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Someone murdered the sporting spirit…

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Remember the Malaysia Cup of the 90’s? Where the whole nation as one stood behind household names like Fandi, Abbas, Malek, Sundram, to slaughter our Malaysia opponents? How the National Stadium was drenched in a sea of red every single match? How these mere soccer players achieved celebrity status and even produced their own music album? The national fervor back then still brings a smile every time I reminisce.

Fast forward to today and the much talked about YOG. It is supposedly a world class event, hosted by yours truly and boasts many young local athletes competing as well. But to say that the support is lukewarm is a total overstatement. Judging from the abysmal attendants (coerced school kids does not count) especially the concert celebration held in conjunction with the event and reading comments among netizens, I sense a lot of discontentment.  The current YOG, it seems, is bearing the brunt for the ruling party’s policy failures of late. Quite a number are hoping that it is an epic failure that serves as a slap in the face to the ruling party who just doesn’t get it.  I think that politics and sports should never be mixed but to me, this YOG might be a turning point in Singapore’s history. It simply personifies the widening disparity between what the ruling party and true blue Singaporeans think. While most of us are struggling to make ends meet, politicians are busy blowing their trumpets to the world. And that is the crux of the problem.

It is very concerning when the government of a country is too obsessed over its own branding. Like a chronic narcissist looking at the mirror and flexing his biceps, I don’t understand how a government can blow its budget by 3 times by splurging millions on an excessive showcase but be oblivious to its issues in their backyard. And worse,  do all that with a straight face. Some  citizens might think what issues? Well, if you bloody care to step out of your material chasing, capitalist world and probe deeper, you’ll understand.

Please do not use the excuse of sportsmanship and embracing the youth spirit to defend one’s policies. That is just merely attempting to use sophistry to divert one’s ulterior motives. It is as though us citizens don’t know our ruling party well enough. It’s all about the money and potential economic benefits isn’t it?  Because if it is not just about the economic benefits then you would understand that national spirit cannot be bought, blatant importing of foreign athletes is detriment to the development of our young  and most of all in sports, winning is not everything.

And before anyone comes and thinks that organizing such events will help boost our economic standing which will further translate into added benefits for citizens, think again. It is already proven statistically that we have one of the lowest wage to GDP ratio among developed countries as well as a widening income gap (measured by the Gini coefficient), thus good economic numbers don’t mean a thing to an average Singaporean until structural changes are being made.

To end off, I want to salute our young sportsmen, volunteers and “volunteers” for the tireless  hours in contributing to the YOG event. Please don’t ostracize your fellow Singaporeans if they sound too negative and slam the games. The intended target is not you because we just want to be heard.   Perhaps it’s also a good time to ask yourselves whether you are a patriotic Singaporean because you fly our flag during such events OR because you question and challenge the way our country is governed for the betterment of society and the majority?

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Written by Nabs

August 19, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Posted in MIND, Politics, Ramblings

A Fallacy – The Singapore Dream – We are all just GDP Oompa Loompas

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photo by lavapiubianco

The time has come for Singaporeans to wake up and snap out from the Singapore Dream. What is the Singapore Dream? The paper pursuit, followed by that coveted Multi National Corporation (MNC) job, and materialism, chasing the 5 Cs.  A bit of generalizing, but you get my drift…I have read many many issues and matters of contention towards the current state of social affairs, government policies and cost of living. I concur with many views and I believe that our ruling party needs a wake up call too. However regardless whatever happens in the next general election, we cannot and must not expect that through our votes; and if more opposition seats are won, things will completely be solved. Even if the opposition win more seats, you cannot dispute the fact that our ruling party has buried its roots deep into our system via various monopolistic industries and government linked corporations (GLC)s.

If that’s the case, the amount of unhappiness, resentment and complaints will still be present. We therefore have to look at ourselves and take onus  and responsibility of our life choices. A lot has been said about our education system and how it creates “A” grade students and conformists, but not thinkers. It’s true to a certain extent and the government has to shoulder some of the blame. Many of us love to bicker, bitch, complain, but somehow fail to take action. How many friends you know complain about the daily grind at work but have done absolutely nothing for months or years even. Astounding. Call it complacency, lack of oomph, but I somehow cannot disagree totally when our MM mentioned that we are falling behind because” the spurs are not stuck in the hide.”

