Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Popcorn makes you immune to ads, scientists say


14 Oct 2013

LONDON — Eating popcorn in the cinema may be irritating not just for fellow movie goers, but for advertisers — a group of researchers from Cologne University has concluded that chewing makes us immune to film advertising.

The reason why adverts manage to imprint brand names on our brains is that our lips and the tongue automatically simulate the pronunciation of a new name when we first hear it. Every time we re-encounter the name, our mouth subconsciously practices its pronunciation.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Towards the end of poverty

The world’s next great leap forward

Nearly 1 billion people have been taken out of extreme poverty in 20 years. The world should aim to do the same again 

The Economist

Jun 1st 2013 

IN HIS inaugural address in 1949 Harry Truman said that “more than half the people in the world are living in conditions approaching misery. For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of those people.” It has taken much longer than Truman hoped, but the world has lately been making extraordinary progress in lifting people out of extreme poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, their number fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%—a reduction of almost 1 billion people.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fair Consideration Framework - Hiring Singaporeans First

Firms must now post job listings for Singaporeans on MOM site
By Teo Xuanwei 
23 September

SINGAPORE — Employers will have to advertise job vacancies on a new government jobs bank for at least 14 days before they apply to hire an Employment Pass (EP) holder, starting from Aug 1 next year.

The new rule, applicable to jobs paying up to S$12,000 a month, is aimed at making firms consider Singaporeans fairly for a job, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Firms that do not comply will not have their application for an EP approved. Those that have disproportionately low numbers of Singaporeans at the PME level or are repeatedly complained of nationality-discrimination in their hiring will come under “additional scrutiny”, said the MOM.

This means they must provide information on their recruitment processes and organisation charts with nationality information, among other things. Consistently errant firms may have their work pass privileges curtailed.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said: “These changes are part of a broader effort to ensure that good jobs continue to be created for Singaporeans.

“The framework is not about ‘hire Singaporeans first or hire Singaporeans only’.”

Separately, the MOM also raised the qualifying salary for new EP applications by S$300 to S$3,300.

The new pay threshold will kick in for new applicants from January next year.


• Under the FCF, firms making new EP applications must have advertised the job vacancy on a new jobs bank administered by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA). The advertisement must have been open to Singaporeans, comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices and run for at least 14 calendar days before an EP application can be made.

• Small firms with 25 or fewer employees, and those jobs which pay a fixed monthly salary of S$12,000 and above, will be exempted from the advertising requirement. However, if complaints are received of nationality-based or other discriminatory HR practices, these firms will attract additional scrutiny and may have their work pass privileges curtailed.

• MOM and other government agencies will also identify firms that may have scope to improve their hiring and career development practices. For example, these firms may have a disproportionately low concentration of Singaporeans at the PME level compared to others in their industry or have had repeated complaints of nationality-based or other discriminatory HR practices.

• Such firms will be asked to provide additional information to MOM such as organisation charts with nationality information, recruitment processes, staff grievance handling procedures, a framework for staff progression; and plans to develop local internal staff to take on higher roles or reduce reliance on EP holders.

• Firms that are not responsive towards improving their recruitment and training practices, may be asked to attest that the firm will not displace any similarly employed Singaporean within 60 calendar days before or after applying or renewing EPs, and display a factsheet containing key information submitted to MOM at its workplace.

• Unresponsive firms should expect greater scrutiny and a longer review period for their EP applications. They may also have their work pass privileges curtailed.


• From January 2014, the qualifying salary for new EP applications will be raised from S$3,000 to S$3,300, in line with rising salaries. Applicants will have to earn a salary of at least S$3,300 a month or more, depending on qualifications and experience

• Young graduates from good educational institutions can qualify if they earn at least S$3,300, and older applicants will have to command higher salaries to qualify, commensurate with the work experience and quality they are expected to bring.


New regulations for firms seeking to hire EP holders
By Teo Xuanwei

24 September 2013

SINGAPORE — Jittery employers were relieved yesterday after hearing about the Government’s plans to make them consider Singaporeans for vacancies.

On edge about the possibility of an onerous regime that will make hiring skilled foreigners even harder — following several waves of policy changes in recent years to curb imported labour, including steeper levies — businesses learnt that they have to first advertise job openings for 14 days on a new, free portal run by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency before they can turn to Employment Pass (EP) holders.

