Blog Archive

Friday, 30 January 2015



The thorn that inflicts pain in the PAP in the coming general election, and for that matter any general election is not the CPF issue that landed blogger Roy Ngerng in trouble, it is the issue of Minister Salary.  Foreign Talents being the other.

Minister Salary & Foreign Talents touches the nerves of "Unfairness" in what deems most sensitive to most ordinary Singaporeans, their income.  The Workers Party calls it "elitist" while the Singapore Democratic Party calls it "Unethical". Their supporters, "immoral", "shameful", and "robbers of people's money" etc etc.

The issue of ministerial salary was hotly debated in parliament, and the government had also taken steps to address the negative perception with a reduction in salary in the wake of public disquiet.  But the oppositions still believe the salaries of ministers are still way too high, where foreign governments are paid only a fraction comparably. They argued that political office should not be a lucrative career path for a selected few but a noble calling of which the remuneration should reflect the noble sacrifice one is called to serve.

The government, namely the Prime Minister had defended the pay packages in that it has to be attractive enough for good people to come forward to serve Singapore.  This response had brought about more jeer than cheer. The oppositions proponed that either the calling was not noble enough for good people to sacrifice, and/or that the crop of ministers are not up to the noble calling where for they are only motivated by high salary.

No explanation can be accepted because this in reality is not about millions in terms of numbers, but millions in terms feelings.  A million dollar can be both extravagant as well in gross insufficiency, whichever way you want to paint it and whichever way you get to perceived it.

I think it is also important to note at this point that this article is not about whether it is right or wrong for Singapore's ministers to be paid what they are getting now, but to ponder if our assessment of it had been "Fair" or otherwise.


Countering, the government had maintain that comparing pay packages of Singapore government and that of foreign governments is both impractical and unfair. Undeclared perks and advantages aside, cost and standard of living are remarkably different.  The available talent pool too is comparing the Pacific Ocean with Jurong Lake.  They have abundant supply of well trained talents, let alone many of them already have well established sources of income behind them.

Ugly or dirty as the words may be, Singapore can only afford career ministers. This is an absolute "Unfair Disadvantage" we have in our hands.

There is really no "Fairness" in comparing what foreign government are paid, in particular the Western countries with much longer history and nation building can only be found in history books.


Between the crook and the haloed saint, what is a practical and sensible pay package should ministers be remunerated? Is there a better, fairer formula than to be a fraction lower than the best paid individuals in Singapore?

In perspective the "Nation" is the apex of all enterprises of Singapore the country. The Nation flourishes, all other enterprises flourish, and if the Nation fails, all else fail.  Thus the paramount importance and responsibility laid upon the shoulders of those tasked with keeping the Nation up and preventing it from failing.

Lives and livelihood of all citizens are rested in the hands of a few men and women whose job is to make sure we have food on our table, a roof over our head, our safe passages day in and out, and we don;t get bullied by others who think they have better muscles. They devoted themselves to serving Singapore and its people, but to call them servants derogates the dignity that belongs to every individual Singaporeans for which they serve.

Shouldn't these be rewarded accordingly and compatibly with the heavy responsibilities that come with the job?

However, most people don't or are unable to see or even imagine the intensity of work that these ministers do.  The ministers have themselves to blame for painting a picture of themselves as no more than experts in cutting ribbons. Citizens never get to feel how important and heavy is the job of a minister.

It is commonly believed that anybody can be a minister where the civil servants are those doing the real job.  I supposed the rapid and frequent changes of governments in certain countries have created such an impression.  It is not untrue that institutions will remain even if there is a change of government but civil servants do not have to answer to the people why things fail, or worst of scenario why the country fails. Who gets the brunt when the MRT slowed or stalled altogether? It is Lui Tuck Yew, not the Permanent Secretary of the ministry.  Even if Desmond Kwek gets dragged into the blame game, it ultimate traces back to the government for putting him there.

Was the blame of freak flooding borne by PUB or the senior civil servants of the ministry of Environment and Water Rsources?  No it is Vivian Balakrishnan who takes the lashes.

