Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reflecting over Singapore & Singapore Elections...& Bravo Nicole Seah. Bravo.

Albert Einsetin once said "In a healthy nation there is a kind of dramatic balance between the will of the people and the government, which prevents its degeneration into tyranny."  while Winston Churchill, as quoted "We must beware of trying to build a society in which nobody counts for anything except a politician or an official..."

Made the decision on the fly and bought a plane tix back so that I can vote this time round. Yup, a very very expensive spur of the moment. Still, I like to know I am doing my little bit, not that the govt should care at all since firstly they had told me so "kindly" back in 2006 that overseas residents NEED NOT VOTE (which set off a chain of emails with me assserting my damn right) and secondly, I shouldnt have been born under their "STOP AT TWO" policy which thankfully my mum had the great sense to ignore, but paid the price of a hefty FINE to the govt.

Friends kept asking me, "Oh couldnt you just stroll to the embassy to vote?" First correction, we only have a consular in HK, not embassy. Secondly, I really didnt see the need for all the hassle to register myself with MHA and the consular - considering it was always walkover with little competition, and I didnt want to spoil my vote and ruin my privilege. Factoring the fact that I moved every darn year didnt help either.

So come this election, oh wow! If I could click a 'Like' for Nicole a thousand times, I prob would. She has validated my earlier post that Age does not equate to Maturity and vice versa. Here, a 24yr old is speaking with more passion and sincerity than what the 27yr old could ever hope to achieve.  It didnt come as a surprise that Nicole Seah's FB page was my major reading delight during my week off to Phuket. It was so refreshing to be so involved in the elections for a change, with my iphone wifi stretching all the way to the beach waters with compliments by the resort. Seriously, this has got to be the most fun holiday ever!

Never underestimate the power of social media. The "voices" that would otherwise had been shunned and selectively silenced (discarded) by mainstream traditional media is having an alternate channel to get its messages out! FB has effectively brought the massive news and updates to me at my fingerstips in split seconds and the viral effect it has on people is amazing! Our ears are not longer stuffed, and eyes no longer partially veiled. Our slumbering complacency towards local politics is awakening, thanks to the nature of social media.

Unlike the past elections where "official" articles by the dominant party were a complete drone or written to either befuddle or bore its audience, at least this time round, I know what the alternate parties are championing for. ( I kinda think opposition is a wrong term to use since it depends on which side of the fence you are sitting on. Alternative parties is more apt)

In the midst of bubbling excitement and at the height of a possible "Change", it is easy for us to get lost and carried away at this possible "page turning" moment. Thus despite our fervent desire to change the course of our country's policies, we still need to keep our head firmly attached to our shoulders. It is IMPERATIVE that we do not just to vote a change, but rather, we should vote for the RIGHT change.

I remember someone "challenged" me if I am with the ruling party, or the other side? My immediate response to him was "My loyalty is with the country, not the ruling party who is suppose to serve the people." Then the D*#@k Head went on to lament everything about Singapore with all the supposed "funny" nicknames for Singapore like "Stinkapore" etc. To be honest, I am offended. I am offended at the notion that someone can be as ignorant at over thirties to be mocking his own nation. I retorted back that I have seen many protest in various countries. Every nation has its shares of pissed off citizens but they know the difference between targeting the ruling parties, and NOT the country. They still have the pride of being associated as the citizen of the country. So what is so wrong with some Singaporeans that they feel that have a need to trash the country as a whole? Take for example, I have watched on TV, seen on the streets the Hk citizens verbal bashing Donald Tsang, calling him a bootlicker, and various derogatory names. However they stopped at him. They do not insult themselves by hurling insults to HK itself. They are still proud to be a HongKonger. And that, I hold them in respect because they can see the underlying difference. So to those who only know how to make wisecracks about Singapore, just stop it and grow up, and learn to channel your disgruntles at the right source.

The best thing about Facebook is that it links up everyone and we get an insight to the current mood and insights of the people and friends. No, it's not "Noise" as described by some minister. It is the very voices that had been ignored for a long time coming.

Reading my facebook updates today, I didnt know if I should feel indignant or laughable that a senior minister would attempt such a sore and impotent sarcasm on Nicole being the "sole" voice of the party; that she was basically speaking for the other dudes campaigning with her. Without a doubt, the comment doesnt sit well with many supporters simply because it was uncalled for. Is that the kind of "clean fight" that GCT had "requested for" just not very few days ago? Plus the fact that the old dude still don't get it - that Nicole is stepping up speaking for the PEOPLE, not for the party. Could I rightly say that what Nicole has achieved with her supporters to date is what PAP would have wished Ms Tin Pei Ling could have done but had failed rather spectacularly? Instead, what GCT said (adding to Ms Tin's continuous downhill performance with the media) has only seemingly served to alienate the people further, pushing those on the fences to the other side.

