Thursday, December 28, 2006

More Transparency! Great!

TODAY, page 7, 28th December 2006 ..... Somebody gotta teach me how to put pictures into my blog.

Anyhow, there was a 'full' page ad taken out in today's TODAY. Where Singapore Power announced a surprising drop in electricity surcharges. Great news to kick of the new year if any!!

What was more amazing was that the full page ad listed the historical (back to 2001) prices and how there were pegged relatived to raw fuel prices.

The level of transparency is great. Applause!! Credit given where it is due.

Now on the the tough questions about the graph (the table later on). So raw fuel prices have shot up tremendously in 2006 and have recently made a retreat, but final end user electricity prices have, relatively, been stable, some 19.87 cents per kWh in 2001 vs 21.64 cents per kWh (Oct 2006) whereas 'oil' in the same graph has gone from about USD $40 per barrel to a close of some USD $75 per barrel in October 2006.

Raw fuel prices have gone up 90% relative to end prices for the same period which appear to have risen some 8%? Somehow the math does not look right ....... even to a math idiot like me ....

How is this possible? And SP Services as far as I know will be paying out bonuses next year too! As they have been previous years from 2001.

Have Singaporeans really been complaining too much about the rising costs of living? About every single little price hike like in the case of electricity when this 'advertisement' graph from SP demonstrates that prices have barely risen 8% over the last half decade?

Or has SP been making so much profit off the end consumer that it is still able to absorb the hike in raw fuel prices over the past 5 years, especially the last 2 years when things got really crazy in terms of oil prices? Was not the rise in worldwide oil price a justification used in every aspect of increase in cost of living in Singapore in 2005/6? Then how is SP able to sustain itself financially, as an arm of Temasek Holdings no less.

Is Temasek Holdings subsidising Singapore in some way that the public does not know about? To the point of being able to buffer a price hike of 90% of raw fuel price?

* * * * *

Turning to the table in the same 'advert' next. This table shows the price decreases for electricity used. I'm no electrical engineer or any such thing so bear with some idiocy here please.

What seems apparent is that the more one uses electricity it becomes cheaper? (I'm guessing that the higher the tension the more electricity is used/carried?)

(Revised prices for January 2007)
Extra High Tension 16.34
High Tension Large 19.23
High Tension Small 17.53
Low Tension 20.02
(residential, small business and other)

This query stands to challenge as I'm no electrician. Just an ordinary consumer asking on apparent price differences.

* * * * *

I do not claim to have the answers, only questions thus far.

But this is what greater transparency does. It opens up more for questioning. What the questioning begets are a multitude of effects, some chilling, others engaging, yet others simply leaves one fuming perhaps at times. Most importantly, questioning leads to an active citizenry.

Not questioning for the sake of questioning but questioning so that Singapore as a society can operate as a unanimous whole in the democratic sense. True participative citizenship as opposed to the 'apparently prevalent' of "it doesn't bother me and I've got no say anyway."

Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Singapore flames 'uncaring elite' - really ar? But 66% says otherwise methinks ....

[quote] {me in blue}

POSTED: 12:51 a.m. EST, December 19, 2006

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- When Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Singapore member of parliament stumbled across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job, she thought she'd give him a piece of her mind.

She called him "one of many wretched, undermotivated, overassuming leeches in our country" on her own blog and signed off with "please, get out of my elite uncaring face".

Wee was flamed by hundreds of fellow bloggers, but when her father Wee Siew Kim -- an MP in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's constituency -- told a Singapore newspaper that "her basic point is reasonable", the row moved well beyond the blogosphere.

The episode highlighted a deep rift in Singapore society and was an embarrassment for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and prime minister Lee, who has made the reduction of the income gap one of the priorities of his new government.

"Coming from an MP in the prime minister's constituency, these comments really were political dynamite," political commentator Seah Chiang Nee told Reuters. "If the political arrogance and elitism get any worse, the PAP will lose more electoral ground," he added.

Singapore is Asia's second-richest country after Japan with a gross domestic product per capita of about $27,000, ranking between EU member Italy and Spain. But in terms of income disparity, Singapore is in altogether different company.

{lesson no.1 in reading statistics - they lie. How does USD $27,000 per year, roughly SGD $40,500 translate into median income as reported by the GHSS of SGD $2,750? Should it not be $40,500 / 12 months = SGD $3,375? Or is SGD $600 a difference so small for our high and mighty Ministers that it does not really matter?}

Singapore's Gini index -- which measures inequality of income distribution among households -- of 42.5 puts it between Burundi and Kenya, the UN Human Development Report 2006 shows.

"Yes, the Gini coefficient is very high. Through housing, health care and education, we have tried to narrow the income gap, but not through wages," National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told Reuters in an interview last month.

{Dear Minister, housing is coming in at around 40% of an average Singaporeans' income, much higher then a vast majority of places in the world, the cost of health care is increasing, and will increase further once your government truly privatises the insurance schemes related to it.

Education? No one is sure of the true number anymore. News reports previously said that Singaporean students are heavily subsidised, up to 90% of their education including tertiary education. And with a dramatically growing number of foreign students who will in 2 year's time pay 10% to 30% more the the local students .... have not the Singaorean taxpayers been funding foreign students all this time then? Over and above scholarships handed out to them which were and are issued by the Government whose revenue source is once again taxpayer monies?

Most wages in Singapore have stagnated for a long time save the likes of yours. Heck, even well qualified middle aged execs have been running on fumes for the last 10 to 12 years! Save it or stuff it.}

Welfare as a dirty word

Singapore pays no employment benefits, no pensions and has no legal minimum wage, but education is cheap and excellent, health care is subsidized and the government gives subsidies to first-time buyers of government-built flats.

{"Education is cheap and excellent." For a local yes, I have to agree. Relative to employability vis-a-vis foreign Unis like Harvard, Yale, Purdue, Cornell, Oxbridge etc? Quite a distance from 2nd tier. Nevermind that we are living in a first world country with nearly first world prices in almost all categories of goods but big ticket and otherwise. Something does not quite balance here I think.}

Last month, Singapore's first parliament session since the May 6 poll was dominated by the inequality theme.

PM Lee ruled out the introduction of old-age pensions, a minimum wage or European-style welfare.

"We have treated welfare as a dirty word. The opposition, I think the Workers' Party, has called for a 'permanent unconditional needs-based welfare system'. I think that is an even dirtier five words," he said in a speech on November 13.

{Dear PM, dirty words are for children. Once you mature, as the European democracies have, 'dirty words' become things of need and sometimes of want. Drawing the line between need and want is more appropriate for a middle aged nation like Singapore should it not be?}

But he acknowledged that since the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the income gap had widened, and said that his government plans to "tilt the balance in favor of the lower-income groups".

{So 'welfare' is a dirty word and 'permanent unconditional needs-based welfare system' are five dirtier words but 'tilting the balance in favor of the lower-income group' are ten words that describe in essence what is the same is ok? Shall we leave the semantics to the language and philosophy classes please? We're talking about governance, with multi-million dollar price tags attached here. What must be done should be done in the interest of Singaporeans.}

While Lee's ruling PAP is in no danger of losing its stranglehold on parliament -- where it has 82 out of 84 elected seats -- the growing income disparity has hurt its credibility.

In the May 6 poll, the Workers' Party scored its best result in years, with chairwoman Sylvia Lim winning 44 percent of the votes in a multi-seat ward. Lee lost 34 percent in his ward to a group of unknown candidates in their early thirties.

"They (the PAP) are concerned about the fallout if they don't do anything about the income gap," Lim, who entered parliament as a non-voting MP under a best-loser provision, told Reuters.

In parliament, Lee said he plans to improve healthcare and boost housing subsidies for low-income families. He added that he wants more "workfare" schemes, under which the state tops up low-income workers' pay.

On May 1 -- five days before the election -- the government paid out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers, and Lee promised a similar package for next year. Details would be released in the 2007 budget on February 15.

{And nation-wide, where contested, WP scored with about 374,000 voters .... wonder what would happen if this 330,000 voters were added?? circa 700,000 voters out of 1.2 million which gives WP a minority vote.}

Marie Antoinettes

Critics say that much of the outrage about the teenage blogger's comments is due to a perception that Singapore is ruled by a privileged elite that's out of touch with the people.

The road to a top job in the Singapore government or civil service leads through elite junior colleges and prestigious government scholarships for university studies abroad.

While access to these schools and scholarships is open to all and based on academic grades, critics say the children of the elite are well represented. Wee Shu Min attends a top school, Raffles Junior College, as did her father, an MP and a top executive at state-owned arms maker ST Engineering.

In a report about "elite envy", the Straits Times daily quoted official data showing that in the last five years, one in three students on government scholarships came from families with incomes of more than $6,500 a month, while such families make up just 13 percent of all Singapore households.

Students from households on incomes of less than $2,000 made up only 7 per cent of scholarship winners, the paper added.

Colin Goh, founder of satirical Web site, said that while the first generation of post-independence PAP leaders was seen as close to the people, this is no longer the case.

{Re-distributive justice at its finest when not properly administered. Just like how upgrading is so blatantly administered - rightly or wrongly? 66% of Singaporeans seem to think that it is fair to penalise other taxpayers who may or may not have a choice.}

"The source for much invective in the Wee Shu Min case is that there is a real sense the PAP is composed of people in ivory towers; that they are a bunch of Marie Antoinettes," he said.

[end quote]

Dear fellow Singaporeans,

have a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2007 coming up!

May your income be higher then the median as reported in 2006. May you be able to absorb the impending hike in the general costs of living. May taxpayers continue to fund foreigners while our local graduates have a hard time. May you never fall ill and have your medisave and personal savings wiped out. May you never require upgrading for which you are forking out the entire amount in reality. And may you prosper one and all!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Singaporeans 'always come first' - And That Is Always How It Should Have Been And Should Be!

