Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Checks & Balances

Checks & Balances

There are a whole string of events happening in recent months that I think could be summed up by this title. Starting from the NKF saga to Presidential Election to the most recent parliament question raised by our Workers’ Party MP Mr. Low on Tan Tock Seng Hospital saga, all these point to the important element of Checks and Balances.

The Presidential Election saga raises a few interesting points.

1) The President is supposed to be elected by over a million voters but ended up selected by three wise men when they disqualified all others except the incumbent.
2) The Elected President has practically become “Selected President”.
3) It would mean that the three wise men have MORE power than the million voters!
4) It is strange that when the intended role for the Elected President is to check on the government, the government itself has come out to “endorse” the one that is supposed to check on them.
5) The Straits Time actually reported that as long as PAP is the government, the elected President’s role would be largely “ceremonial”. If that is the case, why the fuss about the “high caliber and qualifications” set for the candidates?
6) The Elected President Act is to safeguard our reserves in the event when a “rogue government” comes into power. So by point 5, it means PAP is not a “rogue government” but wait, who has the right to determine which government is a “rogue government” or not? The President, the people, the reporters in Straits Time, the three wise men or the PAP? If the people voted in a party other than PAP, does it means the new government will become a “rogue government”? So the voters must be stupid not to choose PAP who will not be a “rogue government” but some other parties that would become a “rogue government”?
7) Since PAP is not going to be a “rogue government”, so no need for voters to exercise their power to elect a president to check on them? So what makes us think that these voters who are stupid enough to vote in a “rogue government” would vote in a good President that could put effective checks on their previous choice of rogue government?
8) The ultimate question here is, what kind of “checks and balances” we are talking about at the end of the day?

No where in the Democratic world do we have a system whereby a candidate of a Presidential race or any election of public office must be vetted by others before they could stand for election. The spirit of checks and balances is the fundamental principle in the Democratic world. The ultimate power comes from the people, not by anybody else. If the three wise men are not empowered by the people, on what logical basis are they to make judgement on who the voters could or could not vote as a candidate? Even the appointment of ministers are done by the political party that has the endorsement and mandate by the voters through the system of political competition.

NKF saga is self-explanatory. The “BIG AND GRAND” mentality is well alive, even in civil service and statutory boards. Look at the amount of money we spent in one National Day parade and you will understand what I mean. Over the mass media, we have been bombarded by the obvious message that we should “feel proud” of this big and grand celebration. PAP and RCs all over Singapore organized BIG & GRAND National Dinners, some even “proud” of having the “largest number of tables” in such celebrations. Our National achievements are all about “big and grand INFRASTRUCTURE” we have built over the years. These are shown on our National TV stations. Apparently they have not learnt from the IOC saga; it is not about what infrastructure we have that make us proud, it is the development of our people that makes us proud!

The Big & Grand mentality arises in entities like charities, public listed companies or the government simply because of the “principal-agent” problem. A simpler concept is “Moral Hazard” or in layman’s words, simply because it is (in Hokkien) “Ah Gong’s liu” (in English, it means “public money”). The only way of curbing such inherent problem is to provide a system of checks and balances. It is not merely about rules and regulations to govern the people utilizing the money, but to install PEOPLE that could effectively become whistle blowers on these organizations. In politics, this includes OPPOSING forces that could make those in power accountable.

A good example of how Opposing political force could bring the government accountable to the people is the Tan Tock Seng Hospital saga. This may not involve irrelevant spending but it exposes the opposite dimension of the problem, the lack of priority in government spending. For many years, we have heard people complaining about the lack of long wait at hospitals and even lack of beds in some instances. But those at the top only receive “statistical data” that show no long queue and such. These people at the top have not experienced first hand what exactly happen on the ground but chose to depend on their judgement based on “statistics”. It is only when our Workers’ Party MP Mr. Low gone through the “layman experience” that we finally realize the real situation on the ground. In order to avoid long queue on the ground, the hospital just turn away patients when the hospital is full! If it is not for Mr. Low’s experience, we will never know the TRUE reasons on the ground!

