Friday, October 31, 2014

The coming of the Fish Lady

OCT 31, 2014


YOU have to love her. Sprawled out on a hotel lobby couch, sheathed in a black jumpsuit with a plunging neckline, her trademark tousled hair neatly arranged this time, Ms Susi Pudjiastuti tells me in that distinctive husky voice: "I hope Jokowi (President Joko Widodo) knows what he's doing. You know I don't work that well with other people."

Two days later, the owner of the world's largest under-35-seat airline and a friend of Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle leader Megawati Sukarnoputri was named Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister and one of the more surprising choices among the eight women in Mr Joko's 34-strong Cabinet.

Ms Susi, 49, is one of a kind, as at home jousting with fishermen on the beach near her home on Java's south coast as she is engaging in chit-chat at a Jakarta cocktail party. The elite grumble that she is a high school dropout and no doubt look with distaste at the ever-present cigarette and the tattoo that snakes its way from her right knee to her ankle.

The lady couldn't care less. She is separated from her husband, German pilot and aerospace engineer Christian von Strombeck, and calls herself "homeless". In fact, she lives in a suite in the luxury Grand Hyatt Hotel, gliding around town with two young suited aides in a large black SUV that serves as a mobile office.

Nationality not a recipe for good food

OCT 31, 2014


The recent move by Penang to ban foreign workers from cooking hawker food might have prompted cheers among people who love the Malaysian state's rich street food culture.

I have friends who go there every year to revisit favourite food stalls and restaurants, and seek out others new to them.

They might chow down on two to three versions of Penang char kway teow in a day, slurp bowls of Penang laksa from this hole-in-the-wall stall or that, and compare the standard of the handmade fishballs at their favourite kway teow soup stall with their taste memories from previous trips.

Penang's initiative to preserve its food heritage did not come about suddenly; the idea was floated in July this year. After a month-long survey, the local government found that more than 80 per cent of respondents backed the move.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Spirit of unity elusive at the Vatican as Pope pushes for reform


OCTOBER 30, 2014

In front of more than 200 bishops bearing their traditional zucchettos — scarlet and amaranth skullcaps — Pope Francis is said to have delivered one of the most powerful and effective speeches of his 18-month tenure at the helm of the Vatican.

It was the closing session of this month’s gathering of top-ranking Roman Catholic clerics, called by the Argentine pontiff to re-examine the Church’s stance on a range of hot-button social issues related to the family, from marriage to divorce and homosexuality.

Pope Francis had hoped the synod would mark the beginning of a shift away from the Vatican’s rigidity on many of these matters. Some compared its potential to transform the Church with the Second Vatican Council — the 1960s gathering of Church leaders that among other things paved the way for Mass to be celebrated in vernacular instead of Latin.

Instead, the meeting turned into an epic feud between the conservative and liberal wings of the Church, ending in the equivalent of a parliamentary stalemate.

Severed cat: Don't jump to conclusions, says Cat Welfare Society CEO

By Alvin Chong

29 Oct 2014 20:41

The SPCA said the cat's death was "due to non-human factors, and instead very possibly the action of a dog, or a pack of dogs", but residents of Marine Crescent dispute this.

SINGAPORE: As debate swirls online over a statement by the Singapore Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) that a severed cat found in Marine Crescent, might have been killed by dogs - the CEO of Cat Welfare Society, Ms Joanne Ng, is urging the public not to jump to conclusions. “With photos it’s hard to judge,” said Ms Ng. “Let’s respect the facts."

The cat’s body was found, seemingly cut in half on Tuesday night (Oct 28). SPCA said upon examination, it found the “cat's death to be due to non-human factors, and instead very possibly the action of a dog, or a pack of dogs”. The SPCA made the statement in a Facebook post on Wednesday, only to take it down later.

Ms Ng also called upon the authorities to speed up the autopsy process “to give the public an answer”, asking: “If this is an abuse case, shouldn’t parents be worried?”

Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness

Thursday 31 July 2014

1. “Live and let live.” Everyone should be guided by this principle, he said, which has a similar expression in Rome with the saying, “Move forward and let others do the same.”

2. “Be giving of yourself to others.” People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”

3. “Proceed calmly” in life. The pope, who used to teach high school literature, used an image from an Argentine novel by Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the protagonist — gaucho Don Segundo Sombra — looks back on how he lived his life.

4. A healthy sense of leisure. The Pope said “consumerism has brought us anxiety”, and told parents to set aside time to play with their children and turn of the TV when they sit down to eat.

