Tuesday, November 21, 2017

TOTD: The Great Asian Political Idealist 12 Nov 2017

Thought of the Day - The Great Asian Political Idealist

Today is the Birthday of a Great Politician of Asia in 20th Century, Dr Sun Yat Sen.

In remembrance of this Great man, I shall dedicate my Thought of the Day to talk about his greatness.

Many people would have mistaken the source of greatness in Dr Sun. Rightfully, he is credited for bringing the fall of Imperial rule in China, although in actual fact, the success of 1911 mutiny and revolution wasn’t part of his deliberate efforts at all.

It was his inspiration, undaunted effort in advocating the topple of the Imperial Qing Dynasty that gained him great respect among his contemporary revolutionists.

However, his greatness in politics didn’t stop at that. He wasn’t exactly the top politicians in politicking and in fact, he had failed in his politicking efforts when he conceded his position to Yuan Shi Kai who tried to reinstate Imperial rule to modern China again.

His main contribution to the world, especially to the Asian political arena, lies in his political ideology of Separation of Five Powers and the Three Principles.

The concept of Separation of Five Powers is especially profound and herein lies the main difference he had against the Western Democratic ideology.

Although he was against the Imperial rule in China but he recognized the strength of the political administration which was installed and implemented by the Imperialists. This is a five thousand years legacy of Chinese wisdom in political management. He recognized that throughout history, China had always been the country which possessed the most sophisticated and advanced political management system as compared to their contemporaries. Many foreign states wanted to emulate its complex political administration and in fact, its neighbors were greatly influenced by its system. These include Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

The scholar system which Chinese dynasties had implemented throughout history ensured basic competency of the control and management of the country regardless of who was the Emperor. Even when the Emperor was just a 10 yea old kid, the scholar system would ensure basic competence in the running of the Empire.

The Chinese dynasties also valued the importance of Checks and Balances. There would always be periodic Audit checks carried on various local governance by Special Envoys empowered by the Emperors themselves.

In the inner court, they Emperor would appoint special officials empowered with the Power of Impeachment. They were allowed to speak up their mind and criticize court officials and even against Emperors without any dire consequences.

The most important institution of the scholar system was the Board of Examination. The Chief examiner would make sure the selection process for the brightest scholars from the country was done properly.

These selected students would then be fielded into the respective departments of the Empire administration.

The Western countries didn’t have such complex system of political administration until much later in the 18th or early 19th century. The idea Checks Andy Balances was actually first implemented in the Chinese dynasties as far back as 4000 years ago!

Thus even Dr Sun was heavily influenced by the western ideology of democracy, he realized that China itself had a much superior system of political administration.

However, the most common problem faced by past dynasties was the corruption of powers via full concentration of powers by One or few court officials, other than the Emperor himself.

Thus, he had raised the importance of the Separation of Five Powers, instead of the Three powers advocated by the Western world. Other than the Three powers of Executive, Judiciary and Legislation, he added two more powers that were inherently the most critical for superior political administration..... Power of Impeachment and Examination.

The Power of Impeachment is equivalent to the modern days Corrupt Practice Investigation Bureau and Audit General. The Power of Examination was catered towards the important Board of Examination which was the gate keeper of selection and appointment of scholars to civil service positions. Basically it refers to the power of selecting, appointing and promoting those who work for the government. These two are the critical powers for clean, effective, efficient and competent government.

The contribution of Dr Sun in raising the significance of these two powers should not be underestimated. Many of the problems we are still facing right now, even in 21st century, is how incompetency creeps into the political management of countries when the Power of Impeachment is lacking coupled with cronyism infestation when the Power of Selection and Appointment is totally corrupted.

This is the reason why my comrades and I decided to form People’s Power Party using Dr Sun’s profound ideology of Separation of Five Powers as the pillars of our Core Value.

PPP will strive to pass on the legacy of Dr Sun’s greatest political ideology which will always be relevant to good governance in all centuries ahead.

Goh Meng Seng

Statement On The Disruptions to the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) System 16 Nov 2017

Statement On The Disruptions to the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) System

Our national transportation had been beleaguered with issues since 2011, which in the early days had mostly been only delays and unexpectedly longer travel duration. However, issues encountered recently by the SMRT were more varied, unusual and were of much greater concern.

Such concerns were overwhelming to the extent that the 30th anniversary of the inception of the MRT system in Singapore was not even mentioned as such.

It is appreciated that the Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan had recently cited overpopulation as being the root cause of these issues. The acceptance though is long overdue and patently insufficient. Mere acknowledgement of the possible effects of the overpopulation which could have led to the transportation system woes, should not simply end with just that.

A much more detailed and thorough study would be in order given the duration the problems pertaining the MRT system had been lingering. The study would enable the identification of the actual state of the system, especially the North-South and the East-West lines which were first opened and had been operating for 30 years.

