24 January 2006

Open Society. Ha.

ST Forum Jan 24, 2006
S'pore is an open society despite what Soros says

AMERICAN billionaire George Soros came to Singapore and commented that we are not an open society. Mr Koh Buck Song echoed his views and said that 'if Singapore is to mature as a democracy, then it is time for every thinking citizen to take up his responsibility to play his part in shaping the kind of open society we all need to believe we deserve to have' ('Think spectrum, not open or closed'; ST, Jan 17) .

Both Mr Soros and Mr Koh are entitled to their views. Singapore has evolved into an open society where anybody can do anything and say anything he or she wishes. There is the media for them to express their views, Speakers' Corner for them to say it in person, the Internet to publish them for the world, and blogs to share them with friends. The only requirement this open society asks is that the messenger be responsible for the message.

Some say we cannot hold rallies or demonstrations without police permits. But do we want our society to be like, say, Taiwan or the Philippines where demonstrations are the order of the day, and politicians and celebrities throw mud liberally at each other and anybody else, with some of the media merrily playing the role of cheer leaders?

The Singapore I know is an open society. It may not be the kind of society Mr Soros envisaged, nor the shape which Mr Koh wished, but it is a fair society where rules are applied fairly and equally to all without fear or favour.

Assoc Prof Koo Tsai Kee

Sigh. Tsai Kee, I know you're a PAP MP and all that, but what is the point of letters like that? Facts are facts, the rest are just opinions. Here, Mr Wang will provide you the facts, and you go and rethink your opinion:

      May 2005: Police investigate Singaporean filmmaker Martyn See for making a political film. The Straits Times suggests that Martyn See should stick to making comedies, not serious films.

      June 2005: The police deny the gay group Fridae permission for organising a public event, saying that this would be contrary to public interests. Fridae has to move the event to Phuket, Thailand.

      July 2005: The National Kidney Foundation launches yet another defamation suit to silence a critic who had tried to point out its financial improprieties. This time, the NKF loses, but it's the first time they've lost. Subsequently, the NKF's massive wrongdoings are exposed and the rest is history.

      July 2005 The Singapore Government denies Mr Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan entry into Singapore and deports him. Mr Yeshua, a democracy activist and a member of NGO Nonviolence International, had been travelling here to conduct a non-violence workshop for Singaporean activists.

      August 2005: 12 anti-riot police officers armed with shields and batons put an end to a tiny demonstration held by 4 peaceful people standing quietly in a row wearing T-shirts asking for more transparency from, amongst other institutions, the NKF.

      August 2005: Police allow an anti-death penalty group to hold a memorial concert for the deceased Shanmugam Murugesu, but ban the group from showing Shanmugam's face on any "publicity platform/material such as internet website, displays, banners, posters, T-shirts and any other paraphernalia".

      September 2005: Buangkok residents put up cardboard cutouts of white elephants in front of the Buangkok MRT station to protest against its non-opening. The authorities immediately launch police investigations to find out who did it.

      October 2005: Blogger-academic Cherian George writes an article about the government's use of "calibrated coercion" to stifle the expression of dissenting opinions. The Prime Minister's Office immediately slams Cherian for his dissenting opinion.

      October 2005: Senior lecturers at Warwick University in the UK vote against setting up a branch campus in Singapore due to worries about limits on academic freedom.

      October 2005: Singapore is ranked 140th in the world for press freedom.

      November 2005: International NGO, Reporters without Borders, writes an open letter to PM Lee Hsien Loong offering 10 suggestions to improve press freedom in Singapore. The organisation offers to meet PM Lee to give him a personal presentation of what can be done to ensure press freedom in Singapore.

      December 2005: The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) expresses alarm over the recent ruling by a Singaporean High Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit which charged the country's public institutions with trampling the rights of their citizens to free assembly and free speech.

      December 2005: Benny Lim, a theatre director, is ordered by the Media Development Authority to remove all references to the death penalty in his new play.

Tell me again, Tsai Kee, with a straight face, that we are an open society. I'll try not to laugh.

22 January 2006


ST Jan 22, 2006
Govt warns of 'time bombs' in Workers' Party manifesto
It may claim ideas are like PAP's but WP has four 'dangerous and wrong'
proposals, says Ng Eng Hen
By Lydia Lim and Zakir Hussain

THE Government yesterday accused the Worker's Party of planting 'time bombs' that would destroy key pillars of Singapore's stability and success.

Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen last night identified as 'dangerous and wrong' four proposals by the opposition party: to scrap grassroots organisations, ethnic integration policies and the elected presidency, and to raise subsidies.

Responding to the Workers' Party (WP) manifesto launched last weekend, he noted that the WP and the PAP were 'moving closer' in some respects. He reminded Singaporeans, however, about fundamental differences separating the two parties.

'On these four fundamental issues, PAP and WP are obviously taking different approaches,' said Dr Ng, who is the organising secretary (special duties) of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

'The four time bombs within WP's manifesto will weaken and tear Singapore apart,' he cautioned.

'This cohesive society that we have carefully nurtured and kept together for 40 years will be fractured. Racial harmony will be destroyed. Whether or not WP intends for this to happen, this will be the tragic result if they implement these ideas.'

Yaaaaaaaawn. I love elections - you will get to hear all kinds of massive exaggerations interesting ideas from our politicians as they strive to confuse convince the foolish masses.

Take for example the Elected Presidency. It may or may not be a good idea to scrap it. But how could scrapping it be a "time bomb" that would "destroy key pillars of Singapore's stability and success"?

From 1965 to 1997 (or thereabouts) Singapore had no Elected Presidency at all and those were in fact the best years of the nation's history.

"I kid you not! I am a key pillar of Singapore's success and stability.
Without me, this cohesive society that we have carefully nurtured and
kept together for 40 years will be fractured, and racial harmony will be destroyed!
Now, please excuse me, I need to go & watch the President's Star Charity Show."

19 January 2006

Death in Thailand

On different occasions, Mr Wang has written a lot about capital punishment on this blog. Here is one example, here is another, and see here and here as well.

Today the Straits Times has an article about a capital case. This case has nothing to do with Singapore, but that in itself is advantageous in helping Singaporeans understand the issue more clearly. We get none of the distractions of the "them-vs-us" mentality which unfortunately confused both Singaporeans and Australians in the recent Nguyen Tuong Van matter.

One of Mr Wang's essential points in the capital punishment debate is the need for a principled stand. If one opposes capital punishment on the basis of the sanctity of human life, then one opposes capital punishment all the way. You cannot pick and choose between those whom you think deserve death, and those whom you think do not.

Our present case concerns a British tourist, Katherine Horton, who was raped and murdered by Thai fishermen on the popular island resort of Koh Samui. The crime was brutal:
Ms Horton, a Reading University student, was brutally attacked while vacationing in Thailand.

She was speaking to her mother Elizabeth in Wales on her cellphone when she was set upon by the two men.

The attackers had earlier been drinking and watching a pornographic film on a fishing boat moored offshore. They then swam ashore, came across Ms Horton, hit her with a beach umbrella, raped her and threw her into the sea.

Her body was found floating in the sea the next day.The murder led to an uproar in the British media and outrage
... and the evidence was clear-cut:
Judge Chamnong Sutchaimai said the forensic evidence could not be disputed and the brutality of the crime committed by them had shocked society.

'The court has ruled them guilty of all the crimes they were charged with and imposes the maximum penalty,' he told the packed courtroom.
Notwithstanding this, Katherine Horton's mother has taken a principled stand. And so does the British government.
The victim's mother had earlier said she would prefer the two spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Britain's Foreign Office thanked the Thai authorities for finding the two fishermen who raped and murdered Ms Horton.

It too insisted that it opposed the death sentence.
They think that the death penalty is wrong in principle. And therefore they oppose it. It does not matter that the victim was her daughter; it does not matter that the victim was a British citizen; it does not matter that her death was caused in a most brutal fashion by two evil foreigners in a foreign land. Those two evil foreigners are human beings too, therefore they should not be executed. This is what Mr Wang means by a principled stand.

Alas, it seems that it is Thailand which has gone astray:
The murder led to ..... outrage among locals in Koh Samui who were appalled by the incident and worried it would hurt the island's booming tourism industry.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, concerned about a drop in the tourism dollar, last week called for the death penalty.
This is so wrong, so wrong, so wrong. Firstly, Mr Wang believes that you should not kill people. Secondly, Mr Wang believes that you should not kill people for the sake of tourism.

