Friday, April 30, 2010

GRC, NCMP vs Proportionate Representation

First of all, some of you may wonder if I have used the wrong phrase "proportionate representation" instead of "proportional representation". In most context in the world, people would tend to use "proportional representation" to describe the system of allocating seats to different political parties according to the percentage of votes they received in a general elections. There are quite a number of variations of such system.

However, in Singapore's context, there is one more function to be met as we are a multi-racial nation. "Proportionate Representation" would mean that we could achieve racial representation proportionately via the proportional representation system. This stands in contrast to the present GRC system that we have now.

I have just finished recording for CNA Talking Point program which will be aired on this coming Sunday (2 May 2010), 10pm. There are certain points which were brought up but some points missed due to the time constrains.

I shall explain my stand here with regards to the Press Release I wrote about the increase of NCMP seats.

I will start with the reasoning of PAP wanting to increase the number of NCMPs. It all started from one research paper done by Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) right after GE 2006. There are a few key findings and one important finding is that younger voters (P65 voters) want fair fight. They are no longer interested in pork barrel politics of HDB upgrading. They want to see more diversity of voices in parliament.

Thus, you can see that PAP no longer depend on HDB upgrading as its key electioneering strategy. They want to address the higher demand of more opposition voices in parliament. Thus, they come up with this changes of increasing more NCMPs in parliament.

I am not against NCMP scheme as I have already stated that NCMPs would have been legitimate members of parliament EMPOWERED by the voters if they are elected under the proportional representation system. They should be conferred the FULL POWER of voting rights in parliament, in contrast to the present NCMP scheme whereby NCMPs cannot vote in Supply bills (i.e. Budget), constitutional changes as well as no-confidence motion.

The disproportionate number of opposition members in parliament as compared to the percentage of votes we get is due to the GRC system. Thus, the ROOT CAUSE is the GRC system, not the lack of NCMPs in parliament. (illustratin: for single seats, 2 out of 9 seats were won by opposition. This is about 22% of the seats. Although this is still 11% away from the national average votes, but it is much better than the GRC results whereby ZERO seats were won/allocated to opposition even though we have 33.3% of votes. Thus, the problem of dis-proportionality lies with GRC.)

My view is that PAP is just trying to pacify voters that even if they vote for PAP, they could still have opposition voices in parliament without the full voting power. This is at best, populist attempt to further their agenda of political hegemony. This is the fundamental reason why I am opposing the changes even though I am neutral about NCMP scheme, because it has a motive and agenda behind it.

Naturally, to solve the problem of dis-proportionality, we will have to deal with the root problem, GRC system. This is why I have proposed the proportionate representation system to be implemented on top of the GRC system.

The GRC system is unsustainable and unstable in the long run. I guess when MM Lee talked about having "freak elections results", he understood the risks of the present GRC system. It doesn't need "freak elections results" to illustrate the inherent problems of the GRC system. If PAP lost 40% of the seats or GRCs, it could still form the government. However, it would have lost 40% of its top political talents in the process. Thus, even if it is to form the next government, it would mean that it will have to appoint second rated MPs from its rank to fill the cabinet minister posts. Would that result be optimal? Paying top salaries for second rated ministers?

Someone pointed out to me that they could well appoint their ministers who have lost to be NMPs so that they could continue to be ministers. Wouldn't that make a mockery out of the whole political system?

If we implement proportional representation on top of the GRC system, top political talents from all political parties would have been elected as long as their parties could garner the minimum required support. Even if a coalition government is to be formed as the result of this proportionate representation system, the nation could be assured that the best people from the political parties would be in place to form the government.

Many people hold the view that coalition government is no good, it is weak and such. I would object to such over simplification. The most competitive country in the world, Finland, is governed by a coalition government. So does our once aspiring Switzerland. It has a coalition government which is termed as the most stable government in the world. Even country like New Zealand which only switch to proportional representation system late last century is coping with its new system. Most importantly, proportional representation will enhance the consultative process and build consensus. It will allow people to have more stake in what is taking place to their country.

