Suzhou Industrial Park ex-CEO probed for corruption

From ‘Ex-CEO of Suzhou Park in graft probe’, 21 Sept 2014, article by Kor Kian Beng, Sunday Times

Suzhou Industrial Park’s former chief executive officer Bai Guizhi, a Chinese national, has been investigated for graft, in the most serious scandal to hit the first bilateral project between China and Singapore.

….SIP’s administrative committee, an arm of the Suzhou city government overseeing the project, is believed to be responsible for Mr Bai’s appointment and that of other key posts in the industrial park.

CSSD chief executives were Singaporeans from 1994 to 2000, when a Singapore consortium held a majority 65 per cent stake in SIP – which was set up with the backing of Singapore’s former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the late Chinese strongman Deng Xiaoping. The key goal of the 288 sq km industrial park was to replicate Singapore’s industrialisation expertise and to transfer the Republic’s “software” and way of doing things to Suzhou and other cities.

From Jan 1, 2001, Chinese nationals were appointed as CEOs after a loss-making streak in SIP saw Singapore shrinking its stake to 35 per cent and its share of the park to just 8 sq km, instead of the 70 sq km planned. Things have picked up for SIP. It has become one of China’s most successful industrial parks, and garnered international awards.

A Singapore consortium now holds a 28 per cent stake in the CSSD.

To mark 20 years of the ‘special and long-standing friendship‘ between Singapore and Suzhou, the city’s mayor planted 5 Osmanthus flowers (the official flower of Suzhou) at the Gardens by the Bay. Things, however, haven’t been all rosy since its inception in 1994, this sprawling lovechild of LKY and Deng Xiaoping. The latest graft incident would be what our esteemed elder statesman would refer to another of the Chinese government’s ‘municipal shenanigans’. Despite all the ‘teething problems’ which LKY had with the Chinese authorities, Suzhou has been flourishing since, even winning the ironically titled Lee Kuan Yew World City prize recently, despite us having a physical presence of just 8 sq km.

Here are some interesting tidbits about our maiden ‘bilateral’ project:

1. Singapore’s social order was an inspiration for Deng Xiaoping, who in 1978 called us a ‘capitalist version of the COMMUNIST dream’, before the SIP program began. Yet any mention of communism in our media today gets slammed and banned by the government, as what happened to a recent documentary by Tan Pin Pin.

2. The SIP’s estimated cost was $30 billion. For 4 years since it was set up, it was making losses of up to US $24 million annually. Our flagship ‘government to government’ cooperative wasn’t exactly off to a flying start.

3. Lee Hsien Loong disclosed in 1998 that 10 of the 24 companies of the Singapore consortium were government-linked companies and statutory boards. $115 milion was pumped in.

4. In 1998, city vice mayor Wang Jinhua told a group of German investors to pump their money directly into rival and precursor industrial park SND (Suzhou New District), which was run by local authorities, without involving Singapore. LKY complained to President Jiang Zemin about it, despite the situation in China being a case of ‘The mountains are high and the emperor is far away’.

5. The founding CEO of the Suzhou project was former MP Chan Soo Sen. He went on to become Independent Director of a company that calls itself MIDAS Holdings.

6. 2001 was the year Singapore ceded management duties over to the Chinese government. The NY times called it a ‘face-saving’ exercise. LKY blamed the Chinese government for promoting SND instead. Other political observers surmised we had no bloody idea what we were getting into. I believe there’s another Chinese saying for ‘small fry in a big pond’. LKY expected ‘special treatment’ for his baby, but wasn’t prepared for the reality that is, well, competition, underhanded as it may be.

7. The Economist referred to the SIP as an attempt to ‘clone’ Singapore in a Chinese city. Other extensions of our ‘software replication’ would sprout up in Tianjin and Vietnam. In May rioters set fire to 3 factories in the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park complex. Seems like the ‘software’ was not flameproof.

8. In 2009, despite his disappointment with Chinese business practices, LKY maintained that SIP was the ‘right decision’. Not sure if it was ‘right’ for bilateral relations,  or ‘right’ for Singaporeans in general, especially since to the layman, the Suzhou incident appears to be a case of the Chinese ‘borrowing’ our ideas and hijacking the Singapore brand, then running off with it, applying our ‘software’ to copycat cities to the tune of billions of dollars; i.e it turned out ‘right’ for the Chinese. Then every 10 years, they come down and plant token flowers in our $1 billion garden. Which is NICE, rather than just ripping us off like this thing they did with Apple without giving credit where credit’s due.