5. Sundays should be holidays. Workers should have Sundays off because “Sunday is for family,” he said.

6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. “We need to be creative with young people. If they have no opportunities they will get into drugs” and be more vulnerable to suicide, he said.

7. Respect and take care of nature. Environmental degradation “is one of the biggest challenges we have,” he said. “I think a question that we're not asking ourselves is: 'Isn't humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'”

8. Stop being negative. “Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, 'I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down,'” the Pope said. “Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”

9. Don't proselytise; respect others' beliefs. “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyses: 'I am talking with you in order to persuade you,' No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytising,” the Pope said.

10. Work for peace. “We are living in a time of many wars,” he said, and “the call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive” and dynamic.

Why ghost towns won’t haunt China

By Andrew Sheng and Xiao Geng -

October 29

Many observers tend to regard the rise of unoccupied modern “ghost towns”, funded through risk-laden local-government financing vehicles (LGFVs), as symptoms of China’s coming collapse. But this view underestimates the inevitability — indeed, the necessity — of such challenges on the path to development.

The Temasek story: Growing with Singapore

October 29

Temasek Holdings works for a better tomorrow as a responsible and trusted steward, said its executive director and CEO Ho Ching, who was awarded the Asian Business Award by London-based business think-tank Asia House. Below is an extract of her speech at the award ceremony dinner in London on Monday.

Singapore was already known in the second century to the Greco-Roman world as a trading post. Ptolemy named it Sabana. Third-century merchants from China called it Pu Luo Zhong — the Island at the End.

In 1819, nearly 200 years ago, Sir Stamford Raffles took over Singapore towards the tail end of the Anglo-Dutch spice trade tussle in the Far East. This little island trading post grew quickly.

Fast forward another 120 years to the end of World War II in 1945. Britain began to devolve its colonial powers through various forms of self-government around the world. The first municipal elections in Singapore were held in 1948.

Eleven years later, in 1959, Singapore was granted its first full, internal self-government. The newly-elected Singapore Government soon discovered — to its utter dismay — that it was staring at a budget deficit of about S$14 million for the year. The government kitty had also been emptied by its predecessor, to the tune of about 10 per cent of the island’s gross domestic product of a quarter billion pounds.

The newly-minted Prime Minister and his new Finance Minister went to work with a vengeance. They cut their own salaries by almost a quarter; allowances of top civil servants were also reduced. Projects were shelved. It was an all-out effort to reduce the deficit for the year.

It was not an easy time. Emotions ran high, as you can imagine, with this unprecedented salary reduction. But logic and example prevailed and the Civil Service pulled together.

By the end of the year, the Finance Minister reported a surplus of S$1 million. This surplus in the first year of self-government set the tone and timbre for fiscal prudence and budget discipline for successive governments.

Next came the 1965 crisis, or nationhood development. This time, Singapore found itself bereft of a large hinterland overnight after the short-lived merger with Malaysia. This left the tiny and newly independent nation scrambling and scrabbling for a living and for living space. Per capita income was all of S$1,600, or £184 in those days. Average life expectancy was a little over 64 years.

But troubles never come singly. In late 1967, barely two years into Singapore’s independence, Britain — facing its own financial crisis — decided to cut spending by withdrawing its military forces east of the Suez by 1971. The British forces in Singapore were not only a security umbrella for trade to flow freely through the Strait of Malacca through the east. They also accounted for about 20 per cent of Singapore’s GDP and were the largest single source of employment on the island.


A massive manpower conversion programme was started immediately to train base personnel for new jobs. Swamps were drained to build a new industrial town for factories to make up for the withdrawal of the British forces.

Young investment promotion officers were soon buttonholing dinner guests in the Philippines, the United States, Japan, Britain and Europe to invest in Singapore. The Government was prepared to provide loans or put in risk capital as a co-investor to encourage the likes of Cerebos, a chicken essence producer from the United Kingdom, to start up plants and create new jobs for its people.

British naval dockyards were converted into ship repair yards so workers could retain their jobs. Military electrical workshops were transformed into electrical services companies.

Yet, in the midst of the desperate drive to attract investments and create jobs, Singapore saw how choking pollution and tearing smog were engulfing cities in the US, Europe and Japan. So in 1970, barely five years after independence, Singapore set up the Air Pollution Unit, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. The Government was prepared to lose investments that did not comply with standards for clean air.

Our resolution was tested early. When Singapore was bidding for a petrochemical investment against strong international competition, the Government required the potential investor to install scrubbers to minimise pollution, even at the risk of losing that investment. The scrubbers were duly installed.

When 1971 arrived, the island hummed with companies, big and small. Factories, local and foreign, were busy producing for the world. There was no massive unemployment from the British pull-out.