The various avenues which could possibly have had caused the deterioration of the system should be subjected to detailed study by competent authorities with the appropriate expertise. Such expertise, if needed should be procured from other train operators with experience in handling systems of similar complexity. Failure to carry out the study could cause speculations to continue as a consequence of the specific causes on the disruptions not been clearly identified.

Not carrying out the necessary steps could also result in the gradual worsening of the system, as we had seen in the recent episodes of train service disruptions. These could cause a further waste of time and resources, and worse, linger on as a possible hazard.

As such, our Party is seeking the matter be studied by a commission tasked to inquire further into the causes of the train disruptions, in view of all the possible difficulties and the hazards faced by people.

Sivakumaran Chellappa
Vice Chairman & Head of Policy Research
People’s Power Party (PPP), Singapore

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

TOTD: SMRT: The Instant Failure of Privatization

Thought of the Day - SMRT: The Instant Failure of Privatization

In Economics study, there is always a debate over the pros and cons of "Privatization" of companies providing public goods like public transport.

Companies providing public goods are natural monopolies because they need economies of scale. But the downside is, it tends to be inefficient if it is under government administration. However, this may not be always true.

Natural monopolies are preferred to be under government control because this will prevent them from "exercising their monopolistic power" to "overcharged" and gain abnormal profits through maximization of profits pricing strategy.

Even when natural monopolies are turned into private companies, they will be heavily regulated due to the enormous monopoly power over pricing. This is in the interests of the public.

However, there are other issues when you try to achieve "efficiency" via privatization a monopoly like SMRT. When it becomes a private company, it will shift its priorities from providing reliable public service to making good returns to its private shareholders to sustain its stock market value.

SMRT's privatization exercise in 2000 is a typical example of how such shift of priorities will harm public interests.

After its privatization and public listing on SGX in 2000, SMRT appointed Saw, a lady from DFS and with only skill set in retail to become its CEO. The motive is simple. They wanted to MAXIMIZE profits from the vast potentials of the properties it owns under its MRT stations.

But Saw went beyond extending the retail space in MRT stations. As a person without any Engineering skillsets but with vested interests in getting hefty bonuses by increasing profitability and cutting costs, she started to cut the "Cost Centers" of SMRT operations. Obviously, the Maintenance Division is considered as a huge cost center that doesn't generate sales nor revenue but costly to SMRT!

Just like any ignorant money smelling face, she thought she could cut down expenses in Maintenance by replacing "expensive" but experienced engineers and technicians with "Foreign Talents" who have only some paper qualifications (oh, never mind if these paper certificates are fake or not) but extremely cheap at a fraction of the experienced staffs. All thanks to PAP government opening the Floodgate to "Foreign Talents" so that SMRT could capitalize on this fully!

She thought she could just ignore the need of upgrading or replacement of critical assets of the rail system so to boost the profits of SMRT further!

Well, in the short run, SMRT did "extremely well" in giving out good dividends to shareholders. Dividends jumped more than 5 folds after 2002 in some years.

However, it is just obvious and common sense that such management of a company which is heavily depended on good engineering to keep the CORE business running smoothly cannot be sustainable. Eventually, the rail system broke down. This is also partly due to the "overloading" problem due to the extensive influx of foreigners which inflated our population up to 5 million and beyond!

The MRT system was designed and built for a capacity of 3 million. It is supposed to have 8 cabins (like the Hong Kong MTR) in order to cope with a 5-8 million population.

While it is possible to mitigate the problem of overloading by building extensive by-routing rail network like the NW line, Circle lines and Downtown lines, but the stress on the main line NS and EW lines are still extremely heavy. Furthermore, the increase of the number of lines and stations would also mean the need to expand the maintenance division extensively!

How could SMRT keep the growth of expenditure on its maintenance division comparatively low while the number of lines and stations keep increasing in such a speed? You need time to train and get new engineers and technicians to familiarize with the job scope!

The proportion of money spent in maintenance as compared to Hong Kong MTR is extremely low. Do they really want us to believe that SMRT engineers are magicians or superman and women who could do wonders?

The entire system ended up in the current sorry state just because PAP screws it up with its Money-face-cronyism management strategy. They just anyhow send in someone who know nuts about running an effective and efficient rail system to become CEO just because she might be great in squeezing every penny out of SMRT!

And the most ridiculous thing is that they made the SAME mistake of sending in a replacement from the army who also knows nuts about running a rail system and hope that he could clean up the mess the previous idiot has done!!!???

What is worse than putting people who are totally clueless about the job scope to run an important rail company? And both just took in their own KAKIs from the same UNRELATED industry who similarly, CLUELESS and lack of the relevant skill set and in-depth technical knowledge of rail system to run the departments!

Instead of headhunting people with REAL Experience in running a rail system, we ended up with these mulit-million dollar parasites who are clueless of running a rail system!

This is how Privatization of such an important public goods provider cum monopoly ended up so wrong. I guess this will enter into World Wide Economic and Management Text Books!

