June 28, 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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AN EXTRAORDINARY moment on Capitol Hill on Thursday, fired FBI Director James Comey strongly hinting that President Donald Trump may have broken the law, telling a Senate panel that Trump fired him to undermine the Russia probe.

Mr Comey said, “I was fired because of the Russia investigation, something about the way I was handling it, the president felt created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.”

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Mr Comey’s dramatic testimony – the first time he’s spoken in public since he was fired – has only fanned the flames around Mr Trump’s White House.

The world witnessing the spectacle of a former high-ranking government official under oath pointing his finger directly at the president, saying he was pressured to drop an investigation into Mr Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

Mr Comey’s account largely going unchallenged by senators of either party, the question of whether the president’s actions amount to obstruction of justice, a crime for which people can go to jail and presidents can be impeached.

Mr Comey came under intense questioning from the Senate Intelligence Committee, declining to say directly whether he thinks Mr Trump interfered with justice, but revealing deep suspicions of the president’s motive.

Elaborating on his written statement that Mr Trump repeatedly asked him for loyalty and pressed him to drop a probe into Mr Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

Mr Comey said, “I took it as a direction. The president of the United States with me alone, saying I hope this. I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.”

Mr Comey saying he took notes for memos about his interactions with the president, specifically because he thought he might lie about their conversations after the fact. -REUTERS

Featured image by Flickr user DonkeyHotey. CC BY 2.0

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by Daniel Yap

THE Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) has spoken up against the Cineleisure Pink Dot ad.

Less than two days after the Police ruled that Pink Dot and Cathay were well within their rights to promote the event in advertisements in Cathay’s Cineleisure mall, the advertising watchdog has demanded that the content of the ad be changed because it breached the “family values” required in the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP).

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Can you spot the infringement?

Marketing reported that ASAS demanded the removal of the phrase “supporting the freedom to love”, saying that it downplayed “the importance of the family as a unit and foundation of society.” It also said that the phrase breached Singapore’s shared values of “family as the basic unit of society”, “community support and respect for the individual”, and “consensus, not conflict”.

ASAS did not give any other details about why the phrase was considered subversive.

Members of the public were quick to mock ASAS’ demands.

 

Days earlier, members of a Facebook group called “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” announced that they had made a Police report against the ad, prompting the Police announcement that the ad was perfectly legal.

Anti-LGBT campaigners in the Facebook group, however, seemed less than satisfied with ASAS’ actions.

A post in the “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” group

But the uproar over the ad is perhaps having the opposite effect that anti-LGBT campaigners are hoping for – visibility of the ad in social media and on the news has skyrocketed because of the controversy, allowing the promotion of the event to reach far beyond the confines of the mall.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Jnzl’s Photos. CC BY 2.0

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by Daniel Yap

THE focus of insurers has traditionally been on offering customers financial protection against unexpected life events such as illnesses. With good risk management and underwriting processes in place, it is generally sustainable for insurers to continue offering compelling insurance products that meet their customers’ protection needs.

But in this age of great convenience enabled by technology and with the ever-expanding food choices, it is becoming increasingly challenging for insurers to support the growing financial needs of their customers as a result of their unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.

An insurer ultimately has a stake in its customers’ health, and they need to find a way to influence their customers’ lifestyle choices in order to stay ahead of the spiralling healthcare costs and ensure their long term sustainability.

How then can an insurer encourage healthy behaviours?

The human mind is wired to miscalculate decisions about long- and short-term gains (we explained it all here), like eating healthy or driving safely, are stymied by hyperbolic discounting and other types of short-term thinking. No Claim Discount for motor insurance, for example, don’t always account for the risks that others take since you only lose your discount after an accident occurs.

Discount programmes that some companies offer for healthy lifestyle choices are common, but these compete with other discount programmes from retailers or dining clubs that are designed to tempt you in the opposite direction.

But what if there was a more effective way to motivate healthy behaviours? AIA Vitality, for example, is one such attempt to help each party get the most out of their insurance – customers who upkeep a healthy lifestyle receive a variety of rewards as well as premium discounts, while those who have been less healthy would be motivated to move towards the same direction. The insurance company, on the other hand, can continue to offer customers adequate protection at affordable premiums.

