Friday, December 16, 2005

Freedom is NOT FREE

Freedom is NOT FREE

Most of the time, people take for granted many little important but seemingly "insignificant" things around them. This complacency is especially glaring in the midst of the great debate over the insignificant fine over NS defaulters. Those who have not gone through National Service have such a "no big deal" attitude, so much so to the extent of belittling the whole process.

Our Freedom as a Nation depends on the many sacrifices of many people in the National Service and regular arm forces. The issue of the NS defaulter's case is not about dollars and cents but rather the insult to those who have made sacrifices to grant us the Freedom and Sovereignty as a Nation. It is of course partly the case of emotional imbalance but it is also the values we are cultivating in the process.

Similarly, people are taking their freedom in our democracy for granted. In many occasions, there are people would approach me and say WP should contest in this and that constituencies. I could only smile at them. I ask them, are they willing and prepared to come forward to contest in those constituencies themselves? If not, are they willing to fork out money to sponsor such teams, with their name and I/C numbers stated beside the amount of money they have donated to the party? By then, they would have been speechless. If not, are they willing to come forward to help out on the background, even without the need to sign up party membership? They would say no time, too busy.

It is interesting to note that some people have always asked us about why they have to pay for our Hammer publication or pay for our manifesto. Freedom is not FREE my friend! There are already so many people making sacrifices to provide you the choice and your right to vote, what else could you ask for? Yes, by all means, if you could ill afford to pay for our publication, you could well "opt out" of the purchase. We could understand that, as many Singaporeans have either lose their jobs or taken hefty pay cuts in one way or another.

Our existence as an alternative political party is meaningful to each and every Singaporeans as it is a way to manifest the Power of the People: When you have a choice, you will have the Bargaining Power. But this platform is shouldered on by many people's sacrifices, in terms of effort, time, opportunities, family life, monetary contributions and many other forms. On top of all these, there is the important element of "risk".

One of my friend (just call him Alex for convenience sake) paid me a visit one day and we have dinner together. Alex is a typical middle class professional who is well educated and has a wonderful family. Our conversation naturally ended up with the concerns expressed on my involvement in "the risky business" of non-PAP politics.

Alex, being a good friend of mine, has always shown concerns about my involvement in "opposition" politics. First there is a question of "needs". Second, there is a question of worthy sacrifices one has to make. Third, the necessity of risking myself and most importantly, exposing my family to possible hardship just because I "go against PAP". I have asked a typical question that is always the talk of the town, "Have you thought of emigration out of Singapore before?" He said "No". I asked again, "Then your children will be living in Singapore?" "Yes", he replied. I said, "Do you think Singapore's present environment is good for your kids?" "Yes....." he hesitated. "The fact that you are concerned about I getting into trouble by merely taking part in the democratic political process, isn't that an unhealthy mindset behind it?" Paused.

I put it simply to him that if I am going to stay in Singapore and have my children live in it, I won't want my children to live in this very FEAR that almost every Singaporeans are experiencing. It would be totally irresponsible for me to subject my children to this exposure. Thus, this is the primary need to change the situation we have now for the sake of our children....not only mine, his children as well, all future generations of Singapore. I could choose not to do anything to it for the FEAR of the repercussions but who is going to make sure my children and future generations to have a better environment OUT OF FEAR?

Someone has to take the risks and sacrifices to make things better. Imagine that if our forefathers have chosen to keep quiet and stay tame in front of the colonial rulers, would we ever evolve into a Nation today? Many have sacrificed their money, time, blood and even lives for what we have right now. If we know that the present country that we have now is less than desirable or fall short of our basic expectation of a truly democratic country with true FREEDOM (from that erratic FEAR) for ourselves and our children, why wouldn't we change it, just like what our forefathers have chosen to make sacrifices to change their environment for us back then?

Yes, FREEDOM IS NOT FREE. And most importantly, FREEDOM has the element of free ridership in it. Everyone may want it, but all waiting for someone to get it for them.

I do not want my children to be caged by the very same FEAR that have arrested many Singaporeans' mind for decades. Most probably, the only most valuable gift I could give them is to fight for their liberation from this cage of Fear.

Are all these little sacrifices worthy? Freedom is priceless, though it is Not Free.

Goh Meng Seng

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Value Of Citizenship

Value of Citizenship II ---- Voting Rights

One of the fundamental rights that constitute our value of citizenship lies in our voting rights. If we trace the political development of Singapore, this very basic right of a citizen in a supposedly democratic country has slowly diminished when the PAP government has started to introduce the GRC system back in 1988 General Elections.

PAP used the reasoning of racial representation to rationalize the need of the GRC system but most people know that they were just using the GRC to curb and prevent the drastic drop of support for it to materialize into more seats won by the opposition parties. In short, it is a game of large numbers, led by a ?heavy weight? minister.

If GRC system is really for the sake of ?racial representation?, there are many other means of doing it. In fact, by increasing the number of seats of GRC from 3 or 4, to 5 or 6 would actually reduce the proportionate representation (note, in Singapore, minority races make up of about 25% of total population). We could declare a proportionate number of constituencies to be contested by minority candidates only, without the need of grouping the constituencies together as a big GRC!

The rational that minority candidates may not be elected into parliament if they stood alone in a constituency is totally flawed. Workers? Party secretary general JBJ has won in 1981 by-election and again in 1984 GE even when he is a minority candidate contesting against PAP Chinese candidates! PAP?s own minority candidates have won many electoral battles in the past before single handedly!

Due to the GRC system together with increased election deposits demanded from potential candidates, participation of opposition parties in 1991, 1997 and 2001 GEs have decreased dramatically. This reduced of political participation translated into massive walkovers for PAP. Thus many of us would feel that PAP?s claim of ?Party of Choice? is totally absurd because in actual fact, they are the ?Party of NO Choice? or rather, ?Party of DEFAULT Choice!

It would also mean that over half of Singaporeans have eventually lost their right to vote TECHNICALLY. This has grave effects on the development of Nationhood as well as political apathy. This is, in essence, an erosion of our Value of Citizenship as a whole.

In my post on Power To The People ( ), I have stated that the only way to preserve and enhance the people?s power is to protect their right to vote and having a choice in the political system. This is important as such bargaining power derived from alternative choices would serve as the basis to protect their benefits and get better deals out of the political system. This is in fact the most important Value of Citizenship so to speak.

It is time for all Singaporeans to ponder over this important aspect of our value of citizenship while we keep protesting about the light punishment over NS defaulters.

Goh Meng Seng

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Value of Citizenship ---- $5000?

The Value of Citizenship ---- $5000?

The recent STORM of a pianist Melvyn Tan getting off the hook of NS liability simply by paying a mere fine of $5000 is flooding internet forums fast.

On my personal side, as an infantry logistic officer, I really do not know how would I face my men when I go back to my next ICT! Although I think the primary problem lies with the Value of Citizenship, but the $5000 fine is really an insult to the many sacrifices made by many NS men all over Singapore. This incident will surely affect the morale of all military men (being current soldiers or reservists) in Singapore. An army with low morale is an army doomed to lose a war.

Ultimately, I think the root problem lies with the value of our citizenship. This is especially critical in the face of huge army of foreign workers competing for jobs in Singapore?s small market.

The recent moves by PAP government in increasing polyclinic fees for PRs and foreign workers are targeted to arrest this growing perception that there is no value in our citizenship. Foreign students are only paying 10% more fees than local students in universities, despite the fact that they have serve 2 years of National Service.

This growing subtle discontent of Singaporeans have suddenly exploded in the face of this ?outrageous? ?exception? made for Melvyn Tan.

People are venting anger at Melvyn Tan (one who has decided to quit Singapore in his early life but chose to come back 30 years later) but I say, they should instead look at the issue with cool logic. The problem lies with the very low esteem and value of our citizenship.

How would one feel if the NS policy states that for all of those who have completed NS and serving reservist, they will be fully subsidized for their medical bills? This is turning NS from a liability to each individual into an asset to those who have served them!

Thus, to me, the question doesn?t lie in how severe the punishment has been meted out to people like Melvyn Tan, but rather, what is our INTRINSIC value of our citizenship!

Besides, if we could increase the value of our citizenship, there will be less people willing to emigrate out. This is a very realistic aspect of life. PAP government has tried to enhance our values of citizenship by embarking on ?asset enhancement scheme? back in the 90s but failed miserably. It has created a property bubble instead and subsequently negative assets for many people.

If PAP government has not been that ?stingy? on benefits for Singaporeans at large, I think Melvyn Tan saga would have been a non-issue.

I would encourage Singaporeans to think beyond the emotional knee jerk reactions to Melvyn Tan?s case and see clearly the root of tbe problem lies in the low value of our citizenship. And the only way to make PAP government realizes that they need to enhance the value of our citizenship is to squeeze them more via the ballot box.

The following are some of my replies and thoughts expressed in Sammyboy forum.

Dear lambaste2,

Sorry that I gave you the wrong impression.

Although this issue could "anger" alot of Singaporeans at large, but I am asking this question to form a logical conclusion.

What is the main difference between a person like him who is now no longer a Singapore citizen and do not need to serve NS or reservist and a person who gave up his citizenship?

The main mistake he made was not to surrender his citizenship "EARLIER" to avoid the NS liability. But wait, it is an offence not to heed the NS call for the 2.5 years service even when you decide to surrender your citizenship, but it is ok for Singaporean to call it quit and avoid the reservist liability half way of his life (even though he has served 2.5years)? Does it really make any difference between avoiding 2.5 years of NS as compared to possibly 10 to 15 years of reservist liability?

