Friday, February 27, 2009

Tips on how to hire more foreign workers than you are allowed to

2 charged for biggest case of hiring phantom workers

SINGAPORE: In the biggest case to date, two men have been charged with 101 counts each, for allegedly falsely declaring the number of local workers employed so as to be able to hire more foreign workers.

The duo are 52-year-old Lim Chye Cheng, and 59-year-old Steven Lee Kong. They are both from the SME group of companies comprising 14 firms that provide cleaning services.

Steven Lee is the director of the SME group and Lim is believed to be the key player in the scam.

The Manpower Ministry said it has been monitoring the SME group since late last year.

Amid ongoing investigations, a group of foreign workers working for some of the companies under the group lodged complaints regarding salary arrears.

Lee and Lim are only two out of 10 people to be charged in the Subordinate Courts on Friday.

The other eight are from companies spanning fields like marine, construction, F&B and manufacturing.

These include Toh Eng Hock Construction, TNS Logistics, and Restu Muslim Seafood Restaurant.

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, falsely declaring the number of local workers hired is punishable with a fine of up to S$15,000, or twelve months' jail, or both.

The local phantom worker also faces prosecution for abetting the offence.

The 10 cases are due to be heard again in another three to four weeks' time.

Last November, the Manpower Ministry also prosecuted the owner of Spize the Makanplace for making false declarations in 15 workpass applications.

It is always an ingenious idea to hire more foreign workers. First off, they are cheaper than local workers. Secondly, you can make them work longer hours. And most importantly, you can delay paying them salaries!

That's right! They have nobody to turn to, and nowhere to run to, so you could delay their pay as long as half a year! Or better still, save on their lodging by making 600 of them packed in a little dorm!



Thursday, February 26, 2009

Where in the world is Mas Selamat now after one whole year?

Somebody should be sending a "Happy Anniversary" card to the Police.

Or maybe Mas Selamat himself should send a "Thank you" note to the Police. But of course, that would be rather risky and foolish, in case the Police decided to wake up and trace the note to his whereabouts.

So where in Singapore is Mas Selamat now?

Could he still be hiding in one of the forests in Singapore? Doubt so. With the recent forests fires, Singapore forests are in the limelight now. Hey, suddenly everyone realised that there is a forest in Tampines! That's too much attention!

Or could he be hiding in his supporters' houses? But with the current economy downturn and retrenchments spawning everywhere, it is getting more difficult to feed an extra mouth in the family. If his supporter has reached such a bad financial status that he has to send his grandparents to a nursing home in JB, won't he instead send Mr Mas Selamat away?

On the other hand, in the midst of all the confusion during the first few days of his escape, like whether he was limping on the left or on the right, young or old looking, fat or skinny, perhaps he had already fleed Singapore before the custom officers at the bottom of the hierarchy received the correct instruction.

So where in the world is Mas Selamat now?

He could have rejoined his gang somewhere in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Yemen, Pakistan or Iraq. But if that is indeed the case, then why have we not hear about any terrorist activities with his name mentioned? Is it because of the weak global economy? Perhaps there is a shrink in project budget and he had to abandon some of the lower priority ones? Sponsors could be backing out, raw material cost for bombs making could have gone way too high, or worse, some members could be retrenched!

Or who knows, he could have decided to take a break and is now relaxing somewhere high in the mountains in Bhutan, or at a nearby beach resort in Bali!

No matter, maybe somebody should send a "Good Luck" card to the Police.



Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How can we tame the new media for the next General Election?


Mr Teo walked into the meeting room with a brand new mini notebook on his right hand. Ah Tan, Ah Lim and Ali stared at the new mini notebook ravenously, forgot to even greet Mr Teo.

MR TEO (clearing throat): Uh-em... Gentlemen...

Quickly, the three men snapped out and greeted Mr Teo. They smiled apologetically.

MR TEO: Gentlemen, I'm sure you must be wondering why am I bringing a notebook into the meeting. Well, I can assure you that this first time is not going to be the last time. First of all, I've got good news for you. You may each get a new notebook as well. Susan will see to it.

Almost together, all three men punched their fists in the air and cheered.

MR TEO: These new notebooks are the essential tools in your new project, and you're required to use your notebook in each and every one of the project meeting. Now the bad news. This is going to be a three-years long project, and failure is not acceptable!

The three men gasped and stared at Mr Teo.

AH LIM (gingerly): Er... Sir, what exactly is this important project?
ALI (still gasping): Sir! Are we going to use these notebooks to use GPS to track down Mas Selamat?
MR TEO (towards Ali): No! We are not using these notebooks to track down Mas Selamat! It's the police's job, not ours! We've got more important things to do! And seriously, I don't think we can use GPS to track down Mas Selamat! You've watched too much C.S.I.!

Ali smiled and nodded apologetically at Mr Teo.

MR TEO: Gentlemen, the Boss has confirmed that our next General Election is set to be in 2012. And his instruction is that we need to actively engage and leverage on the new media at the next General Election. During the last US election, President Barrack Obama's team not only put out messages on the Web during his campaign, but also operated on the Web as a means of working together, organising and raising money. We are expected to do, not the same, but better than them! So this is our new project! How to make the Internet works for us for the next General Election!
AH TAN (nodding): This project is indeed not going to be easy.
MR TEO: Exactly. That's why we need to start now. From now till 2012, we've got three years to tame the web.

Mr Teo walked towards the white board and started writing the words "How to make the web works for us, not against us".

MR TEO: Currently we are engaging citizens online through portals such as REACH, our very important and efficient feedback arm, as well as new media outlets such as Facebook. Are you guys familiar with these? Tan?
AH TAN: Hmm... After a netizen has registered at REACH, he or she may start posting in the forum about any issues, or even to comment about the new policies.
MR TEO (nodding): Correct! And to comfort those panaroid ones, we don't even make it compulsory for them to register with their NRIC number!
AH LIM: Wow! We've got that? We just let those people complain so openly?
AH TAN: No, no... any of the netizens can join in the discussion, but we set the topic and we start the thread. Of course we'll only have friendly topics like "CPF Life made simple" and "More help for the vulnerable in society"! Don't expect to find those preposterous topics like "Flawed Job Credit Scheme benefits employers more than workers"! We're not Sammyboy yeh!

Mr Teo patted Ah Tan's back agreeably and nodded.

ALI (rubbing chin slowly): So it's like we give the people a chance to talk to us, but we decide what we want to hear?
MR TEO: Yes, Ali. Unfortunately this is necessary. The internet is not an effective self-regulated regime, remember?

Ali nodded his head gently. Still staring blankly and his fingers still rubbing his chin slowly.

MR TEO: Well, the Boss had put it very simply. He said, "there is a place called the Wild West and there are other places which are not so wild"...
AH LIM: Wah! Chim!

All stared at Ah Lim's sudden reaction.

AH LIM (smiling apologetically to Mr Teo): Sorry, Sir...

MR TEO (clearing throat): And in these Wild West, these frivolous websites, blogs and forums, people can say anything they want, and tomorrow take a completely contrary view. On the other hand, there are places in the Internet which are more considered, more moderated, where people put their names down and identify themselves. And there is a debate which goes on and a give and take, which is not so rambunctious but perhaps more thoughtful.

Mr Teo paused and found the three men staring at him quietly.

MR TEO: Gentlemen, am I losing you?
AH TAN: No Sir, I can completely understand what the Boss is saying, but... you mean, there are other forums out there that are as tightly controlled as REACH?
MR TEO (hesitating): Er... I guess so... I suppose this is what he meant...

Ah Lim and Ali muttered softly to each other and scratched their heads.

MR TEO: Anyway, I believe what the Boss has wanted us to do, is to make sure that bloggers, website proprietors and all netizens behave themselves on the Internet. And this has to be achieved by 2012!
AH TAN: What do we need to do?
MR TEO: Okay, here's a few things on our plate. We need to make sure that those people stop posting preposterous topics on forums that will affect our standing in the next General Election.
AH TAN: Hmm... But stopping people from posting freely on forums will be difficult.
AH LIM: Can't the censorship board help?
AH TAN: Don't think so...

Ah Tan stared at the celling blankly, tapping his fingers on the table. A few minutes later, he stopped abruptly and smiled.

