PM Lee already hints that “the next General Election may not be when everybody’s expecting it to be”.
So when do you think it’s going to be? Cast your vote below:Tweet
PM Lee already hints that “the next General Election may not be when everybody’s expecting it to be”.
So when do you think it’s going to be? Cast your vote below:Tweet
There will always be things to poke a fishball stick at, and it’s become a tradition for mrbrown and myself to watch the National Day Rally speech with intent. For those who haven’t, here’s what you should take note of:
Honoring Yusof bin Ishak
Not least because he was the country’s first Yang di Pertuan Negara (Head of State), but by doing so, I’m hoping we’ll also get to remind ourselves that our national language is Malay, and our heritage as a nation is indelibly linked with that of our closest neighbours’.
Municipal Services Office
About bloody time something like that was set up. I’ve talked about the inefficiency of a unicameral legislature, where our poor MPs double up trying to fix the nation’s macro woes while doing OT at weekly MPS. The fish ball stick is most definitely felt across the island. Thank you, litterer, for pricking the conscience of a nation.
Pioneer Generation Card
You’ll probably keep hearing about the Pioneer Generation ad nauseam. The day before #NDRsg, I got a package in the mail containing the PG Card. Now, if my dad wasn’t bedridden and suffering from Parkinsons and dementia, he might have been able to flash this privilege card at various medical service providers and gotten generous subsidies. It’s just a gesture, but one I will be eternally grateful for. My father visits the A&E once a quarter on average, and that $800 annual top up into his Medisave? That’s my lifesaver.
Chinese Cultural Centre
The Prime Minister said it was to celebrate our unique Chinese culture in the “Nanyang” style. I think it’s right we finally stand up and claim as our own the many ways we order our beverages at the kopitiam, and stand tall and defend the kopitiam aunty when she scalds a foreign Chinese person, because everyone should understand that when she says, ‘lai, sio’ in Hokkien, she means, ‘fuck off, I’m carrying a shit load of hot drinks’.
And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express were taken off the shelves by The Chief Librarian Tay Ai Cheng because they were not “pro-family”, which is now the same thing as anti-gay and anti anything other than “1 father + 1 mother + 3 or more children (if you can afford it)”, as stated in the complaint by Teo Kai Loon.
Please, all who are on the side of compassion and even sanity, nobody is forcing you or your families to be pro-gay or gay. Nobody is asking you to promote teenage pregnancies. Nobody is asking you to promote single parenting.
But I beg you to wake up and look around you. These things happen. Please SUPPORT, not PROMOTE, teenaged, single, widowed parents and whatever is left of their families! These books are part of a community lifeline for children who through no fault of their own, have been labelled “illegitimate”.
You don’t have to borrow these books if you or your children don’t need these stories. But don’t deprive others who do, and for crying out loud, Tango Makes Three is a true story.Tweet
I am honoured to have been invited to speak at this year’s Pink Dot as part of a new segment called “Community Voices”. This is what I said:
When I was in secondary school I was among the fortunate few to have friends who were gay. Some of whom I knew were gay before they knew or cared to admit.
My father was the most concerned, of course, and told me he was worried that I would get affected or influenced – in his own words, “you spend so much time with him, you become a gay then you know”.
I said, “Pa, look at me, I can’t dress to save my life. I wish I could be influenced”.
Then came National Service, the 2 and a half years that was meant to make men out of boys. Interestingly, it was also where I learned how brave my gay army mates were, and how they stood the tallest among the fighting men in my combat unit.
Not only did they endure the physical duress of training, they took the insults – being called Chow Ah Kua, Bapok, Faggot – any derogatory term for a gay man, daily. It was only after my unit became operational that the tables turned somewhat.
The best GPMG gunner was gay. 2 of my company’s best platoon sergeants were gay, and the guy that broke another soldier’s leg during unarmed combat was one of those Chow Ah Kuas.
These NS boys were tortured and I cannot begin to imagine the torment they must have endured, having to hide and deny who they were.
Things are ever so slightly better these days. There’s this civic event right here that celebrates and affirms the right to love, regardless of orientation, even if some people don’t, and even if there is an unjust and unconstitutional piece of legislation that doesn’t.
