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.

 

The last major train­ing exer­cise I was part of was held in Shoal­wa­ter Bay, Queens­land. On the night before the end of the exer­cise, (which was also an assess­ment known as ATEC that deter­mines whether a com­bat unit is fit for oper­a­tions) the com­mu­ni­ca­tions radio in my armoured fight­ing vehi­cle crack­led with a higher than usual urgency. Our vehi­cle com­man­der pleaded with us to keep quiet so he could lis­ten better.

When some­one yells or screams into a radio comms, what­ever mes­sage that per­son is try­ing to send is usu­ally dis­torted and gar­bled, and because you don’t know what it is that is mak­ing the per­son so fran­tic, it tends to scare you a little.

All we could hear was fran­tic yelling on the radio com­mu­ni­ca­tions — some­thing about “No Duff”, which was code for “Not Sim­u­lated”.

We worked out that one of our tanks had over­turned. And when that hap­pens, chances of injury to the crew are likely to be high. There is a vehi­cle over­turn drill which we prac­tice before every exer­cise, but we had been on the move for over 36 hours and this had been our battalion’s final mis­sion in the assess­ment. We were exhausted and car (tank) sick and more likely to slip up.

We pan­icked a lit­tle in our vehi­cle, not know­ing if the crew of the tank was ok. There was a bunch of us that night who were from my orig­i­nal NSF unit, and who must have had flash­backs of an exer­cise in 1989 where one of our unit mates was killed when his vehi­cle overturned.

That exer­cise was halted, for about 12 hours, before our com­mand­ing offi­cer explained that as oper­a­tional sol­diers, we had to carry on. We stayed on and trained in Thai­land for the next 2 weeks.

You never for­get some­thing like that — and I remem­ber being unable to con­trol my trem­bling even when it was finally announced that the tank crew was safe because they’d just man­aged to duck into the com­part­ments as it flipped over.

The other mem­o­rable moment of the exer­cise was when my com­pany com­man­der calmed everyone’s jan­gled nerves that night by call­ing over the comms: “Two-Niner to all sta­tions Two-Niner, if your Zulu (Armoured Fight­ing Vehi­cle) dri­vers or com­man­ders are tired, I will stop and let you rest! I promise you! We will fin­ish this mis­sion safely! …Two-Niner, out!”

To my broth­ers in the 46th Bat­tal­ion, Sin­ga­pore Armour Reg­i­ment (1989–91) and 433rd Bat­tal­ion, Sin­ga­pore Armour Reg­i­ment (1999–2008), I’m proud to have served along­side you. And, even as eras pass and doc­trines change, here’s to every sol­dier, sailor and air­man of the Sin­ga­pore Armed Forces.

Happy SAF Day.

Ex Wallaby 2005 - Somewhere in Queensland

Ex Wal­laby 2005 — Some­where in Queensland

Ex Crescendo 1989 - Somewhere in Thailand

Ex Crescendo 1989 — Some­where in Thailand

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Pink Dot is a family event

Pink Dot is a fam­ily event

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.

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Our Food Patriot K.F. See­toh still hasn’t wiped the foam from his mouth from rant­ing about food blog­gers, which is why I’m telling you now, I’m not a food blogger.

I don’t know how to write about food except to tell you I like it or not. But there’s a chance I might like a restau­rant or cafe sim­ply because the peo­ple who run it are nice, and are pas­sion­ate about the things they make.

But there are places where we would prob­a­bly have avoided if we looked closer before mak­ing a reservation.

Sat­ur­day after­noon offered one such place. We’d dri­ven past it sev­eral times, and the loca­tion had once been a Swiss-German restau­rant we liked. So I made a reser­va­tion, and picked up the fam­ily to go there for lunch. It looked like a pretty hip place from the out­side, with the raw, dis­tressed metal and glass and cement finishes.

Plus, it served ribs and wine, because from the name, you’d know it did. But once we opened the door and got in to be seated by the very friendly and atten­tive wait staff, we knew we were in trouble.

First, they piped-in Kenny G! In place of what you’d expect a hip rib joint to play! Sec­ondly, we were the only peo­ple in the restau­rant apart from the staff.

Then, when we asked for rec­om­men­da­tions, the (really friendly and atten­tive) waiter obliged by giv­ing us this, his only sug­ges­tion: “If you don’t mind spicy, then you should try our spicy pork ribs”.