On the side note, PAP has always treated GLCs as their "dumping ground" for their "scholars" who have expired their usefulness in SAF or civil service. Maybe it is time for us to rethink whether the extensive Scholar system we have right now, especially the SAF scholarship system, is still useful or relevant. We cannot just dump them anyhow into GLCs which they lack the skillsets and experience to work in!

Goh Meng Seng

Saturday, November 04, 2017

TOTD: WP's Struggle & Impact on Opposition Dynamics

Thought of the Day - WP's Struggle & Impact on Opposition Dynamics

Many people maybe confused by the statements made by WP SG LTK. First, he changed his previous stance about WP not going to form the alternative government made just a few years ago to proclaim that "WP has the foundation to form the alternative government if voters support it".

Then he announced he will be stepping down as SG of WP next year.

Why would a party leader making such an optimistic proclamation not so long ago would want to announce his retirement as the leader of the party?

Many hardcore WP and opposition supporters jumped in joy when LTK said "WP has the foundation of forming the alternative government" without much thought.

For me personally, I was stunned when LTK uttered such words about "forming the alternative government".

In Singapore's opposition politics, we cannot win solely based on hardcore anti-PAP-opposition supporters. We will need to win the middle ground voters over as well. But sometimes, there are differences in perspective the hardcore opposition supporters vs the middle ground voters. The views on opposition party forming alternative government is one of the biggest differences.

Most of the hardcore opposition supporters would very much like to kick PAP out and have opposition party to form the alternative government. But most of the middle ground voters would frown or even frighten off by such idea. The GE2015 results is one of the most indicative preferences of the middle ground voters who had swung their votes against opposition parties across the board for fear of a "Freak Elections result". Although they would like to see more opposition voices in parliament but they do not want PAP to lose power as ruling party!

Thus, we always thread very carefully on this fine thin line and the LTK whom I know, WILL NEVER MAKE SUCH CLAIMS or mention anything about forming alternative government because he knows this will be unhelpful and will not win him any votes from the middle ground!

And it is EXCEPTIONALLY STUNNING for LTK to talk like that from a position of WEAKNESS instead of Strength. The circumstances surrounding the AHTC saga is extremely unfavorable to WP and WP has exposed its pure incompetency at the very least in this whole saga. Would anyone in his right mind, from the middle ground, believe that WP is suitable to form the alternative government at all?

It is obvious that LTK is just playing to the gallery of hardcore opposition supporters instead of trying to gain trust and confidence from the middle ground. This may mean that he has already given up hope of winning back the support of the middle ground voters since the razor thin victory over Aljunied GRC with a margin not more than 1% in GE2015.

This could work to put up a sympathy bid of being politically persecuted by PAP in the AHTC saga. But the most important intention lies in his words. He said "WP has the FOUNDATION to form the alternative government". What exactly does that mean?

It basically means that WP has the resources to contest AT LEAST HALF of the seats in Singapore. That's what it means. It is a show of WP's intention to contest at least half of the seats for the next GE!

But why would WP under such bad conditions wants to contest MORE seats instead of focusing on less seats and trying to defend AHTC and Hougang?

The political calculation is simple. They have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to win Aljunied GRC, maybe NOT EVEN Hougang for the next GE no matter how hard they try. This is because they have lost all the goodwill, trust and support of the middle ground voters. That is the reason why they are turning to the hardcore supporters to consolidate their support by making such "bold statements".

This is also why LTK announces his retirement from the SG post in such early stage. The next OPC elections of WP's CEC is 9 months later in July 2018, why would he make such early announcement?

The situation may be very harsh on the AHTC saga. They might even launch their third legal attack on WP over AHTC. LTK may be hit very badly and as a seasoned veteran politician who has accumulated huge amount of political capital and legacy, he would sure not want to end his legacy in a defeat at the polls. Thus, I guess that he will not contest in the next GE at all.

But since the chance of winning next GE is so slim with the anticipation of the total destruction of WP's middle ground support, why would the party considering contesting more than 50% of the seats?

The answer lies in the 12 NCMP seats. The only way to ensure that WP continues to dominate the opposition presence in parliament is to win all the 12 NCMP seats. The only way of doing that is to spread the leaders to fight different GRCs so that hopefully, they could win enough votes to gain one or two NCMP seats each for each GRC or SMC battles.

This would mean that the recent announcements made by LTK should be viewed with great pessimism. The party is over for opposition like WP to win seats in next GE. The only thing left to fight among opposition parties are the 12 NCMP seats.

WP's intended "expansion" of contest has nothing to do with the hope of forming alternative government but rather, a desperate struggle to win the 12 NCMP seats.

Thus, we will be seeing a lot of three corner fights mainly with WP in the next GE and they are embarking on an early campaign to solidified hardcore opposition supporters' support by giving false hope, singing the tune of "alternative government" when there is seriously no way they could achieve that under the current circumstances, under the curse of AHTC saga.

Goh Meng Seng