My hope is that it doesn’t stop here. And I will support this celebration and affirmation until it becomes a right under the laws of this otherwise dynamic country.
I say this because my family and I count ourselves the luckiest people. It’s not because we probably have more gay friends than straight ones. But it’s because many of our gay friends have shown us the ability to sustain love above all manner of obstacles, objection, ridicule.
And more importantly, they love my wife, my son and myself for who we are.
We are without doubt blessed by their friendship, and our family cannot do without their love.
I am glad that we are raising our son amongst friends who share the same family values. That two people can love each other regardless of gender, gender identity or labelling.
If this is the “gay lifestyle”, then my family and I will wholeheartedly promote it.Tweet
No I’m not going to teach you how to pronounce Roy’s surname. The title is just written in the style of Roy Ngerng’s attention-seeking blog post titles.
Now that Roy has ‘been Davindered‘ and taken down the alleged offending blog post, applied to be an NMP, and raised questions from dozens of my friends who are none the wiser about what happens to our CPF money, I thought it might be timely to address some of the questions.
In 2011, some of my friends and I had a website called ‘You Say I Say Who Confirm’, and we wrote about stuff that were slightly contentious, but we never got Davindered. Take for example, this post I wrote about the CPF. It basically says the same thing Roy said, and you can get all this information from various Government websites.
But, you cannot and should not implicate the PM or the Government and accuse them of stealing from the population. You’re not doing the rest of us a favor by doing so, although the “hard truths” should be made better known to us – and like I said, most of these ‘truths’ are – you just have to scour the Government, GIC and Temasek sites.
The only real area of contention is where Temasek Holdings says outright that it “does not manage CPF money”. That’s not a lie, but only because by the time the monies in our Fund is in Temasek’s hands, it is no longer in the form of CPF Funds.
The bottom line is this. Although it is in the interest of national security that certain aspects of our monetary reserves are not divulged, there should still be more transparency regarding how our savings are invested.
Meantime, if you’re not sure what Roy said, here’s what I wrote in 2011:
What Do They Do To Make Our CPF Grow?
I imagine the top question at the top 10 frequently asked questions page of the CPF Board would be “What the heck does the CPF Board do to my money to be able to earn 2.5% – 5% interest in an age where banks seem to want you to pay them to keep your money”?
But it is not. It isn’t even an FAQ according to the Board. Does everyone know something I don’t?
So where does the money go? How does the Government guarantee us what they call “risk free interest” of 2.5%? What is risk-free interest?
We’re told that it doesn’t go into GIC for them to invest in UBS and then get annoyed about a rogue trader losing $2bn. (And you never hear about rogue traders making billions, as you can imagine they would, had their coins landed the right side up).
We’ve also been told (Temasek Holdings FAQ No. 8) that it doesn’t go into Temasek Holdings for them to post a 10-year net profit and then spend the last three years fighting off allegations of bad investment decisions because they lost 31% of its holdings in the 2008 financial crisis.
So where does the Board put the money? Under a collective proverbial pillow waiting for the CPF Fairy to pay out 2.5%? Or do they put our money in local banks, saving us the trouble of doing that ourselves and earning a pittance in interest on our own?
Or does our CPF Board, by strength in sheer numbers, get a fabulous deal from our friendly local financial banks that allows them to guarantee us this “risk free” return of 2.5%?
According to the Accountant-General’s Department, there are these things called Special Singapore Government Securities, which are bonds issued only to the CPF Board to, in the Accountant-General’s Department’s own words, “meet the investment needs of the Central Provident Fund”. The AG-D also states that “The investment of CPF funds by the Government relieves the CPF Board from taking on the investment risk of a fund manager to concentrate on its primary role as a national social security institution”.
In other words, our Government borrows our CPF money, guaranteeing the Board at least 2.5%, and in exchange, takes on the risks of a fund manager, and logically, the benefits as well.
In addition, the money that the CPF Board lends to the Government is put into this thing called the Government Securities Fund, where they are blended on high setting for one minute together with proceeds from investment returns, other securities issuances and seasoned to taste. Once that’s done, voila! You can no longer call it CPF money per se, and can therefore confidently tell everyone who asks, that 1) CPF money is not invested in Temasek Holdings, 2) CPF money is not invested in the GIC.
