Wednesday, February 21, 2007

GST Hike: We are Taxed for LIFE

After the budget was announced, I read the Chinese newspaper, Zaobao and I see what I expected: Front page flashed with reports on how good the budget is for the "poor".

The focal point is naturally of course on the amount of money poor people will get from the government OVER A PERIOD OF 5 YEARS. Nothing was mentioned about the "NEW POOR", neither was there a comparison made about pre-GST hike vs post-GST hike, how much each income group will be taxed or rather, how much more they will pay as taxes.

Instead, I have found an interesting post in Sammyboy forum on the net amount of taxes each income group will pay pre as well as post GST hike, accompanied by the reduced in income tax rate. No prize for guessing who will pay more after the increase in GST accompanied by the reduction in income tax. As long as your percentage of income are spent in local economy is HIGH, you will be affected more by the GST hike. On the other hand, as long as you did not reach the income bracket that allows you to enjoy the tax cut, you will not enjoy a bit on the benefits of income tax cut. The worst case is that you cannot enjoy the income tax cut but most of your income are spent in local economy, you will find that the amount of taxes you pay will increase tremendously in percentage terms. This normally happens to the middle class income earners and it means a bigger middle class squeeze.

While the really poor will get some sweets from the government and the rich and wealthy corporates enjoys income tax cuts, who will pay for the goodies given to the poor and the "savings" that is given to the rich and corporates? Someone will have to pay for this, surely! Of course, it will be the New Poor, middle class Singaporeans.

When I take a closer look at the so call "goodies" handled out by the government, it seems that they have tried very hard to make it look "impressive". $1000 over 5 years means only $200 per year. And most of these goodies go into CPF.

Now the problem is this, if the money is put into CPF, it is difficult for you to enjoy real benefits in terms on the freedom of usage of these monies. Furthermore, nobody really knows (hey, even PAP ministers don't even know or plan for GST hikes, how could we know? ;)) whether there will be more GST hikes in future or not. The longer the money is kept in CPF, the more likelihood that it will face higher GST in future when you take it out to spend them. This means that the purchasing power of the $100 given to you now may not worth $100 in future if GST continues to hike in future! Even when you are old and retired from working life, you cannot escape the claws of GST until the day you die! You thought that you could forget about paying income tax to the government when you are unemployed or retired? Nope, that will not be the case. Even when you are dead, your family will have to pay GST for your coffin as well as your funeral!

The sad fact is that once you are born in Singapore and remains in Singapore, from the very first day of your birth, you are taxed until you die, through GST. When your parents buys diapers for you, they will be taxed. When they buy milk powder for you, they are taxed. So, how do that add up to the little goodies that the government are giving to you for ONLY THE NEXT FIVE YEARS while you will have to continue to pay the 7% GST for the rest of your life?

This is what policy packaging is all about. In order to divert the attention of the true bitterness of the GST hike, they will try to make stories out of the goodies they are giving out now and hope that you will forget the blunt truth that you will be taxed a higher GST for the rest of your life. Let's concentrate on what you are going to get in the short term first, never mind the long term pain that you will be facing in future.

If Singaporeans cannot see through such smoke screen of goodies to get the single most important message that GST is about Life Long taxation regardless of whether you are alive, dead, rich or poor, then the middle class will face a bigger squeeze ultimately.

Goh Meng Seng

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Second Dawn of Post-LKY Era

One may wonder why I term this as "Second" dawn of Post-LKY Era if he or she has not gone through the exciting period of late 1980s and early 1990s.

When Mr. Goh Chok Tong took over the PM post from Mr. Lee Kuan Yew back in 1989, there is an "underground current" of excitement that things would be very different. This is especially so within the circle of professionals and intellects. They have become more vocal and assertive, though in a very cautious way. This is especially so when Mr. Goh has promised a more open society and different style of governance from his predecessor.

What is so significant about Post-LKY era in the very first place? Mr. Lee has summed it up quite effectively himself that if nobody fear him, his existence would be meaningless. He is an icon of FEAR as well as Respect. During his iron fist rule of Singapore, Singapore has achieved good economic growth but in expense of a more balanced development in the political system. This is the social contract that our forefathers has signed with the ruling party PAP led by Mr. lee Kuan Yew. Civil liberty was curbed and the brutal usage of the fearful Internal Security Act to detain political opponents was tolerated by Singaporeans in view of good economic progress for everyone. The early 1980s' economic slow down/downturn and the closure of Nantah University has created a subtle popular awakening to the reality that PAP's leadership is not perfect. There was a rise in demand by the voters in wanting to have an alternative voice in parliament. This is translated into rising votes for opposition parties and eventually, Mr. JBJ's win in Anson by-elections.

