June 26, 2017


by Bertha Henson

So the AIM saga was the centre of a rousing debate, more heated than anything seen in recent times. Now that the boxing match is over, who won? Who’s the umpire anyway? That, surely, should be us, the people watching from the sidelines, and the people living in the HDB heartlands. Did any side deliver the knock-out punch? Did any side stay down for the count or throw in the towel?

Now that the match is over, and we’re calculating the points scored, let’s see what’s been settled during the match.

The most important thing: that town councils are inherently “political” in nature. Now, all the political parties aren’t arguing against this. In fact, a “political” town council is good for politicians. They can show that they are not merely talking heads even in an august a platform as Parliament but also administrators responsible for the living conditions of those who voted for them.

Sure, it could be a double-edged sword because you can botch the whole thing.

Nevertheless, it offers the politician in power a base to operate from, with premises that supporters can gather in. And a way to dispense patronage to those supportive of their cause? Now, that’s where the problem/confusion lies. Nothing in the town council rules say that political parties can’t hire their own kind, and it seems that both the People’s Action Party and the Workers’ Party have done so. The question then is whether the people accept that this is part of the political game that is being played out for them.

The idea is that the politicians and their partisans (even if not members) would do their utmost to remain in power and get through the next election. How will they do this? Now if politics is as dirty as is always said, a politician can:
a) Trip up the other side (the PAP said it would be stupid to use AIM to handicap the Workers’ Party town council)
b) Pander to populist demands by lowering S&C charges or caving in even to the most unreasonable demands of residents (WP’s Aljunied TC actually raised S&C charges which can be seen as incompetence or as taking a hard route to serve a bigger cause)
c) Threaten or bully residents into giving their continued support (by taking note of which voting precincts were “anti” or “pro”)
d) Blame everybody else if shortcomings are pointed out (which was what the PAP said the WP was doing in pointing out the AIM connection only after an unfavourable report card was turned in)
e) Use a bogeyman to rally the people against (now the MND or HDB would be useful scapegoats)

Now, all this assumes that the residents are stupid and can’t tell what is going on. Then again, maybe they really don’t care about games being played and just want to live in peace with appreciating flat prices.

What is clear is that when “politics” is mentioned, they get uncomfortable. That’s because residents have never seen themselves as political players. No one thinks very much about who or how the garbage gets cleared or the corridors are cleaned, whether it is done through open tender or political cronyism. There is a sort of blind faith that everything will carry on as usual.

The Singaporean, however, firmly believes in a level playing field. If one party/group is seen to have an unfair “edge’’ over the other, they will move to the side of the smaller player. In this case, the PAP is handicapped merely because it is a big player with resources on its side (even if AIM is only a $2 company!)

So what happens now?

The Singaporean heartlander should be the guardians of their own fate, and be educated on what it means to be living in a place governed in a “political’’ way. It is true that their best interests might not be served if political parties are only interested in their own future. They would have to wake up to this and act if so.

Of course, they can also ask for neutral parties to act as watchdogs on their behalf.

Senior Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi Shyan is leading a strategic review of town councils, to ensure smooth handover in case of leadership changes, adequacy of town council funds and the town councils’ duties in relation to HDB.

So, we’ve moved away from the “fundamental’’ nature of town councils to some nuts and bolts stuff to protect residents’ interests. Time for experts to weigh in.

What has been the impact of AIM saga and the ensuing debate? It has been an interesting exercise in political education, something which Singaporeans lack. Oh, and one question was also definitively answered: AIM is the ONLY company the PAP owns.

by Wesley Gunter

Some Singaporeans have their panties in a knot over the Singapore Cancer Society’s latest cervical cancer ad showing three local celebrities in white dresses posing cheekily like screen legend Marilyn Monroe in the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch. Why? Because of this supposedly morally objectionable tagline: LIFT YOUR SKIRT, SAVE A LIFE.

These six words seem to be more offensive to Singaporeans than watching a Quentin Tarantino movie judging from the flood of feedback from the public who claimed to have been “offended”.

