Blog Archive

Tuesday, 27 October 2015


Not many comments made pertaining to the call for Commission of Inquiry on the case about the Hepatitis-C Outbreak at Singapore General Hospital are meaningful, but there are rare ones like this by Jeffery Yeo.
JEFFERY YEO << I explain until sian. The COI is needed, but not until the expert committee can recommend findings on the root cause.
How do you run a commission when the best people who can trace the cause aren't even on the COI. WP said retired healthcare professionals - duh. Healthcare is about currency and practice; and specialties. I doubt they get this...
The review committee will CSI this to the end. I've worked with Prof Leo before in TTSH during the H1N1 scare - she's the best there is in the business and she'll not leave a single stone unturned.
Once the expert committee has done its job, then the COI has meaning.>>
MOTHERSHIP : provided a sort-of-concise version for the understanding of why the Workers Party has called for a COI and concluded with a suggestion that such may not be serious enough to warrant one.
Let's hear from Jeffery Yeo again.
JEFFERY YEO : It is a serious issue - but not a public health crisis. Serious because patients died. Not a health crisis because it's contained and very specific to a patient group.
Actually WP threw shade on the current expert committee. US CDC and JH plus all of the leading ID lights in SG still not good enough for them ah? I wanted to ask WP who they think should then sit in their COI?
Maybe more lawyers?
Renson Seow made some very practical comments, unfortunately tainted with suspicion but nonetheless legitimate.
RENSON SEOW : Ultimately, I think that the final question that needs to be asked is:
"Why not?"
1) Does a COI incur much greater cost than an independent committee? Is there a disadvantage? Why not just do the COI, if there is nothing to hide?
2) If a cluster of deaths do not meet the threshold for implementing a COI, then this raises the question: What would be a serious enough incident? Accidental black hole? Heat death of universe?
3) Why is MOH protesting so defensively? Not once, but twice (once against Rachel Chang, and once against WP)?
But Renson Seow and most of the others including the WP that initiated the call missed the point that MOH had not from the start denied nor rejected the idea of a COI.
MOH : The WP statement is careful not to make any suggestion that SGH or MOH officers acted with improper motives. Yet it has asked for a COI ahead of the Committee’s report and the conclusion of Police investigations.
MOH's statement corroborates with that of Jeffery Yeo in that preparatory investigations are needed to form the basis for calling for a COI, and the Independent Review Committee is highly competent and reliable to meet such expectations.
So let's get back to where it all started, the Workers Party. Did they do it out of pure ignorance of some of these procedural necessities or are they doing it just to score political points as alleged by FAB and FLOP?
This is their first big public gesture since getting bruised at the General Election, but it tells a lot.
For the first time there is a switch of the party's public face from Sylvia Lim to Leon Perera, but the switch is no change at all going by the manner it approaches the case about Hep-C outbreak. It has not demonstrated the ability to be thorough enough to weigh out its options in a wider perspective.
Between the benefits of vital public confidence in the nation's healthcare system and exposing the flaws in that system, it chose the latter alone instead of finding a balance of the two.
Having said, the Press Secretary of MOH had also chosen the former disregarding the latter, especially so in the first rebuke of ST columnist Rachel Chang. Her statement pertaining to that article consisted much suspicions of one that is out to undermine the integrity of Singapore's healthcare system, and these in my opinion are unfounded and unsubstantiated suspicions.
But with people like P N Balji talking about government's continued obsession about suppressing journalistic freedom, I have to find a reason to defend the MOH Press Sec despite not having one.
Before Instagram made it possible for Americans to see what Singapore is like without literally flying in, stories of Singaporeans living on trees still persisted in modern days. Thanks to the works of monkey journalists. And as long as journalist (not all) continues to go about casting unverifiable doubts of the government, how can the government not be suspicious.
If Balji thinks that the light touch isn't there, he may be amazed at how the government is lighthearted about Cheong Yip Seng's book OB Markers.
Objectivity helps us to move matters towards the better end, and ominous suspicion brings us nowhere.

Saturday, 10 October 2015


Just started reading George Yeo.

