Is This A Disturbing Trend? Thursday, Apr 26 2007 

I was quite sad to see some of our local bloggers like, Gayle; Kitana & Zyberzitizen, close down their blogs and stop blogging.

Each of them have their own reasons but I couldn’t help wondering if this will turn out to be a disturbing trend among our local bloggers, especially those who blog about politics & current affairs, who’ll shut down their blogs after awhile. Don’t get me wrong though. Its totally up to them whether they want to continue or not. I was just wondering if more and more of them stop and its impact given the state of affairs here. Of course others will take over or not many might leave the blogging scene totally. Well, time will tell.

Here’s a report from Voice Of America about blogging and its importance and why I said “disturbing trend”. That is if such a trend ever develops. ;-)

Growing Number of Asian Blogs Offers Alternatives to Mainstream Media

By Claudia Blume, Hong Kong, 25 April 2007

Asia’s blogging community is growing rapidly, as more people get access to the Internet. In countries with a controlled media environment, blogs promote free speech and offer alternative sources of news and information. But some governments in the region try to limit access to the new media. Claudia Blume reports from VOA’s Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Millions of people in Asia have taken to blogging in recent years, creating personal Web sites that often take the form of an online diary. The word blog derives from Web log. China alone is estimated to have up to 30 million bloggers.

As elsewhere in the world, the region’s collection of blogs on the Internet is diverse and amorphous. But in Asia, a survey by the U.S. software company Microsoft estimates that nearly half of those who are online have a blog, compared to just eight percent of U.S. Internet users.

Most people create blogs to share their lives and interests with friends, family and a few strangers. Many use text and photos, but also sound and video. Others blog to exchange information, create networks or express opinions about a wide range of issues.

In this music video, posted on the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube, two young Malaysians say an ironic ‘thank you’ to Indonesia for being responsible for last year’s haze, the pollution that spread from Indonesian forest fires. The bloggers’ criticism is an opinion that their governments would not express.

For some people, blogging has become a powerful tool for freedom of expression. Rebecca MacKinnon, an expert on online media at the University of Hong Kong, says a small percentage of people in the region create blogs to tell a wider audience what the mainstream media are not reporting.

“Some of these people who are creating media such as Jeff Ooi in Malaysia, a number of bloggers in China, basically there are people one could cite in any given country around the region, who are developing rather large audiences because they are saying something fresh or more direct than [what] people are getting from their traditional media sources,” said MacKinnon.

News of the famous nail house in the Chinese city of Chongqing, where a couple tried to block the destruction of their home earlier this year, was first spread on blogs. When mainstream media were told to remain silent on the case, a Chinese blogger who calls himself Zola traveled to Chongqing and continued to report about it.

Isaac Mao, a well-known Shanghai-based blogger and software architect, says Zola’s action was a milestone for Chinese bloggers.

“So it means once the traditional mainstream media, if they fail to work, grassroots media can take over the niche or they can take another role – to report some social events from different angles,” said Mao.

In countries with a highly restricted and regulated media environment, such as China, Vietnam, Burma and Singapore, blogs can provide different, independent information and viewpoints. While the quality and trustworthiness of blogs varies greatly, they are becoming popular sources of information in places where the mainstream media lacks credibility.

“People may now welcome this diversity of news but that’s precisely because I think one thing to remember is a lot of people are already very skeptical of mainstream media in their own countries, precisely because they are aware that most mainstream media in their countries are [one] either owned by the state or they are highly restricted and therefore are not really free to provide independent and diverse news,” said Roby Alampay, the executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

Alampay says some blogs are created by professional journalists who post online what they are not allowed to publish in their day-jobs. Last year, for example, a Singaporean journalist whose column in a government-controlled newspaper was suspended after he criticized high living costs in the city-state was able to post the controversial story on his blog.

A number of Asian governments view bloggers as a threat. The Malaysian government has announced plans to set up a unit to monitor and counter what it calls lies and slander being spread on the Internet. Roby Alampay says governments across the region try to block, filter and monitor cyberspace.

