As the silly season starts


By noon on September 1st, we will know who are running for the 89 seats in the parliament.

As voters we are all keen to know who the candidates are. The irony is that the majority voters don’t really know who their current member of parliament is to begin with. I know who mine is, but I have not met nor spoken to him ever. That being the reality, how would you go about making a considered and fair assessment of how you should be casting your vote.

Let me offer up a short checklist to help with the thinking:

  1. Is your’s, your family’s and of Singapore’s future important to you?
  2. If you said YES to 1, do you think the candidate(s) in your ballot paper will be able to deliver the future you want?
  3. If you said NO to 1, it does not matter who you vote for.  So VOTE, PLEASE DON’T SPOIL THE VOTE EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SPOIL IT.
  4. If you said YES to 2, have you understood who the candidate(s) is(are) and where they stand on issues that is of concern to you? Have you done sufficient research to be able to be honest to yourself to come to a decision?
  5. If you said NO to 2, are you prepared to find out why you think they cannot deliver the future you want?
  6. If you said NO to 5, it does not matter who you vote for. So VOTE, PLEASE DON’T SPOIL THE VOTE EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SPOIL IT.
  7. If you said YES to 5, do spend time reading, talking to family, friends, colleagues or just about any other Singaporean voter. Do make sure that you get to hear from all sides not just one side.

See, it is quite easy to navigate the silly season.

Do be aware that what is called “Mainstream Media” (MSM), which especially in the Singapore context, has very low credibility in terms of being fair, balanced and critical. These MSM include the newspapers, TV and radio owned and operated by Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp. These entities are government-linked companies and have never been known to challenge or be critical of government policies. Investigative and critical reporting is NOT what they can ever do (or to be fair, allowed to do).

Having said all of that, do take about 10 minutes to listen to this TEDx talk that discusses how entities, like governments and political parties, would do all that they can to astroturf opinion and understanding of issues. Don’t be lulled by catchphrases, innuendoes, carrots, meat etc.

And, yes, this post could perhaps be also playing that game.

Majulah Singapura!

#ge2015

He probably is indeed telling the truth! (info graphic updated on Aug 29)


It would appear that ESM Goh Chok Tong is indeed telling the truth that “checks and balances are a seductive lie”.

He says in that article that: “the check comes from the “integrity of the leadership in PAP.”

Let’s dissect the notion of checks and balances. I will draw reference to how the PAP-run town councils built-sold-then-leased-back the town council management system. This system was withdrawn from use by the Worker’s Party following their 2011 general election take over of the Aljunied GRC.The fact that a key piece of infrastructure needed to run the town council had to be replaced with something new, I would assert, contributed to the issues that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol-East Town Council faced.

The town council management software was paid for from public funds, not party funds. The public funds also included funds from contributions made to the town councils that were under the PAP then. So, just because there was a “change” in the MPs running the GRC/town council, to then deny them a key infrastructure goes against all commonsense and fairness.

And to make things even worse, the “Coordinating Chairman” of the PAP town councils made statements that were totally wrong. In my post in 2013, I addressed his comments and you can read it there.

Coming back to what ESM Goh said a couple of days ago about checks and balance being a seductive lie, he probably is telling the truth. The PAP, it would appear, has been lying all along and seduced us all.

Let me share this info graphic which was sent to me. I am not sure of the origin of it or what licence is it made available (assuming CC). It seems to be from a facebook page of Temasek Review.

11954780_880117968708186_8038350811398547849_n

From Temasek Review’s Facebook page. Assuming CC license.

Update: August 29, 2015. The infographic above is incorrect and I have updated it to reflect that there indeed was a tender to sell the system.

updated infographic to reflect that there was a tender called.

updated infographic to reflect that there was a tender called.

The need for a independent Electoral Commission


I am reading the Candidate Handbook for Parliamentary Election 2015 for the first time. I don’t have any of the earlier versions so I cannot tell what the changes are (yes, no edit history/change log; here’s a local copy: Candidate Handbook for Parliamentary Election 2015_1 in case the ELD.gov.sg site goes down).

According to Section 4.1 of the handbook:

Candidates should conduct election campaigning in a responsible and dignified manner that befits the seriousness of the election process. Candidates should steer away from negative campaigning practices based on hate and denigration of opposing candidates, and should not make false statements that allege corruption or commission of criminal offences, or statements that may cause racial or religious tensions or affect social cohesion. Egregious acts of negative campaigning could also be in breach of the law.