The key is how AIA Vitality leverages science and technology to drive positive behavioural change by employing comprehensive tools to assess each member’s health and make tailored recommendations to help them become healthier. It also makes use of the principles of behavioural science and rewards members who are on track to becoming healthier.

The problem of hyperbolic discounting is also addressed more effectively – people tempted to veg on the sofa are given a very realistic weekly activity challenge (such as clocking 7,500 steps a day or checking in at the gym) to meet for a reward of a $5 voucher, which alone more than offsets the $3-a-month cost of being on the programme. The company partners with supermarket chain Cold Storage to offer cash back rewards worth up to $160 each month for healthy food items. Add to that a range of discounts and tie-ups with healthy partners and you have a much more holistic approach for tackling unhealthy living.

But why would an insurer give you $5 a week and more for something that you only pay $3 a month for? That’s because this method has proven to be a win-win for all – a study on Vitality members found that those who engaged in the programme were less likely to fall sick or be hospitalised for prolonged illnesses, resulting in an overall 14 per cent lower cost per hospitalised patient.

Those who ranked higher in the Vitality programme which divides members into Bronze, Silver and Gold statuses, saw a lower mortality rate in practically every age group. It’s a data-driven system that has been fine-tuned to benefit all participants.

Everyone gets what they want – customers enjoy rewards when they meet their health goals and pay less for their insurance as they become healthier. AIA Singapore, on the other hand, gains from healthier customers who will help to ensure that insurance remains affordable for all.

The end result is a more effective model than simply offering financial protection- by driving behavioural and lifestyle change, insurers like AIA Singapore are now able to keep their customers healthier, lower premium costs and stay sustainable in the long run: what the company calls “shared value for health”.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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.

Hawker centre, food, eat

by Daniel Yap

We must steal other people’s lunches to be competitive, says PM Lee. The world is a dark, hungry place with no scruples. But the phrase started me thinking: where does lunch come from? Is there a lunch shortage? Are some people having five lunches while others have none?

ON LABOUR Day, I went down to my local market and ordered myself a nice bowl of bak chor mee, found myself a table and sat down. I thought: well, a nice cold drink would hit the spot, so off I went to the drink stall. When I got back, someone had stolen my lunch.

It was the guy from the nearby rental block who was a familiar sight around the neighbourhood. He always seemed hungry, hanging around the food centre asking for a free kopi or a bite to eat. Often, the hawkers would be generous and feed him for free. Today, it seemed, he had decided it was my turn to bless his soul.

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Stunned and somewhat offended, I looked over to the next table, where the obese neighbour from Block 5 was stuffing his face with his third helping of Nasi Lemak Set G (tambah everything). Our eyes met, as he drooled a few fragrant grains from his overfull mouth, but he quickly turned away to stare at his food, as if to say “not my problem”. Clearly the problem was mine.

“Eh hello, that’s my lunch.”

“Yes, and now it’s mine! Good, right?” the hungry man mumbled as he fumbled with my chopsticks (ok, not my chopsticks: the stall’s, but he TOUCHED them – desecration).

“Hey, you cannot just anyhow steal people’s lunch, you know?”

“You left it here, mah! Anyway, you see that guy there, he went to buy drinks – go eat his Hokkien mee.”

“But I wanted bak chor mee for lunch!”

“Lunch is scarce, bro, going to be come more scarce. Unemployment going up. You got to learn to compromise.”

“You stole my lunch! I paid for it!”

“Okay lah, I play fair. If I stand up, you can steal it back.”

I was on the verge of attacking him with a Chinese soup spoon when the bak chor mee uncle piped up. “Eh, young man, you give him eat, ok? Uncle make another one for you. Up-sai to big bowl some more.”

“But uncle, how can he like that?”

“Every day he come here, every day somebody give him food. You see everybody eating here, they think there is only one lunch for them. But when you are the one making the food, you know behind still got a lot of lunch left. Is not jiro-sum game one.”

I paused, stunned.

