NASA Space Apps Challenge 2018 – Singapore

It was wonderful that Red Hat’s Open Innovation Labs is a sponsor of this year’s NASA Space Apps Challenge event that is being held in Singapore. It was held at LEVEL3‘s offices at the Mapletree Business Park in Pasir Panjang.

At the briefing session held on Tuesday, 16th October 2018, there was a good turnout of more than 120 interested participants.

The briefing session featured four speakers, Bidushi Bhattacharya, Michelle Gillmour, Sandra Arps and Chirdeep Chhabra.


L-R: Sandra Arps, Michelle Gillmour, Bidushi Bhattacharya (via remote)


The Ocean Protocol by Chirdeep Chhabra.

This year’s Space Apps Challenge had a bunch of categories that were formulated by NASA which also included access to the vast amounts of data the NASA has accumulated about Earth and the cosmos.

The actual hackathon was held over the weekend (as any good hackathon would) of 20/21 October 2018  at the same location and, as is expected, the turn out of participants will always be lesser than those who showed up during the briefing.

Anyway, it is all about participation and I am glad that those who did eventually show up did a good job. The pitch hour was on Sunday at about 3pm and here’s the list of 19 who pitched.

In the end, the judging had to be done to come up with the overall winner and it was a tough process of choosing from a good set of pitches and teams.

The eventual winner was team Inferno (left) who gets S$1k and some Ocean Prototol tokens and the 2nd prize went to c10ud (right).

Congratulations all on this exciting hackathon.

I am glad that we were able to mentor the participants around Lean Canvas that the OIL uses as part of our consulting and mentoring work.

Next year, I would want to take part in this myself with a team for at least this can be my long unfulfilled dream of doing something about Space since watching on a black & white TV, Neil Armstrong jump off the ladder from the Apollo 11 Lunar Module and stand and walk on the moon in 1969. I still want to go to the moon!


A healthcare IT foundation built on gooey clay

Today, there was a report from the Solicitor General of Singapore about the data breach of the SingHealth systems that happened in July.

These systems have been in place for many years. They are almost exclusively running Microsoft Windows along with a mix of other proprietary software including Citrix and Allscript.  The article referred to above failed to highlight that the compromised “end-user workstation” was a Windows machine. That is the very crucial information that always gets left out in all of these reports of breaches.

I have had the privilege of being part of an IT advisory committee for a local hospital since about 2004 (that committee has disbanded a couple of years ago, btw).

Every year, budgetary proposals for updates, new versions etc., of the software that the advisory committee gets for consideration and possible approval. Almost always, I would be the exception in the committee in questioning the continued use of expensive proprietary software for these healthcare systems (a contributory factor to increasing health care costs). But because I am the lone contrarian voice, inevitably, the vote will be made to approve and hence continue, IMHO, the wasteful path of spending enormous amounts of monies in these proprietary systems.

I did try, many times, to propose using open source solutions like, for example, virtualization from KVM. This is already built in into the Linux kernel that you can get full commercial support from Red Hat (disclosure: I work for Red Hat). You pay a subscription and we make sure that the systems are running securely (via SELinux for a start) and that enterprise can focus on their core business. But no, they continued with VMware.

I did propose open source solutions like OpenEMR and many other very viable solutions for the National Electronic Medical Records system – but none of them were accepted. (It has been brought to my attention that there are plans to mandate private sector healthcare providers to use the NEHR. There is considerable opposition to it both from the hassle (from their point of view) and added costs since the solution is proprietary and expensive).

There were some glimpses of hope in the early years of being on the committee, but it was quickly snuffed out because the “powers that be” did not think open source solutions would be “good enough”. And open source solutions are still not accepted as part of the healthcare IT architecture.

Why would that be the case?

Part of the reason is because decision makers (then and now) only have experience in dealing with proprietary vendor solutions. Some of it might be the only ones available and the open source world has not created equivalent or better offerings. But where there are possibly good enough or even superior open source offerings, they would never be considered – “Rather go with the devil I know, than the devil I don’t know. After all, this is only a job. When I leave, it is someone else’s problem.” (Yeah, I am paraphrasing many conversations and not only from the healthcare sector).

I recall a project that I was involved with – before being a Red Hatter – to create a solution to create a “computer on wheels” solution to help with blood collection. As part of that solution, there was a need to check the particulars of the patient who the nurse was taking samples from. That patient info was stored on some admission system that did not provide a means for remote, API-based query. The vendor of that system wanted tens of thousands of dollars to just allow the query to happen. Daylight robbery. I worked around it – did screen scrapping to extract the relevant information.

Healthcare IT providers look at healthcare systems as a cashcow and want to milk it to the fullest extent possible (the end consumer bears the cost in the end).

Add that to the dearth of technical IT skills supporting the healthcare providers, you quickly fall into that vendor lock-in scenario where the healthcare systems are at the total mercy of the proprietary vendors.

Singapore is not unique at all. This is a global problem.

Singapore, however, has the potential to break out of this dismal state if only there is both technical, management and political leadership in the healthcare system. The type of leadership that would want to actively pursue by all means possible to make healthcare IT as low cost and yet supportable, reliable and more importantly, be able to create a domestic ecosystem to support (not via Government-linked companies).

I did propose many times to create skunkworks projects and/or run hackathons to create solutions using open source tools to seed the next generation of local solutions providers. As I write this, it has not happened.

To compound the lack of thought leadership, the push in the 2000s to “outsource IT” meant that what remaining technically skilled people there were, got shortchanged as the work went to these contract providers (some of these skilled people were transferred to these outsourcee firms but left shortly after, because it was just BS).

This also meant that over time, the various entities who outsourced IT were just relationship managers with the outsourcee companies.It is not in the interest of the outsourcee companies to propose solutions that could lower the cost overall as it could affect the outsourcee’s revenue model. So, you have a catch-22: no in-house IT/architecture skills and no interest at all on the part of the outsourcees to propose a lower cost and perhaps better solutions.

I would be happy, if asked, to put together a set of solutions that will steadily address all of the healthcare IT requirements/solutions. I want this to then trigger the creation of a local ecosystem of companies that can drive these solutions not only for Singapore’s own consumption as well as to export it globally.

We have the smarts to do this. The technical community of open source developers are, I am very confident, able to rise to the challenge. We need political thought leadership to make this so.

Give me the new hospital in Woodlands to make the solutions work. I want to be able to do as much of it using commercially supported open source products (see this for a discussion of open source projects vs open source products), and build a whole suite of supportable open source solutions that are open to the whole world to innovate upon. It would be wonderful to see (no it does not exist yet).

There are plenty of ancient, leaky, and crufty systems in the current healthcare IT systems locally. We need to make a clean break from it for the future.

The Smart Nation begs for it. 

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said the following at GeekCamp SG 2015 (video):

I believe in a #SmartNation with an open source society and immense opportunities; where everyone can share, participate and co-create solutions to enrich and improve quality of life for ourselves and our fellow Singaporeans.

And for completeness, the actual post is here (it is a public page; i.e., no account needed):

I am ready.  Please join me.

What I’ve learned in 15 years at Red Hat

[image credit:

In September 2003, I was asked by Gus Robertson to consider joining Red Hat – essentially to kickstart the Red Hat office in Singapore/ASEAN. I was at that time running my own open source consultancy – Maringo Tree Technologies.

I did try to get Red Hat to acquire MTT, but that did not go far. Red Hat had just done a JV in India and was not looking to do another even as an acquisition so soon. In any case that JV was subsequently bought out fully by Red Hat in 2005.

I started at Red Hat as the Chief Technology Architect. I would not say that Red Hat was my dream company to be at, but most everything I did before was all about Free and Open Source Software.

Time Before Red Hat (yes, there was)

I had no direct interest in the notions of software licensing (see this post about the Singapore Ohio Scientific Owers’ Group from 1982 – yes, predates establishment of the venerable Free Software Foundation). Even my 1989 MSEE thesis (link to PDF) was about creating software but I never did consider the licensing of it because lots of it was given to me or copied from USENET newsgroups.

I, together with Greg Hosler, Mathias Koeber, Ng Hak Beng,  and a bunch of others, set up the Singapore Linux Users’ Group in 1993. That was about when Red Hat itself was setup. I was fortunate enough to have been in situations where I could help drive the conversation and technology forward. I helped by distributing diskettes of Soft Landing Systems, Yggdrasil, Slackware etc either via the LUGS or directly. I was more concerned with getting the code out there and people benefitting from it. LUGS even created our own distribution in 2000 called EasyLinux.

I wrote up some how-tos – IP Masquerade, IP Alias, DialD, and lots of other stuff – I can’t recall what else – but suffice to say, these efforts were unexpectedly “rewarded” by shares being offered when Red Hat was planning on an Initial Public Offering.

I recall receiving an email from Red Hat and eTrade in 1999 (unfortunately, I can’t locate that email) in which it said that I was being given some shares (I don’t recall how many) to acknowledge the contributions made to the community. The only reference to the thinking at Red Hat about this is in an article in the Linux Magazine of November 15, 1999.

July 1999: The Community

It was clear that Red Hat wanted all the open source developers who had made its success possible to participate in its public offering. Red Hat would be nowhere without the hackers, and the company knew it.

Red Hat Director of Technical Projects Donnie Barnes spent three weeks scouring the Internet, digging up all the contributor lists to all the open source projects he could find. Red Hat then had to craft a letter to this list of developers. The SEC has a complex set of rules about what companies can and cannot say when they offer shares to the public. If a company doesn’t stay well within the rules, the SEC can –
and regularly does — withhold permission to proceed with an IPO.

“I’m sure they have very important and well-researched reasons for implementing each and every one of these rules,” Young said. “But to the companies who have to negotiate these rules on their way to a public offering, they appear designed solely for the purpose of ensuring the mental collapse of anyone who attempts to navigate through them.”

For example, the SEC-imposed quiet period “was one of the more bizarre notions to a salesman like me,” Young said. “How can you sell shares in your company if you are not allowed to promote your company for three months before your IPO or for a further month after your IPO? This letter to developers could describe the offer, but not mention any reason why anyone should want to accept the offer. That would be
promoting the shares in the quiet period — a big no-no according to the rules.” Red Hat ended up with a letter which, while legally acceptable, was “sufficiently badly worded to end up alienating a significant percentage of the developers we mailed it to,” Young said.

The SEC has a set of rules governing who is eligible to purchase shares in an IPO. First, you must be a U.S.-based taxpayer to buy IPO shares that are listed on an American exchange. This eliminated about half of the developers on the list from participating in the offer, according to Red Hat.

The SEC also has a set of rules designed to protect the public from scam artists who use public stock offers to con inexperienced investors out of their money.

“In effect the SEC deems IPO offers to be extremely high-risk investments, and therefore buyers of shares in IPOs must prove that they are experienced investors who can afford to lose the money they are being asked to invest,” Young said.

Unfortunately a significant percentage — about 15 percent — of the developers to whom Red Hat offered shares were either students or otherwise inexperienced investors by the SEC’s standards.

“And of course this offer was not being made by the SEC — it was being made by Red Hat and E*TRADE. So when members of the development community that we had extended the offer to found themselves declared ineligible, they initially naturally blamed Red Hat and E*TRADE,” Young said.

The final result was that well over one-fifth of the developers on the list were interested, eligible, and able to participate in the Red Hat IPO.

(extracted from

I accepted the shares from Red Hat and I guess I was part of the 1/5th.

For the record, I think I did sell the shares later (along with the shares that I later received from VA Linux when they IPOed). It was a very nice gesture on both Red Hat’s and VA Linux’s part and I am thankful.

When Red Hat offered me a position in 2003, I was very aware that this is a business that is trying to do the Right Thing.  While I was trying to figure out the value of such a move, I was provided with the relevant employment documents to sign. In one of them, a particular paragraph stood out for me.

In the Red Hat Code of Business Conduct and Ethics (a PDF from, this paragraph was pivotal:

Participation in an open source community project, whether maintained by the Company or by another commercial or non-commercial entity or organization, does not constitute a conflict of interest even where you may make a determination in the interest of the project that is adverse to the Company’s interests.
(from the bottom of page 2 of the PDF)

I did not, then, have to think twice. I signed.

With that stoke of the pen, my tenure at Red Hat started officially on 8th September 2003. I still had Maringo Tree Technologies and I had to find a way to exit it and eventually I did.

Fifteen years is a significant amount of one’s lifespan to be spent with a single entity (assuming a 30-40 year work career). Red Hat is the 7th organization I am with: CSA Group (1st job, employee, Singapore), Microsoft (intern, employee, USA), Sembawang Media (management Singapore), Brokat (technical management Singapore/Germany), Inquisitive Mind (co-founder/management/technical Singapore) and Maringo Tree Tech (founder/management Singapore),

Each stint provided experience and exposure to different aspects of the business/technology world. Perhaps the most challenging was to be your own boss at Maringo Tree Tech. While the time spent at MTT was relatively short, I am proud of what I was able to achieve. I suppose the work at MTT  was the lead-in into Red Hat for I had approached Red Hat as my own business even though, technically, I was an employee.

The thought process that says that the place you are employed is your own business, instead “it is just a job”, is a very powerful and empowering mental state. I want to make open source wildly successful and I was using Maringo Tree Tech as the vehicle to make that happen. When Red Hat came knocking on the door, it made immense sense to me that I should hitch on the Red Hat branding to drive my conviction forward.

I, had, at the back of my mind (and perhaps still valid today), that should I ever decide to part with Red Hat, I will still be doing the exact same thing but under a different label. That would be just fine.

What does 15 years at Red Hat mean for me? First, it is testimony that it is a growing organization and will continue to define how technology should be created, curated and consumed. That, the pursuit of fiscal goals has to be in congruence and cadence with ensuring the health and wealth of the commons. The commons comprise people from around the world who, once empowered by technology, are able to display and benefit from their talents and skills that can only but move the needle forward positively.

My early years at Red Hat were spent making sure the ONE product we had, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (2.1 and 3) were being made available to customers. I was tech support, sales, order entry, delivery person, spokesperson, evangelist, keynote speaker, community pointman and the go-to-for-everything-open-source-and-Red-Hat in South East Asia person.

It was not until late 2004 that Red Hat decided to re-draw the sales organization for Asia Pacific in creating an APAC HQ in Singapore for sales and marketing, Red Hat Brisbane to be the APAC engineering HQ, and to create six regions within APAC (ASEAN, ANZ, India, Korea, Japan, China). This change meant that we will have new Red Hatters focused on the selling of products and services but who might not have cut their teeth in free/open source software but were from the dark side, aka, proprietary software vendors. This is a necessary “evil”, but something that can be managed with the right amount of training and exposure. That was what happened when Red Hat University was setup in 2006 and I was asked to head that up for APAC, or more specifically the Sales College (which was the only college under RHU in APAC then).

I think, my time with the Sales College and especially in running the week-long Sales Boot Camp, was a very important personal challenge. Through the Sales Boot Camp, I helped transform a whole lot of open source migrants to become champions of open source. Not all of them got to their open source a-ha moment, but those who did, were sold on it. They could not do anything else as the fact that we are not shortchanging our customers by promises and handwaving but with solid and independently verifiable technology was not something to be walking away from.

In the meantime, our product portfolio started to grow. JBoss came on board in 2006, Qumranet in 2008, Makara and Gluster in 2010, CEPH in 2014, Ansible in 2015 and CoreOS in 2018 just to name some major acquisitions.

My sales quota in 2003 was US$100k and Red Hat’s revenue then was about US$126.1 million. Today, 2018, revenue is at US$2.9 billion. That’s a whopping 23x growth in revenue in 15 years. In the 60 quarters I’ve now been with Red Hat, every quarter has been better than the previous.

While the business grows with a plethora of products and service, where in the scheme of things does Red Hat understand how the open source community of projects are faring? These projects become open source products that our customers consume (via a subscription). The incredibly fine balance of open source projects and open source products is something that I’ve speak about because there is still an insufficient appreciation of what an open source project is when it become a product that a corporate entity has to be held accountable for.

Wtih the fine balance of project vs product, it is just as important to be able to gain insights into the open source projects that feed into the products. This was what lead me to start an internal project “Prospector” project in 2012. In 2017, Prospector became part of the CHAOSS Project of the Linux Foundation. Much work continues to be needed and I am working on many fronts to make that happen.

Which in a meandering way, brings me to today, 8th September 2018.

What would the next 15 years bring? What I know for sure is that it will be based on a widely distributed and decentralised world built on free/open source software and open hardware.

This will be a world that will bring the remaining unconnected 3+ billion members of the human family into the digital world, The tech flavours of today (AI, Machine Learning, Distributed Ledgers), having been built on free/open source software, will blaze the trail into new applications to better the human condition and the planet’s health.

The future is so open and bright, I need shades!

Why is 10 million people the target for Singapore?


This is a number that keeps coming up every now and then. Sometime in January 2013, a white paper released by the then government (which happens to be the same now) about pegging the population on this 720 sq km island to about 6.9 million people – and that number is to be arrived at by about 2030.

Lots of debates have been held, and the PAP-dominated parliament endorsed the paper with 77 yes, 13 nos and 1 abstention – for some reason, the Hansard does not show Inderjit Singh’s absence and hence his non-vote. Inderjit was highly critical of the paper and since the whip was not lifted, he “did not attend the vote”.  Personally, the fact that I am not a member of any of the parties in Singapore is because of this archaic notion of a party whip.

Anyway, this post is not about that white paper, but about the 10 million we keep hearing.

I was privileged to have had the opportunity to work for a really wonderful person, Ong Wee Hock, who at that time was the General Manager of CSA Holdings (now part of CSC)  and I was his Chief Technology Consultant (in fact, I was the only techie in CSA Holdings). This was the period of 1993-1995. Wee Hock and I would spend most mornings from about 10 am till almost noon talking about technology, society and the economy. All of the discussions were both a conversation as well as a debate. There were things that I did not quite agree with him and he readily welcomed the contrary view and accepted it when it was clear to him that the argument was better. One of it had to do with the how the Internet will take off and completely sideline TV (the traditional broadcast TV). I told him that I much rather have audio (via radio broadcasts in this case) for it allows me to continue to do things that I needed but have an ear out for the audio. This was a conversation specifically around broadcasts that involve the Parliament. The Singapore budget was due to be announced by the Finance Minister and since it was broadcast on TV and radio live, he wanted to be able to catch it in the office. It was a challenge to set up a TV point in his room but a radio was trivial. When I got both of it going for him in his room, he conceded that since the budget speech would be just a speech, the radio would be more than sufficient and with his usual smile said, “Harish, you are right. There are times when just audio is sufficient.”

The reason I am mentioning Wee Hock here is about some topics we spoke about in the morning meetings. One specific item keeps coming back to me – that “EDB in the 1980s was working on a plan that at Year X, Singapore would have 10 million people”. Wee Hock was a scholar (Colombo Plan I believe) and was EDB Chief in Europe in the 1980s. He was also an author of an EDB plan around some manpower projections or something that he and his co-author appreared on local TV explaining in the 1976 or 1977. I recall that because that topic came up in GP class – although I am not sure what my class concluded.

He was explaining to me that EDB’s planning considered what was the ideal number of people in a population that will ensure sustainability in many areas – arts, culture, science, engineering, business, finance etc. It turns out that 10 million is that magic number. I challenged him asking how would we fit that many into Singapore. Mind you this was when were were about 3.5-4 million (1995 or so). His argument was that we could build “floating islands” off of the East Coast that could house townships that are linked to mainland via a combination of bridges and tunnels. The engineering for these islands would be from what was being done for the Japanese Kansai airport.  We could also harness wave power to generate electricity and even contemplate some form of nuclear power generators. [He was not aware of the, IMHO, a safer and simpler way to generate nuclear power via molten salt reactors.]

He felt that the 10 million was a doable number but it needed some critical development both in terms of technology for land reclamation, housing technologies, agro tech innovations, transport and energy generation. He was of the opinion that the underlying enabler of all of this is advances in computing technology.

To his credit, he did also say that, ultimately, it is upto the political leadership to sell the idea in a manner that the population could accept. As an economic planner, he knew what were the key buttons that needed to be pressed to make things happen. The biggest button was public trust.

So, let’s fast forward to 2018. Today, Sunday 19th August, as I write this up, I am reminded by a tweet that there is a National Day Rally event happening

The National Day Rally was something I looked forward to. It reminded me of my principal, Philip Liau, when he spoke at the school assembly on Wednesdays, His topics were varied and interesting. Everyone paid attention. It was like that for the National Day Rally. Sadly, this current PM does not have that import unlike LKY. GCT who had some of it and Loong who has none. If this was being delivered by Tharman, I would have eagerly watched.

Long story short: this 10 million issue will come up I am sure. Will it be part of today’s National Day Rally? Probably not. Would the million dollar ministerial salary on going train wreck by GCT be addressed? Probably not. [It is telling that as far as I know, no PAP minister has made a single comment about GCT’s statement. The silence is very loud.] We are about 2 years from the next General Election. The one party in power model has to be broken. It will not be sustainable.

Don’t bother watching the live broadcast of the National Day Rally. Go out to the parks. Enjoy the evening. Spend time with family. Read this The remarks of the PM will be summarized, regurgitated, digested, put on visuals etc – it has already been done I am sure. Just wait for that.

Majulah Singapura.

The value of independence

As we approach the 53rd National Day on 9th of August 2018, Singaporeans have all reasons to be happy and cheerful. The economy is doing well (enough), we all have a roof over our heads, we have food on the table, sunshine and fresh air.

Yet, something does not seem well in Camelot. In relative terms to other Camelots, we are doing very well. We could be doing even better.

A week ago on Friday 20th July, it was reported that at least 1.5 million medical records of people (I am told that it could be more and that the computer that the infiltration point was used by a non-Singaporean staff – hey, conspiracy stories can be fun sometimes) held by SingHealth was exfiltrated by some alleged state actors. My mom’s data was in the breached cache.

I’ve commented about this issue a few days ago and one of the things not addressed in the post, was the follow up steps, specifically about the convening of a Committee of Inquiry.

On Tuesday, 24 July, it was announced (mci-coi-singhealth in case the link is broken) that there will be a four person COI that will be looking into this breach.

That’s good.

The four man COI comprises former chief district judge and current member of the Public Service Commission Judge Richard Magnus who will chair it, executive chairman of security solutions firm Quann World, Mr Lee Fook Sun, group chief operating officer of Sheares Healthcare (a healthcare technology outfit) Mr Ram T. K. Udairam and, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, Ms Cham Hui Fong. Here’s their respective CVs – as posted on (COI Pressrelease_Annex A if it is not available).

The Terms of Reference  (in case it is not available COI Pressrelease_Annex B):

Screenshot from 2018-07-28 15-15-24

is to the point, fairly comprehensive and does give the COI about five months to complete the job.

All of this looks fine.

Let’s look at the members of the COI.

  1. Judge Magnus, given his extensive legal background, is very well suited for the role as the Chairman of the Committee.
  2. Mr Lee is  the executive chairman of Quann Security. Quann was known as e-Cop and was renamed in 2016. Quann is a Temasek Holdings owned entity (Quann is owned by Certis Cisco, which is in turn owned by Temasek).
  3. Mr Udairam is the COO of Sheares Healthcare Management. Apparently the domain is and although it lists some services that are provided, the site is very static and offers no additional information. Sheares Healthcare is a Temasek owned entity.
  4. Ms Cham, is with the NTUC and has been with them for over 25 years. She was also a former NMP.

What should a COI comprise of? This is a COI that is going to look at what happened, how it happened, what mitigating factors, how it can be prevented and then make recommendations to a highly technical problem – I’d like to think it is so.

Points 2, 3, 4 and 5 would require a good understanding, i.e., technical chops, to be able to come to grips to have a good outcome.

Assuming good intent, I think the members of the committee, save for the Chairman, fall very short on the technical credentials (all based on their CVs).

Is it really critical to have that technical skill? Yes. To do well in points 2 – 5, you must have tech creds. Was it impossible for the Ministry of Communication and Information to find someone with technical credentials to be on this committee? The Singapore Computer Society’s Information Security Chapter has plenty of people who can fill that role.

So, given the list of four persons, no one, other than Mr Lee can claim any expertise in anything related to Internet security. I am giving the benefit of doubt to Mr Lee because his involvement with Quann. He could readily seek advise from his organization if needed.

I am sure the COI can, and will, co-opt people to help them. The COI will ultimately be responsible for the report they have to present by year’s end.

I guess I now have to address what I have delayed till now – so thanks for reading thus far.


There is an Elephant in the Room.

All members (other than the Chairman) are linked 100% with Temasek, which for all their protestations, is a sovereign wealth fund of Singapore and owned by the Minister of Finance. Granted that the NTUC is not under the wide Temasek banyan tree, but close enough around the periphery.

So, how is it that we have a situation where the COI is checking on an issue related to the government or quasi government entity with the COI manned by G-related people? Is this the proverbial “ownself check ownself“?

Again, I am assuming positive intent. I still find that things are not quite right in my Camelot.

SingHealth, PDPA, Smart Nation, sigh!

Looks like I am clear from the data breach at SingHealth. My Mom’s data, however, is not. This is the SMS received:


Yes, I’ve redacted her name, and yes, I use Signal as my SMS application as well as for secure communication.

While it is nice that SingHealth sent out the SMS, notice the URL. Why would the words “cyber-attack” be in it? What were they thinking when they picked that one up as a means to inform? Would the people receiving it feel better or feel terrified? Would they NOT have been further alarmed, regardless of the subsequent words in the SMS text? The “” is redirected to

So, here are some common sense ways to send information:

a) In the text, say the following:

“$NAME, your name, IC, address, gender, race & birth of date were accessed but not altered. Mobile no. medical & financial info NOT accessed. No action needed. We apologise for anxiety caused. For queries, email Please also check:”

Notice that I’ve added clarity to the 2nd second sentence because I have no idea what “unaffected” means. Communications and simple language is what we need here.

b) Have a sample of what the SMS would look like at the SingHealth website so as to mitigate scam SMSes which I am told were sent around.

c) In that SingHealth page, it failed to link to the appropriate information from the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore and SingCert to help corroborate the information. Citation needed – just follow the simple Wikipedia rule of citing sources.

d) None of the social media sites should be used as the primary and authoritative source of information. Certainly, one can and should use all channels, but never leave out one’s primary site. I have seen this in many organizations who have abdicated their independence and rely on social media sites as the primary source for information and news about their outfits. Use the Internet well please. Decentralized is the Right Thing to do.

Personal Data Protection Act

Well, guess what? Singapore government and agencies are exempt from PDPA exposure. So, the 1.5 million people whose data got exfiltrated have no recourse and SingHealth (and their service provders) won’t be penalized under PDPA.

Update: 24 July 2018: From my post of this blog to LinkedIn, I am told that SingHealth is not a public agency exempt from PDPA.

It is quite disappointing to see how even the SingHealth site highlights “The attackers specifically and repeatedly targeted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s personal particulars and information on his outpatient dispensed medicines.”.

If I were to take the SingHealth site as having good intentions, they should have emphasized as follows:

“The attackers specifically and repeatedly targeted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s personal particulars and information on his outpatient dispensed medicines.  But, regardless, every person whose data was exfiltrated is a target, it might not be immediately evident to us.” or something like that. My Mom’s data is just as important as Hsien Loong’s.

Smart Nation

Kudos to Hsien Loong in saying that the Smart Nation project will continue (and if that link is behind a paywall) regardless of this incident, but we must be smart(er) in how we go about doing this project.

I spoke in 2015 at the GovWare event (slides) and it was about going beyond a secure smart nation. As of today, Sunday 22nd July 2018, we have no means to secure this country as it continues (even after a pause) in it’s efforts to become “smart”. Our lynch-pin is our power source. Slide 19 and 22 onwards discuss the energy dependence of these smart nation projects. And yet, we do not have any (yet) viable renewable energy source. Cyber security is very much tied into energy security which is the SPOF.

For our Smart Nation initiatives to be successful in the long term, three factors need to be in place:

  1. Secure by default
  2. Open standards based
  3. Open Source Reference Implementation.

As long as we have systems that run operating systems that are known to be broken and risky (see the 1st word in the 2nd line)

1st word, 2nd line is all you need to know (from Sunday Times 22 Jul 2018)

I particularly like how the media keeps harping that this is a sophisticated attack and that this could only have been done by some state actor. I do find it rather weak.

Let’s look what I think there are multiple angles in this case:

  • The “Lee Hsien Loong” data interest is just that. Since he has a level of prominance, if someone is trying to get to data and sees his information, naturally, they’ll be thinking “hmm, did I get into a mother lode? let’s see what else I can find”. To me, that bit is a red herring.
  • I have to assume that the data sitting in the database was encrypted. I will have to give the benefit of the doubt. If I don’t, then there are even bigger questions.
  • Why are they still running insecure Windows systems? That in itself is a big clue as to why there is a problem and an on-going problem.
  • It appears that SingHealth was aware of a problem on 4th July. I have to assume that they activated their security people and raised the issue with CSA promptly. (Again, I am assuming good intent). It took 16 days for this to be made public on 20 July. Maybe they needed to verify, verify, verify, and I am prepared to give them some slack on it.
  • Are the exfiltrated data useful? Of course it is useful. Names, ages, NRIC numbers, addresses perhaps, and any other information is valuable to someone. I do not accept some statements by the authorities that “these are not commercially important”. Is data valuable only if it is commercially useful?

Screenshot from 2018-07-22 11-45-47—singhealth-cyberattack-what-you-need-to-know


So, there you have it. Day 2 since the revelation. And we are not out of the woods yet.

