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.

Take risk to remove climate of fear, PAP

Catherine Lim brought out a good point in the Reuters’ interview “Climate of Fear hurts Singapore”:

"They seem to have drawn a line when it comes to opening up politically, and that to me is dangerous,"

She had pleaded for a “political opening up” in a recent letter which was rejected by the press. I think PAP do need to understand that the art of taking risk is not only an integral part of economic success, it is also part and parcel of social progress.

Yes, our economy seems to be in good hands. Economic growth seems healthy with GDP constantly at 6% and above annually. Although we may have not fared well in our Shin Corp and Barclay investments, we still have a massive amount of reserves. Our investment arms Temasek Holdings and GIC are continuously expanding into regional and international markets and have reportedly obtained healthy returns of 18% and 8.2% respectively. We have showed to the world and convinced them Singapore’s economic prowess is something which cannot be underestimated. All these can only be achieved through a prudent system of risk management.

But why can’t the PAP allow more risk in its management of people? I understand all ruling parties in the world want to control its people and remain in power forever but PAP’s use of a subtle form of fear tactics to control is irking me and many other Singaporeans: no PAP votes means no HDB upgrading; no good and well-paid government, your mothers and daughters will become maids in other countries etc.

We are often so afraid of incurring the government’s wrath that we have this fixed mentality that going against the government is deadly wrong and toeing the line is a sure way of survival. Of course, it’s nothing compared with what rogue regimes have done: massacres and killings to silence critics.

However, can this continue to work in the future? I doubt so. As what Catherine Lim has said, it stifles creativity with all the invisible “Out-of-bounds markers” and we are losing many talents who seek better lives in freer societies. The government is losing millions of taxpayers’ money over the years nurturing talents who decide to call it a day because they dislike living under this constant climate of fear. I think more people are expected to do so when our society becomes more affluent. So if the PAP government really wants to retain talents, not just in civil service but also in Singapore as a whole, it has to first show to its people that it indeed is a good government and not a “control freak”.

We must agree that PAP is an efficient government. But it needs “upgrading” to learn to drop the use of fear tactics to rule. When that day comes, I will draw a big fat cross neatly on my voting paper beside the lightning logo with pride.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My thoughts on Ministerial Pay Hike

I was utterly wrong. I have been harbouring this thought that the PAP government will not announce a 2nd ministerial pay hike but they did as “promised” in the end.

In my previous post “Glory for Nation or Money”, I mentioned many people are unhappy with the rising cost of living and the few unpopular policies (Annuity Scheme, GST Hike etc) that were announced some time ago and the ruling elites are running a risk of losing that delicate “bond” with Singaporeans. So I wonder, why would they even think of pushing through with the 2nd wave of ministerial pay hike now?

To be frank, I cannot accept the government’s repeated justification that it must pay high to match the average salary of the top 8 professions’ earners to attract and retain talents in the government. As many bloggers have pointed out, if there is a need to entice potential candidates of ministerial quality with huge monetary rewards to join the government, it might as well be better for these people to remain where they are in the private sector as serving the nation is ultimately different from “serving” shareholders.

But why is the government unable to attract and retain talents? I think the main reason is not because good people are put off by the “low ministerial salaries”. Neither is it because good people dislike PAP. It is a problem with Singaporeans who are generally politically apathetic, unpatriotic and greedy. Imagine if we have the entire population who is truly concerned about the running of the country, theoretically there would be more elites who are willing to serve the nation whether or not the government provides huge monetary rewards.

What we need to do now is not to continue increasing ministerial salaries to obscene levels but to make more Singaporeans engage in discussions on social issues. When more people care about what’s going on in Singapore, surely some of them would feel the urge to come forward to do something about the problems that the country faces. An active citizenry is important for the survival of Singapore in the competitive world of the 21st century.

The new ministerial pay structure can be found on The Straits Times "Ministers, top civil servants to get 4% to 21% pay rise in Jan"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Phone Scam Again!

