April 29, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

IT WAS bound to happen. With news of the millions Tiong Bahru FC amassed from its fruit machines, there have been calls to keep these one-armed bandits confined to the two casinos.

Yet, there are more than 100 clubs – whether it is an NTUC Club or an exclusive country club – which has such misleadingly-named gambling contraptions. And you don’t have to pay a $100 entrance fee to get into the premises.

What you have to do, though, is be a member of said club or society. That’s because the machines are supposed to be “private’’, under the Private Lotteries Act. Located in the basement of People’s Park Centre, with 29 machines, Tiong Bahru FC has more than 18,000 members, according to its latest annual returns filed with the Registry of Societies, as reported by The Straits Times (April 23).

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Given that Tiong Bahru FC reported S$36.8 million in total revenue in the last financial year, that works out to roughly S$1.27 million for each machine, or just over S$100,000 per machine each month. That’s plenty of arm muscle or finger pressing every day in the club.

A check through newspaper reports showed that clubs view them as a big attraction. There’s the National University of Singapore Society Clubhouses, Singapore Cricket Club, Changi Swimming Club, Changi Airport Recreation Club and Keppel Club. NTUC Club has several jackpot rooms all over Singapore, in places such as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Ris.

Of course, the G exacts its pound of flesh by imposing 9.5 per cent of annual gross turnover. This was put in place in 2011 because, gulp!, clubs said that an earlier proposed 12 per cent duty was too high now that casinos have surfaced in Singapore.

Casinos don’t seem to have affected the clubs’ takings equally. In fact, according to Business Times, the Automobile Association of Singapore had S$4.27 million in 2015, up from S$3.39 million the previous year. It has about the same number of machines as Tiong Bahru FC. So while revenue is growing, its takings are small beer compared to what the football club is raking in.

And this brings us to the question of just what those jackpot machines do for Singapore football – besides minting money. Tiong Bahru FC’s Bill Ng of the $500,000 donation fame, has always made no bones about his financial model for football.

He did the same to Hougang United FC and both clubs can afford to thumb their noses at any subsidy the Football Association of Singapore can funnel. Most S. League clubs operate on an annual budget of between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, and cannot do without the $800,000 annual subsidy.

“The public has to understand that we do not have any other source of revenue at this juncture. Hence the success of jackpot operations is critical,” he told TNP in October last year.

“This is the only artificial revenue that we can rely on at the moment. Any club with an eye towards financial self-sustainability must be prepared to look for alternative revenue streams as we may have to phase it out in the next five years.”

What the jackpot earnings have been spent on now appears to be the subject of police questioning. Besides monthly accounts and yearly audits, it isn’t clear what stipulations were put forth when the clubs obtained their licence to install fruit machines. At the very least, the club should be expected to use the revenue for its own purposes and in its own interest.

If so, it gives rise to the question of whether it is alright for $500,000 to be drawn from the Tiong Bahru FC account for the Asean Football Federation to build a Football Management System.

Mr Ng’s “jackpot” modus operandi is not without detractors who object to using gambling as a way to finance football. That was what Tampines Rovers chairman Krishna Ramachandra said last year about depending on an activity that has been known to wipe out the life savings of retirees.

There is, therefore, a moral issue here, and given the amounts amassed by Tiong Bahru FC, it would be safe to say that the punters aren’t there because they like football. In fact, its 18,000 members is significantly more than the 600 members of Geylang International FC, an S. League club. Another S. League club Balestier Khalsa’s 1,000-plus members also pales in comparison to that of Tiong Bahru FC.

But high-minded words aside, Mr Ramachandra is in a bit of a pickle now because he is on Mr Ng’s Game Changers slate as vice-president. In a TNP report today (Apr 24), he focused on the use of gaming revenue rather than the act of gaming. “I think the authorities have always had very clear and extensive rules and regulations on the jackpot operations.”

“I do not see that as an issue. Ultimately, the clubs need to ensure that they utilise the profits in a responsible manner and one that furthers the mandate of that club, be it a social or recreational or sports club.”

And no, he doesn’t want any rules on fruit machines tightened.

The FAS saga has opened a whole can of worms – both legal and moral.

 

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by Suhaile Md

CALL it a foot in the door of her career. Ms Allina Loke is chalking up work experience and building industry relationships while pursuing her education. While in the past it was taxing, and sometimes impossible to juggle a full-time job and study, balancing the demands of the workplace and the pursuit of formal qualifications has become a lot easier after SkillsFuture Singapore introduced the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme (ELP).

So it’s a good thing that SkillsFuture expanded its ELP offerings from 40 to 60 last month (Mar 29). It’s a work-learn programme for Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates that leads to both full-time employment and higher qualifications. Participants draw a salary – not a stipend – and undergo a “structured training programme” between 12 and 18 months. Basically, you acquire experience while studying.

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The aim is to give fresh graduates more post-graduation opportunities as well as to “support their transition to the workforce”, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say soon after its launch in early 2015. Which is why the programmes are designed in consultation with industry and education partners like the local polytechnics.

The ELPs support the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in March last year. As the name suggests, the ITMs are all about making selected industries more competitive. The 23 industries chosen, make up 80 per cent of Singapore’s economy. Industries include precision engineering, retail, and hospitality, among many others.

In short, ELP participants will be getting a head start in industries earmarked for growth – better jobs and higher pay anyone?

But what is it like to earn and learn? “It’s intense,” said Ms Allina Loke.