By now, we should be very aware that our government sees Singapore as a globalized city and it will spare no expense to make sure that Singapore is up there in terms of competitiveness and economic growth. Everybody is dispensable nowadays because there is always  more efficient or just plain cheaper alternatives out there. The world is a marketplace. Therefore, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and see whether we have a future in this GDP obsessed state. Stop being myopic and take a step back to see what’s happening.

Freedom and mobility are two critical elements that I reckon people must possess in order to survive. Being able to be free of long-term debt obligations so that we can be mobile enough to adjust ourselves in the global playground. Free enough to chase our passions, or relocate for better opportunities, or satisfying that entrepreneurial urge in us. Of course, we are rooted by our families and friends, but hey, if you start having this mindset early, and build your finances prudently, live within your means, then you will be able to spend more quality time with your love ones, — once you have passive income going for you and you are not bounded by any financial burden, which to me is  a major obstacle to living a fulfilling life in Singapore.

It’s really too late if you hit a mid-life crisis and find yourself in need to go for skills upgrading or relearning that is totally irrelevant to what you have been doing for the past 20 years. Because like I mentioned above, a better or cheaper alternative is at hand. To make things worse, you have that monthly housing and car loan, children to raise and elderly parents to support. It is no point crying to the government for social assistance then,  because along with you will be thousand others. That is the harsh reality of globalization.

The writing’s on the wall people – being able to use Medisave in hospitals in Johor Bahru, a retirement home being built there as well to cater for the elder Singaporeans, our government’s relentless pursuit of foreigners and its best efforts to try to assimilate and integrate them into our society.  There is a reason why they do not release statistics like average household income that differentiates between true bred Singaporeans and new Permanent Residents. To them, we are all just “GDP Oompa Loompas.”

The government sees Singapore as a globalized city, it’s time that we should see ourselves as globalized citizens too or forever be that Oompa Loompa trapped in a well.

Written by Nabs

July 6, 2010 at 11:40 am

Posted in MIND, Politics, Ramblings

The Price of Being Egocentric

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Image by xkcd

We cannot be egocentric when we are discussing about local politics. Here’s the thing, a majority of us are in the so called middle class bracket and relatively comfortable with our lives.  We are in the so called “comfort zone” But how many of us are willing to take the extra step to read and learn about the plight of the unfortunate and the lower income group? Do we need to wait till the cost of living catches up with the majority middle class, and we feel the pinch; only then we start questioning the relevance and rationale of the policies by our ruling party? We cannot judge government policies by sitting in our nests and admire how beautiful the four walls around us are.

On the flip side, we also cannot point fingers at the government once a policy does not favour us. That’s not taking a macro view of what’s good for the majority. By doing that, one loses credibility too and we are just being labeled as “complain kings.”

There is still a general view that if you are not with the ruling party, you are rebel without a cause. Your motivation of having an alternate view is being questioned and branded egocentric or your source of debate is questionable. However have these people in their “comfort zone” even given themselves a chance to open up their minds and understand national issues more than just scrapping the tip of the iceberg? Are they able to go beyond themselves and empathize with the less privileged? Are they able to take their sense of skepticism away from the opposition and be objective in judging what’s good and bad? Or are they satisfied with what is being fed to them by the mass media which we all know is  an avenue for government propaganda? It is really easy in Singapore to overlook underlying issues, because on the surface, everything seems immaculate. Read, search, understand, analyze, then judge. As a citizen of Singapore, you owe it to yourself.

It’s not a comforting thought that the Singapore education systems promotes elitism and materialism. At the end of the day, of course it’s a choice whether we want to empathize with the lower income or unfortunate. But it’s more than donating that dollar into the donation tin or calling in donations during charity shows. Sometimes, it’s about citizen power and voicing out when government policies are illogical. No government has the right to create a policy and shove it down our throats. Singaporeans must not forget that we have a role to shape the society we want. Do we really want a society where everyone is caught up in the pursuit of materialism and being ignorant to the other less fortunate citizens that fall through policy cracks? If you think that one person has limited power, think again.

I am not saying that all policies are bad, but I just feel that any power at the realm for too long will suffer bouts of complacency. Thus, it’s up to us citizens to empower ourselves and send a wake up call. We need to create a  society that goes beyond just economic figures.  If everyone is willing to delve deeper into government policies, highlight the shortfalls and spread the awareness, the multiplication effect can have an impact.

