Saturday, November 28, 2009

Docs in a tight spot when dealing with underage sex cases

Nov 28, 2009

I REFER to Monday's letter by Mr Chan Wing Cheong, 'Consensual underage sex: Review two law issues'.

I share Mr Chan's observation that the duty to make a police report when one becomes aware of underage sex should be clarified by the legislature.

Section 22(1)(a) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) currently requires anyone who is aware of certain Penal Code offences to report the matter to the police, unless the person can prove 'reasonable excuse' for not reporting.

All sexual offences under Chapter XVI of the Penal Code are reportable. This includes sexual penetration of a minor under 16 years old with or without the minor's consent under Section 376A of the Penal Code.

Before Section 376A of the Penal Code was enacted last year, consensual underage sex used to be prosecuted as carnal connection with a girl below 16 years old under Section 140(1)(i) of the Women's Charter.

Section 140(1)(i) of the Women's Charter, with a shorter maximum jail term, is probably retained along with Section 376A of the Penal Code so as to give state prosecutors the discretion to invoke it in deserving cases such as those involving consenting teens. As Section 22(1)(a) of the CPC does not cover offences under the Women's Charter, there is no reporting obligation under the CPC for section 140(1)(i).

However, the fact that both the Penal Code and Women's Charter provisions cover consensual sexual intercourse can create practical difficulty for professionals like doctors. Suppose a 15-year-old girl confides in a general practitioner that she had sex with her 15-year-old boyfriend. Is the doctor obliged to report the matter as an offence under Section 376A of the Penal Code? Or can the doctor regard the matter as an offence under Section 140(1)(i) of the Women's Charter for which no reporting obligation arises under the CPC?

If cases of consensual underage sex should all be reportable as offences under Section 376A of the Penal Code, a further question is whether medical confidentiality may operate as a 'reasonable excuse' for doctors not to report such matters. As Mr Chan rightly pointed out, the meaning and scope of the 'reasonable excuse' exception has not been tested in the courts.

Paragraph of the Singapore Medical Council Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines provides that medical confidentiality is a general but non-absolute rule which may be overridden by legislation, court orders or when the public interest demands disclosure of such information. But is there public interest in reporting consensual underage sex to the police such as to override medical confidentiality?

Until these issues are clarified by legislation or case law, doctors have to continue to steer between the Scylla of breaching medical confidentiality and the Charybdis of not reporting what is potentially a reportable offence. The Scylla may result in a patient complaint leading to disciplinary proceedings, while the Charybdis may lead to criminal prosecution for contravening Section 22(1)(a) of the CPC. I hope the law in this regard can be clarified soon.

Eric Tin

[This is a valid question. Doctor-patient confidentiality could possibly be invoked as a reasonable excuse for the doctor not to report consensual underage sex. The primary role of the doctor is to serve the healthcare and medical care needs of the patients. Enforcement of the law is not his primary duty. If Doctors are required by law to report such offences, then sexually active minors with related health issues would avoid going to doctors and this would be eventually more detrimental to their well-being. ]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Was Chinese wrongly taught for 30 years?

Nov 27, 2009

A fresh controversy over second language policy has erupted with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's remarks that the Government had proceeded on the wrong assumptions for 30 years. Did it really go wrong? If so, how can it be rectified? Insight traces the twists and turns of a policy that has led to much weeping and gnashing of teeth among students, parents and teachers.

By Clarissa Oon & Kor Kian Beng

Thursday, November 26, 2009

S'pore on list of degree mill countries

Nov 26, 2009

Oregon, which has strict laws, names six private institutions here
By Sandra Davie, Senior Writer

Singapore never used to feature on ODA's list, said Mr Alan Contreras, the administrator for Oregon's ODA. 'The problem Singapore has is that it opened the door to private post-secondary education without establishing a serious governmental oversight process to make those providers prove that they are legitimate.'
The Lee Community College office at the MND Complex in Maxwell Road. The popular CaseTrust-accredited school appears on a list compiled by officials in the US state of Oregon of six institutions here that are said to offer unaccredited qualifications. -- ST


DEGREE mills that churn out 'graduates' at the drop of a hat are the sort of dodgy outfits we link with shadier parts of the world, but the problem is a lot closer to home and threatens to harm Singapore's name as an education centre.

Small as it is, the country appears six times on a list compiled by Oregon's Office of Degree Authorisation (ODA).

The American state has strict laws regarding the use of qualifications from unaccredited institutions and those dubbed 'degree mills' or 'degree suppliers'. It requires that a person's business cards, CV and letterhead declare if his degree is from an unaccredited university.

The term - degree or diploma mill - has been used in the United States and around the world to refer to 'substandard or fraudulent colleges that offer potential students degrees with little or no serious work'. They range from those which are simple frauds - an address to which people send money in exchange for a degree - to those that require some nominal work from the student but do not require the college-level study normally required for a degree.

Oregon's laws make its list one of the most comprehensive compiled by a state government body in the United States.

It names six institutions here as offering unaccredited qualifications: Cranston University, Templeton University, Trident University of Technology, Vancouver University Worldwide, Westmore University and Lee Community College.

Names of institutions go on the list if there are queries made by members of the public. Checks are carried out on the status of the university both in the US and with foreign governments before they are put on the list.

Checks by The Straits Times found that Westmore University's website is hosted by a company operating out of Science Park.

Vancouver University Worldwide, which was ordered to be shut by the Canadian government two years ago, had offered its courses here for a few years.

Several insurance industry professionals have MBAs, while some even have doctorates, from the university.

A few Singaporeans were also found to have degrees from Cranston University and Templeton University. Both are listed as online universities, based in Singapore and possibly Nevada.

The Palin School of Arts and Design in Bras Basah lists Trident University of Technology degrees, but Palin officials say that currently they are not offering the degree programme in advertising and design.

ODA's list says Trident was denied approval by the state of Wisconsin and it was never legal in New Jersey as claimed.

But what was surprising was the presence on the list of Lee Community College. The private school has a CaseTrust for Education quality mark and is popular for its diploma courses in counselling and psychology.

The Straits Times found that the school, in Maxwell Road, also offers a degree from the American University for Humanities (AUH), which a staff member said is accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education.

ODA's website has this to say about the American university: 'New name for American University of Hawaii, which was closed by court order. Operations claiming accreditation from The American Academy for Liberal Education in Lebanon do not meet Oregon legal requirements and degrees are not valid here. Degrees issued from Delaware are not valid in Oregon.'

Although the school has been offering degree courses for years, a check with the Ministry of Education (MOE) revealed that Lee Community College is not approved to offer any external degree programmes.

