ST forum letter: Electricity tariffs are 82% higher here than in Hong Kong

October 27, 2008 by · 3 Comments
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This is an ST forum letter written by Mr Paul Chan.

ST link

THE recent jump in the electricity tariff has left many wondering what was the rationale. Is the oil price the only culprit?

Fuel is not the only component cost of electricity. Buildings and infrastructure, plant and machinery depreciation, maintenance, insurance, manpower, distribution grid and management costs are substantial expenditure in the total production of electricity.

Forum writers have pointed out that Singapore’s electricity is more expensive than in the United States and France. Some ask for transparency, while others wish the price to remain, in view of the economic downturn. The authority does not seem willing to help. Should we cut household electricity usage back to 1970s level?

Everyone should save electricity, but there is a limit, unless we curtail our lifestyle to the extreme. More development, population growth and a higher standard of living increase electricity demand. Is it helpful to punish existing consumers who try their best to save?

Let us examine Singapore’s ‘twin city’ of Hong Kong with a similar vibrant lifestyle and standard of living, and try to understand if Singaporeans, for all their hard work, enjoy the same public utility in good times or bad times.

Like Singapore, Hong Kong imports all its fuel and pays similar volatile fuel prices. Hong Kong does not enjoy the advantages of piped natural gas. Neither has nuclear power and both operate on the same business model – free market pricing.

I don’t know how Hong Kong pegs its electricity tariff, but I am sure power generation companies know the production costs of electricity to work out competitive tariff rates to consumers. Unless Hong Kong gets very cheap oil, there is no reason why its tariff is so much lower.

However, people in Hong Kong pay an electricity tariff at 88 Hong Kong cents (17 Singapore cents) per unit. Why should Singaporeans pay 31 cents per unit – a whopping 82 per cent higher?

Paul Chan

Why I participated in the TBT protest, and why I pleaded guilty

October 24, 2008 by · 19 Comments
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EDITOR’S NOTE: A fuller version of this article will appear at a later date, when the TBT trial has been concluded.

Written by Ng E-Jay
24 October 2008

In late December last year, the SDP announced on their web site that an application had been made for a permit to hold a peaceful protest near Parliament House on 15 March 2008. The purpose was to mark World Consumer Rights Day and highlight the plight of Singapore consumers in the face of rapidly rising inflation which is made worse by ill-timed Government policies. Exorbitant ministerial salaries are also a slap in the face of Singaporeans who are struggling to make ends meet whilst bearing the brunt of 7% GST, escalating food and fuel prices, and various fare hikes.

In January, an announcement was made that the permit application had been rejected.

Knowing these, I still decided to head down to Parliament House on 15 March 2008 to show my support for this cause. I took photographs of the event and was part of a group photo as well, but I did not hold placards or make a public speech.

In my opinion, this was a good opportunity not just to raise awareness about how poorly-timed Government policies are exacerbating the already dire inflationary situation, which is in fact a global phenomenon, but also to assert my own right to freedom of assembly and speech which is granted to all Singaporeans under Article 14 of Part 4 of the Constitution.

Unfortunately, twelve people were arrested that day and later, 18 of us were charged with one count of assembly without a permit, and one count of procession without a permit, except Francis Yong who was only charged with assembly. This is the “TBT 18“.

Naturally, my first instincts were to plead not guilty to both charges as I felt that I had not done anything morally wrong by participating in a peaceful rally. However, I later decided to change tactics upon consultation with my lawyer, Dennis Chua. We both agreed that a more logical solution for me would be to plead guilty to the assembly charge, rather than to waste two weeks in Court arguing that I did not really intend to participate in the protest, which would have been a twist of words given what I had blogged about on Sgpolitics.net previously.

After my lawyer Dennis Chua put up a representation on my behalf, an offer was made by the DPP to have the charge of procession taken into consideration in return for a guilty plea on the charge on assembly that was to be entered before the trial began. We accepted that offer. It was also a relief that I could save the time and go back to my Ph.D. research work uninterrupted.

I believe my lawyer Dennis Chua has handled my case very professionally and for that I thank him deeply.

