March 24, 2017

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by Kwan Jin Yao

THE rate of volunteerism in Singapore almost doubled from 2014 to 2016, rising from 18 to 35 per cent. And this trend – according to the Individual Giving Survey 2016, conducted by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) – “could be related to the resurgence in informal volunteerism” (emphasis mine), through which Singaporeans volunteer directly without going through an organisation. In its press release, NVPC then detailed examples of social and ground-up movements in Singapore, to illustrate a second point that the number of volunteers who serve informally has increased from 25 to 51 per cent, over the same time period.

Straits Times christened this “a resurgence of the kampung spirit” (Mar 16). TODAY quoted NVPC director for knowledge and advocacy, Jeffrey Tan on this “giving revolution”, “where people are volunteering and donating informally, directly with beneficiaries, without going through the formal routes” (Mar 16). Notwithstanding the questionable hyperbole, everyone seems to take for granted this causal relationship between the rise in the volunteerism rate and the increase in informal volunteerism. Correlation is not causation. In fact, we still appear to know little about what exactly drives volunteerism in Singapore, and how it can be sustained in the long-term. NVPC said it could be informal volunteerism, but we do not know for sure.

And in its current incarnation, the NVPC’s Individual Giving Survey provides few useful answers.

Volunteer rate and sample size

In the 2012 survey, when it was found that 32 per cent of Singaporeans volunteered – the previous high – the cited reason was also informal volunteering. In the 2010 survey, when the rate increased to 23 per cent from the previous high of 17 per cent in 2008, no explicit reasons were offered. And likewise nothing insightful was offered in 2014, when the volunteerism rate fell by almost half from 32 per cent in 2012 to 18 per cent. The accompanying media release in 2014 briefly mentioned the lack of time as a top reason for non-volunteers, as if it was a new finding, yet this concern was already established from the very first edition of the survey in 2000, when 74 per cent of the respondents said that “no time” was their main reason for not volunteering.

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Just knowing how the national volunteerism rate has changed from survey to survey is not enough. If the intent is to encourage more Singaporeans to volunteer – and to make sure they keep volunteering – then the NVPC needs to better understand the needs and the motivations of volunteers and non-volunteers alike, and to shape endeavours accordingly. Suppose the NVPC is absolutely convinced that informal volunteerism does cause higher volunteerism rates. It should therefore channel its resources to more financial grants for these community groups, for instance, to facilitate capacity-building and to reach out to more in Singapore.

Such causal findings will be productive for government agencies too. The Ministry of Education can ascertain whether learning experiences through Values in Action – in different permutations, such as within-school or community activities – increase the likelihood of volunteerism in the future. The National Council of Social Service, with similar information, can better advise the volunteer-management units of charities, in terms of how they can appeal to and retain long-term volunteers.

Comparisons of the findings across the past eight editions reveal something more troubling about the sampling size. Only 389 respondents were interviewed for the 2016 survey compared to the 1,828 interviewed in 2014. The mean or average across the eight biennial surveys from 2000 to 2014 was 1,698 (the median was 1,752), and so the sample size for 2016 is barely one-quarter of that. The disparity raises obvious questions about the sampling method, the representativeness of the findings and if it can be generalised for the whole population, and whether comparisons can be fairly made across demographic or socio-economic indicators.

Further doubts emerge when the 2016 is compared with the World Giving Index 2016 – released by Britain-based Charities Aid Foundation – which found that only 20 per cent of Singaporeans volunteered their time and efforts for a cause in the past year. In this particular area Singapore ranked 54th out of 140 countries, compared to its ranking of 19th for donating money to charity. The World Giving Index collected questionnaires, face-to-face, from exactly 1,000 Singaporean respondents. But like the Individual Giving Survey, it provided no additional details on the potential factors which will prompt more to volunteer.

So in addition to the woeful sample size, what changes can be made to the Individual Giving Survey? Or what more can it do?

Three related proposals. First, having determined the reasons for non-volunteerism – from the lack of time to the difficulty of balancing work and family commitments, for example – focus group discussions with existing volunteers will allow for the aggregation of practical perspectives or good practices, on how to overcome these challenges. Second, with these perspectives and practices, the NVPC can better design interventions for Singaporeans of different age-groups, in different industries, and for different beneficiaries, and use the survey as an instrument to measure the effectiveness of these implementations. In other words, did a new volunteer programme or an awareness campaign drive more Singaporeans to actually volunteer? And for how long?

