NAC Bin Centre costing $470K, mostly on consultation

From ‘Inadequate financial controls, weak governance uncovered in AGO report’, 26 July 2016, article in CNA

…For instance, in the audit of the National Arts Council (NAC), the Auditor-General found from its checks of contracts for the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall Redevelopment project that 47 out of 164 variation works were carried out before approvals were given. The delays in obtaining approval were up to 3.5 years, it added.

“The large number of instances indicated a breakdown in the controls put in place to ensure that variations were properly justified and approved before works commenced,” it added.

AGO also found that NAC had paid a consultancy fee of S$410,000 for the construction of a bin centre costing S$470,000. “There was inadequate assessment on the reasonableness of the exceptionally high consultancy fee, at 87.2 per cent of the cost of construction,” it said.

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) had told AGO that the construction of the bin centre was more complex and required significantly more design expertise, technical consultancy services and effort to coordinate with multiple parties and these were the reasons for the fee to be above the norm.

The NAC Bin Centre is the EC of all bin centres. To foreign workers who’ve been found living in HDB bin centres, or more commonly known as ‘rubbish dumps’, the NACBC is the pinnacle of refuse repository luxury. For near half a million, you get a classical design, odour control, maybe even air-conditioning and wi-fi. Right in the heart of the Civic District too.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 9.58.17 PM

Imagine how much $40K could do for the arts scene, or local graphic novels like The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. Instead of channeling resources into promoting a vibrant local culture, the NAC decided to focus their energies into making a rubbish collection centre ‘blend in’ with the help of some overpaid consultants, and in doing so have unwittingly made the NAC Bin centre a star attraction, as Instagrammable as the departed Punggol lone tree. Soon it’ll make it into the TripAdvisor Top Things to See List, favorited by those with a morbid fascination with the logistics of rubbish. Step aside, Supreme Court Jail Cell, this is next big thing to hit the Civic District since thousands queued for hours to see a dead politician’s body.

We’ll never look at bin centres the same way again. NAC has taken the humble bin centre from its smelly eyesore roots, pumped in an extreme makeover and created an icon for architecture junkies everywhere. Some foresight may have gone into this; you never know when one can repurpose a lowly bin centre into a hipster cafe, or even a RC meeting room. Yes, versatility is built into its price tag. One day it’s piling trash, the next it’s selling profiteroles or artisan hot dogs. For those who see utility out of having a deserted train station, a 1 billion dollar artificial Gardens, a giant spinning wheel or high-end sandy turf inside the Sports Hub, this $40K is worth every peanut – I mean penny.

Library fine creating phobia of borrowing books

From ‘Library fines cost more than book’, 23 July 2016, ST Forum

(Sheeba John):My daughter borrowed two books from Toa Payoh Public Library in December last year. She forgot to return the books and we received a reminder from the library this month.

I immediately returned the books and wrote to the library requesting that the penalty of $31.42 be waived, as the late return was not intentional and this was the first time it had happened.

But a library officer called and said I am still required to pay $25. The cost price of the books are around $16. Now, my children and I have a phobia of borrowing books from public libraries.

I hope the authorities will look into this matter and develop a proper system for helping library users.

The complainant should count herself lucky. In 2005, a man in the US had to pay a $3571 fine for hogging a book for more than 20 years. If anything that needs to be improved about the system, it’s that the NLB needs to throw the book even harder at people who complain despite having their fine reduced out of goodwill. Mrs Sheeba John, the library doesn’t need members like you. If I were NLB not only would I raise the $25 back to $31.42, but I would suspend you from all library services indefinitely.

As a book borrower myself, I see nothing wrong with NLB’s email reminder service, which serves solely to irritate you into returning your books on time. Instead of reflecting on one’s own actions and learning from the mistake, the writer resorts to fingerpointing without specifying exactly how NLB should help forgetful morons. It’s like me exceeding the speed limit and then saying LTA should look into roads which are too smooth.

