Friday, December 28, 2007

Blog Reactions to Bhutto's Assassination

It did not take long for blogs and online comment forums to erupt with reaction to the attack on Benazir Bhutto at a rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Ms. Bhutto died in the attack, either of gunshot wounds or injuries from a suicide bombing or both, and more than 20 others at the scene were also killed.

Though there have been a number of attacks on Ms. Bhutto’s life in recent months, along with other political violence in the country, and she has said often that her life was in danger, the common initial reaction to the assassination is naturally one of shock.

On the All Things Pakistan blog, Adil Najam writes:

I, like most Pakistanis, am still too numb with shock and grief to think coherently about what has happened or what the implications of this are for the country and for the world. But this I know, whether you agreed with her political positions or not, you cannot but be in shock. Even as I type these lines I am literally shaking. Hers was a tragic life story.

A poster using the name “Quote” on Sepia Mutiny, a blog for the South Asian diaspora, writes:

Benazir has been in public life for 30 years, and in politics for 20 years and by now you either loved her or hated her. I’m not a real Pakistani, but I remember the euphoria of 1988 pretty well, and the crashing disappointment of the her second term in the 90s, when only dedicated PPP partisans still believed in her. Reading the news this morning was like a punch in the gut.

(PPP is the Pakistan People’s Party, which Ms. Bhutto led.)

Many bloggers and commenters are noting that the Bhutto family is regarded in Pakistan almost as a royal family, and that it has been touched repeatedly by political violence and tragic death — comparisons with the Kennedys are common.

Adil Najam again:

At a human level this is a tragedy like no other. Only a few days ago I was mentioning to someone that the single most tragic person in all of Pakistan - maybe all the world - is Nusrat Bhutto. Benazir’s mother. Think about it. Her husband, killed. One son poisoned. Another son assassinated. One daughter dead possibly of drug overdose. Another daughter rises to be Prime Minister twice, but jailed, exiled, and finally gunned down.

Today, in shock, I can think only of Benazir Bhutto the human being. Tomorrow, maybe, I will think of politics.

Read on about Bhutto's assassination.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Singapore's Political Faces of 2007

It’s been some time since the General Elections 2006. During this period, we often hear news about the following politicians, some from the ruling party, others from the opposition front:

Lee Kuan Yew: From front seat to backdrop but at the age of 84, he is still an influential figure within the Parliament. Many have suspected he is the ultimate decision maker not the PM himself. His famous quote this year would probably be the following:

"Low salaries will draw in the hypocrites who sweet talk their way into power in the name of public service, but once in charge will show their true colour, and ruin the country." - 2007, on Minister's Pay

"You know, the cure for all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government. You get that alternative and you'll never put Singapore together again: Humpty Dumpty cannot be put together again... and your asset values will disappear, your apartment will be worth a fraction of what it is, your jobs will be in peril, your security will be at risk and our women will become maids in other people's countries, foreign workers." - Justifying million-dollar pay hike for Singapore ministers (Straits Times, 5 April 2007)

One big question to ask: When will he be retiring from politics?

J B Jeyaretnam: Seasoned opposition politician who was MP for Anson but the slew of defamation suits brought against him by the PAP leaders crippled him financially. He managed to get out of bankruptcy this year. A long time political foe of Lee Kuan Yew. Has set up a new party, the Reform Party. Can he still give PAP a scare at 2010/2011 elections?

Chiam See Tong: Still holding on to the seat of the smallest single-member constituency, Potong Pasir. A mild, veteran politician who is frank and direct in his opinions. His consecutive victories at the General Elections have won him much respect from fellow Singaporeans. 2010/2011 Elections would probably be his final one.

Low Thia Khiang: Charismatic leader of the Workers’ Party. A Teochew and Chinese-speaking politician who recently made a promise to expand his party to become a dominant force in Singapore politics to challenge the PAP:

If we want our system of Parliamentary Democracy to be able to function properly, to allow Singaporeans real choices, and to promote good government for the next generation, seeking an opposition breakthrough in a GRC is a must.

