April 26, 2017

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Authors Posts by Daniel Yap

Daniel Yap

Daniel Yap
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Daniel has spent most of his career working in media agencies and enjoys the challenge of running a publication, and of building a better tomorrow. He can be reached at daniel@themiddleground.sg

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by Daniel Yap

THE former Football Association of Singapore (FAS) council is rather powerless, to hear it told.

Former council members on team Lim Kia Tong (LKT) have come forward yesterday (Apr 24) to say that they had been kept in the dark about the $500,000 donation from Mr Bill Ng’s Tiong Bahru Football Club (FC) to the regional Asean Football Federation (AFF), which had sparked an outcry in the football fraternity. It even led to a raid on three football clubs and the FAS offices (read more here). Mr Lim and Mr Ng are currently in the contest for the FAS presidency. Elections are on April 29.

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Mr Lim Kia Tong, former FAS vice president, said the council did not have access to the financial books of FAS, “Myself and the other council members did not know about how and who triggered this idea of sponsorship to AFF. This is a fact. There was no discussion. It was never raised at council meeting or at exco meeting.”

Mr Lim was also the provisional council president of the FAS from Nov 16 last year to Mar 31 this year. The donation was made in a few tranches between Dec 2014 and Sep 2015 when Mr Zainudin was the president.

No power over finances?

Former FAS vice president Bernard Tan said that the role and powers of the council, apart from the president, were limited. “The council is an advisory body. The President is conferred significant powers; he has sizeable authority.”

Mr S. Thavaneson, also a former council member and Chairman of Balestier Khalsa Football Club, said that independent auditors who had looked through the FAS books for that financial year did not flag anything suspicious about the transactions.

“Donations as such are extremely rare,” said Mr Tan. “FAS was a middleman in this transaction, also rare. But should it have been flagged to the council? Yes, on hindsight. Who knew? At least three individuals: Mr Ng, Zai, Winston.” Mr Tan was referring to Mr Bill Ng, former FAS President Zainudin Nordin and FAS general secretary Winston Lee. Mr Tan said that there is no policy at FAS for handling donations.

“But financial procedures were followed,” he said, adding that there was a clear need for a donation policy at FAS with better due diligence.

The FAS Constitution, however, seems to say that the council should have been consulted. The council has final authority over the finances of the FAS, and among other things, is empowered “to incur and authorise the expenditure of the funds of FAS for approved purposes and to designate signatories for the operation of the FAS’ banking accounts”.

And as for the rare occurrence of a large donation, and in the absence of a donation policy, the constitution says that the council has the authority “to decide upon any matter which has not been provided for in the Constitution”. Thus, wouldn’t it be even more important to inform the council of a rare and large donation that was part of a rare and possibly controversial arrangement to send money to the AFF?

So far from being merely advisory, the council should have had power and should have been told of such a rare and significant donation or arrangement. Were they stripped of their ability to exercise their constitutional power because pertinent information was deliberately withheld? Was it so easy to emasculate the council?

“Given the circumstances, said Mr Tan, “it’s hard for us to take responsibility for something we didn’t know about.” He said that the council “was very surprised” to find out about the transaction and had been “totally unaware” of it.

No power over jackpot operations

Mr Tan also said that the FAS only has oversight of the clubs in relation to their participation in football. S. league clubs receive annual funding from FAS and need to submit monthly accounts. Tiong Bahru FC, however, is not a S. League club.

Tiong Bahru FC is registered with the Registry of Societies, and their jackpot room operations are issued and governed by the Police Licensing Unit, which the FAS has no say in. Any society that is not a charity can apply to have a jackpot room if it meets certain criteria, including having at least 500 voting members and operate at least two other recreational facilities at the clubhouse.

At these “members only” clubs, membership is curiously easy to obtain. Several clubs offer free memberships or levy token membership fees. Applications for memberships are approved quickly, even on the spot.

The FAS does not even have the power to get non-playing football clubs that have fallen into debt to cease jackpot operations – all it can do is ask them to rejoin the league once they have cleared their debt. But if elected, Team LKT said that it wants to make sure that money generated from gambling “should 100 per cent” be ploughed back into local football.

