Sunday, January 28

1/28/2007 01:20:00 AM

How about 3 & 7 ?

The article "5:7" by Mr Hri Kumar, MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC on the p65 blog raises much questions and contradictions and I would hope to address them in the following article.

I do not agree with Mr Kumar's view that increasing GST is the best way to raise funds to establish and support programs to grow our R & D capabilities and enhance Singapore's medical and research infrastructure, and to help the less fortunate and the elderly. It is just one of the many ways to raise funds and to proclaim that little specifics can be offered to alternative methods just goes to show that the government has not fully explored all the other viable alternatives.

I would like to see the government raising the corporate tax rate by 1 or 2 percentage point. This may seems detrimental to Singapore's economic competitiveness but a closer look at it may provide us with a different picture to what the authorities and mainstream media would like us to perceive.

An increase in 1 percentage point would generate four to five hundred million dollars which could be used to finance benefits such as the workfare bonus and cash handouts while maintaining a healthy tax revenues from the 5% GST rate.

Is it wise to increase Singapore 's corporate tax rate or continue to wage a corporate tax "war" with Hong Kong?

No, definitely not. Though Singapore 's corporate tax rate (20% with plans to lower it to 19%) is higher than Hong Kong's rate of 17.5% but the point is this. Even at a proposed rate of 21 – 22 %, Singapore 's corporate tax rate is among the lowest and most competitive in the Asia Pacific region. It can be noted that the corporate tax rate for Japan, India , China and South Korea , Taiwan is 40.66%, 33.66%, 33%, 27.5% and 25% respectively. The average tax rate for the Asia Pacific region is 30%,much higher than the proposed rate of 22% that Singapore could adopt.

The fundamental fact is this. Even if Singapore increases its corporate tax rate to 22%, Singapore is still competitive and Singapore, in the words of Minister Mentor Lee, “can offers investors better returns than other places in the region.”

Moreover, the Singapore government should consider increasing our income tax rate from 20% to 22% as well. This is a practical way whereby the well-to-do and successful can lend a helping hand to the poor and needy and to contribute towards building an inclusive society.

Essentially, this is to take money from the rich and redistribute to the poor. Right now, with a possible increase of GST to 7%, the government is taking money from the poor and redistribute to the poor again. Is this a logical way to solve the problem of a growing income gap that Singapore is facing?

Furthermore, with the numbers of millionaires in Singapore set to swell to 40,500 by 2009 from the current number of 28,200 in 2004. Furthermore, it is expected that by the year 2009, the number of individuals with liquid wealth of more than US$200,000 will increase to 272,800 individuals. Indeed, the potential to collect substantial tax revenues is certainly possible without any increase in current GST rate.

In short, there are more than one viable alternative, other than an increase in GST rate which will allow the government to continue to finance R & D research and social programs.

Moreover, it is just too superficial to assume that just because of a high income tax rate, the rich and wealthy in Singapore will leave and seek greener pastures elsewhere in the region. More often than not, political stability, national identity and belongingness have much more influence on an individual's willingness to entrench its roots here in Singapore.

Looking at the Scandinvian countries of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, where there is a much higher income tax rate than Singapore, the rich and wealthy are still staying put because they see themselves playing an important role in the future development of the country. In this case, Mr Kumar's statement is regrettable as it tends to portray Singaporeans as materialistic, and quick to abandon the country once the going is tough.

It is also worth noting that Mr Kumar mentions that other than raising the GST rate, there could be a possibility the government will deploy part of the income earned on the reserves. This suggestion that leveraging on the huge reserves to help the poor was labelled as a "time bomb" by Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen during the last elections.

In the words of Minister Ng Eng Hen, this would potentially lead to "a tragic result if they implement these ideas." If that the case, why is the PAP government still considering to leverage on Singapore's national reserves to help the poor and needy?

Another point is this. Singapore experienced healthy growth rate of 7.7% in 2006. and the STI index pass the 3,000 mark for the first time ever. All signs point to a booming economy. This means that the government would have enough funds to finance the workfare bonus that it wishes to implement. In that case, why is there still a need to increase the GST rate?

I am convinced that youths today are not against raising the level of GST per se, but against the way and timing it will be implemented.