"Sigh. Times like this, I really wish I was a
tourist attraction in some other country."

17 January 2006

Mr Wang Will Cut Through The Bullshit For You

      ST Jan 17, 2006
      Maids generally not allowed in condo pools
      I REFER to the letter, 'Why bar maids?' (ST, Jan 13), and the continuing debate on the issue of maids being barred from using swimming pools in private condominiums, and would like to clarify the position of management corporations.

      Live-in maids in condominiums are employed by the individual units' owners to care for their children or elderly parents and are not pure residents in the ordinary sense.

      The industry practice is that these maids are allowed to be in the swimming pool when taking care of their employers' children and are generally not allowed to use the pool in their private capacity as though they are owners or tenants.

      Similarly, maids are not allowed to book tennis courts, function rooms, the gym, and other facilities for their own use, and this ruling has never been contested, nor discrimination alleged.

      The rationale is that maids are employees of the owners, employed to work and not to enjoy the facilities of the condominium.

      If we were to allow maids free access to the pool, then we should also allow other employees of the condominium, including gardeners, security guards and cleaners, equal rights because these personnel are collectively employed by all owners to work in the estate.

      Similarly, part-time housekeepers (the hourly maid), maids who do not live in, and drivers and cooks employed by some apartment owners should also be allowed the same privilege as live-in maids, failing which it would be a true case of discrimination.

      On the other hand, the position of these maids in private clubs is, in our opinion, quite different. When maids accompany their employers to the clubs, they should be regarded as guests of the clubs' members and should not be discriminated against.

      Even though they are employees of members, they do not share the same employment status as the clubs' own employees because they do not work in the premises, unlike those in condominiums.

      Furthermore, how would the security or management know that these people are maids and not friends of their members? In condominiums, we know their status, but how does a club management find out?

      It is dangerous to assume that the Filipino or Indonesian woman accompanying a member is a maid as many Singaporeans do marry Filipinas and Indonesians.

      Francis Zhan
      Association of Management Corporations in Singapore

It is quite easy to pick apart Francis Zhan's reasoning. Poke a few holes and the whole structure of his arguments collapses like a house of cards. Here, Mr Wang will give you a few examples:
1. "Live-in maids in condominiums are employed by the individual units' owners to care for their children or elderly parents and are not pure residents in the ordinary sense."
Why are they not residents? They live in the condo apartment. They sleep in the condo apartment. They eat in the condo apartment. They shit and pee in the condo apartment. They probably spend more time in the condo apartment than the owners themselves. Their work permit from Ministry of Manpower officially states their residential address in Singapore to be that of the condo apartment.

If these maids are not residents, then all their employers are criminals. That's because the law says it is a criminal offence for an employer of a domestic foreign worker to NOT provide accomodation for her.
2. "The industry practice is that these maids are allowed to be in the swimming pool when taking care of their employers' children and are generally not allowed to use the pool in their private capacity as though they are owners or tenants."
Who cares what the industry practice is? We're talking about what the industry practice should be. And by the way, if you and your spouse own the condo apartment, your kids are NOT owners or tenants either. Why are THEY allowed to use the pool? And what about your friends and guests who come to visit? Why are THEY allowed? Are they owners? Tenants? Residents? No, of course not. So why are THEY allowed, Mr Francis Zhan?
3. "The rationale is that maids are employees of the owners, employed to work and not to enjoy the facilities of the condominium."
What a stupid argument. Of course maids are employed to work. Anyone who is employed anywhere is employed to work. That in itself doesn't mean that maids cannot enjoy the condo facilities. If I am employed to work at the cinema as a ticket-seller, does that mean I cannot go to that cinema to watch movies on my off-days? If I work at Sentosa, does that I mean I cannot go to the Underwater World or the Musical Fountain after work? That's absurd.

Hey I know a property manager who manages several condominiums in Singapore. In fact, he is also employed to manage the condominium project where he lives. Does that mean he can't use the pool??
4. "If we were to allow maids free access to the pool, then we should also allow other employees of the condominium, including gardeners, security guards and cleaners, equal rights because these personnel are collectively employed by all owners to work in the estate."
Well, maybe we should. Frankly, I don't see what's the big deal about allowing them to take a dip in the pool. But that's a completely different issue. Who's talking about gardeners and security guards? We're talking about maids. And just by the way, unlike the maids, those other folks like the gardeners and security guards are definitely NOT residents at the condo. Don't believe me? Look at their NRIC, and check their address.


