No, Halimah, You Are Mistaken


I just saw this article online on one of the MSM sites. In it, the former speaker of parliament, Mdm Halimah Yacob is being interviewed as a potential candidate for this year’s presidential elections.

Let me comment on the article, paragraph by paragraph.

That Singapore will soon have a Malay president after 47 years is, for presidential candidate Halimah Yacob, an affirmation of two core values Singaporeans hold dear: multiracialism and meritocracy.

Singaporeans hold dear four core values. Multiracialism, meritocracy, transparency and fair play. Each of these key values fail this time around.

“Reserving” the election for one particular aspect “race” does not qualify as being multiracial. It is also not fair play.

Meritocracy can only be seen if all the candidates are assessed equally. Halimah “qualifies” because the presidential elections act says that by virtue of she being a speaker of parliament, automatically qualifying her. The two others who’ve indicated interest in running have a significantly higher bar to meet – the fiduciary experience. The role of the elected president is to be a person who has some fiduciary experience because the president is supposed to be the “second key” to the reserves. From all reckoning, the two other candidates have run businesses including recovering from failure and would, therefore, be more savvy financially. I would dearly want to know how, by being a speaker of parliament, that specific characteristic is met and how Halimah would be able to do the needed fiduciary duties? The law waives that requirement solely because of the role played. That is not meritocracy.

“It shows we don’t only talk about multiracialism, but we talk about it in the context of meritocracy or opportunities for everyone, and we actually practise it,” she told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday.

Elaborating, she said it demonstrates Singaporeans can “accept anyone of any colour, any creed, any religion, at any position in our society, so long as they feel that the person can contribute”.

I have to assume that what is quoted above is verbatim. If that is the case, why do we need the “Group Representation Constituency” system? We all know that the GRC was a PAP gerrymandering scheme to make it difficult for the opposition to succeed under the pretext of “minority” representation. Halimah herself is in parliament because she was brought in under the same gerrymandered system.

Her resignation from her posts as Speaker of Parliament, MP and member of the People’s Action Party on Monday to contest the upcoming election has seen views opposed to changes to the presidency resurface, with some questioning the commitment to meritocracy.

Madam Halimah firmly refutes the view that the election, which will be reserved for Malay candidates, entails a trade-off between multiracialism and meritocracy.

It, in fact, ensures both founding ideals are preserved – giving fair access for all races to be represented at one time or other, in the highest office of the land, while requiring that each and every candidate meets the same stipulated criteria.

If she truly believes what she is saying above to be true, I look forward to DPM Tharman Shamugaratnam as the 4th Prime Minister. He exceeds in capability, charisma and character (and international stature) compared to the current incumbent, the other DPM and all the so-called “4th generation” cookie cutter (aka paper general), nondescript PM-wannabes combined.

“All candidates have to qualify,” she said, noting the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency last year had made clear its stand on this issue.

“If we weaken eligibility criteria for those taking part in a reserved election, yes, then we are compromising meritocracy for representation. We are not – the same criteria apply to everybody,” she stressed.

I assume she said that with a straight face. The eligibility criteria was weakened by putting up the nonsense of “race” where there was none to begin with.

The commission had proposed reserving an election for candidates from a race if it had not been represented in the presidency for five terms. It also updated eligibility criteria for private sector candidates, who must have led a company with at least $500 million in shareholder equity. The changes were passed by Parliament last November.

Of course it was passed by the rubber stamp parliament. No one expected anything else. The commission did propose some alternatives such as going back to the old way where parliament appoints someone to be the president, but the PAP bulldozed their view and so we have this sad state of affairs.

Madam Halimah, 62, has been described by observers as the front runner. They note she is the only aspirant who automatically qualifies to stand, having held the post of Parliament Speaker since 2013.

Who are these anonymous “observers”? PAP cadres? I don’t think anyone would say she is a front runner. I concede, she could possibly be a front runner in a one runner race.

Two other candidates who have indicated their interest to run, Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific chairman Farid Khan, 62, and Second Chance Properties chief executive Salleh Marican, 67, do not automatically meet the financial threshold.

They have to convince the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) they have the experience and ability to effectively carry out the functions of the office if elected.

