Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Victory of Anti-Casino Movement in Taiwan

Taiwanese in Peng Hu has voted against the building of Casino Resorts on Saturday, 26 September 2009. It is a great victory for people around the world who are against Casino gambling.

This world has too much greed going around and greed has just created a big mess in the finance industry resulting a world wide economic slow down and recession. Greed may be part of the human tools in making the free market possible but uncontrolled greed will be devastating to the whole system and societies.

Photo from China Times

It is just too bad that Singaporeans have allowed PAP to monopolize power and do whatever they want without proper consultation from the people. We are walking into an era of unknown social impact brought by the Casino Resorts which will be due by 2010. I could foresee that the PAP government would most probably waive the $100 entry fee for Singaporeans in order to save these multi-billion projects if revenue does not meet their initial expectations.

The very same excuse used by governments all over the world in saving banks and financial institutions which were at the brink of their collapse would be invoked, "they are just too big to fail". We will be held hostage by the two casino resorts if they fail and we could even envisage that taxpayers money would be used to bail them out if necessary.

The Taiwanese Anti-Casino victory may send a strong signal to the world that ultra-capitalism may not have its way if proper democratic process is being installed. However, it would mean little to Singaporeans as we are after all a small country with power monopolized by a single ruling party. Singapore may just become the Sin City of Southeast Asia basically because we lack the democratic means to decide whether we would allow ultra-capitalism like building Casino Resorts to take us on.

Goh Meng Seng

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Contrast of Democracy and ill-Democracy

Taiwan is holding its first ever referendum in Peng Hu over the issue of building casino resort.

In contrast with Singapore's PAP government's handling of such controversial issue of building Casino resorts, the Taiwanese has shown much more respect of popular will in deciding such decisions.

The main reason given by PAP is that they have the "mandate" by the people who have given them overwhelming support in past elections. Thus, they do not see the need of seeking referendum over such controversial issue. But we have to remember the fact that more than half of PAP's seats are uncontested seats. i.e. these MPs and Ministers did not get a single votes to walk into parliament. Yes, this is partly due to the weakness of Singapore opposition parties but the fact still remains, they did not earn their votes and mandate to represent Singaporeans at large in deciding on such controversial issue.

My wish is to have ALL seats contested by opposition but it seems that this is hard to be fulfilled in the next elections. Nevertheless, I hope that Singaporeans that have the chance to cast their votes next elections have to think carefully about the impact of giving PAP overwhelming dominance in the parliament. They would have the power to do whatever they want in parliament. Such unchecked powers is dangerous for Singapore. It has proven in the past that such monopoly of power has resulted in a few controversial and wrong policies made, eg. Two is Enough policy, Asset Enhancement...etc.

Vote wisely because if all of us don't vote wisely, more controversial decisions would be bulldozed by PAP without taking citizens' voice into account.

Goh Meng Seng

Thursday, September 24, 2009

HDB High Prices & Influx of FT

You can sign an online petition on Lower HDB Price or Build more affordable Flats for Singaporeans here.

One of my favorite blogger Lucky Tan has written on the reasons of the rise in HDB resale as well as new flats' prices. The moderator of 3-in-1 Kopitiam Kojakbt has put up one of his reasoning and his chart on how influx of Foreign Talents is correlated to the pricing of HDB resale flats. (See above)

Although the Pearson Correlation Coefficient is pretty high for the two sets of data, technically speaking there must be a reasonable explanation behind such correlation, else such correlation would be considered irrelevant statistically.

The more appropriate data to be used is the number of increase of PR and non-native Citizens vs the HDB resale pricing. This is because only PR and new non-native Citizens are allowed to buy HDB resale flats. The Total of Foreigners in Singapore could only at best be an approximate to the increase in PR or new non-native Citizens, assuming that the number of new PR and Citizens are directly correlated with the Total number of Foreigners. In Singapore, we have not much choice of data set because the government does not release specific numbers on the increase of PR and New Citizens.

The spiral of HDB resale prices is basically due to two forces, demand and supply. Singaporeans generally could only own one HDB flat per household. It would mean that the supply of HDB flats to Singaporeans are more or less in equilibrium. However, with the injection of new demand caused by the increase in PR and New non-native Citizens, it would cause an inequilibrium in the demand and supply. The supply of HDB resale flats are limited as most Singaporeans bought the flats for own use while the demand of such flats keep going up with the influx of foreigners as PRs and New Citizens.

This will inevitably cause the prices of new flats to surge because the present new HDB flats' price are pegged at the resale flats' price. In effective, HDB is just giving a "discount", not a real subsidy for native Singaporeans. The implicit result would be the influx of Foreigners would have tremendous impact on Singaporeans, especially the young couples, in terms of higher HDB prices.