Phone scammers again! Yes, they are getting more creative and convincing with their evil-doings but I wonder why do some Singaporeans continue to be cheated by them? Haven’t the police informed the public through the mainstream media to be more discerning when they receive calls from people who claim to be government officers?

The Straits Times wrote:

Woman cheated by elaborate phone scam

A WOMAN has reported to police that she was cheated by phone scammers who used a money laundering ruse to con her into transferring $2,500 from her bank account.

The Chinese woman in her mid-20s, said she was at a shopping complex along Selegie Road on Wednesday when she received a call from a voice recorded message in Mandarin at about noon.

The caller said she had a message from the High Court and told her to press 9. She was transferred to a Mandarin-speaking woman who told her she had a pending case against her.

The complainant was then transferred to another woman, named Yang, who told her that her account number was found in a list and suspected her of being involved in money laundering.

Yang then transferred her call to another woman who she said was a judge by the name of Li.

The 'judge' asked the complainant for details of her bank accounts, and told her to withdraw $2,500 from one account to verify the authentication, and to transfer the money to an international account.

The woman did as told.

Why Press Freedom in Singapore matters?

I think we are taking the values of free speech and free press for granted. While I do not deny we need to engage in self-censorship for issues like terrorism and official secrets to maintain Singapore’s national security, it is however our mainstream media’s role to provide the most accurate and the most unbiased information for all Singaporeans without any risk of intimidation by our government to prevent our journalists from writing about sensitive or embarrassing issues such as Singapore’s fast widening income gap, rising cost of living, foreign talent policy and Temasek’s foreign investments etc.

However, if our journalists decide not to take on an investigative role but instead adopt self-censorship in their news reporting in the name of “nation-building”, allowing the government to control any information to release to the public or withhold any undesirable piece of information so that the government can carry on with their agenda without any external pressure, the journalists are doing their readers a disservice as they are assuming the released information they have in hand is 100% accurate. And when they publish those “facts and statistics” in the newspapers, people will believe every single word that they read as truths.

Therefore, in order for our mainstream media to remain objective, it must be able to legitimately criticise the government and inform the public in the most complete and responsible manner. It is more important that we suffer small ailments or hiccups as early as possible than to cause Singapore to suffer major setbacks should any government policy fails in the future.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Taxi Fare Hike - Attempting to solve a problem but creates another?

We have “solved” another problem by doing it the Singaporean way, this time through a massive taxi fare hike. The so-called “in-depth review” of the taxi industry to address taxi passengers’ concerns is, in my own words, a world-class flop.

First, the peak hour surcharge of $2 has been replaced by a variable 35% surcharge of metered fare. With the change, technically only trips with taxi metered fares of around $6 will not see any peak hour surcharge hike. However with the increase in the distance meter and waiting time rate, I can confidently conclude almost all taxi trips will see a huge jump in the peak hour surcharge portion (probably in the region of $4 and more) of the fare especially for passengers on long-distance trips as the further they travel, the more they have to pay for the surcharge.

Question: Did the management ever think it might be an overkill? To solve the problem of insufficient cabs during peak hours with a massive surcharge hike, ComfortDelgro, together with the rest of the taxi companies which are sure to follow suit, will just be playing a game of “musical chairs”, forcing more people to switch to the already crowded public transport (MRT and buses). This is really creating a solution just for the sake of it.

Next, city area surcharge upped from $1 to $3. It does sound like a great solution to draw more taxis into the CBD to pick up passengers but think of it this way, if the CBD surcharge is increased 3 times the current level, won’t you get a situation where there are really more taxis in the CBD but on the other hand, greedy taxi drivers will avoid the outskirts of the CBD as they would rather drive into the CBD to earn the $3 surcharge. $3 is not a small amount of money. It’s the cost of a meal at the food court. What makes the management think the drivers would not do this to maximise their earnings? Attempting to solve a problem but creates another?