First, the million-dollar helicopter has crashed. As a governing ministry, there is no monitoring of the overwhelming demand on the inadequate supply that TTSH is providing. Furthermore, it doesn’t need a rocket scientist to figure out that with big housing development planned in Sembawang to Sengkang-Punggol SO MANY YEARS AGO, the demand of hospital care in the North will definitely increase. Why did they only plan to have the hospital in the North built in 2010?

Hospital care is a matter of life and death. They should stop all those BG spending on “HDB upgrading” that only makes superficial, cosmetic “improvement” (eg. Lift upgrading that only makes the lift lobby looks good but not providing the real need of lift landing on every floor.). They should put priority in spending on the urgent and important items like a regional hospital in the north.

The problem is that PAP tends to politicize the things they do for the people. HDB upgrading is one fine example. Swimming pool, opening of MRT station in Potong Pasir are the other examples. Even the North Hospital is one important example where A/P Ho Peng Kee made his election promise in last general election of having the hospital built in Yishun. It is not about “election promises” or political capital that one should consider when it comes to the REAL NEED of the people. When there is a REAL NEED, then regardless of who voted for PAP, the government should provide the services to ALL SINGAPOREANS that need such services.

When politicians try to politicize such national spending, priorities are being skewed. Instead of looking into the real needs of the people, they would channel funds to projects they have promised in order to preserve their own political power. This is really unhealthy when there are competing priorities but considerations are skewed towards political objectives.

Who will be in the position to make the government accountable to the people’s REAL NEED? PAP MPs? The TTSH saga has just proven that only alternative party’s MP like Mr. Low would press the button hard enough on PAP government to make them move. This is what checks and balances in politics all about.

Goh Meng Seng


K.S. said...

First of all, let me stated clearly that I am no fan of PAP. Neither am I a fan of any of the opposition parties like yours. I voted for the PAP in 1997 for the simple fact that the candidates are better. If I am in Hougang ward/Nee Soon East ward, I would have voted for Mr Low/Dr Poh without a doubt.

In my opinion, Singapore is NOT ready to have an alternative government nor a shadow government. For countries like the UK and US, the Conservative/Labour and the Republican/Demorcat combinations bode well for them simply because they have many layers of government and their countries are big.

We are famous for 1 point - EFFICIENCY! If the governing party faces the constant treats of being uprooted from the seat of power, the candies that they will started to offer and/or the high-handed policies that they will implement will bog down the workforce. This is not a win-win situation for all.

What can WP offers? Simple - constructive ideas that will really benefit Singapore. Do not oppose the PAP for the sake of opposing. CSJ is an example of a no-hopper even in the mind of the ordinary Singaporean for that simple reason.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear K.S.,

Why would you think Singapore not ready for alternative government?

You must understand there is a trade off when one concentrates only on "efficiency". You are not dealing with robots in politics but human beings! The effects of efficiency in PAP government is grossly over rated. Efficiency only means the speed of doing anything, it doesn't mean with speed, you will come up with quality decisions or outcome.

One fine example is the judiciary system. Does Efficiency guarantee good quality judgement for ALL?

Goh Meng Seng

K.S. said...

Dear Mr Goh,

I shall not comment on the judiciary system in Singapore.

Is the WP ready to be the shadow/alternative government? If your answer is yes, then I will have to challenge you to enlighten the general public on who are your Shadow-Ministers (note the capitialisation -> Shadow-Ministers DO command respect in UK).

Let the general public scrtinize them if you are able to come up with 20 names at least. Crap will be the excuses about the ruling party will try to destroy these named people. If they are clean, there is nothing to be afraid of.

Looking at your executive council of WP, I see only 9 out of 15 are university grads or above! Sorry to say that, you can call me discriminating or whatever, I do not believe most of the university graduates and undergraduates in Singapore (arrogant is a sad trait of the typical Singaporean) will accept a non-graduate as one of the governing leaders of Singapore!

This is a MODERN Singapore that we are living in. The days of the layman-type and labour-based type of MPs and Ministers of the nation-building periods are over! We are a developed nation and a highly-educated workforce is a must in a developed nation.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear K.S.,

I am amused and amazed by the elitism that PAP has cultivated in you! US was and is a fully developed country but they never put such "criteria" as the "pre-requisite" as prime consideration for a President or Senate or Congressman! Else Ronald Reagan won't have become the president for 8 years! US is not the only place; places in Europe like Sweden, even have representatives who have not graduated from the university! Yes, one of them was elected into parliament at the age of 19.