Written by Nabs

May 14, 2010 at 10:41 am

Posted in MIND, Politics, Ramblings

Singapore for Singaporeans

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photo by dgkram

I was reading the “Chronicle of Singapore” the other day and was charting the progress that our country was making since independence. People like my parents who are in their 50’s and 60s, witnessed how our little island have transformed from a third world country to a well lubricated economic engine. And with economic progress comes a higher standard of living, paving the way for more private residential enclaves as well as world class amenities, recreation and entertainment. They believe that our success story is the result of  the incumbent ruling party, thus either you are with the ruling party, or a rebel without a cause. And who’s to say otherwise? We have managed to come through numerous stumbling blocks like the racial riots of the 60’s, Asian Financial crisis, and Sars pandemic, to rise as a stronger, more cohesive Singapore. To sum it all up; ” There was a time, when people said that Singapore won’t make it, but we did. There was a time when troubles seemed too much for us to take, but we did.”

It’s after speaking to my parents do I attempt to understand their source of contentment. It was never a culture to question the ruling party. Amusingly, this generation do share our same complaints of the high cost of living, but they never seem to link that to our government. Really odd I thought. They feel it is a fact of life that prices keep rising, while hours of work keep increasing. (cheaper, faster, better anybody?) They believe that the ruling party know the recipe for success and they will continue to deliver. This was a nation that was lost in the midst of decolonization and sudden independence after it was forced out by its neighbours. The pieces were then being picked up  by a dedicated and powerful dictator that displayed no weakness to his opposition in being the catalyst to spur the country to develop and being recognized internationally as a state.  Think of it akin to an abandoned, directionless crying little child, being dragged to his feet by his nanny.

How things have changed. Some call him a dictator, a tyrant even, but would Singapore  progress to where we are today if the ruling party adopted a democratic approach since independence when we were still a developing nation? Just taking a look at our neighbours, it is easy to argue that democracy, in the hands of the corrupted and irresponsible can be a double-edged sword. A country will find it very difficult to ameliorate and grow if  corrupted leaders use democracy and egalitarian notions to create resentment among the poor and low educated citizens towards the elites and rich. The concept of meritocracy and taking personal accountability in shaping one’s life in such cases, is almost non-existent. Therefore, I think that a dictatorial approach worked for Singapore back then. However, today we are definitely not  a third world country anymore, hence we should strive to achieve democracy where citizens play an active part in shaping it’s society.

I am no political science expert, but through my readings, I agree that for democracy to work, the nation has 1) to be prosperous 2) majority of educated middle or middle upper class residents 3) a history of social involvement in shaping its society, citizens who take personal responsibility of their nation’s well-being.

Now, Singapore is a definitely prosperous country, judging from its stellar economic figures. We have a rising middle upper class as we steer away from a labour centric economy to a knowledge based one. Education is also not a problem with 1 in 10 having attained university qualifications. That, coupled with a high immigration of overseas graduates to our shores to fill many management and professional jobs, creates a highly educated society.

It is true that people who are struggling to make ends meet to support their family have simply no spare time to acquaint themselves with politics. They sway with the majority most of the time when it comes to political views and opinions. However,  the same can be said for an educated middle class residents of Singapore, most of whom  who are either too busy chasing materialism and the new permanent residents tending to favour the existing ruling party which gave them personal growth opportunities in our little island. Hence, you get a nation of people where the notion of democracy is merely an abstract ideology.

Then we move on to the culture and history of individual involvement and responsibility in social order. Do the majority of us actually think we can shape our society on a personal capacity? I highly doubt so. Of course we have altruistic Singaporeans who take responsibility in organizing fund-raiser activities for respective charitable organizations. I salute them for that. However, when it comes to any activity with slight inclinations to a political agenda, “big brother” will intervene. Even if they do not intervene, petitions and voices will fall to deaf ears. If such agenda make it to an international platform or foreign publication, they will be starring at a defamation lawsuit. Just take movements like the “Free Burma Campaign” or the “Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign” for example.

So, with a political apathetic population and a bleak history of social involvement, will democracy be cast into oblivion?

I certainly feel that we are nation undergoing a transition from a third world to first world country. And with that comes greater political awareness. I take myself as an example of being “alternatively educated.” It was only 4 months ago where I was oblivious to the name Lim Chin Siong, the exorbitant salaries of our leaders, and of course the questionable policies of immigration and housing. And to that I must take my hats of to web portals like “The Online Citizen” and “Temasek Review”. The recent spike in the cost of living might just be a catalyst to push people to question and probe more leading to comparisons to other prosperous nations like Switzerland or South Korea.