And, bingo, there you go. The other two potential candidates apparently don’t meet the fiduciary threshold (actually, how does this MSM reporter know?) and they have to do a song and a dance to be eligible while Halimah gets the golden ticket, no questions asked. And I have a gut feeling that Farid and Salleh might be disqualified for that critical fiduciary requirement for which Halimah is exempt. How convenient.

Asked about the prospect of a contested election in the interview at NTUC Centre, Madam Halimah said she will leave it to the PEC to decide, adding: “We always go into a contest preparing for a contest.”

A fair contest is always welcome. In this case, it is still not clear that the contest will be fair. The contest has been rigged, first by putting the “race” statement, and second by having different fiduciary criteria for qualification.

As for talk of a reserved election being akin to affirmative action, she said the comparison is wrong because affirmative action means “you don’t qualify, but you go in”.

Affirmative action is usually never about “you don’t qualify, but you go in” in all cases. It varies from country to country how it is to be interpreted. In Singapore, the PAP-driven GRC system is an affirmative action model, using the excuse that “Singaporeans are not race blind yet”. The PAP feels that in order to get minorities into parliament, we need to affirmative action via the GRC system.

While some have questioned the seemingly higher bar for private sector candidates, she said the approach that automatically qualifies public sector candidates “has been in place since 1991”.

“It is an open, transparent system,” she added.

The lower fiduciary requirement for public officials have indeed been on the books, but that does not make it right. I think Halimah is very wrong to equate “has been in place since 1991” with the need to be open and transparent. The public sector qualifications were placed there to make it easy for PAP ministers to run for president (which has indeed been the case with Ong Teng Cheong and Tony Tan – autoqualification because they were ministers).

Asked if her track record of 40 years in public service – 33 of them in the labour movement – would be a key plank of her campaign, Madam Halimah laughed and said more details will be revealed soon.

“Yes, having been in public service for a significant period, that has exposed me to the policymaking process, that has stood me in good stead, to understand how the Government functions.

“So that has been extremely useful, relevant, to what I am seeking to do,” she added.

There is a misconception here – there is no “key plank” of her campaign. The elected president is a figure head (as head of state) and a custodian of the reserves. There is nothing else the president can do from a public policy perspective. The president’s office is constrained by the parliament. Presidential candidates can say all that they want, but they would not be in a position to execute it because of their inherent lack of authority. I hope this is made clear and evident to all.

I have a lot of respect for her. I would vote for her if she was standing in an election on her own merit and proven competency. She does not need the crutches that are being placed in her candidacy. As it stands now, I cannot vote for her.

The Dr Tan Cheng Bock Factor

We have yet an unresolved issue. Dr Tan Cheng Bock appeal against this travesty of the “racial” restriction is still pending in the verdict. I fail to see why there has to be a delay in this, it is a simple issue to decide. We cannot have the decision after the elections. We need that to be made public immediately.

I would like to think that we are not living in a bogus democracy. I really do.

What if no one came?


So, there was this shop that was set up to give a chance for those who like pancakes to go there and claim their pancakes. People found out that anyone can go to the shop to buy the pancake, but the only ones who can actually make the pancake are allowed to eat it.

Now people are wondering what is the value in being able to buy the pancake and not eat it unless you can also make the pancake? Turns out, almost anyone can make the pancake, but you have to prove that you have the ability to do so.

I suspect that very soon, the shop will close as those who have a clue and have pride will decide to skip the shop.

Three must haves in Fedora 26


I’ve been using Fedora ever since it came out back in 2003. The developers of Fedora and the greater community of contributors have been doing a amazing job in incorporating features and functionality that subsequently has found its way into the downstream Red Hat Enterprise Linux distributions.

There are lots to cheer Fedora for. GNOME, NetworkManager, systemd and SELinux just to name a few.

Of all the cool stuff, I particularly like to call out three must haves.

a) Pomodoro – A GNOME extension that I use to ensure that I get the right amount of time breaks from the keyboard. I think it is a simple enough application that it has to be a must-have for all. Yes, it can be annoying that Pomodoro might prompt you to stop when you are in the middle of something, but you have the option to delay it until you are done. I think this type of help goes a long way in managing the well-being of all of us who are at our keyboards for hours.

b) Show IP: I really like this GNOME extension for it does give me at a glance any of a long list of IPs that my system might have. This screenshot shows ten different network end points and the IP number at the top is that of the Public IP of the laptop. While I can certainly use the command “ifconfig”, while I am on the desktop, it is nice to have it needed info tight on the screen.

