Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reusing water cheaper than desalination

June 25, 2009

By Victoria Vaughan

SMART money prefers backing water reuse projects over desalination ones, according to a joint study by Singaporean and foreign consultants.

This is because it is cheaper to purify the outfall from water reclamation plants than to turn seawater into drinking water.

A sneak preview of the findings of the study by home-grown PUB Consultants and Global Water Intelligence (GWI), a leading analyst of the international water industry, bodes well for Singapore's foray into Newater, the product of reclaiming used water.

PUB research associate Wong Xin Wei said: 'Instead of just discharging water from reclamation plants into the sea, you can make the investment to capture it and treat it to a higher level and then reuse it.'

There are buyers for this know-how.

Singapore's water agency PUB has already exported its technology to countries such as Saudi Arabia.

On home ground, the latest Newater factory in Changi will step up recycled water production from 69,000 cubic m a day to 228,000 cubic m a day by the middle of next year.

So how much cheaper is reclaimed water compared to desalinated water?

When the Newater factory in Changi begins treating water next month, Sembcorp will charge the PUB 30 cents for each cubic m of Newater.

This is a steal when compared to the 78 cents for each cubic m of desalinated water coming out of SingSpring Desalination Plant in Tuas.

The PUB-GWI report was put together to list the facilities which are involved in water reuse around the world and to analyse and predict market trends.

The study shows that if the current total of 2,659 plants work at full capacity, they will be able to churn out 93.5 million cubic m of recycled water for domestic use each day.

The Asia-Pacific is capable of producing almost 60 per cent of the global output - 55 million cubic m a day.

If all planned projects between next year and 2019 come onstream, this output will grow by 2.4million cubic m a day during the period.

In the next nine years, the global market is predicted to expand to 13.8 million cubic m a day, particularly in the Americas and the Middle East.

The recycled-water market is expected to grow almost twice as fast as that for desalinated water in the Asia-Pacific - from next year until 2019.

The study is due to be published at the end of August.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Take a look at Singapore

June 19, 2009

By David J. Rothkopf

MAYBE the problem in the United States isn't that we're paying our business executives too much. Perhaps it's that we pay our government officials too little.

The Obama administration made headlines last week by appointing yet another czar, this one to ensure we don't pay too much to the executives of the financial institutions the US government has bailed out. They have also made noises about trying to tackle the broader issue of executive pay in the United States.

The second point is idle posturing that almost certainly will amount to little constructive change. The first has already sent the companies the government bailed out scurrying for the exits of the Troubled Asset Relief Programme and it will be a while before we see whether this is a healthy step or an unhealthy one, with institutions hopping out of their hospital beds before they are fully cured. I also can't help but wonder if cutting executive pay is the best way to attract the kind of brains and efforts that will be needed to fix our busted banks.

Meanwhile, I have arrived in Singapore, home according to one count, of the 30 highest paid government officials in the world. And trust me, given the extraordinary success this city state has enjoyed, none of the people whom I met complained that those officials were overcompensated. This country wants the best minds in the government and recognises that they have to pay to get them there, otherwise they go to work in the financial community, sell their souls and ultimately add to the overcrowding problem that is currently one of the biggest social issues facing Hell.

Come to think of it, the overcrowding in Hell probably plays directly into the hands of management down there. I know this because I was in Mumbai airport last night. And for all my enthusiasm for India, Mumbai airport, thronged with people as the late night flights prepare to depart, hot, fetid and chaotic, would have had Beelzebub feeling right at home. In fact, I think I may actually have seen the Prince of Darkness himself there. He was manning a security line and he gave me such a thorough pat down that I think we are now engaged.

It would have been unbearable were it not for the staff of Singapore Airlines (SIA) who met us - mere ticket holders albeit of premium tickets - at the door and whisked us through the crowds and ultimately onto the plane. And once on the plane, I knew exactly how Dante felt once he had left Virgil behind and reconnected after all those years with his old squeeze Beatrice.

Suffice it to say that it does not appear that SIA is even in the same business as American Airlines or United. From the meticulous, exceptionally well-appointed aircraft to a seemingly enthusiastic commitment to service, the airline that was one of the first of the businesses created by the Singapore Government after it gained its independence in 1965, is achieving its strategic goal. It makes you want to travel through Singapore on every flight.

Then you arrive at Singapore's Changi Airport and you are powerfully reminded that the excellence of the airline is not a fluke. This is the best airport in the world: spacious, efficient and attractive. It is the perfect preparation for Singapore itself, almost certainly the best run political entity on the planet.

Admittedly, the country, led from the start by the man who is now known as its Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, has practised what I would characterise as a constrained form of democracy. But few places have ever so compellingly made the case that what is traded away in terms of the occasional citation for spitting gum on the sidewalk is more than made up for in a society that is prosperous (Asia's second richest), innovative and safe.

It is a government that has led the way by behaving in many ways like a corporation, taking ideas like competitiveness and strategic planning seriously. (At dinner with a senior business executive who is one of the country's great entrepreneurial success stories, she said: 'In the beginning, in Singapore, the state was the entrepreneur.' And that was said with a genuine appreciation for all the state achieved in that role.) Even in the midst of a global recession, the Singapore Government has been seen as not just responsive, but creatively responsive, promoting retraining of workers and focusing on new growth industries.

Part of the credit must go to its unique system of senior government official compensation. Ministers are paid via a formula: two-thirds of the average of the eight highest salaries in six key professions - lawyer, accountant, banker, multinational executive, local manufacturer and engineer. As a result, in recent years, the President and the Prime Minister have made in excess of US$2 million (S$3 million) a year in salary and other ministers in excess of US$1 million. The result is that many of the best minds will be found in the government and there is zero corruption.

Want an example of innovation? The President, Prime Minister and ministers took an almost one-fifth pay cut this year because of the recession. What? Accountability among public officials? Real incentives? Imagine the loud 'gag' you would get out of the US government as they choked on these ideas.

I could go on about innovation here, but while we're on the subject of incentives, one last thought. Yesterday, I noticed that in exchange for taking those 17 alleged Uighur terrorists, Palau was getting US$200 million from the US government. That's US$14 million or so per terrorist. And incentives being what they are, I immediately concluded that I want some of that terrorist action.

I will take 100 of them or however many they have left. A hundred will fetch me US$1.4 billion. With this, I will spend maybe US$200 million on a small island on which to house them. Maybe I could buy Devil's Island from the French space agency - which apparently currently controls it - for about that much. Then I would set aside another US$200 million to care for the prisoners (at US$50,000 each per year for an average of 40 years). And I'll pocket the billion as my fee. US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates or his representatives can contact me at Foreign Policy to work out the details.

The writer, the author of Superclass: The Global Power Elite And The World They Are Making, is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and President and CEO of Garten Rothkopf, an international advisory firm Foreign Policy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why no one seemed to see the crisis coming

June 23, 2009

By Tan Suee Chieh

'WHY did no one see it coming?' the Queen of England asked when she visited the London School of Economics in December last year.

The truth of the matter is some people did, but they had neither the influence and power, nor the context, to effect a change of direction. Economists saw it coming as early as 2003-2004, and the voices became louder in 2006-2007, when the squall broke.

Mr Martin Wolf (Financial Times), Mr Nouriel Roubini (New York University), Mr William White and Mr Raghuram Rajan (Bank of International Settlement), and Mr Kenneth Rogoff (Harvard) were the early naysayers. Mr Ed Gramlich (the Federal Reserve governor) warned of the sub-prime danger as early as 2000, and proposed that regulations should be tightened.

Mr Harry Markopoulos, the celebrated whistle-blower, complained to the Securities Exchange Commission as early as 2005 on Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, but was largely ignored.

There are a number of ways we can analyse this problem. One is economic and the other social and psychological.

At the economic and political levels, there are always many rival schools of thought on most issues. We can think of the Brazilian debt crisis, the fears the West had of Japan's mighty export machine in the 1980s, the federal budget imbalance of the Reagan years, the persistent imbalance of the trade and federal deficits of the United States in the Bush years and the rightness or otherwise of the Long-Term Capital Management rescue in 1998.