But with no authority over how such money is spent, the most the FAS can do is boot out clubs that it considers to be flouting this principle, which does not stop the clubs from continuing their jackpot operations. A case in point is Sinchi FC, which left the S. League after the 2005 season, ceased to be an FAS affiliate, but continues to run jackpot operations to this day.

It is all FAS can do to keep its own house untarnished by claims of misspent gambling gains.

“Clean up the image of soccer”

Mr Bernard Tan said that what is important now, if they win the election, is to work to heal football, even with those who vote against them. He said, “The image of the game has been tarnished. Substantial damage has been done. Whoever is elected has to clean up the image of soccer.”

He said that a good council trades on integrity, and that they formed their slate to make sure that status, privileges, or deriving a livelihood from the FAS was not the reason for serving. Mr Thavaneson said that he was willing to open Balestier Khalsa’s books for public scrutiny.

When asked about how he felt about his team’s chances of getting elected, Mr Tan said, “No matter what we feel, you always want to behave like you got to fight for it. We want to feel like the underdog.”

 

Featured image by Daniel Yap.

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by Daniel Yap

AFTER his shock-inducing announcement that HDB owners should not expect to get their flats redeveloped at the end of their 99-year lease, which means the value of a 99-year-old flat is practically zero, Minister for National Development, Lawrence Wong is now saying that HDB flats are “a good store of asset value”.

It seems to do little to solve the problems that owners (leaseholders, really) of end-stage leases are facing – possible homelessness or having to shell out tons of money for stuff they wrongly assumed they’d get for free. And those who panicked at the initial reminder that a 99-year lease only really lasts for 99 years will be wondering – what does Mr Wong mean to say now?

Is he trying to calm down stunned flat buyers who thought that the value of their home was a sure thing?


HDB flats are “a good store of asset value so long as you plan ahead and make prudent housing decisions”.

Ah, but the good minister did include a caveat, although he didn’t explain it. His whole phrase is that HDB flats are “a good store of asset value so long as you plan ahead and make prudent housing decisions”. What decisions exactly? What’s the key to unlocking all of this asset goodness, if indeed there is any to be unlocked?

There are two ways of viewing something as an “asset”. The first is that an asset is something you can use to pay off liabilities, for example loans. That’s why you can’t (and shouldn’t be able to) take a housing loan for more than your house is worth. That’s also why banks are not happy at all when you miss a mortgage payment. It means that the value of the money you owe in the loan gets dangerously closer to the money they can get if they repossess and sell off your house, should it come to that.

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The thing about assets is that for every upside, there is a downside. Inflation eats away at the value of cash, property, everything. Markets go up and down, and you cannot guarantee that you will exit in the black. And some assets depreciate, like HDB flats, which run down to zero after 99 years. The ownership of any asset bears some degree of risk.

You just have to make sure that the risks are smaller than the returns.

There’s a second way to look at something as an asset. It is a more “business” approach, where something that is an “asset” is supposed to generate income. Like a factory building or a machine. It can also be something that generates income over a longer period of time (or which can be liquidated for capital gains), like Singapore Government bonds, or stocks.

So, what Mr Wong may be saying is either a) buy and sell and finance your HDB flat in a way that makes your returns greater than your risks or b) rent it out for income (as in rent it out not to cover mortgage payments, but at a price that is higher than depreciation and the costs of rental – agents, repairs, fees).

Taking advantage of renting out for income is straightforward – you get permission to rent out and then you pay money (either your own costs or you hire an agent) to put your property on the market and maintain it.

Taking advantage of buying, selling and financing is also simple (but not necessarily easy). All you need to do is recognise that the market is irrational. If you told any accountant that asset X would last for 100 years and cost $100,000, they would depreciate it (say on a straight-line basis) at $10,000 a year. Or maybe accelerate the depreciation in the first few years.

The money you spent on renovations too should be depreciated (including original fittings), say over 15 years, which is when you may need to renovate again. This is how we do cars – we know that a COE lasts for 10 years and there’s a PARF rebate and a “scrap” value, so every year the value of a car goes down by a certain amount.

