28 July 2005

Why Can't They Just Admit to Wasting Money?

July 28, 2005
Marina Bay brand more than just a name

I REFER to the letter by Mr Michael Chua Kheng Hwee, 'Name search a waste of money' (ST, July 26).

Marina Bay is a new area; it is the future downtown of Singapore. It will provide Singapore with the opportunity for further urban transformation and attract new investments, visitors and talent, besides becoming a new destination for the local community.

[Mr Wang: Wah! So exciting. So what's the next step?]

In the face of increasing competition among cities, place branding can help to differentiate Singapore from competitors. A strong, distinctive positioning of Marina Bay can lead to a powerful and distinctive competitive advantage for Singapore. Branding goes beyond a name, logo and tagline. It is about identifying a vision and a set of value propositions we want people to associate a place with.

[Mr Wang: Wah! So exciting. So how will you actually improve the branding?]

A key part of the Marina Bay branding exercise involved extensive research and consultation with various key stakeholders - developers, retailers, restaurant owners, entertainment companies and tourism interests, both locally and internationally.

[Mr Wang: Yes. But how does this actually improve the branding?]

Our stakeholders validated the Marina Bay brand. The brand will drive the planning and design, and activities and events to be held at the bay. It is also a common platform for the various stakeholders to join hands in promoting and marketing the area.

[Mr Wang: You mean you spent $400,000 and didn't actually do anything to improve the branding?]

Marina Bay is attracting interest internationally. Investors have signalled their confidence in Marina Bay, as can be seen in the significant tender interest in the Business and Financial Centre, a multi-billion-dollar project.

[Mr Wang: Ooooor, I see! You spent $400,000 to not change the name of Marina Bay, that's why investors want to invest there, issit?]

Our future downtown at Marina Bay is an exciting and important project. The amount we invested in branding Marina Bay will reap long-term economic benefits for Singapore.

[Mr Wang: Thank you, thank you, URA!]

Michael Koh
Director Urban Planning & Design
Urban Redevelopment Authority

A "Before & After" Special Presentation
by URA

Marina Bay BEFORE the $400K branding exercise!

AND NOW .....


Marina Bay AFTER the $400K branding exercise!

***Well done, URA!***

24 July 2005

On Kids, Brains and Early Learning

People who like to read non-infantile blogs should pay more attention to Heavenly Sword, because he writes many thoughtful posts on real issues. Anyway, in his latest post, he argues that parents should not get too excited or concerned about which primary schools their children attend.

This is because Heavenly Sword believes that most primary schools offer approximately the same quality of education to the student. With some tentativeness, he suggests that the same probably applies to secondary schools and with even more tentativeness, he suggests that the same may possibly also apply to junior college.

I don't necessarily agree with all of Heavenly Sword's comments. But the purpose of my present post is not to analyse his views, but rather to extend the scope of the discussion. In other words, Mr Wang intends to talk about (1) kindergartens, (2) preschools and also (3) the home as a learning environment for kids below the age of three.

"Oooooh. This is relevant to me. I'd better listen to what Daddy is saying."
- Mr Wang's baby girl

If Heavenly Sword does not regard the choice of primary school as being particularly crucial, then I suspect that he is even less likely to regard the choice of preschool/kindergarten as being crucial. As for babies and toddlers below age 3 or 4, Heavenly Sword would probably say, "Oh please, leave them alone! They are too young to learn anything."

However, there are reasons why parents these days become concerned with their children's development at increasingly early ages (to the extent that some pregnant ladies even read to the baby in the womb - although Mr Wang personally thinks that that is rather ridiculous). The main thing is that in the past two or three decades, there have been monumental leaps in scientists' understanding of how the human brain develops, and while the science is still relatively young, the general conclusion so far is that the ages from 0-6 years are the most crucial stages in the brain's development.

I oversimplify, but the gist of it is that both nature and nurture contribute to the overall brainpower of each human being, and the crucial stage for "nurture" to play its role is when the child is not yet six years old (some scientists say, three years old). A dysfunctional early environment increases the risk that the child will eventually become an adolescent or adult with cognitive, behavioural and physical difficulties. Conversely, the benefits of adequate mental stimulation during the early years will lead to gains that carry over permanently into adulthood.

To put it another way, whether a person is "bright", "intelligent" or "clever" depends much more on what happens in his earliest years, than on what happens in his primary or secondary years. Or at any later age, for that matter.

"My greatest fear is boredom. I could literally die from it!"
- Neuron in the brain.

In view of these scientific discoveries, finding a good preschool or kindergarten may be far more important for finding a good primary school (or for that matter, a good secondary school or JC). Having visited more than a few playschools, kindergartens etc, Mr Wang regrets to say that in his opinion, the general standards of early childhood education in Singapore are somewhat lacking. There are some good places, run by teachers who really know what they are doing. But by and large, the average kindergarten in Singapore has yet to really take advantage of current scientific knowledge about the development of the young human brain.

The good thing is that for young children, it is not that difficult to design a home environment and family lifestyle that brings out the best in the child. The most basic prerequisite is that the parents must take the time to educate themselves and find out how. Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation and hype is floating out there in the market, mainly perpetuated by companies selling baby and children's products. It's important for parents to get their basic facts right, and strip out the fiction. From the perspective of the child's mental development, some traditional Asian methods of child-raising, and some typically Singaporean ideas about learning, are also rather unwise. More on this, another time, perhaps.

Mr Wang told you he was a voracious reader.
Here are some of his books about babies and toddlers.

23 July 2005

Dr Randy Kluver

Does the name sound familiar? He's the director of the Singapore Internet Research Center. Randy is also the the Internet expert whom the Straits Times quoted in its article yesterday about XiaXue's blog being hacked. Randy's most memorable line: "Disagree with the writer, but do it in another, legal, way, like setting up a blog to blast her."

Anyway, I've just discovered Randy's blog. Looks like a crisscross between his personal life and his intellectual interests. The blog has been around for some time but from what I can see on Technorati, it isn't very well-known and is probably not getting much traffic.

Well, Mr Wang will do his little bit to change that. You are all encouraged to click here, pop over and say hi to Randy. Be nice to Randy, okay? So that he'll say good things about us Singapore bloggers the next time the mainstream media interviews him again. He can be a valuable member of the Singapore blogging community.

Here, for starters, maybe you guys can help him out with his Typepad question.

I think that HuiChieh and Elia Diodati may, in particular, acquire a taste for Randy's blog.

"I'm a king and he's a pirate. Daddy, errmmmm, he's just a professor."
- the Kluver kids.

22 July 2005

New National Library

I just learned from Ivan Chew's blog that the new National Library has finally opened. Wowee. This is major news for Wang Zhen, one of the most voracious readers on this planet. The best thing is that the new National Library is actually close enough to my office for me to buzz down at lunchtime.

One of my colleagues just said to me, "Well, Mr Wang, I guess you won't ever be joining us for lunch again." Which is probably true, haha. This colleague knows about Mr Wang's frightening appetite for books. And she has correctly guessed that Mr Wang will now spend most of his lunch hours at the National Library.

What does Mr Wang read? A very wide range of books. Poetry, fiction, biographies, Dilbert, self-improvement, spirituality, pop science, parenting, health, finance, law, politics, psychology, humour, business ........ Mr Wang can eat a library on his own.

"Dammit. Lunchtime is nearly over
and I'm still on Chapter Two."

Signs of Desperation

July 22, 2005
Took opts not to testify in his defence
Relying only on the testimony of his psychiatrist, he will claim diminished responsibility

By Chong Chee Kin

TOOK Leng How, the man accused of murdering eight-year-old Huang Na on Oct 10 last year, will not testify in his own defence.

His shock decision came after defence lawyers failed to persuade the judge that the prosecution had not made a case against him.

In calling for the defence, Justice Lai Kew Chai said he believed the prosecution had put forward sufficient evidence in the first nine days of the trial to suggest that Took had murdered Huang Na.

'I do not for one moment think there is no case to answer,' the judge said.

Took's move - similar to the one bus driver Oh Laye Koh adopted more than 10 years ago in his murder retrial - means he will rely solely on the testimony of his psychiatrist, Dr R. Nagulendran, to get him off the hook.

