Monday, March 31, 2008

Breaking Bad News

As expected, my last blog entry has provoked the ire of my favourite young grassroots leader. He's most upset that I happened to know another grassroots leader who had a different point of view from the Mas Selamat affair. He's now determined that I tell him where my other friend came from because he's very sure that "The Grassroots NEVER called for the Minister to resign" over the Mas Selamat affair. Of course, there's only one appropriate measure to deal with adolecents who can't handle anything beyond their perceptions of the world - ignore their demands. Seriously, the young man seems to have forgotten what the grassroots movement is supposed to do - namely provide those in power with opinions from the ground.

Breaking bad news is never a pleasent experience. Unless you have a particularly sadistic streak, watching people get upset is generally not pleasent. Optimism is infectious but pessimism is lethally contageous. If getting depressed is key to your happiness - hang around the distressed.

Throughout history people have done everything in their power to avoid bad news. The Romans even went as far as executing messengers who brought bad news and those that brought good news were covered with gold. These day's we've become more civilised, we just hire PR consultants to make bad news sound good. I've been in and around PR long enough to know that PR people only find real appreciation when things turn really sour.

I must admit that I'm guilty of breaking the policy of "Honesty being the best poilcy." When a friend working in a restaurant ask me how I found the special dish, I always say I thought it was good even when I might think otherwise. If I don't like the dish....I just avoid ordering it the next time round. My friends in the restaurant business in particular are so earnest about wanting to please that I'm terrified of crushing their hopes.

I was even like this with my ex-wife. She'd ask - "Are you seeing anyone?" I'd always say no and I would go into details of how my sex life has died because she wasn't around. It was simply easier to stick to that line than deal with the crying and screaming.

But as in the example of my ex-wife, the truth is often necessary to make life liveable. Our desire to protect the feelings of others often does more harm than good. Yes, I had to put up with a crying and screaming ex-wife when I accidentally revaled that I had actually slept with someone else but since she stopped speaking to me...life has become remarkably peaceful. Both of us have gone onto better things...free from our self-destructive habits when we were together. As Simon Cowell, American Idol's nasty British judge has consistently argued, causing a bit of short term pain is sometimes kind - incidentally, much as American's may boo his sarcastic remarks, their voting paterns on the show agree with him.

There are times when there is no possible way to not break bad news. I remember Dad once got very upset with me because, well, I delayed breaking bad news to him. He was under stress, and somehow I didn't know how to tell him something that would only increase his stress. When I finally told him...he was actually more upset with me. His words were, "Did you avoid telling me because you didn't want to upset me? Well, you've actually cost me time - time I could have spent solving the problem."

And he's right. Life is full of problems and problems basically need to be solved. However, we can't do anything about the problem if we don't know the problem exist or how serious the problem actually is. But how do you break the news of a problem particularly when the boss is not in a terribly good mood. Is it worth getting a shelling in the morning?

So here lies the dilema for many people at the top. Nobody actually wants to offend them and so nobody actually tells the truth when they ask. Are you seriously going to tell the Prime Minister to his face that you think the nation is going to the dogs when he's dropped by your home and made sure your neighbours saw him akowledge you?

In Singapore, where political power is especially adictive, those in power never get the chance to see gound realities. It's easier to sweep things under the carpet when the VIP is being shown around. Once again, why risk upsetting your boss if you can avoid it. As a former teacher from a neighbourhood school, I know that there are "Problem" schools in Singapore. However, whenever someone vaguely important arrives, the "Problem" school is made-over into something quite swanky - that is until the VIP leaves. As such, our Ministers are forced to rely on statistics concocted by whatever focus group.

The media is of course a party to this situation. Editors who have been sued silly by the government over the smallest of things, have become so weary of offending people that not only do they avoid publishing criticism of government policy, they've even reached the stage of bargining good news for ads and bad news about advertisers hardly hits the news stands. Issues are ignored because...why talk about them when you risk offending someone you should not.

But this cannot be healthy for anyone. The Romans recognised that it was necessary to have a slave remind a triumphant general he was merely mortal when they had "Triumph" parades. These days those in power need to look for ways to get a glimpse from the view as it is. King Abdullah of Jordan even goes as far as walking around town in disguise so he can get a feel of what it's like on the ground.

Of course, not everyone can do what King Abdullah does. But don't worry. Blogs are there to create a debate, a questioning of society that somehow never apprears where it should.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Prime Ministership

Over the weekend I had a rather interesting discussion with a friend of mine who happens to be a senior member in one of the grassroots associations. During the conversation, this friend mentioned that the grassroots leaders had provided feedback to the government that there was a desire from the ground for at least an offer of resignation from the Minister of Home Affairs over the Mas Selamat case. This friend then went onto point out that, "The most noticeable things about the whole affair, is the fact that the Prime Minister is noticeably absent."

That really made me question one of the most important national issues - namely the question of leadership and what it means to be a leader. You can't escape the topic if you've served in Singapore for long enough.

