Archive | July 2011

Dignity for the old begins in our hearts

Two weeks ago, I wrote about him. (Click here for the story.)

He was in a nursing home in Johor Baru (JB), Malaysia.

Today, I saw him again. He finally returned to Singapore.

He passed away a day ago, in the early morning hours in the JB nursing home.

There were no family members with him when he breathed his last.

He was 87.

On my way home from the wake, I thought about him. I thought I’d write about what had happened but I could not find the words. And then a friend posted this video on her Facebook page:

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The presidency is not a feedback channel

Istana - Picture from Club Snap

I almost want to tear my hair out. In the past weeks, as the Presidential election approaches nearer, we have been hearing how the potential candidates are all pledging to be “the voice of the people”. They also vow to “speak up for the people” and to let the government know what the people’s views are.

In brief, they want to provide feedback to the government.

In other words, the office of the president is nothing more than a feedback channel.

On the surface, this sounds all good, even as you suspect there might be a tint of good ole politicking behind some of the words. But on closer inspection, you realize that there is a fundamental flaw and a serious misunderstanding of what the presidency is all about.

The office of the elected president – the highest office in the land – is not a feedback channel.

If it were, it would be a redundant office – and a completely wasteful one too, since we are paying millions to the one who holds the office.

We already have many channels for feedback. Lets count the ones that come to mind. Read More…

Enter the PM

My apologies. After the General Election, I’d wanted to be more objective in my views. But the topic of public transport, and seeing how the PTOs are asking for even higher fares and the PM coming out to support this, just makes my blood curl. 

So, here’re my thoughts on the matter.

Channelnewsasia, on what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said about public transport:

“Our interest is not to help the transport companies make big profits. There is no reason for us to do that. We want good service, we want affordable service. But we have to allow the transport companies to break even and make reasonable profits so that they can provide this good service,” he said.

Mr Lee added that service standards will also be improved. And that includes issues like waiting time, overcrowding, the frequency of the train services at peak hours.

He said that the government will also make sure, through the PTC, that when the fares are raised they are reasonable and justifiable.

Every year, when the public transport operators (PTO) submit their applications for “fare adjustments” – (read: fare increase) – we are given assurances that service standards, waiting time and overcrowding will be improved, and train and bus frequencies will be enhanced.

They are the same promises we hear every year. Read More…

Flying Cowboys

One of my favourite singers and certainly one of my favourite songs… by Rickie Lee Jones who has a voice like an angel…

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No concessions for disabled – but CEOs reap millions

Members of the disabled community, many of whom work in low-paying jobs, have been calling for public transport concessions for 12 years – to no avail.

In 2009, SBS Transit said it was looking into the call. (See here.)

It has been two years since and no news from SBS Transit, or SMRT, about its decision. So, the status quo remains – no concessions for the disabled.

In the meantime, the CEOs of the Public Transport Operators (PTOs), which seek to impose ever-higher fares on commuters every year, are paid record-breaking remuneration.

SMRT’s CEO Saw Phaik Hwa, for example, is the highest-ever paid SMRT CEO the company has employed. This despite all the problems faced by commuters in the last few years.

In 2009, she was paid S$1.67 million.

In 2010, she was paid S$1.85 million. Read More…

The blandness of sameness in the estates

Walking around the heartlands now, you can’t help but feel one thing – they all look and feel the same. There is this monotonous drabness about them. The same designed HDB flats, the same playgrounds, the same shops, the same estate centres, the same shopping malls with the same kinds of shops selling the same kinds of stuff. You have the same food outlets, the same foodcourts, the same restaurants. The only places which are different and unique with their own ambience would be places like Little India, Chinatown and perhaps the eastern part of Singapore.

Everywhere else, they are all the same.

Sameness is the one thing which kills creativity and inspiration – the two things we desperately need in this city which rushes head-on, sometimes blindly, into materialism and mediocrity. Whoever plans our towns seems to use the same blueprint for each one. As a result, at times I mistake a location for another because they are so similar.

I would have thought that having elected our Members of Parliament, they would have different ideas and plans for the towns they are in charge of. But the bottomline consideration of “economies of scale” have resulted in the towns run by the same party all end up looking just like the other. It is cheaper to just replicate one plan for all the estates, I guess. It is also a lazy way of doing things. Read More…

Elderly in foreign nursing homes – something is not right

Would just like to add more thoughts to the article I wrote for Yahoo: “Singaporeans dying away from home”.

It is an emotional issue. There is no doubt about this. After all, we are talking about the elderly who could be our parents and grandparents. And no one in his right mind would want to see them packed off to a foreign land to live their last days. Unconscionable is the right word to use.

In the words of former Minister for Health, Khaw Boon Wan: “Many other sins you can plead to your God and say, sorry, I repent … But lack of filial piety, dumping your parents is inexcusable. Straight down to the 18th level of hell!”

But filial piety aside, the issue is of course a serious one.

Singapore’s budget on healthcare as a percentage of GDP has been between 2 to 4 per cent. Here isWikipedia’s run-run-down of some countries’ healthcare spending (2006/2007) for comparison.

Singapore’s budget in 2006 was a mere 3.3 per cent.

In 2009, it was 3.9 per cent. (See MOH website.)

Countries in the first-world league seem to spend more, according to the Wikipedia list. Read More…

Singaporeans dying away from home

Excerpts from my latest article for Yahoo:

As we left them and the home, I wonder how many Singaporeans — after having served and contributed to the country — would end up in homes such as this one abroad simply because they would not be able to afford to stay in nursing homes in their own country.

