Tuesday, April 22, 2014

TRANSPORT: Source of most angst since last elections

Apr 19, 2014

FRUSTRATED with rising car prices, train delays and fare increases, Singaporeans have dubbed transport the Government's worst failure since the 2011 General Election.

The label was given by 45 per cent of 500 citizens polled in a Straits Times survey.

Around 28 per cent rate it as bad or very bad. Only a tad more - 31 per cent - say the system is good or very good.

They reserved most of their ire for the MRT, with over half of the regular train commuters saying services have declined since 2011. Only 21 per cent say services have improved.

For bus services, it is the reverse: Two in five regular commuters say services are better while 19 per cent say they have deteriorated.

The bus score could have got a boost from the Bus Service Enhancement Programme, which started in 2012. The $1.1 billion scheme will put about 550 state-funded buses on the road by the end of this year.

Commuters' growing happiness with buses and unhappiness with trains can also be seen in the Land Transport Authority's latest annual satisfaction survey.Conducted by UniSIM last year, its poll of 4,200 commuters shows the proportion satisfied with buses went up to 88.3 per cent, from 86.4 per cent in 2012.

On the other hand, the percentage satisfied with the MRT dropped from 92.1 to 88.9 per cent - its lowest since the first poll in 2006.

The overall satisfaction with the public transport system also slipped to 88.5 per cent, the lowest score since 2007.

Nursing student Neo Yiling, 26, who takes the bus and train daily, can relate to both survey findings. "The trains have become worse because of more frequent delays," she said, but she finds both trains and buses have become more crowded since 2011.

Ms Neo has been in situations where the train doors remain open at a station for more than 10 minutes.

Indeed, train delays and breakdowns was one of the top transport-related government failures cited by respondents.

They also slammed the high car and certificate of entitlement (COE) prices, and fare increases.

A separate section in the survey asked car owners what would coax them to leave their cars at home and take public transport.

Their replies indicate push factors, such as higher COE prices and higher car prices, will have a greater effect than pull factors like public transport becoming more convenient and having fewer glitches.


Show red card to soaring prices


APR 22, 2014

THERE is no running away from the fact that the rising cost of acquiring country broadcast rights to the football World Cup will never abate. Fifa, the regulator of the game, has the world in a stranglehold and it is not shy to demand ever larger fees from a captive clientele. Televised sport is big business, with rights holders to the Olympics, Masters golf, Formula 1 and tennis majors vying with football to charge as much as consumers can bear. The market is huge and growing - with nary a care for price-conscious consumers.

Monday, April 21, 2014

So, what is a Singaporean?

Jun 08, 2013


Whether Singapore's ethnic harmony is a natural or artificial development will determine the future of this accidental nation.

By Kishore Mahbubani For The Straits Times

LET me begin with a paradox. I know that I am a Singaporean. But I do not know what a Singaporean is.

The best way to explain this paradox is to compare Singapore with other nations.

There are three categories of nations with a clear sense of national identity. The first category is the old nation. Take France as an example. The French have zero doubts about their national identity. It is based on a common language, history, culture, relative ethnic homogeneity and deep attachment to key political concepts, like secularism. A Frenchman can recognise a fellow Frenchman in an instant. The bond is powerful and deep. This is equally true of other old nations, such as Japan and Korea, Russia and China, Spain and Sweden.

The second category is the new nation. The United States exemplifies this category best. It has no distinctive ethnic roots. It is an immigrant nation whose forefathers came from a variety of old nations. Yet somehow, within a generation (and often within less than a generation), their new citizens would lose their old national identities and be absorbed into the American melting pot.

Even though America declared its independence in 1776, it actually faced the danger of splitting into two nation states until the American Civil War of 1860-1865. Hence, the modern unified American nation is only about 150 years old.

Yet, there is absolutely no doubt that an American can recognise a fellow American when he walks the streets of Paris or Tokyo. When the fellow American opens his mouth, he knows that he is talking to a countryman.

A shared history, common historical myths, deep attachment to values like freedom and democracy are some of the elements that define the strong sense of American national identity.

It also helps to belong to the most successful nation in human history. A deep sense of national pride accompanies the sense of national identity.

