31 May 2006

Mr Wang Is Being Researched

Just received an interesting little email from the Institute of Policy Studies. They are a think tank that specializes in Singapore policy issues. Right now they are doing a project to study the impact of the Internet on the recent elections, and they would like to interview me:
"The questions we are interested in include the kinds of space that the Internet helps create as an alternative to the mainstream media, and whether and how the Internet contributes to democratic processes. We have been archiving several dozen blogs during the election period, including yours, with a view to analyzing their content and features. But we would also like to have a quantitative sense of how big the impact of blogs like yours is - and would be grateful if you could grant us an interview either face to face or by email ...
Sounds like they'll probably want to interview quite a number of other bloggers too.

30 May 2006

On Human Potential

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

I am slightly allergic to the word God. Nevertheless the quote above has tremendous appeal for me. That's why I use it again although I had already used it before.

As mentioned in my earlier post, I have tremendous respect for human potential. I am usually quite easily convinced that most people can achieve many quite great things in their lives. I have even made public speeches where I tell the audience, "Hey, YOU can achieve great things."

Nevertheless, I am a realist. Although I believe that most people can achieve great things, I also believe that most people won't. The greatest reason is that THEY don't believe that they themselves can achieve great things.

And really - nobody ever wins an Olympic medal, or becomes CEO, by accident. Nobody ever writes a bestselling novel, or becomes a multimillionaire entrepreneur, or gets a PhD, by accident. Whatever your definition of a "great thing" may be, it just won't happen if you don't do it.

What has led me today, to write about this?

Strangely, it was my previous post. Or rather, some of my readers' comments on it - those comments that asserted "Creativity Can't Be Taught" or "Creativity Can't Be Learned".

On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about those comments and I realised that for the average, not-very-creative Singaporean, such a statement is effectively a cop-out, an excuse.

Suppose you are not particularly creative. If you then choose to believe "Creativity Can't Be Learned", well, you just gave yourself permission to continue to be un-creative for the rest of your life. You would have no self-obligation to learn to be more creative.

Come to think of it -

the statement "Creativity Can't Be Learned" is itself extremely un-creative.

The more-creative approach would be to say:

"Let's just suppose, for a moment, that creativity can be learned. HOW would we learn it? Let's come up with two or three ideas to do it. Or four, or five ideas, or nine or ten. Or maybe 30."

And seriously - I know that if I wanted to, I could definitely come up with 30 ideas for making oneself more creative. It wouldn't take me very long either, and many (not all) of those 30 ideas would be quite effective and quite innovative too.

How can I be so sure? Well, I've tried various creative tools, techniques and processes in the past. And really, if you know just a couple of those tools, techniques and processes, it probably wouldn't be particularly difficult to generate 4, 5, 9, 10 or 30 different ideas to tackle most kinds of challenges.

For instance, it wouldn't be particularly difficult to generate 30 ideas on how to make yourself more creative.

Funny thing is - many people who have never learned about any of those creative tools or techniques, or never really tried them out for themselves, will nevertheless insist that "Creativity Can't Be Learned".

Why not surprise yourself?

Here, try the random input method. That's one tool.

Mr Wang will give you 30 random words. Use each word to generate one idea for making yourself more creative. At the end of the exercise, you should have 30 ideas:

post pursuit resources plan straw story windows artists snake oil teachers massage argument commodity human entrepreneur musical kids piano violin computer history university measure God student school book reflection institutions

29 May 2006

Things That Can't Be Taught. Or Maybe They Can.

This post is about things that can be taught, and things that can't.

Yesterday I helped to publicise an entrepreneurship event. My post attracted an interesting comment from Hinly, one of my readers:
"Entrepreneurship has been defined as the recognition and pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources you currently control, with confidence that you can succeed, with the flexibility to change course as necessary, and with the will to rebound from setbacks.

Note "without regard to resources under control" and "change course as necessary"; doesn't sound exactly as a well laid out business plan, does it? The reality is that entrepreneurship, like creativity, cannot be taught; we can only read about success stories, and we cannot account for the failures.

Like Sim's Creative, an entrepreneurial effort is born out of deperation, a do or die commitment. When EDB turned down his application for financial assistance, Sim went to the USA, knowing it was his last grasp at a straw. His story will not be repeated, as the risk/opportunity windows opens only once in a lifetime.

These organizers of "entrepreneurship" courses, trade fairs and seminars are simply con artists peddling another variant of snake oil. The real teachers are those guys who accost you in the streets offer you a free massage with an odd shaped gizmo and end up another OSIM."
I wouldn't put it quite so strongly - but I understand Hinly's basic point. He belongs to the school of thought that entrepreneurship is essentially unteachable; it is perhaps more akin to a bunch of inherent personality traits; that is, you either have it or you don't.

Hinly's point has been made in another Singapore context - the teaching of creativity in the Singapore education system. The basic argument is the same - that creativity is not teachable; it is another example of a "you-either-have-it-or-you-don't" commodity.

Personally, I have lots of respect for human potential. I believe that given the right environment and opportunities, most human beings can learn lots of different things. If given the right environment and opportunities, they still don't learn, then very often the real reasons will not be that they inherently couldn't, but that they didn't want to, or they didn't believe that they could.

I'm quite inclined to believe that entrepreneurship or, for that matter, creativity, can be taught.

I don't discount the "natural talent" aspects of the matter. I'm quite sure that some persons are naturally a lot more entrepreneurial than others. Similarly, some people are naturally a lot more creative than others.

But to my mind, it just doesn't follow that other people cannot learn to be more creative or more entrepreneurial than they otherwise would be. Nor does it follow that a naturally entrepreneurial or naturally creative person cannot be taught to be even more entrepreneurial or even more creative.

As an analogy, a few people are very musical even as little kids, but most people are not. Nevertheless most people, given the appropriate environment and opportunities, can be taught to play a musical instrument quite competently (I didn't say "brilliantly"). Conversely, a highly musical child who never gets a chance to learn to play the piano or the violin will, of course, never know how to play the piano or the violin.

Sometimes I think that the belief that certain things are not teachable stems from a fear of vague concepts. No one seems to doubt that it is possible to teach a person to solve quadratic equations; or to use a computer; or to write a history essay. A quadratic equation, a computer and a history essay are ultimately quite tangible things. If you have solved it, used it or written it, the results are observable and undeniable.

But many people doubt that it is possible to teach a person to be more "entrepreneurial" or more "creative". After all, how can you tell that a person has become more "entrepreneurial" after he has taken a university module on the subject? How do you tell that a person has become more "creative" after taking a course on creativity?

I would only point out that the fact that some things are difficult/impossible to measure or quantify doesn't mean that those things don't exist or didn't happen. (Hmmm, come to think of it, I previously made the same point about God, spirituality and other related things). Schools strive to teach things like "moral values" and "good character" as well, but of course, how moral a student becomes or how much good character he has, after finishing school, doesn't appear to be easily measurable either.

Going back to Hinly's point - perhaps a more sophisticated version of his argument would be that entrepreneurship cannot be learned in a school environment. That view, I suspect, would be shared by many Singaporeans who have gone through the Singapore education system, which has a powerful reputation for rote learning, an overly rigid curriculum, an over-emphasis on book learning etc.

Still, that would be more a reflection on the weaknesses of the Singapore education system, than on the question of whether entrepreneurship or creativity is inherently teachable. In other words, I think that both can be taught - but whether Singapore's educational institutions can successfully teach either of them is a separate issue.

26 May 2006

Things That The Local Press Probably Won't Report

According to this, Singapore is the 83rd most democratic country in the world.

On the bright side, we did manage to beat 66 other countries including North Korea, China, Iran, Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and Myanmar. We must be truly on our way to a 1st world government!

"Damnit! Narrowly defeated by Singapore again!"
- Kim Jong II, leader of North Korea

24 May 2006

The "Negative" Internet

An interesting article from the TODAY newspaper, concerning a PAP MP's fears about the Internet.
PAP must address 'negative Internet'
TODAY Newspaper
Wednesday • May 24, 2006

SHE was a new face representing the People's Action Party, but when Ms Denise Phua surfed the Internet during the recent General Election, the tone of the postings stunned her.

They were overwhelmingly slanted against the ruling party.

"I know that something has gone wrong when more than 85 per cent (of the traffic) writes negatively about the PAP," she said at a post-mortem of the GE organised last night by the National University of Singapore Society.
Looking at this matter from the PAP perspective, Mr Wang has to agree with Denise's view. Something has gone wrong. The question is - what? Here are two possible ways of looking at it:
1. The PAP has indeed gone wrong in several ways. The negative content of the majority of Singaporeans' views, as expressed on the Internet, reflect this. Their views can serve as valuable feedback to the PAP.