Maybe all books should be tagged with a buzzer like those they give out at food courts. Not only does this help you remember you need to return the book, but forces you to actually look for it too. Maybe she’s looking at some form of premium concierge service, where someone can come right to her doorstep to pick up forgotten books, and at the same time give a head massage to relieve her book-borrowing phobia.

The NLB has done a pretty fine job with its online platform and we’ve come so far from the days of queueing at the counter to get your book chopped. Still all the convenience in the world would not stop the penny-pinchers and blame-shifters from having something to whine about. I suppose books may improve your writing or your general knowledge about the world, but probably do nothing about a sense of moral responsibility or even common sense.


Unarmed man robbing Holland Village Stan Chart bank

From ‘Manhunt for Standard Chartered bank robber at Holland Village’, 7 July 2016, article by Lianne Chia and Diane Leow, CNA

A manhunt is underway at Holland Village, as police investigate a robbery that took place at Standard Chartered Bank on Thursday (Jul 7) morning.

Channel NewsAsia understands that the suspect made off with S$30,000 from the Standard Chartered branch, and was not armed at the time.

The branch was closed after the incident. The bank said it filed a police report immediately, and is working with the police on investigations. “We would like to highlight that the safety of our customers and staff is top priority and our branch staff are all well-trained to react to such situations,” StanChart said in a statement.

Police earlier confirmed that they are investigating a robbery at the bank which took place at 11.25am.

…Bank robberies are rare in Singapore. In November 2008, a man dressed as a woman attempted to rob a United Overseas Bank branch at City Plaza on Geylang Road.

It’s been close to 2 days since the robbery at time of writing and the robber is still on the run. By this time, if you had spray painted a HDB block with anti-PAP slogans you and your friends would have been hauled into a police van. Yes, in Singapore, you can’t escape if you vandalise public property, but rob a bank and you may elude the police for more than 10 years if you’re lucky, like the sole mastermind behind the 2004 West Coast POSB bank robbery, who successfully made off with $37,000 with the help of a fruit knife and a WOODEN PLANK. The Stan Chart robber had nothing more than a very convincing note to the teller.

The first telltale sign of a potential bank robber is what he puts on his head or over his face. A hoodie is a dead giveaway. A motorcycle helmet. A surgical mask – possibly. But if you walk into a bank planning to steal money with a STRAW HAT like you just came out of your Hokkien Mee stall, then your plan is DOOMED from the start. DOOMED.

With neither witnesses or the police giving details of what exactly happened in the bank, one can only speculate about how a single person can bypass security and coolly steal wads of cash without the usual drama most of us associate with bank robberies: Toy guns, taking hostages, bombs, getaway cars, wearing stocking over your head. If a previous successful robber could figure out the exact dimensions of a wooden plank to jam a door, I suppose the Stan Chart perpetrator could accomplish the same deed through sheer methodical research. Or by watching repeats of Ocean’s Eleven.

There doesn’t seem to be an elaborate scheme here, unlike the 1970 case of a man conspiring with 5 others to pull off a bogus heist of his own bank. It took 3 weeks for the crime to be solved and the stolen quarter of a million dollars recovered. This remains the biggest bank robbery in Singapore’s history, one that is faithful to the typical bank robber scenario where a gun is waved and the actual words ‘THIS IS A HOLD UP’ were uttered. Today, if you want to steal from your own company, you don’t need to plan a full scale robbery. Some do it through pineapple tarts.

Unlike other petty criminals or upskirt voyeurs, bank robbers have the mystique of romantic banditry about them. Internet commentators have given the guy a thumbs up for breaking the establishment. Jokes have been made at Stan Chart’s expense. Sales of hoodies and mustard pants may skyrocket. Still, I doubt the reception towards a serious offense potentially punishable by death if you carried real guns would be this laissez-faire had the robber not been a Caucasian, but a PRC instead. If it had been any foreigner other than a white guy, the Internet would probably hunt him down while the cops continue checking dustbins for non-existent weapons all over Chip Bee Gardens.