What happens to those waiting anxiously for taxi on the outskirts such as VivoCity, Eu Tong Sen Street etc? Force them, I mean encourage them to make taxi bookings? Great idea to fleece more money from the public, isn’t it?

A final note: The taxi companies should not raise taxi rentals and taxi diesel prices unnecessarily for the next few years. Don’t make this current taxi fare hike a prelude for an attempt to raise taxi rentals in the near future to beef up profits. They already have more than enough to answer to their shareholders.

*FM 95.8 had a call-in programme yesterday and amazingly all taxi drivers who called in were against the taxi fare hike, stating that the hike will not improve their livelihood. The guest speaker, who takes the mode of transport daily to and from work, laments over the extra amount of money she has to spend and feels she may need to switch to public transport.

More reads:
83% Hike in Taxi Fares not Comforting
at all
Taxi fare hikes: Opinions
A Flat Fee Suffices - On Taxi Fares in Singapore
Our Great Transport Hikes

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

UN warns Burma that World's patience wearing thin


World's patience wearing thin: UN

Situation is not acceptable and unsustainable, Ban Ki-Moon warns Rangoon

Visiting United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon yesterday urged the Burmese junta to move forward on democracy and human rights protection as the international community's patience was running out.

"I would like again to emphasis that the return to the status quo is not acceptable and is politically unsustainable," he told a press conference.

He did not say what would happen if the international community did lose patience but noted the junta should allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to engage with the senior junta leaders.

The UN secretary-general arrived in Bangkok on Sunday for a three-day official visit to honour His Majesty the King's 80th birthday. He discussed the situation in Burma with Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont during a bilateral meeting.

The UN, through special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, has made little progress in persuading the junta leaders to hold political dialogue with Suu Kyi, Ban said.

However, the junta's appointment of deputy labour minister Aung Kyi as a liaison minister between Suu Kyi and the authorities was regarded as "a good start", he said.

The military crackdown in September in Burma that killed a score of protesters raised international concerns.

The UN chief commissioned Gambari to seek solutions to end the political stalemate. He urged Asean, of which Burma is a member, to continue its role in engaging Burma's leaders and fully support the role of the UN in pushing the military-ruled country towards democracy.

But room for the regional grouping has been very slim since last month, when Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein rejected an attempt to have Gambari brief leaders of Asean and its allies on his work at a summit in Singapore and emphasised he would work with the UN only.

Surayud said Thailand would take the rotating chairmanship of Asean late next year and would have the chance to hold a summit between the UN and Asean to discuss the matter.

The UN chief said the Burmese authorities should take his warning that the world is "running out patience" seriously as the people of Burma have suffered from isolation for a long time. It was time for the military-run country to bow to the wishes of the international community for full democratisation and protection of human rights.

Yesterday was Human Rights Day, and the 59th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when the UN began the campaign to promote human rights around the world.

"Therefore, again I urge the Myanmar [Burma] authorities to fully respect the principles and all of the UN charters by fully engaging with the international community and by restoring full democracy and promoting human rights," Ban said.

The article was published in The Nation, Bangkok

Monday, December 10, 2007

All the Pope wants for Christmas is...

All the Pope wants for this Christmas is to stop the trend of Christmas gift-giving to stem out excessive materialism and consumerism:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict on Sunday urged Catholics to rediscover the religious significance of Christmas, saying the holiday should not be dominated by materialism.

The Pope's words at his Sunday blessing to crowds in a rainy St Peter's Square marked the second consecutive day that the Pontiff warned of consumerism just as the Christmas shopping season kicked off in Italy.

"Too often, unfortunately, today's manner of living and perceiving Christmas suffers from a materialistic mentality," he said.

On Saturday, when Roman Catholics marked the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the leader of the 1.1 billion member Church said adults were only deceiving children by introducing them at ever younger ages into a life of unbridled materialism.

