Reducing train frequency because of H1N1? That’s ridiculous!

According to CNA, SMRT said train frequency will be reduced by 30% once Singapore’s pandemic alert level hits red. This is because its service staff are divided into two teams to prevent the potential spread of the H1N1 virus.

This is the most ridiculous excuse I’ve heard to reduce train frequency! Does SMRT realise what’s going to happen if train frequency is reduced by 30%? Crowds will swell on the platforms and stations, and the trains will be packed even fuller with people (as if they aren’t already). That would surely be a formula for an even more rapid spread of the flu, should anyone of the 8 persons per square metre of train space happen to sneeze or cough.

I know many organisations, particularly government and government-linked ones, have plans to divide into two teams if the situation gets severe, but this is not something that essential services companies should do — or at least it should not affect their operations to such an extent.

Do you hear of Singapore Power, PUB and the police telling us that our electricity, water and security forces will be cut by 30% if the alert level hits red?

Nice try at cost-cutting, SMRT.

Economic growth should benefit all, not just the rich

By Avery Chong, Gerald Giam, Nathaniel Koh, Watson Chong and Yaw Shin Leong

Singaporean workers are facing their most challenging period since Independence. Thousands have lost their jobs since the current economic crisis began last year, and unemployment is expected to continue rising through 2009 and beyond. Many workers have been forced to accept salary cuts or go on unpaid leave to help their companies stay profitable.

These workers should be saluted for their resilience, perseverance and adaptability in the face of enormous challenges. Singapore’s prosperity and economic progress were achieved primarily through the sweat of our workers.

The Government always claims credit for Singapore’s economic growth during good times, yet conveniently blames the global downturn when our economy takes a nosedive. However the facts tell a different story. Singapore was the first country in Asia to slip into recession last year. Our GDP is expected to contract 8.8% this year  — much worse than almost all our major trading partners (see Annex A for the economic forecasts for our top trading partners).

The Government’s economic model may no longer serving us well, and we need to start a national conversation to discuss alternative economic models to take Singapore to the next level of progress.
Continue reading “Economic growth should benefit all, not just the rich”

That MCYS “Funeral” ad

I just watched the latest “get married and have children” ad sponsored by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and the National Family Council on YouTube. (Yes only now — I hardly watch TV.)

It’s quite good actually. Particularly the part where the widow relates how her late husband’s “gross” habits actually let her know that he was still alive when he was battling his illness.

I presume the goal of the ad was to encourage singles to get hitched, even if their potential mate has some “small imperfections”. Well, that’s good in principle, but should not be taken too far. If they are just physical or physiological imperfections, fine. But I would strongly caution people against marrying someone who possesses character imperfections that you cannot live with and hope to change. He or she probably won’t change, and you’ll be setting yourself up for a tough road ahead.

The other thing I noticed was that in the film, the deceased husband was ethnic Chinese, while the wife, Mrs Tan, was Indian — and wearing a sari. I was very glad to see this. It reflects the reality of many relationships nowadays, as well as an ideal of a multiracial Singapore that has gone beyond tolerance to integration. It’s good too that it has gone beyond the stereotypical Indian man-Chinese woman or white man-Chinese woman interracial relationship.

Come to think of it, if getting more young Singaporeans hitched is the objective, then marrying outside one’s own race will definitely expand the selection of partners one can consider. Therefore having a society that accepts and celebrates interracial marriages could indirectly increase the marriage and procreation rate.

Ultimately, I believe that there is very little the government can and should do to encourage people to get married. I’m not even sure if taxpayer dollars should be spent on campaigns like these. (I emphasise “not sure” — I didn’t say I’m against it.) For my suggestions on what the government can do that might be more effective, read Don’t be a stupid cupid.

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Read also: The stork is still not quite convinced


PM Lee meets with Malaysian opposition leader

The Straits Times reported that PM Lee yesterday met with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng at the Istana for an official call. Mr Lim is also the Secretary-General of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a major component party of the Malaysian opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat, which is led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Mr Lim is the son of DAP veteran leader Lim Kit Siang. He has had an illustrious and colourful career as an opposition activist and politician. In October 1987, he was detained in ‘Operation Lalang’ under the Internal Security Act (ISA), and released after 18 months. He was arrested again by Malaysian police in 1994, following his criticism of the government’s handling of allegations of statutory rape of one of his constituents. He was convicted for causing ‘disaffection with the administration of justice in Malaysia’. After a series of appeals, Mr Lim was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. In May 2004, Mr Lim was elected as Secretary-General of DAP, and after the March 2008 elections in Malaysia where he won a landslide victory in his constituency, he became Penang’s Chief Minister, or Menteri Besar.

I’m glad to see that the Prime Minister is according the necessary respect — as he should — to the Malaysian opposition. While meetings with opposition leaders of other countries are not unusual for Singapore leaders, opposition leaders of close neighbours generally usually receive a less publicised welcome.

The publicity of this meeting could be a reflection of the political realities in Malaysia. One, the Singapore government realises that it needs to start building a relationship with the Malaysian opposition, as it may one day become the Government. Two, they are not so afraid of offending a much weakened Malaysian ruling party by meeting the latter’s political rivals.