Singapore has been very fortunate to experience two very distinguished leaders. Our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew managed to take a small island with no hinterland by the scruff of the neck and turn it into a thriving metropolis. Singapore may be a small red dot on the global scale, but thanks to the work of Mr Lee and his team, Singapore is a blaring dot. Minister Mentor Lee as he is now known, stands out as one of the Asian leaders of his generation who has ruled wisely and most importantly managed to leave the hot seat on his own terms. The man has spent the last 20-years being a poster boy of how to retire - by keeping exceedingly active (He's an 84-year old man who checks his own emails).

Our second Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong (Incidentally, my Member of Parliament) also proved to be a leader worth swooning over. Although less eloquent and often accused of being a seat warmer, Mr Goh managed to make his mark on Singapore for the better. On the shallow front, he cut an impressive figure on the international stage, thanks to his height. Unlike most Asian leaders who often get dwarfed by their Western counterparts, Goh Chok Tong, the leader of a small red dot, looked every bit the equal (if not greater) than the leaders of the largest powers in the world

On a more serious note, the then Prime Minister managed to keep the things that his predecessor had rightfully put into place but at the same time, he managed to bring the concept of government into the modern age. It was he brought in ideas like MediSave and Edusave, policies that smacked of "Welfarism" that his predecessor despised but have shown to have benefited Singapore by making education more accessible (thus maximising the nation's 'human resources.')

As a resident in his constituency, I believe it is Goh Chok Tong who planted the idea of government as an institution that "Takes Care" of people in Singaporeans. The estate he looks after remains one of the best kept.

So, how does our current Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong measure up? Perhaps it's too premature to tell but I believe it's healthy when citizens make it a point to constantly measure the performance of their leaders. Like all human beings, PM Lee has made some important decisions that have been correct and some which have been less so.

Assessing political leadership in Singapore is tough, in as much as so many things in Singapore work so correctly that it would take a deliberately maligned leader to cock-up the situation. PM Lee has inherited a country that is doing well. The economy is growing and the people are well feed. Nobody is keen to go to war with Singapore and even in a region known for natural mishaps, Singapore somehow escapes (Not a scratch during the the 2004 Tsunami). So, amidst this background, it's hard to really assess the quality of leadership of this Prime Minister. Yes, the economy has grown and unemployment is at a historic low but ......

To be fair, the Prime Minister has made some tough decisions. Two casinos are being built, in spite of the majority being against it. The Prime Minister has also taken the unpopular decision to impose a hefty tax (a 40 per cent increase in GST), arguing quite convincingly that it was important for the government to build up reserves to make the city liveable for an increasingly elderly population.

The Prime Minister has also shown strength of character by being confident enough to delegate major task to his predecessors. He's placed handling growing relations with the Middle East with the Senior Minister (Goh Chok Tong), who is an excellent relationship builder. As such, Singapore has managed to remain a comitted ally to the USA and Israel but at the same time enjoying warm friendship with the Arab World.


To his credit, the Prime Minister also won an election by some 66 per cent of the popular votes cast. While this may be a bit of a come down from what the rulling party's history has given it to expect - this is a respectable margin of victory. What's more, the Prime Minister faced something his predecessors never faced - intelligent and hard working members of the opposition. While the opposition can hardly be construed as a "Threat" to the government, it did provide Singaporeans with something interesting - people whom voters could actually believe. The Prime Minister, as leader of his party can claim a "Mandate" from the people.

But having said all of that, how much of what our Prime Minister has done can be attributed to his leadership. The growing economy can be attributed to the electronics industry as much as it can to the Prime Minister. True leadership is always tested in times of crisis. Lee Kuan Yew survived the early turbulance of independence and military confrontation in neighbouring Indonesia. Goh Chok Tong lead us through the 1997 Asian Economic Crisis and the outbreak of SARS in 2003 into a stronger and more resillient nation. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long has thus far dissapointed in the two periods of "Roughness" that his premiership has thus experienced.

Firstly, there was the 377A debate. For those of you who forgot, this was the bill on whether annal sex between consenting male adults should have been legalised. Here was a chance for the Prime Minister, caught between two powerful interest groups, to make a stand. And in the end....he didn't. He allowed political expediency to triumph over the rule of law - declaring in parliament that for this section, "Legal Ambiguity was best." In theory, the conservatives were told that 377A would remain and the homosexuals could be satisfied that they would not be prosecucted because the government had no intention of actually enforcing the law. Nobody seemed curious enough to check-out how many of SIngapore's laws they were violating free from the knowledge that the government would not actually enforce the law. Thanks to his resolution to keep the law but not enforce it, a dangerous precident has been set.

If the Prime Minister's leadership during the 377A debate was dissapointing, his leadership or his lack of leadership during the Mas Selamat affair borders of being dangerous. At the time of writing, it's been nearly five-weeks since the man escaped and in all those weeks, the only thing the Prime Minister has told the nation was some cheesy slogan about how all communities have bonded together.

Mas Selamat has made a mockery out of the government's repuation for competence. In spite of all our investment in anti-terrorism technologies, we've been unable to catch a 47-year old with a limp. The Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kang Seng has provided circus entertainers of the world with a new recruit. Every statement from the Ministry seems to make the Minister look more incompetent each day (Think of the story of Mas Selamat's mole coming out 19-days after the fact and on the day, Mr Wong told the world that details of the investigation would not be made to the public.)