Quote from ST, 4th December 2006:

THE first responsibility of the Government is to Singaporeans, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, when he announced plans to charge non-citizens more for education and health care.

He told some 1,000 People's Action Party cadres at the party's conference that 'while we have non-Singaporeans here, citizens always come first.'

Education and health are two areas in which the Government has not made a clear distinction between citizens, permanent residents and foreigners, Mr Lee added.

This will change, he declared.

In education, non-citizens will be charged higher fees, but the charges would not be set so high as to drive away foreign students.

Tuition fees for foreigners at universities and polytechnics here, for instance, are now 10 per cent above what Singaporeans and PRs pay.

As for health care, PRs will be charged more, while foreign workers are going to pay the full amount and their employers will need to buy medical insurance to protect them.

The Education and Health ministries will make these adjustments in the next few months, Mr Lee said.

'We have to treat visitors well, too, but citizens have to be treated better,' he added.
'Citizens come first in our priorities, in our thinking.'

He cited the need for immigration, foreign talent and foreign workers here - areas which have caused some disquiet on the ground.

But he said these policies are needed 'because we want Singaporeans to do well and we want to do the best for Singapore and for our children'.

Citizens coming first, Mr Lee explained, was why state schemes like last year's Progress Package or the upcoming GST offset package would be 'for citizens only, not for PRs, not for non-citizens'.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sounds really really good! Thanks for taking up some suggestions from this blog Mr. Government!

Now, as a cynical citizen, what do I stand to gain from the additional revenue? A freeze in GST permanently in Education and Healthcare or perhaps a complete rollback on GST for these two areas now that revenues should be going up?

Also does it mean that the citizens were being had all this time till some Singaporeans got really vocal and came up with ideas on easing government revenue constraints? What of the creme de la creme that supposedly exists in government? The best of the best of the best??? Kooning? Like in Parliament?

Only time will tell. At the end of the day the email that is going around about how GST works out for the upper (smallest group that is really getting lower taxes overall), middle (largest group getting suckered some more) and lower (apparently steadily growing group really getting it in the nuts!) classes is really telling.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

More Good Years Coming Right Up!

So .... the election pundits were right. (Singapore Pools should start a bet on when GST will reach 10%) GST did go up. Technically not till next year but all of us in Singapore knows how legislation / governmental policy is made in the last five years. Once its announced its as good as done.

7% consumption tax on a $126B (2005 CIA World Factbook estimate) GDP. Roughly works out to be $8.8B a year. Not including other indirect or direct taxes which take the figure up easily twice or more (personal income tax, corporate tax, ERP, COE, Parf, you name it).

What does one do with so much money? Is Singapore reaching a stage in developmental spending that rivals the US where (in the movie Independence Day) a hammer cost $25k and a toilet seat costs $30k now is it? Does porking go on in the Singapore budget?

Sure we have a high standard of living (as claimed) and just a few firm shades under developed nation status pay scales (GHSS survey median of $2,750 - about USD $1,720 - or close to that) and out civil service employs about 40% of the population directly and otherwise (gotta include FTs there now). Where does all the money go?

Social welfare? The PM claims that 'welfare' is a dirty word, so there, we have no welfare to speak of. Of course we have 'workfare' but isn't the whole concept of workfare detrimental the the normal operating circumstance of market forces and an open economy in which the government professes to believe in? If this is the case then there will certainly be more good years coming right up!

Then again I could be wrong. The first day of Parliamentary debates saw PAP MP Seng Han Thong (sp?) claiming that he was giving out so much charity from his CDC kitty that he has had to request for more. And I may be wrong but I think I heard him say that the government in 2005 (or the past year, whichever that was) spent $6B on social / welfare related spending.

So what exactly is it that we have in Singapore? Welfare? Workfare? Behind-the-scenes-fare? The only fare I know as a middle income Singaporean living in a HDB flat is that transport fares are going up! But now the Tranport Minister is considering what was raised by WP during GE2006 - to essentially nationalise public transportation - for the good of the people! What happened to respect for intellectual property?

Let's do a quick review on the recent announcements concerning the main tax areas in Singapore:

1. GST - up
2. ERP - mostly likely up once the distance based system comes online (remember the joke about being ERPed once you leave your carpark?)
3. Income Tax - trying to go down but more beneficial it appears to the upper crust
4. Corporate Taxes - 'must come down if we are to remain more competitive'
5. 'Sin' Taxes are going up - gambling, drinks, smokes but these taxes apparently just dissappear into thin air I think

I'm sticking a finger in the air and saying that we should expect a few good things to come our way.

A. CPF contributions from employers will be cut again soon - of course to make Singapore more wage competitive! But why are we fighting on wage competitiveness for blue collar jobs when we could open up our Universities more (in other articles) and compete on white collar jobs regionally and internationally? Sure help the bottom rung as all the Ministers have suggested but perhaps the best way is to help us help ourselves.

The government has spent an inordinate amount of time, money and manpower trying to understand 'The Cluetrain Manifesto' and visiting 'The Bootstrap Institute (Gary Hamel)' among other international personas / institutes so why are we still sticking to Mandarin like policies with regard to education and future employability?

B. Health insurance is already on the way up. All it takes is to start with a few dollars. Which dear Minister Khaw has already spoken on. No doubt the intentions are good but this is an area that deserves special attention because everyone, including the present government, knows that this is a critical and fundamental pillar of society.

Singaporeans should prepare themselves for a healthcare model that will see companies refusing to provide medical and/or medical insurance due to the 'exorbitant' cost of medicine in Singapore (which relative to Inda - wage comparison here - though they have some good facilities as well) vis-a-vis the climate for attracting corporations to bunk in Singapore. Which by the way should receive a review since now modern corporations are surely and steadily getting rid of physical locations where feasible. (Hint: you probably can't prop up the commercial market, which drives the housing market, forever.)

Apologies but I should repeat here what was written elsewhere. Sure! Go ahead and fund a global standards medical hub but get the foreigners to pay Full Rates + to subsidize Singaporeans. Raffles Hospital and Mount Elizabeth (among others) are crawling with people who have bank accounts that would take Singapore decades to spend if we all went on 100% welfare today!

Yep, I know its all been gripe so far. But a few things could work to make the gripes go away. A few thing could make Singaporeans better citizens and more participative citizens. And that's what today's Government wants is it not?

i. Transparency - and I'm not only talking about Temasek deals that went right or left. I'm talking about opening up non-security sensitive Ministry (Mindef only actually) budgets and governmental budgets to allow Singaporeans to question and critique or actually support spending in. Publish the balance sheet in detail. How much received from where exactly and how much is going where exactly and why. Not so summed up high level corporate numbers which nobody can decifer.

ii. Transparency - why are policies made the way they are and can the 'consultative' process begin a little earlier? Like say before the announcement in Parliament which we all know is as good as done and dusted? Agreed that it can be a bitch to handle 200k responses but it will certainly be more productive for the country as a whole rather then have the civil service in general running around like headless chickens attending to the whims and half-baked fancies of some 'higher ups' with two gagillion revisions of a presentation and proposal only to have it all scrapped two hours before the deal is inked. I mean for goondus' sake man! We are paying top brains to write and re-write papers? Whatever happened to value for money?

Besides, if the consultation were truly a consultative process and taxation is truly an inevitable part of the growth of our nation then I'm sure that the citizens would be more pleased to help out. For one there will be no articles of this nature.

iii. Healthcare, Housing & Education (as an intangible form of investment) - are our spending priorities in the right order? Healthcare should not be free but do we need the latest in technology to treat the everyday (forgive my simplification here as I'm not medically trained)? Is public housing in Singapore truly subsidised? Really? And virtually no other country is giving out scholarships the way Singapore is giving out to foreign students. Foreign students usually pay a premium so that the locals are subsidized yet here we are, Singaporeans, paying more in taxes to truly subsidize foreign students.

Note: no animosity to foreigners or foreign students - some of you add to the diversity which Singapore needs. Only animosity to governmental policies.

Thanks for the comments!

Hi everyone,

thanks for your comments be they positive or otherwise.

I hope there is no confusion between 'freedom of expression' and 'freedom to create mischief.' If there is I apologise.

Future Jobs for Singaporeans? Or not?

And while PAP MPs & Ministers are going on and on about closing the gap and catching those who fall through the cracks, not that this is a bad thing, i reiterate my call for more pro-activity in a similar capacity through secondary school and beyond and especially through University.

Singaporeans of the future cannot afford not to have an option to pursue a University degree at later points in life then through only a standard and PAP determined route. Life is far more variable then what a bureaucracy with its policies and possibly outdated modus-operandi would like it to be.

To the Education Ministry I say this: while the government is attempting to balance between keeping the country afloat and keeping its citizens employable you are perhaps not moving fast enough or radical enough to keep up. And its not about throwing money at it in terms of more spanking new multi million dollar buildings. Its about the mind set. Its about removing artificial barriers such as quotas for certain faculties (and perhaps gender) and for Universities as a whole that distort market forces.

November 12, 2006
On the Contrary

A Boom in Jobs, and Fear


AMERICA’S biggest export, it sometimes seems, is jobs. A shocking new study a consulting firm whose specialty is helping big business improve back-office operations, says the Fortune 500 companies could save $58 billion annually by moving more of these activities offshore.

But the truly shocking thing about this number is how small it is. Last year, the Fortune 500 had revenue of $9.1 trillion. Moving more back-office operations overseas, in other words, could cut costs by way less than 1 percent of sales. A nice boost to profits, but hardly earth-shaking.
Here at home, meanwhile, it’s raining jobs — an estimated 5.8 million new ones in just five years, according to a recent Labor Department report. The government’s household employment survey showed a gain of 437,000 jobs in October alone. Unemployment that month fell to just 4.4 percent, a 5½-year low.