He will claim a defence of diminished responsibility - a partial defence that reduces the act of killing from murder to manslaughter, which means the killer cannot be hanged for the offence.

It requires the defence to establish that the killer's mental functions were impaired at the time, to the extent that he was unable to distinguish right from wrong.

Took's decision carries considerable risk. A defendant's silence can be taken as an inference of guilt and, in many cases, means virtually the only evidence the court can use to decide a case comes from the prosecution.

Dead man, dead man.

When an accused person refuses to testify in his own defence, he certainly looks bad, doesn't he? The prosecution has produced 76 witnesses to put together its case against Took. And now Took decides, "Oh well, I'm not just going to say anything. Not a thing at all." Would an innocent person do that? Of course not. An innocent person would want desperately to get on the witness stand and tell the judge his side of the story.

Now a guilty person is much more likely to avoid the witness stand. The guilty person knows that once he decides to testify, he will be subjected to the DPP's cross-examination. Under cross-examination, the guilty person will be picked apart by the DPP (like Davinder Singh picking TT Durai apart - although of course that is a different case of legal suit). And then he will look worse than ever before.

So it is the guilty person who is much likelier to choose not to testify at all. He opts for silence. But the law says that the judge is permitted to draw adverse inferences against the accused if he refuses to testify. In other words, the judge is entitled to reach the following conclusion: "You're not testifying because you're scared, and you're scared because you did something very wrong and you know you won't have good answers to the questions which the DPP wants to ask you."

The judge does not necessarily draw this kind of conclusion. But he is permitted to. Whether he does or not depends on the overall circumstances of the case. And at the moment, the circumstances aren't looking very pretty for Took.

In layman terms, Took's defence is going to be that he is stupid. For that, he's going to rely on some psychiatric report. Well, good luck. Anybody can kill anybody and then say, "Gee, I was too stupid to understand what was happening." Not many, however, are going to succeed with that kind of defence.

It would help if Took was an obvious retard. A grown idiot who can't get by in life without constant supervision. But Took isn't. After Huang Na died, he was smart enough to wrap the body; find an excellent hiding spot; transport the body without anyone noticing; dump the body; disappear from work; get his passport and quietly leave the country without telling anyone. That takes planning. That takes presence of mind. That takes brains.

Diminished responsibility? Too dumb to understand anything? Sing me another song, lah.

"I refuse to answer any more of your questions.
You're just making me look ridiculous. Literally!"

XiaXue Plotting Murder

Well, here's the full text of the ST article about Xiaxue's blog getting hacked, for the benefit of those of you who neither read the ST online or offline. Looks like she wasn't too upset to pose for the camera.


July 22, 2005
Blocked out of their own blogs
Contents of two blogs, including Xiaxue's, deleted and rude message left in place
By Chua Hian Hou

TWO blogs, including that of popular local blogger Wendy Cheng, who writes under the pseudonym Xia- xue, have been hijacked. Their contents have been deleted and a rude message has been left in their place.

Both were hit early yesterday morning. .

The first inkling Miss Cheng had that something was wrong was when she tried to check her e-mail at about 4am and found she could not log in.

Alarmed, she tried checking her blogsite and found herself locked out there too.

Frantic and crying, she sent out messages from another of her e-mail accounts to her service providers asking to have her accounts restored to her.

When she was finally able to access them at about 6am, she found her 3,000 or so messages and list of contacts had been removed and her three-year-old online journal trashed.

In its place was a rude six-line message, which referred to her as a 'bitch'.

'I felt so helpless,' she said, sounding angry and frustrated when contacted on her mobile phone yesterday afternoon.

'My blog is my biggest achievement in life, and losing it is my worst fear.'

The 20-year-old believes the hijacker guessed the passwords to her two accounts.

Her service providers have since restored most of her blog, but have not been able to recover her e-mail.

Yesterday, she made a report to the police and tapped out one of her expletive-filled accounts of what happened on her blogsite.

Local blogging community site Tomorrow.sg said the blog belonging to 'Anna Wonkytong' had also been hijacked.

The writer could not be contacted, but when The Straits Times visited the site, it found the blog had been removed and there was a short message written in a similar style to that on Miss Cheng's site.

Hijacking blogsites, websites and e-mail accounts is considered an offence under the Computer Misuse Act, said police spokesman Razif Mohamed.

Anyone found guilty faces up to three years' jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

He added that the police have received six reports of hijacked website and e-mail accounts so far this year. Miss Cheng's is the first one involving a blog.

Singapore Internet Research Centre director Randolph Kluver, said: 'It was only a matter of time before a blog was hijacked, and Xiaxue was an obvious target.

'She had a popular blog, and in her previous writings, she disrespected other popular bloggers, like the Sarong Party Girl, so this may be a way of getting back at her.'

Indeed, 'Ray7' wrote on her site: 'If she likes attacking people and thinks that she can get away with it... then she just had a taste of her own medicine.'

His note was among more than 60 comments posted on Miss Cheng's blogsite. Most urged her to keep on blogging.

No matter how unhappy you are with a blogger, Dr Kluver said, hijacking the blog is not a solution.

'Disagree with the writer, but do it in another, legal, way, like setting up a blog to blast her.'

21 July 2005

The Huang Na Murder Trial

July 21, 2005
No sign of sex assault, but it's not ruled out
Possible for such attacks to happen yet leave no traces, says forensic pathologist

By Chong Chee Kin

THOUGH an autopsy on the body of Huang Na revealed no sign of sexual assault, it still could not be ruled out, forensic pathologist Paul Chui told the court at the trial of murder accused Took Leng How yesterday.

In a statement to police after his arrest, Took claimed he had molested Huang Na with his fingers after she was dead, to make it look like she had been raped.

Dr Chui said that though there were 'no positive signs indicating a sexual assault' when he conducted the autopsy on Oct 31 last year, he stressed that it could not be ruled out completely.
If I were the DPP, I wouldn't lose too much sleep over this part of the trial. Whether Took raped or did not rape Huang Na is not that important. Either way, Took is going to hang for murder. Death being the ultimate punishment, the other details become somewhat irrelevant.

I kinda hate homicide trials. That was one reason I quit being a DPP. I never actually did a homicide trial, although I've reviewed police homicide files. I quit before I became senior enough for them to start assigning homicide trials to me.

"Okay, okay, I admit it. I also drove without a licence,
stole two library books and hacked Xiaxue's

Perhaps Mr Wang Has Been Impulsive

Analytics88 earnestly claims that he did not send me hate mail. Very well. Mr Wang the Magnanimous shall give him the benefit of the doubt. And temporarily put away his Ridsect spray. The financial discussion shall continue. But first, a quick summary.

KiddyBoy posed this question, requesting Mr Wang's comments:
"I have a friend, just married and lives in a lovely but huge HDB flat. Just two of them. Price of flat stunned me, almost 300K. Friend tells me loan is for 30 years (no choice leh, he says), and by my quick calculation, total interest payment can buy a Subaru WRX (My dream car!) at today's prices."
Mr Wang pointed out by making prepayments from time to time, the term of the housing loan can be shortened and the aggregate amount of interest paid would be reduced:
"A 30-year housing loan need not actually be repaid over the full 30 years. Along the way, you can make prepayments. This means that if you have extra cash, you can prepay part of the loan ahead of time. Thus you can repay the full loan sooner than 30 years. By prepaying part of the principal loan amount, you also reduce the interest you have to pay each month."
(By the way, if you have a HDB loan, you can make prepayments as and when you like, and there is no prepayment fee or penalty). Lay is worried about future contingencies such as unemployment and medical emergencies:
"All is well if you have your job for life and your pay goes up in a straight line and you are healthy. However, my reasoning tells me that it is good to leave some flexibility to reschedule the loan when a shock (illness, retrenchment) occurs. What does Mr Wang and the other blog readers think?"
Mr Wang then talked about the importance of having emergency reserves:

"I agree with you that it is not safe to assume that you have your job for life; will steadily earn more and more as the years go by; and will remain healthy indefinitely etc.However, this actually means that you cannot seek to pay off your housing loan so aggressively.