Many current policies or decisions do not sit well with us. For years, and mind you, great long years the people have been either lapping up everything that was thrown to us to gradually having things stuff down our throat whether we want to or not. THAT, is the reason why people are resentful. THAT, is the reason why people are questioning the current system. THAT, is the reason why there are strong voices calling out for a change, any change in fact.

I have never, and seriously, never been a fan of any of the alternate parties in the past. No offence to their supporters but I have no false illusions with Mr Chee after he went on his angry rants and hunger strike. No seriously, hunger strike, an aborted one I might add? Then fleeing away and giving negative interviews with foreign press? To me, that is cowardly betrayal. That's a new low for someone as educated as he was. So no, I am afraid I would never cast my vote for the likes of him.

Then came Nicole, like a fresh wind of change. Refreshing and Inspiring. Inspiring not for what she has done, but rather that she had the courage to stand up for what many had cursed with their muttered breadth but lack the courage to voice out. Refreshing because we finally have someone who seemingly could articulate the needs of the poorer strata of people needing a young loud voice.

I have read through almost all of the comments left on Nicole's page. Mostly are encouragement, support and some are suggestions. Some are good, some are too radical that would be detrimental to our state economy. The most interesting to observe from the sidelines is that: What Ms Tin Pei Ling has Strikingly Failed, but which Nicole Seah has Succeded (with much poise and confidence) is the connection with alot of people (judging from the over 25k and still growing likes status). They view Nicole as one would have viewed the Joan of Arc, the spark of hope and pure courage, the courage to speak up to stir the change.

There here are many issues, factors and problems. Some are definitely the govt's doing, but to be fair, some are a result of our people's greed for making a quick buck.

The extreme rants are always about ERP, GST, and even taxation. Ok, here is where I draw the line. To lament about taxation (and bringing max profit) to the govt is alittle on the overkill side. Singapore is afterall one of the few developed countries with lowest personal tax rates, comparable to country like HK. Every country needs a tax system to run, to finance any fiscal policies. I do object however to any govt agency rewarding themselves with a big fat bonus with the surplus of taxes.

Secondly, GST. A sore contention with many. Many people blamed our current PM. I wouldnt, because it wasnt him alone that introduced the GST scheme to begin with. It was under the PM before him. So shouldnt we target the chap who introduced and saw this GST through in the first place if it comes to finger pointing? In HK, I rem vividly the GST idea was scraped and swept under the carpet after a loud wave of protest from its people. Ours went ahead regardless. I read somewhere in FB that people thought GCT was good because GST was only 3%. Wake up your idea kiddo. Even if GCT is still in power, the GST rate would still inflate to the current 7% because the party doesnt work by one person, it is a collective agreement. It just happened that the current PM bear the brunt of hatred because the rate had to be hiked up during his term. I am not sure if GST is the best way to move ahead but it is not avoidable for a country like ours. Even a resource rich countries like Norway and Australia also imposed a hefty consumption VAT tax, even more than ours.

I suppose once GST is in place, it is impractical and also honestly unfeasible to call for only certain food produce such as staples to be excluded from GST. Unless you know a way out to do the complex book keeping and accounts audit, I honestly cannot fathom how much work it will be to try to do micro managing of GST. I remember when I was working in the cosmetic MNC then, and I was trying to input the the different permutations of cost price vs retail price for the different "promotions" with "different shades and packages" and to match the inventory was a utter nightmare. The system couldnt handle such micro managing and everything had to be done on "exception" rule basis. With that experience, I can understand the rejection of calls to exclude staples from GST. How do you deal with the thousand of complexities and possibilities with different sources? How do companies report on GST returns esp food sellers that may buy a mixture of non staple etc? So no matter how noble the idea is, it would be disaster in the making to try to to have GST on selective food, despite the well meaning concept for the poor.

However, what can be excluded should be broader categories isnt it? For example, slap GST on luxury items, on lifestyle goods, on the dual evils of cig & booze for all I care. However can we exclude medical bills, and food across board from GST? Restaurants, hotels and bigger food chain can slap some tax, call it something else but basically, the spenders who can spend can foot the tax bill. The people who like to splurge on travels or expensive gadgets (that's me included here) or those die hard branded names groupies can pick up the tab on consumption tax simply because these are luxury, not essentials.

