March 25, 2017

Authors Posts by Bertha Henson

Bertha Henson

Bertha Henson
Bertha was formerly Associate Editor of The Straits Times and worked as a journalist in Singapore Press Holdings for 26 years.

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by Bertha Henson

There’s a new game in town – a soccer “unfriendly’’ between two home-grown giants, SingTel and StarHub. So exciting for the rest of us watching from the stands!

So the Media Development Authority (MDA) has finally decided to blow the whistle and ordered SingTel to share its EPL soccer screening rights with StarHub. Read BT and you can practically hear SingTel’s Allen Lew spluttering and foaming at the mouth. The playing field has been tilted again, he said. “It makes StarHub more powerful. They pay nothing.’’

He’s shot a note to the minister, not even waiting for the 14 days leave to appeal the decision.

What are spectators supposed to make of this spectacle? The first reaction would be: Hooray! No need to switch set top boxes to catch a game, since it is going to be aired on both pay-TV stations. No different from the way StarHub had offered cross-carriage of the 64 Euro 2012 matches to the SingNet mio TV platform after acquiring exclusive rights last year. All paid $69.55 to watch the games. Now, StarHub didn’t make a fuss about sharing. So what is SingTel going on about?

The thing is, the MDA decision boils down to whether SingTel had an exclusive deal with the Football Association Premier League on broadcast rights. SingTel said it was non-exclusive and it can’t be helped if StarHub can’t get the football bosses to the negotiating table.

StarHub, on the other hands, thinks some kind of deal was done to keep it away, like the football bosses having to pay a “rebate’’ to SingTel if a second operator got the rights too.

All is speculation.

MDA isn’t going to disclose the terms of the agreement and cite chapter and verse on which parts contravene its cross-carriage rules. Now, has anybody gone to the Football Association yet to get its response?

The question then is what price would consumers have to pay to watch EPL? Currently, mio TV customers pay $34.90 for its sports package. They are safe if their packages go beyond the August kick off date.

As for the rest, Mr Lew was pretty blunt: pay more to watch EPL. Because he cannot “upsell’’ other programmes if people are watching on the StarHub channel.

Does the price for the rights matter? SingTel is said to have paid US$200m to US$250m for the rights, lower than its first foray in 2009 when it wrested the rights from StarHub for some US$400million. That’s much lower.

In any case, it seems SingTel is digging in on basis of principle. It maintains that it did nothing wrong and the MDA decision amounts to some kind of unfair penalty. It might even take the legal route to challenge MDA. Woah!

StarHub is naturally gleeful.

Spectators should keep the cheers down – you don’t know how much you’ll be paying and the way both giants are talking, you’d best hope that the matches will be screened after all!

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by Bertha Henson

Sometimes, a word or two whispered in the right ear will do the trick. Sometimes, the whisper can be as simple as “What’s he doing in a place like that?’’ Depending on the status/standing of the whisperer, the person being whispered to would have to guess at what the whisperer truly meant. An innocuous question? Or one that has deeper meaning?

Seems that Mr Nizam Ismail, a now former director of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), has been the subject of some whispering.  He told The Straits Times that AMP had informed him over the weekend that two ministers had “expressed concern” about some critical views he had put forth online and his participation in the two events. He declined to name the ministers.

He said he was presented with two options. One, if he did not “tone down” his activities, the Government would withdraw funding from AMP. Two, dissociate himself from AMP if he wanted to continue with civil society activities.

Of course, no one in the AMP or the G is going to admit to “political intervention’’ as Mr Nizam has described it. He quit, they said. The retort would be: Did he really have a choice?

Muslim Affairs Minister Yacob Ibrahim gave a roundabout response, or at least, that was how the ST report appeared:

Asked by reporters last night on the sidelines of a dialogue organised by government feedback unit Reach, Dr Yaacob said: “AMP is an important partner. In our discussions with AMP, we have never touched on their internal organisation, how they are being managed.”

(Okay, so he’s saying it doesn’t matter who is doing what in AMP, so long as the work gets done properly. Mr Nizam was head of AMP’s research arm and its former ex-chairman)

He also noted that the association has “written in its Constitution that whoever is involved in AMP must be non-partisan and we assume therefore not involved in politics”.

