Saturday, September 29, 2007

Mr. Brown Did It Again! -- Compulsory Annuity

Try this link to Mr. Brown latest hit song on the CPF and Compulsory Annuity!

Three cheers to our new rap composer Mr. Brown! :)

Goh Meng Seng

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Condemning Myanmar Government

I read with great sadness and anger on what the Myanmar Government is doing to to its people who have chosen a non-violent way of protest. They are using excessive force against people without any weapons or intention of harming anybody. This is a crime against humanity, similar to those happening back in 1989 Tianan Man.

Those who give order to open fire, sending bullets into the bodies of civilians and monks should be charged in international court for war crimes. If we could send people in army uniform to war crime tribunal for massacred of civilians, I do not see why we should tolerate a regime that apply brutal force against their own citizens who act in a non-violent way.

I cannot understand how those soldiers could just follow orders blindly and fire upon civilians that are not armed. Maybe these barbaric dictators do not have any sense of shame in doing such things. They do not know the proper way of handling non-violent protests other than shooting their guns at the protesters. There are riot gear, water cannon, tear gas or even rubber bullets. Using small arms to fire at the protesters is totally unacceptable and this should equate to murder or homicide.

I am calling out to our PAP government to stand on the side of humanity to condemn the Myanmar Government for its excessive use of brutal force against peaceful protesters. Our government should cut any direct involvement in helping the Murderous Myanmar regime to perpetuate its draconian rule, particularly, those that involve arms manufacturing and trading. There are some things in this world that is more valuable than making money and that is preservation of human lives and the spirit of basic human decency. We should preserve our own National pride and dignity in not dealing with these hooligans.

Singapore, as a key player in ASEAN, should exert its influence to stop the insane and inhumane Myanmar Junta from committing more bloodshed and crimes to humanity on its own land. When everything fails, I think the only decent thing left for us to do is to follow the good old saying of distancing ourselves away from such "bad influence". When we were young, our parents always told us to stay away from bullies, gangsters and people of bad characters. It is only wise to do so. We should boycott the Myanmar Junta Government totally in protest of such crimes against humanity, until they could come to their senses and respect basic human rights and decency.

Goh Meng Seng

From Yahoo News:

YANGON, Myanmar - Soldiers fired automatic weapons into a crowd of anti-government protesters Thursday as tens of thousands defied the ruling military junta's crackdown with a 10th straight day of demonstrations.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official told The Associated Press that several people, including a Japanese national, were found dead following Thursday's protests.

The information was transmitted by Myanmar's Foreign Ministry to the Japanese Embassy in Yangon, the official said on condition of anonymity citing protocol.

The chaos came a day after the government said clashes in Yangon killed at least one man. Dissidents outside Myanmar reported receiving news of up to eight deaths Wednesday.

Some reports said the dead included monks, who are widely revered in Myanmar, and the emergence of such martyr figures could stoke public anger against the regime and escalate the violence.

Witnesses told the AP that five men were arrested and severely beaten Thursday after soldiers fired into a crowd near a bridge across the Pazundaung River on the east side of downtown Yangon.

Shots were fired after several thousand protesters on the west side of the river ignored orders to disband.

In other parts of the city, some protesters shouted "Give us freedom, give us freedom!" at soldiers. Thousands ran through the streets after warning shots were fired into crowds that had swollen to 70,000. Bloody sandals were left lying in the road.

Thursday's protests followed early morning raids on Buddhist monasteries during which soldiers reportedly beat up monks and arrested more than 100.

The monks have spearheaded the largest challenge to the military junta in the isolated Southeast Asian nation since a failed uprising in 1988. In that crisis, soldiers shot into crowds of peaceful demonstrators, killing some 3,000 people.

As the stiffest challenge to the generals in two decades, the crisis that began Aug. 19 with protests over a fuel price hike has drawn increasing international pressure on the regime, especially from its chief economic and diplomatic ally, China.

"China hopes that all parties in Myanmar exercise restraint and properly handle the current issue so as to ensure the situation there does not escalate and get complicated," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Thursday at a twice-weekly media briefing.

