Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Video Tribute to WP

All the trials and tribulations the public are unaware of.

One fine day it will all be exposed.

But will the people care?

To all WP supporters: THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING!! :D

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Talent Is Here [?]

Taken from the Bangkok Post, 9th September 2007. Sounds applicable in Singapore if not for propaganda and ostrich-like behaviour as well as a propensity for a single party state:

"Thai students are capable of much more; they are the victims of an educational system that seems designed to discourage excellence and inspiration, writes FLEMMING WINTHER NIELSEN

Realities are taken from general knowledge, from the streets, from a poor rural primary school in Ratchaburi, from a private university in Bangkok and, last but not least, from my two adopted sons, aged 15 and 18.

If a certain issue is close to your heart, the writing tends to be private and confused; there must be a piece of strong but transparent silk between you and the subject. To keep that distance in this article will not be easy, since I harbour sadness about certain conditions seen and a realisation that so much young talent is being wasted - without objective reasons.

It has frequently been argued that the intelligence, the so-called IQ, of Thai children is generally low. This opinion and a feeling of inferiority runs deep in society - even my English-speaking taxi driver believes in the myth. But it is a myth. I have found no research supporting this. IQ tests are not objective, as the questions are created around knowledge and norms of the middle/upper classes. Furthermore, there seems to be no proof that the standard curve (of normality) should deviate from elsewhere.

Myths come from somewhere, they can be traced. In old Europe the same myths were common among the ruling classes of noble land owners. In order to keep the majority in place myths were canvassed as the truth. Many hands were needed on the manors and farms. Hands, not heads. Therefore, education was regarded as unnecessary, if given at all, and limited to basic language, rote learning of hymns and history glorifying the ruling classes. To keep things that way is possible as long as the society is static.

As soon as industrialisation started and changes gained speed, the myths punctured. The working classes, migrating to the cities, soon displayed that they had lots of talent. They coped with constant educational challenges, creating their own unions and organisations. The educated Europeans of today are the descendants of those who were branded heavy-drinking, stupid, lazy and dirty farmhands, but in fact merely had untapped potential.

In Europe and elsewhere in the West the family has lost its position as the most important foundation. Societies have become orientated towards the individual. One consequence has been that all emphasis in primary, secondary and tertiary education is given to find, nurture and support the special talents of the individual - talents to be used individually, in groups and in the interactions within society as a whole.

As an educator I have spent 25 years being this kind of gardener and can spot talent. And bear in mind, we are talking about talent to be built on - not about rote-based knowledge.

Two examples: The thousands of young motorcyclists of Bangkok, being either messengers or taxi drivers, show a high degree of elegance and practical talent each day. Within split seconds they have to calculate four variables - distance, speed, manoeuvres and factor X, this being the abrupt behaviour of those on four wheels. They have a keen eye on elderly Toyota Solunas with nervous elderly drivers.

These youngsters are not only street artists. Three years ago, they revolted against the gangsters who controlled and exploited them. By using clever tactics and strategies they got support both from City Hall and from the government and set themselves free. Hopefully it has stayed that way.

I know two internet cafe's well. In the first one, games are not allowed. During the peaceful Hua Hin afternoons, squeezed in between all the foreigners, you will find many Thai children and teenagers doing their homework, searching Google and the Wikipedia and using advanced English spelling programmes. The cafe' charges 20 baht per hour. Sometimes they ask questions and I feel proud.

At the other end, in Lop Buri, they play interactive games to their hearts' content. These games acquire logical IT knowledge, tactical and strategic skills and talent. The youngsters learn through trial and error, with help from their friends. Children and youngsters have courage, and they are not afraid. They are far beyond the majority of teachers regarding IT capacities. They have got used to analytical thinking and are bored stiff in their traditional schools.

Albert Einstein was once asked a question about American history that he couldn't answer. Asked why, he replied: "Why should I fill my head with knowledge that I can look up in a book?" Modern education is not about rote learning, it is completely passe' because of IT. Next to delivering only the most basic knowledge, the teacher's role is to inspire, to instill academic curiosity and to come up with ways and methods of where and how to search - and for what purpose. But the teachers of today are educated in the traditions of yesteryear.
The enemy of children's curiosity and built-in desire to learn is boredom. Boredom shows its ugly face when children and youngsters cannot see any challenges, or see no relationship with what is being taught to their own lives.