And finally, a longitudinal component to the Individual Giving Survey could yield valuable information too. In an experimental set-up like this, having identified a representative sample, NVPC will track the same group of respondents over two, four, or even six years, measuring their rates of volunteerism and how they respond to volunteer programmes or awareness campaigns. If implemented effectively, the NVPC could even track the impact of nation-wide policies – such as the inception of the Youth Corps and the changes the MOE made to the community involvement programme in schools – over the same time-frame.

The Individual Giving Survey and its top-line figures may have sufficed in the past 16 years. Much more is desired – and needed – if we want to turn Singapore into a more compassionate nation of regular and committed volunteers.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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by Bertha Henson

a. IT’S the end of Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) because the last bastion, Braddell View, is going en bloc. Don’t remember HUDC? It’s the predecessor to the executive condo, except that it’s still built by HDB. It’s for those who just missed out of a new flat because they earned too much to be eligible for one. Oh, and if you’ve been to a HUDC flat, you know the apartment sizes are bigger than those in exec condos. Seriously worth paying for…then.

b. Paying for a taxi ride is going to be a different experience soon. You can pick to pay by the meter or have a fixed payment set at the start of the ride. The cab companies, minus the biggest player ComfortDelGro, are joining up with Grab to launch JustGrab for the fixed payments. There’s still the usual GrabTaxi if you want to pay by taxi. So you’d better have the app on your phone because you might just be standing along the road, hoping to flag a taxi down and finding that they’re passing you by. 

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c. UniSIM is now SUSS. This is not a joke. The former little private institution which is gearing up to be Singapore’s sixth university will be re-named Singapore University of Social Sciences to reflect its focus on social courses. Not everyone is enamoured of the name change with some people pointing out that SUSS also has finance and business degree courses. Seriously, that’s a small thing. Look at Nanyang Technological University which keeps adding non-tech courses all the time…

d. Businesses are getting more help. More than 85,000 employers here will receive about S$660 million in Wage Credit Scheme (WCS) payouts, with small and medium-sized enterprises getting 70 per cent of the sum disbursed the end of this month. Not a big deal you say because you’re just a paid grunt? Well, you’ll have to remember that some of this money should go into supporting the wages of those who earn $4,000 a month and below. For them, it’s something.

e. We’re into fake news big-time. Thirteen People’s Action Party politicians, including a Cabinet Minister, have had their Facebook profiles faked. They look like them but aren’t by them, in what is known as a phishing attempt to get data. They’ve all been taken down so you can’t see what the fake Chan Chun Sing said and how it compares to the real Chan Chun Sing’s tone of voice. It isn’t known who’s behind this prank/attack. Needless to say, the politicians AREN’T laughing.

 

Featured image by SmrtBusesLuver from Wikipedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

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by Ryan Ong

EMPLOYMENT regulations have come a long way in Singapore. Earlier in our history, this was a country with a strict “no-strike” policy and a lot of power vested in employers; all part of an early-days survival method. But with the step into first world status, Singapore’s employment scene has become more progressive by the year:

 

1. TAFEP and the Fair Consideration Framework

In 2006, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) was set up to promote responsible employment practices. The “tripartite” element refers to co-operation between employers, unions, and the Singapore government to further this goal.

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One result of having TAFEP is the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF). The FCF ensures that hirers stick to merit-based hiring, using competence as the deciding factor instead of elements such as age, gender, and nationality.

One example of this is the Jobs Bank. Before hiring an Employment Pass (EP) holder, a company must* advertise the job on Jobs Bank for at least 14 days, making it available to Singaporeans. Only after this period can the company apply for an EP.

This ensures that companies cannot show an unfair preference for hiring foreigners. They must show they tried to hire a Singaporean first.

(*Some exceptions exist, such as if the company has fewer than 25 employees, or only needs to fill a temporary position for no more than one month. You can see the list of exceptions here.)

In addition, anyone can report to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) if they see a discriminatory job advertisement. An example would be an ad that says “only foreigners”, or imposes restrictions irrelevant to the job (e.g. requiring a worker to have certain religious beliefs, for an accounting position).

Furthermore, TAFEP has an online system for complaints about workplace discrimination. Employees who feel they are treated poorly, or penalised for non-work related issues (e.g. age, gender, religion, political views, sexuality) can raise a complaint (their confidentiality is protected).