The “fair consideration framework”, announced by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), follows rising numbers of complaints about nationality-based discrimination in hiring, which many frequently accuse the banking, services and IT sectors of.

The advertising rule will apply from August next year for companies with more than 25 workers and which are seeking foreign professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) for jobs paying up to S$12,000.

Among Singaporeans, 95 per cent are within this salary range.

Firms that attempt to “go through the motions”, as Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin put it, could face additional scrutiny and be made to show the MOM their organisation charts that detail the nationalities of workers, outline how they recruit, handle grievances and plan progression, as well as craft plans to develop Singaporean staff to take on bigger roles or reduce reliance on EP holders.

Errant firms may be hit with further requirements, such as declaring they will not let go of Singaporeans in a job they are applying or renewing EPs for 60 days prior and after. They should also “expect greater scrutiny and a longer review period for their EP applications”, or may have their work pass privileges curtailed, said the MOM.

It will also raise the qualifying pay for new EP applications for fresh graduates by S$300 to S$3,300 from January — the third hike since 2011.

Although there were fears that laws would be put in place to compel firms to give priority to locals, Mr Tan reiterated why it chose to “nudge” employers instead.

“Fair consideration is fundamentally about attitudes and mindsets,” he said. “It is neither possible to change mindsets overnight nor legislate the problem away ... It requires persuasion, explanation and leading by example,” said Mr Tan.

Business federations agreed with what they described as a “light touch” approach, saying that the rule will serve as a reminder to employers to give Singaporeans a chance.

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises President Chan Chong Beng said: “Naturally, there were concerns that there would be new laws or harsh measures ... but I think this new rule is a fair move that doesn’t make it too difficult for companies.”

Mr Tan also stressed that the new rule was not about getting employers to “hire Singaporeans first, or hire Singaporeans only”, noting that firms that are unable to find “suitable” Singaporeans can still bring in those with the skills needed from overseas.

Reiterating that the Republic has and will remain open to imported skills and talent, Mr Tan pointed out that the rule is only about helping Singaporeans get a “fair opportunity” and is not a “silver bullet”. “Singaporeans must still prove themselves able and competitive to take on the higher jobs that they aspire to,” he said.

While the “jury is out”, in the words of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce’s Jonathan Asherson, on whether firms will indeed follow the spirit of the law, CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said he did not think Singapore’s competitiveness, as a place to work or set up shop, would be dented by the move.

“If you look at the figures, more are coming in than are leaving, even though costs are not low here,” he said. “As long as Singapore continues to be seen as a favourable place to live, work and play, it will not be an issue.”
Before the advertising rules kick in, the MOM will, from the first quarter of next year, also look for firms that warrant “additional scrutiny” because they either have a disproportionately low proportion of Singaporeans at the PME level compared to their industry’s benchmark or have repeatedly faced complaints about discriminatory human resource practices.

Writing on the MOM blog, Mr Tan said: “This is something ... we will be actively monitoring to add teeth to the advertising requirement, since we are realistic that some recalcitrant firms may try to ‘go through the motions’.”

The ministry had, together with employer and worker union representatives, studied models in other countries, such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany and Hong Kong. “Many months of intense and wide-ranging consultations with various stakeholders” also went into coming up with the framework, Mr Tan said.

He noted that the new advertising requirement also serves “a larger purpose of facilitating greater labour market transparency”. Having a central pool of job vacancies will help the Government to “discern existing skill gaps and also better facilitate job-matching”, he added.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

US Shutdown: Fallout for Asia; Windfall for China

China reaps rewards of US govt shutdown

4 Oct 2013


WASHINGTON — Debate over the federal government shutdown has tended to focus on those it hurts: Veterans, tourists barred from the Lincoln Memorial and Yellowstone National Park, and giant panda enthusiasts deprived of their publicly funded panda cam.

But the shutdown has already produced at least one winner: China.

By forcing US President Barack Obama to cancel a visit next week to Malaysia and the Philippines, the impasse with House Republicans is spoiling his show of support for two South-east Asian countries that have long laboured under the shadow of China. And it is undermining his broader effort to put Asia at the heart of American foreign policy.

Mr Obama’s planned itinerary for next week — a mix of summit meetings and goodwill visits — was carefully moulded to reinforce the message to China that the United States is once again a central player in the region.

But the President’s Asian pivot keeps getting pulled back by two forces that have haunted his presidency: Strife in the Middle East and strife with Capitol Hill.