Jobs are so abundant that investors are worried that the Federal Reserve may delay making interest rate cuts, lest inflation revive. The concern is that all these new jobs may lead employers to bid up wages, heaven forbid.

There are so many jobs, in fact, that we can’t fill them all ourselves. Instead, we rely on millions of immigrants to pick up the slack. The supply of employment opportunities in this country was demonstrated by President Bush’s recent authorization of a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border. There is gainful employment here, and plenty of it.

Don’t let the recent election-season rhetoric fool you. The nature of American work is changing, but jobs are abundant, and the dynamic nature of the economy is one reason that they will remain so. Outsourcing isn’t likely to change this in the foreseeable future, and I suspect that it’s even helping to sustain domestic job growth by promoting efficiency and thereby freeing capital for better uses. We even gain jobs by insourcing — by receiving jobs from other countries.

Toyota and Honda, for example, have thousands of employees in the United States.
While Hackett says that “increased use of offshore resources may impact up to 1.47 million general and administrative jobs,” the Organization for International Investment, a business group representing American units of foreign companies, says that such domestic subsidiaries employ 5.4 million people in this country. In all likelihood, that total will grow.

SO the real issue isn’t saving jobs. It’s helping those whose skills suddenly become obsolete to adjust to the new world around them. The big new job gains, for example, mask continuing job losses in manufacturing as well as recent declines in construction employment, meaning more bad news for people who work with their hands. That, in turn, suggests more income inequality ahead. Washington, despite its recent track record of bungling on so many fronts, will need to play a role in helping these people and their communities adjust, and unfortunately that’s one job we can’t easily send offshore.

Nor is it one that we can expect the private sector to handle. Troubled by soaring health care costs, companies are withdrawing from their longstanding role as providers of medical insurance. They’ve also moved away from providing long-term job security or traditional defined-benefit pensions. Maybe that style of employment no longer suits a changing world, or maybe corporations are too busy back-dating executive stock options to worry about taking care of their rank-and-file employees.

Either way, companies are getting out of the social welfare business — and I say good riddance. What business is really good at, aside from generating wealth, is generating jobs. Social welfare is the business of government.

Some important questions were rarely debated in the recent election. What should be done — and what can be done — for the losers in this time of rapid economic change? How much inequality are we willing to accept? What do we want our society to look like? And, perhaps most important, is our government up to the job of changing the picture?

The next big election is in 2008, and some presidential candidate may yet make a splash by promising to clamp down on free trade, curtail immigration and embrace isolationism, all in the name of protecting American workers. That would be a far more effective job-destruction strategy than the outsourcing that may yet become a campaign issue.

Daniel Akst is a journalist and novelist who writes often about business. E-mail:

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sabang Beach, Puerto Galera, Philippines

Fortune shines. Lucky to have been diving in the Philippines between typhoons. Got there after Xangsane and came back right before this current one is hitting. Supposedly past typhoon season already but there's global warming for you!

Amazing experience, the Philippines. Beers under a dollar, wide choice of reasonably priced cuisines at Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera, friendly service and an excellent time. Very Danish and German influence in modern terms - almost like a northern european getaway much like some parts of Thailand. But there is a large Korean presence as well in the form of two or three of the larger dive shops. Apparently the Japanese were a large crowd in the 90s but have since been replaced by the Koreans. Now Singaporeans are beginning to make inroads there.

Expect to spend about SGD $20 a day on food and beer for 3 meals if you go average. Meal and drink for SGD $1.50 if you have it at a beach stand up to SGD $35 for two with buffet style appetizers, BBQ pork chop and rump steak (about 15 ounces and 20 ounces respectively) topped off with drinks and desert.

Nitrox USD $7 more, night dives USD $7 more.

Those who have been to Manado and Sipadan would probably consider Puerto Galera (PG) an appetizer of sorts. Marine life is rich but not quite Sipadan, colourful but not quite Manado in terms of muck diving. Feather stars abound in almost unbelievable quantities. So if you're a crinoid family fan then PG is the place to be. All the colours of the rainbow.

About half the dive shops dive out of speedboats and the other half dive out of 'bancas.' I think bancas are a really cool way of short distance sea travel if one is not in a rush. basically a wooden boat with supporting outriggers on both port and starboard sides. Diving bancas I've seen can present some problems where the wooden ladder attached to the side specifically for diving reaches less then a foot into the surface of the sea. Some gymnastics required to climb into bancas!

People are nice and unpretentious. Of course you get everyone trying to sell you everything from friendship bands to large conches, DVDs, sunglasses and everything in between.

The diving actually occurs in a small seaside town called Sabang, the main town of Puerto Galera is under an hours car ride away.

Dive Sites 1 minute away:

Sabang Wreck - 20M excellent, 3 man made wrecks, hairy 'maine style' mini lobsters, pretty crabs, giant moray, giant turtle, white painted frog, regular frog, cuttlefish feeding, strange jellyfishes (small stingless ones)

Sabang Bay - 16M, mostly < 10M, great muck diving, angler frog, sea moths (some call these sea chickens?), pipe fish, white saddle backed clowns (never seen before), great variety of anemone shrimps on soft coral, if you get your navigation right you can do your safety stop under either floating bar that is anchored in the bay in about 5M of water, ascend to 80s music and dancing women

Dive Sites 3 minutes away:

Lalaguna - 22M, not much, lots of sand, more corals at shallower depths

MV Elma Jane - 32M, resident octopus, green and pink frog (believe it or not)

Dry Dock - 27M, pygmy seahorse x 2 (a very fat pygmy or pregnant maybe), resident black frog, giant lions, blue water safety stop

Monkey Beach - 20M, easy reef diving, cuttlefish, batfish, nudis galore if you look closely

Dive Sites 4 to 5 minutes away:

The Steps (Kilima) - up to 25M but did night dive and never went below 8M as macro life was rather incredible, sand crab (camouflaged to look like sea bed), colourful miniature crabs on vase corals, nudis, hermits

Shark Cave - 30M, as the name implies, 2 or 3 resident white tips, docile, not much thereafter (let down after Sipadan)

Canyons - 30M +, solid drift dive in excess of 3 kts, fly over the beautiful corals and watch the larger emperor fishes hold their own in the current for food that comes by, some quiet spots where you can do some nice photography, great sea fans of different colours but deep, blue water safety stop

Fish Bowl - 40M +, another solid drift, faster then Canyons, giant trevally estimated at 1.2 to 1.5M long, too fast to see anything else, blue water safety stop

Hole-in-the-Wall / Pink Wall / Ernies Cave - above Shark Cave and Canyons, easy dive, slight drift, see the local creatures like schooling emperors, some angels, some nasi lemak fish, swim through at about 12M where the water actually pushes you through if you enter from the deep end, ending up at Pink Wall for your deco ....... pink because of the colour of the corals there. More a reef then a wall. Ernie's Cave is just that, small cave underwater at about 14M, nothing much.

Sinandigan Wall - 25M, misnomer, more a reef, ridiculously rich with corals and smaller common marine life, look hard for some nice nudis and the less common triggerfishes like bursa triggers

Dive Sites away:

30 minutes day trip; Verde Island Drop Off, 40M+, >3kts drift during tidal changes, like a mini Sipadan, rich life, wonderful dive with turtles, blue triggers, map puffers (arothron?), schooling jacks (but nothing like Southpoint in Sipadan), schooling juvenile yellowtail barras - top off 2 dives at Verde Drop Off consecutively with a nicely done all you can eat BBQ with free flow of drinks on the nearby lsland, additional USD $25 per pax for this trip but the food and the diving made it worth the extra.

20 minutes ride out: Washing Machine, supposedly a high voltage and non-linear drift dive but I guess they had a 'brown out' while we were there, the washing machine was broken.

Cheap eats:

Tina's - far left side of Sabang Beach if you're looking at the beach from the water, priced about 30% to 40% lower then 'in town' for local Philippino food. Nice ambience but gets crowded very fast during dinner. Go early or late.

Beach stand in front of Atlantis. Good for quick lunch, cheeseburgers at SGD $1 and soft drinks at 50 cents. Rice combos from $1 up.

Local snacks - absolute favourite: Toron (sp?) at about 30 cents per satay stick. Small/Medium sized banana wrap in popiah skin, deep fried and drip coated with molasses, two pieces per satay stick. Can be found only after 10am and before 4pm at the waterfront on the main street of Sabang.


local brew and easy drink San Miguel Beer (SMB), San Miguel Light (Mig Light), bottle cap priced at 18 and 19 pesos respectively (approximately 60 cents and 65 cents respectively) but mini-mart will sell you at 24 pesos and bars / restaurants tend to go at around 50 to 55 pesos (1.60 to 1.70 per bottle).

Apparently Mig Light is light on calories but still contains the same punch as any other regular beer at 5% alc/vol.

Kuo's work

Dear YCK,

the OCR would be much appreciated. Thank you.

You may reach me at

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


It has come to my attention that I have been impersonated on Sammy Boy's Alfresco Coffeeshop Forums. An account going by the moniker of 'Perry_Tong' was created on Saturday 14th October 2006 while I was away in Tioman teaching scuba diving. Several posts have been made 'in my name.'

It appears that an email address I use has been compromised. The password has since been changed.

Apologies to all affected by the mis-representation.

A police report has been made (J200610172055) and Delphi forums are currently assisting with the investigations.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Flag

For 140 years (1819-1959), the Union Jack flew over Singapore. Then, on 3 December 1959, the National Flag, an important symbol of independence, was unveiled at the installation of the new Head of State, the Yang di-Pertuan Negara. Also unveiled that day were the State Crest and the National Anthem. The flag was conceived and created by a committee headed by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Toh Chin Chye.