2. The majority of Singaporeans who express opinions on the Internet have gone wrong in several ways. The negative content of their views shows that they are misguided, confused, stupid, dangerous and/or seditious. The right, sensible thing to do is to trust the PAP.

One point to note is that the Internet is accessible to everyone, regardless of his political inclinations. If you are pro-PAP, you can hop onto the Internet and write pro-PAP comments. If you are anti-PAP, you can also hop onto the Internet and write your anti-PAP comments (albeit with slightly higher risks of being monitored, prosecuted or sued for defamation).

No one forces anyone to say any particular thing on the Internet. Thus what people say on the Internet tends to be what they really think - that is, they're expressing their honest personal views. It's truly the masses' media.

Since the views that Singaporeans express on the Internet are their honest personal views, the PAP, acting sensibly, would probably want to give consideration to those views (the pro-PAP ones as well as the anti-PAP ones). Not to say that the PAP must agree with all of these views, but at the least, the PAP could get some quick, instant insights about what Singaporeans, or the Internet generation of Singaporeans, honestly think and feel about them.

Alas, this won't happen. Why?

In my opinion, the answer is reflected somewhere in the next statement by Denise Phua:
"This is something that the PAP would do well to take into account ... and to manage this channel of communication," she added.

This innocuous-looking statement, as I see it, reveals something quite fundamental about the PAP mindset towards the Internet. You see, they don't really care about the content of, and the ideas behind, your views. You can write about the moral wrongness of lift upgrading threats; the need for alternative views in Parliament; your concerns about healthcare etc. But your views in themselves, even if very logical, convincing and well-reasoned, are of little or no interest to the PAP. In other words, your views as an individual Singaporean just don't matter.

What the PAP is really concerned about is that many other Singaporeans may read your anti-PAP views and may, horror of horrors, actually be persuaded or convinced by your arguments.

Now, now. That can't be permitted, can it? That's why Denise says that the PAP must "manage this channel of communication". To investigate what that might really mean, let's try to paraphrase that. How about this:
"The PAP must try to exert some influence or control over the honest, personal views that Singaporeans are communicating to other Singaporeans on political matters via the Internet." [Mr Wang's paraphrase]

Scary, isn't it.

Let's look at the next part of the article:
Ms Phua stressed that she was not dismissing the views posted on the Internet nor even disagreeing with them. Her concern was more that the coverage was not balanced.
It's pretty interesting that Denise Phua expects "balance" from Singaporeans on the Internet. It's as if all the thousands of Singaporeans who've ever posted anything about politics on the Internet are actually employees of some media company, which has issued some editorial policy to the effect that:
"Political opinions, as expressed on the Internet, shall be balanced. All articles shall first be vetted by our SPH-approved editors."

Dear Denise, that's not how it works. As I said, just about anyone can get on the Internet and express his personal, honest view. The view may or may not be "balanced". If unbalanced, it may turn out to be extremely, extremely pro-PAP, or extremely, extremely anti-PAP. But the view will be honestly held by the individual who expressed it.

That's because unlike politicians, anonymous people on the Internet have no compelling reason to lie about their real views and opinions.

If 50% of Singaporeans on the Internet are pro-PAP, and 50% of the Singaporeans on the Internet are equally anti-PAP, then you get "balance" as a whole, on the Internet. That's good and well.

But if 85% of Singaporeans on the Internet are anti-PAP, and only 15% are pro-PAP, then of course there won't be "balance". After all, 85% of Singaporeans on the Internet think you suck.

To me, the sensible thing for you to do is then to consider why they think you suck, and how you can improve yourself. Rather than think about how to "manage their channel of communication".

Nowhere, for example, was it mentioned that this particular GE was not a snap poll or that the Opposition had the freedom to hold rallies of its own.

Obviously Denise doesn't read my blog. On the snap poll point, I had mentioned on this blog:
Election signals have been in the air for some time, so the opposition has no excuses to say that it didn't have time to prepare.

The more disturbing point is that Denise actually considers it noteworthy that this particular GE was not a snap poll or that the Opposition actually had the chance to hold rallies.

Errrrr, Denise, we ARE supposed to be a democracy, you know. Do you think that bloggers are also to be faulted for not pointing out that Singapore actually had polling stations ... and Opposition parties were permitted to put up posters ... and Singaporean women also get to vote ... and no one was killed or received death threats during the elections ... and enough polling tickets were printed ... and Opposition candidates DID appear on TV?

Denise, don't point accusing fingers at bloggers for not writing about non-events. What would have been VERY blogworthy is if this election WAS a snap poll, or if the Opposition was NOT allowed to hold rallies. That didn't happen, so of course no one really bothered to blog about it.

"More than 85% of all Iraqi bloggers write negatively about me!
There's just no balance ... I need to fix them!"

23 May 2006

A Little More About Education For The Very Young

First, read my previous post.

After posting that, I thought a little deeper about preschool education issues in Singapore. I have two little kids of my own, and therefore some personal interest in these matters.

Little Wang, my older kid, is gifted. He goes for enrichment classes at a certain place (let's call it G). G is run by a woman who was professionally trained in the United States in (1) gifted education, (2) early childhood development and (3) multiple intelligences theory. I shan't go into specifics, but let's just say that this woman, and her team of teachers, are a lot more highly qualified than the average PAP kindergarten teacher.

G isn't a regular "preschool" or "kindergarten". It merely offers a variety of courses, classes and playgroups and you pick the one you think best suits your kid. Many of these courses are offered on just on a once-a-week, 90-minutes-per-session basis, while others are on a three-times-a-week basis etc. Some parents pick and choose and mix and match a number of courses, so their kid end up attending G as regularly as a normal kindergarten.

The courses at G are a lot more fun, interesting and challenging than what you'd get in a normal kindergarten. Many of the lessons, I suspect, are what MOE would frown upon as being "age-inappropriate" (that is, too difficult for kids of that age). For example, in one science class, the 4-year-olds are already doing science experiments with things like batteries and lightbulbs. In another class, the 4-year-olds discuss current affairs and paint pictures depicting events like "What Would Happen If Bird Flu Spread to Singapore?". In yet another class, the children are already composing and writing their own stories, at an age when in a normal kindergarten, they might not even have mastered their ABCs.

Yet from my personal observations, the kids at G almost invariably learn a lot, have plenty of fun and enjoy themselves thoroughly. G operates on the principle that what you want to engage is the higher cognitive functions of the child's brain. Since the higher cognitive functions are impaired when the child is stressed, worried or anxious, the teachers strive for the opposite effect - they endeavour to make the lessons as fun and enjoyable as possible.

Looking at the MOE registration guidelines for kindergartens, we realise that G, despite its excellent standards, wouldn't qualify to be registered as a kindergarten. That's because a kindergarten, according to the Education Ministry, must offer:
"... a structured 3-year pre-school education programme for children aged 3 to 6. The 3-year programme consists of Nursery, Kindergarten 1 and Kindergarten 2. Kindergartens function daily, five days a week, with schooling hours ranging from 3 hours to 4 hours each day."
Furthermore, a kindergarten must have a certain kind of syllabus:
"... language and literacy skills, basic number concepts, simple science concepts, social skills, creative and problem solving skills, appreciation of music and movement and outdoor play. Children will learn in two languages, English as the first language and Chinese, Malay or Tamil as a Mother Tongue language."

G doesn't have a "nursery" or a "Kindergarten 1" or a "Kindergarten 2". It doesn't have a "3-year education programme". As I mentioned, it merely offers courses, classes and playgroups, and of course, no particular course by itself would meet the MOE's syllabus requirements.

So G simply wouldn't qualify to be a MOE-approved kindergarten.

Which kinda shows you how stupid the MOE can be. No wonder the MOE did what it did to CGL (as discussed in my previous post).

Little Wang also attends a regular kindergarten (nursery level) - an MOE-registered kindergarten. Or rather, Little Wang used to attend it. Officially he's still enrolled, but he found the classes very boring and became disruptive in class. So we've stopped sending him to class for some time now.

The principal of that school, to her credit, recognised Little Wang's giftedness on her own. However she isn't quite sure how to deal with gifted kids (and to be honest, her MOE-approved curriculum is just not suitable). Her teachers are also not trained in dealing with gifted kids (so much for being MOE-approved teachers).

She did take the initiative to offer to "promote" Little Wang from nursery to Kindergarten 1, jumping ahead of his peers. I'm still thinking about that offer, but more likely we'll just quit that school entirely. Early "promotion" doesn't help a lot. If Little Wang does K1 when others his age are doing nursery, then he'll do K2 when others his age are doing K1 ... but the following year, he'll have to repeat K2 or otherwise bum around for a year, because MOE doesn't allow kids, gifted or not, to start primary school early.