The other stuff I gleaned from the AG-D’s document was that the Singapore Government doesn’t have any external debt. The only people they owe money to are the people they govern. The Government also owes every other nation on this planet zilch, nothing, or as the aunty who runs the kopitiam across the street would say, jilo. And that probably has something to do with the fact that we have AAA ratings across the board from Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poors, although logically, even if we dropped an A or two, it wouldn’t matter to the Government because they can technically still borrow money from the CPF at 2.5%.
So, how do we answer the burning question that is also not on the CPF Board’s Top 10 FAQ list, “How safe is our CPF money?”
As good as gold? As safe as houses? Solid as a rock?
We’d need a whole lot more information to be able to get something definitive. But still, on a hunch and some good old fashioned agak-ration, I think it is.
I had great fun at the last minute pop-up Talkingcock In Parliament 3 organised by Colin, Yen Yen and others on Saturday evening. There was a great variety of speakers anyhowly hum-tumming what Mother Tongue means to us because it’s been anyhowly hum-tummed into our lives.
This is what I said:
My Hokkien mother spoke no Mandarin, was educated in ACS in Malaya, and my father taught himself English, but spoke Hainanese mostly. Although most days you couldn’t tell which he was speaking. Older Hainanese men have accents as thick as the slab of butter in your kaya toasts.
But my father spoke just enough rubbish for people in Australia to lump him together with other East Asians and he scored a job as a translator with the Japanese Olympic team in the 1956 Melbourne Games.
That did not end well. He was fired before the closing ceremony because a Japanese boxer was taken to hospital for an emergency appendectomy he didn’t need to have. He had simply tried to tell my father that he needed to lose some weight to get down to the weight class he was supposed to compete in. That’s my father. Accidental pioneer of weight loss surgery.
My mother, a slightly better English speaker, joined my father in Australia and together they lived there between 1957 and 1965. That’s a lot of time for them to pick up enough Aussie slang to scold my siblings and I with.
So my early childhood years were marked by my parents’ Aussie nicknames for me, which were all prefixed by the word “bloody”. They called me bloody fool, bloody idiot, bloody nong, once in a while, bloody bastard, before they realised the implication of what they were calling me, and retracted it and instead called me a bloody chink.
I have a five year old son and sometimes when he whines or whinges about something, my wife would tell him, “Use your words, Kai”. And he would compose himself, and make his request known in a full sentence.
My mother was slightly different with me when I was a kid. If I whined or whinged, she said, “Bloody Chinese boy cannot speak english properly issit?”
I understand now that they were scarred by their experiences Down Under, and passed on that anxiety to their kids.
So that’s my heritage. Outcastes of empire, speaking in the tongues of the former convicts of our former colonial masters. It’s a rich heritage, full of stolen riches.
So you can imagine I wasn’t surprised when I discovered just last week, that our National Heritage Board is the governing body of the Speak Good English Movement. I’m actually working on this year’s Speak Good English launch. Director of Speak Good English? Is Eck Kheng here? Movement nochet launch this year, so this event not counted hor?
Let me say that I strongly support the speak good english movement. I have one every morning. Usually after breakfast. And my family doesn’t let me bring the newspapers in with me.
Eh… It could have been worse. I could’ve demonstrated what a Speak Good English Movement sounds like.
Last week, I read about our Air Force and how they outfoxed American counterparts in war games, although I don’t believe they used the word outfoxed.
We all know that our Armed Forces have had this advantage over the years. I mean, come on lah, which other military can boast having marching commands in Malay, instructions in English, and at one time really had a platoon that spoke only Hokkien?
And they say the US got drones, we also have! How many did you see in the Young PAP video? That video? It was supposed to be a secret weapon, to be used when our enemies are making their way to invade us. We will jam their networks and the video would be transmitted to all their smartphones and tablets, so when they watch it, they’ll U-turn and go back because, wah lao, really? This is the prize? Dowan lor.
There were three bids for this defence weapon. This was one of them. The other two were of course the STB ad and the Singtel nipple ad.
“Honey, look! You know the expensive seafood dinner we had last night? We really got screwed, I’m even pregnant!”
Ten years ago, I was in a reservist In camp training – see that’s another word that’s been ingrained. 20 years after changing the term to NSman, we’re still calling it reservist. You call up some business to look for someone, and they’ll say, “oh, got reservist, won’t be back until next week”.