Old cultures, new nations

THE third category is the mixed category where national identity is a mixture of new and old. India and Indonesia, Brazil and Nigeria exemplify this category. Both India and Indonesia have old cultures. But their sense of nationhood is relatively new. The boundaries that they have inherited are the accidental leftovers of European colonisation. For example, in the pre-colonial period, there were no nation states such as India and Pakistan or Indonesia and Malaysia. Their modern borders are a result of colonial divisions. Yet despite all this, both India and Indonesia have managed to develop strong and unique national identities.

Both Indians and Indonesians have no difficulty recruiting people to die for their countries. And they have done this despite the tremendous diversity of their societies. The story of Indian diversity is well known. In the case of Indonesia, it continues to be a source of daily discovery. The late Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas, a distinguished diplomat, told me how the Indonesian people were totally riveted by a series of TV programmes in the 1990s which showcased how children worked, studied and played all over the archipelago. Many Indonesians discovered this diversity for the first time.

Poor but happy community

SINGAPORE does not belong to any of these three categories. Virtually everyone knows that Singapore is an accidental nation. Yet few seem to be conscious of how difficult it is to create a sense of national identity out of an accidental nation.

Take my personal case as an example. Most children get their sense of national identity from their mother's milk. I did too.

As my mother had a close shave leaving Pakistan in 1947, she instilled a deep sense of Hindu nationalism in me. I learnt Hindi and Sindhi and read about Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

But it did not last. The realities of daily living in Singapore defined our identity.

Fortunately, I grew up in a relatively poor neighbourhood. Because we lived in one-bedroom houses - we actually lived in each other's houses and not only in our own. My mother discovered that she had left her Muslim neighbours in Pakistan to develop very deep and close friendships with our Malay Muslim neighbours on both sides of our house.

We lived together almost as one family. Just beyond them were two Chinese families. One was Peranakan and the other was Mandarin-speaking. Three doors away was a Eurasian family.

Hence, in the space of seven or eight houses, we could see almost the full spectrum of Singapore's ethnic composition living cheek by jowl with each other.

And we lived with deep ethnic harmony. At the height of the racial riots in 1964, even though one of my Malay neighbours returned home badly bruised and bloodied after being beaten by a Chinese mob, the ethnic harmony of our Onan Road community was never shaken. We saw ourselves as belonging to one community despite our ethnic and religious diversity.

Natural, artificial harmony?

SINGAPORE'S continued ethnic harmony, which has survived even bitter race riots, is clearly a key component of our sense of national identity. But one question remains unanswered: Is this ethnic harmony a result of natural evolution (as it was with our Onan Road community) or is it a result of harsh and unforgiving laws which allow no expression of ethnic prejudices? In short, is ethnic harmony in Singapore a natural or artificial development?

The answer to this question will determine Singapore's future. If it is a natural development, Singapore will remain a strong and resilient society that will overcome divisive challenges.

If it is an artificial development, we will remain in a state of continuous fragility. As Singapore continues its mighty metamorphosis, we have to hope and pray that our ethnic harmony is a result of natural development.

[A response.]

Sunday, April 20, 2014

More to Singapore Day than its million-dollar price tag

Apr 20, 2014

By Charissa Yong

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was one of the 12,000 people who went for Singapore Day in London in 2009.

Then a first-year undergraduate prone to chronic bouts of homesickness, I embarrassingly felt a little weepy at sight of the fake ERP gantry thoughtfully set up by some Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) person at the park's entrance.

The fake gantry was fairly corny but, as far as I was concerned, it felt about as evocative as the "Welcome Home" banners at Changi Airport's arrival halls.

I had a great time eating Hokkien mee, meeting friends and, yes, even queueing for the food (I think).

In short, Singapore Day was pretty great. But I also felt a little guilty about being so privileged - more so later when I learnt that the bash cost $6 million, at a time when Singapore was undergoing a recession.

Similar mixed sentiments surfaced online after Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a written parliamentary answer on Monday that this year's edition - also in London - cost $4.4 million.

Critics questioned whether it was worth going through all the expense to throw a party for Singaporeans overseas.

Most criticism generally went along two lines: First, that it cost a lot of money.

Singapore Day, usually held once a year in a major city with a big concentration of overseas Singaporeans, has never been cheap. About $3 million was budgeted for the Melbourne edition (2008), $2 million for Shanghai (2011) and $4 million for New York (2012).

A large chunk of the bill is attributed to the higher cost of living in these cities - the carnival's physical set-up in London in 2009 already cost $3 million, for instance.

