March 23, 2017

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Authors Posts by Daniel Yap

Daniel Yap

Daniel Yap
157 POSTS 48 COMMENTS
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

A 24-year-old nurse has become the third victim of chemical burns from sitting on an unknown substance (ST, Nurse Burnt by substance on train seat, Mar 3). Wan Zahfirah Arshad was taking the north-bound train on the North-South line at 11am yesterday when the incident happened.

TODAY also reported that she suffered third-degree burns to her left buttock and was warded at the Singapore General Hospital. Third-degree burns are considered severe.

The apparent acid attack follows a similar incident on April 14, when a 14-year-old student suffered chemical burns from sitting on an unidentified substance at a bus stop along Bukit Batok East Ave 3. Last year, another woman suffered chemical burns, also on the north-bound train on the North-South line.

The latest incident has sparked calls for vigilance online, with some speculating that the incidents could be connected and deliberate. People are encouraged to watch what they sit on, even if it looks like water, and not to rush for seats on the train.

No arrests have been made in connection with any of the three cases and it is unknown if SMRT surveillance footage has shed any light on the incidents.

by Daniel Yap

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak warned via TODAY that if Johor fell into opposition hands, the government’s “big dreams for Johor would simply disappear”, including, apparently, the fast-growing Iskandar project.

With RM100 billion already projected to be invested by 2015, and outcomes for locals looking generally positive so far, Iskandar Malaysia has been a big bargaining chip for both sides of the political divide.

First reactions (especially looking at TODAY’s headline – “Big plans will disappear if BN loses Johor: Najib”) may be that PM Najib is threatening to hamstring Iskandar if the government loses the state. While threats of withholding development from opposition seats are not new on either side of the causeway, this isn’t exactly such a case.

PM Najib described what he called the “Johor way” – the ruling Barisan Nasional’s “moderate and accommodating” style – as the reason for Johor’s success (ST, Najib touts ‘Johor way’ for Malaysia, Apr 30). He jumped on recent divides in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat camp to push the point that PR would be unable to maintain good race relations in Johor, which in turn would lead to failure in the state.

But it may be just a political ruse. Reports in the media maintain that PR draws a diverse crowd in Johor, and a recent seminar organised by UMNO-run Johor stoked anti-Christian sentiments.

Moreover, TODAY reported previously that Iskandar would stay on track even with the opposition in Johor.

He also discounts the “Singapore way”. Isn’t Johor’s success at least partly driven by Singapore’s? Because the overflow of industry and demand from her neighbour, Johor simply needs to keep the doors open to let the money flow in. Success in the state may really be beyond the control of both BN and PR.

Where’s our thanks, then? Not that we expect it, really, since having Johor and Iskandar as a release valve for our red hot economy has great benefits for Singapore as well, but hey, a little credit where it’s due, please.

But here’s Najib’s only nod to Singapore on the night – he compared the island’s lack of “Chinese schools” with Johor as  proof of his party’s commitment to the Chinese. Thanks.

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by Daniel Yap

News broke on Channel NewsAsia (CNA) that Zhong Jiang (Singapore) International Pte Ltd, the company at the heart of the crane-top workers’ protest, was fined $8,000 for failing to pay salaries on time.

Minster for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin had posted in Facebook that his ministry’s investigations had shown that the men were not owed any salary arrears, but did not specify the basis on which this was determined other than a lack of paperwork (payslips, specifically).

Last month, ST had reported that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had similarly called the workers’ claims about poor living conditions “false” but MOM came under fire for taking almost a week to inspect the living quarters, allegedly giving the employer ample time to clean up their act.

The $8,000 fine handed out to Zhong Jiang (Singapore) International (owned by a China state-owned construction firm) was for eight counts of late payment of salary, out of 25 counts that the company pleaded guilty to.

The maximum penalty for late payment of salaries (more than seven days after the salary period) is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or six months’ jail. The salary arrears in question, amounting to some $44,000, were between one and three weeks late.

That’s a big sum and one wonders just how many workers, even if the two crame protestors were not among them, had to suffer the tardiness of their employer.

While MOM seems to have plugged the gaping hole of companies not issuing payslips by making amendments to the Employment Act, does it have to come down to drastic action on the part of workers to initiate an investigation? This case as well as the SMRT drivers’ strike were both deemed illegal but have thrown the spotlight on poor company practices and strained employer-employee relations, resulting in investigations, changes to the Employment Act, improved working conditions, living conditions and enhanced awareness of systemic mistreatment of workers both local and foreign.

Perhaps MOM really does need to beef up protection for foreign workers, and the trade unions need to get more involved, after being conspicuously silent on this incident.

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by Daniel Yap

The most recent vandalism of the cenotaph is all over the news (from inSing, omy, to TNP and ST). The word “democracy” and a large “X” had been spray painted in red, obscuring the dates “1914-1918”. The vandalism has since been cleaned up.

It’s not the first time the monument has been defaced. TODAY reported that the back of the monument had been defaced in Dec 2012, but the extent of the damage was minimal and no police report was made. It is not known if the two incidents are otherwise related.