So why is it that the school in Ratchaburi resembles the ones I saw in Zambia, Africa?
Why is it that the school in Bangkok, more like a factory with its 3,000 students, is chronically short of money? I'm told that this school doesn't differ much from other schools in the city.
If a school has more than 500 students, it cannot instill a productive relationship between the children and their school. They students will not regard the school as "a place to belong".
Furthermore, the school has to put 50 students in each class. It is a researched fact that if the classroom has more than 25 students it is not possible for the teacher to reach out to all and establish a two-way communication.

As a result of this overcrowding the majority of new students at the private university where I lecture cannot form a simple sentence in English.

Many well-to-do parents send their children to private schools, which are run like a business. Children become commodities. Not surprisingly, the young generation has become materialistic. One of the consequences of the mushrooming private schools and universities is that they create irrational divisions in society. They recruit according to the wallets of the parents, not the student's talents. The future leadership might as well be formed by people endowed only with a lesser intelligence.

A learned visiting professor tells us that the country needs innovation, that the EU gives much emphasis to this and that the Australians are good innovators. Various ministers also use the word "innovation" simply as a mantra. Nevertheless, they should know that the preconditions for innovative thinking are not here, as I have tried to illustrate. Create them, then. Immediately the words "financing" and "funding" come to mind. From my experience, a reasonable education is a matter of priorities.

Perhaps the priority is simply that the elite do not want to see an up-to-date, educated working class. Maybe the myths are still alive along with the creeping fear of the suppressed, well known to the feudal lords of the past.

Meanwhile, according to American sources quoted in this newspaper, the military leaders have allowed themselves a pay rise of $9 million and raised their budget by more than $1 billion, although no war is in sight. This also shows a society in which various groups are just fighting for their own narrow interests, proclaiming "love of country" and "unity."

In a parliament I know quite well, they often have lengthy and heated debates about education, for many good reasons. One of the most important is the demographics. The members know that the ratio between people of working age and retired people is becoming smaller and smaller. In other words, there are fewer and fewer working people to create the wealth needed to support more and more non-working groups. Therefore, a state-of-the-art education focusing on free minds capable of innovative thinking and doing is crucial.

Some years down the road the same situation will occur in Thailand [or Singapore?]. Maybe only then will the educational system change, but by then it may be too late.

Mr Flemming Winther Nielsen is a retired Danish lecturer now living in Bangkok. He taught at the National Danish School for Social and Development Studies, DK from 1980 to 2003. "

Thursday, August 09, 2007

N Day 42

Great show man! Somehow there was some new fresh feeling about this NDP compared with previous years!

Great job to all the performers, organizers and cleaners who will have a hell of a time tonight!

Finishing off with 'dare to find, dare to find, dare to find ... new ways' is a great way to bring the country forward. Should be the mantra going forward. Wonder if it means 'dare to find new ways [as long as one does not oppose the PAP].'

Anyhow, Happy Birthday Singapore. You are more then just the PAP!

so ......... anybody found out about the 1.2 ton durian tender by SOCOM posted about 2 months back? was it 70% of each durian bitter and 30% sweet? or 70% of durians in each basket bitter and 30% sweet? or 70% bitter and 30% sweet for each seed? were there any successful bidders? :D was it bitter or sweet?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


International Tribunal on Law of the Seas - ITLOS.

Dear old Prof. Jayakumar is quite hilarious when he cites, among other things that states selectively choose to adhere to international law and this makes adjudication by ITLOS ineffective ......... well, roughly put anyway. That states should submit themselves to this tribunal is the underlying message.

Hearing this on TV last night then confirming it in the papers this morning ...... my tummy ached from laughter. If only it weren't not so obscene it would be satire in its highest form .... or not.

Singapore herself, under the aegis of the present government and its legislations have opted out of many international conventions and/or have made reservations on selected clauses of these international conventions but yet is now herself calling for other states not to do the same? Come on lah!

In NS speak: You do not do as I do but do as I say ..... then the officer goes on to do whatever it is one is not supposed to do.

International law also consists of customary law. This I am sure all the legal eaglets in Singapore are damned well aware of. Customary law, in friendly neighbourhood speak is: eh, everyone is doing it this way so it is an accepted practice and therefore after writing it down it becomes law. So .... if Singapore chooses NOT to accept all clauses and submissions that form the whole body of International Law as it stands today then she should not in the same breath shoot her own foot!

I will feel stupid as a Singaporean if asked to expound on this in a class on International Law. Cross my fingers that that will never ever happen. And I also do not wish it on any other lawyer but by golly some people deserve a cream pie in the face man - cherry included.