I would like to see a flexible GST structure whereby both basic necessities and luxury goods will be taxed. However, all basic necessities will be taxed at a rate of 3% while keeping the tax rate for luxury items at a consistent rate of 7% as proposed by the government. Though Mr. Kumar's argument is that a multi-tier taxation system will create a huge bureaucracy which will cost more money to sustain, I am not convinced by this line of thought.

In the first place, the entire apparatus of the government is a huge bureaucracy and it has been shown that with capable leadership, it can be cost-effective and efficient at the same time, while protecting the interests of our poor and needy.

In order to cope with the possible fall in revenue that the government might face in implementing 2 different tax rates, I also would like to see the government raising the tax rate for cigarettes and alcohol consumption to offset the impact of implementing a 3% tax rate on basic necessities.

Like Mr. Hri Kumar, I rather we do not run huge budget deficits to fund our R & D programs and finance our social policies and let our children worry about how to pay the debt. But I believed we can do that with a GST tax rate of 5% for the next 5 years.


::::::::::[Bernard Chen Jiaxi]::::::::

Thursday, January 18

1/18/2007 12:16:00 AM

The Internet in Singapore politics today

Today, technology and especially the internet is something that is indispensable to the young. From online forums, school portals to email communication, the internet is a tool that is consistently and expertly harnessed by youths. This brings us to the question of how politics can stay relevant to the young in the era of this new media.

For once, the internet makes it easier for the young to express their ideas, views and opinions. It’s easy to handle, is not dependent on time and venue and thus makes it very enticing as a tool for political expression. In a generation which was brought up imbued with the concept of efficiency and effectiveness, the internet is the perfect platform from which the young can come into contact with politics. Moreover, the internet allows for and facilitates discussions and the exchanging of ideas among interested parties. This is done through Internet forums and school portals.

In this case, shouldn’t the internet be aggressively manipulated by political parties to reach out to youths? Personally, I feel that such a view is too superficial and inadequate.

Though forums and online portals make it easier for the exchanging of views among youths, it must be noted that such tools are unable to reach out to apathetic and disinterested parties. People who are interested in music will visit forums which discuss music and entertainment. Sports lovers will frequent forums, or even blogs with a sporting outlook and content. Likewise for politics, only youths who are interested in politics would bother to explore political forums, portals or even blogs online. In this sense, the internet thus poses an obstacle for political parties like the Workers’ Party to reach out to politically disinterested youths. Fundamentally, the Internet does not solve the problem of raising political awareness among youths in general.

The Internet also leads to a false perception among the youths that they are contributing to their country by expressing their views and ideas online. To put it in another way, the Internet creates a façade that their ideas and views are being heard and considered by policymakers. For instance, i-speak, a blog by a 17-year-old college girl, Gayle Goh, who frequents events and talk-shows organised by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, is capturing a lot of media attention and publicity. Such blogs tend to reinforce the mindset among youths that the Internet is a feasible and convenient tool through which youths can voice their suggestions to the country and government.

Personally, from my experiences of political activism, I realise that nothing beats a face-to-face engagement with the public, which allows one to get a feel of the problems and circumstances afflicting Singaporeans in general. On the ground is where you get the most exposure to youths, as you listen to the comments and opinions expressed by them. This gives you an inkling of what exactly are their thinking and mindset. Only then can you propose effective and creative ideas and suggestions to reach out to these youths.

It’s through being a part of a credible political party like the Workers’ Party, that experiences on the ground can be translated into youthful and creative ideas which will be heard and, most importantly, implemented. A political party in this context provides countless avenues – such as forums or dialogue sessions – for concrete, feasible and creative ideas to be pondered, discussed and introduced.

The youth wing of the Workers’ Party creates countless opportunities for youths to constantly interact with like-minded people, fostering the inception of various initiatives and ideas. Being in a youth wing allows for a pro-youth stance without asserting the main political stance of the mother party. This puts aside the formalities and practices prevalent in a political party, thereby encouraging the development of ideas and opinions crucial to assisting and raising political awareness among the youths in Singapore.

In conclusion, the Internet is a viable tool for political communication and dialogue and it is a fundamental step in bringing youths from political obscurity into the political domain. However, this must be further complemented by active political participation in credible political parties or their youth wings. Such participation enhances and amplifies an individual’s little voice, lending credibility to his or her ideas. Most importantly, participation in a political party or its youth wing is the perfect launch pad for your ideas to take root and flourish.


