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An Open Letter to TOC in Response to Their Removal of My Article “Where Have The Reserves Gone”

Dear TOC,

Last Thursday, I was contacted by several readers who asked me why my article “Where have our reserves gone?” had disappeared from TOC. This alone was alarming and unusual but TOC compounded the problem by failing to put up any note by way of explanation for the article’s sudden disappearance.

When TOC did finally respond to my queries, Mr. Pillai informed me that the article had been taken down after “one of the other editors” had received a call. Apparently this call was a tip off from Temasek Holdings advising that legal action was going to be taken against me because they objected to the term ‘Ponzi Scheme.’

This is not a criticism of Mr. Pillai whom I have always found to uphold the highest standards of editorial transparency and impartiality. However who is this unknown editor and why should we believe a word of this unlikely tale until the editor in question comes forward and identifies himself? It could just be professional jealousy and a likely story to get my article removed.  I have been  further informed by Mr Pillai that a lawyer is reviewing the article. No need, just consult with me and then remove the sub heading, ‘Ponzi Scheme’ if it is offensive. Removing that phrase doesn’t alter the meaning or harm the article one bit.

I entered a good faith agreement with TOC. I allow you to take my articles wholesale off my blog and allow you the special privilege of not having to comply with the copyright conditions which normally apply. This works both ways. You gain content and whilst I lose reader stats, my pieces reach a far wider audience in cooperation with TOC. However that good faith is broken when you remove my article with no warning, consultation nor explanation.

The alleged conversation that your editor had or did not have with Temasek remains pure hearsay. I myself have received no communication from Temasek or anyone else. Temasek Review Emeritus are also running the article and have received no objections.  If Temasek Holdings did indeed contact you then it is a matter of great interest and needs to be aired. My article continues to remain up on my blog at http://sonofadud.com/2012/09/07/where-have-our-reserves-gone/

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Rethinking MPECHB

REFORMING FOR A MORE JUST SOCIETY  By Koh Kee Sen Matthew

Singapore is a peaceful country.  We are not situated in a war-torn region; Singaporeans live within ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), a group of peace-loving nations.  The government should lay aside the “siege mentality” with regard to defence. I agree peace should not be taken for granted.  However too much of our budget is spent on defence.  Defence spending should be reduced and more money channelled to help the marginalised like Mental Patients, Ex-convicts, Handicapped, Bankrupts. (MPECHB). I call this group in short, using the acronyms, MPECHB.

There is  lot of publicity about the “Yellow-Ribbon Project”. However, how far does it help the Ex-convicts? Are there enough jobs to go around for them.  Are the ex-convicts confined to certain menial jobs like cleaners, movers and etc? Ex-convicts who have served time in prison have paid for their crime.  They shouldn’t be discriminated against by employers who demand to know on job application forms whether they are ex-convicts.

Another group persecuted by Employers are the Bankrupts.  Often, job application forms demand to know if a person is an “Undischarged” Bankrupt. These bankrupts who already face financial difficulties will be denied of a job if they admit to it in most likelihood.  So how are they going to redeem themselves?

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A repugnant euphemism for rape is no way to safeguard our children

Sex with a child is rape. Whether constitutional or consensual, it is rape.  The media may airbrush it by use of euphemisms such as  ‘affair’ and blur the edges with talk of  ‘seduction’ but it is still rape.  When an affair is being conducted there will no doubt be secret trysts, maybe red roses will be sent and love texts, cute teddy bears or sexy lingerie given as gifts,  who knows?  But where an adult  behaves in this manner with  a child it is not sexy and exciting,  it is predatory and it is called grooming.

Sure some of you may want to argue the boundaries. You may want to discuss variables which make the term ‘rape’ seem alarmist. How about when the  age of consent is 16 and the girl is only a few months short of that and her boyfriend is just 17? Is that still rape?   Now what if they have already planned their wedding? What if they have their parents’ consent?  Sure we can discuss all of these  variables within our communities and our society at large but right here and now we have a case which seems clear-cut as far as reporting goes.

The accused is a 38 yr old teacher  and the victim  was a 14-year-old girl at the time. Compare it to a case in the United States where the accused recently (December 14th) denied all charges.

Sioux Falls man pleads not guilty to rape, alcohol charges in Huron

Full story

HURON — A Huron bar owner accused of raping of a 12-year-old and two 14-year-old girls who was later also charged with serving alcohol to minors while out on bond has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The press there has no trouble in reporting alleged rape as alleged rape.