Thank good­ness for the Kenny G muzak, or else we might have had our brains working.

Then came time for us to dabao what we couldn’t fin­ish. We were told, “Take­away con­tainer is 50c”. There would have been com­plete silence at that moment if not for Kenny G.

We found the food to be pretty ‘meh’ con­sid­er­ing the price, but don’t rely on me to tell you, because like I said, I’m not a food blog­ger, and maybe they’re bet­ter known for their wines.

Good Review

Good & Bad Review

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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.

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Redemp­tion is a dif­fi­cult thing. You know when you’ve done some­thing wrong and you’re think­ing of what you can do to make things right and it never seems to be adequate?

Well, no, I’m not talk­ing about that kind of redemp­tion. In our uniquely Sin­ga­pore par­lance, “redemp­tion” usu­ally means you get rewarded for your loy­alty to some kind of con­sumer brand or product.

StarHub is one such brand, and if you’ve been a cus­tomer long enough, you’d know that for every dol­lar you spend on your StarHub ser­vice — like your mobile sub­scrip­tion, cable TV or inter­net con­nec­tion, you’d have earned points for them.

These points would then qual­ify for “redemp­tion”. This is where things used to be dif­fi­cult. You’d go to the Rewards site, scroll through how many prod­ucts you can redeem for your num­ber of points and end up maybe only get­ting some voucher to redeem again against your next phone bill or something.

How many of you have signed up for some telco, earned loy­alty points and gone to the rewards web­site JUST ONCE AND THEN GIVEN UP NEVER TO RETURN AGAIN?

GOT, RIGHT? WAH LAO EH! I’ve been a StarHub cus­tomer for more than a decade, and I’ve never redeemed any­thing. Or at least any­thing that I remember.

But, that’s about to change as StarHub relaunches its new StarHub Rewards web­site at www.starhub.com/redeem

I recently checked out the web­site and they have a much wider range of items to redeem. After all those years of painful phone bills, I’ve actu­ally accu­mu­lated quite a few points. Dammit, if these could be exchanged for real cash, I’d be a bit richer.

But if you look at the site, you’d see it’s not that bad. They have a good range of adult and kid-friendly rewards. I might con­sider a short stay at a hotel on Sen­tosa, a din­ner at a big-name (got sign­board) seafood restau­rant, and see­ing as how expen­sive aquar­ium tick­ets are and how per­sua­sive a five year old boy can be, I might cash in for a two adult, one child reward.

Bet­ter yet, it’s now even eas­ier to redeem your hard earned points because you can get it off your mobile devices and tablets too.

Come to think of it, you may want to use your points for friends’ birth­day presents. Just ‘cos you used points to get them stuff doesn’t mean that the thought didn’t count.

This is a reward site that is finally seri­ous about giv­ing you some­thing for your loy­alty. If you have points, BBBMTL!

Fol­low my twit­ter feed @miyagi for more exclu­sive treats from StarHub Rewards.

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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!”

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:

  • Mohamed Ishak Bin Mohamed Noor, SMRT Assis­tant Engineer
  • Lim Chee Kiang, PSA Con­tainer Equip­ment Spe­cial­ist (Quay Crane)
  • T. Man­i­maran, Sem­b­Waste Senior Driver
  • Ray­mond Ong, Com­fort­Del­Gro Taxi Driver
  • Ang Boon Ho, Seiko Instru­ments Sin­ga­pore Assis­tant Supervisor

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.

I still see ivory orna­ments in shops, and quite often in homes of rel­a­tives. I sup­pose one could say these trin­kets were beau­ti­ful items because when they were once worn nat­u­rally by their orig­i­nal own­ers, they were a mag­nif­i­cent ensem­ble of size, might and intelligence.

I want to help tell peo­ple that ele­phants MUST die in order to sup­ply the ivory from their tusks. You don’t shear them off like you do wool from sheep. Poach­ers kill lots of these ani­mals just for their tusks, and appar­ently in increas­ing num­bers because of the increase in the num­ber of afflu­ent Asians and their appetite for what they think are lux­ury items.

Please pledge to never buy ivory at www.letelephantsbeelephants.org. And tell others.

Singapore Skyline (2013)

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.

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