MPs paying $1 a day for HDB parking

From ‘Govt should walk the walk on clean wage policy’, 30 June 2018, ST Forum

(Sean Lim Wei Xin): The revelation of MPs enjoying underpriced parking fees has raised eyebrows as, ironically, it goes against the clean-wage policy preached by the Government itself (Elected MPs pay $365 a year for HDB parking; June 26).

The rationale that MPs “do not park overnight or full day at their constituencies” and at Parliament House does not justify the subsidised parking fees. Teachers also do not park overnight in schools, but they will be paying market rate parking fees soon (Parking fees for teachers to kick in from August; March 27).

Singaporeans usually pay $1.20 per hour at public carparks but MPs pay $365 for an annual permit. This boils down to about $1 for a day’s worth of parking at their constituencies or Parliament House.

Based on simple calculations, it appears that this fee is underpriced as $1 a day amounts to only 50 minutes of parking at a public carpark.

[…]The problem is not about whether free or subsidised parking is justified for anyone.

The issue of the “hidden perks” that teachers and soldiers gained through free parking should not have even been brought up in the first place as it is not significantly detrimental to Singapore’s economy.

But as it was raised and a can of worms has been opened, all eyes will be on the Government to reconcile the issue.

In 1985, Senior Perm Sec Lee Yiok Seng came ‘clean’ with the perks that MPs received: Free HDB parking, free telephone service and civil servants’ medical benefits. He also proudly declared that Singapore then had the ‘poorest MPs’ in the world in terms of perks.  Fast forward 30 years later and they’re among the highest paid, but somehow paying less for parking than nearly everyone else.

Perks used to an ugly reality that we’ve come to accept. Kings don’t pay taxes. Celebrities skip queues at clubs. Teachers used to park for free. Grassroots leaders get priority queues for Primary 1 registration. Your neighbour’s mother-in-law gets discounted fish from the wet market.

And what do we make out of all these special individuals getting VIP treatment? That life is unfair. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. We deal with it. After all, we have laws to draw the line between privilege and corruption. Human relations without entitlements, favours or reciprocation, material or intangible, is a communist haven where all your contributions and takings are tracked in real time and unearned extras are returned to the state for nation building.

Enter Ong Ye Kung and his call for everyone to ‘uphold the value of self-discipline’ when it comes to keeping your wage clean and void of any fiscal activity that would get the AGO’s panties in a knot. Yes, that includes you MPs. If a resident offers you bakchang during a Meet the People’s session, it is your moral duty to maintain your self-discipline and reject it outright, saying that you’re already getting parking at a ridiculous bargain and under no circumstances should you receive gifts or favours that would undermine the Govt’s internal system of checks and balances. In fact, if you really want to walk the talk, you should give up your car altogether and move with us towards a car-lite nation.

If the Govt has decided to play the petty penny-pincher, then they must be prepared for us, the electorate, to respond in kind. As a wise man once said: If you want nice chicken wings, you must be prepared to queue.

10363768_10152255855639403_197201856475206137_n_zps80697673

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Sylvia Lim’s dishonest ‘test balloon’ remark on GST hike

From ‘Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat asks is Sylvia Lim will withdraw ‘test balloon’ allegation on GST hike timing’, 2 March 2018, article in CNA

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat issued a statement on Friday (Mar 2), asking if Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim was ready to apologise to the House and withdraw her allegation that the Government had floated “test balloons” about raising the goods and services tax (GST).

In Parliament on Thursday, Ms Lim said that the Government had floated “test balloons” before the Budget announcement, then possibly “backed down” on an immediate GST hike due to the negative public reaction.

She said: “We do note that in the run-up to the Budget discussion there were some test balloons being floated out about the fact that the Government needs to raise revenue. And immediately the public seized on the fact that DPM Tharman and perhaps other leaders had earlier said that the Government has enough money for the decade. So the public pointed out that ‘hey, you know, is this a contradiction?’

“And I rather suspect myself that the Government is stuck with that announcement, otherwise, you know, if their announcement had not been made, perhaps we would be debating a GST hike today.”

