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The penitent season

It’s about that time of the cycle again, when the penitent seek forgiveness for the sins they have committed. They humbly, or in this case, not so humbly, go to the people who they have offended and ask that they forgive him or her. For if offended don’t, the aggressor may face hell, or worse.

Yes, its pre-elections season and the government has actively gone around trying to right wrongs.

For one, for years the government has been told that companies are too reliant on foreign workers. It constantly defended its policies, preferring to lump two arguments into one; that of the foreign workers with foreign talent.

On the one hand, it said foreign workforce is crucial to the economy because it provides businesses with the slack to work. If businesses don’t have the ability to hire cheap labour, they go to another country to set up shop.

On the other, foreign talent gives Singapore skills that Singaporeans don’t have.

It’s a difficult argument to rally against. Singapore is small, Singapore is competitive, Singapore is an open economy. Those are the three assumptions that any argument about the economy is based on.

Yet, the argument has always been built on weak foundations.

One, if companies can simply set up shop elsewhere, given cheaper labour, then our entire value proposition is reduced to whether labour is cheap here. This can’t possibly be what Singapore has prided itself on, can it?

Two, there are ways to manage the foreign worker flow, without having to cut off supply. Clearly, businesses are exploiting the foreign workers because they can. Recall the numerous cases of Chinese workers filing complaints against construction companies at MOM.

In this case, it is not a function of what the company needs, but what the company wants.

Underlying all these problems was a hidden story; that of falling productivity. For a nation priding itself on knowledge, science and technology, to have productivity fall over 10 years is horrifying.

Of course, productivity is nowadays defined in many ways. Rising real wages is a real problem. But if you look at the statistics, rising overall wages are due directly to the top earning more, rather than everyone earning more. According to the Dept of Stats, the bottom 20 per cent of household’s real wages (which is adjusted for inflation) has declined the most in the past three years, while the top dropped by less.

Those who live in private housing earn an annual income of $54,000 at least twice those who live in HDB flats. They earn ten times those who live in 1 and 2 room flats.

So what does this say about the situation here?

It is quite clear that while wages have risen, it is those who are are the top who have experienced these increases. This cannot account for the loss in productivity since people who earn that much are expected to pull in more for the employers (except maybe top civil servants, hah)

So the fault was always with foreign workers; foreign workers who did not get trained by their companies because they were transient labour, those who were given the lowest wages possible since they earned more much in their currencies due to the SG dollar strength.

And so now, the anger has risen from those who have fallen through the cracks; those who demand a decent wage so they can live and thrive in sunny Singapore. For them, whether or not the companies fail or go bust is irrelevant. For them, tis a question of survival. Surely anyone can live on $800; but how does he live?

If these were obvious problems, why did the government not react earlier? And why now and not in boom times when it was better to make adjustments? (to be fair there is never a good time to do these things for the companies. But given how the PAP has always harked on their abundance of political capital and will, one wonders.)

It is not late now to change all this. And to this end, the government has embarked on a systematic purging of unproductive companies. Doubt me not, many companies will fail because they have relied so much on foreign labour and the cost savings they brought. But I rather them fail, send the foreigners away, save jobs for Singaporeans, free up housing for us.

I am not against foreigners. They are human beings out to make a decent living. I know many of them. They are essential to many parts of the economy.

But if and when it comes to defending the rights of locals to a decent jobs, a decent wage in one of the richest countries in the world, I say, death to the firms which rely on foreigners.

But as with all transgressions, the people forgive the sinner?

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2009 – the year of change

Boo to economics, cheers to politics.

I don’t particularly look forward to seeing the damage that has been inflicted on the economy. Everyone knows there will be tragedies this year. People will stuggle, people will fall and people will die because of the economic woes from the excesses of 2008 and before.

No, this year is/will be a bad one. But human history has shown that it is always in bad times that salvation is wrought.

Particularly so for Singapore politics. Already, we see outsiders making inroads into local politics. These outsiders are traditionally those who have steered clear of opposition politics simply because the opposition has been too incompetent and too messy.

Tan Kin Lian has been causing ripples with his activism in rallying people in the aftermath of the Minibonds fallout. He has “declared” his intention to run for Presidency and has started an online petition to get support for his bid to run for office.

A ploy, some say. But there is no doubting that his grand entrance into politics is causing great unease among the ruling elites. Here is a man who has run one of the premier insurance companies since he was in his late 20s. Late 20s! If that doesn’t speak loads about his competence, nothing will.

And in my humble opinion, there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with him garnering support through his current activities. Who says politics is altruistic? It’s the same with the PAP sending its raw recruits to help out at grassroots – to build goodwill so that voters will vote for them during GE.

All’s fair in love and war and politics – and in politics more fair than others.

Kenneth Jeyaretnam – He is another behemoth who will change the political landscape if he does enter into opposition politics. And signs are present that the double-first class from Cambridge (I think) is keen on taking up his father’s legacy.

Over at TOC, a mysterious poster named KJ has been writing flowing and sharply critical pieces against the mainstream media. Is this person Kenneth Jeyarentnam (KJ?) A click on his blogsite refers him to this blog where there is a tribute to JBJ and an email to Kenneth Jeyaretnam.