Success or flop, there are take-home lessons from our experience with SIP, yet our government continues to woo China like an infatuated puppy, still stuck in its Sinophilia, insisting that the SIP was a resounding masterstroke of the genius that is LKY despite the apparent ‘glitches’ in the software. A Guangzhou Knowledge City is in the pipeline as we speak, lauded as one ‘driven by the private sector’ unlike the previous projects, which is in fact a 50:50 venture involving Temasek Holdings-owned Singbridge International. The man in charge? Wong Kan Seng, who had always believed that there was ‘money to be made‘ in China. Isn’t that the guy who…never mind.

If the SIP and similar ventures were products you could pick up off the shelf, you can be certain that it’ll say ‘Made in China’ on the labels, and next time when a foreigner asks you if Singapore is ‘somewhere in China’, he wouldn’t be totally off the mark. Maybe it’s time for some software updates and bug fixes, before we go around pointing to SIP and claiming credit like an excited kid telling his parents that this entire city would never have existed if he hadn’t built a Lego model to inspire it from the beginning.

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Malaysia building a Forest City below Second Link

From ‘Mega reclamation project off Johor raises concerns’, 22 June 2014, article in ST

Singapore has expressed concern to Malaysia over a proposal for a massive reclamation project to create an island in the Strait of Johor below the Second Link. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) confirmed yesterday that Singapore has asked for more information so it can study the possible impact on the Republic and the strait. “They have agreed to do so and we hope to receive the information soon,” a spokesman said in response to media queries.

A report in the Malaysian daily The Star yesterday said that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, about the project.

…The Star reported last Monday that China property developer Country Garden Holdings and a Johor government company, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor, were planning the reclamation project called Forest City for luxury homes.

The idea to create a 2,000ha island – nearly three times the size of Ang Mo Kio estate – will take 30 years to complete, Mr Kayson Yuen, Country Garden’s regional president for the project, told the paper. A project map showed part of the man-made island under the Second Link, which connects Tuas in Singapore to Johor.

The Edge Review online magazine reported last month that Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar was behind the project, which was being promoted actively by powerful Johor politicians.

Island in the stream

Nobody ever creates an artifical island, calls it ‘Forest City’ and expects it to be a miniature replica of the planet Pandora in Avatar, where the mode of transport is swinging vine and residents live in tree-huts. The name ‘Country Garden’ is also scathingly ironic given that these guys from China don’t build barns and landscaped lawns for a living, but high-rise luxury housing, with existing projects in Danga Bay. In 2012, the company acquired 22 ha of prime waterfront land in the Iskandar region, to the approval of Malaysia PM Najib. Even our own Temasek Holdings has got a stake in the region. CG’s logo is ‘To create a better SOCIETY with our existence’, which sounds eerily like Red Army propaganda. It doesn’t say ‘to create better neighbours with our existence’. In any case, our very Earth itself is better off if such globetrotting property developers never existed at all. Unlike how it’s named, there’s nothing remotely ‘green’ about building an entire artificial island from scratch in the middle of the sea.

Land use has always been a prickly issue between us and the Malaysians. In 2002, Malaysia’s Trade and Industry Minister called for his countrymen to SUE the Singapore government for our reclamation works along Tebrau Strait, even though these were within our borders. Fishermen staged protests about dredging affecting their livelihoods, while others complained about the narrowing of shipping lanes and damage to marine life. The Foreign Minister bashed us for our ‘selfishness’ and not being a ‘good neighbour’. It also wasn’t the first time that Singapore has embarked on land reclamation, leading some to speculate this was a case of the Malaysian politicians seizing the chance to ‘put Singapore in its place’ out of sheer jealousy. A year later, our neighbour decided to bring the matter up to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, arguing for our project to be ceased because it could ‘permanently scar’ the environment. We eventually won the case, but some refused to let the issue go even up till 2007, blaming a spate of floods in JB on our reclamation works on Pulau Tekong. Incidentally, Tekong means ‘obstacle’ in Malay.

Could this ambitious undertaking right under the Second Link be a major case of tit for tat? The Forest City project has powerful backing in the Sultan as well as a China conglomerate, and if even Najib endorses this like how he welcomed the Danga Bay development and our pleas go ignored, it appears that going back to international courts may be the only recourse. It is important, however, that both nations don’t lose sight of the bigger picture (or miss the ‘FOREST’ for the trees for that matter) in the pursuit of happy bilateral relations and economic growth. Not much is known of the long term environmental impact of any form of land reclamation, be in within or outside our borders, and the consequences of any human interference on a complex, interweaving ecosystem are often beyond our understanding, beyond the artificial boundaries we create between ourselves.

