Encouraging Public Transport, Discouraging Private Transport

A sound balance.

Just some time ago, the great pull to use public transport. Grand plans to revitalise Singapore’s public transport system which is choked as there is no enough REAL competition injected into it and operators are keen to leave things at status quo. The plan to build 2 more lines (Thomson and Eastern Region) is a good vote-buying bet anyway, unless the stations are left unopened because of supposed inadequate demand, like the Buangkok White Elephant story.

Now there is the big push to use public transport. The government is going to slow vehicle growth in Singapore to 1.5%. COE is going to get more expensive once the supply of cars in Singapore is cut down. Sixteen more ERP gantries will be erected this year to make drivers pay for road use. Whatever the government claims about lowering ARF to 100% of OMV (and collecting $200 million less each year) and decreasing road tax by 15% across the board (and collecting $110 million less each year), someone has to pay the bill for the revamped public transport. More likely than not it would be the other road users fighting for road space with public transport – private car drivers.


GIC and Temasek have a blank cheque!

The problem with Tharman’s brush off explanation is that GIC and Temasek are government-controlled and its stakeholders also include us citizens, informed or otherwise on the merits of capital injections by GIC and Temasek. Hence, as stakeholders, we want a damn good explanation on what is happening with GIC and Temasek. Taking Temasek’s shrugs and GIC’s grunts as undecipherable answers to our questions on whether the investments they make are sound is now unacceptable.

Imagine that when Temasek had bought into Shin Corp and if Singaporeans raised a stinker then and probed the deal, Temasek would have brushed us off and said that we little pesky citizens should be seen and not heard. What happened to Temasek and Shin Corp since 2006 is now a great story on how lack of transparency and an eventual big foul up means tremendous lack of faith and confidence in these government-linked organisations, and our government.

Also, Inderjit Singh won’t be around for long if he continues to ask such “embarrassing” questions.

Tharman says not govt’s role to comment on GIC, Temasek investments
By Wong Siew Ying, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 21 January 2008 1812 hrs


SINGAPORE: It is not the government’s role to comment on or second-guess whether it was timely for the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Temasek Holdings to make their recent investments, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said.

Responding to a question in Parliament on how GIC and Temasek Holdings had injected funds into distressed banks like UBS and Merrill Lynch, the minister said, “They make these decisions for commercial reasons based on calculations free of any influence from the government.”

“The government is assured that both GIC and Temasek have thoroughly assessed the risk in each of these investments and have made hard-headed commercial decisions after careful assessment of the risk and the prospect for returns over the long term,” he stressed.

The MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, Inderjit Singh, asked, “In July last year, Temasek invested a few billion dollars into Barclays Bank… From what I understand, these values have now gone down to half of the investment.

“Is the minister not worried that if GIC and Temasek continue with this kind of multi-billion (dollar) investments all in one sector – in the banks, this could quickly wipe out a significant portion of our reserves?”

The minister replied, “We have to leave it to them – timing, decision as to whether to invest, how to protect yourself in each investment, which GIC and Temasek have indeed done in each of these large deals…

“We do have an understanding with both GIC and Temasek as to the government’s overall risk tolerance, so this is not a situation where we are completely hands-off.” – CNA/ac

Lee Kuan Yew is a man who says what he wants

Anytime, anything, anyhow might be ways to describe former PM Lee Kuan Yew’s shoot from the hip comments. With his frank words that Suharto does not deserve enough recognition, critics would jump on the band of authoritarian brothers innuendo. I won’t be surprised if the Indonesians would also pick up on this comment and whip it into a “Lee Kuan Yew supported a former dictator who oppressed us” argument. If a bilateral embarrassment arises out of this, we all know who to point fingers at this time. The flip side is that however unpleasant the “truth” (in his view) is you don’t want to hear, you can expect MM Lee to voice his opinion. From graduate mothers to have more babies to the harsh realities of race discrimination in Singapore and Malaysia.



MM Lee says Indonesia’s Suharto not getting the recognition he deserves
By Channel NewsAsia’s Indonesia Bureau Chief Sujadi Siswo | Posted: 13 January 2008 1822 hrs

JAKARTA: Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew visited former Indonesian president Suharto at a hospital in Jakarta on Sunday.

