Thursday, December 04, 2008

What will you defend in S'pore?

Hopefully, S'poreans can look beyond self-interest in their answers
By Goh Chin Lian - as carried in the Straits Times.

I will defend my right to live in a country where the majority votes to keep one party in power.

I will defend my right to live in a country where the majority votes to keep paying excessive amounts for basic services such as water, electricity and telecom services so that these formerly national services can go on international shopping sprees from which I gain no absolute or relative benefit.

I will defend my right to live in a country where the world's highest paid goverment officials reside and work.

I will defend my right to live in a country where the Unions appear to be subjugated and are bascially toothless paper toilet trained cats.

I will defend my right to choose to subject myself to all of the above until otherwise.

Now will someone please issue me an M16, an automatic grenade launcher and a Steyr with ammo enough to take on the entire Iraqi forces under Saddam's time please? So that I can proudly defend my nation and my home with its built in bomb shelter on the 21st floor.

Well Done on This Policy!!

When Singaporeans should come last
Shed foreign workers first in tough times, says labour chief
By Goh Chin Lian

Present at The Singapore Tripartism Forum yesterday were (from left) labour chief Lim Swee Say, NTUC president John De Payva, Acting Minister for Manpower Gan Kim Yong and SNEF president Stephen Lee. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

LABOUR chief Lim Swee Say wants companies to put Singaporeans at the end of the queue when shrinking the number of their rank and file workers.

Mr Lim believes the way to go in the current downturn is for firms to let non-Singaporeans go first, by not renewing the contracts and work permits of their foreign workers.

The secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress held up this approach at a forum yesterday with about 450 employers and 100 unionists.

The one-hour dialogue focused on ways to handle worker issues in the current economic downturn, from wages to dealing with excess manpower.

Mr Lim said companies that retain Singaporeans will help to minimise unemployment.

But more importantly, they will have a head start in an upturn, he noted, because they will have enough resident workers to meet the ratio required by the Manpower Ministry to hire foreign workers.

Mr Lim, a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, was one of three leaders who tackled the questions from employers and unionists.

The other two were Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Stephen Lee.

The question that got them talking about foreign workers came from the general secretary of the United Workers of Petroleum Industry, Mr Karthikeyan Krishnamurthy.

He wanted to know if there were any guidelines for employers on shedding foreign workers first, or can a free-for-all approach be taken.

Mr Lee noted that some companies already do not renew the permits and the contracts of foreign workers when they expire.

To illustrate, Mr Lim gave an example of a factory that has to lay off, say, 10 workers from among 100 workers, half of whom are Singaporeans.

It can expand its workforce more swiftly in a future upturn if it sheds 10 foreigners now instead of five Singaporeans and five foreigners.

'When they have to hire another 10 workers, where do they find the 10 workers? While their competitors are competing for Singaporeans in a tighter labour market, they can quickly ramp up with 10 foreign workers.'

That's because they have the 50 Singaporean workers to meet the required ratio of local to foreign workers.

For instance, the ratio is 1:1 in the service sector, which means companies can employ one foreign worker for each local worker on their payroll.

'It actually makes business sense for companies to release progressively the foreign workers in times of excess manpower, assuming there is no skills mismatch,' he added.

However, the exception is when a foreign worker has a specialised skill that cannot be easily replaced with an untrained Singaporean, Mr Lim said.

Minister Gan emphasised the importance of keeping a balance of foreign and local workers so that companies can keep their operating costs low.

Recalling a conversation with a food manufacturer, he said: 'His remark is that if he is asked to employ only Singaporeans, his cost would have gone up and he would have no choice but to shift the whole company out of Singapore to China.' [Reminiscent of GCT's 'Greed is good' and also a product of the free market / open market system - are there any other choices for this manufacturer? Especially when Singaporeans ourselves want cheaper and cheaper fishballs? This is a good time for ALL Singaporeans to reflect on paying that little bit more to keep the money in OUR economy and to help our fellow countrymen instead of pinching the last penny till blood comes out of it. And yes, that applies to the public sector as well!!]

The 100 Singaporean workers in his company would then lose their jobs.

The call for foreign workers to go first comes amid fears of further retrenchment as the world economy is set to slow further next year.

