Saturday, February 20, 2010
A call for Clarity from Mah Bow Tan and HDB
In the upcoming elections, I have made clear my intention to contest in Tampines GRC. The reason for my doing so is because Minister Mah Bow Tan’s policies have caused great hardship for many Singaporeans. Mr Mah apparently believes that the hardship caused by his policies are “acceptable” for the greater good. At a recent community event in Tampines, Mr Mah said
“There’s no question that our policies are designed for the good of the people. While there may be certain parts of the policies that are not favourable, overall, I think these policies are for the well-being of the people and are good for the country.”
I strongly disagree with Mr Mah. In GE 2006, the PAP had published a political manifeso with the catchy title “Staying Together, Moving Ahead”. PM Lee made a promise to the Singapore people that “no one will be left behind”. Mr Mah’s statement seems to indicate that he does not believe in PM Lee’s vision. To Mr Mah, it is perfectly OK to sacrifice and leave some Singaporeans behind.
In the past 2 months, I have asked Mr Mah repeatedly for a policy debate so that Singaporeans can understand the issues and decide for themselves. I have done this through the mainstream media as well as in various blogs and Internet sites. So far, Mr Mah has pointedly ignored me. I do not understand why this is so. If Mr Mah is correct and has all the facts to defend himself, then there is nothing to fear from an honest and open debate on the policy issues. If the debate can be aired on national television, all Singaporeans would benefit by having a better understanding of the issues.
Instead of engaging me in a direct debate, Mr Mah has chosen to engage me indirectly by instructing the HDB to release data and findings from the HDB Sample Household Survey 2008
When I read the press release dated 18 Feb 2010, I noted three glaring problems with the way in which the analysis was done.
The first problem is found in the paragraph 2:
The HDB resident population, comprising Singapore Citizens and Singapore Permanent Residents, increased by 2.7% over 5 years to 2.92 million in 2008. This figure made up 96% of the total population in HDB flats (88% were Singapore Citizens and 8% were SPRs), while the remaining 4% were foreigners.
If the underlying population of the survey is 2.92 million, then it would appear that the survey frame is incorrect. This is because in the Yearbook of Statistics 2009 published by the Singapore Department of Statistics, it is stated that the total population of Singapore is 4.84 million. If only 2.92 million are staying in HDB flats, then where would the remaining 1.92 million be staying? It seems inconceivable that the relatively few condominiums, landed properties and worker dormitories in Singapore can house 1.92 million people (39.6% of the population).
If there was something wrong with the survey frame, then the findings from the survey would be invalid. It would almost be too frightening to imagine if this is an indication that Mr Mah has been using the wrong numbers to make policy.
The second problem is found in paragraph 3
The average household income from work had also risen from $4,238 in 2003 to $5,680 in 2008, reflecting the growing affluence of HDB households.
There are two problems here. Using household income instead of individual income is not a good indication at all. The rise in the household income may be the result of Mr. Mah’s HDB policy that pushes up the prices of new flats which in turn, forces young couples to stay with their parents. This will in turn artificially pushes up household income. This is especially obvious when we notice that there is an unusual artificial surge in both median and average household income in 2007 and 2008. Median household income has increased 9.4% and 13.1% in 2007 and 2008 respectively while average household income has increased 10.1% and 12.6% respectively. This is the clear indication that the rapid growth of HDB flat prices during these two critical years have caused such abnormality because as Singaporeans, we do not experience such a high increase in individual income for these two years.
From another perspective, if we are to take household income too seriously, even for the median household income, it would mean that our income would have increase a whopping 38.5% within that 10 years! As for Average Household Income, it would mean that income could have increase a whopping 44.6%! But we are looking at YOUNG COUPLES who have not worked that long in the job market but looking for flats! Have the starting pay for new entrants into the job market very different between 2009 and 1999? Apparently not. Some people are even complaining that their starting pays have even been lower than the 90s due to the influx of Foreign workers!
In fact, my researcher and I were looking through official statistics on MEDIAN INDIVIDUAL INCOME growth as compared to HDB PRICES GROWTH but such time series statistics only starts from 2005 till now. I am sure the PAP government has such statistics from 1999 onwards but why is it holding back such statistics for the last 5 years? Or they could have even use the statistics from 2005 till 2009 to make their justifications! If the PAP government could put up even more detailed statistics of income of Singaporeans who are 30 years and below, it would give a more accurate picture on how the disparity of income vs HDB price growth for the past 10 years!
The second problem here is with the use of average. As a statistical measure of central tendency, the average or mean is known to give inflated values when you have extreme values. Such extreme values are prevalent in income statistics in Singapore given the large income disparity between the rich and the poor.
Even if we are to accept such distorted representation, the more normal approach is therefore to use median rather than average. An illustration of how average gives inflated income statistics can be found in the paper published by the Singapore Department of Statistics. The paper is titled Key Income Trends, 2009. In Table 1, we have a comparison between median household income and average household income. I have extracted the numbers from the table and present them here:
This table shows that if we use average, the household income is inflated by 35% to 45%. The reason for this is the small number of households who have very high income. To my knowledge, the Singapore Department of Statistics uses median household income in all of their papers and publications. It is unknown why HDB would want to use the inflated average household income in their policy making. If Mr Mah were to use median household income, maybe he will understand why so many Singaporeans are saying HDB flats are not affordable.
Intriguingly, the widening percentage differences between the median and average household income actually reflects a serious problem here….the widening of income inequality! It actually shows that income inequality has widen about 15% or more for the past 10 years in terms of household income!
The final problem is found in paragraph 5.
96.4% of all HDB households surveyed said they were satisfied with their flats, while 95.1% were satisfied with their neighbourhood.
This finding seems to be very strange as it would suggest that almost everyone was happy with their HDB flat. If that is true, then HDB should not be receiving any complaints and we should only be seeing only happy people in their HDB flats. The truth on the ground seems to be very different. The majority of us living in the HDB heartlands, do not seem to be seeing universal joy and happiness. I do not understand this finding and will be writing in to ask HDB for the survey form and the methodology with which they used. I will post what I learn when HDB replies to me.
The electoral battle in Tampines will be a referendum on Mr Mah’s policies. I urge the voters of Tampines to stand with me and send a strong message to the PAP that policy failures like those committed by Mr Mah cannot and will not be tolerated. If we continue to keep quiet, then the policy failures will continue and Singaporeans will continue to suffer.
When reading Tan Kin Lian’s blog, I came across the passage below. It was written by Niemoller, a German who lived during the rise of Nazism. Many Germans were against Nazism but were reluctant to speak up. While we are not living in Nazi Germany, the underlying message tells of what will happen if we continue to keep quiet.
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Goh Meng Seng