Then rising cost of medical fee. I am fortunate not to be gravely sick yet, and so I cannot comment on how expensive the cost is. All I know that is that while Singapore GP are very much more affordable than other developed countries like Australia ( ave min A$80) and Hong Kong (ave min HK$300 just consultation) from personal experience, I think its not going to be cheap being sick long term in Singapore, unless you are going to die straight away. I read an article about Minister Yeo' sending his son to the states for treatment of leukemia. Why didnt he stay on in Singapore to have his son treated if we have truly have the first class medical team? Why stay in the states 9 months with the whole family accordingly to the article, and not trust the team here to do the job? Does that mean the govt should finance every singapore child to the same medical authority in the states too since we should follow the lead examples of our leader?

No, dont get me wrong. I am not begrudging the rich. Afterall, why do so many young singaporeans undergo university education? It's precisely to lead a better and improved lifestyle = getting rich. If the person gained his or her wealth by their own merit, we are not in a position to trash the rich people. They too had to toil to get where they are. Perhaps they are luckier, they caught a break. However, the issue at hand is not about people getting rich, but people getting too rich and forgetting the poor.

The ministers argument for higher pay is to justify the cause of keeping them honest from corruption. I am not a kid with idealistic belief that anyone will work for a miserable pay in this modern days. However I question when is enough is enough? At what point and how much will it take to keep our ministers straight? To keep on par with private sector? The private sector CEO does not owe the citizens of Singapore a damn thing. They got on board the private sector and is only accountable to their shareholders and the profit of the company. Their job is SOLELY to generate revenue. They do not need to take the moral high grounds so long as they stay on the right boundary of the law. They are not responsible nor accountable for the plights of the poorer people because it is NOT their job. However our ministers are. Every penny they take for themselves, they are depriving another citizen of that penny. Our ministers seem to portray the mindset that "Oh I generate this revenue so presumably it is ok to take a big chunk because if it wasnt for us, there wont be this money." However, the ministers must have missed the memo that indicated that they are elected to SERVE the people, and the people's cause. Not their own personal cause.

A CEO can get voted out when they perform badly or when they screw up. However our ministers are afforded the luxury of a shield that prevents us from booting out individuals who are below par, who screw up and choose to possibly hide below the coat tail of other more capable ministers. By sacking a minister is too vulnerable to the stability of the country perhaps? It will be like exposing the cracks of the team, so it is better to stick to the known failures than risk having the whole ship overturned?

When I ask "when is enough is enough?" Are our ministers suffering at the current pay? As far as I am aware, almost all of them are staying in private landed houses, some with guards stationed. I didnt know till my friend kindly drove me to Holland and Nassim etc to see these big houses. So the current pay cannot maintain the lifestyle of maids, private cars and landed housing, and private travels? Are ANY OF THE KIDS of the ministers being deprived of any education based on their current pay? In fact to my best knowledge, many of them graduated overseas. So their pay is not enough to pay for the overseas living expenses? So my question is, what is so insufficient about the current pay that requires such a hefty increment while the normal average citizen is surviving on average $3-5k, which encompasses all current and future cost of buying a simple roof over our head, saving up for medical fee for sickness, saving up for medical fee for parents' sickness, saving up for living expenses, saving up for unexpected incidental cost, saving up for our education upgrades, saving up for increasing transport cost, saving up for marriage, saving up for kids. So Mr Minister, if you expect us to survive on $3-5k (for the better educated), why canx you maintain your lifestyle on a high pay but not as high as the one you had proposed against the wishes of the people?

Also, the most troubling issue is that while the ministers are patting themselves with a job well done, and thus rewarding themselves with a larger than necessary pay rise to keep corruption at bay, it results with the unintended consequence of insulating our ministers from the afflictions and disquietness of the citizens who felt squeezed or marginalised. Ask any ministers the troubles of the working crowd being squashed in the train at peak hour, he will assure you that it is running at optimal. yes, the train may be running at optimal speed with optimal load, but what had happened to the QUALITY of the ride? What happened to the qualitative measures, and let's not just harp on the quantitative measure.

As the living cost and public transport increases, it is only natural the working crowd wants to see a relative increase in their pay. In terms of tpt, what about the poorer aged citizens? Can we find a recourse for them like rather than just giving them discounted rides during non peak, how about a monthly concession pass for the old and poor who still have to travel around to work (thus not able to limit their travel to only non peak). Would that not be plausible, if we discount the fact of a smaller profit margin? In HK, we have an option of minibus, where it takes you via certain routes and everyone has a seat. It is fast and efficient and ran privately at a low cost. Why it cannot be implemented in Singapore instead of forcing everyone to the train and public buses is beyond me since the train system is already bursting at its seams. I rem when I started working, there used to be private buses I can hop on to from the east to the city area. The fare is fixed regardless at which part of the journey you get off. I didnt care because it sure beat the hell out of squeezing with the crowd on the train, and it was faster. However that stopped because LTA said it wasnt allowed and so it was back to the hassle of swapping bus-train-bus. Such inefficient use of my time. So much for the productivity talk.