Compounding the worry is DBS Bank laying off 900 workers here and abroad last month. The labour movement fears more companies may follow the lead of the bank, which is popularly seen as a government-linked entity.

Already, layoffs in the electronics sector are expected to hit 1,000 in the last quarter of this year.

Although more jobs will be at risk, Mr Gan, in a speech at the start of the forum, sought to reassure Singaporeans, saying the country is in a position of strength following several years of good economic growth. Also, its resident employment rate is high, standing at 77 per cent in June this year.

To get workers trained and ready for an economic recovery, Mr Gan also opened the Institute for Adult Learning earlier in the morning.

The institute will further reinforce Singapore's masterplan for the continuing education and training of resident workers.

It will do so by, among other things, training trainers to conduct more effective adult training.

Proposed Wage Schemes

For the Electricity Sector

1. Given that electricity tariffs are adjusted every quarter and

2. Given that the price of electricity is economically elastic, since that is the way the policy on usage and taxation treats electricity pricing

3. Given that Singapore is a free market economy where nothing should stand in the way of potential consumption (read as protectionism in its various forms) then:

It makes obvious sense and is highly recommended that the wages of those in the Electricity generation and distribution channels and networks be adjusted on a quarterly basis as well based on final consumption figures - just like the rates for consumers are adjusted every quarter.

For the Ministerial Sector (including Senior Civil Servants)

1. Given the gross (sic) implementation of the balanced scorecard system in the civil service and

2. Given the competitive (?) benchmarks used from the private sector to determine high level civil service pay then:

It only makes sense that the rest of the private sector system is implemented and this includes wage adjustments every quarter based on performance and KPI fulfillment of each and every Minister.

Also in light of recent private sector developments, perks such as flying First or Business class should now be revoked just like the for the majority of CEOs in the world now.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Opening Up The Web to Politics?

Get it while its hot. The link works as of 2130hrs SST, 2nd December 2008. Not my fault if THEY decide to remove it.

In brief:

[Start Abridged Quote]

Guiding Principles

1.13 Our work was guided by the following four principles:

(a) Government regulation should be used as a last resort

1.14 One of the long-standing debates about the Internet is whether it should and can be regulated. Given the borderless nature of the Internet, it is difficult to enforce laws regulating the Internet across different jurisdictions.

1.15 Hence, one principle is to avoid regulating what is arguably "unregulable". Laws are important, but they should be used only as a last resort. As the maxim goes, "legislate in haste, repent at leisure". Using laws as a first measure to deal with online problems is unwise as the Internet and its users are continuously evolving and can creatively route around laws and regulations, especially if they are not well thought through.

(b) "Free-for-all" is not feasible

1.16 However, placing less emphasis on regulation does not mean that there should be no regulation. The key issue is, what kind of regulation can allow us to harness the benefits of the Internet while minimising the potential for harm? Many dangers lurk in cyberspace and there should be regulations that society can call upon to address such dangers. In all the countries we visited, the consensus is that some regulation of the Internet is necessary, even though enforcement is difficult. Some countries regulate more than others. The question then is how the regulation should be effected.

1.17 In Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious society, it is paramount that racial and religious harmony be maintained. Few, if any, dispute that any attempt to disturb harmony in society with racist or hate speech online 8 // Introduction /
or offline must be dealt with swiftly. Even within the more culturally and ethnically homogeneous countries in Europe, denial that the Holocaust occurred is a crime.3 In all the countries we studied, persons responsible for harmful online material like child pornography, sexual predatory practices and sexual grooming face the full force of the law. Where the risk of harm is high, there should be legislation. Conversely, where the risk of harm is low or moderate, the imposition of legal controls should be avoided.

(c) Shifting the focus from regulation towards engagement

1.18 All sorts of opinions are espoused via the Internet, whether moderate or extreme, reasoned or irrational. Traditionally, the Government’s regulatory efforts have been focused on containing extremist and harmful content. Moving forward, the emphasis should be on leveraging on the opportunities that the Internet provides for enhanced communication and engagement between the public and Government.

1.19 There are many groups of people who are utilising the Internet to advance political and civic discussion in a measured and reasoned manner. They want to be heard and are willing to contribute time to thinking about and proposing solutions. This should be encouraged. It should also be noted that there is a difference between being heard and being watched. Netizens want to be heard, not watched.

