I refer to the article “Towards a broader meritocracy” (Straits Times, Apr 20) and “Cabinet: More left-of-centre now, helping the lower income” (Straits Times, Apr 19).
Shift from centrist to the left?
It states that “The Cabinet has shifted to the left in how it views social policy and helping the lower income, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said.“If I compare our thinking in Cabinet, or the weight of thinking in Cabinet, when I first entered politics about 11 years ago, I would say the weight of thinking was centrist but there were two flanks on either side of it.
“There were some who were a little right-of-centre, and there were some a little left-of-centre,” he said. “Now I would say the weight of thinking is left-of-centre. You still get diversity of views in Cabinet, but the centre of gravity is left-of-centre.”
Focus on lower-income Singaporeans and older folk?
Mr Tharman said the current team in charge is clearly “focused on upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk too”.”
Not “focused” all these years?
So, do the above remarks mean that we were “not focused” or “less focused” on “upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk”, in the past?
Well, like they say “talk is cheap – let the numbers do the talking!”. So, I cracked my head to think about what statistics may help to answer this question of “focus”.
Big thank you to ES
Sometimes, life works in strange ways – a reader, ES, had just sent me some Budget documents from 1975 with the remarks “Not sure if they are of use to you”. (Note: ES is also the kind soul who sent me the 1987 university education statistics (“No such thing as “tuition grant” before?“, Apr 2) when I said I could not find the tuition fees in 1987 in an earlier article)
Social spending statistics?
Back to the “focus” issue, I think perhaps a good measure may be how much we spend on social spending in the past and recently. This would be a good indicator as to how much we have done in “upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk”.
Social spending in the past?
In 1975, government spending on Social and Community Services (Education, Health and Others) was $676 million. Dividing this by the population then of 1.8 million (assuming 80 per cent of the total population of 2.25 million were citizens (no breakdown of population in the Budget report)) gives a per capita social spending of $376.
Fast forward to 2012, government spending (operating expenditure) on Social Development was $17.5 billion. Dividing this by the citizen population of 3.29 million gives a per capita spending of $5,319.
This works out to a 7.4 per cent per annum increase in social spending per capita, over the 37 years from 1975 to 2012.
4.4% p.a. real growth in social spending?
6.9% p.a. GDP growth disappeared to … ?
Since GDP for the same period grew by 6.9 per cent per annum, from $26.1 billion in 1975 to $305.2 billion in 2012, it would appear that social spending may not have grown in tandem with good GDP growth.
Why is this so?
Where did all the GDP growth and Budget surpluses go to – accumulating the Reserves – at the expense of “lower-income Singaporeans and older folk“?
Clearly “no focus”?
Perhaps this may “statistically” support the remarks that we “did not focus” or “had less focus” on “upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk”, in the past.
What about present “focus”?
Now, let’s turn to the present and recent times, to see if “statistically” – “the current team in charge is clearly “focused on upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk too”", holds up.
Report card – fail?
Unfortunately, it may not appear to be doing so too, because
Social spending decreased?
“GOVERNMENT OPERATING EXPENDITURE – Social Development (Education, healthcare, community development, etc) – decreased from $17.7 $17.5 billion, from 2011 to 2012.
GOVERNMENT DEVELOPMENT EXPENDITURE – Social Development – decreased from $3.7 to $3.5 billion, from 2011 to 2012.
And we have not even adjusted the above figures for inflation last year – which means that we may actually have spent even less!
In this regard, the CONSUMER PRICE INDEX increased by 4.6 per cent, from 108.2 to 113.1, from 2011 to 2012.” (“Social spending decreased from 2011 to 2012?“, Mar 19)
The motion cannot stand?
Hence, like they say in a debate – Can the motion “”the current team in charge is clearly “focused on upgrading the lives and improving the lives of lower-income Singaporeans and older folk too”" – still stand?
I rest my case!
Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the article “Reserves: ‘No’ to dipping into coffers” (Straits Times, Apr 19).
Dipped into the past reserves only once?
It states that “The Government has dipped into the past reserves only once. In 2009, it obtained the President’s approval to draw down $4.9 billion from past reserves to fund special schemes in the light of Singapore’s worse recession since independence. In 2011, it put back all the money – $4 billion – it used into the reserves.”
Used more than 27 times, but nobody knows?
Contrary to the above, “President Nathan revealed recently (August, 2011) that the past reserves have been used more than 27 times since 2002, for projects like land reclamation and the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers)”. (“President guards Reserves: Really?“, Aug 24, 2011; “How much of the Reserves has been really used?“, Aug 10, 2011)
Alas – a clue?
The amount of our reserves has never been revealed. But we may now have a clue, because of the remarks – “Under the NIR (Net Investment Returns), the Government can draw up to 50 per cent of the long-term expected real rate of return on the reserves invested as well as dividends.
For instance, if the reserves generate a “reasonable” 4 per cent in returns, the Government can take up to 2 per cent of these returns”.
As I understand that the historical long-term rate of inflation is about 2 per cent, and the NIRC (Net Investment Returns Contribution) was $7.7 billion for the last year (estimated FY2013), it means that the real NIR was $15.4 billion ($7.7 billion times 2).
Nominal NIR $23.1b?
So, if $15.4 billion is 4 per cent, does it mean that the nominal return (plus 2 per cent inflation) is about $23.1 billion.