 

 

c) usbguard: My current laptop has three USB ports and one SD card reader. When it is docked, the docking station has a bunch more of USB ports. The challenge with USB ports is that they are generally completely open ports that one can essentially insert any USB device and expect the system to act on it. While that is a convenience, the possibility of abuse isincreasing given rogue USB devices such as USB Killer, it is probably a better idea to deny, by default, all USB devices that are plugged into the machine. Fortunately, since 2007, the Linux kernel has had the ability to authorise USB devices on a device by device basis and the tool, usbguard, allows you to do it via the command line or via a GUI – usbguard-applet-qt. All in, I think this is another must-have for all users. It should be set up with default deny and the UI should be installed by default as well. I hope Fedora 27 onwards would be doing that.

So, thank you Fedora developers and contributors.

 

 

The next president and Singapore at 200


So, we are now in the silly cycle of “electing” the next president.

This year’s election is very controversial. The parliament approved a change in the rules for election of president and added a clause on racial lines after going through a constitutional panel to determine some significant changes.

The panel did recommend reverting to the appointment of a president by the parliament instead of an election process but the government has not accepted that suggestion.

And the biggest change in who can run for president is about the race of the person. I frankly think it is stupid to have race as a criteria (remember the pledge “regardless of race, language or religion”?) but this current government has deemed it appropriate.

The proposal was challenged in court by Dr Tan Cheng Bock, which the court decided to not approve. He has filed an appeal and we are all waiting to see what happens. I have a strong feeling that the appeal will also be dismissed.

So, we will see a racially-based presidential election this year.

From what has been discerned from many sources, there are apparently three potential candidates. One of them is the current Speaker of Parliament, Mdm Halimah Yacob. She is a sitting MP from the PAP. Another potential candidate is Mr Farid Khan Kaim Khan and a third potential candidate is Mr Salleh Marican.

Let’s look at these three potential candidates. The two men are businessmen and aapprently have the needed financial management experience which is touted as being a key requirement for the presidency. They are also  entrepreneurial and, I would guess, street smart.

The third potential candidate is a lawyer by training and has been in politics since 2001. I am quite sure, until proven wrong, that she is not an entrepreneur or a business person. It is also unlikely that she has managed the kinds of monies that the President is expected to “oversee” – although the criteria for president has been “gamed” to say that any minister, speaker of parliament etc fulfils that requirement.

Given what we know, let’s consider the following:

a) Halimah actually decides to run. She will have to resign from the PAP, resign from her appointment as Speaker of Parliament and also stand down from being an MP. All of these mean that she will be out of a job. All of these things have to be done before she can run for president. She cannot be a party member, hold a seat in parliament and also hold an appointment in the legislature. Or at least, I think so.

b) The two others can technically continue with their businesses even as they file their papers to run for president. If they do succeed, I would think they would relinquish their roles in the businesses they have and take on the President’s office fulltime.

c) The election happens with these three potential candidates. One of the two men win.

d) Halimah is out of a job (perhaps she is OK with it), the other non-winning candidate can continue with whatever he was doing.

All in, the risk for Halimah is much higher considering that this could be a three-way fight. The last time, the current elected president got the job on a very, very tiny margin 0.35. That tiny victory over the overwhelming favourite, Dr Tan Cheng Bock is attributable to the vote diversion by Mr Tan Kin Lian who got the lowest votes in 2011.

I think the entire elected president system is a waste of resources and opportunity. The stated reason for the elected president is for a “second key” to the reserves that a government wants to dip into. Going by previous “elected” presidents, there has not been any requests that were denied (please provide links if there were denied requests). So, it seems moot from that point of view. The current president has less that 36% support from the electorate, but given the fact that we don’t have a two stage election process unlike other countries, we are stuck with a chap in office who the majority did not vote for.

Whoever wins the next election would, I think, be in the same boat.

