Crude Oil falls well over 20%, but electricity bills rise 21%

September 30, 2008 by · 5 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
30 Sept 2008

Utility bills and the cost of fuel like petrol and diesel are supposed to track the price of crude oil closely, albeit with a delay as the changes in price of the raw material take time to filter down to the finished products that are sold to consumers.

However, the disparity in change in the price of crude oil and that of electricity has seldom been this lop-sided.

In the Straits Times, it was reported that electricity bills for Singapore households will go up by about 21 per cent starting from this Wednesday. (ST, “Electricity rates up 21%”, 29 Sept)

The report mentioned that this would be the highest one-time increase in seven to eight years, due to higher oil prices.

However, over the past 3 months, the price of crude oil, as measured by West Texas Intermediate Crude (WTIC), has gone down from US$145 per barrel to about US$105 per barrel, as measured by the close of trading last Friday. (By today, the price of crude oil had fallen by another US$10 per barrel as traders liquidated their positions in a panic response to the failed US financial bailout package that was denied congressional approval.)

Hence, crude oil has fallen by well over 20%, even taking into consideration fluctuations between the USD/SGD exchange rate.

Why then is this glaring disparity between what Singapore consumers have to pay for utilities, and the change in the price of crude oil over the past 3 months?

Actual cost of the raw material makes up around 60 per cent of electricity tariffs, with the remainder devoted to cost of production. Surely the cost of production cannot have gone up by so much as to create this lop-sided pricing.

Since 2004, electricity tariffs in Singapore have been pegged to projected crude oil prices for the next three months instead of current oil prices. Is this the reason for the price disparity then?

Clearly, the pricing of electricity in Singapore is not sufficiently transparent, especially if it is subject to the whim of forecasts that could go quite wrong.

There needs to be greater disclosure on the part of the authorities as to how electricity is priced, and what steps have been taken to prevent exploitation of consumers.

My response to Mr Syu Ying Kwok’s ST letter

September 29, 2008 by · 3 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
29 Sept 2008

This is my response to Mr Syu Ying Kwok’s Straits Times forum letter which was published on 27 Sept.

Entitled “Top dollar for star talent“, Mr Syu writes about how the US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson rescued the financial markets from calamity with a trillion dollar bailout package, and that Singapore is unlikely ever to have a person of Paulson’s calibre serving in the Finance Ministry. Mr Syu says that “Singapore’s small pool of people and Singaporeans’ pragmatic attitude have seen few top earners willing to sacrifice millions in pay to join government service. Not many are like Education Minister Ng Eng Hen and Law Minister K. Shanmugam who took a $2 million to $5 million pay cut to serve us.

I think that first and foremost, some perspective is need.

The current financial crisis in the US was caused by reckless lending by banks and other financial institutions as a result of poor oversight by the authorities and overly lax regulation.

Low interest rates, monetary inflation, explosive liquidity, as well as aggressive lending practices by financial institutions led to a housing bubble that saw many home owners leverage way beyond their means, using exotic instruments such as interest-only mortgages and adjustable-rate mortgages. Home owners were even encouraged to provide false or misleading information concerning their income in order to get what are known as “liar loans”. It was said during the housing bubble that anyone who could fog a mirror could get a mortgage. All of this was possible because the authorities failed to put a lid on the aggressive, and often fraudulent practices by the banks and financial institutions.

But when the housing bubble burst, many home owners were left under-water. The subprime mortgages, which were repackaged into other debt instruments such as Collateralized Debt Obligations and Securities (CDO’s and CDS’s) and often put into off-balance sheet vehicles known as Special Investment Vehicles (SIVs) came back to haunt the investment firms which used a huge amount of leverage and borrowed money to dabble in them out of sheer greed. A credit crunch and a crisis of confidence ensued which led to the current financial crisis in which the credit markets have dried up, credit spreads are so wide they are literally off the charts, many credit instruments are no longer being priced by the market, and financial institutions are unwilling to lend to each other.