Let's look at one of the most common pieces of international legislation. In particular Articles 19 through 21 (Article 26 in relation to my last post). Wait a minute, what am I talking about? Singapore didn't even make it past the Preamble in terms of disseminating this information. No wonder the rest of the Articles are nothing but piss in the wind. So much for international law! Hey folks! Its the Wild Wild East all over again man. I would promote anarchy and chaos but apparently some stinker decided it was against the law!

* * * * * *


On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the full text of which appears in the following pages.

Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

* * * * * * *

Back to Basics for Education

Just under 100 (2/3 of 148) Singaporean students left out in the cold by UNSW's shock closure once again demonstrates how restricted Singapore's tertiary education system is. Restricted to Singaporeans who are trying so hard to make it in life but who may have had circumstances stacked against them in their adolescent years.

The old arguments can be dredged up again. Better genes, better environment, better address, better family, better tuition, .... better chances. These underlying factors are NOT obscure, despite the local media's inability to grasp these concepts, and do not contribute well to the idea of meritocracy so heavily harped on by this government.

I call on the government once again to open up tertiary education places to all Singaporeans, particularly returning matured students, minus all the sand traps and administrative red tape as well as policy bovine manure. These students might well prove to be the ones who can take life's experiences, since they've had a bit more then the average straight through student, and put them to really good use in our economy by becoming better managers and entrepreneurs. These are the people who are really trying for goodness sake!

Loose entry requirements, tight graduation requirements. That ought to solve issues of quality dilution. And do NOT give us citizens some more bovine manure about insufficient funds, the damned GST is going up shortly. Yes, other taxes are down - hey, that's your choice, not like us two bit citizens have a say in policy making in Singapore yeah?

Yes, an incumbent political party has no and should not have any desire to help displace itself but think of the country, think of the citizens, think of those outside your high flying circles upon whose backs this country was ALSO built.

Just let it go Mr. Government! Yes, that's you I'm talking to you big bully! Singapore's chances of survival from independence till today have been abysmal from the get go yet WE prospered. Do not visit those kinds of probabilities of success in life to your citizens. WE deserve better. And don't be too quick to point out your mega million dollar policy makers for guidance, I'd love to see you fight a war with only Majors, Colonels, and Generals.

I am proud to say I am a relic and a testament for and against all former Education Ministers in Singapore. "Once you drop out you never get back in" was the unspoken but heavily practiced motto of the Education Ministry during my days in school. I dropped out but I came back with something even better then what was offered locally then because the rules were such that I had no where else to go except down or OUT! Now its changed a little, that's good. But that's also not enough and not quick enough.

Have you policy wanking guys done enough to drive Singaporeans overseas already? If you feel you have not then please do not spend any more funds attempting to woo these Singaporeans back who failed under your perfectionist, meritocratic, mandarin system. I prefer my taxes be spent on our collective future instead of paying for your past mistakes. To be spent, for instance and precisely, on creating more University places for our local students to at least have a chance at trying for a better future.

And OI! There are people who still remember the real Nantah mind you!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Subtle Shift in HR?

Recent job ads in the papers, particularly Saturday's recruit sections have been tweaked somewhat in my opinion.

Almost gone are the hair raisingly ridiculous requirements of a good and high level degree coupled with half a gajillion years of experience in 5 dozen industries over and above multi-job duties that require sudden travel.

Seems almost down to earth now with more realistic requirements. 3 to 5 years experience, degree OR experience though both preferable, some light travelling.

Wonder what is happening?

Are there shifts in the Singapore economy which are not being overtly reported?

Also see more jobs for overseas placements. i.e. hire Singaporeans to work overseas. Does this also count in the 'job creation' statistics posted by the government? So what do these growing number of Singaporeans who work overseas count as? Direct GDP contribution to Singapore?

I keep wondering how the numbers are compiled .....

Friday, March 16, 2007

So this is justice?

Today's Straits Times:

"Last October, laws were tightened against employers who put their maid's lives in danger. On conviction, an employer who knowingly allows a maid to endanger herself, or forces a maid into a dangerous situation, can be jailed up to three months and fined up to $250. The employer will also be permanently barred from hiring foreign maids."

So ..... forcing a person into a dangerous (life threathening situation) attracts up to three months jail and find of $250 but punching an MP attracts up to 20 years jail and an optional fine?

I think we have our priorities all mixed up here.

It is blatant that this government is promoting double standards with regard to the sanctity of human life / security.

Should the citizens then choose to behave any other way then what is reflected as governmental policy?