Et cetera et cetera. By now it should be utterly obvious that Francis Zhan's arguments basically consist of fallacies built upon fallacies. But Mr Wang still hasn't cut through the bullshit yet. Allow Mr Wang to cut through the bullshit and reveal the heart of the issue to you. This is it:
"Do we want to accord maids the social status to use the pool, together with the bosses and their family members?"
And that's really it. This is the issue.

Some will say, "No, maids are too low-class, we should not let them use the pool."

Others will say, "I don't see any problem letting them use the pool. No big deal. Singaporeans very high-class meh, cannot share pool issit."

For now, Mr Wang merely wishes to correctly name the issue, and call a spade a spade. It is a class issue. Don't let Francis Zhan fool you into thinking that this is really some kind of employment or residency or condo legal ownership or tenancy issue.

Readers, come clean, and form your own view on the issue, whatever your view may be. If nothing else, be honest with yourself.

14 January 2006

Country Club Woes

Business Times - 14 Jan 2006
S'pore leisure clubs battle to stay relevant
The search for niches is on as the market in club membership flounders


Keppel Club membership is going for a mere $21,000 now, versus $26,000 a year ago. Raffles Country Club, Seletar Country Club and Orchid Country Club
memberships have slipped by around $5,000 from their 2004/2005 levels.

The decline is even worse compared with a decade ago.

The BT Golf Club Index, which tracks the indicative open-market prices of Singapore-based golf clubs, is hovering around 123 points. In January 1996, it was about 200 points.

Even SICC, TMCC and Sentosa are way below their mid-1990s highs. SICC used
to command a secondary market price of around $200,000 a decade ago, while TMCC was changing hands at over $180,000, and Sentosa was well over $150,000.

The picture is even worse for the social and recreation clubs.

The Tower Club, which targeted well-heeled executives a few years ago, now has an open-market quote of just above $8,000 - less than half of its $20,000 launch price. Meanwhile, the indicative open-market prices for The British Club and Raffles Town Club (RTC) are around $6,000 to $7,000, while that of Singapore
Recreation Club (SRC) is around $8,000.

The only exception seem to be the Singapore Cricket Club and the American Club, whose secondary market prices have been holding up and even edging higher over the past year.

But by BT's estimate, people who invested in clubs could have lost more than $250 million in the last 10 years. And that does not include the unrealised paper losses by those still holding on to memberships bought a decade ago.

While oversupply and economics have played a large role in diminishing the appetite for clubs, the failures and headline-grabbing controversies haven't helped.

Raffles Town Club (RTC) hit the headlines as a third of its members sued it for breach of contract. Then Raffles Marina hit the headlines as it sought to restructure some $27 million in debentures it owes some 1,700 members.

Meanwhile, across the island, debenture-holders of Laguna National Golf & Country Club continue to haggle with the proprietor over $116 million in 30-year unsecured notes, though the notes are not due for redemption for another two decades.

Then there are the club failures.

Members of the now-defunct Alliance Technology-owned Fort Canning and Pinetree Club collectively lost over $140 million, while hundreds of Ponggol Marina members lost millions more when it collapsed under $18 million of debt. Another $9 million in membership collections were lost when Ban Hin Leong's Green Club failed to take off in 2001.

The club membership scenario today is a far cry from the economic heyday of
the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, when yuppies pursued the trappings of prosperity represented by the 5Cs - cash, credit cards, cars, condos, and clubs ...

Some years ago, my wife wanted to purchase a country club membership. I said that I thought it was a stupid idea. She disagreed with me. I said, "I think it's a bad idea and I'm not paying a cent for this." She said, "Hrrrumph" and went ahead to purchase it with her money. Well, I'd said that it was a bad idea and I was right.

It's not just that our country club membership has slid significantly in market value over the years. In fact, that's not the main point. The main point is that nowadays we hardly ever go to the club anymore. We hardly ever use the facilities. Which is exactly what I had predicted years ago, at the time she first came up with the idea of buying the membership.

Sure, when we first got the membership, we went frequently. We brought friends and relatives along too. We used the pool, the tennis courts, the driving range, the gym, the spa, the jackpot room, the karaoke facilities, the restaurants .....