An MOE spokesman said the matter would be investigated.

It warned that new regulations require all private schools to seek permission from the new statutory board, the Council for Private Education (CPE) before offering external degree programmes, including online programmes.

Non-compliance may lead to deregistration of the private school and prosecution of its officials.

Lee Community College's chief executive, Dr Frederick Toke, said the school spent over $100,000 to seek accreditation for the degree programme, which was from the American University for Humanities in Tbilisi, Georgia.

It was accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education, a recognised accrediting agency in the US for liberal arts institutions, but was rejected by the MOE.

Dr Toke did not explain why the school continued to offer the degree despite the MOE rejection. He would only say that the school is now seeking MOE approval to run other degree programmes from the US.

Mr Alan Contreras, the administrator for Oregon's ODA, said Singapore never used to feature on the ODA's list.

'The problem Singapore has is that it opened the door to private post-secondary education without establishing a serious governmental oversight process to make those providers prove that they are legitimate,' he said.

'In effect, your government has allowed its name to be used inappropriately because only government authorised colleges can issue genuine degrees.'

Mr Contreras also warned: 'Without enforcement of standards by the government, anything goes. This is why the reputation of degrees issued in Singapore is falling.'

The MOE said that under the new laws that will come into effect by the end of the year, the Council for Private Education will run checks on these claimed partnerships.

'These measures will help ensure that dubious programmes offered by degree mills will not be permitted by CPE to be offered in Singapore,' said the spokesman.

But the new laws have come too late for a 26-year-old who attended evening classes and did course work for over three years for an AUH degree from Lee Community College.

The administrative manager hopes the new laws for private schools will ensure that only valid degrees are offered here.

'I took up the degree because I was interested in a counselling career. I spent more than $20,000 of my hard-earned money to study for the degree. Now I find out that it is worthless.'

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Economic Prosperity: A Step of Faith

By Joseph Loconte
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Filed under: Economic Policy, Big Ideas, Culture, Government & Politics, Public Square

There is a strong relationship between economic prosperity and religious liberty.
Several years ago a group of Arab intellectuals came together to study the economic malaise—fueled by high unemployment, massive illiteracy, and anemic GDPs—that grips much of the Muslim and Arab world. Their 2002 study, “The Arab Human Development Report: Creating Opportunities for Future Generations,” remains one of the most sober self-assessments of what has gone wrong with Arab economies and why. The report’s authors lament the “bridled minds” and “shackled potential” of nations which deny their citizens basic civil liberties.

Their candor, however, cannot disguise a fundamental evasion: There is no admission of the cultural hostility toward religious freedom and pluralism that infects Arab societies. This mental state of denial prevents Muslim leaders from recognizing the strong relationship between economic prosperity and religious liberty.

Christian reformers of the seventeenth century, in fact, were among the first to grasp the importance of freedom of conscience to the stability and economic well-being of the state. Thomas Helwys (1550-1616), an early leader of the English Baptists, produced the most principled defense of religious liberty in his day. His Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity (1612) insisted that a man’s religion was no business of the king, and that people of all faiths—“let them be heretiks, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever”—should be left alone. If every sect were granted freedom of worship, he reasoned, there would be far less strife and contention. “Behold the Nations where freedome of Religion is permitted,” he wrote, “and you may see there are not more florishinge and prosperous Nations under the heavens then they are.”

Muslim intellectuals complain about the ‘deprivation of human capability’ in the Arab world, but exonerate regimes that deprive people of their inalienable rights.Some of the most provocative pro-toleration statements came from lay people whose vocations exposed them to the benefits of pluralism. Henry Robinson (1605-1664), a merchant and son of a wealthy London tradesman, traveled widely on the Continent. In works such as Liberty of Conscience (1643), Robinson regarded the right of private judgment in matters of faith as essential to human flourishing, akin to the right to private property or private enterprise. These rights were connected, and the repression of religious freedom produced blowback in the economic realm. A persecuting state, he wrote, forced Puritans to leave England and “carry with them their gifts, arts, and manufacturers into other countries, to the greatest detreiment of this commonwealth.” Economic ruin, he predicted, would be the fate of nations that seized their citizens’ property or drove them into exile over religion.

These were radical ideas in Europe in the seventeenth century. The Treaty of Westphalia had ended the religious wars on the Continent, but only by creating a system of national church establishments, which were free to harass and penalize religious minorities within their borders. Catholics were the first to develop both the theory and machinery of religious persecution; Protestants, though not as brutally systematic, followed the same dreary pattern. Both traditions predicated political and social stability on religious conformity: dissent was viewed as an incubator of sedition.

England experienced a commercial revolution alongside the rapid growth of religious sects, undercutting the fear that spiritual disunity and heresy invited divine judgment.Many factors help explain the triumph of religious toleration in Europe. Yet historians such as John Coffey believe that rising prosperity “probably made a significant impact on religious mentalities.” In his book, Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England, Coffey notes that the last decades of the seventeenth century—when debates about religious freedom reached a crescendo—saw an economic boom. England experienced a commercial revolution just prior to its Glorious Revolution, as trade flourished and living standards improved. This occurred alongside the rapid growth of religious sects, undercutting the fear that spiritual disunity and heresy invited divine judgment. Meanwhile, the economic dynamism of the Dutch Republic—the most religiously tolerant state in Europe—helped create a new narrative. “Prosperity and toleration were now seen as twins,” writes Coffey, “rather than as mortal enemies.”

That may overstate the case, but several prominent reformers argued in just these terms. Peter Pett (1630-1699), a lawyer and politician, said the best way to attract entrepreneurs to England and advance trade was to create an open, welcoming society—“which cannot be done without the giving them a due Liberty of Conscience.” The tireless Quaker agitator, William Penn, blended theological, moral, and practical reasons for toleration in his Great Case of Liberty of Conscience (1670). His treatise included an economic critique of religious establishments and their legal regimes. Penal laws against religious dissenters, Penn observed, often plunged families into poverty, thus robbing society of productive economic activity. “Such Laws are so far from benefiting the Country, that the Execution of them will be the assured ruin of it, in the Revenues, and consequently in the Power of it,” he wrote. “For where there is a decay of Families, there will be of Trade; so of Wealth, and in the end of Strength and Power.”