I detest it when people use the same old arguments of how safe and clean Singapore is, in support of the ruling party. Such arguments usually surface when we complain about the high cost of living and the freedom of speech.   I do not take our cleanliness and low crime rate for granted. I also acknowledge the fact that our ruling party has been instrumental in steering Singapore to the heights of today. But we are not a third world country any longer, we must look forward. If we want to grow as a country we must aspire to the other more developed countries, to achieve their levels of economic success and civilization.

If the government can push Singapore’s resources to the max, when it comes to building a prosperous first class economy, surely then, we as Singaporeans can push the government for a first class society. They can continue to use political power to shun or avoid flawed policies and ignore the rising trend in political awareness among it’s citizens at their own peril. As citizens we must understand that politics is part of our lives. Don’t go complaining about the endless rise in cost of living, the lack of job opportunities, the overcrowding of roads and then stop there. We must read more, analyze more and understand that contrary to what our ruling party believes in, we have a role in molding our nation, which indirectly affects our lives.

Written by Nabs

April 30, 2010 at 10:43 am

Posted in MIND, Politics, Ramblings

The Elitist Chauvinist Pig

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Ah, Elitism is breeding amongst us. It is a disease that infects us subconsciously and we only realize it when reality strikes. Recent articles by Ms Sandra Leong and Ms Sim Soek Tien really put things into perspective does ‘nt  it? And who would forget the infamous blogger  Wee Shu Min, daughter of an MP, labelling a struggling worried Singaporean concern about his job security as “one of the sadder class”? The out-pour of emotions among netizens were overwhelming to say the least.

Elitism is inevitable especially in society where meritocracy is prevalent. Just refer to our educational system. We’ve been streamed or “put into our places” since primary school, you’re smart if you land in EM1, screwed if you’re in the Accounts or Arts class in secondary school. I was from the Accounts class, and we were told that being in the “last” class, we have already closed many doors in life — Oh come’ on… ! Coming into adulthood, the pain is more evident. There are annoyingly sanctioned paths to success in Singapore. Private/Investment Banker, Doctor, Lawyer, are all the desired paths. Take the boom of the financial sector in the last 3 years or so. Every university grad wanted to get into the banking band wagon. Never mind if you’re not suited for the position or it isn’t your passion, status quo is more important. (one of the reasons why bad banking practices occur – my previous article) Such society pressures actually restrict talent to be harnessed in the most efficient way. Our government is not really concerned actually. Lack of sporting or artistic talent? Import blatantly.

I totally detest the fact that streaming of students is being done at such an early age of education. While the government’s intention would be to cater for the different learning efficiency of a student, I beg to differ. Basically, the society pressures by especially your teachers, parents and fellow students contribute to the feeling of condemnation if you are being placed in a less desired stream.  Such bashing of self-esteem at such a young age can result in a domino effect which translates into the influence of people he mixes with  and the perceived “route” that he should take in the future. A good number will grow out of it and excel in the later stages of their life, but the rest especially from the lower-income group where the environment at home is not stimulating enough to push oneself to excel will further fall through the system. I can certainly attest to that.

Such meritocracy makes us Singaporeans painfully aware of our relative positions in society. We just need a form of measurement and feedback to satisfy our need for status quo. A MNC company, a corporate rank, your office address, will quench that need. No where in the world will being an insurance agent, or doing sales for a multi level marketing firm bring about such social stigma. It’s really astonishing sometimes. Such jobs to me are totally respectable.

Adding to that ingredient of elitism is that we are insufferable materialist. Nothing titillates our senses more than the Bang & Olufsen system, BMW car or Hermes bag. It is actually very human and even more so for Singaporeans. How about the 5Cs, something we all aspire to attain once we enter the workforce? Basically such superficial items helps you differentiate yourself and put you in an elite class of citizens.

Our free market economy, capitalism, materialism and government direction all contribute to the elitist chauvinist concoction.

In retrospect,can we really fault the Singapore government?  Human capital is our one and only resource. We must stay competitive externally and internally. Performance triumphs all else. Lure of the elite class will attract more wealth, talent and lead the nation to its development path. But will stellar GDP figures translate into a world-class, developed society? Remember, what great leaders like Churchill, The Pope, Truman and Ghandi  preached; a society is measured by how it treats its weakest members.