Call a spade a spade

October 22, 2008 by · 5 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
22 October 2008

The Lehman-linked structured products fiasco seems to have reached some kind of crescendo, with investors demanding due compensation and attending public events like those organized by Mr Tan Kian Lian at Speaker’s Corner the last two Saturdays, as well as MAS struggling to play catch-up with Hong Kong in terms of seriously investigating cases of mis-selling as well as urging financial institutions to “take responsibility” in such cases.

Now, after all has been said by MAS and coordinators like Mr Tan Kin Lian and Mr Goh Meng Seng (his Mandarin translator), Opposition MP Low Thia Khiang has provided a loose summary in Parliament of the main investors’ concerns, based on what other people have said earlier on. Granted, Mr Low did make the effort, but still, nothing new was said, which was a mild disappointment.

Unfortunately, Mr Lim Hng Kiang who had a chance to answer Mr Low’s questions in Parliament blew his opportunity and wasted his time telling Opposition MPs “not to politicize the issue“.

Not to politicize the issue? Didn’t Khaw Boon Wan say during GE 2006 that politics was about serving the people? And isn’t addressing investors’ rights and concerns all about serving the people?

Mr Lim also said in Parliament that if the issue was taken to court, “nothing will move” amid the legal wrangling.

So is he suggesting the wrong-doing should not be punished via legal means? How convenient!

At the end of the day, the financial institutions should call a spade a spade. The “Lehman minibonds” they sold were most assuredly not bonds. They were credit default swaps. Tell investors the truth about what they truly bought, and don’t do it only after trouble has happened.

The financial institutions should also come clean on the fact that retirees were sold the product mainly because they were the ones with sufficient cash in their bank accounts, and that due diligence was swept aside for the profit motive.

It is sad that the Government wants to call Singapore a financial hub when MAS seems to be forever lagging behind other countries. MAS is dragging its feet in terms of being more proactive in helping consumers directly and making sure that banks do not shortchange them by evading their due responsibilities or by executing their fiduciary duties in a less-than-impartial manner. MAS’s steps are too tentative and investors are still largely at the mercy of banks.

Finally, what lessons have we learnt from this fiasco and what steps are being taken to ensure such does not occur again? MAS unfortunately has drawn a blank on this.

Protests do not lead to anarchy

October 15, 2008 by · 4 Comments
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Written by the Singapore Democrats (at yoursdp.org)
14 October 2008

Original Blog Link

For decades freedom of assembly, aka protests, have been taboo in Singapore. Any call for demonstrations is met with words like “chaos” and “destruction” being thrown about will-nilly. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the ultimate scare-monger, said that when people are allowed to protest in public, there’ll be “pandemonium” and insists that “we are not that kind of society.” Really? What kind of a society are we then?

The kind that says not a word when the Government lacerates us with hike after excruciating hike in prices?

The kind that keeps heads bowed when millionaire ministers like Mr Lim Swee Say demonstrate their idiocy by taunting that he “feels so rich” whenever he looks at his CPF account even as free-food lines lengthen?

The kind that pretends that nothing untoward is happening when the the Government increases the GST, public transport fares, and electricity rates (and by a whopping 22 percent) even as the economy dives into a recession?

It is most unfortunate that former NTUC Income chief, Mr Tan Kin Lian (Protest outside DBS headquarters), has decided to join in such scare-mongering by (copying a post that a forummer made on a Channel News Asia discussion forum – EDITOR’S NOTE) that protests planned by investors outside the DBS’ office are designed by people out to expand their “anarchical ranks”. He was referring to calls by DBS investors to stage a sit-in outside the bank’s headquarters.

Read more

Singapore Democrats: F1 and our future

October 9, 2008 by · 2 Comments
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Written by the Singapore Democrats, 08 Oct 2008

As the souped-up engines roared and the fancy cars burned rubber on our roads, one in four Singaporeans turned up enthusiastically to watch the racing spectacle, making it a sport for the people with real mass appeal.

Yes, that’s what happened in 1966 when the Singapore Grand Prix was held at its permanent Upper Thomson circuit. Half-a-million people from a population of close to 2 million thronged the area to witness and enjoy the event in a carnival-like atmosphere. With food and drink in hand, Singaporeans young and old converged on the grassy knolls and whatever space they could find to catch the action that included the vintage and saloon car categories.