::::::::::[Bernard Chen Jiaxi]::::::::

Tuesday, January 9

1/09/2007 11:28:00 PM

Youthful Perspectives on the Foreign Talent issue


During the National Day Rally Speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talked about the need to augment the lack of manpower in the near and medium term due to the declining birth rate. There is now an urgent need to attract more Foreign Talent into Singapore.

In the aftermath of this speech, views on this issue were wide-ranging and varied. However, the consistent stand is this: Singaporeans must come first.
I decided to ask a 17-year-old polytechnic student from Temesek Polytechnic, Warren Elliot, and a 21-year-old Singapore Management University student, Tee Kian Hin, for their views on this raging issue.

Bernard: Firstly, what is your stand on the Foreign Talent issue?

Warren: My stand is a very neutral one. I think that foreign talent can help Singapore economically, socially and culturally. However, it should not be over-hyped. Over-stressing on the need for foreign talent can do damage to the social fabric in Singapore. For example, Singaporeans may feel like second class citizens instead of owners of the country.

Kian Hin: I believe they are essential for the continuation of Singapore's prosperity and progress. In the age of globalisation, and especially given Singapore’s relatively small domestic market which relies heavily on exports, jobs can be easily move to countries which are more cost-effective. So we can't be too protective about the jobs available in Singapore, or else companies may relocate elsewhere, and even more jobs will be lost. This means local companies will be less able to compete in the global market.

Bernard: Do you think it's necessary for the government to increase its emphasis on attracting Foreign Talent to Singapore?

Warren: I believe they should increase the emphasis on attracting Foreign Talent in the industries or fields of work in which foreign talent is required. However, the government should try to avoid attracting foreign talent for jobs that can very well be done by the locals. They should protect the rights of the locals first.

Kian Hin: Yes. There's nothing wrong with filling up these manpower 'gaps' with foreign talent. But the policy should not go overboard such that it ends
up marginalising and discriminating against Singaporeans – who may be equally competent – in terms of income and opportunities. Otherwise, Singaporeans will be fed up and eventually leave.

Bernard: What do you think is/are the reason/(s) behind this initiative of the government to attract more Foreign Talent to Singapore?

Warren: I guess the government has three reasons for doing so. Firstly, it is to make up for the lack of talent or skills of our locals, which will help in boosting our economy. Basically, it is to make up for what we do not have.

Secondly, it is to improve the workforce in Singapore as a whole. With the introduction of foreign talent, locals would feel insecure about their jobs and strive to improve themselves in order to keep up with the competition. As a result, many of them would strive to upgrade themselves, so as to be better equipped to take on the competition and fight for the jobs they want or already have.

Thirdly, the government wants Singapore to be a more cosmopolitan and vibrant city. With an influx of foreign talent, there would be added diversity and vibrancy to our already colourful country, thereby enhancing our social and cultural heritage.

Kian Hin: It was implemented in order to ensure the quality and quantity of our workforce, so that high-value industries could be set up in Singapore. This would, in turn, ensure that talented Singaporeans could continue to work here, rather than go overseas to achieve their goals.

Bernard: Personally, how do you think the 2-child policy has fared since its introduction?

Warren: Initially, the 2-child policy or “stop at 2” policy was a booming success and many households started practicing family planning and population growth stabilised. However, it was so successful that now, people are stopping at one or not even considering having children or getting married for that matter until a much later age.

No one policy can last for long periods of time. The current world we are living in is ever-changing and if you don't change along with it, you will lag behind. The government has introduced many bonuses and incentives to encourage more births in Singapore, but only time will tell whether it is a success.

Kian Hin: I simply think that people should have the right to have as many babies as they are able and willing to. I think the 2-child policy was more of a
deprivation of human rights rather than an issue of having any positive or negative economic benefits. By the same token, people should also have the right to decide if they want fewer babies, or not at all.

Bernard: Do you think that attracting more Foreign Talent into Singapore can solve Singapore's declining birth rate?

Warren: It will not solve the problem but it could alleviate the situation. A declining birth rate is Singapore's problem and outsiders should not be brought in for the sole purpose of solving it. We might as well go to the orphanages in third-world countries and conduct a pre-citizenship tests on the infants to see if they qualify for the competitive Singapore society; we would be doing charity at the same time, killing two birds with one stone! But seriously, if Singapore is attractive enough to make the expatriates stay and reproduce here, then it will help to arrest our declining birth rates. So let’s all smile and welcome them, and hopefully make them stay 

Kian Hin: No. A declining birth rate is an inevitable consequence of an increasingly affluent society. It is a common trend in many developed countries.