For example, if each month you put as much money as you can towards repaying the loan, you shorten the life of the loan but you also make it impossible for yourself to build any emergency reserves. You can aim to repay a 30-year loan in 20 years, but if you stretch yourself too hard, then you are in deep trouble if, in Year 5 or 6, you become unemployed and you can't even meet next month's mortgage payment or even next month's water bill (because you never had any savings - you'd thrown all your money into repaying the housing loan as fast as possible).

That is why I prefer the prepayment strategy. You prepay as and when you have more than enough, and you only prepay the amount that you're comfortable with. For example, if you got a big bonus in December, then you can prepay in January using your bonus."

Analytics88 the Cockroach says that Mr Wang has "bad judgment", "stale analysis", should "watch his words", has made a "retarded reponse", is "obviously not the smartest pencil in the box", is "short-sighted and self-righteous", is a "chimp" and is "not in the same league" [with what, Mr Wang does not know. Intelligent cockroaches perhaps].

Anyway, Analytics88's alternative strategy is:
"One should use the prepayment funds and invest in instruments yielding 6%. That gives you a spread of 4% beating any prepayment options hands down."
Commenting on Analytics88 strategy, Singaporean said:
"There are no risk-free instruments that pays 6%. The closest to risk-free in Singapore is the Singapore Government Bonds, and the yields are barely 4%. Buy into US Treasuries, and you take on forex risks, and even then, you dont get 6% yield.

Even corporate bonds issued by LTA or HDB, dont pay you 6%, and you better be rich enough to fork out 100k a pop. And yet they are immensely popular. I wonder which morons who are so rich would subscribe to such bonds at 4.25% when 6% opportunities are everywhere.

Yes, you can do better than 2.5% with ease with cash. But 6% is unrealistic without taking on excessive risk. With CPF, with all the fees agent banks charge and government regulations, you'd be hard pressed to break-even, let alone profit.

So, enlighten us, Analytics88, where can we find an instrument that guarantees 6% returns at such a low risk that we can bet our house on it?

And what makes you think the HDB loan rates will stay forever at 2.5%? If you take a bank loan and property prices crash and send you into negative equity, will the bank force sell your property if you fail to top up with cash?"
With bated breath, Mr Wang awaits Analytics88's answer.

"That wasn't the best move, Mr Wang.
He's a cockroach, for cryin' out loud. I would've used the Ridsect. Or an old slipper.
Hell, pluck out the legs and feed him to the fishes."

20 July 2005

Mr Wang is Annoyed

Okay, that's it. Mr Analytics88, you're deleted. And that goes for anyone else who sends offensive and tasteless emails to the Commentary Singapore email account. Jerk.

"Please don't squash me, Mr Wang. I'm really, really sorry.
I just can't help being a creep."
- Mr Analytics88.

Now I begin to understand why XiaXue sometimes behaves the way she behaves. It's tough being famous. You get all these irritating pests who are soooooo jealous of your blog, it's pathetic. Go get a life, jerk. Or at least your own blog.

Mr Wang has a weapon.


Commentary Singapore presents the full text of Khaw Boon Wan's comments in Parliament today on the NKF saga. Wang Zhen foresees a new round of discussion in the blogosphere, despite Agagooga's plea for an end to all the excited chattering.

Now Look What The Banks Are Up To

Personally, I find it shocking. I'm almost inclined to use the word "unethical" but I don't want to be sued. (That means I never used the word. Nyeah nyeah nyeah nyeah nyeah.)

July 20, 2005
Get rewarded - for not paying up in full
Some banks are dangling goodies at customers who roll over credit balances

By Kelvin Wong

CUSTOMERS who are inclined to pay off all or most part of their outstanding credit each month are being encouraged by some banks to stay firmly in the red.

Citibank is dangling prizes in front of customers who pay only the minimum on their balances while United Overseas Bank (UOB) is giving cash to clients who do not pay up in full.

Customers who take up the offers will have more money in their wallets during the month but the usual interest charges will still apply on their outstanding credit.

The strategy has likely been prompted by the growing number of clued-up customers only too aware of the ills of borrowing.

Credit bureau figures showed that 60 per cent of card holders paid off their balances in full in March and less than 2 per cent failed to meet the minimum payment.

Industry watchers said the new promotions were an attempt by banks to increase their interest income.

Citibank is offering its Ready Credit customers the chance to win an O2xda II Mini PDA mobile phone, which retails for about $1,200 without a subscription plan.

The catch? They must pay just the minimum amount indicated on their monthly bill and roll over their credit balances, a practice known in the industry as revolving.

Paying up in full, or indeed, just a dollar more than the minimum amount, will disqualify the bank's credit line users from the draw."
Mr Wang urges all his readers to pay their credit card bills in full each month by GIRO. Don't let the banks make a sucker out of you. They already make good money out of the merchants where you use your credit card (for every dollar you pay via credit card to the merchant, your bank deducts a few cents and keeps it for itself).

The Common Spotted Pleco, also known as the sucker.
A favourite among aquarium hobbyists, and one of Citibank's top clients.

Mr Wang is Pro-Family

In an earlier post, I suggested that Singapore should widely promote flexible working arrangements for employees (such as working from home etc). Several of my readers responded with comments along the lines of "Bah, what a stupid idea". Today, however, a Straits Times article that the "stupid" idea is coming along nicely in the UK.

ST July 20, 2005
Flexi-work on the rise in Britain, survey shows
Family-friendly policies benefit both companies and employees

By Neo Hui Min
Straits Times Europe Bureau

LONDON - THE traditional nine-to-five workday is gradually giving way to flexible working arrangements in Britain, a major government survey has found.

Companies with employees who agree to work a fixed number of hours a week or a month but do not have a daily start or finish time have increased from 16 per cent in 1998 to 28 per cent now.

Conducted from last February to this April, the survey of 3,000 companies also found that those with some employees who work from home grew from 16 per cent to 28 per cent.

Job-sharing grew from 31 per cent to 41 per cent, while companies with employees who switched from full-time to part-time work increased from 46 per cent in 1998 to 64 per cent now.

Employment Minister Gerry Sutcliffe described the emerging picture as one in which 'people have more choice and control over their working lives' and attributed the changes to government policy.

The government put in place several family-friendly policies in 2003, including increased maternity leave as well as legislation allowing parents with children under the age of six or disabled children under the age of 18 the right to ask for flexible working arrangements.

As the government plans to extend this right to parents of older children and carers of elderly relatives as the population ages, the trend of flexible working arrangements looks set to grow.

Attitudes of managers have also changed to favour such arrangements. While a 1998 survey found that 84 per cent of managers believed that it was up to individual employees to balance their work and family responsibilities, this has dropped to 65 per cent.

And now even Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen has decided to sing the same song as Mr Wang Zhen. Am I good or what.
July 20, 2005
Work-life balance: attitude change needed
Good practices also boost bottom line, says Ng Eng Hen

By Sue-Ann Chia
THE latest tool companies can use to grow their business is a simple one: Give employees time for their family and social life.

Survey after survey has found that employees who have time for work and play deliver more in the office and on the shop floor - boosting the bottom line in the process.

Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen made a case for companies to look seriously at flexible work arrangements, telling bosses it makes business sense to let staff work from home, or have time off to care for their family.

What it takes is a change of attitude at the top, he told some 1,000 employers and human resource practitioners at the opening of a work-life harmony conference yesterday.

To convince those who may be sceptical, he drew on studies which found that such practices result in more productive employees, higher shareholder value, and helped firms attract and retain staff.

"We'll always trust you, Mr Wang.
You're the best!"

19 July 2005

Bah ...

... the Singapore Democratic Party is again trying to associate themselves with me.

Aha! Another Financial Planning Question

KiddyBoy would like Mr Wang to comment on this:

"I have a friend, just married and lives in a lovely but huge HDB flat. Just two of them. Price of flat stunned me, almost 300K. Friend tells me loan is for 30 years (no choice leh, he says), and by my quick calculation, total interest payment can buy a Subaru WRX (My dream car!) at today's prices.