PAP's use of ISD against the poly student social activists in 1988 which it eventually termed as "Marxist Plot", has created a quiet backlash within the Catholic community. I believe that PAP finally realized the great potential political cost of its iron fist rule when it experienced shocking reduced support in 1988 as well as 1991 General Elections. This is the last major use of ISD against political opponents apart from anti-terrorism detention.

When Mr. Goh CT took over as Prime Minister, many thought that the eagle iron fist rule of LKY era has met its final end. There was a sudden boom in social-political activity. Some of the intellects and professionals have become cautiously more vocal and some, even stepped forward to create NGOs like Socratic Circle, The Round Table, Think Center etc. The National Solidarity Party slate of candidates in 1991 was quite impressive, filled with people of good paper qualifications.

But the Catherine Lim's saga was the turning point. The circle of intellects and professionals finally realized that the promised land of Open Society is not that open after all. Some of those intellects or professionals who dared to heed Mr. Goh CT's advice (to Catherine Lim) to step into the partisan political front have bruised noses all over. i.e. Prime examples are Dr. Chee Soon Chuan and Mr. Tang Liang Hong. Socratic Circle and Round Table finally wound up. Some of the members of these NGOs have been co-opted by PAP in the end. I guess the intellects and professionals are totally disappointed with the political climate and believe that PAP is not that open yet for fair political competition as well as alternative intellectual debates and discourse. The expectation of a more open society with a more open political climate in the perceived of post-LKY era has fast become a disillusion to many. This is the end of the disillusioned First dawn of post-LKY era.

However, in early 2000, a small group of people which included James Gomez, the founder of Think Center, quit Think Center to step into the political front. The crisis that WP and all other opposition parties faced in GE 2001 in terms of possible end of active political contests in view of the lack of new faces has led to some intellects to join the opposition camp, namely the Workers' Party. This is a fresh air of renewal for the opposition as a whole.

But I hope that this renewal process will not end here. The REAL post-LKY era will only come with the end of Mr. Lee KY's active political participation. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew will have at most 5 years to go in active political participation, despite his willingness to stand again in the next General Elections. He may have a strong mental will to carry on his political career indefinitely but he is only human. Whether his physical health at the high age of 80 plus would allow him to fight on is really a big question mark.

Frankly speaking, there are challenges and opportunities on both sides, the opposition as well as PAP. The big challenge for PAP to function effectively as a political party and ruling party in post-LKY era will be critical. I have doubts that the present political system could function well in post-LKY era. For a small nation like ours, it is important for us to make sure our political system is sustainable in the long run. The NKF saga is a good example of how the whole system could collapse if it is solely dependent on a few strong individuals with a lack of internal as well as external checks and balances. The NKF saga also demonstrated that the idea of cultivating honest leadership by means of high salary has its potential pitfalls. If future leaders of PAP in the post-LKY era are corrupt, how could the present political system survive? This could only be achieved politically with a balance of power within the parliamentary system.

Many political observers have this quiet expectation of a break up of PAP in post-LKY era. And they actually hope that by a split in PAP, it could create real balancing forces in the political system. I am pessimistic about such hope. It may turn out to be another disillusion.

What we lack is a pool of political talents for the opposition which ideally should act as a check to the ruling party and if it is needed, took over power from the ruling party. This is the one of the biggest challenge for opposition parties. It seems that there is no systematic way of cultivation and grooming for the future political leaders within the opposition party framework.

Many have the wrong concept that what we need are only people with good paper qualifications. The NSP model has proven that even with a pool of candidates of high paper qualifications, it is not a guarantee to electoral success! A life long learning mindset must be cultivated among these potential political talents. Even if you are a professor, a doctor or a lawyer, you will need to learn or re-learn what politics is all about before you could effectively play the role of a successful politician!