[Update based on feedback on twitter]

so, if you can’t log in via SingPass and you don’t have a Singapore mobile number, I guess you are out of luck.

About that data breach at SingHealth

PSA Notice

Please go to and click on the log in button to check if your data was exposed by the breach at SingHealth. The login needs your SingPass account and verification.

I was very sure that my data would have been breached but turns out that it was not.

Screenshot from 2018-07-21 10-28-19.png

Yes, I’ve removed the information next to ID:, duh!

And, they are online now

Over a week ago, I was pinged by @l00g33k on twitter with a picture of a description of a piece of code I wrote in 1982.

That lead to a meet up and reliving a time where the only high technology thing I had was a 6502-based single board computer complete with 2K of RAM. It was a wonderful meet up and @l00g33k  was kind enough to handover to me a bag with 10 copies of the newsletter that was published by the Singapore Ohio Scientific Users Group. That was the very first computer user group I joined.

Suffice to say, I did help contribute to the newsletter by way of code to be run on the Superboard ][ – all in Basic.

I’ve scanned the 10 newsletters and it is now online.

I am really pleased to read in the Vol 1 #3 (page 36) a program to generate a calendar. The code is all in Basic. Feed it a year and out comes the calendar for the whole year.

Another piece of code is in Vol 1 #5 page 36 a program to print out the world map. That code was subsequently improved upon and published by another OSUG member to include actual times of cities – something that could only be done with the addiion of a real time clock circuitry on the Superboard ][.

A third program was in Vol 1 #6 page 26 that implemented a morse code transmitter.

I was very happy then (as I am now) that the code is out there even though none of us whose code was published in the newsletters had any notion of copyright. Code was there to be freely copied and worked on. Yes, a radical idea which in 1984 got codified by Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation (

You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep**

Lots of what we take for granted found expression in the thoughts and writings of John Perry Barlow. He crafted “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” back in 1996. It held lots of truths that I found critical for all of us, regardless of where we find ourselves.

John passed away on 7 February 2018. I was privileged to have met him in Singapore on 28th March 1995 (update: thanks to Marv for the date) and what an honour it was. Singapore was in the midst of her “IT 2000 Master Plan” crafted by the National Computer Board (the earliest I can find of is from 13 October 1997).

He had spoken at an event at the NCB and we then proceed to have lunch a chinese restaurant at Clementi Woods park. Among the many things we chatted about was about the future and what it means to be connected. Mind you, those were days when we had dial up modems, perhaps 56k baud, but what a thrill it was to hear about his visions.

I was fortunate to have been able to keep in contact with him in the early 2010s via twitter and email and I was very glad that he did remember that trip and that he found some of the things Singapore was doing then to be intriguing but challenging for the future and that digital rights would be something that we need to be fighting for because if the people don’t own it, governments and big corporations will occupy that space.

He was the founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation and on 7th April 2018, the EFF held a “John Perry Barlow Symposium” hosted by the Internet Archive. Do watch the recording to how critical John was to lots of what we take for granted today.

Read his writings at the EFF which is hosting the John Perry Barlow Library.

Thank you John.

* John’s photo by Mohamed Nanabhay from Qatar,  CC BY 2.0,


Seeking a board seat at

I’ve stepped up to be considered for a seat on the Board of the Open Source Initiative.

Why would I want to do this? Simple: most of my technology-based career has been made possible because of the existence of FOSS technologies. It goes all the back to graduate school (Oregon State University, 1988) where I was able to work on a technology called TCP/IP which I was able to build for the OS/2 operating system as part of my MSEE thesis. The existence of newsgroups such as comp.os.unix, comp.os.tcpip and many others on usenet gave me a chance to be able to learn, craft and make happen networking code that was globally useable. If I did not have access to the code that was available on the newsgroups I would have been hardpressed to complete my thesis work. The licensing of the code then was uncertain and arbitrary and, thinking back, not much evidence that one could actually repurpose the code for anything one wants to.

My subsequent involvement in many things back in Singapore – the formation of the Linux Users’ Group (Singapore) in 1993 and many others since then, was only doable because source code was available for anyone do as they pleased and to contribute back to.

Suffice to say, when Open Source Initiative was set up twenty years ago in 1998, it was a formed a watershed event as it meant that then Free Software movement now had a accompanying, marketing-grade branding. This branding has helped spread the value and benefits of Free/Libre/Open Source Software for one and all.

Twenty years of OSI has helped spread the virtue of what it means to license code in an manner that enables the recipient, participants and developers in a win-win-win manner. This idea of openly licensing software was the inspiration in the formation of the Creative Commons movement which serves to provide Free Software-like rights, obligations and responsibilities to non-software creations.

I feel that we are now at a very critical time to make sure that there is increased awareness of open source and we need to build and partner with people and groups within Asia and Africa around licensing issues of FOSS. The collective us need to ensure that the up and coming societies and economies stand to gain from the benefits of collaborative creation/adoption/use of FOSS technologies for the betterment of all.

As an individual living in Singapore (and Asia by extension) and being in the technology industry and given that extensive engagement I have with various entities:

I feel that contributing to OSI would be the next logical step for me. I want to push for a wider adoption and use of critical technology for all to benefit from regardless of their economic standing. We have much more compelling things to consider: open algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine learning etc. These are going to be crucial for societies around the world and open source has to be the foundation that helps build them from an ethical, open and non-discriminatory angle.

With that, I seek your vote for this important role.  Voting ends 16th March 2018.

I’ll be happy to take questions and considerations via twitter or here.

My submission to the proposed changes to the Films Act

[The submission deadline is 5pm Singapore time Saturday December 30, 2017. Image above from ]

I have sent the following to the IMDA as per their requests for comments for the proposed changes to the Films Act.


Public Consultation on Proposed Amendments to the Films Act (FA)


Hi. I would like to thank IMDA for inviting comments to the proposed amendments to the Films Act and for extending the deadline to the submissions.

I refer to the following section extracted from section F of Part 1 and included here for completeness – except for the footnotes [0]:

“(F) Enhancements to IMDA’s Investigation and Enforcement Powers

2.30 Today, the Films Act provides IMDA and Police with powers
to enter premises without warrant to search for and seize
unlawful films. However, for other breaches of the Films
Act, such as the distribution or public exhibition of
unclassified films, such powers are vested with the Police
who assist IMDA with enforcement and investigations. Going
forward, the enforcement and investigation for breaches
under the Films Act will be taken on by IMDA, and the Police
will only be called on when necessary. Accordingly, the
Films Act will need to be amended to empower IMDA with the
necessary enforcement and investigation powers to take on
this role.

Proposed Amendments

2.31 MCI/IMDA propose to enhance IMDA’s investigation and
enforcement powers to:

(a) Request any documents and information from any person
to investigate a suspected breach of the Films Act or
licence conditions;
(b) Enter and inspect, without warrant, any premises and
examine any film or advertisement for a film found on
the premises;
(c) Dispose of films, equipment or materials that have
been seized during enforcement and is unclaimed,
forfeited or has to be disposed without returning to
the owner; and
(d) Provide for the composition of offences.”

In general, the various other proposals look useful and are, I think, reasonable.

What concerns me, however, is the change as noted in paragraph 2.30 above.

As it is, there is no need for a warrant to enter a premise as was already in the law [1] (Section 23A(1)(a)(i). I note that it is only in 23A(6) that warrants are sought when 23A(1)(a)(i) fails.)

How the Film Act [2] was written (and passed) that way is something that I’d like to know. I think that it does infringe of one’s rights and I feel is counter to the idea of due process and fair play.

So, given that, I am concerned with the proposed removal of the involvement of Police officers as noted in paragraph 2.30 above.

The consultation document does not provide detailed justifications or reasons for the proposed amendments. It would be very helpful if there were historical information as to what IMDA encountered (or was hindered as a result of) in undertaking the responsibilities as it is defined in the law that now warrants the need to remove Police officers in the list of authorized officers.

I am concerned that the impartial oversight that the Police offers is being diminished by this proposed change. It might very well be that there were indeed no Police officers involved in previous efforts to enforce the Film Act, but that is not evident in this
proposal and seems strange to write them out of it without additional information.

Thank you.

Harish Pillay


It takes time to apologise. I get it. But …

It has taken full NINE days for the CEO of the SMRT to come out and take ownership of the flooding incident of the North South Line that happened on October 7th.

In addition to the leadership of the SMRT, we have the transport minister also apologise for the inconvenience caused and blames people down the line – the Bishan maintenance team was at fault.  In that article, it also says that “that the bonuses of the team at fault would be affected”. How about all of those from those individuals and above right up to the CEO also have a similar bonus freeze (by percentage not quantum)?

Anyone who has done NS would know that if someone in your platoon messes up, everyone is punished. This forces everyone to encourage and nudge all to do well. And since the CEO was a former general, he should be au fait with that shared misery model. Why not do so here?

The CEO says that it is bad culture of the organisation to blame. I can appreciate that. I hope this happened because of the downplaying of engineering as the core competency of the business by the previous management.

So, it would appear that it was complacency and failure to follow procedures that is at fault.

Yes, there has to be thorough investigations and probably that is the reason for the 9 day delay for the leadership to be heard (I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt).


Why was it so difficult for the management to come out and speak shortly after the incident? And update it over the following days?

Let me raise something that would be good to have an answer to (I can’t verify it):Why are there statements being made that the individual who was “disciplined” had actually retired late last year/early this year. I really hope this is not true and is pure speculation, but would be good for the SMRT to put it to rest.


Transparency is good. Really.

I got a call from Christopher Tan, the Senior Transport Correspondent of a local MSM earlier this afternoon. Kudos to him in tracking me down (not that it was difficult).

He was doing a follow up to his original report of the flooding of the MRT lines.  It was a good chat and we covered some areas of common interest on this topic.

He sort of agreed with my considerations in my previous post about the dangers of water in the tunnel. It is not a small matter when tunnels are flooded. It is not the same as a power being lost and the passengers having to de-train and walk out of the tunnels. With water in the tunnels, and if the water reaches anywhere near the bottom of the train, that would mean that there is probably a meter of water in the tunnel already. De-training and trying to get out is not something that can be done trivially. Even if you can get out, it is very likely that the entire tunnel is dark and having to find one’s way out will be a treacherous challenge.

We need the SMRT/LTA to come up with some mechanisms to manage this scenario. Be bold and willing to listen to the users of the systems and anyone with ideas on how to solve this. Do the trains need to have floats (like what planes have)? Do trains need to have beaconing systems that get activated when there is water (again, like the lifevests in planes)? Lots of easy solutions. Solutions you don’t want to use, but know that it is there when you need it.

During the chat with Christopher, he mentioned that there are “heads rolling” from the SMRT. And lo and behold, there is indeed at least one.  The individual who is being “replaced” was resposible for maintenance.  He apparently (according to the MSM report) was a witness to the 2011 MRT breakdown inquiry.

So, someone got “disciplined”. I have to assume that there was a transparent (to the extent that SMRT is transparent) process to have done this. I can only speculate. I would expect that this is not a last-man-holding-the-hot-potato situation.

If there is one thing that stands out in this SMRT episode is that I have yet to hear from the CEO himself (nor even the transport minister – not that there has to be a statement from a political office holder though). The silence from the top is quite deafening.

Perhaps I should also bring up another issue that I have posted about back in January 2012 – about the inability to close the blast doors of the tunnels at Newton MRT station. The underground MRT stations are designed to be bomb shelters, for those who don’t know. To be fair, I have no idea if it has been fixed. I wish to be updated on it.

So, imagine if we needed to use the bomb shelters and blast doors on the tracks cannot be closed and there is water in the tunnels. What would we be doing? I hope we get that bit fixed now.

For all of our sakes. For Singapore.

Image above is from HomeTeam News.

Is this a failure of leadership?

Saturday, October 7, saw heavy rainfall and as expected, rain water got into everything. That’s what water does. We know that. And we design for it.

We engineers have figured out how to manage this. We have pump systems, sump pumps and lots of other means to drain out water that flows into places that should not have water in them in the first place, especially those underground carparks, subway lines, basement floors of buildings and so on.

Visit the National Environmental Agency‘s website and you will see the Heavy Rain Warning page – pretty nify animation of the clouds. Unfortunately, it does not provide any historical data, so I can’t really figure out how much rains fell on Saturday.

So, it came as a surprise that the North South Line experienced flooding in the tunnels. (Note: some people refer to MRT lines by their colour and the North South Line to some people is the Red Line. However, I have never actually heard announcements in the train stations about “blah, blah, blah along the <colour> Line”.)

Water in tunnels are not a good thing and it is very dangerous. If you are stuck in a tunnel, you will not be able to move because the trains will have no power (it might have some battery backup), which means that the trains are stationary and the passengers will have to sit tight – most likely in the darkness – and wait for help to arrive.  It is also likely that the airconditioning in the carriages will stop at some point.

What if the water in the tunnel kept on rising? At some point, the trains will let in water and you can only imagine the terror and panic that will set in.

I wonder if this advertisement by was foretelling something:

Screenshot from 2017-10-08 23-46-29.png

While I can appreciate that the subway system, especially both the North South and East West lines are the oldest we have (over 30 years old now), there has been, over the years, a lack of investment in maintenance, especially during the time when the CEO was someone from the retail industry. The CEO of the SMRT is seen to be a oh-anyone-can-run-this type of a post, including military generals (it might be unfair to say this, but the general sentiment of Singaporeans is that these organizations (SMRT, LTA, PUB, ST companies etc) are seen as “retirement” opportunities for SAF scholars/generals).

During the time of the retail CEO’s tenure, the SMRT focused on building up retail spaces in and around the train stations. SMRT was, after all, a publicly traded company and needed to show revenue. This focus on revenue generation via real estate business ventures, lead to the slow and steady decimation of the engineering ranks. These were the engineers who were there at the start of the SMRT and knew the system well. Speculation has it that they were not promoted, were sidelined, and seen as cost centres (please correct me if this speculation is indeed speculation).

The core business of the train operator is to operate the trains. To ensure that the systems work, people are ferried to and fro as designed and also to keep the service levels high which includes a cadence of safety, maintenance, repair, replacement and renewal.

While it cannot be said that the SMRT failed on all counts, if we are to look at each one in turn, the scores would vary significantly. The trains have been maintained well. I have never been in a train that was dirty, without airconditioning, broken lights, damaged seats etc. The train stations are also well maintained befitting a good system.

What, we as customers of the service don’t see is how the supporting system is being maintained. This came to a head in 2011 with significant breakdowns which eventually lead to the resignation/dismissal (pick one) of the retail CEO. SMRT has not recovered properly yet. it has been six years now and the latest fumble is flooding of the tunnels.

Here’s an iconic picture of the SMRT train with water in the tunnel along with a team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force setting up pumps and hoses to drain the tunnel:

(photos from

The fact that the SCDF had to be mobilised to help, speaks to the severity of the situation. This scenario was something the SMRT team could not handle on their own (or even with contractors). Perhaps the SMRT scenario planning did include this contingency (giving them the benefit of the doubt).

I am proud that the SCDF successfully did what they could.

There will be lots of things that need to be done to make sure this does not repeat:

  1. Why did the pumps fail? Friends who are railway engineers/designers tell me that the subway system has multiple levels of back up systems for most everything – signalling, brakes, lights, etc. As of 1030 pm Sunday 8th October, I am told that even the backup pumps failed which then resulted in the flooding. When backup systems fail, that tells me that the maintenance rigour has been compromised. Could shortcuts have been taken?
  2. Looking at the photo above with the train and the water, there are many bigger issues that need to be looked at:
    1. Rusting of rails and supporting infrastructure
    2. Damage to train undercarriage
    3. Structural considerations of the tunnel given that water in large quantities have ingressed it
    4. Electrical power and all of signalling and communications systems.
  3. What is the rescue plan in the event that the floods in the tunnel is rising and there are people still in the carriages?
  4. We are building a “Smart Nation”. Put an “a” in the SMRT to make it SMaRT.

In February this year, a question was posed about the SMRT’s preparedness for flooding and it was carried by one of the local MSM publications. The question was about flash floods in the underground stations, and the answer offered was that the entrances to the underground stations are raised so rain water cannot flow in. It is a pity that the bigger question about water in the tunnels was not posed and hence not explored. I am sure that there will be, over the next few days and weeks, lots of ink spent on exactly that.

The issue of subways being flooded is not new. Here’s an article from‘s site about the flooding of New York’s subways following the 2012 Hurricane Sandy flooding and also of Taipei’s and London’s subways. There are no easy ways to prevent flooding ever happening especially if the water coming in completely overwhelms the systems designed to mitigate them. It should not be because the systems failed when called upon to work. Could it be that this SMRT failure episode was a combination of power failure of the pumps and poor maintenance?

I do hope that whatever the outcome, the person down the pecking order is not the one to be the scapegoat.

I am reminded of this speech by a former president of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam about handling failure (do watch the video). He was the Project and Mission Director of the Satellite Launch Vehicle in 1979 and he was fully responsible for the launch of the spacecraft. His decision to go for launch even after the computer systems flagged for a no launch, and the subsequent failure of the spacecraft upon launch was his failure. But in spite of this burden, the Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation took the failure onto the Chairman’s shoulder and the Chairman was answerable for the multi million dollar loss. He gave air cover to Dr Kalam so that the engineers and builders of the ISRO can get back to the task at hand and try again. When they re-did the launch successfully a year later, the Chairman asked Dr Kalam to go and take the limelight. Failure was handled by the Chairman, success was given to the Director to assume. That’s leadership.

Is there an equivalent quality of leadership at the SMRT? For the sake of Singapore, I sincerely hope so.

The ongoing spinning

As the presidential elections nomination day nears, the rhetoric and spinning by the PAP ministers and the compliant media, is going up notch by notch.

The constitution provides for the presidential election day to be held within certain parameters. Section 17A 2(b) says the following:

Election of President


—(1)  The President is to be elected by the citizens of Singapore in accordance with any law made by the Legislature.

(2)  Any poll for the election of President must be held as follows:

(a) in the case where the office of President becomes vacant prior to the expiration of the term of office of the incumbent and a writ for the election has not been issued before such vacation of office or, if so issued, has already been countermanded — within 6 months after the date the office of President becomes vacant; or
(b) in any other case — not more than 3 months before the date of expiration of the term of office of the incumbent.

This was brought up by Prof Kevin Tan that not holding the elections within the last quarter of the sitting president’s term would be running foul of the constitution.

Kevin, who has questioned, rightfully,  the legitimacy of the racial requirement, was rebuffed about the actual date of the elections being held after the end of the term of the sitting president.

The pooh-pooh was by one “minister” as reported in a MSM today, 9th September 2017:


This “minister”‘s reasoning is incredibly shallow and very self serving on many points.

He is disingenuous to say that by electing a successor before the end of term, the incumbent is a lame duck. How naive does this minister think Singaporeans are? If it was going to be “pre-maturely turfing out”, why is it in the constitution? Is this “minister” a constitutional expert?

The president is in no position to do anything to begin with. He is advised by the Council of Presidential Advisors who in turn are accountable to the Parliament. If there is anyone in a straight jacket by virtue of the office, the office of the president is one such place.

I would be much happier if these PAP minions came out and told the truth about the whole sham of a racially defined presidential election (or as the PM spins as a “hiatus-triggered model“). They just did not want Dr Tan Cheng Bock to stand for election because he would have done what President Ong Teng Cheong raised but was prevented and the successors did not attempt, to get down to the truth of the reserves and all things associated with it.

It is getting even more stupid with former PM, Goh Chok Tong, saying that:

… this year is “quite unpopular with a large proportion of the population because it goes against the principle of meritocracy”.

So, if it is indeed unpopular and it is going against the principle of meritocracy, why do it?

He reasons in the same speech:

“We have succeeded because we started very early from day one. Everybody is equal and yet you know their differences. We try and make them equal in result when we can – on a fair and just principle basis,” Mr Goh said in response to a question about how Singapore has been able to manage race relations.

How about we say that the PM post should go to a non-Chinese Singaporean? Why is that not being said?

We all know that DPM Tharman is genuinely liked by everyone – including those of us who won’t vote PAP. Why isn’t Chok Tong and the rest of the PAP cabinet expressing the need for a non-Chinese Singaporean as the next PM?

Once you open up the pandora’s box on race based politics, it is hard to close it.

If anything, this presidential election will be the turning point to a Singaporean Singapore. I feel it in my gut.

Let’s call the bluff on this election.


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.

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
> 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.


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 ( 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 or better yet, via the Parliament website –

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:


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.


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:



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?


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.


The link at the bottom of the screenshot above, brings me to – 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.

Congratulations NUS Engineers Class of 2016!

My speech at the Commencement of NUS Faculty of Engineering on July 12, 2016 at 3:00 pm.

Mr Neo Kian Hong, Member, NUS Board of Trustees, Distinguished Guests, Friends and Families of Graduands, Graduating Class of 2016, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good afternoon.

To the class of 2016, both my wife and I would like to extend our heartiest congratulations to all of you.

There are, here today, 515 graduates of which 106 getting joint bachelor’s, 3 with multi-disciplinary, 244 bachelor’s in computer and electrical engineering, 115 masters, and 47 PhDs degrees.

In a word, wow. What a fantastic collection of talent, potential and promise. A brain trust that would rival any other. The 2016 World University Ranking by Times Higher Education for Engineering and Technology, ranks NUS lucky 13th globally. Your alma mater is shining and you can rightly be proud of it! Surely that deserves a hearty round of applause!

I feel at home in the company of people who value the pursuit of knowledge with the vision to make this a better world. Engineers are dreamers, doers, builders, risk takers. Engineers are weird like that. That’s in our DNA. Our ethos.

As a child, I was enthralled with the idea of being able to walk on the moon. I wanted to become an astronaut. It has not happened, yet, but that goal has helped open up for me a vast vista of possibilities and opportunities. In its own way, that interest led me down the path of becoming a ham radio operator, 9v1hp is my call sign if you want to QSO, pursuing electrical and electronics engineering, and then computer engineering and computer science.

It was done during the time when technology, largely driven by the NASA space program’s need for high performance computing and semiconductor devices, was showing the way to bring to life, some of the ideas of what was essentially in science fiction.

It was a time when, much of the things we take for granted today, were mere ideas in Isaac Asimov‘s visions of tomorrow.

There is a wonderful interview of Asimov done by Bill Moyers in which they discuss education.

Let me quote you the following:

Bill Moyers asks:

Do you think we can educate ourselves, that any one of us, at any time, can be educated in any subject that strikes our fancy?

Isaac Asimov replies:

“The key words here are “that strikes our fancy.” There are some things that simply don’t strike my fancy, and I doubt that I can force myself to be educated in them. On the other hand, when there’s a subject I’m ferociously interested in, then it is easy for me to learn about it. I take it in gladly and cheerfully – what’s exciting is the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there’s now a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it’s time to die, there would be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. There’s only this one universe and only this one lifetime to try to grasp it. And while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, at least you can do that much. What a tragedy just to pass through and get nothing out of it.”

Asimov later goes on to say:

“That’s another trouble with education as we now have it. People think of education as something that they can finish. And what’s more, when they finish, it’s a rite of passage. You’re finished with school. You’re no more a child, and therefore anything that reminds you of school — reading books, having ideas, asking questions — that’s kid’s stuff. Now that you’re an adult, you don’t do that sort of thing anymore.”

Education is never “finished”. It is also not marked by getting pieces of paper, or getting a grade, or even this today’s commencement.

You may have heard of adage “sharpening your saw”. A rusty or dull saw cannot cut you a tree. Sharpening the saw is key to keeping your knowledge fresh, alive and useful. Stop sharpening, you disintegrate.

It is fitting that today’s event is called a “commencement”. You are indeed commencing your next phase of life. It is the culmination of lots of sweat equity you expended to reach a goal, and then to go on to build new things. It is a cycle, not a treadmill. It is a deliberate and positive cycle of life.

There is a word for that. Entropy. And I find entropy a fascinating idea.

You may be wondering why would I want to bring in the “second law of thermodynamics” in the address.

A tl;dr definition of the 2nd law of thermodynamics says that the total entropy of an isolated system always increases over time, or remains constant in ideal cases where the system is in a steady state or undergoing a reversible process. The increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of natural processes, and the asymmetry between future and past.

What was that all about, you wonder? What has entropy got to do with today’s proceedings? I hope Carnot, Clausius, Kelvin, Planck and Shannon would grant me this non-scientific postulation of their collective work.

Most of you have spent 4 years in this 111-year old institution, those getting their PhDs, a few more.

From the time you entered this school, entropy in you has been increasing. As knowledge, experience, wisdom and insights flowed from your dedicated faculty and your classmates to you – entropy increased. I say it increased because I am approximating the university as a closed system – as needed by the 2nd law.

When you take formal leave of this school’s lecture theatres, halls and labs, you will start the process of transferring the entropy – knowledge, experience etc – on to the big world outside these walls.

As you stand at the peak of this phase of your life’s adventure, the “you” sitting here is a very different “you” that entered this school. In giving of yourself to the future endeavours that you get into, you will be putting truth into the statement “that the entropy of the universe will always increase”.

By the end of this evening, all of you would hold in your hands a scroll that records your accomplishment. Savour and cherish that moment but only for a moment. It is an indication and acknowledgement that your next stage of possibilities and responsibilities has now been laid in front of you.

I am frequently reminded of a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president of the United States.

He said:

He who received an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his candle at mine, receives light without darkening mine. Then there is twice as much light.

Ideas are one of those fundamental qualities that make us all human. In other words, Ideas Maketh Homo Sapiens. It remains to be seen if Artificial Intelligence can generate ideas like we do.

Each of us generate hundreds of ideas every day without breaking a sweat. Most of them are not acted upon, but do serve as building blocks for something else, all done subconsciously. The “ah, ha!” moment is an example of that subconscious confluence of ideas.

If you must judge me, judge me by how good my good ideas are and not by how bad my bad ideas were.

I know you are all brimming with ideas of what to do next. I hope you will not be distracted by, what I consider, a falsehood that ideas need to be guarded, locked up and not shared with others.

I come from the world of open collaboration where software source code, the classic example of the embodiment of ideas, is freely shared and improved upon. The business I am part of, Red Hat, built its US$2b revenue business on 100% open source code, all achieved with open collaboration on ideas and code.

My empirical experience has been that when ideas (and code) are shared, they get sharpened and the outcome is both unpredictable and beautiful. And just last week, the source code of Apollo 11 spacecraft was released and it is amazing to read the code and understand the constraints they had to work with in 1969.

Please don’t hold back on sharing your ideas.

I shall practise what I’ve preached and here’s an idea that I hope some of you will consider picking up:

Electric cars are fun, but the challenge is one of re-charging it. Re-charging is being done today by retrofitting and building new charging infrastructure. And that takes time. So here’s my idea for a start-up which I shall call PowerBuddy:

a) PowerBuddy operates a mobile, battery-powered fleet of “charging vehicles”

b) these charging vehicles are strategically placed all over Singapore

c) As a subscriber to PowerBuddy, your car will be tracked with your permission, so that PowerBuddy will know what the charge level is at all times and, based on pre-arranged settings, provide a quick (or full) recharge wherever the car is parked at.

d) You can then go anywhere and not be worried about running out of juice and more importantly, not have to wait for the current infrastructure to catch up.

I hope some of you here will pick this up, ideate further and execute PowerBuddy. I would be happy to collaborate with you on this. We are engineers, we build solutions to address problems.

Engineering is a profession that loves precision but accepts and is extremely aware of real world approximations.

Any worthy engineer will solve problems in many cases by making assumptions, to a first approximation, and then to iteratively refine the solution until it is good enough. There is a growing community of engineers who recognise that “good enough” engineering is what makes the world happen. I believe in that approximation as well.

It was the French philosopher Voltaire who said: “Perfect is the opposite of Good Enough”. The real world we live in makes it almost impossible to be perfect. Embrace good enough and we can build solutions.

We all love to succeed. But success is a poor teacher – failure, on the other hand, is a fantastic albeit cruel teacher. You can learn lots from failure, but precious little from success.

So, make sure you define success on your own terms, and work to achieve success by your own rules. Fail, fail quick and often, so that you can succeed. And in that process, to build a life you’re proud to live.

Before I conclude, from one engineer to another, well done on becoming an engineer! Together, let’s build a better world.

And finally, thank you NUS for giving me this opportunity to address this afternoon’s commencement (Update: my address starts at around 0:26).

Congratulations Class of 2016.

Thank you.

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!


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.

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 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.

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.

Here be the dragons!

I cannot believe that the MCE planners did not think things through.  Of how the traffic is to flow from East to West and vice versa as well as all the other exits from the AYE-ECP model.

I guess the clues to how they planned the MCE is quite clear in the video that the LTA created to explain how the MCE will benefit.

Let’s look at how they were selling the MCE.

a) At 0:12, the narrator says “… will change the way people travel East to West …”

b)  At 1:12, the narration is about taking Exit 3 to go to the Marina South Pier and Marina Bay Cruise Centre, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Barrage and Marina Bay Financial Centre.

c) At 1:59 the narration turns to traffic going East and taking Exit 2 to go to Gardens by the Bay, Marina Barrage and MBFC.

