Singapore Armchair Critic

A blog about politics and policies in Singapore and beyond

MPs’ Disappearing Act

So it was reported that last week in Parliament, not even a quarter of our 87 elected Members of Parliament (MPs) were present to vote for the passage of two Bills. Alerted to the lack of a quorum required to pass a Bill by Nominated MP (NMP) Eugene Tan, the Deputy Speaker rang the division bell to summon the missing MPs, who then, in the words of our mainstream media, “streamed into the Chamber to take their seats after a few minutes.”

Now according to the “Rules of Prudence” issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after GE 2011, “[PAP] MPs are expected to attend all sittings of Parliament.”  PAP MPs have to seek the permission of the Party Whip and inform the Whip if they have to be absent during a sitting (see rule no. 23).

The current Party Whip is Gan Kim Yong, who is assisted by his Deputies Amy Khor and Teo Ho Pin. It is not known if the Whip had indeed been notified of the absences.

Intrigued by the whereabouts of our handsomely paid MPs, I did a bit of investigation on our Parliament website. Continue reading…

How Much Damages is Enough?

CASSIO 
Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost
my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of
myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation,
Iago, my reputation!

IAGO 
As I am an honest man, I thought you had received
some bodily wound; there is more sense in that than
in reputation. Reputation is an idle and most false
imposition: oft got without merit, and lost without
deserving. You have lost no reputation at all,
unless you repute yourself such a loser.

-          Shakespeare, Othello

Under Singapore law, damage to reputation is presumed in a claim for libel.

The award of general damages is primarily to compensate the plaintiff for the consequences of the defamatory statement. It serves to “console the plaintiff for the hurt and distress that has been caused by the defamation” and “redress … the harm that has been caused to his reputation and as a vindication of his reputation” (“Damages in defamation: what is considered and what is awarded?”).

Nonetheless, the plaintiff does not have to prove that he has suffered emotional injuries or actual damages to his reputation as a result of the defamation.

Here’s a recap of how much damages the Singapore court had awarded to our PAP political leaders in defamation cases from 1979: Continue reading…

Stinking of Double Standard?

On 16 February this year, about 100 Hong Kongers marched on the streets of a popular shopping district to call for curbs on the number of mainland China tourists. Their demand is very reasonable for a city as land scarce and overcrowded as Hong Kong: last year, there were close to 41 million mainland visitors to Hong Kong, averaging 112,000 visitors per day and more than five times the city’s population of 7.2 million. Taiwan, which is 32 times the size of Hong Kong, has a daily quota of 3,000 mainland tourists.

Unfortunately, the protestors’ rightful cause was marred by the language used: they called mainlanders “locusts,” a label that first appeared in the infamous locust advertisement in 2012.

Top government officials quickly attacked the “anti-locust” protest for “tarnishing” the city’s image; one went as far as condemning the rally as “barbaric and uncivilised activities” that ran counter to Hong Kong’s values.

The same official who has such strong words for the protestors, however, has not uttered a word in the unfolding and escalating saga over a mainland boy defecating on a busy street in Hong Kong (see video at 1:34).

It seems that the official has varying levels of tolerance for sh*t, depending on which part of the human anatomy it was discharged from. Continue reading…

Explaining the Dearth of Singaporean Academics in our Universities

One oft-cited argument in defense of a high percentage of foreign faculty and students in Singapore universities is “global competitiveness,” which is, presumably, measured by the ranking of our local universities in the world.

Our top local university, the National University of Singapore (NUS), currently ranks 22nd in the 2013 World Reputation Rankings published by the Times Higher Education (THE).

Let’s look at how much the internationalization of NUS’s faculty and students contributes to its 22nd position.

THE ranking uses 13 indicators grouped under five categories. You can see from below that “International outlook” is worth only 7.5% out of the overall score of 100% (see methodology).

  • Teaching: the learning environment (worth 30 per cent of the overall ranking score)
  • Research: volume, income and reputation (worth 30 per cent)
  • Citations: research influence (worth 30 per cent)
  • Industry income: innovation (worth 2.5 per cent)
  • International outlook: staff, students and research (worth 7.5 per cent).

Out of the 7.5%, the ratio of international to domestic students is worth only 2.5%; same for the ratio of international to domestic staff. This means no matter how “internationalized” the university is in terms of its foreign faculty and student community, the university can only get a maximum score of 5 percentage points out of 100. Continue reading…

FTA Negotiations: A Black Box?

At the time of writing, Taiwan students have occupied their legislature for 14 days; on Sunday 30 March, hundreds of thousands flocked to the streets of Taipei in support of the Sunflower Movement led by students (see photos here). Citizens have also crowdfunded full-page advertisements (see image below) in the International New York Times.