The Workers’ Party had targeted winning GRCs since their inception in 1988, but without success. Let me assure you that we shall work toward another watershed at the next election to breakthrough a GRC!

He has been the MP for Hougang SMC since 1991 and has a huge number of supporters all over Singapore. Will he walk out of his Hougang stronghold and contest in a GRC together with Sylvia Lim and Chiam See Tong in the 2010/2011 elections?

Lee Hsien Loong: He won 66.6% national votes in his first election as PM in May 2006 and a much lower than expected 66.4% in his own turf, Ang Mo Kio GRC. He doesn’t seem to be as popular as his predecessors, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. Now that the opposition seems to be more organised than before, can he maintain PAP’s power grip in the next election?

Chee Soon Juan: Loudhailer, that’s what some call him. The current Singapore Democratic Party’s Secretary General earned his nick during the 2001 elections when he confronted the then PM Goh Chok Tong at a hawker centre asking for the money which was allegedly lent to Suharto. May have good intentions to bring more democracy and human rights into Singapore but most Singaporeans, who are more concerned with bread-and-butter issues, do not seem to like his confrontational style.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam: Although he had been fined S$1,000 for breaching the Official Secret Act during his tenure as Managing Director and Chief Executive at MAS in 1994, he is still a very trusted figure in the government supposedly for his ability to make “Fortress MAS” more open and flexible and Singapore to be better prepared for global shocks than other ASEAN economies. Education Minister, now Finance Minister. The next Prime Minister in the making?

Sylvia Lim: A fresh political face. High profile woman opposition politician who is the Workers’ Party’s Chairman and a current NCMP. From my participation at the various election rallies, I notice she seems to be rather popular with the young voters. Charismatic English-speaking lady who needs to brush up her Mandarin and perhaps learn the Malay language and a dialect to woo more potential voters. She led the Aljunied team at the polls against the PAP team led by heavyweight Foreign Minister George Yeo and obtained a lower than expected 43.9% votes, possibly due to the James Gomez saga. In the parliamentary debate on Ministerial Pay Hike, she opposed the hike stating:

Citizens should be able to look to leaders for moral leadership and inspiration. If what they perceive are mercenaries at the helm, then asking them to make sacrifices will be met with cynicism and indifference. This will not bode well for Singapore's future. What will happen when crunch time comes? Is this a time bomb planted for the future of Singapore?

Chee Siok Chin: One of the few woman opposition politicians. Sister of Chee Soon Juan. Teacher turned political activist. Like his brother, she is also very critical of the PAP government and its authoritative style of rule.

What's your take? Who do you think is the best politician of the year?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Foreign Workers Problems: HDB Complaint calls & Crime rate

It is a solid fact that there are foreign workers everywhere in Singapore. Every now and then, you would hear news of residents complaining about them being a nuisance for littering, drinking, gambling etc in our HDB heartlands.

Although we know it’s not the intention of most foreign workers to create trouble in Singapore, it would be interesting to find out about the number of complaint calls to HDB against them in the recent years. But strange enough, I couldn’t seem to find any piece of information or press release on HDB’s website. Did we see an increase or not? And if there is an increasing trend, what has HDB done to alleviate the problem?

Second, the Police published the year 2006 statistics on the crime rate of foreign workers in Singapore:

The number of foreigners arrested for crime decreased by 278 persons from 3,036 to 2,758 persons in 2006. They accounted for about 14% of the total persons arrested, same as in 2005. More than half (1,632 persons or 59%) of the foreigners were arrested for theft and related offences, with shop theft accounting for 31% of the offences.

Yes, from the data it seemed the recent influx of foreigners did not seem to cause a jump in the number of criminal cases concerning foreign workers. However, those were just recorded offences. I believe there are many other cases which were probably not recorded due to their nature (drunken rowdiness, loitering etc). Wouldn’t it be appropriate if the Police could provide the public with this piece of information too?