The focus of the narration is all about accessing the Marina Bay area. No where does the narration talk about the connectivities that the ECP had to Rochor and from Ophir. This means that as far as the LTA is concerned, traffic is all about new flows that have nothing to do with what is currently happening. In general, that is fine, but the fact is that what was a quick entry into the Rochor and exit via Ophir is now not available except via the new major trunk road, the Central Boulevard. This Central Boulevard (CB for short) exit is going to be the SINGLE merge point from any traffic exiting from the MCE going to the MBFC, Gardens etc. I am not sure of the capacity of the CB, but I reckon it will be a choke point. I think the majority of traffic getting out of the MCE is not going to the Cruise center etc but to the down town areas. Perhaps some of the load will be shared with the Maxwell Road exit (MCE Exit 1), but that is not ready until later. Maybe by then, the traffic flow will be much improved. All of this is something that the LTA should have considered before opening the MCE. What was the hurry to open it in stages when we all know that it will be a mess? Who gave the go ahead to open the MCE with these major links not ready? Did the Cabinet OK this?

Going back to the video, the key message early on was the traffic flow between East and West. It was only in the later part of the video at 2:40, any mention of going to the Northeast via KPE appears. So, the focus of the MCE is really for E<->W traversal.

If we accept that premise, then it completely befuddles me as to why the MCE->ECP exit is a TWO lane exit. One breakdown/accident on that exit means a 50% cut in road capacity meaning back ups in the MCE (all underground BTW) and a nightmare for anyone in a hurry to get to the airport. How did the planners NOT think through this?  How was the design review even signed off? Were there external consultants to give an independent review of the design?

If you look at the video the MCE->ECP exit is to the West and loops around before joining the northside of the ECP. There are NO major buildings or infrastructure in that area that is obvious to me that would have required the exit only having 2 lanes. Did the LTA actually determine conclusively that the original ECP eastbound traffic volume was mostly going to the Northeast via KPE and not enough going to the Bedok/Changi area hence validating the 2 lane exit? Really?

I don’t believe that the design is sound and I would urge the LTA to urgently relook and provide for at least two more lanes for the MCE->ECP exit.

Do it NOW.

I am very apprehensive now in going to the airport from the west. In one fell swoop, a fairly predictable eastbound ECP route is mired in a risky two lane MCE->ECP exit.

Just admit that a planning mistake was made. Let’s not wait for a situation before fixing it – numerous parliamentary seats are at risk.

Sparks of brilliance and WTFs!

The Land Transport Authority is the agency charged with all things land-based transport. 2013 is a busy year for them. Two major infrastructure projects came online. The first one was on December 22nd with the partial opening of the Down Town Line.  Although the rides are free until early January 2014, the DTL has had a few DOWN times. Perhaps the name of the line has jinxed it from the get go. I think we should do the noble thing and rename it Up Town Line with the hope that there will be no more DOWNtimes. And while we are at it, change the name of the “Tan Kah Kee” station to something with a geographical reference.

The second major infrastructure launch happened on December 29 – the Marina Coastal Expressway. The stated aim of the MCE’s construction is to free up the land that the ECP occupies in the reclaimed Marina area so that there will be better use of the land. It is a fair reason and one would have thought that LTA’s road planners would have factored in all the current traffic flow as well as future demands. Amidst all the fanfare of the opening of the MCE, there are fundamental design flaws in the MCE.

An expressway is defined by two things: first, the quality of the highway in getting you from point A to B including the road surface, markings, notices, lighting and related safety considerations. On that count, I think the MCE is world class.

The second item that an expressway is defined is by the EXITs it has. After all, to deliver the traffic from A to B, the EXITs come into play. On that count, the MCE is a failure. I’ll repeat it once more – the MCE EXITs are a failure.

I wrote up an initial impressions post last night. The surface roads in the Marina business district are not ready yet to accept the flow of traffic out of the MCE. I am sure the LTA is very aware of this shortcoming and in their defence, I think it is really hard to time the roll out of new road infrastructure in a major business district and expect all things to go well. I do not, however, see any form of engagement by the LTA about the problems that the MCE is causing and how to mitigate it. In the construction of the MRT lines, the LTA had done a lot of engagements with residents around the areas that the construction was happening to make sure that issues are addressed and managed. But since the MCE is a highway that was built in an unpopulated area, that type of public education and engagement was not done. Just look at the LTA website about how to navigate to the various places that we are all accustomed to. The biggest omission is how to get to/from the Rochor Road/Ophir Road areas and the MCE. Come on, LTA, you can do better.

LTA clearly has not learned enough from earlier screw ups with highway design. Yes, land is scarce and we all accept that. But when you are building a new highway in a RECLAIMED land and most of it being UNDERGROUND, what is stopping you from thinking through the issues?  I am fully aware that there will be tradeoffs in terms of cost, time and design. When you are presented with essentially an unbuilt up area, why make compromises?  I am ready to forget about getting to Rochor from the West or going West from Ophir. But I cannot forgive the TWO lane constriction on the Eastern end of the MCE to merge into ECP. Was that really a design constraint because of land? Way too many things need a clear and honest answer from the planners at the LTA. Don’t CYA please.

The LTA has sparks of brilliance interspersed with WTFs!

First impressions about the new Marina Coastal Expressway

I decided to take a spin onto the new Marina Coastal Expressway today.  And my first impression is that it is screwed up. Not the highway per se. The highway is top-notch. Five lanes in each direction. Fantastic surface where you don’t hear the tires at all. Smooth and probably worth the S$5billlion spent on the 5km expressway.

So, what’s wrong?  Here’s my list:

a) *Anyone* travelling from the West to the East (say to Fort Road), you will, if you choose to go via the AYE, be then marshalled into MCE (which is quite sweet I must say). You continue in the MCE and since you are goint to the East, you have to KEEP TO THE TWO LEFT lanes to make sure that you then get into the exit of MCE to ECP. So, 4 lanes of AYE, becomes 5 lanes of MCE then 2 lanes of the exit and then onto ECP/Fort Road. Yes, TWO lanes to ECP. I repeat, TWO lanes. If you MISSED this exit, you will continue from MCE into KPE and then have to turn around somewhere to undo your mistake.

b) If you are coming from the West and want to go to Rochor. Good luck. You’ll have to exit in the MCE – ie take an exit and go INTO the Central Business District – yes, ERP  and traffic light infested zone – and then navigate to the Rochor area. I did not take that exit on MCE today as I was not happy with what I saw in a) above.

c) You are coming from the East and want to down town. There is an exit that brings you to the Central Boulevard, but because the roads on the surface after exiting the MCE are still being realigned, it is a mess for now. I reckon those will be straightened out over the next few months.

d) You are coming down Ophir Road expecting to go West. Although I did not try that today, you will go up the ramp and go over the Sheares Bridge on to the South side of Marina Bay Sands (which was part of the ECP but no longer called the ECP but Sheares Avenue) and then navigate to enter the MCE and then onto the West.  Not sure of the swamp you will be in with lights and reduced lanes.

I am not happy with the way the MCE is breaking all the connections and travel patterns we have had with some yet to be proven improvements in traffic flow. I am very sure that the biggest congestion will be a the exit from MCE to ECP because of the lane reduction.

I cannot understand how the LTA could have royally screwed up with the MCE and how traffic flows. I am really disappointed. I could be completely wrong as I only saw a part of the how the MCE’s introduction changes the traffic flow. But I bet you, the mess will be enormous over the next week or so as people begin to adjust to the new realities.

I would like to perhaps suggest that MCE be temporarily changed from Marina Coastal Expressway to Most Cocked-up Expressway until the whole MCE plan is rolled out.

I know more than you do

I cannot help but continue to be baffled by the way the G responds to some of the continuing challenges that the nation faces.

Way back in 2009, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the formation of the Singapore Infocomm Technology Security Authority. It apparently is an entity within the Internal Security Department. Fast forward four years, the Ministry of Defence announces the setting up of a Cyber Defence Operations Hub. Not sure how much these two efforts are costing us, the tax payer, but suffice to say, an extra $130 million will apparently be spent on more cyber security stuff over the next 5 years. Nice.

Money is not an object is seems. There is plenty to be spent. Will any of this help create new software and hardware that is open? Will the tax dollars being spent enable the citizens to help and innovate upon? I suspect that they will not buy the “security by obscurity” meme and claim national security being paramount and so all things have to be hidden.

While all of this was happening, some websites got defaced. Defaced by groups who label themselves as “Messiah” and claiming affiliations with the Anonymous group. The clueless mainstream media, obviously, go about saying that the sites were “hacked”. Hacking is a noble thing. It is a skill, a frame of mind, a can do bravado. A cracker/vandal, on the other hand, is one who does not live up to the hacker ideals and ethics and abuses her skills. She is no different from a housebreaker who by day is a locksmith.

So, amidst all of these defacements and “cyberwar” preparedness, we get reports of some individuals being caught and the charged in court for allegedly undertaking the defacements. These alleged vandals, if we are to go by the MSM reports, seem to be nothing more than script-kiddies who could not even do the basic “cover your tracks” that any criminal worth his salt would have done. These script-kiddies merely locked on to pre-existing flaws in the sites they chose to vandalize and did the deed. Perhaps they deserve the book being thrown at them.

On the other hand, these alleged vandals could be fall guys. They were unskilled enough to have been caught.

Will we ever have engineers?

As noted by Vivian, the first of three key ingredients before anything starts is to have engineers, engineers who are valued and who want to change the world by their work and their ideas.

As an engineer myself I of course agree with that.  As we laud engineers and the possibilities of what that means, I fear that we are being set up for failure. We as in Singapore, that is. We not skilling up enough members of the next generation to become engineers to the extent that we need.

Back when I completed my “A” levels (1977), electrical engineering was the *hottest* program to get into, regardless of university.  Fast forward to today, 2013, getting into E school has dipped to an all time low, especially, electrical engineering (and I will lump computer, communications and electronics into that).

The competition is now for entry into business school and, dare I say, the “softer” programs.  There, I’ve said it.  We are not seeing strong competition for entry into the hard sciences nor math nor engineering. What happened?

Where and when will we be able to reverse this spiral into mediocrity?

I was attending the Singapore Polytechnic open house yesterday. My older son is keen on the Poly and electrical engineering at that. It warms my heart that he want to take that program and it was all his personal choice.  I do not demand our sons to follow the paths of their parents, but if they do, it is a bonus.

But what bothers me is that the Poly lists electrical engineering as having the least competitive entry requirements – 22 points (the O level scores needed from the English, 2 relevant subjects and 2 best subjects) and Business Administration needing 12. Really? 12 vs 22?

See this document:

Note that the most sought after engineering program is Aeronautical Engineering (12 points) and the least is Electrical and Electronic Engineering (22 points) while Biomedical Science is the most sought after at 8 points. Perhaps the 8 points and the 22 points are outliers but it is still very worrisome.

Things to be thankful for as we celebrate 48 years of independence. Majulah Singapura!

I’m thankful for:

  1. If we were ever at war, it was under the Union Jack, not the Crescent and Stars. Singapore has never been to war.  While, yes, we have a small standing military setup and a large citizen-army comprising reservists. And the fact that we have a large reservist citizen-led ready-at-a-moment’s notice force is perhaps the single biggest achievement of the pioneering cabinet who initiated National Service in 1967. All things considered, the spin-off of NS has been the breaking down of both imaginary and real societal barriers with the exposure to ideas that can challenge one’s world view. The immigrant society that this nation was built from (and being redefined as it were) needs that anchoring and sense of belonging. I know that my 2.5 years in Police NS as an Inspector of Police gave me an opportunity to grow up and understand life’s warts and all. Though it would be naive to suggest that we’ve gained a united society, we are well down that path. Some characterize NS as a waste of time or that it is a means to indoctrinate the people.  While there is an element of truth to that, as with any uniformed organization, I think there are many knock-on effects that is hard to put a dollar value to.  Suffice to say, I would be really proud when the time comes, to see my two sons do their service to their country of birth.
  2. Great weather (but we could always use with less humidity) which means you have an all year round opportunity to explore that great outdoors, not only in Singapore but in the neighbouring countries.
  3. Good water. Yes, this is the tropics and yes, with the earlier reference to humidity, we should really be deriving potable water from the air around us. That will certainly see us being very self-sufficient in that essential life-sustaining compound.
  4. Great people. People are what a country makes. I believe that adversities and challenges are the fire that forge the psyche of a nation. It is good to have a governmental system that supports the people, especially those who are “falling behind”, but ultimately, what makes a nation is still the people. This statement is true for any nation and all of humanity. As Carl Sagan might have said as he gazed on the picture of our planet from a far, there are no borders that delineate nations. It is just one planet. Yes, we are an island and our borders are not land-based but sea-based, so that observation still applies.
  5. Great Family.  I am thankful for the wonderful family I was born into and the extended family that I’ve been able to create with my wife.  My family has spread its wings and are now pretty much all over this planet. But Singapore is still home. Warts and all. It’s what makes for memories and a place under the sun.

I just finished watching this year’s National Day Parade. Did not get to go watch it in person, but that’s fine. Growing up, I was fortunate to have had been in the 1973 (RI Red Cross, Sec 2, Padang), 1974 (RI Red Cross, Sec 3, Padang), 1978 (Guard Of Honour, Police OCS, Padang)  and 1979 (Police Academy, Queenstown Stadium) parades.  It was very different then. There weren’t the goodie bags you see today, nor where there the musical extravaganza of today. Our contingents had a three to five kilometer route march after the march past and those were challenging to say the least. But we did it. I don’t have pictures of those days for all I have are memories.  I am sure we can get MediaCorp/SPH to open up their archives under a Creative Commons license and let people do wonders with it, Its part of who we are.

Majulah Singapura!

Getting a good grip on the haze conditions

I feel that with DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s speech this past Monday, June 17 2013, at the eGov Global Exchange event about the Singapore government going whole hog with 100% machine readable data on the, was excellent. Finally, there is some sanity in government with regards to data (that has already been paid for by tax dollars) should be open and freely available.  No more discussion about “monetizing” the tax-payer-paid data. Let the public do as they please with the data.

So, it is with that as a background, that I want to see how best was can get the following done to address the haze conditions (as seen in the NASA satellite image) with the population that is at risk.

This is what we have in terms of data:

a) Data from the National Environment Agency regarding the Pollutant Standard Index and the PM2.5 values.

b) US government site that gives a co-relation between the various data measurements

The NEA PSI data is only shown on the site for the current 24 hour period and nothing is shown of the previous days.  I don’t see any link on their site to look at earlier data. As such, I’ve set up a public document on Google Docs.

Now what I’d like to see is the mashing up of the data with maps and other relevant information such as construction sites where there are workers outdoors and to see how quickly we can pull in the right resources to assist.  There is already an effort underway  (also to make sure that those populations at risk because of lack of information and/or safety equipment like N95 masks are reached and provided for.

[Update at 7:25 pm June 22, 2013]

Looks like the NEA site is transforming in a good way.  You can get historical data now.

Proceedings from the “The Singapore Computer Society’s Internet Regulations Workshop” – August 1996

I used to head up the Internet SIG of the Singapore Computer Society back in the 1990s. When the then Singapore Broadcasting Authority (now known as the Media Development Authority) issued a directive that they will require all ISPs to filter access to websites, my SIG sprang into action and organized a workshop at which we invited the SBA rep and interested members of SCS as well as the public to discuss the issues.

I had posted the proceedings of the session on my personal website when at that time was hosted on Pacific Internet ( But today that is all gone and I am using this blog to host it for posterity:

Singapore Computer Society’s Internet Regulations Workshop

The ProceedingsCopyright 1996 Singapore Computer Society

Saturday August 17th 1996 0930-1200 NCB Auditorium



Ms Ling Pek Ling, Director (Policy and Planning), SBA

Mr Lim Kien Thye, Legal Adviser, Singapore Computer Society

Mr Andrew Sansom, Vice President, SCS (moderator)

The workshop started with a welcome by the moderator who introduced the two panelists and the agenda of this workshop.

Ms Ling started off first by introducing the SBA regulations as was spelt out by the SBA press release and the subsequent gazette notification.

Mr Lim then went through the regulations in finer explaining the various clauses and their implications and interpretations.

Following the tea-break, Lim continued with some clarifications on issues raised during the break. Specifically, the issue in Section 13 of the Conditions of Class License was revisited. Mr Lim said, before the break, that geomancy et al as mentioned in that section are illegal on the net. A member of the audience had pointed out to him that in fact, Section 13 mentions the outlawing of this only for services defined in Paragraph 3(a) to (e), eg audiotext and videotext services of the Notification and this excludes the Internet. Lim was of the opinion that it is a little difficult to totally delineate the Internet from this category. SBA clarified that while Sec 13 did not apply to Internet Service Providers and Internet Content Providers, they were subject to the requirement to comply with the laws of Singapore.

The much awaited question and answer session ensued thereafter.

[Ed Note: Most of the answers were from the SBA. Where it is not, the speaker is identified.]

Q1: If a web site is maintained OUTSIDE Singapore but the contents are political in nature with the editors residing in Singapore, must that site register?

A1: Yes.

Q2: Even if the site is NOT of a political party?

A2: Yes, if it falls in the list of other categories which need to register with SBA. [These categories are spelt out in the class licence gazette, a copy of which is available on SBA’s web-page at]

Q3: If a Singaporean machine discusses, say, Indonesian politics, it is OK not to register?

A3: The registration requirement for political groups applies only to political parties registered in Singapore and groups discussing political issues relating to Singapore.

Q4: But if it discusses Singapore politics it must be registered?

A4: Yes.

Q5: Do you think the Wall Street Journal will care to register if you were to ask them to because some of their subscribers are resident in Singapore?

A5: We have a good working relationship with the WSJ and do not see that as being a problem.

Comment: I think the WSJ would not bother.

Q6: Can you please tell me why you included geomancy, astrology, palmistry and fortune-telling in the list of banned activities?

A6a: [Lim KT] Well technically, fortune-telling, palmistry and geomancy are on our statutes as “banned” activities.

A6b: But, KT, you and I (Harish Pillay) were in the police force doing NS many years ago, and you know very well that there are many things that are illegal (for example the burning of joss paper in public), but we close an eye and let it pass. We have been doing so with these things anyway, then why bring it back?

A6c: Well, the SBA regulations do not preempt other laws of Singapore and the inclusion here is merely to re-iterate the laws.

Q7: So, can I take it that we will not see anymore palmistry, astrology, geomancy and fortune-telling books in Times and MPH?

A7: Well those are not illegal. The SBA regulations focus on broadcast media, which are more pervasive – we want to make sure that people are not cheated by confidence tricksters under the pretext of telling fortunes etc.

Q8: Do you know that the SPH in it’s audiotext service, it is providing fengshui, astrology and horoscopes? How come, in spite of you listing audiotext services as one that must not promote these, you are allowing SPH to do so?

A8: We are in discussion with the SPH on what the acceptable limits are.

[Clarification: SPH is allowed to carry horoscopes. It does not offer astrology services.]

[Ed’s clarification – at last check, August 20th, SPH’s 1-900 service provides fengshui (Chinese geomancy) services.]

Q9: Will you tell us the public what arrangements you have made with SPH to allow this?

A9:We have given some guidelines on what the acceptable limits are in the phrasing of Condition 13(c), namely “ensure that its service is not used to advertise, provide or otherwise promote-

(i) astrology, geomancy, palmistry; or

(ii) any other type of fortune-telling device

Content or service providers who need further clarification can check with SBA.

[SBA has a feedback channel on its web-page at]

Q10: You say that I cannot put up banned audio/video on web pages. Does that mean that my .wav files are illegal now? Is there a publically available list of banned movies/songs?

A10: Those come under the Undesirable Publications Act and you can get the information from the Ministry of Information and the Arts.

Q11: In your Internet Code of Practice, you mention fines. I have never known a Code of Practice that carried fines. How much is the fine?

A11: Sec 24 of the SBA Act provides for SBA to impose fines, suspend or cancel the licence of a provider in the event of a breach of licence conditions. The Code of Practice gives some guidelines on the types of content that should not be carried. As one of the class licence conditions (Condition 11) is that licensees should comply with the Code of Practice, breach of this Code would constitute a breach of licence conditions.

Q12: Who can I appeal to?

A12: You can appeal to SBA. SBA will refer grey cases to the National Internet Advisory Committee. You can appeal to the Minister if you are not satisfied with SBA’s decision.

Q13: When will the NIAC be formed/announced? You did announce the SBA regulations in a hurry, out on a Thursday and enforced on a Monday.

A13: Sooner than you think.

Q14: In the Code of Practice you say that there should not be anything that satirises or denigrates any race or religious group. So, will you now force the ISP to drop rec.humor.funny because it has racial jokes? Are Jewish, Irish, Chinese, Indian, Malay jokes illegal now?

A14a: We will go by what is acceptable to our community and focus attention on areas which upset the racial and religious harmony of our society.

A14b: [Lim KT] The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act 1990 provides for a Presidential Council for Religious Harmony which would advise on matters affecting the maintenance of religious harmony in Singapore.

Q15: Since we do not have any sizeable Singaporean Jewish community, will you say that Jewish jokes are OK and not others?

A15: Again you have to refer to the Religious Harmony Act.

Q16: You say that promiscuity and permissiveness must not be promoted and yet allow Beverly Hills 123456 to be aired on local TV. If that is not promiscuity and permissiveness, then what is?

A16: It’s all a matter of degree. Even on TV, there is a family view hour of 9.30 pm. Shows aired before that hour have to comply with stricter standards.

Q17: If I run a site that has a bunch of people editing and maintaining the site with some of the editors physically outside Singapore, do I have to register that site because it could contain political discussions about Singapore?

A17: Yes, if it falls within the list of groups which need to register with SBA.

Q18: What kind of liability do the editors have?

A18: They are responsible for the contents as they have editorial privilege.

Q19: What about mirror sites mirrored in Singapore? And it contains political discussions but I do not have editorial rights?

A19: If the SBA thinks that the material in the mirror is not acceptable, it has to be removed.

Q20: Proxy servers for leased line customers. I have clients who have leased lines and use the net link to do Virtual Private Networking (VPN) and other business transactions. Now they want to go away from Singapore because of your rules. They have confidential information that cannot be put on a proxy server.

A20: The requirement for the use of proxy servers does not apply to customers who use it only for company use. Organizations such as cybercafes, libraries, community centers have to go the proxy servers as they are providing Internet to the public.

Q21: Let me understand this. I look after the schools. Schools have leased lines to the Net and so, if leased lines users are exempt, schools are exempt also?

A21: The exclusion is not for all leased line users per se. It is for corporate (private) communications. The primary audience of the schools are the students, which count as members of the public, and so they have to use the proxy.

Q22: But what about the teachers who have machines on their desks and no student will use it?

A22: The aim is to for the links to be used by the students and so the proxy must be used, even if student access is supervised by teachers.

Q23: When will you announce this non-use of the proxy server?

A23: Soon.

Q24: How soon? Some of the ISPs are sending out information to leased line customers informing them of this rule.

A24: Sooner than you think.

Q25: There is one group that is exempt from the regulations – those who provide access incidental to their business. Can you elaborate?

A25: If a hairdresser provides net access while cutting the hair of the client, the net access in that business is incidental and not primary. This is unlike the case of a cybercafe, where it would be difficult for the operator to claim that providing net access was not a primary part of its business.

Q26: Will you release the black list of web sites to the public?

A26: No, we want to keep it confidential and want to be conservative.

Q27: Why not? I can get a list of banned books, movies, tapes, magazines etc. How come you are so secretive about the black list?

Comment: The black list could become a hot list (laughter).

A27: The books and magazines that are banned are made known because people can buy then overseas and so they need to know what is not allowed. In the case of the Net, only the ISPs need to know as they are the ones making access available.

Q28: So, let’s consider this. I spend a weekend cruising the web. I come across a bunch of sites that are blocked off to me – I know this because of the message on the screen. I write them down. I then pass the information to others and collectively we build up a list and then I post it to my home page. Is that OK?

A28: No, you are in violation of these guidelines.

Q29: Why, where and how?

A29: You should not put the information out on the web.

Q30: So if I e-mail it to a friend outside Singapore and he posts it, will you block the information?

A30: The site is in violation.

Q31: When does an article or web page become “illegal”? When it is being created using an editor, or uploaded to server but not hyperlinked or when it is on the web?

A31: [Lim KT] The issue of when material becomes content is a grey one which lawyers are still grappling with.

Q32: I am a software developer. I depend on my customers to use my software to develop content on the Internet. Currently you are specifically mentioning WWW services. Will you in the future say that a particular service is not legal?

A32: As a software developer, you should not feel constrained as the primary responsibility lies with the content developers who use your software. We encourage software development in Singapore and want to emphasise the light touch nature of our licence scheme. We would also like to hear from you if you think the regulations are hindering your business operations. SBA is keen to have close consultation with the industry.

Q33: Further to that I asked if in future such “consultations” with the “Industry”, should they be minuted, be placed in the SBA web site for public access?

A33: We will look into the feasibility of this.

Q34: The Internet Regulations specifically define Internet Content Provider to be:

      – any individual who provides any programme, for business, political or religious purposes, on the World Wide Web through the Internet; or

– any corporation or group of individuals (including any association, business, club, company, society, organisation or partnership, whether registrable or incorporated under the laws of Singapore or not) who provides any programme on the World Wide Web through the Internet, and includes any Web publisher and any Web server administrator.

This definition excludes other Internet services such as the Gopher and the IRC services. Does this mean that the above definition excludes the Gopher and the IRC services? What about other emerging Internet technologies?

A34: We will continue to refine the Internet Regulations to incorporate emerging Internet technologies when these have mass public impact.

Q35: What about Intranets?

A35: Intranets are NOT under the jurisdiction of the SBA.

Q36: What about an Intranet of say a club – say the Turf Club. And they want to use their computer network to place bets and do gambling?

A36: As long as they have the license to do so by other relevant government authorities, this should not be a problem.

Q37: What would you define as obscene? I have to manage a design school where there are creative people who would ask me why a particular site is blocked when in their opinion it is not obscene.

A37: SBA will refer grey areas to the National Internet Advisory Committee.

Q38: If my site has a link to another who may have links to objectionable sites, am I liable?

A38: You will not be, provided you did put the link in good faith and did not know of the subsequent links.

Q39: You say that financial information presented without commentary is exempted from the SBA regulations. What does that mean?

A39: The exemption covers raw information for example, the index closed high at 1234. To quote the Gazette, the exemption applies to “financial information services where the financial information is transmitted without commentary and without alteration or addition to its form.”

Q40: You say that the Internet Advisory Committee will be formed soon. What types of people will it have? Users or people from the govt?

A40: It will constitute a broad cross-section of people to represent the users of the Internet and will include relative light users as well as members of the industry.

Q41: When the committee decides on something and the decision is not what the SBA or the Minister hoped for, the SBA and the Minister is NOT bound to accept the decision, right? After all it is only an advisory committee.

A41: Yes. But, we will take into consideration all the viewpoints carefully before deciding.

Q42: We all know of this abomination called “Mr. Kiasu”. Now, I belong to a running group which enjoys lewd and naughty jokes and one us wanted to create an e-mailing list to share it with the rest. He approached one of the ISPs who, erring on the side of kiasuism, wanted him to sign a document that effectively disallowed anything like what we wanted. Don’t you think your rules will breed more self-censors – mind you, this was before your rules came about? I now run the mailing list out of my laptop.

A42:No, as long as they are following the guidelines.

Updated August 20th 1996
This page was compiled, edited and posted by Harish Pillay, Internet SIG Chair with the help of four other participants from the audience and the SBA panelist, Ms Ling.

You may quote from this page for commentary purposes, newsgroup postings and so on, but we ask you to please include the URL – – in your quotes.


The Town Council IT System Tender

[This was originally written on March 26, 2013, but kept as a draft giving the powers that be time to revert. Looks like nothing is moving for a country that prides itself on efficiency and fairplay, the AIM saga which has deep links into the ruling party is proving to be a hot potato. The tender has been awarded to the team led by NEC Singapore. No indication that any of this is open source software.]

I thought I should post it now so that there will be transparency in this affair.

The tender for the town council IT system was released on February 4th. I did try to get the tender documents but failed.

Here’s the email flow – minus the recipient info:

1. Feb 26, 2013

Subject: Town Council Management System tender docs

Hi.  I refer to the tender that was called for a new IT system for managing the town council.  I can’t seem to find the document on your website (nor on GeBiz).  Can you please point me to where it is?


2. Feb 26, 2013

Dear Mr Harish Pillay

Kindly contact me regarding your enquiries.

3. Feb 26, 2013

[Person at town council] –

> Dear Mr Harish Pillay
> Kindly contact me regarding your enquiries.

Thanks for the reply as well as speaking on the phone earlier.  It is a pity that I can’t participate even though the date is not due yet.


4. Feb 27, 2013

Dear Mr Harish Pillay

As mentioned, the tender is advertised in The Straits Times and Zaobao on 4 Feb 2013.

Interested and eligible tenderers are to attend the tender briefing on 7 Feb 2013 before they are allowed to purchase the tender documents.


5. Feb 27, 2013

[Person at town council] –

> Dear Mr Harish Pillay
> As mentioned, the tender is advertised in The Straits Times and Zaobao on 4 Feb 2013.
> Interested and eligible tenderers are to attend the tender briefing on 7 Feb 2013 before they are allowed to purchase the tender documents.

Thanks for the confirmation.  I find it strange that even the tender docs are not on GeBiz.  Any reason why there is an exception?


6. Feb 28, 2013

Dear Mr Harish Pillay

We are not a government agency and as such we are ineligible to participate in the Gebiz.