Let’s say that the Dr Tan Cheng Bock appeal is denied and the election proceeds as planned. Would it not be the case that whoever becomes president is in office because the system was gamed in their favour, based on race? Would they feel that the did win this fairly if the contest was open to all as it has always been? Would they be able to say with confidence that if it was not for the rigging of the system, they would not have a) participated b) won? Where is the dignity in that?

It is a sham, plain and simple. We are 52 years into the independance of Singapore (if you count from 1965 and 54 if you count from 1963). We cannot have a fair, no scam, no BS presidential election? Really?

And as a note and remider, 2019 will be the 200th anniversary of the Founding of Modern Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles. Whether that was a good thing back then – perhaps there were questionable practises etc – it is what we have. Would we be as enthusiastic for the 200th anniversary of the Founding of Modern Singapore as it has been with the independance since 1965(63)?

Majulah Singapura!

 

 

Some updates on “who’s my MP”


I have not received any reply from the person who is supposed to be the MP for my place on what I sent to the person on 8th July. I am not expecting a reply, but I will let a few more days pass before sending a reminder.

I had also sent a email to the Parliament on 8th July as well, about the “who’s my MP” option on the parliament website, because of some challenges I faced with the URL.

Here’s what I sent:

Screenshot from 2017-07-18 23-53-38

And here’s their reply:

Screenshot from 2017-07-18 23-51-40

And my reply to that on 13th July 2017:

[addressee] –

>    Thank you for the email and feedback dated on 8 July 2017.
>
> 2  The “Who’s My MP” search engine has been designed to let web-users key
>  in a residential address or a postal code and speedily locate the constituency
> (out of 29 constituencies, either GRC or SMC) which the keyed-in address or postal
> code fall within. For assignment of MPs to specific divisions/wards within each
> constituency, and re-assignments if any, Parl advises on
> our website for web-users to visit the People’s Association (PA) website at
> www.pa.gov.sg for a complete listing of the Community Centres/Clubs in order to
> obtain information on the MP in a specific division/ward.
>
> 3  We receive and review Parliament website users’ feedback continuously,
> and will carefully consider feedback in periodic revisions of Parliament
> website functions.

Thanks for the reply. Why would it be necessary for one to go to *another* site to see which constituency that person is in within a GRC? This has to be made as easy as possible *without* going from one government website to another for this very simple information. For sure, the PA site could have that info, but it is ultimately the Parliament that should be the custodian of the information – the single source of truth as it were.
If however, the Parliament thinks that it should not bother with these things, the least it should do is to have a pointer in the page that I went to initially to find out who the MP is of my location – which is exactly what the parliament URL says – and offer the PA link.

I should *not* have to ask the Parliament website for additional information especially when the URL specifically offers to tell me what I was there for.

Would love to hear back from you soon.

Thanks.

No I have not heard from them yet.

On being an engaged and responsible citizen


I sent this to my MP on July 5 and am awaiting a reply (if there is a reply, I will post it here as well but leaving out the identity of the MP if the MP requests for it):

“Hi. I am a resident in your constituency and I thought it would be appropriate and relevant to pose a few questions to you about the issues around Oxley Road and the feuding Lee siblings.

I would like to know what your stand is on this? I don’t think I heard nor read anything from you in parliament carried in the local media – I have to wait for the Hansard to see what actually transpired.

A few things I’d like to hear from you in the meantime:
a) Why was the proceedings not webcast live? It was blogged live (yahoo.com had the best one) but that is akin to listening to a football commentary on radio vs watching it on tv. if this was an important matter – and the PM apparently thought it was so – why were Singaporeans not provided with a live broadcast? We are after all supposed to be a “Smart Nation” – or are we only a Smart Nation sometimes?
b) Since the PM and his predecessors have said that if a minister is accused of abuse of power, and if the minister does not sue, s/he has to resign. The PM in not suing his siblings makes this matter look very ugly across the board. There are double standards. We are well aware of “the blood is thicker” argument, but if the PM thought it so important to bring the full weight of the parliament to discuss this without the two private citizens present, I think he is not being a true statesman. He should step aside and sort out his family issues.
c) Do you think a COI should be convened? If not, why? And I would like to hear something other than what the PM has said.”