This has created massive redemptions, a huge outflow of capital and liquidity, and a run on banks and other financial institutions, causing one bankruptcy after another, and escalating the need for a bailout package to get the toxic mortgage debt instruments off the hands of financial institutions which are being systematically wrecked by them.

The bottom line is: Mr Paulson may be an extraordinarily capable bureaucrat who has managed to save the day and prevent financial Armageddon, possibly saving the world from a global depression, but the entire problem was created by incompetent government and fraudulent business practices that went unchecked and unpunished. The root of the problem was rampant corporate greed that went beyond all bounds of reason, and which the authorities did nothing to address while the going was still good. For Mr Syu Ying Kwok to put Paulson on a pedestal and use his high net worth (his net worth is more than US$600 million and at one time he earned more than US$34 million a year from Goldman Sachs) as a justification for paying our own local Ministers multi-million dollar salaries is taking things way out of context, in my opinion.

Mr Syu cites two examples of cabinet ministers forgoing larger private sector salaries to become politicians and explains what a rarity they are compared to many others who are unwilling to make such sacrifices. Well, I am pretty sure all our cabinet ministers are each earning more than US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, even though none have been called upon to do something as momentous as Paulson has.

Public service, first and foremost, is about dedication to the community and a desire to serve the nation. Continued talk about ministers or MPs having to make financial sacrifices to enter public service only cheapens it.

Besides, the reason why the Government has found it difficult to attract talent men and women into its top brass is not so much because private sector pay has become much too irresistible, but rather the climate of political apathy and fear generated by dictatorial practices and the suppression of dissent over the past 40 years have turned many talented Singaporeans away from politics.

Mr Syu says that “having the right person doing the right job at the right time is critical to the survival of our country“. I agree. But then the mechanism for selecting the right people to enter politics must be sound. Currently, potential ministers are put on a “fast track” and get into Parliament easily by piggy-backing on a more senior minister. These newbies are hardly put through the rigours of the normal political process. How are we sure they are of the right caliber and possess the necessary skills, which include more than just academic qualifications?

Certainly, “(it) will always be a challenge for any government to fill its posts and we should not skimp on paying the right people to do the job,” as Mr Syu says. But when the competence of our current batch of cabinet ministers are frequently called into questioned (take for instance, Mas Selamat’s escape and the litany of security lapses by Home Affairs Ministry), and when working class Singaporeans are continually being disenfrachised by stagnant wages and rising inflation, not to mention job losses to foreigners, it is time to ask whether we are paying our ministers too much to do too little.

NSP: Burden of Fare Hikes on Commuters is Unjustified

September 28, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
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NSP link
22 Sept 2008

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) condemns the latest approval of bus fare hike by the Public Transport Council (PTC). Fare hikes have become an annual ritual which highlights the sordid mechanism behind the regulation of standards and fares by the PTC.

The Chairman of PTC, Gerald Ee acknowledged that “the current service frequency was not good enough when ‘operational deviation’ was factored in”. The tightening of the basic Quality of Service (QoS) by the PTC therefore constitutes a tacit admission that the service standard for buses has dropped below the mark of decent acceptability for some years, even as fare hike applications continue to be favourably approved year after year.

The PTC stated that it was “mindful not to increase the cost of compliance” to Public Transport Operators (PTOs), thus opting to phase in the new standards in 2 years, with fines thereafter of up to $10,000 per month for each instance of non-compliance.

Punitive Fines

NSP would like to punctuate the salient point that such punitive fines will unavoidably result in either the passing of the cost liability to commuters, or in an invariable reduction in service standards not directly measured by the QoS such as interior ambience and comfort of ride.

NSP strongly recommends that fare hike applications by PTOs be dismissed until the basic service standard is first achieved within the stipulated 2 years, and subsequently maintained for at least 5 years thereafter, subjected to a stringent and transparent process of annual assessment.

Gerald’s assumption that Singapore’s economic growth automatically translates to affordability for bus commuters is questionable. In the latest hike, the highest increment was for the shortest trips. This will hurt the heart-landers most as they are often those with low or no income. Affordability is a nonsense reason for a fare hike, especially since public transport is an essential service.