 

2. The Human Capital Partnership Programme, to encourage good workplace practices

The Human Capital Partnership (HCP) programme is an initiative open to companies with a good track record in employment and workplace practices. Companies that are part of the HCP (called Human Capital Partners) commit to investing in the development of Singaporean employees across all levels.

In return, Human Capital Partners enjoy priority access when having work passes processed, and have a dedicated hotline for transactions with MOM. Human Capital Partners will have privileged access to government support and resources, and have the right to display the “Human Capital Partner” mark, which helps to attract needed employees.

Human Capital Partners, for example, have account managers assigned to them from HCP to cultivate good workplace practices. This ensures that the concept of fair employment cannot just be a temporary front.

This is in stark contrast with old-school methods; traditional systems of employee protection just use penalties and fines as threats, which places the burden of fair employment on government regulators.

HCP instead provides positive incentives for companies, to encourage the hirers themselves to maintain good practices.

 

3. Skills Transfer Initiatives

One of the HCP’s goals is to turn foreign workers into a complement to our workforce, instead of competition. The formula is:

1/3 + 2/3 > 1.

That refers to how one-third of our workforce is composed of foreigners, and two-thirds are Singaporeans. By having the two complement each other, we develop synergy and results that are greater than the sum of our parts.

One example of this is skill transfer programmes that HCP encourages. 3M, the manufacturer of the famous Post-It notes, is engaged with this initiative. The manufacturer has several programmes in which foreign workers can teach or transfer skills to local employees (and vice versa). This ensures that each worker is more versatile, and can be moved into new roles quickly. The result is a more nimble and adaptable company.

Endorsing skills transfers is a progressive take; rather than set up an adversarial relationship between locals and foreigners (the old “they’ll eat our lunch” argument), Singaporean employers are instead encouraged to merge the two, to make our companies more competitive.

A more competitive company means better wages, more room for career advancement, and greater job security.

 

Building the workforce for the new era
The Singaporean worker today is, by and large, no longer an easily replaced resource. As we see more talented programmers, engineers, managers, and salespeople, it is clear the dynamics of the workplace will change.

No longer are employees wholly dependent on the whims of their employer; rather, the reverse is often true. Many companies are now dependent on the skills and talents of their workers, who have no shortage of options when it comes to finding work elsewhere.

In light of this, any adversarial relationship between employer and employee will be a tremendous disruption to local business (and by extension, the wider economy). It’s time we discard outmoded notions of “worker versus employer”, lest all of us fall behind.

The simplest way to do that is not with over-regulation and fines, but to ensure that companies themselves see the value of treating employees right.

 

This article is part of a series on employment in partnership with the Ministry of Manpower.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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The first of two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors is launched during a successful intercept test. The test, conducted by Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) Operational Test Agency, Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, and U.S. Pacific Command, in conjunction with U.S. Army soldiers from the Alpha Battery, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, U.S. Navy sailors aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG-73), and U.S. Air Force airmen from the 613th Air and Operations Center resulted in the intercept of one medium-range ballistic missile target by THAAD, and one medium-range ballistic missile target by Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD). The test, designated Flight Test Operational-01 (FTO-01), stressed the ability of the Aegis BMD and THAAD weapon systems to function in a layered defense architecture and defeat a raid of two near-simultaneous ballistic missile targets

by Daniel Yap

THE KL-Pyongyang row over the murder of Mr Kim Jong Nam is getting out of hand with 11 Malaysians trapped in North Korea, but it’s just one part of the worsening diplomatic situation in East Asia. The fallout started with a few missiles falling out of the sky into the sea off the coast of Japan on Monday morning (Mar 6).

On Tuesday morning (Mar 7), North Korean state media announced that the four missiles, three of which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone about 350km from shore, were drills for a plan to strike directly at US bases in Japan, where the US has stationed about 54,000 troops.

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Japan upgrades its alert level to the maximum and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe gets on the phone with US President Donald Trump. Mr Abe says that the North Korean threat “has entered a new stage”.

At about the same time on Tuesday morning, the row between China (North Korea’s biggest ally) and South Korea took a new turn as South Korea announced that it would consider making an official complaint to the World Trade Organisation over what it sees as China violating their free trade deal.

China has in recent months tried to exert pressure on South Korea by banning the streaming of K-pop performances, stopping K-pop stars from performing in China, causing the shutdown of 23 supermarkets run by South Korean Lotte Group, and ordering tour agencies to stop selling trips to South Korea. Why is China doing this? THAAD.

