June 22, 2017

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Photo By Shawn Danker
Sub sandwich about to be bitten into.

by Bertha Henson

When word started going around that news sites were going to be licensed, my first instinct was: I want to be there when they announce this. I tried to wrangle an invite but was told I am not “accredited media”. (By the way, I don’t think Yahoo! News was invited either. And the news site is going to have to get a licence and put up a $50,000 bond.)

I wanted to be there because I am still, at heart, a curious journalist. Second, I write a blog and am now trying to build Breakfast Network by experimenting with alternative ways of telling the news in a moderate voice. Third, because I am a concerned citizen who wonders why we need more, rather than fewer, rules to govern what we say.

I wanted to ask questions. Now I wish I had banged the door down because the MSM did a pretty poor job of asking tough questions going by all the reports I’ve read so far. Maybe they have been “gagged” or given some deep background briefing that is off the record that convinces them of the need for such licensing. Maybe they too believe that the licensing of sites is the right thing to do since they already have to obtain licences for their newspaper products. I doubt though that any self-respecting journalist would adopt such a dog in the manger approach. More likely, they would want parity to go the other way: If online sites are not licensed, newspapers shouldn’t be too.

Which is why it’s really odd for the Minister to talk about being “fair” to mainstream media by imposing the same rules for online sites. It makes MSM look as though it were them who asked for a level playing field. That, I cannot believe.

Now, it’s no secret that the G has been looking for ways to keep online commentators in line. We just have to refer to the rush of letters of demand in recent time. Sure thing, some comments are egregiously damaging, undermines trust in institutions and plain false. To keep policing by throwing the law at individuals looks like a pretty tedious process. Hence, why not a blanket approach?

Perhaps, as an online community, we have failed to police ourselves. The G might well argue that it had wanted an Internet Code of Conduct in place but the online community who see this as a censorship threat was reluctant to co-operate. It might well say this: “It’s your fault. And that’s why we have to resort to such a blunt instrument as licensing.”

The funny thing is, when the announcement was finally made, the G merely extended it really to just one site, Yahoo! News. The other nine are owned by MSM. So this is the light touch? Or the thin end of the wedge? It cannot be that the G is worried about MSM content. It has so many ways to make MSM compliant. It is probably worried about bloggers and sites that have a reach which will grow to rival those of MSM. So it’s a pre-emptive strike.

It will backfire.

Anyway, what are the questions that should have been posed?

a. How did the G come to the 50,000 visitors figure?

b. How did it come up with $50,000 performance bond?

c. How did it come up with something like this as a content criteria: Report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months? It looks tailored….

d. Is it entirely within its discretion which sites to “notify’’ for licensing? If so, does this mean it might well not bother with some “nice’’ sites even though they meet both criteria on reach and local news content? What about individual bloggers and Facebook commentators with huge followings?

e. That 24-hour deadline on “take it down’’ or else. Who will determine what should be taken down? Is there an avenue of appeal? Does this mean that the current classification guidelines and code of conduct aren’t working and hence the need for this sledgehammer approach?

f. Can it cite instances when guidelines were regularly breached and by who or which site? In other words, who or what is it really targeting? Socio-political sites? Sites with shady foreign funding? Black ops type of sites? It can’t be just those 10 sites!

g. Are the current laws too weak to deal with egregious breaches?

h. How would it justify licensing in the light of what has been said about having an open, transparent conversation in a new normal Singapore?

i. How would it answer accusations that this would constrain those who have something constructive to say that might not be to its liking? Or those who say that it is adding to a “climate of fear’’.

j. Does it believe that engagement with the online community is a way to add to civic discussion? Did it engage the online on this licensing scheme at all?

Given the round of condemnation online so far, no one has been been consulted on this brainwave. So the licensing scheme has been imposed from up high. And there I was thinking that Singapore had entered a new era.

I would rather the G level with us and tell us exactly who or what it is targeting than put up that fig leaf of 10 sites. Can the G at least be honest about its intentions and upfront about what else it intends to do in the future even if it thinks the likes of us online aren’t worth engaging?