But of course these ministers can in turn bang tables on their civil service colleagues, but five years time it is the political office holders that will face their real bosses.  Singapore needs strong political leaders because we have a very strong civil service.  If you may, this is a power unit unto itself.  A weak government will not be able to stand up to the strong will of powerful civil servants, and civil servants are not robots void of ambitions and ego.  Thus far the present government had a well balanced relationship with the civil service, weeding out any impropriety as a means of maintenance as well as deterrence.

It is not unfamiliar to notice discontented civil servants with ambitions beyond their jobs.  Many left to pursue political office.  Civil servants need not oblige their political bosses if their bosses lack the capability and strength to define a constructive working relationship.

Singapore has become a niche exporter of "Governance Software" with proven effectiveness and marketability. The Singapore government has made a "success story" of itself being able to consistently produce results that advanced countries were unable to.  Our governing system is sought after and not exactly replicated but applied to countries that have seen it working.  In that sense, the salaries of those who produce these "governance Software" cannot be non-reflective of its success, can it?

Ultimately salaries needs to be symmetrical to the job. Every job in Singapore is noble and honourable, be you a teacher, a cleaner, a banker, and each has its own portion of sacrifice.  Why then should ministers bear more monetary sacrifices than any other when the weight on their shoulder is so much heavier.

It is not the case where the country is deep in an abyss of debt, nor the country is unable to provide jobs, home, and safety for its citizens.  It would have been justifiable to question about high salary if the country needs to borrow or print more money to pay for its programme, neither is the case. Maybe these did happen in countries where their ministers are paid lower, but that is being symmetrical either.

This issue has no impact at all on Singaporean lives, but plain, pure politicking.

Sunday, 18 January 2015


The haze started with Minister Chan Chun Sing in a statement rebutting Huffington Post for publishing two of SDP politician Chee Soon Juan's articles criticizing the government.  In it, M-Chan had called Chee a "political failure" detailing some of Chee's past failings.

Why the rebuttal and to whom is M-Chan is rebutting?

I can't see it as prima facie where the obvious target is HuffPost, what for?  The logic didn't follow either. Telling HuffPost that they are giving considerable but undeserved space to Chee, and correcting them for believing Chee is a weighty political figure?  Unbelievable.  You are only asking to be slapped on the face.  How HuffPost allocates its space and to whom is none of you Chan Chun Sing's business, neither it is Singapore government's businesss.  After all, even though Singaporeans do have access to HuffPost, its reach are largely foreigners.  Again, telling them not to publish Chee's articles  is as good as telling Charlie Hebdo not to draw satirical cartoons.

I see it more like the Chinese stratagem  "声东击西", making lots of noise on the Eastern front but invading the West.  It's a tactical distraction that seems like hitting out at HuffPost, but in fact targeting Chee.  That was exactly how it looks like, at least on paper.

Then again what is there to gain or prevent from losing by hitting out at Chee? There is no value in attacking Chee as some of his supporters commented online, "If Chee Soo Juan is already a political failure and a loser, why does a cabinet minister need to go through the trouble attacking him publicly?" Unless the minister really thinks that Chee could be a threat.  No more than a week ago the hint was sent out from the SDP camp that they could possibly contest Tanjong Pagar GRC in the coming general elections.  Could this be M-Chan's preemptive strike to dent SDP's firepower?  This bear some resemblance to another classic tactic "抛砖引玉", throwing a piece of crude brick to lure a valuable piece of jade.  M-Chan's true target audience are Singaporeans.  He leveraged on the opportunity given by Chee's post in HuffPost and raised the spectre of Chee being an unreliable person by detailing his failures and wrongdoings.  Thus he can make some headway in the minds of prospective voters.

Did it work?

Not quite clear-cut though.  Some in the public-relations & media circles had labelled M-Chan's move as clumsy.  Some of the boo boos were already mentioned above, but mitigated away for their tactical reasons.  Still this open salvo played out like an unguarded fort for Chee to launch a full scale retaliation, and he did.