Contrast this with the recent F1 race held downtown. Reportedly 100,000 attended the spectacle – half of them tourists. One wonders how many of the remainder are millionaire residents and expatriates. With tickets ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, you can be sure few were locals.

Read the full article: F1 and our future

Abuse of foreign workers is yet another example of Government incompetence

October 8, 2008 by · 6 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
08 October 2008

Reports have surfaced yet again that many low skilled foreign workers in Singapore are being exploited or abused (see ST articles “‘Please give us work’ … ‘and remember to pay us‘” and “Forced to live on the streets“, 07 Oct).

According to the Bangladesh High Commission, there has been an increase in the number of Bangladeshis brought into Singapore on work permits but who end up with neither jobs nor wages.

The allegation is that some labour agents and small firms here are bringing in far more workers than they need in order to profit from the fees the men are charged to secure jobs here. These amounts range from $8,000 to $10,000 per worker.

The question naturally arises: Why is there lack of proper oversight that results in such abuse?

What puzzles us is how the Government here can give out more work permits than are required. There are obviously loopholes in the system that companies here are exploiting,” said a Bangladesh High Commission spokeswoman.

Migrant workers’ charities such as the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) also receive reports on foreign workers not being paid their salaries and consequently being unable to clear the debts incurred while coming to Singapore.

TWC2 president John Gee said an increase in agents’ fees in the past few years could have led to the recent rise in cases of cheated workers.

Some foreign workers have resorted to living on the streets as a result of being unable to secure employment despite being granted valid work permits.

There are also reports of workers being made to perform duties beyond normal working hours but not given any overtime pay.

Clearly, poorly crafted policies and lack of regulatory supervision are the root cause of the problems that foreign workers are experiencing.

In my opinion, the underlying reason why abuse and exploitation of foreign workers is flourishing, and why Singaporeans are having more grouses concerning foreign workers (for example, the Serangoon Gardens issue) is due to the overly liberal policies that the Government has adopted with regards to importing foreigners — policies that cater to the sheer greed of corporations without considering the need for stringent oversight to prevent abuse or the impact of such policies on the local resident population.

The “growth at all cost” policy of the Government has reared its ugly head. I urge the Government to stop the irresponsible and indiscriminate import of foreign workers by tightening regulation and implementing more effective checks on companies, and make sure proper planning with regards to accomodation is done first in order to avoid inconveniencing the local population who should NOT have to shoulder the mess the Government throws at them from time to time.

Singapore Democrats: Let our students grow

October 7, 2008 by · 1 Comment
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Written by the Singapore Democrats
06 October 2008

The recent student anger that erupted at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) over censorship of political news brings to focus a long neglected issue in our nation’s universities – the wholesale de-politicisation of our students.

Student life in Singapore has been reduced to organising beauty pageants, jams and hops (student parties). A check with the NUS Students’ Union website showed little discussion of national affairs. The section on “Events” is blank and “Current Issues” highlights the unhappiness of the fee hike – in 2006! “NUSSU News” carries a news flash that dates back to February this year.

The NTU’s version is a little better, we emphasize “a little”. Its Students Union’s website carries updated news, the biggest of which is the change in operating hours of a bus service. There’s a section dedicated to the food festival and even an iMall when one can buy and sell anything from an MP3 player to raspberry vodka. But there is no section carrying news and discussion on socio-political issues.

Read the full article: Let our students grow

Goodbye, dear friend

October 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
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Written by Dr Chee Soon Juan
03 October 2008

Original Link

Dear Mr Jeyaretnam,

I visited you one last time on Tuesday. I’ve never seen you so peaceful and contented.

This is such a change from all the years that we’ve been working together. I remember how bitter we felt sitting in your rented apartment at Orange Grove Road after the 1997 elections. The place has since been turned into swank, upscale serviced-apartments. We were drafting a letter to the United Nations to ask for the monitoring of future elections here.

It was a tedious job recounting everything that had happened: the hounding of Tang Liang Hong, the threats made against voters, and the gatecrashing of polling stations by ministers. The task was made lighter only with the delightful combination of the savoury Indian vadai and Earl Grey you served.