I do appreciate the principal's helpfulness. She was the one who made all the various inquiries to MOE on our behalf, about the possibility of jumping grades. In the end, it's the system that didn't work out for us.

On a separate note, I work in a very international organisation and my big boss was recently talking about career development. He raised the possibility of overseas postings and left an open invitation for me and my colleagues to approach him to discuss, if ever we wished to be transferred elsewhere (that could mean London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, New York etc).

One of my colleagues later suggested to me that if Little Wang is so gifted, and his sister turns out to be gifted too, and the Singapore system just doesn't suit them well, then perhaps I should seriously consider an overseas posting. Just to get the family out of Singapore. To a place where the education system suits them better.

I like living in Singapore. But the idea of moving out, for the sake of my kids, is something which I suppose I'm duty-bound to consider. Maybe not now, but in a couple of years' time. BoY, writing about Ike See's case in a post entitled "The Relentless Marginalisation of The Gifted", talked about Singaporeans as square pegs being forced by the system into round holes. I really wouldn't want that to happen to my kids.

And who knows, when they've all grown up, I could return to Singapore as "foreign talent". Heheh.

Little Ironies

On 20 May, the Straits Times tells us that the Education Ministry plans to help low-income families to get their children enrolled in preschools. This seems to be a noble initiative.

ST May 20, 2006
Help on way for children who are not in pre-school
Ministry will identify them and help get them enrolled

By Maria Almenoar
THE Education Ministry (MOE) plans to identify low-income families whose children do not attend pre-school and work with various agencies to get them enrolled.

It also wants to help those who are already in pre-school, but do not have the home support to learn English.

These two thrusts are geared towards giving disadvantaged children a strong start in learning - either through a strong pre-school foundation or by helping them beef up their grasp of English.

Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, speaking at the 20th anniversary celebration dinner of the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) last night, outlined these two initiatives and said: 'We want to do better to help children from less-advantaged homes. At Primary 1 each year, we find children who are not ready for school.


For children who fall through the cracks, MOE will work closely with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sport to trace them and get them into school. Already, the Family Service Centres have approached a number of the PCF's 266 kindergartens and have placed 16 children so far. More will be helped in the coming months.

Ironically, on the same day, the Straits Times also reports that the Education Ministry is forcing a kindergarten to close down, because it does not have a licence.

Very ironic, considering that this kindergarten has been operating for 40 years. That is to say, it's almost as old as this nation itself.

Furthermore, the kindergarten seems to be running not on a pure commercial basis, but also has some elements of a charity and community service. Note its affiliation with a church; its very low school fees; and the comments about how it waives fees for children of low-income families.
ST May 20, 2006
80 kids left in the lurch after preschool closes
Kindergarten told by MOE to cease operations as it did not have a licence

By Maria Almenoar and Dawn Lim
THE parents of more than 80 preschoolers are scrambling to find new kindergartens after the Education Ministry (MOE) closed the Children's Garden of Learning in Circuit Road.

The kindergarten, run by MacPherson Christian Church, has been teaching children from nursery level to Kindergarten 2 (K2) without a licence for 40 years.

MOE instructed it to cease operations on May 8, following a tip-off from a member of the public.

Madam Tan Kim Huay, the kindergarten's 67-year-old teacher coordinator, said the school was caught by surprise because it had not received any warnings before.

Parents were even more surprised when they took their children to the school on May 8 and teachers told them they would stop classes by May 10.

Housewife Wendy Quek, 41, whose six-year-old son was in the kindergarten, said: 'This came out of the blue. One day they are open, the next day they are not. My son loves this kindergarten and now he cries that he can't go there anymore.'


For other parents, it is the fees that other kindergartens charge that are a concern.

A parent of a K2 pupil, who wanted to be known only as Madam Zhong, said: 'This kindergarten charges us only $40 a month but the other kindergartens charge more than $90 a month. I cannot afford this.

'And here they are understanding - if we cannot pay, they will give us a waiver or let us pay the following month.'

The 43-year-old housewife said that her husband works as an odd-job labourer earning about $600 a month.

The closure of one preschool may be seen as a rather miniscule event, in the diary of a nation. On the other hand, on closer examination, this matter has several aspects which merit a closer examination.
In an e-mail statement on Monday, MOE said that kindergartens are registered if they meet the basic requirements in land use, safety, hygiene, teacher qualifications and curriculum.

The ministry added that it would 'expedite the registration process' for Children's Garden of Learning if possible.
It's pertinent to note that no one is saying that there is anything wrong with CGL's land use, safety, hygiene, teacher qualifications or curriculum. And note that CGL had been operating happily for the past 40 years.

In other words, it's now being shut down on a pure technicality.

This is unfortunate. The Education Ministry's actions have suddenly disrupted the preschool education of more than 80 young kids, and their parents are now going to scramble to find places for them elsewhere(no easy task, considering we are midway through the school year). The grace period given by the Education Ministry was two days.

Surely the Education Ministry could have thought of more intelligent ways to handle the matter. For example, it could have allowed the school to go on operating for the next three months, and in the meantime worked with CGL on the registration requirements.

Alternatively if CGL cannot or does not wish to meet the registration requirements, the Education Ministry could allow it to operate for two more semesters. In the meantime, CGL can stop taking in new students and the parents of the currently-enrolled kids can have some extra time to make alternative arrangements.

Why is it that Mr Wang keeps coming up with all these simple, effective solutions, which Tharman Shanmugaratnam cannot?

It's embarrassing.

Looking at CGL's location (Circuit Road, one of the poorer parts of Singapore), its church affiliation and the comments of Madam Zhong, one can guess that CGL primarily takes in children from low-income families. In other words, the very same children whom the Education Ministry professed to want to help (see first ST article cited above).

Help? How?

By shutting down the only school that they can afford?

"Dear God ... please give me strength. The charity &
kindergarten registration paperwork in Singapore
is driving me nuts!" - Mother Teresa.

19 May 2006

Another "World First" By Singapore. Heheh.

I've previously commented about how Singapore has a habit of claiming to be world-class and world-best in this and that and this and that ... when it really isn't.

According to Channel News Asia, Singapore recently accomplished another "world first" in the area of engineering research. The blogger known as Gecko promptly exposes this to be untrue.

Musical Talent Crushed

So we have a young musical prodigy in Singapore. He auditions to enter the Curtis Institute of Music, a world-class institution and the top music school in the United States. 12 out of 12 judges vote to admit him into the school.

Naturally, the Singapore government must act to block his way and stop his success. With National Service.
ST May 18, 2006
Completing his NS might cost Ike opportunities to be a top musician

I have known Ike See since he was eight. This little boy grabbed my soul when he performed Beethoven's Romance In F for the Associated Board of Royal School of Music High Scorers concert. He played with such soul and conviction that it brought tears to my eyes. Since then I have kept up with his progress and I have never been disappointed with any of his performances.

There are many technicians out there who can play brilliantly and impressively but few can touch the soul like Ike. The gift to elevate the audience is what makes music so special. People go to concerts to listen to music not just to be entertained but to experience the wonderful feeling of being enriched and inspired.

I am a violinist myself and the director and principal of Mandeville Music School. I attend concerts all the time and it is a rare treat to have an elevating experience. However, Ike's performances have always been meaningful to me.

I was terribly disappointed to read the news about Ike in The Straits Times on Monday. I now understand why his parents and teacher did not want to break the good news to me when I asked them about Ike's auditions in the US. It is no use telling people that he has been accepted into all the top music colleges when he cannot go because he has to serve national service first.

It is very prestigious to be selected for Curtis Institute. It would be every musician's dream come true and anyone who can get in there is already very accomplished and all set for the world platform. This is the only top music school in the US where all selected are on full scholarship.

I encouraged Ike to audition three years ago as this school only accepts young students. He tried two years ago but was not accepted although he was one of the few finalists. I am so proud that he got in on the second try. He had worked very hard in the last two years. Twelve out of 12 judges voted him in this time.

If Ike doesn't accept their offer this round, I do not think he will be able to get in after his national service as he would be too old by then. This poor boy would be so disappointed and his hopes of becoming a world-class violinist would be shattered.

Ike might still choose to be a musician in the end, but he would likely have lost many opportunities to be at the top. In the competitive music world, age makes a big difference.

Singapore has always been proud to show off its achievements. Why waste a truly homegrown talent now? Ike will serve Singapore even better when he proves to the world that we are able to produce such a remarkable musician. He will surely do us Singaporeans proud and would be the best ambassador of the arts for us.