THAAD is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile system developed by Lockheed Martin that South Korea and the US agreed to deploy in South Korea in July 2016. Remember China’s state-run Global Times newspaper that had harsh words for Singapore during the Terrex incident? It said that South Korea was “tying itself to the US chariot and turning into an arrogant pawn of Washington in the latter’s military containment against China.”

But why would China get upset about a purely defensive system like THAAD? Isn’t it reasonable for South Korea to defend itself, especially with North Korea going big on missiles?

China is trying to project military power across the region as part of its One Belt One Road framework. China is upset because THAAD is a projection of US power into the region and because the system will take away some of China’s offensive edge should war break out, including over the disputed South China Sea waters and islands, of which – hello – Malaysia is also a claimant. What a tangled web.

So now there are 11 Malaysians held de facto hostage in North Korea, which had fired missiles at Japan, triggering heightened tensions and paved the way for stronger US involvement in the region, which is upsetting China especially because…

We’re back to THAAD. Deployment for the system was previously announced to be completed in mid or late-2017. About 24 hours after the North Korean missiles splash down off the Japanese coast, the US Pacific Command announced that it had begun deploying THAAD overnight in South Korea, and that the system would be operational as early as April.

Quite a lot of people are going to get hot under the collar in the days and weeks to come. Expect nationalistic chest-thumping, threats, diplomatic shenanigans, strained trade, harsh words and escalations from the nations involved. And thank God war isn’t on the cards… yet.

Featured imagine from Wikimedia Commons. (CC0 1.0)

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Green alarm clock showing 8.30.

A CABBY who lied about being attacked by his Norwegian passenger was sentenced to 19 weeks jail yesterday.

Here’s what his victim, Mr Arne Corneliussen, said about the case: “In the greater scheme of things, he is going through what I went through as well. But I still lost my job, I lost money to him and I also spent a lot on legal fees, so I can’t say I feel like justice was done. He has yet to reach out to me to offer compensation of any sort.”

Cabby Chan Chuan Heng had pinned the blame on Mr Corneliussen, who was jailed 10 weeks and had to pay him $30,000. Later, Mr Corneliussen was re-tried and fined $2,000 for causing hurt. The former DHL director had already served more than half his 10-week sentence.

Mr Corneliussen has a point. How is he going to get his money back? Sue the cabby?

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What was also interesting is how this was missed out earlier in the investigations. According to ST, Chan also deliberately did not submit the in-car camera footage that would have captured the sound of his earlier altercation with Mr Corneliussen, and would have cast the entire incident in a different light.

We move from Singapore and Norway to Singapore and China now…

Nothing was said about the retention of Terrexes in Hong Kong when Singapore’s high-powered team went to Beijing to meet their counterparts for the delayed meeting of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation. Instead Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean emphasised the need to be “forward-looking”. So we don’t know if the Terrexes were discussed or not, although Mr Teo did make clear that Singapore was sticking to its One China policy and that biltateral relations were deep and broad enough to weather disturbances.

Much was made of the composition of his team members, younger ministers whom he brought along to build ties with their generational counterparts in China. In the old fold were Ministers Lim Hng Kiang and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. Cabinet ministers in the young set were Ms Grace Fu, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Mr Lawrence Wong, Mr Ng Chee Meng and Mr Ong Ye Kung. The second liners or junior ministers were Dr Amy Khor (although she can be considered as part of the old fold), Mrs Josephine Teo, Ms Sim Ann and Dr Koh Poh Koon.

Perhaps, he should have brought along a young non-Chinese as well, to make the point that Singapore is multi-racial society that won’t dance to the Chinese tune, now as well as in the future.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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PM LEE Hsien Loong has joined a handful of senior civil servants to say that he wants to work with people with whom he can have a “productive disagreement”, and who have their own views. He also said that leaders have to be able to take criticism and acknowledge mistakes.

PM Lee spoke at a closed-door dialogue with around 100 leaders from the global tech sector, organised by venture capital firm Sequoia Capital India. He also spoke about how Singapore has to leverage technology to move forward while managing change.

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Recent complaints by local bike rental firms (the kiosks at parks like East Coast Park) highlight both the uses of tech and the disruptive changes it brings. Bike rental firms, which rent out rides at $7-8 an hour are crying foul over Chinese bike sharing company ofo’s business practices.