I think we love the word reservist because we really don’t want to be on the front line. We’re reserved. Of course, my ten year cycle has long since been completed, so I’m an even more reserved reservist.
So anyway, this was in 2004 and we were still transitioning from the old conventional ways of warfare to a post 9-11 Al Qaeda-JI doctrine. We had training to tell us that it was no longer ok to clear a room with grenades and put our weapons to full auto to finish the job. We had to look out for civilians and enemy combatants.
So part of the training package consisted of being shot at from a simulated HDB block, and being shot at from a simulated market. The second round got worse. We got grenades thrown at us by a simulated pregnant woman played by one of our own reservists on Attend B excuse heavy lifting.
We didn’t know how to react. We were tired, hungry and getting frustrated.
As we ran up one last HDB stairwell we encountered a simulated couple in close embrace, just as you would in real life, only this time it turned out to be a terrorist-hostage situation. Our training kicked in. We trained our weapons on the party and opened negotiations:
Our section commander shouted: “Terrorist har? What the fuck you want, you ninabeh cheebye motherfucker?”
The simulated terrorist replied, “er…. I want an airline ticket”
Because we are a considerate 3G army, our section commander asked him, “airline ticket? Cheebye what airline?”
The terrorist considered this quickly and shouted his preference, “Emirates!”
Something snapped in my section commander. He flicked the safety catch on his SAR-21 to full auto and opened fire, emptying his magazine of 30 rounds of blanks as he screamed. “Emirates hah? SQ not good enough for you is it? Nabeh! Limpehshootjiliaphorlisee!”Tweet
Having missed last year’s event because I made like many other Singaporeans and downed tools for the long weekend, I was invited to my first May Day Rally on Thursday, and came away impressed with the candour of the labour leaders, and slightly disappointed with the lack of awareness of the same.
With Cheaper, Better, Faster having earned its place in ridiculed slogan folklore, what could the union leaders have come up with that would better that? What new initiatives would be launched and trumpeted?
I spoke with several other people at the rally and they intimated that the labour movement was going to move away from the hard sell of the Progressive Wage Model of the past two years, and towards a recognition of the employer, the worker, and the buyer (customer) for this year’s rally.
The venue for this year’s event was also significant. Honouring NTUC’s first Secretary-General (and lest we forget, the country’s third Head of State), the new Employment & Employability Institute (e2i) is named the Devan Nair Institute, and was officially opened at the start of the rally by the Prime Minister.
When the seminar hall was filled to capacity and the rest of the attendees packed into spillover rooms with live video feeds, the event started proper with a song and dance item (“Happy” and the very popular “Ayam Titanium”), and rousing speeches by leaders of several unions.
Then came this Singaporean Of The Day inspired video featuring rank and file workers:
The workers featured in the video were seated front row (not centre – that’s for the Ministers) and were introduced to loud cheers from their colleagues and fellow union members. For me, that was what I thought the event was about. Honouring union members, honouring workers.
The Prime Minister’s address followed this path, but at the same time sounded a warning for complacency and for those who still think that the sole problem lies in letting in cheap foreign labour – your jobs will get “stolen” by people who don’t even have to move here to do it.
And there’s the second focus of the rally – the employer. I think that many Singapore companies are caught in what a friend of mine calls the “Stuck Tarzan Mode” – having caught the next vine to move forward but not wanting to let go of the one he’s just swung from.
Our economy will face competition from people who can not only do things cheaper, they’ll do it faster, and they might do it better. Sound familiar? The Prime Minister mentioned our private transport industry being challenged by technology companies who smartly skirt the obstacles of the transport business by making apps – like Uber (use my code “ubermiyagi” and get $10 off your first ride, hehe) – and with the leaps and bounds being made by 3D printing – soon, who’s going to need you to build and ship things to the customer abroad any more?
It is with these challenges that makes it more alarming that many SME’s do not innovate or don’t know how to. For example: Why are auditors still insisting on paper receipts that would anyway fade and be illegible? Why are banks (or the MAS) not working on solutions for third party accounting software to connect to customer data when it is much easier to forge a cheque than it is to obfuscate an electronic trail?
