there is in fact a simple reason for it.
I think the explanation for the discrepancy is that the figure of $36.1 billion represents the General Government Cash Surplus (GGCS) whereas the figure of $25.3 billion represents the simple Government Cash Surplus (GCS).
The GGCS and the GCS are normally calculated differently. GCS surpluses normally only include the equity share of profits of state-owned companies and statutory boards if there is a dividend paid to the Government. Whereas the GGCS figure includes all the profits of government-owned companies. ( I say normally because as usual our PAP Minister of Finance has not provided any explanation or definitions. Still, I believe this explains the discrepancy.)
If we look at the Yearbook of Statistics (YOS) 2013, the GGCS for FY2011 is stated as $31.9 billion while the GCS is stated at $27.4 billion, a difference of $4.5 billion.
Though this probably explains the difference it does not excuse the PAP Government’s lack of transparency in not publishing a full definition of the different accounting categories. It also does not explain why the use of different measures and revisions to these figures are so frequent. The General Government Cash Surplus is the figure that should be used to determine how much the Government is saving and what it can afford to redistribute back to the citizens in the form of lower taxes and more generous spending on health, education and income support measures. In my view investment in our people, their health and education undoubtedly has much higher returns than the returns that GIC earns on its overseas investments.
I find it inexcusable that the General Government Cash Surplus is not published as part of the Budget process. The public is entitled to know what resources are available so that they can judge what the PAP are withholding from them and ask why. We should not have to find out years later from obscure statistical publications like the YOS or the MDS what the Government’s true fiscal position is.
Instead of a clear set of accounts presented to our people in an easy to understand format we have the charade of the Budget process where the Finance Minister pretends that he is running a balanced budget or even a deficit. In particular as I pointed out at Hri Kumar’s forum this is the question you may all remember watching him dodge the Govt makes presentations that show contributions from Temasek and GIC, in the form of the Net Investment Returns Contributions (NIRC), being used to finance actual spending. I maintain this is not the case . In fact the NIRC are just being moved around , by a stroke of the pen or pressing of a computer key, from one account to another.
As an example, the Pioneer Generation Package is widely trumpeted as being $8 billion. Did you not hear me ask Hri Kumar at the forum why have you got that figure when actual spending is only $240 million this year? By comparison, we pledged over $5 billion in loan commitments to the IMF to support the citizens of Europe.
Recently the Government announced $4 billion of spending over five years in the form of subsidies to keep Medishield Life premiums affordable. The Government says that as a result of the subsidies premium rises will be small, at least, for a transitional period of two years, even though benefits are now more generous. But this is not actual spending. Premiums did not need to rise anyway because the Medishield fund is still in massive surplus. In the US the recently enacted Affordable Care Act means that your health insurer has to give you a refund if it is not spending at least 80% of the money it takes in premiums. Why do we not have that kind of ruling or condition here?
Everyone in the PAP, from the PM down to Hari Kumar, keeps saying that taxes will have to go up if we have any more spending. The Government uses this as a justification for why they cannot return your CPF to you at 55 (apart from a derisory $5,000) if you have below the Minimum Sum. You may squander it or lose it and you will have to pick up the tab because the Government has no resources and is running a deficit.
So, what is the truth? Is the Government running out of money or is it running a massive surplus? As I said in “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing (Or Merely Hidden) Reserves” there are three possibilities:
The PAP Government genuinely believes that Singaporeans are not entitled to benefit from the austerity they have endured for so long or to share in the fruits of foreign worker-driven economic growth. They probably think of Singapore like the UK Premier League, which is the undisputed top league in world soccer, but one in which very few English players now play at the top-level. Just like the owners of Premier League clubs, who can bring in as many foreign players as they like, the PAP feel that they owe no duty to Singaporeans. Instead they feel their electorate is a global one who are attracted by Singapore’s low taxes (for the wealthy), cheap unskilled labour (no minimum wage) and the fact they do not have to worry about having to do NS or pay CPF.