Not so for HDB flats. Market values actually rise over time even as the life-span of the asset falls. It may be some kind of hyperbolic discounting (read about how it makes you stupid in our linked story) or people are just plain crazy. But take advantage of this! Buy a BTO flat that is much larger than you actually need, rent out a room and then when the five-year minimum occupation period is up, sell the whole thing and downgrade to a newer, prudent sized unit. Or just sell the older unit and buy a same-sized newer unit every 10 years or so, before people start to get jittery about the HDB flat you’re selling having only 60 or 70 years left on its lease. It should still fetch about the same price. Because people are crazy.

Eventually, when it’s just you and maybe someone else living in your home, you can downgrade further to use your asset (the market value of your HDB flat) to pay for your liabilities (daily expenses, travel, etc), if you’ve preserved it well. If you’re retired, a chunk of that money is likely to go into your CPF, because the housing loan goes back in, with interest (and then gets paid out via CPF Life).

But no matter what age you do it at, the bottom line is this – let it go. If you never sell your depreciating asset, you’ll never get any cash out of it at all. And the “prudent housing decision” you need to make is to take advantage of people who will shell out as much for a 30-year-old flat as a 10-year-old one (especially when the renovation looks fancy).

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Daniel Yap

I CAN feel the massive ship turning ever so slightly. A raft of changes to the education system signals a shift in the balance, and even a cynic cannot help but wonder how far it will go.

The Polytechnics’ Early Admissions Exercise (EAE), which weighs student interest and aptitude in addition to grades, will now admit up to 15 per cent of the cohort, up from 12.5 per cent last year and 2.5 per cent the year before. The Institutes of Technical Education will also be admitting 15 per cent of the next cohort on these terms.

And then NUS, NTU and SMU will increase the proportion of discretionary admissions from 10 to 15 per cent. It’s the G’s realisation that the best lawyers and engineers aren’t only the ones with straight As. It’s an awakening to the fact that some have been “gaming” the system with academic hothousing, and that students with a headful of knowledge may be pursuing courses of study and careers that fail to light a fire in their hearts.

And then there’s the Skillsfuture Earn and Learn programme, which is as close a programme to an apprenticeship that Singapore has right now. It covers 23 sectors, and the number of takers this year is expected to double to 1,000 which is still only a fraction of the student cohort. But its key takeaway is that the best way to learn a job is by doing it – something that the tertiary education system in Singapore has previously tried to do too much of from within the classroom.

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The civil service has done away with the division system that puts a false ceiling on those without academic qualifications. Teachers and those in the uniformed services now have unified career paths for polytechnic and university graduates.

What more is to come? The Straits Times recently published an op-ed calling for 100 per cent aptitude-based admissions to universities – will Singapore go the distance? Will we be able to push deeper “apprenticeships”, whatever form they may take? Can we break down the walls between work and training into one seamless system of organic but structured self-improvement?

Can we do away with the current “scholarship” system that all but guarantees career paths (and sometimes goes out of the way to ensure the paths are followed) and find another way to develop and attract top talent?

But even in the midst of change, there are fears that the tide is against us. The greatest risk is that parents, employers, students and even workers themselves have ingrained mindsets that will not change. But a ship is made to cut through the waves and push against the forces of nature whereas our port of call will not come to us by itself.

There is hope for this skills-and-aptitude-favouring trend to accelerate if Singaporeans get on board. For one, there has been very little public pushback against these changes. Criticisms about this trend are often a product of a lack of faith in the ability to change rather than unhappiness with the proposed changes.

The majority of Singaporeans seem to, jadedly, acknowledge that all these are good changes, but they think like passengers rather than sailors – unsure of what their role is in helping to move the ship towards their too-distant destination.

When we shrug and keep our heads down, we miss out on the changing view. Parents miss out on their key role in helping their children navigate their education and career options based on their strengths and interests so that their children will be able to make informed choices. If you’ve already decided from the day of his or her birth that your child shall be a doctor/lawyer/banker, then you will be neglecting the most precious parts of your child’s personality.

Pushing your child to get the best grades they can is important, but so is helping them to discover their strengths, make a positive impact in society and find heartfelt satisfaction in life.

Students must be going to school with the long-term view that one day, all these studying will end and the transition to working life is going to be a question of skills and applied knowledge – rather than a test of grades. They need to learn to chart their own career path and understand how to continuously work on walking down that path.