The United States called on Myanmar's military leaders to open a dialogue with peaceful protesters and urged China to do what it can to prevent further bloodshed.

"We all need to agree on the fact that the Burmese government has got to stop thinking that this can be solved by police and military, and start thinking about the need for genuine reconciliation with the broad spectrum of political activists in the country," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill in Beijing.

Myanmar's state-run newspaper blamed "saboteurs inside and outside the nation" for causing the protests in Yangon, and said the demonstrations were much smaller than the media are reporting.

"Saboteurs from inside and outside the nation and some foreign radio stations, who are jealous of national peace and development, have been making instigative acts through lies to cause internal instability and civil commotion," The New Light of Myanmar, which serves as a mouthpiece for the military government said Thursday.

Also Thursday, security forces arrested Myint Thein, the spokesman for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, family members said.

Several other monasteries that are considered hotbeds of the pro-democracy movement were raided by security forces before dawn in an apparent attempt to prevent the demonstrations spearheaded by the Buddhist clergy.

A monk at Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery pointed to bloodstains on the concrete floor and said a number of monks were beaten and at least 100 of its 150 monks taken away in vehicles. Shots were fired in the air during the chaotic raid, he said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

"Soldiers slammed the monastery gate with the car, breaking the lock and forcing it into the monastery," the monk said. "They smashed the doors down, broke windows and furniture. When monks resisted, they shot at the monks and used tear gas and beat up the monks and dragged into trucks."

Empty bullet shells, broken doors, furniture and glass peppered the bloodstained, concrete floor of the monastery.

A female lay disciple said a number of monks also were arrested at the Moe Gaung monastery, which was being guarded by soldiers. Both monasteries are located in Yangon's northern suburbs.

Dramatic images of Wednesday's protests, many transmitted by dissidents using cell phones and the Internet, riveted world attention on the escalating faceoff between the military regime and its opponents.

WP 50th Anniversary

The Workers' Party will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in November. For those of you who are interested to attend their dinner, please visit their website for more details.

Someone actually did a very good "music video" on WP's GE 2006 to commemorate WP's 50th Anniversary. Enjoy!

My heartfelt best wishes to Workers' Party for its future political fight for a better political system in Singapore.

Goh Meng Seng

Friday, September 21, 2007

NSP Recruitment- Potential Candidates Wanted

The National Solidarity Party is carrying out a recruitment driver again. In preparation for the next General Elections, we are looking out for potential candidates and grassroots leaders/organizers to join us.

If you are interested to serve the people of Singapore, squeezing the stingy government for more benefits for the people, play an important role in the democratic process of Singapore, we welcome you to join us to fight for a better tomorrow.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

NSP - Compulsory Annuity is a Raw Deal

Press Release - The Compulsory Annuity Scheme By Any Name Is A Raw Deal
Wed, Sep 19, 2007

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) noted the Parliamentary speech by Dr Ng Eng Hen, and would like to ‘thank’ the government for “being very brave in tackling” the long overdue social issue concerning the financing of the aged. Although this issue was not born yesterday, this ‘First World’ government has nevertheless taken just over 20 years to act on the abundance of statistical information derived from the regular national censuses.

We would thus like to mark this momentous occasion with a stern condemnation of the government for their myopic vision and arthritic reaction to the urgency. The situation is aggravated by the government’s careless policies on the use of the CPF money for both the purchase of expensive public housing (asset enhancement) and as a tool for their economic fiscal manipulation (contribution rate cut), ultimately reducing the retirement fund due to the people. The government has no defence against the people’s right to refuse to foot the bill of a problem created by the bungled management of the government.

It is pathetically meaningless for the government to chatter on and on about the details of the compulsory annuity scheme. The NSP strongly reminds this government that the people are the backbone of society, and the people have laboured to build the success story of this society in collaboration with the policies of the government. As the caretaker and ‘child’ of society, the government is two-faced to harp on the value of filial piety on the one hand, and then act in contrary by readily abandoning the people at the first sign of burden, much like children discarding their aged parents who had toiled to raise them up.