While some PAP MPs would say that the proportional representation system or even the NCMP scheme would allow opposition "noise makers" to get into parliament too easily, I would say many of us could not bear with the many MPs in parliament who have always agree blindly for the sake of agreeing to walk into the parliament through the GRC system as well. It is a matter of relativity and ultimately, in the long run, voters are not daft. They will vote even more carefully for those who they think would contribute positively towards the political process.

I was asked on whether I will take up NCMP if I am granted one. My personal stand is, I will not take up any NCMP post in parliament if I am not granted FULL VOTING RIGHTS in parliament.

Having a voice in parliament is important, but more importantly, we need to have the right and power to register our views in terms of parliamentary vote. The present system doesn't fulfill this simple but yet important criteria. NCMP Sylvia Lim is against the increase of NCMP and NMP in parliament. But she cannot vote against it because as NCMP, she is deprived of the right to vote in constitutional changes. Mr. Alvin Yeo, who have spoken against the increase for a different reason, has to vote for it eventually, according to his party whip. Well, he did qualify that he agrees with some other changes mentioned in the bill but the point is, once the party whip is applied, no PAP MPs could vote against it without repercussions. There are very instances in history that PAP has not applied its party whip during all parliamentary voting.

Having said that, I would not object to any of my party colleagues to take up the NCMP posts if offered. This is because I also view NCMP as a transitional scheme towards the proportional/proportionate representation system that I am advocating.

This may sound contradicting at first but this is a matter of personal preference and principles that I hold. There are some merits in taking up NCMP posts but at the end of the day, what matters is to represent those who voted for us to register our views, voice and votes in parliament.

Goh Meng Seng

P.S. I shall talk more about the proportionate representation that I have in mind in another posting.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Politics as Public Service - Just a little Sacrifice

Illustration by The Sketch Times Drawing News

We have lost sight of the joy and excitement of public service, helping our fellow men. The joy and excitement of seeking and understanding of the joy of the miracle of living the duty and the grandeur. We have lost taste for heroic action in the service of our people. - David Marshall

I didn't know the little leak of my intention of selling my flat to finance my party's election campaign would create such a hype on the internet. I didn't even tell the real reason behind my sale of my flat when I mention it to my property agent friend and an associate. But they know me long enough to second guess my real intention. Out of good intention, they make it public.

I hereby send my heartfelt thanks to many of my friends and supporters for their encouraging words and support. When the going gets tough, I will get tougher. Don't worry about me as I am a survivor and I would definitely not pitch tent on the beaches to live for the rest of my life although I do like to camp outdoors once a while. I am especially touched when friends from the old days send messages to show their support. Touched because as old friends, they understand me well and have that trust and confidence in me that I would really make sacrifices for social-political causes if there is a necessity to do so. They would not believe in other people's skepticism of my move and stood firmly behind me by giving me and family the uncompromising support and comforting words.

Initially, I do not wish to comment on the matter and to let it die down. But Mr. Tan Kin Lian wrote an email to me to seek clarifications. I have high respect for Mr. Tan who have selflessly stood up and fought for the Minibonds victims in 2008. Out of due respect, I made my first clarification on this matter.

But the key message here is not about why I have to sell my flat to finance the party's overall strategic electoral campaigning. Definitely not about how great or silly it is for me to do that. The key messages are: Freedom is not Free and Politics is Public Service which requires just a little sacrifices from everyone.

I have tried to play the issue down by persuading reporters not to write about it. The reason is simple, Politics should be Public Service and it is expected of all players, both opposition as well as ruling party politicians to make sacrifices. My little sacrifices here is dwarfed when compared to many politicians in the world, past and present. Politicians like Dr Sun Yat Sen have practically sold out everything they have just for their pursue of their political dream. Some have even laid their lives down for their political beliefs. In Singapore, the late Mr. JB Jeyaratnam has also make tremendous sacrifices by selling off his assets just to pay for his heavy political price exacted by his opponents.

