Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Spirit of 1959 : Be Bold and Change Government

Tan Jee Say’s speech at May Day rally

Good evening, fellow Singaporeans and friends.
I wish we could all rejoice and celebrate Labour Day today. But alas our labours for our country have been mocked and rubbished by a government that rules to benefit the elite and the rich, people like themselves. This comes out clearly in the recent White Paper on population.

TJS speaking to the crowd at the May Day rally in Hong Lim Park. (Photo by Wilson Wong of wilzworkz.)
Future of the PAP

The White Paper is not concerned about the future welfare of ordinary Singaporeans. Instead the White Paper is all about the future of PAP, about how they can continue to be very rich and stay in power. They will bring in 90,000 foreign workers every year to depress the wages of Singaporeans so that companies can make enormous profits and pay huge salaries and bonuses to CEO’s and professionals. Ministers’ salaries will also go up as they are benchmarked against the total pay of CEO’s and professionals, so ministers will continue to draw their million dollar salaries even when the wages of ordinary Singaporeans go down.

But when Singaporeans want to register our unhappiness, the PAP  brings in new citizens to dilute our vote.130,000 new citizens voted in the 2011 general election. Another 125,000 new citizens will be brought in to vote in 2016. That’s about 12% of the total vote. I want to emphasize that we are not against the foreign workers in Singapore. You can’t blame them for wanting to seek a better life or career. It’s the government’s policy of continually importing foreigners that we are against. We can understand why new citizens are grateful to the government. But gratitude is not servitude. It does not mean blind loyalty. You work hard to earn a living. But you will soon discover like all citizens before you that even then you have to struggle so hard just to feed your family and barely so. So do not vote PAP just out of gratitude because gratitude is about the past not the future. Vote for the future not the past.

Be clear that the White Paper is not about helping citizens including new citizens. The White Paper is a plot by the PAP to tighten its grip on Singaporeans with the help of new citizens. This is the real objective of the Population White Paper. Make no mistake about it. Have no illusion that PAP is looking after our interest. If they have the interest of Singaporeans at heart, they will do what other cities do in tackling the issues of an ageing population and low total fertility rate.

Well said!
Different approach by other cities

I visited Hong Kong and mainland China recently. They face the same population issues as Singapore but solve them differently by tackling the root cause directly. I had discussions with experts who are professors at the University of Hong Kong. They told me Hong Kong’s priority is to fix basic infrastructure first particularly in housing and transport. At the same time, they seek economic growth outside Hong Kong mainly southern China so that business firms can grow without adding strain to public facilities in Hong Kong. Here in Singapore, the PAP does the exact opposite – they bring in more people, 90,000 foreign workers every year, before they have improved the basic facilities. So there will be more over-crowding, not less. How can this be in the interest of Singaporeans?

DPM Teo Chee Hean visited Hong Kong last week, one month after my visit to the city. He brought along officials from the National Population and Talent Division to learn population planning from the Population Commission of Hong Kong. One commissioner Mr Paul Yip told them and I quote : “I shared how we might be obsessed with big numbers for GDP growth, but we need to think of what people want and the need to get their support.” Unquote. I hope PAP listened to what Mr Yip said about the need to think of what people want. But don’t be too hopeful. The PAP government only thinks of what they want for themselves; whether they perform in their job or not, they take their million dollar salaries first and leave you to pick up the crumbs. Have they listened to your cries of despair over falling wages and rising costs of living, and about the difficulties of bringing up a family? If they had listened earlier and acted upon your worries, Singapore today would not have the problem of low birth rates. Because the fundamental cause of low fertility is the people’s lack of confidence in the future.

Confidence in the future

Which young couple will not think twice about having a child when it costs $900,000 to raise the child from birth through childhood, school and university including private tuition in their school years?  Who would dare to have a child when they do not have enough savings for their own retirement? Singapore has the highest savings rate in the world and yet 55% of CPF members do not have enough balances in their CPF account to pay the required minimum sum. Which Singaporean couple will be in the right frame of mind to bring up a family when they work the longest hours in the world and are the world’s most stressed and least emotional people?

Young parents worried for their kids’ future.
These are not just excuses for not having babies but are real hard truths faced by ordinary Singaporeans.Will they disappear? Not under the PAP government because these hard truths are the result of PAP’s core policies.The only way to remove these hard truths that affect ordinary Singaporeans is to change the government. Are you ready for change?