Are Singaporean employers really to blame for treating maids this way since the law reflects this inequality?

If the government and the law makers - certainly not the MPs in this case - have no regard for ordinary human life, and are apparently appointed into position by representatives chosen by a simple majority of Singaporeans through an election then ................

Sunday, March 04, 2007

SAFE Scuba Diving?

Yes, it is possible.

Feel I have to add my share of spiel to the recent scuba diving related accident nonsense that's been raging in the press the previous week. Its not old and it'll happen again.

1. Scuba (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) contains inherent risks like most sports do. The risks levels are increased because of one's dependency on compressed air* in a virtually airless environment (underwater in other words). It is otherwise no more dangerous then roller blading or bicycling in my opinion.

* not oxygen as most people including our oh so credible press likes to believe and thus misleading everyone else into believing the same. btw, i have written in to ST before to correct this error but to no avail. If one breathes pure oxygen (100% O2) as implied by the term 'oxygen tank' then one would suffer from oxygen toxicity by suffering a central nervous system convulsion (your brain goes kaput) at a depth of around 5 to 6 metres depth .... and you die.
Basic scuba courses take you down to 18M, advance courses typically around 30M, specialty courses to 40M and technical courses down to 150M (but you look like a christmas tree going diving at this level).

2. It is ridiculously cheap to learn scuba diving in Singapore given the unethical levels of competition for the consumer dollar. Plain mathematics alone will tell anyone who investigates that intro scuba courses following PADI, NAUI or SSI guidelines are almost impossible to perform when including a weekend trip to nearby Malaysian islands. SGD $400 per student does not even really make break even for the week's operations not to mention the running costs of an actual dive shop in sky high priced Singapore. But this level of being 'unethical' is due in large part to consumer behaviour as we all well know. Besides having the two words 'business' and 'ethics' usually does not make sense in a sentence or a paragraph unless it is descriptive like this is.

3. Based on point 2 above one 'way out' is through economies of scale. Most scuba certifying bodies have an instructor student ratio of 1:8 in very controlled conditions (very shallow water with no current or in a pool). A smaller ratio of conditions are not so stable/suitable. Some 'scuba schools' in Singapore exceed this since there is no regulatory body nor can there be one everywhere where scuba diving is possible (basically anywhere where you can haul your gear & tank and where there's water).

Ratios exceeding 1:8 typically require a certified assistant. The former part of 'certified assistant' is usually questionable.

Cancelling dives due to perceived uncontrollable risks by the operator / instructors usually ends up pissing off the customers who are double quick to complain and run to CASE. The flip side is for an instructor to take someone down in the water when it is flowing at 3 knots. Not very fast in a boat but unstoppable when you're a human being underwater ... even with fins.
Yes yes, some induhviduals can swim in or against a 3 knot current with jet fins but those are rare and certainly not new divers. Or when a storm is about to break knowing that there will be swells of up to 6 feet causing the boat (and launching/recovery platform) to continuously be in an exaggerated up/down motion.

4. Still based on point 2 above the other way out is to cut corners. By sending down students into the water with 'certified' assistants first while the actual instructor supervises the 'dive' from above water.

5. Not all instructors are the same in terms of training, exposure, experience, communication, discipline etc. This is a human given. Some instructors are on their first few classes out in open water (the sea. confined water = pool or very shallow sea bay where there is no current), others have been there so long they believe they've seen all there is to see. Some instructors demonstrate skills well underwater but may not be so articulate in the classroom. Some vice versa. Sometimes it is a language issue - CL2 instructor, EL1 student or vice versa or any other possible combination you can think off including the Scandinavian and Baltic countries. And occasionally there are requirements for a HK3 instructor also (that's hokkien for you). Instructors are not perfect. But neither are their charges.

6. Not all students truly are there to learn scuba diving and not all students go to any kind of course with the right attitude. The third kind of student, other then those who really want to learn are those who are there for the sake of someone/thing they love/adore - i.e. doing it for wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/dog/turtle/etc. Some students simply do not respond to instructions well both above and underwater period. The most difficult instruction for guys to follow is: hold onto your buddy's arm to stay close when you first descend and hit the bottom. It applies to some gals also when their buddies are guys they do not know. FYI, STDs are not transmitted by arm contact and neither is pregnancy caused.

7. New or trainee divers (consumers) typically go for the lowest price. Sometimes even haggling even more without realising the true cost of operations for a diving outfit. Some shops give in to the pricing requirements by customers. Some shops kick off with ultra low pricing but wind up after half or a year. I leave it to your imagination what can happen in this scenario when ultra low prices are de rigeur.