Calling Chee a "political failure" and a "loser" falls right into what Chee had wanted it to happen, that is his constant decrier that the PAP repeatedly uses underhanded name calling to discredit oppositions instead of engaging in matured debates.  One point to Chee here.

The political terrain is no longer a place for name calling.  Singaporeans seem to have a great sense of fairness, but more like a great sense of unfairness.  Whichever way, name calling is a no no, even though opposition supporters online have been using it freely and rampantly.

If there is really a need to find the best description to address Chee, it is safer to call him a "Liar" than calling him a "Failure".  Lies can be proven, but a "Failure" can only be determined on the day he dies, but Chee is still up and kicking.

So Chee mounted a hearted defense.

He denied allegations of sacrificing Singapore by writing on foreign media articles critical of Singapore's policies and politics.  He put it such that PAP and Singapore are not the same, and he is criticizing PAP and not Singapore.  He even revealed that the Straits Times refused to publish his writings and he has to resort to putting them on foreign media.  All these helped him scored well, particularly to younger Singaporeans who find him cool.  The PAP was apparently out manoeuvred and beaten..

Not yet.

While denying that he had sacrificed Singapore in his articles, but were merely critical of the PAP, he went into alleging that Lee Kuan Yew was in fact the one who sacrificed Singapore. He alluded that Lee had likened Singaporeans to "indolent animals" in the National Geographic article of which Lee did not said that at all.  Here's the government's transcript of the same article, provided by The Online Citizen that helped exposed Chee's yet again deceptive means of using "decoys".

In reality he does not need to refer to the NatGeo interview and that all else had sufficiently supported his denial of any wrongdoing.  But it was his hatred for Lee Kuan Yew that he found this opportunity of taking a swipe at Lee too tempting and irresistible.  He fell into his own trap by making that innuendo about Lee Kuan Yew. Check out the two links provided above and judge it for yourself without prejudice and see if Lee Kuan Yew had indeed sell out Singaporeans during his interview with NatGeo.

So finally Chee Soon Juan had himself to blame for failing to live up to the high standard he set for politicians including himself, and acting exactly as what M-Chan Chun Sing had clumsily painted him to be.  His defense collapsed like domino pieces with his underhand tactics.

Thursday, 15 January 2015



Assuming now, that Minister Khaw Boon Wan has directed URA and HDB to retract the tender for the Sengkang land for administrative and procedural review, what does that signals?

Who shall we award the trophy to as ultimate winner in this tussle?

I would suggest that residents of Sengkang who made their displeasure known not to celebrate that they have triumphed over the authorities.  It certainly bears resemblance of a tiny "People's Power" but read the situation with care...."It is not".  Remember that the fracas began with residents' unhappiness with the possibility of a Chinese Temple housing niches of the deceased and worse still, conducting funeral services within the premises.  While having funeral services is no longer an issue anymore, the housing of niches within the temple is not negotiable.

Why the tender was awarded to a profit-centred entity was never the original contention by residents till it was picked up later on by others to lend weight to the challenge.  Invariably this has become the sore thumb that seemingly requires immediate attention.

As it was mentioned in my previous blog the PAP government has a firm stand that it does not bow to populist demand big or small, and in this case the policy to allow niches to be integrated into place of worship is consistent with URA's planning policy as well as being a broadly accepted practice by communities across Singapore.


Why niches are a necessary part of many Chinese temples and why the government supported this religious practice?  Many temples in Singapore are part of our history, and not just history but also testimonial to the development of civilization and culture Singapore. Temples sprouted up from clannish, dialect, or even kampung origins. Temples were also meeting place for early migrants to seek mutual help, spiritual refuge, and social connections.  

Niches in temples was a necessary part of Singapore's particularly so for many who could not afford the price of a burial ground.  It is all about ancestral sacrifices for the betterment of the descendants, and about reverence and filial piety that anchors deep in Chinese tradition in Singapore.

Urban development has uprooted many of such historical temples and many of them too small and ill financed to continue their benevolent services had to merge or ceased to exist fostering the ashes of the deceased to bigger temples.  When burial becomes impractical in land scarce Singapore, the government built and operate columbariums to house niches for descendants to pay their respect and to keep family bonds intact.  

