Singapore Armchair Critic

A blog about politics and policies in Singapore and beyond

Category: Singapore’s population and immigration woes

At the Bottom of the Recycling Trade: Karung Gunis and Cardboard Collectors

hb_17.3.859“Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Big Fish Eat Little Fish” (17.3.859) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2006) 


After 4pm and over the next two hours before the karung guni man called it a day, elderly cardboard collectors began trickling in from the two roads that lead to the collection point. Bathed in the golden rays of the evening sun, the old folks pushed their cartful of flattened cardboard slowly forward with a doggedness that belied their frail and scrawny appearance.

There were both men and women plying their trade. Their shriveled skin, withered arms and grey hair are telling signs of their advanced age. 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…

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…

Speaking for the “Singaporeans First” Hiring Policy

In my first job after graduation in the 1990s, I worked in a multinational corporation that was a microcosm of a truly cosmopolitan city. My colleagues came from all over the world: from the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, Latin America, Japan, Philippines, and neighboring Malaysia. Nonetheless, the core group of employees was still Singaporeans of various ethnicities, who filled not just junior positions but top and middle management positions as well.

My gross salary then was not inclusive of employer CPF contribution. When I requested for a pay raise after working for a year, my Singaporean boss not only consented; he also offered the same increment to a foreigner doing the same work as I, whom he thought was just as deserving. My boss did not show favoritism or discriminate based on nationality, but nonetheless because of the increase in employer CPF contribution in accordance with my pay raise, my total income was still higher than my foreign colleague’s.

Today I work in a local organization that is staffed predominantly by foreigners of one nationality and ethnicity. The clerical and support positions are still filled by Singaporeans but we are the minority in positions at my level and above. My boss is a foreigner and the human resource manager is a Singaporean. My foreign colleagues and I holding the same position are paid roughly the same gross salary, but today my gross salary is inclusive of employer CPF contribution.

Such a pay structure disadvantages the Singapore citizen in many ways. Continue reading…

Foreign Workers Policy and New Employment Rules

As if voting for the passage of the controversial Population White Paper is not enough, some of our PAP MPs would jump at any opportunity to urge a rethinking of the “tightening” of our ultra-liberal foreign workers policy.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, also Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development, had this to say of the collapsed ceiling at JEM that injured three:

Every time a contractor renews work permit for their workers, they face some difficulties and therefore keep changing staff. That could mean we don’t have experienced engineers or inspectors. The government should really look into this (emphases mine).

Now what “experienced” engineers and inspectors are employed by work permit, a category which now curiously includes S pass by MOM’s definition, and only requires a monthly salary of SGD2,200 to qualify? Continue reading…

Healthcare Financing: Tweaks or Tricks?

In his 2013 Budget announcement earlier this year, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the government would look into lowering Singaporeans’ out-of-pocket health spending.

On Sunday evening, we learned more about how this may be achieved through Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 2013 National Day Rally (NDR) speech. In summary, these are the tweaks to healthcare financing Singaporeans can expect in future Continue reading…

Low-Wage Singaporeans: Their Story through the Cleaners

In 2010, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this when asked about Singapore’s widening income inequality, “What really matters is whether we can benefit the low income Singaporeans so that they can have a decent standard of living and hope for a better future, for themselves and their children.” [1]

No other workers have languished at the bottom of the pay scale as the cleaners in Singapore. Have they really benefited from our government policies? Continue reading…

Stagnant Wages? It’s Your Own Fault.

Or so the government and its mouthpiece want you to believe.

I am referring to the recent onslaught of insults hurled at the Singaporean PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) in a string of articles published by our national mouthpiece, insinuating or blatantly accusing us of not deserving our wages; not being “hungry” enough, and being “pampered, mediocre, expensive and timid.”

Apart from being a self-corrective measure to counter the arguments of an earlier, relatively critical (by Straits Times’ standards) commentary “When wages fail to grow along with economy,” these write-ups are yet another low blow at ordinary Singaporeans to absolve the government of any blame for the problems we face today.

Yet if we look at Straits Times reports on the job situation of our PMETs from the 1990s, it becomes very apparent that the plight of today’s PMETs is a result of myopic government policies since the 1990s, i.e. its pro-immigration policy, the constant kowtowing to businesses that fed off cheap labor, and re-training that had failed to equip workers with the necessary skills. Continue reading…

Caring for the Elderly in Singapore: Are We Doing Enough?

After reading last week’s news about an 82-year-old Singaporean man being abandoned by his family in Johor Bahru, I decided to do a bit of research on the state of elderly care in Singapore.

Let’s start by looking at the living arrangements of elderly residents in Singapore, defined as citizens and permanent residents aged 65 and above.

From the chart below, you can see that elderly residents who live with their spouses and/or children constitute around 85% of the total elderly population.

The remaining 15% either live alone, with other elderly persons, or have other living arrangements (such as living in nursing homes etc.). Continue reading…

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