We are called Workers' Party, not Elites' Party, so to speak. What you see in the CEC are not "everything" we have! I personally do not believe that we should have all university graduates to be in the CEC. We are not elitist to start with.

Whether WP is ready to become the alternative does not change the fact that Singapore IS READY and NEED to have alternatives! You are mixing the two together! EVERY DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY NEEDS ALTERNATIVES! Whether they have one or not, that's another matter.

What you feel or cultivate to think is that we need university graduates and scholars to become ministers and such? What is politics anyway? This is a philosophical question but I simply put it as managing the country FOR THE PEOPLE. And it needs alot of EMPATHY, more so than wits and scholar intelligence.

The country is just like an individual, how would you want to cultivate your child? Just provide them "education" that equip them with skills that could let them earn a living, that's all? There are social aspects, cultural aspects and political aspects to management of a country. Economic is only part of management of a country. These, I refer to the four pillars of governance. PAP has neglected the three other important aspects. Could scholars and university graduates make any differences in these areas? Maybe yes, maybe not.

I think for "highly educated" Singaporeans like yourself, you should learn to be humble. Regardless of education level, there will always be something you could learn from others. I got a 2nd Upper Honours degree in Economics, so what? I am still learning alot of things from the people I meet, some of them hardly have any education at all!

Knowledge is MULTI-DIMENSIONAL and this is what we should remember. You may be good in studying in your field or subjects, that doesn't make you "superior" than a hawker who could do something better that you may not know.

Well, last but not least, maybe I misled you with my blog's name. This blog is about TOWARDS ALTERNATIVES. We may not have any REAL ALTERNATIVES just yet, but that doesn't mean that our country doesn't "NEED" one right now. We should fulfill our country's "NEED" , working towards ALTERNATIVES.

Goh Meng Seng

K.S. said...

Dear Mr Goh,

I already said (when I wrote about the university "requirement") that ARROGANT is a very sad trait that you see everywhere in Singapore everyday. I know what was wrong (of which I am wrong too) about it but I am not in any decisive organisation that can make an impact to change it.

It will take a complete changeover in our education system FRIST before the impact will trigger the chain reactions 20 years later. Why? The MOE is practising elitism practically - Why is there a need to rank all schools and proudly proclaimed the top 50 schools of year X every year?

I have lived through the ages where good schools are known but are heard from by words-of-mouth. Is there a need with declaring RI/RGS top every year when it's a known facts everyday? What are the consequences? The schools become brutal in their treatment on mis-fits and under-achievers!

That elitism (that you are referring to) was implanted into us since young. The only way to redress the situation is to start attacking the education policies that we are having now - result-oriented, material-oriented and discipline-oriented schools.

No one knows everything in the world. I commented on this fact in a comment I made in Tan Kin Lian blog. You are right that we can learn much from the ordinary workers too. But when it comes to selecting leaders (of a country or company) are you saying that you are going to select the candidates based on the vast experiences the person learned from the past and not on his intelligent? I know, Bill Gates was a uni dropout but mind you and pardon me, he was a HARVARD-dropout. It means that he was deemed GOOD enough to study there!

We (you and myself and others) know clearly that we should not judge a person (or candidate) based just on the person's education level. But mind you, remember how Tan Lead Shake (DPP) was protrayed as a slipper-clad "chap" by the media and the question was posed to the general public whether do you want such a person as your leader?

If you say (which you did not yet) that the general Singaporean do not see along the way I saw it, then why would the media be focusing on Tan's appearance rather on what is inside his head? Obvious - we (Singaporean) are too materialistic and pragmatic!

With all these facts on what a Singaporean is about, are you going to field another "under-educated" candidate and play into the ruling party trap? Straight away you get fired from all directions and the topic (during the elections) will no longer be about the Singapore issues (scandals, IRs, whatsoever)! The topic will become Mr/Ms so-and-so education level/appearance/etc.

Ask that to Tang Liang Hong (from your party of course) or Andrew Kuan. What was the topic they were defencing on during their election campaign - economic/welfare issues or personal problem issues?

