Singapore Armchair Critic

A blog about politics and policies in Singapore and beyond

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.


(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…

Singapore: Looking back on 2013 (I)

The year started with much excitement as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for a by-election in Punggol East for the seat vacated by PAP Member of Parliament Michael Palmer in December 2012. Set on 26 January, the Punggol East by-election was the second by-election to take place in eight months, after the May 2012 Hougang by-election in which Workers’ Party (WP) Png Eng Huat defeated PAP’s Desmond Choo to retain the WP stronghold.

Unlike the outcome of the Hougang by-election, Lee Li Lian’s win in Punggol East took many by surprise, not so much because the WP candidate emerged victor in a multi-cornered race contested by three other political parties, but because her vote share was a good 10.5% higher than that of PAP candidate Koh Poh Koon.

Any delusion PAP might have about the 2011 General Election outcome as a “freak election result” was shattered by its shocking defeat in Punggol East. It seemed apparent that the need for the party to change and to relook its policies was finally drummed into PAP leadership after that by-election. Continue reading…

Whose History? Whose Truth?

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

Many of us would be familiar with this poem in various versions attributed to Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a prominent Protestant pastor who openly spoke out against Hitler. The poem criticizes those who remained silent and therefore, were complicit in the Nazi atrocities, but it also speaks of the usual tactics of a repressive regime, which ruthlessly purges its “enemies” and critics one by one. The end result is a regime that reigns supreme over a docile and fearful population cowed into silence. Continue reading…

From Harrying Long-Haired Men to Embracing Casinos

In 1984, Japanese musician Kitaro canceled his two sold-out shows in Singapore one day before the scheduled date. Defying Singapore immigration’s order to chop off his tresses as a condition for entering the country, Kitaro coolly hopped on the next flight back to Narita with his entourage of band and crew in tow.

Recalled the New Age musician,

…when I went through immigration, they were like, Kitaro, please come over here, you have a problem. You cannot enter with long hair. They said, “If you would like to enter Singapore, you will have to cut your hair.” I said, “I don’t want to cut my hair, so I would like to cancel the concert.”

Kitaro was not the only casualty of our government’s revulsion at long-haired males. Back in the 1970s, Cliff Richard, Robert Plant and others also suffered the indignity of being turned away at the Singapore immigration. Some complied to get in.

Ludicrous as it may sound, this insane policy was enforced from the 1970s because our holier-than-thou government had equated long-haired males with gangsters and morally depraved persons who had succumbed to the undesirable influence of the western hippie culture. 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…

Good Surveys, Bad Surveys: How to Tell the Difference


(Image by Andrew Low)

Are you perturbed by the findings of a flurry of opinion polls published recently  in the mainstream media?

To cite a few: a Nielsen survey says about 70% of Singapore consumers are “unfazed” by the increases in food prices; a survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies finds a staggering 98.5% agreeing that National Service is necessary; 94% of commuters say they would give up their seat to those who need it more…

If you are puzzled why you consistently turn out to be the minority 30% or 1.5% that is out of sync with the rest of the population, fret not.

The problem may not lie with you but the survey itself. Continue reading…

Compassion Deficit: Singapore Ruling Elite’s Attitude towards the Poor

Hong Kong has a hugely popular reality television show that invites the city’s yuppies and tycoons to experience the life of the underclass. For a few days, affluent participants of “The Battle of the Poor Rich” (窮富翁大作戰) had a taste of the daily struggles of the homeless, the sweeper, the garbage collector, the eatery helper, and the single mother etc. trying to stay afloat in one of Asia’s most expensive cities.

(Cantonese with Chinese subtitles).

In one episode, a power broker spent barely a few hours collecting garbage before he asked the show’s producer to give him a less tedious job. Another young businessman who gamely took up the challenge of sleeping on the streets and earning his keep, shed tears of frustration when he lost his job as a eatery helper after working half a day. Continue reading…