Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Those public servants have to be specifically told to serve people with humility, integrity and empathy?

After hearing from government servants (no this is not a typo, they appears to be serving the government, not the people) bragging about spending some families' anuual budget on a French cooking trip, calling the people names like the "lesser mortals", suggesting to take away the Saturday breaks from the people because they are not bearing enough children, or so blur as to not knowing how much salaries and bonuses his people are getting... Finally we see some others from the govenment that make more sense...

Empathy is even more vital
Source: TODAYonline.com

AS AN officer in a ministry that controls the Government’s purse-strings, Mr Musa Fazalur Karim last week attached himself to an agency that gives the funds away.

The Finance Ministry deputy director (Social Programmes) saw first-hand the challenges Community Development Councils face when dealing with more and more residents seeking financial assistance.

That experience at the Southeast CDC, said the 31-year-old, allowed him to better grasp the situation and examine if more funding for manpower could be provided. “You receive a lot of information from ministries but most of it is second-hand. It is better to go down and take a look.”

With Singapore in its worst recession yet, Deputy Prime Minister S Jayakumar last night reminded public servants to serve people “with humility, integrity and empathy”.

Public services should not be delivered mechanically, and public policies cannot be formulated based purely on intellectual understanding of issues or theoretical models,” he said, at the Administrative Service Dinner and Promotion ceremony. “It is necessary for Administrative Officers to keep in close touch with concerns and sentiments on the ground.”

Indeed, 15 officers are slated to be attached this year to grassroots organisations, where they can contribute and get an up-close experience of socio-economic conditions on the ground, revealed head of Civil Service Peter Ho.

“It is even more important that our officers are sensitive to ground issues and concerns” during this downturn when Singaporeans are struggling to cope, said Mr Ho. To be effective in policy planning and development, they “must be able to empathise” with people’s difficulties.

Even as Singapore focuses on its immediate and local problems, Professor Jayakumar urged the Administrative Service to keep an international outlook and take a strategic, long-term view.

“Gone are the days when it was just MFA or MTI which had to deal with international issues,” he said.

Today, nearly every ministry is involved, be it over climate change, national security or foreign worker policy.

Mr Musa Fazalur was among 82 civil servants who received their appointments as Administrative Officers and Management Associates yesterday.

It is strange that public servants (still not used to us the lesser mortals calling these greater mortals "servants") have to be told that it is necessary for them to keep in close touch with concerns and sentiments on the ground. I would have thought that this is part of their roles and responsibilities, written in black and white on their employee handbooks. Silly me.

Finally someone who realised that public policies cannot be formulated based purely on intellectual understanding of issues or theoretical models. I would suggest a separate meeting, or better still, a 3D2N bootcamp, specifically organised to drill this basic common sense into the brains of those expensive scholars, whose enormous brains have all the spaces for all the policies from A-Z and red tapes or tapes of any other colors, but teeny little space reserved for the peoples' real requirements.

Time for them to get out of their air-conditioned office and try how is it like to squeeze into a MRT train in the morning peak hours, how is it like to go to the market with a fifty dollar note to find out how little food can be bought for a family of four, how is it like to spend a day in an one-room flat or a three-room flat in one of the oldest and well forgotten estate. However, to them, these tasks could be even tougher than those that were done in The Amazing Race. So I would suggest the purchase of some sort insurance coverage. Just in case.

And when these public servants are told "It is better to go down and take a look", I hope someone would highlight to them that employing some interns to make cold calls and fill up stacks of survey forms does not count. Seriously.



Thursday, March 26, 2009

More cost saving measures by our smart local companies - see how many foreign workers we can squeeze in a room!

2,600 foreign workers to be relocated after 147 firms fail dorm checks
Source: Channelnewsasia.com

SINGAPORE: An islandwide inspection of 16 foreign worker dormitories has resulted in 147 companies being given warnings to relocate their foreign workers. Some 2,600 workers were found living in sub-standard or illegal premises during the two-day operation which ended on Tuesday.

The Manpower Ministry, National Environment Agency, Singapore Civil Defence Force and Urban Redevelopment Authority fanned out across Singapore to check on foreign worker dormitories on March 10 and March 24.

This was to ensure employers complied with laws to provide their workers with acceptable accommodation.

In the first operation, inspectors found more than 1,900 foreign workers housed in eight unapproved dormitories. These were in Woodlands, Tuas and Serangoon Road.

83 companies were warned and within ten days more than half of these workers had been relocated to new lodgings. The rest have until next week to relocate and if they fail to do so, the workers' permits will be cancelled and they will have to be deported.

In the second operation on Tuesday, checks were conducted at four factories in the Sungei Kadut, Tuas, Tech Park and Tagore areas and on residential units in Serangoon Road.

This time, 64 companies were warned to relocate some 660 affected workers within the next two weeks.

The Manpower Ministry said the economic downturn is no excuse for employers to house their foreign workers in illegal or unapproved housing to save costs, as housing them in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions poses a danger to their safety and health.

Which means that right now there are at least 2,600 distressed foreign workers out there. They are definitely stressed and exasperated, thinking they are unjustly treated, and potentially feeling infuriated and antagonized. Perhaps even feeling hateful towards Singaporeans.

So what does this mean to us locals? How do you feel having 2,600 or more such workers on our streets right now? What is the worst that could happen when they see you and your family getting out of a posh car and walking towards a lavish restaurant for a luscious dinner?

And when the worst does happen, who do we blame?



Monday, March 23, 2009

Without new citizens and permanent residents, we are going to be the last of the Mohicans


Ah Tan sat on the sofa, reading through the newspapers while his wife walked in holding two mugs of coffee. She sat down next to Ah Tan to glance at what he was reading.

