April 28, 2017

Authors Posts by Daniel Yap

Daniel Yap

Daniel Yap
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

Matilda Portico, Punggol, Singapore. An ST article threw the spotlight on this and other oddly named neighbourhoods that have raised eyebrows and confused cabbies.

The Housing Development Board (HDB) does the naming (which also involves the architects), and says that “the objective was to create local identities that residents can relate to and foster neighbourliness”.

While that is a noble goal, some have questioned its effectiveness, especially online. Comments left on the article’s online pages describe the names as “arbitrary”, “chim”, “atas” and “fake”. Most thought the HDB was trying too hard to brand its projects, and that made-up names did not add to a sense of community.

While the paper tells of some Punggol Spectra residents forming a community and calling themselves “Spectrans”, it remains to be seen if it was the name that built community or whether it was just a convenient moniker, clobbered into the consciousness by a massive signboard (the photo of which features prominently in the article). ‘Spectra’ are conditions or values that vary over a continuum (whatever that means). Might it be a comment on property prices?

The lack of enthusiasm for HDB’s names is understandable. You see, Singaporeans don’t really have a good track record for naming things. Take, for instance, the time the Budget Terminal was named the ‘Budget Terminal’, or the time $400,000 was paid to Interbrand to rename Marina Bay ‘Marina Bay’. The sting of the massive waste of money and effort still haunts us.

Elsewhere, HDB has named the historical “Chap Lak Lao”, meaning 16 Storey, “Commonwealth Heights”. It seems that “Chap Lao”, meaning 10 Storey, in Tanglin Halt was renamed “Commonwealth 10”, and then only because residents were involved in naming the en bloc redevelopment project and were fond of the reference. These two neighbourhoods earned their nicknames because they were some of the first public housing blocks of that height built in the area back in the 60s and 70s.

But some odd names may indeed preserve a piece of history. For Matilda Portico, its roots may come from the conserved Matilda House (also known as Istana Menanti), several hundred metres away, which did in fact have a portico, as recorded by local history buffs. The historical landmark is slated to be converted into a clubhouse as part of the Punggol Emerald development.

by Daniel Yap

As news reports pour in about the launch of the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), the shadow of change looms over how this major shift in data and privacy legislation will impact businesses and individuals (BT, Small firms brace for Call Me Never on Jan 2, May 16).

The obvious benefits to consumers is plain – no more calls, SMSes, messages or faxes if you register your number on the list. Those who have been bothered by unsolicited marketing (“Good-morning-sir, I’m-calling-from-ABC-Company-and-I-would-like-to-tell-you-more-about-our-credit-card…”) for years now will be able to rid themselves of such nuisances, or at least have the law on their side when reporting abuse, in the form of a fine for unsolicited calls to registered Do-Not-Call (DNC) numbers.

The Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) also comes into full force come July 2 next year, with up to a $1 million fine for those who fail to collect, store and use data according to data protection laws passed at the start of this year.

ST reported (Unsolicited Calls? Opt out via registry, May 16) that the PDPA also applies to overseas companies, but did not say how breaches by foreign entities would be dealt with. Many Singaporeans already receive unsolicited calls from foreign numbers peddling local products and services.

But the real big question is how this will affect marketing in Singapore. BT’s report shed light on the impact of a DNC registry in the United States, where some 70-80 per cent of households have indicated that they do not wish to be called. Businesses in the US have come to terms with the new equilibrium, with some even finding that cold calls become more effective in a post-DNC market.

Marketers may be forced to rely on less-regulated channels such as email or flyers, or come up with creative solutions to more effectively get the attention of consumers.

The biggest worry for companies is cost, and the fact that smaller telemarketing companies may have their business models severely affected. Currently, exact costs of compliance will be hard to estimate, but a company with a database of 5,000 numbers will have to check it monthly over the course of a year, an undertaking that could cost some $1,200 or more. Staff would also have to spend more time cleaning up and administering their contact lists.

The setup fee to use the DNC registry is $30, and the first 350 numbers checked each year are free. Checks in excess of 350 numbers a year will cost from 1 to 3 cents per number, with higher volumes at cheaper rates.

Smaller telemarketing firms currently using lists of dubious origin may be hit by the higher costs of obtaining data from legitimate sources and running that data through the DNC registry. Costs may be passed on to clients and then on again to consumers.

Whatever the final results, places like the US, Australia and the European Union have made the switch to a DNC and personal data protection laws with few bumps, and it bodes well for most consumers and businesses that treat their databases with respect. It is to be expected that some moaning and groaning will be heard from various corners, especially from businesses, but the experience of other nations bodes well for an eventual “new normal”.

by Daniel Yap

I guess you’ve heard, Singa the Lion has quit and will no longer be the face of courtesy for our island nation.

PR stunt or not, I say “good riddance”. He was failing on his KPIs, not living up to expectations, and after more than 30 years on the job, it’s time to call it a day and go withdraw his CPF or something. Find a nice retirement spot, maybe in the zoo.

(Photo by Chia Aik Beng)
(Photo by Chia Aik Beng)

Forget about him. As mascots go, this one is a failure. He barely held back the tide of angst and bitterness that is building up here in Singapore. Let him go, and let others take his place. Let the natives rise up.

This island is not his natural habitat. Pressed and stressed as we are, pushed to the limits of human endurance by people who offend our sensibilities, ask for too much, give too little, or simply enjoy making life hard for other people and doing whatever the hell THEY want.

I’m not a nasty person by any account. I never fall asleep in the reserved seat on the MRT and am eager to give it up. I’m polite in my speech. I never rush into lifts until everyone has come out. I don’t cut queues. I encourage others to do the same.