The following was obtained from The Straits Times:

Foreign workers to help keep Jalan Kayu safe

ONE friendly neighbourhood patrol, in Jalan Kayu, has taken on a new group of recruits: Foreign workers living in the area.

About 40 of them will take turns joining neighbourhood police and local residents on their weekly patrols of Jalan Kayu, which is near neighbourhoods in Seletar, Yio Chu Kang and Ang Mo Kio.

The programme, called the Jalan Kayu Rangers Community Safety and Security Project, is a joint effort by the Jalan Kayu Citizens' Consultative Committee, the area's neighbourhood committee and the Sengkang Neighbourhood Police Centre.

It was launched on Sunday morning by Mr Wee Siew Kim, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC and adviser to Jalan Kayu grassroots organisations.

He said the idea for the programme came about after old three- and four-room residential blocks along Seletar West Farmway 6 were converted last year into two dormitories for 6,000 mainly Indian, Bangladeshi and Thai foreign workers.

'While there has not been any reported conflict between foreign workers and the residents, we hear of residents complaining about drunken rowdiness, littering and loitering in large numbers,' said Mr Wee.

'So, we started this programme as a preventive measure - a way for 'mentor foreign workers' to help their peers understand our laws and social norms.'

So far, 38 foreign workers have undergone a four-month training programme on aspects such as first aid at the workplace and the anti-littering and anti-spitting rules in Singapore.

But they are not the first to help spread the anti-crime message among their peers.

Since March, some have been trained to serve as Foreign National Crime Prevention 'ambassadors' in a police initiative.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Planning for a comfortable retirement

ChannelNewsAsia reported the findings from a recent retirement study done by global information and media firm The Nielsen Company. Frankly speaking, I have not done any retirement plans (except insuring in a few life insurance plans) as I thought it’s still too early for a guy who is in his late 20s to start worrying about his retirement egg.

However, I was pretty shocked to read close to a fifth of Singaporeans surveyed feel they need a huge sum of more than S$1,000,000 to retire comfortably. When I saw the figure, I began adding up the possible costs and factoring in the inflation rate to try to arrive at a more reasonable figure but I can’t. There are just too many factors to consider.

How much is enough?

I believe everyone wants to maintain his living standards upon retirement or at least not suffer a huge drop in living standards. There are too many things which I feel are important in my future consideration on how much I would need for my retirement. Top on the list would be the variable medical costs.

If you look at how rapidly the medical costs are increasing in the recent years, you would worry about how much you would need for your entire twilight years. Yes, my medical insurances could cover part of the total amount I need but I feel it would still be inadequate. I think it would be difficult to determine how much I would really need until I’m in my 40s and nearer to my retirement years. Judging from my health status and the average medical costs then, perhaps I could make a clearer and better gauge of the portion of my savings I need to set aside for it. Right now, I feel financing my insurance policies is all that I need to do.

What about the remaining amount of money I need for my retirement piggy bank? Well, first I think I would need money for my daily subsistence, hobbies like sports (if I could still move then) and movies, travel, transport costs, SCV cable and internet, water, electrical and phone bills etc. Perhaps S$600-800 a month would be enough. That’s of course based on the current money rate and prices. We all know how prices can shoot up easily, right?

When to retire?

Ah that’s a million-dollar question which our million-dollar ministers have answered some time ago. Not the 67 years of age which they have suggested. It’s too late for people like me who wants to retire earlier and enjoy my remaining years. Retiring at the age of 60 seems more reasonable for me. But I think I would set a timeline probably at the age of 55 for my retirement saving plan just in case there might be a sudden loss of income after that due to some unforseen circumstances. So if that’s the case, I would be left with only around 25 years to save up.

Looks like I really need to look for a financial advisor and start my retirement plan soon.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Singapore gambles on

Even Hong Kong Disneyland couldn’t net the giant Chinese market and is struggling with its lower than expected attendance for a 2nd year.