It is just not right that our elderly, in what should be their golden years, are subjected to this indignity, to be cast aside or forced out of the land they were born in, grew up in and worked for and contributed to, through no fault of their own or their families’ — with the prospect of returning home only when they have breathed their last.

With almost a million Singaporeans projected to be above 65-years old in 2030, it is incumbent upon the government to seriously look into this matter and not let our elderly be subject to such unconscionable indignity when they are no longer “economically active.”

There is a responsibility for a government to care for those who no longer can, and to extend help to families who are burdened in such circumstances.

Our elderly should not have to seek shelter in a foreign land.

Read the full article on Yahoo Singapore.

Chan Chun Sing not entirely wrong

Andrew Loh

Read this post by Alex Au on the controversial (to some, at least) remarks by Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Maj Gen Chan Chun Sing. Also mentioned by Alex in his article is this blog posting by Rachel Zeng who, incidentally, is a good friend of mine.

It all started on 3 July, or more accurately, from a Straits Times report by Rachel Chang on 3 July. Here’re the minister’s remarks – made at a Young PAP forum – in the ST report which generated much consternation among netizens:

“Major-General (NS) Chan Chun Sing, the youngest member of the Cabinet, yesterday urged young people to ask themselves whether their ideas can move the country forward, rather than just ‘throw stones, cast doubts and tear down institutions’.

Later, the report quoted Maj Gen Chan as having said, in reference to online postings:

“Go and reclaim the space for reasoned discussion then. No point complaining that it’s dominated by the lunatic fringe and we leave it as such. If you have a point of view, go forth and do something.”

As you can see, the remarks above unsurprisingly have got some netizens up in arms. And I don’t blame them, really. Describing those who express themselves in cyberspace as the “lunatic fringe” is, to be honest, entirely inaccurate, and worse, demonstrates a certain ignorance of who indeed inhabit online space. Read More…

Guilt by public opinion

“I hope both of them gets the 100+ stabs as their death sentence.” – “Lentor“.

Picture credit: Straits Times

The comment above is in response to a news report about the murder of a woman in May of 2005. Two brothers – Ismil Kadar, now 42, and Muhamad Kadar, 35 – were found guilty and sentenced to death in 2009 for killing Madam Tham Weng Kuen, 69, in her Boon Lay flat.

On 6 July 2011 – six years after the murder and 2 years after their conviction – the Court of Appeal cleared Ismil Kadar of the murder and ordered his release from prison. Justice VK Rajah “issued a strongly worded judgment highlighting ‘serious lapses’ by police and prosecutors.”

While some have highlighted these “serious lapses” on the part of the police and questioned if improvements could be made, it is perhaps even more troubling how members of the public can be easily led to conclusions, as can be seen in the postings on the forum highlighted above. This is even more so when our reporters and journalists are not sharp enough to ask questions, or to delve deeper into such cases, and ask questions even of the verdicts rendered by the courts. Read More…

It’s really about dignity

This article is inspired by this letter by Jolovan Wham, Executive Director of HOME, and the debate over giving domestic workers in Singapore a day off. (See this article on The Guardian.)

Picture credit: The Guardian

Singapore does not have a great tradition of respecting human rights, even basic ones. In fact, the very term itself has been derided by some, including government officials. But as Singapore progresses and becomes more involved in the global community, its behaviour, action and legislations will increasingly be scrutinised by the international community and indeed by its own people. And one of these has to do with the issue of human rights.

But in Singapore, like an infant learning to walk, this will be a slow process as the government – which some still see as a nanny of sort – realises that it needs to loosen the apron strings and indeed do away with it altogether at some point in time.

The migrant workers community in Singapore, which number close to a million, is showing up the shortcomings of a system which fails to take into account the very basic rights of these workers. In a country which is known (and respected and admired) for its clinical efficiency and its brook-no-failures attitudes, its “pragmatic realist” approach to things will unearth a hollow humane core of its society. It must because the simplest matters are dissected and debated down to its minutest details in very pragmatic terms. In the result, it is this pragmatism which invariably triumphs over other considerations. Read More…

Is there room for respect?

Should one respect – and show it – to ministers? I asked myself this question today on my way home in the train. The question came about because of what I had been reading on the Internet lately. In particular, articles, letters to ministers and certain postings made on the wall of the ministers’ and MPs’ Facebook pages. I think some of them would be considered disrespectful.

Of course, respect have to be earned. I agree with this fully. But isn’t there also a certain respect to be shown to the office of a public servant? The Prime Minister, for example. Or the President. Or a minister. To be honest, I am quite concerned that some seem to take the position that since some of these ministers and MPs are new, and thus have not earned the public’s respect through their performance, that this means there is no need to be respectful towards them.

The misconception perhaps has to do with confusing the person with the office. One may not agree with or even respect Lee Hsien Loong as a person but surely one must give or accord due respect to his position as Prime Minister. No? And if one does, then one should do so in the manner in which one engages him, in speech or behaviour.

Read More…

Does it matter who becomes President of Singapore?

My latest article for Yahoo Singapore which you can read in full here.

Now that President SR Nathan has confirmed he will not be seeking a third term in office, the presidential race looks like it will be fought between three former People’s Action Party (PAP) members. The presidential hopefuls are:Dr Tan Cheng Bock, former PAP Member of Parliament (MP); Dr Tony Tan, former Deputy Prime Minister; and Mr Tan Kin Lian, former chief executive officer of NTUC Income.

All three have been quick to pledge independence from their former party, when they announced their intentions to seek the office of the Elected President. Dr Tony Tan, especially, having been a minister who held several portfolios including that of Deputy Prime Minister and several years more as deputy chairman and executive director of the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore (GIC), will have to show how his previous positions will not be a factor in exercising independent thought and decisions if he were president.


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