Thursday, July 24, 2014

Define Spending

The sophistry of words can get you only so far. Clinton got himself into a real mess trying to explain what he was doing with a cigar and an intern called Lewinsky.

One definition of "spend" is to give (money) to pay for goods, services, or so as to benefit someone or something. The only way not to spend money is to hide it in a biscuit tin like grandma used to do. Even asking a bank to keep it for you (a service) can be a risky business, if one of their employees happen to be Nick Leeson.

Tharman has made it crystal clear that in the early days, before they amended the constitution in 1992, CPF monies were expended on Special Singapore Government Securities (SSGS), then used by the Government to finance infrastructure, which probably included the assets that were transferred by the Government to Temasek at time of inception.

We also know now that GIC knows is managing Government assets, a hodgepodge of commingled sources of funds which includes CPF monies. The same GIC which, over the last 5 years, it earned a pathetic 0.5 per cent in Singapore dollar terms. Your friendly neighborhood bank probably gives you a better deal in fixed deposits.

Do we still need to dwell further into the semantics of spending like Clinton did for the definition of sex?

Ma always says she keeps our angpows to save for our future needs, like university education or the big wedding expense. Maybe that's what we should do with the CPF - lock it away untouched in a special vault, where even the Colonel Sanders look-alike has no access to. The Government has plenty of other sources of funds - taxes, tariffs, fines, etcetera, etcetera - to generate the pathetic 2.5% interest rate paid out to CPF account holders, and still have lots of leftover monopoly money for the fund managers in GIC to play with. We trust our mother, can we say similar for the Government?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Malleable Rules

Shanghai TV's expose of another China food scare is about a supplier of McDonald's and Yum Group's KFC using expired meat and unhygienic practices. "The rules are dead, and people are alive, that's simple," a worker told the undercover reporter. "Dead rules and alive people" is commonly used in China to indicate corners have been cut. The variant in Singapore is that rules are malleable, and the people continue to be fooled.

When news broke last night that the Government is reviewing the CPF interest rates, the initial reaction was that voices from people like NMP Laurence Lien were finally being heard. Lien thinks that the Singapore Government should share more with Singaporeans if it is able to make more in its investments using CPF members’ monies. ("Joint responsibility for old age income security", ST 21 July).

Instead, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is thinking of providing options for CPF members to undertake higher risks to earn higher returns than that afforded by the CPF Investment Scheme system. Maybe a free pass to the casinos is in the works. He said, "The Government is not a commercial entity that needs to be profitable and obtain compensation in return for taking risks," without referencing the double digit returns claimed by its investment arms and where those juicy commercial returns are parked.

One blogger pointed out that the GIC website FAQ clearly states that they (before June) do not know if they invest our CPF because it is not made explicit to them. Now (after June) Tharman is saying GIC knows it is managing Government assets, including sources from the Singapore Government Securities (SGS) mechanism which is the official conduit to the CPF cookie jar. The similarity to SIA's honesty about flying over Donetsk, before and after 17 July, is unmistakable.

"We can't let McDonald's or Yum China know that we add (chicken skin)," the same China worker said about their unsavoury practices. "They won't let us do that. Otherwise, we would lose the contracts. Who wants to do business with you if you break your promise?" It remains to be seen if the people will continue to do business with the ruling clique after all the broken promises.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stingy On Health

One year ago we helped a relative with the paperwork to pay for his monthly consultation bills via Medisave. There were "packages" to choose from, which determined how much could be drawn down within one year; the bigger the sum, the higher the cash co-payment attached to each application. First frustration encountered was the administration fee - he had to pay to access his own money. Obviously enough brickbats were received to make them cancel that charge months later. Recently, the scheme has been cancelled altogether. Now it's a cash co-payment upfront if Medisave is to be used for payment at each visit. No cash, no medical attention, even if money is sitting pretty at the Medisave account.

World Bank President Jim-Yong Kim would be less effusive in singing the praises of the Singapore’s healthcare system if he had a better grasp of the chicanery in the system that makes sure Singaporeans pay for their own bills. There's nothing to be proud about when he crowed, “I don’t think there’s a single system in the world that spends as little as Singapore does in terms of percentage of GDP (in healthcare) and gets the outcomes that it gets." Especially when the outcome is that an elderly woman would rather take her own life rather than burden her family with huge medical bills.

According to World Health Organisation statistics, the total health expenditure (the sum of public and private health expenditure) for Singapore as a percentage of Gross domestic product (GDP) is only 4.7 percent, compared to Australia's 9.1. Singapore's GDP (nominal) per capita is US$78,744 (2013), Australia's is US$43,550. Either Singaporeans are super healthy, or the Singapore government is super stingy.

Monday, July 21, 2014

On Better Communications

Even if you were not caught in the total chaos on the North-South Line of December 2011, you cannot escape being riled by the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT)'s crude commercial capitalisation on the commuters' misery.

The same penchant for profit over empathy reared its ugly head again with the Singapore Airlines (SIA) social media broadcast posted shortly after MH17 was shot down over Ukraine.

The outrage is not just about their heartless attitude towards the loss of 298 innocent lives. It has also to do with their crass attempt to lie about using the same flight path over a war zone.

Even the state sponsored mouth piece confirmed that, in the last 7 days before the tragedy of 17 July, SIA flew over Donetsky 75 times, more than Malaysia Airlines (48 times), topped only by Aeroflot (86 times). records show that SQ 351 was 25km away from MH17 at the time of the incident. The Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile that brought down MH17 is guided by its TELAR vehicle's monopulse type radar which can track aircraft flying between 15 m and 22 km (50 to 72,000 ft) altitudes.

The real tragedy is that the same breed of government appointed elites are installed at upper echelons of SMRT and SIA. The same get-out-of-my-elite-uncaring-face types behind the Population White Paper and Medishield Life. Don't be surprised that these cads will be first to pop the champagne bottle if a SIA plane was hit instead, and provide useful distraction from the many instances of misgovernance. The SIA spokesman said, "We recognise that the information could have been better communicated," a line that has been used once too often.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Clear As Mud

Following Yaacob Ibrahim’s once-in-50-years' rescinding of a decision to pulp 3 children books, National Library Board (NLB) CEO Elaine Ng held a media briefing (18 Jul) to further “clarify” NLB’s position on the sacrilegious issue of destroying literature.

“Many objected to the idea that books will be pulped. As book lovers ourselves, we understand the reaction. We do not want to be viewed as destroying books.” However, NLB will still be remembered in history for doing so - one of the books, "Who’s In My Family?", has been eradicated.  Last we heard, a replacement copy has not been purchased to be shelved in the adult section.

The minister wrote that "Who’s in My Family" had already been disposed of as the title had been reviewed earlier. Guess what, the MDA has also reviewed the Archie comic and deemed it definitely non pro-family material, whatever that means. Ng explained, "We bought it before the MDA guideline came into place. But that rule only applies to booksellers." One government, two sets of rules, sounds remarkably like a plagiarisation of the comic's tagline, "Two worlds, two loves, two destinies". Sweet.

The only clear message that seems to transcend the tangled mess is that two individuals, one minister and one chief executive officer, are trembling at the very thought of their high paying jobs being pulped.