AH TAN: Sir, we can employ a team of elites to work full time on this project. Their job will be to surf forums and post comments. As soon as they find anyone posting any comments on any topics that are of disadvantage to us, they shall rebuke and condone those comments.
AH LIM (interrupting): Ah! You mean, like if they comment that a two cents cut for the public transport is too little, our guys will sneak in and comment that they should not be asking for too much?
AH TAN: Hmm... yes, something like that.
MR TEO (nodding and typing on his new mini notebook): Good idea! But I'll need them to do one more thing. As soon as they come across any blog or website that is writing anything that does not agree with our policies, keep them under the radar. As soon as any of these sites write anything that looks chargable, print out the site and send to Legal for advice.

Ah Tan scribbled on his notepad quickly.

MR TEO: We'll also need to keep track of websites and blogs that are related to the opposition parties. This includes also those sites that agree with the opposition parties or are linking to them.
ALI: Wow Sir, there's a lot of them out there!
MR TEO (with a stern voice): Yes, I know. But we've got to keep an eye on these sites. During the last election, so many sites had uploaded videos of opposition parties' rallies. The Boss was very furious. Very furious.

All three men nodded solemnly.

MR TEO: And lastly but most importantly, we want the people to believe what they read from the newspapers and local TV news, not from what they read online. We must make them understand that only the traditional media will present trusted, unbiased and informed opinions! AH TAN (muttering): Hmm... that's true... If they don't believe in what the newspapers writes or what the local TV news says anymore, then what's the point of us controlling them?
MR TEO: In the past, the newspapers and local TV news are all they've got. It was so much easier for us to tell them only what we want them to know. But with, and whatever, they are knowing more than what they should know! And to make matters worse, we've got political blogs and websites spawning all over the place, commenting on our policies and affecting the netizens!
AH TAN: I get what you mean. The Temasek and GIC incident had sparked off so much heat all because there are just too many blogs and websites talking about it and questioning about the loss.
MR TEO: That's my point! These political blogs and websites are actually teaching our people how to think! Geez...



Friday, February 20, 2009

Boycott Carl’s Jr because of Edison Chen?

We don't want him
by Rachel Chan
Source: Mypaper

MORE than a year after Hong Kong actor-singer Edison Chen found himself at the centre of a sex scandal, the 28-year-old remained toxic here.

News that he is showing up at a fast-food chain here next week sparked off controversy within the Internet community.

Chen was invited as a guest to Carl’s Jr.’s launch of its latest creation – the 100 per cent Angus Beef Thickburger – next Friday.

His imminent presence prompted an Internet user to lash out at him, triggering threats of a boycott of the chain’s products.

“He is a dubious character who is an affront to women,” the man told my paper. “I hope that Carl’s Jr. will realise that they’re making a PR fiasco.”

The executive, who is in his 40s, did not want to be identified.

Although some who spoke to my paper said they would not support a “jinx”, others were
more forgiving.

Mr Jeffrey Koh, 32, business and finance manager of film distributor Festive Films, said: “It’s time for him to come back. The incident happened so long ago.”

Chen gained notoriety last year when racy pictures of Hong Kong celebrities such as Gillian Chung were leaked on Internet forums.

A spokesman for Carl’s Jr. said: “When we chose to invite him for this event, it was based purely on friendship between his management and us,” she said.

Sports giant adidas, which also invited him to be its guest for a separate event the same day, said: “Edison Chen is a streetwear authority...and continues to maintain a strong base of consumers and followers.”

A dubious character? An affront to women? What exactly did Edison Chen do?

He took pictures of the ladies he bedded with, and he took his notebook for repair. Apparently that was all he did.

Did he force the ladies to have sex with him? Apparently not, judging from the absence of violence in the pictures, and more importantly, nobody brought him to court for rape.

Did he take those pictures secretly, without consent from the ladies, and thus violating their privacy? Apparently not, judging from the angels of the pictures, with some even looking directly at the camera.

Did he distribute the pictures to the public intentionally? Apparently not, since all of us are aware that these private pictures were leaked by the notebook repair man.

So which of the above arguement are we using to brand him as a dubious character who is an affront to women?

Of course I'm not saying that Edison Chen is a saint. He was, or who knows, still is, flirting outrageously, having multiple sex partners, and one even married. Morally, he should have deleted all evidents of sexual activities that he had participated with the ladies after their breakup. However none of the above wrongs is illegal, and it is his personal life we are talking about.

On the other hand, stealing is illegal, cheating is illegal, robbing is illegal, and of course hurting someone physically is illegal. And after these criminals had served their full sentence and repented, we said "hey, let's forgive and forget!" and started the Yellow Ribbon project, didn't we? Alas, but we're not willing to give Edison Chen a chance for comeback!

Contrary to what that executive in his forties believes, Carl’s Jr. will not be making a PR fiasco. They are fully aware that a publicity is a publicity. That scandal had made Edison Chen notorious, but notorious is also another word of "famous". His show up at Carl's Jr is a crowd guarantee, and this crowd is the attention that Carl's Jr is looking for to promote their latest product.

Imagine this, at Carl's Jr, on Friday...
AH LIAN: Hey! That Edison Chen still look so handsome leh!
AH SENG: Aiyah! Of course lah! I heard that he still having a good life in US leh!
AH LIAN: Is it? That idiot! Sigh... those girls really poor thing!
AH SENG: So what is this promotion all about har?
AH LIAN: Oh... that Carl's Jr got this new 100 per cent Angus Beef Thickburger mah! So they asked him come to promote loh!
AH SENG: 100 per cent Angus Beef Thickburger... wah! Sounds delicious leh! Want go try?

Bingo. Mission accomplished and Carl's Jr's Marketing Manager will have a pat on his/her back from the boss.

Some may argue that Singapore is still a conservative society and we should not condone such behaviour and accept such a character. But are we really in a conservative society? Or a hypocritical one?

How many Singaporean men are going to Batam or Bintan to boost the prostitution industry there? How many legal prostitutes are there in Geylang? How many Singaporeans are showing it all online? And how many on the streets like Sun Tan? How many couples are having sex at the HDB void decks and lifts, straight and gay?

And now we're saying that we do not welcome Edison Chen to step foot on our little island because we have such high morality?



Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Our athletes are under obligation to be in their best behaviour when they wear the Singapore colours!


Ah Koh knocked delicately on the cubicle wall before walking in. Ah Tan put down the papers he was reading and gestered Ah Koh to the seat in front of his desk. He had a slight frown on his face.

AH TAN: Koh, I understand that we're going to play host to the first ever Asian Youth Games in Singapore this year.
AH KOH: Yes, Sir. We are. The AYG Singapore 2009 was part of our bid plan to the IOC for the YOG in 2010.
AH TAN (raising an eyebrow): But I can't help to notice that there is zero participation from our athletes ?
AH KOH: Er... yes Sir, unfortunately all of our athletes are unable to participate in the event.
AH TAN (pulling both eyebrows together into a frown): And can you tell me why is this so?
AH KOH (muttering): Er... all of them are still in suspension...
AH TAN (eyes wide opened): What? You guys suspended all of our athletes?

Ah Koh rounded his back slightly and gave Ah Tan an embarrassed smile.

AH TAN: Okay... I know about that two triathletes caught alone together in a hotel room, and that three bowlers caught drinking. So what about the rest? I suppose our swimmers were not caught smoking from a bong right?

Ah Koh quickly took out the little black notebook in his right trousers pocket and fumbled through the pages.

AH KOH: No they were not... but they were suspended for allegedly smoking their instructors when asked what time did they sleep the night before.
AH TAN: Oh... then how about our beach volleyball players?
AH KOH: Suspended because their bikinis were too revealing.
AH TAN: Their bikinis too revealing? Weren't they supposed to be wearing uniform?
AH KOH: Ah, no... we tried to be more liberal and flexible, so they were allowed to wear their own bikinis.
AH TAN: I see... Hmm... our basketball players?
AH KOH: Their hair were too long. All of them had their hair over the eyebrows. Our rules stated that when combed downwards, the hair should not cover the eyes. And for a couple of them, their hair at the back even touched the collar!
AH TAN (astounded): All of them did not cut their hair?
AH KOH: Yes, they tried to argue that they did not have the time to visit the barber because of the tight training schedule to prepare them for the coming competitions. But these are just excuses! They could have gone for a cut during lunch time or any of their few hours of rest time!
AH TAN: That's true. How about those sailing athletes?
AH KOH: For eating chocolate bars during their 12 hours non-stop training in the sea.
AH TAN: Soccer players?
AH KOH: For chewing gums during competition in Malaysia.
AH TAN: Shooters? I mean those athletes in the shooting sports?
AH KOH: Making too much noise during their training.
AH TAN (pausing): Wait a minute... I don't suppose shooting is a quiet sports...
AH KOH: No, no, Sir. They were not penalised for the noise from their shootings. They were penalised for talking too loudly. In fact they were caught shouting to each other.
AH TAN: Geez, that's rude. How can they treat their own teammates in such manner?
AH KOH (nodding): Precisely! And they actually blamed it on their ear-plugs!
AH TAN (sighing): Youngsters these days! How about our divers?
AH KOH (took a deep breath): Oh this one is serious... The instructors caught the male and female divers diving in the same swimming pool!
AH TAN (right hand slapped on his desk): Scandalous!