“Censorship is becoming an issue all over Southeast Asia and I think it’s safe to assume that most countries exercise some form of blocking and censorship or harassment of websites,” Alampay added.

In Thailand, the military government recently blocked access to YouTube when an offending video clip of the Thai king appeared on the video-sharing Web site. It also suspended a popular political online chat room in April. In Malaysia, the government-linked New Straits Times newspaper recently filed defamation suits against two well-known bloggers.

Vietnam and China are particularly notorious for censoring the Internet. MacKinnon says that’s why it would be impossible for anyone to create an opposition press through blogs there.

“You are not going to see a pro-democracy, anti-communist party-press emerging through the Chinese blogosphere. The Chinese government is able to prevent that from happening,” said MacKinnon.

She said it would be over-simplistic to assume that the existence of blogs will suddenly bring about a democratic revolution in countries such as China.

Isaac Mao, for example, describes the cat-and-mouse game involved when bloggers want to outwit technical blocks imposed by government censors.

But MacKinnon says blogs offer the potential to open up the media in ways not possible before the spread of Internet access.

The Rich Get Richer While The Poor Get Poorer Thursday, Apr 26 2007 

In Singapore, a local Switzerland for Asia’s wealthy

By Wayne Arnold, IHT, Tuesday, April 24, 2007

SINGAPORE: This affluent city-state of 4.5 million people is aiming to become a sanctuary for the world’s wealthy and their money, Asia’s answer to Geneva and Zurich.

Singapore, with its reputation for authoritarian order and safety, has long relied on luring multinational corporations for manufacturing jobs and economic growth. But with China’s rise as an industrial powerhouse, it started chasing a succession of economic fads – from technology to pharmaceuticals to stem cell research – in search of a fresh elixir.

Now Singapore, is trying to carve out a new niche for itself in the global economy by beefing up banking secrecy laws and offering generous tax incentives.

Almost 40 private banks now have regional operations here, including Swiss stalwarts like Bank Julius Baer. Citigroup’s headquarters for all private banking outside the United States is now in Singapore, as is the global banking headquarters of Standard Chartered Bank of Britain.

“I can’t think of any other place where private banking is growing so much as in Singapore,” said Henrik Mikkelsen, a private banker at Commerzbank in Singapore. “We want to be the Switzerland of Asia.”

It may not have the stunning Alpine scenery, but officials here hope that luring the wealthy and their bankers will not only diversify the economy but also help to offset a declining birthrate and increase the island’s stagnant population with what is known here as “foreign talent.”

“It creates jobs, it builds a service industry, it generates income and, on the immigration issue, it also supplements our shortfall in fertility,” said Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s minister for community development, youth and sports.

The estimated $150 billion in private wealth the banks manage here is still just a sliver of the $1.7 trillion managed by bankers in Switzerland. But by all accounts it is growing quickly, fed by new wealth pouring in from Asia’s fast-growing economies, Middle Eastern oil money, and Japanese and Europeans fleeing new efforts to tax their offshore earnings.

The bankers cater to people like Robert Chandran, who emigrated to the United States from India and made fortunes in California real estate and the fuel oil business. In 2005, contemplating retirement, he moved his company and family to Singapore, bought a luxury condominium downtown and space in a waterfront resort with berthing for yachts. He traded in his American passport for one from Singapore.

Chandran said he was lured by Singapore’s blend of Western conveniences with Asian values and by the government’s zeal for keeping Singapore competitive.

“They don’t have global taxation,” he said, which means that his capital gains and interest income from outside Singapore are not taxed here.

Singapore’s vision for the high-life can be found at Sentosa Cove, a secluded development on the edge of a small island theme park off Singapore’s coast. Chandran is building his home there, among sites that sold for as much as $9.9 million each. Sentosa Cove has a 400-berth marina with 10 spots for mega-yachts, two golf courses so far and a casino resort on the way.

“The government wants to create Sentosa as a playground for the rich and famous,” said Joseph Tan, director of residential property at CB Richard Ellis. “They’re trying to build it as our Monte Carlo.”

Roughly 60 percent of the buyers at Sentosa Cove are foreigners.

