Tag Archives: Politics

Structural problems doom Progressive Wage Model to failure

I originally wrote the below article as an exclusive for The Online Citizen. I am reproducing it here with their permission.

Zoom2Launched and promoted to great fanfare by the ruling party, the progressive wage model looks good as a press release, but is hamstrung by the twin flaws of obviousness and impossibility. Obviousness, in the sense that it describes a relatively straightforward career progression ladder that employees should be encouraged to climb toward greater salaries – an idea that many would suggest does not require a million dollar minister to think up. But also the impossibility of the system is glaring, because there appears to be no way to actually require employers to give their staff the chance to climb this skills ladder. In fact, one look at an example “wage ladder” reveals another truth which should have been obvious – a company staffed with employees who have all reached the highest rung would be very “top-heavy” and probably unsustainable as a business.

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Support James Raj, victim of the Singapore government

James Raj

Alleged computer hacker James Raj is apparently still being held at Singapore’s Institute of Mental Heath, without access to third parties, including his lawyer. While the crime of which he is accused amounts to not much more than petty digital vandalism, the treatment he suffers at the hands of the state is excessive, disproportionate and draconian. I call on the government to ensure his rights – including to legal representation – are respected so as to ensure a fair trial. A conviction resulting from a trail tainted by procedural misconduct is liable to be ruled unsafe and overturned. The interests of justice are not served by such an outcome, and Singapore’s status as a rule of law country risks being undermined.

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Closing the circle with govt organised civil society conference

Patronage and institutionalised power protect the inner circle in Singapore

Kenneth Jeyaretnam used an interesting phrase to describe the nature of political power in Singapore recently – he described it as a “closed circle“. To me, this seems apt. From institutionalised patronage, to co-opted public bodies, and through the crushing of independent centres of influence, power in Singapore has been successfully arranged to support and promote the position of a core group of self-anointed leaders, while at the same time marginalising and excluding critical or alternative voices. An emergent alternative force – civil society – has started to (re)take root in recent times and poses a threat to the ruling party’s monopoly of influence by pushing back on the walls of the hard-state. It should come as no surprise then that the ruling party would seek to reclaim its turf, and we got a glimpse of that this week in the form of a somewhat incongruous government organised civil society conference.

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Tan Chuan-Jin, this is not a threat

Does Tan Chuan-Jin betray a sense of entitlement in framing the fact that someone may choose not to vote for him as a threat?

In Merriam-Webster, a threat is defined as “an expression of intention to inflict evil, injury or damage”. Other definitions exist, but they are usually quite negative and tend to imply harm. I’ve never heard of someone threatening to do me a favour.

So why does the (acting) Minister for Manpower make it all so dramatic? Does he see the default position as being that everyone should vote for him, and any suggestion that one may not, is an implication of impending “injury or damage”? I’m afraid Mr Tan’s years in the Army may have conditioned him to expect everyone around (or beneath?) him to do as he wishes. This may be a valid approach when encouraging young conscripts to run up a hill, but it is the antithesis of representative democracy. As an MP Mr Tan should have realised by now that the tables have turned. His job – more or less – is to represent the wishes of his residents in parliament, and he should further realise that a vote has to be earned, it is not an entitlement.

As readers may know, I have e-mailed the minister myself once or twice recently. Of course, I received no reply, but I did not take this personally, I just assumed he is either lazy or rude. While the polite thing to do might be to at least send out a stock response or a simple acknowledgement – probably delegated to a secretary or assistant – this apparently is a level of engagement still beyond the ruling party.

There are many valid reasons why one would choose not vote for the PAP. I for one will not be doing so, in no small part due to the mess that is our labour market under the negligent oversight of Mr Tan’s MOM. But this is my right, and in saying so, I am exercising my own free will, not issuing a threat. Rather than fretting over the fact that someone may choose not vote for him, Mr Tan should knuckle-down, do the best job he can, and hope that it is enough to win the trust of his residents in 2016.

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[Updated 1] Triple confirm. “Tightening on foreign labour” was a lie.

Updated: The editors at TRE pointed out quite rightly that the increase in the number of foreign workers coming to Singapore is on target this year to be less than in previous years. Whether this “reduction in the increase” represents a tightening rather than a “slower loosening” is debatable. The chart below appears to show that the overall trend is mostly unchanged. However, the most important questions still remain. In light of increasing unemployment and decreasing wages, can the government be said to have delivered policy results that benefit Singaporeans? Despite lots of noise around a “tight labour market”, it would appear not.

Government claims to have been tightening on foreign labour could never be reconciled with a population white paper that laid out a path to GDP growth through massive immigration. As I wrote at that time, propaganda rather than policy changes appeared to be driving the debate. The truth – that the government is not tightening the inflow of foreign workers – has recently been revealed by three pieces of information released by the government itself. These revelations leave many in government with some explaining to do – why so much focus on the problems associated with a labour shortage when one does not appear to exist. On the contrary, the problems caused by an over abundance of cheap foreign labour – stagnant wages and increasing unemployment – are very much still present and, if anything, worsening.

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Plagiarism in Parliament? Copy from Australia, paste to Singapore

Singapore’s handsomely remunerated law-makers have on occasion claimed to be so busy running the country that they couldn’t pause even to hold elections. If this is true, one wonders where their hours are spent. Revelations today hint that writing legislation is not the answer. A look at the wording of the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act indicates that significant tracts of that document appear to have been taken, almost word for word, from Australian legislation of the same name. Legislation first passed into law in New South Wales five years before it hit Singapore’s statute books. Is this a case of “plagiarism in parliament” or is there a more innocent explanation?

Spot the difference.  Text from the Singaporean and Australian Acts

Spot the difference. Formatted extracts from the Singaporean and Australian acts

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OurSGConversation finds majority favour preservation of Bukit Brown

A majority of Singaporeans prefer preservation of green spaces over infrastructure development

A majority of Singaporeans prefer preservation of green spaces over infrastructure development

Bukit Brown has won the hearts of many visitors, particularly amongst those who either discovered or re-discovered its peaceful charms after it was gazetted for significant redevelopment in 2011. While a small but vocal group of dedicated fans and concerned citizens rallied at that time to save Bukit Brown, the perception was that they did not enjoy the support of a significant number of Singaporeans. However, polling conducted as part of the Our Singapore Conversation project appears to show otherwise. Whether viewed as a part of our heritage, or merely as a green space, a significant majority of Singaporeans prefer preservation of such sites over infrastructure development. While the government claims to have been listening during the national conversation, not everyone is convinced. A decision to preserve Bukit Brown before exhumations and development begin would be a significant step towards showing Singaporeans that their concerns and desires were given an honest hearing.

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