June 26, 2017

Authors Posts by Jerrell Seah

Jerrell Seah

Jerrell Seah
Jerrell is infected with a serious case of wanderlust that can only be cured by travelling. So, a penny sir?

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by Jerrell Seah

MAJULAH Singapura. A familiar yet foreign phrase. Having spent the last six months in Zurich on a student exchange programme, I have become more used to hearing German spoken. It’s great to be a Singaporean on an exchange programme in Europe.

First, our passport allows us to travel almost everywhere without a visa (Russia is one notable exception). Second, coming from a country that Europeans have heard of but do not know much about, makes for easy conversation. “How does it feel to fire a rifle?” was a common question many friends asked. My reply: “It feels awesome.”

National Service (NS) was a major conversation topic, given the rising number of security threats that Europe faces. Responses to my NS experience ranged from confusion –  “why would you need an Army? you are so small”  – to admiration for a country that prides itself on being self-reliant – “So everyone can fire a rifle?”.

It allowed me to brag about the equipment the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has, and to show them videos of The National Day Parade (NDP) 2015, with its flashy aerial flypast and mobile column. (Both were no shows this year, which is a pity).

The NDP has remained a bonding moment for me and my father, who is an Army regular. For as long as I can remember, watching the military parade section of NDP on TV has been a family tradition. My father, going into encik mode, would explain what each command meant, never mind that they are repeated every year. Unsurprisingly, our relationship improved during my NS stint. As for my mother and sister, the 30 minute blow-by-blow commentary has become as much a part of the NDP, as the screaming jets that were silent this year.

The NS documentary, “Every Singaporean Son“, resounded strongly with my family.  The disappointment many felt when the changes to the show were announced is proof. I posit that we have invested a part of our national identity in the SAF, and that NS, not only for men, has become our rallying cry. That we wish to see fighter jets thundering across our skies and armoured tanks rumbling past the spectator stands, points to a level of confidence and pride we have in the SAF and by extension, ourselves. That the SAF can protect us, my son can protect me.

Having said that, the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the march-in still impressed. Interestingly, this year there was commentary on the origins of aspects of the parade, such as the significance of the state and regimental colors. In ancient times, these colors mark the location of the commander and served as the rallying point for troops in war.

Today, they have become ceremonial and symbolise the loyalty of servicemen to the regiment, and to the nation. The Presidential gun salute also made its presence felt with resounding booms as the artillery guns went off. This year also saw a focus on the women in SAF, with a female officer in the colors party and a female battery sergeant major.

My upbringing has definitely influenced my thinking, but it feels good to know that your average Joe on the street can hit a target 100 metres away accurately, ain’t it? (Except if he becomes radicalised)

So can we bring the guns, tanks and planes back next year?


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The Engineer's Morning from Flikr

By Jerrell Seah

IN A recent blog post, our Fix-it minister, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, announced that he has roped in PUB Chairman Mr Tan Gee Paw to be his Advisor on Rail Transformation. He commented that Mr Tan has made Singapore more self-sufficient in our water supply through the NEWater initiative and through his efforts, Mr Tan has made water engineering “sexy”.

This comes after a commentary earlier in July by Mr Han Fook Kwang who attributed the recent rail issues to a “hollowing out” of experienced engineers in the field today. Taking a quick look at the statistics from the two local universities offering engineering degrees, NUS has 5,529 engineering undergraduates currently (or about 20 per cent of its total undergraduate population for AY 14/15) while NTU has 10,434 engineering undergraduates (or about 44 per cent of its total undergraduate population for AY 14/15). The numbers are pretty clear, there are still a large number of students enrolled to study engineering. Perhaps Mr Khaw was right, engineering has indeed become sexy.

But the story is not so simple.

As a chemical engineering undergraduate myself, I find myself competing against 300 other students in the same cohort. But whether all 300 of us go on to work as engineers is another question. I have friends who are currently on an entrepreneurial stint in Silicon Valley under the NUS Overseas College programme who are more interested in joining the marketing industry in the future. Looking at the statistics provided by my department, 25 per cent of the batch that graduated in 2014 are working in non-engineering sectors such as finance and management. True, this is only a small sample of only chemical engineers, and so might not be representative.

Another factor against going into the industry. When I applied to do my degree back in 2011, the median salary of a chemical engineer was $3,500 while that of a NUS business graduate was $3,600. Fast forward 4 years and now that I am in my penultimate year of study, the median salary of a chemical engineer has dropped to $3,200 while that of a NUS business graduate is still at $3,500. It is no wonder that some of my friends are considering joining the finance and management industries.

The discussion about the lack of engineers also ignores one fundamental aspect of engineering degrees: Each major is specialised. Although I take courses in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics like my friends in mechanical and environmental engineering, the focus is different. Trust me, we tried to study together for finals but the content and depth covered varies and we ended up getting more confused instead. Then again, the lack of engineers felt by LTA isn’t about to filled by chemical engineers or environmental engineers. More civil engineers are needed.