The Flag consists of two horizontal halves, red above white. Red symbolises universal brotherhood and equality of men; white, purity and virtue. In the upper left corner, a white crescent moon and five white stars form a circle. The crescent moon represents a young nation on the rise. The five stars stand for Singapore's ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.

Now is as good a time as any other to remember the Singapore flag. Our flag. I am a Singaporean everyday, not just on National Day.

October 2006, Singapore.

40 odd years on after the unveiling of the Singapore flag.

Red sumbolises the universal brotherhood and equality of men (should be changed to include women and sisterhood also?) : so why is there apparent age, gender and sometimes racial (more linguistic) discrimination in employment in Singapore, or can this 'discrimination' be attributed to economic requirements? Does the General Household Survey hold some clues?

White symbolises purity and virtue. Who can argue with that but why do we need purity and in what regard to we need purity when Singaporeans are a self-proclaimed pragmatic lot who will do what it takes? I'm not so sure about virtue when one is lining up for stuff in Singapore. This quality of 'virtue' may also hang in the balance on a Thai court's proceedings in the near future unless they are somehow magically 'shushed up'.

The crescent moon represents a young nation on the rise. Are we still on the rise when most of the rest of the world considers Singapore a developed nation? Should we consider installing a nearly full moon now?

The five stars stand for the ideals of:

Democracy, so we conduct elections within a given time limit but why do so many citizens feel it as a chore instead of a nation building process?;

Peace, we are certainly not at war but according to the happiness index we are far from being at peace as a nation, why is this so?;

Progress, we have indeed come very far from the backwater days but wither the social price?;

Justice, any comment other then in praise might be tantamount to contempt so let's leave it be for now;

Equality, what of 'changing demograhics' where there are now people of different political, social, sexual orientations and preferences? Is there equality for them?

The Haze - International Law - Legalism that is failing?

An annual event that never ceases to choke its neighbours - the haze, due to intentional forest fires, is back with a vengeance!

While Singapore and Malaysia does their level best in terms of government proclamations and exhortations to their counterparts in Indonesia to stem the problem the people suffer.

Why does it not work? The exhortations that is? Why does international law not prohibit the burning of these forests given the green movements now so widespread to save as much of the natural earth as is possible? And if international does prohibit such practices why does it then not work and no punitive measures are meted out?

International law comprises mainly of three parts. (For the scholar in international law I beg your understanding that this is a law article meant to have law appeal.) It began as a motley collection of internationally recognised and practiced norms which evolve of time along with the traits of human society. This includes common points in deferring national legal systems. So if killing someone for fun is prohibit in say 80% of the countries in the world that subscribe to international law then it is codified and officially recognised through inter-national conventions and treaties that such a law should be made international.

Next, international law is a loose collection of a series of great legal minds (though sometimes not so great) and their attending philosophies. If enough 'people' and 'countries' subscribed to these points of view it is once again considered a part of international law. Say if an eminent and internationally recognised philosopher spells out her/his beliefs and the world in general subscribes to it after a prolonged period of deliberation these countries and the people they represent may then choose to codify it and sign a pact among themselves claiming that this is a law which should govern them. To put it simply.

Lastly, international law is a series of 'laws' as laid out in documents signifying agreement to certain behaviours as agreed to between two or more countries. For example, that if a crime is commited by a citizen of country G in country K then an extradition should take place for criminal prosecution, or that the citizen of country G who has commited the crime should be charged in country K under the local laws and institutions. When enough pairs (or more) of countries have a similar covention we move back to the first point where it becomes an accepted international practice and is then similarly codified.

But the international legal system is such where exceptions are the rule and sovereign nation states can 'opt out' of a 'law' of a sub-set of a 'law.' In short, international law is a loose collective agreement of practices agreed to among a majority of countries but also a system wherein countries who buy into the system are permitted to remove themselves from certain 'laws' or certain clauses in those 'laws' as they deem fit.

For instance, Singapore has officially recognised the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but has chosen to interpret the clauses in its own way. Notwithstanding the disparity in political rights between the likes of European countries and itself, or other Asian countries and itself.

So why this long run around about the haze?

Our PSI index levels climb every year and respiratory symptoms start to appear with a cost on the quality of living in Singapore and the economy (except the medical sector which will 'boom') and we cannot really do anything about it.

Yes, Singaporeans can get together and organise a protest against this practice in Indonesia which generates the haze, even if we were permitted to do so, but it would achieve no result and no end under international law.

Yaacob recently came out blasting WP's statement on the haze claiming that work has been ongoing for the last 15 years in terms of talks and discussions about what can be done. Indeed, Singapore has offered help too in many ways.

But until international law is made binding on every signatory member without exceptions - just like how civil laws are binding on citizens without exceptions and notwithstanding claims to ignorance, Indonesia can merrily continue on its way with the haze situation posing health and economic risks to its neighbours.

Will Singapore lead by example? Or will the internal politics of the country and the desperation of the PAP for an overwhelming victory at each and every election serve to downplay the importance and enforceability of international law which may alleviate situations such as the annual haze?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

2002 book quoted in 2006? What gives?

Lifted off the Straits Times:
Oct 5, 2006 An elitist strategy in the best sense

This is an excerpt from Singapore's Success: Engineering Economic Growth, a new book by former International Monetary Fund official Henri Ghesquiere. The book is published by Thomson Learning, Singapore, 2007

'THERE is little doubt that the PAP leaders are elitist,' wrote (University of British Columbia dons) Diane Mauzy and R.S. Milne*. 'They admire the power of the intellect, and they believe that only a few of the best and brightest are capable of leading well.'

The elite, in the Singapore context, however, is merit-based.
Unlike in some other countries, it is not a closed, privileged, hereditary social class that succeeded in capturing the state. The strategy that the governing elite selected was conducive to political implementation of growth-enhancing institutions. Three features can be identified that many other countries lacked.

First, a long-term vision of economic growth became Singapore's central focus. Other goals coexisted, such as survival as an independent country, building a national identity, and ultimately reaching First World standards in the arts and culture. But economic growth was needed to help fulfil these other national goals.

The primacy of achieving long-term economic prosperity for society as a whole set Singapore apart from many other nations. Mr Goh Keng Swee, Singapore's first finance minister and also defence minister, expressed it succinctly. 'We must strive continuously to achieve economic growth, which requires political stability, and should not be distracted by other goals.'
Other goals were thus subordinated, such as ideological notions of achieving redistributive justice via social transfers or tax policy.

Communist countries had different priorities. China's primary preoccupation, until 1976, was to wrest power for the peasant class by breaking a four-millennium-old feudal order, and to rebuild the nation. Only in 1982 did Deng Xiaoping declare as a primary goal turning China into a modern prosperous country by reforming and opening up its economy.

Still other countries channelled vast collective energy into restoring an earlier balance of political or economic power between different ethnic, racial or religious groups. Or they went to war over border disputes, often resulting in negative productivity growth, meaning that total output declined even if inputs increased. Pervasive uncertainty precluded high levels of investment and talented individuals emigrated or perished.

Singapore's elite had none of that: 'Unless you have economic growth, you die' was the government's maxim. Divisiveness was shunned. Singapore, as consecrated in its Constitution, is a multiracial society that accords equality to all citizens regardless of race, language, or religion. Laws enforce this. There is constant concern not to upset internal balances and to maintain stability.

Engineering prosperity for all was the best way to preserve internal cohesion, ethnic peace, and harmony, and to survive. Economic growth became the beacon for the city-state's collective destiny, not just to survive, but to prevail through superior performance.

Second, in Singapore, the governing elite chose a strategy that would share the benefits of economic growth among the populace - not through income redistribution policies, which tend to impede economic growth. Instead, the preferred strategy was to arm men and women with the means and opportunities to earn a living and acquire assets for their families by raising the skill level, including that of lower-income groups, and thus ensure upward mobility.

For Singapore's elite, this win-win offer was perfectly rational: Wealth would be shared or it would not exist. The only viable model was export-led growth that would take advantage of Singapore's location and make optimal use of its one resource, its people, creating social unity in the process. The dearth of landed estates and other natural resources precluded the feudal model as a source of privileges.

However noble the intentions underlying Singapore's social policies, it was in the elite's own interest to more widely extend economic opportunities, such as education, and thereby expand its own group to new entrants. Universal education and numerous scholarships helped bright children of poor parents make it through university. This contrasts with the elite groups in some other countries.

Feudal aristocracies in countries such as Pakistan with extensive landed property were willing to broaden their circle to include industrialists under import-substitution policies. They would not, however, provide quality education on a large scale to girls and boys in rural areas, lest their power slip away. The result in many instances has been a low-level equilibrium with poor agricultural yields, harking back to an older model of apportioning economic rents, not creating new wealth.

Third, the politically dominant group in Singapore was willing to be held accountable. Although political participation is constrained in Singapore, it needs emphasising that the elite freely accepted limits on the exercise of power by the government. It accepted checks and balances that curb the natural tendency of power to corrupt. This set Singapore apart from dictatorships, kleptocracies, and regimes under arbitrary personal rule and helped legitimise the government.

Several aspects can be highlighted. Firstly, Singapore's judiciary acts as a check on political power. Top government officials are accountable before the courts, and have been summoned. (Minister Mentor) Lee Kuan Yew and his son, (Prime Minister) Lee Hsien Loong, both underwent a thorough court investigation in 1996 for allegations of real-estate improprieties and were acquitted.