“You see, I am entrepreneur one. As long as end of the day I make money, it’s okay. I can come out how many bowls of bak chor mee, never mind. But if you start fighting in front of my stall then I got no business to do. Maybe you fight for your lunch and you win, you eat, but in the end nobody else get to eat my bak chor mee; next door the roast duck also cannot sell.”

He pushed a massive bowl of noodles into my hands. “Eat, eat! Not everyday I give you eat, but I tell you, lunch is got a lot one.”

I think it must be nice to be him. He can eat his own lunch. As many bowls as he wants. But can man live by bak chor mee alone?

 

Featured image by Flickr user Tiberiu Ana. CC BY 2.0.

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A new Central Greenway will provide a direct and seamless connection from Pasir Ris Town Centre to Pasir Ris Park Source: HDB

by Daniel Yap

THE plans for remaking the heartlands of Woodlands, Toa Payoh and Pasir Ris have just been announced. Based on the feedback of some 400 residents and stakeholders from the towns, the plans are an indication of the aspirations of the community, and pose a question to the rest of the nation: how do we engage with each other within our built environment?

In the end, it is not just features and infrastructure, but how people – residents – interact that defines the soul of a city. What do the latest changes say about the way we want to engage in community?

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We’re going local

A little more heartlands, a little less Orchard Road. Neighbourhood centres in Pasir Ris, for example, will be enhanced with the aim of having amenities closer to home. This means less time spent travelling and more time spent in the immediate neighbourhood, and providing opportunities for local interaction.

The enhancement of comprehensive amenities at each town centre is also expected to boost local engagement and make each town self-sufficient. There is thus no need to travel across the country unless you’re looking for something specific.

A new Town Plaza in Woodlands Central will serve as a vibrant public space for residents.
Source: HDB

The character and heritage of each revamped town have also been deliberately preserved or commemorated in each plan. Toa Payoh will stay wedded to it’s iconic Ring Road, and its pedestrian walkways lined with HDB shops will not be giving way to malls – Toa Payoh has always eschewed big malls in favour of more local retail flavour. Both Toa Payoh and Pasir Ris will have heritage sites beside the town centre that tell of the town’s history. Woodlands will get a “discovery playground” that also showcases its development.

It is an opportunity to take pride in each town and its unique institutions – icons, people or features that have been around for decades. It gives character and distinction to each town and shifts the focus away from thinking of Singapore as a single physical place.

We embrace diversity

A place you can call home needs to offer something for everyone. There is a deliberate attempt to inject diversity into each town. Multi-generational facilities, “silver zones”, and a range of amenities can appeal to different interests, but one big part of the plan is to introduce more new housing units to older towns, which are likely to be bought up by younger families.

When a whole new town springs up, like Punggol, it gets filled mostly by younger families applying for their first build-to-order flats. In 20 or 30 years, these families grow as a generation and in order to inject diversity, different demographics have to be added in.

Think of mature towns like Toa Payoh, or “young family” towns like Punggol. This will cut down on the pressures of extreme local undersupply of childcare places, or very high demand in one area for elder-care facilities. It makes amenities easier to plan for, and nobody will feel left out.

Walk, cycle, or scoot

You can be sure that exercise has become fashionable when people clamour for cycling paths more than they beg for additional bus stops. That, and the burgeoning flocks of spandex-clad cyclists we see on the roads these days. The emphasis of the latest town plans has been to enhance walking and cycling facilities as a means of intra-town travel, especially with each town becoming more self-sufficient. There is less of a focus on longer-distance travel, which will be centred around MRT stations and regional centres.

Town centres will be planned with more pedestrianisation in mind. Woodlands will get a “social corridor”, interspersed with community spaces, stretching across the town from east to west, which branches out into a comprehensive network of cycling paths.

Even Toa Payoh’s ring road will be upgraded for pedestrians and runners, and the old town will be retrofitted with biking infrastructure and “silver zones” that will help the elderly get around more safely.

The growth of bike sharing companies also sets the stage for increased use of cycling as a transport option, and the bike connectivity between individual blocks and MRT stations will be a major aim of any upgrade.

We want to be green

Greening the towns has been a major theme across latest developments. Take some time to appreciate nature, get active outdoors, and please stop polluting the environment.