Obviously, this is a lot in absolute terms.

The bill for this year's Singapore Day is about a third of that of the 2012 National Day Parade - $17.2 million.

That nationwide bash was broadcast to the whole of Singapore and watched live by about 125,000 people. Put that way, the amount spent seems disproportionate to the people it reaches.

This ties into the second line of online criticism of Singapore Day, based on the perception that overseas Singaporeans are more well-off: These are not people who need a $4.4 million feel-good fest.

Some also said the money could be better spent on the poor.

But not spending the $4.4 million on Singapore Day is no guarantee that it would go towards social assistance programmes instead. The money was not necessarily taken away from being spent on the poor, either.

What this uneasy undercurrent of resentment obscures is the bigger question of the purpose of Singapore Day, which a few netizens did raise.

If it is simply a mega get-together which gives overseas Singaporeans a slice of home, as the OSU webpage says, then the tab may be a tad too much.

But if it is also a long-term investment that contributes to wooing overseas Singaporeans home, then that is easier to justify. The presence of Contact Singapore and different ministries' recruitment booths in the lead-up to Singapore Day and during the festivities hinted at this second, deeper purpose.

Singapore Day is something meant to benefit not only its attendees, but also Singapore at large.

Furthermore, there is more to Singapore Day than calculations can show, and it is unfair to write it off as a waste of money.

Many people I know who have been there talk about the event's positive vibes, as well as bring up quintessentially but affectionately Singaporean complaints about its long queues. The event also helps overseas Singaporeans bond with fellow countrymen and makes for a stronger diaspora.

It also has a valuable element of cross-cultural exchange. Attendees can take along their pre-registered non-Singaporean friends, which anecdotally demystifies Singapore or, at the very least, familiarises more people with it. This decreases the instances of Singapore being thought of as "somewhere in China".

Instead, it's "that country with a strangely inexhaustible supply of patriotic songs to which people can sing along".

Or the country in which queueing together is taboo because it lowers the chances of getting more types of food.

Or where picnic mats are small because they're for people's bags, not the people themselves.

With Singapore Day, Singapore becomes a warmly quirky country with its own set of contradictions like any other.

While weighing the event's worth, it's worthwhile to keep in mind the intangible value of reaching out to those overseas. In the end, whether Singapore Day gives bang for the buck is an argument that goes beyond dollars and cents.

This commentary was first published on www.singapolitics.sg

The 1965 MacDonald Bombing KRI Usman Harun followup: TNI chief apology and clarification

[The Flip.]

Indonesian Armed Forces chief expresses regret over naming of warship

By Sujadi Siswo
15 Apr 2014

JAKARTA: The Commander-in-Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces has expressed regret over the naming of an Indonesian warship after two marines who carried out the bombing of MacDonald House in Singapore in 1965.

General Moeldoko told Channel NewsAsia that the Indonesian military had meant no ill will, and had not intended to stir up emotions in Singapore.

He said the episode has been a learning process, and he is confident that future ties between the two militaries would grow even stronger.

General Moeldoko said: "Once again I apologise. We have no ill intent whatsoever to stir emotions. Not at all. Second, relations between the two countries are on the mend. There have been communications among leaders. Singapore's Chief of Defence and I have spoken."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rising inequality a blemish on Asia’s growth story


David Pilling

APRIL 15 2014

Deng Xiaoping said: “Let some people get rich first.” He was referring to China, but it turns out he could have been talking about Asia as a whole.

In the past two decades, rapid growth across much of Asia has widened the wealth gap. That has caused “a great convergence” with Latin America, said a development official. While inequality has narrowed in much of South and Central America, in Asia it has been going the other way, said Mr Vinod Thomas, Director-General of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Asian inequality as measured by the Gini index rose about 1 per cent each year throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Kishore's Big Ideas

 Apr 04, 2014

This year, our regular columnist Kishore Mahbubani has devoted his monthly columns in The Straits Times to new Big Ideas which will help Singapore succeed in the next 50 years.

His first Big Idea is for the country to have fewer cars. The second Big Idea is to make our public transportation No.1 in the world. Read The Straits Times this Saturday to find out his third Big Idea.

Professor Mahbubani, who heads the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, has been hailed by British current affairs magazine Prospect as one of this year’s top 50 world thinkers.