If you can beat them, join them! Recruit good candidates, like Dr Poh and yourself. Offer them side-by-side with the PAP candidates. I would have VOTED for you if WP offers a range of "elites" among the workers against the "elites" among the scholars that the PAP is offering. But I will NEVER vote for a Technical Officer with a cert from don't-know-where that is coming from your party. You know who I am referring to.

That's the trick that I see it. The ball is not in your court. Go to theirs and play their games. One day, you might win and bring the ball back to your court.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear K.S.,

I am a little puzzled by your comment here. First, you say you understand the underlying "elitism" that was installed in the education system. But yet, you have "willingly" succumb yourself in such cultivation of elitism "KNOWINGLY" and would refuse to vote for anybody with no paper qualifications?

If you are "enlightened" about the ills of elitism, you should not practice it!

The problem of PAP leadership right now is the "disconnect" they have with the ground, due to elitism. How could one who is earning tens of thousands every months understand the effect of the high cost of living on the average joe on the ground?

I do not think that the lack of paper qualification would become a "personal attack" as compared to Tang and Andrew Kuan. Mah BT lost the seat of Potong Pasir precisely due to such arrogant reference to Chiam's "inferior" results as compared to Mah!

Judging a person whether you want to vote by just looking at his paper qualification is very superficial! Many people may have a degree but with practically no political acumen at all! I for one will not vote for somebody who talks political nonsense despite his many paper qualifications. And I would definitely not want to have such a person as team mate!

Now, about Tan Lead Shake. Have you spoken to him before? Have you listen to his rally speeches before? But just to judge him basically because he likes to wear slippers as he feels they are cooler to his feet? Tan LS has more political sense and acumen than many people in Singapore, if you happen to talk to him. He has a degree too! It is just his "weird" inclination that has done him in.

Well, unfortunately, most Singaporeans are under heavy influence of the controlled mass media. So be it. But I would expect somebody like you, to be enlightened enough to see beyond the surface.

Goh Meng Seng

K.S. said...

Dear Mr Goh,

I understand your anguish and desire to do more for Singapore and Singaporean alike with the limited freedom and resources that you have. Politics is a tough business but it can be a noble cause if the politician is really keen to do more for the good for everyone, and not to pocket more $.

But as I read further, I find you doing more and more character assasinations on me. I am sure we are "educated" enough to know the differences between a good debate (on a topic supported by facts and not speculations) and accusations on a person (that you perceived him to be which may or maynot be correct <- speculation again) right?

If you read carefully, I have never accuse anyone of anything. Even the stuffs about Tan LS, I am pointing out that the media had protrayed as such (not by me).

For you to write "But I would expect somebody like you, to be enlightened enough to see beyond the surface.", you are implying that I am not fit to discuss about the issue on hand.

with deep regrets *sigh*

K.S. said...

Back to the main debate, I have to answer each and every point you written about and hope you will be fair to me too.

(a) I understood "elitism" as per se. What we know is not always what we must act likewise. I willingly succumb to the lure of elitism so that I am part of the society too. I do not regard myself as a big "hoo-ha" that will change our society. I do therefore I am me! If I had wanted to fight it, then I would have to join your party isn't it? Being apathetic is a common trait of Singaporan isn't it.

(b) I agree with you that the ruling party has a "disconnect", as perceived by us, with the ground. That is a by-product of them choosing the elite of scholars as their Ministers, etc.

(c) Paper qualification was never brought up against any opposition candidates just yet. This does not mean it will not be. Remember, against Jufrie (Malay-centred), TLH (Chinese-chauvinist), TLS (slipper), there is a better "personal" topic to use against them than qualifications. Can you imagine what if your party contested a GRC with 5 persons all having less than degree/diploma? Convince yourself and see if you think such a team is acceptable to the public? If you think the answer is yes, then I have to assume WP is disconnected too! If your answer is no, then you tell me why is it a no?

(d)Judging a person by his qualifications (not just on education) is superficial (I agreed). Wanting to marry a man with a greater wealth is materialism (I also agree). Wanting to be the first person to get anything is kiasuism (definitely agree). Wake up! Welcome to the real world! If you still insist that we shouldn't do this and that, there is only 1 place to go - temple (be a monk).