It is bad enough when a school teacher  is involved but similar to cases overseas that have tarnished  the reputation of the Catholic church  or Penn State University amongst others, an institution where adults are in a position of trust and authority over  children has failed to act.  What is happening in our schools and what exactly do they think their responsibilities are when a report of inappropriate behavior towards a child on a school trip is dealt with by a warning letter for the teacher concerned?  It is difficult to believe, yet alone comprehend why the  school authorities took no further action and kept quiet all this time.  Again,  why did it take the mother’s discovery for the teacher to get fired? Why was a more thorough investigation not conducted in 2008?  Was protecting the reputation of the MOE more important than the safety of a child?

There are echoes here of the insouciant  attitude of the  MOE towards the  student  Jonathan Wong, already caned for being  a Peeping Tom with an interest in young girls, who was still selected to receive a  teaching scholarship. Thanks to vigilance by educational authorities  in the UK his predilections were  discovered and he was sentenced for  downloading child pornography.

The point is that we need to have a proper screening system  in place.     Too often the attitude in Singapore is, “why worry? Nothing can go wrong ” . Until it does, that is and then we lock down the stable door after the horse has bolted. Or in the case of the poor girl who lost her legs on the MRT platform,  literally shut the gates.  The fact is paedophiles are naturally attracted towards working with children.  There will always be  (hopefully rare)  instances  and we shouldn’t take it as indicative of the teaching profession at large .  But we do need to protect against it.  The Press needs to stop sanitising what is a crime by any definition and the schools concerned ( not  forgetting our private tuition industry ) need to take their duty of care to our children much more seriously. Whilst I have no doubt that the legal system will have no trouble dealing out an appropriate sentence the MOE still needs to get its act together. Maybe time to look at  bringing in a CRB system such as that used in the UK.

Immigration is the Elephant in the Room

Raging Elephant

Elephant in the Room

Yesterday the ST gave us a centre-page spread by two vice-presidents of the Economics Society discussing the rise in inequality in Singapore. The fact that one of them is the Chief Economist at GIC and the other is Director of Planning at Resorts World Sentosa might be a clue that we are not going to hear much that is radical from them. You might want to question what insight they will be able to give you into why your ricebowl doesn’t look like your neighbour’s rice bowl. After all someone from GIC is effectively a civil servant, while Resorts World Sentosa presumably wouldn’t like attention called to the fact that the euphemistically named ‘Integrated’ Resorts probably contribute in a small way to rising inequality.

The writers state that the government’s attempt to minimise the cost of social welfare by focusing only on those in the direst need has exacerbated inequality and led to a more divisive society. I use the word “focusing” somewhat  ironically as many Singaporeans would say that the aim of government welfare policy is to ensure the eligibility criteria are so tough that everyone is excluded.  In fact this is the crux of the PAP theory of your ricebowl  that I like to examine in these pages. However, while the authors argue that an inclusive society is better from everyone’s viewpoint and that this is best achieved by universal social programmes, they make the mistake of assuming that the government is actually interested in inclusivity and fostering social cohesion. There are many who hold by outmoded theories of Darwinian competition (though strangely this belief vanishes when it comes to politics or areas of the economy that the government dominates). MM Lee’s famous words, about Singaporeans needing a spur in their side from new immigrants if they are not to become lazy and complacent, spring to mind.

This brings me on to the most surprising – or perhaps not so surprising if you consider the government connections – aspect of their article.  They discuss the near stagnation in real median incomes of those in full time employment and absolute stagnation for those in the bottom 20th percentile, even on the government’s own highly selective and possibly biased figures.  The use of the base year of 2001 probably flatters what little growth there has been, as incomes declined from a high in 1998 and reached a low in 2001 after the Asian crisis and the end of the dot-com boom. The government’s figures also do not allow for changes in hours worked, which probably rose over this period. For a fuller discussion, please see my article, The Stagnant Society (http://sonofadud.com/2011/10/13/singapore-the-stagnant-society/) for a longer discussion.

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.

In his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/aug/29/ha-joon-chang-23-things), the Cambridge development economist, Ha-Joon Chang, uses a comparison between the wages of a bus driver in Sweden and one in India. The Swedish bus driver earns around fifty times as much as the Indian bus driver yet it would be hard to say that he was fifty times as productive or skilful. In fact the Indian bus driver probably has the more stressful job or requires more skill, given the state of Indian roads and the density of traffic. The differential between the Swedish bus driver’s wage and the Indian’s is almost wholly attributable to immigration controls. Of course Swedish wages are high to start with because of their much higher productivity in the traded goods sector which is subject to competition. Employers in the non-tradeables sector then have to pay higher wages to compete for scarce labour. Without being able to bring in foreign labour they have little choice.

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.

Whether we have a minimum wage, or a cap on foreign labour (which amounts to the same thing), this is the Elephant in Room whose emissions are causing the inequality. Unfortunately, we risk the Elephant turning into a Raging Bull if the xenophobic ranting in cyberspace is anything to go by. What we need now, and urgently, is some serious and open and reasoned debate on the future of Singapore.

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