My more immediate question is: What should I do now? Odd that my fellow members on Breakfast Network and I would have to think about how NOT to make ourselves so popular that we would breach the 50,000 threshold. Even if we have $50,000 to spare, it’s not nice to have to wonder about phone calls in the night or an email to demand that a post be deleted. And it’s not nice to have to second guess what the G (or which god in which department) thinks about this post or that and that particular god-person’s threshold of “sensitivity’’.

I gather I cut too close to the bone sometimes when I write – even when I wield a scalpel and not a cleaver. Maybe I should stick to writing nice, boring stuff. But that isn’t me.

This is depressing.

by Bertha Henson

Inside a bunker in Singapore, two bureaucrats, Chin Oo Eng and Nina Kan, are discussing ways to control the universe. They’re starting with the Internet.

Chin: Okay, we failed to get those Internet fellas on board that Code of Conduct. And all those letters of demand, Sedition Act stunts we throw at them… don’t seem to be working. Boss now says we tighten the screws. I’ve been thinking for a long time… We can do it like China and just shut or block out stuff we don’t like. We can hire all those PMETs in the Singapore core to sit around and monitor sites. Below $4,000 a month, so that we can give them Workfare increases. It’ll make us popular.

Nina Kan: Don’t be silly. Just come up with a licence like under Newspaper Printing Presses Act. Annual. Renewable depending on whether they toe the line or not. And they must say who owns the site, editor, publisher etc. All these shady characters who give money to slam us will now have to emerge. Or if they don’t want to, they will have to close down. Yeehhahaaarrhaaaa! And throw in a $50,000 bond as well so that the smaller fellows who can’t afford it will have to close down too. Heeyaaaharrrr.

Chin: Eh, if they go to China and use servers there how? Some already do. Can’t even identify the buggers.

Nina Kan: That’s stage 2 lah. Now we just get those “friendly” sites under the umbrella. MSM fellows can’t object. Won’t object anyway. In fact, let’s get the boss to say that we’re just being fair: “Our mainstream media are subjected to rules… Why shouldn’t the online sites also be part of that regulatory framework?” Something like that. If you really worried, we can say we targeting “commercial” sites that take in advertising. Like this, even Yahoo can come under licence. And I think that Marissa woman won’t mind $50K. Nothing to Yahoo…

Chin: You’re so good, you’re evil. But you know, if Yahoo won’t play ball… Anyway, if we only say commercial sites, then we have to rule out those bloggers and those very oo eng people who write about all sorts of stuff pro bono. We need to catch everyone!

Nina Kan: Hmm. Tough. We better come out with some conditions first. We can try this: Under the licensing framework, online news sites will be individually licensed if they (i) report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore’s news and current affairs over a period of two months, and (ii) are visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month over a period of two months.

Chin: Hmm. They will ask for a definition of Singapore news. Commentaries count? What about photographs? You know all these supposed citizen journalists with a camera phone? Always making trouble. Like STOMP.

Nina Kan: Then we define this way. A “Singapore news programme” is any programme (whether or not the programme is presenter-based and whether or not the programme is provided by a third party) containing any news, intelligence, report of occurrence, or any matter of public interest, about any social, economic, political, cultural, artistic, sporting, scientific or any other aspect of Singapore in any language (whether paid or free and whether at regular interval or otherwise) but does not include any programme produced by or on behalf of the Government.

Chin: Waah. Very good. Very evil. Very broad. That last part is very good. Rules out every ministry website, any agency or anyone we want to finance! But I think there will still be a problem with the bloggers. They don’t quite have a site; they use WordPress and others. And what about Facebook fellas – sometimes they also report news. But their site is actually Facebook. My goodness! You think PM has 50,000 followers or not? What about Ministers?

Nina Kan: Now you are being silly, they come under “produced by or on behalf of the Government’’.

Chin: What about sammyboy.com then? EDMW? Forums? And we still have to get round this people who will claim they don’t own Facebook and WordPress. All it needs is some smart-aleck lawyer to tear everything down… Twitter how? Some might have more than 50,000 followers…

Nina Kan: Eh, don’t make it so complicated! We just start with 10 and we see how it goes. Maybe we can throw in a carrot. Say… you get a licence, we give you media accreditation. So you can come to our press conferences and all that and we let you in. That’s what the online fellas want right?

