Saturday, December 16, 2006

Singaporeans First or PAP Government First?

Finally, after so much "shouting" and criticism (My first post on this topic is "A Singapore without Singaporeans") of PAP government's Foreign Workers' policy, PAP government has decided to do something about it.

However, when I read about what PAP government intended to do, my first reaction is "Again?"! PAP government is world first in policy packaging as well as calculative. A Casino Resort that comes with great potential social ills is packaged as an Integrated Resort full of economic benefits and jobs. Well, I will revisit the Casino issue in my next post.

PAP government says that in order to make Singaporeans feel more privileged, PAP government will INCREASE fees paid (cutting subsidies and incentives) by Permanent Residents and Foreigners, instead of lowering fees for Singaporeans! Well, this is actually a "good policy", one stone kill two birds! It will save money for the PAP government and at the same time make Singaporeans "feel good" that the PRs and foreigners are paying more than them!

My question is this, if it is really Singaporeans First, then it must be a policy that BENEFITS Singaporeans in terms of lower ABSOLUTE payment but no, to the PAP government, it is only about saving money for the government coffers! If it is really Singaporeans First policy, all the savings from such cut of subsidies and incentives to PRs and foreigners should be transferred as benefits to Singaporeans!

Thus, in my view, these cuts in subsidies and incentives to PRs and foreigners, are PAP Government First policy, not Singaporeans First policies as the only beneficiary of these policies is the PAP government, not Singaporeans.

Goh Meng Seng

The Online Citizen - Moderation vs Freedom

A new initiative is being taken up by some political concerned citizens in Singapore to start a new website accompanied by a forum. This website, The Online Citizen, has been planned with the idea of putting up an alternative credible information/ discussion website for Singaporeans who are politically concerned and aware. The discussion forum is moderated to weed out those flamers (like those you see in my blog's comment section on every posting) and irresponsible posters. However, I was told that rational, sensible and critical comments will still be allowed. There is a fine thin but distinctive line between flaming and critical comments.

Yes, most of us do not like to be moderated but when you read those comments by my detractors in my blog, you will have a good idea why it is a necessity to exercise moderation in order to prevent these agents from trying to discredit these internet forums or websites by putting up flames and graffiti. This seems to be the new strategy of "managing" the internet nowadays!

Personally, I don't really mind these agents from such malicious act as I want the whole world to know that's how politics are being carried out in Singapore. Besides, they could only put up such nonsensical comments in the comment section which did not do much harm to my blog. Besides, we must learn the most important thing about freedom of speech or anything.... it will always come with a little "price" that there will be a minority who will try to put dirt on such freedom.

But for a forum like The Online Citizen, these agents/ detractors/ "internet sub-managers" could just hijack the whole forum and try very hard to discredit the forum altogether. Their aim is, of course, to deprive Singaporean netters a good place to have healthy discussions and discourses.

All the best to The Online Citizen and I hope there will more of such initiatives to come from citizens of Singapore. We could only wear these "internet managers" down by having more and more independent discussion forums.

Goh Meng Seng

Friday, December 15, 2006

Shin Corp's bad news

The following is taken from Today newspaper, published on 14 Dec 2006 edition:

Shin Corp TV unit loses appeal ITV, a Thai television network indirectly controlled by Temasek Holdings, was ordered yesterday to pay unspecified fines and fees to the Thai government.

The company will negotiate the exact amount of the payment with the government after the Supreme Administrative Court yesterday upheld a ruling that revoked ITV’s right to reduced concession fees, Judge Chanchai Sawangsagdi said.

The Thai government is seeking as much as 94 billion baht ($4.2 billion) in fees and fines. The government raised its proposed fine and retroactive fees from 76 billion baht calculated in June by adding interest, Judge Chanchai said.

The ruling brings the focus back to Temasek whose stake in Thailand, where its purchase of a stake in ITV’s parent Shin Corp, is under investigation. In May, the administrative Court nullified the 2004 arbitration ruling that had reduced ITV’s annual licence fees to 230 million baht from at least 1 billion baht, or 44 per cent of its revenue as stipulated in its original contract with the government.

The arbitration ruling also had allowed ITV to increase entertainment programmes to 50 per cent of air time from 30 per cent and to air such programmes during prime time. ITV, which has about 1.2 billion baht of cash, may be forced into bankruptcy should the company be required to pay the full amount of the claim. ITV officials weren’t available for comment, its spokesperson said.

ITV shares plunged 25 per cent to 2.1 baht in Bangkok yesterday, their biggest drop since May 9 and the lowest since they started trading on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in March 2002. The shares have slumped 78 per cent since May 9, when
a court revoked ITV’s right to discounts on its concession fees. “We have no comment on this matter,” Temasek spokeswoman Serena Khoo said yesterday. Bangkok-based ITV has a 30-year concession to operate the only network out of the six in Thailand that is not owned by the government or the military.