Work experience in government

The  PAP will scare you and tell you that the opposition has no experience and is not ready to form a government. The fact is that the opposition today is more ready than the PAP was in 1959. How many in the PAP then had any experience of working in government? Only one, the late Dr Goh Keng Swee who was director of social welfare in the colonial government. Today spread out in the opposition ranks, I can count at least 9 individuals who have had many years of experience working at senior levels in six government agencies including finance, trade and industry, foreign affairs,national development/URA, health/hospitals and defence. The PAP in 1959 had only one PhD, the late Dr Toh Chin Chye who was a lecturer in the university. But we in the opposition today have 7 PhD’s of whom 3 are associate professors including one teaching in an overseas university. In addition, we have several doctors,lawyers, economists, ex-bankers, ex-fund managers, corporate executives and entrepreneurs.

Together there are at least 25 to 30 of us with a wide range of expertise to run an effective, competent and caring government.  By the time of the next general election in 2015 or 2016, more will join us like many of you here in the audience who have the passion, courage and desire to serve your fellow Singaporeans. Our team will be lean, definitely not as bloated as the PAP one which has 18 ministers for 15 ministries, which means 3 ministers are redundant, with titles like minister without portfolio, second minister here and there, but no real responsibility. In the army, we call them GD officers, GD for general duty, who are on call to do anything that no one else is available to do or want to do like attending funerals or F1 races. What does this tell us about the confidence of the Prime Minister in these redundant ministers’ ability to head and run a ministry on his or her own? Are they just there as tokens?

Spot on!
Coalition government

When the opposition forms the government, there will be no token ministers. Every minister will carry his or her own weight because they get in under their own steam and not under the coat-tails of some long serving ministers. They will bring with them the most important quality in a political leader, the passion to serve all Singaporeans regardless of race, language, religion or social class. Can we work together coming from different parties to form a coalition government? Yes we can. Do not let PAP frighten you into believing that coalition governments are unstable and life will be chaotic. Nothing is further from the truth.

Today life goes on in 75 countries that are governed by coalition governments. Finland has shown the way. Coalition governments have ruled Finland for nearly 100 years with their so-called “rainbow coalition” of 5 political parties recently increased to 6. Finland, a nation of about 5.5 million people, is a world leader in many fields. It has a high quality of life and is the third most competitive nation in the world according to the latest Global Competitiveness Index. So when the PAP calls the opposition a “rojak” bunch, point them to the rainbow in Finland. In fact not only is our rojak as multi-coloured and beautiful as the rainbow, it is also  delicious. So go for it Singaporeans, have our favourite national dish; your life will taste much better under a rojak coalition than under the bitter fruits of a self-serving leadership.

Be bold

There is a saying :”Fortune favours the bold.” In 1959, Singaporeans took the bold step of voting for a change of government and ushered in a higher standard of living for many years up to a point. That point of stagnation was reached about 5 years ago and more and more Singaporeans are now experiencing a decline in their standard of living. It is time to put a stop to this decline. Will you do so? We are the Lion City – brave and strong. The Singapore Lion roared in 2011. Will you roar even louder in 2016? Will you be as brave and as strong  as the 1959 generation to vote for change? Will you vote out the PAP in 2016?

Yes, I heard your loud cheers, thank you. There is hope for a better Singapore. Majullah Singapura!

Placards designed by ordinary Singaporeans.

One of five bales of cloth with signatures of protest.

Getting the shot for posterity.
Jee Say speaking at Hong Lim Park on May Day (from 07.02 minutes onwards):

Tan Jee Say

Source:  Jee Say was a Presidential candidate in the 2011 Presidential Election. The article first appeared on his facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TanJeeSay.

Singapore hits record low in World Press Freedom Index ranking

Singapore fell 14 places to a record low of 149th position from the previous 135th position in terms of press freedom index in the latest annual ranking by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) [Link].

It is Singapore’s worst ranking since the index was established in 2002.
Singapore is even behind countries like Ethiopia (137th), Tunisia (138th), Oman (141st), Congo (142nd), Cambodia (143rd) and Russia (148th).

In the past 1 year or so, there have been many instances where letters of demand were sent to bloggers and websites, asking them to apologize and take down postings which allegedly had defamed government ministers or the court.

Singapore’s rankings in the last few years:
2013 149th (worst result for Singapore)
2011-2012 135th
2010 136th
2009 133rd
2008 144th
2007 141st
Since opening up, Myanmar, which is a country controlled by the military, has jumped 18 places from 169th to 151st this year, just 2 positions behind Singapore.

Turkmenistan (177th), North Korea (178th) and Eritrea (179th) stayed at the bottom three, while Finland stayed on top of the list followed by the Netherlands (2nd) and Norway (3rd).

Malawi registered the biggest leap (71 places) in the index from 146th to 75th, almost returning to the position it held before the excesses at the end of the Mutharika dictatorship.