Some questions:

  1. What’s non-partisan? A card-carrying member of a political party? By extension, this should disqualify AMP members who are members of the ruling parties too. Are there any? Mr Nizam has said he is not a member of any party, nor intending to be one.
  2. What’s getting involved in politics? Seems Mr Nizam’s participation at the Population White Paper protest and a Workers’ Party forum counts. Would it help if he made it clear at those forums that he was speaking in his personal capacity and his views do not represent those of his organisation? Apparently, he did… But this wasn’t enough? Well, Mr Nizam is going for a hattrick; he’s down as a speaker for the May 1 rally at Hong Lim Park. Would he still be speaking? Nothing to prevent him now really….Or he could ask if he could speak at the NTUC-organised May Day rally!
  3. If getting involved in politics – broadly defined – means running afoul of the constitution of an organisation, then too many people will be disqualified and proscribed from speaking up. Or should they only do so at government-sanctioned events, like the Singapore Conversation series.

He said the Government was more concerned with the work they do as they receive public funds.

Dr Yaacob added: “Money which is given by the Government to Malay-Muslim organisations must be for the purpose of voluntary work that will help the community move forward. It is not for the purpose of creating a platform for people to be involved in partisan politics.”

(Okay, the AMP gets funding in the form of a $1m matching grant yearly for five years. Other organisations which get any form of G funding might want to take note, like arts groups. It cannot be that if the G gives money, you can’t be critical of the G? Or does it? A case of biting the hand that feeds you – even if the hand has been slapping you at the same time?)

So did Mr Nizam quit voluntarily or was he pushed?

This is what he himself said in a posting today:

“I received a surprise phone call from Mr Azmoon Ahmad, Chairman AMP on 20 Apr 2013.  He informed me that he received separate phone calls from two Ministers to the effect that they were concerned about (1) my participation as a speaker at the Hong Lim Park protest; (2) my participation as a panelist at a Workers’ Party Youth Wing Youthquake Seminar and (3) my critical leanings on social media. Mr Azmoon had relayed a message that he said he received for me to “take it easy” and refrain from such activities. Otherwise, the Government will withdraw all funding from AMP.  This puts AMP in a difficult situation. Mr Azmoon also painted the alternative that if I were to continue with my civil society activities, he suggested that I “disassociate” myself from AMP.

Mr Nizam also cited instances when he alleged that threats to pull funding was made:

“For instance, State funding of AMP’s programs were cut in the wake of a proposal for a collective community leadership during AMP’s 2nd Convention in 2000. Threats of funding cuts were also made in reaction to a proposal for an independent Community Forum made by AMP during its 3rd Convention in 2012, as that was seen as a threat to the State-sponsored Community Leadership Forum (CLF) – which ironically, was perceived to be set up as a reaction to the Collective Leadership proposal made earlier by AMP.”

At least, Mr Nizam doesn’t need a lawyer – which is what Demon-cratic cartoonist Leslie Chew now needs. Online media said he was held in custody and questioned over the weekend, and was released at 8.45pm on Sunday after posting bail of S$10,000. The police confiscated his handphone, computer and hard disk. He was also asked to surrender his passport to the police at the Cantonment Police complex.

Mr Chew has been warned twice over his cartoon strips, first for scandalizing the judiciary with a cartoon strip that refers to the removal of a judge and second, for running foul of the Sedition Act with a second strip that talks about the Malay community’s fertility rates. He has refused to take them down, nor apologise for them. Crossing the Sedition Act can lead to $5,000 fine or up to three years, or both.

In his defence, Mr Chew pointed to the disclaimer in each of his cartoons which says that the portrayals in them “are purely fictional”. “I also explicitly stated that Demon-cratic Singapore is an entirely imaginary country and is not the Republic of Singapore,” Mr Chew said. He added that most fans know that Demon-cratic Singapore is fictional and “just for laughs”, said Chew.

“Even when there are new readers who thought otherwise, they are usually quickly reminded by other readers that everything on my Facebook page is fictional.”

Hmm. Wonder what sort of defence this is. It’s a silly person who can’t connect his cartoons to Singapore developments. He might be better off suggesting that his cartoons are satirical takes and produce evidence to show that his audience treated them this way.