But before you knew it, the novelty value had worn off. And we now hardly ever go any more. Maybe once in three, four months. So we are paying good money (monthly subscription fees) for approximately nothing.

But my deepest insight into the woes of country clubs came not through being a member. It came professionally, in my capacity as a banking & finance lawyer. I was acting for a certain local bank in a certain matter. The bank had lent millions and millions of dollars to a certain country club and the club couldn't quite pay back. (Oh yes, this particular financial disaster is one of the tragedies referred to in the BT article above).

It was utterly pathetic. To see how the bank desperately wriggled to get its money back. And to see how the club desperately wriggled to cough up money for the bank. Gloom and depression for all parties involved. Utterly nauseating, even though I was just the lawyer.

If anyone ever tells me to "invest" in a club today, I will probably puke. It's better to keep your money under your bed.

Another XiaXue Scandal

Aiyoh, girl. Please grow up.

What I feel about you is .... not even contempt. More like pity. You must have lacked a lot of love during your early childhood.

Or maybe you were a crooked one, even then.

Xiaxue, three months old.

13 January 2006

Pins from the Deaf

Yesterday I was having lunch at a KFC outlet. This man came in and started walking around to all the patrons. At each table, he would make certain gestures with his hands and show the person a little printed card. Each card had a little pin on it (with a Mickey Mouse or Winnie the Pooh or other cartoon design). The card said something along these lines:

"Hello! I am a deaf person. Would you buy this pin for $5?"

Of course the pin was not worth $5. But it was one of those charitable sorts of things. If you bought the pin, you bought it not because you really wanted the pin, but just to help the poor deaf guy.

And of course, on many other occasions, I've seen other deaf people (or people with other kinds of physical disabilities) go around the tables at hawker centres or other public places asking if you would buy some grossly overpriced soft toy or tissue paper pack or some other thing from them.

Now the unusual element is this -

this particular deaf guy in the KFC wasn't a Chinese. He wasn't a Malay or an Indian. He was a Caucasian. He was a white man.

He looked like he was in his late twenties or his early thirties. He had a waistpouch with lots of pins in it. He would take them out to show you the different pin designs he had.

Mr Wang has this general impression about white men in Singapore. Either they are tourists, or students on foreign exchange programmes, or are expats. If they are expats, then they are either well-off, or very well-off. They play golf, drink wine and talk about the high taxes in Europe. They do not go around in public asking for $5 charitable donations or purchases.

So I was a bit surprised to see this deaf white man in KFC selling pins for $5 a piece. Not sure what to make of this. A new kind of social phenomenon, perhaps. I guess it's a bit like white men drinking cheap beer at the local kopitiam (an increasingly common, if still infrequent, kind of sight).

A famous deaf white man.

12 January 2006

Why Music Can Be Hazardous for Your Blog's Health

Jan 12, 2006
Music on your blog? You may need to license it
Website owners could pay from $1,000 to $10,000 a year based on number of songs
By Serene Luo

BLOGGERS and personal website owners may soon be pressed to license the background music that they have on their online journals or websites.

This was announced by Dr Edmund Lam, chief executive and director of the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass), yesterday. He was launching Compass' one-stop centre which will make licensing musical works for digital distribution easier.

'We increasingly see more bloggers who upload music onto their webpages,' he said.

'We want to encourage them to come forward to our one-stop centre to get licensed, for a reasonable fee.'

For websites where the song cannot be downloaded or have any advertising, owners have to pay $1,000 a year for playing 10 songs or fewer, $5,000 for playing 11 to 49 songs and $10,000 for over 50 songs.

This is a 'competitive rate', said Mr Melvin Tan, the licensing manager of Compass, which protects the interests of composers and lyricists, and administers royalties to them.

Under the law, royalties must be paid on music put on websites too, even if it is a blog.

While it has not yet sued anyone, Compass will start 'massive educational efforts' soon, said Dr Lam.

11 January 2006

Maybe Bird Flu Ain't That Serious

A bit of cheerful news for the day:

      Jan 11, 2006
      Human bird flu cases may be more common than reported
      But the infections were mild, suggests a study by Swedish and Vietnamese researchers

      WASHINGTON - HUMAN cases of bird flu may be both more common but less lethal than has been reported, say Swedish and Vietnamese researchers.