AH TAN'S WIFE: Dear, why are you still reading Saturday's newspapers?
AH TAN (frowning): I'm reading Big Boss's latest speech.
AH TAN'S WIFE (passing over a mug to Ah Tan): What? You're reading it since Saturday!
AH TAN (frowning even harder): Yes I know... and I'm still trying to figure out the hidden messages.
AH TAN'S WIFE: Hidden messages?
AH TAN: Yes. There must be something that Big Boss has wanted us to do.
AH TAN'S WIFE: I thought he was just telling Singaporeans to have more babies or accept more foreigners, to increase the population? I don't see any hidden message in his speech.
AH TAN (staring at his wife): No, there has to be. There are always hidden messages.

Ah Tan's wife shrugged and sipped her coffee.

AH TAN (reading from the newspapers): It is becoming a "lifestyle choice" for women past the age of 30 to stay single as they are well-travelled and have no one to worry about...
AH TAN'S WIFE: And his daughter is one of them!
AH TAN: Yah... and Big Boss is really worried about her. It's like... what's going to happen to her after... you know, after Big Boss is gone?
AH TAN'S WIFE: Oh come'on! She's already in her fifties right? And she can't take care of herself? Her father can take care of the whole nation and yet she can't even take care of herself? Who are we kidding?
AH TAN (shaking his head): No, no... I can totally understand Big Boss's concern. No matter how old she is, she'll always be daddy's daughter, just like our Ah Girl!
AH TAN's WIFE (rolling her eyes): Yah right...

Ah Tan ignored his wife and continued to read the newspaper.

AH TAN (reading from the newspapers): The problem that this trend creates: "Without new citizens and permanent residents, we are going to be the last of the Mohicans. We are going to disappear".
AH TAN'S WIFE (chuckling): Yah this is serious... Singaporeans no more... hahaha...
AH TAN (still reading from the newspapers): Some Singaporean parents have complained about migrants entering schools and competing with local children. He urged parents: "Would you want them to compete against you or with you as part of the team? If you don't have them with you as part of your team, they will be on the Chinese and Indian team." ... Hmm... part of our team... Chinese team... Indian team...
AH TAN'S WIFE: Big Boss is telling Singaporeans to accept the reality that we need to continue to import foreign talents and their smart children loh!
AH TAN: Yes I know! I understand that part! But it's the second part... Big Boss is trying to say we should import more Chinese and Indians specifically... Very specifically.
AH TAN'S WIFE: Well... guess it makes sense, since China and India are the two countries with densest population in the world! I'm sure they will not run out of citizens for us to import!

Ah Tan rubbed his chin and looked down to think. Suddenly, he looked up, smiling.

AH TAN (sitting up straight): I've got it! The hidden message! Big boss is telling us that the Chinese and Indians are beneficial to the country!
AH TAN'S WIFE (raised left eyebrow): And this is the hidden message?
AH TAN: No, no... not just that! He said "If you don't have them with you as part of your team, they will be on the Chinese and Indian team", right? Which means that we have to ensure that we get all the best people from China and India and offer them citizenship! All the best athletes, best businessmen, best talents from every field! So that China and India can't compete with us! Because their best people are with us!

Thrilled that he had found the hidden message, Ah Tan threw a passionate punch into the air.

AH TAN'S WIFE: Erm... and what makes you think the best people from these countries are going to be so excited to become Singaporeans?
AH TAN: Oh come'on! We're talking about the Chinese and Indians! Just give them money!
AH TAN'S WIFE: And we've got that much money?
AH TAN (chuckling): Silly, if Boss can draw a salary that is a few times what Obama is drawing, of course we've got more than enough money to get those Chinese and Indians right!
AH TAN'S WIFE (hitting Ah Tan on his shoulder): Oui! Don't say that out so loudly!
AH TAN: Huh? But it was already on BBC's interview...
AH TAN'S WIFE: But not on local news right?
AH TAN (gasped): Oh... you're right! Thanks for the remainder, Dear!
AH TAN'S WIFE: Okay, even if money will do the trick, what if after all the money we've spent for these people to bring their families over, they are only treating us as a stepping stone to other better countries like the U.S.?
AH TAN: Ah! Big Boss had thought about that as well! Hold on....

Ah Tan speed-read through the article on the newspaper with his fingers. Quickly, he found what he was looking for.

AH TAN: "Because more than half of these students do not make the grade to go to America, and the second tier is not bad for us." ... Hmm... so you see, only the better ones will go to U.S., so we've still got the not-so-good ones left behind what!
AH TAN'S WIFE: And what does that make us then? Dumping ground?
AH TAN (chuckling): No fish, prawns also good what...

Ah Tan's wife laughed and gave him a light slap on the shoulder.

AH TAN'S WIFE: But how are we going to accomodate all those Chinese and Indians? Singapore is not really that big you know? Even with all that reclaimation.
AH TAN (grinning): Oh... that is the second hidden message I found! For Singaporeans, we should send the old, the poor and the stupid ones over the Causeway, and the gays over to Australia! As for the other foreigners, we should get rid of them! Once their working permits have expired, send them back to their own countries! And if they are PRs, find some reasons to revoke their PR statuses! By doing this we should be able to get rid of those Malaysians and give their jobs to the Chinese and Indians!
AH TAN'S WIFE: Same for those Filipinos and Indonesians?
AH TAN: Hmm... that's a bit tricky though... because we still need these people to be our maids...
AH TAN'S WIFE: Exactly! I don't want a pretty young little Chinese girl to work in our house so that you could drool on her! And I don't want a dirty Indian woman handling our food!
AH TAN (chuckling and scratching his neck): Of course! Of course! The Filipinos and Indonesians should continue to stay as long as they're maids!