I remember also asking you about the copy of Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela sitting on your coffee table. You said that once in a long while, there comes a man who achieves greatness without having to cause the suffering of others.

On another occasion, my wife and I visited you at another rented house. From the outside, we could see a few of your shirts hanging by the window ledge on the upper floor. Mei said that she felt sorry that you had to do your own laundry at your age without anyone sharing those chores with you.

This reminds me of the time when we were driving along Serangoon Road and you wanted to stop by to pick up a bunch of flowers. I had asked you what the occasion was. You said it was your wedding anniversary and that your late wife, Margaret, would have liked the bouquet.

Then there was the time when we visited New York City. I was surprised when you mentioned that that was the first time you had set foot in the US. We had checked into this small hotel and struggled with our luggage along the narrow and dingy corridor. And as I fumbled for the key to open the door, I heard you mutter to yourself: “Oh Ben, what have you gotten yourself into?”

My heart sank when I heard you say that. I was feeling a little depressed myself and I was hoping to get some cheer from you. Seeing you so despondent made my own morale wobble.

But I knew that you were feeling depressed and anxious because of yet another lawsuit. As we put our weary heads on the emaciated pillows, you said that they didn’t just want to win politically but were determined to also crush us personally.

We made a pact that night that while we may not yet be able to beat them politically, we would not allow them to defeat us on the personal front. They may take away all our possessions, but they will never take away our will to speak up. And then you said that we needed to rest as “tomorrow’s another day that we have to fight.”

The next morning I came out from the shower and saw you reading the Bible. We talked a little about the Book of Ecclesiastes. Then you knelt down by the bed to say a prayer and I joined you. We prayed for strength and sustenance.

Rejuvenated, we went down to what New Yorkers call a “deli” for breakfast. I remember you asking me what a bagel was and I said that it was the American version of the vadai. You chortled and we mouthed down a couple of Ham and Cheeses. Actually, I did. You found the bagels a little too hard.

During breakfast we talked about setting up an NGO to advocate transparency and democracy in Singapore. When we came back, we had a bit of a laugh seeing how the gentleman at the Registry of Companies squirmed as he tried to handle our application for the “Open Singapore Foundation”.

After rejecting the term “Foundation”, “Institute” and a couple of others, the ROC finally allowed the use of “Centre”. Thus was born the first human rights NGO in Singapore.

We left New York and you headed south to Florida to visit your son. When you returned, you bought my daughter a little pink teddy bear. It squeaks when you press its tummy. When she was a little older, we told her who bought it for her. She named it “JB Bear” because she couldn’t quite pronounce your name.

My wife said that it was funny to think of this cute little pink bear and picture you at the same time, a big elderly man with bushy hair and your trademark “mutton chops”. You always made her jump a little whenever your voice boomed through the phone: “Is that you, Mei?”

Several months later, your worst nightmare came true. You were found guilty of defamation again and you now had to vacate your seat in Parliament for the second time. I remember talking to you on the phone after your appeal was rejected. You sounded so crestfallen.

I had asked you if you wanted to talk, but you said that you just wanted to be “alone for a while.” The next day we met for lunch near your office at North Bridge Road. We got into a heated argument. I had asked you not to continue paying the money and playing into the hands of Lee and his people.

I knew you were angry at me for saying so, but I also knew that you wanted me to be honest with you. Through the years, we have had our clashes and disagreements. But we always knew that we were locked in spirit and that we would always remain true to each other and to what we believed in. No matter how serious our disagreements, we always stood on the same side.

As you lay down to rest, democracy is not yet at hand. But don’t you ever believe those who say that your fight on earth was irrelevant and personal. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have inspired an entire generation of Singaporeans and we will keep the fight going.

We will keep on reaching for that star in the black sky, that shimmering distant star of liberty. If we are closer to touching it, it is because we stand on your shoulders.

Your legacy and walk on earth will not only remain but it will grow. You have left a void that cannot be filled.

I think of that night in New York when we pledged not to let them defeat our persons. You’ve kept your end of the pact. They may still have the power but, boy, you sure showed them what a fighter for truth is. You leave us with honour and dignity, no one could buy you over and no one did. And even though you did not possess millions in your bank account, the treasure which you have stored is with you today and forever.