Take it this way, for every year of reservist liability, you have to go back for about 2 weeks each year. Thus, it would be 20 weeks for 10 years. 20 weeks is about 5 months. So it is not an offence to avoid the 5 months life long reservist liability? For officers, it would be worse as technically speaking their potential liability goes up to 55 yr old.

My point is that if we are not going to charge any individuals who avoid his potential reservist liability of 5 months when he become citizen of another country, is it consistent to charge any individuals that avoid 2.5 years of NS liability?

Of course, the law is written such a way that you could commit a crime if you avoid 2.5 years NS liability by becoming citizen of another country but not the reservist liability but is this law logical and consistent in any sense? It doesn't matter when or at what age you give up your citizenship but the fact is, you would be avoiding NS or reservist liability in doing so. But one is punishable while the other is not?

I am not making any stand here yet, if some of you want to jump the gun and accuse me of anything.

To me, it is pretty straight forward. If one would go to the extent of giving up his citizenship for whatever opportunities or monetary rewards else where just to escape NS or reservist, his heart is not with Singapore. Period. It is totally irrelevant with regards to when he gave up his citizenship.

I understand the emotional side of many of us who have gone through NS and still struggling with the every year reservist recall. You feel angry, unfair and mentally unbalanced...whatever, but we should look at this from another perspective.
The system is flawed and the law is flawed.
The value of citizenship does not lie on how severe the punishment is meted out to those who desert their service to our country. Instead, the value of citizenship depends on the benefits we enjoy as a citizen as compared to non-citizens. If one chose to give up his citizenship just because he does not want to do NS, so be it. Why need to punish him for something that he is not willing to do and willing to sacrifice his benefits as a citizen?
Thus the next question, WHAT IS THE VALUE of our citizenship? The $5000 fine is an insult to our service to our nation as NS men. It should not happen that way at all. It practically means that our life long service as NSmen (including the 2.5yrs) is worthless. Comparing to some of us in Singapore who are willing to be jailed for 3 years just because they are not willing to do carry arms, this law is totally flawed.

The value of our citizenship is how much our govt takes care of us in return. This is the social contract. I think most Singaporeans who have done NS won't be that angry if they enjoy more benefits in return for the National Service that they have done for Singapore.
This is the key and root of the problem. It all starts with the Value of Citizenship.

Goh Meng Seng

Dear mips4,

Why would one "owe" the country the obligation of National Service if he is willing to give up his citizenship? This is crux of the matter.

If there are many people who are willing to give up their citizenship just because they do not want to do NS, what does that mean?

1) This country is not WORTH their effort in defending
2) They feel that there are better options than being Singaporeans
3) He is just a whimp that is just too afraid of "hardship" in NS

Whatever the reasons, it simply means that Singapore's citizenship "WORTH NEXT TO NOTHING" in their perspective. You actually expect these people to "defend" your family in the event of war?

Fighting a war is not about having the number standing in the firing line. The strength of the soldiers' psyche normally determines the ultimate outcome.

You must always remember there is a difference in your rhetoric...yes, every citizens agree that we should do NS. But those who refused to do, have given up their citizenship and technically, they are no longer citizens.

You must also remember that it is not just $5000 that he has given up to exchange not to do NS; he has given up his citizenship as well.

I would agree that one is to complete his part in NS if he wants to be part of this nation. But that does not mean that you are "slaves" to this nation just because you are born in Singapore. If one chose not to become the citizen of this nation, you also expect him to oblige to do NS for this nation? Such logic is flawed.

Well, whatever moral authority one has over the others, the bottom line is, we must make our citizenship ATTRACTIVE enough for others to feel the WORTH to make sacrifices for it. This lies in the value of citizenship.

Goh Meng Seng

Dear techpk88,

I do agree with you totally that it is an insult to our effort in serving NS by putting a fine of $5K on him.

Thus, my personal stand is the system is flawed and inconsistant. I would say that if you want to be "fair", then one would be allowed to decide whether he wants to keep his citizenship and complete his NS or that he gives up his citizenship and thus, no need to do NS. Alot of other variables could exist. In fact, in a way, the present system gives you the option, really; you could just refuse to come back to Singapore for NS and then give up your citizenship just like what he did. On top of that, exile is imposed on these people. The system is flawed in the sense that the exile part has been breached by the simple fine of $5000. And of course, to insult us further, he is being appointed to our Arts Council. We are sending the wrong signal that you could be a quitter but at the end of the day, our country could stay "beg" your return even if you abandon the country and refused to oblige to the country's standard NS liability.

The question is, even if the govt allows people to give up their citizenship in exchange of not doing NS, how many people have the ability or could well afford to do just that? I believe that this is no easy question.

I believe this is a very emotional thing for everyone who has gone through NS, same for me. But dispelling the emotions aside, you look at the situation with cool logic, you will see where the problems lie.

A simple example: If the govt say all those who have serve NS plus reservist will enjoy more subsidies for their medical fees, will you feel as angry as you are now?

NS cum reservist right now are being considered as "liability" instead of "assets" to us. If we change them into "assets" to everyone who have gone through them, who will complain?
Thus, the root problem is here and the whole system that make NS and reservist as "liability" to us is totally flawed and inconsistent.

Goh Meng Seng

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Blogging : The New Political Frontier?

During each and every elections right from 1990s, alternative source of information on the political contests have been put online.

Independent reports on opposition rallies have been written and posted on forums and websites. These reports are a source of information alternative to local media. I was one of those who benefited from such alternative sources. I attended my very first rally in Potong Pasir back in 1991 after reading certain independent reports on opposition rallies which claimed that local media had grossly misrepresented the real situation on the ground. With an independent mind, I decided to see for myself what really happened on the ground and thus, I made my first ever trip to a political gathering. This trip is a very important step in my political awakening process in which I have confirmed the accurracy of previous alternative reports on opposition rallies.

It was also only then I realize fully the propagandus nature of local media which is skewed totally towards the ruling party PAP. From the experience of 1997 election bias reporting by local media, I decided to form a small group of local reporters when Sintercom decided to call it quit after it refused to succumb to PAP government pressure to register itself as political website. This alternative reporting organized by me was obviously drown by the full blast of biasness of local media.

Political battles are fought on various fronts but the media that projects messages to the voters is the crucial arm with strategic importance. In the past, communist and autocratic government could prolong their monopoly of power in their country with little opposition from their people basically because they could control information flow within their country. The most obvious tactic they used was control local media, shut out external foriegn media. In Singapore's context, though foreign publications are allowed to be distributed locally, but political content has been tightly controlled. The local media is also crucial for the autocratic government in social engineering and brain washing programme, so to cultivate the "political correctness" of public mindset. It is a powerful tool of political evangelism.

However, the rapid growth of the internet has somehow prevented autocratic government from effectively control information flow unless they want to be like North Korea that sacrifices their nation's growth and development just to protect its autocratic government. PAP wants to have the best of both sides; it wants the benefits of having internet but at the same time, protect its monopoly of power from the potential harm of this medium which could be used as alternative source of political information.

I suspect that they have changed strategy in recent time. They are trying to project an impression that the local media is "CREDIBLE" when it comes to coverage of political issues. That is why local media started to engage opposition parties, especially Workers' Party so to garner political trust from its readers/clients.

This could mean several things. First, it means that they realize that they could no longer play the game of total control of the media anymore else they risk losing all credibility at one go. Controlling access to alternative source of information which may be easily confirmed as credibility in contrast to the bias reporting of local media is not easy in this globalized and internet-linked world. My personal experience of "political awakening" due to consciousness of the unfair reporting is a prime example of how alternative source of information could destroy the credibility of local media almost INSTANTLY.

Secondly, the only way out for them is to change strategy. They will try to gain "political trust" by portraying themselves as "fair and just" by giving some coverage to opposition parties during "off election time". Only by doing so will prevent a total "unconscious boycott" of local media during GE by the masses and forcing them to turn to alternative sources of information from the internet. A more delicated, sophiscated and calibrated approach may be applied to gain trust from the masses and at the same time, promote the "preferred" ruling party in a more subtle ways instead of past "hard selling".

How successful are they in moulding a positive perception to local media? In the past, there are more people who are skeptical or even have total distrust of local media's political reporting especially during GE. But now, more people are "praising" or at least "admit" that the local media is "opening up". They have succeeded to gain a level of trust from the middle ground to a certain degree.

Having said that, we will not know what will happen in the coming elections. My personal belief is that a leopard will not change its spots, no matter what.

It is thus my wish that more Singaporean Bloggers will contribute to our democratic process by actively engaged in providing alternative sourcesof information and commentary in the coming General Electinos. The Monopoly of Power is derived from the Monopoly of Information flow. For the good of our future generations, we should seek democratic advancement by depriving any attempts of monopoly of power. Thus, as a socially awared citizen, what we could do is to deprive them the monopoly of information flow thus the monopoly of power by coming forward bravely to blog about the general elections.