While it’s understandable that the ad may be offensive to those who prefer to see things in black and white, or to those who think “thinking out of the box” means stepping out of their work cubicle for a smoke break, some of the comments quoted in today’s ST just defies common logic.

Take this, for example: Vivien Tan, an administrative manager, who said: “Some women might think it is an advertisement for movies or fashion.”

I don’t know what movies this lady has been watching, or what movie posters she has come across, but the ad sure doesn’t look like any movie poster out there I’ve seen lately.

Miss Yvonne Jin, a 21-year old student shared her brilliant take on the issue by saying “… Just because [using sexual undertones] gets people talking doesn’t mean it sends the right message.”

Sorry but isn’t the purpose of advertising to get people talking? And what is so wrong about the message? It’s basically telling women to get a PAP smear to reduce their chances of getting cervical cancer. But put that way, it’s not going to grab your attention, is it? Sex sells… or haven’t you noticed any of the programmes on the Disney channel lately? Welcome to the real world…

Probably the most self-righteous comment came from Ms Corinna Lim, Aware’s executive director. She said: “It is a sad reflection on society that good causes also have to resort to sex to promote their message.”

For crying out loud, where have these people been living their whole lives? Have they never watched television before? And to be honest, if an ad like this CAN make more women go for PAP smears because it GRABS their attention and saves their lives, hasn’t it met its objectives?

The only thing that is “sad” about this whole affair is how this creative attempt was so readily shot down before it was given a chance to see if it actually works.

by Wesley Gunter

Man in a Star Wars mask. (Photo by Chia Aik Beng)

Two days ago, 4th of May, was international Star Wars day. Yes I do admit I’m a huge geek when it comes to anything related to Star Wars and when a friend of mine who is actually a bigger geek than me said he would be dressing up with his buddies in Star Wars costumes and go parading through the city, it was the perfect excuse for me to bring my 6 year old on a little excursion.

So why the fascination with this almost 40 year old sci-fi franchise? Many of my friends and colleagues can’t seem to understand the obsession with ‘lightsabres’ and Star Wars action figures. I happen to own a stainless steel ‘Luke Skywalker’ FX Lightsabre by the way, while my little padawan has his own cheaper plastic ‘Darth Vader’ Hasbro model which is probably his favorite toy in his arsenal and sleeps with it every night…

So am I ‘childish’ to be holding on to these obsessions? Well I always tell my friends it’s better than being an alcoholic or drug addict and if this ‘obsession’ of mine isn’t making me affect my kids’ overall well being except for minor embarrassing episodes amongst their friends when they get older then I guess it’s okay.

Personally the whole Star Wars universe is more than just a film franchise. If you look deeper at what ‘The Force’ is all about and the inverted phrases uttered by the little green Jedi master ‘Yoda’, it’s basically a collection of teachings from all the major religions in the world. Like ‘Yin & Yang’, the ‘force’ is also broken up into a good and dark side with both the heroes (Jedi) and bad guys (Sith) using this power for their own purpose.

Like life, the lines do get blurred when sometimes the good guys do crossover to the dark side but what’s life without a little drama right?

So May the Fourth be with you and don’t be afraid to embrace the inner child in you… sometimes it’s better than embracing the inner adult.

by Bertha Henson

When you’ve been away for three days and you’ve deliberately switched off on the news from Singapore, what do your eyes automatically turn to when you are confronted with a load of old newspapers?

This morning, I scanned through the weekend’s news and came up with the following responses:

a. Alamak, another cyclist died! Third one! Changi!

b. A third backside burnt by acid? Who the hell is this fella who’s been dumping stuff on MRT seats? And how come the G still doesn’t know what that liquid is?

c. Waaah…these two valets! Stupid to go take the Ferrari for a drive…Such an expensive car, sure got safety features.

d. Who is this designer who crashed his car into Geylang shophouse? And how come the media never identified the type of car? Can’t see from the photo, just that it’s dark blue.