Only $385b reserves?
This works out to a total reserves of about $385 billion ($23.1 billion divided by 6 per cent).
Temasek & OFR already over $503b?
Surely our reserves can’t be so little as the combined assets of Temasek and the Official Foreign Reserves, which is public information, is already over $500 billion ($503 billion as at 31 March, 2012).
GIC is secret?
It is only the GIC’s amount which is not public information.
Estimated $800b reserves?
Even the last estimated total reserves as reported in the Straits Times was $800 billion.
1.9% real NIR?
Using this $800 billion estimate, it seems that the “long-term expected real rate of return on the reserves invested as well as dividends”, used to calculate the NIR may only be about 1.9 per cent (NIR $15.4 billion divided by $800 billion).
Isn’t this a very low rate of return?T
Temasek 17%, GIC 6.8% returns?
In this connection, Temasek has reported 17 per cent average annualised (Total Shareholder Return (TSR) since inception, and GIC has reported 20-year annualised nominal returns in USD terms of 6.8 per cent
“Mystery” of the reserves?
So, perhaps the figures seem to be best described as – “do not compute”?
To solve the “mystery of the reserves”, we really need to know what is the “long-term expected real rate of return on the reserves invested as well as dividends”, used to calculate the NIR.
Like a “Sherlock Holmes” mystery – there are clues, but the case remains unsolved, until such time that we have transparency on the reserves!
Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the article “Tote Board donates $400M to help build ‘Gardens by the Bay’“. (TR Emeritus, Apr 15)
Annual reports in the library?
Mr Richard Wan, the Editor of TR Emeritus emailed the Tote Board, and I understand that the Tote Board has replied that the government has received a Parliamentary Question on this issue and will be providing a response at the next parliamentary sitting, and that the Board’s annual reports are publicly available at the National Library.
Parliamentary Question filed?
In this connection, I understand that NCMP Mrs Lina Chiam has already filed a Parliamentary Question on this issue.
Put Annual Reports on web site?
I went to the National Library’s Reference Section and found the Tote Board’s 2010 Annual Report (hard copy).
In today’s digital age, may I suggest that its annual reports be made available online on its web site.
The turnover for 2010 of the Singapore Turf Club and Singapore Pools was $8.1 billion.
Gaming – $1,525 per person?
With a total population of 5.31 million, does it mean that the gaming per person was about $1,525 ($8.1 billion turnover divided by 5.31 million population)?
$1.4b paid to govt.?
Total betting duties paid to the government amounted to $1.4 billion.
Donate more to Charity, less to govt?
Since the Budget surplus was $3.9 billion last year ($36 billion according to IMF standards – “Budget surplus: $3.9b or $36b?”, Mar 24), may I suggest that the Tote Board be encouraged to pay less if not nothing to the government, and donate more to Charity.
Surplus $472m, Reserves $3b?
The surplus of the group was $472 million, and its Capital and Reserves was $3 billion.
Why have so much surplus, reserves?
As I understand that the Tote Board was set up primarily to operate and receive gaming revenue to help the community, why does it need to have so much surplus for the year and accumulated reserves?
$703m total donations ($61 to Charity)?
It made donations totalling $703 million as follows:
Arts and Culture $74 million
Charity (Social Service) $61
Community Development $401
Sports $116 million
8.7% of total donations went to Charity?
So, donations to Charity (Social Service) at $61 million was about 8.7 per cent of the total donations.
Its donations to Charity (Social Service) was $13, $35, $44 and $50 million, in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively.
Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the article “Pulau Ubin will remain in “rustic state” but residents will have to pay rent” (Straits Times, Apr 17).
Have to pay $6 – $35 rent now?
It states that “Kampung residents on Pulau Ubin who have to pay rent from now will pay an estimated $6 to $35 per month in the first year, with 90 per cent paying less than $20 a month. This rent, which is subsidised, will be increased to the market rent gradually over five years to assist the residents.
From the sixth year onwards, the residents are expected to pay between $31 and $205 per month, with 90 per cent paying less than $120 monthly.”
500% increase in rent?
The increase of $6 to $31, $20 to $120 and $35 to $205, being the lowest, 90th percentile and highest rental in the next 5 years, works out to an annualised increase of 32.8, 35.8 and 35.3 per cent, or as much as 500 per cent in 5 years.
On what basis did the HDB and SLA come to the conclusion that the rent is “subsidised”?
35% p.a. increase?
On what basis did the HDB and SLA determine the rental and gradual increase in the next 5 years?
Has the HDB or the SLA ever charged anyone ever in the history of Singapore – rents that increase at this whopping rate of 35 per cent per year?
What happens after 5 years?
What will happen after 5 years? Will the rent continue to be increased at about 35 per cent per annum?
Why need to pay rent all of a sudden now?
As some of the residents have been staying there for decades, why impose rent all of a sudden now on them?
If can’t pay?
I saw a video interview on Razor TV with one of the residents, a 75 year-old lady and her daughter, who gave the impression that they have no income and have been living off the land for food and water.
So, what will happen to residents who have difficulty paying the increasing rental? Can they see their Member of Parliament (MP) or approach Comcare for financial assistance?
Have any of these options and processes been made known to the residents?
Forgot to compensate residents for 20 years?