(d) Community participation is key

1.20 The sheer amount of content available on the Internet makes it impossible for any one agency to monitor and regulate it efficiently. The wider community has a role to play in fostering an online environment which is conducive to the good of society. A relationship built on trust among all parties is more likely to last compared to one built on a list of do’s and don’ts. One good example is the former Parents Advisory Group for the Internet (PAGi), a volunteer group made of parents that served as a support network to share ideas and concerns on guiding their children on the use of the Internet.4 Similar volunteer groups should be encouraged and supported.

Keeping an Open Mind

1.21 Harnessing the best of the technology available will require all parties to keep an open mind. As the new media challenges old assumptions, we should all be open to discarding old attitudes and embracing new ones. This applies to both the government and the citizens. Without a mindset shift, we will not be able to reap the full benefits of the new media. At the same time, we should always be mindful of the need to protect Singapore’s interests, social values and institutions.

1.22 The Council is aware that these recommendations will not satisfy everyone. There is always room for improvement and there will be areas which require closer study. The Internet is a never-ending worldwide conversation. We see the recommendations in this report as part of an ongoing conversation which started when the Internet became a part of our lives.

Executive Summary (abridged)

(II) Online Political Content

2.25 New media technology has radically changed the way political contests are fought the world over. In the case of the March 2008 General Election in Malaysia, the result was quite remarkable. In the case of the U.S. Presidential Election that took place in November 2008, the importance of new media is already apparent. Clearly, the new media offers opportunities for the dissemination of political content and views which is readily embraced by digital natives. It is therefore timely to review existing regulations governing the online dissemination of political content. Current regulations have been criticised as being too broad and vague. While such laws might have been effective in curbing the excesses of irresponsible speech, they may also unduly limit the use of what can be a valuable, and probably indispensable, channel of communication.

2.26 Rapid developments in technology since Section 33 of the Films Act was enacted 10 years ago have rendered it irrelevant and extremely difficult to enforce. Meanwhile, Singapore’s socio-political landscape has changed and Singaporeans increasingly want greater political expression.

2.27 The overarching intent of our recommendations is to liberalise existing regulations to encourage active, balanced online political discussion while minimising the adverse effects that such changes could bring.


» Update the Internet Class Licence Scheme

2.28 During our consultations with the public, the need for the Internet Class Licence Scheme was questioned. It was suggested that it be dismantled. Not everyone agrees with this view, however. AIMS believes that the Class Licence Scheme is still relevant in today’s new media
environment. We note that the scheme is a complaints-based system. Under this scheme, the Government practises a "light-touch" policy which has proven effective. It is better to continue with this policy than to remove the scheme and then resort to laws like the Penal Code, which is relatively more heavy-handed.

2.29 However, AIMS recognises that twelve years have passed since the Class Licence Scheme was first established in 1996. We have reviewed the matter and feel that changes are in order for these reasons: First, the rules unnecessarily deter free speech. Second, it has hardly been enforced. Third, Singaporeans deserve more political space. We therefore make the following recommendations:

(a) Lift registration requirement for individuals, bodies of persons and political parties.

AIMS recommends the removal of the registration requirement for individuals, bodies of persons and political parties that provide any programme for the propagation, promotion or discussion of political or religious issues relating to Singapore through the Internet websites.

(b) Make processes of the Class Licence Scheme more transparent

The Media Development Authority (MDA) should study how to make the existing processes more transparent to assuage netizens’ concerns that these rules are in place to clamp down on them. For example, details of MDA investigations should be made public so that people can judge for themselves whether the processes and decisions were fair.

» Extend positive list for Internet election advertising

2.30 Under present regulations, only political parties, their candidates and their election agents may carry out prescribed election advertising activities using new media during the election period. There is a "positive list" of permissible election advertising on the Internet. They are allowed to post photographs or representations of their candidates, party histories, biographies of candidates and their manifestoes on their websites. Political parties are also allowed to host moderated chat rooms and discussion forums on their websites. The use of e-mail to promote or oppose a party or candidate is also allowed, subject to certain conditions.