As if both incidents are not enough to make one wonder about the G’s approach to differing views, then comes an intriguing message from the organisers of that May 1 rally at Hong Lim Park: Foreigners, please do not attend.

The NParks has told organisers to get a police permit because a “Police Permit must be obtained if permanent residents of Singapore are speaking or organising a demonstration, performance or exhibition, and/or if foreigners are speaking or participating in or organising activities at Speakers’ Corner.’’

No foreigner is behind the rally or will any be speaking, the organisers claimed. They didn’t apply for a permit for the first rally in February either. Like the Nizam case of getting “involved in politics’ , just what amounts to “participating in’’ activities at Speakers’ Corner? A curious tourist looking on? Would having a police permit mean that security measures must be taken to ensure that foreigners are screened out? The organisers do not want to apply for one. They should. To see if they get it and whether it comes with strings attached. They should cover their bases.

What to make of all this after all the warning letters shot into the blogosphere in recent times?

A coming confrontation between civil society and the G? The G attempting to impose some order on what it deems as freewheeling, chaotic discourse? Or part of the process of a maturing society, in which both sides are negotiating the rules of engagement?

Hopefully, the last option.

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by Bertha Henson

Does anyone think that the G is getting too trigger-happy shooting off warning letters into the blogosphere? I’ve lost track…

There’s the set that was sent to administrators of Facebook pages which contained comments on the 25-month jail sentence on the Chinese national who went berserk in Changi airport, carjacked a cab and killed a cleaner (contempt of court). Then there’s the Council for Private Education upset over some emails a blogger sent to the media (defamatory). Then a stiff clarification from the Singapore Land Authority to another blogger whom it said got his facts on the Pulau Ubin saga wrong (misleading readers).

Oh! The most recent: the Manpower ministry takes issue with a Yahoo news report on the SMRT bus drivers’ alleged grievances (failed to verify facts). And a filmmaker says she’s likely to hear something from the G on her video of those Chinese SMRT bus drivers (false allegations of police brutality).

The G and its agencies are really on a roll!

What is the message here?

Illustration by Jonathan Tan

Well, at least the G is responding to the blogosphere. (Hear me out, okay?) It’s better to be noticed than to be ignored although this is probably the kind of attention the online bloggers wouldn’t want…But, hey, it shows that there is some kind of official recognition that online commentators have some clout to sway opinions.

It also puts the online community on its toes; restrain your fingers before you shoot off your mouth. Engage mind before mouse. In the Pulau Ubin case, the point the blogger about not compensating the islanders for 20 years is way off the mark. They are tenants, not owners, and have actually been living rent-free. It’s a significant fact. And the SLA probably has a right to feel aggrieved. Of course, the retort could be that the G started the whole thing anyway with that silly clearance notice by the HDB which got everyone suspicious about its intentions.

The more important thing is to come to grips with why people are so angry over some things that they see red and see, yes, just half the picture. That 25-month jail sentence was astounding, for example, even though the judge made clear he took into account the Chinese national’s mental state. Didn’t anyone expect that there would be outrage? And if someone did, wouldn’t it better to make sure that judgment was clear and very, very full? Judges can’t be living in ivory towers. (Oops! Am I not even supposed to say that?)

Contempt of court is a concept that the layman finds difficult to grapple with. Does this mean it’s best not to criticise a sentence at all? When is criticism warranted and will not be construed as contempt? Maybe you can criticise the sentence, but not the judge?

Thing is, should everyone online know everything about what is “on” and what is “not on”? I suppose if people want to take on the role of journalists, they should strive for the same standards as the professionals. Quite tough, when even journalists can get it wrong. Top pointers would be: Get your facts right, verify allegations and get the other side of the story. Oh! And get a good tutorial on libel laws and contempt of court. You might want to add the Official Secrets Act as well.

Although the G is responding to the blogosphere, it seems to be responding only when things don’t go its way. It’s a negative reaction, hardly the engagement that most people would desire. Would the agencies, for example, respond to requests from the blogosphere for more information or clarification? Or would this be too much trouble? Would they enlarge their engagement to more than just members of MSM so more people have a clear view of what’s happening… especially since some people don’t read MSM and rely on Facebook feeds for their news diet!