The NSP would like to state that we do not support the compulsory annuity scheme as we believe that there are better and fairer alternatives which do not unfairly dispossess people of their life savings. However, we foresee the habit of the government to ignore sound advices and bulldoze the compulsory nature of the policy through, come what may to future generations. In view of this recognition, the NSP, on behalf of the people, demands the government’s attention on the following points:

* We insist that the government co-fund the premiums for the compulsory national annuity. The amount of co-funding from the government must be no less than half the sum of the premiums, and the government must do so without raising taxes in fulfilment of their basic social responsibility as caretaker of society.

* The policy must have the provision which allows people (policy holders) the right to recover their entire co-paid portion of their core premiums should they pass away before the first payout kicks in at the stipulated effective age (e.g., 85). Under the circumstance, the government’s co-paid portion is retained in the pool of funds. This provision allow for the possibility of policy holders passing on something to their heirs.

* In place of the private sector, we assert that a public state body should instead be formed to handle the annuity policy. Unlike private firms, the gains and dividends from the pool of funds of annuity policy holders are not diverted to private benefits and hence contained within this public body, allowing the benefits to be channelled back to people. There is no sensible reason why private entities should gain from a profitable undertaking at the expense of the people’s retirement fund.

The government might think that losing one’s retirement money to a bad scheme constitute a part of the “major accomplishments” for Singapore. The NSP would like to sensibilise the government that the people are not getting a “bargain” from the scheme.

Central Executive Council
National Solidarity Party

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Stingy Government

I was hoping to get full details of the Compulsory Annuity from yesterday's parliament but was very disappointed.

Nevertheless, I was shocked to hear what the minister has to say about half of Singaporeans will live up to 85 years old. According to the statistics provided, it seems to suggest that only 25% at most, will live up to 85 years old.

Well, even if this is so, how much would it cost the government to give each elderly who have lived past 85 years old $300 per month?

For the moment, we have less than 26,000, it would cost the government:

$300*26000*12= $96.6million a year.

(please note that this is worse case scenario which the figures include Permanent Residents as well).

Considering the fact that our government has a budget of $20billion a year, this is really a negligible sum. If or government has reserves of US$300billion that could earn 10% return, $96.6 million is really peanuts to start with.

According to the population statistics, the highest strata of the age group is 331.2K from age 40 to 44 years old. Even if half of them, as in the age group cohort, could survive up to 85 years old, how much would it cost the government each year to pay $300 to them every month?

166000*$300*12=$597.6 million.

This amount may be more in future, 45 years later, but this could be considered as "Present Value" of the cost of maintaining livelihood of those aged.

Is this a big sum? 1% of our $300billion reserves will give you $3billion!

Thus what puzzles me is why the PAP government wants to wash their hands off in taking care of the elderly? In the worse case scenario, it is not that a overwhelming sum. Imagine that the PAP government could splash two or three billions to Singaporeans just prior to general elections, I really doubt that this is a heavy burden at all.

We may have one of the super rich government in reserves per capital terms. But we also have a situation where our citizens are relatively "poor" as compared to other similar developed economies like Hong Kong. Despite of high saving rates, we still find our citizens unable to finance their retirement, why?

And the most absurd part of the situation is that even with a super rich government, it actually refused to take care of our society's aged! In conclusion, this is really a rich but stingy government indeed!

Goh Meng Seng

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Recap of My Rally Speech

A blog named "Made in Singapore" has put up my rally speech made on the eve of GE 2006 polling day.

I think the main purpose is to highlight my points made in insufficient retirement financing, expected rise in GST, bus fare and such. It is a good time to do a recap here.

Speech at Serangoon Rally 6 May 2006 Part 1

Speech at Serangoon Rally 6 May 2006 Part 2

Speech at Serangoon Rally 6 May 2006 Part 3

Goh Meng Seng

Thursday, September 13, 2007

NSP Press Release on Fare Hike

I will be writing on issue of Bus Fare hike later but for the moment, this is the NSP press release:

Press Release - Burden of Fare Hikes on Commuters is Unjustified
Wed, Sep 12, 2007

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) condemns the latest approval of bus fare hike by the Public Transport Council (PTC). Fare hikes have become an annual ritual which highlights the sordid mechanism behind the regulation of standards and fares by the PTC.