UPDATE: The robber was caught 3 days after the incident in Bangkok. Go Home Team!

Fake groomsman for hire at $800 per 12 hours

From ‘Friends for hire: They can be your groomsmen or party buddies for a fee’, article by Benson Ang, 19 June 2016, Sunday Times.

For his wedding two months ago, bank executive Kenneth L., 31, found himself short of a groomsman.

Instead of enlisting one of his not-so-close friends as a “brother”, he decided to pay $800 and hire a fake groomsman for 12 hours.

At the gatecrash, the fake friend performed all the challenges enthusiastically. During the dinner, he led the “yam sengs”. In fact, the guy was so convincing that no one except Kenneth’s wife and himself knew he was a hired gun.

In April, financial analyst D. Tan paid $100 for a two-hour dinner date. The 32-year-old, who also paid for the meal, says: “I just came out of a long-term relationship and was hoping for some company. There are some private topics I won’t want to share – even to my friends – but I felt comfortable talking about them with her.”

Who says talk is cheap. At PallyAsia, it costs $40 to talk to someone on the phone for 1 hour. In the 90’s we had 1900-chatlines, which were really sex chats in disguise. The ‘chat club’ lives on in the form of ‘Fast Talk‘, which charges you 50 cents per minute, or $30 an hour. It’s cheaper, and you don’t have to pretend that you’re talking to someone like you’ve known him/her for ages.

Other services include ‘Get a Crowd’, which can earn you a whopping $100 per pax for 2 hours by just standing around pretending to be interested at someone’s party. If the PAP runs out of  PA rah-rah gangs, I’m sure they could afford getting some ‘pallies’ to bring da noize. An hour with the parents is worth $250, which essentially requires your pally to be an out-of-work aspiring actor. Maybe that’s where Pally Asia gets their talent pool from, has-been actors or extras who never made it into the big screen. You’d probably earn more being a fake brother at a wedding than an extra in a long-running drama series.

An interesting service offered is the ‘Customise your experience‘ option, which is bound to draw exotic to downright depraved requests. I could pay $50 to have someone to engage in a discussion about artificial insemination in otters, or I could be a fully grown adult and ask a pally to come ‘babysit’ me as I crawl around in diapers begging for milk.

Hiring people to make social situations less awkward is apparently a thriving industry in countries with a ‘fear of losing face’ culture like Japan or Korea, where young adults face immense pressure from their parents or peers to get dates.But it’s an idea that has filled many a romance fairy-tale plot for at least over a decade. Take the rom-com the Wedding Date for example, where a dashing male escort is hired to pose as a single woman’s boyfriend at her sister’s wedding. Except that if he’s Dermot Mulroney he’s an ‘escort’. Anyone else is a ‘pally’.

In Singapore, getting pallies during CNY may be as, if not more, important for visiting relatives as remembering to bring oranges. For singles, a method-actor pally may be a life-saver. If only they have rent-a-baby services for couples without kids. I wonder if they have ‘queue’ pallies too, people who would line up overnight for your new iPhone, preschool registration or bak kwa. The good thing is you don’t need to even see their face or strike up small talk.

The only difference between a pally and a dating service is you probably can’t choose your temporary partner based on their background or how they look, especially if you’re just looking for a ‘local guide’, a ‘party buddy’ or ‘dinner date’. Because that would make them a pseudo ‘Lunch Actually’. Nonetheless, the pally system seems to ignore the problem of chemistry. What would two strangers with nothing in common talk about? How is paying money at risk of awkward silences even worth it? Have we become so deprived of company that we need to hire someone to walk the dog with us because having a handphone to fiddle with is not enough stimulation?  What about your neighbours, or gasp, your FAMILY MEMBERS? Can’t we just deal with, well, eating ALONE for a change?

If you’re on a tight budget and you’re dying for company and Craigs List is too unsavoury for you, there are free Meet-Up groups which may cater to your personal tastes no matter how weird they are. Or you could embrace the me-time and do what you want without giving a shit about people and their fake pallies staring at you. If you’re a rich tai-tai with time and money to spare, why bother with a fake-friend for hire site when you could go all the way with a professional male escort.