With such an ‘impressive achievement’, surely the Editors-in-Chief of the various papers in Singapore Press Holdings must be busy patting themselves in the back, looking forward to a fat bonus come Christmas.

RWB was founded in Montpellier (France) in 1985 by four journalists: Robert Ménard, Rémy Loury, Jacques Molénat and Émilien Jubineau.
RWB believes that freedom of information is the foundation of any democracy. It is registered in France as a non-profit organisation and has consultant status at the United Nations and UNESCO.

Source: TRE website

SMRT union nearly went on strike in 2003 under Saw Phaik Hwa

In an interview with the media, former Minister and NTUC boss Lim Boon Heng revealed that unionised SMRT rail workers nearly went on strike in Sep 2003. This was the time when Malaysian-born Saw Phaik Hwa was the CEO of SMRT. She was the President and CEO of SMRT from Dec 2002 to Jan 2012. Prior to that, she worked in DFS duty free retail chain for 19 years, rising from the bottom to later become the Regional President of DFS, before she was retrenched in 2002.

Mr Lim said that in 2003, SMRT management wanted to make up for a sharp reduction in the company’s investment income that year by freezing wages. This meant that SMRT workers would not get their 3 per cent annual increment which they were entitled to according to the 3-year-long collective agreement. In other words, SMRT management was prepared to rescind the agreement they signed with the union. The union tried to negotiate with SMRT but the management were not willing to back down.

The workers then decided to take a stand with Mr Lim’s approval. Some 3,000 unionised SMRT workers went ahead to conduct a secret ballot to decide on whether they would go on strike. 80% voted yes. The workers were angry with SMRT management because management were not respecting the collective agreement they had signed with the workers and had decided to freeze wages. A day was even decided by the union leaders to go on strike.

After the balloting was done, Mr Lim gave word to the Ministry of Transport officials and told them to talk to SMRT management one last time. That same day, faced with a possible historic strike, SMRT management gave in.

Years later, sometime in 2009-2010, about 100 non-unionised PRC SMRT bus drivers protested over benefit issues. They were already unhappy with the long working hours, poor living conditions and the low pay they were getting. The last straw came when some of them did not get their promised bonus after fulfilling their 2-year contract. When they asked SMRT for it, they were told off as SMRT claimed they had taken one too many MCs. However, PRC drivers disputed it.

The PRC drivers threatened to go on strike. The ugly scenario was avoided when Saw Phaik Hwa came out to pacify the PRC drivers. She paid $1000 bonus to those who renewed their contract, which was a welcome situation since foreign workers in many cases have to pay employers illegally in order to get their contracts renewed for another 2 years to continue to work in Singapore. Work permits of foreign workers are generally valid for only 2 years.
And in Nov last year, some 200 non-unionised PRC SMRT bus drivers actually went on strike (‘Breaking: 200 SMRT PRC bus drivers go on strike!‘). They were unhappy with their salary and dormitory conditions. Five of the ring leaders have since been convicted, serving jail terms of between six and seven weeks for instigating the illegal strike.

Even though last year’s strike happened under the new SMRT CEO, Desmond Kuek, who took over from Saw Phaik Hwa, he only started work in SMRT in Oct last year. Hence, the unhappiness of the PRC SMRT bus drivers actually festered during Saw’s time under her management.

However, despite some of her management hiccups, that’s not to say Saw Phaik Hwa didn’t have any supporters. Certainly, SMRT shareholders like Temasek Holdings would love her very much for helping to squeeze more profits and therefore, dividends for shareholders, out from SMRT.

According to its annual report, SMRT, which is controlled by Temasek Holdings with close to 55% shareholdings, generated very good dividends for its shareholders under Saw Phaik Hwa:

Gross dividend per share
Year Total Dividend (cents) Temasek Holdings received ($)
FY2011 8.50 70,074,003
FY2010 8.50 70,074,003
FY2009 7.75 63,891,002
FY2008 7.75 63,891,002
FY2007 7.25 59,769,002
FY2006 7.00 57,708,002
FY2005 6.50 53,586,002
FY2004 4.50 37,098,001
FY2003 3.10 25,556,401
FY2002 2.80 23,083,201

In any case, Ms Saw is no longer with SMRT. She resigned from SMRT last year and is now the CEO of Auric Pacific which owns Delifrance, Sunshine bread, Topone and Food Junction. As CEO of SMRT, Saw was paid a salary of $1.85 million in 2010 and was said to own a Ferrari and a Mercedes-Benz 500. In her resignation filing with SGX, she disclosed that she owned 1,084,100 ordinary shares in SMRT Corporation

Source: TRE website