The Chairman of PTC Mr. Gerald Ee acknowledged that “the current service frequency was not good enough when 'operational deviation' was factored in”. The tightening of the basic Quality of Service (QoS) by the PTC therefore constitutes a tacit admission that the service standard for buses has dropped below the mark of decent acceptability for some years, even as fare hike applications continue to be favourably approved year after year.

The PTC stated that it was "mindful not to increase the cost of compliance" to Public Transport Operators (PTOs), thus opting to phase in the new standards in 2 years, with fines thereafter of up to $10,000 per month for each instance of non-compliance.

The NSP would like to punctuate the salient point that such punitive fines will unavoidably result in either the passing of the cost liability to commuters, or in an invariable reduction in service standards not directly measured by the QoS such as interior ambience and comfort of ride.

The NSP strongly recommends that fare hike applications by PTOs be dismissed until the basic service standard is first achieved within the stipulated 2 years, and subsequently maintained for at least 5 years thereafter, subjected to a stringent and transparent process of annual assessment.

Mr Gerald Ee’s assumption that Singapore’s economic growth automatically translates to affordability for bus commuters is questionable. In the latest hike, the highest increment was for the shortest trips. This will hurt the heartlanders most as they are often those with low or no income. Affordability is a nonsense reason for a fare hike, especially since public transport is an essential service.

Singapore’s “economic growth” has seen workers in the lower 40% of the population suffering little or no improvement in their salaries. Their misery is compounded by the fact that the inflation rate for the lowest 20% continued to peak well above that of the highest 20% income earners, even surpassing the general household inflation rate. And this is despite the occasional government handouts. Those with ‘extra’ money would prefer to save it or spend in on other essentials instead of ‘squandering’ it on increased bus fares.

In the latest quarterly financial report of SBS Transit, fuel cost decreased by 6.6%, while operating profit increased by 36.9% as compared to the corresponding quarter last year. Profit after tax to shareholders increased by 25%. Manpower cost increased by a manageable 4.4% which was more or less offset by the decrease in fuel cost. For SMRT, cost of staff and fuel decreased, while profit after tax increased by a whopping 38.5%.

The impressive double-digits profits of PTOs far overshadow the meagre pay increment of many citizens. It is hence dishonourable to further fatten the coffers of the PTOs by diluting the citizens’ hard-earned gains.

The PTC acknowledged that Singapore has a “restricted number of service providers and an absence of real market competition”. The unchallenged business position of the existing PTOs will allow their businesses to continue to stay attractively profitable for the foreseeable long-term without needing to rip more from commuters. This is evident from the rapid expansion of profitable businesses of the PTOs both at home and overseas.

The NSP would like to pound on the need for improvements to the grotesquely inadequate fare formula, a demand which have been repeated incessantly by the indignant public.

The formula must include elements which incorporate the degree of compliance to the QoS. The PTC must recognise that the lower and lower-middle income group constitute the bulk of public transport commuters. The formula must thus factor in their (low) earning power and relatively higher incurred inflation, and not merely incorporates the national average which skews in favour of the well-to-do who do not generally commute by bus.

Finally, the profits of the PTOs and their payouts to shareholders must be considered in the equation. If necessary, the PTC should oblige these lucrative PTOs to raise extra funds from their benefited shareholders instead of exploiting the lack of viable alternatives for the people through constant fare hikes. It is preposterous for the PTC to safeguard the interest of the shareholders of PTOs at the expense of commuters.

The NSP hopes that the members of the PTC can step onboard public transports more regularly to enable them to empathise with the commuters, and recognise their fair rights and interests.

Central Executive Council
National Solidarity Party

Friday, September 07, 2007

From Online to Activism on the ground?

I have picked up a piece of news from the internet forum:

Singapore's pension reform plans spark rare protest

Reuters - Thursday, September 6

SINGAPORE, Sept 6 - Singaporeans have started a rare protest against the government's pension reform plans with an online petition and a planned public protest action.
An online petition against the pensions reform had drawn nearly 600 online signatures as of Thursday, while on Saturday, activists will test Singapore's ban on demonstrations by staging a symbolic "black T-shirt" protest at a popular downtown mall.

