Archive for the 'business and employment' Category

Asean single market and the free movement of skilled labour


In a recent blogpost, Kenneth Jeyaretnam highlighted the imminent implementation of the Asean Agreement on the Movement of Natural Persons (MNP). He wrote:

While permanent rights to work in other member countries are excluded the fact that free movement is extended to Contractual Service Suppliers and Intra-Corporate Transferees means that the bar to stop businesses bringing in cheaper PMETs from other ASEAN countries is set very low.

The main text of this Agreement is not hard to find from the Asean website (but a key annex is missing). In its preamble, it gives a nod to “the mandate of the Asean Economic Community Blueprint” dating from 20 November 2007 wherein the “free flow of skilled labour is one of the core elements of an Asean single market and production base.” Continue reading ‘Asean single market and the free movement of skilled labour’

Human-free space as proof of creative cultural development



Sometimes a post you see on Facebook is not the latest news. You’re momentarily fooled by it and you can embarrass yourself by reacting as if it was the latest happening. But that’s the beauty of the internet too. Nothing is forgotten. Gems from the past resurface. What you didn’t know before you know now.

And so it was with a Wall Street Journal blog titled Wozniak: Apple couldn’t emerge in Singapore. It was only after I had finished reading it, just as I was about to click away, that I noticed it was dated 15 December 2011. But no matter. What Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had to say is still very relevant.

“Look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behavior is not tolerated [and] you are extremely punished” Mr. Wozniak said in a recent interview with the BBC. “Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great writers?”


Speaking specifically about Singapore, he said that though many people are educated with well-paid jobs and nice cars, “creative elements” in society seem to have disappeared.

Go read it and listen to the BBC interview

In the audio of the interview, Wozniak said innovative change happens when “big guys” are challenged. He spoke about the importance of “liberal counterculture thinking” and how “big guys that just want to crank the wheels and keep things running” must be contested by new ideas. Alluding to Singapore, he described a society where people are “taught this nationalism… not to think what’s right and wrong, but to take a side at an early age. That’s not lined up with creativity.”

“Thinking for yourself is creativity.”

In hallowed journalism style, reporters Shibani Mahtani and Sam Holmes included a response by Singapore officials to Wozniak’s comment.

Speaking about Internet innovation, Jayson Goh, Executive Director for Infocomms & Media at Singapore’s Economic Development Board, said he was happy that “many innovative Internet companies” had chosen Singapore as the focal point for their investment in Southeast Asia, specifically naming Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Facebook.

“We will continue to work…to enhance the infrastructure to create a conducive environment for enterprises to provide innovative solutions,” Mr. Goh said.

Singapore actively encourages startups and entrepreneurship in the city-state. According to government statistics,  29,798 companies were formed in Singapore in 2010 across all sectors, a 13% increase from the previous year.

You can’t help but see Jayson Goh speaking from a (poorly-prepared) script. To start with, why give a number of new companies “across all sectors”? How many of these sell cupcakes, Hello Kitty cellphone jackets, or provide foot reflexology? There’s an awfully large number of such enterprises around town.

Secondly, how does the statistic of new companies incorporated address the question of culture and human talent (including artists and writers) that Wozniak was speaking about?

Thirdly and likewise, how does name-dropping big American companies as investors (“Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Facebook”) address the same question? The reflexive reliance on inward investment by foreign companies only serves to indicate that we are still stuck in the Texas Instruments days — that’s 1969, when a huge song and dance was staged after this American company set up an electronics assembly plant in Singapore (Bendemeer Road, if I remember correctly) employing several hundred young adults (mostly women) doing repetitive menial work. Texas Instruments was high-tech in its day. But rolling out the red carpet for a high-tech investor is not the same thing as having your own citizens be the inventors and creators of original art and science.

More specifically, the WSJ blog mentions a particular investment by Google, positioned to sound like a rebuttal of Wozniak’s point. Whether it was Jayson Goh or some other source that pointed WSJ to this I cannot say (but knowing how these media responses work, you can probably allow that Jayson or another source from the Economic Development Board would have mentioned it as part of their comment). That investment was of a US$120 million data center.

Those two words ‘data center’ were what triggered this post. I had a vague idea what such a thing was. I promptly did a websearch and it more or less confirmed my mental picture of one. It’s typically a huge facility housing numerous servers and switches, backed up by reliable power supply and environmental systems. The top picture is of a data center by They are the workhorses of the internet age, the warehouses of the information goods that our age produces. They are not places where new information is made. Humans don’t figure very strongly in them, let alone innovative creative types.

How does Google building a data center in Singapore disproof Wozniak’s criticism? It does not. It is monumentally embarrassing that we can’t even provide intelligent responses. We read off a script that relies on an audience’s ignorance, conflating one with another: companies registered (cupcakes included) in answer to a question about brilliant inventors nurtured; human-free data centers in answer to a question about artists.