I loved the appetizers. I am ready to sink in and enjoy what seems to be a great expedition ahead.
There is already a sense of deja vu in the beginning pages. Some things I thought about recently were found right there.
Only a day or two ago before I bought the book, someone shared on FB a list of jobs that will disappear. My response to that was only the very top, the very best who are able to rise above the invasions of machines and algorithm filtering will remain in those profession.
And yes, right in there George spoke about machines and algorithms and and a higher from of human organization emerging. It's coincidental, yet not. I guess many years of listening to George Yeo do have a certain influence in the way I look at things though I am really not in his circle of friends.
In one of those General Election morning meetings in 2001, George asked, "Where is Anthony Kan and who is he?" Someone had relayed what happened to me later.
As the pioneer group of "Youth Wing" chairs, there were frequent meetings with the late Dr Tay Eng Soon and subsequently George Yeo. As Secretary of the Sub-Urban Central District, I too get to listen to much of George's views on various matters.
It was the days with Aljunied GRC that offered the most opportunities of interaction with the man. There were two things that I have mentally tagged Geroge Yeo with.
1. Profound. A word he frequently used during casual conversations and that too is very representing of the man himself.
2. His particular interest in the Malay/Muslim community and culture.
I found connection with his expression, "The Taoist side of me accepts that whatever we do, there are larger currents at play which are beyond our control and to which we are subject."
In one of those rare occasions when the late S Rajaratnam asked an audience to the effect of what is most important in their lives, the audience and members of the CEC were caught in an awkward situation. A catch between absolute respect for a senior statesman and his medical condition.
George Yeo answered : "GOD"

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Singapore Hawker Centre Story Part Four

I mentioned the pang brothers, Pang Lim and Pang Pok sold Aik Hua F & B in a deal that includes an industrial building in Tuas, all of their outlets except for one of two if I can remember correctly.
The action taken by the brothers were early warnings of an industry shake-up. Prior to that, these investor groups were investing heavily not just in acquiring outlets under a bullish real estate sentiment but also on central kitchen facilities as well as acquiring suppliers so mitigate the rising expansion costs.
The expansions also brought about strain on manpower, in particular the area of cleaning and upkeeping. It was a double whammy of the stick or the rod. You either face suspension of business from the NEA or clamp down by MOM for the employment of illegal workers, those whose work permit stated some other industry instead of cleaning. The Manpower Ministry was not prepared to ease licensing under this category only with the exception of those servicing the town councils. The press had reported some being caught for illegal employment as well as disputes with cleaning companies.
What is more significant to the decline in the business of serving hawker fare is an invasion of new food concepts. Backed by strong financing with some investors themselves being mall developers, companies like Ministry of Food, Minor food Group, and other single brand companies.
These new concept is easier to manage by investors as each brand needs a smaller space comparing to the need of a food court. They either come in smaller shop space or even a kiosk.
Unclean tables and time wasted waiting for available seating were some of the reasons why consumers were turning to these new food concepts even if they pay a little more, but time is more predictable and the gastronomic experience is also diverse.
Maybe Singaporeans are also getting bored with eating practically the same thing all the time.
Investors can have their exit plan and strategy, but what about the hawkers? I mentioned earlier about the issue of hawkers asking for high take-over fees to transfer their stalls, debated in parliament, and a stop to such transaction was eventually introduced.
I say it was unfair for the ministry to imposed the ban on transfer. The ministry's assumption was that such transaction will invariably transfer the cost to consumers resulting in higher food prices. This was advocated by those who believe that hawker food must be kept low.
What really matters in my opinion is the problem does not lie with the price of food, but with who is the consumer? My concern is with those who cannot afford, because they simply cannot afford. Not those who can afford but want food to cheaper so that they can have leftovers for some other indulgence.
The ministry had bought the argument that hawkers made a lot of money and therefore they are not entitled to selling their rights away for a windfall. The ministry must have forgotten comparably that these hawkers have no way of getting the kind of grants and assistance as industries and corporations enjoyed in very big ways.
Hawkers have to take care of their own medical bills unlike those employed who are covered. Hawkers pay CPF from their daily takings just to keep that license going. Hawkers don't enjoy retirement benefits or golden handshakes.
The ministry should have taken note of these factors and recognized that these transfer fees were actually delayed benefits due to the hawkers for serving others in the whole economic eco system. The ministry should have deny speculation instead of an across the board ban.
Indeed this could become a book, but there is no intention to be one, so I will stop here with comments about heritage and culture.
Whatever those with vested interest in promoting or propagating the concept of hawker food being a culture and having a heritage are up to, it is hot air they are trying to balloon.
Whatever that is due to preserved had been preserved, not through these lobbyists. Sin Leong Restaurant had its origin as a mobile hawker stall had its fair share of transformation and preserved status until they decided to call it quits.
Swee Kee fish head noodles better know as Ka So was a road side stall in Chinatown too had been preserved.
Big Nose (大鼻哥) was a road side stall in Smith Street and moved into the Oriental Cinema as a restaurant.
Those who knows cooking know that having the recipe alone can never replicate the original. Thio Ghim Siew whose brother Ghim Hock, CEO of OUE started a peranakan popiah outlet with the recipe from his aunt Mrs Florence Teo could not produced exactly the same original popiah.
Go try Kim's fried prawn noodle. What comes from the man himself and his assistant is different. Same with Ghim Tin.
I went to the Ci Yuan CC twice. I am not sure the model of social enterprise will work though I am hopeful they will. The banners outside says 24hrs, but the hawkers were all ready to have their time-card punched by 10pm.
Food business is not just about paying cheaper rental, economy of scale in procurement, or even a nice mission statement hoping for support. Maybe NTUC Foodfare may find the perfect solution if some of these pressure from government can be taken away.


