Government to give $3b worth of handouts in 2008 – My take

April 27, 2008 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Archives 

Today I received a flyer from my town council in my mailbox, stating the Government will give slightly over $3b worth of handouts in 2008. In particular, there will be:

  • $865 million of Growth Dividends
  • $300 million of Workfare Income Supplement
  • $560 million of GST Credits and Senior Citizens’ Bonus
  • $200 million of U-Save, S&CC and rental rebates
  • $100 million of property tax rebates
  • $226 million of medisave top-ups
  • $380 million of income tax rebates
  • $500 million of Post-Secondary Education Account (PSEA) top-ups

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Bloggers submit Proposals for Internet freedom in Singapore to Minister for Information, Communication & the Arts

April 21, 2008 by · 7 Comments
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A group of bloggers have submitted a paper entitled “Proposals for Internet freedom in Singapore” to Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts.

The paper points out the various defects in current media laws and regulations governing internet content in Singapore, such as instituting vague restrictions which gives authorities too much leeway in interpretation of the law, conferring arbitrary power on the Media Development Authority (MDA) to penalize owners of websites that in its judgment have violated MDA’s own rules, and the regulation of political content which is unjustified in principle and unenforceable in practice.

In short, media and internet laws in Singapore are in need of urgent review. Laws will always be necessary, but the rule of law demands that the laws are clear, and that there are checks and balances to ensure that the laws are only used to address legitimate social needs. Too many of the existing regulations do not meet these benchmarks.

The paper proposes ways of addressing the defects in current laws and regulations with respect to 3 main areas: (a) political expression, (b) hate speech and (c) sex and violence.

These proposals are designed to be consistent with fundamental principles of free speech. In contrast, Singapore’s laws and regulations governing speech on the internet have grown ad hoc and topsy-turvy, involving way too much administrative discretion, leading to the current confused and over-regulated state of affairs which results in free speech being infringed upon.

As a member of the group, I have assented to all parts of the proposal except for the part relating to hate speech. In my personal opinion, current laws penalizing racial or religious hate speech, such as Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code, is acceptable and need not be changed.

The cover letter sent to Dr Lee Boon Yang as well as the full write up is appended below.

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SDP to take Tak Boleh Tahan! campaign to HDB heartlands

April 20, 2008 by · 1 Comment
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20 April 2008
Singapore Democrats

Following the protest outside Parliament House on 15 Mar 08, the Singapore Democrats is ready to take the Tak Boleh Tahan! campaign to HDB housing estates to win the support of the people.

Starting with Toa Payoh on May Day, the SDP will spread the message of the PAP’s continued exploitation of workers in Singapore.

Read the full article.

Proposals for Internet Freedom: Bloggers for Internet Deregulation

April 18, 2008 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Archives 

Proposals for Internet Freedom submitted by the Blogger 13 Group.

21 Apr 2008

A group of bloggers have submitted a paper entitled “Proposals for Internet freedom in Singapore” to Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts.

The paper points out the various defects in current media laws and regulations governing internet content in Singapore, such as instituting vague restrictions which gives authorities too much leeway in interpretation of the law, conferring arbitrary power on the Media Development Authority (MDA) to penalize owners of websites that in its judgment have violated MDA’s own rules, and the regulation of political content which is unjustified in principle and unenforceable in practice.

In short, media and internet laws in Singapore are in need of urgent review. Laws will always be necessary, but the rule of law demands that the laws are clear, and that there are checks and balances to ensure that the laws are only used to address legitimate social needs. Too many of the existing regulations do not meet these benchmarks.

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Where Are the Potential Prime Ministers?

Written by Dr Wong Wee Nam
16 April 2008

The Malaysian General Elections has just ended and Abdullah Badawi has continued as the Prime Minister. But he is now having problems keeping the job. This is because there are many who want to take over. Even Anwar Ibrahim, who is not even an elected Member of Parliament, is eyeing the job. Just as there are many who had vied for the posts of Menteri Besar in the State governments, there is no lack of candidates for the post of the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

In the United Kingdom, when a schoolboy visits 10 Downing Street, he invariably likes to pose in front of the official residence of the Prime Minister of Great Britain for a picture. In other words, it is a schoolboy’s dream to become the Prime Minister of Britain. It is not that the job of the Prime Minister in Great Britain pays very well. It does not.