Even as we attempt to increase our own size by up to 9 ‘AMK towns’, there are valid concerns about the impact on tidal flows, even on the coastal waters of neighbouring countries. There are also concerns of the impact of our land expansion on native coral reefs. We should be careful not to be come across as having double standards if we’re plowing ahead at the expense of our own environment, not to mention other countries’. It’s like accusing a neighbour next door of having an all-day BBQ when we’re burning incense in our garden.  Before criticising the move, it would have been prudent to study what we’re doing to ourselves. It is likely however, knowing the temperament of Malaysian politicians, that if we make noise this time round, they’ll bring up the 2002 case again, saying that if Singapore can do it, why not us? At the rate of the sea being filled around us, it’s only a matter of time before what separates the two countries is nothing more than a couple of shipping lanes and a token bridge over troubled waters.

We already have a ‘transboundary’ problem with the Indonesians from the haze, now we have another one bugging us from the north. PM Lee, PM Najib, perhaps this would be a good time to remind you guys about this:

That’s what friends are for

Zouk an institution that needs saving

From ‘Zouk may shut by year end’ 18 June 2014, article by Joyce Lim, ST

The founder of Zouk, Mr Lincoln Cheng, says he is tired of getting short lease extensions for the popular dance club’s Jiak Kim Street site. If he does not get a three-year extension he is now requesting, he will close the 23-year-old iconic nightspot for good by the end of this year.

…When the club first opened in 1991, the land around it was largely vacant. But today, the club – which is situated within three recently conserved riverside warehouses – is dwarfed by neighbouring condominiums and hotels. It was no surprise, therefore, when questions about the fate of Zouk started making the rounds in 2012.

…When told of the news, celebrity presenter and Zouk regular Najip Ali said he was shocked. “When Zouk opened, it was ahead of its time. In the 1990s, Zouk put a stamp on the kind of nightlife that didn’t exist.” It was where he learnt about music and deejays. “Zouk has been and is still an institution,” he said.

Development plans aside, it was MP Indranee Rajah (“If Zouk was not there, then it is unlikely the youth would congregate there.”) who indirectly blamed the rise in drunken rowdiness in the Robertson Quay area on the dance ‘institution’. Since complaints by residents, the Government has been mooting the idea of a ‘no-alcohol’ zone so that babies from nearby condos can sleep at night. If Zouk were an ‘institution’, then its graduates are Masters in Inebriation. No riot has broken out on Jiak Kim Street so far, though there may soon be a protest or two. Like the SaveZouk campaign for example. I wonder what colour these guys will be wearing. Maybe neon rainbow.

I’ve been to the club myself a few times, and back in those days it was a hedonistic eye-opener seeing people gyrating on raised platforms, revellers decked out in the wildest accessories, meeting gays, transgenders and Najip Ali, sweating and grinding to guest DJs spinning revolutionary dance tracks that no other disco at the time were keen to play. In the 90’s, Zouk WAS Clubbing, a place that has become synonymous with a street with the unlikeliest of names in ‘Jiak Kim’. You didn’t need to give taxi drivers directions or addresses. You just had to say ‘Zouk’, and he’d give you that knowing wink and a nod, sometimes breaking out into small talk about how ‘happening’ you are. Then again, it’s also the same place that revived Rick Astley’s popularity, thanks to Mambo Jumbo Nights, a phenomenon that has even been exported out for the 2012 Singapore Day in New York.

For 23 years, Singaporean merrymakers have stayed faithful to the icon of glam, the ‘queen’ of clubs, despite intrusions by global players like Ministry of Sound and Supperclub, which all bowed out of the scene entirely while Zouk continued to attract 24 hour party people, even till now, except to the wrath of condo owners, who obviously didn’t have a clue about what Zouk was about when they decided to move in right next to it. In the spirit of MP Indranee’s argument: If the condos were not there, there would be no one to complain about noise, piss and vomit. And we probably would have let the kids drink themselves to death or fall off the bridge and drown or something.

Here are some facts every Singaporean should know about our homegrown premier club:

1. Zouk means ‘village party’ in French Caribbean, and was refurnished out of 3 abandoned riverside godowns. The logo was inspired by Arabic script and is a mixture of the ‘sun, all-seeing eye and the sea’. Zouk’s address is 17 Jiak Kim Street, though no one knows what happened to the other 16 numbers.

2. Founder Lincoln Cheng is an architect by training. In 1995 he was charged for bringing in 376 diazepam tablets and having possession of 125 Upjohn tablets, 4 Playboy magazines and some porno tapes, all part of a high profile drug bust which forced the club to close temporarily.

3. Tan Jiak Kim was a fifth generation Baba merchant who formed the Straits Steamship Company in 1890 with a few other rich businessmen, in addition to sterling work among the Chinese community and setting up a medical college. He would have qualified for the Pioneer package. Most of us would have never heard of him if not for Zouk. Thankfully, there’s also a nearby bridge named after the man, a bridge that the very same drunk kids are puking and dumping trash on.