Goodbye, Ben, I will miss you.

But even as I mourn your death, I celebrate your life because it has touched mine. You have fought the good fight and now you have been called home to rest. They cannot hurt you anymore. Until we meet again, dear friend, I will always remain

Yours in Justice and Freedom,

Soon Juan

A legacy that will always be an inspiration: A tribute to JBJ

October 3, 2008 by · 6 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
03 October 2008

My very first encounter with Mr Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (JBJ) was at a small coffeeshop along Peck Seah Street in May 2007.

JBJ had rallied friends, supporters, and other interested parties to come together to discuss the formation of a new political party.

He spoke in great earnest, making sure everyone understood the urgent need to press on with the Opposition Cause.

JBJ looked at me in the eye and told me with a voice filled with conviction what needed to be done to reform Singapore’s political system. He carefully explained why he wanted to campaign for power to be restored to the people, why the concentration of unbridled power in the Executive was detrimental to Singapore.

That first encounter with JBJ was to become one of several, and each time I met him and each time he spoke at in-door seminars, I tried my best to learn something from him. His wisdom and his great many years of experience never failed to touch me every time I heard him speak.

Over time, I realized that my previous impressions of JBJ that I had garnered from the mainstream media were quite distorted, and the mainstream media never quite conveyed to the public the real values that JBJ stood for.

In real life, JBJ was a passionate man who was filled with purpose and conviction, and he believed greatly in human rights, democracy, and civil rights for all Singaporeans. He believed in the need for independent trade unions, a free and independent media, and an independent Electoral Commission. JBJ also believed in the need for a independent judicial commission which would have the power to appoint judges, and that this power should be taken away from the prime minister.

In June this year, the Reform Party was officially registered, and the inauguration dinner was held on 11 July 08. The turnout at the dinner was very impressive, and all Opposition parties took part in the joy and the festivities. It was the most spectacular show of Opposition unity in a long time.

Now, with JBJ’s passing, the Opposition must continue to strengthen itself and make that unity shown at the inauguration dinner become a reality and a permanent fixture in our political landscape.

The Opposition should work hand-in-hand with NGOs to foster greater awareness of social, economic and political issues amongst the masses, and work to break the gridlock of fear generated by decades of high-handed PAP rule.

The Opposition should also develop the competency to address national issues and formulate effective, workable alternative policies to replace the policies of the Government that pay scant attention to the needs of the working class.

While JBJ has passed on to a better world, his work must continue. The legacy that he has left us will forever be an inspiration to us, a call for us to embrace the movement, to preserve and honour what has been done, and to finish what has been left uncompleted.

Is the disparity in cost of fuel and cost of utilities due to forwards pricing?

October 1, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
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Written by Ng E-Jay
01 October 2008

Some readers have made comments on the defects of using the forwards curve of crude oil contracts as an input factor for the price of utilities. Currently, the price of electricity is in part determined by the price of crude oil futures 3 months away.

I have also wondered if the forwards curve could explain why the price of physical crude oil declined by well over 20% in the past 3 months (even taking into account changes in USD/SGD exchange rate), but starting today, the price of electricity will go up by 21%.

The forwards curve for crude oil contracts is currently neither in backwardation, nor in contango when measured 3 months out, and only in slight contango (around 2-3%) 6 months out. Backwardation refers to the condition in which the prices for futures are lower than spot (physical) prices, and contango is the reverse phenomenon.

The price of utilities (amongst other essential products and services) in Singapore has virtually been a one-way street for the past couple of years, despite the fact that prices of raw materials have actually fluctuated greatly (it has certainly NOT been an uninterrupted bull market — there have been substantial corrections along the way).

If indeed utilities prices are very much dependent on the price of raw materials 3 months ago (as would be the case if Singapore Power pegged the utilities price to the price of the forwards contracts they purchased 3 months ago), then we should expect a substantial decline in the price of utilities 3 months from now.

I reiterate the need for Singapore Power to be more transparent as to how utilities prices are determined, and what safeguards are in place to protect consumers from exploitation.

Singapore Power Limited made a profit $1.086 billion in 2007, according to their website. The increase in the price of utilities in the face of such a record profit is wholly unjustified.

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