Mr Prime Minister, your salary is about four or five times what President Obama gets

Listen to the BBC's interview with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at:

BBC: “Finally, Prime Minister, I read that you are apparently the highest paid head of government in the world. Your salary is about four or five times what President Obama gets. Are you worth all that money?”

PM Lee laughed and said: “I am not comparing myself and I don’t look at these rankings.We go on a system which is open, honest, transparent – what is the job worth, what is the quality of the person whom you want. We need the best people for the job and these are jobs where you make decisions which are worth billions of dollars. And you cannot do that if you are pretending and you just say, ‘Well, we are all in it for the love of King and Country’. We want it to be honest, we want people not to come in for the money. But at the same time the sacrifice cannot be too great. And at times like these, you want the best possible government you can have.”



Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Two of these staff at the "lower-end" of the salary range received 8 months bonuses

Never got tired of saying this... The TRUTH is out there!

Two Northwest CDC staff who receive 8 months bonuses are managers in mid to senior positions
Source: Wayangparty.com

According to the 938live’s report here:

“The PA adds that it is only staff at the lower-end of the salary range who will receive a higher performance bonus range. This allows such officers to move closer to the norm of other staff performing the same kind of job, but who have a higher basic monthly pay.”

How low is the lower-end of the salary range?

To a rich tai tai, having dim sum at Crystal Jade is an insult to her. "How dare you serve me this trash?! Which part of this rubbish looks like Xiao Long Bao to you?!" she berated at the waiter.

To a single mother struggling to feed her two young children with her mere eight hundred dollars cleaner pay, a Big Pao from Kopitiam is a luxury.

The two names given to me hold mid to senior level positions in Northwest CDC. One of them is a Senior Manager in charge of a Committee while the other is a Deputy General Manager.

Both of them are in the photos below:

According to online job portal jobstreet, a senior manager’s monthly salary range from $5,200 to $9,000 while a manager from $4,000 to $7,500.

We do not know the fixed monthly salaries of the CDC staff, but given the fact that their salaries are pegged to that of the private sector, they are likely to lie around these ranges. This appears to contradict PA’s official statement earlier that only staff with low salaries are entitled to higher performance bonuses.

How low can we pay a manager?

A factory operator can draw slightly over a thousand. A sales person, probably up to two thousands. A marketing executive will usually draw about three thousands. And none of them belongs to the management level.

So how low can we pay a Senior Manager and a Deputy General Manager? At least four thousand dollars a month? That gives them the eight months bonuses of S$4,000 x 8 = S$32,000.

How low. Looking at the figures now, I have to agree with PA. S$32,000 is really on the low side for bonuses if we compare to what the Americans like Merrill Lynch and AIG are paying their staffs. For a bonus as low as this, one cannot even afford a respectable 1,600cc car. Most probably will have to settle for a China made one. How pathetic.



Monday, March 16, 2009

Oh I don't know about the salaries, and no oh no, I don't know about the bonuses

First, he told Channelnewsasia...

Dr Teo Ho Pin said: "The mayors do not decide on the salaries, the increments, the bonuses of all our staffs at the CDC... We chair the CDCs, to spearhead the CDCs... I do not know the salaries, I do not know the bonuses of all my staff"

Video link to Teo Ho Pin's response to CDC staff bonuses on CNA

Then he told Sin Ming Daily...

Dr Teo Ho Pin then said: “The economy only start to worsen during the last 3 months of 2008. The performance of the economy during the first 9 months is still not bad. We have to look at the matter from the entire year’s perspective. Hence, it is not unreasonable for CDC staff to receive 8 months of bonuses.”

Er... so does he or does he not know? Since the mayor might not know, why don't we ask Mr President instead? Oh wait... Is the President a political position? If yes, then he might not know as well... Maybe the most appropriate channel is to go temple and ask Dua Bei Gong...



Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How is it like to be retrenched in world's tenth most expensive city?

Firstly, your fear has been confirmed. It is not your illusion that it is getting more difficult to make ends meet. You were right when you thought the utilities bill, phone bill, your child's education and your household grocery bill have all gone up. Now you know why you are seeing more $5 chicken rices than $2 ones...

Survey shows Singapore is world's 10th most expensive city
Source: Channelnewsasia.com

SINGAPORE: Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world, according to the latest survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which shows the city-state moving up five positions to 10th place.

This means Singapore is now Asia's third most expensive city to live in.

Claiming the top seat worldwide is Tokyo, followed by Osaka - no thanks to the stronger yen.

But Asia is also home to the least expensive cities, with Manila and Mumbai near the bottom of the list.

Others include New Delhi and Kathmandu.

The Economist says the relative cost of living depends on two factors - local prices and exchange rates.

And the global economic crisis has also led to some dramatic results.

Iceland's Reykjavik was the fifth most expensive city last year.

Now, using February exchange rates, it has fallen to 67th place.

Then you realised that the job losses are not going to stop. More are expected to be retrenched, even with the Job Credit, which the government was so confident in, being put in place. And if you were to be so unfortunately retrenched, the apparent solution offered to you is to get yourself enrolled into some training programme. But will you get paid while been trained?

Job losses this year expected to exceed 29,000, says SNEF
Source: Channelnewsasia.com

SINGAPORE: This year's retrenchment figures are likely to bust the record of 29,000 jobs lost in 1998 during the Asian financial crisis, according to Singapore National Employers Federation’s (SNEF’s) president, Stephen Lee.

Mr Lee was commenting on a survey finding by HR firm Manpower Staffing Services where 636 employers across seven industry sectors were polled.