Urban development had also resulted in burial grounds being exhumed, and one prominent case in time was the acquisition of Kwong Wai Siu Pek San Teng burial grounds and this is where Bishan estate now stands.  A piece of land was given to the association of Cantonese clans to build a columbarium to house ancestral remains as well as providing for the future.

So many of these niches found in temples were there since history, and as temples continue to be relocated and the population of deceased continues to increase, more space will be needed to render such benevolent services to the community.

Therefore to most Chinese, to show discontent towards the housing of niches invariably demonstrates irreverence to our ancestors, disregard to their sacrifices and a contempt to tradition.


But it remains that the perimeters of tenders for place of worship need a hard review, and if possible immediate rectification if found wanting.

So if and when the government decides to retract the tender and rectify the perimeters of tender for place of worship, who is set to be seen as a winner and who is the loser?  Obviously if there happens to be a 'political motive" somewhere in this fracas, being a winner or a loser stakes a significant meaning to the outcome, but that would be the most undesirable outcome.

Winning and Losing should never be part of Singapore's administrative life where political gains and losses overshadow real needs and practical solutions.  If winning and losing becomes the main consideration, it forces parties to act irrationally and the ultimate losers are the people of Singapore.

It is only good for Singapore, its people when the government is willing to listen, respond rightly, and appreciated by the people that there is truly a two-way traffic between Singaporeans and the government that is running smoothly for the benefits of all.

Monday, 12 January 2015


AM I CHARLIE ?  Who is Charlie?

French people locked hands to condemn the brutal killing of twelve people, some of whom are not even part of Charlie Hebdo's satirical publishing outfit shouting "God is Great" even as the world questions "Why did not God stop such atrocities from happening?"  

I was attempting a question to myself : "What if we do away with all religion, its commandments, its traditions, and its rituals, will humankind still go after each other's throat?"  Sadly the answer I had so far is not what I had hope to arrive at and humankind will still go after each other's settle the intolerance of difference, and also to force on or coerce others into being similar.

Religion has become so contentious, and differences become so wide that in the big ways people go to war, and in smaller ways they sue each other in court.  Breakaway groups sprouted up all over with hyper emphasis on specific doctrines or rituals that are mere part of what the entire religion is founded upon.  Their religious mission becomes fragmented parts instead of a harmonized whole.

But in the first place, religion is supposed to help put order into a continuously populating world, and in a way slows down the pace of self destruction by pursuing good, yet there are people who are against having religion not knowing that by being anti-religion they have invariably created another religion and contributing to the ever increasing differences and dissimilarities. Diversity is not a need but a result to live with yet these days we worship the sacredness of diversity and enshrined upon the alter.

Had not for those working for Charlie Hebdo try to make a mockery of another religion so that theirs can look better and more powerful, their fate could well be different and live to enjoy more.  Had not the killers took religious authority upon their own hands to settle the differences, they would not have invited the world to point their guns at them.

So when the French people proclaims in solidarity JE SUIS CHARLIE, are these people uniting in the religion that Charlie Hebdo is proliferating or is it really something else?  

They just seem too in a hurry to unite, and too eager to let their solidarity be known and JE SUIS CHARLIE is already there and it sounds sexy enough.

As the dust settles, CHARLIE didn't seems quite right.  Those guys are bloody provocateurs and they brought it upon themselves taking along the innocents.  I AM NOT CHARLIE!  Charlie is a rogue that creates problem that others had to bear with them.

Why was there no condemnation for Charlie?  Why is the one that says "Shoot Me" less culpable that the one that answered "OK I shoot you?"

What is that hidden fear that people dare to condemn unbridled freedom of expression?  Is there something more fearful than to have a bullet in the head?

People seems to be supporting and condemning all the wrong things.

They supported those who sow discord and perpetrated hate n their choice of JE SUIS CHARLIE as symbol for solidarity.

By rallying against Muslims, they are perpetuating a conflict that based on misguided understanding, and instead persecuting those who stood for Peace.