International surveys routinely rank the city-state very high for maintaining the rule of law, upholding property rights, and using the law to maintain probity of politicians and civil servants.
Secondly, the dominant party regime does not imply absence of democracy: Parliamentary elections are held within a five-year term limit, most recently in May 2006. Elections are contested freely. There is no ballot rigging or intimidation of voters. Singaporeans have the means to change their government democratically, although major obstacles are placed in the way of the opposition.

The PAP's dominance over the opposition parties since the late 1960s, its advantage of incumbency, and the electoral rules it has crafted over the years gave the party commanding heights: Often victory was assured before Election Day, due to a dearth of opposition candidates.
Nonetheless, voting outcome, which has ranged from 61 per cent in favour of the PAP in 1991, to 75 per cent in 2001, and was 67 per cent in May 2006, serves as a scorecard of popular approval. As felt by the government, the periodic requirement to seek a renewed mandate in front of the electorate is a powerful spur to deliver the shared prosperity, personal safety, and public order, which voters have come to expect.

By creating widespread employment opportunities and improving living conditions, the politically dominant group in Singapore acquired and kept a popular mandate to pursue its long-term economic growth strategy.

Thirdly, another countervailing force in Singapore's case, somewhat unusual but influential nonetheless in the current highly competitive globalised environment, is the MNCs. Singapore's strategic dependence on the MNCs as an engine of economic growth provided an additional check against some types of government failure, since political stability, a non-corrupt government, and sound economic management are critical to boosting investor confidence in the economy. Singapore combines a strong state with atomistic markets, rather than a strong state with monopolistic market power.

In sum, Singapore's elite, which established power in the 1960s, subsequently co-opted talent from across society and succeeded in building growth-enhancing institutions. It succeeded by choosing as the central priority a strategy of long-term economic growth. It widely shared the opportunities to participate in that growth and was prepared to be held accountable for its exercise of power. All three features set Singapore apart from many other countries. The dominant group in society established an accepted social contract for a viable long-term strategy.

That strategy was in the best interest of the elite - and the people. The PAP realised that it had to improve economic conditions to prevent the communists from focusing on the grievances of the unemployed. Singapore lacked natural resources to divide as spoils. Once political power was consolidated there were no rival groups to be placated through bribery.

A high level of integrity strengthened the PAP's power. This insightful strategy enabled the elite not just to survive but to thrive at the head of a secure, respected, and dynamic nation. Self-actualisation was achieved by helping the citizenry attain its full potential.

This was a powerful incentive and the elite seized the opportunity. The coincidence of self-interest of the elite and development of the people was fortuitous and a cornerstone of Singapore's success.

*Diane Mauzy and R.S. Milne, Singapore Politics: Under The People's Action Party, Oxford University Press, Singapore, 2002

And while the local reader in Singapore is wowed by these excerpts it might be good to bear in mind that these form, in all probability, less then 2%, if at all, of the cited book. All who have written theses know that one can selective quote authors to achieve the media equivalent of a sound bite. I wonder what is in the rest of the book given that Professor Mauzy also teaches and writes on human rights.

With a local press, though gradually opening up, dominated by the government under the guise of legitimate corporate shareholdings it is pertinent that clarification be sought for such 'pats on the back.'

Edit 9th October 2006: Prof Mauzy has kindly written back on a query posed to her to on the one line quote taken off her book. It is hers. The rest, correctly belongs to Mr. Henri Ghesquiere.

Henri Ghesquiere, whom the rest of the article cites, would make a favoured (by today's regime) PR or future citizen of Singapore and should be invited as such. And thereafter I would suggest to Mr. Ghesquiere to set up a company here to service local activities since he appears to believe that "Singapore combines a strong state with atomistic markets, rather than a strong state with monopolistic market power."

I would further invite Mr. Ghesquiere to attempt, as an academic exercise, to fulfill the role of an 'opposition' politican here in Singapore under our wonderful system to understand his statement on why there is a 'dearth of opposition candidates.'

Wonder if the recent GE might be a slap in the face for Mr. Ghesquiere's analysis on the state of the opposition here in terms of number of candidates? A short bio lifted of his recent book launch here in Singapore, I hope it wasn't a cover letter in his application for citizenship:

Venue: Level 1, Visitors Briefing RoomDate: Saturday, Sept 2, 3.00pm-5.00pm

This book seeks the key to good economic policy by explaining Singapore’s remarkably rapid development—the world’s fastest growing economy in 1960-2000—and asking whether Singapore’s success can be transferred to other countries. Come find out more about this title as the author Dr. Henri Ghesquiere makes an appearance!

Dr. Henri Ghesquiere is a former Director of the IMF-Singapore Regional Training Institute (2004–05) andwas on the staff of the International Monetary Fund during 1978–2005. At the IMF he was closely involvedwith macroeconomic lending programs and growth-oriented stabilization policies in Latin America, Africa,Eastern Europe, and Asia. As a senior IMF official in numerous countries, the author has accumulated a vast amount of practical experience. Henri Ghesquiere holds degrees in humanities and economics from the Universityof Leuven, Belgium and earned his Ph.D. in economics from Yale University. Among his publications isa book on economic development in South-East Asia (1976).

Is economics truly the be-all-end-all question for societies that are growing? Are there no other fronts of growth for humanity other then economic growth? I do not know, I feel and believe there is more to humanity then economics and strong government, even in Singapore, but who am I compared to a person such as Mr. Ghesquiere to which the 'world at large' would blindly respect given his appearance of authority?

Friday, September 29, 2006

What Singaporeans Miss

Thailand's coup leaders struggle for acceptance abroad

The Associated Press


Published: September 27, 2006

BANGKOK, Thailand Thailand's military rulers are struggling to convince the international community that staging a coup was the only way to maintain democracy here. But it's been a tough sell.

Troops and tanks rolled through Bangkok's streets just over a week ago and deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who had overwhelmingly won the past three elections. The United States and other governments quickly condemned the coup as a setback to democracy.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped up initial criticism, telling the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that Thailand needs "to get a civilian government and they need to get to elections and get back on a democratic path very, very quickly."

Criticism like that has made the military rulers increasingly defensive. They say foreign governments have failed to consider the complexity of the situation in Thailand, where democracy and democratic institutions took a severe beating under Thaksin.

"We are disappointed with their reaction," said Maj. Gen. Thaweep Netniyom, a spokesman for the coup leaders. "But we also understand their reaction. These are countries that have a very fixed definition of democracy."

Thailand has been widely considered a beacon of democracy in Southeast Asia, where neighbors include military-ruled Myanmar, Communist-led Vietnam and Laos, and Cambodia, where Prime Minister Hun Sen has been assailed for ignoring human rights and free speech, and for jailing critics.

But democracy in Thailand, with its history of military coups, has always been fragile.

Thaksin, a charismatic tycoon-turned-politician, was loved by the rural poor for introducing a universal health care plan and a raft of populist policies. But he was also accused of widespread corruption, human rights abuses, stifling the media and a long list of undemocratic offenses. Massive protests earlier this year demanding his resignation had failed, but were scheduled to resume.

After the military seized power on Sept. 19, coup leaders said they intervened because military intelligence showed the likelihood of imminent and violent clashes between Thaksin's supporters and opponents.

In the capital, Bangkok, the coup makers were celebrated as liberators. Thais showered the tanks with flowers and donated food to troops. Polls have shown that over 75 percent of the country's people supported the coup — partly because their revered king endorsed it.

But Western nations' criticism has caught the coup engineers off guard, and they've been struggling with public relations abroad. "For outsiders, a coup is a coup. There is no necessary coup. There is no good coup," said former Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan. "The challenge is to explain to critics and doubters out there: Look, there was no democracy left under Thaksin."

"The fact that they (the coup leaders) are trying to reach out shows that they are concerned about Time magazine and The Economist and international headlines," Surin said, referring to the latest overseas editions of both magazines, which put the coup on their covers with images of soldiers and tanks.

To Thailand — whose economy is driven by tourism, foreign investment and exports — the world's opinion matters.

Coup leaders have held several daily news conferences and offered special English-language briefings for foreign media in Bangkok.

They have sought to ease foreign investors' minds by pledging a commitment to a free-market economy, to maintaining the previous administration's economic and social policies and to continuing megaprojects like expanding Bangkok's subway system.

They have reached out to the diplomatic community, inviting diplomats twice over the past week for debriefings with question-answer sessions.

Diplomats have been urged to send their governments the message that "the military takeover will not be forever, just a very short time — and power will be returned back to the people as soon as possible," said Thaweep, the military spokesman.

At the United Nations, Thailand's ambassador reassured the international community that her country was quickly returning to normal. "We will ensure a swift return to democracy with a definite timeline," Laxanachantorn Laohaphan told the General Assembly Wednesday.

When army commander Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin seized power he vowed to install a temporary civilian regime within two weeks, or by Oct. 4. He has since pledged repeatedly to stick to his self-imposed deadline.

But the longer it takes, the more frustrated the international community will become, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
"There is a broad effort to try to restore international credibility. But the longer they wait, the more problematic it will become," said Thitinan. "They need to hand over power to a competent civilian government. That would solve their problem."

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Singapore Dreaming

American Response to Thai Coup

U.S. responding to coup, suspends some aid to Thailand

The Associated Press
Published: September 28, 2006

WASHINGTON The United States suspended $24 million (€18.8 million) in military assistance to Thailand on Thursday, invoking laws that bar certain aid programs to governments that have taken power by force.

Affected by the suspension is a $16.3 million (€12.8 million) program to train and equip Thai forces for counterterrorism operations, $4.1 million (€3.2 million) for financing of commercial military sales to Thailand and $3.29 million (€2.6 million) for training and equipping Thai military personnel for multinational peacekeeping operations.