- There has been mismanagement of the reserves and the money simply is not there or has been squandered through poor investments. Countries like Greece (which we indirectly shored up with our generous $5 billion loan commitment to the IMF) have been found to have published fraudulent national accounts. Yet surely this could never happen in Singapore.
One would like to think that the first possibility is the correct one. However the longer the PAP Government fails to be transparent about the size of the surplus and to provide a believable justification for why it needs to hang on to our CPF money, the more the suspicion will grow that there is something to possibilities two and three.
Now the topic of Reforming the GRC system is active again Alex Au’s brilliant poll and analysis is well worth re -reading.
Originally posted on Yawning Bread:
A large majority of Yawning Bread readers would like to see Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) abolished, and comprehensive overseas voting catered for. There was also considerable support for lowering the voting age to 18 and introducing proportional representation.
This came out of the second Votker poll which opened for responses on 14 September morning and closed at midnight 19/20 September.
View original 828 more words
On June 13th, The Economist published an opinion piece on Singapore, about blogger Roy Ngern and LHL which they entitled Butterfly on a Wheel, adding more controversy to the PR fiasco otherwise known as LHL’s defamation suit.
Butterfly on a wheel carries a similar meaning to the phrase, “using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut”. That phrase accurately sums up the PAP’s system of knuckleduster politics and rule through control and fear and non accountability. More crucially it sums up a view that the PAP sees dissent to their policies or differences of opinion on the normally self levelling and democratising cyber-sphere as a nut that needs smashing.
Originally they attempted to tip the balance by forming an Internet Brigade but then law suits and defamation came into play. The law suits as tools of control are why we talk about Rule BY Law to emphasis that it is not the Rule OF Law which is the one necessary for democracy to function.
In Singapore we have already established that public bodies cannot sue individuals through such cases as that of Han Hui Hui. No doubt this is why LHL sued Roy in his personal capacity as a private citizen but whatever the reason, it is an incontrovertible fact that the law suit is private and personal.
It is therefore follows that any PR fiasco or disrepute attaching to the PAP or the office of the PM because of LHL’s law suit is as a result of that individual’s private actions. With all due respect I suggest that LHL should have given more serious consideration to his high public profile, position as a public servant and more respect for the office he represents before commencing personal litigation.
To be fair to LHL, The Economist did make some blunders in their article. In this paragraph they say,
“He is now jobless, sacked for engaging in conduct “incompatible with the values and standards” the hospital expects of its employees. This is but one of Mr Ngerng’s travails. He is being sued for defamation by Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong. He might face financial ruin.”
Later in the piece they say, “Even many Singaporeans who think Mr Ngerng is wrong have some sympathy for him and feel the prime minister is bullying him.“
The emphasis in bold is mine. To be correct the Economist should have said, he is being sued for defamation by LHL and they could have added, who is also Singapore’s PM and as such a very wealthy individual and Roy might face financial ruin. Further references in the article should have been to LHL not The PM.
You can read the economist’s article here to judge for yourself how much LHL’s suit is negatively affecting global opinions of Singapore. Link. http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2014/06/opinion-singapore
What happened after that article was published is extraordinary. LHL in his official capacity as the PM directed a civil servant, his Official Press Secretary no less, and caused that person to use State resources and time and tax payer money to write a letter regarding the personal business of LHL as a private individual.
Of course there is always a danger of the private bleeding into the public. People will see overlaps that don’t exist and this will create confusion in everyone from the Singaporean on the street to writers for the Economist. You can understand that confusion. LHL is suing Roy but because he is also the PM and the son of ex PM LKY known for his lawsuits, it is seen as bullying. The responsibility for that lies wholly with the man wearing both hats.
I presume it is precisely because this kind of situation is a minefield that The Ministerial Code was drawn up, to provide guidance for ministers including the Prime Minister. The code aims to hold Ministers up to certain standards and sets out rules of obligation that Ministers must abide by. Judge for yourself.