7. Feb 28, 2013

[Person at town council] –

> Dear Mr Harish Pillay
> We are not a government agency and as such we are ineligible to participate in the Gebiz.

Thanks for the clarification.

8.  Mar 20, 2013

[Person at town council] –

Hi.  I am writing to you to find out if there has been any submissions to the tender that closed earlier this month.  I’d appreciate if you can tell me who they are and when do you expect the tender to be awarded.


9. Mar 22, 2013

Dear Mr Harish Pillay

The provisional tender result is posted on our Town Council website ““.

Progress on tenders currently under evaluation cannot be disclosed.

10. Mar 22, 2013

[Person at town council] –

> Dear Mr Harish Pillay
> The provisional tender result is posted on our Town Council website ““.

Thank you.  I assume this is the page:

> Progress on tenders currently under evaluation cannot be disclosed.

Certainly.  Is there a way to get a copy of the tender specs to understand what the 3 options are?
Thanks again.

11. Mar 22, 2013

Dear Harish Pillay

Only the eligible tenderers who have attended the tender briefing are allowed to collect the tender documents.


12. Mar 22, 2013

[Person at town council] –

> Only the eligible tenderers who have attended the tender briefing are allowed to collect the tender documents.

Yes, I understand that. You did indicate that in an earlier email.  But since the tender has been submitted, I am wondering if the document is available, even at a price.

13. Mar 22, 2013

Dear Harish Pillay

The tender documents can only be purchased by the eligible tenderers who have attended the tender briefing.

So, you can see that unless you attended the briefing, you cannot get to the tender documents. I would need to reach out to those who have submitted the tenders to get to the document. Why would this be made so difficult to be acquired? What’s the secret in those documents?

Town Councils exist by virtue of the Town Council Act Chapter 329A. We know the reasons for creating town councils but from the citizen’s perspective the town council is part of municipal government as suggested by former PM Goh Chok Tong:

So in a way, the MPs became the elected representatives of this municipal aspect of government. But more importantly, we also believed in the devolution of powers downwards. This is to give a stake, first, to the MPs, then next to the grassroots leaders, and of course, very importantly, to the residents. This is your Town Council.

So, I think in the email exchange above, the person from the town council is totally wrong to say that they are not a government agency.

The current PM has called for a review of the town council is a good thing as the unstated objectives (“let’s make it difficult to let non-PAP parties win GRCs”) has now gone away.

Talking about the review of of the AIM fiasco, the PM gave the MND two months from January 8. It is now almost end of March 2013 May and thus far nothing has surfaced.

Since there is supposed to be a review of the AIM transaction, is it still appropriate for the 14 PAP run town councils to call for a tender to “replace” the system they already have? Or should it be held off until the review is done. The answer is quite clear.

Switching gears, let’s look at the tender submission result.

Option 1            Option 2               Option 3      Alternative Option

1. NEC Asia Pacific Pte Ltd           –                         –                $17,610,820.00          –

2. HCL Singapore Pte Ltd        $27,549,208.46   $21,063,955.09             –                     –

3. NCS Pte Ltd                             –                         –                $31,485,192.00     $16,798,500.00

Option 1: Ownership model (hardware is decentralized)
Option 2: Software ownership model, hardware service model (hardware is centralized)
Option 3: Software and hardware service model (hardware is centralized)
Alternative: Decentralized solution for 3 years of contract period

On April 2nd, it was announced that the tender was awarded to NEC Singapore. For a lot of money – $16.8 million dollars to be exact. No mention of anything in this being open source, no git repository nothing. No indication of the poison pill clause “if there is a change in the boundaries or management of town councils, the application stops working” etc.

The PM asked for a review of the AIM scandal. Today, May 1st, there is still no sign of it. How long does it take the MND to do the work? I volunteer to do this due diligence. I am sure they will not take this offer, even though it is given in good faith.

Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) aka Selling Out To Big Business talks in Singapore this week

I was very surprised to see two items that appeared right next to each other in the Straits Times on Monday, March 4, 2013. One was the story headlined “S’pore hosts Asia-Pacific free-trade talks” and the other an advertisement put out by an organization that I did not know existed called “Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance”.


(page 2, Straits Times Monday March 4, 2013)



I applaud the SEATCA advertisement but I am sure that there are other even more pressing issues that the TPP will be working on that will have significant implications for all of us in the computing, media and related industries.

The article’s headline is misleading to suggest that it is a “free-trade” talks. It is more of how much can Big Business restrict people with extended copyright, patent and other money grabbing tricks.

Tender for Town Council Management System – updates

Looks like the PAP-run town councils have put out a call for tender on February 4th with an advertisement in the morning newsletter.



As can be seen in the ad, there was a briefing that needed to be attended by interested parties that was held on February 7, which happens to be a couple of days before the Lunar New Year holidays. While that is not a big deal, the chances of people missing out on attending this briefing is pretty high given the long weekend that came after that.

Notwithstanding that, it is important to note that if you did not attend the briefing, you cannot get to the actual tender documents even if you choose to pay the $107 for the documents. The tender does ask for the interested parties to be of the EPU/CMP/10 class. If that is the type of entities that are minimally needed, this is a really big project. If it is a big project, then why are the documents not found on the GeBIZ site? The GeBIZ site says that:

“GeBIZ is the Singapore government’s one-stop e-procurement portal. All the public sector’s invitations for quotations and tenders are posted on GeBIZ. Suppliers can search for government procurement opportunities, download tender documents, and submit their bids online. GeBIZ allows any supplier to access public sector business opportunities anywhere and anytime with just an Internet connection.”

Of course, if someone can actually find the tender docs on the GeBIZ, I stand corrected.

I would want to know a few things about the new system that is being requested:

a) Is the project going to be built using open source tools and applications?

b) Will the code of the application be made publicly downloadable once it is done – since it was paid for by tax dollars?

c) Can open source developers take part in this?

The tender closes on March 4 and I look forward to knowing the results.

It’s not about *taxing* anyone

By and large, Singaporeans accept the value and import of National Service. Yes, there are genuine situations where things can be done better with far less waste, but as a whole, the long-term benefits of National Service to the citizen, family and country is not in dispute.

The nature of National Service does involve in a big way, the sacrifice of personal time and energy of every able-bodied male 18-year-old for a period of two years. It used to be either two or two-and-a-half years when I did my NS, but it has now been made uniform to just two years. It can be argued whether the length of service should be made even shorter, but that is for another post.

Over the years, we have had a steady inflow of people who took up permanent residency and as the rules go, the children of these PRs (who themselves can become PRs, albeit second generation PRs) are then obligated to do National Service just as any citizen.

That’s the nub of the issue. I know of a couple who moved to Singapore and became PRs and started a family. Because they were PRs, they could buy HDB housing and as luck would have it for them, their block underwent a HDB redevelopment exercise that then resulted in that family getting a brand new HDB unit. That is all well and good. They, even as PRs benefited from the system.

The twist in the story is when their sons (second generation PRs) were due for enlistment, the couple managed to snag some immigration opportunity and moved off to Canada. They then cashed out the HDB apartment, made a killing and now are PRs in Canada and their sons managed to get out of their obligations to do National Service.

We can look at this story (all true, btw) and be disappointed, or look at it positively as they came to this country and worked the system and with all the unintended loop holes, they have benefited immensely.

Where does that leave, We, The Citizens? I too would like the financial windfall and perhaps have my sons not do their National Service as well, but I am not asking for that.

It is therefore, amusing, to read the suggestion by PAP MP Hri Kumar Nair who suggests a “national defense duty” (NDD) be imposed on all PRs and foreigners living in Singapore.

This from the ruling party MP whose party’s modus operandi in solving issues it to tax things (COE, Road Tax, GST etc).

On the surface, his proposal *might* sound plausible. But there are two significant flaws in it.

Firstly, the NDD cheapens the sweat, blood and economic sacrifice Singaporeans (not only the men, but their families as well) make in doing their National Service and reservist duties. “If you can’t do the work, just pay your way out” seems to be the his rationale. It suggests that we have to tax others (labelling it “duty” is hiding the truth) as a form of imposed misery. Do we have to make our neighbours to be poor(er) in order for us to succeed?

The people who come to our shores came here to make a living for themselves and to be economically active. They do pay taxes like the rest of us. If the government wants to really do the Right Thing, they should have the NS Tax Relief not be a deductible BEFORE tax, but an offset after tax assessment.

I recall doing the NS Tax Relief some years ago and found that since it is a tax relief, the real impact in including the NS Tax Relief and not made very little difference (like less than $20) in the taxable income, at least for me. So, while the NS Tax Relief looks nice on the surface and while might be a sincere attempt, it was not what one would have thought it was.

So, Mr MP, no need to place an extra tax. Do the simple change in the NS Tax Relief and you’ve got a reasonable step forward.

A second flaw in the MP’s proposal is that in the event of a crisis, it is us Singaporeans who would have to stand up and defend, not those who paid “NDD”.  They can just as well leave Singapore and return when things are OK. See the difference? Just because they’ve been NDDed, it does not mean that they’ll be picking up anything to help defend. I am sure you are not that naive, or are you Mr MP?

Walk the Talk!

“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” – Albert Einstein

It is a mockery of the Parliamentary process when a Member of Parliament fails to exercise her right to vote on issues that have come up for  consideration.  Whether or not there exists the anti-democratic “party whip”, as an elected MP, I expect the person to have the gumption and the conscience to vote according to what the person says.

Here is an extract (page 40) from the “Standing Orders of the Parliament of Singapore” (it’s a PDF) (the bold emphasis is mine):


Collection of voices
62. – (1) When the Speaker or Chairman has put the question at the conclusion of a debate, he shall collect the voices of the “Ayes’’ and “Noes’’ and provided that no Member then claims a division, shall declare the result in accordance with the provisions of the law(13).

(2) A Member may, instead of claiming a division, inform the Speaker or Chairman that he wishes his dissent to be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings and the Official Report and his dissent shall be so recorded.

Procedure on divisions

63. – (1) No division shall be taken unless at least five Members rise in their places in support of it.

(2) When a division is to be proceeded with, the Speaker or the Chairman shall direct that the division bells shall be rung. After the lapse of at least one minute, the Speaker or the Chairman shall direct that the doors be locked and the Serjeant at Arms shall thereupon cause the doors to be locked.

(3) Thereafter the Speaker or Chairman shall put the question a second time and if a division is again claimed, a division shall be taken in a manner to be decided by the Speaker and the Clerk shall enter on the Votes and Proceedings a record of each Member’s vote and of the names of Members who abstain from voting.

(4) At a division a Member shall vote for the “Ayes’’ or for the “Noes’’, or expressly indicate that he abstains from voting. A Member shall not vote in a manner inconsistent with any opinion which he may have expressed when the voices were taken collectively.

(5) A Member may vote in a division although he did not hear the question put.

(6) When the votes have been collected, the Speaker or Chairman shall state the numbers voting for the “Ayes’’ and for the “Noes’’ respectively, and shall then declare the result of the division, whereupon the Serjeant at Arms shall cause the doors to be unlocked.

(7) If, from the number of Members taking part in a division, including those Members who abstain from voting, it appears that a quorum is not present, the division shall be invalid, the business then under consideration shall stand over until the next sitting and the next business shall be entered upon.

So, from the line above, 63-4: “A Member shall not vote in a manner inconsistent with any opinion which he may have expressed when the voices were taken collectively“, very simply states that one has walk the talk.

Therefore, it is extremely disappointing that MP Inderjit Singh, after making a passionate speech that clearly was critical of the Population White Paper, managed not to vote when the division was called. If Mr Singh did walk the talk, he should have at the minimum, abstained from the vote. I am sure that his abstention would have brought the wrath of his party and his party’s whip, but by not voting, he has has clearly shown that he is not able to walk the talk. That is a huge mistake on the part of Mr Singh.

Here’s a cartoon that caricatures this disappointment.

“practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

I just love the heading of this post.  It is from John Maynard Keynes who wrote it in his The General Theory (New York, Harcourt Brace and World, 1964), p. 383.  I was prompted to check it out when the quote was used in the opening of a post by members of the Economic Society of Singapore about the white paper on population that was passed by the Singapore Parliament on Feb 8 2013.

I think the post sufficiently debunks the myths propagated by the white paper and I hope that the government will be bold enough to take into consideration and not brush it off.

Please do read that post – – it is worth your time.

And “Parliament Passes Motion …”

Before my comment, I found this picture on a walled garden site and thought I should share it here:


How appropriate the headline is and the accompanying photo. I can’t find where this appeared and would appreciate all help to find it – I want to give credit where it is due.

It is not surprising at all that the parliament rubber-stamped the Population White Paper.

We have a total of 99 MPs in the Parliament. Doing the math:

  • Nominated Members of Parliament: 9
  • Non Constituency Members of Parliament: 3 (2 from WP, 1 from SPP)
  • Elected Members: 87 of which 7 are from the Worker’s Party and 80 from the People’s Action Party

So, if there were 77 yes (all PAP rubber stampers), who were the 3 from the PAP who did not vote?

Why is the Parliament website not updated immediately (and no live webcast of parliamentary proceedings as well – maybe the fiber link is not ready :-))? I want to know the voting record of all MPs. Am I asking for something hard to get?

The votes were 77 for (all PAP MPs), 13 against (7 WP MPs, 2 WP NCMPs, 1 SPP NCMP, 3 NMPs), 1 NMP abstaining bringing it to 91 which means we have 8 who did not turn up in parliament and so did not vote. The 8 would be 5 NMPs and 3 PAP MPs.

My guess is that the 3 PAP MPs who did not vote are Inderjit Singh (and I can’t tell for sure), LKY and one other. If it was indeed Inderjit who did not vote, then I am very, very disappointed. For all the passion he showed in his speech – which I happily carried on my blog, it would most unfortunate if he did not actually vote. On the other hand, I would not be surprised if he did show up and voted YES because while he could have been given the freedom to make the statements he made, he would have been told that the party whip will be enforced, thereby forcing him to vote along party lines. So much for standing up to your convictions and that of your constituents.

I am guessing that LKY was absent as well. I am told that he is in hospital and has been there for a while now; and the local MSM has been embargoing the news. Probably explains why he did not show up at all at the Punggol East by-elections.

All things considered, so long as there is the existence of a party whip, the parliament cannot be a democracy and I was under that illusion all along. 

Please, Clerk of Parliament, update your website immediately. This is 2013 already. An informed citizenry is a valuable asset and don’t squander that.

Update, February 9 2013 0948 hrs: According to the following tweet from Inderjit (via MrBrown), he did not vote. Not voting generally means being absent from the parliament. That’s a clever move as he will not be sanctioned by the PAP whip if he voted against and not by Singaporeans if he did. But, frankly, Mr Singh, this is a cop out. Not sure why you did not vote, Mr Singh, but I hope you will be able to stand up to your convictions and be able to look back to this without regrets. As Russell Peters says, “be a man”.

Finally, a PAP MP making a considered and sane proposal

I am really glad to read the speech that PAP MP Inderjit Singh gave in Parliament about the Population White Paper.

Mr Singh, since I can’t find your speech anywhere else outside a walled garden, I hope you don’t mind me including it here as posted to your Facebook page.

Speech by Mr Inderjit Singh, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC

On the White Paper on Population

Madam Speaker, thank you for allowing me to join the debate on the White Paper on Population.

While the report has some compelling arguments for the 6.9m population figure projected, we all know it is based mainly on economic considerations. Had we focused on things like building a cohesive nation with a strong national identity, the outcome would likely be very different.

I feel the time has come for us to find a better balance between economic growth and social cohesion and yes there will have to be tradeoffs of economic growth but I would rather trade some of these for a cohesive, united nation where people feel taken care of at home and are confident of their future. I am not saying we go for low or no growth. Instead I am willing to adjust my growth expectations for a more comfortable life for all Singaporeans. I am confident we will still be able to pursue respectable economic growth when companies and Singaporeans are faced with a situation of tightened labour availability by focusing on improving ourselves through productivity and higher value capabilities. Finland and other small nations have done, we can do it too.

Our past decade of rapid population growth has already created too many problems which need to be solved first before we take the next step. I call on the government to take a breather for five years, solve all the problems created by the past policies of rapid economic and population growth. We can safely say that we have failed to achieve the goal set by the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, of a Swiss standard of living for most Singaporeans, except for the higher income Singaporeans including foreigners who just recently decided to make Singapore their home. So I call for a breather in this quest of growing the population and focus on improving the lives of Singaporeans and achieve that promised Swiss Standard of living for most Singaporeans first before we plan our next growth trajectory.

Taking Care of the Singaporean Core
I have a big issue with the number of PRs and new citizens we are planning to add to our population. I don’t see the necessity to be as aggressive when the key consideration of the population growth is the economy. We have already added too many new citizens and PRs and need time for integration and social cohesion to happen. Looking at history, our population grew from around 2.4m in 1980 to 3m in 1990 and then to 4m in 2000, reaching 5.3m last year. Just looking at the resident population alone, we grew the numbers from 2.3m in 1980 to 2.7m in 1990, 3.3m in the year 2000 and then to 3.8m last year. So in the last decade we added more than 1m to the resident population, and the in last 25 years, which is close to 1 generation of Singaporeans, we have added another close to 50% more to our resident population. I believe this must be the fastest rate of population growth in the world and I feel this is just too much for us to comfortably go back and build a national identity and social cohesion which was progressing very well till the 1990s. Adding another 500,000 to 800,000 more PRs and citizens as proposed by the white paper will be disastrous and add to our already difficult infrastructure and social problems.

If it is economic growth we want then let’s just adopt the Dubai model of a transient workforce which will give us a lot more flexibility to manage numbers in the longer term. On PRs, today we already have too many of them and they are enjoying full citizen privileges without the citizens’ responsibilities. For example;
– Far too many PR boys who skip NS when they turn 18. After enjoying the privileges they have a choice of not doing NS and then leave the country. I believe only around 30% of all PR boys do NS today. Well, our Singapore sons don’t have a choice but to do NS, it is an offence not to do it.
– PR children study at their International system schools sticking to their home cultures.
– PRs can buy HDB flats from the open market driving prices of HDB flats too high.

So I urge the government to reduce the number of projected new PRs and citizens just to the population replacement levels and be more selective and differentiate their privileges from citizens. I have a few suggestions for the government to consider;

• The government in the past couple of years has tried to draw the distinction between PRs and citizens by increasing school fees and healthcare fees for them. But I wonder would it not have been better to instead partially subsidize these same fees for Singapore citizens? So do it the other way round, reduce fees for Singaporeans not just increase for PRs.

• PR children must be made do national service – it should no longer be a choice and we should make it an offence if they don’t do it. We should not grant PRs to families who don’t commit their sons to National Service.

• HDB – if a PR buys a HDB flat from the open market, charge a levy of say $50k and allow them to sell only to Singaporeans. If the PR takes up citizenship within 5 years, we can refund the levy.

• Children of PRs should be made to study in our national schools so that we increase the chance of integrating them at the next generation.

• On the employment front, it is time we implement a Singaporean first hiring policy like what is done in some developed countries like Canada. Companies should show proof first that they were not able to fill a position with a Singaporean before they are allowed to hire a foreigner.

• Reconsider the dependents policy – I have come across a number of cases where our targeted one child from China brings in 2 parents who then bring 2 parents each as their dependents – Net is that we gain one young one child who we brought in for our future but also inherited 6 older people – making our ageing population issue worse not better.

I feel the differentiated privileges will separate the genuine ones from those who are here for a ride. We should grant PRs to those who are most likely going to take up citizenships so these differentiated privileges should not stifle our plans to attract quality PRs and new citizens.

This brings me to the point of how many Singaporeans are feeling about the presence of such huge numbers of new citizens, PRs and foreigners amongst our midst. First for housing – there is no doubt that the influx of foreigners in Singapore has driven up our property prices. PRs are buying HDB flats from the open market which drives up prices.

Just last week I had a dialogue session with my private estates residents and one of my residents complained that a new citizens recently bought a landed property in this old estate and was building a 3 and a half storey towering house. Well the, new citizen, the owner of the house was also present and when, I spoke with him during the tea session I found out that he was a new citizen formerly from China, just gained his citizenship and bought not 1 but 3 landed properties in Kebun Baru alone. I was surprised and saddened because many Singaporeans cannot afford to do the same, and this new citizen, no matter how he may have made his wealth is able to do so.

Many young Singaporeans I talk to, especially those who have recently graduated and have just entered the workforce feel demoralized because many of the things that they grew up aspiring to have are now beyond their reach. Our aggressive growth strategies, which allowed cheaper foreign workers, including professionals to easily gain employment passes degraded or depressed wage levels of many Singaporeans, not just the lower income Singaporeans. I remember when I started work in 1985, my salary was $1900 as an entry level engineer. After a few years I could afford a house and a car. Today, 28 years later, an entry level engineer in Singapore earns $2600, just $700 more than what I earned when I started. The mathematics is very simple, the cost of living did not just go up by 1.3% per annum the last 27 years and even more, the cost of owning a HDB flat is did not just go up by 37% since 1985.

Finally, I am perturbed by the banquet analogy used by Minister Khaw. We are talking about lives of Singaporeans. Our banquet guests come for one night and leave when the function is over. There is no turning back when we grant PR and citizenships. We must be more exact about the numbers we want to add to the Singapore population and not plan on a basis of ‘hoping we hit some number”. Because if overdo things and end up with a population of more than 7m, it may be too late to stop the fast moving train of population growth when we fire up all the engines of growing the population. We missed the mark the last 10 years, and are already paying a high price for that mistake.

In my speech in this house in 2008 during the committee of supply debate on the population I urged the government to abandon the “the instant tree mentality” in trying to grow the population in response to the declining birth rates. At that time, I did not agree with the rate of growth pursued and we know the consequences and the hardship Singaporeans faced as a result of the rapid growth, Instant trees cannot grow strong roots and can be uprooted in difficult times. I once again urge the government to slow down and plan on reaching their population target over a longer time horizon. I don’t think we can live with a 6.9m population in 2030. We may be able to handle it in 2050, no one really knows. Please abandon this ‘instant tree” mentality as we cannot afford to make Singaporeans lives more difficult as a result. I rather we err on the side of caution when it comes to growing our population. We cannot keep paying a high price for planning misjudgements.

In Conclusion, I would like to see us take a breather from re-growing our population again. We have too many problems as a result of the last breath taking population growth rate. As a government we need to rebuild the trust and confidence among Singaporeans that our citizens matter most to us and that we are willing take a break from our relentless drive for growth to solve their problems, make their lives more comfortable, give them a better quality of life and show them that any future growth of population will not create similar social and cost of living problems. At this stage many Singaporeans from all walks of life don’t have the confidence that we can handle another steep growth of the population, so let’s not push it. I would like all of us, including the government to spend the time creating and environment that gives us confidence in our future and one where our young can see a sense of hope of opportunity and if we fail to instil a sense of hope and opportunity for our future generations, we will not be able to root them here and build a strong national identity and a strong nation. This is what building a strong Singapore core should entail. So let’s delay all plans for further population growth for now.

“If there’s a war, why should we fight for Singapore?”

These two questions have been asked before and I am sure my two sons will ask them again:

  • “Do I have to do NS?”
  • “Is Singapore worth defending and dying for?”

My answer had been a resounding “Yes!”.

Today, February 5, 2013, I finally don’t have an affirmative answer for them.

I am finding it harder and harder to justify the “Yes!”.

Come 2030, they will be 30 and 33 years old. The country they will be living in, if they choose to continue to live in Singapore, is expected to have about 7 million people if the current ruling party has their way.

This is a target being set that they say is a “worst case scenario”. And this from a PAP-led cabinet who did not have foresight and whose leader has apologized not once, but twice.

While I am all for doing what is needed and what is right, I think the approach taken by the current PAP government in pushing for the Population White Paper (PWP) (a 41 pager) is very heavy-handed and executed in a dismal way.  DPM Teo CH is the man on the spot pushing for the adoption of the PWP in parliament, and, frankly, after failing to win the Punggol East by-election, has much lower credibility (he might lose in the 2016 general elections anyway). Does the PM not even recognize this? Do they not have a strategy in introducing policy directions, directions that can be divisive, especially after losing a seat?  PM Lee and DPM Teo were a former brigadier general and a rear-admiral respectively in the Singapore Armed Forces. Both of them never fought a war (the one with real blood – fortunately for Singapore) and come from the same group think environment of the SAF (with due apologies to those in the SAF who don’t suffer from that condition). The “group think” probably explains their collective lack of 20/20 vision as admitted by the PM.

The PWP is probably a well-meaning document – yes, I’ve read it and I do mean probably. It took me about three hours to go through it and understand it as much as I could. But I am not convinced. I got sidetracked when I read this in page 5:

Since March 2012, the Government has been actively seeking views from Singaporeans as part of
the preparations for this White Paper.

Many Singaporeans from different walks of life and age groups – including trade unionists, workers,
retirees, students, businessmen, professionals, women’s groups, overseas Singaporeans, civil
servants, bloggers, grassroots leaders, and academics – contributed their views in focus group
discussions and dialogue sessions. Singaporeans also wrote in through the
website and via e-mail.

Many others expressed their views or wrote articles about this important issue, through other
platforms and fora.

We thank everyone for your valuable contributions, which have helped to shape this White Paper.

I don’t recall anything like that being asked for. May be I missed the memo. May be I was not in the target audience that the PAP government wanted to hear from. And they wanted to hear from people who would tell them what they wanted to hear. I don’t know.

What I do know is that both the process by which they’ve come up with the conclusions and recommendations in the PWP are flawed.

Do I have an alternative? Yes. Let’s talk and discuss this calmly and with all the numbers and data that will help us collectively come to an action plan.  Lay it out for all to see and understand. Not the hand waving and the “I know better than you” attitude.

Perhaps we need a Temasek WikiLeaks drop box (my email ID is h dot pillay at ieee dot org).

Let’s get the raw data, arguments for and against that has been done with the cabinet and the related government agencies.

Talk to/with us not AT us. Remember, we Citizens are the masters and you, the Government is the servant, lest you forget.

I don’t know what to tell my sons now. I will still want them to serve their national service – this is their country and have obligations, but I don’t think I can answer the second question. They will have to figure it out for themselves.

It is probably useful to keep in mind that it is very likely that all of those in the current cabinet may not be in parliament when the island is chock-a-block in 2030. But because of their decisions made today, my sons and the children born in this century will be the ones hurting.

Release all the data – both for and against. Let’s use open source crowd sourcing techniques to reach a collective decision. Trust us to do the Right Thing for our country.

My country, right or wrong, if wrong to be set right and if right to be kept right.

Majulah Singapura!

In a word, wow!

I am not sure if this is a report that contains stuff taken out of context, but if its true that PM Lee thinks that his government did not have clarity in vision, what does that mean to all the justifications of paying sky-high wages to the “ministers” who were, after all, the ones who should have looked out for us?

I await back-peddling and clarifications before commenting on what appears to me an admission of failure.

While we are talking about failures, let me point a huge failure playing out in the Singapore civil service in the form of the fiasco called the  “Standard Operating Environment”. There is no one in the civil service that has anything positive to say about the fiasco that they have to be living with for the next umpteen years. The amount of tax dollars wasted and continued to be wasted because of the closed, proprietary software chosen is appalling. We need to stop it. Now!

Mr Prime Minister, I made an offer to help set up a Singapore Open Institute that will propel the Singapore public sector rapidly forward with the adoption and use of open source software and make it innovative and forward thinking. The offer still has not been taken up by you or your office.

Let’s make rapid changes and changes for the better. I look forward to hearing from you at h dot pillay at ieee dot org.

It was obvious to me

Congratulations to Ms Lee Li Lian in winning the Punggol East seat on January 26, 2013. With 16,038 from 29,832 votes cast, she commanded a lead that was not assailable by the incumbent party’s candidate Dr Koh.

As I alluded to in my post on January 24th, I had no doubt that the Worker’s Party would win. I was unsure of the margin and was expecting it to be narrower not the whopping 10.83%. It was obvious to me that the WP will win for it was clear in the Internet chatter via social media and engagements with fellow Singaporeans. The irony of it, to me, is that I don’t personally know of anyone living in that area and eligible to vote, so all my highly unscientific analysis was a combination of gut feel and reading of the Internet tea leaves! It could also be a result of almost 100% personal shut off of all MSM content and when I did come across it, viewing it skeptically and dismissing it in my mind as noise.

I am disappointed that the ruling party, at the press conference accepting the defeat, attributing the loss to “local issues” and that “we always knew it was going to be difficult”. That’s spinning the story without so much as answering the fundamental issues.

Here are some thoughts on why PAP failed spectacularly on January 26:

a) The area is a “new” HDB dominated town and the traditionally used carrot-and-stick approach of lift upgrading etc could not work so it was not even tried.

b) The vast majority of people living there came from other places and to parachute in Dr Koh and say that he is a “son of Punggol” is ludicrous. Dr Koh’s family moved away from Punggol when he was three years old and never returned. I am sure Dr Koh is very embarrassed by the PAP labelling as such. I am sure Dr Koh will be hard pressed to even find which part of Punggol East was his childhood home, if even it is in that precinct.  Lesson to PAP spin doctors: don’t craft things that might sound catchy; it can and will backfire.

c) Announcing that there will be a MRT extension to Punggol by 2030 smack in the middle of the campaigning is as stupid as stupid gets. These types of announcements of carrots should be disallowed during any election campaign period because of the simple reason that it will only favour the ruling party for they are the ones with the inside knowledge. This is very similar to insider trading and should carry same penalties.

d) What kinds of local issues are there to begin with? If we stretch the repair and renovation delays of the Rivervale Mall and label that as a local issue, then OK. But really? A mall undergoing repairs is an issue? Come on. Singaporeans are not daft, PAP campaign managers are.