      A new study suggests that thousands of mild human cases of the H5N1 avian influenza have occurred throughout the two-year outbreak in Vietnam - the epicentre of the bird flu problem.

      Experts said the study provides a strong counterpoint to growing fears about the infectiousness of avian influenza. Indeed, the virus can be so mild in some people that they easily shake the infection without medical attention.

      Dr Anna Thorson of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, who led the study, said that the study, which did not take blood samples from its subjects, cannot prove these people were infected with bird flu. But it suggests that infections may be going undetected.

      'The verified human cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Vietnam may represent only a selection of the most severely ill patients,' her team wrote in their report, published in the Archives Of Internal Medicine.

      H5N1 has killed at least 76 people since 2003 and experts fear it could acquire the ability to pass easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions.

      The team decided to gather evidence that avian flu may have been circulating undetected in Vietnam.

      The Swedish researchers interviewed nearly 46,000 people from Vietnam, where there have been 87 cases of bird flu. They found that more than 8,000 had had flu-like symptoms and up to 750 cases could have been due to sick birds.

      Dr Thorson said the study - the largest one carried out on bird flu to date - suggests that the strain does not kill half of people infected with it...
Last year I started investing into a healthcare fund as a partial hedge against bird flu (yes, a healthcare fund with exposure to Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu). Healthcare stocks can also serve as a good diversifier and are defensive in nature, and I think my overall portfolio needed that anyway.

On a separate note, here's a good, simple article addressing the FAQs about bird flu.

"The greatest risk we face from bird flu is ... getting culled."

10 January 2006

Older Singaporeans At Work

    Jan 10, 2006
    Tax rebates urged for firms hiring older Singaporeans
    Recommendation from Feedback Unit panel comes after two dialogues with 145 S'porean workers

    By Ken Kwek

    EMPLOYERS who adopt a 'Singaporeans first' policy, especially in hiring older workers, should receive tax rebates from the Government, a committee of the Feedback Unit suggested yesterday.

    An incentive for firms which reject the view that older workers are slower or less competent could be based on the number of such workers taken on, and the length of time they spend with the company, Mr Prabu Naidu, chairman of the Feedback Group for Human Resource Development, told reporters.

    His group's recommendations were based on two dialogues held last year with 145 Singaporean workers, 70 per cent of whom were aged 40 and above.

    The suggestion, which will be discussed further at the Feedback Unit's annual conference on Jan 21, is in line with the current drive by the Government and National Trades Union Congress to help older Singaporeans stay employed.

    It also echoes a call made in Parliament in January last year by Hong Kah GRC MP Ang Mong Seng, who said tax incentives should be introduced to get employers to hire older workers.

    A ministerial committee looking into ways to help older workers is expected to issue its recommendations this month.

    Mr Naidu said his group's suggestions are meant to refine or add to programmes already in place to help older workers, who are particularly vulnerable to discriminatory practices.

    He added that the feedback his group received showed there are also employees who want their bosses to allow them to take on second jobs if this does not conflict with or affect their performance with their main employer.
Mr Wang supports these moves and invites employers to consider three advantages of hiring older Singaporeans as opposed to younger Singaporeans:

(1) Older workers don't go off for three weeks a year to do military training in Australia or Taiwan.

(2) Older workers won't suddenly get pregnant and give birth and take two or three months of maternity leave.

(3) I really think that older workers are much less likely to change jobs as frequently as younger workers.

One of the oldest workers
employed by the Singapore government.

06 January 2006

Law Society & The Death Sentence

Another classic blooper from the Straits Times. The article is reproduced below in full, so you can see for yourself.

ST Jan 6, 2006
Law Society plans to study death penalty

THE death penalty, which has been on the radar screen of the Law Society for some years now, may well come under greater study in the new year with emerging views made known.

'Times do change and laws may need to change too,' said Law Society president Philip Jeyaretnam, who noted 'the profession has a special interest and discipline in this area'.

In his New Year message in the latest issue of the Law Gazette published yesterday, Mr Jeyaretnam also revealed that the society received several letters from bar associations in Australia last November.

These groups wanted the Law Society to take up the case of Nguyen Tuong Van but they were all turned down, 'politely to be sure'.

Convicted Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van was hanged on Dec 2 despite several pleas to stop the execution.