‘Prosperity and toleration were now seen as twins, rather than as mortal enemies.’Though they represented a minority view, these voices of toleration would find powerful advocates among classical liberal political thinkers such as John Locke. In A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), Locke explained that sectarian rulers, by authorizing the economic impoverishment of dissenters, permanently unsettled governments and societies. As long as governments demanded religious conformity, there would be “no peace and security, no, not so much as common friendship” among the members of civil society. “Nobody therefore … neither single persons, nor churches, nay, nor even commonwealths, have any just title to invade the civil rights and worldly goods of each other, upon pretence of religion.”

The insights of these religious thinkers are finally receiving support from the secular social sciences. Brian Grim, a quantitative sociologist with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, has compared various socio-economic indicators with measures of religious freedom in over 100 countries. Grim is careful not to infer a causal relationship between religious liberty and economic prosperity. Yet his research reveals a correlation, prompting a frank suspicion: “A regulated and restrictive religious economy does not benefit all God’s children.”

Even the libertarian Cato Institute, not usually attentive to religion, has begun to explore the issue. Writing in the Cato Journal, scholars Ilan Alon and Gregory Chase argue that international businesses should be concerned about the problem because “it affects the general business environment, political relationships among countries, and consumer sentiment of companies doing business in countries that suppress religious freedom.” Their findings—based on indicators of economic and religious liberty in 75 countries—seem to vindicate the Christian reformers of Locke’s generation. “Although our results are preliminary, they suggest that religious freedom has a positive impact on a country’s prosperity.”

These facts still seem to be lost on many Muslim intellectuals. They complain about the “deprivation of human capability” in the Arab world, but exonerate regimes that deprive people of their inalienable rights. They link economic growth to new forms of “social cohesion,” but tolerate political arrangements that guarantee social strife. They even call for a “fundamental rethinking” of how Arab states should approach cultural and religious diversity—yet refuse to rethink their assumptions about the nature of religious belief or the moral demands of human dignity.

It requires no leap of faith—just, perhaps, a little historical memory—to realize this is not the road to economic development. It is the long and fractious and familiar detour to permanent stagnation.

Joseph Loconte is a lecturer in politics at the King’s College in New York City and a contributing editor to The American.

[In the golden age of Islam, the Arab/muslim world was a more tolerant culture, perhaps because they were more self-assured. Even 40-50 years ago, Singapore and Malaysia were more tolerant and easy-going. P Ramli movies then showed the social mores and norms of the time and those were simpler, easier, perhaps even happier times. The rise of fundamentalism marks and separates us as into different people. To mistake the dressing of a culture as the mark of a religion or religous piety is to mistake the irrelevant as evidence of reverence.]

Too many people? No, too many Malthusians

Thursday 19 November 2009

Since 200 AD, scaremongers have been describing human beings as ‘burdensome to the world’. They were wrong then, and they’re still wrong today.

Brendan O’Neill

Last week, on 12 November, spiked editor Brendan O’Neill debated Roger Martin, chairman of the Optimum Population Trust, at the Wellcome Collection in London. To kick off spiked’s campaign against neo-Malthusianism and all forms of population control, O’Neill’s speech is published below.

In the year 200 AD, there were approximately 180million human beings on the planet Earth. And at that time a Christian philosopher called Tertullian argued: ‘We are burdensome to the world, the resources are scarcely adequate for us… already nature does not sustain us.’ In other words, there were too many people for the planet to cope with and we were bleeding Mother Nature dry.

Well today, nearly 180million people live in the Eastern Half of the United States alone, in the 26 states that lie to the east of the Mississippi River. And far from facing hunger or destitution, many of these people – especially the 1.7million who live on the tiny island of Manhattan – have quite nice lives.

In the early 1800s, there were approximately 980million human beings on the planet Earth. One of them was the population scaremonger Thomas Malthus, who argued that if too many more people were born then ‘premature death would visit mankind’ – there would be food shortages, ‘epidemics, pestilence and plagues’, which would ‘sweep off tens of thousands [of people]’.

Well today, more than the entire world population of Malthus’s era now lives in China alone: there are 1.3billion human beings in China. And far from facing pestilence, plagues and starvation, the living standards of many Chinese have improved immensely over the past few decades. In 1949 life expectancy in China was 36.5 years; today it is 73.4 years. In 1978 China had 193 cities; today it has 655 cities. Over the past 30 years, China has raised a further 235million of its citizens out of absolute poverty – a remarkable historic leap forward for humanity.

In 1971 there were approximately 3.6billion human beings on the planet Earth. And at that time Paul Ehrlich, a patron of the Optimum Population Trust and author of a book called The Population Bomb, wrote about his ‘shocking’ visit to New Delhi in India. He said: ‘The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people. As we moved slowly through the mob, [we wondered] would we ever get to our hotel…?’

You’ll be pleased to know that Paul Ehrlich did make it to his hotel, through the mob of strange brown people shitting in the streets, and he later wrote in his book that as a result of overpopulation ‘hundreds of millions of people will starve to death’. He said India couldn’t possibly feed all its people and would experience some kind of collapse around 1980.

Well today, the world population is almost double what it was in 1971 – then it was 3.6billion, today it is 6.7billion – and while there are still social problems of poverty and malnutrition, hundreds of millions of people are not starving to death. As for India, she is doing quite well for herself. When Ehrlich was writing in 1971 there were 550million people in India; today there are 1.1billion. Yes there’s still poverty, but Indians are not starving; in fact India has made some important economic and social leaps forward and both life expectancy and living standards have improved in that vast nation.

What this potted history of population scaremongering ought to demonstrate is this: Malthusians are always wrong about everything.

The extent of their wrongness cannot be overstated. They have continually claimed that too many people will lead to increased hunger and destitution, yet the precise opposite has happened: world population has risen exponentially over the past 40 years and in the same period a great many people’s living standards and life expectancies have improved enormously. Even in the Third World there has been improvement – not nearly enough, of course, but improvement nonetheless. The lesson of history seems to be that more and more people are a good thing; more and more minds to think and hands to create have made new cities, more resources, more things, and seem to have given rise to healthier and wealthier societies.

Yet despite this evidence, the population scaremongers always draw exactly the opposite conclusion. Never has there been a political movement that has got things so spectacularly wrong time and time again yet which keeps on rearing its ugly head and saying: ‘This time it’s definitely going to happen! This time overpopulation is definitely going to cause social and political breakdown!’

There is a reason Malthusians are always wrong. It isn’t because they’re stupid… well, it might be a little bit because they’re stupid. But more fundamentally it is because, while they present their views as fact-based and scientific, in reality they are driven by a deeply held misanthropy that continually overlooks mankind’s ability to overcome problems and create new worlds.