Ah Tan leant back on his chair momentarily to cool himself down. He flipped through the papers on his desk again.

AH TAN: Ah yes... our table tennis players. What's wrong with them? I'm anticipating more medals from them!
AH KOH: Oh... they are the worst... what they did was really unforgivable...
AH TAN (sternly): What did they do? Not obeying their new instructor?
AH KOH: Worse... we caught them communicating with that fired ex-instructor on Facebook during the Chinese New Year, arranging to meetup for Lo Hei!
AH TAN (stood up and pounded his hands on his desk): Such audacity!



Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why are we paying 50 cents for a glass of plain water?

We were at the Macau Express at Singapore Expo for dinner. After we were done with our meals, my friend requested for a glass of plain water so that she could take her medicine. The waitress bluntly informed her that would be fifty cents.

Yes, no kidding. Fifty cents for a glass of plain water, probably straight from the tap.

I'm sure by now everybody knows that it is not uncommon for restaurants and cafes to either charge for plain water, or not to offer at all. Please do not be deluded thinking that this could be due to the reason that water is scarce in Singapore and therefore is expensive.

First of all, water has never been scarce in Singapore. Besides the not-so-amicable sources from Johor and many reservoirs all over the island, we are also having the SingSpring desalination plant and the all new Marina Barrage. And not forgetting the NEWater, though to some Singaporeans it is a Fear Factor drink.

Secondly, is water really that expensive in Singapore? A quick check on PUB's water tariff tells us that non-domestic tariff charge is $1.17/m cube, before GST. That doesn't look too unaffordable for a eating place open for business, does it? Oh, but there is a Water Conservation Tax levied by the Government to reinforce the water conservation message, which is 30% of the tariff. I would have to agree that 30% of the total bill, plus another 7% for GST, is not a small amount. But should the customers be paying to help the business conserve water? Will the amount of plain water given away in a day be more than the amount used in cooking and washing?

The eating places cannot just force it down our throats that the price of water is indeed an issue and the customers should pay, I meant do, their part in conserving water. Well, admittedly, we might not always finish up the whole glass of plain water which we requested for, and we are therefore falling under the category of wasting water. But is it really about conserving water?

It is a common practice in cafes, and even kopitiams, that you could request for a free refill of hot water for the cup of tea that you ordered. Why is it then that you are required to pay for a glass of plain water, but when you are refilling the same amount of water into your tea, it is free? Simple. Because you've already paid for your cup of tea and the eating place feels that you've already done your part as the customer. Pay.

Apparently, it all comes down to the dollar sign. Don't they all?

Strangly, expensive franchises like Coffee Beans and Tea Leaves could afford to offer iced plain water to their customers, but the smaller Hong Kong cafes with lower operations cost could not follow suit. How great a loss will they suffer if they were to start offering free plain water to their customers? Okay, say the customers were willing to pay for their plain water, isn't fifty cents too much to ask for? And for some eating places, why the difference in price between water with ice cubes and just plain water? Because the electricity bill is in play now?

One may argue that if the eating place were to offer plain water to the customers, the customers will most probably not order any drinks at all. Well, unless a customer is sitting at the table with just the free plain water, which would be preposterous, he/she must have ordered a main course, a side dish, or dessert! If the customer has already spent ten dollars on bowl of noodles, or five dollars on a small slice of cake, can't the cafe just give his/her wallet a break? Considering the low cost of raw materials involved in the production of these food, isn't the profit adequate to produce a spectacular Profit and Loss statement? Must the customer be so obliged to order a glass of lime juice or a cup of coffee?

For some posh cafes like Bakerzin cafes and the TCC at Clarke Quay (for some reasons, TCC cafes at other not as "prestigious" locations are willing to offer free plain water), their customers will not get plain water, even if they wished to pay for it. These are the places where only the finest Evian bottled mineral water is served. Yes, only Evian is served, not the cheap Ice Mountain. Perhaps the reason being they could charge you five dollars for an Evian and still look reasonable.

But what exasperates me is that, like most coffee drinkers, I would prefer not to have my breath to smell of espresso after the drink, and a small glass of plain water would just be what I needed, not a whole bottle of Evian! And I'm still bemused. Why only Evian? This is Singapore, so serve Ice Mountain, Spring Fresh or Aqua, for goodness's sake!

While the eating places are having so much issues offering free plain water to their customers, it would make perfect sense for the customers to BYO, to bring along a bottle of plain water. However this does not work as well, because almost every restaurant, cafe, kopitiam, and even an eating place as small as your bed room has this flamboyant sign that says "No outside food and drinks allowed"!



Thursday, February 12, 2009

So this is how the U.S. banks are spending their government bailout money

Just when the heads of Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, State Street and Wells Fargo are being questioned on how they had spend their TARP money...

US bank bosses face Congressional hearing

WASHINGTON: US bank chief executives paraded before lawmakers on Wednesday to express remorse about public fury over their use of government bailout money, but insisted they had not lined their own pockets.

The heads of Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, State Street and Wells Fargo braced for tough questions at a hearing in the House of Representatives.

Underlining the sour mood, House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank issued a stern warning at the hearing's start against public disruptions.

"There's a great deal of anger in the country, much of it justified," the Democrat said.

In their written testimony, the chief executives said they had not used money from the 700-billion-dollar Troubled Asset Relief Programme (TARP) to pay out bonuses and were in fact taking salary cuts.

"It is abundantly clear that we are here amidst broad public anger at our industry," Goldman Sachs boss Lloyd Blankfein told the House Financial Services Committee.

"In my 26 years at Goldman Sachs, I have never seen a wider gulf between the financial services industry and the public," he said.

"Many people believe - and, in many cases, justifiably so - that Wall Street lost sight of its larger public obligations and allowed certain trends and practices to undermine the financial system's stability."

A similar mea culpa came from Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack.

In his testimony, Mack said Morgan Stanley had maintained its capital cushion and delivered positive results in 2008 despite the financial crisis.

"But we didn't do everything right. Far from it. And make no mistake: as the head of this firm, I take responsibility for our performance," he said.

"I believe that both our firm and our industry have far to go to regain the trust of taxpayers, investors and public officials," Mack said, echoing the other CEOs in pledging to pay the government back quickly.

President Barack Obama and members of Congress have expressed deep anger over how the first half of TARP money was used, especially over hefty executive bonuses that continued to be paid out on Wall Street.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Tuesday outlined a new bank bailout potentially worth up to two trillion dollars, but lawmakers are grumbling that Wall Street has yet to show it is mending its ways.

Merrill Lynch happily paid out one million dollars or more bonus to each of its 700 top executives...

Merrill Lynch's bonuses made 696 millionaires, probe reveals

WASHINGTON: Merrill Lynch quietly paid out at least one million dollars bonus each to about 700 top executives even when the investment house was bleeding with losses last year, a probe has revealed.

They were part of 3.6 billion dollars in the firm's bonus payments in December before the announcement of its fourth quarterly losses and takeover by Bank of America, the investigation by the New York state Attorney General's office showed.

"696 individuals received bonuses of one million dollars or more," New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said of the Merrill scandal in a letter to a lawmaker heading the House of Representatives financial services committee.

Cuomo said "these payments and their curious timing raise serious questions as to whether the Merrill Lynch and Bank of America boards of directors were derelict in their duties and violated their fiduciary obligations," according to a copy of the letter.

Bank of America said recently it was aware of the amounts and timing of the bonuses even though previous reports had suggested the top bank was surprised by the payout.

Cuomo said in his letter to Democratic lawmaker Barney Frank that his office was also examining whether senior officials at both companies "violated their own fiduciary obligations to shareholders.

"If they did, this raises additional serious issues with regard to the inappropriate use of taxpayer funds," he said.