Well, PAP government will try to "control" bloggers in this context. There are two tier strategies. First, they will try to discredit the blogsphere with whatever apparatus they have. It is in their interests to control the information flow in order to maintain their monopoly of power. But I think we will have to be brave in rejecting such scare tactics. The recent legal suits against bloggers are prime examples on how the blogsphere could be totally discredited by exposing a few "black sheeps" among the whole blogger community. This is a similar tactic they used against non-PAP parties. Each parties are different but they chose to lump them together as "Opposition Parties" for the convenient of hitting the whole group of parties that are contesting against them. What they need to do is to find fault with a few guys in these "Opposition Parties" and blow them out of proportion, to create an impression or perception that ALL in the grouping call "Opposition Parties" are just like that. They are using the same methodology against bloggers now. Bloggers at large are portrayed as "whiners", "complain king", "bo liao people", "irresponsible people", "rebellous" etc etc. For every report that they made bad about the blogsphere, they hit hard on the "credibility" of the blogsphere.

For those who are in the knowing, we know there will always be good and bad apples in the basket. For the local media and authority to systematically discredit the whole blogspere is just too skewed. It is of course self interests that make them do so... to protect their stand as the sole "credible" source of information.

The second strategy is of course using the FEAR factor. Constant demonstration that "irresponsible blogging" will get you in trouble. This subtle threat of lawsuits and criminal charges are similar to the rule of FEAR they have exerted on the "Opposition" group. What they need to do is to sue a few guys and the rest who may be interested to join non-PAP parties will think many times. This rule of FEAR is pretty effective in stiffling the growth of political participation in non-PAP politics but unfortunately, it also affect PAP's recruitment of good candidates.

We have to fight against these two strategies. The first one is easy. Promote ourselves as reponsible bloggers by action through our writings. The second one is a bit more tricky. One have to conquer his own FEAR to arrive to that enlightenment stage. One way is to have a strong belief in what you are doing is GOOD for Singapore. This Moral High Ground will be the source of your Moral Courage. The other way is to believe that you are not only doing for your own good; you are doing something that is going to benefit your future generations. We have been living in this subtle FEAR for so long in Sngapore. It would be irresponsible for us to continue to let our children and future generations to continue to live in this FEAR.

The Blogging sphere will only become a credible political front of initiating change in our country if and only if bloggers at large are willing to contribute towards the democratic process. Yes, simply by providing credible alternative views to local media, we will be contributing tremendously to our Nation's democratic progress.

James Gomez has written an interesting article on political blogging. The link is as follows:

We will be putting up links to blogs that are willing to provide alternative source of information and commentaries. If you are willing to take the crucial step towards a better Singapore for everybody and your future generations, please email me so that I could make arrangement.

Goh Meng Seng

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Election Talk

After the PAP convention held over the weekend, suddenly everyone hots up with election talk. There are few main reasons:

1) From PAP Secretary General Lee's speech, it is obvious that PAP has found all the "NEW" blood they are looking for. This is one of the main criteria for PAP to go for General Elections.

2) If you trace PAP's historic behaviour, it is obvious that it will start its "strategic maneuver" about two to three months before the actual battle, General Elections. First of all, you will see all rosy reports in the local mass media. Then goodies given out. Third, reassurance of PAP's good work and leadership. Fourth, there is always an unusual surge in ministers making speeches which "address" citizens' concerns. All in all, very "predictable".

3) You will suddenly realize that "bad news" have been minimized in local mass media. The white elephant issue and the NKF issue has disappeared from the main stream media overnight. People living in void decks and without electricity and water have suddenly disappear from the mass media.

4) There is something usual this time round. One of my friend makes an interesting observation. PAP has NEVER made "SPECIAL MENTION" or "CONCESSION" to any constituency PRIOR to General Elections campaigning. The special announcement and constant harping of the $160 million development plan in Aljunied GRC is FIRST OF ITS KIND in PAP's governing history. In view of "short memory" of human nature, no political party would want to make such "relatively big" commitment with no calculative gains in sight. This has been shown in 1997, whereby HDB upgrading was only revealed right before the impending GE. In 2001 GE, the plan of taking precinct support level into account linking to HDB upgrading was also made known during the campaigning period. Thus it is obvious that the $160 million is the "Trump Card" which is targeted specifically on Aljunied GRC would not be made without the link to the coming GE. The obvious sign is that it is linked to "5 year plan" which means, it crosses over to the next term after the GE. Unfortunately, the PAP team has been pre-empted by my slogan, "Mandate to Squeeze" and thus, in order not to reinforce this new theme of mine, they play down the "winning votes" part.

5)PAP and the media have covered almost all aspects of Workers' Party themes: People Power vs Power to the People, Party of Choice vs Having a Choice, all sorts of welfare handouts vs New Poor. A party that believes in elitism, ultra capitalism suddenly embracing social welfare needs of the citizens? Just not so long ago (during this year's budget debate), PAP has just chunk out statistical data trying to justify that there is no need of social welfare for Singaporeans! They are trying to skirt around the question of the success/failure of their economic policies but the simple fact that they are giving out social welfare (comcare or workfare) is a subtle admission that their economic policies are failing and resulting hardship on a substantially big number of our citizens! To "soften the ground", they have no choice but to start giving handouts to those bear the brunt of the present economic situation.

6) Despite the high rising oil price, PAP has resisted to raise public transport fare further. This is "illogical" as they have more reasons to raise fare right now. Why so? I would predict that fare hike would be proposed right after the coming GE.

All the signs are there. It is just a matter of HOW SOON? It could be sooner than you thought. From various sources I gather, PAP's election machinery has been oiled, election material has been prepared and ready to go. My take is that it would happen in December, first three weeks of December.

In view of the impending GE, I would urge Singaporeans to step forward to contribute to the process of democracy in our country. To make sure we have a successful, clean and just electoral process, we need citizens to come forward to volunteer themselves as polling agents. Your one day sacrifice will make a great difference to Singapore's democratic process for the benefits of our children and future generations.

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, November 07, 2005

Innovative Economy II

I was about to write the next piece on Innovative Economy and I found this article on the Nordic countries' success.

My initial interest in Thinking Economy or Innovative Economy was actually inspired by Finland's (a Nordic country) success in overcoming its economic difficulties back in early 1990s when its dependency on trade with its Russian neighbour was disrupted by USSR's disintegration.

Most people would only know Nokia in Singapore but not many people know Nokia comes from Finland. In fact, Finland's economic model is always termed as "Nokia Economy".

The following article has crafted out correctly the few aspects of an Innovative Economy. It is "socialist" in nature which helps to prevent brain drain. Secondly, it is the education system as well as REAL political consensus making structure (they have truly multi-party system) that created the necessary dynamic social atmosphere that allow creativity and innovation to take root. Third, they understand the need to maintain a good herd of local SMEs without crowding them out with Government controlled companies. Ultimately, it is the PEOPLE of the country that matters, not MNCs or just tax structures.

Of course, nothing is perfect in this world. A socialist model is open to abuses and excess.

However, the article has missed out one important crucial point, the effect of European Union. EU has provided these relatively small Nordic countries the critical mass market for their products. In Singapore's context, it is the integration of ASEAN economies that matters for us. We will need to re-adjust our foreign policies and strategies. American-centric form of economic-diplomatic strategy may not work well for us in this rapidly globalized world.

As the General Elections is coming soon, I may be busy with alot of preparation work. However, I will try to write more articles on election-related issues in the coming weeks.

Goh Meng Seng

The secret of Nordic success
The Danish model emphasises the quality of human resources, from kindergarten level to life-long learning


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THE recent World Economic Forum report on global competitiveness listed all five Nordic countries among the top 10. Finland was ranked one, Sweden three, Denmark four, Iceland seven and Norway nine.

In most countries, kindergarten is a place where parents park their children while they are at work. But in the Nordics, a wide spectrum of measures and teaching aids are used to ensure that children learn how to learn, work with themselves, with other children and with adults, and to take initiative.
This cannot be a coincidence. So what is the secret? First of all, the report demolishes the myth that high taxes and high social welfare are necessarily an impediment to growth, innovation and competitiveness: the same five countries would be in the top positions on lists of social welfare providers and high taxation.

To my mind, there are two lessons. The first is that countries like the Nordic ones - and this also applies to Singapore - cannot compete on prices and costs. Any country with high cost levels must produce something nobody else can offer. This calls for innovation, creativity and imagination. A variant of this is to offer goods and services of a higher quality and/or performance to more than compensate for price differentials vis a vis low-cost producers. In the global economy, the possibility of imitation means that constant and continuous innovation is required.

Second, the Nordic countries have managed to persuade their best and most creative minds not to move abroad - non-economic societal links override the lure of higher post-tax salaries elsewhere. The Nordic experience shows that the quality of life, in a broad sense, plays a major role in creative people's decisions on where to live.

Another reason for the Nordic success has to do with their industrial structure and institutions. The Nordic countries' shift, around 1980, from manufacturing to the service economy emphasising infocomm, entertainment and knowledge-related industries, worked dramatically in their favour.

Moreover, all of the Nordics were dominated by small and medium sized enterprises, which were highly adaptable. They had the benefit of a malleable workforce that had emerged from education systems that had been finetuned for 200 years. Thus, while many countries had to grapple with painful restructuring of their industries, the Nordics were spared that task. They were well placed from the beginning.

But the most important reason for the success of the Nordic countries lies in their emphasis on the quality of human resources.

This starts at kindergarten level. In most countries, kindergarten is a place where parents park their children while they are at work. The children are taken care of - full stop.

But in the Nordics, a kindergarten is much more than that. A wide spectrum of measures and teaching aids are used to ensure that children learn how to learn, work with themselves, with other children and with adults, and to take initiative.