Any public protest is rare in Singapore, where all outdoor demonstrations are banned and any public gathering of more than four people requires a permit.

The protest takes aim at plans to make it mandatory for all Singaporeans under the age of 50 to buy annuities and which would impose restrictions on how pension savings are invested.

"People are quite unhappy, partly about way the announcements about the pension reforms were made," political commentator Leong Sze Hian told Reuters.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the pension reform in his National Day speech last month, saying there was no choice as "people are living longer".

To cope with a rapidly ageing population, the government is upping the retirement age from 62 years to 65 years by 2015, and up to 67 beyond that.

In recent weeks, government ministers have talked about several planned changes to the Central Provident Fund , a mandatory retirement savings scheme for all Singaporeans that pays a lump sum upon retirement and can be used to pay for flats.

"There is concern, but the public ought to wait for more specific details on the changes, to be out later this month," Member of Parliament Halimah Yaacob told Reuters.

Singaporeans have turned increasingly to cyberspace as an outlet for their dissatisfaction.

The latest petition -- on -- has drawn 580 signatures over two weeks. In the past two years, petitions against a pay-and-perks scandal at a national charity and against the introduction of casino gambling drew thousands of signatures.

Saturday's protest -- announced on political blogs and online forums -- is set to test Singapore's limits on freedom of assembly, as organisers merely suggest participants turn up at 4 p.m. at the Centrepoint mall, dressed "partly" in black.

Law student and online activist Choo Zheng Xi told Reuters he does not expect a strong turn-out, as other small-scale protest actions in the past months have drawn a massive police presence as well as plainsclothes policemen filming protesters.

This subtle protest was initiated by person with a nick "Thinkall" in Sammyboy forum a couple of weeks ago. There are number of respondents that heed to his call for a show of protest against the Compulsory Annuity planned by the PAP government by wearing black shirts to shop at downtown Centrepoint Shopping Centre. I am a bit skeptical about such activism at first basically because past experience has demonstrated that Singaporeans do not express their frustrations or disagreement against any government policies through such physical demonstration. However, if this subtle demonstration is "successful" (by any definitions, with a sizable turn out), it would mean that social-political activism by Singaporeans would have taken a bold step forward, from the cloak of anonymity provided by the internet virtual sphere to the physical reality sphere.

Naturally, the PAP government would be dead worry by such moves by members of the public who have no political affiliations to any organizations or political parties. They could possibly "fix opposition" but it would be seen as exceptionally harsh for them to "fix" citizens whom, on their own accord, decided to show their frustrations and disagreement with their policies. The state police might have drawn out a standard protocol to deal with organized political dissidents who take to the streets but it would be totally a different ball game if the initiative is taken up by citizens themselves.

Someone asks me whether I would be there or not. Beside the consideration of availability of time and space, I think there are more careful considerations to be made here. It would not be wise to complicate the event with partisan involvement. It would give the PAP government excuse to come down harsh on these citizens who decide to take up social-political activism to demonstrate their distaste of the policies, by linking them to opposition parties and thus, "fixing opposition" would naturally include "fixing" those who get involves with opposition.

Even at this instance, after the Reuters has reported on this "protest", one of the forummer has backed out. This latest development has just reinforced my initial skepticism. It is a well known fact that the Fear factor is well alive in Singapore. And I think it is a clear indication of the political culture of Singapore. There will be many people who sit behind their keyboards and make all sorts of "bold statements" and even question why the opposition parties in Singapore are not "doing enough". It is only when one is faced the crunch and the pressure of active participation in any social-political movement, he or she will realize that it is not that easy for us, as a people, to walk out of our political culture of FEAR.

I shall end this article with the following quote I have read recently:

Fear Can Ruin Our Life

Fear fills a person with perpetual mental
tension and anguish.
Fear progressively erodes life and debases the mind.
Fear is a potent pessimistic force which
darkens the future.
If one harbours any kind of fear,
his way of thinking will be affected.
Fear is capable of eroding one's personality
and making him landlord to a ghost.