My suggestion is as follows:

1) HDB should stop hoodwinking Singaporeans by pegging the new HDB flats' prices to the resale HDB market prices and disguise such Discounts as "subsidies". The pricing should be de-linked and new HDB prices should be sold to Singaporeans at cost price and on top of that, REAL subsidies at cost price should be given as follows:

a) Born native Singaporeans or those who have lived here for more than 15years, $20K of subsidies from cost price.
b) Those Singaporeans who have completed their NS, another $10K subsidy
c) Those who get married before 30 years old another $20K subsidy.

2) In view of present FT policy, PAP must solve the problem of inadequate infrastructure, especially housing. HDB should sell NEW HDB flats to PRs direct at MARKET PRICES, instead of cost prices. This will ease the unbalanced market situation due to high influx of FT getting PRs. By earning from these PRs, HDB will be able to cross subsidize native Singaporeans.

This will of course encourage more PRs to convert to Singapore citizenship and at the same time, give REAL VALUE to Singapore Citizens who have contributed to this Nation. On top of that, it encourages family units to be formed without discriminating those singles badly. Singles who are native Singaporeans and served their National service would get their subsidies in recognition of their contribution to the Nation as well.

There is no reason for HDB not to sell New HDB Flats to PRs at MARKET PRICE instead of allowing the resale market to grow into a bubble and in turn, affect all native Singaporeans' housing liabilities. High HDB prices will prevent young couples from forming up family units early. This is a contradiction to our National needs.

It is time for PAP government and HDB to give due recognition to Singaporeans' contribution to the Nation and put tangible value to our allegiance as a citizen. It is unacceptable for us, especially the young Singaporeans, to pay the price of PAP's indiscriminate FT policy in terms of paying higher price for HDB flats.

Our PAP government has been talking big about how they value Singaporeans and putting their interests FIRST above all others. But the truth is, the PAP government is the MAIN CULPRIT in hurting Singaporeans' interest by implementing such housing policy that inflate the prices of new HDB prices for our young Singaporeans. If this policy is not curbed, our future generations would definitely be burdened by higher housing cost all across the board.

Goh Meng Seng

After note: There is an article at that claims that a report by ERA has indicated that40% of HDB resale flat transactions are done by PRs while Business Times has reported that 86% of transactions have been done at Cash Over Valuation, instead of PAP's claim of 25% of HDB flats done valuation or below valuation.

The quote from ERA report is as follows:

"The government's target population of 6.5 million is steadily increasing the pool of PRs; and they have to buy their HDB homes from the resale market as they do not qualify to buy new flats directly from HDB. ERA's resale transactions show that PR buyers make up some 40 per cent compared to 20 per cent three years ago." - Eugene Lim, assosiate director, ERA Asia-Pacific.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Protecting Military Secrets...?

I have attended a briefing recently with regards to my overseas NS training in Australia, code name Exercise Wallaby.

During the briefing, one of the more important agenda is about "Security". It is about security of military information and such. There are of course quite a number of military sensitive information embedded in the whole overseas exercise and we are cautioned not to have loose talk or even photographs of military equipment and such.

Photos like the one displayed on Mr. Brown Show website (see below)would be considered as a breach of Military security.

The reason is that the photo includes the military assets (or what we normally call equipment). Take a closer look below and you could see that the photo captures the military equipment.

It is a valid concern indeed. Not so long ago, there was suggestions made by a committee to waive the ban on NSMan to bring camera phones to in-camp training for fear of such military security breach. Some military intelligence experts commented that the ban should stay because a picture of how the military equipment is being handled would be a vital information for military spies. It is not just about the military equipment but the personnel's proficiency in handling the equipment as well as the tactical manoeuvrings that matters most in military intelligence.

Since I am going to be involved in Exercise Wallaby, I did a simple search on google on Exercise Wallaby. To my surprise, there are quite a lot of information available on the net and some of these information are far more damaging than what Mr. Brown has put up on his web.

Take for example, the Razor TV produced by Straits Times which has an extensive report on Singapore's utilization of Australian training ground. (There are a total of three parts in this series.)

If we are talking about security breaches, the reporting in the Razor TV is far more damaging that I have seen anywhere else. From the strategic perspective to equipment utilization and it even includes the classified flow cart of how the integrated information system works etc etc.

The reporter could just walk through the camp compound and do interviews etc. I thought this is an exception case of military security breach but what surprises me is that even the Mindef's Publication has put up reports along with photos of equipments and the operating members behind the equipment.

The following are the photos of CyberPioneer:

Well, maybe all these hype about Exercise Wallaby and integrated Air-Land information system is a deliberate efforts by Mindef to make public. Thus, such sensitive information has been cleared and declassified for public consumption.