The PAP only knows of campaign models from the 1960s and 70s. Because of the ugly walk-overs of the 70s-90s, there was no means to improve and adopt campaign models and so the PAP’s election machinery knew only one way to work.  The Internet-savvy and MSM-distrusting voter population of today is able to see right through the veil.  It does not help also that the so-called “PAP Internet Brigade” and “Fabrications about the PAP” who go around in social media and other sites and misbehave instead of engaging thoughtfully.

PAP lost because they’ve seriously diminished credibility. MP Teo Ho Pin shot himself in the foot, again, with another disappointing reply about the AIM scandal. Did he and the PAP really think that by responding that way, it will sway the opinion to their side? It would have been better for them not to have said a thing. But then again, this is the PAP, a party that knows no better. Perhaps Teo Chee Hean was right after all when he said “we knew it was going to be difficult”. His fumbling party members made it even more difficult.

So, what now for the prime minister and his severely diminished standing. A standing that has taken major beatings since 2011.

He led his party to a very narrow win the 2011 general elections with razor thin margins. In that process his party lost ministers all over the place – six of them if I am correct. And in that 2011 general election, their gerrymandering technique of the Group Representation Constituency backfired spectacularly when the Worker’s Party won the Aljunied GRC. That’s political bloodshed. The bloodshed did not cost the PM his job though. Any other normal political party would have seen a purge for failed leadership. Why did it not happen? Perhaps the politically correct thing to say is that the leadership is calcified and in very severe group think. Very few of the PAP cabinet are alternative thinkers and if they are, we have not seen anything. Perhaps the WP, in gathering the seats in parliament, will be able to form a shadow cabinet and offer thoughtful comments and engage. I think the WP will but it will take some time to bring in people.

Next was the presidential election where the PAP-endorsed candidate won the  presidency by a margin thinner than a razor’s edge, a gap of less than 0.5%.

And very quickly after that, the PAP fumbled again in not being able to make a dent at the  Hougang by-election.

And then last night’s Punggol East victory by the WP, capturing the seat that was PAP held until last December.

Much speculations center around the PAP splintering internally in the post-LKY world. The suggestions that there will emerge an ultra conservative religiously-based (Christian mostly) splinter, another that is far more accommodative and liberal with a technocrat bent and a third, smaller splinter that harks back to the early PAP days. What will prevail, who knows? Perhaps the PAP and LKY can do each other a favour and part ways NOW. Yes, that will trigger another by-election in Tanjong Pagar but the sooner the better instead of waiting till 2016 and feeling a bigger defeat.

The splintering notwithstanding, the PAP should eat humble pie and engage honestly with the citizens. The ongoing “Singapore Conversations” are good but insufficient in their attempts at reaching out. I have not attended any of those conversations yet and don’t personally know of any one who has. How about using IRC or Google Hangouts as well? I reckon they need control.

How about an “Honest Singapore Conversation” instead? Let’s start by publishing the following (in no particular order):

  1. Immigration statistics – lay it out and place it in
  2. Public housing statistics – put it out in
  3. What is the real standing of our reserves managed by Temasek and GIC; full disclosure of losses and investments – again, put it out in
  4. Full and transparent detailing of all PAP-owned companies doing business with government especially given the AIM fiasco?
  5. What are we doing for the impending disaster of climate change?
  6. How much money have we spent on wasteful IT solutions in government and why is the government not the leading open source software user? And, you guessed it, put it out in I am also eagerly looking forward to as well – my offer to help build an open source town council management solution notwithstanding.

We can do better, much better, Singapore.

Majulah Singapura.

The Value of Checks and Balances

The Punggol East by-elections will be on Saturday, January 26 2013.

Let’s look at the choices Punggol East residents have:

a) PAP’s candidate. I think the good doctor probably has his heart in the right place, but the reality of the game is that he is beholden to the party in all parliamentary votes. He cannot vote what his constituents want him to because of the arcane manifestation of the party whip. Why have someone who you *think* is representing you and your views, only to be told by his party whip that any vote will be decided by the party regardless of what the constituents say. That, to me, is reason number one not to vote in a PAP person – he can only rubber stamp stuff.

b) WP candidate: WP also has the party whip and I am sure if the WP formed the government, they would exercise it. But since they are not, I think they have the singular advantage that the PAP candidate does not have in that they can vote based on what their constituents want. Never mind that it is likely that the PAP will get its way anyway, but it will be recorded in the Hansard and can be used in a checklist on the legislative actions of the MP.

c) RP candidate: I am sure Kenneth will be able to out debate the PM and the cabinet (provided they are willing to be in a debate), but I think he should not have thrown his hat into the ring this time around. But since he has, it is probably a good opportunity to gain experience. In the 2011 general elections he stood in the West Coast GRC and since that’s where I get to vote, I voted for the Reform Party. Alas, they did not win. But that’s OK.

d) SDA candidate: I believe that Desmond is sincere in wanting to serve. I do believe that he had spent many years with Chiam See Tong in Potong Pasir and has a sense of what happens on the ground. But, like RP, I think SDA should not have participated this time around.

If we all agree that it is important to have checks and balances, the only way it can be achieved is to have appropriately contrarian voices and not yes men. Any one of the candidates from WP, RP and SDA can be that voice, but my money would be on the WP as they are a group that is building ever so carefully a team to be able to form a shadow cabinet and in the future to form the government.

Unlike other areas, the PAP cannot just bribe the Punggol East voters with promises of HDB upgrading even though they did pull that MRT extension information out of the bag to sweeten the deal.  We need an embargo of these announcements during an election campaign period as this is clearly an abuse of the incumbent’s power to information not otherwise available. Just as there is a cooling off period before polling day, there has to be a moratorium of announcements during the campaign period. Of course the PAP will not accept this suggestion for it did not come from them and it will work against them, but I am hoping that the WP can bring this up in Parliament.

So the decision is simple. PAP lost all credibility in the way they have dealt with the AIM issue and we need to get to the bottom of that and the best way to send a message to the ruling party is by sending in a WP candidate.

Lee Li Lian for the seat of Punggol East!

Don’t spoil your vote.

Majulah Singapura.

They don’t get it.

The Punggol East by-elections are underway with the polling happening on Saturday January 26, 2013. Today, January 22, at the Worker’s Party rally, the WP chairman, Ms Sylvia Lim, spoke about the AIM related issues. Interestingly, the PAP was quick to post a reply on their page.

What continues to amaze me is that the PAP and specifically the Coordinating Chairman *still* does not think that there is an issue, despite the PM (from the PAP no less) saying that he has ordered a review of the whole transaction.

Let’s look at the statement as posted:

By Teo Ho Pin

Tuesday, 22 Jan 2013

The following statement was issued by Dr Teo Ho Pin, the coordinating chairman of PAP town councils, in response to statements made by Ms Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party (WP).

Ms Sylvia Lim spoke about the AIM transaction in the WP rally tonight. I have already explained the circumstances behind the transaction. To reiterate, these are the facts:

a) AIM was awarded the contract after an open tender by PAP Town Councils, to centralise software to maintain the current IT system and help develop a new system

b) The transaction brought benefits and savings to the Town Councils. AIM did not make any financial gains from the transaction.

c) It was the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) which terminated the contract, and not AIM. Ms Lim herself has admitted that the AHTC’s arrears are high, and that this has nothing to do with AIM or the changeover of the IT system, and that the AHTC could do better. This is the key issue – the performance of the Town Councils, and how well they are managed by the WP.

Issued by PAP HQ for and behalf of
Dr Teo Ho Pin

It is disappointing to read b) above saying that AIM did not make any financial gains from the transaction.. So AIM is a charity and does not have any profit motive. I find that very hard to believe given that the Coordinating Chairman has already stated that payments were being made to AIM in his  previous statement.

Saying that AIM did not make financial gains is merely deflecting the real issue that the 14 PAP Town Councils will loose $25,030. This is tax dollars that goes to AIM all under the false premise of “maximizing IP”.

14 PAP Town Councils AIM
Contract Award $140,000 (perhaps each TC got $10K) ($140,000)
Lease (Nov 2010 – Oct 2011) ($785*14*12 => $131,880) $131,880
Nett $8,120
Nov 2011 – Apr 2013 ($33,150) $33,150
Nett ($25,030)

PAP has spun a web of mistrust and they just don’t get it.  Putting another PAP person in parliament via the Punggol East by-election is not what we need. I hope my fellow Singaporeans who can cast their vote this Saturday will do the Right Thing and not vote PAP.

If I have a chance to vote, I will vote the Worker’s Party.

Anonymity and Feedback

For the record, I will defend the right of anyone to engage in any discourse anonymously. Anonymity is a very potent and powerful tool that, as participants in a society, it serves to empower people to come forth and engage.

I’ve been a member of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation for a long time and fully subscribe to the EFF’s stand on anonymity. I am not sure about Singapore’s stand on anonymity. Nonetheless, what matters is that I will continue to support and defend the right to anonymity.

The challenge I sometimes face is how to respond to anonymous posts (either online or offline) in a way that will satisfy the person(s) making the anonymous posts as well as myself in responding to it.

Recently, I received two anonymous snail mail (yes, it’s 2013 and snail mail still exists!) about some matters at the place I live. I happen to be the chairman of the council managing the place and two  anonymous letters were about some issues about the estate.  I would very much want to respond to it, but am struggling on the how to.

I need advise on how to turn the anonymous praise/comments/requests/queries/complaints into productive and useful replies and conversations. Should I just post answers up on communal notice boards? Would the anonymous correspondents even know that I’ve replied? How can I know that the anonymous respondent has seen the replies?

Too many questions on a Friday evening.

Doing the right thing and a proposal

I am glad to read the the Prime Minister has decided to probe the sale the applications (built and paid using tax dollars) by the PAP Town Councils to the PAP-owned company AIM.

<stand up> <applause> <applause> <applause> <applause> <applause> <sit down>

I would like to know the following:

  1. Who will head this?
  2. What kind of time frame will this have to be done by – one month, one year, by next general election?
  3. In the meantime, what happens to the monies that have been spent (and to be spent) in the transaction
  4. Will there be a public disclosure of companies that are PAP-owned and a list of transactions done by them with public sector agencies. I would expect the same from the WP and other political parties as well.

I would also like to hear from the Prime Minister on how we can ensure that all technology used/developed/deployed in any public sector entity in Singapore will FIRST consider open source solutions and failing to find something, then with a request for exemption (RFE), filed, published and approved, to look at non-open source options.

The time is NOW to make the bold and exciting change, Mr Prime Minister. I am sure this is of no concern to you, but rest assured your legacy will be being acknowledged as the Open Source Prime Minister.

While it might be premature to say “well done”, any progress is good progress. Doing the right thing is what this is all about.

As citizens, we need to keep a watchful eye on this probe to ensure that nothing is left unturned and keep the pressure on.

Again, my offer to help build an open source solution to managing Town Council system remains.

Let me take this opportunity to flesh out a proposal of how this can be accomplished.


  • We establish a Singapore Open Institute, funded by government and/or corporate sponsors.
  • SOI’s role will be primarily at assessing all the open source solutions being developed around the world especially for government (and education) and finding local use of them. Likewise, local public sector agencies can seek SOI’s help in creating open source solutions.
  • SOI will be the trusted agency that public sector entities will seek advise and clearance in projects they want to undertake.
  • SOI will also create a Public Sector Software Exchange (PSX). The PSX will be open to anyone, anywhere to contribute to as well as to consume code from. All code in PSX could be on a GPLv3 or Apache License v 2 or something Singapore-branded, like the EU open license. PSX will also host SMEs, start-ups and individuals who can provide solutions. Parts of the Instruction Manual will have to be amended as needed to accomodate this.
  • SOI will also be the entity to which requests for exemption (RFE) has to be applied for by public sector agencies before going for closed source products. RFEs will have an expiry period and will be specific to a project.
  • SOI will also be the catalyst in creating and running programming contests, hack-a-thons etc (both with open source software and hardware). This is principally to encourage as many people to learn coding and build solutions.
  • Mindef, Police, SCDF and security related agencies are exempted from SOI but are strongly encouraged to create an equivalent of
  • SOI will also be the thought leader for Open Data, Open Source, Open Hardware and Open Standards.

It is an idea whose time has come for Singapore to act on, Mr Prime Minister.

Let’s do the right thing.

It’s not a contest per se, it’s a Sahana-moment!

So, my 3 am post from January 3rd 2013 is now on, probably not a good thing, but then this is the way things move.

For what it’s worth, going by the comments in that post, this is not about scoring points against the Coordinating Chairman or the PAP or the WP.  It is about highlighting the facts in a way that was clearer and not wrapped up in words and more importantly, offering a better way to do things for the betterment of this country.

At the expense of being ridiculed for stating the obvious, all the information and analysis done at 3 am on January 3rd 2013 that is in my original post is from that one media release put out by the Coordinating Chairman on January 2, 2013.

There is confusion about what the various issues which sadly are related albeit tangentially.

Let me try to give a map of the issues that are being looked at.

a) The Ministry of National Development put out a  Town Council Management Report for 2012 on December 14, 2012. Of the 15 town councils, all except for the Aljunied Hougang Town Council scored green in S&CC Arrears Management – Examines the extent of Town Councils’ S&CC arrears that residents have to bear.” AHTC is the only non-PAP Town Council.

b) Because of that red score, the question arose as to what happened? To that extent, the AHTC released their comments.

c) It then was known to all of us that there was a company, Action Information Management Pte Ltd, that was providing the IT solutions to the town councils.

d) That was when the issue blew up with regards to who is AIM, why did this company get to do this business, how did they come to own the IT system etc etc.

So, there are two chunks of issues:

1) The poor performance from the Town Council Management Report 2012 perspective of Aljunied Hougang Town Council

2) Who is this AIM and what is their role in all of this?

Both are important issues. I am in no position to comment on the first point.  That is for the AHTC to address to the satisfaction of the residents of AHTC as well as us Singaporeans.

My interest centers in the second point. As a computing professional, having been in this industry since 1982, this interests  me personally. I am also an advocate of using and growing the use of open source technologies especially in the public sector. The Town Councils are public sector organizations. It pains me to see good money being thrown at IT solutions only for the vendor(s) to obsolete it in a relatively short time, and get the customer to pay up again and again. This becomes even more acute with public sector IT spending. It is yours and my tax dollars that get spent wastefully.

Sure, there as a time when the open source solutions and frameworks did not quite provide good alternatives to address the varied IT needs. But that was a long, long time ago. Today open source is so very prevalent in every nook and corner that there is no longer any justifiable reason not to consider open source first for any IT need, especially in government and public sector.

People who know me would have heard the repeating groove that I have become, in that we need, at least in Singapore, an official government policy to do open source FIRST for all public sector IT procurement and for government agencies to file justifications for exemptions if they want to go with a proprietary solution and these exemptions have to be public knowledge.

Why is that needed? It is because monies spent by publicly funded agencies especially in reusable technologies like software, should not be wasted and locked away in some proprietary solution.

I am not proposing nor suggesting that open source solutions don’t come at a price. They do. They will need to be supported (as any software needs to, open or otherwise). But the huge upside when used in the public sector is that the solution can be worked on and enhanced and re-factored by entities that the public sector organizations could engage. This grows the local, domestic IT sector. It grows it in a way that benefits the local econoomy and SMEs who then get opportunities to become conversant in domains that otherwise will be hard to get into. With the code being open, anyone can contribute, but, and this is the part most people miss out, you STILL NEED commercially contracted support. 

This opens up opportunities to SMEs in Singapore to take up the various solutions to manage and maintain and gain expertise and in the process begin expanding outside Singapore as well.

Eight years ago, as a reservist SCDF officer, I was mobilized to support SCDF’s Ops Lion Heart to help with Search and Rescue after the 2004 Boxing Day Indian Ocean tsunami. My country called me to serve at a time of need and I put on my uniform and was on the ground in Banda Aceh for about two weeks.

The lessons I learned then was that in a disaster situation, the various international agencies and military/civil defense forces on the ground had very little common technology (other than walkie talkies) that could be used to coordinate the work. We, the SCDF, had our comms equipment (we had a Immarsat vsat satellite and satellite phones and GPS devices) but other than that, nothing else to interface with the other forces on the ground. Why? Because each of those entities had their own proprietary software tools to work with. At a time when there was a massive natural disaster, as rescuers we were not assisted by the technologies because of vendor lock-in.

Out of that disaster, came Project Sahana –  put together by Sri Lankan open source developers. Sahana is now a UN sanctioned tool for disaster management.

Why do I bring this up? Because it seems that we are heading to a Sahana-moment in Singapore. Public sector IT services should be decoupled from political parties.  Public sector IT solutions must open up the source code so that there are no opportunities for being taken for a ride.

So, to draw back to the beginning. Mr Coordinating Chairman, this is not a contest per se. This is a genuine offer to help us, the collective us, to do the Right Thing

Why Open Standards and Open Source Matters in Government

I have offered to the powers that be (TPTB) running the various Town Councils in Singapore an opportunity for the open source community to help build an application to manage their respective towns following the unfolding fiasco around their current software solution which is nearing end of life.

I am not surprised to hear comments and even SMS texts from friends who say that I am silly to want to offer to create a solution using open source tools. I can only attribute that to their relative lack of understanding of how this whole thing works and how we can collectively build fantastic solutions for the common good of society not only in Singapore but around the world.

I work for a company called Red Hat. Red Hat is a publicly traded company (RHT on NYSE) and is a 100% pure play open source company. What Red Hat does is to bring together open source software and make it consumable for enterprises. Doing that is not an easy thing. A lot of additional engineering and qualifications have to go into it before corporates and enterprises feel confident to deploy it. Red Hat has been successful in doing all of that because of the ethos of the company in engaging with open source developers (and hiring them as full time employees where appropriate) so that we can help the world gain and use better and higher quality software for everything.

That means that in taking open source software, Red Hat has to ensure that improvements and enhancements done are put back out as well to benefit everyone else and at the same time, at a price, provide a service to enterprises that want to use these tools but also want accountability, support, continued innovation etc. That is the Red Hat business model. We are the corporate entity that enterprises deploying open source tools look to for sanity.

Naturally, everything we create is available to anyone else, including our competition, and, yes, we can be beaten at our own game. That’s the best part. The fact that we can be challenged by others with what we helped create is a fantastic situation to be in as it forces us to constantly innovate (and in the open) and show how we are a responsible open source community member while giving tremendous value to enterprises.

It is in that spirit that I made the offer to help form a team of open source developers in Singapore to create the management system software for the town councils.  Certainly, when the software is built and deployed, the town councils would need to have competent support and there is nothing stopping any of the IT SMEs in Singapore picking up that opportunity. This gives the Town Councils significant advantage in choosing vendors to support their needs while keeping the innovation forthcoming because the code is open.

Here’s an article in an IT publication which I was interviewed about open source and CIOs – yeah, self promotion :-). But, here’s a better article about how open source is so prevalent in the US  government as well (yes, Gunnar is a colleague of mine).

So, the offer to build an open source solution is genuine and sincere. It is not for me to make money out of it per se, but to foster a situation that will create even more opportunities for others to actively participate in create fantastic open source solutions for us not only for the Singapore public sector, but the world.

I hope this offer is taken up seriously by TPTB including parts of IDA and MND. And for the record, this offer has nothing to do with Red Hat.

My Conscience Is Bugging Me

I cannot let the media statement put out by the “Coordinating Chairman of the PAP Town Councils” regarding the sale of the town council management software system to a ex-PAP MP-owned company be left alone without it being shredded apart. The media statement appeared on January 2, 2013 on the PAP website.

I have italicised and indented the paragraphs from the media statement and my response follows each italicised segment.

Statement by Teo Ho Pin on AIM Transaction

On 28 December 2012, I issued a press release in response to Ms Sylvia Lim’s statement on the website of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council. Ms Lim had made various assertions in her statement. However, her statement was made without citing the relevant facts. I now make this further statement to set out fully the relevant facts.

I am the co-ordinating Chairman of all the PAP-run Town Councils (“the TCs”). The PAP TCs meet regularly and work closely with one another. This allows the TCs to derive economies of scale and to share best practices among themselves. This improves the overall efficiency of the TCs, and ensures that all the PAP TCs can serve their residents better.

In 2003, the TCs wanted to harmonise their computer systems. Hence, in 2003, all the TCs jointly called an open tender for a vendor to provide a computer system based on a common platform. NCS was chosen to provide this system. The term of the NCS contract (“NCS contract”) was from 1 August 2003 to 31 October 2010. There was an option to further extend the contract for one year, until 31 October 2011.

In 2010, the NCS contract was going to expire. The TCs got together and jointly appointed Deloitte and Touche Enterprise Risk Services Pte Ltd (“D&T”) to advise on the review of the computer system for all the TCs. Several meetings were held with D&T.

After a comprehensive review, D&T identified various deficiencies and gaps in the system. The main issue, however, was that the system was becoming obsolete and unmaintainable. It had been built in 2003, on Microsoft Windows XP and Oracle Financial 11 platforms. By 2010, Windows XP had been superseded by Windows Vista as well as Windows 7, and Oracle would soon phase out and discontinue support to its Financial 11 platform.

From what is mentioned above, D&T noted deficiencies and gaps in the system, which it seems was only about parts of the application infrastructure becoming obsolete and unmaintainable. It would be good to know what other gaps and deficiencies were reported.

It is now clear that the application that was developed ran on the system from Oracle Corporation, called “Oracle Financials 11”. It also is clear that, possibly both the server and client OS was Microsoft Windows XP. I do wonder how that original application was spec’ed out?

We have here a classic case of all of the component systems needed to run an application reaching end of life or becoming unsupported even as the application could still be used.

That, in itself, is not a big deal. Forced obsolescence is the norm in the IT industry. It is not the best state of affairs, but it is what it is.

The TCs were aware of and concerned about the serious risks of system obsolescence identified by D&T, and wanted to pre-empt the problem. In addition, as the NCS Contract was about to expire, they sought a solution which would provide the best redevelopment option to the TCs, and in the interim would allow them to continue enjoying the prevailing maintenance and other services.

Fair enough.

As Coordinating Chairman of the TCs, I had to oversee the redevelopment of the existing computer system for all TCs. It was clear to me that the existing computer software was already dated. The NCS contract would end by 31 October 2011 (if the one year extension option was exercised). However, assessing new software and actually developing a replacement system that would meet our new requirements would take time, maybe 18-24 months or even longer. We thus needed to ensure that we could get a further extension (beyond October 2011) from NCS, while working on redevelopment options.

Not sure why the preceding was needed, for it is a restatement of the first discussion.

D&T also raised with the TCs the option of having a third party own the computer system, including the software, instead, with the TCs paying a service fee for regular maintenance. This structure was not uncommon.

By stating that D&T saying that it is a common method for “third party own the computer system”, it is not clear how that would help with a rapidly aging computer system. Sounds incredulous for D&T to suggest that.

We decided to seriously consider this option. Having each of the 14 individual TCs hold the Intellectual Property (IP) rights to the software was cumbersome and inefficient. The vendor would have to deal with all 14 TCs when reviewing or revising the system. It would be better for the 14 TCs to consolidate their software rights in a single party which would manage them on behalf of all the TCs, and also source vendors to improve the system and address the deficiencies.

This paragraph contains the biggest amount of doublespeak and warped sense of value if there ever was one. What does it mean that each of the TCs holds the “Intellectual Property”?

It was stated that the reason for creating the application was (from above) “(t)his allows the TCs to derive economies of scale and to share best practices among themselves. This improves the overall efficiency of the TCs, and ensures that all the PAP TCs can serve their residents better.” which puts to lie “(t)he vendor would have to deal with all 14 TCs when reviewing or revising the system”.

It would seem that whatever that was built, ended up being 14 versions of the application and not one. How does reviewing and revising the system become any more efficient by “consolidat(ing) their software rights in a single party”? Humbug.

If that indeed was a valid reason, all the TCs could have done was to agree to trust one TC to be the custodian and decision maker. How does each giving up their ownership to an external party be any better?

I suspect the Coordinating Chairman is pulling a fast one here.

The TCs thus decided to call a tender to meet the following requirements:

1. To purchase the software developed in 2003, and lease it back to the TCs for a monthly fee, until the software was changed;

2. To undertake to secure extensions of the NCS contract at no extra cost i.e. take on the obligation to get an extension on the existing rates, until the TCs obtained new or enhanced software. This was put in to protect the financial position of the TCs; and

3. To work with the TCs to understand their enhancement and redevelopment needs and look for a suitable vendor to provide these upgrades.

If you look at the actual tender noticeall it states is that they are selling a “developed application software” and that the tenderer should be “experienced and reputable company with relevant track record”.

The devil is in the details which is only available if you fork out $214.
So, the PAP TCs wanted to sell out to someone else who fits their criteria of an experienced and reputable company with RELEVANT track record. The tender advertisement sounds very thin and vague.

Under the tender, the TCs sold only the IP in the old software. The ownership of the physical computer systems remained with the individual TCs. We wanted to sell the IP rights in the old software because it had limited value and was depreciating quickly. Had we waited until the new system was in place, the IP to the superseded old software would have become completely valueless.

Ah huh! They wanted to monetize their “IP” as it were. Time was running out. Not sure who else on the planet would want their “IP”, but they must monetize it.

The TCs advertised the tender in the Straits Times on 30 June 2010. Five companies collected the tender documents. These were CSC Technologies Services Pte Ltd, Hutcabb Consulting Pte Ltd, NCS, NEC Asia Pte Ltd and Action Information Management Pte Ltd (“AIM”).

I am sure four of the companies listed above, after wasting the $214, are run by level-headed management who realized that this tender was a huge scam and wanted no part in it and so decided not to respond.

I am aware that NCS considered bidding but in the end, decided not to do so as it was of the view that the IP rights to software developed in 2003 on soon to be replaced platforms were not valuable at all.

Another company withdrew after it checked and confirmed that it was required to ensure renewal of the NCS contract without an increase in rates. The company did not want to take on that obligation. The others may also have decided not to bid for similar reasons.

In the end, only AIM submitted a bid on 20 July 2010.

Does the Coordinating Chairman really think that NCS would have fallen into the scam as well? They would have known that there really is nothing in the application that they could “salvage”, having built it in the first place, let alone helping their customer monetize it.

We evaluated AIM’s bid in detail. First, AIM’s proposal to buy over the software IP would achieve our objective of centralising the ownership of the software, consistent with the model suggested by D&T.

This is circular logic which needs no further response.

AIM was willing to purchase our existing software IP for S$140,000, and lease it back at S$785 per month from November 2010 to October 2011. The lease payments to AIM would end by October 2011, with the expiration of the original NCS contract. Thus after October 2011, the TCs would be allowed to use the existing software without any additional lease payments to AIM, until the new software was developed.

Let’s do the math:

14 PAP Town Councils AIM
Contract Award $140,000 (perhaps each TC got $10K) ($140,000)
Lease (Nov 2010 – Oct 2011) ($785*14*12 => $131,880) $131,880
Nett $8,120

This meant that the TCs expected to gain a modest amount (about S$8,000) from the disposal of IP in the existing software.

So, the so called “Intellectual Property” is really only worth $8,120.

Second, AIM was willing to undertake the risks of getting an extension of the NCS contract with no increase in rates. This was the most important consideration for us, as it protected the TCs from an increase in fees.

And AIM will have the needed clout to negotiate with NCS – because they own the software – but the 14 PAP Town Councils being the original customer of NCS could not garner? Is that really true, Mr Coordinating Chairman? You are saying that you cannot do better than AIM against NCS? Say it ain’t so, Mr Coodinating Chairman.

Third, we were confident that AIM, backed by the PAP, would honour its commitments.

Wow, the PAP link. That’s the magic bullet.  Cronyism at its best. “Backed by the PAP” because the three directors are former PAP MPs or because the company is funded by the PAP?  Perhaps the other companies who picked up the tender document realized that they are not a PAP-{owned, funded} entity and would therefore not win.

That statement alone reeks of contempt of the free market, the principles of transparency, meritocracy and everything we hold dear in this country.
Are you, Mr Coordinating Chairman, also saying that AIM has deep pockets that they can withstand the possibility of NCS not agreeing? The directors of AIM have been reported not to be taking in director fees. That’s noble of them. It does look like the PAP Town Councils found their shining white knight in AIM.

Given the above considerations, AIM had met the requirements of the tender on its own merits. We assessed that the proposal by AIM was in the best interests of the TCs, and thus awarded the tender to AIM.

Of course! AIM has to be trustworthy and reputable given their PAP pedigree. Of course! D’oh!

Under the contract with AIM, the TCs could terminate the arrangements by giving one month’s notice if the TCs were not satisfied with AIM’s performance. Similarly, AIM could terminate by giving one month’s notice in the event of material changes to the membership of a TC, or to the scope and duties of a TC, like changes to its boundaries. This is reasonable as the contractor has agreed to provide services on the basis of the existing TC- and town-boundaries, and priced this assumption into the tender. Should this change materially, the contractor could end up providing services to a TC which comprises a much larger area and more residents, but at the same price.

What a lot of nonsense is this? It is unbelievable that the Coordinating Chairman can include a poison pill clause in the contract if the “boundaries of the Town Councils change”. I believe the boundaries of the West Coast Town Council changed after the May 2011 elections. I don’t see AIM doing anything about terminating the contract (correct me if I am wrong Mr Coordinating Chairman).