Chin: Hmm… we got to think about what we said about governing Internet with a “light touch”. Maybe we should line up some people to say it is still “relatively light touch”. Actually, what we do really have to do ah? Must have some SOPs.

Nina Kan: We give them 24 hours to take down something we don’t like. Like in the classification system. So we not really starting anything new. But we can now say… you have anything on race, religion – out! Take down in 24 hours – or else! That way, we can still be nice and employ a lot of PMETs to do the monitoring. Better put up a new budget to Finance…

Chin: You know we are going to get slammed right? These online fellows are going to say we are censoring, stifling speech and all that sort of liberal rubbish.

Nina Kan: What’s new? We get slammed all the time anyway. In any case, it’s the boss who will be taking the flak.

Chin: True… Anyway, I am due to retire soon. Before 2016.

Chin Oo Eng and Nina Kan dutifully told their boss about their plan. It is approved. It is now policy.

 

More of An Unlicensed Conversation

Part II: Supreme bureaucrats Chin Oo Eng and Nina Kan are back in their bunker, ego bruised and noses bloodied.

Part III: Chin Oo Eng and Nina Kan have been ordered to come up with answers for their bosses in Parliament.

Photo By Shawn Danker
AIA Singapore.
(Illustration by Marcus Tan)
(Illustration by Marcus Tan)

The alleged abuse of an intern has been in the news over the past week. Our young writers, BN’s Junior Chefs, penned these letters to employers on what they expect from an internship – if they get one, that is.

 

(Illustration by Melissa Lim)
(Illustration by Melissa Lim)

Dear Prospective Employer,

You are probably reading through yet another highly-polished résumé and letter beseeching you, the honourable employer, to employ a humble intern.

For three months, or six months only, you would expect me to jump ship just because I am not going to be a permanent employee. Bear with me as I give you another perspective to the story.

I will be suitably grateful for the employment. Thereafter, it will be my life’s mission to prove my worth. However, consigning me somewhere in a dark alley of your company, or doing tasks that I probably would be doing at home anyway, such as making tea and coffee, or “assisting” in trivial tasks will do nothing beneficial for your company. I am here to learn, and also apply what I have learnt for your benefit. Allow me to explore, and spark new ideas which may provide a new direction or opportunity for your company. We interns might just be sojourners, but we are fresher than many of your permanent staff that might have be so bored doing their jobs that they could be less creative, less inspiring or less productive than many of us interns. We, the said interns, are dying to give our best shot in this limited time window.

Here is a potential window of opportunity where, if you place your trust in us, you will find repaid plentiful with intangible benefits that money simply cannot buy.

Have I offered an offer you cannot refuse?

Yours Truly,
Donavan Cheah
One Who Makes a Difference

***

(Illustration by Melissa Lim)
(Illustration by Melissa Lim)

Dear Prospective Employer,

I am a professional student, currently in my second year of undergraduate study at the National University of Singapore. I would like to apply for the position of Intern at Your Company.

After 14 years of experience in the school industry, I have a wide array of skills that will prove useful to Your Company.

These are my terms and conditions for some of the relevant services I offer:

Package A* – $0/ month
Printing and Photocopying
Buying Coffee and Tea
Data Entry

Package B* – $500/ month
Research
Making Presentation Slides
Phone Reception

Package C** – Valuable Insight and Experience (negotiable)/ month
Interest
Learning
Problem Solving

*For a limited time only, I offer complimentary Boredom and Slacking services for Packages A and B. Blindly Following Instructions Though Sometimes Ignoring It is also available upon request.

**Please note also that some monetary remuneration is expected for Package C, though the rate is negotiable. The market rate of $0/ month may be accepted, though there will be an additional charge of Less Respect for Not Being a Half-Decent Employer.

Quality of services provided (Package C) is directly proportional to Valuable Insight and Experience paid.

At higher rates of Valuable Insight and Experience, you may also be eligible for Appreciation, Sense of Loyalty, as well as access to services in Package A and B – with no additional cost.

For further enquires, please contact me at 9xxx – xxxx or capablestudent@internship.sg.

Thank you.