At kindergartens, every day is supposed to be an eventful day where the human being inside the child is 'unwrapped'. As almost all children go to kindergarten and the costs are affordable - thanks to the generous welfare state - the large majority of children go through this tremendous confidence-boosting process from about the age of two to the age of six. They develop intellectual skills, respect for others, an ability to adjust to others and teamwork.

The staff at a typical kindergarten consists of teachers that have gone through 3 1/2 years of training, leading to a bachelor's degree. The ratio of teachers to children is about one to 15-18. University-level tuition is also free and every student gets a monthly lump sum from the state - enough for basics. Thus, nobody who wants to enter university in Denmark is prevented from doing so by financial constraints. Studies show unequivocally that a large part of the present elite, in fact, had parents with only rudimentary education.

After entering the labour market - regardless of their position and/or sector - almost all Danes go through constant skill upgrading. Danes are considered the 'world champions' in life-long learning.

Denmark spends about 4 per cent of its gross national product (GNP) on life-long learning and as much as half of the Danish labour force at one stage or another goes through some kind of learning every year. While some other countries have embarked upon life-long learning programmes, Denmark is unique in having launched special education for those who teach at life-long learning institutions. It takes two years for such teachers to graduate. More than 5,000 teachers have gone through this education.

The Danish tradition of life-long learning reflects a deep understanding that people will often not be doing the same job in a couple of years' time and if they are, they will be doing it better, or differently. Moreover, as with kindergarten, Denmark realises that without qualified and specially trained teachers, the objectives of life-long learning may not be achieved.

Across the Nordic countries, the mentality inculcated since kindergarten has led to a workforce with a high degree of self confidence, independence and respect for others - and a capacity to combine creativity, individualism and teamwork. Subordinates do not ask superiors for guidance or orders merely because they are superiors, but only if they feel the superior can add some value. The ambition is, wherever possible, to settle any issues on the spot rather than refer them upward. In a fast-changing knowledge economy, it is easy to see how this attitude leads to higher productivity because of savings in time, energy, financial and administrative resources. The Nordic economies have also honed to a fine art the ability to provide not just products in isolation, but accompanying services that enable a product to satisfy buyers' needs for a long period of time. Thus, for example, if some machinery is provided, it will also be accompanied by guarantees that it will work, that it will be repaired quickly if it fails, that staff will be trained to use it, and that it will be upgraded regularly.

As most machinery now runs on software, the ingenuity put into the software takes over as the decisive competitive parameter from the machinery itself - the hardware. In developing this software, 'soft' human skills often override technical skills. This explains why the Nordic countries, despite high costs, are still able to succeed in manufacturing.

So what can other countries learn from the Nordic experience? To be sure, what works well in one country may not work so well in others. The American model, for instance, would lead to a disaster in the Nordic countries, while the same fate undoubtedly would befall the Nordic model if tried in the US.

But that said, there are some lessons. First, the shift from manufacturing to knowledge intensive sectors reverses the relevance of old competitive parameters - costs become less important while the quality of services and human resources become more important.

Second, competitiveness nowadays is primarily determined by long term factors such as educational standards, how people work together and the quality of human and social capital - a result of many years of investment. Turning around a country's competitiveness is only partly a question of managing economic parameters such as tax rates, depreciation allowances, etc. Instead, microeconomic considerations like labour market reforms, life-long learning institutions, the education system and a culture of innovation are increasingly important. This calls for long term and strategic thinking.

Third, a country has to analyse its own strengths compared to other countries and concentrate on them.

What are the drawbacks of the Nordic model? The major drawback is social waste. Some people cannot resist the temptation to abuse a generous welfare system. Students may go to university, benefit from the free tuition and receive their monthly cheque without really pursuing their studies. Some of the unemployed may try to dodge work. Some of these abuses do happen in Denmark. However, they are part and parcel of the system, and in the end, the pros and cons have to be weighed.

Danes have chosen to live with the disadvantages of a social welfare system to reap the considerable benefits. Any tinkering with the model risks undermining the fine balance and unsettling the institutions and arrangements that have turned Denmark into one of the strongest, most vibrant and most buoyant economies in Europe.

The author is visiting senior research fellow, ISEAS, and adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School. He was the former ambassador of Denmark to Singapore. His website is

Friday, October 28, 2005

Voting For Lawmaker or Estate Manager?

Voting For Lawmaker or Estate Manager?

Yes yes, I have promised to write the second part of Innovative Economy but this is a topic that was inspired by my engagement with HK's recent Distict Council by-election which I feel help us to understand our situation in Singapore.

I have modified one of the posting I have made in sammyboy's forum for this article.

In Hong Kong, the middle class people are normally supportive of the democratic alliance. However, this is only valid when they are voting for "natinoal issues", not "local issues".

There are two types of MPs or representatives in Hong Kong. One is the local representative which they call District Councillors. These representatives are just like our RC chairman of a small zone or district but they are elected by the people, not appointed by the govt. For policy making body, they have legislative council (Legco) which representatives are also elected.

During the recent by-election of one district council which consists of mostly middle class voters, the candidate from HK's Democratic Party who is also a Legco member, LOST to a little known independent candidate who is the chairman of management committee of one the largest private estate in the district.

From this result we can see that voters are rational when it comes to voting. For district councillors, they are expected to take care of the district and local issues. Thus, voters will choose a "grassroot man" over a "political star". But when it comes to electing people into the law making body Legco, their consideration in voting would be very different.

In Singapore, I would say PAP is quite ingenius in their structural approach. PAP understands that Singaporeans at large wanted more checks and balances in our parliament. This is shown by the huge vote swing and support level garnered by the opposition in early 80s till early 1990s. Even the GRC system could not prevent close fights whereby opposition garner over 40% of the valid votes.

The idea of setting up Town Councils for elected MPs to manage is to reduce the overwhelming urge of voters wanting more opposition voices in parliament. They have deliberately mixed up the function and role of MPs as lawmakers with local estate management representatives. This is unhealthy as it blurs the line of representation. And this is also where HDB upgrading comes into play. This is a systematic way of distorting voters' preferrences.

I would say that our election is not merely "issue driven". It is basically the tactic of blurring the functions of a law maker (i.e. MP) with local estate management. There will be two pulling forces for voters: are they going to vote according to the consideration of having responsible and effecive lawmakers or to the consideration of having good town council management and of course, HDB upgrading for their estates?

In the short term, it may seem that this "conflicting" struggle of self-interests vs national interests will work favourably for the incumbants. Issues like human rights, freedom of speech etc would be "too abstract" for the voters to put a "tangible" value against the concrete self interests of "better management of Town Council", HDB upgrading etc. Bread and Butter issues, though still abstract a bit, but it could still be "felt" and this feeling or resonance would be useful against local considerations. Thus, it is important for oppositin parties to find that efficient and yet effective angle which could counteract the blurring of roles for the lawmaker as the chairman of Town Council.

In the long run, such tactic will not work any more for PAP. The initial anxiety of voters (not getting HDB upgrading) will reduce and that is why we see that even with $160million promise of upgrading, there is little impact on the ground. Then, what's next? ;)

Will abstract issues or values like human rights, freedom of expression etc win over local concerns? Maybe not. Then what is the important ingredient for us to win votes?

If the slate of candidates presented by the opposition is lousy, the voters will have DOUBLE REASONS for not voting against PAP: it is a very realistic and rational considerations, why should one sacrifice his own tangible immediate "well being" in his living environment for a lousy opposition? The reasons for not voting against PAP Even if the voter feels strongly that we need opposition voice in parliament are:

1) the opposition candidates are lousy
2) It is not worth sacrificing self interests for such lousy candidates.

Thus, the only way of winning the support of Singapore voters is not merely issue-based, but rather, what could you offer to convince the voters that you are worth their self-sacrifice?

In short, in my opinion, I feel that there will always be chance for us to win if we could provide reasonably good candidates to convince voters to make sarcrifices in voting us. Whatever issues at hand is no longer vital as the NKF saga has more or less initiate the awakening of the need to have checks and balances in any system, especially our political system.

On the macro side, in my humble opinion, we should cultivate altruism and not destroying it unwittingly by such political system. We always like talk about "National Interests" but in the end, PAP has set up a political system that are suppressing "altruism" in which voters are discouraged to think from the "National Interests" perspective when they go to the ballot boxes. Instead, "SELF INTERESTS" such as HDB upgrading and Town Council management are deliberately play up to entice voters. This is absolutely unhealthy.

The role of lawmakers must be very specific and it should not be blurred systematically by other additional functions.

Workers' Party MP Mr. Low TK has the ability to take care and manage Hougang Town Council efficiently and effectively. We are not afraid of the additional job of managing a town council. In fact, I would say that there are benefits for us to manage the town councils if we win. It is easier for us to entrench ourselves with the control of these town councils. We could initiate alot more grassroot activities with a friendly town council in place. But it is in the Nation's interests that our political system must cultivate the correct mindsets instead of nurturing selfish mentality.

I would suggest that representatives to manage the town councils should be elected separately just like what Hong Kong did. In fact, I think even those RC chairman should be elected by the people directly. PA, as they claim, should be non-partisan in accepting the direct choices of the residents. No favourism should be practiced else we are sending the wrong values to our voters and children at large.

For the time being, I don't see how we could change the political system unless Workers' Party become the government. For the mean time, I would urge Singaporeans to make careful consideration about making their sacred votes.