Firstly, before this crisis broke, many were deluded by the soundness and resilience of the financial system on which the economy rests. While there are problems, we will ride through them as we have always done. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said in 2005, at his confirmation hearings, that 'the depth, liquidity, the flexibility of the financial markets have increased greatly'.

Many saw the validity of comments made on the housing bubble, the persistent deficit of the US current account, and the spread of derivatives, singly and in totality; but to win the debate conclusively on timing, scale and consequences is another matter. Everyone knew the American housing market and the deficit were unsustainable, and that unwinding would be disorderly. But none knew the timing or the intensity of the events that would follow. The reckoning could erupt any time in 2008, 2011 or 2015.

Think of the Japanese stock market rise to Nikkei level 33,000 in the 1980s; it was anomalous and not sustainable. But if you were an Asian market fund manager, it would be unwise to be out of it, because anomalies can last a long time - and it did. So you benchmark, and that is following the crowd.

Think of the so-called inevitability of communism, or Dr Henry Kissinger's domino theory, and the eventual fall of Berlin following Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika. These were anomalous situations, like the unsustainability of the Soviet Union. They lasted for a very long time.

Think of the strength of the US dollar - even today. On any fundamental ground, one has to be short on it.

So in Wall Street and Washington or indeed in the world's capitals, not many could see the looming crisis in stark, do- or-die terms. The thinking was that: Indeed, there were problems; but we could always work them out. That was until the weekend of Sept 12 last year (Lehman Brothers collapsed and American International Group required rescue), when then US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Mr Bernanke saw the abyss.

They began to make it up as they went along, because they were in uncharted territories. Until then, no one had the sense of ownership or the power to act.

And politically, it was not possible to rein in Wall Street, because it was too difficult, too controversial, too unpopular and too untimely. It required a crisis for populism to galvanise support, to enable politicians to act - because it is difficult and unpopular to spoil a good party.

At a socio-psychological level, we can see so many such examples, why purportedly intelligent human beings continue smoking even when evidence is compelling that it is disastrous to health. The turning comes when they are diagnosed with cancer. Then, they adhere to a non-smoking regime, after the shock and impact of discovery. We do what we like, not what is right.

So long as the music is playing, you've got to keep dancing. 'We're still dancing,' Mr Chuck Prince, Citigroup's former chairman and chief executive said in 2007. A few weeks later, he was out of a job. With these comments, he got to the heart of the banking crisis. Chuck Prince's metaphor is sociological and anthropological, not economic.

Very often, groups demonstrate peculiar sets of behaviour which are not commonly accepted by individuals. Examples of these are rampant, evident from street gangs to reclusive religious organisations. In this sense, Wall Street is no different.

In each of these cases, members of these groups rally between themselves based on certain beliefs and causes. In accepting these values, each individual is viewed from the eyes of his peer. So, whether it be street gangs or executive offices in Wall Street, it ends up that the peers will determine what bonuses get paid out and how fast one will go up the career track.

Not all the values absorbed by these groups lead to success. These values can be local and subjective. Any member who questions these values becomes an outcast.�

Examples of this abound. The people who promoted stocks believed in them too and did not necessarily see themselves as liars. The same applies to those who sold structured products. They clung on to theories that perpetuated their self-interest.

The probing mind will make a convincing case that one of these explanations ought to be correct. The fact of the matter is that such explanations are often self-serving to one's interests or opinions. The decision to invade Iraq is a good case in point. The same argument applies to key executives at major financial institutions.

If Mr Prince had decided to pull Citigroup back from its increasingly frenzied trading and lax lending, he would have been deposed - by shareholders desperate for profit, non-executive directors steeped in conventional thinking and, above all, by subordinates hungry for bonuses.

There are many social psychology experiments which suggest we do not challenge the status quo or authority, and that we prefer to stand with the majority. These include the Stanley Milgram experiment in Yale University on how people bow to expert authority, and the Solomon Ash experiment on the length of lines, which demonstrated how we conform to popular opinion.

In real life, Ms Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York, in the early hours of March 13, 1964. Thirty- eight witnesses saw her being stabbed 64 times over 30 minutes in three episodes. No one called for help. There was diffusion of responsibility - the 'bystander effect' - and social information suggests doing nothing is the appropriate thing to do.

The thinking is that, surely, if something were really badly wrong, someone else would have acted. As for oneself, one would go along with the group first.

That is what Mr Prince meant when he said that so long as the music plays, you have to dance.

Very often, we do what the group wants, not what is right.

Until the whole group gets into trouble and the reckoning comes. With a vengeance.

The writer is NTUC Income's chief executive. This article first appeared as part of a series of commentaries on Mr Tan's Facebook webpage.

[Comment: The human race seems doomed to repeat mistakes, and make them in a big way. The diffusion of responsibility extends to the development of these financial instruments. Somewhere along the line, someone decided this was a great way to make money and the consequences will only catch up long after they were gone. abnormalities can endure a long time. Perhaps the human race is an abnormality?]

Monday, June 22, 2009

Leave Iskandar project to private sector

June 22, 2009

MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Najib Razak has invited Singapore investment in the Iskandar project in Johor. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has said no private investor will go in unless there is long-term stability in Malaysian policy.

I suggest that the Iskandar project have more private sector participation and less government-to-government involvement. That way, it will not be affected by ups and downs in bilateral ties.

A partnership between a private Singapore firm and a private Malaysian firm will be less impaired by political changes than government-to-government ties.

Hong Kong and Guangdong province in China provide a tried and tested example. Since the 1980s, many Hong Kong businessmen have invested in neighbouring Guangdong without being urged to do so by the Hong Kong government. Their businesses in Guangdong have flourished, despite political changes in China.

I hope we will make similarly large investments in Malaysia. This is possible only if the private sector takes the front seat and governments take the back seat.

Toh Han Shih

[All well and good to say. But the reason why investors are concerned with political stability of countries they invest in is because Pte businesses can be the unwitting pawns or hostages to political posturing. Witness CLOB. Certainly, that was pte investors buying shares through CLOB.

Any pte investors are vulnerable when they invest in another country with a different set of rules. Many Singaporeans were burnt when they bought property in Johor than never materialised.

Some bought property, built their homes only to have them torn down because they did not comply with rules/regulations. Or did not bribe the right persons.

Investors in Iskandar will be risk-takers who would have considered the climate of political cooperation (such as it is) and bet on the continuing good climate. But it could equally go south. but that is the nature of business, and businessmen know, "Ai pia, jia eh aiah".]

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Singapore-Malaysia relations

June 17, 2009
Khairy rejects sand sale to S'pore

Umno Youth chief says a deal linking it to building of third bridge won't be acceptable

KUALA LUMPUR: Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin yesterday dismissed outright the possibility of Malaysia selling sand to Singapore.

The MP for Rembau said he did not believe Malaysians, particularly Umno, would find a deal linking the sand issue to the building of a third bridge connecting the two countries acceptable.

'Although certainly Singapore will ask for some kind of trade-off, sand is very sensitive, so if it were up to me, the answer would be no,' he told The Malaysian Insider.

On Monday, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew cited Kuala Lumpur's ban on sand exports to Singapore as an example of how cooperation had not been across the board under former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Mr Lee told Singapore newsmen at the end of an eight-day trip to Malaysia that the ban had made it difficult for Singapore investors to take up opportunities across the Causeway, particularly in large-scale projects. He said the investors would put their money in Malaysia only if they could be absolutely sure bilateral cooperation was for the long term and not subject to 'chopping and changing'.

The Malaysian Insider website, quoting government officials, said Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration was willing to resolve outstanding bilateral issues with Singapore and consider lifting the ban on sale of sand to the Republic.

But in a report headlined 'Umno would rather 'burn bridges' than sell sand', the Insider said this was a 'no go' for Umno leaders.

It said the leaders felt that whatever benefits the construction of a third bridge may bring must not come at the expense of the country's sovereignty.

Another Umno MP, former deputy higher education minister Idris Haron, was quoted as saying that Malaysians' 'long tolerance' of Singapore has nurtured greater hatred towards the Republic. 'These grouses come from the fact that Singapore has always expected reciprocal agreements. Any prospect of getting their cooperation on something must be reciprocated,' the MP from Malacca said.