We cannot afford to fall behind, and I will smack the next government agency officer that asks me to fax some letter when they can jolly well read an email attachment. Yes, I can e-slap you. I have an app.
Before I froth at the mouth at these annoyances, let me get back to the PM’s address. I am encouraged that there are serious measures to ensure the re-employability of older workers. I’m quite sure that at this very mention, there’ll be conspiracy theorists banging their drums about how this gahmen simply doesn’t want us to collect our CPF.
But the reality is this – ask any aged 30-something couple raising a young family and having to look after their parents and you’ll discover that the CPF wasn’t initially calculated to look after an aging population with an increasing life expectancy. The older folk need to work and the important thing is that we enable them to.
The other thing that struck me was the current NTUC Secretary-General’s candour. I don’t care what people say, I really like this man and his life-long passion for making workers’ lives better.
In his opening address (which involved a few miscues with the event’s run-down), he said something about Singapore ‘not being zero-defect’, but that we’d be judged on how we reacted to the mistakes and fixed them.
Mr Lim Swee Say has been tireless ever since he was appointed Secretary-General (SG) of NTUC. The number of financial grants and rebates available to the backbone of the economy – the SMEs – are a result of his harassing and haranguing the various ministries and agencies over the decades.
But he has not been above admitting when things aren’t going as smoothly. I recall a talk last year where he talked about how heading the labour movement was a constant task of moving bottlenecks around the workforce when he realised cheap labour was becoming an undesirable opiate of construction companies.
There are others like the SG in the movement – the head of the e2i himself, of as a friend calls him, The Other Gilbert, constantly tweaking and improving schemes to help the rank and file workers.
Therein lies the rub. There are still things that can be done better.
I believe the labour movement can be more inclusive, get everyone involved, not just the converted, because you can still continue get them excited about the rally by giving out polo shirts in four different but bright colours, you can still make them sing the NTUC theme song to the tune of The Battle Hymn of The Republic, and give out energy bands with the word “Better” printed on them because this year it’s about Better Employers, Better Workers and Better Customers.Tweet
It’s been a while since the Budget was announced, and since then the only thing that seems to have continued echoing is this thing called the Pioneer Generation, and the size of their packages.
I’m not saying that my father’s generation – the one that built the republic’s foundations – doesn’t deserve the recognition or the reward that were supposed to come with it. But that’s not the point of the Budget for me.
Any national fiscal measure is a measure of the direction the Government wants the country to head towards. And for the most part, I agree with where it wants us to head: A high tech, high productivity economy.
There’s never been more money being poured into grants and rebates for productivity, innovation, and internationalisation. It’s easy to bandy these terms around, but the thought behind it is that we’re looking to look after the people that do the work.
This means measures to ensure we don’t over rely on cheap foreign labour again. I don’t like seeing companies that employ a whole bunch of foreign unskilled labour and deploy them higgledy piggledy just because they can afford to, and I’m happy cheap labour supply has been tightened, and that companies are finally looking to innovate to save costs.
As a small business owner, I’ve been witness to how rising costs have forced me to innovate and abandon old practices. Rising rental costs were killing me and my ability to retain a headcount – so off went the receptionist/admin staff, finance manager and other staff. I opted for a cloud based, paperless billing/accounting/time-costing system that I’ve subsequently become a reseller for.
I don’t have to have a finance or accounts clerk to chase late invoices because my cloud accounting system does that for me with increasingly curt emails (best thing ever). When clients call to ask questions about their file, I can answer their query almost anywhere thanks to my files being electronic and in the cloud. There’s no need to call up the office to get a staff member away from their tasks at hand to answer a simple question.
There are so many other options available that would make your existing staff’s lives easier, and encourage other potential job seekers to upgrade and train themselves so their jobs are multi-faceted, multi-skilled.
The fantastic thing in the Singapore context is the fact that all these things can be subsidised. Actually, subsidisation is an understatement. The Government is practically paying businesses to modernize.
Take the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) for example. You get a 400% write off in your business’ tax returns (for businesses that employ 3 or more local staff), meaning if you buy a $1,000 computer, it is worth $4,000 in your tax returns, so you pay less in taxes.