1396043401_4AM Democracy artwork-final 530x337 due

Source: http://4am.tw/we-need-your-support/

What triggered the movement was the ruling party Kuomintang’s (KMT) attempt to unilaterally ratify a service trade agreement with mainland China, breaking its earlier promise to allow a parliamentary review of the agreement. Fearing that the trade pact would increase Taiwan’s economic dependence on China, whose ultimate aim is to “reunify” Taiwan as part of its territory, students have demanded that President Ma Ying-jeou retract the trade pact and introduce a mechanism to monitor the nation’s agreements with China. Continue reading…

Government Acknowledges Wealth Disparity in Singapore

Cherry-picking among the basket of 160 goods and services used in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) 2014 survey, finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam argues that the survey, which ranks Singapore as the world’s most expensive city, does not measure cost of living for an “ordinary local.”

Ahhh I see, Minister. Thank you for enlightening us “ordinary” Singaporeans, who not only have plebeian tastes and neither consume imported cheese, filet mignon nor don “Burberry-type raincoats,” but also lack the intelligence to understand that Singapore’s rocketing cost of living as measured by EIU does not affect us commoners.

The government spin reminds me of the infamous episode in which a Minister was questioned in parliament about the adequacy of social handouts and his idea of “subsistence living.” He snapped at his fellow PAP member of parliament: “How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?” Continue reading…

Healthcare Funding in Budget 2014: Government Spending vs. Private Spending

In my earlier blogpost on healthcare funding, I highlighted that our government spending on healthcare is the lowest among the advanced economies in East Asia and Scandinavia, including Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

The chart below shows that Singapore government spending on healthcare is only 36% of total healthcare spending. Take note that our Medisave monies spent on health are not counted as out-of-pocket spending.

chart1_new

(Data sources: WHO Data ObservatoryTaiwan & Hong Kong). Note that Medisave is not counted as out-of-pocket spending in the Singapore figure.

In the 2013 Budget Speech, the 2013 National Day Rally Speech and the 2014 Budget Speech, the government has repeatedly indicated that it will look into reducing individual out-of-pocket expenditure on health and increase state spending on health. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in last Friday’s Budget Speech that “Government healthcare spending for the population as a whole will grow, quite apart from the extra benefits we are providing the Pioneer Generation.”

However, the Budget Speech gives no indication on how much government healthcare spending may increase as a percentage of the total healthcare bill, vis-à-vis private health expenditure including individual out-of-pocket expenses, Medisave payment and insurance. Continue reading…

Dwindling Faith in Democracy?

A Hong Kong journalist was in Singapore recently to interview a Malaysian taking over as chief editor of Ming Pao, one of Hong Kong’s most influential Chinese language daily. The journalist, who managed to track down her interviewee at his Singapore residence, was told by her local contact that she might land herself in trouble for doing so (read report in Chinese).

How could this be? She asked, noting that in Hong Kong it is the norm for reporters to knock on the doors of interviewees to verify tip-offs. It is also inconceivable to her that fellow journalists in Singapore consider it their duty to promote government propaganda and give a wide berth to government scandals.

Why be a journalist then? She questioned her local media friends, who responded that it is hard to survive in Singapore if one goes against the government. On her return journey, she asked the Singapore cabbie if he reads the local dailies. Yes, he said, but he reads them with a pinch of salt, mainly to find out how far news reports have departed from reality.

Disturbed by the cabbie’s revelation, the Hong Kong journalist mused: Is today’s Singapore tomorrow’s Hong Kong? Continue reading…

Contesting in an Uneven Playing Field

Seventeen improvement projects will be underway in Workers’ Party (WP) wards soon, announced the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs), one of 1,800 grassroots organizations (GROs) under the People’s Association (PA).

Such “generosity” may come as a surprise to those of us who are accustomed to the petty moves of the PA over the years.

Still fresh in our memory, for instance, was how the self-proclaimed “non-partisan” PA swiftly took control of 26 sites previously managed by the PAP-led Aljunied Town Council following WP’s 2011 electoral victory in Aljunied GRC.

The site grab was accompanied by a statement declaring unabashedly that “The PA and its GROs are non-partisan and do not allow any political party or MP to hold activities on PA premises or other facilities managed by the PA … This applies to all political parties and MPs, including the PAP.” Continue reading…

2014 New Year’s Resolutions: My Wishlist for PAP

Two Harvard professors are teaching an online course “Unlocking the immunity to change” that supposedly helps us stick to our new year’s resolutions. According to the professors, we often fail to keep to our resolutions because we have sought to change our behavior while failing to address a conflicting mindset problem. They cite an illuminating example:

Somebody wants to be more collaborative. They recognize they are not really listening to people, they cut people off, they insert their own ideas, and so on. So they try to be better listeners, but they can’t. Why? What’s happening is they need to be in control. They need to be the person who is kind of the big cheese. They need to be the person who is getting the credit. They really do have the goal to be collaborative, but at the very same time they have this goal which is to be the person who is getting all of the credit and having it go their way.

Sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Continue reading…

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