So what’s next?

The blogger who faces the wrath of the Council for Private Education (CPE) is arguing that the CPE is really a public agency (it’s a statutory board), and so has no locus standi to sue for defamation. It’s seems more a case of who can sue than whether the statements were defamatory. Interesting.

The Real Singapore is gearing up for a showdown. It has refused to apologise for the comments on its FB page regarding the court case and has instead raised questions about who should really be responsible for comments on open Facebook pages.

Good question.

Do administrators have to watch and monitor every single comment? If so, better NOT to have Facebook pages and invite NO comments because one oversight and it’s over for you…I suppose the G’s online watchdogs will say that they will exercise discretion – maybe 100 horrid comments and you’re done for. Or if they are satisfied that there have been “some’’ attempt at moderation, they will turn a blind eye.

Big problem when you don’t know where the line is. Then again, we might not want a line drawn to constrict the independence of the blogosphere…

We live in interesting times indeed.

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by Bertha Henson

This is one of those few Mondays when there is plenty of news in MSM. Go buy every paper, including Zaobao if you can read Chinese. Plenty of exclusives you will miss if you don’t.

Like ST’s interview with the new Singapore Tourism Board chief Lionel Yeo, who wants use the Singapore way of living as a tourist magnet, and his views on the presence of high-flyer types whom the Wall Street Journal talked about.

Like ST’s exclusive on how animal welfare will be incorporated into the character development curriculum in schools.

Like BT’s interview with Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin on how starting salaries have been stagnant for five years, and how a minimum wage policy is within his “tool box’’ and is actually very easy to implement – except the G’s approach is better.

Like TNP’s interview with the mother of the toddler who was burnt because she laid on heating packs at a baby-sitter’s home. More specifically, buy it for TNP’s pictures of the poor girl’s burnt back.

Like Zaobao’s coverage of the national conversation conducted among the Chinese speaking, who want the use of more dialects in the media, and how the repeated refrain that Singapore is small and vulnerable is one of the many nation-building myths which should be slaughtered.

All good newspapers must come with job opportunities, so here’s a public service announcement in case you missed the $44million revamp of Residents’ Committee story: There’s a new job designation in town – RC manager. TODAY reported that the RC and Neighbourhood Committee manager scheme was started by the People’s Association to help grassroots leaders in their efforts to work towards a target of reaching out to one in two residents by 2015. Currently, there are over 400 RC managers — aged between 20 and 50 years old — islandwide. Given that there are 572 RCs, there’s scope for more managers. They will be running grassroots activities in the RCs full-time, so you can expect your RC centre to be open most of the time, instead of for the enjoyment of a few stalwarts.

Sounds fun to be an RC manager. The centres will be bigger, spruced up and can have programmes that run along themes like caring for senior citizens, promoting art etc. The RCs will have more “autonomy’’, although it is not quite clear what sort of restrictions had been imposed on them in the past. Maybe it is a question of being unable to do things because of a lack of funds….

Now, it seems the PA wants the RCs to act like “mini’’ Community Centres/Clubs.

Doubtless, just as is the case for community centres, critics will start asking if this is the PA’s move to strengthen the grassroots base of the G. Those questions about who will be the “advisor’’ to these RCs will come up again. One historical bit about RCs – they were viewed as feedback channels to the G, more of a political tool than a bonding tool. In the early days of its formation, residents chafed at the idea of joining because it looked like a version of the People’s Action Party branch, despite the G’s protestations to the contrary.

But residents of all political stripes appeared to have come on board going by the increased membership. Perhaps this is a sign that a neighbourhood identity is blossoming.

ST quoted Dr Reuben Wong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore as saying that RCs’ new autonomy was limited to more “peripheral” issues as their grassroots adviser is still the People’s Action Party candidate for the ward. “If the PA wants to make itself more relevant, it should look into the issue of the adviser.”

Now what would the opposition parties say?