For now, the White House is clinging to the two remaining stops on Mr Obama’s tour: A Pacific Rim economic summit meeting in Indonesia at which he hopes to meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and the East Asia Summit, in the sultanate of Brunei, where he is scheduled to meet the new Prime Minister of China, Mr Li Keqiang.

With little sign of a compromise that would reopen the government by this weekend, however, Mr Obama may be forced to scrap those visits, too, sending Secretary of State John Kerry as his understudy. It would be the third time he has been forced to sacrifice an Asia trip because of domestic issues — he postponed a visit in March 2010 because of the battle over the healthcare overhaul, and delayed it again four months later because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Diplomatically, it’s very harmful,” said Mr Kenneth Lieberthal, a top China adviser during the Clinton administration. “I’m sure there are some in China who say, insofar as the US pivot has China as its bullseye, this prevents them from hitting that bullseye.”

Mr Jeffrey Bader, who was Mr Obama’s senior adviser on China until 2011, said the White House’s attempt to salvage the two meetings, even amid the chaos of the shutdown, was an important sign that it remained committed to the region.

But he added: “The mayhem that compelled the decision sends an unfortunate signal to those countries that the US is far away, and that the US political system is dysfunctional.”

While Mr Obama’s plans are in flux, President Xi Jinping of China has embarked on a tour of South-east Asia with visits to Indonesia and Malaysia.

China, with its expansionist impulses, is a clear beneficiary of a distracted US. It has clashed with Malaysia and the Philippines over claims to rocky outposts in the South China Sea, which the three countries border. On previous visits, Mr Obama said the US wanted to resolve these disputes peacefully and keep sea lanes open.

The administration wants to wrap up negotiations on a trade deal by the end of this year, a goal few analysts believe it can achieve.

That may be even more elusive if Mr Obama cannot personally offer his public backing at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, on the Indonesian island of Bali.

The turmoil in Syria has reinforced the reality that the Middle East is likely to remain a preoccupation for Mr Obama.

In his speech at the United Nations last week, he mentioned Asia in a single line, noting that it could serve as an economic example.

While the President may be no less committed to the region, there is a reduction of Asia expertise on his senior team. Mr Kerry has made the Middle East, and particularly peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, his top priority, in contrast to his predecessor, Mrs Hillary Clinton, whose first trip in the post was to Asia and who led the drive to open diplomatic ties with Myanmar.

Ms Susan Rice, the National Security Adviser, has by necessity focused less on Asia than her predecessor, Mr Tom Donilon, while Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has far less experience in the region than his predecessor, Mr Timothy Geithner.

Administration officials counter that Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and the US Trade Representative, Mr Michael Froman, are both heavily involved in Asia.

But among top officials, only Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, whose history in Asia dates to his combat service in Vietnam, seems eager to put the rebalancing at the top of his agenda.



An unfortunate twist in the US pivot

By Simon Tay

4 OCT 2013

American President Barack Obama was due to tour Asia next week to attend two key multilateral summits and visit two other countries — Malaysia and the Philippines. The White House initially described this as an “on-going commitment”, building on the American pivot to emphasise ties with the region that the President established in his first term.

Events, however, have intervened. With the domestic debacle of the American government shutdown, reports are that the President’s trip might be cancelled or, at least, shortened. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bali and the East Asia Summit in Brunei are likely to remain on the agenda. But bilateral stops in Malaysia and the Philippines have been cut.

This will not be without costs.

Mr Obama’s pivot, after all, primarily gave a political reassurance that US commitment remains, despite the crisis and possible impact on the coffers. The actual number of troops deployed in Asia — despite past headlines about Marines near Darwin — was ancillary.

The government shutdown starkly reveals divisive and dysfunctional Beltway politics. If they can furlough jobs, cease government services and risk a downgrade in the country’s credit rating, will American politicians be consistent about faraway Asia?


There is also Syria to show how the Middle East soaks up American time and attention. US Secretary of State John Kerry seems to be wading into Middle East issues — not only Syria, but also Iran and even Israeli-Palestinian peace. Many of these priorities were voiced by Mr Obama at the United Nations.

If he does come to Asia, the President’s speeches will no doubt shift emphasis. But a subtext has emerged to question if the pivot will be sustained in his second term. And even if sustained, American engagement may no longer be as welcome.

