May 26, 2017

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The Middle Ground

The Middle Ground
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You can reach us at editor@themiddleground.sg

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I think the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) needs to change the questions they ask in their biennial survey on volunteerism.

Otherwise, it all just sounds a bit too chirpy – and unbelievable. And I’m not the only one who thinks that, apparently – in ST, people said they were “surprised” by the findings given that Singaporeans are not “active volunteers”.

So the survey results showed that more people are volunteering. One in three respondents said they volunteered last year – the first time the figure has crossed the 30 per cent mark.

This appears to contradict another recent survey by the World Giving Index, which tagged our national volunteer rate at 8 per cent, giving us a ranking of 140 out of 146 countries surveyed.

Why the difference? Because unlike the Index, which counts acts of volunteering only when it is regular and through a formal organisation, the NVPC’s view is that any act – “as long as the outcome is people helping one another” – can be considered an example of volunteerism.

(So, in the last two hours I can proudly say I’ve logged at least three acts of volunteerism – helping the 7-11 cashier bag my lemon-barley drink; holding the door open for another customer; and taking a call on behalf of my colleague who’s in the loo – Yay!)

TODAY did good by giving us something a bit more concrete to think about: the total number of hours volunteered (up; from 89 million to 91 million) and the average (down; from 104 hours to 72 hours per volunteer).

As did ST, who reported the NVPC head say the challenge for non-profits is to convert occasional volunteers to regular ones, and that at the Red Cross, only 10 per cent of 4,000 are regular volunteers.

But it missed an important number – that last year’s one in three was a rise over 2010’s one in five figures.

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Ok, so Singapore’s national airline let go of 76 expat pilots before their contracts were up. Why should we care?

You wouldn’t know if you had read only ST and TNP, and missed TODAY’s report.

It was the only report that got analysts talking, and turned what the other newspapers played as a one-industry-facing-cuts story into a story about how the economy was doing on the whole, by noting that it was the first blue-chip company here to announce lay-offs.

Was SIA’s move a “sign of things to come” for Singapore companies, or a reflection of the airline’s internal management issues, TODAY asked.

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So glad to read in ST this morning that the old-school coffee trade is doing well. And what a great headline, too: “Robust trade well worth the grind”.

Whoever came up with that – give that man a kopi-o!

The story, however – well, it feels a bit watered down. For a story about the well the grind-and-roast coffee trade is doing, it is really short on numbers – the right ones anyway.

Supposedly, there are now fewer than five such shops left in Singapore that do this, but there is no context to this – except “Back in the 1950s, such shops were a common sight”.

Then there is the typical sales figures that businesses like to trot out to reporters: a 10% or 20% increase from the year before.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that in fact, this is a standard response because “What else to say, say we are losing money meh?”

Rather than tell me how many types of coffee make how many types of blends, and how many kilos of beans this Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory roasts every week (450kg – is this like 10 Justin Biebers?), why not tell me exactly how “robust” his business is?

Maybe the owners didn’t want to say – maybe they thought this would invite competition. In any case I’m not sure 10-20% is really very robust lor – maybe just not bad.

The coffee trade has made such an amazing transformation in Singapore. Now I’d love to read that story – with a cup of kopi in hand, of course.

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Buying some kumquats this Chinese New Year? Go get them from Candy Floriculture at Thomson Road.

Over the last seven years or so, this company has hired more than 50 ex-convicts – with many rising up the ranks to become supervisors for other former convicts, according to Today.

It’s a heart-warming story in the cascade of official statistics released by the Singapore Prisons Department yesterday: More people in prison found jobs last year before they were released – the third time in as many years the number has gone up.

More companies are also looking to this ready labour pool for employees – 20 per cent more last year compared to in 2011, the paper said.

Elsewhere the statistics are less happy. When it comes to drugs, although the overall recidivism rate has fallen, there are more drug users being caught, and more are going back to prison for at least the second time, said ST.

And they are not just younger – according to TNP, they seem to be getting more well-educated too.

The overall picture may be looking better, but in this one corner of society we could all start paying more attention.

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Deaf people in Singapore got some good news today: From July 15, all new non-residential buildings will have to install visual alarms in case of fire emergencies, reported ST.

Small thing to you and me maybe, but it’s a big deal to the deaf, whose rights to information and equal treatment have often lagged behind other disadvantaged groups here– it was only in late 2006 that TV news media in Singapore were required to have live subtitles, for example.