As much as I think Mr Wong should do the decent thing and resign, I also believe that Prime Minister needs to take some of the blame for the failure to catch the man. If a Prime Minister sees a Minister is making a fool of him or herself, surely the Prime Minister has an obligation to act. The Prime Minister is showing that he is unwilling or unable to deal with Mr Wong.

Leadership is more than just taking credit for the good time. It's about reassuring people during bad times. Perhaps the bunker mentality does work, but it's quite disturbing that not only has a comitted terrorist escaped but the fact that the leader of the government responsible for his capture remains noticeably absent. Mr Lee could celebrate in public when the host of the next Youth Olympics was announced and yet he's noticeably absent when Mas Selamant escaped.





Saturday, March 29, 2008

Arggh

Looks like I've lost my voice today and could do with nothing better than a hot cup of lemon tea to make the vocal cords function in a more conducive manner. Unfortunately, while I may have the voice of a lung cancer patient that still insist on smoking through a tube, I don't have the luxury of not being able to speak today. Have to visit Pungol CC later this evening for an event where the Foreign Minister will be visiting.

Anyway, Q1 is comming to an end. It's been in many ways quite dissapointing as quarters go. The only main development was the establishment of the hi-fi trading business, which had thus far given me an average of 5% return a month for the last two months on my capital invested.

However, other than the birth of a new venture, it's been a fairly slow process with my bigger clients playing the wait and see game and my smaller clients keeping me busy. It's nice to have the small guys to keep me alive but I do need to be in profit and have cash in the bank and thus...the big boys need to come in.

Still, it was not too bad. Made a break through with GECF yesterday and I think a few interesting points were brought up in interviews yesterday. One point being - IT is only an enabler and the important thing being the soundness of the business model. The other main point being the importance of having cash.

As businesses go, I think most of us forget our basics and it's especially true in good times. Everyone makes money and so we don't see the failures in the system we have. When hard times come, we run towards comforting things like spending money on things like IT in the hope it will work some magic. We forget that we need to have a sound business in the first place.

As for cash......most businesses forget that cash is exceedingly important for their day-to-day opperations. We get so obsessed with how much money we make that we forget that sometimes it's a question of when you you get paid. No point having a million dollars at the end of the decade when you don't have anything in between. I've always admired the Chinese hawkers who managed to not spend their piles of cash because they realise they have to conserve cash to do basic things like pay their suppliers. And speaking as someone with not very much cash....I think of the girls on the streets of Geylang who somehow manage to get paid everynight.

Went out to Lock Stock last night. Great fun, the guys were in good form and the bar had more people than it usually has. Stayed out to 4am - now is that surprising why I can only speak through my fingers?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Take Pride in Your Blog

It's now a month since Mas Selamat aka Gold Safe broke out from prison and he's happily still at large. Netizens are continuing to crack jokes about the Ministry of Home Affair's inept handling of his escape and the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kan Seng did not dissapoint the cynics by declaring that the hunt would become more - "Targeted." While I would not want to see the Ministry stop looking for him, I think the Minister should sack his PR communications team for encouraging him to put his foot in his mouth at every available public forum. Political double-speak has finally come of age in Singapore and it has taken a short-arsed mechanic to demonstrate that little fact.

But let's leave Mas in wherever he is at the moment. Let us leave the Minister with his foot in his mouth (He has a bright future in the circus) and concentrate on something far more exciting, the fact that as part of the blogging community, we are onto something rather large. I'm currently reading a book, part of a book review I'm going, on how the Internet is set to change the face of marketing and public relations.

Personally, I've always felt that blogs could be turned into a lucrative tool. It's actually one of the reasons why I've started this blog (as well as to leave sarcastic comments on my Financial Planner's Blog). But like the rest of the marketing communications community, I remain clueless about how to make a penny out of this little blog and even in my most skint state...I'm still blogging in the hope that one day I'll crack the code.

I guess one of the reasons why blogs have failed to become the goldmine they're made out to be is the fact that nobody seems to treat blogs as a serious medium. I think most of us just see them as a tool to ramble on about our daily lives. Somehow, we don't understand the value of our ramblings and as a result we fail to convince marketeers that we are special. Anyway, Singapore remains the land where the basic print media rules OK. Journalist unlike bloggers don't ramble and so, "Credible People" read newspapers and credible marketeers put money with credible mediums.

So, there it is, you're just rambling if you right on a blog but criticising or fawning if you get published in a newspaper? The government seems to have settled into this conclusion - I vaguely remember, Minister Lee Boon Yang, Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts said something to that effect when Singapore's most comical blogger - Mr Brown was suspended from his work at Today. - Brown (who is unBrown and very Chinese) in real life should have just stuck to making comments on his very widely read blog. Of course, it's a little different when you start inciting racial hatred ........just ask the "Racist Bloggers" who got themselves sentenced to spend time with the cream of the Malay Community after they told billions in cyberspace they'd do the Malay Community what Hitler did to the Jews.