Compare to footballers like Christiano Ronaldo or David Beckham, the Prime Minister’s job is a lowly-paid one. Even by Singapore’s standards, it is an extremely lowly-paid job. The pay is only a fraction of the salary of a similar position in Singapore.

Yet Great Britain, like Malaysia, does not lack candidates for the position of Prime Minister. In fact, there is even no lack of candidates for the position of a shadow Prime Minister on the opposition bench.

No country in the world has difficulty finding people willing to become Prime Minister or running for Presidency. No country except Singapore, that is. The Straits Times of 2nd April 2008 reads : “PM still looking for his successor”.

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The iceberg of Singapore politics

April 12, 2008 by · 25 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
12 April 2008

Icebergs partially float on water with the top part jutting out of the water’s surface because ice is around 9% less dense than water. Some icebergs are huge, and only a small fraction of their total volume is visible above water. The rest is submerged beneath the water’s surface, its true destructive force on vessels and ships hidden from plain sight.

This is precisely the situation confronting Singapore. While the government tries to attract an increasing number of foreigners to Singapore, little do the outsiders know that Singapore is on a collision course with a political iceberg whose tip is visible but its enormity is obscured beneath an ocean of propaganda.

Singapore’s productivity has fallen in recent years, and the government has tried to make up for declining birth rates and the brain drain by importing a huge number of foreigners. The growth in Singapore’s GDP has been due to the expansion of the population by foreign talent import rather than through real gains in competitiveness and productivity.

The government has turned our nation into a mere hotel where visitors can come in, milk our jobs, and then move on to greener pastures whenever they decide to. Singapore is no longer a nation for Singaporeans. Singapore males still have to serve National Service, but in return they face hardship and even discrimination at work due to their NS liabilities. Foreigners on the other hand enjoy most of the privileges afforded to citizens, but none of the associated liabilities.

The indiscriminate import of foreign workers has depressed real wages in Singapore for the lower income class, which have not kept pace with inflation for the past decade. Till today, there is no minimum wage, and cleaners are still earning little more than three to four hundred dollars per month, same as what they earned a decade ago. Octagenerians are seen making their rounds at coffeeshops and hawker centres collecting drink cans or wiping tables. Escalating costs of living due to government policies like the GST hike have only made matters worse.

The PAP government likes to portray Singapore to the world as a shining example of a nation under good governance, with prosperity for all. In reality, only the ruling clique is benefiting from Singapore’s economic growth, with GLCs deeply entrenched in all parts of the economy and minister’s salaries pegged to the highest private sector wages.

Working class Singaporeans are being squeezed till the point of suffocation by rising HDB property prices because HDB flats are only granted a market subsidy rather than a cash subsidy. This is a prime example of the government’s blatant neglect of its own people and profiteering from the most basic survival needs of its own citizens.

As a direct result of Singaporeans’ putting in a large portion of their CPF savings towards their home, many do not have enough to retire on, and the government has to invent schemes like CPF Life in a frail attempt to plug the holes of this sinking retirement ship.

Even in policies like CPF Life, the government carefully designs it to ensure that it will profit from the scheme over the long run no matter how life expectancies or return on investments change. The risks arising from mortality changes or changes in investment gains are entirely borne by Singaporeans, who ultimately still have to depend solely on each other rather than on the government for their retirement funding. That is how callous and mercenary the government has become.

The PAP government however continually uses its own state-sponsored media to obscure these facts with a steady stream of propaganda that has become a mighty ocean of hogwash.

It is high time for activists and politicians to unite and expose the full extent of this political iceberg that if left unchecked will ultimately sink the great ship of our nation’s destiny.