She works four days a week at Grand Hyatt Singapore as a Management Trainee. Wednesdays are a fixed day-off for her to attend classes scheduled from 9am to 7pm at Republic Polytechnic. Fortunately for her, classes end at 5.30pm most of the time, and the remaining lessons are delivered through e-learning, which she completes in her own time.

“What we learn is exactly the same as the other poly students”, said the 20-year-old. What other students cover in a week’s worth of classes, she covers in a day. It “can be stressful” balancing work and study. So, interest is important. Otherwise, it’s hard to stay motivated. That was something a handful of her peers realised. They dropped out of the programme a few months in because it is “something they were not interested in”.

Ms Loke, though, is determined “to finish” the 18-month-long ELP in Hospitality Management because she recognises certain advantages. Her schoolmates, most of whom are not enrolled in ELP, will graduate with little to no work experience. “What they are only doing, is study.”

On the other hand, she is being groomed to be on “captain duty” in five months. This means she will be in-charge of smaller events at the hotel with staff to manage. She started in October last year. Basically, she’s picking up industry-relevant skills and work experience while studying – unlike her peers.

That said, at the end of 18 months, she will be awarded with modular certificates, not the full diploma. For that, she needs to study for another year, in her own time. In total, two and a half years. Which is shorter than the three year diploma, including a six month industrial attachment, her peers need to complete.

More importantly, she’s gaining valuable experience while her peers are not. For the hospitality industry, “a lot of it is hands-on experience and job skills,” said Ms Peh Ai Pheng, Learning Manager at Grand Hyatt Singapore.

Diploma graduates with no experience would make $1,500 a month. Someone with 18 months experience in the industry will command “competitive salaries” ranging from $1,800 to $2,500 depending on the role and depth of work experience.

When asked to choose between an ELP graduate from another hotel – but no diploma – and a fresh diploma graduate for the same entry level job, Ms Peh said she would go with the candidate who completed the ELP. That’s “assuming same attitude, same personality… ultimately, you need experience dealing with guests, and hotel systems”.

Which is why participants “go through a structured on-the-job-training programme” designed to develop “relevant work skills and provide an edge over those not on the ELP.”

This point was raised last year when the first batch of hospitality ELP participants signed up, reported ST. “They are very focused, enthusiastic and forthcoming in their suggestions and pick things up faster as they’ve done it before,” said Ms Isis Ong, director of learning at the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.

Financially, Ms Loke is better off too. Her course fees are covered, bond free, by the G and Grand Hyatt during the ELP. All participants also get a $5,000 sign-on bonus when they join the ELP.

Plus, she’s earning $1,800 a month now. This does not include overtime pay, incentives, and other staff perks like health and insurance benefits. “The company takes care of us,” she said. Both Human Resources and her manager also check up on her to ensure she’s learning and progressing well.

Grand Hyatt Singapore, said Ms Peh, decided to participate in ELP because it “helps in attracting Singaporeans to the industry”.  It’s also “to support the national movement in” developing and providing opportunities for Singaporeans.

Currently, the company has five ELP participants, with five more expected to join in May. All are management trainees.

Ms Loke was part of the first batch to join the ELP. She graduated with a Higher Nitec in events management last April. Her 3.0 grade point average (GPA) had easily surpassed the 2.0 GPA requirement to be part of the ELP.

Along with her, 47 other participants joined the hospitality ELP. Over 50 hotels participated last year, including Intercontinental Singapore, Marina Bay Sands and Shangri-La Hotel Singapore amongst others.

There are ELPs in other sectors too, like the infocomm technology and logistics industries. Last year, over 500 graduates joined the ELP, said Parliamentary Secretary for Education Faishal Ibrahim in Parliament earlier this year (Feb 28).

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

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By Bertha Henson

SO MANY accusations left hanging in the air. Allegations of financial impropriety and other shenanigans – all left unsaid. What are we to make of the statements of protagonists in the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) saga and the police action? Everybody’s been coy about joining the dots because they might not draw a pretty, and maybe even defamatory, picture. Here, however, are six points that seem the subject of contention:

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a. That $500,000 donation
It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Mr Bill Ng’s claim that this donation in 2014 intended for local football went instead to supporting the Asean Football Federation (AFF) led to an escalation of tensions between past and contending challengers for the council.

Did he know or not know? General secretary Winston Lee produced documentary evidence that he did but Mr Ng then said that Mr Lee coerced him into signing the letter and putting it on his club letterhead.

Was ex-FAS president Mr Zainudin Nordin involved in asking him for the donation? Mr Ng said it was Mr Lee but an acknowledgement letter was addressed to Mr Zainudin. Sport Singapore has asked for an audit of such large donations. Both Mr Zainudin and Mr Ng seem to be good friends. Mr Ng even asked the ex-MP to chair Tiong Bahru Football Club (FC) when he stepped down from the FAS earlier this year. He declined the offer as he was given a post of Deputy Principal (Development) at ITE College.

b. Whose money is it anyway?

It appeared to have come from Tiong Bahru FC which Mr Ng owns, going by the cheques signed. It went to the FAS which passed it to the AFF. Now why this sum had to go through the good offices of the FAS is another question. Why not a direct donation?

c. So what if FAS was the channel?

If so, how is it that other council members seem to have no knowledge of such a large donation, which amounts to half of what could be used to run a football club? Is this a sign that the old establishment, as so many in the fraternity had alleged, is elitist and secretive? Mr Zainudin, president since 2009, only held council meetings four times a year unlike his predecessor Associate Prof Ho Peng Kee, who did so once a month.

d. How did Tiong Bahru come to have so much money anyway?