Online, though, comparisons have been made between this act of vandalism (or will it be mischief?) and the antics of “Sticker Lady” Samantha Lo. Most of these draw the line clearly – while we may have room in in our hearts (if not our laws) to smile at the cheeky designs of Lo, the Michael Fay-esque spray-can monstrosity is an affront to our sensibilities as well as to our senses.

And it is certainly nothing close to “democracy”. If anything, this sort of anti-social behaviour will only shift the ground back to demanding more control and less freedoms – freedoms that we have been trying so hard in so many ways to win. If we prove that we are irresponsible with the (some say few) freedoms we already enjoy, then what should we expect the answer to be when we ask for more?

Perhaps the only good is the almost unilateral condemnation of this particular act of vandalism. Perhaps the online community really can be trusted, no?

The only thing left to think about, then is where exactly the G stands on the value of our national heritage. No doubt, the war memorial is a valuable part of our history and it is “disrespectful and deplorable” to deface or otherwise destroy it, but what of non-gazetted icons in the same vein?

No weeping and gnashing of teeth over the graves at Bukit Brown? No clear motion to preserve (for all posterity) our kampong heritage on Ubin? No fury at having to remove the Sungei Road thieves’ market?

What really separates vandalism and “national development”? A gazette? It seems that while the fury at this act is noble, there remains a huge gulf in our national consciousness when it comes to deciding what is worth protecting and what to consign to the void of history.

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by Daniel Yap

While the ST front page headline declares Singapore’s lowest inflation in 29 months (Inflation eases to 3.5% – lowest in 2.5 years, 24 Apr), and analysts point to a downtrend, the burning question is what real impact it will have on our lives.

Core inflation may have shed two points but it hasn’t hit a new low like headline inflation has. The good-looking number comes mainly from a shock to COE prices, which have yet to stabilise.

The 3.5 per cent figure still has to be compared against other indicators like wage growth and GDP growth, but the prospect of a slower growth in cost of living is welcome news.

Yet to hit the CPI figure is the rising cost of labour, which lags significantly behind COE prices. Bearing the significant shifts in store for Singapore’s economic landscape, it may be too early for analysts to project that it will keep trending lower.

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by Daniel Yap

In the heat of Malaysian election fever, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim dropped a few comments about what might be in store for Johor should the opposition somehow win the state.

Specifically mentioning Singapore investors, he stated that it would not be “business as usual” if his coalition won Johor. Of particular interest is the Iskandar region, where some 300 Singapore companies have already set up operations and investment.

Anwar spoke about changes in terms of greater transparency, and “interest and participation” for locals when it came to Iskandar. Transparency is a welcome thing, although it was still unclear how his party planned to help locals benefit more from Iskandar.

Either way it seems a small thing – a response to some scaremongering by the ruling Barisan National (BN), who said that the loss of Johor to the opposition could hamper the progress of Iskandar. Malaysia’s opposition, as far as we know, has been good for businesses in the states that they currently rule, in particular Penang.

But with Singapore’s pseudo-hinterland of Johor having been a BN stronghold for donkey years, the hurdle of a PR victory in the state still needs to be crossed before we start to worry about what Anwar is really going to do there.

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by Daniel Yap

The Business Times’ front page broadcast Manpower Minister’s plan to raise the salary threshold for Employment Pass (EP) holders above the current $3,000 per month for Q1 passes.

Ostensibly, the intention is to make sure that white-collar Singaporean salaries, (particularly for fresh graduates) do not become stagnant because of price competition from abroad, hence the need to shift the EP goalposts ever further. Compare that wage growth and the fear is that EP cut-offs may not have moved in tandem with our economy.

The article included an admission to lack of success in attempts to tighten foreign manpower in “the last few years”. What that meant exactly remains unclear – are we going for fewer foreigners? Higher quality foreigners? Better salaries for Singaporeans? Less social tension from foreign manpower?

The play will have some of the desired effect, namely increasing Singaporean wages, but many side effects are to be expected like higher costs of doing business but if companies are intent on simply keeping costs down, all we are going to see is offshoring, or businesses moving away from Singapore, as the article noted.

Curiously enough, Minister Tan specifically said that he didn’t want a “Singaporean-first” system, but he didn’t specify what kind of system would ensure the combination of outcomes he seemed to want: strong domestic business, growing wages for Singaporeans, economic growth, market competition, and an absence of discriminatory hiring based on nationality.

The overall tone set is also extremely cautious, with small adjustments being proposed. Tan also was bearish about labour market testing, worried about “losing sectors” to global price competition, and made repeated indications that he would wait for more input from yet another round of Our Singapore Conversation.

He was also negative about the minimum wage, saying that he preferred wage subsidies to be paid for with public funds rather than let businesses shoulder the brunt of wage reforms though a minimum wage. It was unclear if he was referring to NTUC’s Progressive Wage Model, which contains a minimum wage structure.

But really, how worried should we be? Are the issues we face here and now significant enough to warrant more risk-taking from the G? Will a cautious approach take too long or fail to address the real fundamental reasons why we can’t seem to keep our wages up? Is losing business to international competition a risk we should take? Are there up-sides like morale, national loyalty, entrepreneurship and dignity that the G can’t seem to quantify that will mitigate higher wages?

We may be so intent on safeguarding Singapore’s business advantages (like transparency, stability and lack of corruption) that we find our hands are tied when it comes to dealing decisively with our business weaknesses.