The language used to justify population scaremongering has changed dramatically over the centuries. In the time of Malthus in the eighteenth century the main concern was with the fecundity of poor people. In the early twentieth century there was a racial and eugenic streak to population-reduction arguments. Today they have adopted environmentalist language to justify their demands for population reduction.

The fact that the presentational arguments can change so fundamentally over time, while the core belief in ‘too many people’ remains the same, really shows that this is a prejudicial outlook in search of a social or scientific justification; it is prejudice looking around for the latest trendy ideas to clothe itself in. And that is why the population scaremongers have been wrong over and over again: because behind the new language they adopt every few decades, they are really driven by narrow-mindedness, by disdain for mankind’s breakthroughs, by wilful ignorance of humanity’s ability to shape its surroundings and its future.

The first mistake Malthusians always make is to underestimate how society can change to embrace more and more people. They make the schoolboy scientific error of imagining that population is the only variable, the only thing that grows and grows, while everything else – including society, progress and discovery – stays roughly the same. That is why Malthus was wrong: he thought an overpopulated planet would run out of food because he could not foresee how the industrial revolution would massively transform society and have an historic impact on how we produce and transport food and many other things. Population is not the only variable – mankind’s vision, growth, his ability to rethink and tackle problems: they are variables, too.

The second mistake Malthusians always make is to imagine that resources are fixed, finite things that will inevitably run out. They don’t recognise that what we consider to be a resource changes over time, depending on how advanced society is. That is why the Christian Tertullian was wrong in 200 AD when he said ‘the resources are scarcely adequate for us’. Because back then pretty much the only resources were animals, plants and various metals. Tertullian could not imagine that, in the future, the oceans, oil and uranium would become resources, too. The nature of resources changes as society changes – what we consider to be a resource today might not be one in the future, because other, better, more easily-exploited resources will hopefully be discovered or created. Today’s cult of the finite, the discussion of the planet as a larder of scarce resources that human beings are using up, really speaks to finite thinking, to a lack of future-oriented imagination.

And the third and main mistake Malthusians always make is to underestimate the genius of mankind. Population scaremongering springs from a fundamentally warped view of human beings as simply consumers, simply the users of resources, simply the destroyers of things, as a kind of ‘plague’ on poor Mother Nature, when in fact human beings are first and foremost producers, the discoverers and creators of resources, the makers of things and the makers of history. Malthusians insultingly refer to newborn babies as ‘another mouth to feed’, when in the real world another human being is another mind that can think, another pair of hands that can work, and another person who has needs and desires that ought to be met.

We don’t merely use up finite resources; we create infinite ideas and possibilities. The 6.7billion people on Earth have not raped and destroyed this planet, we have humanised it. And given half a chance – given a serious commitment to overcoming poverty and to pursuing progress – we would humanise it even further. Just as you wouldn’t listen to that guy who wears a placard saying ‘The End of the World is Nigh’ if he walked up to you and said ‘this time it really is nigh’, so you shouldn’t listen to the always-wrong Malthusians. Instead, join spiked in opposing the population panickers.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. His satire on the green movement - Can I Recycle My Granny and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas - is published by Hodder & Stoughton. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).) The above is an edited extract of a speech given at the Wellcome Collection in London on Thursday 12 November.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A near conspiracy of hype

Nov 21, 2009

By Andy Ho, Senior Writer

Ten years into the stem-cell story, we must confront its real heart: Clearly, advances in embryonic stem-cell research have not translated into therapies for patients with intractable conditions.

THE Government is convening a blue-ribbon committee to review its investments in scientific research. So this would be a good time to revisit the stem-cell story.

Initially, our national discourse on stem cells was focused on the science per se and also the ethical questions concerning the status of the research embryo, which scientists cull to derive stem cells for their work.

Later, we debated the ethics of procuring eggs from young women and then using the eggs to make embryonic clones from which new stem cells can be extracted. We also considered the morality of creating hybrid embryos using a mix of animal and human genomes.

But 10 years into the stem-cell story, we must confront its real heart: Clearly, advances in embryonic stem-cell research have not translated into therapies for patients with intractable conditions.

To put it bluntly: The tantalising promises of stem-cell research bandied about in 2000 when we began on this journey have not been substantiated.

Clinical trials may be many years and millions of dollars away. While stem-cell research may yet shape medical practice, some experts now say there has been almost 'a conspiracy of hype' in this field.

In September, The Times of London revealed how hundreds of British parents, taken in by the hype, have squandered huge sums of money in China where they had taken their sick children for unproven stem-cell therapies.

In August, The New Scientist magazine exposed scientific misconduct at the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute - again. The institute had previously been found complicit in falsifying data as well as manipulating and duplicating photo evidence. Two previous inquiries had led to three papers from the institute being corrected and one retracted.

Then there was that South Korean shyster Hwang Woo-suk who faked data to claim he had successfully cloned human embryos from which he supposedly derived patient-specific stem-cell lines. Exposed in 2006, he was handed a two-year suspended jail term just last month for embezzling research funds and coercing his female co-workers to 'donate' their eggs.

Anecdotally, the field of embryonic stem-cell research seems to have more than a sprinkling of scammers and scallywags.

It may be that the field is fraught with unusually intense competitive pressures that tempt many of those involved to fudge and finagle. The pressures are generated by patients and patient interest groups, politicians, and the scientists themselves fighting for research funding and responding to a mass media eager for new breakthroughs to report.

In the nature of things, there cannot be groundbreaking news every other week. But scientists - or university corporate communications - may feel compelled to talk up even the smallest discovery. In this connection, cautionary lessons may be drawn from the disastrous failures involving gene therapy.

In the 1990s, gene therapy was embroiled in the same kind of hype that has accompanied stem cells in this decade. In an infamous case, the first known death from a form of gene therapy, 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger suffered multiple organ failure after he was given adenoviruses. These bugs were supposed to carry a gene into his DNA to cure an inborn genetic defect in his liver enzymes.

Jesse had only a mild form of the illness, so he grew up normally on a restricted diet and some medication. The therapy being tested at the University of Pennsylvania was meant to treat the severe form of the defect in infants who die from it. Thus, Jesse had enrolled in the trial altruistically, only to perish.

Dr James Wilson, the lead investigator whom university corporate communications had called the 'Michael Jordan of Gene Therapy', did not inform Jesse that some monkeys had died after being given the bugs experimentally.

He also concealed his 30 per cent interest in the biotech firm that made the therapy he was testing on Jesse. Later, he would earn US$13.5 million (S$18.7 million) from the sale of that firm to a larger corporate entity that, in 2007, was linked to the death of a woman under eeriely similar circumstances in another gene therapy trial.