Based on data published by NUS, the number of civil engineering undergraduates has grown from 382 in 2011 to 476 in 2014, to about 9 per cent of the current engineering cohort. For NTU, the number grew from 428 to 464 in the same time period, to about 4 per cent of the current engineering cohort. In comparison, degrees such as chemical and mechanical engineering in NUS account for close to 20 per cent each of engineering undergraduates. Mechanical engineering in NUS has always been a popular choice due to the many specialisations available, chief of which is aerospace engineering. NTU has its own aerospace engineering degree which is greatly sought after and they currently have 385 undergraduates. One of the main reasons for its popularity is the high salary. The emphasis on growing our aerospace sector has led to aerospace engineers commanding a starting pay of $3,800 in 2011 to $4,070 in 2014.

Having spoken to my engineering friends, I realised another possible reason civil engineering might not be popular is that it is not “sexy”. They spend their laboratory sessions mixing concrete while my friends in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering get to experiment with 3D-printers. I think the stigma that surrounds civil engineering is accentuated by the endless construction going on. With every yellow hard hat that we see, civil engineering gets just that little bit less sexy. It is after all, an engineering job that requires a lot of perspiring at work sites.

To address the shortfall, Mr Khaw has to encourage more students to pick up civil engineering and then convince them to stay on as civil engineers. It is by no means an easy feat, and would require heightened coordination between the Manpower, Education ministries and the Universities. Time for the Cabinet cluster approach to work! But I guess that this is a problem out of my control and I should worry about myself instead. With graduation on the horizon, I am beginning to get antsy about my future career prospects. For now, I think I will stick to being a chemical engineer. As my friend once said, “I have already slogged so hard for the degree, I need to use it once.”


Featured image The Engineer’s Morning by Flickr user Donnie Nunly, CC BY 2.0.

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Jerrell Seah

by Jerrell Seah

IT WAS a quickie.

My virgin voting experience was over in less than five minutes. With two quick strokes of a pen, I made a decision that would have a profound impact on Singapore. There was a weird aftertaste to the voting, an anti-climatic yet apprehensive flavour to it.

Unlike all the excitement surrounding the elections since electoral divisions were first announced in July to the dissolution of Parliament in August, and finally through campaigning season in the past two weeks, voting was relatively bland in comparison. My sister’s primary school was the voting station I was assigned to and walking into the same canteen brought back memories of my sister’s graduation some years ago. Now I have another memory associated with that canteen.

As I walked up to the voting booth, after going through checks by helpful polling agents, I thought about what both parties said they would do if they were voted in. I thought back on the discussions I had with my friends recently. One of my female friends who is unable to vote due to her age implored us to vote for PAP, especially after reading a viral Facebook message sent by a Singaporean in the United States to all his Facebook friends. One of my other friends who is living in Simei said he might vote for Workers’ Party (WP), bringing up the argument of checks and balances. Another friend of mine, living in Taman Jurong, was thoroughly impressed by DPM Tharman’s speech. Surprisingly, my generation isn’t as apathetic as what many naysayers would have us believe.

I crossed one box and dropped my ballot slip into another box. With my decision made, I left quickly to join my parents as we left for dinner. Outside the voting station, my mother got nostalgic and started talking about how in the next election, my sister would be eligible to vote. For her, that is another milestone in her life as that meant both me and my sister have grown up and her parenting duties are over. But for now, her eyes remained glued to the clock waiting for the announcement of the results.

Featured photo by Jerrell Seah. 

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Jerrell Seah

by Jerrell Seah

THERE were fist-pumps all around at the Choa Chu Kang stadium on Thursday night as the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) held its first rally in the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC. And, boy, was it long, with almost three hours of rhetoric. All four candidates contesting in the GRC spoke up and outlined their platforms, but there were a few commonalities as well:

1. Vote for SDP, but NOT because you hate PAP.

So SDP wants to be voted into Parliament based on its own merits and devoted quite a sizable amount of rally time explaining what it stood for and why its candidates should be voted in. To their credit, each speaker avoided overtly putting down PAP. Instead, they focused on what alternatives they could propose for what they viewed as problems with the country. But whether these alternatives are viable are an entirely different story.

2. Politics should be clean

Mentioned several times were PAP’s Lawrence Wong and Sim Ann’s “character assassination” of Dr Chee Soon Juan. Candidates voiced their disapproval and stated that they refused to engage in “gutter politics” with the PAP. I was taken aback. Did they expect politics to be all airy-fairy and nice? Politics was always meant to be dirty. As a society we may claim that we wish to be civil about it but deep down, everyone is clamouring for the juicy bits that came out of the exchange between Mr Wong and Dr Chee on national TV. Look at the number of posts on social media that had people proclaiming their respect for Mr Chiam See Tong by juxtaposing his actions with those of Dr Chee. For all the naysayers out there; admit it, you enjoyed the mud-slinging immensely.

And now on to the candidates:

1. Mr John Tan

Mr Tan was the anchor speaker at the rally, speaking in the last 20 minutes. His speech was largely a feel-good speech with a couple of smoke grenades thrown in for good measure, a proper smokescreen prior to curtain call. His major platform was the legislation of a minimum wage. He said that many residents had raised the high cost of living as an issue that concerns them. He and the SDP feel that a minimum wage would help to alleviate this problem as this would increase the purchasing power of the poor. Scholars have been divided over the effects of a minimum wage scheme and I myself am skeptical.