As to “Then (in 1993), the state had acquired land on the island to build recreational facilities, including expansion of the Outward Bound School grounds. As a result, the land which the affected residents occupied became state land. They were therefore entitled to money but also had to start paying rent to remain in their homes.The planned developments were completed, but the 22 households which received the notice in March had not claimed their benefits or paid rent, the authorities discovered in a recent review”, I find it rather strange that none of the 22 households have claim the benefits that they were entitled to 20 years ago, in the last 20-year period.
1 cent rent in 1993?
Can the HDB and SLA explain how such a lapse could have occured? How much were they entitled to – when the State acquired the land? Will they now be compensated with interest for the past 20 years? How and why did the HDB and SLA fail in their duty to collect rent in the last 20 years? I am also curious as to what was the rent that they were supposed to collect – 1 cent to 3 cents (working backwards at 35 per cent annualised increase from 1993 to 2013, to get to today’s rent of $6 to $35)!
Maybe need another apology?
With regard to”“We acknowledge that the notification could have been more carefully worded and the language updated to reflect the eventual development. We apologise for the anxiety caused to the residents involved” – in view of the above – perhaps another apology may be due to the residents!
Leong Sze Hian
I vaguely remember an article several years ago about a consumer survey of prices in supermarkets. So, I googled and found the following:
May 8, 2008
Let the people eat…detergent?
Does the media’s reporting of detergent prices reveal a deeper conflict of interest that may harm the country?
Once in awhile pearls of wisdom are found in The New Paper. Larry Havekamp a.k.a. Dr Money, in his financial column in The New Paper, likened statistics to bikinis: what they reveal is suggestive, what they conceal is vital (New Paper, May 5).
We refer to the article in the Straits Times headlined “Rice and cooking oil lead price rise: New Case survey of prices across retailers points out cheaper options for buyers” (Straits Times, May 3).
The body of the article stated that:
Its survey showed that NTUC FairPrice had the highest number of cheapest items ranging from shower foam and dishwashing detergent to canned pork luncheon meat and eggs.
For lower-income families, some of the items selected for comparison are hardly appropriate, as they may account for a very small proportion of their total household items expenditure.
In a time when the focus of most families is on basic necessities, we need to ask if goods like salt, shower foam, dishwashing detergent and clothes detergent should be counted in the survey.
One might argue that cleaning clothes is a necessity. However, the magnitude of the weightage accorded to cleaning products is truly surprising: 5 of the 21 items selected for the survey are detergents.
Why do detergent items form such a high proportion, about a quarter of the items selected? Although Singaporeans are renowned worldwide for our cleanliness, one must be obsessive compulsive to spend one quarter of one’s household income on cleaning products!
Has a combination of a government controlled press and a government controlled union helped in any way, to glorify NTUC? Unless this is addressed, the people who need cheap sources of necessities most are the ones who may suffer. In the long run, the credibility of the unions, and to some extent, the press may be at stake.
NTUC the cheapest – really?
If we take away the detergents, the supermarket with the highest number of lowest-priced products is not Fairprice, but Sheng Siong with 7 items, followed by FairPrice in second place with 6 items.
If we confine ourselves to just food items, Sheng Siong is also tops with 7 items, compared to FairPrice’s 6 items.
According to Case’s web site, it’s last two price surveys, released on 3 January 2008 (House brand bread survey) and 24 July 2007, showed that the cheapest house brand white bread was at Cold Storage and Shop & Save ($0.0017 unit price (per gram) compared to Fairprice’s $0.0019 including the 5% discount), and the cheapest rice (10 kg) was at Giant ($13.95 compared to FairPrice’s $16.20).
This means that FairPrice’s house brand bread and rice, was 12 and 16 per cent more expensive, respectively.
Even it’s earlier price surveys released on 1 June 2007 (Milk and sugar survey) and 14 February 2007, showed that the cheapest milk powder (1.8 kg) was at Sheng Siong ($17.70 compared to Fairprice’s $17.90), and the cheapest instant noodles was at Sheng Siong and Giant ($0.95 compared to Fairprice’s $1).
So, why are we being constantly told that Fairprice is the cheapest, when even Case’s surveys seem to indicate otherwise?
Conflict of interest?
The Straits Times seems to have always given favourable coverage to NTUC.
The NTUC and the government have enjoyed a ‘symbiotic relationship’, to the extent that the Secretary-General of the NTUC sits in Cabinet as a Minister without portfolio.
Similarly, the government has significant influence with the press. This is often taken as a given, but it is important to identify the legal source of the conflict of interest to better understand the issues at stake.
Under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, shareholdings in newspaper companies are divided into ordinary shares and management shares. Each management share entitles the holder to the equivalent of 200 votes in the appointment of the board of directors of the newspaper company as well as its staff.
Under Section 10 (11) of the Act:
The holder of management shares shall be entitled either on a poll or by a show of hands to 200 votes for each management share held by him upon any resolution relating to the appointment or dismissal of a director or any member of the staff of a newspaper company but shall in all other respects have the same voting rights as the holder of ordinary shares.
Management shares must be approved in writing by the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts (section 10 (c) of the Act), and the newspaper companies have no power to refuse the Minister’s approval granting management shares (section 10(2)).
In summary, those who control management shares may have a disproportionate influence on appointing key personnel on the board of directors which oversees the general direction of the organization, as well as disproportionate influence in staffing decisions, which may extend to editorial level.
Who owns these management shares?