There is one Chinese saying, if there is no country, there will not be home for us. Thus in my opinion, a vote in our General Elections is a vote for National Interests as the MPs will be part of the important lawmaking process. One should consider the LARGER picture when they vote. It is our future generation that we are voting for. Don't just vote for your estate manager but vote for a LAWMAKER that will decide your future as well as mine.

Goh Meng Seng

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Thinking Economy aka Innovative Economy I

Thinking Economy aka Innovative Economy I

The concept of Thinking Economy or the Innovative Economy could be viewed from many perspectives. From the micro-economic level, it is basically about the product value chain.

Within a short span of 6 decades of rapid technological advancement, there is basically a redefinition of economic terms such as ?commodities? and ?value add? process. Products are becoming more sophisticated with high technology content. There are also traditional ?basic items? being redefined in many ways as well as new invention or products creation that are ?non-traditional? in nature. For example, the creation of walkman to Audio laser CD, Audio mini CD player to mini MP3 player occurs within a short span of 30 years or less. These products do have high technology content with respect to the era of their creation but such technology content has become a ?basic commodity? instead of high value add creation over time.

High technology content does not necessarily mean high innovative content. There is a misconception of technology equates innovation and vice versa. Technology should be view as merely a tool, not the end product. Innovation is the process of creation of products by utilizing creative imagination (the Thinking process) couple with whatever technology available or created specifically to suit this creation. In simple terms, Technology is just like a tool like the brush to an artist. When the artist needs ?special brush? to complete his masterpiece, he will ask other people to make that special brush for him. Many times, people misconstrue that the making of the technology is Innovation, which is not. The Innovation comes from the artist, not the one who is tasked to make the special brush.

The process of creating the necessary ?special brush? is Research and Development (R&D) in technology. The one who created the need (demand) or necessity of the technology is the one who is innovative. There are also instances whereby through R&D, a new technology or technical process is created and waiting for others to utilizing it to create more products based on this R&D creation.

The creation or trying to learn the technology and produce products is what we know as ?Knowledge based economy?. It is just like the master artist thought out a good perspective and artwork but instead of him painting them out, he provide the special brush to others to help him paint and reproduce his ideas out on paper. Obviously, it is the master artist that has most value add. Using another example, it is just like famous fashion designer that asks the factories to use special clothe, machine and technique to reproduce his masterpiece. He is not the creator of the machine but he tells his technology scientist that he needs certain machine to do certain things and the scientist just creates such machine. He is the ?idea creator?, not the ?technological creator? (his scientist is). The factor is just the producer based on the ?knowledge transfer?.

In Singapore?s context, we have been relying on being the ?factory? for the ?creators? to earn out living for a long time. PAP government?s bragging of ?Knowledge Economy? is really outdated in this new era. Fast growing developing countries like China and India could absorb and learn the necessary knowledge of production quite easily. We should have moved on to the highest level of creation, that is the creator instead of remaining as the ?producer?.

The sudden emphasis on R&D spending is actually an unfortunate misunderstanding of the whole picture. Value is not originally created by technology R&D alone. It is the ?CREATOR? like the artist or the fashion designer that is the motivation of innovation. I am not saying R&D is not important but it is not supposed to be taken as the ?final solution? to our economic restructuring.

We could view this from a very simple perspective. Many innovative companies of ?creation? seldom set up factories to produce the final products. Most of the time when the product idea created is so complex that the company alone could not depend on its own technology level to solve all the technical problems involved. Thus, this company will require other companies that could provide the necessary technology or R&D (technology providers) to assist in its product development. After a few prototypes have been created, the final products will be sent to factory which may not necessary be under its charge to produce. The original idea creator is the one that put up its brand name and sells its products or ideas to the market. It could even patent the ideas and then ?license? it to other companies to reproduce the products.

Technology has become a ?commodity? in the process, in the sense that technology providers are many but the idea creator is only one.

It is very important to understand the difference between an Innovative/Thinking economy and Knowledge economy from the micro-economic perspective. Learning of knowledge to provide technological solutions is no longer a niche area which only some could master. In this internet era, information flow is tremendously easy and acquiring knowledge from such environment is no longer a big problem. Idea creation is totally a different game altogether.

A knowledge-based economy will definitely face tremendous competition from other countries, including those rapidly developing third world countries, basically because information and knowledge is easily available and attainable. It has become a commodity unlike in the past where few privileged ones have access to these information and knowledge. This is the root of our problem at the moment. We have positioned ourselves at a level which has little entry barrier and really free flow market. Thus, displacement of jobs in our economy by other cheap substitutes from these developing countries would be a norm. The structural problem will be more eminent when the developing countries move up the ladder of technology.

The environment needed to cultivate a knowledge-based economy is very different from the Thinking/Innovative economy. I will touch on this aspect in my next post.

Goh Meng Seng

Friday, September 30, 2005

Knowledge Economy vs Thinking Economy

PAP has been harping on "Knowledge Economy" for so long but the world has moved on to "Thinking Economy" or what most people are familiar with, "Innovative Economy".

It is a sad fact that Singaporeans are asked to "re-design" their jobs and "re-trian" themselves to take up menial jobs while PAP's FT policy keep the floodgate open for CHEAP SUBSTITUES that displace our local workforce, in the name of "maintaining competitiveness". No wonder there are disgruntled individuals out there who are asking why we wouldn't replace expensive PAP ministers with CHEAPER "Foreign Talents"!

I have spoken about the new concept of "Thinking Economy" back in May 2004. Initially I have no idea that economists and gurus all over the world were already talking about this transformation from "Knowledge Economy" to Thinking Economy or what commonly known as "Innovative Economy" until a forummer made a search over the net. Thinking Economy is very different from Knowledge Economy. The recent Business Week feature on Innovative Companies has given us a glance on what other countries are depending on in their economic restructuring.

The more easy illustration given is the comparison between an "Engineering based" driven company vs a "Design and Innovation based" driven company. Innovation here does not merely talk about R&D but more on the understanding of WHAT CUSTOMERS want. The insight of what customers want even when the customers themselves could not deliberate on it is what Innovation all about.

Thinking Economy needs a big revamp on the education system, social culure as well as political culture. The whole environment (be it social, cultural, political or otherwise) must tolerate and cultivate diversity as well as creativity and innovative thinking.

I will spend time writing on what I think is necessary to nurture a Thinking Economy as well as WHY it is necessary for us to move forward to Thinking Economy. The next few posting on this blog will concentrate on this topic.

For the time being, the following is past posting and links to the discussion made on Thinking Economy.

Goh Meng Seng
(Part of the content)
The Challenge of the Thinking Economy

As Seth Godin of Fast Company magazine writes, ??The first 100 yearsof our country??shistory were about who could build the biggest, mostefficient farm. The second 100 years were about the race to buildefficient factories. The third 100 years are about ideas.??

To succeed in the long run, Arizona must participate in the processof generating ideasand finding better ways of doing things, ratherthan simply executing economic tasks that are dreamed up by knowledgeworkers elsewhere. In the words of Columbia University??s MichaelCrow, Arizona must become a ??knowledge producer?? rather than aknowledge importer."
Knowledge production is important notonly in dreaming up new productsand processes but also in upgrading products that already exist. It??s true that a growing chunk of production in the modern economy comesin the form of intangibles based on the exploitation of ideas ratherthan material things. But at the same time, manufactured goods, fromMercedes to Nike, have ??knowledge?? embedded in them.

Thus, the twenty-first century economy willfavor areas that are??knowledge producers,??places flush with research and developmentactivities, the creation of new intellectual products and servicesand the most recenttechnologies. Those areas strong in knowl-edgeproduction will be the white-collar,front-office parts of the neweconomy. Areas dependent on knowledge imports ?C manu-facturing andprocessing centers, like Arizonais today ?C will be stuck with theblue-collar, back-office parts of the new economy.

From Discuss Singapore :

--- In, Dr Goh<dogsnpuppieslover@y...> wrote:> Sorry for taking such a long time to reply.
It is ok. Doctors are busy people, I can understand that.

> 1. Why I'm so irritated (of what CSJ did) because it took a lot oftime and effort to establish what the OP (opposition party) is today.Just like a football team, just 1 player's fault could cause thedownfall of the whole football team!
That is why the need to do strong branding inorder to differentiate.

> 2. over the past few days, I was thinking of "freedom of speech",democracy, effect of Taiwan election... And I would like to asksomething, what is the price for freedom of speech and democracy? Tobe pessimistic, will SGP end up like Taiwan's politicians? Esp withbehaviour like CSJ? I wouldn't be surprise he end up in a fight inparliment.

First, you must seriously think about at what price do we pay for notopening to develop democracy? Many may not realize it but we arepaying a heavy price for not developing democracy. Govt, due to thelack of effective checks and balance, spends $600 million to buildtwo durians which need another $50m per year to maintain it? How muchhave we spent on our citizens in terms of welfare for those reallyneedy? We could have lowered medical costs, by using this $600m forinvestment and get a decent 3% returns for medical subsidies.Furthermore, the savings from the $50m per year in maintenance mightbe put into better use somewhere! And this is only one incident, atip of the the iceberg.

And you ask, what is the price for freedom of speech and democracy?To me, the price is on PAP for it will be loosing monopoly power overSingapore. Will freedom of speech inflict any price on us? Well, onlyon racial and religion issues, I guess. But if we could not manageracial and religious issues effectively for the past four decades,then we surely fail as a nation that has strong social cohesions.This racial/religious "harmonious" relationship that we always talkabout is just fake representations, shoving the real tensions behindthe fear of speaking up. If these tensions are not released orresolved instead of supressed down, then it is a matter of time itwill be blown out of proportions.

