Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Singapore is ‘normalising as a democracy’: Analysts


December 24 2013

SINGAPORE — Observers said navigating Singapore’s future political landscape will be much more of a challenge as they looked back at major events which shaped the country in 2013.

As one political watcher puts it, Singapore is “normalising as a democracy”, and with it comes a new way of governance.

2013 marked the end of the year-long Our Singapore Conversation, an exercise to get Singaporeans thinking about the kind of future they want.

It set the stage for the prime minister to announce a “significant shift” in the government’s approach towards nation building during the National Day Rally.

It was described as a “new way forward”, as the country grapples with new challenges externally, and domestically.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: “Singaporeans sense correctly that the country is at a turning point.”

Facts are sacred, comment is free - and fact-based comment most precious of all

Oct 19, 2014

By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor

In 1921, C.P. Snow wrote an essay on journalism for The Guardian newspaper to mark its centenary and his 50th year as editor.

In it, he coined the words that by now have become famous: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” It was a call to newspapers to remember their base: news gathering.

I got to recalling CP Snow’s dictum about comment and facts this week, as Hong Kong protests draw ever more hyperbolic commentary from the glitterati media. Many western commentaries tend to view the protests through ideological-tinted glasses as youth movements clamouring for democracy and human rights.

But in The Straits Times, we have tended to run commentaries that are less ideological in nature, from people who know Hong Kong and its Basic Law.

This week, we ran a useful piece by Lim Chin Leng, who is Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong, and a member of Hong Kong's Committee on Pacific Economic Cooperation. In this article, he reminds our readers that Hong Kong has an existing framework for constitutional debate and political reform.

Challenge for PAP to retain same dominance as in the past: Ho Kwon Ping


By Sharon See

20 Oct 2014

History has not been encouraging to founding political parties after three or four generations, pointed out the Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings in his first IPS-Nathan Lecture.

SINGAPORE: The People's Action Party will face a challenge to retain the same degree of control over Parliament as it has had in the past, said Mr Ho Kwon Ping in his first lecture as S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore.

Speaking at the University Cultural Centre, Mr Ho said history has not been encouraging to founding political parties after three or four generations. He said historical trends elsewhere point towards a possible election loss by the PAP in the second half of the next 50 years.

The most likely reason could be a freak election, followed by a split within the ruling party and a massive loss of political legitimacy, said Mr Ho.

Monday, October 20, 2014

China must be wary of capital-market liberalisation



OCTOBER 17, 2014

As China’s economy starts to slow, following decades of spectacular growth, the government will increasingly be exposed to the siren song of capital-account liberalisation. This option might initially appear attractive, particularly given the Chinese government’s desire to internationalise the renminbi. But appearances can deceive.

A new report argues that the Chinese authorities should be sceptical about capital-account liberalisation. Drawing lessons from the recent experiences of other emerging countries, the report concludes that China should adopt a carefully sequenced and cautious approach when exposing its economy to the caprices of global capital flows.

The common thread to be found in the recent history of emerging economies — beginning in Latin America and running through East Asia and Central and Eastern Europe — is that capital flows are strongly pro-cyclical, and are the biggest single cause of financial instability.

Domestic financial instability, associated with liberalisation, also has a large impact on economic performance, as does the lack of control over non-bank financial intermediaries — an issue that China is now starting to face as the shadow banking sector’s contribution to credit growth becomes more pronounced.

London's great, but have you seen Britain?


OCT 20, 2014


CONSIDER this for a contradiction. According to a recent survey, London is the world's most coveted place; the British capital's dynamism and welcoming approach to foreigners makes it the destination of choice for the largest number of people seeking a job abroad.

Yet at the same time, Britain is gripped by a powerful backlash against immigrants: if general elections took place today, up to one in five of all Britons could be voting for a party whose only political platform consists of a pledge to seal the country's borders against all incoming foreigners.

How can one explain this gap between a welcoming city and a hostile nation?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Suggestions on CPF changes raised at LKYSPP conference


By Olivia Siong

17 Oct 2014 22:36

Raising the CPF income contribution ceiling for employees and adopting social principles rather than commercial ones were some of the suggestions offered at a session on inequality and social security reforms.

SINGAPORE: Raise the CPF income contribution ceiling for employees - that was one suggestion raised by an economist at a session on inequality and social security reforms that was part of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) 10th Anniversary Conference held on Friday (Oct 17).

During the session, LKYSPP’s Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat said to help improve retirement adequacy, in particular for the middle-income group, the issue should be addressed early and when people are working.

"The amount of contribution that they are putting into CPF accounts is decreasing in real terms. That has to do with the fact that the income contribution ceiling has not kept in step with inflation. It has remained at S$5,000,” he said.

He pointed out that between the 1980s and 2011, "the real value of the income ceiling has actually been halved. As a result, our real contribution to CPF for those who had exceeded the ceiling has actually been declining over time. What is needed is an increase in the income ceiling, especially for those who are contributing on the employee side.

[Should we worry about the high-middle income (or whatever social strata those earning over $5000 are) earners? These income earners have other ways of ensuring their retirement adequacy. And no, it has not "remained" at $5000 from the 80s to 2011. It was $6000 prior to 2004, and was reduced to $4500 in 2006, before being re-adjusted to $5000 in Sep 2011. The rationale was explained here. The CPF is targeted at the 10th and 80th percentile income earners. Hence the ceiling. Why isn't this Assoc Prof who has commented on the CPF frequently, not au fait with the policies relating to the CPF? Even if he has a point, shouldn't he addressed the original intent of the policy?]
"In other words, we can raise the income ceiling for the employee contribution, not necessarily the employer contribution, so that it does not add to the employer's cost. For the employee, it is just increased savings which they can therefore use in retirement, and that will ensure an improvement in their retirement adequacy."

[Because a) CPF members already prefer not to put their money in CPF (despite the better rates), and b) Higher income earners should not have to depend solely on the CPF to meet their retirement needs, and c) there is already the SRS - not exactly the same, but it provides tax relief, and SRS savers can use the funds for investment to gain better returns perhaps than CPF.]

Another speaker, Professorial Fellow Mukul Asher, also noted that currently, schemes like CPF Life and MediShield adopt commercial principles - for example, with premiums varying by age and sex. He said this has not helped with ensuring retirement adequacy, and social principles should be adopted instead.

He noted: "Women live longer than men, so women are going to have to pay higher premiums or accept lower CPF Life amounts for a given capital sum. But women have a lower labour force participation rate than men. They also, as a group, on average, earn less than men. But they live longer, so they need more.

"So what we are doing with the commercial principles is making it very difficult for half of the population to have adequate retirement."

[Bravo! Thank you for making this point. This is very true and very correct. Social principles, and looking out for women, are two very important points.]

Barking mad over dog, never mind Ebola threat

Oct 10, 2014


ARE we all quite mad here in the developed world?

A petition to save Excalibur, the pet dog of a Spanish nursing assistant who has contracted Ebola, received more than 370,000 signatures before the animal was sedated and killed as a precautionary measure on Wednesday.

As it was taken away in a van for incineration, a crowd of activists who had clashed with police during the day were reportedly shouting: "Murderers!"

I don't remember people clashing with the police to persuade their governments to do more to help stop the spread of Ebola in Africa, where more than 3,400 human beings have died from the disease.

Indeed, an online petition to persuade the United States government to fast-track research for an Ebola drug has so far received 152,534 signatures. By that measure, we care half as much about finding a cure for Ebola as saving a dog.