The only instance where I would even consider paying someone to hang out with me is if I needed a see-saw ride so badly that my life depended on it. Or if I can’t afford a bodyguard and need someone buff and menacing to act like one when I’m in JB.

Singapore Pools offering online betting

From ‘Greater responsible gambling efforts needed if online betting is allowed’, 12 June 2016, ST Forum

(Woon Wee Min): In the light of laws passed to curb remote gambling, it is difficult to understand why the authorities are even considering granting Singapore Pools permission to offer online betting (“Singapore Pools still waiting for nod on online betting“; May 31).

If online betting is indeed going to be offered, more care must be taken to promote responsible gambling.

Systems and processes must be put in place to allow self-exclusion by vulnerable customers and impose auto-exclusion of minors.

…It behoves Singapore Pools and the authorities to do more to ensure that the availability of online betting, should it become reality, does not exacerbate the issue of problem gambling in Singapore.

The idea of remote Singapore Pools gaming has been mooted for more than 10 years, with some punters suggesting that AXN machines allow betting, in addition to electronic scratch ticket machines which were launched in the heartlands in 2010. Queues at the Pools have become somewhat of a heartland icon, and while operators have argued that going online is part of cost-cutting and shortage of manpower, the sheer timing of this news, in the throes of Euro 2016 fever and the reported dismissal of RWS staff, suggests that this is more than just an act of convenience, but a shot in the arm of Singapore’s ailing gaming industry.

The only difference is that instead of siphoning off VIP high rollers from China, we’re attempting to recoup our losses from a struggling casino (oops, I mean INTEGRATED RESORT) by sucking money from our local gamblers instead. I have always questioned the rationale of having two casinos since the IRs were established 8 years ago. Now not only do we have to worry about the social cost of gambling addiction and family wreckage, but the additional cost of unemployment in the face of RWS axing staff. MBS may be better off, being regarded as more a tourist destination than a casino per se. Until of course, aliens decide to blow it to smithereens.

If Singapore Pools goes online, it  may well spell the end of queues, but without the proper safeguards while hiding behind this guise of ‘legal gaming’, it may make our gambling problems worse. Now you can spend $100 to lose money at our legalised/licensed gambling dens, or just lose money without stepping out of your house in front of a computer or from your phone while shitting in the toilet.

Thankfully, not all in Parliament agree that certain operators should be exempted from the remote gambling laws. In 2014, MP Christopher De Souza said:

On one hand, you have enforcement and punishment which rightly say remote gambling should be deterred. Yet, we are also saying there can be a medium through which remote gambling is legitimate

Denise ‘Walking Time Bomb’ Phua:

If, indeed, we so strongly believe remote gambling is harmful and does no good to either the people or nation, then are we legitimising the act of gambling and breeding its acceptance by legally providing for exempt licensed operators in (the Remote Gambling Bill)?”

So that was in 2014. In 2 years the context has changed. Exemption is not only to ‘create an ecosystem to minimise law and order concerns and social consequences (criminal syndicates)’, as S Iswaran said in the defence. Today, with RWS hitting the red, an Internet for restricted gaming will probably breed an ‘ecosystem’ for gamblers to get their fix at the click of a button, should they not wish to head to Sentosa or MBS and throw away $100.

Let us not pretend that the Pools and Singapore Turf Club are just entertainment outlets for uncles and aunties to while their time away. It’s practically a legal casino conglomerate stripped of its glitz and glamour serving as a source of government revenue (to a tune of 2.3 billion over 5 years), at the expense of our citizens. With the fall of RWS and Pools riding on a wishy-washy piece of legislation, threatening to turn Internet gaming as Singaporeans know it into a state-endorsed duopoly, preying on the whims and hopes of people who could barely cough out the $100 entrance fee trying their luck, so will more drown in it.