The club has 29 jackpot machines on its premises which rake in about $37 million last year, more than the $35.8 million FAS budget. Those machines aren’t illegal and appeared to be Mr Ng’s chief method of turning around ailing clubs. The corporate had experience in gaming operations, having set up a casino in Cambodia. According to TODAY, the club paid its 15 employees S$2.073 million in salaries last year and put in an additional S$528,000 for staff training, uniforms and staff welfare. But spending on its football team was a more modest S$169,000.

His other two clubs, Hougang United and Woodlands Wellington, also have jackpot machines although not of the same number. In 2014, Hougang United made a $2million profit and Mr Ng made a point of returning the FAS its $800,000 subsidy.

e. So if it’s not illegal, then what’s the problem?

There are questions about an audit during the saga of Hougang United and Woodlands Wellington intending to merge in 2014 which was later ruled as unconstitutional. In March 2016, however, Sport Singapore ordered FAS to do an audit on the merger and clubs sitting out of the S. League. This is, apparently, still on-going. It also told Woodlands Wellington, which is sitting out of the S. League, to cease making money from the machines and move out of the premises.

f. Does the saga have anything to do with Mr Ng’s companies?

He founded private equity firm Financial Frontiers and is a director of six companies.

ST reported that in his company’s portfolio is an ESW Manage, which is a sponsor of Hougang United, and also had Mr Zainudin Nordin and Woodlands Wellington chairman Gary Tan as directors. It might not be a surprise that those in the football fraternity have commercial ties but there is the issue of whether proper disclosure of interests was made to relevant parties.

Mr Ng’s wife Bonnie Wong is the listed owner of Polygon Ventures, landlord of the Tiong Bahru club’s 2,583 square foot premises in the basement of People’s Park Centre. The club pays rent of about $80,000 a month or $31 per square feet. TODAY’s checks showed that other basement units in People’s Park Centre are charging between S$2.92 and S$11.23 per square foot in rent. The only unit charging S$31.50 per square foot in rent is located at street level, and measures only 200 square foot.

Nobody’s drawing any links in the above except to state the facts. Clearly, Mr Ng had been under some auditing pressure even before he threw his hat into the FAS electoral ring. So is he trying to obstruct the process as he has been alleged to?

Let’s wait for the next match.

 

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ONE of the reasons why Singapore is perhaps the safest place to live in is due to the low frequency of natural disasters resulting from our geographical location. Fortunately, we are being geographically encased by Borneo on one side and Malaysia on the other. Thus, any typhoon or tsunami activity will go through those locations first. By the time they reach Singapore, it’s merely a tame tropical depression with great surf conditions.

Yet, our counterparts in the international community are not as lucky as us. Natural disasters often disrupt the life of the natives – damaging infrastructure, costing massive amounts of money to recover from the damage, causing a temporary halt to economic activities and worst of all, resulting in high death tolls and injuries. Here are some natural disasters around the world in the month of April:

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1. Lima, Peru – Flood and mudslides: Death toll continues to rise 

Floods and mudslides have been afflicting Peru since the start of the year. The death toll is currently at 113 as of 19 April. The heavy rains have been affecting the South American country all year round, causing rivers to reach high levels, forcing people to leave the place. An estimated million homes have been damaged and more than 2,500 kilometres of road have been destroyed.

In a latest update, the National Center for Emergency Operations said that the recent natural calamity is because of a climate phenomenon called “coastal El Nino”.

CNN reported on March 20 that half a million people in and around the country’s capital, Lima, have been affected by storms and flooding. President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has said the country will need some US$9 billion (S$12.5 billion) to rebuild and modernise the affected areas. He said: “We know it is a difficult situation, but we are controlling it, and we are hopeful that it will soon pass”.
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2. Naypyidaw, Myanmar – Cyclone Maarutha 

Image of Cyclone Maarutha churning above the Bay of Bengal captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.
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Cyclone Maarutha caused a storm to move over land on the Rakhine coast of Myanmar on the night of April 17. The landfall was first classified as a tropical depression on April 15 in the Bay of Bengal, according to Aljazeera.

Relief web reported: Three people were killed in Irrawaddy Division as Cyclone Maarutha made landfall on Arakan State’s coast and swept through southern coastal Burma on Sunday (Apr 16).

The town Thandwe was swept by the cyclone with winds at 60km/h and steady, heavy rain. The cyclone continued but weakened as it passed the rugged terrain of the region. This cyclone is the first tropical cyclone in the northern hemisphere. This cyclone season usually leads up to the southwest monsoon.
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3. Wellington, New Zealand – Double trouble Cyclone Debbie and Cyclone Cook

Image of Cyclone Cook sweeping through the South Pacific before approaching New Zealand taken by NASA.
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April isn’t a particularly good month for New Zealand as it was first hit by Cyclone Debbie and then Cyclone Cook.

In the first week of April, the tail-end of Cyclone Debbie devastated the Bay of Plenty town of Edgecumbe, forcing its 2,000 residents to flee with only a few minutes’ warning. Although flooding eventually became less severe than anticipated, hundreds of trees have fallen, and police said many roads had been closed in the North Island. State of emergency was activated in Bay of Plenty and Thames-Coromandel, with the defence force assisting in moving residents to higher ground and keeping people away from the coast. Fortunately, there are no reported deaths due to Cyclone Debbie.