But according to this book, we're not looking at our blogs correctly. We're thinking of blogs as a poorer cousin of the mainstream press, when the blog could in fact be the wealthier, healthier cousin. Imagine if we saw blogs as sources of opinoins - each blog representing an arsehole (or several as the case may be) with a different opinion.

Now, when you look at things this way.....the blog becomes more interesting. Suddenly, you realise that the blogs are not places to get facts but to discover opinions. People suddenly become "Honest" when they think nobody is watching. You're not going to tell people exactly what you think of them when you're have a discussion in a "Public"forum like the mainstream media. This is especially true in Singapore where "Editors" are trained to practice "Responsible Journalism" - the kind that acts as a social glue and criminalises laughing at politicians, even when they're hillarious.

Ironically, the PAP understands this. One of the most critical threads on anything to the PAP can be found at the Young PAP website. Guys with names like "Matilah Singapura" (Malay pun on the Singapore Anthem - for non Singaporean readers) describe the performance of Singapore's minsiters in terms I wouldn't describe my faourite One-Legged Albanian Dwarf Whore.

So, there you have it. People don't read blogs for facts. They don't search for information. They look for opinions. They look for opinions like they're own or a reason to confirm their opinions. Word-of-Mouth opinions are formed on blogs and spread like wildfire.

I think there are things I could do with the blog. I hope the rest of you reading my ramblings will take part in events on this blog if I get round to organising them.....It may be fun.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Another Day, Another Election

Easter Sunday has come and gone and Mas Selamat remains a free man for the past 25-days. Singaporeans, are happily going about their own daily business and so as a chirppy little blogger, I'm just bashing away at the keyboard in the hope of getting something vaguely intelligent said.

Anyway, another election has just taken place. This time it happened in Taiwan, better known as the Republic of China. The results were great. Ma Yueng-Ju, the candidate from the Kuomindang Party beat his rival from the Democratic Party. The KMT, formerly one of the world's longest rulling political parties had spent the past 8-years in opposition and it has now come back as a credible democratic party.

The KMT is like a sister-party to the Communist Party on Mainland China. Although both are sworn enemies (The Communist under Mao drove the KMT under Chiang Kai Shek out of China), they were both comitted to the "One China" policy. So, after 8-years of Chen Shui Bian trying to make a "Taiwanese" identity more prominent, it looks like we'll be seeing easier relations between the People's Republic and the Republic of China. The world will carry on with the idea that there is only ONE China.

However, President-elect Ma has shown some independence of thought, which is good. He's even contemplating boycotting the Olympics if the Mainland continues to kick the crap out of Tibetan protestors.

But let's leave that aside. As an ethnic Chinese, I get very happy to see Taiwanese when they go into elections that are actually democratic. The Taiwanese have shown that having a democracy is not incompatible with "Chinese" character - so when you think that the Taiwanese are "Real" Chinese unlike the Singaporeans who are hybrid of Western and other cultures, it's perfectly plausible for Chinese to enjoy democracy and embrace political competition.

Not everything is right with the Taiwanese political system, of course. Corruption is rife and President-Elect Ma, is looking to Singapore as a role model in clean government. Taiwan is also a place where politicians don't get much respect due to their antics - a Taiwanese parliamentary session resembles something akin to a boxing match.

But having said that, the Taiwanese have learnt to succeed in spite of the government. When you look it this way, the Taiwanese are one of the world's most entreprenurial people and politics aside, they have spent the last decade powering the growth of the Mainland. Much of the tech industry in the USA is powered by Taiwanese brains.

Of course, what I remember best are the drinks mashines when I was in Taiwan during National Service. In Singapore, you get used to having a few tea drinks - namely ice-lemon, green and chrysanthamum. Somehow, in Taiwan, tea comes in at least 20 forms and each of those forms is delicious. - People who can get that creative with tea drinks must be onto something.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bullies Rule, A OK!

It's now been 24-days since Mas Selamat escaped from prison and nearly everyone who has read my recent postings will be aware that I've been somewhat engaged in a verbal dual with a young grassroots leader from Pasir Ris GRC. The young man has now decided that he needs to enforce the fact that he's been speaking in his personal capacity. A friend of mine then pointed out that I was picking on someone smaller than myself. In short - I had become a bully. Well, perhaps I have. My only defense will be:

1 - I won't patronise him by arguing at a lower level. - As long as he's keen raise issues, I will address them.

2 - I've noticed that I've become something of a regular to Singapore culture - power corrupt

Singapore is officially one of the least corrupt countries in the world. According to Transparency International, Singapore is ranked fourth in least most corrupt country in the World - Behind the Nordic nations but ahead of the World's Hyper Power, the USA and our former Colonial Master, The UK. For what all my postings asking for the Minister of Home Affairs to resign for incompetence, Singapore's highest ranking government officials are men and women of integrity. I can confidently say that it's virtually impossible to bribe any government official here.

But there is another form of corruption in Singapore that is equally insideous and pervades our culture - Power Corruption. It's not a government thing - it's far more seroius - it's a cultural thing.