Grace Fu on Chee Soon Juan’s lack of relevant experience

From ‘PAP’s Grace Fu questions SDP’s readiness  to run a town council’, 30 Apr 2016, article in CNA

…Ms Fu also spoke about Dr Chee’s plans to be a full-time MP and to make the ward his priority if elected – a point he played up in the SDP’s rally also held on Friday night.

But Ms Fu highlighted the fact that as far as she knew, he had not “held a steady job for many years”. “Let me be clear – I’m not criticising his decision to not hold a full-time job for so long. No, that is his personal choice. But the work experience, or the lack of it, is a relevant fact when we consider the credentials of the candidate,” she said.

She likened choosing between two candidates for a job. “You look at their work experience – what have they done, is the experience relevant to the job. You also seek references from people who have worked with them – their colleagues, their bosses.”

She added that it would “be very interesting” to see if there would be a referral letter from Mr Chiam See Tong, who had recruited Dr Chee into SDP years ago. Last week, Mrs Lina Chiam had said in a Facebook post that her husband had not given his endorsement to any candidate in the by-election.

Name-dropping old Chiam is a low blow, given the known history between ‘protege’ Chee and the elder opposition veteran. But Grace Fu’s main beef with Chee, unlike the rest of her colleagues casting aspersions on his character (‘complete hypocrite’, ‘shouty fellow who disrespects his elders’), is whether he’s up to the job even as a full-time MP, whilst at the same time endorsing a candidate who looks unlikely to give up a cushy position in Rajan and Tann as head of commercial litigation. This despite Murali calling the MP role a ‘sacred duty’. Not sacred enough to go into it full time, apparently.

To be fair, one should ask the same questions about relevant experience of our noob candidates who went on to become MPs. We have a colorectal surgeon and a former host of the Pyramid Game running the PM’s ward. Some call Chee a ‘gangster’ for his past encounter with ESM Goh, but we have a rising star amid the PAP cadre who was in fact, an actual gangster in his teens. You could say having ‘gangsterish’ traits may even be a plus in leadership, like threatening opponents with knuckle-dusters and catching them in a ‘cul-de-sac’. As one would expect, the PAP is magnanimous when it comes to their own people with a dark and checkered past, just not Chee Soon Juan, no matter how he presents himself as a ‘changed man’. Shouting at Goh Chok Tong in broad daylight is a stain you can’t erase.

Full time MPs are a rare breed, but in most cases they still hang on to ‘non-executive’ roles in their previous organisations. Baey Yam Keng quit his directorship in Hills and Knowlton but remains as senior adviser. Others include Foo Mee Har, Tin Pei Lin and WP’s Chen Show Mao. Yet, despite all this emphasis on relevant work experience, Wong Kan Seng once opposed politicians giving up their ricebowls because it would mean them ‘losing contact with people in business and foreigners’.

Yet, a decade back, ESM Goh described being an MP as a ‘full time job’, even if these people are helming advisory boards and councils. So we’ve come to accept the average MP as a dynamic multitasker who is able to juggle a day job and the nuts and bolts of town council management. An MP with little time for his own family but willing to kiss other people’s babies. An MP who not only has to go house visiting but post about it on Facebook as well. In the case of Bukit Batok’s former MP, one who’s able to squeeze in some sideline flings too.

Ultimately, all this talk about work experience doesn’t matter. Thanks to the GRC system where newbies are sheltered by anchor ministers, your disapproval of any single candidate’s CV has zero impact on the outcome. We’ve a track record of voting in doctors, lawyers and military men, but they might as well be former exotic dancers, swimsuit models or drug lords if given the right exposure. Experience is brought up only now because in a SMC contest, one could focus all your energy and judgement on that single candidate. It also serves as spare ammunition once you’ve exhausted the cheap character assassination tactics.

Chee and Murali should both learn from Louis Ng. Despite the relative lack of experience, the animal welfare champion took it upon himself to do ‘dirty jobs’ that would look good on a town council CV. I’m not sure if a high flying lawyer, a PhD holder to writes books about himself or Grace Fu herself would do the same. The only things that politicians seem to do with a broom these days is either raking up the past, or sweeping issues under the carpet.