“This Code of Conduct for Ministers sets out the “rules of obligation” that all Ministers are to abide by in order to uphold these standards.”
I have produced section 4.3 of the code here so that again, you can judge for yourself, whether the Prime Minster has failed to abide by his rules of obligation.
“4.3 A Minister must not direct or request a civil servant to do anything or perform any function that may conflict with the Singapore Civil Service’s core values of incorruptibility, impartiality, integrity and honesty.
He should respect the duty of civil servants to remain neutral in all political matters and matters of public controversy.”
Now let us look at the letter that the PM directed his civil servant to write.
“SIR – I refer to the article “A butterfly on a wheel” (June 13th). You referred to an “alleged ‘serious libel’” by Roy Ngerng. This is not an allegation. Mr Ngerng has publicly admitted accusing Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, of criminal misappropriation of pension funds, falsely and completely without foundation. After promising to apologise and to remove the post, Mr Ngerng did the opposite; he actively disseminated the libel further. This was a grave and deliberate defamation, whether it occurred online or in the traditional media being immaterial.
What is at stake is not any short-term positive or negative impact on the government, but the sort of public debate Singapore should have. When someone makes false and malicious personal allegations that impugn a person’s character or integrity, the victim has the right to vindicate his reputation, whether he is an ordinary citizen or the prime minister. The internet should not be exempt from the laws of defamation. It is perfectly possible to have a free and vigorous debate without defaming anyone, as occurs often in Singapore.
Chang Li Lin
Press secretary to the Prime Minister
I want you to note in particular that the Press Secretary signs as, “Chang Li Lin, Press secretary to the Prime Minister,
Singapore”. She is not defending LHL as an individual whom she feels has been wronged in the Economist and is maybe coincidentally a friend of hers. If that were the case she would sign it “Ms Chang Li Lin.”
So what could or should have been done to correct the Economist’s confusion? The only appropriate and correct action would have been for LHL’s lawyers to defend his case to that media if they felt their client had been misrepresented as a bully.
Let’s look at the money flow. LHL has instructed the lawyer Napier and Drew and is paying them from his own (albeit considerable) pocket. Any money they win for him will go back to his pocket. He may give it to charity but he sure as heck won’t be giving it back to the taxpayer by reimbursing his Press secretary or his office for the use of those resources.
If the PM’s office feels it has been draggged into this and its reputation damaged then they possibly could have written a very short request for clarification thus:
I write on behalf of the office of the PM and I refer to the article “A butterfly on a wheel” (June 13th). The law suit you refer to is not connected to the office of the PM. The defamation action in question is being taken out by LHL in his personal capacity. If you wish to know more about his reasons please ask him directly or speak to his lawyer…. Press secretary etc etc. “
Now I am NOT a lawyer but I do think the PM’s office or any individual public or private should have included the following in any letter.
“As the allegations have not yet been found in a Court of law that whole matter is sub-judice”
As you can plainly see, our Press secretary refers to what Roy’s defence still calls alleged defamation, as “malicious”. The whole letter is sub-judice and IMHO that part more than the rest.
The consequences for a minister of a breach are clear. Again the code tells us that” Breach of any of these “rules of obligation” may expose the Minister to removal from office”.
By now you are getting tired but stay with me a little longer.
How do we determine if there has been a breach? Who would investigate? Is this a breach of mis-use of State resources which is corruption or is it a breach of impartiality?
The code says, ” This Code does not have the force of law and therefore any issue concerning the compliance or non-compliance with it is not subject to review by any court or tribunal.
The Code is silent on how it is to be enforced. Does enforcement rest with the Prime Minister and if so, it is not clear from the Constitution how breaches by the Prime Minister would be dealt with. The onus for investigating breaches would appear to lie with the President though this needs clarification. In matters involving corruption the President has the power under the Constitution to concur with the Director of CPIB’s decision to authorise an investigation even if the Prime Minister refuses to give his consent. However the CPIB comes under the PMO so it is not independent.
The following action needs to be taken.