On a personal level, I am guilty in certain aspects. Being educated in Singapore Management University, it is real simple to identify with the elitism mindset. Almost everyone is fighting for that management trainee spot in JP Morgan, Mckinsey, GE, just to name a few. Most of us come from the upper or middle upper class families, and traveling to places like Eastern Europe or America on a study exchange is becoming more of a norm. We are marketed as the best, and thus we think we are the best. All I can say is thank God I am free now.

Here’s my take on how to eliminate the elitism mindset in us. An attempt.
1) Be aware of the difficulties of others. We don’t have to look too far. There are many needy families in Singapore too. My university professor once mentioned that the gross average/mean monthly income of a Singapore household is a mere $2500. Go figure.
2) Volunteering. Being aware is not enough, action is required, and definitely not to merely boost your resume/CV. Intention is very important.
3) Appreciate a person for who they are. Character, passions, interests should take precedence when we want to know a person. NOT where he works or studied or what’s his ride.
4) Finally, to totally get out of the rat race and for a total change of mindset, I suggest to relocate to another country for a period of time, take in fresh perspectives..something that I intend on…..

Written by Nabs

April 15, 2010 at 10:20 am

Posted in MIND, Ramblings

ENGAGE your people

with 17 comments

The congressional hearing last week in Alan Greenspan’s role in the greatest recession ever was real amusing to say the least. To think he was once revered as the economic messiah.  Many people in high places like Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, CEOs of banking giants like Goldman Sachs were all subjected to such congressional hearings recently too, in an inquiry to the credit crisis.  You just got to love such hearings, pitting wits against one another, asking of sagacious questions, the use of sophistry to complicate truths, the intellectual banter between very smart people basically makes for real good education. That’s what I admire about the freedom of speech inAmerica. They trash it out in public like no other.

You see, when the congressional hearing for the financial crisis was held, majority of the congressmen were independent, meaning that they had no interest in any financial institution, and in each hearing they were the majority questioning the minority. In one hearing, I was especially impressed by how Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary manged  to handle a panel of 20 over members questioning him on his role of the AIG bailout. Imagine that, one person in the middle, surrounded by 20 congressmen, being grilled left, right, centre. Real intense. In such cases, either you a) prove your worth and gain confidence from congress and members of the public, b) manged to engage in sophistry, throw a smoke screen and use clever analogies to get out alive, c) crumble and die.

If only Singapore had such a system, whereby if there was a major national issue, an inquiry and commission of selected industry experts and ministers, would be set up to investigate the matter in full public view? (Does the Mas Selemat fiasco ring a bell?)

Of course, we cannot compare directly to the system in America. They are under the presidential system of governance, while we are using the parliamentary one. However, regardless of system, I think the greater issue here is of transparency and  accountability to its people. The US government arranged such an inquiry to attempt to learn from past regulatory mistakes as well as more importantly show its citizens that it cares. It cares about the high unemployment on main street, it cares about the millions of retirement savings lost and it wants to reassure them that they are being heard.  It is about getting citizens  involved and understanding the issues at hand.

Whether it’s a public inquiry, dialogue, seminar etc, purpose is not to shame or point fingers on anyone, but like i mentioned above, to ensure transparency, accountability and to give its citizens the confidence in the system and its leaders.

Back to our island. There is something called complacency. And it occurs when any system or governance is not being kept in check or balance. Citizens are not being actively engaged in forms of live public forums or seminars and the widening between the ruling party and the grassroots becomes more apparent. Either we Singaporeans are really an ignorant bunch or the ruling party deems such an engagement a waste of time.

I like to emphasize

Photo by Mike Licht

the word live, not just portals like “REACH” where editors and government officials can use words to deviate from the core issue. For example, a few readers expressed unhappiness over the recent COE hike and wrote in to the Straits Times. All we got was a nicely crafted reply basically saying that it ain’t the government’s problem. Blame it on Adam Smith and the free market. That’s it, no follow-up, very passive. It’s easy to sit behind a desk and reply feedback through media portals like the Straits Times forum. That’s what Public Relations (PRs) people are for, they are the proverbial spin doctors. However, it is another issue to engage the public live,  because that is where we see the true quality of our ministers and where their true passion lies.

