I CAN’T AGREE MORE!
What happens when politics becomes a stepping stone to riches?*
Published on 2018-07-13 by The Online Citizen by Augustine Low
Singapore stands alone on the global stage as a country which rewards its politicians and top civil servants so handsomely that it becomes a stepping stone to riches.
If money could buy passion and commitment and proficiency, wouldn’t every country on earth follow the Singapore model?
The hard truth is that money alone cannot be a substitute for that genuine call to service and to do greater good for the country, which comes naturally only to some.
One of Switzerland’s top civil servants, the Attorney-General leading investigations into 1MDB, is an example of someone who eschews greed for that higher calling. Mr Michael Lauber, who met Malaysia’s new Attorney-General, Tommy Thomas recently, said he was impressed: “What we need is good governance, the right people who can resist greed. When I met my counterpart, I saw his will – he is also very down to earth, it’s a very, very good start.”
After seven years on the job, the Swiss Attorney-General said he was still full of energy, and has modest means and aspirations: “I have a small apartment in Zurich where I live, I have no car, no bicycle, not even a boat. All I have is what you see on me, that’s it.”
He is a man with a passion and a purpose, and motivated for selfless reasons.
The danger of turning politics from a calling into a multi-million dollar profession (like what has happened in Singapore) is that we could end up attracting people without the passion to serve.
Do you get the sense that the cries of Singaporeans are increasingly not being heard?
For instance, no matter what the people say about the proposed GST hike, it looks like it’s going ahead for sure. So much for the pledge to listen with humility and respect. They have already reiterated time and again the need for a hike, brushing aside all arguments against it.
Even the most facetious reasons are being given, like the fact that the GST hike needs to be supported so that “our elderly population can be well taken care of.”
That call, by the way, came from the wife of the Prime Minister, whose own salary at Temasek is kept tightly under wraps. Do you get the sense that they are in an ivory tower, with no inkling of the real needs and struggles of the people?
When Minister Chan Chun Sing starts giving his usual motherhood spin this week in Parliament about cost of living being a “multi-dimensional issue,” and amounting to a gap between people’s aspirations and their ability to fulfil them, you know that either he just doesn’t get it or he tries to turn something simple into something incomprehensible.
The bottom line is, something is just not right when politics is no more seen as a calling but as just an extravagantly paid profession. The most pitiful part is that in our country, we just do not know anymore whether the men and women are doing it for the right reasons.
Former head of the Civil Service, Mr Ngiam Tong Dow said in an interview, In the early days, Lim Kim San and Goh Keng Swee worked night and day, and they were truly dedicated. I don’t know whether Lee Kuan Yew will agree but it started going downhill when we started to raise ministers’ salaries, not even pegging them to the national salary but aligning them with the top ten.
When you raise ministers’ salaries to the point that they’re earning millions of dollar, every minister – no matter how much he wants to turn up and tell Hsien Loong off or whatever – will hesitate when he thinks of his million-dollar salary. Even if he wants to do it, his wife will stop him.
Lim Kim San used to tell me, “Ngiam, if you want to leave your job, make sure you have enough walkaway money.”
When the salary is so high, which minister dares to leave, unless they decide to become the opposition party? As a result, the entire political arena has become a civil service, and I don’t see anyone speaking up anymore
A member of the public, Paul Chan Poh Hoi, wrote to ST Forum on Thu (18 Jul) arguing that profitability should not be main concern for the rail operators in Singapore.
Given the “public” nature of public transport, a rail system should be measured by its ability to serve the people, and not its ability to generate additional wealth for the operators of state-owned assets, Mr Chan said.
“It is the fiduciary duty of public transport operators to plan for adequate preventive maintenance and remedial work, failing which costs are covered by the public purse, as with recent projects and rolling stock procurement,” he added.
Mr Chan also noted that in 2016, the Hong Kong MTR achieved a high score of 124 per cent and Tokyo Metro 119 per cent, while SMRT only achieved 101 per cent (2017). Obviously, the Hong Kong MTR and Tokyo Metro operate their rail system much better than Singapore does.
In any case, Mr Chan wants the rail operators not to raise fares, “It would be unwise to raise fares until the economic situation recovers. If rail operators cannot get by without a few dollars more, neither can commuters.”
The Transport Ministry quickly responded to Mr Chan’s letter today (20 Jul) “assuring” that profitability of rail operations is, indeed, not the main concern.
Senior Director of Corporate Communications at the Ministry of Transport, Christine Yap, said, “We agree with Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi that profitability should not be the main concern for rail operators. Their primary objective is to provide a safe and reliable MRT service.”
“But if they keep incurring losses because revenue does not fully cover operating cost, they will not be able to deliver safe and reliable services,” she added with a qualification.
With regard to Mr Chan’s view that Hong Kong and Tokyo metros as possible financing models for Singapore, Senior Director Christine Yap said, “They are indeed good operators with healthy bottom lines and they run their trains well. They also charge fares which are significantly higher than in Singapore.”