This sparked a testy exchange in Parliament with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, who called Ms Lim’s comments “baseless suggestions” that were “hypocritical and dishonest”.

 

According to the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act,

There shall be freedom of speech and debate and proceedings in Parliament, and such freedom of speech and debate and proceedings shall not be liable to be impeached or questioned in any court, commission of inquiry, committee of inquiry, tribunal or any other place whatsoever out of Parliament.

Yes, even in a setting where freedom of speech is codified in law, you can’t bring out ‘suspicions’, ‘honest beliefs’ or even a ‘personal opinion’ without raising the red flag of FAKE NEWS. Poor Sylvia can choose to take back her words like fellow WP colleague Leon Perera, or take the long road like JBJ back in 1982 when he was threatened with possible breach of ‘Parliamentary Privilege‘. Likewise one has no qualms about accusing an Opposition member for being a liar or hypocrite because Parliamentary Privilege that’s why.

These leaders in the House serve as a sad role model for senior management in public service when it comes to dealing with feedback. Don’t complain unless you have substance to back you up. If not, you’re fucking Fake News. It reflects MP Louis Ng’s comment about public officers refraining from speaking up out of fear of retaliation. Turns out that Louis himself floated a test balloon that was promptly burst by Ong Ye Kung’s rebuke that this ‘does not do justice’ to the public service.

Why not let Sylvia’s supposedly off-the-cuff comment serve as a learning point and chance for clarification for the PAP, instead of an opportunity to flex some time-wasting verbal muscle and vindicate everyone’s opinion of the PAP as an uptight, arrogant party who won’t stand for a little intellectual tickle from their political opponents, only to be soothed by the orgasm of hearing someone like Sylvia saying ‘I’m sorry my lord’, like a bawling baby calmed by cooing and sweet nothings.

I say let’s just get on with it, people.

 

 

 

The Middle Ground can’t go on anymore

From ‘The Middle Ground to wind down, publisher says ‘can’t go on anymore’, 28 Oct 2017, article in CNA.

Local sociopolitical website The Middle Ground announced on Saturday (Oct 28) that it was winding down in a note by its publisher, Daniel Yap.

“I want to let you know today that we’ve decided to start the process of winding down our publication,” said Mr Yap. “It’s a decision that the TMG team has been dreading for some time, and we wanted to let you know as soon as possible.

…The Middle Ground was launched in June 2015 with Mr Yap and editor Bertha Henson at the helm.

On its Facebook page, The Middle Ground describes itself as a “space for everyone in the middle, somewhere in between the madness at both extremes”.

It added: “It is a place where two sides can meet and be informed about opposing schools of thought. It is a place for moderate speech and agreeable disagreement.”

Video killed the Radio Star, MDA’s registration requirements killed TMG’s previous incarnation, the Breakfast Network (founded by TMG editor Bertha Henson), and what we refer to as news and op-eds these days (on Facebook feed, mainly) is killing blogs and ‘socio-political’ websites.

Regulatory burden and fear of censorship (or self-censorship) are not all to blame. Online journalism, especially of the serious political commentary kind, is no longer a sustainable business model. In the age of memes and personally curated newsfeeds, readers’ attention spans have reduced to that of a gnat’s. We choose to read only what aligns with our worldview, be it pro-PAP or anti-establishment. The number of fence-sitters out there who want to ‘discuss issues and agree to disagree’ are probably less than those willing to pay money to see Steven Lim fight in a ring.

If you’re an intelligent person with an opinion to make, you no longer submit your work as a contribution to credible online media. You simply publish your essay on Facebook. It’s faster, it’s free, and you can go viral before you can make sense of whatever form the MDA wants you to fill to register your site. You just have to be careful not to do a Li Shengwu and get your arse beat by the AGC. Whether people bother to plough through more than 2 paragraphs of your post is another matter.