Mr Tan brought up Hong Kong as an example which implemented the minimum wage scheme recently. I did a quick search, the unemployment rate has stagnated at 3.3 per cent, which could mean that there is no net loss in jobs or that there is no net gain in jobs. A half-full or half-empty kind of situation. So for me, the jury is still out.

In keeping in line with this GE’s knack for political gaffes, Mr Tan described the minimum wage legislation as “the only kind of solution that the SPP, no SDP, has”. An ironical (a word he abused in his speech) gaffe indeed.

2. Mr Bryan Lim

Mr Lim delivered his speech in Mandarin and was a rather fluent speaker. He started off his speech addressing his lacklustre performance on the recent televised political debate that was streamed live on Channel 8 on the night of Nomination Day. His excuse was that he was given a short time to prepare (two hours) and that the PAP candidates came with huge binders of material. He hinted at an unfair advantage being given to the PAP candidates. Huh? Didn’t he say he had preparing for this GE for 14 years, between GE 2001 and GE 2015? He had also said that he was heavily involved in the crafting of SDP policy papers. So… what did all that preparation and discussion amount to? Inexcusable. If he had spun his story into a David versus Goliath story like what Dr Chee did, perhaps I would have been won over.

3. Mr Damanhuri Abas

As I mentioned previously, Mr Damanhuri was a candidate that interests me because for once, someone is brave enough to speak up about race. He gave his speech in Malay which is unfortunately not one of the languages I am fluent in. I enlisted the help of my Indonesian friend (who ironically, if not for the foreign talent policy, I would not have been able to befriend) to translate. From what was loosely translated, I gather that he spoke about brotherhood and tackling discrimination against the minorities. While he did not mention concrete policy plans, I am glad that someone is willing to speak about race. Hopefully, there will be more details released in future.

4. Dr Wong Souk Yee

Dr Wong started off her speech stating that she was very nervous, and that was evident throughout her speech. She is campaigning on the platform that there needs to be more “Opposition voices in Parliament” and she will fight for greater “accuracy and transparency”. Being an adjunct lecturer with the Centre for English Language and Communication (CELC) in NUS, her speech was crafted rather well, moving from point to point logically until she reached the second half of her speech when she seemed to lose her composure. She mentioned the Government Investment Coorporation (GIC) and Temasek Holdings as entities that need to have greater transparency, but left it as that. After mentioning both companies, she seemed to run into a mental block and just awkwardly moved on to end her speech with no further elaboration.

5. Dr Chee Soon Juan

I saved the best for last. Dr Chee, barred from standing in the previous two elections, came back much stronger. I do not have much of an impression of him then as I was struggling with being the best Pokemon master there ever was during GE2001 but I was so wow-ed by his speech last night. Like wow, Dr Chee is one eloquent politician. Putting aside his smooth oratorical skills, I do have some contentions with his policy alternatives. He raised the issue of immigration and stated that competition from foreign talent is making us worse off, especially for university students who are underemployed or unemployed.

I must admit, with graduation on the horizon, I am worried about my employment prospects. But I hold the unconventional viewpoint that if I am out-competed by foreigners in my own backyard, then the fault lies with me and not with the G. Think about it. For every foreigner that a company hires, the company has to pay for accommodation, transport and possibly for the resettlement of employee’s family here as well. Hiring a local on the other hand incurs no such costs. So why would a company choose to hire a foreigner instead? The answer is simple: there has to be something I am lacking.

This post is probably going to get me labelled as being pro-PAP but that is only because the PAP rally for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC has yet to been held. Will Mr Lawrence Wong, who was seen eating char kway yeow at Block 302 recently, be coming around soon?

Ah. Yes. Tonight!

Featured image by Jerrell Seah.

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Jerrell Seah

by Jerrell Seah

I’VE been waiting for yesterday to see who will be entering the electoral ring in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.

It looks like the People’s Action Party (PAP) team is going up against the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) again. Only Mr John Tan, though, is from the SDP’s GE2011 slate. The rest are new. I was thinking that Mr S Veriyah would return but he’s gone to Bukit Batok SMC. Maybe he figures he will have a better shot at a single-seat ward – except that there’s a three-cornered fight there!

So where are the other three? I’ve been doing some research for this column and this is what turned up:  Mr Jarrod Luo resigned from SDP in 2012 following a tiff over sent emails, Mr Mohd Isa Abdul Aziz died of renal failure a few months after a stroke in November 2013 and I don’t know where Mr James Gomez is. I gather he’s teaching somewhere in China. 

On to fresh stuff…

For GE2015, Mr Bryan Lim, Mr Damanhuri Bin Abas and Dr Wong Souk Yee will be contesting alongside Mr John Tan. In my last column, I said that I had hoped the new slate of candidates will be more presentable and they certainly have more impressive credentials this time round. Mr Damanhuri is a former director at an Islamic College while Dr Wong is an adjunct lecturer at National University of Singapore; both are new candidates. Mr Lim contested the General Election of 2011, then disappeared, and now re-surfaced for this round.

Looking at what’s on the SDP official website, the issues that these candidates will champion are pretty conventional, such as alleviating income inequality (Mr Tan) or housing and education (Mr Lim). Dr Wong was a former political detainee. She was arrested in the 1987 Operation Spectrum that targeted a potential Marxist conspiracy that used Christian organizations as fronts. Her entire biography was based on the need for checks and balances. She said that if she was voted in, she would ensure greater accountability and transparency in the G.