The new entrant into the bike rental market parks bikes illegally (ST ran a photo of ofo bikes parked in carpark lots), pay no rent (since they don’t have to tender for kiosks), and charge a market-breaking price of $0.50 a ride with no time limit. Kiosk owners also complain about how public facilities like bike stands are being used for profit without the company having to pay a cent.

Ofo and local outfit Obike (that charges $1 and has deployed bikes mostly around MRT stations) have developed systems that allow customers to unlock bikes using their mobile phones and simply park them wherever they end their journey instead of having to bring them back to a kiosk.

Nparks and LTA are monitoring the situation, but are most concerned with illegal parking and safety. Is this the start of the Uber-isation of bicycles? Will outdated business models simply fall by the wayside?

The complaints are also piling up after the Guns N’ Roses concert on Saturday night (Feb 25). Concertgoers lambasted LAMC Productions, the organiser, for poor planning and a poor experience, with issues arising from food and drink shortages, hour-long queues, leftover credits from an RFID payment system, and transport woes to and from the remote Changi Exhibition Centre.

LAMC Productions chief Mr Rob Knudson took full responsibility for the situation, saying that the company would formulate a refund process for unspent credits, and that the company would take the criticism and plan better for future events.

Well, at least the band played on.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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Obaku watch on a wrist with clock faces pointing at 8:30.

MORE graduates are taking on freelance and part-time jobs, as a result of changing workplace demands and of the mindsets of employees. Of the 89.7 per cent of local graduates who found work within six months of completing their examinations – according to the 2016 Graduate Employment Survey (GES), released last week – 80.2 per cent secured full-time employment. This is 2.9 percentage points lower than the figure in the 2015 GES. On the one hand, given the advent of technology and the emergence of the “gig” economy, these alternative work arrangements allow the companies to respond quickly to changing economic needs, while on the other, freelancers and part-timers may enjoy the flexibility.

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In parliament earlier this month, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said that about eight per cent of Singapore’s working residents are freelancers. And because they fall outside the employment protection and social safety net framework, the need for regulation has also been mooted. This same protection could, moreover, be extended to internships, which are become more popular among young Singaporeans. In the private universities, for instance, students use internships to gain work experience. Internships allow to-be graduates to ascertain their work interest, to interact with industry professionals, and to even secure a full-time role upon their graduation.

From the workplace to the classroom: More Singaporeans are choosing to do degree programmes overseas. And in at least four of these countries – Austria, France, Germany, and Norway – tuition is free or marked down.

Public universities in these four countries have been attracting Singaporeans for some years, who are drawn by affordable higher education as well as the opportunity to stay and study abroad. In Norway, for example, the number of Singaporeans enrolled in full-time programmes increased from just 17 in 2007 to 150 in 2014. But before students pack their bags for enrollment, they must have mastered the foreign language, and hope that regular tuition fees – given a potential climate of protectionism in Europe, and the high taxes paid by the locals to subsidise the cost of education – will not be introduced in the near future.

And finally, back in Singapore, three of the four autonomous universities – the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) – and searching around the world for new deans. In the next phase of growth for NUS, NTU, and SUTD, the hope is that the new deans will be able to revamp curricula and to better prepare graduates through work-study programmes and other innovative policies.

 

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by Daniel Yap

I’M A rider. My trusty motorcycle has been my means of transportation over long distances for more than a decade. This week, the G dropped a bombshell tiered tax of up to 100 per cent of a bike’s open market value.

My current, very, very modest ride is my Suzuki DRZ 400SM. Even though I don’t fawn over it as much as other bikers do their rides, I love it. It’s considered a small capacity bike in any other developed country. Here, the G has suddenly deemed it a “luxury”. My bike is now a luxury I cannot afford.

I’m venting now, excuse me. I don’t care what you think of it.

When my bike was new it would go for $16,000 or so, COE included. Today, the latest iteration of such a bike will cost about $1,500 more thanks to the G’s new tax regime. A larger bike, even a modest-sized 600, will cost $6,000, $12,000, $20,000 more than before. Madness.

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But I know the score, it is the G’s prerogative to tax what they will. And it’s my prerogative to feel how I feel about it. And I’m not alone.

It seems like the G doesn’t understand us bikers. Biking is in our blood. Biking is a lifestyle, a community. I don’t greet other drivers in my multi-storey car park when our paths cross. I only greet other bikers. “Be safe out there, bro”, “it’s raining up north”, “nice ride”. The bike was the poor man’s hope for that feeling of freedom, of empowerment. And now it’s out of reach.