In HK, they recently passed a new law. Where they put an immediate stop to mainlander mothers delivering their child in HK. Basically the overload of the mainlanders was putting a huge strain on the resources, and creating a shortage of space for the HK citizens. Based on the pleas from the mothers and the local doctors, the govt basically closed the gap and gave priority to its people. Even mainlanders who married Hk husbands do not get priority. The mainlanders and foreigners can still go to private care but you shell out the money. Also, the daily rate between foreigners and citizens is like heaven and earth...a big big big difference. And guess what, I 'm a foreigner here and I am not complaining because I UNDERSTAND the need for the citizens to get priority. Does our ruling party understand that?

The feel in Singapore and Hong Kong is also very different despite the fact that both countries have a huge influx of foreigners working in the city. However there is a fundamental difference. The country HK seem to protect its citizens, the blue collar more. If I am not mistaken, when I had applied to work, I rem my company had to justify why they couldnt hire a local and that the service industry is solely reserved for the local citizens, unless they can show prove they need a foreign staff to speak foreign tongue to serve the clients or a rare skillset combination. Still, majority of the service industry are hiring locals. Even with the HUGE INFLUX of mainland tourist, the stores are still dishing out sales who is a Hong Konger, instead of adopting the cheap option of hiring a mainlander. Of course the companies are also bounded by the law but it was a win win situation because the people in order to preserve their jobs, also force to upgrade their language skills. I love walking into HK stores because I know I am dealing with a local. Back in Singapore, I couldnt believe the number of foreigners hoarding the low level jobs that should and could be filled by a local. It was even more sickening that I am forced to talk in the language of the staff they hired, rather than the other way round which is a norm for other countries.

On the point of linguistic skills at dining spots, I rem recently when my mum came to visit and we were booked in for a restaurant. As we sat down, there was a 10secs of "quite discussion" amongst 3 servers and the manager because they were trying to deserve which staff to send to our table. Initially they had a local who speaks smattering but relatively understood English as they overheard my husband and I talking at the reception. As we strolled in, they overheard my mum and I speaking in Mandarin, and so they quickly signaled to another waitress. As we sat down, we started to chat in cantonese and hokkien and the waitress was a little confused, and waved to another colleague, to which I overheard them saying "Dont worry they can speak mandarin". I looked and and told the lady they can speak cantonese if they like. To her relief, she waved the other serving staff away. To me, this is Customer oriented SERVICE well deserving of praise, where they anticipate the needs of the customer, to make them feel welcome. In return, I try to allay their uneasiness with a foreign tongue by speaking in a common mainstream language that is comfortable to the staff. In contrast when I was back in Singapore at Dempsey road, what greeted me was a steady stream of only Maninlanders and Filippino serving staff at the famous crab dining establishment. Except for the receptionist and the one collecting the bill, I was forced to speak to the mainlander in Mandarin to describe a simple sauce I wanted. A sauce that could be easily told to any local staff, even at coffee shop. It felt strange that the discomfort lies with me, the customer rather than the foreign staff who didnt seem overly concern that he didnt understand me.

I rem a talk by PM, taking pride that in the manufacturing sector, 2/3 of the managerial positions are filled up by Singaporeans and the lower skills by the foreigners. Is that assuring? Yes, on my level where I have a degree, I am fine. However, think about those who are not academically inclined. Let's face it, not everyone is Issac Newton or Albert E. Not Everyone can graduate with a degree. So my question is, what will happen to the lesser educated citizens whose jobs are quickly taken up by cheaper labors from elsewhere. I agree with the General saying that "most singaporeans" will not take up low level job. YES, by choice if my education level allows me to pursue a more cushy job. However, what about those who doesnt have a luxury of choice? Why should they be penalised by their own country just because they may not be bright in schools academically? So where should these people turn to?

I used to joke with my friends that the stark contrast between HK service industry and SG is the AGE and Nationality. The people in HK retail tend to be filled with young - middle ages locals but in Singapore, if they are  not youngsters on part time jobs, I end up with all the aunties and old uncles locals, BUT mostly I get Mainlanders and Filippinos. It's almost depressing visually really. I wont even bother to describe my horrific train ride experience, where I see more mainlanders in the train than I do in HK trains. An irony considering the proximity of China to HK vs Singapore.