Meanwhile, registered sites like The Independent resort to sensationalism and shit-stirring reporting to stay afloat. Mothership becomes more ‘Buzzfeedy’ with its foray in the memeverse and quizzes like ‘Which kind of Singaporean Social Media User Are You’. The Online Citizen has a category called ‘Animals’ and has a paid banner for ‘Gold-D’ Cat food. Then we have the offspring of the Father of Fake News that is The Real Singapore, the StatesTimes Review, stuff that people share on their feeds whenever they were late for a job interview because the fucking train broke down. The socio-political site that we used to know is dead. It gets flickers of traffic every 4 years during the elections, but for most of its existence it feeds off people who don’t know shit about society, or politics for that matter.

If you’re looking for a serious read without the flashy ads and millennial-pandering listicles about who serves the best bubble tea in Singapore, then you’d have to head to the library to borrow an actual book.

And who in their right mind would do that?

 

 

 

Lee family Oxley saga a ‘petty dispute’

From ‘Singapore will not be dragged down by Lee family’s ‘petty disputes’, says Goh Chok Tong’, 17 June 2017, Today

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Friday (June 16) weighed in on the Lee family spat over 38 Oxley Road, by urging Singaporeans to “not be dragged down by a family’s petty disputes”.

Writing on Facebook, Mr Goh noted that Singapore has “prevailed through crises and adversity”. “We are a hardy people, built our family and nation from humble beginnings,” he wrote.

Mr Goh succeeded founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1990 and handed over the baton to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2004. He added: “What is happening in public between Lee Kuan Yew’s children is not us and should not be allowed to define who we are. We are bigger than our troubles, stronger than our differences. Whatever damage Singapore may suffer, willfully inflicted or otherwise, I know Singaporeans will not lay meek… We will always look forward, to fight real battles and create a better future for ourselves and our children.”

Yes, most Singaporeans we know have humble beginnings – relative to the Lees, that is. We don’t have an army of lawyers to draft our public statements. We can’t afford to have a sister-in-law or cousin to draft a high-profile will for a dying strongman father. Our kids can grow up to do their own thing without getting dragged through the mud by our aunties and uncles with claims that Dad has political ambitions for them. The only holiday we know is the one where you can chill in peace without someone Facebook posting viral shit about you at 3 am in the morning.

To most of us, a petty family dispute is when second brother forgets to message that he’s eating dinner, Mom overcooks and Dad complains why the fish was steamed instead of being deep fried, while youngest sister threatens to walk out of the house because second brother gets to iPad while she doesn’t. To our overlords, it involves National Heritage, personal integrity on a much grander scale, sung to the tune to $24 million dollars. And in the case of a a certain Lee couple, being forced to leave the country in fear of ‘state organs’. It also gives Chinese microbloggers a chance to laugh at us.

Yes, it’s an ugly state of affairs which may or may not have an impact on our everyday lives. Government will remain Government, as darkly Orwellian as the PM’s estranged brother believes it to be. Lee Wei Ling will continue to bitch about her brother being a ‘dishonourable’ son. Eventually, whether or not a certain Demolition clause is enacted, the Oxley house and all the lawyers behind it will go to dust, just as the Lees along with all of us, this land, this country, would fade into nothing, leaving a mere insignificant blip in this vast cosmic eternity that is bigger than any of us, including LKY, could ever imagine.

 

 

 

Millennials spending money on avocado toast

From ‘Reality check for the avocado generation’, 28 May 2017, article by Olivia Ho, ST

Are millennials the avocado generation – expensive, high-maintenance and incapable of surviving in the long term?

Australian millionaire Tim Gurner made the assumption earlier this month, when he slammed millennial spending habits during a news programme and drew outrage from Generation Y worldwide.

“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each,” the real estate mogul, 35, told Australian current affairs programme 60 Minutes.

…The price of avocado toast in Singapore can range from $9.50 for the basics at Monument Lifestyle cafe in Duxton Road to $20 with a scoop of ricotta at The LoKal in Neil Road.