Singapore’s “economic growth” has seen workers in the lower 40% of the population suffering little or no improvement in their salaries. Their misery is compounded by the fact that the inflation rate for the lowest 20% continued to peak well above that of the highest 20% income earners, even surpassing the general household inflation rate. And this is despite the occasional government handouts. Those with ‘extra’ money would prefer to save it or spend in on other essentials instead of ‘squandering’ it on increased bus fares.

In the latest quarterly financial report of SBS Transit, fuel cost decreased by 6.6%, while operating profit increased by 36.9% as compared to the corresponding quarter last year. Profit after tax to shareholders increased by 25%. Manpower cost increased by a manageable 4.4% which was more or less offset by the decrease in fuel cost. For SMRT, cost of staff and fuel decreased, while profit after tax increased by a whopping 38.5%.

The impressive double-digits profits of PTOs far overshadow the meagre pay increment of many citizens. It is hence dishonourable to further fatten the coffers of the PTOs by diluting the citizens’ hard-earned gains.

The PTC acknowledged that Singapore has a “restricted number of service providers and an absence of real market competition”. The unchallenged business position of the existing PTOs will allow their businesses to continue to stay attractively profitable for the foreseeable long-term without needing to rip more from commuters. This is evident from the rapid expansion of profitable businesses of the PTOs both at home and overseas.

The NSP would like to pound on the need for improvements to the grotesquely inadequate fare formula, a demand which have been repeated incessantly by the indignant public.

The formula must include elements which incorporate the degree of compliance to the QoS. The PTC must recognise that the lower and lower-middle income group constitute the bulk of public transport commuters. The formula must thus factor in their (low) earning power and relatively higher incurred inflation, and not merely incorporates the national average which skews in favour of the well-to-do who do not generally commute by bus.

Finally, the profits of the PTOs and their payouts to shareholders must be considered in the equation. If necessary, the PTC should oblige these lucrative PTOs to raise extra funds from their benefited shareholders instead of exploiting the lack of viable alternatives for the people through constant fare hikes. It is preposterous for the PTC to safeguard the interest of the shareholders of PTOs at the expense of commuters.

The NSP hopes that the members of the PTC can step onboard public transports more regularly to enable them to empathise with the commuters, and recognise their fair rights and interests.

Central Executive Council
National Solidarity Party

(Issued: North Star News Wed, Sep 12, 2007)

SDP’s policy paper on National Service

September 27, 2008 by · 1 Comment
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Written by the Singapore Democrats

Introduction

National Service, or army conscription in Singapore, was first introduced in 1967 due to pressing issues such as national security after Singapore’s “forced” independence in 1965. In 1971, the British completely pulled out of Singapore. It has been 41 years since the introduction of NS.

Since then the world and Asia has changed significantly in terms of security and economic arrangements. But has Singapore’s conscription policy kept up with these changes to reflect and cope with the new geopolitical landscape?

First let us review the service that all able-bodied 18-year-old male Singaporeans have to undergo. Basic Military Training, or BMT, is the “boot camp” for all new recruits. This lasts for three months whereupon the soldier then gets posted out to other units for further specialised training.

The conscripts then serve the remainder of their two-year stint polishing up their combat skills. Following the two years of full-time service, NSmen are required (for up to 40 days a year) to serve in a part-tme capacity until they are 50 years old for commissioned officers and 40 for others.

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GIC’s hasty investments in Citigroup and UBS may yield mediocre returns for a considerable period

September 26, 2008 by · 5 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
26 Sept 2008

Mr Ng Kok Song, chief investment officer of GIC, told a press conference on Tuesday that the timing of GIC’s investments in Citigroup and UBS “could have been better”, but reiterated that he was “confident” both investments would offer long-term returns. (ST, “GIC achieves 4.5% annual returns”, 24 Sept)

GIC had invested about US$9.75 billion in Swiss wealth management firm UBS in December 2007 and US$6.9 billion in US bank Citigroup in January 2008.