Providing services for Asia’s super-rich is undoubtedly a growth market. The booming region is churning out at least 200,000 new millionaires a year, according to a recent report from Merrill Lynch and Cap Gemini, prompting comparisons to America’s Gilded Age.

“The wealth of the wealthy in emerging markets is no different than the wealth of the wealthy in the Rockefeller days,” said Roman Scott, who left a job analyzing the industry for BCG, a management consulting firm, last year to start his own investment advisory firm, Calamander Group. “It’s the robber baron thing.”

In a region known for its poverty, corruption and political turmoil, Singapore has long served as a refuge for wealthy ethnic-Chinese from Malaysia and Indonesia, who rely on its top-notch health care and schools. For many, Singapore’s gleaming infrastructure, efficient bureaucracy and stable government more than compensate for its lack of press freedom, political debate and artistic ferment.

While the latest influx of wealthy foreigners is pushing costs up, property prices are still low compared with London and New York. Tax rates are low as well. Singapore does not tax capital gains or interest income. Its top income tax rate is 20 percent, and it does not tax income earned outside Singapore.

Much of the decision to promote private banking was the result of official soul-searching in 2002 in the midst of the global recession and China’s investment boom. Singapore convened an Economic Review Committee from the private sector and government to chart a new course.

“They were facing China with no real game plan,” said Robert Stein, a former head of Deutsche Bank’s Asian operations who headed the committee’s financial services working group.

The panel recommended that Singapore focus on luring hedge funds, private equity firms, insurers and private banks. Afterward, Singapore exempted foreign-earned income from taxation and modified its trust laws, guaranteeing the right of trust holders to determine who inherits their estate.

Bankers in Singapore say this is especially attractive to clients from Europe, where courts often overrule wills to give relatives a fair share, and from the Middle East, where Islamic courts sometimes pass over wives and children to hand over entire estates to the father and brother of the deceased.

Singapore had already beefed up its banking secrecy laws in 2001. While many banks are moving their back offices to India, bankers here say Singapore’s secrecy rules are so tight, they are moving the data centers handling their private banking transactions from India to Singapore.

Concerns have emerged, however, that Singapore may also be attracting wealthy individuals who have something to hide.

Before his arrest in 2005 on charges of corruption and fraud, Gianpiero Fiorani, the former chief executive of Italy’s Banca Popolare Italiana, stashed some of his assets in Singapore.

The Japanese fund manager and shareholder activist Yoshiaki Murakami moved his fund, MAC Asset Management, to Singapore before his arrest last year on charges of insider trading. And in December, the police in Shanghai arrested an unidentified Singaporean for running an underground bank that shuffled money between China and Singapore.

Singapore bankers say they are under pressure to know the nature of their clients’ wealth – Singapore’s secrecy rules do not extend to anyone involved in terrorism or smuggling. And the authorities say they are not trying to attract tax evaders.

“The Singaporeans have done an excellent job of balancing a pro-business stance with a regulatory environment that creates a well-disciplined environment for private banking,” said Stein, now a director in London at German bank WestLB.

Still, some foreign governments are unhappy. A “Stop Tax Haven Abuse” bill, introduced in February by three U.S. senators – Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan and Barack Obama of Illinois and Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota – includes Singapore in its list of “probable locations for U.S. tax evasion.” (Hong Kong and Switzerland are also included.)

Meanwhile, the European Union has been trying to persuade Singapore to follow the lead of Switzerland and other European tax havens, which have agreed to share information on accounts or collect a withholding tax.

Germano Mirabile, a policy officer at the EU Taxation and Customs Union Directorate-General, said Singapore had not yet responded to Brussel’s overtures.

Because tax rates in Asia are generally low, Singapore’s lure to Asians is less about escaping taxes and more about protecting assets from political vagaries. Many Chinese, for example, keep some of their earnings in Hong Kong. But for those who fear that Hong Kong is still within reach of Chinese authorities, Singapore has become increasingly popular.

Singapore’s proximity to South Asia is also luring ethnic Indians, both those from the subcontinent and those from the Indian diaspora, like Chandran.