If you think that you want to hear from your MP as well, do take the contents above verbatim – the contents are on a CC0 license anyway – and sent it off to your MP as well. Or just use it as an example and put your questions in your own words. If you need to get the email ID of your MP, do go to https://sgdi.gov.sg. or better yet, via the Parliament website – https://www.parliament.gov.sg/whos-my-mp

Thank you, Uncle Sar, and Rest In Peace!


I’ve always known him as Uncle Sar. He was a teacher, a biology teacher no less. When he used to visit us at home when I was 7 or 8 years old, he would always give my sister and I 10 cents The 10 cents was meant for us to go get a jotter book.

The books would have blank pages into which my sister and I were supposed to draw things in. Exactly what was to be drawn, I don’t think he specified, but it was to be used for something.

When I knew that he was going to visit us, I remember being extra industrious in trying to finish up the pages in jotter book that got the last visit. Many times, I would have missed a few pages or just scribbled something on a page just to make sure that the book has no more empty pages left.

He was always accommodating and smiling and would be ever too keen to check our “work” in the jotter book.

I recall one visit when for some reason he did not give us the usual 10 cents. I remember sneaking up on him, and putting my hand into his shirt pocket to get the 10 cent coin. He would act as if nothing is happening and let me be the crook. Thank you, Uncle Sar.

There are many other memories of you driving us around in your Austin, car license plate ST 287 (not the one in the photo) and how excited I was to go on those rides.

Years later, when I was doing biology for my “A” levels, I was struggling with it and he was kind enough to give me materials that eventually did help me pass it – which was more than what my own teacher ever did. Uncle Sar taught at Pasir Panjang Secondary School then.

We did not quite keep up our contacts over the years, but I do know that every time I saw him at an event, my heart would beat with a happy beat. You had a smile and laughter. Perhaps it brought me back to simpler days, days of childhood.

There was a meeting where you came up to me and congratulated me for being outspoken and fair about things around Singapore politics. You said that, “yes, Hari, I keep a look out for you.” Thank you!

I am glad I took a selfie with you in December 2016 at some event. Unfortunately, I did not hold the camera steadily enough, but here you are.

So it is with a very heavy heart that I bid you farewell. You’ve lived 85 wonderful years. Thank you, Uncle Sar.

A better model to work with citizens


I have been putting off installing the SGSecure application on my phone.

I finally decided to do it via the Google Playstore. It got downloaded and installed and when I started the app, it needed me to agree to the Terms of Use:

Screenshot_20170407-084036

I know most people would just hit the “I agree” button, but not me.

I hit the “Terms of Use” link and it then brought me to Ts&Cs page.

Screenshot_20170407-083728

As an open source advocate, I am very disappointed that a tax-dollars funded application is kept proprietary. I am OK for the contents the app works with as “proprietary”, but at the very least, I expect that the application code be placed on an open source license like the GNU General Public License. Why? So that we can all work to make it even better. The government is not the best in building applications and as has been demonstrated over the last few years, working with the free and open source community helps build a significantly better application no matter who you are.

Continuing the Ts&Cs:

Screenshot_20170407-083746

Screenshot_20170407-083805

I have a problem with 4 (b) above. Why would the app need access to messaging services? Shouldn’t the app be able to send information to the relevant recipients directly?

Screenshot_20170407-083932

What’s with 4 (e) where it says that PII may be shared with non-Government services? It is easy to say “to serve you better”. I would want to know who the non-G service providers are and how they manage these PII.

Screenshot_20170407-084001

The link at the bottom of the screenshot above, brings me to https://e3res.sgsecure.sg/misc/tnc_v1.html – a substantially similar one as the one included in the app.

I decided to uninstall it.  And I tweeted about my hesitation in accepting this app. Hopefully someone is listening and I am more than willing to discuss.

Quarter Century of Innovation – aka Happy Birthday Linux!


Screenshot from 2016-08-25 14-35-23

Happy Birthday, Linux! Thank you Linus for that post (and code) from a quarter of a century ago.