As noted by Viswa Sadasivan in his IQ post, this paragraph has many issues. Who would be the adjudicators of this? How does one raise an infraction?

We could crowd source to tally up of the various transgressions on an hourly/daily basis on a wiki or Google doc. This will help, if nothing else for posterity, but more so for transparency, regardless what is done with “the list”.

Further reading of the Candidate Handbook gives more nuggets:

On page 30 (Section 4.5.4):

iv. no form of public entertainment (such as singing, dancing or showing a film) shall be provided, and no live-streaming of any event (including the election meeting itself) shall be shown before, during and after the election meeting;

I wonder what the “live streaming”  is referred to here? I have to assume that it means that live streaming done by the candidate/party themselves is a no go. I cannot see how I, as a person in the audience at the rally, choosing to use Google Hangouts or Periscope to stream the rally is a no go. I have the right to do so.

These additional conditions are intriguing (page 30/31):

Other conditions that will be imposed are:

a. only persons named in the application for the permit and who are approved as speakers can speak at the election meeting;

b. members of the Central Executive Committee or an equivalent governing body of a political party as well as candidate(s) from the same political party who are nominated in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections Act (Cap 218) for election as a Member of Parliament for an electoral division shall only be permitted to speak at election meetings held by their own political party. They may not speak at election meetings held by an Independent Candidate or another political party even if they are concurrently members (of any type) of that other political party. The reference to a political party includes political alliances registered as a political party. An Independent candidate can only speak at election meetings for which a permit has been issued to him/her or his/her election agent. He/She will not be allowed to speak at election meetings held by political parties or other Independent candidates contesting in the elections. However, where a member of the Central Executive Committee member or an equivalent governing body of a political party has been nominated in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections Act for election as a Member of Parliament for an electoral division as a candidate for another political party or as part of a group of Independent candidates, he may be permitted to speak at all election meetings held by that other political party or at the election meeting held by that group of Independent candidates as the case may be;

emphasis added

Why would you DISALLOW a party or independent candidate from speaking at each other’s rally? While it would be strange for “opposing” candidates to speak at each other’s rally, stating it the way it is done smacks of being excessive and is curtailing one’s freedom to speak.  Granted that no one would want to or accept an invitation to speak at a PAP rally, but denying it explicitly, seems rather draconian.

Why did I name this post “the need for an independent electoral commission”? The fact that these “guidelines” did not have any public consultation – it might have been there but I cannot find any references to such. Because the Elections Department reports to the Prime Minister, I doubt that they have any form of independence or opportunity to do things better that could be negative for the PAP but good for Singapore.

More drama to unfold I am sure.

Five days to nomination.

And the games have begun


Oh, the classic off-by-one error. All of us who were expecting the polling day to be September 12, started counting from the day after the nomination day. Missed out the fact that nomination day itself is counted. Classic CS 101 error.

Now that the games have begun, it is not surprising to see the Elections Department (that reports to the Prime Minister who is also the secretary general of the current majority-in-parliament party) putting out new rules.

This is exactly what, many other Singaporeans and myself have advocated for: that the elections department should be stand alone, independent entity. The text from the PDF (linked above) is included here:

Advisory on Participation in Political Activities and Election Campaigning by Civic, Business and Professional Bodies

Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, any person who conducts activities to promote or procure the election of a candidate, must be individually authorised in writing by the candidate or his election agent on and from Nomination Day.

Individuals who are not citizens of Singapore are prohibited from taking part in any election activity and cannot be so authorised.

2 In addition, any civic, business or professional body that wishes to participate in any political activity or allow its funds and/or premises to be used for political purposes needs to ensure that its constitution allows it to do so, and ensure that this does not contravene any laws that the body is subject to.

3 Such political activities include endorsing certain candidates and publishing advertisements or issuing press statements to express its support for a candidate. If such advertisements or statements amount to election advertising, the relevant rules under the Parliamentary Elections Act and its regulations have to be complied with.

4 While such bodies should have their own processes to consult their members and consider the merits of supporting a candidate, it remains each individual’s right as a voter, regardless of his membership of any organisation, to freely decide whom to support and how to cast his vote.

ISSUED BY
ELECTIONS DEPARTMENT
PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE
26 August 2015

I think this document is pretty standard and has nothing new. What would be useful is if this document’s conditions are meant to be observed from August 26th onwards and not retroactive. This is being asked because the PAP did use a VWO facilities for a very clear political purpose – that of introducing their candidates.