"Merrill Lynch's decision to secretly and prematurely award approximately 3.6 billion dollars in bonuses, and Bank of America's apparent complicity in it, raise serious and disturbing questions," he said.

Shareholders and experts had expressed concern over Merrill's 15.3 billion fourth-quarter loss, which caused Bank of America to request a second round of government bailout on January 16.

Bank of America's shareholders voted to approve Merrill's takeover on December 5.

Former Merrill Lynch chief executive John Thain, Bank of America chief administrative officer J. Steele Alphin and other top executives have been summoned to provide testimony in the probe.

"One disturbing question that must be answered is whether Merrill Lynch and Bank of America timed the bonuses in such a way as to force taxpayers to pay for them through the deal funding," Cuomo said.

Cuomo said the Merrill Lynch bonus payment was "nothing short of staggering."

While more than 39,000 Merrill employees received bonuses from the pool, the vast majority of these funds were "disproportionately distributed to a small number of individuals."

"Indeed, Merrill chose to make millionaires out of a select group of 700 employees."

I am now crossing my fingers real tight that companies in Singapore are going to use their Job Credits the right way. Not "right-for-the-boss" right, but "right-for-the-workers" right...



Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Let's build more of those cheap nursing home across the Causeway!


Ah Tan, Ah Lim and Ali were having coffee break at a table. As Ah Khaw entered the pantry, he smiled and walked over to pat Ah Tan on his shoulder.

AH KHAW: Ooi! Ho say bo?
AH TAN: Still the same lah! Hey sit! Sit!

Ah Khaw pulled over a chair from the nearby table and sat between Ah Tan and Ah Lim.

AH LIM: Here for meeting ah?
AH KHAW: Yah lah! What else? Work?

The four men laughed and sipped their coffee and tea.

AH TAN: Hey Ali, you're looking kinda tired. Didn't rest well during the weekends?
ALI: No lah! My wife lah! She wanted to go JB to get this coffee table, so we ended up spending half a day there! Actually going to JB is not bad lah, can top up groceries and petrol, but the causeway jam, headache lah!
AH KHAW (nodding in agreement): Tell me about it! I was there last weekend as well, and the jam was really horrendous! Their new checkpoint is really such a failure!
AH LIM: Wah, Ah Khaw, you went JB shopping too arh?
AH KHAW: Did a bit of that with my family, but the main objective was to visit this site where my friend was planning to build a 200-bed nursing home.
AH TAN: A 200-bed nursing home? Wow, that's one huge project!
AH KHAW (chuckling): Well, if he can afford it, why not? But when I asked him about the costs involved, man was I shocked! The land and construction cost is so low that my cost of putting up just a polyclinic here is probably more than his cost of putting up this 200-bed nursing home in JB!
AH LIM: Aiyah Ah Khaw, it's JB what! It is supposed to be cheaper than Singapore! If not we won't so willingly jam all the way there for petrol, food, groceries and DVDs...
AH KHAW, AH TAN, ALI (together): Shh...!

Ah Lim covered his mouth and smiled apologetically for the last word spoken.

AH KHAW: Anyway, I think we should encourage more Singaporeans to send their elderly there, you know? with the monthly cost of keeping a resident in a private nursing home in Singapore, you can stretch it easily to pay at least 2-1/2 months of nursing home care there. And If any medical problems cropped up, the elderly could still be taken back to Singapore by ambulance. Sounds good to me.

The other three men sipped their coffee and tea, trying to digest Ah Khaw statement before commenting.

ALI (putting his coffee down): Alamak, cannot lah! With that kind of jam on the causeway, before the elderly could reach our hosipital, die half-way on the causeway already lah!
AH KHAW, AH TAN, AH LIM (together): Choi!
AH LIM: No lah, Ali, this one not our problem right? It's the causeway problem! Then who's causing the jam? The JB Checkpoint! So if anything happens, cannot put the blame on us lah!

The other three men nodded in agreement.

AH KHAW: In my opinion, for most Singaporeans, visiting a relative in a JB nursing home would not pose significant difficulties. That friend who's building the 200-bed nursing home said many people are visiting their relatives only weekly, even in nursing homes in Singapore. Of course I don't deny that many may still visit daily, but since quite a significant number visit only during the weekends, then what is the difference in putting them in JB or here?
AH TAN: Yah loh! Somemore can do shopping at the same time when visiting them at JB, why not?
ALI: But like that then the causeway jam lagi jialat man!
AH KHAW, AH TAN, AH LIM (together): It's not our problem! It's the JB Checkpoint!

Ah Tan sipped another mouth of coffee and looked down, rubbing his chin as he was thinking. He then abruptly stopped and looked up.

AH TAN: Hey Ah Khaw, this might not work, you know? Nursing homes in JB will not be subsidised by us right? And I don't think it is fair for our people to use their Medishield or Medisave or whatever there since it is not a local health institution right? Then does that mean the JB nursing homes can actually be even more unaffordable for the poorer people?
AH KHAW (slapping Ah Tan on his shoulder): Yes, you're right! Good catch! Hahaha... In fact, the JB option is not for the poor, who are already heavily subsidised here in Singapore. The target audience should be those middle-income families who need to pay for the care themselves. So now they can choose between JB and Singapore!
AH TAN (nodding slowly): Sounds reasonable then...
AH LIM: But Ah Khaw, I don't think this is right...

The other three men stared at Ah Lim, astounded by his otherwise view.

AH LIM (without pausing): Why do we want to give away our business to JB? Singaporeans are already going there for groceries and petro, and what not. For these, there is nothing we can do. But for this case, we should make it our business instead of theirs right? We shouldn't just tell Singaporeans that "Hey, you can go over to JB for cheaper nursing homes", we should build the nursing homes ourselves in JB!

The other three men were still staring at Ah Lim, this time trying to digest the whole lot of words that he had just thrown onto them.

AH KHAW: Hmm... Actually I think Ah Lim has got a point. Maybe we could meetup with some of the medical groups like Healthway, Shenton and Raffles and invite them to start up some nursing homes and other medical facilities there in JB...
AH LIM: And not forgetting NTUC! To provide an even cheaper option!
AH KHAW: Sounds cool!
ALI (hestitating): But brother... there is still one problem...

The other three men paused to listen to that one problem that Ali was considering.

ALI: The crime rate at JB macam will only go up and will not go down lah! Only this morning I heard from news that this bodoh actually tried to board a SBS bus and attacked the driver with a parang! Like that how to send those old people over?

AH KHAW, AH TAN, AH LIM (together): It's not our problem! This is JB's problem!



BOOST, BUILD, PREP-UP, SPUR, YES! ... and more acronyms to confuse you


Man dressed in white overall wiped away the beads of perspiration forming on his forehead as he fumbled for the red wire among a pile of red wires. Having found the correct red wire, he then connected it to the electronics equipment in front of him. As he turned a knob on the equipment face clockwise, faint voices are heard from the speaker. Thrilled, he made a call using his handphone.

MAN IN OVERALL: Hello? Boss, this is agent Sharif. I got in already. Ah, no problem man. I told those bodoh I'm from that phone company that gives free fixed lines lah. Yah, I'm going to listen to their meeting now. Boss you nanti ah, I put on bluetooth headset first.

After agent Sharif had put the bluetooth headset onto his left ear, he continued to turn a couple of knobs on the audio equipment till clear audible voices were heard from the speaker.

AGENT SHARIF: Boss, boleh? You can hear loud and clear? Okay, okay...


At the meeting table, Mr Teo was busy scribbling on the whiteboard while Ah Tan, Ah Lim and several other senior managers were seated. A couple of the senior managers were still attentively taking notes as Mr Teo turned around to speak.

MR TEO: So beside the $13.7 billion financial stimulus package, Boss has unveiled a raft of economic recovery schemes.

MR TEO paused as he waited for the senior managers to finish taking down notes.

MR TEO: Let us go through the schemes one by one. BOOST. We're going to spend $60 million in this plan to secure market demand in the tourism industry. Without doubt, this will be handled by STB.
SENIOR MANAGER #1: Yes Sir, we're already WIP on BOOST. In fact, just last week, we had a meeting with HLB to discuss about what kind of promotions we can come up with, especially during the F1 period. Besides our usual collaboration with SDC, we'll also be working with PMB and NHB on some Singapore history theme projects, particularly to promote SHM, ACM and SAM. Next on the list, we'll be talking to NAC, SSC and even NParks to explore on some interesting activities.