As for democracy, it is a progressive process that we desire.Besides, could we possibly shy away from developing a more democraticsystem? Some may think we could, but the fact is that we cannotafford not to develop into a democratic system. The reason is simple,due to globalization and a change in economic structure, we cannotafford to put our people in a "cage" anymore.

For countries that are still at the infant stage of economicdevelopment, the only focus of economic-social development is toenhance the effective and efficient use of factors of productions(ie. human resources, natural resources with basic machineries...etc)And to achieve such efficient arrangement of factors of productionsupplied into the industrialization or agricultural reform, a strong,dedicated, efficient govt is required.

This is the model we, Taiwan, Korean and to a certain extend, HK,have adopted for the past 40 years which resulted in the Asianmiracles of the 4 Tigers. A strong, monopoly govt is needed for suchsuccess. This is also why China is booming while Russian, beingintroduced a crush course of democracy, failed or being dragged. Andit is also why, to a certain extend, democracy in India seems to bethe hinderance for its economic development.

However, when your economy matured, litracy rate raises and cost offactors of production raises, the structure of your economy will haveto change. The efficiency of factors of production is at its primerate, thus another "engine" of development must be cultivated. Thisis whay PAP termed as "knowledge based economy", while I disagree; itshould be "Thinking economy" instead. Our workforce are all welltrained and educated, armed with various knowledge, but our economyis still down....what is lacking is the "thinking" process which addsvalue to the knowledge.

A "thinking" work force or people, could only be cultivated in aconducive environment. Democracy is the vital pillar of thisnecessary environment. As I have mentioned in some other posts, thereare four areas which we must open fast, social, cultural, politicaland economy. We tried to open up our economy but our GLCs and civilservice is still controlling more than 60% of the economy, yet,continue to expand. They tried to open up on the social aspect, butthat will add little value to cultivate a thinking people. Culturaland political process are the two most important areas that couldprovide the necessary platform for a thinking people to evolve.

Thus, if we observe carefully, that is why Korea, Taiwan and HongKong have to reform their political and cultural structures.Singapore, however, is still stuck due to the lack of will on PAP'spart. PAP has been talking about opening up for ONE WHOLE DECADE, butin terms of political substance, we are regressing instead ofprogressing. This is a sad development which will bring us down as aNation...look, why do you think there are so many people migratingout?

Thus, to me, for PAP to resist the call for political reform toencourage more active citizenry in political engagement, is totallyan irresponsible act. We do not have a choice at all.

> 3. As to "prominent figure", it's my own dedeuction of his intent
.> 4. Dpennz pointed out something like GCT has never react well. Cometo think of it, quite true as I recalled some incidences when he wasprovoked, or ask to answer "unprepared" qns, he "normally" doesn'tgive very rational and clear answers. Does this implies his speech isprepared? May even be from someone else! If GCT react calmly, SGPwill not be so embarassed!
> 5. The qn pointed out by CSJ, if handled properly, is an advantagefor OP! He wasted a golden opportunity (possibily for his owninterest) and even when similar qn is ask later, eg weeks or monthslater, the effect is not the same. He takes this like a child's play!

Yes, I would agree with you totally here.

> 6. As what you have said, if not CSJ but someone else, GCT mayreact different. But it boils down to how CSJ handles this issue.Knowing GCT doesn't like himself, he shouldn't jeopardize SGP, inmany aspects - reputation, quality of OP, when overseas theyrepresent SGP, power and authority of OP in SGP, ... !

This is merely karma. Look at it this way, who has more stake athand? Obviously GCT who is representing Singapore as its leader.Thus, CSJ may act in a way, irresponsibly, but GCT, as a leader andrepresentative of Singapore, should react in a more rational, ratherthan emotional, personal way.

> 7. I agree with you that in any countries, should encouragedifferent political stands, and ppl express their views and opinionswithout fear, openly. Ultimately the ppl are the one benefitting fromthis.> 8. Need to take into consideration how S'poreans are brought up! Ido not doubt the intelligence of S'poreans but circumstances andfactors influencing their political rights and thoughts. Will NKFscam be of any similarities? So much adverse report is reportedbefore the tv coverage and fund-raising but the "blind faith" (can'tremember who said this) demostrated. When artistes ask them to call,only then can you see they are using their hp. I find thisunbelievable and a miracle!

You see, you ask me if our politicians would ever turn into thoselike Taiwanese politicians or already have an answerhere, nope. Singaporeans are just too rational to vote some crazy,hair pulling thugs to represent them in parliament.

> 9. Good points you raised which I have highlighted in blue. As Iwas about to ask how will ppl not have the impression CSJ representsOPs! Ask 50 people you met at Orchard Road tomorrow and ask themwhich party CSJ is from, or how many OPs are there in SGP, let alonethe differences of OPs, WP, SDP etc. I dare to say less than half cananswer it correctly
.> Not only SGP, but in many other countries, different OPs are lumpas 1 OP! Conveniently.
> I felt this strongly - democracy is still relatively new to me whenI'm in a situation in SGP. However I accept it well when I'm oversea.I was reflecting why I can accept this easily oversea but not in SGP?
> Also, is not that I personally lack or can't tolerate diversity butI lack the foresight to look beyond this!

Reflect on what I have said earlier. US and European countries arethe "thinking" economies now; if you caged them up in dictatorships,do you think their economies will flourish or sustained?

> Lastly, to me, politics are something serious, not diversity,creativity, innovations and vibrancy will boom in a nation. I seethis as "experimental factors". Pardon my ignorance, using this tobuilt platform???

Diversity, creativity, innovations and vibrancy are only the resultsof democratic development. Politics are not mere something serious,but something close to you, your neighbours and everyone else in thiscountry. It could be personal, it could be social
conscience. Itcould be fun too. ;)

The reason why you could not connect these as important targets thatpolitics should aim for because we have been brain washed all thewhile that only "economic well being" is THE single goal of nationbuilding and political aim.
It is due to this singular pursuit that we are suffering a big exodusof citizens emigrating to some other places.

We should ask PAP reflect on this one.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

WP Youth Wing Public Forum

Elections and Your Vote: A Token or Taken Right?

Public Forum organised by The WP Youth Wing
The third Presidential elections has come and gone in a flash. Two out of three Presidential elections in Singapore's history have ended with no votes cast. The nation's Elected President, Mr S R Nathan, had been officially elected without ever facing a contest throughout his tenure.

No emergence of contenders? This Presidential elections saw four applications but only one ruled qualified to be awarded a special certificate to stand as a candidate by three elite men appointed by the government, who had in the process decided the President for three million Singaporeans.

The upcoming General Election is due by 2007. Things are a little different in General Elections; there are no pre-approved barriers. However, again, not all Singaporeans will get to vote, for it is widely known that few Singaporeans are willing to be associated with opposition parties, much less become their candidates.

Default victories in uncontested constituencies, popularly know as "walkovers", have became a definite sight in General Elections in the last three decades. At the last General Election in 2001, only one-third of Parliamentary seats were contested. Opposition politics in Singapore is a "thankless job", and who do Singaporeans have to thank for?

The situation we have is uniquely Singapore. Is this uniqueness churned from the long years of "autocratic measures of the PAP regime" or because Singaporeans have been "cowed by their own free will"?

In short, elections in Singapore are fast becoming signs of going through motions. Is this trend unhealthy but tolerable, or unhealthy and intolerable? Is the Elected Presidency criteria too high (and mightly executed)? Is the Elected Presidency scheme even necessary in the first place? Are walkovers becoming an irritating bugbear? What can Singaporeans do, that is, if they want something done?

Organised by The WP Youth Wing - the official youth wing of The Workers' Party - this public forum discusses elections in Singapore and implications of the current situation, and examines the question of whether it is the authority that has to "open up" first or Singaporeans themselves have to begin taking charge of their own political affairs for it to progress.

Date: 15 October 2005 (Saturday)

Time: 2.30 pm

Venue: Workers' Party HQ, 216-G Syed Alwi Road #02-03 Singapore 207799

Facilitator & Moderator:- Mr Tan Wui-Hua, President of The WP Youth Wing

Speakers:- Ms Sylvia Lim, Chairman of The Workers' Party- Ms Glenda Han, Deputy Secretary of The WP Youth Wing

Guest Speakers:- Dr Kevin Tan, constitutional law specialist- Mr Michael Cheng, youth social activist

You are most welcomed to join us!

For more information, please call us at 6298-4765 or e-mail us at
Tan Wui-HuaPresidentThe WP Youth Wing216-G Syed Alwi Road #02-03 Singapore 207799Tel: 6298-4765Fax: 6454-4404URL:

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Power To The People

Power To The People

This is Workers’ Party’s motto for the past 15 years or so but there is hardly any deliberation on this concept as many see it as “elementary”. I decide to write on this topic basically because it is related to my previous post on Mandate to Squeeze.

I should clarify here that though I am a member of Workers’ Party CEC but what I am going to put up here is solely my interpretation of our slogan “Power To The People” and it got nothing to do with Workers’ Party at all.

The key word of this slogan is “Power” and how it relates to the “People”. There are few questions need to be asked:

1. Why do the people need the Power?
2. Power to do what?
3. Where do the people derive this power from? (Under what circumstances will the people have Power?)
4. When do the people have Power?
5. How could the people exercise their Power?