I also have a colleague, about to buy flat. He has PhD in Engineering, and tells me, "I did my calculations and it seems to me that I should take the smallest loan, or to put it in another way, buy the smallest flat. Then I can slowly upgrade along the way when I have kids etc etc". PhD-colleague says, "unlike buying shoes, buying flat is not a decision you can reverse easily".

I think - I am inclined to agree with PhD-colleague, and hope that if I do get a wife, the wife is not the sort who wants big flat."
Today Mr Wang is busy. So he will do a short reply. First - a side note. Read tomorrow's newspapers. Mah Bow Tan will be announcing some policy changes to excite the property market. ("Damnit .... how on earth does Mr Wang always know these things?!")

Now for the question proper. A 30-year housing loan need not actually be repaid over the full 30 years. Along the way, you can make prepayments. This means that if you have extra cash, you can prepay part of the loan ahead of time. Thus you can repay the full loan sooner than 30 years. By prepaying part of the principal loan amount, you also reduce the interest you have to pay each month.

Many newlywed couples who have just purchased a home do not think that they can afford to make prepayments. They look at their monthly salaries and expenses - nothing much is left over. However, what they earn today is not what they would be earning in five or ten years' time. With a little bit of luck (that is, their careers go well and they don't get retrenched), they will steadily earn more and more over the years, and save more as well. Prepayments then become possible.

Check with your bank to find out the prepayment conditions. Some banks have an initial lock-in period (for example, no prepayments in the 1st three years). Some banks may impose administrative charges or a prepayment fee. Most banks will also have a minimum prepayment amount (for example, at least $10,000 per prepayment). And so on.

Buying a smaller flat, with a view to upgrading later, is not necessarily a good idea. Each time you buy and/or sell a property, you incur certain costs (property agent's commission, stamp duty, legal fees, administrative costs). If you buy twice, you incur the fees twice. If you buy thrice, you incur the fees thrice. The fees can add up to a significant amount. If you renovate your flat very nicely and then move out within a few years, well, that is also a waste.

On a more philosophical note, Mr Wang notes that life is not all about money. In particular, buying a property is not all about money (unless the property is purely for investment purposes). Some things just cannot be reduced into pure dollars and cents.

Mr Wang lives in a HDB flat. Although Mr Wang can definitely afford a private condo, he intends to continue living in his humble HDB flat for many, many years to come. Why? Because it is Mr Wang's home. He feels happy in it. It is the home that Mr and Mrs Wang built together. Many fond memories are here.

Besides Mr Wang's favourite roti prata stall is nearby. Mr Wang MUST have his roti prata every Sunday morning.

Mr Wang is not sentimental about his bonds or equities - he will buy, hold or sell without emotion. But roti prata - ahhh, it is just not the same.

Roti prata -
a major influence on Asian property markets.

18 July 2005

About the Bloggers SG Conference

I didn't attend it. I was afraid that my fans would mob me and cause a riot. Anyway, that almost infamous blogger, Anthony, had something interesting to say about the event. Or rather, about the Straits Times coverage of the event. Anthony is annoyed and this is what he's unhappy about:
"My biggest gripe about this article is that it is built on false assumptions and perpetuates two negative stereotypes about bloggers (i) that blogging is primarily about "provocative pictures, biting commentaries and wit", and (ii) that bloggers are unjustifably uncomfortable with commentary when their public identities are known."
Elsewhere, he castigates the journalist Au Yong:

"Mr Au Yong, reading the totality of the first two paragraphs of the article, I am forced to ask - What were your expectations of a Bloggers' Conference? It seems to me that you've relied on two common but erroneous stereotypes of blogging (i) that blogging is about readership and (ii) bloggers do what they can to -attract- readership.

Nothing could be further from the truth ... I can name any number of bloggers that write solely in their chosen areas of interest ... Some of us write for readership. Others just write - readership follows."

Yes, I quite agree with Anthony. The mainstream media in Singapore still doesn't understand blogging. Well, you silly coots at the Straits Times, if you're reading this post, pay close attention. Mr Wang is about to educate you.

What is a blog? It is an easy way to write something and put it on the Internet. Your entries are organised chronologically. You get a couple of cool features like the ability to post pictures; to link to other blogs; and to enable others to comment on your writings. However, the mechanics of blogging are in themselves value-free and agenda-less. Nothing determines the content of a blog except the blogger.

It is like being given a big stack of blank paper, a box of crayons, and some pens and pencils. The rest is entirely up to you. You can compose a poem; write a thesis; draw a cartoon; sketch a landscape; or make paper aeroplanes. It is entirely up to you.

The origami Buddha.
Made from blank yellow paper and designed to enlighten journalists.

Blogs are therefore as diverse as the human beings who blog (that is to say, VERY diverse). So whatever stereotypical ideas you have about bloggers, your ideas are probably wrong. In fact, even the same human being can jolly well have several very different blogs for different purposes.

Take Mr Wang for example. I have multiple blogs and multiple user IDs. I have this blog, Commentary Singapore, to yak about current affairs in Singapore. I share one blog with my wife, where we post photos of our kids and write about them growing up. I have a third blog devoted to one particular hobby of mine. I have a fourth blog about spirituality and religion. I have a fifth blog about developments in my industry. I have a sixth blog where I write about my goals and plans in life. And I recently started a seventh blog, Mr Wang Plays Self Guru, where I intend to do some creative writing (I haven't posted anything there yet).

Okay, so Mr Wang is a bit extreme. Most people only have one or two blogs. But you get the point. All my seven blogs are quite different from each other. Each serves a different purpose. The importance of having a readership varies greatly among them. You'd find it almost impossible to generalise about my seven blogs. Let alone the whole of the Singapore blogosphere.

Savings Plan & Insurance

Aha! Mr Wang earlier invited his readers to ask him questions about financial planning. Mr Wang has now received his first question. KiddyBoy said:
    "... I had someone telling me "I want to buy this Savings Plan Insurance Policy because I want to save money". I find two things wrong with this. One, why do I have to pay people money to help me save money? Two, why mix up insurance with all sorts of other things (unit trusts, savings etc etc)?"
How does a regular savings plan work? After you sign up, a fixed sum of money will be deducted from your bank account each month and invested somewhere. This will go on for years. RSPs can be tied to a unit trust or, as in KiddyBoy's example, to an insurance policy.

RSPs are helpful for many people. In money matters, people are often their own worst enemy. Lack of discipline is a common problem. We all know that we need to save and invest, but knowing something, and actually doing it, are two separate matters. An RSP helps you to beat the discipline problem because it automatically deducts money from your bank account each month and parks it somewhere beyond the reach of your shopping urges.

RSPs also achieve what we call the dollar-cost averaging effect. By investing a fixed, relatively small amount each month (instead of investing irregularly and in big lump sums) you spread out the timing of your investments and protect yourself from the effect of a sharp, sudden market downturn.

Whar are the costs of signing up with an RSP? Well, if your RSP is tied to a unit trust, you pay the costs of investing in unit trusts. If your RSP is tied to an insurance policy, you pay the cost of the insurance agent's commission, plus the costs of investment (which arise when the insurance company takes your money and invests it elsewhere - it could well be in another unit trust).

Whatever you invest in, you will incur investment-related fees and expenses. If you invest in a condo apartment, you pay the property agent's commission, the stamp duty and the legal fees. If you invest in shares directly, you pay brokerage fees. Investment-related fees and expenses are important considerations, whatever you're investing in. In insurance, a significant amount of the money you pay, at least in the initial years, actually goes towards the insurance agent's commission. So you have to be careful about that.

KiddyBoy's second question is - "Why mix up insurance with all sorts of other things (unit trusts, savings etc etc?)"

Well, the simple answer is that you generally shouldn't. If you know enough about personal financial planning, you will know that there are probably cheaper and more effective ways to achieve your financial aims than by buying one of those products that mix insurance and investment.

What's the history behind all this? Once upon a time, the lines between the different types of financial institutions were very clear. Banks were banks, insurers were insurers and stockbrokers were stockbrokers. Each type of institution was permitted to do only certain types of businesses. However, over time, all the institutions tried to get innovative and so the lines got blurred as they started crossing into each other's territory.