Parents, as today’s workers, need to show their children that they too are constantly learning on the job and outside of it, and that learning is fulfilling and is part of a deliberate plan to better oneself.

The ship of education, of work, of learning, is turning, and everyone on board will inevitably turn too. But how fast we turn and how quickly we move depends on how many of us are sailors, and how many of us are merely passengers.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Daniel Yap

WAS Amos Yee the victim of political persecution? That was the core question that the US Immigration Court, presided over by Judge Samuel Cole, tried to answer in the youth’s application for political asylum, and it was a point that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) failed to address with its response on Saturday (Mar 25).

It was not a question of whether what he did was legal in Singapore (it was not), or whether he was a seditious, hate-speech-spewing pain-in-the-arse and a drag on society. MHA’s statement tried to argue that the US and Singapore have different standards of what speech is legal, which doesn’t really do anything to rebut the core arguments at the US court.

Granted, MHA is not arguing a case before a judge – the US court case was between Amos Yee (who wants asylum) and the US Department of Homeland Security (that doesn’t want to give asylum). What about MHA? It appears to be simply broadcasting a message to try and throw shade at the US Immigration Court’s decision.

To borrow a phrase:

It is the prerogative of MHA to try and throw shade at another country’s judiciary. There are many more such people, around the world, who deliberately try and throw shade at another country’s judiciary, and who may be prosecuted. Some of them, will no doubt take note of MHA’s approach, and consider trying to throw shade at another country’s judiciary.

So what did MHA fail to address? We see how they measure up against the judgement (references to “Yew” are actually to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew).

“First, the video ‘Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead’… was scathing in its criticism of not just Yew but of the Singapore regime in general… The video contained harsh criticism of Yew and the Singapore government.”

 

“Second, religion was only tangential to the video. The video is almost entirely about Yew and Singapore, and its discussions of religion were only used to make a point about Yee’s dismal opinion of Yew.” 

The US court was satisfied that the primary purpose of the video was to criticise Mr Lee, the Singapore Government and Singapore. This would then classify Yee’s action as a political one. The MHA statement doesn’t even mention anything about Yee’s political content and activity, which is odd since Yee is applying for political asylum.

“The public response to the video was entirely about its criticism of Yew, not about its offense to religion.”

The witnesses called on by Yee’s lawyers in the US case testified that the primary outcry against the video was because it criticised Mr Lee and was disrespectful towards him, not chiefly because it wounded religious feelings or because it was obscene. This testimony went unanswered by the Department of Homeland Security, and was not addressed by the MHA statement either. If there was a case for the public seeing it as more of an anti-Christian message than an anti-Lee Kuan Yew message, MHA should have brought it up.

“The evidence presented showed that Yee’s prison sentence was unusually long and harsh, especially for a young offender… the terms of Yee’s pre-trial release prohibited him from posting to social media. These restrictions were also highly unusual and restrictive and served the main purpose to silence Yee’s criticism of the government.”

The court hearing focused on Yee’s first prosecution, for which, in July 2015, he served a four-week sentence (although by that point Yee had already spent 55 days in custody). He was 16 at the time of his conviction and it is typical for offenders of that age to get sentences that do not include jail, especially for first-time offences and non-violent crimes. The US court judgement says that Yee was the youngest inmate in the prison during his incarceration.

His bail included the unusual condition that he not post or comment online while the case was ongoing, and in May 2015, his lawyers appealed against the ban, calling it “too broad and disproportionate”. MHA did not dispute any of these findings, choosing instead to say that “he was represented by counsel in both the 2015 and 2016 proceedings” although it is not clear if that is meant to rebut any of the points being made by the US judge.

“Other people who made disparaging comments about religions but who were not similarly critical of the Singapore regime avoided prosecution. These include Calvin Cheng and Jason Neo… Both made comments critical of Islam, equating Muslims with terrorists.  Neither was charged.” 

 

“Regarding the obscenity charge related to the line drawing, many more-explicit pictures are available to the Singapore public and do not result in prosecutions.”

MHA’s statement said that “anyone who engages in hate speech… will be arrested and charged.” Yee’s US counsel was able to convince the judge that hate speech laws in Singapore are not uniformly applied, and in Yee’s case were a pretext for political persecution.