A look through the annual report of Singapore Press Holdings in 2007 reveals companies with government links such as Singtel (13.3%), DBS (9.5%), National University of Singapore (5.36%) and yes, NTUC (16.34%) are the owners of such management shares.
A handful of private companies have management shareholding. However, it needs to be remembered that a member of the same Cabinet of which the NTUC head is a Minister either approves or rejects their applications.
In summary, there are two significant conflicts of interest at play here: NTUC’s representation in a government which chooses who can and cannot hold management shares, and NTUC’s significant management shareholding allowing it a large say in the board of directors and editorial staff selection of the Straits Times.
In light of the above conflicts of interest, the extremely positive coverage the Straits Times is giving to NTUC is making both organizations look compromised.
Why it matters to ordinary Singaporeans
As a result of the newspapers’ favorable coverage of NTUC, a family already struggling to make ends meet might end up spending more than they otherwise would. Stories that portray NTUC in a positive light may prevent people from making informed decisions about where to shop.
It is also grossly unfair to other heartland retailers without management shareholding in the national press to compete on this unequal platform. Every positive article on NTUC is essentially free advertising for its brand on a scale which others, like Sheng Shiong could never match.
In a time when every dollar counts, we need free platforms of information devoid of conflicts of interest to tell citizens objectively where the cheapest places to find necessities really are.”
Choo Zheng Xi & Leong Sze Hian
Recap: In Part 1, we ended off with “Comment: Fast forward to today – ComCare receives 70,000 applications for financial assistance in 1 year against less than 4,000 in 1999!”
S & C C increases continue despite operating surpluses & $2b funds?
“According to Jurong Town Council’s annual report for 2008/2009, it had a surplus for the year of $1.5 million, and an accumulated surplus of $3.2 million.
This is after transferring $11.7 million to the sinking fund, giving a total reserve of $79.3 million.
For Aljunied Town Council, the surplus for the year was $2.8 million and total town council funds were $59.5 million.
So, why is there a pressing need to increase S & CC so soon?
Even if we have to increase S & CC, those in 1 and 2-room HDB flats should be spared, as their median monthly household income from work declined by a whopping 13.9 per cent in 2009, according to the Department of Statistics’ Household Income Trends 2009 report.
Lower S & C C in opposition wards?
Also, why is it that S & CC in the opposition wards Potong Pasir and Hougang are now lower than Jurong and Aljunied, for all flat types, except for 2-room flats in Hougang which at $28.50 is 50 cents more than Jurong and Aljunied?
Opposition wards much lower govt grants?
According to media reports, Government grants in 2005 per household were $560 for Aljunied, compared to $114 and $111 for Potong Pasir and Hougang respectively.
For 2009, Government grants for Aljunied, Jurong, Potong Pasir and Hougang, were $9.1, $9.1, $0.75 and $0.94 million respectively.
So, even after adjusting for the smaller number of households in Potong Pasir and Hougang, it would appear that Government grants may still be substantially higher per household for Aljunied and Hougang.
If this is the case, why is it that S & CC in Aljunied and Jurong are higher, despite higher Government grants?
So many in arrears?
The fact that the last reported statistic that three to nine per cent of households were in arrears of more than three months on their S & CC, may indicate that many Singaporeans may still be in financial difficulties.
$2b of funds?
Readers will remember that in 2008, the Straits Times reported:
… the $2 billion in the sinking funds its [the PAP’s] 14 town councils manage is in good hands, said Mr Khaw Boon Wan, the party’s first organising secretary.
It would thus seem that in a year which saw the worst financial crisis in decades, Singapore seeing record inflation and our town councils being affected by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the town councils have been able to effectively double its sinking funds.
The question one would ask is: How did this happen? Were returns from investments so good? Or are town councils collecting unnecessary excess of service and conservancy charges?
How did the sinking funds grow from $1 billion to $2 billion within the space of one year in such an adverse economic climate?
Perhaps before PAP town councils are allowed to increase S&C charges, these questions should be answered first.” (“$2 billion in PAP town councils’ sinking funds but need to increase charges?“, Mar 18, 2010)
Town councils start to get scores for “arrears” management?
“Potong Pasir scored Level 5 on four indicators, while Hougang scored two Level 5s and one Level 4. The People’s Action Party wards received a Level 3 or better on all indicators. Tanjong Pagar town council did best, scoring Level 1 for all indicators except one.” (“Opposition-ward town councils fare poorly“, Jun 11, 2010)
Town councils start to write-off arrears to improve scores?
“Only Aljunied-Hougang failed S & CC score?
It states that “Aljunied-Hougang was (also) the only town council to get a red band for its management of residents’ arrears in their Service and Conservancy Charges.
Potong Pasir was the only other town council to miss the green band for arrears, scoring an amber.
When contacted, its MP Sitoh Yih Pin said the arrears situation was something the town council inherited from its previous management, and it’s something that has to be dealt with a soft touch as it involves the lives of residents.”
So, does the above mean that families that live in the opposition wards are in greater financial difficulties than the other constituencies?
According to the report, “The Town Council is banded Red for S&CC arrears management. More than 5% of their households had S&CC arrears overdue for 3 months or more. Also, more than 50% of their monthly S&CC collectible is overdue for 3 months or more.”
More compassion or better score?
Or does it mean that the opposition wards may be more compassionate towards families who are unable to pay?
So many cash-strapped families?