Take the administration’s centrepiece for trade and economic ties, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Over the past months, American negotiators have pushed hard for Asians to cough up “deliverables” that suit US interests. Resistance has grown, rather than any sense of partnership.

This is a sharp contrast to China, which has not backed down on claims in the South China Sea, but nevertheless has adjusted its diplomacy.

With Foreign Minister Wang Yi smiling benignly, Beijing is calmly laying down a 10-year strategy for engagement.

Alongside the US$500 million (S$625 million) China-ASEAN Maritime Fund and US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Fund, an upgrade to the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement seems likely, with new Chinese concessions to benefit its South-east Asian neighbours.

Malaysia, despite having overlapping claims with China to parts of the South China Sea, will roll out the red carpet for President Xi Jinping. His three-day state visit this week is expected to usher in a new era in ties between the two countries.

This makes a sharp contrast to Mr Obama’s reported decision to cancel, especially as no incumbent US President has been to Malaysia since Lyndon B Johnson during the Vietnam War.


The Philippines, another visit that has been cancelled, is in quite a different situation. The Aquino administration has challenged the Chinese claims, both at sea and through international arbitration. Beijing in response seems to be systematically isolating the Philippines.

The planned visit by President Benigno Aquino III to the ASEAN-China trade expo — ironically a flagship friendship event — was unceremoniously upended just last month.

The lesson is clear to other Asians who recall the old Chinese adage to, “kill the chicken to scare the monkeys”.

Because of this, it is Manila who will most miss Mr Obama. The two countries are already looking to an agreement for more troop visits and discussing the development of a mini-Subic Bay to host the American navy, proximate to maritime areas in dispute.

This might be delayed by the US President’s cancellation. But it will not be derailed. Indeed, there is some danger that America may, intentionally or otherwise, overcompensate with statements that the Chinese might find provocative.


If Mr Obama does come to Asia, there are opportunities to salvage matters somewhat.

Practically speaking, he can meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the sidelines of the APEC Summit as a next step in coming to an agreement over Syria.

Symbolically, if he comes despite the US government shutdown and looming debt ceiling deadline, this can show the level of his interest, even under intense pressure at home.

Not all things will be resolved. But getting on Air Force One even for a shorter visit would be something to show US commitment.

Otherwise, Asian questions about the sustainability of the American pivot will find their own answers.


Simon Tay is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and the author of Asia Alone: The Dangerous Post-Crisis Divide from America.

America’s very democracy is at stake


4 Oct 2013

By Thomas L Friedman -

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: Majority rule.

President Barack Obama must not give into this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.

What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party, but the whole government.

And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded.

When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the President and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperilled.


This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote on Tuesday about the 11th-hour debate in Congress to avert the shutdown.

Noting a shameful statement by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Mr Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking’, which Mr Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt’.”

“Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.” How did we get here? First, by taking gerrymandering to a new level. The political analyst Charlie Cook, writing in The National Journal on March 16, noted that the 2010 election gave Republican state legislatures around the country unprecedented power to redraw political boundaries, which they used to create even more “safe, lily-white” Republican strongholds that are, in effect, an “alternative universe” to the country’s diverse reality.

“Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white share of the population fell from 69 per cent to 64 per cent,” wrote Mr Cook. “But after the post-census redistricting and the 2012 elections, the non-Hispanic white share of the average Republican House district jumped from 73 per cent to 75 per cent, and the average Democratic House district declined from 52 per cent white to 51 per cent white. In other words, while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.”

According to Mr Cook, the number of strongly Democratic districts decreased from 144 before redistricting to 136 afterward. The number of strongly Republican districts increased from 175 to 183.

“When one party starts out with 47 more very strong districts than the other,” he said, “the numbers suggest that the fix is in for any election featuring a fairly neutral environment. Republicans would need to mess up pretty badly to lose their House majority in the near future.”

In other words, there is little risk of political punishment for the Tea Party members now holding the country hostage.


Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s inane Citizens United decision allowed a single donor, Mr Sheldon Adelson, to create his own alternative universe. He was able to contribute so much money to support Mr Newt Gingrich’s candidacy that Mr Gingrich was able to stay in the Republican presidential primary race longer than he would have under sane campaign finance rules. As a result, Mr Gingrich was able to pull the GOP’s leading candidate, Mr Mitt Romney, farther to the right longer, making it harder for him to garner centrist votes.