6. Combine the five points above and we have a recipe ripe for disaster.

* * *
To be fair here are the components of a proper introductory scuba diving course from PADI as is typically conducted in Singapore, you go figure the true costs:

Open Water Diver Course Components in terms of cost:

1. classroom for at least 6 to 10 hours (split over 2 evenings usually and depending on whether students have pre-read the required material or not though usually it is NOT). OK, this can be conducted in someone's home at a higher cost to the instructor to get there with a bootful of diving gear to show and tell but the other requirements below are typically non-negotiable.

2. 1 to 2 or more pool sessions with rental of scuba tanks and gear (depending on student and ratios and whether students breathe easy underwater or struggle - smokers' have an advantage here since they already regulate their airways typically very well but in the diving world non-smokers outnumber smokers, just like in real life)

3. course book (to be owned by student) copies are usually not allowed (i know this is about $60 a piece) - new PADI regulations attached your actual certification card (called PIC) with each new book. Therefore you have to buy a new book to get certified. No borrowing from your friend/cousin/cat etc.

4. course video / vcd / dvd purchased and owned by shop

5. necessary equipment for theory lessons (white board, video/vcd/dvd player, tv or PC/laptop)

6. instructor fee for 4 evenings (3 to 4 hours each evening for 2 theory lessons, 2 pool lessons - then we hope like hell that everyone passes at the first go because in the typical Singaporean schedule there is no time for RT or revision if you don't know what RT means)

7. transportation for diver(s) and instructor to Malaysia (tioman / dayang / redang / perhentian etc) - ConV or minivan typically takes 9 to 11, if group of 13 then the shop loses some money. include Singaporean and Malaysian toll fees here as well to get true cost.

8. rental of dive boat (share or wholely rent but some equivalent arrangement) for the whole weekend including for use as transportation to and from the dive islands (about 4 hours of diesel run one way on the fastest boat in good weather for the nearer islands) [cutting cost here is easy, just overload the boat beyond its official capacity] -- dive boat rental typically also includes scuba tanks, weights, petrol for running human use grade air compressors [cutting cost here is also easy, just don't change the air filters so often]

9. full board for saturday night and half day on sunday (that's usually an aircon bunk style room with meals)

10. instructor fees (may have to include certified assistant's fees also depending on group size / comfort levels) for the weekend; includes instructor's boarding

11. rental of diving equipment for the weekend (a typical full set of gear excluding tank ranges from about $800 to you name it - lesser then that and you're playing with your life)

12. diving insurance / trip insurance if the operator is a disciplined and caring one otherwise you're on your own here

13. certification card (actual certification card will be mailed to you about a month later); for PADI this alone costs AUD $45 methinks.

14. storage of records by the shop in case of future accident

15. operating cost for the shop (let's assume the dive shop is a welfare society and does not operate for profit here)

16. yes, some of us will argue that if it is indeed a ratio of 1:8 then most of the costs are defrayed into 8 parts therefore lowering the overall induhvidual cost. honestly, do you go for any course(s) with 7 other friends at any given point in your life that is of your own choosing? all at the same time if you're all holding onto normal jobs (working from 8.30am to about 10pm everyday)? I've found out a long time ago that waiting for anyone to join you to do something just basically procrastinates the whole affair which typically ends up being called off. If you're gonna do it then Nike!

17. some/most instructors will 'pass' a student because the student is a paying customer. not because the student is fit for certification. few instructors will dare to 'fail' or not certify open water (beginner) students because of this perceived and real 'monetary' relationship. FYI, most scuba instructors (not dive shops or operators) in Singapore are lucky if they make enough to cover their own equipment and pay the house bills every month, zero savings potential and certainly not a decent salary. Still very far even by GHSS survey standards of $2,750 average a month.

* * *

Diving is a very nice, relaxing and interesting sport or you may choose dives that are more adventurous. There are high risks associated with scuba diving if the student is not well taught or if a diver chooses to ignore the basic and advanced teachings. Or if a diver does not go for a refresher after a long period away from diving gear and rules.