Coney Island developing $250 million OBS campus

From ‘Keep Outward Bound Singapore out of Coney Island’, 29 March 16, ST Forum

(Dr Aishworiya Ramkumar):The news that there is going to be a new Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus built on Coney Island (“$250m Outward Bound campus for Coney Island“; last Friday) is extremely disappointing.

I believe that I speak for many a resident in the area in describing the elation we felt when Coney Island was opened to the public last year. The island is rustic, untouched by development and, simply, nature at its best.

This is something that is rare in Singapore – understandably so, given our constant need for more space for man-made endeavours. Most of our parks already have numerous man-made touches which may make them more comfortable, but ironically, nature by itself does not always have comfortable and modern amenities.

OBS already has two campuses in Pulau Ubin, just across from Coney Island. Unlike Pulau Ubin, the latter is not big enough for one part to be built up into a campus and the other to remain truly untouched. So, perhaps expansion within Pulau Ubin could be considered instead.

Yes, students, and indeed all Singaporeans, need to experience and learn through the outdoor experience. But often, the crux of that lies in experiencing the true reality of untouched nature rather than through a built-up campus.

I truly hope that the authorities will leave Coney Island true to its natural self and not turn it into yet another “developed” nature spot. Alternative possibilities for the expansion of OBS should be considered.

Most Singaporean guys would have the opportunity to experience the ‘true reality of untouched nature’ at some point in their lives. They’ll get to brave the elements, piss behind bushes, dig their own shit holes, bash through vegetation and roll around in mud while fostering deep manly bonds. And all this without pumping in a fortune to build the Singaporean equivalent of summer camp. It’s called NS.

More bad news for the writer and the lone cow roaming the island: The non-park portion of Coney Island is already designated for housing development (Safeguard rustic appeal of Coney Island Nature Park, 13 Jan 16, ST). In fact, the very name ‘Coney Island‘ came about in the 50’s when a businessman opened a ‘health resort’ on the island mimicking its namesake in the US. In the seventies, the isle was already tainted by pollution from Punggol’s pig farms. On my recent trip garbage flanked the beach. So yeah, Coney Island is a far cry from an unmolested rustic paradise. There’s already a trail run cum carnival scheduled, so building an expensive, big ass adventure camp on the island shouldn’t come as any surprise. Not to mention that it’s TINY, less than half the size of Pulau Ubin, where the OBS flagship campus resides. Why the need for TWO offshore camps anyway? Is there so much wimpiness in the air that we need to man up this whole lot of spoilt buggers with mega-camps?

OBS is often touted as a character-shaping, confidence-building experience, allowing a generation of kids brought up on Survivor, Hunger Games and iPads to relive fish-out-of-water fantasies for a couple of days. How applicable all these outdoor skills turn out to be in real life remains to be seen. You may be the fastest knot-maker in the history of OBS, but that doesn’t save you from nasty office politicking where you’ll need to choose the right apples to polish. You could excel as a sailor though, because that’s precisely what OBS was originally designed for in the 1940s, a program borne out of an archaic concept that a boy must face his demons in the untamed wild like Leonardo De Caprio in the Revenant to become a MAN. But even surviving an attack from a beast, thriving on canned sardines or drinking your own piss doesn’t guarantee you’ll walk out of OBS with balls of steel. One teen blogger revealed that she had to ‘pee in the sea’, an act which her instructors told her was ‘life-changing‘.

There are other ways for mollycoddled Singaporeans to toughen up of course. Send them off to climb mountains, volunteer at an orphanage or apprentice at Ah Kong’s coffee shop. The question is whether you need to plow through Coney Island’s natural environment for $250 million to accomplish just that, only for these OBSers to go through the motions for the rest of their sterile existence, reminiscing about the sun, the sand, the sky and urinating in the goddamn sea.