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by Bertha Henson

As at 11am, in less than 24 hours, the gay couple who started the constitutional challenge on the validity of Section 377A has already raised US$60,000 for their cause. Seems they are not taking their recent court defeat to get the section repealed lying down and are appealing to higher authority. It says much that what was an initial target of US$50,000 to be achieved within a two-month time frame was reached in such a short time, with at last one person contributing $5,000 and another 11 doling out $1,000 as of 10am.

Those helping to raise the funds said that the campaign will NOT end at the US$50,000 mark. The total amount of legal and court fees that need to be raised is actually US$150,000 (over both High Court and court of appeal phases).

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by Bertha Henson

ST carried a splendid interview with DPM Tharman Shamugaratnam today.

Here are some key points: He said that no, we should not use reserves, but the G is willing to see if more of the income generated by the reserves can be used to fund social policies. Right now, that’s capped at half of income.

Also, he said that there has been no U-turn on foreign worker policy, but it’s not going to be tightened further too. It will be capped at one-third of workforce.

What’s more interesting than the newspoints is how he strove to build new concepts around all themes. Like meritocracy.

He said: “We’ve got to be a broader meritocracy recognising different strengths and different individuals, but also a continuous meritocracy where it doesn’t matter so much what happened when you’re in Sec 4 or JC 2 or when you finish your polytechnic or ITE (course), but what happens after that.”

“We are a meritocracy that’s still a bit too much defined by what happened in your school years or your post-secondary years.”

Mr Tharman, a former education minister, observed that the education system has created two groups of students.

One group know their strengths, but are not “sufficiently aware of their weaknesses, and not sufficiently aware of the strengths of others”.

The other group have not done as well in school and are “very aware of what they didn’t achieve, but not enough of them have discovered their strengths”.

That is true.

An academic caste system appears to have developed over the years. This is based on whether you come from the right schools and therefore, mix with the right people. It is a system that is being and will be perpetuated by the way alumni have priority in enrolling their children in those right schools.

In the National Conversation on education, this “academic caste” is something to think about even as we strive to eliminate the stress from the examination system and work towards a more holistic view of what sort of students we want to build. According to ST, some participants had asked that even brand name schools offer all academic courses, to break down social barriers and encourage mixing. It’s something to consider.

It is also clear that the smart ones know they are smart and this leads to a sense of entitlement: that better grades and coming from the best schools is something that others should respect and reward – for as long as possible. Perhaps, this is why a Robert Half survey reported today talked about the Gen Y worker who wants everything “now”.

Another concept Mr Tharman raised was about the role of the People’s Action Party Government – that it should be dominant but not dominating. Sounds good.  But it takes two hands to clap. Even if the G decides to reduce its presence in some sectors, you can bet that some people will still insist that it eliminates all ills and be responsible for all aspects of life here.

What’s even more interesting is what he said about the political system.

He said that part of a healthy political system is to have a “decent opposition in Parliament and outside”. Pretty odd for a member of the ruling party to say something like this. He will be in a pickle if he was asked to define “decent presence”. A decent presence that will force the PAP to be just dominant, but not dominating?

He also said that the trend towards having smaller GRCs can be “moved a little further” in the same direction. So three-member GRCs or more single-seat wards? Seems this can be viewed two ways: the PAP G no longer thinks that big GRCs will benefit its electoral chances (witness Aljunied GRC) and might well be a bane. Or is it a way to build a decent opposition presence in Parliament? Can’t be.

Looks like the PAP has decided to bite the bullet and acknowledge that it can’t have all the seats in Parliament and wants to seek some kind of accommodation with its critics.

In fact, DPM Tharman’s comments on social media are astoundingly accommodating: “It is a plus that you have social media because a lot more people are involved in commenting and thinking about issues but it’s got to evolve further, so that it matures and you’ve got a more even-handed disposition. We also have to evolve to a situation where absurd or speculative claims do not propagate so easily and get bought into and circulated so breezily, even by the intelligentsia. The social media can be critical of Government and probably always will be. It’s a useful check. But people have to be a lot more sceptical about what’s put out there as well.”

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by Bertha Henson

Now we know exactly who is eyeing that 4-hectare piece of land in Pasir Ris that residents are hankering to preserve. It is for the Overseas Family School, which will have to move from its Paterson Road premises by 2015. For nine months, the G has been locking horns with residents who want to preserve the forested area. Over that time, the management of the school must be anxiously looking at the fracas because it will mean so little time for construction. As for an alternative site, it appears that there are very few places that can house a school with more than 3,000 students.