Yap Shu Mei (Ms),
Director/Principal, Mandeville Music School

Now Mr Wang will predict the most probable outcome of this matter. Of course I hope I am wrong, but this is what I predict will happen:
1. Some cowardly high-ranking MINDEF officer will make the cover-ass, stupid but eminently defensible decision to not allow Ike's NS deferment.

2. (".... National Service is very important. It is the duty of every male Singaporean to serve NS. We must be fair and impartial. National Service is a character-building experience that makes our boys men ... ") [take the Defence Minister's last SAF Day speech & cut & paste miscellaneous other blah blah blah statements.]

3. Unthinking Singaporeans will nod their heads approvingly.

4. Ike See will do his NS and become another perfectly mediocre, ordinary, faceless corporal or sergeant out of 20,000 other perfectly mediocre, ordinary, faceless NSF corporals and sergeants in the SAF.

5. Upon ORD, he will do a desperate rush to make up for the precious lost years in his musical training. He will realise that to do this, he can't afford to stay in Singapore any longer (this will be the only valuable lesson he will learn from his NS years - but it will be an immensely valuable lesson).

6. He leaves Singapore. For good.

7. In time, some future PAP Minister for the Arts who had never known or will have forgotten Ike See will say, "Oh, Singapore must aspire to be a world-class hub for the arts. Singaporeans lack creativity and talent but we must encourage what we have, and create alternative avenues of success in our society."

Meanwhile MINDEF will continue to grant NS deferments to male PSC Overseas Merit Scholars. Year after year after year, as schools like RJC and NJC and VJC continue to manufacture, by the hundreds, perfectly straight-A students who have memorised their way to great success in standardised exam formats. While the really rare, special ones - like Ike See - will continue to be overlooked, and will continue to languish.

"Phew, thank God I'm not Singaporean.
I'd be shooting blanks instead of breaking world records."
- Michael Phelps, winner of eight Olympic medals at the age of 19.

16 May 2006

Another (Ex)-PAP Man in Trouble

Just a couple of days ago, I wrote about Ahmad Khalis Abdul Ghani, an ex-PAP MP in trouble. Here's another one ex-PAP MP in trouble - Lew Syn Pau. You'll notice that in both articles, the Straits Times carefully refrains from using the words "People's Action Party" or "PAP".

Ahhh, so subliminally sensitive - we really must try to avoid having the party's name associated with such nasty-sounding matters, mustn't we. PAP Members of Parliament have an image of uprightness, integrity and honesty to uphold. The less Teh Cheang Wan, Phey Wee Kok, Choo Wee Khiang and Wee Toon Boon are remembered, the better.

Anyway, Lew's case is still in progress. Let's wait & see what happens.
May 16, 2006
Ex-MP Lew pleads not guilty in Broadway case
He and exec chairman on trial for breaching Companies Act

FORMER Member of Parliament Lew Syn Pau and businessman Wong Sheung Sze yesterday pleaded not guilty to accusations of a $4.2 million share scam involving mainboard-listed Broadway Industrial Group and an Indonesian businessman.

Lew, 52, an MP from 1988 to 2001, and Broadway executive chairman Wong, 56, were facing their first day of trial in the High Court after being charged under the Companies Act in October.

It is alleged that they had lent money belonging to a subsidiary of Broadway to a third party - privately held Silver Touch - to buy Broadway's shares.

A former director of Silver Touch, Indonesian businessman Dick Tan Beng Phiau, was one two prosecution witnesses to give evidence yesterday.

The court heard that Lew and Wong extended a loan of $4.2 million to Mr Tan's Silver Touch in February 2004.

The money belonged to Mauritius-based Compart Asia Pacific, a subsidiary of Broadway. At the time Lew was one of its directors.

Silver Touch then used the money to buy 20 million Broadway shares during a share placement exercise in the same year.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ng Cheng Thiam told the court that the share placement was part of a financial restructuring exercise undertaken by Broadway to improve its weak balance sheet. The group was prospecting for new investors to inject fresh capital.

Broadway, which makes foam-moulded products, was also planning to restructure its debt by seeking new credit facilities from United Overseas Bank, the court heard.

To achieve its objective, Broadway had appointed several advisers, including Lew, who ran his own business consultancy firm, Capital Connections. He was asked to seek out potential investors, and subsequently found Mr Tan.

Court documents disclosed it was through Lew that the 'two-week loan' of $4.2 million was extended to Mr Tan.

It was also disclosed that Compart (Mauritius) had deposited the money in Lew's DBS bank account on Feb 13, 2004. But only $4 million was transferred on the same day to Mr Tan, via his wife's bank account.

No mention was made in court documents of the remaining $200,000 of the loan.

Mr Tan, who took the witness stand yesterday, confirmed he was introduced to Broadway by Lew.

He also told the court that he even paid $160,000, in two batches, to Lew as interest payment for the loan that was provided to him by Lew to facilitate the purchase of Broadway's shares.

But Senior Counsel K. Shanmugam, who is representing Wong, argued that the prosecution's case was a 'non-starter', given that Compart (Mauritius) is a foreign entity that does not fall under the ambit of the local laws.

He added that Compart (Mauritius) is a separate legal entity from Broadway with its own independent board of directors.

Section 76 of the Companies Act states that a company may not give financial assistance to any person for the purpose of buying shares in the company or its holding company.

The charge carries a fine of up to $20,000, a jail term of up to three years, or both.

The hearing continues today.

15 May 2006

Mr Wang Answers Some Questions About Life and Death

ST May 15, 2006
Doc won't witness medical directive

MY WIFE and I, aged 73 and 80 respectively, read in The Sunday Times that one can make a legal directive stating that if one is terminally ill and in a coma with no hope of recovery, no life sustaining treatment should be given ('When death strikes'; ST, April 16).

So my wife, who is a stroke victim, and I went to the nearest doctor, each with a prepared advance medical directive, with our daughter who was to be a witness, with a request for the doctor to be the second witness. It was stated in the article that two witnesses are required, one of whom must be a registered medical practitioner.

Imagine my surprise when the doctor declined to be a witness, saying it is not clear she is empowered to do that. She also said that as we had no medical records at her clinic, she could not witness our signatures. In my wife's case, she suggested she go to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where she was admitted for her stroke and ask a hospital doctor to be her witness as her records are there. She suggested I go to Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic as I was treated there for asthma.

From my observations, I believe ours was the first such request this doctor has had, as the advance medical directive is new, and I suspect she decided to play safe and not get involved.

There must be many elderly poor who want to make an advance medical directive, but are either unaware that such a scheme is available or don't know how to do it.

Can the authorities kindly enlighten us what one has to do to get an advance medical directive validated?

Trevor Reginald

It was probably just a case of the doctor not being very sure what to do. There probably aren't that many Singaporeans who have made their Advance Medical Directive. Well, the answers are all in the Advance Medical Directive Act.
3. —(1) A person of sound mind who has attained the age of 21 years and who desires not to be subjected to extraordinary life-sustaining treatment in the event of his suffering from a terminal illness, may at any time make an advance medical directive in the prescribed form.

(2) ...... the directive must be witnessed by 2 witnesses present at the same time one of whom shall be the patient’s family medical practitioner or any other practitioner of his choice; and the other shall be a person who has attained the age of 21 years.

What are the duties of the doctor, when acting as witness?
4. Before witnessing the execution of the directive on the prescribed form, a witness who is a medical practitioner shall take reasonable steps in the circumstances to ensure that the patient —

(a) is of sound mind;

(b) has attained the age of 21 years;

(c) has made the directive voluntarily and without inducement or compulsion; and

(d) has been informed of the nature and consequences of making the directive.
The doctor doesn't have to worry too much because he is only required to "take reasonable steps in the circumstances" to satisfy the requirements stated in (a) to (d) above.

In fact, the Act also says that as long as the doctor acted in good faith and without negligence, he can't be subject to any action (whether civil or criminal or in the nature of professional disciplinary proceedings), if it turns out later that the patient wasn't capable of understanding the nature and consequences of signing the directive.

Next point - Trevor Reginald mentioned in his letter that he had asked his daughter to act as his witness. This is probably not so advisable (if he intends to bequeath any of his assets to her). That's because the Act says:
A witness shall be a person who to the best of his knowledge —

(a) is not a beneficiary under the patient’s will or any policy of insurance;

(b) has no interest under any instrument under which the patient is the donor, settlor or grantor;

(c) would not be entitled to an interest in the estate of the patient on the patient’s death intestate;

(d) would not be entitled to an interest in the moneys of the patient held in the Central Provident Fund or other provident fund on the death of that patient .....

What would happen to Trevor's daughter if she did act as witness? Well, if for some reason, she is later accused, charged and convicted of having acted criminally in deceiving or inducing Trevor into signing the directive, then apart from the criminal punishment, she may also forfeit her rights under the will, policy, estate, CPF funds etc.