- Roy’s lawyer needs to write to the Economist pointing out that the Press secretary’s letter is sub judice and asking them to take it down. (If they do not do this then they should not complain later.)
- I and everyone else would then need to erase any copies of that letter in order not to prejudice Roy’s chances of a fair hearing.
- LHL’s lawyer needs to write to the Economist either defending their client or alternatively explaining that the previous letter was a mistake and possibly sub judice.
- A letter needs to written to the President asking him to clarify jurisdiction
- A letter needs to be written to the Director of the CPIB asking the same
- A letter needs to be written to the PM asking him to clarify the Ministerial Code
- For the sake of our Nation we need a fully independent CPIB distanced from the PM.
Finally as for that drivel propaganda in the letter about” free and vigorous debate” we have all seen the video of the grassroots man attempting to physically manhandle the 76 yr old retired teacher away from the microphone.
I am seriously concerned that the PM has breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct by using his Official Press Secretary to write a letter to the Economist newspaper defending the PM’s private defamation suit against the blogger Roy Ngerng. This states:
“4.3 A Minister must not direct or request a civil servant to do anything or perform any function that may conflict with the Singapore Civil Service’s core values of incorruptibility, impartiality, integrity and honesty.
He should respect the duty of civil servants to remain neutral in all political matters and matters of public controversy.”
Neutral? This is quite apart from the fact of whether it is right for the PM to use a civil servant paid by the taxpayer to assist him in his private capacity and not his official one.
He is suing Roy as a private individual and yet he uses a state employee, paid by you the tax payer, to write to the foreign press defending his personal matter. I believe the principle has been established that State Institutions cannot sue a private individual so why can a state employee be put to work on it. Is the Press Secretary working for us, who put the government in place as public servants, or is the Press Secretary working for LHL in a private capacity. It needs clarifying.
I pointed out the uncanny parallels with the alleged misconduct that led to the blogger Roy’s sacking from Tan Tock Seng Hospital:
I have had another thought. If the PM used his Private secretary to write to the Economist on his personal matters was this also a misuse of office resources, computer etc such as got Roy fired?
The posts have already attracted a lot of online comments. Some of the commentators have defended Lee Hsien Loong’s actions in getting his Press Secretary to write since, they say, Roy Ngerng’s defamation brought the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) into disrepute.
However I would disagree. The defamation was against the person and not the office. Lee Hsien Loong is suing Roy for damage to his personal reputation not to the reputation of the PMO. If he succeeds in his action for damages the money will not go to the PMO but to Mr Lee personally. The proper person to have written to the Economist should have been Lee Hsien Loong’s lawyer, and not his Press Secretary who is paid by the taxpayer.
Who has responsibility for determining if there has been a breach of the Code and what sanctions should apply?
The preamble to the Ministerial Code of Conduct makes clear that any breaches of the Code are to be treated extremely
This Code of Conduct for Ministers sets out the “rules of obligation” that all Ministers are to abide by in order to uphold these standards. Breach of any of these “rules of obligation” may expose the Minister to removal from office.
However the Code goes on to say that:
This Code does not have the force of law and therefore any issue concerning the compliance or non-compliance with it is not subject to review by any court or tribunal.
The Code is silent on how it is to be enforced. While responsibility for Ministers’ observance of the Code would appear to rest with the Prime Minister, it is not clear from the Constitution how breaches by the Prime Minister would be dealt with. The onus for investigating breaches would appear to lie with the President though this needs clarification. In matters involving corruption the President has the power under the Constitution to concur with the Director of CPIB’s decision to authorise an investigation even if the Prime Minister refuses to give his consent. However the CPIB comes under the PMO so it is not independent. The President does not have the power on his own to initiate investigations.
In this instance a request should be made to the President asking him whether he has jurisdiction in this matter? If he does not who does? If he does, then he should investigate whether Lee Hsien Loong has breached the Code and make his findings public. Surely Lee Hsien Loong would not be able to continue in office if he was found to have committed a serious breach of the Code?