(e) Should we listen to our Singapore media only? I have written on a topic called "The (Un-Whole) Truth" in my blog. Read it Link and the comments. If you still do not understand what I am implying after reading, write a comment on my blog and I will slowly explain to you. Don't be mistaken about me wanting to insulting your intelligence or whatsoever. It could be that I might have written the passage in a way that might give others the misunderstanding. The internet is our media, not just our local media. I already know how to read them with a pinch of salt added.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear K.S.,

I apologize to you if I really sound aggressive to you. I never meant or intended to assasinate your characters in any sense. However, I find your responses very disturbing to me.

I take you as a person highly politically aware and enlightened in some aspect, but when you actually embrass the very elitism which you know, it really disturbs me alot. And your intent of bringing up Tan LS really puzzled me alot. My comments only meant to be a reminder to all of us that we should not look at things so superficially. Especially so to be affected by the controlled mass media in all aspects of our thinking process and judgement of people.

As a responsible voter, each and everyone of us should exercise judgement carefully based on "KNOWING" the candidates, instead of being fed by the mass media's proporgandus materials.

And you know it is the media that play tricks, but why would you fall into their play? If you understand the effects of elitism, why do you want to vote according to elitist choice? It puzzles me alot.

In opposition politics, we face much fierce criticisms and critiques from our own members and mentors as well. It would be beneficial to us to learn from our mistakes being pointed out by our own people rather be fired upon by our opponents. These criticisms may sound very blunt and direct at times, but we are just used to it and most importantly, we learn something from this process.

No offence to you but I just need to clear some puzzles on my part. Do most of your friends think the way you think? And would decide who to vote by looking paper qualifications? What do they look for in a candidate, exactly?

Goh Meng Seng

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear K.S.,

Maybe as a matter of principle, I put it very simply:

1) It doesn't matter what others think
2) It only matters what you think
3) It doesn't matter what others do
4) It only matters what you do

That's my point. I practice what I think...meaning, if I know elitism is not right, I will not vote according to elitist perception. I won't run this country from the elitist perspective.

It also mean something to you; others could just vote blindly according to elitist selection, but what about you? That's what puzzles me when you say you won't vote for someone without a degree! Never mind what others think for the moment!

I do not believe in "conformist" approach, else I won't be in opposition politics in the very first place. It may just be true that MAJORITY of Singaporeans would just put great importance on paper qualification and we may have to play to the tune of this mindset, but deep down in our hearts, we must not be swayed or "corrupted" by such notion. In fact, it should be our mission to educate the masses the fallacy of elitism. Yeah, it is going to be tough job against REALITY but hey, who says it is going to be easy?

REALITY is one thing, what you believe is another. You may have to live in REALITY which is a misfit, but your mind should not be washed off just because of this REALITY. If we are so submissive to REALITY, we would not be fighting the uphill battle already!

At the end of the day, we only need to be truthful to ourselves, answer to our own conscience, isn't it?

Goh Meng Seng

K.S. said...

Dear Mr Goh,

During my final year of my undergrads days more than 6 years ago, constantly I have tea sessions with my classmates. And when it comes to topic like politics, the general remark has always been that the opposition s*cks big time!

Constantly, I was the one person to defend a 2-party system in those days. This does not bode well for your party. If every 9 out 10 grads think the same way (we are apathetic nation remember?), how are you going to win over the "educated".

I do not know where you obtained your 2nd upper class from but I was from NTU. To be fair to you, during my post-grad days, I am one of the few Singaporean (or maybe can be Malaysian) among the so many FTs in the class <- a sad fact about our FT policy that preferred them rather than local!

Oh yes, I am answering your comments about REALITY in my blog. Please read it and you will understand why you have to read it, especially the end part <Link>.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear K.S.,

I do not have the money to go overseas for studies. ;) I graduated from NUS economics department.

I believe in impermanence. Everything is in the flux of change. Same for your friends. They may just be apathetic during school days, but when they start to work (or become jobless), face the high cost of living, want to get married, want to buy a house...etc, they will understand more about the need of political consciousness.

As for your blog entry, I think you are looking at it from a "static" point of view. It is the win or lose now that only matters to you. I will enter my comments to your blog.

