Friday, February 27, 2015

There Goes The Quiet Weekend

Now that M Ravi has been suspended from practice, he's worried about some of his clients who "have no prospects of obtaining other legal representation". He could have been thinking of the lady who filed an application to the High Court on matters relating to the ruckus at the February 3 Thaipusam incident. The application listed the Attorney-General, the Hindu Endowments Board and Law Minister K Shanmugam among the plaintiffs.

Others in the Indian community must be wondering why the Hindu Endowments Board is strangely silent about speaking up for their religious rites and practices. Some clues are found in Timothy Auger's book, "SR Nathan in Conversation". The subject said that in 1982, he was appointed chairman of the Hindu Endowments Board, main job being to look after four important temples held in trust by the government.
"I got hold of some good friends, including Gopinath Pillai, Chandra Das, Sat Pal Khattar, Birgadier-General (Rtd) Kirpa Ram Vij, and Justice Rajendran, to form a core - we were all of us locals without much of a clue about religion."

The lack of domain knowledge among members of the select coterie is italicised for good reason. He adds, "We were not concerned with theology - that's the priest's job".

The emphasis was never about religious sensitivities. Instead they were more concerned that "these temples were not rich - quite the contrary, despite their popularity with crowds on festivals". So they put the priest on a salary, and took over the management. The worship was about money, not a spiritual entity. Nathan's smug conclusion:
"I think we put things in order and today the four temples are doing very well, with a good level of reserves. So much so that they're now attracting a new bunch of aspirants for leadership. Many of them are keen to find ways of spending funds raised through hard work on cases other than those of religious significance." (page 170)

All that protestations about noise makers and traffic disruption will soon be forgotten. If you still have doubts, tune in this weekend for the mother of all frenetic processions -the two day blowout for the spare-no-expense Chingay parade.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

We Wuz Robbed

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam told the television audience: "We have got to be careful that we don't think we are Robin Hood, where you can simply take money from the rich and give it to someone else." He was probably referring to the higher personal income tax rates for top earners introduced in Budget 2015. To put things in perspective, the effective increase in tax rate amounts only to pinpricks of 0.2 percent for those with $250,000 annual income, and 1.6 percent for those with $1.5 million pay packets.

That would hardly qualify as daylight robbery. Now consider the 2.8 percent fare hike effective from April 5, which will hit anybody who can't afford a Certificate Of Entitlement (COE). It's more insidious when you realize this is part of the original 6.6 percent increase recommended by the government appointed Public Transport Council (PTC). The two public transport operators - SBS Transit and SMRT - stand to rip off an additional $48.5m in revenue from the hapless commuters with the fare increase. Money which will no doubt find its way into funding lavish investments like the Changi "jewel", projects designed to make life more enjoyable for the jet setters who can afford to fly around.

That can't be what Robin of Loxley had in mind. Over the course of 700 years, the fable was about the outlaw from Nottinghamshire who supposedly helped the poor by returning some of the ill-acquired wealth stashed away by the obscenely opulent. Monetary issues aside, Robin Hood also represents the notion of a brave rebel who lives on the outskirts of society, fighting injustice and oppression with his band of companions, constantly harassed by the politicised instruments of law enforcers.

If you were confused by the motives of Khaw Boon Wan's Zhu Ying Tai, you will be puzzled by Tharman's remake on Robin's cause of helping the poor.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The New Standards For Poor

Temasek Holdings Pte, which managed $223 billion (US$166 billion) of assets as of last March 2015 2014, was riled when Standard & Poor (S&P)'s new criteria lumped Singapore with riskier nations such as Greece and Jamaica. At risk was Temasek’s lack of direct ownership of assets, the challenges they face when selling in illiquid markets, and the volatility of assets held by them.

The new criteria for assessing asset liquidity of investment holding companies (IHCs) by splitting their main countries of operation into four baskets, based on a 30-year history of those nations’ share market swings, put Singapore squarely into the third. Sven Behrendt, a managing director at Geneva-based GeoEconomica, which researches sovereign wealth funds explained Temasek's ire: “It’s understandable to me that Temasek doesn’t want the country to be put in the same category as Greece, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago".