Take the recent “Talking Point” on Channel News Asia recently about the issue close to our hearts – our HDB flats in Singapore, for example.   Why is it that there is only one independent member out of three in the discussion? In any case, if you are the Minister of National Development, and are confident enough on your policies and leadership, why do you need a sidekick on the show (in this case another MP)?  Notice also that they spoke solely on HDB policies without factoring in government policies like foreign immigration which essentially affects the entire balance of the system. It’s like talking about globalization and ignoring China/India. If we are able to bring in a panel of experts from various industries and more importantly members of the public, I am sure there will be more probing and insightful questions, instead of merely scratching the surface of the issue. Our ministers must understand that it’s not about defending oneself but being open to suggestions, learning from one another and engaging the audience/citizens.

Photo by ItzaFineDay

You see, I feel that there is so much build up discontentment and resentment on the ground on issues of irrational HDB prices, loose foreign immigration policies and the billions lost by GIC. However sadly, most of us can only pour out hearts out on the world-wide web. As it is, we lack opposition seats in the parliament to truly offer alternative perspectives, plus quite a  number of our MPs, that are supposed to represent us are not echoing the exact sentiment in parliament. Furthermore, protests and even mere leaflets are a big no-no too. Thus I like to urge our ruling party to at the very least engage in more public forums. Not “wayang” walkabouts to suddenly show that you care for that average man on the street. Good, intellectual, insightful dialogues where the government can gain ideas, feedback and the citizens a feel of satisfaction that the government do care and more importantly empowerment of how the country is being run. Start with the MPs of various constituencies. It can sure bridge the gap between the sentiment on the ground and the ruling party. Citizens on the other hand must be willing to speak out and address telling issues without fear. I know its tough to do, in fear of defaming the ruling party, but it is a culture shift that has got to happen, if not our average citizen will continue to be suppressed by policies and the cost of living.

Now to our parliament sessions. What I really, really crave for is a much more intellectual stimulation and enlightenment  when it comes to the discussion of politics or any social issues close to the citizens. How many of us normally switch channels after news when “Today in Parliament” is being aired following that?  I know I would, not because I have no interest in our national affairs but what is the point of seeing a  monotonous group of  leaders, dressed as if they are attending a wake, reading off scripts and singing the same tune?  Worse thing is, the scripts might not be even crafted by them? I would rather read the review on papers the next day. Perhaps only more senior ministers attended public speaking 101,  which is to talk to the audience and not burying your head in your script. I mean these are the so-called creme de la creme of what our country has to offer, they got to definitely have the intellect and eloquence to engage.

Judging from the recent parliament session, it seems that only the opposition party and a few other ministers  are interested in real matters of  Singaporeans. How is it possible that the need to integrate our new immigrants to our society, take precedence over the cost of living and how the plight of your citizens are  in a changing  globalized economy? It also does not help that the opposition has only 2 out of 84 seats in the parliament. Talk about minority. The lack of opposing views present in parliament has resulted in it being a mere formality, not a place for debate, self-reflection and discussion for the betterment of its citizens.

I judge passion based on sincerity. It’s not that I want an entertaining freak show, but at the end of the day, every government is accountable to who they serve and not the other way round. Thus engaging its citizens is vital.

It is such public statements that our MPs make (one of many) that really shows complacency and that worries me.

photo by itzaFineDay

A question on : whether making our CPF annuities compulsory is a start of a slippery slope where the government essentially interferes with our own money.

Here’s a reply by our MP:

“I replied that the Government’s job is to intervene where necessary. That is what we are elected to do. Singaporeans will have to judge whether the intervention has helped to create better results.”

Ooops! A Freudian slip?!! She’s talking about our hard-earned money mind you. See the complacency? It now becomes they can do whatever they want, and we are then left to judge once it has been implemented. Not the other way round.  No discussion, no deliberation. Do not forget that you are there because we elected you. Talk about being disillusioned…

It balls down to the passion to serve. Talk to any entrepreneur like Kenny Yap, CEO of  Qian Hu for example and I am confident that he can tell you the A to Z of fishes. Can we say the same for our ministers? Are they able to use their passion to serve as their guiding light and feel for its people?  Or are they bounded only by their ideologies which obstructs them to see through it ? It is especially so in Singapore where relativity and comparison of other systems in other countries is absent. We are unique because of our land scarcity, thus there are a lot of self created policies and system by the government. It seems to me that wealth and unchallenged power have deluded the true essence of the government, and that is to serve and engage.

Enjoy the passion, intellect and wit of what happens in parliaments and congressional hearings in other countries,  in the videos below. I especially love how the congressman totally slaughtered the bankers in the first video. See also how some ministers get so passionate in debating about policy issues. Engaging stuff.