The insurance companies traditionally sold protection against risks like death, critical illness, fire, motor accidents and so on. Then they began to see opportunities to make money by selling investments. However, because they were licensed to do insurance business only, they couldn't just go out there and say, "Hey, let me help you to invest your money." No, the rules wouldn't allow that. They were insurers, so they had to sell insurance. The way to get around this obstacle was to create investment products, add some insurance elements into it, and call the product "insurance". This would allow insurers to legally get into the investment market.

Thus the term "investment-linked policy" is actually a misnomer. If you understand how ILPs really work, you see that the more appropriate term would be "policy-linked investment". An ILP is fundamentally about investment, and the insurance aspects of it are secondary. However, when you mix investment and insurance, you usually can't get a product that meets your needs in an optimal way. As a general principle, if you need insurance, you should get a pure insurance product, and if you want to invest, you should get into pure investment products. For many people, the problem of course is that they do not know enough about financial planning to pick the correct "pure insurance" products and appropriate "pure investment" products for themselves.

Enter the insurance agent, who offers what seems to be a comprehensive package that solves all your problems. He sells you something which will fund your child's future university education; and which will auto-fund itself even if you die (thus your child can afford to go to university even if he is orphaned early); at the same time, you get medical coverage for your child; AND you even get a free gift from your insurance agent!

None of what the insurance agent says is actually untrue. It's just that there are cheaper and more effective ways to achieve all the same goals (except that you don't get the free gift). However, to find out what those ways are, horror of horrors, you would actually have to educate yourself on financial planning. Perhaps many people would just prefer to pay the insurance agent's hefty commission and be done with it. That could be why ILPs sell so well in Singapore. Many people are afraid to think too hard about their money.

If you see it that way, ILPs are perhaps not such a great evil. Perhaps you can do a mini-survey among your own friends and relatives. Look for those who have young children. Ask them: "Have you started savings and investing for your child's future university education yet?". Three possible replies:

1. "No, I haven't done anything, although I know I should."

2. "Yes, I bought an investment-linked policy."

3. "Yes, I'm saving and investing regularly into a diversified portfolio adjusted to my own risk appetite. I've done my calculations and I have some rough idea of how much I need for my children's education in 16 - 18 years' time. I've also got traditional insurance against catastrophic events, like if I should die unexpectedly."

The third answer shows the best situation. However, it is also the least likely answer you'll get. The second answer shows the next best situation. As I've said, it's not optimal - far from it. But it is still much better than the first answer. Unfortunately, I think that the first answer would still be fairly common among Singaporeans.

Mr Wang's Most Highly Recommended Health Insurance

Exercise regularly; don't be overweight; quit smoking; eat lots of veggies and fruit; and think beautiful thoughts.

17 July 2005

Little Wang Goes to Class

Some time ago on this blog, I mentioned that my first kid, Little Wang, is gifted, and I also briefly discussed the challenges of raising such a child. One of these challenges is to find a suitable preschool/playgroup/kindergarten environmment.

Little Wang, who is three years old, is still attending a once-a-week, one-hour-only class at a place called Growing Up Gifted. For toddlers and young kids in general, this is the best place in Singapore I've come across so far, and I strongly recommend it.

Notwithstanding the above, GUG is not ideal for Little Wang. We continue to send Little Wang there because it's the best place we can find - but nothing in the curriculum is really the right fit for Little Wang. He is already the youngest kid in his class, but the subject matter is too easy to seriously challenge him. Today, when I picked Little Wang up after class, his teacher remarked that Little Wang has been answering questions for everyone in class, and all his answers are correct.

Typical of young gifted kids, Little Wang is no conformist. He has his own ideas of what he wants to do, and how. If he wants to answer all the questions, then he will. But if he doesn't want to do something, he simply won't. Today's art project was to colour a picture of a bear and then to print straight lines across the picture. This was to show that the bear was in a cage. All the other kids enthusiastically did this. However, Little Wang did nothing except smear a little brown on his bear. Despite the teacher's persuasion, most of Little Wang's bear remained uncoloured.

Later, after class, I asked Little Wang why he didn't colour his bear like all the other kids did. Little Wang replied matter-of-factly, "Bears don't like cages."

At GUG, the teachers are really good in that they really know what teaching young kids is all about. They never scold, they are always encouraging, and they strive to make all their lessons fun and enjoyable for the kids. In fact, there are no "lessons" - everything is more like a "play activity". Thus Little Wang could get away with refusing to colour his bear.

But I worry somewhat about the day when Little Wang has to enter the mainstream education system in Singapore. I can just imagine an older version of him saying, "None of the answers to this multiple-choice question are really correct." Or, "The PSLE textbook is wrong. Wikipedia gives the right answer." I just don't think that the Singapore education system will take too kindly to that.

"Hello, Mrs Goh? This is Little Wang.
Could you donate some peanuts to me? I really like your kind of peanuts."

16 July 2005

Mr Wang Muses on Money Matters

A few days ago, Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen spoke about CPF investments. Apparently many Singaporeans who invested their CPF money in the past eight years have done badly. They would have been better off simply leaving their money in the CPF OA account to collect interest at 2.5% per annum.

Ng Eng Hen tentatively indicated that the Singapore government is thinking of retweaking the CPF investment rules. It sounds as if the Singapore government is thinking of cutting down the range of investments that one is permitted to make using one's CPF money. The government has also indicated that it's going to make further efforts to educate the public about investing.

Mr Wang, a self-taught guru in personal financial planning, has many thoughts on this matter. Unfortunately the issues are so multi-faceted that Mr Wang doesn't know what he wants to say.

What is the problem? You see, in the end there can only be one set of CPF rules. However, there are many, many different kinds of CPF members. Some are young, some are middle-aged and some are old. Some are poor, some are well-off, and some are filthy rich. Some understand money very well, and some do not. Some are single, some are married, some are married with kids, some have a mortgage, some do not. Some are highly employable, some are retrenched. Some people like to hide their money under the bed, others enjoy flinging it all away at the integrated resorts.

All these kinds of factors influence how a person's money should be managed. Thus it is difficult to envisage how there can ever be a single set of CPF rules that really serves everyone well.

In the end, Mr Wang can only hope that all the readers of Commentary Singapore understand and appreciate the importance of personal financial planning. If you are an ignoramus on the subject, Mr Wang urges you to invest $100 in a few good books and start educating yourself. The time and effort will be well spent, for the key principles, once mastered, will serve you well for years and years to come.

As you travel through life, your personal circumstances will change. You may earn less, earn more, get married, buy a house, strike lottery, get cancer, have children, get retrenched, support your aged parents, receive an inheritance, live lavishly or live thriftily etc. As your personal circumstances change, so do your financial profile and circumstances. Since you will always know your personal circumstances better than anyone else, you are always potentially the best financial adviser to yourself. But first you do have to educate yourself about how to handle money.

That's a basic responsibility. To yourself.


Mr Wang invites his readers to leave comments on this post and submit questions on personal financial planning. Mr Wang will take questions on subject matter as diverse as insurance, equities, bonds, unit trusts, credit cards, mortgages, savings, properties, retirement planning, banks, insurance agents etc.

Please note that Mr Wang does not hold any formal qualifications as a personal financial adviser or the like. Therefore all his replies will just be food for your thought and for discussion purposes only. You shouldn't rely or act on anything Mr Wang says (well you can, if you want to, but what I'm saying is, you lose money you don't sue me hor).


Some of Mr Wang's financial books. He has more,
but the rest are stored at his mother's house together with his old clothes,
unwanted suitcases, comics collection and miscellanous other old junk.

15 July 2005

What Do You Mean - "The Government Can't Do Anything?"

First, the latest news. Durai and the NKF board members have resigned. NKF Patron Mrs Goh Chok Tong also stepped down. Good for her husband.

What disturbs me today is this little paragraph in the TODAY newspaper:
    The resignations - which came in the afternoon - were accepted by Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who admitted that the Government had "no legal rights" to intervene in a private charity.
I think what Khaw meant to convey was that the resignations were voluntary and that the government, in any case, doesn't have the power to force Durai and gang to resign.