Also suspended was $130,000 (€102,000) for military training unrelated to peacekeeping operations. U.S. assistance for health programs will continue, including funds to help prevent the spread of AIDS and to prepare for a possible bird flu outbreak.

The announcement of the aid suspension by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack came nine days after the Thai military ousted elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup.

Officials were unable to provide a figure for the total U.S. assistance effort to Thailand, including military, economic and humanitarian aid.

The United States criticized the coup from the outset, calling it "a step backward for democracy." It also has said that the one-year time frame set by coup leaders for holding elections is too long.

Some U.S. military assistance will continue because it is not sent directly to the Thai government or because it serves a U.S. national interest. One such program is designed to combat development of weapons of mass destruction.

Thailand is a long-standing defense treaty ally of the United States.

Congress has approved over the years a number of amendments that forbid certain assistance programs to governments that have subverted democratic processes. The measures are designed to encourage only legal transfers of power.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Hmm, I wonder what is the American Congress' stand on elections in Singapore. And their stand on MM Lee's recent comments that if ever the opposition of today come into power, and squandered the wealth of the nation, he would get the local military to take over the Government and throw out the opposition.

Edit: Kelvin, thanks for writing in. Context notwithstanding - as in all things viewed under the legal system we so love in Singapore it is the intent which is applicable.

Further Edit: Kelvin, I stand corrected yet again on my understanding of MM Lee's 'military coup' portion of his speech and have added to the para in red. My misunderstanding and mistake on that part. I still choose to retain the entire para which queries how the American Congress would react since they are now reacting to the Thai coup whom the locals claim are peaceful but in some relation to claims of corruption by the Thaksin regime. i.e. I believe the Americans would still call for a re-instatement of the government and democratic practices (therefore no coup) even if a coup were ostensibly to oust an incompetent government of the day. Thanks for your comments again.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thank My Lucky Stars or Not?

The NUS department of Political Science would do well to pay attention to the international spats created by MM Lee. It is highly instructive in how not to conduct diplomacy. Any student at GWU would tell you that as well, much less other schools which conduct courses on diplomacy.

But let's go back a little in time. Was it not just a few months ago, prior to Singapore's General Election where PM Lee basically told the Australians how to run their country?

So they say in statistics, once is an occurence, two can be a coincidence, three is typically a trend.

Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia makes three.

So why thank my lucky stars? December 1999 I applied for a position with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, went for three rounds of interviews and was, fortunately today, rejected. I would not have the face or the know how to placate our neighbours who are far larger then us. I do not even know if placating them would be the right thing to do since such irresponsible words are uttered with nary a thought on the political fallout. And I certainly do not want to do an Adlai Stevenson or be done into an Adlai Stevenson situation wherein an internationally respected and upright diplomat is called upon to essentialy lie for his country due to the lack of information provided. Nor do I wish this on any of our many fine and distinguished diplomats of today. But, good luck to all of you!

And hey, is not Minister George Yeo, our Foreign Affairs Minister the right person to address these issues since these are international relations issues? And Second Minister Raymond Lim? So why the silence? Autarky? Or as the locals prefer .... bo chi?

Are these really the men to lead Singapore into the future where our economy is growing ever more closely tied to the international and regional economies? And wither those who support these men?

Has common sense and simple manners gone out the window with each successive electoral victory, never mind how it was achieved, scored? Can we then blame our fellow citizens for the boorish behaviour so often lamented about in the offline and online forums?

To top it off, the silence on the status of OUR national investments in Thailand is curious.

Makes me wonder if I should really thank my lucky stars or not.

While the MSM (mainstream media) is going on and on about how much fun our neighbours are having discussing remarks made by our elder statesman I have not seen any real debate or discussion in the same media on how we Singaporeans feel.

Is there something being hidden? Some other bad news which has been conveniently tucked away into an obscure column in an obscure page while the headlines rage on? What of our money in Shin Corp? What of the economy and what is happening here and now? The untimely demise of some other mega company which Temasek bought into? Mind you these are questions, not aspersions.

For the sheer hell of it I went to apply for a taxi driver's vocational licence today. If and when I do pass I hope to someday drive a taxi to understand what is really going on in the taxi industry.

There were some 50 people who were to be 'interviewed.' I asked around and found out that that is the average daily number who are slated for interviews. Every working day 50 Singaporeans are applying to be taxi drivers. Lost job? Cannot be re-employed? Employment of last resort?

Compare this to headline news barely a month ago where the papers were screaming about unprecendented low unemployment rates? About how employers were upbeat and planning to employ more and more? More Singaporeans or more foreigners is my first question here.

If one bothers to scan through all Saturday recruit sections for a year or so one may realize that many Governmental and quasi-governmental bodies are constantly looking out for the same positions. I wonder why? To make the job market look good? Turnover too high because working conditions are ridiculous (8am to 11pm at some former stat boards where I have friends who are bonded? family time?) or because Singaporeans are too spoiled?

I don't have the real answer. It could be a mix of factors. All of the above and more. But it remains that what I see today at the Singapore Taxi Academy is telling to me in more ways then one.

Every working day 50 Singaporeans apply to be taxi drivers. 200 working days a year works out to 10,000 Singaporeans a year applying to be taxi drivers. Probably a piddling percentage are folk like me today. Is the local economy really ok? Is Singapore really ok?

Edit: Kelvin, thanks for writing in. Even if I discount 50% of the taxi applicants as repeat applicants we still get 5,000 Singaporeans a year applying to be taxi drivers. Still a large number by any measure going forward into the future. No other industry, including today's civil service has that many job openings in a year every year.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Thailand's Coup, Singaporean's Money

Your Excellency
Ambassador Thanchitt
Royal Thai Embassy

Your letter to the public in Singapore is re-assuring of continual growth of Thailand as a nation. It is, however, unfortunate that you were required, in your diplomatic capacity, to pen such a letter to be published in Singapore which does not truly respect the tenets of democracy and human rights as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

If democracy is a model to go by in the world for a more stable future then Singapore has to play catch up. While your military forces have taken things into their own hands in an apparent attempt to stop what appears to be high level corruption and restore democracy in place of money politics, Singapore's military has been called upon to quash any opposition that may come into power through legal means at the ballot box.

It brings to mind the recent investments made by Singapore's Temasek Holdings, done with executive powers without consultation to the public, and whither the status of this investment since it apparently involves Singaporean taxpayer money. On behalf of many Singaporeans, I ask that The Royal Kingdom of Thailand's honourable judiciary bear this in mind when deliberating on the legality of the said investments. We have no true democratic rights in Singapore and hence no true control over the expenditure of state funds.

The internal political and ideological differences practiced and allowed for by the citizenry in our countries are stark. Your belief in the rule of law as a tenet of democracy is admirable. I hope Thailand's interim and new Government will not adopt a model of Legalism similar to Singapore's wherein there are no rights but only privileges for the citizens.

Thailand has my best wishes for a speedy recovery from an excellent coup which should be a model of reform for many Asian countries.

Chok Dee.

Perry Tong

The Straits Times

Sep 28, 2006 Thailand remains fully committed to democracy

FOLLOWING the recent political developments in Thailand, I must update your readers on the current situation as they deserve accurate information on what is going on before they decide what to believe.

While the military intervention on September 19 may be perceived as a setback for democracy in Thailand, early indicators seem to suggest that Thailand needed to take this step to propel our democracy forward. Indications are that public support for the intervention has been overwhelming. According to the polls on September 20 by a respectable local independent polling agency, Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, 84 per cent of 2,019 people who took part in the survey support the political change.

Another 75 per cent also believe that it will improve our political situation. Besides, Thailand has remained calm and peaceful throughout. Our capital, Bangkok remains as safe as ever.
Such public support should not, however, be interpreted in any way that our people has turned against democracy. The reality is quite the opposite. The Council for Democratic Reform (CDR) has clearly stated that it would return power to the Thai people at the earliest opportunity.

Concrete actions with participation from various sectors of our society are being taken to accelerate the democratic reform process that could not take place properly under the previous caretaker government. The CDR has firmly stated that it would do its best to ensure the ongoing process of drafting a provisional constitution is completed by next week.

A national legislative assembly will then be formed, which will in turn task a constitution drafting body to elaborate on a new constitution. Also, the head of the CDR has firmly and openly stated that he will, within two weeks, transfer all of the Council's administrative powers to a respectable civilian Prime Minister, who will at once form a government to run the country. This government, along with the Thai people, will have oversight over the drafting of our new constitution.

We expect that free and fair elections based on the new constitution will be held within a year, if not sooner. The Election Commission, which was appointed by the former Senate, has already made concrete preparations. What we ask from all good friends of Thailand is your understanding. Despite the recent intervention, our friends will see that respect for human rights and the rule of law, together with the profound belief in the principles of democracy, remain very close to our hearts.

We remain firmly adhered to the UN Charter and obligations under international treaties and agreements, on the basis of the equality of states. No one should doubt that Thailand would resolutely pursue the path of democratic reform to achieve sustainable progress and stability for its people.

Chalermpol Thanchitt
Royal Thai Embassy

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Response to Medical Student in Oz

Hi JC,

thanks for writing in. Please find my responses below:

Those are some interesting insights to the Singaporean healthcare model.I'm a Singaporean studying medicine in Melbourne, Aus. I would like to point out that Singapore has relatively good healthcare compared to the rest of the Asian region and our prices are DEFINITELY affordable (be it pri. healthcare or that of a higher tier).

Affordability is subjective. Without intention of prejudice or malice but you appear to be speaking from a relatively well off point of view given your current ability to engage in medical studies abroad.

In Melbourne, the cost of an ambulance trip to hospital could be as high as AUD1k?

This is not surprising, if you have followed an earlier post on privatizing healthcare costs and healthcare insurance this could well be the case in some future version of Singapore's medical healthcare system.