You’ve hurt us, G, you’ve hurt us. We aren’t “dismayed” like the Today article says. We are pissed off. Outraged. Livid. I’ve heard biker friends screaming blue murder, trying to migrate, crying, frantic because the dreams and plans they’ve been cherishing for the last few years, working slowly up to the next-level ride, it’s all up in smoke now. It’s crushing.

And for what? The new tax on bikes is supposed to “solve” a problem created by another more or less pointless policy decision – the slashing of bike COE supply.

The COE for bikes has risen from under $900 in 2010 to well over $6,500 today. The massive jump is because LTA decimated the bike COE supply as a proportion of all COEs. Why did they do that? To move the quota to the car COE supply because, I don’t know, somehow bikes cause the same congestion as cars in LTA-La-Land. Or maybe because car COEs make a lot more money. Or poor people should not be on the road. Or car owners were lobbying, I don’t know.

This price rise is the cause (not the result) of the surge in popularity of bigger bikes because the kinds of people who could only afford to buy a small bike like a brand new $6,000 kupchai in 2010 will never ever be able to afford a $6,500 COE in 2016. This prices them out of the market, leaving the COE supply for buyers with slightly deeper pockets. And which idiot would pay for a $6,500 COE to buy a $3,000 bike anyway?

Of course those poor unkers and delivery riders whose livelihoods got screwed over complained, and rightly so. These days even food delivery riders and couriers ride 400cc bikes. In the past, it was rare to see anything past 200cc for these jobs.

Guess what? This new tax isn’t going to make a difference for those poor bikers who got shafted by the COE crunch. It will simply put more bikes out of reach for more Singaporeans. It will just make more money (pennies, really) for a G worried about balancing the budget.

And does this tax make things more “progressive”? In a sense, yes – those who can afford to pay for a better bike will have to pay more. Cars are subject to such a tax regime (although the price of a luxury car is still ten times or more than that of a luxury bike).

But don’t make a pretence of being “progressive” when what should have been done is to make COEs more affordable for lower end bikes (and therefore more progressive) by introducing a tiered COE system, which bikers have been agitating for. Now low-income bikers are penalised with high COEs, while middle-income bikers are penalised by COEs and high ARF taxes.

No doubt, this new scheme makes good money for the G, as fellow rider Ian Tan has calculated. It makes some sense in itself, although the implementation is as shocking as the 30 per cent hike on water. Why crimp our move towards a “car-lite” society? Bikes are the definition of “car-lite”.

I could defend bikes all day. They ease congestion. Riding helps develop better driving habits. They pollute less. Riders are more community-minded. Bigger bikes are safer because they have better design, control, better brakes, and more power for responsible riders to escape danger.

Maybe I’ll still buy a bigger bike someday. I’ll just have to work hard and save more for it. But today I feel pain, a pain echoed by my fellow bikers in Singapore.  My dreams are further out of my reach. I can forget about that Speed Triple now that it costs $6,000 more. Or that Ducati Scrambler in yellow with the racing stripe. I can forget about ever feeling the exhilaration of mounting a litre bike… maybe if I move abroad. Wait, did I just think of migrating?

This is a heart issue, and the new and mostly senseless tax regime is causing us pain. I don’t want to hear the “justifications”. That you’re trying to open up the supply of bikes to lower income bikers. If the G wanted to do that, they would have raised the COE numbers.

I don’t want to hear how the G said over half of new motorcycle buyers will not be affected by the new system because they buy small bikes. We are all affected because we all dream about owning a bigger bike, a better bike. To me, this is about the G making more money, money, money, and making it off regular joes with mid-sized and low incomes.

I’m not going to listen to attempts at “reason”. Deal with it. Just like I’m going to have to deal with the new bike tax.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user Filmwek-kiel. (CC0 1.0)

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8:30 am clock face

FINALLY, the PUB has given some answers on the cost of producing water. What was so difficult about that? Does it think that big words such as “resilience”, “sustainability” and “water security” are enough to move people to accept a 30 per cent hike in water price? Or is it waiting for the Committee of Supply debate on the budget of the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources to unveil the figures? In this day and age, it’s not good to let speculation and discontent fester, simply because they can be spread so much faster via the Internet.