About a week later, New Zealand was hit by Cyclone Cook on April 13. It struck New Zealand with power outages, fallen trees and landslides reported around much of the central and eastern North Island, which bore the brunt of the storm. Forecasters feared that Cyclone Cook could be the worst storm to strike New Zealand since 1968. There is also no known deaths due to Cyclone Cook.
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4. Manila, Philippines – Earthquake Swarm

Image of a Filipino villager walking past a tilted shanty at a coastal village in the earthquake-hit town of Taal, Batangas province, Philippines taken by Francis R. Malasig.
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The Philippines was hit by an earthquake swarm, which is when a local area experiences sequences of many earthquakes striking in a relatively short period of time, on April 8.

Three quakes ranging in magnitude from 5.0 to 5.9 struck Batangas province, about 90 km (55 miles) south of Manila, around 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) over a period of about 20 minutes, said the U.S. Geological Survey. Hundreds of residents of coastal areas in a province south of the Philippine capital fled to higher ground fearing a tsunami on after a series of earthquakes on the main island of Luzon. However, the earthquake swarm was not powerful enough to cause a tsunami according to Head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Dr Renato Solidum.

While there were no reports of casualties, power was cut off in some in some areas and cracks were reported in homes and some commercial buildings. Landslides were also reported in some towns and a portion of a Catholic church tower that had collapsed.

The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanoes are common. An earthquake of magnitude 7.7 killed nearly 2,000 people on the northern island of Luzon in 1990.

 

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by Suhaile Md

This is the second of three articles on More Than Just, a closed-door series of three dinner conversations on race and racism in Singapore. Participants attend all three sessions and were chosen to reflect the diversity of Singapore. Names are withheld for confidentiality, to provide a safe, open space, for honest conversations. Read the first article here.
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DAY two (Mar 31) of the dinner series and the stories streamed out. Of racism, in racially harmonious Singapore. Some spoke of the casual cruelty that springs from ignorance. Others lamented the broader sense of discrimination that permeates society at large.

But underlying it all, was the question: When is it racist, really?

A 28-year-old Indian male participant mentioned during the large group discussion that stereotypes do have some basis in reality, or “nuggets of truth so to speak”. He said, for example, that he found the various races can smell different. He thinks it’s due to cultural factors like diet for example. Not bad, just different.

So, when a child asks: ”Why you smell like that?”, it might just be innocent curiosity on the child’s part and the child just does not have the language or maturity to phrase it politely. Likewise for other observations, such as “why you so black?” or “why you so hairy?”.

In response, an Indian lady recalled the time in primary one when a Chinese boy refused to hold her hand. It’s something young students do when they line up during school assembly. “He said I was black… and I don’t think he meant it maliciously but it definitely affected me you know.”

He said I was black… and I don’t think he meant it maliciously but it definitely affected me you know.

Just like it affected her when “someone said my hair was so oily you could fry a fish”. And it definitely “affected me in secondary school when my classmates all spoke Mandarin, and for no reason of my own I was excluded from people with whom I could engage with”.

She said she doesn’t “attribute any malice to any of these episodes” but she wishes she was able to make her former classmates “understand that it hurts”. It’s cruel how casually ignorant questions cut.

The lady was hurt as a child because of her race. But by her own account, she did not think it was malicious. Would it be fair to call her former school mates racist? Well, the intentions may not have been racist, but the outcome certainly was.

On hearing the Indian lady’s story, a Chinese lady added: “Race really played a really big part in choosing a primary school for my daughter.”

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Why race matters in school choice

The Chinese lady is married to an Indian man. Their daughter has darker skin. Even though her daughter can “speak really good Mandarin”, the Chinese kids at the playground “just don’t talk to her at all and exclude her”.

When it was time to choose a school, the mother had three choices, a top Chinese school which was her alma-mater, a neighbourhood school nearby, and a convent school.

Following the advice of most people, she was thinking of either the top school or the school next door, “until a Eurasian mother came and talked to me and said… you want to put her in a Chinese school, you know she’s going to be so excluded from everything?”

You want to put her in a Chinese school, you know she’s going to be so excluded from everything?

Likewise for the neighbourhood school because she lived “in a new estate… with many new citizens from China and Malay(sian) Chinese.” Given her daughter’s experience at the playground, she realised it might play out the same way at school.

So she followed the advice of the Eurasian mother who had said: “Send her to convent, she’ll mix, she’ll blend in there with everybody.”

The Chinese mother’s sharing led to a discussion on how individual experiences might build up to society-wide stereotypes and consequently racial discrimination.

When a Mandarin speaking yet-not-Chinese-looking child is at risk of being ostracised on account of skin tone, what more the other races?

Furthermore, as another participant mentioned, his secondary school, a top Independent school, only had a handful of Malay students in the whole cohort of about 400. Let alone Special Assistant Plan (SAP) schools which only offers Mandarin as a second language. Are such schools racist? Do they end up allowing stereotypes to foment due to a lack of exposure to citizens of other races?

As a Eurasian man in his 40s put it, racial differences are visible. “You can see what the guy looks like but you don’t know his” background or who he is. This can lead to viewing everything through a racial lens.
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When race becomes the only lens

The Eurasian participant brought up the example of the radio DJs who got into trouble a few months back. They were discussing a survey on the sleep patterns of Singaporeans. In the process, they made remarks that stereotyped certain races. They were subsequently fined by the G.