The idea of a welfare state, ie. taxes going back to the 'needy people' could backfire in Singapore - look at Australia. Their taxes are exhorbitant thus price of living is improportional to the std of living (comparing to SG).

Hmm, I do not believe I have promoted the idea of a welfare state. As it stands in Singapore we are virtually a welfare state in the sense that roughly 50% of the population are supporting the other 50% when you take into account that nearly 40% of our population are hired by the civil service or its affliates then add in the self-employed like taxi drivers who are restricted in income to the local market.

Besides, with the introduction of GST, ERP, COE one should be constantly careful of claiming a 'low tax rate regime' in Singapore. Afterall, where does Temasek get its money to buyout USD $2 billion of Thailand's former Prime Minister's company in a private transaction that may have violated Thai monetary law?

But on the other hand, our standard of living may not be comparable to a high tax regime. This again is subjective.

Why would we want this? Singaporeans, especially in my medical school, are stereotypical hard workers and that should be the name we strive to uphold. Work hard and earn proportionally - a meritocracy. Is there a place for the mediocre attitude in singapore? not for long, i'd say.

My apologies if I offend you with this statement: Not everyone is born equal, some may not even have the chance to work hard the same way you do simply because of chance. I used to hold down 2 jobs bartending before I left for my degree in the US. Sometime in the early 90s I was taking home nearly $4k a month in return for working from 9am to 3am daily. My inability to focus on studies at a younger age was an initial setback in my life. My family's financial condition then did not permit me the luxury of even thinking about further education past secondary school.

There should never be a place anywhere for mediocrity. Chance, or some would say, by the grace of God, plays a large part. Perhaps we can afford to be more charitable to those who do not have the means and wherewithal to engage in conversations like this? Afterall, the universal adoption of the bell curve, particularly when it comes to things like IQ distribution, shows that in any given population set there will be those who are brighter and those who may need more help.

That being said, today I fear more mediocrity in thought then at work/study in Singapore. We should be a nation of critical thinkers if we are to proceed successfully into the 22nd century.

65% of Singaporean healthcare is privatised (pretty high) and that would increase the healthcare cost. The only thing the govt can do is to 1. increase the bond of med students that they subsidize, 2. make it more attractive to work in the govt sector.

It is arguable that 'privatized' healthcare in Singapore is dominantly shared by a very few selected shareholders. I do not know of any individual who has a share in SGH so wither the privatisation and its argument that profits need to be generated to sustain shareholder interest in light of capital accumulation tendencies?

As it stands, PSC and other scholarship granting bodies are dramatically cutting back on the numbers of scholarships given out. Due in no small part to scholarship predecessors who have decided to break bond in one form or another. Your recommendations above, in both points essentially go back to the moral equivalent of a welfare state with a slightly different model of tax distribution.

1. Increasing the bond of medical students. Assuming medical students are willing to be bonded for a longer period implies two things. First that a student of medicine will be willing to forego, for 'x' years, a chance at higher learning and therefore specialisation with an opportunity to make mega bucks - private moral contribution for zero future return.

2. Increase the pay/perks pacakage for those who serve in the public sector. By definition the public sector runs on public funds. To increase the pay/perks package implies an increase in either the cost to the patients who happen to utilise the service OR an increase in general taxes to maintain healthcare costs. Which then is a fairer model?

Also, the supply/demand of specialists in singapore is a consideration. With the highly limited places given to medical graduates to specialize, pri healthcare costs peanuts and secondary healthcare costs a bomb.

My first question is then why are there so limited places given to specialisation? If we as a society truly believe in free market capitalism then this practice of limiting places essentially places an externality, in the form of a 'monopoly,' on the healthcare market model. On the other hand, if I were in your shoes and wanted to become a specialists, I would fight against the creation of a large pool of specialists as that would lower my returns on investment vis a vis my studies and aim in life. So the question that has to be begged would be: Are medical specialists specializing for the sake of money / fame or knowledge in light of the Hippocratic Oath?

As Singapore progresses and Singaporeans become more aware of better medical treatments secondary healthcare will play a larger and larger role in the burgeoning of healthcare costs in Singapore. Very soon the model will be imbalanced by a requirement for the expensive secondary healtcare cost that you cite earlier. When this imbalance occurs is when money needs to be found, one way or another, to keep the system going. The other alternative is that the rich will remain 'well' and the poor are allowed to die. Which brings us back a full circle on state welfarism when it comes to medical healthcare costs.

Recent incidents in the last fews years, as reported in the local papers, show that there is no guarantee of a long life even if you keep fit. Young, very fit, males and females are dropping dead around us. Some in school while playing basketball, some in NS just after finishing a 5km run, some while doing taichi. I do not think these unfortunate souls were mediocre in any way related to their own health. It is the luck of the draw when Fate decides it is your time. As a medical student you should be aware of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Even expert medical science is unable to appropriate a more scientific and accurate term for SIDS hence demonstrating the capriciousness of human life.

I personally feel that having a health insurance scheme using govt funds deals injustice to taxpayers. Be it the darwinism in me, or the fact that I detest dole thiefs, I support the pay-for-your-health idea in SG; opposing the medical ethics pillar of 'access and distributive justice'

Singaporeans are, by and large, brought up with enough principles to detest dole theft. Myself included. But given the arguments raised above it is inevitable that if healthcare costs are to be more effectively managed it should be state run (the idea here is not on taxpayer's funds primarily but more a focus on 'non-profit') to enable mass participation.

An example: (Touch wood) If anyone had a family member who was terminally ill but refused to give up on life, and there is no public healthcare insurance, the financial impact will ultimately by born by that entire family (assuming that family is close knit and will help each other out). This is as you suggest no?

This draining of funds in a family structure means that others will have less of that fund to spend on other things. For instance, an overseas education for a bright deserving member of that family. (Given that scholarships are now on the wane.)

So that bright young thing is condemned to mediocrity through no fault of his/hers? Yes, one may argue that that is not a fine example of mediocrity but it will surely be the way society will judge an individual. At least our society will.

I do not profess to have all the answers to many questions in life that bank on morality. I do know that morality is a creature that changes with the times. I also do know that certain moral practices are prevalent at this point in time in our general society and they are taken as norms to which we should all aspire.

At the end of the day as an aspiring politician the most vexing question for me in terms of equitability is of this nature: should 1 be saved at the expense of 50? 100? 200? 1000? or conversely should 1000 be saved at the expense of 1?

Should despots be removed at any costs so that the people can be free? Do people even know what it is to be free or be able to appreciate it? Or are we Singaporeans, as an NTU student I took on a diving trip recently so aptly described as : A dog which growls and moans because it sits on its tail, causing it pain, but apparently insufficient pain to justify a movement to a position of more comfort.

I wish you the best in your endeavours in Australia. And I hope you will come back to Singapore, one way or another, to contribute to society with the skills that you have gained.

Thank you for taking an interest in my blog and thank you for your contribution.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Confuscianism / Legalism

Dear YCK,

thank you for the enlightening email. I strive to demonstrate what is palpable and palatable to the masses in terms of governance and policies without dwelling on the depths of their associated philosophies. Admittedly it is easy to fall into the same trap as everyone else with government propaganda and BS. Nevertheless I hope to gain your understanding for future pieces which I may post on the same topic using the same verbiage as this is what 'we' know. I appreciate your candour and email and am reproducing it here:

With my limited understanding of Confucianism, I believe that it has been maligned. However, you could not be faulted as the misunderstanding has been purveyed by none other than the government.

A rather good blog by kiweto was a brave attempt at unmasking true the ruling philosophy of the government. He identified it as Legalism, the ruling philosophy of the Qin dynasty.

I will try to redress this in my own way:Silvan Solomon Tomkins (1911-1991), a personality theorist, in the light of his Polarity Theory saw the recurrent polarity in fields as diverse as mathematics, political theory, theory of child rearing and theory of personality as being attributable to humanistic versus normative orientations.The former positive idealization sees man as an end in himself.

Tomkins assumed that it attempts to maximize positive affect for individuals and for all their interpersonal relationships. The latter negative idealization holds that a man must work towards attaining his full stature, only through struggle toward a norm, a measure, an ideal essence.

Tomkins believed that it stresses that norm compliance is the primary value and that positive affect is a consequence of norm compliance, not to be directly sought as a goal. As a corollary, the suffering of negative affect is a frequent and inevitable experience. Tomkins devised a polarity scale, in which an individual chooses between two statements each on diverse ideological issues to assess the individual's position on the humanistic-normative spectrum. An example of such a pair of statements:

1. The maintenance of law and order is the most important duty of any government.
2. Promotion of welfare of the people is the most important function of a government.

Statement 1 is normative and 2 is humanistic. Humans are basically evil. and Humans are basically good. are another example of such a normative-humanistic pair. Xun Zi the founder of Legalism firmly believed in the former, while Mencius held the latter to be true. It does not take a genius to figure out who was the humanist here!Like the case of the revered Nanyang spirit, snuffed out about two decades back, Confucius name has been abused to legitimize a political agenda. I hope I have succeeded in attaining my original aim to right this wrong.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Healtcare Costs ... Again

[This will definitely never make it to the MSM. Thank goodness for the internet!]

Here we go again.

Dear Minister of Health, you just don't get it do you?

Sep 9, 2006
Five steps to keeping health care affordable

Excerpts from a speech by Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Minister for Health, at the China-Singapore joint health care forum yesterday in Xiamen, China

LAST week, I met Health Minister Gao Qiang in Beijing. We chit-chatted and shared our experiences. We both knew that it is tough being a health minister. [Probably tougher on the Chinese Minister due to his dramatically lower salary, must be mired in corruption by Singaporean logic.]