4. In 1993, a brewery bar named ORANG UTAN opened in the Zouk complex. No it wasn’t a place where you could pet Ah Meng for free over beer and grub like what you do in a cat cafe. Though that just MIGHT work elsewhere.

5. A ‘Healthy Lifestyle Party‘ without cigarettes and booze was held for 1000 SAF personnel in 1992. As fun as your Grandaunt’s birthday bash, I reckon. The words ‘healthy’ and ‘party’ belong together like ‘innocent’ and ‘sex’. I hope there was at least Hokkien techno.

6. ‘Zoukette’ is what you call a fashionable female club regular. It was also the name of one of the more popular IRC channels in Singapore. Yes, Zouk has outlived even IRC, ICQ and Windows Messenger.

7. The PAP celebrated its 50th anniversary there in 2004, an event that most true-blue Zoukers and Zoukettes would rather forget. Amongst those boogieing the night away then was PM Lee himself, Lim Swee Say, and a certain Indranee Rajah, the same MP who thinks Zouk turns our kids into raving alcoholics. Look, here’s proof!

Party people in the house, y'all.

Party people in the house, y’all.

Wait, that means 2014 is the 60th year of PAP’s reign. How about a farewell All-White Zouk party again this year, for the club to go out with an unforgettable BANG?. After all, who WOULDN’T want to see our ministers dancing?Not sure if invitations will be extended to Ms Indranee though.

8. Zouk is likely to have played host to a more diverse range of international stars than any other stadium or concert hall in Singapore. From 80’s synth-pop band Erasure to techno/trance maestros, Kylie Minogue to K-pop girl groups, even a crooning Tony Leung.

9. In 2007, Zouk was where you could watch girls in skimpy attire wrestle one another in spaghetti sauce. 3 years later, the club organised an event called ‘Baby Loves Disco’, where hip parents could bring their babies for an afternoon party, some as young as 2 MONTHS. It looked like the beginning of a slow demise, less an ‘institution’ than a free-for-all venue for any event under the sun.

10. In 2008, it was reported that Zouk hired 70 security officers and had 100 surveillance cameras installed. What would become of these bouncers once Zouk is gone? Maybe protecting our ministers when they queue for chicken wings, perhaps?

So those were the days, my friend, we’d thought they’d never end. Thanks for the memories, Zouk. The puke on the sidewalk, the awesome live DJ gigs, the vodka-Ribena, the silly dancing, for being the only place in town where you could impress the girl of your dreams with cheesy 80’s moves. Unlike high-end exclusive clubs like Ku De Ta, Zouk welcomed mopey teens, the fuddy-duddies, the geeks and the wannabes with open arms. You did well to put us on the map of ‘cool’ and convince the world that Singapore was not THAT boring after all, but like all good parties, this 23-year-long one must come to an end. Good night, and Zouk Out.

Woman peeing in Pinnacle@Duxton lift

From ‘Caught in the act of urinating in Pinnacle@Duxton lift’, 18 June 2014, article by Hoe Pei Shan, ST

The first photo shows the back of a woman in neat attire squatting down in a lift; the second shows the same woman, her hair tied up in a ponytail, in the same spot, but this time with a puddle near her feet in the lift. The photos were featured in posters put up this week by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council in the void deck of Block 1E at Pinnacle@Duxton, following complaints about urine in one of the lifts back in May.

The youthful-looking woman, whose face is not seen, was caught in the act by surveillance cameras in the lift at 8.22pm on May 23.

“The Town Council has received feedback regarding the stench of urine in the Fireman Lift in Blk 1E… This has caused much inconvenience to residents,” read the message in the poster. The posters and photos are part of what MP Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) describes as the town council’s “very effective” method of addressing such incidents, and have been employed several times at the Pinnacle@Duxton estate as well as elsewhere in the constituency.

…”We would never show people’s faces in the photos used, so only the person committing the act would know it is him or her,” she said. “We’re not trying to shame anybody, we put the posters up only in the affected blocks. Our job is not to make trouble, we just want to stop the urination problem.”

No one has stepped forward so far regarding the latest incident, and little is known about the woman pictured. “Urination in public places still happens from time to time in different areas around Tanjong Pagar, but thankfully it’s not that prevalent,” said Dr Neo.

This iconic housing project was indeed once the PINNACLE of international design, the first in the world with 2 skybridges linking the 7 blocks, creating what could be the LONGEST continuous skygardens in the world. A winner of the 2010 President’s Design Award, the Pinnacle’s skydecks have been described as ‘social dynamos’ encouraging communal activities, initiating an ‘innovative typology of public communal spaces that are metaphorically reclaimed from the air.’ A bit TOO communal perhaps. This, like how we deal with most social nuisances, calls for a CAMPAIGN, before someone brands the building The ‘Pee-nacle’ (Wait, that has already happened). The mascot could be a singing, dancing giant incontinence pad, one who goes around smothering people before they even unzip their trousers.