As S & CC are generally only around $50 a month, is it not rather alarming that more than 5% of households cannot pay for more than three months?
Why is there such a high percentage of HDB households that may be in financial difficulty?
Less cash-strapped families in all other wards?
Actually, a more interesting question may be why is it that all the other constituencies seem to have so much less cash-strapped families?
Also, do town councils write-off their S & CC arrears to get a better score?
In this regard, for example, the article “Only a few arrears are written off” (Straits Times, Jun 17, 2010) said “Aljunied’s annual report shows that it wrote off only $40,000 in the last financial year, 0.12 per cent of the $32 million to be collected.”
When I looked at the annual report, the Conservancy and Service Receivables Provision for impairment’s balance at the beginning of the year was $2,237,334.
Less the Provision no longer required of $885,078, the Balance at the end of year is $1,357,093.
Why was the provision for the year only $4,837, which is about 99 per cent less than the previous year’s (2007/2008) $467,922?
What does “Provision no longer required” mean? That the $885,078 have all been paid up or that this was written off?
Considering all of the above, does the good score for S&CC management still stand?
In the final analysis, are town councils more interested in taking care of residents’ concerns and financial difficulties, or are they more concerned about looking good in the report?” (“Town councils’ report: More cash-strapped families in opposition wards?“, Dec 15, 2012)
- Comment: Fast forward to today – If you owe S & CC, the town council may refuse to allow you to renew your season parking. I met a taxi driver who was frantic over this as he said “how to I drive to earn money to feed my family, if I have no car park to park my taxi?”
AIM controversy discovered by “accident” due to AHTC S & CC arrears?
“The WP said AIM terminated its contract with Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), which is why the council got a red grade for service and conservancy charge arrears.” (“AIM: What is it all about? “, Dec 31, 2012)
Leong Sze Hian
“The unofficial history of the poor in S’pore? (Part 1)”, Apr 15
I refer to the article “Tote Board’s donations hit $1.2b” (Sunday Times, Apr 14).
Can’t breakdown donations?
It states that “The board did not give a year-on-year breakdown of actual donations, stressing that these depend entirely on the number of projects deemed suitable for funding each year.
$400m donation to Gardens by the Bay?
Thus, only $145 million was committed in 2002, for instance, and $1.2 billion in 2007, largely because of a $400 million donation towards building the Gardens by the Bay.”
Can you imagine what $400 million in a year can do for the needy in Singapore?
Since the vision of the Tote Board according to its web site is “A leading grant-making organisation that channels gaming revenues to give hope to and improve lives in our community”, and its mission is “We manage our assets prudently, make social investments and fund worthy causes to build a stronger community”, do you think its $400 million donation towards building the Gardens by the Bay” is appropriate?
No annual reports?
As to “This is triple the $400 million on average it pledged each year between 2002 and 2011 according to figures the board made available to the Sunday Times – I was curious as to why the media has to rely on figures made available by the Tote Board.
Also, in quantum, the $400 million donation is equal to its average annual total amount pledged over the years.
So, I tried to find its annual report on its web site, but could not find any. I tried googling and also came up with nothing.
In this connection, according to the book, “Doing Good Well: What Does (and Does Not) Make Sense in the Nonprofit World“ by Willie Cheng – “The last official figure (of more than S$300 million) on the Tote Board annual giving was provided in a Parliamentary debate”.
So, does this mean that its annual reports and funding or giving information is not public information – and appears only when asked in Parliament or by the media?
Alas – Casino visits statistics?
With regard to “Funds for the Tote Board have risen sharply since the two casinos opened in 2010, with more than $500 million collected in entry levies alone between 2010 and June last year, the latest period for which figures are available”, does it mean that locals have made at least 5 million ($500 million divided by the $100 per entry levy and assuming that those who pay the $2,000 annual levy visit at least 20 times) visits to the casinos?
If this is the case, then we may have “accidentally” discovered the statistics that even questions in Parliament weren’t able to get. (“Parliament: Replies that never answer the question? (Act 3)“, Nov 17, 2012)
Need for transparency?
Finally, I wonder how much funds in total does the Tote Board have?
How much does it collect in revenue every year – In my view, I don’t think the reason – “The board did not give a year-on-year breakdown of actual donations, stressing that these depend entirely on the number of projects deemed suitable for funding each year”, is acceptable for Singapore’s largest charity organisation, established by an Act of Parliament.
How much funds are disbursed every year?
What is the ratio of funds disbursed to revenue every year?
Are there anymore arguably “inappropriate” donations like the $400 million “towards building the Gardens by the Bay”?
Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the article “Kishore: I’m worried about SG blogosphere’s cynicism towards our public institutions” (TR Emeritus, Apr 13).
Lack of trust in Singapore’s public institutions?
It states that “Mr Mahbubani feels that if this middle ground is not developed and a significant percentage of Singaporeans begin to demonstrate a lack of trust in Singapore’s public institutions (i.e. by showing increasing cynicism towards them), trouble may begin to brew, like riots and social disharmony.
Unhappy frog rather than a happy butterfly?
He said, “If the blogosphere and the mainstream media cannot agree on a core consensus of preserving and supporting key public institutions, we could end up with a messier Singapore, becoming an unhappy frog rather than a happy butterfly.”
For argument’s sake – about 6 years ago?