I am not hopeful that the Elections Department would state if their new rules were violated.

Fair play and transparency is even more critical in this hustings. The world is watching.

rainbow-2 (2)

What I want for the future of Singapore starting today.


rainbow-2 (2)

CC-BY version 4 – View from my house looking north. Rainbow (primary and secondary) originating in Bt Timah and ending somewhere at Clementi

Fifty years of being an independent country and having seen how we have evolved over the years with my fellow Singaporeans is just amazing. Yes, the political hand did play a significant part in the direction we took, but if we are to continue to thrive and get even better, we need to relook and reassess many things.

As the next general elections is looming (some say September 12 2015), here are my list of things I want to have a conversation around as well as action taken. These are in no particular order, except that these were listed over several weeks. I have diliberately left them unorganized/unsorted.

1. Withdrawal of the Internal Security Act. Failing which, a mandatory judicial review within 48 hours of anyone arrested. And they have to be presented in court within 30 days or be released.

2. Formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission: At fifty years of independence, we should be looking at reviewing al the dark days and getting a closure to all of them – no exception. Yes, it will hurt people along the process, but we need to clean and clear the deck.

3. No walk overs. All seats will be contested. Even if there is only one candidate, that candidate must get at least 25% votes in favour or else the seat is vacant. Democracy has to be seen to happen and not be something that is manipulated via technicalities. This applies to the silly GRC system as well.

4. Full disclosure of all the assets of GIC and Temasek. No excuses.

5 Set up of an Independent Electoral Commission

6. Removing the pre-requisites for being a President – anyone born in Singapore and above the age of 40 can run for president.

7. Live and archived broadcast of all parliamentary proceedings – warts, sleepy heads, yawns and all.

8. Freedom of Information Act

9. Removal of GRCs

10. Release of all government records after 30 years.

11. MPs will focus only on municipal work and bringing up issues in parliament. This means that other than the Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister (as elected MPs), every minister shall be nominated and qualified people who were NOT ELECTED into parliament. Such nominations will be done AFTER the elections and these nominees will be confirmed by parliamentary committees convened for this purpose. The term of a minister so chosen will be for the duration of the government. This is to give separation of executive from municipal issues.

12. No pensions for MPs

13. All government systems will be built using open source software and where they don’t exist, to fund technology to meet it. The code will be available for anyone to use.

14. Review Instruction Manual to bring it up to date.

15. Removal of 2nd language as a requirement. Languages such as Tamil, Malay and Mandarin shall be taught at levels that should encourage their usage but not to the extent that is being done today. Students can optionally decide to take on a full 2nd language load if they want to. PSLE to be reviewed to level the playing field to ensure that social mobility is achievable and elitism to be contained.

16. Removal of licensing of newspapers etc. No government oversight.

17. Fixed dates for elections. No longer at the whim and fancy of the government of the day.

18. Mayors to be abolished. No practical value. If Mayors have to be kept in place, they must be elected positions not held by MPs.

19. All town council software systems will be publicly funded and built using open source and available to anyone – not party specific.

20. People’s Association restructured to have NO political links. The MP of an area is the advisor to the local grassroots organizations and the People’s Association works with the elected MP at all times.

21. Review of all HDB designs to that the apartments are of a decent size and not shoebox sizes

22. Proper labelling of GMO foods

23. Giving the consumer advocacy more authority – from a legal perspective.

24. Review of ALL government scholarships with a view to reduce the “bond” period to no more than 3 years after graduation. This is to free up people for the private sector.

25. Proportional representation in parliament. This is the best way

26. No Trans Pacific Partnership without national referendum

27. Outlawing of software patents.

28. Residential use of down link satellite systems.

29. Singaporean astronauts by 2020.

30. Smart power generation via Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors. This is critical is we are to achieve our Smart Nation vision which is power hungry.

31. During elections, the “party political broadcasts” will all be of the same duration of ten minutes per party contesting and ten minutes for each independent. Similarly for presidential elections – each candidate gets the same amount of time.

32. Exit polls encouraged – the best part of these polls is that, in most cases, these polls are completely wrong but by specifically not allowing for it, there is no empirical evidence.

33. Removal of death penalty

34. Removal of 3/4 tank rule

35. Allow dual/multiple citizenships

36. ASEAN Day, August 8th, to be officially observed – starting from 2017, the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN.