The survey found that 50 per cent of employers anticipate a cut in headcount, 29 per cent expect no change, while only seven per cent expect to increase staff strength in the second quarter.

On an industry basis, the survey found that the bleakest prospects are in the transport and utilities sectors, followed by public administration and education.

Hiring prospects are also weak in the trade and retail and services sectors, although quarter-over-quarter, there has been a slight improvement in the outlook for the finance, insurance and real estate sectors.

One emerging trend is more contract hiring, which gives more flexibility to employers.

SNEF has seen such numbers growing from 172,000 in 2006 to 190,000 last year and expects it to strengthen further.

SNEF says the silver lining here are the few sectors that are still hiring like the integrated resorts and start-ups, and encouraging take-up rates for training.

13,000 workers from 30 companies are taking up the national training programme SPUR.

But the job situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Mr Lee said: "NTUC's secretary-general Lim Swee Say had already said most likely in the first quarter, retrenchment figures will hit 10,000. So if we work on that sort of figure, then I anticipate that in the second quarter, it (retrenchment figures) will continue to escalate. I don't think we have seen the worst yet. Hopefully it will peak out in the second quarter of this year."

Now you are really getting distressed. What if you are going to be contributing to the retrenchment figures? How are you going to get through this recession?

Fear not. Accordingly, the MCYS has the objective of providing "assurance and hope for needy Singaporeans":
  • 1-person household : $360

  • 2-persons household : $630

  • 3-persons household : $790

  • 4-persons household : $950

  • 5-persons or more household : $1,150

Thus, you will receive $1,150 for your family consisting of your wife, two kids, parents and yourself. Sorry, there is no such category as 6-persons. You will have to send one of your parents to JB and hope that $1,150 is adequate to cover your household expenses. Or pray hard that the cleaning company has decided to employ you as a cleaner, rather than that foreign "talent" who do not mind working for less pay.



Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The mystery of whether Northwest CDC staff are paid 7 months of bonuses shall remain as confidential

Previously, Chief Editor of Wayang Party Club Eugene Yeo sent a letter to Dr Teo Ho Pin to clarify on the rumours that Northwest CDC staff have received eight months bonus for the year of 2008...

Open letter to Dr Teo Ho Pin about Northwest CDC staff getting 8 months bonus in 2008
March 4, 2009
Source: The Wayang Party Club

Dear Dr Teo,

I am Eugene Yeo, Chief Editor of socio-political blog Wayang Party Club.

I am writing to you express my concern over rumors circulating in cyberspace lately about Northwest CDC staff getting 8 months bonus including AWS in 2008.

Separately, a reader have written to us alleging that two of your staff receive 7 months of bonuses and 1 month of AWS last year. However he was unable to provide us with any substantial evidence when asked though he claimed that he had heard it from reliable sources within the CDC.

I have written to both of them seeking clarifications and have yet to receive a reply from them. I have also tried calling them to no avail.

The CDC staff are paid for by tax-payers’ monies. May I know what justify their 7 month bonuses (if the allegations were true) during such tough times when Singapore’s economy is mired in recession and is poised to contract between 5% and 8% this year ?

With many ordinary Singaporeans facing the spectre of retrenchment, wage freezes or cuts, it is disheartening to learn that civil servants in a government organization are taking home a few months of bonuses.

Though Singaporeans do not have the right to interfere with your decision to reward your staff, I am sure you will agree with me that we deserve to know the basis of the CDC’s generosity.

As you may know, many Singaporeans were already unhappy with your performance as Chairman of the PAP Town Councils over the loss of our sinking funds through the purchase of credit-linked investments.

Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council which was under your charge, was the biggest loser, having lost about $8 million dollars of public monies.

Your retort to Singaporeans to be “thankful” for the Town Councils for “growing our money” in the last few years didn’t quite go down well on the ground. This stunning revelation will certainly add fuel to the fire besides reopening old wounds and may trigger a bigger backlash.

I sincerely hope you can step forward to clarify matters and to dispel lingering doubts. If these rampant rumors are unfounded and untrue, they must be repudiated immediately to prevent further misunderstanding in the online community. On the other hand, your continued silence may be misconstrued as a tacit admission that there is some element of truth in these allegations after all.

Eugene Yeo

According to The Wayang Party Club, no response was received from Dr Teo Ho Pin on the matter. However, one of their readers managed to push for a lame reply...

Source: The Wayang Party Club

3 March 2009

Dear Mr Teo,

I came across this. Can u confirm if this is correct or not.


North West CDC staff Getting 7 months bonus
Postby Johnlaw2012 » Mon Mar 02, 2009 2:12 am

You know last year Singapore GDP is 1.1%. North West CDC Mayor Mr TEO loses some money at Lehman Bro Mini bond which is graded “AAA” when the subprime Crisis occur and Bear Stearn is about to collapse and Freddie and Fannie Mae are in deep trouble.

This time,At North West District sembawang jobs fair,4800 people finding $1000 SGD jobs has to queue up so long.

But anyone know Mr Teo North West CDC staff getting 7 Months Bonus? This is a shock for me too. All along i though CDC is caring for North west district residents benifits.

They help people look for such low pay job but themselves getting so high pay from people money during such serious recession? Is this the type of country Singapore has become? Is this a Norm for Civil Servants to get 7 month Bonus and One Month AWS during such a serious recessionary period when Singapore GDP can decline to negative 8% this year ?

6 March 2009

Dear Mr Teo,

I sent an email 3 days ago and did not recieve a reply.

Just in case it was not received the first time, I am resending this now .

Look forward to your response soon.



7 March 2009

All staff at the CDCs are under People’s Association and WDA. Their salary and bonuses are confidential.