After reading the article, I vaguely remember writing an article about 6 years ago. So, I googled and found the following:-
Posted by theonlinecitizen on May 12, 2007
*This is an update on the previous article “The first tier of the first world – beyond the bottomline“
By Leong Sze Hian
Singapore has been voted as the top choice of location for expats in the world and also the best asian city in the 2007 Worldwide Quality of Living Survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.
However, the Senior Minister has voiced his concerns about Singapore‘s brain-drain.
So, why are Singaporeans leaving and may not be returning, when it is the best place in the world for expats to live and work, and the best for quality of life in Asia?
The answer may lie in some statistics for the last year or so.
The Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in his inaugural speech in the Distinguished Speakers Lecture series of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) on March 21, said that “it is quite puzzling that Singapore is still aspiring to be world class, when it has exceeded world-class standards in many areas” and cited “10 dimensions in which we have achieved or exceeded previous ‘world-class’ standards”.
In the annals of corporate history, many once revered brand names have fallen by the wayside, because they failed to adequately, constantly and continually address their shortcomings, and internal and external criticisms. This failing may arguably be applied to the history of nations too.
In the context of his speech which was on building the Singapore brand and national branding, I think we may want to take a step backwards, and do some critical self-analysis of our current weaknesses, and try to improve on them.
In our perhaps zealous attempts to become world-class in so many things, we may have paid insufficient attention to some 15 dimensions, which I shall describe below.
Singapore was ranked 130th out of 178 countries for Happiness, 40th out of 41 countries for Libido, 30th out of 35 countries for Courtesy, 5th in the world for Prisoners Per Capita, 105th in the world for Income Equality, 154th for Press Freedom by Freedom House, and 15th out of 16 countries in the Asia Democracy Index.
Dimensions relating to income:-
Percentage of employed households with household income from work below $ 1,000, increased from 5.4 to 5.7%. Average monthly income from work per household member among employed households was only $ 300 for the 1st to 10th decile, and $ 540 for the 11th to 20th decile.
Average monthly income from work per household member among non-retiree households was only $ 160 for the 1st to 10th decile, and $ 470 for the 11th to 20th decile. With about over one million households, does it mean that about 90,000 non-retiree households are still surviving on only $ 160 average monthly income from work per household member?
The 1st to 10th decile among employed households had the lowest number of working persons at 1.28, supporting the highest number of average persons in the household of 3.92 persons. Generally, the larger the average household size, the lower were the average number of working persons. This trend persisted until the 70th percentile for average number of working persons.
Number of part-timers has more than doubled over the decade from 51,400 to 112,300 expanding their share of employment from 3.5% to 6.3%. The median monthly income for part-timers is still the same at $ 500 compared to 10 years ago.
In view of the 118 per cent increase in part-timers for the last decade, does it mean that more residents are working for income of $ 500 that has not changed for 10 years?
Since “retiree households who had no income from work comprised 5% of all resident households in 2006″, and “8.5% of resident households had 0 number of working persons”, does it mean that 3.5% or about 37,000 households are not retired but have no income from work ? How many of these – about 37,000 households are living with no income from work, because they have sufficient funds to sustain themselves indefinitely or for a prolonged period of time?
Whilst the Resident labour force increased by 27 per cent for the last 15-year period from 1.373 to 1.737 million, Unemployed Residents increased by 149 per cent from 28,000 to 69,600. This means that the Resident labour force increased by 1.6 per cent per annum, and Unemployed Residents increased by 6.3 per cent per annum.
Dimemsions relating to expenditure:-
2. As at the end of last year, banks have repossessed 1,445 HDB flats financed with bank loans since the start of bank origination in January 2003. In recent months, the rate is about 60 cases a month.
This means that 1.6 per cent of HDB flats on bank loans have been foreclosed. 7 per cent of the 89,000 HDB flats with bank loans which is about 6,230 HDB flat owners have not been able to pay for more than 3 months. Some of these may become foreclosures.
From 2002 to 2006, some 360 households voluntarily surrendered their flats after defaulting on their HDB concessionary loan repayments. HDB’s annual report said that it provided financial assistance to 28,386 flat-owners in its last financial year, Does this mean that 28,386 flat-owners had difficulty paying their HDB concessionary loan monthly repayments or HDB rental?
In the HDB’s last two offers of 2-room flats, about 42 per cent of the applicants were 55 years and older, and 56 per cent had household incomes of less than $ 1,000 a month.
3. According to the Yearbook of Statistics Singapore, water, electricity and gas tariffs increased by 8.6, 2.8, and 4.2% per annum from 1995 to 2005, against inflation of just 1%. The number of electricity accounts in arrears is about 3,600 and the number of Pay-As-You Use (PAYU) meters is about 12,500.
4. MediFund paid out $40m to 290,000 Medifund applications approved last year. Does this mean that the average Medifund payout per patient was about $138?
According to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) web site, “for FY2001, a total of 157,190 Medifund applications were considered, of which 156,780 applications or 99.7% were approved, amounting to a total disbursement of $27.2m “.
Does this mean that the average Medifund payout per patient in 2001 was about $174? Why is it that the average Medifund payout per patient has declined from $174 in 2001 to $138 last year, when as I understand it, the average costs of hospitalisation have gone up?
According to MOH’s “Affordability of Healthcare Data”, the average hospital bill size for Class C was $858 and $495 at the 50th percentile. So, does this mean that some needy patients may still be financially stressed in having to pay the shortfall between their bill and the Medifund payout, by instalments to the hospital after their discharge?