Since last December, UBS’s share price has plunged about 60 per cent. Citigroup has fallen about 25 per cent since January, when GIC injected funds.

In my opinion, the majority of folks who are in tune with the market would have known by end of 2007 that the subprime crisis had just begun to escalate and it was nowhere near the end.

To be sure, experts at the end of last year were still divided on whether they would be an outright recession in the US. But as far as the magnitude of the credit crunch was concerned, there was little doubt that end 2007 was not even close to the halfway point.

Had Mr Ng Kok Song read credible reports like those published by the Bank Credit Analyst? If so, he would have known better than to make such ill-timed investments, the paper losses of which would have more than covered this year’s Budget handouts.

Although the US$700b bailout package marks the end of the credit turmoil, all is not rosy yet, because the current revolt in the US credit markets will soon filter down to Main Street and cause a recession in the broader economy. All leading economic indicators affirm this. There is little doubt on this now.

The US Fed needs to lower its target fed funds rate to 1.5%, and keep the yield curve steep so that financial corporations can make profits. Only then will the recession be kept shallow and the damage minimum.

I believe that inflation and interest rates in the US will rise in the coming years as a result of money printing and a gradually increasing tendency for investors to shun US assets.

Also, US GDP growth is expected to be slower in the next decade, at over 2% per annum, in contrast with the 3-4% per annum growth recorded in the last 25 years.

All of this will make the price/earning multiples of US stocks contract and create a tough environment in the US equities market.

Asia and Emerging Markets such as China and the Middle East will overtake US and Europe as the centres of economic growth. The better investment opportunities will most likely be found there.

I think GIC’s hasty investments in struggling banks of the developed economy will yield mediocre returns for a long time to come. They should have saved their powder to buy at cheaper prices, and look more towards Asia and the Middle East instead.

SDP responds to NSP candidate Goh Meng Seng: Is it’s website really losing readers?

September 24, 2008 by · 5 Comments
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EDITOR’S NOTE: In an article published by Lianhe Zaobao entitled “窥探网络世界”, or “Exploring the Blogosphere” on Saturday 20 Sept, NSP candidate Goh Meng Seng was quoted as saying that SDP’s web site was rapidly losing readership. Goh Meng Seng also insinuated that it was due to SDP’s extreme viewpoints.

SDP has provided a firm rebuttal to Goh Meng Seng’s audacious and inaccurate claims. Not only is its website gaining, rather than losing, readership, the reason why this is happening is precisely because its viewpoints are mature and focussed, as opposed to merely being “extreme”, contrary to Goh Meng Seng’s insinuation.

SDP’s article is attached as follows:

To: The Editor
Lianhe Zaobao

Your correspondent Ms You Lun Tian quoted National Solidarity Party member Mr Goh Meng Seng as saying: “Extremist viewpoints may draw the attention of people and garner the support of other extremists, but most web users will still want to hear balanced, moderate, mature arguments. This is also the reason why the SDP website is rapidly losing its readers.” (Lianhe Zaobao, 20 Sep 08)

There is certainly an effort to try to paint the Singapore Democrats as extremists. The SDP makes no apology for challenging the present political system and, more importantly, working to reform it.

Our objective is to ensure that the PAP Government respects democratic principles as enshrined in our Constitution. These principles include the freedoms of speech, association and assembly.

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Who is the real PAP mole: unraveling the conspiracy theories in Singapore’s blogosphere

September 23, 2008 by · 17 Comments
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EDITOR’S NOTE: On 20 Sept 2008, Lianhe Zaobao ran an article entitled “窥探网络世界”, or “Exploring the Blogosphere”. It was written by 游润恬 (Ms You Lun Tian). This is an English translation of the article which my friend did. This translation, as well as the original Chinese article, are also found at Wayangparty.wordpress.com.

Mr Brown (Blogger Lee Kin Mun)’s hilarious “Bak Chor Mee” blog post shot to fame two years ago just before the General Elections. This incident made Chinese paper readers who usually do not surf the internet start to notice the presence of new media.