Too many children were growing up in a world saturated with "false models of happiness" and being lured by unscrupulous adults into what he called the "dead-end street of consumerism," he said on Saturday.

To be humans, we need Rights

Today marks the United Nations’ International Human Rights Day. There has been a plethora of human rights issues in the world over the years ranging from outright discriminations, child labour, slavery to abuses such as torture and inhumane treatments or punishments. As UN’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has mentioned:

It is our duty to ensure that these rights are a living reality -- that they are known, understood and enjoyed by everyone, everywhere. It is often those who most need their human rights protected, who also need to be informed that the Declaration exists -- and that it exists for them.

The term “human rights” seemed like something very abstract and difficult to be understood by common people and nothing beats having a video and some pictures to persuade people that protecting and promoting human rights is necessary.

Above: Jim Carrey spoke about the human rights violations in Burma. Children being forced to become soldiers in Burma as a result of continued military expansion, high desertion rates and a lack of volunteers. There has been a clear violation of minimum age for military recruitment. Aung San Suu Kyi has been wrongfully put under house arrest even though she had earned the right to set up a democratic government.

Right: Sudan - Civilians under attack in scramble for Darfur. Relief organisations are still facing problems reaching people in need, due to insecurity, poor road infrastructure, the size of the territory affected (roughly equivalent to France), and the ongoing rainy season. Therefore, according to the United Nations, needs in most sectors (food, shelter, clean water, primary health care) are only being partially met.

Left: Mass graves in Iraq graphically testifies to the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the challenges of building a more pluralistic and law-based state.

While we may count ourselves lucky to live in a peaceful and affluent society like Singapore, there is still a need for a platform to address several human rights issues such as maid abuses, child abuses, and discriminations against other races, women and homosexuals etc. Thus, I fully support the petition calling for the setting up of a national human rights commission in Singapore led by SG Human Rights’ founding member and lawyer Chia Ti Lik.

The following article was obtained from AsiaOne:

Group of human rights activists on Sunday launched a petition calling for the setting up of a national human rights commission.

The call comes from SG Human Rights, a nine-member informal group set up in October following the July decision by Asean leaders to include a provision for a human rights body in the Asean Charter.

Its petition launch took place at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park and was one of several activities held around the island at the weekend to commemorate Human Rights day on Monday.

The day marks the anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec 10, 1948.

Founding member Chia Ti Lik, a lawyer and former Workers' Party member, said the group felt that more attention needed to be paid to human rights if Singapore was to become a truly first-world nation.

He hopes for an independent panel that would check human rights abuses and educate the public on human rights issues.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Glory for Nation or Money?

The 24th SEA Games opened yesterday in Thailand but Singapore has already won 10 of its expected 45 gold medals. Two questions came to my mind: First, do our sportsmen compete for the prize money or for personal and national glory? Second, how should the spirit of sporting excellence be similar to the spirit of public service of ministers?

For the first question, I believe it’s the winning of a gold medal, standing on the podium receiving applauses from the spectators and the singing of Majulah Singapura that matters most. I really don’t think any sportsman would say “I am going to win the Olympic gold medal because I want the $1,000,000 prize money”.

Yes, the prize money is certainly an added incentive but I think nothing beats the nobility and glory of striving for victory with passion and dedication. When Joscelin Yeo won a swim race, I felt I was the winner too because there was this special spiritual “link” between us as I could sense the passion for swimming in her and I knew her primary motive for a swimming career was not money.

So how’s it got to do with the spirit of public service of ministers? Right now, our ministers are fetching about $1.6 million-dollar salary per annum after a ministerial pay hike during April 2007. It is expected to rise to 77% benchmark by year end and 88% by end of 2008. Mr Teo Chee Hean, the Minister-in-charge of the Civil Service has said in a parliamentary statement on civil servant salary revisions:

Officers who work in our ministries and statutory boards must feel a sense of challenge and must believe that individually and collectively, they make a real difference in the lives of Singaporeans. We need to tap on their passion, energy and mobilise them to do their best, and achieve their best – for Singaporeans and for themselves.