According to the MOH’s web site, polyclinics “served about 100,000 dental patients”. According to the DOS, there were about 104,900 households in the 0 to 10th decile with no income from work and about 104,900 households with average income of $1,180 in the 11th to 20th decile.
Each visiting the public dental services once a year, would total about 377,640 dental attendances per year (assuming 3.6 average household number of persons x about 104,900 households with average income of $1,180 in the 11th to 20th decile, and that all the 0 income households are mostly retirees and others who can afford private dental care).
How many can afford the private dental consultation rates starting from $45 compared to the polyclinics’ rates from $12 to $20.50 for adult Singapore citizens, and from $6 to $10.50 for children and the elderly? Since the polyclinics only served about 100,000 attendances last year, and some went to private dentists under the Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS) and about 3,000 under the Public Assistance (PA) scheme, where did the rest of the lower-income Singaporeans go to for dental treatment?
5. The Ministry of Education helped 35,000 school children in its Financial Assistance Scheme.
At the announcement of the setting up of the ComCare Fund on 19 January 2005, it was said that the five Community Development Councils (CDCs) handled 35,000 hardship cases in 2004, granting almost $ 40 million in assistance.
Why is it that it would appear that about two years later, the amount of assistance given out has only increased by 70 per cent ($ 68 divided by $ 40 million), against an increase of 157 per cent in the number of needy families (90,000 divided by 35,000) ?
About 60,000 Singaporeans did not sign up for the Progress Package.
6. In 2005, the $4 million Public Transport Fund set up and funded by SMRT, SBS, Comcare Fund, the 5 CDCs, SLF and NTUC, received more than 92,000 applications for 80,000 vouchers worth $50 each. The funding organisations pitched in with the $600,000 needed to pay for the extra vouchers. The total of $4.6 million divided by $20 means that about 230,000 people received about $20 each to help pay for the transport fares increase in 2005.
Even if we assume that all the about 104,900 households in the 0 to 10th decile with no income from work are retirees and others who can afford the fares increase, we are still missing about 147,640 (377,640 (3.6 persons x about 104,900 households with average income of $1,180 in the 11th to 20th decile) – 230,000). Does this mean that they did not apply for transport vouchers?
7. According to studies at the National University of Singapore, the average propensity to consume (APC) which is measured as the ratio of private consumption expenditures to GDP, has fallen steadily over time from 0.82 in 1960 to 0.43 in 2003.This has produced the lowest ratio of private consumption to output in the free world.
Dimensions relating to net worth:-
8. Household Net Worth increased by 3.8 per cent per annum from $ 548 to $ 660 billion from 2000 to 2005. However, after adjusting for inflation, CPF contributions and the interest on CPF balances, and cash savings and investments, does. it mean that household net worth may actually have declined?
65, 69 and about 75 per cent of CPFIS investors did not beat the 2.5 per cent interest on the CPF Ordinary Account for the first 9, 10, and 11 years of the scheme on a cumulative basis. What were the statistics after 12 and 13 years of the scheme ?
9. Last year, there were 120,000 ex-offenders whose records were spent, 11,000 ex-offenders are being released every year, plus the current 14,453 prison population – how many ex-offenders in total are there in Singapore , since only those convicted of minor crimes and who remain crime-free for five years may have their records marked as spent and those convicted of serious offences and jailed for more than three months or fined more than $ 2,000 cannot have their records erased ?
According to the World Prison Population List of King’s College London International Centre for Prison Studies, the prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population) for Singapore, at 350, was the fifth highest in the world.
10. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) World Economic Outlook Database September 2006, Singapore is ranked number one in the world for current account balance in percent of GDP ratio.
Singapore‘s ratio of 28.5 in 2006, is more than double the second ranked country, Switzerland‘s ratio of 13.3. Singapore‘s US$132 (S$205) billion foreign reserves has been ranked number one in the world on a per capita basis.
11. According to a report on the “WELLBEING OF CHILDREN” : “Children (under 14 years) who seek psychiatric counselling - 16,487 children sought psychiatric help at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 2002. 2,485 of them were newcomers.(Source: The Straits Times, October 5, 2003)”.
12. Only 1 per cent of patients in Class A or B1 wards who sought to downgrade were successful, according to a report in Parliament in April 2007.
13. According to the recruiting firm Hudson‘s survey published in May 2007, Singapore workers suffer the 2nd highest work-related stress in Asia, with 52% of employees reporting being stressed.
14. The British Council study on the walking speed of pedestrians published in May 2007, found that Singaporeans are the world’s fastest walkers. The British Council said people’s walking speed is a reliable measure of the pace of life in a city.
15. A 2007 survey of 15 industrialised countries including Australia, Canada, USA, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong and Japan, found that while Singaporeans are most active in saving up for retirement, they end up with one of the lowest retirement income levels.
The study, conducted by the AXA Insurance Group, showed that the proportion of Singaporeans contributing to a savings plan, mainly through the CPF, outstripped that of other countries.
Yet, among the 15 countries, the average retiree in Singapore has the lowest retirement income.
The Budget Debate is over. Like a company making its strategic plans and setting its goals for the future, perhaps we could look at some of the above statistics, with the view that some of them may be considered useful as benchmarks for measuring Singapore‘s progress and performance in the future.