My take on high rice prices and soaring commodity prices in general

April 5, 2008 by · 2 Comments
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Soaring prices of agricultural produce, especially rice, have hit headlines recently. CBOT rice futures hit an all-time high of US$20.50 per hundredweight several days ago, and Thai rice prices hit a 25-year high of US$475 per tonne in February.

Despite intense concern over these escalating prices of agricultural produce, I feel prices could have peaked for now. The Goldman Sachs Agricultural Commodity Index topped out in March 2008 after having more than doubled over the past two years, and has declined around 15% since. Prices of individual agricultural commodity futures such as those of corn and wheat also peaked in the February – March period.

Soaring prices of agricultural produce has followed the more general trend of rampant increase in commodity prices such as those of crude oil and metals over the past several months. Commodities in general have been in a secular bull market since 2001, as measured by the Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index. The main reason for this is due to fundamentals — there has been genuine increase in demand as a result of booming emerging market economies, and insufficient increase in supply to match this demand. The recent spate of soaring grain prices in particular has been exacerbated by competition with biofuels, natural disasters, and curbs in exports in places such as Vietnam, India and China.

In recent months however, a large part of the price increases have been due to speculation especially by hedge funds.

My take is that commodities in general and prices of agricultural produce in particular could have peaked for now and might enter a consolidation phase lasting several months. Although the secular bull market in commodities is not yet over, this current cyclical phase appears to have ended with a euphoric top. Going forward, a stabilization of the US dollar and moderating global growth should lead to “hot money” exiting the commodities sector. Rabid speculation always ends this way, and certainly agricultural produce has seen the most rampant speculation amongst all the various commodities. Even though the secular trend for general commodities is intact, the current bull run should be over for now.

Governments in South-east Asia are moving to clamp down on rice hoarders in a bid to ensure supplies are protected. The Philippine authorities has ordered police to arrest hoarders and illegal traders, while the Thai government is requiring buyers to show their home registration booklets.

In the Philippines, police will be deployed to warehouses owned by the National Food Authority, the state rice-importing agency, to prevent any pilfering by rogue traders. In Thailand, the government will release 650,000 tonnes of rice from national stockpiles to be sold at a heavily discounted price, so that the poor can afford it.

According to some supermarkets over here, prices of rice have risen by between 10 per cent and 15 per cent over the last two months. The Singapore government has also been quick to assure that rice stockpiles here are adequate and that Singaporeans should not engage in panic buying. But this has not stopped people from stepping up their purchases of rice. At NTUC FairPrice’s Toa Payoh Hub outlet on Thursday afternoon, the rice shelves went bare in mid-afternoon, but were restocked soon afterwards. Several supermarket chains said sales have gone up steadily since last Sunday. Some outlets have been re-stocking their shelves twice daily, something that normally happens once a day or every other day.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Mr S. Iswaran said that the government is not going to control the price of rice, giving the reason that it would harm our importers and affect our supply of rice. He also said that currently there is no need to draw on our rice reserves.

Concerning the issue of government stockpiling, I have these questions: How is the government stockpile being managed? Is it maintained in such a way as to ensure that the stockpiling process itself does not contribute to the price increase?

I will write to the Ministry of Trade and Industry and will update the site if answers are provided.

Rejected ST Letter: MAS should regard it as an obligation to exchange mutilated notes

April 1, 2008 by · 3 Comments
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REJECTED ST Forum Letter
MAS should regard it as an obligation to exchange mutilated notes

Written by Ng E-Jay
27 March 2008

I REFER to the article ‘$50 notes with ‘KF’ mark: Defaced bills ‘command no value” (ST, 27 Mar).

While it is right for MAS to exchange mutilated notes for good ones in the event that they are accidentally given to us, I am surprised that MAS regards it as an ‘act of grace’ rather than an obligation.

If an ATM delivers defaced notes to me, a situation clearly beyond my control, and neither the bank nor MAS is willing to recognize the value of those notes, I can and will sue the bank for fraud.

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