I agree that there should be checks and balances to ensure that the G is held accountable for its actions. And that the presence of opposition MPs could be a way to ensure that policies are debated thoroughly.

But my biggest beef with such a platform is that if the Opposition is going to just say No and not propose viable alternatives, how are policies going to develop then? Taking the White Paper on Population for example, the Workers Party published its own version of the Population White Paper. But most of what it proposed was to tweak certain figures such as a higher mortality rate and lower life expectancy to bring the final tally below the much-derided 6.9 million figure.

Its suggestions to justify all the tweaking are very much similar to what has been proposed by the ruling party eventually, such as incentivising companies to adopt more flexible work hours to ensure that female employees are able to cope with their familial duties. So no, saying no just for the sake of saying no is not a good enough reason for me to vote for a candidate.

The SDP’s policy paper on population starts off with the focus on hiring Singaporean PMETs first, and then veers into a discussion on how the cost of living is causing many Singaporeans to emigrate, followed by how we should based our growth on a new composite index called “Genuine Progress Indicator”, which includes crime, pollution and family breakdown.

My first thoughts were, cost of living or cost of lifestyle? Secondly, I am unclear how factors such as family breakdown can be statistically quantified to make sense when compared against hard numbers such as GDP. Thirdly, crime rates in Singapore are among the lowest in the world and pollution comes in the form of the seasonal haze which is technically out of the control of anyone here anyway… so I am not sure what this new composite indicator hopes to achieve other than it being a nice sounding term.

I must say though that the SDP’s point on abolishing the Ethnic Integration Policy intrigues me, why so I will explain later. This HDB policy regulates the ratio of ethnic groups living in each HDB block and was conceived in an attempt to prevent the formation of racial enclaves and to avoid physical segregation.

Of the candidates, Mr Damanhuri is someone who caught my attention. He said that he would champion Malay rights and shared a story about how his son wanted to be a tank commander after witnessing the mobile column in the SG50 celebrations. Mr Damanhuri claimed that because he is a Malay, his son’s wish will never be fulfilled. Is that really the case? I know of Malay fighter pilots and other Malays in top gun positions. Maybe there isn’t enough of a spread of Malays in other parts of the armed forces?

In any case, I personally hold the opinion that ethnic classifications are out-dated, especially with the rise in inter-racial marriages. Does it not matter more that we are all Singaporeans? Why the distinctions among Chinese Singaporean, Malay Singaporean or Indian Singaporean? While our colonial masters divided us up geographically, it seems that we have decided to divide ourselves up mentally.

The PAP slate remains as announced with Madam Halimah Yacob and Mr Lawrence Wong leading the team. Being a newly pieced GRC, the candidates were brought together from various parts. Madam Halimah previously served under the Bukit Batok East ward in Jurong GRC while Mr Wong came from the Boon Lay ward under the West Coast GRC. Mr Alex Yam and Mr Ong Teng Koon will contest as incumbent MPs after their wards were carved out of the Choa Chu Kang and Sembawang GRCs respectively.

The parties’ posters are already up in my area.

Now to wait for the candidates to speak at their rallies…


Featured image by Jerrell Russell Seah.

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Jerrell Seah

by Jerrell Seah

I BARELY had time to keep up with election news, now that a new academic year has begun. All I know is that Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has resigned, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean took a shot at Workers’ Party (WP) Sylvia Lim over some orh luak, and more importantly, at least to me, the People’s Action Party (PAP) had announced their slate of candidates for the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.

If you don’t know where Marsiling and Yew Tee were, just think Woodlands and the Woodlands checkpoint. I live in the Woodgrove division.

When I tell people that I live in Woodlands, I can see mental pictures of causeway jams forming in their heads, with impressions of it being a pretty ulu place. Woodlands is a young town, which only started growing from year 2000. Despite being relatively new, it is well provisioned with healthcare facilities, such as a National Kidney Foundation dialysis centre, a polyclinic and Khoo Teck Phuat, a hospital that is a mere 10-minute drive away. There are a variety of options for education, with Innova Junior College just opposite my home and Republic Polytechnic right next to the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line terminal station. Primary schools are aplenty. There are three within walking distance from my house, with the newest, Innova Primary School, built roughly six years ago, exactly when my cousin was beginning registration for a Primary One place.

Woodgrove used to belong to Sembawang GRC, the electoral constituency I had gotten used to for as long as I can remember. Life in Woodlands was relatively quiet, much like the suburban areas in the United States. I have always viewed Woodlands as part of the North, alongside Yishun, Sembawang and Admiralty. My new GRC incorporates Yew Tee, a town which is a whole six minutes ride away from the nearest MRT station at Kranji. It’s the longest distance between two stations along the North-South Line. I found it difficult to draw commonalities between Woodlands and Yew Tee, a town so far away it is technically part of western Singapore.

It is not likely to remain a quiet town, with the on-going developments and the great plans for the area. Pile drivers have pounded away outside Causeway Point for the past one year or so. The upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line ran across my house and the value of my parents’ HDB flat slowly went up as well. My parents are glad, but I am ambivalent. My only concern is whether the contractor would go bust, like what happened with Alpine Bau, the original contractor of the Downtown Line.