But I do feel a bit uneasiness for such sensitive information to be made available. It really makes foreign military operatives' job much easier in analysis and information collection.

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, September 21, 2009

Secrets of Hainanese Chicken Rice

Recently there is a little storm in the tea cup over who owns "signature dishes" like Laksa, Nasi Lemak and even Hainanese Chicken Rice. I find it pretty queer that such issue could become a focus in regional politics. Anyway, I have shared my authentic Hainanese Chicken Rice in Sammyboy forum and I would like to share it here as well. This is especially dedicated to Singaporeans living overseas. When you are homesick and miss the Hainanese Chicken Rice back home, try cooking it yourself.

Disclaimer: There are a great variety of variations of Chicken Rice recipe. What I have stated here is just the basic ingredients. Readers could adjust the ingredients as they deem fit. For example, if you live in the Western World, it would be hard to get pandan leaves but you could replace it with lemon grass....etc etc. That's the fun of it, be creative and innovative in what you learn, especially when it comes to food. Have a nice day!

Contrary to what many people think, Hainanese Chicken is not "BOILED" but rather cooked using the latent heat of boiled water. If you boil the chicken along with the water all the while, you will get overcooked chicken with ugly skin. All the essence of the Chicken would be lost to the soup, which is not the primary intend.

The proper way of preparing Hainanese Chicken is to prepare lots of garlic, ginger, pandan leaves, onions/shallots, scallions and aniseed (please see the list of ingredients below). Some have suggested to use salt to marinate the chicken or soaked the chicken in salt water for 2 hours before cooking it. Normally I would only rub the interior ribs of the chicken with a bit of salt.

Choose a large pot so that you could contain enough water to hold the latent heat for the slow cooking. Boil the water with the prepared ingredients. Make sure your chicken has a hole poked through its throat (the interception at the neck just above the breast). Hold the Chicken by the neck, dip it into the boiling water and take it up again. This allow the water to go through its internal ribs. Do this for 4 to 5 times. Then put it down into the pot and make sure the boiling water covers the whole chicken. Close the cover. Turn the fire smaller to bring the water to simmer, boil it for another 10 to 15 minutes. After this is done, turn off the fire but don't open up the cover. Let the chicken stay in the pot for another 35 minutes to 40 minutes.

It is important to note that this method applies to relatively hot summer like weather in Singapore. If you live in temperate weather country where the room temperature is below 25 degree Celsius then you may have to use clay pot instead of metallic pot. Or that you may have to continue cooking the chicken using simmer fire for a total of 25 to 30 minutes or so before leaving the chicken to stay in the pot for another 15 minutes. You will have to experiment with the method taking room temperature conditions into account. The idea is to avoid hard boiling with full blast of fire so that the chicken will not lose its tenderness.

Prepare ice or ice water. Once the time is up, take out the chicken and put it immediately into the ice water. This will prevent the chicken from continuing to be cooked by the latent heat and will also allow its skin to contract. This is why Haianese Chicken has smoothen skin.

Prepare another round of garlic, onions/shallots and pandan leaves along with some coconut milk. You could replace the coconut milk with evaporated milk if you wish. Wash the rice and leave it to dry while the chicken is being cooked. The old technique is to use long grain rice but for me, I prefer pearl rice. Fried the garlic, onions/shallots with some oil. Some people prefer to fry the rice together with the garlic and onions/shallots for a couple of minutes. But I prefer not to do it this way as it may make the rice very heaty.

Take the hot soup from the pot that cooked the chicken to put it into the rice cooker. You can get rid of the fat oil in the process. Put in the garlic, onions/shallots, ginger, pandan leaves and coconut milk/ evaporated milk. Let the rice cooker to do the cooking.

It is important to use warm or hot soup to cook the rice because the heat will prevent the rice to become soggy. If the soup stock got cold (especially in temperate countries), you could add it to the fried garlic and onions to heat it up before you use it to cook the rice.

As for the Chili sauce, just mix the chili with garlic, shallots, ginger and the soup, grind it. You could add some sugar if you like. While the rice is being cooked, you could prepare the sauce. Mix the Soybean Sauce with Sesame Oil together so that it doesn't taste too salty. You will need Oyster Sauce as well.

Cutting up a chicken needs some skills else those who eat it will find it very awkward and difficult to enjoy it. Some people have such a lousy cutting skill that when you eat, your mouth are easily poked by the bones.

You have to cut the chicken skilfully so that the juice will remain within the meat. The basic is to cut along the joints at an angle and never directly into bare bones. The worst kind is to miss the joints but cut on the bones of chicken wings directly. Never cut straight into the breast meat but slanted to about 30 degree to the grains of the meat. But all these are easily said than done. Need alot of practice.