On 18 June Hri Kumar, MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and Senior Counsel, put up a post on his Facebook page presenting me in a false and wholly negative light in an attempt to damage my credibility and both my personal and professional integrity. Although he failed on all counts. He titled this post “Disruptive Politics” and ended his post with the words “Singapore is our home – we must come together to build it, not destroy it”,
This harping on the theme of Destructive and Constructive may ring a bell with Singaporeans. It echoes the words used to smear the late JBJ in a so-called letter of condolence. to my brother and I except that ‘demolish’ these day is replaced with “destroy”. In that letter the PM claimed that JBJ’s intentions were “to demolish the PAP and our system of government” which didn’t help to build up a “constructive opposition” . Put aside the fact that the PAP of the Lee’ family seems to have some kind of grudge and vendetta and think about that allegation. If the PAP’s system of government is to rubber stamp laws and policies with no real debate and to manage our taxpayer’s money with no real transparency and accountability then maybe it is a system that should be demolished. Demolished to make room for a better system. You will also note how they throw the same accusations at Catherine Lim. In the PAP’ system any intellectually honest person who may want to join the conversation is branded as being disruptive.
The opposite of constructive is actually unconstructive (not disruptive) and its simplest meaning is ‘unhelpful’ or “providing no assistance”Those of you who watched the video of Hri Kumar at the forum dodging a simple question from me will agree there could be no better definition of his behaviour. Unhelpful. Providing no assistance.
Anyone who saw how his khaki manhandled that 76 yr old retired teacher in an attempt to remove her physically from the conversation will see how disruptive he is.
I found the MP’s midnight post on Facebook and manner of writing to be histrionic and his content less than convincing. It was a strange way to behave. If Mr Kumar feels I have represented his arguments falsely then he needs to sue me for defamation in open court not go back and harp on the old Lee obsessions with using knuckle duster tactics on voices of dissent.
For my part I am not going to bring myself down to his level or use his behaviour, as a model. There is nothing constructive about arguing in a, ‘he said/I said’ manner.
To stoop to name-calling is not behaviour worthy of a Member of Parliament either. But no matter, I feel very strongly that the more the PAP resort to calling me a ‘liar’ the closer I must have got to the truth.
Hri Kumar deals with several points where he says I have misquoted him. I never claimed to be giving a verbatim report. Mr Kumar was showcasing PAP policy and I dealt in general with the arguments advanced by the PAP at the forum. These arguments therefore also apply to Hri Kumar unless he operates an independent and separate micro-economy exclusively in Thompson-Toa Payoh.
There is nothing to rebut there as Hri Kumar fails to tell us what he did actually say. to take but one example. Nobody is impressed by the SC’s argument that the never said “Singaporeans are “lightly taxed” but instead said “Singaporeans pay lower taxes”, and uses this as a reason to call me dishonest.
I stand firmly by my 8 (intellectually) dishonest things and furthermore feel it is a vital component of the CPF debate.
To take another response, I touched on CPF’s safe AAA rating. Hri Kumar announced in bold, “ I did not say that.” So what did he say? He doesn’t tell us. What are the citizens to conclude? That CPF is not AAA rated and safe?
Repeatedly saying, I did not say that without further elucidation is the most unconstructive method of presenting an argument that I have ever seen. People all over Singapore are wondering what he is insinuating.
Hri Kumar’s lack of response and the government’s response in general have been so unconstructive as to rattle citizens already suspicious of government’s motives in holding back their money.
Enough. The people have had their fill of this mixture of half truths, oversimplifications, falsehoods, disinformation and propaganda.
They do not want the minimum sum to be raised and they are not swallowing the government’s rationale for raising it.
In fact they do not see why the government needs to keep any of their money beyond 55. This is not a question of taxpayers having to foot the bill because people are living longer. The CPF is purely self-funded. What right does the government have to keep our money because some of us are living longer? What next? The government takes all our salaries and gives us a weekly allowance based on some criteria like how likely we are to use it wisely.