Would Trevor's directive be invalid, if her daughter witnessed it, and:

(a) she knew she was a beneficiary under Trevor's will;

(b) she was a good, kind person without any ulterior motives or bad intentions?

That's a question mark. Although the Act says that a person who knows he is a beneficiary must not be a witness, the Act doesn't say anything about whether the directive would be valid or invalid, if such a person were to act as witness. If I were a judge and this issue arose in a court of law, I would be inclined to the view that the directive should be treated as valid.

However, to avoid any such legal complications, it is best for Trevor's daughter not to act as witness. Especially since a much simpler, fuss-free solution is available. Leave your loved ones out of the picture. Simply get your doctor, and his nurse, to be your witnesses.

Finally I should explain the term "extraordinary life-sustaining treatment". It is is defined to mean "any medical procedure or measure which, when administered to a terminally ill patient, will only prolong the process of dying when death is imminent" but it excludes palliative care. That is, you will still get medical treatment to ease your pain and suffering.

Thus the medical directive is basically to cater for the kind of scenario where:

(1) you're terminally ill; and

(2) you're no longer able to make any decisions for yourself (eg you're in a coma).

They will withhold the "extraordinary life-sustaining treatment" so you'll die naturally, instead of cling on to "life", thanks to assorted tubes and machines plugged into your body.

13 May 2006

Mr Wang's Vesak Day Thoughts

Mr Wang is well-known for his extraordinarily perceptive, insightful thoughts on Singapore's current affairs. But don't be deceived. Mr Wang's extraordinarily perceptive, insightful thoughts are not limited merely to Singapore's current affairs. Mr Wang is extraordinarily perceptive and insightful about anything that interests him.

This post is Mr Wang's Vesak Day special. Mr Wang recalls the time when he wrote in his personal blog that his goal in this lifetime was "to gain enlightenment". Subsequently, Mr Wang deleted that entry. The idea of being regarded as crazy does not appeal to Mr Wang. And if you publicly declare that your goal in life is "to gain enlightenment", the chances of being regarded as crazy seem to be quite high. Hence the deletion.

Nevertheless, Mr Wang's formulation of his Crazy Goal - the attainment of enlightenment - did not spring from craziness. Instead it arose from Mr Wang's systematic analysis of human motivations, goals and our notions of success. Allow Mr Wang to explain.

The classic Freudian view is that our core motivations are deeply buried in our unconscious. They will remain unknown to ourselves (unless we have had the benefit of a trained therapist or talk regularly to our own right brains). While Freudian thinking has fallen out of favour, this particular aspect of Freudian thinking still attractively explains:

1. Why so many of us consistently fail to achieve the goals we set for ourselves (still remember your 2006 New Year's resolution?); and

2. Why the goals that we do achieve rarely bring us the long-lasting satisfaction and happiness which we thought they would.

The explanation lies in the idea of the Covert Goal.

We may make plans and we may set goals, but more often than not, we only have a superficial understanding of WHY we chose those goals. Our core motivations, as Freud would say, are buried in our unconscious and therefore hidden from ourselves. Since we don't know the WHY, one of two things usually occurs:

(1) we fail to achieve our chosen goal (we give up halfway, lacking any core motivation to persist with the endeavour); or

(2) we achieve the chosen goal, only to discover that the satisfaction or happiness we derive is short-lived (because the achievement did not satisfy our core motivations).

Now, the Covert Goal is a little different. The Covert Goal is the unconscious goal behind our consciously chosen goal. Keep probing deeper, and you may discover not only the Covert Goal behind your consciously chosen goal, but a Covert Goal behind your Covert Goal, and another Covert Goal behind that one. In other words, you get closer and closer to the core motivations in your unconscious.

Suppose that your conscious goal is to build a highly successful career. Now ask yourself why you would want to do that. Obviously there may be several reasons. But keep asking "why?" for each reason that comes up, and keep probing deeper.

For example, one reason you want to build a highly successful career may be to earn a lot of money. Then ask yourself why you want to earn a lot of money. One reason may be that you wish to buy a big house. Then ask yourself why you would want to buy a big house. One reason may be that you want your family to live more comfortably. Then ask yourself why you want your family to live more comfortably ....... and so on.

When you keep probing in this way, you may make some surprising discoveries. For example, you may discover that your true motivation for wanting to build a highly successful career - the reason why you work all those late nights in the office - is to make your family happy. Upon discovering this, you may realise that all your late nights in the office in fact do not make your family very happy. That is to say, your actions do not bring you optimally to your true goal. Instead, the optimal route to your family's happiness could well be for you to scale down your career - so that you earn less money, but get to spend more quality time with your family.

You can apply this same analysis to any of your goals - whether your goal is to quit smoking; get married; travel around the world; rescue homeless animals or win the General Elections. Take the analysis far enough - and it is very likely that you will discover some very interesting results about your own life.

What has all this got to do with Mr Wang's Crazy Goal of attaining enlightenment? Well, Mr Wang has previously probed all his many goals, big and small, in many different areas of his life. You can do the same. For each goal in your life, simply keep asking "why?" and keep chasing down all the reasons that come up. Mr Wang's tentative conclusion is that Buddha got it completely right. Ultimately, our deepest Core Motivation is the same:

We all desire to be happy and to avoid suffering.

And that only happens when we gain enlightenment. So enlightenment is not just something that the crazy Mr Wang wants. It's something that we all want - in fact it's the only thing we really want.

Most of us just don't know it.

10 May 2006

Singapore Judiciary Under Attack

This is about a legal suit in Canada which could potentially have very serious consequences for Singapore's business community. In its over-eagerness to defend the Singapore position, the Straits Times has reported the legal suit rather badly (in my view). I think many lay readers will simply get confused. Anyway, my own explanation is set out later in this post.
ST May 10, 2006
Law Ministry rejects Canadian firm's charges of 'biased judiciary'
By K.C. Vijayan

THE Law Ministry has roundly rejected allegations about a 'biased Singapore judiciary', which has come under intense scrutiny in a case in Canada.

The Canadian company making the allegations has already lost a court battle on its home ground in Canada, it pointed out.

Ontario-based EnerNorth Industries, an oil and gas company, is arguing that it never got a fair trial in Singapore after it was ordered to pay US$2.79 million (S$4.39 million) by the courts here to its former Singapore-based partner, Oakwell Engineering.

But Oakwell won in Canada too, pointed out a Law Ministry spokesman.

Justice Gerald Day of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled in its favour when it applied to have the award enforced in Canada last August.

But EnerNorth appealed.

It asked the Ontario Court of Appeal to decide if legal decisions made in Singapore are fair and impartial enough to meet Canadian standards of justice.

The appeals court reserved judgment after hearing the case last month.

Oakwell is a Singapore corporation that supplies engineering works and products in the marine industry while EnerNorth is an Ontario corporation engaged in shipbuilding, engineering, construction and power generation around the world.

In June 1997, the two firms agreed to jointly finance, construct and operate two mobile power plants to generate electricity in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India.

But 14 months later the project soured and EnerNorth bought out Oakwell's stake in exchange for US$2.79 million, royalty payments, and shares in EnerNorth.

EnerNorth did not stick to the deal and in August 2002, Oakwell sued for US$2.79 million in Singapore. The case was heard by the late Justice Lai Kew Chai. EnerNorth brought a counterclaim against Oakwell for US$175 million but its claim was dismissed and it was ordered to pay the money demanded by Oakwell.

EnerNorth's appeal in Singapore was dismissed by a three-man court headed by former Chief Justice Yong Pung How in April 2004.

EnerNorth's allegations in Canada have been dismissed by Oakwell's lawyers.

'This is not a political case. It is a commercial matter. It was heard before the courts of a country built on foreign investment, with an impeccable reputation for fairness to foreign firms like EnerNorth,' said Oakwell's lawyers.

In Singapore, EnerNorth was represented by lawyers from Drew & Napier and Oakwell by Mr Philip Jeyaretnam.

Contacted yesterday, a Law Ministry spokesman said: 'These allegations have been roundly rejected by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.'

She noted the court had 'refused to lend any credence to EnerNorth's spurious allegation of a biased Singapore judiciary'.

Judge Day had said he was satisfied 'that there is no reason to doubt the impartiality of the judges who heard the case in Singapore'.

'Singapore prides itself on having an independent and impartial judiciary,' said the Law Ministry spokesman.

She added that the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong has 'consistently rated the Singapore judicial system as one of the best in the region, and emphasised that Singapore has one of the most fair and transparent legal systems in the world'.
Now Mr Wang will proceed to explain what this matter is all about.