Since PM Lee Hsien Loong announced the intention to liberalise the internet and new media hemisphere in the National Day Rally, the government-commissioned new media working group has also expressed in their report that the government should pay more attention to the voices of web users. In addition, they also recommended that the government should examine how to better use the new media communication channel to connect with web users.

The newspapers readers who do not participate in online forums may have the impression that web users have a uniform voice, just like the government uses a uniform approach to propagate its ideologies and policies. Some readers are only aware of the existence of Mr Brown or assume that most bloggers are similar to him.

On the contrary, the blogosphere and mainstream society are the same. They are a common space formed by people with varied viewpoints, inclinations, parties, objectives and temperaments.

If newspaper readers receive emails occasionally from their friends which includes hyperlinks to certain blogs, short videos or critiques that claim to shed the light on certain issues or uncover the wrongdoings of certain political figures, please do not believe them readily, or assume all web users think the same way. Other web users may also have strong opposing opinions, and thus various conspiracy theories and personal attacks abound.

Local English current affairs website “theonlinecitizen.com” is a recent example. This blog was set up after the last General Elections and covers news, interest topics, current affairs comics, columns and even translates part of the articles to mandarin to enlarge its reader base. It offers an alternative view to politics and mainstream media reports and is one of the top local websites of its kind.

However, this week someone resurfaced the conspiracy theories that were the hot topic in february earlier this year in the forum sammyboy.com. The user claimed that the persons in charge of “theonlinecitizen.com” are secretly put in place by PAP to act as internet spies. Allegedly, they offer alternative opinions on the surface, but in reality do not attack the key government blog sites.

The writer went on to claim that mainstream media were listening to instructions from ‘above’ to support “theonlinecitizen.com” and help it to gain popularity and therefore cause the genuine anti-government blogs to lose favour with web users.

These writers also pointed out that the person behind “theonlinecitizen.com” , Andrew Loh had switched allegiance from the PAP to WP and now no longer with WP. The other founder, Choo Zhengxi (NUS Law Faculty undergraduate) had previously worked as the speech writer for the West Coast GRC nominee Ho Geok Choo, drawing a salary of $500 for five consecutive months. Last but not least, one of the editors of “theonlinecitizen.com”, Ephraim Loy (SMU Political Science undergraduate) is a member of Young PAP and have participated in various grassroots activites and maintains the same blog with the Foreign Affairs Minister.

The writers also highlighted that since the last elections, PAP has established a new media working group headed by the education minister and one of its objectives is to establish 20 communications representatives to participate in online forums and blogs to deflect and object to anti-government messages. It’s claimed that “theonlinecitizen.com” is one of its products.

This sounds like an exciting scene right out of the popular Hong Kong movie “Infernal Affairs”. When interviewed yesterday, the founders of “theonlinecitizen.com” denied that they were a propagation tool set up by PAP. Andrew Loh mentioned that they always used their real names in these activities and had nothing to hide, in contrast to the forum writers who hide behind anonymity.

This is just one of the methods on the internet to ‘dish dirt’ on and slander others. The real truth is of no interest to non web users. However, such online furore has brought to question the issue of whether web space can tolerate moderate, non-extremist opinions.

People who are anti-government likes to congregate in web forums, because they feel that mainstream media does not give them an opportunity to air their views. Hence, they are intolerant of any pro-government voices in such forums. Political blogs and forum topics are frequently critical towards policies, the government and PAP. On top of this, some web users feel that moderate viewpoints have no ‘marketability’ and the arguments that draw the most attention are the most harsh and extremist arguments. Thus, sites like “theonlinecitizen.com” which are moderate and non-confrontational are thus labelled as pro-government.

Highly anti-government web users not only gauge blogs by such benchmarks, they also ask the same of opposition parties. The Workers Party, who successfully placed two members in Parliament, is widely acknowledged as the most successful opposition party, but in the internet world, it is slammed by a small group of web users. They claim that giving WP a vote is equivalent to giving PAP a vote.