***********

Singapore’s rich splash out with a vengeance

By Sara Webb

SINGAPORE, April 25 (Reuters) – Celebrity-chef dinners, huge pay hikes, and hot properties with a garage for the Ferrari and a berth for the yacht…some people in Singapore are living it up.

The world’s top banks have set up in the city-state, bringing plenty of rich clients in their wake. Now, thanks to a strong economy, a private banking boom, and the prospect of two glitzy casinos opening soon, the big spenders are out in force.

“The good times are back,” said Roman Scott, a financial consultant. “There’s been a sudden turnaround in confidence. Suddenly, people notice that the economy is growing, they find they can’t hire a secretary, and housing prices are going up.”

Singapore’s immaculately groomed private bankers are having a field day, thanks to the government’s policy of creating a one-stop banking centre-cum-playground for the affluent.

The focus on the rich has even spawned a new caste system — of “high net worth individuals”, or those with a mere million in financial assets, and the highly desirable “ultra-high net worth” who have millions or billions of dollars to their name.

Take Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, Thailand’s richest man, according to Forbes, who listed his whisky and beer firm Thai Beverage in Singapore last year.

He snapped up not just one, but 47 out of 48 flats in a new development for S$205 million, and four entire floors in another project for S$135 million, Business Times reported this month.

Singapore has more millionaire households as a percentage of total households than any other Asian economy, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

Now thanks to all the wealthy Chinese, Indonesians, Indians and Thais who turn to Singapore — not to mention the Europeans who prefer to park their funds offshore — there aren’t enough private bankers to handle all this money.

Whole teams of “wealth managers” are hopping from one bank to another, lured by promises of ever-higher salaries and payouts.

“There’s a shortage of really high quality bankers, so there’s poaching and that pushes salaries up,” said Chris Claridge, who runs a head-hunting firm.

“Most players are getting 20-30 percent more. One guy, an investment banker, ended up with 75 percent more because two banks were bidding for him. It was like ebay.”

Celebrity Chefs And Butler Services

Bankers aren’t the only ones getting a big pay rise.

Singapore’s ministers, already among the world’s highest-paid, just got a 60 percent pay hike, lifting their salaries from S$1.2 million to S$1.9 million ($1.26 million) on average.

The Prime Minister’s pay jumped to S$3.5 million ($2.3 million) — more than five times the U.S. president’s $400,000 salary — while his deputies will each get S$2.45 million. Two former prime ministers who retain cabinet posts will be paid more than S$3 million.

A few weeks earlier, the government said it would address a widening income gap with benefits for the poor. The bottom 10 percent of households had an average annual income of S$3,600 per member in 2006, up 6.6 percent from the previous year.

Ministers and civil servants are benchmarked against the best-paid individuals in professions such as banking, an area the government is encouraging as part of an economic overhaul.

Given the wealth in the financial sector, it’s no surprise people are splashing out on expensive meals, cars, and homes.

Indonesian tycoon Oei Hong Leong hosted a S$50,000 charity banquet, flying in celebrity chefs Tetsuya Wakuda and Justin Quek for a 16-course meal that included poached foie gras and steamed tofu, as well as rare vintage wines, the Business Times reported.

Local media this month profiled a local businessman whose fleet of 20 cars includes Bentleys, a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and a Jaguar, and said that one Singaporean had paid S$3 million for a new Pagani Zonda F, a record for a sports car in the country.

Even Singapore’s long-stagnant property market is getting a welcome shot in the arm, at least at the top end.

Such gains could start to erode Singapore’s competitive advantage for international firms when compared with centres such as Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Tokyo, some analysts warn, while adding to the city-state’s inflationary pressures.

Prices for new apartments in prime districts surged 25 percent in 2006, the strongest recovery in years, while landlords are demanding rent increases of 50-60 percent.

“The rental market has gone through the roof,” said property agent Bee Bee Tan, with a central flat that rented for S$3,600 now commanding S$6,000 a month, an increase of 67 percent.

As for the millionaires, they can take their pick of projects offering butler services or a doorstep berth for that gin palace.

“It’s Monaco in the tropics,” said consultant Scott.