Peeing in lifts is a scourge that won’t go away soon, with exploding bladders, loose sphincters, alcohol and lack of public toilets often used as mitigation pleas when culprits do get caught. Most of these, to no one’s surprise, are men. In 1988, the ST ran a survey which revealed that of 112 pissers caught, ONLY ONE was a woman, and they were mostly adults within the age range of 36 to 54. These days, people seem to get away with urinating in lifts without having the media shout their name, age and occupations like they used to. An anonymous offender smearing a public amenity gets away with nothing more than embarrassment, while a blogger who smears the name of someone very illustrious gets hunted down and sued his pants off for defamation. Even getting caught EATING a damn sweet on the train is a worse situation than this.

You must be truly desperate if you’re a woman and need to resort to 1)pulling down/aside your underwear 2) squatting 3) answering the call of nature 4) risk soaking your damn feet while at it. No one seems to ever get remanded in IMH for such behaviour, especially one that has been fetishised by the authorities since Singaporeans began living in HDBs, with some MPs in the 80’s even suggesting a JAIL TERM for offenders. Peeing in a lift is an entirely different breed of public disgrace compared to say dumping litter or throwing cigarette butts out of cars. A grown adult urinating in a closed, moving compartment, especially one in which you have to eventually use yourself, seems to me more of a bizarre psychological disorder rather than a case of uncontrollable nerves, mischief, or even ‘vandalism’. It’s like vomiting on the side of your plate, and then continuing to eat the rest of your food like nothing happened.

The Pinnacle may boast one of the most panoramic, expensive residential skygardens in the world, but all the lifestyle frills and pledges of ‘sustainability’ aside, one thing that the building appears to be sorely lacking is a basic lift URINE DETECTOR, a gadget that stops the lift dead when someone takes a leak on the floor, sounds an alarm, and traps you inside until the cops come and whisk you and your vile bladder to court. A brilliant invention because it forces you to be confined with your own putrid stench for at least a good half an hour, and more importantly, catches you red-handed, with or without CCTV. Have we gone all soft on lift pissers lately? Will the Pinnacle management take more serious measures only when MP Lily Neo steps on a golden puddle during her walkbouts like what happened to former Speaker Tan Soo Khoon in 1991?

Urine detectors can’t do anything to prevent one from DEFECATING in the lift, though. Yes, it happens, I shit you not.

UDDs will give residents a piss of mind

Catherine Lim bemoaning a collapse of trust in the Government

From ‘Consul-General rebuts HK report on open letter by Catherine Lim’, 14 June 2014, article by Joy Fang, Today

A South China Morning Post (SCMP) report on Monday about novelist Catherine Lim’s comments in an open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has drawn a sharp rebuttal from Mr Jacky Foo, Consul-General of Singapore in Hong Kong. SCMP’s report titled “Writer Catherine Lim’s open letter to Singaporean PM fuels social media debate” had quoted Dr Lim’s open letter to Mr Lee, in which she said Singaporeans “no longer trust their government”.

In a forum letter to the newspaper published yesterday, Mr Foo said Dr Lim had first asserted this claim in 1994, when the People’s Action Party (PAP) had won the 1991 General Election with 61 per cent of the vote. Since then, the ruling party has taken Singapore through a number of serious crises relatively unscathed and has won four further general elections by healthy margins, he pointed out. “But still, (Dr) Lim continues to regularly bemoan a collapse of trust and respect for the government,” he said.

…In a follow-up post on her blog published yesterday, Dr Lim clarified that Mr Ngerng’s defamation suit was not the direct cause of her writing the letter. She had been observing with increasing dismay at a series of happenings in the political scene, culminating with the defamation suit, she said.

Addressing criticism that she was being too much of an alarmist, Dr Lim stressed that “it is a crisis, or at least a crisis-in-the-making”.

It was 20 years ago when Catherine Lim coined the term ‘The Great Affective Divide’ to describe the estrangement of the PAP from the people, when she used ‘alarmist’ terms like ‘a serious bifurcation at the emotive level’ and ‘subterranean hostility is all the more insidious’. Her commentaries don’t make easy reading, where she uses words like ‘modus vivendi’, ‘loyality’ and ‘meretricious’, and I’m not sure if the Consul-General really understood what she was trying to convey in her open letter, not to mention ordinary Singaporeans. 1994 was a time before social media, of course. Today almost every minister and MP has a Facebook account and then there’s this thing called a National Conversation. And Catherine Lim still believes today that this distrust in our leaders has ‘widened the original disconnect between the PAP and the people into an almost UNBRIDGEABLE CHASM’. Phwroar!