He also said that imposing any condition on the third bridge proposal was likely to hamper it.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had also rejected the idea outright, according to the Insider.

It said that for some Umno members, even the idea of a third bridge was far-fetched, and 'the government should not even waste time discussing the sand issue'.

'The government should address the many problems facing the existing bridge, like traffic congestion and so on and not waste time on something totally unnecessary,' Datuk Shahrir Samad, who is the Umno parliamentarian for Johor Baru, was quoted as saying.

The joke was on the government when it started talking about the third bridge when the Causeway and Second Link had yet to be fully optimised, Mr Shahrir said.

Considering the strong feelings against supplying sand to Singapore, PM Najib now faces the risk of alienating the Umno hardcore and their anti-Singaporean supporters, the Insider concluded.

'He might not have to deal with their discontent now considering 'Umno's culture of silence' but its outcome may prove to be deadlier when the party faces the impending 13th general elections,' it said.

June 18, 2009

Johor rejects 3rd bridge

JOHOR BARU - THE Sultan of Johor Sultan Iskandar Ismail has rejected the proposed third bridge linking Malaysia and Singapore.

He did not give a reason for rejecting the proposal and only said that he did not agree with the proposed plan during his state assembly opening speech on Thursday.

Tunku Mahkota Tunku Ibrahim Ismail read his speech and delivered the Sultan's decree (titah) during the first state assembly to held in Kota Iskandar here.

The Sultan's impromptu decree caught everyone off-guard similar to when he vowed to reclaim Pulau Batu Puteh or Pedra Branca at the launch of the state assembly last year.

The Sultan, who had earlier arrived at the assembly in the morning at about 11am, was in the state assembly complex when his son delivered his speech.

Meanwhile, Tanjung Surat assemblyman Datuk Harun Abdullah said that he agreed with the Sultan's statement. 'As a Johorean, I must follow the Sultan's decision,' he said.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has been reported as saying that the construction cost of the third bridge linking Singapore and Malaysia will be borne by both countries if it takes off.

The decision on when construction could begin would depend on the outcome of a feasibility study. He said the bridge could help bring development to the eastern side of Johor up to Desaru and Mersing and even benefit Rompin and Kuantan in Pahang and parts of Terengganu.

Sultan Iskandar also reminded the people to be confident that the state has a strong economic foundation despite the current economic downturn.

'Every party must embrace the government's moves to build a successful economy. I am confident the state will continue to prosper at every field that will benefit the people.

'The prosperity in the state will continue if the rakyat stand strong and true to the constitution. The people's unity must be maintained so that all can live happily,' he said. -- THE STAR/ANN

[A lot of friendly noises were made at the highest level. But undermined by dissenting voices. If the dissenting voices were from the very low levels, we can expect that the powers that be will rein them in. But these are pretty significant players in the political field - a Sultan, and the Youth Wing Chief. This is not going to engender confidence that M'sia will stay the course. When the politicians sing different tunes, all we know is that the conductor is not in charge.]

Space-saving Newater Changi plant

June 18, 2009

'WASTE not' might just as well be the motto for Singapore's latest water reclamation plant in Changi.

To save space, the Republic's fifth Newater factory, due to be completed next year, is being built on top of the Changi Water Reclamation Plant's (CWRP) underground facilities.

Mr Young Joo Chye, deputy director of best sourcing department at national water agency PUB, said the stack concept is a unique feature: 'If we had not adapted we would have required three times the land.'

The Ulu Pandan water reclamation plant is spread over 46ha and can treat 79 million gallons per day (MGD). The CWRP covers 32ha but can treat 176MGD - or 320 Olympic-size pools - of waste.

Singapore produces 300 million gallons of sewage a day. The CWRP's deep tunnel sewerage system, buried beneath expressways running from north to east, has been built to last for 100 years.

The Changi Newater factory will have a capacity of 50MGD and with similar plants at Ulu Pandan, Kranji and Bedok will reclaim one-third of Singapore's waste water by 2011. The Seletar Newater plant and its water reclamation facility will be axed in 2011.

CWRP and its sewerage system is phase one of PUB's plans for waste water. Two water reclamation facilities at Bedok and Kim Chuan, have been phased out. In the next 10 to 20 years, another deep tunnel sewerage system and water reclamation plant will be built at Tuas and two or all of the remaining such plants at Kranji, Ulu Padan and Jurong will be shut down.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Two Single Women, one married man.

I read 3 articles by 3 regular columnists in the Sunday Times today.

The first was by a single woman who frequently shared her dating and singlehood angst in her columns. By now she has said that she has accepted her singlehood, but I think the lady doth protesteth too much. Anyway, her column today started with the Heinekan TV commercial (lady with walk in closet, man with walk-in refrigerator stocked with Heinekan beer). and meandered into her problems with buying clothes. My brain exploded from sheer inanity at that point and I did not finish reading the article.

The second was by a recent father about changing diapers for his daughter in the wee hours of the morning to spare his wife the stress and fatigue. Nice husband. He writes well, and his sharing of his paternal night duties was cute.

The third article was by a lady doctor, also single, who shared about her friend whom she called "an everyday hero". He struggled to walk, and was in constant pain, but his attitude to life was still good and positive.

3 articles. 2 single women. One married man. My takeaway: If you're single, talking about your personal problems is just plain pathetic and self-centred. A married person talking about parenting issues could be cute. A single person should talk about larger things like people who inspires.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Nominated ministers: Good or bad idea?

June 13, 2009

By Jeremy Au Yong & Zakir Hussain

MP Hri Kumar Nair floated the idea of having nominated ministers last month. His suggestion, though not new, has sparked some debate. Insight analyses the issue and looks at some parliamentary democracies with these non-elected ministers

MP HRI Kumar Nair regularly talks about politics with a group of helpers and grassroots leaders in his constituency.

Several months back, the difficulty of getting good people to run for office was their topic of discussion.

It prompted Mr Nair to propose in Parliament an approach not uncommon in several countries with a Parliament based on the Westminster model, like Singapore's.

These parliamentary democracies have ministers who are appointed from outside the pool of elected Members of Parliament.

Said the MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC: 'We could have people with the talent and organisation for running ministries, but without a similar talent for grassroots work. So far we've managed to get people who are good at both but, going forward, can we say this will be the case?'

Legally speaking, nominated ministers are possible in Singapore. This is because the Constitution, as it stands, allows any MP - elected, nominated or even non- constituency - to be made a minister.

If the Government so chooses, it can bring in a minister by first making him a Nominated MP.

Speaking in Parliament in 1990 when NMPs were first introduced, then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said he felt it would be to Singapore's benefit to give a future government room to appoint ministers.

'I would rather that a government has the flexibility to appoint the right person to be the minister for finance, than to compel that government to select from whoever is available in the House,' he said.

He hastened to add that the Government had no intention of appointing a Cabinet minister from among NMPs then.

Five years later, responding to a dialogue participant, then Acting Environment Minister Teo Chee Hean dismissed the suggestion, saying nominated ministers would not be accountable to the electorate.

The issue was to surface again in 2006 when Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh spoke about roping in the private sector to help craft legislation. He proposed having a non-elected minister involved in the highest levels of decision-making.

Mr Nair's recent comments have reignited debate on the issue.

Given the difficulty of attracting talent to politics, is it time to reconsider the issue? What are some benefits and pitfalls of such a system? How do other countries implement such a system? Could it be done here? Should it be done here?

The case for

MOST people who support the idea of nominated ministers do not view it as a complete replacement of elected ministers. Nominated ministers would serve only in specific ministries.

One example from Mr Nair is that of having a nominated foreign minister.

A foreign minister is expected to travel widely to advance Singapore's interests, but such frequent travel leads to constituents saying they do not get to see enough of their Minister-MP.

'There's a tension there, and it's undermining our own cause to not allow for a nominated minister,' Mr Nair tells Insight.

Mr Singh, standing by the suggestion he made in 2006, notes that India has them, and they usually turn out well.

'Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came through the Rajya Sabha and he turned out to be one of the best prime ministers they've had,' he says.