Dr Teo Ho Pin

8 March 2009

Dear Mr Teo,

Thank your for your belated reply.

I should reiterate that I did not ask HOW MUCH the bonus was.

I asked if staff got 7-8 months bonus. It is a general and justified question to ask as funds come from tax payers. It is therefore not out of order to ask this simple question and receive a direct reply esp in the face of many people losing their jobs and having their salaries cut.

I therefore would appreciate a direct reply soon.



I'm not feeling hopeful that Dr Teo Ho Pin will reply Paul any further since he claimed that the truth is confidential. Thus I've decided not to write "To be continued...".



Monday, March 9, 2009

Such stupidity to advocate the learning of dialects at the expense of English and Mandarin!


Ah Tan entered the pantry and saw Ah Chee at the coffee machine. He walked over and pat Ah Chee on his back. Ah Chee looked up, with fatigue in his eyes.

AH TAN: Wow! Why so shack?
AH CHEE (frowning): You meant 'exhausted'? Tan, you've gotta stop using such degraded language! If we can't speak good English ourselves, how can we convince the lesser mortals to do so?
AH TAN (stepping back): Oops, sorry! Bad day, huh?
AH CHEE (sighed): A wearing morning. And I've still gotta entertain ludicrous questions from those lesser mortals!

After Ah Tan has gotten his share of coffee from the machine, the two men sat down at a table.

AH TAN (sipping his coffee): Some idiot wrote something stupid to the press again?
AH CHEE: Yah, a dummy actually wrote in and suggested that we revive dialect speaking!
AH TAN: Huh? What's the meaning of revive? Dialects have never been dead! I can still hear the uncles and aunties speaking Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and some other unknown dialects that I don't understand, in kopitiams.
AH CHEE (shaking head): Yes, I'm afraid we've still got such people conversing in these undesirable languages, and I suppose we could only hope that they will take these degenerate languages with them when they pass away.
AH TAN (nodding): I'm sure they will. The younger generation definitely have no clue on the dialects that their grandparents are using.
AH CHEE: Yes! Fortunately!

Their conversation was interrupted by Ah Tan's mobile phone ringing. Swiftly, Ah Tan took the mobile phone out of his pants pocket and answered.

AH TAN (speaking into his mobile phone): Hello? Ah Lim ar? I'm in the pantry lah, with Ah Chee. Talk to you later okay?

After Ah Tan hung up and looked up, he was taken aback by Ah Chee's unapproved stare.

AH CHEE (sternly): Tan! Speak good English!
AH TAN (scratching back of head): Hahaha... okay okay...
AH CHEE (sighing): Do you know that there is this Dr Ng from NTU saying that although Singaporeans are still multilingual, 40 years ago, we were even more multilingual? And he complained that young children are not speaking dialects at all any more! To think that he is actually an acting head of the school's Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies! Such fool!

Ah Chee sipped a mouthful of coffee to calm himself before continuing.

AH CHEE: Tan, think about it. To keep a language alive, it has to be used regularly. Using one language more frequently means less time for other languages. Hence, the more languages a person learns, the greater the difficulties of retaining them at a high level of fluency. And our experience over 50 years of implementing the bilingual education policy has shown that most people find it extremely difficult to cope with two languages when they are as diverse as English and Mandarin. So, can you imagine what kind of disaster we will get ourselves into if we were to allow the use of dialects freely? The usage of dialects interferes with the learning of Mandarin and English! And Singaporeans have to master English! It is our common working language and the language which connects us with the world! English and nothing else!

Ah Chee's face turned red as he panted from speaking too fast. He had to stop again and take another sip of coffee.

AH TAN: English and Chinese. Chinese is important too, now that China is growing strong.
AH CHEE: Precisely. That is why we also emphasised the learning of Mandarin, to make it the mother tongue for all Chinese Singaporeans, regardless of their dialect groups. This is the common language of China and it is a must for Singaporeans to learn Mandarin to do business with the Chinese.
AH TAN: Or even if not for the purpose of doing business with China, we should learn Mandarin so that we could understand what the heck those China foreign workers are talking about, and manage them effectively.
AH CHEE: Hmm...regarding those China foreign workers, I'm writing up a suggestion to make it complusory for them to attend basic English courses. We're the boss and they're the workers. They should be learning English, not us learning Mandarin.
AH TAN: Ah... good point!
AH CHEE: Anyway, I don't know what is in that Dr Ng's mind. It would be stupid for any Singapore agency or NTU to advocate the learning of dialects, which must be at the expense of English and Mandarin. Very stupid. If Singaporeans are really keen in learning more languages, they should do Japanese, French or Korean. Not useless dialects like Hokkien, Teochew or Cantonese!

Ah Tan rubbed his chin and thought for a minute before continuing.

AH TAN: Er... but won't learning these languages affect their English and Mandarin standards as well?
AH CHEE (clearing his throat): Hmm... it's different.
AH TAN: Oh...
AH CHEE (tapping Ah Tan's shoulder): Anyway, I hope you're communicating to your kids in proper English.
AH TAN: Hahaha... yah... kinda... They sucks at Mandarin though. But it helps that they just have to learn hanyu pinyin in school and don't have to worry about writing those weird Chinese characters.
AH CHEE: Yes! That's one great change for our superb education system. I can still remember how I had suffered from learning Chinese during my secondary school days!
AH TAN: Hahaha... yah... those were the days!
AH CHEE: And how are your kids communicating with your parents?
AH TAN: In Cantonese. They've actually mastered some Cantonese from all those Hong Kong serial dramas and they can speak to their grandparents in their broken Cantonese. Hahaha...

Ah Tan stopped laughing when he suddenly found Ah Chee staring at him with a straight face.