Written by Nabs

April 12, 2010 at 8:35 am

Posted in MIND, Politics, Ramblings

The HDB conundrum – A Contrarian View

with 10 comments

The public housing conundrum. Some are loving it, others detest it and some just plain ignorant.

The ignorant –  They are so caught up in their little office environment, oblivious to the issues of their country. They don’t have the means but still want to “keep up with the joneses”. Everybody’s taking that 30 year mortgage, so they think it’s a norm and don’t see the long-term implications of it. They  don’t mind paying that $50,00 cash over valuation (COV) for that resale flat because they think that prices will rise forever and our beloved ruling party will take care of everything. Some might only be enlightened only after they have committed to their new flat.

The upper class of our society will love it, owning

Photo by photo_gratis

at least 2 properties, some a mix of private and public housing even, able to cash in on the so-called “wealth” that our MM boldly declared. The high influx of foreigners creates an almost inelastic demand. That coupled with limited supply of public housing translates into soaring resale prices and rental yields which create overnight fortunes. Speculation is the name of the game and nothing like an irrational market to thrive on.

The people who detest are the middle, lower class and first time purchasers like young couples, who cannot fathom what public housing is anymore. They basically want to get out or avoid  the debt cycle. However with new policies targeting to surrender the profits from selling their HDB flats back to their CPF and irrational exuberance pushing up prices for public housing – these group of people  are really bogged down. With record prices starting in prime areas like Queenstown and Tiong Bahru, but now, with a sub urban areas like Bishan hitting almost a million dollars , they start worrying about whether the effect will trickle down into their desired area of purchase in the near future. After all the government is trying to spruce every area in Singapore, in effort to boost up public housing prices and fatten their coffers. With a planned water sports park at Punggol and business hub at lake side, Jurong, it seems that there will be no such thing as sub urban or outskirt in Singapore anymore. Everything will be prime area, which justifies the need for high public housing prices or the need for more private developments. This group also do not understand why the term HDB public housing became synonymous with words like penthouses as reported in the media.

Hell, I am dead sure that if the ruling party had a choice, the entire Marine Parade HDB strip will be uprooted and all kinds of lush private enclaves will take over. Probably kicking themselves in the butt for not having the foresight. Gees

To buy or not to buy?

Let’s put it in financial sense.  Assuming you are investing in a bond. How much the bond is worth at a given time is just the present value of all future payments plus the final redemption value at its maturity. Essentially, when a bond is nearing maturity, its value diminishes in the secondary market. The reason why I compare the HDB flats to a bond is because these flats are  on a 99 year lease which is like a maturity period. Thing is, unlike a bond, people expect the value of HDB flats to increase all the way to maturity. Putting things into perspective, basically we are only leasing from the government . Thus, placing so much money in something with no long-term value (since it’s a lease) and depreciates yearly, does it make any financial sense? Will an investor pay a premium on your purchase price if the lease of your asset is shortening?   Plus, if you were to pay such a high price for the flat, stretching the loan to 30 years or so, there are many negative implications for  your cash flow and even future generation as the debt might be passed on to them. It will seem to take eons to pay of just the interest portion of the mortgage. One more issue that many people overlook is that unlike private property, since you do not really own the HDB flat,you cannot collateralize your flat for either investment purposes or retirement, rendering it an illiquid asset.

Of course some might argue that they are riding the property wave, hoping to offset the flat once the minimum occupancy of 3 years for a resale flat is over. Look at the HDB resale chart, will you feel comfortable investing in something that is on an all time high? Do you think prices will rise even further to offset the yearly depreciation of your flat? Furthermore, in the coming 3 to 5 years, it is too short term to predict what might happen.  Policies from the government might change which exposes you to the risk of the reaction. After all with the elections coming, the current ruling party might try to soften the market further in view of increased public outcry.

How about external factors as I mentioned in my earlier post about the private property market, like the interest rate environment and the global economy? What’s the next impetus for growth considering that we are still struggling to transform our industrial/manufacturing based economy to a technology/knowledge based one? Case in point 1996, where the property bubble burst, and prices only recovered after almost a decade in 2008. Is that a savvy investment considering the opportunity cost of recovery?

Yes, I enjoy being a contrarian at times. Not being a schadenfreude, but simply questioning and making sense of it all.

Written by Nabs

April 5, 2010 at 7:35 am

Posted in MIND, Politics, Ramblings