In the last elections, Ng Eng Hen nicknamed the Workers’ Party the “Wayang Party” (Wayang Kulit Party) which prompted blogger Fang Zhi Yuan to set up a blog named wayangparty.wordpress.com to criticise WP, along with all the other Singaporean opposition parties as putting up a ’show’ for Singapore citizens to watch. Fang felt that the opposition parties do not dare to seek redress for the citizens and do not have concrete opposition tactics. They are merely there to help PAP validate their claim that Singapore parliament is not a one party monopoly.

However, when some bloggers who blog on current affairs were interviewed, they opined that they will not be demoralised by the small group of extremist views and do not agree that fierce online arguments showed that local web users were immature.

National Solidarity Party leader Mr Goh Meng Seng said “Extremist viewpoints may draw the attention of people and garner the support of other extremists, but most web users will still want to hear balanced, moderate, mature arguments. This is also the reason why the SDP website is rapidly losing its readers.”

Mr Goh was thrust into the web forums arguments more than one year ago and was forced to leave the “Worker’s Party”, but he does not feel that such extremists online arguments will hinder the general development and maturity of web forum users. “If the web only allowed one form of viewpoint, then it would be no different from communism”.

Mr Choo has adopted a calm attitude towards the personal attacks against him on online forums. “When someone criticises my opinions of current affairs, I will treat their opinions seriously and debate with him actively. However, I will not be bothered if they launch personal attacks.”

The above article was an English translation of a Zaobao article published on 20 September 2008. The translator wishes to remain annonymous and is a friend of Mr Ng E-Jay (sgpolitics.net)

The Chee Siok Chin I know, then and now

September 23, 2008 by · 3 Comments
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Written by Jaslyn Go
Originally published by the Singapore Democrats, 20 Sept 2008

I first met Siok Chin at SDP’s annual dinner in 2007. That was also my first encounter with Dr Chee Soon Juan.

When I saw this supposed “feisty lady” in person, she gave me a very different impression as compared to her public persona portrayed by our local media. She struck me as rather personable and humorous, certainly not the kind of “siao char bo” (mad woman) some people describe her to be.

A friend who stays in Woodlands told me that she did not vote for the SDP in the last elections because she was afraid that the parliament would turn into a circus if its candidates got in. Though I did not agree with her comment, I could not fault her because at that time that was my opinion of the SDP as well.

As I mentioned in my earlier blog posting, my friendship with Siok Chin started to develop after the World Consumer Rights’ Day/Tak Boleh Tahan! protest on March 15 this year where 12 protesters were arrested and brought to the Cantonment Police Complex.

Siok Chin was the first person I bailed out that night. I was later charged as well and because of that, we kept in touch through emails, phone calls and meeting up in person.

I came to realise that Siok Chin and I have a lot in common: We are both left-handed, we both love chocolates, and we both possess a wry sense of humour.

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Police ban on Tamil language discussion at Speaker’s Corner proves the liberalization is mere tokenism

September 22, 2008 by · 19 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
22 Sept 2008

If the public ever needed concrete proof that the recent liberalization of Speaker’s Corner for demonstrations is mere tokenism on the part of the authorities which hardly returns Singaporeans their basic rights, we should look no further than the banned event which was supposed to be held last Friday.

Mr Thamilselvan Karuppaya, a real estate agent, had intended to hold a demonstration at Speaker’s Corner last Friday to talk about the use of Tamil on public signs. Changi Airport had earlier dropped the use of Tamil on its public signs, replacing it with Japanese instead, in an apparent bid to appeal to Japanese visitors who make up an increasingly larger share of the tourist pie.

