Archive for the 'politics and government' Category

The general case: why Singapore’s security obsession is incompatible with meritocracy

For several years a decade or two ago, tiny Singapore was reckoned by defence analysts such as at Jane’s, to have one of Southeast Asia’s most powerful militaries. I don’t know if this is still true, but given this chart below which I took from this site, I won’t be surprised if it is. The bar graph shows that Singapore topped all our Asean neighbours save Laos, which isn’t included in the graph, in military expenditure in 2014. Continue reading ‘The general case: why Singapore’s security obsession is incompatible with meritocracy’

Flapping wildly amidst the wreck

For the last few weeks, Singapore-based Keppel Offshore and Marine Ltd (“KOM”) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. KOM and its wholly owned US subsidiary, Keppel Offshore & Marine USA Inc. have agreed to pay a combined total penalty of more than US$422 million (S$565 million) for making corrupt payoffs to officials in Brazil. Brazilian authorities will receive 50% of the penalty, while the US and Singapore authorities will receive 25% each.

This will hurt. KOM’s profit after tax for financial year ending 31 December 2016 was only S$326 million. Its business was already troubled as can be seen from the fact that its 2015 profit after tax was a much higher S$528 million. Continue reading ‘Flapping wildly amidst the wreck’

Tunnel floods and the erosion of performance legitimacy

In traditional Chinese political thinking, emperors have absolute powers, subject only to the will of gods. The political duty of subjects is to serve and to obey. The Mandate of Heaven, however, can be withdrawn at any time. Flood, famine, earthquake and pestilence are read as signs that Heaven is displeased with the regime and has revoked the emperor’s mandate.

As recently as 1976, millions of people in China had reason to believe that this divine signalling was in operation. On 28 July 1976, a massive earthquake struck the city of Tangshan, killing over 240,000 people, though nobody really knows what the actual figure was. Six weeks later, Mao Zedong, supreme ruler for 27 years, died. Continue reading ‘Tunnel floods and the erosion of performance legitimacy’

Clean hands to eat poisonous vegetables

The toilet at this coffee shop is quite serviceable

I wonder how many people are as surprised as I was to read that a coffee shop had its licence suspended for a day over the absence of soap in its washroom. Gee, if that’s the case, I said to myself, hundreds of food establishements should be shut down. Dirty, broken and ill-provisioned toilets are everywhere in Singapore. Continue reading ‘Clean hands to eat poisonous vegetables’

Two chairs will solve the problem. Or will it?

In a commentary published in the Straits Times, 29 September 2017 (link), former Attorney-General (AG) Walter Woon argued for splitting the position of the AG into two. His reasoning was that as presently constituted, the position has two very distinct functions: that of being the government’s legal adviser and separately, the one who decides on  prosecutions. Continue reading ‘Two chairs will solve the problem. Or will it?’

Coming soon: 100,000 more people and transport madness in Jurong Lake District

“Any feedback, sir?” asked an eager young man as I was leaving the exhibition.

“Too many questions, too little time,” I said. I would be late if I didn’t hurry up the escalator to the platforms of Jurong East Station, where goodness knows what crush of humanity awaited me. It was too risky to dwell and engage with him.

The exhibition was titled “Jurong Lake District” or something like that. It had a scale carpentry model of the area, and a series of posters mounted on wallboards. Many of the posters (and glib captions) can be viewed at this website: Basically, it’s about a massive development of the area into a “second CBD” (central business district). The problem with the exhibition and website was that everything was made to look like a glossy sales brochure — you know, the kind you get when an eager young man tries to sell you a condo apartment — rather than anything detailed and informative enough for citizens to give feedback on. Continue reading ‘Coming soon: 100,000 more people and transport madness in Jurong Lake District’

From the wreckage of a presidential ‘election’, racism rises like a disturbed ghost

Now that the People’s Action Party government has installed Halimah Yacob as the so-called president of Singapore, racism has gained a legitimacy we once thought was forever barred. That said, this presidential charade was not the first time the PAP dispensed with its founding principles. Racism was introduced into our electoral system in 1988 through the ugly invention called “Group Representation Constituencies”. In 2017 as in 1988, the PAP demonstrated that principles can be disposed like tissue paper when they need to fend off limits to their power. Continue reading ‘From the wreckage of a presidential ‘election’, racism rises like a disturbed ghost’

Fake alarms from fake news


As the contestation over the “alternate facts” so beloved by the Trump administration crescendoes — as it surely will over the coming months — the Singapore government will see more opportunities to import the same arguments into Singapore as a means of heightening censorship. The twist will be that our government will claim that their “facts” are facts, whilst their detractors’ views and statements are “fake news” or falsehoods, conveniently swapping the positions of government and opposition in the American debate. Continue reading ‘Fake alarms from fake news’

Let’s see who’s T rex now


Are we supposed to feel all patriotic and outraged that China seized nine of our armoured troop carriers?

I don’t know anyone who feels that way. I think many in my circle are taking a ringside view with no particular investment in either side’s fight. They may not be typical, but then, the government’s Reach website, which invites comment and discussion on various topics, has only four comments on this matter after five days. None of the comments displayed strong feelings.

In most countries, the defence minister would have bowed his head in disgrace and resigned for losing military equipment through carelessness. But not here. Continue reading ‘Let’s see who’s T rex now’

Did we get more economic growth by giving up our freedoms?


“The Singapore economy outperformed expectations,” reported the Straits Times on 5 January 2017. The economy was said to have expanded by “1.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2016 from a year earlier, putting growth for the whole of 2016 at 1.8 per cent, according to advance estimates from the Ministry of Trade and Industry…”

Without questioning how earlier forecasts were developed, the newspaper wrote, “Growth last year was well above MTI’s earlier announced forecast of 1.0 to 1.5 per cent.” I couldn’t but suspect that the ministry had long ago prepared for this day by massaging expectations downwards. I think they do that year after year; it’s getting old.  Continue reading ‘Did we get more economic growth by giving up our freedoms?’