Warmest regards,
Jonathan Tan

***

(Illustration by Melissa Lim)
(Illustration by Melissa Lim)

Dear Prospective Employer,

You have probably shuffled through many internship cover letters, all proclaiming how working in your company would be a “tremendous (or once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity”. These cover letters will be accompanied by impressive résumés clad in professional templates, proclaiming how the applicants have involved themselves in a multitude of activities. And maybe you will receive calls from the Career Services department of the universities, inquiring whether you will be interested in opening up more positions for the undergraduates.

Despite the anecdotal incidents of abuse, many still flock to these openings. Why?

The remuneration is often a non-issue. Most applicants are cognisant that their lack of qualifications depresses their allowances, and that they will not enjoy the same benefits as their full-time colleagues who have graduated from school. Those who are in serious need of cash will avoid internship offers. Abuse cases are far and few between, and most do their tasks well. At the end of the day, the schools have repeatedly emphasised that internships are opportunities for students to gain work experience (in other words, I should be thankful that you are gracious enough to provide work openings for us in the summer). And as a desperate young Singaporean deeply immersed in the rat race, these stints are extremely valuable.

Yet, your internship should not feature simplistically on my curriculum vitae (where I detail my supposedly magnificent contributions to the company, and how I have made a difference). Bollocks. Is it possible for me to be an “asset” if the three months were but a breeze?

Put me out of my comfort zones. Do not group us – the young interns – conveniently together, but allow us to interact with colleagues who have been involved in this line of work for some time. Hear me out, and understand my strengths and specialisations. Allow me to ease into the daily routines. Do not treat us as young ignoramuses with no experience in “the real world”, and mollycoddle us every step of the way. We can bring something new to the table.

Because quite frankly, I just want to be treated as a normal employee. Let me be part of the company. Once I have been shown the ropes, and after I have proven my competency in my first few assignments, entrust me with roles and responsibilities that you would have assigned to regular workers. More rigorous challenges like these will give me the chance to make mistakes on the job; and, more importantly, to eventually learn from these shortcomings.

Challenge your interns. We can take it.

Yours Truly,
Kwan Jin Yao
Resident Student Sceptic

***

(Illustration by Melissa Liim)
(Illustration by Melissa Lim)

Dear Prospective Employer,

I am the triple science ‘O’ level student who switched to triple humanities in the International Baccalaureate programme. I am also the NSF who took 1 whole week of leave during NS just to participate in the Habitat for Humanity programme, as well as the student who travelled to France for a semester exchange with only rudimentary French (4-week crash course, to be exact).

Why? Just because I can.

Expect different from me – from us – we are the You-Only-Live-Once (YOLO) generation. Our curiosity knows no bounds, leading us on to paths less travelled. While other employees give you the same ole’ dry ideas, don’t expect the same from me. I don’t promise mistake-free work, I promise a fresh perspective, a new take on old problems.

But I also expect different from you. I will not be satisfied with photocopying, with tea-making, with paper-filing. Been there, done that. And definitely not for anything less than $600 a month. You see, I did a quick calculation in my mind; if I worked at McDonald’s for $3.50 an hour, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, not only do I earn more ($560), I will also learn more (how to make those curly fries!). Not to mention, McDonald’s has won the Hewitt Top 10 Best Employer Award (Singapore) in 2007, 2009 and 2011. In the UK, interns are seen as just another source of cheap labour, I hope that the companies in Singapore do not follow the same path. We are not cheap labour.

An internship is a two-way process. You judge our work performance but we are also judging you. You are the prospective employer but we are your prospective employees. The internship is your marketing campaign to us. Mess it up and we not only promise not to ever apply to your company but we will also tell our friends not to work there. I remember all the internships where my friends have done menial labour, received paltry remuneration and in one particular case – sexual harassment in the form of dirty jokes bandied about.

I’m sure your esteemed company recognises that a happy intern is a productive intern. Treat us like valued employees in your company and I promise it will be a win-win situation for the both of us.

Yours Truly,
Augustin Chiam
Highly Employable Undergraduate

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
The Fountain of Wealth at Suntec City Mall

by Daniel Yap

Plastered on the front pages of The Straits Times and The Business Times is the announcement of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) spinning off a REIT for their Clementi Mall and Paragon properties (SPH to spin off Paragon, Clementi Mall into REIT, ST, May 28; SPH plans to list retail Reit in July, BT, May 28).