But if you were making a loss, no worries – the scheme lets you get a cash rebate of 60% for your purchase. So if you were to buy a $1,000 computer, dis Gahmen GIVES YOU BACK $600!
DIS KIND OF LOBANG WHERE CAN FIND LIDDAT? SRSLY!
And if you think that’s like ZOMG WLE SIGN ME UP NAO, there is more money being thrown your way to make your company staff’s lives easier.
After getting an e2i Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) discount of 50% off your productivity purchase, if you spend more than $5,000 in a qualifying period and you have claimed a PIC grant of 60%, you are eligible for a (taxable) additional cash grant of 100%. Confused? Nair mind.
Exempli gratia: You purchase $12,000 of several computers, machinery, and software that make your staff’s lives easier and more productive.
You get 50% e2i IGP discount and only spend $6,000.
You successfully claim a PIC cash payout of 60% or $3,600. THEN DIS GAHMEN WILL NOW GIVE YOU AN ADDITIONAL $6,000! OMGWTFBBQ DIS IS THE REAL GREAT SINGAPORE SALE!
Is this Budget serious about supporting SMEs and making lives of workers better? How about you read the previous five paragraphs to answer the question?
You’ve probably also heard about the increase in CPF contribution rates for the over 55s. There’s just not enough in workers’ CPFs to cover retirement necessities, partly because of how much older Singaporeans are when they do finally get married and have kids, and how much more our life expectancies have increased.
I’m glad dis gahmen is also implementing grants to cover the increase in employers’ contributions. Of course, thanks are in order to NTUC for pushing the idea of increasing employers’ contributions to the lawmakers.
There’s also other monies to tap on if you’re interested in improving workers’ skills – the Lifelong Learning and Continuing Education Fund has now been topped up to $4.6b. Again, these funds and schemes have been pushed by NTUC for several years now.
You can call it the happy circle of life – happy employees, productive company, better products, and happier customers. The ball is firmly in our court to put the money to good use – make your employees happier, more productive, more skilled and make your staff and your business continue to be the backbone of the Singapore economy.Tweet
At the last management council meeting of the last year at my condo, we were presented with a request by the cleaning company for a 20% contract fee hike. The managing agent then presented us with three other quotes that hovered around the old fee mark. We opted to terminate the incumbent and go with the cheaper one. 20% was just too much.
The contractor gave the usual reasons – gahmen tightening supply of labour, and the mandated progressive wages about to hit the industry.
The Progressive Wage Model did indeed ‘hit’ last month, in a better way than I thought – in an incentive (basket, early nair say) worth a total of $5M for buyers of services – meaning we could’ve stayed with the old cleaning company, and NTUC’s Progressive Wage Incentive would’ve foot part of the bill.
That’s a nice cushion for buyers since it is now compulsory for cleaning companies to implement the Progressive Wage Model – Lim Swee Say’s betterer version of the minimum wage. Cleaners will now have better entry pays (at least above $1,000 per month), with clear pathways to higher pay based on work experience, skill upgrading and productivity improvements.
That, together with other grants (from the e2i) means that outsourcing industries like cleaning companies and security businesses can look at vendors of machines, systems and services that improve their productivity so they can provide the same level of service for clients without having to jack up prices 20% all of a sudden. (Which, in the words of a member our management council – “wah lao, one time so high, is too much”).
I also sat through a particularly dry presentation (sorry ah, presenter) by the Changi Airport Group during the Best Sourcing Symposium at the e2i, and managed to glean something – that with passenger number increases over the last five years, the adoption of best sourcing practices has somehow managed to keep the contract cost and number of cleaners relatively low while maintaining cleanliness standards.
There are ways for companies and buyers to bite the bullet and shift towards a more productive and innovative mindset, and seriously, you can get a discount via the Progressive Wage Incentive if you’re one of the first to do it. Apply now before it runs out!Tweet
I’m spending a lot of time writing Kumar’s (and several others’) script for Happy Ever Laughter 2014, and I’ve been explaining to Kai what I’ve been doing at work as well.
Then we came home one day, and as we were driving past the guard house, our night guard, whose name is also Kumar, waved his customary wave at Kai, who reciprocated.
Kai then told me matter of factly, “This Uncle Kumar doesn’t wear a dress”.
So I said to him proudly, “He can if he wanted to”.Tweet