Odd that it wasn’t the Malaysian elections which took my attention, but what was happening to people here. On any other day, I would have been devouring news of the Malaysian GE – so nail-biting, so exciting, with washable indelible ink, allegations of foreigners awarded citizenships to vote, suspicious packages etc.

(Random thought: So the opposition is making inroads into neighbouring Johor – now what would happen to Iskandar then with its billions of Singapore investments? We’ll have to start making friends with the Democratic Action Party fellows – and risk being black-balled by the Barisan National types? Tricky.)

Also, I would be wondering what I should say about the AIM saga. Imagine so many months and the MND comes up with – everything’s clean and above-board BUT another review needed!

(Random thought: I guess its directive to review the “fundamental nature’’ of town councils didn’t include what it now calls a “strategic review’’. Probably good, as such a review – about a possibly “non-political’’ town council – should be more inclusive than an MND one with only officials involved reporting to a minister who belongs to the ruling party.)

There are other big pieces that I should spend some time thinking over, like ST’s pieces on the line between civil and political space and a law don’s view on contempt of court in Singapore. But too taxing! Later!

Back to the people stories!

Of course, you must read The New Paper for such people stories and I go…

a. Sheeesh, I almost forgot about dengue. It’s on TNP’s Saturday front page on people who refuse to open their doors for mozzie inspections. Already, 6,000 cases or epidemic-like proportions and people won’t open their doors! Break in and enter dey! Who are these Yishun residents!

b. Now, why didn’t I think of joining the gold rush? What, like $51 a gram? Goldsmiths running out of stock liao!

When you come home from abroad, it’s the little things that matter to you, I suppose. Your safety, your neighbourhood, people you know…I suppose when I get old(er) I will start scanning the obituary pages to find out which of my contemporaries had died while I was away.

They tell me I’m home. And I’ve only been away three days.

Now I wish the media had said something about the weather. Is it still as upside down as ever?

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by Bertha Henson

Cupcakes and taco chips were being given out – gratis. Men and boys from a ukulele group were strumming away. Children were swimming in pools of balls. All in, it was a very Disney morning at Hong Lim Park today, complete with a magic castle. It was a “young people” event, mostly the English-speaking and the educated. A fair number were in red or white tee-shirts bearing the words Stand Up for Singapore, the group behind the event, which concluded at about 1pm.

Ukelele player at the picnic. (Photo by Shawn Danker)

It was billed as a picnic to show the positive side of being part of a community, an appreciation ceremony so to speak.

The organizers said so unabashedly in the flyers that came with a game card and a red picnic mat: “Today we would like to focus on the possibilities that we can achieve together and hopefully inspire each other by demonstrating that there are many Singaporeans who care deeply for our nation and will go out of their way to bring happiness and abundance to everyone that we can connect with. And hopefully just to encourage you to love each other just that little bit more.”

The group of 14 had sunk money into this project, its third. It wasn’t a sit down and enjoy the nice weather event. The key idea was for total strangers to interact. Hence, games were built around starting conversations with each other and ending with each participant writing down three qualities that they feel would make Singapore a country to be proud of.

Now, does that sound too cuddly to you? Or is that the cynic in me talking?

Standing round the edges of Hong Lim Park, I wondered at the energy and enthusiasm of the young people who were busy making balloon animals and pushing cupcakes on people. So sweet, I thought. Just wait till they are out of school and in the working world, that idealism would surely wear off…

Yet, the organizers themselves are a bunch of 30-somethings in various professions. I recalled what one of them had said to me: “We are not cynical people.” The turn-out, at most 400, was not as large as expected, given that it achieved a higher profile after a minor fracas had erupted over the group’s decision to stage the event at Hong Lim Park, on the same a May Day protest event was being held. Mr Tong Yee pronounced that he was happy enough.

As the morning wore on, white tents were being set up at the other side of the park. Sound systems were being tested.

The picnickers stuck to their corner.