His statement is the same as what I have been trying to explain earlier. That is the passion and dedication to strive for personal glory and the glory to serve our country. It is something which money cannot buy. But when the issue of benchmarking ministerial salaries to that of the private sector is brought into view, the government is undermining its moral authority to rule. It makes us wonder: “Do the ministers serve the nation because they want the $1.6 million-dollar prize money and more?

So naturally when the government recently announced a slew of unpopular policies such as GST hikes, many showed their utter displease because when money is placed before passion, the ministers lose that special spiritual "link" which enables them to convince their fellow Singaporeans that the unpopular policies are deemed necessary for the betterment of Singapore.

I think enough is enough. One ministerial pay hike is sufficient. Singaporeans are already unhappy with the rising cost of living and I hope the government does not attempt to break that already delicate bond with us by forcing its way through a 2nd ministerial pay hike.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Generation Wave’s Statement for 87th National Day of Burma

This was obtained from Sit Mone's blog. The following is not the translation of Generation Wave’s statement, It is only the blogger’s opinion of the situation of the Military ruled Burma)

Background of Generation Wave

A new generation of activists calling themselves "Generation Wave", came together on October 9. They have begun distributing anti-junta pamphlets and posters in Rangoon, as part of a new effort to revive the spirit of the people's movement of September, which the military junta crushed.

The new group, which operates undercover, have begun distributing posters and pamphlets that carry messages such as 'CNG (Change New Government)', 'FFF (Freedom From Fear)', and 88 generation student leader, now detained, Min Ko Naing's poem titled 'Bah Kah Tah', in crowded places in Rangoon since October 15.

His Analysis of the current political climate of Burma

  • Burmese Generals have no interest in the National Reconciliation (Officially declared the exclusion of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD in the future Burmese Politics)
  • Wishful thinking of China and ASEAN to be actively persuade Generals to the path of Democracy does not materialise.
  • Burmese Generals have shown the world that they have no respect for UN.


They have declared the world that they are the special species in Burma, so that they will continue the policy of modern day Slavery of Burma forever. And they are only afraid of the stick!

On the 87th anniversary of National Day of Burma, only hope of the future of the Burma is in the hand of the Burmese people.

Bizarre Weather Forecast

I totally didn’t expect the heavy rain which started yesterday morning would last till late at night. The weather seems to be getting more and more unpredictable that even the Met Service cannot provide an accurate weather forecast for Singapore. On 1st Dec it issued a statement:

"a surge of Northeast Monsoon wind could bring widespread intermittent moderate to heavy rain to Singapore" between Tuesday and Friday.

and later on 3rd Dec it did a correction to its previous forecast:

But now, the Met Service said such moderate to heavy rain has only been seen in parts of Indonesia, but not in Singapore as earlier forecast.

"The forecast of widespread moderate to heavy rain in the next few days is no longer expected in Singapore. The winds are expected to weaken in the next few days," it said.

It later issued a third statement through a Straits Times article on 5th Dec stating:

Northeast monsoon means heavy showers may last till weekend

SINGAPORE experienced widespread intermittent rain, heavy at times, on Wednesday, brought about by the northeast monsoon.

This marks the start of the rainy season here, which usually lasts from December to January, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in a statement.”

NEA said the island's been experiencing windy conditions in the past several days, due to the onset of the northeast monsoon in the region since late November.

Windy conditions are also common.

NEA said the forecast for Thursday is cloudy with intermittent rain, heavy at times.

Afternoon showers may be expected on Friday and Saturday.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Singapore’s property market is running a fever

Singapore’s hot property market has become the latest noteworthy conversation topic and it is not just the private property market that sees massive rises in Singapore’s house prices over the past year, even the local HDB residential market has seen record transaction prices.