This is an interesting case because as one property expert was reported saying in Today,  it was “a little unusual for the Government to put off the development of a land parcel if there is a real need for a new development”. If the residents got their way, then will a precedent be set? One can imagine developers and other investors shaking their heads over the G’s change of heart – all because of some tree huggers and bird watchers! He said: “If word gets out that the authorities will delay (the development of a plot of land) just because of some special interest groups, where does this leave us?”

Hmm. It will leave us with a reminder that there is a democratic process in Singapore and that the people who live here want a say in what happens to their surroundings. TODAY had an interesting commentary which tries to explain this angst we have about our neighbourhood, especially areas we think are worth preserving as part of our heritage. This has surfaced most recently over the fate of Pulau Ubin and its residents.

Said the commentary: “The fate of the island is held in suspension, contingent on the country’s housing needs, and this uncertainty has a long-term profound impact on Singaporeans’ sense of belonging and psyche.

“The lesson here is not that spaces must be sacrificed for the country’s housing needs but that spaces, regardless of natural or heritage worth, are transient in Singapore and it is better not to get too attached to them.’’

The island has been held in bureaucratic limbo over the years and while exhortations that it will be kept “rustic’’ have been made, they just do not go far enough as a stamp of permanence.

“One cannot expect citizens to sink roots into the land or be called to defend it without expecting them to be angry, even confrontational, when spaces like Pulau Ubin and Bukit Brown are vulnerable,’’ the commentary said.

“It is thus important for civil servants and civil society activists alike to understand that the bridges of communication must always be kept open in order for dialogue to take place. Without this dialogue, both parties will become more entrenched in their positions and less willing to compromise.’’

Nobody has a monopoly over the definition of the national interest. The old norm that economic development must over-ride all other considerations is increasingly being questioned now that the country has passed the survival stage. Questions of identity and belonging loom large.

The Bukit Brown, Pulau Ubin and Pasir Ris examples makes official decision-making “messier’’ for sure, and will make bureaucrats pause the next time they see a “development’’ opportunity in a piece of green space. The stakeholders, that is, the people who live here, want to have a say. Both sides will have to talk it out and decide together what would be in their best interest.

In the case of the Pasir Ris greenbelt, one side might have to give way or some compromise be sought.

The greenbelt lobby is digging in its heels. Said a spokesman: “We have also made it categorically clear that there are no justifiable grounds for the authorities to clear the Pasir Ris greenbelt at all for whatever reason, whether it is to build an international school or for that matter any other urban development like private condominiums, which are sheer commercial profit-driven enterprises.”

How to talk like that?

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by Bertha Henson

MP Janil Puthucheary should be pleased with himself – his proposal for free train rides have come true. And it’s going to cost us $10million. Sigh.

Now the question is: how do we measure the outcome? Transport Minister Lui projected that free rides could move another 10 to 20 per cent of commuters away from the peak period. This translates to between 10,000 and 20,000 train users. One assumes then that if this is achieved in a year’s time, then the free rides programme will be terminated? And commuters will have to start paying again? Or will it be continued because it is successful?

SIM University transport expert Park Byung Joon was reported in TODAY saying: “Since it is spending taxpayers’ money, the Government must have an option to stop (it) if the scheme is not achieving intended objectives.”

We have been quite liberal with taxpayers’ money, whether to subsidise wage raises or to achieve other social, economic outcomes. Even if there is an end point or time-frame, it’s usually tough to stop what’s being handed out free. People get used to it. That GST rebate, for example, looks like one of those things. Remember the worry that employers will get too used to the Wage Credit Scheme which is meant to be temporary measure?

Here’s what TODAY reported:

On whether the trial is a judicious use of taxpayers’ money, Mr Lui noted that, in general, public transport is largely funded by the same source because of the massive investments on infrastructure.

He pointed out that schemes that are funded by the operators — such as concessionary travel for certain groups — are cross-subsidised by other commuters. Adding that the free travel trial “may well be extended”, Mr Lui reiterated that the Government “will fund this scheme entirely so that commuters can be assured that whatever it is that they do or not do, it is not going to affect their fares”.