The Australian lawyers had sought the Law Society's help to sway the Cabinet in its decision on Nguyen's clemency petition and the appeals of his family and friends.

Mr Jeyaretnam said the society's council deliberated carefully on the pleas of their Australian counterparts, felt considerable sympathy and saw 'how strongly emotions were running'.

'But we did not accept the suggestion that the death penalty...is against international law, nor did we feel that we had a role to play in lobbying for clemency,' he said.

However, the council agreed the issue of sentencing policy should be revisited periodically, he added.
The title of the ST article tells us: "Law Society plans to study death penalty". Really? Then please tell Mr Wang:

When did the Law Society draw up its plan to study the death penalty? How many lawyers will be involved in this study? What kind of professional background do they have? How will they study the death penalty - by collecting statistics? Conducting surveys? Legal research? What's the target deadline for completing the study? Does the Law Society plan to publicly release the findings of the study? Or send them straight to the Home Affairs Ministry?

You will find no answers in the ST article to any of these questions.

Because if you read the ST article carefully, Philip Jeyaretnam never actually said that the Law Society "plans to study the death penalty". He merely said that "times do change and laws may need to change too".

That is a very general statement. Mr Wang could spout the exact same line and sound just as clever, whether he was talking about the death sentence or corporate governance or environmental pollution or the law of trade marks. It does not mean that Mr Wang is actually planning to conduct a study of anything.

In fact, when Australian bar associations specifically called upon the Law Society to do something in the recent Nguyen Tuong Van case, the requests were "all turned down". The Law Society "did not accept the suggestion that the death penalty...is against international law" and it felt that it had no "role to play in lobbying for clemency".

So here we have it - another misleading title from the Straits Times. Reminds me of this.

05 January 2006

On Credit Cards and Cashline

Jan 5, 2006
Banks to end spending on credit line-linked cards
They will remove Nets use from ATM cards that draw on personal lines

By Kelvin Wong
THE days of being able to make purchases on ATM or so-called 'debit' cards which actually draw on personal credit lines are coming to an end.

No longer will consumers be able to charge and sign, or even use Nets on these quasi-credit cards, essentially reducing them to the sole function of cash withdrawal from ATM machines.

The change, which is being implemented by both local and foreign banks here, stems from a meeting which the central bank reportedly had with the industry in the middle of last year.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is understood to have argued that these cards are really credit cards and should therefore be governed by its rules on credit cards, including a cap on credit.

Credit cards are charged interest at 24 per cent a year while credit lines, which are meant as personal overdraft accounts, usually attract lower annual rates of between 13 per cent and 17 per cent.

Standard debit or ATM cards, which draw on savings accounts that have money deposited in them, are unaffected by the changes.

In a recent circular to customers, DBS Bank said it would end the Nets facility on its Cashline ATM card from Feb 5. This was due to 'recent market and regulatory developments'.

When contacted, OCBC Bank said it had already made the change for its EasiCredit customers from Sept 30 last year while United Overseas Bank said it would replace its CashPlus debit cards, which can be charged and signed on, with ATM cards over the next two months.

But United Overseas Bank added that Nets transactions will 'still be available to customers with credit or positive balances'. Purchases made this way do not draw on borrowed funds.

MAS' policy is that a card by any name that draws on credit for spending is still a credit card. As such, 'banks that offer unsecured credit facilities linked to debit cards must comply with the credit card rules', it said.

The most pertinent rule in this case is a limit on how much credit a bank can offer on its credit cards - double a customer's monthly salary.

Customers who apply for a bank's credit line that comes with a debit or ATM card are usually also offered a separate credit card.

But since MAS also considers the debit or ATM card to be a credit card, the two - credit and debit - are still collectively subject to a cap of twice a customer's monthly wage.

Faced with this, the decision by banks to disallow spending on their ATM or debit cards that draw on credit lines is then largely a commercial one.

Once these cards are no longer deemed to be credit cards, credit line accounts will have a separate and equivalent cap of twice the monthly salary. Taken together with the credit card, this is potentially, four times.