37. Introduce a National Thanksgiving Day starting in 2015.

38. SAF Day to be renamed National Service Day and to encourage donning of uniform by all NSmen (SAF, Police, SCDF) during that day.

39. Removal of election deposit (all elections).

40. All Singapore Standards documents (coming out of SPRING Singapore) should be make available in electronic format at no cost.

41. Reinstate sale of chewing gum – educate on how to dispose them and we will be just fine.

42. Remove REITs to mitigate the excessive rental rates. Or create a rent control scheme to manage the runaway rents.

43. Hawker center rentals to be controlled by NEA and have to always be affordable.

44. Introduce Pay-As-You-Bid for COE bidding. The base line for each category will continue to be what it is today and that is the number that will be used for all subsequent considerations regardless of what the PAYB paid.

45. Singaporeans living outside Singapore will be exempt from Medishield Life.

46. Automatic forgiveness of National Service defaulters after they reach age of 50.

47. Removal of censorship of Internet sites and films. Rating of films to continue.

48. Removal of no alcohol law (introduced after the Little India incident)

49. Review the ORBAT of the SAF and Police to reduce the number of BGs and ACs. There are too many of them.

50. All tax payer funded research (and code developed) must be made available on a GPL-like license for anyone to use at no cost.

To keep things in context


Just so that we don’t get distracted with all the SG50 festivities and forget key historical details, here’s some of the festive commemorations we’ve seen in Singapore.

In four years, 2019, Singapore would be 200 years old from the day, in 1819, when Sir Stamford Raffles representing the British East India Company signed a treaty with Temenggong Abdul Rahman and the Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor to hand over Singapore to the EIC to become a trading post. That marked the start of Singapore being a British colony. Not sure if the monies promised to the two as per the treaty are still being paid.

Even if the 200th anniversary is not observed because of commemoration-fatique coupled with the lack of an impending election (as it was in 1969) there was some small observation of the 150th anniversary as noted in this from the National Archives:

I don’t recall any big rah-rah then (I was in Primary 4), considering that Singapore was 4 years into its independence, probably not much. I was personally more enthralled with the NASA Moon Landing than anything else.

It was not quite subdued  when you fast forward to 1984. There was a General Election coming and the government, I mean, the ruling party rolled out the “25 Years of Nation Building” celebrations in earnest. This commemoration was complete with month-long (may have been many months) National Exhibition at the then World Trade Centre exhibition halls in Telok Blangah. I remember going there to see the exhibition and being quite annoyed with the PAP-ism in the exhibition. The 25 years was about 25 years since 1959 when the PAP came into government, not about Independence. It had a clear political objective and despite sweeting the electorate, two opposition members won seats against the PAP – the late J. B. Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong.

That 1984 opposition victory royally pissed off the then Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who did his best to get rid of JBJ (by suing him for many things, and in the process bankrupting him and then gerrymandering the Anson constituency into Tanjong Pagar).

So, after that “25 Years of Nation Building”,

25 Years of Nation Building

25 Years of Nation Building

we have SG50 just in time for the next General Elections. The same tricks cannot be played now as we have far more information out there and no one in their right mind trusts the local MSM (The Singapore Press Holdings, or MediaCorp). People who DO watch or listen or read output from those two entities have always discounted the validity, integrity and credibility. They have not gone down to the absurdity of the US Fox News channel (at least not yet), but the slant these two have to being essentially pro-PAP is plain to see.

So as we wind down SG50 and gear up for General Elections 2015, remember, Singapore@200 is just FOUR years away and there are no general elections to fight then.

A special moment in time


It is sad that Achan (dad in Malayalam) is not around to watch and take part in the festivities around Singapore’s 50th National Day. I *know* instinctively how excited he would have been. He was a fan of pomp and pageantry although he, to the best of my knowledge, did not take part in any National Day parades.

Achan came to Singapore towards the close of the Pacific War (Second World War). He was with the British Indian Army and was stationed in Burma before being relocated to Singapore. When the war was over, he was discharged from the Army and choose to stay on in Singapore. That’s the start of our family in Singapore.

For some reason, Achan never really talked about his time during the war excepts for snippets here and there. He was not in the frontline dodging bullets, but because of his eyesight not being too good and he having learned shorthand and type-writing, was deployed as an admin clerk with whoever was the commander.