Is it so surprising that the citizens would take that leap and begin to wonder if their money is just not there anymore?
The whole rationale for the PAP regime is prudent financial management. The citizens are beginning to lose trust in that claim. They are losing trust in the PAP and its system of government. The people have every right to demand to know where their money is, how it is being used, where it is ending up and how much of it remains in the coffers. An elected government has a duty and an obligation to be transparent over fiduciary management and to explain that in a manner that is accessible, easy to understand and demonstrable.
There is a video of the forum that shows me asking questions about the Budget figures put up on a slide that Hri Kumar presented as part of the Forum. It is clear that Hri Kumar avoids answering my question. He dodges it with the flippant remark that I should put up my own figures. I was an attendee at Hri Kumar’s forum not he an attendee at mine. The figures being questioned were those being presented by Hri Kumar on a slide on behalf of the government. If he were an intern of mine and was unable to answer a question on his own slide, in his own presentation, then I would be extremely concerned. Mr Kumar is a public servant.
Mr Kumar and his government, as with all governments, Must comply with their transparency obligations. Openness and transparency can only strengthen people’s trust in government. He has failed in his duty.
It is of great concern that Hri Kumar is attempting to paint genuine resident participation in the forum/farce as some kind of plot by organised agitators. This suggests the PAP are still blind to their predicament. It is clearly audible in the video that Hri Kumar refers to “my friends”. On his Facebook post he again refers to “we allowed him and his supporters in”. This is simply not true. I have irrefutable evidence and witnesses to say that I attended on my own. Those angry people at the forum were all unknown to me. If the PAP truly believe that all dissent at that forum was pre-organised by me in some kind of conspiracy or possible Marxist plot then they are in serious trouble indeed.
There was only one person really known to me. besides Ariffin who invited me and this was Abdul Malik. Malik was previously with PKMS and SDP and had hit the headlines when he was arrested for online threats against the PAP and then later applied to become a member of the PAP. If anyone deserves the moniker “Disruptive”it is he and his invitation was personally condoned by Hri Kumar.
No Party members attended. No friends of mine attended. I attended not as a party member but independently, in my capacity as a Singaporean at the age when I would like to withdraw my CPF funds and therefore deeply interested in this topic. It is common wherever I go that complete strangers will come up and want to shake my hand as was the case with the line of charming retired nurses. This seems to have unnerved Hri Kumar.
I feel sorry for Mr Kumar but he must accept that the CPF Minimum Sum is a national issue. Kumar and the political party that he represents need to understand that this objection to the raising of the Minimum Sum is not some secret conspiracy but a genuine and spontaneous public outcry. I can understand that the PAP are rattled that the aims of civil society and political society are starting to intersect and that they may be dealing with a mass movement. People at that forum were very angry indeed and wanted their questions to be answered not brushed aside.
The PM can be as unconstructive as he wishes and sue as many bloggers as he chooses but he will not be able to stop people asking the questions. He has stepped into a media death spiral and if he is not careful he will find himself replaying a pivotal scene from the movie Spartacus. Already Singaporeans en masse have stepped forward to say, “I am Roy”, just as the slaves stepped forward to say, ” I am Spartacus.” They have donated over S$100,000 to aid Roy to defend the PM’s defamation suit against him.
I am grounded in reality, economics and numbers. I am on record as saying that Roy got his assumptions and figures wrong. I have criticised Chris Balding for double counting and other mistakes. They make leaps for which there is no evidence. However I am still an absolute supporter of Roy because the crux of the matter is that we will all benefit from the answers. Coming from the world of finance and investment, I know only too well the risks that lack of transparency brings.
Like all of us I merely want to see a fairer and better Singapore, a free and dynamic Singapore and a Singapore that delivers prosperity to all not just a chosen few and I believe this can be achieved in an entirely constructive manner. Hri Kumar titled his post “Disruptive Politics” as though asking questions is disruptive. In a robust democracy the voices of ordinary people are not seen as disruptive but as a signpost to a better way for all. It is wholly unconstructive to suppress dissent and wholly constructive to hold the government to account.