The lead story in ST’s “Money” section was also about the REIT (Paragon’s value up by over $100m in 6 months, May 28).

While the BT article clearly declared that SPH owned The Business Times, ST failed to include that detail in its coverage. Both BT and ST clearly have a vested interest in the deal.

Coverage by other media was muted, with TODAY running a Dow Jones report just four paragraphs long, the same length as a Reuters report run on Yahoo!.

While the numbers highlighted in SPH’s own publications look glowing, it remains to be seen if anyone else is as upbeat as SPH about the deal, as the IPO price has yet to be announced.

SPH is expected to rake in $1 billion in net proceeds from the sale of the two malls to the REIT. SPH will retain a 70 per cent stake in the REIT. SPH plans to announce a special dividend of 18 cents per share after the spin-off – a handsome 4.1% yield based on SPH’s current share price of $4.39.

SPH has seen its revenues from rental growing from 10% of total revenue in 2010 to 13% in 2011 to 15% in 2012, even as revenue from its core publishing business fell in 2012.

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Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A PVC hand.

by Daniel Yap

A Straits Times article called PM Lee Hsien Loong’s Istana guests “netizens”, a seemingly forced and vague classification (MP Lee has tea with netizens at the Istana, May 28).

It made the broad declaration of the guests’ status on this premise: “some had been featured by PM Lee on Facebook and Twitter, while others had followed or commented on his posts on these platforms”.

While the guests were indeed laudable individuals, it sounds like one doesn’t even need an Internet connection to be counted as a “netizen” these days. Just get someone else to mention your name online and a newspaper will bestow the honorary title upon you.

With Facebook listing more than 2.7 million people who “live in Singapore”, it is clear that just about anyone is easily a “netizen” these days. “Netizen” is so pedestrian that it’s hardly worth mentioning anymore.

Social media is mainstream, and just about everyone is a “netizen”. Time to come to terms with that.

by Bertha Henson

A survey by women’s advocacy group Aware is illuminating. The men are dominant members – and even the women seem to think this is fine. It must be a setback for those who have been championing equality of status between the sexes.

Here are the relevant statistics as reported in TODAY:

Men are the head of the households and should make most of the decisions in the family: 66 per cent of men agree, 46.3 per cent of women agree. Women are the ones who should take care of the household chores and care-giving: 58 per cent of all male respondents agree, 47.2 per cent of all female respondents agree.

Dig deeper and you will find that the younger set think a little differently.

Among those aged between 18 and 29 years old, 58 per cent of men think women should take care of household chores, compared with 38 per cent of the female respondents, according to TODAY.

So attitudes might be changing. More young men probably think it’s no harm wielding a mop and doing the dishes. And more young women agree that they can’t be the only ones laden with the laundry.

Other statistics, however, are dismaying. It concerns attitudes towards sex and violence.

Here are the statistics:

Women who are raped often ask for it: 12.06 per cent of men agree, 10.2 per cent of women agree. Women often say ‘no’ to sex when they actually mean yes: 19.39 per cent of men agree, 12.29 per cent of women agree. Women often make false claims of being raped: 24.89 per cent of men agree, 16.34 per cent of women agree.

Thing is, you can view the glass as half empty or half full. Why focus on the negative when it can be viewed positively, such as how most people (87 per cent of men and 89 per cent of women) do NOT agree that women who are raped asked for it?

Still, the fact that there are women who hold such views – such as making false claims about being raped – boggles the mind. A rape is such personal assault and the shame attached to being a victim would surely deter anyone from making false claims. In any case, isn’t the problem usually about rape victims who do NOT come forward?

Now, one in four men seem to think that women who cry rape are crying wolf. Is that why they – and even women – won’t intervene to help someone they suspect of being abused? Eight in 10 said they wouldn’t butt in.

There’s really something wrong with our society if we can think so poorly of others and don’t want to raise a finger to help victims. Reasons cited include they don’t know how to help/don’t want to make things worse/it’s just a one-time incident.

There really is no justification for mean-spiritedness.