Said the participant: “They split (survey results) it according to racial lines. What is that teaching you? How is race even relevant? Let’s talk about what kind of jobs they are doing, which neighbourhoods are they living in, how are they getting to work, those are things that will teach you things that are useful that you can turn into policy or constructive discussion.

“At a certain point, even mentioning race itself becomes racist because if race has nothing to do with something, why are you even bringing it into conversation?”

At a certain point, even mentioning race itself becomes racist because if race has nothing to do with something, why are you even bringing it into conversation?

Expanding on his point, other participants said that the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) categorisations in Singapore forces a racial lens on everything even if there’s no need to.

However, a Malay social service practitioner in his mid-30s felt there may be a “need to compartmentalise according to racial groups because members of a “particular community would know what works best… what will be culturally sensitive, what will not.”

That said, he added, after a certain point it blinds us. “Race is just a lens that we put on.” What about viewing the issues through another lens, like class?

Race is just a lens that we put on.

In his work, he found that a Chinese boy from a single parent household living in a rented flat has much more in common with the Malay boy with a similar background, than he did with other Chinese kids with more stable families.

At this juncture, a Chinese participant asked the Malay social service practitioner if he thought too much focus on race “hides all the other factors which are more important”.

“Definitely”, he replied.
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Ghosts of policies past

For example, on the issue of drug abuse, when the social service practitioner visited prisons, he said, “for every one Chinese inmate I see, I see four or five Malays”. That’s a fact, “a reality my community is compounded with, but again we need to stop saying” it’s a Malay problem. It’s wrong to just attribute it to race.

Back in the 70s, a whole generation of Malay men were left in limbo because they were not enlisted for National Service (NS). Many of them could not find a job because they were not officially discharged from their NS obligation. Employers did not want to take the risk of hiring them. It was safer to hire someone who completed their NS.

“He can’t get a job, he just waits, NS never comes, nobody calls him, puts him in a difficult situation…” and that’s a contributing factor for the drug abuse cases. It’s a challenge the Malay Muslim community is dealing with.

This has an effect over generations, and we’re still feeling it now. Yet when the drug problem is discussed, it perpetuates stereotypes by focussing on race.

He added: “I’m not just saying this, this is actually based on academic literature I studied back in my tertiary days (as a sociology major). There are so many other structures that either work for you or against you.”

Another structural issue that came up during the discussions was on how Singapore’s elites might have blind spots when it comes to race.

Most participants, both Chinese and non-Chinese, acknowledged that a lot of top schools seem to have under-representation of minority races.

The trouble is, a participant mused, many top students and scholars come from the above mentioned top schools. They then proceed into the Military for example where it’s a predominantly Chinese background. Many parts of the Armed Forces – Army, Navy and Air Force – have little to no Malay Muslim representation especially. So it’s likely that many of these top leaders have little to no exposure interacting with minorities since their school days.

Yet, these same military leaders from lieutenant-colonels and above are channeled into various parts of the civil service or state affiliated companies where they influence policy making decisions.

Have they had the opportunity to examine pre-conceived and unchallenged stereotypes that might have calcified from their school days? Based on the stories shared, many minorities had schoolmates who had no racist intent, yet the outcomes of their actions were racist nonetheless. Maybe this is something that needs to be addressed.

 

TMG is the official media for More Than Just, a series of dinner talks to explore what Race and Racism mean in Singapore, and what we (as individuals, communities and society) can do to bring us to our common ideal state.

Join the facebook group to be a part of the online conversation. Click here.

 

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Mr Bill Ng with recipients of the Hougang United club scholarship fund (image by Hougang United)

by Gary Koh 

THE raids on Mr Bill Ng Eng Tiong’s football clubs and his bid for control of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has thrown the spotlight on finances – those of the FAS as well as the clubs he controls. The merger and acquisitions specialist’s skill as a money-maker applies on and off the pitch, but what of how he spends it?

Mr Ng’s first foray into Singapore football came in 2004 when he was brought into semi-professional side Tiong Bahru FC for his expertise in turning around the fortunes of in-crisis companies in other industries.

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It was an all too familiar story in Singapore football – without a viable revenue stream to fund their football operations, Tiong Bahru FC was a club mired in debt and primed for shut down. Mr Ng turned to legalised gaming in the clubhouse as the best bet for clubs to be financially self sustaining.
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The Tiong Bahru FC clubhouse in People’s Park Complex.

“Self-sustaining”, though, is an understatement. Its takings for the last financial year came to $36.8 million, more than 20 times the income of a typical S-League club and even more than the FAS, which gives local S-league clubs an annual $800,000 handout. Many National Football League (NFL) clubs operate on less than $10,000 a year.

But spending has been a big question where Mr Ng is concerned, and could make or break his campaign. Sport Singapore made a police report about suspected misuse of funds after checks this week raised “serious questions about the use of club funds”. A police raid on Mr Ng’s clubs followed on Apr 20.
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Police cart away boxes of documents and computers from the Tiong Bahru FC clubhouse.

The Straits Times reported that the Tiong Bahru FC spent nearly as much as it made in most years, which is also surprising for a club of its stature. Mr Ng said that 80 to 85 per cent of the revenue is returned to the player or paid out as winnings. It was from Tiong Bahru’s FC funds that the controversial $500,000 donation for the Asean Football Federation’s football management system was made.