But why only new buildings? Maybe to require all buildings have new alarms would be too onerous a job for SCDF to enforce…? Or is it more because there’re just not that many deaf people here (How many are there ah, by the way?), or that many deaf people who died in fires because they didn’t hear the alarm go off?

Oh and uh, if new buildings don’t install them, or if they’re broken, will the SCDF have to shut down the building, or is having audio ones good enough?

In any case, this is suppose to be good news so, don’t spoil the mood by asking so many questions lah, right?

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Workers' Party Chairman Ms Sylvia Lim and party members canvas for votes for Ms Lee Li Lian at Kangkar LRT Station on the eve of cooling off day.
Workers’ Party Chairman Ms Sylvia Lim and party members canvas for votes for Ms Lee Li Lian at Kangkar LRT Station on the eve of cooling off day.
A boy is more interested in his ice-cream at the 2nd Workers' Party Rally. One of the hot button issues of this by-election is the lack of childcare facilities in the area.
A boy is more interested in his ice-cream at the 2nd Workers’ Party Rally. One of the hot button issues of this by-election is the lack of childcare facilities in the area.
The Workers' Party victory parade convoy going on it's rounds around the SMC.
The Workers’ Party victory parade convoy going on it’s rounds around the SMC.
Residents from nearby blocks of public housing flats taking in the rally from the staircase landings as Li Lee Lian speaks.
Residents from nearby blocks of public housing flats taking in the rally from the staircase landings as Li Lee Lian speaks.
Not all residents are interested in the rally. This resident of one of the blocks surrounding the rally site, prefers the TV.
Not all residents are interested in the rally.
This resident of one of the blocks surrounding the rally site, prefers the TV.

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Shawn Lee Miller’s interpretation on the recently released Population White Paper has come under heavy criticism online. On its own Razor TV website, it has already garnered a rating of 1.05 out of 5 stars from 156 reviews.

Among those that derided the garden analogy:
“hmmm….is it as bad as the MOM advert where the ah mah cleaner complained to MOM coz her boss deducted her pay when she was on MC?” (Lovecraft RavenEve)

“I was incredulous when I watched it this afternoon, then laughed all the way through. Almost half convinced he is trolling, but it is so sad that the G had to make this kind of propaganda.” (Serene Chew)

“What manner of desperate population propaganda is this? I think it wins the worst analogy award this year. An analogy so bad you watch it to the end to see how low it sinks.” (mrbrown)

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GO buy BT. The newspaper highlighted a particular number while the rest of us were moaning and groaning about the 7m population projection for 2030. And that number relates to that oft-heard word – productivity. Of the business kind, not the baby kind.

The question asked: What if Singapore cannot make the “ambitious stretch target of 2 to 3% productivity growth?

The White Paper says this: “As our economy matures, we will have to sustain a pace of growth compatible with our changing demographics. Up to 2020, if we can achieve 2% to 3% productivity growth per year (which is an ambitious stretch target), and maintain overall workforce growth at 1% to 2%, then we can get 3% to 5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year from 2020 to 2030.

So the more realistic – and expected – situation is this: “With workforce growth slowing to about 1% per year, and productivity growth moderating to 1% to 2% as our economy matures and undergoes major demographic shifts, we may see GDP growth of between 2% and 3% per year from 2020 to 2030.’’

Businesses agree with that the lower growth rate is more realistic. A whole ton of incentives are being hurled at SMEs to upgrade and re-skill its workers, and it’s time to see how well they are taking to it. If not, then the question is why: Too many rules and regulations to comply with? Not enough awareness?

Businesses say they need more foreign workers or they will be forced to re-locate. In fact, ST spent a whole lot of space on them moaning and groaning about the lack of manpower. Hmm…I thought they were already primed for this. But one economist said that further tightening is on the cards since the projections in the White Paper mean that growth in the labour force will be about 70,000 a year, down from 100,000 or so last year.

What can we expect to see then? Lower level industries forced to move out (maybe that’s the point), fewer foreign workers in the beginning while Singaporeans get retrenched and retrained for higher-level jobs? Then the foreigners come back in to take on jobs Singaporeans won’t want to do by then since most of them are PMETs?

Here’s what an earlier National Population Talent Report says: We project that by 2030, 250,000 to 300,000 Work Permit holders will be needed in construction (250,000 in 2011), 28,000 foreigners in healthcare (13,000 in 2011), and 300,000 as foreign domestic workers (198,000 in 2011).