If it is indeed him, the ruling party would have much to worry about. If KJeyarentnam can avoid getting into the muck of law suits and avoid character assasination, as will definitely happen, his entry into opposition politics will surely galvanise educated voters who yearn for proper checks against the PAP.

But unlike his father, who knew how to connect with grassroots, much leaves to be seen if KJ can not only sit behind the keyboard but rally voters to vote for him. He has the intellectual mettle, and by golly can he write, but can he get the ah-soh who has only been voting PAP all her life, to vote for him?

I might be putting the horse before the cart but I can’t help it. After a whole decade since SDP lost it’s two seats in Parliament and a decade of failed opposition politics, these developments portend a revival of opposition politics, even if it is all just conjecture.

Aiming too far ahead?

So the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) has finally released its report. More than a year after it was set up it proposed key changes in policies and laws in 4 areas, engagement, online political content, protection of minors and limited immunity for intermediaries.

Great.

Uh, were you expecting anything more? Lots of people are saying, boo AIMS. Lame AIMS. Blah AIMS. Aim higher la.

What? Do cows fly over the moon?

Fact 1: AIMS is government appointed. That it got so far in going beyond what PM said is already an achievement. Don’t expect more than what it can go.

Fact 2: It is run by people who are not practitioners of New Media. No bloggers, no forumers etc.

Fact 3: These are but mere RECOMMENDATIONS. The final decision-maker is the government, and I’m betting they aren’t even going to go as far as AIMS.

So what are we left with? Everything. Look, the world moves on. Even if the government says, hey no one is to post pictures of chicks (I mean the yellow fluffy things that grow up to be McChicken burgers) or cats online, does that mean that the Net will suddenly be filled with a dearth of chick flicks (Haha)?

Fact is the Net ignores everyone and no one. We too have to move on and create something out of nothing. I find it amusing to see people write “The Net is unregulable!”. If so, why are they petitioning or writing about why the government should relax rules on the Net? If it is, it is.

If the idea of community moderation is to take flight, it is now that it should. We don’t need a stamp of approval.

Just do it

PM’s National Day Rally

Political films, political material during election and outdoor demonstrations

These are the three main thrusts of his speech aimed at liberalising the political sphere here.
The second and third items are not anything new. He has hinted at these before and yesterday’s annoucements were but elaborations.

a) Political films to be allowed – but safeguards will remain. His exact words were

“Some things are obviously alright – factual footage, documentaries, recordings of live events…. If you make a political commercial so that it’s purely made-up material, partisan stuff, footage distorted to create a slanted impression, I think those should still be off limits… Just as we deal with it for non-political films, we have censorship, we have classification standards. It depends on subjective judgment but we’ve worked out a workable system, a panel applies their minds, they make a judgment”. (Bolded for emphasis)

Clearly, that is where his OB markers are. “Factual footage, documentaries, recordings of live events.” In other words, if you whip our your camera and tape something happening right in front of you and upload it to YouTube or produce a DVD, you’re safe. This is assuming you do not edit it or put “footage distorted to create a slanted impression.” This is obviously fraught with problems – what is distorted footage, or slanted impression. He is clearly referring to videos like the one which had Obama morphing into Osama and Mccain endorsing his right-wing pastor.

Obviously, someone has to make the call to judge what is permissible and what is not. So far, it has been civil servants. As Alex Au pointed out, most laws are left to lawyers to interpret. The Films Act gives civil servants the power to interpret; not the most objective legal system around.

This is where I think the PM is hinting at a slightly different system, or so I hope. He alluded to the Films Classification system. Correct me if I am wrong but civil servants currently sit on the censorship board. If a filmmaker or distributor is unhappy with the ratings, they can go to an appeals board, made up of private citizens. This panel abitrates on the film.

Is PM hinting that political films will likewise go through the same process? That what is judged political be left to a panel? Possibly. If so, it too is fraught with problems and does not escape the key argument raised by liberals – such laws are practically unenforceable. The latest viral video on Hitler and ERP is such a film. Clearly political and very funny and satirical. Who uploaded it? Nobody knows. Can we catch them? Probably not. But it sure made an impact and it was *gasp* an emotional one too. It made me laugh and expressed exactly how I feel sometimes at the ERP system.

b) Political rules during election to be eased

Podcasts/vodcasts – I suppose this will be added to the positive list. Nothing new. In fact, it is still the same. Instead of saying what cannot be allowed, it is still “we give you a short list of what can be allowed. The rest can’t.” This is actually a better way of controlling than vice-versa but in the wild wild west of the Web, it makes no sense. Podcasts – okay but what about social networking sites? Can they be used in elections? They too offer podcasts and videocasts. In this, does this mean that the medium of audio and film is allowed but not the platform? As PM himself pointed out, a cyber-year is 7 years in real life. Things move so fast that his rules now will seem outdated by next GE.

To be fair, government has always moved slower than society. And rightly so. But in this, it just doesn’t make sense.

c) Demonstrations at Hong Lim

I was most intrigued by this actually. On paper, it looks interesting. No police registration but NParks. But like his pronoucement a couple of years ago about allowing discussions indoor on anything but race and religion, this too need to be treated with some caution.