Avocado is the Greek Yogurt of fruits. On its own it’s bland as fuck, but mash it with some seasoning and spread it on bread and it becomes a symbol of millennial decadence. Just like how eating sashimi in the 80’s made you stand out as the class epicurean, eating (and snapping) ‘handcrafted’ avocado toast these days is one of the prerequisites for becoming a micro-influencer or trendy food blogger. Alas, there’s nothing groundbreaking about ‘smashed’ avocado. The Aztecs invented a similar dish in the days of conquistadors and smallpox. It’s called guacamole.

Some curious footnotes about this Superfood:

  • Avocado was first cultivated in this region sometime in the late 1920’s, when it was referred to as the ‘avocado pear’. Presumably because it looks like a pear (though that doesn’t explain ‘pineapple’)
  • In 1937, an Avocado Salad recipe called for cantaloupe, vinegar, chopped cucumber and paprika. Yes, that hipster cafe version is at least 70 years old.
  • Thought stuffing seafood in an avocado pit is the hottest culinary trend? Nope. It was done with crab meat. In 1958.

So why don’t cafe owners call a spade a spade and call guacamole guacamole? Simply because when you see guacamole on a menu, nachos come to mind. And nachos aren’t hip or cool. Unless you rename them ‘hand-cut baked corn crisps’ or something.

Random browsing through the #avocadotoast hashtag on Instagram led me to this. The green mother of all avocado toasts. It’s Ciabatta Hulk, with a rooftop garden.

Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 10.08.27 AM

As unnecessarily ‘atas’ as the avocado toast phenomenon is, it’s probably unfair to lay the blame on this dish as the reason why millennials are being foolish with their money. The reason: nobody eats it EVERY DAY. If there’s one food that exploits the millennial economy, a food that is daylight robbery personified, it’s the morning and tea-break Venti-sized coffee from your friendly neighbourhood Starbucks.

There’s one way, though, to kill this fad and make the Millennials run back to their beloved artisan lattes – When McDonalds’ comes up with its own Avocado Burger (which is really just putting guacamole sauce in a Cheeseburger) and charge you $7.50 for it with fries and avocado mayo sauce. Oh wait. It’s already been done before.

In the meantime, I’ll skip the $20 avocado toast and get my avocado fix from Alexandra Fruit Stall ($2.50 avocado shake), thank you very much.

Milk is milk, except for breast milk which is best

From ‘Milk is milk, however fancy the marketing’, 13 May 17, article in CNA

Authorities announced earlier this week that formula milk manufacturers will not be able to use nutrition and health claims, as well as images that make drinking formula milk look attractive, once changes to Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) regulations take effect. AVA will also also streamline its import regulations in order to facilitate the entry of more suppliers and brands of formula milk, and the changes are expected to be finalised by end-2017.

Mrs Teo who heads the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in the PMO, shared her personal experience with her children on Facebook, saying she concluded that “milk is milk, however fancy the marketing”.

“Actually, breast milk is best and both the Health Promotion Board and World Health Organisation encourage mothers to breastfeed for at least 12 months,” she said. “However, for parents who need to supplement with formula, all brands sold in Singapore, regardless of price, provide enough nutrition for babies to grow healthily.

…She added: “As long as AVA approves its import, the milk is good enough. I had no reason to pay more and would buy whatever was cheapest or on sale. The kids didn’t always like adjusting but did so anyway. That’s what I found great about kids – they adjust given time and encouragement.”

Milk is Milk. Diapers are diapers. A pram is a pram. Childcare is childcare. Education is education. If the Ministry of Making Babies is serious about encouraging us to have more babies, then they should put a stop to runaway advertising across the board for all baby-related products and services. Yet parents being parents continue to splurge on their little ones, from giving premium quality milk powder to Porsche-grade prams all the way to putting them in an elite school or tuition centre if they could afford it.