What is power corruption but a desire for power or at least proximity for it. Lee Kuan Yew, Modern Singapore's founding Prime Minister has worked tirelessly to combat it. Unlike the late President Suharto, former Prime Minister Lee has ensured that every business activity that his family is engaged in is above board and properly earned. The Lee Family, which includes the Prime Minister, Minister Mentor and Chairman of F&N, one of Singapore's most prominent companies, has earned its success the old fashioned way - through hard work and brains.

But while the Minister Mentor has strenuously kept his family unaffected by his political power, the system has somehow ignored his efforts. While bribes may not work in Singapore, being related to or coming from the same school as someone prominent certainly helps.

To be fair, "Old Boy" networks have been in existence since human kind could scribble. In the Middle Ages, there were "Guilds" of craftsmen. In the UK, Public Schools, particularly the prominent ones pride themselves in the number of Old E's C'c W's in the various companies on the FTSE 100 willing to dool out jobs to the alumni. Now that East Asia is becomming the "In" place for business, we get the Japanese Kiratsu or the Chinese Guanxi.

And there is nothing wrong with contacts. The world functions on contacts. In this day and age of multiple applicants for a single job - contacts become the trump card in the competition for a job. I remember when I was an intern at Citibank, I was told that I had nothing to be embarrased about admiting the fact that my father was a golfing buddy of the department VP - everyone, I was told, got their job through a contact. The fact of the matter is - your CV only get's a glance by the HR manager because someone told him or her to look at it. I've used contacts just to survive in the last five-years. Dad's name got me an internship in Citibank. Mum's contact got me interviewed by PN Balji of Today (thus my regular writing gigs), Dad got me the job at 10AM, keeping in touch with PN Balji got me the job at BANG and so on. Knowing the right people is part and parcel of life and I've been privelleged to meet certain people in life. I may not have a powerful organisation behind me, but being able to drop the right names does compensate from time to time.

But is there a point where guanxi or old-school-ties becomes corruption? I believe the answer lies in a subtle difference - namely the difference between doing something because you fear offending someone instead of doing something because you know the the guy has qualities and you want to give him or her a chance.

It's a subtle difference but an important one. Take the analogy of job interviews. Guanxi can get you a job because the VP of the department told HR he wants you to work for him. Corruption comes when you are chosen over more qualified candidates because the VP does not want to offend one of your friends or relatives.

One of the most prominent issues in Singapore in recent years was the "White Horse" system. This was basically a system where relatives of prominent people or "marked as the elite" were posted to privilleged positions within the army and treated allot better than the other grunts during National Service. Could you call this a form on "Power Corruption?" Well, Mr Cedric Foo, formerly the Minister of State for Ministry of Defense argued that it wasn't - he got onto National TV and admited that the Ministry did mark out those from prominent families but only did so ensure that no one gave them special treatment. - Alas poor Cedric - in the eyes of everyone who had served National Service - he became known as "Cedric Fool."

I believe the most damning thing against the White Horse System was the fact that it was....part of the system. The "REAL WHITE HORSES," namely the sons of Ministers, MP's and high ranking officers were embarrased by the difference in treatment they recieved. Really prominent people in Singapore, as elsewhere are decent people and don't need "Special" treatment to be supperior.

But then again, what Commanding Officer with an eye for his next "Crab" wants to be known as the person who "Ill treated" the son of Minister So and So? The Ministry has taken pains to rectify this but while the Ministry can issue guidelines and policies, changing the mentality of the people running the system is a different matter.

Speaking as an anthropologist, I think allot of this is due to the fact that many of our institutions are centrally controlled. In the case of the military, there is a political reason - namely that of ensuring our military people don't get the chance to think of overthrowing the system - we do live in a region where coups are quite common. However, this leads to a situation where commanders are robbed of initiative to act as professionals should. In Israel, prominent people entrust commanders to look after their children in a professional way. It's something we need to work towards.

The White Horse issue and the military are not the only instances of power corruption. It's merely one of the few issues of power corruption that is clear cut. Others are not so clear cut and hard to prove. Take the media industry where editors on occasion recieve phone calls reminding them to practice "Responsible Journalism," which included hints to go easy on criticism of the way the last Presidential Election in Singapore was run. You can argue that the editor's decision to not publish an article was not a case of "Responsible Journalism" but simple editorial judgement.

I did point out to someone from the Straits Times that I noticed that my letters whinging about how Singaporeans lacked basic manners on the public transport system were published with glee but a letter I wrote to disagree with an article writen by the Minister Mentor (it was about Middle East policy) was dismissed as being editorially unsuitable (considering I had my news points covered). I think the editor was quick to point out that they really didn't think my reply to MM Lee was newsworthy - can I prove otherwise.........it would be economically pointless.

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong did point out that the news media is not just a business but a social tool. I'm still trying to figure out how social our news media has to be. For example, is it harmful or helpful if an editor publishes a story about what a politician said when the politician instructs the editor not to publish his comments? Personally, I think the politician is living in a fantasy world of delusion if he or she expects the news media not to publish things he or she actually says.

But then again we live in Singapore, the land of 7.68% economic growth, many transactions but few cheques. Things here work on repackaged Asianised Victorian Values - respect for authority without reponsability.

