The separation of public power and private benefit is essential for transparent, effective and honest governance. The Chairman of NEA cannot ask his staff to go and clean his kitchen, or the premises of his sister’s hawker stall, when it gets dirty. The Commissioner of Police cannot ask his officers to set up a road block at the end of his street because he finds the traffic too noisy. The Minister of Community, Culture and Youth cannot just instruct a local museum to display his daughter’s art work. So can the Prime Minister ask a civil servant to write letters on his behalf, and in his support, on the very personal topic of his defamation case against Roy Ngerng? This question matters, and it is the reason Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party is quite right to seek a full accounting of public funds spent on a case the PM has clearly stated he is bringing in his personal capacity.
K Shanmugam is one of Singapore’s most successful lawyers, enjoying a dual and very well paid role as law and foreign affairs minister, but yet appears unable to grasp the very real legal facts driving tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Hong Kong. Rather than painting a picture of “anti-China bias” in the “Western media”, he would do well to review the Basic Law of Hong Kong, which guarantees a democratic future for the Special Administrative Region and serves as the constitutional document for the former British territory. The people of Hong Kong have been promised democracy, but the Chinese Communist Party is denying them that right.
“We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation”
The transition from post-colonial or authoritarian rule to more democratic methods of government is something that Asia has witnessed a number of times in recent decades. It is important to see this for what it is – progress. People prefer to be free and attain self determinism, and that is precisely why the goal of building a democratic society is enshrined in the National Pledge. And while recent events in Hong Kong bring the question of democratic progress into focus today, it is the lessons of other countries in the region that are more relevant to the path Singapore is on. Can Singapore take the next step towards democracy?
Temasek doesn’t really make 16%
Your CPF money isn’t really safe.
And Lee Hsien Loong is a coward.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day arguments that crop up on Facebook, social media, and even in real life, that we lose track of the big picture. Despite the very obvious question marks surrounding the way CPF funds are managed, though the government, through Temasek, through GIC and ultimately by the Lee family, I realise that I’ve written almost nothing on the topic. Given Lee Hsien Loong’s sustained and ethically dubious attack on fellow blogger Roy Ngerng, now seems like a good time to visit these topics.
“Cockroaches”, “Fucking vermins” and “Scum shit heads” who should “Please fuck off and die”. Some of the language used online against the local Filipino community is disgraceful and completely unacceptable. It pains me not only to see Singaporeans speaking in these terms, but also to see others – who should know much better – refuse to condemn such hateful language. This is racism pure and simple, and Singapore is heading in a very bad direction if such behaviour becomes ingrained as an accepted feature of our national discourse. Government policy may be the root cause of unhappiness, but unhappiness with the government is not a valid justification for racism. Nothing is, and this fact has to be called out.
Another massive rent-hike and another cheap local eatery out of business. The government has made a point of telling us that while cost of living may be expensive for expatriates, things are still very affordable for the so-called “average local” – but this logic is problematic. Firstly because it is the cheap local eateries that cannot afford to carry on in high-cost Singapore, but also because the distinction between expat and local cost of living depends on a very narrow world view. With an eye on income inequality more generally, it seems clear that businesses catering to the lower cost “average local” market are the ones being squeezed out, and the less well off are the ones suffering.
The question of whether or not foreign workers in Singapore suffer systemic abuses continues to attract government denials and rebuttals, but to many observers the answer has long been settled with an obvious and resounding yes. In recent years Singapore has twice been rocked by apparently disgruntled workers, firstly with the SMRT bus drivers strike, and secondly the Little India riots. The plight of SMRT’s Chinese drivers was well documented in the months after they refused to work, but as the government continues to deny such realities in the wake of last year’s riots, it seems clear that crucial lessons have not been learned. As long as such problems go ignored, denied and unresolved, relations between foreign workers and locals are likely to be volatile.
Temasek’s offer to buy out Olam in a S$2.53 billion deal comes as the commodity trader continues to pile on debt. While Olam’s politically well-connected management and shareholders may appreciate the sovereign wealth fund’s backing, this is a deal which ticks all the wrong boxes for Singapore.
Olam’s management have been fending off critics of their financials and accounting for years. While Carson Block’s very public decision to short the stock in 2012 was widely reported, less well-known is the fact that top Asian equity house CLSA incurred the commodity trader’s wrath the year before over a research note that raised some of the same concerns. And while the public response from Olam has always been defiant, privately management have admitted defeat – tearing up a flagship six-year plan to generate US$1 billion in profits by 2016 and slashing the debt fuelled growth that Block saw as unsustainable.
Take a few eggs with peanut oil to fry them, add some chopped fresh tomatoes and mix it all up. Serve alongside a bowl of white rice and wash it down with orange juice. Is this the expatriate lifestyle Finance Minister Tharman had in mind when rebutting the Economist Intelligence Unit’s finding that Singapore is now the most expensive city in the world? Because all those items are included in the shopping basket used by the EIU to assess cost of living globally – including the frying pan you cook it in and the dishwashing liquid you use to clean up afterwards. So it seems unlikely that Tharman was correct when he said the survey does not accurately reflect the cost of living for locals.