AGENT SHARIF (puzzled): Apa ini? STB? SDC? NHB?


MR TEO: Great! good work! Next, let us look at BUILD. In fact I think we can work on both BUILD and SPUR concurrently, since the main objective for both are to train the workers. We're going to spend $134 million to help SMEs become more competitive through capability development, and another $400 million to help companies retrain workers, save jobs, and cut companies' retraining costs. MOM and WDA will have to work hand-in-hand for these two schemes.
SENIOR MANAGER #2: Yes Sir, besides WDA, we're also in talks with Spring Singapore and EDB to work on the new courses and syllabuses. Besides that we'll also be revisiting the scope for ACTA, BEST, CET, CREST, SRP and WISE. We could give you a brief presentation of our plan EOB.


AGENT SHARIF (scratching his head hard): Apa ACTA, BEST, CET? Aku tak faham lah!


MR TEO: Okay. Check with Susan on my vacant time slot for the day. For PREP-UP, we're going to spend $67 million on training schemes to help companies develop personnel in science and technology through funding programmes such as on-the-job training for new graduates. IDA, I guess the ball is in your court.
SENIOR MANAGER #3: Yes Sir, we're working with A*Star and PEB on this. However I do want to bring up that we've got a resource challenge here. Most of my men are already tied up in the YOG project, so we'll need to hire more to work on PREP-UP.
MR TEO: Hmm... that shouldn't be a problem.


AGENT SHARIF (shouting in excitment): Ah! This one I know! YOG is "Youth Olympic Games"!


MR TEO: Lastly, for YES!, we're going to put $16 million into the Entrepreneurial Talent Development Fund to help young Singaporeans nurture innovative startups...


AGENT SHARIF: Alamak, Boss, tak boleh lah! The way these people talk, macam secret codes, cannot understand them at all lah! Like that how to copy their plans and use it for our country?

Glossary of acronyms
Building on Opportunities to Strengthen Tourism ()
Business Upgrading Initiatives for Long-term Development ()
Preparing for the Upturn ()
Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience ()
Young Entrepreneur Scheme ()
Asian Civilisations Museum ()
Hotels Licensing Board ()
National Arts Council ()
National Heritage Board ()
National Parks Board ()
Singapore Art Museum ()
Sentosa Development Corporation ()
Singapore History Museum ()
Preservation of Monuments Board ()
Singapore Sports Council ()
Singapore Tourism Board ()
Economic Development Board ()
Standards, Productivity And Innovation Board ()
Agency for Science, Technology and Research ()
Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore ()
Professional Engineers Board, Singapore ()
Manpower, Ministry of ()
Singapore Labour Foundation ()
Singapore Workforce Development Agency ()
International Enterprise Singapore ()
Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment (ACTA)
Basic Education for Skills Training (BEST)
Continuing Education & Training (CET)
Critical Enabling Skills Training (CREST)
Skills Redevelopment Programme (SPR)
Workers Improvement through Secondary Education (WISE)


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The World's Most Expensive Colleges... NUS turned up

The World's Most Expensive Colleges
by Brian Wingfield and Daniel Indiviglio

Washington, D.C. -- With a global recession unfolding, it's tough to come up with funding for college these days, perhaps even more so if your destination is one of the world's most expensive universities.

Aside from the general problem of rising tuition fees, the credit crunch has dented endowments. Not good news for many private American colleges and universities, which are the priciest in the world. The most expensive in terms of tuition and fees: Washington, D.C.'s George Washington University, with a sticker price of $40,437 for the 2008-2009 school year. Others in the top five are Sarah Lawrence College ($40,350), Kenyon College ($40,240), Vassar College ($40,210) and Bucknell University ($36,652).

This shouldn't be too surprising. These schools were also the five most expensive for tuition and fees last year. By contrast, expensive colleges in other countries include Canada's Quest University (about $20,500 for tuition in U.S. dollars), National University of Singapore ($24,000) and Imperial College London ($27,800 for non-British and European Union students).

What about elite Ivies, like Harvard and Yale? They're in the same ballpark--$36,173 for Harvard, $35,300 for Yale--but not quite as pricey as many smaller private schools. Factor in cost of living, books, transportation and other expenses and they're about the same as the U.S. schools listed above. Other institutions, like Carnegie Mellon University, Wesleyan and the University of Chicago are in the same league as far as overall costs go. Bottom line: If you're paying more than $45,000 for a college education, you're attending one of the world's most expensive universities.

American-style universities also fetch the highest dollars abroad. For example, Franklin University, located in the hills above Lugano, Switzerland, is fully accredited in the U.S. It costs $33,100 per year to attend; add another $7,510 for housing and $2,900 for a meal plan, mandatory for all freshmen, according to the school's estimates. The American University of Paris, located near the Eiffel Tower, runs close to $33,000 per year in tuition, fees and health insurance. Need books and a place to live? Budget in another $13,000.

That said, there are still some pretty expensive non-American style schools overseas. The University of Melbourne, is one of the priciest in Australia at about $20,200 per year. The cost of living in Melbourne could tack on another $20,000 to the bill. And the National University of Singapore, considered one of the world's elite schools, is among the most expensive in Asia, at an estimated $31,000 per year.

In compiling our list of the priciest four-year colleges and universities, we relied on The Chronicle of Higher Education's 2008-2009 ranking of tuition and fees for U.S. schools. In many countries, higher education is subsidized by the federal government. However, we scoured dozens of private schools abroad to obtain a snapshot of the priciest colleges overseas.

Last year, readers took us to task for not incorporating financial aid, room and board or a school's estimate of total cost in our rankings. We maintain that tuition and fees are the most transparent aspects of a college's sticker price. Other factors vary too much from school to school. Some charge a comprehensive fee for tuition, room and board; some are more generous than others with financial aid; many don't incorporate travel expenses or the cost of living in places like New York, Chicago or Washington, D.C., in their calculations.

Whatever their differences in cost estimates, the price to attend is going up, even as the economy slows down. For the five U.S. universities with the highest tuition and fees, those items increased by 4.8% from 2007 to 2008. That may sound like a lot, but it's less than the 6% or 7% tuition hikes that schools like Dickinson College and Villanova University have imposed, says the The Chronicle. Meanwhile, university endowments fell by 23% from July to November 2008, according to information released last week by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, which surveyed 435 schools in the U.S. and Canada.

Not all news is bad, however. For example, GW plans to increase institutional financial aid this year to about $120 million, from last year's $118 million. Last spring, President Bush signed a bill that increases the amount of federal loans students can apply for by $2,000, taking some of the pressure off the need for pricier private funding. The stimulus plan the House of Representatives passed last week includes a $2,500 tax credit for college tuition and $490 million in funding for work-study programs.

Of course, for students having trouble coming up with the cash for private schools--particularly those who aren't among the most elite--there's always the public route.

"You may find the selective, competitive public colleges are now looking better for those families," says Bruce Johnstone, a professor of comparative education at the State University of New York-Buffalo.



Save the earth and stop giving me 0% p.a. cash!

For those of you who own credit cards like I do, you are definitely receiving leaflets and leaftlets from the banks, trying to lend you thousands of dollars to clear your credit card bills, month after month without fail.

Your monthly statement account could have been just one simple piece of A4 paper, but instead it always come in a thick parcel of discounts-of-the-month and 0%-p.a.-cash-give-away leaflets. As long as you own the credit card, you will have to live with throwing away these 0%-p.a.-cash-give-away leaflets every month.

But why should you ignore such great offers? It is 0% p.a. right? Which means you could loan thousands of dollars from the bank to pay your credit card bills and pay no interest for one whole year right? Alas, there is no free lunch in this world, especially not in Singapore. Let's take a look at what these three of the most popular banks in Singapore are offering...