This is particularly fun when you probe opinions and look at editorial about two international incidents - Palestine and Tibet. When it comes to Palestine, I think one has to credit the Israeli spin mashine for enforcing the myth of vulnerability - hence most people will be quick to point out that Israel can write-off its anti-semitic murdering of Palestinians as self-defense.

Mainland China does not have the same excuse when it comes to the way it has treated Tibet. True, the Chinese have brought "development" to Tibet but at the same time, they have flooded Tibet with Han Chinese by giving them vast incentives. Tibetan's are forbiden by law to hang portraits of the Dalai Lama, in most cases forbidden to speak their own language and often have their thumbs cut off if they get too religious. Last week's violence included, Tibetans have never resorted to terrorist tactics against Mainland China in the nearly 60-years since Mao marched the Red Guard into the Potala Palace. - Why - The Dalai Lama has kept Tibetans from resorting to violence.

But somehow, when you talk to Singaporeans about these two issues - they will inevitablly side with the larger power. I've had good friends ask me:

"Why don't the Palestinians give up? Don't they realise the Israeli's are military stronger - they should look for new land in Jordan."

The Straits Times ran an editorial that said that Tibetans had to "Learn to accomodate the Chinese."

Humm, based on this train of thought, I think its time to abolish National Service. After all, why bother fighting with a bigger country and culture, when you can simply learn to be accomodating to his or her demands.

For reading spooks:

My name is Tang Li, NRIC S7439818I
Address - Blk 27 Marine Crescent, #22-03, Singapore 440027
Tel - +6590256957



Friday, March 21, 2008

Still have not been Sued

A Young "Pro-Government" supporter asked me to stop posting "Scandalous" and "Unpatriotic" post on the government's performance in the Mas Selamat Affair. The young man in question, felt that I was "Unappreciative" of Singapore and the good work that government has done. He's reminded me that the government has done a good job, delivering 7.68 percent economic growth and unemployment is at an all time low. With such a proud record in delivering the economic goodies, why was I being such a "Western - Liberal" and calling the government's performance in this instance - incompetent. How could I keep expecting the government to be "God" and why couldn't I accept that the Minister of Home Affairs is "Only Human and therefore prone to Human Error."

Well what can you do with such request? I believe that the only response to people who ask you to stop posting "Scandalous" things is to keep posting more of the same. As a Singaporean who has served his National Service, it's my obligation to question the system. I think PN Balji says it best - "The government has got 75-80 percent of things right but it's vital that private citizens harp on about the 20-25 percent that they have not got right." Thanks to Mas Selamat affair, the private citizen has something to harp about and should take every opportunity to do so until Mas Salamat kills himself with laughter.

Perhaps I'm starting to sound like a broken record here but if I don't keep repeating myself, I fear the messages I believe in will be forgotten in the "Feel Good" factors that surround us. I am not "Anti-Government" but given a choice between being "Pro-Singapore" and "Pro-Government," I chose the later. I shouldn't need to stand for election to get my feedback accross. Suggesting that I need to do so, is in itself a form of betrayal to Singapore or any other nation.

Point 1 - Mas Selamat's escape, while a blot on the Home Affair's Ministry, is but one incident in otherwise enviable track-record.

Well, true, Ministry of Home Affairs has a good record in keeping Singapore safe. Singapore is remarkably crime-free. It's the one place I can think of where young girls can happily drink themselves silly, sprawl themselves on the streets after midnight and live to tell the tale without so much a scratch.

But as the Singapore Police Force ad campaign says "Low Crime does not Mean NO CRIME." In the case of Mas Selmat, this is particularly true. This is not a low-level pick pocket taking your spare change. This man, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs is a dangerous terrorist who is dedicated to doing major damage to Singapore. As far as Mas Selamat is concerned, the more people he kills, the better - it underlines his objectives. If anyone suggests that his escape is just a "small" event, they should consider this - in 23-days of freedome, Mas Selamat has a growing chance to not only become stronger, he has a chance to actually achieve his aims. Sure, no one has died in a bomb attack todate, but the chances of that happening has increased and gets higher each day this man is running around. We arrested him under the Internal Security Act because he had the potential to do damage - do we need him to actually do the damage before we understand that his escape is No Small Matter? This is not a paper statistic on the Home Affairs Ministry's record but an actual human whom Ministry of Home Affairs said was keen to do damage to Singapore having the freedome to do it.

Of course, there is also the possibility that Mas Selamat never was the threat the Ministry claims he is. It's happened before, in the 1980's "Marxist Conspiritors" were arrested under ISA - truth was - most of them belonged to the Catholic Church that pissed off the powers that be. But then as former Austrlian Prime Minister, John Howard says, "When it comes to terrorism, don't take the risk." - So let's give Home Affairs the benefit of doubt.

Point 2 -
Minister of Home Affairs, Wong Kang Seng, has done alot for Singapore and he's shown determination to capture Mas Selamat. Calling for his head to roll is political opportunism.

I don't doubt that Minister Wong has contributed many things that benefit Singaporeans. However, Minister Wong is the Man-in-Charge of Singapore's Security, and when you have a major breach of national security like this, the man-in-charge has to be responsible. Saying sorry is not sufficient.