The broadcaster became profitable for the first time in 2004 after four years of losses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. ITV posted record profit of 679.1 million baht in 2005. The company had cash and cash equivalents of 1.2 billion
baht as of Sept 30, according to its most recent financial statement.

Temasek led a group of investors that bought more than 96 per cent of Shin Corp, ITV’s parent, between January and March from investors including the family of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The following from Chinese Zaobao news 15 Dec 2006:

泰国私营电视台 限45天内付43亿罚款










But something strange happens this morning. I was told that on the 10am news on the Chinese radio, the fine imposed on iTV was reported but this piece of news was withdrawn from the subsequent 11am and 12pm radio news!

It is understandable for the Chinese news media to be slightly slow in reporting on international news as reported in English international wired news services as translation needs time. However to withdraw news within an hour from the radio media is just too obvious that either self censorship is in place or that there are interference from "up there"!

Furthermore, if we compare the news written in Today and Zaobao, we will find that Zaobao has actually tried very hard to "soften" the news by giving a possible "hope" that the Thai military will intervene and "save" iTV from bankruptcy! It seems that Zaoboa has a subtle message that it is "political" reason that iTV landed itself in such situation by reporting the military strongman's comment that iTV should not be used as a political tool for anybody. In fact, if we look at the way Zaobao reported the news, it is obvious that it is trying to relate the problem of iTV with Thaksin. Right from the title itself and throughout the news report, it is always the fault of being related to Thaksin!

But what intrigues me was that the court case against iTV was actually started during Thaksin's administration! The first ruling was given in May where the court action was taken way before that, by the Prime Minister Office (while Thaksin was still in power) back then! This is one puzzle that was never touched on in local news report.

There is of course, no mention of "accountability" here. Compare these local news report to Asia Times commentary, I think local news media really has a long way to go!

Goh Meng Seng

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Shooting Stars?

I was talking to someone and he mentioned that I am just like a "shooting star". I gave him a big smile and say that he will be very disappointed if he is going to spend time watching the sky for this little shooting star!

On second thought, I think his view is very common among many Singaporeans who are more aware of Singapore's politics. There are quite a number of "shooting stars" in opposition politics. Even PAP has quite a number of "shooting stars", especially those "one term MP". However, there are some misconceptions here. Some veteran politicians might have chosen to work on the background after their first appearance as a candidate for a particular political party. In fact I have known quite a number of past WP candidates who are still with WP after they retire from frontline politics. Some of the them are still active in one way or another.

Personally, I have unfinished business in the political process. I may or may not participate in the next GE as a candidate but rest assure that I would definitely be working on the background to support and help out anyone who needed help in the political process.

Many options are opened now for me and I am keeping them open for the moment. I was contemplating of writting a book on Election Campaigning in Singapore so that I could share whatever experience I have garnered in GE 2006 with other potential contenders in future or even present alternative parties' members. Election Campaigning needs to be planned quite a few years in advance, right from the strategic considerations to how to conduct systematic political activism on the ground, designing the stage, preparing the venue for press conferences/rallies, conducting various seminars and training for potential candidates, logistics and manpower planning, roles of election and counting agents etc etc. It would be a good book for anyone who wants to contest in an election, especially those who plans to stand as an independent candidate.

The only problem is that I do not have the necessary skills and experience in writing a book! Besides, such technical book on political participation may not sell well in Singapore! ;)

The next best thing I could do is to help other political parties in their preparation for the next GE.

Whatever my plans will be for the coming years, I am very sure that I will still be politically active in one way or another. Who knows, I may start my very own NGO/ think tank or political party one day! ;)

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, December 11, 2006

Where to buy Days of Being Wild

After much long wait, finally we have a list of book stores that carries the book:

• Books Actually at Telok Ayer Street

• Borders Books at Wheelock Place

• Kinokuniya at Liang Court and Ngee Ann City

• Page One at Vivo City

• Select Books at Tanglin Shopping Centre

online purchase & enquiries:

The price of the book is S$22 before GST.

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, December 04, 2006

Days of Being Wild

Finally the first book on General Elections in Singapore is out! This is a coffee table book which includes photographs taken during the May GE in 2006. It is written from a layman's points of view about how opposition parties, particularly Workers' Party, fight their electoral battles. Many interviews and quotations were taken from supporters, WP volunteers as well as WP candidates on how they feel about GE 2006.

The author, Dana Lam, is a fantastic writer. Once I got hold of this book, I could not put it down as the writer has managed to write in a way that will make you want to finish it in one go. There are as much information about Singapore elections in the past as well as how WP conducted its GE 2006.

The only disappointment, to me personally, is that it has too few photographs printed in it. I have submitted significant number of photographs to the publisher but I think it is due to huge cost of printing full colour photos that limited the inclusion of these photographs in the final print.

The major problem now is that you could not really get the book from any major bookstores at this moment. I don't really know the reason but I think for "politically sensitive" book like this one (well, LKY memoirs do not have such problems!), it may or may not appear on the shelves of the major bookstores in Singapore at the end of the day!