The PAP MUST open up the books to scrutiny. In the end it is a political question not an economic one and it will ultimately be decided at the next election.
(Warning the following article contains satire. If you have experienced difficulty in the past digesting satire and parody then please consult a doctor before proceeding)
The debate seems to be getting a tad emotional, so I have responded with this light-hearted and comical piece which I hope will cool things down a little. Please enjoy. It is a parody of Hri Kumar’s Facebook post where he got a bit excited about my report on the CPF forum. Let’s chill people and stick to the substantive issues.
“Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam leader of The Reform Party who attended my forum that somebody else invited him to, has reported the following in The Online Citizen.
Quote: “When I sat down in that room I looked at the enormous glass coffee table and thought, “Finally some transparency from the PAP.”
Mr Jeyaretnam is a liar. That did not happen in the forum. No coffee table or anyone or anything present provided Mr Jeyaretnam or any other attendee with any required transparency at any time. Opacity was the whole point of the forum and Mr Jeyaretnam lacks all credibility in suggesting otherwise.
The coffee table was not there to provide any transparency from the PAP, by the PAP or with the PAP. Any transparency it provided was purely coincidental and entirely unconnected to our policy of obfuscating the facts and replacing them with our belief system.
Mr Jeyaretnam is trying to destroy our nation by perverting our firmly held beliefs in quadruped furniture as supports for empty coffee cups, disposable chop sticks and old tissues.
To suggest that the coffee table could provide the answer to how much is in the reserves or provide answers to gaps in the budget presentation or information on the returns of Temasek and GIC is not a constructive method for conducting an accessorial-furniture-interface dialogue.
If we wanted to have an accessorial-furniture-interface dialogue I would go about it like this. I would start an Event page on Facebook, open to all so that Mr Jeyaretnam could be invited to the Event by someone else and I would comment on that public page that non-residents were welcome to accept the invitation. Then for the avoidance of doubt, as the host, I would post on my own page that I was happy non-residents were also signing up.
If it were later discovered that Mr Jeyaretnam, who is a well-known glass coffee table provocateur, had followed these steps, I would then publicly denounce Mr Jeyaretnam for “Inviting Himself”. I would smear him with the suggestion that his only intention in attending was to destroy the unique position that glass furniture holds in our robust democracy. But we are not having that dialogue so of course I won’t do anything like that.
Mr Jeyaretnam’s allegation that the coffee table provided transparency is very serious indeed
Mr Jeyaretnam’s allegation that the coffee table provided transparency is very serious indeed. It is as destructive as those people in other countries who take old furniture and up-cycle it into something useful and attractive. In fact as my video recording will demonstrate two people in that group roundly shouted at Mr Jeyaretnam in turns, entirely demolishing his arguments with their unsubstantiated stories of how much tax they had to pay to overseas for similar furniture products.
Nor did the PAP stuff that forum with PAP supporting furniture, whether a table of glass, plastic or that stuff that Ikea uses, as Mr Jeyaretnam has so evilly insinuated. Mr Jeyaretnam lacks all integrity and credibility. That coffee table was a bona- fide resident of Thompson-Toa Payoh. As such it was there of its own accord in its personal capacity. It was a non-partisan coffee table, not even an activist coffee table or a civil society coffee table. It had NOT been put there in advance or polished up by any member of Thompson-Toa Payoh CC.
It wasn’t me, it was Mr Jeyaretnam who stuffed that forum with supporting furniture. In fact everyone there who questioned my presentation or disagreed with me or smiled at Mr Jeyaretnam instead of me or wanted to shake his hand not mine, was a personal friend of Mr Jeyaretnam and just pretending to be a resident. It was ‘fixed’. There is no other reason they would have demanded the return of their CPF.
As it is my experience that many of you are childlike or otherwise “daft”, I will summarise.-“Mr Jeyaretnam was the only person at the forum seeking transparency not the coffee table.”