I have met quite a few individuals with good paper qualifications to express their willingness to stand as a candidate in the last General Elections. But they are not willing to commit time or effort on the ground at all. They thought that their "bargaining power" is that they have a good paper qualification or have a very successful career. I appreciate their willingness to take the risk and step forward but sorry to say that it would be totally naive to believe that politics is merely about paper qualifications. There are a lot of things to learn and equip oneself in preparation for a successful election campaign. The voters of today are more sophisticated and they are more demanding.

To send people with good paper qualifications/intellects or even professionals to stand as a candidate without any cultivation of political experiences is just like sending a new fresh recruits to war without teaching them how to shoot their rifles effectively! Most politicians or "politician wannabe" have egos, this is especially so for those intellects and professionals. Sometimes, this will become their greatest enemy as their ego prevent them from learning the necessary skills that will lead them to victory.

I expect to see a lot more of these intellects and professionals wanting to participate in the next coming elections when the second dawn of post-LKY era is more eminent. However, my worry is that these potential future leaders of Singapore politics may have the wrong perception of what it takes to be an effective politician. I have met some people of good potential but they even state categorically that they will not "show their cards" too early and they thought that is being politically wise!

On the other hand, my worry is that opposition parties are not prepared to meet the challenges of the post-LKY era. As far as I can see, there is no systematic mechanism in grooming and cultivation. There must be a good internal program in the party so to provide a systematic approach to educate its members on all necessary political skills and knowledge.

Opposition parties have always suffered the lack of good political talents in their renewal process. So far, opposition politics is mostly individual-driven rather than system-driven. The situation is worsen by the lack of strong structure within the parties to allow an effective grooming of new future political stars. Political education is important in this aspect.

The last concern I have for Singapore is that with many of the intellects and professionals working overseas, there will be less desires of this circle of people to participate in Singapore politics. This will spell trouble for Singapore in the long run.

Goh Meng Seng

Sunday, February 04, 2007

PAP's Internet Offensive

Saturday February 3, 1:09 PM
S'pore's PAP rebuts online critics anonymously--daily

SINGAPORE, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Members of Singapore's long-ruling People's Action Party (PAP) are posting anonymous messages in Internet forums and blogs to rebut online criticism of the party, a leading daily reported on Saturday.
The postings were an initiative driven by two sub-committees under the PAP's "new media" committee chaired by Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen, the pro-government Straits Times said, citing unnamed sources.

A government spokeswoman contacted on Saturday declined to comment.

The two sub-committees, made up of politicians and some technology-savvy party activists, were formed after the May 2006 general election, the Straits Times said. The PAP's share of the vote slid to 66.6 percent last year, from 75.3 percent at the previous election in 2001.

The panels had been set up to express the PAP's views online where there were few pro-establishment voices, the newspaper said, quoting a member of parliament who heads one sub-committee.

"The identity is not important. It is the message that is important," Baey Yam Keng was quoted as saying.

The Straits Times quoted Baey as saying that the messages were only effective if they were not "too obvious" lest they resemble "propaganda".

A PAP activist involved in posting the anonymous messages was quoted as saying that he tracked popular blogs and forums to "see if there is anything we can clarify" on controversial issues such as the impending hike in the goods and services tax.

The PAP, which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965, has been criticised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International in the past for its curbs on freedom of expression.

Party leaders say tight regulation of public debate and the media in the city-state is necessary to maintain law and order.

The above Reuters article is derived from Straits Time article below:

Feb 3, 2007
PAP moves to counter criticism of party, Govt in cyberspace

By Li Xueying

THE People's Action Party (PAP) is mounting a quiet counter-insurgency against its online critics.

It has members going into Internet forums and blogs to rebut anti-establishment views and putting up postings anonymously.

Sources told The Straits Times the initiative is driven by two sub-committees of the PAP's 'new media' committee chaired by Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen.

One sub-committee, co-headed by Minister of State (Education) Lui Tuck Yew and Hong Kah GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, strategises the campaign.

The other is led by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Baey Yam Keng and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Josephine Teo. Called the 'new media capabilities group', it executes the strategies.

Both were set up after last year's General Election. Aside from politicians, some 20 IT-savvy party activists are also involved.

When contacted, Mr Baey declined to give details of the group's activities, but he outlined the broad principles of the initiative.

It was necessary for the PAP to have a voice in cyberspace as there were few in the online community who were pro-establishment, he said.