A quality infant formula, as the ads go, would be your child’s ‘best start’ in life. In the 70’s, milk powder was enriched with nothing more than vitamins A and D and given unappetising names like ‘Cowhead’.  Today you have an whole armamentarium of fortified goodness targeting baby organs such as the brain, eyes and intestines, with fancy brand names such as Gain IQ (the IQ stands for Intestinal Quality), Dugro (formerly Dumex) and MaMil Gold (as in Ma’s Milk?). In TV ads, kids fed on premium formulae are dressed as little Sherlock Holmes solving practical problems to save the day. It remains to be seen if these enhanced abilities extend to solving Maths problems for PSLE.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 2.40.27 PM

It’s not surprising that Josephine Teo would have no qualms about going for the cheapest milk powder on the market. After all, it’s this ‘bare-minimum’ attitude that led her to conclude that couples only need a small space to have sex. And hence small pockets to buy formula milk too.

But maybe there is a deeper social problem that explains our dependency on milk formula and why companies are capitalising on it – the stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public. If mothers didn’t feel a need to hide their suckling infants from prying camera phones like a recent case on the MRT, then perhaps companies wouldn’t be making shitloads of money selling milk powder, and we needn’t be hearing platitudes such as ‘milk is milk’ from MPs.

Singapore must steal other people’s lunches

From ‘Singapore must steal other people’s lunches to stay ahead of competition’, 30 Apr 2017, article by Toh Ee Ming, Today

Amid growing competition, and workers hungry to learn in places like Chengdu and even further away such as Russia, Singapore must not only protect its lunch but steal other people’s lunches, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged.

…Ms Zuhaina Ahmad, a career guide at the NTUC Youth Career Network, said she has spoken to a few young Singaporeans “who feel that they’re in an era where they’re entitled or privileged to what the Government is giving”.

“If you study up to a degree level, this is what you’re entitled to. Not all of them are like that, but I think we need to manage their expectations as well,” she said.

Mr Lee said in reply: “It’s something that we have to work on, always. You must always want to do better, but you cannot always want to hope for the sky, and that’s the challenge. Because if you’re not hungry, you wouldn’t try, but if you’re unrealistic, you’d be disappointed.”

Of course our PM meant ‘stealing other people’s lunches’ as a figure of speech, just a darker version of ‘punching above our own weight’. The language of success is often filled with bloodthirsty metaphors:  We’re told to ‘seize’ the day and ‘conquer’ our doubts, words usually used in military parlance to mean plunder and destroy. We ‘grab’ the bull by the horns and ‘eliminate’ the competition in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. The harsh truth is just that – success usually means having to tread on some heads along the way, and there are people who excel in their careers at the merciless expense of others’ ‘lunches’. These days, others’ trust seems to be an even bigger bounty than actual money. Just ask Kong Hee and gang.

Even Teamy the Bee, our forgotten productivity mascot, makes a living by ‘stealing’ nectar from flowers. Corporate banditry happens all the time; a small start-up gets chewed to bits when a bigger company copies i.e ‘steals’ its ideas. Aspiring inventors fall prey to patent disputes with entities armed to the teeth with lawyers. The use of the phrase in the context of ailing productivity, though, seems to suggest that it’s time for workers to switch to survivalist fight-or-flight mode, that in the event that we may not be able to punch above our weight, sometimes we just have to hit below the belt for our lunch money. But still, the only thing stealing our lunches eventually will not be other people, but robots, which makes our PM’s statement, in the grand scheme of things, ultimately redundant, like what most blue-collar workers will be in the silicon age. Needless to say a politician’s job is robot-proof and he doesn’t need to worry about lunch for the rest of his life.

‘Lunch’ is always a sensitive topic for food-loving Singaporeans. You could tell by how aggressively we reserve tables at hawker centres. When an ex Transport Minister told Singaporeans that ‘there is no free lunch‘ during a public transport hike, we went ballistic as the Toa Payoh couple refusing to share their table with an old man would.

Yes, there’s a time to be hungry and rise up to the challenge when it comes to our precious lunches, but we are also in desperate need for compassion. Beg, cheat and steal like Robin Hood if you have to, but share your ‘lunches’ with less fortunate human beings, especially those who can only afford 3 meals a day at a hawker centre instead of restaurants.

So let’s take PM Lee’s metaphor with a pinch of salt, and sprinkle it on our lunch of the day before someone sneaks up from behind to steal it.