Let's say X is a Singapore company. X sues a foreign company Y in the courts of Singapore. The judge hears the case, the lawyers fight it out for 20 days in court, and at the end of it, the judge says, "Okay, X wins. I order Y to pay X $1 million dollars."

Y might refuse to pay. If Y had assets in Singapore, the Singapore court will then order those assets to be seized. However, if Y has no assets in Singapore, then the Singapore court can't do much. X, in order to get his money, would have to go to Y's country (because that's where Y has assets).

X goes to Y's country, and goes to the court there, and tells the judge: "Look, I won a court case against Y in Singapore. Y owes me $1 million. Please make Y pay me."

What usually happens is that the judge in Y's country would look at the Singapore court's judgment (for $1 million) and then say: "Ok, I see that this matter has already been heard and decided by the Singapore judge. Therefore I order Y to pay X $1 million. Oh, and if Y still doesn't pay, you can seize Y's assets in this country."

The judge in Y's country will not bother to re-examine the whole case again. In other words, X and Y do not need to go through another 20 days of fighting in court, and explaining to the judge what the whole case was about. The judge in Y's country will simply assume that the Singapore judge made the correct decision.

This is what lawyers refer to as "the reciprocal enforcement of foreign judgments". Courts in most countries respect the decisions made by courts in most other countries.

Once in a while, however, a hiccup occurs.

For example, if you won a court case against ABC in a country like Iraq, Cuba or North Korea, you might not be able to get the judge in another country to help enforce your judgment against ABC.

That's because the courts of a country like Iraq, Cuba or North Korea might be regarded as not quite reliable, not quite fair and not quite trustworthy - therefore there is a concern that ABC might not have been treated fairly.

What's happening in the EnerNorth case?

Well, the Singapore company has gone to the Canadian court, but EnerNorth, the Canadian company, is telling the Canadian judge, "Hey, please disregard the Singapore court judgment, because the Singapore judiciary is just not trustworthy."

In other words, the defence is that the Singapore judiciary is something like the courts of North Korea, Iraq etc.

To me, the most interesting feature is that EnerNorth is NOT arguing that the Singapore court had acted unfairly in handling the case. In fact, EnerNorth agrees that the Singapore court DID act fairly in hearing that particular case.

Instead, EnerNorth's argument is basically that the entire Singapore judiciary is so fundamentally corrupt and rotten and unreliable that the Canadian court should just ignore ANY judgment from a Singapore court in ANY case.

And why is the Singapore judiciary said to be so rotten?

Click here for the full legal arguments. For a more succinct summary, click here.

It includes allegations such as how Singapore's judges are beholden to the executive; how the executive uses the Singapore courts to sue opposition MPs for defamation to make them bankrupt and disqualify them from Parliament etc etc.

You get the idea.

The matter is now under consideration by an appellate court in Canada. The fact that they reserved judgment means that this isn't an "open-&-shut" case. "Reserving judgment" basically means that the appellate court thinks that hmmmmm, there are some serious, real issues to consider here.

The potential implications are quite enormous.

If the Canadian court decides that the judgments of the Singapore courts should not be respected, then this may well open the floodgates. The same kind of arguments could be raised again and again, in the courts of other countries - where the plaintiff has already successfully sued the defendant in Singapore and is trying to enforce the judgment in the defendant's home country.

Ironically, it was Singapore law firm Drew & Napier which represented EnerNorth in Singapore. Drew & Napier is well-known to be the "PAP law firm" with several lawyer who are/were PAP-MPs, such as Davinder Singh, Indranee Rajah, Ong Kian Min, Sin Boon Ann and Hri Kumar.

Drew & Napier represented EnerNorth in the litigation proceedings in Singapore, and in the usual course of events, would usually be involved in the Canadian legal action (note - I don't know this for a fact).

The Drew lawyers would not be able to actually appear in the Canadian court, but in the normal course of things, one would expect them to be involved in liaising with EnerNorth's Canadian lawyers and discussing court strategy etc (again, note that I'm assuming this - it would be consistent with the usual legal practice, but may not actually have happened in this particular case).

The other irony, of course, is that Oakwell's lawyer in Singapore was Philip Jeyaretnam. Philip is the son of ex-Opposition MP JB Jeyaretnam, who was the unfortunate victim of several many PAP defamation suits. We would expect that Philip is now working closely with Oakwell's lawyers in Canada, to try to win the case there. In a way, that makes Philip the defender in Canada, of the Singapore judiciary.

How Interesting

Right now, we don't really know what kind of trouble this (ex)-PAP MP has gotten himself into. So Mr Wang will just post the article here for record purposes, and review the matter again if/when more details become public.
ST May 10, 2006
Former MP to answer complaint against him

LAWYER and former Hong Kah GRC MP Ahmad Khalis Abdul Ghani will appear before the Court of Three Judges as he battles a complaint filed against him.

This would be the highest level a disciplinary hearing can reach for a lawyer. No date has been fixed for the hearing.

Since the complaint was raised to the Law Society, Mr Ahmad, 46, had faced two rounds of disciplinary hearing.

Recently, the society's Disciplinary Committee decided that the case would be referred to the High Court.

Confirming it on Wednesday, Mr Ahmad said he was determined to fight the allegation levelled against him.
It is believed that the complaint was about estate matters which he was involved with.

However, Mr Ahmad declined to shed any light on it, explaining that the case is still ongoing.

'It's very unfair for me now, because I can't tell my side of the story,' he said.

He had earlier confirmed that the hearing was one reason why he decided not to stand for a second term in the recent General Election.

Last month, he announced his decision to step down as an MP because of 'pressing work commitments'. He also said that he could not discuss details.

09 May 2006

Straw Man

"BOOOOO! Scared you, didn't I."

What's a "straw man" argument? Here's the explanation from Wikipedia:
"....a rhetorical technique based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw-man argument" is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent.

A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact misleading, since the argument actually presented by the opponent has not been refuted.

Its name is derived from the use of straw men in combat training. It is occasionally called a straw dog fallacy [1] or a scarecrow argument.

Setup of a straw-man

One can set up a straw man in the following ways:

Present a misrepresentation of the opponent's position, refute it, and pretend that the opponent's actual position has been refuted .......

Here's an example of a straw man argument:

1. The Opposition aims to replace the PAP as the ruling government.
2. Can they do it better than the PAP?
3. Of course not! Compare their track records.
4. Therefore vote for the PAP.

With a little thought, it's clear that this is a nonsensical argument. The Opposition does not aim to become the ruling party. Nor does it have any chance. Prior to GE 2006, it had 2 seats out of 84 in Parliament. How could it possibly have jumped from 2 seats in Parliament to 43 seats in Parliament? That's a 2150% increase in success rate.

This could only be possible if, say, PM Lee Hsien Loong was suddenly exposed as a paedophile, Goh Chok Tong suddenly crossed over to the Workers Party, and Lee Kuan Yew suddenly announced plans to sell Singapore to Malaysia.

Actually, come to think of it, even if all these highly improbable (no, impossible) events actually occurred .... the Opposition might still not win 43 seats in Parliament.

What the Opposition aims to win a few more seats in Parliament, to supply some alternative perspectives and to act as a check and balance on the ruling party. Not to become the ruling party itself.

Naturally, it is to the PAP's advantage if Singaporeans do not realise that. Indeed the PAP is fortunate that many Singaporeans do not realise that. It is far better for the PAP, if Singaporeans believed that the Opposition aims to become, and might actually have a realistic chance, to become the ruling party. This would scare Singaporeans into voting for the PAP.

Take for example this letter in the ST Forum today:

May 9, 2006
Thanks to PAP victory, his family can sleep well

THE general election is finally over and families like mine can sleep well again, knowing that the People's Action Party (PAP) has been returned to power.

Congratulations to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his team for receiving a strong mandate of 66.6 per cent of the popular vote ...

Steven Cheong Thiam Hin

The poor man. To think that he has been losing sleep for the past few weeks - over fears that the PAP might possibly NOT be returned to power. Heheh!

Voodoo doll, nightmare guaranteed.
No resemblance to any politician in Singapore is intended.

07 May 2006

The Biggest Election Story

So Chiam retains his seat, and Low retains his seat, and the PAP retains exactly the same number of seats in Parliament that it had before. Seems like nothing much changed.

What then is the biggest story of GE 2006, to Mr Wang?

Not the Saga of James Gomez's Missing Form - which I think is memorable only for the way the PAP grossly mishandled the matter (far worse than James could have done himself).

Not Lee Hsien Loong's self-slap in the face, when he talked about "fixing the Opposition" and the PAP "buying the supporters' votes". Which I think the Opposition was quite gracious in not playing up, after PM Lee apologised.