A report in Today revealed that Mr Ng’s Tiong Bahru FC paid close to a million dollars in rent for its People’s Park Complex clubhouse last year, which works out to $31 price per square foot for the 2,583-square-foot basement unit. It has 15 staff and paid out salaries of over $2 million, spent $528,000 on staff training and benefits but committed a comparatively paltry $168,000 for its football activities, although that number is many times higher than the budgets of other clubs of the same calibre.

Mr Ng’s business acumen would be put to a sterner test in 2009 when he was once again asked by FAS General Secretary Winston Lee to turn around a different crisis club, this one in the S-League. Then known as Sengkang Punggol, they were more than $1 million dollars in the red. Again, Mr Ng’s ‘jackpot solution’ helped the club, later rebranded Hougang United,  it generated a $2 million dollar surplus over the next five years. It is the only local club that eschews the $800,000 handout from the Tote Board.

The questions about spending are amplified by poor results on the pitch. Players of Tiong Bahru FC found themselves relegated to Division Three for a spell, but the strengthening of their financial base allowed for them to return to Division One in the next few seasons. The club has never topped the NFL despite its good financial fortunes. Hougang United FC is also seen as underperforming, given its financial position.
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Hougang United players decked out in suits before departing for an overseas game (Image by Hougang United FC).

Mr Ng’s methods were not without criticism, from murmurings on the regular turnover of coaches to accusations of seeking ‘profit-at-all-costs’. In order to win the vote, he has to convince his critics that he isn’t using football to chase finances, but that he is using finances to improve the football situation.

A lot of bad blood came in 2014 following his management team’s controversial takeover attempt of financially insolvent S-League side Woodlands Wellington, amid fears that he would damage the club’s footballing culture in favour of a cushy bottom line.

A group of Woodlands Wellington fans, led by former long-serving club official Vengadasalam Rengayyan, formed an activist group to take control of the club and block Mr Ng’s takeover. The merger was eventually ruled to be unconstitutional, and neither Mr Ng nor the activists took control of the club. New management was put in place, and these days Woodlands Wellington only play in the Women’s premier league. It still runs a clubhouse with jackpot operations.

Mr Ng has countered that he was merely doing the job entrusted to him by the FAS – to turn struggling clubs around financially. He has also taken great pains to stress that the profits from Hougang United FC’s gaming operations are ploughed back into football and the community.

His most famous donation right now is the $500,000 from Tiong Bahru FC which went by way of the FAS to the Asean Football Federation, which raised eyebrows for both its quantum as well as for, why a small club was paying for the infrastructure of a regional football body.

Outside of that, Mr Ng’s notable football give-backs include a million-dollar club scholarship fund which pays the school fees of promising young footballers, and the providence of a regular allowance, in addition to regular fund-raising dinners for the late disabled footballer S. Anthonysamy, from 2012 until his passing four years later.

The financial help provided to S. Anthonysamy and his family is significant because Woodlands Wellington had paid scant attention to their former employee after the on-field accident in August 1996 that left him paralysed from the neck down.
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The late former Hougang coach and Woodlands Wellington player Amin Nasir (Image by Hougang United FC).

When Amin Nasir, once a caretaker coach for Hougang United FC and player at Woodlands Wellington suffered a relapse of cancer in 2014, the former national defender’s medical bills were paid by Mr Ng in his personal capacity. A regular monthly allowance is also given to his family, which will continue until the end of the year even though he passed away in January 2017.

Hougang United FC’s confidence in running operations without subsidies has enabled it to invest in footballing infrastructure at Hougang Stadium.
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Hougang United FC’s refurbished dressing room (Image by Hougang United).

Apart from being the first club in Singapore to acquire the Globus EuroGoal ball shooting machine that aids its goalkeeper training sessions, it has also renovated its home dressing room with individual lockers and a recovery bath-tub, and installed leathered seats on both benches.

But all this does little to put off critics, for whom money is merely a resource to keep building football. The closest the club came to on-pitch success was a League Cup runners-up finish in 2011, while meagre bottom-half league finishes of seventh, 10th and sixth were the best it could achieve in the three most recent league campaigns.

The task at hand for Mr Ng, and his Game Changers, should he win a mandate on 29 April, is enormous. He has to rejuvenate not just a single club, but an entire football ecosystem. Beyond financial recovery, he will have to win hearts and minds, convince Singaporeans that Singapore football deserves their support and convince the youth that the pursuit of football excellence is still worthwhile. Most of all, he has to do the one thing he has failed to do at his clubs – raise the quality of Singapore football.

 

With more than a decade spent covering football, Gary Koh’s works have previously appeared in local and international print and online publications, among them notably with FourFourTwo and Asian Football Confederation.

 

Featured image courtesy of Hougang United Football Club.

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The Tiong Bahru FC clubhouse in People's Park Complex

THE police raided the clubhouses of Tiong Bahru Football Club, Hougang United Football Club and Woodlands Wellington Football Club at about 4pm today (Apr 20).

Soon after, investigators were seen entering the premises of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS). FAS general secretary Winston Lee was seen accompanying the investigators into a room. Boxes of documents were seen being moved into a room at the FAS office.

Media crowd the doors at FAS during police investigations.

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It is not yet clear if the raids are linked to SportSG’s statement yesterday (Apr 19) that it had filed a police report against Tiong Bahru about misused funds and an allegation that a Tiong Bahru official had lied to another club to try and delay or obstruct the completion of audits until after the landmark FAS elections due on Apr 29.

FAS presidential candidate Bill Ng, is the chairman of Tiong Bahru and Hougang United. Mr Ng revealed this week that he had made a controversial $500,000 donation to the Asean Football Federation from Tiong Bahru’s coffers by way of the FAS.