As part of a settlement with US government prosecutors over his role in the Jesse Gelsinger affair, Dr Wilson gave interviews to both Nature and Science in May, warning everyone that the same kind of hype which surrounded gene therapy then colours stem cell research now.

Dr Wilson recounted how gene therapy was rushed to bedside because of various factors including: a simplistic belief that it 'ought to work'; many patients and patient interest groups were urging that trials take place sooner rather than later; the 'unbridled enthusiasm of some scientists'; an uncritical media; and biotechs firms that promised the sky - with or without results.

The same factors are operative in stem-cell research today, he said. However, Dr Wilson is a Johnny-come-lately. A realisation that stem cells have been overhyped seems quite widespread already.

In the 2004 US presidential elections, actor Michael J. Fox, afflicted with Parkinson's, emerged as a poster boy for the campaign to get funding for stem-cell research, then still a hot button issue. But by the time of the US congressional polls of 2006, it had become a marginal concern.

In the 2008 presidential campaign, stem cells were no longer a focus. Admitting that stem-cell therapy is no longer 'a near-term hope', the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research now backs the development of conventional drugs instead.

The hype seems to have died. Perhaps scientists can now plod on with less media glare. And who knows, they might even come up with something useful.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Singapore's greener, but is it cleaner?

Nov 21, 2009

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean and Green campaign. Insight takes stock of an issue that continues to raise the hackles of many Singaporeans.

By Nur Dianah Suhaimi

EACH morning when Mr Dennis Tan leaves home for work, he feels like he is walking through a field of landmines.

Along the corridor of his HDB flat, he sidesteps trash left behind by neighbours. While taking the lift down, he is careful not to step in possible pools of urine.

When he reaches the carpark, he avoids the grass patches so that his shoes will not be soiled by dog poo.

The 40-year-old engineer cannot help but feel disappointed that his living environment in Woodlands is more akin to that of a dump.

'The cleaners will come and clean up everything every day. But the moment they leave, people will start dirtying the place again,' he sighs.

'Judging by their bad habits, people would think Singaporeans never went to school.'

Mr Tan's lament is reflective of the many 'horror' stories that Singaporeans tell about the state of their neighbourhoods these days. Newspapers are full of reports and letters about social untidiness and littering.

Why is environmental cleanliness still a persistent problem after four decades of official campaigning to keep Singapore clean?

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean and Green campaign, which started off as the Keep Singapore Clean campaign.

When the plan of action was drawn up to transform Singapore into a clean city, it was declared a matter of national priority, second only to defence and economic development.

Today, Singapore has won worldwide fame as a garden city with spotless streets and sparkling waterways.

The achievement should be a cause for celebration, yet the question that keeps bugging Singaporeans these days is: Yes, Singapore is greener, but is it cleaner?

Of course, if you compare Singapore with what it was a few decades ago, there is no doubt that it has made gigantic strides in environmental and social cleanliness.

Older folk will remember the 1960s when sanitation was rudimentary, and human waste had to be carried away by night soil workers.

Back then, unlicensed hawkers peddled by the roadside, dishing out cooked food to customers at the front of their pushcart stalls while dumping waste into the drains behind them. The Singapore River was better known for its overpowering sewer-like smell.

As Mr Tan Teck Khim, a National Environment Agency (NEA) environmental health executive who used to crack down on illegal hawkers, recalls: 'It was common to find cockroaches and maggots in food because the stalls were left in the open at night.'

That was when the massive and never- ending exercise to keep Singapore clean was initiated by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Launching the inaugural Keep Singapore Clean Campaign in 1968, he said that 'only a people with high social and educational standards can maintain a clean and green city'.

'It requires organisation to keep the community cleaned and trimmed, particularly when the population has a density of 8,500 persons per sq mile (3,269 persons per sq km),' he added.

Call it social engineering if you like, but this nationwide drive reflected Mr Lee's political will and personal obsession. Without fail each year, he would turn up to launch the Clean and Green Campaign.

Each successive prime minister - Mr Goh Chok Tong and now Mr Lee Hsien Loong - would retain this practice to signal to the population the importance of keeping the country clean.

As NEA officials have noted, Singapore became much cleaner when kampungs and farms disappeared and HDB flats came with their own toilet and sanitation systems.

Farming waste no longer clogged up the waterways. Unlicensed hawkers were moved into hawker centres, keeping the drains and roadsides free of waste. The Singapore River underwent a major clean-up.

From the 1960s to 2000, much arduous work went into building the system for a cleaner country. But fixing the infrastructure solved only part of the problem. There is still another problem.

As Mr Foong Chee Leong, director-general of the Meteorological Services Division and an NEA veteran, puts it: 'The infrastructure is already in place. Now the question is - how do you convince people to be clean?'

It is a very good question which is still hard to answer, even after 40 years of clean-up campaigns.

Today, with a population nearing five million and a density of about 6,800 persons per sq km, Singapore has indeed become very organised in the way it maintains its cleanliness.

Each day, legions of cleaners descend upon the residential neighbourhoods and streets to sweep away the mess and spruce up the environment. Without fail, rubbish trucks dutifully collect trash from every HDB block and every apartment building and house in the country.

It is this efficient and methodical clockwork system - which people take for granted - that has earned Singapore a worldwide reputation for cleanliness.

But unfortunately, there is more to cleanliness than meets the eye, say observers.

Despite economic progress and rising standards of education among the people, they note, the social habits of Singaporeans seem to have retrogressed.

What a shame, they say. After 40 years of Clean and Green campaigns and massive education efforts, and despite the imposition of penalties such as fines and corrective work orders, Singaporeans continue to perpetuate their bad habits - from urinating in public lifts to littering.

As Dr Geh Min, a former Nominated Member of Parliament and immediate past president of the Nature Society, describes it: 'Singapore is more a cleaned city than a clean city. The city is clean because of our army of cleaners. The people, however, are still a work in progress.'

Politicians, policymakers and community leaders have spoken despairingly of the problem. Indeed, a recent survey by the NEA shows that hygiene standards in public places are still lax.

The evidence is unmistakable. The first nine months of this year saw a total of 32,258 litterbugs being caught, compared with 33,164 for the whole of last year. That figure also marked a significant jump from 21,269 in 2007, and 7,027 in 2006.

Killer litter continues to be a longstanding problem. In 2000, a falling flowerpot killed a five-year-old girl. Two years later, a man died after a falling metal chair hit him on the head and fractured his skull.