Worse yet, the pride we take in being able to attract foreigners and their money tells us we’re stuck in a groove. We can’t conceive of development any way other than having capitalist juggernauts roll over us.


Ourselves through Istanbul

Galata Bridge

Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn

This spot on planet Earth has been inhabited for well over two thousand years — as Byzantium, Constantinople, then Istanbul — and was a great cosmopolitan capital city for 1,500 of those. Merchants and scholars from all over the then-known world flocked to it.

I can’t say, however, that it is cosmopolitan any more, certainly not by the standards of London, New York, Paris or Sydney today. Or even Singapore. Istanbul has a cultural homogeneity that our more nostalgic romantics might wish we had. Continue reading ‘Ourselves through Istanbul’

How to help ripped-off tourists


The past week saw a remarkable story of how people here rallied to redeem Singapore with no help at all from government agencies. After video surfaced of Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai on his knees begging for a refund from a callous shop owner, over $14,000 was raised within a day on Indiegogo to help compensate him for his loss of $550. According to reports, news reached all the way back to Vietnam, earning much praise for Singaporeans.

Yet, I daresay that for every one Thoai, there must be a thousand more tourists and local shoppers scammed by get-rich-quick businessmen (and women). Ad hoc bottom-up indignation and fundraising, however laudable in one instance, cannot be a practical solution to a persistent cancer. We need a structural response, and in the nature of structural responses, the role of the state in implementing one cannot be avoided. Continue reading ‘How to help ripped-off tourists’

As space tightens, Singaporeans suffocate

It’s taken me a while to think of a theme for this end-of-year post. Just in time, I have it: Space. Or rather, the ever-tightening amount of space in Singapore. The space I speak of is not just physical space, but also expressive space.  Continue reading ‘As space tightens, Singaporeans suffocate’

Riot police didn’t fire a shot, but propaganda artillery in full barrage

Just like what happened in the days following the Chinese bus drivers’ strike November last year, the government is bringing out the artillery to pound Singaporeans’ minds with their preferred framing of the riot that occurred in Little India 8 December 2013: It’s wanton mayhem, monstrous criminality, pure and simple. The small riot (blown up big for its usefulness as bogeyman) is entirely a law and order issue. No sociological enquiry should be entertained, the message insistently says, especially any that asks questions whether the prior behaviour of the the ruling class (both government and business owners) contributed to the state of mind of the underclass. Continue reading ‘Riot police didn’t fire a shot, but propaganda artillery in full barrage’

Riot in Little India: spark and fuel

There rarely is any definitive explanation of any riot. There won’t be one of the brief incident — it lasted barely an hour — at Little India last night, Sunday 8 December 2013. The reason why definitive explanations are elusive is because there is always an element of chance and irrational behaviour. Moreover, riots are complex events involving many actors with many contributory factors. Continue reading ‘Riot in Little India: spark and fuel’

Work permit holders should be free to change jobs

Work permit holders should be able to look for new jobs locally, after losing or resigning from their jobs. They should not be immediately sent back to their home countries, says Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) in a submission to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The present practice of tying an employee to a particular employer, such that the worker cannot stay on, is damaging to Singapore’s hope for productivity improvement. At the same time, the currently wide-open gates to inflow of fresh workers should be partially closed. Continue reading ‘Work permit holders should be free to change jobs’

Improve productivity? Then value engineers

I have no idea what this thing does, but it's a pic from ABCO’s Advanced Systems

I have no idea what this thing does, but it’s a pic from ABCO’s Advanced Systems

There’s an article by Toh Yong Chuan in the Straits Times 31 October 2013, titled “The difference a soup ladle makes” discussing his observations as to how Japanese restaurants continuously improve productivity. The soup ladle of the headline  was one he saw at restaurant chain Yoshinoya’s training school.

During my visit, a trainer explained that the ladles used to scoop up the beef portions at all its restaurants have 47 holes each. The holes are designed to allow just the right amount of gravy to flow into the rice.

The ladles come in two lengths – one about 30cm, the other some 10cm longer. The reason: a taller person can use the longer ladle without having to bend his back

— Straits Times, 31 Oct 2013, The difference a soup ladle makes, by Toh Yong Chuan Continue reading ‘Improve productivity? Then value engineers’

Human trafficking and shadow boxing

pic_201309_23Last Sunday, I was about to leave for a family dinner when the phone rang. It was a Bangladeshi worker on the line, someone I had worked with for the past two years over his employment problems. His present job is “OK”, he said. However, he wanted to bring a friend to meet me later the same evening.

“My friend, he have problem,” said Alamin.

I tried to shift the date and time, but it was near-impossible. Alamin works seven days a week and most evenings. He’s only free Saturday and Sunday evenings. Reluctantly, I agreed to see him and his friend at 9:30 pm, cutting short my family dinner.  Continue reading ‘Human trafficking and shadow boxing’

For an update of the case against me, please see AGC versus me, the 2013 round.




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