AH CHEE (raising his voice): You mean you actually allow your kids to learn Cantonese?! You actually allow them to watch television programmes in Cantonese?!
AH TAN: Well... it's not like their English is really affected...
AH CHEE: But still! How can you allow such bad influence on them?
AH TAN: But... at least they can understand what their grandparents are saying!
AH CHEE (shaking his head): Goodness me! Do you know what are you doing to their future?
AH TAN (patting Ah Chee on his shoulder): Ah Chee, don't worry about it! I've got it under control.

Ah Chee raised his right eyebrow and looked at Ah Tan skeptically. Meanwhile, Ali walked into the pantry with an empty mug. Upon seeing Ah Tan and Ah Chee, he walked over to the table.

ALI (patting Ah Tan on his shoulder): Brother! Apa Ini? Tea-break never call?
AH CHEE (shouting at Ali): Speak good English!



Friday, March 6, 2009

Morons In The Citi

On 17th February 2009, we were shocked by the massive 50 billion Singapore dollars that GIC had lost on our behalf...

Singapore's GIC losses about 33 bln US dlrs
Source: Yahoo! News

SINGAPORE, Feb 17, 2009 (AFP) - Government of Singapore Investment Corp, which has helped bail out troubled global financial institutions, suffered an investment loss of about 50 billion Singapore dollars (33 billion US) last year, sources told Dow Jones Newswires on Tuesday.

In late 2007 and early last year GIC injected billions of dollars into Swiss bank UBS as well as US banking giant Citigroup, both of which suffered massive losses from US subprime, or higher-risk, mortgage investments.

Subprime troubles later evolved into the worldwide financial slowdown.

"The loss on the investment portfolio last year is estimated at around 45 billion to 50 billion," one of two people familiar with the GIC situation told Dow Jones.

"But, GIC has no thoughts to sell down any of its major investments. They'll wait until they recover."

UBS this month posted an annual loss of 17 billion US dollars, the largest in Swiss corporate history, and announced 2,000 new job cuts.

A second person said GIC's investment loss last year was "recently estimated to be similar to Temasek's."

The portfolio of Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, which helped bail out Wall Street icon Merrill Lynch, fell about 31 percent over eight months last year, Senior Minister of State for Finance Lim Hwee Hua told parliament last week.

She said Temasek's portfolio of investments fell to 127 billion dollars at the end of November, down 58 billion from 185 billion dollars on March 31 last year.

Lim said it was not the first time GIC and Temasek had seen major declines in markets, and that GIC had "creditable returns" over the 20-year period to late 2008.

Asked for comment on the Dow Jones report, a GIC spokesman said the firm did not comment on "speculative reports".

GIC, one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds, in September said its nominal rate of return over the 20 years to March 31 last year was 7.8 percent in US dollar terms.

"Temasek and GIC are long-term investors, and should be evaluated as such," Lim said. "GIC and Temasek have the ability and resources to weather the ups and downs, over multiple economic and market cycles."

On 28th February 2009, we were ruffled by the high price of USD3.25/share that GIC was paying to convert Citigroup preferred shares into common stock, when its opening share price was USD1.67.

Singapore GIC converts Citi notes, pays $3.25/shr
Source: Yahoo! News

SINGAPORE, Feb 27 - Sovereign wealth fund the Government of Singapore Investment Corp said on Friday it will convert its Citigroup preferred shares into common stock in a bid to shore up the troubled U.S. lender.

GIC said it would exchange its convertible preferred notes to common stock at a price of $3.25 a share. Based on Citi's opening share price of $1.67 on Friday, GIC has realised a loss of around half its investment. This also compares with the conversion price of $26.35 under the terms of the original investment.

GIC said its stake in Citi would rise to an estimated 11.1 percent.

"It now means GIC are in the real danger zone. Equity holders are the first to absorb any losses. Or if the Treasury decides to inject more capital, they will get diluted," said an analyst at an investment bank, who declined to be indentified.

GIC is Singapore's largest wealth fund with an estimated $300 billion in assets. Its sister fund Temasek Holdings [TEM.UL], which also invested in global banks and lost over $2 billion on Merrill Lynch, saw its portfolio drop 31 percent in the eight months to November.

Singapore has only said GIC outperformed global equities in 2008. The government tapped its reserves for the first time for a budget stimulus package in January to try to cushion the country from its worst ever recession.

GIC bought in January 2008 about $6.88 billion worth of perpetual, convertible notes in Citi that pay a 7 percent annual dividend. At that time, the notes could be converted into about 4 percent of Citi's expanded capital.

Preferred shares are similar to bonds in that holders received a fixed dividend instead of dividends that may vary depending on the firm's performance. By getting preferred shareholders to convert their holdings into common stock, Citi would be able to reduce its quarterly dividend payment.

"GIC supports the initiative by Citigroup and the U.S. government to strengthen the quality of the bank's capital base," GIC said in a statement.

Shares in Citigroup were trading 32 percent lower at $1.67 in early trade by 1445 GMT on Friday after announcing a deal that would increase the U.S. government's stake in the bank's common stock. [ID:nN27210042].

"Citi needs support right now and that is what the U.S. Treasury and investors are providing," said David Cohen of consultancy Action Economics.

"Hopefully they can be rewarded as they are trying to help clean the mess in the global financial system. If you are not willing to take a risk, you can't achieve a return."

GIC's executive director Tony Tan said this month unleveraged global investors such as sovereign wealth funds will pay a more important role in future as hedge funds and private equity find their activities constrained by tighter borrowing restrictions.

Western governments, which have taken large stakes in banks to prop up their financial systems, will eventually have to "re-privatise" assets on a massive scale and will need to attract long-term institutional investors like sovereign funds when markets stabilise, he said.