The thing is,  TODAY reported that SMRT has set aside $10 million (same amount as the G) since October 2011 to incentivise commuters to change their travel patterns. As of February, about 40 per cent of the money has been used and an SMRT officer said the rest will now go into “supporting” the free ride scheme.  So Government money will work where company money cannot? The SMRT must think it makes commercial sense to spread out the load, and here is the G giving it a helping hand!

Well, if the free rides work to get commuters out of bed early and ease the train load, well and good. But we had better think hard about having to subsidise this forever. The benefits had better outweigh the cost, in more ways than just spreading out commuter traffic.

Anyway, those polled by ST seem to prefer their sleep more than getting what’s free. ST reported that transport analyst Graham Currie, who studied the effectiveness of a similar free travel scheme in Melbourne was not surprised.

He was reported saying that the incentives reduced peak- hour traffic in the Australian state by only 2 per cent. The report didn’t say how much the state gave out in incentives, but Mr Currie said the effort was “worthwhile” as the state could hold off on investing A$100 million (S$128 million) to improve the train system.

To get commuters out of bed earlier, however, might require other changes and even if successful, might lead to other effects that haven’t been factored in.

Starting work early, for example, shouldn’t mean ending at the same time as usual (or should we be looking at easing evening peak hours?) It is good that the G will lead the way in changing working culture here to foster an “early start, early end’’ .

SIM’s Dr Park also noted the move  could possibly lead to more crowded feeder buses — with workers and students trying to get on the buses during the same time belt. It will be tragic if people sacrificed their sleep only to find that they can’t get to the train station on time!

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by Bertha Henson

She’s back! In the news, not in Singapore. Remember the foul-mouthed Amy Cheong who complained about Malay void deck weddings being noisy and cheap and made some cheap shots about the community’s divorce rates? We got all kan cheong over her.

To reprise, she was sacked from her job at the National Trades Union Congress, flamed, had a police report made against her – and left the country for her home in Perth. She’s actually Australian, a Singapore PR.

She never really took back her words, and frankly thought it was much ado about nothing – she was stressed from work and was bothered with the noise. Nothing to do with race whatsoever. She vented on Facebook – and it went viral.

Now, the police has closed its investigations and “administered a stern warning” under Section 298A (b) of the Penal Code, Chapter 224, reported ST in what appears to be a scoop. But rather unhelpfully, ST didn’t say what this particular section of the Penal Code refers to.

So, here it is:
“Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony. Whoever –
(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, knowingly promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion or race, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious or racial groups; or
(b) commits any act which he knows is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious or racial groups and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years, or with fine, or with both.”

Looks like Amy Cheong got off lightly. Seems the G seems to think it was a case of foot-in-mouth disease than any attempt to disturb the peace.
Reading her interview with ST is pretty déjà vu. She had spoken to TNP in the past in which she clearly showed she didn’t think her words were racist.

So many months later, she now says “she wants to put the episode behind her’’. What’s strange is her complaint about living and working in Singapore. She found herself clocking long hours and striving hard to prove and support herself here, she said: “This episode has helped me put things in perspective. I learnt to appreciate life a bit more than just working. I think everything happens for a reason.”

Rather odd. Is she saying something coded about her ex-employer the National Trades Union Congress where she worked in its membership section? The same employer who sacked her? After all, she did say she was tired after work and hence, her racist rant on FB.

And it surely is odd to say that the “episode” has made her think about life being more than just about work. One would have expected her to say, after going through the vitriol that she did, something like this: “This episode has helped me put things in perspective. I learnt to appreciate life in a multi-racial country and how I shouldn’t shoot off my mouth and hurt others every time I’m unhappy.”

Oh Amy…how hard can it be for you to say that?

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It’s been a busy political weekend. Hands have been shaken. Fliers distributed. Speeches made. Now, what can anyone make of this? Has there been a “joining of issues’’? Are there new promises/pledges? Is this a national or a local election?

It’s local.