Last month, for the first time in Colorado, two state senators who voted for universal background checks on gun purchases lost their seats in a recall election engineered by gun extremists and reportedly financed with some US$400,000 (S$500,000) from the National Rifle Association.

You’re elected, you vote your conscience on a narrow issue, but now, determined opponents don’t have to wait for the next election. With enough money, they can get rid of you in weeks.


Finally, the rise of a separate GOP (and a liberal) media universe — from talk-radio hosts, to websites to Fox News — has created another gravity-free zone, where there is no punishment for extreme behaviour, but there’s 1,000 lashes on Twitter if you deviate from the hard line and great coverage to those who are most extreme.

When politicians only operate inside these bubbles, they lose the habit of persuasion and opt only for coercion. After all, they must be right. Mr Rush Limbaugh told them so.

These “legal” structural changes in money, media and redistricting are not going away. They are super-empowering small political movements to act in extreme ways without consequences and thereby stymie majority rule.

If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process.

Mr Obama is not defending healthcare. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him. THE NEW YORK TIMES


Thomas L Friedman, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, has thrice won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary

Friday, October 4, 2013

Chin Peng: A fanatic but no hero

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Science wants the last word? I'm OK with that

Oct 01, 2013

By Alexandra Petri

GENE Weingarten once noted that reading both a news article and the online comments was like ordering a steak and getting a side of maggots. This approximates my feelings. When I started blogging, I made the mistake of reading the comments every day, a practice I cannot recommend if your hobbies include having a sunny outlook on life or believing that humankind is basically good.

Popular Science has just announced that it is removing comments from its site after a study revealed, fairly convincingly, that people who read an article with vitriolic and terrible comments beneath it regarded the scientific consensus as less settled than other readers did - and then presumably went out to sow misconception and bafflement in the public debate.

This study is a science-send for all of us who have long despised comments but only suspected that they were also UNDERMINING SCIENCE and DESTROYING AMERICA. Now we know for a fact that this is so.

In a post explaining the decision, Popular Science's online content director Suzanne LaBarre noted: "A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. 

"Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to 'debate' on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science."

Society has this mistaken idea that some settled facts are still up for debate. People may disagree on these things, but the only reason that they disagree is that, well, some of these people are wrong. You do not have to give people who are objectively incorrect equal time. There is no point disagreeing about facts. If you are constantly reduced to proving hundreds of years of scientific consensus again before you can even start to talk, you waste everyone's time.

American playwright Jean Kerr once noted that "the real menace in dealing with a five-year-old is that in no time at all you begin to sound like a five-year-old". Popular Science is right.

"Never read the comments" is one of the few phrases I would not regret tattooing onto my body. Partially this is because, like Noel Coward, I can take any amount of criticism so long as it is unadulterated praise. Distracted by our phones from writing on bathroom stalls, it seems we store up those sentiments and pour them out at the bottom of news stories.

My theory for why sites such as washingtonpost.com have such difficulty with comments used to be the Internet Rule: The more obscure and bizarre the niche group, the friendlier the comments.

By and large, the comments on Erotic Lincoln Vampire Fanfiction are much kinder, and better spelled, than the comments on a major news story about, say, wiretapping and surveillance (which consist mainly of erratically capitalised screeds against the president, erratically capitalised screeds against critics of the president, and angry notes erroneously addressing the writer of the piece as "Wally").

But why? On most major news sites, commenters generally have in common only that they just read (Whatever That Article Was) and have (Some Feeling) about it - and, more damning yet, that they are hardy enough to venture off the safe map of the article and into the chartless waters of the comments section, where most of the occupants are weird creatures with the opinion equivalent of dangly, glowing protrusions on their snouts to lure in unsuspecting fish ("So, you think Obamacare ISN'T a sinister plot? Come closer and explain!").

This does not conduce to civility or illumination.

The places on the Internet where the discussion is good are where a vigorous effort has been made to create community and bind people to more than simply having just read something: They come back to the same blogs day after day; they share an interest in certain policy areas; they like panda erotica.

Whatever it is, it forces them to have a stake in making conversation polite enough today that it won't be uninhabitable tomorrow. You can be much ruder to the waiter in a place where you are not a regular.

And even if some are regular commenters on news stories (hi, folks!), the nature of big news or breaking science is that, if it's big and controversial enough for readers to flood in, the small regular community gets overrun. It is hard to maintain community in the middle of a stampede. You use the correct forks only when you aren't fighting through throngs of people to tear hunks off the new carcass.