India has a bicameral system in which the federal Upper House, the Rajya Sabha, comprises representatives sent by state Parliaments.

Mr Singh argues that having some nominated ministers will allow those who are keen to help in policymaking but not to participate in politics to help Singapore.

'We are using many of these people in one committee or another at the moment. They are serious people, with reputations to uphold, and will be responsible,' he says.

As for accountability, Mr Nair notes that the prime minister will have to justify their selection. 'Any sensible PM will know he has to choose carefully if he wants to keep the public on his side.'

Associate Professor Hussin Mutalib of the National University of Singapore's political science department notes that a nominated minister scheme would allow some ministers to be appointed with relative ease and speed.

'There's no need to wait for the long, if not arduous, process of recruiting and persuading the talented to contest in a general election, and then put them through a series of tests before promoting them as full ministers,' he notes.

But he warns that the scheme is not without its share of drawbacks.

The case against

FOR opponents of the scheme, their objections centre on the legitimacy and accountability of such ministers, as well as the scheme's impact on the concept of democracy here.

Prof Hussin, for instance, warns: 'Not only will this disenchant even more Singaporeans and deepen our parochial political culture, the scheme might dent Singapore's international standing as a modern global city.'

Law professor Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University is unequivocally opposed to the idea. Mincing no words, he says: 'It sacrifices authority, accountability and legitimacy at the altar of pragmatism.'

A minister not standing for elections, he says, 'would be perceived as not having earned the right to hold that substantive public office'.

He rebuts suggestions that having that person account to the prime minister would be sufficient, saying that this would deviate from the essence of a parliamentary democracy in which the government is accountable to Parliament.

He also rejects the argument that the scheme would solve the problem of attracting talent. To provide for nominated ministers without understanding why Singaporeans do not want to join politics in the first place is to simply paper over the cracks.

'What would be the next band-aid after nominated ministers?' he asks.

NMP Siew Kum Hong notes that to insulate a minister from politics is to ignore the political aspects of the position: 'A minister's role is political. They are not just administrators; they are leaders.'

For administrative aspects, there are already people like the permanent secretaries heading the various ministries, he notes.

The view is shared by IT consultant Gerald Giam, a founding member of the socio-political blog The Online Citizen.

He writes on his blog that ministers need to have the common touch; they need to be people who can empathise with ordinary Singaporeans.

'If we open the doors to this segment of society to lead us, we will be fishing from the wrong pond. We will, in the long run, attract the wrong sort of people to lead our country - people with a different set of values and motivations,' he says.

Mr Giam, Mr Siew and Dr Tan all say that a parallel cannot be drawn between Singapore's parliamentary system and the presidential system in the United States, where the Cabinet is made up of people who are appointed, not elected.

For example, Mr Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, the equivalent of Singapore's finance minister, was a New York central banker until he was invited to join the Obama administration in January.

In a presidential system, the buck stops with the president, who is directly elected and directly accountable to the people.

In Singapore's system, the Cabinet is accountable to Parliament, which in turn is accountable to the people.

Comparisons with parliamentary systems with upper and lower Houses are also problematic.

In bicameral systems like those in Canada, India and Malaysia, nominated ministers have a 'veneer of legitimacy' because, as senators, they are legislators as well, notes Dr Tan.

Clearly, the nominated minister idea is a contentious one, even without going into the more practical aspects like how to determine their salaries and whether or not civil servants should answer to them.

What some see as a weakness, others see as a strength, and vice-versa. For instance, where some might see an efficient way to draw talent into the Cabinet, others see an eroding of democracy.

Prof Hussin put it best when he referred to the idea as a double-edged sword, saying: 'What might appear to be its greatest assets could also be its greatest liabilities.'

[May 15 2011 update. PAP lost Aljunied in the elections and with it, George Yeo. Interestingly, the Foreign Minister role was mentioned in the article. Was there already signs that Aljunied could be lost? Anyway, at this point the question is moot. PAP is not pursuing the avenue, and there are lots of issues still to be resolved.]

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ambiguous legacy of 1959

June 12, 2009

Statehood achieved that year is an occasion well worth celebrating

By Chua Mui Hoong

SINGAPORE had not one, but two births. Or three. Or four. It depends on your point of view and the historical facts you wish to emphasise.

Its first birth - as Singapore, not Temasek or Singapura - was 1819. This was when Stamford Raffles, an ambitious young executive at the British East India Company, decided to make a name for himself by setting up a British trading post in Singapore to resist the expansion of Dutch influence in South Sumatra.

This 'founding' of modern Singapore was met with hostility and consternation - from the Dutch who felt Singapore fell within its Riau sphere of influence and threatened military action; and from the Colonial Office in London, which had not sanctioned Raffles' plan. The British merchant community in Calcutta, though, supported the move, seeing in Singapore a 'fulcrum' for commerce in the region.

In the end, the British settled their differences with the Dutch, who accepted that Singapore was British.

The 1819 setting-up of a trading settlement here was an epochal event. But apart from having erected a statue of Raffles, we do not celebrate the moment. The main national birthday we celebrate now is Aug 9, 1965. Expelled from Malaysia, Singapore had independence thrust upon it that day. Its future was uncertain. Citizens reacted with anxiety, tinged with relief at getting out of an increasingly acrimonious merger. Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew shed tears and described the moment as one of anguish. Singapore was birthed in pain.

If these two births - in 1819 and 1965 - were unpropitious and marred by the fear of conflict, the other birth was remarkable for its relatively quiet tone.

Past midnight, in the early morning of June 5, 1959, the last British Governor of Singapore, William Goode, handed power over to the first locally-elected Cabinet.

But the year has not been highlighted in national education efforts as a year of great significance, compared to 1819 or 1965.

Unlike the euphoric tone of 1984 to celebrate 25 years of nation-building, or the celebrations to mark Singapore's 40th birthday in 2005, events so far to mark the 50th year of internal self-government have been remarkably muted. More events are being planned as part of this year's National Day celebrations to mark the 50th year of self-government.

Do we feel some ambivalence commemorating 1959? If so, the hesitation is understandable.

Self-government was just a precursor to independence. 1959 marked the year the People's Action Party came to power - and it is difficult to run away from the whiff of partisanship in commemorating that year. Some will ask: What is being celebrated: 50 years of self-government, or 50 years of PAP rule?

Some Singaporeans well-versed in history will also argue that you can put forward a strong case that 1955, not 1959, was the year that Singapore became self-governing, and embarked on the road to independence.

After all, if internal self-government is the yardstick by which 1959 wins its place as a birth year for Singapore, 1955 was the year the process began, when the Labour Front formed the government. And it was the Labour Front government that led an all-party delegation that successfully negotiated the terms of full internal self-government in 1959.

And if the yardstick is local elections to the Legislative Assembly, then 1948 was the year when election to the assembly began. In that year, six seats were elected. In 1955, 25 out of 32 seats were elected seats. In 1959, all 51 were elected.

Does a former colony celebrate the first time seats to the national legislature were elected, the year the majority were elected, or the year all were? Ironically, today's Parliament has 84 elected seats, nine Nominated MPs and one Non-Constituency MP. In other words, it has 10 MPs who are not elected, but appointed or admitted under special circumstances provided for in the Constitution.

Singapore was able to chart its own destiny only to a limited extent with self-government in 1959, for defence and foreign affairs remained with the colonial authorities, and internal security was the responsibility of the Internal Security Council, on which both Britain and Malaya were represented. Moreover, the British High Commissioner in Singapore retained the power to suspend the Constitution in an emergency and take charge of the government.

So though 1959 was an epochal year, its legacy and meaning are not as clear-cut as that of 1965. Perhaps this is why events to mark 1959 have been low-key.

But in fact, there need be no ambivalence about the importance of 1959. The 1959 election was the first election when the Singapore voter was truly able to exercise his right to vote

Before that, the vote was restricted to British subjects. In 1951, the electorate size was just 48,000. In 1955, automatic registration of voters swelled the number to 300,292, but only 52 per cent of that number voted.

