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