And while we’re talking about drivers, the cross-junction just outside my house is known to my family as the “cross-junction of death”. It is the first major junction, with cars exiting from Seletar Expressway and Malaysian drivers coming down from the causeway. Every now and then, a screeching sound would be heard, followed by a loud bang. When it happens, my parents and I would look at each other and rush over to the balcony. A macabre pastime perhaps, made more frequent by road works around the junction.

Supposedly, there is also the North Coast Innovation Corridor that was announced in 2013 as a way to decentralize commerce from the Central Business District (CBD) area. The corridor was to be anchored by the Woodlands Regional Centre, and connected to the rest of the island via the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line. It was to incorporate the Seletar Regional Centre and expected to be connected to the Iskandar region and Malaysia via the cross-border rail link. As someone who will be going out to work in a few years, I waited for news on it. But besides the roaring Rolls Royce engines in Seletar Aerospace Park, there has been almost no word about the plans.

To be honest, it does not matter to me which GRC I am in. My parents voted PAP in the previous general election, mostly because they remember how Singapore was and where Singapore is now. To me, and I dare say, my generation, our votes will be influenced a lot by what we see on the television or on social media. As I mentioned previously on the Saturday Night Live parody of the 2008 United States Presidential Election, I am interested to hear what candidates are fighting for and what they can do for me in Woodlands or at the national level. Can they, for example, allay my fears that my engineering degree, which I am studying so hard for, can get me a job despite what statistics are saying? Can they, for example, figure out a way to finance our greater welfare expenditure?

My ward is looked after by Mr Ong Teng Koon, a first-term MP whom I gather, became quite emotional during the PAP’s introduction of candidates when he spoke about serving the people and working behind-the-scenes while getting things done. That part about working behind the scenes is at least true for my case. I have never seen the man, as I said in my first column.

I believe that an MP should be both seen and heard. I did a quick check on Mr Ong’s participation in Parliament sessions and discovered that he spoke in only 25 of the 100 sessions he attended. I don’t have the time to go through parliamentary records, but I hope that he spoke up for his voters, especially about their municipal woes – and aspirations. If he didn’t, maybe his new partners, Mr Lawrence Wong, Madam Halimah Yacob and Mr Alex Yam, will.

I am still trying to make up my mind about how I would “grade” the politicians’ responses. Given that this is the first time I will be casting my vote, I intend to attend party rallies and keep a close watch on what the PAP, as well as the Opposition, are going to say. My parents have already decided on how they are going to vote; my mother was overwhelmed with the passing of first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. I have my eye on Mr Ong and am looking forward to what he has to say. As for the Opposition, with only rumours that Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is going to contest again, I can only hope that the new slate of Opposition candidates would be more presentable than that of the previous general election.

Mr Lawrence Wong mentioned that he wishes to “retain the distinctive heritage and character” of the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC. I grew up in the North and I find myself hard-pressed to pinpoint what defines my town, other than the fact that Johor is just a 30-minute drive away.

Moving ahead, it would be nice to know that I live in a place that is more than just known as “almost Johor”.


Featured image by Jerrell Russell Seah.

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by Jerrell Seah

Are you 1 of the 42,599?

By that I mean one of the first-time voters in the upcoming GE. Well, I am and my memory of the previous GE was not the loss of Aljunied GRC but rather of envy when I saw some of my platoon mates book out during the confinement period to vote. I had just enlisted then and life in Tekong insulated me from the brouhaha of the elections.

Prior to enlistment, I was in an interview with the board of the Public Service Commission for its namesake scholarship. As it was an election year, one of the interview questions was “What advice would you give Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the upcoming elections?”

To that, I replied confidently: “Acknowledge Singlish as part of our culture and to take a stand on nuclear energy.” (I still stand firmly by these ideas but they are the subject of another discussion.) Right away I knew I had struck a nerve. Sure enough, one week later I was issued the familiar rejection letter that starts with “I regret to inform you…”

Five years later and elections are upon us again. To be honest, I was overseas on work in Indonesia and China in July and updates on Singapore news was sporadic. Since coming back to Singapore, I have been catching up on GE-related news, through TMG and even old copies of ST accumulated at home.

I found out that I am no longer under Sembawang GRC but given over to the new Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC. I went from Khaw Boon Wan to Lawrence Wong. I thought it would be fun to tackle the same question again, but this time as a first-time voter. Not as a fresh A-level graduate quaking in fear. So here goes.

1) Get the MPs to speak up at rallies.

I know that my MP is Mr Ong Teng Koon but I have no idea what he stands for or what issues he will fight for in Parliament. And that scares me. I want to know where he stands on immigration, whether he is for more foreigners or otherwise. I want to know where he stands on education, whether he feels that our current system is sustainable or that some reforms are warranted. I want to know, I want to know.

With the GRC system, it is often the minister that is helming that particular GRC that gives the speech to the residents. I would love to see Mr Ong go up and address us. That would be a rally I would attend. True that rallies are often heart-thumping events in which rhetoric is used to inspire the crowd and draw votes, but these same words have been heard many times before. I know that our nation faces trying challenges ahead and that we must band together. I know that in the wake of religious extremism, we must do more to preserve our racial harmony. I know all that. We all know that. But what Mr Ong has to say about healthcare spending, that, I do not know.