MP’s loan “probably the biggest” ever given out

This was the explanation given by Dr Ong Seh Hong, PAP MP for Marine Parade GRC and COO of Ren Ci Hospital, regarding the $60,000 loan he took from Ren Ci.

I was an employee of GIC in 1999. I was offered by Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre to be Director, Medical & Paramedical Services in January 2000.

However to leave GIC, I had to pay S$560,000 to settle my outstanding staff housing loan. I agreed to join Ren Ci on condition that I received a loan of S$60,000, to pay off in part the amount of S$560,000 and I paid the remaining S$500,000 from bank loan.

When I borrowed the sum of S$60,000 from Ren Ci, I was not an MP. It was lent to me as staff, and was part of the terms on which I agreed to join Ren Ci. I have since repaid the sum fully.

Now that this shocking revelation has surfaced as a result of the cross examination of Ren Ci’s former HR head in court on Thursday, who cares who else Ming Yi loaned money to? I think all Singaporeans care about now is why a supposedly whiter-than-white PAP MP set the record for “probably the biggest loan given out”, according to Ren Ci’s former HR director. Bigger than even the loan Ming Yi gave to his aide, Raymond Yeung.

Continue reading “MP’s loan “probably the biggest” ever given out”

Staff-in-confidence matters should be kept that way, DBS

I am appalled that DBS is airing in public what should be a staff-in-confidence matter. Yesterday, they issued a statement to the Straits Times — which I understand was unsolicited — stating that they disapprove of their Vice President of Credit Cards, Josie Lau, taking up the presidency of women’s group AWARE.

Today, when asked by TOC, they stated that they were “disappointed that Josie knowingly disregarded DBS’ staff code of conduct twice”, adding that Lau had not sought approval for either running for the AWARE exco or standing for nomination as AWARE president.

Why does this need to be aired in public? This brings back memories of another organisation in Singapore which hung a former employee out to dry when he was attempting to run for public office.

Continue reading “Staff-in-confidence matters should be kept that way, DBS”

ST Forum – Fatal rojak: Better feedback system needed

This is my letter to the Straits Times forum editor, which got published today. While it was largely unedited, one of the key points — which was actually a suggestion by an overseas Singaporean friend — was cut out. The edited text is in red.

For my more detailed proposal, click here.

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Continue reading “ST Forum – Fatal rojak: Better feedback system needed”

Food contamination alert system is possible

Firstly, a correction to my previous post: The authorities took not 2 days, but 3 days, to shut down the stall. It was revealed in TODAY on Thursday that the first reports of food poisoning from that stall appeared on a Wed 1 Apr. The stall was not ordered closed by NEA until Sat 4 Apr morning.

I’ve received some useful feedback from friends regarding my previous post, where I questioned why NEA officers took so long to shut down the Geylang Serai rojak stall that was allegedly responsible for three deaths and over 150 cases of food poisoning.

Some felt that I was being unfair by expecting NEA to react faster than it did, and that I appeared to be pinning the blame on NEA for the food poisoning.

While I don’t think NEA is completely blameless, I never said that they are entirely to blame. The NEA, Ministry of Health (MOH), the stall holder, doctors and even some of stall patrons could have played a part to avert this tragedy, or at least prevent it from ballooning into this nightmare involving over 150 people. Most of all, I feel it is “the system” which is to blame, and not any individual person or agency. I am not interested in playing any finger-pointing games at this point, but to suggest how the system can be improved to avert future mass outbreaks of food poisoning.

Continue reading “Food contamination alert system is possible”

A government out of order

The Public Order Act, which was just passed in Parliament on Monday, got me wondering just how far the PAP will go to thumb its nose at the Constitution to serve its narrow political interests.

Among some “highlights” of the law are:

  • A demonstration by a lone person is called an “assembly”.
  • Two persons walking together form for a common cause is a  “procession”.
  • Assemblies and processions both need permits from the Commissioner of Police.
  • Cause-related activities (i.e., political activities) require permits regardless of the number of persons involved. (I guess that means that zero-person activities can also be banned.)
  • An entry-level policeman has the power to order people to “move on” away from an area, even if they are not committing an offence. Those people have to comply, even if that policeman is in the wrong.
  • The police have the power to ban ordinary citizens from filming them as they work.

Continue reading “A government out of order”

1 person constitutes an assembly? It’s an abuse of the word: WP chairman

This is the speech made in Parliament yesterday by Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim — a former police officer herself — in opposing the Public Order Bill.

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Speaker Sir,

The Workers’ Party opposes the Bill.

The policing of public order has been the subject of contentious debate in democratic countries. How far should State power be used to restrict citizens from free movement and expressing their beliefs or grievances, to the point of using lethal force?

In Singapore, an individual’s right to freedom of expression and assembly is enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution, under Part IV entitled Fundamental Liberties. However that Article also allows Parliament to place some restrictions on these for the sake of security and public order. Nevertheless, the primary assumption is that such freedoms are fundamental rights of citizens. Has this Bill crossed the line, asking Singaporeans to give up too much vis-à-vis the State? Continue reading “1 person constitutes an assembly? It’s an abuse of the word: WP chairman”