I do appreciate the supportive comments and responses that I am getting while I read those skeptical comments with an open heart. Both supportive and sneering comments gave me the same enlightenment somehow.

It seems that Singapore has long lost the sense and spirit of Public Service. Supporters, well wishers and friends alike, are "touched" by this little mention of sacrifices basically because they have not seen such acts of willingness to make sacrifices, no matter how small it is, for the political betterment of the society. Similarly, for those skeptics who have been brought up in this materialistic environment social engineered by the PAP government for the past decades, would not believe that there would be people willing to make sacrifices in Singapore's opposition politics, which is always viewed as the "Lost Cause".

I cannot stop people from being skeptics neither can I do mind control over them. But I can only tell you about what I know which has happened and still happening in opposition politics.

There may be some people who are still selfish, self centred or insincere in many parts of Singapore's society, including politics. However, I can safely tell you that there are still a small group of people who have made sacrifices throughout the years and decades to sustain the effort of opposition parties. They are the unnamed heroes of opposition politics in Singapore. Some of them have passed away but hopefully there are still younger ones to pass on the spirit of public service in politics.

When I was in Workers Party prior to GE 2006, I have seen many of these veterans working quietly on the ground every Sundays and on every major occasions. Most of them are unknown to the public as they have not stood for elections at all. When the elections is near, Mr. Low Thia Khiang himself has offered to sponsor my election campaign if I need it. Although I have turned down the offer as I could well afford it myself, but I appreciate his selfless dedication of wanting to groom the next generation of opposition politicians by financing them in elections. I also know that Dr. Tan Bin Seng has sponsored quite a number of candidates as well. Similar observations are made when I joined National Solidarity Party. There are veterans who have worked quietly for past years and decades, contributing to the party's cause. Sebastian Teo, the present President of NSP has also committed himself to groom and finance good potential candidates to stand for elections if necessary and if they are willing to stand.

Some may look down on the little bits of contributions by these people but let me tell you a story. During Buddha's time, there was a beggar who have sold his hair for that little money to buy a small bit of oil. He intended to offer the oil to Buddha but was stopped by the monks outside the shrine because he was smelly with very untidy dressing. However, Buddha summoned him in and accepted his offer. After accepting his offer, Buddha then gave a sermon to his disciples. There were many kings, princes and rich men making huge offerings to Him but compared to what this beggar has offered, their offerings were insignificant. The beggar has given all he has to offer Him and such merits are very much bigger than those kings, princes and the rich. Thus we should not look down or belittle the every little bits of sacrifices and contributions that all these unsung heroes behind the political screens have given to Singapore. We should treasure it as our heritage of selfless spirit. These people are the pillars of Democracy.

It dawns on me that as leaders of an opposition party, it is our responsibilities to keep the party going. In view of Sebastian's commitment to make money the LEAST PROBLEM for good people to step forward and contribute to the cause of political plurality, I decided to do my little part to contribute to the war chest as well. Thus the decision was made to sell my little 4 room flat to raise that funding.

It is nothing much actually because I am brought up by my parents to understand the importance of society before self. My late father has taught me that politics should be about public service, to serve the people in selfless ways. The role of the government is to take care of the people's interests...etc.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone, including myself and other opposition members that Freedom is NOT Free. Our democratic existence is built upon the many sacrifices, big and small, of many people, past and present.

I was told by someone that some "interesting" people are "watching" me. These are the "elders" in the past and present political field. Frankly speaking, I am not surprised at all. Even for the elder PAP cadre members, I believe that they have contributed selflessly to their political beliefs during their youth. I also believe that they are disappointed that they could no longer see the kind of spirit of Public Service that should exist and maintain in modern days. I also believe that these old guards of yesteryears will agree with me that their PAP government should honor the social obligation of providing cheap public housing to Singaporeans as this was and should still be the democratic socialist ideal of land reform and redistribution.