So pretty please, allow our MPs to speak up at the rallies, not the minister. I am after all, voting for the MP who is representing my district.

2) Organise a debate among the various political parties.

I vividly remember the 2008 political parody by the American comedy sketch show, Saturday Night Live, that starred Tina Fey as Sarah Palin in a mock vice-presidential debate. Till today, that video still makes me laugh out loud.

A multi-party debate will serve to allow all parties to present their manifestos (if they have one) and allow all arguments to be aired and clarified in person, which therefore, could reduce the potential for comments to be misconstrued. This is unlike what is happening on social media platforms now with claims made about anyone contesting in the upcoming elections, such as this anti-PAP commentary that was snapped up by the Reform Party to promote its own agenda, or this Facebook post discrediting WP candidate Gerald Giam.

My generation cannot draw our selfs away from the allure of social media and these commentaries, therefore influence our impressions of particular parties or candidates. I hope that a multi-party debate can be held and I want to hear what these candidates have to say, without the filter of a keyboard and a screen.

And if we are lucky, we might get to have a good laugh along the way.



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by Jerrell Seah

Who would have thought that a 17-year-old YouTuber here would make international headlines? Several foreign media personalities and NGOs have weighed in on behalf of Amos Yee. Today, several Taiwanese gathered outside the Singapore trade office in Taipei to call on the G to release Amos Yee (there’s even a video of the protest). The move comes three days after the youth was ordered by the courts to go through a psychiatric assessment to see if his offences are a result of autism spectrum disorder. If so, Yee could receive a Mandatory Treatment Order to undergo a maximum of two years of psychiatric treatment in lieu of imprisonment. After which, his offence would be wiped off the record.

The alternative sentence would be a stint at a Reformative Training Centre, which would see juvenile offenders undergoing a period of isolation for the first two weeks followed by a regulated schedule beginning at 6am and ending at 9pm.

Quick off the mark was Human Rights Watch. Its Deputy Asia Director, Phil Robertson who called for the immediate release of Yee after the June 23 ruling. He said that “the court has provided no adequate justification for Yee’s further detention”.

Other than the Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Office for South-east Asia (OHCHR) called on the G to review Yee’s conviction and for a stint in RTC to be dropped.

What is it about the case that draws such attention?

Several facets:

a. His age, 17, which means that he has to be convicted as an adult, although the court has some discretion in deciding the sentencing. Other jurisdictions have a higher age limit.

b. His inflammatory remarks about the late Lee Kuan Yew coming not long after the funeral in March, which gives rise to speculation that this was what sparked police action, rather than his comments about religion.

c. His persistent flouting of court orders, such as re-posting material he was told not to.

d. His consistent calls to be sent to jail, refusing even probation for his offences. He has been incarcerated for at least 40 days. The number would be smaller if Yee had not flouted bail conditions on two separate occasions.

Media elsewhere and even here have painted him as a martyr, insistent on his right to freedom of expression. They have focused less on his other antics, such as alleging that his bailor had molested him because he said he wanted to show that he could wind the media around his finger. Or his harsh remarks about his own parents.

Yee was arrested on March 30 on two charges under the Penal Code (intention to wound religious feelings, circulation of obscene images) and one charge under the Harassment Act (issuance of a threat). On May 12, the court found Yee guilty of the first two charges while the last charge was stood down (this does not mean that charges were dropped, just postponed).

The Amos Yee issue seems to have polarised the country, with Mr Neo Gim Huah slapping Yee outside the courthouse, for which he was jailed three weeks, and grassroot leader Jason Tan Kok Whee getting a stern warning from the police for threatening to damage his private parts. Even his own lawyer Mr Alfred Dodwell was cited by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) over concerns of sub judice because he made public a letter of complaint he submitted to the judge.

The last time a case drew such international interest was over the death of American Shane Todd, 31, who was found hanged in his apartment, a few days before he was scheduled to return back to the United States in 2012. The inquest was re-opened after his family and American politicians raised questions that made his death read like something out of a Jason Bourne movie with claims of espionage and shadow government deals.

Foreign media have weighed in in the past on cases before the Singapore courts, but usually over cases involving their own nationals or when the death penalty was involved.

So what have they been saying about Amos?

Nathan Keller from The New Yorker praises Yee’s creativity and “flamboyant thought and language”, advocating that his kind of provocative thinking is what Singapore needs to break out of the society’s herd-like mentality. He sees Yee’s conviction as a sign of Singapore’s “backwardness on rights and freedom” and the country’s “dire need for cultural education through intelligent dissent”.

Scott Ng from Free Malaysia Today praised Yee’s intelligence and criticism of Lee Kuan Yew, supporting his cause for speaking against utilitarian ideology. He warned Singapore that “a hallmark of a fully mature society is its ability to accept, assimilate, and act upon criticism”, and encouraged Yee for representing “the voice of a generation that dares speak against Singapore’s official history”.

Ben Mathis-Lilley of The Slate is also critical of Yee’s punishment and Singapore’s lack of freedom in speech, describing Yee’s ideas as “substantive organic dissent”.

The Guardian gave a neutral report of the teenager’s arrest. It presents Singapore’s stand in protecting religious harmony in the country, with Tan Chye Hee, Singapore police deputy commissioner, saying: “Police take a stern view of acts that could threaten religious harmony in Singapore. Any person who uploads offensive content online with deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person will be firmly dealt with in accordance with the law.”