Why do the people need the Power?

The political scientists will have lots of intellectual theories on the concept of Power but I should not use such theories in my illustrations. I am basically an economically trained person and I should use very elementary economic observations to explain my interpretation on “Power To The People”.

The concept of “Power To The People” most probably come about from the French revolution that fought against monarchy rule. Monarchy rule is basically a despotic, autocratic rule. The characteristics of a Monarchy rule are somehow equivalent to a Monopolistic company. Both of them depend on the monopoly of power, be it in political power or market domination.

These monopolies would and COULD “exploit” the market to the fullest simply because there are no competition in the market. And most important of all, they are in control of goods and services that are a NECESSITY to the people. Good political governance is also a NECESSITY to a stable environment for people to live in. They derive their “power” basically because what they are providing is a “necessity” and they are the only ones who are providing these goods or services. If we view political governance as a kind of “services”, it is not difficult to understand the correlation between market monopolies and monopolies of political power. If the power of these monopolies are not curb, the people will suffer one way or another.

Of course, we could hope for “benign” monopolies just like ancient people always hope to have good Emperors or Monarch to take care of them, but these are rare exceptions from the historical perspective though it is not totally impossible.
The Power to do what?

The reason for people to have “POWER” is basically because they need the “BARGAINING POWER” to balance the monopolies’ power. If they do not have this bargaining power, their needs would be neglected and the products and services will be overpriced.

Many people have wrong understanding of their political power in a democratic political system. Some thought their power as a citizen is “to vote”. This is merely the means to the essence of their power. Some thought their power lies in their ability to “overthrow” or “replace” the ruling party. This is also merely the means to the essence of their power. The essence of their political power is the “BARGAINING POWER” to get those in ruling to provide BETTER and MORE services. This is similar to the “Bargaining Power” of consumers when they could just switch their loyalties to another competitor for better goods and services when the current one sucks. The changing of loyalty is just a mean to the end: to pressure the companies to respond or sensitive to their needs, to serve them better.

Thus it is the power to GET THE BEST DEAL for everyone that matters most.

Where do the people derive this power from?

To curb the “exploitation” of the system by these monopolies, there are two primary ways of going about it. One way is to “REGULATE” these monopolies. The other way is to create COMPETITION by setting up alternatives to the monopolies.

Many goods or services have “Natural monopolistic” characteristics. For example, due to the sheer size of investment, certain industries have Natural monopolistic characteristics. Examples are electrical power, public transportation etc. For these monopolies, we set up a system of rules to regulate them so to make sure that they did not exploit the consumers simply by virtue of the endowment of monopoly power. In the context of political system, there could only be one government at any one time. Thus the governing rules over the government which is endowed with great powers are the Constitution of the country. It is unhealthy for the ruling party to constantly change the rules which are supposed to regulate themselves and most of the time, Constitutional changes in other countries require a National referendum.

The other way to protect consumers’ right is to make sure that there are enough competitors around. Competition would lower prices and increase quality of goods and services. The classic example I could quote is the development of our telecommunication industry. Back in late 80s and early 90s, SingTel is the sole provider of telecommunication services in Singapore. When more players are allowed into the industry, prices start to drop and the quality of services improved. Ten years ago, nobody could imagine that a consumer could get a free handphone simply by registering a line with a mobile phone company! This is the explicit example of how consumers’ bargaining power could be increased tremendously when competition is being introduced.

The same could also apply to the political system. Citizens could only enjoy a tremendously increase in their bargaining power if and only if there are political competition. Although there could only be one government at any one time, but as long as there are alternative parties that continue to challenge the ruling party’s power base, the ruling party will have no choice but to respond. How could they respond in order to keep their power base? There are similarly two OPPOSITE and CONTRADICTORY methods as to voters’ perspective.

One is to kill competition, destroy your competitors. Second is to be sensitive and quick respond to their voters’ (clients or consumers) needs and demands.

Voters must understand that what they want is the later and not the former. The former method of destroying political competitors thus competition would ERODE their bargaining power in the long term. Voters should defend their own bargaining power by sending a strong signal to the ruling party that they reject such unhealthy moves.

When do the people have Power?

Most people have the misconception that they only have this POWER when they have the chance to vote. Consumers’ power does not only exist when they choose to purchase from another company. Their power is extended long AFTER they made the choice to switch. Their switching will send a signal to company that was discarded that they need to improve themselves. This power pushes the company to react and make things better.

Similarly for the political system, it applies. When PAP lost four seats back in 1991, it made them think hard how to improve their approach to win back the seats. Thus the idea of “HDB upgrading”, NSS and stuffs like that are introduced. They have become more sensitive to the masses’ demands by expanding the feedback unit’s outreach.

Thus in this view, the people’s power will have long lasting effects on the ruling party’s behavior even AFTER the General Elections. As mentioned in my last post “Mandate to Squeeze”, there are more things we could squeeze from the ruling party if more political competition is enhanced.

How could the people exercise their Power?

Ideally, the people will have most bargaining power when there is a credible ALTERNATIVE GOVERNMENT waiting to replace PAP. However, realistically at this stage of our political development, the practical thing is to vote in more alternative parties’ MPs to provide the necessity competitive environment that could provide the base of the people’s power.

Voting in more opposition MPs is only one part of the whole strategic maintenance of people’s power. The only way to protect voters’ bargaining power is to demonstrate strong objections to things that could erode their base of power. Citizens should deprive the ruling party the two third mandate to change the Constitution as they wish. This Constitution is supposed to regulate the ruling party and protect citizens’ bargaining power.

Citizens should also demonstrate strong objections to the ruling party’s hard hit tactic to destroy their opponents in which destroy the necessary political competition that provide the base of the citizens’ bargaining power in the political system.

Demonstration or expression of strong objections or dislike is an important way to get the better deal for citizens’ at large. The recent Eight White elephants saga is one fine example. Although I think it is a non-issue but look at it this way, at least such demonstration of dissatisfaction has force LTA to react and do something. However, the stiffening laws have prohibited Singaporeans’ right to make strong demonstration of demands or objections to various issues. However, those who put up the white elephants are deemed as law breakers under current laws though they are exercising their power to demand better deal from the LTA and transport provider.

PAP has claimed that they are “opening up” and there are many ways for people to feedback. However from my perspective, if such “opening up” doesn’t bring value to voters’ bargaining power in the political system, it is not very meaningful at all. We may not want people to break laws and go on unlawful acts but I think there are good considerations to be made on the right to demonstrate (as guarantee by our constitution but administratively deprived by the ruling party) basically because it involves the bargaining power of the people. Hong Kong has provided an ASIAN example whereby LAWFUL demonstrations do not disrupt economic activities nor chase away foreign investors.

Thus when the reporters who interviewed us ask what do we think about the “open society”, my answer is pretty simple: the ultimate test of openness is whether PAP would give us (the citizens) back the right to demonstrate lawfully in Singapore. Ironically, if law and order is really the main concerns, why would PAP willing to allow foreigners to demonstrate in Singapore when IMF meeting is going to be held in 2006?

Street demonstration is only one important avenue of people’s power. Freedom of expressions in any forms is also very important. Active participation in political discussion and discourse is one way of exerting people’s power. Artistic deliberations of social phenomenon and political concerns are one important ways also. Of course, attending feedback sessions either with ruling party or alternative parties are important. However many people who have attended government sponsored feedback sessions are disillusioned and we should seriously ask why.

Helping alternative parties to strengthen themselves in order to provide credible political competition is also one very effective way of making sure that the people’s power is being preserved. Joining or forming political parties to compete directly at the ruling party’s power base is the most direct way of helping to preserve citizens’ power.


In short, Singaporeans as voters, should fully understand what potential POWER they wield at the end of the day. Giving up their bargaining power to small “incentives” like HDB upgrading or NSS or ERS is really not worth it. There are more substantial things Singaporeans could SQUEEZE or bargain out of this political system if they know how to preserve and maintain their political bargaining power.

We are after all just human beings that is looking forward to better living style, quality of life for ourselves as well as our future generations. I am not prepared to sell my future generation’s power away and thus, I chose to fight it out. I just hope that we could continue to preserve and enhance the Power To The People.

Basically there are few important points:

People derive Power in the Democratic system via the ENVIRONMENT just like consumers deriving their bargaining power in the FREE market place; it is a necessity to have a competitive environment for consumers to get the best deal out of the system, similarly for a citizen.

Any moves by a monopoly to curb competition must be prevented; in the real world, you have the Anti-Trust law. Monopoly also understands that they derive GREATEST POWER by destroying competition/competitors and manipulate laws or rules that govern them. In the political industry, constitution will be manipulated to the monopoly's advantage. The Citizens must realise that such moves are detrimental to their own bargaining power in the long run; in fact, any moves by anyone to curb competition is BAD for them.

What the citizens could do actively to enhance their bargaining power or preserve their power in the democratic system is to prevent monopolistic behaviour and to encourage competition. Only then they could get the best deal out of the system.

PAP has been selling the idea of "MANDATE" to rule effectively which seems to mean to have TOTAL CONTROL of ALL SEATS in parliament. This is rubbish; you don't need to win ALL SEATS in order to show that you have the mandate to rule effectively. This is a monopolistic mindset and citizens should resist it for their own good in maintaining their bargaining power.