PM Goh would have none of this ‘armchair critic’ eroding his authority back then. In response to charges in another 1994 article ‘One Government, Two Styles’ that he wasn’t his own man and deferred to the elder Lee , he challenged Catherine Lim to enter the political arena, accusing her of ‘going beyond the pale’. To which the author replied that she hadn’t the slight interest, and continues to disdain the offer till this day. Yesterday’s armchair critic is today’s keyboard warrior, and the Government has more than its hands full with this army of discontents, and if you issue such a playground challenge today, you MIGHT just get it. Luckily for Lim, Goh didn’t deploy the famed ‘instrument of control’ then, the defamation suit. It would have vindicated Lim’s opinion that the ‘open and consultative’ style was just a cover for the true LKY-era ‘top-down’ approach that’s been looming there all this while, a ghost beast waiting to unleashed when the PM decides to summon it. Like Satan’s Pokemon.

After the ‘Great Affective Divide’ fallout, Lim cut the Government some slack in 2000 by acknowledging that Singapore was ‘more open’ then compared to 1995. In a 2001 interview, she said that ‘it’s good that the Government is reaching out…in Singapore if you speak honestly and authentically and respectfully, they accept it’. It seemed like she had changed her mind about the Government’s attitude. That is until she penned a ‘open letter to the PM’ in 2007, another tedious read which spoke about PM Lee’s ‘strategy of fear’ and ‘paterfamilias’ (sounds like a Mexican curry puff to me) style of governance. The defamation suit is a recurring example used throughout her observations about ministerial style, and the Roy Ngerng debacle seems to be the same trigger sparking off this latest war of words.

So what is this ‘Edelman barometer’ that Jackie Foo speaks of, that tells us that a whopping 75% of people trust the PAP? Isn’t it really a subjective, selective survey with a fancy name that makes it sound like a validated scientific instrument? In 2012, the Barometer told us that 65% of the ‘informed public’ trust the media. According to an Edelman results slideshow. Singapore has been among the rank of ‘trustees’ since 2011, joining the likes of China and Indonesia, of all nations. Yes, the same China that bans Facebook and Google. There’s also a gap in overall trust between the ‘Informed Public’ and ‘General Population’ (73% vs 64%). So it really depends on who you’re asking then. What Jackie Foo didn’t mention was the level of Singaporean trust in fact DROPPED from 82% to 75% from 2013 to 2014, though still higher than the distrusting Americans and their paltry 37%. Still, it’s the usual ‘blast them with statistics’ method which may appeal to the head, but sadly not the hearts of average Singaporeans.

Trust in the limelight

I ‘trust’ that PM Lee won’t apply the same formula like his predecessor did 20 years back. That would mean that in spite of all their efforts to connect, to bridge that unbridgeable chasm, even if it means queuing up for chicken wings….nothing much has changed.

Parents doing grassroots work for Primary 1 priority

From ‘Stricter Primary 1 priority rules for grassroots workers’, 12 June 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

PARENTS who become grassroots volunteers in the hope of getting priority for their children in the Primary 1 registration exercise will have to serve twice as long as before. They will have to do at least two years of grassroots work, not one, to qualify for the benefit. They will also be restricted to schools in the constituency where they live. Up to now, grassroots leaders could get priority for their children in schools near their homes as well as in the constituencies where they volunteered.

…The scheme qualifies active grassroots volunteers for Phase 2B of the Primary 1 registration exercise, which also includes parents who are school volunteers or have church or clan associations. Earlier phases of the registration are for siblings of current pupils or children of past pupils. About 400 children enrol in primary schools under the active community leaders scheme each year, less than 1 per cent of the Primary 1 cohort, according to a parliamentary reply by the Education Ministry last year.

But long-time grassroots leaders say it is not uncommon to see a surge in the number of people who apply to be community leaders a year before their child is due to register for Primary 1. Lawyer Kenneth Au-Yong, a member of the Ulu Pandan citizens’ consultative committee who is in his 50s, said: “When you have a popular school within the constituency, volunteers will come to you. You don’t have to look for them.” The Ulu Pandan division under the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC has four popular primary schools: Henry Park Primary, Nanyang Primary, Methodist Girls’ School and Raffles Girls’ Primary School.

Mr Au-Yong said he has seen parents dropping out of activities and grassroots meetings once their children start school.

“We should not allow the system to be abused like this’.

When grassroots leader and RC chairman Lawrence Chong was caught fighting for free textbooks and shouting at teenage volunteers in 1995 like an Ugly Singaporean, he defended his right to freebies by saying that ‘grassroots leaders should be given priority’ to the books. In an interview, he said that his breed was ‘hard to come by’ and it would be a slight incentive to people willing to step up to do grassroots duty. He eventually resigned under pressure, but probably still lives in a 4 room flat plus private property till this day.

