CNY 1st day: 4 “poor” news?


So many endemic issues as we start Chinese New Year! 

I read the Straits Times on the first day of Chinese New Year and would like to highlight the following four “poor” news, which arguably, may be a reflection of some of the endemic issues in Singapore.

Disabled 103 years old: $100 cash monthly, $800 Medisave top-up?

… “Madam Lim and her son are each receiving a monthly payout of $100 under the Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme, as well as a top-up of $800 in their Medisave accounts each year.(“Volunteers reach out to S’pore’s growing pool of centenarians“, Straits Times, Feb 16)

What’s the point of topping-up a disabled 103 years old centenarian’s Medisave account with $800 each year, but giving her just $100 monthly. Wouldn’t it be better to give her the $800 in cash? After all, she already qualifies under the Pioneer Generation for medical benefits.

By the way, to get her $100 under the Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme – “You must need permanent help with at least three of six Activities of Daily Living. These include:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Feeding
  • Toileting
  • Mobility
  • Transferring
  • Functional Assessment Report – The cost of an assessment may vary. You can approach your doctor or care professional for more information.”

Cruel and uncompassionate HDB rental flats’ policies?

… “There are about 58,000 flats in Singapore which are rented out by the HDB to low-income households at subsidised rates.

These are almost exclusively one-and two-room flats measuring 30 or 40 sq m each. Only households with income and more than two members are eligible for two-room flats.

Those with no income are eligible for only one-room flats regardless of household size. This puts financial means ahead of needs for adequate space among the most vulnerable families.”

Why do we have such cruel and uncompassionate public housing policies, as highlighted in bold italics above?

“Last year, when we conducted a survey with 1,000 public rental households, we found that 15 per cent of them had more than four household members.

According to the occupancy cap of four persons for one-and two-room flats in the open market, this means that one in seven public rental households is living in overcrowded conditions. Clearly, the public rental system needs larger flats to meet the needs of bigger families.

Adequate living space goes beyond having shelter at night or a place to keep things. Studies have shown consistently that overcrowding has detrimental social effects, especially on children’s well-being, family relationships and health.

In many of the one-room flats we visited, there were no separate areas where children could study uninterrupted since all the activities of the family, including watching television and sleeping, were conducted within the confines of a single space.

Crowded living conditions can be stressful and even unhygienic because cleanliness is difficult to maintain in overcrowded flats. Some families in our interviews had problems with infestations of bed bugs and cockroaches.

Living in a small space means that contagious diseases spread more easily among family members. Poor health leads to absenteeism from school and work, which is particularly costly as low-paying jobs are often already insecure.

There are comprehensive housing standards in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom regarding minimum floor areas in bedrooms, bedspaces, headroom and the ages of occupants.

The Canadian National Occupancy Standard specifies that no more than two persons should share a bedroom, only children of the same sex may share a bedroom from the age of five and persons aged 18 onwards should have separate bedrooms.” (“HDB should apply its own occupancy rules to rental housing“, Straits Times, Feb 16)

Very high Debt to GDP Ratio?

… “”Malaysia (53.2%) is better than developed countries such as Singapore at 112 per cent, United Kingdom at 89.3 per cent, Canada at 92.3 per cent,” the Premier said.”

Singapore’s % debt to GDP at 116.6 (2017 estimate) is higher than Malaysia (50.9%), Sri Lanka (79%) and the United Kingdom (91.1%).

As to “However, Singapore spent far less servicing that debt, using only 6.1 per cent of its revenue in 2016. Malaysia used 12.5 per cent of its income on interest payments that year” – the primary reason for Singapore’s lower debt servicing interest cost (2017 estimate at 11.6%; Malaysia (12.8%), Japan (12.8%), Greece (6.4%), United Kingdom (7.5%)), may be due to the low interest paid on our CPF – such as the 2.5 per cent for the Ordinary Account.

(“Malaysia’s high interest payments on debt raise concern”, Straits Times, Feb 16)


Corruption scandals?

… “It said: “Keppel’s admission in the DPA (deferred prosecution agreement) that it committed violations of the FCPA constitutes an admission that it conspired to commit… the Rico predicate acts of money laundering.”

EIG said Keppel “admitted that it drafted and executed agreements with consulting companies controlled by (former Keppel agent Zwi Skornicki)… to facilitate the bribe payments”.

“Under the guise of these agreements and instructions by Keppel, Skornicki made payments to bank accounts in the US and elsewhere in the name of shell companies he controlled,” said the US firm.

“Skornicki then wired the money from those bank accounts in the US to bank accounts outside the country… for the benefit of executives at Petrobras, Sete and members of the Workers’ Party.”

EIG also alleged that Keppel O&M, from 2001 to 2011, had authorised bribes of about US$40 million to Petrobras and the Workers’ Party to secure seven contracts worth US$4 billion.

From 2012 to 2014, Keppel allegedly authorised US$14.4 million of bribes to secure six drillship contracts with Sete, EIG added.

The court documents also spotlighted the role played by former senior Petrobras executives Pedro Jose Barusco Filho and Joao Carlos de Medeiros Ferraz.

As part of a plea agreement, Barusco had testified to the Brazilian Congress that he and Ferraz had opened accounts in the names of “phantom offshore companies for the purpose of laundering the Sete-related bribes including that from Keppel”.

Barusco was originally sentenced to 18 years’ jail in 2014 but that was reduced to two years of alternative confinement because of his cooperation with the authorities.

“When Barusco requested a bribe, Skornicki ‘reported that to Singapore directly’, and Skornicki ‘ended up going to Singapore five times a year’ and ‘they authorised’ him to pay bribes,” EIG alleged, citing Skornicki’s testimony.

Ferraz, Barusco and a Sete executive have subsequently agreed to disgorge nearly US$100 million of the bribes that they received from Keppel and secreted into Swiss bank accounts opened in the names of phantom entities, EIG alleged.” (“EIG accuses Keppel unit of planning to pay bribes till 2019″, Straits Times, Feb 16)

Uniquely Singapore and Happy Lunar New Year!

Leong Sze Hian



About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.