However, this started me thinking about the powers that the government does have over the NKF. This is Singapore, after all. There can't be anything on our little island that the government doesn't have some power over.

The NKF is a charity. So it must be registered under the Charities Act. Under the Charities Act, there is a Commissioner of Charities. He is appointed by the Minister. The Commissioner has some power over all charities in Singapore. That includes the NKF. And what are the functions and duties of the Commissioner?
    4. —(1) The Commissioner shall have the general function of promoting the effective use of charitable resources by encouraging the development of better methods of administration, by giving charity trustees information on any matter affecting the charity and by investigating and checking abuses.
Aha. What Mr Wang would like to know -

what actions, if any, did the Commissioner take, say, in the past five years, to promote the "effective use of charitable resources" in the NKF? Did the Commissioner do anything to encourage the development of "better methods of administration" in the NKF? Did the Commissioner "investigate and check" any potential abuses in the NKF?

Or did the Commissioner think that everything about the NKF was good and well and proceeding exactly as it should?

To be fair to the Commissioner, his powers are not that vast. He cannot and is not expected to control the day-to-day operations of charities. See the last part of section 4(2) of the Charities Act:
    (2) It shall be the general object of the Commissioner so to act in the case of any charity (unless it is a matter of altering its purposes) as best to promote and make effective the work of the charity in meeting the needs designated by its trusts; but the Commissioner shall not have power to act in the administration of a charity.

On the other hand, the Commissioner is not exactly powerless either (I'll come to this shortly). Furthermore, I think that our dear Singapore government ministers are also part of the overall picture, since Parliament itself is regularly notified about the Commissioner's work on charities:
    (3) The Commissioner shall, as soon as possible after the end of every year, make to the Minister a report on his operations during that year, and the Minister shall present a copy of the report to Parliament.
So Parliament is supposed to know what charities are up to in Singapore, and if there are any doubts or irregularities or concerns, Members of Parliaments would be under a duty to ask questions and debate the issues. I don't know if this was ever done. Unfortunately, Mr Wang doesn't have access to Lawnet anymore, so he can't dig up the parliamentary debate transcripts.

What powers does the Commissioner actually have, over charities? Quite a lot, actually. See for yourself:
    General power of Commissioner to institute inquiries.
    8. —(1) The Commissioner may from time to time institute inquiries with regard to charities or a particular charity or class of charities, either generally or for particular purposes.

    (2) The Commissioner may either conduct such an inquiry himself or appoint a person to conduct it and make a report to him.

    (3) For the purposes of any such inquiry, the Commissioner or a person appointed by him to conduct the inquiry may by order require any person —

    (a) to furnish accounts and statements in writing with respect to any matter in question at the inquiry, being a matter on which that person has or can reasonably obtain information, or to return answers in writing to any questions or inquiries addressed to him on any such matter, and to verify any such accounts, statements or answers by statutory declaration;

    (b) to furnish copies of documents in his custody or under his control which relate to any matter in question at the inquiry, and to verify any such copies by statutory declaration; and

    (c) to attend at a specified time and place and give evidence or produce any such documents,

    and any person who fails to comply with any requirement specified in the order shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both and, in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine not exceeding $50 for every day or part thereof during which the offence continues after conviction.

    (4) For the purposes of any such inquiry, evidence may be taken on oath, and the person conducting the inquiry may for that purpose administer oaths, or may instead of administering an oath require the person examined to make and subscribe a declaration of the truth of the matters about which he is examined.

    (5) Where the Commissioner proposes to take any action in consequence of an inquiry under this section, the Commissioner may publish the report of the person conducting the inquiry, or such other statement of the results of the inquiry as he thinks fit, in any manner calculated in his opinion to bring it to the attention of persons who may wish to make representations to him about the action to be taken.

    (6) A copy of the report of the person conducting an inquiry under this section shall, if certified by the Commissioner to be a true copy, be admissible as evidence of any fact stated in the report, and as evidence of the opinion of that person as to any matter referred to in the report, in any legal proceedings instituted by the Commissioner under section 25 and in any legal proceedings instituted by the Attorney-General in respect of a charity.

    (7) A document purporting to be a certificate issued for the purposes of subsection (6) shall be received in evidence and be deemed to be such a certificate unless the contrary is proved.

    (8) If any person wilfully alters, suppresses, conceals or destroys any document which he may be required to produce under this section, he shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both.

    Power of Commissioner to call for documents and search records.

    9. —(1) The Commissioner may, for the purpose of discharging his functions under this Act, by order —

    (a) require any person to furnish the Commissioner with any information in his possession which relates to any charity; and

    (b) require any person who has in his custody or under his control any document which relates to any charity —
    (i) to furnish the Commissioner with a copy of or extract from the document; or
    (ii) unless the document forms part of the records or other documents of a court or public authority, to transmit the document itself to the Commissioner for his inspection.

    (2) The Commissioner shall be entitled without payment to keep any copy or extract furnished to him under subsection (1); and where a document transmitted to him for his inspection relates only to one or more charities and is not held by any person entitled as trustee or otherwise to the custody of the document, the Commissioner may keep it or may deliver it to the charity trustees or to any other person who may be so entitled.

    (3) The Commissioner or any officer authorised by him in that behalf shall at all times have full and free access to all buildings, places, books, documents and other papers for the purpose of discharging his functions under this Act, and may, without payment, inspect, copy or make extracts from any such books, documents or papers.

    (4) The Commissioner may take possession of any books, documents or papers where in his opinion —

    (a) the inspection, copying thereof or extraction therefrom cannot reasonably be performed without taking possession;

    (b) the books, documents or papers may be interfered with or destroyed unless possession is taken; or

    (c) the books, documents or papers may be required as evidence in proceedings for an offence under this Act or any regulations made thereunder.

    (5) The Commissioner may require any person to give orally or in writing, as may be required, all such information concerning any charity as may be demanded of him by the Commissioner for the purposes of this Act.

    (6) The rights conferred by this section shall, in relation to information recorded otherwise than in legible form, include the right to require the information to be made available in legible form for inspection or for a copy or extract to be made of or from it.

    (7) Any person who fails to comply with any requirement specified in any order under subsection (1) or any requirement under subsection (5) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both and, in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine not exceeding $50 for every day or part thereof during which the offence continues after conviction.

    (8) Subject to section 11 (2), no person shall by virtue of this section be obliged to disclose any particulars as to which he is under any statutory obligation to observe secrecy.
Wow, that's a lot. In a nutshell, the Commissioner can demand that Durai and the NKF Board tell him just about anything that the Commissioner wants to know about the NKF. And if Durai and the NKF Board refuse, lie or conceal documents, then that's a criminal offence and they can all be sent to jail.

Pretty powerful, if you ask me.

If you've been following my post so far, the question may now arise in your mind: "Has the Commissioner been doing his job all these years? If he has, then how could this NKF debacle arise?"

Mr Wang Zhen has his own theories about that. But never mind. Mr Wang is a practical man. What's done is done. What wasn't done, wasn't. Let's look to the future now. What Mr Wang would like to see is the Commissioner undertake a full inquiry into this matter, using his powers under the Charities Act, and submit his report to Parliament via the Minister.

Let the truth emerge now.

P.S There is more interesting stuff in the Charities Act. But I'll let the readers of Commentary Singapore chew on the above for a while first.

One version of Janu Sirsasana.
A yoga asana said to be good for your kidneys.

14 July 2005

How Now, Brown Cow?

"Just ask Mr Wang, lor. He knows everything."

Haiyah. Mr Wang Zhen likes to be respectful to Singapore's most senior and respected blogger, Mr Brown, but today cannot tahan lah. Mr Brown is really missing the point. Let's see what Mr Brown has to say on the NKF issue:

    Allow me to play Devil's Advocate. If you think about it, a CEO who manages $200 million and is making $500 to $600k a year, is really underpaid. VCs who handle that kind of money are usually paid much much more, usually more than a million a year. Heck, I know of Creative Directors, who are not responsible for this kind of money, being paid more than $25,000 a month.