This was not a case of the man escaping and being caught within a few days. If that where the case, we could say this was negligence on the part of the prison services or staff at Whitely detention centre. This is a case of the man running around for 23-days and counting as well appropriate measures being activated too late - just look to the fact that it took them 19-days after his detention to release information that Mas Selamat has a mole on his face. These decisions are made at the command level not on the ground - it's commanders and above who need to be responsible for the failures of the opperations.

In Singapore, the government's performance needs to come for especially close scrutiny and feedback. The reason for this is because our Ministers are paid more than anyone elses. The government told us this was necessary to prevent corruption and attract talent into public service. We accepted the government's argument that was necessary to pay public servants competative rates with the private sector, so we should demand the same results from the government that we do of the private sector - heads of leaders who blunder.

PM Lee Hsien Loong pointed out to the number of jobs paying more than the Prime Minister's in Singapore. He argued that none of these jobs were more important than the Prime Minister's. Therefore when you look at this way, the high official salaries were justifiable.

Since this argument was used, we should carry it further. A CEO who loses money for his shareholders within a quarter put's his job on line. A CEO who loses money within a year gets sacked. Nobody cares about the guys track record and all the other good things he's done. Nobody cares if this is human error. So is the government telling us that the jobs of the PM and his Ministers are less valuable than the CEO's, and therefore they should not be held to the same standards? True, Ministry of Home Affairs does not have a profit and loss statement but it deals in something far more important - national security. Are we saying that the Man in charge of this is not really as important as the CEO of a commercial organisation and should maintained in his high-paying job when national security has been compromised?

Point 3 - Laughing at the Authorities is unpatriotic and insulting to the efforts of the Home Team Uniformed Officers trying to Look for Mas Selamat

National Security is important to Singapore. It's one of the reasons why the government has allocated some S$ 100 million towards terrorism prevention facilities. I, for one, think the police force has done a good job in keeping Singapore safe and our civil defense and prison services do their job too.

And having served in a uniformed group for 2 1/2 years of my youth, I do understand that you do alot of hard work, which the public does not see. But as my National Service Battery Commander once said," All you can and should expect for doing your job is a note saying "Job Well Done." Otherwise what you do is just - what you do.

Besides, it is commical to see how one limping and undereducated, unarmed, working alone man can evade capture by thousands of security personel, backed -up by thousands more community leaders and equiped with the latest technology. Laughing at this situation beats getting upset by the clear inadequacies of the government's search for Mas Selamat.

And as I've often said - who is the big traitor to the man in the field? The public that does not applaud and riddicules the efforts or the leaders who send him into the field with inadequate leadership?

So, let's think this through. Leadership needs to take responsabilities of the failures of this incidents as well as potential success. Demanding this of leaders is not unpatriotic but the highest form of patriotism.

For the record:
My name is Tang Li. My NRIC number is S7439818I and I live in Block 27 Marine Crescent, #22-03, Singapore 440027. I can be reached at +6590256957 or li@tang-asia.com. The views expressed are my own and I welcome anyone to take discuss any issues they may find offensive.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

One More and I'll Sue

How do you know when you've made in Singapore? The answer, as a friend of mine once said was when, "Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew summons you to the Istana for an major screwing session." As this friend of mine says, "It shows that you're important enough for the man himself to give you some personal attention." And there's something to that. Just as it was once said that a sign of ones creative talent was being fired by Batey Ads (when it was run by Mr Ian Batey,) a sign of editorial credibility comes from being sued by Minister Mentor Lee (Bloomberg, The Economist, The International Herald Tribune, The Far Eastern Economic Review etc).

Unfortunately, I've not reached that stage in life. The Minister Mentor, remains oblivious to my existence and the existence of the blogs that I've been writing. However, I think I must be moving up in life. My recent postings about the Mas Selamat affair have finally brought me the attention and ire of a young grassroots leader. He believed that I had "Wacked him" in my previous posting and after telling me that my views on Mas Selamat "Sucked" over sms, he sent me another sms telling me, "1 More and you'll be sued."

As expected, he's followed the party line on this affair. Turn on the critic, especially if facts are raised. Today, the Minister of Home Affairs proceeded to read out an email of someone saying he was behind the Home Affairs Ministry and then proceeded to talk about what a great jobs the Home Affairs was doing appart from this incident. Netizens who demanded accountability ooppps, his resignation were just a small minority.

Not to be outdone by our political masters, my young critic promptly posted something on his blog acusing people like me of being bribed by Chee Soon Juan, the much bankrupted punch bag of the government (I wasn't aware Dr Chee had money to give) as well as being an arm chair critic who should join politics instead of being All Talk and No Action. As usual, we are reminded that in Singapore, the citizens who are affected by the policies of the government they elect and pay for are entitled to give feedback on the government's performance only when it's feedback that's acceptable to the ears of the government.

Thanks to this, there is only one appropriate response:

My views of the Mas Selamat remains thus.

1 - Mas Selamat, an apparently dangerous terrorist according to the government has escaped from a "Secure Facility," and remains at large after 22-days of escape.