Zahari’s 17 Years Tuesday, Apr 17 2007 

‘Zahari’s 17 Years’ now online & Zahari’s 17 Years – rated PG by censors, banned by Ministerby the filmmaker, Martyn See

Defending the national scripture by Yawning Bread

Video of CSJ Speech: Singapore Success Story – A Fairytale by the PAP Monday, Apr 16 2007 

Source: SDP

Chee Soon Juan’s speech at the Sheraton Towers Hotel on 13 April 2007.

You’ll Not Get To Watch This On Local TV! Sunday, Apr 15 2007 

Thanks to SDP, here’s the video recording of the ALDE-CALD conference held on 13 April 2007.

Gagged Euro MPs slam ‘authoritarian’ Singapore, AFP, 13 April 2007

Singapore acted like an “authoritarian state” by gagging members of the European parliament in a move that could hinder efforts to reach a partnership and co-operation agreement, the MEPs said Friday.

The seven MEPs along with a Cambodian and a Congresswoman from the Philippines said Singapore denied them permission to speak Friday night at a forum to discuss the development of democracy in Asia and Europe.

“I fear that, in this sense at least, it puts Singapore in a league with North Korea, Myanmar and the People’s Republic of China,” Graham Watson, a United Kingdom Member of the European Parliament, told a press conference.

“Now that is not where I believe Singapore is, or where I believe Singapore should be.”

Watson, who leads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), said they were conducting a parliamentary mission to Singapore and had come from Indonesia where they spoke at a forum without any interference.

“What has happened today proves that Singapore is an authoritarian state,” said Ignasi Guardans, a Spanish MEP.

The Cambodian and Philippines delegates represented the Council of Asian Liberal and Democrats(CALD).

The ALDE-CALD delegates were invited to address the forum organised by their sister party, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) led by Chee Soon Juan, one of a few in Singapore to have spoken out against the People’s Action Party (PAP) which has ruled since 1959.

Chee has had numerous battles with local authorities.

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said the SDP applied to police for a licence to hold the public forum, and asked the ICA for professional visit passes “for several foreigners” invited to speak at the event.

“The police and ICA respectively have rejected the SDP’s applications for a permit to conduct this public forum and for professional visit passes for the foreign speakers on the ground of public interest,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Singapore’s politics are reserved for Singaporeans. As visitors to our country, foreigners should not abuse their privilege by interfering in our domestic politics.”

On its website, SDP said the forum was to “register your disgust” at pay hikes for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, cabinet ministers and civil servants.

The pay rises have sparked rare public fury in the conservative city-state.

But the MEPs said they did not come to discuss Singapore’s internal affairs.

Watson said Singapore’s decision “will not help with the difficult task” of finalising a partnership and cooperation agreement which both sides began discussing about two years ago.

Such agreements provide rules that govern trade, exchange of criminal suspects, return of refugees and other issues while including clauses about respect for human rights, he said.

“The refusal to allow a basic political dialogue on issues of common concern clearly makes it more difficult to negotiate any such agreement,” he said.

Ambassador Holger Standertskjold, head of the European Commission’s delegation to Singapore, said the EU “regretted” that the MEPs could not speak at a public meeting organised by another legally recognised political party.

The forum was to proceed with speakers from the SDP, while the foreign delegation vowed to remain silent, and would return to Europe Friday night.

“We are not terrorists. We are not dangerous radicals,” Watson said.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said Chee’s party is free to organise public meetings “provided they do so lawfully.”

Since independence in 1965, Singapore has grown from a third-world country to an Asian economic powerhouse.

But critics say this has come at a price, in the form of restrictions on freedom of speech and political activity.

You Reap What You Sow Saturday, Apr 14 2007 

Alot has been written in local blogs & websites and in the foreign media on the issue of the hike in ministerial salaries .

I’ve only one thing to say to my fellow Singaporeans: you reap what you sow.