    Of course, if you don't consider the NKF a business, then this point is moot. But I do think that it is rather naive to expect $200 million to be managed by someone being paid $60k a year. I'd be worried if that were so.
The point is not that TT Durai makes $600,000 a year. The point is that TT Durai makes $600,000 a year by running a charitable organisation; his money all came from donors who thought that their money was going to help kidney patients; AND most importantly of all, TT Durai kept his salary a secret.

Now if every year, TT Durai told the world, "Hey, I am going to give myself 12 months' bonuses this year, okay? After all, this year I worked very hard and collected X million dollars in donations for kidney patients!" -

then that would be a different story. People who feel that TT Durai deserved it would continue to donate to the NKF. People who feel that TT Durai did not deserve it would stop donating to the NKF. But no one would feel that TT Durai or the NKF was being dishonest.

Mr Brown's comparisons of NKF with companies are not valid. Companies, especially listed companies, are subject to strict rules about disclosure. They are required to have annual reports, get external auditors to report on their accounts, hold annual shareholders' meetings where any shareholder can question them, and so on. Most listed companies will also indicate how much their top people are paid (that is how we know Wee Cho Yaw was paid $4 million last year by his bank UOB and Jackson Tai was paid 3 point something million by DBS).

Let me tell you that if you are a director of a listed company and you play any funny games, you can definitely end up in jail. Too bad NKF is not a listed company, although it tries to act like one sometimes.

    Please hor, just looking at it from another angle. Don't stop calling my 1-900 number, ok? And I am surprised so much firepower attention was focused on the CEO, but not that much on the board that granted him his expenditure, pay and perks. Maybe that was planned for Day 3, but now we'll never know.
Haiyah. Mr Brown obviously does not understand court procedure. (Okay fine, he's not a lawyer, can't expect him to know court procedure). Firstly, this trial is about NKF suing SPH for defamation. Not SPH suing NKF for paying Durai too much money.

It is NKF which is unhappy about SPH writing about Durai's toilet bowl and gold tap in 2004. So to defend SPH, Davinder Singh must of course focus on Durai's gold tap and toilet bowl, mah. Remember who is suing who. Davinder Singh is out to defend SPH by showing that its 2004 article is "fair comment". Davinder Singh is NOT in court to show that the NKF board acted wrongly in giving Durai all those fat paychecks and perks.

And what else did Mr Brown write?

    The transcript of their lawyer aggressively cross-examining NKF CEO TT Durai was a good read too, but I had trouble finding the transcripts or even reports of the NKF lawyer's cross-examination of SPH and of Durai in the ST. Maybe they ran out of space in the ST, and could not cover that. Or on Day 1, it was all SPH's lawyer talking. I'm not sure.
Since Mr Brown is not sure, Mr Wang will tell him. NKF is suing SPH. So in court, NKF witnesses will go first. SPH witnesses, such as the journalist Susan Long, will not go on the witness stand until all the NKF witnesses are finished.

However, since NKF withdrew its case as early as Day Two, SPH witnesses never needed to go on the stand. So obviously NKF's lawyer Michael Khoo never got to cross-examine anyone from SPH.

And how come the newspapers reported nothing about NKF's lawyer asking Durai anything? Because in a civil trial like this, Durai would have told his story long ago. Even before the trial starts, Durai would have already stated his full complaint in a long written document called an affidavit. This affidavit would then have been given to the judge and to the defendant SPH, so that they know what Durai is unhappy about.

When the trial starts, the NKF's lawyer will hardly have anything much to say. It would have gone like this:-

Khoo: Please state your name and occupation.

TT Durai: My name is TT Durai. I am the CEO of the National Kidney Foundation.

Khoo: Please refer to the Affidavit. Please confirm that this is your Affidavit and the signature on page 18 is yours.

TT Durai: Yes.

Khoo: Your Honour, please may the Affidavit be marked.

Judge: Affidavit of TT Durai marked P1.

Khoo: No further questions, your Honour.

Davinder Singh: May I commence cross-examination, your Honour?

Judge: Yes.

[Next 2 days are fun & games for Davinder Singh.]

So what is there to report about what Michael Khoo said? Nothing much. Very boring lah. Michael Khoo will have hardly anything to say until SPH witnesses testify (the trial never came to that).

Michael Khoo would have a chance to question Durai again (it's called "reexamination") after Davinder finishes the cross-examination. But Durai withdrew his case even before Davinder finished. So at the end of the day, Michael Khoo hardly got to say a thing in court.

Here is the Accountant's Way of Looking At It

    ST July 14, 2005
    High expense, surplus ratios cause for concern

    WHILE the efforts of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) are noble, it appears that its financial stewardship may not be benchmarked to standards practised by organisations, big or small, from around the world.

    We can compare various charitable organisations by the amount of expenses incurred against the amount of money raised, that is, the expense ratio.

    In 2003, the NKF raised $100.3 million and incurred expenses of $29.9 million. Thus, its expense ratio was 29.8 per cent.

    This means that for every $100 that was donated by the public, $29.80 was incurred for expenses and only $70.20 actually made it to the pockets of the beneficiaries.

    In comparison, similar organisations like the American Red Cross and Singapore Red Cross have expense ratios ranging from 9.2 to 20.3 per cent.

    Another ratio of concern is the surplus ratio. In 2003, the NKF retained $34.2 million out of the $100.3 million raised. Thus, it had a surplus ratio of 34.1 per cent.

    Other similar organisations have a surplus ratio of 1 to 3 per cent; some even suffered a deficit!
    If there is a substantial surplus every year, why is it necessary for the NKF to raise so much funds and thereby incur extra expenses?

    Cheah Khuan Yew

Mr Wang Zhen is not an accountant. But Mr Wang Zhen is in the banking industry. And in Mr Wang's previous bank, Mr Wang Zhen recalls coming across a international charitable organisation that wanted to open a bank account in Singapore.

I cannot recall the name of the organisation now (I only recall that it was some Christian organisation headquartered in the UK - it may even have been a church). I do recall looking at its various documents. Among its documents were its financial statements. What the financial statements showed was that for the preceding three or four years, the organisation collected about US$80 - 100 million per year in donations, and each year it indeed spent almost all that money on a very wide range of charitable projects -

building schools in Africa; helping hurricane victims in Bangladesh; running agricultural training programmes for rural farmers in Cambodia; building a hospital in Papua New Guinea etc etc.

This organisation is another example of a charity having a low surplus ratio. In other words, whatever donations it receives from the public, it immediately channels to those in need of help. In years when the organisation received larger donations, it would hand out more money. In years when it received smaller donations, then it would do less.

This may not necessarily be the best working model for a charity. But it does indicate, to me, at least, that it is ridiculous for a charity to hoard reserves for the next 30 years.

Even in the pure corporate context, companies do not like sit idle on cash reserves for which they have no ideas about how to use. If they have a lot of cash and they don't know what to do with it, they return the money to their shareholders via share buybacks and capital reduction.

Drawing a further analogy from the commercial world -

in the realm of mutual funds and unit trusts, an independent trustee is often appointed to be the custodian of the funds. What can or cannot be done with the funds is spelt out in great detail right from the beginning, in public documents which are lodged with the authorities. In the NKF situation, this would be akin to a situation where the NKF money is held by a professional trustee (such as HSBC Institutional Trust Services), and the HSBC trustee will simply not allow TT Durai to use $1,000 on a gold tap unless something in the trust documents permits this.

Alas, it seems that no such checks and balances existed in the NKF case.

13 July 2005

No, Mr Wang Didn't Doctor This Photo ....

... the walls of NKF were really defaced. I took this photo from the Straits Times Interactive.

For the benefit of the non-Chinese readers of Commentary Singapore, Mr Wang would like to explain that the Chinese characters spray-painted on the wall mean FRAUDSTER

12 July 2005

Give the Man a Tiger!

Davinder Singh, Senior Counsel, Member of Parliament.
The man who showed the world how the NKF has been really doing with our money.


This is outrageous. Truly outrageous!

The NKF is trying to sue SPH? I think that the people of Singapore should sue NKF and that T T Durai!