In Singapore, Crazy Horse failed. We are building not 1 but 2 Integrated Resorts (IRs), one in Marina Bay, another in Sentosa. There is so much competition for the lucrative gambling profits in Asia with Macau, Vietnam and many other Asian countries coming up with newer and bigger casinos. For no reasons, I have a feeling that this casino venture would either end up with a “big bang” success or it would end up a disaster with repercussions to our country for many years to come.

HK Disney crowds disappoint for 2nd year

HONG KONG - Attendance at Hong Kong Disneyland, which the government had already branded unsatisfactory, fell to just over 4 million in its second year, it said, representing a fall of more than 20 per cent.

Walt Disney's second Asian-based magic kingdom after Japan has spluttered along since opening to great hype in September 2005.

After attracting a lower-than-expected 5.2 million visitors in its first year, Hong Kong Disneyland said its second year attendance was near the 4 million mark.

'The second year we had more than 4 million visitors, which makes up a total number of more than 10 million for 26 months,' said spokesman Glendy Chu on Tuesday.

Disney would not give a more specific figure, given its policy of not sharing commercially sensitive information, though the 4 million figure represents a drop in attendance of over 20 per cent.

'In the short term, we did not achieve the attendance targets for which we had hoped. We recognise that we need to bolster our numbers which is our focus today,' Disney added in a statement.

Hong Kong Disneyland had not previously released a second year attendance figure following its slow start, prompting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Frederick Ma to say recently that Disneyland's performance was 'not satisfactory'.

The park has suffered from its small size, peak-period crowds and a limited number of major attractions, making it a challenge to snare repeat visitors, especially those from China. A rival theme park, Ocean Park has also eaten into Disney's business against the odds, and now enjoys higher attendance numbers.

The firm is also under pressure to find funds for a revamp.

It had to recently negotiate with its lenders to re-schedule its commercial term loan facility of HK$2.3 billion (S$431 million), and to remove financial performance covenants to ease its debt burden.

Disney said it would add new attractions next year.

Disneyland's main theme park rival in Hong Kong, the home-grown Ocean Park, pulled in 4.92 million visitors for the same period, according to the Ming Pao newspaper. -- REUTERS

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Becoming a Singapore Permanent Resident (PR)

Wow! So many ways of becoming a Singapore Permanent Resident (PR):

Singapore Permanent Residence, A gateway to Singapore Regional Market

Becoming a Permanent Resident in Singapore would mean reaping real benefits. Larger savings in the form of CPF contributions, subsidies for education, and advantaged healthcare are to name a few. Read on to know how you can claim the Singapore promise of quality LIVE, WORK and PLAY.

Singapore continues to welcome immigrants who can identify with way of life here and whose diverse talents can contribute to the vibrancy and viability of the country. An annual average of 36,000 people has been granted permanent residence status over the last ten years - that is from 1996 to 2006. Last year alone, about 57000 PR’s were conferred. Singapore welcomes deserving talents with open arms and consultancies of caliber as Rikvin offer seamless service to make the immigration process a cakewalk.

Singapore Permanent Residence

It is common for foreigners who have experienced Singapore life to seek the status of Permanent Residence here. The country hosts a kind of environment healthy for both work and play, making it a more attractive place to live in.

SIngapore offers several options for those who aspire to be Singapore Permanent Residents (PRs) or Sinagpore Citizens (SCs). The Singapore government adjusted the requirements accordingly to ensure that new PRs and SCs fit the relevant profile.

An applicant can seek PR status under the following grounds:

Scheme for Professional/Technical Personnel/Skilled Workers

Permanent Residents (PR) status under the Professionals, Technical Personnel & Skilled Workers Scheme (PTS) is conferred to those who have secured employment in Singapore prior to PR application. They should also hold an Employment Pass (P or Q Pass). Applicants must be below 50 years of age. The spouse and unmarried children (below 21 years of age) of a PR may also apply for PR status. Applicants under this scheme will be assessed by a Points System, which takes into account the type of employment pass, duration of stay in Singapore, academic qualifications, basic monthly salary, age, kinship ties in Singapore.