A seamless central greenway (with cycling paths, of course) will connect the Pasir Ris town centre with Pasir Ris Park and 8.2 km of “Nature Ways” spotted with small parks will be added along major thoroughfares. Toa Payoh will have seven “pocket parks” added along its 4km ring road.

The pocket park in front of Block 157 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh will feature landscaped spaces with plants and furniture inspired by popular motifs in the town.
Source: HDB

Woodlands too will get a green upgrade: the 1.9-kilometre WoodsVista Gallery with dedicated cycling and pedestrian paths that link Woodlands MRT to the coast.

We want to spend time with people

Who says Singaporeans are a private lot who shy away from interactions with neighbours? If it were so, people would have asked HDB to install traffic lights in the floor, and free wi-fi throughout the entire length of Pasir Ris Drive 1 so that they can get around in full “phombie” mode, ignoring everyone and everything around them.

Instead, requests by residents for the development of local community spaces like parks and town plazas are calls for more opportunities for interacting with family, friends or neighbours. A new concept of community nodes has created earmarked spaces for art installations, community gardens, reading corners, or community cafés. Sound good?

But they are only going to be as good as how we use them. The heart of any town is its people, and if residents don’t want to engage with one another, then the “kampung spirit”, will not grow. Take ownership of your neighbourhood, or leave it as it is – the outcome is up to you.

 

Want to have a say in how your town develops? The Remaking Our Heartland proposals for Woodlands (beside Woodlands MRT until April 30), Toa Payoh (HDB Hub Atrium until May 7) and Pasir Ris (beside Pasir Ris MRT until May 14) will be on display for residents to give feedback on. You can also see the proposals and give feedback online at HDB InfoWEB (http://www.hdb.gov.sg/ROH). 

This article is done in partnership with the Housing & Development Board.

 

Featured image courtesy of HDB.

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by Daniel Yap

UBER and Grab are going to ruin commuting for Singapore, says The Straits Times. I have to wonder who put that idea in its head. The paper points to the astronomical growth of market share, the growth across vertical businesses, and the desire to “make money” (oh, please) as reasons why commuters may be “taken for a ride”.

But wait, why do these things make one cry foul? Why warn of a dire future? All’s fair in love and war and business. If there’s a legal and ethical way to upset the status quo then, incumbent or newcomer, it is there for anyone to exploit.

Taxi companies – outmoded, complacent, inflexible – failed to capitalize. Someone else did. Uber began in the United States in 2010, and came to Singapore in 2013. Three years is plenty of time to realise that the taxi industry is being shaken up worldwide. Yet the incumbents did nothing.

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Where previously fleet size was the ultimate proxy for market share, it is now no longer as big a factor as it once was. The new measure of “who is the biggest” is efficiency – efficiency that attracts customers, drivers, and investors.

We, the customers, feel served, so we patronise. We, the drivers, feel adequately rewarded, so we keep driving.

Perhaps it is a familiar struggle for the print news industry – new technology redefines the hows and whens of a business, incumbents struggle to adapt, and new powers come to the fore. There is plenty of empathy, even from me. But empathy is not a defence for a poor argument.

Grab’s profits (although it currently appears to have none) would be taxed in Singapore. Temasek is a major investor. Why should we be afraid that it is a Malaysian company? And it is not even unusual that foreign companies that repatriate profits are welcomed to Singapore with open arms and set up multi-billion-dollar operations here with special concessions.

Singapore is an open, globally-connected economy. Perhaps we should ask why our large, local companies do not innovate, and do not then export that innovation abroad to repatriate profits. Instead many of our local companies sit at home, comfortable on a cushion of profits and market dominance that holds them back from innovation. Until it is too late and the rug is pulled.

And perhaps the day will come when Uber and Grab become the new incumbents like Comfort and SMRT, and lose sight of making customers or drivers happy, and focus too much on making investors happy. But I am confident that even if that day should come, and fares go up unnecessarily, and customers are not well-served, that day another company will come up and pull the rug from under their feet. Grab and Uber are proof of that.

 

Featured image from Grab’s Facebook page.

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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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