The benefits of RC affiliations extend down to kindergarten registration as well. Already in 1992, you’d stand a higher chance of scoring a place in your neighbourhood PCF if you’re a PAP grassroots leader living in the ward. Housing is another perk of the job. From 1990-1994, a total of 745 grassroots leaders were given priority allocation for HDB flats. And once you’ve earned the flat, you also get free parking between 7 am and 11pm at HDB carparks within your constituency. Not forgetting the occasional National Day Award. You also stand a higher chance of taking a selfie with PM Lee than the man on the street.

The nature of school and housing incentives for grassroots leaders tends to draw gut-level ire from ordinary folk because of the relative scarcity of these ‘privileges’. If grassroots leaders were given tax breaks, NTUC discounts or free daily entry into the Istana, few would complain. It’s the queue-jumping that gets people crying foul. Aren’t these people supposed to have a flaming ‘passion for servant leadership’? ‘Servants’ don’t go around asking for free kopi, or demand to be first in line for preschool registration, do they? Shouldn’t they be painting banners or holding car doors open for MPs or something? If parents quit their jobs to commit to volunteering full-time in schools for priority placing, we call them kiasu. If a grassroots leader does it, we feel cheated and accuse the PA of breeding a class of selfish bourgeois lackeys who’re in it only to get their kids into branded schools.

Most grassroots workers, PAP or otherwise, serve out of pure goodwill and generally like being around neighbours, have a fetish for organising events, or love meeting new people without personal ambitions of getting ahead in life like the typical kiasu Singaporean. They’re usually not PAP ‘runners’, bodyguards or elite cronies throwing their weight around. But extension of grassroots service alone isn’t going to filter out those with ulterior motives. What’s needed is a more robust screening process and a penalty for those seeking to abuse the system for personal gain, like the public shaming of freeloading black sheep like book-grabbing Lawrence Chong. After all, you may get thrown into jail for lying about where you live when applying for priority placing. Putting on an elaborate act for the sake of tangible benefits for a year or two is just prolonged, inconspicuous lying.

Perhaps the grass is greener as a RC volunteer, only because of all the shit that’s fed into it.

Workers’ Party needs to grow up

By ‘Time for the Workers’ Party to grow up’, 1 June 2014, article by Chua Mui Hoong, Sunday Times

…The Workers’ Party has seven elected MPs and two Non-Constituency MPs in Parliament. It’s the leading opposition party, since no other has even one elected MP. It has said it can’t form the government yet – but can be its “co-driver”. But its position on policy issues is sometimes hard to fathom. This explains the PAP’s increasing frustration as ministers and MPs try to corner WP leaders into declaring their stand on a host of issues, as a look at Hansard records of Parliamentary proceedings will reveal.

Hence the exchange over whether the WP did “flip-flop” on immigrant growth, calling for zero growth in foreign workforce one year, and lamenting tightening curbs on foreign labour in another. On ministerial pay, too, observers will recall that it has suggested at various times to peg ministers’ salaries to the bottom 20 per cent earners, and then to the pay grade of a senior civil servant.

Ducking tough questions on policies was a good political move in the past, when all you needed to get into Parliament was the ability to connect with voters and promise to speak up for the people. In today’s political climate, however, that is patently inadequate.

…The WP’s value proposition has to evolve from one of checking the PAP government, to one where it offers a credible alternative to the Government. Realistic Singaporeans will cut the WP some slack as it’s a small minority party in Parliament, with six of its seven elected MPs serving only their first terms. But as a political party, it has been around since 1957. Leader Low Thia Khiang has been in Parliament since 1991.

It’s time the WP grew up.

In short, ST Political editor Chua Mui Hoong thinks the WP has done nothing worthwhile since the last election in 2011. We’ll leave it to Low Thia Khiang and gang to challenge that assertion, but one thing for certain is the level of ‘hammering’ that the WP MPs have been receiving, not just in Parliament but in the mainstream media. PM Lee in his recent parliamentary debate with Low called them out for being ‘tigers and heroes’ just before the elections. Trust a political commentator from a notoriously pro-government paper, who incidentally also co-edited a book by Lee Kuan Yew, to join in the fun, spouting a raging one-sided polemic that would give our PAP MPs instant orgasms just reading it.

Here’s a rundown of how the WP have been the PAP’s (and ST’s) favourite whipping boys (and girls) over the years, and why they’ll always be at loggerheads more often than being ‘co-drivers’.

1) ‘Dangerous’ policy proposals.