It highlighted the restrictive political and journalistic environment in Singapore and presents support from the Singaporean community, including effort from a Christian Singaporean’s petition calling for the release of the blogger.

Yee’s next hearing is scheduled for July 6. If he was told to go for medical treatment, would he do so? That would be tantamount to an admission on his part that he was compelled by a disorder to do the things he did. And that doesn’t sound like the Amos that is being lionised.


Featured photo by Shawn Danker.

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Photo from Wikipedia Comments https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Pacific_Partnership#/media/File:Leaders_of_TPP_member_states.jpg

by Jerrell Seah 

There is something going on in the world that we should sit up and take notice of. It is not about MERS although yes, we should worry if the virus lands here. It has to do with trade and economics and involves an alphabet soup of terms. The reason for worry is simply that Singapore is an open nation. Trade is our lifeblood.

Over the past week, it looked as though one big artery was going to be clogged. It belongs in the United States where politicians are arguing about the benefits of free trade, in particular, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) of 12 nations, including Singapore. The TPP has been hailed as holy grail of free trade agreements because it is rather more fuss-free and with fewer exceptions than traditional free trade agreements. This means goods and services can travel more easily across countries – which account for 40 per cent of world trade – instead of going through reams of red tape, which can add significant costs. Singapore, by the way, was one of the original signatories.

The trouble is that not all American politicians are convinced of its benefits – and the US is the second largest trading nation (China is the largest) in the world. They worry about jobs and factories moving to cheaper countries. Those who do believe that trade benefits all in the long run, want to hobble the process with exceptions which would likely lead to a watered-down agreement.

Congress almost succeeded on Tuesday to strangle the TPP when it voted down a Bill that, among other things, would have allowed President Barack Obama to negotiate international agreements on behalf of Congress without having to return to it for every change. Pro-trade Republicans and businesses everywhere raised an outcry with Singapore warning that the United States risked losing its relevance in Asia if it couldn’t get its part of the deal done. But a couple of days of hard lobbying and some splitting of the legislation resulted in a positive outcome. President Obama got his temporary fast-track authority, although he still needs the Senate to agree.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister K Shanmugam is now in the US to, among other things, nudge the Americans on the TPP path.

All this wrangling is probably less interesting than watching the SEA Games, or discussing COE and housing prices. What TPP? What FTA? Why should anyone care so long as prices are low and business is good? But that is precisely why everyone should care.

Singapore and the US signed an FTA in 2003 at a time when then-President Bill Clinton had such fast-track power. A report released by the European Union Trade Commission in 2013 showed that Singapore exports to the US increased by US$525 million in the three years after the FTA went into force. An FTA isn’t just about trade. It covers taxes, investment projects and movement of workers across national boundaries. For example, public utilities projects are now open to tender by foreign companies such as the awarding of the tender to French multinational corporation Veolia for waste management in parts of Singapore. Under US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), Singapore is granted a quota of 5,400 visas yearly. In all, Singapore has negotiated 20 different FTAs with more than 30 countries.

It is true that the agreements are extremely complex (the TPP is touted for its simplicity) and can be beyond the grasp of the layman. Even G officials can be blindsided by its many clauses. In 2011, for example, the G introduced Additional Buyer Stamp Duty (ABSD) as part of a slew of measures to cool down the housing market. But the FTAs it negotiated with the US and the European Free Trade Area comprising Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and the United States, granted their citizens same treatment as Singaporean citizens and permanent residents here.

This is probably why in 2013, the FTA signed with the 28 countries in the European Union contained the following clause: Nothing in this Agreement shall prevent Singapore from adopting or maintaining taxation measures which are needed to protect Singapore’s overriding public policy interests arising out of its specific constraints of space.

On the flip side, Singapore said okay to the EU setting up a registry for food from the region, much like intellectual property rights. So champagne and feta cheese are considered IP products and hence enjoy the same premiums commanded by patented technologies. This means that the Parmigiano cheese, more commonly known as Parmesan Cheese, that we enjoy on our Pizza Hut pizzas will cost more.

But the EUSFTA, though signed in October 2014, has yet to be voted on by the European parliament nor has it been ratified. In a joint statement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in February 2015, both leaders urged EU members to move fast to ratify the EUSFTA. The delay was attributed to “legal-scrubbing”, in which the original legal text has to be translated into the official language of member countries.

In the US, President Obama thinks the TPP will be “swiftly concluded”. If so, it will be a foreign policy success before he leaves office. The problem though is that the US is now in the throes of the 2016 presidential election and hopefuls such as Mrs Hillary Clinton, don’t seem to think it’s politically wise to embark on a course which some voters think is bad for them.

In the meantime, pizzas anybody?



Feature photo from Wiki Commons by username Chaser.

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A petition on Change.org demanding that The Real Singapore be shut down (Image Credit: Change.org / Screenshot).

by Jerrell Seah

Trawl through Change.org and you will find at least three petitions against therealsingapore.com. And those are just the active ones. The controversial website has drawn netizens’ ire even before its owners were hauled to court on sedition charges in February 2015. A certain Sceadu Align started one in March, calling on an alphabet soup of ministers and government agencies to shut down the site, alleging that it has become “a breeding ground for racist, dangerous, and socially divisive sentiments’’. The petition asked for 10,000 signatures; so far it has 3,000.