Singapore Hawker Centre Story Part Three

With that little bit of history behind us, happenings in the last 20 to 25 years were fast and furious.
Singapore was hyperactive. Singaporeans continued to be laborious and hungry and commercial activities that used to be found only in the business districts spread their presence into the heartlands where rental is more palatable.
Food centres as they are now commonly called to make a distinct difference to those with wet market sprouted up following the businesses wherever they are opening. An organic evolution was subtly taking place at the same time.
We saw the transformation of traditional coffeeshops into mini food centres with the number of stalls increased to optimize the floor space, generating more rental revenue and at the same time multiplying the spread of offerings.
HDB expanded the floor size of its commercial space dedicated for coffeeshops, usually the corner units of a HDB block. They also began developing stand-alone food centres. This happened during the period where HDB commercial space are sold as leases instead of rental of the past.
What happened was the whole concept of F & B business has taken a twist to be partly a real estate play. Strategic locations near bus interchange or MRT stations saw unprecedented bids in open tender. A new category in the real estate listings was created.
Investor groupings took advantage of the opportunities presented before them and expanded their operations quickly. We saw the birth of groups like Kopitiam, Aik Hua, S11, First Partners, and Food Junction (mainly commercial malls).
Meanwhile rentals per stall continued to rise and so was food prices. Notwithstanding, these developments were not hostile to the average consumer as salaries too were rising in tandem.
Then, Singaporeans were less demanding and less discerning of the food offerings churned out by the continuous expansion of these food groups. It was simply a cloning process of replicating the same stalls at each of their outlets.
Yu Kee duck rice and kuay chap for example can be found in practically most of the food centres in Singapore. Chang Chern vegetable rice was part of the Aik Hua F&B group then run by the Pang brothers who later sold it to emerge again as Hawkerway and Kou Fu.
Essentially, when you step into any one of these respective outlets, you must expect the same food offerings that they also served elsewhere.
Meanwhile a parallel wing was growing, the food courts. The concept was brought in by the Jumabhoys with the help of singer and composer Dick Lee. They introduced the concept of hawker fares at the Scotts in Orchard Rd and named it Picnic. It proved popular, not just because i was there every other night but so were many other Singaporeans and visitors alike.
Food seemed to be a sure way of making money in Singapore, until reality strikes that all good things must come to an end, for some at least.
A shake up of the industry was on the way in the following article.