I believe that there are still some elder PAP cadre members who are just like Mr. Tan Kin Lian who still hold true to his own ideological belief of social and economic fairness. Mr. Tan, as an ex-PAP cadre member, has taught me one very important thing during the Minibond saga, FAIRNESS. I was told he left NTUC because he couldn't compromise his sens of FAIRNESS, in the socialist way of providing FAIR returns and insurance coverage for the NTUC policy holders, in exchange for the profit maximizing direction. I have great respect for him not only for his effort in helping the Minibond victims but also his uncompromising sacrifices made to uphold the very values he believes in.

These are all little sacrifices that wouldn't be known to the public if nobody mention about them. I hope that Singaporeans should not just see my little grass in the forest without realizing that Singapore does have a tradition of people making sacrifices for the betterment of the society politically, in the name of Public Service.

Goh Meng Seng

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Public Service & Social Responsibility

I have just returned from my holidays yesterday. It is not the holidays that I have planned for my family back in February. I have initially planned to take my family to Bangkok on 7 April, flying on Jetstar which was one of my choice of budget airline before this holidays.

Way back in late March, I have sensed situation in Bangkok was getting worse by the day when the protest planned by the Red Shirts took off. I wouldn't mind visiting Bangkok during this highly charged period if I were to travel alone. However, since I was bringing my family members along, including my six year old daughter, I have to exercise great caution and discretion this time round.

I have emailed and called Jetstar Asia numerous time to check on whether I could make changes to our destination but it seems that Jetstar Asia has only issued a "policy" for those customers who travel on 28 March 2010 (this is what I gather from the call centre) in which they could make changes to their destination or dates. However, things gotten worse since 28 March but in spite of my constant calls and second email to Jetstar Asia, they still maintain that there would be no changes to the flight schedules and customers are not allowed to make changes to destination nor have any refunds.

In contrast, Thai Airways has allowed us to have a 80% refund for our flight from Thailand to Hong Kong which falls on 10 April. We have made our concerns known to them about traveling to Bangkok during this period of time and I guess it is reasonable for them to charge us 20% of our fare for the cancellation.

I wrote a lengthy email to Jetstar Asia after my unfruitful calls to their call centre. It seems that they show no great concern about the safety of its customers at the destination, Bangkok, which is a potentially a hot spot during my period of travel. This is especially frustrating when Travel Warnings to Bangkok has been issued by various places and countries and most importantly, there is a child involved in the travel plan. I was prepared to change destination to KL instead of asking for a refund but my request was not granted.

My point is that Jetstar Asia has not fulfill its role in providing public service totally, apart from customer service. Even though Jetstar Asia is a private company that seek profits from its operations, but as an international carrier, it must uphold its role as a public service provider. Profit itself should not be its sole aim; public service in terms of ensuring the safety concerns of its customers being addressed should also be its top priority.

Although legally and technically, Jetstar has all the rights of not acceding to my request (even though it is not totally unreasonable), but I feel that this is an exceptional situation whereby more flexibility could be applied. When there are genuine concerns due to by unforeseen circumstances at the destination, flexibility should be applied to allow its clients to avoid possible danger.

I was right to abandon the plan for my family to visit Bangkok even though it means that a few hundred dollars would be wasted in unused air tickets to Jetstar Asia. As a politician, I am more sensitive to possible political development in such critical period. I was expecting the final showdown soon and unfortunately, I was right. Curfew was imposed on the day where we were supposed to arrive in Bangkok. Tension continued to rise and at this point of time of writing this article, I receive SMS messages to inform me that shots were fired in Bangkok. A Japanese was shot dead among others.

Being a "Budget" Airline is no excuse for any airlines to neglect its social responsibility towards its customers. This reminds me about the complains made against Tiger Airway during the period of an earthquake in Indonesia. It was not just about customer service but rather the lack of social responsibility towards the company's customers.

This boils down to the lack of the spirit of Public Service. The strength of a company or the lack of it, is normally reflected in the way it deals with crisis. Take Toyota for example. In spite of whatever happens in the process of the making of its faulty cars, its leaders took responsibility for it and recall all models which are affected by the flaws. It will cost the company a lot of money but at the very least, it maintains itself as a socially responsible enterprise.