An accident in Sipadan in 2006 springs to mind. The divemaster (below level of instructor) will turn on your air tank for you just prior to the dive. It is your duty to double check that your air tank is fully turned on and that you do indeed have enough air for the planned dive. This diver actually turned OFF the air while double checking and leaving enough airflow for breathing at a shallow depth (rule is turn on all the way and half turn back to prevent jamming, this diver turned off all the way and half turn back) went ahead with the dive. At 20+M this diver 'suffocated' due to the inability of the air cyclinder to deliver air at that operating pressure (we can go into Boyle's law and all that fancy stuff but I'll leave it for the actual lecture) and shot to the surface holding a lungful of air (from 20M, a lungful of air would depressurize and expand to 3 times its original volume). The diver was rushed to Tawau Hospital and warded for observation for near drowning and for lung over expansion injury. Fortunately that diver is alright except for the near drowning.

Lung over expansion injury: your lungs tear due to over expansion but you do not feel pain because there are no nerves in/around your lungs. blood enters your lungs through the tear and you drown in your own blood / any other gunk that happens to be around in your chest cavity. there is an intermediate stage called mediastinal emphysema where you literally cough blood like in kong fu movies.

The cardinal rule of always diving with and staying near your buddy was broken. The diver was unable to locate the buddy. Whose fault is it? I would say both divers.

On further questioning it was found out that the diver was actually only certified to dive to a depth of 18M as stipulated by training but most resorts let you do what you want anyways since you are a paying customer. Over and above that, this particular diver's last dive was actually the last of the basic training dives conducted some two years prior to this trip. Futhermore this diver's other friends knew very well that this diver's certification was only for a certain level yet the proceeded to allow dives that exceeded this diver's training.

And like just any old life, any activity is risky in and of itself, I do believe the stats will show that one stands a higher chance of being in a vehicle accident (or in Singapore's case being hit by killer litter) and leaving this world then by scuba diving.

Rule No.1 : Breathe Continuously.

Please be a SAFE Diver: Slowly Ascend From Every Dive

Just don't take the cheapest course there is. We get what we pay for at the end of the day.

For SCUBA the easy way out is also the quickest way out of this world.
Go enjoy the underwater world! It is truly amazing and peaceful!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Temasek, GST, Ministerial Pay Increases

Thanks to NMP Ms. Olsen for once again casting the spotlight on Temasek. Your indirect drive for greater transparency and accountability is great! Right down my alley if I may say so please.

While there's been almost overly much ado about Temasek given its Shin 'scandal' - I hope this write up is not sub-judice by Thai standards since they are the apparent plaintiffs - it seems that almost everyone has forgotten about GIC.

[Quote] from GIC's website (link in title of article, I hope) : GIC is a global investment management company established in 1981 to manage Singapore's foreign reserves. With a network of seven offices in key financial capitals around the world, GIC invests internationally in equities, fixed income, foreign exchange, commodities, money markets, alternative investments, real estate and private equity. Since our inception, we have grown from managing a few billion dollars, to well above US$100 billion today. With a portfolio this size, we are now amongst the world's largest fund management companies. [End quote]

So while Singaporeans at large are concerned with the flinging of a couple of billion dollars out the front door I wonder who is being seriously concerned about an amount far greater in magnitude that is being silently managed out the back door vis-a-vis press and mainstream media spotlighting.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm definitely concerned as a tax paying (direct and indirect as well as 'clandestine') Singaporean but as blogged previously, the more I write the more questions I end up with. In no small part due to the internet the Shin deal was blown wide open because it was first blasted it the Thai dailies. Deja vu General Election 2006 ... the local press had to print a tiny assed picture of the WP Hougang rally and subsequently other AP rallies because it was all over the internet otherwise its credibility would be at stake. Recall how PM Lee vigourously defended the 'accuracy' of the press vis-a-vis the internet as a medium of information right after GE 2006 {but of course we remember Mr. Brown's redition of the 'mai hum' snafu where the various print and non-print media all carried different versions eh?}. I wonder which is spin and which is not. You make up your own mind.

Back to reality: with GIC in the background now running around with SGD $150B it kind of begs the question again on raising GST. In fact it queries and/or renders the entire budgeting debate somewhat a farcical obsolescence. Top it off with the fact that we know that laws in Singapore can be virtually passed overnight it makes one wonder ........

Does it all make sense? Does the government know something that the people don't?

Is the government seeing a worldwide recession coming up in late 2007 / early 2008 given the dramatic drop in demand forecaster post Beijing 2008 for all international trade figures and is fiscally preparing for it while letting Singaporeans have a self-funded trip on workfare and the progress package?

FUBAR man.

* * * * *

Elsewhere in the news .... China is about to raise its foreign corporate tax rate from a preferential 15% to the 'local standard' of 33% ..... while Singapore is choosing to lower it from 20% to 18%? Being a little bit over competitive are we?