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, September 03, 2007

Say No to Compulsory Annuities

Please sign the online petition against Compulsory Annuity here.

There are many angles and perspectives to look at this compulsory annuity issue. One of the most direct criticism I have seen on the internet is that if the government is able to provide life long pensions for its PAP ministers, why would other civil servants be deprived of that? Or to extend the argument, if the government could afford such expensive pensions for ministers (some are getting both ministerial pay as well as pensions at the same time!), why couldn't it provide for those who have lived beyond 85 years old?

During the 2006 General Elections, I have made retirement financing one of my main campaigning issue and I have urged the PAP government to increase the interest return to CPF since they have claimed to make extraordinary return on GIC and Temersak Holdings investment. The extremely low return on CPF will cause a big problem in retirement financing in a rapidly aging population.

At first look, when Prime Minister Lee talks about increasing interest return to CPF, I thought finally PAP has responded to the urgent need of solving this time bomb. However, the subsequent revelations on the details is a big disappointment. It seems that the PAP government has decided to wash its hands off from taking care of our aging population. First of all, it seems that the increase of 1% is only for a limited $60K in special accounts and for the other funds in the CPF, it will face fluctuations which would naturally be facing a lower interests return. The truth is, nobody knows the net effect on the CPF.Most probably, they will give you some, but take back more. This is the most predictable methodology of PAP government.

Thus, my hope that the crucial part of solving retirement financing will not materialize at all. In return, PAP government come up with the Compulsory Annuity scheme which is in effect, a way of shifting the burden of social welfare in taking care of a rapid aging population to the citizens. Of course, they will "package" it as sweet as it could. The propaganda is on, showing many people are old and having long life. But they did not show you the statistics: only less than 1 in 4 or 5 (this is a very optimistic estimate) will live beyond 85 years old.

The first question I want to ask the PAP government, is there anything wrong to ask the government to take care of our aged? Why is the PAP government trying to wash its hands off such social responsibilities?

The second question is this: Since the PAP government has benefited most from the cheap funding provided by the citizens' compulsory savings (CPF), which in turn created a low return and deficiency for citizens' retirement funds, shouldn't it be a MORAL responsibility to make up for such contributions by the citizens by taking care of them when they live beyond 85?

I have never come across a World Class Government that would be so stingy in spending on its citizens. CPF has been used to lower government's subsidies in Healthcare and public housing (oh, please, stop the crap about "market subsidies"!). And now, here again, they are forcing citizens to take care of the aged so that they could wash their hands off from a potentially high social spending!

I have no problem if citizens like to buy annuities which have low expected returns. But to make it "Compulsory" is really taking a step too far off. Imagine if anyone of us know that we have cancer or some terminal illness that would not allow us to live beyond 60, least 85 years old, would it be logical to force us to buy the annuity that we know we would not be benefiting from it at all? Put it simply, if you want to buy an insurance policy, the insurance company has the right to demand a medical report on you or even refuse to sell you the insurance if they have found out that you have high medical risk! On what rational should the government force an annuity down our throat?

The last question I have for PAP government, why didn't it bring up such "brilliant" policy up as their main election campaign issue back in 2006? It is really unbelievable that they have kept TWO "brilliant" policies (increase GST to 7% to help poor and compulsory annuity) from voters!

I believe that Singaporeans are generally very peace loving people but I think PAP government should not take Singaporeans for granted. The social contract is very simple, take care of Singaporeans and we could do with less democracy, rights or others. But if touch on OUR MONEY and force us to buy something that we may not want, then I think Singaporeans will not be that forgiving nor forgetful in the coming General Elections.

There are many technicalities involved in annuity scheme which I would reserve for future postings as the final details on PAP's master plan of shifting the social burden of taking care of the aging population are not out yet. But the key message is simple, PAP government has the SOCIAL as well as MORAL responsibilities in taking care of our aged. And it is totally illogical to FORCE us to buy anything against our will with our own money or share the whole responsibilities of government in taking care of the aged.

Goh Meng Seng