Singapore Hawker Centre Story Part Two

So in the previous article we recognized a fact that the booming culture and heritage of Singapore's early day hawker food can neither be replicated nor preserved. Those conditions where hawker food was once a luxury will find incompatibility in modern day Singapore.
New built markets and hawker centres were built to accommodate both cooked food vendors as well as wet market stalls such as raw meat, poultry and vegetables. Dried groceries stalls were actually extensions from provision shops, but still the newly built markets provided fro such transition.
However there were at a few hawker centres that were built especially dedicated to cooked food. The Newton Hawker Centre, Hill Street Hawker Centre, and the Thomson Flyover Hawker Centre, and the Farrer Park Hawker Centre.
The changing faces and phases of Singaporeans' meal habitats and habits also brought about opportunities as laborious Singaporeans find being a hawker is well paying. The demand for hawker stalls went beyond expectations of the then Hawkers' Department and URA mitigated the demand by allowing private commercial buildings to incorporate hawker centres in their planning.
All these happened during a period when Singapore's economy was very robust and jobs and business opportunities were aplenty.
Wherever there are masses of people working, there must be a hawker centre, and the Jurong Town Corporation termed their own hawker centres "canteen". We also see the differentiating between hawker centre and food centres located in commercial buildings.
Right in the centre of business district there are Market Street Hawker Centre, the converted Lau Pa Sat (not this current one), the Cecil Street Multi-storey carpark, and the make-shift hawker centre along the riverside next to Malayan Banking Bhd (now Maybank). There were also in Orchard Rd vicinity the Cairnhill Rd Carpark, one at the 6th level of Specialist Centre, One at the basement of PUB building (now SP), and one inside Centrepoint.
We are now shifted from hawker food as a luxury fare of old to one of daily needs in this third generation hawker story. Generally Singaporeans were having a moderate lifestyle, food prices at hawker centre didn't seem to be much of a pressure on the take home pay. But there is one group of workers that were being outpaced by this development, old folks working in commercial complexes as janitors and cleaners.
Where those at the central business district would close after office hours around 6pm, those in the leisure and entertainment area of Orchard Rd thrives till late. So those operating in that area discovered a gold mine with both working and leisure people patronizing their stalls.
Landlords seeing the lucrative gains by the stall holders naturally demand a share of that jackpot prize. Stall holders not willing to lessen their take home money increased the prices of their fares. But the poor old folks were not considered in this equation, as well as some new clerks and retail assistants with low starting pay.
We will see the coming in of the opportunist that saw the potential of making it big with hawker food in Part Three.


Singapore Hawker Centre Story Part One

It's really long overdue. I was supposed to write something about hawkers and hawker food, and now I got to revisit some of the old posts I have saved to refresh myself as I try to think and write as it goes.

This whole thing about preserving Singapore's hawker food culture and heritage has somehow gone overboard and overloaded with emotive pressure, this is how I feel.

People want good old hawker food to be preserved and at the same time they want it cheap. Possible? Well, they are still trying even as one by one of these old hawkers bids goodbye.

Then people began asking themselves what went wrong with Singapore's hawker food culture that there is no done to stop its discontinuation. They started blaming high rentals, labour crunch, prohibition of foreigner workers, lack of succession interest and whatever other reasons they can find to give meaning to the entire hype they are trying to create.

There was also some fracas about hawker stalls ownership/leases being transferred at astronomical amount. If I had not recollected wrongly, this was even debated in parliament that eventually resulted in prohibition of transfers by the National Environmental Agency, people who call the shots pertaining to hawkers and their stalls.

That much being said, what really is hawker food? How it came about and where is it heading towards?

Hawker centres are the result of urban renewal and redevelopment. Many eating places that were frequented by locals and visitors were cleared to make way for modernization. Well known among these were Koek Rd, Orchard Rd Car Park, Bugis Street, East Cost Rd, Ellenborough Market, Pearl's Hill Market (People's Park), backlane opposite Capitol Theatre, Hock Lam Street, along the streets of Chinatown and Hong Kong Street. These were so to speak post war Singapore's first generation overlapping to second generation hawkers. Without saying, there were also hawkers across the island.

The draw then for these eating places of old were that they were located very near to cinemas, about the only entertainment ordinary Singaporeans could enjoy. There was practically no emphasis on quality or taste during a time when most people eat simple home cooked meals most of the time. Eating out was a luxury of sorts.

Given that such prime locations were limited with unending flow of captive patrons, stalls changing hands were mostly unheard of. Income was in a way fixed but lucrative. Prices were not exactly affordable then relative to the earnings of ordinary Singaporeans but it is also not a place where one goes everyday or even every weekend.

Owning real estate then was out of reach across the board, and there weren't investment options nor opportunities available. In that sense when everybody was about the same, these hardworking and well rewarded hawkers could lavish themselves with simple luxury like smoking "Abdullah 37", a more expensive brand of cigarette instead of the cheaper '555". Some who are better at managing their finances would save up for a second hand car instead of relying on taxis to ferry their daily stuffs.

This is one culture and heritage we can never replicate nor preserve. It can only be a documented history to reminisce for the older folks, but may be too bland for the post 65ers.