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
Audience watching a fireworks display.

by Bertha Henson

Who says Singapore has no talent? We’re making waves. Here are a few people we should celebrate from a reading of today’s MSM:

a) Film-maker Anthony Chen

Just 29, he’s the first South-east Asian to win the Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Set in Singapore during the 1997 financial crisis, Ilo Ilo is about the Lim family and Teresa, their new domestic maid, a Filipina. It traces how their already problematic family ties evolve; and how cultures crash. Ilo Ilo is the name of the province in the Philippines.

If the G needs a poster boy on what a diploma holder can achieve, Mr Chen is it. He graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film & Media Studies. So unassuming was this Singaporean that he was actually leaving Cannes when he was told to stay for the closing ceremony to receive the award. His cast had already left for home. We’ll be able to catch the movie at the end of August at Golden Village cinemas, reported ST.

Now the question which aspiring filmmakers would probably like to know is what sort of help did Mr Chen get to make it to Cannes? Did the Singapore system kick in – whether in the form of financial, infrastructural or other aid – to help him onto the red carpet? Or did he have to do it all alone with just family and friends for support? He can’t not have been in the official gunsights given that an earlier film he produced earned a special mention in 2007.

Breakfast Network congratulates Mr Chen and his cast and crew. Thank you for putting Singapore on the filmmaking map!

 

b) Bishop Raphael Samuel of the Anglican Church

The 56-year old is the head of the church in the South American country of Bolivia. Yes, Bolivia. Go locate it on a map. He’s the first Asian to be consecrated Bishop in the Spanish-speaking Anglican world. What’s amazing was that this former Anglo-Chinese School boy, his wife and son, then just three, had relocated there in 1993. The couple spent six months learning Spanish and what followed was two decades of church work. They are the longest-serving foreign missionaries in Bolivia. His congregation is small, just 900 compared to the 30,000 or so Anglicans in Singapore. But his geographical span is three times bigger than Malaysia.

Breakfast Network congratulates the Bishop on his appointment and wishes him and his family well.

 

c) Daryl Neo, 28 and Charles Poon, 37

Former Singapore Exchange Regulators, they developed Handshakes, a system that can tell you all about the links, among other things, people in listed companies have with other people and entities. According to Business Times, they describe it as Disclosure 2.0. The duo collected data from 60,000 documents filed by Singapore companies since 1997 and made everything searchable. So it means that you can see which big shot is related to another big shot in the same company, or in a subsidiary and even whether they shared the same banker or auditor. That beats a lot of file work and research, which the duo had to do when they were working in the exchange.

Now if the productivity people wanted poster boy(s), the two men would be it. They’ve taken a massive load of people who want to know more about what they are investing in – and made everything simpler. Of course, it will cost – from $500 to a couple of thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the data sought.

For support, they had $50,000 in seed money from Spring Singapore. That’s good to know. With 10 employees here and another 10 doing data entry abroad, it will probably qualified for productivity incentives as well. Let’s hope the duo gets the support it needs.

Breakfast Network would like to shake hands with you. Congratulations and good luck.

Photo By Shawn Danker
The Ministry of Manpower building.

by Tan Pei En

Workers here could see even more conducive working conditions in future, going by the recent suggestions and initiatives made this week. In the news today is an ST report (“Firms that flout CPF rules may get heavier penalties” ST 24/05/2013) which reported that the Manpower Ministry and CPF Board are now looking into enforcing tougher penalties on companies who fail to meet CPF contribution requirements, such as paying employees their CPF late or at a reduced amount.

This news comes closely after remarks made by Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan Jin earlier in the week, who said that the G was open to considering outlawing discriminatory practices at the workplace.

And with the recent spotlight cast on interns’ working conditions (link to previous BN posts here abt the story) , it can only be hoped that the interns may finally receive some sort of protection from the law too.

Perhaps the MOM may also consider holding discussion groups to find out what Singaporeans consider a desirable workplace environment. Singapore Conversation anyone?

No, not the kind of “complain sessions” where employers and employees play the finger-pointing game and blame each other, but the sort where people are encouraged to talk about what they think will create a workplace setting that makes working there enjoyable and satisfying.