More on that flyer: “And with this day, we hope to start a legacy for future Singaporeans. That we be known as a community of loving and gracious people, who continue to look out for each other and rest with the knowledge that we can trust our community to see us through… It is possible for us to play, to love, to genuinely connect with each other, and still be the great little nation that we are.”


A young man came to my side as I was watching a group break out in song. He introduced himself as Edward. Aged 20, he saw the group’s work on its Facebook page and decided to volunteer to help at the event. Nice-looking with a buff bod, he said: “Isn’t this nice?” He hadn’t come across an event like this, he said, a citizen-initiated event with no other agenda than to do good. I looked at this young man and his honest, open face. May he remain like that, I thought. Always looking out for something positive. And keep that buff bod!

A somewhat older woman passed by and handed me a tissue. “You look like you need one,’’ she said before walking away. A young woman called Eunice pressed a box of cupcakes to me. I declined. I am not a “sweets’’ person. Then she wanted to take a picture with me, this total stranger.

Balloons with messages of hope. (Photo by Shawn Danker)

A photojournalist who was with me said he felt uncomfortable. All that smiling, happy faces and red balloons. Everyone was like a child, even the old uncle on the ukulele. Some balloons had words scribbled on them: the qualities that those who took part in the games want for Singapore. The usual virtues were listed: kindness, patience, understanding et cetera. One balloon had this: “Less cynical”.

I caught myself smiling.


Following this event, Breakfast Network also stayed for the May Day protest. Find out what happened then.

by Daniel Yap

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak warned via TODAY that if Johor fell into opposition hands, the government’s “big dreams for Johor would simply disappear”, including, apparently, the fast-growing Iskandar project.

With RM100 billion already projected to be invested by 2015, and outcomes for locals looking generally positive so far, Iskandar Malaysia has been a big bargaining chip for both sides of the political divide.

First reactions (especially looking at TODAY’s headline – “Big plans will disappear if BN loses Johor: Najib”) may be that PM Najib is threatening to hamstring Iskandar if the government loses the state. While threats of withholding development from opposition seats are not new on either side of the causeway, this isn’t exactly such a case.

PM Najib described what he called the “Johor way” – the ruling Barisan Nasional’s “moderate and accommodating” style – as the reason for Johor’s success (ST, Najib touts ‘Johor way’ for Malaysia, Apr 30). He jumped on recent divides in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat camp to push the point that PR would be unable to maintain good race relations in Johor, which in turn would lead to failure in the state.

But it may be just a political ruse. Reports in the media maintain that PR draws a diverse crowd in Johor, and a recent seminar organised by UMNO-run Johor stoked anti-Christian sentiments.

Moreover, TODAY reported previously that Iskandar would stay on track even with the opposition in Johor.

He also discounts the “Singapore way”. Isn’t Johor’s success at least partly driven by Singapore’s? Because the overflow of industry and demand from her neighbour, Johor simply needs to keep the doors open to let the money flow in. Success in the state may really be beyond the control of both BN and PR.

Where’s our thanks, then? Not that we expect it, really, since having Johor and Iskandar as a release valve for our red hot economy has great benefits for Singapore as well, but hey, a little credit where it’s due, please.

But here’s Najib’s only nod to Singapore on the night – he compared the island’s lack of “Chinese schools” with Johor as  proof of his party’s commitment to the Chinese. Thanks.

by Bertha Henson

What a nice headline in ST! A Diva to manage mum’s blood pressure. Except the rest of the story is confusion.

Here’s what the report said:

An automatic system to manage blood pressure in mothers going through caesarean births has been developed by doctors at a Singapore hospital, in what they say is a world first.

The Double Intravenous Vasopressor Automated System – or Diva – is still in development stage, but doctors at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) hope it will lead to safer caesarean sections.

Eh? So has this world’s first already been developed or not?

Then follows a long spiel about how this already developed/ still developing Diva works. Then later comes this 2011 study of 55 women which showed that Diva was more efficient than conventional methods of maintaining blood pressure during the operation.

So it has been developed then?

Then comes this: The hospital can’t give a time-frame as to when the Diva will be in action.