Not even the exciting contest between Sylvia Lim's team and George Yeo's team in Aljunied GRC, although that comes close.

To Mr Wang, the big story is PM Lee Hsien Loong's election loss in Ang Mo Kio GRC.

"Loss, Mr Wang?" I hear you say. "You're mistaken. PM Lee won 66.1% of the votes!"

I was referring to his loss. The loss of 33.9% of AMK votes to a bunch of happy, cheery, fresh youngsters mostly aged below 30. None of whom had ever contested in an election before, and none of whom you had never heard or seen before.

PM Lee had said that he would try to make them forfeit their electoral deposits (meaning that he would try to win by more than 87.5%, if I recall the electoral rules correctly).

PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng had also gone on record saying that a good mandate for PM Lee in AMK GRC would be a percentage at least in the high 80s (that is, possibly into the 90s).

Instead PM Lee scored only 66.1% of the votes, losing 33.9%.

In Singapore academic terms, that's like a very strong A1 student, unexpectedly floundering and just scraping through to get a B3. Very un-scholarly.

I guess I would have to say that the Workers Party strategy for AMK worked well.

The Straits Times article below has the facts, although you can see how they've angled the story to save the PM some embarrassment. For example, a more straightforward, honest title would simply have been "Surprise Results in AMK: 33.9% of Residents Vote Against PM".

ST May 7, 2006
All-round support in AMK led to win: PM
PAP team retains Ang Mo Kio GRC with 66.1% of votes, but figure is not as high as expected

By Dominic Nathan
PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night described his team's win in Ang Mo Kio GRC as being the result of very evenly spread support in the constituency.

His team secured 66.1 per cent of 146,059 valid votes cast, against the 'suicide squad' of newbies from the Workers' Party.

Speaking to reporters after the election, he said: 'I am happy with the result... From what I know, it's an evenly distributed 66 per cent throughout the constituency, the young areas from north to south, all supporting us uniformly, which means we covered the ground and collected all the votes.'

On the margin of victory, he said: 'I thank all of you for supporting me and my colleagues and my PAP team, and electing us with a strong mandate to represent you in Ang Mo Kio GRC.'

As for the young WP team's performance in getting 33.9 per cent of the votes, he said: 'Well, they have been around, made one or two speeches. I think they had one rally in Ang Mo Kio, but that means the percentages really reflect the logo of the WP more than the individuals.'

In the PM's team were Dr Balaji Sadasivan, 50, Senior Minister of State; Mr Inderjit Singh, 45, businessman; Mr Wee Siew Kim, 45, deputy chief executive officer; Ms Lee Bee Wah, 45, engineer; and Dr Lam Pin Min, 36, doctor.

Adding his congratulations to the team was the leader of the losing WP slate, 30-year-old business analyst Yaw Shin Leong, who called on constituents in Ang Mo Kio and all Singaporeans to rally around the PM, with his victory.

His teammates were Ms Glenda Han, 30, businesswoman; Mr Abdul Salim Harun, 24, sales coordinator; Mr Gopal Krishnan, 54, maintenance inspector; Ms Lee Wai Leng, 26, businesswoman; and Mr Melvin Tan, 31, sales executive.

This election is PM Lee's third contest. In 1984, the year he entered politics, he stood in single-seat Teck Ghee, where he trounced United People's Front's Giam Lai Cheng with 80.4 per cent of the votes. In 1988, he polled 79.1 per cent against independent candidate Patrick Leong.

But since the formation of Ang Mo Kio GRC in 1991, with Teck Ghee as one of its wards, the constituency had never been contested - until now. Expectations of a big win were high.

PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng had said a good mandate would be a percentage at least in the high 80s, while analysts such as Mr Ho Khai Leong pegged it at 70 to 75 per cent of the valid votes.

Mr Inderjit Singh offered The Sunday Times an explanation for what he saw was a slightly lower than expected margin of victory - the James Gomez affair.

'The James Gomez issue might have affected us a little... with votes against the leaders and myself for bringing the issue up.'

But there were no regrets, he added. 'No, I think I had to do what is right, so we move on from here.'

Before the James Gomez affair hogged the headlines, much was made of the WP team who were sent in 'prepared to lose', but they came away having succeeded in denying the PAP more than 80 per cent of the votes, a target set for themselves.

On achieving this, Mr Yaw said: 'It is a significant percentage because one in three constituents and residents in Ang Mo Kio have voiced themselves out in a loud and clear manner, that the PAP have not done enough to make the life of Singaporeans better.'

Over the nine days of campaigning, the WP team had brought up rising costs, selective upgrading, and more help for small and medium enterprises, among other issues.

But with almost 80 per cent of the eligible blocks having been upgraded under various plans, with new features such as talking lifts, covered walkways and landscaped spaces, upgrading was not an issue in the GRC.

Did the young WP team help sway young voters?

Both PM Lee and teammate Mr Wee did not think so, going by the spread of votes the PAP won in younger areas such as Fernvale, Anchorvale and Sengkang.

Said PM Lee: 'In fact, it was higher than 66 per cent in some areas, so we are very happy.'

Mr Wee said this was a bellwether for how younger voters will decide. PM Lee added there were first-time voters in these new estates, and this signalled that the PAP had struck a chord with young voters too.

But on a broader national level, WP's Mr Melvin Tan believes the opposition too has won over young voters. He said: 'We have done well and secured a decent margin. Another thing we hope to have achieved is to have opened a path for better youths and more youths to take up political roles in Singapore.'

The broad-based win also means the legacy of the now-defunct Cheng San GRC was not a factor in this election.

The WP had contested the ward to give Cheng San voters, who gave the WP strong support during the 1997 General Election, a chance to vote.

For the winning team, the work has just started, said the PAP team members at the Woodlands Stadium last night.

Said Mr Inderjit: 'We have promised our residents many things. Our job for the next five years is to execute those plans.'

For the WP team, all five of the young guns said they were not going to disappear from politics.

The oldest member of the team at 54, Mr Gopal Krishnan had shared his experience in campaigning with the young team.

He said: 'I think that our style of campaigning and reaching out to the people have brought in the results. We have worked very hard and covered most estates, and the results show that people want us.'

05 May 2006

"Mr Wang, I Think I Might Be Messing Up ..."

"... please help me."

Dear Mr Lee

Oh, very well. Bear in mind, though, that this is just Mr Wang's advice. It's just Mr Wang's point of view - you may or may not agree with it - that's entirely up to you.

Firstly, Mr Lee, I think you have a bit of an insecurity problem. That's understandable. That's very human. After all, it's your very first term as PM, and for decades, your father had been a most impressive PM himself. So you feel like you're still in his shadow, never quite able to step out and be your own man.

Furthermore, there was your immediate predecessor Mr Goh. He was supposed to warm the seat for you. Instead Mr Goh became PM for 10 long years, a formidable figure in his own right despite the lack of Lee genes. Worse, Goh even proved himself to be immensely popular with the people.

So now you're feeling insecure. You feel you have so much to prove. Well, as I said, that's only human. Where I think you may have gone wrong is that you let your insecurity get the better of you. You made a few moves that were perhaps not very clever, strategically speaking.

For example, you made bold, public proclamations that you were out to win all 84 seats in Parliament. You were out to prove yourself. You were out to surpass your father and Goh Chok Tong, in one fell swoop. You wanted to be the leader that the nation, the entire nation, voted for!

This, I think, was a misjudgment on your part. Seriously, Mr Lee, what does winning 84 out of 84 seats really do for you? You're like the boy who can score 9 A1s, but tells everyone that he will settle for nothing less than 10 A1s. Does the boy really need that tenth A1? Of course not - nine is enough to show the world that he's very clever.

But when you go out there and tell the world, "I'm going to score 10 A1s!", well, you set yourself up for failure. Because now, if you score only 9 A1s, it will look like a failure to the world - even though it isn't.

And let's say that you do get 84 out of 84 seats in Parliament, well, well, Mr Lee. Will that help your insecurity? You only improved on Goh's score by two seats. That's like beating someone by slightly more than 2 little marks in a maths examination. If you were insecure before that, then winning by 2 little marks won't be enough to cure your insecurity either.

I hear you ask - "Oh, Mr Wang, how can I prove myself then?". Well, frankly, Mr Lee, I think it's going to be very difficult as long as your father is alive and kicking. And frankly, it may still be difficult even when he's no longer alive and kicking. But I said "difficult", not "impossible". So allow Mr Wang to share a few ideas with you.

Firstly, I don't think that elections are the right place to prove yourself. Your term as PM is the right place to prove yourself. In the big picture of things, the 9 days of campaigning are not important. The next five years of your term as PM - now that's important. Perform well, do the right things and the people will stand behind you.