Hey, it may even bring up productivity!

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A lego replica of Singapore's Fullerton area in Legoland Malaysia.

by Bertha Henson

So the Malaysian opposition politicians went to the Singapore High Commission to remonstrate against the G’s supposedly harsh treatment of its nationals who mounted silent protests at Merlion Park on 8 and 11 May.

It’s to be expected. The protesters were clearly on the side of the opposition and it wouldn’t look good if some sort of display was not made on their behalf.

What’s interesting though was how the Malaysian politicians pitched their case. Said PKR’s Chua Jui Meng: “We recognise the need for Malaysians in Singapore to respect the law of Singapore. However, we call on the Singapore authorities to exercise proportionality and fairness in applying the law.”

“It is heavy handed to arrest them and cancel or review their work and visit passes simply for their quest for democracy, which is a universal struggle.”

Now what is the proportionality and fairness yardstick is he using here? Is it between Singapore and Malaysia laws?

According to ST, Mr Chua goes on to note that Malaysians comprise the largest foreign workforce in Singapore and contribute significantly to the country’s economic development. “The harshness of the Singapore authorities’ action completely runs counter to this spirit of cooperation.”

Singapore has revoked the work pass of one protester, as well as the social visit passes of two others. The remaining 18 will have their work passes reviewed, the Singapore police said. Apparently, one of them is serving out a scholarship bond and will have to pay out $100,000 to her employer if she can no longer work here.

It’s a bit galling to always hear Malaysians talk about Singapore’s heavy handedness or arrogance in the same breath that they invoke a spirit of co-operation and adherence to domestic laws. And how Malaysians contribute to the economy in such large numbers – and Singapore is therefore indebted to them? What’s surprising is that the phrase “not being sensitive” hasn’t been uttered.

Never mind that. Probably just political posturing. But it would actually have made better sense if the politicians talked about how police here said that their investigations on the activities of former Johor menteri besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman when he visited Singapore during the Malaysian GE did not amount to campaigning, as alleged in a police report. Some had wondered if this was indeed so or if the G here was merely giving Malaysia some face.

Frankly, it would not skin off Singapore’s nose to let the Malaysian protesters here off with a slap on the wrist. After all, they did not disturb public order and the “review” of their passes would probably have convinced them enough of Singapore’s tough stance on such activities. We should give these ordinary Malaysians some face too. After all, the Malaysian politicians will probably have their hands full now with their own G’s arrests of activists and protesters…

by Bertha Henson

Yet another phase has entered Singapore’s political lexicon: anti-wealth. It’s not about living an ascetic life and forswearing worldly possessions. It’s about looking at the rich and saying that there must some way to make them less rich and more like the rest of us. So measures are put in place to penalise the wealthy, who might think they should go elsewhere if they are not welcomed here.

It’s a bit like the phrase that was very much in vogue in the past – “politics of envy’’. You know, when you see the wealthy decked out ostentatiously and driving fast cars – and you go all green and want to punch them. Except “politics of envy’’ is emotional and might even aspire people to work hard to achieve the good – and high – life. “Anti-wealth’’ really means having a policy position that penalises the rich.

Those poor things!

First, they were hit with more progressive property taxes. So high-end homes and investment properties got taxed more. “This is fair. The property tax is a wealth tax and is applied irrespective of whether lived in, vacant or rented out. Those who live in the most expensive homes should pay more property taxes than others,” said DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam earlier this year.

Then, those with luxury cars have to pay heftier Additional Registration Fees. A wealth tax too?

Now, they are facing the prospect of paying more if they buy a luxury car or if they want to buy a second car. These are some tweaks recommended to the COE system to make it “fair and equitable’’, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.

There wasn’t much objection to their moves on luxury homes and cars. The rich kept silent. Singapore is still a good place to make money. Safe and secure.

This time, however, even the not so rich might weigh in given that supposed luxury cars below 1,600cc are actually quite within their reach. Beemers, Audis and the like now take up one-third of such Cat A cars. Seven per cent of drivers have second cars. A luxury car is more within grasp than a high-end Good Class Bungalow to most people.

The proposed tweaks might not be viewed as “anti-wealth’’ but “anti-aspirational’’.