  • UOB
    "Simply transfer your outstanding balances from other banks' credit cards and/or credit lines to us during this festive season and enjoy an exclusive waiver of the 1% processing fee on top of a special interest rate of 2.88% p.a. for 6 months."
    Assuming a loan sum of $10,000, total interest payable for one year = $1,344, which is 13.44% of the loan. (Note that the interest rate of 2.88% p.a. is only applicable for 6 months. Which means that for every month that your loan is outstanding, you need to pay an interest rate of 24% p.a. Minimum transfer is $1,100)

  • OCBC
    "Pick up our 0% p.a. cash Funds Transfer with a choice of 3, 6 or 9 months repayment tenures. You can even repay in a 12-month fixed instalment plan with our 0% p.a. CashWise."
    Assuming a loan sum of $10,000, processing fee for a 12-month Fixed Instalments at 6% and one-time processing fee for CashWise at 6%, total interest payable for one year = $1,200, which is 12% of the loan. (Note that the interest rate of 24% p.a. will apply for all outstanding amount from the monthly Fixed Instalments. Minimum transfer is $500)

  • Standard Chartered
    "With our Funds Transfer at 0% p.a. interest for 24 months at just a nominal fee of 6.5% on the amount transferred, you can have everything your heart desires and more!"
    Assuming a loan sum of $10,000, processing fee for a 12-month tenor at 4%, total interest payable for one year = $400, which is 4% of the loan. (Note that the minimum transfer is $1,000)

Surprised that the "0% p.a. cash" that OCBC is shouting is not really what you had in mind? On top of that, the other trap is there waiting for you if you are unable to pay back the loan in one year. The 24% p.a. interest rate.

Judging from numbers, it appears that the foreign bank Standard Chartered is more sincere in offering you cash where you really have to pay a nett interest of 4% or 6.5% for an one year or two years loan respectively.

Regardless of how interesting these funds transfers are and how very enthusiastic the banks are to remind us of how they can help us to clear our credit cards bills with immediate loans, I still wish that there is an option on the return envelope that states "I do not wish to receive any more fund transfer leaflets" and I could draw a huge tick on the checkbox next to it.

Banks, save paper, save the earth. Save your breath.



Saturday, February 7, 2009

Michael Phelps, Mok Ying Ren, Dinah Chan... all suspended from competitions

While Michael Phelps was suspended for smoking from a bong...

Phelps suspended from competition, dropped by Kellogg

(CNN) -- Olympic hero Michael Phelps was suspended from competitive swimming for three months on Thursday -- just hours after one of his sponsors announced it would not renew his contract after a photo surfaced of him smoking from a bong.

USA Swimming, the nation's governing body for competitive swimming, said it was withdrawing financial support for Phelps and barring him from competition during the period of his "reprimand."

"This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming-member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero," they said in a statement.

"Michael has voluntarily accepted this reprimand and has committed to earn back our trust," the statement continued.

Earlier Thursday, Kellogg Co. said it will not renew Phelps' advertising contract.

"Michael's most recent behavior is not consistent with the image of Kellogg," company spokeswoman Susanne Norwitz said. "His contract expires at the end of February, and we have made a decision not to extend his contract."

Norwitz said Kellogg's relationship with Phelps began with the company's support of the U.S. Olympic team. Kellogg did not renew its sponsorship of the team when it expired in December, she said.

Phelps admitted "regrettable behavior" on Sunday after a British newspaper published the photograph. The tabloid News of the World showed Phelps using the bong during what it said was a November party at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

The Richland County, South Carolina, sheriff's office said Tuesday it was investigating whether Phelps smoked marijuana on the school campus, adding it would file criminal charges if it determined he did.

Both university police and Columbia, South Carolina, police said they would not pursue charges, according to The State newspaper in Columbia. It was unclear where the party took place, the paper said, or whether it was on campus.

On Thursday, before the decisions by USA Swimming and Kellogg were announced, Phelps told CNN affiliate WBAL that the incident was a result of "bad judgment."

"I can learn from it and try to make my life better than it has been in the past," he told WBAL.

Mok Ying Ren and Dinah Chan were suspended for being found in the same hotel room, though not in a compromising position...

Triathletes banned

SINGAPORE'S top male and top female triathletes have been slapped with a competition ban for being caught alone together in a hotel room at the Asian Beach Games in Bali last October.

Mr Mok Ying Ren, 20, and Miss Dinah Chan, 22, were told of their punishment late last week following an investigation into the incident by an inquiry panel, a Triathlon Association of Singapore (TAS) spokesman said yesterday.

Neither the spokesman nor the two triathletes wanted to reveal details of the ban or incident.

But the pair are believed to have infringed the TAS' code of conduct for athletes which forbids male and female athletes from sharing a room and requires the door to be kept open when there is a visitor of the opposite gender.

Although the duration of the ban is unknown, it is unlikely that the duo would be prevented from competing at the major races this year - the first of which will be the March 27-29 Mekong River ITU Triathlon Asian Cup in Thailand.

Mr Mok, a National University of Singapore medical student and the reigning South-east Asia Games men's champion, would only say: 'We are very happy with the investigation carried out by the TAS and its outcome.

'We would like to put the issue behind us and move forward. Personally, I would like to focus on my training and medical studies, which are more important right now, and not be distracted by this.'

The pair were the only two triathletes among 37 Singapore athletes at the inaugural 17sport Asian Beach Games, and were accompanied by team manager David Hoong and national coach Guo Weidong.

Mr Mok finished the race - including a 1.5km swim, 40km cycle and 10km run - 12th out of 35 competitors while Miss Chan was ninth out of 15.

The athletes had arrived on Oct 24 and were staying in separate rooms at the Mercure Resort Sanur hotel near Mertasari Beach, the venue of their Oct 26 event.

Sources said that Miss Chan, a National Institute of Education post-graduate student, feared for her safety - the athletes had allegedly been informed of bomb threats - and could not sleep well on the first night. So she went to Mr Mok's room, which was in another block.

The duo - widely speculated in the triathlon fraternity to be dating - are believed to have been caught, although not in a compromising position, when Mr Guo visited the room that night.

Subsequently, the TAS launched an investigation with an inquiry panel consisting of three members - one each from the Singapore Sports Council (SSC), TAS and another national sports association (NSA).

Mr Mahipal Singh, Singapore's chef-de-mission at the Games, said there was no specific rule pertaining to the Games that athletes of the opposite sex could not be in the same room.

However, Mr Singh, who is also SSC's assistant director of coaching development, added that athletes are expected to 'uphold good behaviour and the image of Singapore'.

A check with a number of NSAs showed codes of conduct similar to that of the TAS - even if the athletes are dating or married.



Friday, February 6, 2009

Bloggers, website proprietors and all netizens should behave themselves on the net!


Ah Tan knocked before he walked into Mr Teo's cubicle. Mr Teo was in the midst of a conversation with Ah Lui who was seated in front of his desk.

AH TAN: Sorry Sir, maybe I'll come back later.
MR TEO (gestering to the empty seat next to Ah Lui): No it's okay. I was about to ask Susan to go get you.

Ah Tan took the seat next to Ah Lui. He could see little droplets of perspiration forming on Ah Lui's forehead. Apparently a heated discussion was going on.

MR TEO: Have you surfed the net lately?
AH TAN (gasping): Er... the net... no, no Sir, what ever you've heard is not true! I don't surf net during office hours!
MR TEO: No, no, no... what I meant is... ah... Lui, why don't you brief Tan.
AH LUI: What's happening is that, after Seng was set on fire by that foolish ex-cabbie, people have been talking about that incident on forums, and alarmingly, majority of these people are leaving dreadful comments.
AH TAN: Geez! How unkind! What did they write?
AH LUI (sighing): Mainly on who are next on the list that should be burnt, and some even commented that Seng was not burnt badly enough.
AH TAN (drawing a breathe): And we're on the list?
AH LUI: Luckily, no.
AH TAN: What's wrong with these people? How can they treat us this way after all the good we've done for them?
MR TEO: It is a known fact that there are ungrateful people out there, lots of them, who are unappreciative for all the good we've done for them. But this is way overboard.

Both Ah Tan and Ah Lui nodded simultaneously.

MR TEO: We need to stop these people from being so arrogant. We need to take control of these people and make sure they behave themselves on the net!
AH LUI: Yes Sir, the internet is not an effective self-regulated regime. This is one place where we are unable to control how our people should behave! Look at the comments that were written on Seng's incident! Significant numbers of writings were unkind. A small number was downright outrageous. It's disappointing!
AH TAN (grunting): Ungrateful harebrained people!
AH LUI: And worse still, the rest of the internet community had not done enough to rebut some of these unhelpful comments delivered by fellow netizens! I mean... why isn't there any righteous one to speak up?
MR TEO: It's expected. Singaporeans are either too tamed, or most of the time, they simply don't care.

Both Ah Tan and Ah Lui sighed and shook their heads disgruntledly.