Bernard: Do you believe that Foreign Talent will deprive Singaporeans of jobs and what do you think the government should do to minimise the impact of Foreign Talent on Singaporeans and their livelihood?

Warren: I do not believe that foreign talent will actually deprive Singaporeans of jobs for the simple reason that there are so many jobs available and it is also partly because locals do not have the necessary skills to keep up with the industry’s needs. However, as mentioned before, the government should only attract foreign talent for areas in which they are needed, and not for every field of work.

If the situation gets too grave, which I seriously doubt it will, the government could either have compulsory upgrading courses so that locals can keep up with the expatriates, or impose a cap on the number foreigners who can work in certain industries.

Kian Hin: No. As I said, industries these days are very mobile and hence the best talents (local or otherwise) should be welcome to take on jobs that need their expertise, so that such industries can come to, or remain in Singapore. Otherwise, companies may relocate to places which can provide them the skilled manpower they need. I believe the greater problem in Singapore is the welfare of the lower-income group. Competing with foreign talent is generally more of a concern for those with higher education and earning power.

Bernard: What do you suggest a multi-cultural, multi racial society like Singapore should do to integrate Foreign Talent into the body politic of Singapore?

Warren: Well, we should do what we have been doing since our independence. Since we are a multi-cultural and multi racial society, why should we treat foreign talents from a different cultural or racial background differently? We should just continue what we have been doing and treat them with respect and tolerate them for who they are. World Peace!

Kian Hin: Be open-minded and open-hearted. Be fair and respectful to each individual. Basically, we have to continue what we have achieved in the past in
preserving racial harmony. However, we must guard against succumbing to the fallacy that foreigners MUST be more talented than Singaporeans - because it's definitely not true.

Bernard: With the influx of Foreign Talent into Singapore, what type of a society do you envision Singapore to be in 20 years time?

Warren: I would envision Singapore to be a vibrant, diverse, and global city. Ok, that's too clichéd. Well, I hope it would be much more “user-friendly”. I picture the streets filled with busy people (both locals and foreigners) rushing to get from one place to another, with sky-scrapers surrounding the CBD and cars jamming up the roads. (Well, I hope we have ariel modes of transport by then.) Singapore would be a very successful city economically and socially, and we will be known in every single part of the world.

Kian Hin: A cosmopolitan city, full of vibrancy. But this largely depends on whether the government is willing to open up and tolerate new – albeit more controversial and 'less politically-correct' – ideas and opinions, and not continue behaving like a nanny.

Brief Introduction of our youths:

Warren Elliot (left pic) is turning 17 this year and is currently pursing the Diploma in Leisure and Resort Management at Temasek Polytechnic. He says: “I am not a very political person, more of a “kaypo” gossiper; so I really hope my answers are relevant to the questions!”

Kian Hin (in red) is 21 years old this year and is currently studying at the Singapore Management University. In his free time, he likes to play the piano, take some photographs and is an ardent football fan.

The above article can be found in the current issue (07/01) of the Hammer


::::::::::[Bernard Chen Jiaxi]::::::::

Tuesday, January 2

1/02/2007 05:38:00 PM

Power to the PAP ! !

Under Singapore’s system of parliamentary democracy, it’s “winner takes all”. For example, in a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) of 5 candidates, the winning party will have all five of its candidates fast-tracked into power. In the recently concluded 2006 Singapore General Election, this form of parliamentary democracy had served the PAP well, sending 82 out of 84 candidates into parliament.

This sort of results obtained under a GRC system over the last few elections has created an impression in the psyche of Singaporeans and foreigners alike that the PAP seems invincible. Is that the case? What makes the PAP looks so invincible?

First, the structure of the electoral system makes the PAP looks invincible.

If Singapore was under a system of proportional representation, the PAP would not have looked so invincible. A proportional representation is a method of voting by which political parties are given legislative representation in proportion to their popular vote. Given 66.6% of the popular votes, the PAP would have obtained only 56 seats in parliament, leaving the remaining 28 seats to the rest of the parties, with the Workers’ Party garnering 13 seats, nearly half of the 28 opposition seats available.