Over the decades, we have given these obscenely highly-paid, arrogant and full-of-themselves jokers so much power with a completely free hand and a blank cheque. In this case, its literally a blank cheque as they decide the amount & pay themselves and go through this farce in parliament (which is controlled by the PAP) where they’re still gonna get what they want after a so-called “debate”. In the meantime, the majority of Singaporeans will shout & scream or quietly gripe about it in coffeeshops, at home, on the internet, the shithouse and god knows where else! After sometime, they’ll quieten down till the next time when there’s another uproar or unhappiness over this issue or some other issues. And it starts all over again.

Sheesh……

What’s Up CNA?? Monday, Apr 9 2007 

I assumed, the ministerial statement on raising the salaries of ministers and civil servants, will be broadcasted live on TV today. The statement’s at 3pm in Parliament.

But our pro-govt broadcaster CNA isn’t airing it. Such a hot issue and the statement’s not being aired on tv. Probably this time around the pro-govt buggers don’t want to air a speech by their bosses in which the bosses are paying themselves more obscenely high salaries.

Malaysians Form ‘Band of Bloggers’ Friday, Apr 6 2007 

Source: Al Jazeera English

Malaysian political bloggers have launched a support group aimed at protecting their interests after a government-controlled newspaper filed a defamation suit against two of them early this year.

The National Alliance of Bloggers aims to “protect bloggers” and “promote blogging”, said Ahirudin Attan, the new group’s president.

Ahirudin, who blogs on popular Rocky’s Bru site, said some of the bloggers have been repeatedly “demonised”.

The alliance was formed late on Thursday after close to 50 online commentators met in Kuala Lumpur and decided to set up a group aimed at protecting them from harassment.

The move comes as the government reportedly considers setting up a ‘blogger registry’ to control anonymous postings with what it calls “malicious content” – which are usually comments critical of policies deemed as a national security threat.

‘Hostility’

Ahirudin said they will try to get the government to see their point of view and why certain postings are put up.

“When certain quarters in government become hostile towards bloggers, I believe they mean to aim their hostility at a small group of bloggers or online writers whose views and takes of current affairs they fear,” he wrote on his blog.

Ahirudin and fellow blogger Jeff Ooi, his deputy in the alliance, are being sued by the New Straits Times newspaper, for alleged defamatory postings about the paper.

“If the politicians do not want to take the effort to learn about blogging and to understand bloggers, I believe the bloggers will have to take that initiative,” said Ahirudin.

Details

Ahirudin said the alliance would next meet to discuss a constitution and ethical code, funding issues and the recruitment of paying members, including overseas-based Malaysian bloggers.

“Our top priority is to counter the negative image painted by the authorities depicting all bloggers as liars with anti-government sentiments,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Our group prefers self-regulation to government control, and the bloggers were unanimous on that.”

Ahirudin added that the bloggers at Thursday’s meeting insisted on fair representation within the group to reflect the country’s multi-ethnic society.

On Thursday, Najib Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, said bloggers have made the “business of government more challenging”, inadvertently confirming the growing influence of political blogs.

“Some merely inform, others argue a point of view, and a few simply distort and sensationalise,” he said.

“There is now more competition for readership, viewership, eyeballs, revenues, profits and, yes, even infamy,” he added.

Legalised Corruption Thursday, Apr 5 2007 

Singapore Ministers Set For Million-Dollar Pay Hike

By Koh Gui Qing

SINGAPORE, April 5 (Reuters) – The salary of the prime minister of Singapore is more than three times that of U.S. President George Bush and about four times that of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But that is not enough.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong may soon be getting a hefty pay rise as part of a controversial ministerial salary hike that has infuriated many Singaporeans.

Lee, who is estimated to earn about S$2 million (US$1.32 million) per year, said last month that the salaries of Singapore ministers, top public officials and judges have fallen way below benchmark private sector salaries and may need to be doubled.

“It is critical for us to keep these salaries competitive, so as to be able to bring in a continuing flow of able and successful people,” Lee said in a speech in March.

Lee said that Singapore ministers, who currently earn about S$1.2 million (US$800,000) a year, should be earning S$2.2 million (US$1.45 million). Details of the new ministerial salaries will be announced in parliament on April 9.

Since 1994, the salaries of Singapore ministers have been set at two-thirds the median pay of the 48 best-paid bankers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and executives in multi-nationals and manufacturing firms.