That year also saw our first annual Tree Planting Day. It was a symbolic, but also very important, commitment to keep our environment clean and green. Industrialisation, in our minds, was to go hand in hand with green, beautiful nature for our people and children.

Nine years into independence, as Singapore emerged from a series of crises, the Government found itself as an owner of a smorgasbord of companies. Government loans for businesses had already been spun out to form the Development Bank of Singapore, which, today, is DBS, the largest bank in South-east Asia.

It was not the business of government to be looking after shares and investments in businesses and companies. These ranged from minority shares in a hotel to the wholly-owned Bird Park, from a co-investment in a commercial detergent maker to an innovative open-concept zoo as a wholly-owned public good.

Temasek was formed in 1974 to take over this mixed bag of companies and investments, from a golf shoemaker to Cerebos.


The ethos of Temasek was already shaped at birth by Singapore’s post-war history — to live within our means and be financially disciplined; to do the right things with tomorrow clearly in our minds, particularly for our future generations; to make sure our drive for survival and prosperity goes hand in hand with a respect and nurturing of a clean and green environment for our people.

From the start, the Government took a hands-off approach to Temasek. Subsidies were most definitely out of the question. Companies in our portfolio were allowed to fail, as the golf shoemaker did subsequently. Neither Temasek nor the Government would be there to bail them out. With that accountability came the responsibility to make their own decisions. The Government — and it took discipline on its part — played no part in the commercial decisions of the companies. And likewise Temasek.

Take Singapore Airlines (SIA), for instance. From day one, SIA knew it had to innovate and compete internationally or fold; after all, there was not much domestic air traffic opportunity for an island that is all of 30 miles (48km) at its widest span — only a little further than a marathon run.

SIA made its own commercial decisions. Few of its international competitors in the airline industry operate with such commercial independence away from Government subvention and influence — even today.

The greatest gift, at birth, from the Singapore Government to SIA was to help negotiate with the British government for air rights. Its second gift was to run a clean and lean government and an efficient economy that is well plugged into the global market.

SIA is but one of the many examples of our portfolio companies that have succeeded through innovation and sheer determination and not state support. Many of these companies grew with Singapore’s transformation and Temasek grew with them.


This year, Temasek is celebrating its 40th anniversary. We have tried to capture the spirit of Temasek in our Temasek Charter — as an active investor and long-term shareholder, as a forward-looking institution and above all, as a trusted steward. Meritocracy and integrity are our watchwords. We invest in businesses that operate and compete effectively for the long term and do not take short cuts at the expense of the community at large.

We puzzled as to how we can foster an owner’s mindset in Temasek. We mulled over various ideas and decided about 10 years ago to introduce deferred compensation plans, linked to risk-adjusted returns.

For our senior folks, a substantial part of our bonuses and incentives are deferred for as long as 12 years, or about two business cycles. This aims to foster a long-term ownership mindset. If the returns are not sustained, we share negative bonuses — in other words, bonus clawbacks. In doing so, we try to align interests and behaviour towards long-term ownership.

Underlying all these various systems and initiatives is the idea that we work for a better tomorrow as a responsible and trusted steward.

Thus, 10 years ago, we committed to setting aside a portion of our returns above our risk-adjusted hurdle. This was to be used to uplift the community at large, particularly in a developing Asia. To date, we have established and sponsored 16 community endowments, each with specific mandates to build people, build capabilities, build bridges between communities and rebuild lives.

From funding less glamorous research into mental health or Parkinson’s disease to developing pilot programmes to support ageing in place; from lending a helping hand to caregivers, single parents and traumatised children to (launching) programmes for disaster recovery and rebuilding lives; from bringing together youth across a diverse Asia to learn and grow together to programmes on governance and town-planning for civil servants from around Asia — these are but a small sliver of what the various endowment staff have done to touch the lives of more than 170,000 people across Asia over the past decade.

Singapore will be celebrating its 50th year of independence next year. It has been a journey that has made a difference to the lives of our people. In less than five decades, per capita GDP has grown more than 100 times in US-dollar terms. Life expectancy went from less than 65 years in 1965 to more than 82 years last year.

As you can see, we may have owed our success to Britain’s fateful decision to withdraw its forces from Singapore by 1971 — that decision forced us to innovate and industrialise at a great pace.

As we face the uncertain world of change and the exciting challenge of the digital age, I do hope that Singapore and Temasek will make a difference — to bring about a better and kinder world, a more sustainable and thoughtful world and above all, a more peaceful, compassionate and inclusive world.