This is because patients expect us to do magic. They expect us to deliver a very high standard of medical service but at a very low cost, preferably free. These objectives are almost contradictory. How can we deliver First World health care at Third World costs? [Yes yes, it is a condition endemic only to Singaporeans & Chinese apparently. Of course nobody in the world will want to pay Third World rates for First World goods, we all really really want to pay First World rates for questionable goods on which some of us are tested.]

Early this week, I read a newspaper article (ST, Aug 4) which quoted Indian Tourism Minister Ambika Soni as saying that India offers 'the best treatment for one-fifth of the cost (in the West)'. For example, bone marrow transplants cost US$30,000 (S$47,000) in India as compared with US$250,000 in the US. Likewise, cardiac surgery in India costs a quarter of that in the US.

But hospitals offering US standards of care are rare exceptions in India. [As is the story of Singapore. But why can we not strive to be like that Indian hospital? As a tax payer I would happily send a team from your Ministry with MY money to India to study how this hospital pulls off this feat then try to replicate that in Singapore to the benefit of Singapore citizens while creating a possible medical tourism plus point. In this flattening world, price will be the ultimate dictator of where most of the spending dollar goes. Gucci and Mount E. nuts aside.]

The bulk of health care in India remains at Third World level. Hence, it is possible for a few hospitals to offer US standards of care while leveraging on the large number of health-care workers who remain on Third World wages. [Dear Minister, in the international medical community Singaporeans probably ranks as an oddity. First world country, Third world painkillers. Having been treated in the US and here in Singapore ... I would have to say we Singaporeans tend to suffer a lot more pain rather unnecessarily due to your controlled substances acts. Your policy on proven drugs simply does not qualify for any price increases.

Singaporean workers bore the brunt of bringing Singapore to the First World on Third World wages. You are expecting us to now pay for First World priced medicine?]

The challenge is to keep wages and costs at Third World levels while the rest of the health-care system moves to First World standards. It is almost impossible. [Last I heard in Singapore we have a very close tripartite working relationship where Singaporeans will gladly suffer cuts in CPF and raises in broad based taxation like GST and ERP. Our wages have not really gone up sir! And before you pull that Progress Package stunt again ... where is that money going to come from?]

With globalisation, the wages of health-care workers as well as the prices of medical products are converging. Cross-border migration of health-care workers is now common. For a small country like Singapore, we import most of our medical products, like drugs and X-ray equipment. We have to pay international prices for these imports. [I called for local production of generic drugs during this past GE, you responded that we do manufacture medicine here. I have to ask again sir: we produce only Panadol and Axe Oil here? Why can't we produce and possibly export generic drugs that have run their patent life duration? We'll have to ask your colleague Mr. George Yeo I believe. Are drug prices and the ability to produce generic drugs in Singapore bound by FTAs recently signed by any chance? Are Singaporeans being made to pay more for costly drugs in exchange for what the EDB or MITI can later proclaim to be a victory of negotiation at the trade table?]

With people living longer and mothers producing fewer babies, uncontrollable healthcare costs can potentially wreck our finances, not to mention create major political problems. [I believe it too! And the issue at hand is cost! Not whether or not we have more money, through CPF or other means, to pay for escalating medical costs! Costs needs to be contained please, not alleviated by simply allowing us to spend our own money which we otherwise would not have been able to till after retirement.]

Singapore is fortunate that our founding fathers were successful in developing the economy. With clean water, clean air and good sanitation, the health of our people has improved over the years. We now enjoy high life expectancy and very low infant mortality rates.

Our [health-care] system today is not perfect but it is not bad. WHO has rated our system as among the top 10 most cost-effective in the world. [Dear Minister, independent research shows your statement to be in sync with what has been published. May we move on and try to gun for a better and cheaper system then please?]

Today, we spend only 4 per cent of our GDP on health. The average public hospital bill size for the unsubsidised Class A ward is about one month of the average salary. In the heavily subsidised Class C ward, the average bill ($786) is less than a week of salary. [Yes, but we also spend 24% of our salaries, in one form or another, on our beloved HDB flats according to a Cisco international salary survey - the highest in the world! Add the differing costs together and you do not have a low cost model that is attractive to MNCs .... and eventually citizens as well.]

For the high standard of medical care that hospitals provide, we think this is very good value for money. [Comparing with John Hopkins or with the above mentioned Indian hospital?]

Five aspects of managing a health-care system

First, we work on the basis that health-care cost will continue to rise. While we do our best to manage medical inflation, we know that the trend is rising. The reason is simple. Doctors and nurses will continue to command high salaries and advances in medical science will continue to churn out new drugs and new equipment which are more expensive than their replacements.
The key to managing health-care cost is therefore to ensure that there is a constant and expanding flow of money going into the health-care sector to pay for new services. There is no short cut to this problem. [I concur, there is no short cut to this problem. Allowing the population to understand how medical costs are derived will allow for greater transparency which you argue for later on. Let's talk about the real cost of medical treatment in Singapore. Dollars and cents, just like what you forced to be published last year for some treatements at different hospitals.]

We are more likely to succeed if we share the financial burden widely. If we load the burden on one payer - whether the government as in the British system, or the employers like the American system - we will cause very severe strains. In Singapore, we involve both the Government as well as employers, and in addition, we rope in patients and their families as well. Our health-care system is supported by all the major stakeholders: Government, employers, patients, family members, insurers and charities. [So the new major shareholder in tripartism is now the patient and their families? At times I feel my tax money goes to supporting our incredible high Ministerial salaries. Perhaps it is time to once again raise the platform of medical national service for doctors / nurses who graduate from our 'heavily subsidised' educational system? If you crank out 100 doctors a year and they have to serve say, 4 years at NS pay levels, would that help lower costs?]

Second, we believe that the health-care market can work better under competition. Market competition is the best way to allocate resources efficiently. Compared to other economic sectors, the health-care sector is notoriously unproductive. But there is no fundamental reason why the health-care market must fail. It fails only because we allow it to fail. [Another common reason for market failure is imperfect information. In Singapore, yet another reason exists for market failure - governmental intervention.]

For markets to function, there must be timely information so consumers and producers can make rational decisions. When we want to buy a mobile phone, we shop around for the best prices for the functions that we desire. But how many patients shop around before they go for their cataract eye operation or knee cap replacement? And how can they shop around when information on how much patients pay for such operations is not easily available?
In Singapore, we are trying to push out timely and relevant information. We gather data from our hospitals and publish them regularly. [Great first step Minister! *applause*]

Third, we must empower patients and get them to take greater responsibility for their own health. This is particular so in the management of chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. If we manage chronic diseases well, we are more likely to avoid or at least delay or minimise the onset of future medical complications requiring costly treatment. [Sorry, this is a no-brainer, no applause here. Only thing I will say is to encourage the PAP to continue with its nanny function. Keep it up! Keep it up! .... "Don't worry, the government will take care of it. They have the best brains and they know what they're doing. No one else should interfere!"]

Patients should take responsibility for their own health and work with their doctors and change their lifestyle. Eat healthily, exercise regularly, avoid obesity and smoking, take medication as prescribed by their doctors while regularly monitoring their own health and looking out for signs of complications. Many pilot studies of such structured disease management programmes have shown the benefits to the health of patients, while saving them money. [Please don't give me this whole bullock cart worth of bovine manure. How much time off does your assistant get? How much time off does a wannabe-high-flyer civil servant get? You have a paunch too Minister. We live in Singapore. There is no time to muck around other then to work and to please our bosses. You have not watched 'Singapore Dreaming' have you?]

Fourth, we must revive the important role played by the primary health-care sector. In many countries, this sector has been marginalised as patients and doctors flock to the more glamorous tertiary sector. An over-swing to the tertiary sector has been a major contributor to escalating health-care costs in many countries, without any corresponding improvement in health outcomes. [You said upgrading is good right? So how can you describe the move into the tertiary health sector as an overswing sir? They are merely following their societal instincts to make hay while the sun shines at the risk of being labelled - "see how much they earn? so little" which I believe is attributable to you in the month of August 2006.]

As a rule, we need to keep patients away from unnecessary care by specialists at expensive hospitals. When a patient who can be adequately treated by a GP is instead managed by a specialist in a tertiary hospital, it means a waste and abuse of expertise.

Often, financial incentives and remunerations for the doctors work against the right siting of care. [Is this not where governmental policy would do some good though it is intervening in a market model? To acheive a slightly more socialistic outcome in terms of primary medical care?]

When insurers reward high-intensity, high-cost surgical treatment but do not reimburse GPs who provide low-intensity, low-cost health education and dietary advice to their chronic sick patients, we should not be surprised that the outcome is disappointing. [Yes sir! Because at one point in time not too long ago, primary health care cost was affordable. Insurance had no business there because it was not a marketable model, no one would buy insurance then for primary healthcare. Now the cost of primary healthcare has gone up, which publicly listed or private insurer in their right mind will provide insurance where the payouts are likely to be equal to or more then the premiums collected. ...... ]

Fifth, we should exploit globalisation to help lower cost. While globalisation is itself pushing up wages of health workers, we should leverage on it to average down our cost. [If you guys want to muck around with the market then continue to do so and not shove the final responsiblity on the citizens when the market begins to behave out of expectations due to your shortsightedness or 'globalization'.

And hey, 'globalization' has been taking place since ships first sailed. it is not a recent phenomenon. It is truly a wonder few people in Singapore flip when the government cites 'globalization' as a factor for everything bad. And everything good must be a result of wise decisions and policies by the government. Complete bollocks!

In any event, an elected government is beholden to the people in terms of their welfare. I have to ask what your annual KPIs are Minister? Achieving budget surpluses?

If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!]