But the latest salary hike, which comes at a time when income disparity in Singapore is wider than ever, has sparked an outpour of unusually blunt criticism from Singaporeans.

Hundreds have signed an online petition and the readers’ letter columns of the state-controlled newspapers — one of the few outlets for dissenting views in the city-state — have published a series of letters protesting the planned hike.

“Government Always Wins”

Some Singaporeans argue that the six lucrative professions on which ministers’ salaries are based do not reflect the country’s economy or the government’s performance.

“No matter what happens to the economy, the government always wins because it takes only the best results,” Jacob Tan said in a letter to the Straits Times.

And given that a 2 percentage point rise in sales tax from July will further hit the poor, some said the government plan is tactless.

“I am rather disappointed with the government’s insensitivity,” reader Vanessa Teo said.

But the sharpest criticism was online. The “awesome raise on top of their already obscene pay is completely unjustifiable,” read an online petition that has gathered 304 signatures.

Given the rare public outcry, analysts said the government may now hesitate to raise salaries by the full S$1 million.

“I would be surprised if they implemented the full formula that would give them over S$2 million,” said Garry Rodan, director of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University.

The government defends the high salaries as necessary to attract the brightest people and to prevent corruption.

“If we don’t do that … corruption will set in and we will become like many other countries,” Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean was quoted as saying in the Straits Times last week.

Singapore government officials’ salaries are set by different wage formulas, depending on their seniority. The figures are not readily available to the public, but the prime minister earned S$1.94 million in 2000, according to the Straits Times.

Ministers’ wages were last raised in 2000, but were cut in 2001 and 2003 during the economic downturn, although the cuts have since been reversed, the Public Service Division said.

“Able Generals”

Some argue that Singapore ministers are not overpaid, but that ministers elsewhere are underpaid.

Singapore is an oasis of wealth, peace and law and order in a region rife with poverty, violence and corruption.

The island state is Asia’s second-richest country after Japan, with a gross domestic product per capita of about $31,000.

The World Economic Forum ranks Singapore as the fifth-most competitive of 125 economies in 2006, while Transparency International said the city-state was the fifth-most corruption-free nation out of 163. Isn’t that worth a price?

“According to a Chinese proverb, an able general is worth more than 10,000 foot soldiers. So too is the worth of our leaders if they have the wisdom to help us weather global competition,” reader Yik Keng Yeong said.

But critics say that the prosperity and security enjoyed by Singaporeans are not that different from other Asian first-world economies such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan, where government ministers do not command such high salaries.

Finland, for instance, beat Singapore in the WEF and Transparency International polls — as second-most competitive and most corruption-free country — but its Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen earns about a sixth of Lee’s estimated salary.

What irks Singapore’s opposition parties is that the million-dollar salaries are only accessible to members of Lee’s ruling People’s Action Party. Opposition politicians have been crippled by defamation lawsuits brought by government ministers and no opposition party has ever held a ministerial post.

The opposition also argues that a million-dollar pay hike is unwarranted for leaders of a country that has no legal minimum wage and where 20 percent of the population earns an average monthly salary of S$1,500 ($991).

But Lee Kuan Yew — modern Singapore’s first prime minister, who is still the leading voice in his son’s cabinet — will have none of it.

“The cure to all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government,” Lee senior told the Straits Times on Thursday, adding that it is “absurd” for Singaporeans to quarrel about ministerial pay and warning that Singapore would suffer it the government could not pay competitive salaries.

“Your security will be at risk and our women will become maids in other people’s countries,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Sakari Suoninen in Helsinki, Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo, Joanne Allen in Washington)

M.I.A Wednesday, Apr 4 2007 

All of a sudden i dropped off the radar in late jan. For that, i offer my apologies to my readers, regulars or otherwise. I just needed a break from the internet….a long break. Plus things kept cropping up….like friggin life and the constant struggle to survive, etc, etc.

One thing though. It should not be surprising to many of us but i was just wondering about the fact that away from the internet and without it, the propaganda bullshit of the powerful reigns supreme via their mouthpieces.

Ahh well, here i am…back again. Join me. ;-)

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