How does changes in the “larger area and more residents” materially change the way the software works? Is Mr Coordinating Chairman taking the tax payers and constituents of the PAP Town Councils to be daft? Wait a minute, a former PAP prime minister says we are (search for daft in that link)!

Since winning the tender, AIM has negotiated two extensions of the NCS contract until April 2013, at no increase in rates. The first extension was from November 2011 to October 2012, and the second from November 2012 to April 2013. The TCs received a substantial benefit in terms of getting the extensions from NCS beyond the original contract period, without any increase in prices.

Now, this is confusing. But I shall hold back for more juicy parts following.

What is not known now is the maintenance charges NCS charged as part of their original contract with the PAP Town Councils.

AIM has also been actively working with several vendors to explore new software options and enhancements for the TCs. AIM has identified software from a number of possible vendors, and has invited them to make presentations to the TCs in order for a suitable option to be chosen.

Are any of these open source solutions? Or is this going to be another closed, proprietary system that will face the same issues as the older one? Why are the Town Councils (via AIM) not looking at maximizing the tax dollars that goes into this by using open source solutions?

My offer to help build a fully open source solution remains.

Following the expiry of the initial lease arrangement for the software from AIM on 31 October 2011, no further lease payments for the software were made to AIM. During the period of its contract extension from November 2011 to April 2013, the management fee payable to AIM for the whole suite of services it provided was S$33,150, apart from what was payable to NCS for maintenance. In the end, inclusive of GST, each TC paid slightly more than $140 per month for AIM to ensure continuity of the existing system, secure the maintenance of this system at no increased costs, and identify options for a new system to which the TCs could migrate.

We entered into the transaction with AIM with the objective of benefitting the TCs. Over the last two years, the intended benefits have been realised. There is thus no basis to suggest that the AIM transaction did not serve the public interest, or was disadvantageous to residents in the TCs.

Bingo! The smoking gun perhaps?

So, AIM is not charitable and is asking the TCs to pay from November 2011 till April 2013. This is what the math looks like:

14 PAP Town Councils AIM
Contract Award $140,000 (perhaps each TC got $10K) ($140,000)
Lease (Nov 2010 – Oct 2011) ($785*14*12 => $131,880) $131,880
Nett $8,120
Nov 2011 – Apr 2013 ($33,150) $33,150
Nett ($25,030)

So, contrary to the rationale of “monetizing the IP” (a load of crap), the 14 PAP Town Councils will incur a loss of $25,030 in this deal.

This amount is on top of the cost of the D&T report and the “apart from what was payable to NCS for maintenance.”

It does seem that the PAP, having been in power for over 50 years, has found many creative means to “misdirect” tax monies.

I am saddened to have done this analysis.

Please, Mr Coordinating Chairman, please, come clean. You made a mistake. You thought you got a good deal. But that was not what it was. You have been drinking from the PAP water fountain for too long that you cannot see what is right and what is wrong. Your “media statement” is so full of holes that we can drive the Airbus A380 through it with room to spare.

Again, my offer to form a team of open source developers to build a solution that can benefit not only the town councils but anyone else remains.

Software for Public Sector Applications

The ongoing egg-in-the-face of the PAP over the “tender” (thanks to Alex for posting it via an anonymous source) awarded to AIM over the acquisition of a piece of software created for the use of the Town Councils is really disappointing.

Looking at the Today Online story, it would seem that Mr Teo and Mr Das have a lot of explaining to do.

Here’s an example of how proprietary software companies abuse their customers.  If you happen to have acquired a new laptop and it came with Windows 7 Starter Kit installed, when you set it up, you will be presented with a set of terms and conditions. Most people will just click OK and accept the terms and conditions without reading a word. But in this case, if you did not read anything you’d have missed out a juicy bit of restriction.

Section 8 on Page 7 of the Software License Terms says:

8. SCOPE OF LICENSE. The software is licensed, not sold. This agreement only gives you some rights to use the features included in the software edition you licensed. The manufacturer or installer and Microsoft reserve all other rights. Unless applicable law gives you more rights despite this limitation, you may use the software only as expressly permitted in this agreement. In doing so, you must
comply with any technical limitations in the software that only allow you to use it in certain ways. You may not
· work around any technical limitations in the software;
· customize the desktop background;
· …;

Isn’t amazing that even though you thought you bought that piece of software (according to their rules, it is not sold only licensed), you are NOT allowed to change the desktop background. Changing it will be breaking the terms and conditions of Windows 7 Starter Kit. Wow.

It sure sounds like our friends at the PAP-run Town Councils and AIM took a chunks out of the proprietary software “let’s screw and milk the customer” book. Only this time, the customer is the tax-paying Singapore public.

My offer to the Town Councils, expecially Aljunied Hougang Town Council, to help them build a fully open source solution remains.

Open Source and Government

[11:05 am Dec 26th: updated to reflect some clarifications given to me via other walled-garden social media]

The recent events with the Worker’s Party-led Aljunied Hougang Town Council‘s financial management system needs to be looked at from a far more holistic manner.

The system that AHTC has used for managing the financial and related activities was something that they inherited from the previous Aljunied Town Council. ATC was held by the People’s Action Party who lost it to the Worker’s Party in the May 2011 General Elections. And with the adjoining Hougang Constituency also held by the WP, it made sense for them to join forces and create AHTC.

From information that I have from the online and social media (and the MSM surprisingly), the software system was developed by the National Computer Systems under contract from the PAP-run town councils for an unspecified (say $X) amount. I can’t tell if the $X was for software only or did it include hardware as well. Probably not. Nor can I tell if it did include ongoing support, bug fixes and upgrades?

After acquiring the software, it seems that the software was then sold via a tender  to Action Information Management Pte Ltd (AIM) for an amount of S$140K (to be confirmed).  What that means is that the PAP-led TCs probably did have to absorb the $X-$140K difference and potentially it will come out of operating budget of the TCs which is funded by tax-payers.

AIM is interesting.

For a company that now owns a town council accounting package, it does not have a website. This is 2012 and unless AIM believed in the Mayan global destruction, there is no excuse at all to not have even a rudimentary, place-holder webpage. This is almost 2013, not 1993.  Is AIM a real software company? Do they really know how to manage and support software systems? ACRA records show it to be $2 company with a forwarding address – which is all halal.

Let’s grant AIM the benefit of doubt that they are indeed capable of managing what they bought. From some accounts, the system is apparently sophisticated.  It is possible that AIM could be sub-contracting this back out to NCS to manage and update. Who does one, in the town councils, call when there is an issue with the software? If you are reading this and work in a town council and know the answer, please post the answer anonymously (if you don’t want to be identified) in the comments below or email me directly at h dot pillay at ieee dot org.

With AIM now owning the software system, the town councils have to pay AIM a monthly fee (the quantum is not entirely clear – numbers below $1K per month per town council have been bandied around). Such leaseback schemes are all fine and dandy. It is disappointing that the PAP town councils saw this to recoup their investments because what ends up is that the tax payers will be paying over and over again for the same piece of software.

Whatever it is, the application is apparently now not available for the AHTC to use.


The solution to this mess is very simple. This is a situation where we have a public service organization – the town council – that is now beholden to a proprietary software vendor who has chosen to do as they please citing whatever that is in the contract between the parties.

What we need is to create a fully open source solution that is free from the archaic software licencing regime of proprietary software vendors. Town Councils are funded entirely by public funds – from the government as well as collections from service charges etc rendered to the residents under the purview of these town councils. Why should these residents have to pay over and over again for some piece of software that they have already paid to develop? Unless it turns out that the PAP town councils, in contracting NCS to build it, funded from some other sources not from the council funds, it has to be assumed that it was paid entirely by public funds.

I have said this for many years. What we need in this country is the sharing of resources built using open source software and tools especially in public sector services. The IDA can take lead in this but they haven’t. Services that are built using open source software and tools don’t have vendor lock-in. It helps spur innovation and collaboration and expansion of the software sector. We have seen this in many other economies but not in Singapore. Not yet.

I am sure I can pull in a group of interested individuals to give their time and energy to hack a solution for AHTC by putting together the rich set of applications already done in the FOSS world (Adempiere comes to mind) and with Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, and OpenShift and with the tools already built by Code For America and we can trivially, yes trivially, get AHTC up and going.

We will also need data from these town councils in a published open data format. I’d like to see AHTC take both the technical and thought leadership in this by publishing all of their accounting details in (for example) so that anyone can see exactly what the council is doing and what areas need help, what is succeeding, what’s failing etc.

Questions that need answers:

  1. This statement: “In a letter, he explained that in 2010 they called an open tender to which AIM submitted the sole bid though five companies collected the tender agreement.” is really disappointing. Who were the four others and why did they choose not to bid. I would also want to see the tender document itself to see what it required. I cannot believe that the only respondent is a company that does not have even a website can submit a bid and win this. Something smells very fishy here.
  2. Why are the financial details of town councils not publicly available in an XML format by way of open data like Transparency is the watchword here.

So, the offer is out to the AHTC. I, as a member of the Singapore Free and Open Source Community, am able and willing to help you. What the community can help create will be a fully open source accounting and town council management software solution that anyone else can use. And yes, even the other town councils under the hegemony of AIM. There will be no vendor lock-in and usage license fees. I am making this offer not for politics per se, but because it is the Right Thing to do.

Much to think about


A week ago, my younger son got his PSLE results. I must congratulate him on doing very well – he even managed to score a B for his 2nd language. Like his older brother, both of them did a 2nd language that has nothing to do with the politically-biased term “mother tongue”. The older brother did Malay and the younger chap, Mandarin.

I am glad that the Ministry of Education decided against releasing information about the top scorers, schools etc. It will defuse the unneeded attention to an examination that has very little bearing on the rest of the life of the child.

What remains is the further reduction of emphasis on 2nd language and let them focus on the Math and Science which are far more important to the future of this country than 2nd language.


SMRT, Minister of Transport, NTUC

Earlier this week, a bunch of bus drivers of the SMRT went on strike. The SMRT (who refers to them as “service leaders” which in itself is interesting as the rest of the world call them one and the employer calls them another), discriminates the salary paid based on the driver’s nationality. How absolutely silly is that? Our labour laws allow for that kind of discrimination?

It used to be that the Transport Minister will be front and center for all things transport related. I think he has finally figured out that it looks absolutely silly to be doing that when there is a CEO and related management to handle it for the various transport service providers. Which brings to question as to why the CEO of SMRT was not answering instead someone lower down the hierarchy of SMRT was the face to the media. Clever way to keep the buck in the lower rungs.

For what it’s worth, the drivers strike has ended with four of the strikers being allegedly arrested (or being questioned) by the police because the strikers are deemed to have held an illegal strike.  The rules for striking have a two week notice period which I think is a good way to trigger urgent talks between all the aggrieved parties. Communication and engagements help to diffuse and resolve issues for which I think the two week notice period is a good “cooling’ period. Since these drivers are probably not aware of the laws of the land they are working in (it could be that in China no such rules exist), it cannot be cited as an excuse to behave in the manner they did in calling for the strike.  I’ve heard in other situations where excuses were offered that “Oh, I don’t know English so I don’t know what to do”, mostly by those from China. That is the lamest excuse that there is. If you choose to live/work in this country, the onus is on you to understand the local laws and not claim ignorance, least of which to use not understanding English as the shield. I am sure we have come across  workers in the service industry (food courts, shops) who don’t understand a word of English when spoken to.

I am reminded of a incident in 1991 or 1992 when I was working on a IT project. We were in a meeting we had the contract programmers (all from China) who were to explain what they were working on and the progress being made. One of them switched to Mandarin only to be told by the project manager to stop doing it and to switch to English.  The programmer’s reply was that “It is the Speak Mandarin month, so Mandarin should be fine”. He had to be told that those campaigns are not for implementation in the workplace and that work place language is English and that’s the way it will be, LKY’s failed social engineering not withstanding.

In all of this drama, where was the so called national trades union? The silence of their secretary general, a “minister without portfolio in the prime minister’s office” was deafening. Perhaps he did say something, but because it will only be on the MSM which I don’t watch or listen or read, I could have missed it. Whether the striking workers were unionized or not, if I were the SG of the “national” trades union, I will want to find out what the issue is and get it resolved.

The PAP led trades union, the government linked company SMRT (with a ceo who is a former army general!!) and the foreign worker policies of the PAP-led government has come together in a perfect storm of epic fail.

General Elections 2016: we need you NOW.

The Primary School Leaving Exam

On Thursday, September 27 2012, the Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE in short) will commence.  Over a period of 4 days, students in primary six the public school system will sit for a common nationwide test touching Math, English, Science and 2nd Language.

This year, I have a son who is sitting for his PSLE. His older brother sat for it in 2009.  I sat for mine in 1971. Back then, in addition to the four subjects, we also had Geography and History.

Over the years, the whole thinking behind the Primary School system has evolved, and I would say for the better.  There was in the last decade, the articulation of “teach less, learn more” being the mantra where teachers were encouraged to do less “teaching” and getting the students learn via the enquiry mode. All of this is good. We need thinkers not automatons. We need rule breakers, we need citizens who will define what this country can be in the next 20 to 30 years.

But what has happened is that the “teach less” (which you cannot find in the MOE site’s own search and had to be discovered via google!) has now lead to the schools assuming that if there are things to be learned, it will be taught by tutors hired by the parents of the students.  If you look at a text book (yes, they have dead tree versions), these text books are colourful and has some minimum set of words and little else. There is very little information nor facts in these books and students are somehow to gain them by other means.

The private/home tuition industry in Singapore skims a very large amount of money which should not be the case to begin with. Various numbers of the size of this industry has been suggested and I have yet to find a credible source of it. The numbers are anywhere from S$800m to $1b. That is a big number no matter what and all because the school system – the ones we tax payers help fund – has failed to do its part of the bargain.

A lot of it has to do with archaic ideas of education that stem from the likes of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. While he has good ideas at times, there are plenty of mistakes he and his cabinet ministers have made in educating the population.

Back when I was in primary and secondary school, we called 2nd language as it is. Whether you learned Mandarin, Tamil or Malay, it was labelled 2nd language. Then LKY, with his social engineering ways, relabeled 2nd language to “mother tongue”. In the Singapore population, other than the Tamils and a subset of the Malay population, none of the three languages are the “mother tongue” of the people. Mandarin is not a “mother tongue” of the Singaporean Chinese – it is variously Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Khek etc etc etc. Among the Singaporean Malays, it was Bugis, Boyanese etc and among Singaporean Indians, it was Punjabi, Kanada, Telegu, Malayslam, Hindi, Urdu etc etc etc. But LKY wanted to brainwash the population to think that they are learning their “mother tongue”.

Again, when I was in school, ALL of us learned our National Language which is Malay. LKY and Company removed it and today you have at least two generations who don’t understand their National Language. How would you continue to explain that?

LKY and Company then created some elitist scheme called “Special Assistance Plan” schools which taught Mandarin as it it was a first language on par with English. This was to “appease” some bogeyman “Chinese intellectuals from Nantah“. All of this nonsensical policy continues to this day.

What has the rant above got to do with the PSLE?

Well, for one, Singapore last lost highly capable people who left this country because of the stupidity of the 2nd language policy in school. [Grapevine wisdom has it that the grandchildren of LKY were exempted from 2nd langauge because “grandpa is dyslexic”. I can’t vouch for it and will stand corrected if it is not true that they were exempted.]

If you ask the many Singaporeans who packed up and migrated why they left, the overwhelming answer will be “for the children’s education and it is about the 2nd language policy”. Way to go, PAP. You pushed native-born Singapore out and then lament that we are not replacing ourselves.

The talk these days is about the scrapping of the PSLE. I am told reliably that the PM Lee Hsien Loong (LHL) was going to announce exactly this at the 2012 national day rally. But it was taken out. Why? I don’t know. What I do know is that the idea is being bandied around by PAP MPs as if it was a PAP idea. The idea of scrapping the PSLE (in its current form) has been around for a long time, I guess the trail balloons are to test the ground. It is such as wayang, on the part of the PAP-led government.

I will stop here.

I wish all the primary six students the best in their PSLE. Don’t fret it if you don’t do “well”. Life has a lot more to offer and in a few short years, no one will care what you got for your PSLE. No one really bothers.

What a disappointment

I am deeply disappointed with the announcement that the Media Development Authority has asked Google/YouTube to block access in Singapore to the absolutely worthless “Innocence of Muslims” trailer.  Having watched it, I realized that I wasted almost 14 minutes of my life which I won’t be getting back. It is not work of any value or virtue and should just be ignored.

So, I was pleased to initially read both DPM Teo and PM Lee say that we Singaporeans are above such mindless and unworthy expositions and that the Singaporean society is strong and resilient.  What happened then for the MDA to issue this? I don’t think Singaporean Muslims are naive nor influenced by such meaningless stuff. I have much higher confidence in their bearings that MDA it would seem.

This restriction of access will not help in quelling anything.  If nothing else, the curiosity will be piqued by the mere act of restriction – the forbidden fruit syndrome. Do we need that?

If anyone really wants to view it, you can certainly use the tor networks or use external proxy servers to get around these restrictions trivially. They never learn.

Open Letter to Transport Minister Liu

This is a post that I am taking the liberty to include here.  It was written by Steven Choy, but since it is in a walled garden, it might not reach enough people. I would dearly want to cycle to work, but the roads are not safe enough. I have colleagues who cycle to work from the east and I am fearful for them. They’ve told me enough stories of close misses. Despite of that, I think we can make this country’s roads safe for cyclists.

My Friend is Dead

by Stephen Choy on Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 2:50pm ·


Dear Minister Lui

My friend is dead.

If, only if, I had written this letter earlier, Freddy might still be able to cycle with me in the next Ironman race.

You see, he died pursuing his hobby. On the morning of 18 August 2012, along Loyang Valley, as he made his way towards Changi Village, he was run over by a truck. I chanced upon the wreckage, not knowing that it was that of my friend’s. I immediately posted a message on FaceBook to remind all my friends to cycle safe. Within minutes, I received the tragic news that that statistic was a friend of mine. He was my buddy in our cycling group, Team Cychos.

Freddy was a good, gentle man. A good husband and a doting father to his 5 year old son. And would have been an equally good father to his unborn child too, I’m sure.

Dear Minister Lui, I am appealing to you as many before me did. I am certain you are aware of the statistics. From 2008 to 2011, there were a total of 70 cyclists killed. That is a horrifying average of 1.46 cyclists killed a month. Sadly, that is not enough to spur your ministry into action to make the roads safer for cyclists.

We are not saying that motorists are completely at fault. We recognize both cyclists and motorists have a part to play in making our roads safer for all. Cyclists must be made aware of how vulnerable they are the moment they mount their bike. Motorists must be educated that, like pedestrians, cyclists too have a right to use the roads. Only when these two groups recognized this and develop a mutual respect will we see a drop in fatalities. Hopefully.

This, however, cannot be done without the Government’s assistance. In a recent article on the dangers of cycling in Singapore, an LTA spokesperson, upon being asked about introducing a cycling lane, declared that this will only give cyclists a false sense of security. A false sense of security??? Isn’t that akin to saying we should not have window grilles at home as they would give our Foreign Domestic Workers a false sense of security when cleaning windows in highrise apartments. I was flabbergasted by this flippant and dismissive response. Isn’t that the purpose of a cycling lane? To remind cyclists to stay within the allotted 1.5m and for motorists to be aware of cyclists within this lane so that we all can be safe. So that we all can go home to our loved ones. So that we all can continue to pursue our passions. Safely.

To the spokesperson from LTA, I say shame on you. Shame on you for taking the easy way out. If NParks is able to build 300km of park connectors (by 2015), surely the LTA is capable of painting a 1.5m lane on our roads. This is merely the width of 2 carton boxes. Are cyclists not worth that. If having cycling lanes islandwide prove too daunting a task, then perhaps we can start small, start a pilot project to paint only the more popular (and dangerous) cycling routes – Neo Tew Avenue, Mandai Road, Changi Coastal Road, Upper Thompson Road, West Coast Highway. I am sure the Singapore Cycling Federation, Singapore Amateur Cycling Association, Singapore Sports Council and perhaps even cycling clubs, especially the bigger ones like Joyriders and Anzac can advise LTA on this.

From 2010 to January 2012, there were 21 work-related height fatalities of Foreign Domestic Workers. This monthly average of 0.58 was enough for the Ministry of Manpower to implement a new rule forbidding FDW to clean the outside of windows. The ministry also felt the need to double the penalties (from the current $5,000 fine and/or six months’ jail to $10,000 fine and/or 12 months’ jail) to serve as added deterrence to employers.

Minister Lui, if 21 FDW were enough to get a new legislation in place, surely Freddy and the deaths of 70 other cyclists deserve an urgent re-look at how to make our roads safer. I appeal to you not to let more people die before the rest of us are able to pursue our hobby safely.”

A helper note for family and friends about your connectivity to the Internet from July 9 2012

This is a note targeted at family and friends who might find that they are not able to connect to the Internet from July 9, 2012 onwards.

This only affects those whose machines were are running Windows or Mac OSX and have a piece of software called DNSChanger installed.  The DNSChanger modifies a key part of the way a computer discovers other machines on the internet (called the Domain Name Server or DNS).

Quick introduction to DNS:

For example, you want to visit the website, You type this in your browser and magically, the CNN website appears in a few seconds. The way your browser figured out to reach the server was to do the following:

a) The browser took the domain name and did what is called a DNS lookup.

b) What it would have received in the DNS lookup is a mapping of the to a bunch of numbers.  In this case, it would have received something like:        60    IN    A        60    IN    A        60    IN    A        60    IN    A

c) The numbers you see in the lines above ( for example) are the Internet Protocol (IP) number of the server on which resides. You notice that there are more than one IP number.  That is for managing requests from millions of systems and not having to depend only on one machine to reply.  This is good network architecture. For fun, let’s look at      59    IN    CNAME    59    IN    A    59    IN    A    59    IN    A    59    IN    A    59    IN    A has 5 IP #s associated to it but you notice that there is something that says CNAME (stands for Canonical Name) in the first line. What that means is that is also the same as which in turns has 5 IP#s associated with it.

d) The beauty of this is that in a few seconds, you got to the website that you wanted to without remembering the IP # that is needed.

What is this important? If you have a cell phone, how do you dial the numbers of your family and friends?  Do you remember by heart their respective phone numbers? Not really or at least not anymore You probably know your own number and a small close group (your home, your work, your children, spouse, siblings).  Even then, their names are in your contact book and when you want to call (or text) them, you just punch in their names and your phone will look up the number and send out.

The difference between your cell phone directory and the DNS is that, you control what is in your phone directory.  So, a name like “Wife” in your phone could point to a phone number that is very different from a similar name in your friend’s phone directory.  That is all well and good.

But on the global Internet, we cannot have name clashes and that is why domain names are such hot things and people have snapped up pretty much a very large chunk of names during the rush in the late 1990s.

Now on to the issue at hand

So, what’s that got to do with this alarmist issue of connecting to the Internet from July 9, 2012?

Well, it has to with the fact that there as a piece of software – malware in this case – that got added to those running Windows and Mac OSX.  In all computers, the magic to do the DNS lookup is maintained by a file which contains information about which Domain Namer Server to query when presented with a domain name like

For example, on my laptop (which runs Fedora), the file that directs DNS looks is called /etc/resolv.conf.  This is the same for a Mac OSX file and I think it there is something similar in the Windows world as well. Fedora and Mac OSX share a common Unix heritage and so many files are in common.

The contents of my /etc/resolv.conf file is:

# Generated by NetworkManager
search lan

The file is automatically generated when I connect to the network and the crucial line is the line that reads “nameserver”. In this case, it points to which happens to be my FonSpot wireless access point. But what is interesting is that my FonSpot access point is not a DNS server per se.  In the setup of the FonSpot, I’ve got it to look up domain names to Google’s public DNS server whose IP #s are and

Huh? What does this mean?  Simply put, when I type in on my browser, that name’s IP# is looked up first by my browser asking the nameserver which is the FonSpot will then return to my browser that it should go ask for an answer. If does not know, hopefully will give an IP # to my browser to ask next.  Eventually, when an IP # is found, my browser will use that IP # and send a connection request to that site. All of this happens in milliseconds and when it all works, it looks like magic.

What if you don’t get to the site?  What if the entry in the /etc/resolv.conf file pointed to some IP # that was a malicious entity that wanted to “hijack” your web surfing?  There is a legitimate reason for this. For example, when you connect to a public wifi access point (like Wireless@SG for example), you will initially get a DNS nameserver entry that belongs to the wifi access provider. Once you successfully logged into that access point, then your DNS lookup will be properly directed. This technique is called “captive portal”. My FonSpot is a captive portal btw.

The issue here is that those machines who have the malware DNSChanger have the DNS lookup being hijacked and directed elsewhere.  See this note by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation about it.

It appears that the DNSChanger malware had set up a bunch of IP# to redirect maliciously all access to the Internet. If your /etc/resolv.conf file has nameserver entries that contain numbers in the following range: to to to to to to

you are vulnerable.

Here’s a test I did with the 1st of those IP#s on my fedora machine:

[harish@vostro ~]$ dig @

; <<>> DiG 9.9.1-P1-RedHat-9.9.1-2.P1.fc17 <<>> @
; (1 server found)
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 34883
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 3, AUTHORITY: 4, ADDITIONAL: 5

; EDNS: version: 0, flags:; udp: 4096
;            IN    A

;; ANSWER SECTION:        464951    IN    CNAME    241    IN    CNAME 252    IN    A

;; AUTHORITY SECTION:        32951    IN    NS        32951    IN    NS        32951    IN    NS        32951    IN    NS

;; ADDITIONAL SECTION:        33061    IN    A        33061    IN    A        317943    IN    A        33297    IN    A

;; Query time: 305 msec
;; WHEN: Sun Jul  8 21:40:07 2012
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 242

Some explanation of what the is shown above. “dig” is a command “domain internet groper” that allows me, from the command line, to see what a domain’s IP address is. With the extra stuff “@”, I am telling the dig command to use as my domain name server and get the IP for the domain Currently is being run as a “clean” DNS server by the those who’ve been asked to by the FBI.

Hence, what will happen on July 9th 2012 is that the request by FBI to give a reply when is used, will expire. Therefore the command I executed above on July 8th 2012 will not return a valid IP number from July 9th 2012. While the Internet will work, there would be people whose systems have been compromised to point to the bad-but-made-to-work-OK DNS servers, will find that they can’t seem to get to any site easily by using domain names. If they instead used IP#s, they can get to the site with no issue.

A quick way to check if your system needs fixing is to go to NOW to check. If it is OK, ie your system’s /etc/resolv.conf is not affected (or the equivalent for those still running Windows).

See the announcement from Singapore’s CERT on this issue.

A proud moment

This Hougang by-election was a foregone conclusion as far as I am concerned. I was only looking to see an increased victory margin.

But even though the WP percentage went down 2%, I think it is of statistical irrelevance because this comes on the back of the WP sacking the incumbent and fielding a newbie. I would also note that the votes gained by Low Thia Khiang in 2006 had about the same percentage as Png’s.

What does this mean then? All the dirty tactics pulled in by DPM Teo to attempt at character assassination failed. The DPM, a former navy honcho fired duds. So did his boss, the PM (another dud firing former general).

I guess without former PMs Lee KY and Goh CT saying a word this time around, the act of shooting your foot was left to the DPM & PM – and they did that very well.

In some ways I feel sorry for the looser Desmond Choo. I think he meant well in saying that he is his own man, but his party’s leadership screwed it up.

All is good for Hougang with WP’s Png Eng Huat winning because they’ll now have both an MP as well as wannabe under the label of the PA Advisor nonsense in the person of Choo. Best possible outcome.

Congratulations Png. Try harder the next time Choo.

Why the vote in Hougang matters

It might look like the by-elections in Hougang is not an important event; it is after all, an election of ONE member of parliament. What can the ONE member of parliament do after all?

We have two candidates: Png Eng Huat from the incumbent Worker’s Party and his opponent, Desmond Choo from the People’s Action Party. The seat has been a WP seat for over 21 years and from all accounts, they did a good job despite all the road blocks thrown at them from the ruling PAP.

Desmond has been campaigning that he is his own man and that the elections would be of local issues. Funny that his party does not think that he is his own man and had to have the big wigs from the party (DPM Teo CH, PM Lee HL just to name two) to start the classic smear campaigns against Eng Huat – all over Eng Huat not accepting the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament post from the last elections.

Let’s make one thing clear – the NCMP is a stupid scheme and is not worthy of consideration.  So, frankly, if Eng Huat feels that he should not be taking that seat, that is a laudable position.   Would the DPM and his boss, the PM, be willing to be NCMPs themselves? I don’t think so. They can do all the tarring they want, but in continuing to do this, they are showing that they and their party – the PAP – is just as clueless and disengaged as they were going into the general elections last year. The PAP has nothing to go with to counter the strong ground sentiment against them that they have to bring up a totally irrelevant and meaningless issue to try to distract the electorate (see, even when we tax payers pay these “ministers” the millions, their behaviour does not change).

I have no doubt that the WP will win Hougang and I would be more interested in the victory margin.

PAP does not need another seat in parliament.

They have the majority and will continue to abuse their position.

An extra seat is not going to change any of the PAP’s Bad Behaviour, but one less seat could.

Singapore needs more non-PAP voices in Parliament and I am sure my fellow Singaporeans in Hougang will do the Right Thing.