It seems that the petitioners have had their wish granted. The Media Development Authority suspended the site’s operations in May, citing breaches of the Class Licence Act. Whether the MDA heeded the call made by the petitioners is an open question, although it clearly has a big group of supporters on its side. Officialdom has never been known to take into account online petitions, except to question their veracity.

Ashley Madison is an online dating service marketed to people already in a relationship (File photo).

Likewise, the MDA made no mention of a petition started by a Mrs Ho to Block Ashley Madison, a dating site based in Canada which facilitates affairs between married individuals, when it announced that it would block its operations here.

Yet many people seem to have placed faith in petition power, going by the activity on three of the most popular petition sites. Change.org has the greatest footprint with 49 active Singapore-related petitions filed since July 2014. The site claims to reach out to more than 70 million users in 196 countries. Avaaz.org boasts 40 million users in 194 countries while goPetition.com says it has 15 million.

Online petitions, like those filed against therealsingapore.com, have become a symbol of active citizenry in Singapore. A quick search spawns a whole host of petitions. They ranged from the municipal, such as a call to build wooden skate parks to lessen bodily injuries (2 signatures) and getting the Nanyang Technological University authorities to launch a shuttle service for undergraduates living in the north-east (13 signatures), to those which are more time-sensitive, such as a call to integrated resorts to shut down casino operations during former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s state funeral as a sign of respect (817 signatures).  Whether or not the two integrated resorts had sight of the petition, they shut casino operations for four hours on the day of Mr Lee’s funeral on March 29 this year.

Casinos were closed for four hours on the day of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral (File photo).

The originators usually set a threshold on the number of petitioners sought, from 500 to 25,000. It seems that not many hit their targets. The closest is a petition started on April 7, last year to have the Singapore Press Holding’s website STOMP closed. It garnered 24,101 of the 25,000 signatures the petition asked for. The petition alleged that STOMP was promoting cyber bullying, picking on national servicemen and fabricating stories. In response to the petition, SPH English and Malay newspapers Editor-In-Chief Patrick Daniel admitted in an interview with mUmBRELLA Asia, on the sidelines of the World Association of Newspaper Conference in 2014, that the petition had an “impact on us(SPH). We will have to review it.”

So what has been the upshot of all this petitioning? None of them appears to have been submitted to the intended recipients it would seem. Perhaps, the idea is more about generating awareness of a topic than to provoke change. Or shame commercial organisations into action with bad publicity. Maybe, the originators under-estimated the support they would draw or believe that the G and commercial groups monitor comments on them on the Internet.

The fact is, the ease with which a petition can be started and marked with signatures affects its credibility. No verification of personal particulars are required to create an account. With just your email, you could call yourself John Smith, as this writer did, and sign off for Recreational Access to Butterfly Trial (Change.org), Ending violence in Israel and Palestine (Avaaz.org) and Supporting TMT (goPetition.com).

About the only time online petitions made mainstream news was in 2013 when some Muslims went on Avaaz.org to advocate the wearing of tudungs in uniformed occupations and frontline positions. It garnered more than 17,000 signatories. Charges of astro-turfing were levelled when the petitions were cited as evidence of support.  After all, it is easy enough for one person to use as many email addresses as possible to add to the numbers.

Of the 49 active petitions on Change.org, eight were related to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, with calls to erect a bronze statue or to print commemorative notes. There were also petitions to release Inuka (224 signatures), move FIFA’s headquarters to Singapore (21 signatures) and shut down Mobile Air of Jover Chew fame (71 signatures).

Lost in the cacophony of petitions is a plea to spare 21-year old Ng Yao Wei, who is charged with the murder of his older brother, from the gallows. One would have thought there would be more signatures than the 33 it garnered given that the death penalty is such a hot issue. On the other hand, a call to American game developer Trion Worlds Inc. to include a South East Asian gaming server gathered 140 signatures. Likewise, the petition to get Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), run by the Workers Party, on Change.org to come clean about its finances gathered 100 signatures rapidly when it was started on Feb 14 this year. But in the four months since, it has managed to garner only 60 extra signatures. This is despite the widespread publicity given to wrangle between the G and the WP, both in Parliament and in the courts.

Given the ease with which anyone can launch any petition in the hope of getting support, no one perhaps has considered that there might actually be an official way to get attention. Singapore’s  parliamentary procedures allow for a person or corporation to submit a petition to Parliament through a Member. Besides stating grievances, the petition should also state the remedies which are sought. The petition will then be referred to the Public Petitions Committee now helmed by Speaker Halimah Yacob. The committee’s role is to consider petitions received by the House and to submit a report to Parliament afterwards. Since the first legislative assembly in 1955, only one petition has been successfully brought up for discussion by the Public Petitions committee back in 1985. The petitioner, a Mr Sivadas Sankaran, appealed to have the legal proceedings instituted against him for defamation be declared a breach of the privileges of Parliament.  The committee, on the advice of the Attorney-General, decided that the issue petitioned was outside the jurisdiction of the Parliament and thus was resolved as such.  Food for thought?


Featured image is a screenshot from Change.org.

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