AH LUI: It is a squandered opportunity for a higher degree of self-regulation. It would have been an example of the genesis of the first step towards a more responsible, a greater self-regulatory regime. But many of those responses were not rebutted nor answered. And I think it is not healthy for some of those to remain on the net unchallenged, unquestioned, and unanswered.
AH TAN: Of course not!
AH LUI: Singapore need to develop a responsible cyberspace. Bloggers and website proprietors need to maintain credibility, while netizens should do more to establish and enforce the norms of acceptable online behaviour.
MR TEO: This is where we come into the picture.

Ah Lui paused and anticipated Mr Teo's profound suggestion.

MR TEO: We need to take control of Singapore's cyberspace. We need to know what are these people writing and we need to make sure that they are writing the right things. And Tan, that is why I need you here. Your previous suggestion of that association of bloggers was brilliant. I need you to join us here to brainstorm on how we can control Singapore's netizens.

Ah Tan looked down and entered into deep thought momentarily.

AH TAN (looking up): We need to work with the ISPs. We need to come up with a list of undesirable sites and hand it over to the ISPs and request them to block Singaporeans from these sites.
AH LUI: Good idea! Should we add to the list websites that support the opposition parties?
MR TEO: Lui, good suggestion, but that'll be too obvious! It'll be... politically incorrect.
AH LUI: Yes Sir...
MR TEO (looking at Ah Tan): Tan, that's a really good suggestion and I think we should implement it almost immediately. However there are still so many anti-government threads in forums all over the place, and it is just not feasible to block all of these forums.
AH LUI: Yes those forums! The comments found in the forums are far worse than what some bloggers write!
AH TAN: Hmm... how about we create a registry? Any Singaporen that wishes to start an online forum must be registered with the registry of say... Registry of Singaporean Forums.
AH LUI (punching left fist in air): Way to go!

Ah Tan gasped from the sudden excitement from Ah Lui.

MR TEO: But I think we should do more than this. We need the people to understand why we are controlling the cyberspace. We need them to know that it is for their own good. We need to educate them on the correct online behaviour.
AH TAN: Why don't we start a campaign? Say a... Behave Online Singapore! campaign? Maybe we can start a special committee for this? Print some posters to publicise correct online behaviour, give free courses on how to be a responsible and mature Singaporean netizen, and perhaps even request the TV station to write a drama on blogging the right way!
MR TEO (pounding the table): Yes! This is what I'm talking about!



Thursday, February 5, 2009

Procreation is not our forte, which is why we shall work more than five days a week!


Mr Teo held the door wide open as Dr Loo cruised in with his nose in the air. Ah Tan, Ali, Ah Lim and ten other senior managers rose to their feet to welcome the VIP. Susan handed the wireless microphone over to Mr Teo as the two walked to the front.

MR TEO (clearing his throat): Gentlemen, please be seated.

Discreetly and taking care not to make too much noise, the senior managers sat down slowly.

MR TEO: We're very honoured to have Dr Loo here with us. I'm very sure all of you know Dr Loo is the twenty-sixth richest in Singapore. Today, Dr Loo will share with us his ingenious idea of how Singapore can improve the productivity of its workforce. Let's give Dr Loo a warm welcome!

With Mr Teo leading the pack, the senior managers shook the room with thunderous applause. Proudly, Dr Loo took over the microphone to address the audience.

DR LOO: Thank you! Thank you, Teo. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Today I'm here to tell you what is our problem and how we should solve it.
ALI (whispering to Ah Tan): What is our problem again? What is this talk all about again?
AH TAN (whispering to Ali): That our population is too small and we've got too little people working lah!

DR LOO: Everybody knows that our government is concerned about the baby shortage that threatens the city-state's future. Worried that as the population gets older, we do not have adequate young people to support the aged group. So much so that the government would double spending on incentives to encourage Singaporeans to produce more babies. But we have still failed to significantly raise the number of children.

AH LIM (whispering to Ah Tan): That's why we bring in those foreign talents right?
AH TAN (whispering to Ah Lim): But we can't bring in too many of them right? Or else the people will start complaining again, about how those foreign talents are stealing their jobs.

DR LOO: Do you know what is the reason for this failure? Our procreation talent is not our forte! It is as simple as that! Nothing to crow about! We should accept that as a people, we are just not good in producing babies! Nothing is wrong with that!

ALI (whispering to AH TAN and AH LIM): Did he just say we're bad at sex?
AH TAN and AH LIM (together): Shh...

DR LOO: While failing to boost the population, working only five days a week may also have affected Singapore's work ethic. I'm not kidding. We need to determine whether our productivity and competitiveness have been affected by the five-day week.

AH TAN (muttering to himself): Oh no... don't tell me...
AH LIM (whispering to AH TAN and ALI): Oui! Don't tell me he's suggesting that we go back to working five and a half days hor!

DR LOO: Apparently Singaporeans are not making full use of their rest days to do what they are obliged to do. Make babies! In that case, they could make better use of their rest days doing some work!

AH TAN (muttering to himself): Oh gosh...
ALI: Ah doi!

Dr Loo looked over to Ali's direction.

DR LOO: Sorry, do you have something to share?
ALI: Ah... sorry Sir, no Sir, I was... er... burping.
DR LOO: Ah... haha... it's okay. Oh... yes, as I was saying, Singaporeans shall wake up and start working. I have nothing against our young Singaporeans having fun and partying. But I hope they will work as hard as they play. Our government should enforce that our people work six days a week. Not five days, not even five and a half. Half day's work is a waste of time. Imagine that you come into the office at 8am, but by noon, you are already leaving the office. That is only a total of four hours work for the day! That is unacceptable!

AH LIM (whispering to Ah Tan): He forgot to factor in the 8:30am breakfast and 10am tea break.

DR LOO: At times like this, with the economic downturn worsening, Singaporeans need to work even harder! Just by being more hardworking, we could boost our productivity level and in turn convince our forign investors to stay, or better still, attract even more investors! Without delay, I'll be suggesting this in parliament next week. A law should be enforced to ensure that all Singaporeans work six full days a week!

AH TAN (whispering to Ah Lim and Ali): Don't worry, I'll talk to Mr Teo later. If they're going to pass this bill, it should only apply to the common people. Not us...



Will Coral Secondary principal be sued for human rights violation? Not a chance in Singapore

Coral Secondary School is allegedly one of the strictest school in Singapore. It forbids any student in uniform from entering the nearby White Sands shopping mall in Pasir Ris. On top of that, it also forbids students in uniform from hanging out at the neighbouring housing estate. Not even dropping by the mini-mart to get a drink.

The exception - the community library in White Sands Shopping Mall. However the student is required to go through the process of seeking approval from HOD/Student Management, Operations Manager, Vice-Principal or Principal.

When asked by the press to comment on the rule, principal Veronica Ng responded: 'Coral Secondary places much emphasis on inculcating in our students good habits like using time prudently. As such, it is in their interest not to loiter in the malls after school.'

Where there are rules, there are always enforcers. To prove that they are really serious about it, the school assigns teachers to patrol the shopping mall and neighbouring areas after school. Any offenders caught will be sent for a two-hour detention.

Some may condemn the school for human rights violations. But alas, this is Singapore! Without a doubt, this is a definite law case in U.S., but here in Singapore, the principal is only learning from the government. The government seems to believe that the most efficient way to govern a country is by creating laws. Just tell the people how they will be punished if they attempt to do/not do some actions. It is not necessary to educate them on the why...

  • Thou shalt flush the toilet after using it. Random checks are regularly conducted by the authority. Here is why for the saying "Look behind your back while you pee" in Singapore.

  • Thou shalt not perform oral sex unless it is part of foreplay leading to full sex. How will the authority gets to know about this, is something I could never figure out.

  • Thou shalt not possess all kinds of pornographic materials, not even for personal usage. The government appears to believe that sex should only be performed in order to produce babies, and that if you love your partner, there is no necessity for such materials. Unquestionably then, possession of pornographic materials for the purpose of masturbation is a no-no. No matter, our protective government has decided that pornographic materials are bad for decent Singaporeans, and thus should not be found on the island.

  • Thou shalt not participate in any illegal gathering when the clock strikes ten. At any time after 10pm, police officers is authorised to patrol the streets to check on any group with more than two people. Regardless whether you are 18, 28, 38 or 48 years old, you must be up to no good gathering after 10pm.

Back to the school. Is that really a perfect ban? Will this ban truly ensure that the students are using their time prudently? Could the students not log into their computers and play online games with their friends in the comfort of their homes?