Of course, the crisis in Thailand is neither Jetstar Airline's fault nor within its control. The earthquake in Indonesia was not the doing of Tiger Airway as well. But as a "public transport" provider, safety of its customers should be its utmost concerns. i.e. Safety beyond the service standards that they provide. Customers would be more appreciative to companies that took an extra effort to care for their safety and well being.

There are many corporates out there who does not regard their products and services as a form of public services as well. The worst kinds of corporates are those who did not care about the safety, health or public interests of others; i.e. companies that pollutes irresponsibly, sell toxic products like milk powder, cooking oil or commercial landlords who impose hefty rentals increase without any regards of actual impact on public consumers at large etc... The only difference lies in whether these companies did all these knowingly and whether they show any social responsibility in dealing with their own flaws.

In this case, the inflexibility of airlines in dealing with a crisis situation may mean a matter of life and death to its travelers.

From this incident, it also makes me think about the value of Public Service. The recollection of the ways that financial institutions deal with the Minibond crisis is a significant part of this enlightenment. The ways that companies deal with such crisis really differentiate the good from the bad.

Public Service is mostly and strongly identified with governmental services. However, we need people with a strong sense of public service to serve in both governmental organizations as well as private enterprises to make this world a better place. However, it doesn't help when even our own politicians puts more value on the million dollar pay as the prime motivator rather than the sense of Public Service.

Although I am truly disappointed with Jetstar which has been my choice airline for the past numerous years, but it is not my intention to take vengeance against it here. It is a learning experience for all of us. The little money I wasted is worth the price for such enlightenment on what Public Service and Social Responsibility is all about. Between private profits/interests and public service/social responsibility, there must be a balance to be maintained.

I would like to believe that Jetstar is still a socially responsible enterprise as it has made exceptional policy to allow its customers who have planned to travel to Bangkok on 28 March to make amendments to their booking. But I guess it was not able to make appropriate judgment on the situation for the subsequent days. It is truly unfortunate and regrettable that it has fallen deaf to its customers' safety concerns and was not able to make accurate assessment of the situation on its own.

Having said all these, I am glad that my alternative holiday plan for my family turns out well despite this little hiccup over the abandoned trip to Thailand. Well, at least we got to try out an alternative budget airline, Air Asia. Just like any other free market, it is good to have more choices so that we could make good comparisons. At the end of the day, it is the competition that makes the companies and consumers like us better.

Goh Meng Seng

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

NSP Press Release: Concerns on the Casino License for Marina Sands

Concerns on the Casino License for Marina Sands

1. The National Solidarity Party notes that there are news reports on Macau Sands’ links to its partner who is implicated in the murder-for-hire case being tried in Hong Kong. According to Business Time April 3 2010 report, “an investigation in Macau has revealed that a local partner of Las Vegas Sands (LVS) could have links with triads”.

2. We also note that Reuters has reported on 31st March that “Nevada's Gaming Control Board said on Wednesday it was analyzing the status of VIP room operations in Macau casinos and possible links to Chinese criminals”.

3. The PAP government has stated categorically that it will not issue any casino license to any operators that have links to any triads in the world when the decision to build the two casinos was made back in 2005. While the constructions of both casino resorts are due to be completed soon, NSP is very concerned about the social implications of issuing casino license to operators who have links to triads.

4. We notice that the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) under the Ministry of Home Affairs has declined comment on this issue when contacted by the Business Time reporter. We strongly feel that CRA should make an appropriate response to the latest development of Sands in view of the pending opening of Marina Sands at the end of this month.

5. We hope that the CRA would take the recent development into careful considerations when it decides upon the issuing of Casino License to Marina Sands. We would also like to know the contingency plans that the government has in place to deal with casino operators who are found to breach the rules on having links to any triads after casino licenses have been issued.

Goh Meng Seng
Secretary General of the 13th CEC