Two people died and 152 others fell ill this year after eating contaminated hawker food. It was later revealed that the hawker centre and market were overrun by rats.

Figures from NEA show that food poisoning cases went up by 40 per cent last year, from the year before.

Speak to the Clean and Green campaigners and they would say they have almost exhausted all avenues to get the message across, from using peer pressure in 1995 to hiring TV actress Zoe Tay as environment ambassador in 1999.

Mr Khoo Seow Poh, NEA's director-general for public health, admits that constant reminders, such as television advertisements, have helped to educate the public and that the majority of Singaporeans have brushed up on their social habits.

'But there are still black sheep with dirty habits. There is still a lot of room for improvement. We need Singaporeans to be clean voluntarily and not have to be constantly reminded.'

Retiree Steven Foo, 60, is among the Singaporeans who are convinced that the social habits of his fellow countrymen have regressed over the years.

He singles out the younger generation as being the worst culprits.

'They grew up with maids at home. Outside the home, foreign workers do the cleaning for them. So they are not used to cleaning up after themselves,' he says.

Others point the finger at the hundreds of thousands of permanent residents and foreign workers who flock here with different social habits.

They say that many come from rural areas and countries where spitting and littering are second nature. Just look at the mess left behind in places where foreign workers congregate, they mutter.

But some environmentalists say it is not fair to blame foreign workers, especially when they are the ones doing most of the cleaning jobs for Singaporeans.

On the contrary, Mr Howard Shaw, executive director of the Singapore Environment Council, believes that it is the cleaning up by foreign workers that has resulted in Singaporeans becoming 'over-nannied'.

'We are so used to having things done for us by foreign workers,' he says.

There is also the possibility that cleaning standards have slackened, says Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who is deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for National Development and Environment.

'Many residents and friends gave me feedback that Singapore was cleaner when our agencies, such as HDB and NEA, used direct workers, unlike now, when they outsource to contractors,' she says.

The reason: Many cleaners had their wages cut when the cleaning jobs were outsourced to contractors, and thus had less incentive to work hard. Furthermore, the contractors may not be as stringent in their inspections as the agencies.

The cynical view is that Singapore has fallen victim to the organisational efficiency of the Government, which will not let anything go amiss in the maintenance of the country.

This has resulted in many Singaporeans not assuming ownership and responsibility for public places, and treating them as the 'Government's problem' or the 'cleaners' job'.

So what else can be done to tackle what seems like an unsolvable problem?

The pessimists feel there is no way out of the problem unless Singaporeans develop a stronger sense of citizen ownership, like the Japanese.

To be like the Japanese, says sociologist and NMP Paulin Straughan, Singaporeans would have to abandon their 'mind-your- own-business' attitude and warm up to the idea of informal social policing.

Citing the effectiveness of social policing, she recounts how she once walked along the streets of Tokyo with some empty drink cans.

No bins were in sight. So what could she do? Two considerations stopped her from dumping the cans by the side of the street.

'First, I don't see any other empty drink cans around. So that sends a very strong signal that it will not be socially acceptable for me to be the first to leave an empty can there.

'Second, I get the sense that should I litter, I will be reprimanded by those around me. So, even as an outsider, I feel very strongly that I should conform.'

The NEA plans to carry on its educational campaigns with children as its next target group. It aims to impress on young, eager minds the importance of cleanliness.

At the same time, the agency is taking steps to strike where it hurts most - by imposing stiffer fines on litterbugs.

More radical solutions are called for, argue some people. Dr Geh proposes that schoolchildren be made solely responsible for cleaning up their schools. And yes, this includes scrubbing the school toilets.

Between the relentless efficiency of the Government and the army of lowly paid cleaners, how can Singaporeans be shaken out of their 'couldn't care less' attitude and develop greater civic consciousness?

There is one shock suggestion that often surfaces which the authorities find hard to contemplate. But perhaps it is time to bite the bullet and just do it.

Once in a while, declare a 'cleaners' holiday' - leave a housing estate or a neighbourhood without the services of its cleaners for a day, and let the people get a reality check when they see the mess around.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why Chinese netizens are upset

Nov 5, 2009


MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's recent comments in the United States have caused unhappiness among China's netizens. He had urged the US to remain engaged in Asia so as to balance China's military and economic clout. He also said China's 'blue-water fleet with aircraft carriers cannot just be to deter foreign intervention in a conflict between Taiwan and the mainland'.

Mr Lee had made frequent comments related to China before. Some of his remarks have seemed acceptable to Westerners, and some to the Chinese.

The background to Mr Lee's most recent remarks was US President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to four Asian nations, including China, from next Wednesday. Mr Obama said publicly that he was looking forward to hearing Mr Lee's views on Asia before leaving on his trip.

There was great unhappiness with Mr Lee among Chinese netizens. Many have a good impression of Singapore as it is a country with a majority Chinese population. They felt that since China does not harbour any ill intentions towards Singapore, there should be no occasion for the current situation.

A Chinese expert on world affairs told the Global Times that Singapore has been vacillating between the US and China, and that Mr Lee's comments may reflect the views of some South-east Asian nations. However, small nations must be extremely careful as they try to balance big nations against one another, as they risk outsmarting themselves.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New consensus is needed for Thailand

Nov 4, 2009
By Thitinan Pongsudhirak

THE hospitalisation of King Bhumibol Adulyadej has brought Thailand's most daunting question to the fore. The country's wrenching political struggle over the past several years has, at bottom, concerned what will happen after the ailing 81-year-old King's reign comes to an end.

The endgame has been shaped by several factors: the military coup of September 2006, the current military-supported Constitution and election of 2007, street protests and seizures of Government House and Bangkok's airports last year, the army-brokered coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that has ruled since January and the Bangkok riots of April. At stake is the soul of an emerging Thailand.

Thailand's colour-coded crisis pits largely urban, conservative and royalist 'yellow shirts' against the predominantly rural 'red' columns of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. During much of Thailand's economic boom over the past two decades, wealth resided mostly in the Bangkok area, a fact deeply resented by the rural majority.

Their economic opportunities were limited by a shoddy education system and docile state-run media that fed them soap operas and official messages. For a nobody to become a somebody, all roads led to Bangkok and its prestigious prep schools and universities. Thailand's farms became increasingly alienated from the urban elite. Thaksin recognised this rural-urban divide and shrewdly exploited it.

The rural-urban divide wedded the grassroots rural population to patronage networks and vote buying, while elected politicians reaped their rewards through corruption and graft. In turn, the military stepped in from time to time - once every four years on average since 1932 - ostensibly to suppress corruption, but retarding democratic rule in the process.