I distinctly remember coming across the post above on comp.os.minix while I was trying to figure out something called 386BSD. I was following the 386BSD development by Lynne Jolitz and William Jolitz back when I was in graduate school in OSU. I am not sure where I first heard about 386BSD, but it could have been in some newsgroup or the BYTE magazine (unfortunately I can’t find any references). Suffice to say, the work of 386BSD was subsequently documented by the Dr. Dobb’s Journal from around the 1992. Fortunately, the good people at Dr. Dobb’s Journal have placed their entire contents on the Internet and the first post of the port of 386BSD is now online.

I was back in Singapore by then and was working at CSA Research doing work in building networking functionality for a software engineering project. The development team had access to a SCO Unix machine but because we did not buy “client access licenses” (I think that was what it was called), we could only have exactly 2 users – one on the console via X-Windows and the other via telnet. I was not going to suggest to the management to get the additional access rights (I was told it would cost S$1,500!!) and instead, tried to find out why it was that the 3rd and subsequent login requests were being rejected.

That’s when I discovered that SCO Unix was doing some form of access locking that was part of the login process used by the built-in telnet daemon. I figured that if I can replace the telnet daemon with one that does not do the check, I can get as many people telnetting into the system and using it.

To create a new telnet daemon, I needed the source code and then to compile it. SCO Unix never provided any source code. I managed, however, to get the source code to a telnet daemon (from I think ftp.stanford.edu although I could be wrong).

Remember that during those days, there was no Internet access in Singapore – no TCP/IP access anyway. And the only way to the Internet was via UUCP (and Bitnet at the universities). I used ftpmail@decwrl.com (an ftp via email service by Digital Equipment Corporation) to go out and pull in the code and send it to me via email in 64k uuencoded chunks. Slow, but hey, it worked and it worked well.

Once I got the code, the next challenge was to compile it. We did have the C compiler but for some reason, we did not have the needed crypto library to compile against. That was when I came across the incredible stupidity of labeling cryptography as a munition by the US Department of Commerce. Because of that, we, in Singapore, could not get to the crypto library.

After some checking around, I got to someone who happened to have a full blown SCO Unix system and had the crypto library in their system. I requested that they compile a telnet daemon without the crypto library enabled and to then send me the compiled binary.

After some to and fro via email, I finally received the compiled telnet daemon without the crypto linked in and replaced the telnetd on my SCO Unix machine. Viola, everyone else in the office LAN could telnet in. The multi-user SCO machine was now really multi-user.

That experience was what pushed me to explore what would I need to do to make sure that both crypto code and needed libraries are available to anyone, anywhere. The fact that 386BSD was a US-originated project meant that tying my kite to them would eventually discriminate against me in not being able to get to the best of cryptography and in turn, security and privacy. That was when Linus’ work on Linux became interesting for me.

The fact that this was done outside the US meant that it was not crippled by politics and other shortsighted rules and that if it worked well enough, it could be an interesting operating system.

I am glad that I did make that choice.

The very first Linux distribution I got was from Soft Landing Systems (SLS in short) which I had to get via the amazingly trusty ftpmail@decwrl.com service which happily replied with dozens of 64K uuencoded emails.

What a thrill it was when I started getting serialized uuencoded emails with the goodies in them. I don’t think I have any of the 5.25″ on to which I had to put the uudecoded contents. I do remember selling complete sets of SLS diskettes (all 5.25″ ones) for $10 per box (in addition to the cost of the diskettes). I must have sold it to 10-15 people. Yes, I made money from free software, but it was for the labour and “expertise”.

Fast forward twenty five years to 2016, I have so many systems running Linux (TV, wireless access points, handphones, laptops, set-top boxes etc etc etc) that if I were asked to point to ONE thing that made and is still making a huge difference to all of us, I will point to Linux.

The impact of Linux on society cannot be accurately quantified.  It is hard. Linux is like water. It is everywhere and that is the beauty of it. In choosing the GPLv2 license for Linux, Linus released a huge amount of value for all of humanity. He paid forward.

It is hard to predict what the next 25 years will mean and how Linux will impact us all, but if the first 25 years is a hint, it cannot but be spectacular. What an amazing time to be alive.

Happy birthday Linux. You’ve defined how we should be using and adoption technology. You’ve disrupted and continue to disrupt, industries all over the place. You’ve helped define what it means to share ideas openly and freely. You’ve shown what happens when we collaborate and work together. Free and Open Source is a win-win for all and Linux is the Gold Standard of that.