So, well done, Popular Science! Let me know what you think in the online comments.


Smile, S'poreans no longer 'least emotional'

Oct 01, 2013

But experts say leap in 'positivity' index shows Gallup poll is flawed

By Amelia Teng & Lim Yi Han

JUST a year after being labelled the world's most emotionless society, Singapore seems to have experienced an astonishing turnaround in the feel-good stakes.

International polling firm Gallup has now singled out the Republic as having the biggest surge in "positivity".

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ministers' Salaries revisited

Excerpts of an interview of Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, published in the September issue of the Singapore Medical Association’s newsletter, and printed in TODAY.

1 Oct 2013

You have said you were worried that some of the politicians today do not have the same qualities as the pioneer generation. What are you hoping to see in the newer and younger politicians today?

In the early days, Lim Kim San and Goh Keng Swee worked night and day, and they were truly dedicated. I don’t know whether Lee Kuan Yew will agree but it started going downhill when we started to raise ministers’ salaries, not even pegging them to the national salary but aligning them with the top 10.

When you raise ministers’ salaries to the point that they’re earning millions of dollar, every minister — no matter how much he wants to turn up and tell Hsien Loong off or whatever — will hesitate when he thinks of his million-dollar salary. Even if he wants to do it, his wife will stop him.

Lim Kim San used to tell me, “Ngiam, if you want to leave your job, make sure you have enough walkaway money.” When the salary is so high, which minister dares to leave, unless they decide to become the Opposition party? As a result, the entire political arena has become a civil service, and I don’t see anyone speaking up any more.

Mr Ngiam has interesting ideas, but this one is off because of wrong assumptions.

Let's use a real example, instead of a hypothetical "Minister".

Let's take Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister (MEWR). The one who takes a lot of flak everytime somebody's
car get damaged by floodwaters and has to be scrapped (and loses the cheap COE), and the owner now have to bid for an expensive COE.

For the now, he is known as the Minister of Floods and Dengue. What's he trained for? His last pre-Minister post was as the Head (CEO?) of the National Eye Centre. He is trained as an Eye doctor/ Eye Surgeon. An eye surgeon at his level makes millions.

As a minister he makes a little more than a million. But hey! Job Security right?

As Minister for MEWR, he gets flak for floods. He gets flak for dengue. He even gets flak for Hawker Centre washing in opposition wards.

As an eye doctor, what does he know about flood containment, anti-flood measures, rainfall and weather prediction, Dengue outbreak and control measures, and for that matter, hawker centre washing?

If he really wanted a better life, he should go tell LHL off, get fired, and return to private practice. Even if he doesn't make as much as he used to, he at least would have his privacy, and peace of mind. He can sleep through a stormy night (like you and I) without waking up in a cold sweat wondering where else will flood.

Or take another Minister. Shanmugam. Minister of Law. For the longest time he resisted being "promoted" to Minister. Why? As a top lawyer, he makes MILLIONS. As a minister, just over a million. But at least he is one better than VB. At least he is not an eye doctor asked to look after floods and dengue.

Shanmugam at least is a trained Lawyer at the top of his game now made Minister of Law.

But even he would be better off telling LHL off, getting fired and getting back to private practice and making MILLIONS.

So Mr Ngiam's assertions is faulty, and his assumptions are wrong.

As for the "nobody speaking up", unless Mr Ngiam has a bug in the Cabinet or an informant, he has no evidence of that. The Singapore Brand is based on stability, reliability, and durability. Our culture is one of consensus, and public unity. He may well be right that in closed door meetings there is only "yes men" in attendance. But if he is right, it is pure coincidence, based on speculation on his part with no evidence except what he wishes, or hopes, or imagines to be true. ] 

[Update, 11 Oct 2013: Ngiam Retracts Comments.

"I also realise on re-reading the interview that I had not been fair in what I had said about Ministers and discussions in Cabinet. I retired from the civil service in 1999. Since then I have not attended any cabinet meetings, and have never seen one chaired by PM Lee Hsien Loong. Thus my statement that Ministers will not speak their minds before PM Lee is unfair as it was made without knowing what actually happens at Cabinet meetings today. I have been told by civil servant colleagues that Cabinet discussions are robust - as robust as they were when I attended cabinet meetings as PS (PMO), when Mr Goh Chok Tong was PM and Mr Lee Hsien Loong DPM."]