Likewise for the charge of obscenity. The key difference between Yee’s obscenity and the plethora of other obscene material, the court noted, was that this line drawing had Mr Lee’s face superimposed on it.

The country condition reports and expert and lay witness testimony all describe that this is the modus operandi for the Singapore regime – critics of the government are silenced by civil suit for defamation or criminal prosecutions.”

The court continued: “Though Yee’s prosecutions may have been legal under Singapore law, they clearly served a ‘nefarious purpose,’ namely, to stifle political dissent… The political persecution was a criminal persecution by the Singapore Government and was therefore inflicted by the government”.

To this, MHA simply says that “the US Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee’s asylum application, on the basis that Yee had been legitimately prosecuted.”

Oddly, enough, MHA’s statement harping on the “legitimacy” of Yee’s prosecution may end up reinforcing the judgement given by the US court.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Daniel Yap

WHEN the G’s feedback unit Reach conducted a random, demographically-weighted phone survey of 1,111 Singaporeans over 20 to ask about public support for budget measures, it found that the 30 per cent water price hike was, unsurprisingly, unpopular.

The 52 per cent overall support level for the budget is the lowest by far since Reach started polling in 2010. The next most unpopular budget was in 2011 at 60 per cent, while the post-GE budget of 2012 garnered 93 per cent support.

But what is most intriguing is the serious gap between the support level for the overall budget and the 58 to 80 per cent support for individual measures (sans water price hike) polled. What gives? Did the water issue contribute so significantly towards the overall lack of support for the budget? Or is there something else out of whack?

Other highlights from the Reach press release were unusual as well. Questions asked seemed to try and measure agreement with statements of cause-and-effect rather than polling for support levels.

For example, the question “The enhancements to the Adapt & Grow initiative and other training support under the SkillsFuture initiative will help create better employment opportunities for Singaporeans” does not actually asks respondents whether they agree with the policy – only whether they agree with the stated effect.

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Seven out of the nine questions in the survey were of this nature, with the exceptions being “Overall, I support the initiatives announced in the Budget” (52 per cent agree) and “It is reasonable to increase water prices to fund the higher costs of water production and to encourage water conservation” (32 per cent agree).

That probably accounts for the vast difference between the overall support and the apparently positive results for individual policies. In other words, people agree that the policy will have the stated effect, but probably disagree that the policy should exist.

Reach surveys face problems as indicators of real ground sentiments. Academic Derek da Cunha said in a Facebook post that “public opinion polls conducted in Singapore by a government or government-affiliated agency are not worth much, if anything.” He said that a high percentage of “neutral” answers was an indication that respondents were fearful of articulating their real thoughts about G policies to someone who had identified as a representative of the G.

“Neutral” answers to questions asked ranged from 15 per cent to 35 per cent.

Policymakers, the G and the public will probably want to read the Reach poll results with a sceptical eye, and Reach will need to look for better ways to conduct its polls if it really wants to know what Singaporeans are really thinking.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Daniel Yap

THE late Mr Lee Kuan Yew worked out for about an hour each day, including during lunchtime. President Barack Obama exercises for 45 minutes, six times a week. Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour plays tennis daily. The “Oracle” Warren Buffet exercises regularly as well, and they all swear it makes them more productive at work, in addition to the obvious health benefits.

It’s something companies have caught on to as well. As a matter of fact, the short-term productivity benefits of regular exercise – happy workers and sharper minds from naturally-produced endorphins and stimulants – are significant enough for bosses to start consider exercise to be part of a workday.

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Those of us who have worked at Japanese or Chinese firms may have experienced a bit of that “workout” workplace culture – stretches and simple calisthenics at the start of each workday. But many companies are taking it further than that.

One study of more than 200 workers at three sites: a university, a computer company and a life insurance firm, showed that 30-60 minutes of exercise resulted in a 15 per cent boost to work productivity that day – that’s 6-12 per cent of an 8-hour workday in exchange for a 15 per cent boost.

On top of that, workers felt better about their work and about themselves after exercising, which could have longer-term benefits in terms of worker retention and mental wellness.

In the long-term, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that replacing 2.5 hours of work with exercise in six healthcare workplaces led to a noticeable reduction in absences, higher productivity and more patients seen.