Goh Meng Seng

K.S. said...

Dear Mr Goh,

You see, I have always repected you in my addressing to you :). I see you as a "credible" and a possible and potential WINNING candidate.

Here I am, trying to understand you better to "check" if you are the type who debated with others based on accusations and no substance - just like some of them, which is not nice for me to name them. I hope to see more of "Mr Chiam" or "Dr Poh", who can perform on the national platform. No more of "don't tok cock" type of politicans in parliament please!

Read back to the 1st comment on this blog entry - I have already informed you from the start that I am no fan of PAP and I really hope to find an alternative voices (not alternative government) from the oppositions who can perform on the national platform. But my vote went to PAP in 1997 because of the many reasons that I don't like in the opposition - not credible, no qualifications, no substances, argue without facts, keep on accussing others, etc. They just don't command my respect at all.

K.S. said...

Dear Mr Goh,

I am a Libran The Scale, so I balance myself with fairness. When it's time to slam the ruling party, I do so. But I am as appreciative to them (or rather LKY) for what I am today.

Likewise for the oppositions, I always hope to have good credible candidates who can win through to the parliament. And I rebuke just as hard on people who accuse without facts and figures. A country don't function on hearsay!

You are right (give fairness to you)! I am looking at the static situation of the PRESENT. How can we change it? I cannot teach anyone. You (the opposition) have to offer solutions to us on the table. That's the "job" of the opposition, although I admit you don't get paid for it, hence the "".

I am politically-aware but not necessarily active. I am just as aware about the listed companies on our exchange, just that I don't have a good topic to write on just yet. I read through headlines on the papers everyday (like 10mins) but I spent 3-4 hrs everyday reading internet information.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear K.S.,

In fact, I would appreciate if voters really take a closer look at who they are voting.

However, what I do not encourage is for voters to "vote blindly", simply based on paper qualifications of the candidates.

Yes, it may be true that in the past, there are "opportunists" in opposition parties; that is basically because the well educated ones do not want to step forward. But that era has past, believe it or not, thanks to the high election deposits! :)

However, in our party, there are many politically enlightened individuals who may not have the qualifications but in my view, has all the "right" thing in their mind to stand as a candidate. It is a matter of judgement and whether you know that person or not. These enlightened individuals understand the political reality in Singapore, elitist in nature. They would rather have people with more "paper" qualifications to stand for elections rather they steal the limelight. And they are selfless in every sense that they would support the candidates upfront in every possible way. WP is lucky to have this core group of selfless people supporting our cause. Thus, I am always very pissed off when people tend to look down on them just because they do not have any paper qualifications. I would rather have them standing as team mates anytime, instead of some last minute opportunists with great paper qualifications!

WP has not grown to a critical mass yet and if we need to, we will still call upon the service and dedication of these veterans to stand as candidates. Trust me, they are no fools and they are definitely not inferior in any sense as compared to many Singaporeans with "paper qualifications".

Until the time when truly qualified and politically awaken or awared individuals like yourself choose to voluntarily to participate in the political process, we could only depend on these trustworthy veterans.

Goh Meng Seng

K.S. said...

Dear Mr Goh,

I quote again what I said within this blog comments and which you miss out or avoided answering, "Can you imagine what if your party contested a GRC with 5 persons all having less than degree/diploma? Convince yourself and see if you think such a team is acceptable to the public? If you think the answer is yes, then I have to assume WP is disconnected too! If your answer is no, then you tell me why is it a no?"

I throw to you this challenge then. Put up all those people that you say have a right mind but no qualification in a group and contest a GRC. I promised to go to whatever GRC they are contesting to listen to their rallies.

Then we shall see what is the election topic for them - either the PAP attacked them on some points (could be the education levels, etc) or that the PAP will simply ignore them like Tan LS's father or we shall see otherwise.

Hey! Politics is not about monk-hood! For monk-hood, they talk about being detached and humble, etc. Monks are usually noble.

Politics is not about having selfless people that are willingly to die for the country. Yes, they are noble but they do not win elections. Politics is about finding the RIGHT candidates to win the elections. After that, then we talk about using these selfless noble souls to run the country in some ways or another.

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It would be much easier if people would be unite for one common cause and not go against each other.