Mr Suharto is in a “very critical condition” after suffering multiple organ failure.

Speaking to Singapore media after the visit, MM Lee praised the former president for bringing progress and development to Indonesia, and stability to the region.

As Mr Suharto has been widely criticised for corruption and human rights abuses during his 32-year rule, Mr Lee said he is sad that the former leader is not getting the recognition he deserves.

Mr Lee is the first foreign leader to visit Mr Suharto after he was admitted to the hospital more than a week ago.

The minister mentor was briefed by Mr Suharto’s doctors before entering the ward where the 86-year-old ex-leader remains in critical condition.

Mr Lee said he has come to visit and pay tribute to an old friend.

He said: “I feel sad to see a very old friend with whom I had worked closely over the last 30 years, not really getting the honours that he deserves. He deserves recognition for what he did. And the younger generations – both in Indonesia and in the world – do not remember where Indonesia started. I do. That’s why I came here to visit him.

“He gave Indonesia progress and development. He educated the population. He built roads and infrastructure. And from Sukarno’s konfrontasi and other foreign policy excesses, he stabilised international relations, cooperated in ASEAN and made ASEAN more successful than SARC in South Asia. And today, we have a stable Southeast Asia.”

Despite the growth and prosperity that Mr Suharto brought, the former military general has come under heavy criticism for abusing his power.

Mr Lee said: “Yes, there was corruption. Yes, he gave favours to his family and his friends. But there was real growth and real progress. I think the people of Indonesia are lucky. They had a general in charge, had a team of competent administrators – including a very good team of economists to build up the country.”

Mr Suharto was forced to step down from office in 1998, soon after the Asian financial crisis that derailed the Indonesian economy.

Many had put the blame on the former president. But Mr Lee put the developments in perspective.

He said: “From ’67 when he became president right up to ’97, the economy grew and Indonesia was on the point of taking off the economy. It didn’t take off not because of his fault (but) because bank Indonesia’s interest rate was too high, and so the companies borrowed in USD for low interest rates. When confidence was lost after the Thai baht crisis and people wanted to pull their money out, the whole thing collapsed. It was not his fault.”

Comparing Mr Suharto to former Myanmar leader Ne Win, who came to power almost at the same time, Mr Lee said Indonesia is doing better now because of Mr Suharto’s leadership.

“In the 1960s, Burma had the same coup with General Ne Win taking over. He did not have this team of economists. He did it his own way – the Burmese way to socialism – and if you compare Burma with Indonesia, you would know what a difference Suharto has made.

“I’m very sad to see his life come to an end without the full glory that he deserves. There’re very few people of his age and my age who can remember the past. And if they can remember the past, they will know that in the 1960s, Indonesia was in very dire economic difficulties – hyper-inflation like today’s Zimbabwe,” said Mr Lee.

Through decades of formal ties established as leaders of neighbouring countries, it is clear that a strong bond exists between the two former heads who played a significant part in the growth and development of their respective countries as well as within the region.

Hunger Strike: Importance of the Choice of the Protest Form

Hunger strikes as a protest art are passe here. The last hunger strike in protest I can recall in Singapore were by Falun Gong followers a few years ago and Dr Chee Soon Juan in the 1990s after he was sacked from NUS for alleged misuse of official funds. Seelan Palay’s choice of hunger strke as the form of protest puts him in dubious company. Even Dr Chee has not repeated his stunt since then as he realised it drew more scorn that respect among Singaporeans.

But why are hunger strikes an option? Hunger strikes as a non-violence movement tactic serves to make the protest audience feel guilty and introspective. Everyone who goes on a hunger strike thinks he or she can duplicate the impact Gandhi had when he went without food in protest of the Muslim-Hindu violence right before the India-Pakistan separation. Imitation is the best form of flattery.

Seelan was arrested during the 2006 International Monetary Fund meeting in Singapore for distributing anti-globalisation flyers. He marched in the Hindraf protest in Malaysia in November last year. He is now experimenting with a hunger strike. I hope Seelan does not increase the tempo of his protest by next resorting to self-immolation to make his point. There is an artistic and dramatic limit to protest forms.