Banks merely said that the measures were to ensure that customers did not breach the twice-monthly salary cap on credit cards.
Mr Wang will explain. First, the MAS set a rule (specifying a limit on the amount that a bank can lend to a customer via credit card). Then the banks found a way to work around the rule (they lent to customers not just through credit cards, but through debit cards linked to personal credit lines). Now the MAS is stepping in again to close the loophole (declaring that such debit cards function like credit cards, and therefore are also subject to the original rule).

However, the heart of the matter still eludes MAS. The real crux is - how much should a bank be allowed to lend to a customer for his general spending? If the limit is set at twice his monthly expenditure, then in principle that should be the limit, whether the lending is effected via credit cards, debit cards, personal cash lines or whatever other tool.

Otherwise the banks will just come up with new ways to circumvent the rules again (if they haven't already). For example, let's just put aside all the debit cards for a moment. If a customer can draw on his personal credit line to make early partial repayment on his credit card, then effectively he is borrowing from the bank (on the personal credit line) to repay what he had already borrowed from the bank (on the credit card), and by making such early partial repayment, he frees up his credit card limit, enabling himself to borrow some more on the credit card.

So the root problem - customers being able to easily borrow more than is good for them (or the bank) - manifests itself again.

01 January 2006

Local Man, Foreign Bride ...

... and one very cute baby.

ST Jan 1, 2006
Man who couldn't find girlfriend: Now baby makes three
By Chua Kong Ho

TWO years ago, lighting technician Jackson Lee was despondent about ever finding a girlfriend, much less a wife.

Singaporean women, he said, found him too fat, too ugly and too poor. After all, he weighed 180kg and his job paid him less than $2,000.

When he approached marriage agencies for help, three turned him down. The fourth, Mr Cupid International, did not and found him a Vietnamese wife. When The Sunday Times wrote about him in January last year, he was just settling down to marriage.

Today, the 35-year-old is a proud father. His wife, Ms Nguyen Thi Kum Ngan, 22, whom he picked out of a queue of about 1,000 Vietnamese factory girls, is settling well into life in Singapore.

Their daughter, Zhi Ling, is a smiley and gregarious baby who steals the hearts of strangers.

'Now, I have a goal in life. I know what I'm working so hard for,' said Mr Lee, in an interview at his parents' flat in Kim Tian Place in Tiong Bahru, where they live.

Fatherhood has changed him, he said. He drinks less and saves more. He wants a place of their own. He wants another baby if their finances permit.

Whereas he was once sceptical about whether his marriage would last, he now worries about the cost of putting his child through school.

Ms Kum Ngan, a rice farmer's daughter, may have married him to escape poverty and to give her folks at home a better life, but the bonds between the two are clear.

When Mr Lee said the baby weighed '3.5 pounds', instead of 3.5kg, she playfully swiped at him and corrected him. He was in the delivery room with her.

On motherhood, she said: 'I was scared at first. I didn't know anything about being a mother. But thankfully my mother came over and stayed with me through my confinement.'

The couple said they live simply. They take walks in the evenings when he returns from work. She takes care of the baby and helps out with the household chores.

Her sister, who is also married to a Singaporean, visits often and the two cook up Vietnamese dishes. They are not so homesick anymore, she said.

Said Mr Lee: 'Everyone was telling me how nasty foreign marriages turn out to be.
'But I can't wait to get home from work now to see my wife and daughter. I hoped for, but never really believed, that I would have this life.'

We often hear evil, unpleasant things about the exploitative Singaporean men who buy themselves a poor young wife from Vietnam or Cambodia etc. This article paints a different kind of picture. Man is happy, woman is happy, so what is the problem? Things look good, don't they.

I found it interesting to note that Ms Nguyen Thi Kum Ngan also has a sister who's married to a Singaporean. And that the two sisters often visit each other here in Singapore. I wonder whether we are witnessing another social phenomenon.

Maybe the "poor young wives from Vietnam and Cambodia" now have sufficient numbers in Singapore to start forming their mini-communities here. Perhaps they build a network to help their eager sisters and cousins in Vietnam and Cambodia come over and find Singaporean husbands too.

Then in Singapore, they establish contact with each other and meet up to provide mutual friendship, support and company. You know, drink tea, chit chat, philosophise about the differences between life in this country and life in that other country. Like the expat wives in Singapore do.

On a separate note, the blogger known as Expat-At-Large offers a commentary on the sex lives of FBOs (fat balding old men). Expat-At-Large speaks with great authority on the subject, heheh.