By all accounts China is apparently (from what can be read and interpolated or deduced) going to level out social inequities by raising corporate tax. The same cannot be said of Singapore bearing in mind that Singapore is going to become a cheap place to generate profits out of despite the relatively higher labour cost here. I'm sure companies are aware of the maxim that 'you get what you pay for.' I believe in the value of Singaporean labour, does the PAP?

* * * * *

And to top off the past two months' worth of idle chatter about the raise in GST it becomes apparent when one finds out - after the GST chatter is almost dead - that:

[Quote] THE pay of ministers and civil servants is expected to go up soon, after the Government announces salary revisions next month.

But there will not be a 'uniform, across-the-board large revision' for all 60,000 civil servants.

This is unlike 2000, when pay went up by an average of 13 per cent across the board.

This time round, increases will depend on how far civil servants' pay has lagged behind the private sector, said Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, who oversees civil service matters.

Services with pay lagging significantly behind the private sector will get bigger adjustments, while those closer to the market will get smaller ones, he said.

For example, pay in the Administrative Service has not been revised since 2000 and has fallen sharply behind private sector salaries in the past two years.

Such civil servants are likely to get bigger rises to keep pace with the private sector.

Salaries of ministers, judges and statutory appointment-holders are pegged to the Administrative Service salary structure, so their pay is also expected to rise when the changes are announced.

Another important change is that salaries will be linked more closely to performance.
Mr Teo disclosed these changes in Parliament yesterday following questions from several MPs.
'As private sector wages rise, the wages of civil servants cannot remain stagnant,' he said.

'We do not aim to lead private sector salaries, but we must keep pace.

'If we are not responsive, we will lose our ability to recruit and keep able people. This will do great harm to Singapore as we would have lost one key advantage over other countries - a clean, competent and effective civil service.'

Mr Teo said the public sector had felt the impact of the tightening labour market. He made a similar point in November last year, when he said salaries were likely to rise.
For example, more civil servants are resigning. The resignation rate rose from 4.8 per cent in 2005 to 5.7 per cent last year.

The problem is more severe in some services. The management executive service for graduates saw resignations rise from 7.4 per cent in 2005 to 10.6 per cent last year. At entry grade, the resignation rate is 25 per cent.

While attrition rates in other services are not yet high, 'we should not wait till these services are bleeding badly before we move to retain and maintain competitiveness', said Mr Teo.
Ms Annie Yap, CEO of recruitment firm GMP, said salaries tend to be higher in the private sector.

While starting wages in the public and private sectors are similar, private sector salaries tend to be 10 to 20 per cent higher for top wage earners, she said.

Mr Teo explained that the new salary structure will tie pay more closely to performance, in line with private sector practice, where about 25 per cent or more of pay depends on performance.

This is a good principle to follow, to 'reward deserving civil servants and sustain a high-performance culture in the civil service', said Mr Teo.

Asked how the civil service ensures good outcomes, he acknowledged that it has no financial bottom line. But part of senior officers' pay is linked to Gross Domestic Product growth.

'We feel that is also a good way of getting senior civil servants...to focus on outcomes of that type,' he said. [End Quote]

So we learn a lesson in Media and Politics: Never put the words 'tax' and 'pay' in the same time frame or in the same article / speech. Failure to do so will awaken Singaporeans to some of the purposes of taxation in Singapore. I wonder if anyone else attended the same undergrad class in Media and Politics in UC Berkeley.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Young Men, Old Car = Accident? - SBT 5866

What an auspicious start to the New Year!

Greetings to all readers! A most properous and healthy new year to one and all!

I'm not sure if it is a misfortune or a small fortune having had the opportunity to witness a great example of driving behaviour in Singapore.

SBT 5866 (dark green sedan) was seen turning from Orchard Link into Patterson road at around 6pm on 25th Feb 2007. The young men inside were perhaps unsure of what direction to take as they inched forward after the light turned green and cut from the outermost left lane into the middle turning lane (3 turning lanes here).

Quite funny what happened next as SBT inched forward into the 2nd lane and started pulling the oldest trick in the book on getting more business for some towing / car repair companies. This young chap actually started playing with his brakes as he inched toward the Orchard junction forcing the car behind to also play with the brakes. The road ahead of SBT was clear all the way to the Orchard junction but his brakes were applied suddenly some 7 to 8 times in the space of some 60 or 70 metres.

But perhaps let us not waste tax payer money going after this guy eh? We've got bigger fish to fry eh.