According to a recent OCBC’s Financial Wellness Index survey, the majority of working adults in Singapore are financially unprepared for retirement (‘Most working adults not financially ready for retirement‘, 16 Jul).
The survey polled 2,000 working adults in Singapore between the ages of 21 to 65, asking about the state of their financial health.
In particular, half of those among the sandwiched generation – people who are supporting both ageing parents and their own children at the same time – struggle to cope, with significantly greater worries about their financial status.
The study also found that Singaporeans save an average of 26 per cent of their salary, with 82 per cent who proactively have insurance coverage. About a third do not invest and think of investing as a form of gambling, while almost half have no passive income. Passive income refers to income from rental, dividends, interest income, royalties, payout from annuities and so on.
Most are not well-prepared for retirement, the study said. Almost three-quarters are not on track with their retirement plans. Some 65 per cent said they are not accumulating enough funds to maintain their lifestyle after retirement.
In particular, the sandwiched generation was found to have more financial worries compared to the rest, with half of them finding it tough to support both their parents and children at the same time. Out of the half who find it difficult, some 63 per cent are concerned that they are not able to spend comfortably beyond the basics.
Interestingly, respondents’ ideal retirement age went up with age. Among those in the 20s age group, the average age that they want to retire is 56. In contrast, people who are 55 and older wish to retire at 67.
The government is looking to increase the age of retirement and re-employment age which is currently at 62 and 67 respectively in light of the increasing average life expectancy of the Singapore population.
Actually, everything she says here can be easily dispelled when you look at the developments in other high-income democracies.
What the PAP doesn’t tell you and what they have failed in their thinking to see, is that, when there is greater equality, and when everyone are given the same resources to excel, society as a whole is uplifted and becomes richer for it. They will be shared prosperity – as a Norwegian friend told me, everyone in Norway is rich, because the wealth is shared.
Meanwhile, Singapore still uses this cutthroat model where if I don’t get ahead, you will steal my lunch, so I need to cannibalize you so I can get ahead – all these Singapore’s prime minister wrongly advocates.
No, when there is greater equality, I will support you to get ahead, you will support me to get ahead, and when we put our heads together, we can develop even better solutions, create more developments and benefit from them – together.
Fact is, Singapore is earning enough for everyone to become rich, but it is this failed thinking by the PAP elites where the wealth needs to accrue to the top that has enabled them to get richer and richer, all these at the expense of taking away from the lower- and middle-income who have to contend with stagnant wages.
This is wrong. When you change your mindset and realize that if I don’t take away everything from the people, and when I share, not only when everyone get richer, because they prosper, the economy prosper, I can get even richer precisely because we keep pushing ahead together.
But today, in their fear of losing what they have, the PAP believes in rewarding themselves more, believing that only they have the best brains to keep things moving.
Well, it’s no longer working, so the question is, when are we all going to wake up and realize that we need a model of shared wealth and prosperity, so that the country can truly move forward, so that we can have a country we can truly be proud of, because we made it happen.
You need to make it happen.
I was in Hong Kong and was interviewed by a journalist from an Asian Finance magazine, about Hyflux. Here is a summary of some of the points I talked about: – Leong Sze Hian, past president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals commented – Hyflux would have done the cashflow projections when the $500 million perpetual securities were offered to the public in May 2016, and these would have been given to the issuers. What does the issuer’s internal analyst report say? In this connection – “Issuers and their advisers must bear full responsibility for ensuring adequate and accurate disclosures, and will be subject to civil and criminal liabilities for false or misleading statements in or omissions from a prospectus. ” – SECURITIES AND FUTURES ACT (CHAPTER 289) FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS”.
Its profits had collapsed from less than $10 million in 2016 to a loss of $116 million in 2017. and $1.1 billion for the first three quarters of 2018.
According to DrWealth – “Negative Free Cash Flow destroying Hyflux’s financial strength since 2013.￼Hyflux paying 1 time its net income in 2013. 1.4 times its net income in 2014. And a staggering 4.9 times its net income in 2015. This precipitated the crash.”
The auditors signed off on the 2017 annual report on 22 March 2018, and about two months later – Hyflux announced the suspension of the trading of its shares and securities.
Over the last eight years, the earnings per share showed a steady downward trend after 2012, before turning negative in 2016. Even in 2016 when Hyflux reported record revenues, profits were rather modest — in fact, they exhibited a decline over the years prior to 2016 (source: Channel NewsAsia, Mar 8, 2019).
According to professor Loh of NUS – their Risk Management Committee only met once in the year of 2017, which in my view is arguably, quite unacceptable given the size of its debt and gearing.
This is the biggest financial loss (about 50,000 investors lost an estimated $1.4 billion). We must get to the bottom of “why and how it happened” – so that it will never happen again.
Where was the media all these years? Is it any wonder why our Press Freedom Ranking is at 151st?