2.31 We recommend that the Parliamentary Elections Act should be changed
to allow more digital content by expanding the positive list for Internet election advertising. The present list is too restrictive, and denies political contestants greater use of digital technology, which value has been well demonstrated. The extended list should include videos or recordings of live events, such as election rallies, party press conferences and constituency tours. Broadcasts of party manifestoes and stories already aired over radio and TV should also be allowed. So should the use of Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and social networks.

2.32 Allowing use of Web 2.0 tools ensures that regulations keep pace with changing technology. With this amendment, all election candidates and their political parties and agents can use podcasts, vodcasts, blogs and other new media tools to promote themselves, their agendas and election manifestoes.

» Liberalise Section 33 of the Films Act

2.33 There is a need to liberalise Section 33 of the Films Act that prohibits the making, distributing and exhibiting of party political films. The key reasons are:

i. The ban on party political films is too wide-ranging and stifling as the definition of a party political film could cover any film that touches on politics or government policies. As a result, films that clearly contribute to well-informed, rational and insightful debate cannot, in theory, be made and exhibited.

ii. Technology has out-paced the law and has made it extremely difficult to enforce. Section 33 can be bypassed using YouTube or other online video-sharing services that cannot be blocked or otherwise regulated without serious damage to Singapore’s interests.

iii. Other legislation is in place to deal with potential threats to our society, like the exploitation of race and religion for political purposes.

iv. Since the introduction of Section 33, Singaporeans have been exposed to a wider spectrum of content online, thanks to extensive use of broadband technology. The present legislation is simply too restrictive.

v. In recent years, new media technology has proven to be an important platform for political purposes. There is no reason why it cannot be responsibly used by political parties and the public at large.

2.34 AIMS has looked at how other countries deal with such issues. Japan and South Korea regulate the use of new media technology for political purposes, though not in the same way as in Singapore. Other countries have no restrictions at all. Singapore cannot blindly adopt what is done elsewhere especially when there is no single "best practice" to follow. We must find solutions that suit our own circumstances. What we should achieve is maximum space for political discourse, but be sensitive at the same time to the need to keep out harmful material online. We believe there are three main ways to liberalise this law. One would be to narrow the scope of the law. Another is to repeal Section 33 altogether. The last option is a combination of the first two options, namely narrow the scope of the law first with a view to eventually repealing it. The three options were submitted to the public for discussion.

2.35 It is, in theory, possible to prohibit political films that are clearly misleading. These could be films that dramatise events, edit footages or splice images together to distort facts and mislead the viewer. We could therefore re-word the definition in the Act to keep out such films, while expanding the space for political discourse. However, the key challenge is the difficulty in defining what distinguishes misleading films from those that should be considered to be valuable and harmless to society as a whole.

2.36 One approach might be to establish an independent advisory panel which should be made up of citizens of high standing, who are non-partisan, and whose views carry weight with the public. The panel’s work should be transparent and its decisions should be made public in order to inspire confidence in its judgments. Its work will however be made even more difficult by technology. In the digital age, films that are denied classification or prevented from being distributed will simply be distributed via YouTube or other video-sharing services. Furthermore, if there is public dissension from the views or decisions of the panel, the entire system may be called into question.

2.37 Another way of liberalising Section 33 of the Films Act would be to repeal it. However, if Section 33 is repealed in its entirety, various risks should be managed. AIMS has considered the following ideas which are discussed in detail in Chapter 2:

(a) Classification rating for political films;
(b) Notification and right of reply; and
(c) Restrict the distribution and exhibition of party political films under the Parliamentary Elections Act.

2.38 If Section 33 is repealed, AIMS proposes that the risks that follow be managed in a more targeted manner by restricting the distribution and exhibition of party political films during elections period under the Parliamentary Elections Act. The proposal is to impose a blackout period for party political films issued by political parties, candidates and
their agents as well as individuals during the election campaign period, beginning from the issue of the writ of election to the end of the polling day. During this blackout period, political parties, candidates and their agents as well as individuals are not allowed to distribute or exhibit new7 party political films as defined under the present Films Act.

2.39 This is again open to criticism. The incumbent political party may be said to have prior knowledge of when a General Election would be called, and may release party political films just before elections are called. In any event, the ability of films to cast an effect on elections may persist long after a film is first shown. Nevertheless, between a "free-for-all" regime, where there are no controls whatsoever, and a "not-at-all" regime, where all online election campaigning is disallowed, we think that this option is a possible compromise.