All this changed when Thailand promulgated a Constitution in 1997 that promoted political transparency and accountability and government effectiveness. Its logical but flawed outcome was the triumph of Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party, which became the first to complete a full term and to be re-elected - by a landslide in 2005.

Thai Rak Thai's populism featured income redistribution, cheap health care, micro-credit schemes and a dazzling array of policy innovation. Thaksin and his party's direct connection to the electorate bypassed - and thus threatened - the established trinity of institutions that had long called the shots in Thailand: the military, the monarchy and the bureaucracy.

Thaksin and his cronies handed the establishment an opportunity to strike back by abusing power and profiting personally from it. A billionaire telecommunications tycoon, Thaksin presided over the trebling of his family's assets in the stock market. He also engineered an extrajudicial drug-suppression campaign that claimed 2,275 lives.

His sins became the basis of the rise of his yellow-shirted opponents, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which entered the electoral arena as the New Politics Party. The PAD spent much of last year demonstrating against the two successive Thaksin-influenced governments that arose from the December 2007 election, reinvigorating Thai Rak Thai's red-shirted allies, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

After more than three years, Thailand's crisis has become a complicated saga. Mr Abhisit's pledges of reform and reconciliation in the wake of April's

riots have made little headway. The PAD wants to maintain the 2007 charter. The UDD favours reinstating the 1997 Constitution. Enraged by a sense of social injustice, the reds rail against the establishment's double standards, while the pro-establishment yellows have hunkered down for a battle of attrition.

In the process, what had been a pro- and anti-Thaksin fight has gradually become a pro- and anti-monarchy struggle. The rigidly hierarchical forces of the establishment are insecure and fearful of what will happen after the King dies. Lese majeste cases alleging insults against the immediate royal family are on the rise. Many thousands of websites challenging establishment interests and deploring post-coup machinations have been blocked.

Thaksin's appeal splits the reds. Many repudiate his corruption but, in challenging the post-coup status quo, have no choice but to use him as a rallying symbol. Likewise, all yellows find Thaksin's misrule intolerable, but not all are fanatical royalists. A stalemate has taken hold, with the denouement likely to be reached only after the royal succession.

A new consensus is imperative if Thailand is to regain its footing. That consensus would have to be based on mutual recognition and accommodation. The reds will need to distance themselves from Thaksin's abuses of power and the yellows will have to accept some of his policies, particularly opportunities for jobs, education and upward mobility among the rural majority.

The writer is a professor and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.


Policymakers, don't write off the implausible

Nov 4, 2009
By Kishore Mahbubani

EXPECT the Unexpected.

This paradox captures the essence of our times. Over the past two decades, we have experienced several events which were inconceivable just a few years earlier. Let me mention four:

In 1985, when then-United States President Ronald Reagan was still calling the Soviet Union 'an evil empire', anyone who predicted that the Soviet Union would disappear would have been considered mad. Yet, within a decade, the inconceivable happened. Similarly, in 1999, if a novelist had gone to a New York publisher with a plot suggesting that 19 jihadists would hijack four planes, fly two into the World Trade Center towers and demolish them, the publisher would not have considered it a plausible story. Yet, within two years, the wildly implausible happened.

Around 1999 also, Indonesia looked set for an unhappy destination. I remember many experts predicting it was doomed to balkanise like Yugoslavia. Significantly, no expert predicted that within five years, Indonesia would be led by an astute president who would make the Indonesian story of democracy a role model for the developing world.

And finally, when I left New York City in 2004, not one American would have agreed with the proposition that a black man would be elected president in the next presidential election. Yet, this wildly implausible event also happened.

Why am I recounting these events? I was asked recently to write an essay on Singapore in the year 2059 for a volume entitled Chronicle Of Singapore. The book looks at Singapore's history through news clippings, but it concludes with an essay looking at Singapore's future.

Of course, no one can tell what Singapore or the world will be like in 2059. Yet, I also knew that if I wrote a plausible story suggesting that Singapore would continue to enjoy another 50 years of stability, peace and prosperity, the plausible was not likely to happen. Hence, I deliberately inserted some wildly implausible developments.

For example, I suggested that by 2059, both Canada and Australia would have prime ministers born in Singapore. I will be the first to acknowledge that the possibility of this happening is close to zero. Yet, I also know that the odds of something equally implausible as this happening are close to 90 per cent. Why? Because it is in the nature of our times to see the implausible emerge frequently.

The acceleration of human history has made the implausible more likely. In previous eras, there would be major time gaps between great events. In our time, great events and changes occur with great rapidity.

Conventional wisdom will often be proved wrong. Just consider the two great powers of our time - the United States and China. It would be hazardous to make confident predictions about their destiny.

The US is going through one of the roughest patches in its history. Unemployment is high. Its economic growth is limping along. Prospects have never looked bleaker, even for many in the middle class. Conventional wisdom holds that the US will recover in strength. As Mr Barton Biggs, the well-known investor, said recently: 'America is still the greatest entrepreneurial engine ever invented. It will rise again.' I agree. This is plausible. It is implausible that the US will remain a crippled giant for several decades. But the implausible can also happen.

Similarly, China seems destined to continue being the world's fastest growing economy. One of the greatest feats in recent economic history is China's ability to grow by 8.5 per cent through the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. The quality of China's economic management is truly remarkable. Hence, if I were a betting man, I would bet on China continuing to succeed. It is wildly implausible that its growth would grind to a halt because of unrest over the growing corruption of its elite and the sharp increase in income inequality. But the implausible can also happen.

So, what is the moral of the story here? The moral is that policymakers living in this era of accelerated human history must think of implausible scenarios as they plan for the future. This is as true for great powers as it is for small states like Singapore. And because Singapore's margin for major mistakes is small, it must worry about the occurrence of wildly improbable events.

One interesting question worth pondering is whether Singapore can live with a prolonged period of political instability. The record shows that most states experience some kind of political instability at some point in their history. Most survive. The question is whether Singapore can also do so.

Here I recall vividly what former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee once told me. In 1980, when 16,000 Polish miners went on strike, the Polish state seemed imperilled. In 1984, when 165,000 British miners went on strike, the British state sailed on calmly. So, Dr Goh posed the obvious question: Why should one state be imperilled with 16,000 on strike while another sails on confidently even with 165,000 on strike?

It is wildly implausible that Singapore will experience any kind of political instability any time in the near future. We have developed a robust system that is responsive to the public mood and delivers the goods. In all likelihood, the plausible future is the one that Singapore will enjoy. But the wildly implausible may also occur.