Today on 6th March 2009, we are staring at Citigroup's share price dropping below USD one dollars.

Citigroup stock falls below $1 a share
Source: Yahoo! News

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Shares of Citigroup Inc., once the nation's most powerful bank, fell below $1 a share Thursday.

The stock fell as low as 97 cents in late morning trading. It was down 11 cents, or 9.7 percent, at $1.02 in mid-afternoon.
New York-based Citi has lost more than 85 percent of its value so far this year, and is down more than 95 percent from a year ago as the bank was pummeled by the financial market crisis.

Citigroup's shares will remain on the New York Stock Exchange. Last week, the NYSE relaxed its listing rules to allow stocks that fall under $1 to still be listed and traded on the exchange.

The exchange said the change was warranted given the "current period of unusual market volatility and decline."

Ordinarily, an NYSE-listed company's shares cannot remain below $1 for more than 30 consecutive days. If that happens, the company gets about six months to prove to the NYSE it can boost its stock price.

Citigroup used to be not only the largest bank by assets, but also by market capitalization, which has now been decimated by the stock's decline. At the start of 2007, its market cap was riding high at around $270 billion. But by March 2008, it had fallen below the $100 billion mark. Now, it's at $6.2 billion.

As the recession deepens, the problems facing Citigroup _ souring loans and the impact of the recession _ are only getting worse.

On Friday, the government agreed to exchange up to $25 billion in emergency bailout money given to Citigroup for as much as a 36 percent equity stake in the company. The government, along with other private investors, will convert some of their $45 billion in preferred stock into common shares. If the maximum amount of preferred stock is converted, current common stockholders will see their ownership stake fall to about 26 percent.

The deal between the Treasury Department and the bank is the third rescue effort in the past six months.

The problem is the market knows Citigroup received no new capital last week. The conversion to common stock will create a wider equity base aimed at keeping investors calm as the economy deteriorates _ but Citigroup still has $45 billion in Troubled Assets Relief Program funding, the same amount as it did before. The switch to common stock will help boost Citigroup's "tangible common equity," Wall Street's and Washington's new favored gauge of banks' health.

Citigroup, criticized for years for being too multi-tentacled, has already sold off several businesses over the past several months.

It has also split into two parts: Citicorp and Citi Holdings _ effectively undoing the merger that created the company in 1998. Citicorp holds the company's "core" businesses like retail banking, investment banking, credit cards and transaction services, while Citi Holdings runs the company's riskier assets, the consumer finance franchises and asset management.

Citigroup, which hasn't turned a profit since the fall of 2007, will face its next test in April when it reports first-quarter earnings.

So who are the smart Alexs in GIC that decided it was a superb idea to invest such monstrous amount in Citigroup? And who are the even smarter Alexs that still insist that this is a sound long-term investment?

Haven't they heard of the term "cut loss"?



Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bid $40 million for two bronze heads but refused to pay? Give the man a Tiger! Or Rat! Or Rabbit!

Relics 'buyer' sparks mixed reaction in China
Source: CNN.com

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The man who successfully bid for two Chinese sculptures at auction and then refused to pay up is being called both a national hero and national embarrassment in China.

Cai Mingchao bid about $40 million for the two bronze sculptures at an auction in Paris, France, of the late Yves Saint Laurent's collection.

He then refused to pay for them, claiming the sculptures belong to China.

"We've stood up and thankfully, I was given this opportunity, which I feel is my responsibility," said Cai, who works for China's National Treasures Fund. "What I want to stress is I will not pay for this bid."

It was not clear if Cai was acting on his own or with the government's authority.

On the front pages of the state-run papers in China, it's all about the man who says he will not pay.

Headlines read, "Patriotic bidder thwarts relics' sale," "Bidder traps Christie's," and "Mysterious Bidder Emerges."

China's blogs are also flooded with strong reaction on both sides. One calls Cai a national hero, but others question whether his act was patriotic. Said one blogger: "He's ruined the reputation of the Chinese people."

In the days before the auction at Christie's in Paris, the Chinese government demanded the sculptures be returned.

The government says it had nothing to do with the bogus bid but insists the sale should never have been made.

"This belongs to China," said Qin Gang, a foreign ministry spokesman. "It illegally ended up in a foreign country. We oppose the auction."

The bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit were featured in last week's auction of art, jewelry and furniture from Saint Laurent's estate. Each one was sold for more than $20 million, double the pre-auction estimate.

The heads are part of a set of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac that adorned a fountain in China's Summer Palace. They were based on the drawings of a Jesuit missionary for the fountain and are prized for their naturalistic, expressive faces and realistic detail.

They disappeared from China when French and British troops pillaged the palace during the Second Opium War in 1860.

To many Chinese, the two bronze sculptures are painful reminders of what China-watchers call the "hundred years of humiliation syndrome," especially because the antiquities disappeared when a weak China was subjected to invasion and bullying by Western powers.

China has moved to punish Christie's after the sale. China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage decreed tighter inspections on all cultural relics that Christie's seeks to bring in and out of China, a move meant to choke Christie's small but potentially big auction business in China.

Other wealthy buyers have in the past paid large amounts of money for looted Chinese relics at auction, then donated them to China, but Cai vows no money will change hands.

Christie's is not commenting on the sale or the possibility that Cai will not pay.

"We do not comment on the identity of our consignors or buyers, nor do we comment or speculate on the next steps that we might take in this instance," said a spokesman who declined to be named.

Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's partner who jointly owned the items with the designer, told French state radio he would keep the two bronze sculptures if the sale is not resolved.