In 1957, citizenship rules were changed to give citizenship to local residents. About 300,000 Chinese were able to register as citizens, becoming eligible to vote. As a result, the electorate swelled to 587,797 in 1959, of which nearly 90 per cent voted. The year thus marked the point at which Singaporeans became conscious that they could determine their own destiny. A people will never forget such an act of empowerment - one reason why they resisted being bullied later when Singapore was part of Malaysia from September 1963 to August 1965.

Another point about 1959 is unassailable: it was in that year that Singapore became a state of its own, with the right to confer citizenship. The first Singaporean citizen was thus born in 1959, not 1819 or 1955.

Whatever the twists and turns of Singapore's history, 1959 marked the start of a journey for the state and its people, from a poor self-governing state, to the prosperous, confident metropolis of today.

That alone surely is reason to bring out the cymbals on this occasion - the 50th anniversary of the start of the journey.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Seditious tract duo jailed eight weeks

June 11, 2009

By Carolyn Quek

A CHRISTIAN couple were jailed eight weeks yesterday for distributing and possessing anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic publications, but this did not mark the end of Singapore's first trial under the Sedition Act.

SingTel technical officer Ong Kian Cheong, 50, and UBS associate director Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, 46, have appealed against the conviction and are out on $15,000 bail each.

District Judge Roy Neighbour decided on a jail term, even though a fine was allowed for under the law, as the couple's offences affected the very foundation of Singapore society, which is multi-religious and multiracial.

The judge said the sentence in this case was necessary to deter others from committing similar offences.

Decked out smartly in executive wear, husband and wife showed no emotion when their sentences were read out to them.

They were convicted of four charges two weeks ago, which included three for mailing seditious or objectionable evangelical Christian tracts to three Muslim civil servants between March and December 2007.

Another charge was for keeping about 440 copies of 11 seditious booklets in their Bukit Timah condominium.

The Sedition Act is designed to punish those who stir up feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

The punishments the husband and wife of 24 years received, however, were at the lower end of what the prosecution had urged the court to impose.

Deputy public prosecutors Anandan Bala and Sharmila Sripathy-Shanaz had asked the court to keep the couple - first-time offenders - behind bars for between two and six months.

Under the law, the maximum jail term for distributing a seditious publication is three years' jail for a first offender.

The couple, who have a 19-year-old daughter, worshipped at the Berean Christian Church at the time of their offences last year.

Judge Neighbour, in a written judgment, explained why he imposed a jail term of just two months.

He noted that it was Ong's and Chan's first brush with the law.

He pointed out that the tracts were published by a reputable publisher and had been freely available for sale to the public. 'This may to some extent, have contributed to their complacency in assuming that there was nothing wrong to distribute them to the public.'

Both Ong and Chan had also apologised to the three people who received the offensive mail.

But Judge Neighbour said the offences they committed were 'serious ones'. 'They have the capacity to undermine and erode the delicate fabric of racial and religious harmony in Singapore.'

The booklets the couple possessed and distributed were not only offensive for religious content but also could promote ill-will or hostility between different races or classes of the population here, the judge added.

Religion is a sensitive issue and a person is free to choose and practise his religion, he also said.

The intent in mailing seditious and offensive tracts was clearly done to convince the Muslim reader to convert to Christianity.

'It is foreseeable that the faithful have desires to profess and spread their faith. Besides worship, some Christians might even see evangelism as their paramount Christian duty,' Judge Neighbour said.

But the right to propagate an opinion cannot be an unfettered right.

As Singaporeans, Ong and Chan cannot claim to be ignorant of the sensitivity of race and religion in Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious society, the judge said.

By distributing the tracts, the couple 'clearly reflected' their intolerance, insensitivity and ignorance of delicate issues concerning race and religion in Singapore.

'Common sense dictates that religious fervour to spread the faith, in our society, must be constrained by sensitivity, tolerance and mutual respect for another's faith and religious beliefs,' Judge Neighbour said.

[If I were their lawyer, I'd ask if the Judge were Catholic and if so request that he recuse himself.

Not because I think he has acted partially, but because justice must be seen to be done. If Islam and Catholicism has been insulted, then the judge should not be Catholic or Muslim.

That said, I think there is a need for this couple to be made an example of. I feel sorry for them, but I think they need to think for themselves and find a better way to get to heaven. Evangelistic Christianity is resembling a huge pyramid marketing scheme if your place in heaven depends on the number you convert.

Insensitive evangelising arising from intolerant religious-superiority complex needs to be curbed. Christianity that cannot tolerate other religions or promotes an "us vs them" mentality has not place in Singapore.

Jesus said, if they are not against us, they are for us. Not the other way around. That was a tolerant position. Some Christians have turned that around.]

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Most liveable city in SEA

June 9, 2009

By Reico Wong

SINGAPORE is the most liveable place in South-east Asia, according to survey of 140 countries.

It also ranked number 54, above New York in 56th place, as the world's easiest city to live in in the latest survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

In the survey which examined five categories - stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure - Singapore got an overall score of 88.5, with 100 being the ideal rating.

A score of 80 or more indicates that the city will have 'few, if any, challenges to living standards'. A city which scores 50 or less will present 'daily challenges to living standards'.

Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta were placed 79th and 123rd respectively.

One interesting fact the survey revealed was the stark contrast in the liveability among Asia-Pacific countries.

While three countries in the region - Australia, New Zealand and Japan - accounted for eight out of the top 20 cities worldwide, nine Asian countries took the 10 spots in the bottom 20 cities in direct polarisation.

Dhaka, Bangladesh fared the worst in 138th place, and among the Southeast Asian city, Phnom Penh, Cambodia ranked the lowest in 128th place.

'The performance of Asian cities reflects the diverse levels of development throughout the region,' said Jon Copestake, editor of the report.

'Australian cities represent many of the best aspects of liveability while instability in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh means that cities in South Asia fare much worse,' he added.

Sleep affects blood pressure

June 9, 2009

CHICAGO - MIDDLE-AGED adults who get too little sleep are more likely to develop high blood pressure, US researchers said on Monday.

The study, among the first to directly measure sleep duration in middle-aged adults, found missing an average one hour of sleep over five years raised the risk of developing high blood pressure by 37 per cent.

It also suggests that poor sleep may explain in part why black men have higher blood pressure risks.

'People who didn't sleep as much were at greater risk of developing hypertension over five years,' Kristen Knutson of the University of Chicago reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Adults typically need between seven and nine hours of sleep, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, but many get far less, and several studies have begun to show the health consequences.

In children, lack of sleep has been shown to raise rates of obesity, depression and high blood pressure. In older adults, it increases the risk of falls. And in the middle-aged, it raises the risk of infections, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

The team studied 578 adults with an average age of 40. They took blood pressure readings and measured how long each person slept. Only 1 per cent slept eight hours or more.

The volunteers slept six hours on average. Those who slept less were far more likely to develop high blood pressure over five years. And each hour of lost sleep raised the risk.

The team also found that men, and particularly black men, got much less sleep than white women in the study, who were least likely to develop high blood pressure. -- REUTERS

Legally Speaking: What's In A Name? As It Turns Out, A Lot

From another paper.

9/23/2008 12:58 PM
By John G. Browning
During a recent appearance on Dallas' local ABC affiliate, WFAA-TV, I took some calls live from viewers seeking legal advice.

Given the state of the economy, I wasn't surprised by the calls from people facing foreclosure, job layoffs, or mounting credit and debt. What surprised me were the multiple phone calls I received asking about name changes.

Don't get me wrong - I have no problem with name changes. In fact, I think the celebrities who have saddled their kids with weird monikers have engaged in a form of child abuse, and I won't be surprised to see a wave of legal name changes in the future from such kids as Pilot Inspektor Lee (offspring of "My Name Is Earl" star Jason Lee) or Moxie Crimefighter Jillette (child of magician Penn Jillette).

Celebrities, in fact, seem to have cornered the market on odd names. The late Frank Zappa, of course, named two of his children Dweezil and Moon Unit. Director Robert Rodriguez has children named Rocket, Rebel, Racer and Rogue. Actress Jessica Alba recently named her daughter Honor, while Korn frontman Jonathan Davis chose the name "Pirate" for his newborn - arrgh!