Locally, OCBC, AIA Singapore and KPMG have launched programmes to reward employees who exercise regularly. The advent of wearable fitness trackers has enabled easy and accurate tracking of employee activity and disbursement of incentives, which can be worth as much as $100 a month.

But what’s the cost to set up such a programme for other firms, especially smaller ones? Building an in-house gym may be out of reach for most, and gym memberships can be costly to reimburse, and usage hard to track.

Some HR consulting firms can help plan a programme for a fee, or one could turn to a growing number of fitness incentive apps from vendors in Singapore and abroad.

The AIA Vitality wellness programme, which is exclusive to AIA policyholders at $36 a year, is also made available to companies that wish to have it as part of a comprehensive health and wellness benefit for its employees.

Nevertheless, a determined worker shouldn’t let the lack of a company policy stand in the way of better performance. Aim for a 20-30 minute activity during your lunch break, which should give you time to cool off and grab a quick bite before getting back in the hot seat.

The science is clear: It’s high time we considered fitness and exercise to be part of the job.

 

This story is part of a series with AIA Singapore.

AIA Singapore is invested in the health and wellness of Singaporeans and has launched AIA Vitality, a comprehensive wellness programme that rewards members for taking small, everyday steps to improve their health.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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police car, law and order

by Daniel Yap

THE Singapore Police Force has come under fire of late for how its officers followed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and arrested a 74-year-old woman for her summons over a Town Council fine. The Singapore Prison Service (often and easily confused with the Police) then bound her hand-and-foot to transfer her from custody to a cell.

SOP again, and surely excessive for a geriatric with no criminal past, wanted for putting potted plants in the wrong place. But rules are rules.

But are SOPs rules? Not really. In the army, it is military law that governs us, and then every unit has its standing orders – formally given down the chain of command. An SOP, on the other hand, is simply a set of default reactions and decisions we use when faced with common situations.

Here’s where Robocop steps in to be the hero we deserve, but not the one we really need right now (or is that someone else?). The parable of the police-man-made-machine, and I’m talking about the glorious artistry of the 1987 film, is pit against not just all manner of criminality and pseudo-criminality, but held in contrast against ED-209, the completely robotic but massively powerful law enforcement droid.

ED-209 only reacts to rules and set-in-stone procedures, but Robocop, with the frailty and power of a human mind and emotion, is the hero that saves the day. Our everyday heroes at the Police need to be able to apply Robocop’s humanity, lest they be seen as the cold, marginally vile, by-the-book-only ED-209.

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An SOP is a great thing. Like Robocop’s “prime directives”, it saves us the trouble of having to hum and haw excessively over each case. Like Robocop’s targeting computer, it helps speed up our reaction time and decision-making. Like Robocop’s armour plating, it is something to fall back to when things get too complicated or too risky. But SOPs can’t possibly cover every contingency. Things can still go wrong.

Following SOPs does mitigate our actions when things go wrong, but it does not mean that what we did wasn’t wrong. It acts as a reasonable explanation for our chosen actions, but doesn’t absolve us from responsibility.

In other words, the thinking person is not slave to his or her SOPs, and commanders should not teach their charges to become slaves to an SOP. Everyone at all levels of an organisation should be told to think for themselves and then take responsibility for their own decisions.

An SOP is supposed to be a tool that enhances the thinking officer’s effectiveness, not a crutch for mindlessness or a machine to set in motion and forget about. That would make us no better than robots, and in today’s technological world, we really need to differentiate between man and machine, lest our jobs be on the line.

So henceforth let, “we followed procedures” never again be an excuse for not engaging the brain, or doing things with a heart. We’ve got to ask ourselves: what would Robocop do?

 

Featured image from Flickr user Vetatur FumareCC BY-SA 2.0

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by Daniel Yap

SINGAPORE is engaging in a long-term war, with high stakes. It’s the war for our health and overall well-being, and for disease prevention which has long-run payoffs – better quality of life, reduced costs, lower risks. The details of NurtureSG, a Ministry of Health plan to instill healthy habits in our children, will be announced later this year, but any plan needs to consider potential obstacles.