Goh Meng Seng

Friday, September 09, 2005

Mandate to SQUEEZE

The following is an article that I posted in Sammyboy Forum:

As stated in my interview with ST, we should recognize that voting is the most fundamental and direct effect on the way PAP government will treat us, the citizens.

Some forumites here (Sammyboy forum) have articulated very well on all the policies that have "SQUEEZED" us for the past four years after PAP has won the resounding victory of "MANDATE"... the "MANDATE" to do what? As some astute observers have put it right, SQUEEZING us!

On many occassions I have short conversations with Singaopreans on the street, they have just resigned to the fact that they have been "Sqeezed Dry" by the various policies and price hikes.

I have thought to myself, why should we allow the PAP government to squeeze us dry? And how could we get a better bargain in return? The answer lies in the sacred vote of all Singaporeans. You could only SQUEEZE PAP Government back for more benefits by depriving them the so call "MANDATE"! Once you gave them overwhelming "MANDATE" to rule, they could anything they want simply referring to the "MANDATE" they have obtained!

Prime examples are those freebies Singaporeans staying in opposition wards get. Even those living in PAP wards that are being "threaten" by opposition challenge on the ground, they enjoy lot more than other wards! i.e. their MPs are more hard working and they are willing to spend more resources on these wards. The recent "upgrading" in private estates in Aljunied GRC is one good example. Building of Yishun General Hospital is another.

No PAP MPs could ever help Singaporeans to "SQUEEZE" PAP government! No PAP MPs (at least in my knowing) have ever persue aggressively on the need of social welfare system in Singapore but why did PAP government suddenly come up with "COMCARE" or "WORKFARE" when they themselves have defended vigorously against the ills of social welfarism? This is basically because our Hougang MP Mr. Low TK has raised the need of a comprehensive social welfare system for those who are badly in need of it during times of distress and unemployment!

As for the Yishun General Hospital, it is only when Mr. Low raised again about the acute shortage of beds in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the apparent mismanagement of overall strategy in providing enough hospital care to the rising population in the North that PAP government has to start to get their acts together!

Not to forget that PAP has always sing the rhetoric that there is no free lunch in this world but they are giving out free breakfast in Hougang and $1 shark fin soup in Potong Pasir!

Thus, these prime examples point to the reality on the ground: Nobody could ever squeeze PAP government enough to make them work harder and give more considerations to the needs of Singaporeans at large!

There are more things we could squeeze out of PAP. Only through a balanced and healthy political competition that the citizens could get the best deal out of this government.

We could only achieve the best equilibrium for Singaporeans through a competitive political system. Any monopoly will be lax, overpriced and insensitive to the needs of its customers. The same apply to the monopoly of power in politics.

To all Singaporeans: Please give us the mandate to help you squeeze more from PAP and NOT the mandate to PAP to squeeze you.

Goh Meng Seng

Friday, September 02, 2005

Cost of Structural Displacement

Cost of Structural Displacement

Recently we have been bombarded with all sorts of “promotion” for some jobs like “toilet cleaning” or “cleaners”, nursing and such. And most of the time, a good “example” and story is crafted out, how an ex-manager become cleaner etc

And this seems to link to the official tone that Singaporeans are just too “choosy” in job seeking. The propaganda is aimed at two tiers of job seekers: first, those older job seekers who may just like those featured in the stories, used to have “high level” jobs. Secondly, it is also aimed at those new young job seekers, to convince that people of “good caliber” and experience also end up in cleaning toilets, don’t be too choosy. This propaganda is aimed to shift the blame of joblessness and hardship to Singaporeans again. The most classic comment so far is, university graduates are only fit to wash test tubes.

I shall not touch on the hardship on job seekers and their plight though I have met numerous individuals who used to be in high corporate positions but have no choice to become taxi drivers. I will touch on the economic cost of such structural displacement, since PAP government will only concern with “facts and figures”, “dollars and cents”.

When one decides to spend money, time and effort to do something, he expects to have good returns from these investments. This is the same for investing in education. As an Asian country, we are taught from young the importance of education. Our parents would save on other luxury spending just to make sure that we get the best education they could afford and we could manage.

Investment in education is a long term plan and it contains two main different input of resources: 1) money 2) time. If one really believes that he is only fit to wash test tubes even if he gets a university degree, would anyone in his right mind ever want to invest in his own investment? Not everyone could become professor for sure!

The structural displacement of jobs will create large wastage of resources, both tangible and intangible. Experiences are something that one could not buy but only accumulate through hard work. Asking individuals to discard whatever experiences and education accumulation to accept “cleaner” job is just an act of desperation. In macro terms, this has important impact on our resource allocation process. As a small country, human resources are our only vital resources and yet, we are ready to waste them all by asking people to “look low”?

The Foreign Talent policy itself has itself caused great resource wastage. If companies are only interested to import cheap foreign “substitutes” to replace our own citizens in various jobs, then why would we want to spend so much money in education but end up working as a cleaner? It really doesn’t make any sense at all.

We need REAL Talents, be it Foreign or Local. However we should practice caution in allowing companies to import cheap foreign substitutes that could replace local workforce. This meaning that the policy must make sure that whatever foreign workers the company wants to employ, they must first seek from local workforce or sources first. They could only be approved to employ foreign workers unless the specific jobs need specific skills that is non-existence in local sources or that there is a real shortage of such skilled workers in local workforce. This is what Singaporean First all about. And PAP has only talked big on Singaporean First but act little on this.

The present system of providing quota to foreign workers is insufficient. It will create resource misallocation or displacement and in the long run, we will suffer badly from such wastage. As long as our foreign talent policy is not restructured, no amount of “upgrading” on local workforce will solve our unemployment and high emigration rate problem. When the government allows companies to employ foreign workers on all levels and assimilate local workforce on all fronts, those from lower skills when upgraded, will face the same problem at higher skill level.

It is amazing that we put so much resources in education, concentrating on a few fields, but in the end, all these resources just go to waste when cheaper foreign substitutes are brought in to replace local workforce. Some of these “displaced” highly educated individuals would have no choice but just emigrate to somewhere else which need their skills and services. To ask them continue to stay in Singapore and take up cleaner jobs is totally irrational to them.

If our overall strategy is about drawing on foreign inputs of labour to everything in the name of “cost savings”, then our education strategy should not waste too much resources and all Singaporeans should be tailored to be entrepreneurs to utilize such “cheap” resources. We should not mismanage our education policy to do something that others could do cheaper and provide better, cheaper end results! The problem is, do we really want to adopt such strategy or not?

Goh Meng Seng

Thursday, August 25, 2005

What is Public Entertainment?

I happened to read the following Straits Time forum reply by the police with regards to Public Entertainment Act. I am amused by it that Wayang shows, getai for the lunar seventh month celebrations are all "EXEMPTED" from Public Entertainment licensing. This is interesting while pure public entertainment businesses are exempted from public entertainment licensing, but opposition politicians making speeches to the public in open air are deemed "entertaining enough" to require a licensing from the the police!

It practically means that opposition politicians could just pop up in any getai, sing, dance and make a fool of himself to entertain the public and he doesn't need a license to that. But he chose to speak in all seriousness about politics, about the hardship of the people in Public places, he needs a Public Entertainment license!

I have copied the key points of the Public Entertainment Act from

Mr. Wang Says So!

(a) any variety act, performance of music, singing, dancing, gymnastics, acrobatics and legerdemain, demonstration, display or parade (other than ad hoc performances);
(b) any circus or any exhibition of animals;
(c) any amusement centre, amusement park or fun fair;
(d) any computer games centre;
(e) any exhibition of film, or any peep-show;
(f) any reproduction or transmission otherwise than in association with a film, by any means other than telephony or radio telephony, of any music, song or speech;
(g) any machine or device by the manipulation of which chances are given of obtaining prizes in money or kind;
(h) any pin-table;
(i) any sporting contest of any kind between any number of persons or animals, other than that organised by any registered society, trade union, company or association;
(j) any organised competition at games of skill or chance;
(k) any lecture, talk, address, debate or discussion;
(l) any arts entertainment; or
(m) any combination of any of the above forms of public entertainment,

The next question I would ask, of course, is which of the key points of public entertainment license should we strike off the list?

This is the new millenium and our people are all highly educated. They do not need a "license" to screen for them what is suitable or unsuitable for their consumption. This is especially so for "lecture, talk, address, debate or discussion". For other arts entertainment, as long as it is not obscene display of nudity or such, why should one need a license?

Again, to me, this public entertainment act is outdated and does not reflect on the vision of "Open Society" that PAP government is promising. There is definitely a need for licensing especially on computer gaming, pin ball machines, amusement park, games on chances and such, but on talk, lecture, address, debate or discussion?

Goh Meng Seng

ST Forum
August 25, 2005

Wayang need no permit

I refer to Mr Glenn Mohan Jothy's letter, "queries on Seventh Month wayang" (ST, Aug 19).

Seventh Month celebrations such as wayang and getai are currently exempted under the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act (Exemptions) Order.

While there are no regulations concerning the location and proximity to residential dwellings of Seventh Month wayang and other religious/social events, exempted performances need to meet certain requirements to ensure public order and minimise nuisance. No more than two loudspeakers, positioned to face the audience, shall be used and the evnets must not end later than 10.30pm.

Organisers of such events need to obtain permission from the other authorities for the erection of tents on their premises.

Tristan Sim
Assistant Director
(Media Relations)
Singapore Police Force