Actress Rachel Griffiths and "Rocky" and "Rambo" icon Sylvester Stallone, elected to stick their children with names guaranteed to produce quizzical looks if not playground beatdowns, naming their kids "Banjo" and "Sage Moonblood," respectively.

Musicians seem to be among the worst offenders. Late INSX lead singer Michael Hutchence had a daughter name Tiger Lily Heavenly Hiraani. John Mellencamp, meanwhile, spawned Speck Wildhorse Mellencamp. Rocker and activist Bob Geldof may have raised awareness of hunger in Africa, but somebody needs to raise his awareness of childhood teasing: he named his daughters Peaches, Pixie, and Fifi-Trixiebelle. For crying out loud, Bob, they're children, not French poodles!

One of the best known examples of celebrities run amok in the baby name department is the product of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin's union: Apple.

Says Mr. Martin, "There's nothing weird about calling your baby Chewbacca if that's what you want to call your baby. It's no stranger than Sarah. A name is just a noise." (I respectfully disagree - no matter how hairy your baby may be, or how big of a "Star Wars" fan you are, don't name your kid Chewbacca).

While I'm not aware of any famous offspring named Chewbacca (or Han Solo, for that matter), some celebrities have let their sci-fi/comic book obsessions get the better of them. How else would you explain Kal-el Coppola, the son of actor Nicholas Cage, who borrowed from the true birth name of Superman?

And let's not overlook little Harley Quinn Smith, daughter of director/writer/actor Kevin Smith. He named his little girl after the Joker's sidekick from "Batman: The Animated Series." At least these kids can grow up with their own action figures.

Celebrities, however, aren't the only ones to manifest their passions in name choices. Do you really need to ask Brazilian soccer player Creedence Clearwater Couto what his parents' favorite band was? Or, for that matter, little Metallica Tomaro (daughter of Michael and Karolinn Tomaro)?

Two different boys - one in Michigan, one in Texas - have been named Espn (after sports network ESPN), and I'm pretty sure that the parents of Wrigley Fields are hardcore baseball fans. And it's not just the parents shouldering the responsibility for such choices.

Sometimes individuals themselves change their names in honor of their obsession. For example, a "Phantom of the Opera" fan had her name legally changed to that of the character, Christine Daae. A member of the U.S. National Guard who is evidently a huge "Transformers" fan changed his name to Optimus Prime. In 1994, Santa Barbara resident Peter Eastman Jr. legally became "Trout Fishing in America" (after the music group or the book by Richard Brautigan, I'm not sure).

Sometimes, people have pursued name changes to make a point. In 1998, a Tennessee politician enhanced his chances of beating his statehouse rival by legally becoming Byron Low Tax Looper. In 2006, a PETA staffer named Chris Garnett decided to show his opinion of the Colonel by changing his name to Kentucky Fried

Meanwhile, Michael Howard had had enough with the bureaucracy and overcharges of his bank in England. Accordingly, he had his name changed to "Yorkshire Bank PLC Are Fascist Bastards," in part because he wanted that printed on checks made out to him.

Many of the stranger names encountered by registrars and bureaus of vital statistics, however, can only be chalked up to twisted senses of humor or downright cruelty. Authors Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback pored over census records from 1790 to 1930 for their 2008 book Bad Baby Names.

Those labors turned up names like Candy Stohr, Mary Christmas, Garage Empty, Please Cope, Happy Day, King Arthur and many others. Others make little sense, like Fish and Chips; Number 16 Bus Shelter; Sex Fruit; Violence; and Yeah Detroit.

No less a figure than former Texas governor James Stephen Hogg named his daughter Ima; let's hope the poor girl didn't develop an eating disorder.

Maybe some of these parents took their cues from the classic Johnny Cash song "A Boy Named Sue," in which the protagonist's estranged father defends his choice by saying "I knew you'd have to get tough or die/And it's the name that helped make you strong."

But at least one judge has taken strong action against a parent's questionable choice in children's names. Judge Rob Murfitt of Wellington, New Zealand, encountered a 9-year-old girl involved in a custody battle; her parents had christened her "Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii."

Judge Murfitt made the girl a ward of the court so that her name could be changed, after hearing testimony about her embarrassment over the bizarre appellation. He observed, "The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment which this child's parents have shown in choosing this name. It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a special disability and handicap, unnecessarily."

I've been called upon in the past to help make a child's life easier through a name change. On one occasion, I successfully petitioned a court to change the name for a boy who was constantly tormented by his peers; it seems Mr. and Mrs. Krueger had sorely underestimated the lasting popularity of a certain "Nightmare on Elm Street" movie villain when they chose the name Frederick for their son (memo to the Lecters: anything but Hannibal, please: school cafeterias will be tough enough for your child to deal with as it is).

So what does it take to change your name legally in Texas? Well, first you have to actually file a petition (a lawsuit) in the county where the adult or child desiring the name change resides. It must be sworn to, and must give the full name being requested by the petitioner as well as the reason why the change is being sought.

To make sure the person seeking the change is not doing so in order to evade justice or any outstanding legal obligations, there are additional requirements.

These include: indicating whether the petitioner has been convicted of a felony, or is required to register as a sex offender; a legible and complete set of the petitioner's fingerprints on a fingerprint card; full name, sex, race, date of birth, driver's license number, Social Security number, and any assigned FBI number or state reference to a criminal history record that would identify the petitioner; as well as the case number and court for any offense higher than a Class C misdemeanor.

Bear in mind, changing one's name in order to avoid liabilities incurred under a previous moniker won't be permitted by a judge. But getting a fresh start in life after a parent stuck you with a name that doomed you to years of abuse in school - say "Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii," for example - that'll be justified every time.

John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Gordon & Rees, LLP. He may be contacted at:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Blend of idealism and realism

June 6, 2009

By David Brooks

ALL smart analyses of the Obama administration begin with Chicago. That's where the top members of the administration were tested and formed. The Chicago mentality is the one they take with them wherever they go.

That means they start with an awareness of diversity. The nation and the world are a bunch of jostling wards that have to be knit together.

That means they are not doctrinaire. Chicagoans like to see themselves as pragmatists, not ideologues.

That means they contain both sides of The Great Tension. In Chicago, there is a tension between the lakefront and the neighbourhoods inland. The lakefront tends to be idealistic, earnest and liberal. The neighbourhoods are clever, cautious and Machiavellian. In all great endeavours, the Obama administration weaves together both of these tendencies.

President Barack Obama's Cairo speech characteristically blended idealism with cunning. At one level, the speech was an inspiring effort to create a new dialogue in the Middle East.

Mr Obama came to a region in which the different groups have their own narratives and are accustomed to shouting past one another. Mr Obama, as is his custom, positioned himself above the fray and tried to create a new narrative that all sides could relate to.

In the Obama narrative, each side has been equally victimised by history, each side has legitimate grievances and each side has duties to perform. To construct this new Middle East narrative, Mr Obama strung together some hard truths, historical distortions, eloquent appeals and strained moral equivalencies.

The President's critics complained on Thursday about his distortions: The plight of the Palestinians is not really comparable to the plight of former slaves in the American South. The Treaty of Tripoli in 1796 was not really a glorious example of Muslim-American cooperation, but was a failed effort to use bribery to stop piracy.

But this is diplomacy, not scholarship. Mr Obama was using this speech to show empathy and respect. He was asking people in different Muslim communities to give the US a new look and a fresh hearing. He was showing people in a region besotted with tiresome hysterics how to talk to one another with understanding and dignity.

That was the idealistic part of the speech, and it was effective. But there was another layer, designed for the people in the ministries. In this layer, Mr Obama implied American policies that are cautious and Machiavellian. On nearly every substantive issue, he scaled back American goals and expectations.

The US used to talk of ending Iran's nuclear programme. But, as Dr Robert Satloff of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy observed, now Mr Obama hopes only to prevent Iran from weaponising its nukes. The US used to aim to de-radicalise Islam. Now Mr Obama accepts radical groups so long as they don't kill people. The US used to want to turn Iraq into a model for the region. Now Mr Obama merely wants Iraq to be the sort of place the US can safely leave behind.

The big retreat to realism concerns democracy promotion. The Bush administration tried to promote democracy, even at the expense of stability. That proved unworkable.