Majulah Singapura.

Who cares about the outcome of the decision of a mere 23,368 people?

On May 26th, 23,368 eligible people in the Hougang constituency, will be casting their votes for someone to represent them in the Singapore Parliament for the next four years. Assuming all of them vote and that there are only two contestants, then the winner needs a mere 11,685 votes in his favour, to win.

That’s it. 11,685.

That for a piece of land so tiny that it is hard to see on the tiny piece of land called Singapore.

It reminds of the most wonderful narrative Dr Carl Sagan wrote about the Pale Blue Dot.

He said:

“The spacecraft was a long way from home. I thought it would be a good idea, just after Saturn, to have them take one last glance homeward. From Saturn, the Earth would appear too small for Voyager to make out any detail. Our planet would be just a point of light, a lonely pixel hardly distinguishable from the other points of light Voyager would see: nearby planets, far off suns. But precisely because of the obscurity of our world thus revealed, such a picture might be worth having.”

“It had been well understood by the scientists and philosophers of classical antiquity that the Earth was a mere point in a vast, encompassing cosmos — but no one had ever seen it as such. Here was our first chance, and perhaps also our last.”

“So, here they are: a mosaic of squares laid down on top of the planets in a background smattering of more distant stars. Because of the reflection of sunlight off the spacecraft, the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world; but it’s just an accident of geometry and optics. There is no sign of humans in this picture: not our reworking of the Earth’s surface; not our machines; not ourselves. From this vantage point, our obsession with nationalism is nowhere in evidence. We are too small. On the scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential: a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal.”

“Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings; thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines; every hunter and forager; every hero and coward; every creator and destroyer of civilizations; every king and peasant, every young couple in love; every mother and father; every hopeful child; every inventor and explorer; every teacher of morals; every corrupt politician; every supreme leader; every superstar; every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings; how eager they are to kill one another; how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.”

“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.”

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known: the pale blue dot.”

Thank you Dr Sagan for you’ve placed the whole thing in very clear context.

As my fellow Singaporeans living in the Hougang constituency go to the polls on May 26th, do remember that you are living within a micro spec on a spec on a extra tiny red dot on a tiny blue dot in the vastness of the cosmos. You will be deciding on who will lead a corner of a miniscule piece of land for the next four years. It does not matter, really who wins or who looses.

What matters is that you leave behind a legacy of doing the Right Thing.

For that, I’ve full confidence in the 23,368 voters of Hougang. You have done the Right Thing for over 21 years and not let Singaporeans down and I don’t see that changing this time.

What’s at stake in the Hougang by-election

Now that the by-elections for Hougang has been called, it is interesting to see how the ruling party is trying to down play this by-election by characterizing it as a “local election, about local stuff“.

I wish they did not do that.  I wish the PAP couched this by-election as a “referendum” of how they have fared in the last 12 months since the last general election. It will help the PAP in many ways. If the election is more than a “local’ one, the PAP can take lessons from it.

The PAP can’t just choose to set the agenda by merely saying that this is a local election. There are plenty of things that the PAP has not come around to answering and for what it’s worth, the general sentiment is that it is back to status quo.

For all the “apology” that the PM rendered last year, not much has happened.  He was vague enough in the apology and kept it open but more importantly, there is the missing part of what will be done by when.

I am reminded of this very interesting TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie about the danger of a single story, and by extension the danger of having only one party in parliament deciding on the future of this country.

Voting in the PAP candidate into parliament for the Hougang constituency will have the person become yet another “me too”/”yes sir”/”+1” statistic in parliament, with no distinguishing feature or even a care in the world. He will be feted by the PAP leadership as being a hero and a slayer of the WP. No doubt, he will say that he is there to represent the aspirations of the people of Hougang, but over some time, it will all be a foot note in history and the PAP will continue in their usual “I know better than you, so shut-up” stance. They’ll also get the constituency to be redrawn and included into the adjunct Ang Mo Kio GRC. This is the PAP we are dealing with.  They rewrote the book on gerrymandering and mutton-barrel politics.

If, instead, a WP candidate or anyone non-PAP wins the seat, that fact alone  means that the party in power will continue to do what they need to “win back the seat” in 2016. If I were a voter in Hougang, I think that’s what I would like to see.

Let there be competition. Let there be alternate stories to be told. Let there be a flourishing of ideas and opportunities.

A victory in Hougang by the WP will mean the dreams and hopes of Singaporeans in wanting a democratic, pluralistic, caring and successful First World country is on track.

No, LHL did not listen to me!

What a pleasant surprise to be sent an email by a friend saying:


They heard you very well. Pap call for hougang elections on 26 May


LOL indeed. Let’s kick butt here. Let the PAP throw in their best. They cannot but loose.


Let’s see who they could dispatch for the slaughter. Could it be someone from the loosing Aljunied PAP team, like George Yeo? We will know next week.

Would be interesting to see how the MSM (aka PAP mouthpieces) will cover this. Fun days ahead.

What changed?

It’s just over a year and a day since the Singapore General Elections 2011. Many things have been said about how we are in the “new normal” and that the PAP-led government has seen the folly of its ways and will change.

366+ days later, I don’t think much has changed. The ruling party continues as it nothing changed. They have their internal lackeys doing the dirty work of their leaders. There is still no thought leadership nor vision. It was hilarious to read that  Hsien Loong now has a “facebook” page. I kinda felt that he was slow, but did not realize that he was a laggard as well! In any case, that facebook page is not managed by him but by his handlers.

What is really disappointing are the following:

a) Why does the PM not have the gumption and thought leadership in calling for a by-election for Hougang? Enough has been said regarding this issue and some of them from his own party faithfuls. It is now three months since the seat was left vacant. Whether there is a court case pending or otherwise, if the PM is man enough to call for the by-election, it can be done today.

b) Clarity in separation of SMRT and rail infrastructure. It pains me to see the Transport Minister on 24 hour call in case the MRT has issues. I suspect he does not understand the pecking order which is Minister->LTA->SMRT not SMRT->Minister. We have one minister who says that the SMRT is private and they have to manage their issues while the Transport minister is on the beck and call when an issue erupts with the train system.

c) No public accountability of Temasek Holdings and GIC after continued calls for that to be made.

d) The importance of enacting a Freedom of Information Act in Singapore. We’ve just offered S$5 Billion to the IMF without a word about it to the public. I think there is a lapse in transparency here. I am not saying that we should not help the IMF at their time of need, it is just that we, as tax payers, should be asked or at least, brought up in Parliament first before making the offer.  The MAS is a government agency after all.

I shall stop here. I really should.

ACTA in Singapore

It is a little annoying to see the same acronym ACTA having two meanings in Singapore.  A lot of people have been asking me what it is that I am talking about when I refer to ACTA for they think I am referring to to ACTA – Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment.  For the record, that is not what I am talking about.

The ACTA I am referring to is the Anti Counterfeit Trade Agreement that the Singapore government signed in October 2011. That ACTA needs to be looked into seriously with a view to nullifying it. The fact that the entire effort was done in secrecy is what is annoying and especially with the likelihood of serious collateral damage and with unintended consequences.

What does it take?

I am an organizer of a programming contest that will be using some really cool technologies (HTML5, Python, OpenShift, just to name three). This will be a contest open to anyone but we would need whoever takes part to be in Singapore for the duration of the contest.

This contest will also involve children 12-years and below (in their own category using Scratch as the tool) as well as an open category covering everyone else.

This contest covers the entire gamut of users – children (the next generation coders), cool technologies, innovation, solving society’s problems).

What I would like to do is to find a way to have the President of the Republic of Singapore to be the guest of honour to present prizes to the winners when the contest is all over. President Tony Tan, in his earlier career, we a champion of education (as Minister of Education), headed up the National Research Foundation (as champion of innovation and entrepreneurship) and is the current patron of the Singapore Computer Society.

My challenge is that everyone I talk to says that “inviting the president is hard; too much protocol; too many security related issues etc”. Really? Is it so hard to invite the head of state to be the chief guest of an event focusing on things that he had championed earlier in his career?

Please tell me how I can cut to the chase and get him as the Chief Guest. Anyone? I will send an email to him directly, but I shall put this request out in public now.

The Value of being Heard and Consulted

Some of you would know that I am employed by a company called Red Hat since September 2003, it will be nine years with the organization. That’s longer than I have been with any of my startups (Inquisitive Mind and Maringo Tree Technologies) combined. In many ways it is not about Red Hat per se, but about Free Software (and Open Source for that matter) and how the culture of Red Hat very much reflects the ethics and ethos of the Free Software movement.

Yes, Red Hat has to earn its keep by generating revenues (now trending past US$1 billion) and the magic of subscriptions which pegged the transfer of significant value to the customers by way of high quality and reliable software and services, ensures that Free Software will continue to drive the user/customer driven innovation.

All of this is not easy to do. When I joined Red Hat from Maringo Tree Technologies, I went from being my own boss, to working for a corporation. But the transition was made relatively easy because the cultural value within Red Hat resonated with me in that Red Hat places a very high premium on hearing and engaging with the associates. I was employee #1 in Singapore for Red Hat and my lifeline to the corporation was two things: memo-list and internal IRC channels. Later as the Singapore office took on the role of being the Asia Pacific headquarters, we hired more people and it is really nice to see the operation here employing over 90 people.

But inspite of the growth in terms of people, the culture of being heard and consulted is still alive and thriving. It is a radically different organization which will challenge those joining us from traditionally run corporations where little or no questions or consulting is done and all decisions are top down.  I am not saying that every Red Hat decision is 100% consulted, but at least it gets aired and debated. Sometimes your argument is heard, sometimes it is accepted and morphed, sometimes it is rejected.  I think this interview of Jim Whitehurst that ran in the New York Times is a good summary.

Really hard to fathom the naive logic of a PAP MP

I did not read this February 24th 2012 article written by a PAP MP, Hri Kumar Nair when it was first published. It was pointed out to by friends who asked me what I thought about it given what I wrote about the mandatory constitutional requirement of having a by-election in the Hougang constituency.

MP Nair writes:

Our parliamentary democracy is based on the principle that elections are fundamentally about voters choosing between different political parties to lead the country, rather than between individual candidates standing in a constituency.

In general elections, the issue is which party should form the government.

The last sentence in the quote above is true, but the preceding sentence is completely false. Our electoral system is based on voting for a person (or persons as per the textbook of gerrymandering, Group Representative Constituency) and not of a party. Yes, a person may or may not be a member of a political party. He can be an independent. On the ballot paper the candidate’s name and a symbol is indicated. That symbol could be of a political party or it could just be a symbol because the candidate is an independent. Singapore Election 101, MP Nair.

Therefore, when a seat falls vacant, there is no requirement to call an immediate by-election, unless the vacancy affects the Government’s mandate.

Nor should an MP’s resignation or expulsion force the Government to put aside more important national issues to focus on a by-election.

This model enables the Government to focus on governing Singapore well and improving the lives of Singaporeans. It has resulted in stability and progress for Singapore for half a century.

How wrong you are, MP Nair with the preceding statements! While you are correct say there is no requirement to call an immediate by-election, an election has to be called. See Section 49 of the Singapore Constitution which I include here:

Filling of vacancies


—(1)  Whenever the seat of a Member, not being a non-constituency Member, has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by or under any law relating to Parliamentary elections for the time being in force.

Yes, we need the government of the day to focus on building the nation and making sure that the country and the citizens progress, but all of that is not at the expense of the fundamentals of democracy that we Singaporeans, and I hope you MP Nair, hold dear.

If they do not or cannot, the onus is on their party to take care of residents in that constituency. The Workers’ Party (WP) knows this. That is why their MPs have taken over Mr Yaw Shin Leong’s duties in Hougang.

Really? You are telling me that because the Workers’ Party’s candidate had won the seat, and since the candidate is no longer a member of the party, that the party has the rights to represent the constituency?  Please show me where in our statutes it shows as such?  Yes, the WP will want to do that and I think they will do a good job, but the citizens of Hougang are NOT represented in Parliament by anyone.  So long as the seat is left vacant, the citizens of Hougang are being deprived of their constitutional rights of representation.

The formula that MP Nair is proposing is something that PAP has undertaken many times. I recall when I was growing up in Queenstown in the 60s and 70s, the PAP MP for the area, a Jek Yuen Tong, got posted to the UK as the Singapore High Commissioner for a number of years, while being an MP. And the Queenstown constituency was then “baby-sat” by whoever was the MP for the neighbouring constituency – whose name I can’t recall.  I am guessing that Jek Yuen Tong was earning both the MP’s allowance and the salary of the High Commissioner, but that’s a different topic.

In contrast, some other parliamentary democracies operate on a different philosophy: The individual MP has more power than the party.

There, MPs can change parties within the parliamentary term and keep their seats, even cause governments to fall as a consequence, without the voters having any say in the matter.

Because the MP is the fundamental element of their system, by-elections must be held promptly when seats fall vacant. The United Kingdom is such an example.

The WP could force Mr Yaw to vacate his Hougang seat by expelling him from the party, only because it is operating under the Singapore model.

The WP could not have done this under the UK model, as Mr Yaw would have remained MP for Hougang even after his expulsion, and there would have been no by-election.

To call for an automatic by-election now that the Hougang seat is vacant, as Asst Prof Tan did, is to confuse the Singapore and UK models.

The preceding is a classic case of a false dilemma. Our parliamentary system is very clear about who can hold a seat in Parliament. If the person was elected into the Parliament under flag of a political party, the law is clear that if she is no longer a member of that party during the term of office as an elected MP, the seat falls vacant. In the case of the UK, that rule does not apply. MP Nair is comparing apples and oranges.

Frankly, I don’t understand why MP Nair is speaking up on this topic with this level of naïveté. It appears to me that the PAP (and MP Nair) are engaging in this mediocre level of debate because they clearly don’t have any credibility left.

This rebuttal is too easy.

By-Election in Hougang Constituency

The Speaker of Parliament has declared that the seat of Hougang vacant following the explusion of the MP from his party.

So, for the first time in many years, we have a situation where a seat has become vacant and therefore, following the requirements of the Singapore Constitution which says:

Filling of vacancies


—(1)  Whenever the seat of a Member, not being a non-constituency Member, has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by or under any law relating to Parliamentary elections for the time being in force.

(2)  The Legislature may by law provide for —

(a)the vacating of a seat of a non-constituency Member in circumstances other than those specified in Article 46;
(b)the filling of vacancies of the seats of non-constituency Members where such vacancies are caused otherwise than by a dissolution of Parliament.
we must have a by election.

The key phrase is “shall be filled”. Wikipedia’s definition of shall in a legal situation implies the mandatory nature of the intent or if we go with the Oxford English Dictionary it also carries the same intention. Hence, it goes without saying that there will be a by-election in the Hougang constituency.  The big hairy uncertainty is when it will be called for, which is really in the decision sphere of the office of the Prime Minister who does not have a time constraint as to when it is to be called.

Let’s see what the options are:
a) That there will be a by-election before the 2016 general election because the ruling party is worried that they will not win and want to “teach” the Hougang voters a “lesson”.
b) That they are waiting for some screw-up on the part of the Worker’s Party who can then be pointed to as being unreliable and so the PAP tries to win the seat. (thanks to NP for this scenario).
c) That the PM will call for an election in the next few months after the annual budget has been passed.

The real issue here is that no matter what, we have a constituency that today does not have any official representation in parliament. Yes, Low Thia Khiang, the previous MP for Hougang before the 2011 elections has said that he will cover Hougang in the meantime even though he is the elected member of the Aljunied GRC. But he does not have the mandate to represent the Hougang voters in Parliament. Neither does the PAP “advisor” to Hougang. Sure, any party can go to Hougang and try to win the voter’s confidence and potential votes by doing stuff, but they don’t have a voice in Parliament.

The Hougang Town Council also does not have a head because the MP has vacated his seat. How does the town council function then? It cannot be left headless because the ruling party is worried that they’ll not win this seat in a by-election.

The Prime Minister made this apology at a  2011 rally:

These are real problems – we will tackle them, but I hope you will understand that when these problems vex you or disturb you or upset your lives, please bear with us, we are trying our best on your behalf. And if we didn’t quite get it right, I’m sorry, but we will try and do better the next time

Mr Prime Minister, if you really and honestly meant to be “trying our best on your behalf”, you have to call for the by-election immediately, no ifs, no buts, no delays. Stop the pussy-footing being undertaken by some of your PAP MPs about this. Remember, you work for us, no the other way around.

Math 101 for Ministers

MEDIAN is NOT the same as MEAN also known as average.

Mean is the average of a set of numbers.

Let’s do some Math 101 here:

Here’s a list of 10 numbers arranged in descending order (ie, from largest to smallest):

900 859 801 735 699 550 450 380 200 199

The MEAN (Average) is: (900+859+801+735+699+550+450+380+200+199)/10 = 5773/10 = 577.3

The MEDIAN is defined as the number IN THE MIDDLE of the sequence of numbers above.

Since the sequence is even (10 numbers), the MEDIAN then is the number between the 5th and 6th which we will find by: (699+550)/2 = 1309/2 = 624.5

Because we were given an EVEN set of numbers the MEDIAN is the average of the two numbers in the middle. If, however, we were given say ODD set of numbers, the MEDIAN would be the number in the middle of the sequence.

You will notice that the value of MEAN (Average) is not necessarily the same as the value of MEDIAN but it is possible that the MEDIAN could be higher or lower than the MEAN.

The salary report suggests that the ministerial salaries be pegged at the “median of the top 1000 Singaporean wage earners”.

So, while the number 1000 seems like a lot, the reality is that the salary is being proposed to be pegged to the AVERAGE of the 500th and 501th top Singaporean wage earner. The number 1000 is a red herring, serving to confuse people who would have understood MEAN not MEDIAN.

The report is trying to ensure that not too many Singaporeans earn more than the ministers.or to put it another way, there would only be about 500 Singaporeans or so who could be earning more than the ministers. This is very self-serving.

Which then begs the question. Why 500? Why not 5000? Or even 50,000? Are the ministers only working for the top 500? Not the 5,000,000+ we have in Singapore?

Watch this video of  DPM Teo speaking in the parliament on January 16th 2012. Quite sad really.

O Captain, my Captain!

So, the see-sawing of leadership credibility of the SMRT has reached an interchange. The CEO has quit (or euphemistically  “to pursue personal interests” – a heck of a time to go do personal stuff. She was either fired or resigned or told to resign.)

“Saw has left the building. I repeat, Saw has left the building”.

In many ways, this was to happen; it was just a matter of time. All the times when there were service issues with the SMRT, it was the Transport Minister Liu that was front and center answering questions etc.  One could be forgiven if that left the impression that Minister Liu was the person in-charge of the SMRT and that there was no other accountable employee. Alas, there always was a CEO, but no one Saw her anywhere. So Minister Liu had to be the talking-head.

I thought the SMRT was a commercially run entity and a private company at that. This was the statement made by the Law minister himself.

Is the Law Minister wrong? If he is wrong, then I can understand why the Transport Minister was answering SMRT’s issues. But I think the real answer lies elsewhere.

Parts of the train infrastructure is owned by the LTA. The business of running the trains is owned by the SMRT. So, when there is an issue, whose problem is it? Perhaps both the ministers are right in their assessments.

I did my reservist duties in the SCDF. I was the company commander of the Newton MRT Station Bomb Shelter. Our SOP in converting the station into a bomb shelter includes the use of the two tracks on which the 6-carriage trains will be parked and with airflow and power fed in from the station itself. The ends of the tracks past the ends of the trains have blast doors that will be deployed to secure the whole station as a bomb shelter. In all of the shelter exercises I was involved, we never closed the doors on the tracks because the doors were mis-aligned and if we forced it to close, we might not be able to open it and trains cannot resume service after our exercise.

While it is very unlikely that Singapore will ever see a need to actually use the bomb shelters for their intended purposes, the fact that we cannot secure the Newton MRT station is a problem. I was told was the there is no clear agreement between SMRT, LTA and the SCDF as to who will bear the costs of doing repairs to align the doors. I have one caveat here: this info is probably outdated. My last ICT with the SCDF was back in mid-2005 or so, when I handed over the command to my successor. Hence it is possible that the doors have been repaired.

My intention in bringing up the issue of the blast doors has to do with who ultimately owns and is accountable for the entire mass rapid transit system.  From all the finger pointing we’ve seen so far, it appears that no one really knows, not even the Cabinet.

Good Salary Review Report

I must confess that I was skeptical that the Committee to Review Ministerial Salaries would do a fair and good job.

But, after reading their report released today, I am pleasantly surprised to see a good amount of thinking, analysis, and consideration of feedback has been taken on board.

I think the key points of being transparent about the salaries and the removal of pensions is the biggest change. Arguments about the quantum of salary will always be there as will people who disagree no matter that number is proposed.  What I like about how the committee framed their thinking centered on:

When determining Ministerial Salaries, we kept these principles in mind:

1) Salaries must be competitive so that people of the right calibre are not deterred from stepping forward to lead the country;
2) The ethos of political service entails making sacrifices and hence there should be a discount in the pay formula; and
3) There should be a “clean wage” with no hidden perks.

One of the hallmarks of Singapore is that the political and administrative service are by and large corruption free.  Having said that, the cynics amongst us, including me, have contended that it was achieved by the excessive salaries paid to the political leadership.

Let’s see if this reality adjustment of the political salaries will have any impact on the perceived corruption free status.  I suspect that there will not be any change in that.  Singapore’s ethos has been built on getting things done for the benefit of as large a group of people as possible leaving no one behind.

So, all in, I am happy with the report. I accept the report. I hope my fellow citizens will accept it as well – but only after you’ve read the report and not an executive summary or someone else’s opinion piece for pundits are a dime-a-dozen.

2012 is beginning to look like a really nice new year already!

Majulah Singapura.

UPDATE – January 5 2011:

I think that there has not been enough analysis of the salary inflation of the ministers over the years. The last salary jump, and boy was that a big jump (of almost 60% in one go – see this NYT article), means that the proposed 20-50% reduction is still not going to make it anything like what it was BEFORE 2007. Sneaky!

The report does not seem to have taken into consideration the meteoric rise of the salary over the years. What the report is focussed on is on what wage would best attract people into politics in Singapore given our constraints. Perhaps in real 2012 dollars, the quantum to be derived from the median of salaries of the top 1000 Singapore citizens wage-earners (ie, 60% of the average of the sum of the 500th and 501th taxpayer), might be a fair amount.

Let the people decide. This is, I believe, still a functioning democracy.

Public consultation on proposed Data Protection

I am really glad to see that call for public consultation for the proposed Data Protection act in Singapore.  The closing date for submission is 5pm October 25th to the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.

I do not yet have a position per se and do welcome comments on this blog. I will be happy to submit a consolidated feedback.

Next thing I want to see happen is the Freedom of Information Act being enacted.  I am sure when the parliament sits later this month, the Worker’s Party will bring that up since it was one of their key points in their election manifesto.






Why bother voting for the president?

Indeed, why bother?

The President of the Republic Of Singapore is 95% ceremonial and 5% custodial. Does it matter who then the president is? Does it really matter that for the 5%, the person has to have managed S$100 million dollar businesses etc? Does it matter that the president knows exactly how much Singapore has in its reserves? Would knowing that figure make a difference? Don’t we all make daily decisions on spending and have in our minds the checks and balances constantly running? Will it not be the case with governmental spending?

The former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, felt that it was important that the president be someone who can be a “keeper of the second key” in releasing funds from the reserves. LKY, given the absolute power his party had (and has) in parliament, pushed through the changes in the constitution to cater for an elected president with the explicit mandate (some say moral authority) to reject or approve reserve-releasing requests.

The citizens do not know how and when the government of the day requests for funds to be drawn down and for the president to agree. We hear that the unelected elected 6th president, S. R. Nathan (unelected, because he got into office unopposed because of the abomination called walkovers) approved 27 draw downs during his tenure. Did we know of these? Shouldn’t the system be transparent? Shouldn’t the Accountant General or the Ministry of Finance disclose this? Correct me if I am wrong about not knowing the many instances President Nathan agreed to release the monies.

So, if all the elected president’s moral authority by virtue of being elected by the people rests in the 5% of his role, what should matter is the 95% of his office. The president is the head of state. He represents the unifying, agreeable, approachable, almost fatherly figure for the nation.

The president represents the country to the world and is the holder of the highest office of the land. He has to be above all, accommodating of all views and be a great influencer to sooth coarse and sharp issues. He should reach out to all Singaporeans (whether in country or outside) to come to the rally call of Singapore.

As the US Naval officer of the 18th/19th century, Stephen Decatur said: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Or to put in another way, “my country, right or wrong, warts and all”.

So, likewise, the president. I recall on my enlistment day, over thirty years ago, I pledged allegiance to the President of the Republic of Singapore. When my sons enlist, they too would be pledging allegiance to the President. That means, I cannot afford to have a president who I cannot be proud of. I cannot have a president who comes across as uncouth, boorish, know-it-all and unwilling (or seemingly unwilling) to compromise.

I watched the televised statements from the four candidates last night. As I have indicated over the last seven or so days, I have been increasingly leaning towards Tan Jee Say over Tan Cheng Bock. But this last broadcast has caused me to change my mind. I am particularly thrilled to hear Tan Cheng Bock mention his wife as being part of his team and that should he become president, she will be a wonderful first lady. As my wife later noted to me, the fact that only Tan Cheng Bock acknowledged his wife and praised her was reason enough for my wife to vote for Tan Cheng Bock. Suffice to say, that gesture has also affirmed my vote for Tan Cheng Bock.

So, in about 10 hours or so, I will be casting my vote for the Seventh President of Republic of Singapore.

And the vote will be for Dr Tan Cheng Bock, President of the Republic of Singapore. And to President S. R. Nathan, thank you for your service.

Majulah Singapura.


Presidential Elections is August 27

As we get closer to August 27, it has been evidently clear to me that this presidential election will be a re-run of the general elections held in May in how the citizens of Singapore will vote.

The President Tan that will emerge early morning of August 28 will NOT be a Tony. Why in spite of all the “endorsements” from various trade unions and associations? Because none of them are endorsing him with the approval of their constituent membership.  It is the leaders of those entities that are doing it – at the behest of the NTUC Secretary General, a PAP minister himself.

While I am surprised that the newspaper group who Tony presided over as their chairman has yet to endorse him, it might just be done before polling day. Even that won’t help him to win.

Let’s look at some of the statistics of voting patterns.  GE2011 showed 40% voting for a non-PAP candidate. One GRC was wrested from the PAP. So, going into this PE, Tony can be assured of NOT GETTING that 40%. By all reckoning, there probably is a 25%-30% dyed-in-wool PAP supporters who could possibly split votes between Tony and Cheng Bock.

I would assume that those who are in Ayer Rajah constituency (now part of the West Coast GRC) who had consistently returned Cheng Bock to office would be voting for him.

From all accounts, Tony’s stint in the Sembawang GRC as an MP was not a happy one in that he would delegate his Meet-The-People sessions to his GRC-mates which means that Tony does not have the support there.

Then add the White Horse factor of Tony’s son, Patrick. Tony has not come clean (nor has his son) about how Patrick was able to get an extended disruption from NS and dubious postings to the Defense Medical and Environment Research Institute and National Cancer Center, especially during the time Tony was defense minister. Do you think that if Tony gets the presidency, Patrick would be able to show his face and not be asked about how he was able to dodge NS? Tony is not going to his son any favours by continuing to brush aside the allegations.

So, that leaves Jee Say, Cheng Bock and Kin Lian.

About Kin Lian: I think he is a smart and possibly likeable person. Yes, he did spend some years as a PAP cadre member, but I think that is all in the past and of no consequence. Kin Lian has proven his business acumen at NTUC Income. I know that there are many people in the insurance industry that have nothing but cuss words for him, but looking at someone who grew a business – even if a cooperative – it is no small task. I think his ideas of forming his own council of advisers is very laudable.  I think there is a real need to institute an ombudsman system in our political landscape and perhaps his council of advisers could be an arm of it, or may be not.

Jee Say is an enigma. He has good ideas and is forthright in stating it. He does, sometimes, come across as a bit boorish and unpolished. Perhaps the fire from the GE2011 is still burning in him. I particularly like his stand against capital punishment. That to me is reason enough to vote for him. He clearly is capable of being a good president.

Cheng Bock. Of the two Drs, Cheng Bock is probably the more likeable and down-to-earth bloke. He has a mind of his own proven over the years by being a PAP MP and poking the government every now and then. I am disappointed that he, as a medical doctor, is in favour of capital punishment but perhaps he can be persuaded. Watch these videos.

If I were to arrange the four Tans on a political scale with PAP on the left and Anti-PAP on the right as the two extremes, it would be Tony, Cheng Bock, Kin Lian and Jee Say.

The People of Singapore want a change. The status quo of the last 46 years has been great to bring the country to where it is today, but not what is needed for the future.  Tony’s tagline “Confidence for the future” fails on that count.  It is more of the same and nothing else.

So here is how I think the votes will spread:

Tony 18%

Cheng Bock 30%

Kin Lian 23%

Jee Say 29%

So, it will be a neck to neck between Cheng Bock and Jee Say. The PAP-led government will have their hands full some early morning August 28.


I had an interesting chat with a friend today. He is well connected with the establishment and what amazes me is how much he “believes in the establishment’s bullshit”. I recall a good boss of mine from years ago telling me that he would be very worried if his sales folks and engineers start believing everything marketing spins – “believing your own bullshit”.  The PAP still does not understand the reality of the ground, three months after the GE. They still think that it is BAU and believing their own bullshit.