Prepare the tomato, cucumber and sprigs. The cucumber should not be sliced too thin as it will not be big enough able to absorb the chicken juice. Place the the tomato and cucumber on the plate with the cut chicken on top of it. Add the Soybean cum Sesame sauce and the oyster sauce. Then cover the chicken with sprigs. Cut up the scallions for the soup.

There you are, a self cooked Hainanese Chicken rice. Please remember serve the chicken with soy cum sesame sauce and oyster sauce.

I hope that by sharing these "secrets" of Hainanese Chicken Rice here, it will become public property; i.e. it belongs to everyone of us, be it Singaporeans, Malaysians of Americans. ;)

Goh Meng Seng


1 whole chicken
cloves garlic, peeled
slices fresh ginger, peeled
scallions, trimmed
sesame oil mixed with soybean sauce
Oyster sauce
sliced tomatoes (garnish)
sliced cucumbers (garnish)
cilantro sprigs (garnish)

Chicken Rice:
Coconut milk/ evaporated milk
long-grain rice or Pearl Rice
peanut oil
shallots, peeled and minced
garlic, minced
soup stock from cooking Hainanese chicken

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

ECONOMIC GROWTH Just a numbers game? Quality counts too

A very good article by Professor Basant K. Kapur.

Sep 15, 2009
Just a numbers game? Quality counts too
By Basant K. Kapur

RECENT observations by economists suggest a need to reconsider some aspects of Singapore's economic growth experience.
In an article in this newspaper last Saturday on the inflow of foreign workers, National University of Singapore professor Hui Weng Tat was quoted saying: 'Growth at any cost is not something we want.'
In a chapter in a forthcoming publication of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Professors Lee Soo Ann and Linda Lim observe: 'The fact that government officials are rewarded economically, through salaries and bonuses...for delivering GDP growth, may also lead to 'growth fetishism'... and thus to preference for the easiest route to growth, which is through the addition of inputs of foreign capital, labour and skills.'
These comments raise a number of related issues. Differing somewhat from professors Lee and Lim, I am of the view that, in general, inflows of foreign capital and skills provide valuable growth momentum. However, large inflows of lower-skilled foreign workers are a different matter.
Such inflows create a vicious circle. The availability of low-skilled workers reduces the incentive for employers to upgrade their operations through mechanisation, automation and the like. The resulting low productivity levels imply that they can offer only low wages, which in turn acts as a disincentive to Singaporeans to take up such jobs, and which in turn leads employers to continue demanding for foreign workers.
Of course, the foreign worker 'tap' should not be abruptly curtailed. But a gradual and sustained tightening of the inflow is likely to be highly beneficial over time. There would also appear, as professors Lee and Lim suggest, to be a need to reconsider the GDP bonus scheme for civil servants, which factors in only the real total GDP growth rate each year.
Economic growth should, one, be significantly based on productivity improvement or at least not interfere with such improvement; and two, be inclusive, benefiting all sections of society, especially the less privileged.
I am therefore of the view that consideration should be given to replacing sole reliance on GDP growth in the bonus scheme with a composite criterion, comprising:

GDP growth

A fairly broad-based measure of productivity growth, such as the growth of per capita indigenous GDP (GDP accruing to Singaporeans divided by the total number of Singaporeans); and

A welfare measure, such as the growth rate of the average household disposable income of the lowest 20 per cent of Singaporean households.
No set of criteria for the bonus scheme can be perfect. Just as the current scheme leaves out other desiderata of economic policy - such as low unemployment and inflation rates - so does the proposed composite criterion.
However, a composite criterion along the lines I have proposed will have the effect of, at least symbolically, reinforcing the desirability of productivity growth and inclusiveness as public policy goals.
Two other issues: First, I have referred in the third measure above to 'disposable income', which would be inclusive of fiscal transfers. Is there a danger that an 'easy' route to achieving higher disposable income among the poor might be sought - through overly generous transfers, rather than through training and skills upgrading, thus breeding an entitlement mentality?
Clearly, the application of any criterion will have to be tempered by good judgment. Though, in this case, a little 'erring' on the side of generosity may not be a bad thing for the least-privileged among us, especially if it helps to produce a more comfortable home environment for children in these households.
Second, what weights should be attached to the three criteria in the composite scheme? Since we are considering simply a bonus scheme and the signal we wish it to send to public servants, the exact choice of weights is not critical.
Tentatively, may I suggest equal weights to all three criteria, based on the following considerations: the intrinsic worth of each criterion; and since GDP growth is also facilitated by productivity growth, on the part of both higher- and less-skilled Singaporeans, the three criteria can, to a certain degree, be mutually supporting.
The writer is professor of economics and director of the Singapore Centre for Applied and Policy Economics, Department of Economics, National University of Singapore.