But many of us hoped that Mr Obama would put a gradual, bottom-up democracy-building initiative at the heart of his approach. This effort would begin with projects to create honest cops and independent judges so local citizens could get justice. It would make space for civic organisations and democratic activists. It would include clear statements so the world understands that the US is not in bed with the tired old Arab autocrats.

There was a democracy-promotion section to the speech, and given the struggle behind it, maybe we should be grateful it was there at all. But it was stilted and abstract - the sort of prose you get after an unresolved internal debate. The President didn't really champion democratic institutions. He said governments 'should reflect the will of the people' and that citizens should 'have a say' in how they are governed.

Mr Obama didn't describe how a democratic Iraq could influence the region. He seems to have largely given up on democracy promotion in Egypt.

Professor Larry Diamond of Stanford liked the Cairo speech, but pointed out that Mr Obama delivered it in a country where an ageing dictator is passing power to his son, where the country is crumbling to dust because of autocracy and stagnation. The administration seems to accept this. Meanwhile, as The Washington Post noted, it's slashing aid to Egypt's democratic activists.

This speech builds an idealistic facade on a realist structure. And this gets to the core Obama foreign policy perplexity. The President wants to be an inspiring leader who rallies the masses. He also wants be a top-down realist who cuts deals in the palaces. There is a tension between these two impulses that even a sharp Chicago politician is having trouble managing.


[Author seems unhappy that Obama drops "democracy promotion".  I think he is pushing for the system, rather than the substance. The important thing is whether the people live free with rule of law, justice, and honest govt. Whether this govt is elected democratically or is groomed and grown through the party ranks and "endorsed" by the people is less relevant than whether the govt is good for the people.]

On democracy and government

Extract of Obama's speech in Cairo on democracy.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

[Obama drops "democracy" for "govt that reflects the will of the people". And good government: rule of law, justice, transparent, and not corrupted (honest).]

Obama reaches out to Muslims

June 5, 2009

President sets new tone in a wide-ranging landmark Cairo speech

By Bhagyashree Garekar

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama yesterday made a broad and honest attempt to 'seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world', saying the two need not be in competition.

In a speech notable more for candour than his trademark rhetoric, Mr Obama plunged into the Palestinian issue, often pinpointed as the No. 1 cause of bad blood between the West and the world's 1.5 billion Muslims, unequivocally supporting the two-state solution eschewed by Israel.

In the highly anticipated speech translated into 13 languages, webcast live and distributed over online social networks, he drew upon his heritage as the Christian son of a Kenyan Muslim who lived part of his childhood in Indonesia to seek a connection and credibility with his audience. He referred to the Quran as well as the Bible and the Jewish Torah as he sought to 'speak the truth' about US relations with the Muslim world.

'We must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors,' he declared in Cairo's famed Al-Azhar University on the second day of his trip through the Middle East and Europe.

He visited the seven major 'sources of tension' in the relationship ranging from violent extremism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and nuclear arms to democracy, freedom of religion, women's rights and economic opportunity.

It was a speech laying out the intellectual background to forthcoming policies, sweeping enough to lead some observers to compare it to former president Ronald Reagan's 'Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall' call at the height of the Cold War.

Mr Obama made the case for common cause: 'When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean.'

He also tried to step beyond the increased mistrust and stereotyping after the 9/11 terror attacks. 'Partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

'But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.'

To the satisfaction of many in the Arab world, he attempted to inject a sense of balance in American involvement in the Middle East. While he called his nation's bonds with Israel 'unbreakable' he also pledged not to 'turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own'.

'Just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's,' he said, underlining his commitment to the two-state solution not acceded to by Israel's new hawkish leadership.

He also explained his strategy for the hot spots in Asia where the majority of the world's Muslims live and where Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding. 'We know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan,' he said, stressing his commitment to more aid for the region even as he prepares to send an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan where Taleban insurgents are increasing attacks and challenging the US-backed government.

He addressed Iran, the quixotic regional giant with whom the US, Arabs and the Israelis alike have uneasy relations. He acknowledged the 'tumultuous history' with Iran, re-stating his willingness to talk without pre-conditions but drawing the line at Teheran's nuclear ambitions 'that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path'.

In a sign of the vast chasm that remains to be crossed before the scenario sketched out by Mr Obama can be realised, many sceptics said the speech was all slogans and no action.

At home, the 55-minute speech being billed historic sparked debate on whether his words would be taken for weakness when he conceded that America had erred in some of its actions in the past.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A future President's apprehension

May 30, 2009

By Li Xueying

AN ENERGETIC man of 35, Mr SR Nathan weaved his way through the crowds with apprehension, feeling like a stranger in his homeland where he was born and bred.

Thousands of Singaporeans had gathered in front of the City Hall steps on that evening of June 3, 1959, jubilant at the onset of self-government.

But Mr Nathan - while exuberant that Singapore was 'halfway to independence' - felt a sense of foreboding.

'In the crowds that milled around City Hall, I found myself a stranger,' he says. 'This milling crowd was sometimes hostile in appearance and hostile in demeanour. And they were all PAP supporters.'

Now the President of Singapore, MrNathan remembers clearly the uncertainty of those days through decidedly non-rose-tinted glasses.

Then, he was welfare officer to seamen, administering to their needs, which range from wages to discipline matters.

These seamen were 'tough people, not English-educated'. But they accepted Mr Nathan - who himself was 'non-racial' - as 'one of them'.

But what he felt that night about the crowd of mainly Chinese was a 'body language of hostility'.

'There was a certain aggressiveness, a what the hell were you doing here (attitude),' he recounts.

'It set me thinking of the days immediately after the war, when with the coming of the MPAJA (Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army) in town, the behaviour of people changed. And there was strong chauvinistic conduct, which was later tempered down.

'So my main preoccupation was, what awaited us? Will we be overwhelmed by this crowd, and their behaviour?'

It did not help when Dr Goh Keng Swee made a speech at the rally, warning the English-educated that the special privileges they enjoyed under the British was to come to an end.

For civil servants like Mr Nathan, it came as a blow.

Mr Nathan, who held a diploma in social studies from the University of Malaya, says: 'Disappointment set in with Dr Goh's remarks. I was not sure if what he was telling was meant to be taken as a message that we were going to be shunted away.'

The message 'might have been well-intended', he acknowledges. But it was expressed at 'the wrong place, at the wrong time'.

Says Mr Nathan: 'We were part of this place. We joined in the struggle. We shared everything. And suddenly to feel alienated and to have this remark come in at that time...(there was a) negative effect on us. After all, we have been the mainstay, we ran the administration.'

Alarmed by the message, many Indian and Eurasian families emigrated.

Indeed, that very night, one of Mr Nathan's friends - a Straits Times journalist - sold his house in Serangoon Gardens and left for Australia.

But he himself did not contemplate it.

He says: 'You see, we have been here for three generations; we had very little contact with India.'

But what he did consider was leaving the civil service.

In the ensuing months, party cadre members were haughty towards the civil servants, he discloses.

'They'd come around and ask, why haven't you done this, why haven't you done that, why are you giving priority to this person...and all sorts of petty, petty things.

'So it was very frustrating for those of us working on the ground, dealing with human problems.'

Many considered leaving the service for the private sector, he says. 'But at that stage, we learnt that within the PAP, there was a division and that there were moves in line with our thinking...and we decided to give up any idea of looking for a job.'

So it was a time of transition, one 'marked with so much uncertainty that I can't say that I was looking ahead with great hope'.

'It was only when the split came and the struggle was really on, that there was some hope.'

Ultimately, despite those initial uncertainties, June 3, 1959, was an important milestone in Singapore's history, says Mr Nathan.

'The immediate problem of being a colony had ended. We were on the way to being independent. And a new phase of our existence had come into play.'

Let to roam free for months

June 1, 2009

PUTRAJAYA (Malaysia) - MALAYSIA allowed a Singaporean Islamic terror suspect to remain free for months so that he might lead authorities to other militants, an official said on Monday.

Mas Selamat Kastari was captured in Malaysia's southern state of Johor on April 1, more than a year after he escaped from a high-security prison in neighbouring Singapore in February 2008 by wriggling out a bathroom window.