As for new industries being set up or expanded, the Paper highlighted legal services and accounting services are probable boom areas.

Okay, lecture over.

What I really want to know is this. What is the impact on me if economic growth is 2 to 3% a year, instead of 3 to 5%? How will this affect our living conditions, cost of living and standard of living? Maybe if we can paint the different scenarios at the end, everybody will be more inclined to buck up and produce better-quality work – or more babies.

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Seems like the focus these days is on whether the Workers’ Party (WP) is being too moderate for its own good.  So you have some people howling that they are buying into the People’s Action Party agenda – semi-co-opted so to speak. Yet, others think it’s an effort to temper expectations of the WP’s performance now that it has so decisively won the Punggol East by-election.

In The New Paper today, you have pundits both for and against the WP’s stance. Surely, an opposition party must ultimately want to form a Government with its own plans and manifesto? Can it really stick to just being a “check” on the Government? But while observers mull over this “positioning”, something else that the WP did seems to have escaped people’s radar. Its introduction of potential new candidates.

In chess, tactics are known as short term plays while strategies are moves that have long term implications. Over the WP Rallies during the Punggol East By-election, four new faces were introduced as potential candidates for the future for both tactical and strategic reasons.

The new chess pieces

What they focused in their speeches might give an idea of a chosen area of expertise. Here is a summary of what they said and what they do outside politics.

(1) Mr Redzwan Hafidz Abdul Razak, 28, an engineer for an oil and gas MNC was the 2nd speaker for 1st WP’s first Rally (19 Jan). He touched on the housing problems in Singapore, mainly sky rocketing prices and the newer flats being built smaller.

Quotable Quote: “Yet the government says that HDB flats are affordable. Is paying for your HDB house for 20 to 30 years through your CPF until it runs dry called affordable?”

(2) Mr Terence Tan, 41, a lawyer at Dodwell and Co was the 4th speaker for WP’s first Rally (19 Jan). He talked about how he was inspired to join WP & worked with Ms Lee Li Lian during GE2011.

Quotable Quote: “Sorry no cure! We don’t want sorry, we want solutions – referring to PM Lee’s apologies during GE2011 and this Punggol By-election.”

(3) Mr Dennis Tan, 42, partner at law firm DennisMathiew was the 4th speaker for WP’s second Rally (22 Jan). He shared about his worries of PAP’s direction not benefiting Singapore and why he joined WP.

Quotable Quote: “If we want competition give us full competition, not this kind of half-baked competition, some people call it kelong (match fixing) – referencing how public transport market should be more liberal.”

(4) Associate Professor Daniel Goh, 39, NUS Department of Sociology was the 4th speaker for WP’s third Rally (23 Jan). Introduced himself and talked about his motivations to join the WP as well as exhorting PAP to change its mindset regarding marriage and parenthood.

Quotable Quote: “They (my friends) asked me “Is it really safe for you to do this?” I told them – Life is too short and too precious, don’t waste time being kiasu, kiasee and kiakwee (afraid to lose, afraid to die and afraid of ghost).”

Just pawns or key pieces?

Of the four, the media darling was arguably Daniel Goh. He might not be the youngest among the bunch, but he had a charming charisma, spoke calmly but passionately and had, for lack of a better description, the “Aunty Killer” look.

Academics in Singapore have mostly been quoted in mainstream media as either being neutral or supportive when commenting on the ruling party’s policies and its effects, so for WP to recruit an Associate Professor of Sociology no less, is quite a coup.

Daniel Goh is a well-known commentator of race and religion in Singapore, judging by his NUS blog. He does not seem to shy away from sensitive topics but does not approach it with the direct and aggressive manner like another local academic turned politician – Dr Chee Soon Juan.

Having set up a new blog, Daniel looks set to carry on where he left off, just with the media spotlight firmly on him.

While not much has been said of the 4 news faces by pundits, unveiling them during the Punggol East By-election rallies is a departure of WP’s modus operandi. WP had managed to keep under wraps its “star catch”, Mr Chen Show Mao, and three new candidates – Ms Glenda Han, Mr Yee Jenn Jong and Mr Pritam Singh for GE2011. WP had also withheld revealing their candidate for the last two by-elections (Hougang and Punggol East) until close to Nomination Day.

How will these four new faces be deployed in GE2016, if at all? The permutations and combinations are numerous and any speculation at this point would be premature. One constant of WP is, that it plays its cards very close to its chest.