The first thing standing in the way of healthier children is unhealthy adults. We need no reminding that children are most influenced not by what they are told by their parents and teachers to do, but by what they see their parents and teachers doing. Thus, any aim to change the health-wise behaviour of the next generation must take into account the behaviour of this generation.

It may be straightforward enough to try to drill healthy habits into our children, but how then can we incentivise adults, whose habits have already been formed and practiced for decades, to change? We would not want to train our children up a certain way only to have them slip back into an unhealthy adult lifestyle because they were following their parents’ footsteps.

Adults need to replace old habits by forming new ones, and new habits are formed by repetitive behaviour. Without long-term goals, such sustained change would be difficult.

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For starters, we need to address the psychology that defeats long-term goals: affective bias, risk discounting, and hyperbolic discounting.

Affective bias, that is, bias that is rooted in our emotions, causes us to hear only what we want to hear. For example, the strong emotion associated with comfort eating can cause us to put too much stock in a “reduced fat” label on an unhealthy snack…and there goes the diet.

Uncertainty about the goals we set is what leads to risk discounting, where we downplay the risky effects of our behaviour. If you didn’t know how much you needed to eat to lose weight, would you have chicken nasi briyani for dinner, and a large bag of potato chips at the movie afterwards? Probably. But if you knew you had to eat under 1700 calories a day to lose weight, then it would be immediately clear to you that the 900 calorie nasi bryani and the 1000 calorie bag of chips would completely wreck your goals, especially if you already had a typical 500 calorie breakfast and “diet” 400 calorie lunch.

Hyperbolic discounting is the cognitive bias that favours short-term gains – why someone would choose to get $50 now than $1,000 a year later. It is why diet plans fail, why savings plans fall through, why we won’t cut our carbon footprint even though we know we put the future in peril.

How can children and adults get past these roadblocks to a healthier life? First, the emotional appeal of a long-term healthy lifestyle needs to stay strong. We need constant reminders that this is good for our family, good for our children and good for our silver years. Strong campaigns and culture-building are key to achieving this.

Then, we need instant gratification for our efforts. This is the short-term counter to short-term temptations, and this has so far been the hardest to achieve on a national scale.

This is why people post their workouts and gym bods on social media – to soak up the likes and encouragement as fuel for the next workout. This is why wearables are effective, because they are a constant reminder on your wrist of whether you’ve covered your 20,000 steps today, or gotten enough sleep, or pushed your heart rate frequently enough this week.

Instant gratification is why we need incentive programmes like the national steps challenge, in-house corporate fitness or weight-loss competitions, or programmes for individuals like AIA Vitality to reward workouts with vouchers, send encouragement, form support groups, set reminders, and do anything necessary to keep our eyes on the short-term goal for as long as it takes to reach the long-term one.

We are all, in one way or another, attracted by short-term gain. And if healthy living isn’t attractive in the short-term, then unhealthy living will win out. And what happens in the short term determines who wins the long-term war for our well-being. If we lose the war for our own well-being, we’ll be putting unnecessary obstacles in the way of the G’s push to make our children healthier.

 

This story is part of a series with AIA Singapore.

AIA Singapore is invested in the health and wellness of Singaporeans and has launched AIA Vitality, a comprehensive wellness programme that rewards members for taking small, everyday steps to improve their health.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Daniel Yap

IT’S been a bit of a day of thanks and accomplishment for me, when Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng announced in Parliament this morning that open strollers would be allowed on buses from Apr 2. I’ve been campaigning for this change for years, alongside other parents and groups like Young NTUC.

As soon as news broke of the new rule, a mixed response of praise for the decision and anger over it erupted online. Critics of the move cited a variety of reasons, which deserve a response.