The Straits Times reported today (Apr 20) that Tiong Bahru had earned $37 million in revenue from its jackpot operations.

Police carry boxes of documents and CPUs to a back room at Tiong Bahru FC.

Woodlands Wellington has also been linked to Mr Ng. He had made an unsuccessful bid to take control of the ailing club in 2011 which faced opposition from fans. Mr Ng is running against Mr Lim Kia Tong to lead the FAS. It is unclear if the raids and ongoing police investigation will affect Mr Ng’s candidacy.

Plainclothes officers were seen moving several boxes of documents and several CPUs into a back room at the Tiong Bahru Clubhouse in Chinatown, and similar scenes are also unfolding at the other two clubs.

There have been no reports yet of any arrests.

 

Featured image by Erin Chua

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By Bertha Henson

OVER the past few days, we’ve been deluged by eulogies on the late Cabinet Minister Othman Wok. Every facet of the man who died at age 92 on Monday (April 17) has been polished to a high shine, whether as a father, Malay leader or national politician.

Threading the eulogies is one theme: his commitment to multiracialism. It is a term that some might take for granted, especially if they belong to the majority race. It is a term some may bristle at, because of perceived discriminatory acts or an unintended racist joke they’ve heard. Doubtless, some would also view the speeches as politically-oriented, to bring together society when race and religion seem to be such potent divisive forces.

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I choose to see Mr Othman a little differently: as a man who placed his convictions above his comfort and convenience. This is no pragmatic Singaporean who jumps on the bandwagon and hitches himself to a rising star. This is a principled man who went against the popular tide.

It must have been so difficult for him to put his lot in with the People’s Action Party in the early days of Singapore. It was far easier to stay within the comfortable confines of the then majority community of Malaya. We’re told about how he was called unmentionable names, had his campaign posters smeared by faeces and faced death threats from communal rabble rousers.

I can hear his fellow Malays accuse him of disloyalty to the community which unlike, the Chinese, is infused with a common religious identity: “Why turn against your community – or your God?’’ I can even hear well-meaning non-Malay friends suggesting that he “take cover’’ and enjoy the benefits of staying put in a place where there was a national commitment to promote the advance of the community. Think of all the racist remarks that can be made against him and multiply its force several times – and think of what such pressure would do to his family.

Why would anyone choose such a dangerous road? It defies pragmatism and common sense.

I raise this because we’ve made such a virtue of pragmatism that we ignore what it means to abide by principles. We hedge principles with compromises and plenty of grey areas. Mr Othman, we are told, had two days to settle his affairs in Kuala Lumpur before receiving a summons to stand in the contentious 1963 elections on the PAP ticket. Then racial riots broke out.

Being a community leader would really mean something in those days. You would have to placate or persuade your own community to your point of view while dealing with suspicions of outsiders who wonder if you have a hidden agenda. To do this at a time when rabble rousers were calling for your head calls for, well, a cool head.

Mr Othman introduced the Administration of Muslim Law Act for Singapore Muslims. And he joined the pioneer National Service contingent. Both made important statements on what it means to be a Muslim Singaporean in secular Singapore.

I think today of the degree of harmony we have here even if we do get the occasional racist remark being made. Compared to Mr Othman, we have very thin skins that are easily pierced by some speech or act. Yet we all gave up something precious for this place called Singapore, whether they are Chinese dialects, open prayer calls or language-medium schools. A give-and-take attitude is hard-wired in our DNA.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described the people here as an “obstreperous’’ people in 1965, refusing to be cowed by threats or seduced by promises. It is an interesting choice of word, given that Singaporeans are more usually known as sheep these days. Are we still an obstreperous people who would go against conventional and pragmatic wisdom because we have a cause to believe in? Would we risk life and limb? Mr Othman did.

Thank you, Sir.

 

Featured image from People’s Action Party Facebook page 

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Mr Zainudin Nordin, President of the Football Association of Singapore; marking StarHub's appointment as official broadcaster and principal sponsor of the LionsXII in 2012.Image by HealthSX at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

by Bertha Henson

THERE’S something to be said about having free and open elections: It allows questions to be aired in the expectation that answers will be given.

I am not a football fan but the saga surrounding the Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) upcoming April 29 elections has been riveting. Some might say that challenger Mr Bill Ng’s questions regarding a $500,000 donation he (or his Tiong Bahru FC) made was a distraction and that more attention should be paid to the plans of both teams that are contesting the election.

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I don’t think so.

What it shows is that an electoral process brings more scrutiny and urges more transparency from office-holders and those vying for the job. So world football governing body Fifa finally realised that for decades, the FAS was breaking the rules by having officers appointed by the G. After seven years on the job, Mr Zainudin Nordin has stepped down to pave the way for elections. FAS is usually headed by an MP, and the past list included those who have made it into ministerial ranks such as Mr Mah Bow Tan and Mr Ho Peng Kee.

Doubtless, the FAS is a tough organisation to manage given its myriad clubs, tournaments, programmes as well as the attention paid to it by people at the grassroots. That the G has a hand in its running isn’t surprising since it gives out grants to sports bodies, that is, taxpayers’ money of more than $2 million annually to FAS. Its other major donor is the Tote Board, which used to disburse some $25 million to the FAS annually, but which will now do so through Sport Singapore (SportSg).