The writer is the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. Think-Tank is a weekly column rotated among eight leading figures in Singapore's tertiary and research institutions.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Beware the undervalued yuan

Nov 3, 2009

By Thomas Palley

OVER the last several weeks, the US dollar's depreciation against the euro and yen has grabbed global attention.

In a normal world, the dollar's weakening would be welcome, as it would help the United States come to grips with its unsustainable trade deficit. But in a world where China links its currency to the dollar at an undervalued parity, the dollar's depreciation risks major global economic damage that will further complicate recovery from the current worldwide recession.

A realignment of the dollar is long overdue. Its overvaluation began with the Mexican peso crisis of 1994, and was officially enshrined by the 'strong dollar' policy adopted after the East Asian financial crisis of 1997. That policy produced short-term consumption gains for America, which explains why it was popular with American politicians, but it has inflicted major long-term damage on the US economy and contributed to the current crisis.

The overvalued dollar caused the US economy to haemorrhage spending on imports, jobs via offshoring, and investment to countries with undervalued currencies. In today's era of globalisation, marked by flexible and mobile production networks, exchange rates affect more than just exports and imports. They also affect the location of production and investment.

China has been a major beneficiary of America's strong dollar policy, to which it wedded its own 'weak yuan' policy. As a result, China's trade surplus with the US rose from US$83 billion (S$116 billion) in 2001 to US$258 billion in 2007, just before the recession.

So far this year, China's surplus has accounted for 75 per cent of the total US non-oil-goods trade deficit. The undervalued yuan has also made China a major recipient of foreign direct investment, even leading the world in 2002 - a staggering achievement for a developing country.

The scale of recent US trade deficits was always unsustainable, and the dollar has therefore fallen against the yen, euro, Brazilian real, and Australian and Canadian dollars. But China retains its undervalued exchange rate policy, so that the yuan has appreciated relatively less against the dollar. When combined with China's rapid growth in manufacturing capacity, this pattern promises to create a new round of global imbalances.

China's policy creates adversarial currency competition with the rest of the world. By maintaining an undervalued currency, China is preventing the US from reducing its bilateral trade deficit. Furthermore, the problem is not only America's. China's currency policy gives it a competitive advantage relative to other countries, allowing it to displace their exports to the US.

Worse still, other countries whose currencies have appreciated against the yuan can look forward to a Chinese import invasion. China's currency policy means that dollar depreciation, rather than improving America's trade balance and stanching its leakage of jobs and investment, may inadvertently spread these problems to the rest of the world. In effect, China is fostering new imbalances at a time when other countries are struggling with the demand shortfall caused by the financial crisis.

The dollar is part of an exchange-rate Rubik's cube. With China retaining its undervalued currency policy, dollar depreciation can aggravate global deflationary forces. Yet a mix of political factors has led to a stunning refusal by policymakers to confront China.

On the US side, a lingering Cold War mentality, combined with the presumption of American economic superiority, has meant that economic issues are still deemed subservient to geopolitical concerns. That explains the neglect of US-China economic relations, a neglect that is now dangerous to the US, given its weakened economic condition.

With regard to the rest of the world, many find it easy to blame the US, often owing to resentment at its perceived arrogance. Moreover, there is an old mentality among countries of the South that they can do no wrong in their relationships with those of the North, and that they should exhibit solidarity with each other regarding those relationships.

Finally, all countries likely have been short-sighted, imagining that silence will gain them commercial favours from China. But that silence merely allows China to exploit the community of nations.

The world economy has paid dearly for complicity with and silence about the economic policies of the last 15 years, which have culminated in the deepest and most dangerous recession since the 1930s. It will pay still more if policymakers remain passive about China's destructive currency policy.

The writer is a fellow of the New America Foundation.


Malaysia should ditch Cold War mindset

Nov 3, 2009
By Chen Jun An

DURING an investment promotion trip to Singapore, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was surprised to learn that 40 per cent of specialist doctors in Singapore's government hospitals were from Malaysia.

He was amazed that Singapore valued talent that much and even suggested to the Malaysian government that if it wished to topple Singapore, it only needed to convince and attract Malaysian talent in Singapore to return home.

Mr Tan Chia Yong, a columnist, has opined that if the Malaysian government wished to attract talent to return home, it must not take short cuts. Instead, it must assure them that they could expect a bright future if they were to remain in the country.

However, he eventually lamented, 'Singapore and Malaysia are separated by only a strip of water, while the Causeway is just 1.8km long. The geographical distance between the two countries is very short but the psychological distance between these people and their motherland may be very great.'

For the moment, let us not talk about whether there is a great psychological distance between Malaysia's talent and their motherland. Mr Lim's provocative suggestion to 'topple Singapore' has left a bad taste in the mouth.

Mr Lim assumed the post of chief minister after the Democratic Action Party became the ruling party in Penang following the March 8 'political tsunami' last year. It was thought that his political thinking would be different, visionary and fluid. Who would have thought that he remains trapped in the 'Malaysia-Singapore Cold War' mindset?

Remember former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's remarks about skinning a cat? He had said: 'There are many ways to skin a cat. There are also many ways of skinning Singapore.'

But any talk of 'toppling Singapore' is a manifestation of an arrogant and antagonistic Cold War mindset. Would Singapore simply collapse if Malaysia were to formulate various preferential policies to entice Malaysian talent to return home to serve their own country?

Do not forget that apart from Malaysia, Singapore has also recruited talent from China, India, Europe and other parts of Asia. Moreover, Singapore is about to build its fourth university, which goes to show that this tiny island state has spared no effort to cultivate talent.

During his investment promotion trip in Singapore, Mr Lim met only people from the business and political circles, like doctors, engineers and lawyers. He probably did not get to meet the Malaysian workers who have to ride across the Causeway early every morning to make a living in Singapore. If Singapore were to collapse, what will happen to these people?

Regardless of whether his aim was to provoke or ridicule, Mr Lim should not cling to the old mindset or follow Dr Mahathir in wanting to 'skin a cat' or 'topple Singapore'.

On the contrary, he should firmly suggest that the two countries actively establish more mutually beneficial economic zones. This will help to rejuvenate their economies and attract more foreign investments so that talent from both countries can give full play to their expertise, while unskilled workers can make a living.

It is true that there are many ways to skin a cat. But would not such rampant skinning result in streets strewn with cat carcasses? It should again be emphasised that the old Cold War mindset must not be tolerated.

This commentary was published in the Frankly Speaking column of the Nanyang Siang Pau on Oct 29.