Tuesday, 6 January 2015


MP Dr Lam Pin Min had his hands full these days.  The public announcements of Life Corp winning the tender to develop a Chinese Temple with an integrated Columbarium is located well within his Dr Lam's Sengkang West constituency that is part of the larger Ang Mo Kio GRC, Dr Lam has been stretched thin to find a resolution that will be pleasing and acceptable to residents both current and future.  Let's take a look at some of the different angles of the issue of what is not so straight forward a matter.

Upon the public announcement of the successful tender, buyers and would be future residents of the Fernvale Lea, a Built-To-Order project located next to the proposed Chinese Temple had accused the the HDB of not being forthcoming in their sales brochure.


The above is a site plan of the Fernvale Lea development inside a typical HDB sales brochure.  Buyers or applicants of the BTO project rely on the information provided in the brochure before deciding as to whether they would subscribe to the project or forgo for another.  Typically buyers look first at the block layout plan and the floor plans and select their desired type of flat to subscribe to.  Amenities and other peripheral facilities do influence their decision, but by and large they do not go into details as to ask what kind of school, or community institution, or in this particular case the Chinese Temple before purchase takes place.

On the part of HDB or even URA, it is important as well as being fair to know that they do not have any material information available to offer when proposing the project to members of the public before tenders of the adjacent sites take place.  Having said that, HDB and/or URA do have some fundamental criteria that is affixed to the specific use of land parcels up for tender.  So whether the HDB had or had not been forthcoming remains rather subjective.

Looking at the layout, it seems that HDB planners had in fact acted quite sensibly and sensitively in locating the temple plot at the corner and being shielded by a Multi-Storey-Car-park, and also incorporating a stretch of green buffer.  What that means is that the Chinese Temple is virtually out of sight from the residential blocks, and sound transmission could also have been substantially insulated.  


The saga may not have emerged and gets heated up had LIfe Corp, the successful tenderer not made a public announcement about their intention to provide full suite premium funeral services on top of the integrated columbarium of which they will eventually market on a per niche basis.

With a surely aging and affluent population, Singapore is green pasture for funeral service providers from abroad, and in this case Life Corp which is based in Australia.  Yet, funerals are not something welcoming for Singaporeans who are still flowing with hot Asian blood, no matter what race or religion you belonged to or how well exposed to the world.

Residents hate the idea of constantly having dead bodies lying in the backyard, and the imagination of people crying over dead bodies being a daily routines.

Thereafter, the souls of the dead are said to find their rest at the same place.  What if some of these were reluctant souls and cannot find rest at all?  And they are so near me?

Can you imagine the unsettling fear residents have with that big idea from a company that is not ever Singaporean?

Actually both having funerals and columbarium in close proximity to our home have been part and parcel of HDB living for as long as HDB existed.  Don't we get occasional funerals happening in our void-decks and nearby temples that are also housing ashes of the dead within the neighbourhood for years without complain?  What is so unique about the Life Corp tender that sparks the raising of blood pressure?  Let's put this last question to be answered lower down the scroll.

To mitigate matters, Dr Lam had put together an eye-to-eye meeting for all stakeholders involved.  What came out of this meeting was an assurance that "funeral services" will not be conducted.  With one taboo eliminated, that left one more in the chest.


Residents are said to have demanded for a refund for the purchase of Fernvale Lea.  With the issues of funeral services gone and columbarium well on the side of the authorities and Life Corp, do resident still have sufficient reasons to win the negotiation to stall the project or to have their purchase contract rescinded and get a refund?  

No matter how the negotiations go, the thorn-in-the-flesh will always remain with the authorities (Life Corp not included) that is "politics" with General Elections possibly happening this year or next.  The fingers are pointing at the "Tender Process" noting that URA had allowed a private profit entity to bid for the tender of the land parcel which is clearly stated for "Religious Use" only.  

Dr Lam had also told the media that current regulations did not restrict the types of company that can develop places of worship, but he reiterated that in view of residents' strong view against it, he will reflect it to the authorities......which may take to mean respective Ministers.