As such, the committees aim to 'observe how new media is developing and see how we can use the new media as part of the overall media landscape', he added.

'How do we facilitate views that are pro-party and propagate them through the Internet?'

The approach reflects comments by Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui at the PAP's party conference in December. He called on younger activists to put up views 'to moderate the vitriol and balance the skewed comments' on the Internet.

But this can only work if activists are not 'too obvious' about it, Mr Baey said yesterday. Otherwise it comes across as 'propaganda'.

'The identity is not important. It is the message that is important,' he added.

One activist who is involved said that when posting comments on online forums and the feedback boxes of blogs, he does not identify himself as a PAP member.

He tracks popular blogs and forums to 'see if there is anything we can clarify' on hot-button topics such as the impending hike in the Goods and Services Tax.

But he added: 'We don't rebut everything. Sometimes, what is said is fair enough, and we send the feedback on to the committee.'

This latest initiative comes on top of a blog site with posts by 12 MPs born after Singapore's Independence in 1965.

It recognises that more younger Singaporeans are relying on the new media as a main source of information.

An Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) study conducted last year found that younger and better-educated Singaporeans relied on information from the Internet when shaping their voting choices at the last GE.

Among the opposition parties, members and supporters of the Workers' Party, in particular, post regularly on forums online.

But IPS senior research fellow Tan Tarn How wonders about the effectiveness of the PAP's campaign.

He said Internet users who post on forums such as Sammyboy tend not to be interested in 'intellectual debate' and so will not be persuaded by PAP activists anyway.

As for more serious-minded bloggers, he said the views that the activists may put out are already available in the mainstream media.

You may want to read Mr. Wang Says So and Xeno Boy articles on this topic. There is also a good analysis on why PAP "leaks" the "secret" operations here.

I share similar sentiments with Mr. Wang on this particular report. I am very surprised that the ST article was allowed to published.

First of all, to reveal such "secret strategy" is disastrous to PAP's internet image! Hey, c'mon, as the largest and powerful ruling party that has dominated Singapore's political scene, its members do not dare to identify themselves as PAP members when communicating with other Singaporeans on the internet platform? Are they ashame or too afraid to be identified with PAP or what?

But on second thought, I think PAP has found out that their "secret covert operations" may be too slow and ineffective in covering the whole internet sphere, thus, to "leak" this information in a hopeful bid to create fear in bloggers and internet writers.

Personally, I am proud of my past association with WP even when it was just a political party on the development path. What are the PAP members afraid of by openly declaring their association with PAP? What's the matter with them? Aren't they proud of their own party which has contributed much to Singapore's progress for the last 5 decades?

As all of you could observe from the many "anonymous" comments recorded here on my blog for the past few months, one would now really put serious doubts on whether they are really "PAP's internet fighters"! ;) How many of these comments come from them, I really wonder!

I have hoped that one day, this PAP's secret internet offensive will be revealed to the public and thus, insisted to keep the comment column open to anonymous posters. Interesting enough, after I declare my intention of capturing all those possible agents' vicious attacks on me so that the whole world will know about it, there is a dramatic decrease in such anonymous comments!

If you read those comments in my blog, you will know why PAP wanted their internet fighters to stay anonymous. Many of the remarks are even defamatory in nature!

As a matter of fact, I have long suspected that PAP has started to carry out its "internet management" plan as far back as July 2006 when I had a meeting with a few WP members and associates. The successful application of internet by WP back in GE 2006 as well as the active engagement of WP members 2 years prior to GE 2006 has made PAP rethink about the possible impact of the new media. Prior to GE 2006, PAP has taken the view that the new media, internet, will have little impact on the political front even though that it has been dominated by anti-PAP sentiments for a almost a decade. But apparently GE 2006 has changed their mind.

The sudden increase of aggressive comments posted on my blog as well as forums right after GE 2006 is an interesting indicator of how PAP's internet fighters work. They may be very clumsy but they may be effective in a sense that I might have possibly become one of their trophy!

Well, life still goes on in the internet sphere with or without PAP internet fighters. But I guess now most people will be more skeptical when they see "Pro-PAP" or "Anti-Opposition" postings on the net... the question will always be on our mind "Hey, is this from the PAP internet fighters?" ;)

Goh Meng Seng