» Repeal Section 33 in phases

2.40 After much consideration, AIMS recommends repealing Section 33 in phases. We do so for the following reasons: First, the public, like AIMS, accepts that concerns over misleading material are valid. An immediate and outright repeal of Section 33 does not adequately address those concerns. Second, there is value in giving the community an opportunity to evaluate how narrowing the scope of the law would work in practice. Third, while we accept that video-sharing sites like YouTube can allow the law to be circumvented, our recommendation will restrict circulation of prohibited material offline, for example in public screenings and through DVDs. Fourth, partial repeal will assuage the concerns of respondents arguing against total repeal. Therefore, it would be more prudent to abolish the law in stages, rather than immediately and unconditionally.

2.41 As a first step, the Government should decriminalise the making of party political films and narrow the scope of the law to target only party political films that are made to intentionally mislead viewers.

» Section 35

2.42 We did not review Section 35 of the Films Act. However, we received feedback arguing for its repeal. This law essentially gives power to the Minister to ban any film that is against the public interest. Thus far, there is just one film, "Zahari’s 17 Years", that has been known to be banned under this law.

2.43 AIMS is in favour of keeping Section 35 because there are indeed films that are against the public interest. One example of such a film is "Fitna", a film produced by a Dutch film-maker that attacked Islam and which was widely condemned by the general European public. The Government should have the power to deal with such films. AIMS also notes that the Government has used this power very sparingly, as it should be. However, to address concerns of those who fear that Section 35 would be used to limit political debate, we recommend that it should be amended to spell out clearly on what basis the Government should ban a film contrary to the public interest. In addition, AIMS recommends that the independent advisory panel for party political films should advise the Minister before a film is banned under Section 35 and the Minister should be obliged to give reasons for the ban.

2.44 In conclusion, regular revision of the rules will be needed from time to time as social conditions change. It is probably impossible to completely eliminate the risk of destructive online content. The best defence against distortive material is trust – trust that is hard earned and demonstrated. Furthermore, the continued existence of credible sources of mainstream media will help to ensure balanced and informed discussions. It is also in the best interest of those who use new media to press their case to acquire the communications skills to do so.

2.45 Singapore is best served by political discourse that is well-informed, serious and factual. What we seek to do is to allow voters to consider the issues rationally, and not be unduly swayed by films or videos that mislead or trivialise important issues.

[end abridged quote]

Uniquely Singaporean Economic Theorizing

Following my 2 previous posts on why money should be given to Singaporeans for consumption an interesting rebuttal took place.

The gist of that rebuttal over a period of 3 days basically stated that money in the hands of Singaporeans would basically end up flowing out of the country. Hence, money should be given to businesses instead.

Fast forward to today. We read of a hawker who is imploring the authorities to allow them to hire foreigners since the locals apparently consider such jobs way too far beneath their social status / work abilities & likes/dislikes.

Soooo ...... if money is given to businesses it stays in Singapore?

Let's count the ways:

1. Businesses look for lowest cost. Almost everything that a business buys these days, or just about anything in Singapore, is imported. Money flows out.

2. Businesses, again in the interest of lowering costs, are likely to try for foreign workers who command a lower salary with a lower amount of perks. And foreigners will spend more in Singapore then Singaporeans do? OK, I'll be fair and say 50/50 since they have to live here like Singaporeans do, eat here like Singaporeans do and purchase general living items like Singaporeans do. Though I expect that a lot of money gets repatriated back to their home countries - do we collect statistics on this? Perhaps its time to start. Net result. Same amount of money flows out of Singapore anyway no matter who it is given to.

Now if the Singapore government is able to make any darned car go beep while it is driving at no matter what speed, or any motor cycle no matter which part of a lane it is on I see no reason why money given to Singaporeans cannot be contained within our borders. Naturally it all ultimately flows out given that we import everything. Or does it?

Perhaps logic was never my strongest class in university.

Besides, the previously quoted report had funds MEANT exclusively to take Singaporean businesses OUTSIDE of Singapore. Does that mean money is staying in or coming in? I'm not sure. Its hard to understand English as it is used in politics is my opinion - if I'm allowed one.