Officials were aware that Mas Selamat had fled to Malaysia from 'the moment he came to our country', Malaysian Home Ministry Secretary General Mahmood Adam said in an interview with The Associated Press.

'We have a very good (police intelligence agency) here,' Mr Mahmood said. He did not say when exactly Mas Selamat came to Johor or whether Malaysia told Singapore about his whereabouts.

Mas Selamat, the alleged Singapore commander of the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group, evaded a massive manhunt in the city-state and slipped into Malaysia by swimming across a narrow strip of sea that separates the two countries.

Police monitored Mas Selamat's movements instead of arresting him immediately because 'the most important (thing) sometimes is not the particular target, the most important (thing) sometimes is the networking', Mr Mahmood said.

Mas Selamat alone is not as valuable as who is behind him, Mr Mahmood said.

Mas Selamat lived in a Malaysian village of about 100 people, rarely going out or mixing with other residents, before being captured by Malaysian commandos.

Mr Mahmood declined to say whether authorities are on the verge of making further arrests, but stressed that Malaysia remained 'very safe and secure'.

Malaysia's government last week announced it would hold Mas Selamat for two years under a security law that allows for detention without trial. Prime Minister Najib Razak said officials want to obtain more information from Mas Selamat, calling him a 'threat to national security'. -- AP

[One conspiracy theory is that Mas Selamat was "allowed" to escape in order to track down his other contacts or network. If so, they should have revealed it by now. WKS and the ISD has taken alot of flak for this escape and Singapore's reputation has suffered. So it makes no sense to continue the charade.

So that's bunk.

On the revelation that M'sia allowed Mas Selamat to move about for months, may be true or it may be hyperbole. Certainly the arrest/recapture was well planned and could not have be executed without considerable intelligence gathering, or at least surveillance. But months? M'sian police would have two issues to worry about 1) keeping him under surveillance while not revealing police presence, and 2) tracking his movement if he does move about trying to resurrect his network.

Mas Selamat was hiding out in a village of 100 people. Unless one or more of these 100 people are police informants, any outsiders such as the police coming in or loitering about would have been noticed and commented on.

The M'sians are either better than expected, or the Home Ministry Sec Gen is as we say in singapore, talking cock.]

Opposition wins

June 1, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR - MALAYSIA'S opposition won an easy victory on Sunday in a special election in a northern state after the ruling coalition declined to contest the vacant seat.

The opposition People's Alliance, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, won the seat in the northern Penang state assembly with more than 6,000 votes.

Three independents received less than 1,000 votes in total. The winner, Mansor Othman, will also become deputy chief minister of Penang state.

'I'm thankful ... that the voters have given us a resounding victory,' Mr Anwar told The Associated Press.

The ruling National Front coalition had refused to contest the seat, which Prime Minister Najib Razak said was vacated through 'political games.'

The seat fell empty after the incumbent from the opposition alliance resigned amid unsubstantiated claims of corruption.

Mr Najib denied the ruling coalition feared defeat, but his administration is struggling amid complaints of corruption, poor economic management and racial discrimination.

If it ran and lost - a likely outcome in the opposition stronghold - it would have been the ruling party's fifth loss in six by-elections in less than a year.

Only 7,100 of more than 15,000 eligible voters cast ballots on Sunday, compared with a turnout of more than 80 per cent in 2008 general elections.

Mr Anwar dismissed the low turnout as 'quite expected' because the Election Commission had restricted vote canvassing on the election day. Opposition alliance politicians campaigned vigorously with nightly speeches during the past week but the election lost steam when the ruling coalition pulled out. -- AP

[And PM Najib takes the wind out of the sails of the opposition. Only 50% turnout, no heated electioneering. No bluster and strutting. No media circus. Congrats to PM Najib. He shows that he can rise above the tactics of the opposition and get on with the real work of governing and leading the country.]

Monday, June 1, 2009

The opposition's Catch-22 situation

May 30, 2009

By Peh Shing Huei

AMID the slew of changes to be made to the political system, the trebling of the number of Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) was the most eye-catching. Instead of the current three, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong proposed on Wednesday to increase it to a maximum of nine.

At a glance, that seems to be happy news for the opposition in Singapore. I wouldn't be surprised if quite a number of them cheered the announcement, pleased that the road to Parliament, albeit through the backdoor, has been widened significantly. But the expanded NCMP scheme is probably more of a curse than a blessing for the opposition. They will be pushed into a Catch-22 situation where they are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

The reason for the scheme is clear: To satisfy a curious Singaporean phenomenon, where the people yearn for a louder opposition voice in Parliament and yet prefer to vote for a People's Action Party (PAP) MP. The latter is deemed more likely to deliver the goods.

The Constitution allows for up to six NCMPs but for years, the number was capped at three. If two from the opposition were elected as MPs, then only one other opposition candidate - the one with most votes - would be invited to be an NCMP. And in the last 12 years, that precisely has been the case. With Mr Chiam See Tong and Mr Low Thia Khiang winning in their own right in Potong Pasir and Hougang respectively, Parliament has had only one NCMP. The late J.B. Jeyaretnam and MrSteve Chia have served as NCMPs; Ms Sylvia Lim of the Workers' Party is the current sole NCMP.

Most independent political observers would agree that both Mr Chia and MsLim did a good job. They were active, did their research and asked probing questions.

But therein lies the problem for the opposition. If the likes of Mr Chia and Ms Lim are such effective NCMPs, why would voters want them as 'proper MPs' (for want of a better phrase)?

This seems like a perfectly comfortable arrangement for voters. They can have their cake and eat it too. They get a PAP MP to take care of their needs as well as an opposition voice in Parliament to express their discontent.

The better the job an NCMP does in Parliament, the less likely it becomes for him or her to be elected as an MP. No NCMP thus far - there have been four since the scheme was introduced - has been able to translate the position into an actual parliamentary seat.

But that does not mean doing a bad job is an option. A more viable alternative is to not take up the offer to become an NCMP, which is what the Workers' Party (WP) did in 1984 when the scheme first started.

After the last General Election, the WP tussled with this option again. Its chief, Mr Low, had spoken of his disdain for the scheme on more than one occasion, arguing that it was designed to dissuade voters from voting for an opposition candidate. But when his party was offered the chance to nominate an NCMP, he did not want to stand in the way. The party nominated Ms Lim; Mr Low abstained from voting.

One reason for the WP's decision, I believe, was the fear that forgoing the opportunity carried the risk of being forgotten by voters during the long years between general elections, thus harming their chances of eventual victory.

After all, being an NCMP does provide a politician with an opportunity to speak up in the highest forum in the land, appear regularly in the media and gain name-recognition - all critical to an opposition candidate if he or she hopes to dislodge a PAP incumbent.

What all this means is that the

NCMP scheme has trapped the opposition. Take it up and you risk being seen by the voters as a 'useful loser'; reject it and you could very well be a loser forever. It is a beautiful straitjacket.

In the long-term, the opposition has little to win from the NCMP scheme, enlarged or otherwise. And the PAP has little to lose.

The increased number of NCMP seats will likely lock the opposition even tighter into a conundrum. Their voices will get louder in Parliament and their impact will get bigger. But their new-found visibility will give voters even more reasons to not vote for them.

The latest limitation of just two

NCMPs from each Group Representation Constituency (GRC) could also lead to further opposition fragmentation. Why form a five-man 'Dream Team' to contest a GRC if that would mean three of the five 'stars' cannot become

NCMPs if the team were to lose?

Such calculations, I believe, would not be far from the minds of many an opposition candidate. For let's face it: No one has beaten the PAP in a GRC. It would be realistic for the opposition to plan for likely defeat - and position themselves as best for an NCMP seat.

When covering the opposition during the last election, more than a few opposition politicians openly told me that they would be happy with a 'good defeat' - which they defined as a 35 per cent to 40 per cent share of the votes. Would they take up one of the nine

NCMP positions if they managed a good 'good defeat'? Probably.

The Parliament will become a livelier place as a result and the opposition will find more purpose in those years between elections. But the scheme will not bring the opposition parties closer to being genuine alternatives to the PAP.