It was only a month ago we read in the news that two Marine Parade 5-room flats were sold for record prices of $750,888 and $730,000, and a 3-room HDB flat was sold for $380,000. Crazy isn’t it? For $380,000, you could easily afford a resale HDB executive maisonette in areas like Bukit Batok.

Although the resale price index stated on the HDB’s website seems to show a continual healthy increase over the previous quarter in 2007, it would be interesting to note that the number of resale applications registered seems to have started to decrease across the board for all flat types in the 3rd quarter of 2007. While I do not deny this could be a normal fluctuation, it would be a sign for concern should it continue to drop in the 4th quarter of 2007.

I must declare I am no expert in the property market but I believe there must always be a “tipping point” in the price of goods which is ultimately dependent on the supply and demand forces of the market. When the demand for resale flats come down as a result of a lack of affordability by most buyers, the price of flats would also drop naturally.

While we are still far from the 1997’s resale price index peak range of 130s, I think it is not prudent for any buyer to pay high prices for a resale flat during this period even though industry experts have been assuring us that residential property is still a good long-term investment. Why do I think so?

Scenario 1:

If we were to follow the trend on HDB’s resale price index, it is barely 1 year before the property market overheats. Give and take, let us say 2 years before the property market starts to crash, the buyers who have bought their flats recently would not be in time for their next sale if they intend to because they cannot meet the minimum occupation period (MOP) of 2.5 years from the effective date of purchase if the owners takes a loan from HDB and without CPF Housing Grant Scheme(otherwise MOP would be 5 years) . And even if they do not take any HDB loan for the purchase, the window period would still have to be a minimum of 1 year. It would thus be a risky short-term investment as no one can predict exactly when the crash will happen.

Scenario 2:

Even if the buyers decide not to sell but hold on to their newly purchased, already over-valued flats while waiting for a better price, they would be caught in a difficult financial situation where they have to finance their house loans and at the same time, see their flat values drop until asking prices are adjusted to the clearing level. The actual total loss at the next sale may be unimaginable. The 1997 property market crash victims know it.

So it’s time we take the inherent risk seriously as once the property market crashes, it is hard to stop. Potential buyers should not try to stretch themselves too much. We certainly want our money to be more liquid so that we can all survive through the impending recession and cope with the relentless rising cost of living.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Al Jazeera on Singapore’s Singtel MioTV

It was reported in Straits Times yesterday that Al Jazeera has received permission to be broadcast in Singapore on Singtel’s pay-TV service, MioTV. A few questions may come to our mind:

What is Al Jazeera?

“Jazeera” means island. According to International Herald Tribune’s article titled “How Al Jazeera can go up a gear”, Al Jazeera is a Qatar-based TV which is owned by the royal family of Qatar. It launched its English Service, Al Jazeera International, on 15 November 2006 and has obtained TV rights in several countries and regions such as United States and the Latin America.

Who is in Al Jazeera?

According to, Al Jazeera has assembled a team of TV pros from BBC, APTN, ITV, CNN and CNBC, among others, and will have 40 bureaus worldwide with broadcast centres in Doha, Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington. Some of the journalists’ names include Peggy Holter, Josh Rushing and Mark Teboe. The Programming Director, Paul Gibbs worked with BBC and Discovery Channel previously. It would also be interesting to take a look at their code of ethics.

Has Al Jazeera received any criticisms on its coverage since it’s a Middle Eastern TV station?

United States President George Bush and his administrative leaders have called the station’s coverage inflammatory and misleading for its journalistic style biased in favour of Arab causes. Al Jazeera has also attracted numerous criticisms and controversies with regard to the war on terrorism:

The most famous controversy would have to be the false allegation over the telecast of videos of masked terrorists beheading western hostages in Iraq. Other controversies include the broadcasting of Osama bin Laden’s videos. In those videos, Osama defended and justified the New York’s World Trade Centre attacks on September 11, 2001. US accused Al Jazeera of engaging in propaganda for the terrorists.