2 - The Home Affairs Ministry continues to insist that all sources of information have lead them to believe that he is:

i-Still in Singapore
ii-Working on his own.
iii-Unarmed.

3 - The Ministry insist on maintaining a high level of secrecy so as to not compromise the work of the Internal Security Department (ISD), yet wants public involvement in helping catch Mas Selamat. - The only information recieved is his hight, the fact that he walks with a limp and 19-days after his escape, we are told that he has a mole on his face.

4 - The Ministry has spent heavy amounts in anti-terrorism equipment and training. In FY08, $100 million of public funds are devoted to anti-terrorism measures. Yet, in spite of this, Mas Selamat is still at large.

So the questions remain:

1 - Why is the public only recieving information on an ad hoc basis even though the public is expected to play a major role in his capture?

2 - Why is there no evidence of what makes Mas Selamat dangerous? What are the public's alternatives if facing a terrorist?

3 - Who is in charge of this investigation?

Keeping the public in the dark, while expecting the public to be involved is a command decision. Thus far those in command positions seem oblivious for the need to manage the flow of information. Clearly the people in command are not doing the job they were paid to do and expecting the public to continue having blind trust in the government when the government has fallen short.

This government insist that it's senior managers need high salaries to compete for talent with the private sector. We have allowed for this. Now, when the government falls short, it should behave as the private sector it seeks to emulate in such a situation and expect senior decision makers take responsability with their jobs.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pas Bolleh

Malaysia has just experienced a watershed election. The rulling party, known as the Barisan Nasionl (BN) managed to win enough seats to form a government but somehow along the way, they lost the 2/3 majority that they had held for the last fifty years. The opposition made up mainly of the Islamisist of PAS, the Chinese of the DAP and a cross cultural hodge podge lead by a former Deputy Prime Minister managed to win a record number of seats and more significantly four state governments, including Selengor, the state where the capital city, KL is located.

I'm actually delighted that Malaysia has had a watershed election. It was a sign that Malaysians have, without the "Guidence" of enlightened governement come allot further in political maturity than the rest of us in the ASEAN region, and as a Singaporean, I'm much humbled by the way our Malaysian cousins showed us how to deal with government.

I am particularly pleased with the fact that the PAS or Islamic party were returned with a larger majority in the state that the BN were desparately trying to win back. As with Singapore's election two years earlier, the federal government promissed money for development to get rid of the existing government. Instead, the electorate saw the bribe for what it was and returned the PAS with a larger majority.

PAS is a particularly interesting party. It is an Islamist party with a spritiual head, who wears robes. I think many Westerners and Western trained people get really worked up whenever they think of "Islamist" parties in Islamic countries actually win the popular vote. Somehow, Westerners (and for the sake of this entry, I include Westernised Asians) cannot get it arround their heads that there may be people who don't see Westernisation as being in tune with Modernisation.

I was particularly ammused when a young Muslim boy called me up, very upset with the fact that I had sent him an sms saying PAS BOLLEH (roughly translated as PAS ROCKS). Don't you know they're bringing in Islamic Law," he said. He pointed out to the fact that Kelantan is undeveloped under PAS rule (not that the preceeding UMNO rule did any better) and the fact that women wore headscarves. It was hillarious to see his inability to aknowledge that people could be happy without masses of development dollars, factories and sleazy night clubs at their doorsteps.

I guess you have to blame, Jenadas Devan, a Straits Times correspondent I met at my great aunt's 90th. He had come back from a visit in Kelantan and he noted that he ended up liking th e PAS people. It was so simple, he said. The guys from PAS were:

  • Humble
  • Honest
  • Competent
  • Friendly
  • Interested in the community they were supposed to serve.
This stood in contrast with the guys from UMNO (United Malay National Organisation - the main party behind the BN), who were arrogant, incompetent and corrupt. A PAS man, as Mr Devan noted, would happily ride his bike to speak to people in the coffee shops, while the UMNO crowd only seemed able to meet people in swish places that they drove their swish cars too.

I think this provides an interesting insight into what human beings look for in their leadership. For the most part, we're not worried about race or religion of the people leading us provided they can look after us. To a certain extent, people will tollerate some corruption - a case of its ok if the rich get richer as long as we get richer too. However, when this is no longer the case, people expect honesty from their leaders and competence.

Let's face it, PAS, DAP and PKR did not win extra seats. The BN, particularly UMNO lost the seats because it failed to deliver. In Mahatire's day, people tollerated the corruption because the country was developing a decent rate. The current PM, Abdullah Badawi was welcomed as the man who would keep Mahatire's development but clean up the corruption. He won a mandate and when he didn't deliver.......the electorate slapped him.

Similar lessons can be drawn from the Middle East. Fatah, the so called "Moderates" of the Palestinian movement were corrupt and incomptent. Hamas, when they were in local government showed themselves to be honest and competent. Unsprurpsingly they kicked Fattah in the teeth when they faced them in an open vote.

It's a shame the Western world freaks when political parties in this part of the world put up the word Islam in their manifesto. Why judge them on their religion - judge them on their honesty and competence, the things we'd judge other political parties by.