The ground has moved and moved away from the PAP. Anyone who is as closely associated with the PAP as is Tony stands to lose. It used to be a time when anything the PAP anoints wins. That is no longer the case. Someone told me that the PAP is now the “Pariah Action Party”.


So who am I voting for on Saturday? I told my Mom to vote Cheng Bock and to tell her friends to do the same. I am still sitting on the fence between Cheng Bock and Jee Say.  I want a president I can be proud of both from a office as well as the person. I respect the office of the Prime Minister but I don’t like the person holding that post. I want to have a president that I can like. If I were to use likability as the only factor, Cheng Bock will be it.

I am Singaporean, humble and contented.

Tomorrow, August 9 2011, Singapore celebrates 46 years of independence.

The fact that we’ve been able to have 46 years of economic progress going from a relatively impoverished island of about 1.5 million people in 1965 to one with about 5.5 million today with a per capita one of the highest in the world is no easy achievement. Much kudos have to be given to the pioneering group of political leaders and their vision to make this a viable nation and to be able to rally the population to make the effort to pull in the same direction.

As a nation, we will forever be grateful to that generation – the generation of my parents. They did well and thank you.

And, as a nation, we have to move forward. We have to find the new normal. The new normal was established on May 7, 2011 when the population took charge of the collective destiny. The citizenry had cast off the yoke of fear of not voting for the political party that ruled Singapore since independence. It was a breath of fresh air and a newly found confidence in being able to do the right thing.  Much kudos have to be given to the many players – the various political parties, the social media and the general assertiveness of a well education and well-informed citizenry.

Now as we observe the 46th anniversary of our independence, it is time to reflect what does it mean to be a Singaporean. Like any other nation and nationality, we have our quirks and warts and shortcomings. But, they are ours. We will work around it, live with it, and make it ours.

One thing that cannot be taken away from us – we are who we are because we chose to be that. We will never be perfect. But we will try hard to make it happen.

We demand full and honest transparency in how this country is governed and how we will pull together both in times of hardship and prosperity.

This National Day will mark the last time President S R Nathan will be officiating as the head of state. His term in office ends on August 31st. We will be having the presidential elections on August 27th that would see a new person in office.

The Singapore President was always a figure-head who officiated at events and was a rallying point for the people.  The party in power devised a clever scheme to have the president elected so that he will have the moral authority to safeguard the substantial financial reserves that Singapore has built up over the years.  This move, while controversial, did not set up the presidency to have the far-reaching roles it could play, except to keep the ruling party happy.

On August 17th 2011, we will know who will be contesting the elections and there is a danger of a freak situation where miraculously only one person was deemed qualified. Such is the system we have that it will be a crying shame if it turns out that way. The current president was NEVER voted into office, having had the seat obtained by default because no one ran against him. This should never be allowed, whether in parliamentary or presidential elections. There must be a minimum percentage of votes in favour before being granted the office.Walkovers are an abomination of human rights and the administrative capitulation of constitutional right to vote.

So, I look forward to National Day 2011, humbled that we have been able to make what we have and contented that we have a new normal.

As Singaporeans, we can be proud to take the Pledge and sing the anthem with all our heart.

Majulah Singapura.

Change and Opportunity

Change and evolution are hallmarks of any open source project. Ideas form, code gets cut, repurposed, refined and released (and sometimes thrashed).

Much the same thing happens with teams of people.  In the True Spirit of The Open Source Way, people in teams will see individuals come in, contribute, leave. Sometimes, they return. Sometimes, they contribute from afar.

Change has come to Red Hat’s Community Architecture and Leadership (CommArch) team.  Max has written about his decision to move on from Red Hat, and Red Hat has asked me to take on the leadership of the group.  We have all (Max, myself, Jared, Robyn, and the entire CommArch team) been working hard over the past few weeks to make sure that transition is smooth, in particular as it relates to the Fedora Project.

I have been with Red Hat, working out of the Asia Pacific headquarters based in Singapore, for the last 8 years or so. I have had the good fortune to be able to work in very different areas of the business and it continues to be exciting, thrilling and fulfilling.

The business ethics and model of Red Hat resonates very much with me. Red Hat harvests from the open source commons and makes it available as enterprise quality software that organizations, business big and small can run confidently and reliably. That entire value chain is a two way chain, in that the work Red Hat does to make open source enterprise deployable, gets funnelled back to the open source commons to benefit everyone. This process ensures that the Tragedy of the Commons is avoided.

This need to Do The Right Thing was one of the tenets behind the establishment of the Community Architecture and Leadership team within Red Hat. Since its inception, I have had been an honorary member of the team, complementing its core group.  About a year ago, I moved from honorary member to being a full-timer in the group.

The team’s charter is to ensure that the practises and learnings that have helped Red Hat to harness open source for the enterprise continues to be refined and reinforced within Red Hat.  The team has always focused on Fedora in this regard, and will continue to do so. We’ve been lucky to have team members who have had leadership positions within different parts of the Fedora Project over the years, and this has given us an opportunity to sharpen and hone what it means to run, maintain, manage, and nurture a community.

The group also drives educational activities through the Teaching Open Source (TOS) community, such as the amazingly useful and strategic “Professors Open Source Summer Experience” (POSSE) event.  If the ideas of open source collaboration and the creation of open source software is to continue and flourish, we have to reach out to the next generation of developers who are in schools around the world. To do that, if faculty members can be shown the tools for open source collaboration, the knock-on effect of students picking it up and adopting is much higher. That can only be a good thing for the global
open source movement.

This opportunity for me to lead CommArch does mean that, with the team, I can help drive a wider and more embracing scope of work that also includes the community and the newly forming Cloud-related communities.

The work ahead is exciting and has enormous knock-on effects within Red Hat as well as the wider IT industry.  Red Hat’s mission statement states: “To be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way.”

In many ways, CommArch is one of the catalysts. I intend to keep it that way.

As the hats get thrown into the ring

So, we now have three persons officially vying for the post of the President of the Republic of Singapore. Mr Tan Kin Lian, Dr Tan Cheng Bok and now Dr Tony Tan (no blog, not, no etc). The last name clash does not imply that they are related, btw.. Two of them, Kin Lian and Cheng Bok, are old Rafflesians. That alone is a big plus for me. But that alone is not enough for me to vote for either.

My set of criteria was already alluded to in an earlier post. That still applies. My sense is that only Kin Lian and Cheng Bok might pick those things up.  I am sure Tony will not. He is way too much of a PAP yes-man even though Cheng Bok was also a PAP MP. All things considered, I do not have confidence that Tony will be independent and have the guts to check the government of the day. I had that same reservations about President Ong Teng Cheong as I have about Tony, but Teng Cheong did prove to have an independent streak which did get him being stonewalled by the government of the day and was then disowned to such an extent that he did not get a state funeral. President Ong’s trials with the PAP-led government of the day could still be played out no matter who the president is. But I think the person who will fight hardest would be the ones most opposite from the PAP-led government. On that spectrum, I would put Kin Lian first and Cheng Bok second. Tony does not figure on it.

If I have to cast my vote today, June 23, 2011, it will definitely not go to Tony.  I still undecided between Kin Lian and Cheng Bok.

Mark of A Civilized Country and Society

It is really disappointing that there has to be an ongoing discussion whether the domestic helpers should have a day off on weekends. What is even more disappointing is to read some of the letters printed in the Straits TImes.  I am reproducing one of them here:

This is from June 23rd:

Jun 23, 2011

More days off may not be in maids’ interest

I REFER to the proposal by Madam Halimah Yacob, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, to make it mandatory to give maids a day off every week (‘Consider law to give maids a day off every week: Halimah’; Monday).

As much as employers like myself will like to give our maids a day off per week, we are concerned that it may actually not be in their interest. With four days off a month, they will incur more expenses. Many maids who have a day off a week end up not only sending less money home, and having little or no savings, but also incur debts by borrowing from other maids to cover expenses.

They may also become resentful that their pay is not able to pay for their entertainment on these days off.

Some maids may also work illegally on their days off. This puts them at risk of abuse from those who employ them illegally and also put their legal employers at risk with the law.

Sng Choon Kwee

The author is self-serving and down right obnoxious in the concern of “incurring more costs”, :”work illegally on their days off” , “resentful” etc.

Domestic helpers have a job to do and when it is done, they are entitled to off hours, and off days.  Just like anyone else. These individuals are not slaves to anyone. They are doing a job and are gainfully employed with hopes and dreams of improving their families that they are separated from in the hope that the the next generation has better opportunities.

For us to even entertain a discussion on whether domestic helpers should be given a day or two off shows that there are members and segments of this society that determines a persons privileges based on the job being done. How disgusting can that be?

Yes, my family has a domestic helper. My wife and I agreed that she should have at least one day off a week. If she takes the day off, great; if she doesn’t that fine as well. She should be able to decide. I think it is only fair. As much as I get paid time off, domestic helpers should also have that.

It is unfortunate to have to reach a point at which we have to enact legislation to enforce this. Granting a day off should be natural and would be mark of a civilised country and society.

The next Singapore president

With the elections for the next Singapore president due any day now, my decision making process will include the following considerations:

  1. That the candidate opposes the death penalty and that he would do something about it in office
  2. That the candidate will appreciate the need for a Freedom of Information Act and that the candidate will lend the prestige of the President’s office to this.

While I am fully cognizant that under the Singapore Constitution, the president’s powers are restricted to only three areas (drawing down of government reserves, barring of religious extremists and appointment of the prime minister), the fact that the person is directly elected should be used as a good enough reason to force the issue.  Yes, the government of the day will oppose it and would even start a process of removing the elected president, but if it happens, we will able to make a far more vibrant and relevant executive and parliament. The government of the day might even want to remove the notion of elected president entirely. The fact that the elected president was introduced without a referendum – basically the typical PAP style of “we know best” process – means that little thought went into it in the first place.  Then when President Ong Teng Cheong tried to exert his rights as defined by the constitution, the government of the day stonewalled him to the extent that he did not seek re-election, thoroughly frustrated by the PAP-led government.

So, now that we have an office of the elected President, I think we should make full use of that position to check the government.

From 2001: A commentary by the Roundtable on the 2001 GE

I was part of the Roundtable until it was disbanded in 2004. Given what has happened in this year’s parliamentary elections, I think it is useful to publish an article some of us from the Roundtable wrote and got published in the Straits Times on November 10th 2001.

Lack of competition will hurt PAP and nation

THE People’s Action Party (PAP) won a landslide victory last Saturday, securing 75.3 per cent of the vote – a level of support that it has not seen since 1980. Political analysts and commentators will no doubt continue to ponder over the factors leading to the overwhelming support for the party in the coming months.

But beyond the large victory margin for the PAP, this year’s General Election may well be remembered as the election which helped perpetuate two unhealthy trends.

The first is that elections in Singapore are fast becoming almost a non-event. With only 29 out of 84 seats up for grabs, only 33 per cent of the eligible voters actually got to cast their votes.

The second trend is the tendency for many MPs, especially the novices, to enter Parliament shielded by group representation constituencies (GRCs) – contested or uncontested – rather than face the proverbial electoral baptism of fire. It is almost as if they have been ushered into Parliament in privileged, red-carpet style, by merely flashing their PAP cards.

These two trends are closely related.

Elections are increasingly becoming non-events because they have become less and less competitive. Voter participation, the essence of democracy, has plunged as more and more constituencies go uncontested on Nomination Day.

In this year’s election, out of 25 PAP rookies, only seven experienced a contested election, and none in a single ward.

If this trend continues and worsens in the next election, it is conceivable that most ministers and senior PAP MPs will fall into this ‘red-carpet’ MP category in five to 10 years’ time. They will wield power without having the endorsement and legitimisation of their constituents.

What potential dangers do such ‘red-carpet’ ministers and MPs pose for the PAP and Singapore?

Firstly, these MPs may lack moral authority and the political mandate of the majority. Secondly, they may lack accountability because their constituents could not cast a vote, either for or against them. Thirdly, as politicians, these MPs are untested in electioneering and mass mobilisation. There is no opportunity for them to demonstrate their abilities to reach out to and connect with the ordinary folks.

The last point is clearly of concern to senior PAP leaders, including Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

That both PM Goh and SM Lee had to campaign heavily in Nee Soon East – a single-ward constituency perceived to be in a ‘dangerous zone’ for the PAP in the recent election – even though the incumbent MP has been there for 10 years (as part of Sembawang GRC) and holds the rank of a minister of state, seems to justify such a concern.

One wonders, too, if the scant opportunity to hone their political skills in domestic electoral contests may not affect our politicians’ effectiveness in steering the country through the treacherous waters of regional and international politics.

More importantly, will they have the political skills and rapport to mobilise the people when the chips are down?

The reasons for these trends are not difficult to discern.

With its overwhelming control in parliament, the PAP government has almost legislated the opposition into oblivion. In the space of 13 years, the electoral landscape of Singapore has been changed from one dominated by single-member wards to one dominated by super GRCs (with teams of up to six candidates).

The constant redrawing of electoral boundaries is seen by some Singaporeans to work against the opposition. Marginal wards like Anson, Cheng San and Eunos have been wiped off the political map. Election deposits have also been raised over the years; from $500 to $13,000. Six-member GRC teams would have to fork out $78,000 each, and that is not counting the cost of running an election campaign.

As the incumbent party with access to governmental resources, the PAP can wield a ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach to attract political support from a materialistic polity; the opposition cannot. A vote against the PAP would be tantamount to voting against one’s own material interests.

While the ruling party is not obliged to create a viable opposition, it is arguable whether it should have a carte blanche in creating hurdles that may deter citizens from offering themselves as non-PAP candidates for the election.

A good test here is whether the PAP will support all the measures above if it is currently in the opposition.

What can be done to address these problems?

Establish an independent elections commission: To counter the perception that redrawing of electoral boundaries often leads to results that favour the ruling party, the Constitution should be amended to institute an independent elections commission. This commission will ensure a more level playing field by ensuring that electoral boundaries are drawn on the basis of geographical and logical bases, rather than political expediency. Comprising civil servants, academia, civil society and other groups that are representative of cross-sections of the society, the commission will allow citizens to make representations.

Voter endorsement for uncontested candidates: To address the ‘credibility’ issue of red-carpet MPs, hold local ‘referenda’ for walkover candidates. On the ballot, only two options are given: Do you want this candidate or team of candidates to represent you in Parliament – yes or no? One can debate about the minimum ‘yes’ votes that the candidates must secure to enter Parliament, although to make the figure meaningful, it would have to be at least 25 per cent.

Alternatively, the Government may want to consider holding by-elections for walkover GRCs. A by-election can be an additional mechanism for the PAP to infuse new blood and also for its candidates to gain from a real contest with opposition parties. More importantly, by requiring every eligible Singaporean to cast his vote, in one form or another, it will help entrench his constitutional rights and duty as a citizen.

Smaller GRCs, and return to SMCs: Introduce smaller GRCs and more single-member constituencies (SMCs). In this election, all SMCs were contested. Smaller GRCs and SMCs are also more affordable for citizens to participate as candidates. The essence of democracy is citizen participation; GRCs should not keep ballooning in size and cost to the extent that citizens are deterred from participating in elections.

A longer campaign period: A 15-day campaign instead of nine days. The current nine-day limit is probably one of the shortest in democracies. If the PAP wants a more robust contest, it should give the opposition parties and electorate more time to debate national issues rather than to restrict it to the minimum legal requirement. The new Parliament may want to consider raising the minimum legal requirement for the campaigning period to 15 days.

Obviously cognisant of the problem of red-carpet MPs, the PM has suggested the creation of a ‘simulated’ opposition by forging a shadow Cabinet. In other countries, shadow Cabinets are formed exclusively by opposition parties to preserve pluralism and contestation as virtues unto themselves.

As others have pointed out (See ‘Building an effective shadow Cabinet’; ST, Nov 8), there are inherent limits when PAP MPs are asked to form a shadow Cabinet.

Firstly, they are peas from the same pod. Secondly, even if the party whip is lifted, how effective can a PAP shadow Cabinet be? Thirdly, any simulation remains only a simulation; it can never replace the real thing.

Intense competition is a hallmark of Singaporean life. Students are streamed, schools are subjected to rankings, local labour to foreign ‘talent’, and local businesses to the government-linked companies and multinational corporations.

Yet, the one institution that is not subject to any serious competition in Singapore is the PAP.

The absence of competition over time might well lead to a flabby party led by those who enjoyed walkovers and continue to stay in power by making the field even less level for a diminishing opposition.

Can this be in the interest of Singapore in the long run?

Exco Members,
The Roundtable

It keeps getting better!

On April 17th, I thanked Lee Kuan Yew for standing down. My thanks were really for him to completely step down from politics and to bask in the after glow of a life lived well, and a life of dedication to Singapore.

Alas, that was not to be. He did contest – not really, it was a lame walkover in the Tanjong Pagar GRC – and yesterday, he and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong announced that they are not going to continue in the Singapore Cabinet.  They are giving reasons such as “to give the Prime Minister and his team the room to break from the past, and we want to make it clear that the PAP has never been averse to change.” Thanks. But I think if they really meant what they are saying, they should have done it BEFORE the elections. Yes, they are both politicians and will not reveal what they are thinking, but like change, sometimes it take a while.

So, now that both GCT and LKY are no longer in the Cabinet, it is no longer PG-rated.

I am sure that there will now be calls for LKY or GCT to perhaps run for the President’s post.  That would be interesting.  It would mean that they’ll have to a) resign from the PAP and b) give up their seat in parliament.

If either one of them decide to run, that would mean by-elections in either Marine Parade or Tanjong Pagar GRCs. That’ll be a good thing.

A by-election in Tanjong Pagar would give the voters in that GRC an opportunity to vote after over 20 years of being denied the right. We can then hopefully get to hear the former chief of army who essentially walked into parliament without being tested and also hear from the last-minute PAP politician who got a seat without any effort on his part.

If GCT decides to run, then the people of Marine Parade GRC can correct their mistake of having had to vote in GCT (and his coattail-cling-on Ms Tin “Kate Spade” Pei Ling).

Either scenario, it can only be good for Singapore.

Let’s look at the next big event in Singapore – the Presidential Elections.  We could see the following possible candidates:

  1. Tan Kin Lian – former CEO of NTUC Income
  2. Lee Kuan Yew
  3. S Jayakumar
  4. Goh Chok Tong
  5. George Yeo
  6. Abdullah Tarmugi
  7. Zainal Abidin Rasheed
  8. S Dhanabalan
Of the list above, only Tan Kin Lian has the non-party credentials and possibly the best chance of asking the hard questions that former president Ong Teng Cheong had to grapple with and not get an answer.
So, all is not over yet. The best is yet to come.
Majulah Singapura.

The Singapore Cabinet is PG-rated

If the PAP leadership is serious about reforming their thinking, they need to first change the fact the the cabinet is PG-rated. The Prime Minister has his father in cabinet allegedly as a “mentor” but really. A mentor? You mean the PM can’t do the job himself with the rest of the cabinet? Add to that, why have a Senior Minister position? What real value does the SM or MM bring that they cannot do so as external, non-elected advisers? So, it appears that both the MM and SM don’t really think the PM to do his job well.

Now, let’s look at how the PAP has fared in terms of over percentage of votes since 1988:

Prime Minister	1988	1991	1997	2001	2006	2011
Lee Kuan Yew	63.2
Goh Chok Tong		 61	 65	75.3
Lee Hsien Loong					66.6	60.1

So, looking at the percentages, with GCT as PM, he manged to get the PAP overall rating go from 61 to 75.3. LHL, on the other hand, has seen steady downward trend and his latest percentage is LOWER than GCT on GCT’s first elections.  I guess, this explains why the he is a PG-rated PM.

Please read this great post as well.

Regime Change – A Uniquely Singapore Project

Singapore has shown the world how to do regime change, one step at a time. The peaceful means of doing this via the ballot box and with the engagement of the citizenry is something that will be analysed and reanalysed over and over again.

But what remains is that, while we as Singaporeans want to make change government, we are mindful that it is a longer haul process and needs to be done one election at a time. If will take us another general election before we finally get to have a government that is accountable, compassionate and grateful to the population that elected them in.

So, I reckon we can now write the book: “Regime Change, A Uniquely Singapore Project”.

Majulah Singapura!

It’s May 8th 2011 and it is a Brand New Singapore!

Good morning Singapore. Together we broke the back of the PAP with them being routed in the polls, with the Worker’s Party retaining Hougang and now winning the Aljunied GRC.

As the sun emerges, we are being blessed with the dawn of a Singapore awaken from a long drawn siesta and political apathy.

What we need to do now is to close ranks, both the victors and the losers and work for an even better tomorrow.

All this while, I’ve chosen not to get involved with my municipal and local community stuff – largely leaving it to the MPs to do the work.  I intend to change that. I live in the West Coast GRC and I want to know exactly what happens in this GRC and the best way forward is to get involved. I think there is plenty of room for local residents to engage and play a role in the community.

We have to build on the momentum of these elections. I am sure that these results will perhaps spur many a Singaporean who gave up on their country and moved overseas to consider returning. To return and help build this into a nation that we can all be extremely proud of. A nation that welcomes one and all from around the world. Although I am second generation Singapore, my parents were the immigrants of their time and we need to make sure that we continue to build up a managed and well thought out immigration policy to help build our population. Should we have 5 million people on this 600-sq-km island? Or should we have 6.5million? Whatever the number, the basis of how we should be building Singapore is by consensus, consultation, transparency and collaboration. Not by the now discredited PAP heavy-handed “I know best, if you disagree, you’ll repent” style.

Hence I would like to call out to any and all to help me build on the idea of The Open Party. Yes, it is different. Yes it is radical. But to me the ideas around how open collaboration and consensus building using all the technology is crucial.  Of course, engaging with the population in person is paramount, but so is the need to work with them cleverly. Serving the people and being in government cannot be a win-lose proposition. It has to be an all around win-win process. The Open Party will be built along those lines.

Looking at this map of the results, it looks like the heart of Singapore is where Hougang and Aljunied is. The colour scheme has the US Red vs Blue states aura, but to me it looks more like the heart is alive, red and beating and the blue areas are deprived of oxygen and are suffocating and anemic.

Quick take on what the PAP reactions would be

It is the case that the PAP’s GRC gambit has failed after over twenty years of milking it. It is also the case that MM Lee’s threats, which harp from an ancient time of fear mongering, did not go down well at all. Why the PAP continues to let MM Lee continue with his style of politics is beyond me. I am sure that no one in the PAP dares to stand up to and challenge him.  MM Lee has done his work for this country. If he truly means what he says that he is concerned with this country, he should do the Right Thing and stand down. This country will survive and flourish. No need for Parental Guidance (unless MM Lee sincerely believes that his son is still needing PG).

The PAP has done stuff that they have never done before. They actually attempted at an apology, even if it was half-hearted. PM Lee’s lunch time rally at Boat Quay last week, where he sorta-kinda said sorry, was way too little, too late. The PAP continues to ignore feedback and objections raised by the population and when they finally realized that they’ve been sleeping at the wheel (and hence the appropriateness of WP’s second driver analogy to slap the main driver awake) it was too late. The PAP thinks that their mistakes were only since 2006.  If that’s how they look at it, then they are missing out on a far bigger problem.  The concerns have been around from probably 1991 – that’s 20 years ago. The fancy formulae in computing ministers’ salaries to the prices of public housing are just two of many. When my parents bought their first HDB property in 1964 in Queenstown, it cost them S$6,200 in 1964 dollars. When they moved into a new HDB home in Bukit Purmei in 1984, it cost about S$120k or so. Twenty times more over twenty years. Did the cost of land really go up that much given that the government acquires land cheaper than what it should be at? Public housing should be made available NOT at a profit margin that puts monies into the public coffers at the expense of the buyer. The fact that Mah Bow Tan has been returned to office (and possibly back as Minister of National Development) does not augur well. Why is it that all discussions about HDB is not answered by the CEO of HDB but by the minister? Does the CEO have nothing to say? No accountability at all? There has to be clear separation of accountability and  responsibility which can only come with transparency which is what I am proposing with The Open Party.

Just as the HDB CEO maintains radio silence, so does the CEOs of SMRT, SBS Transit, ComfortDelgro when it comes to public transport.  We have to take to task all of them – and the CEO of LTA – when it comes to being accountable.

The victory of the PAP in Potong Pasir is really shallow – both figuratively and metaphorically. SPP’s Mrs Chiam lost the seat to the PAP by a mere 114 votes (7973 vs 7859). 114 votes. There were more spoilt votes cast. I am sure the PAP will now move mountains and pump newly available cash into Potong Pasir. Will that be good for the people of Potong Pasir – probably in the short-term. But for the long-term, I am sure that they’ll take the money thrown at them by the PAP and come 2016 revert to Mr Chiam’s party.

Final thoughts

I think Singapore and Singaporeans need to evolve the culture of “compete we must, but by cooperating we make greater progress”. I hope the 40+% of Singaporeans who voted for  ABP (Anyone But PAP) will not be pushed aside and ignored. The people who stood for election and lost should be welcome by the winners to work together to progress further and faster. It cannot be winner take it all. Let’s close rank and help steer the good ship Temasek forward.

Much work needs to be done for a better Singapore. 2016, here we come!

Majulah Singapura.

My 6 hour tour of duty as a polling agent

Note that I have signed a Secrecy Declaration that would require me to not mention who were at the polling station and anything about who voted for whom. The latter one is near impossible to know anyway, but it is part of the secrecy anyway.

But I think I can talk about my experience as a polling agent.  This is the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity and it was largely thanks to a some colleagues of mine (whom I would like to acknowledge, but since I’ve not asked for their permission, I shall refrain).

I signed up to help out the Singapore People’s Party – Chaim See Tong’s party – to be their polling agent at one of Bishan Toa Payoh GRC’s polling centers. I just placed my name on one that had an open slot and it happened to be Pierce Secondary School.

I arrived at the school at 7:30 am, parked outside and met with polling agents from SPP. We proceeded into the school, and we were met by some smiley police officers and when we showed them the secrecy document we had to sign off, they proceeded to let us in. Waited a bit more until about 7:45 am when the elections department staff (actually, they are folks from other parts of the civil service, such as teachers, statutory board employees, specially mobilsed  for the elections).

The way voting is done in a Polling Station is as follows:

a) Each Polling Station would have multiple Polling Places.

b) Each Polling Place is identified with something like A, B etc.  I don’t think there are more than that. A Polling Place is a space within the Polling Center that is distinct and, potentially, separate from another Polling Place in the same Polling Center. So, if the Polling Center is a school. Polling Place A could be in the school hall, Polling Place B could be in the school canteen etc.  In the case of Pierce, both were in the school canteen and next to each other.

c) Within each Polling Place, there would be polling areas labelled as A1, A2, A3 etc. So, each voter will be assigned a Polling Place and that’s where you have to queue up to vote.

d) In the case of Pierce, I was the SPP representative and chose to sit at the Polling Place A2.  My “polling agent” table was shared with a PAP representative all dressed as a MIW. We both sat across two Elections Department (ED) officials.

e) As voters come up, one ED official will check the previously mailed out Polling Card against the voters list for that Polling Place. They will counter check with the NRIC as well.

f) Once it is verified, the name is crossed out on the polling register and the ED official hands over the polling card and ID to the her partner who will then issue a ballot.

g) As the 2nd ED official tears out the ballot, he will read out the name and serial number of the voter (which is what is on the previously mailed out Polling Card). The reason for this is so that the polling agent (like myself), will be able to check a copy of the voters list that was provided to the SPP. What I did was to place a tick against the name/serial number. The rationale for calling out the name and serial number is to ensure that there are no attempts to vote twice or more by one person.

h) The voter then takes the ballot, goes to the polling booth, places the choice of candidate by putting a cross (or any mark except vulgarity) to show choice.

i) Once done, the ballot is folded into half, and placed into the ballot box. And the voter leaves.

About the ballot box

The ballot box is made out of cardboard and when I arrived at my polling agent station, the box was fully open and unsealed. I could check that the box was empty and once I (and the other polling agent) indicated that we are OK, the ED officials close-up the box, and applies specially marked Elections Department masking tape and a sealing sticker. After that, the box is ready to accept ballots. The ballot box has two slot on the top to accept votes. Each ballot box has a sticker on the side to indicate which polling place it belongs to/comes from.

So, that was what happened this morning. I ended my shift at 2:30 pm or so and handed all the “secret” documents to the SPP representative at the polling station.

What happens at the close of election, ie at 8:00 pm, is that the ED officials will seal off the voting slots, and have the polling agents sign off on the box (if they want to) and then the ED officials will transport the boxes to the counting centers.

I did not get to witness that part – the sealing and transportation though I am sure there are witnesses to it.

So, all in, it was an interesting 6-plus hours of contributing to the dawn of a new democracy in Singapore.

And finally, I think it is probably OK to mention that when one of the voters arrived at my polling place, she seemed to be rather agitated mumbling something to the EDs across from me.  All I heard was “I am so angry” or something close to that. She was given her ballot and instead of going to the booth to make her choice, she chose to walk to the ballot box directly and tear up her ballot and stuffed the torn ballot into the box! Sigh. There is nothing that you can be so angry about that can justify tearing up your ballot! Yes, it is all within your basic human right to spoil your vote, but actually taking that path is sad. Really sad.

So, we now await the results. I expect tonight to be long and nail-biting.

Majulah Singapura!