On top of that, where there are rules, there are always loopholes. And where there are loopholes, there are always more rules to be broken...

  • Student A brings along a light set of civilian clothing in his/her school bag. If a teacher spots him/her entering a toilet in uniform but exiting in civilian clothing, can he/her be penalised? Notice that the student is no longer in school uniform. Will the rule still stand?

  • Student B gets an approval to visit the community library but he/she then gives, or worse, sells the approval to Student C. Student C gets into the community library and quickly borrows a couple of books before proceeding to the fastfood restaurant. Can the teacher then penalise Student C for grabbing a bite after going to the library?

  • Student D is caught in the mall by a patroling teacher, but after the two-hour detention penalise has been given to him/her, if he/she decided to stay in the mall, will double jeopardy then forbids the teacher from further penalising him/her?

For the school to set such a ban is a double-edged sword. While some students may stay "good" because the opportunity to stray has been removed from them, the ban may also be a good training ground for some students to learn how to think outside the box to outsmart the law.



Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why is it so difficult to raise fund for the Kallang Sports Hub? It's only S$1.2 billion!


Ah Tan and Ali were seated at the long meeting table with Mr Teo as the chairperson. Mr Teo squeezed his eyebrows as he flipped through the few pieces of papers in his hands. He let out a devastated sigh before speaking.

MR TEO: Gentlemen, this is bad. The Kallang Sports Hub project is giong to be delayed. Apparently, the consortium constructing the Kallang Sports Hub is having difficulty raising the necessary funds to even start the project.
ALI: Alamak! So that means we are definitely not going to complete the project by 2010?
MR TEO (sighed) : I'm afraid not. The earliest completion date is now set to 2012.
AH TAN: Earliest? Which means that it could even be later than 2012?
MR TEO: I will not rule out that possibility. Guess we were really biting more than we can chew when we had decided to build a S$1.2 billion sports complex.
ALI: I beg to defer. How can S$1.2 billion be too much to spend on a sports hub? We are spending S$2.5 billion to build the Marina Coastal Expressway for crying out loud! That is just a stretch of road! You can't watch the Singapore Lions winning the Malaysia Cup on that stretch of road!
AH TAN (nodding): True, true... Furthermore, no matter how many ERP gantries we place on the expressway, it just can't beat the revenue we could generate from the sports events that will take place in the new stadium.
MR TEO: I won't bet on your first comment, because that will have to depend on how many gantries we are going to build and how much we are going to charge. If our proposal to place one 24-hours operating gantry in every 1km and ten dollars gantry fee managed to pass through, that could be a very promising source of revenue.
ALI: Yap! And we could then recover the building cost for MCE in a breeze, and maybe we could even restore our pay cuts!
AH TAN: Sweet!
MR TEO: But back to the topic... Ah Tan, you're right that we're looking at a monstrous loss because of the stadium completion delay. In particular if we can't make it in time to host the Youth Olympics games in 2010!
ALI: But we could still host the games in the old National Stadium right? Anyway we're not planning to demolish it any time soon... Especailly when we still can't find that 1970 time capsule...
AH TAN and MR TEO (shouting together): Don't you dare go there!
MR TEO: Please! Don't ever mention that time capsule again when we're praying so hard that Singaporeans will forget all about it as time goes by!
ALI: Sorry Sir...

All three men paused to think for a moment.

AH TAN: How about we forget about that 6,000-capacity indoor aquatic centre and artificial river offering whitewater rafting? That could save us some cost. I mean, look at it this way... don't you think these two facilities are kind of unnecessary? Instead of building an indoor aquatic centre, we could build an outdoor one, which will definitely cost less! And why build an artificial river when we've got the Kallang canal?
MR TEO (clearing his throat): Erm... are you suggesting that our tourists should do their whitewater rafting in a canal?
AH TAN: Oh... sorry Sir...
MR TEO: And we do need an indoor aquatic centre and in particularly one with air-conditioning! Tell me, Ah Tan, do you have kids?
AH TAN: Er... yes Sir. One boy, five years old this year.
MR TEO: I'm pretty sure he's taking swimming lessons in some swimming pools right?
AH TAN: Yes, he's currently taking swimming lessons at the Singapore Swimming Club.
MR TEO: Don't you find it agonizing to watch him swimming under the hot sun? And aren't you tormented to have to sit around waiting for his lesson to finish each time, having to perspire under the Singapore heat even though you're already under shade?
AH TAN: Ahh! That's really excruciating! That's why most of the time I'll just ask my maid to bring him there!
MR TEO: So you see... we really truly needs an indoor aquatic centre! One with air-conditioning!
ALI (grinning): So can I assume that new dome-shaped national stadium with retractable roof is also going to be built with full air-conditioning?



Sunday, February 1, 2009

Singapore Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's interview with Bloomberg Television

Singapore, Investor in UBS, Citigroup, Says Worst Yet to Come
By Shamim Adam and Haslinda Amin

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Singapore, whose state-owned funds invested about $24 billion in UBS AG, Citigroup Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co. in the past 14 months, said the worst of the credit crunch is yet to come.

The world’s biggest banks still have toxic assets on their balance sheets, which are clogging up their ability to lend, Singapore Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in an interview with Bloomberg Television yesterday. The finance ministry oversees Government of Singapore Investment Corp. and Temasek Holdings Pte, each managing more than $100 billion.

Banks are still focusing on replenishing capital “and estimates of the extent of bad assets on their books are still on the upswing,” he said. “We haven’t seen the worst yet.”

Bank losses worldwide from U.S.-originated bad assets may reach $2.2 trillion, the International Monetary Fund said yesterday, more than the $1.4 trillion it predicted in October. U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration and federal regulators are considering setting up a “bad bank” that would absorb illiquid assets from otherwise healthy financial firms.

Governments across Europe have injected capital into banks to ensure that lending to companies and consumers doesn’t freeze up. European Union regulators yesterday approved France’s plan to increase its funding for recapitalization of banks including BNP Paribas SA and Societe Generale SA to 11 billion euros ($14.5 billion), from an initial proposal for 10.5 billion euros.

Ireland’s government last month said it would invest 2 billion euros in Allied Irish and Bank of Ireland, the country’s biggest lenders.

‘Foot the Bill’

“It’s right that governments are focusing on recapitalization in the West and they’re trying their best to incentivize new lending,” Shanmugaratnam said. “It’s too early to say how successful this will be. Governments have to take more risk, and that means taxpayers have to be willing to foot part of the bill.”

The IMF report released yesterday signaled that writedowns and losses at banks totaling $1.1 trillion so far are only half of what’s to come. Losses on that scale would leave banks needing at least $500 billion in fresh capital to restore confidence in their balance sheets, the fund said.

Singapore’s leaders have defended the performance of the city’s state-owned investment companies after a plunge in the value of their stakes in Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and other global banks.

GIC, which manages the country’s reserves, invested about $18 billion in UBS and Citigroup since December 2007. Temasek, which has a $130 billion portfolio, increased investments in Merrill Lynch and Barclays Plc as the credit market collapsed in 2007 and 2008.

‘Well Diversified’

Temasek was the biggest shareholder in Merrill Lynch before the securities firm was taken over by Bank of America Corp. It is also the largest shareholder of banks including London-based Standard Chartered Plc and Singapore’s DBS Group Holdings Ltd., and has holdings in India’s ICICI Bank and other lenders in Indonesia, South Korea and Pakistan.

Temasek and GIC remain “well diversified” enough in their portfolios to offer the long-term returns the government seeks, Shanmugaratnam said.

“We would be very worried if global banks comprise a large proportion of the portfolios of GIC or Temasek, or for that matter, any of the highly vulnerable industries globally,” the minister said. “But these are diversified portfolios.”

Performed ‘Credibly’

Temasek and GIC have performed “credibly by international standards,” he said. Temasek had an average 18 percent annual return on investment since its inception in 1974. GIC said in September that annual returns in the past 20 years averaged 7.8 percent in U.S. dollar terms, compared with about 6 percent for the MSCI World Index.

GIC last year also said it’s boosting investments in emerging markets, private equity and other asset classes to raise returns after cutting back stocks and holdings in developed nations.

“I’m comfortable with the actions both Temasek and GIC have taken early in this crisis to reduce risk, to move into more liquid asset allocation and to prepare for opportunities in this downturn,” Shanmugaratnam said. “We’ve got to make sure we maintain that record of prudent investments for the portfolio as a whole, diversifying risks, and being prepared for crises from time to time.”