Were there flaws with the "tender process" as claimed by disgruntled residents?  As far as we know from Dr Lam, the current regulations do not restrict the type of companies tendering for land parcels designated for "places of worship", in this case a Chinese Temple.

Also, as far as we know, URA that comes under the Ministry of National Development oversees public tender of government land that includes putting in place tender documents that widely covers matters that involves physical development.  The successful tenderer is expected to fully comply with all requirements stipulated in the tender document.  What is left to be answered is : Should URA stipulates the legal entity for which land parcels are tendered for places of worship?

There was a case before the courts about development of a columbarium in 2009 CASE

The case background showed that one of the conditions as laid out in the public tender to develop a columbarium is that the tenderer had to be a "Religious Organization".

While the specifications of the two public tenders are different, with one being a Chinese Temple, and the other a Columbarium, the logical deduction is that it makes more sense that a Religious Organization should have been dictated by the authorities to operate a Chinese Temple, and not the other way round as in the other case.

Was there a change in rules in public tender for land parcels designated for places of worship and for columbarium since 2009?

What is a Chinese Temple and who can operate a Chinese Temple?  By convention, temples in Singapore are mostly run as "Societies" that come under the Societies Act.  Others may do so through a "Company Limited by Guarantee".  Bottom line of both sees individuals taking personal responsibilities and liabilities over the running of the organization, that typically are funded by donations from members and well wishers and as such will also render the organization coming under the scrutiny of the IRAS' Charities Act having being classified as "Charities".

By far, no information about the intended Chinese Temple had been released by Life Corp, inviting more questions.  Have they already registered as a temple prior to the tender or they will only do so after the tender becomes successful?  Who are the trustees of the temple and what corresponding relations do they have with the owners of the "building"?

The biggest question is : If they had not registered themselves as a temple, have they also at material time when they submitted the tender placed themselves in a questionable position of the law when they have not gotten themselves the satisfactory conditions and official approval?


By having no restrictions built into the tender documents, did URA or HDB actually allowed a backdoor entry for a commercial, for profit entity to gain unfair benefits of what the government may have given special grace for community benefits and mutual help?

Religious organizations by way of their operations and coming under strict regulatory controls are restricted from financial activities that a commercial entity enjoys, and so are the difference in risks and responsibilities.  Thus my view of this tender had been unfairly conducted.


So what should be the best outcome of the ongoing negotiation?  In my opinion, the best outcome for everyone is to have the "Tender" annulled as a result of separate negotiation between the authorities and the successful tenderer.

For buyers of Fernvale Lea, rescinding the purchase contract will sure set them back at all ends with no refund going by the contract.  If they chose to live on they will end up being unhappy Singaporeans and thus unhappy voters at the General Elections for which they may be forced to vote for some that in truth not suitable to rule.  NO ONE GAINS.  Not the residents, not the government.

Is it going to be a lost of face for the government and seen as backing down by popular pressure, something the PAP is proud to say that they will never?  Not at all.

The Magic Wand is given into the hands of MP Dr Lam Pin Min to wield it to his and his party's benefit.


Returning to a previous question, "Why is this case so unique?"

Singaporeans now felt empowered through social media.  Popular sentiments can cause a lot of good as well as destruction.  No longer are we living in the days when things simply gets by easily, unquestioned.

Much of the ways we do things remain in the old mode even as gradual change has begun.  This case has provide the unique opportunity for the government to relook, re-calibrate the way, those mundane things that lower rung civil servants do day in and out.  More zest can be added into these when officials begin to see how far fetched the implications of what used to be the old normal can be, and learn to stretch their imaginations and thinking farther than before.

On politics, no longer are we living in the days when the Minister will always be the boss of the MP.  The segregation of roles and duties are expected to be visible by a whole new generation of Singaporeans.  One question that brought up by alternative media was "Why was Dr Lam seated with the panel?".

Even with my bad blood with alternative media, I have to agree that Dr Lam should be seated opposite the panel and be on the side of residents questioning the authorities.  Dr Lam is the elected MP by the people and that is the role he should be playing during that meeting.

I have broken my own rule of keeping articles short.  But as the question goes, this is an unique case that requires unique treatment.