Intelligence, Talent, Scholars, Performance, Singapore and the rest of it

The blogger known as Adinhaes has just expressed her views on the topic too. Another excuse for me to yak even more on the topic. Adinhaes writes:
    "Academic success is usually a good predictor of intelligence but not always. Its just that in our system, we take it as the only indicator which is a mistake. Being exam smart is not enough if you have zero interpersonal skills or find it difficult to think on your feet.
Actually, the Singapore government's insistence on using academic success as its key criterion only shows how backward the Singapore government is. The world's understanding of what really drives human performance has evolved a lot over the past two decades, but the Singapore government's understanding obviously has not.

There are several perspectives on the issue, so I'm not sure where's the best place to start. I'll just offer two for the readers of Commentary Singapore to mull over:


Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences developed in the 1980s. Essentially, Gardner says that the IQ concept is too narrow, for there are at least eight distinct kinds of human intelligences:

Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals.

Logical-mathematical intelligence consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically.

Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one's whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements.

Spatial intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas.

Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others.

Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner's view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives.

Traditional methods of assessment in schools (that is, EXAMS) tend to favour those who possess high levels of linguistic and/or logical-mathematical intelligences. However, those who don't have high levels of such intelligences are not necessarily "stupid" - they may merely be highly intelligent in other ways.

Thus even if you do not do well in school, it doesn't mean that you're intrinsically lacking in the ability to do well in life. For example, you could have average or below average levels of linguistic or logical-mathematical intelligences; but a very high level of interpersonal intelligence that allows you to lead a team of fellow workers effectively.

Of course the fact that the PSC favours academic success means that it inherently favours linguistic or logical-mathematical intelligences, which means that it will probably:

(1) neglect those who are smart in other ways;

(2) favour scholars (who tend to be linguistically or logical-mathematically intelligent); AND

(3) favour scholars who are linguistically or logical-mathematically intelligent BUT are retarded as far as other kinds of intelligences are concerned (for example, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences).


There are plenty of books that spout advice about how to do well in your career. However, there aren't many authors who have assembled a team of psychologists and HR experts, and systematically, scientifically studied top performers in their work environment, and sought to identify the secrets of success - over 10 years.

Robert Kelley is such an author, and his discoveries are in this book. He devoted years of his life to studying star performers, and his definition of "star performers" are people who are most highly appraised in the workplace, not merely by their bosses, but their peers. In other words, the "star performers" that he has studied are the people whom everyone in their workplace agrees are "star performers".

After years of study, Kelley has identified nine key patterns in star performers. Surprise, surprise. None of the nine key patterns have anything to do with academic success, good CCA records, a high IQ or a 1st class honours from a fancy university. Which really means that the PSC has got it all wrong, wrong, wrong.

What are those nine key patterns? Read the book, if you're interested. Heck, I'll tell you a few of the nine patterns. They include initiative, the ability to build a network, the skill to work in a teamwork and the ability to understand work issues from a bigger, broader perspective. No, they do NOT include the ability to score S-Paper distinctions; memorise 10-year-series model answers or speak well during a PSC interview. So let me say it again - the PSC got it all wrong, wrong, wrong.

Mr Wang Is So Creative

Jeremy Chen of Convex Square wrote this on his blog:
    "I applaud the British for their show of strength. Just days after lunatics, bent on murder, set off bombs in London, the British have already pulled themselves together and are back to work. Do not give those lunatics the pleasure of watching you writhe in fear. London, Britain, I applaud you."
Actually, this post leads me to think that maybe the Singapore government should encourage employers to actively institute and offer alternative working arrangements for their employees. Under these arrangements, people would work much less at the office, and much more at home.

With modern technology, many employees don't really need to be in the office to do their jobs. Nowadays, we have the telephone, email, fax etc. With a few pokes at your telephone buttons, you can fix up a conference call with several people at the same time. With a little thumbdrive or a CD-ROM, you can easily carry huge amounts of electronic data back and forth between home and office.

Exactly what kind of alternative working arrangements should be introduced? That depends on the job and the company. For some, it could mean, say, coming to work only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and working from home on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For others, it could mean coming to work on a need basis, that is, the default is that you work from home, and you would come to office only if you needed to, say, physically attend a meeting. For yet other employees in yet other jobs, it could mean spending the morning in the office, and then spending the afternoon at home, or vice versa.

There are several advantages. If employers in Singapore really, seriously implemented these sorts of arrangements, then in the event of a terrorist attack, there would be a lot less disruption to the affected companies. This is because a large number of staff would be quite able to continue running a wide range of business operations from their home (because that's what they'd have been doing all along).

Secondly, a large number of people working from home at any one time also means that there will be a large drop in the number of commuters using public transport during the traditional peak hours. This drop makes it easier for authorities to monitor public areas such as MRT stations for security threats. Fewer people would be hurt during a terrorist attack, say, on the public transport system.

Of course, there are other assorted corollary advantages - the most obvious one being that the Singapore working lifestyle would become more family-friendly. Working parents would be able to spend more time with their kids at home. If implemented in a big way, these alternative working arrangements could even enable companies to save on rent for office space. You wouldn't need to lease so much space if only 50% of your staff are actually going to be in the office on any particular working day.

To effect all these changes, there needs to be a big change in mindset. But I feel that it's worth looking into. Apart from the fact that many jobs really don't need to be done in the office, one must consider the idea that terrorism is a long-term threat. It will be here for the next 5, 10, 15 years. It's worth the hassle of making all these changes to the working world.

See? Mr Wang told you it was possible.

Guess Where Your NKF Donation Went?

    ST, July 12, 2005
    NKF CEO's $600,000 pay revealed in court
    By Bertha Henson
    A CLOSELY guarded secret of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) was finally made public yesterday: the salary of its chief executive T.T. Durai.

    Gasps could be heard in the courtroom when it was revealed that on top of his $25,000 a month salary, he also received 10 to 12 months in yearly bonuses. That makes his annual salary between $550,000 and $600,000, or $1.8 million in total over the past three years.

    This fact, and the disclosure that he had flown first class on NKF's funds, emerged on Day 1 of NKF's defamation suit against Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

    The NKF, which is entirely dependent on public funds, offers dialysis treatment to kidney patients. Two out of every three Singaporeans contribute to it.

"We must be in Singapore.
They keep us in the dark and feed us all the bullshit."

11 July 2005

Terrorism in Singapore

The blogger John Lim has a post whereby he tries to imagine what life in Singapore would become, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack here.

Somehow I think that it is a matter of time before it happens. Terrorism is here to stay. The US invasion of Iraq will spawn new generations of terrorists for the next few decades. You can't just breach international law, invade a Muslim country on false pretexts, bomb lots of buildings and kill a lot of people and then expect the survivors to forgive and forget. As if nothing had happened at all.

Because terrorism is here to stay, it is only a matter of time before Singapore is hit by a terrorist attack. It could happen tomorrow. Or next month. Or next year, or in 2010 or 2015 or 2020. It could be a long time away. But it is only a matter of time. Same for other major cities with a pro-US stance.

Our security forces can be very vigilant and effective. This merely means that they'll foil many terrorist attempts and nab many terrorists, before the successful terrorist attack occurs. Time is on the terrorists' side. And thanks to the way that the US has handled the Iraqi situation, the number of potential recruits for terrorist groups are enormous.

The terrorist who plans a successful attack in Singapore in 15 years' time may be just a 10-year-old Iraqi child today. A boy whose innocent father was captured by the Americans and sexually abused in Abu Ghraib Prison. With a little cultivation, the seed of hate planted in that child's heart will grow. In time it may well turn him into a terrorist.

Blatta Orientalis Linnaeus (the oriental cockroach).
Nature's best bet for surviving global warming, atmospheric pollution
and the US invasion of the Middle East.

Self-Censorship, Singapore Style

On the Tomorrow website, I found this post about an art exhibition in Singapore. The name of the exhibition is HYPE. On visiting the site, I went to the Register/Submit section, which gives details about what to do if you wish to submit your artwork for display in the exhibition. Guess what I saw?

    "The aesthetics of the artwork should understandably be within the boundaries of what is accepted in Singapore."

    "I think I'd better put on my swimming trunks."