The point is this: One of the reasons behind the PAP’s impressive electoral fruits in parliament is the inner mechanisms of the GRC system.

Let’s examine the effect of such an electoral system. A GRC system makes the PAP’s victory look impressive and overwhelming, creating a perception among the electorate that the Pro-Singapore Alternatives, no matter how credible and capable their candidates are, stands no chance at all against any GRC team helmed by a Cabinet Minister. This, in the long-run develops a mind-set within the electorate that they should only look at the PAP and nothing beyond. This certainly impedes the rise of any Pro-Singapore Alternatives parties in the formation of an alternative government.

Group Representation Constituencies should be abolished, as it dilutes the individual voter’s voice. Instead, elections should be run on single seats. We should also explore the implementation of a Mixed Member Proportional Representation System as practiced in New Zealand.

Election deposits too, contribute to the political apathy of most Singaporeans, increasing the sense of PAP’s invincibility. In order to run for election, one has to put down $13,000 in order to qualify as a candidate. This creates an impression, especially among the youths, that politics is only reserved for the elite and the rich. Subsequently, this kills off any budding interest that a young Singaporean might have in participating in the democratic process.

Moreover, there is a lingering and prevailing fear among Singaporeans about participating in politics, especially if you are on the wrong side of the ruling party.

At the basic level, Singaporeans are worried because they have never experienced a government without the PAP. They do not know what to expect if the PAP is not in power and this psyche among Singaporeans actually serves to benefit the ruling party in any tough contests, as shown in Aljunied GRC in GE2006. If the PAP were to lose in Aljunied, it means the departure of George Yeo, a foreign minister and a heavyweight in the cabinet.

Notwithstanding the PAP’s ‘scare tactics’ over the years, more often than not, opposition candidates bore the brunt of the PAP’s libel suits. From J.B Jeyaretnam in 1991 and 1997 to Tang Liang Hong in 1997, the PAP has successfully made Singaporeans adopt a subconscious stance against opposition politics. There’s only one side to be on – the side of the PAP.

Thus, the inherent mechanisms built into the electoral system, coupled with apathy and fear among Singaporeans, have made an opposition victory very unlikely, reinforcing the invincibility of the PAP.

However, given what the PAP has at its calling; i.e. financial resources, manpower, and grassroots mobilisation, there is no reason why the PAP should fail to complete a sweep of all the seats in parliament.

Despite this un-level playing field that the Pro-Singapore Alternatives faced, the Workers’ Party at the last managed to retain the Single-Member seat of Hougang with an increased majority of 7%. The Aljunied team managed a credible showing of 43% against the PAP team led by Foreign Minister George Yeo. Even more surprising was the fact that the “suicide squad” won 33.9% of the valid votes deep in the “lion’s den”, Ang Mo Kio GRC.

However the reality remains that the Workers’ Party only won 1 seat compared to the 13 seats that the party could have won under a proportional representation system.

In essence, it is the presence of these artificial constitutional barriers put up by the PAP, coupled with the implanting of fear within the electorate, that buttresses the ruling party in power long enough for them to produce an impressive track record.

In reality, the PAP isn’t that invincible after all.


::::::::::[Bernard Chen Jiaxi]::::::::

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A brief history about the author pertaining to the theme of shadow of transcendence.

It came about in the wee hours of the early morning while being whisked away into memories of the past etched deep within the mind. Bittersweetness that tingled the tastebuds of his emotions and feelings, the only way out for true LIBERATION from this reality is what is behind the shadow of transcendence. Revolution, the taste of iron-rust blood coiled with the lingering bittersweetness is the only contemplation of which the simplicity of life has to offer in exchange for the shadow of transcendence.

Enjoy what i make out of maturity and the urge to eradicate the appalling lack of a national identity and political apathy among Singaporeans and more importantly, serves as a tool to awake and rouse the tendencies for political change among Singaporeans.


Goodbye conformityisdead! ::: Budget 2007: No Western-style welfare ::: Budget 2007: More money for the government, less m... ::: How about 3 & 7 ? ::: The Internet in Singapore politics today ::: Youthful Perspectives on the Foreign Talent issue ::: Power to the PAP ! ! ::: Biggest Cover-up in Singapore ? ? ::: A "Homing" Instinct requires a fundamental shift i... ::: Frozen Government Fees :::

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