Shocking enough? It seems Al Jazeera is not going to be another ordinary TV station seeking to increase its viewership base worldwide and their coming to Singapore is going to make a big difference to the already well-controlled mainstream media. Al Jazeera is certainly going to influence the way we see the world with more war news and gory scenes, and with more controversial issues such as the Singapore-Burma ties which has recently caused an embarassment to our Singapore government. Tony Birtley of Al Jazeera reported in the following video which includes interviews with Chee Siok Chin of SDP and Alex Au of

Al-Jazeera can be broadcast in S'pore: officials

Al-JAZEERA'S English channel has received permission to be broadcast in the city-state, the government said on Monday.

The Arab broadcaster's English news service will be available to subscribers of Singapore Telecommunications' (SingTel) pay-TV service, the Media Development Authority (MDA) said in a statement.

'MDA has approved SingTel's application to offer the Al-Jazeera English channel on MioTV - its IPTV (Internet Protocol television) service,' Amy Chua, MDA's director for media content division, said in the statement. Officials did not say when Al-Jazeera would go on the air.

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera has said it will provide an alternative perspective to international news channels based in Europe and the United States. Al-Jazeera's Arabic service, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in November 2006, has revolutionised news media in the Arab world, but it has also stirred controversy.

It gained worldwide recognition mainly due to its broadcast of videotapes issued by Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. -- AFP

Sunday, December 2, 2007

World AIDS Day Means Little in Burma

December 1 was the 20th World AIDS Day and people around the word celebrated and commemorated the occasion. However, in Burma, HIV/AIDS activists and volunteers are being arrested and hunted down daily by the military authorities.

Phyu Phyu Thin, a well-known HIV/AIDS activist and member of the National League for Democracy, who was active in the recent demonstrations, is now in hiding from the security forces while several youth members of the NLD who were working with her group of nationwide volunteers have either been arrested or are in hiding too.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy by telephone from her hiding place on Friday, Phyu Phyu Thin said that since 2002 the volunteer group has taken care of more than 1,800 persons living with HIV/AIDS throughout the country.

This year alone, they have taken in about 600 new persons living with HIV/AIDS. Of those, about 200 patients are now directly under their care, while another 40 patients are receiving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs from their group.

“The hunting down and arresting of HIV/AIDS workers is not only disturbing for us, but is also disappointing and discouraging for the patients,” she said, adding that the group now has to recruit new volunteers to replace those who have been arrested or have had to go into hiding. The volunteers take on several duties, including buying medicine for the patients and helping to arrange treatment with various NGOs.

According to Yazar, a colleague of Phyu Phyu Thin, many of the HIV/AIDS patients are wives and children of bus drivers and fishermen who often have contact with sex workers.

This year, he said, the group has taken in many pregnant women who have been infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, while about 18 persons, including one child, had died while under their care.

He claimed that the patients usually died because they did not recognize their symptoms in time, were misdiagnosed or received poor treatment.

Yarzar added that since July 2006, when HIV/AIDS clinics stopped supplying ARV drugs to new patients, many victims of the disease have come directly to the volunteer group.

ARV treatment is available in Rangoon through the AZG clinic run by French-based Médecins Sans Frontières and the Rangoon Infectious Diseases Hospital [Wai Bar Gi].

However, limited funds are available and several patients must be referred to local NGOs, such as Yankin Yate Mon, who specifically treat patients who have contracted the virus from drug usage.

SIA's Singapore Girl

I am going on a holiday trip to Hong Kong soon and for the first time, I’ll be flying by Singapore Airlines (SIA). I’ve been very interested to know how the Singapore Girls are different from the air stewardesses from the other airlines. There has been so much hullabaloo about SIA’s iconic Singapore Girl which has been an important part of the airline’s culture since 1972.