National Parks Board (NParks) referred the matter to the police when it received Mr Thamilselvan Karuppaya application to hold the demonstration. The police informed Mr Thamilselvan to apply for a Public Entertainment License last Tuesday, but rejected his application at the last minute. Mr Thamilselvan cancelled the event accordingly, but he said, “We are not going to keep quiet on this topic.” (ST, “Police turn down estate agent’s application to speak on Tamil language issues”, 19 Sept)

As expected, the police dished out the usual excuse on the need to maintain racial and religious harmony. A police spokesman said in a statement that “the topic of his speech is a sensitive one impinging on race”, and that “Singapore is a multi-ethnic society and maintaining community harmony is a key imperative that we must not take for granted”.

There are a few points I want to raise here.

Firstly, I feel that Mr Thamilselvan topic is not a racially or religiously sensitive topic, yet the authorities have framed it as such, and used it as an excuse to ban the event. This is unjustified.

Secondly, why in the first place must issues surrounding race, language or religion be kept out of public discourse? If we keep assuming that Singaporeans are unable to conduct public discussions concerning such issues in a civilized manner, then this assumption becomes reality.

Thirdly, the Government has always lauded Changi Airport as a national icon. It is thus reasonable that Changi Airport should use all 4 official languages, English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil, on its public signs. To drop the use of Tamil and replace it with Japanese purely for commercial reasons is unbefitting of Changi Airport’s iconic status.

May I remind readers that Changi Airport is managed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), which is a statutory board under the Ministry of Transport, and is funded by taxpayer’s money.

CAAS replied last week that “as English was India’s second language, it was advised by the Singapore Tourism Board that English signs were sufficient.”

Well, English is Japan’s second language too, so English signs should similarly be sufficient for Japanese visitors. Enough said.

An “active citizenry” without the “fist fights”

September 22, 2008 by · 3 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
22 Sept 2008

The Straits Times article “Singapore v Taiwan: Seeking an active citizenry – without the fist fights” published on 20 Sept 08 raises an interesting point on the role of active citizenry in a nation.

The article relates how architect-turned-sculptor Sun Yu-li, who lived in Taiwan during his youth but who now resides in Singapore, has embraced a unique perspective of Taiwanese politics as a result of his and his family’s experience there. His father was a legislator in the Kuomintang government that ruled Taiwan during his infancy.

According to the article, while “Mr Sun’s Singaporean friends mock Taiwan’s numerous parliamentary brawls, street protests and freewheeling media coverage”, Sun Yu-li is of the opinion that peaceful demonstrations reflect “political accountability and an energetic citizenry in a young multi-party democracy”. He says that today’s Taiwan is a society in transition, and non-violent protests are moving it towards “a more democratic, transparent and just society”.

I am of the opinion that same should hold true for Singapore, that non-violent action and the continual exercise of civil and political liberties should be seen as important building blocks of a vibrant and democratic Singapore.

However, I am disappointed that Mr Sun apparently is not willing to transplant Taiwan’s democratic ideals onto Singapore.

According to the article, Sun Yu-li says that the reason why he is against this is because Singapore is a multi-racial society, more prone to division along racial and religious lines and thus more prone to explosive conflicts.

Taiwanese society however, is more uniform with a dominant Chinese population which has never come to blows over religion.

Simply put, Mr Sun’s argument holds no water.

The PAP has always used the excuse of maintaining racial and religious harmony as a reason for denying Singaporeans their basic civil and political rights. But such reasoning assumes that Singaporeans will always remain socially immature and unable to conduct public discourses on issues concerning race and religion in a civilized manner. And the more we make this assumption, the more this assumption becomes reality.

The preservation of social order is not a justifiable excuse to deny Singaporeans their basic rights. All the PAP ends up doing is to sweep the existing problems under the carpet, and prevent Singaporeans from clearing the air and conducting a rational, mature discussion on issues that intimately affect their lives.

What is needed is education and an active citizenry, not oppression.

Mr Sun’s opinion is that Singapore should develop an active citizenry that is “middle way” between the current local situation and the Taiwanese situation where there are even fights erupting in Parliament, that is, to develop an active citizenry without the “fist fights”, honouring the “non-violence” in non-violent action.

I feel this should be so as well. But certainly the PAP’s method of suppressing dissent through selective application of unjust laws is NOT the way to do it.

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