I pity the guy behind the green sedan.

Was it a case of deliberate intention to cause an accident or faulty brakes on an old car?

You decide.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Big Picture aka Helicopter View?

Wrap up the past month's happenings and perhaps we might get a glimpse toward real governmental policy.

1. Janadas Devan, in an editorial, waxes lyrical about how high wages for top positions should be kept in the public sector, for fear that Singapore will lose top talents. A cursory note on sacrifice is made but the true meaning of the word is played down to look dumb where anything below 100k a year is a major earth shaking sacrifice.

Relative to the GHSS survey conducted in 2005/6 where the average household income is somewhere around 30k per year this rankles somewhat.

2. CPF hikes to benefit workers brought to the fore but quickly dampened by business sentiments who threatened a lower wage rise to account for the bandied 1.5% increase in CPF contributions.

Are Singapore wage levels so sensitive that a 1.5% hike is something to cry about when our workers' have been made to carry the brunt of the past economic swings to the tune of 4% of their total potential home ownership funds?

I clearly recall that a massive 'education' effort was undertaken and sustained for some 3 to 4 months to 'educate' us workers' on why a CPF reduction is necessary. Perhaps a similar blitz using the same government coffers could be utilised to now educate businesses.

Or are economic growth 'indicators' read and reported falsely and businesses are still reeling?

3. GST increase justified by Khaw with full TV coverage and the press then further substantiated by Hri Kumar in the online world. Some logic issues here but perhaps the illogic of some of their arguments only appeals to me.

So we ask the poor to pay more to help the poor? And any incidental increase is offset by the rich spending more thus being taxed more? Do the rich really spend more in Singapore or do they spend more overseas? Perhaps we should take a look at where 'rich disposable income' really ends up - locally or on foreign shores. I know for sure that if I am rich my spending is likely to be overseas -- witness the foreign take up levels of the recent sky shatteringingly priced condos in Marina Bay, witness the foreign influx for medical tourism -- why should the rich in Singapore be any different?

Then again, perhaps my thinking is flawed and those who are rich will spend MOST of their disposable income in Singapore so as to be taxed at a higher rate to supplement governmental policy which is bordering on the socialist and welfarist in act thought not in name.

4. Corporate taxes to drop 1 percent. Linked to point 2 above.

The fact that MM came out to make this statement, on foreign soil when this statement was made, added perceived 'weight' to the statement (i.e. to become policy for sure, money back guarantee). Why was not a similar 'weighting' provided for the CPF hikes? Perhaps MM has earned enough to date to not be bothered about how a fundamental asset enriching function of the local economy works in favour of the majority of Singaporeans (since some 85% to 90% of us live and 'own' our HDB flats)?


High wages in civil (public) sevice justified.

CPF increase of 1.5% decried by business with planned retaliatory measures. (so what is NTUC doing?)

GST increase of 2% justified through TV, press and in the online world (basically virtually all methods of communications available at the immediate behest of those who are trying to justify it, never mind the method).

Corporate taxation to decrease 1%.

From a layman's net tax perspective someone is getting shortchanged. Higher high level wages to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year, higher general consumption taxes which are supposed to offset higher social/welfare handouts, a sustained reduction in CPF contributions and a decrease in corporate taxation.

With the Singapore government famously running on surpluses year after year (almost - a net surplus through the years always occurs just prior to the next election) it makes me wonder who is paying for all those expenses?

With my income tax payment advice comes this statement: Thank you for your contribution to nation building.

I'm keen to find out what exactly is it I'm building. Of course I'm unable to since the figures are not readily available despite the best intentions of Ngiam Tong Dow who stated that anyone who is able to will be able to get the right numbers. And or course this 'article' will be shot down due to the lack of firm numbers.

So perhaps to dispel 'articles' such as this, perhaps some real numbers should be released.

And none of that HDB hogwash please where the latest response to a query on real numbers in relation to costing is met with a statement such as: market value minus selling price = subsidy. Come on, we all know that's 'market subsidy' spun in another way, basically the same BS that has been going on since the question was first brought up some 25 years ago.

Let's see a balance sheet, let's see some transparency.

I ask you to remember the old NKF and how the strength of one individual was able to pull the wool over the eyes of so many. Eh, its no longer subjudice since Durai has admitted to the crimes, only the sentencing and hearing on further charges remain. What's with this sub-judice BS anyway? Its not like we have a trial by jury system where the jury can be affected by public sentiment. For goodness sake! This is Singapore. There is no public opinion to speak of.