"I will keep them at my home," Berge said. "That is where they were and that is where they will return and we will continue to live together."

The auction of works from the Yves St. Laurent collection raised just over $483 million, Christie's said. That set a world record for a private collection sold at auction, the auction house said.

So who is more of an idiot? The buyer? Or the seller?

Imagine this... long long time ago, your grandfather's friend saw a set of very nicely crafted Fu Lu Shou that your grandfather had bought from China. Greed stroke and he stole Fu when he left the house. Twenty years later at present day, you saw the same Fu on ebay. Apparently the seller was your grandfather's friend's grandson. Will you bid high price for it, but when you were the highest bidder, decided not to pay for it?

What do we observe from this incident?
  • Your grandfather's friend was an idiot to steal a Fu out of a set of Fu Lu Shou. So what if he got hold of Fu? Place it in his living room and show to his friends saying "Hey! Look at my nice Fu! Doesn't matter if it's an odd Fu out of a set of Fu Lu Shou!"? And how will he explain to his friends the whereabouts of Lu and Shou?

  • Your grandfather's friend's grandson was an idiot too. Who did he think will be interested to buy just a Fu? Somebody who stole Lu and Shou but missed out Fu? And if he was fully aware of the rightful owner of the Fu, shouldn't he just give it back instead of putting on ebay and let the whole wide world acknowledge that his grandfather was the thief?

  • You were an idiot to bid for something and not pay for it on an internationally renowned site. What if ebay bans you from future bidding because of this incident? And even if you could continue to bid, what does it say of your credibility? Which seller will be willing to take the risk and sell anything to you? Worse still, the Fu still remained in the buyer's hands! So what is the purpose of bid and not pay here? What did you archieve? Public awareness that your grandfather's friend stole from your family? Is this really the best way to create publicity? What were you expecting the seller to do when you did not pay for it? Return it to you for free?



Monday, March 2, 2009

Milk - good enough to win the Oscar, and gay enough to be censored by Mediacorp

Milk won two Oscar awards, with Sean Penn winning the Best Actor award and Dustin Lance Black winning the Best Original Screenplay award. What "Milk"? A typical Singaporean may ask. Can't blame him/her though. Most would have watched the trailers for Red Cliff II, Love Matters and The Wedding Game so many times on the television that they would have imagined that the only way to make Mediacorp stop is to go watch the movies. But the trailers for Milk? None. Zero. The reason is simple. Milk is a R21 movie because of its homosexual theme.

This is the synopsis from Golden Village:

The story of California's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by San Francisco Supervisor Dan White.

After moving to San Francisco, the middle-aged New Yorker, Harvey Milk, became a Gay Rights activist and city politician. On his third attempt, he was elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in 1977, making him the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the USA. The following year, both he and the city's mayor, George Moscone, were shot to death by former city supervisor, Dan White, who blamed his former colleagues for denying White's attempt to rescind his resignation from the board.

And this is the synopsis from MSN Movies:

Academy Award winner Sean Penn takes the title role in Gus Van Sant's biopic tracing the last eight years in the life of Harvey Milk, the ill-fated politician and gay activist whose life changed history, and whose courage still inspires people. When Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, he made history for being the first openly gay man in American history to be voted into public office. But the rights of homosexuals weren't Milk's primary concern, as tellingly evidenced by the wide array of political coalitions he formed over the course of his tragically brief career. He fought for everyone from union workers to senior citizens, a true hero of human rights who possessed nothing but compassion for his fellow man. The story begins in New York City, where a 40-year-old Milk ponders what steps he can take to make his life more meaningful.

Eventually, Milk makes the decision to relocate to the West Coast, where he and his lover, Scott Smith (James Franco), found a small business in the heart of a working-class neighborhood. Empowered by his love for the Castro neighborhood and the success of his business, Castro Camera, Milk somewhat unexpectedly begins to emerge as an outspoken agent for change. With a growing support system that includes both Scott and a like-minded young activist named Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), the charismatic Milk decides to take a fateful leap into politics, eventually developing a reputation as a leader who isn't afraid to follow up his words with actions. In short order, he is elected supervisor for the newly zoned District 5, though this seeming triumph is in fact the catalyst for a tragedy that starts to unfold as Milk does his best to forge a political partnership with Dan White (Josh Brolin), another newly elected supervisor. Over time it becomes apparent that Milk and White's political agendas are directly at odds, a revelation that puts their personal destinies on a catastrophic collision course.

It is apparent which synopsis is luring you to the ticketbox and which one is not.

Anyway, here's the trailer that you will not see on your television, or perhaps not even in the cinemas...

Milk (2008) Trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QzvIXYhVuQ

Of course, when Mediacorp screened the 2009 Oscars live telecast in the morning, little did they expect this movie to win an award, or worse, two! Immediately, they called upon their technical teams and Tada! The repeat telecast in the evening was nicely censored. All positive remarks on gay were removed and the Oscars was then fit for home viewing.

If you're still wondering why the winners for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay awards were speaking in such funny ways, as if something were missing in their speech, well here you are. The full versions...

Sean Penn Wins for "Milk" Acceptance Speech at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dnM8v9aaR0

"For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, and I think it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone."

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black winning an Oscar for "Milk" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mv35SN3ctU

"Oh my God. This was, um, this was not an easy film to make. First off, I have to thank Cleve Jones and Anne Kronenberg and all the real-life people who shared their stories with me. And, um, Gus Van Sant, Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco and our entire cast, my producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, everyone at Groundswell and Focus for taking on the challenge of telling this life-saving story.

When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe even I could even fall in love and one day get married.

I wanna thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours.

Thank you. Thank you. And thank you, God, for giving us Harvey Milk."