There will certainly be restrictions on who and how many can participate in the demonstrations. I think they know that from the past few years with SDP moving to “civil disobedience” they had to react. They cannot continue arresting people. Much like talking cock, this will certainly become a zoo. A few select individuals are allowed to exhibit resistance but in a controlled environment. “Being subject to public order conditions,” gives the government a great amount of room to play their cards. They probably wouldn’t object to harmless people like Ng E-Jay making a stand and complaining…but the moment the Chee gang steps in, the police will move in.

So what has changed?

In substance, nothing much. But, I refuse to be a cynic, much like others in cyberspace. I actually think PM does want to move forward. But he is being held back by a conservative Cabinet. These rules are in place to check SDP really. I would think that if say a normal dude goes onto demonstrate, they will certainly have no problems doing so. Is this progress. Yes. Undeniably. But is it enough. No. Unfortunately.
I await to see the details of his proposals

Horrors of civil service speak – SG style

Been a bit bored today because work’s hit a snag. So instead of producing stuff, I’ve actually been catching up on reading the material I’ve been gathering for my work. On top of that, I’ve also been reading stuff online.

One of the sites I visited was the e-government website for the Singapore government. Now before I umm comment, I would like to state for the record that I have many friends in the civil service. They are intelligent, sensitive and bright human beings who can laugh at themselves. But somehow, the bigger organisation does not seem to shine with the same intelligence as individuals who make up the organsation.

Now first, the website’s address is at http://www.igov.gov.sg. That must be in itself a warning that it isn’t going to be very original.

Being unoriginal is fine in my book. After all, everyone copies everyone else.

But horrors! The language. Every sentence I read was a knife that continually stabbed at my heart deeper and deeper. The red of its words were bleeding across my screen and my eyes.

“Our vision is to be an Integrated Government (iGov) that delights customers and connects citizens through the use of infocomm technology.”

How does the Government delight me with e-services? Can it make me a doughnut? Or read me a fairy tale? Maybe it can tickle me subtly with its horrendous language…

“To achieve an iGov, we have to hasten the reworking of backend processes that cut across agencies to strengthen customer-centricity in service delivery. Our next step will be shift the focus from front-end to backend integration, and to advance from integrating services to integrating Government.”

What is an iGovt? Integrated government? What is customer-centricity? It must be Singlish. And horrors!!! “Integration” “Integrating, integrating” In one sentence at that!

Oh and on the Chee vs Lee trial, my friend, who can only make bad jokes had this to say:

SDP got Gandhi, now got Cheesus. Wonder who they have next? Martin Luther King? Oh they got aung san suu CHEE also.

Mas Selamat Part Deux

Okay I guess I blogged without really thinking about the issue. I’ve read the dozens of pages of reports and the followups in ST and I’ve followed some, not all, of the discussions on the blogosphere.

I think PM played a politically shrewd move. I had myself asked the question, should Mr Wong Can’t Sing resign? Of course, it was a question that was asked in passing, knowing full well that it would not happen. Did I want it to? Maybe not entirely and that is, I think, why Low Thia Khiang also hesitated when asked point blank by PM.

No, it was a shrewd move to focus entirely on the extreme measure of the sack and argue that its ridiculous, thereby deflecting the necessary need for censure.

The Online Citizen wrote that it wanted at least the offer of resignation. That it was not just the incompetence that let him out in the first place, but how it handled the entire situation. From the slow leaking of information, to the reluctance to acknowledge that it was at fault, to the opaqueness of the COI report and to its arrogance to the final end. And of course, that the PM himself has refused to censure his trusted DPM.

Therein lies the problem. A ahem confluence of factors has really created this cauldron of boiling sentiment. It’s not just Mas Selamat, who I think we have to thank for for the raising of such hackles, but everything else that is wrong with this government. It’s sitting in the clouds, insisting that it has the monopoly of information and wisdom by surrounding with people scoring 4 As. It refuses to open itself up to criticism, taking any jibe at its leaders as a personal affront to the PM. It is the hegemon, writhing and squirming against a rising tide of opposition, pushing back and ceding none except for a few steps.

By focusing on the sack and the ludicrousness of the suggestion, PM has done it again. What we, I at least, really want is to see someone being taken to task. Surely, a low level failure is connected to something higher. As a sergeant in the army, I am always always questioned if my men does something wrong, in camp or outfield. Even if its a minor thing, much less a major thing. If the squadmate, say, lets loose a spare round without being told to do so, it’s a major incident and everyone down the line from the CO will be questioned, interrogated and, if needed, censured. Where was this process of discipline? For a government which prides itself on integrity, this is sorely lacking.

So instead of calling for the sack, which everyone knows is not going to happen, let’s settle for something less. A demotion to Parliamentary Secretary. At that level, he is able to clean up the ISD’s act without having to worry about SDP’s antics on the road and maybe learn some humility in the process.

Singapore Idol: Mas Selamat

All’s been said has been said. Ridicule, sacarsm, shock, even calls for resignation.

All I want to say is incompetence deserves censure. What censure has there been?