Looks like it’s a premature birth.

by Bertha Henson

If your heart didn’t break at news of the rain tree which felled (literally) a driving instructor over the weekend, you are made of stone. And if you are the mother of the man, your youngest son who was about to get married, your heart will now be in little pieces.

TNP today focused on the grief of the mother – and the rage she felt towards the driver of the car her son was in – his student. Somehow, she blames the hapless woman for her son’s death, ignoring the fact that the student-driver’s escape was a miracle. (The mother thinks the student-driver should have been more alert to her surroundings.) Her anger might well be directed at the heavens, which opened up and cut down the tree. Or even at NParks, which said it checked the tree and found that it was perfectly healthy and well-maintained.

The student-driver was good enough to turn up at the wake, only to be met by hostility. Perhaps, in time the grieving mother will come to terms with her son’s death instead of taking it out on someone who managed to stay alive. Breakfast Network offers its condolences to the mother and the family. As for the woman-driver: stay strong.

by Bertha Henson

Media reports said today that the polytechnics are on target to enrol 45 per cent of the Primary One cohort by 2015, up from 43 per cent. Well and good. Now, here’s a question: Are they getting the best students, given that the Integrated Programme have locked in the best students for six years and their next step is university? Recall the fuss made when top O level students picked a poly over JC. It was a feather in the cap for polytechnic education in Singapore.

Now those IP students have graduated, and at least two batches are now in university. Is Singapore’s cream of the crop evenly distributed among the tertiary institutions? It would be a pity if the polytechnics, which have tried so hard over the years to burnish their credentials, are deprived of good students who want a “hands on’’ route but find themselves locked in from age 12 or 14 in another school system that might not be catering to their strengths.

ST reported that  initiatives such as the Polytechnic Foundation Programme and the Direct Entry Scheme to Polytechnic Programme were introduced this year to help more students get into polytechnics. The response has been described as “good’’. How good? In terms of numbers or quality of students?


by Wesley Gunter

Singaporeans’ relationships with their automobiles may take on an entirely new emotional level in the near future.

The Future Mobility Research Lab, a $5.5 million three-year program launched yesterday between German carmaker BMW and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will focus on three areas: next generation batteries for electric vehicles and other applications; mobility research on commuting patterns in a mega-city; and the final one which is the stuff electric dreams are made of – a man-machine interface, which will involve systems that can detect as well predict driver behavior.

Some of the radical concepts the man-machine interface will work on include a car that can “identify the mood of the driver, and the perception of the driver”. Given that Singaporeans are not exactly a cheerful bunch, this mood-meter may be limited to ‘Pi**ed –Off’, ‘Get-out-of-my-face’ or ‘I KILL YOU NOW’. Furthermore, it was not specified how this new car intelligent feature is going to detect a driver’s moods. Will it measure the amount of expletives uttered by the driver to gauge his/her displeasure? In this case it would probably be wise to install a hokkien program as one of the language options.

Other ‘unique features’ from the man-machine interface would be an artificial intelligent feature that gives drivers advice during road situations, such as telling you to calm down if anyone cuts into your lane. Now, but doesn’t everyone know that the worst possible thing to say to anyone who is in a fit of ‘hulk’ like rage is to ‘calm down’?

What other valuable pearls of wisdom can drivers look forward to from this new piece of technology? Telling you to ‘wear your raincoat if it’s raining outside’? ,‘Drink more water if it’s too hot’? Or ‘Stop eating in the car!’? Sheesh! Makes people wonder if they’re buying a car or a wife. Will these things come with COEs or marriage certificates?

While the above mentioned new car features may hopefully take some time before it comes to light, BMW’s upcoming i-series fleet of electric models will be equipped with the technology to calculate the duration and cost of driving a certain route as well as offer information on public transport such as bus and train arrivals.

That’s right, you’ve just spent more than half a million on a state of the art vehicle that will give you public transport information and… Get this… Tell drivers when not to drive.

Hmm… There’s probably something that comes much cheaper which can do the same job and it’s called a mobile app.