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  1. Lack of space: strollers don’t fit in the door/aisles, and some are bigger than others

Response: The idea is for strollers to board buses the way wheelchair users do. They aren’t meant to go down the narrow aisles. The Ministry has said that bus captains will make the final call on when strollers have to be folded to make space for others.
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  1. Fear of abuse

Response: Inconsiderate people are a feature of life but their existence doesn’t mean that the rule is a bad one. Call inconsiderate parents out and ask them (nicely) not to abuse the system. Support others who are publicly calling out anti-social behaviour.
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  1. Demand for segregation

Response: The whole reason why this rule is being changed is so that parents can feel more integrated into society. It takes compassion and maturity to welcome and cater to others whose needs differ from our own.
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  1. In my day…


Response: Parents have suffered in the past, but we need to see that it is a good thing that they should no longer suffer needlessly. If a new rule comes along that benefits others, we should be compassionate and be happy for them.
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  1. It is unsafe

Response: Bus companies used to cite safety reasons for forbidding open strollers, but there is no solid data to back this up, or explain why other cities in Europe, North America and Japan allow it. Perhaps the status quo was from a time before wheelchair-accessible buses, but times have changed.
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It’s heartening to see the change that you fought hard for come to fruition, and to know that it points towards a more inclusive, more family-friendly future for Singapore. And it’s good to see compassion and thankfulness reign in the online comments, even though there will always be a few who disagree.

 

Featured image from Flickr user Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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The first of two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors is launched during a successful intercept test. The test, conducted by Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) Operational Test Agency, Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, and U.S. Pacific Command, in conjunction with U.S. Army soldiers from the Alpha Battery, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, U.S. Navy sailors aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG-73), and U.S. Air Force airmen from the 613th Air and Operations Center resulted in the intercept of one medium-range ballistic missile target by THAAD, and one medium-range ballistic missile target by Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD). The test, designated Flight Test Operational-01 (FTO-01), stressed the ability of the Aegis BMD and THAAD weapon systems to function in a layered defense architecture and defeat a raid of two near-simultaneous ballistic missile targets

by Daniel Yap

THE KL-Pyongyang row over the murder of Mr Kim Jong Nam is getting out of hand with 11 Malaysians trapped in North Korea, but it’s just one part of the worsening diplomatic situation in East Asia. The fallout started with a few missiles falling out of the sky into the sea off the coast of Japan on Monday morning (Mar 6).

On Tuesday morning (Mar 7), North Korean state media announced that the four missiles, three of which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone about 350km from shore, were drills for a plan to strike directly at US bases in Japan, where the US has stationed about 54,000 troops.

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Japan upgrades its alert level to the maximum and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe gets on the phone with US President Donald Trump. Mr Abe says that the North Korean threat “has entered a new stage”.

At about the same time on Tuesday morning, the row between China (North Korea’s biggest ally) and South Korea took a new turn as South Korea announced that it would consider making an official complaint to the World Trade Organisation over what it sees as China violating their free trade deal.

China has in recent months tried to exert pressure on South Korea by banning the streaming of K-pop performances, stopping K-pop stars from performing in China, causing the shutdown of 23 supermarkets run by South Korean Lotte Group, and ordering tour agencies to stop selling trips to South Korea. Why is China doing this? THAAD.

THAAD is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile system developed by Lockheed Martin that South Korea and the US agreed to deploy in South Korea in July 2016. Remember China’s state-run Global Times newspaper that had harsh words for Singapore during the Terrex incident? It said that South Korea was “tying itself to the US chariot and turning into an arrogant pawn of Washington in the latter’s military containment against China.”

But why would China get upset about a purely defensive system like THAAD? Isn’t it reasonable for South Korea to defend itself, especially with North Korea going big on missiles?

China is trying to project military power across the region as part of its One Belt One Road framework. China is upset because THAAD is a projection of US power into the region and because the system will take away some of China’s offensive edge should war break out, including over the disputed South China Sea waters and islands, of which – hello – Malaysia is also a claimant. What a tangled web.

So now there are 11 Malaysians held de facto hostage in North Korea, which had fired missiles at Japan, triggering heightened tensions and paved the way for stronger US involvement in the region, which is upsetting China especially because…

We’re back to THAAD. Deployment for the system was previously announced to be completed in mid or late-2017. About 24 hours after the North Korean missiles splash down off the Japanese coast, the US Pacific Command announced that it had begun deploying THAAD overnight in South Korea, and that the system would be operational as early as April.

Quite a lot of people are going to get hot under the collar in the days and weeks to come. Expect nationalistic chest-thumping, threats, diplomatic shenanigans, strained trade, harsh words and escalations from the nations involved. And thank God war isn’t on the cards… yet.

Featured imagine from Wikimedia Commons. (CC0 1.0)

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