Linux (and Linus) You done well and thank you!

Joseph Schooling should not be the last


It was a supreme delight to have been able to sing Majulah Singapura (the video cannot be viewed because the IOC mafia thinks they own the copyright) with Joseph Schooling after being medaled at the Olympics for winning the gold for his 100m butterfly event.

There are plenty of analysis of what had happened over the last eight years that saw him leave Singapore at 14, go to the US, attend a school that has great sporting traditions (and coaches) and the to UT Austin – and benefiting from world class coaches.

Ultimately, if Joseph did not want ths medal, no amount of training, coaching, sacrifice of his parents would have gotten him to where he is today. He wanted it badly. He set his mind to it and made it happen.

But, despite his single minded persistence, his ambition would have been thwarted because of some of the structural blockages we have in Singapore for sportsmen to excel.

If Joseph is not to be last one to achieve that pinnacle of sporting achievement, we have to address a few things:

a) The secondary school system of sports is rather dismal. Back when I was in school, when you got into secondary one, you could go try out what ever sports the school had. The assumption (right one I would say), is that there are never enough opportunities to try things when you are in primary school, let alone become “good” in it. Today, however, secondary schools only ALLOW students who have proven previously to be able to play some sport before they can have that as their ECA. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. I am sure that there are some schools that keep the net wide and open to get all comers to experiment and try. Without that mindset, we will continue to fail in creating champion sportmen/women.

b) Lots of the national sports associations are helmed by well meaning and forward looking people who were themselves sportsmen. But, there are quite a few that have vested interests in play that does not allow for someone not from the annointed group to get involved. I will refrain from naming them here, but will happily share them if you contact me privately.

c) National Service: I don’t think anyone is doubting the value of National Service to build a strong citizenry. The fact that the full-time NS period has been revised and reviewed to make it useful and appropriate, we are, nonetheless, placing a huge premium to serving NS over sporting excellence especially for those who are talented and have potential. This is where Joseph Schooling’s NS stumbling block comes into play. His parents had to fight to get his NS liabilities deferred so that he can continue training and be able to peak just at the right time for him to win the gold medal at the Olympics. And peak, he did.

I am mindful of all those who could have gone on to sporting excellence if only they had the persistence to get deferment (and be granted). We will never know how many there could have been.

Here’s a suggestion

We *must* have a fair and equitable means to assess people who have potential and let them flourish. Grant them the deferment, easily, but ensure that they are encouraged to keep at the vision/goal and if they succeed (like Joseph in getting his gold), grant them the status that they’ve completed their National Service. Naturally, if the person wants to discharge of his obligations, grant him the opportunity to do so. We can be magnanimous and forward thinking like that. We are Singapore. We can do this. Training to excel in sport is no different from training to defend the country. The mental, physical and emotional challenge may be comparable. The rewards are different, but the value accrued in both cases to the individual and country is immense.

d) Creating sporting excellence among the polytechnics, ITEs and universities. Have a league for the various sports. All of these institutions would benefit from having mascots that go a long way to building the school identity and pride. I was from RI and we have the Gryphon although we never did use it as a mascot. It has served the school well (I think) and we must encourage all schools to have mascots.

Look at UT Austin, home of the Longhorns, Joseph’s school. Look at their website today.

Screenshot from 2016-08-14 22-11-05

Sport has pride of place today. That’s outstanding. If you are a UT Austin alum, if you are called upon to donate to the school, would you hesitate? No. I went to Oregon State, and yes, I’m a proud Beaver. The US schools have a tradition of inspiring students via sport even if you are not sport oriented or interested. Sport unites people in amazing ways. Remember the Kallang Roar? It united a people. We stood together. We don’t have that now.

Our schools don’t have any of that as well. Start with schools having mascots, start with a sporting league. Webcast the games (it is 2016, get with it already).

Let’s open up and ideate to make sure that Joseph Schooling is not the last one. He succeeded because of his exiting the Singapore system to make it happen. He still honours Singapore. I am sure he will come back after graduation and I hope his achievement will call into question that absurd assumptions we have in place today on how to build a sporting nation.