I hope WP will start selling this great book at their weekly open house (every Monday except public holidays) or by any other means if the major bookstores refuse to put this book on their shelves.

This book will add an important chapter in our historical records where history is told from the layman's perspective. It would be a great shame to Singapore if this book is "technically banned" in Singapore due to reservations from bookstores in Singapore. This is definitely not a good sign of "Open Singapore".

Goh Meng Seng

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Shin Corp a "Good Buy"?

Quite a number of articles have been written on the Shin Corp deal and on the amount of money that Temasek Holdings has lost "on paper". Singapore Elections and Yawning Bread have written on the deal as early as March 2006.

However, one fundamental question still remains: was Shin Corp really a "good buy" in the very first place? Readers may want to understand Shin Corp better by visiting its website on the subsidiaries that it holds.

According to the press release issued by Temasek Holdings on 23 Jan 2006, Temasek Holdings has paid THB 49.25 for each share of Shin Corp. If we take a look at the historical data of Shin Corp's price, right from 11 Jan 2002 till now, this price tag of THB 49.25 is the highest price ever paid for one Shin Corp's share.

Purely from the commercial point of view, Shin Corp is a good company to buy in to, though the price is just too steep.

Shin Corp is a profitable company which owns strategic assets that matters to a Nation. It is similar to Singtel which holds strategic communication assets. As it weilds control on strategic assets and thus, monopoly power over the Thai market, the potential revenue and profit for this company would have been great.

However, isn't this deal "too good to be true"?

In Singapore's context, when we first "privatised" Singtel, Singapore Government only offered 25% of Singtel shares to the public. There are certain restrictions on foreign ownership on Singtel shares as well. Thus, it is intriguing to me why would Temasek Holdings consider that it is "politically safe" to buy out Shin Corp?

Well, of course there is a certain assurance in the deal when the seller was related to the country's Prime Minister himself. However, with the development in Thai politics at that moment, it would make anyone "nervous" about getting involved with Thaksin family.

Thaksin was heavily bombarded by his opponents prior to the April elections on corruptions charges and abuse of power to benefit his family related businesses. But this is not the most important root of trouble for Thaksin.

In Thailand's history, the Thai King is a well respected political figure, though constituitionally, he holds no "parliamentary power". But it is not difficult to understand from the past political history of Thailand, military coups are common and most of them needed the blessings of the Thai King before it could be considered as "successful".

The trouble of Thaksin is not about his political opponents' attacks on him but rather his rough edges with the Thai King. As early as at the end of 2001, there was visible unhappiness of the Thai King of the way Thaksin handled the Thai economics and politics. Subsequently, the Thai King has specifically lectured Thaksin over his intolerance of criticisms from his political opponents as well as the free press in Thailand.

These are the significant signs of the instability of Thaksin adminsteration. When the Prime Minister of Thailand no longer has the endorsement from the Thai King, it will be a matter of time he would be forced to resign. Thaksin is not the first one to face such fate and he will not be the last one also. This is the unique political culture of Thailand which Temasek Holdings may lack the understanding.

Thus, for any politically savvy investors, when Thaksin family put Shin Corp up for sale, it was an obvious move of "cashing out". It is just a deal "too good to be true".

What is disturbing to me is that if one realises that Thaksin family was cashing out, in a hurry, why would one agree to pay the highest price ever for Shin Corp's share? Especially so when the total amount of the deal is so enormous that it would not be easy for Thaksin family to find any buyer with so much cash in such a short notice. Thus, from the commercial perspective, this should be the buyers' market and obviously, it makes no sense for the buyer to pay too high a price for such a deal which involves great political risks.

No doubt that if Thaksin managed to overcome his political barriers, Shin Corp may prove to be a very good buy. His adminstration would not question the legitimacy of Temasek Holding's total control of Shin Corp. Shin Corp would continue to enjoy concessions from the Thaksin adminstration.... etc. But in view of his political standing at that point in time, developed right from 2002 to end of 2005, one would realise that his adminstration was standing on thin ice.

In short, this is a "risky buy" instead of a "good buy". If Temasek Holdings has done its homework, it would come to the same conclusion as well. Not that it is going to be really a "bad buy" (well, basically nobody has 100% hindsight) from the commercial perspective, but for a government investment arm, is it wise to take such high risks at all?

Singapore PAP government has always put emphasis on "political stability" so to attract foreign investment. It is so obsesses with the term "political stability" so much so that it would always "warn" voters that if voters voted in more opposition memebrs into parliament, it will send "the wrong signals" to foreign investors and they would not invest in us. But it makes us wonder why its investment arms like Temasek Holdings would do exactly the opposite of what it preaches, investing in a country that is a potential political hotspot like Thailand? Well, for private companies, they are accountable for their risky choices but in government investment arms, who will be accountable for such risky decisions?

Goh Meng Seng