A day after the Budget was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, S&P issued a top AAA unsolicited rating on Singapore. S&P noted that investments in the $68.2 billion budget - including efforts to boost innovation, skills training, as well as funding to meet the needs of Singapore's ageing population - "significantly outsized" the $705 million transferred to households. Investments such as the $26 billion for trains that keep breaking down, while $9.3 billion is allocated for hospital grants and construction, and suspect "Medishield Life subsidies".

What is also impossible to miss is that the $10.5 billion to be harvested from Goods and Services Tax (GST) is second only to the $13.5 billion contribution from corporate income taxes. Even the poorest of the poor, who are spared the $8.9 billion to be collected from personal income taxes, will have to pay 7 percent extra for the bread and water to survive on. Lest we forget, our water bill is doubly taxed, the GST is applied on top of the 30 percent "Water Conservation Tax".

As long as there is sheep to be fleeced from, Singapore is in no danger of going broke.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How They Move Up And Do Well

When Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman gave his Budget 2015 speech yesterday, he boasted, “Everyone has moved up, including poorer Singaporeans.” The Oscars have been handed out, but that will not put a stop to this class act.

According to his version of a fairy tale, in the same honest vein as Khaw Boon Wan's Butterfly Lovers, Tharman reminded us that factory employees who made rubber slippers in 1965 were paid about $87 a month  (around $340 in today’s dollars). Today, a lower-income Singaporean worker (at the 20th percentile of the income range) would earn about $1,860. This is more than 5 times as much as it used to be, after adjusting for inflation over the years, he punched in for effect.

In "LKY: The Man And His Ideas" by Han Fook Kwang et al, it is recorded that in 1970, when the pay of other ministers was raised from $2,500 a month to $4,500, Lee Kuan Yew chose not to raise his pay of $3,500. But he knew the greed would come: " is unrealistic to expect the next prime minister, one qualified for the job, to discharge the functions of this office for the present salary." The White Paper on Ministerial salaries would come about on November 1, 1994.

The pay off would be more than 5 times as much as it used to be, after adjusting for inflation over the years. Meanwhile the median worker’s pay is only about 6 times what it used to be in 1965, even after adjusting for inflation.

The government had budgeted for an overall deficit of $1.2 billion (or 0.3% of GDP) for FY2014, ending 31 Mar 2015. Tharman said that they now expect a very small deficit of $0.1 billion. That's so many words for saying that money supposedly set aside for the welfare for Singaporeans have not been fully spent. Instead, more have been harvested from the financially strapped. Commuter fares were increased so that the train operators can see their net profits surge 54 percent. Group revenue increased 6.8 per cent to $313.2 million, outstripping total operating expenses which rose 4.2 per cent to $295.9 million. Clearly, there was no need for a fare hike.

Clearly, there's no need for inflated premiums for the compulsory Medishield Life either. You can expect that more will be creamed off from the sheep in this year of the goat.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reel Life Drama

Eddie Redmayne is a hot Oscars 2015 favorite for his role as Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything". In one crucial scene, a doctor asks his onscreen wife Jane (Felicity Jones) for permission to disconnect the life support system. A tracheotomy to bring him round from the anesthetic - a hole in the neck, bypassing the throat - could mean the brilliant scientist would never speak again. Fortunately for Stephen, and the rest of the world, Walter Woltosz's "Equalizer" speech synthesiser would allow him to communicate at a rate of 15 words per minute.

The hot news in town is that Lee Kuan Yew has been warded at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Intensive Care Unit since 5 February, and still dependent on mechanical ventilation in the ICU. A Dr Lee Yeow Hian (no relation), respiratory physicist and and internist in private practice, said that as long as the patient remains on life support, the condition is considered critical, as "things can change very fast".

In his book "One Man's View of the World", Lee had the prescience to write the following:
"Some time back, I had an Advanced Medical Directive (AMD) done which says that if I have to be fed by a tube, and it is unlikely that I would ever be able to recover and walk about, my doctors are to remove the tube and allow me to make a quick exit."

In his case, there's no Jane to consult, and it is unlikely any of the doctors at SGH would have the cojones to pull the plug. Maybe the Law Society will be sticking their noses in here. Of late, they seem to be so fond of playing doctor.