Secondly, have your own vision - not your father's - lead Singapore in your direction. Not his. When you build a different Singapore from what your father would have built, and when you make your own different Singapore work, that's when you will step out of your father's shadow. (By the way, what happened to your promise of an open society?)

Thirdly, be brave. Believe in yourself. Have faith. Focus on what's important and achieve great things, instead of pouncing on imagined enemies in every corner. If you, as PM, achieve great things for Singapore, those great things will speak for themselves. No need to destroy all the Francis Seow's, Tang Liang Hong's, JB Jeyaretnam's, Chee Soon Juan's and James Gomezes in the world. If truly they are fools and idiots, then they will expose themselves. If they are not, then they are not, and their contributions matter too.

Fourth, stop dumbing down to the people. Some of us are stupid, but many of us are not. When you dumb down the issues and dress up the facts, you only make it sooooooo easy for people like Mr Wang to poke fun at you and tear your speeches and announcements into little pieces. Mr Wang knows that you are really not that stupid. So stop giving me the opportunities. Tell the truth to the people, even when it's hard. That's the only way they'll ever really come to trust you.

Fifth, don't forget the little man. Don't forget the old and poor. Don't forget the Normal Stream kids, the ex-convict trying to put his life back together, the old ah ma still washing public toilets, the single mum who can't apply for a HDB flat, the 70-year-old man trapped in his Potong Pasir flat because you won't build a lift for him to get down. And don't just remember them every five years.

Whatever happens tomorrow, Mr Wang wishes you all the best in life. Because good karma is more than just a set of poll results.

Yours sincerely
Mr Wang

Conversations on Democracy

This evening Mr Wang was chatting with Mary, his Filipina maid. Mr Wang told her that tomorrow was Voting Day for Singapore. She asked Mr Wang which party he was going to vote for. He said that he wouldn't be voting, because his constituency (Marine Parade GRC) was a walkover.

Mary stared at Mr Wang, confused. "What do you mean, walkover?"

"You know, walkover," Mr Wang said. "It means that there's only one party who put themselves forward for this area. So they win automatically."

She stared at him, even more confused. "But you said that this is an election, right? How can there be a walkover?"

"Oh, it's quite common in Singapore," Mr Wang said. "It happens all the time."

"So they win, just like that?"


She had a somewhat shocked, disgusted look on her face. "In the Philippines, even if you live on one of the little islands, there will be elections. I mean, real elections, with the villagers voting," she said. "I thought that happens everywhere."

Everywhere, dear Mary, except here. Singapore is a funny little country - sometimes even Mr Wang forgets how funny it is.

"No, we do NOT agree that your lift upgrading threats are ethical."
- Bontoc Igorrote women, Philippines

04 May 2006

Elections, Elections

Hello. My name is Mr Wang. Are you here because you heard that I write very interesting opinions on politics in Singapore? Sorry, I have nothing new for you today. But you might want to check out my older posts:

1. In 2004, Lee Hsien Loong became PM and promised to make Singapore an open society. Did he succeed, fail or simply change his mind? You decide.

2. The PAP says that the Workers Party want to plant time bombs that will "tear Singapore apart". But do you want to know what might really change the way our government operates and shut Parliament down for good?

3. The PAP wants your vote. Really? Depending on who you are and where you live, perhaps they would prefer that you don't get to vote at all.

4. Will voting for the Opposition really chase foreign investors away? Hmmm. Why don't we ask a billion-dollar foreign investor to tell us.

5. What does Osama bin Laden have in common with the Opposition candidates in Singapore? Check it out.

6. Recently MM Lee Kuan Yew was not very happy with some young Singaporeans whom he described as the "radical English-educated young". But would you like to meet the "radical English-educated old"?

7. PM Lee recently described a certain dead man as a founding father of Singapore. But what did this founding father really think about the PAP, the Opposition and politics in Singapore?

8. Singapore has a powerful strategy to fight corruption in our government and keep it clean. Why doesn't President George Bush use this method in the United States?

9. You'd rather read the Straits Times than Mr Wang's blog, because Mr Wang is a faceless blogger and faceless bloggers shouldn't be trusted. But what if you found out that sometimes the Straits Times writes almost exactly like Mr Wang?.

All said and done, Mr Wang urges you not to forget the PAP's many achievements over the years, which you all already know about. After all, Singapore is world-best, world-class and excellent in so many things. The people of Singapore should not ignore all that. Mr Wang simply encourages everyone to think more deeply about all the issues, and vote wisely.

02 May 2006

Oh, Really?

Business Times - 02 May 2006
Two mega oil projects hinge on polls: PM
He urges voters to send the right signal as political risks will count in Shell, ExxonMobil's decisions

(SINGAPORE) At least two multi-billion dollar oil projects are at stake in this general election, according to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - in addition to all the other issues.

Shell and ExxonMobil are separately considering whether to go ahead and pump billions of dollars in new steam crackers - and their decision will ride on how this election pans out, he said yesterday at the NTUC May Day Rally.

'You can be sure they are watching very carefully this general election to decide whether to proceed with their project,' he said. 'They are due to do so within the next year or so, so I think we better send them the right signal, don't take any chances.'

Mr Lee said it's not just financial projections the oil giants ponder when deciding on the projects.

'They (also) look at the political risks: What kind of country is it, what kind of government does it have, what kind of unions does it have, what do the workers do, will we have a problem?'

Shell and ExxonMobil have sunk billions of dollars here because they know Singapore is safe, he said. 'But before they put in more billions, they will watch to see whether Singapore is going to continue to be safe, whether the new generation, new PM, new team, new Singaporeans will be as safe as the old generation or team.'

Let's take a closer look at what PM Lee said:
"Two mega oil projects hinge on polls."

"You can be sure they are watching very carefully this general election to decide whether to proceed with their project ...."

"They (also) look at the political risks: What kind of country is it, what kind of government does it have, what kind of unions does it have, what do the workers do, will we have a problem?"
But what is really on Shell's mind when it thinks about the possible new cracker on Jurong Island? What factors would really make Shell consider Singapore in a favourable or unfavourable light?

Let's ask Shell itself. Mr Harshad Topiwala, Shell's General Manager for the Asia-Pacific/Middle East region, is quite happy to tell us all about it. Mr Topiwala mentions factors such as:

(1) the growing need for a new cracker in this part of the world, due to Asia's growing market for petrochemical derivatives

(2) the impact of a new Singapore cracker on other Shell investments, including the Daya Bay (Nanhai) complex currently under construction in China

(3) the reduced capital expenditure and fixed costs, due to the fact that Shell already has existing infrastructure on Jurong Island that they can add to and build on

(4) the proximity to customers in key growth markets (presumably countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and China)

(5) the technological ability of the new cracker to handle a whole range of heavy liquids, thereby enabling Shell to produce a wider range of products.
Funny. Mr Topiwala doesn't mention the phrase "political risks" at all. He didn't even mention "political stability". He didn't say anything about "unions" or even "workers".

Mr Topiwala didn't say that Shell's oil project decision "hinges on the polls" or that Shell would want to "watch the polls very carefully". He also didn't say anything about the new PM and the "new Singaporeans" being as safe or not as safe as the old PM and the "old Singaporeans".

In fact, it's interesting to note that Topiwala's considerations (as listed by me above (1) to (5)) are quite completely disconnected with election results in Singapore.

For example, whether the PAP wins 65 seats or 75 seats or 84 seats in Parliament simply does not affect:
(1) how quickly Asia's market for petrochemical derivatives will grow;

(2) how the new Singapore cracker would affect Shell's Daya Bay (Nanhai) complex in China;

(3) the savings to be gained from Shell's existing infrastructure on Jurong Island;

(4) Singapore's geographical proximity to customers in key growth markets;

(5) the technological ability of the new cracker to handle a whole range of heavy liquids.
Strange, isn't it? How come PM Lee is so mistaken about what's on Shell's mind? Maybe he needs to meet Mr Topiwala for a cup of tea.

01 May 2006


I didn't read the Straits Times today. I won't bother. I could be wrong, but I'm fairly confident that the Straits Times wouldn't have reported what I wanted to write about in this post.

This picture was taken by the blogger known as Yawning Bread at a Workers' Party election rally. Might this be the biggest election rally in Singapore's history?

Click on picture to see bigger image.

Yawning Bread adds that the actual crowd was even larger than that. His camera lens wasn't wide enough to capture everything. If I were the PAP, I think now is the appropriate time to start quaking in my boots - at least in Hougang.

Go to Yawning Bread's blog for the full story.

And remember - tell your friends too. This is news that they won't get from the mainstream media.