That’s because every candidate is talking about making Punggol East a better place to live in. So, more childcare places, more bus services, one more coffeeshop, quicker completion of Rivervale Plaza. PAP’s Koh Poh Koon has also thrown in facilities for the elderly and a covered linkway. You would think those 30,000 voters are living in slums the way physical upgrading is being promised…

If the constituents really want those things, I guess they should vote for the person whose party is in power. Really. Let’s be frank. It’s the PAP which can get stuff done faster, simply because it holds the reins on everything and has the pushing power. Not to mention a grassroots network which remains intact whichever party represents the ward. This is the problem – or advantage – of BIG government.

The opposition has offered some carrots too, along the same lines as the PAP. But you know what? Quite a lot would depend on whether the G machinery would crank along with their wish list.

On the local front, what REALLY can the opposition promise? I suppose it will have to do with town council operations then. The Workers’ Party can at least say that it has the experience. So far, the Reform Party and SDA seems to be offering a portion of their MP allowance! But what can an opposition-run town council do that a PAP-run town council can’t or won’t? How different is the WP town council from the PAP town council – besides being behind in the collection of arrears? By the way, this “defect’’ can be viewed as being compassionate/kind or tardy/inefficient. I am not even touching AIM – in fact, no one is!

I suppose it’s tough now to assess how the PAP runs the Punggol East ward per se, since the town council covers a far bigger area than just Punggol East. But it would be good to know that the opposition has looked over its books and can offer some concrete suggestions knowing what sort of money or manpower the town council has.

Hmm…lower service and conservancy fees? More frequent cleaning of open spaces? More hiring of those within the constituency? Price checks on products/food being sold in the area? A subsidy for the elderly who cannot afford basic products? Tie-ups with NGOs and charities? Because the opposition is by definition not the Government, it should have on its side a whole bunch of supporting characters/organisations who are willing to lend a hand on the local front. I haven’t heard of any.

As an aside, this whole “who will harder for you’’ is getting quite funny. So the PAP wants the vote so the WP will work harder; and vice versa. Then there is the “we will work hard for you anyway, regardless of…’’ sort of campaign theme. I have got to say that on this “work harder’’ front, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat should know that you always need competition to spur you to do better. Ask any student.

Likewise, PM Lee Hsien Loong speaking about the by-election effect, talks about how constituents shouldn’t have this idea that they would have BOTH the PAP and an opposition politician working the ward if they went for the opposition. I suppose that was one of the original attractions of the by-election effect.

But I doubt that voters are thinking in those terms – of having two nannies. It’s more of having their cake and eating it – PAP in power, opposition in Parliament. Now, whether those 30,000 voters feel this way would depend on whether they think their ward would suffer “physically’’ if they went for the opposition. I haven’t heard any threats yet from the PAP about withdrawing services (Let me reiterate, I am not talking about AIM here)

Therefore, it’s also national.

And it’s getting pretty strange. You can see how far the Workers’ Party have come from the JBJ days. The Reform Party, helmed by JBJ’s son, is actually the old Workers’ Party. You have Low Thia Khiang practically speaking on the PAP Government’s behalf – exhorting the people to give the G time for policies to change and bear fruit, even as the WP keeps a close watch on it. I gather die-hard opposition supporters aren’t too happy with it. What WP thinks is a moderate, conciliatory stand is being taken as, well, “PAP lite’’.

Again, as I said in an earlier post, I wish the opposition would give its parliamentary record to the people. I am not even asking for a restatement of policy positions, but what it did in its “watcher’’ role. We need to know if they are effective watchdogs or just there to sit pretty. We’re not forgetting those former Singapore Democratic Party MPs of the past, who said nary a word and if they did, didn’t make much sense.

Anyway, the G has been rolling out stuff pretty quickly. Like an expanded rail network for which it hasn’t done any engineering studies – and therefore cannot tell you what it will cost. Then so many flats are coming up to woo people who want to own one plus cooling measures that no one is sure will work or not.

In the meantime, things are breaking down – the NEL stoppage on Nomination Day, the M1 cellphone system conking out… Not the G’s fault, but contributing to a certain sourness on the ground. Plus, the price of fish maw and abalone is ridiculous! How to celebrate Chinese New Year like that?

Anyway, Polling Day is Jan 26.

A lot can happen between now and then.