Members of the public who are interested in the management of FAS can turn to its annual reports but in the main, the concern is about crowd turn-out, football rankings and whether goals of the football kind are being delivered given the resources poured into the sport. It takes an electoral process to bring matters out in the open, whether among those with a stake or the community at large. Of course, like all elections, there will be agendas and strategies, like rubbishing the old to make way for the new.

Now the FAS is embroiled in controversy with questions raised over the past year about its handling of money, including donations. There have been particularly feisty exchanges between Mr Ng and the FAS through the person of General Secretary Winston Lee over what happened three years ago. To put it bluntly, they are accusing each other of lying.

So what are the issues involved?

The key point is whether Mr Ng knew where the $500,000 donation was going to go. He claims it was for local football but it went to the Asean Football Federation (AFF). There’s no question that the AFF received the money – although it fumbled about whether the money was from the FAS or Mr Ng’s Tiong Bahru FC. The FAS has a paper trail, including a letter setting out the terms of the donation, which Mr Ng, rather improbably said was drafted by the FAS and which he was somehow made to sign.

In any case, even if the money had always been intended for AFF, the question is why such a big sum, which is about half the income of an S-League club, should go to outside entities at a time of a struggling football scene here.

Another issue is whether the sum was properly recorded somewhere. So far, not a single person in past councils has come out to say he had knowledge of the sum. What’s worse is that most people evinced surprise.

Then comes the question of why Mr Ng chose to raise the matter now instead of three years ago. Is this an election gambit to allege improprieties in the FAS which he, a challenger, will want to clean up?

In the middle of it all is the deafening silence of ex-chief Zainudin, which the FAS said was the person who solicited the donation. Mr Ng, however, denied this and pointed his finger at Mr Lee.

Mr Zainudin must know by now that he would have to say something lest gossip and misinformation fill in the blanks, thereby impugning his reputation. To say nothing because he is not standing for the upcoming election is a bad excuse for something that happened during his tenure.

Which brings me back to the point of having democratic elections. They are complicated and fussy affairs and there might even be those who say that such “disagreements” should be dealt with behind closed-doors so as not to give Singapore football a bad name. If so, they forget that it was “closed-doors” which gave rise to the current controversy.

To a spectator, the FAS looks like the Augean stables. It might be better for the challengers to discuss sweeping and mopping up operations first, before moving on to pronouncing grand visions. SportSg has ordered FAS to give a full account of the donation. Hopefully, it will be done before the elections so that there will be more clarity.

Good luck to Singapore football.

by Ong Lip Hua
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THE trends are clear: We’re headed for a future where full-time employment is going to be a smaller slice of the pie, and where skills, both hard and soft, will bear more fruit over a career than the qualification you graduate with.
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A recent JobsDB report on how more than 10,000 respondents from seven Asian countries think that promotions are based mostly on your “supervisor liking you” and “leadership ability” tells of the need for soft skills in all types of employment. Job performance was also high up on the list from both employee and employer perspectives, especially in Singapore.
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Most Singaporean parents see studying and academics as their children’s job specialisation and invest heavily to this end. In some families, other childhood experiences, even basic life-skills like housekeeping, cooking and carrying your own bag, are subcontracted to a maid, grandparent or parent, who picks up after the kids. In exchange, the children are expected to deliver stellar academic results in school.
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And while good grades might set you up for a good start in a career, at what point does sacrificing other areas of development in favour of better grades begin to hurt a person? Would it make sense then to gear our children’s education so specifically towards grades?
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This approach has been hotly debated for the last few years, even as the G has begun to call for change through initiatives like Skillsfuture.
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It reminds me of how Major Motoko Kusanagi, in the 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie, described the diversity of her team in a high-tech future: “If we all reacted the same way, we’d be predictable, and there’s always more than one way to view a situation. What’s true for the group is also true for the individual. It’s simple: Over-specialise, and you breed in weakness. It’s slow death.”
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But what future are we preparing our children for? Would stellar but narrow academic performances be sufficient, or even give a competitive edge as we think it would? Would it be good for the individual and for society, or do we court Kusanagi’s “slow death”?
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HRinasia cited a February 2016 Willis Towers Watson 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study that measured employers in Singapore expecting a three per cent drop in full time employment over the next three years, and a 59 per cent increase in contingent workers in Singapore, compared to 25 per cent globally, over the same three year period. NTUC expects the 200,000-strong freelancer pool to grow in the years to come. These reports seem to say that our children have to be prepared for periods of non-full time employment.
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This points to the need to have a trade skill to participate in the contingent economy. The need to “bid” and “win” contracts would also require large doses of communication and inter-personal skills for effective networking. Yet these skills are not properly taught in the classroom, and perhaps they can never be.
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When Australia, one of the world’s education powerhouses, finds that skills are insufficient in its education system and that collaboration is increasingly more important than competition, we need to take heed.
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While tuition centres are abundant in Singapore, information on non-academic training, both in schools and by private trainers, is scarce. It is perhaps due to the lack of awareness and hence demand (and budget) that such services remain either a peripheral or the domain of the more well-off.
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But the real solution is simpler – help our kids balance their in-school learning with real-life application: temporary and part-time jobs, apprenticeships and internships, non-curricular activities and engagements and hands-on work at home. Make more holistic university choices and take in basic lessons from the army like making your bed in the morning.
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Ong Lip Hua was in University Admissions for a decade and being passionate about the career of students he admits, decided to pursue a career in HR Recruitment. He was a minor partner in a recruitment firm before going in-house. He is still crazy about providing education and career advice.
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Featured image by Sean Chong.

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