But what I’ve learnt in life is that nice guys finish last. Be good, not nice. Look at Batman. He’s principled. He’s good. He’ll kick your ass into the next comic book frame if need be. If Singa had his way with him, Batman would be delivering flowers like some weakling and trying to talk villains to death.

Singa has made us weak. Being nice never got us anywhere. All those old folks standing on the MRT, hovering above the reserved seat currently occupied by a sleeping douchebag. “Courteous” uncle or auntie never got their seat, thanks to you. Too polite. Don’t want to make a scene. It’s just a few stops. Those of us standing around – courteous to a bleeding fault. Don’t want to step in to right the wrong. We haven’t got the balls to do the right thing the hard way.

We are weak. We are nice. We are fools.

I blame you, Singa. You have disempowered the weak. You taught those who already were “nice guys” to roll over and get stepped on. The jerks got their way and the rest of us suffered. You’ve changed nothing. Bad guys get ahead, and we don’t have Batman to stop them. Maybe we have the Police, but they don’t cover every little thing, and they’re usually too polite for my liking.

We need real men and women who will stand up against jackasses, pricks, arseholes, bitches, bastards, dickheads and all their ilk. Kick (gently) the morons who sleep in reserved seats on the MRT. Ask (politely at first) others to stand up, give way, stop cutting the damn queue, let the wheelchair through, shut the heck up, stop being obnoxious, behave yourself, stop smoking at the bus stop, quit that anti-social behaviour. You tread on others – courtesy be damned.

This is war, and the first casualty is the lion.

So bring me the head of Singa the Courtesy Lion. I want to mount him on a plaque in my living room. And while you’re at it bring me the head of that productivity bee, Teamy as well. Our productivity numbers have been pretty horrible lately.

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by Daniel Yap

The New Paper weighed in on the poly/grad issue not once but twice this week (Success?, May 7; Poly grads take different paths to success, May 9) since National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan broached the topic in Our Singapore Conversation.

Minister Khaw’s remarks touched some nerves when he responded to a request to set more university places aside for ITE and poly graduates by saying that “Singaporeans do not need to be university graduates to be successful. Instead, what might be more important would be getting good jobs after leaving school.”

TNP’s stories so far have been mostly anecdotal and have done little to settle the issue. Portraits of this or that person who made it or didn’t make it as a degree holder or a diploma holder pepper the pages of the tabloid.

Can we have more facts and figures? The best data presented so far is the Graduate Employment Survey by the Ministry of Education which showed degree holders earning starting salaries that are about $1,000 more than diploma holders.

What is missing is a study comparing poly graduates who didn’t go on to get degrees with poly graduates who did. This statistic will shed more light on the marginal gain to be had from pursuing a degree over a diploma.

Let’s face it, the more attractive something is perceived to be, the more people will aspire to attain it. A degree is one of those things.

The current disposition of our society is towards a worship of the educated. To most Singaporeans, someone with a degree is more respectable than someone without one. Someone with a doctorate is more respectable than someone with a degree, ceteris paribus.

Add to that a clear statistical wage differential, a relatively low rate of entrepreneurship and a dearth of diploma holders in the top echelons of society and you have a recipe for a nation of graduates.

How many business leaders have degrees? How many top civil servants have degrees? How many MPs have degrees? How many have diplomas? To be sure, there are a few diploma holders in business leadership, but in other spheres, you will find degree holders (or higher) exclusively.

In the armed forces, diploma-qualified officers automatically have a different promotion path than degree holders, regardless of the relevance of the academic specialisation. On-the-job performance can only do so much to offset an officer’s lack of a degree or a scholarship.

It is abundantly clear that diploma holders have almost no chance of reaching top leadership positions in our society. If anyone would aspire to a lofty position (or at least somewhere on the way up), getting a degree seems to be a prerequisite.

Aren’t we in a meritocracy? If people are able to get a degree, what is stopping them from getting one? Fear that there may be too many degree holders in the job market? Mr Khaw’s dystopian “nation of graduates”? It is (hopefully) the desire of every Singaporean to always aspire to greater things, to prove his or her merits in a meritocratic society. Obtaining a degree is part of that striving.

But the fear of a degree glut is real.

If more people have access to a degree course (and increasingly we do), then more people will strive to earn a degree. Oversupply will depress graduate wages and force people to get higher qualifications to differentiate themselves. This may effectively form a dangerous qualifications “bubble”, some symptoms of which are PhD taxi drivers and unemployable graduates.

Depressed university graduate wages may well depress wages down the line as well, even though supply for diploma holders may be insufficient. The psychological $1,000 gap is hard to close.

A dearth of technical and diploma-level labour may cripple industry, or force the government to have to bring in an even larger foreign labour force, even as Singaporean graduates languish in an oversupplied graduate job market.

To hedge against such a scenario, Mr Khaw must warn against the pitfalls of degrees for the sake of degrees, and others must extol the great virtues of a diploma qualification (as PM Lee did, at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s 50th anniversary). The $1,000 gap needs to be closed in order to encourage more diploma holders to stay in the workforce rather than “upgrade”.

Statistics that show that diploma holders who upgrade to degrees make marginal or negative gains have to be published, if they exist at all. Talented diploma holders need to be groomed and appointed to appropriate leadership positions in the government without placing on them the expectation of getting a degree. Military officer careers should not be split into diploma/degree tracks (much less scholar/lesser-scholar/non-scholar tracks), but soldiers should be promoted according to merit – merit in the field, not in the classroom.

It is a psychological war we need to wage in order to raise the profile of diploma holders, one of the effects of which is to simultaneously protect the interests of degree holders. An us/them, diploma/degree mentality will not help to balance our economy.

Most of all, we need to end our societal obsession with the paper chase, and see the value of every person apart from what education he or she has had the privilege of.

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.

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.