He shared with me once about how he was able to keep records of instructions and dispatches to the front line because those had to be typed and needed copies to be made at the same time. Those were done using carbon paper sandwiched between blank papers. When he had to type out orders – critical ones I assume – he’d use fresh carbon paper so that he could keep it and not reuse it. He therefore had a copy of what was sent out – in the carbon paper! I did ask him whatever happened to them and if he had it with him. “No”, was the answer. Never did press him though.

passport-cover-edited

Front cover of Achan’s passport. Issued by the British for citizens of the Colony of Singapore.achan-passport-2Inside of Achan’s passport

Achan married Amma in 1957 and a few years later, I was born. I was born a few months after Singapore was granted self rule in May 1959. Achan was, from a citizenship perspective, a “British Subject, Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies”.My birth certificate states that Achan was a “Citizen of United Kingdom and Colonies” and going by convention of the child’s citizenship following the father, I too was a citizen of the UK and Colonies.

Just before my fourth birthday, Singapore joined Malaysia as a state, after from all accounts a one-sided referendum. That union made the Pillays Malaysian citizens.

The main thing I remember while we were Malaysians was that Indonesia wasn’t happy with the Federation of Malaysia which included Peninsular Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and British North Borneo (Sabah). The Indonesians launched attacks on Singapore and Malaysia (called Konfrontasi).

I remember one evening, Achan came back home early. We were living in Puay Hee Avenue (somewhere near the corner of Puay Hee Avenue and Siang Kuang Avenue in Senette Estate) –

Screenshot from 2015-08-10 14-52-58

Google Street View

This is from Google Maps and those houses there today were not the ones then. It was a single storey detached house with a driveway and a garden etc.

On the day he came home early, he brought my sister and myself on my tricycle to go look at a crater in the road near our house which was done by a bomb planted by the Indonesian army. The following quote makes reference to that:

On 9 December 1963, a bomb went off under a car along Jalan Wangi, Sennett Estate, killing two shopkeepers.

Another memory was him coming home early and saying that he had to walk all the way home from his office in High Street because there was no public transport which all were shut down because of riots.

I remember asking him a few days later if he knew when the next riots would be so that he could come home earlier to play with me!

One other memory I have from that period was going with Achan and Amma (and I think my baby sister came along with us as well) to check out a new house. Achan had in his possession a bunch of keys to apartments in Queenstown and he was told to go check them out and choose one. Imagine that.

I recall us arriving at Commonwealth Drive and then trying to locate the various units. The blocks along Commonwealth Crescent did not have block numbers (yet) and there was no easy way to figure out the addresses. I remember having to walk from block to block looking for the units for which Achan had the keys. We finally settled on 260D, Commonwealth Crescent. And sometime in 1964, we moved out of Puay Hee Avenue to our new HDB 3-room apartment in Commonwealth Crescent, Queenstown.

After being part of Malaysia leading to the Indonesian military confrontation and bitter dispute between the Singaporean state and Malaysian federal governments, Singapore and Malaysia mutually agreed to separate (yes, not kicked out) on August 9th 1965.

And overnight we Pillays became Citizens of Singapore. I changed citizenship three times before I was six years old.

I don’t recall the day when we left Malaysia. The only memory I have is someone saying, sometime later, that we now have to get a passport to go to Johore Bahru (as it was spelled then). How bizarre. Passport – not that I knew what that was!

Finally, I was a Singapore citizen. Not by choice, but by happy circumstance.

There was a time back when I was in primary six (1971), when the registration for the Identity Card was being undertaken in school. I recall Achan not being too keen for me to get my IC, because that meant that I’d have to do National Service which was introduced in 1967. For someone who served during wartime, I guess he was apprehensive with anything to do with the military. Probably explains why he was never much to discuss his time during the war.

So, fast forward many years, to 2015 and here we are the day after Singapore’s 50th National Day enjoying the hardwork of generations of Singaporeans to make newsfeed-big-logothis place home. Achan left us in 2007 and I am sure if he was here, he would have relished every moment, just as we continue to do.

It is a special moment in time. As my younger son was remarking yesterday as we made our way down to the Marina Bay to watch the fireworks, “this is the ideal time to wreak havoc in Singapore. All the people gathering around. The crowds. All you need is some crackpot to blow something up.” And it did not happen. We don’t have a locked-down state. We have a free country (granted we can have more freedoms).

As we look forward to the next 50 years to SG100 (when the boys would be 67 and 65 respectively!!), what kind of a country would it be? Can I help make it what it should be by working with the next generation NOW to make it happen? I shall leave that as subject of another post.

Majulah Singapura!