So what do we know now? In response to queries from the MSM, it said that in 2000, it cost $0.5 billion to operate the water system. In 2015, it was $1.3 billion. The money was spent on NEWater production, desalination, used water collection and treatment, and the maintenance of the island-wide network of water pipelines, among others. It did not say which contributed the most to rising cost, although one guess would be desalination plants.

PUB also said that from 2000 to 2015, it invested $7 billion in water infrastructure, and it expects to spend another $4 billion on such infrastructure from this year to 2021. What water infrastructure? Presumably the NEWater and desalination plants that are in the pipeline.

ST reported that besides the cost of producing water, it’s also getting more difficult to distribute water. PUB, for instance, can no longer just dig trenches to lay water pipes underground because the country is so built-up. It has to use pipe-jacking, a more expensive method which involves assembling pipes into shafts and then pushing them into position with a hydraulic jack.

In our heart of hearts, we probably know that it’s time for a rise in water prices, especially since it was last raised 17 years ago. The question is why now and why this much? Minister of State for Finance Lawrence Wong said there is never a good time for water price rises, which is true.

But a hiatus of 17 years?

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CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said at a forum yesterday that the fact that “we are finally charging a bit more for water after 17 years reflects that somebody forgot it hasn’t been done yet”.

Going by what experts say, the 30 per cent rise isn’t good enough. It should be way higher, like doubled. Say this to the people though. At forums on the Budget statement yesterday, the water price was a key issue, which is probably to the G’s chagrin since it wants to bill the Budget as a tool to shift the economy into high gear.

Although the argument is about water security (read: what if we get no more water from up north?), the price rise is also to add to the G’s coffers, which is increasingly under strain.

Now before you get your hackles up because the G is “rich”, consider what the experts have to say about the Budget.

Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin was reported in ST as noting that despite projecting a small overall fiscal surplus of $1.91 billion for the 2017 financial year, the G is looking at a primary deficit of $5.62 billion, worse than it was during the 2009 financial crisis.

A primary fiscal deficit does not take into account investment contributions from GIC or Temasek Holdings, and broadly implies that tax revenues are not keeping up with government spending.

He might as well add we can always tweak the formula on investment contributions, but that would be cheating, won’t it?

Economists are asking for more transparency in accounting and even the setting up of an independent agency to look at the effectiveness of G spending.

They have a point: We’ve seen so many announcements about millions and even billions on this or that G scheme over the years but what have they resulted in so far?

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat made no bones about the need to raise revenues, especially since he has ordered G agencies to trim their budgets. So far, he has only talked about making non-GST registered companies which do cross-border businesses here pay the tax. That means the likes of Taobao and Amazon and e-retailers.

But if the G wants to persuade people to part with more money, it has to do better at telling people what things cost. It can start with this: What in heaven’s name is “long-run marginal cost of water supply”, the formula which underpins water prices?

 

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Black clock showing 8.30.

DON’T expect the property market to change much after Budget 2017 and in the years to come. National Development Minister Lawrence Wong cautioned that existing property curbs will “stay for some time” and that Singapore has achieved a “soft landing” for the market with its measures – just the outcome it had been looking for.

The additional CPF housing grant announced on Monday (Feb 20) is also unlikely to have a significant effect on property prices, given that it is a buyer’s market and if sellers raise prices, buyers will simply move on to a better offer elsewhere. Volumes are expected to go up.

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Now is probably not the best time to ride your soon-to-be-expensive motorcycle into Malaysia. The trip back might be extra long as newly-deployed automated MBIKE customs lanes on the Johor side have malfunctioned for the second day in a row, causing hours-long tailbacks.

The Johor Immigration Department said that the breakdowns were caused by motorcyclists tailgating and damaging the gantries. The department also said that 38 motorcyclists had been detained for going through the gantries without providing their passports to the Immigration Department.

Coldhearted – some people are going around impersonating Singapore Heart Foundation volunteers, and armed with flag day stickers too! The Heart Foundation has made a police report about the miscreants, who were operating around Bugis Junction.

Bona fide Heart Foundation fundraisers are required to carry an identification badge and a copy of the Collectors Certificate of Authority issued by the National Council of Social Service, so if you’re in doubt, ask.

Heartbreaking – the body of hiker Steward Lee, reported missing by his family on Friday, has been found hanging at the top floor of multi-storey car park Block 468A Segar Road on Monday (Feb 20) night.

A widely shared appeal for information by his sister on social media kicked off a 70-man search through Mr Lee’s favourite nature reserves on Sunday. Police have classified the case as unnatural death and are investigating.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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