Some of the above may also help some of us in thinking about what we hope to achieve and concerns to address for our future.”
Unhappy frogs vs happy butterflies?
After reading the above, I hope that most if not all Singaporeans may agree that the often apparent “disagreements” between the blogosphere and the mainstream media or the subjective absence of a core consensus of preserving and supporting key public institutions, is a healthy state of affairs – because diversity in itself may be a virtue – we could end up with a messier Singapore, becoming an unhappy frog which is constantly debating in earnest to seek a better life for all the “frogs” on our island, rather than a happy butterfly that may be in ignorant bliss that all is well when it may be otherwise.
Extracts from the Economist magazine:
“Mr Mahbubani’s Asian triumphalism is as futile and unconvincing as the Western triumphalism he deplores. That is a shame, as the recommendations he makes for how world governance should be improved are sensible: Chinese and Indian membership of the G8; an end to American and European hogging of the top jobs at the IMF and the World Bank; reform of the UN Security Council to give permanent, veto-holding status to more Asian countries. All are regularly made by Western intellectuals too, even though he claims such minds are determined to maintain the supremacy of the West.” (“The future of Asia: Eastern approaches“, The Economist, Feb 7, 2008)
“Such views make sense. But he provides few reasons to believe that the world will now follow his prescriptions—such as an overhaul of the United Nations—desirable though many of them may be. It hardly helps that Mr Mahbubani can be sloppy with facts. In arguing that it was Asian “engagement” as opposed to Western sanctions that produced reform in Myanmar, for example, he keeps Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest a year longer than the Burmese authorities did. He is also guilty of argument by non sequitur. He suggests that allegations of American torture invalidate American reservations about academic freedom in Singapore. And he can be cavalier with evidence. The claim that China’s government began to worry about its environment only after warnings from the United Nations Development Programme is attributed to a sole, anonymous “Chinese policymaker”.
Much of the book reads as a continuation of disparate arguments Mr Mahbubani has made over many years in his fulminations against the shortcomings of Western political leadership. The theme of “convergence” and his optimistic take on it are not enough to turn a disjointed flotilla of a book into an ocean-liner.” (“The future of the world: Floating hope“, The Economist, Feb 9, 2013)
Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the article “Authorities say no plans to evict households residing on Pulau Ubin” (Channel NewsAsia, Apr 12).
No plans to evict?
It states that “The authorities say there are no plans to evict the households currently residing on Pulau Ubin or develop an Adventure Park on the island.”
I find this statement to be rather odd, as the letter sent to the affected residents said “CLEARANCE SCHEME: CLEARANCE OF STRUCTURES PREVIOUSLY ACQUIRED FOR DEVELOPMENT OF ADVENTURE PARK ON PULAU UBIN
SLA has sought HDB Land Clearance Section (LCS)’s assistance to clear the above squatter house.”
If “there are no plans to evict the households”, why say in the letter - “to clear the above squatter house”?
No Adventure Park?
As to “or develop an Adventure Park on the island”, why say in the letter – “FOR DEVELOPMENT OF ADVENTURE PARK ON PULAU UBIN”?
Media published the story?
If “there are no plans to evict the households”, why was the “eviction” reported in the media? (“Letter informs Ubin residents of possible resettlement“, Straits Times, Apr 12)
Surely, the media would have verified the facts and sources before they ran the story.
Why suddenly need to pay fee?
With regard to “These households are currently residing on State land without a Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL). They can continue to stay on State land if they obtain a TOL from SLA, and pay a fee for the use of the land, similar to any other use of State land”, how much is the fee?
Why decide to all of a sudden charge them a fee, when they have been staying there for 20 or more years?
Are these lower-income families?
What is the household income of these affected families?
What if they can’t pay?
What will happen if a family is unable to afford the “fee”?
How much resettlement benefits?
In respect of “(to) determine the residents’ eligibility to receive resettlement benefits, and compute the resettlement benefit due to each resident”, how much are the typical “resettlement benefits”?
Some did not claim?
As to “During a recent review, it was noted that not all 22 households had claimed the resettlement benefits they were entitled to”, how many had not claimed the resettlement benefits?
Since these are “resettlement benefits they were entitled to”, why didn’t they claim?
Why would anyone not claim what “they were entitled to”?
Is it because some were unable “to produce documentary proof of ownership”? - “Owners will be paid the resettlement benefits if they are able to produce documentary proof of ownership.”
What assistance, steps to take?
With regard to “The residents were also informed of the assistance which the government would render, if necessary, and the steps the residents should take if they wished to continue staying in Pulau Ubin”, what exactly is “the assistance which the government would render, if necessary” and “the steps the residents should take if they wished to continue staying”?
How to decide to stay or not to stay?
In respect of “ascertain whether these households had the intention to remain or relocate”, I wonder how these families can be expected to choose and decide now , when it would appear that the exact details of the two options are yet unclear?
Squatters get HDB flats?
I understand that in the early years following Singapore’s independence, squatters on state land were resettled into HDB flats.
Will this be applied to these 22 families in Pulau Ubin too?
In this connection, I would like also to make reference to Article 28 c of the ASEAN HUMAN RIGHTS DECLARATION – “The right to adequate and affordable housing”.
Land use for … ?
Finally, what exactly will the land that they are residing now be used for, if and when they are evicted?
Leong Sze Hian