Then I wonder, how is it that HK people do not seem to begrudge the foreigners  (like myself) as much as the SG do? It is all about the perceived notion of job preservation, whether the govt are looking out for the locals first. The foreigners tend to have to pay more for rentals (benefit the local), no foreigners are fighting with the locals for local housing, hospitals are more expensive for foreigners, certain sectors of the industries are reserved for comparatively, the locals do not feel threatened as those in SG where the incoming people are overrunning the city with their own culture, (bad) habits, refusing to integrate, and worse, I have heard with my own ears, belittling the very country that is feeding them. I was even more aghast and indignant when there are people who comes up to me and assumed that Singapore is part of China (like HK). The fact that Wiki- LEAKS had disclosed a top official quoting him that he didnt mind Singapore being assimilated with China being splashed all over Sydney Morning herald was a worrying dismal for me. Was it a sign that we can no longer trust the people in charge to hold its fort?

I am not against all Foreign Talents. I believe some are of merit and worthy to stay in Singapore. I have even know of expat who lived and worked so long here, and intergrated so well that he has decided to forgo his UK passport for ours, simply because "Why the bloody hell do I want to keep the passport if I am never going to live back there in the wet damp cold again?" was the reply to me. I have known of foreigners living in Singapore who has vested more interest and commitment than some Singaporeans themselves have. It is no doubt a norm that we have citizens who crave for a better life elsewhere, while there are others who find a comfortable spot for themselves here in Singapore. However, what we are aghast is perhaps the wide door in discriminant policies then which seemingly allow all levels of undesirable characters to work here in Singapore, at the expense of low and possibly middle level skilled Singaporeans. And what's more, I take issues with people who only come here to milk the system and then leave. I am offended by non-locals who cluster amongst themselves privately speaking in their own tongue excluding Singaporeans unless it benefit them someway, offended by their refusal to speak our lingo and language, am offended at the prolific spread of their bad manners (talking loudly and spitting being the major offences), ill society and cultural habits, but most of all, am offended at their crime of blatantly critisng and belittlinig us the people and the country itself. They mock the locals, while having no qualms of hogging onto a job that a local can and should have, well apart from the hooker and niteclub jobs of course really is debatable.

I have alot more to go on but I think most people get the drift.

I am looking forward to my flight back, even if it is costing me a cool Hk$4000 just to vote on that paper, to cross a box. A very significant box.. I suppose it's a well deserved ticket since I havent had derived so much entertainment from a election year for some time now.

I know my loyalty started to waver the very day LKY passed the baton to someone who had the cheek to mislabel people like us as quitters, with a wife who had the audacity to back a disgraced former NKF exe quoting "his pay is peanuts" when it is multiple folds above the normal pay of an average citizen. There is a saying, you can tell a man by the company he keeps. If his wife can sprout such a classic perplexing line as such, what other thoughts do they harbor is something I wonder aloud? Should I believe for a second it was an impulsive thought and that the notion had not taken root much longer? Yeah, like caterpillars would grow wings overnight huh...Just Like I need to support what I say with concrete proof, what proof have been shown to me that some of those people no longer hold such haughty views? While I may hold utmost respect for the pioneer PAP team who did afterall go against the odds to develop this country, the same cannot be said about the current team who had many times fumbled along the way from the escaped convict to the over spending of the YOG which honestly speaking, wasnt even worthy of a mention in other countries apart a small column.

Even if the alternating parties do not win, I hope it will be at least a neck to neck fight in order to send a strong message to the ruling party and keep them realistic about the "voices" of the people. I can only hope the various oppositions will get its act together and form a strong coalition rather than the current numerous dispersed contenders, thus not taken quite as seriously by the ruling parties.

In a personal observation, Singapore is still a state city, a fact remains that we are TOO SMALL to have so many fractions of alternative parties. Perhaps why they are always being "mocked" and jibed at and taken lightly.. Even a country as large as States has "Democrats vs Republicans", and Australia with "Labors vs Liberals and the third The Greens". So in Singapore, the varying parties have to unite. At most we can only have 2 alternate parties. Worker Party being a strong credible party to begin with. We just need another voice to balance and give weight to the fight. Remember the wise Chinese Story, where the brothers were told to band together with the simple illustration of a chopsticks. One or few are easily breakable but when band together, they form an unbreakable force. May the force be with the party that has the most interest of its people at heart.

PS: I have a FB flash about this great article. Read "it Begins with Political Apathy"

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