So I wonder. What exactly makes a Singapore Girl? For the benefit of the foreigners visiting my site, the well-known Singapore Girl strategy was brainstormed by French haute-couture designer Pierre Balmain. The Singapore Girl dons a special version of the Malay sarong kebaya as her uniform, which turns out to be a powerful brand icon and SIA personalises her as a unique Asian figure who is gentle, caring, elegant and serene.

I have had some bad experiences on other airlines. British Airways is one. Can you imagine an air stewardess telling you to “wait for your turn” when you requested for a drink? I found that extremely rude. United Airlines is another. The stewardesses were so unprofessional that they seemed to be treating passengers like cattles when we were leaving the plane. Maybe for the prices I paid, I shouldn’t complain so much. Anyhow I will get a chance to see how our SIA’s Singapore Girl matches up with them.

I hope I do get to take a photo with her on my 4-hour flight with the near-celebrity of Asia. Right now, I can only dream of her.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Political opinion polls and non-censorships

Pardon me for being forgetful. Did we see such letters being published in our mainstream media during last year’s General Elections? Are Singaporeans so apathetic that not even a single soul wrote such “offensive” letters to the press during the election time? Or did the press simply practice self-censorship during the period?

Also, there are numerous opinion polls on whether children feel happy and on whether people feel disgusted about gays etc but there aren't any opinion surveys on the performance of the Prime Minister and his government. Isn’t it a common practice in many democratic countries and a good way to ensure good governance? I think we have a lot to learn from the Thais:

Thailand's Election Opinion Polls:

Democrats way ahead, says poll

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is in the lead for the position of prime minister, winning the backing of 46 per cent of those polled. PPP leader Samak Sundaravej trailed far behind with 23 per cent. Banharn Silapa-archa of Chart Thai received 6 per cent and Suwit Khunkitti of Puea Pandin got 3 per cent.

PPP headed for 190 seats

The People Power Party will win as many as 190 seats in the election, sweeping all regions except Bangkok and the South, where the predicted runners-up, the Democrat Party, is more popular, according to the first analysis of the upcoming election by the Nation Group.

Two of the letters to The Nation, the national newspaper:

Political promises are worth the price of a vote: a pittance

The finding from a poll that more than 50 per cent of people would accept money in exchange for their votes should be given serious thought.

It's easy for us to say that these people don't understand that vote-buying will harm the nation. But if we look from another perspective, the finding could indicate these people don't believe in promises made by any political party. They probably believe that promises are just marketing tools to get votes without any real intention to keep them. They might not believe that if they don't sell their votes, in the next few years they will have a school as good as Triam Udom not too far from their homes. They probably don't believe also that their children will have a better future. People, no matter how illiterate, will choose the better choice from their point of view. And if they choose to sell their votes, it could mean that they don't believe their living conditions will improve if they choose otherwise.

If politicians cannot prove through their deeds that they can improve the lives of the poor, increasing numbers of people may sell their votes for cash. And we cannot blame them. While we feel sad about this, it is an embarrassment for the politicians in the sense that a lot of people believe no promises of any party are worth more than a small sum of money.

Prichar, Bangkok

One baht for the forces, one baht for the children

When politicians recently controlled the purse strings of government, they voted themselves big pay rises. Now we have the military in charge, and surprise, they vote themselves big pay rises and a giant budget increase for weapons of dubious need. What if educators were in charge of government; would we then get ample budget for educating children? Here's my proposal: for every baht allocated for military spending, one baht be allocated for education, and one additional baht be earmarked for social welfare to take care of the sick, the elderly and the poor.

Currently, there are many kids who don't go to school for various reasons, all having to do with lack of money: their parents can't afford required new uniforms, shoes and/or books. Another reason is that kids are compelled to work for their parents to eke out a few extra baht per day to survive. Instead of maintaining an aircraft carrier that's non-functional and purchasing two new subs, the government should give more than lip service to seeing that no child is deprived of an education due to poverty.

Ken Albertsen, Chiang Rai