Scheme for Investors

Foreigners interested in starting up a business or wishing to invest in Singapore, may apply for Permanent Residence (PR) status for themselves and their immediate family (spouse and unmarried children 21 years of age and below) under the Investor Scheme, by choosing one of the following options:

▫ Invest at least S$1 million in a new business startup or expansion of an existing business operation

▫ Invest at least $1.5 million in a new business startup, expansion of an existing operation, approved Singapore-incorporated venture capital fund or Singapore-incorporated foundation or trust that focuses on economic development

▫ Invest at least $2 million in a new business startup, expansion of an existing operation, approved Singapore-incorporated venture capital fund or Singapore-incorporated foundation or trust that focuses on economic development. Residential property can be purchased with not more than 50% of the investment amount

Under this scheme, the entrepreneurial track record, the business or investment plan and skills will be considered in granting PR.

Landed Permanent Residence

Those who have acceptable professional or tertiary qualifications, are working in professional, managerial or specialist jobs and are interested in relocating to Singapore but are currently not working in Singapore can apply for Landed Permanent Residence. A LPR is valid for up to 2 years within which the holder must find a suitable employment or relocate their families to Singapore. PR will be granted once employment is secured or the family has relocated to Singapore.

Singapore Permanent Resident Status under Foreign Artistic Talent Scheme

Foreign artistic talents in art, photography, dance, music, theatre, literature and film may apply for Singapore Permanent Resident Status under Foreign Artistic Talent Scheme. This Scheme is jointly administered by the Singapore Immigration and the National Arts Council (NAC).Eligible foreign talents should have received formal training and /or have relevant working experience and have already established a reputation both at home and abroad. Applicants have to send a application along with resume and relevant testimonials to NAC which on perusal will send a PR application form deserving candidates. On receiving the completed form NAC will recommend the applicant to the Singapore Immigration for its decision.

Approved-in-Principle (AIP) PR Scheme

This scheme provides a 5-year approval-in-principle PR to successful Hong Kong applicants. Holders can obtain Permanent Residence status if they secure employment or relocate their family to Singapore within the 5 years validity period. HK residents who satisfy certain guidelines can apply for permanent residence.

The following categories of foreigners are also eligible to apply:

▫ Spouse and unmarried children (below 21 years old) of a Singapore Citizen (SC)/
Permanent Resident (SPR);
▫ Aged parents of a Singapore Citizen.

Monday, December 17, 2007

How the Generals Motor their Way to Millions

Targeted sanctions intended to hit Burma’s generals where it hurts have so far neglected one of their major sources of income and personal prestige—the importation and resale of luxury automobiles.

Automobile prices in Burma are among the highest in the world. A new Toyota Land Cruiser, for example, costs around 400 million kyat (about US $312,000), five times the Web site list price of $63,000.

So why the discrepancy? The answer lies deep in the tangle of Burmese corruption and bureaucracy. For a start, an import license is required, and procuring one costs a lot of money—more than the average Burmese citizen can afford. Contacts at the top are also useful.

Automobiles prices have been rising steeply since the late 1990s, when ex-Gen Tun Kyi was Minister of Trade. Tun Kyi was forced to retire in 1997, but until his departure from office he and his family controlled the business of importing automobiles to Burma. He issued import license only to his cronies.

Before Tun Kyi was in charge, Burmese citizens employed in the shipping industry found it relatively easy to import automobiles. They earned hard currency and were in the position of shipping the vehicles into the country.

“But all changed after Gen Tun Kyi became Minister of Trade,” a Burmese seaman from Rangoon told The Irrawaddy. “As result, automobile prices jumped more than ten times.”

The full article can be viewed on Irrawaddy.