As to “But the plant has had operational issues since early 2017, and Hyflux lacked the funds to resolve these issues. It has been unable to replace poor-performing membranes in its ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis systems promptly, which affected the quantity and quality of the water produced. It has also failed to supply PUB with 70 mgd of desalinated water on numerous occasions.
Mr Koh, speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, said: “Membranes replacement is necessary to ensure that plant capacity remains at designed capacity… Certain membranes need to be cleaned regularly. If not maintained, their performance will deteriorate faster… The default was that the concession company was unable to deliver the required capacity when needed.” He declined to give details of the production shortfall” (source: Straits Times, May 21) – were the various parties involved aware of this eventuality when the perpetual securities were offered in 2016?
Implicit and explicit ideology: LKY pride that they are pragmatic and not ideological. Not so. The PAP is highly ideological. What is ideology? Ideology is a basic belief which governs one’s thought and action. LKY and the PAP ideology is as follows:
1. No handouts. It will destroy work ethic. Tough is good. Soft is bad.
2. Elitism is good. Elites are selected through academic exam results. Elites are rich.
3. The poor are poor because they are stupid and or lazy.
4. The rich are smart. They can be relied upon.
5. If you are not for us you are against us. Loyalty equals reliability.
6. Progress is through westernisation.
7. People are digits. Different cultures produce hard or soft digits. East asians are hard digits.
8. Singapore is surrounded by potential enemies. Eat us you die. We must become a poisonous shrimp.
9. Only the best brains must run the country. If you are not selected its because you are not smart. Only smart people can be loyal to power.
10. It is smart to be stingy. To be generous is not smart.
11.It is smart to be fearful. It is stupid to take risks.
12.Never do what has not been done before. Better to copy than to invent.
A Finance minister who cannot do it’s sums dun deserve the job. Let me give you an example. Macdonald’s manufacturers hamburgers and it’s burgers contain bread and beef as it’s main ingredients. The supplier of bread which is a million dollar company collects 7% GST, same as th producer of beef which collects another 7%, when Macdonald’s sells you the burger, it will charge you another 7%, but will it take away the 7% tax paid by it’s 2 other suppliers? No, everything is lumped into the cost, so is this double taxation? In extreme case if your supply chain is large you may be paying higher than 14% tax, that is why the cost of living in Singapore is the highest in the world. I rather you collect a Sales Tax on luxury goods and raise it to 10%, rather imposed tax on essential items, if you already know the truth Singapore is actually collecting billions in indirect taxes. Sorry we are not draft and stupid. Contributed by Oogle.
The Ministry of Finance has countered a student’s view that the impending Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike will increase the cost of consumer goods and further disadvantage those who earn lower incomes.
During his Budget speech last year, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the GST will increase by two per cent. This tax hike will raise the GST from the current seven per cent to nine per cent and will be implemented sometime between 2021 and 2025, in a progressive way.
21-year-old Marcus Aw Chen Feng, an undergraduate student, has asserted that the impending GST hike can “negatively affect economic growth” and further disadvantage the needy.
In a forum letter published by the Straits Times last Monday (8 July), Marcus said that the GST hike would result in higher prices for consumer goods and necessities and impact the spending power of lower-income Singaporeans, leaving them with less disposable income to meet other expenses.
Marcus also highlighted that higher taxes can deter foreign firms from investing in Singapore, causing them to cut back on jobs.
The first-year student, instead, suggested that the Government could implement progressive taxes – where the rich are taxed instead of the poor – to better combat inequality.
In response to Marcus’ letter, MOF’s director of Corporate Communications Lim Yuin Chien asserted that the GST that is collected will “support public spending that benefits Singaporeans.”
In his own forum letter published by the Straits Times, Lim reiterated Minister Heng’s reasons for the GST hike – that it is necessary to support rising expenditure in caring for an ageing population, keeping Singapore safe from security threats, and investing in early childhood education.
The MOF representative added that the Government will “fully absorb GST on subsidised education and subsidised healthcare” for lower-income households and will continue implementing the GST Voucher Scheme“to defray costs for lower-income households and seniors.”
Asserting that the Government has implemented some forms of progressive taxing like the increase in personal income tax rate for high-income and the increase in stamp duties for those who buy high-value residences, he added: “Lower-income households receive more transfers from the Government than all the taxes they pay, while the better-off pay more taxes than the transfers they receive.”
2015 was also the same year that the nation’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew passed on. Political observers speculated at the time that the Government called a General Election earlier than expected during the last cycle, to capitalise on the wave of goodwill that poured forth after the political leader’s passing.
The General Election before that, was preceded by Budget 2011, in which the Government distributed S$1.5 billion worth of “growth dividends” to Singaporeans. 80 per cent of citizens received S$500 to S$700 each that year.
With the trend of one-off cash bonuses preceding General Elections in recent years, it may come as no surprise to some if the next election is called as soon as 2019 or early 2020. If this happens, the people will be hit with the tax hike two years into the new government’s term. -/TISG