When the WP proposed to scrap ethnic integration policies, the elected presidency and grassroots organisations in their manifesto in 2006, Ng Eng Hen derided their ‘alternative policies’ as a time bomb that would tear Singapore apart. Khaw Boon Wan used ‘poisons’, when our PM called these ‘dangerous’. A younger Sylvia Lim was ticked off by Goh Chok Tong for having the ‘crazy’ idea of abolishing the tripartite relationship between the Government, employers and workers.

I can’t recall a time when the PAP decided to take up some ‘radical’ proposals for genuine consideration instead of snubbing them right away, something like ‘Hey guys, it sounds crazy but MAYBE it just might work!’. When PAP man Janil Puthucheary suggested the totally bonkers FREE MRT RIDES last year, nobody called him a whack job and it was implemented with some success. It would have been a different story if the WP had raised it. Denise Phua recently proposed for the elected presidency to be junked, something which the WP has previously advocated. Not a squeak from anyone so far.

2)A substandard opposition.

Chua expressed in a commentary that Singaporeans ‘have lower standards for opposition candidates than for PAP ones’, though she praised Sylvia Lim as ‘sharp and witty’ and ‘eminently electable’ as an Opposition MP. DPM Teo would question in 2012 if Png Eng Huat in Hougang was the WP’s best man since he wasn’t selected for the NCMP post. PM Lee said WP’s ‘flip-flopping’ and admitting their mistakes was the mark of a ‘substandard’ opposition, though the PAP themselves are guilty of ‘policy shifts’ too.

3) Wayang party.

Ng Eng Hen termed the WP a party of ‘criticisms’, offering no solutions, hence the tag ‘Wayang party’. In 1985, veterans like Chiam See Tong and JBJ were known as ‘one-legged heroes‘ for their ‘posturing and preening’. Well, both sides are guilty of this of course, the PAP’s ‘wayanging’ more of the ‘empty promises’ sort. They are in fact the architect of the greatest wayang show on earth: The National Conversation.

4) A distraction to the PAP that needs ‘fixing’.

PM Lee said the Opposition party would be a distraction to the PAP and make it harder to implement policies, prompting the infamous ‘fix the Opposition’ quip. Well he’s not going to achieve that by calling them names like ‘tigers and heroes’. If it ain’t fixed, break it.

5) A bunch of bicycle thieves and liars

In 1982, S Rajaratnam brought up the criminal records of 2 WP candidates, including one bicycle thief. James Gomez was called a liar by LKY and was challenged to ‘sue him’. DPM Teo wondered if Png Eng Huat was being ‘honest’ during his Hougang campaigning. Chen Show Mao and Pritam Singh were both hit with charges of plagiarism. All this banditry and deceit going on and all PAP had to answer for was a philandering Speaker of Parliament, and oh, some terrorist running out of prison.

6) A silent party

When Low Thia Khiang refrained from commenting on whether Wong Kan Seng ought to be given the chop after Mas Selamat escaped, it was seen by some commentators as a sign of weakness. Hri Kumar thinks they run away from difficult issues and like to sit on the fence like Humpty Dumpty, a similar analogy used by Indranee Rajah when they didn’t say much about the hijab saga.

So yes maybe the WP is still on a ‘learning curve’ despite being around for almost half a century, but the same immaturity label should be slapped on some instances of PAP behaviour as well, who have been traditionally hostile to Opposition suggestions, to the extent of name-calling, launching personal attacks, frantic denials, dirt-digging, all this amidst calls for ‘constructive politics’. If nothing is done to improve relations, the WP will be forever seen as opposing for the sake of opposing, the PAP forever defensive, and the rest of us who pay their salaries suffer because our MPs spend more time pouncing on each other’s flaws than working together for the higher cause. You know what, all of you deserve to be slapped and woken up before someone ‘drives’ this country into a grotty ditch.

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the Workers’ Party has seven elected MPs and two Non-Constituency MPs in Parliament. It’s the leading opposition party, since no other has even one elected MP. It has said it can’t form the government yet – but can be its “co-driver”.

But its position on policy issues is sometimes hard to fathom. This explains the PAP’s increasing frustration as ministers and MPs try to corner WP leaders into declaring their stand on a host of issues, as a look at Hansard records of Parliamentary proceedings will reveal.

Hence the exchange over whether the WP did “flip-flop” on immigrant growth, calling for zero growth in foreign workforce one year, and lamenting tightening curbs on foreign labour in another.

On ministerial pay, too, observers will recall that it has suggested at various times to peg ministers’ salaries to the bottom 20 per cent earners, and then to the pay grade of a senior civil servant.

Ducking tough questions on policies was a good political move in the past, when all you needed to get into Parliament was the ability to connect with voters and promise to speak up for the people.

In today’s political climate, however, that is patently inadequate.

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/think/story/time-the-workers-party-grow-20140601#sthash.uPEF5DUL.dpuf

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